Lessons Learned

One thing I've learned from government is that everyone loves to talk about what they've learned. What worked, what didn't, what went really well, what NEVER to do again, etc. They love to host little meetings on this subject after something wraps up. Meetings turn into PowerPoints, which manifest into papers and files and memos and notes and emails... Seeing as it's the last week of my internship and the days are quickly winding down, I've decided to borrow from the State Department's model and try my own "Lessons Learned" (but with more gifs). I'm not going to give out any huge knowledge dumps or "life hacks," only a couple pointers that I wish I'd known when I started. Take it or leave it. 

For future State interns ("INTERN!"): 

1. Go talk to people. People at State love talking about their lives and career experiences, but not in the self-important way that most DC people do (well, sometimes). It’s because there’s this sense of “we’re all the same boat,” especially with the Foreign Service Officers (FSOs). And maybe that’s just the culture of my bureau, but I get the feeling it’s pretty widespread.
(That being said, be mindful of your colleagues' time. They’re solving the world’s problems, so they’re a little busy

2. Find the Foggy Bottom in your first week. There’s a post office, dry cleaner’s, frozen yogurt, and a Starbucks. There’s even a small shop that sells notebooks, postcards, and anything else they can stick the State Department emblem on. It’s your one-stop shop. (Hint: it's below the cafeteria.) While you're at it, get an understanding of how to navigate HST (Main State). That being said, if you have a meeting in HST, give yourself about 15 minutes to get utterly, hopelessly lost.

3. Write down everything from orientation, and keep those notes. Focus on dates and things you'll have to do, because trust me, it adds up fast. A lot of it pertains to your last day (how to deactivate your accounts, etc.) and you'll suddenly be very grateful you made that nonsensical scribble in the margins. 

4. Get to the point. To be more blunt, nobody has time for you to "um" and "uhh" and "so-it-started-when" your way through a sentence. Spit it out.

5. Write down acronyms you don’t know, then ask about them later. It’ll make your life so much easier. 

6. Expect to have your writing...edited. I had two years of professors and Hinckley staff telling me what a great writer I am, so when someone asked me to summarize a wealth of documents and data into a simple briefing point, I figured it would be a breeze. Needless to say, I was pretty aghast when I received a copy of the final briefing point—sliced, diced, and paired down so much that it was barely recognizable as mine. That’s because I'd had exactly zero experience writing, well, a military-style bullet point for a State Department email briefing. That’s not something they teach you in the Forum Series class, because it’s not something they CAN teach you. Just take notes of the (many, many) corrections, and keep trying. You’ll get it eventually. 

7. For god's sake, don’t write down your password. If you have to keep it somewhere (SAFE) for a couple days until you have it memorized, fine, but DO NOT KEEP IT BY YOUR DESK. I know it’s 12 nonsensical characters and numbers and symbols. I know you only had about 5 seconds to come up with it off the top of your head. I know you have about ten different passwords to remember like this one. It doesn’t matter—don’t write it down. Diplomatic security WILL find it, you WILL get a security violation, and that WILL be noted every time you apply for a clearance from here on out. They tell you this CONSTANTLY, yet it happens all the time. I saw it happen last week. Just don’t do it. 

8. Volunteer for one big conference, but no more. It’ll be an amazing experience where you’ll have the chance to both see how big events at State are managed, and (probably) peek in on some of the world’s most important discussions. However, they are time consuming, and you don’t want to leave your team hanging. 

9. Where to get your morning jitter juice: If you need a place to sit down, go to the Starbucks right inside the GW Hospital building off the Foggy Bottom metro—there's always a seat, and they have huge windows. Second best bet is the one near the American Foreign Service Association, at 20th and E; there's usually a small table. If you need a caffeine fix FAST, Starbucks at H and 21 is usually on their game. If you're from Boston, don't worry, there's a Dunkin' Donuts near the Red Cross building. Too mainstream for you? I highly recommend Casey's Coffee, tucked inside Columbia Plaza, somewhere off Virginia Ave and 23rd NW. 

Some Other Stuff... 

1. There are a lot of very smart people in DC, and you’re not going to impress them by acting like you know everything. Don’t even try to pretend.

2. Take advantage of being an intern. Knock on random doors. Go to events. Wander around random parts of the building where you would normally have no business being (but don’t break any security procedures). Ask questions, take notes, and take names. Be interested, be alert, pay attention. You’ll only be able to paint on that perky, oblivious smile and use the “I’m just the intern” excuse for so long. And yes, it’s intimidating to walk up to the 30-year veteran FSO who's best friends with ambassadors, but you need to do it anyway. I wish I’d started doing it earlier, and if there’s one piece of advice I could hammer home, it would be this. “Intern” screams “I want to learn!”, and people want to teach you things. It’s as simple as that.

3. Carry around business cards—with your WORK email and phone number written on them. The Hinckley is wonderful enough to provide its interns with business cards (albeit unabashed advertising). While having a card to dole out is imperative, having your personal contact information on it is a little weird. Write down both so you can be reached at work as well as after you leave your internship.

4. Take. Good. Notes. You have access to a wealth of knowledge. You will probably not have access to this wealth of knowledge when you leave, or at least not to the degree you do now. Write down everything you can and save it for later.

5. Invest in a good thermos. One that won’t spill on your Metro commute, is easy to wash and to carry, and keeps your coffee warm for hours. (Don’t drink coffee? Start drinking something else, because you will—more often than not—be asked to go get coffee with a superior, and you’d be a fool to say no.)

6. Never whine about your internship/work, even to other interns. You can discuss your grievances, sure, but keep it professional. If it really bothers you, bring it up your supervisor. Complaining will bleed negativity through into your work, and they will notice. Without fail, I have seen negativity get people fired or demoted with every single job I’ve ever held. Every single one. And I'm pretty sure it goes without saying that people who claim to hate their jobs don't get offered better ones (or get good references).

7. Go with your gut. No one knows you and what you want out of your life as well as you do. Screw the cookie-cutter mold that says you have to do finish your undergrad (at an expensive private college) with a 3.999 GPA and ten million awards, have a super-fantastic-awesome study abroad, go to one of exactly three prestigious DC colleges for your Masters, and take the FSO test or run for Congress the second you toss your cap into the air. Who wants that?! Not the government, that's for sure, and most other places don't either. I mean, if you want to work for a place that only hires out of 3 schools in the country, go for it. Power to you. If not, don't. Go work other jobs. Try other things. Pay off some of your loans. We all know you could barely decide which pants leg to put on first this morning—don't try to decide what you're doing with your life at 20-something, only to be filled with dread and regret at age 45 (or 35). Take the job you KNOW will be good for you, not the one someone who doesn't know a damn thing about you says you should take.

Okay, so that last one got a little ramble-y, but I've seen so many people make this mistake. I can't stress it enough—YOU know what the right decision for you is, not some internship coordinator who has hundreds of applications to manage. At the end of the day, people want to hire someone who did what they knew was best and made it work, rather than let someone else talk them into something. Those people won't last; conviction will. Most people are smarter than they think you are (and the people who think they're really smart, well...) 

Wow, this is probably one of my last couple posts. I'm not sure when the Hinckley is finally going to kick me off this thing, but I really enjoyed doing this blog. So much so, in fact, that I may continue it independent of the Hinckley (even though I'm fairly sure only about 3 people read it, 1 of whom is my mother). Maybe I'll try it out for the summer and see how it goes. For those of you who don't know, I'm taking one last big climbing trip as a celebration of what will probably by my last summer of youthful innocence and freedom, Kerouac-style (minus the hitchhiking and bodacious women, probably). I'll be traveling with friends to climb in Kentucky, West Virginia, New Hampshire, North Carolina (surfing), Colorado, and Wyoming. 

No matter what happens, though, stay strong, stay passionate, and stay just a little bit idealistic. We might just have a shot at this whole life thing if you do. 

When the riots hit home

I did not grow up in Baltimore. 

I grew up in Rockville, Maryland, about 40 minutes south (the Salt Lake City equivalent to Ogden, distance-wise). But Baltimore remains as much a symbol of the state of Maryland as the Great Salt Lake does for Utahans, and even more a point of contention. I've been to Baltimore more times than I can count. Concerts at tiny dive bars, BBQ restaurants with peeling paint and spicy sweetness wafting into the air, harbor water lapping at the docks of the national harbor. But while those are the good parts of Baltimore, they are not Baltimore. 

