Thursday, July 31, 2014

Standing By

I poked my nose into the OBO front office today, and did not see any cardboard boxes or packing tape lying around. Could be the rumors were wrong, or could be I was a day or two early.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Underwear bomber plot failed because he 'wore same pants for two weeks'"

(UK Telegraph) - US official says terror plot failed because bomber did not change his undergarments for two weeks and soiled the explosives

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Light Projection Graffiti on U.S. Embassy Berlin

Lichtprojektion auf US-Botschaft Berlin

Okay, we had that coming. First, there was the matter of Angela Merkel's intercepted phone calls, and then the Snowden revelations, plus hearings in the Bundestag about U.S. technical surveillance in Germany that featured testimony from two former NSA employees.

Not to mention the recent arrests of two German government employees accused of selling thumb drives full 'o German secrets to the CIA, arrests which eventuated in U.S. Ambassador John Emerson being called in to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, and in the expulsion from Germany of a second U.S. Embassy official.

German government agencies are reportedly so worried about NSA's surveillance capabilities that they are now resorting to the use of manual typewriters as a security countermeasure.

I really have to hand it to light artist Oliver Bienkowski. That's a clever idea, not to mention a lot neater than spray paint.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

Isn't horse racing supposed to be The Sport of Kings?

"Romanian Princess Pleads in Cock Fighting Case"

(AP) Romanian princess Irina Walker pleaded guilty Wednesday to operating an illegal gambling business in connection with a cockfighting enterprise in rural Oregon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Full Video Of House Oversight Hearing On Design Excellence

Design excellence in London, version 1.0 

If you're like me, you just can't get enough discussion of U.S. embassy design, whether of the Standard or the Excellent version, the plain or the fancy.

So we're in luck that C-SPAN has posted video of the full 3-plus hours of last Thursday's House Oversight Committee hearing on new embassy design practices. C-SPAN even includes a handy index with the video so you can skip ahead to your favorite parts of the dialog between the committee members and the panel.

My favorite moment came at the 55-minute mark, when Chairman Issa pointed out that the current chancery office building in London "was designed by the man that designed Dulles Airport, that it was built during a time in which design excellence, gorgeous buildings, were in [vogue with the State Department]."

That designer of Dulles Airport was the famed architect Eero Saarinen, and he did London at the height of the 1950s Modernist era. That era was the last architectural Golden Age when the State Department hired top-tier architects to do signature buildings. Yes, indeed, it was the Good Old Days to which the critics of Fortress Embassies look back with nostalgia now. Saarinen's design is still so beloved by fans of Modernism that there is a strong movement to preserve the building in all its original glory after the USG moves out.

So, the old building in London is a left-over from the previous age of excellent embassy design? And it's now so unsuitable that we want to replace it? Okay, I know it's old and everything, but still, that doesn't bode well for the present initiative for design excellence.

Bonne Fête Nationale

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Did the 2013 Shutdown Cause a Temporarily Bloated Government Workforce?

I am dubious about this story, but it is being reported that the Government Shutdown May Have Caused a DC Area Baby Boom:
The 2013 government shutdown, which lasted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 16, was the cause of a lot of anxiety in the D.C. area.

With so many government workers living in the District, Maryland and Virginia, thousands were anxious about falling behind on bills while they weren’t receiving paychecks. We now have an idea of what they may have done to soothe their nerves.

July 1 marked exactly 9 months since many government workers in the area were sent home for more than two weeks as Congress argued about the nation’s finances.

WNEW’s Kimberly Suiters reports that Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington has seen an additional 100 babies born in the last three months compared to that time period in 2013.

Sibley Hospital in Northwest D.C. has seen three more babies than normal per day this month.

I'm not convinced. First of all, while it may be true that "many" government workers were anxious during the so-called government shutdown, in fact only 30 percent of them weren't paid during that period. Most of them continued to work and get paid as usual. So why would they need to soothe their nerves the inside-the-belt way? I mean, any more often than usual?

Of course, during the government 'shutdown' we were unable to spend all day and night watching the National Zoo's Giant Panda cam, as usual. So maybe my bored fellow feds were tappin' dat body politic to fill the otherwise empty hours.

Or, maybe it was that the resolution of the budget impasse unleashed a wave of unrestrained joy among Washington civil servants? Like V-E Day, only much smaller and localized? 


Friday, July 11, 2014

House Oversight Hearing On Embassy Construction Gets No Cooperation

For your use and enjoyment, here is yesterday's House Oversight Committee hearing on new embassy construction. Part 1 of 3, anyway. More to come, as they are posted on the Committee's website.

Check out Chairman Issa's angry opening statement. At the 9:45 minute mark he delivers a warning, not to the witnesses, but rather to "people who are listening today, in Washington today, at the State Department, [who] understand they have stonewalled our requests" for disclosure of documents concerning embassy design and construction. He further accuses those unnamed persons of disguising documents to delay responses, in contempt of Congress's oversight role. "This Committee is reaching the end of its road with State Department stalling."

Oh yeah, there is more to come on this issue.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

That Hearing Did Not Go At All Well

While not agreeing with most of this histrionic opening statement, I must say that the Overseas Buildings Operations witnesses did themselves no good at the House Oversight Committee hearing on new embassy construction today.

If this was indeed "the beginning of a series of hearings" on OBO's Design Excellence initiative, as Rep. Chaffetz promised, and if the rest of them go anything like today's hearing did, then I wouldn't be surprised to find this guy back in charge of OBO one day.

There were no real defenders of OBO on either side of the Committee. In fact, it was the ranking Democratic member, Rep. Cummings, who made perhaps the most damning remark of the entire 3 hour-long session. When former Undersecretary for Management Grant Green said that, unless and until OBO produces facts and figures to substantiate its claims, it will not overcome skepticism that increased effort on architectural design won't result in buildings that cost more and take longer to complete, Cummings replied (according to my memory) "Mr. Grant, when I listen to you, you make sense."

If I were OBO's Director, I would be more worried about that remark than about all the hostile questioning she got from Rep. Chaffetz. 

They Need A Better Barn Door

Grip n' Grin at IAEA Headquarters in Vienna, 7 July 2014

It's a good news, bad news kind of story. First, Iraq locked its nuclear barn door against theft by acceding to the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material:
The Republic of Iraq deposited its instrument of accession to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano at the Agency's headquarters on 7 July 2014.

On receiving the instrument of accession from the IAEA Resident Representative of Iraq, Ambassador Surood Rashid Najib, the Director General emphasized that universal adherence to the CPPNM strengthens and contributes to the international resolve to fortify the global nuclear security regime. Ambassador Najib during the treaty event, also mentioned his country's unwavering commitment to the Agency's mandate which was further reflected by the recent accession of his country to the CPPNM.

Then, three days later, we find out that ninety pounds of Iraq's 'low grade' nuclear material had already been stolen:
Iraq has notified the United Nations that Sunni militants seized nuclear material from a university in the northern city of Mosul last month as they advanced toward Baghdad, the nuclear regulatory body of the United Nations said Thursday.

Iraq joined that Convention none too late, eh?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Could There Be a Better Name For A Coffee Shop?

On vacation in Tennessee this week, I came across an outlet for this place.

Talk about great branding!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

He's The Music Man (Certainly, Boys)

Professor Harold Hill, the early years

Clinton, the Musical is running on Broadway this month. Okay, Bill Clinton makes a perfect Harold Hill, grifter extraordinaire who goes where the people are as green as the money. That's a tired old trope by now.

So, if they really must re-do The Music Man yet again, I wish they'd go with this version: