Archive for May, 2008

WHICH IS GREATER?

May 30, 2008

JONATHAN SWIFT, THE WRITER

(see “OR” in the title of the previous entry)

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OR:

May 30, 2008

PHOENIX, THE LANDER?

I have always known that there’s poetry in figures. Here’s the poetry:

The apparatus standing on the brownish surface (it has managed to photograph itself) has traveled about ten months to reach this place: it was launched on 4 August 2007 and arrived at the point of destination on 25 May 2008

Its second cosmic velocity was 11.2 km/sec. With that speed the lander Phoenix (that’s the name of the device) could have shot from London to New York within some 8 minutes;

In the picture you see a clear Martian afternoon with temperature – 22 F (–30 Celsius), which is rather warm for these parts because in the morning the temperature was ‘in the low 100s”, namely – 112 F (– 80 Celsius). There’s a light wind – only 20 km/hr, which is about 5m/sec;

The atmospheric pressure is 8.5 millibars: it’s one hundredth of the pressure of the sea level on Earth. To compare: the air pressure averages at the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest elevation on earth, are around 300 milibars (about a third that at sea level). The Everest climbers are known to become nauseated and dizzy at that pressure and resort to oxygen masks. So few climbers are able to reach the summit by breathing natural air;

The two satellites of Mars – Phobos and Deimos – move round their mother planet at orbital distances of 1.4 and 3.5 Martian diameter and at periods of 7.6 and 30.3 hours. Actually, that’s what Jonathan Swift mentions in his “Gulliver’s Travels”(1726) in Chapter 3 of the “Voyage to Laputa”: “…They (the astronomers of Laputa) have discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the center of the primary planet exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in space of ten hours and the latter in twenty one and a half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the center of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation that influences the other heavenly bodies.”

It may be argued that the figures quoted by Jonathan Swift are not exactly the same as our 21st century data. However, they are very close to the figures obtained in modern times and keep the same proportion. And then…the famous British satirist (also essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and priest) wrote his book 151 years BEFORE Phobos and Deimos were even discovered. AND THAT’S THE MOST BREATH-TAKING POETRY FOR ME.

P.S. The World Mars Society has quite a number of chapters all over the globe. They host international Mars Society conventions, provide mission support services, work on would-be Mars colonization, provide public outreach events to classrooms, libraries, museums etc throughout their regions, host monthly Mars movie nights. The Internet does not mention one other unregistered chapter which numbers one person only (yours truly) and which has been established with posting this blog entry.

Entry for May 27, 2008

May 26, 2008

GEOPOLITICS, OR TIME TO QUIT

Eurovision Song Contest is hardly about liking a song. It’s more about cockfighting. The difference is that this time I am not allowed to root for my own cock but must choose anybody else’s bird as an object of my passion. So I choose the cock of the lad who is my next-door neighbor and with whom I had a shot of vodka just the day before. And I know that, in return, my neighbor will slap my back too. Even if my cock cuts a very poor figure in the contest, its victory, or at least a higher place, is guaranteed if I’ve got enough boon companions who are ready to send the right number of text messages voting for my cock.

Mine is a tongue-in-cheek attitude. When the British or the Germans speak about quitting the ESC, just as Austria, Italy and Luxemburg have already done, I ask myself: don’t they understand that it’s not an opera competition? It’s supposed to be silly and tacky and overblown and rife with ethnic “bloc voting.” It’s stupid to imagine that the talented will succeed over the popular, especially when there is not much of a talent on offer to begin with. The secret of the Eurovision popularity is that ESC (like any other mass show – football, for one) is a very profitable business. Participants make money out of this, that’s why it keeps getting bigger and bigger since the invention of televoting.

Funny that taste for real music has been so much distorted that even the Ukrainian president thought it was worthy of his title to hand in the ESC prize to the 2005-winner of the contest, which was held in Kyiv that year.

In this regard I remember the ever-living genre in the Ukrainian city folklore named “kitsch.” Kitsch songs are single-type monotonously-sung sentimental chansonettes about “true life”: specifically, love and family relationships, which very often have a tragic end. The ditties are usually sung in suburban electric trains by those who earn money this way. Just an example:

Старік бил стар, но бил багатий,

А я как розочка цвєла,

Даріл он кольца золотиє,

І етім он завльок мєня

(The old man was old, but rich, and I was fresh as a rose. He presented me with gold rings and that was how I was enticed by him). One must only hear the song to appreciate the broad Ukrainian accent enveloping the Russian words.

The 19th century Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko used to say that the Ukrainian kitsch spoils the taste for what is really beautiful in the folksong. Aren’t there the same parallels in the 21st century?

Somebody said that with bloc voting in ESC Gorbachev gets his last laugh. That was his master plan: to provoke the break up of the Soviet Union and the fragmentation of Eastern Europe, in order to establish Slavic cultural hegemony over the Eurovision, when the diaspora in each former colony of the ex-USSR starts voting for their ethnic motherland. There’s a suggestion for Britain to introduce devolution down to the county level – just for letting the counties vote for each other. The Anglo-Saxon victory in the ESC is a sure thing then. With the perspective of becoming an EU member, Ukraine has a good chance of developing its diaspora (hence, acquiring Eurovision supporters) in every industrial country. In the Belgrade contest Ukraine was given the first place by… Portugal. The reason is very simple: there are more Ukrainians working in Portugal – legally or illegally – than in any other European country

Entry for May 25, 2008

May 24, 2008

THIS IS QUITE SOMETHING

OR:

Heading for Kyiv Energy Summit (being held today)

Solution to the Oil Crisis

To Be On the Safe Side

”The time is out of joint”( Shakespeare)

Trying to Achieve Continuity

New Times, Old Times

Any other titles?

————————————–

I liked Yasochka’s suggested variants so much that I made up my mind to display her comment in the body of the blog entry rather than cache it away in the “Comments”:

Tatochku, harna fotohrafija! Proponuju sche taki zaholovky:

Royal Treatment

Fairy Godmother Inc.

They Don’t Make Them Biodegradable Anymore

Toward Energy Independence – In Style…

I caught up on reading all the blogs! I love them all – simple, beautiful and moving. To me they read a bit like Andersen’s stories – but about reality.

Saturday May 24, 2008 – 09:50pm (EDT)

Entry for May 24, 2008

May 24, 2008

LOVE ALL

Our potential supplier from Taiwan was emphasizing that after they start shipping goods to our company, we should avoid any price wars while selling those goods in the national market. The matter is that they are going to deliver the same type of products to a few other distributors in this country and would feel sad if their partners began “killing” one another by dumping prices.

It should be noted that the words “aggressive price policy” and “competition” sounded rather negative the way they were being used by the head of the Taiwanese team. The words were in the same value-line as “killing (prices), “spying” etc. More often than not the “aggressiveness” in the market and the “competition” among companies are mentioned quite positively in the West-European “business-speak”. Instead, the key-word “profit” in the speech of our Taiwanese visitor became hyper-semantisized. The visitor focused on the idea that we should gain profit by letting our competitors gain profit too.

I remembered reading a story about how the Americans were cultivating the game of baseball in Japan. The Japanese were “converted” into baseball very quickly. However, what came slower was the understanding that they should do their best to WIN a match. The two sides were on top of the world every time they managed to DRAW the game and rather unhappy when they gained a victory.

In the picture Ryan Klesko is upending Mike Benjamin to break up a double play (I’m not really sure what it means 😉

Entry for May 22, 2008

May 22, 2008

MY VIGIL

Yesterday I was watching the Champions League Final late into midnight. I almost forget when I last spent the “precious” sleep hours for such a lightweight entertainment as soccer. Probably it was in the 1970s when the Brazilians were the “magnificos” of the Association Football. Some forty years ago I used to shout at the top of my voice joining other fans all over the district who were also sitting in front of their televisions. And when our mighty “hooray-a-a-y!!!” would burst out of the open windows to rip the starry night sky, belated passers-by were murmuring to themselves: “H-h-m, sounds like “ours” have scored.”

