Archive for November, 2014


November 30, 2014

The story of a plane pushed by the passengers before it could be flown (see my previous post) was developed in quite a number of photoshopped images posted on the Internet. Of those I liked the following:

2014-11-30PLANE-HAULERS IN SIBERIA. The association is with the famous picture ”Barge-Haulers on the Volga” by the Russian artist Illya Repin (see the picture), whose demonstration has been a part of high school program for years to show students the “hard life of people in tsarist Russia.”2014-11-30d-Volga Boatmen












November 26, 2014

Another reason why I am reposting the following article found on the yahoo-news site ( is that the word “chutzpah”, which I mentioned in my 18th November blog, is used in it — this time, I guess, in the positive sense 🙂 .

2014-11-26SiberiaSiberian air passengers had to get out and push their plane in temperatures of minus 52 degrees Celsius after its chassis froze, Russian prosecutors said Wednesday.

The extraordinary story emerged after a passenger posted a video on YouTube showing a group of cheery travellers pushing the Tupolev plane on the snow-covered runway in Igarka, which is beyond the Arctic Circle.

“Let’s go,” passengers in thick winter coats shout and whoop as they put their hands on the wings of the plane and shove it several metres along the runway.

“Everyone wants to go home,” one man says.

Transport prosecutors in western Siberia said they were investigating the incident, which took place on Tuesday.

“Due to the low air temperatures, the chassis’s brake system froze and a tow truck was unable to move the plane onto the taxiway to carry out the flight,” prosecutors confirmed in a statement.

“The passengers on board got out of the plane and started pushing it onto the taxiway.”

Even for Russians inured to long winters of sub-zero temperatures, the passengers’ can-do chutzpah has drawn awed admiration.

“Siberians are so tough that for them pushing a frozen plane along a runway is a piece of cake,” said Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.

Social media too was abuzz with praise for the passengers.

The plane with 74 passengers on board was being operated by a Siberian airline called Katekavia which is part of UTair group. It was flying from Igarka, around 1,750 miles (2,800 kilometres) northeast of Moscow, to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

The technical director of Krasnoyarsk-based Katekavia, Vladimir Artemenko, acknowledged the incident took place to Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

“That morning it was minus 52 (minus 61 Fahrenheit). The plane had stood on the runway for 24 hours and the pilots forgot to take off the parking brake. That caused the brake pads to freeze up,” he said.

Passengers pushed the plane until it was able to turn and then the tow truck took over, he said. The flight then took off and went smoothly.

Video of the plane can be seen at

In 2012 a UTair plane crashed in Siberia, killing 29, after the wings were not de-iced.

The closing Russian song (at the end of the YouTube clip referred to) states half-mockingly, half-proudly: “I love my country — there’s hardly a wider one if you think in terms of width, there’s hardly a deeper one if you think in terms of depth…”


November 25, 2014

2014-11-25SocratesIn my school years every classroom had three rows of desks and two aisles between them. The desks were painted black and a new coat of paint was added onto them every year before the month of September. As a rule, the desks were either too big for you (if you were in junior forms) or too small (if in senior forms your class was sharing the homeroom of those who were 12 years old). The reason for the size of the desks not measuring up to the age of pupils/students was that we went to school “in shifts”: those who were younger learned in the morning – just to be replaced (in the same rooms) by older students in the afternoon.  A lesson was divided into two big parts: the first half was “questioning.” A teacher looked through a row of names in his/her register and called yours. You had to stand up from your seat and remain standing in the aisle while answering the material you had memorized at home. Or you could be ordered to answer “in front” (“at the blackboard”). Then you went to the teacher’s desk and faced the other pupils while straining your voice to speak about an historic event or to recite a poem from classical literature. The second half of the lesson was the teacher’s “explanation of the new material” – a much easier life for us, pupils. We could relax a bit, and at the end of the lesson we were invited by the teacher to ask him questions on the “material.”

I remember all that when I look at present-day students who reach for a calculator the moment they have to add or subtract numbers like 33 and 19, or when they type a sentence on their computers and the spellchecker corrects every other word they type, or when they “google-translate” a foreign text – without much understanding of what shades of meaning a word has or how grammar is functioning. They move in their individual chairs from one end of the carpeted classroom to the other forming different “discussion groups” for different purposes. They talk in low voices being unable to speak up, their memories are untrained. Educators adapt to their interests by making exams for them in the form of games the students like to play. The impression is that the younger generation is being transformed into a feeble appendage to the 21st-century automaton.

