Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy Jew Year!

Happy Rosh Hashanah to everyone! May the good l-rd type you into the pc of life.

Monday, September 29, 2008

RH Marketplace

I pitched a story idea to Marketplace about Rosh Hashana along the lines of Apples and Honey. The first Apple store recently opened in Israel, and is going gang-busters. As for for honey, there is a special honey developed to help cancer patients. Unfortunately, no takers as nothing is news at the moment save the financial crisis.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shout out

A big thanks to my roomie Ha, who decided to cheer me up from my awful week by taking me to a movie. We rounded up some other roomies and went to see Eagle Eye. Kind of a mix between 2001 and 9/11. It was okay, so long as you fully suspend disbelief. In any case, it was a very sweet gesture. Cám ơn!

I returned the favor by treating her to In-and-Out Burger, a requirement to try if you want to be in LA.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The awful week that was

Despite the maladies that clouded my week, it was a pretty interesting week. My Pub D group presented our project for our global pub d class. This is the class where we do group projects based on scenarios. Our scenario this week was that we received $150k to come up with a project that bolsters moderate Muslim forces (including law enforcement) and also does outreach for youth who are at risk of extremist indoctrination. My group was assigned to be the US Embassy in Ankara, other groups were the US Embassy in Jakarta and US Embassy in Paris.

We divided our project into two parts. First, we designed an internet short film series based on the BMW Films and MI-5 program on the BBC. The show was called "Jandarma" after the Turkish security forces. The plan would be five 8-10 minute short films that dealt with issues like terrorism, the Kurdish issue, gender issues, Turkish secularism vs. growing religiosity and moderate Islam vs. extremist Islam. The idea was to do an internet Branded Content series of a gray value that dealt with these issues, as a way of popularizing the struggles that the Turkish security service faces.

The other project was a program to do cultural outreach through hip-hop. Based on the USIA's use of American Libraries abroad, and previous use of jazz as cultural programming for public diplomacy outreach, the "Project Voice" program would set up "The Corner," a center at the American Corners in Turkey (American centers of cultural presence) that had Turkish and American hip-hop listening stations, cd collections and webcast hip-hop seminars. We debated making Snoop Dogg an American Ambassador for culture, but figured that might be a step too far. Also the idea of calling the project "holla at Allah" was nixed.

Unfortunately, our project did not win. The murder board (group judges) felt that our program was a little too open-ended, and chose a more staid project. We did get kudos from the profs for our ideas. While we didn't win, we definitely had the most innovative project, and I think that was pretty clear to the class.

Thursday I had Prof. Gilboa's Comparative Public Diplomacy class, and our case study for the week was Israel's public diplomacy. There is another ex-Con in my class, Stephanie, who was Press at the LA consulate. The class was a lively one, as discussions of anything related to Israel usually is. I enjoyed playing the contrarian, arguing that Israel wasn't the only country with issues related to recognition (Taiwan), that its Public Diplomacy is far better than gets credit and that it needs to learn not to mistrust NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty and to promote its accordance with transnational norms to Europe since it is the only one in the ME where human rights such as women's rights, gay rights, minority rights, etc are respected rather than try to prove what is and isn't occupation (basically Israel21C for Europe rather than the US).

Friday I had the day off, and I did some work at home then went to school to pick up a book from Prof. Cull about Willis Conover, who is possibly one of the most important figures to do cultural battle during the Cold War. What, you say, you have never heard of him. There are reasons for this (Smith-Mundt Act), but basically he was the voice of VOA's jazz program, which the Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet Union listened to religiously. Behind the Iron Curtain, jazz was the music of cultural defiance during the Communist days, and Willis Conover was its prophet. I'm doing a little paper/project on the use of jazz as a weapon during the Cold War. I also chatted with Prof. Gilboa, continuing our back-and-forth over Israeli politics and Israeli public diplomacy from the previous day. He also offered me some good leads for my summer field research.

