The Gavin McInnes Show #346

On May 9, 2017, Allan appeared on The Gavin McInnes Show with Kyle Chapman, the man who people refer to as “Based Stickman,” and Gavin McInnes to discuss the May 7, 2017 Second Round of the French Presidential Elections in which Emmanuel Macron beat Marine LePen roughly 35 to 65 and in which 9% of French voters chose to void their ballot in protest, what the French refer to as “vote blanc.” This is the highest number of protest votes of any election in this, the Fifth French Republic.

https://www.compoundmedia.com/shows/the-gavin-mcinnes-show-346/5911d09f3786e0146c01e551/

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The Gavin McInnes Show #298

On February 14, 2017, Allan appeared on The Gavin McInnes Show with Michael Javelos, Bob Morgan, and Gavin McInnes to discuss the removal of Allan and others from the board of the Metropolitan Republican Club, in what has been described as “a Trump Purge.”

https://www.compoundmedia.com/shows/the-gavin-mcinnes-show-298/58a3202fe3cac810630099ec/

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Can You Imagine Being That Stupid?

Trumpland
Trumpland

April 6, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on February 27, 2017.”

As I stood in line for the New York City premiere of Michael Moore’s new movie Trumpland, on October 19, 2016, I heard a girl say to her friend “Can you imagine being that stupid?” She said it about something political. I have a pretty hard and fast rule that the word stupid should never be used in a political discussion. I don’t always abide by it, but I try my best, because I understand what a benefit it is to me and what a benefit it is to my thought process never to deny myself that lazy way out of thinking through something I’m observing.

Calling another person stupid in that context is plain lazy. The only time it should ostensibly be used is when it is used to describe yourself or your own political views in a playful self-deprecating way. That is so much more well-deserved of a use than describing anyone else or anyone else’s politics. To dismiss a person who disagrees with you as stupid is certainly a violation of the Hinlicky Rule, which is of great benefit in all intellectual discussions.

“You shall not criticize the position of another…until you can state that position with such accuracy, completeness and sympathy, that the opponent himself declares, ‘Yes, I could not have said it better myself!‘ Then, and only then, may you criticize. For then you are engaging a real alternative and advancing a real argument. Otherwise you shed only heat, not light.”

While waiting in that line, I also got a chance to watch a social experiment in action.

Moore went with a cheap budget for his film launch – one free showing in New York, one free showing in Los Angeles.

People were in a line and there was a sign posted part way through that line saying that it was the likely ending spot for people who would or wouldn’t get in the door for the premier. A low level employee at the theater came through a few times the night of the premier saying approximately that. It was parroted endlessly by a select few in line – creating the opportunity for my social observation.

“If you’re in line and behind the sign, you’re not gonna get in” was a phrase I heard repeated over and again expertly by people in line and who walked by the line. It was a social experiment that identified who was the most obedient to received wisdom.

Received wisdom is a phrase that I like using to describe that information that appears wise and appears be handed down from some greater being. Received wisdom is unearned through ones own experience nor by observing the experience of others. Even worse it is untested before being accepted. Worst of all, without being tested it is often repeated. There are reliable people and ideas that can be adopted in this way, but if a great deal of information is adopted in this way, both on a societal level and at an individual level, a problem is created, mainly since it indicates an uncritical mind – this is how some people have come to handle our high information flow environment – accepting an inappropriately high percentage of that information rather than filtering out almost all of it.

Furthermore there are those with a natural gift who deal in the transmission of received wisdom. They are the know-it-alls who it turns out in the end didn’t really know that much – the “intellectual yet idiot,” to rely on a term from writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb – used specifically to describe that personality. The worst example of this know-it-all personality is when it comes alongside a person with a great deal of natural charisma or falls upon the ears of the gullible. If the gullible listener is also the charismatic speaker then the sky’s the limit with how far received wisdom can travel. Received wisdom is Ten-Commandments-style acceptance of an idea without there being a Ten Commandments level of value to the idea.

Often enough, the statement: “There’s a sign right here. See.” is enough third party independent verification, without reading what the sign says, for a person to believe what is being told to them. This can be observed throughout life and was easy to notice in line for Trumpland.


The Sheep

Among other things, I observed who the sheep were in the process. They were surprisingly sheeplike. Slowly they disappeared from the line and many others were able to get in as a result.


Misery Loves Company & Friend Discouragers

There was the misery loves company bunch. Some of those who left the line walked by others speaking authoritatively about who will get in and who will not get in. Some didn’t leave the line until they had convinced others to leave the line with them. They oftentimes convinced their friends in line to leave. They got on the phone and discouraged people from coming. Why? Because they heard it or worse overheard it. Some friend.


Blind Optimists

Some tend to appreciate blind optimism rather than blind pessimism, because at least the blind optimists can be surrounded by a positive energy that brings a great deal of value if it’s own. Optimistic energy is awesome. Blindness though is blindness. You don’t need to be blind to be optimistic. There were those in line at the very very back of the line, 700 people back, who couldn’t be bothered to find out the capacity of the theater where the event was being held, or the possible maximum number of people who would be let in. They were being blindly optimistic in that situation.


