Thoughts

Once again, on the problem of noise

I’ve written repeatedly about noise issues in distant and recent past. Noise is something that affects me deeply and not in pleasant ways, so it’s an issue that’s always boiling beneath the surface, so to speak. Particularly during the quarantine, I was able to enjoy such quiet times, that I found the contrast between that period and these once-again too-busy times extremely jarring. I’m writing about it this time because I may have come up with a better way to word the noise laws, for those that are interested. There are two parts to it, as detailed below.

First, here are three posts I’d like to point out:

I was prompted to think about this by a recent incident, where the noise violator took advantage of a loophole in the Romanian laws against noise violations. It’s an optional loophole that the police can choose to apply in cases where the violator has relations on the police force or the local government, namely to require the use of a special device that measures the decibel level of the noise, which in Romania involves scheduling a visit from a special police team from another city, instead of relying on the complaints of a person or persons, or the observations made by the police officers who’ve responded to the call. In short, if you’re bribing someone at the mayor’s office or on the police force, you can get away with some serious noise violations. I hope you can also see how not solving a noise violation on the spot and requiring a scheduled site visit from a police team with special equipment is clearly a loophole that’s meant to be misused. In this particular recent case, I’m talking about a habitual noise violator with a history of more than 8 years of disturbing the peace of the historic city center.

Part 1

My proposed wording for noise violations is this: if the noise can be heard outside the perimeter of the noise violator’s property, it must be fined; by the same principle, if the noise can be heard outside of the noise violator’s car, it must be fined. This would force these callous, incredibly insensitive people to adjust the volume of their music, events and/or arguments so that their neighbors cannot hear the noise. If it can be heard, it can and should be fined. The only loophole I would put in is for construction or other work noises, which I find to be the only noises that are justifiable. Construction must occur, whether it’s new construction, renovation or restoration, and work such as mowing the lawn or doing various house repairs must also go on and is, I would say, necessary, so it must be tolerated and understood, within reason. But any of the non-work stuff must and should adhere to the simple principle of not disturbing the neighbors, whether they’re in the house next door or the car in the next lane, or passersby trying to enjoy a quiet walk through town. I think the current schedule of “quiet hours” that exist on the books in most countries, such as 10 pm – 8 am and a “siesta” from 1 pm – 2 pm in the afternoon, is a good schedule and should be kept, but it should be literally enforced by the book, not left up to the interpretation of corruptible policemen and local governments. And I think that even if a noise violation occurs outside of those quiet hours, as long as it meets the very simple criteria described above, it still qualifies as a noise violation and it must be fined. Someone else’s loud music or screaming is still extremely bothersome, no matter if it happens at 3 pm or 3 am. Should they want to blow out their eardrums, let them do so with the aid of headphones, not loudspeakers.

Enforcing the new wording should also be very simple: using the guidelines above, first-time noise violators must get a written warning. Any time after that, no matter what, they get fined, by the book. In other words, noise violators with a long history of breaking the law should never get a break. They should always get fined. The time for warning them has long since passed.

Part 2

I would also suggest a restriction on the use of amplifiers and speakers for public events organized by local governments to only those venues that are specifically equipped for noise abatement and/or are physically distanced from residential areas, such as concert venues. This would do away with loud events that are heard throughout entire neighborhoods or towns. I’m not saying public concerts shouldn’t happen in town squares, or that musicians shouldn’t be allowed to play on the streets, but the noise they generate must not be amplified artificially. It must be generated solely by analog musical instruments or their voice. No microphones, no speakers. That way, it simply wouldn’t travel as far and as artificially as the deafening stuff blared through loudspeakers, and would become a more natural sound that can be enjoyed within its physical context.

I think those governments that are so inclined to apply these rules would quickly see a much-needed improvement in the noise levels in their cities, and I know for a fact that most working people would appreciate having more quiet time to focus on their tasks.

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Thoughts

On current overreactions and pent-up frustrations

Rather than expound on these subjects in detail, because there’s a tremendous amount that can be said, I’d like to point out a few things and let you think about them.

The current demonstrations against police brutality in the US are laudable in principle, but they should’ve happened years ago. The fact that they’re happening now shows they’re more of a vent for pent-up frustrations against the coronavirus quarantine and against social distancing than against acts of police brutality. Let’s face it, the global quarantine was an unprecedented event that generated a lot of fear, stress and financial difficulties for people, and going out into the streets right now is an act of reassurance for them, more than anything else. Who could protest against a public health emergency? No one (well, almost no one). But who can get behind a commendable protest against race inequality? Everyone, even if that’s not really what motivates them to protest.

