Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bidding Farewell to 2011

I know there are a lot of people for whom 2011 has been a really bad year.

But I am not one of them, and I feel extremely fortunate.

Yes, 2011 was a year in which my wife and I endured a four month separation, bringing to nearly three years we have spent apart for the needs of the service.

And yes, 2011 saw a freeze in our pay and so much animousity aimed at Federal employees that I sometimes wondered why I bothered to serve.

But the truth is, my life is pretty great, and 2011 was a pretty good year for me.

For while the American people may be in an anti-federal employee mood, I still feel lucky that I get to serve the country and all that it can stand for. and I am lucky to have a job, and one which is relatively secure. That isn't lost on me when I know that members of my own family are suffering. And this year, I got paid to learn a new language, something I love doing. And I passed my test with the necessary score to qualify for language incentive pay. Which helped me not take a substantial pay cut to serve overseas.

I started my new position as the Public Affairs Officer in Tallinn. And it is better than I could have ever imagined. I LOVE my job. And I love all parts of it. I like managing my excellent staff, doing cultural events, and working with the media. I have a great Ambassador who seems to trust me and value my experience and opinion. I look forward to going to work each day.

And I live in a great city. I find this place beautiful and interesting, and I like the people here as well.

And as of Christmas eve, my family has been reunited. They all made it safely to Tallinn, for which I am eternally grateful.

So yeah, 2011 has been pretty good to me. I am looking forward to the new year with hope and anticipation, but I am tremendously thankful to have had the 2011 that I did.

And because I can, here is a picture of Oscar, the newest addition to our family (as of the very end of 2010) celebrating the new year. Or planning to kill me for putting a bow on his head. I am really not sure.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Civil Service Recognition Act

Here is a nice piece in the NY Times by Andrew Rosenthal about the Civil Service Recognition Act.

Flags for Civilians
By Andrew Rosenthal

[...]

I am not generally in favor of largely symbolic legislation, but the Civil Service Recognition Act doesn’t fall into the solution-in-search-of-a-problem category. Federal workers often end up in dicey and dangerous places, like embassies targeted by terrorist organizations. Thousands of federal civilian employees have died over the last 20 years while performing their official duties, and it’s worth recognizing their sacrifice.

I was also glad to see this official recognition since the right wing has not, of late, shown much respect for civilians in government. As my colleague David Firestone has written, Republicans have consistently countered Democratic plans to raise revenue by taxing the wealthiest Americans with proposals to cut government by reducing the size of the federal workforce — all while insisting that jobs are their Number 1 priority. (The logic is that government jobs are not really jobs.)

According to The Washington Post’s Joe Davidson, an earlier version of the bill attracted some grumbling from the American Legion and right-wing bloggers, because it seemed to equate civilian sacrifice with military sacrifice. The bill used to read: “A flag shall be furnished and presented…in the same manner as a flag is furnished and presented on behalf of a deceased member of the Armed Services who dies while on active duty.” The amended version strikes the comparison.

This editing process is the only thing that makes the Act a little bittersweet for me. The men and women who choose to join the military deserve our respect and gratitude, but so do people who choose to become diplomats. If a diplomat dies in an embassy bombing, I’m not sure why it’s wrong to suggest that he should be honored in the same way as a soldier who died on the battlefield.

You can read the whole piece here.

The Tree Is Down But Things Are Looking Up

Normally, I prefer to leave the Christmas tree up until after New Year's. I tell people it is for the Feast of the Epiphany, but really it is just because I really like have the tree up.

But not enough to leave a fire hazard in the house.

When we got home from the states, the tree was seriously dry. There was water in the stand, but none of that seemed to have made it to the branches. Touch the tree, and a shower of needles fell. Touch a single branch and it was instantly bare.

So we took the tree down last night.

But everything else is looking up. We are all safe and sound under one roof. Cayenne is back to happily calling out to the cats, and Noostie is back to herding them around the house. Oscar is asserting his dominion over his new digs by resisting all attempts to keep him off of the table (and the buffet, and the bookshelves, and the radiators, and the counters...), and Pishik has discovered a nice nook in the shelves in my closet that makes for cozy sleeping (on my clothes...sigh...I should have color coordinated my pets better so that I could match clothing to fur color).

And my wife and I are back to dinner together at the table, evenings on the sofa chatting and watching tv (or surfing the web, but at least it is together) and reading in bed at night before going to sleep.

Life is good.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Americans Will Still Be Serving in Iraq

I am glad someone has noticed that not all Americans serving in Iraq will leave with the soldiers.

As soldiers leave, U.S. diplomats face huge Iraq challenge

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the last American soldiers leave Iraq, the U.S. State Department assumes the reins of a complex and risky operation, the success or failure of which could determine whether the costly nine-year U.S. engagement with the country finally bears fruit.

U.S. diplomats, shielded by thousands of security contractors, will seek to monitor Iraq's fragile political evolution and push ahead with civilian aid programs designed to demonstrate the benefits of U.S. friendship.

Their aim is to secure an alliance with a nascent democracy neighboring Iran that, as a key oil producer, has seen its strategic importance to Washington increase sharply amid the political turmoil engulfing the Middle East.

But analysts say that, without U.S. military protection, they may end up trapped in fortified diplomatic bunkers while bureaucrats at home struggle with the logistics of organizing and securing one of the biggest U.S. diplomatic endeavors ever undertaken.

[...]

A handful of U.S. military personnel will remain in the country, working with the embassy to help with arms sales and training for Iraqi forces. Talks could resume next year on whether more U.S. troops can return for future training missions
In the meantime, U.S. officials say there will be roughly 16,000 people involved in the American diplomatic effort in Iraq.

About 2,000 will be diplomats and federal workers. The remaining 14,000 will be contractors - roughly half involved with security while the rest will be doing everything from keeping the kitchens running to managing the motor pool.

The operation will focus on the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in Baghdad -- the largest and most expensive U.S. diplomatic mission in the world -- as well as at consulates in Basra, Erbil and Kirkuk, each of them "hardened" to resist militant attack.

[...]

For U.S. diplomats and other federal officials working in Iraq, a day at work is likely to involve working the phones from behind blast walls and under heavy guard.

Potential threats include a much-diminished, but still lethal, Sunni insurgency; Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia groups; and the possibility of resurgent ethnic conflict.

Diplomatic facilities will be equipped with their own radar to detect incoming mortars and missiles, while rare movement around the country will be likely be severely restricted.