Stubborn

I observed who the stubborn people were. They were almost blindly stubborn. I appreciate them a little more than the sheep, and though it seems like I am talking bad about both the stubborn and the sheep, I truly appreciate anyone who is heavily predictable – as the stubborn and the sheep often are, and who can therefore be easily worked with. With repeated comments from staff and onlookers, know-it-alls and haters wanting to be in line, the stubborn did nothing.


Careful Investigators

I observed the careful investigators. I lament now not trying to hire them on the spot. They were people who had a friend save a spot for them in line while they went to the front and had a prolonged and careful discussion with someone on staff about the movie. They were the least common in the line, the true go-getters and deeply resourceful – the right combination of listening to others, circumspect thinking, critical internal dialogue on the information taken in, quick identification of how to temporarily hedge a bet using the resources at hand, immediate identification of who possessed true knowledge out of the vast see of know it alls, brazenly approaching that person with true knowledge, inquisitive testing of how effective that person’s knowledge was, further internal processing, and brazenly verifying from a second source, before returning to their friend to process in a team environment with all the available facts meticulously presented.


Just like with Michael Moore’s Trumpland, a work of propaganda like

What a fantastic opportunity to observe human tendencies in that line for Trumpland, and every day in every culture if one keeps an eye out for it.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The Necessity of Time and Distance

Time and Distance
Time & Distance

April 4, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on February 23, 2017.”

I was told this week Trump was “against science.” I was told Trump “gagged the scientific community.” I was told, “government data is no longer available for civilian use.” The New York Times later informed me that what actually happened was not a noteworthy story at all and that it’s “standard practice” for an administration to do exactly this during a transition. The Department of Agriculture transition letter was even based off the last administration’s transition letter. I needlessly got excited that something was happening in Washington.

I was told this week with the same shock and outrage “The whole senior management of the State Department has resigned (these are not partisan people)” and was later told that “Trump replaced the State Department’s senior management.” Already there were two stories – did they resign or did Trump replace them? Either way, I was actually excited to learn that there was massive turnover at the State Department because my experience is that the place is so terribly run.

I was let down though, as it turned out to be #FakeNews based on #AlternativeFacts to use the trendy monikers of the moment being used by status quo fundamentalists to describe a wide range of ideas such as lies, spin, the unfamiliar, differences of interpretation, and differences of opinion.

With a few minutes of work I found out more credibly that the afternoon’s news actually only pertained to the firing or resignation of four people at the State Department, which didn’t sound so significant. I also found a State Department organizational chart to identify what exactly this meant. The report was about the Under Secretary for Management, which is one of the six Under Secretaries at the State Department, and was also about three of the twelve administrative positions that serve directly below that Under Secretary for Management: the Assistant Secretary of Administration, the Assistant Secretary of Consular Affairs, and the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions. We are talking about four of the sixty-two people at the upper echelons of the State Department – hardly a reason for me to get excited. With luck, this story is still developing.

There was so much uproar blowing up my phone all at once that I initially went against my best judgment to ignore it all. Even as I went online looking for a few credible sources and spending the twenty minutes doing some background reading that those behind the uproar clearly did not, even as I was doing this, I said to myself “It’s too soon. There’s barely any point in looking for any well thought-out writing on breaking news because it’s just too soon. It takes thoughtful people time to put together well thought-out articles.”

Initially ignoring some of those stories I really care about takes discipline, but is a huge time same. Finding a thoughtful analysis takes thirty seconds one week after a story breaks. It takes twenty minutes one day after a story breaks. It takes hours as a story is breaking. That’s a pretty significant difference. Plus, how can one even imagine that thoughtful analysis would take place where facts are not even known and reports are in flux and so contradictory? Naturally inquisitive, I’ve certainly found myself in that situation.

Immersing myself in that process while it happens is simply a bad use of time. A few days after a story breaks, I can know everything about a story with ease or I can struggle through the process as information breaks as if I were a paid journalist, only with the significant disadvantage of neither being a paid journalist nor being on location. A few times a year I do that. The rest of the time having the patience to ignore a breaking story pays rewards.

It becomes my mantra through that process to profess ignorance as the wise Socrates did. I can’t pretend to know everything and I won’t attempt to. It feels good to give myself permission not to know everything. The more I do that, the more I find myself drawn toward the highest quality, most insightful news sources. The more I seek higher quality news sources, the more transparent these half-truths and heavily spun versions become. It took me a lot of work to get there, and if I’m not careful I can pretty easily slip up and spend a few hours with a bad news source. In this information-heavy environment that we live in, it’s important to be judicious about what sources we allow to have use of that most finite and precious resource of ours – time.

Most importantly of all, there’s no value to knowing everything, because the resources that allow me to use that knowledge with a clear affect on the situation are limited. How can it possibly make a difference to me or virtually anyone else whether I hear about some State Department shakeup either as it’s happening or a week after it has happened?

In 2008, after completing a run for US House of Representatives (IL-10), I was exhausted and gave myself a little bit of a break. That break included a “news fast”. I stopped reading the daily papers and started getting my news piecemeal from discussions with friends. When something sounded important, I paid closer attention and did a little research. From time-to-time I would immerse myself in the news to catch up. During the catch-up, the important-sounding issues were given deep dives into expert sources. You miss surprisingly little by not picking up a newspaper, not turning on a television, or not visiting Facebook for months at a time. At the same time you gain quite a bit of useful distance.

