Friday, March 13

Ukraine and Foreign Soldiers

I quote

There is a ton of context and history behind this photo that should be known. I made this post yesterday, which should help explain why some Ukrainians were initially so welcoming of the Nazi invasion. Copy-pasting

This photo was taken in the city of Kharkov at the height of the Holodomor. The Holodomor refers to the 1932-33 famine that affected Soviet Ukraine, but during this time famines struck other parts of the USSR too. Most historians now believe that the Holodomor was a man-made famine that occurred due to Stalin's "collectivisation" and "dekulakization" policies. But there are still huge debates about the Holodomor's death toll, its status as a "genocide", and whether it was deliberately planned or mostly caused by Soviet incompetence. It comes up often as a point of contention between Russia and Ukraine. Denial of the Holodomor is still a thing just like Holocaust denial. Timothy Snyder (in my opinion) is one of the best researchers of the Holodomor; he believes that though the death toll is lower than most believe ("only" 3.3 million died), Stalin did deliberately starve Ukraine to target kulaks and Ukrainians.

Thus it is not surprising why Ukrainians, who suffered horrifically under Soviet rule, would welcome the Germans in 1941. Many hoped the Germans would grant them autonomy or even full independence. This was not what happened. Instead the Reichskommissariat Ukraine was set up to govern the area. The policies they enacted quickly drove much of the population into resistance. During the Nazi occupation millions of Ukrainians died. After the end of WW2, anti-Soviet resistance continued but was eventually crushed.”

How soon the Ukrainians forget, eh? Specially the Eastern ones…and also explains the antipathy of the Western Ukrainians to Russia.

University Entrance Examinations in Afghanistan

got this off facebook so not sure about the provenance on this. But still pretty impressive, eh?

Thursday, March 12

The Commoner Who Salvaged a King’s Ransom


Can you imagine the debt we pay to this man who helped the recovery of so many amazing historical artefacts from the building sites in London? 

The Cheapside treasure hoard will be exhibited in the museum of London.  So if you want to go visit it, that would be great. See what a lovely and interesting link to India. India was a huge gems and jewellery producing country. Most of the huge ancient diamonds came from India, you may have heard of the Peacock Throne. Etc etc. fascinating stories behind these glittering stones. 




The Commoner Who Salvaged a King’s Ransom

George Fabian Lawrence, better known as “Stoney Jack,” parlayed his friendships with London navvies into a stunning series of archaeological discoveries between 1895 and 1939.

It was only a small shop in an unfashionable part of London, but it had a most peculiar clientele. From Mondays to Fridays the place stayed locked, and its only visitors were schoolboys who came to gaze through the windows at the marvels crammed inside. But on Saturday afternoons the shop was opened by its owner—a “genial frog” of a man, as one acquaintance called him, small, pouched, wheezy, permanently smiling and with the habit of puffing out his cheeks when he talked. Settling himself behind the counter, the shopkeeper would light a cheap cigar and then wait patiently for laborers to bring him treasure. He waited at the counter many years—from roughly 1895 until his death in 1939—and in that time accumulated such a hoard of valuables that he supplied the museums of London with more than 15,000 ancient artifacts and still had plenty left to stock his premises at 7 West Hill, Wandsworth.

Wednesday, March 11

So what do you give a boy on his 18th birthday?

So Kannu turned 18 in 2013. Besides loads of various presents, I thought of gifting him a set of 18 books, something that can give him some help. Plus he is off to read PPE at Oxford so perhaps some of the books could help him there? So I cast my net far and wide. Asked friends and family. Asked quite a lot of people at work. Also friends from various universities. And of course, researched the net. So the total number of recommendations that I got were about 600 books in total.

That was a seriously badass list and I could easily have brought them all for him :) but maybe not. The idea to just give him 18 books focussed my disorderly mind. I had to guard about the ever present danger of putting through my dreams and views on him, although in hindsight, this can hardly be resolved. All parents ascribe their dreams and visions on their kids.

So here are the 18 books (well, it turned out to be 19..but what the hell) that I gave him.

