I was a little surprised when I heard the news that Madame Jolie had decided to remove her breasts. However, it wasn’t the double
whammy mastectomy that I found surprising but rather the fact that Angelina Jolie did not have cancer. Ugh? Huh? What? I followed the news feeds, read the statement and thought “Oh well, each to his (her) own” and thought nothing more of it. I didn’t think it stupid nor did I think it brave. However, my reading of the press feeds and listening of the radio never stops and I was very surprised to hear the opinions of right-wing senator Bolesław Piecha, who I have always found to be a pretty intelligent and sensible bloke (for a PiS politician). Senator Piecha branded Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy a media event. When asked by a TOK FM reporter if he actually meant what he said and if he really thought Angelina Jolie’s operation was a typical celebrity stunt Piecha said “yes”. He then went on to say that Jolie’s mastectomy will mean that Angelina Jolie will not look less sexy as she’ll have breast implants. Senator Piecha went on to say that Angelina Jolie’s ‘stunt’ means that we could head in an extremely dangerous direction. Bolesław Piecha asked the question what would Jolie had done if she had found out that she was at risk of losing her ovaries or uterus. “Would she have cut out her ovaries? Would she have cut out her uterus?” The question really is if Bolesław Piecha really believes Angelina Jolie went as far as a double mastectomy in order to prove a point. Piecha is a gynaecologist so allegedly he knows what he talking about. Allegedly.
I was a little surprised when I heard the news that Madame Jolie had decided to remove her breasts. However, it wasn’t the double
Just to cheer things up a little I’ve decided to share with you five of my favourite light-hearted numbers. They’re odd, strange but they always put a smile on my face. We’ll begin with the sultan of dank and dirty blues, the master of juju-, voodoo-tinted zydeco and the king of boogie woogie, Dr John. This little tune (number five on today’s Raffy top five), Jump Sturdy comes from Dr John’s phenomenal Gris-gris of 1968, and comes in #148 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 500 best albums of all time. It combines psychedelic sounds with bucketfuls of New Orleans soul. If there’s ever an album that makes me want to visit a city then this is it. Both Dr. John and New Orleans should be made saints for giving us this album. Check it the Jump Sturdy:
In at number four is my favourite Paul McCartney tune. Yes, it may seem odd to combine the words ‘favourite’ and ‘McCartney’ in one sentence but there you have it. Even though I believe him to be the lamest of Beatles he was a gargantuan songwriter. This man could fart songs out. Ask him to write a song about the price of cheese in the Vatican in the 17th century, give him 15 minutes and McCartney would write you an epic, pop-tastic opus complete with orchestrations and embellished with frog sounds. Love him or hate him, the man knows how to write a tune. This next little number does it for me. It began life as an experiment. McCartney was checking out a new machine he had just bought, hence, Check My Machine from his 1980 McCartney II album:
Now we turn to the female side of town. In at number three is the glorious, gorgeous and ground-breaking Peruvian delight Yma Surmac who rocks my world so much that I still find it hard to believe she can do what she can do. Born in 1922, she broke ground with her take on exotica music and together with Les Baxter and Martin Denny is regarded as one of exotica’s finest. This woman could belt out songs like no other and had a range of over four octaves ranging from baritone to soprano. This song Malambo No. 1 comes from her much-acclaimed 1954 album, Mambo!:
We move back to the blokes and to a legend. In at number two is one of my heroes. This man cannot be beat. One of the first shock rockers, a man who combined opera with humour, from the macabre to the ridiculous, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had a voice that could shake buildings. His 1956 song I Put a Spell on You is regarded as one of the most influential and important songs in rock history and comes in #313 on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Screamin’ Jay was and has been a huge influence on (the afore-mentioned) Dr. John, the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, even Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson. This is why:
Number one (for no particular reason) goes to a band close to my heart. The J-pop, shibuya-kei maestros Pizzicato Five turned my musical world upside down when I unearthed them by accident in Japan. I would spend my Monday afternoons perusing round the (only) little music store in the charming town on Kobayashi. One day I happened upon an album with a gorgeous lady on the cover. I bought the album. I was hooked. This is what Japan does best – clone and copy, upgrade and improve. There is so much about Pizzicato Five which originates from the West but it is so, so, so very Japanese. From the 1997 album Happy End of the World, here is the high-tempo It’s a Beautiful Day:
Inspired by several polls, lists and tables of ludicrous, embarrassing and rude English place names, I have decided to compile a similar list for Poland. However, before we get down to the polski equivalents, let’s delve into the most bizarre English ones I have been able to unearth. The Mirror and The Telegraph both have wonderful ‘top tens’ but my personal favourites, my top ten, if you like, has been put together using other lists, place name websites, and a host of other wonderfully funny sources. Here are my British favourites:
