The stock market, footy and Slick

The stock market, football and my friend Slicky....

Wanna see how I'm gonna tie all those together?

The idea of playing the stock market (at least prior to the world financial system collapsing in a steaming pile of... well, burnt up corporations) is to buy low and sell high. The trick when a stock rises is to sell it at it's highest point.... ie. don't sell too early while it's still rising and don't wait too long so that it's already on the decline.

So like Warren Buffet, I've been trying to hold out on posting this until the perfect moment... which I believe is right now.

I play a game called I Know the Score on the Premier League website. It's basically guessing game results and is played by exactly 179,978 people worldwide. I track my results against Slick, Tammi, Jenya and a few other folks as well as where I stand overall. Currently I sit at #16,673 which isn't too bad (in the top 10% of players).

Slick on the other hand sits at #602... in the top 0.3%! I have been wanting to give him mad props but didn't want to jinx his run. He's been moving up the rankings recently and I sense this might be the time to "sell off" (AKA write this post).

Only time will tell if this level is his highest point of the season.

He can't win the game over-all since the current leader has nearly 50% more points with only a half-dozen game weeks to go, HOWEVER here's hoping he keeps rocking his way up the charts.


Caption please!

Seriously, I don't know what to say about this one... it's just funny to me.

What I'm reading...

I have been keeping an eye on some interesting sites lately, mostly focused on the Russian world. Here's 2 of them.

English Đ¯ussia - A site that explores nearly every strange thing that happens in Russia. Police takedowns, Chechen kids in Moscow, videos of drug induced people and beyond. My favorite recent post was shots of Russian all-terrain campers... mostly modified military equipment.

Wow Russia - a funny, tongue in cheek take on Russia by a university student in Moscow. Very funny and interactive.


LotD (summarized) - Fighting Talk (BBC)

This LoTD is a summary of a hilarious point I just heard on Fighting Talk (podcast it, listen to it).

A male from south central LA has a 1 in 3 chance of ending up in jail. A staggering fact until you consider that after current Gov. Rod Blagojevich is convicted, 4 of the past 8 Illinois governors have also ended up in prison....

You are more likely to go to get locked up from the IL state capital than Compton... gotta love Chicago politics.


Out on the town with dad and Maxim

Today was our day to take the ol' man out for a Sunday lunch and to see Maxim for the first time in while. When we went to pick Max up, his brother/father asked if we wanted to take his sister/niece Sasha... confused yet?

Maxim's parents were killed last summer and he was adopted by his oldest sister, thereby effectively turning his brother-in-law into his father and his niece into his sister. So 6 year old Sasha joined us for our trip downtown.

Sergey pulled all his strings and got us a sweet table at a little sandwich shop. The kids had a great time with ice cream to top it all off.

Campbell and Sasha conspired to disrupt the calm of the restaurant in a terribly cute fashion.

The boys on Lenin Street.

The kids...


A glimpse of our programs

Here's a video with some of the faces from the Hope Center's after school program that runs weekdays from noon to 5 through the school year.

The kids get a hot meal, tutoring, English and economics lessons, sports and other activities.

For those who are familiar with the Hope Center volunteers, the program is run by Anya, Natstya, my Sweet Sarry, Nina, Jenya and Tanya (others join in as needed).

I'm pretty sure the song is by Hillsong but I don't really know. Also, the music gets a bit monotonous about halfway but since my iTunes library is limited when it comes to slow stuff, this was my best option.



Sometimes I check my site traffic. Not as much as I used to but at least a few times a week. I also have a running visitor total at the bottom of the site. I just passed 35,000 - a sum accumulated over 2 years and 580 posts.

This morning I decided to look at the figures from another site - The Drudge Report - which also has a running total....

In the past 2 years combined, I've gotten 15/10,000 of the hits that Matt Drudge's site got.... yesterday. Yeah, 23.2 millions hits in the past 24 hours... Apples to apples, I average less than 1 hit for every 500,000 Drudge visitors (45 to 23 mill).

Of course, this disparate ratio probably also applies to our respective levels of hate mail too.

It's always important to keep perspective.

