Category Archives: Latvia

The Next Explanation for Why Gas Prices Have Gone Up

Why not?  The word is out that gas prices have already gone up and will go up further — without the usual reasons — except that they just do.  Wait — is Spring Break next week?  No, that can’t be it.  It must be because there is conflict in Nigeria.  Or a gas tanker truck wrecking in Houston.  That sounds about as plausable as any other reason.  However, the oil industry is quite honest on the local news — consumption is down — so the capitalists in them says, “raise the price!”  That’s fine by me.  If they push the price of fuel too high, people will buy more fuel efficient cars, take public transportation and buy less gas.  They can keep raising prices thinking that the public will just take it, but after 2008, I don’t think their plan will work much anymore.  It will affect the borderline poor the most, the people who need to drive a lot for work, but don’t make much.  It won’t affect Michael Berry or the other people who raked in the dough during the Republican primary.  (Do republican donors know — especially the small dollar ones, and even the TEA Party people — realize that they just made Michael Berry very wealthy these past few months?)

My solution to the higher gas prices is to drive less and chain errands.  (Except for yesterday — I had an excuse.)  When the METRO train has a stop a few yards from my house — which the latest media push has not stopped — despite Michael Berry’s best efforts —  I will take the train.  It will be like I’m back in Riga.


More Missionaries

Cal Thomas was on my radio this morning begging for money.  He says that he knows times are tough, but please give him some money anyway.  Just think of him as the missionary to the media.

Many years ago, I went to Latvia to teach English.  I got a job with a nonprofit.  I bought all of my own supplies and even took a good number of supplies to leave with the teachers there.  While I was there, I took my meager resources and bought class sets of books for the little school where I taught.  Computer access was limited and the school I worked at had no copier.  I was fortunate enough to be able to use other nonprofits’ computers and paid for copies I made for students myself.  I worked two other jobs in addition to my nonprofit job in order to pay for all of this.  I went into debt.  I never asked another person for money — ever.

After I came back, one of my brother’s friends from junior high and high school decided he wanted to be a missionary.  He sent everyone he knew letters begging for them to give him money for a missionary trip to — get this — Prague.  He needed a computer.   He needed a car.  He needed a nice place to stay.  He needed clothes.  All so he could go to Prague.

I guess he got enough money to get by.  After he returned from Prague, he went to work for Tom Craddick.  And that’s one way the missionary wheel turns.  I’m sure there are others.

One example could be the Saturday revelation that the Christians have decided that someone can’t be mayor of our city because she is a lesbian.  They worry about “the gays” taking over city hall.”  I am so very tired of these people.  Never mind that Annice Parker has a track record with our city of service — very good service.  And never mind that these same people failed to support their candidate during the regular election (they trashed their candidate instead the day after).

I’m no missionary, but I think you guys are doing it wrong.

Happy Halloween!

No trick or treaters again this year.  I live in an older neighborhood with a rather permanent ownership ratio, so there haven’t been trick or treaters for a few years now.  Up until this year, I had at least carved a couple or three pumpkins and lit them with candles.  It didn’t work.

My mom and sis went out to trick or treat with me nieces.  The oldest reportedly dressed as a bumble bee; the middle one as a cheerleader; and the littlest as Bell from Beauty and the Beast.  (When she was trying to tell me last weekend, I kept hearing “bear” which I thought was cool.  “l’s” and “r’s” and all that.)

The weather was beautiful today.  I worked in the yard.  a branch on my Chinese Orchid tree snapped earlier in the week (strong wind) and was hanging over the sidewalk.  Another branch was drooping down near the porch.  (I learned from This Old House that stoop comes from Dutch.  I didn’t know that.  I also got some very good tips about how to fix my gutter problem.)

It was cool and so poor Dora was not happy.  She found the one sunlit spot and planted herself there.  Frying her brains is what she does outside.  Tammy and Murphy are now barking at ‘neighbor’ — the crazy guy from down the street, who during the two weeks after Ike told me that my pups were talking to him.  The poor guy lost his ride and now routinely walks to the supermarket and rolls back a shopping cart with just two or three things in it.  He never returns the cart.

