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“Procrustes Bed” and Other Almaty Encounters

Yesterday was a good day of talking to people at my institution of higher learning in Almaty but encountering others outside of it.  I was talking to a Kazakh colleague earlier in the day when I encouraged her to “think outside the box.”  At which point she asked if I meant “Procrustes Bed?”  I did not know what she meant or know anything about this mythical giant from Greek mythology.  However, the more I looked into it, the more I saw the negative connotations of people who use the “procrustean” method.  It means “one that relentlessly tries to shape a person, an argument or an idea to a predetermined pattern.”  We as westerners pride ourselves in creatively thinking OUTSIDE the box and not conforming to a set pattern of “one size fits all.”

It would seem that there are characters on our campus who play the host, as Procrustes (means “the stretcher”) did, to entice foreigners to his iron bed that he adjusts so they are either too large for the bed or too short.  The offered hospitality of a pleasant meal and night’s rest seems kind at first but Procrustes has already sized up his unsuspecting visitor and adjusted the bed to NOT fit.  Once the stranger lays down Procrustes goes to work at chopping off limbs that are too long or stretching the person if too short.  What we need on our campus is someone like the hero Theseus who put Procrustes in his own cruel bed and cut off his head and feet.  Supposedly that would be the end of the horrible story where the “procrustean bed” still holds sway over trusting visitors from the West who just come to do their job of teaching Kazakh students and to do their research.

My other encounters “outside the box” yesterday were delightful.  I ran into a new friend from England with her son at a bookstore when I was searching and asking about more copies of “The Silent Steppe.”  I went to the biggest bookstore in my area and my British friend just so happened to be there at the same time.  I don’t know that many people in Almaty (I think two million people) but it was fun to meet her son from England who is leaving today to return to England.

Then my other pleasant encounter was with two Kazakh students who have been practicing their English speaking skills before leaving for the U.S. in a couple of weeks.  They hosted me to a dinner at an Italian restaurant and I continued to answer their questions about where they will be working for the summer, one in Santa Barbara, the other in Arlington, Virginia.  What was so funny was that Yegor told me after discussing the possibility of his getting a driver’s license in California, was that he had just successfully spoken to an American on his cellphone.  I asked who that might have been?  He said that *I* was the first American when we were arranging a meeting place. 

That meant the world to me that this young man will have MANY firsts when he goes to the U.S. for three months.  He will come back speaking fluent English since he has all the grammar packed in his head.  He just needs to let himself be immersed in it and he will do just fine.  Just the same, I feel like a mother hen with her fledgling chicks that go beeping off in all directions.  I trust these Kazakh students will not fall into a “Procrustes Bed” in America where they are harmed in some way.  I will be eager for their return from America this fall when we all return to our little boxes in Almaty.

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Reality Leadership and Helping Baghdad

 

 Our university schedule is coming to a screeching halt; we are sooo ready for the end of THIS semester.  Yesterday I got an e-mail from a former student of mine named Baghdad, he showed himself to be a very conscientious student when learning English.  However, I might add, I didn’t work at all with his writing.  This is his e-mail to me:  “I need your help!  I am going to try to win the scholarship of _____ company…I wrote about me for this response.  You cant imagine about my writing skills.  It’s awfull!! But I tried to write and it looks like this (Please, could you check it, correct huge mistakes and add something else to support my article):”

 

I was more than happy to help Baghdad and he was right, there were many errors such as:  “But let’s talk about myself.  At university I am one of the best student.” Once I cleaned up those minor errors I sent it back to him.  I am only too eager to help my Kazakh students to achieve the highest possible awards and scholarships they can attain while they are still young and energetic.  Baghdad had wanted to go to the U.S. this summer but his parents would not permit him to go.  Thus, whatever opportunities avail themselves here in Kazakhstan; I want to help him and others like him.

 

Thinking about leadership at our university I came across this quote by businessman and author Max De Pree.  His leadership moved his company near the top of the Fortune 500, he wrote:  “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say thank you.  In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.  That sums up the progress of an artful leader.” I’m not so convinced that many leaders at the top of our administration have this ability to deal with reality or to be gracious as a servant-leader.  However, I believe some of them are “artful” in other regards.  I won’t go there by what I mean with artfully “crafty.”

