Thursday, December 28, 2006

More Russian News

I thought that the story of the poisoned ex-KGB officer had pretty much disappeared. Then I opened up the NYT online and they tell me that the Russian authorities are trying to connect Litvinenko's death with the case of Yukos, the now defunct Russian oil giant that was dismantled by Russian authorities on the basis of some sketchy tax violations. This included the exile of most of its leadership and the imprisonment of its chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

More Russian News Fun

Monday, December 25, 2006


I made it! Stumbled in the door with the family just a few minutes ago. I'm exhausted, but happy to have made it. I smell something wonderful coming from the kitchen, so I had better go see what Mom has whipped up for a little Christmas Eve/Welcome Home dinner.

Peace, Joy, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to everyone...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

36 Hours...

A few pictures for you all; today was the last day for classes that meet on Monday and Thursday. I also snapped a quick picture of the AH under a couple of inches of snow this morning. The first picture is of my AI (3rd level class).

This is a picture of my BI (fifth level) class. Today was a pretty easy day planning-wise, but I still had a load of grading, individual student teaching, Russian movie-watching, worrying about how I am going to be packed in 34 hours, etc....yeah, anyway. This is a picture of my usual state these day...really tired.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wednesday...3 Days and Counting

Wednesday morning came and Molly, Sara, Nicole, and I made a trip to the orphanage to play with the kids. This time it was a little more restrained as it was the four of us with one group of about seven kids. The teacher explained that their group was very small because they had had two children adopted the day before. I don't know for sure, but I get the feeling that they have a pretty high turnover and the kids get adopted fairly quickly.

This week has been going great! Exams are done, now we just have to grade them and all. Last night, to celebrate, I fixed dinner: It was supposed to be Mexican food, which it sort of resembled. The key is that it was different from Russian food. We sat down and had a nice dinner to celebrate.

It's hard to believe that we are splitting up in about three days. Some of us are going home and some are traveling, but it's going to be the first time we've been apart for any length of time since the beginning of August. This has really gotten to be a comfortable routine, even though tings are rarely routine.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Exam Day!

Exams just started! (I have prep so my first one to give is not for another hour.) I am a little bit nervouse. I want all of my students to do very well. I have made every effort I can (I hope) to make sure they do, but it's up to them in the end. We will see.

In other news, yet another interesting NYT article about Russia. There is an interesting sub-plot here. Every day folks get a raw deal from the city administration in order to benefit the super-rich who can pay $33K per-square-foot cost of new housing near one of the more monsterous of Moscow's churches.

Tale of Money, Power and Real Estate in Moscow

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Просто отлично!

In the end, after quite a bit of work, the Christmas Party was a big hit. There was a gingerbread decorating contest: It was supposed to be houses, but we didn't have any good way to mold walls, so instead each group got a slab of gingerbread (good work Nicole!), candy, and icing. The results were pretty cool. We also played party games like Twister, Musical Chairs, Limbo, and (since it was the first day of Chanukuh) Spin the Dradle.

This is the Big Boss (actually, second in command after Gosha the American Home cat), Galya, with our Christmas/New Year's Tree.

We also taught the students who came to the party to sing Christmas Carols. Here are a couple of pictures of Sara and Joanna leading a the group in stirring renditions of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Jingle Bells," and "The Twelve Days of Christmas," among others.

All of these activities didn't stop us from having time for a little bit of dancing, including Joanna showing of her "Toxic" dance moves.

I hope that everyone is getting as excited for the holidays as I am. It's hard to believe that I will be home to see my family in just a week!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dinosaur Comics, Christmas, and a Whole Lot More!

Molly has made a committed reader of a little something that, in the parlance of out times, is known as "Dinosaur Comics." Funny, irreverent, and updated daily!

T-Rex and Friends

Today, we have our American Home Christmas-New Year's-Chanukah Party. We're going to have cookies, gingerbread houses, dancing games, and a whole lot more! I will try to take a few moments to take some pictures to post.

In other news, we are finished with giving our oral exams. For the most part they went pretty well, but I was disappointed with a few of them. We'll see how the written exams turn out on Monday and Tuesday next week. Having just spent the last four years on the taking end of final exams, I can say with some certainty that it is better to give than to receive.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

С Рождеством!

Merry Christmas to everybody! I figured that now would be a good time for a pic of the AH Christmas/New Year's tree. I also thought I would toss in a picture of the gift that some of us got from Nastya and Lena, two of Joanna's students that we have hung out with several times. The stocking also had some chocolate, a little animal that looks a little like the warthog from the Lion King, and a calendar with pictures from different cities. My first Christmas gift and a pretty cool one at that!

Put Em' Up!

