Saturday

The weather has been absolutely stunning for the past week. The temperatures have been above 23°, C and it's been sunny. So lovely. I actually put a skirt on today when we went out to do the shopping. It's that warm.

We bought a sofa and an armchair. We had gone to DFS before and spotted a sofa that we liked. This morning, fuelled by the dislike of our old and uncomfortable sofa, we went and had another look. It should be here in about 7 weeks, and we're excited about that. All we need now is a house to put it in.

We're leaning towards letting the house go. We've yet to hear from the estate agents on the new offer that we put in, but it looks like we will not be able to do it. So, we're looking again and spent much of the morning browsing the paper. We're looking at two more properties this week. They're less expensive, but smaller. Maybe cheaper is the way to go, for now. We've got a wedding to finance; I don't want my house to own me, I keep saying to N. We'll know more when we've checked these new properties out.

I love it when Tony talks sweetly :

Poland is an extraordinary country; the Polish people are extraordinary people. Far beyond your frontiers, you are respected and admired.
and
You are admired for your fortitude, for your endurance of years of war, struggle, pain and bloodshed, the violation of Polish land and civilisation by successive dictatorships, and throughout all this misery, for never once allowing your travails to crush your spirit. You never stopped believing in freedom and fighting for it.
...
Alas, for Poland, even after the war was won, it was only 40 or more years later that true freedom came.
Then, he talks about Europe and the importance of joining the EU and he mentions and deflects the criticism of the European Constitution. He thinks that
Europe's preoccupation can therefore no longer be solely within Europe but must be about Europe's place in the world
with which I truly agree.
First we want a union of nations, not a federal superstate, and that vision is shared by the majority of countries and people in Europe. A European superstate would neither have the efficacy or legitimacy to meet the global challenge.
Nice deflection for those who worry about Britain losing its sovereignty.

It's a long speech and, at times, it's pretty boring. But, Tony Blair makes many good points in his speech trying to rally the Poles around the "Yes" vote. I just hope that it works.

Friday

Break out the vodka glasses, the Knucklehead has visited Poland.

"I'm also going to remind the countries of Europe that we must work together," Bush said in an interview with Polish television. "We don't need divides between us. We need to work together to achieve big objectives, which is to fight terror, to fight global poverty, to fight AIDS and to promote freedom."
How will he do all of that and conquer the world? Fight global poverty? Why not start with the poverty you've got at home, George?
"It's becoming more and more clear that Poland is a player," said Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador. "It's an old country but a new player. They like us and they think like us." Poland is the only European nation honored with a White House state dinner in Bush's administration.
We do not think like you. Don't fool yourself, Chris. Source

We are back from Bristol. We had a lovely time, booked a wedding venue (for day 1 of the wedding, day 2 is planned, but not finally booked), visited Weston Super Mare and had a lovely time with N's family. I'm currently trying to catch up on my reading.

There is no news on the house at tne moment. We're still teetering on the tightrope, trying to make a decision. It's difficult because we want the house, but are afraid in biting off more than we can chew. I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday

Bugger, bugger, bugger. We rang up the surveyor this morning and found out that the house has a few loose tiles on the roof (read: will need a new roof in the not-too-distant future), the woodwork needs treatment (read: what does that mean?) and the electic wiring needs "modernising" (read: rewire the whole house). We're on a limited budget as it is, so a whole new set of problems is not something we're going to be able to afford. The surveyor (our upstairs neighbour) is going to come by later on today or ring us and we'll ask a lot more questions in regards to his report. Things like:

  • Does the roof need to be done straight away?
  • How bad is the wiring and is it going to be a potential hazard?
  • Where is the woodwork that needs treatment and how bad does it look?
We're a bit gloomy at the moment. N's off in the music room playing his cello and I'm surfing aimlessly like I usually do when I've got things on my mind.

We'll see how it turns out. But it doesn't look good the moment.

Monday

It tells me that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.
Yes, we are watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade .

Nazis, I hate these guys.

The BBC reports on Poland's role in Iraq slowly taking shape .

After a meeting in Salzburg in Austria with the Ukrainian and Bulgarian presidents, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski announced that Ukraine and Bulgaria have confirmed that they will provide troops to the Polish sector.
Ukraine has committed 2000 soliders and Bulgaria 500. It's interesting to see how the majority of the force will come from Eastern Europe's former Communist states. Poland has said that it would commit 2000 troops towards the 7000 troops necessary to patrol the sector assigned to Poland.
A number of west European countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, may put small numbers of highly specialised troops under Polish command.
What am I thinking? Don't screw this up. Make sure you don't make a mess of things. If Poland do well in this venture, their opinion and status in the West can only increase. This will, hopefully, help the country in the long run.

As long as we manage to vote "YES" in the upcoming referrendum.

The Perils Of Michael Moore criticises the approaches that he takes. An interesting read and a timely one: last night N and I rented Bowling for Columbine the excellent, Oscar-winning documentary which looks at America's obsession with guns and tries to uncover the reasons for this. The film was better than I expected and, after watching it, N picked up Stupid White Men and began reading it. Michael Moore peeled back many layers and the film took me through a myriad of emotions: sadness, grief, laughter, curiosity and disbelief. I really enjoyed it.

We went to Colchester Zoo for the day. And so did half of the county. It was a warm and sunny day, we went with friends of ours. The zoo is quite big and we didn't manage to see everything. But we did see the baby elephant, Kito. And tigers and lions, but no bears. Oh, my! We enjoyed watching the white tiger eat his lunch and the wolves, too.

Colchester Zoo has an excellent breeding program, increasing the numbers of rare animals. I know that if it wasn't for the humans those animals wouldn't be rare in the first place. But zoos like Colchester Zoo are causing less damage than deforestation and poaching for traditional medicine and meat do. And, in some cases, they help to protect the numbers of dwindling species. Which is sad and I wish it wasn't necessary.

Sunday

Let me get to my point right away: We must do everything we can to unseat George W. Bush and his congressional supporters in next year’s election. The fate of America depends on it. I mean this literally. The Bush administration’s actions on Iraq, terrorism, the environment, the economy, civil liberties, and the judicial system pose a serious threat to our future. A nation solely dedicated to exercising military might and expanding corporate power will not stand tall for long.
Utne's article, Beyond Bush, How to Win Back America talks about how to get Georgie Porgie out of the White House. Jay Walljasper also reminds us that
Al Gore, whatever his shortcomings as a progressive and dynamic leader, would not be searching the world for new opportunities to wage war and scheming to eliminate taxes on millionaires. It’s worth remembering that Democrats are the political force that has implemented or maintained most of the valuable political initiatives in American life—social security, environmental regulation, the 40-hour workweek, even Mr. Hodgson’s OSHA.
So, how can Bush be ousted? Walljasper thinks that the Democrats can use a few key points to get one of theirs back in the White House:
  • A focus on conservation and renewable power sources would allow for less dependence on Mideast oil
  • Health care, health care, health care...accessible for all and everyone, regadless of how much money he/she makes.
  • Fair taxes that don't allow the wealthy to get the most from lowering taxes. The Democrats should, instead, reduce the payroll tax for the average earner and eliminate loopholes that allow the well-off to pay less or no tax at all. Give money to the middle and lower classes and there's your economy growing!
  • Privary protection should be restored to keep government out of people's lives.
I'd like to add one more: curb the power of the big business lobby and stop, just bloody well stop, taking their money and allowing big business to get away with murder.

