Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas in America

This was the first time in 5 years that I was home for Christmas!  Christmas in Estonia is great, but being home is even better. 
 When we came the weather was beautiful which meant for some awesome time in the pool. 

 Our baby has enjoyed watching Frozen songs from a TV.  Usually she gets to see them on an i-pod.  Music is the same, visual effect very different.

 I found some old Star Trek ornaments in the  basement to add some Christmas cheer!

 Our tradition has always been to have a nice breakfast for Christmas.

 It was great to have Jeff and Jeff here for Christmas.  Other than us, they were the only ones here for Christmas.  We had a great time playing farkle.  We wish them best of luck on their move to New York.  Closer to us in Estonia, but still not sure when we'll get to visit.  

 Of course one of the best parts about being home for Christmas is the crazy food and candy.  This is a Reese's Peanut Butter cup package, that is 453 grams and only 2 cups!

 I went to the US embassy Christmas party a few weeks back and they had egg nog, it was amazing!  It had been so long I totally forgot about it.  So it has been nice enjoying it some more.

 The day after Christmas (which is still part of Christmas for our Estonian friends) we went snowmobiling to Smiley Creek Lodge.  For lunch I had a double bacon cheese burger and a strawberry milkshake.  If life ever takes a wrong turn and I find myself on death row ordering a final meal I think I will order a double bacon cheesburger with a strawberry milkshake.  It doesn't get any better than that.

 This was my attempt at making a selfie with a normal camera. It can be tricky without that reverse screen.

Beautiful country in Idaho.  You'll notice the two feet of powder up here in the mountains.  Down in Twin Falls there is also quite a bit of snow.  On Christmas morning we woke up to snow! A Christmas miracle!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Party in Amsterdam! (not that kind of party)

We are spending Christmas in the US this year.  It is the first time in 5 years that we have been here for Christmas, there will be more posts coming about that!  On the way over we stopped in Amsterdam for a day and had a really nice time.  The city was very beautiful, lots of Christmas decorations were up.  In the taxi from the airport the driver recommended the red light district.  But since we both aren't into smoking weed, sleeping with prostitutes, and since we had a 14 month baby with us we decided to skip it.  Instead Maris went to the Anne Frank house and then after we all went to the zoo, and what a zoo it was!

 This is the dam square, it was nice but would not make a top 10 squares list.

The most impressive for me was the train station, I think this was in the movie the Best two years, it seemed familiar.   This picture isn't very impressive, but it was a breathtaking scene.

 We saw quite a few of these super small cars.  These are the smallest cars I have ever seen, much smaller than a smart car.  They are about as wide as a motorcycle.

 This is a museum about marijuana, we didn't go.  There were some other museums that weren't suitable to post about.  It did make me wonder if we accidentally walked through part of the red light district.  

 There were a few of these warnings up about drugs being sold on the streets.  One alert had a death count which was at 3.  This is really nice, in Estonia there is a terrible drug problem and overdose problem and no one has really done much about it. 

 Our favorite was the zoo.

 Our baby loved all the different animals.  We loved having a nice travel stroller with us.

 The most interesting part was how open the zoo felt despite being in the middle of the city center.  It was way nicer than the Tallinn zoo.  Some of the cages and areas were a bit small for the animals, but nothing unethical like the polar bear cages at the Tallinn zoo. (While the Tallinn zoo is very nice in many ways, the polar bear cages still need work.  They have been raising money for new habitats for a while now, hopefully they will be able to make the improvements soon).  They had some free roaming areas.  I felt like this monkey was going to jump right on me.  In an indoor exhibit I almost got pooped on by a large iguana!  We were walking through looking at the monkeys and then I hear a large plop I look over and see some weird stuff on the floor about 3 feet away.  I look up and a giant iguana sitting right there.  They also had bats just hanging from the ceiling.

 They often had natural barriers like this moat giving the zoo a much more open feel to it.

 Our babies favorite was probably the monkeys.  Well she also liked the moving doors a lot.  All in all it was a great trip. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Christmas miracle!

