Tag Archives: DC

calm, but tense

One of the best lessons I learned in the Foreign Service was to build confidence in the words you chose, but never fall in love with them.

You can’t just “have confidence” — you have to build it through self-editing, re-reading, questioning, tinkering, playing, and allowing patience to bring you the right word or phrase (I once wrote a classified cable on prostitution in the United Arab Emirates and loaded it with a double entendre and allusion in every paragraph, but that took weeks and weeks to write…hey, nothing urgent or newsworthy about it, after all). So you build confidence, but you never love what you wrote because someone else (with the power to edit or influence to quash) will hate it or change it or eliminate your poetry and replace “happy” with “glad” or decide to describe a scene as “calm, but tense.”

And that lesson was reinforced with blunt force every day I spent as the Editor on the Watch, reading aloud one page of summarized news and context for review, editing, and rejection by six of the smartest colleagues in government (don’t laugh, there are some wicked smart people in government – that bar for “smartest” is higher than you think). Yes, its possible to spend four hours distilling a world’s worth of news into one page only to be told your priorities are wrong, your sources are weak, and your writing sucks. And then take that feedback and spend the next hour crafting something worthy of the Secretary of State’s time (in theory….I can’t recall her coming onto the Watch to praise us for our writing…or even our telephone operator abilities. Maybe Madeleine had other things to do). If you can write on the Watch, you can write.

And you can take editing and critical feedback from anyone.

So here’s hoping I don’t regret my decision to go from no one editing my work to many critical eyes and minds. If I do, it won’t be from lack of confidence or love of my own words, but something else….




Handicapping the Field: Ben Moeling

Our second ELLT 2011 rookie is Ben Moeling…diplomat, Sino-phile, writer, outdoorsman (he’s on the right in the pic below):


  • Seneca Rocks…three-stage climb, with Danno leading and Ben the third climber (therefore pulling out the protection), roughly 80-90 feet per stage…see pic below
  • Mad Mountain Bike Skillz…proven more than once on the single track trails around northern Virginia
  • Kandahar…


  • Rock climber’s hoops skills…and probably your average elite mountain biker’s golf skills, too
  • Sartorial resplendence…Ben wears an oxford and khakis to drive a tractor over opium crops in Afghanistan…will his button-down collar slow him down at hoops?

Past performances: Ben has been shot at from close range and managed to, 1) not soil his khakis; and 2) avoid being hit. Ben also endured six+ months of language training with Eric Shimp, which was probably far worse than being shot at from close range.

Expectations for 2011: Ben has to take first or second in rock climbing and mountain biking to have any hope at the overall podium. His golf game will suck. His hoops game may slow down his team. But he may get points for filling in for Steve Ball in the Best Dressed category.

2011 Update #1:

Chowder Review: Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington, DC

I had the pleasure of drinks and dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill with three East Luray Liars and was talked into getting the clam chowder, violating my long-held rule of never ordering seafood unless I have been near the water that day (and, yes, the Potomac, if I had seen it that day, would have counted). As it happens, I may have violated the rule in spirit, but in reality, not so much.

First Taste – perfect balance of creaminess and soupiness and incredible large delicious chunks of bacon, real bacon, fresh bacon.

Fishy substance – um, no. Tasted like clam chowder and smelt like clam chowder, but was almost completely lacking in actual clams, or fake clams, or any kind of seafood at all.

Essential extras – the bacon stood out, both on the first few spoons and then throughout. Crisp, but not overcooked, and certainly not small or skimpy. The potatoes were also perfect, that right amount of cooked-ness where they maintain some solidity without tasting underdone. A complete lack of pepper, though. None, not even a hint.

Creamy quality – perfect. Dead solid perfect. Hefty like a chowder but not thick as glue. Simply perfect.

What it’s got – well, no clams. But great bacon and good creaminess, which made it delicious, but kind of masquerading as a clam chowder. I only had a bowl, so its possible I simply got unlucky. But two other Liars noticed a lack of clams.

Overall – I love Old Ebbitt. Love the Corner Bar. Enjoyed the back bar where we sat for dinner. I have had many memorable drinks there and some plain-old-mid-week-mid-afternoon beers there. And I’ll order the chowder again, but I won’t bother to bring my fishing gear.

Rating: 3 Guinness (not clams)…great chowder, great bacon, great taste, just missing the clams.