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Will Clinton’s new speechwriter get to write a birthday note to Botswana?

Did you know that Sept. 8 was Macedonia’s national day, or that Moldova became independet on Aug. 27, 19 years ago? Hillary Clinton does. She wished “the Moldovan people a safe and festive celebration” and promised to “continue to help strengthen Macedonia’s multiethnic and democratic institutions.”

As these notes likely aren’t written by the Secretary of State herself, someone’s gotta write them. Whose job is it to pen birthday wishes to countries in Hillary Clinton’s name?

Well, at least now I know who their boss is. Josh Rogin at The Cable reports that Hillary Clinton has a new speechwriter, Josh Daniel, who has most recently written for Bill and Melinda Gates.

He replaces Lissa Muscatine, who left State in July after 18 months as chief speechwriter. … Muscatine had been managing four, full-time speechwriters and two part-time employees, who also write for other officials.

Ever since Sam Seaborn on the West Wing, government speechwriting has become sexy (proof below). Exhibit B: Jon Favreau. I’m not sure writing birthday cards to everyone from Andorra to Gabon aligns with this image.

At least those countries allegedly have something to celebrate, unlike Chad. Clinton congratulated the country’s people on their national day on Aug. 11, writing

The United States and Chad have made great progress in recent years to strengthen our partnership. Our cooperation on political issues and improving the security and stability in sub-Saharan Africa has shown Chad to be an engaged partner and a central figure in the region. Chad’s hospitality to refugees and leadership on environmental issues such as deforestation and desertification is a testament to your ability to address global challenges.

With “hospitality to refugees,” I assume she is referring to the roughly 200,000 of Chad’s people who have fled internal conflict. The nation is at the top of Foreign Policy’s Failed States index, second only to war-ravaged Sudan. As U.N. peacekeepers get ready to leave, the situation is likely to worsen. Happy National Day? Maybe not so much.

At least Botswana, which can expect congratulations come Sept. 30, is only ranked “borderline” instable.


Windows 7 – not my idea

Germans have a weird sense of humor, and other things Microsoft got wrong

Here’s one of Microsoft’s commercials for the latest Windows version.

First of all, I have to say that all of my German friends are pretty funny, and I’ve never seen the show that’s supposedly on TV there.

But more substantially, what is this grand idea that Kevin came up with there? Remote access to videos on his home computer?

I hate to disappoint, but that actually wasn’t Kevin’s idea. Neither was it Microsoft’s. Services like Digital Dropbox let you keep your files “in the cloud” and access them from all kinds of devices, not just computers. So when Kevin’s little brother, who now uses Kevin’s PC back home, deletes the stupid video of a guy doing push-ups on his tongue because he’s figured out how to download porn from the Internet and needs the space on the harddrive, the videos would still be stored remotely.

Not surprisingly, Apple has offered something similar for a while with their Mobile Me service. This doesn’t only store your files but also helps find and/or lock your computer should it get stolen or lost.

And while we’re on it, aren’t these commericals pretty stupid to begin with? Microsoft pretends that all these ideas came from consumers, which tells me two things. Microsoft engineers couldn’t come up with new ideas themselves; and former Windows versions were so bad that consumers had suggestions over suggestions for even the simplest improvements (making it start faster? come on.). I’m not the only one who thinks this is pretty lame.

I’m Jessica. I’m a Mac. And this Windows 7 commercials was not my idea.

Update: This Windows commercial from September 2008 shows that Microsoft can do better (thanks, Kolja!).

Blogs to love: Fashionistas

I read a lot of serious news stories on important issues such as defense policy, the wars, the effects of climate change. So every now and then, I like something a little lighter to keep me entertained: Fashion blogs! Here are my favorites.

Capitol Hill Style – I love this blog. The pseudonymous “Belle” is a Capitol Hill aide and helps bring some much-needed style to the marble halls of Congress with her tips for chic work wardrobe. I especially enjoy the “10th Commandment” feature, where she presents three items in the same style – say, silk tops or shoes with cut-outs – priced for elected officials, Hill staffers and unpaid interns. With Belle’s signature snark, this is a great blog to read for work fashion advice.

One of Belle's posts on her Capitol Hill Style site.