The hysterics that accompanied the news I received this week are one reason democracy was abhorred by so many of America’s founding fathers. Yes, the Founding Fathers were old and in a different time that looked a lot different than the present. I understand that. I understand how very out of touch they may seem to some in our era. Also, I know that “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” But that does not make a difference in this context. The Founding Fathers too knew the evils of an activist media constantly riling people up to boost sales, increase advertising revenue, and achieve political gain.

They did not have a 24 hour news cycle or the immediacy of social media, but they understood the tendency of some people to succumb to that manipulation and the fallout that results. They had the foresight to encourage a free press, at great cost to the short term control of those in power and at risk of immediate stability, while leaving it the responsibility of the people to decide for themselves how to interact with that freedom. It’s quite a responsibility.

Noam Chomsky wrote a book on the concept and industry of manipulating the public, calling it Manufacturing Consent. In it Chomsky describes American media as propaganda. An extensive field of mind control and manipulation grew out of the linguistic field of transformational grammar, which Chomsky is generally credited with creating with his earliest work. Linguistic manipulation that melds Chomsky’s studies with the work of others is so prevalently used that to find examples, one need only turn on the television for mere minutes and not hours. It is not without intent that the media is so effective at attracting and holding attention.

In a discussion with a young Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, 25 years his senior, warned Hemingway that he would never be able to think through things as clearly, to be a meaningful and lasting writer, if he continued to engage in the daily work of writing for newspapers.

Time and distance are needed to think. Immediate, impassioned reaction is a bad response to new information that begs analysis. Generally, no topic, unless immediately threatening to life, requires your immediate attention let alone your consent to rile you up.

My news fast that started in November 2008 continues more than 8 years later. I check in on the news from time-to-time and I keep myself aware of current events; I even subscribe to a daily paper that others in my life end up reading much more than I do, but I much prefer the distance that is offered to me by refusing to allow neither any news editor nor the whole industry of news editors to dictate what topics my mind is going to think through. That is exactly what you do when you allow the TV to always be on in the background or you routinely scan headlines.

Recognizing that impact that the prevalence of information has on me, and that it has on many people if those people are being honest with themselves, I take it a step further than a news fast. Seldom do I consume media before noon, seldom do I read social media before noon, seldom do I look at texts or even pickup the phone before noon. That time from sunrise into the afternoon, as much as I can protect it, is my time to produce work of my own and to determine very consciously what I am going to think through and write about. Entire weekends, weeks, and months of my life are designed to unplug from the bustle.

This does not mean that I do not read. It just means I’m just very judicious about what. At the same time as I maintain a relative daily news fast, I read as many as 300 books some years, attempting to engage in ideas from people who took time and distance to process. Spending less time obsessing over breaking news leaves so much more time for the reading of well-thought out analysis that has received the benefit of time and distance. I attend conferences to listen to, challenge, and surround myself with thought leaders in their chosen fields. I always have research assistants at my employ to help facilitate this process. I dig into ideas that have stood the test of time and spend more time with those lasting ideas than whatever is momentarily trendy. Even my sabbath time is spent in churches where pastors steeped in the classics with theological rigor know how to give intellectually stimulating and spiritually inspiring sermons.

There is a vigorous flow of ideas around me at virtually all times. Those ideas are carefully curated though and that curation is not being done by whatever anonymous team of network programmers CNN has working this week. That would be silly because those programmers don’t exist primarily for my interest. They exist to keep me watching, and they exist to shape my opinion, often using sophisticated techniques. Time is precious and the media generally exists to take that precious resource from each of us.

Wouldn’t I be better off spending a minute studying those techniques rather than spending a minute having those techniques used on me? Yes. At least that’s what I’ve thought these past five years, in which I’ve spent no fewer than four hours a week, and sometimes more doing just that – studying the sophisticated techniques of marketers that Edward Bernays, Noam Chomsky, Robert Cialdini and many others have written about.

There’s a war for your mind. I have no doubt about that. There’s a war for my mind. The many minds out there form a great battlefield to those who seek to view us as a collective. Most of the time many of us individuals don’t even know we are involved in that war for our minds. No thank you. I’d prefer not to give a network programmer, a newspaper editor, or an Internet algorithm the power of curation. That’s exactly what a regular media habit is likely to cede. I’ll reserve that for myself and like Josh Davis points out in his book Two Awesome Hours, those seemingly innocuous and common daily decisions can come to affect an entire lifetime.

Donald Trump was just made President. I get it. It’s time to act a little crazy because you have plugged your mind into the matrix and have surrendered your emotions to the manufacturers of consent. They really don’t like him and are going to use their influence among the general public to fight him, whether that be as a candidate or as an elected official.

Trump threatens their political worldview, but far more importantly, he threatens the industry and its power structures that have become so wealthy from their ability at influencing individuals. Some of Trump’s stated views are not my first choice politically, but the cultural significance of what Trump is doing makes him a uniquely skilled individual for the job of President at this moment in time, and perhaps the best American I could possibly imagine in that culturally significant position in our culturally significant times. America is undergoing a revolution of ideas and as paradigms shift, there is friction, as has always been the case in all paradigms shifts I’ve ever studied.

