Category Archives: China

US Mission China: Ambassador Max Baucus Says Hello and Xie Xie

– Domani Spero

The video below was produced by the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs in March 2014. Speakers include Max Baucus and his wife, Melodee Hanes.

Via State/IIP:

“Former Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, returns to China as the U.S. ambassador with his wife, Melodee Hanes. While in China, the ambassador is very interested in working on a number of issues and seeing many different places. In this video he will tell you all about it. His wife will also tell you a little bit about the ambassador and just where you may find him running around – literally!”

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Filed under Ambassadors, China, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, U.S. Missions, Video of the Week

Happy New Lunar Year of the Horse – Let’s Talk Horsey!

– Domani Spero

Last year, they had a snake looking for food. (see USCG Hong Kong & Macau: Lunar New Year Greeting for Year of the Snake) This year, a different animal is up at the consulate — a horse, looking for a job. Consul General Clifford A. Hart, Jr., the staff of the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau, and a “new Consulate employee” wish you a happy and healthy Year of the Horse in this new video:

The Shanghaiist gave this a thumbs down, calling it “weird” — “The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau has released a ‘2014 Lunar New Year Greetings’ video, and something has gone catastrophically wrong. Remembering that there’s a woman hiding under the desk in each shot, with her hand crammed up a horse-sock, doesn’t exactly help.” It also called last year’s lunar greeting video, “freaking terrifying.”   The Shanghaiist is one of China’s most popular English-language blog/portals, founded by American writer Dan Washburn in 2005.

USCG HK’s lunar video, published last week has been eyeballed 69,577 as of this writing.  That’s more than the views of its lunar video greetings from 2013, 2012, and 2011 combined.  The use of Cantonese seems appreciated by the locals, “[Y]ou speaks Cantonese in this video that means you and your team are respect to HK people and the local culture…” A majority of commenters appear to give it a thumbs up, despite being well, weird.  But then, someone pleaded, “Please bring the US army here to eliminate the locusts coming from China.” We thought, locusts, what locusts?  It turns out in Hong Kong, “locust” is a derogatory term for immigrants and tourists from China.  The anti-China sentiment is  playing out in the comments section of USCG HK’s page.

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Drowning in Smoggy Delhi: There’s No Blue Sky, So Where’s Blueair? (Updated)

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– Domani Spero

In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:

One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).

The NYT also reported in February last year  that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response
Photo from January 11, 2013
(click on image to read more)

The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.”  That’s putting it mildly.  Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air.  NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.

The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:

Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years.  Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?”  Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.”  In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.

We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”

This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.   The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.

The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
[…]
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”

This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.

Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the  finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?

How did that happen?

Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.

Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries.  Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.

On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers  for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:

The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US.  The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.

We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India.  Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing.  There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Report that should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers.  Or check with MED which should have this information available.

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Filed under China, Diplomatic Life, Foreign Service, India, John F. Kerry, Leadership and Management, MED, Realities of the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Chinese Tigers Eat US Consulate Shanghai’s Blog? Noooooooooooo!

Via VOA News:

A social media account run by the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet in China, prompting many to wonder if it is the work of government censors.

The Shanghai consulate’s account on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblog service owned by SINA Corporation, was known for its sometimes witty commentary, often on Chinese political and social issues.

But as of Friday, the consulate’s account was still inaccessible, replaced by an error message that reads “temporarily unavailable” — a message similar to those seen when accounts are deleted by government censors.
[...]
Beijing defends its online censorship, dubbed the Great Firewall of China, by saying it is aimed at maintaining social stability, preventing the spread of false rumors, and blocking inappropriate material.

Read in full here.

This is just so sad, right?  Mysterious disappearances are quite common among Foreign Service blogs, ya know, and now an official blog has been eaten?  They’re there one day, they’re gone the next. We have not been able to catch the tail of the offending tiger despite tracking the blood spots.

The WSJ reports that “U.S. diplomatic staff in Shanghai woke up that morning to discover that the consulate’s Weibo account had disappeared, according to a spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said no reason was given and it was unclear whether a particular post had caused problems.”

Well! Imagine that. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar?  What were they writing over there?

WaPo cites a post responding to a senior environmental official which criticized its popular Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing, a shushing emoticon: “Keep your voice low. People are still sleeping,”

See, harmless as toucans.  May be the State Department will have better luck finding out how and why the Chinese tigers really ate the consulate’s blog?

Domani Spero

 

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Consul Generals, FS Blogs, Social Media, Tigers Are Real

US Missions China and Mexico: The One Million Visa Applicants Club

It’s not the end of the the fiscal year yet, but the State Department just announced that the US Mission in China (Embassy Beijing, USCG Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang) has processed more than one million visa applications to date. US Mission Brazil is reportedly on track to become the third member of this very small club.

