Martin Kramara's Blog in 2011
On the backstage work
Sunday evening at 9:30 Fr. Germán rushed into my room and told me the news. "Somebody just tweeted me: they got him!" Goodness… Where to go and see what's happening when you get an information like that? I clicked CNN live stream, but it would not work, so (for the first time in many weeks) I turned on the TV. Everyone was saying the same thing: "it looks like they killed OBL, and POTUS is going to announce it officially", but the message kept being postponed. First for 15 minutes, then 30, then one hour.
What was amazing for me to see was the ability of CNN guys to fill the time: other than the tweet, they had practically nothing, but still, they were able to talk about it for 60 minutes. First, I thought it was going nowhere and they'd be forced to put something else on. But no: they went on all hour and actually did a pretty good job, sharing all kinds of interesting information. It was the time when one could see what these guys are capable of - because of their previous work and rich experience. It's a very well-known frustration for every journalist or blogger: the one when you have to file something though nothing's really happening.
That's the time when your previous work, readings, researches, contacts and all sorts of dead-looking preparation show their fruits. And that's actually my hope, too, for what I am doing these weeks: sometimes I feel like I am writing, recording, editing and filing "for the drawer" or "against the wall". But I do appreciate the experience I've gained this way and I sincerely hope to be able to use it once - maybe in the most unpredictable situation.
On Easter running
I like running. I started when I was a seminarian and going for a run was the only way to get prefect's permission to leave seminary after dinner. Yeah, those days the rules were kind of strict. I confess my original motivation for running was not the sport itself. I knew me and my friends were going to stop on the way back and get a half-liter beer at the local pub. So Wednesdays became my usual running days. The freedom and beer motivation is long gone, but runs stick with me till the present day.
I don't have a precise day anymore but at least once a week I do my ten miles. From that comes my judging places based on their availability of trails. And that's one of the reasons why I dislike Rome - especially the part where I have been living for last four years. Not only there's no trail around. It's difficult to run even on the streets! Signs as "proprieta privata" (private property road) are so frequent that you have to pay a very good attention when you plan your run - if don't want to end up with a dog hanging from your boxers (which would be the better case, anyway). Forget about taking your car and going somewhere else: you're gonna spend more time freaking out in the traffic jam than actually running.
So, Columbia Missouri is to me like a blessing. Katy Trail, Bear Creek Trail, dozens of sport fields and golf courses, streets with bike lanes and even water fountains available all around the place. My only complaint has been that water fountains along the Bear Creek Trail never worked. Last Saturday, after my Good Friday 24-hour fasting, I hit the trail and went for what turned out to be one of my toughest jogs ever. With nothing in my stomach for two days, I felt exhausted after first mile and thought I was going to die after six or seven.
Knowing the fountains never worked, I approached one of them just out of desperation. I pushed the button - only to give myself a reason to stop. And there, something that I perceive as my small Easter miracle happened: the water came out! Someone had turned the fountains on and inadvertently saved my life… Let me tell you, the first gulps of water tasted thousand times better than the Wednesday suds which used to reward my seminary running. I hope the plumber could feel the power of my sincere, thankful prayers. The season of Lent was thus officially and bubbly terminated.
Last Tuesday, during the Health committee session, senator Luann Ridgeway thanked Catholic Charities lobbyist Pat Daugherty for the fact that on several occasions church has been effectively assisting to people who struggle with various difficulties - especially when state's unable to help. Senator said she felt it was right to appreciate this. For me, it was a nice thing to hear. On the other hand, it reminded me of an intricate situation my home country is dealing with right now. The government is trying to separate itself more clearly from the church. Up to now, all registered churches in Slovakia have been receiving state money: in a certain sense, they were financed by the government. For example - I, as a catholic priest, was a state employee, too. It has been a heritage of communism governing our country over past 4 decades (until 1989). To explain: in the 1950's, state took over all church properties and pledged to pay priests governmental salaries. Naturally, it was a measure to control them. Now, twenty years from the fall of the Berlin wall, this is still going on.
