Sunday, May 31, 2009

Grey Day Tre

OMG the May Grey/June Gloom is killing me. Day III of grey; sunny SoCal is not supposed to be grey and gloomy. In a past lives, I was an Aztec priest of the Sun, sacrificing to its golden radiance. I was a Zoroastrian fire worshiper, standing atop a ziggurat under the orb's munificence.

Watching Endless Summer to try to cheer me up. It is so dated as the narrators talk about the "primitive Africans" eying their surfboards, and teaching the natives "hang-ten." A surfboard relic of a non-PC era.

"I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining. I believe in love even when I'm alone. And I believe in God even when He's silent."
-A Jewish refugee, Cologne, Germany, during World War II

Kingdom of Compton, PD UCLA & Beach BBQ

"The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things."
-Henry Ward Beecher

Don Pablo Quijote was lost in a storm of grey, amid the high seas of melancholy. But as he ventured out on a journey towards Dockweiler Beach, the sun peaked out and chased the grey away for a brief momeent. The pallidness in his countenance dissipated and his ruddy color and cheerful disposition returned with the orb's golden rays. The metro through South Central was as colorful and entertaining as always; who needs tv when you have the sensory overload that is public transportation.

Our knight errant departed from the blue line in the Kingdom of Compton and embarked on the coach-to-the-sea that would speed him across the south central dominion. The caravan passed unexpected oil derricks as it sped our hero to the pacific. Left alone on the caravan, our hero disembarked on the beach and walked the remaining mile to meet friends grilling for a going away bbq.

The merry band sat out on the fire pits, watching planes take off just overhead and silencing the conversation with their mighty roars. A band from the crosstown rivals from UCLA asked the USC revelers if they could partake in Prometheus' gift, to which Don Pablo Quijote pushed for good public diplomacy gesture and peace offer to the foes, and demanded that the elements be shared, but not before proper tribute was paid in the form of pallets and marshmallow smores. Good public diplomacy indeed to rivals in need.

The glimmer of sun set brilliantly upon the mountains in the distance, with gold filling the horizon sandwiched between grey skies and blue water. The golden light poured through the mountains, until the reddish-naranga ball of fire dipped below the craggy tops. It was spectacular, but no one but our fair knight seemed to be impressed or pay it any mind. The night was spent cooking up chickens, onion and jalapeños on coals. Tortillas with cheese were placed on the grill, and the final product included sour cream and diced tomatoes, for asada tacos par excellance. The beach horizons were punctuated with other revelers' bonfires, as the jets roared overhead. A fitting goodbye to my friend Miles, who I will probably see again in the Pacific Northwest, and someday later again down in South America.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Star Freud

I saw the new Star Trek yesterday with Kenya, or perhaps as the title notes "Star Freud" is a more apt title. Or "As a Driven Spock," about a character living between multiple worlds and identities in this post-racial, post modernist society. Like the new James Bond series- the brooding Bond busy avenging his lost love rather than the swinging Bond, the new Star Trek movie was interesting for its different psychology on an old classic.

Complete with familiar tag lines and old Cohen symbols, it was a millennial take on an old classic complete with modern pop psychology of the younger generation dealing with their parents' legacy and also trying to save the planet. Gone was the Cold War and civil rights dimension, welcomed was the post-modernist bent. Things like (spoiler alert) the bi-racial Spock-Uhuru love saga would once have been provocative, now the offspring love child would be none other than Barack Obama. Also, the Wynona Ryder as Spock's Jewish mother was in the same vein. Different times, different values.

The movie was entertaining for its millennial update. Kenya noted her friend Lindsey's point about whether the actors were playing Kirk and Spock, or playing Shatner and Nimoy playing Kirk and Spock.

After the movie, we had persian ice cream: cucumber, rosewater and date ice cream. Yum. Some good Jamaican food for dinner, jerk chicken, rice and peas, plaintains and some ginger beer and ting to wash it down. Some mixed-fruit hookah, and wii battles to end the night.

As closing note, related to Star Trek's millennial bent, from Kenya's mom on the identities we construct:
"Are you allied to the family, the faith or the race?" -Velma Davis

Friday, May 29, 2009

May Grey, June Gloom

So I figured that my lack itinerancy for the summer would be overcome by beautiful Cali summer weather. But alas, no one informed me until now of June Gloom. Apparently it is grey here in the summer, and I am already SAD,miserable and under-the-weather. Since I am in the throes of grey blues, and maybe I can get a prescription to deal with this affliction.

Tom Robbins writes that weather should either be celebrated or ignored; I wish I could. Anyone who knows me knows that grey weather is my kryptonite. Even the word "grey" is a choice as I see it more flat than "gray" (grey is a colour; gray is a color). I found an old grey piece as a memory from a different grey time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I set out yesterday to go to a lecture at UCLA, but alas, the crosstown buses proved too slow. The bus is always a source of entertainment, either quiet reading time or random characters doing random things. I abandoned my trek in Koreatown on the realization that I would never make the lecture.

