Ossification Of A Mind

MLK 2017 in NYC

January 12, 2017

Allan Stevo

Wednesday morning, as I went about my business, I saw a march taking place through Union Square in New York City. As any New Yorker knows, there is nothing unusual about a march taking place through Union Square. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dozen more today if I sat down next to the chess hustlers and spent my day there improving my chess ability five bucks at a time.

One thing unusual about this one though was that it took place before 9am, a time when many who march through Union Square can’t get a group of their cohorts together.

More unusual though was that the marchers ranged in age from 5 years old to approximately 12. It was a grade school march, with the youngest in the well-heeled Manhattan group carrying signs reading “we shall overcome” and imploring “peace.” Police officers escorted them safely across streets.

I was unsure for a moment what exactly I was seeing. It occurred to me the date was January 11 – Martin Luther King Day was right around the corner.

Having spent time as a teacher, I had always been open to and in fact tended toward unorthodox pedagogical styles. Such styles sometimes helped to shatter the calcification of the young brain in front of me, to pierce the calloused membrana, to make learning a little easier to have happen. I appreciated that some teacher somewhere was trying very hard to do something different with her students. I applauded that quietly in my head.

Then I did what I usually do – I challenged myself. I thought critically about the praise I just offered. Was this teacher really doing something all that different?

It occurred to me how common it is for children to be taught to be “daring” in a way that isn’t really daring, but maybe passed as daring some time in the past. Having a march was daring 60 years ago or maybe even 40 years ago. It’s also not effective. It’s not even imaginative.

This reinforces very safe, very non-threatening, very status quo behaviors in a young person all-the-while committing the evil of lying to that person about how meaningful this endeavor might be.

Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award winner Meryl Streep stood before a very friendly audience of her peers on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at the 74th Golden Globe Awards and did something that was effectively preaching to the choir. From her dominant and privileged societal position she attacked the guy who many Americans chose and supported as a way to break with the status quo.

In electing him, it wasn’t a vote for a man just for being a man, it wasn’t a vote against a woman, it wasn’t a vote for hate or anything else as much as it was a vote for a change candidate. 83% of American voters according to the CBS 2016 Presidential Exit Poll saw Donald Trump as most likely to bring about change. Across the political spectrum 83% of voters agreed on that concept.

To pause for a moment on how significant that number is – it is very unusual for 83% of voters to agree on anything, and Donald Trump was under-represented in nearly all polling, so this number is almost certainly a lower number than the actual figure. Additionally, that same poll states “1 in 4 Trump voters backed him while saying he did not have the temperament to be president.” That’s how badly 1 in 4 Trump voters wanted that change candidate – they voted for someone they knew did not have the temperament to be president.

Donald Trump is a very flawed individual, like every person who I’ve ever encountered, myself included. Donald Trump has a little polish to his presentation and a lot that comes across as unpolished, vulgar, unscripted, and cavalier. That might be him being natural or he might be as planned-out as a Hollywood actor on stage. I don’t really know, and that question is not one of my primary concerns. What I do know is that a bunch of people expected change in 2008 and put hope in President Obama. A bunch of people expected change in 2010 and put hope in the so-called Tea Party candidates. A bunch of people today expect change and have put hope in Donald Trump. Some of those Trump 2016 voters were even Obama 2008 and Tea Party 2010 voters.

I have little faith that political solutions will make the world perfect. In the realm of politics, I know today, the bold move, the way to be daring, the way to do the unsafe and risky thing politically, the way perhaps to bring change, is to support the unknown and imperfect changes like opening up Cuba further, supporting Brexit, and backing Donald Trump. These are acts of change.

Marching in the streets for change in political and social policy worked at one time. The Civil Rights Movement is perhaps an example of that. It was daring for Americans in the 1950 and 1960s to congregate and march in an environment where German shepherds would be set loose on them, a great deal of other violence faced them, and serious injury and death were possibilities. Though this civil disobedience was difficult and risky, on the left and right I can easily find dissension on whether that behavior and the succeeding change actually accomplished much.

The status quo opinion is that the civil rights changes encouraged by MLK and others were generally very good and very effective. That’s an opinion I’m going to stick with for the purpose of this piece of writing. It is obvious that MLK certainly accomplished a great deal. To robotically repeat the same actions in very different situations however betrays the fundamentals of that behavior – the spirit it is done with, the passion, the imagination, the daringness, and for me, perhaps the most important issue – the effectiveness.

