Girls and boys

I am not sure if I can be called a feminist. I like to think so from time to time. But then you have feminists and feminists, you have various categories and extremes. My opinion – you are a woman and you live in a society where there happen to be other genders beside female? If so, do you sometimes stick up for yourself, claiming loud and clear that you have rights? Well, then, in my personal view, you are a feminist.

And with that in mind, the thing that annoys me about many feminists out there is the hatred towards men. It is them, they made women their slaves, they put them on high heels, impregnated them and then realized they had to go to war, hunt, or discuss politics with other men. Because, obviously, pregnancy hormones don’t encourage rational political talks. But you know what? Let’s agree to disagree. While it is true that ever since ancient times men preferred other men’s company after, for instance, sex, because they had something to talk about, and women were considered nothing more than baby bearers, women do not make it easier for women. Is it really men who set the fashion and aesthetics standards for women? If you wear a baggy pair of pants and a t-shirt to work, who’s more prone to notice first – your female or male colleagues?

And, the issue that’s been bugging me lately, how can men not consider women to be the “weaker sex” when the latter seem to be unable to change a light bulb, hammer a nail, carry a grocery bag or kill a spider? Ladies, you want equality, but somehow men should carry your grocery bags?! Please, do all women on this planet a favor, and stop screaming for help whenever you are stuck and try to figure it out on your own. There are Youtube tutorials on screwing a bulb – and it is really, not that hard. As for the heavy lifting – well, either you grow some muscles, or just admit that we are not as equal as you claim, and that we simply each have our strengths and weaknesses. For instance, while our brains are a 10 lane highway of thoughts going all possible ways, most men I have met cannot seem to be able to focus on more than one thing at a time. So? That is why we work well together!

So, in a nutshell. Women are not meant to live their lives in the kitchen, or raising children. They are meant, as men, to do whatever it is they want with their lives. Because in the end, regardless of gender, when there’s a large spider on your chair… you probably hesitate a bit and look for a slipper before sitting.


On Complaining

Skopje's main square fountain

I’ve always found that the tendency for self-criticism that Balkan people have can not only be annoying, but totally detrimental for their image. It has to do with self-esteem, but also with being able to create smoke and mirrors, and portray something as being awesome, even when it is merely mediocre.

I remember that, during one my my trips to the US, I kept on wondering about a certain Midwest cave. Banners, flyers and many other promotional materials made it sound like THE place to be. So I asked one of my friends and he showed me a few photos – it was truly no big deal. A smaller cave than most I had visited before, with the usual cave things and nothing out of the ordinary. That’s when it hit me. All the banners were actually not lying at all – they were promising an adventure, a trip to a cave (unique for a quite mountain-less area) and a true family time. However, somehow, my expectations were higher, and, even when seeing the photos, I was not disappointed, but wanted to go check it out for myself. I was curious, and had respect for the marketing team that organized the promotion of that cave.

Upon my return to the Eastern parts of Europe, and with my recent findings in mind, I was surprised to find the opposite. Beautiful and truly unique places were made into “not such a big deal.” Lack of investment went hand in hand with bad marketing and poor decision-making, thus creating a vicious circle that either led to depreciating value or, even worse, complete ignorance. The most recent example I’ve come across is Macedonia, where major transformations have been occurring for the past couple of years. The country, and especially its capital, Skopje, has received a make-over, in an attempt to re-create the pre-earthquake environment. Hit by an earthquake in 1963, Skopje was almost completely leveled down, thus losing its baroque style buildings and the overall early 20th century look. Most buildings erected during the reconstruction that followed, are grey and have a communist feel. You can see some images of such buildings on this blog: About two or three years ago, Project Skopje 2014 began, leading to new statues, buildings and major reorganizations all throughout town. I’ve included some pictures of the new buildings and statues below. 

