Friday, January 30, 2009

The week that was

My my, these weeks seem so short. Only because they are. And I am even taking an extra class (on layaway) and working on a story. Monday I got the lyme antidote (penicillin works for everything) and started working on my Time bank story. I had my Media and Politics class that night, we started by watching the inauguration again. Even better a week later.

Tuesday I met with Professor Cull to give thanks for a nice rec with a small bottle of tequila (better than an apple) and discuss a possible PhD. It's something I am considering, but also liken the prospect of it to Odysseus' time on the Island of the Lotus Eaters- I could stay here forever very comfortably but perhaps need to get on going to Ithaca. I later had my cultural diplomacy class then back to the studio for some more script work for my marketplace piece. After, I had some $1 tacos with my friend Kim. Great tacos for a buck, can't beat that.

Wednesday work, classes and the like. Thursday I kept on the story, finished the first draft and sat in on a live Marketplace program from the studio. Then I headed with my roomie Roberto to Superior and got provisions for a bbq. We had a bbq with my roomies, kefta burgers I made, along with tecate and jasmine hookah. We had some laughs over the seismic tendencies of one of our amorous roommates. It was like when the glass of water shakes in Jurassic park.

Today I ran some errands around school, dropping off conference forms for tours of the Rising Sun. I biked around town, down to McArthur Park. There was a beautiful art decoish building with large winged angels standing sentinel, ready to do battle with cloaks and axes. Through Koreatown for some bulgogi- korean bbq beef, with sides of bean sprouts of a different variety, spicy cucumbers, small fishies and kimchee. Yum. I want to write a column here called, C and B Seen, about all the delicious restaurants that have subpar grades from the health inspectors.

Also this week, there was a cricket coup. The Cromwell coup- slightly different than the Commonwealth variety by dear Lord Protector Oliver, rather a putsch on the cricket field to change leadership of the cricket club. Done in polite but serious Indian fashion, fascinating.

Now I sit in my hammock, in the lite air of the shabbat afternoon. The sun sets slowly in the west, and I wish everyone a shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

5 state plan and Obama on al Arabiya

'Tis nice to see Friedman writing about the Middle East again. As always, I couldn't agree more.

"A word to the wise ain't necessary - it's the stupid ones that need the advice."
-Bill Cosby

Obama was on al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based satellite network, talking about new beginnings for the region. A good start indeed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Malibu and Lyme

I woke up early this morning, sore from the previous posts activities. It was a beautiful LA day, and I went off to join the outdoors club in their first meeting of the year. They were going to Malibu for a day of hiking. I was the only grad student there. O pied piper, Marco Paulo and his tales to the unsuspecting youth; I spun yarns of travel to underclassmen, chatted about Asia with the foreign exchange kids and tried to make sure all were either studying abroad or planning to backpack.

The hike was beautiful, overlooking the tranquil pacific. We hiked through the verdant hills of Malibu, as big fat clouds sat high overhead. At our end point of the hike before we turned back, I got the group to be silent and we listened first to the cars passing, then birds calling and the faint echo of the waves coming in. On the way back, in the soft afternoon light, the plenispheres of the hills and the shadows in the canyons reminded me of the plenishpheres near the Great Wall in Beijing. A beautiful drive back along the Pacific Coast Highway. Just a nice January day in LA, perfect in every way.

Except...as I got back, I felt a sharp pinch on my stomach. I pulled up my shirt and found a TICK! Mofo was biting me. I quickly biked to the healthcenter, but it was closed. I pulled the little bastard out, and went home to try to tweeze any left over and put hydrogen peroxide on it. Doc says you gonna die....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dodgeball, Cricket and Roller Derby

Friday was a rarity of rain in the Angels. I spent the day doing interviews for the story I am doing for Marketplace on Timebanks. It was interesting doing a tape sync with studios in Washington and Portland, ME. I interviewed the founder of Time Banks, Dr. Edgar Cahn. The interview went well, but what was even better was after the interview. I went to figure out how to cut the sync, and Dr. Cahn started chatting with a person in the DC studio, as the tape was still running. I sat as a fly on the wall listening into their conversation, which was in some ways better than the interview because it was so candid and natural. I listened in for a good 15 minutes before I piped in and said that we were still recording. I also interviewed Professor Ed Collom, who studies Time Banks and alternative social currency.

After my morning of interviews, I trudged out in the rain and down to school for a dodgeball tournament. I set up a team of my classmates, the Pub D Fightin' Culls. We all got dressed up in ridiculous clothing- long socks, short shorts and headbands and began our quest for honor and glory. As team captain (oh captain, my captain), I gave the opening pep talk, telling the team that we had to focus on the basics of public diplomacy if we wanted to win. As a team, we had to listen to each other; we had to advocate; we had to culturally exchange the balls as fast as we could at the other team; we had to internationally broadcast our dominance; we had to carry out psychological warfare.

We cried havoc ("The last 3 feet!") and unleashed the dogs of dodgeball war. We won our first game in rapid fashion 3-0. Unfortunately, we lost our second match in heartbreaking fashion 3-2, probably on account of fatigue of playing two matches back-to-back against a fresh team. Our quest for honor and glory continues next week, I will update. After the tourney, we played amongst ourselves for a long time on the dodgeball/racquetball courts. Lotsa fun.

That night, I joined my cricket team for our match at Cromwell field. I am the only gora in the league. I'm learning, and slowly getting better. I'm still no good, but I will be by the end because it isn't so far off from baseball. For now, nobody expects much so I get a nice head pat when I do anything remotely okay. I was stationed in what could only amount to "left-out," behind the catcher, since cricket is 360 degrees. I managed to help get the last out, which is harder than it sounds. When I was up, I didn't do so well again. Frustrating, but again I'm on the learning curve. I got two runs, which is not much at all. Nonetheless, it was fun and everyone is really nice.

