World’s Shame – Blind Eye to Burma

A good friend of mine focuses on helping the oppressed Karen people of Burma. Yesterday he sent me an update and one particular excerpt called out to me:

Just learned today that the dictator’s army attacked three villages here last week.
Murdered little children at point blank range.
No words suffice.

He’s right, “No words suffice.” And the words alone do not tell the story. How about a picture? A picture of innocent children eating at an orphanage.
Orphans eating at a Burmese orphanage

Orphans eating at a Burmese orphanage

How can anyone, or any government, look at these smiling children and then look the other way? How can they ignore the situation when the dictator’s soldiers enter their villages, raping the women & young girls, and then burning the huts and food supplies to the ground?

Smiling Burmese children

The smiles of innocent children

No words suffice! also sums up the results, or lack thereof, from years of rhetoric from the United States with respect to the situation in Burma. In January, Kurt M. Cambell, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, testified before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stating:

Let me turn to another area of renewed engagement: Burma. Mr. Chairman, your leadership on this issue has been instrumental in changing our policy and initiating steps to engage the Burmese junta. As you are well aware, the Administration’s formal review of U.S. policy towards Burma reaffirmed our fundamental goals: a democratic Burma at peace with its neighbors and that respects the rights of its people. A policy of pragmatic engagement with the Burmese authorities holds the best hope for advancing our goals. Under this approach, U.S. sanctions will remain in place until Burmese authorities demonstrate that they are prepared to make meaningful progress on U.S. core concerns. (emphasis added)
REF: Principles of U.S. Engagement in the Asia-Pacific

Those words are meaningless when the rape and murder continue. I doubt the ravaged girls, orphaned children and dying babies draw comfort from sanctions remaining in place. If the world continues turning a blind eye, meaningful progress will no longer be necessary – the Karen people of Eastern Burma will have been exterminated!

Refugees from the war zone cluster in small hide sites throughout Karen State in Eastern Burma

Refugees from the war zone cluster in small hide sites throughout Karen State in Eastern Burma. After their villages and rice crops have been burned, these villagers have not option but to flee deeper into the jungle.

This is an example of the Karen villages often invaded by Myanmar’s soldiers.

Refugee camps in Thailand are home to over 150,000 refugees from Burma

Refugee camps in Thailand are home to over 150,000 refugees from Burma. Some refugees have been in these camps for over 20 years. Some young adults have never known any life other than this.

This tragedy will only continue as long as the rest of the world chooses not to care.

In the long term, please contact your elected officials and ensure their awareness of the human rights violations occurring within Burma, urge them to call for action by the United Nations to end the oppression.

Along with that, please learn how you can help by supporting the efforts to care and feed the Karen refugees where you can support them directly, including via PayPal.

For more information:

Worldwide Impact Now (WIN)

WIN is an expanding international network of Western activists and ethnic minorities collaborating in common cause. This includes professionals in the fields of law, business, education, the performing arts and visual arts. It also includes grassroots ethnic minority leaders and youth activists in both America and Burma, as well as in-region Western ex-patriots in professional fields. A “community of purpose”.

MISSION: To engage, enable, empower and emancipate man, woman, youth and child through individual and communal development in the spirit of selfless service to mankind.

WIN also provides updates on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and their Burma Now blog.

An Exercise in Critical Thinking

Over the last seven years, while teaching at the Army’s Command & General Staff College, I strove to ensure my students departed as better critical thinkers than when they arrived.

critical thinking (n): the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion (1)

One aspect of critical thinking is looking at the situation from another perspective. Numerous phrases describe this problem solving approach: “put yourself in the other person’s shoes”, “think outside the box”, “think like the enemy”, etc.

Early on in the course, usually within the first two months, I presented a vignette to test how well they used that approach. The results, from over a dozen iterations, clearly revealed a failure to apply that approach to everyday decision making.  Below is the executive summary of my vignette, as sent to BG Mark O’Neill (then CGSC Deputy Commandant) in August 2006.

Executive Summary

A Colonel is briefing a group of Majors and they are very restless because they’ve all heard the exact same brief in the recent past.  The Colonel doesn’t know they have received it, but has noticed they are inattentive.  Eight have passouts saying they are one of the Majors, the other eight are the Colonel.  There are two choices that boil down to: A) raise hand and interrupt or B) do nothing.  Inevitably, a majority of the “Colonels” choose A and a majority of the “Majors” choose B.

Execution

Assuming a staff group of 16 students, I print out 8 of each of the two handouts (student.doc and cos.doc).  I then pass them out on separate sides of the room.  By splitting them up that way, it helps to minimize the chance of comparison between students next to each other and discovering the handouts are different.  Also, during the follow on discussion, it is easier to compare the two groups (“this side of the room said…”, for example).

TTP: If there is a LTC student (perhaps the section leader), or some other known strong personality, I’ll pass out the Colonel handouts on that side.  That person may be more likely than the others to consider the other point of view if assigned as the Major. [TTP = Tactics, Techniques & Procedures]

This is not tied to any particular lesson, just a hip pocket CE that I bring in sometime early in C200. When I do this, I usually do it as the very beginning of the first hour. [CE = Concrete Experience] [C200 was Strategy block of instruction in the core curriculum]

Prior to passing out the handouts, I tell them that it is to be done with no talking, write their answer on the sheet of paper and turn it over when they are done so that I know they are finished.  (Again, doing that to minimize possibility of compromising the “secret” that they have different sheets.)  I then put up the Power Point slide (choices.ppt) and wait for them to finish.

When they are done, I ask:  “How many chose A?” and/or “How many chose B?”  Then I’ll go to the side of the Majors, and ask one of them why they chose “B” (do nothing); after that I’ll do the same with one of the “Colonels” and ask them why they chose the “A” option. Somewhere during this process one or more of them may figure out that they are answering from different points of view.  If not, I lead them to it by asking “Why do you think there was such a divergence in the answers?”

At the end, I relate it back to CR/CT by emphasizing that when faced with a problem or dilemma, they are still not habitually looking at things from a different point of view. For if they had, nearly all of them would have chosen the “A” option.  (Usually I make this melodramatic, pointing out how “I failed” as their CR/CT instructor, etc.)

See my Critical Thinking Exercise presentation on SlideShare for more information, including instructions and materials necessary to execute the exercise.

(1) Dictionary.com, “critical thinking,” in Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon. Source location: Dictionary.com, LLC. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/critical thinking. Available: http://dictionary.reference.com. Accessed: August 15, 2009.

Bits ‘n Pieces – Series Origins & Gmail Tips

In keeping with the name of my blog, Thought Spray, I was trying to come up with a name for a series of posts that offered random tips, favorite links, etc. I considered Odds & Ends, but that seemed too cliche. Another idea was Random Thoughts, which I also discarded as it was too similar to the my blog’s name. So I opted to go with Bits ‘n Pieces.

My next dilemma: How do distinguish between various installments of Bits ‘n Pieces? I could serialize them, as in Bits ‘n Pieces #1 or I could date them, as in Bits ‘n Pieces (9 May 2009). Neither of those options appealed to me, serializing seems boring and the posts already have a date stamp, so it would be redundant. Ultimately I decided to got with Bits ‘n Pieces – Descriptive Theme as the naming scheme. That way I can try and provide some description of the contents in the title.

Gmail Tips

Create a Bookmark to quickly access Unread Mail

Unread Mail

Last month I created a new shortcut (or bookmark) on my toolbar to quickly filter & display unread mail. I often found myself repleating the same search, looking for unread email in the inbox or, in Gmail search terms: in: inbox is: unread

unread email 2

The URL for that same search, used for the Unread Mail bookmark, is:

http://mail.google.com/mail/?shva=1#search/in%3Ainbox+is%3Aunread

Now a single click on the toolbar displays all unread email. Then I can quickly flag new messages for achiving or deleting and more easily identify priority messages.

Customize Gmail with Firefox and Greasemonkey

If you’re accustomed to working with folders and sub-folders, you may have wished you could use nested labels with Gmail. Well, that is possible thanks to the Folders4Gmail script.

View of Nested Gmail Labels

Using Folders4Gmail, nested labels are creating using the same base name and using a back slash (/) to specify the sub-label. The image on the left illustrates the nested format.

Same labels viewed in standard Gmail formatThe one on the right shows how it looks when Greasemonkey is not enabled. That is also how it will appear when accessing Gmail from a public computer, with Internet Explorer, etc.

Add a Custom Signature, with Links & Formatting

Last weekend I wrote about how to Gmail’s Signature Limitations using a Greasemonkey script.

Public Diplomacy – Adrift Without a Rudder?

The Honorable James Glassman delivers Keynote Address at InfowarCon 2009

The Honorable James Glassman delivers Keynote Address at InfowarCon 2009

The Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) on Strategic Communications has been dissolved and the Global Strategic Engagement Center (GSEC) is sitting around waiting for leadership. The problem is the “lack of a broad constituency in Congress for Public Diplomacy.”

So said the Honorable James Glassman, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, in his Keynote Address to the InfowarCon 2009 attendees on Friday, April 24th.

In his speech he remarked:

“The business that many of you have chosen is influence. It is not exposition; it is not explanation. It is information with a purpose. It is using words, images, and non-violent deeds to get people to behave in ways that help America achieve its national security objectives. We define public diplomacy as understanding, engaging, informing, and influencing foreign publics. But it is the fourth gerund that counts – influencing.

As an article in the New York Times last week indicated, the business in which you are engaged and in which I used to be engaged can be contentious in a free society. There is, in some quarters, a squeamishness about using information to influence.

But it is absolutely necessary. It is a noble calling. And it is changing. As a result, much of what we think we know about this endeavor is wrong.”

[Excerpted from Glassman's prepared speech as posted in Stop Explaining! (29 April 2009) on his blog Economics, Investing, Public Diplomacy, and More]

In April, the position of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support to Public Diplomacy was eliminated, staff members were reassigned and the office was closed, as reported in “White House Closing Controversial Pentagon Office.” This action was initiated by Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. She said that, going forward, the White House and State Department will take the lead in dispensing information abroad, and the Pentagon will play a supporting role. 

Note the future tense, “Will take the lead”?  Is that like “the check is in the mail”?

Should we not establish the new capability before eliminating the old?

Matt Armstrong (@mountainrunner) authors MountainRunner, a blog about public diplomacy and strategic communication in the 21st century. Earlier today he Tweeted a link his new blog post directly related to this topic:

Matt Armstrong (@MountainRunner) Tweets his latest blog post

Matt Armstrong (@MountainRunner) Tweets his latest blog post

The piece he refers to by Nick Cull, LUGAR TO THE RESCUE: SENATE COMMITTEE BACKS ‘SCIENCE ENVOY’ PLAN, states:

“Long an enthusiast for public diplomacy, Lugar led off his campaign to save America’s public diplomacy on 13 February, 2009 with SR 49 which called for attention to public diplomacy and a revival of the old network of American cultural centers. An excellent staff report entitled U.S. Public Diplomacy: Time to Get Back in the Game appeared on the same day. Then on April 21, 2009, Lugar introduced SR 838 “a bill to provide for the establishment of science envoys.” This bill seeks to make better use in public diplomacy of the undisputed leadership of the United States in the fields of science and technology; to expand the existing science component of State Department exchange activities, and specifically to add a new category of cultural ambassador called a ‘Science Envoy’.”

Matt summed up the situation very well in his post, Recommended Reading: Cull on Lugar’s leadership in America’s leaderless Public Diplomacy:

“The bustling going on behind the curtain is not much and it will not make up for the last 100 days of opportunity lost.”

Are these initiatives sufficient to take Public Diplomacy in the right direction?

How can the Department of Defense “nest” information operations and strategic communication within a non-existent broad U.S. Government policy?

What is a Symposium?

What is a Symposium?” – a question received from my mom after recently telling her of the events I’d been attending over the last several months. She was not interested in the book definition, but an explanation in my own words. This is what I came up with:

Good question. I’m not entirely sure of the “book definition” myself, but I can describe my perception of the differences between these various events. (listed in increasing order of attendee participation)

Conference – Tends to be mostly individual speakers (or panels) to large audience event. Some question and answer (Q&A) time, but not much – very little attendee participation.

Symposium – A hybrid between Conference and Seminar. Some portions Conference like, other (breakout sessions) more like a Seminar.

Seminar – Mostly smaller groups, led by a subject matter expert or panel, many opportunities for attendee participation.

Workshop – Much like a Seminar, but with a very focused objective. All attendees participate and the goal is to produce something (a recommendation or a report) that will be used for someone else to make a decision or change policy.

Those are not “book definitions” but my perspective based on attending all of the above at one time or another. 

Because I wanted to put it in my own words, based upon my perceptions, I purposefully did not look for any formal definitions.

Are those summaries accurate?  How would you explain the differences between the various venues?

Conquering Gmail’s Signature Limitations

This weekend I finally decided I was going to overcome the limitations of Gmail’s plain text signature format. I’d like to think it was a good justification to practice my JavaScript coding. But I”m sure my family, and others that know me well, would suggest it was “work in lieu of” my resume I need to finish!  While true, I’d respond that it adds to my justification for including JavaScript skills on the resume, which will still be finished this weekend.

Gmail Signature Formatter Script

Gmail Signature Formatter Script

Click here to view a larger version of the above image

Download the GmailSignatureFormatter script from the userscripts.org script repository.

Requires the Greasemonkey Add-on for Firefox.

Collaboration Squared

Tonight I wrote my first blog post over at GovLoop – the premier social network connecting the government community.

In Collaboration Squared, I ask where to find success stories of those that have succeeded in implementing change within their organization in adopting new media, social media and Web 2.0 tools (or whatever term you want to use to describe “networked enabled collaboration”)

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