After, I took the metro downtown to go wander around Little Tokyo. I took a wrong turn and ended up in Skid Row. I quickly realized I was in the wrong place and made my quick exit to the Toy District. There I found a cool santaria shop with trinkets from India. I found a really beautiful Magen David made of bronze- inlaid with a white gem stone. While I was wandering, I came upon a store where I found my excalibur. It is called the Sword of Solomon. I had seen it once before in Madrid, but couldn't take it with me. I almost bought it but had no idea how I could carry it around LA. Although I probably would have an easier time walking through Skid Row, and I'm sure no one would steal my bike if I had one. But given the expenses I racked up this week, I decided to hold off for now- I will get one later (Or Ellen could make me one...)

Ole Miss, Meredith and Obama

I was driving to meet my friend Kenya to watch the Presidential Debate at a bar called The Dime, when I heard this program on NPR on the history of Ole Miss. I got chills just thinking about how the university that was sight of segregationist riots some four and a half decades prior was now hosting the first major African-American presidential nominee. Sometimes it seems we make a little progress.

It was also pretty amazing to be in a bar that was completely silent for the length of the debate. People whispered drink orders to the bartender; when people were being loud, they got shushed as if in a library.

I thought Obama did well at the debate. Granted I am biased, but I thought he stood toe-to-toe with McCain and sparred well. This foreign policy debate was supposed to be McCain's ground, but I thought Obama did well making a case that he has the judgment to make sound foreign policy decisions. I also thought McCain seemed a little cantankerous, and a little out of Dr. Strangelove.

After the debate, I grabbed pizza with Kenya, who is one of my classmates. She is very interesting, she is my age and is a professor of American history at California Baptist University. She already has her PhD and a Master's in Education, and is going for another Master's degree. She takes classes on days she doesn't teach. After, we went back to my house and sat out smoking hookah and chatting with my roomies about the debate.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The black cloud spreads

My black cloud has engulfed Southern California, which was upset tonight by Oregon State. I am a jinx, keep your distance.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Black Cloud

In the "adding insult to injury" file, I think my bike got stolen. I'm getting a karmic shit storm on my poor head.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


"It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

And sometimes, they get a little too close. I was driving back from work this morning. Just driving back from my internship and on my way home for lunch before class. Just driving straight down Figueroa, just 5 minutes from home. Then crash.

A woman turned right into my lane. Everything went into slow-motion as I slammed on the breaks. It is incredible how time plays with you in instances like that. Something out of Borderliners. I can see in my mind the unreality of watching everything unfold. Like watching a move because the view seems detached- some angle that I don't normally watch from.

I slammed into her front perpendicularly. We both pulled over to the side. From outside, a person was screaming that he saw the whole thing and what a f'ing idiot this lady was. I got a witness.

Thankfully, I was okay, as was the lady who hit me. My car was not so lucky. The front is pretty messed up, as is the front of her car. We were both pretty shaken up by the whole thing, but I was calm and told her to be calm. I first checked to see if she and her passengers were okay. She basically said she was trying to turn around by pulling into a driveway, and couldn't fully see oncoming traffic so she went and hoped for the best. Not a bright move. She was pretty relieved I wasn't furiously chewing into her. I just said we would let the insurance companies deal with it (thankfully she had insurance too).

We dealt with the paperwork, insurance and claims. There were some bike security around who helped. We tried to get the cops to come do a police report, but they refused citing that since there was no city property damage and no injuries, it wasn't their problem. Thanks, LA's finest. Anyway, we spent our time dealing with the insurance and I got my car towed the 3 blocks home. I then got a lift from the tow truck driver to school, where I hopped out and arrived to class just in time.

