Jayne Cravens in PetraRoman Coliseum and Jayne, at nightJayne in Panjshir, Afghanistan, 2007Jayne shall eat now in Alwinton, EnglandGlacier National Park 2010
 
 
Achtung, Baby 1
January - February 2009

 
Welcome into the warm glow of my cosy cyber cabin...

(I plagiarized that from Stephen Fry)

Yes, we're still planning to move to the USA in April 2009. As I'm about to say goodbye to living in Europe, I decided to go through photos from 2001, my first year here, and create a photo tribute to my welcome-to-Europe, to remember that first, oh-so-incredible year. What a time!

I was 34 the first time I came to Germany, back in August 2000. I was 35 when I moved here. I'm 43 now. Other than all the weight gain and aging, I feel the same! I wish I looked as young as I feel.

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A reminder that it's oh-so-easy to automatically stay up-to-date with me. You can:

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I have no interest in American college football. American football bores me. I grew up watching American football, basketball, baseball, and the Olympics. But American football always left me cold.

Michael Hurd, a very dear friend, wrote a book a few years back, "Collie J" Grambling's Man with the Golden Pen, about the former sports information director at American college football powerhouse Grambling State University. I only recently read it.

I had never heard of Collie J. Nicholson, who was considered a legend in his time by every sports figure who knew him, black or white, and whose name inspires awe among those know about black college football. And while I had heard of Grambling, I cared about it about as much as I cared about American football.

I loved this book. Anyone who works in public relations or marketing, or wants to, needs to read this book, particularly people who feel that their communications efforts are woefully under-funded. What Collie J. did with no Internet, no fax machines and barely a budget is a lesson for anyone now who wants to know how to sell a program or build a brand, particularly nationally or internationally. This was a man who didn't spend his time whining and complaining about what he didn't have or how many challenges he faced; he was undaunted in his task to sell Grambling to the USA and, indeed, the world. He was relentless in his efforts. He was an opportunist, in the best sense of the word, and he made things happen through persistence, vigilance, a huge amount of hard work, and constant networking in-person and on the phone and via whatever tools were available to him back in the day. He was an utterly dependable, honest person that everyone knew they could trust to do the best job possible. Collie J. worked in an environment at Grambling that encouraged him to be innovative and to take risks -- he was allowed to experiment and dream big -- VERY big. And because of his abilities and the support he received, his achievements as sports information director are nothing short of stunning. Jaw-dropping. As a professional in communications myself, I found myself jealous of the support Nicholson got from Grambling to do his job, and the environment in which he worked, where ideas were thrown out no matter how big, no matter how fantastic, and were sincerely considered and, more often than not, supported.

If you have a marketing, public relations, communications, advertising or journalism major in your life, or someone working in any of those fields, buy them this book. If they aren't a fan of American football, they can skip the game accounts and scores -- I did. But Collie J.'s strategies, planning, press releases, dreams -- don't miss those, because in terms of advice, they are golden.

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Up, up and away, in our beautiful, our beautiful Balloon!

And then a few weeks later, it was off to Rome (and the now infamous meeting with one of the world's greatest actresses...)

If only I had seen this before I met Dame Judi... I could have asked her about it (explanation here. I guess people will truly do anything for Kevin Spacey - I know I would!)

Ofcourse, the whole time I was in Rome, this scene played in my head. I think Stefan got sick of me quoting it again and again.

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    Princeton students took action and made a video inspired by the vote in California that "allowed the majority of people to come together to vote to suppress the will of a minority that was trying to really upset things in a way that was harmful.... California set a precedent that we are thrilled to be continuing here."

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    The other day, the automatically generated word that I had to type in to prove I was not a junk emailer but merely someone who wanted to comment on a blog was "spuluose". It has no meaning. I think it needs one.

    Speaking of meanings, have you heard of saddlebacking?

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    Patrick McGoohan died -- free of The Village at last. Insert me with a sad face here.

