Friday, December 31, 2010

My Son's Favorite Cartoons (These Days)

"With Goofy and the Little Piano" [Moving Day] was made during the Great Depression. Disney's protagonists are members of the working class who lost their home because they cannot afford the rent, so they attempt to save their furniture from impounding and the authorities' auction.

"With the Musicians" [The Band Concert] incited the weirdest present request I've ever heard: "Daddy, buy me a storm! A big one, so I can play with it."

Oh yeah, :-) Happy New Year to all

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Introducing the Hunza Affair Abroad

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English at Global Voices (short version)
· Macedonia: Introducing the Hunza Affair
македонски на Блогспот · Претставување на аферата со Хунзите пред светот
македонски на Блогерај · Претставување на аферата со Хунзите пред светот

On the Nationalities Blog, Anastas Vangeli, aka Vuna, analyzes from the perspective of Orientalism an ongoing Macedonian political affair: fraternization with the “Hunza people” from the remote mountainous region of Pakistan, who claim ancestry from the soldiers of Alexander the Great.

Front page of "Orientalism" by Edward Said (1978)

I've written on this subject * before, and I'll repeat that I am sorry that instead of real appreciation of the culture of these people, and scientific, linguistic and historical/genetic research, the citizens of Macedonia get only politicking that brings profit to certain parties.

So far the pro-government media haven't shown recordings of Hunza people speaking in their native language [which is allegedly close to Macedonian, so I presume the facts would work against this fallacy], or from their everyday life. They only show some old photos in folk dresses and reiterate the claims of their promoters.

Moreover, the orientalistic stereotyping has been perpetrated not only by the critics of the affair, but by the promoters of the 'reunification' with the Hunza, too. Starting from Janko Ilkovski, the influential late-night talk show host (Jadi burek show on Nasha TV) who provided excuses for our long-lost Pakistani relatives by saying that they practice "a light version of Islam."

The latest example sounds like direct transmission of vicious Hindu Kush rumors, reminiscent of the scenes in the related film "The man who would be king" when villagers claim that their neighbors upstream are dirty bastards who intentionally urinate into the stream to give them hard time. This is an excerpt from Kanal 5 news item (bold is mine):

The Hunza live in northern Pakistan, administratively they are part of the Pakistani state from 1974, but they've retained their king. Besides the Hunza which number around 50,000, the Kalash tribe also consider themselves descendants of the army of Alexander of Macedon. Unlike the Hunza who are Islamized and educated, the Kalash are an ignorant tribe.

This fact is used by neighboring Greece, which opened a cultural center in the Kalash area, and donates significant financial funds for education of the Alexander the Great's lineage.
From such coverage, one can assume that "ours" Hunza people simply burst from being too educated, as if they have tons of universities and scientific-research institutions... I hope you noticed the accent of superiority of religious orientation i.e. the spreading of religious hatred.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Correlation between number of tweets and followers?

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македонски на Блогспот · Корелација меѓу број на твитови и читатели?
македонски на Блогерај · Корелација меѓу број на твитови и читатели?

Few days ago I used the hashtag #kvantitet [quantity] to initiate a little survey among Macedonian Twitter users about how many tweets they've published so far. The results of all who took part in the conversation are presented in the graph bellow. The number of tweets is on the X-axis, while the Y-axis represents the number of followers, i.e. readers.

Click on the graph for a bigger version.

Some statistics about this post by

Monday, November 01, 2010

Angelina Jolie and Lustration in Macedonia

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македонски на Блогспот: Анџелина Џоли и лустрацијата во Македонија
македонски на Блогерај: Анџелина Џоли и лустрацијата во Македонија

Considering the maelstrom of vagueness, speculations and "movies" that came about the lustration in Macedonia, I expect one more element that would enable enlarging the circle of suspects, i.e. persons who unnamed sources would be able to accuse as collaborators of communist secret services.

A Skopje cinema started showing the the film "Salt" with Angelina Jolie. Her role is an American secret service employee who was in fact planted as a sleeper agent by the Soviet secret service during the Cold War, after being trained in spy-craft since she was a baby in the 1970s.

If we consider the fact that Communism was an international movement with ample opportunities for exchange of experiences between Tito and Breznev, as well as the Janissary tradition in the Balkans (taking small children from their families in order to make them work as slaves of the state), it turns out that if something like that happened in the USSR, it could as well happen in the SFRY.

