Friday, November 30


As US and NATO prepare to leave Afghanistan in 2014, the Afghans will be responsible for security. "To equip the Afghan police, UNESCO launched a literacy program in 2011, with support from Japan. The program trained 300 facilitators who train thousands of officers.

"To help neo-literate police officers test their reading ability with informative and relevant material, UNESCO publishes a monthly newspaper, Khedmat (which means 'service' in the Pashto and Dari languages)," notes the UNESCO education page.

Literacy could help solve more crimes than guns.

Afghan police training on the AK-47 at Kabul Military Training Center in 2010. The class also covers human rights and the Afghan constitution. Photo courtesy of NTM-A_CSTC-A in Kabul and Wikimedia Commons. 

Wednesday, November 21

Religion quiz

So how much do you know about religion? Take the quiz from the Pew Forum on Religous and Public Life - and find out!

At the end, you will see how your score compares with others and how those of various faiths, gender or educaton performed. 

The two questions that stumped most responders: Which preacher participated in the period of religous activity known as the First Great Awakening?  and According to the rulings by the US Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer or not? Only 11 and 23 percent, respectively, responded to the two questions correctly.

Friday, November 16


Many in the Washington, DC, establishment bemoan the downfall of CIA chief David Petraeus, a general who led and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some suggested the request for his resignation was too harsh.

In an interview with AFP, a Taliban official laughed, then commented on the severe punishments exacted in Afghanistan for adultery. "From a Pashtun point of view, Petraeus should be shot by relatives from his mistress's family," the Taliban official explained. "From a sharia point of view, he should be stoned to death."

Petraeus suggests that the affair began after he left the military. According to Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman for Wired:

"the Uniform Code of Military Justice expressly forbids adultery (even among retired servicemembers), assigning a maximum penalty of 'dishonorable['] discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to one year....The CIA, on the other hand, has no policy against infidelity. In fact, Langley explicitly says extramarital affairs are OK — as long as you tell the Agency, as long as you tell your partner, and as long as no foreigners are involved."

Coming up with tough policies is easy, enforcing them not so easy. Conservatives tend to develop these policies for others, never expecting to apply them to their own. There is no rule of law with nconsistent enforcement, only injustice. In a small world, while drafting laws and their enforcement mechanisms, governments must consider if the penalties will win support of citizens and respect or ridicule from other nations.

Thursday, November 15


"Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has ordered the Pentagon to find out why so many generals and admirals have become embroiled in legal and ethical problems," reports Craig Whitlock for The Washington Post.

The entire US federal government operates by chain of command. The government won't improve when people at the top, the ones responsible for bureaucratic bungling, hubris, lack of clarity and many other personnel and administrative difficulties, perform exit interviews. These are the same people who refuse to listen to advice on best practices from their employees, who regard any suggestion as personal criticism. The government needs to take a close look at select offices that have high employee turnover, contributing to inefficiencies and unnecessary costs.

Such reviews are essential for departments that have interactions around the globe. The lack of accountability is unconscionable, particularly for the many who are not American citizens and must suffer from the petty insecurities and mismangement of too many US officials. And one is too many.

PS: Wish we could say the sequester would help ...

Monday, November 12

Soft power

Soft power requires patience but over the long term is stronger, more enduring than hard power.

"Soft power lies in the ability to attract and persuade rather than coerce. It means that others want what the United States wants, and there is less need to use carrots and sticks," wrote Joseph S. Nye, Jr., in 2003 for YaleGlobal Online. "Soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. When U.S. policies appear legitimate in the eyes of others, American soft power is enhanced. Hard power will always remain crucial in a world of nation-states guarding their independence, but soft power will become increasingly important in dealing with the transnational issues that require multilateral cooperation for their solution."

Soft power can be as mundane as jeans and other clothing or a pop song. It can be as lofty, the most intense literature and films that revolutionize the way others think and view the world. Governments have little control over soft power, and shouldn't try too hard, except to encourage curiosity and creativity and free thought. Coercion only puts people off in cross-culture interactions. Soft power comes with contentment, joy, fervor, kindness, the power of quiet example.

Soft power emerges from the aspirations and dreams of ordinary people - anywhere - and can strike when we least expect it.

Photo of clouds copyrighted by Axel Rouvin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 11

Love and terror

Learn something new everyday, from the AP and The Washington Post ...

[General] Petraeus and Broadwell apparently used a trick, known to terrorists and
teen-agers alike, to conceal their email traffic, one of the law enforcement officials said. Rather than transmitting emails to the other’s inbox, they composed at least some messages and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder or in an electronic “dropbox,” the official said. Then the other person could log onto the same account and  read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail that is easier to trace.

"A January 2005 PBS special on al-Qaeda identified the tactic as one of several “terrorist tricks, alongside logging in from public Internet cafes,” reports Max Fisher in his Washington Post blog.

It's a good bet that it won't be long before Gmail and other free email services are tracking drafts - if they aren't already.

Image courtesy of Gmail.   

Saturday, November 10


Writing for Harvard Business Review, Morra Aarons-Mele points out in a free market, equipped with social media, "women with opinions are a force to be reckoned with." She points out that women dominate every social-media market and "Women are influencing each other's decisions through non-stop conversations on social media."