Slavic Saturday

My oral graduation exam in highschool* was not looked forward to by my Czech language and literature teacher.  All the others (Biology, Chemistry, German language) have expected me to do reasonably well or even excel, but he had some reservations. I already had a 1 for my essay writing, but the oral exam was essentially going to be about history of Czech literature, and I had great dislike towards learning that history.

The reasons for this were multiple. Firstly history was taught as a sequence of dates  and names to memorize, and I have always had very, very poor memory for numbers and names, despite having excellent memory in general. It is extremely difficult for me to remember birth dates, even of the closest people I know. Secondly I was never convinced by the argument that learning history is important in order to avoid repeating mistakes, because I saw very early on that the whole of history actualy consists of repeating said mistakes by people who knew about them. And thirdly I did not go on well with that teacher on personal level.

So my knowledge of Czech literary history and theory was very, very sketchy. I have honestly tried my best to memorize all the dull and unpalatable shit that I was supposed to know for the exam, but it just did not hold. About the only thing I had a really detailed knowledge about was Karel Čapek, because I liked his books and I have read everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. The teacher knew this and later on I learned that he actually expressly said that he is apprehensive of my exam because “Čapek is all (Charly) knows”.

I was lucky during my exam. I have drawn a question where the main component was some poetry shit I knew nearly nothing about, and secondary question was something vaguely connected to Karel Čapek. I took my chance when preparing my notes and during talking I managed to drift to Čapeks works just after a few sentences and I stayed there talking in minute detail for the whole 15 minutes the exam took. The teacher, relieved, has let me. The observing teacher (an independent assessor from another school) did not intervene either, for whatever reason. And so I got lucky and passed.

Actually, to say that I liked Čapek is an understatement, I admired him greatly. Čapek is in my opinion unsurpassed in Czech literature. Very progressive for his time, and, above all, a fervent pacifist. In today’s world he would probably be left of Bernie Sanders, but he would not be radical leftist in a real sense of the word “radical” not how it is viewed in Anglophone world today, where anyone arguing that not everything should be privatized is labeled as radical leftie. He might even be accused of centrism by true radicals.

Čapek was very outspoken critic of Nazi Germany and its policies, so much so that his personal safety was threatened by local Nazi sympathisers. Allegedly some friends recommended to him to carry a weapon for self-defense after he received death threats, but his commitment to pacifism was such that all he could manage to do was to carry a small starter pistol and when confronted about it he replied “I know that I won’t hurt anyone this way”. Many of his works center around criticizing authoritarian regimes, social injustices and war horrors, and there is absolutely no uncertainty about where he stood on social issues.

But he did not like Marx and communism. And neither do I. And to this day I think his essay “Why I am not a communist” bears weight. Some parts are of course not well aged after nearly a hundred years (the casual sexism f.e.), some parts can be seen as predictive of the massive social and scientific failure that was Russia under Stalin. If we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, I would everyone recommend to go, read that essay and think about it.


*the closest translation I can get to anglophone equivalents)

 

International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter.

A balanced world is a better world. How can you help forge a more gender-balanced world?
Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

There are events worldwide to celebrate the day and I encourage you to check the site International Women’s Day to see what’s happening in your area. They have a search feature by country and city so plug-in and see what’s up. The site also has a wealth of resources and they’re hosting an international photo competition.

The world is still a dangerous place for women and there is much work to be done before that will change. International Women’s Day is a chance for us all to stand up and say we want a better world; a world where women are paid on parity with men, where access to birth control and abortion services are freely available, where rape is regarded as violent assault and no woman ever is accused of “asking for it.” Every woman I know has a story of inequality or harassment or worse. Let’s change that so that the stories of the next generation reflect a world where people are judged by the content of their character, not the content of their underpants.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 27 – Propaganda

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.


Marcus has shown old propaganda posters on his blog from time to time, and they are interesting to see, but that is not actually how the main bulk of the propaganda was done during my lifetime. In fact, that is not how it was done in my lifetime at all.

Of course I lived after Stalin has been dead and rotten for a while and the regime has mellowed a bit. But I got to see a lot of propaganda from earlier times nevertheless. And I – and most of my countrymen – do occasionally see it to this very day, and enjoy it. How come?

