Czech us out, we’re a funny people!

Oh, Czech humor! Late-night translations of some of Ivan Mládek’s best:

1) So, a patient walks into a doctor’s clinic, and his head is absolutely smashed into pieces. The doctor stares at him. “What happened to you?!” he asks. “Well,” the guy replies, “just imagine! I got run over by a car; then I got run over by a motorbike; then, a bus hit me, see; then I got run over by a horse, then a swan, then a pig, and then the f**kers finally decided to stop the merry-go-round!”

2) A high-ranking communist official meets a poor Czech guy in the street. The Czech guy’s carrying a newspaper. “Got anything new and interesting in the newspaper there, comrade?” the official asks, making small-talk. The poor Czech man replies, “My dinner!”

3) So, a guy’s tied up to a pole by some barbarians; they’re about to kill him. The guy looks up to the heavens, and says, “God, I’m totally done for, right?” God looks down to him, and says, “No, my son. Not yet! Look – there’s a stone at your foot. Bend down a little, nudge it over to you with your foot, and pick it up; when the chief walks past, whack him across the head with it!” So, the man takes heed – he picks up the stone, moving it carefully with his foot, and holds it to him; when the chief walks past, he swiftly whacks him across the head with it as the remaining barbarians watch. He then looks back up to God expectantly. “And now, my son,” says God, “now you’re totally done for!”

Posted in Attempts at Humor, Czech | Leave a comment

Ramadan & World Pride 2014

Hello, all! It has again been nearly half a year since I last wrote – for this, as always, I apologize. I will explain all that transpired and prevented me from constructive reflection. At least, however, I am now here, however uninspiring my output may be!

I will hopefully be posting daily hereafter, but I’d like to begin by raising something that I have been thinking about for nearly a week.

This year, Ramadan started and WorldPride ended in the same weekend! What a wonderful concurrence of events! We here in Toronto get to make the best of it, too: thankfully, ours is a city that – for the most part, I think – affords us all the privilege of learning from one another’s many diverse identities in a decently safe, respectful community.

I am aware that not everyone engaged in both events. This is more than fine.

I’m also aware, however, that some people looked down upon one or both; sometimes, even, with hatred and fear of the people participating. In fact, even members of each one of the two aforementioned communities could be heard issuing judgmental statements about the other. In a weekend that was supposed to be full of love (Ramadan is about love for God, and at least in part about exercising charity to others; Pride is a celebration of victories in the fight for a right to legal love), I heard far too many generalizations, inaccuracies, and disrespectful statements.

This jolted me: even here, in Toronto, stigmas still surround both the Muslim and the LGBTTIQQ2SA communities. I shouldn’t have been so surprised that they were prevalent even during this particular weekend: I hear them daily, after all, from strangers, friends, family members, and media outlets. As much as they disgust me, I will expose some here. People living in my grandmother’s apartment building posit, faces serious, that there is a man hidden under every second niqab, ladden with bombs and death wishes for all people who do not follow Islam. Countries with names ending in “-stan” – really everyone, all it means is “place” – are characterized as uniformly primitive and dangerous locales, filled – without exception, mind – with people who can’t read, who all agree that women should marry at thirteen, and who beat their children. The word “jihad” is thrown left, right, and center by people who haven’t a clue as to the multiplicity of its meanings. Islam is equated with terrorism, and even some of my distant family members marvel at my close friendships with Muslims, wondering why I’d interact with people who, presumably, don’t maintain their personal hygiene. I cringe rewriting these statements. Certainly, this isn’t so pervasive here – people of all religions are treated relatively well, and many Canadians understand that the above-described stereotypes are unjustified. However, these descriptions of Muslims as degenerate and malicious do exist, and however comparatively infrequent they may be in our society, I hear within them echoes of the words my grandmother once told me were used to describe Jews, Roma people, communists, and other groups shortly before the Nazi regime came fully to power: the words that robbed my grandmother’s family of half its members.

