Campbell's new "grill"

I just wanted to give you all a sneak peek at Campbell's new self-adjusted grill.

Last night he was playing in the dining hall when he fell and busted his top front teeth.  He cried for about 2 or 3 minutes before he manned-up and calmed down.  In all seriousness, he was a real trooper considering the fall he took.  We called our friend Anya whose father is a dentist and he had us come right over.  After an inspection of the damage he relieved our fears, telling us that the teeth were still fine and would not need any real fixing other than grinding the sharp edges to protect his lip and tongue.  He was not quite as much of a trooper for this experience and had to be restrained by all of us.  Once the drill was put away, he regained enough composure to give Mr. Sergey (coincidentally the same Sergey that cooks the great meat when we go to the banya) a high-five.

Today we have tried to ascertain the sensitivity of the broken teeth and have concluded that he will be fine other than looking like a bare-fisted boxer until he's 5.  At first we were pretty sad, but the new look is starting to grow on me and I think I like it.  The same cannot be said for his mother.

In the aftermath of his impromptu dental work, we found out that the boy and I would be getting our second run of Hepatitis A shots today.  Though I suspected that he would not be pleased, nothing could prepare me for his terrified panic attack.  He lost his mind at the mere prospect of the stethoscope to say nothing of the actual injection.  It's been a tough 24 hours for the boy and we are just hoping that he makes it through dinner without everything going "pear-shaped."


The Greatest Movie Ever...

Have any of you seen the movie "3:10 to Yuma?"  It has come to my attention today that this is the world's greatest movie, eclipsing Kevin James' "Sweat the Small Stuff."  How, you may ask, have I come to this realization and what is my rational?

On Saturday we decided to test iTunes new movie rental feature and opted for "3:10".  I was slightly disappointed when it took over 2 hours to download but still enjoyed the film when it was finally ready.  I was MORE than slightly disappointed when I learned today that it cost 600 hrivna in internet fees for the privilege.  For those of you who don't stay up on exchange rates, that is about $125 (or almost 20% of my monthly salary).  Yes, that's right - if you add in the $4.26 I paid to rent the movie, it cost me $130 to see this flick.

This means that from a strictly financial standpoint, "3:10 to Yuma" must be the greatest movie of all time.  Even better than the Kevin James Comedy Central special DVD which runs about $100-$120 on Amazon for a new copy.  

Just thought you might like to know...

The other Hope Center

I am pretty sure that everyone knows that we are currently living in southeast Ukraine at a Global Action camp facility called the Hope Center.  You may not know that GA has another Hope Center in far northern India.  I just got the word that they have posted a video to YouTube.  I love seeing my Indian friends and the song they chose is one of my all-time favorites.  I hope you enjoy it.


Rising Gas Prices and the Value of the Dollar

This morning I caught the following stories and I wanted to make a quick comment regarding their interconnection.

Ignoring the fact that we pay about $4/gallon for gas here in Ukraine, I find it interesting how these facts are reported and that few people point out the link between these 2 news events.

The first story is fairly informative, pointing out that much of the increase in oil price stems not from a decreasing supply of oil but rather a massive increase in the usage and industrialization as Asia continues its development.  It also points out that although the actual price is at an all-time high, adjusted for inflation, we are still not paying as much as during the price control era of the 70's and early 80's - let this be a lesson to us.  

What is rarely mentioned about increases in per barrel oil prices is that they are connected to the fluctuating value of the US dollar.

This is a fairly simple concept but not one that the average person would decipher on their own.  First, oil is bought and sold in USD largely out of the middle east.  Let's imagine a sheik in Dubai wants a solid silver-bodied Audi A8 (I know some do; I've seen pictures), it may cost him 10 million Euros (because Europe is where Audis come from).  To do this, he must sell 10 million Euros worth of oil.  Unfortunately for him, he sells his oil in USD which aren't accepted at the Silver-bodied Audi dealership so he must exchange them for Euros.  If the exchange rate is $1.25 per 1 Euro, then he needs to sell $12.5 million in oil to fill his piggy bank (or, since he is likely Muslim, goaty bank).  At $80 per barrel of crude, this comes out to 156,250 barrels of oil: that is what his silver-bodied Audi A8 is worth to him.

Now let's take our same sheik and put him in a world - our world, coincidently - where the exchange rate has gone to $1.5057 to the Euro.  Now he must sell $15,057,000 worth of oil to buy his Audi, but with global demand for oil very high, he is in a position of power.  He tells his buyer that the same 156,250 barrels of oil (the price of his Audi) are now worth $15.057 million.  Do the math and now a barrel of oil costs $96.37; a 20% price increase with no real change in production, supply, demand or anything else directly related to oil.  Further, the sheik himself, while selfish for buying a silver Audi that he'll never drive, isn't actually taking in any more money than when oil was $80/barrel.  His life runs on Euros, of which he still makes 10 million.

So if we want to blame someone for high oil prices, maybe we should look at all the jokers in the US who bought more house than they could afford, foreclosed and are currently driving our economy (and thus our exchange rate) into the ground.

By way of disclaimer, most of the above numbers and maybe some of the facts are greatly simplified or completely fabricated.  

Image verification

I apologize for the inconvenience but I have enabled the image verification on my comments page.  I have been getting spam comments with links which, if followed, play havoc with your computer.  Even so, if you see a comment by someone you don't recognize on my blog that says something like:

See here

Don't click it!!!

