România, Locul 65 în Topul GoodCountry.org

Simon Anholt este fondatorul indexului țărilor „bune”, unde cuvântul „bun” are sensul opus cuvântului „egoist”. Cum poate o țară să fie egoistă? Din prezentarea lui Simon Anholt, înțelegem că  statele „egoiste” au o politică mult orientată spre dezvoltarea internă, fără să existe un interes de colaborare cu alte state. În indexul de pe GoodCountry.org găsim țări ca Rusia și China la coada clasamentului, extrema de jos find Libia, locul 125.

Țările bune nu sunt neapărat țările bogate, deși în topul primelor zece țări găsim multe state vest europene. Simon Anholt explică: „Nu are legătură cu banii. Este vorba despre atitudine. Are legătură cu un guvern și un popor care sunt interesați de restul lumii, și care au imaginația și curajul să aibă o gândire orientată extern, nu doar o gândire internă, egoistă”.

O parte interesantă a prezentării este cea în care autorul îndeamnă la reflecție asupra motivelor unor politicieni pe care noi înșine îi alegem. Promovează acei politicieni o atitudine de țară deschisă spre cooperare? Sun politicile interne și externe ceva de care putem fi mândri?

România ocupă locul 65 în topul general al țărilor care sunt buni parteneri de joacă. Pe cele trei locuri înaintea noastră se află Serbia (62), Tanzania (63) și Botswana (64), iar imediat după găsim Mexic (66), Maroc (67) și Egipt (68).

Când vine vorba de Știință și Tehnologie, urcăm câteva locuri în același top (48). Când vine vorba de Cultură, urcăm din nou – locul 29. Scădem, însă, la implicarea noastră în Pacea și Securitatea Internațională – locul 75. Suntem pe locul 53 la capitolul World Order (implicare în acțiuni umanitare), pe locul 69 la capitolul Planetă și Climat, și pe locul 74 la capitulul Sănătate.  Locul care ar trebui să ne ridice serioase întrebări este cel de la categoria Prosperitate și Egalitate – 114! Aici putem aminti prezentarea lui  Bryan Stevenson, care spunea că opusul sărăciei nu este abundența, ci egalitatea și o bună funcționare a justiției.

Mesajul important al lui Simon Anholt este că noi suntem direct răspunzători de persoanele care ne reprezintă țara. Noi îi alegem și noi le oferim încrederea că vor face din România o țară cinstită, care colaborează extern, o țară cu sisteme de sănătate și legislație bine puse la punct. Așadar, înainte să punem ștampila, e important să ne întrebăm dacă acei politicieni pe care vrem să-i votăm își vor face treaba.

Bryan Stevenson on Injustice

Public-interest lawyer, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson talks about identity and injustice in the US judicial system.

I wrote some of his words that I’ve found thought-provoking.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.” [06:34]

“There is no disconnect around technology and design that will allow us to be fully human until we pay attention to suffering, to poverty, to exclusion, to unfairness, to injustice. Now I will warn you that this kind of identity is a much more challenging identity than ones that don’t pay attention to this. It will get to you.” [13:24]

“And I actually believe that the TED community needs to be more courageous. We need to find ways to embrace these challenges, these problems, the suffering. Because ultimately, our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity.” [15:24]

“the opposite of poverty is justice” [15:24]

“I’ve come to TED because I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on” [20:27]

Stephen Brookfield on Experience

I thought I’d post this fragment from  The Getting of Wisdom: What Critically Reflective Teaching is and Why It’s Important by Stephen Brookfield. I like the way he explains how it is the depth of one’s experience that counts, and not the length.

Length of experience does not automatically confer insight and wisdom. Ten years of practice can be one year’s worth of distorted experience repeated ten times. The ‘experienced’ teacher may be caught within self-fulfilling interpretive frameworks that remain closed to any alternative interpretations. Experience that is not subject to critical analysis is an unreliable and sometimes dangerous guide for giving advice. ‘Experienced’ teachers can collude in promoting a form of groupthink about teaching that serves to distance themselves from students and to bolster their own sense of superiority.