I was adrift in a wave of angst, when my spirits were buoyed by the discovery of a Korean grocery store. I munched a korean pancake, with nuts and gooey brown sugar and cinnamon oozing out. The waves of red kimche, dried jujubes, pollack gut, fungi, and assorted delicacies and oddities brought curious smells to my nose and a simple smile to my face. Old Korean shoppers and young Latino workers milled back-and-forth the store, as I flirted with Korean ladies over my love of kimche and snacked on the various wares offered by the establishment. I walked around town, as the neighborhood shifted from East Asia to Central America and I was surrounded by Salvadoran pupuserias. Mi salvador is the diversity around me. A simple reminder of why I love the angels, and will enjoy wandering around this town all summer.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Malibu Memorial

So I finally caught up with my Aunt Phyl in Santa Monica, on the proper day. What a difference a day makes. We had lunch and walked around with her dog Kiwi, a fluffly bijon q-tip that was a girl magnet. Sunday night involved Donnie Darko and Daysha.

Memorial Day was cloudless and grand, and Kenya and I debated how to spend it. We were almost headed to the Nixon Library, but I nixed it last moment because it just felt so wrong. Rather, we decided to venture up the Pacific Coast Highway in her convertible to Malibu. Along the windy topdown ride, I learned such interesting facts as that the stoplight was invented by an African-American, as was the lawnmower (who knew John Deere was really Black?). Great moments in African-American engineering, indeed.

We attempted to enter the Getty Villa sans ticket, but with no prior reservation, we were stopped at the gate. We continued our trek along the coast to Pepperdine University, to wander around their campus by the sea. Along the journey, we were met by an old friend Adam Schneider, a buddy of mine since primary school, who now lives out here. Rather fortuitously, he works nearby and met us at the campus.

As we wandered through the undulating campus, and stared out at the vast Pacific Ocean and Malibu coast, a few stories seemed and were deemed funny enough to make the blog. Both involve denunciations at church, a rather apt scene given our meanderings on the campus of a Christian university.

The first denunciation involves poor Kenya, who was called out in her family's church in Frederick, Maryland. Apparently, Frederick is the Mecca of Maryland, a fact that two Marylanders didn't know and had never made the pilgrimage. So, Kenya had gone back to Frederick to assist a relative who was unwell. Flying into BWI, she was met by an uncle (by marriage) who came to ferry her from the airport to Frederick. This uncle also happens to run a car shuttle service, so he took one of the towncars to pick her up. Side point, said uncle had previously complained about relatives treating him like a service, sitting in the back seat while he drove, and "freeloading." She sat in the front and chatted the whole way for a lovely ride back to Fredneck.

After she returned home, she sent her uncle a thank-you note for the nice time and sent him some money for his time. At church the following sunday, in the small parish that is mostly kin, when the preacher asked who had something on their mind, the uncle got up and told the story of his niece who he had ferried from the airport, and had offended him by sending money. He denounced her rudeness in church, noting that the young lady needed to learn that family did not require such things. This sent the parishioners abuzz, and phone calls flooded back to Kenya's parents. Meanwhile, the uncle sent a letter back, chastising her for her rudeness and returning the money in question. "I am not some pauper, and the reward I received was your time and spending a lovely ride with you."

So Kenya inadvertently offended this uncle which she merely meant to show she valued his time and was not some freeloader. The road to hell is chauffeured with good intentions. My solution to the affair was that Kenya should forward on the money in her uncle's name to the NAACP or other appropriate charity in his honor. Perhaps that will settle things.

Meanwhile, the second story of church denunciations involves a girl named Suzy, who was dating a nice Mormon boy. At some point in the relationship, Suzy convinced the chaste boy to bed down with her, something that the poor fellow hadn't planned till marriage with another Mormon girl. But nature won out, and she had her way with the innocent lad. So, after said deflowering, he invited her along to go to the Mormon temple with him. Not being a Mormon, she felt a little wary, but he convinced her.

So at the services, when the flock was asked to discuss what transgressions had befallen them, the boy stood up and denounced poor Suzy in front of the whole congregation. This harlot who had led him astray, he told the congregation as he denounced her as a jezebel and a strumpet who had tempted him with the vice of flesh. Probably as expected, in mortification Suzy left the temple in a huff. What the lad didn't count on was that Suzy had no other ride home, so she propped herself on the hood of his car and lay there sunning herself as the parishioners exited the temple, offering further embarrassment to the upbraider.

