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Posts Tagged ‘News’

Brazzaville: the next boomtown?

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Where I’m at: at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlingon, VA
What I’m doing: checking in between French classes
Why I’m posting: contemplating the future of Africa
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A famous subscriber to this blog (Bryan- who also punked out Carlos Zambrano, probably leading to the latter’s current anger-management issues…see earlier post: “A funny punk-out”) recently finished a report on Africa’s economic future.

Okay, it was actually his now-former company McKinsey, but I’d like to give my buddy the credit anyway. I’m mainly just posting to give the link, which is this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/world/africa/24africa.html?_r=1&ref=world

But while I have the floor, I’d like to post a quick question/thought on our new home in Congo-Brazzaville, specifically. If my colleagues can or wish to chime in, please do so.

Yesterday, my super-conservation biologist wife, Colleen, showed me the bad news about a now-approved plan for a commercial highway that will cross the northern Serengeti in Tanzania. The road was first proposed by the World Bank 20 years ago to connect a fairly isolated section of Tanzania to the main cities. However, perhaps showing some 20-20 hindsight, the World Bank has since joined with scientists in decrying the northern road route and supporting a southern route below the Serengeti. The new route would connect more people, cost less, create more jobs, and perhaps most importantly, not destroy the Serengeti. The northern road would directly block the migration route of the wildebeasts, which is one of the most famous spectacles on earth. It would also endanger the World Heritage Site status of the Serengeti (which would cost Tanzania money, among other things) and endanger neighoring Kenya’s Serengeti access. In short, it seems like an ill-advised plan for many reasons, and one which has an obvious better alternative.

Well Congo-Brazzaville is itself in the middle of a grand infrastructure process (http://www.afriqueavenir.org/en/2010/07/02/the-congo-brazzaville-modernizes-its-agricultural-sector/). And I wonder, will these projects similarly unnecessarily damage the already tangible asset – nature – of the country? Who was consulted in these plans? What research was done? I need to find these answers…

Quick check in

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Where I’m at: DC
What I’m doing: powering up for another day of the little French (PS: youtube search for OK Go Little Tennis Ping Pong and prepare to laugh)
Why I’m posting: quick hello
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To all the folks at home (where is that for me now?) and around the world (including Brazzaville…let’s see if this shows up in Google Alerts now), hello.

Just a quick post to note that I haven’t posted much lately and I definitely haven’t been posting pictures. I’m in such an awe-inspiring city but haven’t sent pictures, assuming others had seen it. Perhaps not or perhaps it’s been awhile. So later this weekend I’ll try to post some pics from around the city near the activities I partake in. First activity up: watching the first place Cincinnati Reds take out the Washington Nationals tonight. Go Reds, baby!

On a more serious note, I’ve found myself mysteriously silent on the Arizona immigration law debate. So here’s my somewhat informed but mostly personal take: (a) walls do not make us safer; so addressing border “security,” which in of itself I find a comical term, must be done through other means; (b) yet I understand people’s concerns about how to address a “rising” (I’d say “fluctuating”) undocumented population in other fashions; (c) but immigration is strictly a federal issue, not to be handled via the grand experiment of federalism by states; (d) and most importantly, racial profiling hurts us all. I say this with all seriousness as a man who has traveled the world and now will be working outside the U.S. for a living: the U.S. is the greatest country on earth not because of it’s military strength, financial prowess, or competitive spirit (those all may be true, too), but rather because it is the only country in the world where people from many if not all cultures gather together under the ideals of the design of freedom. When people come to the U.S. for “a better life,” they don’t just mean money. We take that freedom for granted when we say dumb things on the news or through chain emails like “Congress and the President are threatening our freedom by enacting such and such a law.” That belittles freedom, albeit while reveling in it by having the freedom to say it.

Okay, that’s my two cents. Off to save the world by studying French, he said tongue in cheek.

The lighter side of prostitution

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Where I’m at: DC, but moving apartments soon
What I’m doing: getting ready for first softball game of the season!
Why I’m posting: to lighten things up
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First off, I want to extend a warm hello to my new colleagues in Brazzaville, including my new bosses, Ambassador Alan Eastham, and Deputy Chief of Mission, Jonathan Pratt. I’m honored to have such distinguished readers of such an undistinguished blog.

Besides trying to obviously ingratiate myself, I also mention the Brazzaville force for another reason. One thing that diplomats are supposed to do is represent American culture to those in their host nation. And yes, it’s not always easy to grasp the subtleties of White House gate crashers or even Tea Party protesters from half-a-world away, but it’s considerably harder to stay up on the (coughcough) “lesser” stories.

