I need a vacation. I need one really, really, really badly.
My wife and I have talked about taking a few days off and she decided to go into the travel agency at her office and try to get us some tickets somewhere, as a surprise. So, she find this wonderful deal for four nights in Prague for dirt cheap. They are, of course, last minute non-refundable reservations.
Travelling around Europe is a piece of cake. Visa waiver regimes for Americans and Canadians mean that if you want to take a weekend someplace, all you have to do is bring your passport and you have nothing to worry about.
Except for the Czech Republic.
Canadians - not Americans, mind you, just Canadians - have to get a tourist visa in advance to enter the Czech Republic. I have to rush down to the Czech embassy in Brussels on Monday and pray that they can issue me a visa in a couple of days. My experiences with foriegn embassies have been uniformily bad. The people who work in them have no good reason to help you, and often won't. You don't vote for them. They have no reason to expidite a visa for me.
Why, you may ask, why do Canadians need a visa just to set foot in the Czech Republic? Back when the communists were still in charge in '90, when I first visited Prague, Canadians could get a visa issued at the border. After '92, the Czechs and Canada had a mutual visa waiver regime, and you didn't need a visa to travel between them. Not anymore.
It turns out that in 1997, some neanderthals in the Czech Republic started encouraging local Roma (Gypsies for those unfamiliar with the word) to take advantage of Canada's visa waiver rules and claim refugee status in Canada. Apparently, the 1992 citizenship law in the Czech Republic denied many Roma Czech citizenship, even when they had been citizens of Czechoslovakia, so many of them were stateless and there is a long history of discrimination against Roma in eastern Europe. Some towns actually bought airline tickets to Canada for Romi.
When hundreds of Roma started turning up in Canadian airports, the government resumed requiring visas for Czech travel document holders, so the Czech Republic reciprocally reinstated visa requirements for Canadians.
I hate it when remote idiots make decisions that mess with my life, especially when they're stupid decisions. Now I have to take another of my precious vacation days to fix this, assuming it can be fixed at all.
Judicial Activism and the other day's Supreme Court decision
I'm sure everyone by now knows what a double-header week we're having. First, the US Supreme Court strikes down all America's sodomy laws in a 6-3 decision with only the neanderthals dissenting. Second, Strom Thurmond died today. It has been a good week for civil rights in America.
Via Silt, I see George Will is against, for reasons that require a carefully constructed ignorance of the functioning of American government. He favours legislative repeal of laws restricting consentual sex, but opposes judicial activism (except in Bush v. Gore). He has a point, but it's not the one he thinks he has. In Belgium, there's a decent case to be made against judicial activism, because, as many on the right contend, it is a dangerous power. However, Belgium hasn't criminalised consentual sex in decades and recently legalised gay marriages without any proding from the courts at all.
The reason for judicial activism in the US is that the legislature won't touch an issue like this and has no reason to. Courts are now usually the only available remedy in civil rights disputes. The question the opponents of judical activism have to answer is why this should be true, and how it can be remedied. The overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to laws regulating their choice of sexual partner or sex act. However, only a very small minority of them will decide who to vote for on that basis. The political gain derived from supporting a position the public supports is small, while the advantage of adopting an unpopular position is that its most militant and vocal advocates will bring you their votes as a block. The pro-civil rights block is smaller and less reliable than the anti-civil rights block. It's been that way in America at least since the 1968 presidential election.
That is why this decision is not only right, but why it was right for the Supreme Court to make it.
I have a 1500 word post on affirmative action that you ought to be reading here. Unfortunately, Blogger won't let me put it up, even though I've posted longer stuff in the past. When I try to post it, it gets replaced by:
BIG POST ERROR, POST ID 105662976974782213
This bites. If the management tells that there is a maximum post size of anything less than 20000 bytes, I'm going to go buy a domain and switch to Moveable Type.
Update: And it's messing up my ISO Latin characters in the post below. Where the hell is this vaunted internationalisation the FAQ was talking about?!?
Further update: Fixed the diacritics, but I'm still irritated.
Grandpa has a lot more material on Dick family history than Martens family history. The Dick family was fairly large and owned quite a lot of land in Russia. He had a number of aunts and uncles on that side of the family, but honestly, I can't remember any of them. I'm not sure I met any of the Dicks other than Grandpa Dick.
The previous instalment describes how the David Jacob Dick - my great-great-grandfather - came to be the master of Apanlee, and this one offers a view of life there from the eyes of an eleven year old child, writing about it in her own adulthood. Grandpa collected accounts from several Dicks over the years, and there are at least two other books on life at Apanlee, but of the materials I have on hand, this one struck me as the most evocative of life on the family estate.