So, back to my point. Regardless of whether this project is kitschy, awesome or nothing but a mediocre attempt of re-creating something, it is a project that is happening and no amount of complaining will change that. However, most of the local media seems determined to criticize each and every aspect of it, while bursting with joy whenever the international media publishes a negative piece on Skopje 2014. The most recent article leads to a Spiegel piece and it reminds me of an old lady pointing a finger and saying “I told you so.” Don’t get me wrong, I completely support freedom of speech, but as a communications professional, I am also aware of what it takes to influence people and make them believe in something. Because, in the end, the citizens of Macedonia should be proud that their government smooth-sailed through the global economic recession, very much due to boosting the construction sector. They should also be proud that tourism has increased, with visitors now having lots of attractions to photograph. They should also have the media reminding them of such facts. 

And, in the end, it is highly unlikely that the citizens of Macedonia will agree to having bulldozers destroy the new buildings. Therefore, my question is, why not go with what they have, why not dress it up nicely and promote it? It actually took two Dutch ladies to put together a “Skopje City Walk” guide. My advice? Get a strong marketing team and start by convincing Macedonians that this project benefited, is benefiting and will benefit them. The international audience will follow promptly.

The new buildings by the riverOne of the new buildings and its statues

On smoking…

It was bound to happen – a post on smoking and, well, non-smoking.

Went for a drink the other evening. It is still summer (ish) so terraces are still THE place to be. Such joy for smokers, they don’t need to get out if they need a smoke. At the same time, non-smokers can pick a spot that would offer them more air and less cancer-creating smoke. So everyone’s happy, right? Wrong. You still have those who, though non-smokers, have to socialize with smokers, and thus form a minority at a smoking table. And, even worse, you have the poor children, who have to accompany their parents. It was indeed way past reasonable bed time for anyone under 12 years old (well after 9 PM), but still this woman thought it might be best to drag her child along to a bar, where she was enjoying a cocktail and a cigarette, together with her – all smokers – friends. The little boy would occasionally get distracted by some stray cat or flying leaf and try to break free from his mother’s (loving) embrace, only to be re-incarcerated and shouted at in a language that was by no means suitable for a lady. This led me to conclude that the mother had absolutely no clue about the dangers that she was exposing her child to.

Which leads me to one of my older points – many smokers don’t give a flying rat’s butt about those around them. And it isn’t because they are evil people, who mean to spread cancer throughout the world. Many of them genuinely seem to be unaware that their smoke might be bothering others – even when those around them start coughing or run towards the nearest exit. I want to make it crystal clear that I DO NOT include all smokers here. I know many people who smoke a lot, but  would never smoke near me unless we are in an open space, and, even more, they would never smoke in front of a child. Those are the considerate ones, people who wont question you when you ask them to go out and puff one, nor will they try to make you feel guilty for making them go out in the cold.

While obviously this is a fact of life, one of those that people always discuss but cannot really fix, I cannot help but imagine how life must have been for non-smokers during the 1900s, when smoking was allowed everywhere. Airplanes, buses, work environments, even restaurants and hospitals. So have our standards changed since then? Have cancer and other smoking-related conditions made us more health-conscious? Whatever the answer, we seem to be on the right path. While I still often argue with smokers over their perceived discrimination, I look forward to seeing what the situation will be like one or two decades from now.  Ah, and just a fun fact – smoke remains in the air for up to two and a half hours after the person has finished smoking their cigarette. For those interested, the NHS has a nice little overview, which you can find here.

Digital Manners

The recent 13-year-old’s statement that teenagers don’t use Facebook anymore will most certainly prompt Zuckeberg to re-consider his target audience and make Facebook more teenage-prone. I mean, Facebook is already working perfectly on phone and tablets, thus addressing an audience that grew (grows) up playing ball on touch screens rather than on the old Commodore or even in the back yard. And indeed, I truly believe that the over one billion Facebook users can rest assured – their favorite platform will adjust to change, as any living entity would. And even if Facebook goes to rest together with MySpace and hi5, i am sure new social media platforms will emerge before the first 1000 tweets commemorating Facebook will be published. So no need to despair.