We all knew. We all knew about the gangs, the poverty, the abandoned homes, the drugs. We've known for decades, since the moment the Federal Housing Association laid out a map of Baltimore County on a table and used pens to slice and dice the city into who would get the jobs and the schools and the funding, and who would be shuttered away—all decided on the basis of race. We've known about the needles that litter playgrounds, the young men sucked into gangs when they face unemployment in their neighborhoods of 50%, failed by public schools and government representatives. 

What we've pretended not to know about was the police violence, because it is in this country's nature to stand with the officers who lay their lives on the line to protect and serve. We do not know what it is like to have to make a decision to protect your life in a split second, when someone draws a gun or lunges for your weapon and you have to decide in less than an instant whether or not to shoot. Most civilians have never been in this situation, and so we do not feel the right to accuse our officers of using deadly force for no reason. 

But many of us also have never felt targeted by the cops put in place to protect us. We have never been pulled over for "driving while black," or been the victim of an unwarranted stop-and-frisk, or been tackled and pinned violently to the ground, unable to breathe. We have no right to dismiss and silence the voices crying out against injustices done upon them. 

Baltimore was the perfect molotov cocktail, waiting to be lit. We often say that there are two Baltimores, white Baltimore and black Baltimore. I grew up on the greener side of the fence—I know this. I had a stable home. My parents provided me with everything I needed, and often the things I wanted. I went to a good public school, and college was an expectation rather than a pipe dream. I had very little contact with gangs growing up, and I was raised thinking—like many other young, sheltered teens—that racism was something of the history books. That in today's world, those who cried out about discrimination on the basis of race were stuck in the past. 

I was so terribly wrong, and I need to apologize. I apologize for my complacency, and for dismissing your voices. 

And so I stand with the residents of the Baltimore I was never a part of, but that I know has been toiling and struggling on the surface for so long. I stand with the residents who demand justice for their neighbor, who implore us to look past the drug charges on his rap sheet and see them, too, as humans who were born into something they don't have the power to fix. A community with a broken home that is finally demanding help. I stand with the residents of Baltimore, because this state—my state—can do better. And I stand with the officers who are ordered to stand in the way of the rioters and looters trying to burn that home to the ground, the ones who are just there to make sure the city and its residents are safe, who want to go home to their families. 

And for those of you who do not live in Baltimore but have come here to destroy property of the people in this city, who have already struggled to persevere through so much? You should be ashamed

Now, for you, the reader, I ask you to read more. Read about my Baltimore. Read about the city that has two sides, and try to understand why the community has finally decided to take a stand and say, "Enough is enough." 

Emotional and pained cries for justice and reparations against decades of unpunished crimes are often confused for disproportionate hatred, and so finally, I ask you to understand and to forgive. 

  • D Watkins, "These are the two Baltimores: black and white." (dated 26 June 2014) (Aeon) *Edit: I highly recommend this one, which so well captures the city.  
    "My black friends call it Murderland. My white friends call it Charm City, a town of trendy cafés. I just call it home." 
  • The Washington Post, "These two maps show the shocking inequality in Baltimore." (Link
  • Michael A. Fletcher for WaPo, "What you really need to know about Baltimore, from a reporter who’s lived there for over 30 years." (Link
    "The [Baltimore] mayor, city council president, police chief, top prosecutor, and many other city leaders are black, as is half of Baltimore’s 3,000-person police force... Yet, the gaping disparities separating the haves and the have nots in Baltimore are as large as they are anywhere. And, as the boys on the street will tell you, black cops can be hell on them, too." 
  • Mic, "One Tweet Shows the Hypocrisy of the Media's Reaction to Riots in Baltimore." (Link)
    "One tweet from American hip-hop artist Talib Kweli shows how the protests could and should have been covered: as a movement against police brutality so heartfelt and widespread that it united even rival gangs." 
  • The Atlantic, "Nonviolence as Compliance" (Link
    "When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con." 
  • The Washington Post (covering a study done on poverty in Baltimore by Johns Hopkins researchers), "What your 1st-grade life says about the rest of it." (Link

"The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing."

-Maya Angelou

When two of America's most rivaled gangs unite in solidarity, something needs to change. 

When two of America's most rivaled gangs unite in solidarity, something needs to change. 

Why We Do It (At) All

Don’t worry, this is just a quick post to take a short break from writing. 

One of the things I’ve learned about people in DC is that no one feels sorry for anyone. Working two jobs while going to school full time? So are ten million other people. There will always be someone busier or more stressed out than you, and people eventually stop caring. It’s just the nature of being in a demanding environment, and usually I kind of like it. But being a full-time student with a full-time job and full-time dedication to climbing can get a little...stressful. Sometimes, it seems like the whole house of cards is about to come tumbling down around you, as you frantically run around trying to hold up each piece so that everything stays upright. Everyone’s felt that way, and for me, this week was one of those weeks. 

There was a lot of work to do at State, since we’ve been finishing up a big report for next week. So much work, in fact, that I’ve been doing a lot of the research from home. On top of that, I had three papers and two online exams due this week. I had to get it all done before the weekend, because I’m here in West Virginia on a climbing trip (which is why I’m sitting in a McDonald’s, mooching off the WiFi—I didn’t quite get it all done). There was a lot of coffee and napping on the Metro, and not much sleeping outside of that. There were definitely several moments where I was absolutely convinced everything was going to fall apart into a giant, flaming-hot mess, but... it didn’t. Life seems to work out funny that way; you’re frantically running around to get everything done, and then suddenly that’s it, and you did it. The week has gone by, the next one starts, you’ve made it through, and you realize you’re going to be just fine. It’s those moments that I’ve looked back on so far throughout college—the moments you realized you were capable of handling much more than you thought you were. (I’ve heard rumors that it’s called “maturity,” but I have yet to confirm this.) 

A lot of people doubt my choice to spend such a large portion of my time dedicated to climbing (and by “a lot of people,” I mostly mean my parents). For me, though, there is no other option. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning after sleeping less than 10 hours in two days, drove five hours to the middle of nowhere to stake out a McDonald’s for the WiFi, and then only getting in 4-5 hours—maybe— of climbing before having to drive back. And that was after cramming everything into evenings after work so that I could go on this trip, and even then, I have to write this paper. Which is how I ended up here. 

laptop WV.jpg

So, why do it? It’s ridiculous. Completely absurd, even to me, and I’m the one sitting here drinking a terrible coffee in the middle of nowhere. But to me, each of those three things—school, my future career, and climbing—they mean everything to me. They are my communities, they are who I am, they are what motivate me to work hard and be a better person. I work hard so that I can go outside and climb with people I love, and I climb outside to remember my humanity.

It’s not about “getting in touch with nature,” and all that crap. It’s about nights around a campfire with your friends, sharing stories and fears and a few cold...iced teas. It’s about pushing your body to its limits, to give your mind a little break. It’s about sleeping under the stars and waking up to the sun to remind you the world keeps turning. It's to feel the very real, vast emptiness against your back you while you cling delicately to the face of a cliff, which sends chills down your spine as you realize again how small you are. It’s being with the people you trust your life to, day in and day out, and knowing both a clear sense of purpose and an enduring sense of peace at the same time. It’s getting away from the smog, the technology, the bureaucracy, the environmental stimuli that wear you down each day, especially throughout the cold and dark winters. To me, I would rather go through all of that stress and frustration to grab a few hours out in the woods, than...the alternative, which is to wish I were here. 

There’s nothing worse than the person who goes their whole life wishing they were elsewhere, and that’s why I do what I do. 

What is a fear of living? It's being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself—for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don't know what you're here to do, then just do some good.  
-Maya Angelou 


Flesh-eating skin diseases, Yemen, and Presidents

So, one of my daily (and more interesting) tasks at my internship is cultivating the morning news update. I sift through several news sources centered around foreign policy, the Middle East, or Syria specifically to search for tactical updates, movements on the ground, and operational changes that are relevant to our Syria team here at CSO. In doing this, I also come across a number of interesting (and sometimes painfully hilarious) articles and op-ed pieces from around the foreign policy community, and I've decided to share some with you this week! Here are a few I’ve collected, below. 

  •  ISIS doesn’t have an ‘Achilles’ Heel,’ per say—but it does have a flesh-eating skin disease. According to several news outlets, large numbers of ISIS militants in Raqqa have been infected with a flesh-eating skin disease called leishmaniasis. The disease, transmitted by sand flies, causes open sores which continue to eat away at the skin and are fatal if left untreated, and treatment—a simple course of medicine—has largely been refused by affected ‘militants.’ Medical professionals believe that the decision to refuse treatment is what led to the disease’s rapid spread, along with the fact that most humanitarian doctors left the region because they didn’t feel like being brutally beheaded. Leishmaniasis also thrives in areas where pollution, poor hygiene, malnutrition and urbanization prevail (i.e., an ISIS camp).