"They are not going to be able to move around much. That's obvious," said Dov Zakheim, a former senior Pentagon official during the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations who has specialized in looking at U.S. contracting in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Of course they are in a combat environment. As long as they deny that then there are a lot of issues they are sidestepping."

[...]

You can read the entire article here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

No Tigers Here, Just Packouts and Holidays

First, I want to wish you all the happiness of the holidays, whichever holiday you celebrate. And general happiness if you don't celebrate at all.

Second, yes, I have been gone a while. But no worries...I haven't gone dark or even been reprimanded. It is just...well...have you ever tried to blog via ipad?

I have, a while back, and it was a pain.

So when I went to the states last week and only took my ipad with me, I knew I wouldn't be blogging. I should have told you. Sorry about that.

I went to the states last Friday for a whirlwind packout tour.

Yes, that is right, a packout. But not mine. My wife's.

We are all together again!

I arrived on Friday. Saturday we went to her folks for a few hours. Sunday we orgnaized. Monday I packed out the HHE and UAB while she was in class, then moved the two of us and the cats into a hotel. Tuesday I packed out the storage shipment. Wednesday, I spoke to the Estonian class and Thursday I met with new property manager. Plus got a new washer, turned in the cable box and did last minute cleaning of the apartment so we can rent it out.



Friday we got back on a plane for Estonia, arriving here Saturday.

And yesterday was Christmas.

So you can that I wouldn't have been able to blog even if I had taken my computer.

But all's well that ends well, and I am back in Estonia, with my wife and the cats, as well as the dog and the bird. Our whole family got to be together for Christmas.

And that is the happiest ending I can think of.

I hope your Christmas was just as happy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"A life can never be repaid, but it can be honored."

It is nice to know that should I be killed in the line of duty, my wife will at least receive a flag honoring my (and her) sacrifice. Now if she could also receive my pension and social security like opposite-sex spouses...

Congress passes bill giving flags to families of federal employees killed in the line of duty

Civil servants killed while on the job will receive honors and their agencies will give an American flag to their next of kin, under the Civilian Service Recognition Act, which the Senate passed Thursday with unanimous consent.

[...]

The Office of Personnel Management has estimated that since 1992, nearly 3,000 federal employees have been killed in the line of duty.

"This benefit may seem modest, but it's significant to our federal employees who work within this nation and in countless overseas posts," said Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., who introduced the bill in the House. "A life can never be repaid, but it can be honored. This bill ensures that."

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Tree Is Up...and I'm a Little Down


No surprise, finding a Christmas tree here is definitely a lot easier than it was in Jerusalem.

Thanks to a recommendation from one of my colleagues, I drove south of town to a nursery with a great selection and great prices. I found a nice 6.5 ft tree for 25 euros. And although the price was not as good as in Jerusalem (Israel gives free trees to diplomats), it also didn't remind me of Charlie Brown's tree.

Today my goal was to get the tree set up.

I cranked up the Christmas music (thanks to 97.1 WASH FM's 24 hour Christmas music and the I Heart Radio app) and started decorating. The lights were a bit of a challenge...I decided to get 220v ones rather than using a transformer and our old lights, but they are not a string so much as a circle. It took a bit to figure them out and the make them work (because I loosened some of the bulbs getting them out of the package...taking lights off the tree that worked before you put the ON the tree...not fun).

Once the lights were up, I put the ornament pictured above on...we bought it from the Hallmark shop in Chapel Hill, NC for our first Christmas together in 1999. I always put it on the tree first.

Each of our ornaments is a memory. Before my wife and I got together, I had a tree of stuffed teddy bear angels, and the tree still bears some sign of that. The tree topper is still the teddy bear angel and there are still lots of stuffed angel bears all over it. But there are fewer than there have been in the past, and each year the number decreases as we add other ornaments. Each place we go for vacation and each place were we spend Christmas, we acquire an ornament. So there are ornaments there from Chrleston, SC, Chimney Rock, NC, and Ft. Pulaski, Ga., but also from Baku, Istanbul and Jerusalem. And now Tallinn. This was the last ornament to go on the tree.


I always loved Christmas as a kid, though it has periodically taken some hits. My first Christmas after my parents separated still makes me a little sad, and the Christmas after the death of my great-grandmother, with whom I had spent ever Christmas of my life until then, was also a hard one. Hardest of all was dealing with Christmas after the death of my mother. It took a long time for me to feel the joy again. Losing my grandmother two years ago was less hard, because we managed to have all of us together with her, including my brother and his kids, on her last Christmas.

This Christmas too will be good, because I will be with my wife. But I will miss Christmas with my dad and his side of the family, and that makes me a little sad. And being apart from all of my family, especially my wife and dad, right now has me a bit in the dumps. The tree is pretty (though I forgot to pack the garland...I vaguely remember that I thought it was in crappy shape and that I'd get more here...wish I had remembered that when I was at the store today...), but it makes me miss everyone.


I know we'll be together soon, but forgive me if I am a little misty all the same.

"All I want for Christmas is you."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Michael Guest Op-ed: A Changed U.S. State Department

Ambassador Michael Guest, the first openly gay appointed to serve as a U.S. Ambassador, wrote an op-ed for the Advocate. You should go take a look.

Michael Guest Op-ed: A Changed U.S. State Department

"For those of us in the hall, Clinton’s speech seemed powerfully spoken from the heart. To me, a gay former diplomat, it also demonstrated the resilience of our diplomacy to respond to real and urgent needs. The speech, indeed, represents only part of a powerful legacy she will leave on LGBT rights at the State Department. Her early efforts to end discriminatory workplace policies for gay and lesbian diplomats set the standard for other federal agencies. The department’s attention to LGBT problems in its annual human rights reports has strengthened. Passport procedures have been changed to benefit transgender citizens and gay and lesbian parents. International speaker and exchange visitor programs now consciously reach out to LGBT populations, helping make the case for equal treatment in even the most skeptical overseas audiences. Funding for antidiscrimination and hate crimes–related projects has followed. And U.S. embassies now interact increasingly with LGBT groups at all levels, giving the latter greater visibility and respect in their communities. "

You can read the whole op-ed here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Secretary Clinton: gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights

This is one of the reasons I love my boss and love my job.

Hopefully I can get this video to work at some point today. But until then, here is a link and the entire transcript is also below.


Transcript: Secretary Clinton – “Free and Equal in Dignity and Rights”
Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

December 06, 2011

Good evening, and let me express my deep honor and pleasure at being here. I want to thank Director General Tokayev and Ms. Wyden along with other ministers, ambassadors, excellencies, and UN partners. This weekend, we will celebrate Human Rights Day, the anniversary of one of the great accomplishments of the last century.

