Monday, December 31, 2012

The Popeil Pocket Fisherman and the Croc

One joyful assignment in my long career consisted of three rather pleasant years in Panama. Because of the long historical association between the United States and Panama, that country is one of the easiest in the world for Americans to visit. The Panamanians are used to Americans; most Panamanians seem to have relatives in the States; and those of a certain financial status make a habit of week-end shopping trips in Miami. In fact, on my own visits to Miami I was struck by how many Panamanian friends I encountered on the streets, in the bars, and the malls. I found Panama and Miami to have great similarities; the biggest difference being that more English is spoken in Panama.

One of the joys of living and working in Panama consisted of fishing Gatun Lake, one of the main sources of water for the fabulous Panama Canal--visiting the Canal should be on every American's "bucket list." On many weekends, a couple of friends or the kids and I would drive over to the lakeside and rent a boat with a guide and bait for an all-day fishing trip on Gatun. It would cost about $20 then and was the best $20 I ever spent. Although a lousy fisherman, even I would come back every time with several large bass which the guide would clean and filet. It was heaven.

The lake had a wide variety of wildlife in addition to fish. Besides any number of bird species, it had manatees and, my favorites, alligators and crocodiles, one of the few places on earth where both exist--another similarity with Florida. These were big monsters, very well fed on the abundant fish in the lake. It was a humbling experience to see these guys following your boat just waiting for a snack.

One fine Saturday a couple of buddies from the Embassy and I headed off for a day of fishing. We had fun, caught lots of fish, and after about four hours decided to call it a day. One of my friends, we will call him Fred, had brought along a Popeil Pocket Fisherman. He decided to try it out as we headed back. He cast out behind our slow moving boat and within seconds had a hit from a good size Gatun Peacock Bass. He began happily reeling in his catch when (insert Jaws theme here, please) a ripple in the water moved quickly towards the struggling fish. A splash. A brief glimpse of a large tetrapod head. Shouts from the guide of "Crocodile!" The fishing line seemed to go straight down and spool out quickly, and then stop. The guide shut the engine off. Fred sat there staring at his Popeil and at the water. One of us shouted out the always helpful, "Holy crap!"

My friend and fellow FSO did what any dedicated fisherman would do: Fred began cranking away on his Popeil. The guide likewise did what any dedicated guide would do: He began shouting, "No! No!" or maybe, "¡No! ¡No!"-- I don't remember which language he used.

I kept thinking this is analogous to the question raised when one sees a dog chasing a bus: What does he do if he catches it?

After a few seconds, my other friend verbalized my doubts, "Uh, Fred, what are you going to do if you reel that thing in? Put him in the boat?" Back came the indignant reply, "But that s.o.b. took my fish!"

Here, ladies and gentlemen, lies the moral of the story. Hours on a lake in the hot sun with only beer and salty chips for sustenance can impede the judgment process. While I consider myself an Old Testament sort of guy who believes in meting out swift justice to transgressors, I was willing, in this case, to cut the croc some slack, and let him go with a stern warning. Fred, however, wanted justice.

We, fortunately, did not have to resolve our different views of justice. The Pocket Fisherman, with all due respect to Mr. Popeil and Ronco, was not built for tangling with a Gatun croc. Snap! Half the gadget disappeared into the water along with several feet of line.

Somewhere in magnificent Lake Gatun, a croc trails half a Pocket Fisherman. I watch the nature shows in the hope that one day Jack Hanna or another intrepid host will find that croc. I stand ready to explain the whole thing.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

CAR Redux

The press reports that amid growing unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), the US has evacuated our Embassy in Bangui. The mention of the Central African Republic has triggered a long-suppressed memory with which I will now bore the six regular readers of this blog.

I worked at State's Political-Military bureau in an office that handled international peacekeeping, demining, and non-combatant evacuations. We, in other words, had as one of our duties to get American citizens out of harm's way when a country began to implode. Much of our business, as you might expect, involved Africa, and working with the very poorly run and staffed African Affairs bureau at State. This bureau, at least then, even more than the Western Hemisphere bureau, served as a dumping ground for low quality FSOs, former Peace Corps volunteers, and struggling AID officers, apparently in the belief that they could do little damage to US interests. It also served as a bastion of ultra-liberal Democrats who believed that enormous quantities of aid to Africa should comprise the focus of US international policies. Anyhow, in sum, we all dreaded working with the Africa bureau.

My office had about two dozen persons, almost evenly split between military and FSOs, with one or two civil servants thrown in. I had charge of the civilian side of the office, and a superb Army colonel ran the military side. We got along very well, sharing a sense of humor and of the absurd. He was a combat veteran, very smart, well-read, hard working, and unlike many other military officers assigned to State, seemed to enjoy working with FSOs.

Back to today's story. CAR military units had launched a coup against the President in Bangui. I don't remember the details, but there was a "southerner" vs. "northerner" split and a fight over government hand-outs, jobs, and other spoils. The situation in Bangui became chaotic. As usual, of course, up to the moment everything collapsed, our Embassy had reported happy thoughts, and had tried to make CAR the focus of US policy in Africa, arguing that its timber, water, and mineral resources made CAR a "powerhouse." As it turned out, that "powerhouse" couldn't recharge a single 9V battery. The streets filled with rebel soldiers hunting the President, ensconced in his palace with some loyal troops.

About our Embassy in Bangui. Months before the coup attempt, some bean counters had decided to terminate the US marine guard detail there and at several other smaller embassies. The Pentagon, likewise, assigned no permanent Defense Attache, and we had no presence of the agencies with no names. The much ballyhooed Clinton "budget surpluses" had come about by stripping our national defenses. Our office proposed closing the embassy in CAR among several others noting that otherwise we merely provided would-be terrorists and kidnappers easy victims. For reasons of political correctness our suggestion to close several African posts did not prosper.

So, of course, precisely in countries where we faced significant threats, we had no security of our own, and depended entirely on local forces. In CAR we could not count on those local forces to do the right thing. The Embassy's defense consisted of walls, barbed wire, and a few dusty shotguns left behind by the last Marine security detachment. To add to the weirdness, we had an Ambassador, a former USAID officer, who spoke no French; as soon as the situation went belly-up, she completely froze. Effective control of the Embassy passed to the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), an African-American woman who spoke almost no French, had a visceral hatred of European men, and, I suspected, held ardent racist views. The rest of the staff consisted mostly of young women officers and, as I remember it, one first-tour male FSO who got made honorary security officer. Only a couple of them had passable French. This embassy was a disaster which did not have long to wait to happen.

When the coup attempt got underway, the DCM contacted the President of CAR, through an interpreter. She had a bizarre conversation in which she asked for his help protecting the Embassy, and he asked her help protecting the Presidential palace. Unfortunately for the DCM, some poor junior officer wrote up the conversation very accurately. The cable went to Washington with a comment at the end by the DCM boasting about how she had gotten the CAR government to protect the Embassy, completely ignoring the President's request for the Embassy to protect him. The DCM, clearly, had not read the text before it went out. Back at State and the Pentagon we all had a good laugh over this message; we, however, could not laugh openly for reasons of political correctness. It proved only the beginning of the nonsense to come out of the Embassy.

Since the top two people had little to no French, they ended up making several calls a day to the poor German ambassador who spoke French as well as English. Trapped inside his tiny Embassy in a downtown office building, he could tell the two frantic American women almost nothing about events on the street. That did not prevent them from sending in long, pointless cables reporting their conversations with der deutsche Botschafter. Those messages also produced quiet snickering as they essentially reported the German saying politely but repeatedly, "I don't know what is happening. I am trapped in my office. I need help."

Re the issue of help. The White House hesitated to intervene, afraid of becoming embroiled in CAR's bizarre domestic politics. Our policy became one of urging the French, the former colonial power there, to intervene in the name of aiding the stuck foreigners. The French also proved reluctant, as it would--and did, eventually--undermine the CAR President if the French saved him. While the US and France dithered, the situation grew more weird in Bangui, and our embassy became unhinged. The cables came in thick and fast: each more odd than the last. I cannot forget one in which the hapless "deputized" security officer tried to provide military sounding analysis of the situation. He wrote that the rebels had placed a "howitzer on a jeep and surrounded the Embassy with it." Lots of snickering and laughter over that one. In addition, "vast amounts of unspent fired ammunition" littered the grounds outside the Embassy walls. Guffaws.

The Colonel and I agreed we had to do something. He phoned the DCM. The ensuing conversation sounded like an old Bob Newhart phone skit.

"You can't have everybody up 24 hours a day. You have to make a schedule. Get a pencil and one of those yellow paper legal pads and . . . what? Yes, yes . . . a pen and white paper will work, too . . .."

"No, 1900 hours is not nine o'clock. I suggest you skip using military time or GMT and just give us the local time in am and pm, and we will figure it out . . .."

"No, I don't think your shotgun is a 12 mm; it's probably a 12 gauge . . . I suggest you leave the shotguns alone."

The French finally agreed to intervene. They sent the Foreign Legion, a pretty competent outfit with a rough reputation that strikes terror into the hearts of the African military. The French quickly began re-establishing order.

Our DCM launched repeated requests for the French to protect the US Embassy. We asked the French please, send somebody to check the situation at the Embassy. The French, again, proved reluctant, saying they sought to stabilize the situation in Bangui, and did not have the resources for special security for the US Embassy. In the end, however, they agreed and sent a small unit under the command of an English-speaking French officer.

Our DCM promptly sent a cable proudly reporting how she had prevented the Legionnaires from entering the Embassy compound. This led to a major blow up with the French in Washington. I remember a meeting with a French military attache at the Pentagon in which he vented his anger and frustration over the "idiots" at our Embassy. I found it hard to disagree.

Anyhow, the French "saved" CAR's President, for a while, and our Embassy people came home alive and well. The Ambassador and the DCM, of course, wrote themselves up for all sorts of awards.  Nobody dared say the truth.

