Thoughts

Do you know there’s such a thing as an invisible bicycle helmet?

There is and it works.

I’ve always been annoyed by how bulky and ugly traditional bicycle helmets are, but then I’ve also fallen from a bicycle while not wearing one and it wasn’t pretty. This looks really good, sort of like an airbag for your head.

One question though, what do you do with it in warm weather, when you can’t wear it?

Via Likecool

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Thoughts

A crash test between a 1959 and a 2009 Chevrolet

In the 50 years since US insurers organized the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, car crashworthiness has improved remarkably.

Demonstrating this was a crash test conducted on Sept. 9 between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu, which you can see in the video embedded below.

In a real-world collision similar to this test, occupants of the new model would fare much better than in the vintage Chevy, which was surprising to me. I wash shocked to see that supposedly rock-solid car literally come apart at the seams, explosively, as if it were built of plastic. The crash test was conducted at an event to celebrate the contributions of auto insurers to highway safety progress over 50 years.

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Thoughts

How different dogs attack

This video from the National Geographic shows different breeds of modern dogs and how they attack their prey. Heavier dogs use their own body weight to bring you down, and lighter dogs build up momentum by running and jumping at you. The video also talks about bite strength and how head size affects it.

Takeaway lesson: do your best not to get bitten by a dog while it’s coming at you. Make it slow down or if possible, only bite you when it’s stationary. Or at the very least, avoid getting bitten by a mastiff. Those puppies pack a massive 500 lbs. bite. If one of them bites your hand, it will crush your bones and quite possibly sever a finger or two.


Dog Attack Styles from the National Geographic

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Thoughts

Child rape survivor saves young girls in Zimbabwe

So happy to hear about the good work Betty Makoni is doing in Zimbabwe. She’s put together a support network for rape victims.

Child rape survivor saves ‘virgin myth’ victims – CNN.com

Witch doctors (so-called traditional healers) have spread the rumor that a man can be cured of AIDS if he rapes a virgin. So you have all these HIV-infected men with no scruples and no morals whatsoever who are raping young and younger girls — even babies. Unfortunately Zimbabwe’s culture makes it very difficult to get support after rapes occur, but this woman, Betty Makoni, has organized a country-wide network of support for the poor girls.

I say the filthy men who do this sort of thing, and the witch doctors who spread the unconscionable advice, ought to be rounded up and raped by prison gangs. Either that or they should be castrated, without anesthesia. Let the punishment fit the crime.

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Thoughts

Concerned about swine flu? Know who to thank for it

To all those people who are worried about swine flu — you should thank the pig farming industry for it, and the rotten politicians who keep it going the way it is, even though it’s one of the worst polluters in the US. It’s no wonder new viruses are getting cooked up in those industrial pig farms, given the conditions in which they keep the pigs.

And perhaps you should also thank your local landscaping companies, who, about this time each year, dump tons of pig offal around your communities at outrageously high prices. Along with the smell, you’re also getting a dose of swine flu, trichinella and other intestinal parasite eggs, and who knows what other poisons, cooked up nicely in fermented pig manure.

sow-with-piglet

Enjoy all this, and keep in mind you’re the one financing the whole shebang when you buy pig meat and you hire landscaping companies based not on how sustainable and non-polluting their methods are, but on how tall they can make your pansies and grass grow…

Updated 5/3/09: Wired Science confirms my hunch that the pig farming industry is to blame for this virus in an article entitled “Swine Flu Ancestor Born on US Factory Farms.

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Places

Wish I could do something about those dogs

There are two problems with dogs in Romania, as I see it:

  1. There are entirely too many stray dogs
  2. Most dog owners care little about their dogs’ behavior

Let me say first that I’m a dog lover, though my recent experiences here in Romania have cooled my enthusiasm for dogs significantly. Overall, it’s been one negative experience after another, and right now, it’s gotten to the point where I will not hesitate to kick a dog who lunges at me or my wife, as has happened repeatedly.

Stray Dogs

Everywhere you look in Romania, there are stray dogs. It could be the middle of the city, or the middle of the countryside — you are guaranteed to find a stray dog. They usually converge where people are, but you’ll see them crossing open fields or walking alongside roads in the middle of nowhere, looking for scraps of food.

The look

You’d think a breed of animals that depends on people for their food supply, especially dogs, who are supposed to be “man’s best friend”, would be more grateful to people. You’d be dead wrong to assume that, and I don’t exaggerate. Sure, they’re nice when you have food and you want to give them some. They’ll line up and beg, putting on a show. Some packs of these stray dogs specialize in begging, and will stick around car stops and fast food kiosks. They do alright, because they look well-fed. Even I feed them sometimes. After all, I still love dogs, and I don’t mind sharing my food with a hungry and friendly animal.

But may God protect you from meeting a pack of stray dogs at night, or when they’re hungry, because they’ll tear you to pieces. They’re dangerous even during the daytime, sleeping in the sun, curled up next to buildings or on the sidewalk. Those same sleepy dogs can turn vicious and attack at any second.

The dangerous thing about stray dogs is their pack behavior. They’re not disciplined and they are dumb animals. When one begins to bark at you, they’ll all join in. When one of them lunges at you, they’ll all start lunging at you. When of them bites and draws blood, the others become enraged and will all start biting you. As the taste of blood enters their mouths, they’ll soon begin to bite you in order to get pieces of meat. You will no longer be seen as a human being, someone to be feared and respected, but as food — a hunk of meat to be eaten.

I’ve seen stray dogs lunge at street cleaners working nearby. I’ve seen them lunge at elderly people. I’ve heard of them killing adults and children or leaving them scarred for life. A relative of ours from Constanta was jogging on the beach one morning, and was attacked by a pack of dogs who chased him for over a kilometer. He literally ran for his life while they lunged at him one after the other, biting, scratching, digging their teeth deep into his body. He fought them off and barely escaped alive. Now he’s scarred for life on his arms, legs and face, from something that could have been avoided if the city of Constanta did its job in cleaning the city of strays.

I was running one evening in a village in the province of Dobrogea, and a stray dog lunged at me, barking and snarling viciously, ready to bite. I stood my ground, ready to fight, and he retreated. If there had been more of them around, they wouldn’t have retreated, and I might have ended up in the hospital. I have not been able to do any regular running during my stay in Romania. You can’t do it in the city, and you can’t do it in the countryside. When you run, it’s basically an open invitation for stray dogs to attack you. To be able to do any sort of outdoor sport, I’ve had to find remote places away from people, but even there, I have to watch out for sheep dogs, who will attack you on sight if they see you running. It’s insane. This brings me to the second part of this article, where I talk about dog owners and their dogs’ behavior. Before I do that, let me mention one more incident.

I don’t know if folks in the US have had the chance to witness dogs running alongside cars, or behind them lately. The US does a good job of taking strays off the streets. In classic cartoons, this is sometimes depicted as dogs running to latch onto the bumpers of the cars. That’s inaccurate. Dogs will run alongside the cars, barking at them, and some might even try to lunge at the tires, in order to bite them, clearly with sad consequences. When you see stray dogs with bad scars on their faces, you can assume they probably succeeded in latching onto a moving tire.

When you’ve got so many strays, you can get anywhere from only one or up to ten or more running after your car, and accidents will happen. Before I spent any significant time driving in Romania, I couldn’t understand why, and thought the drivers were just being vicious and ran them over on purpose. That’s not the case. I, too, ran over a stray dog recently. It couldn’t be helped. It was raining, so the road was somewhat slippery. This particular dog came out from the side of the road and started running alongside the car in front of me, on the driver’s side, then decided to switch sides and darted right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and swerved left, but couldn’t avoid him and ran over his hind legs. Needless to say, that was not a good day, and I’d still rather not think of it — but that’s what will happen when the stray population isn’t controlled.

