Monday, October 13, 2008

Walk without rhythm; it won't attract the worm

I wanted to write a blog entry. To catch up, or something. The trouble is, I don't really know what to say. The muse isn't biting me. So I'll sit here in a dark apartment, listening to the Alan Parsons Project, and try to make sense of the Big Picture. As it stands right now, part of the Big Picture for me is whether or not a brand new bed would be a good investment. There is a mostly incomprehensible economic crisis on; additionally - and perhaps more relevant - I'll likely be spending fewer than half my nights in the old domicile. I recall that my older brother spent well over a year living in LA while sleeping on a futon and pretending that his suitcase was a dresser. I'm way ahead of him; my clothes are actually hanging up in a real-live closet. But I don't have a futon. Seems a little superfluous with this soft berber carpet. It's swanky.

Another Big Picture issue: US Refugee Policy. I'm going to throw out some rhetorical questions that I won't answer. But these are things I think about:
  • How does congress determine the priority groups of refugees that are allowed access to resettlement to the US? It must be extremely difficult to balance humanitarian needs with the political realities of allowing such a small fraction of the international community of refugees to live in the US.
  • What is the long-term impact of refugee resettlement on the countries of origin? Does resettlement promote stability by temporarily removing friction from ethnic crises?
  • What must it personally be like for a refugee to move from rural Sudan (or a refugee camp in East Africa) to an urban environment in Minneapolis? Aside from the dramatic change in climate, these are people who have never had to pay bills, obtain insurance, establish a credit rating, enroll in school, or any one of a hundred things that are a basic part of life in a developed country. Imagine how traumatic this is.
Another thing. Speaking of life in a developed country, when did our society become so media-driven? When I was trying to figure out something effective to do tonight, why did books to read or blogs to write figure so prominently on my list? Why is it that so much of my empty discretionary time is filled with the listening of trivial pop music?

Which leads me to another thought: The ratio of input to output in our lives is almost universally highly skewed. I'll explain myself. The general shape of people (actually, I'm talking to YOU, America) suggests that our food caloric intake is mostly skewed toward the input side of things. Household, corporate, and national budget deficits suggest that we consume significantly more goods than we in turn produce (at least in my Homeland). Furthermore, in more abstract terms, even the media we consume is also skewed toward the input side. I obviously have no statistics to back this up, but I'd guess that the producers of literature, music, the arts, etc., make up less than 1% (and I'm being generous) of the population of consumers of said media. It seems to me that the nature of reality is indeed such that it is easier to consume than to produce; to take rather than to give. I'm going to spend some time thinking about how to reverse this trend at least on a personal level, i.e. imposing a little balance in the system, or even, Heaven forbid, try to find a way to make some contribution that outweighs my leeching. This probably can't be done with all things, but wouldn't it be nice to tip the scales a little bit?

I'll write more when I feel like I know better what I'm talking about, there.

Speaking of not knowing what I'm talking about, I've decided to post a live journal of my thoughts during the final Presidential Debate this Wednesday. I've had so many thoughts during this presidential election cycle; I've felt pulled in so many different directions. I'd like to get them down in print. So there's that to wait for.

Yes, I think I'm finished for now. Talk about a weapon of choice.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Backward and homebound, the pigeon the dove

The road has had its twists and its turns, but here I am now sitting in Alexandria Virginia. I suppose it's home now, though I'm still trying to convince myself that it's "me". Those who were expecting to hear from me reporting in Azerbaijan, I'm afraid I've proved a disappointment. After a notably protracted and agonizing decision-making process, I opted out of the offer I had in the Microfinance industry.

My new position has taken me at least momentarily to the bustling streets of Washington DC. My new position will be, shockingly enough, working for the US Federal Government. This means that I'll be spending most of my time in far-flung refugee camps around the world. It also means that as much as I'd like to post running commentaries on my professional activities, I won't be able to. This isn't because the work is highly secretive per se; it just means that publicly posting all the details is not encouraged. I'll be happy to talk about what I'm doing in private conversations. I definitely can give you an earful.

On the other hand, I will make a conscious effort to keep this here blog updated with facts about places I'm working, including country conditions, political situations, and the various ruminations that seem to only have an outlet during the introspective moments when I have an internet connection in close proximity. For those of my friends and acquaintances who don't like long-winded, pendantic meanderings that don't really seem to go anywhere, please reroute yourself somewhere (anywhere) else.