My cynicism, for some reason, grew exponentially after that experience.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Cliff

Despite my attempts to boycott the news for as long as possible, I have been unsuccessful at avoiding all the nonsense being thrown at us about "the fiscal cliff." That is code for "You better agree to huge tax increases or else . .  . there will be huge tax increases." The projected cuts to most government services are risible; they are "cuts" to projected increases. The one Department taking it on the chin, however, is the Pentagon--the one thing the government is supposed to do, i.e., protect us, is being sacrificed so it can do all sorts of things it is not supposed to do.

My humble suggestion for the flailing GOP, here it comes: DO NOTHING.

Adopt the Obama tactic, and announce it as such, of voting "PRESENT." Sit on your hands. There are going to be tax increases whether you oppose them or not. Let the Dems suddenly realize they are to be the sole producers of the great 2013 bomb. Watch them scramble and weave and dodge . . . and begin to fight among themselves. Keep your powder dry until 2014.

UPDATE: I left out my one proposed positive action: offer an "extra special" tax on Hollywood actors and studios. Any actor, director, producer, screenwriter, etc. who makes more than one million dollars on a movie, must pay an additional 25%; any studio that makes movies overseas to avoid US taxes and union wages, and take advantage of foreign subsidies, must pay an extra 25% on its GROSS. I am sure the Hollywood crowd would be very appreciative of the opportunity to contribute more to society.

Back to my boycott.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back to Benghazi

I had delayed writing more about the Benghazi scandal as the whole topic makes me sick to my stomach, head, heart, toes, and soul. As you all know, State's Accountability Review Board (ARB) report came out a few days ago.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

The ARB was headed by former Ambassador Pickering, an honorable but very much an inside the beltway man. The report is predictable; it found "performance inadequacies," and was appropriately critical of certain mid-level bureaucratic decisions when it came to security and interpretation of the intelligence.

Yeah, yeah, yawn.

Some key words, however, were missing from the report: words such as "delusional foreign policy," Barack Obama, Leon Panetta, and, oh what's that other name? You know the one "in charge" of State? The invisible SecState. Dang. I can never recall her name. You know the Whitewater fraudster . . . it'll come to me, I am sure.

I am glad also to report that I won my bet with a former colleague on the Benghazi fiasco. I bet him that nobody would be forced to resign: that would be the price of the truce between Foggy Bottom and Chicago. "You don't fire us Foggy Bottom sorts, and we don't go public with how cretinous a foreign policy you Chicagoans have instituted. Deal? Deal."

The initial reports indicated I might have lost the bet, as supposedly four State officials either were forced to resign or dismissed . . . yeah, right. My colleague called to collect on his bet; I delayed paying as I was skeptical of the initial reports. Then  SUDDENLY the truth came out. Nobody had been axed! It was all a three card monte game with no money card on the table.

I will go out further on the limb. Once even the little dust created by the scandal has dissipated, the four bureaucrats asked to take the mini-spear for Chicago will--mark my words--get monetary awards. They will be written up for showing courage and fortitude under difficult circumstances. The senior people will evade all responsibility; ol' whats-her-name will slip out of the building and leave her desk to John "Xmas in Cambodia" Kerry, the dead will be forgotten, the Islamist Morlocks will lick their fingers and get ready for another helping of Eloi.

Move along, there's nothing to see here.

Which way to the US Embassy?



Remembering Another Boxing Day: December 26, 2004

Much of the world knows the day after Christmas as Boxing Day. Why? Many explanations exist and you can look them up on the big wide wonderful world of the web, but it seems, as with so much  else, our British cousins get the credit for extending this holiday around the world. Boxing Day seems not to have survived well in North America, a bit in Canada where it provides an excuse for "50% off everything sales!", and not at all in the USA. In much of the other former British colonies, it has hung on and provides an excuse for another holiday.

I ramble on about this because this was the topic of conversation I was having with the Danish Ambassador at his very pleasant residence in Jakarta on December 26, 2004, when my cellphone went off. As I have written before, it is not a good sign to get called at 3 am or on your day off: rarely will you get a call from the Nobel Prize Committee, the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes, or a solicitor relaying that your long lost cousin in Australia died and left you as sole inheritor of the world's biggest sheep ranch. This call kept to the rule. It came from the Deputy USAID Director in Jakarta; he could not get in touch with our people in Sumatra, and had seen reports of a large earthquake, maybe over a 7.0. I remember saying, "That's a tsunami risk. Call the folks in Hawaii at the US Geological Service and see what they have to say."  He called back about ten or fifteen minutes later to say that the USGS estimated the earthquake at least an 8.0 and probably higher (eventually, it came in at over 9.0). They were issuing a tsunami warning to the Pacific Region.

In my previous incarnation as Diplomad 1.0, I wrote a great deal about what came after that seismic jolt. Those days and events have stayed with me since then. What stayed was not just the massive and breath-taking destruction that I saw in Banda Aceh and elsewhere on Sumatra. For me, the reaction to the earthquake demonstrated the fallacy of the cultural relativists. The aid to the victims came overwhelmingly and most quickly from Western, yes, Christian countries. The USA, Australia, UK, and Canada led the pack in providing assistance to the battered Muslims of Sumatra. I will never forget New Year's eve that year, coming out of the embassy at 2 am, working on getting assistance to the victims, and seeing Jakarta partying "like it was 1999." Foreigners, Western foreigners, were by far the most concerned about events in Sumatra and the most willing to do something about it.

The US and Australian military were absolutely superb in moving quickly and effectively to save thousands of lives in a massive relief operation. Let's give credit where credit is due: the Aussie C-130s were the first into Banda Aceh and did a great job throughout the relief effort. Remember this was about three months after a one-ton car bomb had been set off in front of the Australian embassy in Jakarta. Muslim terrorists had tried to kill the Australian embassy staff, and three months later that same staff sought to save Muslim lives. The UN, despite receiving huge amounts of donations, was spectacularly ineffective, and had the people of Banda Aceh had to wait on the UN, tens-of-thousands more of them would have died.

The much-reviled George Bush and John Howard were the heroes of the day, leading the relief effort and challenging the UN and the rest of the world to meet the standard set by the US and Australia.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Leaving Las Vegas, and a Lesson Learned From The One

About to hit the road back to SoCal after a few rather pleasant days in a chilly but fun Las Vegas.

I know I had vowed not even to think about the man re-elected as President last November. I broke that promise but in a good cause, and one thing I have learned from the left over the past decades is that it's the ends that count. Everything and everyone is merely a prop for some political objective. Poor Bolivian Indians . . . great, an opportunity to bash international corporations, capitalism, and the USA. Dead white kids in a school . . . great, an opportunity to undermine the second amendment and that hideously embarrassing Red Neck "gun culture." Dead black or hispanic kids on the streets of Chicago and LA . . . great, an opportunity to blame it on gun owners in Virginia and Florida. Need to "prove" American gun stores supply the cartels? No problem, set up a government program to ship thousands of guns to Mexican criminals and watch the body count rise! Those Mexican kids are being murdered for a good cause!

While gambling, I noticed very large numbers of Asian gamblers. I took a lesson from The One Who Vacations in Hawaii. Every time I made a bad bet, I got Chinese or Japanese tourists to loan me the money to cover it; in exchange, I gave them a worthless piece of paper promising to "pay" some time in the future. I figure if it works for the Feds it should work for me . . .

Got to get out of the hotel before all those tourists start comparing notes and figure out I will never pay them back . . . heading for the exit, hoping the valet has the Expedition running . . .

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fruit of the Gloom

Using my IPhone while sitting in a Vegas casino.

Hit a Royal Flush on the video machine.

Yep.

Of course, it was on the nickel machine, and pay off was 4000 nickels.

Better than nothing, but I hope Obama's IRS doesn't find out. I understand they need every penny out there to pay for those Hawaii vacations.

Despite my "windfall," I can't shake my gloom when it comes to thinking about the future of our country.

Back to the machine.

Proof of my prowess on the nickel poker machine.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Vegas Bound

The world did not end so I changed the oil, bought new tires, and had the Ford dealer tune up the old Expedition.

We are off to Las Vegas tomorrow.

For a bit, blogging will be as light as my wallet after a few days in that desert oasis.

I like Vegas a lot. I love being able to walk from New York to Venice, stopping off on the way in Paris. What I particularly like about the fake Paris is that the people there smile at you, they take dollars, and nobody pees against a wall. Sometimes authenticity is overrated. As long as we have taken the path to becoming Europe, I might as well see it as I want it to be. My wife, who comes from Europe, has a slightly different take. She keeps saying, "I left Europe to live in America. If America is going to become Europe, I might as well go back. The coffee is better there."

I hope while in Vegas not to think once about President Obama; I am sure that while he vacations in Hawaii he won't think about me. He, nevertheless, could spare me a thought or two as, after all, I am helping pay for his vacation; I don't ask him to pay for mine. I just ask him for the favor of leaving me some of my own money to gamble and drink away as I see fit.

If I have any money left, when I get back to Miami next month, I am going to buy either a Ruger, a Colt, or another Kimber. I buy American guns and cars. I am just that way. A Corvette just doesn't go with a Glock.

Speaking of guns, while getting ready to go to Vegas, I visited my local bank here in California, and guess what? The bank had an armed guard! How about that? Institutions, e.g., banks, museums, jewelry stores, courthouses, Congress, the White House, put armed guards wherever there are valuables to protect. So I guess that's why we don't have them at schools . . . nothing valuable there, right?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End of the World and Other Trivial Issues

Might be my last post.

I see that per the Mayans the world ends December 21. Time to load up that credit card, and eat all those high cholesterol snacks in the fridge. If I am heading into the apocalypse, might as well do it with a bowl of pork rinds, a sizzling rib eye, and a baked potato with all the trimmings.

It goes without saying, of course, that we should heed the Mayans because they have such a successful, thriving culture that has contributed so much to our modern world. They wrote the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights; were the first on the moon; wrote magnificent symphonies; cured rabies and polio; discovered penicillin; invented the printing press, the airplane, the helicopter, the telephone, the camera, the computer, the Popeil pocket fisherman, and, of course, the internet, and . . . oh, wait, maybe I have them confused with somebody else. But that doesn't matter, aren't all cultures equal? Isn't that what our dopey students get taught by their dopey professors? Can people with COLLEGE DEGREES be wrong about the worth of Mayan culture? Cannot be, cannot be . . ..

