Monday, 22 December 2008

Drinking and driving

Drinking and driving. Somehow the two activities seem to be inextricably linked here, even though the laws against drunken driving were tightened up at the beginning of the year (look here for more information). Here's my translation of a recent article I found here.

459 drunken drivers caught in 1 week

In one week, police officers tested the sobriety of 39,397 drivers. A total of 459 drunken drivers were caught. The police department announced that 331 drivers were mildly intoxicated [.41–1.5 permille], 143 had a medium degree of intoxication [1.51–2.5 permille], and 48 were seriously intoxicated [>2.51 permille].

In Lithuania, as in many other European countries, the police organized a special campaign to test the sobriety of drivers on 8–14 December.

The initiator of this campaign was the European Traffic Police Network (TISPOL).

The most drunken drivers were found in Kaunas County (88), Panevezys County (55), Vilnius County (53), and Siauliai County (51).

During a similar campaign that took place in Lithuania in December last year (10–16), 518 drunken drivers were caught.

During another campaign that was organized by TISPOL and took place on 2–8 June, police caught 491 drunken drivers.

In the first 11 months of this year, 469 traffic accidents were caused by drunken drivers, 38.3% (or 291 accidents) fewer than the amount that were caused by drunken drivers in that time period of the preceding year. That amounts to 10.4% of all registered automobile accidents in which people are injured. Of the accidents caused by intoxicated drivers, 42 people lost their lives (29 fewer [than in 2007]) and 709 were injured (445 fewer [than in 2007]).

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Vandalism

There seems to be a lot of mindless, pointless vandalism like this (http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/crime/article.php?id=18777655--visit to see the photos) going on here. I just don't get it. The article's old, but anyway here's my translation of (most of) it:

Record number of bus stops destroyed over weekend (80)

In the capital [Vilnius] Mon
day morning, people driving by Cathedral Square on their way to work could see signs of vandalism at public transport stops--broken glass and a nearby telephone booth completely destroyed.

Similar scenes could be seen at Opera stop on Gostauto Street--broken glass and a broken frame.

According to Vadimas Komarskis, advertising manager for JC Decaux, the firm that takes care of the stops, every Monday it is necessary to repair more than a dozen stops that have been vandalized over the weekend.

"I'm not talking about the scribbling and graffiti that is hard to remove. What I have in mind is the serious vandalism, when glass is broken and the frames are bent", Komarskis said. "Just the glass costs about LTL 200 (EUR 58/USD 79), and that's not including the costs of labor and transport. Fixing up one of those stops is an expensive proposition."

According to Komarskis, it is really difficult to break the glass at the stops. "There's no way you could break it with your fist. A brick is needed. That's good tempered safety glass, so that it will not break easily and injure people waiting at the stop."

From 10 to 20 stops are seriously vandalized over an average weekend. There are 415 public transport stops in the city.

The firm buys glass and parts in advance and is not afraid that it will run out of spare parts.

Komarkis said that the stops in outlying parts of the city where there are fewer police patrolling are constantly being vandalized. "But on the weekends the entire city is a risk zone. Drunken people leave bars and begin vandalizing things. So, we're forced to clean up their mess."

According to Liucija Boreseviciene, the head of the 3rd Police Precinct in Vilnius, it isn't often that the police are informed about such incidents of vandalism. "In September only one such incident was reported by a passer-by", the official said.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Frightening YouTube Video

The Sidewalk to Nowhere

That scared me. Very much. Must ... divert ... thoughts.

Devo--'Whip It'

Ah.

Devo--'Girl You Want'

Yes. Everything back to normal. And a final video.

John Cleese on Sarah Palin: "Monty Python Could Have Written This."

Election Update

A couple of articles about the Lithuanian election held yesterday:

Lithuania's centre-right set for election win

Conservatives ahead in Lithuania election

Political scientists in Lithuania seem to think that a center-left coalition is more likely than a center-right coalition:

Political Scientists: Center-left Coalition One of the Most Realistic

Friday, 10 October 2008

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

For Lovers of the English Language

The Speech Accent Archive

The speech accent archive uniformly presents a large set of speech samples from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English read the same paragraph and are carefully transcribed. The archive is used by people who wish to compare and analyze the accents of different English speakers.


It's possible to search according to various criteria or browse according to language/speaker and region. A native phonetic inventory provides charts of the sounds found in many languages. Interesting!

Thanks for the link, Jeff.

Monday, 6 October 2008

For Lovers of World Music

A few days ago I was looking for some information about The Gambia (a possible destination next summer) and ran across two really interesting sites. If you love music, in particular African music or world music, you'll have a lot of fun visiting these two websites.

http://www.the-real-africa.com/
There it's possible to find African music videos by artist and by country. Here are a few that I enjoyed:
http://www.sirelazik.net/video/malouma01.html
http://www.musicvideos.the-real-africa.com/senegal/youssou_n_dour_birima_clip.html
http://www.musicvideos.the-real-africa.com/mali/tinariwen_chet_boghassa.html
http://www.musicvideos.the-real-africa.com/mali/toumani_diabate_the_mande_variations.html
http://www.musicvideos.the-real-africa.com/mali/ali_farka_toure_savane_2.html

The other website is Benn loxo du taccu. As it says on the front page: 'That's Wolof for "one hand can't clap" and this is Matt Yanchyshyn's world music for the masses.' Very simply, it's a journal of this guy's travels and the music he encounters along the way. It's interesting and the music is really unbelievable. There are dozens of great tunes there that you can download. So, what are you waiting for? I won't keep you any longer...

Thursday, 2 October 2008

So It Seems We Were Wrong...

I think it must have been the spring of 1985, when I was a 1st-year university student, that a couple of friends and I figured out the shape of the universe while we were sitting in a bare spot in the middle of a field on a farm in south-central Kansas in the middle of the night. According to our theory, the universe was a parabola (or was it hyperbola?)--23+ years have passed, so I think I can be excused for having an imperfect memory of the theory (and event). Of course, the creative fuel we were using at the time may also be to blame.

You may be able to imagine my shock and disappointment when just a few days ago I received this message:
"I guess we were wrong."
and this link:
New findings reveal that the shape of the Universe is a dodecahedron based on Phi
from one of my fellow scientists/philosophers/(stoners).

One of my friends committed the theory to paper. I wonder if it still exists... Of course, such a thing would have served as incriminating evidence if one's mother would have happened to run across it (which actually happened).

Monday, 29 September 2008

Gerry Rafferty

For the edification of my friend Philip, who, even though he is from Scotland, admitted he wasn't familiar with the music of Gerry Rafferty.

Home and Dry

Get It Right Next Time

Right Down the Line

Baker Street

Enjoy!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Worst Crisis Since 30s

More negative news about the economy, only this time about the U.S.A.:
Worst Crisis Since '30s, With No End Yet in Sight

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Baltic States' Banking Systems in Trouble

A while back I heard (probably on the radio) that heating costs in Vilnius are now as high as they are in Brussels. I wonder if salaries here are half or a just a third of what people make in Brussels? Doesn't seem to make sense, does it? I understand that this is mostly the result of market forces, but that doesn't make tolerating it any easier (and I know in my heart that the owners and upper-level managers of the heating company here are getting filthy rich). Well, I have to admit that I'm not on the city's centralized heating system, but I figure it won't matter too much since we're heating with natural gas and the price of that has also gone through the roof. I think this winter will be telling as people struggle to pay for heating and food. I haven't seen any figures about whether salaries and pensions here are keeping up with inflation, but as far as I know, they aren't in most parts of the world. But it's not only the people here that are having a tough time of it...

Here's an article I found recently about the banking systems in the Baltic States. It's from right here: http://www.delfi.lt/news/economy/business/article.php?id=18507054. The translation is mine.

Citigroup: Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Banking Systems in Trouble

SEB Bank is getting ready to announce losses in Estonia and Latvia, and the profits of Swedbank in the Baltic States are dropping because of greater losses in the loans sector. This news was reported by Baltic Business News and based on a report Citigroup sent its clients.