One of Emily's looks on her blog, Cupcakes and Cashmere.

Cupcakes and Cashmere – I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover this blog.
From sunny California, Emily Schuman writes about fashion and delicious recipies, like these Bruschetta that I have to try out. Her outfits are usually casual and feminine, but with a little edge, such as this white dress and leather jacket combo. And she owns fantastic shoes. Sigh.

Chasing Louboutin – speaking of shoes, which woman wouldn’t love a pair of outrageously expensive but supersexy high heels? Like with most designer fashion, few of us can actually afford to buy those items. Jennifer Zaczek doesn’t let that stop her. On her blog, Chasing Louboutin, she chronicles her quest for quality pieces at affordable prices – through sample sales, thrifty shopping and the help of technology.

I stumbled upon her blog through the Little Black Dress experiment, during which 31 bloggers were asked to style a simple black dress. I liked her choice, with a belted sweater on top, as well as her easy-going writing style.

Jennifer of Chasing Louboutin in her LBD.

The Cut – Unlike the former sites, New York Magazine’s fashion blog isn’t a personal style blog as much as an industry news site. Featuring celebrity images, slideshows and news from the runway shows, this blog tells you most everything you need to know about the fasion industry, and links extensively to outside sources in case you want to find out more.

Designers' inspiration, revealed on The Cut.

Discoveries at home

Read more…

Playing around

Encore for the girls

For Silke – Mika: Blame it on the girls

For Vivi – Amy MacDonald: This is the life

For Berlin – Peter Fox: Schwarz zu Blau

Standstill in the Senate – Thoughts on New Yorker article

“Just how broken is the Senate?” George Packer asked in a recent New Yorker article I posted on my tumblr blog the other day. I highly recommend reading it. Here are some thoughts.

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill is one of my favorite Senators. I covered her hearing on Afghan police force training (the one that had to be rescheduled as described at the beginning of the article). She seemed genuinely outraged at what she called an “unacceptable” state of police training in Afghanistan. She’s on Twitter, too.
  • The whirlwind conversation on blogs, Twitter and other Hill media such as Political or Roll Call, Packer says, is “News about, by, and for a tiny kingdom of political obsessives [that] dominates the attention of senators and staff, while stories that might affect their constituents go unreported”.
    This parallels discussions I’ve had recently with my journalist friends. Do we spend too much time catering to the hyper-engaged readers, while neglecting those who don’t keep up with news in a million different ways? After all, engaged readers are a news organizations’ cash cows: the top 25 percent of newspaper Web visitors account for 86 percent of page views, reports the Columbia Journalism Review. How can we serve both groups of readers (and constituents)?
  • The heightened focus on tension has pushed polarization, writes Packer. Dodd, a Senator since 1981, told him he hasn’t had a reporter from Connecticut covering him in years. Dodd says “D.C. publications only see me through the prism of conflict.” “Lamar Alexander described the effect as ‘this instant radicalizing of positions to the left and the right.'” (online pg. 2)
  • The article really crystallizes the importance of relationships in the Senate. With heightened partisanship, hectic schedules and little time or inclination to get to know one another, Sens. Kyl and Dodd contend that trust has disappeared.
  • “The Senate, by its nature, is a place where consensus reigns and personal relationships are paramount,” Lamar Alexander said. “And that’s not changed.” Which is exactly the problem: it’s a self-governing body that depends on the reasonableness of its members to function. (online pg 7)

  • Should Senators be familiar with the ‘spirit of the Senate’, its intention as a body, to avoid falling into the built-in possibilities of obstructionism? Is that why the late Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who always carried a copy of the constitution with him, had such an important role in keeping alive the legacy of the institution? (Byrd is supposedly the only person to have read the 1,600-page Senate rulebook in its entirety)
  • Maneuvers intended to foster debate and decisions (such as holds, meant to allow a Senator to make it to the Capitol on horseback in time for a vote) are increasingly used to obstruct business. It has become the norm for a handful of senators “to hold everything up,” writes Packer.

One feature of the diminished U.S. senator is the ease with which he moves from legislating to lobbying. (online pg 7)

Blogs to love: Globetrotters

This is the first in a series of posts about “blogs to love.” Each week, I will present a couple of sites covering a similar topic that I like to read. Since I always enjoy coming across new interesting places on the Web, I finally wanted to make use of all these bookmarks and share them here.