Let's give this to the Mayans. They might not have nailed the exact date for the end of the world, but weren't too far off on the date for the end of our world, you know, that quaint old world in which individual freedom, responsibility, and initiative were prized and exalted. I'd say that date was, more or less, November 6. A Tuesday, I believe. That was the date that the greatest country that has ever existed made it official: it no longer wanted to be great. It preferred to live in a world of illusion, governed by crooks, liars, mountebanks, and hustlers. In other words, the spirit of Chicago City Hall defeated that of Faneuil Hall.

It is about to start raining, but, so what? My gas grill will still fire up those steaks . . . might light a cigar, too. I am even thinking of driving around the neighborhood without wearing my seatbelt, and my shoe laces undone, while playing with a pair of scissors, and texting. A certain freedom comes with the end.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Shootings in Newtown

I have been reluctant to write about the horror in Newtown. What could I possibly contribute to the discussion? Watching, however, the media cover the issue, and the grandstanding by politicians high and low, I might as well add my voice to the mix.

A note of caution. When dealing with events such as the Newtown shootings always remember that much of the initial reporting and analysis will prove wrong, woefully wrong. It can take days or weeks to correct the record; very often it never does, and the first inaccurate reports leave impressions on readers and policy makers.

As a father of four children, I can imagine the pain felt by those parents when notified that a creep with some grievance against the world had murdered their kindergarten-aged children. Nothing anybody says or does will soften that pain. That hard cruel fact comprises one of the points of this post. Let's stop the maudlin rituals such events demand in our age of phony outrage and mass Hallmark card sentimentality: I don't want to sound harsh, but enough with balloons, flowers, ribbons, teddy bears, "heart" signs, and candlelight vigils. Grief is a private affair, particularly when not about some great cause or issue. These kids were not heroes in some ennobling effort; they were little children murdered at school by a degenerate son of an increasingly degenerate culture. Focus on that.

Obama. OK, to my chagrin, he's President, and modern Presidents see themselves as consolers, grief counselors, and dispensers of teary hokum. But this one, really? This one talking about gun violence? This is the President who to make political points against the NRA and those who defend the second amendment had his administration ship thousands of weapons to some of the most violent and best organized criminals on the planet, the Mexican drug cartels. He sought to blame the violence in Mexico on Americans' right to keep and bear arms. The result? At least two dead US agents and hundreds of dead Mexicans, including teenagers and children. Yes, children. Children with parents who grieve as much as the parents in Newtown do. The grieving American parents, however, know that the man responsible for their children's murders is dead; the grieving Mexican parents, on the other hand, know that the man responsible for their children's murders got re-elected to a second term as President of the United States--in large part thanks to the votes of Mexicans in the US. It seems that the lives of Mexicans only count when they emigrate to the US and vote Democrat.

Now we have another outburst of media and elite rage against gun ownership. You all know the stupid and inaccurate things said about guns by people who do not know the difference between automatic and semi-automatic weapons, love to throw about terms such as "Assault Rifle," seem unaware of the voluminous gun legislation already in existence, and want to take guns precisely from the people who do not shoot up malls and schools and do not commit murder. They want vast new powers for the government and a "war on guns," which will prove as successful as the war on alcohol of the 1920s and the current war on drugs. We hear calls for a national discussion on guns and violence. We have had that discussion many times, in fact, have had it on these shores for some 400 years. Americans consistently support the right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, a right enshrined in our Bill of Rights. Along with the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, petition, and to be safe in one's person and property, the right of the citizen to bear arms serves to limit the power of the government. In this nation loyalty to ideas and ideals, comes before loyalty to government, something our elites forget, ignore, or simply do not understand.

Schools. Have you visited a public school lately and seen on what it spends their our money? The typical public school is stuffed with staff, overmanned by counselors of various types, multiple vice-principals, deans, etc. Money gets spent on teacher "planning days" and retreats. Yet schools have no money for trained armed guards? Cut one counselor position and hire a retired or off-duty cop, or a well-trained former MP or SEAL. Is it not possible to control the comings and goings of non-school personnel on campus during school hours? On college campuses put an end to "gun free" zones. Do maniacs intent on mass murder honor signs prohibiting guns?

And what of our great governing cultural elite? Do Hollywood, the media and, of course, the massive liberal assault on traditional institutions and values bear no responsibility for these acts of mass carnage?  The other day my kids had one of the "Batman" movies on Amazon or Netflix. What a dark and degenerate piece of garbage! And that is not the worst. On prime time TV and video games one can watch and interact with a steady succession of scenes portraying for entertainment purposes the most horrid acts imaginable: explicit enactments of murder, rape, and convoluted torture which make you wonder about the mental state of the writers, producers, directors, and actors involved. Relentless hour-after-hour pounding on the brain and imagination of young people by such images must have an effect. I refuse to think otherwise.

Traditional institutions, such as marriage, churches, synagogues, businesses, or old fashioned educational establishments get ridiculed, maligned, and held up as hypocritical centers of oppression and violence. As a result of this concerted assault throughout the Western world, not just in the US, we see hordes of one-parent, poorly educated, deracinated youths with minds full of repellent images and living with no sense of limits or responsibility to others.

We created this world. Our children pay the price.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Flying Cobra? You May Keep Him if You Wish.

A bright Pakistani morning.

Standing in the driveway of our residence in Islamabad, talking to one of the servants, Sol, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. More accurately said, I saw a brown blur. It appeared briefly in the air over the ten-foot stone wall in a far corner of the immense front yard and then disappeared into the shrubbery.

"What was that?" I asked. Sol turned but didn't see anything. The bell at the front gate began ringing.

"Sol, please answer the gate. I will go see what came over the wall."

Sol went to the gate, and an animated conversation ensued. I, meanwhile, began walking across the lawn to the bush-filled corner where I thought the blur had landed.

"Sir," Sol yelled. "Don't go there! The cobra catcher says we have a cobra in the yard!"

Few words stop me in my tracks. After years in South Asia, however, "cobra," does. I froze for a few seconds, then headed to the gate to join Sol and company. The cobra catcher and his assistant smiled.

In poor Urdu I said, "How do you know we have a cobra?"

"It is my profession."

"You threw him into the yard, didn't you?"

He replied something, and Sol said to me, "He says he does not speak Urdu well. He speaks Hindko Punjabi. It is tough for me to understand him. I think he says, however, that cobras can jump over the wall."

"I see. Now he doesn't understand. Cobras can jump over a three meter wall?"

Sol relayed my skepticism to the catcher, who smiled and replied with great equanimity in English, "Sir, they can jump to great heights, almost flying. You, sir, may keep the cobra if you wish. I do not object." He and his associate, who had a burlap bag, began to leave.

Here I stood, another of Kipling's fools "who thought he could hustle the East." Either let the cobra catcher run his scam, or have a cobra slithering in the yard where my two kids play.

I don't like getting conned, but at certain times must endure it. Taking a deep breath, debating silently whether to get the Remington 870 from the house and take care of the problem myself, I uttered the fateful words of Western surrender to pirates, words Thomas Jefferson would not have approved, "How much to get rid of the cobra?"

"Only twenty rupees," he said in now excellent Urdu. With a sum then equal to about two dollars, I just had a price put on my dignity.

"OK."  Thomas Jefferson, please forgive me. "Get the cobra."

The barefoot snake men ran without hesitation to the corner of the yard. While the head catcher shouted instructions, his assistant poked around with a short stick he had taken out of the bag. The cry of victory rang out! The assistant reached into the bushes and pulled out about three or four feet of cobra. I am no expert, but the thing did not look lively or well. He thrust the poor reptile into the bag, and they began to leave. The chief cobra catcher stopping to hold out his hand for the ransom. My inner Westerner, however, could not leave well enough alone.

"I paid you to kill the cobra. Kill it."

"We will do so outside, away from your eyes. It is not a pleasant sight."

"I can take it. Sol, get a shovel so our friends can kill the cobra here."

"No, no," the cobra catcher insisted. With a slight smile, and in a mix of English and Urdu, he added,"It is a difficult procedure. The dangerous snake might escape and pose a threat to you and your family. I do not wish to be responsible."

I paid the two bucks.

The two men walked out of the yard and down the street . . . to the next foreigner's house.

That cobra had a lot more flying to do that day.

WLA

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Meeting the Inventor of the Time Machine

My son today reminded me of a story from my days in Guyana. It is short, don't worry. With no great moral or account of derring-do in the great Far Abroad, it relates a little tale about an odd character--and how sometimes a joke doesn't work.

As mentioned before, my first year in Guyana found me manning the visa counter in the barn-like consular annex we then had on Main Street, Georgetown. People desperately wanted to get out of the country, and head somewhere with more possibilities for them and their children. The top three destination choices for Guyanese, in no particular order, consisted of Canada, the UK, and the USA. People tried all sorts of strategies to get tourist, student, or business visas, and then stay, playing the odds that the immigration services of those countries rarely deported anybody. People had all manner of stories and crazy documentation, and made bribe offers of various types--I got offered on one occasion $5,000 for a transit visa (I did not accept it). As a rule, you tried not to listen too much to the story told. You tried not to get pulled into whatever fantasy world the applicant created. You remained aloof, listened politely, most of the time knowing that you would say, "No."

Some stories, however, linger in the memory.

One that stayed with me involved an American expatriate who had lived in Guyana for decades. First, a word on expats. In some countries, American expats prove very troublesome. They often have no good reason to live in certain places, and, in my experience, do so for reasons having to do with escaping alimony payments, dodging imprisonment, engaging in debauchery with minors, or a combination thereof. I did not always find this the case, mind you, but frequently enough. In Guyana, we had a few American expats, such as a well-known felon who had fled Ohio, established a "church" (I don't mean Jim Jones) and ran a goon squad that worked at the behest of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. This expat thug would drive around Georgetown in an enormous convertible Cadillac. He also had a daily radio show, the thirty-minute long "Hour of Power"--yes, you read that correctly.