The coming together of these enormous numbers of people, even if some are wearing masks (most aren’t), is quite likely going to increase, not decrease, the numbers of infections and casualties from the virus, leading to its possible mutations into more lethal forms and another possible quarantine, which is exactly what those people don’t need. There is a high degree of irresponsibility in the behavior of these people in the streets, but just try telling them that…

Countries where police violence isn’t an issue in modern times, such as Germany, are overreacting with both mass demonstrations and legislative changes. Then again, Germany is still feeling very guilty for its past, so overreaction motivated by feelings of guilt is a predictable reaction for them. It’s also ridiculous, particularly for a country where there is so much disrespect, violence and hatred directed toward its law-abiding citizens from incoming immigrants.

The onus for the current situation can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the current political leadership of both parties in the US, because they’ve engaged in divisive, polarizing strategies for quite some time. The problematic behavior of police forces can be traced directly up the chain of command to the tone set by the president and other top political figures in their speeches and other communications. Even so, I’d encourage you to not be so naive to think that a simple switch of the presidency from one party to another can dramatically change the situation. This divisive rhetoric has existed at the top levels of politics even during president Obama’s two terms (not that he engaged in that sort of thing, but plenty of people on both sides of the isle in Congress and elsewhere did). And I believe that no matter what political party is in charge, that party can appoint good people to positions of leadership and ensure that the proper tone is set and publicly communicated at all levels of government, right down to the policemen patrolling the streets.

Whether you want to admit it or not, and whether you think it’s right or not, the brutality seen nowadays on the streets is the result of the frustration and anger of many conservative people in the US who’ve felt disenfranchised, under-represented and pushed aside by overtly liberal policies and laws passed in recent decades. I’ve written about this on my site before and I would point you to the exact post, but I can’t find it now. Certain societal changes must happen slowly, because they involve re-defining important concepts that have been in place for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Yet in the last two decades, we’ve seen huge pushes to over-liberalize views on so many subjects, and even more so, it became a crime (punished by law, censure or ostracization) to speak against these changes. This was bound to polarize and anger a lot of people, and what’s happening now is a long-overdue reaction that’s been building up to a boiling point. What you’re really seeing now is a clash between ways of thinking. Don’t think for a moment that just by condemning police brutality you’re going to make this long-standing anger go away. This kind of a complex situation can only be calmed down by at least a decade of completely open dialogue between all sides, where you have to let people say exactly what they think, on all sides. If that means a series of televised debates between community representatives in every major city, so be it, but the air needs to be cleared, over and over and over, until all concerns have been aired, all frustrations vented, on all sides of the issues. You have to let everyone voice their opinions without repercussions, without judgment, without categorizing them as racists, as discriminators, as “behind the times”, etc. But this isn’t happening. Instead, liberal agendas are being pushed through everywhere as fast and as forcibly as possible, so this deep-felt anger is going to continue to bubble up and reach boiling points.

If you look at videos of the demonstrators being aggressed by the police, you can see in a lot of cases how they’re either getting right up into these policemen’s faces and screaming at them, or they’re keeping some distance but still screaming at the policemen. If you’re going out to protest, do your protesting toward the cameras, toward government officials (if they’re present), but keep your distance and leave the policemen alone. They’re not there to act as a “screaming wall” for you or to judge your causes. They’re under tremendous pressure to do their jobs. Why do those people think it’s okay to scream at someone for hours on end, to call them names, to even bait them, and then expect them not to retaliate when they get the chance? Go out, have your say if you must, scream your heart out at the world, but keep your distance from the authorities, don’t be physically or verbally threatening, don’t throw things, and you’ll likely go home unharmed. But in a lot of these cases where demonstrators got hurt, the police were provoked in one way or another, probably not by the people who got hurt, but by people in and around that area. I’m not saying what happened was right or was justified, but it was in some way provoked, and when tensions run high, you don’t need to do too much before violence kicks in on both sides.

There is talk of defunding and disbanding police forces, and putting that money into social workers, community organizers, etc. Other than a few urban areas in the US, the truth of the matter is that police forces are typically underfunded and understaffed. And most policemen are good people with good intentions. But let’s let those cities that want to engage in police defunding experiments do it, and we’ll see what happens when social workers and community organizers are confronted with violent gang members, looters, muggers, rapists and various nefarious individuals who don’t respond to logic and reasoning.

