Anything about everything

Me and my fake passport

Posted on September 2, 2007. Filed under: Anything about everything |

I just saw a BBC film called “Me and My Passports”, in which Shahida Tulaganova,  a BBC journalist, travels across Europe looking for fake passports. Her goal is to get a passport from each one of the 24 European countries, and then to enter UK with one of them.

She found her first passport in London, through an ad in a newspaper in russian language. The dealer got her a genuine Czech passport, requested by someone looking like her and using her real photo.
It then took her a few months, and a few scary moments (like one time in Greece, when a guy supposed to deliver her 4 different passports comes with nothing but a knife and demands her money) but she got a total of 20 passports.

Some were stolen, some were totally fake, some were real ones that had been stolen blank… Sometimes, she would have to use the stolen identity, sometimes her real name or a name chosen by her could be inserted.
Along the way she met some kind of specialist, who would review the passports and give her advice on which ones to use to cross the frontier.

And it worked. Twice. The first time she took a ferry in Spain and entered UK with a fake Latvian passport; a doubtful officer asked her a few questions like ‘what’s your address’ or ‘how old are you’ – but she was prepared to answer them and she was quickly released. The second time, she left Brussels with the Eurostar to London. (That scares me even more that this was possible in my own country). In Brussels she was controlled by both Belgian and English officers, then again by English officers when arriving in London, and her stolen Estonian passport never got her in trouble – although stolen passports are supposed to be registered in an international Interpol database.

Shahida’s investigation poses questions over the number of non-EU nationals entering Britain on illegal passports. She uses Poland as an example.
“Since [Poland] country joined the EU less than two years ago a quarter of a million Poles have left and legally registered for work in Britain,” she says.
“But if my contacts are right, many of these may not have been Poles at all, but illegal immigrants using fake passports.”

At the end of the adventure, she asked for an interview with the competent Minister but didn’t get it. She instead received a letter saying that there is  “comprehensive bilateral exchange of information between member states regarding the issue of lost and stolen EU passports” and that all immigration officers are highly trained in identifying false documents.

UK also introduced new passports where the information and picure are stored in a chip. That might secure British passports, but what about the 23 other European countries?

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Singles and money

Posted on September 2, 2007. Filed under: Anything about everything |

I read an article yesterday in which the journalist was giving tips to single people for sparing money. Ah, I thought, finally someone who realizes that being single costs much more than the expenses of a couple divided by two.

People around me do not seem to realize that. Although I appreciate very much the support of family and friends in this time of unemployment, I get a lot of advice and suggestions that are a total nonsense when speaking of budget management based on one income.
Consider the average income of an average qualified employees, it goes around about 1500€ (yep that is what remains after you paid over 40% of taxes, Belgium had a very high taxation level, remember?). In most cities, renting a small appartment will cost you about 600€, much more if you live in Brussels. That is more than 1/3d of the average income. But if you are living on 2 incomes, it goes down to 1/5th of what you are making. Then there’s heating, and cooking, and electricity… Heating the place costs the same, no matter how many people live in it – make it about 130€/month, and our average single has spent the half of his income already!
The food? Most products are packed with several portions, which means you buy more than you really need and you always end up with out of date stuff in the fridge. Single portions are not common and are of course more expensive.

And so it goes. Add a car to those calculations (loan+insurance+taxes+very expensive gasoil = about 500€/month for a small car), because when you live in the kind of place I live in, you have to drive miles and miles to work and there isn’t practically any public transportation to commute, so no, the car is not optional, and you will understand why being single is very expensive.

So if I hear one more person telling me that “I should go back to teaching because making 1300€ is not that bad compared to unemployment” I am going to get crazy, because how hard is it to understand that that salary is not enough to pay for all my bills? And I am not even talking about saving, opening a retirement fund or having money to go the restaurant… Is that so difficult to understand?
And next to that, I have worked hard to get valuable skills and experience, it is only normal that my salary should match my profile, I don’t wee why I should undersell myself and put myself in financial trouble.

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What is there to celebrate?

Posted on September 2, 2007. Filed under: Anything about everything |

An international day for Women. That only means one thing : women still have issues and they still are not men’s equals. So we have a day to think about that, like we have one to think about AIDS, or cancer, or anything preoccupying in this world.

