Adventures in Bureaucracy
Thursday, February 27, 2003
Tomorrow will be my last day of employment with my present agency. As of Saturday I will work for the Department of Homeland Security (motto: LOOK OUT!!! THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!).

All the announcements so far have taken great pains to say that nothing will change on March 1. That's pretty obvious when you think about it, as March 1 is a Saturday and most DHS employees - and no doubt all of the managers - will be off. So what happens on March 3 when everyone comes back to work? There hasn't been much concrete information on that.

Naturally there are many people who have taken the initiative to fill in the blanks. No news on how things are going to work in DHS? I've heard more than one person say that "they" already have everything planned out, but that "they" don't want to tell people yet because it will sow chaos in the ranks. I personally think it's far more likely that the powers that be are just finding out how complicated an undertaking the new department will be and that they're waiting to actually solve problems before making announcements. But who am I to get in the way of a conspiracy theory?

March 1 won't do much except bring in new chains of command. Basically it's all the same deck chairs arranged in a new way. The fun really begins when the powers that be start to consolidate functions and assign new responsibilities, new duties and new missions. Except for Coast Guard - one guy I talked to said that their mission stays the same, primarily because there aren't any new missions they could get that they don't already do.

I'm sure you've been wondering how this will all affect yours truly. No? I'll tell you anyway. So far it hasn't meant much at all. My section has been doing its normal functions, and we anticipate continuing to do the same things we've always done. Sure the section chief has had lots of the same headaches that other members of the managerial caste have had, but it hasn't done anything to the rank and file. Except for the one guy whose main worry has been what we're going to do with the stationery and letterhead once we're under DHS. Odds around the office are that he'll take whatever retirement options come along.

But not me. I've got roughly 75 years to go before retirement anyway, so I'm in it for the long haul. In the end it's probably a good thing, since only a dramatic reorganization like this would shake the agencies out of their routines to get them to focus on the greater issue of national security and maybe - just maybe - get them all to start working with each other instead of competing. So let the adventures begin!
A quite good editorial from the Washington Post.
Sunday, February 23, 2003
More evidence of our real friends in Europe, and that the free market works.
Thought for the day:

"You think that I enjoy this, any of it? You're out of your mind. I never wanted it. I was trapped into it just like you, just like anybody else in a uniform."

"Of course you wanted it. You're an officer, aren't you? I never let them make me an officer. I don't want the responsibility for anything."

"Then you had a free ride, all this time. Someone's got to take the responsibility if the job's going to get done! You think that's easy?"

--- Gregory Peck and David Niven in "The Guns of Navarone"
Almost makes you want to sing "Rule Britannia", huh? (Via Frozen in Montreal)
Of course, the single best musical number Mel Brooks ever did was the Inquisition scene from "History of the World Part I". It might not seem like enough for a whole Broadway show... but I'll bet someone once said, "A whole musical about cats? Nobody'll watch."

Come on, Mel, isn't time for Part II?
Mel Brooks, where are you when we need you? Sure, "The Producers" was made into an acclaimed Broadway show, but you've done so much else that's equally as worthy. Your "To Be or Not To Be" was underrated, but I thought it was pure genius. "Sweet Georgia Brown" in Polish? What's not to love? That one's another Broadway musical just waiting to happen. The most memorable part of the movie for me was the "Naughty Nazis" number, and it would kill. But if you wanted to make it more topical, you could update the script - use Saddam's Iraq instead of Nazi Germany. Let's face it, you could keep most of the script intact, right down to the moustache gags. Instead of "Naughty Nazis", you could have "Bad Bad Baathists", with Saddam singing the show-stopper:

"I don’t want war! All I want is peace! Peace! PEACE!

Aaaaaaa..... little piece of Iran,
And then all of Kuwait,
And then most of Arabia –
Now wouldn’t that be great?

