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

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.


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.


Burkina Faso
Cabo Verde
Central African Republic


The Kafir of Khartala: My review is here.

Congo, Republic of the

Congo, Democratic Republic of the

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

Cote d'Ivoire


The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz.  Magnificent story about colonial Egypt and family.

Equatorial Guinea


In Praise of Savagery: My review is here.



Ghana Must Go: My review is here.



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.



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



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

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

Sao Tome and Principe


Sierra Leone


Warrior Among Somalis

South Africa
My Traitor's Heart
Bring Me My Machine Gun

South Sudan


What is the What?


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.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

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

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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Weekly Reading: Decaying Dams, African Air Travel, CREAM, Happiness, Nirvana and the Rangers, and Work-Life Balance

One of Africa's Biggest Dams is Falling Apart
Fresh water stands to increasingly become the world's most valuable commodity.  It's easy to cluck one's tongue at the inability of third-world african nations to maintain their infrastructure but as the article points out, dams are notoriously difficult and expensive to maintain (the US itself has done a horrible job with its own dam infrastructure).  

What English Speaks Don't Get About the Meaning of Happiness
Understanding different cultural conceptions of what 'happiness' means is a powerful too for every FAO or foreign affairs professional.  One must constantly keep in mind that the American idea of happiness is VERY different from other nation's ideas of happiness.  This article unpacks these ideas as well as just baseline differences in what the word 'happy' means in different languages.

Malagasy Navy participates in CUTLASS EXPRESS 2016
Madagascar sends its first ship abroad since 1978.  Good article on the strides being made by the Navy here.

Turns out UPENN puts out a very thorough think tank ranking . You can download the 16MB report here.

Evidently Madagascar has a think tank.  And evidently it's a good one (top 60 in Africa) according to UPENN's recent report.  Best of all, the think tank shares it's name with the WU-TANG hit 'Cash Rules Everything Around Me' which I wrote about recently here.

It is difficult to describe the dysfunction and dilapidation of some third-world airlines.  There are things, circumstances, smells and sights that you could never have imagined.  My quarterly flight to Comoros is always an exercise in restraint and self-meditation.  The sights and smells aboard said flight inspired me to pen a poem last year, entitled Ode to VapoRub.

Global Incident Map  
Cool little open source map that collates reports across a variety of issues.  Also pretty scary--go to their 'non-terror aviation incidents'.

What Ivy League students are reading that you aren’t
So many snarky fill-in-the-blank answers one could respond with here...but altogether an interesting look article--particularly for my fellow english majors.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero
The unlikely story of former Nirvana and Soundgarden guitarist Jason Everman's salvation that came by dropping his guitar and picking up an M4...kind of.  This is a throwback article from about three years ago that I came across again a few weeks back.  Mandatory reading for an punk-rocker or head stomper.

Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends: Pick 3
Such a great article.  These five things have to be things that every I suggest pairing this article with a great one from QZ.com that came out last year: How successful people work less—and get more done--the basic gist of is that productivity falls considerably when the workweek exceeds 50 hours.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Weekly Reading: Down Syndrome, Maritime militias, Refugees, Fathers' Love, Netflix Secrets, Pro-Life and BPC primer

In Defense Of Down Syndrome Children...Like My Son
Love this.  Love my Uncle Dutch with down syndrome!

We must allow life in our world that doesn't follow our scripted narrative. We must have the courage to choose that which is good over what is convenient.

Why the rush to rid the world of people like Cade?

If you are a WestPac SWO or PACOM FAO this is mandatory reading.  CIMSEC puts out some great stuff.

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence
I try to read everything that Tristan McConnell writes.  His review of this book is stuck behind a paywall but I've added the book to my reading list for this year.

President Obama challenges pro-lifers to join March for Life (sort of)
A clever little video that juxtaposes the president's concern for shooting victims (which is admirable) with his support for abortion.  To me, being pro-life means being pro-gun control as well.

Why Every Girl Longs for a Father’s Love
Jut a nice reminder on why being a dad is so important...and why being an intentional dad is so important!