Beginning in 1947, delegates from six continents devoted themselves to drafting a declaration that would enshrine the fundamental rights and freedoms of people everywhere. In the aftermath of World War II, many nations pressed for a statement of this kind to help ensure that we would prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people. And so the delegates went to work. They discussed, they wrote, they revisited, revised, rewrote, for thousands of hours. And they incorporated suggestions and revisions from governments, organizations, and individuals around the world.

At three o’clock in the morning on December 10th, 1948, after nearly two years of drafting and one last long night of debate, the president of the UN General Assembly called for a vote on the final text. Forty-eight nations voted in favor; eight abstained; none dissented. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It proclaims a simple, powerful idea: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And with the declaration, it was made clear that rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them.

In the 63 years since the declaration was adopted, many nations have made great progress in making human rights a human reality. Step by step, barriers that once prevented people from enjoying the full measure of liberty, the full experience of dignity, and the full benefits of humanity have fallen away. In many places, racist laws have been repealed, legal and social practices that relegated women to second-class status have been abolished, the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely has been secured.

In most cases, this progress was not easily won. People fought and organized and campaigned in public squares and private spaces to change not only laws, but hearts and minds. And thanks to that work of generations, for millions of individuals whose lives were once narrowed by injustice, they are now able to live more freely and to participate more fully in the political, economic, and social lives of their communities.

Now, there is still, as you all know, much more to be done to secure that commitment, that reality, and progress for all people. Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.

I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.

Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs. So I come here before you with respect, understanding, and humility. Even though progress on this front is not easy, we cannot delay acting. So in that spirit, I want to talk about the difficult and important issues we must address together to reach a global consensus that recognizes the human rights of LGBT citizens everywhere.

The first issue goes to the heart of the matter. Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.

This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.

It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

The second issue is a question of whether homosexuality arises from a particular part of the world. Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality.
And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Now, some worry that protecting the human rights of the LGBT community is a luxury that only wealthy nations can afford. But in fact, in all countries, there are costs to not protecting these rights, in both gay and straight lives lost to disease and violence, and the silencing of voices and views that would strengthen communities, in ideas never pursued by entrepreneurs who happen to be gay. Costs are incurred whenever any group is treated as lesser or the other, whether they are women, racial, or religious minorities, or the LGBT. Former President Mogae of Botswana pointed out recently that for as long as LGBT people are kept in the shadows, there cannot be an effective public health program to tackle HIV and AIDS. Well, that holds true for other challenges as well.

The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.

Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.

The fourth issue is what history teaches us about how we make progress towards rights for all. Progress starts with honest discussion. Now, there are some who say and believe that all gay people are pedophiles, that homosexuality is a disease that can be caught or cured, or that gays recruit others to become gay. Well, these notions are simply not true. They are also unlikely to disappear if those who promote or accept them are dismissed out of hand rather than invited to share their fears and concerns. No one has ever abandoned a belief because he was forced to do so.

Universal human rights include freedom of expression and freedom of belief, even if our words or beliefs denigrate the humanity of others. Yet, while we are each free to believe whatever we choose, we cannot do whatever we choose, not in a world where we protect the human rights of all.

Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech. It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversations in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it.

But progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.

Many in my country thought that President Truman was making a grave error when he ordered the racial desegregation of our military. They argued that it would undermine unit cohesion. And it wasn’t until he went ahead and did it that we saw how it strengthened our social fabric in ways even the supporters of the policy could not foresee. Likewise, some worried in my country that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a negative effect on our armed forces. Now, the Marine Corps Commandant, who was one of the strongest voices against the repeal, says that his concerns were unfounded and that the Marines have embraced the change.

Finally, progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We need to ask ourselves, “How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?” This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.

A fifth and final question is how we do our part to bring the world to embrace human rights for all people including LGBT people. Yes, LGBT people must help lead this effort, as so many of you are. Their knowledge and experiences are invaluable and their courage inspirational. We know the names of brave LGBT activists who have literally given their lives for this cause, and there are many more whose names we will never know. But often those who are denied rights are least empowered to bring about the changes they seek. Acting alone, minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change.

So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines. Every time a barrier to progress has fallen, it has taken a cooperative effort from those on both sides of the barrier. In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial. The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races. Combating Islamaphobia or anti-Semitism is a task for people of all faiths. And the same is true with this struggle for equality.

Conversely, when we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on. But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message. Right here in Geneva, the international community acted this year to strengthen a global consensus around the human rights of LGBT people. At the Human Rights Council in March, 85 countries from all regions supported a statement calling for an end to criminalization and violence against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the following session of the Council in June, South Africa took the lead on a resolution about violence against LGBT people. The delegation from South Africa spoke eloquently about their own experience and struggle for human equality and its indivisibility. When the measure passed, it became the first-ever UN resolution recognizing the human rights of gay people worldwide. In the Organization of American States this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights created a unit on the rights of LGBT people, a step toward what we hope will be the creation of a special rapporteur.

Now, we must go further and work here and in every region of the world to galvanize more support for the human rights of the LGBT community. To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being gay, I ask you to consider this: Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same. It also means ensuring that all citizens are treated as equals under your laws, because let me be clear – I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes. They can and they do, just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable, but it should never be a crime to be gay.

And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are.

And finally, to LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.

The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. In our embassies, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with a range of partners to strengthen human rights protections for all. In Washington, we have created a task force at the State Department to support and coordinate this work. And in the coming months, we will provide every embassy with a toolkit to help improve their efforts. And we have created a program that offers emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people.

This morning, back in Washington, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.

I am also pleased to announce that we are launching a new Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world. This fund will help them record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs, and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups. We have committed more than $3 million to start this fund, and we have hope that others will join us in supporting it.

The women and men who advocate for human rights for the LGBT community in hostile places, some of whom are here today with us, are brave and dedicated, and deserve all the help we can give them. We know the road ahead will not be easy. A great deal of work lies before us. But many of us have seen firsthand how quickly change can come. In our lifetimes, attitudes toward gay people in many places have been transformed. Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years, as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are gay.

This evolution is evident in many places. To highlight one example, the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality in India two years ago, writing, and I quote, “If there is one tenet that can be said to be an underlying theme of the Indian constitution, it is inclusiveness.” There is little doubt in my mind that support for LGBT human rights will continue to climb. Because for many young people, this is simple: All people deserve to be treated with dignity and have their human rights respected, no matter who they are or whom they love.