An interesting night at a cool honky tonk bar in Culver City, the Cinema Bar- along with the continuing education of one Paul Rockower. It's a rare night when you get a lesson on life and I gained some insight in the radio business, the way the world works and a great deal of respect for a new friend.

Saturday was spent interviewing the Echo Park Time Bank members. One girl was hemming a dress for another person to earn a time dollar, and I interviewed the group. After my interviews, I went out for a bit with my friend Kim. We weaved through downtown to Little Tokyo for some sweets. Nanju, gooey black bean paste wrapped in mochi- glutinous rice smashed into a sweet paste. Washed down with boba, which I convinced the good mormon girl was not unkosher for mormon sensibilities.

That night, I snacked on brazilian bites of coxhina- a delicious chicken fried pastry bite, palmitos- hearts of palm and potato fried bites, and pao de quijo- gooey cheesebread rolls, while my roommate Roberto hosted various foreign guests. We sat out on the porch, smoking jasmine hookah while groups of couchsurfing friends of his came through. After hanging out for a while, drinking caiparinhas, and watching two friends try to convince Roberto to wear a neon orange headband for an 80's night at the roller rink. We were joined by Elizabeth, a Hawaiin Filipina, and Sophia, a korean belgian, and convinced Marcos and his twin brother Luiz to skate.

Now, I haven't skated since I was 12years old, in 6th grade. I finally got to go out with the cool kids, but it was my first time skating and I was awful. At one point, I fell and broke my ankle. I had to be taken off in an ambulance, giving the thumbs up symbol like Mike Utley, and probably effectively ruining my chances to hang out with the cool kids again. Ah, but I digress. So I went rollerskating at this 80's night affair. Everyone was dressed up- girls in white-striped booty shorts, long striped socks and headbands, guys in one-piece suits of hideous repute. I definitely fell on my ass a few times out there. If G-d wanted me to have wheels strapped to me, he would have made my mama a cadillac. But I managed to get the hang of it and was speeding by towards the end. All while stealing chicken wings and snacks from an unsuspecting birthday party.

We ended the night at a 24 hour mexican food stand, the brazilians, aforementioned girls and Belgian and French dudes. This is what I like, when I am the only gringo about. Reminds me of my undergrad days, hanging with all the international kids. Late night burritos for a fun day.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Change starts slowly

And like that, the change begins. The immense change of world views, as Guantanamo is ordered closed and the "War on Terror" ends. Not to say that fighting terrorist groups and their ilk is being shelved, simply the unending and amorphous version that meant the president was free to break the Constitution and international law. No more Gitmo, no more unlawful interrogations (torture), no more terror to fight the "War on Terror."
And I believe we can fight the war on terror better by ending the "War on Terror," because we will have partners in the battle.

No more prohibition of funds for international family planning groups that discuss or perform abortion.

No more head in the sand when it comes to climate change.

No more tin ear to world opinion. I can't wait to see what else will change.

Piece by piece, hope by hope to restore our greatness in global leadership.

PS: Meanwhile, WTF is going on with Senate seats? First Illinois, now New York. Can someone get this right?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rebooting America's Image

I attended a lecture today by Dean Wilson, who heads Annenberg, on "Rebooting America's Image." He is a supercool character, and the consummate diplomat. Dean Wilson had been appointed to Obama's transition team to deal with public diplomacy. I was apparently so excited to see him speak, that I showed up a day early for his lecture, arriving yesterday to the conference room. I came today and got to hear him discuss the inauguration and the transition team.

First, he shared his impressions from the inauguration. Dean Wilson first discussed the parties that went till late, then waking up early and hoping on the completely full metro to ride down from Silver Spring in sardine fashion. He compared the inauguration to another mass-gathering he had once attended some 45 years prior, the March on Washington. He noted the juxtaposition of the focus of the March, being at the Lincoln Memorial, whereas this time the view was reversed, facing the capitol. He also shared some moving descriptions of the waves of American flags being waved by the throngs of diverse humanity on the Mall.

He also discussed his role on the transition team, and put it in proper perspective saying he was advising advisors who were advising, and was realistic about the input given- but noted you can be "sage on the stage or guide on the side." Regarding the transition team headquarters, it was like a frat house. Apparently, during the Clinton transition, it was a super-duper frat house. Cubicles upon cubicles filled with soon-to-be staffers of DOD, State and other assorted high powered offices, all in the same place.

As for tips for transition for PD, Wilson noted three points: 1) get organized, 2) get out of Washington, and 3) get digital. Getting organized requires leadership, and more boots on the ground. He noted about how there are more military lawyers in DOD than diplomats at State. It also requires sustained leadership, not the rotating chair at undersec for PD, which has seen 7 or so heads in the 12 years since PD was taken over by State. As for getting out of Washington, he pointed out the role that other parts of the country (ie Los Angeles) can play in having a PD impact. As for getting digital, it is all about harnessing new technologies to promote public diplomacy efforts and being innovative in the use of new systems.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to ask a question, my question was about if the transition team or the Obama administration had crafted a plan to use the inauguration for public diplomacy gain, or what they had done to get maximum pub d traction from the event including use of new media. Maybe I will go pop my head in the good Dean's office and ask.

Otherwise, just had a captain's meeting for my dodgeball team (the Pub D Fightin' Culls) for a tourney tomorrow.

E Rock designs

My little sister Ellen was just written up in Philadelphia Magazine for her jewelry. Congats, little sis!.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hersh and My Lai

I'm sitting in class listening to Sy Hersh discuss getting the My Lai story. He is being conferenced in, and David Obst of the Dispatch News Service is here with us. Pretty amazing. Hersh's anecdotes on trying to get the story are remarkable.

Obst is giving us some colorful stories about getting a pulitzer, life in Taiwan and other assorted tales of "the business". Luv these old guys telling stories of the old days. Too funny. The anecdotes are turning to riots on Berkeley, Ramsey Clark press conferences called and canceled and students getting gassed. The stories have moved on to stealing the pentagon papers out of Daniel Ellsberg's footlocker before the FBI got to them.

And moving on to Obst selling Woodward and Bernstein's "All the President's Men." Apparently the first draft to Simon and Shuster was panned and they wanted their money back, then Watergate takes off and S&S wanted it again. They edit it a bit, making Woodward and Bernstein central to the story and playing up Deep Throat. The rest is history. Except that, Obst claims that there was no Deep Throat. He says that Mark Felt wasn't the guy and couldn't possibly be the guy. He says Felt never was near the info claimed. Also the lovely things like the flowerpot on the balcony was not real. Also the NY Times was not circled because they were delivered in bulk.

Obst final point: "journalism was a blue collar job. But Woodward and Bernstein are Redford and Hoffman, and J-schools explode. Kids getting into it that are upper class. What's kind of bad about it was the bluecollar workers were content to hit a single. After Woodward and Bernstein, everyone wanted to hit homers."

The McCarthy Scholarship

So I applied for a ridiculous fellowship that would have paid my whole tuition and living expenses, plus a nice stipend. The only stipulation was that I couldn't be a commie or support communist principles. Man, for a scholarship like that, I would don the jack-boots and salute Il Duce. Alas, I was not selected. Damn fascists! They must have seen my pics at Trotsky's tomb. Oh well. Looks like I am still paying my way for grad school....

Dani in India

This is a video from my friend Dani that he made while he was in India. I helped convince him to go, he is one of the many I have sent in my wake to India.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Dream 2.0

I'm at Ground Zero, the student coffee shop for the inaugural. The Unruh Institute and Annenberg are sponsoring an event, complete with a lavish breakfast. The place is packed with students, and media too. I was just interviewed by KTLA on the great expectations facing Obama and if it was a good thing.

Just watching all the dignitaries go by. The Obama girls are so cute. Michele looked pretty regal in that yellow dress. Bush cracked us up by slapping five with some lady. Cheney getting wheeled out was far too ironic. He looked like an angry old monster who might snarl and eat children. Just wheel ol' grandpa to the back of the podium. The crowds are incredible. We can hear the cheers of "O-Ba-Ma." The camera shots showing the waves of humanity out for the inauguration is unbelievable. We just got a shot of Obama walking through the interior and the place erupted in cheers. I can't wipe the smile off my face of seeing Obama take the stage.

Sen Feinstein gave nice opening remarks, and Pastor Rick Warren gave a moving benediction. Aretha is belting out "My Country tis of thee," too cool.

Biden was just sworn in, now the composition by USC alum John Williams being performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Yitzhak Pearlman. It's a nice, uplifting piece, and it's fun to watch Yo-Yo Ma and Yitzhak Pearlman go back-and-forth in dueling strings.

The place just erupted for Obama's swearing in. Nice job flubbing the swearing in, Judge Roberts. He seemed so ready to get through the swearing in that he was jumping past Roberts. Obama's address is wonderful. His words are heady and profound. Okay, I'm getting chills. His clarion call for action is what we need. "The world has changed and we must change with it."

Rev Lowery's benediction was great, "let yellow be mellow! Let red get ahead!" Too funny. The final "Star-spangled banner" was moving. Everyone stood in silence. It was also moving to see Obama and his wife mouthing the words. Of course, I screamed "O!"

My G-d, this is a dream. Let the new era begin. A nice piece by Richard Cohen on the challenges we face. I have hope that we can face them.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Overcome

For this auspicious MLK day, I went to the Museum of Tolerance for a special day they were having. I went with my friend Kenya and some of her friends. We were a nice ethnic mix. We watched a very moving play, Living Voices: The Right to Dream. It was an interactive play, combining video and sound with theater. It told the story of a woman caught up in the civil rights movement, complete with pictures and images of the times. Bus boycotts, the Battle of Birmingham and Edmund Pettus Bridge, the March on Washington, the Freedom Rides, all of it; Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, all who fought. It was extremely well done, and the combination of the play and the moment we are witnessing really got me. First it was chills, then spilled into into full-fledged welling up. I ended up overflowing like a bathtub. The struggle for civil rights culminating 45 years later, and arriving at the doorstep of the White House and of history. The weight of history, hope and change caught me, and left me overcome as tears fell like rain.

Once I collected myself, we went to see the rest of the museum. There was a very well done exhibit about genealogy and the family history of famous Americans like Billy Crystal, Maya Angelou and Joe Torre. All very moving. After the genealogy exhibit, we returned to the MLK events, and watch a movie produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center on "The Children's March" and the role that school children played in the Battle of Birmingham. The fury of Bull Connor and his hoses, clubs and dogs battling against the hope of children fighting for equality. We still have a long way to go, but looking back those 45 years and looking to tomorrow, we have come so far.

Tomorrow is such a momentous day, but for today I will let Dr. King finish this blog:

Free press

An interesting op-ed in the LA Times about the future of the Free Press from my Prof. Geoffrey Cowan and the wife of my other prof. This is part of what the class is dealing with.