Two denunciations, both had me in stitches and a final third question that comes based on Adam punting about and being attacked by ducks. Do ducks have teeth? We ended the afternoon at the Malibu market, a place I found rather white, rich and terrifying. I'll stick to the Kingdom of Watts.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Food Security, Harper's & Cardinal Rockower

My crosstown jaunts on the bus have given me ample thought and reading time of late. First, I have had the realization that although I am not going to Mexico and Central America, the regions and cultures surround me and with summer free time I can explore mi barrio and eat pupusas till my belly is full and heart content. Meanwhile, my Guatemalan mother Rosa, the housekeeper who cleans our house and feeds me Guatemalan food was lovely enough to bring me a big bag of Guatemalan coffee. Back to the bus I love, as it is always entertaining with the variety of crazies chatting to themselves, and interesting diversities of people for me to chatter with. A Mexican fellow today asked if I was from India. A bobbled-head to you, my friend.

I finished an interesting book called End of Food by Paul Roberts, which is all about food security. I read it for the panel I am on for my Japan conference, related to global food security. The book was an interesting, if disturbing, look at the modern food system, ranging from the history of food production and the Malthusian dilemma, large-scale food production, the agro-industrial complex, transgenetic food (GM foods), food supply chains, organic vs. local vs. farm-raised. Rather interesting, if alarmist. Kinda reminds me of Consumed, and the market gone amok narrative. I buy it, but not completely, and still remain a little skeptical that things are as bad as portrayed in the pages.

Meanwhile, a thank-you to Alexander Chase, whoever you may be. Thanks for not canceling your Harper's magazine subscription, and allowing me to read the erudite mag on the bus. Harper's is great for teaching me such things as: A chimpanzee in Sweden was found to be stockpiling weapons to use against humans (Findings); Estimated percentage of all guns recovered from crime scenes in Mexico that can be traced to US gun shops: 90(Harper's Index); the word in Sanskrit for orange is naranga; La naranja es la tristeza del azhar profanado pues se torna fuego y oro lo que antes fue puro y blanco (the orange is the sadness of its violated blossom, for what was once pure and white turns fire and gold) (Eliot Weinberger); some African tribes believe that the peanut is one of the few plants to possess a soul.

And a thanks to Cardinal Harry Rockower, whose astute observations while watching Angels and Demons noticed that "Cardinal Rockower" was at the top of the Vatican's list for new popes to be selected by the Conclave. A plume of white smoke to you.

Summer in La Mancha

Don Pablo Quijote de Los Angeles ventured out across town on his automotive steed to meet his kith and kin on the promenade of Saint Monique in the fair Saturday sun. Alas, plans proved elusive for the flighty and our hero was left alone. Our knight errant wandered through the street fair, playing philanthropist for the minstrels crooning bebop tunes and to an electric sitar player who wielded his instrument as a scimitar and cut electric eastern chords into the high afternoon. He wandered through the farmers' market, pondering how this too is probably on the stuff white people like list, and snacked at cherries and strawberries and other free samples of produce. One fair maiden Kenya required his service in the purchase of nectarines and strawberries, wait or was that raspberries and peaches, and the overpriced produce went into our knight errant's saddlebag.

Growing tired of the organic, our hero headed south to Venezia, and wandered through the freakshow carnival therein. Dodging skateboarders, buskers and people proffering prescriptions, our trusty knight errant wandered about through the carnival vibe, and headed back to his castle across town, grabbing a bolsa de frutas- the lime, salt and chile-covered fruit bounty in a bag.

An evening ensued with an old sancho panza, a friend Joe from Brandeis, who is off to Napa to study the culinary arts. Some tavernhopping in city center that was pleasant if unrewarding to three bars (Broadway Bar, Golden Gopher and Seven Grand). All owned by the same merchant, all very similar save different soundtracks blaring: first house, second hipster, third old-timey.

PS: A realization of the ubiquity of reality television, as seen in the Missionary reality tv program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Rather than voted off the island, I guess you get voted to purgatory.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Change of plans, Scarlett & Reality TV Star

A bit of a change of direction, but I will get to that. Wednesday was spent editing Public Diplomacy Magazine for the summer issue on Middle Powers. Some really interesting articles in the forthcoming issue, I won't let the cat out of the content bag.

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." Wednesday night I watched Gone with the Wind with Kenya. I had never seen it before. Interesting, and long. A rather fascinating social commentary: on capitalism; on Catholics in the South; on the Confederacy; on the Depression.. I had assumed it would be a fluffy love story, kind of a Confederate Casablanca- it was not what I expected, in the slightest.

My summer took an interesting and unexpected turn as I found out that I will be doing my Photography as Public Diplomacy at Annenberg. In the reverse, every opportunity is a crisis. I was supposed to be leaving June 1st to travel, either south or east; now I am now no longer traveling (save Japan) but sticking around and working on putting this exhibit together. I have put on exhibits in the past, but none to this magnitude, it is a rather large endeavor. I also managed to regain my room, as I was giving it over to my friend Daysha on June 1st. She was nice enough to give me my room back, and take another room in my house. Still strange bedfellows, but that is a different story.