  1. Norman Mailer’s the naked and the dead – its one of those classic war novels, talking about the incredible band of brothers, the cruelty in war, the raw emotions, the loneliness of mankind, power relations.
  2. Shivaji Savant’s Mrityunjaya – the Story of Karn. An incredibly moving story of Karn. Well I had to give that to him, no?
  3. Colin Ford – The Republic of Plato – perhaps the most important book on politics, philosophy and political theory, which talks about  what it means to be a just man and a just state. Written somewhere around the Peloponnesian War, its a brilliant book. I was tempted to bung in Thucydides in here as well but maybe that would have been too much. 
  4. Hamilton, Madison and Jay – the Federalist Papers – this is a classic, a must read for anybody who is interested to know how humans have organised themselves in the USA. I am a great believer in the USA and its great strengths. It goes into much more detail than the constitution and is seriously good. I was quite tempted to include the works by Ambedkar in here about the constitution of India, what a brilliant man..but had to regretfully decline,
  5. Toqueville’s Democracy in America – the classic book by a Frenchman who describes USA…its a fascinating read on what makes Democracy.
  6. Aristotle – Politics. Another of those classics of politics, how human beings organise them. His work has resonance down the centuries.
  7. Leviathan – Hobbes. Another classic work on statecraft and politics, dating back to 1651, talks about the structure of the state, society and representative governments. A conservative tome, its vital to be read to understand why republicanism came around. I was quite tempted to throw in Thomas Paine’s works in here as well.
  8. Gary Zukav – The Dancing Wu Li Masters – well, a nice little overview of Physics, with a dash of mysticism thrown in.
  9. Richard Feynman – Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman. A light hearted collection of essays by this prize winning Physicist. Loved it.
  10. Sigmund Freud – Three essays on the theory of Sexuality – the classic book on sexuality. Hopefully this will help expand his thinking about this human act.
  11. Maslow on Management – the classic book on what it takes to explain, predict and manage workplace behaviours.
  12. Lord Chesterfields Letters – I first read the book “Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman” way back when I was a nipper and the letters to his son deal with mostly personal deportment, politics, geography, history, classical literature. Quite an impressive collection. Plus the element of sadness is always there, Lord Chesterfield’s son died before which was seriously sad. Its quite interesting to note that these were written from 1737 to 1768. Fascinating.
  13. Bhagvad Gita – well, this had to be given, no? pretty much standard for him to know and understand India and Hinduism.
  14. Tracy Kidder – Mountains beyond Mountains – this is a story about Dr. Paul Farmer and how he fought Tuberculosis around the world. I thought that would help him understand why its so important to help out in the world and make some changes/difference to it. Amazing man.
  15. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Forget the sexual aspects of the book, although that is fascinating anyway. Its the language of the book which is brilliant. Truly amazing wordplay. Perhaps just a shade below Gibbon (who I also considered in this list).
  16. Orson Scott Card – Enders Game – one of the classics of Sci Fi. But not just because of that angle that I gave him. Kannu would go through reading for the PPE at Oxford, one of the toughest intellectual courses in the world and this could provide him with some guidance and light hearted relief.
  17. William Styron – Sophie’s Choice. I really struggled with this book. Should I give this to him? I have read this book recently and I wasnt sure if he was mature enough to understand the bloody consequences and narration of the book. The Nazi era, the concentration camps, the sexual imagery, the mental health issues, the drug issues, the mental torture of Sophie. But then, I have to trust him, no? tough choice.
  18. Jack London – The Call of the Wild – well, I am a dog lover. Kannu with his asthma issue has never been able to live with dogs, so I thought this classic would help him understand the joys of having dogs.
  19. Marjane Satrapi – Persepolis – I figured a graphic novel will help expand his thoughts on how to read books and novels in a different way. Its set in Iran during the time of the Islamic Revolution. Fascinating book.


There were so many other books, so decided to do book reviews and write to him about these. Anyway, it was a fascinating exercise. Made me think about myself, him, what would help and perhaps most importantly, made me realise what awesome power books have to influence people across the ages and boundaries.

