The World Today

Well, I haven’t written on cars recently… so here is a stunning car in an equally stunning locale:

Jalopnik: These Photos Are Too Beautiful for Craigslist

What is it? A 1973 European-spec BMW 3.0CSi

Some Interesting Statistics:

Gizmodo: The Massively Intimidating Size of the Internet Visualized

Amateur Diplomat would like to congratulate America’s Evangelical Christian establishment for its work in Uganda:
NYT: Ugandan Gay Rights Activist Is Beaten To Death

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. Evangelicals in 2009,” said Val Kalende, the chairperson of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood!”


Plants Are Cool…

A shout-out to the University of Colorado, well Colorado State, to be more specific – Gawker: These Plants Can Detect Bombs

Apart from this lady’s perennial focus on ferreting out “bad guys”… the implications and applications are clearly interesting, from use in home settings to those in public. Putting aside the obvious fear of a mutant plant takeover, this is the kind of innovation President Obama was talking about in his State of the Union.


NYT Magazine Preview: Julian Assange

Dealing With Assange and The Secrets He Spilled

The Times has published a fascinating account of its dealings with the man behind WikiLeaks, Julian Assange… some select quotes…

Assange was transformed by his outlaw celebrity. The derelict with the backpack and the sagging socks now wore his hair dyed and styled, and he favored fashionably skinny suits and ties. He became a kind of cult figure for the European young and leftish and was evidently a magnet for women. Two Swedish women filed police complaints claiming that Assange insisted on having sex without a condom; Sweden’s strict laws on nonconsensual sex categorize such behavior as rape, and a prosecutor issued a warrant to question Assange, who initially described it as a plot concocted to silence or discredit WikiLeaks.

I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from aStieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.

Another time he called to tell me how much he disliked ourprofile of Bradley Manning, the Army private suspected of being the source of WikiLeaks’s most startling revelations. The article traced Manning’s childhood as an outsider and his distress as a gay man in the military. Assange complained that we “psychologicalized” Manning and gave short shrift to his “political awakening.”

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd.

Unlike most of the military dispatches, the embassy cables were written in clear English, sometimes with wit, color and an ear for dialogue. (“Who knew,” one of our English colleagues marveled, “that American diplomats could write?”)

And it was important to remember that diplomatic cables are versions of events. They can be speculative. They can be ambiguous. They can be wrong.

The broader public reaction was mixed — more critical in the first days; more sympathetic as readers absorbed the articles and the sky did not fall; and more hostile to WikiLeaks in the U.S. than in Europe, where there is often a certain pleasure in seeing the last superpower taken down a peg.

Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security. We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff. They work in this high-risk environment because, while there are many places you can go for opinions about the war, there are few places — and fewer by the day — where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. We take extraordinary precautions to keep them safe, but we have had two of our Iraqi journalists murdered for doing their jobs. We have had four journalists held hostage by the Taliban — two of them for seven months. We had one Afghan journalist killed in a rescue attempt. Last October, while I was in Kabul, we got word that a photographer embedded for us with troops near Kandahar stepped on an improvised mine and lost both his legs.

A free press in a democracy can be messy. But the alternative is to give the government a veto over what its citizens are allowed to know. Anyone who has worked in countries where the news diet is controlled by the government can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted remark that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers.

The intentions of our founders have rarely been as well articulated as they were by Justice Hugo Black 40 years ago, concurring with the Supreme Court ruling that stopped the government from suppressing the secret Vietnam War history called the Pentagon Papers: “The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”

Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.

He spun out an elaborate version of aU.S. Justice Department effort to exact punishment for his assault on American secrecy. If he was somehow extradited to the United States, he said, “I would still have a high chance of being killed in the U.S. prison system, Jack Ruby style, given the continual calls for my murder by senior and influential U.S. politicians.”

