I figure I should start an "end-of-the-month thank you" to readers of this blog.
That is, the best way I have to do this is to recognize the most frequent visitors to this blog over the last 30 days, grouped according to location, courtesy of FeedBurner (click the pic to see a larger version):
I know this method favors larger cities, and does not distinguish well between different languages referring to the same city. I also am fully aware there have been many other locations not seen on this list, but FeedBurner won't let me see more than fifty tags, it appears. I apologize for only having one tool to do this - but I still appreciate *all* of you whose location I see on a daily basis. And I certainly enjoy making the contacts I have made to date!
So, if you keep coming back, not only can we exchange greetings and conversation -- you can push your city into a bigger font on the blog cloud in the months to come. ;)
Thanks to each of you, wherever you are. You make blogging worthwhile!
31 May 2007
I figure I should start an "end-of-the-month thank you" to readers of this blog.
And now, a taste of life in Podgorica: if you are a student with a complaint for your course instructor, make sure the latter isn't accompanied by his gorilla, or for that matter, packing sartorial heat.
Drawing on news reports from Pobjeda, Antena M, and Vijesti (which I can't link because of their bloody subscription access -- their loss):
Last Monday, two members of the Law Faculty's student council went to have a chat with Professor Slavko Lukić in the hallway after his colloquium. According to the students, the discussion started out in civilized fashion. But when they lodged the protest of the students they represent, regarding Lukić's alleged habit of selling his required textbook out of his office for no less than 60 euros (in a country where the average monthly salary is 250-300 euros), the professor went postal.
Not only did Lukić say he'd raise the price even more, he unleashed a stream of street-language curses and threats. Two of the more printable versions: "I'm crazy, I can kill you..." Or: "I helped half of MUP [the ministry of internal affairs] get a job, they can torture you for me..."
During the tirade, he allegedly called over his acquaintance, Slobodan "Bobo the Tiger" Trifunović, a rather well-built young man in shorts and sleeveless t-shirt, to come exercise his former boxer's skills on the two student council representatives, with blows to the head and stomach.
According to the students, they retreated without replying in kind, followed some distance by Lukić and Trifunović, the former still hurling verbal abuse.
But wait. It gets better.
The students went the next day to lodge an official protest with the dean of the Law Faculty, Zoran Rašović. They've already complained about the highway book robbery by Lukić several times to the dean. This time they had a sit-down with Lukić and the dean.
In the Vijesti version, during that sit-down, Lukić's pistol happen to fall out (it is not clear from where) on the floor of the dean's office. Lukić bent over and picked it up. According to the students, no one said a word.
The students of course registered an official complaint with the authorities and have called for solidarity from other professors.
The dean is considering disciplinary measures.
About time, don't you think?
After all, this was the Law Faculty...and a professor who claims a specialty interest in constitutional law and the rule of law...
Posted by Frank Sellin at 10:21 AM
30 May 2007
Romania's Democratic Party (PD) claims it has the 116 signatures of parliamentarians necessary to submit a motion of censure against the minority government of Călin Popescu Tăriceanu (PNL).
That's mildly impressive, given that PD only has 74 members across both the House of Deputies and the Senate.
Submitting such a motion is one thing, but getting a majority of both houses to vote for it is probably an insurmountable hurdle, considering 322 parliamentarians (out of 469) voted for President Traian Băsescu's suspension from office, and considering that no rebels in PSD have yet succeeded in obtaining the resignations of Geoana, Iliescu, or Hrebenciuc, let alone leadership of the party.
Given the continuing embarrassing and adolescent behavior of many parliamentarians (and keeping in mind that PRM had boycotted the session) during Băsescu's presidential address to Parliament, it is highly unlikely that such a motion of censure, or Băsescu's call for the government's resignation, will succeed in dethroning the government, let alone trigger early elections for failure to form another government.
Interestingly, at least part of the PSD's benches, including Geoana, kept quiet and reasonably respectful during the president's address. And, these same parliamentarians did manage to vote 240-20 to pursue another referendum, this time on changing the electoral system from proportional representation to a "uninominal" vote. (The 20 votes against largely belonged to the Hungarian party, or UDMR, which depends as an existential matter on closed list proportional representation.)
However, the censure motion will, as PD president Emil Boc suggested, clarify exactly what the basis of support for the PNL-UDMR government is. Individual parliamentarians and party leaderships will have to decide how closely they want to be seen as tied to a government whose prime minister assumed a vague responsibility for the failure of the May 19 suspension referendum (though without specifying any tangible consequences), or as contributing to the lingering political crisis. PSD in particular will have to resolve its internal party debate about choosing between PD and PNL as potential governing partners. That's Romanian chess for you!
Romania always harbors some potential for vertiginous surprises, but the bottom line is that -- barring a sudden capitulation by the present group of MPs in favor of early elections, or a party-line desertion of the present government by the entire PSD -- institutional and constitutional dysfunction in Romania has no clear exit before 2008.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 9:42 PM
29 May 2007
I know I've been a bit blog-delinquent, but I do have partial excuses: getting busy at work, and sorting out this very post. (I had to cull 200 photos down to 20 and whip those into semi-publishable shape. ;-)
As you know, I was supposed to go to Dubrovnik. I bailed because while I understand the principle of driving a manual shift transmission, I couldn't get my rental car to behave smoothly while practicing in Podgorica. Not wanting to aggravate further the lawless and impatient drivers around Podgorica by stalling every hundred feet, or to plunge off steep mountain passes in my best imitation of a driver's ed student, I thought it better to save that venture for another day.
Boy, was I bummed. I had my heart set on seeing Dubrovnik while over here.
But not one to surrender easily, I had a fallback. That was to hop on a bus and return to a favorite haunt of mine from nine years ago, and part of the treasure of Montenegro: Kotor Bay and the bayside town of Herceg-Novi.
Buses in Montenegro are an experience in themselves. They vary from Greyhound-size buses to little vans of the type that normally run you from an airport to an urban hotel. They also apparently pay no attention to something as obvious as stations. Passengers hop on and off, apparently where they damn well please, with the connivance of the driver.
When you climb on said bus, you notice there are plastic bags of recent purchases taking up almost every seat, despite no one being on the bus. You discover very quickly that this is the Montenegrin way of saving seats while the owner smokes and drinks at the nearest bus station cafe. No one is apparently worried about losing whatever they have in the bag.
In between random passenger hops on the four hours to Herceg-Novi, I had the particular joy of being half-sat on by a middle-aged German woman who climbed on with her husband at a pseudo-stop and couldn't put her ample butt anywhere else in the aisle for 20 minutes. I had to wonder if this was a symptom of the post-2000 fall in America's reputation in Europe, but I swear, I didn't utter a word.
