Monday, 30 June 2008

Shonen Knife

The first time I heard Shonen Knife ( was maybe '92 or so on KLZR in Lawrence, Kansas. At that time it was a pretty cool radio station playing mostly alternative music. The song I heard was My Favorite Town Osaka.

As soon as I found out the name of the band, I went and bought Let's Knife, which includes this song: Riding on the Rocket.

Shonen Knife always puts a smile on my face and a Hello Kitty in my heart.

From their album Rock Animals:
Brown Mushrooms
Tomato Head

From their album Brand New Knife:
Wind Your Spring

From various other albums:
It's a New Find
Mass Communication Breakdown

Still with me? In that case, you might be interested in these cuts from their very first album, Minna Tanoshiku, which was released on cassette in Japan in 1982.
Miracles, which can be compared to Miracles from the album Burning Farm.
Parallel Woman
Burning Farm, which you can compare with Burning Farm from 1992's Let's Knife. If you like any of those songs, you can read more about the album here. You can also download that very rare album there. When I tried, the link didn't work but the link did. I didn't try downloading from the link, but it looks as if the file's still there.

Philip, enjoy!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Economic Review

A review of some recent articles about the economy in this part of the world. I'll just translate selected parts of each article.

DnB Nord: We Live Half as Well as the Richest EU Countries

The highest standard of living in the European Union can be found in Denmark ... and its standard of living is twice that of Lithuania. Growing at the same tempo it did last year, Estonia could catch up with Denmark in about 2020, and Lithuania and Latvia would require another three to five years.

If our country does not make the adjustments that are needed, however, it could, according to its rate of growth, become an outsider among its neighbors.

These comments were made on 12 June by DnB Nord Bank chief analyst Rimantas Rudzkis when he was presenting the bank's economic review of the six Baltic Sea countries.

"No one believes that the economies of Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia will hit rock bottom. The talk is about a loss in tempo", the analyst emphasized.

He said the the inactivity of the government could cause Lithuania to become an outsider compared to Latvia, Estonia and Poland since, for example, the reform of the educational system in Estonia took place long ago, the labor market is more flexible, and the taxation system is simpler, not only in Estonia, but also in Latvia.

"If the business and investment climate here doesn't get better, we are in danger of becoming outsiders. These problems in Lithuania have been brewing for quite some time, but nothing is changing. Most likely Prof. Kestutis Glaveckas was correct when he said that it would take a crisis for us to start solving such problems", Rudzkis said.

He admitted that the political situation in Lithuania is not favorable since no one political party has a solid majority.

"It seems to me that investors from the West probably think that our conflicts with our neighbors to the east are troubling. Investors are not interested in ideologies. They are interested in earnings and they go to those countries that get along better with such a market as Russia", the analyst added.

The article continues...

And another article:

World Bank: Baltic Countries Are Dealing Well with Crisis

According to a report (the EU10 Regular Economic Report) prepared by the World Bank, the ten former communist countries that are now members of the European Union are adapting fairly well to the slowdown in the global economy...

And another article:

Dalia Grybauskaite: It Is Necessary to Forget Cheap Fuel and Food

European Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite continues to call the activities of the Lithuanian cabinet of ministers "a feast in a time of famine" that is only getting bigger as time goes on. She says that the government is not properly fighting rising food and fuel prices, and in place of negotiations about keeping the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant open for a longer period of time, only technical consultations are taking place.

"For a country that wants to introduce the euro, Lithuania looks bad and is going to look even worse."

"There is always a way out. Only competence and political will is needed", Dalia Grybauskaite, the European commissioner for financial programming and the budget [from Lithuania], said to journalists on 20 June...

The rest of the article goes on to say that she thinks both those things (competence and political will) are missing. The prime minister didn't take kindly to her criticism and said her criticism was harmful to the country and accused her of politicking (Kirkilas: Grybauskaite's Criticism of the Government Is Harmful to Lithuania). In turn, Grybauskaite said that she was only passing on the opinion of the European Commission (Grybauskaite: Criticism of Lithuania Is Official Opinion of European Commission).

I haven't begun stockpiling food and weapons yet (would probably need to move to the United States to do such a thing), but I have a feeling that things could get quite bad and no matter what will certainly get worse before they get better.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Australian Music

It must have been about 1983 when my Australian pen pal Marcelle (I wonder what happened to her?) sent me Australian Crawl's Semantics EP. My cassette long ago gave up the ghost, but Australian Crawl is still alive and well on YouTube. Reckless (Don't Be So). It still sounds great.