Inaugural Thursday 13

Update:  By my count, it took me almost 6 hours of re-reading, checking comments and being online before I realized...today isn't Thursday!  I am officially amending the post to note my mistake.  Sorry for botching my first attempt, I'll try to remember to get next week's on the right day.

When I first started blogging, I noticed a method that was called "Thursday 13."  It's basically like a top 10 list (but 13) of some topic every Thursday.  It adds a bit a variety to a blog with a format that should be long on cleverness but short on text and grammar.  Why it isn't a Tuesday 12 or Friday 5 I don't really know but this is my first episode of The Gaws Thursday 13.

Subject:  Why I listen to the World Soccer Daily podcast religiously.

13.  Even though the hosts, Kenny Hassan and Steven Cohen are Scottish and English, it's some of the only English I get to hear in Ukraine and it makes me think of home.

12.  They answer e-mails.

11.  It's one of the most popular sports podcasts on iTunes

10.  Where else can you hear a bunch of Yanks calling everyone "mate" and signing off with "cheers."

9.  WSD has found the perfect combination of mocking Scientologists and Arsenal fans with the same joke (calling the latter the former since they are both cults).

8.  Because once you hear someone called "Billy big-boots" you just can't stop saying it.

7.  I love it that the phrase "with all due respect" can become an insult (ie. saying it prior to some vicious criticism, implying that the amount of respect due is exactly nil)...

6.  ...and because "to be fair" can do the same thing.

5.  Due to the time change, it is waiting for me on iTunes every morning Tuesday through Saturday...like an audio morning paper!

4.  Because phrases like "I am fantasteek" (Jose),  "unbelievable" (Rafa), "very niice", "mental!", "dangerous!" and "so sorry" (all Kenny) with the correct accent and emphasis should be a part of everyone's lexicon.

3.  Because the Liverpool FC website and BBC only run articles which cover that Player A is very impressed with Teammate B's current form and believes that they are "one of the top [Teammate B's position here] in the world."

2.  I communicate with my sister Tammi more now - probably related to a common interest - than I used to before she started listening.


1.  Because last week some lady got a wrong number, was allowed on the air where, without missing a beat, the hosts played along and told her that the person for whom she was calling had been released from her job for embezzlement and having an affair with her superior.  You have to love that kind of quick thinking.

I know that some of the references in this 13 are lost on all but 2 of you, but I hope some of it was entertaining.  Stay tuned for next week's list (which I've already started) on weirdest things that happen Ukraine...or something like that.


The "Ugly American" photo bug

In 1958 William Lederer Eugene Burdick wrote a book called "The Ugly American" which chronicled their assessment of why the US was losing the "battle for the hearts and minds" of the local populace in Southeast Asia.  Since, both phrases have gone into common usage in a generally non-complimentary way.  The ugly American has become the mantra of choice to describe "the arrogant, demeaning and thoughtless behavior of Americans at home or abroad" (thank you Wikipedia).  In the book, a fictional Burmese journalist says, 

"For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious. Perhaps they're frightened and defensive, or maybe they're not properly trained and make mistakes out of ignorance."

Since the first time I left the US I have tried to avoid this stigma in my behavior and to blend in as best I could.  One thing that I particularly try to avoid when in areas of great poverty is taking pictures of suffering.  In my mind, I can think of few actions that seem as arrogant or imperious as seeing a person struggling through this life and seizing the opportunity to bolster my iPhoto portfolio.  I think that many Americans (at least those that I know or have traveled with) have this same aversion.

This was brought to mind recently by a humorous incident at a nearby park, in which one of my Ukrainian co-workers ran to the side of a drunk or homeless lady lying on the path only to whip out her camera and take a point-blank picture of the woman.  This is not an isolated incident with my Ukrainian friends.  Since arriving, Sarah and I have not witnessed the same hesitation to snap a gritty photo that many Americans would show.  

Our friend Pastor Sergey showed us videos of his team of Ukrainians in India and were brought to tears (laughing) at how much they seemed like stereotypical American tourists.  I bring this up not to criticize Ukrainians or their culture.  I just think it's interesting that we Americans get a such a bad rap for being "ugly" when in reality we are just a bit less concerned about how we are perceived, more casual and generally more gregarious than many other cultures.  Add to this the fact that tourists are tourists, no matter where they are from, and I think maybe after 50 years, the term should be retired.

I occasionally have international readers of this blog so I am especially requesting comments from non-Americans.  I'm not looking for a diatribe of your political views about our foreign policy - just an assessment of actual American behaviors at home and abroad.


Who's Afraid of that GAI?

I realized today that I've been remiss in posting on Ukraine and I apologize for that.  I thought I would try to get myself back in the saddle by giving an update on my ongoing goal of avoiding being stopped by the traffic police.

These pillars of Ukrainian society are known here as GAI (or Государственная автомобильная инспекция if you speak a little Russian) or DAI depending on the language.  As in the US, these officers of the law are held in very high esteem by the citizenry, who have been know to extol, "Police and criminals; same thing, just different uniforms."  In all seriousness, I have struggled to deal with this absolute distain for authority as I feel that as a follower of Christ, I am obliged to show them respect.  Since I began driving on my 2nd day in Ukraine, I have been slightly paranoid about being stopped by these guys - to the point of purposely taking circuitous alternate routes to avoid driving past them.  Let me back up and explain how traffic stops work in Ukraine...