One such story that has caught my particular sports-attuned attention during the last week has been the drama with former OK State wide receiver Dez Bryant.

For those needing basic facts on the “story,” the GM of the Miami Dolphins reportedly held a pre-draft interview with Bryant in which he asked whether Bryant’s mother was a prostitute. This made big waves because it seemed irrelevant, too personal, and possibly racist. Bryant shouted to the media about this unfair treatment, seemingly for good reasons….

…Until the facts came out. Just like whenever a diplomat makes an official phone call, there are “voices” listening in, recording for posterity. In this case, the record of the conversation went like this:
Ireland: Did your father work?
Bryant: Yes
Ireland: What was his job?
Bryant: He was a pimp
Ireland: Did your mom work?
Bryant: She worked for my dad.
Ireland: So was your mother a prostitute?
Bryant: No.
(end conversation topic)

Ummm, well…yeah, that was a lot different than Bryant retold the story. I’m pretty sure the prostitute question was a logical follow-up question to “my mom worked for my father, a pimp.” As what then? His accountant? His tailor?

It turns out that there is an answer: Dez Bryant’s mother sold crack for his father. Ohhhhhh…much better. I could see how he would be upset about the mistaken impression. Apparently his mother was also upset because she gave a statement today that she was still angry (even after Dez himself said he was dropping the issue) because she felt she was being portrayed inaccurately based on her drug conviction 12 years ago. Fair enough, except that she was just convicted of drug possession and sales in September 2009, too.

I gotta say, I love this woman’s conviction…err, I mean her conviction to stick to her guns, which I’ll note she has never been convicted of possessing. So take THAT, Plaxico Burress!

Hey, it’s our job as diplomats to stay up on this stuff!

State stories

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2010 at 1:54 am

Where I’m at: D.C. (Brazzaville in Nov!)
What I’m doing: watching the Caps potentially crush all the remaining sports enthusiasm this city had
Why I’m posting: storytelling
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You know what’s badass? My job. Okay, maybe bureaucracy and brazzaville aren’t for everyone. But sometimes, pretty much everyone can agree that our jobs as diplomats are sweet. For instance, top secret briefings, bribes from foreign nationals (just kidding!), and days like today.

At the Main State building today, we got lots of briefings. The Pentagon briefed us. The Operations Center took us to their top secret “situation rooms.” Briefing on the U.S.’s Afghanistan policy with some really frank answers. And then we had a reception on the 7th floor.

For those in the know, the “7th Floor” is both an actual place and an idea. It’s the top floor of offices at State and unsurprisingly is thus where all the big wigs sit, including Secretary Clinton. The entrance to her suites is comically elaborate in that the drop panel, asbestos-like ceiling panels and drab paint around the corner immediately become doric columns, bright colors, and many leather-bound books. It’s hardly a wonder that it’s called “Mahogany Row.”

Well, hanging out on the 7th – “where decisions are made” – in H.C.’s office, the Assistant Secretaries (her right hand men, the equivalents of Major Generals) hung out with us as we nervously sipped our ginger ale (really? no alcohol here to loosen our lips? weak). Those guys were super cool and down to earth. An example: Asst. Sec. for African Affairs, Johnny Carson (believe it or not, a funny guy…big surprise there) walks up to me and starts chatting because he saw my Congo pin. He tells me he just got back from Brazzaville and loves it every time he’s there. He says, “I’m jealous of you.” “Oh yeah?” I say. “Well I’ll trade you jobs.” “Ha, you want to do my job?” he replied. “Sure, as long as you want it done poorly. At least you’ll make me look good.”

How cool is that?! I mean, this guy could eat me for lunch…legally…and he’s just shooting the shit with me. Hillary even stopped by our class to say hello and ask us if we were enjoying our orientation. Wow…I’m pretty…well, shell-shocked.

So if I seem overly enamored with the people I’m lucky enough to work with in the years to come, it’ll be for reasons like these. Good people, hard workers. Just like all the people I worked with back in Chicago. You’re all such beautiful people that it makes my work so enjoyable.

What can I say, I’m very lucky!
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Who said it: former Sec. of State Henry Kissinger
Why it’s relevant: because it probably explains why I’m so enamored with these folks

The quote: “The nice thing about being a celebrity is that, if you bore people, they think it’s their fault.”

And the winner is………

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Yesterday was Flag Day, which for us new diplomats is not the obscure holiday but rather the day we find out where our first post is located.

And so I found out yesterday where Colleen and I are headed by year’s end to spend the next couple years. And that place is…………….

Brazzaville!

Yes, Colleen and I are headed to the Republic of Congo. We’re super excited as this was our top choice. We have so much to learn about our new home and new jobs, but it’s going to be awesome doing so.