Burke and Wills and camels,
Initials in the trees

I'd always wondered what that meant. Found out yesterday:

And another great Australian band: Midnight Oil Beds Are Burning

Some other music from the land down under: Powderfinger (see and
On My Mind
By the way, Tim, Benmont Tench played piano and keyboards on the group's most recent album, Dream Days at the Hotel Existence.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Musical Box

For fans of old Genesis and progressive rock: The Musical Box.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

James Low

If you like your music with a bit of a country twang, check this out. James Low. It's well worth a listen and there are two(!) albums worth of music there to listen to. It's good stuff, Maynard. Take my word for it.

My friend Tim (see also,, and -- need a jingle, graphic designing, website designing?) is the bass player for James.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Who's in Charge of Corruption

Here's an article I found on The translation is mine.

Jurgis Jurgelis. Who Is in Charge of Corruption?

This spring, masked officers pried open the doors of several local governments. Not long after that, the doors of several jail cells slammed shut. Political attack, conspiracy, and clique were words that could be heard coming from the lips of those who were arrested. A hit below the belt was the response of the arrestees' friends who remained free. People said that it was the work of the STT [the Specialiųjų tyrimų tarnyba, the main anti-corruption body in Lithuania].

In general, corruption is not a law enforcement problem, but a management [could also be translated governing] problem. It arises because of the lack of order: lack of oversight, responsibility, proper personnel policies, transparent decision making, openness, etc. Law enforcement only picks the fruit of this "order". Without a change in the way things are managed, this fruit will always be in season.

On the other hand, the crime of corruption is a hard nut to crack even for the most efficient law enforcement agency because:

  • such crimes are committed by educated people;
  • both sides (the givers and the takers) are making an agreement and for that reason neither side complains;
  • well-organized corruption leaves no physical evidence;
  • the technology used by law enforcement becomes old very quickly—now everyone knows that you shouldn't say certain things on your mobile telephone;
  • the bigger the corruption, the higher up the chain of command.

Whoever controls the country also controls corruption

Corruption always appears in certain spheres: privatization, return of formerly held (later nationalized) property, bidding for government contracts, issue of various licences, distribution of European fund money, etc. Whoever is in charge of these spheres is in charge of the corruption in those spheres. There is no separate ministry of corruption (anticorruption) in the country—a sphere can be managed well and corruption can be controlled (limited). It is also possible to govern poorly and allow corruption to flourish.

In principle, only those institutions or those authorities in whose hands the control of the country rests are able to change the situation. It would be difficult for anyone else to do anything, except perhaps change the government.

Political will

This is the ability of the government to understand and to want and to be able to do something, in this case, limit corruption. When a national strategy to fight corruption was prepared, it received more or less this evaluation in the halls of government: "There are some interesting things there. I'll have to read through it". And that means that the strategy will never be put into practice, because what is needed is not to read through it but fight for it. In democratic countries political will is born and shaped in political parties. Political parties form the representative government, which forms policies and governs.

Our parties (some more than others) have certain problems with corruption. They are tormented by non-transparent sources of money. The parties admit that it is necessary to make it illegal for legal entities to provide financial support to parties. But they do not dare to make that illegal because they need the money.

The STT reveals another party-corruption handicap, the sale of people—members of parliamentary groups. A party wanting to get more power can buy members of other groups or at least temporarily rent his vote. There are other party-corruption problems. Political will is touched by corruption.

It is necessary to note that in the European countries in which corruption has been more or less eliminated, parties (not organizations like the STT) fight for clean politics in their own ranks, they control the members of parliament and ministers that represent them, etc. A corrupt government official could bring the party huge losses and hurt its authority. Here it does not harm parties at all.

Some propaganda

Two years ago the political groups in the parliament signed an agreement about unifying in the fight against corruption. There was talk and there were remarks to the effect that the agreement was of a propagandistic nature. With the passage of two years, it would be proper to discuss the result that have been achieved and let people know what has been done, what has not been done, and what will be done. But there will apparently be no compilation of the results, since there is not really anything to compile. The agreement will lose its spark and fade away silently, without anyone noticing. No one needs to discuss propaganda.

Who is leading the front line?

There is no one in that position. There is also no responsibility for the front.

Some time earlier an attempt was made to put the STT in that position. But the STT does not have the authority to give orders to governmental units, require that they take certain steps, or demand certain results from them. It can only desire, suggest, ask, ask again, and ask yet again.