The GAI usually stand next to the road looking pretty much like the fine gentleman in the picture.  As people drive by, they scrutinize each vehicle until they find one that they would like to inspect (this can also be done for traffic infractions).  They then point at that person with a little striped baton and he/she is obligated to pull over for a random inspection of documents or whatever else the officer might like to check out.  Generally they will attempt to find something wrong with the vehicle in question at which time they gladly accept a "contribution" (usually enough to buy a coffee or lunch) to forget the aforementioned mechanical problem.  You can imagine that as one not familiar with this little dance or the language in which it is conducted, I was not looking forward to my first run at this.

So last week I was given my chance.  I was driving to a feeding program when I was randomly selected.  I was accompanied by 2 Ukrainians, neither of which spoke English well enough to translate.  Surprisingly, this is an advantage.  The key for foreigners is the frustrate the officer long enough for him to determine that it isn't worth a cup of coffee to continue the harassment.  We pulled this off expertly and were told to carry on.

With my trial run out of the way, I decided to up the level of difficulty and within the week got stopped again, this time for passing in a no passing zone.  I know, I know.  Not very Christian, huh?  I learned my lesson.  This time the observant officer also caught that my permission papers for driving the Hope Center car (I get a new document every month) was mistakenly dated for February of 2007 not 2008.  He seemed to be very perturbed by this but was won over my "ah, shucks" American charm...ok, not really.  He called for his partner to come over and use the half-dozen English phrases that he knew on me.  When I still wouldn't give in to his "coffee money blackmail" he sullenly walked away and said, "gud buy".

I write this because I plan to continue testing the Ukrainian legal system until I find something that money can't fix...ok, that's a lie too.  

It brings up a moral question and I really want the opinion of you readers.  So, honestly....

Is it wrong for me to pretend that I speak even less Russian that I really do and play up my "Americaness" to avoid them shaking me down for a few hrivnas of coffee money?


Serbs and Muslims; what they have in common

I think it is obvious the most casual observer what is the common thread between these 2 photos.  Angry mobs burning symbols of another nation to express their outrage at some actual or perceived slight.  The top photo is a mob on some Arab (or maybe south Asian) street burning the Danish flag yet again and the second is a Serbian mob that broke into the US Embassy in Belgrade and set it aflame.  

I posted earlier about the lose-lose situation that is the lingering Balkan conflict and the independence of Kosovo.  I described the sympathy that I had for the Serbian people saying that they are probably the lesser of two evils in a conflict with no good guys.  That sympathy has been greatly diminished in the intervening days as the general citizenry of Serbia has taken to the streets in a less than civil manner.  According to many Serb apologists this is, among other things, a conflict of civilizations - the Christian west against the Muslim east - and we have chosen wrong.  Today I came to the realization that the Serbs and the Muslim world share a strange cultural quirk....

The flap about yet another printing of Muhammad cartoons in Danish papers is a prime example of this quirk in the Muslim world.  Sharia law prohibits any representation of the Prophet Muhammad and when the Danish cartoonists did so in a highly uncomplimentary manner - suggesting a connection between the prophet and violence - Muslims responded with....violence.  How does this not vindicate and thus legitimize the cartoonist's premise?

Serbs have contended that Kosovo is traditional and rightful Serbian land.  They say that it should remain part of Serbia and that they are to be trusted with the fair and lawful administration and protection of their minority ethnic Albanian population.  When the international community, fairly or unfairly, decided to recognize Kosovo as an independent entity, how do the Serbs respond?  By violently attacking any representation of their breakaway republic.  When NATO, the US and much of the UN claim that Serbia is prone to violence toward minorities and they react by committing violence against minorities (not to mention international embassies in Belgrade), they have proven their critics right.

What we have here is not an East vs. West divide or a religious divide, rather it is a split between reasonable, civilized people and irrational rioters.  I still have grave doubts about the wisdom of supporting North Albania (as Kosovo will be henceforth known), but I have lost my patience with the supposedly victimized Serbian people.


Congrats Marshall and Lindsay

Before I forget to mention it, I must admit to having stolen this picture from Heidi's blog.

I am honored to be the first person in Ukraine to officially welcome Morgan Elizabeth Partlow to the world.  Due to the miracle of modern technology, we were able to stay in touch with the Partlows as they progressed through the process in the hospital.  We haven't heard from them lately but I hope that all is well and that the Lord is blessing their new little family.


Liverpool's Big Win

When I chose Liverpool as my English football team, I did so based almost exclusively on my familial tie to the city.  When Slick chose Tottenham a few weeks later I was almost jealous of the notorious heartbreak status for which the Spurs seem to have a monopoly.  As the BPL season began with THFC dropping a last-minute heartbreaker to Sunderland, that jealousy subsided a bit.  Still, the beauty of English football lies in the possibility of literally dropping out the "major league" and having to stay by your boys through it all.  The greatest bragging rights as a fan lie with winning, but doing so after having suffered through a tough run.

This weekend was painful for me.  My Reds lost 2-1 to Barnsley from the bottom side of the Championship in the FA Cup.  With our Premier League season essential devolved into a race for 4th, a Carling Cup loss to Chelsea a few weeks ago and an upcoming tie with top Italian club Inter Milan in the Champions League, the FA Cup looked like our best shot at any "silverware" this season.  To be dropped is one thing, but to lose relatively early to a lowly team like Barnsley is just nauseating.  These were my feelings leading up to Tuesday's match with Inter.

I was still excited as this was my first LFC game I had seen since I left the US but to be honest, I would have accepted a draw.   For 85 minutes it looked like I would not be disappointed (despite Inter having lost their top defender Marco Materazzi to a red card only 30 minutes in) but out of the blue Dirk Kuyt controlled a cross and skipped home the biggest goal of his Liverpool career.  This opened up play enough to allow Steven Gerrard to slide in a second at the beginning of stoppage time.