Fortunately, Mrs. Deutschebutt got off of me and out of the bus at Tivat. A short while later, we sat on a line of cars for about ten minutes while the driver bought tickets for our van-bus to hop on the Tivat ferry. Here's one of the three operating ferries headed the other way:
Once at Herceg-Novi, I managed, with the help of the nice people at the tourist office next to the bus station, to locate a relatively inexpensive but decent hotel (Alexander) with a good, but strangely pricey restaurant, and hurried out to take a walk on the really long promenade down by the water.
Herceg-Novi has undergone a massive transformation from what I remember - but then, almost all of Montenegro's coast is effectively under construction. Nor is the massive development apparently regulated worth beans, but I digress.
After a nice fish dinner and a bit too much Chardonnay, I figured I should capture a few views of the Stari Grad (old city) in Herceg-Novi for my loyal blog audience. All sorts of sidewalk cafes tucked into corners lurk here as well as the town of Kotor, but I figured you wouldn't mind if I skipped pictures of cafes. :-)
Getting up the next day, I was foiled once again with cloudy skies and a threat of rain. So much for lazing about in a chair and swim trunks with a steady supply of vacation food and drinks. I took a gamble and decided to check out the boat ride to Kotor that departs at 10:10 AM from the main pier a bit down from Herceg Novi:
Eventually, the tourist boat "Pajo" shows up, you hop on amid tourists who somehow got on earlier (perhaps from the town of Igalo), and pay your 15 euros on the way to picking up tourists at a couple more piers up the bay.
Now, don't worry, I'm only going to abuse you with my family slide show of the highlights, instead of every last photo of the bay. It's gorgeous, so stop sliding down to nap on the couch.
One of the first few sights that I chose not to omit is the late dictator Tito's bayside dacha:
Frankly, I've always wondered about Tito's tastes in architecture. His kitsch has got nothing on his colleague Nicolae Ceauşescu, so I cut him a little slack. Not much, however.
As the Pajo chugs up the bay with its gorgeous mountains, you find out that the first of several un-advertised secrets that you just bought with 15 euros is a shot of loza, the national moonshine of Montenegro, served at 10:45 AM. It tastes almost exactly like Romanian palinca to me, but it's made from distilled grapes, not plums. Good stuff, although I'm sure there's swill on the bottom shelves of grocery stores if you really have a hankering for methanol.
About halfway up the bay, you get to see and stop off at a small town by the name of Perast, where, I was told nine years ago, they were renowned for producing ship captains of high enough caliber to impress those marauding Venetians of yester-century.
As our ship captain pointed out, the clock tower there is permanently stuck at 4:00. "Time stops in Perast," he quipped.
Speaking of our captain, here's the loony, loza-serving crew of the Pajo:
That's Captain Dušan on the right. Every few minutes he's cracking jokes around his Serbian (excuse me, crnogorski) and English translations, and he's got Donald Duck hanging from a rod in front of his cabin window. When that's not enough, he squeezes his rubber ducky in the microphone, in and around playing anything from Frank Sinatra to James Brown over the loudspeakers. Not too loud - but Dušan insists that everyone take it easy and relax, with little room for argument. That's before he compares the tankers being serviced in the dry dock at Bijela as just a little larger than his beloved Pajo.
He's also prompt to point out at each stop that you should be back on the boat by [insert time here], or they will be happy to see you next Sunday.
While stopped at Perast, you meet with secret #2 behind your 15 euros, which is a light lunch of anything from grilled sausages to peppers, bread, cheese, ham, salami, wine, juice, and if I remember correctly, perhaps some leftover loza.
You also can see nice views. Close by Perast are two small islands with churches on them:
More on the church to the right in a bit.
Down at the far end of the bay is the lovely old town of Kotor itself. Be back at the boat by 3:30 PM, or you will have the opportunity to greet the Pajo crew next
That's the old town of Kotor, assuming you paid two euros to clamber up the hillside in the direction of the old fortress above Kotor for about ten minutes.
That is, as seen from this chapel / crypt:
But wait. Think you're on top of the hillside? Think again...
That would be the church about halfway up on the left side of the above photo. It's actually less than halfway up. The path is longer and steeper than you might expect from the switchbacks you can see there. Not bad, just enough to get you huffing and puffing when you're on deadline.
See the little flagpole on top of the rightmost hump? Remember it. (Click the photos to enlarge them...the pole's pretty tiny...)
Here's a clue. No way was I going be denied a trip to Dubrovik and a day on the (rocky) beach, without getting at least a little sight-seeing revenge.
So here's your flag, complete with great view from atop the old fortress ruins above Kotor:
Yeah, it's a bit of a hoof up broken steps and flagstones to get there, especially if you want to see the Pajo before next Sunday. I also discovered U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Michael Polt is dipping into some special "ambassador's fund" to help fund restoration of the lower part of the fortress (and where someone has helpfully scrawled "fascists" on the bottom of the plaque announcing it...).
Why you don't see the ubiquitous USAID "We're fixing this!" sign for the upper fortress, as you do almost everywhere else in Montenegro, is not clear to me yet. Maybe the Russians bought it.
One scramble back down (who should be charging whom two euros for the privilege, when one is wearing Nikes with no soles to speak of?) and a much needed ice cream later, you're back on the beloved Pajo, enjoying nice mountain views:
Remember those small islands with churches on them, near Perast? Well, one of those islands is completely man-made, as it took over 100 years for sailors to come drop rocks on the spot where they had some kind of divine sighting. They built a lovely church, Our Lady of the Rock, on that spot:
And the interior is the best part about it:
That's Italian, Egyptian, and Greek marble up on the altar. Apparently the really expensive green (Greek) marble (the two columns in the centerpiece) no longer exists from any known source.
If you note the silver bits in frames underneath the painting on the left wall, those frames of silver bits cover the same layer on that wall and the wall opposite. Each of the hundreds of "bits" is actually a silver engraving donated by different sailors for being rescued from some difficult moment at sea, as a way of thanking Our Lady of the Rock, protector of mariners.
So Pajo chugged back to Herceg-Novi, they fed us fruit as the last secret of our 15 euros, and I had to take my leave of the good, zany Captain Dušan and his crew.
And now, from the sacred to the profane:
The bus the next morning was thankfully not so crowded as the first bus. I was thus happy to travel unburdened by Teutonic tushes. However, this bus opted not to take the ferry to shorten the trip around the bay. Instead, it followed the coastline all the way back to Kotor, complete with the driver's grouchy sidekick, whose sole purpose as a twenty-something is to take up another (often badly needed) seat, wear too much mousse in his hair, collect money, and ensure that his cell phone beeps loudly with an SMS message every three minutes.
From Kotor, we headed back down to stop off in Budva. There, in transit to the station, your intrepid traveler remembered to whip out his camera just in time for the best piece of trademark infringement yet in such an otherwise beautiful country:
And that, friends, capped off my four-day Montenegrin vacation, courtesy of Parliament's eleventh hour passing of laws.
P.S. I'll have you know that I will not be denied. My former adviser and I are cooking up plans to go to Dubrovnik this weekend. Beats the hell out of me who's going to drive...
