14 October 2011

You Like Potato and I Like Potahto

For the longest time, I could not figure out why, in Russian, the word for "foul speech" was the same as the word "mother." I posed this question to several Russian friends and I got what seemed to be head nods of agreement. 

In fact, the words are orthographically different while being phonetically identical (at least to me). Mother is "мать" while cursing is "мат." In retrospect, those head nods may have been of sympathy, as in "poor guy just doesn't get it."

This reminded me of a strange dialog that I once had while teaching mathematics in inner-city Dallas area. The school principal (P) introduced me (A) to Ms. Lohan (L) in a dialog similar to this:
P:  Mr. Sharif, this is Ms. Lohan, the liberian.
A:  Nice to meet you; I have always been curious about Liberia and have never met anyone from there.
L:  I am the liberian at this school.
A:  I should expect so; Liberia is not a large country and has a small diaspora.
L:  No, I run the libary at this school.
A:  Oh, I see.  It is nice to meet you in any case.
Lohan the Liberian

Gauging by the looks that I got from them, the principal and Ms. Lohan considered me a moron for my apparent inability to distinguish a liberian from a Liberian.  In standard English, there is no "liberian," but in some American dialects, liberians (librarians) run libaries (libraries).

Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto, Let's call the whole thing off

02 October 2011

American Zoo vs. Russian Theater

Having written a bit on animalistic themes, it is now appropriate to dive a bit deeper into the domain and talk about politics.  In particular, it is worth comparing two types of productions:  The American zoological type versus the Russian theatrical one.

The next American presidential election will be held in a bit over a year from now, but the presidential campaign is in full swing.  The White House is now a cage of some sorts for a wounded animal.  Barrack Obama came into the White House roaring like a lion and memorizing with a lofty rhetoric, but he had little experience.  Now he has more experiences, but seems to be out of lofty words, uplifting speeches, or even kitty-cat meows.  His presidency, sans a few exceptions, has been disappointing.  If we add economic stewardship and his ample wasted political opportunities to this consideration, we can qualify Mr. Obama's performance as nearly disastrous.

American Politics

This should give a wide opening to Republicans coming at him from the right, but this is where the zoo analogy really takes hold.  The Republican field appears to be replete with entertaining gorillas that are busily hurling feces at each other.  At the current pace, he who dishes out the most poop but gets served the least has a good chance for the party's nomination.  But, the stench that the current Republican primary is creating makes it improbable for this candidate to beat Mr. Obama in the general election.  Welcome to the American political zoo.

In contrast to the American zoo, Russian politics is a nearly perfect theatrical production worthy of no less than the Bolshoi Theater (situated just across the road from the Kremlin).  After keeping the country - and the world - in suspense for four years, the president and prime minister announced that they are to switch jobs in next year's "elections" per an agreement that was decided years ago.  The show was nearly perfect.  The slight imperfection stain came when one competent and professional government official, Mr. Alexey Kudrin, went off script and began to heckle one of the lead actors, the president himself.

A World Best:  Russia's Bolshoi Theatre
Magnificent, and Only for Masterful Performances

The theater responded appropriately:  It ejected the heckler.  The focus was kept on center stage.  The show goes on.  And it will continue to do so while enough oil revenue is coming in.