In keeping with the spirit of nonsequitur blogging, I've decided to adopt a new tradition. Since I'm a rather unrepentant fan of quirky old-man music, and since I furthermore feel compelled to acquaint the world (or at least my small corner of it) with the joys of the likes of Neil Young and Van Morrison, I've determined to take occaision to entitle my blogs with lyrics from tunes that seem to reflect my mood when I'm penning said blog. If you click on the blog entry title, you may even be treated to a performance. Enjoy the musical happiness.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Well. A lot has gone on. I'm only going to say a few things about my trip to Africa. I don't know why I wasn't in the mood for a travel log while I was gone, but writing all the details seemed a little more tedious, this time. At a later point in my life, perhaps I'll regret not reporting more of the little details. But anyway, a few points come to mind.

First of all, Africans are some of the most genuinely friendly people I've ever met anywhere. This is not just a case of a westerner living in Moscow getting sour grapes. On my first day in Nairobi, as I was wandering around the city getting my bearings, I humbly asked a local for directions to the nearest shopping center. A friendly old man gave me detailed instructions and sent me along my merry way. As I was approaching my destination, he popped out of nowhere and pointed to where I was going. He explained that he hurried to catch up to me to make sure I didn't get lost. Now I don't want my Russky friends to get offended, but that would NEVER happen in Moscow. And so it went for the remainder of my time there.

I also saw some amazing aminales (please see my pictures folder).

There would be many fascinating things to say about our country's refugee processing program. However, USCIS specifically forbids blogging the details of this program. I can understand this, for several reasons. Ask me about it the next time you see me. I can give you an earful.

About two weeks after returning from Africa, I took a short 9-day vacation to Latvia, Estonia, and St. Petersburg. The summer solstice was in full swing, and I felt to take full opportunity of the 23 daily hours of sunlight. I went with my old friend from grad school and OLAG, Leah Blevins. This was her first time out of the good ol' US of A, and I imagine that it was a good starter trip. Latvia and Estonia will always be two of my favorite countries. Additionally, I was able to spend more time walking around St. Petersburg than was ever possible for me as a missionary.

So I'm planning to leave Russia at the end of the summer. A new job opportunity has arisen that will take me back to the microfinance sector with a German company called LFS Consulting. I initially interviewed for a position back in 2006 while I was still working in Tbilisi. Things didn't quite work out, but they encouraged me to keep in touch. They invited me back for another interview in Berlin this past April, and I'm now in for my fourth job change in as many years. This position will initially take me to Baku, Azerbaijan, where I'll work in the Micro Finance Bank of Azerbaijan.

One may well ask (and they do): Why the strange preference for obscure geographic locales? Why can't I stay anywhere for more than a year? I have a friend who recently told me that it's exhausting just thinking about my meandering career track. I honestly don't think anyone would believe me if I said that I'm not trying to be this way. Eventually I'll find something to settle down in. Until then, I'll leave no stone unturned.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

UTA Audit Released,5143,695247383,00.html

This was the audit that took the majority of my time while working for the Utah Legislature. My old friends at OLAG asked me to help peer-edit part of this audit. Unfortunately, I had only half a day, and my review was less-than-thorough. Check the whole thing out at

Friday, January 25, 2008

Consider my Blog updated

Yeah, when I was back in the US, I heard a lot of complaining about my lack of blog updates.

The whining apparently hasn't ceased. I was even told that in order to increase my blog readership, I need to post more personal stuff on my site. A friend blithely informed me that the "blog stalkers" are extremely disappointed in the lack of exhibitionist-hud so typical of young folks' blogs, these days. So I told her to write her own blog, and include all the trivial icky details that people seem so infatuated with revealing. like when she gets spinach stuck between her teeth. I sometimes wonder whether the blogging world doesn't reveal a curious exhibitionist tendency by those who describe minute intimate details about their lives. Anyway, it's just a thought. Who am I to judge whether or not your flossing habits are interesting or just icky?

But anyway. Here's a warning to readers: Boring personal travelog to follow.

