Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yay me!

First, I want to start off saying I had a great lunch today with the new A-100's GLIFAA folks. I love these lunches...I find them energizing! I love meeting the newest diplomats and helping them any way I can.

But I gotta ask...where the hell are the lesbians? Really folks...it seems like there are maybe five of us...and me and my wife count for two of them! Okay, I am exaggerating, but still...we need more women!

Anyway, today was also a good language day. We regularly listen to taped dialogues in class and translate to our teacher what we heard. And I understood today's really well...by the second time she played it, I was able to relate back to her almost everything that was said. Our teacher even asked if I had heard this dialogue before. But I hadn't.

Yay me!

I am sure I will be back to being stupid in Estonian by tomorrow!


If you are around the Foreign Service Institute today and are interested, please join us for the GLIFAA lunch welcoming the newest A-100 from 12:30-1:30. We will be in the cafeteria in the small room on the end closest to the Visitor's Center. There will be a sign on the door.

Allies are very welcome!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where, Oh Where?

....have the yahoo groups gone?

Tumbleweeds noticed yesterday that the FSOA and FSOT Yahoo Groups have apparently been deleted. The moderators are working with Yahoo to get them restored as quickly as possible, and have set up a temporary group, "FSOT-FSOA" for information updates.

According to the group:

The fswe, fswe_essayprep, fsscareers, and fsoa boards were hacked today (November 27). As you must be aware of by now, the perpetrator(s) deleted all three groups.We are actively working with Yahoo! to resurrect the boards, but it will likely take a few days. We know that some of you rely on the information contained being readily available at the click of a mouse, but don't panic. As Kungfu Panda learned, "There is no secret ingredient."People have been getting into the Foreign Service long before these groups were even a glint in Steffan's eyes.You can do it.--

I'd love to hear any updates anyone has. I think it is a realy shame, because I know a lot of people rely on these groups not just for information but also support. Joining the service is a long a tedious process, and having comrades who are going through the same thing is a real help.

Here's hoping they get restored soon.


I had been pondering what to say about the wikileaks debacle. But I couldn't have said it any better than NoDoubleStandards.

In Here's Hoping You Choke on that Whistle, NDS writes:

"There isn't anything virtuous about what Wikileaks -- and the scumbag USG employee who leaked these documents to Wikileaks -- has done.

Thanks to everyone disseminating this information, my colleagues at many posts around the world are literally in mortal danger.


And for what?

To satisfy the idle curiosity of a few.

To all who complain about the conduct of our foreign policy: how the hell do you expect us to protect this country and advance our foreign policy objectives without the least expectation that your reporting and analysis will be protected?"

I hope the traitor who released these is punished to the fullest extent of the law. He has put this country and the people serving it in danger for no good reason.

Top 10 Cultural Must Sees in Tallinn

UK's Guardian had this piece Saturday on our future home. Are you planning your visit yet?

Top 10 cultural must-sees in Tallinn

Local residents recommended their favourite cultural spots in the Estonian capital, including a new rooftop cinema and a museum with a labyrinth of underground passages

1. Balti Jaama Turg
This wonderful Russian market is a must-see. Every day, 50 or so stalls fill the streets opposite Balti Jaam, Tallinn's main railway station, selling anything from antiques to locally made jam. I come here to buy beautiful second-hand plates and dishes for photography in my cookbooks.
• Kopli 1, jaamaturg.ee
Anni Arro, chef and co-owner, Komeet

2. Saint Olav's Church
This 12th-century church, at the end of Pikk street, is the most beautiful in Tallinn. It's also the most unlucky: it has been hit by lightening at least eight times, and burned down three times. Once the tallest structure in the world, its 124m spire can been seen from all over the city. Climb the narrow stairs to the observation deck at the base of the spire for sweeping views.
• Lai 50, oleviste.ee; fee for tower £1.60
Julia Kuznetsova, concierge, St Petersbourg Hotel

3. Kiek in de Kök
The museum inside this great artillery tower (whose name means "peep into the kitchen" in low German because from the upper floors soldiers could peer into the houses of the lower town) is interesting, but don't miss a guided tour of its limestone bastion passages, which reopened in March with new video and sound effects. Built to conceal the movement of soldiers, the 500m of passages (half are still being dug out) were used as a bomb shelter during the 1944 Soviet bombings, and inhabited by a large community of homeless people in the 1990s.
• Komandandi tee 2, +372 644 6686, linnamuuseum.ee/kok; tour £4.70 adults, £2.60 children (booking essential)
Mikk Tamme, business consultant

4. Old Town
Katariina Käik (St Catherine's Passage) in the Old Town, lined with craftsmen's workshops, is a favourite for many visitors, but I love Pikk Jalg, or "Long Leg" (there is also a short, steep alley called Lühige Jalg, or Short Leg), which winds up to Toompea Hill. Stop on the way for coffee and a croissant at Bonaparte, a charming French bistro (Pikk 45). At Toompea Hill are the great Russian Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St Mary's Cathedral (the oldest church in Estonia, founded in 1219) and several viewing platforms, where you can see over red-tiled roofs to the Baltic sea.
• tourism.tallinn.ee
Roman Zaštšerinski, chef and co-owner, Kohvik Moon