Today I began my career as a Reality TV star, on what was hopefully a stepping stone to my Bollywood dreams and aspirations. We had visitors from On the Road in America, a group from the Middle East who are traveling across the country in an RV. They just arrived and came to talk to the public diplomacy program. It was a nice discussion, that unfortunately got hijacked and held hostage by the Israeli-Palestinian issue. See: the Burston article I posted lower, and a reminder of why I am trying to move away from the Middle East and its self-absorbed, self-consuming focus. Pointing to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as the unparalleled reason for all conflict in the Middle East is bunk. Sunni insurgents do not bomb Shi'ite mosques in Iraq and vice versa because of what takes place in Israel; Algeria's civil war had nothing to do with the Jewish state. In the famous words of the movie I just finished, Cool Hand Luke:

"What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don't like it anymore than you men."

But the group was nice, and should have an interesting time rolling around the heartland of America.

Left somewhat melancholy, a friend Lara came by to cheer me up. We went full force in the therapy factor, with freshly-made guacamole and superior chips, micheladas and cookie dough for desert. Spirits buoyed by salt, beer, sugar antidote to the Middle Eastern blues.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


That would be a 4.0 GPA for the entire year! This comes on top of my 8.0 senior year of college. I'm turning into the Joe DiMaggio of nerd streaks. I'm at one with my nerdiness, as it is gratifying to see hard work rewarded. Streak on, fight on.

"Golf is a game of luck. The more I practice, the luckier I get."
-Ben Hogan

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Newspapers vs Internet

Lack of tact

I went this evening to the American Jewish University lecture series, the culminating session of the lecture program they put on. The lecture should have been great. It was Madeline Albright, Dalia Rabin (Yitzhak's daughter) and Jehan Sadat (Anwar's wife). Everything started fine, with Albright give some nice, basic intro remarks. Then the three eminent ladies were welcomed as a panel, with AJU president Robert Wexler as moderator.

It should have been really interesting, but it was absolutely ruined by the moderator. Wexler moderated a game of gotcha with Jehan Sadat as his ambush victim. He asked very simplistic but weighted questions to the three panelists, questions that were very skewed against Sadat. She was all class, and answered the questions with a moderate's simple grace. But he was a total d-bag, playing points with the home crowd by going for cornering Sadat as if she was Suha Arafat. It wasn't pretty, and I left. Albright was good for a little push back, but I was disturbed by his unmensch-like moderation and headed out. It takes a lot for me to leave a lecture, especially one with such distinguished speakers. But I was so put-off by his moderating, and his bush league questions, that I walked out. Not having a Zionist perspective on history doesn't make Sadat wrong, it simply means that she has a different perspective; I wouldn't expect her to see the world through that lens, but would only hope that she had a moderate and accepting view point, which she did. And I wasn't the only one who headed for the door, there were definitely a few others heading for the exits.

Yael and I left and grabbed some red wine, humboldt goat cheese and olives marinated in oil and lemon at Bacaro, a cute little Venetian wine bar near my place.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Continuing Summer Saga of Don Pablo Quijote

Don Pablo Quijote de Los Angeles strode out into the high Angelino sun. As he trode to fairer pastures and ponds in the Valley of Saint Ferdinand, he pondered his recent adventures and exploits. He thought of the conclusion of his year's study in the chivalric art of public diplomacy, and the more mundane like how he left his silver steed Rocinante untethered in the Kingdom of Watts yet nothing befell his trusty mare. He thought of his maidens past, and the ephemeral quality they all shared. He pondered on his own peripatetic nature, and the adventures that the summer days held. Paul Rockower: "rak over" in Hebrew- just passing through, Paul just passing through the Cervantino dreams and imagination in the fields of La Mancha as blue ferraris sped past.

By a cruel twist, our fair knight errant found himself stranded in the Moorish Gardens of the Union Station, abandoned by the silver beast he hoped to ride to Valley of Saint Ferdinand. No sabbath service for the silver rocket, so our hero rallied and made some alternate plans with some fair maidens going his way. He descended back down into the underground and caught the fiery red rocket to the City of Universal Distractions; to a point of Californios history, where the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed, ending the Mexican-American War in Alta California.

The fair maidens rescued our hero, and he was off to sip fresh strawberry, watermelon, cherry-mixed margaritas and splash in the pools of paradise in the summer sun at the home of a fellow ex-Con Stefanie. After basking in the sun's refulgence, our hero caught a ride to Santa Monica, to catch up with the maiden Daysha and her coterie for a screening of Life After People with the writer/producer in what felt like a very LA affair. Shoes off, pop art staring down, thai food and intimate discussions with the director. In a far too apt occurrence, as we watched the show, the house started shaking with a minor earthquake. The program reminded me a bit of a great article in Harper's about post-apocalyptic called Detroit Arcadia. Some melon hookah and nana tea to follow under the vampiric glow of a black light at the Ali Mama cafe.