At this time, several anti-corruption commissions operate in Lithuania. There is one in the parliament, one that is connected with the Interior Ministry, one that is run by the Interior Ministry, and one that is connected with the Cabinet of Ministers. They all do certain jobs. But not one of them has enough authority or the obligation to lead the country's fight against corruption. And for that reason, they do not have to answer for the situation in the country.

The position of leader of the front is open. It could be occupied the the Cabinet of Ministers. The leaders of the country could use their power and the power of governmental institutions they manage in this fight. No matter what, a leader who is willing to take responsibility is needed. Maybe after elections.

Not really so bad

A significant amount of money is spent (although of course more is needed) fighting corruption. We have a special organization to fight corruption, the STT. There are also other organizations fighting against corruption. There are no fewer than in other European countries.

According to level of corruption, the situation in Lithuania is not the worst in the European Union. It is true that we are starting to slip at little behind Slovenia and Estonia, which were earlier about level with us, but have now passed us up. We are floundering in the same place with our neighbors Latvia and Poland. We are in a better position than the new members of the EU, Romania and Bulgaria. If Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine join the EU some day, there will be even more countries in a worse situation. Not bad.

There are countries that are in incomparably worse shape, for example Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and even Russia. But the discussion is not about Africa or Russia or even about the index of corruption in various countries around the world. As one French writer said, it is not the poverty that a people live in that is terrible; what is terrible is when people get used to living in poverty.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Vilnius II

A short clip about Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, can be found here, courtesy of the Vilnius Tourist Information Centre. The clip can be viewed in Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, German, and English.

I'm already preparing for the onslaught of tourists. Just give me a couple of weeks notice if you plan to stay with us.

Will work as a guide for food and drinks.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

You Know You've Been in Lithuania Too Long When:

An e-mail forward I received from a friend of mine. (Thanks, Steve.) Rather humorous and provides some insight into what it means to live in Lithuania (too long).

You know you've been in Lithuania too long when:

· You only eat in restaurant-chains that start with Čili.
· You put ketchup on your pizza and think that's the way the Italians do it.
· Half of your friends disappear to work in the British Isles, Scandinavia, or the United States and you think that's normal.
· You have become tired of explaining to your friends and relatives at home that you are a) not in Latvia, b) not in Russia, and c) Riga isn't the capital of the Baltic.
· With a meal, you drink either beer or tea.
· Basketball has become the most important thing in your life.
· There is only one beer for you: Švyturys Extra.
· Half of the population working as "managers" seems reasonable to you.
· Tall, blonde beauties in short skirts are nothing special for you anymore.
· During winter, instead of looking for a thermostat to adjust the temperature in your room, you just open the window.
· You learned everything about the glorious Lithuanian language, and now you get angry about the ignorant people who deny the existence of a Lithuanian language or, worse, consider it some branch of the Slavic languages.
· You've learned the hard way that a triangle means women's toilet and a triangle upside down means men's.
· During a long night of partying, you went out to take a pee in the cold streets because there was only one unisex toilet in the whole pub.
· You think drunks shouting at you in Russian are a normal part of life.
· When you enter a bus and there is no strange smell, you think there's something wrong.
· Buses without antennae seem awkward to you.
· If anything goes wrong, you blame the Russians, the Poles, or the rest of the world.
· You see someone smiling in public and you think: well, a bloody foreigner.
· A meal for you must contain either potato or meat, but usually both.
· You start leaving out the articles, even in English or your native language.
· You become scared when you come upon big old babushkas in furs because they trample everything in their way.
· You are afraid crossing a street, especially at zebra crossings or traffic lights.
· You feel guilty about wearing your shoes after entering a flat.
· You consider cranberry the best flavour for water, juice and vodka.
· You think beer is a soft drink, not an alcoholic beverage.
· Going to the opera, the concert hall, or the theatre is just a usual thing to do in the evenings.
· Given names like Christmas tree, sun, amber, diamond, and oak seem normal to you.
· Everything 50 m above sea level seems like a mountain.
· You get a one-centimetre haircut and buy a fake leather jacket and a black cap (if you are male) OR you buy a skirt the size of a belt and don't leave the house without tonnes of make-up (if you are female).
· You consider smoked pig's ears a tasty beer snack.
· You love the Baltic Sea and go swimming there at nearly any temperature.
· For you, garlic has become an ingredient just like salt or pepper.
· You consider Lithuania the best and worst place on earth at the same time.
· You teach everybody that in medieval times the Lithuanian Grand Duchy ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
· You add "as", "a" or "is" to the end of foreign names so you can conjugate them.
· You carry around five cell phones and several cards from eight different phone companies so that you always get the best price.
· You consider fastening your seatbelt a sign of weakness and are not surprised if a car doesn’t have seatbelts at all.
· You think Coca Cola is the unhealthiest drink in the world and that drinking lots of beer, sugary juice, and bread drink prolongs your life.
· You haven't seen a clear sky for months and you don't miss it anymore.
· You consider rain the norm and sunshine a special weather phenomenon.