Barack Obama and Raul Castro recently announced a normalization of US-Cuba relations! A Christmas miracle.  This was the one foreign policy move I was hoping Obama would make before his time in office runs out.  This move is 25 years too late, but better late than never.  I want to use this blog to thank President Obama for ending one of the worst US foreign policies in recent memory and for melting the 'last icicle of the Cold War'.  Hats off to the Pope for playing an important role in the deal.  The decision to punish the Cuban people in response to the Cuban regime's human rights violations seemed like bad policy during the Cold War and simply unethical after. The new deal will be good for US commerce and good for the people of Cuba.  It will be key in improving US relations with the region as a whole.  The entire left wing/anti-American movement lead by Hugo Chavez could have easily been avoided if the embargo would have been lifted 25 years ago.  This is a win-win decision for everyone.  For those who say this is encouraging bad behavior, they need to take it easy.  The Castro regime is on its last leg (Raul is 83) and they have been making significant steps including a liberalization of the economy and the release of political prisoners.  Yes, they won't be winning any human rights awards but there are many countries who do worse that have normal relations with the US.  We normalized relations with Vietnam back in 1995!

For those interested in more detail of the negative impact of the embargo here are some articles that have called for an end to the embargo in the past: the CATO institute from 2005, a National Interest report from 2012, republished yesterday, and a 2009 report by Amnesty International that documents the impact of the embargo on the people of Cuba. 

When the move was announced I thought of a conversation I had some years back with one Estonian while waiting in line to get travel documents (I was getting an ID card, she was getting a new passport).  She said she was going on a trip to Cuba.  It seemed like a mystical place.  One of my friends went and had a wonderful time, she mentioned that the people were poor.  Unfortunately that poverty is in large part a result of US policy.  I found it offensive that my government, which was supposed to stand for freedom, would tell me where I can and cannot go on vacation.  The news to normalize relations does not remove the entire embargo, because that needs to be done by Congress but it is a start.  I can't wait for the day when I will have the freedom to go to Cuba.  Maybe I never will go (the Maldives, Bora Bora, Hawaii, and Cape Verde are all ahead in my fantasy vacation priority list), but it is important that it will be me making that decision instead of Congress or the State Department.  I hope that Congress will do what is right and end whats left of the embargo as soon as possible.   

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas cheer

I love Christmas!  It is my favorite holiday of the year.  This Christmas season started off with a Christmas miracle.  When we were putting up our Christmas decorations we found two Reese's peanut butter cups, the tree shaped Christmas editions that were left over from last year!  I don't remember if we did that on purpose or if we just forgot about them (is that even possible?).  Needless to say the decorating was much more exciting than usual.  We had to put our mini Christmas tree up high this year so our toddler wouldn't destroy it.  We have problems fitting all of our Christmas tree ornaments on it, but it more or less works.  If you look close you can see our awesome mini Star Trek ornaments!

 We got an awesome Christmas package this year that had a cute snowman! It really adds some Christmas cheer to our apartment.

 For family night we went to the Christmas market in old town, it was awesome.  A pork roast, donuts, roasted almonds, and a beautiful environment.  The Tallinn Christmas market is a place to visit if someone has the chance. 

 They even had reindeer. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Keila on the rise

We have lived in Keila for just over 2 years and we love it now more than ever.  It's the perfect place for a young family.  There are a lot of nice small cities in Estonia, but Keila is the only one that is near Tallinn that has normal real estate prices.  In the short time we have lived here, the city has developed at a rapid pace.  While Estonia is developing quickly overall, this is not true for all of Estonia.  Many country side places are falling apart and emptying out due to the demographic trends.  We feel very blessed to be living in such a nice place like Keila.  Here is a list of some of the major developments and plans over the last 2 years.
  • New trains which came on line summer 2013
  • New grocery stores.  They built a Grossi store at the end of 2013 and now they are building a Maxima not too far away.  Also two other grocery stores were remodeled in the past year and a half.
  • New apartment buildings.  They have built quite a few new apartment buildings and have plans for more.  Even though Keila is a small city (10,000) it has all sorts of different residential units: apartment buildings, homes, town houses, and duplexes.
  • New fast food restaurants.  A new pizza place opened up which put another pizza place out of business, the Hesburger moved locations to take the place of the old pizza place and a new Subway took the place of the Hesburger.  We now have a Subway and the Hesburger is closer to home! Add these to the Pizza place and the local cafe's and the eating out scene isn't that bad (I'd love to have a Chop Sticks and a Baby Back, but you can't win them all).

