A Room Fit for a Diplomat

A BookFace friend of mine linked me to this amazing bedroom today:

Home Designing: Travel Themed Bedroom for Seasoned Explorers


I’ve never put much in the way of interior design on this blog, but it’s inherently part the aesthetic I create for my well-being. I always put the maximum amount of effort into designing my bedroom. I’ve found in sharing the last 2 or 3 places I’ve lived with other people that one’s own bedroom is almost a sanctuary from a stylistic perspective. Common areas are great because often you’ll have a clashing of artistic styles of the various inhabitants, which in its own right turns into an interesting composition. For example, I have a large portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven in my living room sitting right below an Ansel Adams portrait of Mount McKinley.

I like public spaces and the unique style they are capable of creating. But as I was saying, bedrooms are a totally different story… assuming it is not shared with another single, permanent inhabitant. Multiple inhabitants are totally okay haha. But I think it’s a place to escape to… the space and the walls become an extension of your mind and you are free to form them into what you want. When you look at your books on their shelves or your artwork on the walls its almost like looking through a window into your soul. Things (material possessions) can become a part of who you are as long as their are imbued with intrinsic value — that is beyond the superficial. I think Bertrand Russell would agree with me that having things that remind you of your passions… of the things that profoundly interest you is totally legit.

I think it can totally be to the benefit of an individual’s mental health to have things on their walls that inspire that sort of interest and inquisitiveness. All my walls are occupied with artwork. I’ve got an old French travel poster of Angkor Wat. A color lithograph of the French Revolution. A 1886 map of Syria and the Levant. I would imagine these pieces take on a life of their own. That simply their mere presence could inform my tranquility of my dreams. The same goes for a good bookshelf, where one’s tomes can be completely visible to the naked eye. Don’t you see them calling out. Each one – some fantastic story you’ve previously read – just begging for you to return.

And that’s how I see bedrooms, and the importance of furnishing them as an extension of yourself. At the end of the day they call you back from wherever you’ve been. Call you to return to a single solitary place, where no one can enter unless you implicitly invite them.



Mitt the Mormon and the Jews… A Match Made in Heaven?

We all know Mittens, sorry, Mitt Romney, is a giant, humungous, dog-riding-on-top-of-a-car sized hypocrite, but I’ve unearthed some confusion regarding his position toward Israel and American Jews in general.

Let’s be clear, Mitt Romney has only marginally more foreign-policy experience than Sarah Palin, and his view of foreign relations through the prism of the Cold War is about as outdated as it gets.

Just as with Mrs. Palin, your’s truly is far more qualified to be President when it comes to knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs.

However, returning to what I was originally getting at… Mittens is currently “abroad” touring England, Poland, and Israel… if you can really call that ‘abroad’ at all.

I mean, is being President only about visiting allies who share our views? Hmm last time I checked the places Obama has traveled, it doesn’t seem to be.

But look here, Romney is attempting to tell the Israeli government as well as its citizens that he would do a better job at maintaining relations with Israel than the Obama administration has. The same message is being sent to American Jews here in the United States.

Now, he has said all kinds of crazy, such as saying he would “check-in” with Israel before taking any actions in the Middle East. Uh huh. Yes, it is obviously smart to give an ally near veto-power over anything we want to do regionally.

But it gets more interesting… Mittens is trying to win over Israelis and American Jews to his cause. And of course, we all know he is aided by the apocalyptic links between evangelical American Christians and their support for the state of Israel. Just listen to Sheldon Adelson sometime 🙂

All right so lets see what we have here. Mitt Romney is a member of the Mormon faith, which despite being only marginally less secretive and bizarre as the Church of Scientology, has made news in the last year for its posthumous baptizing of historical figures.

Like Anne Frank. She apparently was posthumously baptized multiple times.

So wait a second. We have a presidential candidate who is a member of a religion that practices the posthumous baptism of Jews.

And yet he is trying to persuade American Jews to switch their allegiance to the Republican party because of its support for Israel.

Does this make a shred of sense to anyone?

Look, lets be honest here. Mitt Romney’s religion has been thus far left out of the Presidential contest. He hasn’t dared said the M-word for fear of alienating evangelicals who are highly suspect, and rightly so, of the Mormon religion. But nor has President Obama’s campaign or the handful of superPACs supporting him shone a single light on something that should undoubtedly be part of this election.