Volodya on the Cover of "The Economist"

Putin is on the cover of the Economist this week looking rather gangsterish. Someone at the Economist had some fun photoshopping this one. You have to have a password to read, but I gather the article is about how the Kremlin seems to consistently try to muscle its rivals by means of energy policy, especially its near neighbors and the EU.

The other interesting thing I can not resist posting it this little gem:

"Scots isna juist English written wi orra wirds an spellins. It haes its ain grammar an aw. If aw ye dae is tak an English text an chynge the spellins an swap a puckle wirds it'll juist be Scotched English an no Scots."

That's right, Wikipedia has a Scots Edition. I love it! Here's the article about Scotland...

In other news, we are giving oral exams and reviewing for the written exams today. The written exams are Monday and Tuesday of next week and then we have a final day to wrap-up, hand back exams, play English games, finish films, etc. It is really hard to believe that I'm going to be heading home for Christmas in little more than a week. There's no snow on the ground here (although we got a few flurries late last night, our first snow in what seems like a month.) There are only a few trees up and decorated because the Russian holiday season begins with New Year's a week after Christmas, has Christmas according to the Orthodox calendar on January 7 and then "Old" New Year on the 13th.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I bet people who actually read this thing are getting sick of me posting links to stories about Litvenenko, but I can't help it. It's so bizarre and interesting, like something out of the Cold War. There's a quick summary of the people involved from the BBC.

Can't Tell the Players Without a Program

This is also an interesting article from the New York Times about the loads of former security servicemen (and maybe some women) and their effect on the politics and economic lives of their countries after the fall of Communism.

Article on Former Spies

And now, for a little humor. If you remember back a while I put a picture up of "Flovers." This notebook belongs to one of my students. I have a little laugh every time I see it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pics and Some Spy News

As promised some pictures from the weekend. This is outside the museum that we went to. Nastya, my student is on the right in both. One is with me, one is with Molly.

In a case that continues to get "curiouser and curiouser," there is more today about Litvenenko. Appartently the German police are finding traces of polonium in the apartment of the ex-wife of the man that Litvenenko met with in a London hotel bar not long before he became ill.

You Try To Make Head or Tail of It

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Утка, Утка, Гусь

Molly and I made it back from out trip this afternoon. On Saturday afternoon, after helping to put of the Christmas tree and decorations around the American Home, we took a bus ride about an hour-and-a-half south to the little town of Gus-Khrustalniyi. (Гусь-Хрустальный) (I shouldn't say that it is all that little because it has a lot more people than Loogootee.) The first part means goose and the second part comes from the city's glass works. My student, Nastya (short for Anastasia), me us and took us home to her mother and grandmother for dinner. Russian hospitality was in full display. We were encouraged to eat as much as we could. After dinner, we met her friend Anya at what seems to have been the only place to hang out in town; a movie theater/disco/billiard hall/bowling alley. We had a good time hanging out but were very tired and headed home. This morning, we were a little slow leaving (a situation that was not helped by the big stack of blinni at breakfast.) First we went to an open air market where they sell crystal and glass from the town's factory and other places. Then we stopped to visit Nastya's mother at work and got an impromptu concert by some very cute four year-olds accompanied by piano. Then we stopped off at the town's glass museum, which sounds boring, but was actually pretty cool. After thatm, we went back and visited her family one last time for another Russian hospitality laced meal and then the bus trip back home. All in all it was a fun time. We spoke a lot of Russian, met some new people, and it was nice to get away from the American Home for a little while (which doesn't stop us from having tons of work to do, but I will deal with that tomorrow.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bizzaro World News

A Little More About Russia's Youth

I found this article, also on the BBC, as sort of a follow-up to the Q & A from yesterday. It talks about the state of youth in Russia. It is a bit hard to imagine, but all of our students have been deeply affected by the fall of the Soviet Union. Even though the youngest ones, like the kids in the article, were born after 1991, their lives have been indisputably changed by the economic and social chaos of the 90's. In some way, this helps us to understand why the current state of affairs, a prosperous but strange and sometimes lawless Russia, doesn't seem so bad to them.

A couple of other news tidbits for your enjoyment...

Litvenenko Laid to Rest

Remember what I said about a strange and lawless Russia,this qualifies. It's not so much that these sorts of events happen, but the fact that it's safe to consider that there is some sort of ulterior motive. Anytime anything happens, one must ask, "Who benefits?"

Same goes for this gem in the safety inspection realm.

Did I mention oil is involved?

Last but not least, this is the fifteen-year anniversary of the agreement between Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus that led to the breakup of the USSR at the end of 1991. Say what you will about Yeltsin (his name is practically a swear word in Russia), he did help oversee the break-up of an empire encompassing hundreds of ethnic groups and fifteen new nations with a minimum of violence. Just imagine if the former USSR had gone the way of the former-Yugoslavia...

