Thursday, February 09, 2017

Marc's Tips for Rappers:

Here's a list of friendly advice for those who rhyme:

(1) Don't talk about haters, and/or playahs.   Bitching about playahs is played out.   There are people in life who won't wish you well, but that's their problem.   Get over it.   Got an ex who pisses you off?  Join the club, that's why they're your ex.   It doesn't make them a playah.  Calling someone else a playah just means you are letting yourself get played.

(2) Don't talk about smoking weed:  Grass, Weed, Trees, Tea, or whatever you want to call it.   It's nothing special.   14 year old kids at the skate park smoke weed.   It doesn't make you sound tough.  It was a thing, many years ago, but it should be anymore.   Give it a rest.

(3) Especially don't brag that you smoke impossible amounts of weed: pounds, tons, or a stone if you're British.  Weed makes you mellow, in case you haven't noticed, not tough.

(4) Don't release every fart you make on SoundCloud:  Not even your own Momma wants to hear all the stuff you're "releasing."  Do us a favor and release the best stuff.

(5) Buy a good recording mic.   A good mic is cheap, anywhere from $60-$500 for starters.   Wanna spend more money, you can spend up to $20,000 rather easily, but one good mic can change everything.

(6) Master you mixes.   Don't just put songs out, master them, if you don't know how to do it, learn to do it, or pay someone to do it.   There are guys online that master well for $20-$30 a track.   A little EQ, compression and limiting will make your song sound like a "real" track.

(7) Learn about music.   Learn the notes on the keyboard, learn to play something.  Be able to work on your own beats, or at least be ready to communicate with those who do.   Know what a triplet is, a poly-rhythm, a tone, semitone, whole note, etc.

(8) Most importantly, don't be afraid to put in a rest once in a while.   It's the blank spaces that give the beats in spaces power.   There are times why you need to power through a verse, but not every time.

(9) Don't mention the year in a song.   Yes, it sounded super cool when Chuck D did it in "Fight the Power," but other than that it makes your material sound dated.   "Two thousand and twelve, all new baby," doesn't sound so cool in 2015.

(10) Lastly, but not least, don't be afraid to rap a light verse, have some fun, don't be so tough-nuts all the time.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Riff By Any Other Name... or How the Robin Thicke Verdict Isn't the End of the World.

The time has come for me to chime in on the recent copyright controversy surrounding the song "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, co-written and produced by Pharrell Williams.    The big question on everyone's lips is:  Is this the beginning something terrible?  The answer is, no, this is the continuation of something terrible.

Firstly, this same thing happened in the early 2000's and no one gave a crap, because it happened to Puff Daddy, P-dity, Dity, or whatever his name is currently, ore was at the time.   He lifted the riff from the Police song "Every Breath You Take," and changed the chorus enough that is technically wasn't the same melody, and thought that he shouldn't have to credit Sting as the songwriter, after all, the riff is not the song, and Sting admittedly didn't "write" the riff, it was created by band member Andy Summers.  It's worth noting that Sting's manager, the originally musical gangster, Miles Copeland and his posse sued Dity for the ditty, and won complete ownership of the song.   It is the biggest hit of Sting's carrer, and Andy Summers got.... a heartfelt thank you.   Because in the antiquated system of copyright that we still work under, his world is not protected, just the song writer.

Copyright law has little to do with contemporary music.  Technically the copyright on a song is based on the 1600's German system of music notation and a 1923 law, so it is of course completely irrelevant to contemporary music.   If you transcribe the melody of a song into measures, and to to nearest half tone, and they "look" the same on the page, even if your song is nothing like it, BAM!  You've violated copyright.

Let's call our second witness to the stand, George Harrison's, "My Sweet Lord."   This is a classic example of the classic copyright law getting it wrong, wrong, wrong.   The gun wielding Phil Spector, the producer on that song, who is the inventor or drenched in reverb style of "He's So Fine," from back in the 50's. Despite the fact that the songs were a world apart, dealt with different subject matter, and instrumentation was different, and the songs were literally a world away,  the original publisher of "He's So Fine"  won 100% of  the royalties on the Harrison song, and Harrison got a case of writer's block that lasted for years, worried that he could steal something without even knowing it.   This is classic melody similarity that the law states.   If this were the only arbiter, then Bob Dylan could cover any song and pay no royalties, because he doesn't hit one out of every three notes his sings, and he puts lots of extra notes in along the way.