If you are one of the people blowing up your friends’ phones with the latest Beltway drama or getting totally depressed at work because of the latest click bait about what Trump just did, it might be time to give yourself some time and distance to think. Maybe read a book about the successes and failures of the Byzantine Empire with special attention to their currency or Murray Rothbard’s four volume pre-Constitution era US history “Conceived in Liberty” or one of my favorites from childhood “The Senate of the Roman Republic” by Democratic Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. I don’t agree with everything the man wrote, but damn was he so respectably well read, especially for a politician.

It’s said that if you give a child time, silence, and a library of classic books that you have given that child more than any classroom can offer. Only with time and distance does that library mean anything. If you are constantly plugged in, all the wisdom of the ages is meaningless.

Cicero famously said “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” That library represents collections of wisdoms, information thought out by people with time and distance in a form that can be transported and consumed by others, while that garden that Cicero speaks of is time and distance for you, the person with the library and the garden, to study, pause, and reflect.

Perhaps time and distance are just too much of a luxury to expect of anyone these days. I feel that way as well sometimes, so I’ve figured out that in the occasional absence of time and distance, the Hinlicky Rule can be a reliable short cut, for it helps provide an emotional and intellectual distance:

“You shall not criticize the position of another…until you can state that position with such accuracy, completeness and sympathy, that the opponent himself declares, ‘Yes, I could not have said it better myself!‘ Then, and only then, may you criticize. For then you are engaging a real alternative and advancing a real argument. Otherwise you shed only heat, not light.”

The partisanship. The bickering. The immediacy of information, is all so far removed from the place where knowledge is had. If you are getting swept up in all of this, it is likely your information supply is very high and your knowledge supply is less than adequate. Your ratios are off.

If you feel uncontrollably swept up in any of the minute-to-minute drama right now, be that emotionally or intellectually, please reduce the data coming in, reduce the information around you and seek knowledge. Seek wisdom. The data will always be there and easily accessible. That easy data is forever out of Pandora’s Box and the human pursuit of that data has replaced a far more valuable pursuit. The raw data is neutral and useless without a structure of knowledge. The world looks so bleak without a structure of wisdom. Data is cheap. There are more valuable pursuits that require great effort. Time and distance help you find them. Seek knowledge. Seek wisdom.

You are certainly a very smart person. And as such, given time and distance, you will soon understand the wisdom of these words.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The Most Magical Christmas Market in Europe

market
Christmas Market

April 2, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on January 25, 2017.”

“What’s to-day!” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.
“To-day!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the boy.
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”
“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.
“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”
The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.

As a child, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and couldn’t even imagine what the Christmastime market looked like where Scrooge sent the runner boy to get the prize turkey. It seemed a place of wonder.

Then I moved to Europe, got a taste of that splendor, and realized what I was missing. The six weeks before Christmas are the most magnificent time to step foot in Bratislava, with one notable caveat.

The weather across Europe isn’t great at this time of year. It’s so bad that all the cruise lines move their ships out of European waters and into the Caribbean, in the process having to charge significantly less in the transatlantic voyage. November in Bratislava has a fairly dependable, penetrating, cold, wet consistency.

And with that caveat, the Christmas markets of Europe are part of the joy of the weather. If you bundle up and get a warm drink in you surrounded by other friendly, festive people, the weather can practically be a pleasant part of the experience.

STA Travel ran an article entitled 5 of the most magical Christmas markets in Europe. I’m happy to see that they paid solid attention to destinations east – where so much of the daring adventure of European travel can so easily be found. They unfortunately missed one of the markets on their list that included Vilnius, Budapest, Bremen, Gothenburg, and Strasbourg. They missed The Most Magical Christmas Market in Europe – located in Bratislava, Slovakia.

I won’t push my opinion of that issue on you, but I will push on you my reasons why I find some Christmas markets truly amazing and so far above and beyond others.

1)Delicious homemade food – If it contains home then a Christmas market is a truly special one. I don’t want the efforts of a highfalutin chef at a Christmas market, I can get that any day at that chef’s restaurant. I want homemade.

2)Good prices – I can take the €20 bill sitting in the change container on my bookshelf and get some dinner in a restaurant in Bratislava, a few things at some Western Christmas markets, or I can get so many things in the Bratislava Christmas market. It has good prices. From the list above, Vilnius and Budapest pass that test while Bremen, Gothenburg, and Strasbourg do not. Stay East for value.

3)Foods you will not commonly find – spend years in a country, eat in hundreds of homes, and a Christmas market done right will still astound you with something you’ve never even seen or heard of. Plus it will offer variations on the familiar that you’ve never even thought of, which brings me to the next one.

4)Special takes on familiar dishes – A good Christmas market is full of booths run by families and friends making a good time of the experience and putting their best foot forward. That potentially means really awesome renditions of dishes that might be familiar but that are so well done. Like any other environment there will be duds, but by being a little circumspect you can sort through those. Being circumspect is a total joy. For the food lover, sorting through all the varieties of poppy seed containing desserts or the finest mulled wines or the most delicious Ciganska Pečienka is a welcome challenge. Choose a dish you want to find the best of, get a few friends together, and commit yourselves to making it happen. So much fun to enjoy the Christmas Market in this way.

5)A plethora of locally made crafts – what fun it is to look at all the handmade Slovak toys, locally made textiles, Christmas ornaments, lead crystal, blown glass, wood working, warm sheep skins, warm hats, and warm mittens. For those that love shopping for the unique, what a treasure a Christmas market can be.

