Blog: In the papers/on the web today .. Soviet songs

Reply Sat 4 Oct, 2003 07:47 pm
This thread be for all those news items that you found of particular interest, but which you wouldnt give all of a thread of their own ...

Share 'em, and tell us why your interest!

(And if you won't, I will <wink>)

All "blog-type" posts welcome (summary, comment, quote and/or link) - no integral reposting of articles please. (If you catch me do it, call me on it Wink
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Reply Sat 4 Oct, 2003 09:11 pm
"The man's not for turning": Soundbites on last week's Labour Party conference (UK)

The British Labour Party had its annual conference last week. It had been awaited with some speculation, considering the impact of the Hutton inquiry on Dr. Kelly's death, resulting revelations about shaky intelligence underlying the decision to go to war with Iraq, and the Brent East by-election upset last month. (Brent East, in London, was one of Labour's safest seats, but it went to the LibDems after their share of the vote went from 11% to 39% while Labour's went from 63% to 34%).

Would Blair admit mistakes, would he apologize, would he seek a compromise course that would reconcile him with his own party, after so many years of "New" Labour? There was even talk of a mid-term leadership change, with Blair handing over to Gordon Brown, as lore has it they once agreed, before the next elections.

Gordon Brown's own speech on Monday - "probably his best speech for a decade or more" (BBC) - only added fuel to to the flames, making an impassioned plea to the heart and soul of the party, and was widely interpreted as a claim to the leadership. But like Bush at the UN, Blair chose defiance instead the next day, proclaiming: "I can only go one way, I've not got a reverse gear." (Full speech; BBC summary).

The consensus seems to be that he scored a superficial, but easy enough victory; "the great trick was that this week did not actually make matters worse", when predictions had been so dire. But here's some personal reactions:

- GMB union leader Kevin Curran:
The prime minister made clear that he is a leader who won't reverse. We are not worried about him going back - we are worried about where he is going.

- Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy:
Tony Blair says that there is 'no turning back', but this speech shows he is turning his back on the British people. [..] The prime minister seems to believe that listening to people's concern is to retreat. It is not. Tony Blair should lecture less and listen more.

- Simon Hoggart, the Guardian:
It will be remembered as the speech when Tony Blair almost cried. It was a classic New Labour moment: the leader moved to tears by his own rhetoric. [..] He mentioned the courage of Neil Kinnock (twice-losing Labour Party leader, 1983-1992), and got the biggest cheer of the day. It's a sign of an important shift when a leader needs to sprinkle the electoral stardust of Mr Kinnock over a speech.

- Ros Taylor, the Guardian:
"So what shall we do?" Tony said, brutally. "Give up on it? Or get on with it?" He waited. [..] "Exactly," he replied. "That's what we do." You're staying. Thank God. I knew you would; after all, without me, you'd still be stuck in that rented basement flat in Peckham, photocopying CND leaflets, reading the Socialist Worker, eating brown rice. [..]

It was the old Tony, the charming Tony, the man who made Labour feel so good about herself. She felt as though he was parting the Red Sea for her. And you know what? She fell for it. Pity she'll hate herself tomorrow morning.

- Paul Foot, the Guardian:
He is exceptionally courageous when faced with his own supporters, organised trade unionists, fractious health service patients, troublesome pensioners, rowdy schoolchildren, prisoners or asylum seekers. But as soon as he comes up against private health insurers, university chieftains, generals, intelligence spooks, industrialists, Rupert Murdoch [..] or the US president [..], Blair the Steadfast is miraculously transformed into Blair the Meek, as pliable as any Labour leader in history [..]. He is, in short, for turning. In this respect he is indeed just like Margaret Thatcher: courageous and unbending when facing up to the weak, the workers and the poor; grovelling and sycophantic to the rich, the strong and the powerful.
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Reply Sat 4 Oct, 2003 09:22 pm
Of course the whole, extensively analysed debate of the week can basically be summed up by three entries on a chatsite ... :

Posted by: PURITAN
A spineless wanker, who'se running the Country into the ground.