Now, as much as this author would like to say that the Democrats are weak in not forcibly dragging Mitt’s Mormon faith into this contest, especially when the Republicans and their far-right allies have no compunction about attacking Obama on the basis of his faith (read: questioning Obama’s Christianity) or his race (read: Romney staffer’s “Anglo-Saxon” comment), that is not a winning argument.

The fact is, we have a candidate running for President who is part of a religion that at one point required its members to take an Oath of Secrecy regarding what happens inside the Mormon Temple.

Do you really want a President who has sworn an oath outside of the one and only oath he is supposed to take, on the very day he is inaugurated, to uphold, protect, and preserve the Constitution of the United States of America?

I certainly hope not.

Please see this BBC documentary on Mormonism and Mitt Romney:

I would note once again that you would have a hard time finding a quality documentary like this here in the U.S.

The MSM has simply refused to touch the issue. WHEN IT RIGHTLY DESERVES TO BE TOUCHED UPON.

Here is another excellent article on the Mormon Church’s business empire:

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: How The Mormons Make Money

Watch that documentary and read that article and tell me what you think.

Barring the inherent danger of organized religion to the American Republic, doesn’t the profound lack of questions regarding Mittens “Oath” to Mormonism disturb you?

The State of the Republic

A close friend of mine on Facebook linked to this fascinating article in the Washington Post:

Ezra Klein’s Wonk Blog: 14 Reasons Why This Is The Worst Congress Ever

If you want clear, irrefutable evidence that the House Republicans deserve the majority of the blame for stalling the recovery and shaming our most directly elected institution, look no further than the statistics provided in that article.

I mean, they voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

I can understand maybe once or twice… but 33 fucking times. Who the fuck are these people and how did they get into that chamber. They are all fucking school children. All of them.

Here is the nugget that I find particularly intriguing:

3. They’re incredibly polarized.

The best measure of congressional polarization — which is to say, the distance between the two parties — is the DW-Nominate system developed by political scientist Keith Poole. DW-Nominate works by measuring coalitions. It looks to see who votes together and how often. And it works. Its results line up with both common sense and alternative ways of measuring ideology, like the scorecard kept by the American Conservative Union.

So what does it say about this Congress? Well, the 112th Congress is the most polarized since the end of Reconstruction:

Let me emphasize what this graph shows again. *Ahem* MOST POLARIZED CONGRESS SINCE THE RECONSTRUCTION.

If you’re asking yourself, ‘wait, are you telling me that the last time Congress was this polarized was right after we had a civil war?’, you are absolutely right.

So, does the most polarized congress since the end of the Civil War bode well for the future of this great Republic?

I certainly think not. Yet, I don’t think people really grasp what this means. We think we are so damn superior in comparison to the way other countries handle their political disputes. I wrote about this in my previous post. We think we are more “civilized” because of the way our institutions function. That they are somehow superior, because they are not marked by outright violence or threats.

But the real question is, how far are we away from that? We seem to be approaching yet another era of McCarthyism with Congresswoman Bachmann’s totally unsubstantiated attacks upon Huma Abedin’s supposed links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and infiltration of our government.

I think the concern goes deeper than mere paranoia about Islamic infiltration of our government. It is not just a question of whether a few nutjobs in Congress will try to recast Islamists as the new Communists in terms of Enemy No. 1 to the nation.

If we continue along this same path, with Congress becoming more and more polarized and its level of popularity falling to unprecedented lows, how long will it be until the idea of another type of government becomes more popular in the minds of our citizens? How long until certain social issues and class divisions begin to pry open the fissures long thought closed since the Civil War?

Do we really thing we are above another civil conflict? Anyone who says yes is a complete fool. We are a young Republic compared to other countries on this globe that have undergone numerous internal conflicts and transformations. We are above none of them.

Can you even begin to imagine how an internal civil conflict would play out in this day and age?

I don’t even want to start. But my point is simply that we cannot underestimate where our current course may lead us to. When you have one of the major political parties hijacked by special (read: religious) interests, a showdown is inevitable.

Just look at Number 4 in the article:

4. They’ve set back the recovery.

In 2011, congressional Republicans came closer than ever before to breaching the debt ceiling and setting off a global financial crisis. In the end, they pulled back moments before we toppled into the abyss. But by then, they had already done serious damage to the recovery.