There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights: “Be on the right side of history.” The story of the United States is the story of a nation that has repeatedly grappled with intolerance and inequality. We fought a brutal civil war over slavery. People from coast to coast joined in campaigns to recognize the rights of women, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, workers, and on and on. And the march toward equality and justice has continued. Those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights were and are on the right side of history, and history honors them. Those who tried to constrict human rights were wrong, and history reflects that as well.

I know that the thoughts I’ve shared today involve questions on which opinions are still evolving. As it has happened so many times before, opinion will converge once again with the truth, the immutable truth, that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights. We are called once more to make real the words of the Universal Declaration. Let us answer that call. Let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today. I come before you with great hope and confidence that no matter how long the road ahead, we will travel it successfully together. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Roadtrip!

I finally got to go to Saaremaa, the largest of the bazillion Estonian islands, yesterday.

It is a long trip, and not one I would ordinarily recommend as a day trip. We left the embassy at 11 am and were back by about 9 pm. Next time, I think I will stay overnight.

But the visit was a good one...we went to the American Corner there and I gave a talk on Thanksgiving and American Indians. We had a great turnout...maybe 50 or so folks, though I took Noostie and I think she was more popular than I was!

After the talk, we had an Estonian rendition of American Thanksgiving dinner...very tasty! And just in the nick of time...I was starving!

The weather on the trip there and back was a bit bizarre, literally changing every few minutes. We had bright sunshine, drizzle, pouring rain, sleet, fog and eventually snow, all in the space of a few hours.

And speaking of snow, clearly I need to be more specific. When I said the snow would come once I left Tallinn, I meant when I left Tallinn to go to the U.S. But it decided that it would come when I left Tallinn for Saremaa. Not cool Tallinn weather! We had a deal!

It is pretty though.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Rise and Fall



It is back up, though four meters shorter (now it is only 17 meters tall).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Came! It Came Just the Same!


You remember the story How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

That was kind of my day today.

Today was the day for our annual holiday party. We've been planning it for a while now. And by we, I mean people other than me. Like my colleague from language class who worked her butt off (AND welcomed people in English, Estonian AND Hebrew...because she rocks like that).

My only roles were to try to get media coverage and then to show up and be jolly.

But dealing with the media in general is my role, and yesterday evening, about 10 minutes after I left work, we had an incident.

A 19-year old Estonian threw a molotov cocktail at the Embassy.

I don't know why he did it, but given that it happened the night before the Holiday Party, it could have spoiled what is a really cherished even both at the embassy and among the community.

But considering, everything went as well as it possibly could have. It was a really minor incident, and I doubt it will even make the U.S. news. No one was injured (thank God), no damage was done to the embassy other than a black smudge on the wall, and the kid has been arrested. In fact, one of our Estonian neighbors grabbed him right after he did it, handed him over to our local guards, who detained him until the police arrived. And they arrived quickly, arrested him, and have him in custody.

And there was no need to cancel the party. It came all the same!

We had clear, crisp weather with no rain (or snow). We had a great turnout. We had cookies and egg nog. We had cute kids singing Christmas and Hanukkah songs. We had decorated trees that lit up on cue when one of the cute kids helped the Ambassador push the button.


It was perfect. Just like these ice ornaments (that in an normal Estonian winter would not have melted until spring!).

I feel a little like the Whos in Whoville.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oops! It Happened Again.

I went to the Christmas tree lighting in Raekoja Plats on Sunday.

Of course, since I didn't bring an umbrella, it was POURING.

By standing really close to a guy with a really big umbrella (which said something about some socialist website on it...I worried about being under the umbrella of socialism!), I was able to make it through three songs and two speeches.

But by then I was drenched, so I gave up and went home.

I checked on Postimees (the largest local paper), to see if they had pictures or video of the lighting.

Instead, they had pictures and video of the tree falling...AGAIN.

You can check out video of it here, and a story about the incident here.

The rumor mill says the tree was sabotaged by squirrels...the squirrel is the mascot of the ruling Reform Party, and the tree was put up by the Mayor of Tallinn, who is from the opposition Center Party. But if you ask me, I think it was the wind.

And fear not, the tree will be back...but it will be a bit more modest...only 17 meters tall instead of the previous 24 meters. Which is still a pretty frickin' big tree!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fixing the Christmas Market Postcard

When we were in Estonian language training, we watched this miniseries called Tuulepealne Maa, or Windswept Land.

So I shouldn't have been surprised that it is occassionally windy here. Really windy.

Yesterday the wind was just howling. From my office at the embassy, it sounded downright spooky.

When I got home, I posted about all the cool things going on this weekend...the Christmas Market in the Old City, the Tree Lighting, the International Women's Club of Tallinn Bazaar...and that is just the stuff I plan to go to!

And then my Estonian teacher commented on the post to be careful, because the Christmas tree in the Old City had FALLEN OVER! The tree in Helsinki apparently did as well!

Sure enough, I went to the local paper online, and it had several stories and even a video (which I watched last night but doesn't currently want to load). Luckily, no one was hurt and none of the Christmas market stalls were even damaged.

The stories said the tree would be back up by last night, and given Estonian efficiency, I believed them. I'd have gone last night to look, but it was raining. And in fact, despite the fact that they were calling for sunny and 43 degrees today, when I tried to go this morning, it was pouring rain and then snowing (and then raining again).

So I waited a bit and headed over this afternoon. Sure enough, the tree is back and men in a large crane are redecorating it.


Noostie and I walked around the market for an hour or so, even though the weather was cold and kind of crappy, watching the tourists and letting Noostie fantasize about herding the reindeer (I originally typed that raindeer...which I think was a freudian slip).


Tomorrow is the tree lighting. I'm hoping for better weather for the pictures...and that the tree is still upright!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Living in a Christmas Card

Because I work in Public Affairs, of course there was work to be done on Thanksgiving. So after I had stuffed myself senseless, I drove in an tryptophan induced coma to the Solaris Cinema for a viewing of A Marine Story and subsequent discussion on Don't Ask, don't Tell.

The movie was great, and the discussion was great. It was particularly awesome that Erinevus Rikkasab (Diversity Enriches) was able to secure the film's lead actress, Dreya Weber, to sit on the panel as well.

Now that Thanksgiving is done, we can dive into the Christmas season in full force.

Which of course means that my office is now adorned with two tiny and slightly tacky (especially the purple one) Christmas trees.

It also means that this weekend marks the tree lighting and the opening of the Christmas market in the Old City. I will definitely be there for that!