A little piece of Palestine
And maybe Gaza too.
And in between
I would be keen
To kill all of the Jews."
Thursday, February 20, 2003
Here's a site en francais called "Good Morning Iraq" with a few interesting items. A call for a boycott of Anglo-Saxon stuff (although I think the Academie Francaise would prefer any word other than "boycott"). Bush: wanted for crimes against the planet. "For Iraq, Against Bush". And there, towards the bottom, it's none other than Belgium's chief propagandist himself in the land of black gold. See, it really IS all about the oil.
According to this, the European nightcrawler is actually Belgian. Which apparently means that the Belgians are now running France. Hmmmm... perhaps the whole place really IS run from Brussels, and they're just using Chirac to divert attention away from the awful truth.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
There's a lot of anger (or is it disgust?) directed at the French these days, but not everyone is letting the Belgians off the hook. Sure, some stick up for them, particularly with the whole beer issue. It's making a virtue of necessity. Obviously they needed SOMETHING to wash the taste of Brussels sprouts off the palate, didn't they?
Ha! I knew it! Thought those innocent-looking little blue Belgians were innocuous and cute? Think again.
Uh oh. What's Tintin doing here?
Do you want to boycott Belgium, but don't know where to begin? Here's a good start.
Jacques Chirac’s recent outburst should make things a lot more interesting in eastern Europe. If people in the East were ambivalent about the whole European Union endeavor before, Monsieur Chirac’s words certainly won’t help in bringing more people into the E.U. fold. Government officials and media outlets have widely condemned the attitude that the candidates should be seen and not heard, particularly when speaking out against French policies.

The latest wave of candidate members for the European Union have been much less enthusiastic about the idea of a united Europe than previous members. Maybe that’s because the nature of the whole thing has changed, going from a collection of sovereign countries trading freely among themselves toward “ever closer union” in every field with the goal of becoming a European superstate. And the new countries wouldn’t even be eligible for the full benefits of membership for several years after joining no less.

The European Union currently has fifteen members. The biggest four are Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, with Spain following the pack in terms of population, while the rest are small countries.
France – 59.7 million
Germany – 83.3 million
Belgium – 10.3 million
Luxembourg - .4 million
Netherlands – 16 million
Italy – 57.7 million
United Kingdom – 59.8 million (joined in 1973)
Ireland – 3.9 million (joined in 1973)
Denmark – 5.4 million (joined in 1973)
Greece – 10.6 million (joined in 1981)
Spain – 40.1 million (joined in 1986)
Portugal – 10.1 million (joined in 1986)
Austria – 8.2 million (joined in 1995)
Finland – 5.2 million (joined in 1995)
Sweden – 8.9 million (joined in 1995)
The main dynamic has been the Franco-German relationship, and it could be argued that the policies for enlargement have been intended to preserve France and Germany as the main engines of European growth - thus the controversy over British entry into the club. Before 1973 France and Germany were about the same size, and Italy changed governments so regularly it could hardly assume a position of leadership in the Common Market, but Britain was different. And worse, Britain was much more skeptical of the whole enterprise than the rest of the countries. But in the end they were admitted.

Now a number of countries are poised for entry in the next wave, while others are waiting in the wings with crossed fingers.
Estonia – 1.4 million
Latvia – 2.4 million
Lithuania – 3.6 million
Poland – 38.6 million
Czech Republic – 10.3 million
Slovakia – 5.4 million
Hungary – 10.1 million
Slovenia – 1.9 million
Romania – 22.3 million
Bulgaria – 7.6 million
Cyprus - .8 million
Malta - .4 million
Turkey – 67.3 million

Most of the applicant countries are small, and what’s in it for the small countries? Luxembourg was so small that it needed guaranteed access to larger markets. Belgium was a mess internally, so it made sense there for the national government to have as little responsibility as possible to minimize tensions between the Flemings and Walloons. The countries admitted in the 1980s were let into the club in a moment of generosity – the military leaders had been overthrown, and the budding democracies needed encouragement. That, and lots and lots of development aid (which Ireland got by the bucketful as well).

So what about the last wave from 1995? By then it was the thing to do. Austria in particular has been struggling with the issue of national identity since the removal of the Habsburgs. But it was in the 1990s that the idea of “Europe” as a political counterweight to the United States came to the fore. And it is this idea that is now at the center of debate on the soul of Europe.

It's somewhat ironic. Most European countries signed on for the endeavor with the ideals of open markets and open societies. Now it looks like the countries of the East may have to choose one or the other.
Sunday, February 16, 2003
Poltergeist IV. They're Back, and They're Angry.
Protest round-up from A Small Victory.
It looks like I missed the boat on calls to boycott Belgium, as the call has already gone forth. This had posed something of a moral dilemma, as I don't want to be responsible for depriving beer-brewing monks of their livelihood, and I rather like the chocolates. At least the Smurfs and the depraved Tintin are fair game - keep 'em out of North America!

However, there is credible evidence that Belgium is just a Potemkin country (via Silent Running), which would make a Belgian boycott moot.
The TV stations here in Washington all had special extended coverage of the weather this morning. Apparently it's been snowing quite heavily everywhere in the metro area. Doug Hill's Snow Machine on channel 7 was thus able to verify what I was able to guess just by looking out my window. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Saturday, February 15, 2003
Let's consider this statement from one of the anti-war protesters in New York, broadcast on ABC. The woman was concerned about possible retaliation if we do go to war:

"I live ten blocks from the World Trade Center, and I already saw the first response, and I don't want any more."

