The views expressed here neither represent nor are affiliated with the US DOD, US Navy, FAO association, MGM Studios, Time Warner, Sony, RCA Recording or Hostess. Now, "relax and take notes . . . "

FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mercy Ships, a new Ambassador, Oh Canada, PM resigns and Martians--My day on Twitter

I thought I would do a little shameless self-promotion and encourage you to follow my twitter account (For Unofficial Use Only Twitter Account) --below is what I was looking at yesterday.

Monday, January 12, 2015

FAO Pro Tip #3 There's a reason NASA missions pack duct tape

I am tearing my way through book The Martian by Andy Weir.  Don't worry, it's not about aliens--it's about an astronaut--so cool your jets all you sci-fi haters...look I will spare you a description--just click the book below and buy yourself a copy--it's SO good.

Anyway, in the book the stranded astronaut finds myriad creative uses for duct tape on Mars. Sometimes traveling abroad and working as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO), one feels is if he IS on
Mars.  I never know what I might encounter that just doesn't work...or rips...or breaks...or cuts or falls--that's why I always carry a roll of duct tape in my carry-on.  Unfortunately, I only have a jumbo sized grey roll, but once that runs out, I think I will pick up once of these travel rolls below.

During my most recent family vacation to Ft. Dauphin I found yet another use for duct tape--entertaining a whining 9 month baby.  He fruitlessly tried removing a small strip of duct tape off of various body parts for about 15 minutes!  Additionally, my daughters got in on the action and we all made 'duct tape fingers.'    The moral of the story is "duct tape--don't leave home without it"

Sunday, January 4, 2015

'Mo' Money, Mo' Problems' or 'Trop d'argent Trop des problemes' or #tanksforafrica #jetsforafrica

The longer I live, the more I realize that Biggie Smalls was a visionary ahead of his time, n'est-ce pas

The economist article this past November, Arms and the African: The Continent's armies are going on a spending spree highlights some startling spending figures going on across the African continent.  It also highlights a pet peeve of mine--it is so annoying when an article doesn't just hyperlink it's source...I mean what does the economist think--it's 2005 or something?
Just hyperlink the SIPRI research ECONOMIST, don't make me google it for five minutes seconds!

Anyway, it is astounding the amount of tanks and jets that countries are buying--and wholly unnecessary in 95% of the cases.  Nearly every one of these countries would be better off creating a coast guard and spending the air budget on transport planes.  Unfortunately, the majority of the blame should be placed on the countries selling them equipment that they don't need and that they can't operate properly and maintain long-term.  Reading through the meagre SIPRI research, though, they don't (or didn't have access to) break out the spending by donor country.  So ultimately, the ECONOMIST article is nothing more than a teaser for which there isn't the desired research hasn't been done yet.

For grad students, HOWEVER, a great research topic (wish I had thought about this).  Although, fat chance getting the various countries to cough up the numbers on all the equipment they received...so maybe not the best topic.

Finally, I would just note that perhaps some of the green countries should perhaps devote a little more of their defense budget (wisely).





Information from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/milex_database/milexdata1988-2012v2.xsls"

Monday, December 22, 2014

'A movie in the making in Comoros' or 'Marooned in Moroni'

I recently watched the depressing and exhilirating "All is Lost" starring Robert Redford.  For those who haven't seen it--it's the fictional story of a man lost at sea whose world progressively deteriorates until...wait for it all is lost (or is it?!).

Well the pics of this poor soul is what that  scenario looks like in real life without the HD cameras
and big hollywood budget.  This unnamed gentlemen is from Poland and he's been stuck in Moroni, Comoros for a few months now.

He bought this boat in Miami (he claimed to have a US green card) and has been sailing around the world since then.  Things started to go downhill when he arrived in Mumbai:

From his profanity-laced tirade (while his english was broken, he nailed the expletives perfectly), I was able to deduce that somehow a corrupt port/customs agent there had swindled him out of nearly all of his money.  At some point he said 'to hell with this' and fled the port.  Somewhere around the Comoran island of Moheli, he found himself shipwrecked.  He claims his ship once had a mast but it looked an awful lot like once of those life boats you see on cruise ships.