The numbers speak for themselves

Thanks for the memories, George. Go run out of town, and stick us with the bill for your follies. This is all what prompted The Onion to run the following headline after Obama won: Black Man Given Worst Job in America. Here are the numbers:
Harper’s Index

Number of news stories from 1998 to Election Day 2000 containing “George W. Bush” and “aura of inevitability”: 206

Amount for which Bush successfully sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1999: $2,500

Year in which a political candidate first sued Palm Beach County over problems with hanging chads: 1984

Total amount the Bush campaign paid Enron and Halliburton for use of corporate jets during the 2000 recount: $15,400

Percentage of Bush’s first 189 appointees who also served in his father’s administration: 42

Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98

Years before becoming energy secretary that Spencer Abraham cosponsored a bill to abolish the Department of Energy: 2

Number of Chevron oil tankers named after Condoleezza Rice, at the time she became foreign policy adviser: 1

Date on which the GAO sued Dick Cheney to force the release of documents related to current U.S. energy policy: 2/22/02

Number of other officials the GAO has sued over access to federal records: 0

Months before September 11, 2001, that Cheney’s Energy Task Force investigated Iraq’s oil resources: 6

Hours after the 9/11 attacks that an Alaska congressman speculated they may have been committed by “eco-terrorists”: 9

Date on which the first contract for a book about September 11 was signed: 9/13/01

Number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African men detained in the U.S. in the eight weeks after 9/11: 1,182

Number of them ever charged with a terrorism-related crime: 0

Number charged with an immigration violation: 762

Days since the federal government first placed the nation under an “elevated terror alert” that the level has been relaxed: 0

Minimum number of calls the FBI received in fall 2001 from Utah residents claiming to have seen Osama bin Laden: 20

Number of box cutters taken from U.S. airline passengers since January 2002: 105,075

Percentage of Americans in 2006 who believed that U.S. Muslims should have to carry special I.D.: 39

Chances an American in 2002 believed the government should regulate comedy routines that make light of terrorism: 2 in 5

Rank of Mom, Dad, and Rudolph Giuliani among those whom 2002 college graduates said they most wished to emulate: 1, 2, 3

Number of members of the rock band Anthrax who said they hoarded Cipro so as to avoid an “ironic death”: 1

Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations: 22,000

Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50

Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069

Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector: 100

Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents: 0

Date on which Bush said of Osama bin Laden, “I truly am not that concerned about him”: 3/13/02

Days after the U.S. invaded Iraq that Sony trademarked “Shock & Awe” for video games: 1

Days later that the company gave up the trademark, citing “regrettable bad judgment”: 25

Number of books by Henry Kissinger found in Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz’s mansion: 2

Number by then–New York Times reporter Judith Miller: 1

Factor by which an Iraqi in 2006 was more likely to die than in the last year of the Saddam regime: 3.6

Factor by which the cause of death was more likely to be violence: 120

Chance that an Iraqi has fled his or her home since the beginning of the war: 1 in 6

Portion of Baghdad residents in 2007 who had a family member or friend wounded or killed since 2003: 3/4

Percentage of U.S. veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have filed for disability with the VA: 35

Chance that an Iraq war veteran who has served two or more tours now has post-traumatic stress disorder: 1 in 4

Number of all U.S. war veterans who have been denied Veterans Administration health care since 2003: 452,677

Number of eligibility restrictions for admission into the Army that have been loosened since 2003: 9

Percentage change from 2004 to 2007 in the number of Army recruits admitted despite having been charged with a felony: +295

Date on which the White House announced it had stopped looking for WMDs in Iraq: 1/12/05

Years since his acquittal that O. J. Simpson has said he is still looking for his wife’s “real killers”: 13

Minimum number of close-up photographs of Bush’s hands owned by his current chief of staff, Josh Bolten: 4

Number of vehicles in the motorcade that transports Bush to his regular bike ride in Maryland: 6

Estimated total miles he has ridden his bike as president: 5,400

Portion of his presidency he has spent at or en route to vacation spots: 1/3

Minimum number of times that Frederick Douglass was beaten in what is now Donald Rumsfeld’s vacation home: 25

Estimated number of juveniles whom the United States has detained as enemy combatants since 2002: 2,500

Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody: 8

Minimum number of extraordinary renditions that the United States has made since 2006: 200

Date on which USA Today added Guantánamo to its weather map: 1/3/05

Number of incidents of torture on prime-time network TV shows from 2002 to 2007: 897

Number on shows during the previous seven years: 110

Percentage change since 2000 in U.S. emigration to Canada: +79

Number of the thirty-eight Iraq war veterans who have run for Congress who were Democrats: 21

Percentage of Republicans in 2005 who said they would vote for Bush over George Washington: 62

Seconds it took a Maryland consultant in 2004 to pick a Diebold voting machine’s lock and remove its memory card: 10

Number of states John Kerry would have won in 2004 if votes by poor Americans were the only ones counted: 40

Number if votes by rich Americans were the only ones counted: 4

Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4

Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000

Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172

Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15

Percentage change since 2002 in the number of U.S. teens using illegal drugs: –9

Percentage change in the number of adults in their fifties doing so: +121

Number of times FDA officials met with consumer and patient groups as they revised drug-review policy in 2006: 5

Number of times they met with industry representatives: 113

Amount the Justice Department spent in 2001 installing curtains to cover two seminude statues of Justice: $8,650

Number of Republican officials who have been investigated by the Justice Department since 2001: 196

Number of Democratic officials who have been: 890

Number of White House officials in 2006 and 2007 authorized to discuss pending criminal cases with the DOJ: 711

Number of Clinton officials ever authorized to do so: 4

Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130

Number of U.S. cities and towns that have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush: 92