Early in the year, the economy seemed to be gathering momentum. In February, it added 220,000 jobs. In March, it added 246,000 jobs. In April, 251,000 jobs. But as markets began to take the Republican threats on the debt ceiling more seriously, the economy sputtered. Between May and August, the nation never added more than 100,000 jobs a month. And then, in September, the month after the debt ceiling was resolved, the economy sped back up and added more than 200,000 jobs.

Hmm… Golly Gee, I wonder if they did that purposely to damage President Obama’s popularity and the ability of his administration to do… anything effectively.

These people are crazy. You want to talk about hardliners? We don’t even need to look at the Islamic Republic of Iran… all we need to do is take one long look in the mirror to understand the kinds of people we have elected to Congress.

I honestly don’t know who is to blame. You and me? When it comes down to it, maybe. After all, Congress is the only directly elected national institution in the country. If the citizens who mobilized to elect these crazies during the last Congressional elections were mostly white evangelical Christians… then… where were we? Where was the rest of the country to balance out their clearly misguided beliefs and disastrous agenda? Nowhere to be seen. I don’t remember what the statistic was for percentage of voter turnout in the last Congressional election, but the reason these crazies were put into office in the first place is because the people who wanted them there in the first place were the majority who voted.

It is almost a vicious cycle from this perspective. The more people feel that Congress is not working, and thus respect it less and less, the more it will come only to be beholden to radicalism and thus represent what is really a minority of the country. Basically, the only people who will continue to mobilize and vote in congressional elections (read: evangelical white Christians) will be those who want to keep Congress in a state of complete polarization.

I haven’t even gotten around to noting how un-representative Congress is compared to how much the country has grown in the last century. There should be far more elected representatives than there currently are. This might solve the problem as well. Open the floodgates. Lets have a Congress of 800 in the House and see what happens to the current level of polarization.

Going back to what I was saying earlier about the vicious cycle and the level of respect and popularity Congress maintains with the citizen body – my gut feeling is that the state of the Republic has come to resemble the last days of the Roman Republic more than anything. I’m not talking about the Fall of the Roman Empire. I’m talking about the last days of the Republic and its dramatic transformation into an Empire.

The last years of the Roman Republic were characterized by much the same sort of behavior that characterizes our Congress today. Blatant attacks on the character of individual members. Complete and utter polarization. A complete lack of respect for how the institution is supposed to function (read: 33 ACA repeals).

At some point, Caesar must have thought the same thing. There was no way he could work with a senate and Consul (Pompey) who presented him with an ultimatum to return to Rome without his army and face trial for his supposed transgressions, the majority of which were probably political inventions.

His only choice was to work outside the system, which he did by crossing the Rubicon with a Roman Army and proclaiming himself dictator.

When people no longer feel bound by the traditional rules and regulations that govern an institution, what happens then?

We cross the Rubicon.

Tribalism in American Politics

An excellent piece in today’s Beast discussing tribalism in American politics…

The Daily Beast: The Tribal Election

Obama’s gambit creates an election in which turnout and mobilization—a fittingly military concept—of the faithful may be more important than the art of persuasion. It also guarantees a very ugly campaign, filled with even more than its usual share of innuendos, smears, and outright lies aimed at enthusing his base or—particularly for the GOP—discouraging members of unfriendly tribes from showing up to vote.

I would hesitate to say our politics are so different than those we often gawk at in the Middle East and other parts of the world. We shouldn’t consider our “civilized” elections to be anything of the sort. Our sectarianism is the same here simply in a different form. Perhaps it lacks outright violence, but the willingness of presidential election campaigns to attack and smear the character of their opponents knows no equal in the world.

I found this posted yesterday on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

The original posting of the full image is here:

Mapping the Nation: Charting the Flow of Political Power

Keeping in mind that this map only goes up until 1876, I am undoubtedly sure it’s makers would be surprised to learn that the two parties (Democrats and Republicans) it ends with are still the same parties competing for power today. It makes one wonder why we can’t return to the earlier days of the Republic where the two party structure was not always seemingly a fact of life.

The more our institutions, including the ones that are supposedly above politics (read: Supreme Court), continue to have their ranks filled by tribal loyalists, the less our government will be able to function and thus our Republican ideals achievable.

Espionage in the Olympics and the French James Bond

The NYT has produced this fascinating piece:

Long Before London Games, James Bond Tactics

As Olympic training became more detailed, more scientific and more complicated, France created an agency in its sports ministry. Its nondescript name — Préparation Olympique et Paralympique — masked a more ambitious purpose: to boost medal counts through athletic surveillance, as much Spy Games as Olympic Games, under the direction of a man competitors called the French James Bond.