With this assumption in place, Macedonian lustrators could point as secret service collaborators people who were underage before the breakup of Yugoslavia (and are currently in their prime). It would be enough for them to be born before 1991 to suspect that appropriate "programming" took place.

This would expand the possibilities to discredit or blackmail to yet another generation, regardless if they are self-proclaimed leftists or rightists who nevertheless use Communist methods in organizing their parties and the way they rule. This would also provide an excuse to mention Ms Jolie in a context related to Macedonia (co-branding).

Therefore, I expect something of this sort to be revealed on some of the fear-mongering TV shows, which already spread much hatred and conspiracy theories - after some of the great intellects of the Macedonian rebirth watches the movie. Of course, it would continue to serve the purpose of a smokescreen diverting attention from the facts about which current big shots also ruled in the former system - and why should anyone care.

The movie itself is an attempt to create a new franchise using James Bond as basis--a kind of female Jason Bourne, with using automotive elements from the Matrix, but without as good an explanation about how the protagonists remain alive through deadly stunts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Movies about Privacy, Part 1

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). Film adaptation of George Orwell's classic. Relevant. Stylish in a nostalgic, pre-consumerist British way.

Green Street Hooligans (2005) references the influence of governmental video surveillance on crime in Britain, and also raises the issue of snooping, counter-snooping and data retention by private persons and media.

Gattaca (1997) - the notion of DNA as personal data is central to this an American dream come true story. Parallels can be drawn to the next Ethan Hawke movie, the Great Expectations (1998). During that decade, Uma Turman used to be way cooler than pre-LOTR Gwyneth Palthrow, which is another advantage for Gattaca.

Addicted to Love (1997) is a cheesy love story, enjoyed at the time by kind of people who later got hooked on Sex and the City. The movie has nothing to do with Robert Palmer. Apart from "romantic" thrills for masochists who basically get served the lesson that you love the one you get stuck with, this "lemonade" also raises issues such as is it ethical for an astronomer to use his telescope-handling skills to spy on the former girlfriend. And yes: Meg Ryan. Hey, at least it's not Julia Roberts!

Rear Window (1954) spying on your neighbors can sometimes benefit the society, including them. Remember that when you realize you've been under surveillance - it's not just motivated by boredom of civil servants who have nothing better to do at work, their ultimate motive is altruism.

All the President's Men (1976) the cast, the revalations, the cover-up, the journalistic courage and perseverance, the popular culture-based nicknames unthinkable in later, prudish movies. Even the book has the two main actors on the cover, they were so good at their heyday. The book is highly recommendable - in addition to Watergate, it discloses details about Republican campaign practices.

Equilibrium (2002) attempted to recycle number of computer game visuals and storyline elements from the Matrix and other successful films, possibly including the Ninety Eighty Four homage Brasil. Few scenes had Batman: the Dark Knight flavor. Spoiler: the single most interesting segment is about how indoctrinated family members inform on each other.

Death Wish (1974) - Stealing private data (peaking into an address) starts off a chain of events leading to tragedy, and the birth of one of the most influential crime fighting role models (at least for 8-bit video games fans).

Sliver (1993) - picking off where Hitchcock left off in Rear Window, this movie dares to show some skin while addressing the manipulative nature of high-tech voyeurism.

Enemy of the State (1998) is a beautiful fairy tale about righting the wrongs against incredible odds. Even more incredible is that it aided the process of disuniting the terms "The Fresh Prince" from "Will Smith," increasing the coolness of the later. Gadgetry level in this movie is pretty high, and nicely executed. If it has to make you think about something, think about how fast gadgets advance in a decade. This film was shot 13 years ago.

More to come...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Excerpts from S. Drakulić "How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed"

I found the following excerpts from the book How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed by Croatian author Slavenka Drakulić (1993) quite useful in explaining some contemporary situations in Macedonia, as well as providing general introduction for people from the Western block of the Cold War.

I have to add that as a citizen of Yugoslavia, a socialist country which was not a member of the Warsaw Pact, I grew with the notion that the Iron Curtain fell on our Eastern, and not on our Western borders. At the time we could travel almost anywhere in the world, thanks to Tito's balancing acts and feats of international diplomacy.

(pg. xvi-xvii)
I understand that in the West today ‘the end of communism’ has become a stock phrase, a truism, a common expression supposed to indicate the current state of things in Eastern Europe. It sounds marvelous when you hear it in political speeches or read it in the newspapers. The reality is that communism persists in the way people behave, in the looks on their faces, in the way they think. Despite the free elections and the celebration of the new democratic governments taking over in Prague, Budapest, and Bucharest, the truth is that the people still go home to small, crowded apartments, drive unreliable cars, worry about their sickly children, do boring jobs – if they are not unemployed – and eat poor quality food. Life has the same wearying immobility; it is something to be endured, not enjoyed. The end of communism is still remote because communism, more than a political ideology or a method of government, is a state of mind. Political power may change hands overnight, economic and social life may soon follow, but people’s personalities, shaped by the communist regimes they lived under, are slower to change. Their characters have so deeply incorporated a particular set of values, a way of thinking and of perceiving the world, that exorcising this way of being will take an unforeseeable length of time.

The following excerpt might explain why Macedonian newspapers frequently refer to leading politicians by their first names or nicknames, esp. in headlines. Somehow there’s no need to use the surnames – everybody knows who is Kiro, Branko, Ljubcho, Ljube, Johan or Grujo (pg. 16-17)
…Nobody seems to mind that there is no more food on the table – at least not as long as a passionate political discussion is going on. ‘This is our food,’ says Evelina. ‘We are used to swallowing politics with our meals. For breakfast you eat elections, a parliament discussion comes for lunch, and at dinner you laugh at the evening news or get mad at the lies that the Communist Party is trying to sell, in spite of everything.’ Perhaps these people can live almost without food – either because it’s too expensive or because there is nothing to buy, or both – without books and information,, but not without politics.

One might think that this is happening only now, when they have the first real chance to change something. Not so. This intimacy with political issues was a part of everyday life whether on the level of hatred, or mistrust, or gossip, or just plain resignation during Todor Živkov’s communist government. In a totalitarian society, one has to relate to the power directly; there is no escape. Therefore, politics never becomes abstract. It remains a palpable, brutal force directing every aspect of our lives, from what we eat to how we live and where we work. Like a disease, a plague, an epidemic, it doesn’t spare anybody. Paradoxically, this is precisely how a totalitarian state produces its enemies: politicized citizens. The ‘velvet revolution’ is the product not only of high politics, but of the consciousness of ordinary citizens, infected by politics.
The aspect of having no choice but to live at home has advantages as social net at times of dire poverty and abject unemployment, but its effects on individual growth must be taken into account (pg. 88-90, bolds are mine)

…in 1987, a serious sociological study was conducted at Split University. Professor Srdjan Vrcan was interested in a characteristic but illogical phenomenon: why, in spite of probably the highest unemployment rate in Europe and the fact that about 85 per cent of the unemployed were young, there is not any kind of social movement or protest against an economy that forces people to wait an average of three years for their first job. The results confirmed what was already suspected: the reason is the conservative role of the family in our communist society. A relationship that from outside looks like a romantic tendency toward strong family ties in our culture has its less romantic side. Young unemployed people live in their parents’ apartments; their parents feed them, dress them, even give them some pocket money. The family furnishes complete protection and, in fact, young people have no reason to protest. Besides, protesting wouldn’t lead anywhere. The gigantic government bureaucracy – a system that was built just to keep communists in power and that perceives every spontaneous movement (whether for peace, ecology, or simple demand for jobs) as a threat to their rule – would put an end to any protest very efficiently. They would be considered ‘hooligans’ and punished as such.

But the problem is that even when young people get jobs, they cannot get away from their parents and still need their support. In such a society – all over Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – young people cannot move up into important positions. They remain at the very bottom, no matter how skilled. It might be called youth discrimination. Parents could be accused of infantilizing their children and prolonging the status quo, but at the same time they are keeping their children off the streets. How can parents divorce children – or children parents, for that matter? Later on it is, perhaps, too late; the grandchildren have come, and who but grandparents will take care of them? Who want to expose kids to ‘care’ in kindergarten, to frequent illnesses, to early-morning dragging out of bed? Once again, when the children get a job and an apartment, divorce becomes impossible. To understand at least a little of this complicated situation, one has to know that this is a geriatric society, in which political leaders over sixty are considered to be ‘still young,’ not to mention those long dead, embalmed so they can live forever in their apartments – absurd mausoleums built of marble.