Percentage change since 2001 in U.S. government spending on paper shredding: +466

Percentage of EPA scientists who say they have experienced political interference with their work since 2002: 60

Change since 2001 in the percentage of Americans who believe humans are causing climate change: –4

Number of total additions made to the U.S. endangered-species list under Bush: 61

Average number made yearly under Clinton: 65

Minimum number of pheasant hunts Dick Cheney has gone on since he shot a hunting companion in 2006: 5

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit that Cheney’s office ordered an electric company to restore power to two oil pipelines: 1

Days after the hurricane that the White House authorized sending federal troops into New Orleans: 4

Portion of the $3.3 billion in federal Hurricane Katrina relief spent by Mississippi that has benefited poor residents: 1/4

Percentage change in the number of Louisiana and Mississippi newborns named Katrina in the year after the storm: +153

Rank of Nevaeh, “heaven” spelled backward, among the fastest growing names given to American newborns since 2000: 1

Months, beginning in 2001, that the federal government’s online condom fact sheet disappeared from its website : 17

Minimum amount that religious groups received in congressional earmarks from 2003 to 2006: $209,000,000

Amount such groups received during the previous fourteen years: $107,000,000

Percentage change from 2003 to 2007 in the amount of money invested in U.S. faith-based mutual funds: +88

Average annualized percentage return during that time in the Christian and Muslim funds, respectively: +11, +15

Number of feet the Ground Zero pit has been built up since the site was fully cleared in 2002: 30

Number of 980-foot-plus “Super Tall” towers built in the Arab world in the seven years since 9/11: 4

Year by which the third and final phase of the 2003 “road map” to a Palestinian state was to have been reached: 2005

Estimated number of the twenty-five provisions of the first phase that have yet to be completed: 12

Number of times in 2007 that U.S. media called General David Petraeus “King David”: 14

Percentage change during the first ten months of the Iraq war “surge” in the number of Iraqis detained in U.S.-run prisons: +63

Percentage change in the number of Iraqis aged nine to seventeen detained: +285

Ratio of the entire U.S. federal budget in 1957, adjusted for inflation, to the amount spent so far on the Iraq war: 1:1

Estimated amount Bush-era policies will cost the U.S. in new debt and accrued obligations: $10,350,000,000,000 (see page 31)

Percentage change in U.S. discretionary spending during Bush’s presidency: +31

Percentage change during Reagan’s and Clinton’s, respectively: +16, +0.3

Ratio in 1999 of the number of U.S. federal employees to the number of private employees on government contracts: 15:6

Ratio in 2006: 14:15

Total value of U.S. government contracts in 2000 that were awarded without competitive bidding: $73,000,000,000

Total in 2007: $146,000,000,000

Number of the five directors of the No Child Left Behind reading program with financial ties to a curriculum they developed: 4

Amount by which the federal government has underfunded its estimated cost to implement NCLB: $71,000,000,000

Minimum number of copies sold, since it was released in 2006, of Flipping Houses for Dummies: 45,000

Chance that the buyer of a U.S. home in 2006 now has “negative equity,” i.e., the debt on the home exceeds its value: 1 in 5

Estimated value of Henry Paulson’s Goldman Sachs stock when he became Treasury Secretary and sold it: $575,000,000

Estimated value of that stock today: $238,000,000

Salary in 2006 of the White House’s newly created Director for Lessons Learned: $106,641

Minimum number of Bush-related books published since 2001: 606

Number of words in the first sentence of Bill Clinton’s memoir and in that of George W. Bush’s, respectively: 49, 5

Minimum number of nicknames Bush has given to associates during his presidency: 75

Number of associates with the last name Jackson he has dubbed “Action Jackson”: 2

Number of press conferences at which Bush has referred to a question as a “trick”: 14

Number of times he has declared an event or outcome not to be “acceptable”: 149

Rank of Bush among U.S. presidents with the highest disapproval rating: 1

Average percentage of Americans who approved of the job Bush was doing during his second term: 37

Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37

the plague

The war in Gaza is apparently over, and the pundits are hashing over who won and who lost. I have purposefully stayed away from commenting too much on it, as I am not sure what to say or where to begin. Perhaps this is sadly where it ends for Israel and the Jewish people and for Gaza and the Palestinians. I know all about the "purity of arms" doctrine, the necessity to end the rockets being fired into Israel, and the continual provocations of Hamas, but I can't get over that phone call; I know about the lopsided casualty numbers with too many civilians killed, the harsh conditions that made Gaza like a prison, but I can't get over the anti-Semitic backlash.

"Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
I am peppered, I warrant, for this world.
A plague o' both your houses!"
Mercutio, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Venezia and Saint Monique

I woke up early, and after a little school book shopping, headed on my way to bike to the Pacific. I headed up and out along Washington, passing real abstract art in the form of jigsaw colors and graffiti masterpieces. The smell of sweet breads coming from the panadarias rose into the morning air. I got a little lost, but found my way some 12 miles to the freakshow carnaval that is Venice Beach. I was surrounded by dogs in sunglasses, human statues painted bright gold and wacky performers of every variety. For lunch I had an ostentatious kobe beef hotdog, covered in grilled peppers and onions- served in an onion roll. It was a quality dog, but nothing I would return to soon. There was a fantastic Wall of Secrets that gave the guilty pleasure of shared secrets. It was an ad for HBO's show "Big Love," and it was a picture with headphone jacks next to random people to listen in to their secrets. Very well done. I extracted a secret from a girl promoting it: she had never seen the show- neither have I.