On the other hand, and I speak from my experience of living in the US and in Romania, quite a few policemen (not the majority, but enough of them) can be described by at least one of these adjectives: lazy, incompetent, rude, corrupt, bullies. Those who qualify deserve whatever’s coming their way. While that sort of behavior might be marginally tolerated in civilian jobs, it cannot be tolerated from policemen, who ought to be held to a higher standard, exactly because it’s their job to uphold the law.

An inescapable truth that can be seen quite clearly in these demonstrations is that while people are out in the streets, “demonstrating”, they aren’t working. Worse than that, they’re not letting others work. Businesses who would now be working and contributing to a sorely abused economy cannot work because they’re disrupted by the demonstrations or they’ve been looted, especially where they were needed the most, such as in poorer neighborhoods. All this comes on top of a quarantine and countless missed payments on mortgages, car loans and other promissory notes. The very people shouting for justice right now are going to get a big dose of injustice as looming foreclosures and evictions finally occur. It isn’t going to be pretty if this situation drags on. People need to get back to work, businesses need to reopen, mortgages and other loans need to get paid, etc., or the economy is going to get even worse.

Should things get worse and should police forces get defunded in key urban areas in the US, those people are setting themselves up for severe problems in the near future. Those who haven’t witnessed what late 1970s and early 1980s New York was like, are about to experience it in their own cities and neighborhoods, if things continue along the same path.

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Thoughts

Post-quarantine thoughts

The quarantine period, while financially problematic, was a welcome respite for a world too numerous and too burdensome to bear; it was a world so caught up with itself that it practically screamed out for an intervention. Cities were cleaner and quieter. There were much fewer people to be seen everywhere and much less traffic. Days could be used for work and for lovely, quiet pauses where one could hear and commune with nature, and the nights could be used for sleep and quiet reflection, which is as it should be. It was a lovely time.

As the shelter-in-place rules were lifted here in Romania on the 15th of May, the filthy underbelly of society began to show itself again. Dirty, ugly, loud people began to crowd outside again, gathering in bunches like fleas on a mangy dog, standing close together and gossiping, making up conspiracy theories, littering everywhere once more. Their misbegotten progenitures began once again to rev their cars and turn up their subwoofers, getting in their cars just to speed up and down the street, blaring their horribly loud music throughout the neighborhoods, only to stop here and there so they could grunt at their like-minded “pack animals”. Others put their speakers in their yards once again, and turned them up for everyone to “enjoy” (a time-honored “tradition” among village morons everywhere) with no regard whatsoever for other people or for the laws regarding public disturbances of the peace. Just last night, rowdy, uncouth youth (not wearing masks) were walking up and down our street, yelling at each other about some party in the neighborhood. Music was blaring a few hundred yards away while suspect smells were wafting in the air, what seemed to me to smell suspiciously like burning plastic that would mask the odors of other illicit substances being consumed. (I was cleaning our yard and got a bit nauseous from the smell.) Countries in Europe are still supposed to be “on alert” and gatherings with many people are still illegal, and yet one was happening last night, and it wasn’t the only one I’ve heard of recently.

Whereas during the quarantine police forces were joined by the military and by the gendarmes, and there was a real push from above to enforce all of the laws, particularly the ones regarding quarantine, now things are “back to normal”. Police forces are once again slow to hand out fines or warnings in order to keep in check the noise violations and other illegal activities of certain problem individuals and ne’er-do-wells. I find the mere existence of these individuals to be a double danger for civilized society and I’ve written about them before: on the one hand they get free money from the taxes collected from working, law-abiding citizens and on the other hand, they are habitual violators of the laws in place; they don’t work, don’t contribute to society and spend their days drunk and/or violent, watching TV and stuffing their mouths while living in their own squalor and filth. They are the dregs, the refuse of any civilized society, and they’re more than a stain on that society, they’re parasites that degrade the quality of life for all other law-abiding, decent folks.

And so I’m left to conclude that this time, that could have been used for reflection, for learning, for a turning inward and a thorough examination of one’s life, for resolving to lead a better life, was wasted by most people in their typical pursuits of ways to fill their bellies and dull their minds. Now they want to pick up right where they left off, keeping on their parasitic behaviors, taking and taking and taking from the Earth and leaving only garbage and destruction behind.