The Democrats have got quite a task ahead of them. Bush is powerful and he seems to be popular (for some unknown reason). Another 4 years of Bush Jr. is going to cripple America, though.

My Political Compass:
Economic Left/Right: -7.12
Authoritarian/Libertarian: -3.90
makes me a Lefty on the economics scale with a Libertarian view on the social scale. Sort of similar to Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama and Jean Chretien (??). You can test your political compass, too.

The Eurovision Song Contest was on last night. If you're a North American and don't know what that is, you're not missing very much. The Eurovision Song Contest is a chance for Europop to come out of the woodwork and compete. 24 countries are selected to be finalist (I don't know how, so please don't ask me) and each selects a music group or a soloist to go and perform. Each of the countries then holds a vote, though, predictably they are not allowed to vote for the performer from their own country. At the end of she show, the votes from each country are tallied and the winner is declared.

The Eurovision Song Context in 2001 was held in Denmark - more popular than ever before. Nearly 35,000 people were on hand at the Parken Stadium for the contest. New EBU rules took effect. The following year’s competition would be attended only by those countries which took the top 15 slots in Copenhagen, plus the “big four” (the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain). A total of 23 countries competed in 2001, and the Eurovision Song Contest was won by Tanel Padar and Dave Benton from Estonia, with the song “Everybody”.
So, if you haven't got enough points, you can't come back next year. The UK did awfully last night, notching up a record of 0 points (null point, as they'd say in French). Will they be back next year? I don't know. I do know that the UK entry was horrible, off-key and embarassing. Not that Poland's entry was much better, but they still managed to be 7th. I honestly don't know how. Ich Troje counts as my least favourite Polish performers of all time and I am really, really irritated by their leader, Michal Wisiniewski.

In case you're interested, Turkey won. I don't know what their song sounded like because we were only half-watching and turned off the television after the 20th performance. We then pondered which Eurovision contest winner actually managed to have a successful musical career following their appearance on Eurovision and could only come up with ABBA. But ABBA, they were brill.

There is more information on the Eurovision Song Contest's new format (from 2004) on the European Broadcasting Union.

Friday

Lying Ari Fleischer leaves and we're all thrilled about it. Salon does an excellent piece on Ari's departure and his suberb ability to annoy the press corp.

But while Fleischer served his patrons with loyalty and single-mindedness, he frustrated reporters by going far beyond spinning -- telling untruths and taking great effort to intimidate, several White House reporters said. "No one's shedding any tears," said another White House reporter. "His personal style -- the smarminess and unctuousness -- was annoying to people. But his deceptions and the telling of falsehoods is what really turned people against him."
I think my joy at Ari leaving can only be matched at the joy I'll experience when George W. Bush is voted out of the White House.

Via X-tra Rant .

Businessweek has an excellent article on the gender inequality in education favouring girls in the US. It discusses the fact that girls and boys develop differentl and that the education system and style of teaching isn't very appropriate to the way boys learn.

From his first days in school, an average boy is already developmentally two years behind the girls in reading and writing. Yet he's often expected to learn the same things in the same way in the same amount of time. While every nerve in his body tells him to run, he has to sit still and listen for almost eight hours a day. Biologically, he needs about four recesses a day, but he's lucky if he gets one, since some lawsuit-leery schools have banned them altogether. Hug a girl, and he could be labeled a "toucher" and swiftly suspended -- a result of what some say is an increasingly anti-boy culture that pathologizes their behavior.
This then means that more boys than girls are diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and then be put on Ritalin. Boys are also more likely to be classified as "special ed" and sent off to special ed lessons.
Once a boy makes it to freshman year of high school, he's at greater risk of falling even further behind in grades, extracurricular activities, and advanced placement. Not even science and math remain his bastions. And while the girls are busy working on sweeping the honor roll at graduation, a boy is more likely to be bulking up in the weight room to enhance his steroid-fed Adonis complex, playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on his PlayStation2, or downloading rapper 50 Cent on his iPod. All the while, he's 30% more likely to drop out, 85% more likely to commit murder, and four to six times more likely to kill himself, with boy suicides tripling since 1970. "We get a bad rap," says Steven Covington, a sophomore at Ottumwa High School in Ottumwa, Iowa. "Society says we can't be trusted."
Which means that not many men want to go to college (university) and those who do, find themselves in the minority. Women are earning an average 57% of BA degrees and 58% of Master degrees. They are also closing in on the M.D. and PhD gap. By 2010, 142 women will obtain degrees, compared to 100 men. This will rise to 156 women to 100 men by 2020.

This causes some problems in the society, apparently.

Better-educated men are also, on average, a much happier lot. They are more likely to marry, stick by their children, and pay more in taxes. From the ages of 18 to 65, the average male college grad earns $2.5 million over his lifetime, 90% more than his high school counterpart. That's up from 40% more in 1979, the peak year for U.S. manufacturing. The average college diploma holder also contributes four times more in net taxes over his career than a high school grad, according to Northeastern's Sum. Meanwhile, the typical high school dropout will usually get $40,000 more from the government than he pays in, a net drain on society.
There is, therefore, a call for teachers to become aware and trained in the difference in learning between the sexes. To allow the boys to progress at their own pace and do activities which allow them to use their spatial awareness and to learn by manipulating concrete objects. While this is, of course, acceptable and a great idea, some feminsts feel that it's about time for women to do better than men.
Some feminists who fought hard for girl equality in schools in the early 1980s and '90s say this: So what if girls have gotten 10, 20 years of attention -- does that make up for centuries of subjugation? Moreover, what's wrong with women gliding into first place, especially if they deserve it? "Just because girls aren't shooting 7-Eleven clerks doesn't mean they should be ignored," says Cornell's Garbarino. "Once you stop oppressing girls, it stands to reason they will thrive up to their potential."

Moreover, girls say much of their drive stems from parents and teachers pushing them to get a college degree because they have to be better to be equal -- to make the same money and get the same respect as a guy. "Girls are more willing to take the initiative...they're not afraid to do the work," says Tara Prout, the Georgetown-bound senior class president at Lawrence High. "A lot of boys in my school are looking for credit to get into college to look good, but they don't really want to do the grunt work."

It's an interesting read. As a teacher, I do find that boys often underachieve and do not achieve their full potential. But, I suppose that school is better suited for girls than for boys. The "gender gap" is something that we look at closely everytime we get our KS3 SATs, GCSE and A-level results. The focus is definitely shifted and we're now trying to get the boys to achieve equally as good levels and grades as the girls.

The Washington Post's Magazine has an article entitled The Country of Her Father. It's a journal kept by Masuda Anna Mohamadi, who returned to Kabul in October of 2002 to teach English and help to rebuild the country. Her journal progresses through the range of emotions that she experiences on her return "home". It's a powerful read.