This is picture I have seen many places of the market...I posted it on Facebook and got a bunch of comments on how it wouldn't be real. But it is, and I will be taking some pictures myself this weekend and in the weeks to come. With or without snow depends on the weather...so far my Southern warmth has kept any substantial snow away.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the weirdest holidays for me as an American overseas.

I think I am most homesick over Thanksgiving, because only other Americans really "get it." Christmas, Easter...if you are in a country with any Christians at all, someone understands. But Thanksgiving? That is all us.

Thanksgiving is especially hard this year because I am also separated from my wife (though only 23 days to go, not that I am counting). And Thanksgiving for me is very much about being with my family. So this one has me a little in the dumps.

Luckily, my friends from language class have invited me to their place to share in the wonderful turkey goodness, so I won't be sitting in my apartment sulking. Plus, I am participating in a discussion on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" tomorrow evening (Why yes, I AM working on Thanksgiving...why do you act shocked?). So I will hopefully be too busy to be sad.

And today, I spoke to kids from the Jewish School here about Thanksgiving. I told them a bit about the history, a bit about the Indian perspective, and they read some poens they wrote for the occassion, did a presentation, and a group of girls sang a song (not a holiday song, but it was cute anyway).


Now, things I am thankful for:

A job I love.

That I will see my wife in 23 days and we will spend Christmas together.

That I just completed my first week as duty officer here without a single call (that NEVER happened in Jerusalem).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Do I Look Like?

Yesterday was a good day, but it left me still puzzled about the whole language thing.

First, the good parts.

My shipment from the commissary arrived. There was a mistake though...they DOUBLED my order of Diet Mt. Dew!

I now have TWENTY cases of Diet Mt. Dew.

This is NOT a bad thing.

I ration. One a day. I got through Jerusalem that way...only went one or two days without one.

Don't judge me. We all have our addictions.

So that means I have 240 days worth of Diet Mt. Dew. Plus I got a case of blueberry bagels. One bag in the fridge, the rest in the freezer. So I have bagels for a while (side note: why the hell doesn't Estonia have bagels? They don't even have bad bagels. I totally do not get it...this is a first world country, for heaven's sake!). My car still has a lovely blueberry smell from bringing them home.

So life is good.

And at the end of the day, I got an email from the PA section in Vilnius asking if I was interested in joining in with them to bring BETTY to the Balts.

Oh hell yeah!

For those of you who don't know, BETTY is pretty famous in the LGBT community. They did the theme song for the L Word and performed on the show numerous times. They are an alternative rock group and they will represent American culture and LGBT tolerance. And folks in my section tell me it has been a while since we have had a rock band here, and that this should go over really well. So it is still tentative, but I am really excited about it.

Now for the puzzling part.

Many folks tell me that people here just start of and stay in English with them here. I always figured they just weren't trying hard enough to use Estonian.

Now I am less sure.

Yesterday, I went to the sub place in the mall near the Embassy. There was a line, two guys and two women who seemed to be together. The guys were speaking Estonian, and though one appeared somewhat Asian (maybe Russian from the Steppes), he was speaking Estonian with his friend way more fluently than I do. And then the cashier came to take his order and spoke to him in English (after having spoken to the other guy in Estonian). He did his order in English and then she proceeded to take the women's orders, also in English.

Then she got to me...and spoke Estonian.

And I placed my order in Estonian. At one point, she asked me something in English, apologized, and switched back to Estonian!

Seriously...I am confused. I have noticed in the past that wherever I have gone, I had a cameleon-type tendency. By that, I mean that people usually I am mixed with something and whatever they are. Indian communities know I am mixed Indian. But it has happened among African Americans, Hispanics, and Jewish people as well (yes, I know that is a racist assumption that Jews somehow look alike, but it was Jewish people, not me, making that assumption, both in the states and in Jerusalem).

But I don't look Estonian. I have been told that I could look like someone from Saaremaa. And lately some have said that maybe they think I am Russian. I suppose that is possible...a couple Russians here have spoken to me in Russian, but mostly the Russians also speak to me in Estonian.

So I am at a loss...I am beginning to think that people are right that people speak to them in English. And I am happy that they don't speak to me in English. But I no longer have any idea why.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What I've been up to

Aside from about five foot.

You remember that line in the movie Airplane where Leslie Nielson says he picked the wrong week to give up smoking (and then drinking, pot, crack...)?

I picked the wrong week to let my APAO go on training!

You may or may not have seen that the U.S. joined the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. That center is here in Estonia, and is something we have been working on for a while. For us specifically in Public Affairs, we have been working on trying to get press attention for the announcement. Based on the number of hits on google, I am satisfied with our efforts.

And if that was all I had to work on this week, it would have been a long week.

But Monday we had a reception at the Ambassador's house for Educators. Tuesday night, I showed a film to some 60-70 students at KUMU. Wednesday night we had a rehearsal of the cyber center ceremony. When I got back from that, I worked on finishing some texts I had been trying to find time to work on for WEEKS. And then last night, we had the cyber center ceremony AND THEN and reception for Afghan diplomats.

I am hoping to leave on time tonight. And to sleep this weekend. A lot.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lunch with Ambassador Guest

If you hurry, you can join in the GLIFAA lunch with Ambassador Michael Guest.

Ambassador Guest and his colleagues from the Council for Global Equality were at the Department for this morning for a briefing on LGBT issues for EUR Desk Officers. Immediately thereafter, they've agreed to join GLIFAA members for a brown bag lunch in Room 4517. So if you are at or near Main State, head over, lunch in hand, at 12:15.

Ambassador Guest served as the first out career Foreign Service Officer to be confirmed as an Ambassador by the U.S. Senate in 2001. He currently serves as a Senior Advisor at the Council for Global Equality, a non-profit serving to advance LGBT rights as part of U.S. efforts to promote human rights.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Marines!


I generally don't like balls (no comments from the peanut gallery).

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.

I don't like dressing up. I particularly don't like wearing dresses. I don't own one. And since I did not wear a dress for either my college graduation or my mother's funeral, I can't think of an occassion where I would be willing to put one on at this point in my life.

I also don't drink. Or dance.

So yeah, balls are not really my thing.

I do, however, LOVE our Marines. They are great guys, and I sincerely appreciate that they put their lives on the line to guard the embassy. I feel better knowing they are there.

Plus, with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I feel better knowing that LGBT can serve in dignity. I feel better knowing that I could serve (well...if I weren't so darned OLD), something I always wanted to do when I was younger. I feel included now.

So I felt like it was important to go to the Marine Corps Ball...important enough to miss listening to the South Carolina-Florida game (we won - yay!).

