Cliff Gardner

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I went to church with my mom today. For the sake of full disclosure, I should say that it was a Baptist church. It was a weird experience for me. On the one hand, I don't really object to about 90% of what's being said. I believe in God (as a Baha'i, I think my position on this is pretty clear), that it's awesome to be a good person and to treat others well, and that more often then not, people who are religious tend to me nice. On the other hand, and maybe this is the debater in my that can't sit still while someone's talking without mentally attacking all the weaker points in their argument, I was able to recognize that there are plenty of religious people who aren't that nice.

Pretend for a second you are about to be set up on a blind date. You have two choices: A) a smart, successful, attractive person who has similar interests and hobbies as you, and B) a smart, successful, attractive person who has similar interests and hobbies as you would describe themselves as very religious. Chuck Klosterman offers this same hypothetical about "extremely patriotic" people, and I think it's a very similar analogy and that the results would probably be similar--the vast majority of people I know, of my close friends, would immediately choose person A. Now, I am patriotic and religious, and I would still choose person A, too, because, for a variety of reasons, my knee-jerk reaction is to be uncomfortable around religious people.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catching up

"Someone Who Will Watch Over Me," by Frank McGinnis, is one of the most terrible duo's ever. Two guys from Sam Barlow did that duo my junior year of high school and edged David and I out at the National Qualifying Tournament and at state because, well, we had a terrible, overdone, "high school in Oregon" piece that our coach was too incompetent to wave off, so we wasted our abilities on the interpretive equivalent of an athlete saying, "you've got to just take it one day at a time," in a post-game news conference. But I digress.

In this particular piece, two British guys are imprisoned somewhere and they think about all the stuff they want to do and all the things they want to eat when they get out. In Ukraine I frequently made lists like that in my head--I think we all did--and here's my partial list:

--See lots of movies: CHECK. I've rented and watched "Hard Candy," "The Queen," "Indiana Jones 4," "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," the entire fourth season of "Nip/Tuck," and "Lions for Lambs." "Before the Devil..." is by far the best. If you haven't seen this, GO RENT IT RIGHT NOW.

--Go to a movie theatre: NOPE. I haven't gotten out to one yet, largely because nothing in the theatres interests me...but I will go soon.

--Go to a Taco Bell: NOPE. This one really surprises me. In Ukraine I thought about Taco Bell a lot, at least 3-4 times a week, so if you would have told me I would have been home for a week and NOT gone to one, I wouldn't have believed it. I really have no excuse. I'll go.

--Watch the Portland Trailblazers on TV-- CHECK. I watched my boys beat up on Sacramento (twice) and Chicago, and David and I are going to see the Heat game tomorrow. I'm SOOO excited!

--Get new shoes: CHECK...kind of. I got some new Doc Martin's the day after I got back, but they're being shipped to me.

--Start running again: CHECK...and...NOPE. I ran the first two days after I got back, but then I decided to bow to popular opinion and stop running because I look better the way I am. The consensus is that I look MUCH healthier since I've put on about 20 pounds during my Peace Corps service. As a Peace Corps employee told me before I left, "You have become a man in this country!" I'll be healthier and yet slightly let in shape if that's the case, so pass the fries.

This list is longer and I promise to keep updating it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Top 20 NBA Salaries:

1. Kevin Garnett (Boston) $24,751,934 --About right...SLIGHTLY too much, but worth it to keep him happy. Unless he has a stroke during a Tuesday game against the Grizzlies. Then it's a bad deal.

2t. Jason Kidd (Dallas) $21,372,000--Maybe ten years ago...wait, that's about when this deal was signed. Ouch. Maybe he can get his gold medal back from that Casino in vegas and sell it for a new pair of legs.

2t. Jermaine O'Neal (Toronto) $21,372,000--max money for a bench player who acts like he's 12 because that's when people stopped holding him accountable for any decision he made? Ouch.

4. Kobe Bryant (L.A. Lakers) $21,262,500--Not enough. Mamba!

5. Shaquille O'Neal (Phoenix) $21,000,000--Does he make that on his days off? Does this cover the cement they coat his legs with before each home game? I get that he's playing better this year, but this was still a stupid deal for Miami to give him after they won the title considering how he played in the playoffs.

6t. Allen Iverson (Detroit) $20,840,625--About 10 mill too high. Enjoy Charlotte next year, AI.

6t. Stephon Marbury (New York) $20,840,625--Mike D can now light himself on fire while jerking-off to game footage of Derrick Rose.

8. Tim Duncan (San Antonio) $20,598,704--He's there only good player now--and their only hope to stay in it while their whole fucking roster is injured--so it's about right. BRING BACK BIG SHOT ROB!

9. Tracy McGrady (Houston) $20,370,437--T-MAC! The Rockets don't win without him in the playoffs, so probably worth it, even though he's always hurt.

10. Ray Allen (Boston) $18,388,430--About 2-3 mill too high. Here's an idea--convince him to film a "He Got Game" sequel this summer to make up what he'll lose in his new contract!

11. Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) $18,077,904--Look, he's GOOD. And he'll probably never win a ring unless it's the "Mitch Richmond jumping on the Lakers at the end of his career" type deal. Sad.