I was right, they were up to something. They moved their 6th form common room gear into the staffroom and kicked us out. We had morning briefing in their common room. "How clever, how droll", said one of my colleagues, unimpressed. Also unimpressed were a number of us starved of caffeine. Though the students brought over tea and coffee ingredients, they didn't bring any hot water. So, a few of my colleagues satisfied their caffeine craving with "coffee" from the vendors.

It's been a nice week without the year 11s. Quiet and peaceful. It almost makes me look forward to the last 8 weeks of term.

I'm at school at my usual early time and there are a whole bunch of year 13s here as well. I can't see what they're doing (nor do I want to), but they are moving things out of the staffroom and putting things in there and generally, running back and forth between the staffroom and the hallway. It's their last day today and I'm sure they're up to something.

Thursday

Polish FlagThe Wall Street Journal annouces in this piece that Poland is mighty. I'm not going to quote the piece or analyse it, because somebody already did it better than me. But I will say a few things:

Yes, we're mighty. We've been mighty before, but you've only just noticed. We've been fucked, though. You try communism for 50 years and have your next door neighbour's tanks in your forests and see how well you look. You try not being able to lift a finger without first consulting Moscow and see how your economy looks then. We've been screwed at Yalta, 1918 and just about at every step of the way. You live between two of the most warring and ambitious countries in Europe as they carve your land up and attack you every second Tuesday (well, that's what it felt like). Rape, pilage, rape, pilage. That's the story of my land. Everybody's had a piece of Poland by now: the Turks, the army of Gengis Khan, the Swedes (yes, the Swedes!!), Russians, Prussians, Germans, Hugarians (Austro-Hungarian Empire, believe it baby), Austria and the list goes on.

We are mighty. Thanks for finally noticing. Although praise coming from the US (the country that invented the "Polack jokes") is too little, too late, imho.

For more information on Polish history, read this and that.

Wednesday

Poland is to lead the NATO peace force in Iraq.

Nato members have unanimously agreed Poland should lead a multinational peacekeeping force in Iraq.The move is designed to help heal the divisions in the 19-member alliance suffered in the run-up to the war.Although the plans involve only modest technical assistance, the step also could mark a significant opening to a wider role for Nato in post-war Iraq.
From Ananova.

Ari Fleischer is leaving! Hooray! No more of his lies (though somebody else will take his place, surely), bad humour, awful sarcasm and his "I'm too sexy for this job" attitude. Begone you evil spirit!

Read more, via X-tra Rant.

Tuesday

Buffy The Vampire Slayer comes on an end tonight. In the US, that is. I plan to read the wildfeed summary of the last episode ever (titled Chosen)and the articles at Salon: Bye, Bye Buffy, The Man Behind The Slayer and others.

I hope they don't kill Buffy off... 'cos she's died twice.

Finally, some trust in teachers makes its appearance in the British education system:

The controversial tests for seven and 11 year olds face a shake-up, under plans announced by the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke.

The impact of school tests for seven year olds in England is to be reduced, amid concerns from parents and teachers that they cause too much stress.

...

From next year, greater emphasis will be given to teachers' assessments, with tests in English and maths becoming part of a broader measure of pupil performance.

...

The more relaxed testing regime will see a greater emphasis on assessments by teachers - which run alongside the externally-marked tests. The two measurements will be integrated, with the teacher assessment "the key overall judgement," said Mr Clarke.

The move also sees the postponement of the government's targets for Key Stage 2 SATs (11-year-olds) by two years and schools being allowed to set their own goals. Mr Clarke also annouced that league tables of test results at 11 could also be modified to include recent reports from Ofsted inspections and the "overall quality of education at individual schools".

I have no qualms with league tables. League tables, especially at GCSE level, should be published. It is also comforting to know that the teachers' assessment now will count for something, at least at Key Stage 1.

Information to be found on BBC, TES and the Independent.

Train passing by a rice field Yet more pictures of rice fields. None courtesy of me, but found instead on Daily Yomiuri's Visions of Japan (which used to be Nanjo's Nihon , I think). The train travelling by the freshly-planted rice field is beautiful and it is just such a lovely shot of the Japanese countryside. And the photo below is wonderful, too, I think. The simplicity and hard work of the man harvesting the rice, with a train passing overhead in the distance. So much green in one space! Visions of Japan have a series of photos called Following local trains and they show photos of small, local trainlines, often in the countryside. Their series Following festivals isn't as interesting to me. Must be the lack of rice fields.
Harvesting rice with train passing overhead I am obsessed. I know this. I spend hours looking for and then looking through pictures of Japan. Rice fields, Shinjuku, neon, old wooden houses, etc. Hours spent just staring at photos of a land far away. The more time I spend following up on this obsession, the larger the need to go back to Japan becomes. Yes, I've been there before. Yes, it wasn't all very pleasant. Yes, I left because I wanted to, because it would have been a disaster to stay for another year. It didn't stop the need to learn about, to read about Japan. My visit will have to wait and the possibility of living there again is very slim (I'm marrying a Brit and buying a house here; we ain't movin' again any time soon...). But the obsession, I feel, will continue.

And with that, here are the new additions to the Japanophile links:

  • The Bastishnet...I've linked to it before. Kevin lives in Japan and takes loads of gorgeous photographs of Japan. He also paints. Well worth a look.
  • In-duce...by Paul. Seems to have arrived in Japan by bus (overland through Europe, Russia and China), which is an amazingly long journey. Yet another great photographer of all things Japanese.
  • Mikan Moblog...also linked before, but really worth a visit daily.
  • Jeansnow...digital diaries from the Tokyo front. Indeed, they are. Excellent pictures (also a moblog called Tokyo Boy) and descriptions of life in Japan.

Monday

Jan Zdzarski is studying in China. I don't know what he's studying nor how long he's been there, but he is writing a blog about his life in China. His blog is in Polish, unfortunately for all of you who don't speak the language, and it is fantastic. At the moment, he is describing the lock-down in the unversities (as a measure against SARS) and the frustrations felt by the students. It's a v. interesting read.

New research has shown that women can withstand pain better than men.

"I think men have always secretly suspected that in order to go through childbirth a woman has to be pretty tough. Now we have some new science to back up the idea that women may be better able to cope with pain than men -- at least during certain periods of their life," says Dr. James N. Dillard, author of the The Chronic Pain Solution and an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.
The reason for this? Apparently, it's estrogen (oestrogen). Mostly responsible for building up the lining of the uterus during the menstrual cycle, the hormone may also be responsible for increasing the availability of endorphins.
When estrogen levels are high, there's an increased number of areas in the brain where endorphins can "park." The more "parking places" available, Zubieta says, the more endorphins there are on call, waiting to flood the body with "feel good" chemicals capable of overriding pain signals
When women enter menopause and their estrogen levels drop, they begin to feel more aches and pains. Woman's conditioning to pain (menstrual, childbirth, etc.) can also help in helping the body deal witht he pain.
"Research has shown that the more upset somebody is about pain -- man or woman -- the more they tend to amplify pain signals and the worse the pain feels," Dillard says. "So, if a woman is used to pain, she will be less alarmed by pain signals, and that leads to better tolerance."

The study of gender-based pain is still in its infancy. And while it's beginning to appear as if women may have some biochemical advantages, ironically, women are also more likely to suffer from pain syndrome illnesses -- conditions such as fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches.

