Living in a mad world

There are two things I want to talk about today. The first took place right here in the US, and the second happened in Italy. Both happened recently.

We’ve got a conductor who has forgotten the US still means freedom. Apparently, a tourist, possibly from Japan, who knew very little English, was taking photos of the scenery (mostly nature) on an Amtrak train between New York City and Boston. The conductor saw him, and asked him to stop in the “interest of national security”. Huh?! For taking photos from a train? For trying to preserve the memories of a trip?

But that wasn’t enough. She screamed at him even though he didn’t understand what she was saying, then called the police in and had him arrested and removed from the train. Yeah, you read that right.

How wrong is that? It’s the sort of thing that makes one’s blood boil. At the very least, that conductor, and the policemen that went along with that sick gag should be censured or suspended, so they can all remember we don’t arrest people willy-nilly in the US, not for taking photos from a moving train open to the public.

The Economist reports that Italy has passed a decree authorizing the expulsion of any Romanian immigrant who is deemed a danger to public safety. This bothers me a lot, since I’m Romanian by birth and upbringing, and I want to clarify the situation.

There was an incident where an Italian woman was killed and possible raped by a Romanian immigrant. There’s a catch to the story though. That was NOT a Romanian immigrant, it was a gypsy from Romania. There’s a BIG difference, so let me explain.

It’s hard for Americans to understand this sort of thing, but ethnicity is a very touch issue in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe. Just think of the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or go back through the last few hundred years and look at the geography of Europe. All of those governmental and boundary changes created and continue to create ethnic conflicts which may smolder for years, or break out into open war, which is what happened in Bosnia. I’m not saying this to set up my arguments, just to give you some background info. There is no animosity between Romanians and gypsies, just deep-seated and justified frustration with these nomadic people that have chosen to settle in Romania over time.

I was born and grew up in Romania, so I’m a bit more aware of these things than outsiders who decry the situation in the country without really knowing what’s going on. You see, we’ve got a lot of gypsies in Romania. They’re nomadic people, but they’ve chosen to settle there in the last few hundred years. Other countries have them as well, but we seem to have been “blessed” with unusually large numbers of them. There are a few classes of gypsies, and they can be differentiated based on how well they integrated into society, and how clean they are.

First you have the Gabors, which are the most civilized. They’re clean, hard working, responsible people and integrate well into society. I have no issues with them and would be happy to have them as my neighbors. There’s another group whose name escapes me — I don’t know much about them except that while they’re more aloof, they’re also fairly decent in terms of how they interact with other people.

Unfortunately, you then have the gypsies per se, a very mixed class of individuals and families that share these common characteristics: they do not integrate into society, they live mostly in shanty towns, they have little or no hygiene or cleanliness, and they have a very high rate of crime. They call themselves the Roma, which is a title I must protest. It’s much too close to the word Romanian or Roman, and they hail neither from Romania, nor from Rome.

You do not talk about normal living when you talk about these gypsies, the so-called “Roma”. You find them begging on the streets or dealing in God knows what, but mostly, you find quite a large number of them stealing, raping and murdering. This isn’t an exaggeration and has been their historical record. Since they do so poorly in Romanian society and certainly have no interest in obeying the laws of the country, they do not deserve to be called Romanians, and indeed, I would not call them citizens of Romania or bestow on them the rights that go along with that citizenship.

When Romania got accepted into EU, several programs got started whose aim was to integrate these gypsies into society. So far, they have failed. Why? They’re too different and have no interest in life as civilized people know it. Really, they don’t, and if you don’t believe me, you’re welcome to go there and try to integrate them yourself. You will fail miserably.

At any rate, it’s these gypsies that immigrated to other European countries in droves when the borders were opened, along with a number of actual Romanians. When the gypsies arrived in these Western European countries, they started engaging in their usual behavior: living in shanty towns, polluting society in general, participating enthusiastically in crime and other misdemeanors, etc. When they’d get caught by the police, they’d say they were Romanian citizens, which, as I’ve just explained, is not quite true. Ethnically speaking, they most certainly aren’t Romanians, and behaviorally speaking, they’re an entirely different breed.

