Keep Passing the Open Windows! (John Irving, The Hotel New Hampshire)

Language That LJ Permits
I noticed that the spell check does no longer work for texts input in English. Is it a new feature (or restriction) aimed at allowing Rissian users to write in Russian only? If so, it is a disappointment for me. I wonder if it is a pre-election precaution or something else. 27.02.2012

Sunday Morning Trip
Last Sunday I had an urgent business and left home at a quarter past six in the mornning. I must have taken a subway train running from the city center to a stop close to the edge of town.

My first surprise was that I had to line up to get a subway pass. There were several people before me in the queue. I glanced at my watch - it was 6:30am.

When I passed through the controlling machine and stepped on the platform, I noticed quite a lot of people waiting for a train. I realized that the last train passed our stop quite a while ago. OK, let's wait.

Finally, headlights of the approaching train cut through the dark tunnel. And here came my second surprise: the train was packed. Fully packed. Finding a seat was an impossible task, so I leaned to a space righ next to the doors. I peered at my watch again: 6:42.

My trip was to a distant stop, so to kill time I looked at the people who filled up the train on Sunday at such an early hour.

There was no one who would look like coming home after a night at a club or in a restaurant. Most of the folks were quite poorly dressed and wore boots that had seen much better times. Many a traveler carried large bags. I assumed that those with luggage were heading to the subway stop that is linked to a local train station. There they would take a train to the their final destination.

There were several men clad as they came from the office. They all clutched handbags. Supposedly, they worked on Saturday and stayed in the office until late, and then decided to put off going home until early morning.

I also spotted a group of teen-agers. They looked like being from Moscow suburbs. Probably, they stayed with their Moscow friends.

Some disheveled girls of pretty young age huddled in one of the train car's corners. They looked quite fearful. Obviously, the trip to Moscow was not a regular exercise for them. Probably, they went to the city and stayed somewhere, and went home in the morning for safety reasons. No guys accompanied them.

This account of the early morning trip may look as a boring description of an ordinary Sunday morning in Moscow. However, it was a surprise for me: I remember the times that one could board a subway train early in the morning on weekend and be alone in the whole carriage.


Politics. Again.
Politics completely dominate the agenda. In the last 2.5 weeks to the election, pressure is being raised on the media that publish and broadcast critical materials about Putin and his team mates who are presently running the country.

An example most frequently discussed relates to upcoming changes in the EM Board of Directors. Originally scheduled for June, the EM Board Meeting will take place in March. The new Board will enhance the GasProm influence. A. Venediktov, EM's Editor-in-Chief, has been interviewed about mounting pressure.

More and more prominent people volunteer to be supervisors at the polling stations on March 4. Independent experts are saying that there will be mass attempts to falsify the election results. At the same time, Putin's rating is 37%, the Levada Center informs. Putin's representatives also include well known people.

Whether Putin is elected or not (his chance is still higher than it is of other presidential nominees), Russia enters a tumultuous and uncertain period. There are estimates that Putin, if elected, will not stay in the office for longer than 2 or 3 years. Anti-Putin's politicians and analysts, including Kasparov, Nemtsov, Albatz, A. Troitsky, are saying that Putin, who is clinging to power by all means, pushes the country toward a civil war.

What should do those who don't partake in the meetings? Come to the polling stations on March 4 and vote for the presidential nominee most appropriate in the current situation.


Freedom, Love and Happiness
I've been through pain, despair, sorrow,
And I keep asking that again:
Who knows what will bring tomorrow -
Free spirit or a narrow lane?

What freedom is remains a question
That many look an answer for,
Someone may come with a suggestion,
But I have thought through that before.

That freedom never is for granted,
That it depends on our will.
And every time we are enchanted -
It's inner freedom that we feel.

And you are free where spirit's flying,
And spirit's high where one's in love,
Yet one who loves sometimes is crying,
Under the sun and stars above.

Protect your love, express your feelings,
Stand up for what you're trusting in,
Refuse to get in doubtful dealings
Free, happy life will then begin.


The Awkward Days
The break after the New Year and Christmas celebration is ending.

Two more holidays are awaiting us ahead: the Day of the Fatherland' Defender and the 8th of March.

Traditionally, the former is a men's day, and the latter - a women's day. As it is common, the men and women are congratulated with no regard to their age. Men who did not serve in the army are honored along with those who did.

