Former NSA Director: Folks are “leaving in big numbers”

We’re breaking out the world’s tiniest violins this morning over news (via Chris Bing, writing for that morale is low at the National Snooping Agency, and that many are leaving the intelligence agency for higher-paying private sector jobs.

Low morale at the National Security Agency is causing some of the agency’s most talented people to leave in favor of private sector jobs, former NSA Director Keith Alexander told a room full of journalism students, professors and cybersecurity executives Tuesday. The retired general and other insiders say a combination of economic and social factors — including negative press coverage — have played a part.
“What really bothers me is that the people of NSA, these folks who take paltry government salaries to protect this nation, are made to look like they are doing something wrong,” Alexander said Tuesday.

Spoiler alert: they are.

Obviously, there’s a distinction between low-level analysts doing what they’re told and the higher-ups actually setting NSA policy. But it’s particularly petulant for Alexander to blame the media for negative coverage — it’s not their fault for covering the NSA accurately.

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NYU interview on studying abroad

NYU’s College of Arts and Science (where I study) did an interview with me back in August, right before I left for Tel Aviv.

The interview was a lot of fun, and it went live this week here.

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Our man in Jerusalem

I’m in Jerusalem for the weekend with John and Patrick. There’s a particular pleasure in getting to show new people some of your favorite things, and the Old City of Jerusalem is no exception…


On a rooftop in East Jerusalem, looking toward the Old City and Palestine. I’m not sure I’ll ever grow tired of the colors.

I’m feeling better after the crash — traveling in cars is okay now, and I’m feeling a bit less generally anxious about things than I did a few days ago. I think that the combination of having J & P here and the fact that it’s a weekend is helping a lot.

After 8 days away (the longest stretch not writing since I began the project in the middle of August), I went back to the book yesterday. Part of the break was externally mandated (my left hand was in a bandage and I find typing one-handed to be an incredibly frustrating experience) but part of it was definitely shock — I’d been struggling with one of the chapters before the accident and had zero desire to look at a word processor.

But I had some hours free in the afternoon yesterday, after wandering around the Old City in the morning, and when I went back to the keyboard I realized that I’d been thinking about parts of the book even when I hadn’t been writing. It felt good to put on headphones and get back to putting one word after the other.

The day before the crash, Wrote My Way Out dropped on the Hamilton Mixtape. If music still came on tapes that I could wear out, I would’ve worn out this tape over the last week.

Running on empty, with nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And wrote my way out

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Trump on Hamilton, and why we’re in for a long four years

I’m late to writing this blog post because of a literal car crash, but I wanted to get it up in any case.

The news that Vice-President Elect Pence was booed by members of the audience at a production of Hamilton last Sunday traveled far and wide this week. Booing, is, of course, one of the most fundamental ways of expressing displeasure. It’s also, needless to say, one of the least disputed of the actions protected by the First Amendment.

One of the show’s leads also read a pre-prepared statement cowritten by the show’s creator, director, and lead producer, with input from the cast:

Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us: our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

Thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds and orientations.

What interests –and worries– me about this story is Trump’s reaction:

Trump also called the cast “rude” and called, twice, for the cast to apologize. It seems like he’s equating reading a statement with harassment, or that the cast somehow encouraged the audience to boo. This seems highly unlikely to me, based on videos shot by audience members and what I know of the cast.

It’s debatable how important the whole episode is, but it seems that Trump is continuing to play fast and loose with the truth, and his skin looks as thin as ever.

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Oh, speaking of books

Time at college is pleasantly predictable. You have two semesters, a summer holiday, and a month off in January. It comes with its own predictabilities: you have four classes, lots of readings, and no sooner have you begun one semester than they ask you to register for classes for next semester.

Over the last few years (it started some time in secondary school), I developed the habit of picking a big book –the sort of thing that appears on “100 books to read before you die” list articles– and using the Christmas break to work through it. I started with Les Miserables, and then I worked through To Kill a Mockingbird, The Things They Carried, and, most recently, Alexander Hamilton, the best biography I’ve read to date.

In November, I spend a little bit of time clicking around book lists, talking to friends and trying to figure out what I’m missing out for not having read one book or another.

This year, I’m finally going to work through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In audiobook form, so I’m curious as to how they do the footnotes.

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One of those posts with lots of different things because individual posts would be too short and annoy you all

First of all, you can read an article I wrote about encryption apps for NYU Local here. It’s been a lot of fun to stretch my legs and start writing about activism again, and it feels somewhat necessary following recent, um, political developments.

I’m back in Tel Aviv after taking a weekend off to write and focus on part of the manuscript. A chapter is stumping me, and it was good to take some time away from college work to concentrate on it. I’ve spent most of this week banging my head against the wall as I try to figure out what shape the chapter should take and trying to get a first draft written.

When I’m trying to think through a problem with the manuscript, I tend to either go for a walk or sit at my desk listening to one song until I find a solution I’m happy with. The last two songs I’ve had on repeat are Backseat Freestyle by Kendrick Lamar and Another Suitcase in Another Hall, from the musical Evita. I’m fairly certain this is the first time those two songs have appeared in the sentence together.

In (reading) book news, I actually have nothing recent to recommend. I read Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick, which was decent, and Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz, which was good but not great.