On Friday, February 28, 1992, I went through my box where I had collected material over the years. There was a lot in there that I no longer remembered having, including the following two manuscripts. They were in an envelope postmarked Dauphin MB, Dec 13 1969 and addressed to Mr and Mrs A. Wall, 939 Kildonan Drive, Winnipeg. I am sure they were written by Tante Leni [Helene], the youngest of the David Jacob Dick children. There is no date or signature on either document. Both were written in German. I have translated them to the best of my ability.
I will try to describe a Christmas memory, the way I experienced it in my childhood, because Christmas was always a highlight in our house. When I think back, my father especially comes to mind, because he enjoyed making us happy. For some time before Christmas we were very busy making presents. Christmas presents definitely had to be home-made things in our house. Even us little ones tried to make all kinds of items. I remember well how enthusiastic we were.
Evenings before Christmas, when the supper table had been cleared, we placed chairs at the table and hid behind them. The table was very long, so even the bigger children could participate. All were engaged in enthusiastic conversation and work. But then, Father would walk around the table with his hands clasped behind his back and say, "Well, I can recognise what what you are making. Shall I tell you what it is?" Of course, there was a great outcry, but Father enjoyed teasing us and rejoiced royally when we would cry out. Sometimes Mother even scolded him, but we were always happy on such evenings.
And then, as we approached Christmas our excitement increased accordingly. We expected the Weihnachtsmann [Santa Claus, more or less] because we believed very firmly in him. Every day when we went for a walk in the park with our teacher [the family had a private tutor for the children], we would find candy or nuts in the snow or on the path. Naturally, this made us very happy because we knew that the Weihnachtsmann had gone through the park and lost things through a hole in his sack. Now it really was Christmas, and when the trees stood there so beautifully under their cover of snow then our little hearts were filled with the joy of anticipation. And so Christmas grew ever nearer. Cookies were baked in great quantities. The pepper nuts were a special treat that you didn't dare miss.
The day came when the Christmas tree was to be decorated. We children were never allowed to watch, in fact, Father would always say, "Well, children, this year there will be no tree", but we knew he was teasing us again. He always decorated the tree himself with our oldest sisters. If we tried to peek through the keyhole, we got a good scolding. But then, if we found a bit of angel's hair on his clothing at lunch (I think he put it there himself) and asked him about it, he was happy like Spitzbübe [a kind of Christmas cookie - I guess it means pretty happy] and became just like one of us kids.
On Christmas Eve we always had a very simple meal: milk soup. I hated milk soup, but that was the way it was and we had to eat it, because they didn't make anything else. Mother was always considerate of our servant girls, and they were to have Christmas too. Yes, that's the way Mother was. She always said that we would not want our servant girls to say, when they got to heaven, that they were not able to go to church because we made them prepare food.
Christmas Eve was always so long for us children, even though we spent much of it singing. One of the songs remains especially sharp in my memory: Morgen Kinder wirds was geben, morgen werden wir uns freun. [Tomorrow, children, there will be something, tomorrow we'll be happy.] And then on Christmas we would sing:
Heute Kinder wirds was geben
Heute werden wir uns freun
Welch ein Jubel, welch ein Leben
Wird in unserm Hause sein
Keinmal werden wir noch wach
Heißa dann ist Weihnachtstag!
Today, children, there is something
Today we will be happy
What a joy, what liveliness
There will be in our home
We don't have to wake again
Hurray, it's Christmas Day!
There were many Christmas songs sung in our home and we always sang all the verses. There was a lot of singing in our house, at any time of year, and I enjoyed it very much.
[Mennonites have a... well, I guess affinity for religious music. If you're someone who currently attends or at one time regularly attended a church, think of how hymns are sung at your church. Loads of average people with no musical talent, singing badly, out of key, out of sync, making a joyful noise unto the Lord. I never experienced that until I lived in New Jersey. Mennonite churches sing exceedingly well, and in the past, average Mennonites sang often. Elderly Mennonites visiting each other's homes often still spend part of their time singing hymns together. They can't dance, but they can sing. I, alas, have no talent for music whatsoever, despite an aunt and a great aunt who were concert pianists and a brother who was once an aspiring soprano, and I sing even worse than most people.]
Anyway, after that supper that none of us liked, we helped clear the table and wash the dishes, which we otherwise never did, but at Christmas we wanted to hurry things along. I think our servant girls thought differently because we were only in their way. However, they had to allow us to help. It was Christmas Law. Once we had a new girl who wanted to chase us out of the kitchen, but the others who knew how things worked explained Christmas Law to her. When everything was cleaned up, we lined up in front of the living room door and waited for the moment when Father would open the big double doors and we could see the tree in all its glory. It was so splendid when all the 100 lights were burning. We just looked into it and forgot everything around us. Then the Christmas story was read, we sang songs and the gifts were passed out. When all the family activity was over, then it was the Russian workers turn. Big canvases were placed on the floor so that they could come in with their boots. The Russians sang their songs as well, and Father read from his Russian Bible, then they got their presents as well. We children were allowed to help with that and we enjoyed it very much, because the workers' children were all present. It was 80 to 100 people in all. Then when they were gone, we could devote ourselves to joy.