 

Reality at our English Language Center is that many Kazakh teachers are working hard to teach their Kazakh students research methods.  Sadly, they themselves have not been taught how to write papers according to APA style.  What was rather vexing for some writing teachers was to get a Faculty Evaluation Form that would list their teaching load and then the next page was to fill out their “Research and Scholarly Activities.”  Reality is that many of our writing teachers have a B.A. and have never written a journal article or authored a research book or edited one.  They have not given a conference proceedings paper or done a business case studies.  For each of these they are to award points for being published by an international publisher.  For example, 3-4 points for a textbook and 4-8 points for a research book. (Maximum points for full time teachers is 30 points).

 

One can receive 15 points for “Administrative Contributions and management participation.”  All this is itemized out to see if the teacher would be awarded a promotion considering all the abovementioned categories.  Sending this Faculty Evaluation form to our Language Center is NOT dealing with REALITY!!!  Technically, the Language Center has long been thought to be the “service arm” to the rest of the university and not outfitted to do research.   Neither is our administration dealing with reality when this form is sent to many of the “Ph.D. professors” who try to pass off scholarly journal articles and award themselves points that clearly would not pass muster in a university in the West.  Such as, (fill in the blank with a Third World Country):  _________Journal of Development;  Journal of the Asiatic Society of __________; BIISS Journal (don’t know what those letters stand for but that is how it was listed). 

Seeing full professors put down Vanity Press publications is another favorite of mine when I see what passes for “scholarly work” such as University Press of America.  That is fine if you are proud of being from America but many of these professors are NOT from America!!!  Don’t even get me started on website publications that are passed off as peer-reviewed and scholarly!!!  Unfortunately, some of these professors will grab for promotional points any way they can.

 

If someone from the West reads what I am writing, they would not believe what passes for REALITY at our institution of “higher learning” in Kazakhstan.  But then again, I fear that not much learning is happening in the West anymore and that is why I am very eager to watch “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” once I get back to the U.S. this summer, the Lord willing.

 

 

 

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Kazakhstan’s “Elephant in the Room”

Thankfully we passed through the arduous attestation test in Kazakhstan.  Irregardless, without the help of President Nazarbayev, we still have an “elephant in the room!!!”  What we have at our institution of “higher learning” in Kazakhstan is an anomoly and does not fit in the same framework with the rest of the universities in this country and especially with the Ministry of Education.  Supposedly we have a western brand of education and the classes are to be taught in English.  (There exist many different Englishes in the world.)

Therefore, some of our dear Kazakh students who are learning their own Kazakh language along with knowing Russian need to know English as well.  Add to that their needing to be competent in using the computer to access information besides the computer games they love to play.  I see at least three problems and I know of many more which should to be eradicated from our university.

First, we have a few liberal, left wing liberals from the West who are promulgating their anti-God, anti-religion, pluralism, multiculturalism, diversity dogma to the Kazakh people who have had enough of the tripe handed to them.  They are eager to re-discover their roots before the tsarist government of Russia came to Central Asia (although they helped them from being annihilated by another foe).  After that was the Soviet propaganda of collectivization that destroyed Kazakh families.  So, there may be good reason to be skeptical of the West’s brand of education.

Second, you have Muslims from third world nations who speak a different kind of “English” teaching in subjects that are difficult enough for our dear students.  But it is not the Kazakh students fault for not understanding them.  Sometimes we as native speakers of English can’t understand these professors either!!!

Third, we may have especially in the MInistry of Education in Astana and other Kazakh university people who are really just former Soviet, communist leaders.  They love to accept bribes where plagiarism and cheating is rife.  These practices go on in all other universities in the country of Kazakhstan. However, our university maintains it is free of all that so that we can assess what our students REALLY know.  Our university’s motto is “Education to Change Society” really wants to end “the ways of the world.”  Some graduates of our university feel defeated when they go out and find the rest of their country isn’t changing. 

We have Kazakh students who are starving for better education in their country but we still have an “elephant in the room” that needs to be removed.  Reminds me of the quote about the starving Kazakhs from “The Silent Steppe” where on p. 189 Mukhamet Shayakhmetov wrote:

When you look at archival documents relating to those tragic years, you can see how much public money was spent not only on industry, but also on endless conferences attended by thousands upon thousands of people all over the Soviet Union.  The funds squandered on these alone would have been sufficient to save many lives.  Tragically, however, our leaders were more concerned about receiving accolades from Party delegates than they were about the deaths of working people.

 

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Expelled: Enemy of the People

In his book, The Silent Steppe, Mukhamet Shayakhmetov explains how he was able to embrace his communist-indoctrinated education in the late 1930s despite having been a victim of its ideology.  He will be forever thankful to his primary school teacher who gave him a chance at education despite the fact that his family had been labeled “Enemy of the People.”  Several more quotes from Shayakhmetov’s book and I will put it to rest.  Now in movie theaters near those in the U.S. is a new movie Ben Stein produced titled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”  Someone I know from Ukraine sent me his take on it and he can hardly wait to get back to the U.S. to see this “blockbuster” movie.

