Thursday, September 30, 2010

Family Transportation

As I roll around the streets of [REDACTED] I've been counting how many people will fit on the motorbikes that make up at least half of the vehicles on the roads of this South Central Asian city. I call them motorbikes because they're not really motorcycles, just bicycle-looking deals with maybe 200cc engines.

I've seen two, three and four people on a bike, but my favorite is the family transportation scenario: a three or four year-old child sitting on the handlebars, the father driving, an older kid behind the father, and then the mother, who is riding side-saddle and holding a baby on her back.

If you tried that in the States, you would probably be arrested for child endangerment. But, l have to say it looks like fun.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Out and About

Ingredients for an evening out here in [REDACTED]:

* One pretty good restaurant
* Three fully armoured SUVs
* Eight police escorts

The food wasn't bad, and the company was inspiring.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wake Me When We Get to Dubai

The first leg of my 2010 Keep On Truckin' Tour.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"X" Marks the Spot of Latest FRUS Volume

Another day, another new FRUS volume:

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume X, Vietnam, January 1973–July 1975. This specific volume covers U.S. policy towards Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, to the fall of Phnom Penh and Saigon in April 1975. The final chapter covers the May 1975 SS Mayaguez incident.

This volume addresses the ending of the Vietnam war; a story central to the U.S. experience in the 20th century. Similar to other Foreign Relations volumes, this collection of documents emphasizes the formation of policy over day-to-day diplomacy. Several themes dominated U.S. policy and policy objectives in Indochina during this period: the relationship between force and diplomacy, the struggle between the President and Congress in the formation and implementation of U.S. policy, U.S. credibility in the world, and the limits of American power. These themes dictated the selection of documents in this volume. Soon after the fall of Saigon in April 1975, American officials in several agencies began looking back at U.S. policy toward, and political and military actions, in Vietnam in an effort to understand and learn from the American experience in Indochina beginning in the early 1960s. This volume places those analyses within the broader documentary context.

This volume concludes with documentation covering the May 1975 seizure by Cambodia of the SS Mayaguez and the successful recovery by U.S. forces of the ship and its crew. The documents cover the crisis deliberations in Washington among civilian and military officials that led to President Ford’s decision to use military force to recover the ship.

You can download Volume X (here) courtesy of the Office of the Historian's website, and read it from the comfort of your own home or favorite Wi-Fi hotspot. Is that the greatest thing ever, or what?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hey, Macarena!

Colombian news media are reporting today on the demise of Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, the most important military leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (AKA the FARC), after a devastating raid on a major jungle camp in the Macarena region.

This may have been another success for the State Department's Narcotics Rewards Programs, which offered 5 million Yankee dollars for Suarez Rojas:

Victor Julio SUAREZ ROJAS, also known as "Jorge Briceno Suarez," also known as "Mono Jojoy" is a Secretariat member, the Chief of Military Operations, and has served as commander of the Eastern Bloc. He set the FARC’s cocaine policies directing and controlling (i) the production, manufacture, and distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States and the world; (ii) the "taxation" of the drug trade in Colombia to raise funds for the FARC; and, (iii) the murder of hundreds of people who violated or interfered with the FARC’s cocaine policies. He authored the written directive commanding FARC members to execute farmers who fail to sell cocaine paste to the FARC.

The U.S. Department of State is offering a REWARD OF UP TO $5 MILLION for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Victor Julio SUAREZ ROJAS.

I don't know whether the reward offer had anything to do with the raid, but if it did, that would be exactly the way I would want my tax money spent. Here are some details from the Huffington Post:

Colombia's military killed the No. 2 leader and top military strategist of the country's main rebel army in blistering bombardments of a major jungle camp, officials announced Thursday, saying rebel informants helped prepare the demoralizing shock to an already weakened insurgency.

-- Snip --

[Colombian President Juan Manuel] Santos told reporters that at least 20 rebels were killed, including other senior insurgents whose identities were not disclosed pending fingerprint and DNA tests, in operations that began Monday night with bombing raids involving at least 30 warplanes and 27 helicopters and ended with ground combat on Wednesday.

-- Snip --

Air force chief Gen. Julio Gonzalez told the AP that Super Tucano and other warplanes dropped more than 50 bombs on the camp.

Commandos found Briceno's body outside a concrete bunker in a camp laced with tunnels and recovered 12 laptop computers and 50 USB drives, said a military spokesman, speaking anonymously because he wasn't authorized to provide details.