LotD - darthvader

The number one topic on Twitter at the moment is 'Alderaan' (Princess Lea's home planet in Star Wars) thanks to a user called... darthvader. Best line to commemorate Earth Day.

"Just be glad I don't celebrate Earth Day the way I celebrated Alderaan Day"

TGIF Durban II!

To conclude my expression of disgust for the Durban II conference (see here and here), I am going to throw out a final chortle as it ended yesterday afternoon. It was such a hit that the scheduled Friday conclusion was moved up till Tuesday.

...so compelling and productive they cut it short by half, I guess... (too much awesomeness?) Yes, your work here is done UN.

The pants delemma

I don't have enough pants. I guess that's not really true but the thought runs through my head occasionally in the morning. It's not that I can't find pants to wear... rather it's an issue of being too attached to my only 2 pair of 'all-purpose pants.' Here is how the situation develops.

I wake up - sometimes way too early due to a certain blond midget who sleeps across the hall - and I think, "What is my task(s) for the day and what pants are suitable for this?" Here's where I get into trouble....

What to do if my answer is 1. Fix a lawn mower, 2. Watch Cam for a few hours, 3. Meet with the camp leadership, 4. Shovel and transport ashes from the burn pile, 5. Help kids with homework? How do you dress for a day like that? I can't wear stained Dickies all day, nor can I wear my jeans (of which I have one pair) for fear that they will get dirty and leave me jean-less.

Clearly the answer is that you change your clothes a few times, but then you're dirty all day - at meetings and in public - and you get the INSIDE of your good pants dirty.

My problem is that my work day is too unpredictable to successfully protect my casual pants from grease and grass, and I can't do anything to change it. I will "endeavor to persevere..."

And thus concludes my insignificant complaint about a job/calling that I truly love.


And the hits just keep on coming

I already posted on the Durban II anti-racism sham in Geneva this week and updated that post as various nations decided to boycott in the past 48 hours.

It looks like the event hit bottom on its opening day when Iranian hate-monger President Ahmadinejad cranked things up with attacks on Israel. The BBC is reporting that a stream of delegates walked out - even the French were disgusted.

It boggles the mind that any nation that sent a delegation is surprised that this was the result. I'm all for diplomacy but all parties have to come together in good faith and from a reasonable point of view....

Update: Israel recalled it's ambassador to Switzerland for hosting this debacle. Also, I don't know how I missed this one but the conference was scheduled to start on Holocaust Remembrance day.... and the 120th anniversary of the birth of Hitler.

Like I said, the hits just keep on coming. Way to go UN.


Has he been here too long?

Today on our way to the park, Cam looked over at one of the many abandoned buildings that we have here (either half built, half wrecked or some combination of the two) and said,

"Ohhh, a castle! It's beautiful!"

Either he's been here altogether too long or he was just born to live in eastern Europe.

Even a blind squirrel...

I suppose I could have used 'Even a broken clock...' as the title but I don't know that it would be more respectful than the one I chose. You be the judge...

I have been fairly unimpressed by our new president's first few months but Obama has gotten it right by refusing to attend the second round of the Durban anti-racism conference (this time held in Geneva) this month. The objections stem from a general anti-Semitic bias at the previous meeting in South Africa in 2001 which appear to have been codified for this year's event. Despite the left's insistence during the Bush administration that unilateral actions like this unnecessarily alienate our allies (or perspective allies), I must say I'm encouraged by this news.

Durban I and the UN Human Rights Council in general are absolute disgraces. We sent an envoy to Durban I, only to have them walk out over its show trial judgment of Israel. Obama will be joined in skipping this years event by Israel (obviously) and Australia, among others.

The United States is not actually a member of the HRC - of our own choosing. The body itself has a current or past membership which includes China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia so it's only logical that the US refuses to involve itself - regardless of political party. The council was conceived in 2006 to replace the similarly-named Human Rights Commission which had the distinction of being chaired by human rights stalwart Libya. Upon its inception, the US delegation had the audacity to suggest that member nations should have a satisfactory record in human rights themselves.... an idea that was voted down 170-4.