“We realized that international competition was becoming more and more pronounced,” said Fabien Canu, the man known as the French James Bond, who was the French agency’s director from 2006 to 2010.

But France is not the only nation looking for an Olympic edge through stealth. Someone from the United States’ BMX cycling team surreptitiously rode the competition course in London for this summer’s Olympic Games with a three-dimensional mapping device, specifics of which officials declined to reveal, so the Americans could build and train on a replica of the Olympic track.

And USA Sailing opportunistically snatched up property near the Olympic competition site in Weymouth, England, to build a training base in enemy territory to study weather and current conditions before the Games.

Ha. Glad to hear some of the intelligence technologies and methodologies probably developed for the battlefield are being put to a less violent use.

Well, it’s been a year…

How to explain away my absence?

Can I legitimately claim to be a ‘blogger’ again if I took a year-long hiatus from writing anything substantial?

It wasn’t like nothing happened anyway.

What have I been doing since Occupy Boston largely fizzled out?

Certainly I have been doing things… but leaving no written record of my usually disjointed thought process since the previous Fall.

I was reminded today that I am an opinionated bastard and need to find the opinionated Homosexual Lawrence of Arabia within me.


There’s a ring of truth to it though. I can’t claim to have produced anything close to the 7 Pillars of Wisdom. But after all, El ‘Awrence was merely attempting to record his experience for the awareness of others. Or perhaps just for himself… the Arab revolt in the desert.

I have something here. A written record of myself on the internet. I won’t attempt to judge my blogs, the other being thegemmayzehtree.wordpress.com, against the work of others. I can’t exactly say many of the “friends” I have on Facebook have much more than a feed, which together with all the other ones amounts to little more than junk on most days.

My blogs were founded upon purpose. I never created them to deal with trivial matters of little importance to the individual or the nation. I wanted to respond to serious questions that have arisen during the time period we happen to be alive in.

3 years of writing here on Amateur Diplomat and on The Gemmayzeh Tree have not been for nothing.

Sure I may look back and say “Wow, did I really write that? I sound like a complete fool.”

But it’s all worth it for those rare occasions when I have said something that rings of absolute clarity and reason.

That’s really the purpose of these endeavors after all. To keep hashing and rehashing and writing and rewriting until something worthwhile comes out.

And besides, what is the alternative? To sit back and do nothing. To waste away and be consumed by the tsunami of social media. Becoming so consumed by thoughts about what other people are doing that we become incapable of listening to ourselves.

That is what I am doing here – attempting to listen to myself. And I am damn well proud of it.

So, what is coming?

I’ve found my thoughts have accumulated over the past few months regarding some topics that deserve to be explored here.

For example, why is it, with a little over 100 days remaining until the election, that religion has largely stayed out of the media circus surrounding both candidates? Sure, we don’t see the Republican party or the Romney campaign attacking Obama for being a ‘Muslim’ as is the wont of the far, far right. But perhaps more tellingly, why haven’t we heard even a squeak from the Obama Campaign or Democratic party regarding Romney’s participation in the Mormon Church. Perhaps it is most easily explained away as a campaign decision not to attack Romney on the grounds of his religion.

Now sure, I can understand that as a campaign decision to leave religion out of attack ads etc. But if a candidate is running for President who is part of a mysterious cult-like religion that is largely unknown to the vast majority of the country, doesn’t it deserve at least the bare minimum of scrutiny?

And that’s what we have not seen. Not in the MSM or really any media thus far.

Anyway, that’s an issue I will be exploring further soon, as I’ve started to see a trickle of journalism attempting to explore Romney’s connections to the Church.

And what about the general state of the nation? I’ve found myself recently comparing the attitudes of our generation toward our elected institutions to be strangely reminiscent of the Romans toward the end of the Republic.

The flagrant disrespect for the institutions of the state.

You don’t think Governor Rick Perry of Texas’ claim that he won’t implement parts of Obamacare, regardless of whether they were ruled constitutional or not, is at least in some sense similar to the attitudes and behavior of Rome’s politicians at the time of Caesar?

It’s quite simple – the Republic faces its greatest threat from those elected citizens who have no regard or respect for its institutions and seek only to defy them when it suits their interests.