I took a nice bike ride down the beach to Santa Monica and had some Pinkberry on the 3rd Street Promenade. Crackberry is more like it, as I somehow shelled out $5 for frozen yogurt covered with blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, and did it willingly because it is Quality. I walked along the bluffs of Santa Monica, past gnarled old tress and paths of palm tree columns. The warm California sun kissed the shimmering turquoise Pacific gem and the waves softly crashed in the distance. I'm nestled as a bird of paradise under the blessings of the Angels, amid the California perfection.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Galileo, Iron Bladder Diplomacy and Cricket

Class might have ended yesterday, but the week is still going strong. This semester feels busy already. I spent last night editing submissions for the Public Diplomacy Magazine. I led the charge to nix one article, which simply was not good. I also finished my book review. After I was done, I went out last night with my classmate Kim and some of her friends to the Griffith Park Observatory, where I took in the planetarium. Very interesting, it's been a while since Galileo and I were close. The view over the Angels was stunning from the observatory, the lights of the city sparkled like emeralds and diamonds sequins on the black dress of the Angels. The view was dizzying- a fun night under the banner of heaven (nod to Harry).

Today I had the opportunity to interview Ambassador Edward Djerejian with my classmate Rima. It was fantastic, it's not every day that you get to interview such a distinguished fellow. He was the consummate diplomat. I won't get into the crux of the interview here, I will post it with the magazine. However, after the magazine interview was over, I got to ask him a few questions on his views regarding the Obama administration bringing Syria in from the cold and trying to revive the Israeli-Syrian peace process. He felt that the Obama administration was serious on engaging Syria as a means of furthering the Arab-Israeli peace process.

I also got to ask him a few questions on "iron bladder diplomacy." The late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad was known for giving lengthy lectures on the history of the Middle East, all while tea and coffee were being served. It was expected that no one would dare leave while he was on a lengthy talk- it was his way to test the endurance of his adversaries. I asked him if he ever considered a catheter as a solution. He laughed and said they had all sorts of plans and technological ideas to confront the bladder diplomacy, but nothing worked. He said he was simply thankful that he served as a younger man, because he didn't think he could withstand today.

After I finished a long day of editing and transcribing the interview, I was off to play cricket. Yes, really. I am joining the USC cricket club. I was the only gora on the field, and I was terrible! If this was a test match, I failed. I dropped three fly balls, it's hard with no mitt. I got out on my first batting appearance (I didn't know that the bat couldn't touch the wicket), then they felt bad for the poor farang, so they let me hit again. I promptly got out a second time. But everyone was really nice, and impressed that I wanted to learn- or at least patient. I will keep you all posted of my cricket travails, in the meantime...Shabbat Shalom!

PS: An interesting article about a Japanese Obama and caste class in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spring Semester

I began the new semester this week; amazingly, the week is already over. I began Monday with frantically trying to track down a rec letter for a fellowship I am applying for. Thankfully, I didn't have to torch any prof's office in a fit of scholarly rage, and was able to get the last rec in. Meanwhile it was great to be back on campus to see the bevy of USC beauties, my lord the student body is fine. I returned to Annenberg to find an interesting World Press 2008 photo exhibit, one that makes me jealous because I think I could put on a photo show to rival it if I could ever figure out where to start. I had a class at 6:30pm, on Monday was also Harry's b-day, happy birthday little bro. The class was Media and Politics, a communications class. Not sure if I will stick in it, I liked it, but there are a lot of classes to choose from.

Tuesday I had a 2pm class on cultural diplomacy. I'm not in the class, but sat in because I am considering taking it. It is taught by Prof. Cull, and seems interesting. It has a similar dynamic to previous pub d classes I took last semester. That night, we had a surprise party for a classmate Leah at Lucky Strike in LA Live- the new downtown area. Originally, the surprise party was going to be at Ruth Chris, but I apparently got it changed by noting that we would need to take out student loans to get a steak. So instead, we ate sliders and bowled. In the end, it probably was comparable in price, because parking ended up being $30(!).

Wednesday I had a class on Transnational Diplomacy and Global Security with Prof. Wiseman, the director of the Center on Public Diplomacy. The class seems very interesting, about how nonstate actors are involved in pd. We also had a guest speaker from the NSC, the director for strategic communications. This actually ended up being a shock, because the fellow who is staying on at the NSC was very underwhelming. He gave us a simplistic lecture on the Middle East, with very little depth, then didn't do a good job answering our questions. If he is on the NSC, I should be National Security Advisor.

After, I went with some friends to a Hillel bbq. We brought two Catholics and a Mormon for some kosher grub. Then I had my last class of the day/week on the future of reporting in the digital age. It should be a stellar class, one prof was dean at Annenberg and head of the VOA, the other was in-charge of McClatchy papers. We are discussing the future of media, and should be very interesting. We have a guest speaker next week, a call from the venerable Seymour Hersh. For this class, we have to keep a blog, so I will have a new blog (Levantine599) on the changing face of media.

Meanwhile, I got drafted into writing a book review for Public Diplomacy Magazine, the student run magazine we are launching and I am a "deputy editor." This came last minute, because the publisher wouldn't let us use copy without paying exorbitant fees. So I am reviewing Ambassador Edward Djerjian's new book Danger and Opportunity. Tomorrow I get to conduct a brief interview with the esteemed ambassador.

Also, I am now working on my Marketplace story on Time Banks. My first radio story- first time is always special. I am not going back to work at Marketplace, which I think is a good thing. I didn't love the job, and think this offers a better use of my time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gaza ongoing

There were two good articles in the NY Times today about the situation in Gaza. One by Tom Friedman, saying something that I had long felt- that Israel didn't lose in Lebanon precisely because of Nasrallah's contrition over causing the war and silence of Hezbollah after. The other by Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic, on why Hamas and Israel can't make peace. Just a reminder in all of this to the Israelis related to the strategy of making Palestinian support of Hamas too heavy to bear. There is a Palestinian saying: "when you are already wet, you don't care if it rains."