The spokesman said the raid was six months in the making and included surveillance of radio communications and human infiltration.

The key to its success was intelligence, including "the collaboration of members of the FARC itself," said Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera. "The FARC is rotting inside."

He did not offer specifics, though other officials told the AP they were discussing reward payments to collaborators.

The U.S. State Department had offered a $5 million reward for Briceno. The biggest reward known to have been paid for fingering a FARC commander was $2.5 million to an unknown informant who led authorities to Reyes' camp [referring to a March 2008 bombing raid across the border with Ecuador that killed FARC foreign minister Raul Reyes].

-- Snip --

[Defense Minister Rodrigo] Rivera said Briceno was caught at "the mother of all FARC camps," a complex some 300 yards (meters) from end to end. He said troops engaged rebels in ground combat on Wednesday and were only able to confirm Briceno's death on Thursday morning. Rivera said five troops were injured with the only government death an explosives-sniffing dog.

Too bad about the dog.

Truckin' My Blues Away

The Keep on Truckin' Man is an iconic image of optimism to old hippies - according to Wikipedia, anyway - and he is doubly appropriate for me today. First, because I am packing my bags for another road trip. And second, because I am truckin' to some of those embassies and consulates that my hero, former Ambassador Ronald Neumann, calls carbomb-prone places, and where I will have to put a big security foot down.

I dislike being the skunk at the garden party. I would much rather be the helpful problem solver when I visit the field, but some places call for being the troglodyte security guy instead. When I worked at the World Bank as a field security advisor, we headquarters types traveled to country offices only when they wanted us to (and funded our travel), so a TDYer could always count on being welcome. It's a bit stickier for me at DOS, especially when I am called upon to crush the hopes of people who are already working in one of the most difficult and stressful environments in the world, and just want a little lightening of their oppressive security environment.

Gilbert and Sullivan were right. When constabulary duty's to be done, a policeman's lot is not a happy one. But I'll keep my spirits up all the way to my destination by truckin' my blues away.

Gratuitous Rant

I just made a quick Starbucks run during the first few minutes of the streaming video of the Senate confirmation hearing for the new Ambassador to Pakistan. At least, I thought it would be quick, since Starbucks is only 50 feet away from the front door of my Rosslyn annex building, but I was caught in a long line of customers and had to cool my heels for about 20 minutes.

But that wasn't the annoying part. The annoying part was when people would walk in to Starbucks, look at the loooong line of customers snaking through the store, and ask me "are you in line?"

While I know it is petty of me, and unreasonable, and totally uncalled for and unwarranted ... still ... I can't help but be irritated by that question. I always have to bite my tongue so I don't reply the way I want to:

"In line? Why, no. I was just wandering along on my way to some other place when I became lost in thought and forgot where I was going and ended up standing still, right in this very spot. And all these other people in front of me are likewise lost in thought and motionless. And, by some incredible coincidence, we all came to rest at the same time and place, standing one behind the other, all facing in the same direction. So I can easily understand why you would think we are all in a line waiting to order coffee."

If I ever actually said that to someone, I would immediately be embarrassed and filled with remorse.

On the other hand, that confirmation hearing was over in only thirty minutes, so now I'm going to have to watch it after the SFRC posts it on their web site. Arrrgghh.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

State Cables From 2001 re: Af/Pak (And What We Can Learn From 'Blazing Saddles')

The National Security Archive has been publishing declassified documents about the origins of our current involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and this week it released a batch of State Department cables from 2001 that depict how we engaged Pakistan's leadership in the days and weeks after 9/11.

Here's a bit of NSA's introduction to this week's material:

Pakistani tribal areas where Osama bin Laden found refuge were momentarily open to the Pakistani Army when "the tribes were overawed by U.S. firepower" after 9/11, but quickly again became "no-go areas" where the Taliban could reorganize and plan their resurgence in Afghanistan, according to previously secret U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive and posted today at

The declassified documents describe the consequences of these events. According to U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann, the 2005 Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan was a direct product of the “four years that the Taliban has had to reorganize and think about their approach in a sanctuary beyond the reach of either government." This had exponentially increased casualties as the Taliban adopted insurgency tactics successful in Iraq, including suicide bombings and the use of IEDs. Ambassador Neumann warned Washington that if the sanctuary in Pakistan were not addressed it would "lead to the re-emergence of the same strategic threat to the United States that prompted our OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] intervention" in 2001.