It was a different point that i wanted to make though. Let us consider the evolution of Facebook, from those first posts and pictures, shared with close friends, to today’s employers’ checking their future employees’ profiles. Social media has evolved, of course, following the public’s demands. But what happens when it just spins out of control and leads to, for instance, depression? When it leads to bullying and loss of self-confidence? And how could it not, with people basically looking forward to posting only to receive likes and, well, make their friends jealous?

They say we should all close our Facebook accounts, or at least press the exit button and just socialize with friends, real time (face to face, the hard, old-fashioned way). But really, is that an advice anyone will take nowadays?! I remember going once to a restaurant and seeing a family, with their one child, aged around 10, sitting at a table near ours. Each of them had a tablet or a phone. They barely spoke to each other all throughout their meal, but instead focused on their virtual presence – posting photos of their meal and, most probably, having elaborate discussions on how their day went. At the same time, my best friends are at least 1000 km away. Since i do not own a private jet, i obviously cannot hang out with them as i wish, so enjoying a beer over any online chat would have to do just as well.

There are plenty of reasons, all there to show that most of our lives are now online. We cannot deny it, so all i would say is, let’s embrace it and make it right. Facebook allows you to filter your news feed. So does Twitter, and really, everything can be filtered. Just as in the non-virtual world. It is just about creating an online behavioral norm, about having virtual manners. Not an easy thing to do obviously – but something necessary. If you dont believe me, just go look at some of your old posts and if you feel the smallest need to erase any of them, then you might have to work on your online behavior.

So many bicycles

Here's a road, there's no road

While learning how to ride a bike in a country with a perfectly functioning bike infrastructure, i felt all-powerful and ready to take on any bike-related challenge. However, during a trip to a country with less such infrastructure (well, truly, such infrastructure was virtually nonexistent) i realized the difference that bike paths make. It isnt just the clean air and ease of driving without fearing cars – i also feel as part of a crowd of bike riders, trying to go in line with them, as fast/slow as them. It isnt about following the crowd, it is more of a feeling of belonging, i assume very similar to the one felt by car drivers.

So, yes, i fully support bike superhighways and in response to one of the comments – no, i dont think that elderly and handicapped people would not benefit from such an infrastructure. Actually, i’ve often encountered elderly people in one of those electric scooters, and i could have sworn they were racing down the bike path. At the same time, i have seen more elderly people riding bikes in countries with bike infrastructure than otherwise.

While these are just very few arguments supporting bike infrastructure, i wonder what will it take to have bike highways connect EU Member States?

THE baby

So Kate had the baby. The media can finally breath out and go cover famine, wars and protests happening in other parts of the world. Dont get me wrong – i am a supporter of the whole monarchy concept. I do believe that monarchy offers stability to a country, together with a sense of identity and belonging. I also agree that a person who is raised to lead a country might do better than a person who majored in PolSci and is (somewhat) charismatic.

However, i am also a supporter of the 21st century, when, supposedly, we’ve learned from history and understood that monarchs are not really appointed by God. Rather, they are born that way or marry into it and get a blue blood transfusion. I am also aware of how much tax money the monarchy has absorbed throughout time.

That being said, I of course agree that the media should have paid some attention to the future king, but really, camping in front of the hospital for days and not covering anything else?! That is taking it a bit too far IMHO.

Then again, you have some articles out there with headlines such as: BREAKING NEWS: Woman Gives Birth To Baby. Now, there’s more like it. Make fun of it if necessary, cover it briefly and move on.

This is part of the contradictions of the 21st century. You have people getting angry and protesting at the smallest sign of oppression, but still deciding to call someone “her/his highness.”

Some daily things that go (un)noticed

Just a regular morning, 6 am. There is a tiny cat across the street, under a car, crying for its mommy. The whole night. And morning. Earplugs did the job for most of the night, but in the morning, the kitten caught the attention of a dog, also living across the street. One of those tiny, really loud dogs. Even earplugs couldnt keep the barking away, while the kitten seemed happier than ever to have such an effect on the dog.

