The bombs in Algiers destroyed the offices of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) entirely, and severely damaged the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It also took the lives of at least 11 UN employees, including an Algerian who had just started her job a few weeks ago as communications officer, the Democratic Governance Programme Manager (she was committed to ensuring access to justice for all), a consultant for the Mine Action Programme, and a local driver. Algerians, a Senegalese, a Dane and a Filipino... they worked for UNDP, UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNFPA, ILO, UNDSS, UNIDO... those might just be alphabet soup to you, but to me, they are hard-working organizations that are part of a family.
The dead are people who were working to help create sustainable livelihoods for the poor, supporting access to justice for everyone, strengthening the National Parliament, promoting environmental protection, working for women's inclusion and empowerment, and on and on. The victims were civilians, mostly Algerians, who were working for peace, development and the alleviation of poverty and human suffering.
It was the worst attack against U.N. staff since an August 2003 bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 other UN staff. I knew people injured in that attack. This time, so far, I don't think I know anyone.
It's the death of the communications officer that, ofcourse, has thrown me for a huge loop. I didn't know her. But we worked for the same company, doing the same job, in different countries. That gives me pause.
In a Reuters story, UN staffer Naima Silarbi said of the bombing, "It's cowardice." She added, "If you love your country you build it, you don't destroy it." It's so true.
I'm really upset. I mourn for these UN brothers and sisters, and I mourn for the mounting losses caused by religious extremism. Once again, I am reminded of what the real meaning is behind the words to "Imagine" by John Lennon.
I haven't joined FaceBook because I've joined every other freakin' social networking thing out there and all I've ended up with is an increase in weird emails and requests for employment (instead of OFFERS of such). Thomas, formally of Afghanistan (sadly, we weren't there at the same time, something I frequently lament), sent me a description of a group on Facebook:
A group for those of us who worked there and, "when I lived in Afghanistan..." slips into our dining-out tales all too frequently still. Those of us who recall the taste of the first bite of hot naan fresh from the oven, whose houses are full of carpets that we don't have room for, and whose friends have all been told about the time we saw bushkashi. Somewhere, for everyone, there's a photo of us wearing a turban, a pakol, a shalwar, a burqa. We slip 'inshallah' into the conversation and we'll forever walk off the path with a little voice saying 'landmines' in the back of our head. And though in some ways we're relieved not to be there anymore, there will always be a part of us that is hopelessly nostalgic and wishes we were still there.It's all true, except for wishing I was still there... and I never saw bushkashi in-person, and never wanted to.
The Taliban, unfortunately, isn't going into hybernation this winter, as they have in previous years. How many times have I been past the Kabul police headquarters? I couldn't count all the times... with all the chaos out on the streets, it's not surprising that there was the time and opportunity to set up a rocket launcher right outside and start firing away.
I'm continuing to mentor Fariba, the monitoring and reporting assistant at the initiative I worked at back in Afghanistan, helping her with her graduate studies. Her thesis is on the impact on development success per women in leadership roles. If you have any suggestions regarding resources that talk about how supporting women to participate in development decision-making on the local, regional, national and institutional level leads to greater success in development activities, please contact me, and I'll pass them on. It's your opportunity to invest in a woman in Afghanistan in her efforts to become a leader in her country!
Among our many fabulous wedding presents was the DVD for the London production of Jerry Springer the Opera . It's hilarious... for about 15 minutes. Then it gets old. The joke doesn't last long, and a lot of the songs go on too long. I just think it could have been an hour long and just as effective. But it is a brilliant idea. I have to admit that I enjoyed the DVD extras more than the show itself -- the story of the show is fascinating.
The guy who plays Jerry Springer is PERFECT... and I never guessed who it was; I found out when I looked up the credit list online. I nearly fell over. I'm not going to say who it is -- you need to see it for yourself. DON'T PEEK... not at least until your 10 minutes into his performance. Also, watch it with the subtitles on. It's too hard to understand the lyrics otherwise.
Speaking of the wedding, we got the majority of thank you cards out and finished the master photo CD of the wedding celebration before the end of November. HURRAH! If you haven't received a thank you card, write me and say, "Well, I just wanted to make sure you received the blah blah blah" -- according to Miss Manners, that's perfectly acceptable.
Ah, Miss Manners... another one of our fabulous wedding gifts was Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior , and it's DELIGHTFUL. Miss Manners is a very funny lady, in addition to be terribly helpful with advice about social interactions. It's an awesome book.
But, ofcourse, let me say it again -- the best present was just having so many of you THERE at the celebration. I never get tired of looking at the photos.
Speaking of manners, I had NONE at the Thanksgiving dinner I hosted. I wore sweat pants. No homemade stuffing this year, and it's a good thing I didn't attempt such -- the groceries had no celery. Luckily, I had plenty of Pepperidge Farm stuffing, per my US Military connection... who just retired, so, no more Pepperidge Farm stuffing...
We kept it small this year -- just Lis (the Hoosier) and Tim (99 LuftBalloons). Menu: Turkey (the best I've EVER done, no kidding, which I attribute to defrosting the darn thing correctly for once), aforementioned stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and glazed carrots that were so sweet they tasted like sweet potatoes (recipe downloaded from the "Internets"... I could not cook without the Internets). Appetizer: tomato ricotta soup (Maggi). Dessert: chocolate brownies (thanks, Lis!).
A few days later, I fried up the neck and gizzards of the turkey, made milk gravy from the resulting fat AND ATE IT OVER WHITE BREAD. You can take the girl outta Kentucky, but you cain't take Kentucky outta that girl.