Teaching kids to repeat the behaviors that worked in the past without recognizing the distinctions that will cause them not to work is like studying scripture with recognition for the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.

It is entirely ineffective to do many of the things that worked in the past. Doing so is even worse than that since it is not only ineffective initially, it has compounding effects by encouraging further self-righteous behavior that is ineffective. It enforces the ineffective. It enforces the self-righteous. It enforces a lack of imagination. It enforces not being daring. It enforces that one can show emotion without bringing the same spirit, the same underlying passion to the activity. The ineffective enforces the ineffective. And it ossifies the mind.

Teaching kids to continue the behaviors of the past. Teaching kids to continue the beliefs of the past. This is what the status quo teaches.

In whose interest is that taught and to what ends? Not the interest of the student. Not with a likelihood of change.

On Martin Luther King Day, a day that really could be a special day that inspires social change, the overwhelming majority of public action that takes place is in fact action that ossifies the mind and enforces the ineffective. Lest effective action and capable leadership be confused with impotent action and effete figureheads, MLK is precisely the day that one should be most careful in making action count.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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How To Write Slovak Emails – Ditch The Diacriticals

Diacritical Marks

January 18, 2017

Allan Stevo

Let’s say that you know about 15 phrases in Slovak and nothing else, so you decide to perfectly write one of those phrases to a friend. You want to ask a friend how he or she is doing, so you are going to need to use a soft S – š.  After lots of working trying to figure out how to put a soft S into your Yahoo! email account, you finally achieve that.  Your cleverly written Slovak email says “Ako sa maš ? ” you push SEND, ready to go on with the rest of your day after this exciting cultural exchange.  Across the Atlantic, minutes later, your friend opens that email from you excitedly and receives “ako sa ma%^09435##ejfpq275?”  Her response inevitably will be

1. To push reply and write  “Allan, your account got hacked and sent me this gobbledygook.”  When that email gets back to you, it again says “Ako sa maš ? ”  When it goes back her way, it is again gobbledygook.  That process can happen back and forth umpteen times – with one party having no idea that the other party is entirely unable to read a diacritical mark on his or her email account -OR-

2. Frustrated, she’ll just not read your email, because she has no idea what it is trying to say.  This second option is more common when a person sends multiple sentences using Slovak diacritical marks.>

Let’s face it, the world of software manufacturing seems to currently have better things to do than rack their brains with the question of “How can I get a program to properly display this character that one tenth of 1% of the world will ever need?” And I’m thinking that frugal Slovaks will come up with better ways around this problem than hiring software developers to develop and salesmen to convince the world how to properly display Slovak characters.

Click here to keep reading How To Write Slovak Emails – Ditch The Diacriticals

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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How To Speak English With A Slovak

Below is a guest article written by Amy Wicks, Editor of 52 Weeks in Slovakia.  She’ll be online this week responding to questions and comments left below the article.  Thank you, Amy for a great article. – Allan

Confusing Words

January 17, 2017

Amy M. Wicks

Traveling in a foreign land is fun and exciting—new places to visit, new customs to discover, new foods to taste.  But as exciting as all these things are, one element of a foreign country that can prove a little more daunting is the language.  Matching the names written in “normal” letters to the street signs written in Cyrillic, getting on a bus whose destinations are written only in Arabic, or just trying to find a free room in a town where everyone speaks French and only French can all be intimidating.

Now add globalization to this mix and things change a bit. The forces of globalization, while they do usher in great change and advancement for many people in many places, are also gradually sucking the uniqueness from the world.  Little by little, various countries and cultures have forfeited pieces of themselves in favor of some other, more “worldly” element.  Coca-cola and Google are among the most recognized trademarks on the planet, one can travel across much of Europe without ever having to stop to exchange money or show a passport, Facebook now boasts over 750 million members worldwide, and English is slowly seeping into all corners of the globe.

Click here to keep reading How To Speak English With A Slovak

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Two Slovak Words That Do Not Translate Well

Zmrzlina & Šľahačka

January 16, 2017

Allan Stevo

Zmrzlina can be a hard to pronounce word for many new to the Slovak language.  This is partly because the first five letters are consonants. It is commonly translated into English as “ice cream,” but that translation can be misleading as it implies that the product is made from cream (a fattier liquid collected from whole milk), while in fact zmrzlina in Slovakia often doesn’t even contain milk, let alone cream.