Sadly, the United Nations as a whole has become a senate of thuggery, dominated by voting blocs of repressive regimes. Isn't it obvious at this point that the UN has decided that despite our funding roughly 1/4 of its budget and housing it in New York, it is a decidedly anti-democratic, anti-American assembly.

The world has the right to have their ol' boys club but isn't it time we stopped paying for their party?

Update: I just learned that you can add Italy and Canada to the list of right-thinking nations who will forego Durban II.

Update 2: ...add Holland and Sweden to that list.

Update 3: ...and Germany and New Zealand.


Catch-all footy post

I figure it's best to just lump all my football commentary into one post. I've been told that I need to recalculate my footy-fan readers... 1, 2, 2.5, 3.5, and 5. That's 3 full people a half interested reader and one prego (hence 1.5).

On Tuesday Liverpool went out of the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea yet again. Last year was the semi-finals but we met them this time in the quarters. It was somewhat of an expected result as we went into that match down 3-1 and needed a score line like 3-0, 3-1 or 4-2 at Chelsea to stay alive. It seemed possible after a 2-0 start before the Chels pulled back to 2-2 and then 3-2. I was about to throw in the towel but we then pulled back 2 quick goals to be ahead 4-3.... we only needed one more goal. At this point we had pulled 2 defenders in favor of attacking players and Frank Lampard (thankfully it wasn't Drogba) put the nail in to bring the match to 4-4 and the entire tie to 7-5 for the Londoners. That's the summary but here are my thoughts....

-Unlike last year, we are likely to finish ahead of the Blues in the league... small consolation unless we can catch United and win it all.

-I know that I'm supposed to hate Everton and Man U above all but I think I speak for many Reds when I say that I now hate Chelsea because...

-Ditier Drogba was an absolute disgrace to the concept of sports. Though he was the biggest guy on the field he was constantly falling around and whining like the petulant baby that I always suspected he was. Once, he was 'injured' near the sideline, laying off the pitch - which meant play could continue. Unhappy with a lack of attention he actually ROLLED out onto the pitch to obstruct play and force the official to stop the match. I think he should have been carded but I don't know the exact rules on this.

-Drogs also goaded and antagonized the visiting Reds all game... technically a bookable offense as well.

-Ashley (AKA Cashly) Cole. There was a clear replay of him purposely heading a ball over the end line while SIMULTANEOUSLY raising his hand to claim that it was Chelsea ball. He meant to knock it out... he knew that he alone was making contact... and yet he still cheated Liverpool out of corner. Disgraceful.


Wednesday was Man U-Porto and Arsenal-Villareal. Nothing really interesting to add on the games themselves (England 2 - Iberian Peninsula 0) however I did have an epiphany.

Wayne Rooney should play for us. Ignoring the fact that while he's from Liverpool, he's actually an Evertonian, he is made for LFC. Man U is the shiniest, sexiest football brand in the world. Beckham, Ronaldo, Berbatov... their goal is to get that red jersey on every woman on the planet.

Rooney looks like Shrek. I'm not being insulting... lots of people have mentioned this fact. Even his ears are right.... very weird. But last night I saw him get his ankle rolled over on a tackle from behind and his knees never hit turf. He lost the ball and limped around until he could run again. Amazing skill, absolute toughness. I love Dirk Kuyt for many of these some attributes but he isn't in Rooney's class. Never going to happen but I can dream.


Star attraction at the petting zoo

Some days I enjoy the fact that - unlike when I used to travel in Latin America - I can blend in with the local Ukrainians.... as long as no one's paying very close attention. If my clothes aren't too American, I don't wear my Top Gun shades and I mumble my Russian, I can at least pass for an Eastern European of some sort.

Today at the school in the village of Chistopolie when we were doing a lecture on the ills of smoking, it was clear that I was not blending in. It probably had something to do with the fact that there were more foreigners than Ukrainians in our group so we stuck out like... well, a group of westerners in a Ukrainian village.

After the lecture Tanya came up with an older boy (maybe 15) and proceeded to explain that she had promised this boy that if he would sit quietly through the lecture, she would introduce him to her American friend. We conversed briefly in simple Russian regarding our mutual love of footy before he busted out his only English phrase...

