Monday, March 01, 2004


Sweet and sour.

When I was kid, we used to buy this sweet and sour “duck sauce”, for the table called Saucy Susan and it was probably my favorite taste in the world when I was a kid. Now Saucy Susan was for a long time an “east coast” specialty and so when my family moved to the west coast, this delectable glaze for meats was simply not available. Terrible situation. We actually had relatives bring us cases of the stuff when they visited. Eventually, and this was probably after the original manufacturer sold out to THE BIG CORPORATION, the stuff found its way to California, but by then the thrill for the taste of the stuff was gone with the addition of a few years. Or was it that the recipe was somehow different? It’s hard to say. That’s life I guess.

Now, why I mention this is that this morning I accidentally hit upon a combination of foods that seems to have recreated the original incredibly tasty taste of that sauce I remember from my early boyhood. All I did was mix some homemade jam (apple with a touch of apricot) with some home pickled cabbage. We were having toast and tea for breakfast with some cabbage on the side, and I just mixed the two for an interesting combination and reaction on my pallet was strange, like something deep inside me exploded when I started to chew…

I get a lot of these sorts of moments here. So many aspects of the culture here are simply so familiar to me. This most obviously must connect to the familiarity on the level of DNA to the culture I don’t think the argument is nature or nurture but rather that cultural becomes genetic after some time and is therefore a part of it. That the place is my “motherland” therefore makes it a part of me and these moments do nothing but confirm this all of this I am sure.

But that we were eating toast and tea rather than soup this morning because of a big fight in the house yesterday. And, as often happens after big fights, baba doesn’t make soup the next day. Baba went on strike this morning. It is about the kid.

Let me try and explain. Yesterday in the middle of the day, the boy was sitting at his desk at work on his homework. I was washing some cloths in the bath. I guess deciding she needed something to do, baba wandered into the room and demanded that the boy change clothes from a shirt he had chosen- new and nice- to a different one. The boy thought that this request was not as important as his homework and did not want his concentration from his work broken. Baba didn’t particularly care about his concentration, and demanded he change. He told her to leave him alone. She screamed at him that he must do as she says. He yelled back that he didn’t care about this shirt business and that she should find some other occupation for her time other than bothering him- or some such words. She responded by grabbing his ear and pulling him off balance in his chair and producing a loud shriek from the kid.

I came into the room and stepped between them. I guess you could say that I hadn’t NEEDED to step between them. I say this because I think the chances that the kid could have DIED as a result of her abuse was very small but then again, I am not sure we need to prove these things out to the point of death in order to make a point. However baba in her emotional froth at having been deprived of this opportunity to do some ear pulling, then directed all of her energy (and need for violence) on me, attacking my guitar, brandishing statues, key and glass jars. This long brouhaha lasted until Tatyana had to come home from work early to act as arbitrator. Terrible scene.

But I am sticking to my guns. No body hits the kid any more for any reason: There are no more beatings. This is a new rule was instituted because in my view there is simply no reason to physically abuse an 8 year old boy, especially when he has really not done anything particularly wrong. This rule was implemented by yours truly some time ago.

Now, if my language seems somewhat direct here or even if it sounds like it is said with some sense of dictatorial powers, it is probably because that is exactly how this new “house rule” was implemented. Why it was needed to have been done in such a way of course is simple irony and logic: Grandma has always lived her life (and run her house) based solely upon her emotional wants and desires, and therefore any logical discussion is rather completely out of the question. There had been previously absolutely zero chance for any sort of discussion of any subject: Baba decreed, you listened. And, it should be said, that baba’s solution to our financial situation was for Tatyana and I to simply go to the states and leave her in “control” of the boy.

Now before you start calling me a bully and telling me that this situation is all normal and that it is funny for you, I would like to defend my actions.

Before I became a part of this family, the boy had a remarkable relationship with his grandmother. Because Tatyana works during the day, the vast job of caring for the boy lay on the shoulders of grandma. Now, little boys are wonderful to have and play with, and baba of course loved the boy very much. However, baba as I have said is a very emotional woman and she very quickly goes ballistic as a result of displeasing situations. She is also as I have said, quite used to getting her way. And so it had been quite natural for the kid to take a hand or a belt or something like that from baba when she got mad. Often these beatings would come because he would anger grandma by eating slowly or some such small thing. She would get upset- she always gets upset, really anything will set the woman off, and then would start beating him. However, that baba did love him meant that basically anything concerning him was of interest to her. But because everything made her angry, the yelling and screaming started to come along with everything he did. The results of this was that baba eventually became this amazing entity to the boy: The source of and solution to all of life’s problems, provider of all of life’s needs, but at the same time someone for whom no respect was necessary because of how crazy she was. Amazing situation. The kid was trapped in baba’s circular web, knew that something was not right, but had no possible way of getting out of it.

What I saw from the kid was that he eventually simply gave up on any hope of personal interaction with the world. Anything he did would simply earn him more face time with baba, so what was the point? It was her responsibility to run his world- he just played in it. He slowly began to just quit everything altogether and just leave everything to her and of course, this indifference only served to make her mad again. However, because he had already had so much experience in being beaten and screamed at, this real and well directed anger at his genuinely objectionable doings were of absolutely no consequence to him. He had already learned that beatings were both arbitrary (not from reality) and would not kill him. He became so corrupt in his “power” that he developed a game in which he would purposely infuriate grandma to the point that she would crack, draw the slap and then run to someone else for protection and affection. And, he eventually began practicing this “game” of his on everybody, in the house and out. He did this to me too. Screaming and anger was like television comedy for him.