  • They are replacing the entire lighting system in the city.  This is a pretty big project that was funded with some money Estonia got by a CO2 exchange program.  It didn't pollute so it exchanged the CO2 quota to another country who then paid for environmentally friendly projects.  Estonia was one of 7 Estonian cities to get their lighting systems replaced. 
  • Remodeling.  Many buildings have been remodeled and now look nice.  Fortunately many of them are near our building.  The police building was also remodeled. 
  • They also announced plans to remodel part of the old mostly abandoned hospital.  It will be a 10 million euro project that will turn one wing into a rehab and care facility.  Most of it will come from the EU structural funds.  There are two main problems in Keila, one is the abandoned high school and the other is the abandoned hospital.  This project will go a long way in fixing up the hospital.  Supposedly they have plans to tear down the abandoned high school and to build some office and residential buildings in its place, but I haven't seen any work on the project yet.  Lastly, Keila annoucned plans to build a new walking bridge over the Keila river that would better connect two residential areas.
Keila does have a high debt level around 100% of its yearly income but it should go back towards 60% (the norm for Estonian local governments) by 2018.  Most of the debt was from the new high school which was built a year or two before we moved.  All in all Keila is the best
 and it is only getting better.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

This year we had an awesome multiple day Thanksgiving celebration bonanza.  I think Thanksgiving is the holiday I miss the most because they don't celebrate it here in Estonia.  We started off with a nice Thanksgiving lunch, we had Turkey and pulled pork sandwiches with a Reeses and Pico Balo candy.  We thought that Turkey sandwich meat would be it because we didn't find any other Turkey in Keila.  Maris went to the doctor Thursday morning and took a trip to Stockman's and brought home a slab of Turkey, which we ate for dinner.  They also sell sweet potatoes there for a much better price than the Keila Selver!

I bought a 7 day NFL game pass this week so I could watch the 49ers play the Redskins and then the Seahawks.  The 49ers beat the Redskins, but just barely and the Internet connection was bad.  Against the Seahawks the internet was better but the 49ers played poorly.  While I could go on about the hate, anger, and rage I feel towards the Seahawks or the frustration, disappointment, and emptiness that come from losing this important of a game, I decided to be more positive for the blog.  This is a blog of thanksgiving afterall.  Regarding the Seahawks I am thankful that two former 49ers are doing well and on the Seahawks' 53 man roster after being released by the 49ers this year.  FB Will Tukuafu (returned missionary) and DE Demarcus Dobbs.  Both are relatively younger players who work hard and are doing a good job for the Seahawks.  I wish they were still with the 49ers but its nice to see them in the league.  No doubt they are thankful for the paycheck and the chance to play in the NFL.  About the 49ers, I'm grateful they have a winning record and that they beat the Saints and Cowboys with a good chance of beating the Raiders next week.  It wasn't that long ago when the 49ers were the worst team in the league, having a winning record is something to always be thankful for.  Some wins are worth more than others.  Watching some teams lose in some ways is more gratifying than watching your own team win, and when your team can hand those other teams a loss it is pure ecstasy.  Beating the Cowboys, Saints, and Raiders in one season is priceless.

Then on Saturday we went to visit some friends the Bairds.  They are basically a carbon copy of us.  Piret is from Estonia, Zach is from the US and served a mission in Estonia, they both went to BYU.  Zach is working and getting his Masters here in engineering.  They have an 18 month old.  We're thankful for awesome friends!

2014 has been a great year, many things to be thankful for: family, friends, health, work, a nice home, the gospel, and the Hershey's company's decision to start selling Reese's peanut butter cups in Estonia and Europe!!!!!!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What's in your soup?

Every now and again Maris busts out an old school recipe from her childhood that catches me off guard.  The most shocking meal of my childhood was pasta pizza, you can imagine some of the surprises that could come from old school rural Estonian cooking.  After I get over the initial shock I usually enjoy the meal.  In many ways it is exciting to experience a different food culture. This time the surprise was putting a pig foot in the soup pot to add extra flavor to pea soup.  I always wondered who bought those pig feet I saw in the stores, now I know!  The pea soup was excellent for anyone wanting to know.  We are not sure what to do with the leg now though. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

post election thoughts

It has now been several weeks since the US mid term elections are over.  The Republicans took control of the senate and increased their majority in the house.  When looking at both the overall election results and some interesting individual races my reaction can be summed up by a phrase I muttered just after I read the results "good luck with that".

