Archive for April, 2008

A Serpent in the City of Apples

“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.  And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gen. 3:1-4

 

The Serpent was wily enough to misinterpret the one law that was set down for the first pioneer settlers of this planet Earth besides telling the First Couple to be fruitful and multiply.  So too do misinterpretations of RULE OF LAW abound on our campus that was formerly a Communist party school which happened to be anti-family, anti-freedom and anti-truth.  The serpent still prowls around our campus that is supposedly the Tree of Knowledge in the City of Apples and the rest of Kazakhstan. 

 

I believe the serpent doesn’t want anyone to know how to cite other people’s research correctly [better known as plagiarism] and also the serpent is VERY into Vanity Press publications and publishing “scholarly articles” on the Internet.  Unfortunately for him and others of his ilk, there is good reason to have one’s writings peer-reviewed and not put on the Web that might be here today and gone tomorrow.  The serpent will ultimately be stamped out and crushed under the foot of Truth.

 

Perhaps there is good reason for the Kazakhs, in the City of Apples, and in the rest of Kazakhstan to be skeptical of change, especially rapid change according to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, the author of “The Silent Steppe: A Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin.”  He wrote that his people need to keep up with the changing times when he laments on  p. 147 The way we Kazakhs have always clung to the past has proved disastrous for our people – and yet this stubborn habit still sometimes obtains [remains] at the start of the twenty-first century.  To say that the fear of innovation hampers our development and leaves us lagging behind is an understatement.

 

However, Shayakhmetov knew only too well the ills of communism that tore his own family apart during the collectivization period of seventy years ago.  On page 170 he wrote: Apart from consistently not having enough to eat, what drove my uncle to despair was the way Communism had undermined the foundations of family life.  Unfortunately, there is something more insidious lurking around the “hallowed” halls of our institution of higher learning in the City of Apples. One particular serpent who is known for sexual harassment is also known for his e-mail harassment by restructuring and misinterpreting the understood “givens” where RULE OF LAW presides in real democracies.  Apparently there are too many “Alpha males” (who are really omega males) without their wives or families (if they have any?) residing at our university, need I say more?

 

No, Eve is not to be blamed for the ultimate fall of man, the serpent is.  Sexual harassment started at the beginning when the serpent beguiled Eve with his cunning questions about God’s ultimate authority in the Garden.  Some of you dear readers may dismiss the Genesis story but those of you trying to do your job of teaching and researching for the benefit of the glorious nation of Kazakhstan in the City of Apples know of what I write.

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A. Solzhenitszyn in the City of Apostils

“One person speaking the truth has more power than a whole city living in falsehood.”    Aleksandr Solzhenitszyn

 

I am currently living and teaching in the City of Apples or Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Just yesterday I received a rather opaque e-mail where about 20 of us at our “institution of higher learning” need to do some extra paperwork which involves an “apostil.” Many of us wondered, “What is an apostil?”  Not to be confused with apostles or apples, of course.  This e-mail was the second of its kind within a week that I have received which is full of blathering legalese.  Supposedly our university touts itself as being unique and having a “high level of openness and transparency.”  I would agree with Aristotle when he argued that “the only way one can discover the true character of a regime is to analyze in depth the characteristics of its leadership…”

 

 

Reading through the first message, with the help of a friend who has a law degree, I found that the author of the e-mail was making fallacious claims about certain laws concerning the misuse or abuse of our use of electronic research databases.  This person was using a bullying tactic by interpreting the law which had nothing to do with my pedagogy whatsoever.  I have the backing of several in our academic community who understand the use of electronic databases the same way I do.

 

Unfortunately, there are those who are suspicious of the Information or Computer Literacy that has taken over in the West.  No more can you apply for different grants or answer the distant “call for papers” without doing it electronically.  Gone are the days of mailing in your application through the regular postal service, our globalized world is getting smaller thanks to the Internet.