5. Von Krahl Theatre
When I get time off, I like to watch a show at this wonderful avant-garde theatre, in a back street of the Old Town. The performances, by Estonian and foreign troupes, range from contemporary opera and dance to theatre and musicals.
• Rataskaevu 10, +372 626 9090, vonkrahl.ee; prices vary
Mae Kivilo, theatre designer and co-founder of Emma Leppermann studio

6. Kumu Art Museum
Housed in a striking limestone and glass building in Kadriorg, Kumu is Estonia's largest art museum. It houses several permanent exhibitions, as well as temporary modern painting and sculpture exhibits. Next summer, as part of the Capital of Culture line-up, it will host Gateways, presenting experimental art by younger artists.
• Weizenbergi 34, +372 602 6000, ekm.ee/eng/kumu; admission to all exhibitions £4.45 adults, £2.60 children
Georg Poslawski, coordinator at Enterprise Estonia

7. Open Air Museum
For an insight into old Estonian life, head to this open-air museum – a reconstructed rural village in a forest park on Kopli Bay, a short drive from Tallinn. Open all winter, its buildings include 12 farms, windmills, watermills, church, fire station, tavern and schoolhouse.

• Vabaõhumuusemi tee 12, +372 654 9101, evm.ee; £2.60 adults, 50p children
Triin Tähnas, freelance journalist

… and if you go later in the year …

8. Kadriorg Park
This is the first place I head once spring arrives. It is a leafy park a few tram stops from the centre, filled with oak and lilac trees and surrounded by wooden houses – many of which house small museums. It is also home to one of Tallinn's greatest buildings – the Kadriorg Palace (built by Peter the Great in the early 18th century for his wife Catherine I), which also houses the Estonian Art Museum.
• Weizenbergi 34/Valge 1, +372 602 6001, ekm.ee; palace admission £3.40 adults, £1.80 children
Bruno Marques, landscape architect and university lecturer

9. Song Festival Grounds
This stadium, just east of Kadriorg, is an amazing sight. The stage can hold 15,000 singers! Song festivals mean a lot to Estonians. In 1988, thousands gathered here to sing patriotic hymns in what became known as the Estonian Singing Revolution, which overthrew Soviet rule. Next year, from 1-3 July, a youth song and dance celebration will be a highlight of the Capital of Culture calendar, with over 35,000 young performers from across Estonia.
• Narva mnt. 95, +372 611 2102, lauluvaljak.ee
Jaak Johanson, singer and actor

10. Katusekino
This rooftop cinema is on top of the Viru shopping centre. It's closed now until May, but there's a massive inflatable screen and deckchairs for 300 viewers. Movie screenings in Tallinn will get even more exciting next year: from May to September, as part of the Capital of Culture line-up, films will be screened in museums and parks.
• Viru väljak 4/6, +372 5609 1577, katusekino.ee; tickets £3
Sten Saluveer, musician and CEO of the Plektrum Festival

Further information
How to get there: Estonian Air (0844 482 2327, estonian-air.com) flies from Gatwick to Tallinn from £142 return.

Where to stay: the Meriton Old Town Garden Hotel has doubles from €60 (+372 667 7111, meritonhotels.com)

Tip: the Tallinn Card, offering entrance to most museums and attractions for a day, discounts in shops and restaurants and free travel on local transport, costs €24 adults, €13 children (tourism.tallinn.ee)

More information: visitestonia.com and tourism.tallinn.ee

Compiled by Nicola Iseard

Culture takes centre stage in 2011
Capital of Culture Opening Ceremony 31 December-1 January

Events culminate in a midnight firework display on a platform out to sea in the Gulf of Riga. Watch from the Russalka monument in Kadriorg.

Fire Sculpture World Championships January (exact date to be confirmed)

Tallinn's skies will fill with light as the city hosts the first world championships in fire sculpting. Giant artworks of wood and straw, will be set alight – to "transform" them.

Tallinn Music Festival 24-26 March

Around 100 Estonian bands and artists will perform in the city's clubs, theatres and bars.

Straw Theatre 1 May-30 September

The Straw Theatre, to be erected at the Skoone Bastion Park, will be the biggest structure of its kind in the world. It will act as a stage for contemporary productions by both Estonian and visiting artists.

For a full calendar of events, go to tallinn2011.ee/est

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tumbleweeds is back!

Most of you don't know this, but Editfish over at Tumbleweeds was the inspiration for my blogrolls. Editfish had a pretty substantial blogroll of FS blogs, and it was that which gave me the idea of trying to have a blogroll of ALL the Foreign Service blogs (or at least all that I could find...I still search for new ones every day).

But alas, Editfish stopped publishing back in 2007. I left the link up just in case.

And it seems Editfish is back! I noticed yesterday that there were three new posts (two of them are backdated) talking about Editfish's renewed process of taking the FSOT.

I hope Editfish either is or soon will be part of the FS family.

Welcome back!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Question for You

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We had a wonderful dinner with my inlaws that included things like:

My wife: Admiral Mullen reminds me of Dad.
Mother in Law: Your father is nothing like him!
Father in Law: He's a nerd.
Me: :::Falling over laughing::::

Pot, this is the kettle. You're black.

Oh my father in law is definitely a nerd. And his daughter didn't fall far from that tree!

Anyway, while I was away, a reader asked me a question. She is likely to get "the call" soon and wanted to know what I wish I had known when I was "called up/accepted/packing out/moving to DC."

I had an unfair advantage: my wife.