Domesticated dogs

Few dog owners in Romania care enough for their dogs to teach them how to behave properly. Of the majority, there are two classes: those who do little more for their dogs but provide them with a dog house and food, and those who pamper them for the very purpose of showing them off on the street.

This latter class of people is more rare now, but used to be quite common during Romania’s communist regime. They’d have these big, ferocious dogs, such as German shepherds, dobermans, or bulldogs, and they’d walk them in public with a muzzle, smiling secretly (or openly) every time their dog growled at someone and that person shied away.

The other class of dog owners — by and large the overwhelming majority — is quite content to tie up their dogs in the yard, next to a dog house, and to feed and (maybe) clean up after them, but do little else for them, like teach them when to bark and when not to bark. The end result of their treatment (or lack of it) is that you have these frustrated dogs who are tied up behind wooden fences where they can’t see what’s going on outside, but can hear and smell a ton of foreign scents, and who are going nuts, barking at everything, all the time. For all intents and purposes, they’re not really domesticated, because they’re not potty trained, house trained, or taught how to respond to signals and when to be silent. They might as well be strays, because they’re just as dumb as the strays. They cannot communicate. They only bark and snarl, and collectively, they create this cacophony of barks and yelps and snarls that can’t be ignored and drives me crazy.

I’m told I’m supposed to get used to it. I cannot. I can only bear it, and that only for short amounts of time. After that, I get pounding headaches, and the only thing I want to do (and imagine doing) is to squash those idiotic, furry, barking noise boxes. If you’re reading this and you’re shocked, I tell you, you cannot understand it unless you get to spend a few weeks in Romania and are treated to incessant barking at all hours of the day and night, from all directions. You try sleeping when every damn dog in the neighborhood has joined in the barking started by the neighbor’s idiotic mutt. You try concentrating on your work when some moronic, flea-bitten fartbrain a couple of houses away chooses to mark the passing of every 10 seconds with a bark. You try going on about your business, accompanied by that sort of a noise parade, and you let me know how it feels after a couple of weeks (or months) of it.

The other issue I encounter is that of violent behavior in dogs that are supposed to be domesticated. I guess this sort of ties in with what I said a few paragraphs above, but this sort of violence isn’t necessarily encouraged by the dog owners. It results more from a lack of care. I’ve seen it on two occasions.

While in Predeal — a popular mountain resort — I hiked to one of the peaks nearby, a place miles away from civilization, called Clabucetul Taurului. The only settlement nearby was a tourist cabin set in the valley between two peaks, about a mile away, called Cabana Garbova. As I stood there on the peak, taking in the beauty of the place, a stray dog wandered up the slope of this peak, and greeted me in a friendly fashion. I warmed up to him quickly. After all, I still love dogs, in spite of my recent experiences. This dog was nice and clean, which isn’t something you see often in stray dogs. It’s likely that he belonged or had recently belonged to a farmer down in the valley, and he liked to wander around all day long. I took several photos of him while up on the peak. Here’s one of them.

Friendly company

When I headed down the mountain to re-join my wife, who was waiting for me near Cabana Garbova, he followed me. As we all approached the cabin, it became evident to us that we had a problem. The dogs at the cabin, a pack of about 8 big monsters accustomed to fighting wolves and bears, sniffed him and started barking wildly. We tried to shoo him away, to make him go back up the mountain, but he didn’t want to leave us. Then the dogs down below started running toward us. We started getting really worried. Here were some seriously large dogs who gave all the signs of intending to do us harm. I started yelling down at the cabin, hoping its owner would come out and call them back. No such thing. Our companion stray got really worried, and stood close to me, behind my legs. He was hoping the other dogs would see he was with me and wouldn’t attack.

I called out to them, telling them to stop, but they kept coming. I could see their teeth, bared, ready to bite. They ran and lunged right at me. I braced for the impact. They brushed right by and latched onto the stray. The poor thing was mauled, right there, in front of me, and I was helpless to stop them. I had nothing but my camera in hand, so I took photos. I may at some point publish them, but right now it’s really hard for me to even look at them, because I got attached to that stray. He did nothing to us, even helped us by hanging around as we walked through wild territory where we could have been attacked by wild animals, and yet these vicious dogs were trying to tear him apart. He was, after all, one of them — not a wolf, not a bear, not a fox — not a danger to anyone.

My wife found a stick and started hitting them, trying to make them let go of the dog. They wouldn’t, but growled at her and started dragging him away, wanting to kill him and likely eat him. I woke up from my shock, grabbed the stick from my wife, and started hitting the ground next to them, yelling loudly. Finally, they let go. By this time, some people down in the valley below came out and started calling them back. They spread apart and left us alone. The poor dog was still alive, but badly hurt. He was bleeding in several places. Thankfully, there were no open wounds. His thick fur protected him. He followed us down to the cabin and laid down by the door. Others nearby kept the dogs away. I was livid with anger. I went inside and asked to speak to the owner, who was in the kitchen, not outside tending to his vicious dogs. I asked him why he hadn’t done something to stop them. Did he think it was okay to let them kill an innocent dog? He called me stupid to my face and told me he couldn’t care less about someone else’s dog. I couldn’t believe it! What if the dogs had attacked us, I asked. He didn’t answer that question. I wanted to punch him right in the face, but chose to walk away.

Just imagine for a second how much more traumatic this whole experience would have been if that had been my dog, not a stray. If it were your dog, and you were standing there helpless, fearing for your life, watching it being mauled to death by a pack of large mountain dogs, how would you have reacted? It’s likely that a smaller dog would have died right away. Thank goodness our stray was hardier and more resistant. Still, only the adrenaline kept him on his feet long enough to walk down to the cabin. When we came out, he was lying by the door, in pain. He didn’t, or couldn’t get up. I bought some meat and bread and put them in front of him. He started eating, slowly, afraid for his life, flinching every time he saw the cabin dogs in the distance.

We had to leave, and he wasn’t going anywhere, so we left him. I only hope the cabin owner had some heart left in him, and didn’t let his dogs finish him off. I think I saw his wife chiding him in the kitchen as we were leaving. Perhaps she knocked some sense into him, because he sure needed it.

The other incident I wanted to mention happened as I was walking through the hills outside a village near Bacau, in the province of Moldova. I was taking photos, and I had my tripod with me. It was a viciously cold day, and a snowstorm was brewing in the air above. The calendar might have said it was March, but no one had told Jack Frost. Billy, a lovable mutt belonging to family of ours, accompanied me.

Billy

Suddenly, he became wary of his surroundings and started sniffing the air with a worried look. He kept looking at me, then at something in front of us. I could see nothing. I only heard the distant bleating of sheep. Billy hung around for a couple more minutes, signaling that we should return, then, seeing I had no intention of doing so, turned around and headed back home by himself. I laughed and wondered why he did it, but kept walking my way. I soon discovered the source of his fear. It was the vicious sheep dogs who were guarding the flock of sheep in the distance. As soon as they saw me (I was downwind, so they couldn’t sniff me), they charged right at me, three of them. I was ready. I had my tripod, which is nice and thick and just the right size for bashing in the head of a violent dog. I raised it above my head and waited for the first lunge. It didn’t come. They stopped a few feet away and kept snarling and barking. I advanced toward them. They retreated. The shepherd finally came in sight, saw what was going on, and called them off. They obeyed and left me alone.

I walked off, finished the route I wanted to do that day, and started to walk back home. The flock of sheep were still around. I tried to keep a safe distance and avoid another encounter, but this time they sniffed me and came at me again. I raised my tripod again, ready to put out their lights, and again they retreated, leaving about 10-15 feet between me and them. But they were still barking like crazy. I called over the shepherd and had a talk with him. I told him I’d have no qualms about quieting his dogs if he couldn’t control them. He disagreed, and said they wouldn’t attack if I stood still. I didn’t test his theory, because it might have proven painful and hazardous to my health. I went home instead and warmed up by a nice fire.

