Archive for August, 2012

SETTING RECORDS … MAKING REDUCTIONS

August 31, 2012

A new academic year begins next Monday. In 2010 the term of general secondary education in Ukraine was reduced from 12 to 11 years. In actual fact, it was reduced even to 10 years, since there weren’t enough nursery schools to enroll all children at age 5. Some feeble protests could be heard: experts wisely said that the 12-year term of education at secondary schools was normalizing the education load and ensuring children’s health, because it enabled the kids to work five days a week, while an 11-year education foresaw six days of study per week. Another argument was that the international community would not recognize certificates of secondary education and diplomas of higher education because this would violate UNESCO recommendations on a 12-year secondary education system. That meant that Ukrainian school graduates would become less competitive in the international education market.  However, the experts’ opinion fell on deaf ears. The reformative spirit of the “destroying angels” was nourished by the lack of money for the 12-year schooling and by the example of the neighbouring Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, where children stayed at secondary school for 11 years. Besides, public at large was generally on the reformers’ side:  parents wanted their off-springs to get a foothold for a quicker maturity, students were sick-and-tired of their schools, and teachers just wanted to get rid of the students. Some teachers say with sad humour that school would be a good place to work at, if there were no students in it.

This year will also see innovations in the curriculum. One of them may seem peripheral to somebody, but  it’s also rather symptomatic: students will get no marks for physical education. For me, sports (also as a part of a school curriculum) has always been about achievements numerically expressed. As a pupil, I knew that to get a top grade in Physical Training I must, for example, run 100 metres in 13.5 seconds, or jump 4 metres 40 centimetres in length. We had PT twice a week, but I trained to jump and run independently every day – understanding that it’s not a lesson in history or literature that can be prepared overnight. I also knew all major world records in athletics: Ralph Boston’s 8.35 m (long jump), Valeriy Brumel’s 2.25 metres (high jump), Bob Hayes’ 10 seconds (100 metres), or Abebe Bikila’s 2 hours 12 seconds in the marathon.

One morning this past spring I was jogging in a stadium at the school nearby. It was about 8:30 and some pupils were having their Physical Training class there too. However, it could hardly be called “physical” and there was nothing of “training” in it either. The young people were simply walking all the way along the track talking with one another. I, a 63-year-old person, periodically picked up on them and overtook them while jogging in the same direction. Later I found out that because of a pupil’s death in a PT class in some other town of Ukraine (the case was also reported by the media), the Education Ministry ordered that the physical load on pupils should be reduced. What kind of health could one expect from young people if they smoke quite openly in the school yard (often standing next to their teachers), drink beer to excess, and all that smoking and drinking is encouraged by advertisements of alcohol and tobacco brands during football and boxing matches?  Besides, empty beer bottles and cigarette butts may be seen in the stadium’s terraces every morning – that’s what usually remains after young people’s gatherings in this stadium that last late into the night.

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THE STORKS’ HOME

August 24, 2012

Today my country is celebrating its Independence Day. When you go to the Ukrainian Google page it comes up with a stork’s nest and a blue-and-yellow flag on it. The stork symbolizes childbirth in many cultures. At some point, all parents have to give an immediate reply to their child’s sudden question “Where did I come from?” Usually, the parents are caught unaware and they mumble the story about the stork. But why this bird?  The symbol may have become popular because storks are associated with happiness, prosperity, shelter, domesticity… In the village where I grew storks were believed to be endowed with almost human intellect. They were considered strict and just creatures. We, children, liked to hear a story about a stork whose nest had been destroyed by the owner of the household next to which the nest was built. The “homeless” stork was said to have found a smouldering branch and thrown it on to the straw roof of the owner’s house, burning it down to the ground.  Also, storks are monogamous creatures, which may be another reason why parental characteristics are attributed to them. According to naturalists, the young storks, even having stayed out of their nests for some time, may come back and support their old parents.

The stork may be rightfully called the ‘bird of the Bible.” It is the snake’s enemy. It is mentioned, for example, in the Book of Psalms (Ps. 104:17) alongside with the cedars of Lebanon, and in Jeremiah 8:7. Zechariah (5:9) alludes to the beauty and power of storks’ wings. And the unerring sagacity with which these birds return to their “sweet homes” at the appointed time is amazing!

If you open a Ukrainian explanatory dictionary, you will find a good many words which are used to define this bird”: “leleka”, “busol”, “chornohuz”, “buz’ko”, “bots’un”, “bots’an”, “busen’, “lelechyn’a”, “lelechych”, “zhaboyid”, “ryboyid”, “hayster”, “dzyobun”, “tsybatyi”…

When I was fixing the blue-and-yellow banner on the balcony of my apartment this morning, I wasn’t thinking about the “official holiday”, like interviews with well-known functionaries, or concerts to be given by pop-stars, or the festive fireworks at ten o’clock in the evening. I was thinking about love for this country and where it springs from.

