Things I learned at FP

As some may know, this is my last day at Foreign Policy. After three great years here, I'm heading back to the field to report from the Middle East. But before I go, it's worth sharing a few of the things that I've learned from being here at FP and seeing how the news is made "behind the curtains."

The world is not a boring place. In case there was any doubt in your mind, we have a lot of fun at FP. Yes, we are serious too; yes, the world is a fraught with countless complex and mind-boggling conflicts and phenomena. But there's always a way to talk about them that isn't mind-bogglingly hard to follow. And usually, when you look for the new insights that reject that over-talked conventional wisdoms, you end up finding the most important angles.

Look for weak signals. Our former editor in chief Moises Naím taught us all something very important about how to read the world: behind the lines. Think of all the major news events of the last several years -- for example the Arab Spring or the financial crisis. Long before these words had any meaning, their origins were boiling up below the surface. It was a rare observer who could put the pieces together and anticipate the trend. It's what the best reporters and analysts should strive for.

Always ask why it matters. We live in busy times. Bandwidths are stretched, crises abound, and there's just no way to absorb it all. Step back from the details -- however compelling or heart-wrenching -- and imagine what you would want to know if you didn't care. I don't mean dumb it down or make it all about the Americans. But think big about how the small stuff threads into the global fabric. They always do. And if you figure out how, those non-carers might start to feel differently.

Say thank you. Ok, ok, I know this isn't a life advice column. But seriously. No matter where you are, who you're with, or what language you are speaking, you'll learn more about this crazy world if you appreciate humanity in one short sentence. And so with that, here's my thank you to FP -- for all I've learned and for all you've taught me. Keep reading!


BHL ups the ante

In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Bernard-Henri Lévy continues to defend his buddy Dominique Strauss-Kahn. A translated selection:

Zeit: But Dominique Strauss-Kahn was treated like any other suspect.

BHL: Yes. But he's not like everyone else. When a run-of-the-mill murderer leaves the police station in handcuffs, a firing squad of cameras isn't awaiting him. But when it's Strauss-Kahn, the whole world is watching. To act like you don't see the difference there, that's the real injustice.

Zeit: Contempt for the American justice system seems to be spreading in France.

BHL: This is not a problem of justice, it's a problem of politics. On the one hand, they don't want to show the pictures of the dead Bin Laden so as not to insult Muslims. On the other hand, they present pictures of Strauss-Kahn on a constant loop without bothering to see if that might insult his wife or family.

Zeit: France's media has been discussing Strauss-Kahn's lifestyle for the past two weeks...

BHL: The fields were tilled in advance. Preparatory shots were fired. And now you have the result: the head of the IMF wearing the very corset of guilt that was designed for him.

Zeit: Are we learning anything new about the relationship between power and sex?

BHL: That puritanical nonsense has overtaken western society.

This is so confused as to be really kind of delightful. Yes, just why didn't President Obama realize that allowing the release of the DSK photos would potentially jeopardize national security by angering the Strauss-Kahn household? And if only Americans had the foresight to realize that the history books will record  as the "real injustice" their treatment of DSK as a normal human being...

Anyway, I'd suggest resisting the temptation to correct the multiple misjudgments in favor of simply appreciating the floridness of Lévy's imagination. (Is a "corset of guilt" a real garment? Is that why Lévy keeps his shirt unbuttoned to his navel, to show he's not wearing one?) Here's hoping Strauss-Kahn calls BHL in as a character witness.