At the beginning, people multiplied in apartments. But later on, a strange phenomenon took place: apartments themselves started to divide and multiply. Like living organisms, prehistoric animals, protozoa perhaps, they divided into two or three, becoming smaller and smaller. Afterwards, with the help of a little money, they eventually got bigger again…
The book is worth reading as general introduction, even though some generalizations must be taken with a grain of salt, as the differences between countries, even between republics (of Yugoslavia, or USSR) must be taken into account. Moreover, different generations within the same location had vastly diversified experiences of communism.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marry Anning, a female scientist from the steampunk era

As part of the celebration of women in science and technology through the Ada Lovelace Day (#ALD10), I present Mary Anning (1799-1847) an autodidact paleontologist from Lyme Regis, England. She is noteworthy as a fossil hunter, who identified and dug out fossilized animals from the Jurassic period from Dover limestone cliffs for a living.

Fossil hunting requires both keen pattern recognition abilities, to differentiate bones turned into stone from ordinary rocks, and high hand-eye coordination, required while extracting the fossils from the sediments without damaging them. Anning family made a modest living by finding fossils and selling them to collectors as geology and nascent discipline of evolution started converging at the beginning of the XIX century.

Some of the most interesting finds related to the Annings included marine dinosaurs: Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs. Sadly...
...the majority of Mary's finds ended up in museums and personal collections without credit being given to her as the discoverer of the fossils. As time passed, Mary Anning and her family were forgotten by the scientific community and most historians, due to the lack of appropriate documentation of her special skills. Contributing to the oversight of Mary Anning and her contribution to paleontology was her social status and her gender. Many scientists of the day could not believe that a young woman from such a deprived background could posses the knowledge and skills that she seemed to display.
Sounds true. For instance, even though her story and finds are quite interesting the otherwise excellent Dinosaurs (Pockets) (1995) managed to omit Ms Anning entirely, even though it dedicated several pages to fossil hunters.

Plesiosaur: can you dig it?

I first found out about Ms Anning from Bil Bryson's excellent tome on the history of science A Short History of Nearly Everything. In addition, there are several biographies available about this remarkable person on the book market.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Join Ada Lovelace Day 2010

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. On March 24th the participants post about cool women.

I participated last year [MKD] and received an e-mail reminder to join this year too. I plan to cover another geek girl this time, but in preparation, here's what I wrote then:
Ада ЛавлејсAugusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) is the world's first programmer, who worked with Charles Babbage--the creator of the Analytical Engine, the first modern computer--during the steampunk era.

She was also a daughter of Lord Byron and invested her soul and body in the aristocratic-intellectual world of "sex & drugs & rock & roll" of her time, which then had the form of "sex & drugs & romanticism."

In order to support this international awareness raising action about the important role of women in the technological progress, sign the pledge ;-) [last year's version, closed now - the smiley is due to particular choice of translated word, which has pompous, even religious overtones in Macedonian] and publish a post about one of your techno-heroines.

This is very important for the women of the world, especially little girls, who are overwhelmed with non-proportional presence of male authority figures in all areas of social life. In Macedonia this pressure is omnipresent, from primary schools (just look at the proportion of male and female faces in the textbooks, for instance on literature) to politics [MKD].

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Prediction: Josipović to Win Croatian Presidential Elections

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македонски (Блогерај): Предвидување: Јосиповиќ ќе победи на изборите во Хрватска

македонски (Блогспот): Предвидување: Јосиповиќ ќе победи на изборите во Хрватска

If I would need to bet on the outcome of tomorrow’s Croatian Presidential Election, I would put my money on Ivo Josipović, who I think will crush opponent Milan Bandić.

I do not base this prediction on the outcome of the first round of the elections, or the polls. News about these favor Josipović, even though A1 TV speculates [MKD] that there could be a reverse if right-wingers, and the Diaspora rally around Bandić. I base the prediction on the method I tested through the research done by Metamorphosis Foundation about the use of new media during the Macedonian Presidential elections in 2009 (PDF) [MKD].

This research showed that by measuring the support on Facebook before the election, one could accurately predict the outcome, which in case of Macedonia also meant predicting the percentages of actual votes with an error of around 1%. The method involves identifying and comparing the forms of support (profiles, pages or groups) with maximum supporters.

In case of Croatia, I identified the official pages of Ivo Josipović [CRO]—with 22,729 fans—and Milan Bandić [CRO]—with 20,853 fans. The comparison yields the prediction that the former will triumph with around 52.15% votes, while the later will win no more than 47.85% of the valid ballots.

(The data is from 20:00 hrs on January 9, 2010. While the absolute number of supporters can change over time, I think that the critical mass is achieved and that any changes will cancel out each other and the percentages would remain similar.)

Okay, now let’s wait and see if we can use Facebook again as good prediction tool.