10. Zeal Monachorum, Exeter.
9. Burton-le-Coggles, near Grantham.
8. Durdle Door, Dorset.
7. Wide Open, Newcastle upon Tyne.
6. Wetwang, near Bridlington.
5. Bullyhole Bottom, Monmouthshire.
4. Cuckoo’s Knob, Wiltshire.
3. Cocklick End, Lancashire.
2. Loose Bottom, East Sussex.
1. Dancing Dicks, Essex.
Not sure that the Polish ones can match the British ones but let’s have a go. Many humourous British place names seem to revolve around the countless fun that can be had with sexual connotations – endless knobs, countless bottoms, the odd fanny and a splash of dick now and again make for japes all around. The funniest (or rather, strangest) Polish ones I have been able to find seem to revolve around odd word/phrase formations. I’ve also included my own personal gloss/translation of each place name just to help all of you non-Polish speaking souls. Here is the list (and just a sample of the fun you can have with place names):
10. Koce Schaby (Cat’s Chops), in the Province of Mazovia.
9. Zgniłocha (Rottenness), Warmia-Mazuria.
8. Biały Kał (White Faeces), Lower Silesia.
7. Krzywe Kolano (Bent Knee), Kuyavia-Pomerania.
6. Koniemłoty (Horses’ Hammers), Świętokrzyskie Province.
5. Kukuryki (Cock-a-doodle-doos), Lublin Province.
4. Kłopoty Stanisławy (Stanisława’s Problems), Podlasie Province.
3. Młynek Nieśwniński (Small non-pig-like Mill), Wielkopolska.
2. Jęczydół (Moaning Pit), Western Pomerania.
1. Gnaty Wieśnaty (Bumpkin Bones), Mazovia.
There are, of course, countless others and this list could go on ad infinitum but that’s where I leave the rest to you. If you have any more interesting ones, please let me know. All of these place names have their etymological, geographical reasoning and it’s always interesting seeing new ones.
Football has moved on in recent years: better-behaved fans, better stadia, even perhaps a better all-round experience. Football is big business. Football is a machine. A well-oiled, money-making global machine. But perhaps not in Poland. The failed first attempt at playing the Poland-England World Cup qualifier is perhaps indicative of what Poland is all about. The Poland-England cancelled game is Poland in a nutshell, warts and all (but mainly warts). A hour or two before the planned kick-off it was already apparent that the game would certainly not go ahead. The sight of the referee emerging from the tunnel and throwing the ball at the huge puddles that had already appeared on the pitch well before the game’s KO was laughable. Seeing England manager Roy Hodgson standing on the Polish National Stadium quagmire soaked through was a sad advert for Polish organisation, Polish preparation and, to be frank, Polish football.
Panic, embarrassment and absurdity engulfed the stadium, the fans and people at home watching the TV. Jerzy Dudek, who was commentating for Polish TV, was visibly irritated at the complete incompetency of the organisers in their inability to: (a) take a firm decision, (b) close the roof, and (c) inform the fans what was going on. Again, the referee came onto the pitch (bog?) in order to check the consistency of water and the physics of balls in puddles and disappeared deep in thought. The Polish Football Association (PZPN), FIFA, the referee and both teams (who took the decision not to play under a closed roof) could have been blamed for the sorry state of affairs but for those of us who live in Poland, we all know what was to blame…
This could only happen in Poland. How could the pitch of a spanking, sparkling new stadium possibly be unplayable? This centrepiece of Polish football was unable to host an international football game but several months before had hosted the continent’s premier footballing competition. How was this possible? And in this answer is the key to understanding everything there is to know about Poland. In times of trouble and stress Poland always comes out on top. Take the Solidarity movement and the fall of communism as an example. Take Poland’s situation during the global financial crisis as another. Take Euro 2012 as yet another. With their backs to the walls, Polish people are phenomenal. They can really be relied upon and are a model to the rest of the world. But the Poland-England World Cup qualifier wasn’t a political demonstration, nor was it an über-prestigious tournament that the whole continent was watching. It was just another football game. And there lies Poland’s downfall.