The days are broadly celebrated beginning from the Soviet years and comprise two parts: celebration at work and celebration at home. The home events are being omitted for the purpose of the present record. Let us peek at what a typical office celebration looks like.

The men's day is two weeks earlier than the women's one. As the both days are public holidays, the office celebration takes place on the eve of the actual holiday.

Now that we are a week away from the men's day, the ladies start thinking of how the celebration should be run, whether there should be an abridged ceremony with tea, cake and some presents or a full swing party is to be thrown. A lot depends on whether a strong alcohol is allowed in the office. Usually, it is decided by the managing director and reflects his attitude to alcohol. Here is a trick: by letting strong alcohol into the office for the celebration, the boss may see who of the staff takes to drinking. If the boss is not a proponent of alcohol, especially strong one, the subordinates who recklessly drink in his presence may face negative ramifications.

Once the ceremony is agreed, there comes a questions about the presents. I like a minimalistic style, where little, nice and useful souvenirs are presented. Others consider the presents given as a gauge of respect to them. Such presents are not only more expensive, quite frequently they do not suit taste of the person they are given to. It is not uncommon that the bigger presents end up in the garbage bin at home or, what is worse, right in the office.

The ladies are tormented with what is an appropriate gift and who should present it to whom. The common sense is to buy something small, useful and universal, yet it also becomes a puzzle. I prefer something of office goods, some nice stationary.

By looking at preparations so far we may see that the celebration may turn out a mine field. Everything from what to eat and drink to what to present and how to do it becomes a challenge for the women.

The scenario is pretty much the same in all offices.

After a humble celebration or a luxurious party thrown by ladies on the men's day, the boys have to think hard as to how to surprise the ladies on their day. And this is not an easy matter as well.

First thing that should be decided is the format. The other matter is alcohol. The issue of presents and, of course, flowers, is even more complicated.

A standard set consists of bouquets of tulips, chocolate candies, several different cakes to satisfy different tastes, light alcohol, if allowed, and tea and gifts.

Tulips get chosen as they are the most available flowers, yet they look nice. Candies and cakes are not a problem these days. Red and white dry wine can be found in abundance in any supermarket.

Two main questions left are what gifts to present and who congratulates whom. I am advocating for better bouquets and nice folded postcards. The postcards, when unfolded, depict excerpt from fairy tales, and the protagonists of the tales are unfolding as the postcard is open. The postcard contains a space for a written congratulation.

Since everyone has a certain opinion as to what to present, the debate may last for hours. The worst case is where the option chosen is a cumbersome tasteless gift. It also finds its end in the rubbish bin.

Why did I call the narrative 'The Awkward Days'? Quite often, sensing the men's displeasure with food, drinks, presents, speeches given on their day, women feel awkwardly meeting male colleagues after the holiday.

The same holds true for men when women felt dissatisfied or even insulted by the male colleagues. It may also be an issue for a lady who personally brought her the present and flowers. It is not uncommon that if the preference for a congratulating man is not observed, it may evoke quite negative lasting emotions.

The awkwardness is implicit in the very fact that there are a men's day and a women's day, both of which are awaited and must be celebrated together by the people whose common interest is often limited to the work they do.


Goals And Achievements
Well, it's taken a while this night to get to my LJ page. I assume the reason is that yesterday Saint Valentine's Day was celebrated, and, probably, those lucky who are in love keep talking to each other via Internet.

I suppose that everyone in their life thought a number of times about questions for which they did not find answers, no matter how hard they may have tried. The questions differ for different people, and what is an unresolved problem for someone is a piece of cake for another.

What I have been frequently thinking about is whether it is worth time, efforts, money and other contribution to reach a certain goal. Haven't we all been in the circumstances that our utmost efforts to achieve something were all in vain? The matter can be anything: finding a girlfriend, getting a better education, finding a job that satisfies, getting to a certain level in society that is associated with honor and respect?

Let's assume that someone perseveres in doing something, falls down and stumbles, gets back on her feet and falls, tumbles and stumbles over and over again? Does the one begin to ponder after the tenth or fiftieth attempt that the target is unreachable? Or, maybe, that it is a sign from the Good Lord that the goal is flawed and should not be pursued at all?

