Real Life, the Way It Is – No Goggles and Plenty of Loose Ends

 

One of our donors recently wrote to say that we are performing “an invaluable service” but that as a former FSO, our blogposts have often left him dismayed.

We wrote to thank him for his support and apologize that we have often been the bearer of not so happy news. We like to think of this as a mission to keeping it real.

For those who’ve been with us for quite a bit, it is no secret that we write about the good, the bad and the ugly. So why do we write/publish stuff that you can’t read in the official or trade publications?

There’s a good reason for that.

Real life is not like the glossy pages of an in-house magazine. If the American public only reads about the successes and the fun stuff, it will have a skewed view about what still remains a misunderstood institution. And when we only hear the happy talk, well, it disrupts the order of the universe.  As they say, if the pendulum swings one way, it must always swing back the other way. In monitoring the worldwide available universe, we see yin and yang, the oscillations, the back and forth swings of life.

So we are on a mission on looking at life, the way it is, without goggles and often times with loose ends, with questions but no answers. It’s not for every one; some folks may not necessarily want to read what we write, but it’s a free country, we’re fine with that.

We’re the last stop in this corner, come by for a chat, hang around, poke us to help us do better, and we’ll try not to bore you to tears.

A quick GFM II update — we’ve reached the 3rd week mark today with $9,461 of $34k or 28% of our set goal. We still have 5 weeks to go and the highs and lows are to be expected. We’ll see where we are when we reach the halfway mark at the end of next week.

Thanks for sticking with us! — D

We’re at GFM Go Diplopundit until March 10, 2016.

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Podium Cat Rolls Out Diplopundit’s GoFundMe 2016 Campaign

Posted: 2:35 am EDT

 

It took some work but we finally got the GFM II campaign off the ground. We’ll see if we can keep the blog going for another 12 months. If successful, this will fund the blog from March 2016-March 2017.  If you find some value in the work we’ve done year after year since 2008, we hope you will continue supporting us in 2016. Check it out here!

 

 

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Top Blog Attractions in 2015

Posted: 11:11 pm EDT

 

These are the blog posts that got the most views in 2015. Thank you for making us part of your day especially this past year! –D

#1. “Corridor Reputation” Gets a Makeover, And OMG …. It’s Now Online! (July 7, 2015)

#2. Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016 (April 28, 2015)

#3. The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015) (February 13, 2015)

#4. Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay (February 18, 2015)

#5. NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there! (March 11, 2015)

#6. New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure (May 15, 2015)

#7. Purported ISIS ‘Hit List’ With 1,482 Targets Includes State Department Names (August 16, 2015)

#8. State Dept Releases New 3 FAM 4170 aka: The “Stop The Next Peter Van Buren” Regulation (August 17, 2015)

#9. Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero (February 20, 2015)

#10. New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status (September 14, 2015)

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#11. The Purposeful and Targeted Cultivation of a Relationship with a Consular Officer (August 13, 2015)

#12. Senator Grassley Places Hold on 20 FSO Nominations Over Clinton Inquiry (August 10, 2015)

#13. Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not! (April 6, 2016)

#14. OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info (June 8, 2015)

#15. Obama Nominates Career Diplomat Laura Farnsworth Dogu as Next Ambassador to Nicaragua (May 14, 2015)

#16. US Embassy Madagascar: A Post Far From Heaven With a $700K Imaginary American Center (May 18, 2015)

#17. Former FSO Michael Sestak Sentenced to 64 Months In Visas For Dollars Scheme (August 14, 2015)

#18. U.S. Passport Agency Contractor, Two Others Indicted for Alleged Use of Stolen Passport Information (May 7, 2015)

#19. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Top Diplomatic Pooch of All? (February 27, 2015)

#20. 2014 Foreign Service Promotions Stuck on Glue in the Senate. Again. Yo! Wassup? (February 11, 2015)

 

 

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Happy Holidays — go wild with these photos for your desktop!

Posted: 3:43 am EDT

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone who celebrates the season! Sending warm thoughts and good wishes to our readers, blog friends, and Foreign Service personnel and their families serving here and around the world.  May your holidays be quiet and peaceful; and may the universe keep you safe wherever you are!

To those who wrote to check on us, thank you for your thoughts. The blog is good for a couple more months. We’ll save the update after the holidays.