Because it was in the movies. Czech cinematography during the regime was quite well-off. The regime has recognized the importance of a good story for persuading people, especially children, and they capitalized on this. They shot a lot, and I mean a lot, of fairy-tales and movies for children and young people. The quality was often very high, which is why they are still popular until today – and quite frankly, Hollywood flicks cannot hold a candle to many of them in terms of historical(ish) accuracy and detail regarding the costumes and settings. If this -click- is accessible to you click through a few scenes of the movie and see for yourself. What has helped of course is that medieval architecture of whole streets and even towns is not hard to come by here and need not be built from scratch.

The movie that I linked to is first in a two-movie series about Prague during the reign of Rudolf II, the last Habsburg who made Prague the capital city of the Austrian empire and elected to live there permanently. It is a story of a young baker, who is the emperor’s doppelgänger and gets coincidentally swapped for the emperor at a time when the emperor has drunk a youth potion. The movie was very succesful and according to Wikipedia it was even distributed in USA with english subtitles -click-.

I am not going to relate the whole story to you, but in short the whole movie is about exposing the corruption of a feudal system, the shallowness of people who are always out there for themselves. And the importance of us all just getting along and pulling together in one direction. The selfish and greedy are to be ostracised and punished, and there is no greater achievement than to work for the good of the collective. The good ol’ communism in a nutshell.

And that theme was common in movie production of that time, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, but it was always there. As a child I of course did not see anything wrong with that message. As an adult I see plenty wrong with that message.

I agree with the principle in theory, but not in praxis. Because, in the words of Terry Pratchett, it approaches societal problems instead with “this is how people are, what can we do about it?” with “this is how people should be, how can we make them?”. Trying to build a society that depends on most people being an ideal that said society requires to work properly is just as silly as trying to build a society depending on ideal environmental/economic conditions*. The world contains neither ideal conditions, nor ideal people. All people are a complex mixture of selfishness and altruism, bigotry and acceptance, wisdom and stupidity and a lot more in the mix. Similarly all societies contain hierarchies and barriers that are outside of an individual’s control, and a plenty of built-in inequalities and unfairness. And it all changes continuously.

I admit that even today I watch these movies with a pang of nostalgia. I wish the message in them were applicable in real world. It isn’t. It only works in fairy tales.


*I summed it up for myself a few years ago thus: Communism can only work with perfectly round people and libertarianism can only work in perfect vacuum.

When you don’t have enough hands or faces to palm.

American politics have a serious side effect of headaches from shaking them or facepalming constantly over here in continental Europe (made worse by the weeping over the Brits), but sometimes it’s just bizarre.

Have you heard about that big scandal involving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Well, hold on fast, because these revelations will break your heart. When she was a teenager, she danced and had friends.

Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is…
…High School video of “Sandy” Ocasio-Cortez @AoDespair

And then there’s Elizabeth Warren. Did you know what she did? She drank beer on Instagram!

I hope I have now thoroughly ruined your new year with these groundbreaking revelations of human women doing normal human things.

 

YouTube Video: What Has The EU Ever Done For Us?

We did not have any posts about the Brexit debacle, did we? A lot of the points in this video could also be applied to CZ (and we have idiots here aplenty who advocate for “Czexit” which would be even more suicidal for us than Brexit is for UK)

 

I agree with the gist of the video, which can be summed up thus: All the good things the EU makes for us here in Europe go under the radar of the media, and as a consequence under the radar of most people. Failures and mistakes are highlighted, successes and benefits are taken for granted.

I like the most the point that we, in Europe, experience the longest peace in history. We do not know what war is, for almost three generations by now in some countries. If the EU had achieved nothing else, that one thing is huge.

There are None so Blind…

When asked about the latest (unfortunately not last) mass shooting in USA, sheriff Geoff Dean said these words: “I don’t know if it happens more in the United States or doesn’t. I would have to read the stats.”

If that is the case, he must have lived in a cave. I wonder if he is telling the truth here, or if he is just feigning ignorance, because to find out that mass shootings are predominantly USA phenomenon takes less than a minute on google.

Further he states “If I knew the answer to that, I would do something to stop it.”, which is also bullshit. It is blatantly obvious that the easy availability of firearms in USA in combination with its violence-glorifying culture leads to this discrepancy, and anyone who takes just a few seconds to think about it honestly knows that.

But the sad truth is that this sheriff could not have done anything about it even if he honestly wanted to, because there is no legislative will in USA to enact sensible gun regulation laws for him to act on. And with SCOTUS packed with partisan conservative judges, I fear that current pace of a mass shooting nearly every day  will be the defining feature of American culture for decades to come.

