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November 24, 2006

Show Solidarity with Israeli Activists: Sign Petition to Stop the Siege on Gaza

WILPF Israel, along with others in the Coalition of Women for Peace, called for a month of action to Stop the Siege! Stop the War! As part of this month of education and action, they have created an online petition. Here is the text:

To the Israeli government and world leaders:

GAZA: Stop the Siege! Stop the War!

The situation in Gaza has reached emergency levels - inadequate water, electricity, and medicine; widespread hunger, poverty, and unemployment; schools and other services rendered inoperative; constant bombardments and attacks by the Israeli military.

This humanitarian catastrophe is man-made: It was brought on by the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip by Israel and the sanctions imposed by the international community on Palestine, made worse by repeated IDF attacks. If this situation continues, we will see spreading disease, malnutrition, and more violence. Under these conditions, negotiations - the only way to reach peace between both peoples - also become an impossibility.

We call upon Israeli leaders to end the siege of and war on Gaza. We call upon world leaders to end the political and economic sanctions of Palestine.

The siege and sanctions are sowing chaos and death in Gaza. They must come to an end.

[your name]

Sign the petition through this link.

Here's the comment I left with my signature:

As the Program Chair of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, US Section (WILPF US), and an American Jew, I urge you to stop the seige. Endless occupation, land appropriation, and killing makes both Israel and Palestine unsafe. Israel's security depends on an independent Palestine. US security depends on making our foreign policy more just and being more open to criticizing Israeli government actions.

Learn more about this month of action, culminating on December 2 at the gazaseige.net website.

Learn more about the WILPF US campaign, Women Challenge US Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East (WCUSP) at our website.

cross-posted from the WILPF US blog.

Posted by cj at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2006

Taking the Foreign Service Exam

Editor's Note: This was originally posted on July 26, 2004 on my old blog. That blog gets a huge amount of traffic based on this one post. I decided to move it to this site to try to entice people to read my more recent ramblings.

Recently, many people have found my blog by searching for info on the FSWE and the FSOA. Lemme just say this as a previous test taker (took the FSWE four times, passed the first three times; took the FSOA three times, got on the passing list once). To be clear - I am *not* an FSO. I was on the list of eligible hires for 18 months, but never got into an A-100 class. If these terms make no sense, then send me an email or post a comment and I'll answer your question as best I can. I got a lot of help preparing for the FSWE and FSOA. My profs at Wellesley prepped us during seminars about the oral exam (even before we'd taken the written). My class dean's jaw dropped when I announced I had passed the written exam during my senior year of college (proving that yes, even those without straight As can get ahead in life). If you follow foreign affairs regularly and did well on the AP U.S. History exam, you'll probably pass the written exam. (check and check; I got a 5 on that exam.) To be honest, I passed the oral exam because I took it after spending a week learning how to be a union organizer. Sound strange? Here's why it's not: I had to explain my position, discuss sensitive issues, and reach compromises with people during that week of training. Those are the same things you have to do at the orals. I've also spoken to a few FSOs, one of whom worked as an oral examiner.

[For Google's Eyes Only. Update: For some reason, people are finding other posts about these topics but not this all inclusive one. So here's my attempt to teach google to find this post. Keywords: FSWE, FSOA, foreign service, foreign service exam, foreign service oral assessment, foreign service written exam, passing the foreign service exam, State Department, diplomat, blog.]

How to Study for the Foreign Service Exam
1. Don't look to Amazon for a good list of books before taking the written exam. Read the newspaper and weekly news magazines, especially The Economist. Read a book on management theory and one on economics. Read the Constitution. Play games about geography and learn as much world geography as possible. Learn how to write an essay. If you don't know any American cultural history, especially famous books about politics, read about that as well. (I think one of those big books of American culture would suffice.) Don't bother learning any more about the foreign service or diplomacy before taking the written exam. It's not worthwhile.

2. If you get to the orals, join the Yahoo groups on the subject. Also search the web for sites written by diplomats and expats for an idea of what you're getting into. Know the game before you get there: you'll have a group exercise to start the day. The point isn't to win (getting your project funded). All the projects are worthwhile. The point is to be a leader who brings your group to a consensus within the time period. Also pay attention to what the directions ask you to talk about during your presentation, and talk about those points. Introduce yourself before speaking. Stop taking notes on your project before the presentations start. Take notes on what your colleagues say.