Posted by Frank Sellin at 11:05 PM
23 May 2007
Post-referendum Romania is abuzz with the possibility of holding early elections or adopting a new coalition government. Getting to either outcome, however, would require a spectacular change in the Party of Social Democracy (PSD, led by Mircea Geoana).
The Democratic Party (PD, Traian Băsescu's support base, though the president is forbidden party membership under the constitution) is riding high with polling support of about 52 percent and would benefit heavily from early elections. PD doesn't have nearly enough MPs in both houses (51 MPs in the lower house of 337 total, and 22 senators in the upper house of 137) to pull that off by themselves.
So, unlike 2004 campaign promises not to negotiate with PSD, PD is doing just that -- albeit with firm conditions, given the antipathy of a lot of the PD electorate to PSD. PD president Emil Boc has said that for a new governing coalition to work, PSD has to reform itself. Translation: Geoana, Ion Iliescu, and Viorel Hrebenciuc better walk the plank or at least out the door, so that PD can collaborate with the "Cluj group" around Ioan Rus. Otherwise, no deal.
Since we know that PSD's current president, its spiritual founder, and one of its leading operatives (who is also party group leader in the lower house) will not go quietly despite an embarrassing referendum defeat and vehement fingerpointing inside PSD, the question then becomes how to pull off early elections. Theoretically, PSD could agree to vote no confidence in the Tăriceanu government in return for sharing in a governmental coalition with PD after the elections. A no confidence vote also depends on getting at least 13 more votes out of other parties or unaffiliated MPs.
But once again, Geoana, Iliescu, and Hrebenciuc don't have much visible interest in doing so. Not only are they the prime targets of calls for taking responsibility for the failure of the referendum, they would effectively assume more responsibility for halving the party's strength relative to 2004, if current poll numbers hold up. Such an electoral showing would endanger Geoana's position heavily after the fact, and the prospect of it would be powerful motive for a relatively proportional number of PSD's parliamentarians to push him out, thereby pre-empting threats to so many faceless non-entities warming vulnerable seats.
So if Geoana, Iliescu, and Hrebenciuc aren't likely to shuffle off stage to permit a new government to form, or risk suicide through early elections, PSD would have to split in order to make a new government or early elections work. And splitting PSD's parliamentary cohort may well render either scenario moot.
The only way out of this that I can see requires PD to relax its insistence on the exit of the three amigos, and possibly some internal fighting in PSD that dumps Geoana but preserves one or both of Iliescu and Hrebenciuc to make the deal more palatable.
Otherwise, if either PD or PSD balks, the Tăriceanu government stands good chances of survival in the short run, despite the apparent loss of support of nearly all its erstwhile friends.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 1:52 PM
21 May 2007
You all know by now that Traian Băsescu has won the referendum, with 74.4 percent against his suspension to 24.8 percent favoring it, with 99.9 percent of precincts reporting.
And might I digress to point out that, despite accusations of disorganization and irregularities, null votes numbered 0.77, nicely under the standard European practice of 1-2 percent, and a far cry from the 12 percent or worse that we saw in the 2004 and other general elections in Romania. Now we have a precedent to keep future governments' noses clean.
But in an important deviation from the prediction of the INSOMAR poll that I blogged a few days ago, turnout was half of the maximum predicted, at 44.35 percent.
Surely we had a right to expect 70+ percent? INSOMAR got the vote breakdown pretty darn close, but without a big chunk of voters.
Some explanations I've glimpsed attribute it to the timing of the referendum on a Saturday in planting season, when rural people often work until late, not to mention all those young rural migrant workers abroad, who might not have the resources to get to the nearest consulate.
Maybe. I'm not sure that explains all of it. Weigh in, please! That's what comments to this post are for!
Speaking of consulates and turnout, however, I wanted to take note of something special for Romanians. Recently, I've been reminded by Owlspotting and deviantArt of the sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always sociologically varied aspects of the infamous Romanian queue.
But in nice counterpoint to the infamy of the pre-1989 bread queues, and the post-1989 queues at foreign embassies to obtain working and residence visas, this past Saturday witnessed long queues overseas for no less than the right to vote. In Belgium, Spain, or New York, Romanians stayed for hours (sometimes until six in the morning!) for the chance to weigh in, not on a general election, but on a special referendum to determine the course of the constitutional struggle.
And for that kind of dedication, this American can only say bravo! Even if you came for a once-in-a-lifetime taifas with people you've never seen and maybe never will again, bravo.
Would that the Americans or Romanians who have failed to vote in the past take heed of your example -- and the duty to keep a country's political system from diving over a cliff.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 3:58 PM
18 May 2007
Because I'll be taking a long weekend's vacation to Dubrovnik -- helped along by the insistence of the Montenegrin law adopted yesterday, that independence day be May 21, the anniversary of the independence referendum, and last two full working days, even if May 21 falls on a Sunday (God bless Montenegro!) -- I have a story to tell you, in the hopes it'll tide you over until Monday or Tuesday. :-)
I don't quite remember how it came up, but back when I was courting Mrs. RamPage, who is Romanian, she began telling me about a funny cartoon on Romanian TV back in pre-1989 days. Said cartoon featured short creatures with funny hats called ştrumf. (I supposed that's ştrumfi in the plural for us foreign devils -- unvocalized 'i', mind.)
This baffled me for quite a few months.
Finally, it dawned on me. Could it possibly be that she was talking about one of the most mindbogglingly annoying cartoons on American TV in the early 1980s, the Smurfs?
No, she insisted, they were ştrumfi.
Were they blue?
Well, it was hard to tell, given that Ceauşescu-TV was usually black and white.
Was there an old ştrumf, a bunch of younger ştrumfi, and, exceedingly strangely in terms of unclear community and family relations, only one female ştrumf? Plus an evil wizard (Gargamel) and his cat (Azrael)?
Yes, yes, yes!
We proceeded to get into a heated argument over whether Romania or America created the Smurfs / ştrumfi. Pointing out that "ştrumf" doesn't sound at all Romanian, and probably was a German re-labeling didn't help my case, nor did appeals to the chronology of when they showed up on TV in the respective countries (the U.S. before Romania).
As with most arguments with Mrs. RamPage, I had to retreat and shake my head at the futility of trying to win the occasional point with a revved-up Romanian woman. More on this in a bit.
Nor did I feel like asking whether you could randomly replace words in Romanian with "ştrumf" the way the cartoon did with "smurf" in America.
Flash forward several years to a few days ago, strolling through central Podgorica, when and where I spotted a nearby storefront sign:
Dear me, the little bastards are everywhere. Hanna-Barbera Productions [tm] are still intent on sucking my brains out a quarter century later. I'm sure they're affectionate and cute for the trademark-oblivious Montenegrin store owner, but I won't be shopping there.
So today I figure I have the Internet, and I'm going to settle this once and for all.
