Today, Afghanistan held its first independent elections since the end of Taliban rule in 2001. This week, dozens of voters and several political candidates were killed by Taliban attacks across the country, including at least 10 voters and 5 policemen in a suicide bomb attack at a polling station here in Kabul this afternoon. Afghans are literally dying or putting their lives at risk just to exercise their right to vote or run for office.

Meanwhile, barely 40% of eligible Americans will even bother to vote in November 7 midterm elections. Voting is easier than ever now - 34 states and D.C. have some form of "No Excuse Early Voting" program, and another 3 state allow you to vote by mail. Our state of Colorado even allows residents overseas to vote absentee entirely online.

According to Freedom House, citizens of less than half the countries on Earth (45%) have the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections. Please remember that before you come up with some lame-ass excuse why you can't or won't vote. #Shameful #YouCanChangeThis #RegisterAndVote

In praise of: Canadian healthcare

One of the perks of our job in Canada is access to Alberta Healthcare. This is the second time we have been covered by universal healthcare, or "socialized medicine" as conservatives call it pejoratively. We were covered by British National Health Care System (NHS) when we lived in London for five years. Every province in Canada has it's own provincial health care system, 15 in all -- plus Veterans and Aboriginal health care programs.  In the almost three years we have lived in Canada, we have never seen a bill after leaving the doctor.  Every penny of routine health care is covered. True story: Mrs. Crab had to visit the emergency room last year after a bike accident. Her treatment included Xrays, Cat scan, ultrasound, pain medications, IVs and a semi-private room -- and the only thing we paid for was $4 for parking! Had this happened in the United States, my Foreign Service Benefit Plan (administered by Aetna) would have charged me 10% copay of at least $250.  

Like most universal health care programs, Alberta Healthcare does have its limitations. It doesn't cover everything, and the wait times for specialists can be twice as long as in the United States, so some Canadians pay out-of-pocket for supplemental health insurance. The average Canadian earning $100,000 (about $78,000 in U.S. dollars) will pay about 35% of their salary in provincial and federal taxes, compared to about 25% rate for a U.S. citizen earning the same. But the differences are partially offset by the fact that the average American spends $10,000 in healthcare costs per year including premiums, copays, etc. The other downside is Canada has a severe shortage of healthcare professionals, forcing the country to bring in doctors and nurses from other countries, most notably the Philippines. 

170517-designatedsurvivor Whether Universal Healthcare could ever become a reality in the United States remains to be seen. The most challenging issue would be the sheer size of such a program. Canada only has 35 million people, and the UK has 65 million people, compared to about 326 million U.S. residents. But on the flip side, the U.S. has never made a real attempt until the Affordable Care Act. 

Canada has had universal health care since 1966, but it dates back even further to 1947 when Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister who as premier of Saskatchewan introduced the first provincial health care program. (US-Canadian Hollywood trivia: Douglas is the father of actress Shirley Douglas, married to Donald Sutherland, who are the parents of Kiefer Sutherland, who plays an accidental President of the United States on "Designated Survivor"). 


When history repeats itself

Condensed from "A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS" by Jennet Conant:

 New fears about the nation's security had gripped the public. The tone of political debate in Congress grew sharply partisan and bitter, with the Republicans making the most of charges of Communist infiltration of the Truman administration. ... Even more troubling than the hardening of ideology was the vicious Red-baiting of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. ... McCarthy's Red scare became a real cause of concern, alarm even, to State Department Personnel. He had made the overseas information agency one of his targets and had vowed to root out "security risks." Hoping to appease McCarthy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's new Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, had dismissed a number of high-level diplomats and had warned that anything less than "positive loyalty" from Foreign Service officers was "not tolerable at this time." 

Paul had seen only trouble ahead. Rumors about where McCarthy's tactics of intimidation - the book burning and finger-pointing -- might lead had spread like wildfire through the diplomatic community. Paul was unnerved by McCarthyism and considered the senator to be "a desperately dangerous, power-hungry, fascist-operating bastard. Eisenhower appears to be trying to save the Republican Party at the expense of the country," he wrote to his family in March 1945.

Julia and Paul had watched with sinking hearts as one after another of the career of Foreign Service Officers they had served with in China, among them some of their closest friends, had been forced out while still others quit in disgust. Anyone who had departed from the official line in the Far East, or had the temerity to write a critical report, was being labeled un-American. ... "Quite a number of people were just ruined," recalled Julia. ... Writing to her sister, Julia confided her misgivings: "After the events of hte last few years, I have entirely lost the nobility and esprit de corps. I feel, actually, that any moment we might be accused of being Communists and traitors."