This time I decided to watch the “game of the century” (as this football match was called later) because it was the first ever all-English Champions League Final: Manchester United v Chelsea. The two teams are considered to be “grandees” of the European football (I was curious to know what makes them so “grand”). And then… everything that is British is a kind of “culture magnet“ to me. Maybe from those days when we, students of English, chanted jocularly at our parties “Oh English, my love, oh English, my subject…To thee I turn…”

This time I did not side with either team: both of them were “mine”. Neither did I scream nor stamp my feet (you do not do that easily at age 60), and my windows were closed. For all that, I enjoyed the game immensely. It was as if I was watching a ballet performed by a troupe of professional dancers. I noticed how much higher the standards have become. Yes, it was a typical British high-speed style with long diagonal passes. But how elegantly it could explode with exquisite South American dribbling (Cristiano Ronaldo)! The shots were headed and scrambled away from the goal in a fraction of a second. At times it looked like a gigantic ping-pong…

But most of all I liked the character in the game. In it I could spot the SPORT as it was classically felt and understood by the British. That was a “fair play”, tough and uncompromising. Yes, a number of the footballers earned yellow cards and one was even sent from the field. But I dare say each side knew and respected their opponents. And the game was …very GENTLEMANLY. Let’s not forget that another definition of the word sportsman is “a person whose conduct and attitude exhibits sportsmanship”

Important for me were such “circum-football” details as the pouring rain, the British fans who were wearing the uniforms of their respective teams (plus Russian fur-hats on their heads with earflaps turned down), and the song “Take Me Home Country Roads”, which all of them were singing.

I hesitated for a while which picture I should take from the Internet to illustrate this blog entry. Finally, I decided upon a coach. Behold the man! He is the most successful manager in the history of English football, having guided his United players to ten league championships. He became the first manager to lead an English team to the treble of league championship, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. As well as being the only manager to win the FA Cup five times, he is also the only manager ever to win three successive league championships in the top flight in England with the same club. This year he joined Brian Clough (Nottingham Forest) and Bob Paisley (Liverpool) as only the third British manager to win the European Cup on more than one occasion. His name is Alexander Chapman Ferguson, b. 1941. Sir Alex Ferguson.

Tonight, on my way home I overtook a group of teenagers who were exchanging their impressions of the yesterday’s match. They were describing the scenes of foul play (“…and then he tripped him…”). Their description was richly punctuated with invectives. I didn’t hear the word “Sir”

Entry for May 20, 2008

May 20, 2008

NEW BANKNOTE

A new banknote with the face value of 500 hryvnyas has been issued in Ukraine. Five such banknotes make an average salary of a Kyivan. The fact that this piece of money appeared is a sure sign of the rampant inflation: its expected rate is 17-19 per cent by the end of 2008.

I do not know to what extentI should be afraid of the inflation. I don’t have much savings: there’s practically nothing that may be devalued. I was through really hard times when in 1994 you had to spend 500,000 karbovanets (out of your salary of 1.5 m) to come to Kyiv and to stay here for a couple of days. All that turned to be a blessing in disguise: fleeing from the inflation, I found a more secure job in the capital of Ukraine, due to which I’ve been immersed in my beloved English for 14 years already.

So, I take the brand-new banknote in my hands and look at the portrait of Hryhoriy Skovoroda on one side of it and at the building of Kyiv Mohyla Academy on the other. The philosopher was a student of the Academy in the 18th century. In 1994 my daughter also studied here. Skovoroda and Mohylyanka will always be of special significance to me – no matter where they are depicted.

The banknote proper will probably have to be used as soon as possible. It may be that after some time you will be able to buy just a box of matches with it.

Entry for May 19, 2008

May 18, 2008

MONDAY MORNING ON THE RIVER BANK

Other suggested titles:

· After the Weekend’s Spree

· Lifting the Hair of the Dog

Any more?

Entry for May 18, 2008

May 18, 2008

KHRUSHCHEVKAS

“Khrushchevkas” are four- or five-storied buildings that were being intensively constructed in the early 1960s under the initiative of the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Initially they were made of brick, and later of pre-fabricated concrete panels. They were built to last for about 50-100 years and later to be replaced by “houses of the future.” Khrushchev idealistically believed that the construction program he launched would give housing to all soviet people. That was never materialized but the 10 per cent of the country’s housing stock, which the “khrushchevkas” made up, was a sizable ratio at that time. It gave a chance for millions of people to improve their living conditions. In those days flats (as many other things) were not bought – they were “given” by the caring socialist state.

In modern Ukrainian the word “khrushchevka” comes up in the same context with the words “shabby”, “old”, “pull down” and “renovate”. Our family of four children moved into a three-room “khrushchevka” flat from a village mud-hut where we had lived for some 10 years. I was the eldest of the four and I had the impression that we were settled in a kind of palace. Much later I had the same feeling when I stayed in a five-star Kempinsky Hotel in Budapest! The “khrushchevka” rooms seemed very spacious. There wasn’t much of furniture: only two tables, ten chairs, three beds and a wardrobe. The wardrobe was a hiding place for my younger brother and sister when they were playing hide-and-seek. After some time our Dad bought huge pot-flowers to make the flat a little “homy” and a radio-gramophone with a built-in clock, which was very useful because three of the four kids were pupils and every morning we had to leave home on time not to be late for school.

The new occupants were mainly young families and the “khrushchevka” districts were swarming with little children and teenagers. On summer evenings people placed their gramophone records in their windows and balconies, and a cacophony of popular songs was thundering all over the district. Robertino Loretti’s “Jamaica” and the Russian song about the black cat that was hunted away by all the dwellers in the yard were real hits.

I visit the town of my childhood at least twice a year. The place where I lived looks rather depopulated – with mostly elderly people sitting on benches or sometimes having their leisured walk. The “khrushchevka” blocks of flats are bosomed in and dwarfed by mighty trees planted almost half a century ago. I open my apartment, put the travel bag on the floor and start going through empty rooms, coming to each of the four windows, perusing the notches on the door-frame my wife and I used to make when we measured our children growing. Again and again I read the two names that come repeatedly one over the other with their dates and years. I do not switch on the light when it gets dark but go to the balcony and begin peering through the black trees. I strain my eyes and ears. Only rare lights of windows may be discerned in the house opposite and the leaves are weakly rustling in the night breeze.

Entry for May 11, 2008

May 11, 2008

MOTHER’S DAY

Four women are central to my perception of the world: my mother, my wife, my daughter and my sister. Their opinions are a yardstick for me to measure everything significant which I am doing or which I have done. I share every moment of their joy, I am sensitive to any discomfort they experience and proud of every achievement they have.

There are not many people whom I have known longer than my sister – more than half a century, in actual fact. I remember that day when my mother was taken to the maternity home in the neighboring village eight kilometers from ours. It was snowing and my mother was sitting in a sleigh drawn by a horse. The snow was very white and she wore a dark coat. I wondered why the driver was so fussy about the horse and so unsmiling.

Tanya did not move into our house immediately from the maternity clinic. The house was a mud-and-stick hut built right after the war and in winter its walls inside were covered with mildew. It’s almost a miracle that nobody who lived in it contracted tuberculosis – there were many people in the village living in better conditions and still developing the disease.

For a month or two Tanya stayed in Grandmother’s house – inside it was just one big room with a three-generation family (seven people!) living there. For all that, that home was friendly, it was also warm and Grandmother’s name was Tanya too.

A six-year-old brother is the best baby-sitter to care for his younger sister – especially when the mother is away all day long earning for a living. That’s how we became life-long friends.

Tanya has many gifts (she, for instance, was admitted to one of the most prestigious universities in the country having confirmed her gold medal at high school by passing the first entrance exam with the top grade), but her main talent is her kindness and the ability to identify with others. She is empathetic to the point of being sacrificial and that is amazingly combined with firmness of character. She has a delicate sense of right and wrong and with that guiding landmark she managed to steer her family of three children through the treacheries of this life – all the way to their new country where they eventually emigrated ten years ago. With her youngest Alex having left home to work in another city this past winter, Tanya felt she could visit us in Ukraine. The three weeks of her stay after the seven years when we saw her last seemed to pass like three hours. And there she is now – looking into my camera just a few hours before her flight back.

I had clean forgotten that the second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day in America. I remembered it only when I was returning home from the airport. May this short note, Tanyushko, be our message of greeting and gratitude to you.


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