Moskva or Moscow? Zelenskyy or Zelensky? Looking into a few linguistic puzzles.

Moscow University. Or is that Moskva? Photo (cc) 2007 by annaspies.

This morning I thought I’d indulge in a little linguistic trivia arising from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. I’m hardly an expert — I took Russian for a few years in high school and college but never learned to speak it. (At one time I could read it — very, very slowly.) So take this with a few grains of salt.

First, the name of the Russian missile cruiser that was attacked and heavily damaged by Ukrainian forces has been identified as the Moskva. You may also know that Moskva is the Russian word for Moscow. In the Cyrillic alphabet, it’s Москва. So why do we Anglicize the name of the city but not the ship? It is one of the great mysteries.

Second, we are told that Volodymyr Zelenskyy prefers the English version of his name with two y’s on the end. The Associated Press has decided to go with that preference as well. But others, including The New York Times, spell it Zelensky, with one “y.”

I would argue that Zelensky with one “y” actually makes more sense. President Zelenskyy is not a native English speaker (although he’s pretty fluent), and went with Zelenskiy before settling on two “y’s.” The Cyrillic version of his name is closer to Zelenskee than Zelenskyy. You may have seen what it looks like on Zelenskyy’s Twitter profile: Зеленський. Proper transliteration should be based on pronunciation.

Finally, what’s up with Kyiv versus Kiev? Here, at least, I think we’ve all gotten it right. Kyiv is pronounced slightly differently, and the Ukrainians argue that Kiev is an artifact of Russian domination. So Kyiv it is.

Is Putin seriously ill?

There are reports on Twitter from credible sources like Julia Ioffe that an independent Russian media outlet is claiming that Vladimir Putin is being treated for thyroid cancer. That would explain a lot of things — the puffiness, the extreme germophobia, the paranoia and irrationality.

Year-round daylight saving time may prove to be less popular than you think

Photo (cc) 2018 by Phil Norton

Now that we appear to be on the verge of adopting daylight saving time year-round, we are finally starting to see some long-overdue pushback.

In The Boston Globe, reporters Gal Tziperman Lotan and Sarah Fatima quote experts who say that although we should stop moving the clocks forward and back twice a year, we should settle on standard time rather than daylight time. The reason: sunrise that can come to Boston as late as 8:15 a.m. during the darkest weeks of the year is far more harmful to us than sunset at 4:15 p.m. They quote Charles Czeisler, a sleep expert at Brigham and Women’s, as saying:

In their zeal to prevent the annual switch, the Senate has unfortunately chosen the wrong time to stabilize onto. What the Senate passed yesterday would require all Americans to start their work and school an hour earlier than they usually do, and that’s particularly difficult to do in the winter, when the sun is rising later.

Czeisler is right — but do we really want to give up those glorious 8:30 p.m. sunsets in the summer, with the light lasting until after 9 for a few weeks? I sure don’t.

So is year-round daylight saving time the way to go? We’ve tried it before — and it quickly proved to be unpopular. In 1973, the federal government adopted a measure to abolish standard time in order to deal with an oil shortage. Andrew Beaujon of Washingtonian magazine writes that the sight of children walking to school in the dark led to quick repeal of the measure:

The early-morning darkness quickly proved dangerous for children: A 6-year-old Alexandria girl was struck by a car on her way to Polk Elementary School on January 7; the accident broke her leg. Two Prince George’s County students were hurt in February. In the weeks after the change, eight Florida kids were killed in traffic accidents. Florida’s governor, Reubin Askew, asked for Congress to repeal the measure. “It’s time to recognize that we may well have made a mistake,” US Senator Dick Clark of Iowa said during a speech in Congress on January 28, 1974. In the Washington area, some schools delayed their start times until the sun caught up with the clock.

In fact, Beaujon found, the increase in the number of fatalities was statistically insignificant, and we really did save a whole lot of energy. But the larger point stands. More sunlight in the afternoon sounds like a good idea until people see what it looks like when they wake up in the morning.

The Senate unanimously passed a permanent daylight saving bill on Wednesday, delighting long-time proponents such as U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, sponsor of the Sunshine Protection Act. The very name suggests that Markey is not a morning person. We’ll see whether it becomes law, or if it stalls once it reaches the House.

There are only so many hours of sunlight available. Some people may not like moving the clocks back and forth, but it’s probably the best of all options.

Sociopathy on wheels along the Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway, looking west at Lake Street in East Arlington.

One of the best parts about living just north and west of Boston is easy access to the Minuteman Bikeway, a 10-mile paved path that extends from the Alewife T station, at the Cambridge-Arlington line, to Bedford Center. There are also spurs to Somerville, Belmont and Concord. I’ve biked, run and walked on it many times since we moved back to the area seven years ago.

On Saturday, though, I saw something I’d never witnessed before. I was running west, coming up to Lake Street in East Arlington, when the driver of a car pulled up to the path and proceeded to drive onto it, make a three-point turn, and then head off. I don’t think it was possible that he was confused about what he was doing. It was pure sociopathy.