  • Stuck in Yemen? There’s a website for that. Responding to the U.S. government’s (USG’s) rather… lackluster efforts in evacuating U.S. citizens from increasingly dangerous Yemen, several Arab-American groups got together and formed a plan of their own. According to reporting by NPR, StuckInYemen.com provides a form where you can fill out your current information and U.S. contacts so that the groups can help you, well, get out of Yemen. When you go to the website, the immediate screen is an insistent statement that while the USG didn’t hesitate to evacuate its embassies, all U.S. citizens are entitled to “protection from their government.” It then prompts you with an evacuation request form to fill out if you are, in fact, an American stuck in Yemen. Whether this will actually manifest into a massive, government-ordered movement to shuttle people out of the country or not remains to be seen. 
  • Scott Walker is using Twitter to refute President Obama’s jabs at his lack of foreign policy experience. (NOTE: I will be making no efforts to hide my personal biases here. For an alternate view, I suggest you visit Scott Walker’s website, where you will find plenty of sugar-coated graphics on why he is just one dandy guy.) 
    Governor Scott Walker (R.-Wisc.) has been firing back at the President’s remarks on Walker’s (rather dire) lack of experience in international affairs. The thing is Walker, who is widely expected to announce his candidacy for President, is actually pretty deficient in this arena. According to an article by Foreign Policy’s David Francis, Walker has adopted Ronald Reagan’s way of global thinking, and calls Reagan’s decisions during the 1981 air-traffic controllers’ strike the most important foreign policy decision of his lifetime— “despite witnessing the war on terror, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the rise of China.” The Washington Post also published a scathing article painting Walker as a complete, well, noob at foreign policy. When WaPo dedicates an entire article to your lack of experience in just  one area, you should probably catch up on your reading. But despite the fact that the GOP is desperately trying to give Walker a crash course in World 101, it’s going to take a lot to make voters forget that he once said he was better prepared to take on ISIS than the President—because he took on labor unions. So, good job comparing hard-working Americans to a brutal Islamist group intent on committing mass violence and inflicting chaos for territorial gain, Governor. I’m sure America will forgive you for that one in time for the primaries. 

Okay, I think that’s enough ranting and rambling and publicly expressing my personally held beliefs for now. Please, as always, feel free to like and comment below, or reach out to me on Facebook if you have any ideas or refutations to contribute to this post! Coming up this week, too, I’ll have some more restaurant posts (including the one one Tonic I promised, as well as one from the BEST BURGER PLACE EVER). Other than that, get doped up on allergy medication and enjoy this beautiful spring weather! 

The News is Here, the News is Here!

I’m doing a roundup of news stories happening in and around the DC area, selecting stories I think are interesting or relevant to those back in Utah. For the most part, I'm skipping news stories that are widely reported, because...they're widely reported. These are just ones that caught my attention. I largely refer to the Washington Post’s online local news section and paper Metro section, only occasionally cross-referencing with other news agencies. I’m also phasing out of using gifs, because they are actually a HUGE pain and can add up to an hour of writing time. I’m taking 12 credit hours and an Arabic class in addition to a full-time job, I don’t have time for that...stuff. Besides, I’m pretty sure that (most of) you are all big kids now, and can read articles without the pretty pictures. Even so, I’ll try to make it as painless as possible.

So, what's happening in the DC/Metro area? 

  • A study found that no inexpensive housing is left on the open market in DC. A bit of bad news for any of you poor, starry-eyed recent graduates out there hoping to move to the city and find a job changing the world. Anybody who’s ever tried to find housing in DC knows that this is a task worth many tears and painfully written checks, but we all knew it was bound to happen. DC puts “inexpensive housing” at $800 for a 1-bedroom apartment; the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute found that, in effect, “only those receiving public assistance are renting for less than $800 a month.” The median rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in DC is $2,000. So, you Utahans paying $500/month in rent? Be grateful. 
  • Last November’s DC election turnout saw a “surge” of young white voters living in newly affluent neighborhoods (22%), which surpassed even senior voters (20%). Turnout declined in working- and middle-class African American precincts falling east of the Anacostia river. The turnout demographic seems to have been key in the passage of a ballot initiative which passed the legalization of marijuana last month; however, no direct causation seems to be the case. Paul Schwartzman and Ted Mellnik reporting from Washington Post Local Politics offer more background, here
  • A recent book by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni makes the case that, no, it really doesn’t matter where you go to college. As WaPo contributor and Arizona State University professor Jeffery Selingo writes, “You wouldn’t know that from conversations at cocktail parties or college nights, particularly in competitive suburban and urban areas, such as Washington, D.C. and New York.” But Bruni says that when he looked into the educational backgrounds of his successful friends and colleagues, he saw what he called “a patchwork of educational pedigrees.”  Selingo suggests that, maybe, the shift away from the “admissions frenzy” should start with employers; in the book, Bruni interviews employers and venture capitalists, and also explored where recruiters say they find their best employees. So, those of you who think you’ll never be able to compete against the Harvards and Yales of the world? Think again. Read the full article here, or learn more about Bruni’s book (supposedly a quick read) here
  • If you're the late-night type, the National Archives is holding its first after-hours cocktail party on April 18th! The theme? "Spirited Republic." After-hours parties have been quite a hit with DC museums lately, but according to WaPo, this one might just be the best yet. "Imagine Ian Svenonious of the Make Up spinning raw soul and punk right in front of the Declaration of Independence, and Derek Brown of the Columbia Room leading TED-style talks about the history of booze in America... And in honor of "Spirited Republic," which traces the history of alcohol in America, bartenders from 2 Birds 1 Stone, PX, the Partisan and Bourbon Steak (among others) will whip-up original cocktails as part of the all-night open bar." Not 21? Well, bummer, but neither am I. The other big bummer, though? It's $50 in advance, and no tickets will be sold at the door. So if you're a huge U.S. history nerd that loves to drink and has at least $50 to spare, this is definitely something you should check out. 

That's what I've got on local news for tonight. Kudos if you're still reading. Tomorrow, I'm going out to Tonic with Hinckley Intern and faithful friend Maher Farrukh. Tonic is a local DC restaurant in the Foggy Bottom/GWU area that supposedly has the best tater tots in Washington. We will put that to the test tomorrow night, and I'll be sure to fill you in on the delicious, greasy details. I'll also be following up with the Chief of Missions Conference (COM Con), and maybe even an exclusive FBI tour! Being in State definitely has its perks. 

I lied about the gifs. 

I lied about the gifs. 

So, until next time (probably tomorrow night), stay awesome, stay informed, and stay in school. Or if you're not in school anymore, just...stay awesome and informed. You know. You do you. 


How To Be A Diplomat

So, I know it’s been a bit longer than usual since my last post, but this last week has been a whirlwind of Arabic exams and old friends visiting from out of town (and my first ACTUAL full week at the State Department). True story, I haven’t gotten more than 6 hours of sleep a single night this week. Tired as I was, I actually spent a couple hours writing out a blog post late last night, because I really wanted to get one out. I edited, found .gifs, and came up with a catchy title. Then, I kid you not—as I was putting in the very last photo, Squarespace crashed. Completely deleted everything. After a week of teetering on the edge with dangerously little sleep, that was the last straw. I shut my laptop and cried in the shower for about twenty minutes before crawling into bed, waiting for my alarm to wake me up 5 hours and 39 minutes later. 

It's been a long week. 

But I’m here now! And with the conclusion of my late-night Arabic class (FOUR HOURS of Arabic a night after a full day of work, two nights a week!), things are going to be a lot calmer. I’ve had some time to reflect on how things are shaping up at the State Department, and so far, I love it. The team is fantastic—I work in an office brimming with intelligent people, all willing to teach you anything you want to know. It really is an internship where we genuinely make a significant impact every single day. 

I know, I know, I'm getting all sappy. But it is pretty great. 

I know, I know, I'm getting all sappy. But it is pretty great. 

That being said, I am on the Syria team. So, “impact” is really more like “Cool, SOME of the food from that aid package actually made it across the border! And NOT to the extremists! And no one died in the process!” Seriously, if you don’t have the stomach for violent war, horrible crimes against humanity, and atrocious political violence, don’t read anything about Syria or Iraq. Don’t even go into the State Department. Actually, just pick a different field entirely. I recommend business. Or architecture. 

However, if you’re tough enough to grab international conflict by the horns and wrestle it to the ground faster than a 40-page Conflict Assessment Framework, I’ve put together a list of quick tips on how to be a diplomat. It’s a go-to guide for anybody aspiring to succeed in the Foreign Service (or in anything—it’s pretty fantastic and applicable advice, if I do say so myself). 