Speaking of ol' Jack Frost, Mr.D, won a judgement against Hootie and the Blowfish in the 90's.   Their super-hit "I Only Want To Be With You" featured a "quote" from Dylan's "Idiot Wind,"  along with attributing the quote to Bob Dylan in the lyrics, but not in the "by line."   The melody was in no way similar, but the two lines that were obviously taken from a Dylan song were enough to set them back a few bills in their royalty accounts.  So taking words, without melody, also a no-no.   Having said that I took a line from one of my songs from a Rolling Stones song.   Go over to iTunes, download my whole catalog, find the line, and I will send the 79 cents I get from that song to Jagger and Richards.

The truth is courts have been handing down crappy music copyright decisions for a long time.   The Beatles "Come Together" features a line (with a word change) from Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me," and it was enough for John Lennon to make a deal with the music publishers who controlled Chuck's publishing rights, not Chuck himself, because he is a black man who signed his record deal in the 1950's and was therefore ripped off, that he would record an album of songs that they controlled the copyright on and make them some money.  This was John Lennon's "Rock and Roll" album.

So, back to "Blurred Lines."   In today's cut and paste culture, where ownership gets foggy it's customary to, if you steal someone's riff, or sample someone, or any other identifiable part of someone else's song, to give them a cut of the songwriting credit, and subsequently the royalties.   For example, TLC's mega-hit "Waterfalls" is credited to TLC and Melissa Etheridge, and she got a 1/4 of a zillion dollars in exchange for doing NOTHING but having her song re-written by someone else.   Sounds good to me, and to her too, this is standard operating procedure.   This is also why KD Lane is the co-writer of the Rolling Stones "Has Anybody Seen My Baby," because of it's similarities to her hit "Constant Craving." And this is what Blurred Lines' composers didn't do.   Did anyone who was familiar with Marvin Gaye's greatest hits not hear "Blurred Line," and say, hey, that is totally like that Marvin Gaye grove?   Thought not.   Their crime?  They didn't cut him in on the deal.

Like Sean "Puffy" Combs before them, the songwriters (re-writers) knew they borrowed HEAVILY from Marvin Gaye, but thought they had twisted it just enough to avoid giving him (his children) a percentage.   Had they simply included him as a "co-writer" then they would have had to give him 1/3 of the $12 they made on Spotify and there would be no lawsuit.   But they got greedy, and they got caught, and because of that they have lost complete control of the royalties, because the judge has found the work to be "derivative" of a copyrighted word, in other words a copy.   Which in a rare case for me, I agree with the screwed up copyright system in the US, they totally rewrote the Marvin Gaye song and called it their own.

So to sum up, US copyright law is screwed up when it comes to music,  Furthermore none of this will be changed because of... THE MOUSE.    When Walt Disney signed his copyright deal it was for life plus 20 years.   This was so that he would be taken care of for life, and his children would get a big bunch of money, and the copyright would eventually lapse and the work would be put into public domain.  But every time that deal is about to lapse, the US congress passes a new copyright law that extends these copyrights.   30 years, then 50 and then 70, and this affects all contemporary copyrights, including music.   Any changes to copyright that don't make major handouts to US entertainment corporations will not pass congress, so don't expect any changes soon.

So, it's not the end of the world, it just the continuation of everything exactly as it is. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

That's Gay!

As the only person many of my American friends know who has spent a lot of time in Russia, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of comments about the “wave of anti-gay activity in Russia.” Here's a bit about it, read on of you want to understand the situation better.

Firstly about myself. I grew up a couple of miles from downtown Ogunquit, Maine, a bit of a “gay town.” Some of my neighbors were gay, and the Mom and Pop corner store at the end of my street was actually a Pop and Pop operation. So, my ideas of gays and being gay were formed at a young age and essentially are that is normal, natural, part of life and no big deal. Of course that's easy to say being straight and there is a “big deal” behind the struggle of gays, but in my little “Leave it to Beaver” like childhood and adolescence it never struck me as a controversy. Of course as I got older, experienced friends “coming out,” interacted as an adult with openly gay couples these experiences also shaped my ideas, but essentially my fundamental ideal idea has been one that reacts with surprise against anti-gay activity out of the fact that in my mind it's never been a controversy.

