Sunday, October 30, 2011

Russia: Retired Tennis Star Marat Safin to Run for Parliament

          Russian tennis phenomenon, Marat Safin, has announced that he will run for the Russian State Duma in the December 4 elections. Born in Moscow in 1980, Mr. Safin began his professional tennis career in 1997. In 2000 he became the number 1 ranked player in the world when he defeated Pete Sampras in order to win the US Open. He won Australian Open in 2005 and helped lead the Russian team to Davis Cup victories in 2002 and 2006.
          Certainly, Mr. Safin is a talented athlete. However, his public image, as illustrated by citizen media outlets, has until now not been focused on public service.
          Russian Politics for Dummies Blog announced Mr. Safin's campaign in a post on October 28:
Safin, the 2000 US Open winner and 2005 Australian Open champion, said he was serious about his political ambitions. 
“I am running for Federal Parliament in Russia,” Safin told the ATP Champions Tour website. 
“The elections are on December 4th so I will find out soon. It’s a new challenge. I think I am an intelligent guy and I have a lot to bring and a lot of ideas about things and what to do. I am very committed to it.” 
Safin added: “I could be the best looking guy in the Duma, but that’s only because all the other guys are over 60.”
Marat Safin at the XV International ATP tennis tournament St. Petersburg Open 2009. Photo by Mike Kireev, copyright © Demotix (27/10/2009)
           Russian blogger, Gleb Mekhed, contrasted his admiration [ru] for Mr. Safin's athletic ability to his distaste for Mr. Safin's antics in an August 2011 post:
[...] I must say that I play tennis a bit myself, and for a long time Marat was a man I admired. His graceful game sometimes reminded me of a tiger. However, I was always annoyed by his antics with the smashing of rackets, etc. Honestly I do not know what he needs politics for. Maybe just because it's trendy. [...]
          Miriam Elder, GlobalPost blog's Senior Correspondent in Moscow, placed Mr. Safin's State Duma run into political and geographical context in her July post:
What does somebody like Marat Safin do after retiring from tennis? There are plenty of options: he could model, he could act, he could marry me, I mean, somebody
But this is Russia and if you want to stay on top here, best to link up with United Russia. And guess what – that’s what Safin is doing. 
According to the United Russia website, Safin is taking part in the election primaries currently being held in consort with the People’s Front (I wrote about them this weekend). The idea is to formulate United Russia’s candidate list for the December elections. Safin is standing for the Nizhny Novgorod region, which is weird, considering he was born in Moscow, to ethnic Tatar parents, and Nizhny has nothing to do with either one or the other. [...]
          Mr. Safin's own 2006 blog - which was hosted in Russian here and translated into English on ATP World Tour site - offers insight into his life as a tennis player. In one blog entry, he discussed his relationship with his parents:
[...] Last night my father called me at around 1am and asked me to use one of my cars to take my grandfather to a medical check this morning. Since I am a good son, I told him to come to the apartment in the morning and pick up the keys. When he arrived, I gave him some laundry as a present for my mum… 
For some reason, after a certain age our lovable parents enjoy doing things for their kids, like laundry, looking after your flat when you are not around. They are just happy to do anything, anytime for their kids. But when you are young, you have to do all these things, laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning the apartment and all the c—p you hate doing, when the only thing you want to do is go out, hang out with your friends and do whatever is on your mind. Every age has its good parts and bad parts, it is important that you enjoy both of them. [...]
And here are Mr. Safin's thoughts about what it is like to participate in a tennis tournament:
[...] The day was long, the ladies took over on court and they took forever to decide who wanted to win and lose. Apparently, nobody wanted to lose. So I was waiting, eating and drinking coffee. I went to sleep and almost fell from the massage table a couple of times because when you sleep your body sometimes shakes – so I almost fell down. I slept and then drank another couple of coffees. I ate again and drank again. Basically, my stomach was like an aquarium. A mixture of pasta, soup, Russian blinis, jam, coffee, tea, peach juice so you can imagine how I was going to look after a few hours. 
They then called us. Everyone is happy two Russian girls and two guys are in the final. It was a full stadium today, pretty amazing as the stadium is pretty big. We are only using one quarter of it for the Center Court. More or less, today was around 10,000 people. It was not 100% full. [...] 
It is my first final in Moscow, so I am happy. A final nobody can complain about. No one will make me feel guilty of going away to sleep and not doing my job properly. [...] 
After today’s match, I did press and signed around 5,000 million autographs so I could perfect my signature. A lot of kids coming, running up with balls. At least kids here they know who I am. For example at some of the tournaments like in Cincinnati or Montreal, they come up and don’t even know who you are. They then ask, “Excuse me. Who are you?” I always use the name Roger Federer. For sure they know Roger. Then they ask, “Yeah, sure, who are you?” So I am still using his name. [...]
          People from around the world who had been accustomed to seeing such a flamboyant persona from Mr. Safin reacted on Twitter to the news of his political ambitions.

