Sunday, June 29, 2008

Crash Bang Boom

All foreign service officers who go to a high-risk post are required to take a week-long class affectionately known as "Crash & Bang." The course includes fairly extensive medical training and learning how to detect surveillance (bad guys watching us). But the most popular parts of the course are the firearms training, evasive driving training, and explosives training.

The firearms instructors are mostly former Marines who know a lot about guns. We learned how to operate 2 kinds of pistols and 2 kinds of rifles. These guns were not designed for my tiny girly hands. If I'm ever in a situation where I have to quickly pull back the slidey thingamabob in order to shoot a pistol, I'm in trouble. My aim, however, is fantastic!

The evasive driving training was a lot of fun. I must admit that it took a couple laps around the course to get rid of my "driving to the mall" mentality and let my inner speed demon take over. We learned how to break while turning, how to control a spinout, how to go backwards fast (not my strongest skill) and turn around, how to drive from the passenger seat, and how to ram another car (both forwards and backwards!). All of this training culminates in simulations meant to test our abilities if confronted with blockades, gun-wielding terrorists, or roadside bombs. I can proudly say that I did not flinch when the instructors set off the big boom at the last curve.

Finally, we learned a little bit about explosives. Did you know that some detonation cord is so wickedly flammable, that if you laid it out from L.A. to N.Y. it would take only 10 minutes for the ignition to travel across the country? The instructors demonstrated different kinds of explosives, although I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to do with this knowledge.

The training definitely brought home the sobering reality that I'm going to a war zone. A few weeks ago I was describing the Crash & Bang class to my mother, who asked why I, who was not permitted to have a car or drive in Iraq, would need to take a driving class. This was one of those moments where I knew she wouldn't like the answer. Chances are I'll never have to use any of this training, but they teach us these things in case the worse happens.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

80s Music Observations

Forgive the digression to a completely random topic. Last night I went to see an 80s music cover band with some friends. The place was packed and I hadn't seen such obscene hairstyles in 20 years. Unfortunately, all of my legwarmers and headbands are in storage, so I was sans costume. In addition to the live music, they also showed videos on a giant screen on stage. It was a lot of fun and this morning, as I wait for my hearing to return and my feet to stop aching, some observations about 80s music started to form in my head.

1. 80s music was not this fun the first time around. Maybe nostalgia enhances the experience because I don't remember getting so excited about "Walk Like an Egyptian."

2. 80s music videos don't make any sense.

3. When the video for Wham!'s "Wake Me Up" first came out, how did we not know that George Michael is gay?

4. 80s music is the best dance music, period. 80s dance moves, however, don't stand the test of time quite as well.

5. Many 80s music lyrics are unintelligible. Can anyone recite any of the lyrics (not counting the chorus) of "Come on Eileen"? But it's a fun song nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who's Lecturing Who?

I've noticed an annoying trend in too many of my classes recently. Guest speakers will give presentations on their areas of expertise, but the bulk of the lecture will consist of the speaker asking us questions. This bugs me. A lot. A presenter on public speaking opened her remarks by asking, "How important do you think public speaking will be in your foreign service career?" Duh. Another speaker began a lecture on a new Internet tool by asking us, "What is a cable?"

Perhaps a new class of FSI speakers have been taught that in order to reach the iPod generation, they have to engage us rather than inform us. And so they ask us stupid questions and try to coax the correct answer out of us. "What are some of the ways you will be able to use this new Internet site?" Bueller? Bueller? I wanted to raise my hand and say, "We were hoping you could tell us."

I know there are many people who despise being lectured at as much as I despise being asked asinine questions. But a speaker is asked to speak on a certain topic presumably because that person knows more about it than we do. If he doesn't, he shouldn't be standing in the front of the room.

That's the end of my lecture. Class dismissed.