I have known a person who is of my age, and who attempted to leave Russia four or five times. He managed to study, work and live in a number of foreign countries. Why did he want to escape in the first place? He believed that one day, in a different corner of the Earth, he will start a new life - life he has always dreamed about. Did he aspire for a target that was too high? According to what he told me, he looked for common things: good education, good job, nice wife, healthy children, family home, some money in the bank for a rainy day. Yet the main thing he tried to achieve was peace with himself. Since he did not find that peace anywhere he traveled, no other target was achieved.

Presently he lives in Moscow, has a decent job, was married but now is a bachelor. From what he is saying, the targets he set up for himself early in his life have been wrong. Now that he is an adult who has been a lot through, he is inclined to accept that the goal he must have been fighting for was peace with himself.

When we are storming a wall and fall flat on our face, or jumping high hurdles and injure ourselves, or trying to build a relationship that does not work and get disenchanted with it, ARE WE DOING THE RIGHT THING? Would it not be better to sit back and think everything over? Aren't we sent a signal that what we are attempting is wrong, completely wrong?

As far as targets and goals are concerned, I am a proponent of the opinion that they have to be achievable. Moreover, achieving a goal is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. What it means is that the one who is reaching the goal should foresee, at least in the "what if" mode, what is going to happen after the goal has been reached. This is a challenging task, given that there are lots of events and circumstances that don't let us see three, four, five steps ahead.

Well, some highly successful businessmen argue that if a one is the tenth, but wants to be the third, the one should aim to be the first. I think there is nothing wrong in this approach for these very people. Yes, they keep taking on risks and they win. But that does not work for everybody.

So, goals, targets, achievements, plans are more complex in real life than one could imagine.


Weather Effect
The record may have been called 'Weather Impact'.

Being through the 4th week of the extreme cold, many of us feel like being tested for a much more severe life. Now let us come back to an eternal question: does weather have an impact on who we are, how we perceive an existence in a climate that assumes only four months of tolerable nature condition? Does the weather affect the way we work? Think? Treat each other?

Many an analyst refer to Canada and Norway, where winters are as furious as ours. By doing this they try to persuade us that the weather is not a factor complicating or facilitating life.

Is this true? Let us look at Canada. The second biggest country is a back stage of the United States. Talented scientists, mathematicians, programmers head south to finally settle down somewhere in the Silicon Valley, or in a faculty of a prominent US university.

Well, it is correct that Canada is ranked higher than the US as far as living conditions are concerned. It is often alluded to as an ideal country for growing children. Where do the children look and go after the college or dream about?

Norway is wisely utilizing its vast - for a small country - mineral resources. It is also a very safe country, with corruption close to zero. Managing a smaller country is always easier than a big one.
Besides, Norwegians are former Vikings, and that also is reflected in the national character.

When we consider what the cold weather does to Russia, we end up with appalling conclusions. People are freezing in their apartments, at work, get sick much more frequently, are sluggish at what they are doing, are putting off everything that may wait. The cold weather like now is a disaster.

The only solace is that it is forecast that the frosts end today. Let us hope and pray.


Social Networks: What Are They For?
It looks like that different social networks, the local and foreign, are gaining popularity by "recruiting" new members every day. It is becoming a phenomena that people are abandoning other means of communication in favor of the social networks.

What is so attractive in them? Why are they being chosen over other communication modes? What do the network members write about? Why are they doing it? Are there real benefits that the networks bring out to their users? Can or should one commit all her thoughts to an open media?

Let's consider the issues in turn.

An attractive thing the users often quote is the availability of their thoughts to a broad and diverse audience. What this statement literally means is that the users of the social networks are 1) willing to express themselves 2) looking for a wider audience to hear them 2) trying to get recognition from the audience 4) expecting comments and opinions on what they are saying. The list is, by no means, complete.

Expressing oneself is a commendable deed, provided there is something to express. Many a user of a younger age commit to "paper" some things they'd better keep for themselves. Others write about something that seems significant and important to them, although it is a trivia. Still others aim for showing how clever/ educated/ well read/ intelligent and intellectual they are.

Doing things listed above is, of course, not a sin. From the standpoint of the author of this narrative, we may and should express our best sides, achievements, respectability and so on. However, this should be done on purpose, not for the sake of bragging. Bragging does not add, it deducts the writer's points.