    The inventor of the döner kebab has died as well. I had no idea the döner was invented in Germany. I looooooooooove döner. It's made me happy on many an occasion here in Deutschland.

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    There are almost 900 UNESCO World Heritage sites. These sites belong to humankind to enjoy and protect. They are mix of man-made and natural sites, each with universal value. If you are looking for a goal for world wide travel, the UNESCO World Heritage sites are an excellent guide. There is an AWFUL book called 1000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz that's actually "1000 Luxury Hotels to See Before You Die." She skips several countries entirely (like BULGARIA!). Don't even bother with that awful book.

    Kentucky has a World Heritage site: Mammoth Cave National Park. And another is just a stone's throw away: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

    Germany has 33.

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    Neil Armstrong is not a Muslim.
    Neil Armstrong did not convert to Islam on the Moon.
    Yet, there are millions of people all over the world who believe these and other myths.

    This particular myth is debunked here, here and here

    Not that there would be anything wrong with Neil Armstrong being a Muslim, if he were (but he's not). But I loathe beliefs in urban legends and conspiracy theories, I really do. It's a pet peeve that gets my hackles up. Back when I was an undergrad, I read Jan Harold Brunvand's The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. Now, more than 20 years later, I'm reading his Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends. These are easy-to-debunk stories, but it's much harder to debunk more complex urban myths, like 911 conspiracies (although Penn & Teller do a GREAT job trying.

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    More than 10,000 clergy have signed a letter stating that evolution is sound science and poses no threat to religion. More than 800 congregations in 50 states have scheduled events for Evolution Weekend, February 13-15. "Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy," the letter states. It's not at all unusual to find people of faith, including Christians and Muslims, who believe that Darwinian thinking clarifies and deepens religious faith, contrary to what anti-science folks will tell you.

    This is especially important this year, as 200 years ago, Charles Darwin was born.

    In related news, Nature, the international weekly journal of science, has a free document ready for your download, Evolutionary gems for biologists and others (like me!) who wish to explain to students, friends or loved ones the vast amount of evidence for evolution by natural selection.

    Remember: arguments cannot determine whether a scientific theory or belief is correct. What is required to establish a scientific theory are experiments and careful observations, leading to results that they can be reproduced by anyone. A scientific theory not only explains existing observations -- it predicts new ones. By contrast, a hypothesis is an untested, unproven working assumption. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, drawn from extensive review of fossil records, from studies of natural and artificial habitats, and from research on molecular biological processes -- in other words, from application of the Scientific Method. Evolution isn't just a theory -- it's a scientific theory.

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    It was great fun instant messaging with two friends during Bracko Bama's inauguration (that's the President's name as said by the daughter of a friend of mine). Since there was no inauguration party for me to go to in Sinzig, I had my own online! My favorite moment: when he acknowledged "non-believers", and both friends wrote at the same time and said, "That's you!" Well, that and Aretha Franklin's hat.

    For the record, when Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention four years ago, I told my mother, "I just watched a future President of the USA speak." She said no way.

    I remember back in 1993, when Clinton was elected. After 12 years of Republicans, of record deficits and the eroding of women's rights and embarrassment overseas, most of the country felt like the sun had come out for the first time in a long time. Suddenly, the White House was talking about things like the Internet and healthcare and the environment. So many, many of us worked so hard for so long to see that day come, myself included, and when it came, we were all so monstrously happy, so incredibly relieved. I remember watching the Clintons walk out onto the stage at the first ever MTV Ball, to thank all the young people who had helped get them elected, and I cried, because I felt a part of that, and I felt like the nation had turned a corner.

    Sound familiar?

    Unfortunately, myself and so many other people stopped being activists that day, stopped volunteering with various political organizations and what not. We had arrived, and everything was fine now, and Clinton would take care of everything. All that incredible momentum was quickly lost.

    Eight years later, George Bush stole an election easily because so many of us weren't being vigilant, and he began dismantling so much of what was gained under Clinton. And eight years later, we're back to record deficits and the erosion of women's rights and embarrassment overseas.