So I knew I would likely be sent to Jerusalem. I knew I would likely be in DC for nearly a year getting language. So I knew I should bring to DC all the stuff I'd need to live for a year. And that I could rent an unfurnished apartment and rent furniture.

When filling out forms, I had her send me hers for me to copy.

You get the idea.

Plus I am old...my momory is fading...it seems like a really long time ago!!

So especially you newer officers...what do you wish you had known? You will be helping a lot of your future colleagues by sharing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

So Much To Be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I hope you are able to spend this holiday with those you love.

As I think about this holiday, I am overwhelmed with all the blessings in my life.

I am thankful for my beautiful wife who does double duty as my best friend. She is the person I hope to grow old with. I am thankful that we were able to be married legally, and I am hopeful we will one day soon see marriage equality throughout the country.

I am thankful for our family. I am especially grateful for those in my family who reached out to me after my estranged grandfather died this month, and for my dad, who assured me the loss was my grandfather's. My dad is a rock star. I am thankful for our friends, old and new. I am fortunate to be surrounded by so many people from all parts of my life, from my past and my present, who I love and who love me. There is simply no shortage of wonderful people in our lives.

I am thankful for our home. It is a warm, comfortable, decent place for us to live with our fur and feather children. And I am profoundly grateful for our fur and feather children, especially Koshka, who was supposed to only have a few weeks left more than a year and a half ago. We know she won't be with us much longer, but we are grateful for every day she is with us.

I am thankful for our jobs. They are stable and secure in a time when that is not something to be taken for granted. They pay us enough that we are comfortable. I am grateful to be able to pay my bills when they come without worry and to have money left over for us to do some of the things we love. We are not rich, but we are comfortable. I could not ask for more.

And I am thankful that our jobs are rewarding personally as well. We get to do interesting and meaningful work. And for me, even when it is hard, getting paid to learn a language full time for a year is a dream job. I am also deeply thankful for the honor of serving my country openly and with dignity. I hope one day soon, our brothers and sisters in uniform will be able to say that as well.

And while my year began with the devastating loss of my beloved grandmother, I am grateful for having had her in my life.

I hope that this Thanksgiving you too have much to be grateful for.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Message from AFSA on the QDDR

Subject: AFSA President's Message on QDDR Draft Recommendations on "Recruiting & Training"

Dear Fellow Members of the Foreign Service,

As you know, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review has been a close- hold exercise in which AFSA has not been involved. (At our request, we received a briefing just before the draft was leaked.) I want to share our preliminary views and solicit yours, particularly on those aspects of most direct concern – hiring, training and retention. As the process unfolds we will provide updates, and we encourage your feedback on specific proposals at President@afsa.org.

Broadly speaking, AFSA welcomes the QDDR’s call to rely on America’s diplomats and development experts to be the “first face of American power.” We concur in the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service and the International Broadcasting Bureau. And we want to be active partners in the process as it moves forward – but we need basic information so that we can contribute constructive proposals to improve “cost-effectiveness and results” – a QDDR goal.

In its briefing to AFSA, the department has asserted that it does not intend to establish a mid-level lateral entry program at the State Department. We will work to ensure that this does not happen. What has so far been revealed about the QDDR draft recommendations relating to recruiting and training suggests that it seeks to address the (unspecified) mid-level experience gap in broad terms. AFSA’s position remains clear: We believe that mid-level hiring programs are not and have not been the best way to address mid-level experience gaps for the Foreign Service at all agencies. Like our military, the Foreign Service consists of commissioned officers, who serve on an up-or-out basis and are subject to the discipline of worldwide availability. Lateral entry is disruptive to the system and undermines morale in the same way it would if introduced into our military services.

At State, the “hiring surge” of the last few years has brought in thousands of new entry-level officers, many with strong academic credentials and extensive work experience. We believe that a better, more flexible, quicker and less costly way to address any mid-level gap is to identify and give opportunities for rapid advancement and training in supervision and management to the best of the entry level officers and to draw on Foreign Service retirees – in effect, our “Foreign Service reserve” – who have the needed experience, need no training, know how embassies and missions work, can mentor and coach, and are, by definition, short term. More flexible hiring authority to use retirees to fill mid-level experience gaps, with appropriate sunset provisions, is a tool the Secretary of State should have and should use.

In contrast to the State Department, the QDDR recommends hiring 95 mid-level technical experts at USAID. While AFSA recognizes the occasional need to bring in mid-level technical experts not currently available in the agency, we are not convinced that the numbers proposed are critical to carry out USAID’s work. The need at the FS-2 and FS-3 levels can be largely met in a cost-effective manner by appointing personnel with the same skills at the FS-5 and FS-4 levels. In any case, AFSA needs to be included in any work-force analysis in order to assure that only justifiable hiring takes place.

The QDDR recommends expanding opportunities for State Department Civil Service personnel to convert to the Foreign Service, seeking more flexible hiring authorities to attract expertise, and tying promotion to training. The current conversion procedures were negotiated with AFSA, and we continue to welcome qualified career Civil Service colleagues who utilize these existing procedures.

We have asked for a detailed briefing about the scope and nature of the mid-level deficit of positions at State and USAID, and expect to receive it shortly. I have communicated these points to Director of Policy Planning and QDDR Coordinator Anne-Marie Slaughter and to Director General Nancy Powell. We are also seeking more specific information about hiring authority and tying promotion to training.

