5 Ways You Can Still Help Barack Obama — Even from Overseas

November 4, 2008

We are 24 hours away from this election being over — but we still have not won this thing yet!

If you are an overseas American who cast your vote weeks ago, you may feel somewhat disconnected from what is going on tomorrow in the U.S. There are nevertheless a number of ways we can still be involved.

Here’s a list of 5 easy ideas for readers anywhere on the globe:

If you live in the U.S. or overseas:

1) Have your overseas American friends sent in their ballots?

  • Call up, email or otherwise check up with 5 American friends living overseas and make sure they have received and returned their absentee ballots. If they have not, use the information below to help them cast a vote if there’s still time!

2) Will your American friends and relatives be headed to the polls today?

  • Call up, email or otherwise check in with 5 American friends or family members living in the U.S. and encourage them to head to the polls today. Take a couple minutes to tell them why you support Barack Obama and why we’re counting on their vote.

3) Will other Americans — those in key swing states — be headed to the polls today?

  • The campaign has set up an online tool called Neighbor to Neighbor, which allows you to make calls to registered voters in crucial areas, providing them with information about their polling locations and encouraging them to vote for Barack Obama. You can pick the state you’d like to call here. You can find answers to commonly-asked questions here. (Don’t forget to calculate the time difference.)
  • If you do not have a way to make cheap or free phone calls from your land line to the U.S., try using your computer to make calls. You can get 5 free hours of calling from Internet Calls; another inexpensive option is to create and use a Skype account — calls to the U.S. are just 2 cents/minute.
  • If you do have a telephone flatrate, consider inviting friends over today or tonight to make these calls from your home. Polls do not begin closing in the U.S. until midnight CET, so there is plenty of time to make calls after work!

For overseas voters:

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Life in the Hutong

September 22, 2008

Hutong 2

Central Beijing used to be filled with hutong—single story courtyard homes on narrow lanes. They started in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) but the current structures mostly date from the earlier part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Expansive compounds, where several branches of the same family had multiple courtyards have since been divided and subdivided into small, cramped apartments. The hutong neighborhoods are known for their communities and for their historic architecture.

They’re also known because the Beijing government is using eminent domain and razing large swaths of them in order to build fancy high rises in their quest to become a modern metropolis.

China watchers mourn the loss of Beijing’s old-world charm.

Lonely Planet: China (2008) says:

“Hutong may still be the stamping ground of a quarter of Beijing’s residents, but many are sadly being swept aside in Beijing’s race to manufacture a modern city of white tile high-rises. Marked with white plaques, historic homes are protected, but for many others a way of life hangs precariously in the balance… Old walled courtyards are the building blocks of this delightful world. Many are still lived in and hum with activity. From spring to autumn, men collect outside their gates, drinking beer, playing chess, smoking and chewing the fat. Inside, trees soar aloft, providing shade and a nesting ground for birds.”

It of course, glosses over the extreme (but picturesque!) poverty of the situation: Read the rest of this entry »

Blogroll Addition: Jeff in Burundi

July 8, 2008

We seem to be having some sparse posting of late, but the summer travel season (including such things as vacations, business trips, weddings, moving, and preparing for new schools or jobs) is well underway, which is terribly distracting for our writers, alas. Hence, a blogroll addition to keep you distracted.

Jefferson Mok is a classmate from Grinnell who has just moved to Burundi to “establish a residential shelter for female child soldiers who need assistance to reintegrate into their communities.” Simple, yes? Especially as the sole representative of his organization. You can follow his adventures so far at his blog. He spent the last two years working with asylum seekers in Chicago, and is now going to try to help at the source. We wish him the very best of luck! I, for one, am somewhat in awe at the task he’s taking on.

Summer Geek Challenge: The License Plate Game

May 13, 2008

It’s starting to be the summer travel season! This means that now is the prime time to play the license plate game (in the US), particularly if you’re going to be in the car for any extended length of time, or if you will be visiting high density tourist destinations, like national parks.