My American Dream

Word Cloud from Obama's State of The Union

Alright… here we go… I have grudgingly accepted the necessity to write about the current state of affairs in the Middle East. Let’s begin with a story first. As many of you may know, I passed the written examination for entrance into the Foreign Service last October. This is the first of a multi-step process to become a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, and has remained my dream and ultimate career goal for nearly half a decade now. From passing the written examination (on my second try) I moved into the next stage of the process which was answering a number of personal narrative questions (or QEPs, I believe, for anyone familiar with the process) which were then submitted for review. The answers provided for the questions are accompanied with recommendations, or essentially, sources to provide a credible backing for each answer. I thought my responses were pretty decent. In addition to this, I participated in a phone interview in Arabic with the Foreign Service Institute as I had indicated on the written exam my proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic. There really was no way to find out how I did on that interview. And I wasn’t entirely sure how well it went, since my examiners jumped to a more difficult level with my asking questions in Arabic about the U.S. congressional elections and the state of our democracy. Passing a language exam, at the required Level 2, can only help an application, not hurt it in any way. Therefore, I was somewhat surprised, finally receiving word back this week on my progression as a candidate for the Foreign Service that I had not been selected to procede to the next stage of the examination process, which would have been the Oral Examination. Needless to say, I was pretty dismayed, and have since been in somewhat of a stupor when it comes to following events in the realm of U.S. Foreign Policy. Though, oddly enough, the rejection of my dream came to coincide with President Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Prior to the address, watching Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Cabinet walking down the aisle on the floor of the Capitol, I was admittedly bitter, having just been rejected by the woman who leads the department I want to devote a career to and represent. She stands for something more than politics now; she is the head of our foreign policy and our face to the world. So I sat there grimacing, with a stoney, emotionless expression on my face, waiting for the President to deliver his address to the nation.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.  That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here.  It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?  What would you change about the world?  What do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is what defines America. I am not particularly a fan of the term “American exceptionalism” because it has been seriously misconstrued and spun into something quite dangerous by individuals such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. But that we were the first nation to be founded upon an idea, or perhaps a bed of multiple ideas that came out of the Enlightenment, as it were, does make us unique, and is something that is enshrined in the principles laid down in our founding documents. And don’t get me wrong, we’re certainly not the only nation anymore that’s been founded upon an idea, and perhaps one can even make the argument that human civilizations have been founded on ideas since the dawn of time, but it is something that defines America. And certainly, at the time when our nation was established, there was nothing quite like it on Earth. It follows a political perspective I’m fond of, when it comes to determining how America should behave internationally, which is as the “first among equals.” We’re not better or superior than anyone else, nor should we define ourselves as exceptional or some how above the rest. But we should lead, and lead well.

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you.  (Applause.)

I’ve strongly considered doing this at some point in my life. Teaching history or some aspect of international politics or foreign policy would undoubtedly be highly rewarding. And it was actually through a high-school history teacher that I came to piece together the idea of wanting to become a civil servant in some capacity.

And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Yes, it should shine. We should lead by example, with our principles dictating our actions and not the other way around. Is Obama invoking Wilson here, perhaps just a bit? And as far as our image being renewed… well, ha, it’s going to take a lot longer than 2 years of a Presidency to do that. We’ve still got a hell of a long way to go, especially in the Middle East, to rectify our standing.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.

Though I might enjoy living and serving my country from the outside more than inside, I’ll always be grateful to return to the places here that I consider home.

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.

And this is where I didn’t feel so bad anymore about not being selected to move on to the next stage of the process for the Foreign Service. I might have to go back to square one and take the written exam again, but I will certainly do it again next October. I can only keep trying.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

As often as I read about Lebanon and feel the knife twist inside the open wound I’ve carried since leaving that country, I can say without a doubt that I always return to the notion that there are so many reasons for me to go back there. I’ll  never forget my interaction with Asra, that little girl in the Shatilla Palestinian Refugee camp in South Beirut. She taught me more Arabic than I could teach her English. The way her smile lit up the dark, gray areas of a camp and a school that had absolutely nothing. It doesn’t take some grand foreign policy strategy to help her or others like her. It only takes one individual to care.

And that’s why I must try again at the Foreign Service and must eventually return to Lebanon, or anywhere else where I feel I can do something to help.

That is my American Dream.

Today in the World

Well, the Arab world is falling apart – Tunisia is still roiled by protests which have now spread to Egypt and Lebanon, where Hezbollah has officially installed their own puppet to form a new government. I’m tired of reading about angry Arab youth. Don’t get me wrong – its an incredibly exciting and fundamentally significant time in the Middle East – concerning the developments that are going on. I guess I’m just bitter that I’m not there to witness them myself. I’m out in the cold here in New England, where it was below 7 degrees the other day. So lets take a short break from the normal prerogative of this blog to focus on what is clearly more important…

First off, I love this picture… I don’t care much for Sarah Jessica Parker, but Pierce Brosnan is always cool, and even cooler when he’s eating a New York pretzel, which are some of the best in the world…

Humor –

– according to Gawker – Stoners Will Now Have Their Own Soft Drink

I just love the photo they got for this. So funny.