The article can be found on Health Scout News .

Slovakia also said yes to EU. This means that five countries have now voted to enter the European Union: Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia. Poland is the next country to vote on joining the EU and there's worry about the turn-out in Poland. By law, it must be higher than 50% and with approval of the government at around 20%, there is a chance that not enough people will vote.

Sunday

I've been away from the computer for a couple of days and have now spent a good part of an hour catching up on all news. Here are a few Poland-related links that I've enjoyed reading:

  • The Warsaw Pact, 2003 is a nice tongue-in-cheek article on the new-found role of Poland in the world-wide arena of politics.
  • Poland Reemerges from the Christian Science Monitor is very short and to the point.
    Still, Poland is back. Now the rest of Europe, along with the Poles, must adjust to that new reality.
  • Poles of Attraction from the Guardian is a very comprehensive look at the state of affairs in Poland today: from the involvement in Iraq through the massive unemployment (20%...WOW! I knew it was high, but not this high) to the upcoming EU vote and the fear that less than 50% of the electorate will show up.
  • Poland.pl have a countdown to the referendum on their website, as well as many links to news items.

Late last week, we received a letter from our solicitor with an outline of the fees they will charge us for sorting out the sale of N's flat and the purchase of our house. Among the multitude of fees (one of with was "searching", which puzzled me because I can search with the best of them: search on Google, search for my keys in the morning, search for spare change under the sofa cushions, search for my wallet, etc. I don't see why we should pay £190 for them to search), we found one that we didn't understand: conveyancing. We were being charged over £500 for a word we didn't understand. Being intelligent people, N and I checked this word in the Wordsworth Concise English Dictionary

conveyancing
the act of conveying
convey
to transmit, to carry, to impart, to communicate, to steal
To steal...that explained a lot to us. It did (and still does) seem as if we are being robbed blind. Five hundred pounds for the simple act of preparing the deeds for the transference of a property (as another definition told us). It seems like a lot of money. The solicitors' fees on top of the surveyors' fees and the valuation fees are piling up. This is all before we can even dream of starting to pay the mortgage off. Then there's my favourite: stamp duty. It appears to the casual observer that stamp duty is a tax on anybody who can afford a house over £100,000. This is pretty much everybody these days, as we couldn't find a house for less than that in our area if we tried. So, the government is pocketing a nice sum everytime somebody in the UK buys a house. I'm really looking forward to getting through the next few months and then being able to move into our lovely house and pay only the mortgage (and the council tax, the insurance, illness&early death cover, etc.).

Thursday

My blood pressure went up considerably when I saw the following headline:

Bush, Blair Nominated for Nobel Prize for Iraq War
I didn't think that those nominated for a Peace Prize had to bomb the shit out of a country and kill hundreds of people. Shall we nominate Saddam for a Peace Prize next?

Then, I calmed down and read the rest of the article and it all became clear when I read:

A Norwegian parliamentarian nominated President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday, praising them for winning the war in Iraq.

'Sometimes it's necessary to use a small and effective war to prevent a much more dangerous war in the future,' Jan Simonsen, a right-wing independent in Norway's parliament, told Reuters.

Right-wing, that's all I needed to read.

Clearly Bush has about as much a chance of winning the Peace Prize as I do. But the right-wingness of Tony Blair is beginning to bother me more and more. Tory in sheep's clothing?

Article to be found on Reuters , via A Blog's Life .

Wednesday

It's a sad day in our household. Last night, Bristol City failed to win against Cardiff, who now have a chance of moving up into the 1st Division. N has been a supporter of "the Reds" all his life and he found this hard to swallow. The normally calm and quiet man was very upset last night and went on a mini-rage on the way to school this morning. You see, Bristol City actually ended up third from the top in 2nd Division, ahead of Cardiff by 2 points. They also had beaten Cardiff twice this season. He felt that they should go up. I know that this is the sentiment felt by most people whose teams don't advance, but N has had his hopes shattered more than once. In fact, he's had them shattered for many years now. They've been close before and my words of "well, don't worry, there's always next year" brought on "yeah, that's exactly how it's been for years--there's always next year--but it never happens." I felt bad for him. I don't understand why there are play-offs and I agree with the man on the radio this morning (which brought on the mini-rant): the top three go up. No questions asked, no play-offs. You've earned it, you got to third, you go up. Simple as that.

Well, there's always next year. Come on you Reds!

Al-Qaeda are the prime suspects in the Saudi Arabian bombing, according to the BBC (and others). At least 29 people are dead and nearly 200 injured. According to the TV pictures, a whole side of the apartment compound was also ripped off. It's very serious and very sad.

I seem to remember George W. Bush promising that the war on Iraq was going to decrease terrorist attacks. It was going to show the terrorists that Americans are made of tough stuff and it was going to make the world safer. I remember him saying exactly that: make the world safer.

Well, guess what? It hasn't worked. I'm pretty sure that most of us aren't surprised. I'm also pretty sure that most of us (supporters and non-supporters of Bush's Holy War) are pretty horrified and saddened by what happened in Saudi Arabia. Innocent people yet again died, while those responsible for this mess in which we're in are not being held accountable. What's Bush going to do now? Bomb some other country in a "show of force"? We know you're powerful, Georgie. We know you've got more missiles than we've had hot dinners. We know you can pretty much level any country you decide to level on a whim. But you don't seem to be winning the war on terrorism. In fact, you're losing it.

Where is Osama Bin Laden (a Saudi, by the way)? Where is Saddam Hussein? Where is Chemical Ali? Where are all those who plan these disgusting attacks? How will you find them? How will you bring them to justice? Have you got an actual plan that doesn't involve more attacks on other countries?

That's the thing, though: I don't think you do. I don't think you think about the long-term answers. You just want to win again in 2004. How many more lives will be lost before George W. Bush leaves the White House? At this rate, sadly, more.

In further reference to an earlier post, Gazeta Wyborcza reports that Monsignor Andrzej Sliwinski has been suspended in his duties as bishop. According to the article, this is the first instance in the history of the Polish Catholic Church, of an official suspension of a bishop.

Hopefull this satisfies the ABC.

Tuesday

A pupil at St. John's School in Enfield, London has been expelled and barred from taking his GCSEs because he didn't show up for a school photo. The whole story can be found here and there . The school says that he was sent home for being defiant and expelled because his parents rung the school and threatened to make the case public. The parents, of course, deny this.

I honestly think that there are much better things about the education system that could be reported. I could see the school's side, especially if the parents rang up and threatened (don't ever threaten schools). I can see how expelling the student for this is a bit silly, but the kid should have been there at the photos. Simple as that. It's a good school, St. John's. We drive by it every time we visit our friends in Enfiled and every time I say to N, "I wish I could work at that school", but then remember that I'd have to live in Enfield on a teacher's salary, which wouldn't be easy.

According to the Guardian today, a badger injured five people in Evesham.

The one-year old Badger, named Boris, launched what experts described as unprecedented attacks after finding himself hungry, alone and frightened after being stolen or released from a wildlife visitor centre where he had been hand-reared and hand-fed.
...
Mrs Fitzgerald, 60, said she and her husband had gone to bed at around 11pm last Friday when they heard a loud bang in their garage. Her husband went to investigate and opened the garage to let the badger out before retiring to the front door to watch it go.

