Madam Is Back With “Your Mother Taught You Better Than This”

Via The Consuls’ Files: Your Mother Taught You Better Than This
It figures, sadly but unfortunately also predictably, that when Madam steps out for a leisurely lunch and glass of wine, the mice come out to play.
Or rather, even more sadly, the larger variety of a different species.
Consider if you will, and if you can stomach it, this recent IG comment on certain conoffs’ behavior:
“OIG found that Consular Section managers’ failure to address adequately improper conduct by two officers had a negative effect on LE staff morale. Several months before the inspection, LE staff complained to consular managers about the officers’ conduct, which involved use of abrasive language and tone with visa applicants and frequent pressure on LE staff to translate the rude comments.
“Although consular managers attempted to address the officers’ conduct and had kept the previous DCM fully informed, the officers’ conduct continued to be a problem even during the inspection. After OIG questioned their handling of the situation, consular managers worked with the Front Office and the Human Resources Officer to take further action. As a result, OIG did not make a recommendation to address this issue.”
Continue reading here: http://theconsulsfiles.blogspot.com/2020/06/your-mother-taught-you-better-than-this.html
Folks who’ve been with us for over a decade may remember that MLC went missing way back when (The Hunt for Madam le Consul).  Now says she’s over 21 and “I can write anything I feel like writing.”
Welcome back, MLC!

You know who else is back? Madam le Consul! Can you see me doing cartwheels?

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Madam le Consul started blogging at The Consuls’ Files — ‘bringing humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul’ — in May 2009.  By October that year, she was gone, chewed to death by bureaucratic tigers. She later came back for sporadic posts.

Today, she told me she’s officially back. And she just revised her 1,000-word disclaimer to 15 words! Her first blog post: Yes, You’re King of the World. She writes:

Madam would like to think that US chiefs of mission will always set the best possible example for their underlings – an example for said underlings to aspire to, be proud of, and remember with fond admiration. Sadly, the newest crop of inspection reports confirms that far too many ambassadors are instead still playing the role of the biggest kid on the block – or the biggest frog in the puddle.
[…]
It appears that, still, a knuckle slap by inspectors may or may not lead to a leash-jerk by the appropriate bureau, which may or may not lead to improved behavior, which may or may not last longer than it takes to write a reassuring email and then forgetting about it. But at the same time, all ordinary, well-behaved, well-trained, doing-the-best-they-can FSOs know that they will be the ones who will suffer if they try to follow the rules when the boss’s boss doesn’t want them to. A single sentence in an EER review statement can doom a good officer to years of undeserved 03-dom.

Ah well, as Madam has often said, we don’t do our jobs for thanks. And yet, to all those good officers who do their best under pressure to not do their best from those who should be setting the highest-quality example but instead can’t be bothered, thank you.

Pardon me?  There are folks hyperventilating already in the next corridor? My web doctor says they need to go get a brown bag. Check out The Consuls’ Files and welcome Madam back to the blogosphere!

 

Related posts:

 

 

Best Consular Blog. Dead, So Very Dead.

Image by Colin Purrington via Flickr


And don’t you dare write another one!

Madam le Consul went missing from the blogosphere 30 days ago today. If you go missing for more than 48 hours in real life, the chances of finding you drop precipitously. The chances of recovery in virtual disappearances, um don’t really know.But she’s gone.Missing for over 700 hours now. The trail is cold. Most likely dead. Just dead. And we can understand if she wants to stay dead for now.

I imagine that there are folks out there who are relieved that though she may browse among us, she is now a ghost among us. And ghosts, you know, can’t be seen or heard, and have not been known to blog, yet. Dead blogger gone. End of line.

Other folks out there, of course, still harbor hope that she comes back.Why, to continue our rudely interrupted conversation, of course.Dead bloggers like cylons (see Battlestar Galactica) have many resurrection ships nearby: WordPress.com, Tumblr.com, LiveJournal.com, Yahoo 360 and more … dead bloggers do not really go away, they just get new URLs. But I won’t be surprised if she stays dead.

Every single day I also get somebody knocking on my door looking for MLC.I suspect that she is more popular now dead than she ever was, alive. If Madam le Consul is not resurrected, I hope her ghost starts micro-blogging on Twitter soon, if only to give the folks responsible for her demise nightmares and ulcers.

Yup, I’m going to hell for wishing that. Whatever. I’m still royally pissed that I no longer have her company when I have coffee each morning.

Liam Schwartz who publishes the Consular Corner has a brief piece on Madam le Consul (republished below with permission):

Respect for MLC

“The Consuls’ Files” — probably the best visa blog in the universe — has disappeared from our screens. Over a relatively short period of time, ‘Madam le Consul’ provided more consular education to more people than any of us would have thought possible. For her devoted audience, the reason for MLC’s sudden disappearance remains a mystery; that said, opinion in consular cyberspace is virtually unanimous that “The Consuls’ Files” was forced to close down by a skittish Bureau of Consular Affairs.

