Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Price of Service

I recently realized the price I paid by joining the State Department when my cousin in Iran died. Continue reading

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Diplonaut

“The prospective colonization of space responds, not to the particular problems of the American nation, or of any other nation, but to those of mankind as a whole… In an ideal view, such an undertaking by mankind as a whole would tend to divert it from its present preoccupation with international conflict, would tend to channel its energies into the pursuit of a great common purpose.”
Louis J. Halle in Foreign Affairs, 1980

“I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.”
Stephen Hawking, interview with Daily Telegraph, 2001

“In the long run, a single-planet species will not survive. One day, I don’t know when, but one day, there will be more humans living off the Earth than on it.”
NASA director Mike Griffin, quoted in “Mars or Bust,”
Rolling Stone, 2006

Do they have Skype out there?

And those are just the highlights of the quotes of great minds on why we must make our way into the great unknown with urgency.  And if there are more humans living off the Earth than on it, there will be a need for a diplonaut or two.  I coined this term.   Continue reading

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Study Suggests Serious State Staffing Shortages Start to Show

All alliteration aside, this is an important issue.  There was a great article in Foreign Policy about the staffing challenges the Foreign Service has and will have in the near future, especially at the midlevel.  I want to take a minute to examine this from the level of the individual.  Many Foreign Service Officers have and will rave about the opportunities that this shortfall presents, and yes some will excel despite being relatively junior in the foreign service, perhaps only serving two or three tours, as the head of a section in a small or medium-sized embassy.  However, the individuals that generally perform well in any organization, capable of managing in numbers, and most importantly, able to manage up, are those that bring previous managerial experience to their jobs.  So, despite the fact that opportunities abound and the dreams of becoming Ambassador in less than 20 years just may come true, the reality is that there is great risk to one’s psyche, health, and to the greater U.S. mission abroad, to have individuals thrust into managerial positions of great responsibility before they are prepared to make the leap.  Continue reading

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Peace Out Man

I met my colleague back in March 2010, when we were both just arriving at Foreign Service Officer School (i.e. Foreign Service Institute‘s A-100 Class).

Not many weeks later we both learned that we would be headed to the same posting in Manama, Bahrain, except that he was scheduled to head there many months before I would arrive.  It was not his top choice.  Regardless, he trailblazed a path for me to follow and set up shop in my future office.  Actually, I should say, our office.  We have shared probably one of the nicest offices available in the Embassy, the only one I know that has two couches in it, with a great view of Tubli Bay (easily the smelliest spot in Bahrain).  Well this post is a homage to my friend who will depart on Thursday to head back to the greener grass for training.  Here a few things I’ll miss (roast): Continue reading

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Cosmopolitan = Out of Touch

Utter hole-in-the-wall, but great spot for amazing intellectual conversation and fantastic food.

So, two of our counterparts from the Thai Embassy took a couple of my colleagues and myself to lunch the other day, and I had no idea what to expect.  I had been to the restaurant they suggested, Shada Restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall place two minutes from the Embassy (could totally walk there if it wasn’t 150° and humid), but the dish I ordered the first time I was there was nothing to write home about, so I was a little concerned.  We suggested a Thai restaurant we know and love, but they politely declined in favor of Shada.  Then our Thai friends ended up being about ten minutes late, the norm for Arabs, but a little surprising for Asian diplomats.  But, that was all I could find fault with for the rest of the two hours we leisurely enjoyed in the restaurant whose decorations and fish tank can only be described as bold (kitschy).   Continue reading

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The Monkey Suit

Does that tie even match?

We joke at work about having to don the “monkey suit” for work each day.  The uniform of a modern diplomat consists of a suit and tie for most.  There is legend of a few political officers in steamy tropical regions wearing slacks and polos and sipping cocktails on an embassy porches overlooking a white sand beaches.  I’ve even heard that suits may not always be required in some sections at my next Post, but here in Bahrain, they are standard.  So, each morning I go through the routine of figuring out if my tie matches my shirt or if I have remembered to match my shoes with my belt (if I remembered to wear a belt that day). Continue reading

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The Bahrain-Doha Connection

So close, yet so far away.

Living life as a diplomat has its perks.  Living life as a diplomat married to another diplomat has its challenges.  The biggest challenge has been the distance.  Ok, disregard the fact that you can practically throw a paper airplane from Bahrain, where I’m posted, to Doha, where my wife is serving the last months of her tour, because it takes a lot longer to get from Bahrain to Doha than you might expect.  We did the math on the time it takes to get door-to-door: about two and a half hours on the front end, 30-45 minutes flying/riding the bus to the airplane, and an hour and a half on the back end (if immigration goes smoothly).  That adds up to a minimum of nine hours for the traveler to get to and fro on each visit.  I’ve gotten a Saudi Visa and driven the route that takes you across the King Fahd Causeway Bridge to Saudi and then up the Qatari Peninsula to Doha.  Believe it or not, it’s only about an hour longer on average (and that’s including a funny interaction with a Saudi border guard in which he asked me what I was transporting in a taped up box and, not knowing how to say Christmas decorations, I told him “Christian things”).   Continue reading

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Acronymania, or Why I Named My Blog TLA

The first day I walked into my office at Embassy Manama, I remember hearing someone say something like this:  “Aaron, call the GSO and ask him to give you an update on your HHE and UAB ASAP, and then get on the low side, draft some language for the CDA about today’s activities before COB… Oh and cc me on an email to the RSO and tell him PolEcon needs to get the latest info by OOB DC-time, because we have a VVIP coming soon.  I’ll be on my BB if you need me.”  That is a perfectly average number of abbreviations and acronyms for a request from your supervisor if you work for the Department of State (DOS).  Acronyms serve a purpose: to reduce the number or words you need to use, both in verbal and written communication.  However, if you work for DOS then you are capable of creating an acronym out of anything.  This can get out of hand (OOH).  Soon, you begin to create acronyms and abbreviations where they are not necessarily useful and apply them as though they are common knowledge (CK) for Junior Officers (JO).  As you may have noticed, in State (short for DOS) you can create an acronym by simply putting the letters that represent a phrase in parentheses right after said phrase.  One such example occurred the earlier in my stay in Bahrain, when a VIP asked me if I had answered his staff’s RFI?  RFI?  Maybe I should have known that, but alas I was unfamiliar with the three letters that made me feel like an idiot.  But what I realized later was that it takes time to learn these acronyms and many VIPs get OOH and assume that these acronyms should be CK for many JOs at DOS, and that’s just BS.

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Just Another Journal

This is, I guess, just another journal.  I find that I’m incapable of forcing myself to write in a little book about the happenings of my life, even though it’s likely that I’ll want to remember these heady days when I’m old, crabby, and trying to recapture the glory of an earlier life.  So, what better way to save some of these images, thoughts, and experiences than by blogging about them for all to see… Well, I know, it’s a bit exhibitionist, but I guess it will open a window into my life for my family and friends who are at least vaguely interested in what a cookie-pusher does.

Ancient and modern, Bahrain is full of contradictions.

So, here I begin, somewhat appropriately, nearing the end of my first tour as a diplomat in Bahrain, a country so full of contradictions, history, and promise, with enough personal experience to begin to have something to say.

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