I could not have been more pleased.  The Champions League is a home/away set up with the winner being the team with the highest total score over the two games, with away goals being the tie-breaker.  Because of  this, keeping a clean sheet at home is half the battle in advancing to the next round.  This means that Liverpool must only score a single goal in Milan to all but ice a victory.  Were they to hit the back of the net once, Inter would have to score 4 goals in order to win on aggregate and not let the contest be decided by the away goals tie-breaker.

In a season of disappointment, this victory and the increasingly likely advancement to the next round of European competition are just plain awesome.


My Ladies!

Update:  Due to a specific request from the birthday girl herself, I have replaced the original picture with another that she had previously given me from her trip to Liverpool last year.  You can't beat your big Sis and Anfield in the same pic!

Easy, boys!  I'm protective of these ladies and I've been beating the boys away from these two for a long time!  Joy (on the right for those of you who don't know my sisters) is already spoken for anyway.

So....today is Tammi's (L) birthday and she is now officially a loud and proud thirty-$@%$@ year old.  If any of you want to compare resumes on siblings, I'll dominate all comers.  TK (in our family, her middle name is like Yahweh to Jews...never to be spoken aloud) almost has as much education as the rest of our family combined and is currently getting her feet wet as an "esquire" in DC.  I cannot express how proud we Gaws are of her but I wanted to say a few words straight to my big Sis.

Tam, I pray that this next year sees you realizing your dreams of a fulfilling career, but also the knowledge that we all love you regardless of your education and achievements.  I pray that you will develop the friends in DC that will be there to laugh and cry with you through all you experience, but that you will always feel the support from Mom, Dad, Joy and Bobby in Colorado and from the three of us here in Ukraine.  Most of all, I pray that you feel the love of our Lord and that he gives you contentment and peace.  I know that we have been through some rough patches as a family, but please know that you have never been outside any of our hearts (even as you were so far away), nor will you ever be.  We love you...I love you and I am so honored to be your baby brother.

OK, back to the general readership...

Since I know that Tammi reads my blog, can all of you do me a favor and leave a happy birthday message/comment for her?  Thanks!

Can the Tattooed be Saved and Vice Versa?

I mentioned earlier that I've been reading a blog by worship pastor Carlos Whittaker and have tried to learn a few things from him about how to write appealing posts.  Today I caught a post regarding his appearance on the TLC show LA Ink.  Below is the video of that episode.  It certainly shows how he has used his tattoos as a platform to share his faith.  A relevant gospel presentation on TLC to that particular audience?!?  That is huge.  Check out his blog and the episode.


Urgent Needs at the Hope Center

This post marks the first time I have used this blog for the purposes of fund-raising but we are in a tough situation here so I am taking the risk.  In recent weeks Ukraine has been struggling through negotiations with the Russian energy monopolies over what officials in Kiev consider extortionist pricing.  As I understand it, this has been partly responsible for energy and fuel shortages here in Kerch, with many people being without heat or electricity during a month (February) which was given a name which means "severe" in Ukrainian.
Whether this is a contributing factor to our issues at the Hope Center, I do not yet know, but it can't help.  There was a massive increase in our bills beginning in January and at this juncture we are struggling to pay for our necessities from our budget.  We are being forced to beg the water department, the electric company, and our food suppliers not to cut us off for lack of payment.  We have a few dozen vocational school students living here who trust us to provide food and heat; this trust is in jeopardy.  We've already cut back our outreach and feeding programs to save our remaining food for the students here on our campus.  This is to say nothing about the delays in paying salaries for our employees.

If you are able to help us continue the work here in Ukraine, please go to the Global Action website and contact the Colorado Springs office or just follow this link to GA's online donation forms.  Under the section on your personal information is a short list of projects.  Please input the gift amount in the last line titled "Other" and then specify that it is for the "Ukraine Hope Center" in the comments box at the bottom of the form.  Of course it is all tax deductible.  Thanks.

The Good Ol' Days

When was the last time you actually erased something without pushing the delete button?  Before today I think it had been years since I last smelled the burning rubber off of my paper.  It took me back to the good ol' days of elementary school.


Guitar Zero

I know that most people in the Western Hemisphere are familiar with this extremely popular series of games but I will explain it for the rest of you.  Guitar Hero is a video game in which you perform famous rock songs on a miniature plastic guitar by pressing the colored buttons on the neck (where the frets should be) to correspond to a streaming pattern of corresponding colors that are come at you on the TV while simultaneously "strumming" where the strings should be.  The more accurate you are, the better the song sounds and the higher your score.  It sounds more complicated than it is but I can attest that while the concept is simple, the game is not.

In looking for a picture to go with this post, I came across a cartoon which said, "When I'm in a rock band, I'm going to do a cool, mellow song.  Then in the middle I'll stop and announce, 'This is just to be a jerk to people playing Guitar Hero,' then flail wildly on the strings for 30 seconds."  Gotta love it!  I would have laughed out loud but everyone in my house is taking an afternoon nap.

This may seem like a non sequitur but indulge me.  We don't usually go out to church here on Sundays because the service is during Campbell's nap time and we would only understand a small portion of what was being said anyway.  We have resorted to listening to podcasts of churches from the US and are in the midst of a series on Philippians (is Apple from the devil because a common book of the Bible gets flagged by my Mac spell checker?) from Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI.  If you're curious how we got turned on the that, I'll clarify by saying that this is the church led by pastor/author/Nooma video star Rob Bell.  