You see, the real test of a society is not how it behaves during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. It’s easy to pull together and to obey the law when you don’t have a choice. You know the old saying, “there are no atheists in a foxhole.” The real test comes after the crisis. It’s when people can be themselves again that we see the real worth, the real weight of that society. And it’s much easier to see it then because we’ve got the benefit of contrast. We can see how they behaved when there were strict rules in place and they were being watched, and we can also see how they’re behaving now that the rules have been relaxed and they’re left to their own devices, more or less.

So if nothing was learned from this time that could have been used so productively by many, if nothing was gained by them, then I’m left to wonder why they’re still around. Many politicians promised solemnly that “every life matters” and that they’ll “do everything in their power to make sure”, etc. Was all that effort really necessary? Was it so important to save everyone, or would we, the human race in general, have been better off if we had shed off the excess weight? We all have scales at home and as we get older, we step on them and we shake our heads and say things like, “I’ve got to shed off some pounds, time to go on a diet.” I wonder, if the human population as a whole was put on a scale and weighed by a higher authority, what would be the result? Quite probably this: mene mene tekel upharsin. I do hope corrective action is taken sooner rather than later.

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The jostle for authority among the Romanian police forces

When you visit Romania, you might be surprised to learn that there’s more than one kind of police (or you might not be, depending on where you come from). As I understand it, in the US you’ll find local police and state troopers. Among the local US police forces you’ll find all kinds of teams and task forces whose authorities overlap with those of the the state police and the federal law enforcement teams (and if you’ll click on that link, I’ll bet you didn’t know there were so many of them).

In Romania, you have what people commonly know as the police, which acts locally but answers to its national ministry in Bucharest (MAI = Ministerul Afacerilor Interne). Let’s call them the “national police”, for lack of a better term. You also have the “local police”, which is literally called the “local police” in Romanian (Politia Locala) and answers directly to each city hall, to the mayor’s office. There is no national website for them, because they’re entirely local. For example, here’s the website of my city’s local police. And then you have the jandarmes, which are separate from the regular police force but are also part of it, since they answer to the same national ministry (MAI). I’m not sure what they do; I believe they’re called in for crowd control or in violent confrontations between citizens, but in my city, they do blended patrols that combine local and national police forces, as well as jandarmes. As you can see, this is fairly confusing and can’t be fully explained in a paragraph. I don’t know why countries make it so confusing for their people to understand how their law enforcement teams are organized and how they work.

At this point you’re wondering why I’m writing about this. Well, because as a private citizen, my concern is not with how the police are organized, but with getting a response when I call the dispatch office. That’s all anyone cares about, right? You have a situation, you need police assistance, you call the emergency number and you’re supposed to get some help. Let’s stop this line of thought for now, it’ll start to make sense later down the page.

In Romania, one of the things that is going on right now is a jostle for authority between the “national police” (for lack of a better term) and the “local police”. At some point in the past, the government decided to split up the police force this way, but it didn’t move policemen from the national police to the local police. Instead, it promoted local teams that used to be called “gardieni publici” (public guardians) or “politia comunitara” (community police) to the local police force. See here for the details.

This created a chasm between the national police and the local police. The main problem, as stated by the national police, is that the local police don’t go to the Police Academy and aren’t trained to be legitimate policemen, leading to unprofessional behavior and a poor knowledge of the laws they’re supposed to enforce. Another problem is that insignia and uniforms meant to be used by the national police are being used by the local police without the authority to do so. These arguments are ongoing and are constantly revived on social media by various policemen. Examples abound in the media of local policemen using the wrong insignia or behaving unprofesionally toward private citizens.

However, as a private citizen, I have also seen plenty of incidents where the national police behaved in completely unprofessional ways toward citizens, abused their authority, acted in such ways that made me suspect them of having been bribed, or were simply too lazy to respond to calls for assistance. And contrary to the general image one finds in Romanian media about the local police forces, in my city (Mediaș), they’re professional, they’re polite and they respond to calls for assistance.

Allow me to give you a few examples from my experiences.

A few weeks ago, we were driving through Bușteni, a mountain resort town, and a traffic policeman (they belong to the national police) was directing heavy traffic as he saw fit. What I mean by that is that he had just given our side of the street the go-ahead, the traffic light was green, but a few seconds later, he spotted a blonde who wanted to cross the street. He quickly changed his mind and stopped an entire convoy of cars so he could let her pass and leer in her direction while he measured her from head to toes. Of course she smiled, flattered (or as I like to call it, flatulated) by the attention. I was part of that convoy of cars and I considered it an abuse of authority to stop heavy traffic for the sole reason of leering at a woman.