What is is this Russian “anti-gay” law? It outlaws gays, right? Not really, it's a law that was passed that makes “homosexual propaganda” illegal. Basically, stay in the closet, a sort of “don't ask, don't tell” for an entire nation. It was passed as a reaction to a growing gay rights movement in a country that is socially very conservative mostly as a way to justify the cancellation of gay parades and gay protests.

Lets take a step back and see what it is to be gay in Russia. In the Soviet times a man being gay was a crime, and gay men were subject to arrest and jail time. There was no such law about gay women, and although gay women were also seldom ever mentioned, in a nation of several brutal wars, were women outnumber men, sometimes by large margines, female gay relationships existed, and were not punishable. After the fall of the Soviet Union being gay stopped being a crime, and gayness slowly showed up in an above ground way. However Russian social growth was stunted by the Soviet time, essentially leaving many social issues in the the 19th century. Ideas across Russian society about feminism, secular social beliefs, ideas of family and general social conservatism are often pre-20th century. The end result the “gay movement” in Russia faces a huge struggle in Russia. The situation is where is may have been in the US or Western Europe in the early 20th century.

Socially speaking there is a conflict in not just Russia but many places all around the world, a struggle against modernity. With the power of the internet presenting a very different narrative, to young people especially, nations around the world are faced with serious conflicts between their traditional views, however twisted they may seem, and standards and ideals that we take for granted in the North American-Western European society. Sometimes it's “the evils of feminism,” sometimes secular democracy itself, and in this particular instance, gay rights are what's on the minds of “westerners.”

The problem is I'm afraid I'm here to say that in the short term little progress seems likely. The problem is when these ideas are woven into the fabric of a society. Just imagine that instead of 40% of Americans saying “gay marriage will ruin marriage,” that it was 80%: welcome to Russia, really just a step away in someways. Imagine you were in the US 100 years ago asking these same questions, you'd be getting the same answers. Perfectly nice, reasonable people saying remarkably crazy things about all sorts of rights that other people should have on topics that are really none of their business. Imagine the jump a society must take from these 19th century ideas to the 21st or even the late 20th century. How can it happen? It can happen, but only with time, hopefully a short time, but with time.

The idea that the reactionary forces of social conservatism have found it necessary to “strike back” is in itself a good sign. I know that sounds like very little consolation, but the gay movement in Russia is growing. Gay's have been markedly the bravest of protesters, facing tacitly accepted violence against their gatherings and still managing to do it on a very small, yet unprecedented, scale. They don't have a majority of the society on their side, but now more then ever their movement is enough to make the patriarch of the Russian church give anti-gay speeches, to make the president and mayors of major cities very uncomfortable, to challenge the social norms.

Ironically, to my American mentality, Russian men seem rather gay. They love hair care products, looking tidy, pastel colored clothes, and Vladimir Putin's 60 year old bare chest. Russian women like short haircuts, and walk around holding each others hands. The state run channel 1 TV's “Blue New Year's Party” is gayer than gay porn, but just like the US in the mid 20th century, gay actors, singers, dancers, and other performers are seen as different but not singled out as gay. Young people are finding inspiration in the North American-Western European ideas of gay equality and young gays are more comfortable in being, looking or acting gay, and their pears are more accepting of it.

What's the answer? Dammed if I know. If I had a giant gay wand I could wave, I would. This is a movement around the world, and Russia is not at the front of the movement, but like any movement the thing to do is engage. Don't burn your tickets to the Olympics, cancel your vacation or write off Russia as backwards. Russia is a nation and a culture which is capable of sweeping changes in short time. Russia is changing. 20 years ago Russia was stuck behind an iron curtain, and culturally stunted by a 20th century full of totalitarianism and Orwellian contradictions. Russia has as a defacto national religion the most conservative form of Christianity on Earth. It's not going to be easy, but it's happening, slowly, but just as it's been a struggle in the US, Russian gays face an even more uphill battle.