Rob was talking about how the original Greek differentiates between knowledge about a subject and experiential knowledge of that subject.  He brought up Guitar Hero and made a very valid point that Sarah and I found poignantly funny.  To be good at Guitar Hero takes understanding the basic concept of the guitar.  You must understand that to make a desired note or chord, you must place your fingers correctly on the frets/strings and at the right time (in keeping with the rhythm of the song) strum the necessary strings.  All of this is essential for playing a real guitar and the game well.

Rob's point was that being good at GH3 (as the most recent version is called by gamers) DOES NOT mean that you can play guitar.  You thus have the knowledge of guitar concepts without any of the useful experience necessary to actually make music.

Further, he pointed out that it takes HOURS of practice to be good at the GH games.  Were a person to take that time and apply it to playing a real guitar, they may actually become a guitar hero.  Great point and funny commentary on our culture.  When I was in elementary school, my friend Blake made virtually the same point (well ahead of Rob Bell) in saying that if people are so excited about "virtual reality" (the big tag phrase of those days) he would just give them an oversized set of glasses and a broken Nintendo controller and have them play "Virtual Reality Reality" through their daily lives.  Why have a fake life (or skill) when you can have the real thing?

I guess insights like that are why Bell is a famous author and Blake is getting his PhD in philosophy from Oxford.


Kosovo's Independence

On Sunday, February 17th Kosovo, the breakaway region of Serbia is expected to declare its independence via a vote of the UN-backed legislative assembly.  According to the BBC, the UN and the US will move quickly to recognize the legitimacy of this fledgling state.  I have had greater interest in this situation and its origins since moving into the "Slavic world" and been told of the similarities between the Tatar situation and that of Kosovo.  My interest was peaked as I came across some disturbing writings regarding the Albanian Kosovars who were supposedly the aggrieved party in this conflict.  In any conflict of this sort, it is difficult to find accurate, unbiased information (particularly in English) but I feel like there are some facts that basically agreed upon by both sides.  These are the basics of the conflict:
Kosovo is a southern provence of Serbia with a majority population of ethnic Albanians (the nation directly southwest of Serbia).  Due to the fluidity of empires in the past 1000 years, the region has been claimed alternately by both groups as well as others.  Serbia is an orthodox Christian nation while Albania is a majority nominal Muslim (ie. non-devout) nation, having converted fairly recently under the Ottoman Empire - largely to avoid second-class citizenship and higher taxes (see dhimmi).  
The initiation of violence in Kosovo was perpetrated after the collapse of the Yugoslav state by the Albanian separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the mid-90's with attacks on Serbian police, military and civilian targets...which was a response to Serbian persecution....which was a response to separatist activities...which was due to.....(continued ad nauseam going back decades).  The international community got involved after the Albanian community in and out of Kosovo complained about the Serbs heavy-handed attempts to squelch the rebellion and the claims - now known to be wildly inaccurate - of ethnic cleansing.  NATO intervened to drive the Serbian military out of Kosovo in 1999.  During NATO's administration, several claimed massacres of civilians (though this status is also disputed) were perpetrated by both sides, some with NATO "peace-keepers" present.
What has become increasingly clear in a situation where there really are no good guys, is that we (the western world) have thrown our support behind the greater of two evils.  The KLA, which has since remade itself into a political party known as the Democratic Party of Kosovo, was an organization whose goals may be understandable but it's methods are inarguably criminal.  In order to begin negotiations with them as a legitimate entity in the Kosovo conflict, the US first had to remove it from its list of international terror organizations, which now in the post-9/11 era seems ridiculous.  For financing and arms the KLA relied heavily on, and was probably a direct ally of, the notorious Albanian mafia.  Known throughout Europe for all manner of illicit behavior, including as the principle traffickers of heroin on the continent, this crime syndicate continues to be the principle backers of the new Kosovar government.  So much so that Hashim Thaci, the would-be president of this fledgling nation was the primary intermediary between the KLA and the Balkan mafias.
This post is getting long but I must finish with this; currently the ethnic Albanian Kosovars are reveling in their upcoming independence by burning churches, harassing and killing their Serbian neighbors.  I expect that despite claims of ethnic cleansing and genocide by Serbian forces, by the end of this year the numbers will bear out that more Serbs will have lost their lives at the hands of the Muslim majority than the other way around.

Additional source:
Senate Republicans Report 1999 (see the list of mainstream media stories in bold at the bottom if you doubt the motives/honesty of the Republican Party)


You just never know...

This morning I was greeted with a double surprise!

1.  Kacie posted for the first time in a month, and

2.  She wrote about guns!

Check out her post as it is a great insight into a "non-gun person's" experience with handgun training and education.


A new task

Recently we decided to add a greater physical training component to the International Vocational Academy.  This week the students are running with us every other day with optional additional training on the off days.  Sarah has had a better response...mainly because hers is at 3pm while mine is at 6:45am.  She has them doing an alternating walk/jog for 30 minutes with strength training on the other days.  The guys and I have run laps around camp - which is universally known to be BORRRRRRING - and down to the sea - which is cold and involves a huge hill.  I have been stuck between the guys who can really do some serious running and those whose Marlboro-cured lungs are less than up to the task.  I either get yelled at for taking it easy or lose guys for running too hard.  

