Archive for February, 2013


February 24, 2013

DSC02619The device in the picture is an analog disc telephone. At the time we bought it there was no need to specify its type. It was just a “telephone” and the line it was connected to was unassumingly called a “phone line” (the word “land-line” started being used much later).

I don’t know why we keep it. My wife and I have a couple of mobile phones each, and it costs us cheaper to use them than to pay for something which remains silent practically all day round. The reason may be that things which we have used in our households for some longer time become a part of us and cannot be discarded so lightheartedly. They are already a sort of pets – warm and dear.

Our friend’s 10-year daughter visited us the other day. She looked at the telephone standing on a small desk and asked us: “How do you operate it?”2013-02-24push-button world2b

There could hardly have been a more vivid demonstration of the divide between the present and the past.


February 22, 2013

2013-02-22Chalyabinsk meteoriteOn February 15 a meteor exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in Southern Urals. With it there came a few sidelights which seem important for me too.

First I was surprised that the fall of the cosmic object started being filmed even before it actually appeared. How did a camera man know where to direct his camera? That’s how I came to know about dashboard cams (in Ukrainian: “video-registers”). They are rare in Ukraine so far, but it looks like they may have a big future. They may be helpful in solving road conflicts: some car insurance companies do not accept claims if there is no video of the accident. Hopefully, the Ukrainian traffic police will be less corrupt with dashboard cameras zeroed in on them.

I was shocked by the commentaries which accompanied the amateur videos of the meteor. They were mostly made of profane words and obscene expressions. I remembered  the videos of 9/11 in New York City. Then you could hear people calling “My God! Oh, my God!” Words are more than just words. They are signs of our education, intellectual ability, way of thinking, acceptance of the reality, of our character, etc. And when I compare what I see and hear on the terrains of the ex-USSR with what I know about other nations, I ask myself: “Why?”, “How long will it last?”  Until recently I had been an idealist. I had kept hoping there might be an end to this moral downfall and a boost would follow. But… there is an example from the history of civilizational development. The harsh conditions of 100,000 ago gave birth to the Neanderthals, who didn’t “improve” when the climate became better but were replaced by the Cro-Magnons. When I was listening to what was said on the videos uploaded on the Internet I thought about the “neanderthalization” of human species in this part of the world. Incidentally, I thought I was the first to invent the term. When I googled the word, I received  463 sites where the word “neanderthalization” was used.

It was also funny to see all those who were sifting the snow for pieces of the meteorite. Each gram of it is said to cost as much as $2,000. It’s quite possible that the total weight of the debris found may exceed the real weight of the space body.

The Russian political clown Zhyrinovsky started screaming that it was the U.S.A. who was testing its secret weapons that way. His ideas might have caught on – considering the anti-American atmosphere in Russia. The thing which remains not clear, however, is why should the Americans test their “secret weapon” over the lake of Chebarkul and not right over the Moscow Kremlin.

For all that, the positive effect of the meteorite’s fall was a suggestion to return the course of astronomy to Russian schools. The course was withdrawn from the curriculum about twenty years ago. If it is restored, there’s a chance that some kids may start looking up into the sky, and even hitch their wagon to some distant star.


February 15, 2013

2013-02-15I was rushing to work and it looked like I was being late: our Japanese partners, for whom I had to interpret, were to arrive at 9 a.m. To get to the company’s premises, where the talks were going to be held, I had yet to squeeze into the overcrowded bus, get to the metro, go two stations by the metro, change to a tram and then walk (run?) for another 10 minutes. Besides, I had two huge arrears of written translation to be completed no later than this afternoon. My nerves were on edge. I was beyond my limits. I’m 63 – the age when you start needing a comfort zone called retirement.

When I dashed out into the corridor and headed for the elevator, Nina Ivanivna, a neighbor, looked out of her door. Being about 50 years of age, she lived only with her son, who was some 20 years old. The son was mentally ill.  On rare days, when he went out for a walk, you could see him wantonly beating his fists on the entrance doors, or tearing down advertisements and kissing them.

This time I understood that Nina Ivanivna needed my help. Her face was pale and strands of grey hair trailed down her forehead. “There are two strangers in my flat… I can’t drive them out..”

I didn’t hesitate. I followed Nina Ivanivna into her one-room flat. I didn’t even think what kind of strangers they were and what I would be doing with them.

I saw nobody in the room except Andryusha, Nina Ivanivna’s son. He sat on the floor gloating on me.

“Where are they?” I asked Nina Ivanivna, trying to be as calm as I could. “Here’s one”, she said pointing at Andryusha. The other is in the kitchen.”

The kitchen was empty…

I understood. Nina Ivanivna got insane too. Might have been the effect of the continuous stress she had living with her mentally deranged son.

I turned round, went back to my apartment and explained the situation to my wife. She immediately went with me to Nina Ivanivna’s. “Come, come, Nina”, she said. “It’s Andryusha, your son.”  Nina Ivanivna looked at us: “Is he?” There was something childish in her eyes. And there was relief too.