Temidayo Oluyede from Nigeria wrote:
murray-bruce running for office...marat safin sef running for breed of politians
New Yorker Daniel Kaplan, a tennis reporter for SportsBusiness Journal, wrote:
Marat Safin running for Parliament! He wasn't exactly a statesman as a player! [...]
          Russian Politics for Dummies blog reminded readers that Mr. Safin is not the first Russian tennis player to have political ambitions:
The 31-year-old Safin is the second Russian tennis star to target a seat in the Duma following 2007 US Open women’s semi-finalist Anna Chakvetadze announcement in September that she was to stand for the Right Cause party. 
The 24-year-old, formerly ranked in the top five in the world, has not played since Wimbledon in June because of poor health. 
Chakvetadze said she wanted to “try something new” and focus on women’s rights and children’s sports. 
“I joined the Right Cause Party because it’s a young party,” she said.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

American Civil War: Early Form of Trench Warfare

My great great grandpa, Edward T. Miller, carried this musket for the 
Union at the Battle of Antietam (1862). Edward's pension papers formed part of 
my Daughters of the American Revolution application as 
his ancestor, Daniel Warner, fought and died at the Battle of Bennington (1777). 

         When studying American politics it's easy to be distracted by tabloid-like antics. Sometimes, however, that can be detrimental. Perhaps if military historians had taken a closer look at battle tactics used during the American Civil War, World War I would not have been as costly.
         During the last year of the American Civil War, a form of trench-style warfare based upon the rifled musket was developed. Military commanders learned that if they armed a soldier standing in a trench with one of these muskets aimed at advancing troops, he could eliminate 3-4 X his number. Thus, it began to no longer make sense to send large numbers of soldiers running at fortified positions.
         Half a century later during WWI, military commanders did not utilize the lessons learned of the nastiness and ineffectiveness of trench warfare; millions and millions of soldiers died. The commanders relied on Napoleonic tactics that had been effective before the development of the machine gun. Even American commanders did not utilize the knowledge that was gained from the Civil War trenches. For example, General John Pershing used Napoleonic style tactics during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918.
         With regard to American politics, I try to listen a lot more than I talk because there are important subtleties that can be missed.
Rifled Musket Carried by my ancestor Edward T. Miller at the Battle of Antietam

Pictured Above: My ancestor - Edward T. Miller - carried this musket with him at the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War. 4 X the number of Americans were killed/wounded/captured during that battle as on D-Day in 1944. If you point a flashlight down the barrel you can see the rifled grooves. Edward T. Miller's granddaughter, Margery Miller Welles, has been nominated to join the International Boxing Hall of Fame - she was one of the founding authors of Sports Illustrated

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Russia: Success of National Wrestling System Explained