Back to the expat in today's tale. He had arrived in old British Guiana prior to World War II to prospect for gold. He had a succession of Guyanese "wives," and never felt the need to return to the USA. He appeared at the consular section every few years to get his passport renewed, and then disappeared into the hinterland. He looked remarkably like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, so let's call him "Colonel."

One fine warm day, the elderly Colonel showed up with a couple of Guyanese, a woman and a man. He came to my little notch at the counter and presented a huge packet of documentation. With money made gold prospecting, he said, he had formed a "Time Machine Company," duly registered in Guyana. Impressed by the extensive and colorful documentation, I violated the rule against getting into stories, and asked about his company. He claimed to have invented and built a working time machine--he produced complicated "technical drawings"--and that the two Guyanese had become his business partners. He needed them to receive US visas and go to New York to find additional investors and buy a few spare parts. I asked why he didn't go; as an American citizen he could travel there freely. "I am too old to travel," he said. He wanted his younger Guyanese partners to go in his stead.

After reviewing their applications, I, of course, refused to issue the two of them visas. They had no discernible ties to Guyana, other than their link to the "Time Machine Company." No reasonable expectation existed that they would return to Guyana.

The two Guyanese took my refusal well, apparently expecting it. The Colonel, however, seemed distressed. He asked what we could do to change the decision, and began fumbling with his wallet. "Stop," I said, "Do not offer me money or I will have to report you. If you want visas for your associates, I suggest you come back yesterday when I am not on duty." He stared at me in befuddlement. I thought for sure that the inventor of the time machine would understand my useful suggestion.

At the request of the Diplowife, I did not give up my day job to do stand-up comedy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Consequence of November 6

One of the benefits of belonging to the Foreign Service consisted of getting my insurance and credit cards through USAA, one of the best-run companies in the US, and which gives great customer service. They recruit genuinely decent and competent people who answer the phones, seem pleased you called, and try to help with whatever problem you might have. Every company should run like USAA.

After that little uncompensated advert, I get  to the subject of this post.

Earlier today while listlessly checking my credit card and other financial info on USAA's website, I noticed a little piece titled "8 Tax Changes That Could Affect You in 2013." I generally don't read those things, but for some reason I did this time. Written as a simple, neutral guide to USAA members for dealing with taxes in 2013, it provides a scathing indictment of what Obama voters wrought last November 6.
"If President Obama and the House and Senate don't collaborate to extend expiring tax rate provisions by Dec. 31, Americans face a $500 billion tax increase in 2013, according to the Tax Foundation. <...>
Today, capital gains and dividends are taxed at a maximum rate of 15%. Without intervention by Congress, the top rate on capital gains will rise to 20%, while dividends will be taxed at the same rate as ordinary income. Also, due to a provision of the Affordable Care Act that takes effect Jan. 1, taxpayers with income exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) would pay even higher effective rates, with a new 3.8% Medicare tax on certain net investment income stacked on top of the higher income tax. <...>
Barring intervention, a lower $1 million estate tax exemption (down from more than $5 million for 2012) will expose many more families to the tax, and the maximum rate will soar from 35% to 55%. <...>
Individuals' share of their Social Security taxes would jump from the temporary 4.2% to 6.2%; the FICA portion of the self-employment tax rate would rise from 10.4% to 12.4%. <...>
Deductions for state and local sales taxes, higher education and teachers' classroom supplies would vanish. <...>"
And on and on and on, describing a government poised to reach ever deeper into your pocket. To what end? Nobody can say. This will have no positive effect on the deficit or the debt, and likely will negatively affect the economy.

Lost in all the discussion is the growing "right" of the government to claim our incomes and wealth as the government's piggy bank, even as its property. The Constitution provides one major task to the government, defense of the nation. Almost all the rest of the functions assumed by the government are, at best, "optional." They result from the growing divide between voters and taxpayers, between takers and makers.

Got to stop blogging now, I see the exit sign for Greece coming up on the left . . .

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sorry, A Re-Run

I will work on some new stuff, but am in a deep, deep funk over everything that is happening to our country. Labor thugs on the street in Michigan a la Britain 1970s; endless discussions about how to raise taxes instead of cutting government expenditures; the boundless cynicism of this misadministration and the ineffectiveness of the GOP opposition; the steady collapse of our economy at home and our power overseas . . .  it is all too much.

Anyhow, here is something from about 18 months ago which millions hundreds-of-thousands thousands hundreds dozens tens several two readers asked me to re-run. Hope it brings a smile.

THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2011
ACROSS THE RIVER

At last! After more than a third of a century of unremarkable diplomatic duty, Frank W. Jones had a plum assignment: his last before retirement and some 30 additional years of regaling glassy-eyed neighbors with tales of life abroad. Working without complaint in countries of no interest to Washington, he endured hepatitis, hair loss, weight gain, parasites, stupid bosses, lazy subordinates, and a messy divorce. Now, however, he would become DCM, Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Number Two, at the large U.S. Embassy in Gambora, a “tropical paradise,” or so read the State Department's never-updated 15-year-old “Gambora Country Report.”

Disgusted and unable to stomach the Ambassador's nocturnal escapades, and with impeccably bad timing, the prior DCM quit Gambora just days before some unfortunate photos surfaced on the internet and drove the offending Ambassador, himself, out of office. State Department Human Resources was desperately seeking to fill the DCM vacancy, just as Jones in Washington, unassigned, contemplating retirement, and looking for a men’s room, walked past HR’s offices. Steve “I Can Staff Hell” White, a rising HR star, spotted and cornered him. In a faded green hallway, under a flickering neon tube, he poured the sales pitch on a fidgety Jones.

"Two years, three tops. Who knows if the President will name another Ambassador? Frank, you wouldn’t be just DCM. You'd be Chargé! It can’t get better’n that!"

Why, thought Jones, when no modern country speaks it, does State use French to make the simple complex? “Chargé” just means "almost Ambassador" but it does carry an extra ounce of prestige, and after taxes maybe another $400 a month. With that and the 30% “hardship differential” I could cover the divorce settlement and a down payment on a Miami condo.

“OK, deal.”
o

On a bright hot morning like all the others in his eighteen months in Gambora, Chargé Jones sat behind a messy desk in his office on the Embassy’s fifth floor. He held and stared at an “IMMEDIATE” telegram. A few feet away, Glenda, his fifty-something, gum-chewing secretary stood near the large window, watching the gray ocean vomit up and play with driftwood, plastic bags, and other trash on the rocky brown beach below. Impatient for a cigarette, she glanced at her watch and sighed loudly. Before handing it to Jones, she, of course, had read the one paragraph message. It announced that just-confirmed “Ambassador to Gambora Richard Riley has decided for personal reasons not to take up his assignment.” Citing “sources close to Riley,” CNN already had reported that this Powerful Friend of the President had concluded that the joy and honor of serving as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America, the World's Only Superpower, did not make it worth risking His Exalted Wealthy Rump – not even in “paradise.”

One snake can ruin “paradise.” Gambora’s snake had hatched and grown in the verdant but impoverished hill country. Inspired by ancient ethnic grievances against the coastal elite, led by a charismatic, beret-wearing, pipe-smoking, Sartre-spouting, Sorbonne-educated lunatic, and flush with old Soviet-bloc weapons, the rebellion had slid from the hills into the lowlands, inflicting a string of defeats on Gamboran security forces. Soon, a smothering, swallowing violence slithered into the capital. Car bombs, assassinations, disappearances, and kidnappings came as daily fare -- and not just for the poor brown people normally seen dead and dying on easy-to-ignore dinnertime CNN.

Past months had seen the senile President, along with cops, soldiers, journalists, businessmen, tourists, and passers-by peppered with bullets or vaporized in city-rocking blasts. The French Ambassador barely escaped death when gunmen mistook her red Peugeot for the Interior Minister's silver Mercedes and shot the vehicle nearly to pieces. The next day, Madame Ambassador of the Fifth Republic grabbed her three cats and her vegetarian cook and boarded the last Air France flight out of Gambora. The sweaty-palmed Gamboran elite also began heading out: first, their money; then, the wives, kids, and mistresses; and, finally, the men, slipping away on vague “business trips” or “vacations.”

The sad-faced foreign prostitutes disappeared from the casinos and the hotel lobbies. Shuttered stores, empty restaurants, silent discotheques, and half-finished construction projects defined the cityscape. The snarling, acrid traffic jams vanished. The chirping of birds replaced the blaring of klaxons. Rivers ran clear of the effluent once emitted by now-defunct paper mills. Drained of smoke and neon, the night sky revealed Heaven’s majesty. Gambora had become an ecologist’s dream and, thus, of course, not fit for human life.

"He's not coming," said Jones, holding the telegram up. Glenda flew to Frank’s desk, crumpled the sheet in her fist, and lowered her face to within inches of his. Through tobacco-laced breath and clenched teeth she hissed, "That miserable chicken! He won’t come but we stay? I went through this in Liberia! Air France has bailed! KLM and BA will, too! Even Ethiopia Airlines is worried! The Ethi-o-pi-ans are worried! Damn it, order an evacuation!"

Looking down at his desk, fumbling with a pen, Jones muttered, "You know I can’t.”

Glenda straightened up, "Yeah, yeah. I’m going outside for a smoke. See if I can shake this damn nicotine gum!"
o

Six in the evening, heading home, slouched in the back seat of the armored Suburban SUV Jones peered through the distorting bulletproof glass at a dying country. OK, another ten months as Chargé, and I can buy the condo. Damn divorce ripped me off! Stupid ex-wife Alice! Sleeping with a janitor! That Glenda’s another Alice. Gives me no respect! Evacuation? End my career like a chicken? Right! Jeez, this is a butt-ugly city! These people deserve what's happening.

Ringing car phone. “Yeah,” Jones sighed quietly into the receiver.

"Sir, this is the Marine guard, post one. Car bomb went off at the main gate!”