Yesterday I got my doors blown on a 6K run (I've had to switch to kilometers) by a 22 year old kid named Vanya.  This wouldn't be that interesting if it weren't for the fact that:  1. he smokes and 2: he did so in sub-freezing temperatures wearing flip-flops with socks.  It was pretty impressive.  I hope get into a bit better shape to challenge him on future runs.

I'm getting old...


Ever wonder where Berzerkley, CA got its name?

This photo was shot yesterday at the protest/counter-protest in Berkley, CA that was prompted by that cities leadership voting to ban Marine recruiters.  Can't we just let them secede from the union?
I don't think I'd bring my child to this event.


Used Books for Sale

If you have known me for any length of time, you are probably aware of my long standing aversion to cell phones.  My boycott was ended when I was given a Blackberry by Global Action (see the for sale ad) a few years ago.  Since, I have become much more accepting of them as a necessary evil, but today I can honestly say that I love my phone.

We were doing a presentation on the ills of smoking at a school in the village of Voikova today and I needed a restroom.  I was guided to the teachers' facility and upon entering, was greeted with the view below...
Not that interesting...until you look closer.  On the window sill is an open book with pages visibly missing.  

Upon even closer inspection, you may see that the paper in the trash can directly below is suspiciously similar to that of the missing pages.  I did a sanitary and discrete check to verify that my suspicions were correct and was vindicated.  To summarize for the slower folks...in the teachers' restroom they are using some piece of Russian/Ukrainian literature for toilet paper...the teachers, for the love of Pete!!!!

I hope you all enjoyed this brief glimpse into my life here and my twisted way of dealing with it.


Come on! Put some effort into it!

Recently Slick posted a plea for blogging equality by way of a seriously obscure SNL reference.  He asked that Heidi open up her blog to be seen by all so we could all share in her adventures.  Well now I have a plea of my own...


Along the right-hand side of my blog (scroll down now if you cannot see them) is a list of the most recent posts from some of my favorite blogs.  I estimate that the average last post is at least 2 weeks old, and that's only because Slick is dragging the rest of you along!  Please update your blogs, people; I need the connection with you.  It doesn't have to be long and thought out with spectacularly relevant pics to accompany it.  The best thing I've read in last 48 hours was 1 sentence from Slick as a comment on this post!  In response to my comparison of the Ukrainian TV show Nostalgia and Behind the Music he wrote -"But off-stage things were falling apart" is a registered trademark of VH1's Behind The Music, Nostalgia, and the Soviet Empire.

That is genius!  Lets' get creative and give me a few sentences to read, huh. 

Riddle me this...

This is our friend Sergey M.  He is a college student in the northern city of Kharkov and we get the entertaining honor of chatting with him on Skype at least once a day.  If you haven't met Sergey, I don't think I can describe him for you .  Today he was showing us the picture from the front of the t-shirt he just bought on the internet from the US and this is the image we recieved...

Anyone have any idea on this one?  I think it's funny either way.

Hunting update

I mentioned at the end of this post that I was tasked with keeping the camp relatively crow free with an underpowered Gamo pellet rifle.  In the meantime I've acquired another gun (also Gamo) and added a low power Bushnell scope.  After some sighting difficulties, I got it dialed-in and have been fairly pleased with its accuracy - it will consistently hit an 8 ounce juice bottle at 40-50 yards.

Whether it was the wind, temperature, barametric pressure or the phase of the moon, there were piles of crows flying around today so I thought I should give the new set-up a real test.  My main issue thus far has been getting within lethal range for my pop gun and today was no different.  I actually shot 5 of the 7 birds I stalked - with the first 2 hits squawking and flying away.  The last 3 were all in the same corner and I thought they were promising kills.  One dropped and to my disappointment quickly zoomed away, but 2 definitely hit the ground.  The first fluttered and landed behind someone else's wall but the last I salvaged (along with my pride and reputation as a hunter) and got photo evidence with my phone.

My next goal is to get one of the doves that hang around here occasionally.  I assume that they are the same Eurasian collared doves that are infesting the states and look forward to seeing how they taste.  They look like they are about the size of a parrot so at least they will have a bit more meat than our tiny version.


America's Place in the World

Today I was browsing the items on the Drudge Report when I came across an interesting tag that I couldn't help but look into.  If you aren't familiar with Drudge, it is basically a news aggregator (collector) that displays a pageful of breaking headline from other outlets.  One of those this morning was "Nobel winner: 'Obama will be assassinated if he wins'."  It turns out that the 2007 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Brit Doris Lessing firmly believes that if Barack Obama wins the Presidency some portion of the viciously racist American people will find some way to take him out.  The story quotes her as saying the he "would certainly not last long, a black man in the position of President.  They would murder him."

The statement is absurd on its face as an election victory definitionally means that at least a plurality of the population supports him, thereby making him no more hated (and probably less so than his predecessor) than any other US President.  The ridiculous nature of saying such a thing is overshadowed by the ideology and thought process is represents.

As evidenced by her Nobel Prize - Al Gore won a matching prize this year - Lessing is yet another celebrated darling of the elite left.  She was (and may still be) an avowed communist in the 40's, a feminist icon and is now dabbling in Sufism, a mystic form of Islam.  I place her in the same category as Hollywood actors who are basically uneducated and under-informed yet insist upon soap-boxing about the left's most trendy current issues.

My real point is this; when people say that the rest of the world hates America, does it stand to reason that it may be because it is frequently bombarded with asinine statements like these via media (most of Europe does NOT have our free press standards) that places people like Doris Lessing on their pedestals?

What do you guys think? Am I reading too much into a 90 year old's ravings?