         Russian wrestlers are often considered to be the best in the world. Citizen media suggest that a possible explanation for this is the relationship between politics and wrestling in Russia as exemplified by Alexander Karelin. Mr. Karelin was an elite Russian wrestler and Olympian and is now an elected official who serves on the Russian Duma's Committee on International Affairs.
         Vladimir Anoshenko was a Belarusian National Champion wrestler as well as an American university wrestling coach. He discussed in an entry from last year on his blog why the Russian team is so effective:
2010 was again a successful year for Russian wrestlers. They dominated in all big international competitions. Many people in the international wrestling community (particularly in the U.S.) are trying to figure out the success of the Russian Wrestling System. My opinion of why Russia dominates is that the system is built on deep wrestling traditions with tremendous financial and political support.
          Vladimir went on to discuss how American wrestlers start at a younger age and practice more intensely - and thus get burned out before they are able to compete at the international level. By contrast, Russian wrestlers start a little older - between the ages of 10-13. They participate in fewer tournaments and practice for shorter amounts of time per day, instead focus more on their technique, while Americans focus on conditioning. Later in the post Vladimir Anoshenko introduces the relationship between Russian wrestling and Russian politics:
In Russia, big bonuses and incentives are good motivation to wrestle. Usually all of the best wrestlers are provided with career opportunities by government or businesses. While athletes wrestle or they finish their sport career they know they will have a good job. This is very important for the Russian Wrestling System. In U.S., wrestlers don't have opportunities like this. Only a few can afford to wrestle 10-15 yrs. at the senior level. The U.S. can beat Russia in wrestling some years. But to dominate the World constantly, the U.S. has to create a wrestling system that is better or at least competitive to the Russian Wrestling System.
          Alexander Karelin fits exactly the profile Vladimir Anoshenko described, as illustrated by Mr. Karelin's MySpace blog from 2007. Although he joined the United Russia party and was elected to the State Duma in 1999, he did not officially retire from wrestling until after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
• Jan 5, 2007 Chronology ..> ..> 
1967 Born September 19 in Novobirsk, Siberia 
1980 Takes up wrestling at age 13 
1988 Wins Olympic gold medal in Seoul, South Korea; also wins European Championship 
1989-91, 1993-95, 1998-99 Wins European and World Championships 
1992 Wins Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, Spain; also wins European Championship 
1996 Wins Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, Georgia; also wins European Championship 
1997 Wins World Championship 
1999 Elected to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament 
2000 Wins European Championship 
2000 Wins Olympic silver medal in Sydney, Australia; also wins European Championship 
2000 Retires from wrestling
Aldar Balzhinimaev jogs a victory lap with the Russian Federation flag in celebration of his gold medal win at the Inaugural Youth Olympic Games, 46kg freestyle wrestling event, Singapore. Photo by Ray Shiu, copyright © Demotix (17/08/2010)
, a blog pertaining to the Winter Olympic Games which will be held in Russia in 2014, shared a video of an interview with Alexander Karelin. He is introduced as an "Olympic Champion" but in the interview his persona reflects more his current role as a state official when discussing the efforts put forth to preparing the city for the Olympics.
          Alexander Karelin is a wrestler from the past, but other citizen media outlets capture current and future Russian wrestlers. posted a video of the 2011 Russian National Championships, which were held in Yakutia over the summer. The author described the video:
Notice all the different angles and methods being used to attack, shucks, fakes, snaps all accompanied by great footwork and position.
          The Moscow-based radio station, Voice of Russia, announced on Twitter the results of the Youth World Sambo Wrestling Championships:
Russia reaps gold in sambo wrestling: Russian boys have won 16 gold, 9 silver and 8 bronze medals at a youth world championship
Perhaps one of those boys is the next Alexander Karelin in the making.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Russia Qualifies for Euro 2012: On to Poland/Ukraine!