For a brief few months, MLC provided us with an enhanced level of information regarding the world of consular officers. In so doing, she created more public trust and support for that world than any one person has done in a very long time. We are deeply saddened by the loss of “The Consuls’ Files” and thank MLC for having given so much in such a short period of time.

MLC’s final blog piece, posted on October 2, 2009 was perhaps appropriately entitled “Yuck.”

Yuck, indeed!

I think we have to remember that the Bureau of Consular Affairs was born out of the McCarthy furor of the 1950’s and was set up under INA of 1952. Robert Walter Scott McLeod, the first Assistant Secretary of State for what was then called the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs (SCA) was known for his bureau’s slogan, “an ounce of loyalty is worth more than a pound of brain.” Also known apparently was his “field study” of 19,000 employees at home and abroad trying to find “security risks.”Donald Warwick, author of A Theory of Public Bureaucracy (1975 p.19) writes that “to become a “security risk,” one needed little more than an unflattering remark by a colleague.”

Ah, the bad, old days. Don’t you just miss them?

I’m not saying that MLC was a security risk or that the bureau is still trying to fumigate the commies out there — just that the bureau’s “skittishness” may steam from its turbulent and sad history.In any case, I think we’ll let MLC rest in peace now.Let’s have a parade when she comes back.

Um, but what’s this I hear? — is it true that the latest consular cable has an odd item discouraging the conception, immaculate or otherwise, of a consular blog? Oh, please, do tell.

Rocking the Boat is a Dangerous Thing, No?

The Consuls’ Files: Missing since 10/02/2009

Yellow butterfly
Rocks the old, wooden boat – splat!
No more butterfly

The blog has been missing for 11 days now.Folks are still looking and asking questions.We now think that the somebodies got Madam le Consul and her blog; no, no, definitely not the aliens from space.

The cache files of her blog posts have now been posted in a zip folder at cryptome.Nathan Hodge of Danger Room has posted about her here and also put in a query with the State Department media desk last Friday.NDS at Calling a Spade a Spade calls her “a shooting star” and asks, “Where in the world is MLC???”The Consular Corner writes: “The Consuls’ Files” – probably the best visa blog in the universe — has disappeared from our screens. Over a relatively short period of time, ‘Madam le Consul’ provided more consular education to more people than any of us …would have thought possible. ”

The hunt is still on, the speculations are still coming in.Now, if she was shut down by the Consular Affairs bureau, and I say if, because I have not seen the paper trail yet — my sense is that this is not for one single thing she wrote but the whole notion of an active, experienced senior consular officer blogging outside the “reservation” so to speak. That is — that the expensive bureaucratic white out pen had not been put to good use and no one had been able to “edit” or “tighten” her thoughts for “clarity” prior to every posting.That and well, she must have caused some ulcers … who knows what she was going to write about next …

But see — consular work is hard, grinding work and some people are exceptionally good at it; but it is oftentimes, a misunderstood trade.(No, these officers cannot get you out of jail and yes, they have been known to buy a hamburger or two out of their own pocket for the amcits in the jailhouse). Yes, despite the grunt work, consular officers can be smart, funny, witty and even quite fearless in their jobs.And here is one smart, funny, witty consular officer who has not been emasculated despite years in the bureaucracy.You’d think that the Recruitment Office at the State Department should have been happy to point to a blog like hers, especially in light of the persistent staffing need in the consular cone.For Madam le Consul did bring humanity, common sense, realism and humor to her blog.But with that authenticity comes less control, and control is the central issue, isn’t it?

I understand that some office at State is looking at updating the official guidance on blogs, social networking and such.The problem I’m afraid is that whatever decision will be written in stone will be arrived at by a few folks at the top of the chain who have no desire to blog or just want to keep the status quo of keeping everything but the fine nuggets under wraps …

It is no wonder that the general public still thinks of diplomats as insulares, pampered cookie pushers, stripped pants ivy-leaguers working the cocktail circuits in cushy capitals around the globe.That is far from the truth, of course, but not being able to see and hear what Foreign Service employees think and do except in the vetted sphere of the official channels, not being able to understand their challenges working overseas, and seeing only a splice of a “self-flattering operation” in the official mag or blog — why should the American public have a different view otherwise?

In the new era of Gov 2.0 and Diplomacy 3.0, the traditional notion that only the nice things get said and written about is still quite prevalent.It’s as if the price of admission to the club is to say just enough so they know you’re smart, but not too much that they want to throw you out club for being too smart.I supposed it helps us order our complex world if we know exactly what everyone says at any given day, which is — not much.But this train has left the station a long time ago; the State Department has just not quite caught up with the train yet, or figured out how to put this into effective use.