We're in deep trouble if Saddam can send his people back in time to take their revenge on us.
And as far as boycotts of Belgian products go, they obviously can't include the beer. It would do nothing but cause those hard-working, beer-brewing Trappist monks to waste away. No, better a sudden death.
Damian Penny has found evidence of cloning experiments gone horribly, horribly awry. The one in the middle clearly used the genes of Audrey Hepburn, and the one on the left looks a lot like Jane Fonda. But the one on the right - is there no limit to their depravity? Could it really be Catherine Deneuve? Those bastard Raelians!
Improve your French vocabulary via the blog method (la methode blogoise). There are some words here that my last French teacher must have forgotten to bring up in those "ecoutez et repitez" sessions.
Aha! I knew the Belgians were more sophisticated that to blindly follow the French and the Germans without a plan of their own. Can a call to boycott Belgian products be far behind? Just not those seashell chocolates, I really like them. But I can totally get behind an embargo on Belgian lace and Brussels sprouts and... Michelin tires? Help me out here.
I hear they may get their own section in Homeland Security. Unfortunately, not working with the CIA means they would miss the training course on 16 different ways to maim someone with a paper clip.
And speaking of poodles....

Have a look at the "Haute Couture" post.
This picture is worth more than a thousand words. Of course, several of those words should not be used in polite conversation.
The nasty weather has screwed up my travel plans for the weekend, so it looks like I'll be stuck in Washington for the next few days. If I have to resort to eating one of my own limbs for food since all the stores are sold out of everything (I saw it on TV), you can be sure I'll call for the local news crews first.

So instead of spending the next four to six hours driving on icy interstates, I'll wander through blog world and see what I can find. I remember seeing this bit with Dennis Miller, which I saw last week while flicking through channels. Hey, Chris Matthews, here's a thought - how about letting a guest finish a sentence? This is just one reason why I never watch your show, but it's an important one. (Via Asparagirl)

Struth! Although seppo that I am I did need some additional assistance for the more difficult passages. (Via Tim Blair)
Thursday, February 13, 2003
On the way home from work I stopped off at Taco Bell. For some reason I’ve had a hankering for the stuff recently, and today was the day I finally indulged myself. The entire menu is a combination of tortilla, meat, cheese and rice, and the permutation that I ate wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that good either. It should be enough to tide me over for another couple of years. Maybe it was a commercial that got me in the mood for Taco Bell, although for the life of me I can’t remember any Taco Bell commercial since they stopped using that chihuahua.

I also stopped off at the grocery store, and the place was packed. The bottled water shelves had been completely stripped – between the threat of terrorism or the promise of snow and ice over the weekend, it looks like everyone is stocking up on supplies. Good thing I’ve still got toilet paper at home.

Personally, I blame TV news. Don’t get me wrong, I think television is overall a good thing, and my parents will attest that I spent enough hours in front of the idiot box as a child, but the 24-hour news cycle is one of the worst things to come down the pike in a long, long time. Television is very good at conveying immediacy and stirring emotion, and thus encourages people to live the moment.

Unfortunately for the TV people, most moments aren’t all that memorable, so they have to go hunting for excitement. Now improbably-named meteorologists gravely forecast the next chance of snow like they’re announcing the Apocalypse. Viewers dutifully rush out to buy up all the water, milk and eggs available at the local Safeway before “the Big One” hits, and when the first flake falls, several more flakes (these with really good hair) talk about it for hours. Last Friday we had about eight inches of snow overnight in the Washington area. Naturally I turned on the news because I wanted two pieces of information: was the government open for business, and how were the roads? Special extended coverage of the event eventually told me what I wanted to know (the roads were fine, and I could stay in bed an extra two hours), among the LIVE! shots of parka-clad reports standing in parking lots, pointing every now and again at either a salt truck passing by or at the snow falling from the sky. One station got the special bonus footage of an SUV sliding a bit on ice. This was shown at least five times in fifteen minutes.