That warning came in a February 2006 cable from Kabul (read it here) four years before the U.S. government was prompted to send a surge of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and raise our commitment there to new peaks in people, money and casualties.

Ambassador Neumann is now the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, and he is no doubt far too polite to issue a massive I Told You So. But, he told them so.

Speaking of Ambassador Neumann, I notice that he consistently has extremely pertinent thing to say about Pakistan and Afghanistan - like this article and this book - and that he says them with pithy phrases. Example: when asked by the New York Times to comment on how much leverage President Obama has over Afghanistan's President Karzai vis-a-vis U.S. demands that Karzai crack down on corruption, Neumann offered a movie analogy:

“You know that scene in the movie ‘Blazing Saddles,’ when Cleavon Little holds the gun to his own head and threatens to shoot himself?”

That answer is so good, and works on so many different levels, that I can't even talk about it.

Neumann has also said something equally as good about Fortress Embassies, which I often have cause to quote in the course of my day job:

"If you're going to have people live in a car bomb-prone place, you are driven to not have a light footprint."

Exactly so. I would love to read an oral history account of the quotable Ambassador Neumann's career, but it seems that he has so far not participated in the Library of Congress's oral history collection on U.S. foreign policy. Too bad.

To get back to NSA's document release, it's highlights include:

* September 13, 2001 – U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage gives Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) Chief Mahmoud a list of seven demands [snip]

* September 14, 2001 – Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf accepts U.S. demands “without conditions.”

* September 13 - 24, 2001 – Pakistan advocates negotiating with the Taliban to get Osama bin Laden. Wendy Chamberlin tells President Musharraf “There was absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban.”

* September 14 – November 16, 2001 – Pakistan asks the U.S. to clarify if its counterterrorism mission is against the Taliban or just al-Qaeda and repeatedly asks the U.S. not to let the Northern Alliance take over Kabul. Throughout the 1990s the Northern Alliance was supported by foreign states opposed to the Taliban, including India.

* September 17 – September 24, 2001 – Pakistani Intelligence (ISI) Chief Mahmoud flies to Afghanistan twice to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar and discuss U.S. demands, al-Qaeda, and the future of Afghanistan. It is unclear if anything comes of these talks. President Musharraf replaces Mahmoud as ISI Chief in October 2001 and Pakistan and the U.S. move forward with military action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

* Both Pakistani and American officials have doubts whether Pakistan has enough control over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] to combat Taliban and al-Qaeda-allied forces active in the region. A Pakistani military official calls certain sections of FATA “no-go areas” for the Pakistani Army.

* Pakistan denies anti-American forces are active within its territory, while the U.S. is certain “some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistani cities, and may still enjoy support from the lower echelons of Pakistan’s ISI.”

This is good stuff. I have to wonder whether all those Big Brains who are currently agonizing over U.S. policy toward Afghanistan would not be better served by closing their PowerPoint briefings for a couple hours and reading these old cables.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Everybody Dance Now

Just in time for the weekend, it's Obama the Musical, a German production. Read more about it here.

My favorite part is this great casting: the same actress plays both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Here's her photo.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

FBI = Feds Bulk-Up by Injection

The WaPo has an alarming story today about the arrest of four FBI employees in connection with their use of anabolic steroids.

Three Washington area FBI agents and an analyst were charged Wednesday with covering up their use of steroids and human growth hormone, officials said Wednesday. The unusual federal investigation comes as U.S. authorities are bringing high-profile prosecutions against baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

The special agents and investigative analyst, all living in Northern Virginia, made false statements by omitting mention of their use of the performance-enhancing drugs as part of required disclosures in annual fitness reports to the bureau, the FBI alleges. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

-- snip --

In the FBI case, according to court papers, Katia Litton, 42, a special agent with the Washington Field Office since 2003 and a former bodybuilder, used steroids and HGH along with her husband, Matthew Litton, 39, an agent since 2001 whose FBI medical file describes him as "5'8' and 190 lbs." and "muscular."

Along with Special Agent James Barnett, 42, also with the Washington office, and counterterrorism analyst Ali Sawan, 45, the four allegedly met with doctors and received fake diagnoses for conditions including pituitary dwarfism beginning in 2006.

Husband and wife bodybuilders? Okay, I can understand their motivation for using steroids. (I just don't want to visualize them.)