We remain ready to contribute constructive proposals to ensure that the QDDR process enhances the operation of the Foreign Service. We look forward to working with management to ensure that: (1) any mid-level needs are carefully and transparently identified and documented; (2) established procedures to fill such gaps are followed; and (3) any remedial measures proposed strengthen our professional diplomatic and development services rather than weakening or politicizing them.

Best regards,

Susan R. Johnson
AFSA President

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

See on raske!

Today I got a taste of things to come.

Holy crap!

One of my classmates was out today, and the other had to leave after two hours.

That left me alone for the rest of the class. And let me tell you, that is exhausting!

And like I said, that was just a taste of the future. Friday, I will be in class alone for the whole day.

Then next month, I could be alone for as much as two weeks. It all depends on the timing.

I am glad for what amounts to getting tutored privately, but boy is it hard (which is basically what the subject means, in case you were wondering)!

I need a nap!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Marriage Injustice

Many folks don't understand what the big deal is with marriage equality. You have love and nothing else matters, right? Marriage is just a piece of paper. Right?

Wrong. When it comes to protecting your family, those more than 1,000 rights that heterosexuals get for getting that piece of paper matter a lot.

The Washington Post had a nice piece in the editorial section today talking about some of those inequalities that matter and some lawsuits that are trying to address them. Like these couples, if I died, my wife could not inherit my pension. And if I died, she would have to pay inheritance taxes for "inheriting" our home.

Marriage Injustice

EDITH "EDIE" WINDSOR and Thea Spyer were together for 44 years and legally married since 2007. They lived in New York, which recognizes same-sex marriage. But none of that mattered when Ms. Spyer died at 77 in 2009 after a decades-long struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Ms. Windsor, now 81, was treated like a stranger to Ms. Spyer because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which recognizes only marriages between one man and one woman. She was forced to pay $350,000 in federal inheritance taxes.

Gerald V. Passaro II and Thomas M. Buckholz had been a couple for 13 years when they were married in 2008 in Connecticut, which legally blesses such relationships. Mr. Buckholz had worked for 20 years for Bayer Corp., which extends certain benefits to domestic partners; he was also vested in the company's pension plan. But when he died in 2009, Mr. Passaro was denied benefits for surviving spouses. Because federal law governs the pension plan, DOMA applies.

This month, Ms. Windsor filed a lawsuit in New York challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. Mr. Passaro is one of the plaintiffs in a separate lawsuit in Connecticut. Their experiences demonstrate the injustice of this law.

DOMA was created for the purposes of "defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage," "defending traditional notions of morality" and "protecting state sovereignty and democratic self-governance" - dubious goals, at best.

How does the denigration of committed same-sex relationships strengthen opposite-sex unions? How could it be moral to pile hardship upon grief by forcing surviving spouses to deal with financial strains others are shielded from? How is federalism bolstered when states are prevented from applying policy and legal preferences in defining marriage, long considered the states' domain?

This year, a Massachusetts judge ruled that DOMA violated the equal-protection rights of same-sex married couples. Ms. Windsor and Mr. Passaro offer convincing arguments for why the jurists overseeing their respective cases should reach the same result.

Plaintiffs nationwide will probably try to chip away at DOMA's indefensible foundations. And the Supreme Court may yet have a chance to weigh in. But justice would best and most gratifyingly be served if Congress simply repealed the law, once and for all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Warning: Shamelessly Sappy

If you read the title, consider yourself warned.

If you need further warning, today is my anniversary.

About 13 years ago, I met the woman who became my wife. A mutual friend who thought we had a lot in common had wanted us to meet for a while. She thought we would become friends.

Neither of us was single when we met. In fact, her girlfriend was with her as she, her girlfriend, our friend and her partner and I all went to one of my favorite places, the SC State Fair. My then girlfriend did not join us.

While I confess that her girlfriend and I tried to "out butch" each other (and I am aware the powers that be were with me in keeping me from getting ill on some of those rides!), M and I didn't flirt with each other. We are both sort of old fashioned that way...you don't cheat on the person you are dating and you don't try to hook up with someone who is taken.

We didn't see each other again for two years. Then we each got separate emails from our mutual friend "innocently" pointing out that the other was now single. We started chatting by email and phone. And eleven years ago today, I drove up to see her. We have been together ever since.

A lot of people ask if we met in the Foreign Service, but we were together for more than two years before she joined. In fact, she wouldn't have joined if not for me. She had planned to blow off both the written (I told her to do it, it would give her more options if she passed) and the orals (I told her we'd make a tourist weekend of DC of it). And when she got the offer and her subsequent first assignment, we decided we should get married. So we made arrangements with our church in North Carolina, and were married in August of 2002. Though it was not legal (there were no states with same-sex marriage in 2002), we consider this our real wedding.

But I consider today to be our anniversary as well (we celebrate both, because, hey, who doesn't like more excuses to celebrate?), because last year, on the 10th anniversary of our being together, we drove to Provincetown, Massachusetts and were married legally. And though I thought this was simply a piece of paper, a legal protection of sorts, I find it is more than that. It is also something tangible, solid. Like our commitment before God and our community in our church wedding, this means something.