I tweeted about it, and it went modestly viral:

It turns out that there are people in East Arlington who’ve been tracking such incidents — and that what I witnessed was actually predicted back in 2017, when plans were unveiled to improve the Minuteman crossing at Lake Street.

A couple of years ago I was running along a different stretch of the Minuteman at night, with a headlamp, when a driver lurched onto the path and started heading toward me. In that case I think he realized he’d made a mistake and appeared to be trying to figure out how to get off the path.

So what could be done? I suggested a couple of concrete barriers, but someone advised that you need to be able to get ambulances down the path. Someone else suggested collapsible bollards.

Certainly you need something. Riding your bike on a busy city street is dangerous, even when decent bike lanes have been established. You ought to feel as though you’re safe on a designated bike path.

Putin may be just getting started

This is what I’m worried about. Russia screwed up and lost the first week of the war. But they have endless capacity to ratchet things up and unleash wave after wave of hell on the people of Ukraine. From Talking Points Memo:

The Russian military is still holding a lot of their capacity in reserve. Even if things are going relatively poorly after a week they have lots of capacity to intensify their assault, lots of ability to make the onslaught much more brutal and effective.

The irrationality adds to the horror of Putin’s invasion

Kyiv street scene in more peaceful times. Photo (cc) 2004 by almasudi

What’s terrifying about Putin’s attack on Ukraine is that it doesn’t seem rational. He’s turned himself into an international pariah, and his country will be under crippling sanctions for years to come. It’s hard to see how this ends well for him — yet he did it anyway.

God bless the people of Ukraine.

Paul Andrews’ life of service

Paul Andrews

Later today we’ll be attending a wake for Paul Andrews, the retired superintendent of schools in Woburn, who died last Saturday at 84. Paul led a remarkably long and productive life. I didn’t even know about his service as chair of the board of directors at Winchester Hospital until I read this obituary. I got to know him when I was covering the Woburn Public Schools for The Daily Times Chronicle in the 1980s. At the same time, Paul’s children, Paul, Kevin and Marcia (and occasionally Paul himself), were taking photos for the paper.

I want to share one anecdote that shows Paul’s dedication to doing things the right way. I was covering the Woburn School Committee one evening when the committee voted to go into executive session. I don’t remember the reason; it probably had something to do with contract negotiations with the teachers union. The chair announced that the committee would not be returning to open session, which meant that members of the public — including me — were free to leave.

The next morning, Paul gave me a call to let me know that the committee had, in fact, returned to open session late that night and taken a vote. Of course, there was no one there to witness it. As superintendent, he was the committee’s secretary, so he told me the details of the motion and the vote so I could make some calls and write it up for that afternoon’s paper.

Later on, he told me that several committee members were peeved with him for giving me a head’s-up, and that he had to explain they had violated the open meeting law by returning to public session after announcing they would not do that. He took the hit for their illegal action — something that any reporter who’s dealt with local officials who either don’t understand or don’t respect the public’s right to know can appreciate.

Paul will be greatly missed, and I offer my condolences to his family and friends.

Northeastern marks the 20th anniverary of the 9/11 attacks

The Center for Spiritual Life, Dialogue and Service held a remembrance for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks earlier today. The service, marking the 20th anniversary, centered on the life of Candace Lee Williams, an accounting major who died on American Airlines Flight 11 at the age of 20.

“She was the best of us,” her brother Corey Gaudioso told News at Northeastern. “There’s never been anyone like Can. We all just knew she was going to do great things — she could’ve conquered Wall Street or something.”

Several of us spoke at the service, including Mary Kane, Candace’s co-op adviser and now an assistant dean in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. Kane told News at Northeastern: “Candace was so smart, and beautiful on the inside and out. But I think what struck me most was her appreciation for everyday life. She had this amazing smile, and she appreciated the small things as well as the big opportunities.”

I spoke about my experience as a journalist that day and how the media have changed over the past 20 years.

It was a moving ceremony, organized by the center’s executive director, Alexander Levering Kern.

I wish I had known Candace, who would be 40 and in the prime of her life today.

Medford trans community and allies protest church’s anti-LGBTQ message

A few dozen of us gathered in Medford Square early Friday evening to protest an anti-LGBTQ sign across the street at the New England Baptist Church. The sign reads: “Male and Female He Created Them. Gen. 5:2. Gender Identity Solved.”

No one was demanding that the church remove the message, which is protected by the First Amendment. But members of the trans community and their allies wanted to let them know that their views weren’t welcome. Both of the major candidates for mayor joined us — Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn, who’s running for re-election, and City Councilor John Falco, who’s challenging her.

A party atmosphere prevailed, at least on our side. Led by the Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade, we walked in front of the church once and then stood out on the opposite side of Salem Street, waving flags and signs while motorists honked their horns in support.

Tiffany Chan of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) covered the rally. The Medford Transcript was on hand as well; I’ll post a link once its story has been published. (Now added, below.)

Update: Lex Weaver, editor of The Scope, a social justice publication that’s part of Northeastern’s School of Journalism, made it over to Medford Square after we left and posted this thread. Click here to see the whole thing.

Update II: Here is Namu Sampath’s story in the Medford Transcript.