For the next 80 blurry hours, Jones floated on a river of adrenaline and reheated coffee. Calls and telegrams to and from Washington; calls to the Gambora government asking for protection; calls from the Gambora government asking for protection; meetings, discussions. Was the bomb meant for us? Maybe they confused us with an ex-colonial power? Does it really matter? More news: the new President badly wounded; the garish, Soviet-style "Heroes of Independence” monument blown to pieces; an explosion rips through the last commuter ferry, sinking it in the bay; Ethiopia Air cancels operations; British Airways and KLM "suspend service." The capital goes dark for hours at a time. Looting. Gunfire. Arson. The Defense Minister flees. Military units dissolve. Gambora TV runs one episode of "Magnum P.I." over and over. Time to go! Shred documents! Pack gear! Pay off the staff in worthless local scrip; avert their eyes, and mumble, “Don’t worry. We’ll be back.”

The U.S Marines, God’s gift to beleaguered expatriates, arrive.

Three in the morning; temperature in the mid-80s; a 50-vehicle convoy coils in the misty, halogen-lit parking lot, nervously awaiting the long airport run. The Marines’ turtle-like HUMVEES put out a smoky, diesel growl. Jones wearily climbs into his Suburban, pulls shut the heavy armored door and slumps into the rear seat. Darkness. Eyes closed. Soothing throb of the V-8 engine. Hiss of cooling air-conditioning.

Phone rings.

“Hmmm? Jones here.”

"Me, Glenda. I’m with the Air Force guys out at the airport tower, or what’s left of it. A Ms. Wilson’s here, from an animal rights group. Wants to talk to you. I’ll put you on speaker."

"Huh? Wait! How the hell did she get here? Human rights? No time for that! I've got over three hundred Americans to evacuate. We're leaving for the airport! The city's coming apart!" Jones, leaning forward, tells the driver, "Let’s move!"

Shepherded by the HUMVEES, the convoy snakes out of the compound into the dark and gathers speed.

Glenda's raspy voice, "You’re not listening, Frank. Not HUMAN rights! ANIMAL rights! She’s from ‘NOAH'S ARK.’ They saw a BBC piece on abandoned pets in Gambora, and she wants to know what you're going to do. Euro-TV is praising the French Ambassador for saving her cats. Ms. Wilson says nobody will feed or neuter abandoned pets. What's your plan? She’ll ask you herself. Her dad’s the, uh . . ."

"I don’t care about her father! Screw her idiot father! Put her on!"

"Mr. Jones? Sally Wilson from ‘NOAH'S ARK.’"

"You want to know if I have a plan for cats and dogs on the streets? Yeah, I have a plan you stupid fruitcake! Going to open a thousand Chinese restaurants! They'll provide employment AND take care of the cats and dogs! Sweet-and-sour Siamese cat is my favorite! I also like Great Dane spare ribs! Now get back on your broom, you freakin' moron, and get out of here!"

Jones flung the phone on the seat. No sleep for days! Don't know if I'll live to see tomorrow and some ding-dong wants me to worry about pets! Who let her in? Damn it all! No condo, now. No Chargé pay in Washington.

The Suburban’s Motorola crackles: Marines report gunfire coming from roadside shanties. The gunners on the escorting HUMVEES come alive: tracer rounds stitch the snipers' positions. Cobra gunships whir overhead. God bless the Marines! If only everything worked like they do! High above the Cobras, pulled by muffled turboprops, a blacked-out AC-130 "Spectre" gunship bores wide circles in the night sky, its high-tech Gattling gun system tracking every move on the ground. The convoy tears on.

Airport!

Barely visible, squatting on the darkened tarmac four huge cargo jets, screaming engines gulping in wet air and spiting out glassy beams of exhaust. God bless the U.S. taxpayer! God bless the U.S. Air Force! I'll never criticize our military!

Vehicles spew passengers. HUMVEES and Marines fan out across the runway. CNN’s here? How do they do it? If only everything worked as well as CNN! Don't screw up! Millions watching. Earn your last day of Chargé pay.

Jones steps out into the humid night. Young, breathless, sweat-soaked Embassy junior officer, Mr. Charon, meets him. "Frank, Mr. Jones, Air Force won't let us load the brown and black bags over there! Not cleared. Whew! It’s hot! Guess I, uh, we screwed up, and didn't report’em. They say you have to give the OK to the, uh, loadmaster or they only take the cleared white duffel bags!" Jet engines whine higher; in the middle distance, the dull thud of mortar rounds, the sharp crack of AKs. The “Spectre” splits the dark with a white bolt of hot lead. Cobras roar overhead, low and fast into the gloom to administer doses of "Made in USA" firepower to the encroaching rebels. Taking the megaphone from the panting Charon, Jones clambers onto the Suburban’s hot hood. Aglow in CNN’s glare, Jones blares, "This is United States Chargé Frank W. Jones. All get on the planes, not just the white ones; black and brown go with us, too. We don't leave any behind! Black, brown and white all go together! Got it?"
o

Where? Ah, Marriott Hotel, D.C.

Fumbling with the ringing phone, Jones croaks, "Yes?"

"Don't hang up, although God knows I deserve it."

"Uh, Alice?"

"Glenda gave me your number. I’m proud of you. Wonderful speech! It's all over TV. Never thought you'd be like that. You were always, so, well, Republican, right wingy, and all.”

"What? What do you want? The janitor dump you?"

"Yes, I see that your bitterness gives you strength, something to cling to.” Oh God! New Age psychobabble! “I’m sorry if I hurt you, but I had to be true to myself. If you must know, those fascists in Immigration deported Raúl. But, I have a great therapist. I’ll come out a better person. He says you should want that for me out of respect for our years together. If I’d seen the side you showed at the airport, I might not have left. Oh, could you send next month’s alimony early? I need it for my tummy tuck. Bye!"

What’s she yapping about? 11 am! Asleep 12 hours! Let’s see what's on CNN.

" . . . inquiry into the behavior of Air Force personnel in the Gambora evacuation . . ."

Huh?

" . . . as Secretary of Defense, I will turn no stone uncovered, er, to leave, uh, determine, yes, how in the 21st century such attitude and behavior could exist. We have no room for Crim Tow, Jim Crow! I've ordered the suspension of the Gambora operation commander Major General Jake Gaines pending investigation, and ordered a stand-down day for our armed forces for reflection, thought, and sensitivity seminars. Our troops have no more important function than to be sensitive to all groups and individuals!”

That's me on the car! Jones bolts upright in bed as his image replaces that of the nervous, tongue-tied Secretary.

"This is United States Chargé Frank W. Jones. All get on the planes, not just the white ones; black and brown go with us, too. We don't leave any behind! Black, brown and white all go together! Got it?"

CNN cuts to a smiling Secretary of State, "We're proud of Mr. Jones. He is a true American diplomat."

Phone rings. "Ye-Yes?"

"Frank? Steve White in HR. You're hard to find! Thank goodness for Glenda. Just wanted to give you a heads-up. You're getting a call in 30 seconds from the White House. Oh and come see the Deputy Secretary tomorrow morning at 9 sharp. Bye!"

White House? Deputy Secretary? Jones puts down the receiver. The phone rings immediately.

"Is this Fred Johnson? I’m Peggy Blaine-Hewitt, Director, White House Personnel.”

“Uh, no, I’m Frank, Frank Jones.”

“Ah, oh, of course, yes, you are right, right you are, Frank, Frank Jones. I want to pass along the President's congratulations for what you did in Gambi, Gonzo, you know, the airport thing."

"Gambora, yes. I'm deeply honored."

"Frank, right? I don’t have much time. You did a great job with the Air Force. Damn racist Southerners still run the military! We're going to nail those rednecks! The President appreciates what you did. It'll help in the election. He wants to offer you New Delhi."

The big leagues at last! "DCM in New Delhi?”

"T-C-N? No, Ambassador. Is TCN better?"

Ambassador! Oh God! "D-C-M. Yes! No! Ambassador’s fine." Lame! "I'd love to be Ambassador and serve President Lawrence." Good recovery!

"Ambassador Jones it is. Call me Peggy. We'll start the paperwork for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman. He'll gavel you right through. President wants you there fast. That’s in China, right?

“India.”

“I can never keep all those little African countries straight. Anyhow, I'll call State, tell’em you're it. Of course, the President expects you to testify on the attempt to exclude minorities from the evacuation at, uh, Gambona."

"Gambora. Exclude?"

"'We don't leave any behind! Black, brown and white, all go together!' We want it as our campaign slogan. It was beautiful. Got to go!"

"Peggy, listen. Luggage, they . . . "

"Huh? Right! Those military dopes treat people like luggage! Nice talking to you, Ambassador Johnson, Jones. Ciao!"

The phone kept ringing. Glenda apparently had revealed his whereabouts to the nation: reporters, talk show producers, book promoters, and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. Now nearly 6 pm and Jones had not showered, changed or had a meal. The room spun. Head hurt; heart pounded. Sick to his stomach, Jones feared a long, sleepless night.
o

By next day, Jones had reconsidered. Ambassador? I'll get a job afterwards as a talking head or at some university. Eat your heart out, Alice! You could've been Mrs. Ambassador! Instead, you got a Lysol-smelling janitor! I won't say anything to damage the General's career. Hell, he's probably due to retire. He's already got two stars; I deserve recognition for leading the convoy. I've got to offer something to that weird junior officer Charon. Almost 7:30! The Deputy wants to see me at 9!

Walking through State, Jones knew everybody was looking. Friends greeted him, the congratulations on their lips betrayed by the envy in their eyes. He strolled content through the mahogany-lined corridor on the seventh floor. I have arrived!

"Good morning, Mr. Ambassador," the receptionist said. "I recognize you from TV. Have a seat. The Deputy is talking with the White House,” she smiled, “about you." Jones chuckled and sat. Picking up a “Washington Post," he saw Chargé Jones, megaphone in hand, "RACISM DOESN'T STOP AT THE WATER'S EDGE: An American Diplomat Faces the Ugly Truth."

Intercom buzz. "He's here. OK." The receptionist hangs up and stares at Jones. I am cooked! They know it was luggage! No, no, she’s smiling. "Ms. Blaine-Hewitt from the White House wants to talk to you. Please take it in that empty office." Jones smiled, putting down the newspaper, slowly rising -- important people move slowly -- and strolled to the desk in the adjoining office. He sat, paused, slowly picked up the phone, paused, and pushed the flashing light.

"Peggy, how are you?”