Insurance is dealing with it, but I am slightly worried. The claims agent was helpful, but was already eying my car as a "total loss" based on its age. The reality is that the car has far more value to me than any blue book. I have had it for 7 years, from nearly mile 1 to 97,000. I just drove it out here across the the country. It has significantly more value to me than any car of its equivalent. This sucks, but we shall see how it progresses. In the meantime, I am stuck. And, to add insult to injury, I noticed my bike has a flat tire too. For a little perspective, this entry is from the last time I had a car accident.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A crane to lift my spirits

I wasn't melancholy, but I was a little less-than-chipper this afternoon. I was in Doheny Library, the beautiful Art Nouveau structure on campus, looking in the stacks. I went to the library desk to take the books out, but the girl behind the counter was occupied on the phone. As I was waiting, I noticed an origami crane sitting on the table, made from a library catalog. I stood there playing with the paper bird, with a big smile on my face that hadn't been there all day. When she got off, I asked her if she did it. She had never noticed it or seen it before. I asked if I could keep the crane, and put it in my bag as a keepsake of a found smile.

Loose now and then
A scattered smile, and that I'll live upon.
-William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Monday, September 22, 2008

back to volunteer

After a bit of a hiatus, I went back to volunteering for the Obama campaign today. Just a few hours of phone calls to that oh-so-important swing state Nevada. Most people weren't home, others were rude and nasty, but I did talk to a few Obama supporters. Some the demographics are listed below:

Latest Poll Reveals 430 New Demographics That Will Decide Election
Thanks Dan, I stole that from your chat site.

I did have one real success, I got a voter registration form for my housemate Rick, who I don't believe has ever voted. He is jubilant to vote for Obama.

Meanwhile, great piece by MoDo about an account of a meeting by Obama and President Jeb Bartlet of the West Wing, written by Aaron Sorkin. MoDo and Jeb Bartlet to the rescue.

Also a great article by Frank Rich on truthiness.

While I am at it, I will volunteer my opinion: WAKE UP! My G-d, wtf is going on here? Is Middle America not hurting enough to see who caused their maladies? Is 8 years of bad governance by Big Government Conservatism not enough to wake them up to the fact they are repeatedly being lied to? The Bush administration has managed to wreck every facet of America. Remember, it was only 8 years ago that we were discussing "America the hyperpower." Now it's America-the New France, as stated by folks I heard down in South America. And that was before all this biz. Aargh, deep breath...just 42 more days till election.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

3 classes, 2 presentations, and the sniffles

After a nasty case of the sniffles, on a virus that is making its rounds across LA (and apparently coast-to-coast), I am finally on the mend. Since I am not fully better, I am sitting out this Saturday night, and will offer a recount of the week that wasn't.

Last weekend, began with a "glocal" party of my fellow pub-d students at the house of Rima. We hung out and ate a wide assortment of potluck dishes, while I played fire-marshal and kept wayward hookah coals from burning down the house. Saturday I was busy tailgating it up at USC for the USC-Ohio State game. I have never seen tailgating like this. The campus was packed with people grilling, drinking and making merry. You could roll 4 years of Brandeis campus life up and it still wouldn't compare. After that, I hung out with Kimberly and we played ping-pong at her Mormon ward. We watched USC route OSU and ate pizza amid some good wholesome fun at the ward.

Sunday was spent preparing for a presentation for my class on Historical Pub D on the Allied re-education of Japan and Germany (I made a cookbook- recipes for reeducation), then on a group project for my Global Issues Pub D class. We had a project on reconciliation between Serbs and Kosovars, but my group quickly realized we got shafted with our topic- the middle class, which really doesn't exist in the region.

As mentioned, I began my internship and the rest of the week progressed. My presentation went pretty well. At one point my teacher, Prof Cull interrupted me to make a point, to which I forgave him and said "don't worry, I always interrupt you." 'Tis true, I do find myself talking a lot in class. I would call it residual academic leftover from being shut out for 5 years, but that would be BS cause I was talkative at Brandeis too.

Wednesday was our first group presentation for Global Issues pub d. It is kind of a reality show of Pub D. We get a scenario, and have a week to come up with a project and budget to present in front of the class and "murder board." As mentioned, my group had the non-existent Middle Class. We made a plan for a series of small biz conferences with an American Idol-like contest for seed money for business projects. We didn't win- there was a group that did an amazing job including color coordinating their outfits and even printing up a bumpersticker for their project. However, my group did a very good job on our presentation defense, and got some kudos for that.