The Human Paper-Shredder Has More Than 60% on Her Side

A reportage about an out-of-the-ordinary subject stirred conversations in Romanian Hotnews online media outlet. The Human Paper-Shredder (translated), places under the lens work, law, and behavior in Romania. What follows is not a translation of the article, although an English version would be useful, nor is it a summary. This article wants to briefly analyze users’ comments to The Human Paper-Shredder, as they show some specific job-related behavior and attitudes.

The story in brief

A secretary at Assystem Romania sues the company in 2012 for being fired. She files abuse charges and wins the lawsuit against the company one year later. Assystem is obliged to pay her salary for the months leading to the Court’s decision, and has to reintegrate her back in the organization. The company obeys the Court’s decision, and gives the former secretary the task to shred information-sensitive documents by hand. She is explicitly instructed to tear them in pieces no larger than one centimeter on either side. By hand, no scissor, no electronic shredder. Although in her pre-lawsuit position she has had all the office equipment a secretary needs, reintegration brought her to a technology-free desk, having only a pile of documents and a large trash bag. She continues this eight hours a day task while filing a complaint to the National Council Against Discrimination (CNCD). The latter fines Assystem with 20,000 RON (~ 4,500 Eur) for “discrimination, harassment, and practices against human dignity (translated)”. Upon the Council’s decision, she quits her job as a human paper-shredder. The company, through administrator Roger Coat, is appealing the Council’s decision and intends to sue the former employee for defamation.

Missing information

Throughout the article, three parties are questioned: the secretary, Council Against Discrimination president Csaba Asztalos, and Roger Coat, company representative. There are two important pieces of information I have missed from this otherwise excellent article: why was she fired in the first place (she mentions an abuse), and what would her colleagues have to say about her work as a human paper-shredder. I wonder about their reactions to a colleague manually tearing paper all day. The latter I think would be of great importance to understand the collaborative work environment in Romania.

Users’ comments

Although my faith in Romanian work ethics has been restored after seeing so many comments condemning these humiliating practices, these comments win the voting algorithm with less than double over the votes condemning the secretary’s return. Briefly, the comments follow three distinct lines: employer is right, he can make employees redundant whenever and can assign no matter what tasks; employee was right to return to work after the Court’s decision of an abusive redundancy; employee was legally right to return to work, but should have understood the company’s ‘rejection’ message and not return to work after winning in Court.

Hotnews’ comment voting algorithm uses thumbs up and down feedback, negative and positive votes canceling each other to reveal a final comment score. Comments and votes can only be cast by logged members.

One of the first comments falls in the third category (although she had the legal right to sue the company, it was ‘morally wrong’ to do so and ‘morally wrong’ to return to the company). This comment has received 139 votes (Feb. 16), with a grand score of -23 votes. This means that 81 users voted against the comment (i.e. no, it wasn’t ‘morally wrong’, she just followed the legislation), while 58 users voted for the comment (they agree the secretary was ‘morally wrong’ to have sued the company and to return to work following her Court win). This places 58% of voters for obeying legal decisions, and 41% against legal decisions (she was ‘morally wrong’). Viewing this 41% makes me wonder how can these people impose their morality on another person about whom they know almost nothing. 41% of people telling someone what is and what isn’t moral seems too much in a society that wants to catch up with other more modern, liberal societies of Western Europe.

Another comment, an answer to the previous example, condemns its author and his ‘morality equals subdued/ passive/ meek’ logic. Out of 88 votes (Feb. 16), the comment score is +22. Meaning that 33 users (37.5%) have voted negative, while 55 users (62.5%) have voted positive, agreeing that rules and laws trump subjectivity.

A newer comment saying that “a contract is a contract” has received 29 votes, with a total score of +13, meaning 8 votes (27%) disagree with “a contract is a contract statement” and 21 votes (72%) agree contractual agreements need to be followed.