On a more apt level, check out this video.

Meanwhile, while all this stuff has gone on in Gaza, nobody seems to have noticed that the Sri Lankan army has taken over the Tamil Tiger strongholds in Jaffna, and completely routed the Tamil guerrilla movement amid an overwhelming burst of firepower. This has taken place in alongside the fighting in Gaza, yet has been almost completely off the global radar.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gaza, UCLA and transport travails

Ah, back in the sunny Angels. I missed 70 degree blissful weather. I awoke at 6am due to my jetlag. I did a little grocery shopping at Superior, the cheap market nearby. I luv it, it is chock full of commotion and fun ethnic foods that I can usually only find south of the border like napoli cactus. I thought I might catch up with my aunt today, but that didn't pan out, so I headed across town for a little adventure.

I bought a metro-to-muni ticket, a ticket that I thought included transfer to the bus, took the metro blue to purple, to Wilshire/Western, then caught the 720 bus west. Turns out the metro-to-muni bus transfer ticket wasn't for metro buses, to my annoyance- apparently the metro sells transfer tickets that don't apply to metro buses. Everything was going fine until Wilshire got detoured, shutting down a main artery to the city. I sat in traffic for half an hour, inching along, before I gave up and walked my way. As I was walking down Westwood Blvd, I stopped in some Persian cultural stores. There was a fantastic store that had flags from the Shah's reign, posters of Iran and books banned by the current regime. I love LA's idiosyncrasies.

As I was walking, I managed to ascertain that the closure was due to a Gaza protest. Great idea, protest Israel's indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on civilians! Oh wait, that's Hamas. I have little patience for any of what is going on. A plague on both houses because all of this feels like deja vu. A great article last week by Nicholas Kristof on this Gaza hazarah. I have qualms with the silence and lack of protests for so many other events (Darfur, Mumbai attacks, suicide bombings against Iraqi civilians, the constant barrage of rockets flying out of Gaza that caused the recent incursion) that makes the event ring hollow and disingenuous. Ah, but I digress from my nice day.

I found a famous cookie place Diddy Riese, home of delicious ice cream cookie sandwiches. I had a chocolate-chip cookie, espresso-chip ice cream sandwich that was yum, and headed on to UCLA's campus. I had never been over there, it is pretty, but the area struck me as a little too sterile for my tastes. It was nice, but I'll take the realness of the grit that surrounds USC's beauty over the boring UCLA campus area. The Powell library was pretty, with ornate moorish lamps and ceilings, and it reminded me a little of Doheny. I also passed the John Wooden Center and Pauley Pavillion, which I will grudgingly tip my hat towards as a respecter of Quality.

I tried to then catch a muni bus to Santa Monica, but the driver told me my transfer wouldn't work either, and that I should try the metro bus. So, completely opposite refusals. I walked back through Westwood, and stopped at the Armand Hammer Museum. The museum was free for students, so I took a stroll in. There was a nice collection of impressionist and romantic works. Two wonderful pieces by Gustave Moreau of King David and Salome and Herod. There was an interesting exhibit on woodcuts, and some less interesting modern exhibits that were not my taste.

I hopped another bus, again transfer not working, back through the Miracle Mile and caught the metro purple to blue. The blue line sat and sat for 45 minutes, with multiple announcements of doors closing, only to go nowhere. Eventually we were on our way and I got home. Nice to be back.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Overlapping Quality and solitude

"The more you look, the more you see"
-Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"O brave new world," he repeated. "O brave new world that has such people in it. Let's start at once."
John quoting Shakespeare's The Tempest, Brave New World

I usually find that there is an overlap in the books that I read. That was definitely so in the last few books I was taking on. First it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a fascinating look at Quality, the dichotomy between Classical and Romantic thought, finding meaning in mundane world and the insanity that this can often cause. An overarching theme I found fascinating was this notion of solitude in the face of modern society as Phaedrus searched to define Quality and the truth connected to it: "Even in the presence of others he was completely alone."

The notion of solitude found by all the aforementioned characters reminds me of something Borges wrote in Everything and Nothing: "At first he thought that all people were like him, but the surprise and bewilderment of a friend to whom he had begun to describe the hollownewss showed him his error, and also let him know, forever after, that an individual should not differ from its species."

During Phaedrus search to define Quality, he notes the absence of Quality found in Brave New World and how that affects society. Phaedrus seemed so alone in a world that was easily amused with the banal. That brings me to Huxley's work, and the Savage. Again, the story of an outsider trying to figure out why the bread, circus and gadgetry of the New World keeps people blind: "Our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel-and you can't make tragedies without social instability. The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get."

And the poor Savage's take on a Qualityless world: "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

I had an interesting addendum to this, in the last book I read, Replay by Ken Grimwood. This was an interesting concept, of a man who drops dead of a heart attack only to wake up at age 18. He relives his life, making a fortune betting on things he already knows, lives well and drops dead at the same point in his life. He wakes up again, this time a little older, and tries a different tact. The story keeps repeating, with him getting a little older each time and still trying to figure out how to give meaning to his life, while also figuring out why these replays keep taking place. Another interesting take on providing life with Quality, in a far different sort of book.

The first two books reminded me of Consumed by Prof. Benjamin Barber, a book whose passages we read for a seminar with the author. The premise of his book is that capitalism in its present state has infantilized adult consumers, while turning children into adult consumers at far too young an age. Again, this conception of material things being our soma, as we lose real meaning and Quality.

