Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Language Students

You know a Foreign Service officer is in language training when...

* She carries flash cards with her wherever she goes.

* She gets a rush buying colored index cards and Sharpie pens.

* She appears to be mumbling to herself all the time.

* There are sticky notes with foreign words plastered over everything in her apartment.

* She often stares into space with a glassy-eyed expression while silently conjugating verbs or declining nouns and adjectives in her head.

* She often swears like a sailor when she fails to successfully conjugate verbs or decline nouns and adjectives in her head.

* As her proficiency in the foreign language improves, her proficiency in English... goes badder.

* She goes to bed at 9:00 pm in order to get to class on time at 7:40 am.

and you know the dreaded language test is approaching when...

* She seriously considers replacing her morning tea with a strong screwdriver.

* She spends an unusual amount of time developing sophisticated ideas about counterterrorism, entrepreneurship, and trade agreements.

Best of luck to all those in language training!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pass(port) it Forward

It's unusual for incompetence to result in something beneficial. But it actually happened to me. At the State Department, of all places.

My diplomatic passport was set to expire in a few months. I submitting an application for a new one; however, the woman at the window told me, in lieu of my travel orders, my HR Officer would have to submit a form on my behalf. I emailed my HRO (after spending considerable time tracking down who my HRO is supposed to be). She replied that because I will be in training for a year, I don't need a diplomatic passport. Request denied.

I relayed this information to the passport office and requested they return my soon-to-expire passport and cancel my application. They emailed me to confirm that's what I wanted to do. Yes, I assured them. A few days later I went to the passport office to pick up my old passport. In the envelope was my old passport - cancelled. And a brand new passport good for 5 years. Huzzah! Asking no questions, I quickly grabbed the passports and walked out.

Perhaps it wasn't incompetence that led to my getting a new passport without all the "required" documentation. Part of me would like to think a civil servant working in a windowless room in some unknown annex building took pity on a stranger with incomplete paperwork.

I know some State people whose entire worldview would collapse in on itself if they discovered that the standard forms we are taught to revere don't, in fact, hold magical powers. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Stars vs. Stripes

Last week was the Congressional baseball game where Democrats and Republicans battled on the field for charity. I have an idea. Next year I'd like to see bipartisan teams. Instead of blue Democrats vs. red Republicans, let's have the Stars vs. the Stripes. One team composed of congressmen from states west of the Mississippi, the other team from states east of the Mississippi. This would be a symbolic gesture where Congress can put country ahead of party.

I know, wishful thinking. Don't bother with the cynical comments.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

If Only

TO:            Caliphate Public Relations Department

FROM:      Caliphate Legal Department

RE:            New Policies and Procedures

To avoid legal repercussions or other unintended  consequences of the Islamic State's public communications, the Legal department has developed the following policies and procedures that must be followed before engaging in any public communications, whether through social or traditional media.

Only factual statements that can be independently confirmed will be considered "official" statements.

All public communications, to include photos, images, video, and audio must abide by international copyright laws and accessibility guidelines.

To ensure that public communications do not offend the target audience or secondary audiences, a rigorous clearance process must be observed. It is necessary to clear all communications with every bureau, agency, or office that might have a stake in the subject matter. We realize this may mean that provocative or controversial messages may end up watered down to the point of becoming bland and meaningless.

Be careful not to violate the terms and conditions of the online platforms used to disseminate public communications. The enemy is not afraid to use lawyers indiscriminately.

Do not use the term "coalition." Doing so legitimizes the enemy. An interagency working group is currently evaluating pejorative names to use instead. We expect final resolution on this matter in 6-8 months.

Thank you for your cooperation.