I am glad I went. The ball was very well done...our Gunney did a fabulous job with it...it was very tasteful and dignified. Everyone there looked stunning (you'll have to take my word for that since I don't put pictures of people from the embassy on here)! The food was excellent. The music was great (and for those of you who dislike 80s music...too bad!). And I got to meet a lot of interesting people...like an Irish guy working for the British Embassy who attended Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC!

And before you ask...no, I didn't wear a dress (pantsuit...but my jacket had a tiny bit of sparkle, and my shirt was shiny blue silk) and no, I didn't dance.

I didn't drink either...well, not intentionally anyway...I did reach for my water glass and take a drink of someone's really sweet white wine (seriously, this wine had NO COLOR...I did actually look at the glass before I drank from it).

So Happy 236th Birthday Marines...I am happy I got to celebrate with you!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

St. Martin's Day Market


This week, Estonia celbrated Mardipäev, or St. Martin's Day. The day is named for St. Martin, a Roman soldier who was baptised and became a monk later in life. He apparently cut his cloak in half to give to a beggar to keep the beggar from dying from the cold, then that night had a dream where Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me."

The feast day is, I think, November 11, but I know that Estonian kids went out on Wednesday night. I think because of the history of the day being associated with the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of winter period, and associated fairs where the men went looking for work, children now dress men and go door to door, singing songs in exchange for candy. Like Halloween but different.

No kids came to my door, largely because I live in a building with security and such, but I did get to go to the St. Martin's Day Market. The market is filled with vendors from all across the country who come in to sell their handmade crafts. It is a chance to get some beautiful handmade work for a little less than it sells in the Old City and with much greater variety than you can find there.

The market was packed, and in addition to getting to watch folk dancing of all kinds and getting to see President Ilves' wife sign books, there was everything there from knitted sweaters and gloves, to iron work, baskets, woodwork, blown glass, and then some. There were, in addition to craftspeople from Estonia, also folks from Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, Turkey and Slovenia. Needless to say, my Christmas shopping is nearly complete...and my checking account is a bit lighter!



















Friday, November 11, 2011

AFSA Responds to Insult to Diplomats

AFSA (the American Foreign Service Association), put out this response to Governor Rick Perry's insulting claim that diplomats do not have America's best interests at heart. (To their credit, they did not use any of the expletives I had in mind.)

Texas Governor Rick Perry's comments about members of the U.S. Foreign Service during a Nov. 7 radio interview (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/7/perry-questions-intentions-of-american-diplomats) reflect a serious misunderstanding of their role in promoting American interests overseas. Diplomacy is rightly recognized as the first line of defense and a vital instrument for ensuring national security, along with the military. Foreign Service professionals carry out their role with exemplary dedication all over the world, including war zones and other dangerous regions.

Indeed, hundreds of American diplomats have given their lives in the line of duty, including six ambassadors: John Mein (Guatemala, 1968), Cleo Noel (Sudan, 1973), Rodger Davies (Cyprus, 1974), Francis Meloy (Lebanon, 1976), Adolph Dubs (Afghanistan, 1979) and Arnold Raphel (Pakistan, 1988). Other Foreign Service professionals who have made the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of terrorists or drug traffickers include Charles Robert Ray (France, 1982), William Buckley (Lebanon, 1985), Gary Durell and Jacqueline Van Landingham (Pakistan, 1995), George Tsantes (Greece, 1983), Leamon Hunt (Italy, 1984), Barbara Green and Laurence Foley (Pakistan, 2002), James Mollen and Edward Seitz (Iraq, 2004), Barbara Heald, Keith Taylor and Stephen Sullivan (Iraq, 2005), and David Foy (Pakistan, 2006). The bombings of our embassies in Beirut in 1983 and 1985, and in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, killed scores more.

Wherever they are posted, American diplomats are dedicated to serving their country, promoting U.S. national interests as articulated by our country's elected leaders. Drawing on invaluable expertise accumulated over decades of living and working in countries all over world, often separated from family, they provide sound advice for policy decisions regardless of which party is in power, in keeping with high standards of professional excellence. They serve at the pleasure of the president, are confirmed by Congress and need the informed support of both branches of government to be effective.

In an ever more uncertain, complex world our diplomatic personnel deal with the entire spectrum of our interaction with the rest of the world. So to keep America strong and secure, we need more diplomacy, not less. And we need more, not less, support from our political leaders and citizens for their work to defend and advance our interests abroad.

The Washington Post also covered AFSA's response: Diplomat's Respond Bluntly Rick Perry.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Better Than I Did

You need to go over and check out this post by Donna over at Email From The Embassy. She takes on the comments about questioning diplomats' motives far better than I did (and we all have our fingers crossed for her as she submits her QEPs...because she is awesome).

Here is just a bit of it:

"People don't always agree with each other in the Foreign Service, and people don't always get along on a personal level. But Foreign Service officers always advance the agenda of our government, without fail. And they work together, no matter their personal beliefs. Because that is what they were hired to do. Imagine that, if you will: Democrats and Republicans, all working together on behalf of our nation - it happens every single day in the Foreign Service.

[...]

And here's the kicker: if he somehow manages to pull off a victory, those very same Foreign Service officers whom he just mindlessly insulted will stand up and support his policies across the globe.

Because that's what the Foreign Service is about. Diplomats support American ideals in every country across the globe, often at great risk to themselves and their families. Diplomats (and their boss, the Secretary of State) don't set their own policies. Rather, they serve as boots on the ground, the eyes and ears of the President in every corner of the globe. Diplomats report back what they see and hear and think in these countries that Rick Perry has probably never considered visiting. They present the facts - and yes, they present their own educated opinions - so that our President has the information he needs to create and direct policy. Once the President decides on policy, these same diplomats work to advance his agenda. Not their own agendas, mind you. Never their own agendas."

I recommend you read the whole post.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

We Deserve Better

Nobody joins the Foreign Service to get rich.

We join for a miriad of reasons, but scratch most of us in the Foreign Service and you will find a deeply patriotic American.

We endure harsh conditions in war zones and other inhospitable places. We endure separations from our loved ones, sometimes for years. We endure diseases and environmental conditions most Americans would never consider subjecting their families to.


We earn, according to a recent study, 26% less than we could in comparable private sector jobs, and yet we endure the seemingly endless accusations that we are just overpaid bureaucrats who are the cause of our country's economic crisis. And to that end, lately we have endured pay freezes and pay cuts, and we live with the fear of job cuts and government shutdowns.

And still we serve.

We serve because we believe. We believe in this country. We believe in serving it. We believe that in order to be strong, this country needs both military and diplomatic strength.