Posted by: Manta7
Yeah, get rid of him and the rest of the brainless zombies that sit behind him on the Government benches.

Let's get the Conservatives back in, yeah baby! They're better now, no really they are.

Posted by: PURITAN
oh god, not the tories, that'll be like out of the frying pan and into the fire.

oh bugger looks like we're left with tony "the gimp" blair.
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Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2003 05:38 pm
Always look at the bright side ... of Islam

MSNBC reports about perhaps a new phenomenon: Muslim-American humour! Life is hard enough for a Muslim in the US these days, so there's a dire need for more laffs. But mainstream comedy, with its penchant for "cursing, lying, backbiting and defaming others", will hardly pass the tests of Muslim propriety. Plus: Muslims are more likely to be the butt of the joke than the one making it. Enter "Islamica News", a spoof news website full of stories that'll lighten up a Muslim-American's day.

The "halal" humour is marketed to its target group as being quite the dare, as a spoof interview about arranged marriages should demonstrate, but will probably strike many of us seculars as rather tame. "What the Imam does when we're not looking", pphht. Still, got a laugh or two outta the "Popular Muslim Boy Band 'NShallah" and the crude PhotoShopping of "If they converted" (see 3Min3m below) ...

Patriot Act vigilance is ridiculed, and the one 'joke' that hit home targets ignorant caricaturisation of Muslims of the "Not Without My Daughter" kind:

Entitled "Wait, I Forgot My Son", the [sequel] movie marks the return of depressing actress Sally Field as well as all the Jewish actors originally hired to play Muslims in the original. "I felt that the world needed to be reminded of how horrible the Muzlamic religion is," stated Field. "We also felt the need to show Muzlims that their method of prayer is wrong."

What Field was referring to was the numerous prayer references in both the original movie and the sequel that depict traditional Islamic prayer as a random sequence of standing, bowing and loudly shouting various Arabic phrases in a rapidly repeated fashion for approximately twenty minutes. [..]

News of the pending release of the movie has been met by much opposition and criticism from various Islamic groups such as CAIR (Council of American Islamic Relations) and ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) as well as the TDU (Taxi Drivers Union) and most Dunkin Donuts.

"If they converted" ...
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Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2003 05:59 pm
No-one else wanna play ??

And what is it with TIGERS today, anyway?

There's the Las Vegas tiger who "Mauled Illusionist on the Stage", but "Life of Pi" readers will be especially struck by the story of the 350-pound male Bengal tiger who was discovered in a Harlem apartment building.

Its that story, too, that yielded the best understatement:
Dr. Robert A. Cook, head veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo [was] visibly angry over the cramped conditions in which the tiger prowled. "If he had escaped it would have been a very bad thing," he said.
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Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2003 07:03 pm
Ninh, great story and...amazingly...true.
Continuing on the wild animal theme: There is a program on our National Public Radio (NPR) that deals with the environment. For reasons we won't go into here, it airs at 7 am on Sunday mornings on my station. I'm probably the only listener at that time.
Anyway, they had a segment on the Northern Grasshopper Mouse. The first cool thing is that this
creature (they failed to fully classify it) is carnivorous. The really cool thing is that this 4" nocturnal rodent routinely stands on its back legs, eyes towards the moon, and howls like a wolf.
But its at such at a high pitch that humans can't hear it. Fascinating thing to hear so early.
I believe the show is called Living On Earth. I may be wrong. -johnboy
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Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2003 07:15 pm
realjohnboy wrote:
the Northern Grasshopper Mouse. The first cool thing is that this creature (they failed to fully classify it) is carnivorous. The really cool thing is that this 4" nocturnal rodent routinely stands on its back legs, eyes towards the moon, and howls like a wolf.