There are those who don't understand why I am so public not just about my sexuality but about my marriage. I have been told by some folks, gay and straight, "Sexuality should be private. I don't care what you do in your bedroom." But surely your realize your own sexuality is about more than sex. It is about who you form your not just physical, but emotional and spiritual attachment to. By saying it is "private," you are saying it is something that needs to be hidden. But marriage is not a private thing. It is a profoundly public act. It is about declaring your love and commitment not just to each other, but to your community, and if you are a spiritual person, to your Creator. Even the most secular marriages involve more than a private declaration...they have to go to a Justice of the Peace.

We are as traditional a couple as you would find among any heterosexuals (something I think my in-laws are coming to realize). Our weddings were spiritually based and our marriage is profoundly traditional. We are best friends and equal partners. We work hard. We save for our retirement. We pay our bills on time. We live within our means. We eat dinner together every night, at the table, where we usually work a crossword puzzle together. We have a date night, usually at our favorite sushi place, every week. We have goofy inside jokes that no one else understands. We have chosen not to have children, but we are doting aunts and devoted mothers to our fur and feather children. I am convinced, 11 years later, that we were made for each other. We have a very good life and I am grateful for every single aspect of it. And I look forward to the day when our marriage is treated like any other marriage, because it is exactly like any other marriage (well, the good ones anyway).

Twelve years ago, I could not have imagined my life looking anything like it does today. Today, I can not imagine my life any other way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Little Annoying

Let me say up front that I HATE being late.

Many of you know that I am part Indian, part German. I joke that this means I either need to be 15 minutes early or it is a good day to fish.

Usually, especially for work, I channel my dad (the German half): being on time means being early.

If I am going to be late, I often prefer not to go at all.

So today area studies met at the Holocaust Museum. They made no arrangements for transportation for us, and we were originally scheduled to start there at 1 o'clock.

This is a problem for those of us who have language class until 12:30 at FSI. So the instructor agreed to make it 1:30.

Great. So we get there...I carpooled with my classmates. We were there 45 minutes early, so we had some lunch at the museum cafeteria (the fish chowder was good...the brownie, sadly, not so much. And it is really expensive! My classmates spent $30 for sandwhiches for the two of them). And then we were outside at the entrance where we were instructed to meet in plenty of time.

But our instructor took folks up early. And left no one downstairs. So we waited and waited...finally (once the line going in died down), we went in, found someone who knew of our group...then we had to find our way to a conference room that even employees of the museum didn't seem to know the location of.

We finally found them, but we were late.

The speaker was good, but really, they should have arranged for him to come to FSI, so we could have listened longer, or arranged transportation so we could have arrived as a group. Or left someone downstairs for those of us who were EARLY but apparently not early enough.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

Sometimes you just gotta laugh at yourself.

Today was one of those days.

We had our regular substitute teacher today (she now comes every week for one day a week to allow our regular teacher to take care of admin responsibilities). I really like her and sometimes she is funny without meaning to be.

So for our homework last night, we had to write eight sentences in present perfect. I decided to try to be a bit more complex than your standard present perfect sentence.

This is a profoundly bad idea.

I realized as soon as I read my first sentence.

Our teacher just looked at me. And then asked me to repeat myself.

I did. She asked me to read it again. And again.

When we finally finished my first sentence, I announced I had not written any more sentences (which we all knew was untrue...I always do my homework).

So I read the next one...over and over.

The lesson for today, when you are new to a language, write simple sentences.

It got to the point where she would just crack up every time I even looked at her when she asked me a question...but she is so polite she looks away and covers her face (so you don't have to see her laughing at you!).

By the time I finished my sentences, I had started answering every question, in Estonian, with, "I don't know. I don't speak Estonian."

At one point, I said something in English and she said, "No, say it in Estonian." And I said, "What is "Oh for god's sake!" in Estonian?"

And she answered me.

By the end of the day, one of my classmates had caught my disease...and like me, he has a tendency towards being a smart aleck.

So I succeeded in destroying our class. Ah well...there is always tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Things You Get Used To

You would be surprised at what you can get used to.

We give up many things to serve in the Foreign Service. One of those things is our idea of privacy.

We are warned before we ever go overseas that we are high priority targets. We know will we be watched, in our homes and on the streets. Our homes will likely be bugged.

After you get past your initial reaction of "Oh my god, I am never getting naked again!," you adjust. You get used to it. Even if you have been a victim in the past, you get used to it. You get used to the idea that your most private moments are not really private. (Hint: this means NEVER do anything you would rather die than have your family know).

I remember once, while overseas, seeing a story about a man who was filming women from outside their homes. He wasn't filming them in their bedrooms or bathrooms...he just filmed them in their kitchens or through whatever window didn't have the shades drawn. And these women were freaked out. They felt seriously violated. And perhaps a few years ago, I might have as well. But when this hit the news, I couldn't fathom what the big deal was. Because I have gotten used to it.

I am having a similar reaction to the latest controversy about the new TSA scanner. It shows an image that looks like you naked. And that totally doesn't bother me. I am certain it would have bothered me in the past. But I also know I have been watched in way more personal situations (note I didn't say compromising...see the hint above and live it). And I have just adjusted to it. And frankly, since I have to fly around the world as a big part of my job, I am happy if it makes flying safer. Because it is also my least favorite part of my job.

Besides, I would much rather someone see an "image" of me undressed than go through the "enhanced pat down." Besides, I am sure that makes the time in security take even longer...

But who knows...maybe I'd get used to that too.

ON EDIT: You gotta check out Four Globetrotters. I just LOVE her way of dealing with the "enhanced pat down." I am definitely going to use the "Will you hold me?" line.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We Interrupt Our Regular Blogging...

To congratulate the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Last night, they defeated the University of Florida Gators 36-14 to become the champions of the SEC East for the first time in school history.

Stephen Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey were all particularly awesome!

So I have only two things left to say:

1. How 'Bout Them Gamecocks!


2. How do I get tickets to the SEC championship?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting Stuck

I got my flu shot yesterday.

This is a sign that I am happy.

When I was in Jerusalem, our consulate nurse sent notice after notice to get everyone to come get their flu shot. They were free.

I declined.

So she came to each of our offices, flu shots in tow. I again politely declined.

She tried to figure out my reasons.

"Are you afraid of needles?"

"Not at all. I used to give blood regularly."

"Are you afraid of getting sick?"

"Not at all."

"Afraid of the pain?"


"So why won't you get the shot?"

"Because I hate my job."

Yes, I assured her, I hated what I was doing enough to risk getting sick for two weeks. And I have had the flu before, once. I knew what I was risking.

Luckily, I didn't get sick. Even more fortunate, I landed in a good job back in DC (have I said before how much I LOVE INR? Because I do. Seriously. Awesome bureau! It is the reason I am still a diplomat).

And now I get my shot every year. Not just because I don't want to get sick. But because I am glad I waited it out. I am glad I stayed with it. No way would I want to miss two weeks of work.

Because even when my job is hard, it is cool. Cool to get to serve. Cool to get to be paid for what I do.

Too cool to risk getting the flu to avoid.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Trouble With Stuff

Stuff is a two-edged sword for Foreign Service Officers.

We always say we need to live with less stuff. We realize how little we need when we first get to post with no more than what is provided in the welcome kit and what we can carry in two suitcases. Even the amount of stuff we can carry in the suitcase has been reduced.

And yet, travelling lets us get more stuff. Cool stuff that has a story about our travels. And the stuff we have, that we take with us, is also the little piece of home that we need to remind us of who we are.

But every couple years, we have to pack up all that stuff, or rather, let someone else pack all that stuff, and ship it around the world. And that is when you get the horror stories of people losing their stuff.

You hear all the stories...the warehouse that caught fire, the boat that sank, the car that made it all the way to port only to be dropped from the crane as it was being unloaded.

I think of all of this because the more I think about going to most, the more I feel the need to start sorting, packing, tossing all this stuff we have accumulated. And it was brought home today as a friend learned that her stuff, which was supposed to be delivered today, which was late because some other boats had crashed into each other and lost other people's stuff, was in containers damaged with mold and water. She won't know until next week whether her stuff was damaged. Whether she has any stuff left at all.

We plan to leave a lot more in storage here this time around. A lot of things I took with me before, like my books, my pottery collection, etc will be safer in storage than travelling back and forth on a slow boat. I just have to figure out what we need to make our house in Tallinn a home while leaving behind the home full of stuff we like but don't need.

And we need to be able to be comfortable with losing any part of it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Value of Service

Unless you live under a rock...or are a certain veteran I am in class with who apparently forgets Veteran's Day every year...this is the day when we honor those who, as some have said, have written a blank check to our country. They were willing to pay whatever price was neccessary for our freedom.

But Veteran's Day is bitter sweet for me.

On the one hand, I am deeply grateful for all those who have made that sacrifice for us. And each year, I personally thank my favorite veteran, who knows who she is, for serving.

But on the other, I regret being denied my chance to serve in that way.

Yes, I am serving my country as a Foreign Service Officer, and I am deeply proud of my service and of my country for letting me serve openly.

But there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that had I been allowed to serve in the military without having to abandon the military traditions of honor and dignity by lying about who I am, I would have. I'd have written that check. In a heartbeat. I wanted to write that check.

So Veteran's Day is bittersweet for me because I love this country, warts and all. And as an American Indian, I am more than aware of her warts. But also of her wonders. And I wanted to serve without having to lie. And I admire all those who serve from the closet, knowing that should they pay the ultimate price, their husbands and wives will be the last to know.

I am eager for the day to come when Don't Ask, Don't Tell is lifted and I am thankful for President Clinton for lifting the ban on openly gay Foreign Service Officers having a security clearance. Because we once served in silence too.

And on this day too, I think about the bitter irony that the person who taught me the value of serving this country was my grandfather, who served in the Marines for 30 years. He was also the only person in my family to reject me for being gay even as I was the only one of his descendents to choose to follow his example and serve this country.

DPBO: Rx for Federal Workplace Equality

The Human Rights Campaign has some videos of folks talking about the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and the difference it will make in the lives of LGBT federal employees and their families.

HRC writes:
"November 8 – December 13 is open enrollment for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP), a plan that doesn't extend coverage to same-sex partners. That's wrong and out of step with other employers – 23 states, the District of Columbia and a majority of Fortune 500 companies provide equal family benefits for all employees.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act would end this exclusion, but it will take all of our voices to move this bill forward."

One of the videos is of Diplomatic Security's own T.J. Lunardi.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Testing HARD!

Okay, so I took my porgress test today...at least my biggest fear wasn't realized.

The results surprised me...my speaking and reading were scored roughly equally, but I'd have sworn I did much better at speaking than at reading.