Still, this is all forgivable, even if I have the sneaking suspicion that when it snowed fifty years ago, people just looked up at the sky, then went about their business without a second thought. Now the alarm has been sounded about the risks of another big terrorist attack, and TV stations have gone into blizzard mode, only for this one, there’s no Snow Machine or Doppler 4000 or whatever else to show it in a different way. Most people I know have taken this in stride, but you’d never know that from watching television news. I’m sure one of the stations will soon tell us where we can find plastic sheeting and duct tape within the viewing area. Tonight at 11: officials say there is no reason to be alarmed. That story, plus how to protect yourself from radioactive fallout, tonight on Action News.

In the end what bothers me most is the packaging. When I watch TV news, I want information, especially when something big is happening. This is what happened on September 11th, when any new information was reported as soon as it came in. It happened to a lesser degree recently with the shuttle disintegration, but sooner or later, they come up with the story title and the graphic, and then the maudlin music. You just know every network has teams of musicians working overtime now for a theme with just the right hint of foreboding for whatever happens in Iraq. This doesn’t add anything, and it takes away from the time that could be used to actually report something. And by the time the news outlets have all this, the facts that come in often seem to get slotted into the storyline for the particular event.

There’s really not all that much difference between reporting and all those video shows, since TV in the end relies on visuals. This must explain all those gratuitous reporter standing outside somewhere shots, since it gives the viewer something to look at besides the studio. That also seems to be the reason so many news organizations have their people in Baghdad. So what if every story they file has to be approved by an Iraqi censor? It will all be worth it if they get some good footage of something exploding when the shooting starts.

The converse is if there’s no footage, there’s no story. Sure there may be huge protests in Iran, but the footage must not be too interesting. And it’s too tough to go all the way to central Africa to figure out what’s going on in former Zaire. I can only imagine how the “Titanic” story would have played out on CNN. I’m guessing lots of shots of debris in the water, and pictures of icebergs, with throngs of reporters and camera crews jostling the docks in New York harbor, each hoping to be the first to ask the survivors how they feel.

So this is why I get just about all my news from either a newspaper or the Internet. TV is great for rapidly developing stories, and it’s great for the weather, but it’s not good for too much else.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
A good run-down of all the U.N. resolutions that Saddam Hussein hasn't quite gotten around to fully complying with just yet. But you know the old saying on the Seine: twentieth time's a charm.
When "Hey baby, what's your sign?" just doesn't work....
This is what can happen when an immigration inspector screws up.
Monday, February 10, 2003
I am apparently the only person in North America who did not watch the Michael Jackson documentary last week. I don't stop to look at car accidents either, mostly for the same reasons. Still, I couldn't let this pass without comment:

"In their complaints Jackson's lawyers called "Living with Michael Jackson" --- the Granada Television documentary fronted by journalist Martin Bashir -- "a gross distortion of the truth" that violated the singer's right to privacy."

Now I may be way off base here, but aren't you pretty much waiving your right to privacy when you invite a camera crew to follow you around for weeks on end to make a documentary about your day-to-day life? But then again, the docco crews have stopped following me around since I joined the government and my life became duller than the CBS morning show.

Kind of a strange blurb, but after taking a few flights in the past several months, I have to say that everyone seems to be trying to make the best of an unpleasant situation. The TSA people have been unfailingly polite (who will soon join me in Homeland Security), even when they were going through a suitcase filled with dirty laundry. Sorry guys.
Sunday, February 09, 2003
A great summary of socialism in practice. And no, it's not a good theory that has been badly implemented. It's a bad theory all around, and toxic to boot.
"When you said you were going to ask me about bombs, I thought you wanted my opinions on Iraq."
Saturday, February 08, 2003
It's getting tougher to separate satire from reality all the time. (Via Merde in France)
This has got to be a joke. Right? RIGHT?!? (Via NRO)
Another irritating thing I encounter while travelling is CNN Headline News. I hadn't watched it for a long time, but the new format is just awful. Now they've adopted the worst happy-talk features of local news with inane banter between anchors, but at least it's harder to see because most of the screen is taken up by all the graphics. Is it really necessary to have fifteen word summaries of the stories shown at the left as the stories are being reported? Or to have the additional stuff at the bottom of the screen? And if it is, shouldn't it at least be straight reporting? Not like the snarky bit about the birthday of Dan Quayle - "Famous speller/former VP". It was enough to make me turn to MSNBC.

But Phil Donahue was on that one, and thirty seconds of his smirking was enough to make me turn off the television entirely.
And let me say that I really hate those damned "mobile lounges" at Dulles Airport. I'll be really happy when the tunnel construction is done!
Another thing to consider before signing up for the Foreign Service exam: can you live overseas on what the Department of State pays you? Because Diplomatic Security takes a dim view of those who try to supplement their income. Looks like they got another one. Hah!
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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