Well, at least in this regard”USA #1!”, a slogan so beloved by MAGAhats is true. Only it is not a good thing.

How Typically American

So White House has published a pamphlet about the evils of socialism. I have not read it in full and I probably won’t since I have better things to do with my life than to read drivel from Trump administration, but on casual glance it seems to insinuate that the disastrous attempt at socialism in former Soviet bloc invalidates everything with the word root “social” in it. Therefore since badly implemented socialism in Ukraine has led to famine in 1921, “socialism” in EU in 2018 is just as bad.

That is of course complete non-sequitur.

The whole document also seems to be rather American-centric and comparing apples with pineapples, or perhaps even bananas. Like this infographic:

Whitehouse infographic about Costs of Owning a truck

Now I admit I have zero personal experience with any of the countries on that infographic except with USA.

But my experience with USA is that people there own pickup trucks in about 80% of the cases just to own them, not because they actually, really need them. I mean, I have seen them used for grocery shopping in big cities, with the deck empty and the groceries being put in a bag on the passenger seat. People commuted daily to work in them. Most owners of pickup trucks in USA could do just as well with only ordinary cars and for those rare occasions where they really, really might need something bigger (like buying building materials for house repairs etc.) the options available in for example Germany (i.e. renting a truck or goods trailer at the shop for a few days) would suffice ample. Further populations in EU are much more tightly knit than they are in USA, there are not many far-off farms and isolated homesteads that really need pickup trucks. I am not sure how this is in Nordic countries, but I still suspect that a real need for big pickup truck there is smaller than in US just due to the USA’s sheer size and wast empty places.

Thus this infographic is used either ignorantly or dishonestly to scaremonger. Or both.

As far as the economic side of the pamphlet goes, I will leave the critique to an expert who says everything better than I ever can:
Are the Danes Melancholy? Are the Swedes Sad?

On the whole I get the feeling that this pamphlet starts with the assumption that everything USA=good and everything socialism=bad and tries to spin evidence to appear to validate those assumptions.

How typically American of them, to ignore all context an only seek ways to put USA at the center of the universe. Again.

Whom Will They Blame Next, Unicorns?

I have never watched Fox News when I was in USA, and of course I have no incentive to watch it now. However the stories that I read about it on the interwebs are truly bizarre.

This one trumps them all: Fox News host: ‘Anti-Semitism from the left’ is the real cause of hateful attacks on Jews

Where exactly does this “virulent anti-Semitism from the left” happen? Where do roam these elusive creatures, these leftist antisemites? Where exactly is the land of “fringe of the progressive side.”?

How come that someone spews such a weapon’s grade bullshit on air and is not immediately challenged for providing evidence for it? Any person who says such inane claptrap should be discredited and mercilessly mocked.

#Unteilbar

People at a demonstratiopn at night

Source: Tagesschau

Unteilbar, adjective, German: inseparable.

Sometimes, there are good news, things that give you hope. Yesterday such a thing happened. In Berlin (and other cities), people protested against racism, xenophobia and attenpts to split society along ethnic, national and religious lines, against Nazis and in favour of rescuing refugees. It was a broad alliance of parties, churches, organisations, unions prominent people*. The organisers had hoped for and registered the demonstration for 40.000 people. Those 40.000 people came and brought 200.000 more along with them.

But today there’s a general election happening in Bavaria, the Texas of Germany. Let’s see what happens there.

 

*The conservative party explicitly did not support it because of “radical left wing organisations”, which they’ll keep complaining about until the moment they themselves will be prohibited as such.

Thank goodness he found the culprit!

Pope Francis

Source: Wikimedia

Remember when “liberals” praised Pope Francis for being so progressive? Our lovely progressive Pope had to deal with some nasty issues like priests massively raping kids for decades and of course he promised to do whatever he can. So you’ll be glad to hear that he’s found the culprit.

The Devil.

Yes, you heard right. The Devil. The literal horns and hooves devil, who did it to undermine the Roman Catholic Church.  Oh, wait, did you think that the abused children were the victims here? You could not be more wrong! The real victim here is the church.

What an elegant way to absolve your horrible abusive institution from all the moral blame, especially those poor priest who were obviously under satanic influence.

Why Did You not Try to Stay in USA?

As readers of Affinity know, I was growing up until 13 years of age in a totalitarian state with little real autonomy, an effective satellite of USSR. I also grew up in a poor family so it was a bit of an uphill financial struggle for me to get a university education.