While the results were not surprising, they are interesting.  Why would American voters reject the Democratic party and Obama?  The economy is growing (2.8% in 2012, 1.9% in 2013), unemployment is falling (5.8% in October), the stock market is at an all time high, and the budget deficit is under 3% which most economists consider the healthy limit and which was one of the Republicans primary concerns in recent years.   While these statistics do not seem overly impressive, compared to the Euro zone, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and almost anywhere they are actually pretty OK.  Though one may find many problems in Obama's economic policy, I would dare to say that they still chalk up a victory for Keynesian stimulus policies as opposed to the Austrian austerity policies which we have seen in Europe.  This is a difficult admission for me as I was on the Austrian side of the debate. 

The best way to explain the popularity of the Republican party is the fact that it is a mid-term election and people are often upset at the President's party in mid term elections.  In a brilliant op-ed, a political scientist and a graduate student offer the idea of getting rid of the mid term elections.  They highlight the problem of gridlock in Washington.  Indeed the events of the last few weeks highlight yet again the problems with the US political system. 

For a few days after the election, it seemed as if there was a sliver of hope for cooperation.  For starters Obama would not face any more elections, not that 2014 was his election, but he still had to look out for party interests in a way that he won't have to in 2016.  The Republicans had control of the Senate and House and would need to show America that they were not controlled by radical Tea Party members or that they were a not a party of 'no'.  They would need to show that they are interested in governing.  Perhaps there could be cooperation on a comprehensive immigration reform plan or on two important free trade deals in Europe and Asia. 

That of course seemed to be wishful thinking at best.  Obama is taking executive action regarding immigration reform and Republicans have not reacted kindly to the measure.  Despite pro free trade ideology, it is doubtful that Republicans will be interested in giving Obama fast track authority without getting something in return.  In short, we can expect another two years of a government that refuses to offer pragmatic solutions to America's problems. 

This should come as no surprise.  This is in part due to political system we have.  Grid lock is a designed function of the American system.  When one branch of Congress is from a different party than the President there will be gridlock and there is no way to resolve that gridlock.  For an interesting overview of this concept read this piece on Juan Linz's work.  Elections come and go, but most of the time gridlock continues.  While there are many solutions to the problem most of them, including the idea to cancel mid term elections, requires a constitutional amendment which makes them unlikely.

The hope then lies on Americans to choose respectable politicians who are willing to compromise and willing to consider realistic, pragmatic solutions (yes this is a criticism of Tea Party Republicans).  Yet, when looking at how crappy politicians fared in the election, the answer is surprisingly well.  Let's take a look at Idaho and Kansas for example.

In Idaho, the Republicans won every state wide office.  Despite a growing population, it is ranked last or close to last in every statistical category (disposable income, education spending, doctors per population, Internet speed, and the list goes on).  This has happened when neighboring states have all improved in these same statistics.  Idaho choose to bring back the same politicians who are responsible for the mess.  While Otter boasted of a Magic Valley Miracle, the Salvation Army paints a different picture.  For an interesting read on how Ybarra could win the superintendent race, read this article on the power of the Republican brand. Regarding Otter, a court ruled a large 60 million dollar broadband contract invalid because of cronyism.  Of course AJ Bajukoff mentioned this on the campaign, but he had a D next to his name.

In Kansas it was even worse.  Governor Brownback tried a tax experiment to turn Kansas into a Texas, it failed.  Somehow he was reelected despite leaving his state with a 1 billion dollar fiscal whole. Someone forgot to tell him that there is no giant oil industry in Kansas like there is in Texas or no massive tourism sector in Kansas like there is in Florida!  Oops. 

There is an old saying that says every nation deserves their government.  While the United States does have some structural problems that share part of the responsibility, the American people need to take responsibility for who they vote for as well.  Until they do all I can say is, good luck with that, you'll need it. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Crazy nights!

I have to share this. It is just too funny to not write about.

So last night our one-year-old daughter decided to wake up at 1.45. Usually she goes back to sleep pretty soon. Not last night. I was up with her for an hour, trying really hard to get her go back to sleep. I did not work. Matthew was up with her the next hour until about four. She did not go to sleep. I tried to fall asleep, even used ear plugs, but it did not work. So I got up and said, "Take her for a car ride." Matthew did. Four in the morning.

20 minutes or so later he comes home, she is very much awake and not a bit sleepy.