"I am Ronaldo."

It seemed a silly phrase to remember as it was patently incorrect and thus difficult to use in a conversation, but he was very proud to have gotten to use it on me. I of course, had the duty to inform him that Ronaldo and Rooney were, in fact, 'foo' (a catch-all word for anything unsavory) as they play for Man U and I am Liverpool fan.

It's odd being interesting simply because of where I happened to have been born. Oh well, I guess I better just get used to being like a circus freak some days.


Out of sight, out of mind

You could call it a coincidence if you'd like but the past weeks where we haven't been blogging much has mysteriously coincided with a remarkable lack of contact with friends back in the US.

I honestly suspect that our blog is almost like a cyber presence in all of your lives. Not one that equals my actual presence (certainly not in stunning attractiveness, razor-sharp wit or staggering charm) but rather a cheap shadow of myself which reminds you all that I still exist. So the dilemma...

How do we stay in your minds like this if I don't really have anything to say?

I know I need to share the progress of our programs and the events of our friend's visits but I keep forgetting to take pictures - or at least that's my excuse. To be honest I think I've lost interest a bit compared to my feverous devotion of last year. I've been watching a pile of football but I know that exactly 2.5 of you care (Coach, you know you only half care), so I don't write about it. Nonetheless, the posts must go on.

I commit to writing more - to providing that cyber-self which makes you all fondly remember the days when I was there to.... ummm..... stand there and make ludicrous statements like the ones I've just made in this post.


Blog slowdown and anti-hunting logic

I apologize if there are any out there who wait with baited breath for the next interesting installment on this little site of ours. I have not felt inspired lately and thus the posts have been in short supply.

I figure the easiest way to rectify that is to circumvent my blogger block by stealing someone else's stuff which I found funny/interesting.

I found this one on another site. I'm re-typing the text from what appears to be an actual article or op-ed in a newspaper. If this type of logic is any indication of that publication's readership (or worse yet, it's staff writers) I think it probably exemplifies why that industry is going down in the tank. Here's the ad (emphasis mine):

"To all you hunters who kill animals for food, shame on you; you aught to go to the store and buy the meat that was made there, where no animals were harmed."

Ah yes, of course. The all-powerful supermarket that creates animal matter out of thin air... I bet it's healthy too.


News from Hope Center - March

Here is the most recent installment of our News from Hope Center Newsletter....

Belarus Missions Trip

This month the Hope Center embarked upon a seminal project. Camp staff and volunteers traveled to the city of Gomel in the south of Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor. The team was lead by Tanya Shpigunova along with staff members Jenya Petekhin and Matt and Sarah Gaw. With a focus on our volunteers, the team was bolstered by our perennial summer camp volunteers Olga (ward 2), Natasha (ward 4), Tanya (ward 3) and Angela.

The original plan was to hold full-day camps at a children’s home during the school’s spring break, but this was turned on its head when an outbreak of the flu in Gomel schools forced the city to reschedule this vacation. On late notice we changed our plans to accommodate an afternoon and evening program. Our team adjusted to this change admirably and developed a program that fit well to the time allowed.

They were aided in all these preparations and plans by our Belorussian contacts Vera, Pastor Igor and his wife Svetlana who all went above and beyond in their accommodations for us - including providing warm clothes to help our Mediterranean-minded team cope with the cold spring weather. We were also joined by Igor’s friend Victor from Minsk who chauffeured us around with his personal van.

The Facility
The children’s home is a very unique facility. It sees roughly 200 kids per year who have been removed by the state from very difficult family circumstances. They come to this home temporarily as the director and children’s services of Gomel work with the parents and determine if a lifestyle change can be made create a home atmosphere suitable for the children to return. If it’s determined that this is impossible they attempt to put the children into loving foster care or adoptive families. Only after all other options are exhausted will the children be transferred to the city internat (orphanage/school combo). Amazingly the center has a greater than 50% success rate with rehabilitating families and has had nearly 200 of their former children either adopted or in foster care.