Two words were bandied around by Polish commentators and experts in the hours that followed the farce: bylejakość and olewactwo as typical Polish demons. The first can be loosely translated as ‘mediocrity’, ‘poor quality’; the second as ‘not-giving-an-arse-ness’, ‘not-treating-seriously-ness’. These demons were firmly behind the reason to: (a) decide not to spend more money on a better pitch drainage system; (b) ignore the weather forecast, (c) decide not to close the roof (for fear of forfeiting the manufacturer’s warranty); (d) not inform the fans what was going on; (e) not have a plan b for ticket refunds; (f) not have the balls (forgive the pun) to take responsibility for one’s mistakes.
But not all is lost for Poland. The positive side to this embarrassing tale is the ability of Poles to make light of difficult and absurd situations. The internet was rife with talk of Poland’s new ‘National Swimming Centre’, the economic feasibility of Poland’s National Stadium to double-up as a paddy field as well as news that Poland’s goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń will be replaced by Otylia Jędrzejczak, Poland’s Olympic swimming champion. The match may have been cancelled, Poland’s ability to host an international event may be tarnished and the Polish Football Association may be a laughing stock but the ability of Poles to laugh at themselves is well intact.
This question keeps popping up. Commentators, business people and politicians outside Poland are keen to know whether Poland has been able to shed the post-communist tag which is so often associated with corruption. Is being a post-communist country tantamount to being corrupt? Poles themselves, Polish politicians, entrepreneurs and sociologists are eager to be rid of this deep-rooted problem. Opposition parties (regardless of who is in government at the time) criticise the ruling class for being ‘corrupt’ while often ignoring obvious examples of corruption, nepotism and a variety of abuses in their own ranks. So is Poland corrupt? Is it more or less corrupt than other countries in the world? In Europe? In Central Europe? Is it more or less corrupt than it once was? Is the attitude and behaviour of Soviet Man, Homo Sovieticus, a relic of the past or still prevalent throughout Polish society?
The term Homo Sovieticus was coined by Aleksandr Zinovyev but used to much effect by the Solidarity philosopher priest Józef Tischner. Five characteristics of Homo Sovieticus can be highlighted: (1) Avoidance of individual responsibility; (2) Passive acceptance of authority; (3) Indifference to common property and petty theft; (4) Indifference to the results of labour; and (5) Isolation from global culture. Sounds familiar, eh? The avoidance of individual responsibility can most certainly be seen in Poland’s urzędy (offices). Statements like, “It’s not my problem” or “It’s beyond my remit” may be less frequent than, let’s say, ten years ago but the attitude can still be found. Poland’s low turnout in all elections can be put down to point (2), whereas the state of public toilets is well-explained by point (3). The wonderful Polish saying Czy się stoi czy się leży dwa tysiące się należy best illustrates point (4).
This attitude of being overly demanding and needy – point (4) – linked also to the ‘victim complex’ and constant desire for ‘compensation’ is frequently reflected in Polish right-wing politics. What is more, point (5) can be seen in these same right-wing parties and some Catholic circles. This was especially true prior to EU accession, however, of all the five points, the fifth seems to be waning fastest, especially in Poland’s major cities. We will have to see if this attitude erodes in the provinces. Perhaps the key to the dissipation of corruption, or at least its weakening, lies in the idea of Homo Sovieticus. If Poland is to effectively do battle with corruption, nepotism and the suchlike then the highlighting of these five points should perhaps be the backbone of future central and local government policy. Poland managed to improve its CPI (Corruption Perception Index) from 49th in 2009 to 41st in 2010. Let’s hope this positive trend continues…
Things have really reached boiling point and one could colloquially add that the shit really has hit the fan in Poland. A ‘faecal’ assailant soiled the plaque commemorating the death of President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other passengers in the Smolensk air tragedy. A 71-year-old threw a strategically aimed pot of poo at the memorial tablet in central Warsaw. He was arrested by police and taken away. This follows several months of squabbling over what should happen to the cross that was temporarily erected outside the Presidential Palace by scouts in memory of the victims of the Smolensk tragedy.
