PAUL BENJAMIN: Writer, Editor, Supermodel

Mega Post!

As we prepare to hop on a plane tomorrow for Tashkent, Uzbekistan, I’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye to Washtington DC with a mega post covering all those things I skipped over on this blog during my ten months in our nation’s capital. Prepare yourself for months of DC experiences all crammed into a single post so that I can start with a clean slate in the UZ.

 

Let’s go in no particular order, starting with Heroes Con. Lots of people have been seeing San Diego Comic Con in the news this last week so here are some pics from my visit to Charlotte, NC’s fantastic, well-run, friendly comics show.

 

I saw plenty of fantastic costumes at Heroes Con, including this trio of folks inspired by DC characters. No, not Washington DC – DC Comics!  It’s rare to see someone who can fill out a Wonder Woman costume or match the physique of Captain Marvel/SHAZAM villian Black Adam, but these people are pulling it off!

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Meanwhile, on the Marvel side of things, here’s the lead villain in the (totally awesome) new Captain America film. This guy’s costume didn’t look like a mask at all and let me just say, the real life Red Skull would be creepy as hell!

 

(Plus, bonus points for having his very own, light-up Cosmic Cube.)

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One of the best things about going to a show is talking to fans. It’s great to hang out with people who love comics as much as I do. This group bought some books and spent a lot of time at my table over the two days of the show, sporting super awesome Scott Pilgrim outfits with a Ring Wraith to boot!

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I also got a chance to meet some fellow comics creators and find new books. One of the highlights was getting to know the Agreeable Comics team behind “The Lonliest Astronauts” – Kevin Church and Ming Doyle. Kevin is a funny guy and hilarious writer while Ming is a brilliant artist with an awesome Thor costume: one of the few professional comics creators who has the cajones to cosplay at a convention.

 

“The Lonliest Astronauts” is about a pair of astronauts trapped in space with only each other for company. One of them makes Gilligan look like a MENSA genius. You can read the webcomic by clicking here, starting with the first one.

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My favorite costume of all belonged to the daughter of fellow comics creator Tommy Lee Edwards. Tommy is one of the nicest, most talented guys in the business and he’s clearly not uptight about what movies his daughter gets to see. Here she is as Hitgirl from “Kick Ass.”

 

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The ultimate highlight of the show was when this kid and his dad came by the booth to get my autograph on their copy of the G.I. JOE game I wrote. The game has become their number one bonding activity as they spend father and son time together. I got into this line of work because I want to entertain people and this kind of thing makes all the hard work worthwhile!

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Meanwhile, back in DC, I attended the two-day security training seminar at the Foreign Service Institute. I learned all about what to do in hostage situation, how to take cover from an explosion, and the number one danger in the Foreign Service: electrical fires! Must be all those US wattage doodads plugged into foreign outlets. Among the items used to illustrate various dangers overseas was this cigar box turned into a bomb. Smoking really can be hazardous to your health!

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Did I ever blog about our visit to New Orleans? Everyone else was there for Jazzfest, which was a blast, but our main reason to visit was the wedding of one of our new Foreign Service friends. Here’s a pic of the bride at the pre-party.

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And here’s the actual wedding site. It’s a cool jazz hall with its very own tree growing right inside the building! The band was an incredible group with at least ten members including two back up singers/dancers and a horn section.

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When Lisa’s public diplomacy class visited DC’s Newseum, I came along for the ride. If you visit DC, be sure to hit the Newseum. Unlike the Smithsonian museums, you have to pay to get in, but it’s worth every penny. In addition to the powerful and moving exhibits on the news surrounding 9/11 and Katrina, there are some fun tidbits for comics fans. The section on the FBI and its deep ties to press coverage shows just how much our romantic notions of being a G-Man were born from pop culture.

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I was also pleased to see there there’s also a nod to the Comics Code Authority and its powerful influence on the comics industry, shaping it into the entity it is today.

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One of the most interesting exhibits was Freedom House’s visual representation of freedom of the press around the world. Or, in many cases, the lack thereof. On this map, the green represents countries with free press, the yellow is a partially free press and the red shows places where the press is extremely restricted or under government control.

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Here’s a close up of Uzbekistan and her neighbors. As you can see, the “Stans” are right in the middle of a sea of red. In fact, Uzbekistan is so high on the list in terms of press restrictions, they’ve nearly reached the level of North Korea. It’s going to be interesting to see what this really means from a day-to-day standpoint once we’re at post.