THE PUTSCH: MORE ALIVE THAN DEAD

August 19, 2012

On this day twenty-one years ago thousands of Muscovites came to the building of their parliament (the “White House”) defending the Gorbachev democracy against the pro-communist coup. Then, after two days and two nights of confrontation, the Muscovites won. The putsch began on Monday morning. On Wednesday evening the putschist leaders were arrested.

Today the Muscovites came here again – to lay white flowers at the memorial where three young people had died at that time and whose names are carved now on the stele: Dmitriy Komar, Ilya Krichevskiy, Vladimir Usov. The white colour is the sign of protest against the present-day regime in Russia and all those who came with the flowers were closely observed by the police. A young woman came wearing a balaclava.  The mask was orange in colour but everybody understood that it was also a protest: the woman was expressing her solidarity with the Pussy Riot group who had been sentenced to two years in jail while staging an anti-Putin performance in such balaclavas. The young woman was immediately held up by the police, because, as it was explained by the policeman in the rank of lieutenant colonel, it was “prohibited to wear masks in the street.”

Today I have read about the software Prisma which is used by the Russian authorities to quickly analyse the communication in social networks and to assess how the internet community reacts to political and social events. The software scans about 60 million sources (including blog posts) in real time: only a few minutes pass from the moment when an opinion is uploaded to the time of its classification. The analysts know immediately what internet users on Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, etc. think of any event. In this connection it may be reminded that last month in the south of Ukraine joint maneuvers of Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Russian troops were held which were solving the task of coping with the “mutineers” who were going to destabilize the situation in the country…

Twenty-one years have passed… It’s quite a different country now…

MISTAKING THE YOUNG

August 7, 2012

I lay down on the carpet floor and said invitingly to my little granddaughter: “Come here, Sophie. Grandpa is a horsey.” Sophia, holding the third generation video game console in her hands, categorically shook her head: “No!”

My daughter, who heard my suggestion, remarked: “Don’t you think, Dad, that at the time of Nintendoes 3DS the animal-drawn transport isn’t particularly popular?” 

SMALL STEPS… GIANT LEAPS

August 7, 2012

While browsing the Internet for the morning news I first went to yahoo.com. It informed that Curiosity was going to land on Mars shortly. At nasa.gov/mars, where the live coverage of the event was done, the “landing” team in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology were already jumping with joy, hugging each other and shaking hands. I understood, even without the correspondent’s commentary, that Curiosity had just landed. That was a great moment for America and for the whole world. I immediately identified with the team: I lived through their joy, I felt as they felt, I wore the same blue T-shirt.

Interestingly, this time a kind of emotional outburst, which is usually observed after a goal scored or after a knock-out in the boxing ring, was over the achievement of human mind. Keeping up with the current Olympic fashion, this achievement might also be presented as a 570-billion-metre jump, or a 570-million-kilometre target shooting – with the bull’s eye being 7 by 20 kilometres. However, the effect of this mission of mind will be more lasting: with the plutonium battery inside, Curiosity will be able to travel on Mars for the next 10 years doing several centimetres per second. The first pictures of many more to come have already been sent to Earth.

I imagined that at some point in the future another team wearing other T-shirts may be the same exhilarated by having implanted in a human being a gene of friendliness or considerateness. Or by having removed from man’s DNA the genes of aggressiveness, greed, treacherousness… And millions of people all over the globe will be rejoicing with them. Why not help God bring Man to the original design?

AN ATTEMPT NOT ALTOGETHER UNAVAILING

August 5, 2012

A photographer made a picture of the moon just rising over horizon. The moon formed the sixth ring added to the set of the Olympic rings hanging under the Tower Bridge in London (see the photo). It was the same style in which well-known pictures of the Stonehenge summer solstice are made, just the same as images of the so-called “Manhattan-henge” sunsets. In the latter case thousands of pedestrians in New York City blocked the traffic last June to make a snap of the sun disappearing in the crack between huge skyscrapers.

Isn’t it a subconscious attempt of man to put oneself in the context of the universe, the attempt to immortalize the awesomeness of the beauty seen against the background of eternity?

 

THE CRITERION OF RESPECTABILITY

August 4, 2012

Little Sophia and her dad were having a walk in the park. Sophia was mincing at the side of the father, who was leading his daughter by the hand and I, Sophia’s granddad, was pushing her empty baby-stroller. Some twenty meters ahead there was also a father and his child who were coming in our direction. The child (as it turned out, it was a boy) was sitting in his own baby-stroller and his father was pushing the stroller in front of himself. The moment Sophia spotted them from afar, she dashed to her stroller, plumped into it, reclined at ease and, with me pushing the stroller, stayed like that until the other father with the boy went past us. Then Sophia slipped down from her transport, took her dad’s hand again and kept on mincing along the pathway.


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