So we deserve better than having a candidate for president of this great country question our intentions.

We deserve better than someone saying "I’m not sure our State Department serves us well...I’m talking about the career diplomats and the Secretary of State who, all too often, may not be making decisions, or giving advice to the administration that’s in this country’s best interest."

Trust me. Everything we do...EVERYTHING WE DO...we do because we believe it is in our country's best interest.

That is why we serve. FOR our country. PERIOD.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Welcome to the 164th!

It is that time again, time to welcome the new FSOs to the Foreign Service! The 164the A-100 class began today!

So a special welcome to the following bloggers:

FSO Wannabe (who I hope actually accepted the offer!)

That lady, There

and

You Can't Get There From Here.

Your blogs have been moved to the FS blogroll.

Let me know if I have missed anyone.

Welcome and congrats!!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Don't Hate Me Because Tallinn's Beautiful


You know you are jealous.

I still think it is pretty cool that I get to live in a place like Tallinn for three years.

And that I get to do the work I am doing for three years (exhausted though I already am).

I took this picture yesterday from Lounge 24, a bar on top of the Radisson Hotel. I was there because we are planning an event for next month, and we hope to hold it there.

I had a picture of me taken from up there as well (which I won't be posting here, even though lots of you clearly already know what I look like), and I swear it looks like I am standing in from of one of those fake tourist posters.

So yeah, don't hate me...come visit!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

It is not that I don't care

(about the blog, that is...) I have just been slammed.

By the end of the week, I *might* have gone home on time one night...Friday, I am seriously counting on you!

I was in Pärnu Monday night for the close of Pärnu America Weeks. We spoke to a high school class, a college class and went to the closing ceremony. They had a ginourmous cake which was pretty good (cakes here are different than in the states but they are pretty good if you aren't expecting a U.S. style cake. The same could not be said for most cakes in Jerusalem, so I will take it). I got home about 10:30.



Yesterday, I was at the Ambassador's residence first for an interview with his wife by Eesti Naine, the oldest and most respected women's magazine in Estonia...it was Eesti Naine (Estonian Woman) during the first Estonian republic, then it became Soviet Woman then went back to Estonian Woman after re-independence. So it has been around since 1923 I think.

After that, we had a reception at the residence, an econ thing I wouldn't have normally been involved with had there not been a press component. So I got home at about 9.

Tonight, we are having a Town Hall for the American citizens here in Estonia. My guess is I will make it home 8:30ish.

And tomorrow we have a film screening...again, I'll likely get home 8:30ish.

I am defending my Friday evening like a mother bear.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Visiting Helsinki

I am officially old.

Last night, I went to a Halloween party at the Marine House. Lot's of folks were there, many in costume, but I knew I was going to Helsinki today, so I left early. I knew I wanted to get a good night's sleep. Plus, I wanted to go to the party at Shimo (a bar in the Old City) with some folks tonight.

I am so not going to that party. In fact, you would be hard pressed to make me get out of my sweatpants for any reason at this point.

But visiting Helsinki was awesome.

(Well, except for the part where people were speaking Finnish. Because it sounds like Estonian, except that I could only understand about half of it. So it made me feel like an idiot.)

The ferry ride to Helsinki is only about 2 hours and costs about 33 euros. A friend and I took the 7:30 ferry (entirely too frickin' early) over and the 2:30 ferry back. We spent five hours wandering around Helsinki, visiting the market by the water, the Russian Orthodox cathedral (pictured above), and the National Museum. We walked tons of places, I took tons of pictures, and I saw more of Helsinki in five hours than I got to see of Brussels in the five days I was there.

Which is why I am going to bed right after I post this!


Icon inside the Russian Orthodox Cathedral



Inside the Russian Orthodox Cathedral


Parking Turtles



National Museum


Bear at National Museum


P.S. Anyone else notice how sunny it is in these pictures? It was also 50 degrees. D.C.? Snowing. Yeah, I think that is funny too!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh, you do speak Estonian

Last night, I attended a dinner at F-Hoone that was part of the the Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association’s "Hea Kodanik" (Good Citizen) program. The program lasts for three days and is geared toward giving Estonia’s youth both the motivation and a forum to discuss important and occassionally troubling aspects of their society. Leading Estonian politicians, experts, and opinion makers like Mart Laar and Sven Mikser are participating in the event this year (though the Ambassador was the featured guest of last night's event). These leaders talk about the importance of the state in addressing society’s needs, and more specifically, the role that the Estonia Parliament can play in shaping citizen societal engagement.

In other words, how to be a good citizen.

There were about 100 high school students from both Estonian and Russian schools from across Estonia there last night, all around 17 or 18 years old. The group was about 50-50 Estonian and Russian.

It was pretty interesting...a nice mix of kids...some from Narva who had never had an Estonian friend, some from Saaremaa who had never met a Russian. They were eager to talk to the Ambassador and were ready to have interesting, thoughtful conversations with him, me and my APAO.

I had one funny thing happen last night...I was talking to a table of kids, mixed Russian and Estonian. We were speaking in English because one of the Russian kids didn't speak Estonian (the other Russian girl, who was from Tallinn, switched back and forth between Russian and Estonian with great ease...her English wasn't as good as the others', but she often defaulted to Estonian when she couldn't get out what she wanted to say). Anyway, one kid asked me what languages I spoke, and I said "English, obviously, Estonian..." and he chuckled and said Estonian? And I looked at him and said, "Jah, ma räägin eesti keelt." And the look of shock on his face was awesome! He said (with no apparent hint of irony), "Oh, you do speak Estonian."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tintin

Last night, I attended the premier of the new Steven Spielberg movie, Tintin, with the Ambassador and a number of folks from the Embassy.

We co-sponsored the event with the Belgian embassy because the film is based on the cartoon by Belgian cartoonist Hergé.

It was the first 3-D movie I have been to since the really crappy 3-D of my childhood. I was a bit concerned that it would make me quesy as those old 3-D flicks did. But technology has really advanced. It was pretty awesome.

After the movie, we had a reception, complete with Belgian beer and California wines (not for the kids though!).

The movie opens here for the general public tomorrow (I understand it opens next month in the U.S. because Spielberg felt this story belonged to Europe) at Solaris Center and at Coca Cola Plaza.

and just on a side note: Holy Cow! We are not far from being able to make films that look like living people acting with no humans involved!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Alec Ross

I've had an interesting and busy couple of days to start off my week.

Alec Ross, who is the Secretary's Senior Advisor for Innovation came in yesterday for a whirlwind visit to Tallinn (1.5 days) before he jetted off to other locales, hopefully to tell them how awesome we are!

