Monday, December 31, 2012

On the Edge of America

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate, and that you are having a happy New Year's Eve.

I am spending my New Year's with my wife at my favorite place on earth: Folly Beach.

Folly has always been a part of my life. When I was a kid, this was our vacation destination of choice. In fact, my grandmother lived here for a while, and for even longer on nearby James Island. It is the place where I can trace more happy memories than I can count, and where I feel the presence of my mother most clearly. I want to retire here, and when I die, I want my ashes scattered here.

Folly makes you slow down. It takes a good twenty minutes just to get off the island, which is only 7 miles long and about a mile wide at the widest point. But a good part of the island's revenue comes from unsuspecting tourists who don't realize how serious they are about the 30 mph speed limit. I set my cruise control when I drive on the island.

I think slowing down is a good thing. As Americans, we are always on the go. We want everything fast: our highways, our foods, even our movies...two hours is too long. But here, you can't go fast. And you don't want to. I am content wandering the beach, or even just sitting inside watching the waves. And listening to them.

This is exactly what I needed to recharge. The first part of our trip was jam-packed and fast paced. Get here to see my family then there to see hers. Lots of driving, no time to even unpack the suitcase. But now that we have seen our loved ones, our only task here is to relax.

Oh, and to soak up some vitamin D. It seems that the sun lives first morning in the states, I woke up giddy like a kid waiting for Santa, knowing that the sun would soon peak over the horizon. Sunrise was beautiful..and early. As much as I love Estonia, I do miss the sun. Winter days are dark.

So Happy New Year's! I hope you enjoy your ringing is as much as I know I will enjoy mine...just me, my wife, and some champagne at the beach. I wish your 2013 to be better than your 2012, even if your year, like mine, was a good one.

Head vana aasta lõppu ja kaunist uut aastat!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Whatever you celebrate, I hope you have the most wonderful of holiday seasons and a very Happy New Year.

For us, the house/pet sitter has been secured and the presents and plane tickets procured. We will be spending this Christmas with our family in the states, an all too rare thing in the service!

The computer is packed and I promise to try to post periodically. But I warn you, the content will be beach heavy and Foreign Service light.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Alec Ross: Rumored New Rules "not even close"

So apparently the concerns are less dire.

According to Alec Ross's (Senior Advisor for Innovation for Secretary Clinton) twitter account: @AlecJRoss:
"@Diplopundit @emilcDC @thenewdiplomats @tomistweeting My team involved in drafting/approving. Not even close to what has been blogged."

And this: @AlecJRoss: "@NinaJTweets - not going to happen as blogged. It's 30 days NOW. 2 days would be MAX and that wouldn't be tested. 30 days to 2 days = faster"

And a commenter on my previous post says blanket clearance will be given to those who are using social media in an official capacity.

Still don't know why they would want to clear on a post about my Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

New Rules on the Use of Media: going back to "people to bureaucracy to people"

There are a couple of articles out today proposing some frankly terrifying new rules on the use of media by anyone working for the State Department. I personally think these rules will have a chilling affect not just on our freedom of speech (and really...they need to clear on my Christmas tree post?)but on our ability to do diplomacy, particularly public diplomacy.

So I wrote a letter to Susan Johnson, the President of our employee association, AFSA. I am publishing it here...while I still can (though I really doubt these would stand up in court):

Hi Susan,

I don’t know if you have seen this, but there are a couple of pieces out on the Department trying to come up with new rules regarding using traditional or social media or making speeches. There are articles on it in the Washington Post and on DiploPundit.

According to DiploPundit, "the new rules will reportedly cover real-time or live presentation of views or ideas, whether physically before an audience, over a text-only or visual online forum, in-person, online, or over the phone interviews, other real-time communication and oh, teaching." Should these be approved, we will be required to get "2 working days for clearance on social media postings; 5 working days for blog posts; 5 working days for speeches, live events notes, talking points; 10 working days for articles, papers including online publications and 30 working days for books, manuscripts and other lengthy publications."

This is extremely concerning for several reasons. First, while we all agree not to discuss matters of “official concern” (i.e. Foreign Policy), none of us has agreed to give up our freedom of speech. But second, this will have a frightening effect on any PD officer’s attempt to do our jobs. As it stands now, for example, I can post freely post to our social media site pictures of events we have just held, our daily message, or information the Ambassador would like to see there. It is this real time communication that has made us more approachable to younger audiences. That will come to a grinding halt. We will lose all of the advantages social media gives us in reaching foreign audiences. And the reality is, if you have every post in the world seeking clearance for every tweet, every speech, every interview, nothing will end up getting cleared. Clearances from PA are notoriously slow now without these rules. Can you imagine what it will be like with literally thousands more clearance requests per day? For just my post and just today, we have done two Facebook posts, one tweet, one speech, and one interview. That is five clearances for us for one day. And it was a slow day for us.

I hope you will consider having AFSA take on this issue. Because we should not give up our freedom of speech in order to serve the country, and we shouldn’t be given all of these great tools for reaching people and then have those tools rendered useless. Diplomacy is people to people, and I thought we were trying to get away from being people to bureaucracy to people.



Saturday, December 01, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree!

I put up our Christmas tree tonight.

Okay, I actually put up the tree last week, but tonight I decorated it.

Decorating our tree is an exercise in memories.

See, we try to pick up something that can be used as an ornament on all of our travels. It doesn't have to be intended to be an ornament, but it needs to be small and hangable.

There are a few that are not from our travels, like the "Our First Christmas" one from 1999 that always goes on first and in a position of prominence. And then there are the pet charity ones or the ones my in-laws have given us. And there is a tiny wreath that was on my mother's tree.

But being in the Foreign Service has given us the opportunity to go to many places I never dreamed of.

And so there is a slipper from Baku, glass orbs from Turkey. There is a painted egg from Hungary and a wooden bell from Moscow. There is an olive wood nativity ornament from Bethlehem, and a Lithuanian bell. A metal etching of the Heidelberg Castle and a copy of the stained glass window in the Strasbourg Cathedral.

There are a bunch from our domestic travels too...a Catawba pottery rabbit and a Cherokee gourd bowl. There are lots of Charleston ornaments (the city puts out one a year), plus some from the State Department (for the Christmases we spend in DC), Chimney Rock in NC, and various forts we have visited. And of course, there is a copy of the Mayflower to mark our visit to Provincetown, Massachusetts three years ago to get legally married.

Each ornament has a story...and I think of each story as I decorate the tree. Lots of memories.

But what decorating the tree reminds me of most is just how fortunate I am. How lucky I am to have lived the life I have lived and how lucky I am to still be living it with the person I love.

Decorating the tree reminds me that I am truly blessed.