Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Post Is Dedicated To All The Language Students at FSI

Still smarting from yesterday's humiliating defeat in French class* I decided I should drown my sorrows in the comforts of beer and schadenfreude. Language students of FSI, take heart! It could be worse! We could be trying to learn what is possibly the most unreasonable and unnecessarily complicated language ever devised by man: English. Whenever you feel like Language X is the most ridiculous thing in the world, peruse one of the links below and bask in the soft glow of gratitude that you got to learn English the easy way.

10 reasons why English is a hard language
"The Chaos"
English is difficult
Why English is so hard

*Assignment: after seven minutes of preparation, speak for seven minutes en français on the question, "Does a society have a right to punish one of its members?" I lasted four.

Another Linktastic Post (Because My Life Is Boring)

I was going to post something on the Wikileaks cables but it's already been said, so read it here. On a side note: Seriously DoD? You let people put thumb drives in classified computer systems?

In other news, the price of the 12 Days of Christmas is up more than 10 percent this year, primarily due to increased prices for gold, entertainers, and the assorted poultry. However, I do have one quibble with the index: their price quote for the lords a-leaping comes from the Pennsylvania Ballet. I have to say, I do rather doubt the pedigree of any lords from Philly, though I'm sure their leaping skills are superb.

Also, amazing new word with best example sentence ever.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Things I've Liked on the Internet Recently

The world rearranged by population
Helpful Figures: entirely factual and hilarious infographics
Bad news for frequent flyers: jet lag may cause stupidity
Why making dinner is good for you
Save the Words: an effort by the edtitors of the OED to find foster parents for words that are dying out. I adopted "prandicle!" (It's a small meal. Useful, huh?)

Snow White trip-hopped:

Harry Potter, Toy Story, and more here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things For Which I Am Thankful

Happy hour. Food porn. Government work. Lint removers. Cute boots. Per diem. Gelato. Affordable tailors. Full social calendars. Kitty snuggles. Purpose and direction. Belonging. Coffee. Lazy Tuesday mornings. Good advice and the people who give it. NPR. Crinkly balls. Blister Band-aids. Freezer space. Admin time. Concert tickets. Health insurance. Glee. Friends and family who love me enough to put up with my moaning in the bad times and gloating in the good. The way that sometimes you actually do get what you want.

Etc., etc., etc.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Guinea Election Update

The Christian Science Monitor has a great article today summing up all things electoral in Guinea - what happened, where things are now, and what might happen on November 26 December 2 when the Guinean Supreme Court is scheduled to announce their decision on the validity of the election results:

"Although it is impossible to be certain, it seems highly improbable that the current results will not stand. This would leave three major paths for the country to follow, once the Supreme Court decision is announced: 1) outbreak of civil war between the two factions. This is the least likely option, as Diallo is unlikely to call his supporters to violence, neither side is armed, and the whole country is wary of war, having hosted refugees from conflicts in Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone; 2) Diallo refuses to concede defeat and his supporters continue to protest, leading to the military deciding to take power permanently, under the guise of restoring calm; and 3) Diallo ultimately concedes the Presidency to Conde, and, after some initial violent protests by UFDG supporters, Guinea launches its first democratic government."

Guess which option I'm rooting for?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Public Service Announcement

Dear DC-area aspiring bakers:

PUT THE FROSTING KNIFE DOWN. Put your hands in the air where I can see them and back slowly away from the cupcake pans. NO. MORE. CUPCAKES.

We have achieved market saturation. Hello Cupcake, Red Velvet, Georgetown Cupcakes, Baked and Wired, CakeLove, Frosting, and now several Crumbs franchises have the city covered. Sprinkles is coming in January. And if none of those are close enough to you, Curbside Cupcakes will bring some to your house.

The line outside Georgetown Cupcakes is not an indicator of untapped demand. At this point people go there because it's famous, not because it's good, or even because it's cupcakes. They are good cupcakes but certainly not good enough to stand in line in the cold for half an hour.

DC has big cupcakes, small cupcakes, filled cupcakes, plain cupcakes, fancy cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes, vanilla cupcakes, s'mores cupcakes, salted caramel cupcakes, cherry cupcakes, chai cupcakes. Free-trade organic gluten-free vegan cupcakes. Any niche cupcake market you think you could fill, trust me, it's filled.