The photos below are desktop wallpapers.  The whale photos are from the US Embassy in New Zealand. They are of humpback whales taken just offshore from Rarotonga. If you want to check out the rest, click here. There are also selected photos below from US Embassy Nepal, US Embassy Chile, and photos from Alaska and Arizona via the IIP Photo Archive. To download the photos as wallpaper for your computer, right click on the photo, then “save image as”…. on your computer.

Wishing you all the gifts of the season — Peace, Joy, Hope!

♥️ D

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Humpback whale just offshore from Rarotonga. Photo from US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr

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Humpback whale just offshore from Rarotonga.  Photo from US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr

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Upper Mustang formerly Kingdom of Lo, a remote and isolated region of the Nepalese Himalayas. Via US Embassy Nepal/Flickr

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Lovejoy Comet over Andacollo, captured by the Las Campanas Observatory. Via US Embassy Chile/Flickr

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Alaska autumn Sunrise at Pilgrim Hot Springs outside of Nome, Alaska. Photo by U.S. Department of Energy / CPike, Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP). Via IIP Photo Archive

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Dark Sky Park at night | The Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona is a vast remote landscape where the only nighttime light comes from the stars. Photo by Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Managment (BLM). Via IIP Photo Archive

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Blog Weather: Sporadic for the next couple of weeks

Posted: 2:53 am EDT

I’m exploring funding sources for 2016 and traveling the next couple of weeks. Blogging may be sporadic for bit but I remain reachable through this blog and via email. Also testing a few ads via Amazon to see if it fits the blog.  Pardon the dust and feel free to send comments. Thanks!

Image via Imgur/zimgodo

Image via Imgur/zimgodo

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A Word About Our Blog Champions and Sponsors …

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

How did we burn the year so quickly, so fast?  Half way through the year and I pause here to give thanks to OneFSO, TwoFSO, 373 blog angels, and all who helped spread the word and made this year possible for Diplopundit!

I have completed sending out invitations to the members-only forum: http://diplopundit.net/forum/.  It will probably take sometime to build our online community but hopefully, it will get there.  A forum on bidding and 4th of July event ideas have been suggested. If there is enough interest, I will add those as new forums to the members-only site. If you have not received your invitation, please contact the blog here.  All forums are accessible only to the supporters and funders of the blog. I understand that some of you may not have the time nor the inclination to join; the invitation was sent out in case of interest, you are under no obligation to join.  Right now, we have forums set up for the following:

The blog has so far hosted two “open forums” on topics of FS interest. These “open forums” do not/do not require membership or forum registration ( PTSD | Open Discussion and CorridorRep.com | Open Discussion) and are provided as a public service to the blog’s general readership. The blog will continue to host an occasional “open forum” on various topics as needed.

If you are not a donor/sponsor but is still interested in joining this blog’s online community, please contact us at http://diplopundit.net/contact-us/.  We are hoping to add, perhaps, a sustaining membership option for later this year.

And — sending an air hug to Nena S., real-life friend and personal cheerleader who has never been in the Foreign Service but who donated $1,100 towards  the blog’s upkeep for 2016.  I am grateful for your unending encouragement and affection N!

Also, check out the blog’s two corporate sponsors who helped make this year workable!

Embassy Risk Management | https://embassyrisk.com;
On FB https://www.facebook.com/EmbassyRisk and on Twitter: @EmbassyRisk

“With over 50,000 policyholders, more than 140 years of experience and an “A” (Excellent) rating from A.M. Best, Embassy Risk offers the convenience of having your international auto and property insurance covered with one comprehensive policy.”

A shoutout to Lloyd for helping sustain this blog! Thanks to Deborah, too!

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Silver City Mountain Resort California | http://www.silvercityresort.com
On FB: https://www.facebook.com/silvercityresort

“Imagine spending a few days at a mountain retreat where food is fresh and local; where fellow guests come from all over the world and where wildlife surrounds you when you wake up in the morning or go for that evening stroll into California’s only historical alpine settlement – the Mineral King Valley. It all takes place in a small rustic resort that is almost a century old and with a history that pre-dates the founding of the state of California.”

Many thanks to Philip and Kalina for their support for this blog. Thanks to Michael, too!

silver-city-ad-01-250x260

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Temporarily Disabling Comments For Security Reason

Posted: 11:45  pm EDT
Updated 4/29/15 6:25 pm PDT issue resolved.

 

There is a WordPress flaw that can be exploited through the comments section of WordPress sites. We are temporarily disabling all comments/not approving comments until we can confirm that this issue has been resolved. Thank you for your patience –DS

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State/IRM blocked this blog’s evil shadow diplopundit.com, and it’s a good thing!

Posted: 7:24 pm EDT
Updated: 4:06 pm EDT

 

Last week we blogged about some reported issues with accessing this blog from the State Department. There were reports of this blog displaying as a blank page, and another of this blog being categorized as “suspicious.”

Two things to remember — first, if you’re connecting to this blog from a State Department network and you get a blank screen, check if you’re using Internet Explorer 8. If you are, you need to switch to Chrome if you want to read this blog.

Second, if you get the “suspicious” prompt or a block that prevents you from connecting to Diplopundit, make sure you are connecting to the correct URL – the one that sounds rhymy — diplopundit.NET, and not/not its evil shadow diplopundit.COM.

Here is the back story.  We thought it was a question of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, it wasn’t that. Nothing to do with the tigers either. So our apologies for thinking that.  The firewall did bite but it was not done out of any wicked reason. It was merely a coincidence of two unrelated issues that occurred around the same time.

After we’ve blogged about issues with access from State, Ann from State/IRM’s Information Assurance office reached out to us to help see what’s going on.

“Suspicious” Category

So folks who attempted to access Diplopundit but typed .COM instead of .NET were blocked by state.gov, and will continue to be blocked access. And that’s a good thing.

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IRM/IA’s Ann did some sleuthing and discovered that somebody is domain camping on diplopundit.com, a domain registered out of Australia under protected status, so it’s not clear who owns it. Apparently, it is a very common attack to buy up domain names that are similar to a popular one, with different endings, common typos, etc, and then camp malware on them. She notes that “It’s especially awesome to do this to sites that have a high likelihood for targeted visitors, like, oh, maybe Department of State and other governments.” Running the domain through some site reputation lookups came back “suspicious.”

www.brightcloud.com threat intelligence: Suspicious

http://www.isithacked.com/check/www.diplopundit.com : Suspicious returns

IRM/IA tried to access diplopundit.com and the site is redirecting to another site that tells users their computers are infected and to click on “ok” to begin the repair process. DEFINITELY malicious.  IRM/IA’s IT ninja concludes that not only did the State Department’s security systems work as needed, someone is using the reputation of Diplopundit to try to infect users who type the wrong URL.

Ugh!  So watch what you type.  She’s not sure if this is targeted or just criminal botnet activity but whatever it is, stay away from diplopundit.COM.  Also, make sure you’re not sending any email to diplopundit.COM, as that email would end up with whoever owns that shadowy domain.

The Blank Screens

Internet Explorer  (IE) is the browser compatible with the Department of State’s IT system. A couple of years ago, Chrome became an optional browser. IE8 and other old browsers are less stable, and much more vulnerable to viruses, and other security issues. It also doesn’t support a lot of things including HTML5 and CSS codes used in WordPress. In fact, we’re told that WP’s support for this browser version was dropped a while back.  Microsoft has also reported that they will end support for it themselves. So it’s not about what script is in this blog, it’s more about the IE8 browser not playing nice with the blogs. This blog displays properly on Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and on Internet Explorer 9. Our tech folks suggested that IE8 users upgrade to IE9 if at all possible.

Our readers from State can’t just do that on their own, so we asked IRM. The word is that the State Department will probably skip IE9 due to resource constraints on testing each incremental version. The good news is, it will move everyone directly to Internet Explorer 11 in December. That may sound a long way off but we’re told that the move forces everyone from 32-bit to 64-bit servers, which is not an insignificant jump for all the developers (including those for Consular Affairs and the financial services). So there is that to look forward to at the end of the year.

Our most sincere thanks to State/IRM especially to IA’s Ann who pursued this issue to the end and also WP’s Grace and her team for helping us understand what’s going on. Merci.

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The Great Firewall of State Bites, State/IRM Now Considers Diplopundit “Suspicious.” Humph!

Posted: 11:43 am EDT

 

The cornerstone of the 21st century statecraft policy agenda is Internet freedom. The policy contains three fundamental elements: the human rights of free speech, press, and assembly in cyberspace; open markets for digital goods and services to foster innovation, investment, and economic opportunity; and the freedom to connect—promoting access to connection technologies around the world. A third of the world’s population, even if they have access, live under governments that block content, censor speech, conduct invasive mass surveillance and curb the potential of the Internet as an engine of free speech and commerce.

— 21st Century Statecraft
U.S. Department of State

 

We’ve made references in this blog about the Great Firewall of State, most recently, when we blogged about the FS promotion stats on race and gender (see 2014 Foreign Service Promotion Results By Gender & Race Still Behind the Great Firewall of State),  What we did not realize is that there is an entire operation at the State Department running the firewall operations from Annex SA-9.  It is run by the Firewall Branch of the Bureau of Information Resource Management, Operations,  Office of Enterprise Network Management, Perimeter Security Division (IRM/OPS/ENM/PSD/FWB).

Sometime this week, some folks apparently were no longer able to access this blog from the State Department’s OpenNet.  OpenNet is the Sensitive but Unclassified (SBU) network in the Department. It provides access to standard desktop applications, such as word processing, e-mail, and Internet browsing, and supports a battery of custom Department software solutions and database management systems.

At this time, we believe that the block is not agency-wide and appears to affect only certain bureaus.  Not sure how that works. We understand that some employees have submitted “unblock requests” to the State Department’s Firewall Operations Branch and were reportedly told that http://www.diplopundit.com/ has been categorized as “Suspicious.”

via giphy.com

Holy moly macaroni!

We don’t know what constitute “suspicious” but apparently, under State’s Internet policy, this gives the agency the right to block State Department readers from connecting to this blog and reading its content.

But … but … this is the blog’s 8th year of operation and State has now just decreed that this blog is “suspicious”? Just for the record, this blog is hosted by WordPress, and supported by the wonderful people of Automattic. Apparently, the State Department’s DipNote also uses WordPress. Well, now that’s a tad awkward, hey?

Unless …

Was it something we wrote? Was it about the journalists who ran out of undies? NSFW? Nah, that couldn’t be it.   Was it about the petty little beaver? Um, seriously? Maybe that nugget about the aerial eradication in Colombia was upsetting? Pardon me, it’s not like we’re asking folks to drink the herbicide. Come again? You have no expectation of privacy when using the OpenNet? Well, can you blink three times when we hit the right note?

What should we call our State Department that’s quick to criticize foreign governments for blocking internet content for their nationals then turns around and blocks internet content for its employees?

Wass that?  The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing? Blink. Blink. Blink.

We sent a couple emails to the IRM shop — cio@state.gov and Dr. Glen H. Johnson, the senior official in charge of IRM ops asking what’s going on.  It seems the emails were chewed to bits, and we haven’t heard anything back.  Looking for Vanguard contractors to blame? Blink.Blink.Blink.  We’ll update if we hear anything more.

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Happy Birthday To Me, or Why I’m Thrilled To Be 2,556 Days Old

Posted: 11:11 pm PST

 

I started this blog in Blogger (http://diplopundit.blogspot.com) exactly 2,556 days ago. I moved to http://diplopundit.net  on February 6, 2012. In blog years, I am officially old.

Yes, I’ve got stretch marks and all, and my eyes are growing bad, but I’m so thrilled to be here!

OneFSO, TwoFSO, and 373 blog angels made sure I made it to my 7th birthday.  FS blogs Diplo-DenizenSadieAbroad, @FS_ProblemsForeign Service Test, some affinity groups and pals on Twitter helped spread the word. Thank you all for helping save this one blog! Apologies if that sounds a tad dramatic but I would not be here now without the small village of people who care.


gifovea.tumblr.com via giphy.com

 

I must confess that it feels good to be back! Did I realize that doing something else just wasn’t as much fun? Of course!

A bit of housekeeping —

The GoFundMe folks informed me late last week that they’ve officially moved the funds and I should have it sometime this week. I’ve been called a worrywart and I supposed I am. So  I am especially grateful that I can devote time and energy here with one less thing to worry about this year.

I also want to thank Eric S. for helping me cross the T’s, and Michelle for her patience and assistance in helping me dot the I’s (get better soon!). Many thanks to the fantastic Abi Daker (http://www.abigaildaker.com) for the panoramic line drawing we have on the banner.   Appreciation also to Lloyd of Embassy Risk Management, and Philip and Kalina of Silver City Mountain Resort, our two main sponsors here.

The blog has an updated Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.  Please take a moment to check them out.

Finally, there’s a Diplopundit forum in the works. It needs a few more tweaks. Once ready, I will start sending out invitations to the blog’s supporters so you all can check it out and join if you want to.

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