It’s important to mention some biases that might occur in the comments and votes: older comments are stacked at the top and receive more votes, hotnews.ro is a platform pertaining to a more liberal crowd, and parties involved in the article can gather votes against comments they disagree with (fake accounts, friend votes etc.).

Overall, the article and its comments show more than just the story of the ex-Assystem employee. It shows inaction from her colleagues (curiously, none of them has commented the article), lack of solidarity, value systems anchored in archaic presumptions, inflaming tensions about what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and employees roughing it out during times of change.

While the National Council Against Discrimination verdict is under appeal, more information is needed to understand what has led to this situation. Nevertheless, making a person tear up documents by hand, eight hours a day, challenges every argument Roger Coat brings in defense of his decisions. Assystem is, according to its website, an industrial engineering firm with “nearly 11,000 employees”. Asked if she has encountered another human paper-shredder, the secretary said no. This leads me to wonder how does a person feel when s/he sits in an office environment having a garbage bag on the desk while colleagues go about their business in front of a computer. I think it feels degrading. And I can find no argument in favor of Assystem for not using technology to destroy their documents. A search on the internet also gave me many document destroying services, none of which includes manually tearing stacks of documents in pieces no larger than one centimeter on either side.

Links used in the article:

http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-esential-16603947-tocatorul-uman-hartii.htm

http://www.assystem.com/en/the-company/about-assystem.html

http://www.cncd.org.ro/home-page/

How to Install Zotero Standalone on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

After reviewing several reference management software (Wikipedia, WISC.edu, Imperial.ac.uk, Columbia.edu) I opted for Zotero. It’s simple to use, free, and open source. It has a 300 Mb limit with the possibility to buy extra space. Although 300 Mb doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s fine for the moment.

Zotero has a Firefox plugin that’s in constant connection with the server. You can also chose to have it installed locally, on your machine.

The following steps apply for a Zotero 4.0 standalone package on Ubuntu Studio 12.04 LTS, 64 bit.

1. Which package should I download?

Most of the time, zotero.org will propose a package that suits your system. If you’re not sure whether your computer runs on 32 or 64 bit chips, type this in the terminal window.

uname -m

2. Download

-> Go to https://www.zotero.org/download/ and download Zotero standalone with the browser extension of your choice.

-> extract the archive from its tar.bz2 compressed format

-> move the folder to your /opt directory, alongside other programs. You can do this in two ways

a) open a terminal window and type:

sudo mv ~/Downloads/Zotero_linux-x86_64/ /opt

This will move the Zotero extracted directory from your Downloads location to the /opt directory

b) open your Home folder -> press ALT+F2 -> *type gksudo nautilus -> click Run -> type your password -> OK

Navigate in the newly opened window to File System -> Opt

Paste here the Zotero folder you extracted in your Downloads location.

3. Make a .desktop file in usr/share/applications in order to make the system recognize that you have installed Zotero, and to be able to find it in your Applications Menu

-> open gedit or other text editor and type:

#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open
[Desktop Entry]
Type=Application
Name=Zotero
GenericName=Bibliography Manager
Icon=/opt/Zotero_linux-x86_64/chrome/icons/default/default48.png
Exec= /opt/Zotero_linux-x86_64/zotero %f
Categories=Office
Terminal=false

Be sure to change the Icon and Exec lines if you run on 32 bit

Icon=/opt/Zotero_linux-i686/chrome/icons/default/default48.png
Exec= /opt/Zotero_linux-i686/zotero %f

-> save the file as zotero.desktop somewhere on your computer and then paste it in usr/share/applications. Be sure to do this in the window of Step 2/b, that gives you root access.

Done.

I would like to reference http://anterotesis.com and his original post Installing Zotero standalone on Ubuntu 11.10. I used his steps and page comments to install version 4.0, changing somewhere along the way from terminal use to folder view.

* you might need to type kdesu konqueror or gksudo thunar if you have Kubuntu (KDE) or Xubuntu (XFCE) – read more here – http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntu/permissions

Intrebarea unui politist: de ce sa ma implic?