I spent last weekend in Velikiy Novgorod, the area where I served the final 10 months of my LDS mission. I figured the 3-day weekend was a perfect opportunity to get out of Dodge. I mean Moscow. As I was ruminating out loud about my underwhelming plans for a weekend, a colleague at work volunteered to go along with me. So we bought last-minute overnight train tickets to Novgorod. We ended up with what are called "platzkart", i.e. open public bunks on the far end of the train just adjacent to the bathroom. This made for a rather unpleasant trip, as people were making constant trips to the facilities all night long. Additionally, it became quickly apparent that many of the passengers are nicotine junkies, as a never-ending troop of people were constantly migrating to the little vestibule between cars for a puff. Apparently they could hardly stay asleep at night for more than a half hour without the urge grabbing them. Needless to say, the fragrant odor of an old train lavatory combined with a continual plume of tobacco smoke was an unexpected addition to my night's sleep. My buddy David had it worse, as he kicked the smoking habit about a month ago, and the slightest whiff of tobacco really sets him off.

Anyway, we got to Novgorod. Though the temperature was about the same as Moscow, it felt significantly colder. It sits on the river that feeds a large lake. Walking against the wind is a most unpleasant experience that left my face abused and seared by high-speed pelting ice debris. The city is the oldest in Russia, and has quite an impressive number of old Orthodox Churches, plus a large imposing Kremlin fortress. We checked out the local museum, which was half-closed for renovations. I recall that they used to have a fascinating exhibit built by the Soviets dedicated to the glorious Soviet period, followed immediately by a more modern exhibit that displayed lists of names of local Novgorodians slaughtered during the Stalin purges. You can only find such ironic museums in post-Communist countries. Competing with the icy wind wasn't a lot of fun, so we retreated to the Kremlin where we got scalped by a local restaurant that served mayonnaise in heavy doses with other trivial ingredients like beef tongue and eggplant tossed in. We also met up with a friend of mine whom I used to work a lot with as a missionary. We made plans to go to the local Russian sauna, but for some reason we ended up pretending to play Civilization IV (or something) on his computer at home. Yeah, I really have a wild time when I go on vacation.

The next day church was a rather interesting experience. My accompanying colleague is Jewish, and he informed me that the only way he would attend our little LDS branch on Sunday was if I promised him that he wouldn't get proselytized. I could make no promises (in fact informing him that in all likelihood he WOULD be), but assured him that people would back off if he told them he is genuinely not interested. So we went, and I think he actually enjoyed himself. He also made it clear that the single LDS scene looks very rosy in Russia. I'm sure I haven't noticed.

Then we hopped a train back to Moscow. We made sure we got bunks in the middle of the wagon this time. I would've fallen asleep before we even left the station, but was bothered by a drunken Russian who wanted to chat endlessly to "help" us have a comfortable stay in Moscow. I was half awake, and so let David explain to him that we would be at our most comfortable-est if our inebriated friend would let me sleep and David read his trashy Leonard Elmore novel (I think he's gotten through like 4 of them in the last week). I woke up the next morning as we arrived in Moscow to see the guy passed out with a bottle near at hand on one of the bunks below. Thus ended my trip to Novgorod.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The New Moscow

So when it rains it pours, I suppose. This makes 3 blog postings, three days in a row. I may have to go radio silent for the next six months just to keep up my reputation. Anyway, I ran across some fascinating articles that depict modern life in Moscow rather accurately.

What's Moscow like for foreigners in Russia? This discusses a few things that people generally attribute to life in Russia: namely, crime.

One of the more distasteful characteristics of modern Russian culture: the Russian rich. If you were to look up "tasteless" in the dictionary, you might find references to the new Russian monied class.

There really are a lot of delightful aspects to living out here. They're just sort of intangible. When my friends ask me what makes me like Russia so much, I have a hard time answering. The food isn't particularly memorable. The weather is a little bit intimidating - the temperature dropped to 5 degrees Fahrenheit last week. But Russia - and even Moscow - is really quite charming. It just takes some getting used to.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A final word

One final comment on my lengthy political diatribe: Pointing out inconsistencies is really not hard. It also makes you feel smugly self-satisfied, in your own right. Perhaps I took a self-serving pleasure in penning these responses, as if I'm announcing to the world that I've got it figured out, and the other folks don't. I hope that's not who I am, because then I wouldn't be much different from those who instigate and author the one-sided views that I'm criticizing. I sometimes just want to add my voice to the cacophony of political discourse with a plea for a little bit of moderation and willingness to listen. My Mother taught me that this is a good life skill for most interpersonal interaction. Heaven knows I'm still pretty hard-headed. But thanks for trying, Mom.