6)An absence of Chinese made goods – This is a noticeable detail that helps separate the best Christmas markets from the second tier Christmas markets. A presence of Chinese made goods cheapens the feel of a place. All goods don’t need to be locally made, but are any of these items made in China or some similar factory filled place that does cheap exports well and therefore easily available all year round, or does this place have an exclusive collection of goods that can’t be found easily anywhere else? If you find a Christmas market that provides you with a collection of items that can be found nowhere else – not even on the internet – and at no other time of year, you have found something special.

7)A good Ciganska – In the Bratislava Christmas market you can find approximately 50 types of sandwiches called Ciganska Pecienka (playfully referenced by some as the morbid sounding “Gypsy Liver” in English). This thing is truly magnificent. A sandwich of delicious marinated meat, a warm toasted bun, slow sautéed onions and whatever other recipe changes the chef of that stand has brought into being. With so much passion put into the recipe of a simple sandwich and so many competitors to choose from, the advent season for me demands this special flavor and the sights sounds and smells of anticipating it cooking.

8)A robust competitive environment – The more competition, the better. Competition serves you the consumer. In farmers markets in New York City, there are strict prohibitions on who can sell what on which days in order to limit competition. This harms the consumer eager for high quality and a good price. While it would be even nicer for the consumer if literally anyone could open a booth, the Bratislava Christmas market has a long history of allowing an anything goes, highly competitive environment that truly benefits visitors to the market.

One may think that Slovakia as a post communist country is relatively lacking in a robust atmosphere of competition, and that would be generally true. Slovaks have had a hard time figuring out ways to amass capital to make local companies outstanding champions. However, when it comes to smaller scale goods, and services, that is absolutely not the case. Businesses that might require a license, demand a €500 investment, and require time and hard work – like a Christmas market stand – are a very different story.

Every year there is quite a competition that takes place in the relatively free markets of the Bratislava Christmas market and the consumers of those products are far better off for that competition.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo Credit: spectator.sme.sk

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The Women’s March

Women's March
Women’s March

March 31, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on January 21, 2017.”

On this lovely winter morning, in an especially privileged corner of the world – New York City, I go about my business and see women with homemade signs walking with intention toward something. I’m not quite sure what.

Some of those homemade signs took some creativity and a few hours of work from what I hear. They are written about topics that inspire their makers.

Their makers are walking with more purpose than I would see anyone walk on even a regular business day. This is a Saturday, about 11 a.m. and they are in a hurry.

Curious about this all, I come along for the fun. Somewhere on this day in New York there seems to be a protest. A trite and common protest I wonder, or something special? As much as I hear about it, I recognize fairly quickly this is sadly not going to be anything but a trite and common protest.

Unhappy women and their allies yell about a common list of concerns that social justice warriors tend to include in their protests, while a president has been elected who will make the individual pursuit of wealth and happiness all the more easy – with a reduction in taxes and a reduction in government regulation. The demonstrators will not use that opportunity to take the bull by the horns this morning in the many many ways that individuals and entrepreneurs can in this world.

See examples as varied as Steve Jobs (who put a supercomputer in many American pockets) or John Rockefeller (who made easily obtainable energy affordable in many American homes) or the untold stories of whatever entrepreneur profited from things like the invention of money, fire, or alphabets.

Instead of going and doing likewise, or going and doing the many other things that might work to change the world, they will be protesting in New York today.

They will be asking people (politicians ostensibly, or perhaps other voters), to try to bring change (through voting or perhaps through legislation). Legislation one can hope will bring about a desired effect, but generally legislation accomplishes very little.

This will cost time; this will expend resources: this will require energy. The most valuable energy – human energy – will be wasted.

They will spin their wheels in a show of futility.

I have no interest spending my day spinning my wheels. I will be hard at work changing the world. Just like legislation is unlikely to change the world, the whole galaxy of behavior surrounding a protest is almost always a foolish waste of time if the intent is to change the world.

If one is honest with oneself, today’s Women’s March will not accomplish change, but will accomplish some other things like:

1)Showing A Higher Level Of Virtue – Virtue signaling is an important part of social interaction. It is understandable that one wants to feel virtuous. Behaving virtuously is a beautiful thing. Showing off ones virtue is less desirable. Acting a certain way for the purpose of being seen as virtuous is terribly inauthentic and it’s value to anyone involved is questionable.

2)Being Social With Others – Sometimes you just want to feel like you are in community with someone else. There are plenty of ways to build community. If you don’t have a strong sense of community in your personal life, a good way to temporarily feel community is around mass public action that you agree with. If one is regularly seeking to combat loneliness through marches, personal reform may be needed for a march provides little of substance when it comes to community. A common enemy though can be a good icebreaker on which to base more substantial protests.

3)Releasing Pent Up Energy – New York is a hard city to live in. It’s hard for everyone. Sometimes it’s good to just find an excuse to yell. Protests allow for that. If the protests are big enough, you can yell just about anything without anyone thinking you to be crazy.