Da-amn! Shocked

I can just imagine it ... well, almost <grins>. That's funny.
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Reply Mon 6 Oct, 2003 06:51 pm
"Top Hits" issues revisited: Clark, Perot, Bush, Tenet, "Yes, Minister" and Freedom Fries

Today, I guess, is just one of those days where I end up running around A2K posting TNR quotes. Interesting, how you can request ever new free test-subscriptions of their online edition. They sure write with a sarcastic bite, as if some of these editors perennially suffer from a nasty toothache, but they're sometimes funny, too, and often got some sharp observations. For example when noting, on Wesley Clark:

[M]any of the Democrats who cheered Clark's entrance into the race don't particularly care [about his have-it-both-ways position on Iraq]; for them, Clark's resumé is the message. Once again, the Democrats are trying to solve an ideological problem with a biographical solution.

The editor sternly notes, additionally: "It didn't work for decorated World War II flying ace George McGovern; it didn't work for Vietnam triple-amputee Max Cleland. And it won't work next fall. The voters--shocking as it may seem-- actually care what the parties believe."

Also on Clark, the "&c" column quotes Dick Morris to point out that while "[t]he Dean candidacy is the first creation of the Internet age[, b]y contrast, Clark's is perhaps the last of the media-created candidacies." It points out the risk involved in that by proposing an interesting parallel to the Perot candidacy in '92, concluding that:

it's hard to conclude at this point that Clark's showing in the poll reflects anything more than the combination of his novelty as a candidate and widespread dissatisfaction with the incumbent. And, as the Perot experience taught us, when it comes to "media-created" candidates, it's really only the latter that tends to be lasting. *

Closing off the TNR links, one's just got to note this recent - rather scary - GWB quote that the &c column also picked up on:

"I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news.... And the best way to get the news is from objective sources, and the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

--George W. Bush, in an interview with Fox News, September 22, 2003

Touching, really, such boundless faith in one's employees - Sir Humphrey Appleby (Yes, Minister) would have been moved. Only when juxtaposed with the next week's letter of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (Republican-chaired) does it get kinda troubling:

America's intelligence community used outdated, "circumstantial" and "fragmentary" information with "too many uncertainties" to conclude that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida, according to the intelligence committee of the US House of Representatives

[S]enior members of the committee concluded that [the intelligence community] had to rely on past assessments, dating to when UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998, and on "some new 'piecemeal' intelligence", both of which "were not challenged as a routine matter" [..]

"The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist. [..]"

[..] Regarding Iraq's alleged ties to al-Qaida, the letter argues that the agencies had a "low threshold" or "no threshold" on using the information they gathered. "As a result, intelligence reports that might have been screened out by a more rigorous vetting process made their way to the analysts' desks, providing ample room for vagary to intrude".

(the Guardian)

Finally, its always good to see that the silly demonisation of all things French by the raving right has not caught on, at all, among the American public at large ...

the percentage of those polled who consider France a "friendly" country or ally is back up to 66% in September, after 'bottoming out' at 56% last March. Those figures are a lot better than those for Saudi-Arabia ...

*(One detail to quabble with when it comes to their description of the Perot candidacy is the suggestion that "Perot [actually] helped build support for Clinton, since some of the voters Perot initially drew from Bush ended up migrating to Clinton". Considering Clinton actually got 2,6% less than Dukakis before him, that seems a bit wild).
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Reply Mon 6 Oct, 2003 07:05 pm
nimh, you have moved on to much heavier topics but, please visit this site: livingonearth.org for the full story on the mouse that roars. I didn't make it up! --realjohnboy--
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Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2003 06:02 pm
Cool, rjb, I'll look it up!

Errmm ... considering I'm doing the lion's share of posting here, I changed the thread's title - dont wanna make it seem like more than it is ...

But y'r all still very welcome to add your own found-objects! That would be cool.