Instead of scuttling away, the animal headed straight for him and attacked.
...
Worcestershire Badger Society put down Boris after catching him in a trap laid on the Fitzgeralds' front lawn, but not before he had chased pursuing police officer onto the bonnet of their car.

Badger society chairman Mike Weaver said the mammal had attacked four other people, including a young man in the Greenhill area of Evesham.

Mr Weaver said: "I have been involved with badgers for 24 years and I have never heard of anything like this."

He acknowledged that injured badgers or those which were being handled had been known to bite humans, but attributed its "uncharacteristic" behaviour to the fact it had been kept in captivity prior to its period of freedom.

"For them to attack people is unheard of," Mr Weaver added. Badgers have been known to attack badgers from other setts.

Weaver said badgers were notoriously powerful animals and the incident showed the folly of trying to turn wild animals into pets.

This is clearly a serious event and I don't want to make fun of it, but I have two comments:
One, when met with a badger, clearly walk (or run) the other way.
Two, there is a Badger Society? A Worcestershire Badger Society?

I see.

The whole article can be found here .

Lithuania said yes to the EU. Will Poland do the same in a few weeks' time? Hard to tell with the current government's popularity falling. So far, Malta, Slovenia, Hungary and now Lithuania have all voted "yes" to join the European Union in May, 2004.

Monday

Eric and Joan bicycled around the world. They also made it to Poland and the account of their adventures there can be found on their very informative and excellent website. The entire website is really interesting to read and, if I'm ever mad enough to bike around the world, I'd love to keep a journal like they did. As it is, I don't think I'll ever be mad enough. Maybe ride trains around the world, that would be a good idea. I could do that.

Via Confessions of a Grade School Role Model .

This is no surprise:

The United States Trade Representative's (USTR) verdict to put Poland on a more critical watch list for intellectual property (IP) violations has the country's antipiracy crusaders gearing up for a more effective effort and more palpable results in scaling down the corruption that plagues the music, film and software industries with hundreds of million of dollars in losses.
The report goes on to say that roughly 40% of illegal CDs and 53% of business software is pirated in Poland. And then it goes on to mention the "Russian Market".
"I would like not to have pirated goods in the (Stadion Dziesieciolecia) by the end of the year," he said.

The Stadion, or the "Russian Market," featured heavily in the 301 report as the site of the most rampant corruption in Poland.
...
He explained that this year alone there have been 400 raids on the Russian Market, and FOTA has provided assistance to authorities on identifying illegal goods.

Yes, there have been raids. But just as often I saw the police walk by and do nothing. The traders cover up their goods in seconds and then stand behind the tables covered by a tarpaulin. The police walk by (not checking under the tarpaulin, as if the trader was selling air, the tarpaulin, or invisible goods (?)) and then the traders uncover their merchendise and life continues as normal. I've know cops to shop there on the weekend with their wives. I've seen the police question the traders, but it seemed to have been mostly to do with their papers and their legal immigration status in Poland.

What the industry doesn't seem to realise that piracy will prevail in poorer countries. It's an easy way to make money and people will want to pay lower prices for CDs and DVDs, if possible. On the Russian Market, I can get a CD for 10 zloty (20, if it's a double CD) which translates to £ 1.7. The quality is very, very good. Most DVDs will run between 30-45 zloty, which is £ 5-7.40. The DVDs are usually of good quality, although, if you decide to buy a film that's only just come our in the cinemas, then the quality will be crap. Software is equally cheap; a program on a single disc is 20 zloty (£ 3.30) and double that for a double disc.

This is affordable to the average Pole. At this moment, I personally estimate the average monthly salary (before taxes) to be around 1200 to 1500 zloty (£ 198-248). This may be a low estimate, but I know of people to take home a little over a thousand zloty a month. After rent, bills, food, etc., there's little left for entertainment. The average price of CDs in Poland is between 45-65 zloty, which is at least 4 times what the CDs on the Russian Market cost. DVDs vary between 60 and 90 zloty, yet another multiple of the Russian Market price. And it's not just the average Pole who does this; there are the foreigners and better-earning Poles who do this. It's normal. When faced with two CDs, and one being 4 times less than the other, you'll always buy the cheaper. You'll always spend less, if given a choice. Even if it's illegal.

But for most of those who buy pirated goods, the illegality never enters our minds. Who is getting hurt? Big business? Well, big business is meaningless and faceless to most of us. When I think of Disney, I think of Michael Eisnener in his expensive suits, sitting on his expensive chair (leather, no doubt) in his expensive office somewhere. When I think of Sony, I think of Tommy Motola. I don't think of the artist nor the people working in the mailroom at BMG. Big business does not have a face and it's big. It can take care of itself.

I think that's the root of the problem. People won't stop buying pirated goods when they're available to them because they think it's a painless crime (most probably don't think that it is a crime!). They're not hurting anybody tangible. Also, by buying the product and not actually manufacturing it, the buyer feels no guilt. They haven't done anything, but follow the doctrine of capitalism and shop around. The buyer chooses the goods and pays for them. Simple. Since they didn't actually produce the pirated goods, they feel no guilt. And this is the problem with piracy. Those "committing" it, don't think that it's a crime.

While there are customers (and there are plenty of those, on Saturdays the Russian Market is a very, very busy place) there will be those who are willing to provide the product. I'm not condoning the practice, but the industry must realise that they need to make their product more affordable or else they will not do away with piracy. The goods on the Russian Market are of good quality and they are very affordable to everyone. This makes me think that the Polish government has got a serious battle on their hands. Even if they close Stadion Dziesieciolecia, there are plenty of little markets around Warsaw, where traders could set up post. And since only 15-20% of the pirated CDs are actually made in Poland, they must also examine their customs practices. It's not going to be easy for them to curb piracy in Poland.

The article quoted can be found here.

This made the news in Australia (courtesy of ABC News):

A Polish bishop faces two years in prison for drink driving, according to police in Elblag, the northern Poland town where his diocese is located.

The bishop, Monsignor Andrzej Sliwinski, caused an accident while driving in a drunken state, with 0.8 grams of alcohol in his blood, and now "risks two years in prison", police spokeswoman Alina Zajac told AFP.

He is due to be questioned today, she said. His car bumped into two others when leaving the town. No-one was injured in the accident. Poland's alcohol limit for drivers in 0.2 grams.

It's either a slow newsday in Australia and the ABC doesn't quite know how to spend taxpayers' money or the Aussie press is very vigilant about drunk driving in Eastern European countries. You decide.

Saturday

We went to see the Finacial Advisor today to apply for a mortgage. This was fine. We applied and everything is sorted, but when we left, the scale of this purchase really hit us. The mortgate monthly repayments aren't that great; only £90 greater than the rent. But we'll be doing this for the next 23 years. We'll be putting money into the new house (to redo the bathroom, central heating, etc.). I just had this thought of all my disposible income all of a sudden becoming...indisposible! No holidays, no new shoes, no digital cameras (which I want badly to document for posterity the renovation process). We left the financial advisor and I proceeded to have a small anxiety attack. It's just the biggest purchase I've ever made and it is a long-term investment. I know that I can't change my mind. I love the house (picture to come soon) and I'm very happy that we can make it our own by decorating it. The costs do worry me and I guess that's what set it off.