But a counterterrorism analyst? I can't quite imagine a juiced up analyst. Aren't those guys supposed to be pencil-necked geeks? Actually, I guess it could be a good thing. An analyst on steroids would shuffle papers with superhuman strength, suck up data dumps with hypermanic intensity, and might not even mind the testicular shrinkage. The only downside would be having to put up with bouts of roid rage when his spreadsheets won't format just right. I know how much I hate that.

Diplomatic End Game of the Vietnam War

The Department of State's Office of the Historian released today a new Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume, one that documents U.S. policy toward the war in Vietnam from October 8, 1972, to January 27, 1973. From today's press release:

This volume documents the marathon four-day negotiating session between Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho in Paris (October 8-11, 1972). The peace agreement they reached was rejected by South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. The United States attempted to convince Thieu that he was wrong, and in November Nixon sent Kissinger back to Paris to renegotiate 69 points on behalf of the South Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese, fiercely disagreeing with the U.S. move, decided that they too would renegotiate issues previously agreed to. By mid-November, the talks were on the verge of collapse. Consequently, the central goals of U.S. foreign policy over the next few weeks were to compel both South Vietnam and North Vietnam to accept, in its main tenets, the agreement that the United States had negotiated with the latter in October.

A cynic might say that the central goal of our policy was to compel the South to accept terms that would more or less ensure it's eventual destruction, while also compelling the North to wait a decent interval after the withdrawal of U.S. forces before continuing its war against the South.

This was high drama. Our special negotiator was Secretary of State Kissinger (who was dual-hatted, serving simultaneously as both SecState and the President's National Security Adviser). His meetings with delegates from the North were conducted secretly in Paris. And the tools of persuasion he employed included thousands of naval mines dropped in North Vietnam's harbors to interdict Sino-Soviet bloc merchant shipping, and 741 sorties by B-52 Stratofortress bombers that dropped 15,237 tons of ordnance on 18 industrial and 14 military targets.

I remember being a high school student with a draft card in my wallet in 1972, absorbing every bit of news I could get about the last act of the Vietnam War, including listening to the reports put out by Radio Hanoi. It was exciting stuff then, and it's even better now that I can read the internal documents.

You can download the new FRUS material here. Well worth reading.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Tweet Heard Round The World

So International Burn a Koran Day has been called off. I'm sure that comes as a relief to Emergency Action Committees in U.S. embassies around the world. But, before IBAKD becomes yesterday's news, it is well worth taking a look at how the whole brouhaha got spun up in the first place.

One of Foreign Policy's bloggers completely missed the point when he remarked about the ruckus:

All it takes is a few crazy people to command public debate. Which, if you think about it, is pretty nuts. When, exactly, did U.S. leaders become obligated to comment on the actions of a few nutballs?

Wrong! What IBAKD teaches us is that all it takes to command public debate is a few crazy people plus Twitter and Facebook. Fortunately, the WaPo is on top of the situation and has a great article today about what we might call Publicity Stunts 2.0, or, how social media is indispensable to creating an international incident today.

From the WaPo:

On the afternoon of July 12, the Rev. Terry Jones fired off a series of messages on Twitter, decrying Islam as fascism and President Obama's support for a new Kenyan constitution that could permit abortion and codify Islamic law. His final one for the day said this: 9/11/2010 Int Burn a Koran Day.

With that abbreviated declaration, the fringe pastor from Gainesville, Fla., began a crusade that two months later culminated in deadly riots in Afghanistan, threats from jihadists and pleas from world leaders that Jones call off his inflammatory stunt.

-- snip --

Two days after Jones sent his tweet and started a Facebook group, an organization that monitors news about Islam rang the first alarm bell. EuroIslam.Info, a collection of news and analysis headed by a Harvard professor of divinity, picked up the Dove World mission statement - "To bring to awareness to the dangers of Islam and that the Koran is leading people to hell" - and posted it on its "Islamaphobia Observatory" section. By July 21, the Council on American-Islamic Relations was calling for Koran education sessions to refute the burnings.

On July 23, Jones was tweeting about having more than 700 Facebook friends for his International Burn a Koran group ... Still, the stunt caused little commotion domestically, even as senior officials within the FBI, the State Department and military intelligence watched warily for the news to inflame sentiment in the Middle East and Asia.

