Archive for June, 2008

Entry for June 30, 2008

June 30, 2008
‘TWIXT THE CUP AND THE LIP

 

I was coming back to my apartment after half-an-hour’s jog. Over the

entrance door of the apartment house there was a national

blue-and-yellow flag. The flag was put up to honor Constitution Day.

This day, being a national holiday, was a day free from work and added

to the Saturday and Sunday, it made a “long” weekend. On the bench near

the entrance there was sitting aunt Lydia, a plump, vivacious woman in

her fifties. “Morning, Aunt Lydia”, said I. “Happy holiday!” Aunt Lydia

blinked at me for a moment or two before she understood what I meant.

“To hell with the holiday”, flung she out, “razzmatazz, that’s what it

is” .

I remember her working as a concierge right here, at this entrance.

There’s a tiny compartment just in the elevator niche. Aunt Lydia used

to sit there and her duty was to inquire visitors about the purpose of

their visit and to supply them with any information they required. It

was no official appointment: Aunt Lydia was paid by the apartment

dwellers on a monthly basis — they understood the importance of

somebody seeing to the order “at the threshold”.  One evening, when I

was returning home after work  I saw the entrance door wide open  and

Aunt Lydia drowned in tears. It turned out that the alcoholic who lived

on the tenth floor had not liked Aunt Lydia’s remark she made when he

entered the doorway rolling drunk, that’s why he went hog-wild and broke

the windows in the compartment, vandalized the elevator and said he

would kill Aunt Lydia, should she dare say a word. Aunt Lydia dared –

she immediately reported the police about the incident, but the

police…chose not to arrive.

This morning I was surfing  the Internet pages of Ukrainian periodicals.

The site http://ord-ua.com/ reports about a drunk driver hurtling into

people on a beach in the Luhansk oblast. Four persons were injured, two

of them seriously. The people pulled the driver out of the car (he could

hardly stand on his feet). The driver started shouting that his father

was a local procurator, which only sent the crowd into a rage and they

beat the driver to death. The mob law applied in this situation has a

very simple explanation: there are dozens of cases all over the country

when the police shield those who are “the offspring of the nobility”,

a.k.a. “rich kids”, or “jeuness d’ore” , and local kangaroo courts free

them from blame. The law-enforcing bodies in this country are busy

securing the interests of the establishment, disregarding their basic

duty: to guarantee the security of their citizens. Aunt Lydia does not

know which clause of the Fundamental Law provides for her security, but

since the night when the alcoholic went scotfree after his violence, she

knows it’s only a lip-service.

Another right that is supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution is

the right to education. A major step in that direction was made when the

universal evaluation of pupils’ knowledge and skills was introduced in

Ukraine and higher learning institutions are now to admit applicants

only on the basis of the tests taken. However…some major universities

(Kyiv National University is among them) were “allowed” by the Ministry

of Education to enroll students based on the results of oral exams and

interviews. Why the permission was given is crystal-clear: the

powers-that-be wouldn’t like their children to compete with the rest of

the applicants on equal terms. It’s easier to manipulate the admission

when the entrance exams are oral. The methods are well-proven and they

fall into one category – corruption.

Shall I mention medicine and the hypocrisy of some politicians who

condemn the “evil West” and rush to western hospitals to treat even

minor illnesses? Yes, there’s many a slip between what is proclaimed and

what is the hard cynicism of real life (see the title).

Advertisements

Entry for June 29, 2008

June 29, 2008

COMMENTARY

The esteemed reader might have already guessed that the letters which make the latest blog entries are only the beginning of a somewhat longish process in the life of the two people, which is called “courtship”. For all that, I think it will be proper if I put an end to my analysis with this answer of the lady. Though she leaves the door open for further developments, there is an element of finality in her answer, which may be attributed to the fact that a woman always has a final say in any argument with a man (if the man utters something in response, it’s the beginning of a new argument ;-). In the Letter Writer the lady’s answer is followed by “The Gentleman’s Answer to the Above”, “From the Young Gentleman’s Mother to the Young Lady”, “The Young Lady’s Answer”, etc.etc. All that is crowned with Letter LXXYI “From the Lady, after Marriage, to her Cousin, unmarried”. The lady informs her cousin that she has changed her name and “instead of liberty must subscribe wife”. However, she says, “I can freely acknowledge that I never knew happiness till now”. She tries to persuade her cousin not “to speak contemptuously of the marriage state,…that is an erroneous way of judging”.

