TNET 28: I Hate Winter

Your mileage might vary. I hear there are people who like winter, for all the fun they cannot do at other time of the year – like skiing, skating etc. And the cold? Well you can just clothe appropriately, can’t you? No. When the temps fall bellow 10°C, my feelings can be summed up thus:

For me, the clothing is irrelevant to my experience even when putting aside the depression from lack of sunlight. When I clothe enough to not feel the cold, I feel very uncomfortable by how much the clothing restricts my movement and my field of vision. So I loathe having to dress in multiple layers of thick clothing to be able to go outside – only not to be able to do anything useful when I do so. Because even with thick gloves (which make any useful work impossible in themselves), when it is freezing my fingers go numb very quickly and upon return in warmth the Raynaud syndrome causes me intense pain.

Therefore I can forget skiing or any such shit, the hypothetical fun is not worth the torture I would have to endure each time I come back home, nevermind that sports are to me boring as shit in every conceivable form. The Raynaud syndrome can be triggered by temperatures below approx 10°C (I have not performed study to find the exact value) at any time of the year, it is not relative – I have got it when picking berries in the garden on a very cold summer day too. So about the only thing I could conceivably do in winter when going outside is a walk with my hands safely in my pockets and huddled up so I barely see anything. Not very entertaining, if you ask me, unless there is someone to talk to.

Am I grumpy enough yet?

Open thread, talk whatever you want, just do not be too sphincter about it.

– previous thread –

TNET 27 – Charly Says…

When I was writing my thesis, I was listening to music from The Prodigy. One song particularly stuck to mind, because the song’s name is actually one English version of my civic first name.

And because I was actually already called “Charlie” by many of my friends, I have adopted the spelling with “y” and most of them seem to have accepted it. Among my friends I respond actually faster to this nickname than to my formal name.

What was weird that I could not convince any Americans to call me Charly during my stay in USA. They all insisted on calling me with my civic name, whose pronunciation the of course butchered so I did not recognize the sound as my name at all. Funny that, I do not understand why not a single one of them obliged to go for an English version of the name which I explicitly told them that I respond to.

Anyhow, the nickname Charly stayed with me and I have kept it ever since on and off the internet. How did you get your nicknames, if you do not mind me asking?

Open thread, you can talk whatevers, just don’t be an asshole.

-previous thread-

The road goes ever on and on…

Way emerging between two dark rocks

The road goes ever on and on
©Giliell, all rights reserved

Dear readers, dear friends

After talking among ourselves, with Rick, and PZ, we, the Affinity writers Charly, voyager and Giliell have decided to continue the blog as a joint endeavour.

Affinity was always about community, about bringing people together, about sharing our lives, our highs and lows, and we decided that we do not want to lose the community, but to continue and keep it alive, in Caine’s memory as well as her spirit.

Of course, we do not want to continue as if nothing had happened. The blog will change. Not only does none of us have the time that Caine could invest thanks to being a professional artist, more importantly, none of us can replace her and we will not even try. Some regular features will remain, others will change or be replaced. TNET will continue as a place to hang out and chit chat. Also, the blog has always lived off the contributions of its readers, be it your pictures or projects and we absolutely want to continue this. Affinity shall remain a place for all.

To me personally, this is home and I would love to share it with all of you.

 

Youtube Video: I Smoke Armour

Metatron is not my favourite YouTuber, for some reason he rubs me the wrong way and on occasion he made me cringe when he opened his mouth about feminism (but to be clear, there was no obvious malice there, just cluelessness). But some of his videos are relatively good and I consider this to be one of them. Partly because my sister in law and her family are all heavy smokers who nevertheless looked at me in the past with derision for “wasting” money on books and time on bonsai trees.

Barcelona

Hello everybody and welcome to my first post here on Affinity.

In case I need an introduction, I’m Giliell, I’m German, a teacher, mum, crafter, and hunter-gatherer with a camera.

As I was uploading a metric ton of pictures from my recent holiday I offered Caine to run them as a series with explanations about the sites and sights and she kindly accepted.

Disclaimer: This is a tourist’s perspective on the city and its surroundings, and while I speak Spanish and kinda understand Catalan, I cannot claim deeper insights.