            Russia officially qualified for Euro 2012 when they finished at the top of their group with a 6-0 win over Andorra on Oct. 11, 2011. The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship is referred to by some as 'Polkraine 2012' since it will be held in both Poland and Ukraine.
UEFA Euro 2012 mascots - Slavek and Slavko. Photo by Roger Gorączniak (CC BY 3.0)
            Citizen media have captured the popular perception of the qualifying round as well as efforts made toward ensuring the proper facilitation of the tournament. Maxxrus1977 posted a Promo for Euro 2012 on a Kiev Dinamo blog, which captures the intensity and exhilaration the European continent experiences through international soccer tournaments. (Click here to view.)
          World Cup Blog described the rules of the tournament as well as the schedules of the matches in Group B, Russia's group, in a post from July 3, 2010:
Group B for Euro 2012 qualifying will be contested between the following teams: Russia, Slovakia, Ireland, Macedonia, Armenia, and Andorra, with the group winner qualifying automatically and the second place finisher entering the playoff round unless they are the highest ranked second placed finisher, which also qualifies automatically.
After this year's Sept. 6 match, when Russia tied Ireland 0-0,World Cup Blog provided this analysis:
Anyway, Russia had a frustrating time in Moscow as they were held to a 0-0 draw by the Republic of Ireland. Russia dominated the game but simply could not find the break through. Shay Given was the strong point while Ireland had no attacks and were almost completely on the back foot. The result keeps Russia in first place ahead of Ireland, Armenia, and Slovakia.
          Russian fans commented on the analysis given on the Ireland match on the Russian-language news portal, Football Russia: seens72:
Жаль что не забили... Столько ОПАСНЫХ ситуаций и НЕТ голов! Но игра мне понравилась)
A pity they didn't score... So many DANGEROUS situations and NO goals! But I liked the game)
Удачи России в следующих матчах !!! Русские выйдут с первого места !!! Россия вперед на Украину и Польшу !!! )
Good luck to Russia in the future games!!! Russia will qualify from the first place!!! Russia, on to Ukraine and Poland!!!

After the Oct. 7 match between Russia and Slovakia,World Cup Blog had this to say:
All Russian fans now know that their team almost have one foot in the finals. After defeating Slovakia 1-0 through Alan Dzagoev’s long range goal, Russia are now in first place with 20 points and a draw at home to Andorra will confirm a ticket to Poland and Ukraine. In what was a nervous buildup, Russia started very strongly and dominated most of the match. Slovakia found it difficult to find a footing but did have a few sporadic attacks forcing critical saves from Malafeev.
          And, as expected, comments made on Football Russia's analysis of this match were more enthusiastic as the article focused on the 71st minute when Russia was finally able to capitalize on a scoring opportunity. Rusik:
Че несете "че на евро нам делать " ? Выигрывать ! Россия чемпион )))
What do you mean, "we've got nothing to do with Euro"? We've got to win! Russia is the champion )))
Самый сок будет когда в евро на финал попадем и выграем хотя бы со счетом 1:0 это будет что то))))))
The best thing will be when we get to the finals and win with at least 1:0 - that would be awesome )))))) [...]

Finally, going in to the match against Andorra, World Cup Blog wrote:
Four years ago, Russia faced Andorra in their final Euro 2008 qualifier under very nervous circumstances. Russia had to win and hope Croatia defeat England at Wembley the same day. Well thats what happened. Russia barely defeated Andorra 1-0 while a dramatic game saw Croatia defeat England 3-2. This time Russia sit at the top of Group B needing only a draw to qualify. Only Ireland can surpass Russia if Andorra pull off a major upset on Tuesday. Aside from that, Russia’s task is very direct and clear cut.
          Russia not only went on to defeat Andorra, they dominated the match as they kept possession of the ball for a tournament high 72.8% of the match, as OptaIvan reported on Twitter:
72.8% – Сборная России показала наивысший процент владения мячом в квалификации Евро-2012 в первом матче против Андорры. Превосходство.
72.8% - Russia's team has shown the highest percentage of possession of the ball in the Euro 2012 qualifier's first game against Andorra. Superiority.

          OptaIvan also cited other interesting statistics regarding Russia's performance in the Euro 2012 Qualifying round. @malafeev16 is the Twitter account belonging to a Russian goalkeeper out of St. Petersburg, Vyacheslav Malafeev:
С момента появления сборной России (лето'92) ей удалось выйти в финальную часть 6 из 10 крупных турниров (2 ЧМ, 4 ЧЕ). Достижение.
Since the emergence of the Russian national team (summer '92) it has managed to reach the finals of six out of ten big championships [2 World championships, 4 European championships]. An achievement.