-- snip --

About the same time, in early August, Muslim Facebook users began receiving chain messages asking them to join groups formed to decry the plan to burn copies of Islam's holy book.

Shakir Stanikzai, 29, of Kabul was one of them. He said the issue didn't spark widespread anger in Afghanistan until about a week ago, after news media outlets in Muslim countries replayed that first Jones television interview, which also circulated on the Internet.

Notice how social media was indispensable to both sides in this conflict. The foreign Muslim opposition to IBAKD organized itself via Facebook and e-mail, the same way Jones organized his 700 fiery friends. Interest groups such as the Council on Islamic-American Relations played a role in Washington, but it was spontaneous virtual networks that called people to the streets in Afghanistan.

Next, General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, further elevated public attention when he appealed for cancellation of IBAKD during an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Today's WaPo story quotes an official close to Petraeus who "said Petraeus didn't dwell on whether weighing in on the issue could backfire by amplifying the reach of the story" because he saw it as a matter of force protection.

You would think that General Petraeus would have a crack media adviser who would make him dwell on exactly that. As in, "you do realize, General, that you might create the very reaction that you fear if you discuss IBAKD during a press interview?" What's up with that? Did he retain the same media advisers who worked for his predecessor and green-lighted that famous interview with Rolling Stone?

The WaPo points out that within days of Petraeus's interview even more senior U.S. officials weighed in:

Pleas for an end to the Koran-burning plan came in short order from the highest levels: Secretary of State Clinton; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who made a curt call Thursday to Jones; and Obama.

It started with one little tweet from a pastor who was unknown outside of his 50-some person congregation, and before it was over, Cabinet officials were calling him in person and the President himself was making public appeals.

To answer Foreign Policy's question: when did U.S. leaders become obligated to comment on the actions of a few nutballs? When those nutballs learned how to use social media to have an effect all out of proportion to their numbers. And, I might add, when one of those U.S. leaders joined the fracas without giving much thought to whether or not his actions might backfire.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Thou All-Destroying But Unconquering Whale"

I received the sad news from ever-on-the-ball Domani Spero this morning. Jared Cohen has left the building.

Inspector Javert had his Jean Valjean. Captain Ahab had his great white whale. And I have had @Jared as the object of my relentless pursuit - well, more like, my mild cyber heckling. Perhaps it's for the best that @Jared has moved on now, before I become further obsessed with his destruction.

Cynics will be tempted to see @Jared's career move as just the latest swing of Washington's busy revolving door between government and industry:

Most disturbingly, more and more leading practitioners of "21st century statecraft" at the State Department are jumping ship and leaving to work for the very CEOs they have just been escorting around the globe. See Katie Stanton's departure to work for Twitter and Jared Cohen's announced departure to work for Google -- the two career moves that, in my opinion, did not get the level of public attention that they truly deserve. (In all fairness, Stanton came to the government from Google -- but I think this only strengthens the overall argument about the mostly invisible revolving door between Silicon Valley and Washington).

And, of course, there is no shortage of acts and blurbs by American diplomats that take a completely uncritical attitude towards Silicon Valley. Jared Cohen once again is a case in point: from his decision to reach out to Twitter during the Iranian protests to his statements ("Facebook is one of the most organic tools for democracy promotion the world has ever seen" -- quoted in David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect), much of what he does and says fits the pattern that seasoned observers of U.S. foreign policy would easily recognize.

They have a point. But I see it as the fated matching of man and mission. @Jared was born to be The Google Idea Man. You can see his genius in the way he described his new job:

FP: Going forward, tell us about your future work at Google.

JC: I am going to be director of a new division at Google called Google Ideas. And it's basically a think/do tank. Much of the model for it is built off of my experiences on the Policy Planning staff. It's not designed to be, "Let's pool all of Google's resources and tackle global challenges."

In the same way Policy Planning works by bringing together a lot of stakeholders in government, out of government, and across different sectors, so, too, will Google Ideas do something very similar. And the range of challenges that it may focus on include everything from the sort of hard challenges like counterterrorism, counterradicalization, and nonproliferation, to some of the ones people might expect it to focus on, like development and citizen empowerment.

What I'm interested in is the SWAT-team model of building teams of stakeholders with different resources and perspectives to troubleshoot challenges. So the reason I say it's a think/do tank is you need a comprehensive approach to think about and tackle challenges in different kinds of ways. In government, we used to refer to a "whole of government" approach, meaning work with multiple agencies to leverage ideas and resources; Google Ideas will take a "whole of society" approach.