Paul was informed that he was the subject of a State Department Special Inquiry, an official investigation into his character, reputation, and loyalty. Friends, relations, employers, and associates -- from the distant past to the present -- had been tracked down and interviewed." 

As soon as he received a copy of his clearance, Paul wired Julia: Investigation Concluded Successfully for Me. ... No apology was forthcoming, nor did he expect one." 

Europe Vacation, part 2

The Two Crabs are back in the Great White North of Canada after a 3 week trip through Europe that took us to Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Austria. 

A few more snapshots of our trip.

St. Johann in Tirol, Austria:


Groningen, Netherlands:



Frankfurt & Munich, Germany:



Greetings from Europe, Part 1


Above: the beautiful cliff side village of Positano on Italy's Amalfi Coast.

The Two Crabs are currently on vacation in Europe -- our first time back here in over 3 years. One of the great pleasures and benefits of this job is we have made friends all over the world. Our first stop was Naples, Italy to visit our friend and supervisor from my previous post. She's one of the best consular officers I've ever met so naturally I consider her a mentor. Our next stop was the Netherlands to visit with some old friends from our previous lives. 

While in Holland, I had the pleasure of meeting my hard-working colleagues at US Consulate Amsterdam. One of those officers turned out to be a fan of this blog and reminded me that it's been ages since I've updated this blog. Part of the reason is I've been super busy in Calgary but the main reason is pure laziness -- it's a lot easier to just update my whereabouts on Facebook for friends and family. But I forget there are many folks who aren't on FB or whom I don't personally know. So my belated New Years resolution is to try and maintain this blog better whenever I have a free moment. I'm drafting this post on a long train ride from Amsterdam to Groningen, a beautiful little city in northern Netherlands.

Incidentally, European trains ROCK. In most places in Europe, you can set your watch to train schedules and now many trains have free wifi. My biggest complaint however are train prices. The romantic notion of grabbing a EuroPass and backpacking Europe by train is long gone. It's now much cheaper to just hop a low cost airline flight. That's how we got from Naples to Amsterdam: 49 euros per person one-way! 

A few more photos of our trip so far: 


The post below was written by a Foreign Service professional, in response to proposed huge cuts at the Department of State. This post was making the rounds among FS staff for several days but now it's officially gone viral. I have no idea who wrote it, but it's worth repeating. With credit to the brave author: 

"I don't ever wish ill on people. If I were the sort of person who did, I'd wish that every single commenter who is reacting in ignorant delight to the proposed cuts to State would encounter one or several of the following:

1. not being able to get a U.S. passport in time for a vacation and missing flights/losing a ton of money
2. losing a passport overseas and being stranded, unable to get home to a job/loved ones
3. having a family member pass away overseas and having no assistance learning about the situation or planning a repatriation
4. being the victim of a crime overseas and having to navigate a foreign justice system without any information in English, nor recommended lawyers
5. losing high-paying jobs/companies in their home town due to lack of skilled workers, foreign investors, and/or any foreign awareness of the U.S. business as a customer or supplier
6. losing massive tourism dollars to their hometown hotels, restaurants, and local attractions because no one issued visas to any of the visitors who otherwise flock there
7. not being able to adopt a child from overseas and bring them to the United States
8. marrying a foreign spouse and not being able to bring them to the United States
9. not being able to have foreign friends or relatives come visit them due to no visas being issues
10. facing more, and more crowded/violent anti-American protests everywhere they travel due to lack of exposure to positive American cultural values
11. living under the real, daily threat of violent conflict with countries capable of causing us harm
12. having no credible representatives of American interests in negotiations on security, countering narcotics, fighting transnational crime, protecting the environment,keeping dangerous debris out of space, ad infinitum

Ok, seriously, I don't wish those things on anyone. Not only that, I work every single day to keep those things from happening, as do thousands of my smart, talented colleagues from across the political spectrum who could all be earning a whole lot more in the private sector.

Those of us who do this work overseas miss births, birthdays, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, and reunions to do it. We give up a spouse's lucrative earning potential and often even sense of professional satisfaction.

We work in places that are exponentially more dangerous than in the United States, whether through pollution, disease, traffic accident incidences, sanitation, food safety, lack of easily available potable water, street crime, sexual harassment, xenophobia, terrorist threats, also ad infinitum. We put on hold, or sometimes sadly lose, the supportive network of family and childhood and college friends who hold us up when we are able to be at home. We learn foreign languages and try to communicate in our daily lives, often feeling like idiots or permanent tourists.