I’ll be exploring that topic more as well in the weeks to come.

Now that I am on funemployment I have all the time in the world to write.


The Occupied Movement

I will be attending the General Assembly meeting of Occupy Boston tonight.

Here is why.

I am in broad agreement with the articulated aims of the protests which have evolved over the past few weeks. The moniker of the 99%, which protestors are gathering under, is perfect for the primary target of the movement against Wall Street and the general infiltration of this country’s institutions by the moneyed interest.

However, I will address these broad aims later. For now, I want to air my personal grievance with the system and general state of affairs.

For years I have wanted to become a Foreign Service Officer and serve my country as a diplomat for the Department of State. I have taken the Foreign Service Written Examination three times, failing the first, passing the second, and will hear in 3 weeks time how I did on the third. I remember being very exhilarated as well as nervous the first two times I took it. This, after all, was the exam that could determine my career. When I failed the first time, I was even more determined to pass the second time around, which I did, making it halfway to the Oral Examination stage of the process before my candidacy was dropped. I submitted my responses to the Personal Narrative Questions and took the language placement for Arabic, which I was told upon passing could only help my application. But it was not to be. Not that I’m really surprised of course. With the state of the economy, and the number of people who test and apply annually for the service, I could hardly stand a chance next to a 35-year old lawyer with multiple degrees and years of experience.

Going into the test this past week, I felt nothing. I was almost completely demoralized. It felt almost routine. And there were significantly more people there taking it. Most of them in the same situation I was. Recent graduates from college, whom the State Department is apparently totally disinterested in. Master’s Degree required.

It is extraordinarily disheartening. How long am I supposed to slave away until I can serve my country in the capacity I desire? How long am I supposed to wait? How many degrees do I have to acquire?

The timing of the exam last week could not have been better, coming off the heels of a report in the New York Times that the Department itself was going to be facing cuts to foreign aid. I mean, sure, at first this might not look so bad from an employment standpoint, but consider the wider implications. Cutting from U.S. AID amongst the other sub-departments in charge of administering foreign aid will undoubtedly mean at some point that there will no longer be a need for as many people to administer what sorry funds remain. A reduction in soft power means a reduction in individuals qualified to administer said soft power.

Such news could not come at worse time. The government needs to employ more people. I’m certainly not advocating for bloated bureaucracies here. But give us something like the Civilian Conservation Corps! Or at least provide some encouraging signs for those that want to work in the departments and serve their country.

I am tired of sitting on the sidelines watching this happen. I’m tired of feeling like a freaking spectator. This is our Republic, and those who want to serve it in and make it better for others should be able to.

This is why I will be attending Occupy Boston.

Egypt: How much has really changed?

GlobalPost has an eye-opening article regarding the state of post-revolution Egypt:

Has Egypt’s Revolution Become a Military Coup?

Military trials of Egyptian civilians persist and the military leadership has expanded and extended the 30-year-old, widely criticized Emergency Law once used by Mubarak to justify his authoritarian tactics.

Was it not one of the revolution’s central demands (as with the other Arab revolutions) that the Emergency Law be brought to an end? Perhaps the Obama Administration should attempt to salvage the remaining bits of its reputation in the Mideast (post-U.N. speech) by putting pressure on the Egyptian military to bring an end to this law.

The military said the sweeping powers granted in the law were necessary to prevent the type of chaos that erupted on Sept. 9, when a mob of hundreds of Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

Ah, but of course. The usual suspects.

Future prospects look dim:

No one knows exactly how much of Egypt’s economy is controlled by the army, but most estimates place it in the “billions” of dollars range. The problem, said some analysts, is that the military likely wants to prevent the complete transition to civilian leadership to ensure its hold on these assets.

“The military will never allow a civilian president to have oversight of their budget,” Stacher said. “And the Mubarak-style tactics to control dissent on the streets is one way for the military to consolidate its rule.”

I recall hearing the chant, “The Army and the People are one”, during the Revolution. Yeah…







The Greatest Threat to America

What would you think if someone suggested normalizing relations with Cuba would be unwise because of an Iran-Cuba-Hezbollah Axis, where by the Cuban Missile Crisis would be repeated, only this time with Iranian arms placed there by a Lebanese “terrorist” organization? Well, you’d probably think they were more than a little off their rocker.

I give you… Michelle Bachmann:

I have to say, if her allegations were true, such a situation would definitely add an interesting twist to world diplomacy.