While i though “ok, this isnt too bad, natural sounds and such,” a scooter passed by, a car wouldnt start so the engine was growling like a dinosaur (some pretty old car too), and, what were probably the deafest people in town, start shouting at each other. Fine, i say, screw this, i am getting up, part of my “catching the day” routine. So i do my stuff slowly, becoming accustomed and even thankful for all the noises, since they help me immerse myself into a new day.

And then the neighbor downstairs starts drilling. And the cat stops meow-ing, the dog barking, and there suddenly seems to be no traffic, nor any people. Just vibrations and drills. Gotta love civilization.

Spying and other daily activities

So, as it turns out, all those paranoid people were actually right all along – Big Brother is watching us all! And it has been doing so for a very long time now. Snowden’s decision to tell everyone about Prism, and show how we are never truly alone, has turned the world upside down – mostly trying to catch the guy and throw him away to a dark, lonely place.

While people are running after Snowden (and he is quite cleverly misleading them), there are also those who shout, as loud and clear as possible, that their privacy has been invaded and their rights completely ignored. On the opposite end there are those who are saying, well, why would I worry about any of this, since I am an honest citizen. I’ve been watching various shows and reading quite a few articles from both sides, and each time I get the same feeling – what did you all expect!? I mean, I have never even passed through an airport without having to take my shoes off, and have all my personal belongings inspected. I hear from those who have (before 9/11) that it was easier and faster. No doubt, of course. But, really, I don’t mind taking off my belt and having my laptop searched. And I don’t see why I would – by having strict security measures imposed upon myself, I am somehow assured that similar measures would be imposed on everyone else and that I can have a safe flight. I cannot pass through a beeping metal detector without being further checked, because if I do, everyone might and, well, I wouldn’t like that.

Yes, it is a bit strange that there are people out there listening in on our Skype conversations. But we live in an age where privacy has a completely different meaning than it did only 10-15 years ago. Even without a Big Brother around, it is harder for us to hide, harder to erase our virtual histories, and even harder to get away with planning some evil deeds. I think that, seeking security and comfort, we must all compromise and help those trying to keep us safe.

Now, of course, there are some valid points opposing the whole NSA business, such as evidence of actual improved security during the past decade. That is an ongoing topic, with a lot of political games and maneuvers involved. It is an interesting debate though, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

Crossing lines and “designer babies”

While being afraid not to create Frankensteins, we might slow down progress. At the same time, Frankenstein himself wasn’t really much of a progress. It’s an ongoing argument, closely related to risk perceptions and fear of technology. The unknown, all that which isn’t natural, all of those evil little machines, created by people who either have no idea what they are doing, or, even worse, should they know what they are doing, are in it for their own, selfish, reasons.

The UK has made a bold move in this respect, with its government backing up a proposal to allow for three-parent in vitro fertilization (IVF). The “three-parent” bit is interesting because, while it made for great headlines (honestly, it is an eye-catcher!), reading through the article will unveil that, truly, the children will still get most of their heritage from 2 parents. It is only the mitochondrial DNA that is taken from the third parents, while the biggest, and most essential, part of the DNA will come from the parents. So basically, it’s like a cocktail, with 2 main ingredients, and a dash of a third. The latter wont drastically change the taste or the color of the drink, it might not even be mentioned in the cocktail book, but it will improve the quality of beverage. And in our case, the ingredient could be decisive, leading to a healthy individual, who might make it past 21 years old, and even go on to lead a normal life.

While the pros and cons of this initiative are pretty much balanced for now, I think it should be seen as a step forward, rather than one into an unknown abyss. It might lead to genetic Armageddon, as it might save lives.  Parents will have a choice not to opt for this, should they consider it unethical and/or risky and/or anything else. But, perhaps more importantly, parents will have MORE choice when deciding to have a child. And isn’t that what progress is all about?!

(you can find BBC’s article here)