I went to the “in process” somewhat new Kroger on 11th street today.  I needed a plan for lunches for next week, but I didn’t have one when I went.  I found a couple of good cuts for not much money, so I figure I can do one in a baking bag tomorrow with potatoes, carrots and a tomato.  The other, I will slice up for sandwiches.

I found a low sodium mushroom sauce that will hopefully liven up the leftovers from a rather tasteless crock pot misadventure I had.

The new Kroger is very nice — it has a Whole Food feel to it.  It has bulk candy, nuts and GRAINS!  When I was cooking for the pups, I always looked for bulgher and such.  I don’t think I’m going to start cooking for them again, but I might.  Bulgher is also something I liked when I was in Latvia, so I might get some next time — just for me!

Lastly, it’s a little chilly out, and my air return register is still sealed up after Ike (so no central heat right now), but I finally found a room heater that was designed, engineered and assembled in the U.S.A.  It’s from Vornado.  I have a feeling that the parts perhaps were made in China, but all of the other heaters were completely made there, so I hope I got close enough.

Tales from School

Does three make a trend?  Last week a student wore a T-shirt to school that said, “Females wanted for sex experiments” or something like that.  I didn’t see it.  But the co-worker who did was standing at my office door when she saw it and she went ballistic.  “Someone should do something about this!  Someone should tell the director!”  she railed, fist in the air. (Not really, but she got really worked up really quickly.)  I agreed to “do something” but apparently wasn’t sufficiently enraged, so my co-worker took over the righteous march to the director’s office.

After calling the legal department and having cerebral discussions of free speech, we all got an email stating that we could do nothing about it.  I offered — practical person that I am — the opinion that someone should at least warn the student that someone might take offense.  (The student is in level 2 with limited English skills.)  You know, so when he’s at a club and some girl comes up and slaps him, he would know why.  But I was a minority of one.

Until the second incident.  A student came to school with a naked lady on his T-shirt.  Not a cartoon, but a picture of an actual naked lady.  FREE SPEECH!!!!!! was not the cry.  Someone went to the book store and bought him a new, bland, T-shirt.

This morning I was giving a test when I noticed the T-shirt one of my students who was sitting in the back had on.  In large letters it declared, “I have a PhD.*”  The * started “pretty h” and that’s all I could see because he was leaning over his desk.  I was hoping hoping hoping that my hunch was wrong.  He’s a nice guy and a good student.  Unfortunately,  I was right.  The “h” word was huge.  You can guess the rest.  I warned the teacher for the next class and told the director.  We wondered if there was some connection.  The three students were from three different continents.  The only commonality is that all three were guys.

What’s wrong with you guys?!?!?!?!?!

In another class, I was playing a listening/pronunciation exercise from a CD.  I asked the students to say the sentences like the person on the CD (it was a female voice).  Simultaneously, several of the male students repeated what they had heard in a falsetto voice.  (Like Michael Berry did this evening while he was mocking Nancy Pelosi.)  Ha ha ha.

What’s wrong with you guys?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?

In the same class, but on a different day, the topic was accents.  One question from the text was about different accents in the students’ native languages.  All of the students responded with examples of regional accents in their home countries, except for the Kazakhs.  NO.  All people speak Russian without an accent!  It was the language of the Soviet Union!  Everyone speaks Russian the exact same way!

So completely predictable.  You see, I’ve heard this nonsense before, when I lived in Latvia.  Like other Soviet myths (Russians invented baseball, a Russian wrote the Winnie the Pooh books) this one just won’t die.

As I patiently tried to explain that Russian is no different from any other language, one student fought back:  You’re wrong!  Another student was crestfallen, seemingly on the verge of tears.