In the meantime, this thread is useful for me as a way to keep, like, a diary of interesting links & stories. 'S soon as the Premium Service blogs go up, I'll switch to Premium and continue there.
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Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2003 06:03 pm
Ah, that networking thing ...

I hate that stuff called networking. I'm just not made for making random small talk with complete strangers whom you either really have nothing to say to, or would rather talk about much more interesting things with. The only strangers I'm comfortable "hobnobbing" with, in a work-related context, are people who are enthusiastic about what they do - or people who do something I am enthusiastic about.

So, it's always good to see the sentiment echoed ... Alistair Weaver reports in the Guardian about his experience as delegate to the (British) Conservative Party conference, this week. "Being a contemporary Tory is embarrassing", he starts out explaining. "When I told my girlfriend that I was attending the conference as a delegate, she explained that it must be "our little secret" and that she'd tell her friends I was "away on business"." <grins>. He then recounts the gist of the experience:


After the leader's entourage had passed, the delegates were left to talk to each other. This is no easy task. One experienced delegate talked me through the ideal technique for mingling. Apparently, only two topics of conversation are appropriate on first acquaintance - the weather and the quality of the Blackpool hotels. After spending a couple of minutes discussing each subject, you should move on and meet someone new.

It worked brilliantly. I'd explain, time and again, that the shower cubicle in my B&B contains a vase full of silk flowers and each time, on the conclusion of my story, I'd receive a faux guffaw. Everyone seemed familiar with my technique and was happy to play along. But then I realised the horror of it all: the room was full of Tories complaining about their hotels - no wonder they call us the nasty party.
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Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2003 08:07 pm
Angry and sad ... about asylum-seeker (policy) stories in the news this week

All over Europe, asylum-seeker policies have become ever stricter under the pressure of (media-bolstered) public outrage over "floods" of "bogus" asylum-seekers. Holland is no exception - perhaps even a trailblazer. The pre- and post-Fortuyn reforms of refugee policy have brought the Immigration Department (IND) such concepts as:

* "safe countries" (asylum-seekers from which are turned back automatically - the definition of which has included the likes of Algeria, Somalia and Angola. The "safe countries" list has come to determine the largest share of rejections).
* "safe third-country" (if you've come here through another "safe" country, you can be sent back there - theoretically eliciting a reverse odissey that deports you back to countries that can handle an influx of refugees much better, like, say, Poland or the Czech Republic. In practice forcible deportation is too costly, so instead these so-called "Dublin claimers" are simply put out onto the street).
* the "fast-track AC procedure" (within 48 work-hours the IND decides whether you are a "chanceless" asylum-seeker, in which case you're put out on the street. You have the right to appeal, but will have to do so from the street, as you're not allowed to stay in the asylum-seekers centre meanwhile).

The reforms have worked ... the number of those accepted dropped first, with over 50% now rejected in the "fast-track" procedure and the minister proclaiming, last year, that the "target" was to reject 80% of asylum-seekers.

The number of arriving asylum-seekers dropped next, as refugees started going to other countries, instead, in what has been dubbed a "waterbed effect" that has spurred respective European governments to progressively up the ante and outdo the others' restrictive policies. Others are now opting to skip the risky procedure altogether and go straight into illegality.

Illegality is the logical end of most of these "succesful" procedures in any case, as attempts to cut costs has led the IND to adopt a DIY policy at times. Those rejected at Schiphol Airport, it was reported last week, get a daypass for the national railways and are left at Schiphol Plaza with the orders to use it to leave the country.

Has the asylum-procedure suffered? Has the safety of people who fled a wretched life elsewhere suffered? Do I really want to ask more rhetorical questions? In its report "Fleeting Refuge: The Triumph of Efficiency over Protection in the Dutch Asylum Policy", Human Rights Watch condemned the Netherlands for "routine infringement of asylum seekers' most basic rights". And this is also all from the news this week:


* A Rotterdam court ordered the Ministry of Justice to "get back" a Kurd it had forcibly deported to Turkey in June. The man had been arrested immediately upon arrival of the plane in Istanbul.

Sabri Hazer had been sentenced to long prison terms three times before, because of alleged ties to the PKK Kurdish separationists. He had been tortured in prison and his family was threatened. In fact, most bizarrely, his brother was accorded refugee status in Holland because of such threats - it's just Sabri himself who was deemed a "bogus" asylum-seeker by a colleague.

Now they have to get him back to have his case reviewed - but will the Turks give him up? The Ministry of Justice refuses to say when it will try to do so - "we are still studying the verdict", it commented.

OK - now just imagine ... you've been in prison ... you've been tortured in prison ... you finally made your escape, smuggling yourself across the borders to where family is, in Holland ... you think you're safe ... and then the cops put you back on the plane to Istanbul. Imagine the three hours on that plane ... you know what'll happen and what you're in for ... you remember the torture ... imagine. Shocked


* A Ukrainian asylum-seeker with severe psychiatric problems, diagnosed as suicidal, was deported to Spain, since he came to Holland on a Spanish tourist visum. His story?

de Volkskrant (in translation) wrote:
In the Ukraine Andrej dealt in food stuffs and industrial appliances and made a good living for himself and his family with that. [..] When the mafia discovered his prosperity, Andrej started being extorted. He was beaten up repeatedly, and his right eye was damaged at one of those times. When Andrej couldnt bear the pressure anymore, he left with wife and children to the Netherlands. They travelled on a Spanish tourist visum because that can be relatively easily obtained for Ukrainians.

So far so good, except Spain happens to be both a "safe third country" and the preferred holiday destination of the Ukrainian mafia. "Andrej did not want to go to Spain. "He was in tremendous fear about that", says Emilia Cretu [the psychiatric nurse who treated him]". Read with me:

Andrej had had depressive complaints in the Ukraine, but in Leeuwarden he really went crazy. He wanted to attack people, started to smear the walls with excrements, started screaming in the middle of the night. He was interned in a psychiatric institution. [..] His wife and their little son were replaced to a different asylum-seekers centre.

In November 2002 the family Donorov lost its legal appeals. Jurist Theo Wijngaard of the Foundation for Legal Aid Asylum Issues [..] had always emphasized to the IND that the psychological state of his client made it impossible to deport him, but the Raad van State [rejected his claim].

The Donorovs would be deported on 19 August. About two months before that, Wijngaard received a letter from Andrej's psychiatrist saying that the imminent departure to Spain contributed to Andrej's suicidal tendencies. On the basis of this letter Wijngaard asked the IND to renege on the deportation. The IND refused, at which Wijngaard went to court. On August 12 he was told by phone that the IND was "inclined" to wait with deporting Donorov until the case would be brought before court.

Wijngaard now assumed that the journey to Spain would not take place for now. According to Emilia, Andrej was extremely relieved. But on August 19 she got a phonecall from Madrid. It was Andrej. That day, he had been transported in a barred van, with hand- and feetcuffs on, to Schiphol Airport, where he met his wife and son.

Andrej yelled, so papers about the deportation note: "I cant go to Spain, I'll die there." Wijngaard realises that more rejected asylum-seekers yell such things. "But his dossier is full of suicidal inclinations. The Aliens Police should have known that". [..] The IND has confirmed that [..] no doctor was called on during the deportation.

The outcome? You might have guessed ...

Emilia Cretu [..] gets a[nother] phonecall on August 30. A crying Anna Donorov is on the line [..] "Andrej is dead", is the only thing she can utter. Andrej has hung himself in the bathroom of their hotel in Madrid.

In a follow-up,

de Volkskrant wrote:
An IND spokesperson disputes that medical guidance had been promised. Shortly before [the deportation] it would be evaluated whether guidance would be necessary, but this would not necessarily need to be medical guidance, said the spokesperson. "And [when saying] 'shortly before that': what stage would we be talking about then? Its possible that a doctor was asked for advice one or two days in advance. Then nothing is the matter. I still want to seek that out."


* Confronted with the dwindling numbers of applicants, the organisation responsible for the asylum-seekers centres (the COA) has had to reorganise as well. It is doing the resulting transfers of thousands of asylum-seekers in, apparently, much the same spirit ...

de Volkskrant wrote:
Traumatised asylum-seekers have to leave within 48 hours

The asylum-seekers centre de Klencke in [Amsterdam] was to host asylum-seekers with psychological and physical problems until 2005. Now its closing down. Without guarantee of medical care, the families will have to move elsewhere soon. When, is unknown.

He sleepwalks again, eats badly and cant concentrate. Ludmila's 16-year old son [..] has all the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Again. Since the day, June 16, on which he heard that [de Klencke] is closing. Now he has to move for the fourth time in a few years. [..]

Every day the social-psychiatric nurse Helen Volmer listens to such stories from the residents [..]. The COA [..] has decided to close this small reception centre in December. But this centre is different from others. It has a special function; over 80% of residents suffers from physical or psychological complaints. [..] Ludmilla was sent to de Klencke because she and her son suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. Four experts from [the local mental health centre] treat the family. amongst whom Volmer.

Now that the centre is closing, the COA is not taking the complaints of the residents into account. The 228 residents all received a letter that specifies that a medical indication will play no role in the transfer. The residents will hear 48 hours in advance where they will have to go. This can happen any day. "So we cant even hand over a patient properly", says Volmer.

Hand over, that is, if the patient doesnt first get placed on a waiting list for psychiatric help in another province. Because it's not at all clear whether the residents will even be able to stay in Amsterdam. [..] Ludmilla has already gotten to hear that [other centres in the region] wont have a place for her. "Whereas just recently, fifty asylum-seekers from Nijmegen were sent to Amsterdam".

33-year old Marina from Azerbajjan doesnt understand any of it. After many transfers from centre to centre she ended up in de Klencke with her two, ill children of 3 and 5 years old. Both have a heart defect, and are treated by a steady team of specialists at the Academic Medical Centre.

[..] She dreads the forcible move she will have to make by train. "We will get a day ticket from the National Railways and a note with our new address. We cant even take most of the posessions we have come to gather these last few years."

The specialists of [the local mental health centre] observe how the complaints of the residents are increasing again. "A psychological treatment of people with traumas costs a lot of time", emphasises Volmer. "First they have to feel safe, before you can start treatment. Safe in their environment and safe with their therpaist. The forcible transfer sets Ludmilla and her son far back". [..]

Volmer doesnt get much information from the COA either. "we, too, are left in complete uncertainty". She doesnt even know whether she'll be able to [..] take leave of her patients properly. "We are powerless, we cant do much".

Again ... before you shrug and think, well, they werent used to much anyway, just imagine ...
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Reply Sat 11 Oct, 2003 08:07 pm
A "Gloomy Sunday", in Budapest & Kabul

An unexpected perspective on life in Afghanistan in the NRC Handelsblad's "M" Magazine last month: did you ever stop to think why Titanic is so popular a movie in Kabul, and how Afghan men, too, suffer under the weight of their arranged marriage?

Find a translation of the article in a separate thread.

I don't remember when I first read about it, but I must already have been on Budapest's Castle Hill several times when I did. The Hungarian song "Szomoru Vasarnap" (or "Gloomy Sunday") came in stories before I ever got to hear the tune.

The first story concerned the prestigious restaurant near the Fisherman's Bastion, where tout Budapest came to drink and dance in the 19thirties (probably where the Hilton is now). Noblemen and beautiful women danced under the lights in the late evening as the orchestra played. But one song no gypsy band was allowed to play anymore: "Gloomy Sunday". The thing was - the song was so sad, so evocative of immediate despair, that every time the band played that song, a young nobleman would, in a grand gesture of weltschmerz, jump off the cliffs of Castle Hill. And it was getting out of hand.

I do remember retelling that story at a Debrecen University Hungarian language course. And a fellow student immediately chipped in with an anecdote of her own. Apparently, she said, Hungarian Army command, in late 1943 or 1944, sent out an order to all troops. At no point in time, the order read, was it allowed for any unit to ask musicians to play "Gloomy Sunday". Too many majors and colonels were spontaneously driven to suicide, shooting themselves as the tune died off, and this was starting to have a detrimental impact on the already exacerbating military situation.

All nonsense, tales from cuckoo-land? Think again. Hungarians may be genetically or culturally inclined to suicide (the country having led the world suicide statistics for decades until, it seems, a few years ago), but when American musicians came to translate the song into English, the BBC and other major radio networks quickly banned it, too, "deem[ing] it too depressing for the airwaves", as this excellent tiny little website, devoted all to "Gloomy Sunday", notes.

The site features the lyrics of the English song, made famous by Billy Holiday and others, but also those of the original Hungarian version, in its native language and in translation. There were different versions, even, of that one, as the poet László Jávor penned new lyrics and, later, a third stanza was added in order to take the sharpest edges off of the original's impact - in vain, it should be noted.

There's also a fascinating (though wholly apocriphical) essay about the song's history. It is noted how even an instrumental version turned out to do no less harm, and how - of course - the author of the original killed himself, too - after the girl he had been so broken-hearted about when he wrote the song, committed suicide herself, the words "Gloomy Sunday" scribbled on a note next to her.

Another essay the website copies from elsewhere notes the debates about how come the famed/notorious record suicide rates of Hungarians. This has been discussed in all seriousness by academics too. (I remember reading an in-depth article for my studies but I can't find it back). Interesting is that the rate actually went down during the worst years of Stalinism, only to rise up again when terror was replaced by overwhelming ennui, peaking in 1983. "Since the beginning of the official registration, Hungary has been the country with the highest suicide rates in Europe (it not in the World)", this International Academy For Suicide Research paper reminds us, but in post-communist times, it's been overtaken by Russia, Byelorus and all three Baltic states, as well as (according to 2000 WHO data) the Ukraine. Actually, Z. Rihmer of the Hungarian National Institute for Psychiatry and Neurology writes here that the rate's actually gone down by 30% since 1984, even though "other former Communist countries showed either no substantial change or a marked increase in their suicide rates".

To end with anecdotes again: the problem truly has appeared throughout the ages. Budapest's famous Chain Bridge was constructed in 1849 under the supervision of Scottish engineer Adam Clark. But one historical anecdote I was told by a teacher, once, focused on his Hungarian assistant. He was a perfectionist, as any look at the bridge will show you. On the day of the opening, he made the last rounds to check if everything was in working order. It was then that he discovered that the lions proudly guarding the bridge - had no tongues. (It's true - go look for yourself). He froze in terror at the discovery - and threw himself off of his bridge.

Then again, according to the Rough Guide Hungary, "for one woman in Kaposvar, the final straw was when Bobby died in the Dallas series".

EDIT: In another thread, Letty found a further interesting webpage on the song, with extra, intrigueing details about the composer, Rezsô Seress.
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Reply Sat 18 Oct, 2003 06:47 pm
Not really much of a blog entry (I'm not gonna change the title for it) - more of a brief cheer - Hurrah!

The Dutch Minister of Foreigners' Affairs and Integration - yes, thats really a ministry here <sighs> - has announced a change in policy concerning victims of domestic violence whose residency permit depends on their partner.

The plight of these women has been called to attention by parties like mine (the Green Left) for years now. This is the story:

If you marry a citizen or legal resident of the Netherlands, or start living with one and sign a partnership contract, you get a preliminary residency permit on that basis for a year, then for another year, then for a third year. If in the meantime you divorce or split up, you lose your residency permit and have to go back to your country of origin.

A law valid until next year even specifies that, even if you've lived here with your partner for over three years before you divorce/split up, you are only allowed to stay on if you have a fulltime, steady job (year-contract or longer) or find one within a year. This obligation also goes for mothers with small children. (Just to give an indication of what chances you'd have: only 15% of Moroccan and Turkish women in Holland have such a full-time, steady job).

There are many women who are abused or mistreated, but who don't dare go to the police because they're afraid that they'll be deported, themselves, if they do - and who want to avoid being sent back even more than they want to stop being beaten.

For years the right-wing parties rejected proposals to change the law, because they considered it of overriding importance to maintain as strict an immigration policy as possible. But earlier this year a Labour motion was accepeded in parliament, and today the Minister agreed to implement it.

From now on, such women will have to provide the official police record of when they reported the violence, as well as a doctor's declaration, and then they will get an independent residency permit.

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Reply Mon 1 Dec, 2003 07:10 pm
Soviet songs and paraphernalia ... and web nostalgia.

I was listening to Paul Robeson singing the USSR anthem - and decided to look up the lyrics. That was cool - it took me to interesting places.

For one, it took me to "Soviet Music" - a neatly organised and designed site that features an amazing collection of some five hundred "soviet songs", offering both lyrics and actual mp3 downloads! The Internationale and songs about Stalin, yes, but also songs about Moscow - "And even in distant taiga we hear the Kremlin tower clock..."

It was on that site, too, that I found the text Robeson was singing - which was in fact quite different from the literal translation of the actual anthem ...

The latter I found on another enchanting website - in more ways than one. First, there is The Soviet national anthem webpage. It has more lyrics, translations and sound files than you ever wanted ... plus a unique sing along opportunity <grins>.

Furthermore, the links at the bottom of the page include some "internal" ones, one with Soviet posters and one that refers to an extensive audio archive (click "Real Audio files" to expand the menu). It truly does look like here you can hear Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Lenin, Zhukov, Zhirinovsky, Yeltsin speak!

The big question is whether all the links still work. Some work, I tried a bunch of them out - in fact I'm listening to Lenin right now (bit of a letdown, really - I had expected rousing rhetorics, not a nasal voice too whiny for comfort! Kalinin's files are better). But some links won't - because this page is in fact part of the larger "Funet Russian Archive", originally a FTP archive (remember those?), which was started in '92. I think I remember seeing it a few years after that!

Anyway - this FTP archive is/was amazing, it's got the most bizarre range of files - everything from a picture archive of those (notorious) Russian toilets to the lyrics of songs penned by 1980s rock legend Viktor Tsoy or tragic troubadour Aleksandr Bashlachev, from original 1992 bulletin texts of the Russian trade union movement to the pamphlet text of American Nazis hopeful about Zhirinovky's '93 election run, from a recipe for summer borshch to a text file of Dostoyevski's complete "Brothers Karamazov"...

Just skip from directory to directory as if you're in Windows Explorer (or as if you're typing either "." or ".." behind the slash in MS-DOS ... ;-)

Thing is, all this was the work of love - as stuff was, back then, on the net - of this Finnish guy, Timaham. He was a student of Russian Studies and then got into computer stuff (sounds familiar ... Wink - and in the course of that built this archive. But, again, as things go ... he moved on in life. He now works for a cellphone company, lives in Singapore, changed his last name to Sippala and married a Singaporean Chinese girl. The Funet site, meanwhile, hasnt been updated much since 1998 and, Timaham warned: "The archive will no longer be updated. It will probably disappear in the near future ..."

This warning, too, looks like it was posted quite a while ago, so who knows how long it will stay online ... until someone at Funet decides to pull the plug, I guess. So - go see it and browse through all its data before its all gone - if not out of interest for Russia, then at least just to go on a nostalgia trip about how the web used to be - how the web used to work ... <sighs>
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