So @Jared's new gig is a “think/do tank” where he will provide the thinking about tackling a wide range of hard challenges, and the doing part will be provided by ... some guy in a lab coat, I guess. That really isn't clear. But it will all be super, and awesome, and will involve lots of exclamation points and emoticons, I'm sure.

Now I shall reduce my sails and turn back to Nantucket.

Another New FRUS Volume is Released

The Office of the Historian has announced the release of another volume in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, this one Volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970-January 1972:

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972. This volume documents U.S. policy towards the war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from July 1970 to January 1972. It is the second of five volumes covering the end of the Vietnam war under Presidents Nixon and Ford, 1969–1975.

During the period covered by this volume, July 1970–January 1972, the Nixon administration expanded the Vietnam war into Cambodia and Laos as part of its strategy. This volume covers South Vietnam in the context of this larger war in Southeast Asia; therefore, the volume begins in July 1970 in the aftermath of the Cambodian incursion.

-- snip --

In late 1970 and early 1971, the focus shifted to decision making regarding plans to implement a major South Vietnamese out-of-country operation called Lam Son 719, launched in early February 1971.

-- snip --

In the waning months of the period covered by this volume, deadlock had set in. Neither side appeared able to win militarily, or even to weaken his adversary sufficiently to make him negotiate in good faith. There were signs, however, that Hanoi might be preparing to mount a major military effort in 1972. Its purpose would be to break through this impasse without having to travel a diplomatic path. The volume concludes at this point.

Reading this description gives me the funny feeling of realizing that events I lived through when they were daily news are now bona fide history. Wow, am I old!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Requiescat in Pace

Tom Maresco, the Peace Corps Volunteer who was tragically murdered in Lesotho last week, kept a blog called Two Star Hotel. His friends and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers are leaving comments after his last post.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sad News - Peace Corps Volunteer Killed in Lesotho

The incident occurred last Friday, and the official announcement came from U.S. Peace Corps headquarters tonight.

Peace Corps Mourns the Loss of Volunteer Thomas Maresco:

Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams is saddened to announce the death of Peace Corps volunteer Thomas “Tom” Maresco in Lesotho. Tom, 24, died as a result of a gunshot wound on Sept. 3 in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. The investigation into this incident is ongoing, but at this time it appears it may have been an attempted robbery.

Lesotho has been one of the Peace Corps' most dangerous locations, and has a long record of violent criminal attacks on volunteers.

Volunteer safety is basically an intractable problem for the Peace Corps, given the nature of volunteer work in very remote and frequently unsettled places.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Free, Sovereign, and Independent Since 1783

I missed this yesterday, but September 3 is a significant date in U.S. history. On that date in 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the American War of Independence and extending international recognition to "the said United States."

Article 1:

His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.

Read the text here, and see document here.

The Continental Congress sent its A Team to negotiate that treaty - John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay. They got everything they wanted. Have we ever done that well since?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

World War II Ended On This Date

On this date in 1945, representatives of the Japanese Emperor signed instruments of surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. A newsreel of the surrender ceremony is below.

The proceedings were so very unmodern. Which I mean in a good way.

First, they were brief. It was all over in twenty minutes. There were no keynote speakers, no introductions or formalities, no legions of lesser Generals getting into the act, no rigmarole of any kind.

Second, they were direct and pointed. General MacArthur begins his brief remarks by saying something I can't imagine coming from any contemporary American General:

"The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies have been determined on the battlefields of the world, and hence, are not for our discussion or debate."

I like that. No warm fuzzies, no pouring out of concern or remorse, no existential angst, no grand vision for the future. Nothing but a plain statement: we beat you.

Third, they were utterly unsentimental. There was neither weeping nor chest-thumping. Now, there was plenty of emotion, but the restrained kind that used to be associated with manliness. MacArthur had two men stand behind him: General Wainwright, who had been forced to surrender United States forces in the Philippines in 1942, and General Percival, who had been forced to surrender British forces at Singapore. That was a gesture of triumph, sorrow, closure, satisfaction, symbolism, and I don't know what all, but it was more powerful for being unspoken.

Last but not least, not a single PowerPoint slide was needed. (How did the military ever get anything done without them?) The documents were printed on parchment, fountain pens were used for the signing, and the news media covered it all with just paper and pencils, wind-up movie cameras, and a microphone.