The main ingredient is sometimes water, but more often vegetable fat (like margarine). The margarine-like vegetable fat is, in fact, the most common ingredient that I have noticed over years of inspecting zmrzlina labels in Slovakia.

Click here to keep reading Two Slovak Words That Do Not Translate Well

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Vianočný Punč Recipe

Vianočný punč recipe

January 15, 2017

The punc recipe is the same as the varene vino recipe with the addition of one of each of these four items added at the end.

1. Rum
2. Pineapple juice, organge juice, apple juice, or some other sweet juice
3. Small berries, diced pieces of apples, pieces of oranges or some other fresh fruit diced small
4. Dried apricots, raisins, or any other dried fruit.

Another option is to simply place these 4 ingredients in the mug that the punc will be served in and then pouring the hot varene vino into that glass.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: ceskatelevize.cz

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Varené Víno Recipe

Varene vino recipe

January 14, 2017

Allan Stevo

Bring a cup of water and a half cup of sugar to a boil and stir until sugar is well dissolved and forms a syrup.

Add, 2 sticks of cinnamon, 6 whole cloves, 2 bay leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly ground nutmeg, 6 dried juniper berries, one vanilla pod, one whole star anise, 1 tablespoon fresh ground fresh ginger, 3 whole allspice, 3-4 large pieces of lemon zest, 6-8 large pieces of orange zest.

Stir the syrup continuously for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add two bottles of red wine. Warm, but do not boil, the wine.

Allow to cool a bit. Correct for sweetness.

Notes:
Never allow the wine to boil.
Strain before serving.
For white wine, I recommend you remove some of the spices, leaving vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, and a few other spices of your choosing.
Cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla are spices that I consider necessary for white wine. Cinnamon and cloves are necessary for red wine. The rest can be played with.
Honey, or a sweet fruit juice such as apple juice can replace the sugar.
To strengthen the alcohol – add some gin or borovicka (for a festive flavor) or a little vodka.
To dilute the alcohol – use more water.
To sweeten the drink – add more honey or sugar.
When a wine is warmed, some of the natural wine flavors that tasted good at room temperature get a little too strong. This is why a lot of sugar may be needed in a varene vino.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: slovakiaunderscope.com

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Oškvarky

Oškvarky

January 14, 2017

Allan Stevo

Oškvarky are made by cutting blocks of fresh pork fat into 1 inch cubes and cooking in a cauldron over a fire, constantly stirring until the lard has been rendered and the solid part of the fat and meat has turned into a crispy brown. Oškvarky can be enjoyed salted on their own as a high energy, crispy finger food, but can also be ground and used in traditional dishes such as pomazanka (spread for bread) and for pagac. See pagac recipe.

Crackling is technically the correct translation of oškvarky into English, but if you grew up in Chicago in the 1980’s, there is a nine out of ten chance that the word “crackling” means nothing to you. I find “crsipy pork fat” to be a better translation, because words need to have meaning in order to be understood.

www.SlovakCooking.com has a great article debating the pros and cons of using milk to make oškvarky.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: svetvomne.sk

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Recipe For Slovak Onion Soup / Cibulačka

Recipe For Slovak Onion Soup / Cibulačka

January 13, 2017

Allan Stevo

Simple, but delicious – you start with lots of onions, chopped, finely sautéed with butter (which makes everything better) and make it into a soup.  Easy to make and tasty, this soup regularly appears on lunchtime menus.

Directions:

Sautee 3-4 large, finely chopped onions over two tablespoons of butter in a covered soup pot. If the butter is unsalted, add a little salt to bring out the juices from the onions.  Stir regularly, cooking till golden to light brown.

Stir in nutmeg with about 1 minute of sautéing left.  30 seconds later add thyme and 20 seconds after that add sweet paprika.

Add three times as much water as it would take to cover the onions. Chicken stock, vegetable stock, or a bullion cube are also options in place of plain water.

Bring to a boil.

Serve.

Garlic croutons are a good compliment along with a little thickly grated cheese.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo credit: tescorecepty.cz

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