We take on these commitments willingly and embark on the work only after we swear or affirm an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign or domestic. And we take our responsibilities enormously seriously.

I'm not asking for credit, or the recognition others who serve our country get. With fewer foreign service officers than professional band members than in the U.S. armed services, we have no ability to influence Congress through numbers, nor sufficient understanding of who we are or what we do. All I'm asking is that people stop blindly criticizing us and put away the shoes they're polishing to dance on our graves. Metaphorically-- if it's literal, they'll use the deaths as an endless political football to finger-point and then threaten to cut our security budgets if unrelated politicized policy goals don't go their way. Well that's just Congress, but still.

If you're reading this, I ask that if you hear people delighting in the misery of me and my colleagues, you please challenge their misconceptions. If you have questions about what diplomats do and why their jobs matter, I hope you feel like you can ask me. Your support would mean a lot to us."

In praise of: Calgary Stampede


Full disclosure: before we were assigned to Calgary, I had never heard of the Calgary Stampede -- billed as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth".  The Stampede is part rodeo, part state fair, this quintessential Canadian event was actually started by an American -- promoter Guy Weadick.

It's no surprise Calgary was chosen for this mega rodeo. Calgary is to Canada what Houston is to the U.S., a boom town built on the oil and gas industry. But before there was oil, there were cows. Lots and lots of cows. Hence Calgary's other nickname: Cowtown. Outside of Calgary in the plains of Alberta, real cowboys still roam.

But for 10 days in July, everyone in Calgary is a cowboy or cowgirl. Folks wear jeans, plaid shirts, big shiny belt buckles and cowboy boots, of course.  Another Calgary tradition: the pancake breakfast. Many companies and social organizations host free pancake breakfasts throughout the city, sometimes 100 different events per morning. The costumes, parades, decorations and pancakes all lead up to the Stampede. It could take you 3 straight days and you would still not see every attraction, food stall, dog show, or ride every ride.  Just $8 Canadian dollars (about $6 U.S. bucks) lets you roam the grounds for an entire day. Of course, you can still go broke buying drinks, junk food, ride tickets and tickets to headline concert events.

And of course the rodeo tickets. During the day, the Stampede grounds host a traditional rodeo with bull riding and barrel racing. At night, the shows start with the ground-shaking chuckwagon races, followed by a Vegas-style glitzy show and fireworks. Here's looking forward to the next Stampede!

More images from Calgary Stampede 2016:





Where Americans die Abroad

One of the most difficult tasks as a Consular Officer is dealing with the inevitable case of a U.S. citizen who has died overseas. I will never forget the first time I had to make 'The Call' to the family back home in the States. In my brief career as an ACS (American Citizen Services) Officer, I've had to make that call three times. It never gets any easier. 

This week's Time magazine features a fascinating article on how and where Americans die overseas. Canada was deemed the safest country in the world for Americans to visit.  Although more Americans visit Mexico than any other country in the world, Thailand has more deaths per capita than any other country. And very few Americans die in terrorism-related incidents. The most common causes of death? Traffic accidents and drownings.

Click here for the full story:

Where Americans Die Abroad





RIP: Kimberly Kenny - 1968 - 2016


The beautiful woman above with the curly red hair is Kimberly Kenny, a dear friend and wonderful musician with the voice of an angel. You may not know her, but she touched countless lives with her passionate soul, songs and humanity.

Mrs. Crab first met sassy "Rock Star Kim" back in 2003 or so, through another dear friend, Angelina. At the time Kim was working in the corporate world in Washington DC, and rockin it at night in local nightclubs. Mr. Crab was completely mesmerized and enchanted with this chanteuse with her belting rendition of Susan Tedeschi's "Hurt So Bad!"  We became Kim "groupies", following her every Monday night to her performances at the Majestic Lounge in Del Ray, Alexandria, Virginia when she was singing with the Joe Chiocca Band. 

When we moved to London, Kim stopped to visit us en route to see family in Ireland. Later after breaking out of the corporate world, Kim left DC and moved to San Francisco to pursue her dream of a music career and share her gift of music and song.  Mrs. Crab traveled several times to SanFran to see Kim & Angelina. Mrs. Crab recalls staying with Kim in her old apartments, in the Mission, behind The Lost Church and Russian Hill (it was at this apartment that Kim gave Mrs. Crab her first CD -Kim Kenny & the Otherlys- in a handmade cover from a recycled paper grocery bag - we have played it in our homes and cars all over the world).  Kim and Mrs. Crab spent time talking about the future, taking walks together to the dog park with Kim's beloved pup "Bill Murray" and donating food to homeless people in a local park. When we joined the Foreign Service, Kim insisted on taking Mrs. Crab to the mall to help her pick out a whole new wardrobe. "A diplomat's wife needs to dress the part," she would say with her keen fashion sense.  