And it ends just this simply: "These proceedings are closed."

We shall probably never see any occasion of such moment handled with such purposefulness and dignity again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Musical Thank You Note

For Deborah B, whose comment to my post about Dr. Lester Grinspoon informed me of the Australian rock group named in his honor, thank you, and here is one of their tunes:

State Finally Puts the Taliban on its FTO List

The State Department got some criticism recently for not having included any of the several Taliban groups or individuals on it's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Today, it listed the largest Taliban umbrella group, the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, and two of its senior leaders, Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali Ur Rehmanwell.

Here's the announcement of TTP's designation, and here is a further announcement of the offer of rewards up to $5 million each for information leading to the location of Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali Ur Rehman.

It was Mehsud’s operatives who attacked the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, last April, using three vehicle-borne bombs, six attackers, RPGs, rifles, grenades, and explosive charges, and managed to kill at least six Pakistanis and wound 20 others.

The Fed's Best (and Worse) Places to Work

The federal government's Best Places to Work survey results have been published, and now I can finally see whether or not the bosses at the Transportation Security Administration are really so awful as Kolbi says they are. "Soul sucking evil demons in the depths of hells" I think they were termed?

Here are the results for TSA:

Ranking (out of 223 agencies of similar size):

Employee Skills/Mission Match = 203 of 223
Strategic Management = 220 of 223
Teamwork = 219 of 223
Effective Leadership = 221 of 223
Effective Leadership - Empowerment = 220 of 223
Effective Leadership - Fairness = 222 of 223
Effective Leadership - Leaders = 219 of 223
Effective Leadership - Supervisors = 208 of 223
Performance Based Rewards and Advancement = 222 of 223
Training and Development = 188 of 223
Support for Diversity = 211 of 223
Pay = 223 of 223
Family Friendly Culture and Benefits = 223 of 223
Work/Life Balance = 208 of 223

Ouch. Dead last in pay and family-friendliness, next to last in performance-based rewards and fair leadership, and dragging close to the ground on all other categories.

It looks like "soul-sucking evil demons" is an understatement.

Fair is fair, so here are the results for the State Department:

Ranking (out of 28 agencies of similar size):

Employee Skills/Mission Match = 5 of 28
Strategic Management = 5 of 28
Teamwork = 4 of 28
Effective Leadership = 3 of 28
Effective Leadership - Empowerment = 4 of 28
Effective Leadership - Fairness = 3 of 28
Effective Leadership - Leaders = 3 of 28
Effective Leadership - Supervisors = 3 of 28
Performance Based Rewards and Advancement = 5 of 28
Training and Development = 4 of 28
Support for Diversity = 3 of 28
Pay = 7 of 28
Family Friendly Culture and Benefits = 25 of 28
Work/Life Balance = 17 of 28

State kept it in the single digits for all but the last two categories. That's better than TSA, but still shows room for improvement.


Foreign Policy magazine's blog posted today about "media machine and Libyan leader" Col. Muammar Qadaffi and his spectacular return to Rome, and asked the question:

"Can someone get this man on Twitter?"

Oh, yes, please. Please! If ever a man and a medium were made for each other, they were.

Doctor Grinspoon, I Presume

This is too perfect. I'm listening to an NPR program about medical marijuana. Diane Rehm is interviewing a distinguished panel of experts. And one of them, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, associate professor of psychiatry (emeritus) at Harvard Medical School, is calling in from his present location at the Burning Man festival.

Burning Man is the Labor Day weekend bacchanal that started out as a bonfire on San Francisco's Baker Beach in 1986, and then got so out of hand that it was moved to the Black Rock desert 100 miles north of Reno, Nevada. Imagine 1960s Haight Ashbury druggieness overlain with New Age shamanism and transported to an Anarcho-Libertarian utopian community. Not my cup of tea, but it's okay with me so long as they keep it in the desert. (Not all the participants are impressed by Burning Man. Here's an unfavorable review.)

But to get back to Dr. Grinspoon, after a quick Google search I am bowled over by his credentials. According to an impeccable journalistic source, Dr. Grinspoon has a special strain of gourmet cannabis named after him. A laid-back salute to his long advocacy on behalf of the weed's almost magical medicinal properties.

Spark up another J, Dr. G., the holiday weekend won't be over for another four days.