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February 2010

January 2010

US diplomat in Haiti describes destruction

State_Department_Seal  Gary Rex, a Foreign Service political officer stationed in Haiti, writes this deeply personal and moving account about surviving the earthquake and the aftermath. 

"We're experiencing the most terrible disaster movie you can imagine, with sights, sounds and smells beyond description or comprehension, especially during the night of the quake.

I had to climb over and through a mile of debris and stalled cars to get home, through masses of wounded, screaming, crying and bewildered people. The destruction and suffering is immense and beyond description."

His first person account appears in the Lincoln, Nebraska's Journal Star.

Click here to read the full story:

Foxy Babe!

Foxy Friend in London, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

You wouldn't think that that urban London would be a place for wildlife spotting, but the city is teeming with animals like red fox. This little fellow (or fella) visits our back garden in Angel-Islington quite frequently. Many people consider fox to be pests because they are everywhere, and exhibit scavenger behavior like rummaging through rubbish bins, using gardens as litter boxes, etc. On Wednesday our foxy friend slept curled up all day on our garden lounge chair! I'll miss him!

With a little help from my friends

BAGHDAD – The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is looking for Iraqi friends on Facebook.

The embassy launched the page Thursday with the aim of reaching out to Iraqis who want to learn more about American culture and society, the latest step by the State Department to boost interest in Iraq's burgeoning online culture and promote Web entrepreneurship.

The State Department has organized a number of high-profile visits to Iraq in recent months by top executives from Google, Twitter, AT&T and others. Recently, the embassy assisted in setting up a YouTube channel for the Iraqi government.

The Facebook page launch came the same day U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech about Internet freedom and its place in U.S. foreign policy. The embassy rolled out the page after a two-month test run on Facebook, said Philip Frayne, an embassy spokesman in Baghdad.

"We didn't get 2 million fans," he said. "The natural audience for embassy Facebook pages is not enormous."

But by late Thursday, the page had more than 800 fans — nearly matching the number of Facebook fans of the U.S. Embassy in London.

More than 170 U.S. diplomatic missions around the world have Facebook pages, according to the State Department.

Full story here.

The long & winding road

State-Department-seal  After more than two years of testing, retesting, waiting, hair-pulling and pacing, today I received my official invitation to A-100: the Foreign Service Orientation Course!!

I honestly thought this day would never come. It still hasn't quite hit me. I've been dreaming about this day for so long that now I don't even have words or emotions left to express myself!  

A quick recap of my very long timeline:

Dec 07 - Foreign Service Officers Test (FSOT) at US Embassy London. Passed.

June 08 - Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) in Chicago. Failed. 

Nov 08 - FSOT #2 at US Embassy London. Passed.

April 09 - FSOA #2 in Washington DC. Passed!!

May 09 - Medical clearance granted

Oct 09 - Security clearance granted

Nov 09 - Final Suitability granted

Jan. 20, 2010: Received and accepted an invitation to A-100! 

So what's next? I'm still working out the logistics, but it looks like I will be moving back home to DC in March.

The next chapter of our life is about to begin! 

Killing for Jesus

I've seen some crazy stories in recent weeks, but this takes the cake. If I hadn't read this article myself, I would have thought somebody was pulling my leg. According to an Associated Press story published Jan. 19, US defense contractor Trijicon of Wixom, Mich., has been secretly inscribing references to Bible verses on night-vision gun sights used by US AND Iraqi troops. 

Markings on the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, which is standard issue to U.S. special operations forces, include "JN8:12," a reference to John 8:12: "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"

The Trijicon Reflex sight is stamped with 2COR4:6, a reference to part of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

This is so wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to begin. For starters, Trijicon is a US defense contractor, which means they receive funding from US tax dollars. Talk about a violation of Church & State.  Second, these tools are used by soldiers of all faiths, including Jews, Muslims, and even Atheists. And third, these pieces of equipment are used for KILLING!  Soldiers use these scopes so they can spot a human target, night or day, and take them down. Read the Bible verses above closely. WWJD? I don't think He would be very happy about his words being used on killing machines. Have we really reverted back to that old saying: "Kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out?"

