Monday, March 26, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blogger Ate My Last Post... this is what I have. I was writing about a man who somehow managed to break into the Moscow Zoo, get drunk on a bottle of vodka he brought with him, get into a fight with a rare owl in its cage, and then fall to his death. I suppose it's possible that 's what happened, but it seems fishy to me. Unfortunately, the Moscow Times' stories are archived very quickly, so I can't link back to it. Amanda has a little about it too.

There was apparently yet another fire in Russia. This one at a nightclub in Moscow. Add this to the one at a pensioners' home in the south and the mine explosion in the Kuzbass and it's been a rough week for Russia. NYT

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An Update, a Little Belated

It's been a while since I blogged. Not a lot to report, just very busy. Things are great. Spring has finally come. The last couple of days have been the beginning of Spring. There was little grass to be seen in the AH yard on Monday morning due to snow, but by yesterday afternoon it was all gone due to a couple of Sunny, 50 degree days. Today is much the same. A beautiful day and I took advantage of it to walk a good part of the way to work!

Also, there are a couple of News stories I thought I would link to:
I wrote a while back about conditions and education in Russia's university system.University Students in Revolt not just in some out of the way place, but at MGU, which is like the Harvard, Yale, and MIT of Russia.

Also, more on the Curbing of Russian Media. It's still in process, but it seems that each year of Putin brings less and less independent and critical media.

Finally, a couple of recent tragedies. If you missed, there was a Fire at a Retirement Home and a Mine Explosion, both of which claimed many victims.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Election Day Results

Election Day Results are in and, not surprisingly, United Russia cleaned up. I like the part where the leader of United Russia is indignant that they only won in 13 of 14 regions and is demanding that the governor of that one region be sacked.

As I said before in my post about Petersburg, most of the advertising there was for United Russia and what little was not was for the other party that backs the Kremlin, "Just Russia." (See the picture below of me with Plushenko: He's endorsing "Just Russia.") The powers that be seem to be trying to play it as if these two parties oppose each other, with United Russia, the majority, as a center-right group and Just Russia a center-left "opposition." I'm not sure exactly what they oppose though, because they clearly support the Kremlin and Putin. Oh well, the winds of Russian politics are never easy top read. It seems that the Kremlin is trying to build a two party system and force out the two real, but very weak, oppositions, the liberal Yobloko (Apple) and the Communists, who are a long way from being a power, but are popular amongst older folks.

In large part, these are judged by most commentators to be a dress for the federal legislative elections in the fall, followed by the presidential contest next spring. We'll just have to tune in again and see how it unfolds.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Education System

Reforming the Russian Educational System which is the same system that operated during Soviet times. For example, we went a few weeks ago to sit in on a lecture of an introductory literature class. It was just that; a lecture. There were no questions and no pauses during the entire hour and a half. The professor clearly knew her stuff, but I'm not sure how much the students will learn by writing down everything she said and then repeating it in a few months when it comes time for the exams.

My limited experience observing it and talking to students and Russians in general is that it has some serious problems. Two of these is that it is narrow and vocational. Once you finish high school and enter the university, you enter into one department and one "specialty" which you are set into. It's hard to change and you don't take very many classes at all that are outside that field. It is in this way very different from the ideal of a liberal education that we pursue in America. There's no such thing as the student who switches from Chemistry to Philosophy and Biblical Studies in the middle of their third year of college. (I knew a girl who did it.) It just can't happen here.

They are talking about changing the system so that it is different in many ways from the American scheme, but much more flexible than the current scheme. I think it seems like a good idea, but implementing it may be very difficult.

Petersburg Adventure

So, back from our trip to Petersburg and back to the real world. Molly and I had a great time. I love Petersburg more every time I visit it and look forward to having a chance to live there some day for a while. We saw a lot of fun stuff, wandered around, and hung out in cafes and things. As you can see from this traditional "Aaron with coffee" picture, I decided that the beard was getting too itchy and shaved it.

One of the cool things that we found was this group of lions. The real marble lions are on an embankment overlooking the Neva not far away. These replicas had been painted by various groups, including some young students, which was pretty cool. We took pictures next to a couple of our favorites.

Another prominent feature of the city was election posters. The trick is that even though there were many parties running, only two actually had campaign materials out. Surprise, they were the two pro-Kremlin parties. In Indiana, I often get told I look like Larry Bird or Peyton Manning. (My common response is to say that I wish I could play and or get paid like they do.) In Russia, I am told that I look like Evgeniy Plyushenko, the Olympic Gold Medalist figure skater.

Along the way we visited a museum to Anna Akhmatova, the poet and searched out several used bookshops where we made interesting discoveries like Czech textbooks and books on Soviet economics.

All in all it was a great trip and we had a blast. The weather was typically Petersburg-like, but other than that we had a great time. This last picture is from one of our evening walks in search of a bar that has been opened in the boiler room where our favorite Russian rock singer, Viktor Tsoi, worked. Come to find out, it was a block from where I used to live when I was a student in Petersburg. Sadly, the bar was closed because of a private party there.

We caught the train back to Vladimir on Saturday night and arrived before the crack of dawn, a little tired but happy!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fun With Balloons, or: Off to Petersburg

Just a funny picture I took the other day. Fun with balloons! Clearly we are easy to entertain.

On a more serious note, here's an interesting commentary column from that I found. Mostly about ostentatious spending and ostentatious consumption of energy resources, both of which are clear to anyone who visits Russia, especially Moscow.

BBC Commentary

We also have our train to Petersburg to catch tonight. As you can tell, I am very excited as this is the second time I've blogged about it and we haven't even left. On an interesting side note, the train we are taking goes from Nizhniy Novgorod to Petersburg via Vladimir and Moscow. But there's a catch. Even though Nizhniy changed its name over a decade ago, the train schedules still call it by its Soviet name, Gorky. I love this country.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"Monday Morning Coming Down...."

The weekend was good, but busy. Friday we gave exams for the second day. I actually enjoy exams; even though they are a lot of work to grade, it is nice to be able to more acurrately guage where our students are. Sometimes they surprise us!

On Saturday, we had a celebration at the restaurant next door in honor of the two Russian holidays, honoring men and women respectively. Other than that, we've spent a lot of time grading exams and evaluating our students' progress. We have class tomorrow and then we are off on the night train to Petersburg for several days' rest and relaxation in what is pretty much my favorite city. I'll try to post some pictures and things as soon as I can.

In other news, spring has made a slight appearance. We've had some above freezing weather and the snow has melted some. If this is it for winter, we got of lucky with only about 6 weeks of the really hard stuff.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Exams and Things

Exams began today. It's always fun: Our students cheat. We try to catch them. It's pretty much like the circle of life, but without an accompanying Elton John song. The adults can sometimes be worse than the kids. I had to take away the exam of one middle aged guy because he was constantly talking to the person across from him. I leave you with another picture from me on vacation in Moscow. This time next week, I'll be doing the same in Petersburg. Ain't life cool?