 

p. 251 Like so many others, I saw no contradiction in working within the system which had persecuted my family, choosing to believe that our sufferings were attributable to unscrupulous individuals, beginning with Stalin’s Soviet Party chief in Kazakhstan, Feodor Goloshchekin, and then the underlings down the scale, rather than Stalin himself and the ruthlessness of the ideology he worked to or the true nature of this personal tyranny…However evil the practice of the system, which led to mass destruction for the Kazakhs, I neither fostered nor harbored hostility for the system itself.  Indeed, I clung to its merits.  Education in a Marxist-Leninist frame was in significant measure education, and for that I was thankful.

 

I know that but for the perceptive and kindhearted mentor, I would never have got it or been able to complete my secondary education; and I have recalled Semion Akimovich’s kindness and generosity of spirit every day of my life since.

 

p. 255 Soviet historians used to contend that all the campaigns the Russian armed forces ever engaged in were conducted out of necessity, to defend the country against aggressors who were continuously attempting to capture its riches and threatening its independence: according to them, Russia was always a peaceloving power and had not once started a war.  The Soviet Government used the same cliché to justify its actions in Ukraine and Belorussia, claiming that it had extended a brotherly hand to save them from being enslaved by the German capitalist forces.  Most of us fell for all of this.

 

 

Expelled” Being expelled?  Well, you can be certain that the latest documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, has no more hit the theaters, some 1,000 of them nationwide, than the attacks against it have ratcheted up…This documentary which exposes the extreme liberal and atheistic bias of American education against academic openness and freedom in the scientific field, developed and produced by a very famous man who is not even a professing Christian but rather a Jew, has received strong endorsement by some of America’s most well known educators, scientists, and Christian leaders.  It is a glaring expose’ of how American academia has systematically stifled even the slightest discussion of the possibility that man came into existence through some form of intelligent design instead of a “big bang” that developed over millions of years from a tiny glob of something in a swamp into a technical marvel called man with an intelligence so advanced that one single brain cell can process three trillion bits of information per second. The main website for “Expelled” is this link

 

 

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Two-headed Serpent from Kazakh Folktales

Contrary to what some extreme left-wing liberals from western universities promulgate, Marxism and communism destroyed Kazakh families (as well as other families in the former Soviet Union).  The following Kazakh folktale is recited from Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s mother in his book “The Silent Steppe.”

 

p. 260 ‘Remember the old folk-tale about the two-headed serpent that conquered a kingdom and forced the people to provide it with a goat and young girl every month by way of a tax?  It threatened to kill off everyone if they didn’t say yes, so the people agreed to pay.  The families would take it in turns to deliver the victims to the serpent; it would gobble them up straightaway and then sleep peacefully for the rest of the month.  But as soon as it woke up, it would demand more food.  There was another bit in the story about how the parents used to suffer the night before they had to give their daughter up to be sacrificed.”

 

The next quote shows the destruction of the family structure according to Kazakh traditions during the era of communism.  (I make no apologies about being anti-communism, anti-socialism and anti-Marxism)  I am very thankful to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s writings to point out what he experienced under the two-headed serpent.

 

p. 170 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.  He did not have any children of his own, but he had adopted his brother’s young daughter and his elder sister’s son.  It was a common practice among Kazakhs to adopt a relative’s child, even though the biological parents might still be alive, in order to reduce the strain on a family which already had a lot of mouths to feed: the parents for their part took an oath that they were giving their children up voluntarily, and would never demand them back or consider them as their own.  This was strictly observed even after the adopted parents’ deaths – although the biological parents might take their children back, the children retained their adopted parents’ surname and continued to be regarded as their offspring.  It was not just that people were afraid of breaking an oath they had made before God: their principles also forbade them from doing so.

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Eradicate the West’s Ignorance of Kazakhs’ Suffering

 Here’s a “questionable topic” for those “elite intellectuals” educated from western universities who have no idea what the Kazakh people suffered in the early 1930s when the communists forced the nomadic people into collectivization.  Starvation resulted, killing off at least one million people in a two-three year period.  This tragedy happened to Mukhamet Shayakhmetov’s family and many other Kazakhs like him.

