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, November 22, 2016

Weekly Reading: The Plague in Mada, Christianity, Writing at large, Getting Kids into College, Downs PSA, a total eclipse of AFRICOM and Mandatory FAO reading

Doing some catch-up posting after a long weekly reading hiatus. Now that I am back stateside, I hope to bring back this regular column.

The plague, alive and well in Madagascar
Yup--we keep it old school here on the Red Island

Why is Christianity the right religion?
I always enjoy hearing from Ravi Zacharias

From HBR to Mashable: How to Be a Guest Writer on 11 Popular Sites
Great reference doc for budding writerpreneurs!

Olivia Wilde stars in powerful PSA for World Down Syndrome Day
My wonderful uncle Dutch has down syndrome and this PSA is a great one that shows people with down syndrome are not to be pitied.

Advice College Admissions Officers Give Their Own Kids
Storing this one way for ten years from now.  The article contains a wide swath of advice from admissions officers at different universities.

Why the US needs AFRICOM
...and I need you more than ever...it's a total eclipse of the heart!  Sorry, where was I.  Some good soundbites for your next argument.

How Not to Make Disciples (Francis Chan Video)
Chan keeps it real and real funny.

Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da
This is an incredible read.  I put in on my FAO (Foreign Area Officer) Mandatory Reading List/PQS page for good reason.  The author breaks down the myriad ways negotiations or relationship often break down across different cultures.  Absolutely vital reading for anyone working in cultures outside the US.

Janitor Felt Invisible Until One Changed His Life
Feel good story about common decency amongst the oft-maligned millenial generation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Weekly Reading: Treating People Well, Happiness, Lent, Cleaning up Cereal, Partition and Confrontational, Loud Israelis

Playing a little catch up on my weekly readings.

A New Business Strategy: Treating Employees Well
Who would have thought right?  Great article on B-corporations and King Arthur flour in particular.

Yes, happiness is a difficult thing to quantify but this report is a great start.  Figuring out a country or a person's concept of happiness is one of the single most important thing you can do if you are a diplomat/foreign area officer working in a foreign country.

Ash Dykes Madagascar Journey
The man who traversed Madagascar on foot...and who wrote, filmed and blogged about it.

The baffling reason many millennials don’t eat cereal
Perfectly sums them up.  They don't cereal because they don't like to clean it up...seriously...they don't like to clean up the bowl...of empty cereal.

If my church does not practice Lent, should I?
Great post by an old friend from our church in DC.

Navy Medal of Honor Awardee Inducted into Pentagon's Hall of Heroes
Great video.

Goldwater Nichols 2.0
Mandatory reading for Foreign Area officers.  Great CSIS breakdown on the 2016 SASC hearings on defense reform and interagency changes.

It’s Time to Seriously Consider Partitioning Syria
Stavridis opines on partition.  Here's my own argument for partition, in general.

A helpful graphic that compares how EMOTIONALLY EXPRESSIVE and how CONFRONTATIONAL people of various cultural backgrounds generally are.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Reading the Continent--A Work of Fiction from Every Country in Africa

After looking at my reading lists from the last several years (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015) during this past Christmas, I was embarrassed to note the dearth of African fiction on my list.  So beginning in 2016, I've decided to make an effort to read a work of fiction by an African author from every country on the continent.  A parallel effort will include reading and writing about a poem from every country.  

So below I've started my list.  I will update it as I progress--if you have any suggestions please let me know. If a novel is listed, then I've read it.  I know there is plenty of great non-fiction (much of it listed on my comprehensive Africa reading list) too but for now I will stick with the good stuff. 

I've also started including a link to my prior "Poet of the Week" selections for various African countries--something to keep you occupied until I read a book from that country.

Coincidentally, in searching for novels I came across an amazing effort by writer Ann Morgan who read a novel from EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!  Her complete list is here.  It's invaluable in countries like Comoros and Madagascar where there is no published English fiction.


General (Multiple Countries):
West with the Night by Beryl Markham : My review is here and more information about the incomparable writer is here.
The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski.  This book is on my GOFO Africa Reading List.  I put a couple of choice quotes from the book's foreword here.

Poet of the Week from Algeria: Moufdi Zakaria: Kassaman (We Pledge)


Luuanda by Tania Macedo.  FUTURE READ.
Poet of the Week from Zaire (DRC)/Angola: Makuzayi Massaki: Regressado, Yes I Am



Poet of the Week from Botswana: Baralong Seboni: Love That

Burkina Faso
Cabo Verde


Houseboy.  My review is here.
Poet of the week from Cameroon: Mbella Sonne Dipoko: A Poem of Villeneuve St. Georges

Central African Republic


The Kafir of Khartala: My review is here.