Let us remember that every day, there are women who are harrassed, hit, raped, even killed. Maybe you think this is all very far from your life?
Then think about yourself or your wife, sisters, mother : they get paid less than men for doing the same job, they have to hear bad jokes about blondes or about women driving all the time, even when they work full time they often take care of the household and the kids.

And when they are in charge of their life, they very often hear “maybe I’d better talk about it with your husband?” which means that even now in the 21st century, women are still seen first as a man’s wife and not as an individual.

Here’s to 365 days a year of equality, and no women’s day necessary anymore.

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Beware of the wikis

Posted on September 2, 2007. Filed under: Anything about everything |

Although I have a hard time remembering how that felt, there was no internet when I was a student (I graduated in 98). Of course the web existed already but it was then a geek-only thing. I can even tell you that the first 18 months that I was working, I had no e-mail and most people around me, including those in the business, hardly knew what an e-mail was.
In short, when I then needed to gather information, I used the good old method : I went to the library. I didn’t mind because I love books, but of course it was taking a lot of time and research to find what I was looking for. There was a big advantage though : I could be pretty sure that the information found was true (or at least, nobody would question information coming for the universalis encyclopediae…).

Today 8 year old kids use Google to prepare their class pojects. Students of all ages browse the web all the time for information. I am taking evening classes myself and PDF files have replaced the books. And all adults around me use internet whenever they have a question.

It’s fast, it’s easy, it opens our mind to the whole world within seconds.
But is it nearly as accurate as the good old books?

I love that we can share knowledge easily this way. I love Wikipedia and have written a few contributions myself. But the truth is: you do not know who puts information on Wikis or on the web in general. Is the author an expert? Is he well documented? Did someone proof-read his article before he posted?

In a world where information is available everywhere within seconds, the new challenge for us and for our children is to learn how to be selective and check the veracity of the information found. And this, at the end, could take more time than looking for accurate information the good old way…

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If I won the lottery

Posted on September 2, 2007. Filed under: Anything about everything |

A friend of mine is a product manager at the national lottery. Every time there’s a big amount to win at the european lottery, she sends me an e-mail to remind me I should play. Next week, there are 100 millions euros to win. I’m going to buy a ticket, I’m telling.

But what would I do with so much money? To be honest, I wouldn’t even know how to spend 1% of that amount. People do not dream that big : they want a nice house, maybe a fancy car and some travelling around the world – and I am no different.

And what about working when you owe so much that you’re never going to spend it all in one lifetime? A couple of years ago, I would have told you that I was never ever going to stop working. Now I see things differently : I actually would quit my job. I would take a few months of rest and use my free time to plan that fabulous house I would let build. And then? Well I would get back to work, but it would be all different, because instead of having to get a job where I make enough money to finance my lifestyle (even if it’s not a very expensive one), I would just create the job that I want without caring for how it pays. I could be a teacher again (very, very bad pay). Or a webdesigner, without caring about if I’ll find enough clients. Or even an editor for bookpublishers, you know, those people who correct the spelling mistakes and typos before the book gets printed? They’re badly paid, too.

The great thing about winning the lottery is not so much that you can buy anything you want, it is more that there are a lot of money-related porblems you’ll never have to worry about anymore. They say it won’t make you hapy, but I think it will help.

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My car, my life

Posted on September 2, 2007. Filed under: Anything about everything |

We shouldn’t use our cars a much as we do.
Cars produce gas and greatly contribute to the changes in climate that we are all able to observe right now. California is under snow, Siberian bears are waking up from hibernation because it’s hot. Flowers are appearing and birds are nesting everywhere in Europe, I don’t know about you but I am scared.

And still, I use my car way too much. And I love it, we all love it. Why? Because our car is one of the last places where we have privacy.

When driving my car I listen to the music I like, I sing along out loud if I want, or I can turn the radio off and enjoy a quiet moment. I listen to the podcasts I have downloaded. I can even learn a new foreign language. I think about the errands I have to run, the next article I am going to write. I call my friends. I chose my lipstick colour for the day when I am stuck in the traffic every morning. All that time that once was considered lost has been turned into some kind of quality “me”-time.

I think the issue is not our laziness or the fact that public transportation is not as efficient as it should be. I mean, it is for some part. But the problem, to me, is that our way of life has made these private moments so rare that we are not ready to give up what we found while driving our car : a weird modern kind of peace of mind.

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Hello world!

Posted on August 28, 2007. Filed under: Anything about everything |

I am on the process of moving another from another blog platform to here, please be patient and come back later!

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