Acum câteva zile discutam cu o cunoștință care lucrează în poliție. Îmi spunea că atunci când e în afara programului nu simte nevoia să intervină în situații în care sesizează diverse ilegalități. Că poate doi se bat, dar de fapt sunt prieteni, că cine stie ce pile are cel care circulă beat sau cine știe pe cine au în spate cei care organizează un concert pe bani, dar care nu dau bilete. Și că oricum aș lua-o, ar fi o pierdere de timp sau mai rău.

Argumentele mele contra au fost două. I-am explicat că trăiește în același oraș în care trăiesc și părinții lui, că plătește ratele la un apartament aici și că cel mai probabil își va întemeia o familie tot în acest loc. Dacă trece cu vederea un șofer beat acum, șanse sunt să se găsească șoferi beți și când copilul său va merge la școală sau când părinții săi vor trece strada sprijinindu-se în baston.

Mai rău decât atât ar fi că prin lipsa de atitudine creează în jurul său o cultură în care se auto-sabotează. „Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction” spune o melodie, iar un cunoscut psiholog, Philip Zimbardo, vorbește despre anturajul, sau contextul, care influențează individul. Ești media celor cinci persoane cu care îți petreci cea mai mare parte din timp, spune un proverb.

În experimentul Stanford Prison, tineri studenți au devenit aleatoriu pușcăriași pentru o săptămână sau gardieni responsabili cu siguranța celor din celule. Experimentul a trebuit oprit pentru că accelera spre un comportament abuziv din parte gardienilor, care aveau autoritatea. Similar este și binecunoscutul caz al închisorii Abu Ghraib, unde militari americani au fost acuzați de abuzuri asupra prizonierilor. În ambele cazuri răsturnarea de situație a venit din partea unei singure persoane care a avut tăria de caracter pentru a se opune majorității. În România e de actualitate cazul mamei care a făcut publică înregistrarea învățătoarei care abuza de situația financiară a părinților. Deși acest lucru se întâmpla de mult și la scară largă, un singur părinte a fost cel care a luat inițiativa. Unul singur!

Zimbardo propune doi pași pentru a lua atitudine: să acționezi atunci când alți oameni sunt pasivi și să acționezi în mod socio-centric. Același autor vorbește despre pașii care ușurează tranziția spre un comportament abuziv:

  • să faci primul mic pas fără a te gândi la consecințe: „e OK, nu-l sancționez de data asta, nu-i chiar așa de grav”
  • dezumanizarea – să-i privești pe ceilalți altfel decât ca semeni cu nevoi și idealuri similare
  • dezindividualizarea – să te privești pe tine ca parte dintr-un grup, spunând că responsabilitatea revine grupului și nu individului
  • difuzia responsabilității: „sunt și alții aici care ar putea să sune la poliție, de ce tocmai eu?”
  • obediența oarbă față de autoritate
  • a te conforma normelor unui grup fără a reflecta asupra lor
  • toleranța pasivă prin lipsă de acțiune sau indiferență

Îi spuneam amicului polițist că al doilea motiv pentru care ar vrea să ia atitudine ar fi că prin indiferență va crea în jurul său o cultură a indiferenței. Care se poate întoarce asupra lui când se va aștepta mai puțin, prin vocea unui coleg, a unui șef sau a unui membru al familiei care va spune „las-o, mă, nu-ți mai bate capu’, merge ș-așa”. Până când nu va mai merge.

Of Birds and Beggars

It’s almost freezing outside. Close to the building, two kids are begging. The older one is seriously disabled. I guess that before he was able to tell his parents that he’d like to be a doctor or a firefighter, or an airplane pilot, they decided for him that he’ll be a beggar. So they crippled him for life by breaking his legs from the knees, turning them in the opposite direction. Holding a stick in each hand, he keeps his body in an almost upright position. Without them he could only walk on all fours.

A few people are passing by, throwing pieces of bread to the pigeons that flock together. When they leave, the younger child scares the pigeons and eats the bread.

Just another image from a country that’s not there yet…