I finally got to make peace with my third class. I had been back-and-forth, and really liked both classes. I stayed in the Comparative Pub D class with Prof. Gilboa, and was really glad I did. Especially for the readings we had. This week, we had China as a case study, and we went into their public diplomacy outreach. Very interesting stuff, all about the concepts of "peaceful rise" and "harmonious world," and where these concepts fit into Chinese Pub D. One of the more interesting ideas was that China should change its symbol from a Dragon to a Panda, as a way of showing a kindlier, gentler image.

Thursday night I worked on the next round of projects with my Global Issues group. We have a better topic this week, doing American Pub D outreach in Turkey. We have some interesting ideas percolating. Since then, I have been sleeping and resting and getting rid of the flu. I slept all day friday, save reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and eating homemade Vietnamese rice soup made by my roomie Ha to nurse me back to health. Also watched a pretty good movie called "The Bank Job."

Today has been more of the same: sleeping, reading and watching MI-5. MI-5 is a terrific show on the BBC that is about the British security service, and wrestles with all sorts of questions of loyalty, justice, and ends-justifies-the means. You can watch it free on Netflix, I luv it.

Meanwhile, I just finished a phenomenal movie called "Persepolis." It is an animated movie from a graphic novel about growing up in Iran after the revolution. It is terrific, funny and poignant. It was what "Reading Lolita in Tehran" seemed like it would be but never turned into. A very cute yet sadly real movie.

As you can see, I am finally starting to feel better, and bored silly from sitting around in my room for two days to the point that I am recounting a whole week.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

As Dangerfield said...

I get no respect. I was greeted my first day to Marketplace with an email welcoming "Paul Rockomer" to the staff. Meanwhile, yesterday at the morning editorial meeting, an editor was supposed to introduce me. He said, "I would like to welcome our new intern, Sean Powers." I looked around to see any other new interns, but quickly realized he was talking about me. I said that I'm sure Sean is a great intern somewhere (DC apparently), but that wasn't me, and went on to introduce myself.

To be a fly on the wall of the meeting was fascinating given the current state of economic affairs. There was real trepidation in the room. I spent the morning researching an unfindable statistic, and wondering wtf I was doing there cause I don't really like economics. WTF was I thinking???

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lehman, Merril, Malcom and me

With Lehman and Merril Lynch tumbling, like Bear Stearns so recently, I though I would post Malcolm Gladwell's piece on "the talent myth." Specifically, he writes about how employing the "best and the brightest" can sometimes be detrimental. Tomorrow should be an interesting first day to begin work at work at Marketplace...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A crush on Tess Vigeland

I got a paid internship this week with Marketplace. I will be working at the Frank Stanton Studios a few days a week, doing some research, pre-interviews and possibly adding some story ideas. As usual, my labor is rather under-valued, but the job seemed very interesting. I will get to learn about the insides of the radio biz (save the cracks about "face for radio"!), and hopefully learn to talk with the NPR cadence. I start monday, I am excited.

Meanwhile, I have had a terrible time deciding my last class. I was first in Conflict Processes, only to drop it cause I thought it would be too theory based and focused on quantitative evidence. Then I talked to my classmate Mike, who is still in the class, and he made it seem very interesting. Buyers/Sellers/Droppers remorse as I sat in on it yesterday, and was left vacillating on whether to take that or my other class on contemporary pub d. I really like both, and have neither the time nor money to take 4 classes (and a job). Neither is offered in the Spring or next year. I am leaning toward staying put in my present class (Contemp Pub D), but the decision is a tough one.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


We had the first meeting of the Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars (APDS), the student group that represents Pub D students. I am running for class representative. I gave a little ad hoc presentation on my candidacy:

"First, with all the candidates here, it is assured that our class will be represented. With that said, I was going to run on a platform of "Hope" and "Change," but I understand that has already been taken. Rather, I am running on a platform of "Experience" and "Leadership." I have considerable Pub D experience, dating back to my tenure with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where I did Pub D outreach across a 5-state region. As for leadership, although you won't get to vet me, I can assure you that my CV is filled with leadership experience. As any of you who share a class with me know, I am not shy. I advocate forcefully, both vocally and in written opportunities. I am willing to "speak truth to power." I will advocate on behalf of our class to the highest levels. That's my candidacy, I will leave the decision up to you."