Other Articles of Interest:
The Atlantic: How to Stop James Bond from Getting Old

Gawker: Ten Sundance Movies People Are Talking About

Gizmodo: Can You Imagine Your Cellphone Passing Any of These Stress Tests?

The Latest in Attempts at Historical Revisionism:

The Atlantic: Shame on The Kennedy’s

But in the past month we’ve also been treated to widespread news reports about the death of Teddy Kennedy’s 13-year-old dog, Splash; weepy commentary about how this month marks the first time in sixty years that there hasn’t been a Kennedy in Congress; and Camelot-coated ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s swearing-in as Attorney General.  (Really?  The 50th anniverary of a cabinet officer’s swearing-in? Please.)  This sort of thing is orchestrated by the Kennedy family and their legion of acolytes and media flacks.

Here’s what seems increasingly wrong about all this.  The Kennedys don’t deserve this attention and adulation if they’re not willing to be open with the truth, if they remain intent on having the public see only the attractive side of Robert Kennedy’s legacy.  They don’t deserve the unstinting praise and the undying devotion if they’re not willing to come clean.  If they were to do so, they might deserve the attention that comes their way now by constant management and manipulation of the family image.  Enough.

In Other News…

For a gay political media correspondent, Andersen Cooper and his boyfriend make a cute couple:

Lebanon: An Update

NOW Lebanon has a new series of videos chronicling the human cost of political assassinations in Lebanon:

NOW Lebanon: The Unheard Victims

The talk is all about the government, the politics of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, about how the international body is dividing the country (as if it was not already divided when the bombs exploded around here).

But when you hear Elias playing Majida  El Roumi’s song and see his mother’s eyes drowning with tears,  you only want to listen to him, not to some politician.

There are tens of people like him in Lebanon, tens of people who lost someone when a politician, a famous journalist or a police officer simply blew up because they bothered somebody.  Tens of people who nobody listens to when they say they want to know who killed their loved ones and who want to at least give a chance to the STL. Who knows, maybe justice will take its course.

This is why I care. These Lebanese citizens did not deserve to die meaningless deaths in wanton acts of political violence. They deserved to live long lives of prosperity and happiness in a country that should be working for them.

For those who have not seen the films Zozo and West Beirut I highly recommend them – for a general understanding of the impact of years of war and violence in Lebanon.

Fisk: The Brutal Truth About Tunisia

The Independent: The Brutal Truth About Tunisia

The end of the age of dictators in the Arab world? Certainly they are shaking in their boots across the Middle East, the well-heeled sheiks and emirs, and the kings, including one very old one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, and presidents – another very old one in Egypt and a young one in Syria – because Tunisia wasn’t meant to happen. Food price riots in Algeria, too, and demonstrations against price increases in Amman. Not to mention scores more dead in Tunisia, whose own despot sought refuge in Riyadh – exactly the same city to which a man called Idi Amin once fled.

Watch The Last King of Scotland… why do all the despots seem to flee to Saudi?

No, in the Arab world, we want law and order and stability. Even in Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt and corrupted Egypt, that’s what we want. And we will get it.

The truth, of course, is that the Arab world is so dysfunctional, sclerotic, corrupt, humiliated and ruthless – and remember that Mr Ben Ali was calling Tunisian protesters “terrorists” only last week – and so totally incapable of any social or political progress, that the chances of a series of working democracies emerging from the chaos of the Middle East stand at around zero per cent.

The job of the Arab potentates will be what it has always been – to “manage” their people, to control them, to keep the lid on, to love the West and to hate Iran.

Indeed, what was Hillary Clinton doing last week as Tunisia burned? She was telling the corrupted princes of the Gulf that their job was to support sanctions against Iran, to confront the Islamic republic, to prepare for another strike against a Muslim state after the two catastrophes the United States and the UK have already inflicted in the region.

The Muslim world – at least, that bit of it between India and the Mediterranean – is a more than sorry mess. Iraq has a sort-of-government that is now a satrap of Iran, Hamid Karzai is no more than the mayor of Kabul, Pakistan stands on the edge of endless disaster, Egypt has just emerged from another fake election.

And Lebanon… Well, poor old Lebanon hasn’t even got a government. Southern Sudan – if the elections are fair – might be a tiny candle, but don’t bet on it.

It’s the same old problem for us in the West. We mouth the word “democracy” and we are all for fair elections – providing the Arabs vote for whom we want them to vote for.

In Algeria 20 years ago, they didn’t. In “Palestine” they didn’t. And in Lebanon, because of the so-called Doha accord, they didn’t. So we sanction them, threaten them and warn them about Iran and expect them to keep their mouths shut when Israel steals more Palestinian land for its colonies on the West Bank.

