Thursday, October 30, 2008

In a nutshell

A beautiful piece by Roger Cohen of the NY Times of why the Obama candidacy radiates.

And on a far funnier note, this is something someone posted on a Washington Post talkback:
I heard Obama's gonna use a copy of Das Kapital instead of a Bible at the inauguration and then he's gonna force that Dobson fella to marry him and Joe Biden. Someone please put out the light.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who is John Galt?

“John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains—and he withdrew his fire—until the day when men withdraw their vultures.”
–Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I finally finished the leviathan that is Atlas Shrugged. While I am not, and probably never will be an objectivist, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I give Miss Rand credit for making me care about metal, trains and self-preservation. It also made me feel like a worthless looter because I produce nothing but papers, something she would scorn. There are too many dog-eared pages to go through and post favorite passages, I will simply leave offer a recommendation of value: read the book

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Dragon's Yarmulke

My roommie Chelsea is also the editor of US-China Today, the online magazine for the US-China Institute at USC. The first day we met, she recruited me for an article for the magazine. It was recently published, follow the link for "The Dragon's Yarmulke." Be sure to click on the interactive map and photo show.

Friday, October 24, 2008


In its infinite wisdom, the NY Times has endorsed Barack Obama. Interesting, because they endorsed McCain and Hillary in the primaries. They have a really cool presentation of all their endorsements since they chose Honest Abe. I can't believe they endorsed Rutherford Hayes over Samuel Tilden....

Oh, and a few other papers endorsed Mr. Obama too, like the Washington Post and LA Times. Ah, you say, those are part of the liberal media elite. Well, Obama has even been picking up papers that endorsed Bush, including my fair friend the Houston Chronicle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"O tolmon, nika"
-Spartan saying, "He who dares, victory"

My Pub D group finally won our weekly contest. Team Mr. Pink ("I don't tip") came out victorious in the fight against international human traffickers. After a week as murder board, we finally had to show our stuff. The scenario dealt with immigration, specifically dealing with crisis management following situation where illegal immigration went badly and there were dead migrants. We were supposed to present strategies for dealing with the crisis within our respective Foreign Ministries. One group had the US State Dept dealing with the situation right after a truck was found of suffocated migrants on the Texas border. Another was Italy's foreign ministry dealing with a capsized boat of Somali refugees.

My group's project dealt with the 2000 case where a group of Chinese migrants suffocated in an airtight truck container while they were crossing on a ferry. We set up the presentation in a different fashion than other groups or previous projects. Instead of giving a presentation, we sat down at a table in front of the judges. We didn't make a powerpoint so much as we broke down an outline called "Project 48," which entailed detailing our crisis management strategies over for 12 hour segments. The segment slides each had clocks and detailed points of press conference strategies, points, how we were framing the message and how we would reframe the debate away from immigration to fighting human trafficking.

My segment, the 3rd 12 hours I noted how we would be reframing the debate from illegal immigration to human trafficking and redirecting media attention to existing anti-trafficking policies and treaties the UK was part of. We recommended a statement by PM Tony Blair emphasizing how we would work closely with the Chinese government, and note our recent close cooperation on issues like the 1997 handover of Hong Kong and also the then-recent visit by President Jiang Zemin.

We would have the Foreign Office hold a press conference calling for the establishment of a UK Task Force on Human Trafficking. The task force could deal with increasing port security, international cooperation on stiffer penalties for smuggling and training for law enforcement officers.

As part of the task force, we also introduce the fight against human trafficking as niche diplomacy issue that Britain could focus on. From the past is prologue file, the UK could call on its history fighting abolition to introduce Project Wilburforce to spearhead the new transnational network in the fight against human trafficking.

Sounds pretty convincing, no? We charmed the murderboard and they rewarded our struggles with the previously elusive victory. Our project next week is related to international health and my group has to come up with a WHO public diplomacy against obesity in Mexico.

PS: Speaking of PD makeovers, apparently the McCain campaign has dropped $150K on Guv Sarah's wardrobe. Those are some pretty expensive skates, o' hockey mom. Joe-Dom Perignon approves, but that doesn't sound like frugal republican values to me.

PPS: Great article by Nicholas Kristof on rebranding the US with Obama. It's what we pdniks have known, but haven't put in such terrific terms as Mr. Kristof.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the new McCarthy , or Bachmann Overdrive

Down to the last two weeks and the true Republican stripes are appearing. Not content with branding Senator Obama as a terrorist buddy, now McCain surrogate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is branding Obama and Congressional Dems "anti-American." Pathetic. The only thing unamerican is how the Republicans have run us into a wall. Maybe someone should explain to the latter day McCarthy is that the true red scare is another 4 years under the Republicans. Or see my previous Poe post on "the Red death."

Meanwhile, I was listening to a report on the robocalls. The McCain campaign is putting out computer calls to tell voters that Obama is best friends with a terrorist. This is the same method of attack Bush used against him in 2000 in South Carolina, when robocalls were claiming that McCain fathered a black baby (his adopted Bangladeshi daughter). It truly is galling to see what his campaign will do to slime Obama. What happened to the honorable McCain who was going to run a nontraditional Republican campaign? He fired all those advisers and brought in the Rove proteges. I wonder if McCain can look in the mirror and honestly think he is carrying out an honorable campaign.

Check out a great piece by Bob Herbert about the garbage campaign the Republicans are running. The last play in the Republican playbook: if you can't beat 'em, disenfranchise 'em.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Poe, Powell and plotzing around

So I spent the weekend kinda car shopping. I'm turning my car crisis into a convertible opportunity and looking into getting a used miata. Tiny, impractical and way too much fun. It's barely bigger than a go-kart, with a trunk the size of a mailbox. Ah, but I'm in California and would love to ride with the top down.

I spent the weekend car shopping, and went out to Pasadena saturday night with my friend Prof. Kenya to the Huntington Library for a night of Poe and Gorey. The night was too cool. There were different productions of Poe stories and Gorey works around the grand gardens. There were no lights, and the different stages were lit with candles. The Huntington Library's architecture made a wonderful backdrop for the macabre works. We saw The Masque of the Red Death:

The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the redness and the horror of blood.

Also rather creepy productions of the Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven (Nevermore!) The night was true gothic revelry, and lots of fun.

Sunday I was awoken by a text from my Dad that Colin Powell had endorsed Obama. Heather also noted in a comment to mention said endorsement. I actually am kinda nonplussed about the endorsement. Sure, it feels good and brings a little added security gravitas, but I don't think Powell's endorsement is really going to bring any added votes. He has no real constituency, and the only vote I think he might change is his wife's. I'm glad Obama has his support and it is symbolically meaningful, but I don't think it changes the race in any dramatic way. Not like $150 million in September does!

Meanwhile, I said goodbye to my car. She served me well, and went down many a long road. All that I have left of her is her little toyota hood ornament, she is on the way to be scrapped. Now, in the immortal words of Bob Marley, my feet are my only carriage.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Total Loss

Well, after 3 weeks of waiting to get my car back, it turns out that it is being declared a total loss. This was not what I had hoped for. Apparently, the auto body shop had known it was a total loss for weeks, but never got around to declaring this to the insurance folks. This sucks. So now I am getting paid for the perceived value of my car. My car had far more value to me than what Kelly's blue book might think. I now have the hassle of trying to find a new car on my minor budget. I also now have to get a CA license, insurance and to title the car in here.

But as the Chinese proverb states, "Every crisis is an opportunity." So I am searching for some new wheels, preferably a cheap convertible. Something like a 1978 mint green Alfa-Romeo...

Actually I spent the day searching for used cars and I feel the need to shower from all the slime poured on me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Wow, you know the McCain campaign is having a rough day when the son of William Buckley comes out for Obama. Luv it.

Meanwhile, apparently Cheney has an abnormal heartbeat. I didn't know he had one of those.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Murder, Bloody Beer and Blue

It was a quick week amid days off from class for Yom Kippur and profs out of town. My pub d group had our last week together, this time as the "murder board." It was our job to judge the other groups' projects, a job far easier than designing but still requiring some work to know the background details. The project idea this week was dealing with globalization and transnational issues. One group was Colombia (dealing with drug trafficking), another was Ukraine (human trafficking) and Israel (money laundering). I was left to do research for my group on Israel and money laundering- interesting stuff I will address later. My group was supposed to be State dept officials for PD, choosing the project for a short term $20k media campaign to raise public support for the issue.

The first group to go was Ukraine. Their group had a project called "Voices for Victims," which entailed radio spots about human trafficking as well as a petition campaign to show solidarity in society for those trafficked. The idea was sound but didn't quite capture our attention.

Colombia had really great props, including a packet of seeds and a form letter that would be dropped over areas controlled by the FARC for Colombia peasants. There props were imaginative, but we weren't sold on the project itself. Plans for facebook and youtube promotion didn't seem practical, and the logistics of doing an airdrop and also letter campaign seemed a little far-fetched.

As for Israel, for some background click here. Basically, Israel was the holy land of money laundering because it wasn't illegal until 2002. Even today, there are major issues with money laundering and it goes all the way up the food chain. Olmert was forced to resign for money laundering, among other things. Meanwhile Ariel Sharon was under suspicion, and his son Omri basically fell on his father's sword and went to jail for illegal political contributions. That isn't even getting into the murkier levels of money laundering and the Russian mafia in Israel. It is still a problem there today, even if laws have been put on the books. So the group planned to put advertisements on Israeli buses, under the banner "What is Money Laundering?" with pictures of the ills of money laundering. Pictures connecting money laundering and organized crime, and also terrorism. This was combined with a website under the aforementioned title. We liked the simple, low-tech appeal. The project had a small budget, and we liked their small scope that would be seen by a wide audience because of the pervasive nature of the Israeli bus industry. As such, they were the winning group.

Our teams were split up and we got new groups, but my old group had bonded so much that we were having separation anxiety blues and agreed to meet up Friday for drinks. I first went with my friends Leah and Kenya to Pasadena to the Norton Simon Museum for a free art night. I added another "Thinker" to my collection. I collect Rodin's Thinker from various places all over the world. I am up to 7 spots including Pasadena(Paris, Philly, San Fran, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires-2, Shanghai). After, we met up with the old group and had thai and drinks later.

Saturday began my sporting weekend, as I went to early morning tailgating for a noon USC game. My friends Daniela, Ben and I drank bloody beers for the morning tailgate. The USC game was lackluster. USC won handily, but in a sloppy fashion. Meanwhile, I had great seats right next to the USC band.

After the game, I headed down for a quick trip to San Diego to see my uncle who was in for a conference. Down last night, back up this morning. As I was getting back, I got offered tickets to the Dodgers playoff game, so I went with my roomie Juliana to Chavez Ravine. We took the free trolley from Union Station with some drunk college kids to a Dodger route against Philly. Chants of "Philly sucks!" were music to my ears as I chowed down on a Dodger dog and incredible garlic fries (imagine garlic bread fries). The Dodgers rolled to a lopsided victory. Go Blue!

I will conclude with some worthwhile reading:
Great piece by Khalid Hosseini in the Wash Post about what's in a name.
Also another great one by Frank Rich, he has been playing his A-game for a while.
Lastly, a piece by WaPo's Fred Hiatt on what if McCain had really tried to run a respectful and decent campaign. That last one is a sad reminder of what perhaps this campaign could have been if McCain didn't get surrounded by Rove surrogates and proteges, and run as his own man.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Business of YK redux

This is probably along the lines of the piece I had envisioned for Marketplace, courtesy of the Jpost.

Also, a little of respect restored to McCain for finally telling his supporters to tone it down.


I'm disappointed with what John McCain would stoop to in order to win. I used to hold the man in full respect. But this xenophobic campaign of terror-baiting is sad and pathetic. For an honorable man, he sure is willing to run a dishonorable campaign. I guess he is just a regular Republican, not a real maverick. Divisive, hate-based politics is the Republican calling card that McCain is dealing. I had hoped for better. C'mon John, silence amid terror chants is cowardice from a courageous man. At least he had been.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blank slate

Yom Kippur is done and gone, and now I am a tabula rasa. I had tried to pitch Marketplace to do a story on the business of Yom Kippur, how it is a holiday predicated on accounting, and the business of accounting for one's sins (omission and commission, Wall Street style), but had no takers. I spent my day starving at Hillel services, which weren't bad. The cantoress had a voice like Tori Amos, and made the prayers sound lovely. The fast wasn't too bad, I spent the day watching movies with my friend Naomi and then finished services at the Chabad house nearby. Such a different service than the morning, I almost had to remind myself that they are for the same religion.

Meanwhile, Sen. McCain should be fasting a second day for this chazzerai his campaign is dishing out. Check out this post, "McCain's chilling dance with the darkside." Trying to paint your opponent as a terrorist is despicable. I used to respect McCain as an honorable man, but what kind of honor is there when you will carry out such incitement against your opponent. Playing to the vicious racists is shameful and appalling. It is also dangerous. Ask Israelis what happens when an extremist side of the political divide stokes hatred against political leaders.

In any case, I voted today. My absentee ballot is gone, and I got chills sending it off. Change is coming, one vote at a time.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Palin the terrorist, and not quite the Jackson 5

Did Palin call Obama a terrorist? I find her far more terrifying. Terrifyingly unqualified too. It's sad what the McCain camp will stoop to. All those "I would nevers to win." Now look what his campaign is down to- practically calling a sitting senator a terrorist. For shame. As it is sins of omission and commission time, let's take a trip down memory lane:

Monday, October 06, 2008

Lost in Lala land

Flower petals floating off in the traffic wind. Girls in bikinis, lugging a cello. Lost in Lala land.

Hazy hills of Hollywood behind me. Amelie softly leaving timbel drops in my ear while helicopter gnats fly by the big screen. Lost in Lala land.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The State of Jefferson

Looks like I might have to throw my yarmulke in for a new position, the Chief Rabbi of the State of Jefferson. Should Sarah and the first dude get their wish and Alaska secedes, we'll just add the State of Jefferson and won't have to change the flag.

Always the bride's maid...

Never the bride. Unfortunately, for the third week in a row, my Pub D project group lost. For the second consecutive week, we lost by a single vote. Our project this week was a simulation based on the idea that we were part of the UN's PD staff, and we were introducing the UN's new campaign in a press conference. One group's theme was small arms; another was cluster munitions; my group had landmines. The "murderboard" or judges were supposed to be a group of journalists from the US, Russia and China.

My friend John and I were the spokesmen this week, and we dressed up for the part in suits. We began our presentation with the video below.

From there, we had a presentation running in the background of pictures of landmine victims. There was no text, we simply left the pictures cycling through on a timed delay. John gave the background about landmines, and talked about the ICBL campaign then I unleashed fire and brimstone for our campaign. Essentially I said:

"We are here to frame the campaign to ban landmines as the moral issue of the new millennium. We are giving you fair warning that the UN is going to unleash a campaign of shame unto your shores, the likes of which you have never seen; we are going to hang this as an albatross around your necks. We plan to recalibrate the transnational network that exists around this issue and aim it at Middle America, Middle Russia and Middle China. As you can see from our video, we are going to aim this campaign at soccer moms and the rest of the heartland of America. With Russia, we have plans to make a similar movie so that Russians will never look at a hockey puck in the same way; for China, we will take off of the "One World, One Dream" Olympic ads and make one of the Olympic torch bearer trying to cross a minefield. The UN is not known for bearing its teeth; on this campaign we are going to growl."