Seeing that things are more or less under control, I re-started for work. After the Japanese team had left, I spoke to my boss and obtained his permission to be absent. I went to the polyclinics and called for the doctor. The doctor arrived at Nina Ivanivna’s apartment  later in the afternoon. After talking to Nina Ivanivna for some time she told my wife that Nina Ivanivna and Alyosha would certainly be hospitalized.


How often we focus on our own concerns and anxieties thinking them crucial for our present or future! If we only knew what our neighbors are going through!


February 12, 2013

During the last two years the Ukrainian government has been making continuous steps to suppress everything that is truly Ukrainian in Ukraine – language, history, culture.

Last summer the Parliament adopted a law which exempts a person from learning and knowing the official (Ukrainian) language. As a result, in the streets there appeared more advertisements in Russian and fewer in Ukrainian. When the EU delegation headed by Stefan Fule met the Ukrainian government in Kyiv on February 7, the meeting was translated into Russian and English. There was no translation into Ukrainian. “Have we come to the wrong country?” – remarked one of the guests ironically.

From the National Evaluation Tests, annually conducted for high school graduates, there have been eliminated the events of the Ukrainian history which bear evidence of the Ukrainians’ struggle for their independence. Instead, there have been added “heroes” and “developments” that show Russia’s “positive” influence on Ukraine.

On February 5, my transistor radio got silent on the 72.8 FM band, which had been a channel of the Ukrainian radio  KULTURA. As it turned out, all (!) the three radio channels of state broadcasting in the Ukrainian language had been closed down. The euphemistic explanation was that the channels were stopped only “on the air” (due to less financing), but they could be accessed on the Internet (?!). It’s as if it were announced that Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” wouldn’t be published as a book, but it would only exist as Chaikovsky’s opera based on the book. How’s that? Radio and the Internet may complement each other but they are no substitution for each other.

2013-02-12Protest-2There followed protests. A tough statement was made by the Ukrainian Center of the International PEN Club. Also, hundreds of people came to the Cabinet of Ministers yesterday demanding that the channels be opened.

This morning I turned my radio on. I couldn’t believe my ears: Radio KULTURA was on the air again! That made my day! I was on top of the world.

After a few minutes, bringing the news on the hour, the same Radio KULTURA started singing (in a disgustingly saccharine voice) praises to the Ukrainian government saying how good and responsive the government was to have efficiently renewed the broadcasting 🙂


February 5, 2013

I have just been looking through jokes with a strong cross-cultural bias. For me, this is their chief attraction.

 Proverbs in the field of Business/ Politics.

A closed mouth gathers no foot.

A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours. – Milton Berle

A conservative is a man who believes that nothing should be done for the first time.
A fool and his money are soon elected.


Answering Machine Messages

-Hello. I’m David’s answering machine. What are you?

-Greetings, you have reached the Sixth Sense Detective Agency. We know who you are and what you want, so at the sound of the tone, just hang up.

2013-02-05Classroom Bloopers

When you breathe, you inspire. When you do not breathe, you expire.

H2O is hot water, and CO2 is cold water.

Three kinds of blood vessels are arteries, vanes and caterpillars.

Dew is formed on leaves when the sun shines down on them and makes them perspire.

The pistol of a flower is its only protection against insects.



Playing it Down

A bachelor kept a cat for companionship, and loved his cat more than life.

He was planning a trip to England and entrusted the cat to his brother’s care. As soon as he arrived in England he called his brother.

“How is my cat?” he asked. “Your cat is dead,” came the reply.

“Oh my,” he exclaimed. “Did you have to tell me that way?”

“How else can I tell you your cat’s dead?” inquired the brother.

“You should have led me up to it gradually,” said the bachelor. “For an example, when I called tonight you could have told me my cat was on the roof, but the Fire Department is getting it down. When I called tomorrow night, you could have told me that they dropped him and broke his back, but a fine surgeon is doing all he can for him. Then, when I called the third night, you could have told me the surgeon did all he could but my cat passed away. That way it wouldn’t have been such a shock.

“By the way,” he continued, “how’s Mother?”

“Mother?” came the reply. “Oh, she’s up on the roof, but the Fire Department is getting her down.”


February 5, 2013

2013-02-05Mental MathsNowadays many schools have their own webpages. Having once taught at a comprehensive in Sheffield and at a high school in Chicago I enjoy surfing those sites. Here’s a math word problem which I picked up on one of them:

A boy Michael from Anchorage, Alaska, is going to visit his grandmother who lives deep down in the mountains. It’s winter, and Michael can reach his granny’s place only by snowshoeing. The trip will take 6 days, and Michael can carry no more than a 4 day-supply of food with himself. However, he can ask his friends to accompany him. Each friend can also take food for 4 days of the trip. How many friends shall Michael take with him to help him get to his grandmother’s within 6 days?