Kim was the most embracing, non-judgmental person you would ever meet. She had the wisdom of someone beyond her years and somehow she always had the right words of wisdom or comfort. Although we were separated by distance, we saw and spoke often. En route to our second tour in Seoul, we made a point to stop in San Francisco and spend several days with Kim and Angelina. Our highlight of Summer 2013 was attending one of Kim's shows, where she acted and sang in a performance at The Lost Church in a musical.  

In 2015, Kim released a new album with her new band, Kim & The Generations (singles available on iTunes and Amazon). Things were looking up for Kim. Then in mid-2015, soon after we moved to Calgary came the shocking news of Kim's diagnosis. But she was a trooper, and kept performing as long as she could. Kim was a fighter. It was a blessing in disguise that we were posted nearby, so Mrs. Crab could visit San Fran often. Kim's final public performance was at the infamous Great American Music Hall in August 2015. 

Just before Christmas 2015, Kim and Angelina were married in Angelina's parents home. With less than 6 days notice from engagement to wedding and despite the busy holiday season, the happy couple managed to squeeze 100+ people into Angelina's family home for the wedding ceremony - a testament to the love and friendship surrounding these lovely ladies. "See you later!" we would always say and kiss at the end of each visit.

In early February, Mrs. Crab was able to visit Kim to spend some time and sadly, say goodbye.  Last night, Feb. 22, 2016, Kim lost her brief battle with cancer.  The world is a sadder place without Kimberly Kenny. We miss you and love you. We'll see you later. XoXo 


Kim's last CD, "Kim & The Generations," is available for purchase at CDBaby:

KQBM public radio in California will and stream perform a tribute to Kim on Wednesday, Feb. 24 (replay from last week's show):

How we learned to stop worrying and love Canadian winters

When we were first assigned to Calgary, everyone warned us of the horrible the winters that lay ahead. They don't call Canada "the Great White North" for nothin'! Some of the more bleak predictions warned of regular -40 degree days (note: -40 is where celsius and fahrenheit meet). 

We took the warnings to heed, physically and psychologically preparing ourselves for what would surely be the longest winter of our lives. We spent a lot of money on winter tires (a MUST) and super warm parkas (maybe a must depending on your tolerance for cold. But you don't need to spend $1K on a Canada Goose). We got a good snow shovel and ice melting salt. We bought new gloves, hats, scarves. We prepped our house, storing everything in the garage. We stocked up on bulk food and products from Costco, under the assumption that we would be spending a lot of weekends and nights stuck in the house. 

It hasn't turned out that way. More than halfway through the winter, our description of 2015-2016 winter has been: meh! Turns out, it's been one of the most mild winters in history. Granted, we've had a few cold spells. The coldest day we experienced in Calgary was -13F (-25c) in late December.  There were weeks in December and January when the temperature never got above freezing, and we've had a few snow "storms". Fun fact: it doesn't snow in Calgary as much as on the east coast. And when it does, it's rarely more than 3-5 inches, and the snow is so fluffy and powdery, you can sweep it away with a broom. But even when the temperatures dipped into single digits, it's soon followed by the warming phenomenon known as "Chinooks" -- a warm dry wind from the Pacific that blows over and down the east side of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. When the Chinook winds roll into Calgary, the temperatures can rise from 10F to 30F in just a few hours!  (It was 55 and sunny in Calgary today, while it was only 31 and snowing in NYC today). 

The Two Crabs have EMBRACED the winter. We've gone skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding. We have no problem with bundling up and walking 1 mile in the snow to our neighborhood pubs. As devoted skiers, we've explored several of the world class ski resorts within a 2 hour drive of Calgary (more details in a future post). And we've welcomed 5 wonderful friends to our home in fall and winter, including two dear friends who visited us in the dead of winter in January. We've experienced activities we never would have done human curling! And in a few weeks we will be heading to Yellowknife, a city near the arctic circle most famous as being one of the top places in the world to view the aurora borealis -- the Northern Lights. 

A few photos from our first Canadian winter:



Top places to experiencing winter in Alberta:

Best ski resort: Sunshine Village, Banff

Best place to learn to ski: Calgary Olympic Park, Calgary

Best dog-sledding tour company: Snowy Owl Tours in Canmore, AB

Best snowmobiling company: White & Wild, Golden, BC

Best hotel: Fairmont Lake Louise