In our own town, traffic police were directing traffic during road construction. My wife was a first-hand witness when they screamed at people. Those of you who understand Romanian will agree with me when I say that this phrase, “Măăă, io nu ți-am spuuus să nu te miști, măăăăă! Stai acolo băăăă!” is inappropriate. I understand they’re stressed out when directing traffic and that they have to deal with confused and perhaps even dumb people, but you don’t speak to citizens that way, and then demand respect for your authority.

Also in our town, we have this bar/restaurant of ill repute, which is constantly blasting music up and down the street without regard for noise ordinances. In the past, they’d bring in hookers for the party-goers and have all-night booze and STD festivities. People would spill out and urinate, defecate or vomit on the street. It was thoroughly disgusting and illegal. I and other neighbors would call in the national police and here’s where I think you’ll raise your eyebrows: a few minutes before they would arrive, the music would stop, the gates to the filthy place would close and their facade lights would be turned off. The police car would make its way past the place, see and hear “nothing”, then come and berate those of us who called and they’d threaten us with fines for calling them in for no reason at all. Then they’d either leave or sometimes park their car and go into that same place for “refreshments”. I like to call those refreshments “payoffs”. Feel free to call them what you like. After they’d leave, the lights would come back on, the gate would open and the whole disgusting thing would continue until the early hours of the morning. This happened multiple times. Years later, after countless verbal and written complains to whomever would listen at the local, county and national level, that place is no longer operating in that manner, though they still have loud music from time to time. So what are you thinking, was that appropriate and professional behavior from the national police?

A few years ago, we were driving in wintertime on a national road, in a place called Rupea Gară. We made a turn onto a side street in order to take a break from driving and make a few phone calls. There was a bit of an incline to get back onto the road and even though I had winter tires on, the wheels kept slipping (there was ice underneath the snow) and I couldn’t get the car back up on the road. As we were wondering what to do, I saw a traffic police car coming our way with two policemen inside and I flagged them down to ask for help. Do you know what their response was? “We can’t help you, manage by yourself,” in those words. Having been used to the traffic police and state troopers in the States, who would stop of their own accord to offer assistance if you were stopped or stuck, and who would call a tow truck if one was needed, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from these two uncaring policemen. I call them uncaring because they didn’t even care to look at me or my wife while they were talking, nor did they get out of their car, even though it was winter. I asked them if they knew of a tow truck company or if they were willing to help pull us up. We only needed a little help, we were driving our MINI Cooper at the time and we only needed to get over a 2-3 meter stretch of slippery asphalt. They declined and told me to “leave them alone because they’re busy” before they sped off. We were left there stranded and were finally helped after a half hour or so by a good samaritan who saw us and pulled us up in a matter of minutes with his car (not a tow truck). When I hear policemen ask for salary increases or for respect from the general population, I think back to this incident.

The street where we live is a residential street inside the medieval city walls. It’s classified as a low-speed zone. The traffic police, city hall and navigation apps all differ on the speed limit that should apply there. There are no speed limit signs, nor are there any policemen there at any time to enforce the speed limit. I’ve written to the city hall and to the police, I’ve even met with the chief of the traffic police and have gotten nowhere. Children play on this street and yet cars will drive up and down at speeds of 60-80 km/h. Idiots on motorbikes will accelerate their death-mobiles on purpose when they drive here, but it’s still just a two-lane street in the middle of the city, on a street packed with houses, where children play. Just a couple of streets over, right in front of a middle school, a car ran over a girl a few years back. You would think the police and city hall would be more sensitive to the issue. Navigation apps say the speed limit is 5 km/h. City hall says it’s 30 km/h. But no signs are posted and nobody’s enforcing anything. I’ve told the chief of the traffic police, if he’d only post a patrol car there every once in a while, it’ll be well worth his time. He’ll hand out plenty of fines that’ll help his bottom line, but he’s not interested.

The same lack of interest is shown by the rest of the national police when they’re called to deal with noise violations from automobiles, apartments or houses, or with littering and vandalism in public places, or with begging in the streets and many other “little things” which if not resolved, tend to make life less civilized in the cities. They’d rather someone else handle these things; they consider these tasks beneath them, and they’re more than happy to let the local police handle them. Thank goodness there is a local police that deals with this stuff, or else who’d take care of it?

In order for you to understand this next issue, I have to offer a bit of a preface. During Ceausescu’s communist regime, all kinds of people, mostly low to no-education and low-income, were moved into historic Saxon homes in the centers of medieval cities and villages, which had been illegally appropriated by the state. These large homes were subdivided into 1-2 room apartments. The idea was to use all the livable space without having to fund new construction, and these homes had been left empty by Saxons which fled to West Germany. “Fled” perhaps isn’t the right term, because West Germany had to pay a sum that varied between 10,000 – 20,000 Deutsche Marks per person, before the Saxons were allowed to leave the country. Fast forward to modern times, and what we have now is people with very mixed (and mostly low) incomes living in homes that are meant for people with deeper pockets, because they’re historic homes whose renovation requires lots of funds. It’s not like in the States, where there are zoning laws and where residential neighborhoods are separated by income levels. Of course, most of these homes are now crumbling, because surprise, surprise, these people have neither the funds nor the drive nor the know-how nor the good taste to renovate these homes, which are no longer government housing. So what you have now, in countless cities and villages in Romania, are beautiful, historic homes which are in various states of disrepair, defaced and destroyed by careless people who’ve even chopped the furniture and the structural beams into firewood. Still, not all the houses are like this. Some people understand their historical value, have bought them and have restored them, but as I said above, this requires significant funds and is not be undertaken lightly.

Okay, now I can move on to the next example I wanted to give you, because you now understand the context. On our street, gypsies live in one of the neighboring houses. For years, we’ve had noise issues with them. I know what some of you are saying now, “here he goes, he’s discriminating”. This has nothing to do with color or ethnicity, this has to do with behavior. It is my opinion that gypsies have no place in civilized society, not because something they’re born with (such as ethnicity or skin color) precludes them from participating in society, but because they refuse to change certain antisocial (and also illegal) patterns of behavior, and that in itself makes civilized people go, “Oh, I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you really shouldn’t be here. Not until you learn to behave properly.” Furthermore, you can be purple with pink polka dots, if you’re a good person and you behave like one, I’ll not only have no issues with you, I’ll probably like you. But these gypsies, they simply refuse to understand that there are laws against blasting “manele” at night and against getting piss-drunk and going outside and yelling at each other, at night or during the day, in the middle of a residential area where people are trying to live, work and sleep in a civilized manner. The list of illegal things they do could go on and on (and belive me, law enforcement authorities throughout Europe know this too well), but I’m restricting the discussion to this particular group of gypsies. We tried talking with them and it solved nothing. We called the national police and they were fined a few times, but the noise still continued. We filed written complaints and the noise still continued. And then the national police refused to bother anymore. They’d hang up on me when I called. Yes, you read that correctly. By the way, they’d also hang up on me when I called about that bar/restaurant mentioned a few paragraphs above. I’d call again, ask them why they hung up on me, and they’d do it again. They’d even tell me that “they didn’t feel like it” (“nu am chef, lasa-ma in pace”). Then I started calling the local police and they didn’t hang up on me. They responded, each and every time, and after several visits from the local police, the gypsies finally got the message and now they abide by the laws (somewhat). They’ll still “forget” every once in a while and play loud “manele”, they still make other noises at night (they cut firewood or move boxes/furniture) that are so loud we can hear them through thick brick walls, but the situation is better.

I did have a positive experience with the national traffic police (just one, unfortunately) in the Brașov region a few years ago. The cops in that area are renowned for the amount of traffic fines they hand out but in my case — and granted, it was an exceptional situation — they let me go on my way. It was time for Ligia to give birth to Sophie (our daughter who is now four years old). Her water had broken and we were driving to the hospital in Brașov where Ligia was going to give birth, from Mediaș. I had my emergency lights on and was driving about 10-20 km above the speed limit (depending on the road conditions), rushing to get to the hospital so that Sophie would be okay and Ligia could give birth under medical supervision, not in the car. Why Brașov and not Mediaș, you might say? Because the hospital in Mediaș is terrible and I wanted Ligia to give birth to our daughter in a properly equipped and staffed hospital, where the staff would be attentive to our needs, which was in Brașov. Well, as we were driving that way, I spotted a traffic stop ahead. We were flagged to stop and we did. The policeman came to our car and told us we’d been seen driving over the speed limit and asked why we had the emergency blinkers on. I pointed to my wife’s belly and said we were on our way to the hospital in Brasov so she could give birth. He looked at her, looked at me, then waived us on and told us to drive carefully. He could have fined us but chose not to do it. So that’s my one positive experience with traffic cops in Romania.