N and I had a long chat and we examined all possibilities, but we're sticking with it. It's a lot of money, but we love the house and we will be happy there. It will be tight for a while (especially with the wedding next year), but we will manage it and I'm sure once we're living there, we'll be v. happy. Crisis over. Stay tuned for more anxiety attacks. Smile!

Back to watching 100 Worst Britons.

New additions to the Japanophile section of the links (in no particular order):

  • Pam's Blog of Random Stuff , I've read it for months now (well, two) and I love it. Pam's lived in Japan for a long time and has now recently moved back home to the US. The posts are interesting and I really enjoy reading what Pam gets up to.
  • Bluesocks in Tokyo, does what it says. Good and interesting.
  • Mikemedia in Japan, I love the photos and the posts are interesting. But the photos are great.
  • ChariOtaku, I've just started reading it, so I cannot really describe it well, but it's looks good so far. The photos are lovely, too.
  • Gary's Boring Blog, surprisingly, it's not boring.
  • Confesions of a Grade School Role Model, long title, good blog. I really am enjoying it, even though I've only been reading it for a few days.
Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.

Moblogging is posting on your blog using your mobile phone. It's becoming more and more popular, as you can simply take a picture with your phone, type in a comment or two and upload it from anywhere you happen to be. It's fascinating. Currently, I'm a daily reader of two moblogs:

  • Mikan Moblog, which has great pictures. I especially like this one, showing a typical Japanese school lunch.
  • Wandering Muses , Kurt Easterwood's moblog (see Hmmn for Kurt's blog). Kurt has done a great job with this Moblog, taking lots of photos of his newborn son, his brother, trip to Hitachi, delivery pizza, etc. It's great.
There are lots of other moblogs out there and Kurt links to a number of them from his Wandering Muses page.

Friday

My mother send me a link to an article in the Gazeta. If you can read Polish, it can be found for now here (though Gazeta's links are only active for 1, 2 days maximum. For the rest of the world, I will transcribe the contents of the article.

Halliburton (the company formerly run by Dick Cheney's, the Vice President) seems to have received a contract for not only putting out oil fires and repairing oil rigs, as we've been led to believe. According to Senator Henry Waxman, Haliburton's contract also covers "distribution" of oil and "operating" in Iraq's oil fields. Haliburton is considered to be one of the world's specialist in oil and natural gas exploration. However, extraction and the handling of crude oil is another matter. And that is what part of the contract seems to have indicated, but in a very imprecise manner. Nobody knows exactly what Halliburton's role will be. Another important piece of information provided by Senator Waxman is the possibility that Halliburton has had contracts with companies from countries who sponsor terrorism. So, basically they did business with countries on the "Axis of Evil" list.

It's a good article (thanks Mum!) and if you can read Polish, I recomment that you do. Halliburton is just one of the bricks in what seems to be a wall of corruption and pandering to big business. (see a nice chart on how the tax cuts will benefit the rich vs. the average ).

Well, our offer was accepted. We are now house owners*. It all happened so quickly that I haven't had time to think about it clearly. We only saw the house last Saturday! So, this afternoon we were looking at bathroom suites (the bathroom needs to be replaced as it hasn't been renovated in many, many years) and bathtubs. Very exciting and very worrisome at the same time.

In a less positive news event, Blogger Dano appears to have misplaced, eaten, destroyed, lost my archives on the Reading Room page. Three months of reading long just disparu. Not happy about it at all. In fact, very unhappy about it.

N's brother is here for a visit this weekend, so blogging will be light.

*subject to contract

Wednesday

Yet another reason to pursue my fascination with Japan: freshly planted rice paddies. Rice paddy. It's not my photo, of course, I don't live in Japan anymore. I found it on The Bastishnet , which is a blog maintained by Kevin, who lives in Japan (lucky sod). A larger view of this beautiful paddy can be found here . There's something about those rows of rice plantings that I find amazing. Possibly because I lived surrounded by rice fields for two years. Possibly because before the invention of those fancy planter machines, the rows were done by hand with people up to their knees in mud planting these wispy seedlings. Up to their knees in mud and leeches. Japan has a beautiful countryside; it can be very littered at times, but there is so much green in Japan! I never expected that much green. The countryside is lovely with the farm houses, older houses and small single-family shops. It's beautiful. Why the hell did I leave?

Oh, right. Poland. smilie

Poland backs off troop plan
Poland yesterday softened a proposal to have German troops serve under its command as part of a multinational security force in Iraq after the United States rejected the notion and Germany said it was not interested.

A day before his meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday, Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Smajdzinski floated the idea in an interview with The Washington Times, saying, "We would like to have German troops."

Why? Why are they so intent on dragging in other countries?
During the interview Sunday at the Polish Embassy in Washington, Mr. Smajdzinski proposed a Polish-German-Danish unit, pointing out that such a force exists under NATO. He also said, "I'm sure the United States would be interested in that."

But U.S. officials said Mr. Rumsfeld made it clear to his guest that Germany or any other country that opposed the war in Iraq would not take part in the stabilization force.

Ok...clear? Can we try now not to be the spokesperson for the rest of the EU, which, by the way, we still haven't joined? Can we?
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who met with Mr. Cimoszewicz yesterday, refrained from commenting on Warsaw's proposal. Mr. Powell said he was "very pleased that Poland is once again stepping up to its responsibilities by participating more fully" in the reconstruction of Iraq.
Hooray. He's pleased with that. Oh how happy it makes me feel.
Denmark responded positively to the Polish proposal by announcing it will send 380 troops, police officers and medical staff to southeastern Iraq in early June.

The decision to send troops was "necessary to support and ensure humanitarian and reconstruction efforts and the process of political transition in Iraq," Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Copenhagen.

The rest of the article here.

I don't know what they are doing. Why are we so insistent on getting Germany to go along and participate in the rebuilding of Iraq? What makes the Polish politicians think that Germany would be interested in this? Are we trying to do them a favour, returning the one they did us in regards to EU funding?

Poland's defense minister suggested in Washington this week that a Polish-led peacekeeping force in Iraq be built around the corps, set up after Poland joined NATO in 1999. Poland also pushed for U.N. authorization for the force — a move apparently designed to help Germany, a staunch opponent of the war, get aboard.
From MSNBC.

I'm surprised just how intent the Polish government is in getting themselves stuck in the middle of this rift. The Germans don't want to join the Iraq rebuilding team. Stop bloody well siding with the Americans for once. You're Europeans. You're not isolated on an island, so don't make any huge waves, for God's sake. Don't go offeding your next-door neighbours with offers that they must, and should, refuse. Haven't you got better things to do? The economy, for one, isn't as hot as it should be. The unemployment is still in double digits and not getting any lower. You've got a referendum in a month's time that will decide whether or not you're joining the EU and benefitting from being a member. Your Prime Minister is now being investigated for insulting a public official (in his deposition to the investigative commission about the Rywingate affair, Leszek Miller said to Zbigniew Ziobra, "You're a nothing" (Pan jest zerem). Zbigniew Ziobra is one of the members of the commision investigating the corruption claims. Mr. Miller was being asked some probing questions at the time he made that statement. I've talked about the Rywingate affair here.). Your government's approval has diminished. Seriously, Mr. Kwasniewski, you're making some silly decisions at the moment. Or you're allowing some of your leaders to make silly decisions. In either case, it's time to focus on what you've got to do inside your own country before you go looking for trouble elsewhere.