Tuesday, March 10

Extreme examples of bibliophilia


Bibliophilia to a crazy degree….I am sure some people will agree :)


You say windows are a view to the outside world? I disagree

Monday, March 9

1. The Lives of Real Teachers

By special permission from Richard Lederer (author and broadcaster)
Excerpts from his forthcoming book A Treasury for Teachers, which Marion Street Press will publish in the summer of 2011.
A request from Richard:  "Richard Lederer is working on A Treasury for Teachers (Marion Street Press (fall 2011) and needs stories about teachers. If you have any, please wing them to Rich at richard."

Here‚s a true story: Beth, a high school English teacher in Maine, lived with her friend Sam, an intelligent golden retriever. One day, Beth‚s mother was riding in the back seat of the car with Sam, who insisted on leaning on Mother. Mother told Sam to "lay down and behave." No action. Mother repeated, "Lay down, Sam." Still no response.
Then Beth commanded, "Lie down, Sam," and down the dog went. He was, after all, the companion of an English teacher.
Here‚s another true story: Rushing to work, Branita drove too fast and was pulled over by a highway patrolman. The state trooper noticed that her shirt was emblazoned with the name of a local high school. "I teach math there," Branita explained.
The trooper smiled, and said, "Okay, here's a problem. A teacher is speeding down the highway at sixteen miles per hour over the limit. At $12 for every mile, plus $40 court costs, plus the rise in her insurance, what's her total cost?"
Branita replied, "Taking that total, subtracting the low salary I receive, multiplying by the number of kids who fear math, then adding the fact that none of us would be anywhere without teachers, I'd say zero."
The officer handed the teacher back her license. "I once had a teacher who taught me to enjoy math," he confessed. "Please slow down."
Beth and Branita are real teachers, and real teachers are rare and astonishing people:
      Real teachers give themselves away in public because of the dry erase pen marker smudges all over their hands. Real teachers can‚t walk past a crowd of people without snapping their fingers, straightening up the line, and correcting behavior. Real teachers ask quiet people at parties if they have anything to share with the group. When anyone leaves the party, real teachers ask them if they have forgotten their hats, scarves, and mittens. Real teachers always have a tissue in hand in case somebody sneezes. When real teachers empty their pockets at night,  they find two used hall passes, one unused bus pass, a pencil stub, and no money.
      Real teachers' relatives refuse to attend their parties if "it's going to be mostly teachers" because they all talk shop. Real teachers amaze and annoy their friends by correcting their grammar. Real teachers move their dinner partner‚s glass away from the edge of the table. Real teachers refer to happy hour as "snack time."
      Real teachers are irritated by adults who chew gum in public, and they hand pieces of paper to their friends and make them spit out their gum in front of them. Real teachers declare „no cuts‰ when a shopper squeezes ahead of them in a checkout line. Real teachers ask if anyone needs to go to the bathroom as they enter a theater with a group of friends. In a theater, real teachers often turn around and shush the people behind them. Real teachers send other adults to detention when they use bad languageand they go! Real teachers‚ voices are permanently set on high volume from attempting to be heard over students' voices day after day. Any loud noise at home causes them to impulsively flick the light switch off and on.
Real teachers say, "I like the way you did that!" to the mechanic who successfully repairs their car. They ask "Are you sure you did your best?" to the mechanic who fails to repair their car satisfactorily. Real teachers say everything twice. Real teachers say everything twice.
Real teachers wear fuzzy slippers with little animal faces on them. At least one item of their jewelry lights up. Real teachers have at least a dozen colorful sweaters and sweatshirts for each of the holidays, including Flag Day. Real teachers are among the nation's biggest buyers of pipe cleaners. Their neighbors drop off empty coffee cans, margarine cups, L'eggs eggs, milk bottle cartons, scraps of material and old newspapers at their home. While everyone else at the beach is catching up on the latest novels, real teachers are cutting out little oak tag people for their September bulletin boards. Real teachers make little turkey name tags for everyone at their family's holiday dinner.
Real teachers have no social life between August and June. Real teachers want to slap upside the head anybody who says, "Must be nice to work from only 8:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. and have summers off." Real teachers grade papers during commercials, in faculty meetings, in the car, in the bathroom, at social and athletic events, and sometimes even in church and synagogue. Real teachers know the difference between what should be graded, and what should never see the light of day. Real teachers cheer when they hear that April 1st does not fall on a school day.