I recognize, of course, that there are sensitive matters that are not appropriate to this medium. But as I’ve written previously, there has to be a smarter way around this without getting choked under the limitations of that great Muse of “official concern.”The trick, I think is finding the right balance between an authentic voice and a level of tolerance for less control.

As the first Federal agency created under our Constitution, the State Department has been around since 1789.This is an old, traditional, hierarchical bureaucracy. This is not to say that it has not tried to change or tried to examine itself in years past…it’s just that it’s stiff on the ankles, and used to its old ways….and it gets mighty cranky of anyone trying to hurry it into the next century…

In 1967 there was Chris Argyris’ report on organizational ineffectiveness within the State Department.Prior to its publication, Robert Peck of the Department of State’s Office of Operations objected and argued that it presented “a rather dismal picture” of the Department and would incur publicity that would affect it adversely.

I think this is an argument that lives on every single day in every department of a bureaucracy (not just at State, but more so at State), and newcomers will be schooled quickly that “transparency” and “openness” can only go so far … or it will come back and bite your silly arse.

The disappearance of Madam le Consul’s blog is a lesson; the question is — are we being taught the right lesson or the wrong one?

* * *

Here’s something from the diplomatic memory lane:

In January 1967 the Department of State published Some Causes of Organizational Ineffectiveness Within the Department of State by Professor Chris Argyris of Yale University. A condensed version appeared in the January 1967 issue of the Foreign Service Journal under the title, “Do You Recognize Yourself?” Argyris based his report on tape recordings he made of three Airlie House management conferences held by the Department in 1965. Attended primarily by Career Ministers and Class I Foreign Service Officers, their purpose, according to Argyris, “was to help the participants enhance their competence in dealing with people and managing systems (such as embassies, regional bureaus, functional departments). During the discussions the men diagnosed with earnestness and commitment their personal limitations as leaders of people, as well as the problems of the Department of State as an organization.” Argyris concluded that the Department’s interpersonal milieu, its “living system,” predisposed it to ineffectiveness and destined reform efforts to mediocre success at best and failure at worst. Among the system’s norms, according to Argyris, were “withdrawal from interpersonal difficulties and conflict, minimum interpersonal openness and trust, [and] mistrust of one’s own aggressiveness, and aggressiveness of others.” The result was a Foreign Service culture that discouraged forthrightness and risk-taking and encouraged those who played it safe and did “not make waves” either in their behavior or their writing. Argyris offered a series of recommendations for altering the living system so that it would reward risk taking and initiative. (Ibid., pages 21–26) Readers’ reaction to Argyris’ report was printed in the March, April, and May issues of the Foreign Service Journal.

Prior to publication of the report, Robert Peck of the Department of State’s Office of Operations objected to a number of quotations in the report by Foreign Service Officers. He argued in a December 30, 1966, memorandum to Deputy Under Secretary of State Crockett that they presented “a rather dismal picture” of the Department and would incur publicity that would affect it adversely. Therefore they should be deleted. (Kennedy Library, Crockett Papers, MS 75–45, Argyris Report, 1966–67) Crockett decided not to delete any material, however, noting in his preface to Argyris’ report that the decision “to publish it without censoring the quotations was not taken lightly” but that “being honest and open about the problems dealt with in this study offers the best beginning for dealing with them effectively and constructively.” (Some Causes of Organizational Ineffectiveness, page iv)

From Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968
Volume XXXIII, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; United Nations, Document 112

1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-Katzenbach Files: Lot 74 D 271, Administrative & Personnel. No classification marking.

2 Before leaving office, Crockett prepared for publication a manuscript of approximately 240 typed pages entitled “Management in the Department of State and the Foreign Service.” In his introduction Crockett wrote that the “Department of State and the Foreign Service, although they may have been late in joining it, are now in the forefront of the management revolution” and thus he prepared the manuscript “in order to give to the public, and to our own people, a description in layman’s language of what the management of the Department and the Foreign Service consists.” Crockett circulated the 13 chapters among members of his office for review, comment, and approval. The manuscript was never published. A copy is in the Kennedy Library, Crockett Papers, MS 74–28, Book-Personal, W.J. Crockett.

3 President Kennedy called the State Department a “bowl of jelly” in 1961. (John Franklin Campbell, The Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory. New York, Basic Books, Inc., 1971, p. 6) Joseph Kraft called the Department a “fudge factory” in a May 20, 1966, Washington Post column that stated: “The fact is that the Department has not been run primarily as a decision-making instrument. It has been run as a fudge factory. The aim has been to make everybody happy, to conciliate interests, to avoid giving offense and rocking the boat.”

