Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Birthday!

Today is my birthday. It doesn’t feel like any other day except for the fact that I am sick. For the past week my mom has been sick (with the flu) and I, as always, have been taking care of her. Yesterday, after mowing the yards and cleaning the whole house, it finally hit me like a violent smack across the face. I have been on medicine since last night and all it really seems to do is make me feel weaker and sleep more.

People have been asking me what great plans I have for today. Last year I was in New York City and saw a Broadway show. The year before that I was in Fairbanks, Alaska and the year before that we had just gotten home from: Ireland, Northern Ireland and England. My “great” plans for today are: taking care of my dogs, taking care of my mom, taking medicine and sleeping. Sounds like a great time I know. My dad just went back to Afghanistan five days ago and while we should have celebrated my birthday (and my mom’s – her’s is in 2 weeks) early we didn’t. As usual, everything was left to the last minute and he left with a “to-do list” mostly undone and a very messy house. Which I have since cleaned.

My mom and I had discussed BBQing today (since I really like it and rarely get any) but with her sick that was shelved. Then we had discussed driving an hour to a BBQ place I just recently found online and wanted to try, but with me now sick that was also put on the back burner. While we do have the makings for BBQ hamburgers and cole slaw I doubt that we will have even that. I will probably just make some frozen meal. As for a cake: since I didn’t buy/make one myself I am sure there won’t be one.

People also ask me what I got for presents. Again, in years past I received many great things. This year I got: a handful of birthday cards (anyone who knows me knows that I love getting cards even more than presents), a birthday post card, candy from Germany, some movies, books, a gift card and money. My parents gave me a card. I know that mail can be slow and all my friends and family live out of state (and some out of the country) so I could still get something in the mail a little later.

I have also received 1 e-card and many posts on Facebook, but not one person has wished me (either in person or by phone) a “Happy Birthday.”

As you can see this has been a pretty dismal birthday in many respects. As of right now, I simply want to go to sleep and forget this birthday ever happened and hope that next year will be a little better (it couldn’t be much worse.)

Note: It is now 9 pm (4 hours since I wrote this post) and I have received two phone calls wishing me a "Happy Birthday." One was my sister and the other a friend. Both said I sound sick and awful. It was still nice to be remembered.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Latvian Russians

From DW:
"Russian youth camps irk Latvia"

Latvia has warned of increased efforts by Russia to gain influence on ethnic Russian youth in Latvia. Through training camps in Russia, the Kremlin is thought to be trying to win allegiance to Moscow rather than Riga.  Latvia's security services have issued an alarming warning and harsh allegations against their Russian neighbor: The accusation is that ethnic Russian teenagers from Latvia are being offered free military training at youth camps in Russia. According to a recent report by Latvian security police, the teenagers not only get boy-scout style military training, but also ideological lectures and demonstrations of Russia's military might. "It's not only Russia's foreign ministry and military forces that support these camps. Russia's secret agencies do, too," Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told Deutsche Welle. It's been two years since teenagers from the Russian-speaking minority of Latvia made the first trips to such camps in Russia. The participation is paid for by the Russian government. Last year, a training camp was organized in Velikiye Luki, a town in western Russia. The camp was entitled "Union - Heirs to the Victory" – referring to the Second World War when the Soviet Union and the Allies defeated Hitler's Germany.  Though only around 20 teenagers have participated in the camps so far, Latvia's politicians see it as a threat to national security. "Russia wants to use ethnic Russian youths living in Latvia and put ideological pressure on them. It wants to brainwash these kids into supporting the actions of Russia's soft power, or by winning peoples' hearts and minds. And that's how Russia wants to strengthen its control in the Baltic region," says Pabriks. Teams from countries like Belarus, Ukraine and Armenia participated in the 2012 camp. And there were also participants from the Baltic States, including teenagers from Latvia. The defense minister says participants are involved in a glorification of the Russian armed forces and Soviet history. And, for instance, they're being taught espionage by Russia's military servicemen. He stresses that it's a threat to national security because the kids return to Latvia as patriots of another country.  Pabriks believes Russia wants to reintegrate Latvians into a post-Soviet sphere of influence by stealth. In other words, it uses culture, economics and moral values to influence society. And these youth camps are just one tool, he says. But Anna Bakanach in Moscow, one of the organizers of the camp, denies the accusations. In fact, she says, it's an international event which aims to encourage cultural diversity among children. "I understand that there are objections against the relation to the Soviet Union. But the camp can only be associated with it because of its name 'Union- Heirs to the Victory'. Of course, the name represents the countries which participated in the Second World War. Although the Soviet Union was a huge and strong superpower, it's clear to everyone that it has no come back. And no one has tried nor is trying to revive it."  That said, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin wants to establish a so-called Eurasian Union - a political and economic bloc, which would also include some of the former Soviet states. Latvian security forces say that Russia has been investing considerable amounts of money to strengthen ties with Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics to help further the idea of this Eurasian Union. "The thing is that these camps are a clear example of Russia using soft power, and taking what could be viewed as simple, cultural events to the next stage," explains Rinalds Gulbis, a researcher at the Center for East European Policy Studies in Riga.  "I mean, the youths and people in general are now being involved in practical activities and military training." Gulbis explains that there is a large Russian speaking minority in Latvia. And half of them - around 300,000 people - are non-citizens and sentimental about the Soviet past. And these kinds of feelings are a fertile ground for Russia to target, says Gulbis.  "The most upsetting fact is that the youths in the camp had to sign a memorandum promising to protect Russia and its values. They vowed to support the spread of the Russian language, culture and to defend Russian politics. The question is – does it match our Latvian values?" Both Pabriks and Gulbis say that Latvia needs to do more to involve kids in patriotic military camps back home in Latvia to counteract what they see as Russian infiltration. According to youth NGOs working in the country, at the moment only every 10th child in Latvia is able to attend a state-funded summer camp at all. That's why Pabriks wants to increase funding for youth programs as he can't forbid children from going to Russia. In the meantime, the foreign ministry in Riga has signaled to Russia that the involvement of Latvian youths in its military camps does not exactly improve mutual relations between the two countries.

^ It does seem a little off to have military training especially considering that Latvia abolished conscription in 2007. It would be one thing if the Russian camp was like a Boy Scout camp (ie teaching good citizenship and basic survival skills) but it seems, at least from this article, that this camp is like a Hitler Youth and a Soviet Pioneer camp (ie teaching political messages as well as weapons/military training.) No matter how much Russia and Putin want the former Soviet Union to come back I do not think it ever will (definitely not the super power it was after World War 2.) Sometimes you have to realize facts and let things go (while holding onto whatever fond memories you had.) Latvia (and other former Soviet Republics) should do more to incorporate the ethnic Russians inside their borders otherwise they will continue to feel like outsiders and go to more of these camps or do other things. It has been 20 + years since the USSR collapsed and while back in  1991 and for several years afterwards there may have been a need for the "non citizens" to be made second-class citizens in their own country. That time has long past. ^

Forgiveness Of Blood (2011)

I just watched this movie (called "Falja e Gjakut" in Albanian.) The film is about how a family deals with being part of an Albanian Family Feud in a small town. There are really two main characters: Nik (played by: Tristan Halilaj) and his sister Rudina (played by: Sindi Lacej.) Their father and uncle get into an arguement with a neighbor over access to some land and the neighbor is killed. The uncle goes to jail while the father goes into hiding in another town. This opens the Albanian Family Feud. I don't understand everything about the codes of the Feud, but according to the movie, the other family is allowed to kill any male member of the immediate family that committed the murder. Nik and his little brother are forced to stay at home in hiding. This isolation causes Nik to stop going to school and the girl he likes in town stays away. Rudina, as a female, now has to take on all the responsibilities (ie leaving school to earn a living for her family.) The movie doesn't say if the feud ends. The father is caught by the police and released  (but now has to stay hidden in his house) and Nik is forced to leave his family forever. I had never heard of the Albanian Family Feud until I got this movie. It seems like a big waste of time on everyone's part. The family of the dead person has to spend all their time trying to kill and revenge the death while the family of the murderer has to spend all their time hiding and hoping they won't be killed. It seems that the officials condone the Family Feuds rather than allowing law and order to rule the land. The schools even send teachers to the houses of the hidden to continue their studies. The film does show the desperation that it places on the young (Rudina has to mature much faster and Nik has to hide for something he never did.) It was an interesting movie on a topic I knew little about.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Deja Vu- CA!