It all started when President Bronisław Komorowski announced that the temporary wooden cross should be transferred to a more appropriate place, specifically Saint Anne’s Church, not far from the Presidential Palace. The cross is of course a religious symbol and not a symbol of state and it is inappropriate to leave it outside the Presidential Palace. His comments kicked off a storm with Jarosław Kaczyński claiming Komorowski was anti-catholic and a proponent of the evil of what he termed ‘Zapaterism’.
The odd thing is that no one, apart from Jarosław Kaczyński, seems to know what evil deed it is that Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has done. With a lack of decent policies, sound ideas and competent opinions, Kaczyński has been using the cross as a political makeweight. In fact, he has said that the policies of Law & Justice (PiS) will now revolve around the Smolensk tragedy. Kaczyński is literally crucifying his own party and followers in pursuit of his own personal mission. His personal loss seems to have clouded his judgement and the cross has begun to symbolise his hurt rather than the mission of Christ and his followers. Those so-called ‘defenders’ of the cross are to Catholics what hooligans are to regular football fans.
A fine example of the utter blindness of these so-called Christians was their behaviour when the day came to move the cross. Priests from Saint Anne’s came to lead the cross in procession from the Presidential Palace to Saint Anne’s Church. The reaction of these ‘Catholics’ was to scream and shout at the Catholic priests calling them traitors and, of all things, “Jews”. Odd, to say the least. We have reached an impasse and the only real way to resolve it is for the two main protagonists, President Komorowski and Jarosław Kaczyński, to sit down and reach an adequate compromise. Then again pigs might fly…
It’s amazing what a week’s holiday can do for the mind, body and soul. Not to mention one’s perspective on the things that are happening in the world at large. After spending a week away from Poland the first piece of Polish news I hear (or rather, the first piece of news that is anywhere remotely interesting) was the astonishing fact that a moose had spent much of Monday (yesterday) morning running around the streets of Warsaw. Apparently, the poor fellow had been frightened out of Kampinos forest by herds of weekend tourists wanting to breathe in the fresh forest air.
The reason why this piece of news made the headlines is two-fold. First of all, we’re in the media silly season where all manner of rubbish hits the headlines due to the simple fact that there’s nothing much else going on. However there is a lot going on at the moment in Polish politics. Too much. This leads me to believe that the Polish media (and almost certainly Joe Public, i.e. ‘Jan Kowalski’) has become ambivalent, desensitised and downright fed up with the ever-growing chaotic maelstrom of Polish politics.
elite class has degenerated into a bickering gaggle of washerwomen content only on out-shouting each other. Water-tight argumentation, mental dexterity and lexical prowess have been replaced by public slanging matches, coalition in-fighting and below-the-belt calumny. It’s ugly, it’s petty and a complete waste of time. The news that Law and Justice (PiS) has been using state departments (and underhand techniques) to dredge up ‘dirt’ on opposition politicians no longer comes as a surprise to anyone anymore. The era of the Moose is upon us…
I found a website the other day the address of which I cannot for the life of me remember but I spent at least half an hour downloading pictures from it much to my delight. The author of the website has decided to give a visual account of some of the world’s dignitaries, sports people, actors, actresses, musicians and more through the world-encompassing, peace-bringing and love-giving sport of table tennis. I thought I’d share some of the pics with you all.
Anyone fancy a game? I’m pretty good with a bat myself…
I have a theory that the level of a country’s cultural development and civilisation can be gauged by the standard of its public toilets. Obviously, everything is relative but take a look at service station bogs in Sweden, Holland or Germany and take a look at the holes in the ground you find in Northern Africa, for example. Everything else comes somewhere in the middle and in this way we can establish where a county can be found on the cultural continuum.