Now the craziest part of it all: Matthew was pulled over by a police officer. He said he was quite nervous because he is driving with a permit and we were not sure if he really can. But he can, so that is good news. Last night, we got our answers. They did a breath alcohol test and let him go. No problems. But still pretty scary. I had just been thinking when they left that hopefully police would not pull him over.

At 4.30 or so we sat her down and gave her steamed sweet potatoes, rye bread and corn. She ate it all, drank some water and went back to sleep.

I have to say: what a crazy night!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

New Balcony

 Two years ago when we bought our apartment we thought it was too good to be true, the price seemed about 10-15% lower than what it should have been.  It turns out there was one main problem with the apartment, a leaky ceiling in the bedroom.  The culprit is the balcony above us.  The water comes in during a hard rain or when the snow melts.  I guess the cement floor was connected to the building (same rebar and so on) so the water would just flow into the bedroom and drip out by out light fixture.  Our crappy balcony was the reason why the apartment below us had a leaky ceiling.  Lucky for us the building management finally found a construction company that could fix the balcony.  This means a dry winter for us, no drips!

 This is a close up of the flower that was growing from our balcony.  That is the sign of a crack in the cement which is bad.  If a flower can come out of that crack, water can go in. 

 The balconies now look great.  They chipped away a lot of the old cement, drilled large holes in the balconies and filled them with cement.  They they coated the balconies with some type of covering.  They look much better than before. 

You can see that the plant and cracks are gone.  They did a nice job making sure that all the cracks were sealed, no water getting in this year.  even the crack on the wall got coated again.  The end result is no more leaks in our bedroom ceiling!  Soon we can redo the ceiling (it has some significant water damage to it).  I think the value of our apartment will go up about 10-15% and the total cost of the balcony and ceiling repairs will probably be more like 1-3%.  Three cheers for home equity!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Remember remember the souls in November

When most people compare life in Estonia to life in the US one of the first things they think about is the dark and cold winter.  For me the season with the biggest difference is actually Fall. I also miss fall the most out of all the seasons.  Summer here is amazing, winter has Christmas, New Years and beautiful snow, and spring is filled with melting and hope!  Fall?  This is where Estonia is lacking a bit.

First is the holidays.  Halloween and Thanksgiving don't exist, in their place is a pair of odd cross dressing holidays where boys dress up as girls and then girls dress up as boys and go around reciting poetry and asking for candy.  (They are called Kadri and Mardi days).  Of course if we disregard my cultural bias this holiday is less weird than dressing up as some goblin or ghost for Halloween.  But the dressing up aside, the candy aspect just isn't there.  When I read that my nephew threw up from eating too much candy last Halloween I realized how much Estonians were missing when it comes to the candy culture.  In addition to Kadri and Mardi day Estonians also have a souls' day which is kind of like a more somber memorial day where Estonians light candles at home and also in cemetaries.  No Pumpkin pie in November.

Also take away the start of the NBA season and the NFL and you get a dull dark November.  I wondered if it was perhaps a bit of home sickness and my extreme enthusiasm for the San Francisco 49ers and the Utah Jazz that caused this perception, but then I compared our calenders for the month of November and realized that his was not just my perception, this was a valid contrast. 

The difference in our two calendars is striking.  On the left is our Estonian calendar (notice that Sunday is the 7th day? I love that).  It has different Estonian art work.  Usually if focuses on rural life and nature pictures.  The other months have been very warm and nice.  November was a picture of a snowy cemetery.  It immediately gave me the creeps and made me want to take the calendar down.  Since the 2nd of November is Souls' day I guess it is somewhat fitting, but still!?

Our US calendar is of LDS temples, it is a very happy picture with beautiful fall colors, orange, red, yellows.  True fall weather.  The difference between the two couldn't be bigger.  Lucky for me, this year has been a very mild fall, no snow yet.  Also, the 49ers are playing on Thanksgiving this year!  I'll be getting a week long NFL game pass and enjoying all the football I can for 7 days.  That is something to be thankful for. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

New room

 Our baby turned one a few weeks ago and for her birthday we got her some new furniture and she moved into her own room!  The furniture took a long time to get here, so she didn't get it on her birthday but that's ok.  Before the room had been an office. My desk is now in our bedroom as well as a book shelf.  Both rooms look better.  We were able to throw away a lot of stuff we didn't need anymore.  Our baby seems to like it too. When she first saw the new furniture she smiled and boy that was an awesome feeling.  Now I know why my parents enjoyed giving so much to me growing up. 