Towards the end of my education I had to decide how to actually start my independence and one of the options that presented themselves in 2000 was to go to USA with a “Work And Travel” program and J1 visa. I might write about my American adventure maybe some more later, today I wish to only briefly discuss the question in the title, which in various forms was posited to me in later years from many people here, old as well as young.

Even before venturing to USA I was of the opinion that it is a proto-fascist state and my opinion was further solidified by my experiences there.

So my answers at that time were these four points:

  1. Crappy healthcare. I have met ordinary people fearing that a simple case of flu might send them down the spiral of personal bankruptcy. I have seen outrageous prices for one course of antibiotics. I knew that USA had, in contrast to European countries, no universal healthcare, but seeing it first hand was a real eye opener. Fear of loosing even the crappy health insurance provided by the employer kept many people in essential slavery, when the were putting up with blatant abuse by their managers. For my friends I summed this argument up as “if I have grown up in USA, I would not live to become an adult, because my parents would not be able to pay for the medication I needed”.
  2. Crappy education. I have already mentioned that for me to get a university education was an uphill struggle. I was not bad student, but I am not so intelligent as to be able to study and work (not to mention that job availability was not that great – unemployment rate 8%), so I had only negligible income and I had to rely on my parents, which was hard – I had to live by with about 100,-$ a month to pay for my lodgings, food, books etc. For my friends I summed this argument up as “in USA I would not get a university degree, because even without tuition fees it was not cheap and with tuition fees it would be ruinous”.
  3. The mony that I made n USA was worthless there, it only had worth here because of the very favourable exchange rate. In US, the measly 5.50$/h were to barely live by – even though as a student I was tax exempt. So staying in USA would mean to lock myself into perpetual poverty. I find it incredible how many of my peers with university education failed to grasp this reality, that money’s worth is contextual and 1.000,-$ monthly income in USA is shit, whilst being absolutely amazing and nearly unattainable here.  I tried to sum it up as “for the money I was making there, I could not even rent a flat. And I would be forced to do work well bellow my qualification even for that. Here, I could use it to at least repair my house.”
  4. Absolutely inane laws and judiciary process. I have always thought that outcome of a judicial case should not be decided by a bunch of barely literate amateurs and that precedent law should not still be employed in any civilised country. And what I particularly did not admire was the “sue happy” culture in USA, where people try to win the lottery by suing each other for money. And the lack of properly functional system for “ex officio” advocates for people who cannot afford to pay. I summed it up as “any time you could get sued by some idiot over some trivial thing and if they could afford better lawyer than you, you are screwed”.

And mind you, this all was in 2000. The only progress that I see from behind the Atlantic was on health care, everything else got  much worse since then. And it seems that USA is managing to drag back the rest of the world as well – in last decade or so the main American exports are jingoism and creationism.

The USA was never democracy and never free. It only managed to convince its enslaved citizens that they are free. I am entirely content with my decision to not even try to live there permanently.

Wackaloon

Liz Crokin, right wing “journalist” has recently lost the tips of two fingers in a surfing accident and is blaming Hilary Clinton as the cause.

While she realizes that it was probably “just a freak accident,” that didn’t stop her from also asserting that it may have been the result of a curse that had been placed on her by Hillary Clinton or artist Marina Abramović or some other “witch” that is targeting her due to her efforts to expose the secret satanic cannibalistic pedophile cult that supposedly runs the world.

Is it just me, or do other people think that the right wing of America have lost their minds. I can almost get past their belief in their God (almost, but not really), but what is up with the belief in witches and spells and curses. Do they really think we live in Harry Potter World full of magic, and if so why isn’t their all-powerful, all-seeing God doing something about it? It seems to me that it just highlights the impotence of their sky God. It all seems so totally illogical and totally ridiculous. The full story is at Right Wing Watch, if you can stomach it. Just a word of warning, if you click on the links inside the story be prepared for even more ridiculous right wing thinking.

 

Voracious Lapse

Kreator has sent us another Roman Cura mural, this one titled Voracious Lapse. I love this artist’s work. He has such an eye for the dangerous undercurrents in society and an unflinching ability to convey fear and loathing in bright happy colours and cartoonish shapes. Kreator tells us:

A small one. Located in the wall of the Luis Yllana canteen from the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco.

Thanks for sharing Kreator.

Voracious Lapse by Roman Cura (left), ©Kreator, all rights reserved

Voracious Lapse by Roman Cura (right), ©Kreator, all rights reserved