Losses caused by bad loans means that dividends for the next 2 years will stay at the same level as they were the previous year, Ronit Ghose, an analyst at Citigroup, wrote.

"The economies and banking systems of the Baltic States, especially in Latvia and Estonia, are in trouble", Ghose wrote. "Our visits to Tallinn and Riga this week have caused us to worry even more about a collapse because it hard to imagine a quick turnaround in this region...

The article goes on to say that pre-tax profits of SEB in the Baltic States would drop 40 percent from EUR 261.62 million (USD 372.05 million) to EUR 156.97 million (USD 223.23 million) and that the profits of Swedbank from operations in the Baltic States would most likely drop from EUR 502.31 million (USD 714.34 million) to EUR 439.52 million (USD 625.05 million).

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

This Is Aikido?

The other day, my wife took our son to the introductory lesson of the aikido club that trains in Simono Daukanto Primary School, where my son goes to school. She wanted to find out about fees, the class schedule, etc. Although they arrived a bit early, the head of the school (and president of the Lithuanian Traditional Aikido Association) had already launched into his introductory speech. She was, however, able to catch the part with him saying that it was essential to learn aikido to help protect the country from the hoards of "darkies" moving here. Huh? What was that? Now, I'm used to hearing all sorts of people spout all sorts of racist and nationalistic crap here, but using aikido and a rented space in a public school for such a forum seems way out of line to me. Isn't there some international aikido association that this guy could be reported to? From what little I know about aikido, I can't imagine that any dojo (or national organization) would support such hatred. In fact, it seems the antithesis of what aikido stands for. Anybody have any ideas? Thoughts?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bike Tour

I just can't seem to get motivated to write about Lithuanian events/news since I returned from the U.S.A. If someone's waiting specifically for such topics, all I can say is forgive me and maybe I'll have the time and inclination to write about those things some time in the near future.

But something else caught my eye today. I was visiting http://www.ibike.org/ today and started thinking about the possibility of going on one of the tours they offer: Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Togo/Benin, and Ghana. At US$1490 for two weeks (includes lodging and two meals a day while traveling), the price seems a bit steep. There's no way I could afford such a trip this year, but I might be able to do it (or something like this) next year. But I was wondering... Would anybody out there be interested in such a trip (specifically, joining me on such a trip)?

Friday, 5 September 2008

The Rio Bravo

I just noticed that The Rio Bravo has several songs available for download on their website (http://www.theriobravo.com/). I haven't listened to all the songs all the way through, but Mordecai is interesting, and I'd say that the others are worth a listen. Some parts of Life in the West remind me of an ELO song, strangely enough. Must be the same chord progressions.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Adomas on TV

Yesterday the ensemble that my son Adomas (Adam) is in played in the concert at the President's Office to celebrate the beginning of the school year and Freedom Day (the day the Soviet Army pulled out of Lithuania). The concert was broadcast on Lithuanian National Television. Despite a bit of a problem when they started playing (the keyboard hadn't been turned on) and one a little later (the keyboard player's chair [and keyboard player] fell off the stand it was on), I think they did well. Here's the link to the footage of the concert: http://www.lrt.lt/archyvas/?channel=234940&section=1&filter=&record=4825359_1220284800. They go on stage at the 41:10 mark, just about exactly halfway through the concert. My boy's the sharp looking, focused one playing the bongos. Yeah, I guess you could say I'm proud.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Monday, 30 June 2008

Shonen Knife

The first time I heard Shonen Knife (http://www.shonenknife.net/english/) was maybe '92 or so on KLZR in Lawrence, Kansas. At that time it was a pretty cool radio station playing mostly alternative music. The song I heard was My Favorite Town Osaka.

As soon as I found out the name of the band, I went and bought Let's Knife, which includes this song: Riding on the Rocket.

Shonen Knife always puts a smile on my face and a Hello Kitty in my heart.

From their album Rock Animals:
Brown Mushrooms
Tomato Head

From their album Brand New Knife:
Wind Your Spring

From various other albums:
It's a New Find
Mass Communication Breakdown

Still with me? In that case, you might be interested in these cuts from their very first album, Minna Tanoshiku, which was released on cassette in Japan in 1982.
Miracles, which can be compared to Miracles from the album Burning Farm.
Parallel Woman
Burning Farm, which you can compare with Burning Farm from 1992's Let's Knife. If you like any of those songs, you can read more about the album here. You can also download that very rare album there. When I tried, the bandongo.com link didn't work but the zshare.net link did. I didn't try downloading from the megaupload.com link, but it looks as if the file's still there.

Philip, enjoy!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Economic Review

A review of some recent articles about the economy in this part of the world. I'll just translate selected parts of each article.

DnB Nord: We Live Half as Well as the Richest EU Countries

The highest standard of living in the European Union can be found in Denmark ... and its standard of living is twice that of Lithuania. Growing at the same tempo it did last year, Estonia could catch up with Denmark in about 2020, and Lithuania and Latvia would require another three to five years.

If our country does not make the adjustments that are needed, however, it could, according to its rate of growth, become an outsider among its neighbors.

These comments were made on 12 June by DnB Nord Bank chief analyst Rimantas Rudzkis when he was presenting the bank's economic review of the six Baltic Sea countries.

"No one believes that the economies of Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia will hit rock bottom. The talk is about a loss in tempo", the analyst emphasized.

He said the the inactivity of the government could cause Lithuania to become an outsider compared to Latvia, Estonia and Poland since, for example, the reform of the educational system in Estonia took place long ago, the labor market is more flexible, and the taxation system is simpler, not only in Estonia, but also in Latvia.

"If the business and investment climate here doesn't get better, we are in danger of becoming outsiders. These problems in Lithuania have been brewing for quite some time, but nothing is changing. Most likely Prof. Kestutis Glaveckas was correct when he said that it would take a crisis for us to start solving such problems", Rudzkis said.

He admitted that the political situation in Lithuania is not favorable since no one political party has a solid majority.

"It seems to me that investors from the West probably think that our conflicts with our neighbors to the east are troubling. Investors are not interested in ideologies. They are interested in earnings and they go to those countries that get along better with such a market as Russia", the analyst added.

The article continues...

And another article:

World Bank: Baltic Countries Are Dealing Well with Crisis

According to a report (the EU10 Regular Economic Report) prepared by the World Bank, the ten former communist countries that are now members of the European Union are adapting fairly well to the slowdown in the global economy...

And another article:

Dalia Grybauskaite: It Is Necessary to Forget Cheap Fuel and Food

European Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite continues to call the activities of the Lithuanian cabinet of ministers "a feast in a time of famine" that is only getting bigger as time goes on. She says that the government is not properly fighting rising food and fuel prices, and in place of negotiations about keeping the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant open for a longer period of time, only technical consultations are taking place.

"For a country that wants to introduce the euro, Lithuania looks bad and is going to look even worse."

"There is always a way out. Only competence and political will is needed", Dalia Grybauskaite, the European commissioner for financial programming and the budget [from Lithuania], said to journalists on 20 June...

The rest of the article goes on to say that she thinks both those things (competence and political will) are missing. The prime minister didn't take kindly to her criticism and said her criticism was harmful to the country and accused her of politicking (Kirkilas: Grybauskaite's Criticism of the Government Is Harmful to Lithuania). In turn, Grybauskaite said that she was only passing on the opinion of the European Commission (Grybauskaite: Criticism of Lithuania Is Official Opinion of European Commission).

I haven't begun stockpiling food and weapons yet (would probably need to move to the United States to do such a thing), but I have a feeling that things could get quite bad and no matter what will certainly get worse before they get better.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Australian Music

It must have been about 1983 when my Australian pen pal Marcelle (I wonder what happened to her?) sent me Australian Crawl's Semantics EP. My cassette long ago gave up the ghost, but Australian Crawl is still alive and well on YouTube. Reckless (Don't Be So). It still sounds great.