The Program
Since our staff and volunteers have no lack of experience with Christian camps, they transplanted many aspect of Hope Center life into our program at the children’s home. They taught the kids our standard camps songs - complete with hand signals - did interesting crafts and activities and taught well straight from the scriptures.

The Children
At the beginning of the week nearly all had been taken from their families for poor parenting stemming from alcohol abuse but we had some very sad cases who came in later.

One group of siblings arrived after their mother had been once again caught involved in prostitution. Their father was already in prison for possession of illegal guns. Olia, Sergey, Marina and Katya were very reluctant to get involved but by week’s end they were enjoying the time with the team.

Erica, 10 years old, and her younger sisters arrived on the next to last day. They had been found at home where they had been alone for three days. Though there was little time to invest in them, the attention they received made them blossom

The Results
The team began the trip by praying that we would be aware and vigilant in looking for how the spirit was working and expect the Lord to work in miraculous ways. They were not disappointed. From the first day the leadership at the center was supportive and encouraging. They were blessed to see the kids become committed and involved almost immediately. And when some of the supplies which were shipped to Gomel were lost in transit, the Lord brought them to us literally the same hour that they were needed.

The hardest part of the week came when Pastor Igor was put out of commission by an emergency appendectomy. He had played the part of guide, counselor and comic relief and was much missed the last few days.


A poor attempt to capture Belarus

How to sum up an amazing week in one post... nearly impossible. So here is my attempt. I will poorly fill you in on how God answered so many of your prayers and follow it up with a slideshow of pictures to help you grasp the faces and places.

First of all I asked for prayer for Campbell and me leaving him. The night before we left was the first night he slept the entire night without any bad dreams for over a week. He woke up happy to pack his suitcase and was excited to go to Andrey and Alosha's. He was a little nervous about me leaving but did well... and I even escaped without any tears. He did great for Andrey and grew up so much in just 9 days.

We made it across the borders (with much investigation and skepticism) but passed nonetheless. We even had a humorous moment when Matt and I almost lost it when the Belorussian guard's phone ring was a song by Grits (for those who are not hip on Christian rap - well I just gave it away). Belarus, by the way, is not a closed country in the strictest sense but Christians are certainly persecuted. People have lost jobs for being Christian... pastors are not legally able to be paid... you cannot openly evangelize.

I also asked for prayer for the team to bond and for us to be able to better communicate with the counselors. This was a definite. We had such a good time... even ice skating, and our communication in Russian definitely improved.

We were a little nervous that we would not be able to reach the kids very well since we only had 5 half days with them. Plus the fact that these kids are in transition from being taken out of the home and becoming orphans. Even the director told us that we shouldn't expect them to open up to us. It took about 30 min. and they were singing all the songs, playing games, doing skits, and asking if we were coming back. They memorized verses even after the first day (even the counselors from the center), and they remembered all the Bible stories (of which they had never heard of before). We had many of them open up with their home lives and even asking how they can know more about our God. It was so amazing. We had one counselor tell the director that we were bringing a message to these kids that was the best thing for them... she was so moved by it all and told the director that we needed to come back. The director is already looking into coming to visit the Hope Center and wants to send kids to summer camp and even invited us back for the fall. This was the same director who was very leery in us coming with a religious agenda.

We had one little boy come back after running away because he heard what was going on at the center. He had a great time and was giving us hugs by the end of it.

We prayed about the last two boxes coming before we left and wouldn't you know it they came one hour before our last session with the kids. Just enough time to pass out all the items.

Matt and I made it back through the Ukrainian border with absolutely no problems. In fact, we had more issues with leaving Belarus, but God looked after that as well.

All of these kids come from alcoholic families except for two brothers who come from a family of drug abuse. Their stories are heart breaking. We will try to give you more examples as we come across some more time. I added some pictures of some sightseeing for you just so you know what we saw. We even got our picture taken in front of the KGB but I've yet to find that picture.

I'm sure Matt will go into more of what Belarus is like. It was definitely a different country. We had a great time there but are glad to be back "home". Thank you all for your prayers. There were so many other things but it is past midnight and this girl needs some sleep. Love you all.

(This song is not my first choice but you can only do so much with iTunes limitations)