The day's morning began with brunch of delicious omelettes slathered in tomatillo salsa, toast, coffee and some later chai at the Casbah Cafe with dear Daysha. Then across town to the Hills of Beverly, where Don Pablo Quijote found himself to be a stranger in a strange land. Surrounded by overpriced accouterments and underdressed starlits, our knight errant pondered why he felt far more comfortable in the Kingdom of Watts than the Hills of Beverly. With a little time to kill, our hero did what any itinerant hero or homeless vagabond would do, he napped in the comfortable shade on the nicely manicured lawns of the parks of Beverly. Some coffee to wake with a friend of a friend named Shelly and a surprise encounter with one bff Yael, and a ride back down across town on the bus. A far more welcome existence on the bus as the laborers snoozed amid the hum of the bus' airconditioning, and Don Pablo read an interesting story from Harper's entitled "Let Them Eat Cash" about global food insecurity and one Microsoft mavin's attempt to rectify the situation. The grand summer days indeed.

PS: A good article on a speech by Costa Rican Pres Oscar Arias on Latin America taking responsibility rather than blaming America

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bibi, Amalek and Freud

A good piece by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic but in the NY Times on Bibi, Amalek and Freud.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cheap bastards

Way to win hearts and minds o' glorious Department of State, let's pay our foreign nationals poverty wages. I can't think of any better way to conduct our public diplomacy campaigns than on the backs of impoverished workers who must cut back on meals and send their kids to hustle in the streets, as noted by the report. Grand job, guys.

A pilgrim's prayer in Watts

I usually think of pilgrimages heading East, but this little pilgrim ventured South. On a biking pilgrimage to the ka'aba that is Watts Towers. Once upon a time, South Central was a point of direction for one Paul S. Rockower. After Cooperstown, but before Jerusalem, South Central was a point of focus and interest. With the sun still high in the morning sky, I headed down Central Ave to the gaudy Gaudi-esque Watts Towers. The regal spires stood high in the noon sun when I arrived. I watched a short movie about the creator, Simon Rodia. An immigrant from Italy, Simon Rodia constructed the steel, tile, broken glass monument by hand, seas shells, using simple machine tools. The movie dramatically likened the inspiration for the towers as the Italian spires of Rodia's youth; minarets of all different points of worship; gleaming domes in the hot desert sands.

I received a free private tour of the towers from Crystal De La Torre, a far too apt Crystal of the Towers. The spires stood like a stegosaurus' spine. Or perhaps, a ship's mast catching the winds of dreams on the high seas of fantasy.
From Watts Towers

From Watts Towers
I was whisked back to Gaudi's unfinished sacrament in Barcelona; the Garden of Eden of Kansas
From The Prairies

to Gaiman of Patagiona
From The Dali of Gaiman and the return to BA

to Owlhouse in Neiu Bethesda of the Great Karoo
From SA Misc

and of all monuments to man's crafted creativity.

The one funny thing about the tower was that all the people wandering around the tower were white. It was the only time I saw white people in Watts. Maybe Watts Towers is an obligatory cultural experience that white people like.

I meandered back, stopping in Watking Park at a farmers market. I had some tasty barbecue for lunch, Big Mista- a fellow from Galveston who appreciated my barbecue appreciation. I told him of barbecue odysseys to Luling and Lockhart, he simply smiled. The brisket was sweet, tender and juicy; the barbecue sauce tangy; the pineapple coleslaw crisp and slightly vinegary-slightly acidic. I washed it down with a Big Red, a soda so fine that it needs not define itself by taste but rather by color.

I biked back, taking in the changing face of the neighborhood. I realized that South Central is far more Latino than I expected. Reposados, milagros, and salones de mariscos serenaded by mariachis. I headed north as the downtown hung in opaque haze. My 15 mile jaunt was a welcome change of pace. I am now sitting on my front porch, as moving trucks and vans litter the street and change is in the air. I am snacking on my desert of a bolsa de frutas: watermelon, pineapple, oranges, cucumbers and melons, covered in salt, lime juice and chili. Summertime and the living is easy.

The Information Reformation

Behold, the International Reporting Project website has been launched. This is the group project I did for my Reporting in the Digital Age class. Our group member Emilie was the computer wiz who put it together. So ends the Levantine599 blog.

Friday, May 15, 2009

PD Corps & forgotten fellowships

"Long-lost projects resurface. Old news takes a new angles and is suddenly relevant again. These bits of history show you who you used to be and who you are now."
Capricorn Horoscope, May 13, 2009

"Our faults, dear Brutus, lie not in our stars but in ourselves."
William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar"

The last few days have been a whirlwind, but I think things are kinda calming down. Kinda. Maybe less calming down, and just simply working out.