I’m sure it’s the same reaction that the chain emailer dupes felt when that mean old Michael Berry told them that, no, they hadn’t found a 9/11 terrorist sympathizer in their midst, but rather a devoutly religious person who happened not to be Christian.


Should I add a tag, “What’s wrong with you guys?”?

Update:  It lives!  It lives!  In comments to the Chronicle post I linked to, one commenter insists that the date wasn’t September 11th, so the shop owner is dubious.  Dispel rumors?  I think not.

More Volleyball

I’m watching the men’s beach volleyball match, the team that lost to Latvia (the broadcast I missed).  They ar playing the team that beat Latvia.  The color announcers are so funny, so partisan, so excusing.  For example, they just called a double contact move great, until well it was called a double contact.

The announcers have been calling the Argentines’ strategy wimpy because THE AMERICANS ARE HUGE.

The Argentines are so smart they are stupid now . . . .according to the ‘coach’ announcer.

It’s over now, but that color play by play was one of the worst.  Excuses for why they lost to Latvia, but praise for why they beat the Argentinians.   Very lame.  It reminds me of people who SUPPORT THE TROOPS!!!!! even when the troops kill civilians.

Latvia can still screw them, so there.  But according to the announcers, the Americans are big and the competition is little.  Gees.  Haven’t either of them figured out that George’s approval rating is nearing zero?

Covering your head . . .

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it came up tonight and this past week.

Tonight, I read a post by Tim F. at Balloon Juice about a retort that Melanie Morgan gave to Noimi Wolf on some cable program.  Burka burka burka.  We’re in a war of civilizations and if you don’t agree with the crazies, then it’s burka burka burka for you.  HaH!

A few Muslim women attend my university.  Several of them are actually in my department, but a few are in academic classes.  It’s fairly easy to tell where they are from, depending on their head covering.  (As a note, it’s also fairly easy to tell where most of my students are from based on what they wear when they are tested — each country has its style.)

Turks, if they are Muslim and are making a point, generally wear flowery scarves and LAYERS of clothing.  (Their menfolk generally wear polyester.  But that’s another post.) Their scarves and clothing are color coordinated.  Mostly pastels.  The scarves are neatly tied, sometimes pinned in place and remind me of the elaborate scarf – wearing tradition I learned in Eastern Europe.  They tend to cover everything (ankles, wrists), but I have taught an exception to the rule.

Palestinians who are observant tend to wear neutral tones of beige and grey.  The scarves don’t show a hint of hair color like Turks, but rather are tight across the forehead.  The Palestinian women I have taught have all been the most accurate in following their religion’s dress codes, but also the most intelligent and promising.

I also see academic students — ones who have not gone through our ESL program — in the halls.  With one exception, I’d call them sloppy.  They wear a scarf, but also flip-flops or maybe sandals and “western” clothing — jeans and a t-shirt.  The one exception?  An African woman who actually wears a burka and the whole thing — always in black.  Completely covered, head to toe.  When I see her and another one of the less strictly clothed women in the halls, I wonder how the latter responds to her.

I went to a new dentist earlier this week.  On the new patient form, there was a question about fear of dentists.  I checked yes.  He’s a very nice guy.  Very funny.  I told him why I don’t like dentists in general, even though I liked him, including this —–

When I was in Riga, I got very sick.  One night, one side of my sinuses got infected.  I went to the “American” clinic as soon as it opened.  The young woman at the receiving desk spoke some English and I spoke some Latvian, so between the two of us, we got me to a Russian doctor.  The Russian doctor ordered an x-ray.  I have it to this day.  The Russian doctor told the Latvian receptionist what she was going to do.  The translation was that the doctor was going to stick a pencil in my nose.  What?

The doctor held my head and then put a metal rod through my nose.  She then poked a hole in my cheekbone.   Bloody puss spewed out.  I went bezerk and got some very cool Russian drugs in return (in hindsight I didn’t abuse them).