"See any journalists today? Seen, read or heard the news?""

Not "Ambassador" or "Frank?" "No, slept in."

"Ah, of course, the sleep of the righteous, eh? Let’s see, you know, of course, that as a favor to the President Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Wilson endorsed you last night, sight unseen. As a further favor to the President he got your name sent to the full Senate without a hearing. Do you know how unusual that is?"

"Wow! I certainly know who Senator Wilson is!"

"Good, I am so very glad . . . and, of course, you know his daughter, too. Right?"

"No, never heard of her.”

"Really? So, I suppose, you have never heard THIS! (Click) ‘Screw her idiot father! Put her on!’ ‘Mr. Jones? Sally Wilson from NOAH'S ARK, and . . ..’ ‘You want to know if I have a plan for cats and dogs on the streets? Yeah, I have a plan you stupid fruitcake! Going to open a thousand Chinese restaurants! They'll provide employment AND take care of the cats and dogs! Sweet-and-sour Siamese cat is my favorite! I also like Great Dane spare ribs! Now get back on your broom, you freakin' moron, and get out of here!’ (Click) That doesn’t ring a bell?"

Spinning room, icy stomach. "P-Peggy, I didn't know who she was! Wilson’s daughter! I was running an evacuation to save people, Americans. She wanted me to save pets!”

"Ever hear of California, Mr. I-Know-Where-New-Delhi-Is? I’ll spell it for you! C-a-l-o-f-r, whatever! Wilson’s in a tight race there! He endorses you, forwards your name to the damn Senate, and then hears you insulted him and called his daughter a moron, a fruitcake, and a witch over the only working speakerphone in Gonad next to a Fox News reporter with a tape recorder! I’m gonna puke!”

"Gambora. I . . . "

"But, but, Frankie, here comes the good part! You insult him and his only child, and, get ready for this, she didn’t fly to GAMBORA on a broom! Nope! No, sir! She went on a C-17 with the President’s personal OK! And then you, you make fun of animal rights, and insult the Chinese! It’s on the morning shows! The blogs are going nuts! Fox is having a field day! We’re already flooded with calls, emails and faxes from women’s groups, Asians, Chinese restaurant owners, and those smelly, crazy animal people, and it's not even 6 o’clock in California! When it hits there, Wilson loses re-election and we lose California! We’re already going to lose Florida with all those military jerks and their absentee ballots! Am I getting through? Your ‘black, brown, white’ crap is our campaign slogan! We’ve got pins, bumper stickers, TV ads! The Republicans will laugh all the way to the White House!"

"Yeah, look, uh, a DCM job in Africa would be fine.”

"TCN? Fruitcake! You can’t be cage-cleaner at the zoo! Get on your broom! Fly out of here!"
o

"Mr. Jones, your party hung up several minutes ago. Please put down the phone. The Deputy can’t see you, now. He says you should go home."
o

Jones retired to run a casino on an Arizona Indian reservation and prevented it from opening a Chinese restaurant.

General Gaines retired and got elected to Congress advocating eliminating the State Department.

President Lawrence lost Florida, California, and the White House. He made a career of TV cameos as "The President." Peggy Blaine-Hewitt became his agent.

Senator Wilson retired to Homer, Alaska.

Sally devoted herself to pet birth control. Bitten by a rabid cat, she refused "profit-and-chemical-dominated" treatment and died.

Glenda promotes cigarettes as a cure for nicotine gum addiction.

Suffering PETS (Post Evacuation Traumatic Stress), Charon could not recall ever meeting Jones.

The French Ambassador fired her vegetarian cook when he claimed that cats are legumes.

Alice married her therapist.

Steve White parlayed his knowledge of foreign affairs into a job as a delivery boy for a Vietnamese convenience store. With tips, he makes what a Chargé does, and bought a foreclosed condo on Brickell Avenue.

With French support, China sponsored a UN resolution condemning “American slights against Chinese culture." The new President pulled the U.S. out of the UN. War erupted among China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. One million people died.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Inspectors on the Frontier

For a career bureaucrat certain words evoke horror, foreboding, even dread: words such as "haircut" used in the sense of "We just got the numbers back from CBO and everybody has to take a ten percent haircut," or "reclama" used in the sense of "You have to cancel your leave and work on a reclama to get back our funding for that critical playground in Zimbabwe," or "Inspectors" used in the sense of "Inspectors!"

As the six or seven regular readers of this blog know, I served in Pakistan back in the long distant early eighties. One of my jobs there involved overseeing our assistance to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan--some 3 million of them had fled the Soviet invasion. That job provided a wonderful opportunity to get out of the office and cover Pakistan from the Chinese border to the Iranian border, and from the Indian border to the Afghan border; I ate a lot of goat, rice, and dust and put a lot of miles on my faithful Suburban.

As the Embassy's refugee guru, I had a large budget and had to make decisions on how to spend it. The Pakistani refugee effort suffered from a shortage of trucks. I thought we could address that, and make an inroad for US-made trucks in the Pakistani truck market then dominated by Japan. We put out a request for bids, went through a long evaluation process, and awarded the contract to the then International Harvester. That company would build several hundred trucks in the US and would make them right-hand drive. They were  the only ones willing to do that. Both GM and Ford had bid on the project but proposed to build their right-hand trucks in factories outside the US. I wanted the work to go to Americans since we would use their tax money to buy the trucks. That turned into a battle with the State bureaucracy which insisted on Japanese trucks since those already dominated the market. They overturned the IH decision and went with Toyota. We quietly got a couple of Congressmen interested, the refugee bureau got overruled, and the contract went back to IH. The trucks got built in the US and exported on US flag ships.

That trucking episode got me on the outs with certain people in the refugee bureau in DC. They got their chance to get "even." My job required interaction with US agencies involved in "other forms" of support to the Afghans. One day in casual conversation a representative of an agency with no name mentioned the difficulty in getting sniper rifles "humanitarian supplies" to a remote part of Pakistan where Afghan mujahedeen charity workers desperately needed them to kill Soviet officers feed hungry children. I told him I had an in with the Colonel running logistics for Pakistan's refugee relief effort since I had just given him a few hundred trucks. I spoke with the man; he didn't ask any questions, and promptly loaned me three of the IH trucks. I passed them to the man from the agency with no name, and the supplies got to where they could do good.

A distorted version of the above story got to certain people who, as noted, saw a chance to get me. They fired off the bureaucrat version of a nuke-tipped missile, i.e., the "inspector." Regardless of what DNA analyses might show, inspectors do not belong to the human race. They often come from the ranks of  frustrated and angry individuals for whom the gods of fruitful careers have not smiled. The bureau sent out two beast-folk straight from the lab of Dr. Moreau. At considerable cost to the taxpayer, they came to Islamabad. I, however, must give them credit: they arrived very early in the morning after a grueling all day flight, went to their hotel, took a shower, and immediately came to the Embassy to interview me. In about five minutes they realized they had come on a fool's errand. I remember one looking at me saying in a voice full of puzzlement, "So the trucks belonged to the Pakistanis not to the State Department?" I nodded. He slammed shut his notebook and said, "Why are we here?" I shrugged, trying not to smile, imagining them on the plane back to DC the next day. The other inspector, the one with whom Dr. Moreau seemed to have had slightly more success in his House of Pain, said, "Well, we're here. Why not have our friend (that's me) take us on a tour of refugee camps and let us see the whole program?" My world came crashing down. I went from a delightful fantasy of getting rid of the beast-folk in record time to contemplating days on the road with them.

I won't bore you with details of days riding through the countryside, stopping at dozens of refugee camps, drinking gallons of sugary tea, eating goat, getting sick in places with no toilet paper or running water, and meeting only Zeus knows how many officials--or when we got "busted" by a military patrol for taking a picture of a bridge that appears on about three million postcards.

We covered the Northwest Frontier Province and then headed to Baluchistan. The less beastly one couldn't get enough. He loved the road, meeting refugees and mujahedeen, visiting the wounded at the Red Cross hospital, etc. He warmed up a bit to me and my weird sense of humor and got me to tell him of my last visit to Baluchistan (which I wrote about here). He wanted to go to Pishin, too, and onward to the wild border crossing at Chaman. The other inspector kept muttering that he had not signed up for this, and that since no official refugee camps existed in either of those towns why go there? He became increasingly grumpy, and on many stops would not get out of the vehicle. He, frankly, appeared annoyed in Chaman, and could not get used to people walking around with all sorts of weapons.

Chaman, at least then, consisted of a hard-to-describe assemblage of mud huts, low houses and buildings made of a variety of materials, run-down government offices that did God knows what, and vast open dirt spaces. Dust, kicked up by a never-ceasing parade of vehicles of all sorts, filled the air. We saw the border crossing: a zig-zag obstacle course of barbed wire, and cement filled barrels.

We visited a mud fort run by, I think, the military or perhaps some provincial Rifles unit. The two inspectors and I stood in the middle of this Beau Geste-type fort's courtyard, talking to an official (I don't remember who) when yelling broke out outside the walls. Some soldiers slammed shut the gates. The official, very agitated, told us to take cover; he ran and threw himself against one of the walls, just under a catwalk with soldiers. We saw him run, so we did not hesitate, either. We got flat against the wall as he instructed. Above us, the soldiers on the catwalk opened fire, to paraphrase Monty Python, in the general direction of Afghanistan with a 12.7mm MG; hot shell casings rained down on us. This was the closest I have been to combat. From that experience, I find the one aspect rarely discussed in books, articles, and films on war is the noise. The sound that comes from modern weapons is not as in the movies, or even on the pistol range; not only loud, it makes your insides vibrate; your head throb. You quickly find yourself disoriented, unable to hear, speak, or make rational decisions. I can't imagine what it must be like in real combat. We had only one heavy machine gun firing, admittedly just above our heads, with some AKs as accompaniment, and I found myself lost, confused, in a fog. I leaned very hard against that wall, hoping it would swallow me. I noticed that my left leg would not stop twitching. Chagrined, I grabbed it with my left hand as tightly as I could, hoping nobody would notice.