Wednesday, I sat in on a presentation for a project I have been involved in, Public Diplomacy Corps. Public Diplomacy Corps, originally dreamed up by Erin Kamler and Naomi Leight, is a project to create a public diplomacy crossroads in cyberspace for public diplomacy practitioners. It is meant to connect public diplomats, or people doing public diplomacy without realizing it, on social networking sites. My friend Miles has been building the web portals and facebook apps.

The project, which is still in the conceptual/developmental stage, is part networking, part education about and training in public diplomacy, and holds intentions to be a public diplomacy consulting firm. The goal of the project is ultimately to give us PD practitioners a way to implement our PD training in real world settings. It is still in development, but got a boost of support from the Pub D program based on a successful meeting with Prof. Cull and Prof. Jay Wang.

Meanwhile, wednesday was spent editing for the next issue of the Public Diplomacy Magazine. Some really interesting pieces came in for our next issue on Middle Powers.

Wednesday night I went with my friend Daysha to the Specialized Journalism party. It is a new program at USC, in its first year. I had a class with a bunch of people from the program. It was a fun affair, with margaritas and good Mexican food. Daysha and I hit up a hookah place on the way back, Ali Mama's, for some double-apple shisha and sahlep, a warm tapioca drink covered with almond slivers, raisins, coconuts shavings, honey and cinnamon. Yum.

Yesterday, I started my first postings on PDiN. I put up some interesting stories about Somililand, Pub D in Afghanistan, the Tamil diaspora trying to do pub d in Canada and some other interesting stories. I think I will really dig the job, I love sifting through news to find tidbits to post.

Later, Daysha came by to sign the papers to take over my room for the summer, so I am officially homeless come June 1st. After, we headed down to Grand Central Market for some ceviche and baja fish tacos, plus some horchata and mexican bread pudding for desert. Maybe I should start a new blog, Tales of a Wandering Foodie. An afternoon respite to smell the roses at the Expo Garden behind school, then some wine on the porch, when I received a rather interesting phone call.

An unavailable number yielded a call from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, asking if my timetable was still feasible for the proposal I put in for a summer fellowship to study Taiwan's Public Diplomacy outreach. I sent in the application in January, and hadn't heard a thing so I just figured I didn't get it. Apparently, I am a finalist, and they like to deliberate. So...I might indeed be off to Taiwan for part of the summer to study their public diplomacy capabilities. It all depends on what happens with the photo project and if I do indeed get the fellowship. Nonetheless, a strange but welcome turn of events.

Realization to end on: grad school is a nerd force multiplier.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Joy in Mudville

A beautiful piece by Hector Tobar on the joys of being at Dodger Stadium at twilight.

Definitions of done

As my friend Naomi so eloquently stated, "you're not done, you're just done with your schoolwork." Sadly, she is correct, as I am still busy tying up loose ends. After some much needed spring cleaning and errands, I had an APDS meeting. Paul's on PD student council. All jest aside, I am excited for the work. A long but fruitful meeting adjourned for some veggie soul food down the street. Faux bbq ribs, bbq beans, kale and "seefood" gumbo, yum. A fun evening out with the two PD classes at a very cool lounge bar with grand decor called Broadway. Now off to run the gauntlet of remaining requirements.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stopping to smell the roses

I'm sitting out under the cloudless azure, on campus that is buzzing with graduating life. A little fountain bubbles over in the distance, as the soft summer breeze carries the smell of multi-hued roses on the wind. Reds, whites, yellow, even purple roses sway in the gentle breeze. It's nice to be done, and have a moment of respite. Sadly, that moment has now passed, and I must tie up remaining loose ends.

Done with year one

The school year is officially over! Done and doner. 2 papers, 2 finals. 4 classes and I'm done with my first year, and very glad to have a second. Another year wrapped in the warm embrace of public diplomacy, clung close to the bosom of academia while lounging in the ivory tower paradise that is Southern Cal.

I finished the last of my finals, the twitter version of research papers- a final paper of semester research, uncomfortably capped at 2,000 words. If you hadn't noticed, I suffer from logorrhea; I sneeze 2,000 words. It was painful affair as I edited and edited down my verbosity. I cut through fat, then flesh, then muscle. I hacked off a finger or two, until my body of work sat precisely at 2k. Then a final exam that was nothing like expectations. Bollocks. I just kept throwing "homophilly" into my Media and Politics final exam. All done, fight on!

Summer plans still unfolding. I will keep you dear readers posted. Nipon is on, at the end o' July. Meanwhile, either a Public Diplomacy Roadshow through Mexico and Central America. A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama. Yes, I will attempt to meander down from the Angels to the canal and dip my toesies in Teddy's dream. All on the back of my rent money, as Central America is far cheaper than Lala land. Or, I will stick around the Angels and work on my Homage to the Family of Man Photo Exhibit. Will keep y'all posted on what is to come.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I admit I have been rather apprehensive about the election of Jacob Zuma and what that means for South Africa. But perhaps things will be okay. I was worried about Lula for Brazil, and he has turned out fine. Zuma may actually have a little more backbone than the feckless Mbeki. Meanwhile, his election bodes well for a different reason. Zuma is a Zulu, taking over from Mbeki- a Xhosa. Having a tribal transition of power in a country with as many fault lines as South Africa is indeed positive. To view the conflict in South Africa as simply black-and-white is missing all the gradations of tribal splits that exist in a country with 12 official languages.