I could give you more examples, but I’ll stop here. The point is, as a private citizen, my experience in my own city with the national police, the ones who are making such a fuss about the local police, has been less than adequate and less than appropriate. On the other hand, the local police have always answered my calls for assistance and have done what they could to resolve those situations. And they’ve been professional, courteous and wore their uniforms correctly (that’s another complaint the national police have about them). I’ve been in the US Army, I know what a properly-worn uniform looks like and they’re doing it right.

I understand this is definitely not the case in other cities or villages in Romania, where the local police are behaving entirely inappropriately, don’t know the laws and are easily corrupted, but again, as a private citizen, I have to say that this perceived competition between these two police forces has resulted in better results for me, the citizen. As is the case in business, where competition is better for the consumer, having the option of calling two different police forces who answer to different authorities is good for citizens. It’s harder to corrupt both forces (corruption is an ongoing issue in Romania), so that if one of these forces is bought off locally, at least you still have the option of calling the other. I don’t know how this jostle for power is going to be resolved in the future, but for now, it allows the private citizen access to an honest, responsive police, whichever of the two it may be.

One last thing: the question in the news these days (at the time of publishing this article) is whether or not the police ought to have more authority. Yes, I believe they should, but I’d also like to see them put that authority to good use. Judging by what I’ve seen so far (about nine years of living in the country), the Romanian police are far more concerned with ignoring situations than solving them.

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Cabin John cops are the coolest

This past Thursday, I was on my way home from work, in a hurry, because my wife and I wanted to be on time to the Gipsy Kings concert that evening. Traffic on 495 was much nastier than usual, and it was pretty clear to me that I needed to take an alternative route home, and also find another way to get to Wolf Trap. After jumping on 495 from the Georgetown Pike to get over the Legion Bridge, I got off immediately on the Clara Barton Parkway and headed down to the Cabin John exit.

There’s a stop sign there as the exit ramp meets the bridge over the parkway. Usually, no one stops, but I try to, just the same. I think you know by now what I’m getting at. My mind was on the concert, on the projects at work that I’d been working on that day, on the weather, which I hoped would hold up… and I did a lame rolling stop right past the sign.

As I did that, I saw two cop cars on the side of the road ahead. They’d been looking at me, and one of them signaled me to pull over. I knew the instant I saw them that I’d get pulled over, and I knew why they were there, too.

So I pull over, and this towering cop comes up to my window and asks for my license and registration. I start fumbling around. My license was in my wallet, which was in my camera bag on the back seat. I turn around, pull it out, then try to remember where my registration is. Okay, it’s in the glove compartment… somewhere. I pull out the owner’s manual because I think it’s somewhere in there. All of my papers should be neatly placed in a little folding booklet, which I locate and start going through.

The cop is getting a little impatient. What can I do… I don’t get pulled over that often, and now I can’t remember where things are. It’s not like I rehearse what to do when I get pulled over. One doesn’t prepare for it.

Finally, I hand him what I think is my registration, but it turns out to be my insurance. He’s reaches into my booklet himself and fishes out the registration. “Has your license ever been suspended or revoked?” he asks me. I give him a “Huh?!” look as I mumble a “No”. Fine, he goes back to his car to look up my record.

Meanwhile, I start thinking what I’m going to tell him when he asks me why I didn’t stop. I’ve recently seen the “Don’t Talk to the Police” videos [part 1, part 2]. Should I try to put that advice into practice? Will it work? Would it even apply in my situation? After all, they clearly saw me not stopping at the sign. Shouldn’t I be honest and admit I screwed up? Maybe he’ll be lenient, right? Yeah, but what if he’s an ass, like the Virginia trooper that screwed up my driving record to make his ticket quota?

While I’m still thinking, he shows up at my window again, with a stern look on his face. “Do you know why I stopped you?” he asks. All my logic goes out the window and I suddenly become stupid. “Um, ah… no?” I mumble. “There’s a stop sign back there. Did you see it?” What am I going to do now? I got myself into this mess with my fancy double talk, now what? I stick my dumb head out the window and crane my neck, trying to look at the stop sign I know too well. “Um, ah… um, yeeeeeaaaah, that one,” I say, and feel like a certified dolt. He gives me a look that speaks volumes…

I finally decide to fess up and say something lame like, “I’m sorry, I was in a hurry and forgot to stop.” At least that’s true, even if it sounds really lame. He gives me the sort of look that says, “Yeah right, buster,” and goes back to his car. Oh crap, now he’s got me. I’m going to get it for sure: a ticket and some extra points just for kicks. It’s a moving violation, after all.