Eventually all of this justifying he was having to do about how everything in his life is a game and not real attached itself to his school work and his dealings with other kids. He was having problems with everything, but actually liked it that way because all of that anger directed at him for his failures was absolutely the right way to live as directed by the essential powers that be.

So, like I said, I stepped in. And as there was no conversation, and therefore no possible way for me to express my opinion about the problems with the current administration by reason, I saw no other way than to speak with them except on a base level. I simply stated that “from now on no one hits the kid any more”, and if they wanted to try, they would have top go through me. I am a big guy; this they heard. I guess as with all unreasonable and unlivable political situations, a revolution is sometimes called for. And really I saw no plan for the boy’s future in what grandma was doing, but rather that she was simply satisfying her immediate emotional needs at the expense of the kids ability to grow. So I stepped in and did the dirty work. I guess this makes me a partisan.

Under the new regime, we do our work. All issues that require “corrections”, such as not doing his homework or being late with assignments or for appointments, get a hearing in which all get their say. And, if this situation is found to be without legitimate justification, in place of beatings, the penalties are in the form of essays (stories about children in similar situations) to be written.

The first few attempts at this were met with distain from the kid. However, as no one was losing their temper any more, and all that was happening was that the number of penalty essays only got larger (a failure to pay the “straff” yet another failed appointment), the kid soon began to adjust and, with stunning results. Not only did the writing strengthen and clarify his own thinking about things, the discipline of producing the straff work started to carry over to his school work which has become as we say in the States, more “real”. Or in other words, he is not an “A” student, but he does all the work in a workmanlike fashion, and there is room to grow. He also got himself invited (probably as a result of all of the running practice) to the bike school for workouts and football with the bike club though he is technically too young. All if this real and understandable activity has got him moving like kind of a straight arrow. He can still be a shit sometimes, but what the hell; he is on the track to become a pretty cool little sportsman, still plays tournament chess (he has beat me 8 in row as of this morning) and has his mothers giggling on occasion at who her son is becoming. Tell me where I did something bad.

However, grandma is not on the cheerleading bandwagon. All of this new activity and determination has severely cut down on the amount of time he is at her disposal. And what is more, her intrusions are seen now as being somewhat detrimental to his time, rather than being the interactions at the center of his life. Kids and their naturally accruing unrestricted affection make for powerful drugs. Yesterday’s war was an example of what could probably be attributed to withdrawal symptoms. But there is not a damned thing I can do about that. In all wars there are casualties and sacrifices to be made and, I am sorry to have to say this, but I do absolutely believe that the development and time of an 8 year old boy is easily far more important than the emotional needs of an old woman to salve her emotional unrest by unloading on him. You can arguer with me. That’s what I am here for. But I say you don’t beat the kid just because you don’t like your life. It is not the boys fault. It was never the boys fault all along. He was never a bad kid, he was just asked to be that way. We simply ask him to behave differently now. And we can see the results. Beating the child is simply no longer allowed in my house.

I have very strong feelings about the subject. I wrote a play about this when I was in Poland. It’s called “OWNERSHIP”. Check it out and tell me what you think.


I got caught up in doing some web surfing and thought that it would be more useful to add a few more permanent links to the HOMEPAGE rather than write about personal things. I guess having more material than there is space and time for is a pretty normal thing.

The first page is a GENERAL OVERVIEW of the Polish system written by a guy named Adamski.

I also found a rather terrific essay written by one Ewa Letowska called A Constitution of Possibilities, from a quarterly published by New York University Law School and Central European University. Though perhaps a little dated (it was produced in 1997), Ms. Letowska does make several good points about the basic differences between the constitutional rights afforded during the communist times, and under the new “free” democratic republic.

Much more to the point though is an essay written by the OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (Strasbourg, 19 March 2003) by Mr. Alvaro Gil-Robles . The report details some of the failings of the Polish system. The report was made in connection to an inspection about human rights abuses in connection with Poland joining of the European union.

I found two specific places I thought I should print here- points 4 and 14. The whole of the report can be found by clicking on the above link. It loaded for me slowly, so be patient.

Point #4

Excessive length of judicial proceedings

Excessively lengthy judicial proceedings significantly undermine the rule of law. The denial of the prompt enforcement of rights may in addition lead to negative knock-on effects in a wide range of cases, including a number covered in this report. Lengthy proceedings in domestic violence cases can, for instance, result in victims of abuse having to continue to live with their abusive partners while awaiting trial. Children are kept in remand homes longer than intended awaiting a decision to place them elsewhere. Persons in pre-trial detention might be deprived of their liberty for excessively long periods of time while awaiting their trial, which is an attaint to the fundamental right of liberty of person. Litigation is also negatively affected in labour and social cases, such as cases concerning the non-payment of salaries, contesting dismissals, withdrawals of social benefits and evictions, such as to consistently favour the well-off and the well-placed over the more vulnerable, who are denied the necessary judicial protection. Slow justice is, in short, often tantamount to no justice.


point #14

A number of detainees complained to me about inadequate access to lawyers. They informed me that private lawyers come when requested but that that most prisoners cannot afford to hire them. The officially appointed lawyers were said rarely to visit their clients. This is a serious issue. Moreover, similar concerns were brought to my attention in the child remand centre I visited in Katowice. Though it was suggested to me in my meetings with the representatives of bar associations that such failures were not systematic, I would encourage the bar associations and the Ministry of Justice to examine this issue in greater detail, and, depending on the results, to take the appropriate action. The expertise of the Council of Europe in this area may be of help.

More tomorrow.