No more travel planned until I head back to the US in December. I’m planning on spending most of the next month with my head down writing, which happens to be how I spent most of the last month. I’m subsisting on a diet of Israeli instant coffee and Neil Gaiman’s blog posts from a decade ago, which I find oddly encouraging.

(I’m experimenting with the design of this site. If something is particularly aesthetically displeasing, let me know.)

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Writers’ Retreat


In January, I’m hiding away for three weeks to work on the manuscript. I didn’t come up with the idea of a “writer’s retreat,” but I think the work will benefit from some undivided attention.

I’m taking a mini-retreat this weekend. Three days away from distractions and familiarity. Mac in hand, some books, and a pair of headphones. (If you’re following along at home, I’ve been aurally binging on The Roots recently, and wondering where they’ve been all my life.)

I’m glad to have the opportunity to unplug for a bit (yalla bye, social media, instant messaging) and break the back on two new chapters in the manuscript. It feels amazing to take a –temporary– step back from my college obligations and try to get a decent chunk written.

It’s also something of a trial run for January, figuring out the best format and testing boring personal things like work habits, the best sleep schedules (I’ve yet to figure out if I’m a night owl or a morning person) and the like.

American readers — I’m working on a post about Trump, but you can honestly just guess my thoughts.

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Mourning in America

Reagan released a TV ad in 1984 which became known as “Morning in America,” and it’s no surprise that so many people are lampooning it this morning. The majority of the students here at the site got up around 5:30am to watch the results came in. Some of the staff joined us around 7am, as we used a projector to watch CNN’s live-stream.

It’s shocking, of course, and I’m hurting on behalf of my American friends who are truly afraid today. That said, I’m heartened by the reaction that we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. America, you great unfinished symphony, and all that.

OK, I have to go work on the manuscript before my classes in the afternoon. If you want to read more of my ponderings on the election, I wrote a column yesterday for Washington Square News, NYU’s independent newspaper.

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NYU News: Go Tel it from the Mountain

I’ve taken to writing columns for the abroad desk of the Washington Square News. I forgot to cross-post this one, about the political dimension of Israeli society as it impacts everyday friendships. It was originally published on October 18. You can let me know what you think in the comments.

It’s the week of Fall Break here at NYU Tel Aviv. True to every cliche in the book, I can’t believe we’re halfway through the semester. I feel like I’ve only been in Israel for two weeks so far, even though I’ve finally figured how to top up my Rav Kav, the Israeli version of the MetroCard.

My parents came to visit two weeks ago, and I enjoyed showing them around my new digs here in Tel Aviv. They got to see the city at its best: my Mum, a lifelong foodie, was in love with Israel’s many outdoor fresh-food markets, while my dad got to run along the boardwalk, which runs the length of the city along the Mediterranean. Their visit to Jerusalem and the Old City coincided with the state funeral of Shimon Peres, a politician who served twice as Israel’s prime minister and once as its president. Peres, who died aged 93, served in public office for over 60 years. As foreign minister in the 1990s, Peres was a part of the negotiations for the Oslo Accords, a proposed roadmap for peace between Israel and Palestine. For his role, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994.

From my own experience, it’s very rare to meet somebody at NYU who does not have a strong opinion on the Middle East, and on Israel in particular. Back in New York, I had conversations with other students that lasted hours, debating one thing or another about the region, its politics or its future. Since coming to Tel Aviv, I’ve made some Israeli friends — college students and young adults who grew up here and live here full-time. Reading through obituaries and other articles about Peres’ legacy, I realized that I can’t remember having one conversation about politics with them.

I’m not sure if this represents an unwillingness to discuss hard topics or a willingness to not let politics interfere with a good friendship. My money’s on the latter explanation: on the whole, I’ve found that Israelis are far more blunt and direct with their political stances than Americans. For me, Israeli politics is an interest; for them, it’s part of their everyday lives and the lives of their parents and grandparents. I’m Irish and I’m only here for a semester, so my views on the subject lack the weight of experience of my Israeli friends.

I’ve found myself thinking about this fact a lot here in Tel Aviv. I don’t know what I expected before I arrived, whether I would spend my days debating Israeli politics with newfound Tel Avivian friends. Still, in the age of Trump and in light of news that NYU canceled the talk of an ultra-right American journalist, when Americans increasingly seem to define themselves by whom they voted for in the last election, there is something to be said for setting politics aside and befriending people irrespective of their views.

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Music I Write To

I got asked recently what music I write to. Since the answer is pretty close to the question of what CDs I’d take with me if I was stuck on a desert island, I thought I’d throw it up here.

Here are 15 albums I love a lot, and I tend to write in blocks listening to one or more of them. Some of them are albums I’ve loved since I was 10, and others are loves I discovered this year.

  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross.
  2. Graduation, Kanye West.
  3. Watch the Throne, Kanye West & Jay Z.
  4. The Hits Collection, Vol. 1, Jay Z.
  5. Splendor & Misery, clipping.
  6. Speak Now, Taylor Swift.
  7. 1989, Taylor Swift.
  8. Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  9. In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  10. Les Miserables, International Cast. (I have very strong opinions about Les Mis albums, and this is a country mile better than the rest. People who listen to highlight albums are wimps.)
  11. Amadeus, Music from the Motion Picture.
  12. American Idiot, Green Day. (First album I ever bought, and still only one of two CDs I ever bought.)
  13. The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance.
  14. All Day, Girl Talk.
  15. Underachievers, Please Try Harder, Camera Obscura.
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