How to Succeed in Diplomacy
Without Really Trying

by Sabrina Dawson
Regional State Department Coordinator and 
Hinckley Expert in Pretending To Be Smarter than 
You Actually Are

1. Learn to write comprehensive overviews of operations, policies, or conflicts when people have only told you half (or less) of what’s going on. In an office where “need-to-know” is the norm (and where they may not even tell you what you DO need to know), learn to do a really good job with very little idea of what’s going on. Funny enough, the better you are at this, the more they tell you. 

2. Learn your acronyms. The SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for the DoS (State Department) is based on a NTK (need-to-know) workplace. Knowing the RFIPs is critical KSA (knowledge, skills, abilities), and if you go to DHHS instead of DHS you’ll just get confused (Health and Human Services vs. Homeland Security). You’ll probably deal with CNs (Congressional Notification) and CODELs or CONGENs (google it), and knowing which DPO to go to is the difference between shaking an ambassador’s hand or getting a paper cut. Oh, and if your office deals with terrorist organizations? Good luck to you, because you’ve got JAN, AQ, ISIS/IS/ISIL/DAESH, HH, and JAS in Syria alone. 

Don’t worry; here’s a handy-dandy DoS guide to get you started, so you don’t look like a 1 Delta 10 Tango. (That last one’s for my military folks out there.)  
Oh, and RFIP: Really Freaking Important Person. 

3. Learn “Diplomatic Yoga.” It is the State Department. If there is a really critical and important decision that has to be made by the higher-ups, you won’t know the answer until the last possible minute. Learn to smile and pretend everything’s totally cool, you got it. 

adventure time it's fine.gif

4. Pretend not to care about being left out of a lot of meetings and conversations. Like I said, need-to-know. Just because you have a security clearance, doesn’t mean people are going to tell you things. (Even if you kind of need to know them. You know, for your JOB.) 

5. Know everyone in the office and what their specific job and area of expertise is. That way, when you get asked to do something and you have ZERO clue how to do it, you’ll be able to pawn it off on someone else and it’ll make both of you look good. 

6. Get really good at vague language. The State Department does not intentionally employ vague language; rather, our experienced and multi-skilled workers use language that is fitting for the context of the given situation, and seeks not to allude to any agenda that may or may not resemble the nature of any potential policy of an office or bureau in our agency. 
(This skill goes hand-in-hand with the acronyms.) 

7. Keep an eye out for important people, to the point where you’re almost not-so-subtly stalking them. If you’re not following around at least one senior FSO/former ambassador and their posse to Starbucks with at least five business cards in your pocket, you should really just go home. 

8. If you have no idea what you’re talking about, talk with confidence. Do you know how many critical decisions about our national security were influenced by someone who was extremely well-presented, articulate, and confident in their plans, which they were completely making up as they went along? You can get impressively far in life without having a clue what you’re saying. Just look at George W. Bush

9. Learn to name-drop countries. People at State care less about other people than they do about who went to the dirtiest, most disease-ridden, violent extremist-filled, starving child-riddled country and lived to tell the tale. Bonus points if you spent time in a country where they were a combination of all of the above. (Dirty, starving, diseased extremist children?) 
The exception: Only name-drop casually if it’s someone really important. See: “Oh yeah, John (Kerry) and I ran into Barack while we were out getting coffee before the meeting with the French Ambassador. Who, Barack? Yeah, we’re pretty tight. Michelle and I trade dresses all the time. Their daughters are ADORABLE.” 

10. Finally, learn the art of making it sound like something’s being actively worked on or that it’s out of your hands, when you really just don’t want to do it. My college education is extremely important to me, and I assure you, I am committed to doing everything in my power—day and night—to make sure that I have the best opportunities available to myself after graduating. I say with utmost certainty that looking for gifs for this blog post will not at all interfere with my rigorous studying, Mom. Your interests are my interests. 


Anyway, that should at least get you through the Foreign Service Exam! I’m pretty sure that material is on there. I don’t mean to brag, but I kind of passed the FSE with flying colors. (Just kidding, I don’t ever want to take that thing. I don’t even want to take the GRE next year.) 

I’ve got a lot of exciting posts coming up, mostly about food. Because food is great. I’ll be blogging about my favorite food experiences to date, from the Lancaster County Dutch Market in Germantown, to Zaytinya near Chinatown, to Tonic near GWU. Because food is great, and DC is full of food. 

I’m also volunteering to help out at the Chief of Missions Conference (COMCon—what did I tell you about acronyms?) in two weeks, which several RFIPs will be attending and where Secretary Kerry is rumored to be speaking. And I’ve got a plot in the works to sit in on a press briefing one of these days, so hopefully I'll be hearing more soon. Speaking of press, I know I haven’t done a news post lately, but I’ve got irons in the fire for that as well. So stay tuned, keep checking back, I’ll definitely be keeping this thing up-to-date much more frequently, but until then, you can find me on Facebook or via email if you so choose. For now, though, this is Sabrina, signing off. 

You stay classy, people who read my blog. 

You stay classy, people who read my blog. 

(Half) Week 1

So, as you probably know from my Monday post, I was supposed to start my internship on, well, Monday. The snow thwarted those plans, but late in the day we got new reporting orders to show up bright and early Tuesday morning. Of course, we had a snow day today, too, which is why I'm sitting here writing this. Basically, if we even go in tomorrow, I'll only have had a half-week of work for my first week. 

Intern orientations at the State Department are really just non-stop briefings (security, IT, employee benefits and rights, the usual), which is why the two-hour federal delay meant our orientation schedule was practically shot. Briefings and badging had to be rescheduled at the last minute, but the Student Programs coordinators worked very hard to make sure they could fit everything in for us on Tuesday and pretty much saved our internships. 

If you work for the government, the general rule of thumb is to always show up 10 minutes early but expect to start 15 minutes late. I got to the State building at 7:30, enough time to grab a coffee and a muffin at a nearby coffee shop. Then I met joined the rest of the interns in waiting outside for someone to fetch us, as we all got to know each other (in the cold rain). Finally, around 8:15 (we were supposed to start at 8), they put us through visitor security and led us to a conference room, where we started the briefings. 

After the first three briefings, we had a 45-minute tour of the building. We saw the Ops center, the door to Secretary Kerry's office (you have to have a way higher clearance and income than any of us had to get in there). Last, we were taken to the press briefing room, where we met the woman who runs the studio for all of the afternoon world news briefings. She turned on the lights and the screens for us, and let us take a group photo. After the photo was snapped at we started to head back to the conference room, I stood at the podium with screens flashing behind me and the United States flags at my sides. I stared at the microphone pointed at me and the empty chairs facing me, and imagined a room of people with notepads and recorders waiting for me to discuss what was happening in the world. Then I stepped back down to reality and off the podium, and followed my fellow colleagues back to the conference room. 

Standing in the U.S. Department of State press briefing room, first on the right from the podium. 

Standing in the U.S. Department of State press briefing room, first on the right from the podium. 

I love the news. I have an incredible amount of respect for the profession of reporting the news, and I believe that fair and free media is one of the most critical pillars to the institutions of democracy. I've always been smitten with the power of the written word, how the structure of your sentences and the order of your words can get people to pay attention or ignore you completely. I even pay to have the New York Times delivered to my door while I'm here in DC, because love reading the paper with a cup of coffee every morning. That's why I post some news each week, and that's why I've loved running this blog. I just hope that all of you enjoy reading this even a fraction as much as I enjoy writing it. 

Now, let's talk about another one of my favorite things: food. 

You can never have enough JLaw gifs, either. 

You can never have enough JLaw gifs, either. 

The State Department cafeteria is AMAZING. They have rows of cold foods, buffet-style (pasta salads, normal salads, cheeses, fresh fruit) and a fridge of drinks that spanned—I'm not kidding—the whole wall. It was at least twice as big as any gas station drink fridge. Then they had made-to-order paninis and sandwiches, pasta dishes, fresh sushi, stir fry... I might seek permanent employment here if not just for the food. 

After our last briefings and badging processes ended at around 3, I walked with Richard (another Conflict and Stabilization Ops intern) across the mezzanine and over to the CSO offices. CSO runs different projects in countries where they deem stability is both at critical risk and at risk to U.S. national security. As a Middle East Studies major, I was assigned to the Syria team. I met with the other team members and some other team leads from the office, but there wasn't really much work I could do until I've been cleared for access to all the computer systems. But my team leads and the people in the bureau are some of the nicest, funniest, and most freaking intelligent people whom I've ever met in my life, and I am honored and thrilled to be working with them. 