4)Venting Anger – Some angry people marched and watched the march. The New York Times, in an attempt to rewrite the narrative, called it “jubilant” but anger was certainly a dominant emotion present. I don’t fault a person for a need to release anger. Some minorities don’t feel like they’ve gotten a fair shot in life, some immigrants don’t feel like they get treated as well as people born in the US, some women feel like they were not given as much of an opportunity as they should have been. There are others who are unhappy, along with their vocal “allies,” to use the currently trendy word. Women are especially susceptible to this – especially in the urban environment – making a women’s march the proper marketing technique for a gathering of people who need to get something off their chests. This coalition of the oppressed is at the center of the identity politics that binds the present-day Democratic Party. A march is a good time to get together with other people who feel oppressed by life and to give a good yell. It makes sense, to a point. There’s a point where wallowing limits how effective a person can be.

Today, an annoying thing is taking place. Women who can change the world – even more effectively than they could have two months ago – are out doing the exact opposite of anything that will change the world. They are entering a high friction, low efficiency environment that will achieve many things, just not change. If someone had to do their best to release valuable energy in an unfocused way, to uphold the status quo, and effect zero change, protesting today is what they would do.

May so many of my friends on the left soon recover from the malaise they are in and become fully contributing members of society again the way they once were. I do not want you to silence your voices but I do hope you can move on from this constant emoting of feelings when instead it is time for participation that works.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Ossification Of A Mind

MLK 2017 in NYC

March 29, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on January 12, 2017.”

Wednesday morning, as I went about my business, I saw a march taking place through Union Square in New York City. As any New Yorker knows, there is nothing unusual about a march taking place through Union Square. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dozen more today if I sat down next to the chess hustlers and spent my day there improving my chess ability five bucks at a time.

One thing unusual about this one though was that it took place before 9am, a time when many who march through Union Square can’t get a group of their cohorts together.

More unusual though was that the marchers ranged in age from 5 years old to approximately 12. It was a grade school march, with the youngest in the well-heeled Manhattan group carrying signs reading “we shall overcome” and imploring “peace.” Police officers escorted them safely across streets.

I was unsure for a moment what exactly I was seeing. It occurred to me the date was January 11 – Martin Luther King Day was right around the corner.

Having spent time as a teacher, I had always been open to and in fact tended toward unorthodox pedagogical styles. Such styles sometimes helped to shatter the calcification of the young brain in front of me, to pierce the calloused membrana, to make learning a little easier to have happen. I appreciated that some teacher somewhere was trying very hard to do something different with her students. I applauded that quietly in my head.

Then I did what I usually do – I challenged myself. I thought critically about the praise I just offered. Was this teacher really doing something all that different?

It occurred to me how common it is for children to be taught to be “daring” in a way that isn’t really daring, but maybe passed as daring some time in the past. Having a march was daring 60 years ago or maybe even 40 years ago. It’s also not effective. It’s not even imaginative.

This reinforces very safe, very non-threatening, very status quo behaviors in a young person all-the-while committing the evil of lying to that person about how meaningful this endeavor might be.

Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award winner Meryl Streep stood before a very friendly audience of her peers on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at the 74th Golden Globe Awards and did something that was effectively preaching to the choir. From her dominant and privileged societal position she attacked the guy who many Americans chose and supported as a way to break with the status quo.

In electing him, it wasn’t a vote for a man just for being a man, it wasn’t a vote against a woman, it wasn’t a vote for hate or anything else as much as it was a vote for a change candidate. 83% of American voters according to the CBS 2016 Presidential Exit Poll saw Donald Trump as most likely to bring about change. Across the political spectrum 83% of voters agreed on that concept.

To pause for a moment on how significant that number is – it is very unusual for 83% of voters to agree on anything, and Donald Trump was under-represented in nearly all polling, so this number is almost certainly a lower number than the actual figure. Additionally, that same poll states “1 in 4 Trump voters backed him while saying he did not have the temperament to be president.” That’s how badly 1 in 4 Trump voters wanted that change candidate – they voted for someone they knew did not have the temperament to be president.

Donald Trump is a very flawed individual, like every person who I’ve ever encountered, myself included. Donald Trump has a little polish to his presentation and a lot that comes across as unpolished, vulgar, unscripted, and cavalier. That might be him being natural or he might be as planned-out as a Hollywood actor on stage. I don’t really know, and that question is not one of my primary concerns. What I do know is that a bunch of people expected change in 2008 and put hope in President Obama. A bunch of people expected change in 2010 and put hope in the so-called Tea Party candidates. A bunch of people today expect change and have put hope in Donald Trump. Some of those Trump 2016 voters were even Obama 2008 and Tea Party 2010 voters.

I have little faith that political solutions will make the world perfect. In the realm of politics, I know today, the bold move, the way to be daring, the way to do the unsafe and risky thing politically, the way perhaps to bring change, is to support the unknown and imperfect changes like opening up Cuba further, supporting Brexit, and backing Donald Trump. These are acts of change.

Marching in the streets for change in political and social policy worked at one time. The Civil Rights Movement is perhaps an example of that. It was daring for Americans in the 1950 and 1960s to congregate and march in an environment where German shepherds would be set loose on them, a great deal of other violence faced them, and serious injury and death were possibilities. Though this civil disobedience was difficult and risky, on the left and right I can easily find dissension on whether that behavior and the succeeding change actually accomplished much.

The status quo opinion is that the civil rights changes encouraged by MLK and others were generally very good and very effective. That’s an opinion I’m going to stick with for the purpose of this piece of writing. It is obvious that MLK certainly accomplished a great deal. To robotically repeat the same actions in very different situations however betrays the fundamentals of that behavior – the spirit it is done with, the passion, the imagination, the daringness, and for me, perhaps the most important issue – the effectiveness.

Teaching kids to repeat the behaviors that worked in the past without recognizing the distinctions that will cause them not to work is like studying scripture with recognition for the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.

It is entirely ineffective to do many of the things that worked in the past. Doing so is even worse than that since it is not only ineffective initially, it has compounding effects by encouraging further self-righteous behavior that is ineffective. It enforces the ineffective. It enforces the self-righteous. It enforces a lack of imagination. It enforces not being daring. It enforces that one can show emotion without bringing the same spirit, the same underlying passion to the activity. The ineffective enforces the ineffective. And it ossifies the mind.

Teaching kids to continue the behaviors of the past. Teaching kids to continue the beliefs of the past. This is what the status quo teaches.

In whose interest is that taught and to what ends? Not the interest of the student. Not with a likelihood of change.

On Martin Luther King Day, a day that really could be a special day that inspires social change, the overwhelming majority of public action that takes place is in fact action that ossifies the mind and enforces the ineffective. Lest effective action and capable leadership be confused with impotent action and effete figureheads, MLK is precisely the day that one should be most careful in making action count.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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On The 12th Day Of Christmas Slovakia Celebrates Again

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January 6 is Christmas in the East

March 27, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on January 5, 2017.”

January 6 is the 12th day of Christmas for the Western parts of the Christian Church – those following the Gregorian Calendar. It is also the celebration of Epiphany in the West – the day that the Three Wise Men / Three Kings / Three Magi are traditionally said to have come to see the infant Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the eastern part of Slovakia, and the lands east of there – where the Orthodox Christian Church is dominant – on January 6 it is Christmas for some people once more. It’s Christmas Eve. These are the lands that follow the Julian Calendar in their religious observance.

There are many definitions of Eastern Europe. Slovakia, by most of them is situated in Central Europe. By religious definitions, the dominant presence of Orthodox Christianity – the dominant presence of the Eastern Church – is what many would say defines Eastern Europe. According to this religious definition of boundaries – Central Europe would include Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia. Eastern Europe then would include Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Trans-Nistria, Armenia, Georgia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia Hercegovina, Greece, Cyprus. Albania, the birthplace of Mother Theresa, is an outliers since it is a Muslim country with significant Eastern and Western Christian populations.

The Eastern Church is dominant even further east. Into Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, into Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan – and down into Africa as well – Egypt, Sudan, with Eritrea and Ethiopia even having majority Orthodox Christian populations.

If you live in the West and know people from any of these Eastern European countries, even if you don’t know their religion, take a chance and wish them “Merry Christmas” on January 6. Chances are you will be one of the few people born in the West who say that to them on that day – January 6, making your thoughtfulness all the more meaningful. Just as December 24 & 25 is Christmas Eve and Day in the churches that use the Gregorian Calendar, January 6 & 7 is Christmas Eve & Day in the churches that use the Julian calendar. There’s a 13 day difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendars.

If you know for certain someone who is Orthodox (meaning their priests wear big beards, have big black dramatic outfits that you want to stare at in awe, and speak Greek, Russian, or an Eastern foreign language in church) I’d say wish them Merry Christmas once more. In Slovakia that is likely to be anyone who considers themselves an ethnic Ruthenian or Lemko or who go by any of a variety of other names for this ethnic group – more on the Ruthenians in this article.

While my Ruthenian friends from Eastern Slovakia all seem to follow this pattern of Christmas celebration, it isn’t always all that easy for all Orthodox friends of mine throughout the world.

There are some complications to be mindful of that make this a little more challenging than that. Not all Orthodox do it the same way, this article will tell you more about that. Some Orthodox churches celebrate January 6 & 7, while some don’t. Additionally there are splinter groups within Orthodox churches. In Greece there is a group called Palaioemerologitai who refuse to follow their current official church calendar.

From my perspective, it isn’t complicated at all. It’s no problem to start a discussion with “When does your family celebrate Christmas?” Also, if I feel like jumping right into it, I figure it’s good to say “Merry Christmas” an extra time to Orthodox and Eastern European friends and open up an area for discussion if that person isn’t celebrating once more. In a busy world, it’s at least an excuse to sit and talk for a few minutes. They can let you know right then if they celebrate Christmas according to the Julian Calendar or Gregorian Calendar.

As for me, I’m going to still be telling people Merry Christmas on this 12th day of Christmas, so I’ve got all my bases covered. And at the same time, I’ll be looking for Orthodox friends that day to wish them a special Merry Christmas.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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WikiLeaks Has Now Become Our Voice Of America

julian-assange-keep-fighting
Wikileaks

March 25, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on December 24, 2016.”

While perusing the generally unexciting Wall Street Journal, I was thrilled to find an interesting and insightful comment from WSJ reader “C F Etter” comparing the USA in the present with the USSR of the past.