Netflix Has A Ton Of Secret Movie Categories And Here’s How To Access Them
Some cool little hacks to better search for movies on Netflix.  For example, http://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/25804 will give you all the military shows that they carry. Rom-Coms are under 5475

Mini Object Lesson: No, There Are Not 100 Eskimo Words for "Snow"
haha, I love a good etymological deep dive!

What Is “Building Partner Capacity?” Issues for Congress
These CRS reports are great.  If there was a Foreign Area Officer PQS, this would be one of the source documents.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Weekly Reading: Spooks, Buchanan!, Loss, Sanctuary cites, Mada's Legal Morass, FAOs and I am 2nd

How an obscure adviser to Pat Buchanan predicted the wild Trump campaign in 1996
Well this is an interesting article...but who could have really predicted Trump...

On Flying, and Who We Lost
A beautiful heartbreaking post about aviation, friendship and loss.

I Am Second
Then who's first, you will have to see for yourself.  Some incredible videos and stories.

The Struggle With Sanctuary Cities in Iowa
I am learning new things about our crazy political/electoral system all the time.

Eyewash: How the CIA deceives its own workforce about operations
The CIA, of course, denies any knowledge...between articles like these and watching Homeland...

UPDATE: Law and Legal Systems in Madagascar: A Political Siege
A good primer on the pol-legal systems of Madagascar.  I've been here two years and there were quite a few things that I learned.  It's difficult to find much political analysis on Madagascar in English so this was nice to run across.  One quote in particular caught my attention: "Montesquieu recommended that “power should be a check to power” to avoid abuses. However, Madagascar which wishes to be a democratic regime views the legislature and judiciary subordinated to the executive. Further, the Constitution appears to be an instrument used to legitimate and strengthen its supremacy."

This links auto-downloads the PDF--a bit annoying but so far a good 50 pages thesis that I am reading through.    His short answer is yes but AFRICOM needs a more balanced approached in Phase Zero ENCAP, MEDCAP and SC/SA activities.  You can just skip to page 48 to read his conclusions.

Foreign Area Officers learn from the experts at Monterey language school
Nothing I love more than a little FAO propaganda!

"Every FAO is an expert on political-military issues in a particular region of the world, is knowledgeable of security cooperation, highly trained in language skills and interpersonal skills, and is an experienced officer."

We definitely are not trained in 'interpersonal skills' but it's not a bad idea...although I am not sure what that would look like

Monday, January 25, 2016

Weekly Reading: Leaping Lines, Revolutionary Baby Jesus, Repo Men at Sea and Great! Post Offices

I read a lot over the holidays so I am still catching up with my summaries of all my December reading.

Reading Is About the Lines That Leap Off the Pages
Much of what you read in the Times you read without giving a thought to who the author is.  I couldn't make that mistake after reading this year-end gem by Dwight Garner, literary critic extraordinaire.  In it he deftly leaps through about twenty different book recommendations, lifting delicious quotes from each of them.

The Christmas Revolution
Smart, well-written article on just how revolutionary Jesus was.  "He saw the inestimable worth of human life, regardless of social status, wealth and worldly achievements, intelligence or national origin. So should we."

ISIS’ War on Christmas
Interesting and thoughtful article on how Salafists think about Christmas theologically.  The author also draws parallels between Islamists' "origin' state and that of the far right en France.

Wow, fascinating report on the gritty underbelly of maritime repossessors.  This has to get made into a movie.

What’s Your Favorite Poem?
A round table of authors discuss their favorite poems--what's not to like!

How I Escaped Vietnam
Incredible untold story of the flood of children that escaped Vietnam in the midst of escalating violence and mayhem.

In Chile, Where Pablo Neruda Lived and Loved
Beautiful writing about the homes of Neruda in Chile.  Essential reading for any Pablophile.

The Deported
I feel like it's all too easy for both sides of the immigration debate to make sweeping statements one way or the other.  Articles like these should hopefully give one pause to consider the actual human lives behind whatever the policies enacted are.

Why the Post Office Makes America Great
Having lived overseas for more than two years in a third-world country I appreciate the author's sentiment.  As Americans we take things like being able to send a letter that arrives where it is supposed to for granted.