From the BBC:
"California gay marriage ban lifted"

A US appeals court has lifted a ban on same-sex marriages in California, following a Supreme Court ruling. The order was issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Within moments, gay weddings resumed at the city hall - the first such marriages in the state since the voter-approved ban in November 2008.  On Wednesday the US Supreme Court left in place a lower court ruling which had struck down the ban - also known as Proposition 8. The ruling means that 13 US states and the District of Columbia now recognise same-sex marriage.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had been expected to wait 25 days before lifting the ban - in case the losing side wanted to ask for the case to be heard again. But judges at the appeals court decided to act on Friday, saying: "The stay in the above matter is dissolved effective immediately." Shortly afterwards, one of the two same-sex couples whose case led to the Supreme Court's Wednesday decision got married at San Francisco's town hall. The wedding of Kris Perry, 48, and Sandy Stier, 50, was officiated by California's Attorney General Kamala Harris.  She declared them "spouse and spouse", but during their vows they took each other as a "lawfully wedded wife", the Associated Press news agency reports.

^ I don't see why CA would need to wait 25 days they performed gay marriages in the past and so have all the forms, etc to do it again. I guess the Circuit Court agreed with me. ^

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Facebook Friends

From Time:
"Toxic Facebook Friends: Tolerate, Hide or Defriend"

Everyone and their grandmas are on this strange microcosm of humanity called Facebook. The social network sounds nice and idealistic — but it often changes people’s personalities, at least how they come across online. Reducing everything to photos, updates and check-ins distills a your wit and charm, but it can also bring out the worst — exaggerating eccentricities into full-on freakdom, turning endearing quirks into grating behaviors. The result: Facebook is the world’s strangest party, with personalities that can make you lose your faith in humanity. Don’t let that happen — judicious hiding and defriending is the difference between a sane Facebook experience and the online version of Dante’s Tenth Circle of Hell. But who to tolerate, hide or… gasp, delete?
Lucky for you, I’ll break down the personality types, along with recommendations on whether to toleratehide or kill… I mean, defriend them. Don’t kill them… yet.

1. The Showboat:

Tell-Tale Signs: You love to hate them. Profiles show how awesome their travels are, complete with jaw-dropping bits about fabulous accomplishments. That phenomenal lobster dinner in St. Lucia? Post it! That amazing helicopter ride along Norway‘s Lofoten Island? Post it! Oh, and don’t forget the unbelievably cute bakery they stumbled upon in the outskirts of Ankara, Turkey. If those opulent photo montages don’t annoy you by now, the breathless tone of their updates will: “Vegas miracle! Had a free room at Caesars this weekend, but when we checked in they upgraded us to the Augustus Tower — Winning!” Oh, and of course, they wouldn’t let you forget about their promotion at work, the great gifts they got for their birthday or the A’s they got in Mandarin Chinese and Sign Language class. In short, their posts make you want to vomit. That is, if you haven’t already. Post it!

Who They Really Are: What you have is the classic poser. Sure, they have a great life on Facebook, but if life is so good, why are they always on Facebook? Checkmate. Okay, to be fair, perhaps they go to these fabulous places, but they’ll likely have $20,000 in debt too, not to mention raging OCD. For these types, I’d say hide them. Yes, extravagant posts are a bit like car crashes — they’re hard not to look at, but you slightly vomit in your mouth at the sight. Take heart that chances are, they’ll get divorced, you’ll hear they embezzled from their company and have pot-smoking lunatics for kids. Yes, it’ll be a downward spiral.

2. The Oprah:

Tell-Tale Signs: You’ll recognize the Oprah by the barrage of inspirational quotes, photos of sunrises and constant links to articles about positive thinking. They’re like the Showboat, but with an empathetic twist. Yes, their lives are great, and they’re determined yours can be, too — except instead of actually helping you, they post pithy little quotes to inspire. So if you’re tired of their relentless rants from Joel Osteen — “One day it will all come together and everything will make sense. You will see God’s amazing plan taking you places you’ve never dreamed of” — then, you know you’ve got an Oprah on your hands. You’re going to be happy if it kills them… or you, but I’m betting you kill them first. Their determination to stay positive about everything seems downright Pollyanna. They post, “I love how the sun shines on me before I have to wake up!” Of course, you have to read this on the day you give up coffee. Even their lifestyle posts are obnoxious. You don’t care about that must-try Red Velvet Cheesecake recipe? Yeah, neither do I, nor the world.

Who They Really Are: Their mission to bring sunshine to everyone else’s life, but their well-meaning efforts and cloying know-it-all-ness gets annoying. The problem with the Oprah is their good intentions don’t always resonate with you if you’re juggling very basic, real-life problems. And their advice is about as useful as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. But still, I’d recommend you tolerate them.

3. The Complainer:

Tell-Tale Signs: You can spot them a mile away. Day after day, their posts are nothing but a litany of gripes — they prattle on about how little sleep they get, the ins and outs of their wisdom teeth saga and acting like martyrs because they have to deal with life’s ups and downs. Sure, we’ve all posted a complaint or two, but whining is all the Complainer does. Some Complainers also double as incognito Showboaters — “So hectic — have to unpack my bag from Mexico and pack it for New York City for the weekend!” While Showboaters are obnoxious, at least there’s some integrity in owning it. Complainers, meanwhile, takes it as a hidden opportunity to brag. It’s the worst of both worlds.

Who They Really Are: The Complainer sees Facebook as a refuge, which is exhausting for those who don’t. Your replies, likes and comments only feed their raging, passive-aggressive inner beasts. If Facebook ever invented a “dislike” button, the Complainer would tattoo it over their aching, beleaguered heart. I’d recommend you defriend them, unless they’re especially witty or funny, which may be grounds for a hide. Take a page from Bogart in Casablanca — he gets it right. The problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans:

4. The Cryptic:

Tell-Tale Signs: You never hear from the Cryptic, but when you do, it’s always bewildering and vaguely ominous. Updates hint at some tantalizing, all-consuming drama bubbling up. They use words like “just sayin’” to dump complaints without taking responsibility for the feelings of others: “Just sayin’ I really hate two-faced people who claim they don’t like someone, but then they’re all buddy-buddy when they see them.” Posts often start vague, and they might even spark your curiosity. But they escalate in urgency, leaving you to ponder the meanings. “Argh, I’m so effen aggravated! People should know not to cross THAT line.” What line? Please enlighten us, Cryptic!
Posts feel like you stumbled in an argument — you don’t know what’s going on or what the problem is. It looks exciting, but the conflict is usually sadly pedestrian. Soap operas are fading away from television, but they are alive and well here.

Who They Really Are: Their spare yet dramatic posts make them seem mysterious, but a peek behind the curtain reveals nothing but your average drama queen. The true Cryptic hasn’t evolved emotionally beyond the third grade. They revel in broadcasting their spats and inner turmoil to get you to lean in and ask, “What’s going on?” Of course, when you do, they’ll only reply ominously, “I’ll e-mail you.” Their posts draw you in, which is invariably a waste of time since they can make a mountain out of any molehill. So I’d recommend you defriend them, unless you suspect there is some serious underlying issue and you can help. Of course, if you defriend them, they’ll probably post something like, “You can’t rely on people anymore,” making you a part of the eternal sturm-und-drang of their existence.