Why have I noticed these letters? What somebody may consider to be affectation, prudishness, insincerity or snobbishness of the Victorian era, has got a touch of naivity for me. If you remove all those airs and graces, you will see the people of nowadays – with their expectations, dreams, hopes and aspirations. Across the times and the social strata we remain the same.

Entry for June 28, 2008

June 28, 2008

READING THE LETTER WRITER-2

THE LADY’S ANSWER

Sir, – I received your letter last night, and, as it was on the subject I had not yet any thought of, you will not wonder when I tell you, I was a good deal surprised. Although I have seen you at different times, yet I had not the most distant thought of your making proposals of such a nature. Those of your sex have often asserted that we are fond of flattery, and mightily pleased to be praised; I shall therefore suppose it true, and excuse you for those fulsome encomiums bestowed upon me in your letter; but I am afraid, were I to comply with your proposals, you would soon be convinced that the charms you mention and seem to value so much, are merely exterior appearances, which, like summer flower, will fade, and all those mighty professions of love will end at last either in indifference or, which is worse, in disgust. You desire me to inquire of my aunt concerning your character and family. You must excuse me when I tell you, that I am obliged to decline making any such inquiry. However, as your behaviour, when in my company, was always agreeable, I shall treat you with as much respect as is consistent with common decorum. My worthy guardian Mr. Melvil, is now at his seat in Devoshire, and his conduct to me has bee so much like that of a parent, that I don’t choose to take one step in an affair of such importance, without both his consent and approbation. There is an appearance of sincerity runs through your letter; but there is one particular to which I have a very strong objection, it is this: you say that you live along with your mother, yet you don’t say you have either communicated your sentiments to her, or to your relations. I must freely and honestly tell you, that as I would not disoblige my own relations, so neither would I, on any consideration, admit of any addresses contrary to the inclination of yours. If you can clear up this to my satisfaction, I shall send you a more explicit answer, and am, sir –Your most obedient humble servant.

TRANSLATION:

ВІДПОВІДЬ ПАННОЧКИ

Шановний пане, я отримала Вашого листа вчора ввечері. Позаяк він заторкує питання, яке мені зовсім не спадало на думку, Вас не повинно здивувати, коли зізнаюся, що лист став для мене великою несподіванкою. Хоча я й неодноразово зустрічала Вас, але зовсім не могла подумати, що Ви можете освідчитися саме так. Ті з вас, кого називають сильною статтю, часто запевняють, що ми охочі до лестощів, і що ми неймовірно задоволені, коли нас розхвалюють. Я припускаю, що Ви цьому твердженню щиро вірите, то ж вибачаю Вам надмірність дифірамбів на мою адресу, які містяться у Вашому листі. Проте я боюся, що коли ствердно відповім на Вашу пропозицію, Ви невдовзі переконаєтеся, що ті принади, про які Ви мовите і які Ви, з огляду на Ваш лист, так поціновуєте, є лише видимістю і вони зів’януть, як ніжні квіти; а всі ті бурхливі зізнання в коханні перейдуть або ж у байдужість, або – що ще гірше – у відразу. Ви хочете, щоб я розпитала Вашу тітоньку про Вашу вдачу та Вашу сім’ю. Даруйте, але я повинна відхилити цю пропозицію. Однак, з уваги на те, що в моєму товаристві Ваша поведінка була завжди прийнятною, я ставитимуся до Вас з тією повагою, якої вимагають загальні норми пристойности. Мій пошановуваний опікун пан Мелвіл наразі мешкає в Девонширі, і ставиться він до мене майже як батько, то ж коли йтиметься про подію такої ваги, я й кроку не зроблю без його згоди та схвалення. Як видається, Ваш лист сповнений щирости, але є одна частковість, яку я категорично не сприймаю: Ви кажете, що мешкаєте разом з матір’ю, проте Ви не згадуєте, що розповіли про своє почуття до мене Вашій матері чи Вашим родичам. Скажу Вам без підхідців і абсолютно чесно, що так само, як не я стану нехтувати думкою своїх родичів, я не сприйму й будь-яких Ваших кроків, якщо вони не узгоджуватимуться з наміром, що Ви його задекларували У разі, якщо Ви сформулюєте свою позицію так чітко, щоб вона мене задовольнила, я Вам також дам чіткішу відповідь.

З цим зостаюся,

Шанобливо…

COMMENTARY

Entry for June 27, 2008

June 27, 2008

READING THE LETTER WRITER

My English friend presented me with the Universal Letter-Writer by T.Cooke (1851). I appreciate the present : the edition is rare and I know how much Englishmen dote on such things.
The function of the book changed from giving help in writing letters in the 19th century to just reading in the 21st. Reading and enjoying… Here’s a LETTER FROM A YOUNG GENTLEMAN TO A LADY WITH WHOM HE IS IN LOVE.

Madam, — I have three times attempted to give you a verbal relation of the contents of this letter; but my heart has often failed. I know not in what light it may be considered, only if I can form any notion of my own heart, from the impression made on it by your many aimiable accomplishments, my happiness in this world will, in a great measure, depend on your answer. I am not precipitate, madam, nor would I desire your hand , if your heart did not accompany it. My circumstances are independent, and my character hitherto unblemished, of which you shall have the most undoubted proof. You have already seen some of my relations at your aunts’ in Bond Street, particularly my mother, with whom I now live. Your aunt will inform you considering our family, and if it is to your satisfaction, I shall not only consider myself as extremely happy , but shall also make it principal study of my future life, to spend my days in the company of her whom I prefer to all others in the world. I shall wait for you answer with the utmost impatience, and am, — Madam, your real admirer.

A typical Victorian way of expressing onself. It’s kind of florid and affected, but behind it I see the integrity of the lad, his delicateness and feelings of love, veneration and worship. Though I have read the letter three or four times to understand what he really wanted to say, I’m sure for the addressee it wasn’t a problem. This type of people communicate not only on the level of reading comprehension.

I remember a scene from my army life. After evening retreat before taps, a soldier sits down to desk and says to his friend, another soldier : “I’m going to write a letter to my chick. Will you dictate it for me?”

P.S. Considering the the fiancee’s epistolary style, I thought it would be reasonable to convey it also into Ukrainian. There follows the translation:

Шановна панно! Я вже тричі намагався переказати вам зміст цього листа, але кожного разу мені не хапало духу. Прошу Вас поставитися до того, що скажу з урахуванням вражіння, яке ваші чесноти викарбували в моєму серці. Чи буду я щасливий у цьому світі, великою мірою залежить від Вашої відповіді. З відповіддю я Вас не кваплю , дорога панно. І Вашої також не прагнутиму , якщо разом з нею я не отримаю в дарунок Вашого серця.

Я самостійний у своїх рішеннях, зажив доброї слави, на що існують переконливі аргументи. Ви вже познайомилися з деякими моїми родичами, коли були у Вашої тітоньки на Бонд-стріт. Зокрема, Ви запізнали вже мою матінку, у котрої я наразі мешкаю. Ваша тітонька зможе познайомити Вас із нашою сім’єю, і коли на те буде Ваша ласка, я не лише буду почуватися безмежно щасливим, а й вважатиму головним у своєму житті проводити свої дні в заприсягненні з тією, хто є для мене найкращою з посеред усіх інших.

З великим нетерпінням чекаю Вашої відповіді і на цім стою, шановна панно,

Ваш щирий обожнювач…

Entry for June 26, 2008

June 26, 2008

CLOVEN HOOF

In the surrealistic Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami the nameless narrator works for the governmental System protecting its data from the criminal Factory, who are trying to steal the data. The narrator uses the unique characteristics of his mind to encrypt the information. Further down the book (actually, the two books — with the even chapters being Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the uneven ones representing The End of the World) we discover that both the System and the Factory are branches of a single establishment. The same center consciously organizes crime and fights it. The magical realism of Haruki Murakami’s book explicates double consciousness of this world when two opposite moral systems can co-exist within one society. Examples are plentiful. Recently the operation system in my computer crashed because of a virus. It turned out that the anti-virus program I had was not sensitive enough to detect new viruses, so I had to buy an updated program (plus I had the whole of the system re-installed, which is a very nervous job in itself). I wondered if the specialists who improve anti-virus programs aren’t the same hackers who produce viruses. Just as the Ukrainian parliamentarians who pay lip-service to health protection while deferring (under the lobbyists’ pressure) the adoption of the law banning the advertisement of tobacco and alcohol on street boards. Incidentally, I have always found it awfully preposterous to read the words “Health Ministry warns …harmful to your health” on cigarette boxes.

The latest example is presented in the picture above. The government’s efforts directed at strengthening the social status of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine are next to zero. The same concerns drug addiction, which is rampart in city schools: narcotic medicines are easily accessible even to youngsters in any pharmacy. The negativity of the situation is “corrected” with the switchboard panel (used as a notice board) in the school yard. Here you see an announcement promoting the activities of a Ukrainian folk music group as well as the information with a promise to detox you if you are drug-dependent.

Entry for June 25, 2008

June 25, 2008

ONE’S OWN HISTORY

This lane is in the center of Kyiv — within easy reach of the Kyi Hill on which you will see a memorial stone with engraved words: THIS IS THE PLACE FROM WHERE RUS STARTED GROWING. The words are the quotation from the Old Rus chronicles written by Nestor, a monk living in the early 12th century. He died after the year 1113 and was buried in the Near Caves of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra — just half an hour’s walk from here. The name NESTORIVSKYI was given to the lane in 1855 and commemorates the great chronicler. However, his ungrateful 21st century descendents re-interpreted the original name and reduced it — phonetically and meaningfully — to NESTERIVSKYI, definitely associating it with the pilot Petr Nesterov who served as a military in Kyiv before WWI and successfully effected an aerial stunt known as “Nesterov’s loop”. While recognizing the flying talents of Nesterov, I cannot agree that aerobatics operations are more important than the voice from the remote ages telling us who we are and where we came from.
The remains of earlier announcements and advertisement sheets are plastered round the wrongly written street nameplate. One of them claims that Kyiv is a European (meaning: civilized) city.

Entry for June 24, 2008

June 24, 2008

A POLITICAL NEOLOGISM

They were together in the Vietnam war going by Fast Patrol Craft (FPC), a.k.a. Swift Boats. When the military campaign was far behind and a presidential one was underway in 2004, they established a political organization called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (later called Swift Vets and POWs for Truth). Two of them – John E.O’Neill and Jerome R.Corsi co-authored the book against their comrade-in-arms “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans speak Out Against John Kerry”, which sought to discredit Kerry’s military record and patriotism and characterize him as unfir for presidency. Since then, the term ‘swiftboating’ has been widely used to describe political tactics that are essentially synonymous with a ‘smear campaign’. Now the term has become mainstream. There’s a joke about mothers putting their little children to bed and saying Be good or the Swiftboats will get you.

It looks like during the current 2008 presidential campaign the Democratic nominee is going to be swiftboated too. The same publisher that distributed the 2004 best-seller that took aim at John Kerry’s Vietnam service is planning a summer release of what’s scheduled to be the first critical book on Barack Obama. Conservative journalist David Freddoso’s “The Case Against Barack Obama” will offer “a comprehensive, factual look at Obama,” according to Regnery Publishing president and publisher Marjory Ross. But the book’s subtitle makes clear its perspective: “The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate.” Ross contends that the media has offered insufficient scrutiny of Obama and likens the goal of Freddoso’s book to that of “Unfit for Command,” the scathing assessment of Kerry’s war record that rocketed to No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list.

I had my first insight into the concept of political mud-slinging when, as a young teacher, I was reading Robert P.Warren’s “All the King’s Men” with my students. Since that time my political vocabulary has also been enriched with such terms as character assassination, negative campaigning, dirty tricks, push polls, whisper campaigning, shame campaign. And this time : swiftboating.

The immoral factor in elections is present in any nation. Is it because a human being has been depraved from the very start of its existence? Yesterday it was reported that Mugabe’s forces in Zimbabwe kept up their assault on the opposition, raiding the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s HQ and hauling away scores of people sheltering from abductions, beatings and worse. The UN security council warned Robert Mugabe that due to this a free and fair election in Zimbabwe was “impossible”.

