Archive for June, 2013

LOOKING UP AT THE BALCONY

June 24, 2013

2013-06-24The Ukrainian government is planning to introduce some new taxes. There’s going to be a tax on  travelling abroad for vacations and a tax on buying the equipment for playing audio- and video recordings. Earlier the Cabinet of Ministers decided on a 15 percent tax on all money transfers the Ukrainian residents receive from abroad. In a newspaper interview a Ukrainian migrant who is currently working in Portugal periodically sending money to his aged parents says that he is already doing what the state is supposed to do – he is providing social protection for the elderly in case of the latter’s disability. Why should he be taxed, then? Besides, he wouldn’t have gone abroad to work there if the Ukrainian government had guaranteed him the right to earn his living through the work he is qualified to do in his native country (that’s what the Constitution declares). On the other hand, he says, for very obvious reasons the tax authorities are overlooking a much richer fiscal source of filling the budget coffers – the offshore accounts of the Ukrainian money-bags.

The new analyst Serhiy Hrabovs’kyi sarcastically suggests that the Ukrainian law-makers should do a research in history of taxation in order to expand their imaginative powers along these lines. In the 17th-century Germany (Württemberg) a “sparrow tax” was introduced: a citizen was freed from paying the tax if he showed a dozen sparrows killed by him (sparrows were believed to eat too much grain). Peter the Great taxed those who wore beards, who washed in steam-baths, celebrated birthdays, arranged weddings or observed death anniversaries. In Russia in the early 20th century a citizen had to pay a tax for the right to ride a bicycle. In the czarist Bashkorstan even the color of eyes was taxed: those who had brown eyes had to pay 6 kopecks to the state budget and people with grey eyes – 4 kopecks. In the 1950s the Ukrainian villagers had to pay a tax for every fruit tree they were growing in their gardens. Quite recently, in Armenia a resident was taxed if there was too much dust in their yards…

Attempts to “invent” more and more of new taxes signal that Ukraine is slipping into a recession – a second recession in the last four years.  The IMF predicts zero growth for the Ukrainian economy this year.

About four years ago, when Ukraine was hit by the first wave of recession, the then mayor of Kyiv made up his mind to introduce a tax on glazed balconies. I remember a couple of Zhek employees (people who work at the local housing-utilities offices) standing in front of our 16-storeyed building listing the balconies with glass windows. However, after some shorter time the recession subsided, the mayor was kicked out from his job and the issue was diffused. Yet…let me look through the window… Isn’t there a couple of ladies down there with a note-pad and a pencil looking up at my balcony?

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SKEUOMORPHIC NOSTALGIA

June 13, 2013

Apple_logo_black.svgAt the Worldwide Developers Conference taking place in San Francisco these days Apple Inc. came up with a simplified design of the graphical user interface for its OSX and iOS7 operating systems. That means that visual images of some applications won’t imitate real objects any more. For the time being the software calendar on my iPad is similar in appearance to a paper desk calendar, iBooks are presented  in the form of wooden shelves ready to accept as many books as I can afford to purchase, and my note-taking application Evernotes employs the image of a physical notebook. My swiping gesture when I “turn” pages of an electronic book uses the same idea of leafing through book pages in a “good old” way. The idea of skeuomorphism  (imitation of the form, design and/or material of real-life things) has been rather popular until recently, cf. electric kettles in the form of traditional stovetop kettles or fake spoked wheels and fake wood sliding in modern cars. Even the shutter-click sound emitted by digital cameras is basically skeuomorphic  — the sound isn’t produced mechanically but it has been built in the operating system of the device.

All that may change next fall when the new mobile and desktop 2013-06-13Love Songoperating systems are launched. The authors of OSX and iOS7 insist that the simplicity of their interface design will “streamline” the way i-devices are used. Skeuomorphic  interface elements, they say, take up more screen space, cause inconsistent look and feel between applications, thus being “less advanced” and not “abreast”  with the latest trends.

That may be correct. But for all that correctness I am rather conservative. I keep missing the appearance of a real book, the authenticity of a 19th-century collection of songs from the British Library I have just downloaded, the rustle of pages when they are turned over, and I like my hand-written scribbles in Penultimate much more than I liked them in my copybook when I was a pupil. 2013-06-13Penultimate scribbles

THE RUSSIAN SYMBOLISM

June 9, 2013

Last Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila spoke to journalists after attending the ballet “La Esmeralda” in the Kremlin Palace in Moscow. They announced that they had separated and their marriage was over.Vladimir Putin, Lyudmila Putin