    I'm very happy that Barack Obama is now the President, but I can't shake this feeling of deja vu. The things I hear on TV now are the same things I heard back in 1993. A lot of people have worked very hard to get Barack Obama elected. Will they keep working?

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    I did get EVERY joke among the Christmas and holiday cards for geeks.

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    Stefan continues his fascination with Yiddish words used by English-speaking Jews... and his wife. Notice how many are of German origin (scroll down on the page). Why am i not surprised at the origin of "Kibitz"?

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    So... the January 2001 edition of the Onion predicted the future! Scary...

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    Section 5 of the Kentucky Constitution says:

    No preference shall ever be given by law to any religious sect, society or denomination; nor to any particular creed, mode of worship or system of ecclesiastical polity; nor shall any person be compelled to attend any place of worship, to contribute to the erection or maintenance of any such place, or to the salary or support of any minister of religion; nor shall any man be compelled to send his child to any school to which he may be conscientiously opposed; and the civil rights, privileges or capacities of no person shall be taken away, or in anywise diminished or enlarged, on account of his belief or disbelief of any religious tenet, dogma or teaching. No human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.
    With this in mind, I was gobsmacked to read in a Nov. 28, 2008 story in the Lexington Herald-Leader that the 2006 law organizing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security lists its initial duty as "stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth." I had been looking for Kentucky basketball news, and ended up stumbling onto this story that notes that the Kentucky Homeland Security office is ordered to publicize "God's benevolent protection" in its reports, and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

    I was shocked. I was outraged. And so I emailed a summary of the article and a link to it to every Kentucky-affiliated atheist and secular-humanist group I could find. Only Kentucky Atheists wrote back, almost immediately. Edwin Kagin, the director of the group, couldn't believe it at first -- but there it was, and the story was being picked up by media all over the country (once it got picked up by Fark, there was no going back -- wonder who submitted it? Hmmmm....).

    Kagin and several other Kentuckians filed suit, saying that this is clearly a violation of the Kentucky state constitution. The threatening, hateful email he has received as a result has been... well, incredibly un-Christian...

    More than two hundred years ago, a group of English men well-studied in the French enlightenment created a new nation - the United States of America. They chose not to mention God in the country's Constitution and to create a secular government, having seen the division and strife caused by mixing religion and government in Europe. George Washington, in his letter to the "Hebrew Congregation" of Newport, Rhode Island, did refer to "the Father" in his well wishes to the Jewish community of the new nation, but he also affirmed in that letter that being a part of the USA "requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." The Founders of this country *never* required a belief in God among the citizenry, and never advocated for such. By requiring an acknowledgement of God in the work of government workers, the State of Kentucky has not only violated the state's constitution, they have also violated the principles of the founders of this nation. One supposes the Kentucky mandate for this acknowledgement of God refers to the God of Abraham and, therefore, only people who are Christians, Jewish or Muslim can work at the Kentucky state Office of Homeland Security, but people who are atheists, agnostics, or members of non-monotheist religions would not be allowed, as they cannot adhere to "the dependence on Almighty God" in their work. Is the faith of Christians in Kentucky so weak and are their numbers dwindling so severely that they must rely on coercion to force others to bow to their beliefs? Do they feel pride in instituting the kind of government-backed religious enforcement found in oppressive nations such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan? And what's next -- perhaps the state shall declare those who are not of the correct faith as not really citizens, and will not be protected or served by the Government?

    How sad, how tragic, to see my native state engage in state-sponsored religious enforcement. Having lived in Afghanistan in 2007 for six months, and having frequently encountered refugees from countries where their particular religion is banned or oppressed, I am acutely aware of the dangers of this practice. I call on all state workers in Kentucky, regardless of their faith or lack their of, to stand up for the principles on which the USA was founded, and refuse to enforce this un-American act.

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    Books I was reading during this blawg:


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