Congo, Republic of the

Tomorrow I'll Be Twenty by Alain Mabanckou.  FUTURE READ.

Congo, Democratic Republic of the

A Bend in the River (1979) by V.S. Naipaul.  My review is here.

Poet of the Week from the Congo: Jean-Baptiste Tati Loutard: Impuissance

Cote d'Ivoire

Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma.  This novel could just as easily have been filed under Sierra Leone or Liberia but I stuck it here since the author is Ivorian.  And if we want to get all philosophical about things, most of these books could be filed under multiple countries since the borders are really an artificial colonial construct.  My review is here.


Transit by Abdourahman Waberi.  FUTURE READ.
The Land Without Shadows by Abdourahman Waberi.  FUTURE READ.


The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz.  Magnificent story about colonial Egypt and family.
Poet of the Week from Syria/Egypt: Khalil Mutran: Boycott

Equatorial Guinea


In Praise of Savagery: My review is here.



Ghana Must Go: My review is here.
Poet of the Week from Ghana: Atukwei Okai: III (Everyone Dreams of Kissing You)



The Zanzibar Chest by Aiden Hartley.  One of my favorite books ever.  Not technically fiction but it sure reads like it. My review is here.
One Day I Will Write About This Place: My review is here.
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alex Fuller.  I never wrote a review on this one.  



Confines of the Shadow: My review is here.
Poet of the Week from Libya: Fatima Mahmoud: What Was Not Conceivable
Poet of the Week from Libya: Ashur Etwebi: Politics and Writing a Poem
Poet of the Week from Libya: Khaled Mattawa: East of Carthage: An Idyll

Poet of the Week from Madagascar: Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo: 9


The Jive Talker or How to Get a British Passport: My review is here.

Poet of the Week from Malawi: Frank Chipasula: A Love Poem for my Country



Leaving Tangier: My review is here.
Poet of the Week from Morocco: Muhammed Bennis: Love is Eternity's River
Poet of the Week from Morocco: Ali Squali Houssaini: Moroccan National Anthem
Poet of the Week from Morocco: Hassan El Ouazzani: Elegy for Love


Poet of the Week from Mozambique: Noémia de Sousa: If You Want to Know Me
Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto.  FUTURE READ.



Arrow of God by Achebe (I've read all of his novels but this one was my favorite) : My review is here.
I Do Not Come to You By Chance: My review is here.
The Fishermen: My review is here.
Americanah: My review is here.
Every Day is For the Thief: My short review is here.  My kindle highlights are here
Poet of the Week from Nigeria: Wole Soyinka: In the Small Hours


Everything is Yours, Everything is Not Yours: My review is here.

Sao Tome and Principe


So Long a Letter: My full review is here.
Poet of the Week from Senegal: Senghor: Black Woman
Poet of the Week from Senegal: Leopold SenghorEt nous baignerons mon amie

Sierra Leone


Warrior: Life and Death Among Somalis. My review is here.
Poet of the Week from Somalia: Abdirashid Omar: The Decree

South Africa

My Traitor's Heart
Bring Me My Machine Gun

South Sudan

There is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan  FUTURE READ.


What is the What?  I never wrote a review for this one.
Poet of the Week Muhammed Al-Faituri from Sudan: A Scream



The Gunny Sack by M.J. Vassanji.  FUTURE READ.


An African in Greenland by Kpomassie.  My review is here.


Talismano by Dr. Abdelwahab Meddeb. FUTURE READ.

All our Names: My review is here.  THIS IS THE GREAT AFRICAN NOVEL.  One of the best books I've ever read.


Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller.
Poet of the Week from Zambia: Gwendoline Konie: In the Fist of Your Hand

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

We Need New Names: My review is here.
They Are Coming: My review is here.

Africa is a Country reading lists:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Weekly Reading: A Racist Repents, North Korean "Art", Pressure Points, and Fasting

Hold on, before you “give up something for Lent”
A good thoughtful post from my old Pastor in DC on the nature and history of fasting--especially as it's tied in to Easter.

All-but-forgotten artist Trotter brought into the limelight in new film ‘Many Beautiful Things’

The Study-Abroad Solution How to Open the American Mind
Foreign Affairs only lets you read one article a month...but if you go to the link and CTRL+Print the article before scrolling down, the whole article will come up in print preview--then you just save it as a PDF.

North Korea's biggest export? Giant statues. To African dictators.
Their art studio has a website here.  You are welcome.  OH, and the site also has a link to the handcrafted posters here.  Unbelievably these are all serious posters.  Seeing them reminded me of the Orphan Master's Son--a phenomenal novel by Adam Johnson.
Korean Posters_sv_U008_lets sweat more in training

Let’s Sweat More in Training for the World Championship

A ruthless defender of apartheid now seeks forgiveness
Powerful and unbelievable story of reconciliation, forgiveness is South Africa.  In this story's case, one of the most evil men in South Africa repents and gets down on his knees and washes the feet of a black man.

Know These Pressure Points that Can Relieve Stress

Cheezburger animated GIF

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2013 Joint FAO Conference --My Notes and Takeaways

I found these old notes from when I attended the Joint FAO conference back in 2013 before I began my FAO career in earnest (i.e., before I'd received my master's and embarked on my first overseas tour).  It would be worthwhile for me to revisit them at some point in more depth as there's a big gap between expectation and reality.

AMB Lyon on FAO Shortcomings:
-Writing style: needs to be analytical, need to work with Amb. He needs essays WITHOUT acronyms.
-Need to see the shades of grey
-bring about change through indirect means
-research ‘campaign design’
-lack of negotiation training
-need to embrace language beyond mechanical knowledge (poetry, music, etc)
-FAOs must listen to their music, read their poetry, watch their TV shows (what are the top TV shows in your country)
*Are Foreign Service Nationals unsung heroes?
Image result for ambassador lyon

RADM Lemmons

Image result for admiral jeff lemmons
-For NOB FITREPs, request a soft breakout, this is very important!
-FAOs need to be publishing!
Book Recommendation:  Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating by Thomas Barnett

The Foreign Assistance Spectrum

-Maritime Pillars: Professionals, Domain Awareness, Infrastructure. Response capabilities.
“Sea blindness” inability to see what’s going on in your own waters. Also a blindess to the value of the navy’s value in maritime environment.

As a FAO you must establish your brand.

Defense is from Mars, State is from Venus” paper (1998) by Col. Rife

Foreign Service Institue- emphasis on active learning of language
-2 week intensive course

My question:
What is your opinion of the ethics of the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System wherein civilian social scientists are used by in country military commanders (currently being done in Afghanistan)?
Is the current FAO training sufficient to fill the place of these anthropologists (particularly within the Marine Corps where this is the whole point of their dual track)?
*WRT to HTS-models must not become templates. There is power in idiomatic expressions.

How do you develop contacts? What’s a contact society? How do we teach relationship development?
The idea of skills vs. attributes in a FAO; you can teach skills but if they don’t have the correct attributes it’s a waste. FAOs must be immersed within the country’s people.

*Cultures are the conditions under which you will work, not a task but a context.
*Article Idea: on the effectiveness of Roman empire because of in-country cultural immersion.

-“Shoot-move-communicate” is the NORM.
-As a FAO we must “communicate-move-shoot” (ummm..probably shouldn't shoot at all)
-It is essential to understand cultural ‘nuances’ in order to Build Partnerships
-Human security must be promoted by BP!

*We are used to feeling of identity (i.e. Catholic, democrat, southerner, military), but when we are abroad we are only seen by one identity: AMERICAN

Read the following books:
Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury
Common Sense by Paine
Africa Works by Chabal


DISAM- Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management (1206/1207)
“The purpose of security policy is to selfishly protect and advance US National Security interests (not to be consistent)”

Project2049.net--Asia Policy Site

Mark Stokes USAF FAO
1. Understand DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military and Economic)
2. Know Basic History
3. Understand typical lifestyles of people
4. Understand cultural red-lines for foreigners and natives
5. Know 2 songs, 2 poems, read 2 books from their literature
6. Language- at least survival (1/1), appreciate high context or low context

1. Read target country or region periodicals
2. Visit country or region once every 18 months
3. Read outsiders writings on target country/region
4. Consume media in target language that interests you as a hobby, diversion or habit (ex. Get a French bible)

1. Talk with natives in target language
2. Make local friends
3. Go to historical or cultural sites
4. Get hot books or media
5. Go to the arts

Read the Koran

“What is this country’s concept of happiness?” This is essential to know!
It's an important distinction--the country's conception of happiness--not the international community's concept of happiness.

Chrysanthemum and the sword” by Ruth Benedict
A recognized classic of cultural anthropology, this book explores the political, religious, and economic life of Japan from the seventh century through the mid-twentieth, as well as personal family life