12. Paul Pierce (Boston) $18,077,903--He's playing like he wants to be known as the best in the league, and while that's debatable, guys with that attitude deserve this kind of money.

13. Shawn Marion (Miami) $17,810,000--This guy will end up being involved with more teams than Larry Brown before all's said and done. He's just good enough to help you and just bad enough to keep you from winning it all (unless of course he was playing in the perfect system for him that strongly emphasized his strengths. Sorry Suns fans).

14. Rashard Lewis (Orlando) $16,447,871--Wait, lil-bow-wow plays for the Magic?

15. Michael Redd (Milwaukee) $15,780,000--You know that girl who dates that total jerk off for years and seems completely oblivious to how shitty the situation is? That's Michael Redd in Milwaukee.

16t. Pau Gasol (L.A. Lakers) $15,106,000--About right--maybe a little to low considering that the Lakers don't win a title without good playoff games from him. Still, the neck beard makes this salary appropriate.

16t. Andrei Kirilenko (Utah) $15,106,000--The Jazz will lose Boozer to free agency and will trade AK-47 for one of those Brevin Knight-Emeka Okafor deals that makes everyone cringe. Mark my words--the Jazz are on the way out and Williams will be the next Jason Kidd in 5 years.

18t. Amare Stoudemire (Pho.) $15,070,550--About right. As much as he wants to prove to everyone that he's the best player ever, and while I agree he has that potential, he hasn't done it yet. Until he gets there, this is about right.

18t. Yao Ming (Houston) $15,070,550. I watched a really good Rockets-Wizards game the other night, and Yao just dominated down the stretch in the post with a few big boards and monster dunks. People forget that he's actually really good--a great passer and solid shooter. While his d is suspect, he still gives you more than he takes away. This is right for him.

20. Mike Bibby (Atlanta) $14,983,600. Atlanta needs leadership and he was the only one on those early-2000's Kings teams that had any heart at all. I like him in Atlanta. While that team won't win a playoff series, they're still a little dangerous because of what Joe Johnson can do, and Bibby adds one more weapon for them.

Those were the top 20 Salaries. These guys need to be making more money, though:

1) Brandon Roy (Portland) $3,084,240. If he's your best player, you CAN win a title. That deserves max-money in my book.

2) LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland) $4,631,400. The Blazers are only as good as LaMarcus. If he gives the Blazers 20-10, they're VERY tough to beat. If he stinks like he did last week againt Golden State (4 pts, 4 rbs, 6 pf), we lose. He deserves mid-level money, probably 5-6 years and 45-50 million.

3) Rudy Fernandez (Portland) $1,084,080. He's been the 2nd best guy on the team this year and has the potential to be an all-star, even in the west, even off the bench. Right now he's either 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year voting. Honestly, when has a european import had this big of an impact this soon? It took Dirk 4-5 years to become a factor in every Mavs game. Rudy deserves about the same as LaMarcus depending on how this season goes, especially playoffs, beacuse if he lights up our first round team like he did Team USA in the gold medal game, the guy deserves max money and the key to the city.

Guys who make just the right amount of money:

1) Travis Outlaw (Portland) $4,000,000. He was the 11-12 guy on our roster for about 4 years, and since then he's molded himself into a great 3-pt shooter and legitimate defender. Still, until he proves he can do it for a whole season, this is about right.

2) Greg Oden (Portland) $5,011,680. Before he came to Portland, we were giving up 99 points a game, and since his return, we're giving up around 90. If he can stay healthy, and avoid getting stupid ticky-tac fouls, he could be the all-star everyone originally thought.

3) Joel Przybilla (Portland) $6,310,150. Yes, he should make more money than Oden, at least for now. He plays hard every night and is a BEAST on the boards. I've always liked him.

Guys who make too much money:

1) Jerryd Bayliss (Portland) $1,993,560. He tends to make bad decisions, but he is a rookie. I like Blake and Sergio more than him, though, and I think he has a "I'm mad about not getting minutes, TRADE ME" and then going someplace and being a decent back-up guard written all over him.

2) Martell Webster (Portland) $3,771,133. He's been out all year and no one's missed him since Outlaw and Batum are clearly better. Every trade machine scenerio I play with involves getting rid of him.

3) Ike Diogu (Portland) $2,912,823. He's our third-string center and he only plays in garbage time. When he plays, he's ok--he was great against Chicago, for example--but the guys ahead of him are better. Again, a good part of a trade package.

Guys who make so much money that Paul Allen should push them down a flight of stairs just to get them off our cap:

1) Raef LaFrentz (Portland): $12,722,500. Yes, that's right. Raef makes more than double what anyone else on our whole fucking roster makes. And he hasn't, to my knowledge, played a minute all season. I love Kevin Pritchard, but this one is just inexcusable.

So, my concerns for the Blazers are basically two-fold:

1) Someone will offer LaMarcus, Rudy, Oden and maybe Outlaw much more money than they should get. Like, the Clippers could offer Rudy a max deal, or the Warriors could over-bid on LaMarcus because they need size, etc. That would really hurt us because we need all those guys to stay good and we can't afford to offer all of them max-money. Roy should get max money, but if EVERYONE demands it, then we can't make a serious run at Lebron/Bosh/Nash/Dirk--though I'm not saying all those guys would work for us, just that we need cap room/flexibility.