And then I happened to read an excerpt from a dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus as it was written down by the pupil of Socrates, Plato, in the 4th century B.C. Socrates spoke about “propriety and impropriety of writing” regarding the invention of writing in ancient Egypt as a mechanical crutch which was detrimental to the logic of persuasion and which created “forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will trust to the external characters and not remember of themselves…(Writing) is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

Doesn’t my grumbling echo the ludicrous argumentation of the Greek philosopher? On the other hand…  not altogether ludicrous.


November 24, 2014

Chicago's_AmericanLast Saturday the Ukrainians were honoring the memory of the victims who perished in the Great Famine of 1933. The politically-motivated famine in which millions of people died (5m? 7m? 10m? – the estimated “number of millions” depends on the political affiliation of evaluators) was arranged by the communist regime. Stalin’s government had imposed immoderate quotas of grain on peasants as tax to be delivered to the state, which the peasants simply couldn’t make. As a result, the peasants’ grain and other food were confiscated from them. Moreover, they were forbidden to depart from the affected areas. There were cordons of the armed militia who saw to it that the people stayed where they were – in their own villages. The weakest – children and old people – were the first to die in those days.

At nightfall I burnt a memory candle and placed it on the window-sill, just as I do every year. From the height of the sixteenth floor I saw more and more candle flames starting glimmering in the windows of other blocks of flats.

This time I also thought that the communist regime had committed another crime – no less heavy than the murder of the millions: it antagonized the nation. Those who went  from house to house to  deprive the villagers of their last crumb of bread or who blocked roads not to let any peasants away were no foreigners. They were mostly people from the same village – communist “activists”, komsomols (Young Communists), teachers and other representatives of the local “intelligentsia.” They had enough to eat. Some households also managed to hide away a sack or two of grain by burying it elsewhere on their garden plots. That way they were able to last through the winter of 1933-1934 grinding the grain at nights and feeding their children sparingly. But they would NEVER share what little food they had with starving families who were dying one after another. Many were just afraid that they would be reported, or that the news about their having some non-confiscated victuals and sharing them with the “saboteurs” would leak some other way and they would be jailed.  Another reason could be that they were aware that there wasn’t enough food to share if they wanted their own children to stay alive.

I thought about all that the day before yesterday when, while surfing the Internet, I ran into the news about a four-year-old Ethan Van Leuven from the American town of West Jordan (Utah). Ethan was terminally ill with leukemia and the doctors said he had from a few days to a few weeks to live. The community decided that Ethan’s last days should be his happiest. They crammed Halloween, Ethan’s birthday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day into one week. So, one day Ethan was given Halloween treats and he himself was trick-or-treating. Then, knowing that Ethan loved red fire trucks, the firefighters lent their truck for Santa Claus to take Christmas gifts to Ethan and then to pick Ethan up to celebrate what would be Ethan’s last Christmas with his family. The local radio station played Christmas music in the evenings, the neighbors lit Christmas lights on the trees next to their houses, and the children from the nearby school performed nativity scenes in front of Ethan’s windows…ethan3

Ethan died a few days later, on October 28 at 10:20 a.m.

Dictatorship and freedom… How differently they mould us…


November 18, 2014


"I'd like to buy a book on chutzpah and I'd like you to pay for it"The English word of Yiddish origin “chutzpah” meaning “brazen boldness; presumptuousness, utter nerve, audacity, temerity, impudence”, has also an additional component ”unexpectedness”, which distinguishes the word from its synonyms. If people are shocked by a shameless insolence they may call it “chutzpah.” A classic illustration of chutzpah: a person convicted of killing his parents asks the judge for mercy because he is an orphan.


A few days ago an event in the Ukrainian political life made many people in this country cry out “That’s chutzpah!” The event was the reaction of the rebels in the Donbass area and of their patron Mr. Putin in Moscow to the decision of the Ukrainian government not to effect any social or welfare payments (pensions, for example) in the regions controlled by the separatists. “That’s a mistake” (Putin’s statement), “It’s cruel…unjust…inhuman” (the separatists’ response).  The Russian Foreign Minister Mr. Lavrov said, “Kyiv has set a course for the socioeconomic strangulation of southeastern Ukraine.”  However, those who are open-minded about the tragic events in southeastern Ukraine will understand that the events were orchestrated by Russia from the very start. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be ridiculous on the part of Kyiv to financially support the rebels when the civilized world is imposing sanctions on them? The separatists are welcoming in the Russian “humanitarian” convoys. All right, then let the Russians, whom they love, deliver not the military equipment and ammunition in the humanitarian lorries but food – to compensate for the lack of pensions the “evil” government in Kyiv does not want to pay. But to shoot Ukrainian soldiers and at the same time demand social benefits from the Ukrainian government? That’s chutzpah!