5. The Professional:

Tell-Tale Signs: The Professional asks you to like their official Facebook page. Then they invite you promotional events and post every mention of their accomplishments in the press — past, present and future. They can’t stop posting about work. Even fun activities are painted with a professional veneer. At best, they don’t feel like a friend, but more like a boss that added you on Facebook. Their profile is the 21st equivalent of a resume, and their advertisements and solicitations litter your news feed. From musicians hawking their live bootleg recordings and bloggers begging you for a click, to stay-at-home moms pushing 31 bags and candles — they have many faces, but work is their primary obsession.

Who They Really Are: The Professional pulls out all the stops — either to land their dream job, launch their business or take it to the next level. With the relentless presence of brands and companies on Facebook, they don’t think twice about blurring social and professional lines. For the Professional, they’re the same. Everyone has to make a living, I suppose, and due to these tough times, I’d give some slack and tolerate them. But if they cross the line to Relentless Self-Promoter — feel free to hide or defriend. Or, maybe send them a message first, saying you’ll meet them on LinkedIn. As Alec Baldwin said to Jack Lemmon, “Coffee is for closers.”

6. The Crusader:

Tell-Tale Signs: The Crusader posts about causes — protecting animals, fighting for a cure and, of course, politics. They use fear, inflammatory language and pictures to get your attention — posts like, “Don’t let special interests buy a seat on the Supreme Court,” and “Of course Obama lies. That’s what liberals do best.” The comments below their posts become epic events of ax-grinding and soapboxing, and friends are pummeled with campaigns and “calls to action.” It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the days when a petition was enough to show you care.

Who They Really Are: They have strong opinions, but without an audience, they’re like the tree that falls in the forest… wait. Well, whatever. The point is, Facebook makes them feel powerful and influential. They use the platform to state and fortify their positions, which range in topics from vegans, dog-spaying and sports. But the sure-fire way to tell a Crusader? They flare up around election time like a bad case of hemorrhoids. You may agree with them, or you may not, but the problem is the crap your feed gets infested with. I’d say hidethem. But if posts cross the line into the Hater territory — which was cute when Reese Witherspoon did it in “Election” — it may be better to defriend them.

7. The Scenester:

Tell-Tale Signs: You’d swear someone cloned them and sent them to all the restaurant openings, club debuts and sporting events — they still have their finger on the pulse of emerging trends. It doesn’t matter if they’re in West Coast tech, at a Heartland Church or rocking out on a Lower East Side bar — they’re at the epicenter, with real-time updates and copious amounts of photo evidence. They let you know that Jim Beam has a new white whiskey, give you behind-the-scenes shots of Pink’s concert and rave about the next tech gadget. They never forget to check-in, either, so you know they’re at Sunday service or doing their RunKeeper laps. I suppose you can’t really blame them for swapping real-world interaction for an online life — Facebook is their ultimate wingman and sidekick, tagging along to every fabulous place they go.

Who They Really Are: They love being at the center of the universe, and who doesn’t? But they orbit amid hip people, places and things. As a Facebook friend, you play audience to their connectedness. Scenesters are a little like flashy Showboaters — minus the brag. But ultimately, they just want to share the fun and genuinely want you to join in, unlike their Hipster brethren, who are too cool for Facebook. And if you can’t be there in person, at least you can join the party on Facebook. I’d recommend you tolerate them, especially if you can get beyond the jealousy. Posts can be informative and entertaining, and the good outweighs the bad. Who knows — you just might find something fun to do from the posts. Just be ready to untag yourself from the photos the next morning.

8. The Perennial Parent:

Tell-Tale Signs: The most obvious sign is the profile picture. Instead of the grown-up you know, it’s three tow-headed kids, grinning at the beach or on vacation. Whether it’s where they go — “Off to see Josh star in the school play tonight” — what they do — “Busy making Maddie’s prima ballerina costume for Friday’s recital” — or what they think about — “Hm… planning a healthy hummus snack for Taylor’s lunch tomorrow: carrots or celery?” — they view everything through a parenting lens. Their motto is, “My kids, my self,” and they post every milestone in excruciating detail, as if they had the last kid on Earth. Lose their tooth? Post it! Cried on the first day of school? Post it! Did you vomit in your mouth again? Post it! In short, if you ever wanted a family, their posts will make you think twice about having kids.But some take it a step further, detailing what good parents they are — “Suzy nibbled on foie gras tonight before digging into her lamb shank and cassoulet: a deserving meal after pedaling her tricycle!” Can you see them smugly patting themselves on the back? Ding! Your family’s mac and cheese dinner is ready in the microwave.

Who They Really Are: The Perennial Parent treats Facebook like an ongoing family journal. No doubt, Mark Zuckerberg wants this, but it drives everyone else nuts. You know that phrase, “There’s no such thing as an ugly baby?” Parents of ugly babies say that. And you can post too many photos of babies, turning all of us into potential Complainers. And of course, when those little runts grow up, what’s a Perennial Parent to do? I’m curious to see what the Facebook equivalent of empty nest syndrome is.If you’re related to a Perennial Parent, I’d suggest you just tolerate them — you’re not friends anyways, you’re related, so you suck it up like everyone else. Besides, you don’t want to be asked, “So why did you defriend me?” at the next Christmas gathering. If the connection is distant, though, go ahead and hide them — you can always catch up quickly before you visit them.

^ I have to say I fit a few of these categories (for better or worse.) It was funny to read though and see which of my friends/family on Facebook fit what category. ^

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Gays

From the BBC:
"US Supreme Court in historic rulings on gay marriage"

The US Supreme Court has struck down a law denying federal benefits to gay couples and cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California. The justices said that the Defense of Marriage Act, known as Doma, discriminated against same-sex couples. They also declined to rule on Proposition 8, California's prohibition of gay marriage, in effect allowing such unions to resume in the state. Opinion polls indicate that most Americans support same-sex marriage.  Wednesday's decisions do not affect the bans on gay unions enshrined in the constitutions of more than 30 US states. But the California ruling means that 13 US states and the District of Columbia now recognise same-sex marriage.  The Doma opinion grants legally married gay men and women access to the same federal entitlements available to opposite-sex married couples. These include tax, health and pension benefits and family hospital visits.


Narrow victories perhaps, but there was evident delight among the overwhelming majority of those gathered in the hot sun outside the Supreme Court. After today, public and legal opinion are more closely aligned. No consensus yet, but narrow majorities in favour of gay couples being allowed to marry and enjoy the same rights as their fellow, straight citizens.  The practical implications of today's rulings may be narrow (they only involve 13 states and the District of Columbia), but it was the symbolism of the moment that thrilled the crowd.  They know there will be lots of battles ahead. But for the first time, the Supreme Court has attempted to make sense of the rules around gay marriage. For most of those who gathered in the heat outside this great temple of law, today's results suggest the tide of history is with them. The landmark 5-4 rulings prompted celebrations from about 1,000 gay rights advocates gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC and nationwide.
After the ruling Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon would begin extending benefits to same-sex military spouses as soon as possible. Defence officials added there were an estimated 18,000 gay couples in the armed forces, although it is not known how many were married. US President Barack Obama, who is on a state visit to the West African country of Senegal, said: "When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free."
Proposition 8 is a ban on gay marriage passed by California voters in November 2008, just months after the state's supreme court decided such unions were legal. Two same-sex couples launched a legal challenge against Proposition 8. As the state of California refused to defend the ban on gay marriage, the group that sponsored Proposition 8 stepped up to do so.  On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court said a private party did not have the right, or "standing", to defend the constitutionality of a law, because it could not demonstrate it would suffer injury if the law were to be struck down and same-sex marriages allowed. "We have no authority to decide this case on the merits," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the ruling, which was not split along ideological lines. Their opinion leaves in place a ruling by a lower court, in San Francisco, that struck down Proposition 8.  California Governor Jerry Brown is ordering county officials across the state to comply. The San Francisco appeals court has said it will wait at least 25 days before allowing same-sex marriages to resume in California.