 

So, where is our leadership in protecting foreign faculty who come to the land of apples and apostils?  According to Kazakhstan’s President N.A. Nazarbayev in reference to our university, “Everything here is done to the highest standards, there’s no need to go abroad to study.”   Therefore, we as foreign faculty are making it more affordable to have Kazakhstani students study at our institution rather than have them go abroad to the West and find out that the standard in writing and computer literacy are far higher than earlier suspected.

 

Lately I’ve been reading a very riveting book titled “The Silent Steppe: A Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin.”  Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, is a man in his eighties whom I highly respect as an educator, caring deeply about his country of Kazakhstan.  He wrote the following on page p. 146 “Writing these words now, so many years later, I find myself thinking long and hard about the past.  For years our ancestors lived under a tribal system where relationships were based on mutual help: they were convinced of the enduring worth of their centuries-old principles, and perhaps as a consequence used to regard any innovation with suspicion, fear and even disapproval.  They were conservative by nature and clung to what was familiar: why else, in 1932, when the population of Kazakhstan was in the grip of a terrible famine, did our two families of fugitives head for a starving aul – where a year before they had been robbed, prosecuted and deported – instead of staying in Ridder, where they were getting limited but at least regular food rations?”

 

What would Solzhenitszyn say NOW about Kazakhstan if he were to ever return to this land?  What would he write about our university which requires “apostiled” documentation of their foreign faculty?  Just curious.

 

 

 

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Proverbs and Sayings from “Silent Steppe” (Part II)

Quotes taken from Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s book titled The Silent Steppe (Part II)

 

p. 105 Nevertheless, he [Uncle Zhantursyn] enjoyed giving instructions whenever he could, repeating over and over again, ‘When you do a job, you’re doing someone else a favour, and when you learn something new, you’re doing yourself a favour.”

 

As a popular saying puts it, “if you want your horses to go faster, use oats and not a whip.”

 

p. 106 “The people of Kalmakbai strictly observed their time-honoured traditions, and treated us newcomers with great kindness and consideration.  It was here that I first heard people cite the popular saying, Your duty to your neighbor is as sacred as it is to God.” And I think I understood what it meant when I saw how attentive our neighbors were to us.

 

p. 116 “Three families with thirteen people between them now had to live together in one large room.  As the Kazakh saying goes, “By spring, fat stock grows thin, and by spring thin stock’s nothing.”

 

p. 135 “This dreadful catastrophe did not, however, become as rampant that year in the northern, north-western and agricultural mountainous areas of Eastern Kazakhstan as in the rest of the country.  But as the popular Kazakh saying goes: “Once one family’s going hungry, soon the whole aul is, and once one aul’s going hungry, soon there’s a famine nation-wide.”

 

p. 136 The adults kept talking about the starving refugees being brought here and housed in the barrack.  As a child, I had no idea what the Kazakh word for ‘starving’ “asharyk”, meant and when I asked, Father and Mother started flapping their hands and exclaiming fearfully, “Be quiet, Don’t say that word!” And then they began whispering, “O Allah, may this misfortune pass us by!”

 

p. 154  I have tried to contribute by at least reminding my children (who have always lived in towns) of the duty families have towards needy relations.  Every living creature has to take care not only of itself, but also of its descendants who will ensure the survival of the species.  And as a popular Kazakh saying puts it, There is no life without movement”; constant activity is required to sustain it.

 

p. 155 You see, a Kazakh man was traditionally duty-bound to look after his wife’s parents or, as the Kazakh saying put it:  “Once you’ve cut the corn, you mustn’t burn the straw left behind.”

 

p. 171 “Yet when he told me all this – since there was nobody else to pour his heart to – he still showed extraordinary generosity of spirit. The children of your sisters and daughters, as people used to say, come from another clan, while your own daughters are destined for another clan.”