Apparently, the class decided differently, and elected someone else. So much for nice words. The guy who won, John, went to undergrad at USC and is from the area. In some ways, I can understand his being a better fit since he knows the area and system better than moi. There is always Litchko City.

Otherwise, was out the other night on a blind date with a rabbi. Reminds me of the riddle about the doctor not being able to operate on "my son," the punchline being that the doctor is a woman. Yes, rabbis can be women too. At least in the conservative and reform side of things. She is a friend of my friend Bethy, and they lived together in Israel. We had a nice time over tea at some WeHo (West Hollywood) trendy tea joint (they had $300 pots of tea!), which was actually pretty cool. The place had a courtyard in the back with a fountain and plenty of bamboo. We sipped jasmine tea and chatted, it was a nice time. We are catching up for sushi tonight, and I'm off for that.

blog bits

"Because the Republicans, very clearly, believe that real people are idiots. This disdain for their smarts shows up in the whole way they’ve cast this race now, turning a contest over economic and foreign policy into a culture war of the Real vs. the Elites. It’s a smoke and mirrors game aimed at diverting attention from the fact that the party’s tax policies have helped create an elite that’s more distant from “the people” than ever before. And from the fact that the party’s dogged allegiance to up-by-your-bootstraps individualism — an individualism exemplified by Palin, the frontierswoman who somehow has managed to “balance” five children and her political career with no need for support — is leading to a culture-wide crack-up."
-Judith Warner

Well said, from Judith Warner's NYTimes blog. I would recommend the rest. Also, a great clip of Joe Lieberman speaking in effusive praise for Obama. He is such a putz, I'm sorry I ever respected him.

One month on

I crossed the rubicon of a month past in fair California. A few observations. I love the day-in, day-out sun. Everyday is limitlessly perfect and coupled with palmtree perfection. It's uncanny.

The University of Spoiled Children- that fits, including present company. More like the University of Southern China or perhaps University of Southern Calcutta. I love walking past the apartments of the Indian grad students and smelling the evening spices emanating out like something from a Jhumpa Lahiri story. I love the diversity of the school, I just wish I was meeting it. There seems to be so much potential- yet I can't figure out an entrance to anything. Perhaps I will sing a different tune after month two.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The week that was

I had a nice Saturday, spent biking around LA. I did a 15 mile trek around town, down Hoover to Wilshire through Koreatown. Then down the faded Art Deco glory of Wilshire all the way to the LACMA, then back down La Brea to West Addams on home. I stopped for lunch at a taco cart, and was joined for lunch by a local crack head. For desert, I hit up a fruit stand, and had a delicious mix of fresh cucumber, watermelon, pineapple and orange, covered in salt, lime and chili. The rest of the day has been filled in with reading classwork and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which I love even though I am not at all an Objectivist.

Yesterday I wandered around Thai Town and had some delicious spicy basil chicken, washed down with a thai tea. I wandered in and out of Thai Town and Little Armenia, before getting supremely lost looking for kosher wine for a shabbat dinner invite. I googled some directions, but got the directions wrong and ended up in the barrio rather than the shtetl. I backtracked, and ended up in Little Ethiopia, before finding a kosher mart that had wine and was still open in the waning hours before shabbat. I had dinner with some classmates, a fellow ex-con named Tabby had the class yids over for some excellent Persian food. We hung out with some consulate friends of hers, and had a nice evening.