Consular Officers at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and our four consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang have processed more than one million visa applications to date in fiscal year 2012 while reducing the wait time for a visa interview appointment to approximately one week.

This extraordinary accomplishment represents visa processing growth of almost 43% over the same period last fiscal year, when we had processed just over 675,000 visa applications in China.

To achieve this, we increased staff, improved workflow, implemented a new pilot program waiving the in-person interview requirement in certain instances, and undertook other changes to our procedures – without compromising border security.

We are implementing permanent solutions to keep us ahead of the growing visa demand for years to come. During a June trip to China, the Department’s top consular official, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs, cut the ribbon on a reopened annex to our Embassy in Beijing, greatly increasing visa interview capacity.

China is not the only place where the State Department has achieved great success in meeting dramatic increases in visa demand. In Brazil, we have processed almost 44% more visa applications so far in FY 2012 than we did during the same period last year. In Mexico, we have processed 36% more visa applications. China and Mexico are the only two U.S. Missions that process more than one million visa applications each year, although Brazil is on track to become the third.

The accomplishments announced today reflect the Obama Administration’s commitment towards increasing U.S. jobs by encouraging more people to visit our country. For more information on the Obama Administration’s recent efforts to increase travel and tourism, please see http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/10/obama-administration-continues-efforts-increase-travel-and-tourism-unite.

The current wait time for NIV appointments across consular posts in China is between 2-3 days.   In Mexico City, it is 24 days. Last month, USCG Guadalajara, Mexico made it as the top #8 consular post on wait time at 47 days (h/t to Consular Corner).  In Brasilia, the wait time is one day.

In related news, applicants in the UAE complained of long wait to schedule visa appointments a year after the US consulate moved to a bigger facility in Bur Dubai that was supposed to make the process smoother (see Disgruntled residents call for speedier US visit visas). Abu Dhabi currently has a 36-day wait while Dubai has 28 days.  That’s still way faster than Havana, currently the top post on wait time at 999 days.

Domani Spero

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Filed under China, Consular Work, Countries 'n Regions, U.S. Missions, Visas

U.S. Consulate General Shanghai Launches Air Quality Monitor

Over the weekend, the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai launched its own air quality monitor with hourly updates via Twitter.

Here is the consulate’s statement on its website:

In line with the Embassy’s practice of making air quality data available to the American community in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate Shanghai has installed an air quality monitor to measure the concentration of particulates (PM 2.5) as an indicator of overall air quality in the area surrounding its Huai Hai Middle Road offices. The monitor is an unofficial resource for the health of the Consulate community. Citywide analysis of air quality cannot be done using readings from a single machine.  Particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM 2.5) are referred to as “fine” particulates and are believed to pose the largest health risks. PM 2.5 particulates are of concern since they are small enough to get into the lungs and even the blood stream. For more information on PM 2.5, please visit http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/pm/pm25_index.html.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a formula to convert PM 2.5 readings into an air quality index (AQI) value than can help inform health-related decisions (see chart). For example, an AQI value of 50 represents good air quality with little potential to affect public health, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality. Please note that AQI is different from the Air Pollution Index (API) used in China. For more information on AQI and how it is calculated, please visit http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi.

The monitor’s measurements, expressed in the form of PM 2.5 concentration (micrograms per cubic meter, ug/m3) and corresponding AQI, are available on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cgshanghaiair.

Since its debut on May 15, all readings have been “unhealthy.” Which is not good but it could be worse, really.

WSJ’s China Real Time Report writes:

The “good” news for Shanghai residents: The air is worse elsewhere, namely in Beijing. No surprise there, as Beijing, a city far from the coast and subject to seasonal sand blasts from the Gobi Desert, is where the Embassy famously once designated the air as “crazy bad.”

The average PM2.5 concentration was roughly twice as bad in Beijing as it was in Shanghai over the first four periods during which the Shanghai consulate provided average readings. Between noon Sunday and midday Monday, Shanghai had average PM2.5 readings of 39 micrograms per cubic meter and an index of 107, which put it at unhealthy for sensitive groups. Beijing was plain unhealthy during that same period, averaging 77.3 micrograms per cubic meter and 158 on the index.

The consulate’s air monitor makes it the third USG monitor in China in addition to US Embassy Beijing and USCG Guangzhou.  They are all in Twitter:

http://twitter.com/cgshanghaiair.

http://twitter.com/#!/Guangzhou_Air

http://twitter.com/#!/beijingair

Here is the chart on the monitor readings:


Domani Spero

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Filed under China, Consul Generals, MED, Realities of the FS, U.S. Missions

US Mission China: Chen Guangcheng Departs Embassy (Photos), Not End of Story

Via US Mission China/Flickr

Click here if the embedded slideshow is not accessible.