Funny Ukrainian TV

Around the new year I came across an Ukrainian TV program and I promised myself it would find its way into a post.  I quickly forgot about it and am just now getting around to telling you about it.

Above is the biggest picture I could find of the show's logo and though all the letters are familiar, you probably can't read it.  It's called Nostalgia TV and the logo includes the old Soviet hammer and sickle as the letters C (S sound) and T.  Despite this, it doesn't appear to be particularly pro-Communist.  It generally seems to involve a host interviewing 80's Russian rock stars about the good ol' days.  Not unlike an unpolished cross between VH1's "Behind the Music" and "Inside the Actor's Studio"...but in Russian.  I am going try to locate a YouTube video of some of it.  Stay tuned...


The Dads have Gone

We had a great time this week having our Dads here in Kerch but the dreamworld had to end sometime.  Yesterday we trekked back across Crimea to drop them off at the airport in Simferopol for their return flight.  Work was pretty laid back so we got to spend a lot of time with them yesterday (which for US time zones is still today).  The drive was interesting for them since the first time they traveled that route it was too dark to see the countryside.

Due to snow, ice and generally slow Soviet-era trucks, the drive was long and tedious (7 hours total).  Expecting a late return, we left Campbell to spend the night with Andrey and Tanya - a first for him with anyone accept his Mimi.  I just received a Skype message from Tanya saying that all went well, breakfast is being eaten and the lil' Scooter will be back in our arms soon.

Please leave a comment about whether or not you can actually view the above photo - though if you can't I'm not sure what recourse I have.  Anyone know Google's home phone?

Photo Issues

Contrary to my insistence via the comments in the previous few posts, Blogger seems to be having trouble with uploaded photos.  The pics of our dads disappeared a day or so ago and this morning (as Aaron claimed earlier) the morning hair photo of Campbell and I was MIA.  I am going to keep uploading photos with my posts, but I thought I should warn you that they may or may not be visible.  Sorry.


My new favorite word that ends in "-ocracy"

Today I was listening to a World Soccer Daily podcast and co-host Howard Rogers used a term that was completely new to me...Kleptocracy.

  • Democracy - Rule by the people; ie. popular opinion
  • Theocracy - Rule by those who claim to represent the will of God
  • Aristocracy - Rule by those of "high birth"
  • And my new favorite....Kleptocracy - Rule by those who are the best thieves (think kleptomania)
The use of the word was in the midst of a discussion about the Russian owner of London's Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich.  It was his ownership that prompted fans of other clubs to coin the term "Chelski" (though I have recently learned that it should be "-sky" to indicate Russian as apposed to Polish).  This man is currently about 40 years old and is worth over 18 billion dollars despite being essentially penniless 20 years ago.  He is one of the wealthiest Russians on the planet and believed to be worth more than any other person in the UK.  His rubles where gained in the post-Soviet era in a manner that was not exactly kosher (despite his being Jewish), which probably explains his being a London resident.  Rogers was saying not to hold his semi-shady fortune against him since nearly all Russian tycoons have similar backgrounds, because Russia is a kleptocracy.

I loved how nicely it summed up my frustrations with most Ukrainian politicians, public figures and civil servants.  Recently we learned that when our vocational students take their drivers tests in May, it is already arbitrarily set that only 35% will pass on the first time regardless of how well the class does.  After we pay another $100 (each) for the remaining 65% to retest, another 35% will pass and the remaining students will pass on their third ($100) attempt.  All of this is known as "black law."  It is a specific kickback policy within a given bureaucracy (there's another -ocracy) that is not written but strictly enforced.  As if to flaunt their corruption, the police who administer the driving tests refuse to accept any payment method except cash.  I can't wait till I get pulled over the first time...


New Type of Post

I mentioned Carlos Whittaker in my last post (if you haven't checked in with his blog, do so immediately) and I am taking a page out of his playbook for this one.  Thus far, the vast majority of my pieces have been either pictures or multi-paragraph in their nature.  Carlos - or loswhit as he seems to call his cyber alter-ego - will do mini posts that may not even contain a single complete sentence, but share a random thought or funny event (his man boob "under cleavage" video from yesterday is pure genius).  These are usually accompanied by some Photo Booth picture of himself - I'm pretty sure he's a Mac guy.

With that in mind I must tell you about the funniest thing that's happened all day.  I woke up at 6am to talk to the boys via a Skype-to-phone call over at The Coach's place.  Unfortunately his kids were sick so it was just he and the lovely wifey, Steph.  We were a little ways into the conversation when, for reasons I can't recall, we tried to determine the technical term for calling from a computer to a land line.  We went from "cyber-genic" to "cyber telepathic (or something), to Sarah's entry of "cyber-phonetic."  Obviously as an English teacher, the phonetic thing was funny to Mike (he's hooked on phonetics) so he said "lol" and I almost wet my pants.  

Something about using a computer chat program to call a home phone and having the person on the other end actually SAY "L-O-L" was too much for my sleep-clouded brain.  I wasted at least 1 cent (ie 30 seconds) from my Skype account because I was laughing too hard to talk.  

Give me a comment to let me know if this is truly hilarious or if it's a had-to-be-there kind of thing.  Just for good measure and in true Loswhit style I added a morning hair picture of the boys...Do you like Flock of Seagulls?