For some unexplained reason, we cannot get digital cable in our house. Our landlord has it -- he's right here in the same house. But every time we try, the channels go offline every three seconds or so. Therefore, except for CNN International, I have no access to English on TV. And I get sick of CNN International after a while. So I watch Germany TV. My favorite shows? Other than the children's shows -- QUIZ TAXI!! It's "Jeopardy" in a taxi ride. I think the USA version of the show is called Cash Cab. I'm dieing to end up in the Quiz Taxi, but he doesn't come to Sinzig (he *does* come to Bonn, however...)
I also watch the A-Team in German, because it's surreal to do so.
Recently, I was flipping around on TV and saw someone that made my jaw drop. He looked like he could be Alan Rickman's son, if such existed. It was eerie. It took me a while to figure out what the show was, because it's called something different in German. Finally I got it -- some show called "Angela's Eyes." And through the Internet Movie Database, I found out the Rickman lookalike is Joe Cobden. Look up the name on Google Web images. Someone had already posted about the similarities with Rickman on the IMDB message boards, actually, so it's not just me that thinks this.
Staying on the subject of TV... Betsy sent me Californicaton . My verdict? Well... David Duchovny: still so freakin' hot. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't probably be interested, because his character is rather dreadful and the show is a detailed study of everything I *hate* about Los Angeles. Good points: fantastic soundtrack, some hysterically funny lines, and, hey, David Duchovny -- still so freakin' hot...
Do Atheists Put Up Christmas Trees?
We haven't, but only because there's no room in the flat. We will as soon as we have a space to do so.
Actually, Christmas trees have no biblical basis; their basis is in the pagan celebrations that took place in Europe around this time of year. Same for the Yule log -- it was an observance of a Norse god. Misteltoe as well -- pagan origins long, long before it were adopted by Christians. In fact, that's why the American Puritans frowned on Christmas as a holiday, and on any of these symbols being put up (you got flogged for such back in the day). Christmas was not widely observed in the USA until late in the 1800s/early 1900s, with the influx of Europeans who brought their Christianized-pagan rituals with them.
We -- Stefan, Albi and I -- observe the European rituals of Christmas as a reminder of the history of humans and their rituals, and their ongoing quest to explain and celebrate the world around them. Plus, we love the prezzies and the food.
Still promoting that we adopt the Catatalan Christmas Eve practice of smacking a log with a stick while singing, but no one is buying it in my household.
Speaking of the reality-based community, I'm now hooked on Point of Inquiry, podcast interviews with various writers, scientists, entertainers and others regarding the importance of reason and science, church-state separation, the effects and proper role of religion in society, the future of secularism and non-belief, etc., as well as skeptical inquiries into claims of the paranormal, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, etc. And what's really nice is that it works on OS9 (wish every podcast was this simple to use)!
Open University, where I got my MSc from, has a free open content initiative called OpenLearn. The more-than-40 units of study offered are spread across nine subject areas: Arts & History, Business & Management, Education, IT & Computing, Mathematics & Statistics, Science & Nature, Society and Study Skills & Language Learning. In short: these are free university courses online, except you don't pay... and you aren't graded. Only downside of OpenLearn: it requires that you use a latest web browser. So if you use an older operating system and cannot update your browser, you are locked out of many of the features (but not the reading materials).
I'm currently taking Achieving public dialogue (S802_1), which looks at active forms of involvement by the public in policy relating to science: how is the public voice heard and understood? What is public involvement of this type for and is the outcome in some way betterš than traditional methods of policy making? What do phrases like "public consultation," "public engagement" and "scientific literacy" really mean? How do non-experts weigh the risks and benefits that science offers?
Why am I taking this course? Several reasons:
I had never heard of the Philip Pullman trilogy of books, His Dark Materials , until all the controversy erupted over the movie of the first book, The Golden Compass hit the airwaves. I had already planned on seeing the movie only because it has yummy Daniel Craig in it, but now? Heck, I've got the trilogy on order! You BET I'm reading them!
I can't believe people are sending out email warnings telling parents not to take their kids to this movie because of its supposed anti-Christian message. These are the same people who proudly took their kids to the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre (Passion of Christ ) -- a movie I think is one of the most stomach-churning, nightmare-inducing, terrorizing films ever made.
In the meantime, I think I'll go watch Life of Brian , one of my favs of all time that the right wingers helped make a hit all over the world.
Just Say No to Karoshi
In Japan, a growing number of people are dieing from Karoshi -- overwork. Employees are driven by peer pressure and internal competition to give more and more hours to their employer. And the stress and over work kills them. Literally.
Compared to people in other developed countries, Americans don't ask for more vacation time. Americans also don't take all the vacation time their employers give them and continue to work while they are on vacation. BUT NOT THIS AMERICAN.
Living in Germany and seeing a culture that puts its families first, that works very hard during the work day but then TUNES OUT from work and leaves such out of the home, and that cherishes and celebrates non-work hours, has helped me further commit to working to live, not living to work. You will hear pundits on TV decry the German economy, but come on over, and you will see people who are much more centered, fulfilled and healthy than most Americans (as well as cleaner, safer streets and better mass transit).
People cannot work ten hours a day (or more), six and seven days a week, year after year, without suffering physically and mentally. Sooner or later, it will have negative consequences on your life. And will your employer be there for you when that time happens? Probably not.
In my 20s, I lived to work. During my 30s, I decided to change my life and, ever since, I work to live. And I am soooooo much happier, so much more sane, and a much more productive worker.
Use your vacation time. Use it ALL. And DEMAND MORE. And don't answer your work email after hours, from home, or on vacation. And if your company isn't down with this healthy way of living, MOVE ON.
What I was reading during this blawg: Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton. Very funny. Her childhood stories and the way she tells them reminds me of Mamaw (my paternal grandmother).
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