So I sit there, wondering just how much it’s going to hurt, and it doesn’t take long. He comes right back and sticks a piece of paper in my hand. I can’t look at it, my eyesight’s just gone fuzzy. “That’s a warning!” he says, and a very audible sigh of relief escapes my lips. “Thank you!” I say. I think my whole being effused gratitude that moment, because the corners of his lips started to crack into a smile.

He goes on, intending to give me a stern lesson, “You gotta stop, every time. No rolling stop, no California stop, you have to make a complete stop.” I look up at his face while he’s talking. A father, in his fifties, with mostly white hair with tinges of bronze blond. An honest face, with green eyes that pierce when he talks, and you can see he cares about people and about safety. A good cop. I try to allay his concern by saying, “For what it’s worth, officer, I do stop at the important stop signs,” then realize how stupid I sound, and continue, “but mostly no one stops at that one.”

“I know,” he says, “and that’s why we’re here! Drive safely!” he says as he turns away. I pack up my papers and start on my way, knowing that this would not have turned out the same way in Virginia, where the cops are out to get you no matter what.

Am I saying I deserved to get only a warning? No. I clearly ran that stop sign, the cops saw me, and I expected a ticket. I wasn’t going to argue about it. I dreaded the points though. I hate the points. It seems they get dished out more and more these days, and your insurance goes up, and they make you a liability when other cops stop you and they see you have points — it makes it more likely that you’re going to get another costly ticket. Points beget more points. It’s a vicious circle.

Thankfully, this cop decided he was going to do something really nice. Perhaps he looked at my record and saw that I’m a careful driver, or perhaps he’s just a really nice person. I don’t know why, but he only gave me a warning, and I’m truly grateful for it. Believe me, it had the same effect as a ticket. I’ve obeyed every stop sign since, and will continue to do so, because every time I approach a stop sign, I think about not getting pulled over again. If it happens again, I know I’ll get a ticket.

Thank you, Officer McDonald! You are one cool cop!

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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.

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Part 3 of the RIP Act coming soon for the UK

The UK Home Office has decided to put through the 3rd part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Originally introduced in 2000, the first two parts have already been implemented. This particular part would introduce penalties of up to 2 years in jail for companies or individuals who wouldn’t disclose their encryption keys at the government’s request. The final language may be amended, since the Home Office is involved in a consultation process on this matter, and results have yet to be reached.

As usual, the Slashdot people are having a field day with this bit of news. Even the language used by reputable news organizations is sensationalistic. I have to admit I was concerned, but I had a look at the wording of the act, and it says, clearly, that organizations or individuals would only need to release their encryption keys at the specific request of Her Majesty’s forces, for a pending investigation. It’s not as if the government’s asking everyone to hand over their keys, en masse. They’re also going to reimburse them for their expenses of retrieving and reproducing that data.

To me, this is no different than the powers of search and seizure police have here in the States. They can obtain a warrant to search your property, and you can be sure they’ll go through with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything important. On top of that, they won’t reimburse you for the trouble.

Well, now they’ll be able to do the same to someone’s data in the UK. Until now, encrypted data was above the law, so to speak – if it was well encrypted. If RIPA-3 gets going, the police might have a chance to take a look at it. I say “might”, because encryption can use constantly changing keys, and if you forget or misplace the original key, good luck getting that data back…

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Women applaud no-men, pink-striped metro cars

In Brazil, women have finally gotten their wish: pink-striped, women-only metro cars. Apparently, there’s a lot of groping and feeling going on in Brazil (shame on you, fellow men!) and it’s so bad they lobbied for women-only cars. Now they’ve got them. The article mentions how women themselves will police the cars, to make sure no men get aboard. They can call on police if needed to evict unruly men. Here’s the link to the article.

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Woman, 82, gets ticket for slow crossing

In LA, an old woman got a $118 ticket for crossing the street too slowly. She was cited for being an obstruction to traffic. Reporters observed that crossing and said even high school students had to run across the street in order to make it to the other side in time. Hey, let’s give a hand to Officer Kelly of the LAPD, for being such a caring fellow… See link for details.

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