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Proverbs and Sayings from “The Silent Steppe”

Quotes from The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin

 by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, published by Stacey International, London, 2006

 

p. 10 We would celebrate with folk songs and music, competitions for improvising poetry, and different kinds of sporting contests.  This is how life was while I was growing up in our small aul, with its half-dozen yurts belonging to close relatives.  But the Soviet authorities brought it all to an end when they introduced collective farms, and gave the terrible name ‘kulak’ to my father and Uncle Toimbai.” 

 

p. 22 – My father began speaking, “…Remember the popular old saying: God has no wealth.  He gives it from one person to another.”  Well, it now appears to be true.  The authorities and aul activists have taken everything away from the rich and handed it over to idlers and made some of us extremely poor overnight.”

 

p. 32 “In 1930, the main topic of conversation was the daily news brought to the steppe by word of mouth (the so-called uzyn kulak – ‘long ear’ of the steppe telegraph), which was our only source of information.  Because we did not have radios or telephones, or even a postal service, it could take up to a year for information about new laws or important events to reach the far-flung regions of the country.

 

p. 33 – “Everything that’s been said here is complete rubbish.  And the bit about the collective farms and communes – they’ve all been thought up by the aul activists.  What good is Lenin’s wife to us lot here when all the power is in their hands?  The power’s completely gone to their heads and made them barking mad because they have no idea what to do with it.  People who have never managed to run their own affairs are now in charge of people’s lives.  How can a society be run by people who never obeyed their grandfathers or listened to their wisdom?  It reminds me of the old saying, “When there’s no lord, a slave will take his place, and when there’s no dog, a pig will guard the yard!”

 

p. 52 “Where the front wheel goes, the back wheel has to follow…”  Now I know what that saying means.  He was referring to his elder brother Toimbai’s dispossession as a kulak in a similar way the year before.

 

p. 62 “We children could tell how much the grown-ups were suffering by the way they kept sighing deeply and sadly repeating the old Kazakh proverb, “Poverty is fine as long as there’s something in the pot.”

 

p. 80 “We Kazakhs have always treated anyone related to us through marriage with great reverence.  As a popular saying put it:  ‘In-laws should be venerated like God.’

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Reading “The Silent Steppe”

The Silent SteppeInspiration for my screenname “Kazakhnomad” of my blog was taken from this book by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov. I use this name with great respect and admiration for him and his family and all the other Kazakhs who enjoyed a nomadic way of life before communism changed it.  Shayakhmetov is the real “Kazakh Nomad” who witnessed firsthand Stalin’s reign of terror.  I will be forever changed by one Ukrainian student’s essay eight years ago which opened my eyes to the suffering that his nation endured under Stalin’s iron fist.  The truths in this book “The Silent Steppe” concerning Kazakhstan ring true that many in the West do NOT know the evils that happened in the former Soviet Union. 

“The educated world knows little – if anything at all – of the suffering of the nomadic peoples of central Asia under the rule of Stalin and the policy of collectivization launched in 1929…” 

This truth alone, of the West’s ignorance, makes me passionate to have my Kazakh students write (in English) what their grandparents and older generation tell in emotional filled narratives spoken in Kazakh.  I want more of these kind of stories to surface and eventually be published.  My passion is no different from when I asked my Ukrianian students to bring out the stories of their families and what Stalin’s form of communism did to destroy their families.  More is known about the 7 to 10 million Ukrainian people who perished in 1932-33 thanks to James Mace, Robert Conquest’s and others’ writings.  However, I don’t want the final result to be vengeful or retalitory but rather to honor those who died prematurely and valiantly while trying to save their offspring.  The communist experiment was the worst tragedy of the twentieth century, the words from the introduction of  The Silent Steppe say it better than I ever could:

“It [Silent Steppe] is a document virtually unique, and of unchallengeable honesty and exactitude, first produced in a version in Russian under the title Sudba (‘Destiny’) and printed in Kazakhstan in 2002.  Under the deft guidance of his editor…Mukhamet Shayakhmetov has now given access to an English-speaking readership worldwide to the full narrative which seems destined to be treasured as a key resource in the annals of his fellow Kazakhs and their emerging nation.”