Well, I think it’s a good theory…
My other theory is that you can gauge the state of a country’s political culture/development/class by the amount of absurdity contained in the country’s legislation or by the amount of surreal decisions announced by its politicians. Which brings me to Ewa Sowińska, Poland’s controversial Children’s Rights Ombudsman.
Sowińska recently made the news by writing a letter to the Pope claiming that the forces of darkness (in the guise of certain independent media) were closing in on Poland and Poland’s church hierarchs and were attempting to bring down Holy Mother Church through defamation, criticism and a consolidated attack on Archbishop Wielgus who was set to become Archbishop of Warsaw but had to step down after it was found that he had collaborated with the communist Secret Police (see previous blog entry). When asked why on earth the Children’s Rights Ombudsman was writing an official letter to the Pope on government headed paper she replied that the good Archbishop spent many hours teaching children and this was, therefore, a matter for the Ombudsman. Hmm…
Anyway, this time Sowińska – of the far-right League of Polish Families - has excelled even herself. She has expressed concerns about the sexuality of Tinky Winky of the Teletubbies who, she believes, is quite obviously gay. She came to this conclusion upon noticing that dear old Tinky has a penchant for carrying handbags. Sowińska is so intent on pursuing her anti-gay crusade that she is currently in consultation with psychologists about this matter. If
convicted, charged and found to be gay, Tinky Winky will be banned from Polish TV as this is a blatant case of the promotion of a gay lifestyle which is abhorrent to all God-fearing League of Polish Family members.
I wonder if she’s ever seen Little Britain…
I have specifically, in premeditated fashion, avoided making any entries on my blog this week in order to avoid becoming too embroiled in the political crisis that has been unfolding around the ruling of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal concerning the constitutional nature of the much-maligned Vetting Act.
Now that all the hoohah’s finally come to a (judicial and legislative) end, I have decided to comment on the bizarre goings-on. It all started when parliament, including ruling coalition and the majority of opposition Civic Platform (PO) MPs, decided to pass an amendment to the (anti-communist) Vetting Act which widened its jurisdiction to encompass, amongst others, journalists and academics who might have collaborated with the Communist Secret Police (SB).
The ramifications of the new Act became apparent to all and it meant that those touched by the Act would have had to submit vetting declarations to the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in order to obtain a certificate of ‘moral health’. In practical terms, this meant that almost a quarter of a million (!) people would have had to submit these declarations and then have to wait for the IPN to verify them. By all accounts, the IPN would have been hard pressed, working flat out, to get through all of these declarations in little over ten (!) years.
In real terms, this puts a shadow over Poland’s ability to deal with its communist past. All the former communist states, seem to have dealt with their shady history by simply opening up their archives to all. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent this from happening and many believe the archives of the IPN are in their hands and are being used for political ends.
To illustrate the political machinations of PiS let us look at the week’s events. The deadline by which all vetting declarations were to be made was May 15th. The Constitutional Tribunal, as the primary authority responsible for ruling on questions of the constitutional (i.e. legal) nature of legislation, promised to rule on whether the Vetting Act is in accordance with the Constitution by the 11th May for the good of the people, so that the quarter of a million people affected (and confused) by it would know whether or not to submit these declarations.
Ludwik Dorn, Speaker of the House (and therefore supposedly objective) called for the Constitutional Tribunal to not rule on whether the Vetting Act was in accordance with the Constitution so soon. No clear reasons were given. After the Tribunal ignored his pleas, PiS played their ace card and submitted a petition stating that information on two of the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal had been found in the archives of the IPN; the idea being that they collaborated with the Secret Police. When pressed by the Tribunal, the PiS MP responsible for the petition crumbled but a shadow of doubt was cast on these two judges who had to be suspended for the time of this ruling. An hour later, their IPN files were found to be cleaner than clean. How the PiS MP got his hands on these files so quickly is still a mystery to many.
Even with the loss of two judges, the Tribunal was able to conclude their ruling and as the black clouds thickened and the heavens opened above Warsaw the judges declared that nearly half of the regulations in the Vetting Act were not in accordance with the Constitution. President Kaczyński and PM Kaczyński were quick to point out their displeasure. However, in all of this it has become apparent that this is more than just a battle for the realisation of one party’s vision of vetting but a power struggle on the future of Poland’s legislative system.