Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Buying Lithuanian

The readers of Delfi have chosen a quotation of the year. I think it's worth exposing to a larger audience.

Maybe a drumroll isn't necessary, however. Here it is: "Aš laikausi šūkio 'pirk prekę lietuvišką', bet perku ją Lenkijoje. Ten lietuviškos prekės vos ne per pusę pigesnės."

My translation: "I support the slogan 'buy Lithuanian products', but I buy them in Poland. There Lithuanian products are about half the price". Hmm. I'll leave others to explain why that is.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

I've gotta get out of this place...

A recent article that appeared on Delfi indicated that 36.4 percent of the inhabitants of large cities in Lithuania would like to emigrate. This figure has gone up an amazing five times since April 2008 (from 6.9 percent). Another 33.4 percent state that they would emigrate if their standard of living got significantly worse. Only 28.8 percent of urban dwellers state that they are not interested in emigrating. In April 2008, this figure was 62.6 percent.

The economic crisis has obviously taken its toll, but in fact large scale emigration has been a problem for Lithuania for many years and complicates the task of making the country viable.

Another recent article also addresses this topic. In it, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Lithuanian parliament states that emigration will be brought under control only when employers lose their overbearing and haughty behavior with employees. He admits that the difference in salaries of 5–8 times is the main problem but says that the creation of rules for businesses and a suitable work environment would encourage people to stay in Lithuania even if they were making a lower salary.

This article, which appeared on 7 December, has generated 135 comments. Perhaps it would be interesting to look at some of the reactions (in some cases I'll paraphrase or shorten what is written).

Perkunas—10 December: Emigration from villages will stop when it gets easier for children to settle near their elderly parents and build new houses, when the government changes the horrible Soviet laws, and when bureaucrats stealing from the poor are... I wonder if the people in government will ever understand that.

joooo—9 December: Emigration is taking place because of the unwillingness of politicians and the outright rejection of "businesspeople" to raise the minimum wage. Unfortunately, the president, wanting to remain popular with business, doesn't want to say anything. People aren't stupid. They see that some are becoming ridiculously rich and not paying workers. And they choose to leave for a more respectable place. And now the only way is to raise the minimum wage. No amount of tax reform will help matters. Our so-called businesspeople will not look after the interests of Lithuania. They're more likely to rip the rest of the country off and force the last of the workers out of the country and then start whining because no one is left to work. Then they'll start yelling that they need laborers from the East. It's happening now...

ciabuvis—8 December: The problem isn't employers; it's the government. At a corporation I worked for, about 10 government auditors came in a 2-month period. They didn't audit anything, just bargained with the managers for a bribe. It was this way: if you didn't pay the bribe, they would close up the business and not allow you to operate. And then you'd have to go to their bosses, who would demand bigger bribes. ... It seems as if the entire government works this way...

mama—8 December: Young, healthy people have been leaving Lithuania for 15 years and they will continue to leave for the next 15. So what are they going to do when they return to Lithuania when they're 50? Their children and grandchildren will already be abroad. Empty words. Lithuania WILL NO LONGER EXIST then...

q—7 December: I've had to sweep streets in America. I've also been a high-ranking manager in a Lithuanian company that was proud of the way it treated its employees. And I can say that in the States I felt more respected than I do here. If you work there, you're respected as a person.

lola—7 December: I worked as a bookkeeper in Lithuania. The boss called the bookkeepers vermin. I work as a bookkeeper in the U.S.A. The boss says "thank you" every day.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

What's Wrong with This Picture?

The Lithuanian Ministry of Education took the time (sometime in the past) to write a rule stating that schoolchildren must use fountain pens exclusively beginning in the first grade. (Oh, the mess!) But strangely enough, at no time in the past did they take the time to write a rule stating that schools must provide toilet paper in the bathrooms/restrooms/toilets for children. Oh, no. It's BYOTP for children in Lithuanian public schools.

So typical of Lithuanian governing. Long lists of mindless, often arcane, rules (which can and will be interpreted differently by various bureaucrats you encounter) for the average citizen to follow, but almost nothing about the responsibility of the government to provide anything of value.