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Found Russian Krylov’s fable!!!

Kyrlov\'s fableThankfully with a little more information from my Russian Kazakhstani friend, I was able to find a poem attributed to the conundrum our Central Asian university faces.  We have separate ethnic groups in places of authority who are trying to pull the same load in vastly different directions.  Ivan Krylov was on to something about how our institution of “higher learning” will get itself out of its mess.  Or will it? How DID Krylov know?

Once a Swan, a Pike, and a Crab

Tried to pull a loaded cab, …

They pulled hard, did not flinch,

But they gained not an inch …

The Swan pulled hard toward the sky

The Crab to crawl backward did try,

The Pike made for the river nearby.

They could not agree on an approach out of the mess.
 

 

 

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Searching for a Specific Russian Folktale

Yesterday one of my Russian teaching friends told me of a folktale which typifies what is going on in the leadership of our institution of “higher learning.”  Let me know, if you know this famous Russian story about a bird, land animal and fish.  All three had a mission together but couldn’t accomplish it because their environments were at odds with each another, seems true with the many cultures involved at our university. Simple Google searches have not yielded the information I’m looking for, so I’ll go back to my friend today to get more specifics.  In the meantime, here is what I found out from this Russian Folktales link.  I am using some of the material from this website but sorry that I can’t give proper attribution to the author.  Maybe if the author of this link tracks his visitors, he will be able to tell me what folktale I am looking for. 

There are many folktales in Russian which are called SKAZKA. The word is from the same root as the verb “to say” — skazat’. Therefore it is simply “that which is told” — a tale. But by implication, it is fiction, not news, something someone came up with. Simply entertainment but the animals are strictly typecast:

  • Wolves are greedy rather stupid, and male (the Russian word for wolf is “volk,” a masculine noun).
  • Foxes are sly, calculating, and tricksters. They are also female (the Russian word for fox is “lisa,” a feminine noun).
  • Cats are opportunistic and lazy. They are male (the Russian word for cat is “kot,” a masculine noun).
  • Bears are big and lumbering (naturally), rather clumsy, and not very bright. They are male (the Russian word for bear is “medved’,” a masculine noun). The Russian word that is the equivalent of “teddy bear,” “misha,” is also the diminutive for the name Mikhail, which is the standard “first name” of folk-tale bears.
  • Hares are quick and cowardly, and male (“hare,” in Russian, is “zaiats,” a masculine noun).
  • The goat is cunning, and female (Russian — “koza,” a feminine noun).
  • The rooster is cocky and boastful, and male (Russian — “petukh,” a masculine noun).

Some animal tales tell of the “beginning” of things, such as the first tale on the — the beginning of the enmity between man and bear. Others are merely amusing. Others yet have a moral, but by no means all. And not all tales, by far, qualify as “good children’s stories.”

The animals in the tales behave in many ways as real animals do: carnivorous animals eat meat, even when the “meat” in question can talk. Wild animals are dangerous, and that they can interact with people does not mean that they are tame or “civilized.” A bear or a wolf may attack or even eat (or attempt to eat) a person.

There is usually no reason for the animal characters to behave as they do, other than their nature. Of course, personal gain is a clear motivation for their actions, but not for the form these actions take. The wolf is bad because he is the bad wolf, not because he had a difficult childhood; the hare is cowardly because it is a hare, not because of some trauma. Animals, like other folk-tale characters, behave accordingly to their roles.

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Little Girl in Pink

little girl in pink

I’m not sure what this Little Girl in Pink life’s mission was in pulling up weeds or dandelions along the side of our building, but I took a photo of her. I thought she was cute. Little did I know that once my camera flashed, she would give me a blazing scowl.  She stood up straight and tall looking mad while I weakly said something like “moshna?” or “haroshow?” (possible or good?) However, I knew that I best move on and I marvelled that a bit of the Soviet mentality resided in one so young.