And of course, I discover that Smurfs are not American creations at all. They are the work of the late Belgian artist Peyo, and they date back to 1958. None of which absolves the Hanna-Barbera story writers for mindlessly smurfing English, however flexible a language, into places where it was never meant to go.
At least this time I might win half the rare point with Mrs. RamPage. Protochronism and Romanian nationalism be damned -- even Ceauşescu would have had the dignity not to purloin the creation myth of the ştrumf.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 3:24 PM
17 May 2007
If the most recent INSOMAR poll of May 12-14 is to be believed, Romanian voters are about to deliver a resounding palmă on May 19 to the collective face of prime minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu and the parliament that suspended president Traian Băsescu from office.
In the poll (which may require a registration on INSOMAR's site to view it), an incredible 90 percent of Romanians are likely or certain to vote. Those who were certain numbered 77 percent and those who said "probably" accounted for 13 percent.
Of these likely voters, 79 percent said they would vote against the president's suspension, while 21 percent said they would vote for it.
If that weren't enough of a dark cloud on the horizon for the prime minister and parliament, the vast majority, or almost 70 percent, of sympathizers of the prime minister's own party, PNL, said they would vote against Băsescu's suspension. (Interestingly, 53 percent of sympathizers of the nationalist PRM would similarly defy the public position of their party leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor.)
While older people are slightly less likely to vote against the suspension, Băsescu effectively has all social segments and all geographic regions of the country behind him.
On top of that, when the pollsters asked the usual question about voting intentions on a hypothetical Sunday, PD led the pack by far with 52 percent (a decent rise compared to March), compared to the continued decay in PSD's 17 percent, PNL's 8 percent, and Becali's PNG with 6 percent. Both the Hungarian UDMR and Corneliu Vadim Tudor's nationalist PRM would struggle to cross the threshold to enter parliament, given their respective polling support at 5 percent and 4 percent. Much the same applies to Theodor Stolojan's PLD at 3 percent.
Bottom line: Even though the referendum is not an election, PNL, PSD, and PRM have miscalculated badly and are virtually certain to get a resounding wallop from Romanian voters for indulging in constitutional shenanigans. Băsescu will resume the presidency. And the referendum is one more indication of how much more sophisticated and much less maneuverable Romanian voters have become, relative to the early 1990s. There is great comfort in seeing a population slam the brakes on an irresponsible and frequently corrupt political elite in a postcommunist country.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 4:00 PM
What with the British army refusing to send Prince Harry to Iraq, against the preferences of the latter and raising the question of the relative value of British lives, I have a solution.
Let him go.
Then, since they'll be the ones at greater risk, give each and every member of his unit the choice of whether to serve in that unit with him, or in some other Iraq-deployed unit, for the duration of their deployment to Iraq.
I doubt it will be difficult to find volunteers to stand by and serve with the prince.
Was that so hard?
Posted by Frank Sellin at 11:50 AM
16 May 2007
Today's Pobjeda (no link at this writing) reports EU High Representative Javier Solana directly contradicting Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn on the subject of pressuring Montenegro over its recent agreement with the United States to keep US soldiers out of the International Criminal Court.
Rehn met last Friday with Montenegrin PM Željko Šturanović to demand that Montenegro break its recent agreement with the United States not to extradite American soldiers accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide to the International Criminal Court. Rehn also told "our American friends not to put states who want to join the EU into a difficult situation" and that prospective members of the EU "should avoid such agreements...that are unacceptable to the EU" [my translation].
The Americans rejected that, opining that closer relations to the US and the EU are not mutually exclusive.
According to today's Pobjeda, Solana said that there will be no démarche made to Montenegro on that subject, and that the agreement with the U.S. "will not influence the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement." The EU will, however, be traveling to Montenegro to hear the reasons why they signed an agreement that "clashes with the principles of the Union."
Frankly, the famous article 98 sparing US soldiers from going to the ICC to answer charges is not the right solution to avoid frivolous lawsuits by actors in countries where conflicts may be ongoing and governmental legitimacy in question. But neither can Rehn so blithely put all the blame on the Americans when he's the one upping the pressure on a small country of 650,000 people that has nowhere to go between the two, and needs to join both the EU and NATO. Ironically, it's Solana of all people who got it right, even if it costs him frosty looks in the halls of the Commission.
Meanwhile, also reported in today's Pobjeda, 35 opposition parliamentarians are proposing a measure for Montenegrin president Filip Vujanović's constitutional dismissal. Vujanović and the executive simply did not talk to parliament before running off to Washington to sign the agreement over the ICC and they've been getting roasted for it these last two weeks. The opposition claims parliament has the constitutional right to sign treaties, which the ICC agreement is not.
But, unlike the similar parliamentary-executive conflict in Romania, the president of the parliament, Ranko Krivokapić, is also the president of the Social Democratic Party, the junior party in the governmental coalition, and the prime minister hails from the same party as the president (DPS). Montenegro thus won't tumble down the Romanian path for the time being.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 9:50 AM
13 May 2007
SRS leader Tomislav Nikolić bowed to the inevitable and gave his resignation yesterday, after five days as parliamentary speaker.
Much as I'd like to be able to say the RamPage told you so, I thought his temporary warming of that seat would be cut short by new elections, not a new government. After the bitter wrangling of the last few months between Serbia's DS and DSS, it was not unreasonable to expect that Koštunica and Tadić would be sufficiently irritated with each other to put a coalition out of the cards. (Not to mention, cutting off your first coalition prospect to flirt with your second choice devil is not a game you can iterate forever before you lose all credibility with every potential partner.)
And no one could have predicted Nikolić would have used the opportunity to threaten the post-October 2000 order with a state of emergency.
While parliament does not have the apparatus capable of imposing a coup d'etat, and Serbia's divided, politicized bureaucracy is large enough to be difficult to master by any one existing party, the episode does underline how fragile the constitutional and institutional order still is, six years and eight months after the October 2000 revolution. Not only could one irresponsible party leader do remarkable damage to financial markets and force Serbia to wonder whether elections would be held, the opposition was sufficiently reckless and unreconstructed to support him without thinking twice. That fragility of the political order is only aggravated by Kosovo's prospective independence hanging overhead as the proverbial Damoclean sword.
I don't support Kosovo's independence, however pragmatic, as an internationally imposed solution against the will of a sovereign state and people and of dubious international legality. I simply lean towards the argument that says Serbia must have a clearly defined set of geographical and political borders to begin to stabilize her political and social order as an internal matter.
Having a fuzzy political entity with indeterminate borders makes it impossible for political elites or voters to focus on what Serbia's essential identity is, or set of identities are, as a political and cultural space on the globe. Serbia cannot define the demos, a community with reasonably defined boundaries that demarcate the arena where the democratic game can unfold without generating or incorporating tensions beyond anyone's ability to control. An amorphously defined demos affords more opportunities for enterprising politicians to see how far they can push the political system, to reach farther than social order can bear to go and stay intact, all in the name of building support for a party or a charismatic person.