Having said that, let’s start this journey like I start every trip to Barcelona:

Behind the Iron Curtain part 11 – Ownership of the Means of Production

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


It can be argued that the regime in former Soviet bloc was never communist. I would agree with that and so did the regime itself. However to argue that it was not socialist or leftist would be false. The regime did try to provide for people and take care of them. And whilst it was agreed that the ideal of communism was not achieved yet, the means of production did belong to the people. Sort of.

The argument presented to us at school was a simple syllogism: Means of production belong to the state. The state consists of the people. Therefore the means of production belong to the people.

As it often is, it never is that simple and it did not work out. And the experience convinced me that ownership of the means of production by the people cannot work on grand scale. I think it might work on small-scale, on a scale of up to a few dozen or perhaps a few hundred people, not more. This is about the maximum where people can function as internally cohesive society (commune, if you wish), because at this small-scale people can manage to keep internal tabs of tits for tats. So cheaters and slackers can feel the negative consequences of their actions quickly either by being shunned by those they wronged, or by not getting their share of the produce etc. Thus people keep connection to each other and to the consequences of their actions, because those consequences – both social and economical – are nearby both in time and space.

I have already mentioned slacking at work, because nobody was motivated to work too much. What has thrived on the other hand was black market for labor. So for example if you wanted a house repaired, via official means it might take years and not be done properly. The only way to get things done was often to have “friends” help you to repair it in their free time. Such helps were paid cash without paper trail and artisans like plumbers, electricians etc. were highly sought after – and such illegal work was for them the only means to get extra money. So they skived off of work and often even stole materials from the state in order to make untaxed money on the side (immediate and personal reward – and also immediate and personal punishment if the word got around that one does a sloppy job).

Rarely anyone ever felt this is wrong. There was a great emotional disconnect between the State and its people. The above mentioned syllogism was not convincing enough. I mentioned the saying “who does not steal from the state, steals from their own family”. It was perceived by many people that since everything belongs to the state, it also belongs to ME and therefore I am entitled to help myself when the opportunity presents itself. One teacher tried to explain to us that such is not the case, that by stealing for example a sack of cement from the state of ten million people means one is only taking one tenth of one millionth of said sack that is their own, and the rest is stolen from the remaining 9.999.999 people, but I have noticed that none of my schoolmates was affected much by this logic. Those 9.999.999 people are a faceless crowd, an abstract concept too big to fit into human mind.

The problem here, as Terry Pratchett once brilliantly stated in Night Watch, was not the wrong kind of government, but the wrong kind of people. People on average are not kind-hearted, altruistic and rational. They are petty, selfish and short-sighted. Trying to make them connect with something as grand as a “state” or “nation” only works as long as they are personally and immediately affected. It cannot keep them motivated for long and for a reward that might only affect their grandchildren when the communism finally arrives and money is not needed anymore.

 

Behind the Iron Curtain part 9 – Shops and Services

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


After the WW2 the regime, under the lead of Stalin, had no thought of anything other than preparing for WW3. So after communists took power in a de-facto putsch in 1948, they invested all effort into re-building heavy industries and nothing else. And, at direct order from Stalin, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic refused any offers of help from USA and their western allies.

This was, as many other things, idiocy of first water. The economy as a whole was doing relatively well, with people being employed in the heavy industries. The main support of the communist party, the labourers, were making good money. The problem was they had nothing to spend it on. There was barely enough food to buy and nearly no luxury or comfort items, because light industries were deemed secondary and therefore not important and no effort was made to restore them after the war. And the iron curtain prevented importing goods in any meaningful amounts.

But people do not work like that, they want not only to barely survive on bread and water, they want savoury things, shiny things and pretty things too. Just feeding them enough so they do not starve is not enough. Hard work has to be rewarded with something more tangible than a pat on the shoulder and a word about how you contribute to the common good.

The regimes way to deal with the situation was to artificially devaluate the currency and thus effectively steal people’s money in 1953. It was touted as a final blow to the exploiters, the last remaining self-employed artisans and land owners, but the hardest hit was on the labourers. Before they had money but nothing to spend them on, but they had a hope of spending it someday. Now they had nothing.