3. Learn more management theory. It's really important. Learn how to read a budget and analyze a budget and manage idiotic underlings.

4. The point of hypothetical questions isn't to test your knowledge of diplomatic procedure. You can learn about the consular and administrative rules for embassies, but past that who cares? Always start by asking your supervisor for advice. Defer to them often. When asked why you want to be a diplomat, have an answer besides wanting to be an ambassador. Most FSOs never get to that point on the career ladder cause they haven't given money to a presidential campaign. (It's important to leave the really important jobs to diplomatic novices.) It doesn't matter if you know five languages or one, if you have five degrees or none. It's important to have a realistic career goal for going into the service. For me, I wanted to get into the Naval War College (the oldest war college in the country) and get paid to get a Masters degree in Security Studies. I thought that would look good on a resume above my Peace and Justice Studies degree.

5. Think hard about what you want to do in the Service and afterwards. If you want to get to know people in your host country, you should choose the Public Affairs or Consular cones. Those are the only cones that actually interact with the natives. The Economic and Political cones don't even chat with the foreign nationals who work at our embassies and consulates. There also isn't much power left in the Economic and Political cones. Economics is done by the Commerce Dept and politics are handled by Congress and every Administrative dept not labeled State. The public affairs officers create cultural exchange programs and teach host country citizens about American values and educational opportunities. Alternatively, you could join the Administrative cone since administrative job skills are the most easily transferable in the outside world. Consular officers do a thankless job and there aren't enough of them, so people in every other cone have to spend at least two years on a consular post. You stamp passports and deny entry to suspicious people. Least exciting work, but also the easiest way into the service b/c it has the lowest passing grade on the oral exam. You can't change your cone once you enter the service, so stop thinking the administrative and/or consular cones will offer a back door into politics or economics. If you're really interested in a meaty foreign policy job, go work at the Commerce department or at the House or Senate foreign relations committees. State does not make any policy, it only enforces it. You aren't going to change the world in a hugely significant way by being in the service, and if you agree with any other post on this site, you'll be a miserable and lonely person in the service.

6. Don't lie on any form you fill out. If you've done drugs, admit it. If it was at least two years ago, they wont care too much especially if it wasn't a "hard" drug. They'll throw you out of the running if they catch you in a lie. If you do lie on a form, fess up as soon as you have your first interview w. the FBI (or whoever it is that runs the background check). They're going to talk to your elementary schoolmates and your mamma's best friend and that chick who lived down the hall from you in college who hated your guts. They're also going to follow you and ask you why you went to a particular movie during your period of review and who that same-sex date was. Also, you wont get clearance to work anywhere in the world if you've got serious medical problems, so don't bother with these tests if you couldn't hack it in a third world country with minimal medical attention.

7. You'll live like royalty in a foreign land. That land will probably be a poor, newly independent state your friends have never heard of and probably have no intention of visiting you in. It will be a lonely and thankless life, offering little reward. There are much easier ways to work abroad. Teach English. Be part of the capitalist beast and go into international finance. Marry a foreigner. But don't marry a foreigner if you eventually want to be an FSO. It'll be harder to pass the background check if you do.

11/21/04 Update: I received an email from a retired FSO who pointed out that I discussed a lot of things you could do via the Public Affairs cone as responsibilities of the Administrative cone. My apologies for the confusion. When I first started taking the exam, the Public Affairs cone didn't exist (because it was still part of the U.S. Information Agency and just getting merged with State).

And just to reiterate: I'm not in any way affiliated with the USG. I've given up on my dream of being an FSO. Mostly because I love expressing my own opinion on world affairs and so instead am trying to eventually be a professional writer. For now, I work in the Midwest Advertising Office of a major national magazine that maybe you've never heard of.

Editor's coda: I currently live in Los Angeles. After five years as an account strategist in the advertising world, I now have a full-time activist gig: I'm the Bring Our War Dollars Home organizer for CODEPINK: Women for Peace. And I no longer want to give out advice over email. If you're curious for more info, just drop a comment.

Posted by cj at 11:02 PM | Comments (5)

The Drugging of America

The NYT features an article on kids who take drug cocktails to deal with their "mental health problems." At what point will drug-happy doctors stop prescribing drugs that comatose our kids and start Treating Them With Therapy and Other Non-Invasive Treatments?!?!