 ^ I misunderstood the first article I had on these rulings this morning and decided to change it after re-reading it. I'm glad that the Supreme Court struck down DOMA (it is another stupid policy from Clinton that is now gone - hopefully, now schoolchildren will only know Clinton for not telling the truth to the American public on camera.) While I think the Supreme Court was right on Prop 8 I wish they had decided whether gay marriage should be legal or not throughout the country. By the way: I don't know why there's a weird box in this article - I couldn't get rid of it. ^

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Who Needs A Passport?

From the BBC:
"Who, what, why: When can you legally travel without a passport?"

Fugitive Edward Snowden is hoping to get to Ecuador, despite not having a valid passport. So when can you legally travel without one? The US state department has revoked Snowden's passport and asked other countries to prevent him from travelling. Wanted on espionage charges, the American flew from Hong Kong to Moscow on 23 June - using his US passport, according to one of his lawyers - and has applied for asylum in Ecuador. On Monday, a seat was booked in his name on a flight to Cuba, but he was not seen on board. A passport is usually a condition of international travel, so under what circumstances can one travel without one? According to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Snowden has a "special refugee travel document" issued by Ecuador.  Millions of refugees cross borders without passports as they flee persecution or fighting. In 2012, more than seven million people became refugees, according to the United Nations. Without passports, people would be expected to present some other form of identification, says Larry Yungk, a UNHCR resettlement officer. Some refugees can be registered at a border with no identification at all.

The Answer:
  • Refugees cross borders with other forms of identification or none at all
  • The US issues 60,000 I-94 documents a year to refugees without passports
  • Consulates provide papers for people who have lost passports abroad
  • National ID cards are acceptable for travel between certain countries
  • The British Queen has no passport

"It's really up to the receiving country whether they wish to accept someone into their country without a passport," says Lavinia Limon, president and chief executive officer of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. The US admits about 60,000 refugees a year from all over the world, she says, and only a handful have passports.  They are each interviewed overseas face-to-face by officials from the Department of Homeland Security to establish whether they are genuine refugees and meet admission criteria. A document called an I-94 is issued in lieu of a passport and travel to the US is arranged for each one. Other countries such as the UK and Canada issue similar documents, as does the International Red Cross. You can also travel without a passport if it is stolen or lost while abroad. "You can hang around for days waiting for a new passport," says Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent newspaper. "Or you can get on a plane with something from your consulate that says 'this person is OK, let him or her take a one-way flight to their destination.' "But it's rare and any kind of document like that is a get-out-of-jail-free card - go straight to your destination and don't mess around." There are also special relationships between countries that entitle their citizens to travel between them without a passport. For example, US citizens can travel to US territories like Puerto Rico and Guam with approved photo ID. Beyond that, Americans always need a passport to travel by air, although US and Canadian citizens can visit each other's countries with pre-approved Nexus cards.  There are some exceptions to the mandatory passport rule if American citizens are visiting other North American countries by land or sea, according to the US State Department website.  So if they are going to the Caribbean or Bermuda, for example, then a passport card, rather than the passport book, will be accepted. And an enhanced driving licence or military identification can also be sufficient. The UK and the Republic of Ireland have formed the Common Travel Area, in which photo ID is usually sufficient for citizens of both countries. Immigration officers can ask for proof of nationality, so government advice is to carry one. In 1995, 26 European countries formed the Schengen area of free travel without border controls. But passenger carriers such as airlines can still impose identity checks that may include a passport.  National identity cards are also accepted in place of passports for member countries of some regional alliances. These include the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union and some neighbouring countries, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, and Mercosur in South America. Not that Queen Elizabeth II has ever to worry about carrying one. As the person who officially issues them, she is the only Briton who is exempt.

^ This wasn't the article I thought I was going to read, but it is still a good one. I have been against the US requiring American citizens to have a passport to leave or enter the country since it first started. I think Passport Cards and Enhanced Driver's Licenses are enough to prove your citizenship and are less expensive than a regular Passport and should be allowed for: land, sea or air. The US Government says that the Passport Cards aren't allowed for international air travel due to international regulations. This doesn't make any sense since EU citizens can travel around Europe (by land, sea or air) with their national ID cards and the Passport Card has all the same identifying columns -including stating citizenship. I have had  regular Passport since I was a baby and believe you should always have a valid one so I usually use that when traveling - whether by land, sea or air - although last June I used my Passport Card to re-enter the US from Canada (traveling by card) just to see if it would work since  had never tried the Card before. It did. As for not needing a Passport to go to the US territories (ie Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, etc) it makes no sense that a US citizen would ever need a Passport to go there as it is considered domestic travel (unless you go through another country.) I know some countries (ie the Netherlands, UK, etc) require Passports for their citizens to travel to their own territories and I don't understand that at all. ^

JFK's Berlin: 50 Years Later

From the BBC:
"John F Kennedy: How 'Ich bin ein Berliner' gave a city hope"

President John F Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech was a message of solidarity to West Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Some 50 years on, previously unseen photographs of his visit to the city have the power to recreate the drama of the moment. There's no doubt that Kennedy's speech was one of the great speeches of history. It's hard to imagine those pressured times now, but 50 years ago the world was divided into two blocs of East and West, each with an arsenal of nuclear rockets pointed at the other.  The atomic battleground would be Europe, and Berlin was its centre. West Berlin, made up of the city's American, British and French zones, was an island of capitalism in the communist Soviet sector of Germany, also known as the German Democratic Republic.  There was literally a wall round it - the barbed wire and first stages of the Berlin Wall had been erected only 22 months before Kennedy arrived.  And just eight months before the speech, Kennedy had faced down the Soviet leader, Khrushchev, over Soviet missiles in Cuba. There was a real possibility of nuclear war. Fear really was in the air. Already one person had been shot trying to flee from East to West Berlin. And in recent memory, the East German and Soviet authorities had closed off food supplies to the Western sectors of the city, prompting the air-lift of supplies direct to the city - nearly 5,000 tons a day.  Into these tense and dangerous times stepped the charismatic Kennedy, young for a leader at 46. He spent four days in Germany but it's the visit to the island of West Berlin on 24 June 1963 which captivated the eyes of the world. And the eyes of a young photographer. Ulrich Mack was commissioned by the magazine Quick to cover the trip. He took 400 photographs on six Leica cameras, each with a different lens, but only six were published, and none on the front page. Of the day itself, when 400,000 people heard Kennedy utter the immortal line: "Ich bin ein Berliner", Mack remembers little except that it was warm and that he was frantic to get the best picture: "I was crazy about pictures," he says. He was allocated space on a truck for new-fangled devices called television cameras. It meant that he had a better view than many of the other press photographers and that he was more mobile. The truck moved wherever Kennedy went and Mack moved with them. The images capture the heightened excitement of what is at times a frenetic scene - the crowds surging to shake hands with the young president. Few worried about security then - it would take Dallas nearly five months later to reveal how imperilled he really was. by publishers Hirmer in a book, Kennedy in Berlin, edited by Hans-Michael Koetzle. The newspapers had reported that Kennedy didn't like Germany - he had fought in the war and was uneasy about the economic progress the loser of that war was making. Spiegel had a headline: "John F Kennedy doesn't like the Germans".But Berlin changed that. He was greeted by hundreds of thousands of people. This magnetic leader seemed so different from the dour Konrad Adenauer of Germany or the prim, old-world, patrician Macmillan of Britain or the gracelessness of the brutish Khrushchev. As the New York Times described it at the time: "Along the route from Tegel airport to the United States mission headquarters in the southwest corner of Berlin, waving, cheering crowds lined every foot of the way. "The crowds must have nearly equalled the population of the city, but many persons waved once and then sped ahead to greet Mr Kennedy again." He did not deliver the speech at the Brandenburg Gate, unlike President Reagan in 1987 and President Obama in 2013.The iconic monument which symbolises Berlin was right on the route of the Wall.  Kennedy went there in the back seat of an open-topped limousine, sitting next to Willy Brandt, then the mayor of Berlin and later Chancellor of Germany, and Konrad Adenauer, the incumbent Chancellor.  The Brandenburg Gate itself was just inside East Germany and the authorities had draped its arches with red banners, obscuring the view into the East. They, too, were alert to a photo-opportunity and they had placed a placard there, pointing West, which listed in English a series of aims: "To uproot German militarism and Nazism; to arrest war criminals and bring them to judgement etc", and then a direct question: "When will these pledges be fulfilled in West Germany and West Berlin, President Kennedy?" It would have been highly provocative for Kennedy to make his speech there, at the Brandenburg Gate. Instead, he made it on the steps of the town-hall of the Berlin suburb of Schoneberg. Something like 400,000 people gathered in the square as he spoke.
Berliners loved him. And he cemented the view - in the world and in the Kremlin - that the city was irrevocably part of the West.