I don't mean to be apologizing for Russians, but when you read that Russians can now be arrested for “just being gay,” it's not really like that. When you read that holding a gay protest is against the law, keep in mind that just about all other protests are against the law as well. These are tough times, in many ways, but also good times. Time to face these important issues, time to grow, time to try to make things better.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get On the Bus

Unlike many foreigners who live in Moscow, I ride buses daily. I like in a section of the city where the metro is not in walking distance and I do no own a car. I am a foreigner who lives...can you believe this? Like a Russian. So, I have I a lot of time to think about Russian buses, I regularly have to wait for 20 minutes or more for a bus, and often ride buses for 15-20 minutes each way to get to the metro, depending on traffic jams. I have begun to see the Moscow land transport system as an allegory for the problems of the city itself, maybe I spend too much time thinking about such things, but here it goes:

Firstly, buses have schedules which are not followed, or badly planned. I live near a bus depot and from what I can tell, the drivers stand around eating sunflower seeds, playing cards or dominos and smoking cigarettes, and then jump in the buses and all leave at once. I am 3 stops away from the depot, there is no traffic, but I will often stand there for a long time with no buses, and then suddenly 4 buses come and go, then again no buses. This is a common problem in Russia, there is no shortage of rules and plans, just no one follows them.

Then there are the Marshrutkas. For those who may not know there are the mini-buses or vans that are privately owned, and run the routes of the buses, they suggest that they solve problems in the bus system with a capitalist solution, but actually they are not a solution, but a stop gap and one that actually leads to problems in the bus system. Marshrutka drivers will wait at the beginning of the bus routes, wait for the bus drivers to ready themselves or leave, and then travel just ahead of them to maximize the frustrated customers who are sick of waiting for the bus. Therefore all they really do is take money paying customers from the buses and leave the public bus system to transport senior citizens, teenagers with their grandmother's card, people who duck the turnstiles, and me: one of the few people who buy a monthly bus pass. By lowering the paying bus ridership they give the statistical impression that the buses aren't needed, increase the need to increase the bus fare, as well as get in the way at bus stops and intersections by picking up and dropping off riders wherever they damn well please. These Marshrutkas represent the for profit business that exist only because of informal state support. These bus companies are owned by well connected people, they use the bus stops maintained by the city, but have 100% full fair paying riders, at the expense of the existing system.

Then there are the buses themselves. Ever see the huge clouds of black smoke coming from the back of the bus? This apparently because these buses are made to use bad quality fuel, which damages then engines, and instead of repairing or rebuilding the engines they are run until they die. When the engine is damaged and begins to run inefficiently, it produces large clouds of smoke that are quite frankly, bad for the health of the people near by, not to mention the people inside the bus, often times the access doors to the engine compartment from the inside of the bus are damaged, or badly fitting, and excessive amounts of fumes come into the cabin of the bus. Because these poorly running motors need maximum cooling the heating systems, which take their heat from the engine of the bus, are allowed to operate in summer, when temperatures are already unbearable, raising the internal temperature of the bus several degrees. In this, the don't do anything until something badly breaks attitude that we see in Russian society is highlighted.

Also just like the growing inequity of different regions of the cities, there seems to be a different quality in public transport service and availability in different regions of the city. When I am near Leninsky Prospect, I see lots of tramvai, running every 5 minutes, and they're never crowded, because people who live in this area prefer to use their own cars to get around. but in my less prestigious neighborhood, there are only buses, dirty old buses, that run badly. This shows how neighborhoods are becoming more segregated, and better services provided in better parts of the city.

So,here is the point where I should write some clever tie-in, like Russia will mill the modernization bus, or something like that, but I just can't even joke about it anymore. Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it, right, so, here are a few suggestions: The government is going to great lengths to promote the Russian GPS system, to stop Russia's reliance on the US based system. Here is a perfect opportunity. equip these buses with GPS and use the information to track the buses whereabouts, to check if they are leaving on schedule, and to give passengers information as to when buses will arrive at stops. Stop using low quality diesel which destroys the buses engine, makes them run improperly, and produce excessive smoke. This will help the air quality of the city, and be an important step in using cleaner burning diesel in all of Russia, and requiring it's use, improving the air quality, instantly. Regulate Marshrutka operation so that they can not block the bus stops, and so that they can take on and drop off passengers in designated areas only. Improve the quality and safety standards of the bus itself, which will help the health and safety of the passengers. Just like the larger problems of Russia these problems aren't impossible to overcome, but they will take effort, creativity and a realization that things aren't that much harder to do right, then they are to do wrong.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Russian Sidewalks

Brick sidewalks are the surest sign of an oppressive city government. They make no sense, however they are considered a good idea by a few people who want to push construction of them through. It always ends in the same way, concrete sidewalks may not be as pretty, but they are better in most other ways. I'm talking to you Portsmouth NH, and now we can add Moscow Russia.

I'm gonna talk about Moscow's new city government, and sidewalks, it's not just about bricks, yes they're poorly set, and the city's aggressive snow and ice removal will soon lay waste to these new brick paths. In particular I'd like to mention the large square traction assisting paving stones that have been installed in sidewalks throughout Moscow, over the course of year, but now, along with the bricking, their installation has been stepped up as part of this sidewalk program.

The problem is this: I estimate that about 80-90 % of them are installed incorrectly, the few that are installed correctly being coincidental. Let me see if I can describe this. These stones are the square ones that are installed for added traction where sidewalks are lowered to meet the street level, at crosswalks and street corners. The blocks are square and have paralell ribs on the tops, and the biggest problem is they are installed with the ribs facing the wrong way, paralell to the direction that the pedestrian would be walking when they cross them.

Don't believe it? All my Moscow friends can test it for yourself. Walk up to one of them and put your foot on the ribs when they are parallel to your foot, then putting a bit less than half of your weight on that foot try and slide your foot along the stone taking not of how much force you had to exert to make your foot slip. Then rotate your foot so that it's perpendicular to the the ribs, so your foot crosses several of the ribs and try the same thing, it takes a lot more force to make your foot slide, if at all. Now take note of which direction your are facing, 80-90 percent of the time, the answer is NO with the flow of pedestrian traffic.

That this mistake and add to the fact that the ribs are angled downward to the lower surface, and it goes from being traction to a slide. Then add a sloppy coat of yellow enamel paint to make them more slippery, then add a light coat of snow, and they just become something that is not only not helpful to a pedestrian, but more likely to cause a fall.

Then. for even more fun, some of them are installed so that they are recessed into the pavement, giving that ice and snow and water a nice little place to collect.

So, I explain this to some of my friends, but I can never really communicate this to anyone who knows anyone to make some sort of difference, I can't tell the people laying the stones, because of course they don't care one way or the other, and now I'm writing about it in English, so I guess no one who have the ability to do anything about this will be reading this, but I just had to tell someone, so I'm telling you.

It's it possible that no one who is involved really cares? Yes, but also since they are so consistently installed incorrectly someone must have told someone that this is the way it must be done. Maybe this teaches larger lessons about Russian bureaucracy, autocracy, nihilism, or any other symptom of Russia's problems. Take your pick, draw your own conclusion.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Straight Vegatable Oil vs. Bio Diesel

So I converted my 1981 Mecedes Diesel to run on waste vegetable oil Last summer. I wanted to do it years ago but I didn’t, largely due to the advice given by the web site. The site looks very informative and thoughtful, however I am now of the opinion that it’s “facts” are presented in a highly biased and opinionated manor, that ended up bullying me into not doing a dual tank SVO (Straight Vegetable Oil) system by presenting it as some sort of very bad idea. It’s not a bad idea, it might just be a good idea. In their web site they refute other’s claims that it’s not a bad idea. I’m going to take time to refute some of their assertion. Journey to tomorrow’s authors makes bio-diesel, and they feel they have to criticize any competing ideas.
Also I believe that running some striaight diesel, or better yet Kerosene in one tank is preferable. Even though you don't use much of it, it's a solvent, and it helps to stop build-ups in your filters, lines, and inside the motor too.
They present the idea that making a Mercedes diesel run on SVO is “a terrible thing to do to a great engine.” This is based on a fallacy that these cars are somehow indestructible. Well, firstly, screw you I’ll do whatever I want to do with my property and it’s not your right to judge it. If you can get a couple of years of lower pollution, low cost fuel use out of one of these cars then you’re ahead of the game. The biggest mistake is getting an old car and somehow worshiping it. If you’re gonna use a car daily it won’t be a show car, and don’t expect that if you baby it will work forever. Old cars are a good way to waste a lot of money. Never pay a lot for an old car, get your use out of it, and know when to cut loose and get another one. The fact that these cars last so long was an unintended consequence of making them so well. Mercedes has reportedly fixed this “problem” and they cars are not being make differently. They were not designed to last 20 years, they rust and wear out. An old car can be dangerous as well as expensive, don’t get attached, it’s not a person, it’s a car.
Yes, the engine last a very long time, but the automatic transmissions die regularly, the cars rust and wear out just like any other car, these cars are not meant to last forever. A 20 year old Mercedes was a thing of beauty, but now most are inefficient, oil burning, rusty, cars that if you get a decent one, should give you a few more years of service. The argument that they present that using SVO in this car can take 20,000-50,000 miles off the engine life falls short mostly because the engines don’t up and die, but rust, electrical problem, transmission and suspension parts failure will stop these cars years before the engine dies . I have owned 4 old Mercedes in the usual so-so condition that you find most 20+ year old cars, and they all did from transmission problems. These cars are so heavy that the real shame is to run them on petroleum diesel, getting almost 50% of the mileage of a smaller lighter more efficient VW diesel.
They only recommend “a professional” (read as “expensive”) one tank system as the only way to burn SVO. I believe this is a bad idea. The beauty of a two tank system is it’s easily un-doable, and easy to switch to regular diesel if you experience any problems on the road. If you use waste SVO it can be un-relyable, and having a back up fuel system is a great idea. The lower cost of a dual tank system makes it more affordable for more people to try it out, and once again “investing” good money in an old car is never a good investment, so a dual tank system is ideal for an older car. Everything in the system can be easily removed, and put into the next used car.
So they had me convinced that making bio diesel was the only way to go, but now I’m not so sure. Making bio diesel is an involved process, especially for something you intend to burn. Making bio diesel requires a dangerous chemical, methanol (aka rocket fuel). Absorption of methanol through human skin can cause blindness and possibly even death. In making bio diesel, you produce Glycerin. Glycerin, a key component in explosives, is also dangerous and highly flammable. Accidents do happen, and I believe if you can avoid dealing with these dangerous chemicals you should, even if you agree with some that it’s not the best way to get every last mile out of a 25 year old engine.
The 1981 has been going for more then a year a year and saved me over $1000, and is saving it's current owner much more, he commutes. This summer I converted a 1984 300D and it’s running fine. All in all I've burnt hundreds of gallons of waste vegetable oil successfully, and I recommend it to anyone interested.