They told me I do better once I relax.

I realized today why exams freak me out so much.

I have low blood sugar. It wasn't diagnosed until I was in college. Before it was diagnosed, I would prepare for a test and then get stressed out and have my blood sugar crash.

And when my blood sugar crashes, I can't remember anything. I mean ANYTHING. Which is not a good thing when taking a test. So I bombed a lot of tests before I got it diagnosed and figured out how to deal with it.

So now the total blank out doesn't happen, but the nervousness around tests has never gone away. I still expect to forget everything, no matter how prepared I am.

Anyway, it is done. I can carry on a conversation. I can read an article. My teacher says I am where I am supposed to be in order to get to where I need to be.

And now I can take tomorrow off. Thanks Vets! Especially Sez, my personal favorite vet.

Gay Rights are Human Rights

Gay Rights Are Human Rights
By Maria Otero

About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

I remember meeting with Val from Uganda, an activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, last year. Val told me about how she and others activists in her country faced possible persecution for speaking out against policies that criminalized an entire class of people based on sexual orientation. I believe that we have a duty not only to speak out against harmful policies, but also to ensure that people like Val, who are trying to exercise their basic rights as human beings, are protected from possible violence.

Val's story is never far from my mind and is one of the reasons I met yesterday with representatives of the Council for Global Equality, a coalition of 19 human rights organizations that advocate for a stronger U.S. government voice on behalf of the equality and fair treatment of LGBT individuals in the United States and overseas. We had an open and engaging discussion of the State Department's efforts to elevate and integrate inclusion and protection of LGBT individuals into our human rights agenda. These efforts build upon the Obama Administration's commitment to these issues, and further Secretary Clinton's statement that "human rights are gay rights, and gay rights are human rights."

Representatives from around the State Department offered their perspective on prioritizing this human rights issue among embassies around the world. The Bureau of African Affairs explained how it has responded to violence committed against the LGBT community in Uganda, Malawi, and elsewhere. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs outlined its work to incorporate LGBT protection into the agenda of the Organization of American States and explained how it seeks out regional partners, such as Brazil. The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration explained its work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure protection for LGBT refugees, while our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor described its work on training officers in the field, including plans to roll out a "toolkit” to human rights officers globally.

Led by Ambassador Michael Guest, a retired Foreign Service officer, the Council for Global Equality expressed its willingness for further cooperation and asked excellent questions about the reaction of our partner governments, opportunities for cooperation with European allies, priorities for foreign assistance, future public diplomacy opportunities around LGBT issues, and other important topics. We obviously have much more work to do in our human rights advocacy around LGBT issues, but I left feeling encouraged by these impressive and dedicated activists and their leadership. These are not single-issue advocates, but a group of dedicated human rights professionals who seem well-prepared to effectively carry their concerns into our democracy and overseas as an integrated part of our overall human rights diplomacy. And, hopefully, through our joint efforts, Val and others like her will be able to live freely and without fear of persecution.

You can view Secretary Clinton's "It Gets Better" video and remarks here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Got that song on your mind, didn't I?

Anyway, you'd think after yesterday's news, we could just celebrate by cancelling my progress test tomorrow, right?

Yeah! So did I!

Apparently we don't get a vote. Apparently devoting my life to the service of our democracy does not translate into my getting a vote in language class.

So tomorrow if my progress test. So unfair.

But here is my question for you: do I stufy study study tonight and try to cram more words (and endings) into my head, or do I eat ice cream and watch HGTV?

In other (more fun), I finally met Kolbi from A Daring Adventure in person today. She seems to be having as much fun in Chinese as I am in Estonian. We have a date to eat sushi and commiserate next week.

Because sushi fixes everything.

Monday, November 08, 2010

That Breeze You Felt Today...

...was me breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Today is handshake day. And my wife got hers...

So the starts aligned the way we had hoped, and she is also heading to Estonia.

Now I can give myself over completely to fantasizing about our onward assignment!

Life is good.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Decoding Bidding

No Double Standards over at Muttering Behind the Hardline has a great piece on the Kafka-esque World of Bidding. He uses his experience in filling jobs to demystify the process a bit (because there is really only just so much you can demystify it...). And everything he says, in my experience, is 100% spot on!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Making Sense of Loss

Some of you already know that I learned last night that my grandfather died. I couldn't write about it because my home internet was down.

Probably just as well...I am still processing it.

My grandfather and I were estranged. We had not spoken since my mother's funeral, and to be honest, we didn't speak often before she died.

He had an issue with homosexuality.

When he found out my mother was in a relationship with a woman, he wrote her a nasty letter. Because she adored him, she kept that letter in her purse until the day she died, and because she adored him, she tortured herself with it daily. I used to beg her to throw it away.

I tried, before and after she died, to reach out to him. He refused my letters and deleted my emails. He refused my family members' attempts to intervene on my behalf. He was the only person in my family to reject me for being gay.

And it wasn't just me...he also rejected my brother, who is not gay. My brother, who is biologically my first cousin, was adopted by my mother when he was two because his father, her brother, couldn't care for him. And at the time, my grandfather advised her not to take him in because it was too much responsibility.

He was never around when I was a kid, and he knows my brother even less. He has never met my brother's children, his only great-grandkids. And for the record, my niece and nephew are awesome.