An upcoming census should mark a new milestone: the government has opened a public discussion in search for a new model of relations with church. Unfortunately, everyone's so much used to how things have been going that even church officials give the impression of being afraid of losing the state finances. Obviously, this money is a Trojan horse you should be happy to get rid of… But… Money is money… So, the churches claim they do a lot of good where the state's unable to reach and that's why they should continue getting the money (it's one of the important reasons, at least). They seem to be forgetting about the old wisdom that you can't bite the hand that feeds you, i.e. they're depriving themselves of the unlimited freedom of speech. However, no one seems to be paying much attention to this. The months to come are going to be important for the future of church in my country. I sincerely hope more "american-like" model will be agreed upon. Having spent a couple of months here, secularity appears to me a healthy way of doing things. I mean secularity not as a freedom from, but as a freedom for religion.
One thing I truly admire on the US is the spirit of unity and allegiance to the country. I have seen US flags in people's yards, on their cars, in schools, restaurants and even in churches and on people's graves. I heard kids in the kindergarten recite the pledge of allegiance and I see senators and representatives in the Capitol doing the same thing every time they begin a session. It's something you not gonna find in Europe. In fact, there are no Europeans in Europe. They will tell you the EU is in many ways similar to the US, but loyalty to the Union is one thing we can only dream of.
Let's face it: there's no one in Europe who would die for the European flag. And obviously, no one displays it proudly in front of the house or wants to have it waving on his or her tombstone. European Union is, sadly, exclusively about money. And I am afraid to ask how long it's actually going to last.
This morning, Italians were denied the assistance of European Union they asked for to be able to deal with thousands of immigrants flooding the Apennine peninsula owing to the turmoils on the African continent. Italian minister of internal affairs, Roberto Maroni, is questioning the very meaning of remaining united with the rest of European countries, when it's becoming more and more evident the EU is unwilling to deal with elementary humanitarian issues: "Better stay alone than in a bad company", Maroni said today, disillusioned, leaving the council of EU ministers in Luxembourg.
Cecilia Malmstroem, EU minister of internal affairs, sent Maroni home with nothing, saying the situation was not serious enough to activate the mechanism of protection. In another words, Italy is going to have to handle the problem by itself - as ever before. You can imagine how much unitive enthusiasm is this decision going to fuel into the Italian veins. There's no such thing as a Pledge of allegiance to the European flag. I will think about it with sadness tomorrow, when I go to Jeff City to work on my story and will watch the representatives with hands on their hearts beginning a new session.
On my Spring Break
You can check it out here:
On learning about lobbying
One of the most unexpected things for me to find in the Jeff
City Capitol was the Missouri Catholic Conference – the official lobbying force
for local Catholic Church. Now, I am aware this might sound a little strange, so
please let me explain. Well, if you’d said to me a year ago that Catholic
Church had a group of paid lobbyists who were pushing for its interests in the Missouri
House and Senate, I would have asked you to say it again, doubting you really
meant it, and had you repeated it one more time, I would have certainly
considered it an outrageous piece of information.
You see, the word “lobbying” sounds to me and to my home
country fellow citizens almost like a synonym of bribery, corruption or
fraudulence. Honestly, for me, learning that Catholic Church in the United
States has slipped even into THIS, was a little nauseating. Slovakia has a very
young democracy (22 years in age) and lobbying is definitely not something
people contemplate as a healthy part of it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: many
associate this vocable with dirty nudging some groups do to get the state
“orders” – i.e. to make the government pick them for jobs paid by state money.
Interestingly enough, so far, there have been no lawful
regulations approved concerning lobbyists and their activities in my country.
So even if you actually find a couple people who call themselves with the name
of lobbyists, they are perceived as a breed that prefers to hide in shadows.
Some of them won’t even disclose to you who they’re actually lobbying for or
how they’re financed. In a word, Church officials try to stay out of this: they
prefer keeping directly in touch with some of the Parliament representatives, rather
than relying on any mediators. This, as you can imagine, results in suspicions,
troubles, disputes and variety of pitfalls.
To make a long story short, having seen how lobbying works
in this country, I have completely changed my mind on it. After talking to various
lobbyists in the Capitol and at the MCC headquarters, I have come to like their
openness and (for me) unfeigned transparency. They would sit back and answer
any of my questions with stoic tranquility. They explained to me how everything
works, where the money comes from, what the rules are… and showed me how they
were just one of many voices present “on the market” – so they felt free to
speak for the Catholic Church and its positions - proposing, however, not
imposing the values of Catholicism - in the habitat of democracy - where
everyone’s ok with that.