I heard another story recently that sort of fits into the same category (bad governance). You want to get your house hooked up to the gas main? You say it runs just a few meters from your property? Expect to shell out US$100,000+ (so I was told--obviously a gross exaggeration, but I'm sure the actual figure is something ridiculous when compared to salaries here [maybe US$1000?] ) for all of the fees, permits, projects that need to be prepared, etc. Make no mistake. Those in power are not interested in eliminating the excess bureaucracy that leads to corruption. It puts too much money into their pockets and the pockets of their family and friends working in the bureaucracy.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Pickpocket alert

Last Saturday I was sitting in the cafe Vynine on Vilniaus Street with some friends listening to a trio play some jazzy numbers. My mobile telephone was in the inside pocket of my jacket, which I had hung on the back of my chair. When the concert finished, we got up to go and when I checked the pockets of my coat I discovered that my phone was missing. At no time had I left my coat unattended, so my phone was stolen, it's possible to say, right from under my nose, or at least my armpit.

Apparently Vynine is fairly crowded on Friday and Saturday nights (it certainly was when we were there), so it's the perfect place for pickpockets to work. So keep a very close eye on your belongings if you visit there!

By the way, I highly recommend going there to listen to the band that was playing. They sounded very good and were obviously having a great time performing. I'm sorry that I don't know the name of the band, but the lead singer told us that they play there every Friday and Saturday evening, starting at about 9. (But as I said, beware of pickpockets!)

Monday, 12 October 2009

Dupsie's

Note that I've added a new link in my African section: Dupsie's. (http://www.dupsies.com/) The physical address is
2289 South Cobb Drive
Smyrna, GA 30080


The shop features a great selection of clothing, jewelry, and other accessories from Africa. Check it out!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Conversation over Dinner

My Dinner with Andre

This is one of my favorite films. A conversation between two men in a restaurant, it can take you places and, indulge me, gives you a lot of food for thought. I was searching for it for a long time and finally ran across it earlier this year. It has since been released on DVD and can be found for sale on Amazon, but it is also still available here on YouTube. A bit of information can be found here on the Internet Movie Database. A transcript (script?) of the movie can be found here. My opinion: worth seeing again and again.

Other resources about the movie:
A review by Roger Ebert.
A New York Times article.
A review on TMC.
A review on Film.com.
A synopsis and discussion questions on Philosophical Films.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Family and Family Month

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and son walked into the Maxima (supermarket chain) near our house and were greeted by some people filming television ads. Vaiva wanted to quickly walk away (as I would have), but Adam saw that anyone who took part could get a cake as a present and he was all for it. So, Vaiva reluctantly agreed. It's family month and as part of that Maxima was filming question and answer sessions with families. The clips air every evening after the news on LNK. We missed their appearance on TV (although many friends and family members caught it), but the clips are also stored on YouTube.

Anyway here's the clip:



Here's a translation of the dialogue:
Adam: Are you happy having two kids like us?
Vaiva: Kids like you are the best in the world. I wouldn't trade you for 100 million other kids. [No, two are sometimes really more than enough.]
Adam: And I wouldn't trade you for anybody or anything else--for a million thousand dollars. Can you imagine life without us?
Vaiva: No, I really can't imagine that. Life would be empty and quiet [or maybe peaceful?] and very sad.
Adam: How do you imagine people without families live?
Vaiva: I suppose they have friends who take the place of family. Having friends, just as having a family, makes life more enjoyable.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Ramuma

At the request of Eugenia, I'll translate "Ramuma" by Alina Orlova. I found the lyrics here: Ramuma. If anyone sees that I've messed up, please correct me.

Peacefulness

Between the train tracks and among the blooms of poppies,
I'll dedicate songs to blind train drivers.
I'll sing, I'll sing...
Even though they won't understand anything.

Between the train tracks and among the blooms of poppies,
In calm I'll protect beaten cats.
I'll rock (back and forth), I'll rock...
Until autumn cracks and cries in puddles

When my death comes,
Peacefulness, etc.

Rough, but I'm no poet, so it will have to do.

Here's a video of the song from YouTube:






Sunday, 17 May 2009

New president in Lithuania

Three articles about Lithuania's new president-elect: Dalia Grybauskaite, who will be the first female president of Lithuania:

Lithuania elects first female president

EU budget chief wins Lithuanian presidential election

EU commissioner wins Lithuania vote

I'm happy to see a woman in this position, and I think that Grybauskaite was the most promising candidate. By that I mean that she seems to have strong (and apparently reasonable) convictions and not be afraid to state her mind. Whether she'll be able to take on the clan of halfwits that runs the country and make some real changes remains to be seen. Because the president of Lithuania doesn't act as the head of the government, she won't have anything to do with the actual day-to-day running of the country. The current president often referred to himself as a sort of moral compass directing the country. I respect the job that President Valdas Adamkus did, but it is time for a younger, more energetic leader. I will have all the respect in the world for her if she makes it clear that the people in the cabinet of ministers, parliament, and bureaucracy will be held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). My advice to Her Excellency: start by cleaning the deadwood out of the bureaucracy. Make it easier to get rid of bureaucrats that aren't doing their jobs. Lithuania would be a much nicer place if that happened. I could name several people right now (Varnaite, for one) who are on the state payroll, but doing absolutely nothing good for the country. Contact me.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Just Barely

Here's a well-written, concise summary of the economic situation in the Baltic States.