Burke and Wills and camels,
Initials in the trees

I'd always wondered what that meant. Found out yesterday:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burke_and_Wills_expedition
http://www.burkeandwills.net.au/

And another great Australian band: Midnight Oil Beds Are Burning

Some other music from the land down under: Powderfinger (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powderfinger and http://www.powderfinger.com/)
On My Mind
D.A.F.
By the way, Tim, Benmont Tench played piano and keyboards on the group's most recent album, Dream Days at the Hotel Existence.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Musical Box

For fans of old Genesis and progressive rock: The Musical Box.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

James Low

If you like your music with a bit of a country twang, check this out. James Low. It's well worth a listen and there are two(!) albums worth of music there to listen to. It's good stuff, Maynard. Take my word for it.

My friend Tim (see also http://www.theloudlounge.com/, http://www.theimprints.com/, and http://www.timhuggins.com/ -- need a jingle, graphic designing, website designing?) is the bass player for James.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Who's in Charge of Corruption

Here's an article I found on Delfi.lt: http://www.delfi.lt/news/ringas/lit/article.php?id=17350372. The translation is mine.

Jurgis Jurgelis. Who Is in Charge of Corruption?

This spring, masked officers pried open the doors of several local governments. Not long after that, the doors of several jail cells slammed shut. Political attack, conspiracy, and clique were words that could be heard coming from the lips of those who were arrested. A hit below the belt was the response of the arrestees' friends who remained free. People said that it was the work of the STT [the Specialiųjų tyrimų tarnyba, the main anti-corruption body in Lithuania].

In general, corruption is not a law enforcement problem, but a management [could also be translated governing] problem. It arises because of the lack of order: lack of oversight, responsibility, proper personnel policies, transparent decision making, openness, etc. Law enforcement only picks the fruit of this "order". Without a change in the way things are managed, this fruit will always be in season.

On the other hand, the crime of corruption is a hard nut to crack even for the most efficient law enforcement agency because:

  • such crimes are committed by educated people;
  • both sides (the givers and the takers) are making an agreement and for that reason neither side complains;
  • well-organized corruption leaves no physical evidence;
  • the technology used by law enforcement becomes old very quickly—now everyone knows that you shouldn't say certain things on your mobile telephone;
  • the bigger the corruption, the higher up the chain of command.

Whoever controls the country also controls corruption

Corruption always appears in certain spheres: privatization, return of formerly held (later nationalized) property, bidding for government contracts, issue of various licences, distribution of European fund money, etc. Whoever is in charge of these spheres is in charge of the corruption in those spheres. There is no separate ministry of corruption (anticorruption) in the country—a sphere can be managed well and corruption can be controlled (limited). It is also possible to govern poorly and allow corruption to flourish.

In principle, only those institutions or those authorities in whose hands the control of the country rests are able to change the situation. It would be difficult for anyone else to do anything, except perhaps change the government.

Political will

This is the ability of the government to understand and to want and to be able to do something, in this case, limit corruption. When a national strategy to fight corruption was prepared, it received more or less this evaluation in the halls of government: "There are some interesting things there. I'll have to read through it". And that means that the strategy will never be put into practice, because what is needed is not to read through it but fight for it. In democratic countries political will is born and shaped in political parties. Political parties form the representative government, which forms policies and governs.

Our parties (some more than others) have certain problems with corruption. They are tormented by non-transparent sources of money. The parties admit that it is necessary to make it illegal for legal entities to provide financial support to parties. But they do not dare to make that illegal because they need the money.

The STT reveals another party-corruption handicap, the sale of people—members of parliamentary groups. A party wanting to get more power can buy members of other groups or at least temporarily rent his vote. There are other party-corruption problems. Political will is touched by corruption.

It is necessary to note that in the European countries in which corruption has been more or less eliminated, parties (not organizations like the STT) fight for clean politics in their own ranks, they control the members of parliament and ministers that represent them, etc. A corrupt government official could bring the party huge losses and hurt its authority. Here it does not harm parties at all.

Some propaganda

Two years ago the political groups in the parliament signed an agreement about unifying in the fight against corruption. There was talk and there were remarks to the effect that the agreement was of a propagandistic nature. With the passage of two years, it would be proper to discuss the result that have been achieved and let people know what has been done, what has not been done, and what will be done. But there will apparently be no compilation of the results, since there is not really anything to compile. The agreement will lose its spark and fade away silently, without anyone noticing. No one needs to discuss propaganda.

Who is leading the front line?

There is no one in that position. There is also no responsibility for the front.

Some time earlier an attempt was made to put the STT in that position. But the STT does not have the authority to give orders to governmental units, require that they take certain steps, or demand certain results from them. It can only desire, suggest, ask, ask again, and ask yet again.

At this time, several anti-corruption commissions operate in Lithuania. There is one in the parliament, one that is connected with the Interior Ministry, one that is run by the Interior Ministry, and one that is connected with the Cabinet of Ministers. They all do certain jobs. But not one of them has enough authority or the obligation to lead the country's fight against corruption. And for that reason, they do not have to answer for the situation in the country.

The position of leader of the front is open. It could be occupied the the Cabinet of Ministers. The leaders of the country could use their power and the power of governmental institutions they manage in this fight. No matter what, a leader who is willing to take responsibility is needed. Maybe after elections.

Not really so bad

A significant amount of money is spent (although of course more is needed) fighting corruption. We have a special organization to fight corruption, the STT. There are also other organizations fighting against corruption. There are no fewer than in other European countries.

According to level of corruption, the situation in Lithuania is not the worst in the European Union. It is true that we are starting to slip at little behind Slovenia and Estonia, which were earlier about level with us, but have now passed us up. We are floundering in the same place with our neighbors Latvia and Poland. We are in a better position than the new members of the EU, Romania and Bulgaria. If Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine join the EU some day, there will be even more countries in a worse situation. Not bad.

There are countries that are in incomparably worse shape, for example Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and even Russia. But the discussion is not about Africa or Russia or even about the index of corruption in various countries around the world. As one French writer said, it is not the poverty that a people live in that is terrible; what is terrible is when people get used to living in poverty.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Vilnius II

A short clip about Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, can be found here, courtesy of the Vilnius Tourist Information Centre. The clip can be viewed in Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, German, and English.

I'm already preparing for the onslaught of tourists. Just give me a couple of weeks notice if you plan to stay with us.

P.S.
Will work as a guide for food and drinks.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

You Know You've Been in Lithuania Too Long When:

An e-mail forward I received from a friend of mine. (Thanks, Steve.) Rather humorous and provides some insight into what it means to live in Lithuania (too long).

You know you've been in Lithuania too long when:

· You only eat in restaurant-chains that start with Čili.
· You put ketchup on your pizza and think that's the way the Italians do it.
· Half of your friends disappear to work in the British Isles, Scandinavia, or the United States and you think that's normal.
· You have become tired of explaining to your friends and relatives at home that you are a) not in Latvia, b) not in Russia, and c) Riga isn't the capital of the Baltic.
· With a meal, you drink either beer or tea.
· Basketball has become the most important thing in your life.
· There is only one beer for you: Švyturys Extra.
· Half of the population working as "managers" seems reasonable to you.
· Tall, blonde beauties in short skirts are nothing special for you anymore.
· During winter, instead of looking for a thermostat to adjust the temperature in your room, you just open the window.
· You learned everything about the glorious Lithuanian language, and now you get angry about the ignorant people who deny the existence of a Lithuanian language or, worse, consider it some branch of the Slavic languages.
· You've learned the hard way that a triangle means women's toilet and a triangle upside down means men's.
· During a long night of partying, you went out to take a pee in the cold streets because there was only one unisex toilet in the whole pub.
· You think drunks shouting at you in Russian are a normal part of life.
· When you enter a bus and there is no strange smell, you think there's something wrong.
· Buses without antennae seem awkward to you.
· If anything goes wrong, you blame the Russians, the Poles, or the rest of the world.
· You see someone smiling in public and you think: well, a bloody foreigner.
· A meal for you must contain either potato or meat, but usually both.
· You start leaving out the articles, even in English or your native language.
· You become scared when you come upon big old babushkas in furs because they trample everything in their way.
· You are afraid crossing a street, especially at zebra crossings or traffic lights.
· You feel guilty about wearing your shoes after entering a flat.
· You consider cranberry the best flavour for water, juice and vodka.
· You think beer is a soft drink, not an alcoholic beverage.
· Going to the opera, the concert hall, or the theatre is just a usual thing to do in the evenings.
· Given names like Christmas tree, sun, amber, diamond, and oak seem normal to you.
· Everything 50 m above sea level seems like a mountain.
· You get a one-centimetre haircut and buy a fake leather jacket and a black cap (if you are male) OR you buy a skirt the size of a belt and don't leave the house without tonnes of make-up (if you are female).
· You consider smoked pig's ears a tasty beer snack.
· You love the Baltic Sea and go swimming there at nearly any temperature.
· For you, garlic has become an ingredient just like salt or pepper.
· You consider Lithuania the best and worst place on earth at the same time.
· You teach everybody that in medieval times the Lithuanian Grand Duchy ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
· You add "as", "a" or "is" to the end of foreign names so you can conjugate them.
· You carry around five cell phones and several cards from eight different phone companies so that you always get the best price.
· You consider fastening your seatbelt a sign of weakness and are not surprised if a car doesn’t have seatbelts at all.
· You think Coca Cola is the unhealthiest drink in the world and that drinking lots of beer, sugary juice, and bread drink prolongs your life.
· You haven't seen a clear sky for months and you don't miss it anymore.
· You consider rain the norm and sunshine a special weather phenomenon.