If you look at Ukraine, which is permanently going through one election after another, you will think that it is a major sea-faring country – so much of swiftboating is done here. When the U.S. presidential campaign of 2000 saw the two sides – the Republicans and the Democrats – pointing fingers at each other and accusing each other of machinations, the then Ukrainian president was gloating at those developments. The impression was that he was saying: “You are finding faults with the Ukrainian elections, but …look at yourselves”. Did he know that such approach is also qualified as smear? It carries the name “ad hominem” and is defined in the dictionary as replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim.

Which reminds me of another ad hominem argument on the part of the Soviet leaders when the ex-USSR started being accused by the U.S.A. of oppressing the dissident movement: “And you assassinate your own presidents!”

Entry for June 23, 2008

June 23, 2008

LEISURE
W.D.Davies
(1871-1940)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows;

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass;

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night;

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance;

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Entry for June 22, 2008

June 22, 2008

PERMITTED AMATEURS


The word “amateur” came into English from Latin through French. The Latin “amator” means “lover”. At some point the word carried positive connotations with me: most of my boy schoolmates were radio amateurs. We kept radio circuit diagrams in our school bags and ran shops in search of radio valves. Each of us dreamt of making a radio receiver and, later, a transmitter. If you had a transmitter, you could make your own unlicensed radio station. Such hobbyists were commonly called “radio-hooligans”. Those who joined radio clubs and passed a special test, went into the oxymoronic category of “professional amateurs” and could work with a short-wave station from home. They were given personal call-signs and communicated with other “hams” all over the globe.

Later the idea if amateurism started being associated with dilettantism. We were jealous of the profession for which we studied and looked down on all those who followed a pursuit without attaining proficiency in it. On the other hand, we did not dare to encroach even upon a related sphere of knowledge. I, for one, did not think myself competent enough to teach Theoretical Grammar because I had written my dissertation in historical lexicology.

It comes to my mind only now that many a discovery in the world was made and many a thing was created by “just amateurs” in respective fields. Some comets were first noticed not by astronomers but by high school kids observing the stars through their primitive telescopes, some great canvasses were painted by artists who had never finished even high school. I wonder, how many writers of high renown were specially trained to be men of letters?

A few days ago I began reading a very good book by Melvyn Bragg THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH. The author confesses that he is not a linguistic scholar, but he has been very greatly helped by other scholars. Melvyn Bragg continues: “But there is in this country a tradition, across many disciplines, of the permitted amateur — doctors who were biologists and ornithologists, landed gentlemen who were scientists, zoologists and historians, clergymen who were encyclopaedic — and I hope I will be admitted to the ranks of those amateurs.”

With the lapse of time we become wiser. However, as the years go by, we also have fewer and fewer opportunities to correct the wrong concepts which we held about what we could and what we could not do.

Entry for June 21, 2008

June 21, 2008

TWO ECOs

Like the word economy, ecology also comes from the Greek word for home or household. Yet in the context of market-oriented development, economy and ecology have been pitted against each other. The market economy separates nature from people and ecology from economy. The first known instance of this situation may be the sixteenth-century England. The transformation, known as the enclosure of the commons, was usually triggered by the greed and power of the privateers. The word enclosure describes the physical exclusion of the community from their commons by “surrounding a piece of land with hedges, ditches, or other barriers to the free passage of men and animals.” The landlords, supported by industrialists, merchants, and bankers, pushed peasants off the land and replaced them with sheep. “Sheep eat men” is how Sir Thomas More described the phenomena of the enclosures of the commons.

Your sheep, that were wont to be so meek and tame and so small eaters, now, and I had hear say become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up and swallow down the very man themselves. They consume, destroy and devour whole fields, houses and cities.

Enclosures of the type you see in the attached picture have become an everyday phenomenon in the twenty-first century Kyiv. Now and again you watch on television clashes between the inhabitants of the city and construction workers who are supported by the police. The powers-that-be in their greed for ready cash forget that there exists nature’s economy the primary economy on which all other economies rest. It’s the production of goods and services by nature—the water recycled and distributed through the hydrologic cycle, the soil fertility produced by microorganisms, the plants fertilized by pollinators. Human production, human creativity shrinks to insignificance in comparison with nature.

I have been told that nowadays in England any construction works in green areas like gardens or parks are forbidden. And yet… in modern Kyiv buildings keep eating people. “Modern” does not necessarily mean “civilized”


%d bloggers like this: