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Love and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service -Lust, Bombs, Bureaucrats. Writings by James Bruno

7 Nov

Love & Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service -Lust, Loneliness, Bombs & Bureaucrats & other writings by retired diplomat and best selling author James Bruno

By Nate Thayer

November 7, 2013

You can access the writings and book of James Bruno at http://jameslbruno.blogspot.com/

This morning, James Bruno, an old friend and now a best-selling author, who for 23 years served his country with distinction, skill and principle as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State, sent me a message.

Jim Bruno, served, amongst many places around the world, in Cambodia as deputy chief of the U.S. embassy, where he saved my sorry ass more than once intervening with the Cambodian government when the embassy received intelligence that I had been ordered assassinated or expelled or otherwise officially the target of government harassment for some spot on, dead accurate, but decidedly not serving the authorities public relations objectives, article or another I wrote and published.

I recall him personally demanding an urgent meeting with current Prime Minister Hun Sen after one of his top military officers decided I was overly pesky and ordered me killed.

Bruno made it clear to the Prime Minister, in no uncertain terms, that this would be very much against the rules and the full weight of the U.S. government would be employed to express the gravity of the dim view they took of tin pot dictatorships killing any American citizen, and particularly U.S journalists carrying out the essential functions of a free press, something the U.S. government valued and promotes as a key tenet of its foreign policy as vital to healthy societies.

Mr. Bruno, met officially with the Cambodian leader, in his official capacity as the representative of the President of the United States of America in Cambodia, and skillfully and politely, but equally forcefully and without qualification, explained to the Cambodian Prime Minister, a free press was a central tenet of American political ideology and a top priority of U.S. government policy.

Not to mention there is no higher priority for any U.S. embassy in the world than to protect the safety and interests of its citizens residing or visiting that country.

Essentially diplomat Bruno told the Prime Minister, if you fuck with Nate Thayer, or any American journalist carrying out their legitimate job of bringing information of import for a well informed citizenry and the common good to free people, you are fucking with the government of the United States of America and the essential principles for which it stands.

Or more concisely, if you fuck with Nate Thayer carrying out his job as an American representative of the free press in Cambodia, you are fucking with Jim Bruno. It was not a wise thing to violate principles of which Bruno determined important.

Jim Bruno used the power of words and civil dialogue to address issues of international discord between nations. When I think of the adage “War is the failure of diplomacy,” I think of, and wish there were more Mr. Bruno’s, and a number of his specific colleagues, representing several U.S. agencies, who have performed with great skill and distinction, and not infrequently, heroically, but almost always behind the scenes and seldom recognized.

The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia at the time, on the other hand, in my opinion and that of much of the staff of diplomats and U.S officials working for other agencies attached to embassy Phnom Penh, was, a knucklehead.

The Ambassador had also concluded that I had demonstrated the potential to become a long term pain in the ass for him.

I recall chit chatting with the U.S. Ambassador, immediately after one assassination plot against me, hatched by a provincial governor and regional army commander that the embassy got wind of and quelled by quietly intervening, using formidable verbal diplomatic skills, and smacked some sense into the highest levels of the Cambodian government.

The American Ambassador and I were discussing the incident at a cocktail party—held to celebrate British National  Day by the embassy of the United Kingdom, if I recall—and the Ambassador was clearly annoyed.

Not at the Cambodian government for ordering the assassination of an American citizen–that would be me–for performing credibly my job as a free man, a citizen of a free society excersizing the U.S. constitutionally protected right of free speech and a free press.

But rather the Ambassador was annoyed at me for forcing him to engage in the unpleasantry of having to confront the leaders of a rapacious, murderous, corrupt, thuggish, incompetent government inclined to murder those who engaged in the dissemination of accurate information that revealed them to the citizenry as exactly the aforementioned.

He was trying to build a good relationship with the tattered, second string remnants of one of the most egregious governments to seize control of a state in modern history who had now devolved to a group of Consiglieres in charge of a mafia state.

“Nate, why don’t you just leave the country and go somewhere else to work. Don’t you think that would be for the best for everyone,” the U.S. ambassador said, with more than a hint of a muted sneer.

I replied: “Well, Mr. Ambassador, for the same reason you wouldn’t close down the U.S. embassy because some ten cent thug in power of an irrelevant backwater of a country didn’t like the principles that the U.S. government stands for, promotes, and defends and threatened to kill you unless you ceased supporting those tenets of freedom which is your job, as my employee, as a U.S. citizen.”

It was a brief conversation.

I don’t think I ever thanked Jim Bruno personally for intervening on my behalf. In fact, I am quite sure I was not supposed to have known he did, little less have been privy to the details.

So I am and will thank him now.

Thanks, Jim.

Bruno is now a best-selling novelist. His books and blog site, largely based on his experience as a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer, are gripping must reads, full of behind the scenes details, including the un-redacted successes, failures, buffoonery, drudgery, intrigue, heroics, and personal foibles of the men and women who represent the U.S. government abroad, and my government’s proud and vital record defending important principles and it’s, often, equally clueless tactics and misguided implementation and policies that have crashed and burned, not infrequently, but rarely without good intentions or motivated by malice.

James Bruno sent me a message today: “I blogged about Son Sen a couple of years ago. Thought you might find it interesting. http://jameslbruno.blogspot.com/2011/04/people-ive-known-who-died-violent.html.”

“Son Sen was the Heinrich Himmler of Cambodia.  He was head of the communist Khmer Rouge regime’s own Gestapo, the Santebal, and oversaw that short-lived regime’s death factory, Tuol Sleng Prison.  I sat across Son Sen at UN-sponsored peace negotiations for a year-and-a-half.  He was the most chilling human being I’ve ever encountered.

It is estimated that 17,000-20,000 were brutally tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng….Son Sen played a direct role in designing its torture chambers and overall operations. … Son Sen had the face of a merciless killer, stone cold and utterly devoid of humanity.  His few attempts to smile came off as evil sneers.  His eyes appeared dead.  His body language was reptilian.  I once included in one of my regular cables to Washington reporting on these meetings a paragraph on how Son Sen spent the entire time methodically picking apart a caviar hors d’ouevre with a toothpick, carefully separating each part and then crushing them into a blotchy mess.  I thought that small act spoke a lot about this man. On June 10, 1997, Son Sen and thirteen members of this family, including women and children, were shot to death on orders from Pol Pot….”

I replied: “Great piece, Jim. Son Sen was a very cold man. His brother, not without irony, was not only the KR ambassador to North Korea throughout the 1970, 80’s, and 90’s, well after the Khmer Rouge did what they did, and still a loyal senior Khmer Rouge official but serving the governments run by King Sihanouk, Ranarridh and later Hun Sen, while you served in Phnom Penh as deputy chief of the U.S. embassy. In the late 1990’s, Son Sen’s brother then defected to live in Phnom Penh to Hun Sen’s politcal party, where he now lives freely and holds the title of “senior adviser” to Prime Minister Hun Sen. His daughter married a relative of Hun Sen. When I asked Pol Pot if and why he ordered the killing of Son Sen, he freely and in detail admitted he did, and justified it. “For the babies, I am sorry about that. It was a mistake in implementation.” Pol Pot then paused and said “His niece married a relative of the one eyed puppet lackey, the contemptible Hun Sen.” Pol Pot looked me straight in the eye, holding my gaze in silence for a long time, seemingly perplexed why I didn’t understand this  logic and its corollary–the necessity to order his long time comrade murdered.

Pol Pot then became animated, visibly angry at me, and he wagged his finger in my face and said: “Don’t you see! The connection had been established! I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

I wrote James Bruno back saying “Jim:  I am posting a  story on my blog about you and your career and writing. I would like to send it to you to have you see whether my remembrances are correct and the extensive excerpt from some of your blog posts are ok with you.”

He replied: “Nate, I’d be honored — Note: I alluded to you recently that I also had been a prisoner, albeit briefly, of the KR. When I was chief of our consulate in Udorn in 1985, I was on one of my regular border runs in Sisaket collecting info from contacts on the latest on the war in Cambodia. We took a turn on a jungle trail. Like you, I had a reputation for pushing my luck. I told the driver to continue. Well, lo and behold, we run smack into a KR supply convoy coming down the trail right toward us. KR soldiers ordered us out of the car, asked who we were. I told him I was a U.S. diplomat and that they needed to get a Thai 838 (A Thai military intelligence unit that coordinated interaction with Cambodian guerrilla’s and their covert military supplies along the two nations borders) officer there pronto. The KR were actually polite, signaling with their AK’s for us to go to a small bunker where we were kept under armed guard. After an hour, I requested permission to take a piss. A young guard signaled for me to pee in a very specific area. OK. No problem. So, as I’m pissing, the guard pointed to an area just a couple of feet away covered in landmines. He wanted to make sure I didn’t go and do my business in the minefield. Nice guy. I engaged him is a conversation in Thai for insights on life in the KR. An 838 officer and two aides showed up not long thereafter and extricated us. I rewarded them with bottles of Johnny Walker. Word of this incident quickly got back to embassy Bangkok, which called me in for a dressing down. The State Dept. followed suit. It wasn’t the first time. I had that reputation. A few years earlier, an identical episode happened with the Lao commie militia seizing me at gunpoint and holding me prisoner for the better part of a day. The State Dept. chewed me out and ordered the Charge to deliver a protest. It was unreal. I accompanied the Charge to translate our protest as well as the Lao counterprotest against me. I ended up getting in an argument in Lao with the MFA officials. That’s the closest I ever came to being PNG’d. A few weeks after the KR incident, I was back snooping along the border for info on Ta Mok. Walking along a trail interviewing recent refugees, PAVN 110’s opened fire from the mountain range. I ran to take cover and landed real hard on my sacroliliac. Paralysis started taking hold not long thereafter. I medevacced myself to Bangkok where I underwent immediate surgery to remove a crushed lower disk and two vertebrae laminae. State Dept’s Medical Unit grounded me for five years in DC before clearing me to serve as DCM in Phnom Penh, though I did do TDY’s in Peshawar, following the Afghan war against the Soviets. After Cambodia, I served inside Cuba and at GTMO. More minefield fun.”

I replied: “Jim: Great stuff, Jim. None of which surprised me. You know how people talk behind ones back often? But it is not always cowardly, negative gossip. I remember in your case, while to a man, I found virtually no affection from within embassy PP for (the then Ambassador), I found equal respect and affection as universal from among your colleagues–all of them from xxx, to xxx, to xxxx to xxxxx and so forth, for you. As well as from me. It remains unclear to me how you get much of your stuff (in his four best selling novels and blog posts) in print past the USG censors who, i presume, require you to have ur writings vetted. Your blog is excellent. I would like to insert the anecdotes in this email from you into the story. With your permission. let me now. Let me know if I have misrepresented your work or anything else inaccurate in my posting. The anecdote I mentioned regarding you intervening when the Cambodian government ordered me assassinated came from very good sources among your colleagues at the time. I hope you are, and remain, well.”

James Bruno replied: “Geez, Nate. You oughta write fiction! Wow. I feel honored and humbled. And your recollections revived events I had pushed way back into the deepest synapses. Thanks for bringing them back. I don’t know if any of us saved your life. Being devout, you might just conclude it was your Lord and Savior who pulled your ass out of all those fixes. Yes, do feel free to draw from my last email. It’s open material. As for USG censorship of my writing — they almost always make me take stuff out, but they’re nice about it. I’ve established a healthy working relationship with my censors, including those at the CIA and NSA. They’ve even asked for autographed copies of my books. My upcoming nonfiction book (essays drawn from my blog posts) was pretty seriously redacted. I’m publishing it with blacked out text included, so some pages look like a zebra.”

James Bruno was a Foreign Service officer for twenty-three years, having worked previously in military intelligence and journalism.  He remains a member of the Diplomatic Readiness Reserve, subject to worldwide duty on short notice.

He is now a bestselling author.

He began his career as a journalist, having acquired an MA degree from the Columbia School of Journalism. He also has an MA from the U.S. Naval War College. His diplomatic postings have included, amongst other countries, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Cambodia. He has worked in a Secret Service presidential protection detail overseas, and has spent much of his career being a liaison with colleagues from the Pentagon, CIA and other foreign affairs agencies.  His spy thrillers include PERMANENT INTERESTS and CHASM, have been bestsellers, including #1 in Political Fiction and #1 in Spy Stories.  His book TRIBE, a political thriller centers on Afghanistan.  His latest book is HAVANA QUEEN, an espionage thriller set in Cuba.

His blog posts are particularly vivid, raw in their authenticity and detail, entertaining and full of details based on firsthand experience.

The one he sent me today is titled: “People I’ve Known Who Died Violent Deaths, and Deserved It: Part I”

Another blog entry is titled: Life after the Foreign Service.

Below are excerpts from it and several others.  

“Our clueless ambassador in a war-torn country where guerrillas were targeting and killing foreigners ordered the embassy staff to travel into the lawless interior to monitor people’s attitudes toward UN-sponsored free elections (Why I Write), an irresponsible order the staff refused to obey.  My wife experienced a complicated and life-threatening pregnancy after MED — the State Department’s medical unit — refused to authorize business class travel to the destination where she would give birth (Love, Romance and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service – Part III: Making Babies).  My boss in a communist country violated security rules in his emails, resulting in the host government’s harassment of one of our best sources.  The promotion and assignments processes were becoming an even more uneven playing field.  . . .Time to leave the Foreign Service.  There is nothing like a Foreign Service career:  getting paid to travel the world and live in foreign countries representing one’s country; dealing with Big Picture issues; working with some of the smartest people on the planet; a variety in work content virtually unmatched in any other career.  Twenty-three years in the U.S. Foreign Service gave me no end of challenges and adventures and opportunity to apply my brainpower toward history-making events and to meet presidents, kings and high-caliber intellectuals.  I had the time of my life.  But too many shortcomings in the system compelled me to make the decision to leave my government career early and to find reward in greener pastures.

As one advances in the ranks, one hears the refrain, “Is there life after the Foreign Service?” — accompanied by much wringing of the hands.  Contemplating the end of one’s diplomatic career is akin to those 15th century folk who saw monsters and oblivion at the edge of world’s end.  It’s understandable.  After decades of working in a profession, what else does one know?  And how do you apply airy-fairy statecraft skills to making money on the outside?  Many turn to academia, think tanks, independent consulting, NGOs and international organizations.  Logical fits.

Sorry.  Not for this free spirit.  Determined, against the counsel of family and friends, never to hold down another job again, never again to don suit and tie for work, never again to answer to a boss, never again to commute to an office, I made the wild and crazy decision to return to my roots: work on the family farm. Oops! Nope! The family farm was sold years ago. I mean my later roots: being a writer and making a living off of it.  I turned down a lovely offer from a college president to be a “diplomat-in-residence,” teaching a couple of courses and assisting in setting up a nascent international relations program. Then I declined a nice offer from a London-based political consulting company to take on assignments from them. The reason?  I was too preoccupied with selling my spy-mob thriller, Permanent Interests and my war criminal thriller, CHASM. And my literary agent was expecting much more of me after the 2011 release of my Afghanistan thriller, Tribe.  Teaching college and political consulting, simply put, would interfere in the marketing of my twisted fantasies.

Rather than doing the “right thing,” this ex-FSO decided to follow his dream:  fiction writing.  I sit in my armchair at home or in my favorite cafe dreaming up and writing down plots involving Machiavellian politicians, lustful doyennes, mad generals, ruthless spies, flawed heroes and world-threatening events — drawing from my rich mother lode of Foreign Service experiences (see Inspired Insomniac: Voices in the Night).

And it’s worked! ….winding up my fourth novel, a spy tale set in Cuba. I’m actually making a living doing this.  Of course, it ain’t easy when you lack full first amendment rights (Why I’m Censored).

The lesson?  “Do the right thing” doesn’t necessarily apply.  You’ve done that for years as a buttoned-down, team-playing, don’t-rock-the-boat bureaucrat.  Try something new.  Listen to your heart and follow your dreams.  I did.”

Another blog excerpt gives a flavor of how he  weaves real life behind the scenes experience into his writing:

My Forrest Gump Moment
“On November 12, 1986, I was in the West Wing of the White House on official business. After a long meeting, I made a pit stop at the downstairs men’s room. While standing doing my business, the door swung open and in streamed several men. At the urinal on my left was Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger. On my right was Secretary of State George Shultz. At the toilet stood CIA Director Bill Casey. They obviously had just come out of a lengthy meeting of their own. All were stonily silent. None acknowledged any of the others. They studiously avoided eye contact at the sink, the towel dispenser and as they sought to exit the room. I sensed a definite chill between them and couldn’t wait myself to get out of there. In the outside foyer, a suck-up White House flunkie greeted Shultz in a fawning voice. The Secretary stopped in his tracks and, red-faced, glowered at the man, then stormed off.

Next day headlines broke open the Iran-Contra scandal. The Washington Post reported on a stormy meeting between Pres. Reagan and his national security officials. For me it was truly a Forrest Gump moment.”

An excerpt from another of Bruno’s blogs:

Ambassadors-at-Large for Incompetence . . .
“In 1992, as the Khmer Rouge were targeting foreigners for assassination in the countryside, our ambassador in Cambodia ordered his staff to travel into the lawless interior to ascertain people’s attitudes about upcoming UN-sponsored elections for that country. The staff refused such an irresponsible order, confronting the ambassador with passive resistance bordering on insubordination. The State Dept. countermanded the order.

When working on U.S. policy on Cambodia in the UN in the early ’80s, my State Dept. boss asked me: “Are the Khmer Rouge the good guys or the bad guys?” As most of the world knows, the Khmer Rouge killed at least a million Cambodian citizens in the 1970s, a genocide second only to the Holocaust.

Having just arrived as a young diplomat at an isolated Asian post, my bosses, the Chargé d’Affaires and his deputy, had me accompany them to the home of a wealthy Sino-Thai businessman for luxurious repasts which included delicacies such as shark fin soup, fish maw and barbecued bear paw. This man, however, led a surreptitious life. His entertainment facilities were hidden behind an office bathroom and he dodged all questions about his business and personal life. Suspicious, I sent his name to several U.S. agencies for a database check. The Drug Enforcement Agency promptly replied that our charming dinner host was on their Most Wanted List; he had earlier dropped out of sight, one step ahead of the law. The U.S. Chargé d’Affaires and his staff had been hobnobbing unawares with a notorious narcotrafficker. Who was dumber: the crook, for entertaining American officials? Or, the clueless officials themselves?”

. . . and Embassies for Sale!
In the late 1980s, our ambassador to Italy was an Italian-American lumber baron from Minnesota. Having donated generously to his party, the man got the job, though he possessed no diplomatic or related experience. An otherwise gregarious sort, he was at sea in Rome. He used one of the most sensitive communications channels, normally reserved for matters of high policy, to update the Secretary of State on his project to remodel Villa Taverna, the U.S. ambassador’s residence, including one lengthy cable on his selection of curtains. He was also fond of telling demeaning Italian jokes before crowds of host country officials and journalists, an act that endeared neither him nor the United States to the Italian public.

Fact Stranger Than Fiction
If you had any illusions that your government is manned with competent, bright, judicious officials who have your best interests at heart, you’re wrong. Twenty-five years in the federal government showed me otherwise. Regularly, I faced situations which made me say, “Fiction can’t rival this.” Our debacle in Iraq, the Mark Foley affair, the Valerie Plame case and the Abramoff scandal only reconfirm my sentiment.

So, I cut short my diplomatic career to have more fun writing stories which encompass the chicanery and fecklessness of government. If you thought Washington was out of control, then don’t read my books. They’ll only confirm your worst fears about how things are done in our nation’s capital.

Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to Singapore, a former South Dakota state legislator, walked off with the ambassadorial china upon completion of his unremarkable assignment. Upon being asked to return the expensive, eagle-embossed dinnerware, our ambassador refused, stating it was his just reward for having been an ambassador.

Faux pas by non-career ambassadors include cocaine smuggling using diplomatic pouches, drunken imbroglios at embassy functions, embarrassing adulterous affairs, and simple ineptitude. We used to sell military flag officer ranks to political hacks until the end of the Civil War, when the extent of the slaughter revealed the tragic consequences of such practices. U.S. ambassadorships and other senior diplomatic positions, however, remain on the auction block for the highest bidders. Fully a third of ambassadorships, in fact, go to non-career people.

Another blog post is titled:

How to Get Ahead in the U.S. Foreign Service: Walk, Don’t Run

Ambition is the last refuge of failure. ~ Oscar Wilde

(Note:  The following is a personal essay.  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.)

We Still Need Kremlinologists
After twenty-three years working for the Department of State, I left with little more understanding on how to get ahead in that opaque and byzantine system than I had upon entering.  Yet, using my past Kremlinologist skills as well as drawing from a long career of trying to decipher other closed regimes such as North Korea, Cuba and Chicago, I’ve come away with some pointers for those just entering the Department as well as those still inside the belly of the beast.  Following are some broad type categorizations for success in the U.S. Foreign Service:

·  The Operator:  Ratko Mladic, the Serbian war criminal now in custody, was an Operator.  He embraced three keys for being a highly successful executive:  (a) effective networking; (b) sucking up to his superiors; and (c) amorality and ruthlessness.  So is it in the Foreign Service.  The effective Operator spreads his tentacles out the minute he completes his oath to protect and defend the Constitution.  Think of the kiss-ass schmoozer we all knew in school.  The brown-nose apple polisher who was at his teachers’ feet and his classmates’ throats.  Like Mladic, such people are able to advance quickly, even if it’s over a mountain of their victims’ skulls.  Definition of success per the Operator:  To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women and children!

·  The Female Emasculator:  Why is it that four decades on in the feminist movement, many women feel they must out-testosterone their male competition?  Everyone is familiar with this ilk:  the “barracuda” who devours her young if it will lead to advancement.  The alpha-female who, if she sacrifices any time at all to romance, weds an emasculated Caspar Milquetoast –another pelt on the barn door.  Most, however, don’t marry.  After all, matrimony and children only get in the way on the ladder-climb to victory.  These women are the first to launch class action lawsuits claiming “discrimination” as a vehicle to win court-ordered promotions or plum assignments.  Give them a wide berth; otherwise, find a fine surgeon to extricate the daggers and high-heel marks from your back and to reaffix your testicles.

  • Boobs Struck by Lightning:  Think of the dumb-ass who can’t organize his breakfast, constantly loses his keys, comes to work with one brown shoe and one black.  Yet karmic lightning strikes and next thing you know he’s in the fast lane, screwing up one assignment after another, yet continually rewarded as others pick up the pieces.  A variation on this species is the “Being There” type, patterned after the eponymous Peter Sellers movie.  The protagonist, named Chance, is a simpleton who, because he dresses like an aristocrat and says little, is fawned over and rewarded by pompous social climbers who are blind to his vacuosness.  Form trumps substance.
  • The Anointed One:  Similar to Boobs Struck by Lightning minus the dumbassedness.  This is the individual who is visited by Jesus while in A-100 junior officer training and thereafter put on the super fast track despite never having an original idea, being devoid of personality and showing all the risk-taking of a Swiss accountant.  The Old Boys just like him/her and coddle the haloed Anointed One through unremarkable ambassadorships and snoozer sinecures up to the Undersecretary level.
  • The Wagon-Hitcher:  A bevy of these often capable FSO’s rode on the coattails of Henry Kissinger to the pinnacles of the foreign policy establishment.  Finding oneself attached to such a shooting star is as often as not a factor of dumb luck, being at the right place at the right time with the right senior official on the way to megastar status.  These Wagon-Hitchers become luminaries in their own right and enjoy highly successful careers.  There but for the grace of God go I. . . 
  • Get Along to Go Along:  Those with severe CDD (Charisma Deficit Disorder), a face in the crowd and a harmless, nonthreatening disposition who do their time in the bowels of the bureaucracy accomplishing little more but staying in place and offending no one often are rewarded in their 50s with an ambassadorship to a malarial backwater capital shunned by the parvenu political appointees (see The American Diplomatic Spoils System: Embassies for Sale).  It’s the State Department’s version of the gold watch.
  • Lateral (No Exam Required) Entry:  This means of advancement, which exempts its beneficiaries from such inconveniences as the Foreign Service exam, is reserved for cronies and affirmative action entrants.
  • Legacy:  Just as the Ivy League traditionally reserves admission spaces for the offspring of distinguished alumni (remember Pres. W?), the Foreign Service takes special care to coddle and promote the careers of the children of distinguished Foreign Service officers.  If you are a Foreign Service brat, your odds at finding yourself on the fast track are greater than the peons, particularly if dad was an ambassador.

Caution and Incompetence
In my first Department posting, as I rushed down one of the long gray corridors with a draft cable in hand to seek an urgent clearance at another office, a stooped, pasty-faced FSO admonished me, “Walk, don’t run!”  I think the last person to scold me thus was Miss Nall, my sixth grade teacher.  But over the years I found it to be emblematic of the careful, cautious, compromising Foreign Service culture; of waiting one’s turn, not rocking the boat, staying in lock-step, all keys to that ambassadorial posting to Lower Slobovia.

After my first overseas tour, I went to pay an obligatory call on my “Career Development Officer.”  As I sat silently, this man thumbed through my file, brows scrunched, grave demeanor.  As he read on, he began to shake his head.  Then he looked up at me and said, “Let’s face it, Jim.  You’re going to have to hit the ground running in your next assignment.”  I was stunned.  I had gotten nothing but sterling evaluations.  I said, “What do you mean?”  The CDO shrugged and frowned.  “Well, you didn’t do so well in your first tour, did you?”  I stood up and requested to have a look at my file.  He reluctantly handed it to me.  While the folder had my name on it, the contents belonged to another officer.  My personnel papers had been misfiled.  Steaming, I demanded that the CDO straighten it out and call me as soon as he did.  It was an early lesson in the fallibilities of the personnel system.

From another blog post by James Bruno:

Love, Romance & Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service – Part I: Of Lust & Loneliness

“Never play cards with a man named ‘Doc.’  Never eat at a place called ‘Mom’s.’  And never sleep with someone who has troubles worse than your own.”

Diplomats have a justifiable reputation for being impeccably proper, bloodless figures whose passions get stirred by a good concerto, a stimulating dinner party, a good book.  But diplomats are human too.  After all, they do procreate just like real people; though, perhaps they have fewer progeny.

The U.S. State Department has a well deserved reputation for being manned by people who are morally irreproachable, temperamentally self-controlled and emotionally repressed. ..  Conformity is the creed.  Norman Rockwell on steroids.  Like nonconforming meerkats, the wild in behavior, the over-the-top eccentrics, the loners, the terminably weak, the wildcatters, the truly innovative and those who are too New York menschlich are either driven off the reservation or insidiously sidelined until their career comes to a premature end.

But sex is a fact of life.  And, like it or not, Foreign Service folk can’t escape it.  The peccadilloes keep State’s security cadre very busy indeed.  First, let’s categorize the broad rubrics of sexual behavior in the American  Foreign Service:

  • Midlife Adolescence:  the married middle-aged male who suddenly finds himself in a sexual playground like Bangkok or Manila and loses it.
  • The Poor Soul:  the man or woman whom love has passed by and plunges into a marriage with a Third Worlder who recognizes a free ticket out of misery when s/he sees it. 
  • The Political Appointee Who Mistakes ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ for Diplomatic Impunity:  When to mischief we bend our will, how soon we find the instruments of ill.
  • The Gays:  (a) those open about their sexuality (tending to be younger), and (b) those firmly in the closet (tending to be older).
  • Sleeping With the Enemy:  violators of the “non-frat” policy who have affairs with the nationals of hostile powers.
  • The Nut Cases:  exhibitionists, predators, the morally unhinged.

Middle-aged Adolescents While in diplomatic training after just entering the Foreign Service, a middle-aged woman offered me a ride home from the Foreign Service Institute in her van with three young children.  She had just returned from Bangkok where her husband was posted.  “Oh, Bangkok.  That must be very interesting,” I said, making conversation.  She harrumphed.  “I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” she said.  She went on to relate how, after a few months at post, her husband took up with an assortment of Thai bar girls and abruptly ended their marriage.  She came home with their kids to pick up the pieces of her life and deal with lawyers and State Department bureaucrats on the red tape surrounding divorce.  Even one of our married career ambassadors carried on with local honies. The Thai have a strong sense of joie de vivre about such things, but most Americans don’t want Hugh Hefner representing their country overseas.

And there was the notorious case of a colleague who was sent packing from another Asian post because he had decided to divorce his generic American wife for a young Chinese woman with whom he had fathered babies. But the wife hung on and both women lived with him at the same time. This harem chief confided that what ticked him off was that the ambassador who made him depart was himself living with a local mistress.

It’s a sad yet all too familiar tale.  Middle-aged men tossed into overseas sexual playgrounds where any Western gentleman is a catch by dint of his income and passport.  I lost count early on as to how many male colleagues I knew who dumped June Cleaver for Suzie Wong….In my experience, most are smarter and sharper than the Caspar Milquetoasts they marry. …


A place like Thailand is great for self-deluded studs, but a hellhole for foreign women.  Frustrated in love, many of the latter hit on the available bachelors within the embassy community.  Being the target of such approaches over the years by both married and single Western ladies, I speak from personal experience.

The Poor Soul How often one encounters the frumpy plain Jane with her new hubby — an Ethiopian rock star half her age, the Paul Giamatti look-alike wed to buxom 22-year old Miss Ukraine.  I recall the 40-something Foreign Service secretary who married a tattooed Fijian Hell’s Angels Harley aficionado.  A match made in heaven.  The face-in-the-crowd mid-life consul, trained as a classical pianist, biggest suck-up in the Service, who fell deeply in love with a smashing young college-educated Korean girl.  Like teen love birds, they were.  Until she got her American passport.  The first thing Miss Korean Beauty did upon landing at LAX was to file divorce papers.  Another common scenario.  You see, foreign spouses are entitled to almost instant U.S. citizenship upon marrying an American diplomat.  Too many have discovered this Get Out of Teeming Developing World Free card.  The ones with a trace of moral conscience might wait a year or two before ditching Mr. or Ms. Meal Ticket.  Others, like the Korean babe, have it all scammed out and ditch their new mate as soon as the ink is dry on their shiny new eagle-embossed passport.

Political Appointees Someone needs to collect 200-years of lore and write a book about the idiots who are allowed to buy United States ambassadorships.  No banana republic rivals our diplomatic spoils system, a topic to which I plan to devote a special entry soon.  But here are just two examples of political appointee ambassadors who were caught in sexual misconduct:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Norway Mark Evans Austad, an outspoken former Mormon missionary who hurled verbal attacks against a variety of Norwegian liberal institutions as well as the press was taken by police at a house where he was bellowing loudly and banging on a woman’s door at 3 a.m.  Austad claimed that, after hosting a cocktail party, he headed to a friend’s house “to plan a salmon fishing trip,” and the taxi had taken him to the wrong address. The police returned Austad to his residence.

Joseph Zappala, a wealthy Florida developer and fundraiser for President George H.W. Bush, was appointed ambassador to Spain despite his inability to speak Spanish.  Zappala’s tour in Madrid was marred when he took up with another woman, ending his 30-year marriage. “This guy’s roaming eye for the Spanish ladies became very embarrassing for us in the career Foreign Service,” said someone who served in Madrid with Zappala.

Gays A senior protocol official was nabbed in a raid on a Washington gay brothel years ago. He faced a dual dilemma at that time: the shame and security implications of being outed as gay when it was not condoned, and the legal issues of being arrested as a john in a pay-for-sex situation.

Prior to the 1990s, homosexuality was grounds for exclusion from the Foreign Service.  Enforcement, however, was spotty at best.  Everybody had friends and colleagues known to be gay.  It was no big deal.  But the gays themselves were forced to remain in the closet.  When the ban was lifted, gays organized themselves into their own Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.  While younger FS members are open about their gayness, many of the older ones remain closeted, whether out of habit or whatever.  The bottom line is the Foreign Service is a much friendlier institution for gays than in previous years, particularly since Secretary Clinton initiated some reforms to accommodate partners.

Sleeping With the Enemy the national security agencies have what is called a “Criteria Countries List” comprising those nations whose intelligence services target our personnel (see “On Spies, Counterspies, Would-be Spies and Just Plain Losers – Part I”).  A “non-frat” policy applies.  Think:  Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, etc.  It is verboten to have romantic relationships with the citizens of such countries.  Nonetheless. . .


There was the junior FSO who fell in love with an East German woman while posted  in another communist country.  The young female FSO who had a torrid romance with a Cuban man while serving in Havana.  The embassy communicator who up and married another country’s army officer while serving at a communist post.  Diplomatic Security pulled their clearances, yanked them from their postings and placed them in dead-end nonprofessional jobs back in D.C.  At least two were assigned to the Department’s mail room.  They got the message and quit.  BTW, the guy with the East German lady and the woman who married the foreign officer enjoyed happy marriages outside of the Foreign Service.

Nut Cases:  There was the USAID official who had a penchant for displaying his private parts to females who entered his office (yes, he was dismissed).  And the admin staff sleazebag in one of our large embassies who coerced his local national female employees into sex acts with him in his office (got off scot-free; an all-too familiar crime in our embassies).  The married, sixtyish political appointee Under Secretary of State who preyed sexually upon his female secretary (who filed a grievance action leading to his quiet dismissal).  And there is at least one confirmed case of incest.

The U.S. Foreign Service consists of America’s best in terms of brains, abilities and relevant knowledge.  But its members are all too human just like the rest of us.  No, Foreign Service personnel are not a bunch of kinky perverts lusting after the people with whom they work and associate.  But funny things do happen in life.  And the system is pretty good about policing itself.  Messy adulterous affairs overseas often end up with the involved parties being sent back home, with a cloud over their careers.  Our diplomats are held to high standards which are taken seriously.

Love, Romance and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service – Part II: Bombs & Bureaucrats

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? ~ Pablo Casals

Six Tips on Courtship in a War Zone
(Cosmo Mag — are you paying attention?)

  • When your love interest calls via military radio phone from a jungle redoubt asking for advice on what to do as mortar rounds slam into her encampment, counsel her as follows:  “Hit the ground!”
  • When dating via helicopter over enemy terrain, become a Believer and pray to God often — even if you aren’t a Believer, it’s best to hedge your bets when your life is on the line.
  • 24/7 armed guards who accompany you wherever you go can put a crimp on your dating as well as the rest of your social life.  Stay at home until the danger passes.
  • Kevlar trumps Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana:  don’t fret about making a fashion statement in a place where olive drab dominates the runways. There’s something to be said about bullet-stopping Kevlar even if it does suppress the fine lines of your figure. 
  • When the local fare moves on your plate, or all those around you are retching their guts out, a dinner date centered on Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) is an acceptable fallback.
  • When traveling over jungle cover in which wild-eyed, drug-crazed freedom fighters love to take pot shots at low-flying aircraft just for the hell of it, do anything possible to protect your private parts, as these may come in handy as your romance progresses to the next stage.  Helmets, flak jackets and medical kits are just some of the items you can use for this purpose.

Is This a Date, or Apocalypse Now?
A fetching young Dutch UN peacekeeper caught my eye when I was serving at our new embassy in war-torn Cambodia in the early ’90s.  There was something about the blue beret, the gouda-infused enthusiasm to bring Freedom and Democracy to the benighted Cambodians, her sacrificing her wooden shoes for jungle boots, her patriotic profile in a black one-piece swimsuit at the only pool in the country.

We hit it off.  Then she was posted to the country’s far northeast, an area so remote that no roads led to it, a backwater in which we stumbled upon anti-communist Vietnamese guerrillas who didn’t know Hanoi had won in ’75, a region dominated by exotic minority peoples speaking languages unknown to linguists, an ecological wonderland with animal species thought to be extinct.  The only way to get there was by chopper.  The UN contracted transportation out to a Russian company operating rickety Soviet-era helicopters piloted by Red Army veterans, many of whom made their bones in Afghanistan.  It wasn’t unusual for Khmer Rouge guerrillas to shoot at these choppers; bullet holes occasionally were found in the fuselages after landing.

When in D.C. on a date, one needs only to hop into one’s shiny new Miata, pick up one’s date and zip over to Marcel’s for filet of Dorade and foie gras mousse, to be followed by drinks at Veritas and maybe a late showing of Woody Allen’s latest.  When dating in Stung Treng, however, one must lower one’s standards a notch or two.  With alcohol-sodden, joyriding Russians at the stick, I flew too many times than I care to remember between Phnom Penh and Stung Treng.  I got a break when our own POW/MIA search team flew Blackhawks to that region to excavate the remains of our Vietnam War missing-in-action.  Otherwise, we kept in touch via Australian military radiophone.  Indeed, she did call me one afternoon asking what to do as mortar rounds fell into her encampment (I could hear the explosions over the receiver).  And I shouted, “Hit the ground!”

Mother State
Something like sixty percent of Foreign Service personnel take on foreign-born spouses.  This, of course, is to be expected when most enter the Service at a fairly young age and spend much of their working lives overseas.  But love and statecraft often don’t follow in parallel paths and bumps are encountered along the way.  Mother State becomes a mutant Junior Prom chaperone when it comes to one’s love life and family affairs.  You thought you shed parental oversight of your personal affairs once you hit your late teens.  But once you take the oath and sign your soul away for that security clearance, be prepared to have your most intimate affairs become the business of Mother State.

Once my relationship with the Dutch peacekeeper became a steady one, the embassy’s Regional Security Officer informed me that she needed to be “cleared,” i.e., investigated and deemed not a security threat to the United States.  “Fill out this Form SF-86 and all these other forms,” he told her.  She looked at me and asked, “Is this for real?”  I said, “Yes, dear.  It’s only a formality.”  “I’ve never dated anyone before whose employer required that I be investigated,” she replied, not pleased.  The 21-page SF-86 asks such questions as:

“Have you ever knowingly engaged in activities designed to overthrow the U.S. Government by force?”
“Have you ever knowingly engaged in any acts of terrorism?”

The RSO then interviewed her at length.  Sheepishly and with unsteady nerves, she confessed to having demonstrated against short-range nuclear missiles in Europe when she was at the University of Leiden.  The RSO gave her a pass for this crazy youthful act of anarchistic nihilism.  He generously informed us that we could continue to see each other pending a background investigation of her life in the Netherlands.

Now, security investigations have a way of throwing a damper on romance.  In the eyes of the foreign ladies, you go from being an eligible bachelor to radioactive waste.  Fortunately, I was able to assuage and sweet-talk my foreign lady into going along with what for her was a low-level inquisition.  She was “cleared” not long afterward.

Fast forward:  Our Engagement.  According to the regs. 3 FAM 4191, “an employee intending to marry a foreign national must provide notice 90 days prior to the marriage date.”  More red tape to complete.  The regs further warn, “Failure of an employee to provide the required notification/approval of cohabitation with or marriage to a foreign national may result in the initiation of an appropriate investigation, immediate suspension (which may result in a proposal for revocation) of the employee’s security clearance, and/or disciplinary action.”  Pretty heady stuff.  More assuaging and sweet-talking needed.

We put in all the paperwork and made arrangements to wed at a small castle in a fairytale setting in Nijmegen.  The entire Dutch extended clan was invited.  Everything was on track.  All we needed was the actual green light from Mother State.  As time drew down, we continued to wait for that green light.  And waited.  Finally, I got on the phone and called State.  “What gives?” I asked.  “It’s been months now.”  I was told to wait some more.  Still nothing.  My mind started going off in strange directions.  Was she indeed a bomb-throwing anarchist? I wondered.  Maybe a card carrying member of the Gouda Workers of the World?  Nope.  Mother State lost our paperwork.  Advance directly to Go and start anew, I was told.  “But we have a whole castle lined up.  Half of Brabant province has been invited.”  “Sorry.  No wedding without us saying it’s ok,” Mother State replied with heartfelt empathy.  Desperate, I called a buddy who entered the Service with me who worked in that office.  Miraculously, he made things happen.  We got the green light to marry.

If you work for Wal-Mart or GEICO or JetBlue, you may live with or marry whomever you want whenever you want.  But for those who labor in the twilight reaches of national security, Uncle Sam’s cold, boney hand keeps a tight grip.  Like some medieval lord, his blessing must be gotten to enter a steady relationship or to take the hand of a beloved in matrimony.  Amor vincit omnia.

Read more of James Bruno’s excellent and prolific blog, Diplomatic Denizan, at jameslbruno.blogspot.com. You can also buy his books through the same site.

The Childhood Education of a Cantankerous Journalist

28 Oct

The Early Education of a Future Cantankerous Journalist: 7th grade English class papers from a 12 year old

By Nate Thayer

October 28, 2013

I recently moved several hundred boxes of books, papers, and various possessions I have acquired through my decidedly nomadic, itinerant life from a storage unit into the basement of my new flat. I have spent many hours in recent days discovering all sorts of treasures which have brought back many long forgotten memories.

Some of the most special forgotten treasures are from my childhood schooldays that my mother had the foresight to know might be meaningful to me someday, and she surreptitiously secreted away and tucked in boxes to keep safe and give me when I was old enough to know they would be meaningful.

I was a difficult child.

I went to 13 schools prior to graduating high school. Let’s just say I did not leave them all by my own choice. “Nate is very smart and finds academics easy and does well in class. He has a bright future if he would only apply himself. He lacks discipline and appears to have some serious problems with authority,” read one report home to my parents on how I was faring, prior to the school insisting it would be in all parties best interest if I did not return to that institution the following academic year.

That was when I was 14. That was the fifth school I had attended in 3 years.

I made it a point, if one is too appoint a very acrobatically creative narrative, to do original research in my youth of the entire spectrum of educational styles and institutions.I went to fundamentalist Christian missionary schools, private day schools, all boys boarding schools, coed private day schools, Christian coed blue-blood boarding schools, alternative open class room schools, and public high schools. That was prior to college.

Most of them were social penitentiaries for the reproduction of the ruling class.

They were a lot of boarding schools. Their purpose was to ensure one did not attempt to poison one’s mind with the misconception that you could think for yourself. By the time, if they were successful from preventing your escape and you were allowed out on parole to the public at large upon graduation, one was 18 or so, and sufficiently safe to be allowed to experience the real world without threat of diverging from the, by then,  quite effective brainwashing.

I went to 13 schools before I was released into the civilian population at 18.

I was required to wear a coat and tie. I was required to attend church daily.

There were a lot of rules. I broke most of them. For lesser infractions, one would be disciplined with “work hours” as penance and assigned a mundane task to perform as punishment, such as janitorial duties etc. At one school, I accrued 578 work hours—an historical school record which, I am guessing, still stands. That was so many punishment “work hours” that there was no hope I would ever be able to complete them prior to graduating, not that the latter chance was either likely or proved true. But I saw this as a plus and a relief, because it really didn’t matter how many more rule breaking infraction hours I accrued as a result. And, hence, how many more rules I broke in the future.

I am finding all sorts of stuff in these boxes of memories.

Yesterday, I found a box with my 7th grade English class school paper assignments, with the teacher’s comments and my responses to his comments.

It is dated October 28, 1972—41 years ago to the day from today.

I was 12 years old. That is 7th grade for the American school system. It was in an all boy’s Christian boarding school in Connecticut.

Every second was regimented. One of my jobs was to get up at 0600 each day and ring the tower school church bell to awake the entire student body sleeping in dormitories. We had exact times to file in for breakfast. Our bedrooms were inspected for cleanliness each day. Church. Class. Recreation, meals–every minute was regimented. All lights had to be out at bedtime—which was 9:30 PM. Everyone had to be up by 0600, showered, dressed in coat and tie, bed made and room clean for inspection by 0630.

An adult dormitory monitor who lived on the dormitory would inspect each room at precisely the assigned hour to make sure innumerable infractions were not violated.

I lasted exactly one semester at that penitentiary, at the age of 12, before the school and I parted company. In this case, I told them—which was not the usual scenario—that I was leaving.

A solemn meeting was held in the principal’s office where a school psychologist was brought in. The stern duo of headmaster and psychologist did their most somber, almost grave best to try and persuade me to stay.

I had, at the time, the highest grades of any student in the school. I remember, because they would post every student’s grades next to their names on a public bulletin board for all to see. What a horrible thing to do to a child, in retrospect, if one was not performing at their peak for whatever reason.

I remember the exact words of the psychologist that day sitting in the principal’s office when I, 12 years old and 4 feet 11 inches tall, informed them I was leaving their institution because I determined it was not in my interest to continue that relationship.

“If you leave this school, you will be a failure. You will never be a man. Men don’t give up.”

I didn’t like that man in 1972, and I don’t like that man today in 2013.

I suppose I was a contrarian then, which has its downside, i am well aware.

Here is an English paper assignment dated October 27, 1972—41 years ago to the day from when I found it in a box this morning.

It includes my original paper and the notes and comments of my teacher, as well as my responses to his comments on the quality of my writing, which I returned to him for review.

Nat Thayer

English 7-1

October 27, 1972

Teacher: Sir Andy Rutman

“Last summer while in North Carolina, I had a chance to go rock climbing. Now rock climbing is my favorite sport and I always jump at a chance to do it.

A party of eight of us went to a gorge in the middle of the Carolina wilderness where we knew were some good climbs. We practiced on many little climbs until we knew we were ready.

Early one morning we woke up, had a light breakfast, and hiked for about two miles down a very steep path. After about an hour we came upon a huge rock, 350 feet in the air. I could not believe my eyes! It looked like an endless wall bounding up into the clouds. I had no hope of going to the top of this mountain rock.

We got all our ropes ready and within fifteen minutes we had started to climb the rock. At 4:30 in the afternoon we were on the top of the rock eating lunch. I had climbed the rock! At times I was sure I was right on my first conclusion. But I had climbed it. I had done the impossible. I had done a “five dollar job”.

The teacher “Sir Andy Rutman” graded the paper a 95%. He commented at the bottom, in all capital letters: “VERY GOOD. BUT IN SOME PLACES YOU LEFT OUT WORDS, SO IT DID NOT MAKE SENSE. QUESTIONS?”

“Sir” Andy made several corrections and criticisms which I detail un-redacted below.

In the second paragraph, first sentence regarding the phrase “A party of eight of us went to a gorge….” Sir Andy circled the two words “of us” and wrote in the margin: “Not necessary.”

I wrote in the margin under his comment: “Yes it is and does make sense!!!”

In the last paragraph, fourth sentence, “I was sure I was right on my first conclusion” Sir Andy put a big question marked and circled it, indicating he didn’t know what I meant.

I scrawled in the margin next to his circled question mark: “Just what I said!”

I wrote, in a summary of my response to his grading conclusions and skills in the returned paper to him addressing his criticisms and comments: “Your corrections do not make sense. You just want to find something wrong.”

Forty-one years later to the day, this now 53 year-old sticks by my then 12-year old comments as correct.

I was a difficult, problem child, I suppose.

And, reasonable people argue,  I am a difficult adult man.

But I still loathe to this day my early English teachers who did their best to suck the life out of a young child’s imagination, in the stead of nurturing and encouraging it.

We won’t even begin to speak of my 9th grade English teacher who failed me for starting my sentences with the word “and”.

I have made a point of starting sentences with the word “and” in hundreds of stories I have published as an adult professional writer in the ensuing years, and I think of him and smile each time. Well, and say a quiet “fuck you”, to be honest.

“The ethics of not paying writers in exchange for ‘exposure’: A debate #paythewriter

14 Aug
Thanks to professor of journalism Kevin Lerner of Marist College for organizing a discussion on “The Ethics and Economics of Paying Writers with Exposure and a Byline” at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication held last week in Washington D.C.
A full transcript was made by Kevin Lerner and posted on his blog here: http://presscriticism.com/2013/08/14/free-lancing-the-ethics-and-economics-of-paying-writers-with-exposure-and-a-byline-an-aejmc-magazine-division-panel/
Some excerpts from Kevin Lerner’s blog are reproduced below.
AUGUST 14, 2013

FREE-lancing: The ethics and economics of paying writers with exposure and a byline, an AEJMC Magazine Division panel

Left to right: Kevin Lerner (Marist College), Matt Yglesias (Slate), Mike Madden (Washington City Paper), Kevin Stoker (Texas Tech University), Nate Thayer (Freelance Journalist); (photo by Elizabeth Hendrickson)

Left to right: Kevin Lerner (Marist College), Matt Yglesias (Slate), Mike Madden (Washington City Paper), Kevin Stoker (Texas Tech University), Nate Thayer (Freelance Journalist); (photo by Elizabeth Hendrickson)

On Friday, August 9, the Magazine Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication sponsored a panel to discuss the “ethics and economics” of unpaid freelancing. Is it OK, the panel asked, for editors to ask journalists to give them stories in exchange for “exposure”? Is there ever a time when a reporter might want to make that bargain?

The panel was inspired by the freelance journalist Nate Thayer, as I explain in my introductory remarks below. I also invited Slate’s business and economics correspondent Matthew Yglesias; the editor of City Paper, Washington’s alternative weekly newspaper Mike Madden; and Kevin Stoker, an administrator at Texas Tech University and a scholar of media ethics. I thank them for their permission to post this transcript of the panel, which was held at the AEJMC 2013 conference at the Renaissance Washington Midtown.

Panelists:

  • Matthew Yglesias, business and economics correspondent, Slate
  • Nate Thayer, freelance journalist
  • Kevin Stoker, Texas Tech
  • Mike Madden, Editor, Washington City Paper
  • Kevin Lerner, Marist College, moderator

Excerpts of transcript of August 9, 2013 panel discussion in Washington D.C. (For full transcript see http://presscriticism.com/2013/08/14/free-lancing-the-ethics-and-economics-of-paying-writers-with-exposure-and-a-byline-an-aejmc-magazine-division-panel/#comment-734)

Kevin Lerner: Hi everybody. The double room makes this look like a sparse turnout, but I’m hoping people will trickle in. My name is Kevin Lerner, from Marist College, and this is a sole-sponsored Magazine Division Professional Freedom & Responsibility panel called “FREE-lancing: the ethics and economics of paying writers—although the online schedule says “exposures,” which makes it sound like photography—and a byline. But I was not responsible for copyediting that. We’ve got a blockbuster panel here, and I’d like to start by introducing our panelists, who are all to my left. So, directly to my left, we have Matt Yglesias, business and economics correspondent for Slate. To his left, Mike Madden, who’s the editor of Washington City Paper, the alternative newsweekly. To his left, we have Kevin Stoker, an associate dean at Texas Tech and part of the Media Ethics Division here. And finally to his left, at the opposite end of the table from me, we have Nate Thayer, who is a freelance journalist.

So very quickly about where this panel came from. Some of you may know this story, and it all started with the man to my far left, Nate Thayer, who inspired this. So in early March of this year, Thayer had written a piece for NKNews.org, which is a North Korean specialist site, and North Korea is one of his specialities in reporting. He has over 25 years of reporting experience. He’s covered Cambodia, North Korea, Iraq. So an experienced freelance journalist, and he had written the piece for NK News. It had come to the attention of an editor at The Atlantic, and she contacted him and NK News and said, we’d like to rerun this piece, could you do a version of this for The Atlantic. And the piece was timely. You may remember when Dennis Rodman had been to North Korea. The article was about the history of “basketball diplomacy” in North Korea. And like any freelance journalist, he said yes, I would be happy to have the opportunity to have my piece on your site. And he asked the three questions that a freelance journalist wants answered: When is it due? How many words? And, How much are you going to pay me? And the answers came back: End of the week. 1200 words. And… We get 13 million viewers a month, but our freelance budget is gone, so I’m sorry, we’re not in a position to pay you.

And Nate put that up on his personal blog, the email exchange between him and the editor. And it took off. It hit MediaBistro and all of the usual media gossip sites and it created a discussion in the industry about what’s right and wrong about paying a writer. Is it ethical to “pay” just by saying you’re going to get 13 million people to see this? Is that OK? Is that something that a freelance writer might want to do? Is it different at the beginning of your career or the end of your career? When do you give your work for nothing?

So that’s the topic of this panel. I’ve asked the four panelists to have a little bit of an opening statement, to put their positions out there. Then I have a few questions. Then we’re going to open it up to you in the audience.

I’d like to actually ask Nate to start, since he started this whole thing, and maybe say a few words about the life of a freelance writer, since the post he put up was just called, very blandly, “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer, 2013.” Because it seems like half the time, a freelance writer is negotiating pay, and the rest of the time doing copyediting for corporations and public relations firms. So I’ll start with Nate. Just say a few words. I appreciate it.

Nate Thayer: Thanks, thanks for having me. Yeah, I should probably give a little bit of context to this, because believe me, I was as surprised as anybody else. I’m actually a Luddite; I’m a tech idiot, and I’ve been a journalist for 25 years. I was just saying to Kevin that you know, it was actually under two years ago before I actually even used a computer to research an article. I probably should have beforehand, but I just didn’t. My own personal focus in journalism is longer, investigative journalism, and much of my career has been spent overseas, much of it in countries where I didn’t even have electricity, or even less a telephone. And if you’re in the middle of nowhere, the fact is, the story doesn’t happen until you get back and file it, and it can be a couple weeks later. I have to say that I acknowledge that I really am an idiot and behind the times on some of this stuff. So in the context of that, I do realize fully that the future is in this amazing, wonderful, borderless world of free flow of information. I’m not that much of an idiot. I do have a blog. It automatically puts it on Twitter and on Facebook, and that’s about as complicated as I get.

Anyways, the actual reality was that this conversation I had with The Atlantic was in fact a very civil, normal conversation. I’ve had the same conversation with several hundred people over the last decade, and every freelance journalist has. It’s the norm.

I wasn’t actually pissed off. I was, you know, mildly annoyed enough to take the six-email exchange, cut and paste them, put a headline on it that said “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist.” I think I put one line at the top, another line at the bottom, and I pressed send on my irrelevant blog, which had less than 100 readers a day, mainly family and colleagues, and which I never promote, and I went to bed. I woke up in the morning and I had 25,000 emails in my inbox, and I had made at that time exactly four tweets in my life. So I looked and I saw that within hours there were 100,000 people who had read this thing. It was a kind of odd day. In fact it kind of fucked up my day, and I really had no idea what really was going on. But I did find it fascinating. And 80,000 of these people came from Twitter, and another 50,000 from Facebook, and it took on a life of its own. But in fact it really had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t exactly a brilliant piece, in fact I didn’t even write it—it was an email cut and paste exchange. But it clearly hit a chord. Clearly, because by the end of the day, I had 500,000 people. I actually did the calculation: it was a 33,973% increase from the traffic the day before. So something had happened. But I really should say that was the full extent with The Atlantic. It wasn’t David and Goliath. I didn’t have some fucking beef with The Atlantic. There was no Nate Thayer jihad against The Atlantic. That was the sum total of my communication with The Atlantic. I hadn’t talked to them since eight years before when the then-editor actually hired me to go on staff for a considerable amount more than 13 million viewers reading my stuff. In fact it was $125,000 a year for six articles and I could write for anyone else. So I think the context of it is that the world has changed, as I think any freelance journalist knows. And I really don’t know how… I still get over 100 readers a day to that article six months later. And I’ve gotten well over 200 personal emails from other writers, including six Pulitzer Prize winners who said The Atlantic has done the same goddamn thing to them, many of them in the same week. So the idea that this was a mistake and it wasn’t their policy? They’re really full of shit. That’s one reason it took off. Because you know, they certainly had a budget to hire a PR firm, which may be part of the problem, so that they could lie about what their policy was, and then really piss off journalists. Because if you really want to piss off journalists, lie to them.

Whatever happened, I still haven’t really wrapped my head around it. But it is interesting, and it certainly resonated with me and really almost with everybody else I know who’s worked as a freelance journalist. This happens all the time. The fact is we are now in this amazingly positive new world of borderless information, but no one’s figured out how to make any fucking money out of it. So, you know, until they come up with a viable business model—which someone will, soon, because there’s a demand for quality journalism, and it costs money. So someone’s got to figure out a way to make that happen, and they’re going to figure it out soon. I just hope they do it before I starve to death and get evicted. Which would be a plus. But it’s all really positive. But I think we’re in this abyss period between the combination of the downturn in the economy, the downturn in the metrics of the print publishing industry, and the rise of digital journalism has made it really really difficult to make a living as a journalist. And not just as a freelance journalist. I mean the fact is, and I’ll finish this off by saying, the one really true reality is that you really can’t believe anything you fucking read anymore. You can’t. You can’t believe it on the Net because they’ve fired all the editors, they’ve fired all the fact checkers, and really, the motivation is to get as many clicks and hits on your web site as you can, regardless, really, if it’s true. And obviously, I’m exaggerating for the point of debate, to a degree, but that’s really the larger reality. So to me it’s a really serious problem. Obviously, it’s a serious problem because it’s making it hard to make a living, which frankly, three or four years ago, it never even crossed my mind. I spent 30 years, I’ve been very lucky, I’ve done well. It never was an issue. I never wanted to get rich, but I could always pay my bills. Now, that’s just not the case. So that’s one thing on a personal level, but on the, other, more important level, is the effect it’s having on the institution of the free press and free society. The quality of journalism that’s coming out now is horrific. It’s unacceptable. And the reason is because it costs money to do it. And some people are under the misimpression that people are going to accept substandard quality journalism in the stead of real reporting, and I’m absolutely convinced that they’re wrong, and that sometime, relatively soon, someone’s going to figure out how to create a model where everyone can make money in order to produce a quality product. So on that positive, I’m also ten days late on my rent.

Lerner: Mike, could you take this from the point of view of an editor? You’ve worked as a freelancer…

Mike Madden: …..Although, I wanted to ask you [to Thayer] you were talking about the traffic you got on that blog post, and I know you prefaced that by saying you were a bit of a Luddite, but were you able to quickly set up a Google AdWords thing and you could have made some money off of the exchanges.

Thayer: I have not made a penny off it. I did not organize advertising. Although, since this whole thing, I have also looked more closely at how you can make money. And there are all kinds of ways out there. One organization I do work for is called NK News. We have the same problem everyone else does: we’re trying to figure out how to bring quality news on North Korea to people who have an unhealthy interest in North Korea. And we haven’t been able to figure it out. We’re losing money on it. But everyone’s trying, and I have not succeeded………

Yglesias: Absolutely, but I think that is in a lot of ways the most promising kind of free content that you get is along those lines. You go to someone who is at The Center for Global Development and you say—I mean a particular problem that we have is that there’s not a huge amount of audience interest in foreign affairs. But there isn’t zero interest. It’s not a toxic subject, but it’s not a killer for us the way the Dear Prudence advice column is. And at the same time, advertisers don’t love Dear Prudence’s weird questions about bestiality, and they also don’t love articles about depressing famines in North Korea. For similar reasons. So if you want to get coverage of these super sad, medium traffic subjects, it’s difficult to turn that into tons of revenue. But we want to do it because we believe in journalism, and we want to do it because there’s some audience there, and when you can find opportunities to get people—it might have been that in the days of yore, they would have been the sources for articles—if you can get them to be the authors of articles, then that’s a real advantage. That’s an advantage to the world. And I think what The Atlantic does, where they’re just kind of propositioning professionals, professional freelance writers who are established in their careers, it doesn’t make a ton of sense. I wonder how much success they have getting anyone to actually agree to that proposition. I think we try not to say things to people that are going to be insulting or ridiculous for them to do. That’s common sense. But I think that the sentiment that I sometimes hear from writers—that people shouldn’t be doing stuff for free—well, who’s talking to you for these articles? It’s people doing things for free.

Madden: Yeah. We don’t get a lot of rewrites for $25 or $50.

Lerner: Is that different than writing for free?

Madden: It’s not that different, no.

Thayer: It is different. It’s fundamentally different, and I think it goes back to what several people were saying. To me, anyways, it’s the fundamental problem of for-profit media companies as a central business strategy eliminating paying the producer of the product which they sell so that they can increase their fucking profit margin. That’s really what it is. I write for free all the time. I’ve written for free for 30 years. I’ve written probably 1000 articles for free. Because, for whatever circumstances, for non-profits, or people where I’m interested in the issue. My blog is for free. I use Facebook copiously as a professional tool. That’s all for free. I don’t have any objection to writing for free. And depending on your circumstances, it’s true for a lot of people.

There’s a couple things that have struck me here. Slate still owes me $3000 for going to Iraq, for which they’ve never paid me, three years ago. Now this is not something new for any journalist anywhere. It happens to everybody. This idea of user-generated content, which I don’t know exactly what that means. There’s probably a more direct way of putting it. But the fact is that that, and the issue of, ok, people do work because they are going to be quoted or contributed to the article, I don’t buy that at all. They’re interested parties. Our job as a journalist is basically, I’ve spent most of my life sitting in a hotel room, waiting for someone to come down and lie to me. And that happens all the time in various degrees for all the information you get. And your job is to sift through it and come through with something that’s as close to what’s accurate and balanced and in the public interest as you can. One of the things that really bothers me about the new business model is that sure, there are people who will write for free. But most of them have institutional support. They have real jobs. They’re academics, they’re scholars, they have people who pay their rent, who pay for the bills to live. So they’re not actually journalists. They’re trying to sell a book. I mean I was a scholar in residence at Johns Hopkins at SAIS down the street here for a year. They gave me a full salary to sit in my office and think.

Madden: But you were still a journalist when you were doing that. You weren’t not actually a journalist just because you had some other way of paying your bills.

Thayer: No, I took a year off from my paid job with the Far Eastern Economic Review because I got kicked out of the country I was working in, and I needed some place to go, and they gave me this scholar in residence thing. And the thing that struck me was that all of these academics, if they could get quoted in the newspaper, that was really big for their resume. Or if they could even publish an article, that was really big. Now it’s standard but it’s being couched as legitimate news. It’s not legitimate news. They are an interested party, often, in the subject matter. And so I object to that being a substitute for legitimate, quality journalism. I read the stuff all the time. I find it interesting; it’s interesting source material. But I know that they’re not the internal standards of a news operation that has the whole sausage-making process that makes sure that when I send something in, it has to go through a very rigorous process to make sure that by the time it gets to print it’s not biased, it’s properly sourced, it’s corroborated, it’s accurate and so on and so forth. And that’s missing in so much, including the brand name former journalism outfits. There’s so much pressure to get everything out there quickly and to get page hits that the idea of quality news has taken a serious back seat, and that makes me very very uncomfortable, and I don’t think it’s a substitute for quality news.

And actually, on our panel here, both Slate and the City Paper, which I’m a big fan particularly of—I’d be a bigger fan of Slate if they’d pay me the money they’ve owed me for ten goddamned years—

Yglesias: That seems fair.

Thayer: But the City Paper is an excellent paper, and the fact that they each pay something means that what we do for a living is worthy, and I believe, I will go to my grave knowing that what we do for a living is not only worthy, it’s vital to a free society and it needs to be defended, and it costs money to produce, and someone’s got to figure out a way to do it. The fact is that people who own these publications—and they have to be private businesses; they can’t be government, otherwise we’d be Pravda, right—they really don’t care whether they’re selling toothpaste or news to free people. If they make more money on toothpaste, they’ll sell toothpaste. So I think the question everyone agrees with here is that someone’s got to come up with a way to first recognize the value of quality news, see that we’re not getting it now, and figure out a way to make money in the process so that we’re able to have it.

……..Thayer: You [Yglesias] mentioned an analogy earlier that people don’t want to read about bestiality, but in fact, I bet you, if the City Paper, which runs a wonderful column which often focuses on bestiality…

Madden: Oh, people love reading about bestiality.

Yglesias: No, I’m saying that advertisers don’t want to be on that page.

Thayer: I’m saying that the page right next to that probably has a higher advertising rate.

Yglesias: No, no…

Madden: It does, but only among a restricted pool of advertisers.

Yglesias: Chrysler doesn’t like bestiality………..

Audience question: Someone mentioned musicians. I’m with a group of harpists, and someone will say, “Oh, play for my wedding, you’ll get tons of exposure.” Well, you can die of exposure, too. But yeah, they feel this just as strongly, always being asked to do stuff for free.

Madden: That’s a particularly nervy pitch. How many people at their wedding are going to be in need of another harpist?

Audience: Exactly. And somebody mentioned before about profits, and it’s really true. These people are making obscene profits. I was at an organization where the top people were making $200,000–$300,000 salaries a year, and we were lucky to be squeezing $50,000 a year, which is not much in D.C. And if you look at a place like HuffPost, Arianna is just raking in the millions. So does anybody have an answer for—Huffington Post is a great example: they’re rich, they’re oozing money. There’s staff in New York, and you know they’re not there for free. But they won’t pay…

Thayer: I have an answer: Don’t fucking write for them. Arianna Huffington’s entire business model is based on not paying the people who produce their product, so that they can make money. She just sold her company for $317 million, based all on people’s writing. When the Atlantic article came out, I was kind of impressed by their hubris, they called me up and asked me to come onto the Huffington Post TV station and talk about this issue. And I said, “I’d be happy to, but you’d be under a profound delusion if you expect me not to bring up the fact that the Huffington Post is the poster child of this whole problem. And make sure that your bosses are aware of that.” And I got a call back about an hour later, disinviting me……

Thayer: But they also have what is a fundamental problem: most of their stuff is people who have an agenda, a political agenda, a financial agenda. And it’s being couched and presented as news. It’s not……

Thayer: Actually, for The Atlantic, and I actually do know this because I have literally gotten several thousand personal communications from people. The Atlantic policy is not to pay people. You know the line they said, “We’re out of a freelance budget, but we have 13 million readers”? I have exactly 412 emails from people who told me the exact same quote, verbatim. So it’s not a matter of them being out. So that’s an Atlantic policy. I think it’s part of their business plan—because it works. And I don’t hold it against them because their job is to increase their profit margin. That’s what they do, and if they can get that product and they think that readers will be satisfied with it.

But I think there’s a Ponzi game going on around this, that people are under the delusion that they’re actually getting the same quality news that they were getting prior to this wonderful, positive transformation that we still haven’t figured out how it’s going to work out. That they’re still getting the same quality news that the brand names produced before we entered this period. That’s just not true. It’s not true with TheAtlantic.com and what you get in print. It’s not true with the WashingtonPost.com and what you get in the Washington Post, and they’re saying that it is, that they’re using the same internal standards. And I think that part of that—to address your question—I used to work for Dow Jones, which owned The Wall Street Journal and the magazine that I worked for, called the Far Eastern Economic Review, and most of their people went over to Reuters, and a similar thing is happening with Bloomberg. And what they’re buying is people with a name. And I was approached by several people several years ago where they wanted to pay me more money than I needed or probably deserved because they thought that I had a name. The bigger thing that that translates into, and that’s really a big shift, which makes me uncomfortable with being trained—and I did not go to journalism school either, I started out with the Associated Press for several years and a number of other publications—and it makes me very uncomfortable to market myself. I’ve now kind of gotten over that, because that’s really where we’re going, where people have to individually market themselves in order to make a living. But what a lot of these companies are doing is that they’re putting the bulk of their money, and offering big salaries—and Reuters did this when they had the big turnover a couple years ago—they hired away all kinds of big name people for ridiculous salaries. And the journeyman workers at Reuters, who actually do very well because they have a very good union, get paid considerably less. So a big part of this money is going into the trend of people promoting themselves or where they think when people read the news, they look at who it is that’s writing the article—as opposed to what it used to be, and I’m more comfortable with, which is that when I pick up The New York Times, I know that there is an internal process, which means that whatever shows up in that paper has a degree of credibility. That’s why I buy that as opposed to, say, The Washington Times, or the National Enquirer. I know what I’m getting when I read it. And now I don’t know. And on the web you do not know what you’re getting at all. And in fact, a lot of what they say you’re getting, you’re really not getting at all. Because there is no vetting. There is no more internal sausage-making process.

I have a friend who is a Washington correspondent for a major news chain, who now pushes the send button when he’s sitting in Congress, covering a hearing. It doesn’t even go through an editor. That’s how much pressure there is to get stuff out quickly and what falls victim to that is the quality of news……….

Thayer: The Atlantic policy is—they’re actually on the record because they put out a press release after my ridiculous little post on my irrelevant little blog, saying that they do pay people and that this was a mistake by a new employee, and so on. That’s just not true. They don’t pay people. But what they do say is that what you read on The Atlantic, you can believe based on the credibility—and The Atlantic’s a wonderful magazine. I have no beef with The Atlantic. It’s a systemic problem. And certainly this poor woman, Olga—and I feel really bad because God knows what grief she got for this—she was just doing her job. But The Atlantic promotes itself as, when you read The Atlantic, you know what you’re getting based on their very high internal quality standards. My point is, in this new digital age, that’s all a lie. You don’t get that. The other transition period that we’re in is that people still believe that when you read The Washington Post online, or The Atlantic online, they’re getting the same thing that they got beforehand. And that’s just not true.

For the full transcript of the discussion with thoughtful, good arguments and points of view by Slate’s business and economics correspondent Matthew Yglesias; the editor of City Paper, Washington’s alternative weekly newspaper Mike Madden; Kevin Stoker, of Texas Tech University and a scholar of media ethics; Kevin Lerner, professor of journalism at Marist college; and excellent questions from an audience of journalism of scholars and academics, please go to Kevin Lerner’s excellent blog here: http://presscriticism.com/2013/08/14/free-lancing-the-ethics-and-economics-of-paying-writers-with-exposure-and-a-byline-an-aejmc-magazine-division-panel/#comment-734

The check is rarely in the mail: The dark side of freelance journalists trying to get paid for their work

6 Aug

The check is rarely in the mail: The dark side of freelance journalists trying to get paid for their work

By Nate Thayer

August 6, 2013

There is only one thing more frustrating to freelance journalists than being asked by for profit companies to work for free.

That is being forced to spend months fighting, arguing, begging, threatening, cajoling, and renegotiating to, if you are lucky, actually get paid a portion of the compensation you were promised for the work you have already done.

Every freelance journalist, photographer, musician and creative artist on the planet knows exactly this scenario–how unethical, debilitating, frustrating, and sometimes humiliating this, routinely, is part of the everyday cadence of freelancers who make a living practicing their craft.

Here is a portion of the latest example of my being forced to divert my attention today from writing for a living to trying to get paid for that work already performed that has taken up much of my last few weeks.

Most every freelance journalist, and creative artist, will immediately recognize, and is all too familiar with the depressing, common scenario.

For much of May June and July, I was solicited and commissioned by a major Hong Kong based company which promotes Chinese direct investment in the U.S. economy, to write articles, copy edit, and provide other professional consultancy work to help them write a news letter, corporate brochures, and other English language documents.

For freelance news journalists, such work is often drudgery, and slightly demeaning, but necessary to supplement the dwindling opportunities to make a living as a journalist in these profoundly changing times for a free press in free societies.

The Hong Kong company has, to date, despite scores of attempts on my part, not paid a single dollar for these months of work.

Today, I received an email from them, after no response to increasingly strident messages from me since early July, saying they had no intention of paying me–at all–for the professional services they initiated, commissioned me for, and that I provided them.

It is, unfortunately, not an uncommon scenario faced by freelancers everywhere.

from:     XXXXXX<xxx.xxxx@xxxxxx.com>

to:          Nate Thayer <thayernate0007@gmail.com>

cc:          xxxxxx.xxxxxx@xxxxx.xxxx>

date:      Tue, Aug 6, 2013 at 10:24 AM

subject: Response to second payment request

10:24 AM (3 hours ago)

Hello Nate,

Per your earlier request about $5980, I have discussed with xxx and here is our response.

You and I have agreed orally to work on the newsletter as a project and you have agreed to provide us with a compensation proposal during our first meeting in Caribou cafe on June 25th. However, you have failed to present us with that proposal. And the project didn’t yield much result because what you wrote was not usable for us. So I am afraid that we can’t pay you what you are asking for.

We appreciate your work and it’s regrettable that it didn’t work out well. I wish you best of luck with your career in the future.

Best,

xxxxxxxx

Communication Director

My Response:

Dear XXXX,

I think you must have sent me a message you intended for someone else, so I wanted to alert you so you could correct your error and direct it to the proper recipient.

This would save XXXXXX the embarrassment of being accused of being guilty of the most transparent, egregious, immoral, unethical and illegal business practices that are readily provable and evidenced by the mountain of documents from yourself and XXXXXX CEO XXXXXX to me soliciting my work, congratulating me on its quality, and repeatedly soliciting more work, which you acknowledged, approved and thanked me for, in writing, throughout June and July 2013.

There is an off chance that you actually didn’t push the wrong send button, and you actually seriously meant to tell me that you don’t intend to pay me for the 62 hours of work (which was an extremely generous and conservative invoice of my time and efforts made on your behalf in June and July, taking into account that you repeatedly missed deadlines, changed your requests, asked me to standby for urgent deadline work requests which then didn’t materialize, and other bumps and starts which I attributed to your lack of experience or knowledge of the production requirements of putting out a quality newsletter).

This is work you solicited and I performed at the request of you and XXXXXX CEO XXXXXXX that you are now in default in paying me the $5890.00 you owe.

If by some unfathomable chance you have taken leave of your sanity, and you actually intended to say that XXXXX, after contacting me and securing my professional services 2 months ago, in which the physical records of  several hundred exchanges of emails, documents, text messages, Skype conversations, phone calls, conference calls between you, I , and XXXXX CEO XXXXX in Hong Kong, and personnel meetings, all of which document with indisputable clarity me having provided those professional services at your request and the request of XXXXX CEO XXXXX to XXXXXX during that period and are in my possession, that XXXXXXXX does not owe me compensation and payment of $5890.00 for providing my services, please clarify to me why the fuck not, promptly.

Two months after I began working for you, in which you have repeatedly delayed living up to your singular end of the deal—to pay me for my fucking work—you are now seriously contending that I didn’t work for you and you didn’t use my services at your request and initiation and are refusing to pay me?

Really?

As a matter of advice, it might be in your much better interest to rethink that strategy in your rather bizarre attempt to renege on having to live up to your promises and obligations to pay for the services you solicited, contracted, and received.

Here are some random samples of scores of quotes from your own messages to me that obviously shows that your suggestion that you did not agree to pay me or use my work you contracted me to perform for XXXXX, is ludicrous.

By my rough count, there were approximately 327 exchanges of emails, text messages, Skype conversations, Dropbox documents, phone calls, conference calls, and personal meetings in June and July between you, I, and XXXXXX CEO XXXXXXX.

From XXXXXX CEO XXXXXXXX to me on June 30:

On Sun, Jun 30, 2013 at 11:45 PM,  XXXXXX  wrote:

Nate

Thanks for your notes, these are my feedback, I have not talked with Min, but wanted to send this to you first, let’s discuss and get this moving.

Thanks

XXXXXXX

President & CEO

XXXXXXXX

From XXXXXXX to me and XXXXX CEO XXXXXXXXX July 1:

Hello Nate,

The newsletter outline is right on track. We have some comments to share with you. Please see the attachment. Please let us know if you have any questions.

Best,

XXXXXXXX

Communication Director

XXXXXXXXX

From me to XXXXXXX Chairman XXXXXX and Communications Director XXXXXX July 1:

XXXXXX:

See my comments highlighted in yellow below.

I thought the comments and suggestions were all spot on, useful, and good.

Cheers,

Nate

From XXXXXX to me July 1:

Hello Nate,

please find the attachment with our comments in red underline. We are riding on a good momentum here, please let us know your plan going forward.

Good luck with moving today!

XXXXXX

Communication Director

XXXXXXXX

From XXXXXX CEO XXXXXX July 1:

date:      Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 12:28 AM

subject: Re: Thanks for your notes

Hi Nate,

thank you, this is exciting to find a passionate, professional writer we can rely on.

July 2 email from XXXXXX to me:

Hello Nate,

We have drafted a Newsletter table of content, which includes the three articles that you are working on and also another 12 articles which we found “fit to print”. All of them need to be worked out this week. Next to you, XXXXX and myself will take up some writing. I just sent an email to our team for TOC comments and inputs. Here I am sharing with you.

Best,

XXXXXX

Communication Director

XXXXXX

XXXXXX Newsletter Table of Content for Your Comments

Dear colleagues,

We are redesigning the XXXXX newsletter. The newsletter will demonstrate our mission in building bridges between US and China, inform the readers about XXXXX developments and create a platform for XXXXX partners, XXXXX communities and XXXXX past events participants to contribute to XXXXX mission. The newsletter will have print and online edition and will contain texts, photos and videos.

Since the last time some of you saw the newsletter index, we have made quite some changes and renamed it as Table of Contents. Please take a look at the latest XXXXXXX Newsletter Table of Contents ( TOC) and share with me your comments.  This TOC is designed primarily for the English newsletter, although we plan to let the Chinese newsletter to keep most of these items if not all.

Each numerical item represent a section and an article. Articles will generally be between 300 – 600 words, with one or multiple photos. We have set up 15 sections, which roughly doubles what we used to publish. Even though XXXXX, Nate ( outsourced writer ) and myself will take up majority of the writing, there are five articles that currently don’t have author. I highlighted them in yellow and if you are interested to produce any of these articles, please send an email to me.

Because we are working on a tight schedule, I’d like to ask you to please provide your comments before July 3rd, 6 pm EST.

Thank you!

From a July 8 email to me from XXXXX on XXXXXX official email:

Hello Nate,

Thank you for submitting the three articles. They are well developed, only need some minor adjustment, which we will mark out tonight. The newsletter is moving quickly. We plan to publish it this Friday. I have a translated article that needs some copy editing. I will send it to you in a separate email in an hour or so. I can see that you have put in a lot of effort, and I hope we can find a time to have coffee and recap after the dusts are settled.”

Or another message from XXXXX to me on July 8:

“Hello again,

I am sending you the short article that need some copy editing. This one can be worked out after you finish with article 2 and 3 revision. It’s a straight forward article, just need to smooth out and make it read like a 1st tier professional English news media article.”

Email to me from XXXXXX from July 11:

Hello Nate,

We are entering the final stages in the newsletter production. Let me give you an update since yesterday.

1. XXXXX approved all the section names and the article 2-4 packaging change.

2. Two more article folders are ready for copy editing. My colleagues sent me stories for article 7 and 8.

So for today, could you first finish the final copy editing for articles 7-15? Some of these are short articles. To purpose is to smooth the language, final round check. Some of the articles are already copy edited by you, such as # 9, 10, 12. Some are functional pieces, such as # 8, 11. For these kind, little changes maybe needed, but I still hope you simply go over them to approve the language for the last round.

For this kind of editing, because no big changes are needed, so there is no need for you to turn on track changes. If you want to show me places that you are unclear about or need me to look at afterwards, please highlight them in yellow.

Can you get this done before 5 pm today? And please send them in one by one as you finish copy editing.

After that, can you add a forth paragraph to dropbox article 2 to summarize what to be expect in the following three articles ?

XXXXXXX

Communication Director

XXXXXXX

There are dozens more, but I think you get the point.

I know you are young, inexperienced, and new to my country, and I know these kinds of unethical business practices are routine in your home country of the People’s Republic of China, so here is a bit of unsolicited advice to avoid unnecessary headaches for you as you start your budding career doing business in the properly organized world: Pay your fucking bills; pay them on time; don’t try and steal other people’s work; and live up to your promises.

One’s reputation as a person and a business of honor and integrity is important in a business environment driven by the rule of law and ethical conduct.

Given XXXXXXX singular mandate, using the company slogan “Building Trust, Creating Jobs”, is to promote Chinese direct investment in the United States by easing concerns among Americans and economic development officials that such investment will not be tainted by China’s well-earned reputation of using dubious business practices to make a fast buck and undermine the interests of those it is conducting business with, the irony of XXXXXX refusing to pay a contracted employee (that would be me) for services XXXXXX solicited, is a more than a tad ripe.

Please let me know if perhaps you have misspoken and let me know sometime in the next three hours.

On a positive note, I do think that your particularly stark attempt to refuse to live up to your legal and ethical responsibilities by trying to wangle out of paying for the services you solicited, contracted, and received, does make for a perfect case study of what thousands of freelance journalists and other producers of creative products face daily and are all too familiar with.

On a more negative note, for you in any case, I assure you, have fucked with the wrong person.

If you are under the delusion that you will not very much regret not having the $5890.00 in my bank account by the end of the business day Wednesday, August 7, you would be mistaken.

With all sincerity,

Nate Thayer

Within two hours of me sending this email, the Chinese company communication director rang me on the phone, attempting to argue they had no legal obligation to pay me anything.

“Let me be clear here. Fuck you! You either have $5890.00 wired and in my my account by the close of business day Wednesday August 7, or you will, I assure you, regret you were ever under the profound miss-impression that retaining my professional services could be had without living up to your end of the pretty simple arrangement—pay me my fucking money! This is not a matter of discussion, little less negotiation.”

She then offered me $1500.00

“Fuck you! You will pay the $5890.00 you owe me and a wire transfer in my bank account with that $5980.00 by the close of business Wednesday, August 7.”

“I will let you know our decision,” she said before I hung up the phone.

3 minutes later, my phone rang. It was the company CEO from Hong Kong. The conversation was civil and polite and clear. He agreed to send the money owed me by wire transfer immediately, today Hong Kong time.

But it took 3 weeks of dozens of increasingly acrimonious messages exchanged, a considerable amount of angst, and an entirely unnecessary and distracting amount of effort to simply get paid what had been agreed long ago was the amount owed me.

I estimate I spend 40% of my time negotiating payment and then trying to get those who commissioned my writing and agreed to compensate me for it to live up to their agreement to do so.

It is hard enough to make a living as a freelance journalist these days, but it is made infinitely more difficult by those who commission one’s work, invariably under the pressure of tight deadlines, and then give no priority to living up to their side of the agreement to fairly compensate you.

I detest it. And I, for one, am fed up with it.

Within hours of receiving my above message, the $5890.00 was transferred by wire to my bank account.

Another unpleasant day distracted from focusing on the only thing I do know what to do—write.

Canadian Sex Advice Columnist Weighs in on Atlantic Kerfuffle Over Pay the Writer

3 Jun

Prominent Canadian Sex Advice Columnist and Very, Very Good Bad Girl Weighs in on Atlantic Kerfuffle Over Pay the Writer

 By Nate Thayer

June 2, 2013

Yesterday I received a very supportive message from an esteemed colleague in the international press corps, which was deeply appreciated.

In addition to being a renowned, nationally syndicated Canadian sex advice columnist, Alex Tigchelaar has been a stripper, sex worker, playwright, performance artist and an all-around very, very good very bad girl.

She made me smile.

Alex Tigchelaar wrote in support of the lingering, only slightly muted, kerfuffle over writers being paid for their work which was sparked by a recent exchange I had with the Atlantic magazine which sought to engage my professional services with the caveat that I agree they did not have to pay me for them.

As a professional colleague, Alex took strong offense to this arrangement and wrote me to say just that.

Dear Nate,

Thank you for giving me something to reference/talk to people about when they are surprised to see me, a formerly syndicated columnist, standing behind the bar at Sweaty Betty’s or mopping the floor at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

I say, “Read Nate Thayer’s piece on the state of journalism. If he’s being asked to write for free we’re all fucked.”

On the upside it’s been nice talking to people about what a positive impact my work had on them.

As you probably know yourself, you usually only hear from people who want to kill you when you are actively writing.

Thanks Nate, for your dignified outrage.

If you are in Toronto please stop by Sweaty Betty’s. Drinks are on me if I’m behind the bar.

I also bartend at a transsexual strip club.

Not sure if that’s more up your alley but if it is, again, drinks on me.

Your pal and longtime fan,

Alex

My colleague journalist, sex worker, and Renaissance woman Alex Tigchelaar

My colleague journalist, sex worker, and Renaissance woman Alex Tigchelaar

Buddies in Bad Times is a theatre company dedicated to the promotion of Queer Canadian Culture, voted Toronto’s Best Small Theatre Company in 2012, and “dedicated to the nurturing, protection, and celebration of queer culture.”

Alex is clearly an advocate of the Queer community, but maintains cynical distance of blind support for what appears to be just about anything—an essential trait of good journalism. “Homos and hookers go together like peanut butter and jam—sometimes anyway. I could do without some of this current crop of queer, The Revolution Starts Up My Ass hookers.”

Sweaty Betty’s is a storied Toronto dive bar where “the tortured literati rendezvous nightly”, a “small, bordello-inspired den” located across the street from one of Toronto’s oldest mental institutions.

“In a city of infused vodkas and creative cocktails, Betty’s refuses to mix anything with more than three ingredients, “said a review in Lonely Planet of Sweaty Betty’s. “ This no-nonsense approach pares a night out at the bar to the essentials: having a good time and chatting people up.”

Betty’s sounds like my kind of establishment and Alex my kind of barkeep.

The only negative comment I found on Sweaty Betty’s was an online review from ‘Mellisa’, who objected to “one of the male bartenders stole my friend’s hat from off the bar where she put it down for a moment. She phoned them the next day and asked if they had found it, they said no. Then, the next time she went, she saw the guy WEARING her hat.” But even Mellisa said “I do like the location, décor and ambiance of Sweaty Betty’s — but I can only put up with the people if I’ve already been drinking. And drinking a LOT.”

Sign at Toronto bar Sweaty Betty's

Sign at Toronto bar Sweaty Betty’s

Alex did not identify the transsexual strip club where she bartends, but I am confident I can get the directions from her next time I am in Toronto where I will be sure to drop by Sweaty Betty’s to quench my considerable thirst for people with minds like Alex Tigchelaar.

Former journalist and Sweaty Betty’s barkeep, Alexandra Tigchelaar, from whom I have a standing invitation for drinks on the house, is indeed a formerly nationally syndicated columnist in Canada–author of the weekly sex advice Montreal Mirror’s column Love Bites from 1999 to 2009. Her work as a journalist has been widely praised as insightful, witty, powerful, and honest.

But, in addition, Alex has an impressive resume which includes neo-Burlesque performer, stripper, artist, playwright, sex worker, actor, author, and journalist who sometimes writes under the pen name Sasha Van Bon Bon.

<iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/20803154&#8243; width=”500″ height=”299″ frameborder=”0″ webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen>

MothUP Toronto IX – LOVE & SEX – Sasha (Alex Tigchelaar) – “Feature Dancer” from MothUP Toronto on Vimeo.

Alex was co-creator of The Scandelles, a Toronto male-female burlesque cabaret troupe, since renamed Operation Snatch. She is also the curator of cabaret Dirty Plotz, which is about the “Politics of Pussy”.

She studied creative writing and English literature at Concordia University but her art is mostly a product of working in Montreal and Toronto’s strip clubs, where she found her talented, unorthodox creative voice.

A nationally syndicated sex columnist since 1994, she has written about sexuality for numerous publications, and is co-author of a short porn film called Give Piece of Ass a Chance (which screened at over 20 international film festivals), has penned an erotic comic for Eros Comics called Beatrix Dominatrix, hosted erotic events, and performed as a go-go dancer on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s 60th anniversary televised show.

alex2

“As a cabaret theatre artist I explore the space of Revered/Reviled.  I know this space very well.  This is a space of divine creation but it is one that is often foisted upon a person – it’s not entered willingly.  Learning to live in it with grace and resourcefulness is difficult.  It can make a woman fucking crazy,” Alex said in a 2012 interview.

“In Dirty Plötz, we are, quite literally, examining the Sacred and Profane Hole,” she said in another interview.  ‘Plotte’ is French-Canadian slang for pussy.  In addition, the title of the piece “Dirty Plotz” is a play on the 1990’s comic Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet.

“Doucet was, in her words, interested in ‘sex, violence, menstruation and male/female issues’, and so am I. Big time,” said Alex in the Canadian interview.

Since not only did I appreciate her thoughtful words of support to me as a colleague, but we shared similar interests, I promptly wrote a thank you note to Alex.

Dear Alex:

Out of the considerable hundreds, at least, of friendly incoming missives I have received regarding that story, yours is, by far, my favorite to date.

Thanks for the grin inducing, thoughtful, kind words,

If the bastards ever do force me off my perch, I had always thought that my only alternative employment possibilities for which I might be qualified would be working third shift at some urban 7/11.

Now I know there is at least some hope for a better alternative if such an unspeakable scenario materializes.

Good on ya. And thanks again. Keep up the great work.

Your pal and new fan,

Nate

“I don’t understand why the job is illegal—there’s just something about that that drives me fucking mental,” said Alex in another 2012 interview on the rights of sex workers. “I cannot, for the purposes of supporting myself, use my own body to do that? Sure, I can go and become a construction worker, or a  lawyer and I can use my body and my brain to generate income—often, in those cases, fairly unethically—but I cannot use my body to generate my own income? What the fuck is wrong with that picture?” said the sex worker, activist, journalist and performer.

To me, Alex Tigchelaar seamlessly integrates the essential purpose of free speech among free people in free societies and the role of a free press.

“I mean yes, putting a bunch of woman of different sizes and gender presentation on stage, that’s minimally revolutionary, but let’s get those people telling their stories,” she said. “Seeing a woman of size or a transsexual performing, that’s just one thing, but now that we have the opportunity, let’s go deeper than that. We got on stage taking our clothes off, and then we opened our mouths.”

Alex succinctly summed up her multi-talented body of work. “Underneath all of those personalities and people is the truth, which is: ‘It’s my body, I have agency over it—not you.’”

I would add only that it is Alex’s mind, as well, which she has demanded equal agency over.

“What I’ve realized is that people become quite angry when they’re faced with these stories, they’re much happier listening to the stories of women being victimized,” she said.

Speaking of sex workers, Alex says “our stories are often trivialized through the lens of shame and criminality. When we talk about kept women, we act as though these women were the only ones who were kept when this was and continues to be the reality for so many women—as though a wife, sister, or servant wasn’t or isn’t kept, and often with much more rigid terms. I contest the concept of “kept” when it comes to sex workers anyway. It’s far more complex than that. I’m also tired of people saying, ‘No girl dreams of being a stripper.’ Seriously, speak for yourself.”

female burlesque cabaret troupe, Operation Snatch performing in Dirty Plotz, which is about the “Politics of Pussy”

female burlesque cabaret troupe, Operation Snatch performing in Dirty Plotz, which is about the “Politics of Pussy”

After a cursory peak at Alex’s impressive life, I asked her for permission to quote from her private correspondence to me.

Hi Alex:

I wanted to post your kind note on my blog and FB private page, and wanted to make sure you had no objections to identifying you as the author. If you do, no worries, just give me a shout.

The message remains much appreciated. Is journalism a great fucking job or what? Not the least for putting me in the mix of people like yourself.

Best,

Nate

She responded:

Nate,

My only objection would be to referring to XXXX as XXXXX, for fear of alerting the moral authorities to its true nature and putting my hard working colleagues at risk for arrest. We are still in a fairly grey legal area in Canada. If you could refer to XXXX as XXXX, that would be very appreciated.

Alex

I replied:

Hi Alex:

Will do.

That was exactly the reason I wanted to double check. It dawned on me that Canada has been going through some legal acrobats over these laws in the last couple years, right up until recent weeks, if I am not mistaken.

The last thing I want to do is get you or your colleagues locked up. Quite the contrary, I think we would agree our shared mission is to keep people free, despite the quite alarming knucklehead factor which appears to be metastasizing against that trend and these efforts.

I will make the suggested adjustments.

Stay in touch.

Best,

Nate

Alex responded:

Nate,

Thank you! Yes, that knucklehead factor is more alarming than you can imagine.

If you can believe it, a half dozen organizations with open religious affiliations have been granted intervener status in the Supreme Court hearing on June 13th while 5 supportive, non-abolitionist and sex worker run sex work organizations  have been denied intervener status. (And here is the kicker quote of the year) I am thrilled that people who believe that the end of days will be heralded by a whore on a multi-headed beast will be permitted to object to a woman’s right to make money using her body (well, a certain part of it at any rate) over my sensible and experienced colleagues.

Alex

With that final message, and that brilliant final sentence, I formally have included Alex to my fictional “12 people in history you would invite to a dinner party” guest list.

I think I will sit Alex on my right, next to Jesus.

With Pol Pot, directly across from her, who will be seated next to the Pope, who will be allowed to be accompanied by one, handsome, young male attendant.

Ronald Reagan would be in the mix. With Beethoven tinkling the ivories in the background and Sid Viscous on vocals.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson would be in attendance along with Sir Winston Churchill and Christopher Hitchens. There are a couple remaining slots still open.

And, Alex, if you choose to attend, the drinks are on me.

Your pal and new fan, Nate

Memories of a Good and Great Man: Father Pierre Ceyrac

4 May

Memories of a Great and Good Man: Father Pierre Ceyrac

By Nate Thayer

May 2013

Amongst my myriad of youthful memories, I recall with a satisfied sense of quiet joy having spent some weeks getting to know two delightful, charming, adventurous and beautiful young French gals in the remote town of Aranyaprathet, Thailand, a deceptively sleepy border hub that was the covert control room of a raging war that brought both unspeakable misery and promised a long demanded and denied justice to millions of Cambodians.

The two women and I recently reconnected and, like I suspect is true for many thousands of others whose heart and soul Pierre improved so profoundly, our conversation quickly focused on Father Pierre Ceyrac, a good and great man.

Father Pierre gave—and still gives—me faith and hope.  

While the two women, Olivia Guerbet and Isabelle Viellard, bring back very fond memories indeed, this story is about him—Father Pierre Ceyrac who died one year ago this month.

Father Pierre and Isabelle may 2012

Father Pierre and Isabelle may 2012

Olivia:

Hello Nate ! what a nice surprise to have your email!

I was so happy remembering all those borders events!

One year ago I had the chance to visit Father Pierre (Ceyrac) with Isabelle just before he died and all the border memories came back to our minds; Those years are forever written in our hearts.

I wanted also to thank you after all these years for all the dreams you gave me.

Now I’m married with 4 children but my life is still full of the joy and the richness of those years in Aranyaprathet.

Do you know that Jean and Stephanie got married?

I wanted to thank you and Gary (Knight) for your friendship. I remember how welcoming you were each time we met you at Ploen’s (restaurant). 

The first time you saw us , you thought we were from SIPA and Gary told us later  that you  were very surprised that they had sent 4 journalists to the border; Something must have been happening , but usually you were the first to know…and then you realized it was SIPAR; only French teachers…no scoops…

But you had always been very nice.

I remember that Father Pierre was very admiring of you, Nate.

Well happy birthday with some days late

Me:

Dear Olivia:

So good to hear from you and the fond memories you and Isabelle both bring back to me from those times in Aranyaprathet.

And thank you so very much for the photographs of Father Pierre.

He is one of my all time hero’s among men and I miss him terribly.

You probably didn’t know this, but he married my brother and his wife in the 1980’s.

Please do keep in touch, my friend, and so glad to hear you are doing well. It was also so very nice to hear from Isabelle as well. You both seem as beautiful and charming as when we met so long ago.

warm regards,

Nate

 

Olivia:

Dear Nate

How nice of you to answer me so quickly.

Here is a picture of him when he visited me in Grenoble where we live; he looks like when we met him, doesn’t he? 

I hope you didn’t have a too big shock with the previous pictures I send you. The three of us looks  much older….

Do you have a picture of the wedding of your brother! How incredible! Did Father Pierre go to the USA? I would LOVE if you could scan a picture of both of you at the wedding.

Do you still have contact with people from the border? I imagine you are still in touch with Gary?

Do you remember this conversation we had :

“How is your foot?”

“My foot is OK, I just got blown up on a landmine”

I know the incredible story of you meeting Pol Pot! I know how you had been all those year searching for answers to this so awful tragedy of genocide of Cambodia; It’s incredible that you could ask him exactly the questions everybody would have wished to ask him and hitler etc! (That is on purpose that I don’t use capital letters to write their names). 

I heard also the terrible story of betrayal about the news of his death. You must have felt so blessed! It was so unfair! So disgusting!

What have you been doing since then, where have you lived, USA ? Asia? Do you see your family or are you a lonesome cowboy  far away from home? 

Oh girls!! they ask so many questions, that ‘s life!! Because, in my case, memories give to my life so much energy. Now I’m happy but it’s not so exciting you know! By chance my children (Amelie 18 years old, Clément 17, Eloi 13 and Félicité 9) are nice and are happy but thank God I had a life before getting married!

I married in blue. I had already two children; Gary (Knight) and Fiona came for the wedding! How nice of them.

Hoping that I don’t tire you with my words and I wish you a beautiful day, wherever you are now.

Me:

Dear Olivia:

Thanks for the kind and thoughtful message. Pierre was one of God’s gifts and remains a big influence on me even after his death.

He married my brother and his wife (who both worked in Khao I Dang refugee camp) in the Philippines in 1986. Sadly, his wife died of cancer at 39 in 1997.

I never did meet anyone who didn’t love Father Pierre.

I used to go to his mass in Aran even though I am not Catholic!

I still have many contacts from the border days. I later moved to Phnom Penh and then later to Bangkok. I moved back to the U.S. in 2001 and still wrote and traveled, spent time in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, North Korea etc etc.

I moved back to Asia in 2010, but then back to where I am now in Washington D.C. last year. I write mainly about North Korea these days, but also quite a bit on Cambodia and other places.

And you and Isabelle and Pierre still all look as beautiful as the days I knew you.

I will try to find a picture of the wedding Pierre performed for my brother and send it to you.

I posted the two pictures you sent me on Facebook (where I stay in touch with many old border friends) and many of them commented on the picture.

My very best to both you and Isabelle.

with warm and fond wishes,

Nate

Olivia:

Are you up or not yet in bed? I’m sooooooooooo happy to read you already!

And the pictures already on face book!! I feel middle aged and you move at the speed of the light!!!

Well, I don’t have Facebook address. Is it possible to give you my daughter address, Amelie Guerbet so that I can see news about you?

Well all what you write touches me a lot. 

What a pity the story of your sister in law; When people love each other it’s so sad to see the end of their life on earth…….

Me:

I haven’t been to bed because I am working on Asian time on a North Korea story. Of course you can use your daughters address. Just go on FB and ‘friend’ me and you will see the pics and other stuff

 

Olivia

I will write you more later but “à table!!!”‘

It’s time to go for lunch; You know in France we eat all together around the table..

Please accept Amelie’s contact so I can know more about you. Except if you judge that she’s too young.

 

Olivia's children and Pierre

Olivia’s children and Pierre

Me

Eat well. I accepted Amelie’s FB request already. Talk soon. And tell Isabelle I posted her pic with Fr Pierre too

 

Olivia:

Thank you for accepting the facebook request; it is very kind of you. 

I will write you on email for it is easier.

Last year I suddenly decided to visit Father Pierre; I hadn’t seen him for 6 years.

He had always been writing to me, but the last years we just talked by phone.

I live in the mountains and now I’m not the adventurous girl I used to be. I don’t move much, visiting sometimes my family in Paris but that’s all.

But last year  suddenly when I heard that Father Pierre was really in a very bad, bad shape and in a quite desperate mood, I suddenly decided to go to India.

You are used to moving around the world, but, for me, it was so new, so wonderful to have this feeling of irresistible freedom and attraction.

His niece told me he would be quite alone during May and she was worried because it’s the really hot season then there.

The minute after, I called Isabelle and within five minutes she agreed and we both decided to go to India to see Father Ceyrac.

We arrived in Madras in May.

Well, it was a big surprise to find Father Ceyrac standing up in quite good shape. I was sure I would arrive to put a flower on his tomb.

What a surprise to find him having lunch in the dining room all well dressed and combed.

We had one marvelous week with him. We shared a lot. He was a real gourmet! And he appreciated chocolats saucisson, foie gras and Pinot des charentes.

He was always taking care of us. “Are you OK?” “It is not too hot for you?”

He was so nice, so tender.

When I left him it was quite hard because I knew it was for the last time. But we were so happy to leave him in such a good condition.

Back to France and one week later exactly I received a call from Sabelle telling me that Father Pierre had died during the night.

His last night he had some of the goodies we had brought: pâté and pineau.

Two friends kissed him goodnight.

They asked for a blessing.

During the night he stood up and had a little walk as he always had to pray as he had done throughout his life.

And in the morning they found him in his bed.

You cannot imagine how blessed I felt!!!

Even more because we knew he had finally finished his life “standing up” and he was not sad at all.

Sorry, but I could talk and talk and talk about him because he had such a great impact on my life.

He was like a fairy for me—you know the light by the sea that shows you the way. How do you say this in English?

 

Olivia and Pierre Madras, India May 2012

Olivia and Pierre Madras, India May 2012

Me:

What a beautiful story. I loved Pierre like perhaps I have loved no other. He gave me faith in man. Thanks so much for sharing. I would like to share your story on my FB page as there are many, many friends of mine who loved him like you and I did and would be very moved to hear your story. My FB page is not a public page–just for friends who I keep in touch with who have moved to different parts of the world, as happens in life. With your permission, I would like to share your story.

Even when I think of Pierre tears come to my eyes

 

Olivia

Au cours de nos pérégrinations alors que je disais au Père Pierre à quel point il reflétait la lumière de Dieu il me répondit avec humilité : « On reflète tous la lumière de Dieu ».

 

Un autre jour il nous as redit comme il aurait pu faire davantage , comme il aurait faire davantage…

 

Il nous as aussi parlé de l’importance des jeunes qui sont « l’avenir du monde » « c’est important les jeunes , dis-leur de beaucoup étudier pour après aider les pauvres ;il faut beaucoup aimer et aider les pauvres » .

Il nous a parlé des couples et de l’attention et la gentillesse qu’il est important que les époux se témoignent et de l’importance de la prière. Il faut prier l’un pour l’autre 

As I was telling him how much, for me, he reflected the light of God and he answered: “We all reflect the light of God.”

He said how he could and he should have done more.

He told us the importance of young people who are the future of the world.

“Young people are really important people, tell them to study a lot in order to serve and help poor people.”

“Tell them that we have to love, and to help a lot, the poor people.

He told us about couples and “how attention and kindness are so important between lovers.”

And he told us “the importance of praying for each other”

Dear you, I am very sensitive to the fact that my words could touch your heart.

I tell you again how much Father Ceyrac was proud to know you! You were also his hero.

He loved to talk about this time when there had been shelling and landmines exploded and that you had gone back to carry somebody wounded, despite of the danger.

I’m sure he’s very happy that I tell you this and he sees now and that ‘s what put those tears in your eyes.

How often I did cry with him.

He has always been so faithful.

I knew he was there somewhere thinking of me.

Of course, like you, he knew so many people; but each person was important when he met them. We were all unique .

When he was talking to you, you were THE most important in the world.

And so also could feel all refugees who felt, each one, to be the favorite.

That ‘s the way I think God loves us but it’s really incredible to realize  with our little brains because there have been so many men.

But when you have had the chance to have met Father Pierre, you have felt this love, this love which tells you your value, even though you are a “pauv type”, as he used to say about himself;

About the mail I send you before ,I’m very touched that you could feel like telling the story on your FB. Do what you want but please correct the English so that it’s not too hard to understand.

Thank you for your care

Love (can I write that in English or is-it too strong for friendship?)

Olivia

Me:

Thank you Olivia:

It is all so very touching and so easily understandable when talking about Pierre.

And of course you can write love in English or any other language. Everyone wishes more people would both be loving, say so and act so. Like Pierre did in his very special way

Much love to you as well my friend,

Nate

 

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