I remember when I was in Moscow in 1976, our tour group from the bus was taking pictures of a cute little boy on his tricycle next to his babushka (grandma).  Our Russian guide quickly admonished us that we should NOT take these photos of him, he will think he is special.  (Of course, every person under communism was supposed to be the same.)  Made us wary not to take photos of adorable Russian kids in eyeshot of our communist indoctrinated translator.  Not sure what triggered the unhappy face of the little girl I took a picture of the other day, but if looks could kill, I’d be dead.

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My “Soap Box” about Teaching Research Papers!

 

The mournful wail of a Kazakh student living in England grabbed my heart the other day.  I was talking on the phone to this student, (let’s call him Zed) who was under great pressure to accomplish a major economics paper of 48 pages for his “dissertation” for a bachelors degree.  He wailed, “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!”  I’m not sure which university Zed was attending in London, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that Zed was sent abroad ill equipped to accomplish what was expected in his economics department. 

Obviously, Zed hadn’t plagiarized much after looking over the text where all the articles were missing.  Zed also kept mixing up the irregular verbs of “lead” when he meant “led” in the past tense or writing “felt” when he meant “fell.”  Zed also used personal pronouns of “I” or “we” and used contractions such as “can’t” and “let’s.”  All considered errors if writing a major research paper for his British profs, especially if this is to be considered his “dissertation.”  I still can’t get over that phrase but that is what Zed kept calling it.  The title of his paper was: “Discuss the factors behind the 1992-1996 recession in Russia.”  An interesting enough topic to me since it could have parallels to what happened in Kazakhstan once the former Soviet Union fell apart.  The following is his 98 word abstract which I helped clean up:

“Currently the world community has met yet again the problem of crisis when some countries of the former Soviet Union started to experience the first steps of recession. This paper will specifically consider the past experience of Russia. When the post-Soviet republic was dismantled from the Soviet Union, it implemented reforms to move from planned economy to market economy.  However, that implementation brought the country to deep recession during a period of  6-7 years (from 1992-1996). Reasons and consequences of Russia’s recession are discussed in the paper along with the vision of political and economic processes being analyzed.”

The main problem with Zed’s text was that he did not use any in-text citations but footnotes instead.  I asked Zed over our crackling cell phones what formatting style he was using, he claimed he didn’t know.  I tried to see if his footnotes of sources matched what was in his bibliography, in some cases they did not.  The Bibliography often did not have authors’ names or if it did, they were not even alphabetized properly.  Zed had numbers next to each source up to 70 citations.  Remarkable and the bibliography had the appearance of being thorough research.  However, out of curiosity, I asked my teaching colleagues the next day about this numbering and they said in the Soviet period it was considered correct to number your sources and if you had at least 50 of them, then you were fulfilling the research requirements.  Back in those Soviet days, that meant books and not just short journal articles or Internet sources.

Another thing that was notable about Zed’s references was that he was using many Internet sources without showing authors names, where it was retrieved from and when he retrieved it.  When teaching my own composition students, I work around that problem by not allowing the use of ANY Internet sources especially since there is not usually an author’s name attached to it.  Too much junk science is on the Internet.  That is why I insist my composition students learn how to access the electronic research databases. 

If only our dear students knew that all the work has already been done for them to access the thousands of journal articles that their university has paid for through research databases such as EBSCOhost, ProQuest and J-Stor.  In some cases, someone has taken the time to scan every page, just the way it looks in the actual journal that was published on a specific date, in a particular place.  True scholarship acknowledges author, time, name of article, name of journal and page numbers.  Internet sources at the bottom of the page, such as www.gsh.ru , just doesn’t quite do it for me.  I didn’t check to see if the nine or so URL links of Zed’s were accessible to me since I had the electronic version of it.  I was too busy straightening out his grammar problems of articles, personal pronouns and irregular verbs.  To Zed’s credit, he had used his spell checker, because there were very few spelling errors until the last several pages of his paper.