           With regard to the facilitation of the tournament, some Ukrainians and Poles have expressed uncertainty as to whether the benefits outweigh the costs of construction and the disturbance in everyday life. Many stadiums must be rebuilt, there are issues of travel legalities between countries, and all if it must be paid for.
          The Twitter account "Euro-2012 in Ukraine" announces, among other things, the progress that the construction efforts are making:
Варшавський стадіон відкриють через три місяці після здачі в експлуатацію
          The opening of the Warsaw stadium will take place three months after its completion
Damon on Kiev Dinamo Blog in a post entitled "Do we really need the Euro?" expressed a very honest wonderment as to whether or not Ukraine would benefit in the long term from taking on the responsibility of hosting such an event. At the very least it seems to be a valid question:
Когда только объявили, что Евро-2012 пройдет у нас, я был в восхищении! Наверное, как и все. Прошло время. И я как-то начал задумываться, а что, собственно, это Евро даст народу Украины, - нам с Вами? Вот подумайте, - ну что, кроме зрелища? А теперь тоже подумайте, кто на этом заработает прежде всего. Я не то, что против евро, но как-то, с учетем нашего убожества, это кажется пиром во время чумы. Ну, если я не прав, то разубедите.
When they had just announced that we would host Euro 2012, I was excited! Just like everyone else, perhaps. Time has passed. And now I'm kind of thinking, what exactly will this Euro give to the people of Ukraine - to all of us? Think about it: except for entertainment, what else? And also think of who is going to profit the most from all this? I'm not exactly against Euro 2012, but considering the squalor around us, it seems like a feast in time of plague. Well, if I'm wrong, go ahead and dissuade me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ukraine: New Documentary Highlights the Klitschko Brothers' Lives and Careers