Still afloat in the Baltic, just


Thanks, Jeff.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Council Jargon -- English?

It sort of looks familiar, but I don't think it deserves the appellation English. This is what local councils in the UK have made of the English language. A quote:

Councils have been told to cut the gibberish and speak plain English - and the Local Government Association has compiled a list of 200 banned words.


Newspeak or just nonsense? You be the judge. When I first took this quiz about a month ago, I got 2/7. Today I managed 5/7.

7 Questions on Council Jargon

Thanks, Phil.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Lithuanian Pop

...is usually nothing to write home about (at best). But I have to agree with my friend Damon that this is the best Lithuanian pop song I've heard in quite a while.



By the way, he's not singing about the airport (the video was filmed at Vilnius International Airport). The song's about a woman who doesn't get wet despite the rain (which is an almost constant phenomenon here, except in the winter when the rain becomes snow).

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Hunt for Mr Prawo Jazdy

A funny story from the BBC involving a mysterious Pole who is Ireland's worst driver.

The mystery of Ireland's worst driver

Thanks for that, Phil.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Prices in Lithuania not much different from prices in other EU countries

This article, which I found here, caught my eye. Now if salaries would just catch up... I'd even be happy with 75% of the average in western Europe. According to what I found at this website, the average salary in the EU is EUR 32,414 (USD 41,538) and the average salary in eastern European countries is less than EUR 10,000 (USD 12,815). That sounds about right. In countries like Denmark, the UK, and Germany, the average annual salary is around EUR 40,000 (USD 51,259).

Here's my translation of the article.

Average prices in Lithuania little different from those in other EU countries

According to a new European Commission consumer price report, average prices in Lithuania are not smaller than those in other European Union countries. As reported today in the newspaper Latvijas Avize, the cheapest potatoes (EUR .54/USD .69) can be found in Latvia. For comparison, a kilogram of potatoes costs EUR .90/USD 1.15 in Lithuania, .62/.79 in Poland, and 1.56/2.00 in Ireland.


Milk costs .79/1.01 in Lithuania, .84/1.08 in Latvia and Poland, and 1.12/1.44 in Ireland.

Butter however costs more in Latvia (1.59/2.04) than it does in other countries. In neighboring countries it costs 1.35/1.73. A cup of coffee costs .78/1.00 in Lithuania, 1.08/1.38 in Latvia, and 1.38/1.77 in Poland.

Prices for clothing were not given.

(Prices below in EUR)

Product Ireland Latvia Lithuania Poland
white bread 1.04 0.71 0.70 0.63
pork (kg) - 5.33 4.39 3.72
chicken (kg) 4.37 2.66 2.48 1.87
milk (l) 1.12 0.84 0.79 0.84
eggs (10) 3.05 1.32 1.26 1.19
butter (kg) 1.30 1.59 1.35 1.35
carrots (kg) 1.37 1.05 0.83 0.91
potatoes (kg) 1.56 0.54 0.90 0.62
orange juice (l) 1.75 1.07 1.20 1.27
beer (l) - 1.38 1.29 1.41
newspaper - 0.53 0.51 0.41
cup of coffee - 1.08 0.78 1.38

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Musical instruments

If I had a workshop, I would have to try to make some of the musical instruments this guy has made. Check out his site: http://dennishavlena.com/. Lots of links to other instrument makers and musicians as well.

And a word for the day: limnology--'The scientific study of the life and phenomena of fresh water, especially lakes and ponds'.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Flight of the Conchords

I was looking over top-10 music lists on NPR the other day and noticed that Flight of the Conchords was on the listeners' list. I decided to do some research and here is what I found:

Music:
Business Time

Comedy Sketches:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8cRtCIzIbI&NR=1
Dave's Pearls of Wisdom
Racism
Bret & Coco
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWvyLfN9mZs

Of course, that's just a small sample of these guys on YouTube.