Monday, 9 June 2008

On the Verge of a Catastophe?

I found this article here, on, and it seemed rather interesting. The global ecomonic crisis, if it can be called that, is worrying, but I'm in no position to say whether we're any worse off here than anywhere else in the world (besides the fact that prices for about everything but food and services were always too high [close to or higher than prices in Western Europe] and now food and services are catching up). This article suggests that indeed things are worse here. The translation is mine, and as usual, I am solely to blame for any mistakes or omissions (except of course those that occur in the original article).

Lithuania -- On the Brink of Disaster

"What can you do when the members of your family complain about the rising prices of food, gasoline, and airline tickets?" a British journalist asked in the Sunday Times. The answer was this: "Just for a minute consider how someone from Ukraine, where food prices have risen 30 percent in the past year, feels."

Britons are complaining that it will not be possible to tolerate inflation, which in April reached 3 percent, while in Eastern Europe and Russia consumer prices have experienced double-digit growth. People in Eastern Europe are already beginning to panic, although the most important cause of inflation, the rising cost of food products, is the same in both Eastern and Western Europe. The difference is that in poorer countries the amount of money spent on food makes up a bigger part of the cost of living: 60 percent in Ukraine, 40 percent in Russia, almost 26 percent in Lithuania, and barely 10 percent in the United Kingdom.

Besides that, there is a very serious situation in the Eastern European labor market not only because there are too many cleaners or plumbers, but also because inflation is having a strong effect on salaries. In the private sector in Hungary, salaries have gone up 9 percent over the past year. Even if prices for food products go down at the end of the year, inflation will not be stopped.

The West has become concerned about rising inflation in Eastern Europe. First of all, that is because they have been encouraged to pump massive investments into those countries in the belief that as the economies of those countries grow, inflation will fall. But those "new markets" are suffering from a problem that make the "credit bubble" in the West look like a fairy tale in comparison. Experts from the investment bank Morgan Stanley have already called Eastern Europe the next place for a catastrophe and have begun comparing it to Asia in 1997.

Eastern Europe is deeply in debt and that debt is quickly getting bigger. In Latvia in 2002–2006, real estate prices grew 40 percent (though they have gone down a bit recently). The complaints of people in the West do not appear to be worth any attention if compared to what is going on in Latvia and its neighbors.

There are experts, however, who say that the situation in Europe will not affect other regions of the world such as Asia and Latin America. The countries of Asia have truly recovered from the crisis of more than ten years ago. Even though inflation stands at 8 percent in China, if food prices are not counted, the figure falls to just 1.8 percent. Latin America is now being flooded with money, and prices for the most important raw materials are growing in leaps and bounds. It would be naive to expect that the "new markets" will protect the West from recession, however. Climbing inflation could destroy macroeconomic stability. In the worst case, investors will lose faith in the local currency. There is more faith in Eastern Europe, where investments are made in euros and Swiss francs. Some economists have warned, however, that having such faith may lead some to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire since large debts will not be the cause of the crisis in those countries, as has happened more than once. "Everything can be blamed on easy money", Morgan Stanley economist Joachim Fels says. Professor Carmen Reinhart of Maryland University agrees with him: "Technology, the height of people, and fashion change. What doesn't change is the desire of governments and investors to fool themselves."

Nine countries on the brink of disaster:
1. Jamaica
2. Ukraine
3. Kazakhstan
4. Bulgaria
5. Surinam
6. Latvia
7. Lithuania
8. Vietnam
9. Sri Lanka

Sunday, 8 June 2008

No Jail for Paralytic Driver

This is my third and final update of the story of Kestutis Zutautas, a Lithuanian who got caught for drunken driving in the Shetland Islands. The final article from the Shetland News can be found here. My previous posts about this can be found here: I and II. Thanks, Phil.

And a musical interlude:
Little Green Machine -- Most of the members of this band are from the Shetland Islands, or at least that's what Phil tells me...

Friday, 6 June 2008

Food for Thought

I found this article, which is about the link between the food crisis and biofuel production, quite interesting.