So, throughout the hellish clearance process, the anguish of waiting in limbo for four months, and the frustration of having no idea of what to expect, I've asked myself over and over again: is it worth it? As I was walking across the mezzanine, standing at the podium in the briefing room, discussing our plans for sending non-lethal aid to moderate Syrian rebels, I knew that the answer is yes—it was worth every bit of that wait. 


There's no better way to describe this morning but "ugh." 

First of all, I was halfway through writing this blog post when the Internet decided it didn't feel like working anymore. I'd already spent about an hour writing, finding gifs, all that jazz. And then suddenly, BAM! No post to speak of! 

This, folks, summarizes the day so far. And it's only 9:30 AM. 

Some of you who follow my life (in a weird yet much appreciated fashion) might be thinking, but Sabrina, shouldn't you be at work right now instead of making ridiculous blog posts? Why, yes, my first day at the State Department was supposed to be today. Emphasis on... was. 

I was due to report to headquarters at 7:45 AM for orientation, and naturally, I wanted to be there a little early, so I set my alarm for 6:00 AM. Last night, I ironed my shirt, plucked every speck of dust off my impeccably black dress pants and blazer, and shined my shoes (well, not actually that last one). I made myself lunch and reviewed my work-prep flashcards: who's who in my desk assignment, fast facts about the countries in which they currently operate, facts about the projects themselves... I was hella prepared. 

Then, I watched as an ice storm slowly crushed my hopes and dreams. 

It started with freezing rain in the late morning, and it didn't look like it would turn into much. Then suddenly, around 4:00 PM as the sun went down, the greater DC area became a skating rink.

Still, it was looking like OPM (the government agency that decides work schedules) would call a two-hour delay at the most. And they did—at 5:07 this morning, I got an email from the internship coordinator saying that there was a two-hour delay. So I get to sleep in and still go to work, right? Sweet! 

Apparently, for interns, "two-hour delay" means "We won't have time to do your orientation today. Don't come in, we'll just tell you to leave. Please await further instructions." 

After four months of waiting, to have it yanked just a little further out of reach! What do you mean, "rescheduled indefinitely?" Tomorrow? Thursday? A week from now? Two weeks? NEVER?? 

For the record, I really tried to find a good "What's in the box?!" gif. 

For the record, I really tried to find a good "What's in the box?!" gif. 

Well, I supposed that's what I'll do: await further instruction. In the meanwhile, though, I guess I'll just binge watch House of Cards— I mean keep studying for my classes. 

We'll just have to see what happens. But to those of you who were doing the snow dance with your underwear on backwards, 

Because winter SERIOUSLY needs to be over. Right now. 

Anyway. I've had my coffee and vented, so I'm significantly less crabby. I'll keep you posted on when I ACTUALLY take my first steps into the State Department building, but I'm mostly bummed that I likely won't be there during Netanyahu's speech tomorrow. I was really hoping to see what State would be like during such a historic event. That's all for today, though. Expect a news post later this week! 

WFPG & AEI Conferences Recap

So far, I've been to the Women's Foreign Policy Group conference on Monday, and the American Enterprise Institute conference today. Both were astoundingly informational, and it's been great to experience big conferences in the heart of DC. But I'm quickly realizing that a short summary of ALL the conferences I'm going to this week is a bit...unrealistic. So here are the two I've been to so far, and this will count for my news-related post for the week. I think that's fair, right? 

A quick recap of the conference "Standing Under ISIS Narratives," presented by Dr. Sara Cobb (GMU) and hosted by Women's Foreign Policy Group. I loved that such diverse professional fields represented here! There were current and retired diplomats (both U.S. and foreign), as well as representatives from some of the most important and significant NGOs in today’s global landscape. Even more exciting (to me, at least) was that of the 40-ish participants, nearly all were women—in fact, there were only 3 men in total. It was almost intimidating to be in a room practically brimming with so many brilliant and accomplished women, but each one I talked to was absolutely lovely (and enchanted that I’d trekked all the way from Utah to DC for an internship). 

Dr. Cobb opened up by explaining what a “narrative” actually is. According to her definition, it contains six parts: the sender, the receiver, the object, the subject, the helper, and the blocker. Comparing and contrasting ISIL narratives with the US counter-narrative, Dr. Cobb explained that a contesting narrative simply succeeds in strengthening the original narrative rather than actually reducing it. Countering ideology ought to instead be viewed at an individual level, and it is critical for policy makers to consider how our narratives affect these individuals across different spaces and places. Cobb also strongly insinuated that the most effective counter-narrative would likely come not from Western governments. Instead, she argues it should come from supporting locally embedded organizations that are able to reach out to more “at risk” individuals. Governments, she contended, are not able to to look at all the billions of people, one at a time, to discern the individuals likely to radicalize into extremism, and then develop targeted programs which addresses each individual’s concerns. It’s simply not realistic. The most effective counter-narratives will be won by empowering and enabling (financially and professionally) these local organizations that do this on a region-specific basis. 

Below are some photos from the conference. 

American Enterprise Institute: "States of change: Demographics and democracy"

The most successful panel of this conference, by far, was the first one. While Alan Abramowitz and Henry Olsen of the second panel teetered on the brink of a shouting match, iron-fisted moderator Karlyn Bowman kept them more or less in check, and even so, neither one delved nearly as much into their topic of long-term demographic electorate projections as anyone was hoping they would. The first panel, on the other hand, was centered around how shifting demographics would affect the upcoming 2016 elections. It’s also topic I think is most relevant and salient, so while I could go on and on about the rest of the panel discussions, I’ll limit myself to this one. Brookings fellow William Frey and Center for American Progress fellow Ruy Teixeira delivered a presentation on what they have predict 2016 demographics will look like, and how things have already changed. Then, four extremely well-qualified panelists analyzed the data, jumped into projections, and answered questions that most of us hadn’t even thought to ask. 

Frey and Teixeira projected several major points for the 2016 elections, with the first being that the percentage of eligible voters with higher education is largely increasing, and will continue to increase. Second, when examining how diversity has shifted by state, they noticed that all states are rapidly growing more diverse. Utah was included in this observation; their data concluded that both Utah’s population and its diversity have grown tremendously in the last 15 years, despite the fact that Utah has historically attracted mostly white middle-class families. 10 total states have followed this trend, all near “melting pot” or “majority minority” states (which are the few states with more minorities than whites). The most significant of these 10 was Nevada, which went from 83% to 63% white in the last 15 years (the category “Asian/other grew the most). While this represents a growing trend across the country, the “Rust Belt” and “Heartland” states have diversified the least (Iowa, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania).

Ronald Brownstein started off the panel after the data presentation. Brownstein is a well-respected political journalist from the Atlantic Media Company and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for his coverage of presidential elections. He added to the mix by pointing out that Democrats have won between 70-78% of the non-white vote since the mid 1970s (save for John Kerry). However, minorities populations are largely concentrated in urban areas, not spread out in other districts, which poses a challenge for the Dems. Brownstein draws three major implications from this information: 1) that neither party has been able to establish lasting control over the big three (the White House, the House, and the Senate) and that this will continue; 2) Presidents will continue to push the envelope with respect to their executive powers, as President Obama has done, because of #1; and 3) both parties face an enormous challenge in the upcoming elections because, as Brownstein put it, “we are diversifying, and we are aging.” The senior population is about 80% white (and Republican), which is likely to contend with the rapidly diversifying population mentioned earlier (which tends to fall Democratic). 

Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions focused on the Latina/Latino population of minority voters. He led by explaining that the Latina/o vote is extremely volatile, and has seen dramatic swings in past elections. This, he says, is largely due to the fact that the youth doesn’t carry a strong party identification—a phenomenon largely lost on the general population because it was masked by the overwhelming Latina/o support for President Obama during the last two Presidential elections. However, according to Barreto, only 30% of Latinas/os label themselves as “strong Democrats,” and only 10% as “strong Republicans.” He did say that Jeb Bush is in a position to reconstruct the GOP image and gain support from Latina/o voters—that is, if he makes it through the primaries. More likely, though, should Hillary Rodham Clinton decide to run, she is projected to easily hit 80% of the Latina/o vote. Then, Barreto says, 12 (or 16) years running of electing a Democratic president is likely to realign young Latina/o voters more firmly with the Democratic party. 

Finally, Michael Dimock, President of the Pew Research Center, raised the point that the Obama administration’s huge delay in bringing forth immigration policy reform may have alienated a lot of Latina/o voters to the Democratic party, and possibly cost them a portion of the votes in the 2016 elections. However, I (the lowly undergraduate) will have to go up against this very notable political scientist and disagree. From where I’m standing, it seems that the President’s decision to push and fight for immigration reform right now will gain the Democrats some very good standing with the Latina/o voters in 2016, and even increase the turnout if the Democratic candidate promises to continue to fight for immigration and citizenship reform. We all know that when minorities vote, the votes go overwhelmingly to the Democrats. Not only that, but every single viable Republican candidate (except, to some degree, Jeb Bush) has managed to largely alienate Latina/o voters, especially young ones. So, late? Maybe. But I think in this case, a “better late than never” mentality, plus the disillusionment with widespread Republican opposition to this immigration reform, means that the Democrats will be just fine. In fact, it may have even been a strategy to grow Latina/o voter turnout just in time for 2016. But like I said, I’m just the lowly undergraduate inter. 

TLRD: Minority populations are increasing very rapidly, as most of us know. While most people originally thought that this would lead to the majority of votes going to the Democratic party, the Dems have not been able to maintain traction with white voters, losing a key part of the electorate to the Republican party. The divide will grow stronger as minority and senior populations both continue to grow. America's senior population is mostly white and Republican, which means that bipartisanship will last...well, a while. 

Okay then. So, do you see why I only wanted to talk about one panel? 

If you’re interested in more, well, you're an even bigger nerd than I am. But good for you. This article and Olsen’s response caused a bit of a tiff that almost led to the shouting match between Abramowitz and Olsen I mentioned earlier. Check it out, if you have time. 

I’ll continue to write about the conferences from the rest of this week as they go on! I’d love it if you stayed tuned and kept reading my blog; I promise they won’t all be as dark and serious as this one. Unless you liked it, in which case, drop me a line. Email me at sabrinakdawson@gmail.com, comment below, send me a Facebook message. Put a love letter in my mailbox, if that’s your thing. Whatever floats your boat, I don’t care—I’d love to hear from you. 

Stay tuned for more, and have a wonderful rest of your week! 

Lemme Hear You Say "Unpaid Temporary Employment!"

I am about to post the best news I will probably ever post on this blog. 

Ready? Drumroll, please.

My State Department background screening came through! I officially have unpaid temporary employment! 

I can't begin to describe the relief I felt when I found out. I got the email on the metro a couple nights ago, and I was definitely that weird girl who gave a barely-contained first pump and started gleefully dancing in her seat. (Sorry, Blair.) But SERIOUSLY, I was starting to get worried! And I'm pretty sure I had Gina squirming in her seat a little bit, too. I was absolutely convinced that I’d made a horrible mistake, wasted an entire semester, and all in all become a complete intern failure, but looks like I’m back to being an acceptable human! 

Not only that, but I get to start saying things like, “Oh, that’s classified information.” You should expect such phrases to start cropping up during completely irrelevant conversations, although for extremely important purposes. Like dodging people I don’t want to talk to, or avoiding awkward conversations with parents. 

Me: “That is CLASSIFIED INFORMATION! You know better than to try and solicit classified information from a federal employee!”
My Mom: “That’s nice, honey, but really—are you dating anyone?” 

Anyway, I’ll be reporting to the DC office on Monday, March 2nd for my orientation, and I could not be more excited. And nervous, definitely a bit nervous. I mean, that is the same building that just hosted the President and numerous other world leaders in a summit on countering violent extremism... No big deal. 

"You know nothing, Jon Snow."

"You know nothing, Jon Snow."

I've still got a full week until I have to report. Until then, I’ve got a bunch of REALLY cool events lined up. And by cool, I mean nerd-cool. Conferences on conferences on conferences, yeah! Yup, nerdy and proud. 

If you are currently or ever find yourself in the DC area, you basically have an internal obligation to take part in as many of the amazing experiences this city has to offer as you can. Yes, there are a thousand (FREE!) museums, but for every Smithsonian there are probably a billion free (or very inexpensive) conferences and lectures happening around the city on any topic you can possibly dream of. Think about the Hinckley Forum Series, and then make it...well, a billion times bigger.

An easy way to do this is to sign up for Linktank (which, by the way, works all over the country—including in Salt Lake City). They send you a weekly updates and information on events happening in your area, and you can select your subject preferences (for example, I only get foreign relations or political types of events, as opposed to knitting clubs or kitchen tile conventions). It’s basically like having somebody create your networking opportunities AND your social life for you, which is FANTASTIC. 

On Monday, I’ll be attending a conference on countering extremist narratives, held by the Women in Foreign Policy Group, as well as one on Central Asian Fighters in Syria hosted by the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. Tuesday will be an all-day event on Demographics and Democracy, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and senior Brookings fellow William H. Frey. I’m particularly excited about this one, because who wouldn’t be excited about attending panel discussions all day about the impact of changing demographics on the 2016 elections?

Thursday and Friday will bring evening talks at a fantastic little place called Politics and Prose, a coffee shop and bookstore with a steady stream of author speaking events. Thursday evening is Moshid Hamid (author of Discontent and its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London). Friday will be none other than Tufts International Law professor and author of National Security and Double Government, Michael Glennon. 

And did I mention that these were all free?

Next week I’ll do a short run-down of all these conferences, and I’ll do my very best not to bore you with them haha. If you’re in the DC area and you’re reading this right now, though, please feel free to join me at any of them! (Though, the first four do require registration. Also, the WFPG event is NOT free, unless you are a WFPG member). 

State Department jobs, political conferences, political bookstore-coffee shops, and blisteringly cold weather. 

Welcome to Washington. 

Hands-off policy, or corruption? Plus, friendly drones (and more)

It's Wednesday! At least, it's Wednesday for three more minutes as I write this sentence, but hey, I have a good excuse! I was studying for an Arabic midterm all day today; the midterm was during my Arabic class at 6 PM EST, followed by a second Arabic class from 8-10 PM. Which means I got home at 11 PM. But now that I'm sitting comfortably on my couch with a copy of the New York Times by my side and a hot cup of tea in hand, let's get to the news. 

I want to start off by posting an update on a story from last week. On Feb. 10th, three young Muslim students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill were shot and killed in their off-campus apartment by a neighbor, over what police have initially deemed an escalated parking dispute. The public has since been in uproar, and the internet has been flying with accusations of hate crime against Muslims and "Islamophobia." 

Personally, it is extremely difficult for me to initially see an execution-style murder of three young, community-involved, loved and loving Muslims as anything other than an atrocious and senseless murder founded solely in ignorance. HOWEVER, as of today, the investigating forces have found no evidence that this crime was motivated by anything other than a parking dispute. The police have thus far uncovered two important facts about the case: one, that the perpetrator (Craig Hicks) was highly critical of ALL religions on his social media platforms; and two, that he had sought legal counsel in order to sue some of his neighbors over the parking situation. They have yet to find solid evidence of a hate crime, but it's also been only a week. Currently, police are making moves to sort through all of his other electronic devices for any evidence of violent threats against Muslims, but as of right now, the statement remains that it was a parking-dispute related crime. 

If you're interested in reading more, you can look into the following links: 

  • The New York Times jumps right into the fray to investigate the question of motive
  • Al Jazeera offers a take from the perspective of, well, some Muslim-Americans
  • Fox News and CNN's initial reporting of the story as it unfolded
  • Local news outlets The Wilmington Journal and Port City Daily covered the story from an on-the-ground point of view
  • Colleges and universities around the country, such as Seton Hall in New Jersey, showed that they stood in solidarity with UNC Chapel Hill against Islamphobia 

Now, I got a rather nasty email about how I presented this last week, and if the anonymous sender returns, I don't care. These are the facts, and they are not going to change. You can take them or leave them. 

In other news, here's a recently prominent issue that started locally (in fact, maybe even with YOUR vote), but has recently made a national impact. Most of you know that vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA in almost any capacity (and if you didn't know that, well... surprise!). What you probably didn't know was that this is largely thanks to Utah's very own Senator, Orrin G. Hatch (R). Mr. Hatch is a steadfast supporter of supplements, and has repeatedly stated that he uses them in his own daily life. In 1994, Hatch largely architected and sponsored a law which says that supplements are exempt from the F.D.A.'s strict approval process for other prescription drugs.

Huh? Don't tune out. I promise, this is important.

Anyway, loosening regulation of vitamins makes sense when you initially think about it, seeing as you shouldn't need a prescription to take stuff like Vitamin C (or gingko biloba) as you please. However, according to a recent investigative piece by the New York Times, the companies creating these products operate on what is more or less an honor system—and they haven't been very honorable. Four major retailers (Target, Walgreens, GNC, and Walmart) have been accused by the New York state attorney general's office for selling falsely labeled vitamins and supplements. 

One may argue that a line ought to be drawn regarding what the federal government can and cannot regulate when it comes to consumer products. However, the issue becomes especially important (and salient) when we look at the effects of these more hands-off policies. First, these products weren't just slightly mis-labeled; many were completely false. Some of the "vitamin" products, when finally tested, were found to contain nothing more than onion powder (or, even scarier, "untraceable material"). This is, of course, already a big concern for those with severe allergies; however, it escalates when we remember that in 2013, 72 people in 16 states contracted hepatitis that was traced to a faulty batch of supplements. One of these women died. Then, in December, an infant died in a Connecticut hospital after given a standard probiotic supplement—which was then found to have been contaminated with yeast. 

So let's look at one more aspect to this story. The New York Times article briefly mentions that Senator Hatch has made every attempt to quash legislation to increase federal oversight and regulation of supplements—and he's been very successful. In the article, they also note (without directly drawing correlation) that Hatch has long received large amounts of campaign contributions from supplement manufacturing companies. In fact, both Influence Explorer and Open Secrets report that one of Senator Hatch's top 3 campaign contributors throughout his tenure in the Senate was the pharmaceutical industry. 

(Oh, and in light of Obamacare, guess who the nation's top recipient of pharmaceutical donations is? Our very own President Barrack Obama.)

So, when it comes to Senator Hatch, there's no doubt that he's done a lot for Utah in his long time in the Senate. As far as this particular issue goes, though, I'll leave it up to you to decide. Is something as simple as an advocate for laissez-faire market policy, or something as potentially compromising as a payoff? 

The Final Bulletpoints

  • The FAA has proposed new drone policies—and Amazon isn't happy with them. The company made waves when it announced a plan last year for a half-hour delivery system using UAS, but their plans were thwarted when the Federal Aviation Administration announced this week that would likely not allow commercial giants such as Amazon to reap the benefits of drone technology, citing safety and legality concerns. However, Amazon seems to be fully aware of the challenges that embracing new technology can entail. As CEO Jeff Bezos said, "This thing can't land on somebody's head while they're walking around their neighborhood."


  • Wisconsin has a long history of state pride and valuing higher education, but Governor and potential GOP candidate Scott Walker (R) may have challenged those very notions. Governor Walker proposed a budget earlier this month that would deliver sharp cuts to financial aid for Wisconsin's public colleges and universities—a move that angered Democrats and Republicans alike. "People are really upset," says Zack Bray, a sophomore at Madison Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin. Bray, a business major who identifies as Republican, has been keeping a close eye Walker's budget proposal and political history. "He's known as a governor that will do what it takes, but this is dramatic... most of the people here are freaking out, including the alumni, current students and future students." Read more here

Well, that's it, that's all the news from this entire week! 

Just kidding, that's not even remotely close. If there's something important you think I missed, comment below or drop me a line at sabrinakdawson@gmail.com. If you want to tell me you love me and I'm awesome and that everything I do and say is absolutely wonderful, "like" or comment below! If you absolutely hate what I'm writing or how I'm writing it, take it up with the Hinckley, because Ellesse is the only one with all the power over this blog. 

Have a stellar week, folks. Now 

With love,


How To Get A Grip: An Amateur's Opinion

So, let me start out by saying that it’s not cold anymore—it’s FREEZINGYesterday morning, it was nine degrees. Nine. There were literally only nine degrees of weather. What’s more, Weather.com’s way-too-cheerful reporters were obnoxiously informing me that, with wind chill and humidity, it was REALLY closer to -6. 

Negative six. 

That’s not even degrees, that’s a lack of degrees. That is an absence of degree-age. It is an abomination, it is a crime against humanity to make humanity get out of bed and work when we are missing several degrees of warmth in our environment. 

I texted this to fellow Hinckley intern Maher Farrukh (Middle East Policy Council). He replied, 

“Oh, so that's why my face froze off on the way to work this morning.” 


Now that I’ve described to you the exact conditions under which I’ve been operating, I want to talk a little bit about this blog I’ve been writing through the Hinckley. For some reason, they decided that I should be allowed to speak publicly with their name behind me, so I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly I want to do with this blog. 

I thought about doing something kind of like Buzzfeed, but I couldn’t really feel satisfied with that. Besides, Blair’s hilarious (and absolutely spot-on) blog already takes care of that, and excels far beyond what I could ever hope to do. 

I considered just writing about news and politics, seeing as we are in the nation's capital. But let’s be honest—I am WAY under-qualified to talk about that. 

So then I thought, “Well maybe I should put up a few photos every once in a while, and talk about what I’ve been doing.” But then I realized, Mark Zuckerberg took care of that kind of website a long time ago, and besides, anybody who cares what I had for lunch today is already there. So...what am I doing? 

The answer? 

A little bit of everything, I guess. 

I’m still waiting on the State Department, and it’s getting harder and harder to quell the rising feelings of despair and—frankly—failure. I’ve been having recurring stress dreams, which has never happened to me for longer than a couple nights in a row. It’s so incredibly frustrating to be left in limbo, when no one's allowed to answer your questions or even give you a rough guess as to when you’ll be able to start work. All I’ve been getting are a few cryptic phone calls once every two weeks, where my case officer asks me for more information. I give it to him, ask him when my clearance will get processed, and he says “I can’t tell you that.” 

It’s even more frustrating because, quite frankly, I'm not even sure I want a career in the State Department (hence the internship). So the noises of internal self-doubt start to get louder and louder inside my head.

I’m also taking 12 online University of Utah credit hours, in addition to 8 hours a week of Arabic (four hours a night, two nights a week). So I guess, technically, that’s 20 credit hours in addition to a (probably?) full-time job… 

Everybody knows what it feels like when you’re just trying to make it through the day without thinking you’ve completely screwed everything up. You’re not really sure where to put your foot down next, or if you’re going to be able to make it work, or what you’re even working towards. And soon, it starts to feel like everyone’s just...smarter, and cooler, and funnier than you. 

We’ve all felt this way before, and if you haven’t, well, I probably hate you just a little bit. But sometimes, it gets a little harder to deal with and lasts a little longer. So I've just been trying to figure out how to cope with that feeling of “Man, what is going on?!?” in my life, and I've come up with a few ways to keep steady when it feels like everything is spinning too fast for you to keep track. 

1. Keep good, supportive company. It sounds old and overstated, but surrounding yourself with motivated people who don’t care about your success—just you—is tremendously important. 

2. Keep yourself healthy. I’m not saying you should switch to an all-vegan health-nut diet, start running every morning, and say things like "oh, I don't eat carbs." Just try to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, drinking a lot of water, and eating a carrot or something on occasion. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel if you’re at least hydrated and (somewhat) well-rested. 

3. Remember to take a deep breath, remember that you can do whatever you set your mind to, and most importantly? Remember that if you’re not confident, just fake it ‘til you make it. Because, you will make it. 

So I guess I have two goals for this blog. The first is, of course, to use as many Newsroom and Parks & Rec gifs as I possibly can. The second is to be honest and about my experience, stay upbeat, and keep people informed on some of the things going on (because it’s not a Facebook page). 

Yes, this did kind of turn into a Buzzfeed post with a lot of gifs. You can blame Blair; I was reading her blog, and she inspired me. Or she just rubbed off on me and now I'm thinking in gifs, I'm not really sure. So what? I enjoyed making it, and I really hope you enjoyed reading it (though if you didn’t, that’s fine too). Maybe you even related a little bit. In fact, speaking of Buzzfeed and politics, watch this video. Do it. Do it now. 

Seriously. Every time you feel down on yourself, just be more... Obama

I’d love your feedback, so please like/share/comment. You can even send me an email if you’re feeling old school at sabrinakdawson@gmail.com (though, please, no rude/spam mail—I’ll just delete it). Share it with all your friends! Turn giant blocks of this text into a poster and hang it in your kitchen, I don’t care! If you have any suggestions on what to write about or if you want something in particular, that would be cool too. Just some sign that I’m not speaking into the void that is the interwebz would be awesome. 

That’s all, folks. I’ll see you around. 

Three students shot in North Carolina; "Crossover day" in Virginia

As I’ve spent more time in DC and started paying attention to local issues here, I’ve noticed a lot of similarities to Utah’s local news. So, starting today, I’ll be doing a once-a-week roundup of what’s going on in the area and its pertinence (if any) to our beloved Salt Lake City. I’ll only be talking about news that I feel has some level of significant importance to us as Salt Lake City or Utah residents, college students, American citizens, or global citizens. Not only that, but being one of the most important cities in the world, “local” news occasionally becomes national or even world news, so you might see a little of that.

With all that being said, our first story is one you’ve probably already heard. At 5:11 PM on Tuesday, February 10th, there was a shooting near the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in which 3 students were killed. The suspect—Craig Stephen Hicks, 46—is currently in custody and has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. 

According to an urgent campus alert released by UNC, the victims were Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19. Controversy arises when we learn that all three victims were Muslim; however, police have concluded that the most likely motive for the shooting was an ongoing parking dispute. Further details have yet to emerge, though they have not ruled out a hate-motivated crime entirely

“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act. We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly,” said Chief Chris Blue of the Chapel Hill Police Department in the statement issued by UNC. 

According to NBC News, Barakat was a second-year dentistry student, and Yusor was going to start dentistry school in the fall. They had just been wed last month. The younger sister, Razan, was a student at North Carolina State University. According to a tribute Facebook page for the victims, Barakat was raising money to travel to Turkey this summer and provide dental care to refugees. After their deaths, scores of people donated and gave their condolences, and the fundraiser exceeded its goal of $20,000 by raising $22,657. 

I would like to emphasize two things: first, it has NOT been reported or confirmed yet that this was a hate crime. Please exercise caution in painting it as such. Jumping to conclusions and feeding into the rapidly circulating notion that this was motivated solely by anti-Muslim sentiment undermines police efforts, propagates noise not founded in facts, and possibly puts as risk soldiers overseas combatting anti-American terrorism. As details of the investigation emerge, they will be reported. 

Second, please sign up for the University of Utah’s Campus Alert system here. They do not spam you with emails or texts; it is an emergency service in the event of a campus crime, a weather emergency (earthquake), a medical emergency, an apocalypse, etc. designed to keep students safe and informed in the event of an emergency. 

Yuzor dancing with her father at her wedding. The photo was posted to the tribute Facebook page with the caption, “May Allah have mercy on the bride and groom in paradise.”

Yuzor dancing with her father at her wedding. The photo was posted to the tribute Facebook page with the caption, “May Allah have mercy on the bride and groom in paradise.”

The three victims of Tuesday’s shooting, left to right: Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19

The three victims of Tuesday’s shooting, left to right: Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19

Two more important things happened on Virginia's "Crossover Day":  

  • First, the Virginia (Va.) House and Senate have passed bills that aim to crack down on campus sexual assault. As ASUU and UDiversity at the University of Utah launch their It's On Us campaign, Virginia addresses sexual assault on its college campuses here on the East coast. The motions come in light of appalling reports that sexual assault on college campuses has been nothing short of rampant—and unpunished. The most controversial part of the bill requires that sexual assault be reported immediately to the school's "coordinator of compliance," which would set in motion the proper chain of command to get police involved more quickly. According to NBC Washington, the bill says that “failure to report the information would be punishable by a $500 civil penalty.” Another bill proposes that failure to report would be considered a misdemeanor. Critics of the bill say that the extreme rigidity of these new reporting laws, should they be implemented, would tread on victims' rights and discourage victims from coming forward. The Washington Post reported: 
Annie Forrest told a Senate committee this week that if she had not been able to tell administrators in confidence that she had been raped soon after arriving at the University of Virginia, she never would have sought help and been able to take time off from school.
  • The Va. Senate also approved a bill which legalized the possession of two oils extracted from marijuana. Cannabidiol oil (also known as CBD) and THC-A oil have repeatedly been shown to dramatically alleviate severe and debilitating epilepsy. The bill goes into effect immediately instead of on July 1st, when new legislation normally goes into effect. Neither oil contains THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana which gives users a “high” (so no, it’s not for getting sick kids baked). The vote in favor was nearly unanimous. 

    Many Utahns know that Utah recently addressed a similar issue in June, which allows limited child epilepsy patients who have not responded to at least 4 other forms of treatment access to a drug trial with these oils. The bill was nicknamed “Charlee’s Law” for Charlee Nelson, a 6-year-old diagnosed with Batten Disease who died of her illness shortly after the bill was passed. (Medical experts believe the drug would not have saved her, but would have greatly improved her quality of living and prolonged her life.) Many parents of children with severe epilepsy are hopeful that both laws on opposite sides of the country will pave the way for similar policies across the nation. 
  • And finally, DC is considering a bill that would ban suspension or expulsion... of pre-schoolers. (Just a fair warning, I'm making no effort to keep my personal opinions out of this story.) According to NBC News Washington and the Washington Post, the DC Council actually had to think hard about this one. I didn't know you could give a pre-school kid an out-of-school suspension, but according to a 2014 report released by a superintendent's office, "181 pre-kindergarten kids were suspended from District public schools during the 2012-2013 school year." The report also found that, to no one's great surprise, suspensions and expulsions disproportionately affected minority students. The bill's sponsor, Councilmember David Grosso, introduced the bill last month and says that he sees no logic behind suspending a 3- or 4-year-old. So far, all 10 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. The Washington Post spoke to Grosso earlier this week. 
“[It’s] ridiculous,” said Grosso (I-At Large), who said that he can’t fathom why a school would need to suspend such young children and that nobody has yet been able to explain to him why that would be necessary. “The whole school-to-prison pipeline, it all starts right there in the younger years.” 

I'll be continuing to talk about local news each Wednesday; once I start my internship, I'll probably switch to Thursdays, because reasons and schedules and such. Please leave comments to tell me if you like this idea, hate it, hate me, hate my opinions, think I missed something, think I'm awesome, or just need someone to talk to. Share it with your friends, share it with your mom. But most importantly, get involved in your local issues—these are the ones that directly affect YOU, and your family, and your pets! Seriously though, my goal with discussing local news is to hit home the importance of local legislature and how many people are affected by votes happening just a few blocks away. If you want your voice to be heard, don't just post angry rants on Facebook, send them to your representatives or city council member! (But maybe edit them first.) 

That's all for now, folks. Happy hump day! And remember, 

First Post + Hurry Up & Wait

Hey folks! My name is Sabrina, I'm (probably) an intern at the State Department this semester, and I apologize since I don't know how to use Squarespace very well. I didn't have many ideas on what to write about since I haven't actually begun my internship yet (more on that later); all I could think of was how cold it is here. Okay, it is COLD—not a Utah cold, but more of a soul-crushing, bone-chilling... Anyway. Then the Hinckley office threatened to delete my blog if I didn't post, and suddenly I came up with a million ideas! (Besides a million synonyms for "cold.") 

Really quickly though, I promise, a little bit about me—I grew up in Maryland, no more than fifteen minutes from the DC border. For most, a Washington, DC internship with the Hinckley Institute is a glorious and exciting next-step experience, as bright young scholars work towards exceptional political aspirations. For me, at least right now, it's like coming back to your parents' house for winter break—just longer and with more Indian food. 

So as I mentioned before, I'll be interning with the Department of State in the Bureau of Conflict of Stabilization Operations. However, as is often the case with the State Department, I'm...waiting. Specifically, I'm waiting on a security clearance to come through. All this really means is that every couple weeks or so, I get a cryptic phone call from a Diplomatic Security investigator to ask me a question or two, which is then followed by another week or so of silence. This process has been more or less ongoing since I submitted all of my paperwork in October (SF-86 documents are, in case you were wondering, about five hundred pages long and ask for travel history and references, dual/foreign citizenship contacts and references, residency history and references, education history and references, financial history with zero references—just kidding, of course they need references). 

So, that's were we are now. DC in January is always somewhat miserable, to be frank, but I'm pretty sure everywhere in January is miserable. It was COLD, and when there wasn't freezing rain, sleet, or snow (or all three), it was just plain cloudy. But the weather is starting to peak up just the slightest bit, the days are getting longer, and I am slowly crawling closer to a desk at Foggy Bottom. Well, hopefully I get a desk... Do they give the interns desks? Or will they have us standing constantly at the ready halfway between the coffee maker and the filing cabinets? This answer and more, coming up on my blog! 

I wish I had a cool ending catchphrase to leave you guys with; I'll get working on that. (Maybe if this were a podcast—Hinckley, I know you guys are reading, and you should definitely look into that.) For now, I plan to post to this blog about 3-4 times a month this semester, with some local news thrown into the mix. Of course, local news in DC tends to also be national or even international news, so that could come up as well. I also hope to drag some fellow interns to some phenomenal local restaurants and other neat little spots that this incredible city has to offer, and then, like any self-respecting youth, blog about them. Right now, though, I'm going to curl up under my covers with the heater on and pretend it's July. Until next time, stay curious in this crazy world (and stay warm).