^ It seems a little odd that the West Berliners would love him when he (and the rest of the Free World) stood by in 1961 when the Soviets and East Germans built the Wall. But they (the West Berliners) loved him for coming to their divided city and standing up - at least in words - to the Communists. I have seen footage of his speech and you can clearly hear his Boston accent when he speaks German. That seems to add an air of authenticity to his being a foreigner in the city and then declaring himself a city of what West Berlin stood for. ^

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Latvia Ban

From MT:
"Latvia Bans Soviet Symbols"

Latvia's parliament has approved a ban on the public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols, including swastikas and the hammer and sickle, and the singing and promotion of fascist and communist anthems and ideologies. Lawmakers approved the bill 56-0, with 44 lawmakers abstaining or absent. It will become law after President Andris Berzins signs it, expected next month. The bill was partly sparked by annual pro-Soviet rallies organized by the country's large Russian-speaking populace, and frowned upon by ethnic Latvians after five decades of Soviet occupation.

^ Good for Latvia. Soviet and Nazi symbols (along with Confederate ones) should be banned in every country of the world. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and the Confederacy all ran on suppressing one or more groups of people in order to create a single, dictatorship. The Confederacy kept the blacks down so white people could be the "masters." Nazi Germany killed the Jews, homosexuals, disabled, Gypsies and many others so German Aryans would be the "master race." The Soviet Union kept and killed all non-Soviets and then all non-Russian Soviets within the USSR so the ethnic Russians would be the most powerful. No country should reward or praise what was done in these three areas. While a handful of countries ban Nazi, Soviet or both symbols (no country that I know of bans Confederate symbols) they do so half-hazardously. The Germans today ban many Nazi symbols yet allowed former Nazis to continue to work in the public sector and some even receive Government pensions. Little, if anything, as been done by the Germans to address the East German/Soviet past. A handful of former Soviet Republics (Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova and to a lesser extent - Ukraine) have any laws about the display and support of Soviet things while the majority (such as Russia) see the USSR as a great and powerful force and are working to bring in its former symbols and traditions back. As I said above, no country should praise the Nazis, the Soviets or the Confederates. ^

Friday, June 21, 2013

DADT Discharges

From the Stars and Stripes:
"Bill would upgrade records of those discharged under DADT"

A bill circulating in the House would upgrade the service records of gay, lesbian and bisexual troops who were discharged due to sexual orientation and eventually open the door to veterans’ benefits.The Restore Honor to Service Members Act was proposed Thursday by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., according to a joint statement from their offices. The congressmen are trying to muster co-sponsors before bringing it to committee in hopes of a floor vote. From World War II to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” roughly 114,000 service members were discharged because of sexual orientation, the statement said. In many cases, depending on the discharge classification and the state in which they lived, they could be treated as felons and precluded from voting and collecting unemployment and veterans’ benefits, such as health care and disability. “As we celebrate the considerable progress we’ve made toward full equality in our military, we cannot forget about those who continue to suffer because of the discriminatory policies of our past,” said Pocan, co-chairman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. “Our legislation ensures that gay veterans who selflessly served our country no longer live with tarnished records that prohibit them from receiving the recognition, benefits and honors they deserve. By enshrining the implementation of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal into law, our country can finally close this dark chapter of our history and move forward.” The statement said the bill would essentially turn the current broad review policy, outlined in a memo from the undersecretary of defense, into clear law. All service members discharged because of sexual orientation would receive a “timely, consistent and transparent” review, and those who served honorably would see their records upgraded. Any indication of a service member’s sexual orientation would be struck from their record, and consensual relations between same-sex couples would be decriminalized — bringing military law in line with Supreme Court rulings. The move has already been applauded by gay rights’ groups. “The brave patriots who served so honorably in silence for so long deserve their service to be honorably recognized,” said Zeke Stokes, a spokesman for OutServe-SLDN, a Washington-based advocacy group for gay military personnel. “At OutServe-SLDN, we hear from these veterans every day and have assisted hundreds of them in applying to upgrade their discharge paperwork. To the extent that this bill — or any bill — can expedite that process or ease the burden for veterans, it will have our support.” Discharges varied over the years, but many gay and lesbian service members who were outed received other-than-honorable or dishonorable discharges, especially prior to “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 1993, the statement said. Even receiving a general discharge precluded some from gaining civilian employment. Almost two years ago, “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly in the armed forces. “Now is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Rangel, a Korean War veteran. There is no time line for the bill to be brought to the House floor for a vote. If it gains enough support, it most likely would go first to the House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs and the House Armed Services Committee. It could also theoretically be attached to next year’s defense authorization bill. “There was bipartisan support for the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and because our bill codifies the repeal into law, we expect to receive bipartisan support for our legislation,” a spokesman from Pocan’s office said.
^ It makes sense to correct the mistakes of the past especially considering it has been almost 2 years since the stupid DADT policy was removed. Former soldiers and veterans whose only "crime" was to be homosexual should be allowed the same rights and benefits as every other soldier in the US military. ^

Yad Vashem In UNESCO

From JP:
"UNESCO includes Yad Vashem database in register"

UNESCO, the United Nations’ organ which aims to promote international cooperation in the field of science and culture, announced that it has included Yad Vashem’s database of the names and stories of those who have perished in the Holocaust as part of its Memory of the World Register. This marks the first time that UNESCO has included an Israeli archival collection in its register.  The Pages of Testimony database, which is part of a years-long endeavor by Israel’s official Holocaust memorial to collect the stories and testimonies of the 6 million Jews who were slaughtered in Europe, has grown to 2.6 million names. So far, Yad Vashem has been able to compile the names and identities of 4.2 million victims. “For many Holocaust survivors and their families, Pages of Testimony are the only tangible evidence that their murdered loved ones once lived,” said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev. “The Nazis and their collaborators strove to murder each and every Jewish man, woman and child and to erase any vestige of their existence. These pages, together with information gathered from around the world as part of our names recovery efforts, restore to them their names – their identities.” “We will continue our efforts to bring the names and identities of the victims back from oblivion as long as we are able to do so,” he said. “I urge anyone who has not yet submitted Pages of Testimony to do so now.”