All of my Latvian and Russian friends said that happened to me because I hadn’t covered my head.  (I hate wearing anything on my head.)  Later, the Russian doc told me the problem was my tooth.  A dentist stateside confirmed it.  But when I went back to Latvia, none of my friends believed me.  It all happened because I didn’t cover my head.

Mostly Lazy

My mom used to gauge the quality of people by what they accomplished each day.  She’s mellowed a bit these last couple of years, or perhaps she’s stopped bringing it up with me.  Were she still judging me in those terms, I definitely qualify as useless today.

One cool thing I did do today was find the very last copy of Palestine Peace not Apartheidat the bookstore.  The best seller space for it was empty.  Did that deter me? Nope.  Having worked at a large bookstore, I knew that one copy of a best seller is always shelved in the section and the rest are displayed.  I went to the Political Science section, and there it was — perfectly shelved in alphabetical order.  When I went to check out, the cashier remarked that she had thought they were sold out.  I told her she’d be correct after completing the sale 🙂  I started reading it while having lunch.  Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it tomorrow.  There is a paragraph that is just one long complex sentence.  I love long, complex dense sentences.  Also, while I had seen a tiny pic of the cover image on the internets, I hadn’t realized exactly what the right side photo was of  — it’s a picture of the wall in the West Bank.  Oh, and :)President Carter has an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle today.

I watched Now and Connections on PBS tonight.  Both were very interesting.  Now was about a meat packing plant in North Carolina trying to unionize and Connections was about the UN.  I’ll write about them tomorrow since today is still today and I am being mostly lazy.

Jeff Bagwell retired today.  Reportedly, he will stay on with the Astros — helping in the front office, making appearances and wait —  doing some batting coaching?  Andy Pettitte went back to King George.  (No, Steinbrenner)  Still no word on where Clemens might go.

Crap.  While looking around for something up to date on Clemens, I came across this.  It is worth reading even if you are not a baseball fan, not acquainted with Japanese or not a fan of the Velvet Underground.  The end of the article is funny.  Trust me.  Click it.

I finished my HOLIDAY shopping today — mostly.  I got my niece — the one that can tell the rabbit story now –Kipling’s Just So Stories.  I wanted to get Aesop’s Fables, but the only copy at the book store was crazy expensive.  My Japanese student who just graduated gave me a small book of children’s stories from Africa.  I’ll probably give that to her, too.  The most useless gift I bought is for my mom.  For the woman who has more crap than any living human, I got a chocolate fountain.  Oh, and some super special chocolate fountain melting chocolate.  At least I’ll have something to get her for her birthday next month.  I’ll get her a set of those sticks to put marshmallows or strawberries on in order to poke them into the luciousness of the melted streaming chocolate.

Crap again.  That reminded me.  When I was in Riga the first time, they had NO marshmallows.  No one there knew what I was talking about.  Imagine it — they wasted good campfires by getting drunk and jumping over them.  It was some weird tradition the Latvians kept alive, even while it was illegal during Soviet times.

That’s it.  If I keep writing, I will go into why Ronnie didn’t end the Cold War (a very long bit of writing that I am too lazy to do today).

NATO Summit 2006 — Riga, Latvia

I started looking into this today.  It’s of particular interest to me because I lived and worked in Riga right after I got my master’s degree.  I will never forget my time there, nor the friends I made.  I care deeply for the country and especially my beloved Riga.

There is a site for the summit.  The photo gallery is especially cool.  (This one is m fav so far.)  Looking through the different pages today made me happy and sad at the same time.  Riga has become much more modern in comparison to how it was when I lived there ten years ago.  Naturally, it looks a lot less Soviet.  Fortunately, many of the old familiar places — for me — still look the same.  Old Riga is very beautiful.

The summit will be held in the newly built (2005) Olympic Sport Center.  I recognized the street name — Grostonas iela — it is very close to the school where I taught while I lived in Riga.  My friend Maija still teaches there.  I’ll write to her and see if she can give me some local news about the summit.

The summit will be held on Novemver 28-29.