Regardless of national affiliation, freedom, truth, and openness was the right side to be on then and still today, regardless of national affiliation remains the right side to be on. It is with considerable gratitude that I find the government of my homeland – the USA – has often been on that side. It is with considerable dismay that I see the American government entirely on the wrong side when it comes to the matter of Wikileaks in our current era.

During the Cold War the citizens of the Warsaw Pact countries and Russia would listen to the Voice of America to get a true idea of what was happening in the world to balance the lies and propaganda of the communist systems they lived under. WikiLeaks has now become our Voice of America. The WSJ does not seem to realize that, or sees the phenomenon of WikiLeaks as competition in disseminating the news in an unfiltered manner. Just imagine a world of no WikiLeaks? That thought must hold tremendous appeal to every corrupt politician everywhere and I am sure that they will do what they can to end the transparency that WikiLeaks has provided the world.

On this issue Barrack Obama has been such a failure and an upholder of the status quo and the cronyism of DC. So much so that many Americans, some of the most vocal of whom were ardent Democrats in 2008, are left with the belief that Donald Trump may be the true hope and change leader that America desires. It’s nearly impossible to have imagined eight years ago that Obama would botch the job so badly that his supporters would elect the difficult to appreciate Donald Trump to replace him. This was done in apparent repudiation of the President and the overwhelming status quo pressure in support of Hillary Clinton.

Check back with me in eight years and we’ll decide if Trump did any better than Obama in handling the allure of DC and it’s power and in defending himself from the crushing blows delivered to every American President. America Heavyweight Mike Tyson famously said “Everyone has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth.”

I don’t expect much from Donald Trump or from any person in the Oval Office and I am so great for the time I live in, which allows whistleblowing organizations and rogue hackers to be so instrumental in taking down corrupt American political dynasties. In fact, I am incredibly dismayed that Donald Trump was handed such a strong Executive. I am grateful that we live in a time of powerful checks on power like Wikileaks. If not for WikiLeaks, who would do this work? The rest of government and the corporate media are both so vested in maintaining the status quo and at once so ineffectual at being a check on the Executive.

I am greatful for Wikileaks and for the many other Voices of America in the world. Only tyrants with much to hide have any reason to fear these competing voices in the American political milieu. Julian Assange, in hiding, as a fugitive from the US Government has done more good for the common American so far this century than all the politicos in DC combined.

He has caused the political class to cower, embarrassed at what we might learn about them. What a blessing to live in an era where someone can even play such a role. What a sad testament it is that our politicians are so very frightened. There is evidently much to hide and much more work for the many Assanges of the world to do.

America was founded by men with great distrust for a powerful government. That same drive for freedom lives on through these 21st century freedom fighters.

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Photo credit (top): link
Photo credit (bottom): link

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Bratislava, Slovakia Declared The Cheapest City IN THE WORLD To Spend Christmas


Cheapest

March 23, 2017

Allan Stevo

“This item first appeared at 52 Weeks in Slovakia on December 22, 2016.”

Home to one of the truly excellent Christmas markets of Europe and well worth it even if it were the most expensive city in the world to spend Christmas, Bratislava, Slovakia has just been declared the least expensive city in the world to spend Christmas.

Everybody dreams of Europe for a quick getaway. However, we always have this impression that Europe means Euros, and Euros means expensive. How about I tell you that this time, Europe is synonymous to cheap? Yes, you read that right. The least expensive city to spend the holidays is in the heart of Europe – in Bratislava, Slovakia.

It’s the holiday season, something that everyone looks forward to, because it means Christmas bonuses and more money. It is also synonymous to vacations and holiday getaways. But we all know what that would imply: spending more money on travel. Worry not, for Kiwi.com has complied what they call the “Christmas Price Index”.

The “Christmas Price Index” ranks the average expected costs of spending a festive day with shopping in 90 different cities worldwide. It is actually composed of two parts: the “Cost of Christmassy Day” and “Santa’s Price Index.

The “Cost of Christmassy Day” is all about visiting costs such as accommodation expenses in a top-rated hotel, food and drinks expenses which features traditional meals and holiday drinks, and admission expenses to see “The Nutcracker”. What a Christmassy day indeed!

“Santa’s Price Index”, on the other hand, takes into account the average expenses on shopping for gifts for every family member. Such gifts being considered are men’s fragrance, women’s perfume, Princess Barbie and LEGO Star Wars Millennium Falcon.

The results of the index? Well, US News shared that of the 90 cities ranked, the least expensive city where to spend the holiday was Bratislava, Slovakia. It was closely followed by Kiev, Ukraine; Seville, Spain; Cape Town, South Africa; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

How about the most expensive cities? It came as no surprise that the index results showed that New York, New York, United States was the most expensive city to spend the holidays. Coming closely behind were Reykjavik, Iceland; Copenhagen, Denmark; Bern, Switzerland; and Geneva, Switzerland.

Based on the results, cities who offer the most expensive accommodation often offer the cheapest prices for gift shopping. Thus, Bratislava offered the cheapest prices on shopping and accommodation, while New York was recognized as the most expensive destination. The index does not only reveal the rankings of the cities, but also fascinating understanding on the economy around the world during holiday season.

While I love so much about Bratislava, the best part about the Slovak capital is its close proximity to the rest of Slovakia. Bratislava is a pretty good city, Slovakia is an amazing country that continues to attract my attention more than 15 years after I first stepped foot there.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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