 Orange seemed to be the best color, it is gender neutral so if we need to put another kid in here future we don't need to worry about colors.  More importantly, orange is happy and we need happy colors in Estonia

 Here is a before picture so you can see the difference. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Highlights from the bloggernacle

These are interesting times for the LDS church.  The Mormon moment that started with Mitt Romney's candidacy for president has not really lost much steam.  The number of missionaries serving is at its pinnacle - about 88,000.  The church continues to be spotlighted by the media for a variety of reasons in a wide range of media outlets. Many church members have also received attention do to their activism.  In response to this added scrutiny, the church has published essays on church history and doctrine.  Recently the church also produced a video clip explaining the sacred nature of garments and temple clothing, a move that 20 years would be unthinkable.  The result of all this is a very active bloggernacle.  I thought I would highlight a few of the more interesting media and blog entries I have seen in the last month or so. 

Here is an article in the Daily Beast about the LDS temple in Rome, Italy which is currently under construction.  

This interesting piece by Jana Reiss on modesty offers an interesting view point on the topic.  Some of the rules at BYU and BYU-Idaho are a bit extreme.  From banning beards to blocking You Tube (yes they really did that when I was going to BYU only a few years ago) Church institutions love focusing on the nitty gritty.  Jana Reiss asks an interesting question, does the focus on the unimportant things detract us from some of the more important principles of the gospel?

Another interesting piece by Johnny Wycliffe deals with spiritual abuse.  Are we every guilty of using church or gospel principles to exert pressure on others in an unrighteous manor?  In the wards I have been in most of the members and leaders would have graded out well in those questions.  Yet looking at other people's experiences I know this isn't always the case, which is why I wanted to highlight this blog.

Lastly, a response to the Church's new article on Joseph Smith's polygamy.  It was an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune. I think this is a well intended response that brings up some important aspects.   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The little things

Sometimes in life the little things make all the difference  Do we take time to appreciate them?  Next time you go to the grocery store take time to appreciate the little things that you have.  Take sweet potatoes.  In Estonia it is very hard to find sweet potatoes, they are imported from America.  They are sold in packages of one and cost a fortune.  It kind of reminds me of the prices that my sister paid in Japan (except salaries are much lower here). 
 This medium sized sweet potato is 2.54 euros, or $3.40.  3.99 euros a kilo means $2.45 a pound. 

Some people wonder if Estonia is very different from America, and in many ways it is not.  For example Estonians love cheese burgers, so much so that they have cheese burger flavored chips.  We declined to buy the chips, but had to take a picture. 

What do I miss the most from the grocery store?  Believe it or not it is the seasonal sweets.  Cookie Crisp was on sale last week but not even Cookie Crisp can replace having a nice bowl of Franken Berry, Boo Berry, or Count Chocula in October.  Cadbury bunny eggs and Peeps at Easter?! Priceless.  I think Halloween is a time when every expat feels a need for sweets, but don't feel sorry for me, the Haribo Pico-Balla (Skip to 5 min mark for the Pica-Balla review) were on sale for only 89 euro cents! Love love love those Pico-Ballas.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Vote for Jana Jones!

Dear Idaho voters,

I hope you will take the time to actually think about who you vote for this upcoming election.  I have a feeling that a large majority of the voters just vote for the candidate who is affiliated with the Republican party.  This is problematic because this doesn't reflect the qualities of the candidate!  For example the Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction. We have a Democrat Jana Jones who has an impressive background and who would be very capable for the job.  The Republican candidate Sherri Ybarra has now lied twice about her history and plagiarized Jana Jones' website!  Somehow the she is still in the lead. From this news article (a second one here) a brief summary of her missteps:
  •  Lied about education: "Sherri Ybarra... claimed for months that she expected to get a doctorate in education in August. But in August, Ybarra had only been enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Idaho for one semester."

  • Plagiarized Jana Jone's campaign website: 
  • Lied about marital history:
  • Snubbed an important IASA conference only to be seen having coffee in the same part of Boise during the conference. 
After the disastrous tenure by former superintendent Tom Luna, Idaho cannot afford to blow it again.  Vote for Jana Jones.

UPDATE: Ybarra won.  Great job Idaho, good luck with that .

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Have you done any good in the world today?

Before general conference conference I expressed concern that many important topics did not seem like a priority for the LDS church because they were not highlighted at general conference often or at all.  Poverty, which was one suggested topic, was addressed not once, but twice! Both of these talks were inspiring and wonderful to hear.  It is not totally surprising.  When looking at the fast offering funds the demand for fast offering support is more than fast offering donations.  This is only understandable given the changing demographics of church growth.  While fast offering donations is a wonderful way to help the poor who are LDS, I thought I would offer a few suggestions of other avenues for those looking to donate.  This week in my International Organizations course students did presentations on NGOs, many were humanitarian NGOs.  There is criticism of the humanitarian NGO aid sector, (high overhead, creating dependencies, lack of accountability to those receiving aid, ect) but this does not mean that all NGO's are problematic. Here are few NGO's that I would like to highlight, which I do believe have a positive impact,certainly more than much of the excessive consumption that goes on.  Some of them came from my students!

  • LDS Philanthropies The LDS church received NGO status from the UN a few years ago.  I like the humanitarian services because there is no overhead costs (the church picks up the tab) so 100% of donations actually goes to humanitarian aid.  Projects are inspiring and focus on providing wheel chairs, medical training, immunizations, self sufficient agricultural production, and much more.  
  • Give directly is an innovative approach for a humanitarian aid organization.  Instead of providing a service (which usually comes with expensive overhead and can create dependencies) they just give cash to poor people, no strings attached.  Surprisingly, research has shown that this is a very effective way of improving the quality of life for the poor.  On average they are responsible with the money and invest it in a manor that will significantly improve their quality of life such as invest in a tin roof (a thatch roof needs to be replaced several times a year) or livestock. 
  • Save the Children This is a large NGO that deals with a number of humanitarian issues, mostly education and health care for children.  Here they have the option of sponsoring a child, purchasing gifts such as livestock, and other neat donation options.  It is a very large organization so there is some overhead (including their CEO's high salary) but overall it seems like they do make a positive impact.
  • The HELP foundation is a smaller NGO that works in one region of the Philippines.  They deal with health issues, education, and help to provide income for low wage earners by selling handicraft abroad and sending the money back to the local workers.  One of my students is a volunteer for this NGO and worked in the Philippines and noted the positive impact on the local economy and in the lives of the participants. They also offer the option of sponsoring a child's education.  Since this is a small local NGO it seems that overhead is significantly smaller than some of the global NGO's.  If you want to make sure your 10 or 20 bucks makes a difference this might be the organization
  • Pencil's of Promise is an NGO that invests in education in Ghana, Laos, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.  The founder came across a street orphan in India and asked him if he could have anything in the world what would he ask for.  The boy responded that he would ask for a pencil.  This NGO merges some business practices to increase accountability and transparency that sometimes can be missing from other NGO's.  
For a major global reduction of poverty many things will have to happen.  Better governance in impoverished countries, a decrease in conflict around the world, and better policies from Western countries towards poor countries.  Often poor countries don't need aid they need access to markets (US and EU agriculture subsidies being the prime example).  Large multinational corporations should be more responsible in paying their taxes and should feel more responsibility to develop local economies.  In Africa crude oil is exported refined elsewhere then repurchased at a higher price.  The extraction of crude oil meanwhile giving very little employment opportunities to locals.  Natural resources should be refined and processed in the same locations to provide meaningful employment.

No one reading this blog will be able to change US trade policy or Chevron's business model, but don't be discouraged a difference can be made.  Small donations to these NGO's won't change the world, but it will change someone's world. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Our firstborn is one year old! And she is pretty much super awesome.

First of all, like many kids, she loves throwing stuff in the toilet. She also knows some how what this tool is for:

She likes to ride in the laundry basket.

And she is very cute all the time, like when she hugs her blanky and falls asleep on her lamb.

She had a birthday party! She sat on her presents all day before we opened them. Owned!
Most of them are from America from Grandma and Grandpa. Thank you!

She got a new jacket and had to try it on her head. 

She got a lion walker and enjoys is very much. More that the walker itself she loves the box where it was in. She sits on it regularly.

And she loves her cute new doll. 

The day of her birthday was fun! New stuff is exciting. And the most exciting thing is to be a parent and see her get excited. People, get kids if you don´t have them yet. It is hard, too, but mostly it just makes things more fun and it makes it possible to get excited about things that you may have hated before, like snow or winter.