The official Klitschko movie poster
           Popularly dubbed "The Klitschko Brothers", Ukrainians Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have dominated the heavyweight boxing division since Lennox Lewis retired in 2004. However, their production of an autobiographical documentary film entitled Klitschko (watch the trailer here), as well as the political ambitions of the elder brother, Vitali, demonstrate that these men are more than athletes.
          On June 21 of this year, Nothing But The Doc Blog announced that Klitschko would be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. It also alluded to a famous boxing figure in cinema history, Rocky Balboa's Soviet nemesis, Ivan Drago:
[...] Corinth Releasing has announced a theatrical release date for Tribeca Film Festival premiere “Klitschko.” It will open at NYC’s Cinema Village on October 21 with an LA opening later in the month. Directed by Sebastian Dehnhardt, the doc tells the story of Ukrainian boxers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, best known for being the first brothers to hold world titles in the sport at the same time. The press release makes it sound like these guys are real life versions of Dolph Lundgren’s character in “Rocky IV.” And like Lundgren, the Klitschkos are smarter than you’d expect, both brothers have a PhD. [...]
Moviefone Blog included Klitschko in their list of "31 Reasons to Buy a Movie Ticket in October":
[...] Hey remember that sport heavyweight boxing? It still exists! And there is even a current boxing champion -- one Wladmir Klitscko. Well, him and his brother, Vitali (who is also a boxer), are getting their own documentary, ingeniously titled, 'Klitschko.' It will help you rediscover your inner Rocky (or, for that matter, inner Ivan Drago).
          Although the Klitschko brothers virtually never fight in the United States, they utilize the U.S. media outlets to promote their film, which will debut in New York on Oct. 21, 2011. Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko Blog posted a video of the brothers talking about the documentary on NBC:
Heavyweight champions Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko were recently on NBC promoting their new documentary, and each discuss parts of the documentary and some things about themselves such as their language ability and political activism etc.
          The interview, which was conducted in English, mentioned that both Vitali and Wladimir have Ph.D.'s in Sports Science and that they both speak several languages. They discussed, along with Vitali's political ambitions, their parents and how they promised their mother that they would never fight each other. Without prompting, the brothers made the connection between the Chernobyl disaster and the problem Japan currently faces combating radiation. The film is said to illustrate how the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl claimed the life of their father.
          Colin Linneweber described on his blog on the death of the Klitschko father in July 2011:
Former Soviet Union air force colonel Wladimir Rodionovich Klitschko, the proud father of legendary heavyweight champions Vitali and Wladimir, succumbed to a long battle with lymph node cancer last week at 65 in Kiev, Ukraine. The decorated patriarch of the Klitschko clan was stationed near Chernobyl during the 1986 nuclear disaster and helped cleanup the reactor's meltdown. [...]
          In May 2008, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko Blog discussed Vitali's failed mayoral race before reminding the audience that Vitali intended to stay in the public spotlight through his boxing career:
With exit poll results, Vitali Klitschko did not win the 2008 Kiev mayoral election. The exit polls show that he came in 3rd with about 19 percent of the vote. The winner was incumbent Leonid Chernovetsky with about 30 percent of the vote. Official results will not be expected before Monday. It would have been nice for Vitali to win this election. It would have also been nice for a mayor of a major city to fight for the WBC title. But, with the election out of the way and not as many obligations outside of boxing, we should expect to see Vitali at his best come the end of the year for his fight for the WBC championship. So, condolences to Vitali on his loss in the election, but good luck and an early congratulations to Vitali on his WBC championship fight!
          The Klitschko Brothers have also utilized both Twitter and Facebook to promote the film. On their Twitter account, Klitschko News, they again mention the NBC interview:
Vitali and Wladimir talking about the "Klitschko" movie on NBC California
On Oct. 7, Twitter's Klitschko News linked to their new Facebook Fan Page.
Welcome to all new Klitschko fans on our official Facebook fanpage! A few pages have been united. Here you will [get the latest information about the brothers!]
          The Klitschko Fan Page on Facebook includes dozens of comments pertaining to the documentary, the vast majority of which are positive. Many are surprised at the humanity the boxers display. The Facebook comments also reflect the strong sense of internationalism the film emits. Here are some of them:
Anjeli Jana: I loved seeing this on my local morning news - I just wanted to give Wlad a great big hug when I saw his face when he starts talking about losing his father
David Klimov: I watched this movie in German, with Polish subtitles...even though I don't speak German nor Polish, the film was awesome! Cool documentary! They should have it released here, in USA! And when is the sequel coming out?
Akos Szegedi: That movie is very usefull for the next boxer generation...also to my little sons.Thanx fot it. Greatings from Hungary.
William Perrigo: The movie was great! But you can't expect it to be like James Bond. It's a documentary!
          It seems that the release of Klitschko is another example of the brothers pursuing different avenues in order to expand their influence. As a tribute to how far they have risen,a commenter on portalobserved:
Klitschko brothers have got to be two of the most statistically improbable people on the planet.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nathaniel Hawthorne Observed American Dynamism

Witchcraft at Salem Village. Engraving. The central figure in this 1876 illustration of the courtroom is usually identified as Mary Walcott. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

          Sometimes famous quotes are clandestinely autobiographical as illustrated, perhaps, by Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous, "Families are always rising and falling in America." My own theory as to why Hawthorne might have said that lies in his own past.
          Nathaniel himself was a direct descendant of one of the judges in the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, William Hathorne. However, by the time Nathaniel was born in Salem in 1804, the family had lost its wealth and prominence in the community and Hawthorne required the financial assistance of his uncle in order to attend college. Specifically, Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College where he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa society.

Wikipedia describes his journey to school and the people he met while there:

          On the way to Bowdoin, at the stage stop in Portland, Hawthorne met future president Franklin Pierce and the two became fast friends.Once at the school, he also met the future poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, future congressman Jonathan Cilley, and future naval reformer Horatio Bridge

          Hawthorne added a 'w' to his name, presumably in order to disassociate himself from his famous ancestry who had been Puritans and ranking officials in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. At the age of 46, Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter.