What I'll Be Doing On Election Day 2008

What will I be doing on Election day? I will spend most of the day at home, and I will not be going to work. Why? Because I live in Russia, and in Russia, it's a holiday. That's right, over here in the EVIL EMPIRE they get our election day off, but Americans have to juggle going to work, driving the kids around, and going to the poles. Voting becomes another thing on our already long to do list. In Russia it happens to be: "Day of National Unity."

Every year it is said that such a small percentage of Americans vote, and it's some sort of shame, but every year voting just gets harder, not easier. Have you been erased from the rolls? Will you have to fight for the right that men and women have died so that you can have? Do you have the proper ID if your state requires it, do you have to lie up at the booth and then again to get your vote into the computerized reader? Did you successfully fill in the ballot? Are you chads hanging?

Every year some or other wack-o proposes the following crazy idea of solving the problem, this year I am that wack-o. Election day should be a national holiday. This will leave everyone plenty of time to vote, and stand in line if necessary, and defend their rights, and even jump through the hoops required. Then celebrate this right! Have parties, make pumpkin pies out of old Halloween pumpkins, help those who can't easily get out to vote do that. Volunteer at the poles, most election workers are retirees, because only they have that day to volunteer. It makes more sense in every way. For those who think adding one more holiday to the calendar is not good, we can take one away, Presidents Day for example, isn't it more important to elect a President then go shopping for a car? And with that rhetorical question I think I just hit on something, some would say the answer is NO, especially if your job is selling cars. The fact is the people in charge of creating this voting holiday are the same people who it may not benefit.

I'm not talking about Republicans OR Democrats, I'm taking about Republicans AND Democrats. The people in power make the election rules, and they aren't about to do something that's not in their own interest. More turn out at the poles would change the fragile balance of the American political system. What would it do, I don't think that anyone can really tell, but what is for sure is a lot of people who ordinarily don't vote would vote, and it wouldn't be 51/49 anymore. Some people would say SHHHH... you don't really want those people voting anyway, they'll vote against your interests. I give Americans more credit, I think that it could open the door to a third party, more independent candidates, and all sorts of new opportunities in democracy. As I said I am writing this from Russia. Where they get their election day off, as well as ours. They have a one party majority, we have just one more choice. Here in Moscow, the Moscow Times reported a quote from the Chechen president on the eve of his re-election saying "I expected very high turn out, 100% maybe even more." We can easily look at their one party majority that they have carved for themselves and say that it's unfair, but honestly our two party system is just one step away from that. I believe a national holiday for elections can help save our democracy. Making the day a holiday will give it the reverence we need to really teach civic responsibility, the importance of the vote and voter education.