Make no mistake, the SRS has learned how to fight elections consistently, even hiring outside consultant mercenaries to sharpen their message and become the largest single party in Serbia. It would be a mistake to think they will not continue to improve their organization.
So long as there is an enduring Kosovo ambiguity and a feeble constitutional order, there will be the possibility of the return of another Nikolić, backed by a reckless opposition - and next time, the anti-system actors in the party system may seize more powerful levers of state power than the presidency of the legislature.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 11:17 PM
I've been working on improving the blog visually, given my somewhat limited web design skills - and deciphering how the Blogger template scripts work. :-)
The first change you'll notice is the title banner. Romer!can has been after me for some time to get a real picture up there, so I did. The background photo is one of the mountain ranges you can see from Podgorica. Nice, innit?
I've been playing with font colors and boldface to make the subtitle more legible, but, despite a couple hours of monkeying with color codes, I still haven't hit on the right color combination for my taste. I have thus defaulted to black as the easiest on my eyes. Suggestions for improvements here are most welcome!
I also discovered where the previous enormous padding from the top in the sidebar was coming from, and got rid of most of it to improve the use of blog real estate. Individual post titles also got a slight color and thus contrast change to make them a little easier on the eyes.
And - I'm still keeping my brain mulling over options for a new blog title. Someday, you will wake up to the latest idea to amuse me. :-)
Posted by Frank Sellin at 1:38 PM
12 May 2007
On my way to have my cell phone repaired, I came across this:
(Translation: I wasn't born useless...I became [that way].)
The thing is, I didn't know the word zalud. I thought it was some variant of lud, such that my initial mental translation of it was: I wasn't born crazy...I became that way. ;-)
Then my dictionary educated me otherwise. Such is learning a language!
Posted by Frank Sellin at 2:54 PM
10 May 2007
One stock market dive and one scare over a possible state of emergency later, Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader and new parliamentary speaker Tomislav Nikolić has declared the SRS will not form a new government without new elections. Nor will SRS support a minority government.
So, Serbia is headed for early elections in the next couple of months. Doomsday averted, for now.
Now the big question (other than the dynamics of Kosovo independence) is, as we've been discussing in the comments to this blog, what will happen to SRS support in the upcoming elections - especially after Nikolić raised and then backed off the possibility of calling a state of emergency, as permitted the parliament under Article 99 of the 2006 constitution. Personally, I can't imagine raising the emergency issue seriously will do the SRS much good, if some likely protest voters were still in the dark about Nikolić's capacity for judgment, but I invite your thoughts on the matter.
Between Tomislav's antics in Serbia, the months of squabbles over adopting a new constitution in recently independent Montenegro (especially in defining minority rights versus a 'civic' state, the official language, and the role of the church), and the parliamentary suspension of Romania's president to the delight of the prime minister, 2007 is shaping up to be a tough year for constitutionalism in Southeast Europe.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 9:03 PM
I wanted to take a moment and thank all of you stopping by the blog, by way of demonstrating how cool it is to see a worldwide community of readers and visitors.
Thanks to FeedBurner, I get to see this little cloud of the location of everybody who's visited in the last week (alternatively, I could see it for one day or thirty days):
Alternatively, you, as a FeedBurner subscriber, would be able to see the top ten locations in a ranked list, but the cloud (where more frequent visitors from cities are bigger, in direct proportion to others) gives me - and now you! - a better sense of the spread.
And that cloud, to me, is what is so cool about Feedburner and writing this blog: it drives home how far my efforts to inform and amuse can reach.
In other words, I get what Americans call a "warm fuzzy" (meaning, a warm fuzzy feeling inside, somewhere near your stomach) from seeing it. :-D
Now, before you become alarmed and think that FeedBurner is some kind of Big Brother, omniscient in all ways of tracking you, it's not. It does not tell me your IP address, and frankly, I am too IT-ignorant to know how to find that, let alone sort out the fact that this blog is currently on Blogger. ;-) Nor does it tell me which specific viewer from, say Zastek or Wallington, went to which page, or used what browser or feed service. I have no idea of any of that. Nor can I see who my subscribers are.
All I see is that tag cloud of urban locations (no names), which pages were visited most, what countries and news aggregators (mostly automated) hit the blog site, what sites or search terms brought you here, and what clicks *on the blog* took you out of the blog. That's it. No spyware-like tracking of any kind that I know of. You, as readers, have a right to know that I personally hate that stuff (spyware, malware, you name it) with a passion and wouldn't tolerate it if I discovered anything like it to be going on.
This is merely an exercise in warm fuzzies, and way for me to thank all of you for coming here. I'm just tickled pink that not only are you from all over the US, Serbia, Romania, and Montenegro, but also Spain, Sweden, Britain, Canada, Luxembourg, Cyprus, and even South Africa, Taiwan, Japan, and Malaysia, among others. You have each brought a big silly grin to my face with each unique location, and brightened my day, every day. The global Internet community is no longer a cliché, but something tangible and encouraging in our own little corner here at Frank's RamPage. Thanks!
And if you want to drop a line, that's what the comment section below, and also the chatbox in the left column, are for. Have a great day!
Posted by Frank Sellin at 2:25 PM
09 May 2007
Finding hypocrisies with former Ceauşescu court poet, post-1989 apologist, and most recently PSM-then-PSD Senator Adrian Păunescu amounts to shooting fish in a barrel, but this one really sticks in the craw.
To wit: Păunescu just recognized that the late Octavian Paler, as editor of România liberă, gave him a writing job for three days a week in the early 1970s, at a time when the former had been unemployed for a year, looking to feed his young children.
What's more, Păunescu expressed regret about the rupture in the friendship after 1989.
It's so comforting to see one of the most prominent Ceauşist gadflies before and after '89 suddenly pluck up the courage to confess all this (to the mass media, mind) - after Paler is gone.
No wonder Paler was so disgusted with the behavior of post-communist politicians and intellectuals. You've outdone yourself, Adriane.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 12:38 PM
08 May 2007
By now, most of you are well aware that Serbian Radical Party vice-president (which is to say, acting president, in the absence of Hague resident Vojislav Šešelj) Tomislav Nikolić has been elected president of the Serbian parliament with the help of PM Vojislav Koštunica's DS(P)S and Ivica Dačić's SPS, among others.
And of course Western media either missed the story completely at this writing (including the Washington Post and the New York Times, which are only partially excused by dint of their rolling back their foreign correspondents to near dependence on the wires), or accented the Serbian doomsday-around-the-corner angle.
The story merits more than silence, but not exaggeration. The BBC (edit: unlike CNN) omitted a key fact: unless Serbian parties unveil a new government by midnight of March 14, they will have exceeded the 90-day constitutional period to form a government, parliament will be dissolved, and Serbia will have to hold new elections.
In other words, Mr. Nikolić may enjoy a whopping six more days as parliamentary president.