The other component was to address each nation's respective military by translating a Red Cross report on the diminished value of landmines as a tool of combat. Meanwhile, we all were wearing white pins with one ribbon burned to represent the mutilations caused to landmines victims, and we planned to distribute these pins to the 156 nations who are signatories to the Ottawa Treaty to be worn on International Landmine Awareness Day (April 4th).

We ended up not winning because the murderboard didn't like our "campaign of shame" notion. They felt that the UN, which receives most of its budget from the US, wouldn't go after hand that feeds it in such a strong manner. Apparently, I laid it on a little too thick. We also suffered from the diminishing return factor related to powerful images rolling on and drawing away focus from our press conference, as well as losing its intensity. For the second straight week, we had the most dynamic project yet we lost to groups whose projects were more palatable. Boo. My group is done with projects, this week we are the judges.

Otherwise, Thursday I had Prof. Gilboa's class and we went over Australian Public Diplomacy. The Aussies have something called the "CK Factor", which means that they are associated with the "cuddly koala" and that helps their pd image.

Friday I went hiking through and up Griffith Park. I took the metro to Sunset/Beverly to the Los Feliz area then the dash bus towards the area. I walked through the park and all the way up the mountain to the top where the Griffith Observatory sits. It was a nice climb that took me a few hours to get to the top. The vista was stunning from the observatory. I hung out on top at the observatory and watch the sun set in a copper haze over the Hollywood hills, while I took in the wide screen postcard image of downtown. I hiked back down and went to a party that night at a friend Sofie's place. She is in the global communications program (1 year at LSE in London, 1 year at USC), and it was a bunch of her program mates.

Yesterday, just tailgating then went with my friends Miles and Mark to the USC-Oregon game. Beat the Ducks! We did pretty handily, amid some light rain showers that are a rarity in these parts. Today I spent the morning calling Nevada for the Obama campaign. Much better results than the previous attempt. Everyone I managed to get on the phone was gung-ho Obama. Nevada is still a gamble, but starting to look like a safer bet.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Aww, shucks

Well golly-gosh, Sarah might win the PTA vote. But this Mayberry shtick is a joke. Granted, she hasn't been a train wreck- all she had to do was complete thoughts and it was a good show. But watching her next to Biden is a joke; she isn't in his league. Biden has put on a good performance without being too verbose. Can't wait to see the SNL version of this.

Meanwhile, just as McCain is giving up on Michigan (Way to chase him out, Heather!), it sounds as if Charles Krauthammer is giving up on McCain. Far too early to get excited, we still have a hard slog till Nov. 5th.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

On the fridge

I am hanging up my first "A" paper for grad school on the fridge that is my blog. This is a case study for my Historical Pub D class. I am reconfiguring it for the blog, since it appeared in a slightly different form for the assignment.

Case Study-Music USA-Jazz Hour

With the election of Gen. Eisenhower to the presidency in 1952, US informational and cultural outreach received a more focused approach, including an incorporated United States Information Agency (USIA). In wake of the barriers that had arisen between East and West, the USIA sought to use Voice of America (VOA) as a cultural hammer to knock at the foundations of the Soviet Union and nations behind the Iron Curtain. Given the prominent status of RIAS in Berlin and its successful cultural outreach to East Germany, the model was set for VOA’s plan in 1955 to create a music program devoted to jazz music seemingly directed towards Northern Europe but reaching Communist Eastern Europe and the USSR.

On January 6, 1955, VOA began broadcasting Music USA-Jazz Hour, under the gravely-voiced stewardship of Willis Conover. Although jazz music was neither new to the Soviet Union, nor to the VOA repertoire (previous machinations included Leonard Feather’s Jazz Club a decade earlier), the Music USA-Jazz Hour program struck a chord with Eastern European and Soviet society.