Also it will up turn out on non Presidential or Congressional election years. These are the times when people who try to slip the crookedest ballot legislation past us, once again low turn out give them their power to do this. And like any other holiday we can gather with family and friends, or we can go out drinking, or it would be a great day for football, of course it's too early to make for a bowl game for the day, but and election day double header would be a very American way to celebrate such a day. Lets face it, our fall holidays as they are now kinda suck. There's Thanksgiving, also known as get in a fight with your drunk uncle day, and Halloween which is fine if you're a kid, or your an adult who wants to dress as a Nazi or prostitute one day a year, but it's not a real celebration of anything, just an excuse to eat candy or get drunk.

Where will I be on election day? I'll be in bed. Maybe I'll wonder if my absentee ballot was ever received maybe not, and most likely I won't even get the results until the next day. So when you're rushing around trying to get everything done and somehow vote, or if you're like millions of Americans who intend to vote but just don't do it because there not enough time, remember me being oppressed over here in the pseudo-democracy with all the time in the world on November 4th.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008



Commonly referred to as Russish, Russian English has developed into it’s own unique version of English. This brand of English is generally not limited to just Russia, but to most of the former Soviet Union, and finds its roots in the Soviet time. I have coined the term Bleenglish from the words blin (pronounded as bleen), the beloved Russian pancake, (translated by Russians as pancake but rather actually a crape) and English. Blin is also a very light curse in Russian, sort of like shucks or darn in English, that people commonly say in frustration, so the word Bleenglish also reflects the frustration that Russians commonly express in communicating in English, or listening to English.
The existence of one’s own brand of English in and of itself is not a bad thing; English has many distinct versions all over the world as both a first language and second language. Speakers of English are used to hearing many different versions of English, even in their own country. However the goal of studying English is to be as understandable as possible, so it is necessary to shake some of the old habits of Bleenglish in the further study of English for Russians.
The evolution of Bleenglish can be found in the isolation of the Soviet Union, especially during the period known as the Cold War. I will identify four causes for this:
  1. During this time of isolation foreigners were discouraged from visiting Russia and Russians were discouraged from visiting abroad. So Russians practiced speaking English with Russians, and often repeated or learnt each other's mistakes.
  1. To prevent propaganda, or other unofficial information in this period, all text books were to be written by Russians, even those about speaking English. As well, in the Soviet time there was standardization of textbooks, meaning everyone all over the Soviet Union learned from the same textbook. This made it so only a few people were the English experts for a nation, and often they would pass their unique version, as well as mistakes, on to the entire nation. It's a simple case of "grapevine", or "telephone line" as the Russians call it, one person tells someone who tells someone who tells someone, and soon the message is completely different.
  1. Russian is essentially a phonetic language. It is largely written and spoken the same. Of course there are exceptions, but they are in comparison with other languages few. English is written and spoken in very different ways, with sound a-likes that are spelled different, look a-likes that are pronounced different, and many other complications that are conceptually unusual for Russians to handle. Russians tend to read English with an often too phonetic approach, or some learn to read well, but can’t pronounce the words properly.
For this and many more reasons the Russian English has developed. As I mentioned above simply having your own take on English is not necessarily wrong, as long as it doesn't interfere with communication. In recent years it has become common for foreign textbooks to be used and there are more native speaker teachers in Russia and Eastern Europe than ever. Why is this important? Firstly with globalization English has increasingly become the language of business, and secondly because English has become the unofficial language of the internet, and with that, the passing of information. The need for English in people's work, and daily life is increasing, and all signs point to that trend increasing.
Other then lexical and pronunciation shortcomings in Bleenglish, there is another effect that is the most difficult to deal with: A language gap or barrier that Russians feel when they converse in English. This has also lead to a lack of confidence and a shyness to speak on the part of Russians who speak English. The use of the Grammar-Translation method in education, along with an emphasis on memorization has left Russia with a huge number of people who know some English but can't converse.
This may sound daunting for Russians learning English; however the news is not all bad. Luckily for Russians their years of isolation have lead to a love of all things foreign, including foreign languages. Russians have become concerned with learning English and even re-learning English in order to improve the opportunities in their lives. Also a positive remnant of the Soviet educational system has left an emphasis on the study of humanities, whereas in North America and Western Europe the emphasis is changing to specialty education. This emphasis will expose more Russians to the study of English and benefit in the improvement of Russian English.