So you see, Billy wasn’t the coward I thought he was. He knew what he was doing when he hightailed it out of that area. The scar you see on his muzzle in the photo above is apparently the reminder of a fight with sheep dogs — that’s what our relatives told us.

What’s to be done about those dogs?

The way I see it, two things need to happen in Romania when it comes to dogs. For one thing, the stray population needs to be controlled. To this point, city governments, working with NGOs and veterinary offices, conduct neutering campaigns every once in a while, but it’s not working.

Perhaps euthanasia of unwanted strays is a solution. I know it sounds cruel, but stray dogs are a real danger, and they need to be off the streets. They need to be put up in shelters, where if they’re not adopted within a certain time period, they’re euthanised. Why condemn unwanted strays to a life on the streets, in bitter cold or fierce heat, with little or no food, to the risk of accidents that maim them and leave them in pain for life, when they could rest in peace? If we were to judge the situation coolly, we would realize it’s not feasible to take care of all the strays. Perhaps if the money and the interest were there, we could feed them and neuter them all, but neither the money nor the interest is there. We can’t find adoptive families for all of them, either. Why not put them to rest? At least they won’t suffer anymore.

I look forward to the day when I can run on city streets or on a beach in Romania and not have to worry about being mauled by strays. I’m sure a lot of other people look forward to simply being able to walk the streets without being mauled by strays.

The second thing is that dog owners need to start being more responsible about their dogs. At the very least, they need to teach them when to bark and when to keep quiet. That’ll go a long way toward cutting down on unnecessary noise and headaches. As I write this, some mutt a few houses away is barking like a nutcase at something of no consequence. He’s been driving me up the walls for the past few days. I honestly think the dog’s owner ought to be fined for his lack of concern and for the noise pollution. That should be another measure implemented soon by local governments.

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Thoughts

Are roadside trees a safety concern?

In Romania, many roadways are lined with trees. It could be walnut trees, or poplar trees, or fruit trees of some sort — the point is, they decorate each side of the road, standing guard, so to speak. I happen to think they enhance the beauty of the road, but I’ve heard talk of people who want to do away with them. They say they’re dangerous since drivers might run into them, as it happens every once in a while.

The road ahead

I recorded my own thoughts on the matter one day, while driving on a road in the province of Dobrogea. You can watch the video clip, or you can read on. My words and my voice both carry the same message.

I disagree. I don’t think the trees are dangerous. It’s the drivers who are dangerous. In the overwhelming majority of the cases where cars meet with trees, the drivers engaged in reckless maneuvers and were the very cause for the accident. Any trees that happened to be there simply drove that point home much more poignantly than some shrubs or an empty field ever could.

Thing is, Romanian roads, with very few exceptions, were built for low speeds. They were laid down during Communist times, when the car of choice (the only car, actually) was a Dacia — a relic of early 60s pseudo-design. It was underpowered, creaky — even when new — handled like a tractor hooked up to a blender engine, and stalled frequently in cold weather. If you managed to hit 100 km/h in those cars, it was definitely something. My grandparents had a Dacia 1310 model, and when that thing would get close to 100 km/h, it shook so badly I thought it’d fall apart.

Those were the cars that the road builders had in mind when they laid the roads and highways of Romania. The speed limit in the cities was and still is 40-50 km/h, and the speed limit outside the cities was 80-90 km/h. The latter has now been increased to 100 km/h. Problem is, people drive on these roads at 130-160 km/h or more. They just weren’t built for these speeds. The turns are steep, ungraded, sometimes unmarked, there are potholes most everywhere, and one often finds pebbles and mud on the roads from tractors that cross them to get to the fields, which makes braking on certain portions of the roads hazardous at best.

And yet, people just don’t get it. They think they’re somehow immune to accidents, until they lose control and run into a tree, often with disastrous consequences. Are the trees guilty? No. They simply point out the obvious — that the drivers themselves are to blame. If the trees weren’t there, I bet those same drivers would go even faster, knowing that if they ran off the road, they’d stop in some bales of hay or a wheat field. It would encourage even more irresponsible behavior.