While I don't know what it's like to have attention deficit disorder, I do know that cocktails of drugs that stunt growth and mental capacity are not the way to fix the problem of employment sucking away parents' ability to parent their children. I can accept that in rare cases young children may need a single psychiatric drug (though I would never use one on my hypothetical children), but there is zero scientific evidence that three or more horse pills will help little Johnny function better. Why do we rush to drugs without even trying other forms of treatment? Do people really believe in magic pills? Don't they understand that psychiatrists still don't know how most of these drugs even work?

This position is a tad hard for me to take. I should give full disclosure and admit that I did take anti-depressants in college. I've even had doctors tell me that I should be on them for the rest of my life. And I can accept that as the right path for some adults. But these harsh chemicals that we're throwing down the throats of innocent, prepubescent children is horrific. It is beyond the pale - much worse than the simplistic notion of Prozac Nation.

The fact of the matter is that our society, our education system, our family structures, our lives are not structured in a way that is conducive to mental health. Starting with the US "healthcare" system - visits with drug pushers are more likely to be covered than visit to talk therapists. Alternative medicine is rarely covered. Activities such as yoga, massage, and life coaching are generally available only to the wealthy. Instead of being open to variety, the No Child Left Behind Act ensures that schools are getting more rigid in their approaches to "teaching," leaving less time for imagination or a way in for kids who are not motivated by Scantron tests. High divorce rates, increasing economic pressure for both parents to work outside the home, and over-indulgence of children has led us to need British t.v. nannies and Psychiatrists to keep our children behaved.

The article was so difficult to read.

Ms. Kehoe, who receives government financial and child-care assistance because her children are considered mentally ill, said she knew that there were risks to the drug cocktails. Both her sons are short and underweight for their age -- a common side effect of stimulants -- and she fears that the drugs have affected their health and behavior in other ways.

"But I don't think the insurance would pay for it if the F.D.A. didn't decide that children should use it," said Ms. Kehoe, who herself takes psychiatric medication.

[emphasis added]

Seriously. Do people have that much trust in insurance companies and the FDA that they're willing to risk their children's lifelong health? That quote has plagued me since I read it several hours ago in the print version of the paper. I don't know how we get from complete reliance on Big Brother to a healthy balance between drug therapy and other therapy for mental health problems, but we've got to start.

Happy Thanksgiving.

full article: "Proof Is Scant on Psychiatric Drug Mix for Young," by Gardiner Harris

Posted by cj at 9:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2006

Palestinian Israeli Unable to Go to Reproductive Rights Conference

I was forwarded a letter from Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian via a Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) listserv. Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian was humiliated at the Ben Gurion airport. After ransacking her personal belongings, the Israeli security officers decided she could not board the airplane with her laptop (which she needed to write a lecture for the “Women and Sexual Reproductive Rights” conference she was trying to attend in Tunis.)

The letter can be read in its entirety on Margaret's Wanderings blog. I urge you to read it to understand the human consequence of the Israeli apartheid state.

Dr. Nadera Shaloub-Kevorkian's website at the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University of Jersusalem

Posted by cj at 9:14 PM | Comments (0)

NYT Roundup of Israel / Palestine Events

Under the title "U.N. Official Touring Israel Is Near Area Hit by Rocket," the NYT threw several disparate parts into a one column article on Israel / Palestine. It does start with a look at UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour's trip to Sderot and Beit Hanun. Then it veers off into an account of the Israeli army murdering three people, including a 70-year old woman, in Gaza City. (These murders are apparently justified because the other two victims were allegedly militants.) Then it lets us know that Italian Red Cross workers were briefly abducted in Palestine. I'm still unclear why militants are abducting aid workers - are they just looking for media attention? Finally, it closes with the poignant tale of a lost tribe of Jews from India immigrating to Israel. Good thing those crazy rabbis decided to accept the Indians as Jewish. They supposedly left Israel 2700 years ago and now get to return home. Needless to say, the article does not point out that people who lived there 60 years ago are still barred from returning home.
Full Story: "U.N. Official Touring Israel Is Near Area Hit by Rocket," by Greg Myre