There is no electronic copy of Argyris’ paper but you can read it in the State Department’s library.I’ve also been trying to find a copy of Crockett’s “Management in the Department of State and the Foreign Service.” If you know where I can find one short of visiting the Kennedy Library, please drop me a note.


Related Items:

The Hunt for Madam le Consul

Foreign Service blog missing for 5 days now

Madam le Consul (aka: Cassandra Was Right) is a senior consular-coned US Foreign Service officer who has served in 23 countries and Washington.Since May 2009, she has been blogging in The Consuls’ Files, “bringing humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul.”And she did that and all in the short, short life of her blog.

This is going to scare the children …

I think late last Friday, the blog (and the blogger) simply disappeared into thin air. I thought it was a simple technical glitch. But by Monday, I know it wasn’t. She is a regular blogger, Monday-Friday; she has last posted Friday morning. If you look it up now, Blogger would tell you that it cannot locate such a blog. Just like that, it went – puff! Of course, if you do a search for Madam le Consul, Google still spits out the cache files of the now missing blog.

The question is where is Madam le Consul? And what happened to The Consuls’ Files? Like any amateur detective, you have to start with a list. So below is Diplopundit’s list in what we hope will turn out to be a massive blog hunt with the help of some friends.


#1.Did Madam le Consul pull down her own blog?

This is always a possibility.The Hegemonist has been gone since June and I am doubtful if he will return.But — MLC is a consular officer with a lot of experience and a lot to say.I know that she has become a popular read very quickly.Why would she pull down her blog? Besides she’s big on doing the right thing, she would not close shop without a proper goodbye. No, she did not do this on her own.


#2. Was Madam le Consul (and her blog) abducted by Martians?

Okay, we’ve considered this.But — MLC is a consular officer; given her experience, she’d be negotiating her release by now. I cannot imagine that she’d be scared silly or easily, not even by aliens from space. If she does not show up by the end of the week, we know that the somebodies got her. And they’re not from outer space.

#3.Is Madam le Consul in an undisclosed location?

MLC could be writing a book that will bring more humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul. We’ve thought about that but we know she’s not in Tora-Bora.Again, if she has decided on her own to disappear for a while, she would have left a note.She’s a diplomat; she knows it’s impolite to leave without a word.

#4. Did Diplomatic Security catch up with Madam le Consul?

And told her to zip it?There is always that possibility.But see, DS is busy with all sorts of things right now; from security contracts, contractor investigations, staffing issues, returning fugitives, security investigations, etc. etc. Can you imagine DS spending its limited resources hunting down a blog and shutting it down?I can’t. Besides, the blog Dead Men Working, whose bloggers very closely follow Diplomatic Security has been around a while and when I last checked, Steve is still on. Unless there’s a witness, I don’t think the culprit is DS. Diplopundit’s friends are not so sure.


#5.Did the Consular Affairs Bureau shut down Madam le Consul?

Did the good folks at CA issue a cease-and-desist order to gag her?MLC is a senior consular-coned US Foreign Service officer who has served in 23 countries and Washington.How many officers would fit that description like a glove? And which office would be able to dig up and match that description quickly?MLC has also been blogging about consular issues and her posts have been excerpted in Liam Schwartz’s Consular Corner, which is read by consular officers, and by folks in the CA Bureau (motive and opportunity?).Makes us wonder if “controversial” blogs have now become line items in the agenda of executive meetings at Foggy Bottom.

Is the Consular Affairs Bureau (under M) responsible for the disappearance of Madam le Consul and her blog?If it is, who gave the order and why? How many manhours were used to track her down?Has she been thrown into a visa dungeon with no internet connection?

The hunt for Madam le Consul in on.Anonymous tips are solicited here.

New FS Blog: The Consuls’ Files

I have added The Consuls’ Files in my blog index.Cassandra Was Right quietly started blogging in May 2009.Her blog is called The Consuls’ Files, ‘bringing humanity, common sense, realism and humor to the work of the US consul.’

Her blog is a place —

“Where U.S. consular officers can …
… ask questions, answer questions, question answers, express frustrations, tell their favorite consular stories, uncensored and anonymous.Sensible immigration attorneys and puzzled visa applicants, petitioners, and beneficiaries are warmly welcomed, as well.”

And she tells stories like this one:

A young man from a South Asian suburb had been refused visas at least six times before.[…] I reviewed the prior applications, interviewed him, then started on my refusal patter: “I’m very sorry, but you don’t qualify for a …”At that point he interrupted and cried, incensed, “But madam! This time I’m telling the truth!”

Tee-hee!

She has an Ask the Consul option in her side bar where readers canAsk a question, suggest a topic.” But she wants you to “Be nice; pretend you’re writing to your mother.”

Update: Unfortunately, this blog has gone missing since Friday, October 2, 2009. Read the Hunt for Madam le Consul here.