2014-11-18logo_endslaverynowThe English word “slave” reflects a bit of European history. It came into English from Medieval Latin “sclavus” and from Byzantine Greek “sklabos”, which both meant “Slav” (that’s how the present-day Ukrainians, Poles, Serbs, Russians, etc. called themselves some two millennia ago – the self-name survives in “Slovene” and “Slovenian”) and “a slave.” The conglomerated meaning “Slav” plus “slave” is explained in the context of the wars the Roman Empire was waging against the “barbarians.” Actually, Slavs were being turned into slaves in the Middle Ages too – especially in the ninth century when the Holy Roman Empire tried to stabilize a German-Slav frontier. By the 12th century stabilization had given way to wars of expansion and extermination that did not end until the Poles crushed the Teutonic Knights at Gruenwald in 1410. · As far as the Slavs’ own self-designation goes, its meaning is, understandably, better than “slave”; it comes from the Indo-European root *kleu-, whose basic meaning is “to hear”, and occurs in many derivatives meaning “renown, fame.” The Slavs are thus “the famous people.” Slavic names ending –slav incorporate the same word, such as Czech Bohu-slav, “God’s fame,” Ukrainian Yaro-slava, “strong fame,” and Polish Stani-slaw, “famous for withstanding (enemies).”


The word is quite alive nowadays. The modern meaning of “slave” is “one who is forced into working at hard labor without the right to be free from the bond.” According to the Global Slavery Index ( ) there are 35.8 slaves in the world now. The country with the highest percentage of slaves is Mauritania (4%) followed by Uzbekistan (3.97%), Haiti (2.3%), Qatar (1.36%) and India (1.14%). Numerically, the biggest number of slaves is in India (14m), China (3.2m), Pakistan (2.1 m) and Russia (1m, or 0.7%). Ukraine – being 106th out of 167 countries on the list –  has also its “quota” with 110K slaves, which makes 0.2% of the total population. Most of the slave force is concentrated in the Donbass. Long before the present-day war, slavery became almost normal there. Having no means for existence, people were working in illegal makeshift coalmines (“kopankas”), whose owners could do with them whatever they wanted. There circulate numerous stories about coalminers who died in “kopankas” and whose bodies were drowned in nearby lakes or thrown onto roadsides, to create the impression that they had died in road accidents, so that the owners would not have to pay any compensation. The names of slave-owners in small miners’ settlements were well known to the administration, but no charges were filed.


Interestingly, in an interview made by a Russian channel from the Donbass an old man was accusing the Ukrainian soldiers saying that they were fighting to get a “couple of slaves and a plot of land.” While the people from the rest of Ukraine only laughed at the nonsensical accusations, the people of the Donbass accepted the interview as quite normal. Just as “normal” for them was the story of a businessman Perekhrestenko from the local town of Antratsyt, who in year 2012 had kept about a dozen beggars at his farm and made them work only for food and shelter. He had been beating them if they did not obey and the conditions they lived in were subhuman. When the story surfaced in the media and the correspondents rushed to Antratsyt, Mr. Perekhrestenko’s neighbors did not see anything unusual or bad in it: “What’s the problem? The homeless were fed and sheltered… Otherwise they would have died from hunger.”




2014-11-18step-on-a-rakeIn linguistics a ‘false friend” is a word or expression in one language that, because it resembles one in another language, is often wrongly taken to have the same meaning, for example, the French agenda which means “diary”, not “agenda.”

My recent example of a false friend is the English saying “to step on a rake” which stands for “to fall victim to a hazard” (literally the expression means ‘to step on the tines of a garden rake, causing the handle of the rake to rise from the ground rapidly , invariably striking the person walking in the face). In Ukrainian the expression exists in a slightly modified form – “ to step on the same rake” and is used mostly in a political context meaning “to repeat the same mistake.” So, while translating the Ukrainian texts about the new post-Maidan President being responsible for appointing the “old guard” to high positions (whereby also letting down the millions of his voters), it’s better to use different idiomatic equivalents, like “to get into the same pitfall”, “to walk into the same trap twice”, or “Oops! He does it again!”



???????????????????????????????When I read about modern fads in teaching that are oriented at cancelling textbooks (and replacing them with the Internet), or at reducing the “dependence” of students upon teachers (“students teaching each other”, “students teaching students”, etc.), I cast a look at the card my daughter-in-law brought me as a present from Germany. The card imitates students’ letter addressed to their teachers: “Wier prauchen keine Leerer, wier sint schon selper schlau”, which, if an analogous message were created in English, would be worded as “Wee nead no teechers, wee ar alredy smart arselves.”


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