I understand I’ll sound somewhat naive, but I sincerely like
this model much better than the one we are sticking to in my country. I wish to
see my homeland shifting to this design of democracy and alternating the
present way of thinking on lobbying to its reasonable opposite I have come across
On my XLR experience
have to say it. Technology is threatening my life. Trying to do some reporter’s
work, it’s getting worse. To record floor sessions, committee hearings and
interviews with representatives, you get and carry this big black bulky thing.
First I thought it was a tape recorder. Well, not really. The thing actually
seems to have some kind of a hard drive. However, when it comes to copying
stuff to your computer, it doesn’t work as you’d expect: instead of just
dragging the file as from an external drive, you have to play the whole
timeline and record it minute after minute to your audio editing software.
Let’s face it. Patience was one of
the top-priority virtues they insisted we’d develop in Catholic seminary. Well,
I guess I sneaked through somehow, not really learning it.
I decided I had to find a quicker way to deal with my recordings. I searched
the web and before long, I found my solution! An adapter that will change my
phone into a powerful recording device. Basically, a piece of wire with 3,5 mm jack
you plug into your cellphone headset connector, with a xlr port on the other
end, which you can insert directly to an audio wall plate and, consequently, avoid
any backround noise in your recording. Then you simply copy the entire file to
you computer. Perfect!
delivery arrived just on time and I could use the adapter the very next day
when House was in session. There, my enthusiasm died. My new cool thing just
wouldn’t work! The recording was way too faint to be used for any purpose.
Instead of making my life easier, the thing screwed me up. I ended up with
nothing. Please don’t ask me how much time I killed trying to figure out what
went wrong. It caused the very opposite effect of what I purchased it for.
Getting home, I tried it on
three different devices. With four different microphones. Five different
softwares. Later on, exhausted and upset I wrote an email to the manufacturer,
describing my agonizing experience. To my astonishment, the reply arrived
within a few minutes! It said: Hi Martin,
You ordered the adapter for line-level input which is for recording from mixers
and other audio outputs but not microphones. The adapter you have has a built
in attenuator that reduces the signal strength. Then it directed me to a link
where I could get the appropriate one. Instantly, I realized the IDtenT
syndrome I lately read about, was not just a joke. I badly suffer from it
Patience can sometimes really save
more time than restlessness, hurry and flurry. After all these years, I guess my
educators did have some point there.
On how much the fuel costs
I don’t play golf. I drive one.
A lot of people have been complaining about the soaring prices of gas. I know I am a complete stranger here, but it makes me wonder. Being in Missouri for two months, I have seen the gas price go up from about $3 to $3.39 per gallon (by the way: the fact that it costs the same price everywhere reminds me of times when communists ruled in my country - and everything was regulated by the government, but that would be another story). Anyway, they say the prices are going to go up even more. You know, Lybia and stuff. Hearing many complaints, I checked the internet to find out how much I would pay back in Rome at my favorite gas station. So, today it would be 1,5 Euro a liter (equals to about $8 a gallon). About the same I would have to pay driving to my parent’s house, crossing Austria and Slovakia. Though, to say the truth, I would pay a slighty different price...
Why? Well, because my Volkswagen Golf is a diesel car. You know, it’s about thousand miles from Rome to my folks. My Golf is able to make some 50 highway miles per gallon. So, I have to stop only once to refill the tank. And when I get home, I still have half full, which is kind of nice. The minivan I am driving now in Missouri does something like 25 miles per gallon. Well, I am still ok with that, since the prices are what they are... What makes me wonder is not only why people don’t drive diesel cars here, but also why they use so many pick up trucks and Suvs. I got an explanation saying something about farming and hard work.
I think about that everytime I stop on the red light and see a 5,7 liter V8 engine pick up truck pulling up next to me - and a teenage girl sitting behind the steering wheel. Well, true. What do I know about farming? Speaking of red lights, there is actually another interesting story people have been telling me. It explains why you can go ahead and turn right at the intersection in spite of the red light on. I was told that once upon a time, when the gas prices were soaring, the lawmakers decided to let people make the right turn instead of just standing at the intersection and burning gas. I like that idea. Really. I even think we could combine it with the European one: the start-stop system in cars that turns off your engine automatically when you are waiting at the intersection and then starts it again when you give gas (I heard Ford is thinking about it now, too).