^ This is an important document/project that needs to be honored and remembered. ^

Martyr Turned Nazi

From the BBC:
"Italy's war time hero 'was Nazi collaborator'"

An Italian police official long credited with helping to save 5,000 Jews during WWII was actually a Nazi collaborator, researchers believe. Evidence has emerged to show Giovanni Palatucci in fact helped deport Jews to Auschwitz, a New York-based centre for Italian Jewish culture said. Palatucci had been dubbed Italy's Schindler, and has been honoured by the Vatican and Holocaust memorial groups. The US Holocaust Memorial museum has now removed him from its exhibition. He had been due to feature in the summer exhibition, Some were neighbours: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust. But the museum changed its mind after receiving a letter from Natalia Indrimi, the director of the Centro Primo Levi at the Center for Jewish History in New York, the New York Times reports. Dr Indrimi said researchers had gained access to hundreds of unseen documents and found that, contrary to what had been believed, Palatucci was a "willing executor of the racial legislation" who "after taking the oath to Mussolini's Social Republic, collaborated with the Nazis". The panel of scholars also found that, again contrary to popular belief, Palatucci had not been police chief of Fiume, an Adriatic port city that is now the Croatian city of Rijeka. He had been an official responsible for enforcing Fascist Italy's racial laws, it found. The Giovanni Palatucci Association has rejected the claims. The popular belief had been that, while police chief of Fiume, Giovanni Palatucci saved thousands of Jewish workers between 1940 and 1944 by destroying and falsifying their documents and sending many to Campania in southern Italy to seek help from his uncle, the Roman Catholic Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci. Giovanni Palatucci's deportation to the concentration camp in Dachau and his death there in 1945 at the age of 36 helped to further this belief. But it has been contradicted by the 700 documents found in Rijeka's state archives by Centro Primo Levi's researchers who were originally investigating why Fiume had been such a breeding ground for fascism. In her letter to the museum, Dr Indrimi said there were only around 500 Jews in Fiume at the time, far fewer than the 5,000 previously thought. Some 80% of Fiume's Jews ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp - a higher percentage than any other Italian city. She said Palatucci had never destroyed the record of the city's Jews as "they are all available at the Rijeka state archive".
And she said his deportation to Dachau had been because he was accused by the Germans of passing on plans for a post-war Fiume to the British. Palatucci "continued to work under the Germans and to provide information on the few Jews who were still in the area," she wrote. She said the story was started in 1952 by Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci who was seeking a state pension for Giovanni's parents and may have gained momentum because it seemed to bolster the reputation of the then Pope Pius XII, who has been accusing of being indifferent to genocide, the New York Times reports. Such was the success of "the myth", piazzas and promenades all over Italy are named after Palatucci.
 He was declared a martyr by Pope John Paul II, the first step in the process of beatifying him.  And he has been named by Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the Holocaust, as one of the Righteous Among the Nations; joining a list that includes Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews. Both Yad Vashem and the Vatican have said they are looking into the new allegations.

^ It seems that not everything or everyone is what it/they seem. In the end the truth usually comes out.  ^

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Manas To Close

From The Stars and Stripes:
"Kyrgyzstan bill likely to end US use of air base at Manas"

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament passed legislation Thursday to end the U.S. lease on the Transit Center at Manas, a key base used in supporting American military operations in Afghanistan. Approved by a vote of 91-5 in Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Council, the bill would prevent the U.S. from extending its lease on the base beyond July 11, 2014, when it’s set to run out. President Almazbek Atambayev, who took office in 2011 vowing not to extend the lease agreement, is expected to sign the bill into law. Just north of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, the airfield at Manas has been a key asset in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan since late 2001. Roughly 1,500 American military personnel and contractors work at the base alongside some 700 locals. Referred to as Transit Center at Manas since 2009, the base is a major hub for U.S. forces moving in and out of the war, and serves as a launching platform for air tankers used to refuel warplanes operating over Afghanistan. While personnel at the base are aware of the legislation that would end their use of the facility, operations were carrying on as usual Thursday, a spokeswoman said. It was unclear Thursday how the legislation would affect the war in Afghanistan, which is already winding down toward a 2014 end date. Manas is not the only base used to stage troops moving in and out of the war zone, and earlier this year Russia agreed to NATO’s use of an air base at Ulyanovsk to facilitate the allied withdrawal. A spokesman for the Defense Department would not discuss the effects of the base closure in the midst of the 2014 pullout or any other contingency plans, and deferred further questions to the State Department. A State Department spokeswoman, meanwhile, referred all questions to the Defense Department. Attempts to reach representatives of the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry were unsuccessful. This is not the first time the Kyrgyz government has voted to kick the U.S. military out of the air base. After a similar vote in 2009, the government gave the U.S. six months to move out. Russia is believed to have played a part in that episode, offering the Kyrgyz government a large aid and loan package after it passed the bill. At the time, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell accused Russia of “attempting to undermine” the U.S. military’s use of Manas. The U.S. then offered to more than triple what it had been paying for the facility and struck a deal allowing it to continue operations through the middle of 2014 at a cost of about $60 million per year, up from $17.4 million, according to the Pentagon.
^ It seems strange that Russia is so intent on getting the Americans out of Kyrgyzstan and yet they (the Russians) allow us to use a base in Russia - the birthplace of Lenin no less. I don't know if the base will close or if we will pay a lot more money to rent it like we did before but I think we will still be able to supply our troops in Afghanistan. ^

German-US Relations

From the DW:
"Germany and the US - still best of friends"

Berlin and Washington are bound by a deep friendship. It developed in the Cold War and has now survived more recent turmoil in transatlantic relations.  The casual question from the old man he'd just been having such a nice conversation with hit him like a slap in the face. "What country are you from?" Juan Diaz was outraged. The memory of the anger that boiled in him still twists up the corners of his mouth. How dare he! When he'd tried so hard to speak his best German? Then Juan Diaz smiles - the man gave him a hug, just like that, when he told him he was from America. "And he said: I remember the Americans saving my life when I was a little kid. With the Berlin Luftbrücke [Berlin airlift].' " In the summer of 1948, Soviet troops had cut West Berlin off from the outside world, and for almost a year, US and British planes brought supplies to the city's people. A lump comes to Juan Diaz' throat when he remembers the hug. He has to sniff and blink away tears before he can continue - since that day he has stopped keeping his nationality a secret. Mark Hallerberg understands why Juan Diaz might have wanted to keep his citizenship to himself. During George W. Bush's presidency, it wasn't always easy to be an American in Europe. The economics professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin knows compatriots who preferred to pretend they were Canadian so that they wouldn't have to contend with criticism of their country's foreign policy, particularly the decision to invade Iraq against the will of many allies, including Germany. Being an American meant taking the blame. "It severely damaged the respect that the US traditionally enjoyed in Germany," says Hallerberg. The relationship improved with the election of Barack Obama, "but in Berlin it was a little easier even before then, because of the special history," he adds. After the war, American troops guaranteed the city's security, especially when Cold War divisions were cemented with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. "The people were scared," says Alina Heinze, director of the small Kennedy Museum in central Berlin, which documents the US president's life up to his death in 1963. She points to a small black-and-white photo showing thousands of people crowded onto a square, reduced to tiny dots. They were all there to see John F. Kennedy, who made a speech from the Schöneberg district town hall on June 26, 1963, which promised support for West Berlin with the immortal words, "Ich bin ein Berliner." People often forget that Kennedy was on a nationwide trip that took in a number of other German towns, points out Heinze, but the visit to the divided city and its Wall overshadowed all the rest - especially since it came two years after its construction and in the middle of one of the "tensest phases of the Cold War." Even today, older Berliners occasionally cry when they remember those times, Heinze says. They talk about the sense of trust that Kennedy's visit gave them, the hope that Washington and US troops would stand by them against the Soviet East. As she tells the story, Heinze carefully locks up the room where a special exhibition is to document Kennedy's visit over the coming months. The captions on the photos aren't finished yet. "Today the relationship between America and Berlin is very different, of course," she says. It is more of a "partnership of equals." After the reunification of Germany in 1990, Berlin no longer needed the protection, and US soldiers were withdrawn from the city. Or at least most of them were: a few blocks from the Kennedy Museum, a US flag can be seen flying in the breeze. Next to it stands a well-tanned soldier, staring at the crowds of tourists gathering at Checkpoint Charlie, the former crossing point between East and West Berlin. A woman stands next to him, beams into her husband's camera, and holds two fingers up in the air as a victory sign. Is he really an American? The soldier's response to the question is an irritated shrug. The next group of tourists is waiting to have its photo taken - he's there to make money, not to clear up questions of national identity. "The de-romanticization of German-American relations" is how Johannes Thimm, senior research associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), sums up transatlantic relations since the end of the Cold War. In the past few years, Washington has re-orientated itself elsewhere, mainly toward Asia, he argues. He adds that while a lot of German politicians are worried that Germany is no longer important to the US, he is more relaxed on the issue. He basically sees the re-orientation towards Asia as proof that Europe has been a success story - an area where there are no major crises that the US needs to intervene in. Economically, and especially culturally, relations between the US and Europe are already much closer than with other regions. More than 100,000 Americans live in Germany, almost 15,000 of them in Berlin, and the tendency is upwards. People like Stephanie Hausotter, who came to Berlin to do a master's degree and then stayed after she met her future husband. Now Stephanie works in a small private college in Berlin. A few years ago she was living near the US Army base in Frankfurt, where she sometimes tuned in to the army radio station. "An odd, but really nice feeling to hear American voices and music and the top 40 countdown on a German radio frequency," she said. "It was an interesting reminder of the American presence in Germany." While in Frankfurt she often felt like an outsider, in Berlin she always feels welcome, she said. So can Berlin be home to an American? Juan Diaz nods as he sips his organic elderberry lemonade, much loved in the trendy Prenzlauer Berg district where he lives. He became a naturalized citizen a few years ago, and now has two passports. He thinks he was favored in the language test he had to pass to gain citizenship. After it was over, the woman who gave the test chatted with him for nearly an hour. "She said, 'because it's so nice to talk to Americans.' " Somehow the special treatment bothered him.

