Under the Frog

Novermber 1955:

Tired of trying to crack the problem of the informer, Gyuri settled down to think about being a streetsweeper while he gazed out of the window at the countryside that went past quite lazily despite the train’s billing as an express. The streetsweeper was a sort of cerebral chewing gum that Gyuri popped in on long journeys. A streersweeper. Where? A streetsweeper in London. Or New York. Or Cleveland; he wasn’t that fussy. Some modest streetsweeping anywhere. Anywhere in the West. Anywhere outside. Any job. No matter how menial, a windowcleaner, a dustman, a labourer: you could just do it, just carry out your job and you wouldn’t need an examination in Marxism-Leninism, you wouldn’t have to look at pictures of Rakosi or whoever had superbriganded their way to the top lately. You wouldn’t have to hear about gambolling production figures, going up by leaps and bounds, higher even than the Plan had predicted because the power of Socialist production had been underestimated. Being a streetsweeper would be quite agreeable, Gyuri reflected. You’d be out in the open, doing healthy work, seeing things. It was the very humility of this fantasy, its frugality that gave the greatest pleasure, since Gyuri hoped this could facilitate its coming to pass. It wasn’t as if he were pestering Providence for a millionaireship or to be handed the presidency of the United States. How could anyone refuse a request to be a streetsweeper? Just pull me out. Just pull me out. Apart from the prevailing political inclemency and the ubiquitous shittiness of life, the simple absurdity of never having voyaged more than two hundred kilometres from the spot where he had bailed out of the womb rankled.

The train went into a slower kind of slow, signalling that they were arriving in Szeged. This was, he knew from his research, 171 kilometres from Budapest.

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Dutch Diplomat Dooced

Apparently the Northern European fondness for plain speaking is an art not full appreciated by the genocidal government in Sudan.

Jan Pronk, a Dutch national working for the United Nations in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, was declared persona non grata for writing on his weblog that Sudan’s army had suffered hundreds of casualties in fighting against rebels in northern Darfur. Pronk, the top UN official in the country, was given 72 hours to leave.

Technically, of course, Pronk has not been dooced, because he still has his job with the UN. Still, he’s been shown the door, and the blog was the ostensible reason. Was he surprised that his blog was read in Khartoum? Was it a deliberate provocation? No word yet from the suddenly tight-lipped diplomat.

Sweeping Up

While we’re working on the update, our latest changes to the back end seems to have left us vulnerable to more comment spam than usual. (On the other hand, it’s become much easier to add pictures.) We’re doing our best to take out the trash, but there may be a bit more of it than you’re used to seeing here. Also, if we happen to take out one of your real and valuable comments by mistake, just let us know. We’ll try to rescue it from the assorted bits and bytes laying around in the construction site here.

Elections: Bulgaria

Bulgaria has a Presidential election this weekend. There’s no question who’s going to win, but there’s still some nail-biting suspense.

Why? Well, the current President is former Socialist Georgi Parvanov. (“Former” Socialist because the Bulgarian President must not be affiliated with any political party.) He seems to be a decent enough fellow. The Bulgarian Presidency doesn’t have a lot of power, but Parvanov looks good, says all the right things, and has generally acted Presidential. Earlier this year, he acknowledged that he’d “cooperated” with the State Security Service back in the days of Communism; perhaps because he was quick to admit it, nobody seems to hold it much against him.

Parvanov is reasonably popular. He’s not considered brilliant, but he’s energetic, peripatetic, and constantly in the public eye. (There’s a joke that if you want to see him, build a doghouse, and he’ll show up to cut the ribbon.) So, he will almost certainly win the election this Tuesday.

But. Under Bulgaria’s election law, Presidential elections go to a second round if (1) nobody wins 50% of the votes cast, or (2) 50% of eligible voters don’t turn out. Parvanov will probably get well past 50%, but low turnout seems likely — in the last national election, only 42% of the voters showed up. So there will probably be a second round.

This raises the interesting question of who’ll come in second.
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Working on it

The intrepid Tobias Schwarz is working on an update to A Fistful of Euros. It’s great stuff, from what he’s shown us in previews, and he has been very good not only with the heavy lifting and template tweaking, he’s been very open about incorporating the odd suggestion from the rest of the crew.

It’s scheduled to go live Real Soon Now, but first, a look behind the scenes at a developer’s work…

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18 Mistakes that Kill Startups

In honor of the Lisbon Agenda

[T]here’s just one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want. If you make something users want, you’ll probably be fine, whatever else you do or don’t do. And if you don’t make something users want, then you’re dead, whatever else you do or don’t do. So really this is a list of 18 things that cause startups not to make something users want.

From Paul Graham, by way of Bruce Sterling.

Radioactive Bloggy Goodness

If you want news about nuclear tests, nonproliferation and other arms control topics from people who actually know their throw weights from a hole in the ground, go and visit the Arms Control Wonk blog. They’re low on heh-indeed, and high on things like “Cooperative Monitoring in Outer Space to Manage Crowding and Build Confidence,” (pdf) so be prepared for plenty of facts and genuine know-how.

At the moment, they’re full of North Korea news, spiced with things like nuclear forensics, which will come in handy if a nuclear bomb ever goes off somewhere it shouldn’t, and retaliation has to answer questions like whether it originated in Iran, Pakistan, North Korea or somewhere else.

Visits to an Orange Country

What happens in countries that fall out of the international headlines?

Two years ago this month, Ukraine was headed toward a presidential election that turned out to be much more tumultuous than anyone had expected. Anyone, that is, except the thousands of people who worked for months and years to make it a tumultuous election for change. Which, at one level, is yet another reminder of the superficial nature of international news. At another, it’s a challenge for people who are particularly moved by one event or another to keep an eye on what happens when the crowds subside and the bigfoot correspondents move to the next photogenic tumult.

At Fistful, we have our problems with limited attention as much as the next blog, so it’s good to hear of folks who have the time, resources and inclination to take a deeper look. In this case, the 21st Century Trust and the John Smith Memorial Trust have sponsored a study group to visit Ukraine, and Maria Farrell has put up a blog where she and other group members record their impressions and invite discussion.

The very first post explains more of the mission and links to full-time Ukraine blogs. Later posts focus on specific places, future projects the visitors will be undertaking related to Ukraine, and the EU-Ukraine relationship. Ukraine’s a big and complicated place, but it will be an EU member one of these days, and it will be an important neighbor in the meantime, so the more of these kinds of links there are, the better for all. It’s a good blog, go read and discuss.