Monday, 9 June 2008

On the Verge of a Catastophe?

I found this article here, on Alfa.lt, and it seemed rather interesting. The global ecomonic crisis, if it can be called that, is worrying, but I'm in no position to say whether we're any worse off here than anywhere else in the world (besides the fact that prices for about everything but food and services were always too high [close to or higher than prices in Western Europe] and now food and services are catching up). This article suggests that indeed things are worse here. The translation is mine, and as usual, I am solely to blame for any mistakes or omissions (except of course those that occur in the original article).

Lithuania -- On the Brink of Disaster

"What can you do when the members of your family complain about the rising prices of food, gasoline, and airline tickets?" a British journalist asked in the Sunday Times. The answer was this: "Just for a minute consider how someone from Ukraine, where food prices have risen 30 percent in the past year, feels."

Britons are complaining that it will not be possible to tolerate inflation, which in April reached 3 percent, while in Eastern Europe and Russia consumer prices have experienced double-digit growth. People in Eastern Europe are already beginning to panic, although the most important cause of inflation, the rising cost of food products, is the same in both Eastern and Western Europe. The difference is that in poorer countries the amount of money spent on food makes up a bigger part of the cost of living: 60 percent in Ukraine, 40 percent in Russia, almost 26 percent in Lithuania, and barely 10 percent in the United Kingdom.

Besides that, there is a very serious situation in the Eastern European labor market not only because there are too many cleaners or plumbers, but also because inflation is having a strong effect on salaries. In the private sector in Hungary, salaries have gone up 9 percent over the past year. Even if prices for food products go down at the end of the year, inflation will not be stopped.

The West has become concerned about rising inflation in Eastern Europe. First of all, that is because they have been encouraged to pump massive investments into those countries in the belief that as the economies of those countries grow, inflation will fall. But those "new markets" are suffering from a problem that make the "credit bubble" in the West look like a fairy tale in comparison. Experts from the investment bank Morgan Stanley have already called Eastern Europe the next place for a catastrophe and have begun comparing it to Asia in 1997.

Eastern Europe is deeply in debt and that debt is quickly getting bigger. In Latvia in 2002–2006, real estate prices grew 40 percent (though they have gone down a bit recently). The complaints of people in the West do not appear to be worth any attention if compared to what is going on in Latvia and its neighbors.

There are experts, however, who say that the situation in Europe will not affect other regions of the world such as Asia and Latin America. The countries of Asia have truly recovered from the crisis of more than ten years ago. Even though inflation stands at 8 percent in China, if food prices are not counted, the figure falls to just 1.8 percent. Latin America is now being flooded with money, and prices for the most important raw materials are growing in leaps and bounds. It would be naive to expect that the "new markets" will protect the West from recession, however. Climbing inflation could destroy macroeconomic stability. In the worst case, investors will lose faith in the local currency. There is more faith in Eastern Europe, where investments are made in euros and Swiss francs. Some economists have warned, however, that having such faith may lead some to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire since large debts will not be the cause of the crisis in those countries, as has happened more than once. "Everything can be blamed on easy money", Morgan Stanley economist Joachim Fels says. Professor Carmen Reinhart of Maryland University agrees with him: "Technology, the height of people, and fashion change. What doesn't change is the desire of governments and investors to fool themselves."

Nine countries on the brink of disaster:
1. Jamaica
2. Ukraine
3. Kazakhstan
4. Bulgaria
5. Surinam
6. Latvia
7. Lithuania
8. Vietnam
9. Sri Lanka

Sunday, 8 June 2008

No Jail for Paralytic Driver

This is my third and final update of the story of Kestutis Zutautas, a Lithuanian who got caught for drunken driving in the Shetland Islands. The final article from the Shetland News can be found here. My previous posts about this can be found here: I and II. Thanks, Phil.

And a musical interlude:
Little Green Machine -- Most of the members of this band are from the Shetland Islands, or at least that's what Phil tells me...

Friday, 6 June 2008

Food for Thought

I found this article, which is about the link between the food crisis and biofuel production, quite interesting.

Here's a quotation from that article:


President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has challenged critics who claim biofuel production is contributing to high food prices and demand, arguing the problem lies instead in poor agricultural and distribution models.

"It is not ethanol that is causing food prices to rise, because Brazil, which produces more biofuel, also produces more food," he has said.

That view has support among government analysts.

The food crisis "is a problem of wealth distribution, a political problem," said Giselle Ferreira de Araujo, who works for the state National Council for Scientific and Technological Development.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Peter Gabriel Break

A few days ago I saw some fairly recent photos of Peter Gabriel. They made me realize several things.

1. He's getting old. Surprise, surprise.
2. I've been "out of the loop" for a long time. I'm sure I would have seem him on TV or in a newspaper in the States, i.e., it's been a long time since I've seen his photo.
3. If he's getting old, I must also be getting old. Well, that's nothing new but something I try not to think about.

A few videos:
Digging in the Dirt

Steam

Shakin' the Tree

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

20th Anniversary of Sąjūdis

The 20th anniversary of Sąjūdis, the organization that helped usher in the reestablishment of the independence of Lithuania, is being celebrated in Lithuania this week. Meetings, conferences, television and radio programs, and concerts are taking place to mark this event.

An interesting thing I learned was that one of the initial goals of this movement was not reestablishing independence but overcoming bureaucracy. And boy, oh boy, was that goal not met. That still remains one of the biggest obstacles here. Not only does it directly hinder economic development, but it also stifles the initiative of people and in general makes life extremely difficult. And there is no doubt that it encourages the all-pervasive corruption that plagues Lithuanian society.

I've decided that this blog can be a modest forum for exposing those who ask for bribes. I've been asked for bribes a few times in my 10+ years here, but I won't dredge up the past. But from now on, I resolve to record such events here.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Fire or The End of an Era

Here's an article as it appeared in the Hutchinson News. The event occurred on 12 May.

Fire Damages Portions of Pretty Prairie Couple's Home

Leon and Linda Hendrixson returned home from the bank and the hardware store Monday to discover their house on fire.

"I didn't even go inside," Linda Hendrixson said. "I knew it was on fire before I got to the door."

She smelled smoke and heard "popping noises" coming from their home at 14413 S. Whiteside Road, located south of Arlington Road in Reno County, Linda said.

Leon Hendrixson turned the gas off and the couple went to a neighbor's house to call authorities.

Then, surrounded by family and friends, they watched from afar as about a dozen firefighters from Pretty Prairie and Reno County fire departments worked to put out the blaze.

Fire officials told the Hendrixsons the kitchen and back portion of their home - where they have lived since 1962 - were a total loss.

Officials are still investigating the cause of the 9:30 a.m. fire but think it started on the back porch, said Pretty Prairie Fire Chief Rick Graber.