This was not my first time meeting Alec...that happened back when I was in the Public Affairs Front Office. But this was first (and second) time I heard him speak. First was at the Estonian Policy institute at the MFA. The auditorium was pretty packed and they asked some great questions. I live tweeted his talk and some of the answers. This is something I hope to do with some of the Ambassador's future speeches.

I tweeted on the Embassy Tallinn's twitter account. But something he said has me thinking...people prefer to follow people rather than institutions. So I need to think about whether I should have a twitter account as PAO (we all know Digger has one) or just keep things as is (with the Ambassador having a twitter account in addition to the Embassy account. I'm not sure yet.

At any rate, before yesterday's talk, we held a country team meeting to tell him some of the things we are up to here in Tallinn, and I think he liked a lot of our ideas and approaches. After yesterday's talk, he did some interviews and met with some folks at the MFA before heading to dinner with at the Ambassador's. I wasn't there, so I'll have to assume it was awesome.

This morning, I live tweeted Alec again at the e-Governance Academy's Social Media Seminar. The guy is seriously tweetable. I told him so, and he took it as the compliment it was intended.

By the time you read this, he will be well on his way to his next stop. But I was impressed with his presentations and I feel more than ever that we are on a good path with Social Media.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Freedom!

There are many ways in which I am a typical American, but one is certainly how much I love my car.

(Yeah, yeah M, YOUR car. Possession is 9/10th...come to Estonia if you want it back! :) )

So I jumped at the chance to speak at the European Youth Parliament Sunday. The topic was one near and dear to my heart (LGBT issues), and it meant a chance to get outside of Tallinn on my own.

Several folks were surprised that I was willing to drive 2.5 hours each way to speak at this event, but given how little I have gotten to drive lately and that M is not here to spend my spare time with, I figured it was a great chance to really test out the European maps on the GPS my dad got me (verdict: Not bad...though it was convinced on a new portion of the road that I was driving in the fields NEXT TO the road). And I just love getting out driving alone. For someone who is pretty extroverted, I really value a chance to be alone on the road, just me, my thoughts, and a blasting ipod.

An added bonus was that I enjoyed speaking at the Parliament. If these are the future leaders of the EU, Europe is in good shape. They were smart, asked thoughtful questions, and were thoroughly prepared. I was impressed.

And on the way to the Parliament, I spotted some local farmers selling their goods on the side of the road. I managed to procure myself a pumpkin despite not having the amount it costed in small change (it was 2 euros and something, I had one euro and something and a 20 euro bill). He decided to let me have it for the change I had, and I promised to come back and give him the other euro later.

And I did...I got back before all the other vendors had left, and one older lady said she would give him the euro. So I bought a kilo of apples from her.

All of this was in Estonian...the folks in the country clearly do not speak English...I felt pretty good about my skillz...

(until I got home and could not understand the metro cop who was trying to be friendly and I gather was telling me I should take my dog out to the woods to potty instead of on the rocks. I got the words dog, forest and stones out of it, and asked him what he said. He repeated it, I still didn't understand (men are hard to understand anyway, plus I understood the words but not the meaning at first), and he asked if I spoke Russian. I said no. He said, oh, you don't speak Estonian or Russian. I said no, I speak Estonian a little. So he repeated to me what he had said and I finally understood that he was suggesting I take Noostie to the woods rather than let her potty on the rocks.

Which she was doing at that moment.

BECAUSE he had stopped me...I normally take her to a grassy area.

Language skillz fail.

And finally, I snapped a shot of this, that I hope you find as funny as I did...driving along and I look up and WTH? It is the Hollywood sign! In Estonia. I pulled in to take this picture and spotted the little restaurant that I'd have otherwise passed before I saw it because of the way it is situated. I definitely will stop to eat there next time.

So advertising win, little restaurant!



Saturday, October 22, 2011

Out In The World: U.S. a beacon for LGBT rights globally

This Press Release comes from the Bay Area Reporter (Serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities since 1971):

Out In The World: U.S. a beacon for LGBT rights globally

by Heather Cassell

The Obama administration is rolling up its sleeves and putting muscle behind its promises to LGBT individuals and women to uphold rights not only domestically, but globally, a gay State Department official said.

"America has a long record of being out there on human right issues and standing up for universal values, they are American values, but they are also universal," Daniel Baer, openly gay deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. State Department, said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

"It is beneficial to our national interest for America to be seen as a beacon of moral leadership in the world. The fact is we are strongest when we are leading and when we are leading from principle," said Baer, 34, who has been working on international human rights issues for two years.

An estimated 80 countries continue to criminalize same-sex behavior. Hate crimes against LGBT individuals continue to afflict countries. Discrimination against and hatred of queer people continues to cast these individuals off as outsiders. The end result is bad for economic development, public health, communities and bad even for the perpetrator of hate and of course the victim, Baer noted.

There is a moral price paid for perpetrators, societies, and victims of hate and prejudice, Baer believes.

"We've seen time and time again that in societies where one group of people is denied to express themselves ... those societies are not stable societies and they are not as successful societies," said Baer, who oversees Asia and Africa. He was on his way to catch a flight to Ivory Coast to address human rights violations amidst unrest, as he spoke to the B.A.R. on the phone.

"Societies are more stable and more successful when they give everybody a chance to claim their future and when they take advantage of the full range of talents across society," he continued.

Baer's speech to religious leaders at the Compass to Compassion Conference in New York City on October 13 was the first indication following President Barack Obama's address at the United Nations last month that the U.S. is making moves on recent global policy on LGBT rights passed by the UN earlier this year.

The U.S. is moving to implement toolkits to assist embassies with handling human rights violations against LGBT individuals. Communities won't be left out in the cold; local leaders will be provided with high-tech tools by the State Department to document hate crimes against LGBT individuals in their communities. Information gathered will be compiled in Baer's department's annual human rights report.

America is firmly positioning itself to be a lifeline to people who are "engines of change" in their own societies by, "really supporting these people who are the change-makers on the ground and who will be building stronger societies for themselves and their neighbors and their compatriots," said Baer.
Religious leaders are part of his outreach.

"Religious leaders play a very important role in shaping the way that people see and understand their societies around the world," said Baer, who believes that religious and secular leaders need to "engage" each other in dialogue about human rights issues for LGBTs and women. "They have a role to play in the tolerance agenda," he said.

In Baer's vision the "world is stronger if we support human rights," he said, calling global human rights an American issue.

To read Baer's speech, visit here.