To be sure, many worry that new elections, after three months with Serbia in search of a functioning government, may produce a bigger Radical share of the vote.
But I'm not aware of anyone with credible data to suggest that the SRS will punch through with more than 35% of the vote. (If there is contrary evidence, do comment below, and cite your source!)
Still, we all wonder if the DSS will continue this bridge-building to form a post-election government with the SRS. (Our friends at East Ethnia have some darkly funny suggestions for portfolio candidates.)
Quite possibly. But look at it this way. Even if they do bring back the likes of Aleksandar Vučić (see below) into government, for a costly few years of stalled reform and foreign policy gaffes, it's not as if the EU will be serious about integrating Serbia for some time anyway, and the Radicals will have more incentive to stay within the bounds of the democratic game, compared to the scenario of continued permanent exclusion.
Indeed, if they ever did make it into a government coalition, the SRS would have to get dirty with the dangers of running a national government in coalition with a DSS that is hardly going to let itself be taken prisoner. Ruling a country always weakens the parties that do it. No one need fear that the SRS in government would somehow approximate the spectre of Germany circa early 1933. The SRS top leadership may be vocal and less than tolerant of minorities or opposition, but they are an imitation of their 1998-2000 selves, and they would not be ruling alone.
The state will simply continue to fail to provide for or protect citizens, especially journalists, against the Neanderthal segments among SRS or SPS supporters, but the state is unlikely to beat political groups or jail their leaders on a level anywhere close to that of 1999-2000.
At most, you may get some aggravation of the Kosovo issue (gun-running by SRS sympathizers, anyone?), but Kosovo Albanian leaders have warned for months of violence if independence doesn't come soon. Would another government in Belgrade, one without the SRS, really have found a solution to stop that?
And therein lies the rub. No Serbian government wants to be the one that formally "lost" Kosovo. Least of all one with SRS participation. The SRS will, at a minimum, have to think hard about joining at all. The position of parliamentary president is far less risk to them, precisely because it carries less responsibility.
Sometimes I wonder if Serbia's political elite will find ways to avoid having a government for as many elections as it takes, until the Kosovo issue is resolved.
As for Vučić, today's Dan (article not online yet at this writing) has him quoted as saying that Nikolić, if elected, would show "what freedom of speech means" and demonstrate himself to be a man who is always "calm and tolerant towards political opponents." I hope Vučić, who literally turned in a tour-de-force performance as Minister for Truth Backed By A Big Stick in 1998-2000, will be taking notes.
(P.S. As usual, the views of this blog reflect the personal views of the author, and in no way reflect the views of any organization. I'll fight to keep what's mine. ;-)
Posted by Frank Sellin at 3:52 PM
07 May 2007
Octavian Paler died of a heart attack this afternoon at the age of 80.
It turns out he had a more substantial communist biography than I realized, beyond editing the daily România liberă from 1970-1983, in ever darkening days.
But that does not detract one jot from the pleasure I took in reading one of the top ten essayists in Romania over the past 13 years. I'd go so far as to say he was my favorite, closely followed by Andrei Pleşu. Biography and all, Paler was someone who burned plenty of manuscripts in his bathtub, constantly fearing a percheziţie by Secu.
He was a vital moral compass in the postcommunist period, however much I may not have agreed with him, and he remains one of my intellectual heroes.
This was a man who stopped me cold when he wrote, "A courageous person is an unpleasant mirror in a society haunted by fear."
I understand now that much of his writing was atoning more deeply than I realized. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he valued forgiveness without forgetting.
I remembered just now how I went out of my way to stand on line at a 1995 book fair for his autograph. He smiled gently while I did my best to explain my name and role as a graduate student researcher, in halting Romanian that had a ways to go at the time.
And this elderly gentleman of humble rural origins in the Transylvanian village of Lisa near the Făgăraş mountains -- whose 1980 essay in Rugaţi-vă să nu vă crească aripi cautions dreamers not to grow Icarusian wings, for fear of brilliant trajectories meeting with total submergence in indifference by the rest of world -- autographed my copy with this dedication:
"With the best thoughts of someone who believes in illusions,
I still believe in illusions. Godspeed, good sir.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 8:57 PM
While sleeping badly last night, I realized I had a problem to solve: why did the most recent governing coalition break up in the middle of its term, when the CDR-PD-PNL-UDMR government of 1997-2000 survived to the bitter end?
After all, the '97 coalition was a case study in brinksmanship, requiring several "summit" meetings among party leaders to patch over the latest scandal. But they always held on by their fingernails, no matter how nasty or complicated it got.
And I personally spent a large part of my dissertation describing how entrenched 'postcommunist patrimonialism' is in political parties in the Balkans, such that the goal of hanging onto state offices and patronage often trumps ideology or other strategic partisan considerations. In Romania's case, many of you probably remember the famous and ultra-complicated "algorithm" that distributed state offices down to middle management across the multiple governing parties of 1997-2000, and how the smallest dismissal would erupt into a media war between parties threatening to leave the coalition.
But if that were the entire picture, shouldn't the coalition of the "Justice and Truth" Alliance (Alianţa DA, or ADA hereafter) of PNL and PD together, plus the Hungarian ethnic party (UDMR), have held on like its '97 predecessor?
Obviously, it doesn't, which is why an explanation grounded in clientelism is not a sufficient condition to account for this outcome. (P.S. If more pundits would describe their arguments in the language of necessary and/or sufficient conditions, we could cut through a lot of the nonsense in political debates everywhere. But I digress...)
I realize that it's very tempting, following contemporary instincts among many Romanians, simply to argue that squabbling factions of the former secret police and their collaborators are behind the collapse of the ADA. That may well be the case, especially with Băsescu's reinvigoration of the examination of the communist and Securitate past, but I don't like that explanation either, for two reasons. One, you can't ground convenient conspiracy theories as an empirical matter, by definition. I can't see very far inside the "black box" of Romania's post-Securitate community, and neither can most observers with any degree of precision. Two, why didn't those same ex-security types, whether in businesses or parties or both, overturn the '97 apple cart? Again, not a sufficient explanation.
To be clear: I am not claiming that political networks based on a secret police past are *not* operating to explain our outcome (the 2006-07 governmental collapse), just that we do not have near enough data to untangle that particular mess in a methodologically satisfying and robust way.
What *has* changed, it seems to me, is the nature of the parties themselves.
PNL in particular is far from the same party. If you recall, many of the old PNL splinters (some dating back to 1991-1992, such as Dinu Patriciu's PL-'93, formerly PNL-AT) came home to the mothership circa 1997 after PNL under Mircea Ionescu Quintus (and subsequently Valeriu Stoica) took governmental power. Others, such as Teodor Meleşcanu and the ApR (a 1997 splinter from the largest coagulation of conspicuous ex-communists in Iliescu's PDSR), joined more or less out of opportunism and failure to enter parliament.