I shuddered while contemplating this, walking to a weekend teaching commitment. I stopped in my tracks when, seconds later, a passing man discussing WorldPride casually said to his conversation partner, “I mean, I just don’t agree with how it’s presented… as though we’re supposed to, tolerate it… Telling people that it’s completely okay? I don’t think so.” And I was reminded that the same family members who badmouth my Muslim friends – thankfully, there aren’t many of them – joke about how horrific it would be to witness gay sex: how unnatural it must look to, dear god, see two men making love. “Where do they stick it?” “Can you imagine?” The coarseness is unbelievable. Colleagues still gossip and lower their voices: “He’s, well, you know.” Though, as I understand it, many major religions advocate that people don’t judge one another, and state that their followers should instead focus on doing good, some everyday citizens take it upon themselves to play God in the name of their belief system, stating that they are completely justified in condemning others simply because they think their belief system unequivocally inhibits LGBTTIQQ2 relationships. Almost invariably, however, these identical belief systems, to my understanding, tell their followers to grant everyone respect: if a Day of Judgment arrives, that’s when these things will be handled. Whether what someone else does is correct is not for you to decide. Personally, I think it is easy to see the inherently human need for LGBTTIQQ2 relationships to be viewed as not only permissible, but also as beautiful and natural. At the very least, however, these relationships, as arrangements between consenting adults that are not detrimental to any parties, must be lawfully permitted, and lawfully respected. One of my closest friends – an incredibly kind man, who is cheerful, scientifically gifted, and remarkably articulate – was called a “f*ggot”, and had trash thrown at him from a rolled-down window during Pride itself. I’ll tell you this: if you do something as vile as that and still believe you’re going to any sort of favourable place after you die, I certainly hope you are thoroughly wrong.

I have, potentially, touched upon controversial subjects here; my intention is not to offend anyone. Quite the contrary. My purpose is to promote fewer offensive actions. These are two communities filled to the brim with wonderful people, but a fear of the unknown and mass media’s misrepresentation of certain values and events have tarred public perception of spectacular people, their identities, and their beliefs.

You may be straight, and you may not be a Muslim. I’m an agnostic atheist, after all, and I’m writing this. You may believe that practices advocated by Islam and the LGBTTIQQ2SA community alike run counter to your own personal, religious, and familial values, and are inherently wrong. I acknowledge that it’s impossible to see eye-to-eye with certain perspectives that differ from your own; indeed, you may never be able to completely side with some values and practices.

However, I am not asking you to align with either group: all I’m asking is that you refrain from judgement, and at least consider the fact that all religions contain at least many impeccable people, and that love and intrinsic rights should be accessible to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

Please, then, if you can: Take Ramadan and Pride as chances to educate yourself regardless of your impressions, whether or not you that you are already well-informed. Ask your friends who you know participated your questions. More information can never hurt. I’ve witnessed that this is true with every new foreign language and distant culture I’ve begun studying – understanding others is a wonderful thing. Keep learning! Regardless of what you conclude, searching for deeper understanding of individuals different from you cannot possibly be injurious. You may learn something new that will shape your perceptions. Cultivate your understanding of the significance of the LGBTTIQQ2SA movement, the purpose of Ramadan, Islam as a religion, LGBTTIQQ2SA as a community, the injustices these groups have faced, and the work you can do to help society embrace diversity. In your explorations, you will undoubtedly find yourself experiencing more of a value most wouldn’t find objectionable: the fundamental love for one another that we all share as people.

A small note: If you’re Muslim, I hope you don’t find my statements at all hurtful. I know that, as an agnostic, I cannot possibly relate to some of the struggles your community has faced. However, I feel powerfully about them, and wanted to express my sympathies in the hopes they could modify the views of some individuals I know. I sincerely hope this is not offensive to you! I consider myself a member of the LGBTTIQQ2SA community, so I’m not certain I need to apologize there, but as a straight ally, I definitely cannot share experiences with everyone within our very broad set-up, so the same applies for parts of this group, as well.