^ This article should be called the Berlin and the US - Still Best Friends since it focuses mainly on West Berlin/Berlin. I have lived in Germany twice and have travelled back numerous times since and had no issues being American (not like when I was in Russia - where they treated me like a king.) It is funny that the author says that many Americans say they are Canadian when abroad - I can say that as I have dual citizenship. ^

Montreal Rue Food

From the Globe and Mail:
"Street food returns to Montreal after 66-year ban "

Montreal, a city with a reputation as a gastronomic trailblazer, is carving out its own course when it comes to street food – just a little behind schedule. After being banned more than half a century, food trucks and carts are now allowed in Montreal, and visitors can expect an array of options beyond the standard hot dogs and foot-long sausages.  Items such as a Nutella, peanut butter, and bacon grilled sandwich, a crepe stuffed with chorizo, goat cheese or spinach, and a crispy pork belly taco served with apple slaw have become available around the city. Decades of pent-up demand appeared to be unleashed Thursday. Lengthy lineups formed at some locations on Montreal’s first day without a street-food ban. There are, however, some conditions. Anyone hoping for a fix of traditional, cheap hot dogs and foot-long sausages will be disappointed. The trucks and carts have been preapproved by a city committee with an eye toward quality and originality. While Montreal has faced criticism for limiting licenses to higher-end fare, one food truck owner who helped spearhead the project says the rules make sense. “There’s no shortage of hot dogs and poutine in Montreal,” said Hilary McGown, one of the owners of the Grumman ’78 taco truck, explaining that traditional “casse-croutes” are easy to find. “I don’t see why we have to keep reinventing the same old things.” Montreal’s street-food ban, unique in Canada, was installed in 1947 for sanitation reasons. Attempts to lift it over the years have been thwarted because of cleanliness concerns and resistance from restaurants worried about lost business. As part of the pilot project, trucks will be allowed to set up at nine locations from June 20 to Sept. 29. To be eligible, vendors must have a production kitchen or restaurant that meets sanitation requirements. The locations, which include parks and city squares, are away from existing restaurants to avoid direct competition. Alexandra Graveline, a spokeswoman for Tourisme Montréal, which counts restaurants and hotels among its members, said the city has found the right balance with the new rules. “We think it’s a good compromise,” she said, explaining that the food trucks reflect the city’s reputation as a gastronomic hub without hurting the restaurant business.

^ It's odd that such a cosmopolitan city like Montreal and one known for it's food is just now allowing to be sold on the streets. Hopefully, this pilot program will be made permanent. ^

WV: 150th Birthday

From Yahoo:
"West Virginia, born in war, marks 150th birthday"

West Virginia, born in the turmoil of the Civil War and now a growing energy hub, marks its 150th birthday on Thursday with statewide bell-ringing, a giant cake and beard-growing contests. The four-day festival commemorates when Union sympathizers in western Virginia, opposed to their state's support for the slave-owning Confederacy, voted in Wheeling on June 20, 1863, to form their own state. To celebrate the Mountain State's anniversary at the Capitol, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin is cutting a birthday cake that measures 8 feet long and more than 3 feet (1 meter) high. Tomblin addressed the legislature in Wheeling to signal the start of festivities for the state of 1.9 million people. He will officiate from the Capitol over a statewide bell-ringing celebration. West Virginia, the 35th state admitted to the Union, has planned more than 140 events to mark the sesquicentennial. They include concerts, fireworks, beard-growing contests, free steamboat rides, exhibitions, Civil War re-enactments and a baseball game using period rules and equipment.
^ West Virginia should be commended for leaving Virginia and the Confederacy behind. The state may be rural and poor, but they seem to have good morals unlike Virginia. My parents and I have camped several times in West Virginia and had a good, fun time. ^

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Israeli Military Remembers

From the BBC:
"Return to Auschwitz: How Israel keeps Holocaust memories alive"

The number of people who survived the Holocaust is dwindling - they are all now old men and women. But the Holocaust carries a special importance for Israel. Can it ensure that the next generation knows, and does not forget, what happened in Europe seven decades ago? Under a lightless Polish sky as dull and flat as a sheet of beaten lead the Israeli flag flutters listlessly in the light wind. There are not many touches of colour to be seen at the gates of Auschwitz and the blue Star of David stands out on its crisp white background. The Israeli soldiers carrying the flag have not come as tourists of course - they are here as an official military delegation to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and to piece together fragments of family histories that were shattered by war and by genocide. To the foreign tourists they are something of an attraction. German, Polish and Japanese visitors film the scene on their mobile phones as the Israelis parade alongside the railway tracks on which the Nazis brought more than a million Jews to their deaths. There are moments when the Israelis look like tourists themselves with their cameras and their tour guides - but their government sends them here with a purpose. It believes that deepening their knowledge of the Holocaust will deepen their commitment to defending the country. Behind them is the grimly familiar brick building with a high archway under which the trains slowed to a halt as they reached the end of the line. The Israeli delegation is marching in the footsteps of the many Jews who took their last steps here.  This is the spot where German SS officers rapidly assessed which prisoners looked fit and strong enough to be sent to the wooden blockhouses where the slave labourers lived. The Germans had taken a timber building originally designed to house about 50 cavalry horses and adapted it to the demands of the prison camp. Four hundred prisoners were crammed into the same space, packed on to double-decker bunks. In freezing rooms on starvation rations only a few lived for more than a few months.
The rest were herded towards the gas chambers. It was murder on an industrial scale - whole communities perished together within hours of climbing down from the trains. So the most moving moment in the Israeli soldiers' journey comes inside one of the old blockhouses, where a handful of them read out loud lists of the names of family members who died in the Holocaust. Sometimes almost nothing is known to tell the stories of lives that were not lived, except a name.  As Yishai Szekely - a doctor who serves as a reserve officer in an artillery unit - explains, in some families first-hand memories are passed down. There are photographs or books and ornaments with stories attached, that make the dead seem real. Here, the reading of the names is the only way to reclaim the dead from the anonymity of genocide.  "Six million is such a huge number, even to think of 1,000 it confuses you," Szekely says. "The power is in the name because we don't have much left. That's the only thing we can touch or understand or imagine, our only connection that we could start to make to our past… When you connect to one name, one person to one name, it makes it easier for you to understand."

