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July 2011

Losing old pounds

South sudanese pounds
Last week the Republic of South Sudan introduced its new currency, the South Sudan pound.  Despite North Sudan's agreement to wait on creating any new currency until 6 months after the South's unveiling, North Sudan has gone ahead with their own new Sudan pound this week. 

When I was in Sudan in 2005, the country was still using dinars (symbolic of Arab countries).  Shortly after north/south 2005 peace talks, the country switched back in 2007 to the Sudanese pound (used after Britain's empirical rule of Sudan).  These recent events would retire the four year old Sudanese pound and replace it with the North's and South's new currencies.

While the North says its new currency should have no financial impact on the South's new pound, the South claims it will lose money due to constrains on converting it's old pounds.  The South had planned on using foreign banks to convert the old pound over time, instead of exchanging it with the North's banks. 

There will be many economic challenges in the future for both countries to resolve.  Time will tell if both are able to work together to move forward.

You can read more in this post from The Official Blog of Amb. David H. Shinn.

Why be a specialist if you could be a generalist instead?

 look! it's the prestigious!

OpSec Blog was asked the following recently: 

How do you reconcile your career ambitions as a Specialist with the de facto status of Specialists as “support staff.”  Specialists don’t occupy the top positions at the State Department, nor do they ever (to my knowledge) become Ambassadors.  Since the opportunities for Foreign Service Officers are so much more prestigious at the upper levels, why didn’t you switch?

I second his response .

OpSec also has a great post on 9 Things You Need to Accept as a Foreign Service Specialist

As an IRM specialist, I can say his post is pretty close to the mark with only a few differences.

"1. Generalists are, and always will be, your boss(es). "

True, if you're the only IRM staff person at a small post.  But usually you'll have at least one IRM specialist supervising you during your first 1-7 years.  A generalist boss will normally come into the picture after you get promoted and move into supervising other specialists.  There are also several "prestigious" positions an IRM specialist can aspire to that don't involve becoming an Ambassador, such as overseeing all the IRM operations for a country's Embassy and Consulates, serving as Director in one of the many branches of IRM, or even the Chief Information Officer (CIO).  Granted the CIO still reports to a Generalist but at that point you're now working daily with the "Front Office"

"3. The Generalists (and most of the Specialists) will have no idea what you do."

Nothing to add, I just thought it was amusing to hear Security Engineering Officers get asked about wireless home networks also.  Now I don't feel as bad when someone asks me about locks and safes.

"7. Your rating officer will probably not be in your skill code."

I can't stress the importance of this enough. Each year, a reviewing officer and rating officer evaluate your performance in writing.  Try praising someone if you don't understand the daily tasks involved in their job.  This is a fact of life for an IRM specialist.  But the solution is easily solved.  The reviewer is often in your skill code and knows how to write about your technical accomplishments.  So the rater can flesh out the non-technical side.  I document my work throughout the year so I can pass this on to both the rater and reviewer when evaluations are due.  I make sure each accomplishment falls into at least one of the precepts that are important to the promotion panel and I explain why.  Your rater and reviewer will seriously appreciate this. It will save them time which allows them to focus the writing instead.  

"8. You are geographically limited."

For IRM Specialists it's not really an issue.  If a Consulate or Embassy uses a computer network, there usually an IRM staff person working there.  There may be only one IRM specialist in some locations due to hardship posts, curtailing employees, etc.  But I've only seen a handful of places where no full time IRM position was available.  And in some cases a generalist picked up the duties where the IRM person normally would have.

So there you have it.  Keeping those ideas in mind will help you understand how specialists serve in the technical/administrative functions that support others.  I remain a specialist because I enjoy the work and know my experience benefits the department better than if I start over as a generalist.  I repect and appreciate the work generalists do.  It's just not the path I wanted to take and often the grass is not always greener.   


Car phone home

  • (Phone rings)
  • Me: "Hello?"
  • My car: "Hi. It's me"
  • Me: "Hey! Where are you?"
  • My car: "Dunno, think I'm on a train for Baltimore."
  • My scooter: "Tell him my battery's almost dead.."
  • My car: "Scooter says Hi"
  • Me: "It's been 3 months, when you coming home?"
  • My car: "Thought I'd take in an Orioles game, you know. See how it goes after that."
  • Me: "I'm cancelling your insurance."
  • My car: "I'll be right there"

It's now 3 months since I turned over my household possessions, car and scooter to the packing company. Latest delivery news: It's all heading to Baltimore and should arrive next Monday.  So if there's no other problems, I may see everything sometime next week.

After being overseas and moving to Virginia, I knew I'd need to get a new driver license for operating the car and scooter.  My old Iowa license hadn't expired yet, but VA DMV requires residents to get a VA license.  It's odd, but I still didn't think of Virginia as my new home location when I bought my house.  I think after all the years of renting and moving around I just thought of it as another rental, with a bigger monthly payment and no landlord.  But after getting my license it's clear I'm a Virginia resident now. 

9:30 Club - Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo

 Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo 

Tuesday night, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo rocked DC's 9:30 Club with a tight set of 80's classics. Songs included:

  • All fired up
  • Shadows of the night
  • Invincible
  • I want out
  • Promises in the dark
  • Stop using sex as a weapon
  • You better run
  • We belong
  • Hell is for children
  • Heartbreaker
  • Hit me with your best shot
  • Love is a battlefield
  • Let's stay together

She said she's grown tired of singing "Hit me with your best shot".  Every year, she says it's leaving the playlist but fans fight back with petitions online.  So she offered to sing it only if the audience sang the chorus.  (Judging from her smiles during the song, I think we did an awesome job.)  Neil, her husband and long-time producer, performed on lead guitar and kept the energy up all night.  He doubled on piano while rotating through 4 or more guitars during the night, including an acoustic version of "You better run". Other band members included, Mick Mahan - grooving on bass and Chris Ralles - setting the perfect beat on drums. 

Prior to sitting down for the acoustic song break, Pat told a story about "You better run" first's video appearence on a little cable channel called MTV.  It was the second video MTV played, the first being the Bungles "Video killed the radio star".  Since the Bungles didn't have a guitarist, Pat and Neil's video would make history as the "first guitarist to ever appear on MTV". 

Even though I was a couple feet back from the stage, I missed out on getting a guitar pick although 3 people around me ended up with one.  (I bet none of them even knows how to tune a guitar, posers...)  At least I slapped hands with Pat and Neil midway through the lineup. 

Pat Benatar