While I was there, I was told something by a Zulu that I will never forget. He said that the Zulu, who are warriors, consider the Xhosa to be "dogs" and the Besotho to be "rats." The Xhosa, who are known to be more diplomatic- and include Mandela and Mbeki, are dogs because they would rather talk than fight; the Besotho, many of whom work in the mines, are rats because they dig in the earth. The conflict in South Africa was really just one tribe, the white Afrikaaner tribe dominating its will over the other tribes, and there are still considerable splits among the remaining tribes.

So, that Zuma the Zulu took over in an orderly transition, while Mugabe the Shona disenfranchises Tvangirai the Matabele in Zimbabwe to the north does indeed offer a silver lining.

The Golem rises

From Valparaiso

The Golem has returned. From earthen clay, a hero rises to light our darkest hour.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Onion on Transnational Diplomacy and Global Security

As I finish my last paper of the year for the class of the title:

Ambassador Stages Coup At UN, Issues Long List of Non-Binding Resolutions

End of Days malaise

Busy getting through the end of days here. Besides all the boring library stuff, I have been getting out a bit at night after long hours in the library. Friday I went to Westwood with Kenya and Gloku- the Brazilian squatter at my place. We went down to get some ice cream cookie sandwiches at Diddy Reese, the amazing cookie shop. We sat out in the sanitized Westwood world, and chatted with a tiny little high school freshman from South Central who was selling candy on the corner.

On Saturday my friend Daysha came by to see the house, as she is planning on subletting my room for the summer. She is PNW (Pacific Northwest) to the max. We lazed around for a bit for the afternoon, then I got busy back to work.

I am in the midst of the unenviable task of paring down my final paper for Transnational Diplomacy. It is max 2,000 words including footnotes, and I am not one for brevity. I am way past chopping flesh out of the fair paper, and have been chopping bones and muscle as well. It's frustrating, because how can you tie up a semester long research paper into 2k words? My solution seems to be putting big chunks of text into the appendix, probably enough to cause an appendicitis.

Anyway, I had dinner with Kenya down in Pasadena, then we went to Beverly Hills for a b-day party for my friend Tabby. Tabby also worked for the Israeli Consulate, so there were a lot of the LA consular folks at the party at the Trader Vic's bar at the Beverly Hilton. I sipped an uberexpensive $15 Trader Vic's Sling(thankfully bought for me), as I watched the cougars prowl and the swanky Beverly Hills Persian set glam it up. As the saying goes, "nothing exceeds like excess." Such a strange world is the Westside.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Friday, May 08, 2009

the flu

“It’s funny how 90 people get the swine flu and everyone wears face masks, but over millions get aids and no one wears a condom. Pass the Truth.”
-JOURNalism chiCK, txt posted on NY Times

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's only pig got put in "time-out."

Klingon linguistics

An interesting note from my meeting with Dean Kaun today. She mentioned that she has to read names at graduation, which can often be tricky given the large number of
foreign students with foreign names. So for difficult names, she receives coaching from the students on how to deliver their respective monikers.

Kinda like:

On the subject of linguistics, a bizarre article in Slate about speaking Klingon, and the rich complexities the language holds.

Now, I speak gibberish rather well. I also know "Ne ĝen Esperanto," don't mess with Esperanto, but klingon seems a (Spock to...) bridge too far.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Final Finale

Getting through the sturm und drang of finals. 2 papers and 2 finals, getting done slowly but surely. Basically done with my FusionFest proposal;t he Iron Chef meets the LA Consular Corps meets tikka tacos meets gastro diplomacy.

I had my Comm 599 Reporting in the Digital Age final last night. The final involved writing 2 of 3 questions. One question was what the media landscape will look like in the decentralized future with more voices. I wrote that contrary to popular opinion that the future landscape without newspapers will lead to news that is shallow, shrill and sensational, rather we had the opportunity for more iconoclastic stories to come to the fore. Regarding the second question, about what the newspaper industry did to cause the precipitous decline, I argued that notion was bunk. The information revolution came, and no little micro thing could have changed it, save anti-trust exemptions and collusion. Rather, we are caught up in the birth pangs associated with the digital revolutions, and all revolutions- even digital ones, are bloody.

Today I had a meeting with Dean Abby Kaun and the head of Annenberg's Public Affairs regarding my Public Diplomacy Photo proposal. I'm in the running to exhibit my work at Annenberg, in a major public space. So far, I am the first proposal submitted and I am in the thick of the race.