Reasons for the Slowdown

Recently I haven't been posting much due to our dads being in town for the week.  Those hours of free time after the sun goes down at 4pm have been spent enjoying our limited time with the patriarchs.  Sarah's last post captures most of what has been going on, but I wanted to give a list of events that are of interest (at least to me).
  • Last week, my new Ukrainian team Shakhtar made it to the final of the Channel One Cup only to beaten by fellow Ukrainians Dynamo Kiev 3-2 on penalties.
  • Liverpool lost to upset artists Westham United on Tuesday to drop several more spots in the Premiership race but on the weekend were able to beat lowly Sunderland 3-0 after a miserable first half showing.
  • We took the dads to a Ukrainian circus which was mostly entertaining because you could never really be sure what was next (Was that alligator's mouth secured shut before they let that kid pet it?  What liquid does the fire spitter actually have in his mouth?  How many of the acrobats have died in this circus?)  This may become its own post later.
  • I FINALLY found replacement blades for my utility knife!!!!!!!  I don't think I can describe for you how naked I felt doing labor without a suitable blade.
  • Big Jim Hunt arrived with the dads and I am loving having him around.  He is so driven that it gives me immense amounts of determination and energy to really get some things done.  I feel like I've been suffering from low-grade holiday doldrums since mid-December.
I've also discovered several new blogs that I think may interest some of you (though definitely not most).


Men at Work...and Play

Here are some pics of the dads halfway into their visit.  We've been loving every minute of it!

Serving kids a hearty meal at school.  I love how it looks as though my dad is ready to give one of the kids the business... it's just poor timing.

A visit to the Black Sea.  A must for all visitors.

Bring out the carnies!  We have ourselves a circus!

Hard at work repairing many of the dining hall chairs.


More Tragedy in Kerch

For the second time in as many weeks, the Hope Center staff and program participants were shocked by an unexpected death.  Earlier in January we were saddened to hear about the local boys that fell through the ice on the Kerch Strait, but we were truly horrified to hear that one of last year's vocational school (known as IVA) students was murdered along with his father on Sunday night.  His name was Sergey (I don't know his last name) and was well liked among the staff and his classmates.  He lived in the same village just north of Kerch where he grew up and had been working to support his mother and sister.  His death was grieved obviously by those at the HC who lived and worked with him for 5 months last year, but particularly by Dima, our kitchen helper/landscaper/mover/security assistant.  He and Sergey were from the same village and came to the IVA program together last winter.

I have debated how much to share about the circumstances of Sergey's death, but upon listening and talking with some of our people here, have decided that a re-telling of the facts as we know them would not be disrespectful.  Apparently Sergey's father left the family as an alcoholic more than 10 years ago.  He still lived in Kerch but downtown and out of contact.  Having not seen him in a decade, Sergey decided to arrange a meeting with him on Sunday, man to man.  His mother pleaded with him not to go but was unsuccessful.  Due to a lack of witnesses, the next part of the story is a mystery, but on Monday morning both their bodies were found in the area near his father's house.  Sergey was badly beaten and stabbed repeatedly and his father had been decapitated.  At this stage, the police assume that it is drug related (ie. a botched robbery by junkies) but have no suspects.

With a good majority of the staff wanting to attend the memorial proceedings, I was tasked to drive a car-load up to the village.  Of the 8 of us, I was the only one that had never met Sergey and was hoping to be of some support to those who knew and loved him.  His family is orthodox and extremely poor (particularly now without their main breadwinner) so the ceremony was very different than what I am used to.  Tanya explained that the tradition is to place the open casket in front of the home at about 9am so that people can pay their respects.  At some point, usually around midday, they call for a van (sort of like our hurst) which then takes the still-open casket to the cemetery where is it is nailed closed, placed in the pre-dug hole and then buried by loved ones as the rest of those gathered watch.

All of this was new to me, so I needed to be subtly guided in what was expected of me.  First we each got a few carnations and laid them across Sergey's legs.  His mother and sister sat next to his body while alternately hugging and weeping.  I can't imagine the pain that his friends and family felt as they gazed at this kind young man's battered face - the poorly applied make-up didn't do nearly enough to hide the violence that ended his life.  As we waited, people just milled around in front of the house seeking solace from each other.  Artur, another of Sergey's classmates came and seemed in shock.  When the representative of the orthodox church arrived, we gathered around the casket as she gave a presentation of some kind before guiding everyone on their responsibilities.  I was asked to help carry a wreath in the procession that went ahead of the casket (the van was parked down the road out of respect and to allow for the procession), led by Dima carrying the wooden orthodox cross that would be Sergey's temporary headstone.

The van took the casket to the edge of the road near the village cemetery - his mother couldn't even afford a plot inside the grounds.  The diggers nailed the lid on with finality and with the help of Sergey's friends, lowered him into the ground.  We all took a few handfuls of the nearly frozen soil and dropped it in the hole before the pallbearers grabbed shovels and started to cover their friend.  One young man in particular caught my attention as he appeared to be a very close friend or maybe cousin.  He started to shovel as though it was his life's only goal was to lay Sergey to rest.  The more he shoveled, the harder his breathing got, but he refused to stop.  Finally one of the diggers forced him to give the shovel up and he stalked away.  It broke my heart.  In my mind, I kept seeing my buddies' faces, bruised and cold and I just don't understand how he kept it together as well as he did.

I like to imagine that Sergey made peace with his dad and they had at least a few moments of reconciliation before they died.  Please pray for his mother and sister who have suffered a devastating loss in a cruel, cruel fashion.  

Also; to the few readers in the US who knew Sergey but had not yet heard about his death, I apologize for the shock and rawness of my description.  It was not my intention to be brutal, only to express the emotions of the yesterday's events as best I could.

What I used to think