A mountain road

I like the trees. Let them stay where they are.

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Places

A job I do not want

A tower crane was recently set up close to where we live, in North Bethesda, MD. As I looked at it one day, I saw people walking on its arm, and from here, they looked as small as ants (see photos below). Can you imagine having a job like that? I think it would definitely qualify as a hazardous occupation, especially in light of the recent crane collapses.

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Reviews

Watch "The Future of Food"

If you have not yet heard of a documentary called “The Future of Food” (2004), or haven’t yet watched it, please take the time to do so. It is vital that you know what’s going into the food that you eat, and it’s vital that you know it now, before it’s too late.

What’s been happening over the past 20 years here in the States is that our food supply has been slowly taken over by biotech companies who are interested only in their bottom line. They have used tactics akin to racketeering practices in order to get farmers to use their seeds and only their seeds. They have placed their executives in key government positions, in order to ensure that their policies go through. They have done and are doing everything in their power to get us to eat their genetically modified foods, without regard for safety, common sense, decency or ethics. I’m not saying this by myself. The documentary itself will prove it to you.

All that is bad enough, but what’s really appalling is that they are patenting genes. They have patented plant genes, and now they want to patent animal genes and even human genes. They are trying to get the market in their tight snare, so they can squeeze profits out of everywhere and ensure they control our food supply completely. They have even patented one of the genes involved in breast cancer, then sued researchers who had been doing working on it, to force them to pay exorbitant licensing fees. Needless to say, research on that gene has been significantly curtailed, directly due to their malefic influence. That’s the sort of “work” they engage in.

When I call them racketeers, I have a great frame of reference in mind. It’s a short crime drama made in 1936, entitled “The Public Pays“, which won an Oscar. It depicted a protection racket that preyed on the local milk distribution in one American city, and the people’s successful fight against them. The biotech goons may not beat up people and physically destroy their milk trucks and containers, but they have legal “procedures” which wield the same sort of power and yield the same horrible results. This time, they’re working hand in hand with specially-placed government officials who make sure the biotech rules get enforced and the little guys get screwed royally — not to mention that the consumers, and the marketplace in general, are manipulated to no end as well.

Don’t believe me? Watch the documentary. And if you can find “The Public Pays”, watch that as well and compare the two to see the striking similarities. What’s more, if someone can assure me that “The Public Pays” is now in the public domain, I’ll gladly post it online, either at Google Video or somewhere else.

As you get to the end of the “Future of Food” documentary, you’ll get heartened by the organic farming efforts, which are great, but keep in mind that Whole Foods now sells mostly non-organic fruits and vegetables, and also imports supposedly organic foods from China, whose food supply is so laden with pesticides it’s not even funny. Yet Whole Foods still dares to hold the same high prices on their stuff, which means they’ve cut costs and are pocketing the difference. Lesson learned: don’t shop at Whole Foods. Go to Trader Joe’s or MOM’s, if you have them in your neighborhoods.

Seek REAL organic foods, and make sure to vote with your wallets. Where you buy your food, and what sort of food you buy, determines our food supply’s future. Write to your congressmen and demand that the proposed law (introduced by Dennis Kucinich) to label genetic foods as such be finally approved.

My wife just chimed in with some great advice. It turns that while we wait for foods to be properly labeled as GM or not, there’s an easy way to tell already. Fruits and vegetables all have little stickers on them, with numeric codes (4 or 5-digit numbers). It seems that if those numbers start with 4, they’re conventionally-grown, but not genetically modified. If they start with 8, they’re GM — stay away from them! And if they start with 9, they’re organically grown and are safe to eat. Not sure if this is officially true, but she says that’s usually been the case, at least for the organic foods that she buys.

Here’s how you can watch the documentary:

  • Google Video (free, but quality isn’t that great)
  • YouTube (free, but in multiple parts): start here
  • Netflix (instant streaming, DVD quality, but requires subscription)
  • Amazon (you can purchase the DVD)

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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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