2) The Kings or some asshole club will sign Darius Miles, the Portland Trailblazers version of herpes that just won't go away, to play 2-minutes/game for the last 10 games of the year just so he stays on our cap and we have to pay him for this season (9 million). Some mistakes you just never stop paying for.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

First thoughts back

I've been back for four days now. Some things I've enjoyed:

--watching the Blazers beat the shit out of the Bulls and Kings on TV (with a game against Phoenix tonight!)
--watching an entire season of Nip/Tuck as well as several movies that I missed while away
--going shoe shopping and spending time with my sister
--driving a car at alarming speeds (everything moves slower in Ukraine)
--running without dogs chasing me
--no trash everywhere
--spending time with mom and dad and enjoying some American home cooking!
--taking hot showers whenever I want
--drinking tap water without worrying that I'll get a stomach parasite
--how nice store clerks and people on the street are

Some things I've not enjoyed:

--people calling it THE Ukraine instead of Ukraine; people in THE America can be so stubborn
--narrowly missing out on meeting the new PCV at my old school, Michael McCovern
--running after 18 months off--OUCH!
--not speaking Russian
--people being able to understand what I'm saying about them in English
--missing my students
--missing long talks about the former Soviet Union with my host grandmother
--not having a job
--how I have an urge to eavesdrop on conversations in English (so, everything)

I'm sure they'll be more stuff to add to this list later. If you're reading this and you're in the northwest, CALL ME (503-707-6384) and we'll get together!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm back

After traveling for 36 hours, not counting the train ride to Kiev, I'm back in Forest Grove. Since I had to clear all of my blogs with Peace Corps while I was over there, they were naturally a lot less funny; I promise that will improve. I want to make something clear first, though--I really enjoyed my time in Ukraine. On the flights home I re-read my journals from my service and about 90% of the things I wrote were positive observations about Ukraine and the Peace Corps. So, when I write something about how the Post Office drove me crazy or how people never picked up their trash, please remember that those moments were the exceptions to the rule.

Overall, I HIGHLY recommend the Peace Corps. Before I joined, I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life, I had few practical skills and I had just gotten out of a long and largely unhealthy relationship. Now I know exactly what I want to do, I'm qualified to do dozens of things and I'm in a great relationship with an AMAZING woman. Peace Corps is the cause of all of that. So, like I said, I recommend the Peace Corps.

That said, when Jessica and I were at JFK eating fast food, we just looked around and cried about how happy we were to be back. I firmly believe that everyone should live abroad for a long period of time just so they appreciate how fucking great we have it here. I could and eventually will go into details about all of this but right now just know that I'm grateful to be home. I love and miss you all!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Final days

I'm all packed up and I leave Ochakiv for good tomorrow. I should be home late Tuesday night and I'm hoping for an easy flight. I'll post more about it later, but right now I'm just walking around like Thomas Hill 13 seconds in to this clip of the famous Duke-Kentucky game.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Packing up

When Peace Corps Volunteers finish their service, they frequently have far too much stuff than they can actually pack, and usually this benefits the newer PCV's in their region. I had taken advantage of this on several occasions, but this time, it was my stuff that was pillaged by my friends.

Last weekend Rosa and Wendy came to Ochakiv and took a lot of stuff that I couldn't possibly take with me, and it was a mutually beneficial transaction--they got a bunch of DVD's, bedding, towels and general office supplies that aren't available here, and I will now have a much easier time packing. However, one big thing warrants mentioning. I had left all of the stuff I planned to leave or give away in my old apartment, so when Rosa and Wendy arrived, that's where we went.

To my surprise and annoyance, I discovered that during the two weeks I had been gone from that apartment and my landlady and her husband had moved in, they had purchased and installed A) a brand-new stove with four awesome burners and an oven that could actually open/be used (instead of the crappy "no oven and one mediocre burner" that I had) and B) a brand-new hot water heater (you know, so they could actually shower instead of heating up water in buckets and pour it over themselves).

So, to review, after living in the apartment for two weeks, they found it so miserable that they made two fairly large purchases to make it more comfortable and "livable" for them, apparently not caring that that's how I was living FOR TWO YEARS. Ukrainians repeatedly ask PCV's "how can you live like this?" I never understood until last weekend that THEY don't live like we do--they live much better and much for comfortably. On a related note, I'm coming home in 8 days where I will be able to shower whenever I want with hot water and bake things for fun.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, we DID!

This is fantastic...I woke up at 5:30 this morning terrified that I hadn't heard anything about the election yet, and went outside to talk to my friend Greg so I wouldn't wake my sleeping host family. We talked for about a half hour while he was getting live updates on his computer, and every so often he would erupt with "they just called Pennsylvania!" or "they just called Ohio!" and all the while, I was watching the sun come up over the neighboring apartment buildings. That's the perfect analogy for an Obama win--the sun coming up after a long, cold night. Finally. I've never been prouder to be an American.