So according to the NYT, a Muslim cleric performed last rights over Litvenenko's grave in London. A spokesman for his family left open the possibility that he made a deathbed conversion to Islam. This whole thing just keeps getting harder and harder to understand...
NYT Article

The part about Islam is at the bottom of this article about the investigation, which doesn't seem to be going all that well.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wow...What a Workout!

So, I'm sitting here this evening, trying to get motivation to write my final exams, but I am having a hard time because I my shoulders are extremely sore. I didn't even have to go to the gym to get this effect, all I had to do was volunteer to go to the orphanage and play with the kids.

All eight teachers intended to go and six of us made it to the bus stop for the trip to Dobroe, technically a separate village, but really just an extension of Vladimir. We are supposed to make this a weekly event, but I think it will end up being groups of four of us on alternating weeks.

We got there around 10:30 and they introduced us to the director and the teachers. Regularly I think we will spend time with them indoors after lunch and possibly try to teach the kids a few words of English. The kids range in age from 2 on up to about 7-8 I think.

This time, we ended up being there at "go outside and play" time, so we joined in. Bob, Amanda, and Nicole ended up with about 8-10 relatively calm well-behaved younger kids. Sara, Joanna, and I ended up with about 20 or more hyper kids that wanted to run, jump, and go crazy. Let's just say that I am updating my resume to read "experience as airplane, helicopter, and climbing-wall." I went into the thing with clean jeans and shoes, but that didn't last very long. Then one of the kids decided that it would be a good idea to come and ask me how my mother let me out of the house with dirty pants....There you have it.

After an hour and a half of pure chaos, it was time to go home...And by home I mean here, to work. I know that I was exhausted. Judging by some of the looks around the teachers' office, I'm not the only one.

Politics Warning!

The other thing of note is politics. The current class between Russia and Georgia has many reasons (most of them not all that valid) and lots of bad results (gas price fights, deportations, wine import bans, etc). This is an interesting Article I found on the BBC's website: It's a Q and A between some Georgian High School Students and some Russian ones.

Q & A

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Teaching Update, With a Guest Appearance By the Passive Voice

After an especially exhausting day, I almost made it out the door of the AH before 9:00. Then I decided to go back and check one last thing on the computer. Once I got this far, I started to blog. Dang.

So, I just realized that if you didn't know any better you would think that we didn't actually teach around here. Believe it or not, we do. In fact, final exams are coming up in two weeks and I am excited to see how they go. I have a couple of classes who will do just fine and a couple of students I can honestly say have a better chance of flying to the moon than they have of passing the final on the first try.

The last several weeks have been spent, it seems, on the same topic: conditionals. You know, those sentences that begin with "if" and don't give you any trouble because you are a native speaker. By some strange coincidence, I am teaching these to both my third and fifth level classes at the same time (at slightly different levels.) If I hear one more sentence that begins with "If it rains tomorrow," I think I will scream!

So in the end, we've had some fun with this conversation:
Me: Complete this sentence, "If I had a million dollars,..."
Them: "But Aaron, it's not real!"
Me, under my breath: I know its not real, that's why its called an "UNREAL CONDITIONAL."

This week, third level AI, starring the passive voice.

"The tennis ball was thrown by Aaron."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Never a Dull Moment

NYT on Former Russian Agent's Death

The Latest From the Moscow Times

I don't know how much press this is getting in the states, but it seems like I am finding articles on it every day in the newspapers on-line. The whole affair seems very bizarre and I am quite sure that no one is telling the whole truth (except for the London police when they say they have no clue what is going on.) The whole thing seems like something from a John la Carre novel. When people ask why Russia is so interesting, this is one good example: there is never a dull moment.

The Moscow Times (usually a Kremlin critic) talks about the tracing of the polonium through BA flights back to Moscow. Sounds a little suspicious, right?

Another recent development involves Yegor Gaidar, who was one of Yeltsin's revolving door of Prime Ministers. He presided over some of the most catastrophic of the economic privatization shocks of the early '90s, but is now not seen as much of a big player. He suddenly became very ill last week in Ireland and turned of the next day in a Moscow hospital with what appears to be the after effects of a poisoning attempt. The plot thickens...

On a lighter note, a Russian version of one of my favorite TV shows, "Law and Order," is due out soon. Here is a link to an article about it.
Law and Order Po-Russkii
My favorite part is the quote, "For most Russians, a police force without corruption might sound as implausible as borshch without sour cream, or a legal document without a stamp. But if you tune in next February to watch the Russian adaptation of "Law & Order," don't expect to see Moscow's finest planting evidence, beating confessions out of witnesses or extorting cash out of illegal Tajik workers."