The text of the background briefing on May 2 with senior State Department officials is already up here.  The senior officials have a  lot to say but not a lot of answers to questions from the press.

Chen Guangcheng has now reportedly told The Daily Beast’s Melinda Liu, “I need your help, I’m absolutely, absolutely ready to fly out on Hillary Clinton’s plane. Please tell the embassy what I’m saying.

That’s absolutely going to be tricky, wouldn’t it?

Domani Spero

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Filed under China, Flickr, Leaks|Controversies, Secretary of State, U.S. Missions

@United – Amb Gary Locke Goes to Bat for FS Pets and All Mission Employees in China

Foreign service pets and United are still hot. Most recently, our US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke (previously Commerce Secretary) went to bat for the FS pets on behalf of his mission employees and wrote to United’s Beijing office on this issue. He is the only chief of mission, as far as we know who has done this. Excerpt below from the Locke letter to United via AFSA. Read in full here.

Click on image for larger view

US Ambassador to China Gary Locke
(Photo from US Embassy Beijing/Flickr)

You rock, Ambassador Locke!

Domani Spero

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Foggy Bottom’s “Secret” Blog, Wild Geese – Oh, It’s Pretty Wild!

What does NBA phenom, Jeremy Lin have in common with the following?

  • 林书豪Jeremy Lin (2010-)
  • 出身哈佛的总统(任期)
  • 约翰·亚当斯John Adams (1797-1801)
  • 约翰·昆西·亚当斯John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
  • 海耶斯Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
  • 西奥多·罗斯福Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
  • 肯尼迪John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
  • 小布什George W. Bush (2001-2009)
  • 欧巴马Barack Obama (2009-)

Heck if I know. But the bloggers of Foggy Bottom’s blog, Wild Geese, apparently know. Except that they’re not telling us. (Laura R says they all went to Harvard).

In the aftermath of the Pop the Magic Blog Disappearance of our favorite FS blogger in China, one of our readers helpfully suggested that the best way to avoid blogging trouble is obviously, to blog in Chinese like the Wild Geese bloggers. Here is what the reader actually wrote us:

In order for a blog to survive 21st Century Statecraft (and Alec J. Ross knows about this), you have to write it in Chinese so that nobody knows what the heck you are saying. Just look at the “Wild Geese” blog written by two Chinese contractors working for the Bureau of International Information Programs at http://blogs.america.gov/mgck/. There’s no English translation so nobody at the State Department knows what they’re really saying or how they’re saying it. It’s like it’s a secret blog lurking in the shadows of America.gov, a website that was archived last year.

And here I thought I was good at keeping track of what’s going on over there. But it gets worse — even the State Department’s China Desk apparently cannot read what the blog says because — it’s in Chinese with no English translation! Is it common to have a China Desk Officer who has other languages except Chinese?

Then it gets double bad. Our blog reader continues:

US Embassy Beijing website (http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/usintro.html) mentions Wild Geese in English but no English translation of what the blogs say. China Desk is in the dark. IIP Chinese blog team acts like a renegade group of nativists (IIP is remnant of former USIA) with former PRC nationals calling the shots on what gets written for blog posts. Most of what they write is a waste of taxpayer money (good luck with OIG on that one). State’s “partnership” with the fiery anti-American Chinese “Global Times” news portal (http://blog.huanqiu.com/?316055) strains credibility. They’re too willing to submit to Chinese censorship. China blocks VOA but not IIP. Too cozy for comfort. See South China Morning Post article on jailing of Chinese writers http://topics.scmp.com/news/china-news-watch/article/Pen-is-subject-to-the-sword.

They’re calling the shots on what gets written in the blog? Good grief! Peter Van Buren calls the shots on what gets written in his private blog and State sends him a weekly report! And he writes in English!

So I used the Googles to look up the blog but I get all sorts of other wild guesses from the search engines. So the blog must have had no index bots and it does not get listed.  Almost as if only those with the secret link can read it. Now, where’s the fun in that?  Anyway, I eventually used the link sent by our reader.  The blog is hiding in plain site in US Mission China’s website (see a screen capture below) but it actually resides in the America.gov server: http://blogs.america.gov/mgck/

The America.gov website says that it is no longer being updated.  Except that the Wild Geese blog continues to post items of every sort.  Besides the recent post on Jeremy Lin, it also has the following posts:

1.  Guy with a furry hair.  Is that a Queen’s Guard?  The last I heard these soldiers are charged with guarding the official royal residences in London. There are no royal residences in the District of Columbia.

