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July 28th, 2006

history is a mystery

A popular story told to elementary school children in the United States involves the American Revolutionary War of 1775 and the midnight ride of a man named Paul Revere. His mission was to alert the militia stationed outside Boston of the impending arrival of British forces - "one if by land, two if by sea" - and as such he is commonly regarded as a national hero. What's not mentioned (or at least, what was left out in my own education) is that Paul Revere was accompanied by two other riders that night. It's also conveniently overlooked that Revere was captured by the redcoats while William Dawes and Samuel Prescott evaded capture and carried on through the night of 18 April.

The average student here probably doesn't know any of that extra information (it's arguable that they also don't care, but that's beside the point right now), but it does raise the question - how much of a nation's history is accurately or truthfully portrayed and retold in its education system? A prime example related to this is the controversy surrounding Japanese textbooks and the attention (or rather, lack of) given to the atrocities committed by their military during the 1930s and 1940s. But what about other 'colonial adventures' from the turn of the last century and beyond? What do Turkish teachers say about the Ottoman Empire? How do Belgian textbooks handle the history of King Leopold II's private kingdom in the Belgian Congo? Who do the former Soviet Republics hold responsible for the suffering that each has endured?



Students the world over are taught about the Holocaust, but how many have heard about Holodomor? An estimated 5-6 million Jews died between 1938-1945. The Soviet archives report that 3-3.5 million Ukrainians died between 1932-1933 - and this is coming from the party responsible for the deaths in the first place, so the actual number is almost certainly higher. The expression Holodomor means 'to inflict death through hunger' and refers to how Ukraine's borders were sealed by the Soviet (Russian) government and its population forcibly starved to death. It is, sadly, a forgotten genocide.

A group of schools in Alberta, Canada wanted to include a discussion of Holodomor within the same unit when children are taught about the Holocaust, yet when this idea was proposed in the 1980s the Canadian government denied their request. Their reasoning was that the curriculum would portray Ukrainians as victims of Soviet policy and would be an unfair portrayal of events from a Soviet and Russian perspective. Odd, the government didn't seem to have a problem with covering the Holocaust despite how 'unfair' that is toward the NSDAP. In the end, where should one draw the line?

wallabies

Another day, another match. For the third week in a row my side played facing the setting sun. This made it difficult to see what was going on across the pitch, although there was a patch of shade in front of our opponent's goal. Most of our players hung out in that area and it showed in the final score, 12:7 in our favor. Between being an outsider (neither a doctor nor a vet student) and not being much good I don't see much of the ball unless I steal it away from an opponent - which usually means I'm not comfortable trying anything until we're two hours into the game, and by then it's almost too dark to play.

I finally stopped by the exotics ward today to visit a wallaby that was admitted earlier in the month. Walking into the ward felt like entering a mad scientist's lair - fish tanks bubbled along a wall, cages with rats and chinchillas were scattered across the main room, medical records and loose paperwork filled up virtually every nook and cranny, and the side room devoted to birds of prey was buzzing with activity. One of the receptionists led me to that part of the hospital before returning to work; when she left I was the only person there. The unnamed wallaby had been admitted for emaciation and looked rather subdued in its enclosure.

Other patients in the room included a blue heron, golden eagle, great horned owl, tortoise, and well-aged iguana. There were a number of hawks, falcons, and kestrels located in the next room over, but I didn't spend much time there since my presence seemed to disturb the birds. I'd been told to watch my step around the puddles of liquid on the floor due to the biochemicals used by the exotics department; while there were no warning signs posted in the ward that doesn't mean my shoes aren't a potential biohazard. Between you and me though, that seems rather unlikely.

Coming around full circle, the first game of the Ligue 2 season saw Strasbourg play Dijon at the Stade de la Meinau. The Alsatians dominated play with nothing to show for it, the side from Burgundy missed a penalty, and the match ended 0:0. Shouting at my computer screen during the live text feed does not appear to have done much good.