To start off, here are three sites of fabulous travellers who are causing me some serious “Fernweh” (German word meaning the opposite of homesick; literally, “awaysick”) with their adventures.

Until 2009, Nicolas Rapp was an Art Director for the Associated Press in New York City. Then he decided to drive around the world in his Toyota truck. He chronicles this “year of living dangerously” on his blog, Trans World Expedition. Being a former art director, cool graphics accompany his posts from Colombia, Tanzania or the United Arab Emirates. Next up on his ambitious route: Pakistan and India.

The Nasir-Ol-Molk Mosque prayer hall in Iran. Photo by Nicholas Rapp, click on picture for article.

My wonderful friend Jacquelyn Ryan is currently reporting in South Africa for the non-profit investigative Health-E News Service. On her tumblr blog, My Solo Project, she tells of the everyday obstacles of reporting in a third world country, from world cup feaver to broken down cars. Colorful photos show South Africa’s vibrant side from Johannesburg to Durban (and I can’t wait for pictures from her shark dives!).

Melville, Johannesburg

Melville, Johannesburg - Picture by Jacquelyn Ryan

The charming Lauren Bohn is currently studying Arabic in Cairo as a Fulbright fellow. When she’s not sending me transatlantic care packages, Lauren is posting a “pic of the day” through her twitter @LaurenBohn, where you can follow her adventures and the news on the Middle East she shares. Like Lauren, more U.S. college students are discovering Arabic and developing a serious interest in the Middle East, writes the New York Times.

One of Lauren's pictures from Cairo.

Another fellow Medillian, Cat Rabestine, is currently teaching journalism to Palestinians. On her site, she writes about life Without A Map, reports from the West Bank, shares photographs and videos, and adds links to news reports to her personal, on-the-ground experience.

Degrees of nerdiness

Or how modern media is enabling the very character traits that made me highly unpopular in elementary school. I’m still emotionally scarred, but I think my inner geek is finally getting its revenge. Here’s proof.
paper clips

As if the stacks of magazines I have at home weren’t enough, I still cut out articles from newspapers. Admittedly, not that often. It’s much more pratical to bookmark those pieces online! The result is below.


Yes, I might be the only person on the Internet who has about 20 different folders for bookmarks, each with at least 20 links inside. That in addition to my Diigo bookmarks (Diigo is a social bookmarking tool similar to delicious).

Twitter I use even more enthusiastically – and it shows. Among the illustrous crowd I follow are many journalists (naturally) and news organizations (also, naturally). Then there’s ChartPorn. And Information=Beautiful. And Wired’s blogs on science and national security.

global marine life

Some interactive maps are mainly colorful. Click on image for link. Via @ChartPornOrg

In case you’re not yet convinced I was a nerd before being a nerd became cool:

At least I’m not alone.

Military needs more of everything, especially money – oh, and integration, too

The independent review panel’s presented its review of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) today, as Josh Rogin writes at The Cable. The group, which includes prominent defense experts,

explicitly warns about the “growing gap” between what the military is able to do and what it may be called on to do in the future. It advocates an expansion of the Navy and continued increases in an annual defense budget that has more than doubled since 2001. (Rogin)

The panel says the Pentagon’s a little preoccupied with the two wars currently under way and not looking and planning ahead enough for what’s to come (China, anyone?). As Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee put it, “we cannot do that [fight two wars] at the expense of preparing for the future, and there I am concerned that the QDR came up a bit short.”

I especially appreciate this passage:

The report writers recommended lawmakers should combine appropriations for defense, foreign operations, and intelligence into one big committee. (Rogin)

Sounds familiar. Integrating the national security structure of the U.S. seems to be on the horizon, but it’s a very complex endeavour. Or, as I wrote in an earlier article, “Need to unify national security policy apparent, but steps to getting there are not

It seems the panel’s report makes some suggestions for achieving that end, such as establishing an interagency assignment exchange program or encouraging universities to develop and teach a shared national security curriculum.

Download the panel’s full report here (pdf).

Inspiration for the post via @dangerroom and Adam Weinstein’s hilarious weekly national security roundup.