But most importantly, this fiasco just reinforces the beliefs/stereotypes among many in the Arab World that Americans are Christian crusaders bent on destroying Islam. I'm sure many Americans will see nothing wrong with these 'Jesus Guns', but I'm wondering how they would felt if the situation was reversed and the weapons contained references to Koran verses.

Now before you go accusing me of being a bleeding-heart liberal, let me preface by saying I am a US Army veteran. I am not anti-war or anti-guns, and there are certainly bad guys out there who need to be taken out permanently. But this is just un-fracking-believable. Bible references do NOT belong on government equipment.

Click here to read the full AP story

And here's the story from ABC News

US diplomat killed in Haiti

From the Pasadena Star News

 State-Department-seal AZUSA - The first American reported killed by the earthquake in Haiti was a foreign service officer from Temple City who was crushed when her home collapsed.

Victoria J. DeLong, 57, died Tuesday, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. DeLong, a 27-year diplomat and native of Temple City, was a cultural affairs officer and had been stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince since February.

Family members on Friday released a brief statement.

"Victoria cared deeply for her family and friends. She was a wonderful sister, friend, and humanitarian; she was cheerful and full of life in all her endeavors and accomplishments," the statement said.

"Victoria was a dedicated professional who spent her career serving others through her work at the State Department and her volunteer work. She was touched by a particular orphanage in Haiti and told us how they are able to do so much, for so many, with so little."

The State Department raised the confirmed U.S. death toll from Tuesday's earthquake to six.

Obituary from the US State Department's official Dipnote blog: 

Victoria DeLong, our Cultural Affairs Officer stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, died inside her home when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit on Tuesday. DeLong had served in Haiti, one of the most challenging environments in the world, since February 2009. She was highly regarded, not only by the Department of State, but also by the many youth exchange participants, scholars, professionals, journalists, community leaders, and ordinary people she befriended throughout the world. The Department of State salutes her dedication, compassion, courage, and successes in promoting educational and cultural exchange between the people of Haiti and the people of the United States.

Since 1983, Victoria DeLong served her country in diplomatic posts around the world, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Germany. She had a genuine enthusiasm for her work and was loved by all her colleagues. Her commitment and devotion to our mission at the Department of State will not be forgotten. Her memory will live on through her work and through the numerous lives that she has touched.

We have received an outpouring of support as people extend their condolences and express their appreciation of Victoria DeLong since the announcement of her death on the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince’s Facebook page. 

Update: The Washington Post had a nice obituary on Saturday.

See also Sec. Clinton's  statement

Letters from London

Happy New Year!  After two months and five days of traveling in Costa Rica, NYC, Baltimore and Washington DC, I'm finally back in London. We spent Christmas and New Years in Baltimore...our first Xmas in America since 2005!  Hard to believe we're nearing our five-year anniversary of living in London.

On this particular trip back home, one of the things I really noticed was customer service. It's no surprise that the US has MUCH better customer service than the UK. In the US, despite perceived failings, customer service is still an art form. A tip is something to be earned. My fellow Americans just seem more friendly and eager to please. (A Brit friend of mine once remarked how jealous they were of how Americans can become your best friend just 5 minutes after meeting).  And I'm not the only one who has noticed these glaring differences. The New York Times had a great article about how Americans are perceived by Brits. In case you missed it, click here to read the column.

Meanwhile, for reasons I can't figure out, this blog received a HUGE spike in traffic on Wednesday, Jan. 6. We're talking nearly 5 times the usual traffic. I'm bewildered, as I've been pretty lazy about blogging lately. I promise to try and do better, but between Lonely Planet, the Foreign Service, pack-outs and more, I'm going to be swamped over the next few weeks!

Speaking of the FS:  I'm now #14 of 63 folks on the Consular register. Keeping my fingers crossed for a March invitation to A-100!

Greetings from New York City

New York City, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Happy New Year! I've been lazy about blogging lately, but that's mainly because I don't have anything to report. I'm still on the register (waiting list) to attend A-100. My ranking is high enough that I think I'm pretty much a shoe-in for an invitation to the March 2010 class so wish me luck! Other than that, Mr. and Mrs crab have been busy ranking the entire world, considering our dream posts and preparing to downsize and move back to the states. Hopefully we'll have some good news in the next few weeks when the March class is announced. Stay tuned.