^ It is fitting that every member of every military in the world remember what happens when soldiers simply follow orders (like the Nazis claim.) It is especially important for Israelis to remember as it is their history and why there country was allowed to be created in 1948. The number killed in the Holocaust is well over 6 million and for most that is too hard to grasp so by humanizing the victims and the survivors helps us to get a glimpse of what happened. ^

Diplomats Hurt Tourism

From the Globe and Mail:
"Job action by foreign service hurting Canadian tourism industry"

Canada’s tourism sector is being hit hard by a foreign-service job action that is slowing applications for tourist visas, and the industry is warning it could clobber the peak summer season. Walkouts in Canadian embassies and consulates, and especially at those with busy visa operations, have created backlogs for tourist visas – and the threat of long delays has put off many tourists thinking of travelling to Canada, said David Goldstein, the president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.  Worse, it’s happening just as people are booking summer trips – and that’s a nightmare for a country with a short peak season for tourism. “For our industry, this is tantamount to a retail clerks’ strike in the middle of Christmas,” Mr. Goldstein said. Though Americans and Europeans don’t need visas to visit Canada, tourists from emerging markets such as China, Mexico, and India do need visas. Those countries are some of Canada’s fastest-growing tourism markets; in 2012, 298,000 Chinese tourists came to Canada, up 19 per cent from the previous year, making it the fifth-largest source country. Now, waits of as long as six weeks are causing many to give up and go elsewhere, tour operators say. “Who wants to leave their passport for six weeks?” said Luzana Rada, president of Global Tourisme, a Quebec-based company that organizes tours to Canada mainly for visitors from Latin America and Europe. “It’s a catastrophe.” She said her company has noticed bookings from Mexico are down as much as 50 per cent in the past three weeks – in a season when an increase was forecast. When it started investigating why, it found out its Mexican clients were facing visa waits of six weeks. And since those travellers come mainly in July and August, a whole season could be quickly wiped out, she said. The visa slowdown is part of job action launched by the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, which represents diplomats and immigration officers at posts abroad. Members at the Canadian missions with the biggest visa centres, in places such as Beijing, New Delhi, and Mexico City, walked off the job June 6, after the government refused to budge on its contract offer. Some visa officers have been declared essential workers, and must remain on the job, said Alexis Pavlich, a press secretary for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Mr. Goldstein said that the industry is concerned that the delays will turn tour operators off Canada for a long time to come, damaging the Canadian brand with a reputation for hassle. “We support the government’s efforts to modernize the public service, but the key element is service,” he said.

 ^ I said this would happen and now it is. The Canadian Government should do what Reagan did in the 1980s with the air traffic controllers - those that walk-off or strike should be fired and new people hired. It worked well in the '80s and I think diplomats and embassy support-staff should never be allowed to strike as it puts the country's security (they decide who to let in, etc) in danger. ^

Denver Tornado

From Yahoo:
"Radar shows tornado touched down at Denver airport"

Radar indicated a tornado briefly touched down Tuesday over the east runways of Denver International Airport, where thousands of people took shelter in bathrooms, stairwells and other safe spots until the dangerous weather passed, officials said. Airport spokeswoman Laura Coale reported no damage. Nine flights were diverted elsewhere during a tornado warning that lasted about 40 minutes, she said. A 97 mph wind gust was measured at the airport before communication with instruments there was briefly knocked out, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin.
Chris Polk, a construction foreman, was working on a renovation project just outside the airport's main concourse when he got the tornado warning at 2:15 p.m., looked up and saw a funnel cloud. He and his crew ran inside and took shelter with some 100 people, including luggage-toting passengers, inside a basement break room as tornado sirens sounded. It wasn't clear how many people were at the airport when a public announcement went out about the tornado warning, but the airport averages about 145,000 passengers over the course of a day, Coale said. Television coverage showed the airport's normally busy terminal was empty during the warning. Access to a bridge to concourse A was blocked, since the bridge is surrounded by large glass windows.

^ This happened a few minutes before we got to the airport. Despite the tornado being over it was pretty chaotic at the gate for several hours. ^

CO Trip: Part 3

Our last day (Tuesday) we did some last minute errands which, in the end, made us an hour late to head to the airport in Denver. My sister dropped us off and we rushed through check-in, security (we actually had no issues with the TSA as we have in the past in DEN.) Apparently, right before we got to the airport a tornado had touched down on one of the runways and so our flight was delayed. We took the train to the gate and then went to the smoking lounge – the only one in the airport. There one of the waiters gave us a hard time. He said we couldn’t stay in one area which was open, but had to put the chair blocking the door. I also had strong words with him when he started touching me. We decided to leave the lounge and go to the gate.  

At our gate it was complete chaos. People in wheelchairs were pushing and shoving to get in the front of the line to board first. The majority of them are what I call “wheel on – run off.” They get the airline to use a wheelchair to allow them to pre-board and get a good seat and then they are the first ones running off the plane at the destination. That is just plain disgusting to abuse the system like that. It makes it harder for those of us who actually need the extra time. We had to wait over an hour to board. We then had to wait another hour on the runway due to all the other planes waiting to take-off because of the tornado. This time the flight attendant was very professional and did her job well.  We had no issues during the flight. We landed around 2 am (two hours late.) There was an incident with an airline employee. Apparently she got the chair for us and gave it to my dad, but didn’t help us further. Then when we were ready to go up to the gate she said that another employee would wheel the chair up. Since they hadn’t helped us load into the chair I wasn’t going to let them take the credit and wheel it up. Plus I have always wheeled the chair myself. The woman started saying that it was the law that they had to – which I know is not true – and when she wouldn’t let go of the chair I let her have it. I swore worse than a sailor (not my finest hour, but I would do it again) and basically told her to let go. She was so “shocked” that she did. I grabbed the chair and pushed it myself. Like I said: I would have been fine if they had helped us the whole time, but they didn’t and then to openly lie to my face just made me lose any respect I had in the beginning. Once you lie to me I no longer care about anything you have to say or do. We got our bags quickly, found the car and went to pay the parking fee.

The parking garage had problems with their credit card system, but the guy was very nice and professional and made sure it got fixed and then apologized for the delay – which is exactly what you are supposed to do when something goes wrong. Since it had been many hours since we had lunch we stopped at McDonald’s (McD’s is one of the few places in my state that are open 24 hours) for dinner/breakfast. Then we headed home in the dense fog. We picked up our held mail from our box and started unpacking. I like to unpack when I get to/from a trip. I didn’t get to sleep until 6 am today.

All in all while it was nice to see my family in Colorado I hope that I never go back to that state. Every time we go there (ie last January and now this trip) our health issues get worse and we spend more time sick and in pain due to the high altitude. I wouldn’t mind meeting everyone here or even in a neighboring state from CO, but not in Colorado itself.

CO Trip: Part 2

I will sum up the 4 days we were in Colorado. The main purpose of the trip was to see my sister graduate from the university. While in CO several of us had health issues (due to our pre-existing conditions combined with the high altitude in the state – most of it is above sea level which makes it hard even for healthy people at first.) Those issues kept some of us from attending the graduation (on Saturday) and made for a very long trip since you never knew when the issues would strike or if they would go away. My sister did graduate and walk across the stage and we had a smaller version of the planned graduation party (we were supposed to go to the Edelweiss German Restaurant – which is really good – but instead we had the homemade desserts and treats my mom made. It was really nice to see that my sister was able to graduate since she had been working full-time and going to school full-time for years. It was able cool to see her two dogs and the two other dogs she dog sits for – they are all so cute. I guess I was missing my dogs too.

The next day (Sunday) was Father’s Day and we (my parents, sister, her friend, my sister-in-law, niece and nephew and myself) had brunch at the Broadmor. We have been there before for brunch and liked it so we wanted to go again to show my dad – who is home on leave from Kabul – how great it is and to help celebrate Father’s Day.

That Monday we did some errands and hung out as much as we could. It was really just a day to spend time with each other.