Jazz, with its free-style nature and individualistic liberty was interpreted as the antithesis of the Communist collective society, and became an example of cultural rejectionism. Despite the serious and sustained attempts by Communist authorities to jam the signal of VOA, listeners continued to steadily tune in to the program; meanwhile, tapes and x-ray plates of Music USA-Jazz Hour broadcasts became prized contraband for music lovers and jazz aficionados.

For six nights a week, Conover broadcast Music USA- Jazz Hour to an adoring fan base that reached nearly 30 million regular listeners in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union at its peak. As noted in his obituary, “Conover would bombard Budapest with Billy Taylor, strafe Poland with Oscar Peterson and drop John Coltrane on Moscow .”

Either in spite of, or perhaps because of, the Stalinist authorities’ circulation of propaganda placards proclaiming, “Today he plays jazz and tomorrow he’ll betray his country, ” jazz music took on dissident significance to the stiliagi- the anti-establishment Soviet youth. The stiliagi adopted the music as the anthem of their dissonance in the face of the Stalinist ban on the music as “decadent.” As noted by S. Frederick Starr in Red and Hot, “Jazz, with its emphasis on individuality and personal expression, became the lingua franca of dissident Soviet youth, the argot of jazz their verbal medium .” The suppression of jazz turned it into a forbidden fruit to which VOA was willing to adeptly harvest and feed to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Conover quickly became an icon to music lovers behind the Iron Curtain. His visit to Poland in 1959 saw Conover hailed as idol, and later surveys found him to be the most second most well-known American in the Soviet Union . Meanwhile, Conover literally became the voice of America, as Soviet youth emulated Conover’s distinct diction as their own style of spoken English.

The music’s very nature in free-form expression stand as representation of free society, and Conover referred to jazz as “the music of freedom,” that helped feed an organic, homegrown movement of dissent behind the Iron Curtain.

In setting up the program, the State Department and USIA were well aware of the political nature of the music. The cultural-affairs officer at U.S. Embassy in Moscow stated, “The whole business of jazz was a political question, not cultural . Yet despite any political motives for the program, Conover refused to allow his program to be politicized; this refusal gave an increased authenticity and enhanced the “soft power” pull of the music.

Music USA-Jazz Hour was a brilliant and unrivaled success for American PD efforts precisely because it became associated not only with American cultural values and diversity, but also as a symbol of dissent. However, beyond dissent, the music also served as a symbol of hope to those living without freedom. Through Music USA-Jazz Hour, jazz music became perhaps the most effective soft power weapon in America’s arsenal, and served as a major attracting force to Western culture.

Furthermore, as a counter to Soviet depiction of America’s racial problems, jazz’s African, African-American and Caribbean heritage, served as a positive symbol of American cultural and racial diversity.

The example of Music USA-Jazz Hour demonstrates the effectiveness of non-overt political use of cultural programming. Precisely because Conover did not preach, but rather let the music and its style speak for itself in the face of Soviet repression, the music took on an even greater meaning.

For all the aforementioned reasons, Willis Conover and his jazz program reached iconic status in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; his radio program and work has often been cited as a key factor in winning the culture battle within the Cold War.

Unetaneh Tokef

The prayer that moved me most this Rosh Hashanah:

We shall ascribe holiness to this day.
For it is awesome and terrible.
Your kingship is exalted upon it.
Your throne is established in mercy.
You are enthroned upon it in truth.
In truth You are the judge,
The exhorter, the all‑knowing, the witness,
He who inscribes and seals,
Remembering all that is forgotten.
You open the book of remembrance
Which proclaims itself,
And the seal of each person is there.

The great shofar is sounded,
A still small voice is heard.
The angels are dismayed,
They are seized by fear and trembling
As they proclaim: Behold the Day of Judgment!

For all the hosts of heaven are brought for judgment.
They shall not be guiltless in Your eyes
And all creatures shall parade before You as a troop.
As a shepherd herds his flock,
Causing his sheep to pass beneath his staff,
So do You cause to pass, count, and record,
Visiting the souls of all living,
Decreeing the length of their days,
Inscribing their judgment.

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.
-Rabbi Amnon of Mainz