Here's a quotation from that article:

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has challenged critics who claim biofuel production is contributing to high food prices and demand, arguing the problem lies instead in poor agricultural and distribution models.

"It is not ethanol that is causing food prices to rise, because Brazil, which produces more biofuel, also produces more food," he has said.

That view has support among government analysts.

The food crisis "is a problem of wealth distribution, a political problem," said Giselle Ferreira de Araujo, who works for the state National Council for Scientific and Technological Development.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Peter Gabriel Break

A few days ago I saw some fairly recent photos of Peter Gabriel. They made me realize several things.

1. He's getting old. Surprise, surprise.
2. I've been "out of the loop" for a long time. I'm sure I would have seem him on TV or in a newspaper in the States, i.e., it's been a long time since I've seen his photo.
3. If he's getting old, I must also be getting old. Well, that's nothing new but something I try not to think about.

A few videos:
Digging in the Dirt


Shakin' the Tree

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

20th Anniversary of Sąjūdis

The 20th anniversary of Sąjūdis, the organization that helped usher in the reestablishment of the independence of Lithuania, is being celebrated in Lithuania this week. Meetings, conferences, television and radio programs, and concerts are taking place to mark this event.

An interesting thing I learned was that one of the initial goals of this movement was not reestablishing independence but overcoming bureaucracy. And boy, oh boy, was that goal not met. That still remains one of the biggest obstacles here. Not only does it directly hinder economic development, but it also stifles the initiative of people and in general makes life extremely difficult. And there is no doubt that it encourages the all-pervasive corruption that plagues Lithuanian society.

I've decided that this blog can be a modest forum for exposing those who ask for bribes. I've been asked for bribes a few times in my 10+ years here, but I won't dredge up the past. But from now on, I resolve to record such events here.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Fire or The End of an Era

Here's an article as it appeared in the Hutchinson News. The event occurred on 12 May.

Fire Damages Portions of Pretty Prairie Couple's Home

Leon and Linda Hendrixson returned home from the bank and the hardware store Monday to discover their house on fire.

"I didn't even go inside," Linda Hendrixson said. "I knew it was on fire before I got to the door."

She smelled smoke and heard "popping noises" coming from their home at 14413 S. Whiteside Road, located south of Arlington Road in Reno County, Linda said.

Leon Hendrixson turned the gas off and the couple went to a neighbor's house to call authorities.

Then, surrounded by family and friends, they watched from afar as about a dozen firefighters from Pretty Prairie and Reno County fire departments worked to put out the blaze.

Fire officials told the Hendrixsons the kitchen and back portion of their home - where they have lived since 1962 - were a total loss.

Officials are still investigating the cause of the 9:30 a.m. fire but think it started on the back porch, said Pretty Prairie Fire Chief Rick Graber.

"There is a gas heater there they had run a little this morning," he speculated. Linda Hendrixson lamented the loss of her kitchen, which had been completely remodeled last summer, and wondered whether their new beds, antiques and her sewing machine could be salvaged.

The couple does have insurance, but it "will never be enough," she said as she watched firefighters spray down the scorched wood.

She'd been looking forward to a visit from her son, Alan, a teacher living in Lithuania who was set to return home in July with his wife and children.

For now, the couple will stay with family living near Yoder and wait to assess the damage.

Graber said there was no burn damage to the rest of the house, but there was heat and smoke damage.

He said officials have not yet calculated the total loss. "Everybody got out, and nobody was hurt," he said. "There was a lot of damage, but they might be able to save a lot, too."

Well, for any who don't know, the article is talking about my parents' house, the house where I grew up. The fire took place almost exactly two weeks before my father's 87th birthday, which was on May 25. The house was declared a total loss by the insurance company.

I can't imagine what my parents felt as they watched their house go up in flames. At least some family mambers were there to comfort them. And from what I've heard, the response of the community has been nothing less than amazing, which must also help keep their spirits up. Still, losing one's house, I can only imagine, must be terribly traumatic, especially for people who are 86 and 82. On a slightly brighter side, many antiques and family mementos were salvaged.

I knew that old house wouldn't always be around, but hearing that I wouldn't get to spend my summer there on the farm (my family will travel from Lithuania to Kansas to spend most of this summer with my parents) was painful. It seems that my parents will now move to the nearby town of Pretty Prairie. I hope they are able to make the adjustment of moving from a rural setting. I know my dad will miss being able to go out to his shop and putter around.

I had planned to publish this earlier, but I was hoping that I would receive some photos. None have arrived, but I can nevertheless add a couple of photos of how the place looked. These were taken during a visit about five years ago.