Posted in On Humanity: Events, Policy, Ethics | 2 Comments

Croatians sure dislike chestnuts

(For those who don’t speak Czech: “pitomi” resembles “pitomý”, which loosely means “bone-headed”, but is often used in place of “stupid”.)Kesten

Posted in Attempts at Humor, Etymology & Linguistics, Foreign Languages, Literatures, & Translation | Leave a comment

Starting to teach for Prep101

In the midst of preparing for my first bout of teaching with Prep101, happening this evening at U. of T.

I’m considerably excited, given that the company uses the same materials I consistently work with at Oxford and recommend to my other students, but I’m more than a bit anxious in anticipation, too: while sitting in on yesterday’s “seasoned instructor” session was rewarding where understanding logistics is concerned, I know that, when faced with a room of strangers, I’ve skills I need to work on, including my level of approachability: I’ve been told I can come off as effective, but intimidating. Prep101’s hiring committee gave me my first ever official evaluations from a group of (mostly) complete strangers, and while reviews were holistically very positive, I want to ensure that everyone present feels comfortable with me. If any of you have tips concerning this aspect of teaching, or any other, I’d be very grateful to hear your thoughts.

Either way, here’s to the beginning of a relatively demanding new teaching experience!


Prep

Posted in Life & Observations | Leave a comment

We’re going home

Finally back in my real home in Scarborough, if only for a few hours. Having been near-constantly immersed in city smog for the past few months, I’ve forgotten how much I need all this: the deep, young green of grass and maples, the earthy, dew-filled smell of the air and light wind (easy breathing), and the diversity of bird calls: reassuring coos, prominent cries, and bubbly chirps, among others, courtesy of Z. macroura, L. delawarensis, and P. domesticus respectively, mixed in with the occasional ice cream truck. Even the fleeting movements of small creatures – a cloud of flies, a swiftly passing yellow jacket, cardinals, flitting gold finches, hopping squirrels, and swooping grackles – each dancing differently in my peripheral vision. Theirs is the kind of motion I like in a place I call home, but animal life aside, I like my streets to be still and silent, something one can only find on those suburban roads whose pavements are cracked with weeds, and which are only tainted by cars every so often. Scarborough is sound and silence, fullness and emptiness in a way that makes loneliness difficult, but thought very easy: you know you are not entirely away from others, given the distant drone of lawn mowers and far-away cars and the occasional train chugging past the golf course, but the strutting of the robin, a horizon free of buildings, and a leisurely absence of frequent pedestrians, vehicles, and lights leaves room for dreams. Add to that my cat and fish, the dog I walk, my family, and all my books, and I am at peace. If only all of my closest friends could be with me, too.

Really, I wish I could better paint pictures with words. In lieu of a more gratifying description, some photographs!

Nothing compares to this place, really. Finally letting out a breath I didn’t know I was holding in.

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209P/LINEAR

This May, 209P/LINEAR will make the ninth closest approach to Earth of any comet on record; we may, near the time of its flyby, pass through the dust trails left by its previous orbits! This means that, on the night of May 23rd, we might well be granted a shower with a very nice ZHR (some particularly optimistic individuals at The Institut de Mecanique Celeste et de Calcul des Ephemerides were expecting a storm, even, but JPL maintains that no one can be sure; dust production is relatively weak).

Radiant is Camelopardalis (near Polaris), for those looking.

I’ll be up! You may wish to be, too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bw3hVTUQ43U

Posted in Life & Observations, Miscellaneous Academics & Learning, Transformative Experiences | Leave a comment

Watching students conquer standardized tests

Even after one has tutored for several years, it’s still exciting to see students’ scores rise! Just had a Next Step client go from high 20s to a 36 on the MCAT; albeit that it was her dedication more so than my help which made that possible, I felt privileged to even see it happen. I love it when people get past life-goal-relevant hurdles that, easily jumped with the right approach, seem impossible to overcome at first.

When I – on top of that – see a student appreciating the nuances of some of the most difficult questions on these assessments, smiling upon them equipped with learned understanding, comfort, and critical thought, I feel even better. These tests are an excellent demonstration of how thoroughly one can push one’s limits, given self-evaluation, strategy, time, and will.

Posted in Standardized Testing Prep. | Leave a comment