One last thing that was discouraging about Zed’s economics research paper was the use of graphs and tables, he did not make reference to them in his text except to say “the table below.”  I cautioned Zed that he must be specific by writing in the text “Table 6” or “Figure 4.”  Besides that, I’m not sure where he got his material except cutting and pasting from the Internet.  These graphs and tables were obviously not his own work but he did not “fess up” where he got this material that was supposed to buttress his points he was making throughout his paper.

I felt sorry for Zed and the fact that he probably had several teachers in London who had marked up with red ink his earlier shorter, written assignments until they bled.  His English teachers have probably already written him off as “unteachable” when it comes to writing.  Admittedly, for this Kazakh student, English is his second or third language besides knowing Russian (he used about seven Russian sources in his paper but did not translate them in his footnotes).  I would strongly differ with Zed’s teachers that he is not able to learn the proper way to write a research paper, it just takes time and patience.  Zed and other Kazakh students like him, should not be beaten down for not knowing how to write in English, they should be encouraged.

I believe strongly that if the composition students are taken through the myriad of steps on how to access information and if they have an insatiable curiosity about their subject, it will seem like a wonderful and exciting project to them.  Just going through the motions and trying to fulfill the superficial “regulations” of having a thesis statement or topic sentences throughout the paper with proper citation format will make the students HATE writing a research paper.  I will not forget for a long time the sad voice in England who claimed “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!”  It seems my life mission is to change students’ voices into a happy “I’m so excited with what I found, I want to SHARE it with you!!”

As a composition teacher, I want to read good papers instead of seeing it as a task of drudgery.  I always maintain that if you are bored at teaching something, the students are bored at listening to you. If you are not enjoying teaching research papers, the students will not enjoy it either.  As teachers, we need to find out what painful steps we are expecting of our students by doing the assignment first ourselves, rather than making them do all the work.  However, if we allow plagiarized papers to come at us as the end result, we have also not done our job as teachers.  The students will go into their other classes at university or study abroad and not able to do the papers expected of them in their other course work.  Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pink Helium Balloon and Ascension

My photo from yesterday’s blog of a clear blue sky with a pin prick of a floating balloon may seem inconsequential to my dear readers.  However, my reflections about this balloon have a metaphorical meaning for me while living life in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  BTW, it is Russian Orthodox Easter this upcoming weekend so all the more reason my thoughts were spinning in a spiral direction upwards.

After seeing all the wedding limos, I can sympathize with a young man (from U.K. I think) who recently proposed to his girlfriend by handing her a helium balloon with the engagement ring inside it.  Somehow it escaped their grasp.  He drove two miles in his car following the balloon before he realized he had lost his costly investment.  Apparently, he lost the girl too. (sigh)  Anyway, it was several blocks later that I saw the helium balloon in the sky but I was also pondering matters of Ascension from my morning devotional.

The following is what C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Miracles, ch. 16:

“It is at this point that the modern reader becomes uncomfortable.  He becomes more uncomfortable still at the words, ‘Don’t touch me, I have not yet gone up to the Father'(John 20:17).  For voices and apparitions we are, in some measure, prepared.  But what is this that must not be touched?  What is all this about going UP to the Father?  Is He [Jesus] not already ‘with the Father’ in the only sense that matters?  What can ‘going up’ be except a metaphor for THAT?  And if so, why has He ‘not yet’ gone?  These discomforts arise because the story the apostles actually had to tell begins at this point to conflict with the story we expect and are determined beforehand to read into their narrative.”

Then, what do you suppose our sermon yesterday concentrated on?  The Ascension of Jesus from Luke’s narrative in Acts 1:9-11.  Check it out and carry on with the promise the angels gave Jesus followers, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Maranatha!!!

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