"There is a gas heater there they had run a little this morning," he speculated. Linda Hendrixson lamented the loss of her kitchen, which had been completely remodeled last summer, and wondered whether their new beds, antiques and her sewing machine could be salvaged.

The couple does have insurance, but it "will never be enough," she said as she watched firefighters spray down the scorched wood.

She'd been looking forward to a visit from her son, Alan, a teacher living in Lithuania who was set to return home in July with his wife and children.

For now, the couple will stay with family living near Yoder and wait to assess the damage.

Graber said there was no burn damage to the rest of the house, but there was heat and smoke damage.

He said officials have not yet calculated the total loss. "Everybody got out, and nobody was hurt," he said. "There was a lot of damage, but they might be able to save a lot, too."

Well, for any who don't know, the article is talking about my parents' house, the house where I grew up. The fire took place almost exactly two weeks before my father's 87th birthday, which was on May 25. The house was declared a total loss by the insurance company.

I can't imagine what my parents felt as they watched their house go up in flames. At least some family mambers were there to comfort them. And from what I've heard, the response of the community has been nothing less than amazing, which must also help keep their spirits up. Still, losing one's house, I can only imagine, must be terribly traumatic, especially for people who are 86 and 82. On a slightly brighter side, many antiques and family mementos were salvaged.

I knew that old house wouldn't always be around, but hearing that I wouldn't get to spend my summer there on the farm (my family will travel from Lithuania to Kansas to spend most of this summer with my parents) was painful. It seems that my parents will now move to the nearby town of Pretty Prairie. I hope they are able to make the adjustment of moving from a rural setting. I know my dad will miss being able to go out to his shop and putter around.

I had planned to publish this earlier, but I was hoping that I would receive some photos. None have arrived, but I can nevertheless add a couple of photos of how the place looked. These were taken during a visit about five years ago.



Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Morcheeba Break

Another addition to the Lithuanian Drivers' Hall of Shame:

TVP 295 -- a blue VW Golf

Uh, if you can't find a parking space, buddy, no, it isn't OK to park in the middle of the driveway and block other drivers. File this under the common Lithuanian ailment of "I can do whatever the heck I want to do and if what I do affects you in an adverse way, that's your problem, not mine".

And something to lift the spirits: Morcheeba.

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

Be Yourself

Monday, 26 May 2008

Up with People

One of my favorite songs and videos of all time: Up with People by Lambchop.
We are doin',
And we are screwin',
Up our lives today,
Up our lives
today,
Up our lives today...

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Great Deportation

This article comes from here: http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/article.php?id=17113068. I'm only going to translate the first half of the article.

Great Deportation of 1948 Marked in Lithuania

It has been 60 years since 22 May 1948, the day the Soviet Union began the operation called Vesna. It was the most massive deportation of Lithuanian people in the history of the country. Forty thousand people [11,000 of which were children] were deported from Lithuania. This deportation is remarkable not only for its size, but also because it took place only in Lithuania, Lithuanian Radio reports. Deportations on a massive scale did not affect the other two Baltic States that year. In the entire Soviet Union, about 80,000 people, half of them Lithuanians, were forced to move in 1948.

The largest portion of the deportees at that time were wealthy farmers, who had been called the enemies of collectivization. Historian Arvydas Anusauskas says that the goal of the mass deportation was to crush armed resistance and the boycott of social, economic and agricultural reforms. Other aims were to frighten the remaining population and to furnish laborers for the far eastern and northern parts of the Soviet Union.

The 60-year old plans and maps of the deportation are still stored in top secret archives in Moscow. The first mass deportation took place in Lithuania in 1941.

Events to mark the 60th anniversary of this event are being held in Vilnius and Kaunas.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_transfer_in_the_Soviet_Union
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involuntary_settlements_in_the_Soviet_Union
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_Baltic_states

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Lithuanian in UK

Click here if you'd like to hear a little about the life of a Lithuanian student in the UK. He has some interesting things to say. Some of the things he talks about are stereotypes (and then he goes on to stereotype British students), Lithuanian education vs. British education, and immigrants in the UK. I found this at Lithuanian Jotter.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Nordic Music II

Some more music from Scandinavia.

This first video is FC Kahuna (from the UK) but the vocalist is Hafdis Huld, who is from Iceland.

The other videos are of songs that come from Hafdis Huld's 2006 album, Dirty Paper Cup:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N_JCpentwc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUd1XqwyI5o
The dancer in this video, who is an Icelandic actor, looks exactly like one of my former co-workers. The resemblance is really uncanny.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Patriotism???

Read this article about Obama and his flag pin and you'll see why the people in the U.S.A. elect "presidents" like Dubya. I saw the headline and was all like "whuuut?". Maybe I've been away from the States for too long, but I have a couple of questions:
Since when did such information become important, and since when does a flag pin and not a person's deeds tell us anything about his/her patriotism???

Reading stories like that, I no longer wonder why the good ol' U.S. of A. is going down the crapper...

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

More Fanaticism

Since my last post was about fanaticism, I decided that this article would be a good follow-up. Actually that link is for another blog that talks about the article and provides a link to it.

The war on drugs? Ah, yes, the dangers of putting fanatics in charge of something that's doing absolutely no good in the first place. Education? Rehab programs? Providing people with other activities? Nah, too complicated. Much easier to simply throw people in prison.

One reason I wanted to provide the link to Boing Boing is that you can then also read the comments there. In particular, one person provides a link (see May 12 11:42 p.m. post) to Bill Hicks describing the war on drugs. Must be seen. You would do well to view the one about mushrooms as well (can be found in related videos). Explains exactly why the government doesn't want people to use shrooms. He hit the nail on the head. Fantastic.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Sad Story

First of all, you need to read this article.

For Abdel-Qader Ali there is only one regret: that he did not kill his daughter at birth. 'If I had realised then what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her,' he said with no trace of remorse.
Two weeks after The Observer revealed the shocking story of Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, murdered because of her infatuation with a British soldier in Basra, southern Iraq, her father is defiant. Sitting in the front garden of his well-kept home in the city's Al-Fursi district, he remains a free man, despite having stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed his student daughter to death.


I'm tempted to leave it at that, let everyone come to his/her own conclusions. I personally thought about the dangers of fanaticism, whether Islam is a religion that somehow encourages fanaticism, whether the problem is all organized religion, that George W. Bush must shoulder some of the blame (I like to blame him for just about everything evil these days), from where such hate and intolerance arises, etc. Too many questions, few clear answers, and maybe no solutions.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Lithuania Flexes Its Muscles II

Looks like a victory for Lithuanian foreign policy. Well deserved. I applaud the Lithuanian foreign minister.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Update

Here's an update to my earlier post about the Lithuanian driver in the Shetland Islands. Justice is swift in the Shetlands. Thanks again, Phil.

And as a musical interlude...
Patience Dabany, one of my favorite artists from the world of soukous.
Ewawa
And Franco and Sam Mangwana
Cooperation, one of my favorite songs from the world of soukous.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Somebody's Dream Car

I was wondering about what to write about. Maybe means I shouldn't bother writing, but darn it, I wouldn't want to let the two or three people who read my blog on a regular basis down.


Yesterday I found this article on Delfi.lt: http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/crime/article.php?id=16921302. I won't bother translating anything but the first paragraph, which contains the main idea, anyway.


Lithuania Number One in EU in Terms of Death of Children on Roads

Statistics show that it is not safe for children to go to school and back. Last year there were 1453 traffic accidents in which children were injured. Seventy of those children died. In the first three months of this year, there were 218 traffic accidents in which children were injured. Most of the people responible for these accidents were either driving carelessly or drunk.

Another number one for Lithuania--as if total number of deaths on the road and suicide weren't enough. Ah, what is it about this place? I drove up to the northeast of the country this past weekend; still surprised at the number of people speeding, expecially with the TV and radio flooded with ads about the dangers of speeding. I was driving the speed limit and was passed by dozens of cars on my way there and back.