If you’d like some more stats, etc. on Brazzaville and our new life there, check out our embassy’s site: http://brazzaville.usembassy.gov/

So big changes are ahead for us. Thank you all for the support! I can wait to start posting about cultural and linguistic (French) lessons I’ll be learning over the coming months. Keep an eye out!

What’s my job going to be like?

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 2:35 am

Where I’m at: D.C. (err, northern VA)
What I’m doing: pulling info together
Why I’m posting: because where have I been?!
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So I’ve gotten lots of questions about not just where we’ll be going (we find out next Friday!), but also what I’ll be doing day-to-day.

Well, I can’t answer that question exactly, but I found another consular officer’s post that pretty likely conveys the feelings I’ll probably have about work. Check it out!
http://www.mutteringbehindthehardline.com/2010/03/uninvited.html

A tragedy for a consulate I hope to avoid

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2010 at 1:02 am

Where I’m at: Chicago (t-minus 11 days)
What I’m doing: taking a break from fixing the window that our drunken St. Patty’s day guests shattered
Why I’m posting: to hope against hope
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So I’ve spoken to many of this blog’s followers recently about my hopes for where our first posting with the U.S. Dept. of State’s Foreign Service Office will be. Most know that we (Co and I) hope to end up in Africa for the better part of our early careers, but have tempered our expectations to expect something more like Mexico. In an effort to ward off the likely by saying its name aloud, we’ve “joked” that we’ll probably end up in Tijuana or Juarez. I’ve also “joked” that if we do, I’m making Colleen live in the U.S. and I’ll just commute. Here’s another reason why:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8569408.stm

So after literally thousands and thousands of ridiculously violent deaths in Ciudad Juarez (across the river from El Paso, Texas), the FBI is getting involved in a more active way. That’s because some consular officials, employees, and their families were recently fired upon (and 3, tragically, died) by the drug cartels there as they made their way home from a party. I often assumed that as bad as Juarez got, there’d be some measure of protection for U.S. officials because the drug cartels wouldn’t be so stupid or so bold to potentially bring down the U.S. on them full force within Mexico. Apparently not.

For those interested in international criminal law, this situation brings up an interesting point. Mexico is now apparently (based on media reports…DOS folks may know otherwise) all for the U.S. entering into Mexico to help bring down the cartels. This comes only a few years after the infamous Alvarez-Machain case where a U.S. DEA agent was brutally tortured and killed, a request to Mexico to extradite a doctor believed to be a part denied, a CIA-led kidnapping of that doctor to bring him back to Mexico, a Supreme Court decision “permitting” such tactics, and international outcry about how this violated int’l criminal law norms. I’ve often heard that case called a watershed moment-to-be in the future of international communities. Perhaps what’s happening now changes things.

In any case, this is a terrible tragedy for the U.S. DOS and the families of Lesley Enrique, Arthur Redelf, and Jorge Alberto Sarcido. Pray for them. And for those just checking this blog to watch over Colleen and I, pray for us, too.
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Who said it: One of the above victim’s family members
Why it’s relevant: Juarez has the highest murder rate in the world…and is situated literally feet from El Paso, Texas, one of the lowest murder rates in the world. In 2009, 2600 people were murdered in Juarez.

The quote: “More than anything, I want Juarez to change … That’s what I’d like.”

A guy walks into a bar exam…

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Where I’m at: Chicago (t-minus 32 days)
What I’m doing: Bar exam in 17 hours
Why I’m posting: Goodbye cruel, pre-Bar world!
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Tomorrow, I become a man. I’ve told myself that before most big moments of my life: wedding day, college graduation, high school graduation, first football game, first (and only) band recital. Thus far, I’ve been way off. I’ve yet to become more than the man-like, taller boy that I am today. But maybe this time will be different. Probably not.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for the support during the last few months of study. It didn’t end up being as terrible as I thought it would be, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park (ooh! N.B.: I took a walk in the park today!). Hopefully the test, too, will not be as bad as it seems.

Incidentally, I hope everyone is enjoying the beautiful biannual event that is the Olympics. Be it winter or summer, it’s really something to see so many “biggest moment of __’s life” moments. To see the couple minutes that someone has literally devoted his or her life to – be in the first round for someone just happy to make it to the Olympics, or the finals for someone expecting more – it’s really a humbling and inspiring thing to watch. It may be trite, but it’ll be my inspiration going into tomorrow.
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Who said it: Pierre de Coubertin (founder of modern Olympic Games)
Why it’s relevant: the Bar exam is no Olympic Games, but it is a big moment in my life. I hope I take the right perspective into this.

The quote: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”