In fairness, this has been a relatively good week for NYT coverage of the Middle East. Yesterday, the top story was on Israel stealing private Palestinian land to create their illegal settlements in the West Bank. It was based on research provided by Peace Now, an Israeli peace organization (with a US affiliate - Americans for Peace Now).
Full article:"Israeli Map Says West Bank Posts Sit on Arab Land," by Steven Erlanger on 11/21/06

Following the international backlash on its lethal targeting of civilian populations in Gaza, the Israeli army held its fire on 11/19, which was a story also worthy of the NYT:
"Israel Holds Fire as Gazans Rally at House," by Ian Fisher, published 11/20

On Saturday, the NYT featured a report on how difficult it is for Palestinians to move around within Palestine because of the extensive road blocks and road closures created by the Israeli military within the West Bank and Gaza. Its the most interesting NYT article on the conflict that I've read in the past year. A picture from a road block was even featured as the lead photo on the national edition of the newspaper.
"For West Bank, It’s a Highway to Frustration," by Greg Myre, written on November 14 and published on November 18 in the NYT. Perhaps this important article was too "pro-Palestinian" for the higher circulation Tuesday edition of the NYT.

Posted by cj at 8:26 PM | Comments (0)

Time to Move to Australia: Support for Health Trumps Religious / Misogynist Worldview

Australia legalized the abortion pill RU486 this year. It also legalized therapeutic cloning.

Apparently, not all former British colonies are stuck in a religious rut.

More deets: "Memo from Australia: Where Politics and Personal Lives Seem Not to Intersect," by Raymond Bonner in today's NYT

Posted by cj at 7:41 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2006

Vera Drake Would Be Prosecuted in Nicaragua Today

My favorite movie of recent times, and perhaps of all time, is "Vera Drake." Written and directed by Mike Leigh, starring Imelda Staunton, it spins a poignant tale about a "Wife. Mother. Criminal."

Unfortunately, while British and American audiences can view the movie as a well-crafted tale of times long gone, around the world women's access to reproductive health is faltering. Often, US taxpayer money helps fund the lack of resources - the "global gag rule" on even mentioning the word abortion and receiving US aid.

And now, in Nicaragua, even women who might die without an abortion cannot legally get one. The politics of corrupt, power hungry men is at fault. President-elect Daniel Ortega sold out half of his constituency when he made a deal with Conservatives to support the new law. Ortega narrowly eked out a win in the recent presidential elections with 38% of the vote. Now, every person in Nicaragua will suffer. Because when you deny access to health services to one person, you affect the health of all people. The bill was signed into law last Friday.

More deets - "Nicaragua Eliminates Last Exception to Strict Anti-Abortion Law," by James C. McKinley Jr., in today's NYT

Posted by cj at 6:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 8, 2006

Provisional Balloting - "Democracy," Warts and All

I was forced to cast a provisional ballot today because the old ladies that run my precinct did not have my name on the voter rolls. Basically, this means my vote wont count. Nevermind that LA County sent me a sample ballot and information on where to vote. Apparently, I didn't prove my residency. Nevermind that I simply returned home - to the exact address that I last lived at before moving away from Cali. Nope. I think the problem is that I didn't write a Cali driver's license down when I registered. See, I just moved back in September and well, I haven't gotten that yet. It's aggravating to be silenced by the system.

Even more aggravating, my fellow Californians are idiots. They overwhelmingly re-elected the misogynist in chief as governor. They passed an initiative to put GPS monitoring on all sex offendors even though its net result will be to make the public less safe (more offendors will simply drop off the roles, more cops will spend their time on duty watching computer monitors instead of policing the streets, more money will be wasted on a Republican vote getter that gets nothing for our safety). The proposition to make Cali like every other state in the union and force Big Oil to PAY FOR THEIR USE OF OUR PUBLICLY-OWNED OIL FAILED. The morons in chief on this one were Hollywood Money. I'm so disgusted with the system. But really, who can I blame? Yes, Hollywood and Big Corporations have the real power in California politics. But where are my sisters and brothers? Why do my fellow citizens not bother to vote? Why don't they lobby their representatives? Why don't we have a voice int he democratic process? Why does one racist fall (George Allen in Virginia), while another racist wins (the guy in Tennessee whose supporters sent out racist propaganda attacking Ford, the first black man to have a chance at a Southern Senate seat since Reconstruction)? How does the establishment Democratic candidate lose so swiftly after National Dems forced out the progressive Democrat (Duckworth, Illinois)?