I had planned to write a blog entry today about our dear Kazakh students not knowing how to cite sources properly using in-text citations according to APA style. Seems so trivial after reading The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin, I thought better of it.  Insidious elements continue to lurk about wanting to keep these truths covered up about Kazakhstan’s past.

 This should not mean revenge to all people from the West about their “ignorance” which reigns supreme about what socialism and communism did to destroy millions of lives throughout the former Soviet Union.  While we, as westerners, don’t read about the Soviet atrocities instigated by Lenin and Stalin’s dogma written in our history textbooks about Kazakhstan’s suffering, students at our university do not understand why it is important to give credit to an author and what he wrote. 

I give HUGE credit to Shayakhmetov for bravely writing these words about his past and having it translated into English.  Shayakhmetov valued education and I think he would want all young Kazakh students to learn as much as possible [in English] and not waste their educational opportunities to help the rest of the world know what REALLY happened on this great land.

p. 26 “These were people who sincerely believed all the slogans about the Soviet authorities ‘empowering the poor, freeing them all from bondage’ and ‘granting them the same rights and privileges as everyone else.’  Most of the activists were illiterate.  If a very small percentage of them could read and write, it was because some time in the past they had been taught by the poorly educated aul mullah.  Some of these young men had learnt to recognize the letters of the alphabet and read words by the syllable at the short-lived schools which were set up to eradicate illiteracy.

 

p. 45 Father’s anxiety to get me used to work on the soil did not mean that he was unconcerned about my schooling.  He deeply regretted being illiterate himself, and wanted me to go on studying until I was properly educated; he used to say, “If I have it my way, you’ll be an old man by the time you’ve finished.” Being educated, as far as he was concerned, meant learning to read and write letters, composing petitions and requests to official bodies and dealing with other business matters.”

 

p. 48 “in late 1930, and early 1931, the campaign to eradicate individual farms and collectivise agriculture becme more vicious.  Lenin (who died in 1924) had said that ‘Every minute of every hour, millions of individual peasant farms are engendering exploiter elements and must be destroyed.” And the Government was taking him at his word.

 

p. 49 Those [Russian] officials put in charge of running the country [Kazakhstan], were mainly strangers to it and neither knew nor particularly wanted to find out about the customs and mind-set of the nomadic population.  Some of them who originated from Russia, had no understanding of the differences between stock-breeding in nomadic Kazakhstan and the agricultural districts of their own homeland.

 

p. 72 The founder of our clan, Nauei, the progenitor of 25 male descendants in the course of one century (1820-1920).  If each of them had emulated him, one would have expected the total increase in the number of males over the next 100 years to be 625.  Instead, by 1990, it was seven.  Such was the tragic fate of our entire nation in the twentieth century.

 

p. 103 “People’s perception of living standards varies strangely, depending on their own circumstances at the time.  Only a year ago, Uncle Zhantursyn had been looked upon as an impoverished peasant with only one horse to his name; now his neighbors, who were all collective farmers, reckoned he was ‘wealthy.’  What it was really about, however, was the extreme poverty of the collective farmers.

 

p. 119 “It seems to me that, compared to later on, the farmers in those early years of collectivization had a more responsible approach to their work; they still had the natural instincts of honest workers and landowners, and had not yet learnt ways of shirking their duties.

 

p. 132 “The Kazakh deportees also used to get together in the evenings after work, but they did not play music.  They spent most of the time talking to each other, retelling epic tales and legends about warriors and good and evil rulers, and lyrical epic poems about people in love.  The men used to recite them from memory.  Whenever the conversation turned to everyday topics, the women would improvise songs and sing sorrowfully about the deportees’ misfortunes, nostalgically recalling their idyllic past life.  Touching upon the reasons that brought them to Ridder, they would mostly blame the aul activists who were responsible for carrying out Soviet policies.

What I still remember of these evenings when Kazakhs got together are the various fairy-tales and epic poems that were recited, not people singing at the top of their voices, laughing raucously or dancing wildly like the Russians.  In those days Kazakh people did not feel like having fun: life under Socialism was just too grim.

 

p. 140 “ On 1 September [1932], the children of Pozdnopalovka (near Ridder) and the children of the Russian special migrants started school.  Teaching was, of course, conducted in Russian.  None of the Kazakh children went to school; just as before, it was something I could only dream about.  Anyway, I had no time to attend lessons, as every day – from morning until nightfall – Mother and I were out looking for food.  I used to watch other children of my age enviously as they made their way to school, and sometimes when I spotted them playing noisily during break, I could not stop tears welling into my eyes.  I longed to study with them – but it was not to be.

 

 

 

 

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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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