But I think I've made my point about that already. Maybe the best thing I can do now is continue with my "Hall of Shame" for Lithuanian drivers. I heard or read a few days ago that the police were going to start printing lists of people who had been caught driving while intoxicated--and possibly those caught for other serious traffic offenses(?). But what about those who don't get caught? That can be my contribution.

While reading the article I mentioned above, I saw an ad for this car.

A beaut, eh? The ad can be found here. Not so sure about the 61,000 euro(!) price tag or the hot pink upholstery, though.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Cambodian Skies

The past few days I've spent all my free time (and not-so-free time--annoyed wife, check; neglected children, check) reading Cambodian Skies Journal. The beginning of the story can be found here. I've found it really engrossing. It truly provides a lot of food for thought.

A description taken from the blog:
Cambodian Skies is a journal like no other that you will read. It shares the journeys, both physical and spiritual, of Pete Calanni, a self-proclaimed ex-hippie from western New York. Cambodian Skies details his travels, the people he meets, his goals, thoughts, fears, ups, and downs. Very real stuff, no glossy fiction here.

And to match the mood: Cambodian music performed by Dengue Fever, a US band with a Cambodian lead singer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ipr7XYxjkjk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBC1rl5QTpc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loZZLWlYSkI
http://www.myspace.com/denguefevermusic

Monday, 5 May 2008

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Another Kent Video

Here's another Kent video clip. (I mentioned this group in an earlier post.) This song, Kräm (Så Nära Får Ingen Gå), is off of their second album, Verkligen. I like the lyrics, which can be found in both Swedish and English.

Lägg dig ner precis
som du alltid gör när
Jag vill ha min tunga där
du är, så nära att du blir våt
men så nära får ingen gå...

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Lithuanian Drivers II

I see I'm not the only one blogging about this subject:
http://blog.inyourpocket.com/2008/03/lithuanian-road-rage.html
http://ltatoz.blogspot.com/2008/04/m-is-for-mainos-men-and-mortality.html.

My previous posts on this subject can be found here and here.

And with the massive emigration from Lithuania taking place, Lithuanian drivers can be found doing their thing in all parts of the European Union, even in such far-flung places as the Shetland Islands. Check this out. Thanks for that, Phil.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Hardy Lithuanian Women

File this one under news of the weird. I found the article here: http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/crime/article.php?id=16768134. The translation is mine.

Pregnant Woman Escapes from Police in Klaipeda

LNK [TV] News reported that a woman in her sixth month of pregnancy escaped from police in Klaipeda. The woman, who has been tried 12 times before, had been apprehended for petty theft. She was taken from jail to the hospital after complaining that she did not feel well. She then escaped from the hospital after jumping out of a second floor window. The officer in charge of her did not notice that she was missing until some time later, however. The fugitive was captured four hours later.

The police are investigating the circumstances and whether the officer was properly performing her duty.

Monday, 21 April 2008

New Gravel Album

I've been waiting for the new Gravel album for some time now. (My previous posts about this group: 15 March and 31 March.) And then yesterday I saw an ad saying something about getting the album free from Delfi, a Lithuanian news website. I clicked on the ad and was taken to an article whose headline I had seen before but ignored. One reason I ignored it was that it appeared on April 1, and the news media here always feature some stories that shouldn't be taken seriously on that day. The other reason was that I didn't understand the Lithuanian word for download (atsisiųsti), which I don't remember having heard used before. I think most people just use a Lithuanianized version of download (daunlodinti--my spelling). For example, I quizzed my wife and she didn't know the word. But anyway, in my effort not to be fooled, I passed over this story. Regardless of whether the head of the band was serious or not, it is possible to download their new album free. Here's the link: http://whatson.delfi.lt/archive/article.php?id=16525959.

My recommendation: definitely download the album. It's worth it. If you're skeptical, first download Foreign Policy and Little Things (tracks 2 and 4)--in fact download tracks 2-4--and listen to those songs first. I think you'll end up downloading the entire album.

And here's my translation of the main part of that article:

Gravel Decides to Stop Performing and Give New Album to DELFI Readers (Download!)

Gravel is giving away its new album, Dirty Beauty, to internet users. That's not an April Fool's trick. According to Tomas Sinickis [also spelled Tomasz Sinicki since he's an ethnic Pole], the leader of the group, the decision to do this was made for the good of Lithuania. "If you try to spread certain ideas and you want to say that you're doing something for the good of Lithuania, then you shouldn't ask 30 litas [the cost of a CD] for those ideas", Sinickis, who is giving away his album on DELFI, said. The leader of Gravel said that the group's second album, Dirty Beauty, will be the group's last album. (The first--Pockets Full of Fun--was released in 2006.)

"When losers like us leave the stage, that can only be for the good of Lithuania. I don't think it's bad. We can see that it would be better for us to stop polluting the airwaves", Sinickis said.

When asked about his future plans, Sinickis said that he intends to become a politician and serve the people of Lithuania.

Names of songs in Lithuanian:
1. Where Mothers Are Looking, Where Fathers Are Looking [Sorry, maybe I'm missing something here. I can't really understand the lyrics of the song either.]
10. Oh, My Love

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Nothing Can Be Done

My wife just told me a story that happened yesterday when she was picking up our daughter from pre-school. I think it's a very good example of the way things work here in Lithuania.

While picking up our daughter, she saw an extremely drunk young man enter the grounds of the pre-school (right after throwing up on a car parked on the street right outside). The drunk was heading directly towards a group of children outside. Vaiva knows the teacher, who was earlier our daughter's teacher, and asked her whether she didn't think calling the police would be a good idea. The teacher replied that it wouldn't do any good. She said that teachers and adminstrators had called the police many times in the past because drunks like to hang out in the area where the kids play--there are benches and covered areas--but the police always told them that they had more important things to do. My wife decided to call the police herself, but she understood from the conversation that they wouldn't be sending anyone over to take care of the problem. (Mind you, precinct headquarters [or perhaps even the main headquarters for the city of Vilnius?] is only a couple of blocks away.) Apparently the head of the school has tried to tell them to leave, but they have told her to leave them alone or they'd start breaking the windows of the pre-school! So, nothing can be done.

What's wrong with this scenario? Uh, maybe I'm wrong but just about anywhere else in the 'civilized' world, the head of the pre-school would contact the chief of police and if that didn't get any response, go to the next higher step, in Lithuania the Ministry of the Interior. But no, she's called the police, there was no response, and 'that's the way things are in Lithuania'. 'Nothing can be done.' Excuse me, but that sounds like pure laziness and apathy on the part of the head of the school. She doesn't want to deal with the problem. So, the problem either remains or has to be taken care of by someone else. Well, I think it might be a good thing for me to look into. One battle at a time, and the war can be won. But the problem here is really threefold, isn't it? The drunks, the police, and the administration of the pre-school, the latter two acting as enablers for some odiously anti-social behavior. A society that allows such a thing to occur is really a sick society.

OK, that's my rant for today.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Return of a Lost Boy

Here's a nice, uplifting article that I read a few days ago: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080413/ap_on_re_af/lost_boy_s_return_2. Looks like a worthy cause.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Religion vs. Science

Who says that religion and science are (or have to be) at odds? For those who are interested in this topic, I found this article written by The Reverend David A. Richardson. I just stumbled upon it while looking for something else. I like the way he point-blank labels 'intelligent design' as "neither" and calls it "fraud".

Here's an excerpt from his article:
"The God that cannot stand up to rigorous examination is no God. The God that needs to be taught in schools, emblazoned in stone in a courthouse like some idol, through legislation, is no God at all. That which is Holy and Sacred does not legislate, or bomb, or terrorize, or threaten."

He makes very good arguments and provides some serious food for thought, but the chasm is wide--to the disadvantage of both sides.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

For Language Lovers

I have always been interested in languages, which is one reason I majored in linguistics at university. For those of you who also share this fascination, here is a website that my friend Philip turned me on to (http://www.lowlands-l.net/anniversary/contents.php).