But far be it from me to squash your bakery dreams. Would it interest you to know that I have to walk a mile to Whole Foods every time I want some decent bread? Yes, that's right, bread. I could also use a reliable source of sandwich rolls and I wouldn't say no to the occasional éclair. There's unused retail space right across the street from my apartment. When you all come down off your cream cheese frosting-fueled sugar high, think about it.

Love and kisses,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm a Natural

After you've been learning a language for a while you start to get comfortable with the structure, and then you start to play with it. You take verbs and try to turn them into nouns, nouns into adjectives, and so on. This is where I get into trouble. It's not that the words I make up aren't actual French words, they just don't mean what I intend them to mean.

On Monday we were talking about Facebook and other social networking sites hiring employees away from Google, and I tried to turn newly-learned verb "débaucher" (to hire away, to poach) into the noun "la débauche" to mean "the act of hiring away from someone." All well and good, except "la débauche" actually means "debauchery." And today I coined "le souteneur" from the verb "soutenir" (to support) intending to say "someone who supports a person or a cause." This is also a real word, but unfortunately it means "pimp."

In other words, I'm very likely to accidentally turn a run-of-the-mill economics paper into Conakry's submission for the Trafficking in Persons Report. Awesome.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Condé Wins, Killing Begins

I can't say I'm all that surprised, but I will admit to being a little disappointed.

So, About That Election...

It did finally occur, peacefully, and international observers declared it free and fair, albeit with minor irregularities. So much for the good news. The bad news is that we still don't know who won. Results were supposed to be announced Wednesday, then Saturday, then this morning. It's a squeaker: as of yesterday, former prime minister Cellou Dallein Diallo held 50.6 percent of the vote and former opposition leader Alpha Conde had 49.4 percent.

And with the delays people are getting restless. Yesterday Diallo's party withdrew from vote certification process for alleged fraud and refused to accept the final results, whatever they may be. Awesome. So far the reactions to the vote-counting have taken the form of legal challenges and a little rock-throwing rather than widespread violence, but it's not looking good.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Words To Live By

My work life has gotten rather dull since I started language training. I'm not complaining - I love being in school again and the easy schedule that goes with it - but it does leave a considerable gap in my store of conversation topics. Last week I had dinner with some of my A-100 pals who are working in DC for their first tour. They all had interesting things to say about what they were working on and what's going on in their offices; when they asked what was up with me I could only say, "Um, we reviewed pronouns today." BORING.

My French class is actually pretty fun though. My prof is great and there are only three of us, so we spend lots of time reading/watching/listening to and talking about the news. We pick up a lot of vocab this way, and not all of it is about elections and quantitative easing. Here's a choice selection of new words I've learned that will help put me on the fast track to the Wall of Shame*:

un proxenète - noun - pimp
cupid(e) - adj - willing to be bought
une capote - noun - condom
un gazon - noun - lawn, also a derogatory term for a lesbian
un nabot - noun - midget (derogatory)
piégé(e) - adj - booby-trapped
un supplice - noun - torture session

*The Wall of Shame is a page on the State Department intranet detailing some fairly spectacular things FSOs have done to get kicked out of the service and into a jail cell. Selling visas, sex with minors, etc. As you can see, I'm aiming high.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Crossing My Fingers

Guinea is holding presidential runoff elections tomorrow. They've been delayed several times already, but it looks like this time they may actually go forward. If everything goes well the elections will result in Guinea's first democratically elected government since achieving independence in 1958. If things go poorly any number of unpleasant things may happen, up to and including an ethnic-based civil war.

I'm rooting for peace and democracy of course. Mostly because these are generally to be preferred to misery and destruction, partly because my boss tells me to (see Joint U.S.-France Statement on Guinea Elections), but also, selfishly, because I personally would rather spend two years of my life in a shaky but hopeful fledgling democracy than a war zone. But that's just me.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Today I embarked on what will be an estimated four months of French training. Calvin does not approve:

I approach this with some foreboding. I have been attempting to learn French on and off for the past decade or so. I get into a class, slowly pull my linguistic skills together, and then as soon as the class ends it all falls to pieces again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I suspect I'll use at least half of my training time picking up the vague remnants of things I used to know before I can even start learning anything new, and then in the two months of consular and econ training between French class and actually getting to post it will all once again vanish into the ether. But who knows. Maybe FSI has some good tricks up their sleeves.

By the way, if you ever have trouble locating the perfect Calvin and Hobbes comic to express your thoughts, you can probably find it here.