I won’t comment (though I could do that) on the moral side of divorcing a person with whom one has lived for 30 years, raised two children and whose duty it would be to support the spouse at the moment when both are “over the hill.” It’s the symbolism of the event that is worthy of note. Just as nations are seen in the leaders they elect and tolerate, the intellectual and social environment of Russia was seen in the interview given by Mr and Mrs Putin. Everything was permeated with hypocrisy and deception – starting from the very fact of the interview. As if quite accidentally, the first couple “bumped” into a journalist while strolling in the hall after the performance (a contrived coincidence, “a piano in the bushes”, as the Russian saying goes). The journalist asked about their impressions of the ballet. Mr. Putin and his wife were trying to show off their intelligence by over-intellectualizing the impressions. One must admit that the husband was more “heavy-footed” in his assessment by using the slangy word “shikarno” (roughly corresponds to “kicky”) two times. Both definitely knew that the question about the impressions was only a prelude to the main question about their relationship: “La Esmeralda” was only a camouflage used to deliver something more important. The second question was asked by the journalist in such a low voice that the word “divorce” was scarcely heard (“Is it true that…?”). The reasons the Putins put forward for their (mutual?) decision to get divorced could hardly be called credible: allegedly, the President was a 100 per cent public person who was dedicated to his job, while his wife didn’t like publicity and was “tired” of living alone. It was stated at the time when the whole of the ex-USSR is never tired of gossiping about Mr. Putin’s extramarital affair. Incidentally, in 2008 the newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent was closed down by the authorities for this juicy news about the President.

One of the latest “political” jokes which I appreciate: A Russian apparatchik talks with his wife on June 6th : HE: “My dear, I don’t love you any more and have decided to get divorced.” SHE: “Could you at least take me out to the theatre, then?”

2013-06-09Kasparov1Seemingly unrelated, another symbolic fact of Russia’s life is significant to me: the chess legend Gary Kasparov, who is now known as a political activist and an opponent of the present regime, decided not to return to Russia from abroad knowing that he would be arrested and imprisoned. This picture dating back a year ago stays very vivid in my eyes: the grey-haired Kasparov, one of the strongest brains of nowadays, is being pushed into the prison bus by the blockheads who will always support their czar, regardless of what the czar is, and notwithstanding  the mental slavery of the country in which they live.

HANDKERCHIEF

June 6, 2013

2013-06-06bOnce I told my young friend (a pupil at a middle school) an English joke about a gentleman who had accused his tablemate of stealing his silk handkerchief. After the handkerchief had been found the gentleman started apologizing for the false accusation, to which the wrongly accused person answered: “You needn’t apologize. You thought I was a thief and I thought you were a gentleman, however, both of us were wrong.”

I thought that the pupil would start probing into the concept of gentlemanliness and I was already prepared to dwell on the stratum of the British society represented by well-mannered and considerate people with high standards of proper behavior who (by good luck) might also be of noble birth and superior social position. But my friend asked a very down-to-earth question: “Why should people steal each other’s handkerchiefs?”

I must admit that the question was kind of unexpected. I mumbled something about the high cost of silk in the Victorian times, of which I was not quite sure, though. Then I thought that the era of handkerchiefs might have begun even earlier: a handkerchief was an important element of Shakespeare’s Othello. All that made me undertake a short study into the topic of handkerchiefs.  I came to the conclusion that the handkerchief in the joke was definitely a decorative accessory to a suit symbolic of the social class of the user and known as a pocket square.

I’m not sure to what extent all that study has affected me, but every morning now, when I take a clean handkerchief out of the drawer before going to work, I do it with special pleasure. And if throughout the day I manage to control myself even in most nerve-racking situations and remain calm when otherwise I would lose my temper, isn’t that also due to the ironed and carefully folded piece of white-and-blue linen  in my pocket? Who knows?

STUDENTS’ HUMOUR picked up from the Internet

June 1, 2013

2013-06-01PC 1.      Political Correctness

You don’t have detention, you’re just one of the “exit delayed.”

Your bedroom isn’t cluttered, it’s just “passage restrictive.”

 

You’re not late, you just have a “rescheduled arrival time.”

You don’t talk a lot. You’re just “abundantly verbal.”

You’re not being sent to the principals office. You’re “going on a mandatory field trip to the administrative building.”

It’s not called gossip anymore. It’s “the speedy transmission of near-factual information.”

The food at the school cafeteria isn’t awful. It’s “digestively challenged.”

 

2013-06-01A2.      Flying Home for Holidays.

A student was heading home for holidays. When she got to the airline counter, she presented her ticket to Houston. And as she gave the agent her luggage, she made this remark: “I’d like you to send my green suitcase to Hawaii, and my red suitcase to London.”

The confused agent said, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”

“Really??? I am so relieved to hear you say that because …That’s exactly what you did to my luggage last year!”

 

 

 

 

2013-06-01N3.      “Ways A Nerd Can Impress” joke.

 

Ways A Computer Nerd Can Impress His Date:

 

a.Flash the big wads of tens and twenties you created with your color laser printer and top-notch graphics program.

 

b. Spend an evening playing floppy disks backward, listening for the secret messages about Satan.

 

c. Drive her crazy by murmuring tender love words with the help of a French-speaking voice synthesizer.

 

d. When things get tough, simply ask yourself, “What would Bill Gates and Steve Jobs do in a situation like this?


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