The idea started with a folktale in a Low Saxon (Low German) dialect and the desire to translate it into various other Low Saxon dialects as a way to showcase those dialects and their orthographies. It's now expanded to include languages from all over the world. Some translations even include sound recordings so that you can here the story being told in that language.

Since Philip is from the Shetland Islands and is interested in the preservation of the dialect he speaks, he included a link to a couple of Shetlandic translations of the story.

I notice that, among other languages, there aren't any translations of the story into Lithuanian or Tamil. And there's no sound recording for Cebuano. Maybe there are people out there that could help with that? And Mike, I know this isn't exactly your neck of the woods, but what about a sound recording for this translation? I bet I could pull it off.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Suicide in Lithuania

Did you know that Lithuania has the highest suicide rate in Europe? Here's a recent article about that topic: Suicides in Lithuania Show Social Pains Persist.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Stricter Traffic Laws Yielding Results?

Over the past several days, I've found a couple of articles with statistics that allow me to be hopeful that the "war on the roads" [see my 3 March post] here in Lithuania is actually being won by the good guys. So here are my translations of the articles.

http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/crime/article.php?id=16565015

Almost 400 Offending Drivers Arrested in January–March

The stricter traffic laws [see comments from my 28 March post] that came into force in January have been personally experienced by 375 drivers who spent time in jail for especially serious offences. A new part of the traffic laws--automobile confiscation--was invoked for the owners of 45 automobiles in the first three months of this year.

The police are pleased since they feel that the stricter penalties for drinking and driving and for speeding are discouraging others from breaking the law. In the opinion of Stanislovas Liutkevicius, secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, this improvement in the situation on the roads of Lithuania may allow the country to halve the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents by 2010, something the European Commission has obligated Lithuania to do.

In the first quarter of this year, 1157 traffic accidents in which people were injured took place, 13.1 percent fewer accidents than took place in this period of the preceding year. In those accidents, 1400 were injured.

Compared to the first three months of 2007, the number of accidents caused by drunken drivers dropped 35.6 percent and the number caused by people who were driving without a licence went down 40 percent.

This year the police have apprehended an average of 600 drunken drivers every month. This figure stood at 2500 per month in the past year.

According the the number of people killed in traffic accidents, Lithuania continues to be the most dangerous place in the European Union, however.


http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/crime/article.php?id=16588296

Promising Statistics for Safe Traffic Day

As Safe Traffic Day [April 6] is being celebrated in Lithuania, officials have expressed pleasure with the improving situation on the country's roads. In the first three months of the year, the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents has dropped by a fourth. Antantas Cereska, deputy director of the safe traffic department of the Lithuanian Road Administration, told Lithuanian Radio that this improvement has been caused by the higher fines for traffic offences and the attention that this problem has received from politicians and the media.

"The statistics from the first months of this year show that the situation on the roads is improving. The law, the police, teaching, and the press are all working together to make things better. Beginning in October, we plan to bring back the highway patrol [which earlier existed but for some reason was done away with some time ago]", Cereska said.

Despite the improvement in the statistics, the situation on the roads remains the worst in the European Union. According to data supplied by the police, the most common cause of accidents is speeding.

Every year it is the cause of about 1200 traffic accidents, in which about 200 people are killed and about 1500 are injured.


And as an alumnus of Kansas University, I cannot let this pass.
Way to go Hawks!
http://sports.yahoo.com/ncaab/recap?gid=200804070349
http://collegebasketball.rivals.com/content.asp?SID=1146&CID=795035

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Lithuania's Demographic Problem

Here's an article I found on Delfi: http://www.delfi.lt/news/ringas/lit/article.php?id=16521136. It appeared on 1 April, hence the mention of an April Fool's Day joke. The translation is mine.

According to Fertility Level, Lithuania is Fifth in World. From the End.

This is not an April Fool's Day joke; according to its fertility level [or birth rate], Lithuania really stands at 218 out of 222 countries... The demographic situation in Lithuania is truly not enviable. Lithuania's demographic problem--the decrease and aging of its population--can be called the country's number one long-term problem and strategic challenge.

The survival of the Lithuanian ethnic group, including its culture and language, as well as Lithuania's economic potential and well-being, are especially dependant on demography.

The demographic problem is also quite dangerous because it is somewhat unnoticed, since in the middle term everything looks fine: the ecomony is growing, the number of workers is increasing, and real estate prices are rising. In fact, the Lithuanian economy is experiencing a demographic golden age. The largest new generation of Lithuanians, those born in 1985–90 (only the generation born in 1955–65 was larger), is now entering the labor market, and even though the population is rapidly decreasing, the number of workers is increasing.

Problems understanding the demographic situation also arise due to the difficulty separating two completely different processes: low fertility and emigration. Many think that if massive emigration were halted, the Lithuanian demographic problem would be solved. That opinion is incorrect since the country's biggest demographic problem is not the large rate of emigration but rather the low rate of fertility.

It is true that if fewer Lithuanians emigrated, the demographic situation in the country would be better, but the fertility rate--1.3 children per woman (according to which Lithuania is third from last in Europe and in the last ten in the world)--actually only considers women living in Lithuania (those that have not emigrated). In other words, even if there was no emigration, with such a rate of fertility the number of inhabitants would quite likely be three times as low by the end of this century. This can be illustrated by a simple example: given such a birth rate, 100 people (50 women) will have an average of 65 children, 42 grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren, and so on. (To keep the population from dropping, 100 people need to have 100 grandchildren and 100 great grandchildren.)

According to a forecast prepared by the United Nations, about 2.65 million people will live in Lithuania in 2050, more or less the same number as in 1950 (http://esa.un.org/unpp/). [I think the current population is around 3.4 million.] This forecast is optimistic, however, in that it assumes that fertility will constantly increase from the current rate of 1.3 to 1.7 children per woman. It is also important to realize that in 2050 the average Lithuanian will be 50 years old (the average Lithuanian is now 39). For that reason, the biggest drop in the population will actually begin in 2050. Even though the number of children and young people is dropping, until that time the number of people reaching retirement age will grow, making it at least appear someone is "still living" in Lithuania.

To point out the fertility problem, it is important to look at Lithuania's demographic situation, temporarily forgetting emigration. For such a comparison, it is suitable to look at Russia since the birth rate there is quite similar to Lithuania's, but that country does not have a problem with emigration [which was news to me]. Russia can be looked at as an example of what is waiting for Lithuania, even if the emigration problem here fades away.

Those who follow the official Russian press [I assume the author means the state-controlled press] know that the demographic problem there is discussed quite frequently and seriously. They truly understand the seriousness of the problem, and it seems to truly be the number one problem for them. Russian security agencies know quite well what is being counted (and the CIA also understands very well)--that Russia is little by little beginning to be taken off the list of possible competitors in the distant future.

Russia does not have an emigration problem. Even now there is more immigration than emigration. Since 1990, 5 million more people have immigrated than emigrated; many people have returned from Latvia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc. The population of Russia, however, instead of going up 5 million, has gone down 8 million. What happened to those 13 million people? The mathematical answer is quite simple. That is how much a population will drop over 18 years when each year 1.4 million are born and 2.3 million people die.

Here is the UN forecast for the population of Russia until 2050:











According to the UN, by 2050 the population of Belarus (which is not having any emigration problems) will drop from 10 to 7 million, the population of Ukraine will drop from 50 to 30 million, and that of Poland will drop from 38 to 30 million. The population of Europe will drop almost only because of the decreases in Eastern Europe.

It is especially interesting to compare Lithuania with Ireland. In 1995 both countries had roughly the same number of inhabitants--around 3.6 million. But by 2050, Ireland will have a population of 6.2 million, while the population of Lithuania will drop to 2.6 million. The main reason for this is although not long ago 50,000 children were born in each country every year this figure in Lithuania will drop from its current 30,000 to about 25,000, and in Ireland this figure is expected to stay at its current level of 60,000. While the average Lithuanian woman will have 1.4 children, the average Irish woman will have 1.9. At least according to the UN forecast, the positive rate of migration that Ireland is now experiencing will only have a minimal influence on the population there, and the main factor will be the rise in the rate of birth.