When we are looking for a wider audience to hear us, it often signifies that our existing communication circle is already too narrow. Getting into a new circle is not an easy task, either in real life or Internet. It happens quite often that the viewpoint of the writer is not accepted as benevolently as she expected. Those who strive to get to other people, to enlarge and enrich their communication, should be ready for critical comments, reverse opinions, harsh appraisals. This holds true for those willing to express themselves.

The harsh criticism may come as a revelation. The writer who hoped she'd be accepted to a different, higher level, often flags not being able to defend her point of view. This often leads to disappointment, to self doubts. On the other hand, others who are standing for what they believe in may gradually be taken in a new communication circle as a person with her own strong position.

Another matter that may arise to the surprise of the writer is that her opinion is neglected at all. If one wants to be heard, the recipe is to keep persevere (unless, of course, it is proved by more sophisticated bloggers that the writer is deluded).

Recognition comes with acceptance. It comes along when the issues one is presenting are those that really concern others. It is excellent when the writer not only states a problem, but offers a solution.

At the dawn of the social networks development in Russia, experts familiar with the social networking in western countries warned the local audience about the rule: everything one is saying may be used against her.

The examples are numerous: a couple of newlyweds in Maldives partook in a photo session on a nude beach, and then uploaded the photos on their web page.

Taking into account that social media pry our private lives, beware that someone with certain intention may insult, humiliate or hurt a network user.

If we are careful enough, if we are expressing ourselves clearly, if we defend what we trust in, if we are not flagging under criticism and are not exposing our lives to the peeking cameras of those whose intentions are not pristine, the use of the social networks may be interesting, useful and pleasing.


Information Noise
To develop previously broached topic on information and technologies, I would draw attention of an interested reader to the presence of information noise all around us.

What is information noise? I am defining it as information whose value is either doubtful or negative for the consumer.

The information noise cannot be hidden from, as we live and work in a knowledge, i. e. information based, society. Along with the information which is indispensable in our every day life and work, there are lots of data we either do not need or will not or should not use. This noise is coming from TV and radio, Internet and newspapers. A classical example of the information noise is an advertisement of something we don't need or can live without. This information is a consequence of commercialization, which is aimed at prompting and prodding consumption.

Another type of information noise is relating to the "celebrity pool". Having opened a web page I am always starting the Internet browsing with, I spotted in the corner of the site a bright caption backed by Sati Kazanova's image. The caption was: Why Is Twitter So Important In Sati's Life? Do we know what she is writing about?

Well, I could not care less for what Sati is entrusting to her Twitter. All that the caption did to me was distraction from my work. The web page I have been talking about provides headlines of important information that I may need to look at it carefully at a later time.

A sexual blond is exposing her forms in the upper segment of another site that I often use. She is telling us of how good it is for health of office workers to exercise in a gym. I have no doubts that it is healthy and helpful, but I will find the info myself once I need it.

While adults are able to pass up the information noise that does not concern them, it is much more difficult a task for children. Those 500 "good" Internet sites designed for kids are not free from the information noise as well. I am not speaking about other Internet resources the children avail sooner or later. The useful content is often mixed with the information noise in a proportion of 1 to 1. Given that the information noise is inescapable, parents should teach their kids of what children need and how to find it while neglecting the information noise.

A very special topic is social networks. It is so immense that it deserves an individual article.

Living in a commercial society, we are bound to pass through the information noise every minute of our life. Let us be prudent and sensible in order not to fall prey to the noise.


Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston, one of the greatest contemporary singers, died in a hotel in Los Angeles today aged 48.

Preliminary reports are saying that death was caused by drug abuse, although no traces of any illegal substances have been found in the room where the singer had stayed the last days.

Whatever the reason, the mankind lost a singer whose name is as famous as Barbra Streisand's and Shirley Bessy's. This is a day of sorrow for Whitney's admirers who collected her records, who always awaited Her new album.

It is not uncommon for those who have been blessed with a great talent to not live long. Let's recall Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson. Such a talent cannot be kept inside, it must get to other people to enjoy and admire. Hearts of the greatest singers, artists, film stars are being burned in the process, they exhaust themselves to an impossible extent. Such an existence cannot last long. It is bright, very bright, it lights up and shines on the world, but too often it ends too quickly.

Goodbye, Whitney. We will always love you.



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