Riots ensued that were drowned in blood. The propaganda tried to spin those riots as a work of infiltrators and foreign agents provocateurs, but it did not work. The regime has lost the trust of its main supporting class – the labourers. And it never regained it.

In reaction to this, some effort was made to provide people with things they want. It was succesful enough to prevent further riots, but not enough to regain the trust of people.

At the time of my life the situation was not as dire as it was in the fifties, but it was still pretty glum. Buying something was very difficult, even if you had the money for it. Not only luxury items like colour TVs were difficult to obtain, but even many ordinary items, like materials to do house repairs. For cars there were waiting lists.

This has led to a few main things.

One day when I was visiting my aunt in Pilsen we went shopping in a big shopping center. A huge shopping mall with half-empty shelves that nevertheless to me seemed full because I knew nothing better. My aunt saw the shopkeeper to sell a lipstick to a woman who was apparently her acquaintance and she wanted to buy the lipstick too. The retailer told her there aren’t any, to which my aunt replied, rather angrily, “Do not lie to me, I saw you to put the whole box under the counter”. This was my first meeting the concept of “under the counter goods”. Those were items that were so rare, that shopkeepers actually kept them hidden from the general public in order to either keep them for themselves or for their closest friends. If one wanted bananas or oranges, without a relative in the shop it was difficult to get either.

At another time and place I was talking with a friend of mine from school about a little experiment I wanted to do and I sighed, “I need magnets, but no shop around here sells them.” to which his incredulous reply was “Why don’t you steal them simply from school?”. To which I, equally incredulously, replied “I do not need them as much as to steal them!”. This was my first encounter of the concept “who does not steal from the state, steals from their own family”. For honest people it was nigh impossible to obtain some even quite ordinary goods, because they either never reached the public counters or were quickly sold out when they did. So it was quite common thing to steal for example building materials from public spaces. Who did not steal, did not prosper. Part of the reason why our house fell in such serious disrepair was that my parents did not steal.∗

But not only goods were hard to come by. Labour was difficult to get too. Need a house repaired or built? You better had a friend who is a builder. Not only would he be able to steal the materials you need, but he might also be able to make a lot of the work at the time when he is supposed to work for his employer. This in combination with previously mentioned slacking has exacerbated the labour shortage that was an ever-present theme. “There is not enough people” was the commonest explanation for why nothing works as it should be and work does not get done on time. You need some minor house repairs? You better do them yourself. If you cannot do them yourself, you are in bad luck, because “There is not enough people”.

For those who had occasionally got their hands on foreign currency, like German Marks, or US Dollars, or special secondary currency called “Bony”, there were specialised shops called “Tuzex” where imported western goods could be bought. These were highly sought after and a sign of social status. Jeans and Lego for example could not be bought anywhere else. But the regime did its best to prevent ordinary people from getting their hands on these currencies, they were reserved for the elite. So of course black market emerged. The proprietors were called “Vekslák” (probably from german “wechseln” – exchange) and were the official villains for the regime, by encouraging people in the following their base instinct to follow their own good instead of sacrificing it on the altar of the common good.

The iron curtain in this regard demonstrated where extreme isolationism, protectionism and one-sided economy leads – corruption and criminality. A lesson worthy of remembering,  yet nobody seems to remember it.


∗ Since my mother was a head of local food shop and my father was a factory foreman, people had difficulty to believe that they did not use their positions to enrich herself. There were rumours about us only pretending to be poor and how we have a car hidden i the garden shed and loads of money stashed away. After the fall of the iron curtain my parents were frequently asked why they do not start their own business or invest money. Nobody believed them for years when they said that they are not rich.

But they did use their positions to get some advantage. We always had some of the scarce goods. One of such goods were canned tangerines, those were so rare that actual fights broke out when they got into the shop. So when we wanted to buy color TV, my mother bought a whole box of canned tangerines  in order to sell them to the electronics shop keeper in the district main town who in turn held the TV under the counter for a few weeks until my parents could organize transport.

I succumbed to the peer pressure and I stole a piece of steel from school when I first wanted to make a knife. The knife was never made, because I have hidden the steel bar in a drawer and never used it. It gnawed at my conscience. I failed to internalize the imperative “who does not steal from the state, steals from their own family”.