Playing the game is very simple; designate a passenger to keep a record of all the different license plates anyone in the car spots. The goal is to get as many of the 50 as possible, or 51 if you are in a prime spot to see a Washington, DC plate. You can also keep a bonus list of the number of Canadian provinces you spot. I have a feeling that this would be an auspicious year for me to play, because I saw a Hawaii plate on my way home from work yesterday, and I’ve seen about 3 Alaska plates in the last week.

If you’re feeling ambitious, we could try to work out a point system in the comments based on the rarity of various license plates. If you live outside the US and have a different version of the game, tell us your rules. And if you go on a trip this summer, leave a comment with your list. (To be fair, you should only submit a list that you managed to compile over the course of one trip.)

-posted by Dana

Welcome to DC! Now Stand on the Right!

April 25, 2008

Last spring, I posted my maxims for DC tourism.

This year, I decided to go more positive. You have my list of rules, so why not some insider suggestions of things you should do?

Of course!

1. Go to a baseball game. What better way to watch America’s pastime in America’s capital? Especially since we have a brand new, awesome stadium. Check it out!

2. Go to a museum. American History is closed for awhile, but there are a million museums in this town. My favorite is the Freer and Sackler galleries, but I’m a sucker for Chinese art. Some not-to-be-missed ones are the Holocaust Museum, the Phillips Collection, and the Spy Museum. Also, the Newseum just opened up. It’s so new, there’s not buzz about good or bad, so check it out!

3. Go to brunch on Sunday. It’s a DC thing. We love our Sunday brunch. Most restaurants have one.

4. Try some new food. DC has most types of food– try something new. Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide has the low down on where to eat. His site is where DCers go to find new ethnic restaurants, so you should, too!

5. Try a walking tour. There are several companies that will lead you on one, several books that have one. I even saw a deck of cards with different tours on them… our neighborhoods are great and hold a lot of treasures you’ll miss if you stay with the usual attractions. Our row houses are gorgeous, as are our tree lined streets, with small treasures tucked amongst them.

6. Buy a book. DC is one of the most literate cities in America and we have some excellent independent bookstores to prove it. Olsson’s, Politics and Prose, and Kramer Books are all excellent places to grab a cup of coffee and browse. They also often host author readings– Politics and Prose has an author every night!

7. Eat some seafood. You’re on the coast and no one does a Maryland crab cake quite like Maryland! And if you’re in the northern suburbs? You’re in Maryland!

8. Grab a drink at the Willard Hotel. As the story goes, President Grant used to grab a drink here after a long day at the White House. The best time to get a favor from him was a few drinks in, so… people used to mill about the hotel lobby and wait for him, hence… lobbyists.

And, while you’re doing all that…

Let people on and off the metro

Don’t block entrances, exits, and the tops and bottoms of escalators

On the escalator, stand on the right, walk on the left (seriously)

Don’t drive

Don’t rub your vacation in my face


Did That Critter See His Shadow?

February 2, 2008

If you’re in the U.S., it’s not unlikely that a certain rodent crossed your path this morning. Like most celebrities, he’s put on a few pounds in his old age and is getting ever more difficult to hoist in the air when that all-important premonition proclamation is made by his inner circle. Yes, that’s right: it’s Punxsutawney Phil’s day to shine . . . just like the early-morning sun, which cast a long shadow behind him and means six more weeks of winter. Phooey.

Punxsy Phil The holiday’s roots go back to the European tradition of Candlemas, when candles were blessed and distributed and the day’s weather was used to foretell the coming of spring. Imported by German settlers, Groundhog Day has been officially celebrated in that small town in Pennsylvania since 1887, though real interest in attending the ceremony didn’t take off until the Bill Murray/Andee MacDowell film highlighting the holiday and the town was released in 1993 (need to jog your memory?).

Unless you like a media circus, you’re better off visiting Phil any other day of the year when you’ll have his full and undivided attention. The town has developed a small number of groundhog- and weather-related attractions which can be enjoyed year-round. Your pilgrimage must include a stop at Phil’s home, a terrarium called “Groundhog Zoo” at the library building on Punxsy’s town square. Before leaving town, pick up a Phil-shaped cookie cutter and bake a few groundhogs in his honor every February ever after. Punxsutawney is approximately 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh and 150 miles southeast of Erie in west-central Pennsylvania.