Wikipedia describes the Scarlet Letter's publication:      

          "Hawthorne returned to writing and published The Scarlet Letter in mid-March 1850, including a preface which refers to his three-year tenure in the Custom House and makes several allusions to local politicians, who did not appreciate their treatment. One of the first mass-produced books in America, it sold 2,500 volumes within ten days and earned Hawthorne $1,500 over 14 years.The book was immediately pirated by booksellers in London and became an immediate best-seller in the United States; it initiated his most lucrative period as a writer.One of Hawthorne's friends, the critic Edwin Percy Whipple, objected to the novel's "morbid intensity" and its dense psychological details, writing that the book "is therefore apt to become, like Hawthorne, too painfully anatomical in his exhibition of them",though 20th century writer D. H. Lawrence said that there could be no more perfect work of the American imagination than The Scarlet Letter" '

          Nathaniel Hawthorne is a household name due to the man's talent, work ethic, and also to the dynamics of American culture which enabled him to meet interesting people in college and climb the socioeconomic ladder. The name Hathorne, by contrast, has largely been lost to history.
          One of my favorite parts of American culture is its love of meritocracy and with that comes individualism. In the Roman Empire it was also true that families would rise and fall, but it didn't often happen within a generation as it did with Hawthorne. That, I believe, is what Nathaniel was observing. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Russian vs. Polish: Linguistic Comparison

   Countries where a West Slavic language is the national language
   Countries where an East Slavic language is the national language
   Countries where a South Slavic language is the national language
Source: Wikemedia Commons
         People often ask me about the Russian language. I've studied two Slavic languages formally, Polish and Russian, and I find it useful to compare the two.

         Slavic languages, part of the Indo-European language tree along with Romance, Germanic, etc., are divided into 3 groups- Eastern Slavic, Western Slavic, and Southern Slavic. Russian is an Eastern Slavic language and Polish is Western Slavic.

Eastern Slavic
Western Slavic
Southern Slavic

      Some seem to think that the reason why Russian is a difficult language to learn is because of its use of the Cyrillic alphabet but I would disagree. The Cyrillic alphabet is actually fairly easy to learn as it is comprised of mostly Greek letters. In Russian there is no word "to spell" because the language is considered purely phonetic. By contrast, Polish uses largely the Latin alphabet but the addition of accents, etc., complicates the text.

         A Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas once told me a joke that illustrates in part why the Polish language is so difficult to master:

         "An elderly Polish man visited his eye doctor and was told to read from an eye chart so as to gauge his vision. The man volunteered to read the bottom line and, although it was the smallest, most difficult to see, the man correctly relayed each letter. When the doctor asked him how he was able to be so precise in his account of the seemingly random letters in the distance, the elderly Polish man said, "It was easy, I know a guy who's last name is spelled just like that!"

         Poles sometimes refer to the Russian language as 'baby Polish' because the sounds in Russian are softer and easier to recite quickly. Russian is filled with g's (gate), d's (dog), zhe's (pleasure) whereas Polish has k's (kite), sh's (sheet), and ch's (chapter). Polish has 7 cases whereas Russian has 6. Polish also has a neuter form for 'they' while Russian does not.

         The Russian language has no 'to be' verb in the present, instead it is implied.

         For example, in Russian if you were to say, "He is a dog.", you would say, "He dog." and the 'is' would be implied. However, one need include a "will be" or "was" to indicate either future or past tense. Polish, on the other hand, requires a "to be" in the present.

English- "He is a dog."
Polish- On jest psem. "He is dog."
Russian- Он собака. "He dog".

         In both Polish and Russian, "He" is the same word as the Polish On sounds like the Russian Он. In Russian there is no "is" whereas in the Polish translation, jest = "is". The word for dog differs in the two languages- In Polish psem is pronounced "pshem" and in Russian, собака sounds like "sobaka". Notice neither Polish nor Russian uses an equivalent to the English article "a".

         My favorite part of the Polish language is that it has a penultimate stress. Every single Polish word is stressed on the second to last syllable. That is perhaps the only instance where Polish is easier on the student than Russian.