Just my two grosze on the situation back home (note: grosze is the Polish equivalent to cents).

Bill Bryson has (or will soon have, I'm not yet sure which one) a new book out. It's called A Short History of Nearly Everything. It sounds absolutely fantastic! It's scientific! It's like the history of time and how we got to where we got and how it all started and the progression and...well...everything. You can even read an excerpt:

NO MATTER HOW hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton. It is just way too small.

A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course an insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this i can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. So protons are exceedingly microscopic, to say the very least.

Now imagine if you can (and of course you can't) shrinking one of those protons down to a billionth of its normal size into a space so small that it would make a proton look enormous. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter. Excellent. You are ready to start a universe.

V. good.

Randomhouse.com, where I spotted this beauty, seems to offer different titles for Bill Bryson books that I'm familiar with: Is I'm a Stranger Here Myself the US equivalent of Notes from a Big Country ? Also, In a Sunburned Country must surely be Down Under . Why are there different titles for these books?

Tuesday

I'm currently reading Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski and I am totally in love with this book. I'll write more about it when I finish it on the Reading Room, but I do want to write about the author. Having come across Kapuscinski briefly, I wasn't interested in his writings. He centres mostly on Africa, Latin America and Iran, countries which don't interest me deeply. Imperium is about Soviet Union/Russia; a subject much closer to my heart. Not only is it about Russia but it is about the life under Communism, the fall of Communism and its effects; topics which get my heart beating faster and cause me to salivate. I only wish that he'd write about Poland and just about Poland. He did write a book about Poland in the 60s called Bush Po Polsku (Bush in the Polish Style), but it is now out of print and I cannot locate a copy. He did write a series of observations in Polish called Lapidarium, which I will buy.

My newfound fascination with Kapuscinski has led me today on a chase across the internet to find more, to read more, to absorb as much as possible. This fascinating, brilliant man that has lay hidden from me for so long. Here's what I've been able to unearth so far:

  • Profile of Ryszard Kapuscinski from the Polish Culture page. Brief bio and bibliography.
  • A service from the Gazeta Wyborcza (pl) on Kapuscinski, calling him Cesarz Reportazu (the Ceasar of Reporting). Excellent, with excerpts, interviews and factoids.
  • A 37-minute interview with Kapuscinski conducted in English (love the accent!) from the Roland Collection . Deep, thorough and interesting. Needs RealPlayer to view.
  • A lovely fansite in Polish on Ryszard Kapuscinski to be found here. Has lovely bio, copies of newer articles that have appeared, bibliography and much more.
  • An annoucement (from April 30, 2003!) that Kapuscinski has won Spain's Prince of Asturias award for communication and humanities on the Newsday website.
And there is more. But I don't have the time to peruse it today.

I want to read more of what he wrote. It's a new obsession for me.

We are going to view the house again tonight. N has grown more and more excited about it through the weekend. My view is still unchanged: it's nice, but there's lots to do there (central heating, etc.). But his enthusiasm is infectious and I am getting a little excited about seeing the house again.

Update: We have seen the house, it's gorgeous. The bathroom and kitchen need a lot of work, the rooms need to be repainted, but it's just what we would want: Victorian, full of character (reall Victorian floorboards in the bedrooms and Victorian tiles in the kitchen under a silly carpet!), in a nice street that we could make ours. I think we'll be putting in an offer. I'm excited and scared at the same time because it's such a huge committment, so much money. I'll keep you informed.

Sunday

The unions are going to love this one:

The Government is to propose a major reform of teachers' pay in a bid to avoid a repeat of the funding problems that have engulfed schools this year.

Junior education minister Stephen Twigg will say that future pay deals for teachers should be done on a three-year, rather than annual, basis, when he addresses the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) conference in York.

From Ananova. More info from The Guardian .

If they can manage to make the increases large enough and maintain the cost-of-living increase each April, I can see the unions and most teachers agreeing with this system. But what will happen to the tiers? What will happen to the Upper Pay Scale? Will that be kept in, but pushed futher, so that it will take more than 5 years to reach it? Or will this pay deal simply become the UPS, where we'll have to prove "progression" in order to get a pay increase?

There was an interesting headline on the front page of The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

Schools warn of four-day week over cuts

N's flat has finally sold and now the house hunting begins. We had a look at a few houses yesterday and N's already in love with one of them. I like it, but am not yet totally crazy about it, so we'll go and do a second viewing. It's a nice house, just in the style that we'd like, but I worry about the lack of central gas heating, the teeny-tiny kitchen and the bathroom. But the upstairs is gorgeous with large rooms and original Victorian wood floors (preserved beautifully). We'll go and have a second look and see how I feel about it.

We looked at sofas today. Our sofa is old and not comfortable, so it's time for a new one. We'll get it once we move into the new house as there's no point in getting it now and then having to move it with the rest of our stuff.

We feel like such grown-ups. Mortgates, sofas, homes, weddings. Things that I always saw other people do and never really thought of doing it myself. It's moving into responsibility and the fact that I now own furniture. And, in the future, I will own even more. It's not that easy to move now. It's no longer shove everything into suitcases and mail the rest in boxes through the post to the new place of living, the new country. Now, it's to do with renting vans or hiring movers, struggling with matteraces and clothes' dryers, worrying about how to move the piano and the fridge. It's a totally new life. I am an adult. I don't live like a student anymore. It's kind of fun.

Saturday

Buffy The Vampire Slayer is finishing on the 20th of May. Because of me being UK-bound and cable/satellite-less, I probably won't see the final for another year or so. Still, it doesn't stop me feeling blue about the lack of Buffy. Or reading the episode summaries . I am a late Buffy convert, so N and I have gone out and bought the first four seasons on video and have recently finished watching them all.

Joss has listed his favourite top 10 episodes from Buffy in USA Today (via Alas, a Blog ). They are:

  1. Innocence, where Angel loses his soul after a moment of true happiness with Buffy
  2. Once More With Feeling, the all-singing, all-dancing show.
  3. Hush, where nobody talks, Giles uses an OHP and great drawings to explain what's happening, eery floating figures with perma-smiles and just a brilliant ending.
  4. The Body, where Buffy's mum dies.
  5. Doppelgangland, with Vampire Willow, who's cool, sexy, very bad and "kind of gay".
  6. The Wish, where we first meet Anya and the episode is set in bizarro-world Buffy-wise: vampires rule, The Master's back, Buffy gets killed, Willow and Xander are evil vamps and Angel is locked up.
  7. Becoming, Part II, where Buffy has to kill Angel to save the world. Sad.
  8. Restless, which I've just watched a few days ago. The gang save the world (from Adam's demonic plan) and go through a dream where they are hunted by the First Slayer. Giles sings. Brilliant, make Giles sing, I say.
  9. Conversations With Dead People, which I have not yet seen (not on terrestrial view yet) and where people chat with the dead, who aren't really chatting with them. Apparently, it's The First that's chatting.
  10. Prophecy Girl, where Buffy quits as a Slayer, comes back to face The Master, dies (and she's died twice) and then Xander performs CPR, Buffy kills The Master and all's well.
Good list! I will truly miss Buffy when it's gone. It's such an excellent TV show, of which there are only a few these days. It has humour, drama and suspense all rolled into one. Plus, Giles and Willow's characters are such eccentrics that it makes it a pleasure to watch. Especially when Giles sings. Love to have Giles sing. My top ten? Difficult choice but here we go:
  1. Once More With Feeling, because I love the songs.
  2. Doppelgangland because Alyson Hannigan is fantastic as a sexy vamp and then hillariously fantastic as Willow-pretending-to-be-vamp-Willow.
  3. Hush because those floating demons with their perma-smiles are just so eerie.
  4. Band Candy where Giles and Joyce (Buffy's mum) get high on doctored chocolate and do all sorts of great things.
  5. The Puppet Show because it kept me guessing until the very end.
  6. Tabula Rasa because the thought of Giles and Spike being related (and Spike thinks his name is Randy) is too funny.
  7. Earshot where Buffy can hear what everyone thinks.
  8. Fear, Itself Giles+chainsaw. Brilliant.
  9. Prophesy Girl, we finally get rid of The Master, Buffy dies (once).
  10. The Gift Buffy dies (again), Spike cries, Scooby Gang is devastated.

Water is the beginning of everything. It is the first nourishment. It is the blood of the earth.
from Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Yes, I am loving my current read.

Today is the 212th anniversary of the proclamation of the Polish Constitution . It preceeded the French constitution and followed the American one by 4 years. It wasn't an easy thing to achieve because of the opposition of some of the gentry, who wanted to retain the status quo. But in the end, due to persistence and careful (read: sneaky) choosing of dates, the constitution was passed allowing the introduction of hereditary throne and responsibility of the ministers to the Seym, among others. More information to be found here and here. Happy Constitution Day!

Friday

From a different kettle of fish: the US has warned Canada on easing its marijuana possession laws.

Murray (assistant to US' drug czar) said Canada's reputation in the global community would be forever altered if it decided to decriminalize pot.

"It's not just Canada's relationship with the United States that would change; it's Canada's relationship with the world," he said.

In fact, many countries, notably in Europe, have already decriminalized marijuana, but none of them share a border with the U.S., where the policy is zero tolerance for smoking pot.

From CBC.

Why is the U.S. so concerned with Canada's laws? David Murray has said that he doesn't want to "tread on another country's sovereignty" but at the same time he warned of "consequences". How dare he? It isn't within his boundaries, it isn't an American law, therefore, it should not be up to him to talk about "consequences". Yet another example of the U.S.' too eager willingness to run other countries.

In today's TES Job Section: 8000 jobs on offer. Eight thousand! This is about three-four weeks before we're all meant to hand in our resignation notice. This is also at a time when some schools have to make teachers redundant because of a shortage of funding. It an incredible paradox: a country that is suffering a shortage of teachers now must stop employing those very teachers that they need because of a lack of funding. Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, is blaming the shortfall on the local councils.The local councils are blaming the government. No matter who you listen to, the problem is evident:

[T]here is a £2.5bn "black hole" in the budget over the next two years - which could also wreck the deal on reducing teachers' workloads.
Much of the problem stems from the fact that teachers' salaries, National Insurance and Pension contributions have increased this year. This puts a strain on the schools' budget (who spent 85% of their money on staff salaries, according to my Headmaster). According to David Miliband, the local governments are holding back £500 million pounds that should be alocated to schools. But this does not fill the £2.5 billion gap that exists.

As far as I'm concerned, the education system in the UK needs a serious shake-up. In my last year-and-a-half of teaching in this country, I have witnessed the following issues:

  • A-level marking shake-up, which put A-level standards into question. Teachers who have taught A-level for years and years and years are no longer sure if they are doing so properly because the standards have been unclear, muddled up and/or changed.
  • A debilitating teacher shortage that is still continuing to this day. Last year, some schools had 4-day working weeks for the students because they could not accomodate the numbers well enough.
  • A downward spiral of teacher morale and the annoucement that one-third plan to leave the profession in the next 5 years for various reasons (work overload, not enough money, kids, etc.)
  • The mess in vetting teachers to perform background checks on them. This is still going on.
  • There's the recent question of KS2 SATs and the fact that the targets are too high and aren't likely to be met this year (maths: 80% of students to be at level 4 and english: 79% at level 4)
There are good things about the English school system: the pay is good (as long as you don't live in London), the holidays are excellent (though the summer ones could use a couple of extra weeks) and the pension is superb. However, the students are still very disruptive. I have friends who taught in the UK and have now returned back to Canada and they love it back home, they find the kids challenging but nowhere as disruptive and difficult as the ones in the UK. The workload is high. The expectations are even higher. It's a stressful job to be in.

It's no wonder then, that so many teachers want to leave the profession. I would like to leave the profession in a few years. It's no wonder that after a day like today (fairly challenging, several kids refused to comply with reasonable demands, some chatting back, etc.) I don't really want to go back on Tuesday.

Thursday

To tell the truth is not George W. Bush's game; an interesting article on that topic to be found here. Basically, Bush lied. On everything: affirmative action, environmental protection, investment in public schools, the war, the economy, etc.

I don't want to say, "I told you so", but...

Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABCNEWS the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans.
...
Officials now say they may not find hundreds of tons of mustard and nerve agents and maybe not thousands of liters of anthrax and other toxins. But U.S. forces will find some, they say.
So, hundreds of people have died, children have been orphaned and familes have been split apart for some antrhax?
Other countries have such weapons, yet the United States did not go to war with them. And though Saddam oppressed and tortured his own people, other tyrants have done the same without incurring U.S. military action. Finally, Saddam had ties to terrorists — but so have several countries that the United States did not fight.

But Saddam was guilty of all these things and he met another requirement as well — a prime location, in the heart of the Middle East, between Syria and Iran, two countries the United States wanted to send a message to.That message: If you collaborate with terrorists, you do so at your own peril.

The rest of the article is a good read and it can be found on the ABC News site.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch:

We helped ourselves to the buffet and then sat down to begin eating our dinner. I was just about to tell Asher how I'd eaten there before and how delicious the vegetable curry was, but I never got a chance. All of a sudden, there was a terrible commotion and five NYPD in bulletproof vests stormed down the stairs. They had their guns drawn and were pointing them indiscriminately at the restaurant staff and at us.
...
When I asked to speak to a lawyer, the INS official informed me that I do have the right to a lawyer but I would have to be brought down to the station and await security clearance before being granted one. When I asked how long that would take, he replied with a coy smile: "Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month."

We insisted that we had every right to leave and were going to do so. One of the policemen walked over with his hand on his gun and taunted: "Go ahead and leave, just go ahead."

Niiice. Guns being pointed at innocent people, kitchen staff on their hands and knees, innocent people being hassled all courtesy of the Patriot Act. Guns. Pointed. Innocent people. Wow.

It's the wild west meet KGB.