It was a wonderful childhood.
The Apanlee Park
I will try to write something about our park in Apanlee. When I think about it, it was a wonderful park with all its paths and places and the many kinds of bushes and flowers. In the front and to the side was a wall made of white and blue bricks. There was a large gate that you could have ridden through with a wagon, but that was never done. The side of the house with the bedrooms faced the park, so we always had wonderfully fragrant air coming in through our windows on that side.
There was also a small gate right next to our house. If we entered the park through the little gate, there was a path with large Lebensbäumen [trees of life? I am unfamiliar with this species, as was Grandpa] that were trimmed into a pyramid shape. The path was strewn with little sea shells so that we could walk there even if it had rained. On one side of the path was a rose garden, wonderful roses of many different colours. It was beautiful when they were in bloom. Beside them were lilac bushes. The splendour of the tulips was powerful.
All of this was in the front part of the garden. On one side of the main path stood a large arbour where we drank coffee and ate supper in summer. You can imagine how good the food tasted in that wonderful air. On the other side of the path was our paradise. Father had a doll house built there, with the rose garden right in front of it. It had six windows, two on each side and one at each end. In front of the doll house was a patio made of stone and behind it was a little stove made of bricks where we could actually cook. Inside, the house was divided into two parts. One side was a living room with a little sofa, two armchairs and a round table. This room was large enough for us children to sit in it. The other side was a bedroom for the dolls. Right in the middle was a little china cupboard. In winter, we had to move everything back into the house, but in summer, it was a paradise for children.
All around the doll house were tulips of many different kinds. I remember that some were completely green. The front part of the garden was decorated with three globes - one green, one blue and one gold - resting on high frames. Father had brought them along for his three youngest children on one of his many trips. Then, the park divided into many parts and the path through each one had different trees planted along it. One path was called Chestnut Avenue and another Lilac Avenue. There was also a Love Avenue, because someone had gotten engaged there. Of course, there was a bench there and it was ideal for a couple in love. Chestnut Avenue was wonderful when the trees were in bloom, as if God himself had lit a Christmas tree full of lights. The trees stood as straight as a candle.
When the trees were in bloom, people would come from the local villages, schools, and churches to have their picnics there. They were allowed to come, but were firmly told not to break off anything or pick any fruit. These trees had a brown fruit in the fall and when the leaves fell all the local children, 80 or so, came to rake leaves. That turned into a huge festival in which we all participated. The leaves were deposited in a big pile on the yard and burned. The chestnuts would explode with a bang like fireworks, and that was fun. We also put potatoes into the fire and ate them even though they were very hot.
Farther on was the river and the fruit garden. That is where we went boating and swimming. We had mulberries, peaches, apples, plums, pears and cherries in the fruit garden. Where there were cherry trees, we had to post a guard to keep the birds from stealing them. In the middle of the cherry grove was a little house where the guard could take his nap at noon. Food was brought out to him. That guard was always an older man who spent much of his time there. He had a couple of boards that he knocked together to chase the birds away. Sometimes we visited him, sat on his bench and talked with him. We played hide and seek in that part of the park.
When the greatest misfortune took us, I can well remember sitting right there under the fruit trees and hearing the shots.
My new segmenting algorithm means that I can now build my translation database in about 15 minutes where last month it might have taken 4-8 hours. So, no long waits on the Bosses dime, and that means I have a lot less blogging time until I either run into another giant hurdle in this project or I get bored with it and slow things down, or I finish. Finishing is not an option. And we still haven't managed to come to a conclusion on moving to Brussels.
The promised essay on collectivism is still in progress, Grandpa Dick life story still has a nasty climax to get to and there is a load of stuff to blog. To wit:
There are still 6000 missing artifacts from Iraq’s National Museum of Antiquities, despite any denials of looting you might have read elsewhere. Teresa Nielsen Hayden has the story.
I've never been a big fan of George Monbiot. Too many times I've thought his heart may be in the right place, but he's still wrong. However, I am reconsidering in light of this morning's Guardian.
I've been very amused by the hullabaloo about Whiteness Studies. In fact, it's one of the things I might address as part of my essay on collectivism.
And Jacques Chirac is talking about lowering taxes. This only makes sense if he plans to attack the European Stability Pact, since France is already running a deficit of some 3% of GDP. It might work - or at least not cause excessive damage - if it actually favours the lowest income households instead of the highest income ones. He has lowered the French equivalent of payroll taxes - the regressive taxes employers have to pay on a per head basis - which is one of the factors most associated with the relatively low unemployment in the Netherlands.