But PNL never successfully swallowed the return of all the old factions plus new ones. Not even Stoica's willingness to step down as party president in favor of former prime minister Theodor Stolojan, in a compromise to avoid a party split, could quite bridge the gap. Stolojan's authority in the party suffered an irreparable blow with his surprising resignation as presidential candidate in the 2004 election campaign, and the eternal factional battle in PNL no longer had a sufficiently powerful arbiter to cool it down. On the contrary, Stolojan increasingly sided with the Stoica faction, as far as I am aware, in such matters as selecting party groups in the European Parliament for applications to membership, and contemplating mergers with PD circa 2004.
In 2006, we have seen nothing less than a party purge by the Tăriceanu faction (informally but widely seen as close to oil magnate and former party politician Patriciu), eliminating Stoica, Stolojan, and several other reasonably well-known names, who set up their own Liberal Democratic Party (PLD). The motley PNL of 1998 is now whittled back down to something closely resembling the Patriciu-led PNL-AT of 1991, as the splinter that wanted desperately to be part of the FSN-led caretaker coalition, and did so. Patriciu's flirtations with Iliescu and/or the PSD in its previous incarnations thus have a long history -- now only more open than ever, now that there is far less anti-PSD opposition in what remains of the party.
PD, for its part, lost to the presidency the once-charismatic figure (Băsescu) who dethroned Petre Roman as party leader in 2001 after national electoral defeat. My sense is that Emil Boc, though sanctified as Băsescu's successor by party congress and a firm hand in his own right, does not hold quite the same level of internal party authority that Băsescu had. Boc has, however, shown a greater strength than Petre Roman in his willingness to walk away from governmental participation, albeit with ministers pushed out by PNL working in concert with PSD, PRM, Voiculescu's PC, and even the Hungarian UDMR.
Consequently, unlike 1997-2000, we have a PNL leadership willing to go the distance to purge internal opponents completely, and, after growing clashes with the president, willing to purge the government completely in cooperation with the nominal parliamentary opposition, while the new PD has been far less willing to bend and save the coalition behind closed doors.
The ADA was thus, as most observers knew, clinically dead as a governing alliance for quite some time, and Băsescu and Tăriceanu at each other's throats long before EU membership was finalized. The risk of losing EU membership was not an obstacle to deep and protracted partisan warfare paralyzing coalition relations - it was merely the only obstacle to PNL-Tăriceanu's unleashing a no-holds-barred clash between executives in an all-or-nothing fight, ending in someone's resignation and egged on by the likes of PC's Voiculescu and PSD's Geoana.
Ironically, the smaller coalition (ADA + UDMR) broke apart, whereas the more complex coalition of coalitions (CDR-PNL-PD-UDMR, where CDR itself was a multiparty coalition), survived - though to dubious benefit and great electoral cost.
One might even speculate that the memory of bitter electoral disappointment in 2000 motivated PNL's push to dump the governing coalition with PD now, roughly two years ahead of elections. If so, the recent INSOMAR poll would suggest PNL has calculated rather badly, in trying to save the sinking ship. In the immediate aftermath of the presidential suspension, PNL has weakened Băsescu and PD, but both still lead the pack by a large margin - and there is nothing to stop PNL-Tăriceanu's gradual slide, let alone with a parliament threatening all kinds of institutional and constitutional mayhem.
Electorates can forget a lot in two years, but not a fracas that snowballed into a constitutional meltdown, implicating every major party in the system.
It remains to be seen whether Gigi Becali and the New Generation Party can take advantage of all this to turn into the man-on-horseback riding to the rescue, or whether he and PNG will simply split the protest vote with Vadim Tudor and PRM, and thus unintentionally save the old party system from itself.
PNL might have been warned by experience about the ability of a Romanian party to shred itself to bits farther, longer, and deeper than any rationality could support, both in the 1991-1996 experience of PNL itself, and especially PNŢCD. For now, PNL is surviving while in power. We'll see what happens when they lose.
PNL's political fate may only number as one of many priorities for Patriciu. But I have to wonder what Tăriceanu as party leader can possibly say to reassure his rank and file -- to convince them that, in this conflict, PNL's party interests rank ahead of the interests of Rompetrol/Petromidia's balance sheet, or even ahead of their rediscovered friends in PSD.
P.S. I invite all of you who read Romanian to take a look at the interesting, potential legal şmecherie observed by Ioana Avadani in her blog.
Copyright © 2007 by Frank Sellin. All rights reserved.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 6:40 PM
04 May 2007
To my American readers,
Drop what you're doing. Mobilize yourself and your friends to save Internet radio broadcasters from being crushed by heavily increased royalty fees, retroactive to January 2007.
You can read more about it at SaveNetRadio.org and contact your congressional reps through SaveNetRadio's website.
You can also sign a petition that goes straight to your reps here.
MAKE SURE you edit the latter petition to tell each of your reps that she or he should support or cosponsor H.R. 2060, The Internet Radio Equality Act.
I'm particularly ticked because my favorite broadcaster, Pandora.com, had to shut down its overseas broadcasting in the last day or so. If you like Pandora, Live365.com, or thousands of other providers, move now. They are facing bankruptcy if they have to pay these huge, retroactive royalties on a very unequal playing field for broadcasters.
And - TELL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Cut and paste my post if you have to (I hope you can transfer the links as well). If you can't, just tell them: go to SaveNetRadio.org.
This will take considerable mobilization to get Congress to override the Copyright Protection Board's ruling. A ruling that does nothing but smack consumers and less visible artists around, yet again, at the virtual behest of the RIAA.
P.S. This short op-ed will give you some idea of the unequal playing field for Internet radio providers.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 12:16 PM
02 May 2007
Down the left sidebar, you'll see a new addition to the blog: the RamPage Chatterbox. I'm still experimenting with it, so don't be surprised if it moves around a bit or if its title changes.
The chatterbox is a widget to make it easy for you to communicate with everyone else dropping by the blog. I installed it for two particular reasons:
1. Sometimes we all want to say hi or chat, but are reluctant to add a formal, long-lasting comment to a post, especially if we don't feel as if we have something to contribute directly on topic. The chatterbox is a place to have a free-form chat without any worries about social propriety.
2. I have yet to find a blind-header e-mail widget in Blogger that will let you contact me more directly. Because I don't really want to post my e-mail for where all the spambots can find it ( I get enough as it is...), the chatterbox can serve that contact function for now.
All I ask is that we keep chatterbox content relatively clean and respectful.
No commercial ads, please. Listing your blog website in the chatterbox is OK.
I would especially hate to have to remove it if it gets abused in antisocial ways. Similar to the policy on comments to this blog, if you wouldn't do it in someone else's house, don't do it here.
That said, I have a pretty high tolerance for funny repartee -- so have at it, with good judgment. ;-)
You can either use it where it is on the page, or you can click the second icon from the left (next to the cartoon balloon) and see it in a popup unit, assuming you are permitting popups off my blog (and you should -- I don't tolerate commercial popups here ;-).