A few years ago, there was a case where gypsies caught and ate swans from a German lake. There was an uproar, and Romania got the blame for it. As if normal, law-abiding Romanians had something to do with that… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying genuine Romanians don’t engage in crime, because every orchard has its rotten apples, but at least the crime rates are very different among Romanians and gypsies.

In the recent case in Italy, we’ve got a gypsy who lived in one of their shanty towns, who accosted, beat up and possibly raped an Italian woman. Who got the blame again? Romania. Why? Because that gypsy was from Romania. Was he a Romanian? Not really. So now we’ve got Italians horribly worked up against Romanians in general, when most of the Romanians that went to Italy did so to find honest work that they couldn’t get in Romania, who’s still having problems with its economy.

It’s just not fair that Romania keeps getting blamed for the actions of gypsies, which, as a group, cannot be controlled or integrated into any society or country where they happen to live. I wanted to set the record straight when it came to this, and do hope that I’ve managed to make my point.

Updated 11/29/07: Came across a great photo-documentary of gypsy life in several countries. Have a look at it. It has photos of gypsies from Romania as well. Try not to romanticize things as you look at the photos. There’s nothing romantic about an utter lack of hygiene or living in a hovel.


A lesson in civics and citizenship

I happened to look up resources on the Internet that help people prepare for the citizenship test. If you’ll remember, I announced last year that the citizenship test would get harder. I was amazed to see how many sites out there charge for access to information that’s already available freely, right on the USCIS website. They’ve got a great section that shouldn’t be missed by anyone studying for the citizenship test, called Civics and Citizenship Study Materials. It’s got a lot of downloadable PDFs stuffed full of valuable information, made available to anyone, for FREE. And here’s another web page with useful citizenship-related links.

I thought I’d offer you some sample civics questions that could get asked on the citizenship test. You may not be studying to be a citizen because you earned that privilege as your birthright, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to know the answers to these questions. In spite of what the government tells you, there’s one kind of terrorism that runs rampant, right here among us. It’s called ignorance. I’m not implying that you, my reader, are ignorant, but we’ve all seen plenty of those people, right? Some of them don’t even know basic facts like who was our first president…

Let’s all do our part to fight ignorance. It costs nothing, and nobody dies in the process. How’s that for good odds? 🙂

  1. What are the colors of our flag?
    Red, white, and blue
  2. What do the stars on the flag mean?
    One for each state
  3. How many stars are there on our flag?
  4. What color are the stars on our flag?
  5. How many stripes are there on our flag?
  6. What do the stripes on the flag represent?
    The first 13 states
  7. What colors are the stripes on the flag?
    Red and white
  8. How many states are there in the Union (the United States)?
  9. What do we celebrate on the 4th of July?
    Independence Day
  10. Independence Day celebrates independence from whom?
    Great Britain
  11. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?
    Great Britain
  12. Who was the first president of the United States?
    George Washington
  13. Who is the President of the United States today?
    Barrack Obama*
  14. Who is the Vice President of the United States today?
    Joe Biden*
  15. Who elects the President of the United States?
    The Electoral College
  16. Who becomes President if the President dies?
    The Vice President
  17. What is the Constitution?
    The supreme law of the land
  18. What do we call changes to the Constitution?
  19. How many changes, or amendments, are there to theConstitution?
  20. What are the three branches of our government?
    Executive, Judicial, and Legislative
  21. What is the legislative branch of our Government?
  22. Who makes the Federal laws in the United States?
  23. Who elects Congress?
    The citizens of the United States
  24. How many Senators are there in Congress?
    There are 100 Senators in Congress, two from each state.
  25. For how long do we elect each Senator?
    Six years
  26. What makes up Congress?
    The Senate and the House of Representatives
  27. Name two Senators from your state.
    The answer to this question depends on where you live.
  28. How many voting members are in the House of Representatives?
  29. For how long do we elect each member of the House of Representatives?
    Two years
  30. Who is the head of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government?
    The President
  31. For how long is the President elected?
    Four years
  32. What is the highest part of the Judiciary Branch of our Government?
    The Supreme Court
  33. What are the duties of the Supreme Court?
    To interpret and explain the laws
  34. What is the supreme law of the United States?
    The Constitution
  35. What is the Bill of Rights?
    The first ten amendments to the Constitution
  36. What is the capital of the state you live in?
    The answer to this question depends on the state where you live.
  37. Who is the current Governor of the state you live in?
    The answer to this question depends on where you live.
  38. Who becomes President if both the President and Vice President die?
    The Speaker of the House
  39. Who is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
    John G. Roberts, Jr.*
  40. What were the original 13 states?
    Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Georgia
  41. Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death”?
    Patrick Henry
  42. Name some countries that were our enemies during World War II.
    Germany, Italy, and Japan
  43. What was the 49th state added to our Union (the United States)?
  44. How many full terms can a President serve?
  45. Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
    A civil rights leader
  46. What are some of the requirements to be eligible to become President?
    A candidate for President must:

    • be a native-born, not naturalized, citizen,
    • be at least 35 years old, and
    • have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years.
  47. Why are there 100 Senators in the United States Senate?
    Each state elects two Senators.
  48. Who nominates judges for the Supreme Court?
    The President
  49. How many Supreme Court Justices are there?
  50. Why did the Pilgrims come to America?
    To gain religious freedom
  51. What is the executive of a state government called?
    The Governor
  52. What is the head executive of a city government called?
    The Mayor
  53. What holiday was celebrated for the first time by American colonists?
  54. Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?
    Thomas Jefferson
  55. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
    July 4, 1776
  56. What are some of the basic beliefs of the Declaration of Independence?
    That all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  57. What is the national anthem of the United States?
    The Star-Spangled Banner
  58. Who wrote The Star-Spangled Banner?
    Francis Scott Key
  59. What is the minimum voting age in the United States?
  60. Who signs bills into law?
    The President
  61. What is the highest court in the United States?
    The Supreme Court
  62. Who was President during the Civil War?
    Abraham Lincoln
  63. What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
    The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.
  64. What special group advises the President?
    The Cabinet
  65. Which President is called the “Father of our Country”?
    George Washington
  66. Which President was the first Commander-in-Chief of the U.S.Army and Navy?
    George Washington
  67. What was the 50th state to be added to our Union (the United States)?
  68. Who helped the Pilgrims in America?
    The American Indians/Native Americans
  69. What is the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?
    The Mayflower
  70. What were the 13 original states of the United States called before they were states?
  71. What group has the power to declare war?
  72. Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights.
    15th, 19th, 24th and 26th
  73. In what year was the Constitution written?
  74. What are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution called?
    The Bill of Rights
  75. Whose rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
    All people living in the United States
  76. What is the introduction to the Constitution called?
    The Preamble
  77. Who meets in the U.S. Capitol building?
  78. What is the name of the President’s official home?
    The White House
  79. Where is the White House located?
    Washington, DC
  80. Name one right or freedom guaranteed by the first amendment.
    The rights of freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and to petition the Government
  81. Who is Commander-in-Chief of the United States military?
    The President
  82. In what month do we vote for the President?
  83. In what month is the new President inaugurated?
  84. How many times may a Senator or Congressman be re-elected?
    There is no limit.
  85. What are the two major political parties in the United States today?
    The Democratic and Republican parties
  86. What is the executive branch of our government?
    The President, the Cabinet, and departments under the cabinet members
  87. Where does freedom of speech come from?
    The Bill of Rights
  88. What U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services form is used to apply for naturalized citizenship?
    Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization)
  89. What kind of government does the United States have?
    A Republic
  90. Name one of the purposes of the United Nations.
    For countries to discuss and try to resolve world problems or to provide economic aid to many countries
  91. Name one benefit of being a citizen of the United States.
    To obtain Federal government jobs, to travel with a U.S. passport, or to petition for close relatives to come to the United States to live
  92. Can the Constitution be changed?
  93. What is the most important right granted to United States citizens?
    The right to vote
  94. What is the White House?
    The President’s official home
  95. What is the United States Capitol?
    The place where Congress meets
  96. How many branches are there in the United States government?

*Answer will change with time.


US citizenship test to become harder

The federal government will start testing a new citizenship test early next year in select locations throughout the United States. The new exam “relies less on trivia and more on an applicant’s grasp of American democracy.” The goal is to encourage civic participation. The questions ask about the Bill of Rights and the meaning of democracy. An understanding of voting rights will also be needed. The test will be refined next year, and will become the official test in 2008. [via CNN]