Anyway, the Comoran Coast Guard rescued him and towed him to the port of Moroni on Grand

With 100 euros to his name, a broken engine, no living relatives or friends and dwindling supply of canned food--his prognosis does not look good.  His own summation of his future prospects were slightly more colorful.

A month and a half after my last visit, though, I recevied an update from a colleague there who said that the Comoran government had given him a little money and that he was slowly getting his engine repaired.

Stay tuned for more updates in 2015!
The sea-faring wayward Polish sailor

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Depression, Suicide, West Point, the French Foreign Legion and Afghanistan

Since I read the New York Times article yesterday, I have not been able to stop thinking about the story of West Point grad Lawrence J. Franks Jr, a young man so steeped in the abyss of depression, in such a struggle with suicidal urges that he deserted to the French Foreign Legion where he served a 5 year contract with distinction.  Upon completion of his service there, he turned himself in at a US military base in Germany.  He was recently sentenced to 4 years in prison.

Franks as a West Point Cadet

There is likely much nuance to the facts stated above and I hope that there is an industrious journalist or screenwriter that is visiting Franks in prison and allering his/her way over in France to do some in-depth research to answer the million questions that come to mind.  I am certain, for example, that Franks' roommates at West Point have some insight into his psyche.

I will say this.  IF the facts above are true and accurate, IF Franks was truly on the precipice of suicide--I do not fault him for taking care of himself and staying alive.

Do I necessarily agree with the choices that he made?  No, but then I have never struggled with depression nor battled against suicidal thoughts--I don't know those dark solitary corners--nor will I pretend to.  So I won't pass judgement on one man's particular method of fighting back and beating back the depression.

For Franks, the deprivation and challenge of misery and hardship actually elevated his spirits.  In his case, he faced a year before his upcoming deployment with the Army and he craved something more difficult and immediate--so he went after it.

I do not believe the miltary then (or now) was administrately,bureaucratically or professionally equipped to aid a soldier with severe depression.  Our government is still failing its veterans coming back from war today--why do we have any reason to believe they are better equipped to screen and assist soldier before they deploy?

Now, all of IFs may prove to be false.  In that case, a much more shameful analysis is necessary but until then I look forward to more reporting on this.

Some links for the ride home: 
A great follow-up article from the WaPo on the case
Vice's Tale of a Canadian in the French Foreign Legion
RAND study on French military in Mali--to include role of FFL
Vice's Tale of a Redneck's Failed Attempt to join the Legion
Vanity Fair's In-depth look at the FFL
Letter to the editor from Franks' parent when he went missing

That's Franks in the green beret

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Voyage aux Comores

Comoros has grown on me this past year.  

My very first trip to the country was during a muggy-buggy-soon-as-you-step-off-the-plane-you-are-dripping-wet hot week in November 2013.  I was unprepared for the heat and the bugs and the rawness of the country.  Since that first trip, however, the raw beauty and friendly demeanor of the country has worn a soft spot on my heart for the place.  While the country has a long way to go before I can recommend it as a vacation spot--its a nice break from the 'hustle and bustle' of Tana.  

In the superb The Zanzibar Chest, Aiden Hartley recounts climbing a volcano in Comoros and looking down on the island: “the beauty made me catch my breath.”  His description of the beauty there is apt--when I first stopped off the plane I couldn't stop thinking of Kauai's near-identical verdant north side.  

Some links on Hartley's book:

Unfortunately, as one of the poorest countries in the world (an an island at that)--much of this beauty will never be appreciated by the outside world.  Couple this economic isolation with the fact that they have suffered through more than 20 coups since independence and you start to get a sense of the country's challenges

Anyway, I wanted to share some photos/observations from a recent visit.

For insight on Comoran poetry--check out my post here

A great reliable driver.  Laly can be booked directly
 or through the Hotel Itsandra
Who knows how long this airplane has been ensconced in the dirt at the airport?  Same goes for the old helo.
Superb sunsets from the Hotel Itsandra
The port of Moroni

How the fish gets caught

Skys the limit

Belle Plage--if only they could keep the occassional diaper from washing ashore

Inside the boat

Downtown public beach--nice little restaurant not picture on the left

Sometimes the cards don't fall your way

Add caption

Shipwrecked boat--it's since been swallowed by the ocean

What are you looking at?

Le fin du jour