The shooting stopped as suddenly as it had begun. I looked up, and saw the ultra beast inspector smiling at me, "With me, it's my right leg." It seemed, after all, that he might have had a bit more human DNA than I had given him credit.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fighting Them with "Haute" Couture: The Diplowife in Action

I continue not to think about the parlous state of our economy, politics, and society. It, simply put, has become downright painful to listen to pundits, on either side, as they describe our avoidable slide into Greece Redux. I hide from the news behind a wall of memories of when as a young man I had no doubt that America could, would, and did kick serious butt on the world stage. I will get over it, and begin to rant about our current mess again, but not today.

Today my mind wanders back to Guatemala, yes, again, sorry. This particular story could get me in trouble with the Diplowife. As the star of this tale, she has not authorized its release to the general public--or even to the six or seven people who read this blog. She, however, has left me alone in the house, unsupervised, with access to the internet, and my only instructions to await a sofa delivery. I, therefore, might get away with it. She rarely reads the Diplomad since, as she so sweetly puts it, "I have lived with you for almost 35 years, and know all about you. I don't need to spend time reading about you, too." I live a fairy tale life, admittedly Grendel and Beowulf, but a fairy tale, nevertheless.

We had lived in Guatemala about a year, and with the arrival of son number three needed a bigger house. We found a huge one within the Embassy's rental allowance. It had an unknown number of bedrooms, a small disco--strobe light and mirror ball, included--high walls, a faux English pub with a large hart's head on the wall, a huge yard with a guest house, and a big fountain with Koi fish. It had drawbacks: the house had lain empty for many months, and it did not sit in the nice traditional rich people and diplomats' neighborhood. To satisfy the Diplowife's demand for a BIG house, and stay on budget, we had to move into a somewhat, to put it delicately, rough neighborhood. The RSO had proved reluctant to approve the house because of the surroundings, but, in the end, relented when I showed him the panic room already built in the house, the high walls, and my formidable collection of weaponry.

We had another in with the RSO: the Diplowife worked for him. She served as his office manager and he needed her because of her fluent Spanish. She wanted the house, so . . . . By the way, before the incident described below she also had acquired quite a bit of fame for her typos in the security notices sent around the Embassy. One of the most famous read, "Yesterday a woman was found dead on the slope of Pacaya volcano. Police suspect foreplay in her death."

Back to the house. It had another problem, electricity. Now here I write on something I know little about, so dear readers, please feel free to correct me. If I recall correctly, the house had three electric phases coming in. Two worked very poorly or not at all, and needed major repairs. Until those fixes got completed, about two-thirds of the house would remain dark. We moved in, regardless. How can you pass up a mirror disco ball even in the dark?

Our second night there, I had to attend an event given by a foreign diplomat. The Diplowife did not want to go, and would stay in our penumbral estate with the three kids, three maids, and the goofiest four-month old German shepherd pup in Guatemala. I went solo. About two hours into the event, the host got hold of me and said, "Zere is somebody on ze phone who says he is a Marine at your Embassy who very much needs to talk vit you most urgently." I took the call. It, indeed, was, from the Marine at Post One, "Sir, your wife called to say there is an intruder in the house. We have sent the roving patrol and the RSO. They are having a hard time getting into your yard. They don't have the key. I am on the phone with your wife." My mistake. We had moved and I had neglected to provide the RSO and the roving patrol a set of keys. "On my way."

I ran out of the party and into my fearsome war wagon, also known as a Ford Aerostar minivan. I tore out of the driveway, checking my .45 as I drove down Guatemala City's very dark streets. I, of course, drove to the wrong house, only remembering as I pulled up that we had moved! Back onto the streets, driving like a Guatemalan. After a couple wrong turns, I finally got to the right house. I saw three embassy vehicles at the gate, and our Guatemalan security folks trying to boost one of their guys over the wall. The concertina wire provided a formidable barrier. I jumped out of the van, opened the gate, and in we poured. We got to the door just as it opened and out came . . .

OK, this will tax my powers of description, bear with me. I don't write well enough to capture the scene.

The door opened, and--hand to God--well dressed midgets began dashing out of the house and running among the heavily armed cops. Well, not that well dressed. They wore baggy clothes. One little person had on a hat, my Yankees cap, a cigar--an expensive Joya de Nicaragua, no less--and a double breasted suit jacket . . . my double-breasted suit jacket! Another little one had on one of my dress shirts, and struggled with my slacks, holding them under her armpits. Another wore one of my suit jackets, with the sleeves dragging on the ground. My wife emerged, talking in Spanish at about 1,000 MPH. She, by the way, had on one of my pinstripe suits, tie and all. I realized that the "midgets," in fact, were my kids and the maids, all led by the biggest "little" person, the 5'7" Diplowife.

The back story.

About two hours after I had left, one of the maids went to the front door to take out the garbage. As she exited, she got knocked over in the dark by somebody coming in. She fell to the floor, garbage everywhere, began to scream, got up, and dashed up the stairs to find the Diplowife. She said, "A man is in the house!" The Diplowife swung into action, but not as I had taught her, i.e., rack a round of 04 buck in the 870. No, she did it her way. She ran about the top floor collecting kids, maids, and useless dog, and herding them into the panic room. She threw the bolt. OK. Not bad. The panic room contained an arsenal and a phone linked to Post One. She could not get the phone to work. It was, ahem, a very "complicated" gadget which required her to press a button that reads "ON" and then scream her lungs out. As she told me later, in her confusion she got some weird form of dyslexia and thought the button said, "NO." Ok. Uh huh. Sure. So what to do? An intruder in the house. The phone "doesn't" work. Trapped. Only a few lousy MREs . . . never mind the gleaming array of American-made firepower hanging on the walls: a caliber for every type and size of intruder. No. As a fashion conscious European woman, she decided that clothing made the best weapon. She would dress everybody to look like men, and then as a group make a dash for another phone. I kept my suits, shirts, ties, and good CIGARS in the panic room. She distributed them among her charges much as Colour-Sgt. Bourne did .577 rifle ammo to his at Rorke's Drift in "Zulu." Would her plan prove as effective as a Martini-Henry?

Dressed to kill--or be killed--the intrepid band of cross dressers emerged from the panic room. To add one more dramatic touch, my wife made them all speak in deep voices. "A bunch of men here. You better go away!" Anyhow, she made it to a phone and the rest . . . well, see above.

The intruder? Who knows? One theory was that homeless guys had found a way into the yard and had used the house to crash. Since the house remained dark after we moved in, they might not have known it was occupied. Other theories were more sinister. We found a spot on a rear wall where somebody had cut the concertina, and then tied it back with string. Whatever the explanation, the intruder did not return. Too many weird men, perhaps?

My wife became a legend at the Embassy. She also learned how to shoot.

Better stop. I think I hear her coming home. Still no sofa.

I will give it a rest for a couple of days. See if I get inspired to do battle with the Obamistas. I don't know. Just feeling very down about the future of my country.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Own Darwin Award Nomination: Captured

The phone rang at daybreak: never a good sign in that place. The "place," after all, was Guatemala. Of the many countries I served in during nearly 35 years in the Foreign Service, Guatemala perhaps remains my favorite: an incredible physical beauty, a fascinating history and culture, the best black beans with eggs on the planet, along with the most complex and even byzantine society and politics imaginable. I owed my assignment there to Assistant Secretary Elliot Abrams whom I met at the UN. He had remembered me and when a new political military officer slot opened, he offered it to me. At the time, the Department had me slated for assignment in Europe. No contest. I snapped up Abrams' offer. You only go around once; why do it where life is easy and comfortable with politics of the corner cafe and unfiltered Gauloises type? Guatemalan politics had color, complexity, raucousness, and lethality. One of my first Guatemalan political contacts, for example, a young, smart politician interested in running for President, got gunned down in front of his house a few hours after we met there. I had just finished writing my "Memorandum of Conversation" when I learned of his murder.

The mysterious "archivos" unit of the Presidency bore responsibility for large numbers of kidnappings and assassinations of persons deemed too close to the guerrillas, and of criminals who had beaten the system and gone free or had become repeat offenders. Army intel officers had formed car theft rings that operated in Guatemala, Mexico, and stretched into Texas; my landlord became involved and paid with his life, but that's a story for another day. The guerrillas, romanticized and glorified by human rights "activists" and lefty loons in the US and Europe, comprised nothing more than leftwing death squads terrorizing the countryside and forming alliances with the drug trafficking organizations then taking root in Guatemala.

We had guards and high walls topped with concertina wire. Most of us packed an assortment of firearms. I carried a .45 Colt or Ruger as my main, with a 9mm S&W back-up, and either a .38 S&W snub-nose or a .380 Colt Mark IV as an ankle or pocket weapon. In the house panic room, we had, inter alia, a Remington 870, a .30 cal M-1 carbine, an awesome Ruger Mini 14, my venerable S&W .357, a Llama 9mm, lots of ammo, and an assortment of gas masks, tear gas, pepper spray, knives, clubs, and a large dog. My wife did well with all of them--except in one instance which she has not yet given me permission to reveal (I have never understood why all women don't know how to use a weapon or a change a tire; those can prove life-saving skills.) We spent weekends at the excellent gun ranges in Guatemala which had what every range should have: a bar. One should always mix large amounts of alcohol with firearms; the day at the range proves much more interesting. (Note from Management: The Editors and publishers of The Diplomad 2.0 in no way condone drinking alcohol while shooting a weapon. To avoid the possibility of spilling and wasting expensive alcohol, always put down your drink before firing your weapon.)

Embassy policy discouraged us from driving our own cars, but we rough, tough political officers did not want to depend on Embassy drivers and armored Suburbans. Regarding cars, I recall an incident near the Embassy. A friend and I had parked next to each other on the street. At the end of the day, a group of street kids, as usual, came to claim a "quetzal"or two for watching our cars. As I usually did, since more rambunctious days in Guyana, I paid them. My friend, however, had a different approach. He gathered the kids around, pulled back his jacket to reveal two .45 cal Sigs, smiled and said, "Listen, muchachos. I park here every day, and will never pay any of you to guard my car. If, however, I come out and anything is wrong with it, a scratch, a dent, anything, I am going to hunt down and kill each and every one of you. OK?" His car became the best guarded on the street.