But in spite of all of that, I had always held out hope he would come around. That he would want a relationship with us. Because I know I am a granddaughter most would be proud to have. My mom's mother was. My dad's parents were. My dad is. And they all knew I was gay. But they also knew that I still had the same values I had been raised with. Which means you find the person you want to spend your life with and you commit. You love them and stay faithful to them. You pay your bills, you live within your means. You treat others well. You live life with honesty and integrity.

I am a diplomat. I have a Master's degree and nearly a PhD. I have a stable marriage and stable job. I have devoted myself to the service of my country. I would have thought he would have wanted a granddaughter like me.

I am a good person. I am also a gay person, and I am not ashamed of that. But he could never get past the second statement to see the first.

So mostly I am sad at not really ever getting to know him and him never giving himself a chance to get to know me.

I can't feel sad at losing him...I haven't had him in a very long time. Mostly I am sad that the chance to reconcile is gone.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Gay Tax

If you follow Adventures By Aaron, you know that he and his partner, who is a new FSO, are having a headache trying to take their car overseas. Long story short, they are having to refinance the car with USAA, who will let them take the car overseas, because Wells Fargo wasn't willing to work the issue out because Aaron "isn't the employee."

So now they just needed to get the car registered in Florida and they would be on their way. Easy, right?

Nope...after he had registered the car and was on his way back to the airport to come home, he got a call that he had to come back and pay a tax or his registration would be cancelled.

Aaron writes:
"The issue required phone calls to Wells Fargo and USAA to resolve. The clerk hadn't realized that I was refinancing with a different bank, and she needed to find out the pay-off amount so that she could charge me sales tax. In the end, I had to pay $300 more than originally quoted.

Why, you ask?

Because I am gay.

When a married couple refinances a loan, they are not taxed.

When a gay couple refinances a loan, they are taxed. Because they are not married. Despite the fact that they would likely be quite HAPPY to do so, given the chance.

When a straight, single person refinances a loan, he/she is taxed.

So basically, what I learned yesterday was that, in the eyes of the Florida government, my 7-year relationship is worth no more than being single."

You can see the whole post here.

Just one of the many ways people, even those serving the country, get punished for being gay. One more way we are not full citizens.

Explain to me again why his relationship and mine are worth less than someone who meets and marries a stranger in Vegas?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Yesterday's election results certainly came as no surprise to me, but they distress me none the less.

For many who would have preferred a different outcome, I suppose this is one of the many swings of the pendulum, and they know it will eventually swing back their way.

It is harder for LGBT people.

This is the first president in a long time where we really believed there would be change. A President who we thought believed we should be full citizens. And we dared to hope.

Hope can be a devastating thing.

We have made certain advances in the past two years. At least talking about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is on the agenda. The repeal of DOMA has been discussed. The courts, who have always been at the forefront of social change (i.e. Brown v Board of Education and Loving v Virginia) have acknowledged what we LGBT people have always known. We are subject to discriminatory treatment simply because some find us distastful.

And in the Foreign Service, we have seen a sea change. We have a Secretary who is an ally, who has already done everything within her power to address the inequities her employees face. Life in the Foreign Service is better than it was two years ago.

But my legal marriage is still not legal in the place I reside (we so need to move). We still lack the protections afforded to other families, even those who married in a drunken stupor in Vegas. Even those who have never devoted a minute to the service of our great country.

It has been said that African Americans who served in the military when they were still not treated equally kept faith with this country even when this country did not keep faith with them. This is exactly how I see my service.

And now I fear the small advances we have made will be taken away.

The Virginia governor shortly after being elected repealed employment protections for LGBT people. The Attorney General said that colleges must not have non-discrimination protections either. The advances we have made are few and fragile. And I am afraid.

But I am still serving, still trying to keep faith.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A Little Better

Today was a little better in language.

Our language testing supervisor stopped by and listened as we did our first speaking at length. Basically, we got a random picture and had to talk about it. I decided my picture was of a bunch of angry grandmothers. Why were they angry? Because the soldier in the picture was playing the accordion...badly! And I was able to do it. Not great, but okay.

So that was a little better.

Then we started officially working on the "In" Case.

Except we have been using that case for a long time.

And suddenly it dawned on me...all these endings I don't know are things we have not covered officially. We've brushed on them, but not really covered them.

So I am not behind. I am where I am supposed to be.

Which is a happy thing.

In less happy news, the condo association sent me an email asking when we would move the storage pod that is in the parking lot. You know, the one with our furniture in it because of the ceiling collapse? The one that still has my furniture in it because the repairs are not yet completed because the condo association's insurance company took two months to TURN US DOWN?

Really? They don't think I want it gone and my life back more than they do??

Monday, November 01, 2010

My Excuse

Running is hard! That is why I didn't post yesterday.

Yesterday, I finished the Marine Corp Marathon 10K race. I didn't go as fast as I wanted, but I finished. I even have a cool medal to prove it...but I won't be a dork and wear it after race day.

I was tempted though...I just wore the t-shirt to FSI today instead.

My wife, however, is the really impressive one. Last year, she did the MCM 10K.

This year, she did the marathon!

I am so proud of her I just cannot tell you.

And do you know how much this woman loves me? After 26 miles, she kicked it up and RAN up the hill to the Iwo Jima memorial so she would look good for me. I have a great shot of her smiling and waving at me!

Everyone should be so lucky as to have a wife like mine!