Yeah, gas prices are becoming an issue again. Paper cartoon depicting a guy refilling his tank while staring at the high prices posted on the screen above gave me a new insight. The guy says: “Well, now I understand why we’ve been supporting dictators.” Could it be a bottom line?
On my new ineligibility
Americans don’t want my blood. Would you believe it? Last Sunday, there was a blood drive in our parish, so right after mass, I went there to participate. And - surprise! They made me read a booklet to make sure I was eligible for the donation. There I found a list of countries you should not travel to if you’re going to donate blood in the US. And Slovakia, my home country, was on the list! Naturally, that was the end of it. In the first moment, it really hurt. Why us? Are we a filthy country? What do they think about us?
When I got home from church, I called my friend, a medical doctor in Slovakia, to find out why we’re on the list. I couldn’t reach him all day, so I searched the web. And there I learned that practically whole Europe would be a “restricted area”. Well, that made me feel a little less “filthy” about being from Slovakia, but it did not answer my question, anyway. The reason, in the end, is the mad cow disease: in some cases, the meat from sick cows might cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans - with life-threatening consequences. And this disease is transferable through blood plasma. So far, compared to Europe, there have been very few vCJD cases in the US, so it’s absolutely rational that measures had to be taken to prevent the disease from spreading overseas. Anyway, my new shocking knowledge is that because of European cows I have become a bloody threat for everyone outside of the good old Continent.
On my new awareness
I don’t know about American cars. Really. They are so different from what I am used to. I can tell you the names of 99 % cars they sell in Europe. But the American ones... No way. It is a cultural shock for a guy like me to come to America and drive among all these Chevys and Pontiacs and Dodges... My goodness!
The other day, as I was going to take the Missouri driver’s license test, the officer followed me from the premises to my vehicle. We couldn’t find the car, however, since a friend of mine had used it before to take his test and I didn’t know where he’d parked it. Consequently, I just stood there and looked around, puzzled. “So what car was it?” the officer asked, trying to help. “Well, as far as I remember, it was... well, it was blue...” I stammered to my embarrassment.
Now, I can tell you that ever since, I have been trying to learn the US car’s names. Since guys should know these things, right? Well, believe me, it is a tough job and I have made a few baby steps only. There is one car, however, the name of which I was very fast to learn, though I had never heard of it until a week ago. It is a massive pick up truck. Something that would look like a white elephant in Rome, Prague or Vienna. Quite frequent around here, though. The Ford F-150.
So how did I get it’s name? Well, from a very common source of international communication. It’s called a lawsuit. This is how it happened. The other day I read in Corriere della Sera (Italian news) that Ford was suing Ferrari. Why? Because of the model name copyright! In Maranello, they were thinking they would name their newest race car Ferrari “F150”. This way, they meant to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification. The vehicle, by the way, was not to be sold on any market: it was going to be a pure race car run on the tracks only. But the Ford company did not hesitate to sue them for violating the “Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act”, asking $100 000 compensation for unspecified damages.
My very first thoughts when I heard this: “That’s weird. The people from Ford are embarrassing themselves.” I am pretty sure almost every driver on the planet heard about the Ferrari cars. Next to nobody in Europe, however, would have a clue what Ford F-150 is, trust me on that. So the first thing that comes to your European mind is: “Right. Like Ferrari wants to gain the reputation of Ford. Pathetic!” Sure enough, I searched the internet, to see what that Ford looked like. The pictures of a pick up truck made me shake my head even more.
The next day I got it. I got it because I met deacon Jim and he gave me a ride. And from the first sight, I knew what car he was driving. Can you guess the car’s name? Yeah, too easy. It was the F-150 pick up. I realized I had fallen into the trap of what they call the brand-awareness reinforcement. Someone in the Ford company knew this little controversy would gain them more coverage than any other paid campaign. And it worked: the first US car I can identify is their F-150! Good job, Ford!
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