You can also click the book icon next to the popup window icon, so as to see a history of the last 150 posts to the chatterbox.
Have fun with it! All in the service of building the blog community!
Now, if only I could get the GoogleAds scripts to behave so nicely...
Posted by Frank Sellin at 5:36 PM
Because Blogger currently forces you to click the triangle next to "April" to see that month's posts, I'm gratuitously renewing the call for your participation in coming up with a new, great name for the blog.
I'm looking for a zippy title that would make some hapless Internet surfer sit up and take notice. Humor is good. I want people to grin when they see it.
Off-the-wall / quirky is good. But it must roll off the tongue easily! ;-)
I'm hoping to come up with a good title ASAP prior to signing up the blog with Blogcatalog. Not that there are ever deadlines for great ideas, but if you can add your ideas by Saturday, May 5, that will help me meet that goal.
To make it even more interesting, I'll buy you the best beer we can find locally if I use your idea and we meet up!
Speaking of blogs, some of you may be as interested as I am in building traffic to your blog.
As a first few steps, I recommend the following, all of it free:
1. Sign up for Yaro Starak's Blog Traffic Tips newsletter, e-mailed weekly. Don't be put off by the marketing design of that particular page. Yaro is not just a good guy, he's full of excellent tips you should consider, and his original blog Entrepreneur's Journey reflects his experience in internet business via blogging.
The newsletter itself is aimed somewhat more at people seeking to use blogs to enhance their business, but don't be deceived - it has plenty of tips for those of us who blog for non-business purposes as well.
2. Register your blog at FeedBurner. Not only does Feedburner provide you with a good RSS/Atom feed for subscribers to your blog, they have recently added a lot of useful information available through their StandardStats analysis. In short, you get a great deal of useful info on your traffic, as well as broadcast to the RSS/Atom feed world.
3. Something I just discovered and signed up for today, as corroboration to FeedBurner's stats on traffic, is Spotplex. I'll have to report later on how it works, because obviously, my signup is too fresh to make any kind of evaluation.
4. I have also been using Blogtopsites as another useful vehicle to get a sense of traffic from individual computers, rather than counting visitors by page impressions. It doesn't completely separate out the problem of all the Internet search bots racking up hits on your blog, but it helps you compare repeat hits to a unique number of visitors.
5. Register your blog and your personal profile with Technorati, as a massive collector and search engine of all things bloggish. It's a great place to find people blogging on topics similar to yours.
Technorati covers a number of other interesting niches I won't go into here, but it's a site well worth exploring if you're serious or enthusiastic about blogging.
Speaking of Technorati, if you are using, or plan to use, Mozilla Firefox as your browser and Blogger as your blog platform, you want to do two things:
(a) Download the Firefox add-on Greasemonkey as the enabling condition for the next step.
(b) Go get the Magical Sheep script. Magical Sheep will effectively add a space to Blogger's posting screen where you can add Technorati tags, much as you often see at the end of my posts (when I'm able to post at home, at least). And Technorati tags, wisely used, make your blog topics that much more visible to the millions of Technorati users.
Then again, there are some good reasons for leaving Blogger and hosting your own blog site, as Yaro's newsletter will tell you. For the time being, Blogger is doing most of what I need it to do, so I thought I would pass on that little Greasemonkey + Magical Sheep tip for fellow Blogger users.
6. Lastly, every time you post new content, say hello to Ping-o-matic. Once you've registered your blog -- and bookmarked the page that "pings" Ping-o-matic every time you access that page, which you revisit every time you add content -- the site automatically "pings" in turn numerous sites (including Technorati) that track new blog content, alerting them about yours. It thus saves you the legwork of pinging all those sites one by one every time you post.
In other news, our good friend and blog commenter Skip Rock '94 suggested blog titles having to do with casinos, given Montenegro's recent spotlight in the new Bond film. Regrettably, I missed the film for being too busy in the States, but that prompted me to point out another peculiar feature of life here, which is the prodigious sale of land on the coast to Russian investors, at least as perceived by Montenegrins.
Probably the most egregious example is Hotel Splendid just outside Budva. The pictures on its site don't do it justice, as a typically sprawling mass of garish, haphazard architecture you'd expect from the nouveaux riche in Moscow -- and a reminder that even Peter the Great had to import European architects from outside Russia to design something as attractive as the palaces of St. Petersburg. Add in 74 years of what became socialist realism, and you really ought to be wary of Russian project managers and designers born and trained before the communist collapse.
However, a Flash animation I captured elsewhere on the net gives you some idea of The Thing:
Rumor has it that filling guest rooms in the monstrosity may not be the point (or attainable), as opposed to the invisible washing machines underneath the poker tables.
And for your extra amusement, the group behind this hotel has at least a couple of others in their portfolio.
The construction industry is going gangbusters on the coast everywhere you look, and the Russians are certainly a big part of the feverish activity.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 1:17 PM
01 May 2007
Whoa. Former Croatian prime minister and Social Democratic Party leader Ivica Račan, 63, died of kidney cancer last Sunday morning in Zagreb.
Another sad passing from a tumultuous era. Račan, to help those who may not be familiar with him, was one of the delegation leaders who walked out of the final party congress of the League of Yugoslav Communists in 1990, when his efforts to help patch up party relations and thus preserve Yugoslavia were met with the obstructionist tactics of Slobodan Milošević and the latter's allies.
Račan was also one of the leaders who accomplished much needed regime change following president Franjo Tudjman's death in late 1999, working to overcome divisions in Croatia's opposition and displace the ruling HDZ as a result of the 2000 elections.
Vecernji.hr has some biographical photos, if you're interested.
He will be missed.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 6:48 PM
After a two-day workshop in Mannheim, two of my colleagues and I had a few hours to kill on Sunday before some extended, quality boredom in Frankfurt airport. Where else should we have gone, but Heidelberg?
I hadn't seen the place in 30 years. I didn't remember the old town at all, to my pleasant surprise:
I did, however, remember scampering about the fine old castle ruins as a kid, though we had no time to enter it on this day:
But, if you peer around the old town carefully, you run into faintly disturbing corners of German art:
To me, it looks like a cross between a lion and possibly Gimli from the Lord of the Rings, but that doesn't explain the short sword or the imminent use of an armored tennis ball.
Fortunately, up the street is a fine façade to an older Catholic church, complete with figurines:
Where, it turned out, we encountered a touching moment of German Catholic culture head on. That is, we were forced to flee for our lives from the entranceway, so as not to be trampled by exiting youngsters enjoying their First Communion.
The little tykes lined up nicely outside for pictures from adoring parents:
Note the bunny ears going on in the back row. Nice to see that there's an international children's culture!
P.S. Germans are even more nuts about using their bicycles everywhere than I remembered. Fear the ding-ding behind you!
Posted by Frank Sellin at 5:38 PM