The Opening and Closing of European Borders

December 23, 2007

Lost under all the speculation about American shoppers and the failing U.S. economy in the weekend before Christmas is the news that Europe has finally reunited.

German/Polish Border

You are probably thinking back to a night almost two decades ago, when the Berlin Wall fell, Communism collapsed, and Europe, you thought, had already reunited? November 9, 1989, was most certainly a night to remember — the night the process of European unification began. [For the sticklers among you, it *really* began decades earlier with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950.] It took another step forward in 2004 when 10 countries, eight of them from the “East,” joined the European Union. This process neared further completion Friday when the Schengen zone expanded to include nine of those ten countries (Cyprus the lone holdout).

The photo above shows the German/Polish border at Frankfurt (Oder)/Slubice, the cities where I lived and filled my passport with crossing stamps for over two years. As of Friday, there are no longer guards stationed at that checkpoint, no one keeping you from (stereotypically) filling your shopping cart with low-priced cigarettes and heading West or riding back to the East on someone else’s bike.

If you’re like me with a U.S. passport and penchant for peace and travel, this news is cause for celebration. Once you enter the vast continent of Europe, you can travel around freely almost everywhere, crossing borders without ever needing to show your passport again until you leave. This is doubly good for Europeans who can leave home with nothing more than the equivalent of a driver’s license before flying off to France, Estonia or Hungary for the weekend. But if you’re Russian or Chinese, Indian or Kenyan, you can expect visits to Europe to become that much more difficult. It all comes back to that largely unknown and poorly understood Schengen Agreement.

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Is it safe to teach in Japan anymore?

November 7, 2007

That was the question the mother of a son about my age asked me this weekend. Her son has been going to school and then teaching English in China for the past couple of years, but he’s thinking maybe he wants to go to Japan next. Why would his mother think it less safe to teach in Japan than China?

Because last week NOVA, one of Japan’s largest private language school franchises, shut down due to financial crisis. This made big headlines around the world because many of the company’s foreign teachers found themselves stranded in Japan, having not been paid for a month or more. Some foreign embassies wound up offering aid to stranded teachers. A quick recap of the company’s collapse:

The firm, which mainly offers English classes, has more than 800 schools and 400,000 students across Japan.

But in June, it was ordered to suspend part of its operations, after a court ruled it had misled customers in advertisements about some services.

Since then, student enrolment has fallen sharply and Nova has accumulated debts of up to JPY50bn ($437m, £213m).

Its 2,000 Japanese staff have not been paid since July and some 4,000 non-Japanese instructors have not been paid their salary for October, union officials said.

Nova has now closed all its schools, Kyodo news agency said.

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Does the NYTimes hate Russia?

October 21, 2007

I criticize Russia as much as the next person (or maybe more so, since I’ve lived with more crazy old Russian women than you can shake a stick at), but the NYTimes is really invective today.

First, Clifford J. Levy writes an article about Russian computer crime that contains the following statements:

Russia has become a leading source of Internet ills, home to legions of high-tech rogues who operate with seeming impunity from the anonymous living rooms of Novosibirsk or the shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg. . . .

Yes, I’ve been in those “shadowy cybercafes of St. Petersburg.” They’re filled with sweaty, pube-mustachioed, foul-mouthed teens playing multi-player games. Computer access is around $1/hour.

. . . the Russian government . . . seems to show little interest in a crackdown, as if officials privately take some pleasure in knowing that their compatriots are tormenting millions of people in the West. . . .

Perhaps they are “privately tak”ing some money from the largest cybercriminals? Maybe it’s not about spite, it’s about profit? Or perhaps it’s because the vast majority of Russian society doesn’t have a computer, credit cards, or use the internet, so cybercrime is relatively intangible. Could it be ignorance on the part of local law enforcement rather than ubiquitous hatred of the West?

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Your Mao T-Shirt Won’t Get You Into Heaven

September 25, 2007

If you stand in the middle of Tian’anmen Square, and listen very, very closely, you can hear Chairman Mao spinning in his glass case.

Because, of course, to listen that closely, you need to tune out the hawkers trying to sell you such things as a watch or lighter featuring Mao’s likeness. (As an added bonus, some lighters play “The East is Red” when you open them.)

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