Real teachers know that secretaries and custodians really run the school. Real teachers have the assistant principals‚ and counselors‚ home phone numbers. Real teachers know that rules do not apply to them. Real teachers do not take "no" for an answer unless it is written in a complete sentence. Real teachers really care that you learn the capital of Idaho. Real teachers never conjugate the verbs lie and lay to ninth graders. Real teachers plan their seating charts so that the shorter pupils can't hide behind the taller ones. Real teachers have already heard every possible homework excuse. They know that dogs are carnivores and not "homework papervores."
Real teachers always have time to listen. Real teachers have their best conferences in parking lots. Real teachers understand the importance of making sure that every kid gets a valentine. Real teachers vow to do a better job than the teachers they had. Real teachers know they teach students, not subjects. When a real teacher meets a parent, she or he instantly knows the answer to "Why is my student like that?" Real teachers understand that they can't reach all their students, but that doesn't stop them from trying.
Real teachers are medical marvels. Real teachers are written up in medical journals for the size and elasticity of their bladders and kidneys. They have eyes in the backs of their heads and the preternatural ability to hear someone in the class whispering. Real teachers have stiff necks from writing on the blackboard while keeping their eyes on their students. They are immune to the smells of collective bad breath and throw-up, kids‚ viruses, and the sound of chalk squeaking across a blackboard.
Real teachers are able to memorize thirty-six names (including nicknames) within the first week of school. Real teachers often remember your name at a twenty-fifth class reunion (and you remember theirs!). Real teachers know every knock-knock joke ever created. They actually know the differences between glue and mucilage and oak tag and poster board.
Real teachers learn to inhale their lunch in as little as three minutes. They actually like fruit cup. Real teachers are able to consume anything left over in the teachers‚ room. Real teachers laugh uncontrollably when people refer to that room as a "lounge." Real teachers buy Excedrin and Advil at Sam's Club.
Real teachers let their life partners know that they won‚t be the primary breadwinner in their marriage. Real teachers drive rustbucket cars they're still trying to pay off and for which they can barely afford the insurance. Real teachers don't wear the latest fashions, unless they got them at half price at a discount store. Real teachers have vacation time but no money to travel. Real teachers get paid to work six hours a day but actually work eight or more. Real teachers spend their summers as waiters, temps, camp counselors, and the like. When real teachers get their first pay check in September, they are reminded that teaching is a job, not just what they love to do.
Real teachers have a highly developed sixth sense. Real teachers know exactly how many Oreo cookies are in a package and how many jelly beans are in a jar. Real teachers can predict exactly which parents will show up at open house. Real teachers know when it's a full moon without having to look outside. Real teachers know that the first class disruption they see is probably the second one that has occurred. Real teachers can "sense" gum. Real teachers never sit down without first checking the seat of the chair. Real teachers hear the heartbeats of crisis.
Real teachers get a lot more valentines than the rest of us. Real teachers are some of the most courageous, caring, and committed people you've ever met. Real teachers lovingly labor in the most unheralded, labor-intensive, multi-tasking, exhausting, income-challenged, and rewarding of all professions. Real teachers are indispensable.
So . . .
      If you sing "The Alphabet Song" to yourself as you look up a number in the telephone book;
      If you fold your spouse's fingers over the coins as you hand him or her the money at a tollbooth;
      If your own children must raise their hand to capture your attention;
      If your refrigerator door looks like a military command center because it is covered with notes, calendars, coupons, phone numbers,
      and a thousand other things;
      If one of the drawers in your kitchen is full of pencils, pens, crayons, markers, erasers, glue, and the like;
      If you stop at the curb to pick up discarded old shelves, bookcases, file cabinets, or magazine racks;
      . . . then, even if you don't work at a school, you are a real teacher.

Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute this article provided the entire piece including the initial two paragraphs ate included. (©2010 Richard Lederer)