I feel proud to have coped with the problem within 15 minutes. Here’s my solution:

In the beginning I tentatively suggested that Michael (M) should take one friend (F-1). After weighing up the situation I thought that there must be a second friend (F-2) too. Then the trip would go on like this:

  1.  M,      F-1 and F-2 start from Anchorage with a 4-day supply of food each. After      the first day of the trip each of them has food left for 3 days.
  2. At this point F-1 splits his supply into      three EQUAL parts. He gives one part to M, another part – to F-2 and      returns to Anchorage using the remaining 1-day supply.
  3. M and F-2 start the second day of the trip      with a 4-day supply each. By the end of the second day each of them has a      3-day supply of food again.
  4. At this point F-2 splits his supply into      two UNEQUAL parts. One part is a 1-day supply, which he gives to M, and he      takes the other part (a 2-day supply) for himself to make him last when he      travels back to Anchorage, which is a two-day trip.
  5. So, at the beginning of the third day of      the trip M has a 4-day supply of food again. That will help him survive another      four days of the trip, by the end of which he will fall into the open arms      of his dear grandmother.

While doing the math problem I thought about some “non-mathematical” things too.  It might have been risky for Michael from Anchorage to be on trek during the last four days. He could have fallen into a creek in eighty-below weather, but, with good luck, he might have quickly built a fire to dry his clothes and to warm himself. From time to time an Arctic wolf was howling in the dark, and when Michael spat in that direction, the spittle froze in the air and fell on the snow crust with a clink.

I also thought about myself, as our family moved from a village to an urban area in the winter of 1963, and I began going to a huge city school with a strong academic program. A top pupil in my old school, I was now handled “without gloves”, and the first mark in math I received was a “three” on a five-point scale, which, being a pass mark, was on the brink of failure. I bit the bullet and started doing additionally from 5 to 10 math problems at home every evening. My day came a month later, when the math teacher gave our class a few problems to be done right on the spot, and I did them faster than our “recognized mathematicians.” Interestingly, at that time I carried Jack London’s northern short stories in my school bag.


February 4, 2013

2013-02-04donald-reilly-what-did-you-think-of-hickory-dickory-dockAlmost all children who begin studying English as a foreign language learn this nursery rhyme and sing it:

Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock.

So did I. First when I was a pupil, later – when I was trained to be a teacher of English, and then over and over again after I graduated from a university and faced young learners who had shining eyes. I taught the aspirated pronunciation of the sound “k” in the word “hickory”, the loss of aspiration in the same sound at the end of the words (“dock”, “clock”), the gliding character of the diphthong [au] in “mouse”, the regressive assimilation in the combination “up the clock”, etc.

Now, having been in English for more than 50 years, I made up my mind to decipher the meaning of “hickory, dickory, dock.” It turns out that the seemingly senseless combination of “empty words” echoes the Celtic system of sheep counting. In Derbyshire Dales the count from 1 to 10 sounded like “yan”, “tan”, “tethera”, “methera”, “pip”, “sethera”, “lethera”, “hovera”, “dovera”, “dick” (

Hovera, dovera, dick…Hickory, dickory, dock… The nursery rhyme has a whiff of centuries about it.

However, the most important discovery was made when I thought that the clock might have been a grandfather clock – with a long pendulum, in a tall standing wooden case. The mouse climbed it up, but when the clock struck the time (most likely, it was one o’clock IN THE MORNING – the best time for mice :-)), the mouse got scared and “ran down.” All of a sudden, the rhyme started vibrating with life. Just try to look at the world through the eyes of a child…


February 3, 2013

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PAC E) in Strasbourg keeps an eye on how human rights are observed across Europe. On January 24 only 79 out of the 224 participants at the session  voted for the resolution denouncing political reprisals in Azerbaijan. As a result, the resolution was rejected2013-02-03Council-of-Europe.

The main motivation for not supporting the resolution was that Christopher Straesser, the Rapporteur on Political Prisoners, had not visited Azerbaijan and didn’t have a firsthand knowledge about the situation. The fact that the Azeri government had not been granting Mr. Straesser a visa for the last three years, was not taken into account by the PACE.

However, a more important reason might have been that on the eve of the PACE session representatives of the Azerbaijan authorities who were in Strasbourg called around members of the Parliamentary Assembly explaining that the political prisoners were “terrorists”, and also hinting that Azerbaijan was an oil-producing country. For oil-importing European countries the latter fact is of a special importance.

The case of the Ukrainian political prisoners is supposed to be discussed by the PACE this coming April. After the failure of the resolution on Azerbaijan we may say “was supposed to be discussed…” Mr. Pieter Omtzigt, a Christian Democrat from the Netherlands, who is preparing a report for the Assembly, cannot get a visa from the Ukrainian government to investigate the situation in Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities learn quickly from their Azeri counterparts.

As a teenager, I used to listen to the Voice of America, the BBC and Radio Liberty broadcasting on short-waves to the Soviet Union (actually, it was my father who listened – I was listening “with him”). I knew about Viktor Nekrasov, Daniel and Sinyavskiy, Ivan Dzyuba, Petro Hryhorenko, and later – about Yuri Orlov, Andrey Sakharov, Elena Bonner and many other Russian and Ukrainian dissidents. I was confident that the Western democracies were a bedrock for human rights standards all over the world. Now I know better.

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