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But Uzbekistan isn’t all about a restricted press. From what I hear, it’s a lovely country with people who are extremely kind and inclusive. Certainly we had a lovely time when we visited the Uzbek embassy in DC for a briefing with the Uzbek Ambassador. The Uzbek embassy is an impressive building that was constructed by a wealthy businessman who died while sailing the seas on the first (and last) voyage of the Titanic. His heirs sold the building to the Canadian government and it served as their embassy for many years until the Canadians moved to a new location, thus making room for the Uzbeks. Here’s one of the many fireplaces in the building, still featuring the woodwork commissioned by the building’s original owner.

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There’s also a beautiful piece of carved wood painted to represent the flag and the seal of Uzbekistan. You’ve gotta dig any country that has a kick-ass phoenix as the central image of their state seal!

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Several weeks later, we also had a briefing with the ambassador of Kazakhstan at the Kazak embassy. You may only know of Kazakhstan from Borat, but the ambassador is cool with that. He was very funny and brought up Borat himself, saying something along the lines of “Borat got things started for us, and we’re taking over the PR from there.” He pointed out that Borat is really more of a statement about American culture than that of Kazakhstan.

 

In any case, the embassy has this bad-ass statue out front. Yes, that’s a warrior dude… holding a bow in one hand and a falcon in the other… while standing on a griffin. Seriously, this is not a guy you want to mess with.

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Near the end of our first tour in DC, we got a visit from two of my best friends from high school. We spent one day touring the many monuments, including the WWII memorial. Here we are in front of the column representing our home state. Jeff’s only frowning because of the glare. And possibly because it was a grabillion degrees!

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But don’t worry, my Texas peeps, we didn’t forget about you! Here’s Lisa with her home state!!

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We also made our way over to the MLK memorial, still under construction. It’s already very impressive and the ideals of MLK are beautifully presented by the memorial as a whole (which you can’t see here). That said, I hope I’m not taking away from the legacy of this great man by pointing out that the only way to stop MLK was to freeze him in carbonite like Han Solo!

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We also made our way over to the Jefferson Memorial. It’s an impressive memorial and one that I’d never seen in my previous visits to DC because it’s relatively off the beaten path and a bit of a schlep from the rest of the memorials and museums. I have mad respect for Jefferson. Not only was he all about people being created equal, there’s also a quote from him emblazoned just beneath the ceiling that reads, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” That’s right, Thomas Jefferson hated telepaths! Well, not all telepaths, just the ones who use their powers for mind control. Also, freedom of religion and all that stuff is cool.

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There was also a visit to Dallas to see my family before we leave the country. My sister’s family flew in from Vegas and I had a blast with my neice and nephews and some family friends at Adventureland! My niece is twelve so she’s not actually in this picture. She’s all mature and stuff and had better things to do.

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Before departing for post, we headed out to Haggerstown where there’s a government storage facility full of stuff. This is where all of our belongings went when they packed up our house in Austin. That’s our stuff on the left, right next to the Ark of the Covenant.

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Actually, they pulled out all of our stuff. Below is a shot of nearly all of our belongings in the world, including furniture, packed up into six big crates. FYI, half of all of that weight is graphic novels, even after we gave away so many before leaving Austin.

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A note for Foreign Service folks: it probably wouldn’t have been worth going all the way to Haggerstown to tell them what to send to post and what to keep in storage if we didn’t need to find something in one of the crates. It’s a long way from DC and in the future we’ll hopefully just be able to look at the inventory and make decisions from there. One interesting thing that came out of our visit though was a discovery that at some point our boxes got out of sync with our inventory. That would theoretically mean that if we said we wanted a box of Lisa’s summer business cloths we might have instead gotten a box of skiing equipment (if we had a box of skiing equipment). However, the man in charge of our shipment knew our inventory like the back of his hand and said he goes through to match things before shipping. He was so on the ball (and super nice), I think he really would have discovered the problem before we ended up with skis and snowshoes in the middle of the desert.

 

 

Believe it or not, you’re nearly done reading the MEGA POST!!! I’ll sign off with a shot from the Fourth of July fireworks at the National Mall. I did this twenty years ago and again this year and it’s absolutely incredible to watch the pyrotechnics at the Washington Monument. The Metro getting home afterwards is a nightmare but this is something everyone should do at least once. I know I’ll remember that feeling of patriotism when I’m living overseas and missing all the great things about this country we’re serving on the far side of the world. Say what you will about America, at least you get to say whatever you want!!

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