Thursday I had a class that I picked up on Comparative Public Diplomacy, taught by an Israeli professor named Eytan Gilboa from Bar Ilan. This was the class that I had a hard time finding the previous week, until the prof found me. That night, hung out with my classmate Daniela and we watched the banal McCain speech at Annenberg, where there was a faculty panel and free pizza (always a draw for us po' students). Just a few fewer than the Obama speech. I kinda think the Dems out numbered the Repubs. There definitely were a few of that oh-so-important Republican demographic: Rich White Girls for McCain.

Wednesday I had class and did an interview with a Professor in China for an article I am writing about Jewish Communities in China. Again, there was free pizza at USC's US-China Institute, which was holding a staff meeting when I called (it's under their auspices that I am writing the article, and was entitled to the free pizza). I also went to the IR class for a last shot at being convinced not to drop it. I wasn't, as it was still to focused on quantitative perspectives on conflict, and therefore far too sequestered in the ivory tower for me. Tuesday was simply class day, I don't remember anything else. My problem during the week was figuring out what to do when i wasn't in class. I'm still looking for a job, and don't have a lot to fill in my life otherwise. It was a bit slow and frustrating, but led to me being super caught up on all my readings for class.

Back to monday, where there was potluck party at Redondo beach for all the Pub D students. i practically threw out my back spinning Prof. Cull's 3-year old around and around. Then I went to a LA Dodgers game, with a family friend and a friend of my brother's who is a freshman at USC. We had uberfancy club seating for the meal, an incredible buffet that was overlooking the field. The fellow who took me was an interesting fellow. As he was pointing out how good the crab cakes were, he casually mentioned that he owned Empire Kosher Chicken. WHAT!? He stated that it was a business for him, and that he didn't actually keep kosher. That led to some interesting discussions about the nature of his business. Back to the game, we had phenomenal seats that were 7 rows from the dugout. Greg Maddux pitched, and the Dodgers won in what started a hot streak for them.

That about wraps up the week that was. Now off to meet some Pub Ders for a party at LACMA. Should be cool, it's a 70's night with DJ and art up on the walls.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Fear and resentment

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself"

First it was the Republicans pushing fear. Fear of immigrants; fear of terrorism; fear of WMD in Iraq; fear in their contrived culture war. Now, as they have played out the fear card, the turn to resentment.

The Republican campaign is becoming laughable. The McCain speech was utterly uninspiring. Sorry, he is just not a good orator. I would rather vote for Dole/Kemp. The reality is that McCain is analog to Obama's digital. In our flat, silicon world, we can't afford a leader who is learning how to turn on his computer.

Meanwhile, McCain can retire the "Maverick" moniker, as the Palin pick turned McCain's outreach to Independents on its head. This was not a choice to lure moderates, as Lieberman or Ridge might have; rather this was a slapshot across the Conservative bow. Palin is a political lightweight who has no business being a heartbeat away from the president. She isn't going to attract Hillary voters, the two are endangered polar bear opposites on every position. She is a a side of red caribou meat to a hungry base. If this is a contest about rallying the base, I like Democratic chances.

I find this idea that the Republicans are running like they haven't been in power the last 8 years to be a joke. It wasn't the Federalists or the Whigs that got us into this current mess. And blaming everything on the "elitist media" is truly pathetic. To quote Eduardo Galaeno, "They lie to us about the past as they lie to us about the present." The only thing I fear these days is that enough people get suckered in once again.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Juno of Juneau

So not to be Bidenesque, I borrowed the title from an article by Dana Milbank. I luv watching the Republicans squirm in self-righteous indignation at the Palin debacle. All of it is a debacle- the fact that I have more foreign policy experience than her- the aforementioned title of this blog- the fact that she was part of a party that wanted an Independent Alaska (Alaska First!). And there is so much more I didn't even mention. This is all too rich, pure SchadenGOPfraude (German for "taking pleasure in Republican misery"). As the maxim goes: VPs, do no harm; this is an Eagleton-Ferraro wrapped up in one. Dems, just keep our mouths shut and let this continue on its own. We don't need to say a word, it is snowballing down from Alaska, through Minnesota and on to Washington. I'll leave it to MoDo to drive the snowmobile home.