For years, this wretched man had been talking about a “slow liberalising” of his country. But all dictators know they are in greatest danger when they start freeing their entrapped countrymen from their chains.

And the Arabs behaved accordingly. No sooner had Ben Ali flown off into exile than Arab newspapers which have been stroking his fur and polishing his shoes and receiving his money for so many years were vilifying the man. “Misrule”, “corruption”, “authoritarian reign”, “a total lack of human rights”, their journalists are saying now. Rarely have the words of the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran sounded so painfully accurate: “Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again.” Mohamed Ghannouchi, perhaps?

And they will do what we want. Ben Ali has fled. The search is now on for a more pliable dictator in Tunisia – a “benevolent strongman” as the news agencies like to call these ghastly men.


Today’s Catch

The New Republic: The Paragon: Washington: A Life

TNR reviews a new book profiling George Washington’s human side…

Throughout his life, Washington struggled to discipline his passions in search of perfect self-control. Determined to impress people, he cultivated a distant majesty and stoicism that revealed little, while slowly taking the certain measure of others. “Be courteous to all but intimate with few,” he advised a nephew. A Continental Army officer noted that “the dignity of his presence, large and manly, increased by [a] steady, firm, and grave countenance and an unusual share of reserve, forbidding all familiarity, excited no little reverence in his presence.” By mastering self-control in public, Washington became revered by thousands, but he was truly known by almost no one, save perhaps Martha. Unwilling to let down his guard, he made only one other close friend—Henry Knox, a fellow general—and eventually would cast even him aside. By perfecting his reserve, Washington paid a chilling price in suppressed emotions (until they occasionally erupted) and in a lack of consoling bonds with others. In duty to us, he made himself the loneliest of men.

The Guardian UK: Experience: I Lived With Wolves

This just deserved posting.

After a year or two of working for the centre and getting to know the area – a rugged, mountainous landscape covered in forest – I moved to the wild. The first time I got up close to a wolf, within around 30 metres, any fear I had quickly turned to respect. I stayed in a den area, a remote spot where wolves look after their young, and very soon one pack began to trust me. I lived with them day and night, and from the start they accepted me into their group. I ate what they ate, mostly raw deer and elk, which they would often bring back for me, or fruit and berries. I never fell ill and my body adapted quickly to its new diet. It’s easy to look back and think, “What horrible food”, but when you haven’t eaten for a week, it looks appetising.

I was only ever truly scared on two occasions: once, when all the wolves were feeding, I ate the wrong piece of meat – there is a strict hierarchy of who eats what part of an animal – and one of the wolves leapt on me in seconds because of my mistake. He took my entire face in his mouth and started to squeeze hard. I could feel the bones in my jaw begin to bend, and in that split-second I realised how vulnerable I was and how restrained they were most of the time.

The other time, I wanted to get a drink from the stream and one of the wolves stopped me dead in my tracks, growling, snarling and nipping me. I thought, “This is the end, he’s going to finish me off.” An hour or so later, he started to lick my face and we both went to the stream for a drink. There I saw evidence of recent bear tracks and droppings, and I realised this was why he guarded me. I would almost certainly have been killed but, more importantly, my tracks would have led back to their young, so it was for their protection.

Gawker: JFK’s Unimpressive Harvard Application

The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a “harvard man” is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.

April 23, 1935
John F. Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy wrote a letter to the dean before his son enrolled in 1936, after stints at the London School of Economics and Princeton. Apparently Joe’s strategy was one of brutal honesty:

Jack has a very brilliant mind for the things in which he is interested, but is careless and lacks application in those in which he is not interested. This is, of course, a bad fault.

Vanity Fair: Climate Change the Real Cause of Roman Empire’s Fall (i.e. We’re Next)

A new study by climatologist Ulf Buntgen of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape research has shown an intriguing, if not insidious, correlation between a pronounced period of climate change in Europe, and the fall of the seemingly unconquerable Roman Empire. As reported in New Scientist, by analyzing almost 9,000 ring samples from a variety of tree species, Buntgen was able to reconstruct a record of important climactic details like annual rainfall and average temperatures, and to connect these patterns with an era of mass migration and social unrest, one that ultimately ended in the dissolution of one of history’s largest dynasties.

Gawker: The Beautiful Decay of New York’s Forgotten Island

Why I love ruins…

And finally… What Happens When You Slow Down The Jurassic Park Theme by 90 Percent?
Jurassic Park Theme (1000% Slower) by birdfeeder