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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Compulsory Military Education Blues

Compulsory military education strengthens our defense!

The Georgian educational system sure does look different when you are an expecting parent. That $180 dollar a month salary that teachers make (nearly ½ the national average working wage) looks a hell of a lot more like what it really is – a downright travesty. That’s 45$ a week to teach our children reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Or 9$ a day to keep a classroom of children motivated and focused, which in Georgia is akin to herding cats.

Before President Misha’s education reform, teachers made even less, so they are supposed to be grateful for the increase in pay. But back in December, teachers hit the streets to protest against the government’s decision to whack the “13th month” bonus, a Soviet-era policy to reward teachers an extra month’s measly pay for their hard work throughout the year.

“Gee,” you ask yourself, “is an underpaid, disgruntled teacher more or less likely to transfer their contempt of the system and situation into the classroom?” You don’t see the president, members of parliament and the education ministry sending their kids to public schools for a reason.

Despite the obvious shortcomings of the public educational system, I feel that if other children have survived the starkly bleak, often unheated classrooms and antiquated methodology, and gone on to higher education in the west, then mine can too. At least that’s what I thought until I read about Saakashvili’s great idea to add military-patriotic training into the curriculum. The president wants school children to defend the country against the Russian air force.

In a meeting with teachers and pupils in Batumi earlier this month the president said, “It is necessary in order to help the children to at least understand many things about their country; and also as we have already seen, everything can happen, and Georgia and Georgians should be able to defend at least their village, their town or their district.” (

Misha’s been on this defend our country bender for a while. Back in November he announced his vision of setting up cadet schools to train kids in the art of warfare at the ripe, pubescent age of 14. In December he stated every home should “become a fortress of resistance.”

So a couple days ago, at the behest of Misha, the education ministry announced it is introducing new curriculum for civil defense and safety classes in general schools, which is part of the second installment of education reform. While the package includes indispensable lessons in road safety and first aid, children also get to learn about the history of the Georgian army and its armaments.

Isn’t this a bit over the top? Here we are ten years into the 21st century and some people are still living in the 13th. Queen Tamara died 800 years ago and Georgia hasn’t been able to defend itself since – not from foreign invaders or from itself. War destroyed the nation in the 1990s and two summers ago the Georgian army lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia for good in 5 days. They would have lost Tbilisi and the rest of the country too if not for the generosity of Russia.

I think it’s safe to say Georgia hasn’t had much luck with guns and stuff. Children cultivated in the evils of warfare are not going to save the country from the next Russian invasion. Might be time to nurture a new strategy, like preventive war.

Let children play army and kill invisible Russians all they want after school, but don’t force my daughter to learn about all the weapons Georgia has bought from the US, Israel, etcetera, etcetera, when the tools she is really going to need for the future are those that help her read, write and avoid pissing off a teacher that gets paid less than a garbage man.

(images lifted off,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Ugly American Social Syndrome (UASS)

The Ugly American slammed the ashtray on the bar and shouted repeatedly: “Are you serving here or are you talking?” The veins on his neck were pumping, bestowing a beet-redness to his otherwise pink face. The American was big, inebriated and used to having his way.

Misha, the bartender, turned around and asked the man to wait one moment but that only poured gasoline onto the Ugly American’s flaming deportment. As his screams caught the attention of the patrons throughout the restaurant, the man’s companions attempted to calm their comrade down by pulling him away, which only provoked resistance and made him bellow louder. None of his friends had the guts to tell him he was being extremely rude and perhaps because he was American, with a neck as thick as a Howitzer, the bouncers were nowhere to be seen… and they are always seen.

The most regrettable aspect of this proud moment was that most of this group of fellow Americans were government employees, sent to perform our foreign policy duties here in the hospitable land of Georgia.

“Paul, are these your friends?” Misha asked after serving the goon’s order.

I knew that was coming. Guilt by association. How to explain to a guy that just had his ass chewed out by a guest in his country that you can take the Ugly American out of America, but you can’t take the Ugliness out of that American? It was easier to pass the buck.

“We’re not all like that, really,” I said. “They work for the State Department.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year's Eve Blues

For the rich and unimaginative, the Radisson Hotel was the place to be on New Year’s Eve in Georgia. The 300$ a head banquet room, that had once been the site of a kiosk stand just a few years ago when Abkhazian refugees occupied the former hotel, was filled to capacity with 30-something year old Georgian men puffing on their annual New Year’s Eve Cuban cigars, while their luxuriously dressed women all scrutinized each other from raised chins. In one corner, a table of maidens sat together exploiting cigarettes for their fashion value, as if they had just learned to smoke minutes earlier.

The wait staff delivered French Champagne, Johnny Walker Blue label and Chivas Regal to the tables. We, the band, got water, upon request. Every 30 minutes or so, we took a break for the raffle. Every New Year’s party in the city has some sort of variety show and gift give-away and the Radisson was no exception. I stood in the wing between the sound guy and a table of blue hairs. An old lady next to me asked when the Brazilian dancers were starting. “I don’t know. After us,” I replied. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

The manager had asked us to dress in white shirts and black slacks. We looked like servants and played like servants. Nobody was listening expect for the token drunk at the end of our third set, who came up to the foot of the stage and teetered to the music. We finished up around 4 to no applause whatsoever. That would come later, when the Brazilian dancers arrived on the dance floor.

(photos lifted off and