I'm tired, bitter, and angry. Tomorrow is another day, and I'll use it to create the world I want to see rather than picking apart this horse race. Are you sick and tired of the way the world is turning? Then Join WILPF. Together, we're going to create the nonviolent revolution in domestic and foreign policy that this country so desperately needs.

I'll leave you with my comments on the LA Times blog -

The lesson of Prop 87 is that Californians are really, truly addicted to oil. They're afraid they will have to pay this tax at the pump. No sound bite from President Clinton on t.v. or any of the other wasted millions on this proposition could convince them otherwise. In some ways, this proves that democracy can't be created by the upper class - that Californians don't walk lock step behind Hollywood money. Then again, people do seem to be enamored by a celebrity governor regardless of his record or his muddied past.

In the end, the results of this particular election don't matter. There's a cancer on our democracy - people are so alienated by the system that they don't even bother to do their civic duty and vote. And even less people pay attention and get involved in the political process beyond voting. We must figure out a way to get back control of the political process from Hollywood moguls, large corporations, and the sycophant politicians. Here's hoping we build a grassroots democracy in the coming decade.

Posted by cj at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 4, 2006

"We risked our lives to save our sons."

Yesterday, the Israeli army's siege on Gaza continued through an attack on a mosque. The Israeli army was attempting to force Palestinian defense forces to leave the mosque. To respond to this attack, the Hamas government chose a new defense tactic: incorporating women. Palestinian organizers, using cell phones and radio announcements, encouraged women to provide a human shield for their sons, brothers, and husbands. Women arrived at the mosque and the Israeli army fired upon them. One woman died at the scene, another died at a hospital. The Israeli army claimed that they started shooting at the women because they saw men in the group. Video footage proves that claim as a lie. This incident has been broadcast throughout the Middle East. It is a breakthrough in terms of women's involvement because it is the first time women en masse have put their lives on the line in defense of Palestine. The Israeli army described the situation:

"This is a clear example of use of innocent population for terror," said Israeli army Maj. Avital Leibovich, denouncing the Palestinian use of civilian women as shields.

Jamela Shanti, 45, one of two Gazan women in the parliamentary delegation of Hamas responded: ""We risked our lives to save our sons."

More information: "Hamas militants flee Gaza mosque aided by women: Israeli troops fire on marchers answering a radio call; 2 die." by Richard Boudreaux and Rushdi abu Alouf, in the LA Times.

Posted by cj at 9:28 AM | Comments (0)

November 1, 2006

Taxes: They're a Good Thing

Watching the evening local news is a joke. Chock full of political ads. I still don't know all the propositions on the California ballot, nor do I know all the politicians up for election. I was able to hear about a Tiger fighting for Californians (which I noted sounded a helluva lot like a junior high student council election slogan). And I asked my flatmates their opinion on this proposed cigarette tax hike. I'm so damn sick of politicians balancing budgets on the backs of smokers and drinkers. Everywhere I've lived - from Washington State to Chicago to Cali - seems to think that the answer to skyrocketing healthcare costs is more "sin" taxes. Apparently, drinkers and smokers aren't as well organized as homeowners and the general public, so its easy to just tax the hell out of them. Enough is enough. If we're going to seriously tackle the public health problem caused by our insistence on a for-profit health system; if we're going to really tackle the absolute lack of affordable housing; if we're going to cut the bureaucracy in our schools and increase the funding that actually goes to teachers and classrooms, than we're just going to have to raise taxes. Not just on smokers and drinkers. Let's start by forcing the rich to pay their fair share - once we cut all the corporate loopholes, then we can start on the income tax system. And before we raise income taxes, lets get more auditors out there to go after the rich and powerful and get the money they owe to the system.

You want a society that is fair and just? Then accept taxes as a necessary part of the system.

And if you're a bloody rockstar who made an angelic name for himself championing the poor, you sure as hell better not skirt your tax bill. I am disgusted to report that Bono and U2 have move their publishing headquarters to the Netherlands to avoid taxes in Ireland. This is sad & hypocritical. But what can you expect from men who have everything they've ever wanted?

"Bono, Tax Avoider: The hypocrisy of U2." by Timothy Noah in Slate

Posted by cj at 11:56 PM | Comments (0)