Thursday, October 31, 2013

Things I've Liked on the Internet Lately

Good news for Disney: 500 new fairy tales discovered. There's got to be a few more princesses in there somewhere.
The latest from the Nature Is Crazy Files: lethal lake turns animals to stone
How the world looks to cats. Cool, but they forgot to mention that to my cat I look like a walking sack of kibble in a maid's uniform.
A history of "cool". Cool.
Need a jigsaw puzzle with purpose? Help archaeologists reassemble a medieval monument.
Chemistry sets are so 20th century. Today's kids can make cyborg cockroaches.
Chickens eaten at fancy NYC restaurants also ate at fancy NYC restaurants. Part of me thinks this is ridiculous, and part of me thinks it's awesome.
Jokes for nerds. I think #47 is my favorite, though many are pretty good.

Super impressive:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Vicarious Tourism: Galway and Points West

We just had a three-day weekend in Ireland, thanks to a bank holiday. I love bank holidays - it's a holiday that doesn't have to be (or pretend to be) about veterans or Columbus or anything else but an extra day off work. I took the opportunity to go to Galway and see some of Ireland's west coast.

Galway is smaller than I thought it would be - a university, a handful of pedestrian streets full of pubs and shops selling rings and sweaters, a river, and some coastline. Galway is a much more nautical place than Dublin; though they both have harbors and seagulls and things, you can tell the ocean means more somehow in Galway. And the seafood, as you would expect, is fantastic. You can exhaust the city's attractions in less than a day, unless you want to test out every pub, in which case you'll be there for weeks. (That might not be a bad plan.) It's a cute town though, and makes a nice base for day trips to the surrounding area.

I had planned to visit the Aran Islands while I was in the neighborhood, but strong winds from a storm in Scotland closed the ferry and scrapped that plan. Instead I took a bus trip to the Cliffs of Moher, where I got some lovely photos but almost got blown over several times by winds powerful enough to pull sea spray straight up the 200m cliff face, and, I feared, to rip my ears off my head. I also learned, in several wet spells over the weekend, that my rain gear isn't quite as waterproof as I had thought. Oops. Another decent day trip from Galway is a tour of Connemara, a wild and woolly land with nothing but peat bogs, rocks, and sheep. Those things make for some pretty breathtaking landscapes though.

So it was a damp and windy weekend, but well worth the trip. I hope to be able to go back again one day and see some more of Ireland's Wild Wild West, on a slightly more relaxed itinerary next time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

So, How's Work?

Blogging about work can be tricky. The State Department has a very broad-brush personal social media policy, which requires clearance on anything "of official concern" to the Department. No one really knows exactly what that means, so to avoid accidentally crossing any invisible lines many of my colleagues restrict their blogging to discussing hobbies, posting vacation photos, and telling stories about the cute things their kids have done lately. In short, talking about anything and everything except being a Foreign Service Officer. I can't say I blame them, but I do think it's a shame. When I was looking at joining the Foreign Service I was disappointed by how hard it was to find out about the work, so when I started this blog I made a conscious decision to talk about my job, to the degree I felt comfortable doing so and still getting to keep it.

Well, I'm not talking about my job much these days. This is because there are two parts to American Citizen Services work - the Boring Part and the Interesting Part - and neither of them has a place on the blog. The Boring Part, which takes up the majority of my time, is routine bureaucratic paperwork stuff. I sign things. I click buttons. I put little barcode stickers on forms. There's nothing to say about it because it's boring. The Interesting Part of ACS work is what happens when things go wrong. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes members of vulnerable groups like children and the mentally ill end up needing a little extra help. Sometimes the people coming in are just normal adults who have made Poor Life Choices and would like our help dealing with the consequences. But all of them are American citizens with privacy rights, and while this part of the job can make for GREAT stories, they aren't stories I can put in my blog.

I'll still try to talk about work a little, when I can, but it won't be often. However, just consider that missing a few juicy blog posts is a small price to pay for the confidence that no consular officer is going to splash your Poor Life Choices all over the Internet. We'll just let you do that yourself on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nemesis

For a few weeks after the cat came back from his little adventure he seemed perfectly happy to be back to domestic life, but lately the wild has been calling. He is bored with safety and comfort and wants a little excitement again. He does seem to have had enough of BASE jumping, thank god, and now prefers to make his escape by barreling out the front door when my hands are full. Little bastard.

One of the key entertainments outdoor life offers is the opportunity to encounter and challenge his nemesis. This is an orange tabby stray I have decided to name, for convenience, Abraham deLacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O'Malley (AdLGCTO'M). I hesitate to call him an alley cat - alleys are hard to come by among the tree-lined boulevards of Ballsbridge - but he is footloose and fancy-free, living by his wits in the big city, er, suburbs. Jabbers hates him.

The marmalade menace certainly seems to hang around the house a lot. One time he even dared to flirt with me - ME, the exclusive property of the Jabberwock - mewling and acting adorable in an attempt to get me to feed him, to divert Jabberwocky's precious resources to the benefit of this interloper, this nobody. This is behavior up with which Jabbers will not put!

He ran out on me this evening when I got home from work, which shocked me. I was so certain he'd never risk being away from home at suppertime, but this was a matter of honor. Half an hour later I heard His Highness' distinctive "go away or I will fight you" yowl and poked my head out the front door to see my Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, all puffed up and strutting like a BAMF, ready to show the upstart who was boss around here.

At which point I promptly scooped up my beamish boy and bundled him back in the house. Because *I* am boss around here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shutdown. Kind Of.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you are probably aware by now that the U.S. federal government entered a new fiscal year yesterday, but that Congress hasn't given it any money. Outcome: government shutdown. Kind of. Mostly, but not entirely.

The State Department is still operating, thanks to some budgetary wizardry I don't entirely understand involving multi-year funds, and will continue doing so until we run out of money. And when will that be? No one can really say for sure. But in the meantime we are still coming to work, still doing our jobs, and still getting paid, though I wouldn't exactly describe it as business as usual. My paycheck is safer than most, since my salary is financed not by tax dollars appropriated by Congress (when they can be bothered with such mundane tasks) but by fees paid by passport and visa applicants, "and since consular operations are fee-funded, there’s a significantly less chance of a furlough occurring for those departments."

So that's great news for me, and also for all the American citizens in Ireland who might have their passport stolen or otherwise need my help between now and whenever Congress gets its act together. It's not so great for more than 1 million of my fellow federal employees who are coming in to work every day and doing their jobs for the benefit of the nation so they can get paid back...someday, later, eventually, once Congress pulls itself together and does its job. And then there are another 800,000 who are legally prohibited from doing their jobs until Congress decides to govern already and who may never get paid at all.

I know a lot of people in both categories, and I worry for them, especially with the Washington Post predicting an extended shutdown before this thing gets worked out. They still have bills to pay. And from my weird little paycheck-in-a-shutdown Twilight Zone I have what you could call survivor's guilt. There, but for a quirk of funding mechanics, go I. But there's not a lot I can do to help. It's not up to me to fix this. It's up to a particular group of 535 bickering children representatives democratically elected to govern the nation in the best interests of its people. I find it difficult to believe that current events are truly reflective of that mission.

But this is all very depressing, so in an attempt at levity, here's a furlough card for all my friends staying home for the duration. Imagined by me and brought to life by a clever friend of mine with skillz.