2. Who are these people and what are they doing up that tree, er pole?

3.  Something about extreme makeover? Is this relevant to US-China relation?

4. Is that Hillary and is she having coffee, again?

See, that’s what happens when you put up a blog with no English translation in a USG website nonetheless. The successor of America.gov, IIP Digital (you may stop laughing at the name right now!) actually has translations in the following languages for their products:

Now, official products for public consumption also have to go through a clearance process.  Are we to understand that the Wild Geese blog posts do not even go through that process? I can’t even begin to imagine that.  Since the blog exist over the dead body of America.gov, who do these bloggers report to?  Since it does not pop up in the search engines, what use does it have if no one can easily find it? Perhaps more importantly, who has oversight over this official blog? And does the oversight official speak/read more than a 2/2 Chinese?

Matt Armstrong who was Executive Director of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy until December 2011 (when it was killed by Congress) and was supposed to be in Beijing the week the commission’s authorization expired chimed in about the Geese:

“I’ve been consistently told the Geese are republished in China, including in anti-US Chinese media (a score in my book) and content was driven by Embassy Beijing’s outreach staff, including those who speak/read Chinese (in other words, this isn’t a renegade group).  Monitoring is done by the Embassy and EAP.   It is monitored by the Chinese speakers in the EAP bureau, some on the China desk and some on the EAP Public Diplomacy desk.”

Presumably, there is someone among them with more than a 2/2 in Chinese.

噢,這真是個快樂的進展……噢,这真是个快乐的进展……
*Oh, juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan…

Matt also points out that the blog’s audience “is not the US but China,” and “not even Chinese nationals abroad, but mainland China, which it seems to effectively penetrate at apparently relatively low cost.”   We get that, of course. Still would be nice to have an English translation and wouldn’t it be interesting to see its penetration rate relative to cost?

I do have to admit that the idea of blogging in Chinese or other super hard languages has a great appeal.  According to our mathematical calculation, FS blogs in super hard languages has a 5% to 0% chance of ever getting in real trouble.  And if diplomatic spouses start blogging in super hard languages like Chinese or Arabic , the harassment would likely be down to almost zero instantly because 1) State does not have enough Chinese or Arabic speakers, 2) to actually read the blog and find it offensive enough to be pulled down requires a translator, too much paperwork to request for one; 3) all human translators are deployed elsewhere, and online translators include dirty words.

Domani Spero

Updated on 2/19 with comments from Matt Armstrong of http://mountainrunner.us/

*Oh, this is a happy development…

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Filed under China, Contractors, FS Blogs, Public Diplomacy, State Department, U.S. Missions

Who Wants to Be Known as a Serial Blog Killer, Anyway?

English: Serial Killers Gallery at the Nationa...

Image via Wikipedia

And so it goes.

And Kolbi’s blog is resurrected a second time. Which is almost as shocking as Newt Gingrich’s come back after his Aegean cruise.

Anyway, she disappeared on February 13, and we moved the blog to the blogmetery. We spent most of February 14 rounding up the usual suspects on paper. Why? Because that’s what we do when somebody disappears or when a 2010 victim of a Serial Blog Killer is victimized once again. Think Criminal Minds for blogs searching for a Serial Blog Killer’s “signature.”

So on our whiteboard we have listed the possible “suspects” below:

  • The blogger-spouse’s FSO’s section chief at post
  • FSO’s section chief’s boss at post, the Principal Officer
  • Principal Officer’s boss in Beijing, usually the DCM
  • DCM’s boss in Beijing, that’s the Ambassador
  • Ambassador’s boss in DC besides President Obama, the EAP bureau
  • EAP’s boss in DC, that would be “P” (way up on the 7th Floor, tsk! tsk!)

On our side column, we listed the following who may have been offended by the blog or other people of interest we should talk to:

  • the UNSUB or “unknown subject” – could be the janitor or secretary, who knows?
  • DGHR – because human resources has hands in almost all the embassy pies
  • Alec J. Ross, because he is the 21st Century Statecraft guru at State

We were just in the middle of collecting photos to go with the names of the usual suspects when we were told that Kolbi’s blog is back up talking up a storm about Professionals in the Mouth, spicy duck tongues and Helen Keller brand eyeglasses in Chengdu.

我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都

Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shuuuung!

We are happy, of course, to move her out of the blogmetery (admittedly, one depressing sidebar).  But the blog was gone slightly more than 24 hours. And very few, if ever, make it back. That she escaped the certainty of a blog death a second time around is nothing short of a miracle.

Is the Serial Blog Killer now playing a different game?  Or is there a lesson here, somehow? We don’t know yet. We’re studying the victimology in the hope that it would help others survive similar attacks. We’re asking questions such as: What did she write about? Who did she piss? What interest of the United States did she jeopardize?

Wait – you think it’s because nobody wants to be known as the Serial Blog Killer?

Don’t know. But to paraphrase Shepherd Book, “If you can’t do something right, do something smart.”

Well, getting off the news before it hits the frontpage is definitely smart, boys!

Domani Spero

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Filed under China, FS Blogs, Realities of the FS, Reputation, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, Tigers Are Real, U.S. Missions