Sorry. Where was I? Ah, yes. My wife answered the phone, "It's Carlos. He says it's urgent that he talk to you." Carlos, the senior Guatemalan employee at the US Embassy, was incredibly knowledgable, funny, well connected, and loyal. Carlos rarely got rattled or panicky. He loved the USA and planned to live there once he retired. He did. No more than two months after he moved to Florida, doctors diagnosed him with advanced lung cancer. Carlos died two months after that.

OK, back to this story. Carlos asked, "Has there been a coup?" I said I didn't think so. The Defense Attache (DA) had told me the previous night that rumors of a coup in the works were unfounded. While Carlos waited, I called the DA who repeated that no coup had occurred. I told Carlos what the DA said. Carlos insisted, "He's wrong. Turn on the radio. Try changing stations." Every station had the same marimba piece playing. Every minute or two a recorded statement would interrupt with, "Please stand by for an important announcement." Carlos said, "I have lived through a lot of these. That's the sign of a coup." I asked him to make some calls, and said I would check around, too. No sooner had I said that, the phones went out. I had a radio but did not want to broadcast my stupidity into the ether, "Hello? Is there a coup underway?" No traffic noise came through the windows. Dead silence except for one odd sound: a low-flying jet roaring in a bit above rooftop level, pulling up, and then coming around again. I did what husbands should always do, to wit, I asked my wife for advice. (By the way, I mean ask MY wife. She has advice for everybody.)

The Diplowife said, "Let's go look for the coup." Sounded like a plan. I left my usual weaponry behind as we might run into the Army and did not want to give them any additional excuses to shoot. We quickly dressed, and jumped into our blue Ford Aerostar minivan--a good vehicle for coup hunting. We encountered a post-apocalyptic scenario. Except for us, the streets were drained of life. Nothing. No pedestrians, motorbikes, bicycles, buses, and not even food vendors' push carts. Nothing. Except for the occasional roar from that pesky T-33, not a sound. I pulled over, got out, and waited for the jet to pass over. It carried a 250 lb or 500 lb bomb. The plane would skim along the main avenue, Avenida Reforma, then pull up over the Ministry of Defense, located close to the Embassy. If this joker releases that bomb, I thought, it probably will miss the Ministry and hit the Embassy, but the Guatemalan Air Force's Argentine-made bombs rarely explode, so everything will work out.

When I got back into the van, the Diplowife said, "I don't see any of the regular commercial flights coming in. Maybe they have the airport? Let's go look." La Aurora airport lay only five minutes away, so we went. As we neared it we saw trucks carrying soldiers wearing blue bandanas around their necks, and another with soldiers wearing red. My wife asked, "Which color do the golpistas use?" I don't remember which, but there at the airport entrance stood a checkpoint manned by soldiers with the wrong color, aiming rifles at us. As we slowly approached, a jeep pulled up next to us, its occupants also training weapons on us. I stopped: windows down, hands on the steering wheel. The soldiers swarmed around, lots of confusion, one yelling for us to stay put, another to get out, another to open the doors but not to move our hands. I kept saying, "We will do whatever you want, just make up your minds. We have no guns. We work with the Embassy."

A young lieutenant, perhaps in his early twenties, appeared. Nervous, he ordered us out and to keep our hands in the air. While I got frisked, they did not touch my wife which indicated they had a degree of old fashioned civility. The officer asked about us. I repeated that I was a US diplomat. A soldier pointed at the van's license plate, "You do not have diplomatic plates. You are D-2, aren't you?" He put his rifle in my face accusing me of belonging to Guatemalan military intel, a feared organization. The officer told him to put the gun down, and asked me to explain. "No, I am not D-2. The American Embassy does not use diplomatic plates because of the risk of kidnappings and assassination by guerrillas." The geniuses in the Foreign Ministry, however, issued us plates with a number series beginning with "4," the same as official D-2 vehicles. The geniuses in our admin shop accepted the plates which made us targets for anybody with a grudge against D-2.

I said to the lieutenant, "My wife and I work in the American Embassy. If you intend to make us prisoners, I insist on talking to the Embassy. What is your name, sir?" Nonsense, of course, as I had no way to talk to the Embassy which probably had nobody there. He told me to wait. He walked to the checkpoint, looking at a piece of paper, and tried to raise somebody on a field radio.

There we stood with our hands up, a smile on my wife's face. She thought this funny! Let me explain. She comes from a part of Spain where in the 1970s and 1980s getting stopped on the road had become fairly routine. Those roadblocks, however, had well-trained pros, the Guardia Civil, in charge. This operation did not meet her Basque standards.

The soldiers grew increasingly jumpy, constantly glancing around; the lone plane buzzing the city added to the surreal nature of this tableau vivant. The lieutenant returned, obviously perplexed. He had failed to reach anybody, and the paper in his hand did not have instructions on handling captured diplomats. I said, "Sir, we are your prisoners, what now?" He replied, "I think you can go. Yes, go. Go home." He motioned to put our hands down, and told the soldiers to open the doors and help my wife into the van. He said, "I hope you are not too angry with us." I laughed, "No, not all. You run a nice prison. Next time a little coffee would be good." He smiled, we shook hands, and he waved us away.

We drove slowly to the Embassy seeing numerous military vehicles on the road, and the Defense Ministry surrounded by pro-government troops. The lone jet "bomber" had disappeared from Guatemala's bright blue skies. The coup had failed.

I wrote a breathtaking account of the coup attempt, and fired it off to Washington. In my haste, I did not realize that in effect I had nominated myself for a Darwin Award for the Stupidest Political Officer of the Year. The fact that I didn't win says a lot.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

I was going to write a little piece on the attack on that long-ago day but then I read this piece over at the Old AF Sarge's blog, and the Old Sarge has said everything I would have said, but better.

I join him in asking all to remember those who died that day and those who died avenging them.

Don't forget.

Don't forget.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Repost from a Different Time

Below I am posting something that I wrote December 24, 2004 when I was stationed in Asia and was the Charge at our Embassy at Christmas time. I see many of its themes are still, unfortunately, around today as we see our society agonizing over calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree, or whether it is ok for kids at school to take part in Christmas plays and sing-alongs.  I am having a very hard time getting back into the political commentary game and am taking a bit of break. I am writing some other self-indulgent pieces on adventure in the Foreign Service which I hope to have up in a a couple of days.


A Jewish Christmas in the Far Abroad
December 24, 2004

From the Diplomad in Charge of Semitic Affairs:

This is Diplomadstein writing. This Diplomad is, well, mad . . . mad in the popular sense of angry, fed up, steaming, and it's not, not a pretty sight (or site). Leave Christmas alone! Political correctness is ruining the day!

At this Embassy in this weird corner of the Far Abroad, we have a Holiday Party and wish each other, "Happy Holidays!" Can't have the word Christmas anywhere in this Federal building! At one event recently we had somebody take the mike and talk about the "meaning of Christmas." He made the fatal mistake of mentioning words such as "savior" and "God." We had one angry employee, let's call her Strident (not her real name) come up to me after the event and demand that I, this religious guy's supervisor, reprimand and remind him that his words made non-Christians uncomfortable.

Me: Who was uncomfortable?

Strident: Anybody who wasn't Christian. We have Jewish employees here, too.

Me: Are you Jewish?

Strident: No.

Me: I am and I want another Christmas cookie. They have Hanukkah cookies beat.

Strident: You're not going to reprimand him?

Me: Nope. I want a cookie. And if I reprimand him I might not get invited to the next party.

Strident took it up the chain of command, but so far at least, I haven't heard anything more about her complaint or the mysterious people who were made uncomfortable. I've seen the pieces by fellow Jews Jonah Goldberg, Diana West, Jeff Jacoby, and Charles Krauthammer asking folks to chill out, enjoy the season, and wish our Christian friends all the best. I agree!

The world has changed. Going to elementary school in the 1950s and early 60's, we never thought twice about questioning the right of all the other kids and the school to host Christmas parties and plays and sing-alongs. The handful of Jewish kids would join in and nobody on either side of the GREAT RELIGIOUS DIVIDE got upset or called lawyers or converted or declared jihad or a crusade. We all had a good time. One year, I even got to play the part of a non-speaking sheperd; this was an improvement over the prior year when I played a speaking sheep (Baah! Baah! Forty-five years later and I can still remember my lines! God I'm smart!) If I had had a Jewish agent, I would have gotten much bigger parts . . . rampant anti-Semitism, I tell you, rampant!

As I got older, I realized that in addition to controlling the banks, the press, the electronic media, Hollywood, the Trilateral Commission, Jew York City, nuclear weapon AND bagel production, we Jews had a solid lock on the religion business. About a one-fourth of the world worshipped God through a Jewish kid from Israel, Jesus. About one-fourth of the world worshipped a Jewish kid from Germany, Karl Marx. The really smart kids in college talked about a Jewish kid from Russia, Leon Trotsky, and another one from somewhere back East, Noam Chomsky, or from Chicago, Milton Friedman. Everybody laughed with Jewish kids from England, Charlie Chaplin and Peter Sellers, and any number of them from America, Jack Benny, the Three Stooges, and George Burns were my favorites. And, of course, everybody needed the help of a Jewish kid from Austria, Sigmund Freud, to cope with the fear of annihilation brought about by another Jewish kid from Germany, Albert Einstein. So, I figured, my fellow Jews and I weren't the ones who should feel uncomfortable . . . but everybody else should be afraid, very afraid . . . BWAHAHAHAHA!

As an American Jewish kid I just assumed I was destined to grow up to be worshipped or be Master of the Universe. But, sigh, I took the Foreign Service exam instead, and got married to a Catholic, and have voted straight Republican since 1972. I know, I know, I am a disappointment to my people, all those hopes and dreams . . . shattered!

Life's too short. Everybody enjoy and let others enjoy the great freedoms we have. And every Jewish kid in America should have on his wall the names and pictures of the greatest friends the Jewish people ever had: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Reagan, Bush and the millions of GIs who tore the guts out of Hitler's war machine and whose grandchildren continue to keep us free.

Bring on the Christmas music! More cookies! Down with the ACLU!