Therefore, what are Lithuanians to do if they have some sort of ambition about being a majority at least in their own country? Without a doubt, it is first of all necessary to strengthen the belief that having three or four children is normal and that one or two children is a small family. Because with the spread of the German phenomenon, in which every third woman does not have any children, the average stays at 1.3 (even if the remaining women have two children each; if they have three, the average would stand at two).

In the second position, it is necessary to create a convenient and modern free pre-school system, one which would if required care for children from very early in the morning to late in the evening, on weekends, and so on. Without a doubt, it is also necessary to transform the secondary school system to allow it to provide children the possibility to take part in after school and leisure time functions [almost none of which are available to students now--after school sports programs: ha, none exist]. It is also important that a positive view of families with children be created in society and among employers.

The most important thing, however, is to change the psychological climate in Lithuania. It is not surprising that Lithuania has the highest rate of suicide in the world, the highest rates of death in the "war on the roads" [see my 3 March post], and until 2006 (when Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union), the highest rate of emigration [I assume in the EU]. Lithuania, according to the CIA, is 218 [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_territories_by_fertility_rate]
out of 222 countries by rate of fertility. (Again, this is according to woman who reside [are expected to reside] in Lithuania and is not influenced by emigration.)

Perhaps it is only possible to be "proud" that four years ago Lithuania was in a lower position--222nd place (as if the two...two...two was noted)--but at that time there were more countries on the CIA list... This is not an April Fool's joke.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Nordic Music

Once upon a time, before the advent of MTV Baltic, Nordic MTV was broadcast in Lithuania. Now, those who wish may debate which is more entertaining or which plays the best music. I wish I could watch both (in measured quantities obviously). Sure, when programs in the Swedish language came on (those not showing videos), it was time to switch channels, but I did enjoy the educational part of watching Nordic MTV--learning about music from up in that neck of the woods. As an American, my knowledge about the Scandinavian music scene was pretty much limited to Björk, A-ha, and Abba.

My main discovery from Nordic MTV was Kent. They're good. No, they're great. Listen.
The song that first got me hooked:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45JojenhNao
Here are the lyrics: http://kent.awardspace.com/musik_non_stop_text.php. There's a link to the English translation as well.
Here's another song that I liked/like:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uYa8gWs2rE
Lyrics: http://kent.awardspace.com/vinternoll2_text.php.
The lyrics are great.
Du är min hjälte för du vågar vara rak
Du är min hjälte för du är precis så svag som jag
Indeed.
It's a great way to learn some Swedish.
Here's another song that I like, Pärlor, though there doesn't seem to be a proper video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtbkz8jKKew
The lyrics are here: http://kent.awardspace.com/parlor_text.php
Their MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/kentsweden.

Cats on Fire: a Finnish band. I don't really know much about them, but many moons ago I found their Higher Grounds mp3 on the web and downloaded it on the recommendation of some woman that has a site on which she reviews Nordic music. I'm sad to say that I lost the link to that site last fall when my computer shot craps (or crapped out?). Anyway, as I was saying, I downloaded the song and listened to it over and over. The song can be downloaded from this site: http://www.netikka.net/catsonfire/. It's also possible to listen to the song and watch a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvuiCCuYRNI. Their MySpace page is here: http://www.myspace.com/catsonfiremusic.

And a final video. I'm not really a fan of Röyksopp, a Norwegian band, but I like this video and this version of this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBvaHZIrt0o

Anyone have any links to other good Scandinavian music?

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Vilnius -- European Capital of Culture (?)

A couple of years ago, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was proclaimed a 2009 European capital of culture, an honor it will share with the city of Linz in Austria. At that time, I wondered how things would be organized here. Well, the problem is that Lithuanians as a whole (I know... It's not good to make generalizations) just can't seem to finish things on time or they finish them at the last second. And in this case, being a capital of culture requires an immense amount of work organizing various events to highlight the city and entertain the flood of tourists that are expected. That means that many people will have to be organized and work together to complete the necessary preparations. Another problem, however. Lithuanians can't seem to work together. Some time ago I heard the politicians in the parliament being compared to a group of quarreling children in a sandbox. I think that characterization could be expanded... And what is it about people with their hands on the dough here??? Can't anybody work honestly? Anyway, here's the article. I found it here: http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/article.php?id=16515268. The translation is mine.

"Vilnius - European Capital of Culture" Project Collapsing

The ambitious project "Vilnius - European Capital of Culture 2009" is in danger of collapsing because of the conflict between the institution set up to prepare for the event [the acronym in Lithuanian (VEKS) is strangely appropriate--I'll use it for that reason] and one of its founders, the Ministry of Culture. On 31 March, the two sides invited journalists to a press conference at which they openly argued their positions. It became clear that the ministry does not trust the employees of VEKS and that VEKS, which has not received any funding for the past three months, is not doing any work.

It was earlier reported that the Ministry of Culture stopped financing the project until an internal audit is completed. The ministry had the suspicion that the money received by VEKS was not being used responsibly and that the accounts were not being kept properly.

Events might not take place

"The work of VEKS is paralysed. We haven't been able to plan further work, make any contracts, or take care of our financial responsibilities for the past three months. We've received support from the ministry for only one project, even though we're cooperating with 125 partners, none of which we can pay", VEKS Director Elona Bajoriniene said in reaction to the criticism of the ministry.

According to Bajoriniene the debts of VEKS at the present time add up to LTL 780,000 (almost EUR 226,000).

Because of this, some projects scheduled for 2008--"Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2008", the "Childrens' Creativity Festival", "Let It Be Night", and other events--might not take place.

"We're ready to complete the preparations for these national programs, but our motivation is at an end because there's a lack of constructive work", Bajoriniene said.

List of sins will grow longer

Vice Minister of Culture Gintaras Sodeika repeated that the ministry has complaints about about the transparency of the work of VEKS.

"We aren't taking back anything we said earlier. The audit still isn't finished and the list of sins isn't complete. There will be more. We can't blindly transfer the money, even though it's getting moldy sitting here waiting for you", Sodeika said.

After being pressed by journalists to reveal exactly what problems the ministry had with the work of VEKS, the vice minister said, "Activities that couldn't be called financial crimes, but activities that are not proper for an organization that receives money from the government".

The conclusion of the ministry's audit should become clear by the middle of April.

Members of VEKS board of directors leaving

"I'm ashamed to be here. In general I regret that I brought the city of culture idea here from Stockholm. We don't know how to work together. We don't trust each other. If things continue this way, I plan to give up my position on the board of directors because I'm ashamed. It seems as if we're surrounded by fools, but this is serious work", the artist Arvydas Saltenis said after listening to the argument between representatives of VEKS and the Ministry of Culture.

"It appears that there is some kind of campaign against VEKS. Somebody is always looking over their shoulder to see whether they've stolen something", Professor Irena Veisaite, a member of the VEKS board of directors, said. She encouraged the parties to stop arguing and continue the work that has been started.

"The situation seems strange; an organization is quarreling with its founder. I suspect that the situation is actually worse than it seems now", Arturas Zuokas, chairman of the board of VEKS, said.

Zuokas, a former mayor of Vilnius and leader of the Liberal and Center Union [a political party in Lithuania], must leave his seat on the city council after being found guilty. [This article doesn't explain what he was found guilty of. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it was either pressuring or trying to bribe another member of the city council--very long story.] He said that he will likely resign from his position as chairman of the board of VEKS: "I don't think I would like to be here any longer".

Yet another audit

The city of Vilnius, which is another founder of VEKS, on 31 March announced that they planned to initiate an independent audit of that organization.

"It's to be congratulated that the Ministry of Culture is actively participating in overseeing VEKS, but we don't think that an internal audit will be enough. That's why were initiating an independent audit, which will have an unbiased conclusion", Vilnius Vice Mayor Evaldas Lementauskas said.

On March 31, the city council announced that they would be accepting bids from auditing firms interested in performing such an audit. The competition is open to all domestic and foreign firms providing such services.

The government has earmarked over LTL 100 million (29 million euros) to finance the "Vilnius - European City of Culture 2009" program.