Friday, December 19, 2008

Notes From an Underground (a recording)

In Ukraine, all of the smaller, corner stores work much like markets did in the United States fifty or one-hundred years ago. You'll go in and see that all of the goods are on shelves or in cold cases only employees can reach or access. Consequently, if you want some cheese, you'll have to go up to the dairy counter and speak with a blue-aproned продавщица (prodavschitsa/saleswoman) who will call out, Я слушаю! (ya slushayu!/I'm listening!) and take your order. If you want some meat, or some dry goods, you'll have to repeat the process, seeing two more Blue Aprons.

There is certainly a benefit to this system: a drastic reduction in theft. But the problem is, if you don't speak Russian, or if you speak a little Russian but are too shy to test it in public, you will likely starve, especially if you haven't yet discovered one of the western-style supermarkets, of which there were several in Kharkov.

Anyway, all of this is a long introduction to the fact that I wrote an essay about my experiences trying to scrape together a few good meals in Ukraine during my first couple of weeks in-country back in the fall of 2005. A while back I pointed you to the journal that published it, NOÖ Journal, which subsequently nominated the essay for inclusion in the Best of the Web 2009 anthology.

Now I'm writing to say you can find an audio recording of the essay below. Fourteen minutes long, it should prepare any traveler for a trip to the Former Soviet Union. Tell me what you think. And Приятного аппетита!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Just discovered this website that allows you to view magazines online -- and I found the second story I published had already been uploaded by Dave Housley, one of the editors of Barrelhouse. My story, "Manure," about my trouble with credit cards, begins on page 19.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Great blog

If, like me, you're learning -- or, more honestly, trying to learn -- to speak Russian, you'd be well-served by visiting this blog, which is written by a Swedish literature student living in Russia. I love the word of the week feature, as well as the type of travel reportage that I enjoyed posting here. The title of the blog, Russian Blog, sounds like the result of a brainstorming session that lasted all of five seconds. But each post is obviously the work of a good deal of effort. I'm certainly reading and hoping for more.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Greatest Gift.

This should be of interest to many readers of this blog: a memoir of survival and Siberia. Get an introduction to the book here:

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Cost of Marriage (Part Two)

Two years after receiving your conditional Green Card card -- the first you will receive after marrying a U.S. citizen -- you must apply to have its conditions removed, using form I-751. If you do not do this, you will not be allowed to live legally in the United States. If you do, and you're successful in your application -- meaning, your marriage is not ruled to be a fraud, entered into only to circumvent immigration laws -- you will be rewarded with a 10 year Green Card.

Can you guess how much it costs to file the I-751?


That includes $80 for a biometric finger-print.

Please, do not write USDHS on your personal check or money order. Write it out in full: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Some of you may say this is perfectly fine. You choose to marry a foreigner, you pay the price. But we do not parse out the costs of the nation in this way with other things. We all pay for the military. We all contribute to Social Security, MediCare, etcetera. Yes, homeowners support education. But do only drivers support the cost of building and maintaining new roads? Etcetera, etcetera.

For a previous entry on the Foreigner Tax see here.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Make Chicken Kharkiv

During my first month or two in Kharkov, I reported that I wasn't eating so well. Now the full story can be found in the latest issue of NOÖ.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008


It's not exactly writer's block -- I just can't get going.

Consequently, I've spent much of the last two days on Flickr, securing my photos for posterity. The end result of all this is my forming a new group on that photo-sharing site devoted entirely to pictures of Soviet-era milk stores.

I'm not sure what the laws are for committing someone against their own will in the State of California, but that may be something the judge would look at unfavorably. "Milk stores, you say? Photographs of?"

"Yes, your honor."

By all means, join and post away.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Scamski City

People are fools if they want to find a wife on the internet.

It is not real. I correspond with a whole division of Westerners - and they are all idiots.

From an article in the Daily Mail.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

From the About Time Department

Green Card rules relaxed. Now those lengthy FBI clearances -- detailed in my recent investigative piece -- will be reduced.
See The New York Times for more.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Democratic Party, Putin-Style

The more I learn about the American voting system -- and it takes several election cycles to cut through the murk -- the less "democratic" it seems.

Get this, forty-percent of the delegates currently at stake for Democratic presidential contenders are "super-delegates." The voters don't vote for these 842 people; they're high-ranking Democratic Party members: governors, leaders of the Democratic National Committee, former Presidents, like Bill Clinton. And they all go to the National Convention, just like the delegates the voters send, and pledge their vote to a candidate during the nominating stage.

This came as a surprise this morning, when I went to go check the delegate count, and, instead of seeing a field just now getting started, discovered Clinton way out ahead.

She has 159 "super-delegates," dwarfing the number she's received in Iowa and New Hampshire so far, and more than 100 more than the next candidate, Barack Obama.

Apparently, this isn't a centuries-old tradition in the Party either. As this MSNBC report states, it just a generation ago, when grass-roots movements, including those calling for women's rights, began to shake up the old Guard. The Democratic Party needed something to keep it stabilized through this volatile time, so the system was born.

“There was a belief that they would not want candidates who were dramatically out of sync with the rest of the party — particularly if these were people who were going to have to run on the same ticket with them,” says Northeastern University political scientist William Mayer, who has written extensively on the nomination process.

There were, Mayer says, two motives in giving elected officials a big voice in the nomination.

“One was not to get (ideologically) extreme candidates; the other was to avoid the Jimmy Carter phenomenon — where you had a guy who was not very experienced and not very well regarded by most of his fellow governors, but nevertheless managed to win the party’s nomination,” Mayer said.

Now, one of my favorite hobbies is questioning the American press' demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is not because I'm a Putin man. It's because I don't know why the American Press refuses to question anything in its own country, from the faulty intelligence and fear-mongering of the Bush Administration in the lead-up to the war in Iraq to the very things the press sees as problematic abroad. Such as President Putin's decision, in 2004, to directly name his country's regional governors, rather than leave this to the voting public.

Now, if it's undemocratic for him to do this -- something I constantly am told in the slicks and dailies -- isn't it also undemocratic for the Democratic party to give itself 4 out of every ten votes in the nominating process for its candidate for the President of the United States? The Republican Party doesn't do it. And the blessed Greens would sooner cut down a tree.

But I suppose Putin, Time Magazine's Man of the Year, would be proud.

A Tsar is Born indeed.

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