PS: BFF and fellow ex-Con Yael sent me this on the deficiencies in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Oy.

PPS: An interesting article by Robert McCarthy on an imaginary map of the West Bank as an archipelago.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

de-hyping the news

So as we are now taking a sober breath about the swine flu hype (kinda, cause there are all sorts of sad, bizarre stories of discrimination towards Mexicans), I'm hoping we can start dismantling the sheer hype and hyperbole about both Mexico and Pakistan being failed states. While it is precarious to include the two in the same sentence, there are similarities in the out-of-focus coverage when it comes to reporting on both countries. The breathless "Mexico-under-siege" reporting, focused solely on the border drug war exchanges as if the country was nothing more the border area and not the sprawling country (5th largest in the Americas, with 110 million inhabitants) that is going about its daily life- albeit sometimes behind silly swine flu masks.

Meanwhile, the gloom-and-doom reporting on Pakistan, as if the Taliban militias are poised to overrun the equally huge country are also out of focus. In a country of 180 million or so, with a singularly powerful army institution, the chances of a rag-tag takeover are slim. Lahoris are busy living their cosmopolitan lives, Karachis are not stocking up in preparation for the Taliban takeover.

Yes, both situations do contain worry. But a little perspective please. And while we are at it, a little perspective on Africa coverage by Nick Kristof

PS: an interesting article yesterday in the LA Times on whether Darfur is really "genocide."

same story, different outcome

A sad story on the varying values we place on life. The LA Times had an interesting juxtaposition story between two hit-and-run victims, hit on the same day. One here at USC, which caused an uproar; the other in a different neighborhood and caused nary a peep.

Oren, AIPAC and a bit of hope

I'm pleasantly surprised by the move to appoint Michael Oren as the next Israeli Ambassador to the US. I think the move bodes well, and maybe gives me a little hope that Bibi has grown up a little. Oren is a brilliant fellow who wrote the brilliant Six Days of War. I heard him speak about the book a few years back at Politics and Prose, right before I went off to work at the Consulate, then again later at a Houston function. He will make a good and capable ambassador, and even had me thinking for a brief second of offering my services again.

Meanwhile, the AIPAC trial was dismissed. I remember when the story broke on CBS and the oy it caused. It didn't sit right then. The line I remember was, "we can walk through the front door, why would we crawl through the window?" I'll be honest, I don't love AIPAC and have argued with their arrogant staffers on more than one occasion. But I respect their work, and would rather they exist and hold the clout they do, than not.

Meanwhile, Bibi is making some positive statements towards peace. Good sign, but words are cheap. I'll remain apprehensive until it is backed up with some actions.

Lastly, congrats to my friend Jeremy, whose organization StreetSoccer USA was written up on the front page of the NYTimes for the work they do with the Homeless World Cup and Homeless soccer teams.

PS: I knew this would come and should not be surprised but I am now getting spammed on my twitter account for dating services in disguise as follower.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

MayDay, FusionFest and Gastro Diplomacy

May Day. Once on May Day, I was in Layoune, in the Western Sahara- meeting over coffee at a hotel discussing the Western Sahara conflict with tortured dissident Marxists and journalists while protests for Palestine went on outside, completely oblivious to the occupied nature of the Western Sahara. Grand juxtapositions, and regal memories. Of missed immigration marches and time fleeting. April ended in disarray, over group project disappointments and galling gauls.

May came wearily, with forfeits and dispossession. But rally I did,with Korean tacos with bff Yael to bring tidings and cheer. We headed to La Taquiza, for kimchee-covered barbecued short rib tacos, with a slice of avocado to garnish and tamarind juice to wash it down. A fluffy spudnut glaze for desert, and I was off to my home away from home, the library. Sad that my parents always know where to find me for Shabbat, and rather then call, they simply text since I am in a quiet zone and they know better to ring. I spent the day devising a bit of culinary cultural diplomacy for my final project. A bit of gastro diplomacy based on the aforementioned lunch and the universality of food as a entryway into cultural overlap.

A Quantum of Solace and bit of solitude did me well to end my May Day. I like the brooding Daniel Craig bond, his harder edge is a nice change compared to the comedic, sarcastic Last Action Hero Bond that had been created more recently.

Friday, May 01, 2009


ummm...the library just shook a little. I think I just felt a minor, minor earthquake. Not the kind that my amorous roommate does on the house, but a tiny tremor.


Enough with the hysteria regarding swine flu. The only thing reaching epidemic levels is the hype. It's a lot of pigsh-t. A little perspective, Prof. Cull noted that nearly 30,000 people die on a yearly basis from regular flu.

PS: my addendum as mentioned to Heather in my comment section on the last time swine flu reared its snout to cause hysteria.

From Pura Vida en Costa Rica