As I return from my travels, and given ample time to think while sitting on long bus rides, I am struck by this continuing notion of trying to come up with meaning for life and Quality for existence. It seems sometimes that I can only find my Quality and meaning when I am in motion, wandering from town to town, experience to experience.

Going back to Cali

"I'm going back to Cali, Cali, Cali"
-LL Cool J

I survived New York flurries and east coast winter weather. I did the ceremonial shearing of the locks, and I am now Jewish History X. I went by my friend Brian's house to watch the Sugar Bowl, and see his baby Tristan. He shaved the locks for me after the game.

After a month of sleeping on couches, buses and spartan hostel beds, I managed to twinge my back last night sleeping in my own bed. I am getting old.

My flight west was fine. We flew over solid skies of clouds that looks like flat fields of snow. We touched down in Chicago, to a grey snow covered land. I shivered just looking outside. The stewardess asked if I was getting off the plane, I told her not a snowball's chance in LA. I goaded the person next to me who was getting off in the Chicago tundra for some good ol' fashioned shadenfraude. Only the Germans could come up with a word that means taking pleasure in others' misery. They also say: schadenfreude ist die shoste freude- shadenfreude is the greatest pleasure.

Anyway, the ride was fine- lubricated by a plethora of free drinks. I think it was due to the new 'do- free drinks for a monk. I returned to warm Lala land and hopped the flyaway shuttle back to Union station, then the metro back. Nice to be back.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A very, merry unbirthday to me!

As far as birthdays go, this one was fair. Not the b-day's fault as much as it was the weather, which I was far under. Not sick, but the weather was grey and rainy, and had me wrapped in melancholy misery. I forgot how awful I feel in the grey.

I woke up in Harlem, at my Uncle's apartment. He made me a b-day shake, and I was on my way. I hopped the train to Times Square and wandered around before meeting up with a Brandeis roomie Chris for lunch. We had pizza and chatted about plans. After lunch, I headed to Brooklyn to go to the Brooklyn Museum. You pay by donation, and since it was my b-day, I dropped a buck. Happy b-day to moi.

It was pretty amazing, once the night came, my mood was night-and-day. I felt much, much better, and was able to enjoy the b-day. I had dinner with my aunt and cousin at their apartment, then headed down to the Village to meet Dani. My b-day party was canceled because of rain and distance, so we went to an Irish pub and had a few guinnesses. Kinda like the b-day I spent in Dublin, but not.

Today, it was sunny and I felt like me again. I met my old friend Farra for bagels, then hopped on the Chinatown bus back to DC. I met an interesting girl on the bus named Jessica, who had just got her MA in African Studies from Oxford. We chatted on the bus, and continued at Busboys and Poets once we got back to DC. Tomorrow I head back West, to Cali and school. Can't wait

Thanks to everyone who wrote, posted on facebook and called to wish me a happy b-day. It all helped mitigate my grey melancholy.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

XXIX

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
-Isaac Newton (2 Train Brooklyn to Manhattan, "Train of Thought")

While twentyseven was indeed regal, and twentyeight was grand, this year seems somehow more daunting. Maybe because I had been melancholy leading up to it- in a cold, grey city with my looming conclusion of my dear twenties sitting uncomfortably on the horizon. To paraphrase Paul Simon, the years keep slip slidin away. However, on a long ride across the island of Manhattan with Garcia Marquez as my companion and b-day gift to self, I pulled out and looked forward to the b-day to come.

January 7th, a rather auspicious day of Orthodox Christmas, the discovery of Jupiter's moons by Galileo and the first U.S. election. Always nice to see the wishes of a happy birthday coming from all over the globe.

For my four questions:
1) Who would I have my b-day dinner with: My Nanny, my Grandmother who passed away this year. We would eat in her dinning room, and I would finish far sooner than she and sit and wait patiently and happily while the slowest eater on the planet would eat every morsel, one bite at a time. It would be a real, slow pleasure.

2) Best b-day ever: It probably wasn't my best ever, but keeping with the last memory, I had my 21st birthday in Singapore with my grandparents. I had been on a cruise in Southeast Asia with them for my b-day over the previous two weeks. We were staying at the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore, a uberluxorious hotel. They had a waiter bring me a chocolate cake and fresh coffee. That night we had dinner on the beautiful Sentosa Island, with some friends my grandparents met on the ship named the Kalbs. At dinner, a eukalele band came out to sing me happy b-day. After dinner I met some friends and I had debated getting 21 cane lashes for my b-day in Singapore by putting a piece of gum on the desk of a police officer, but decided to go for a more traditional drink at the Quay.

3) Last year: In Argentina with my girlfriend Martina. I botched my party, sending everyone to a closed bar, but we rallied at a nearby Irish pub. During the day, I found a fantastic Syrian shwarma shop that I had never seen in BsAs before. I had a treat of delicious shwarma for lunch, and the nice woman gave me some baklava as a present. Martina gave me a book on the Jews of Argentina, made me a caramel-ginger flan (incredible!) and took me out to dinner at a parilla (grill) restaurant. It was all very nice.

4) Next year: a man, a plan, a canal, Panama. Something about the meeting point of continents seems apt (Or there is always Istanbul or Suez).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Big Apple

Don Pablo Quijote has descended on his La Mancha on the Hudson, and is now in New York. I was up in Long Island for an old friend's wedding. My friend Sarah, who I have known since my Israel trip at 16 and Brad, who I have know for a long time too. It was a lovely wedding, and I wish the new couple all the best.

I got in to New York on Sunday night and stayed with an old friend named Mark Doman. He is a super agent ala Ari Gold, and his life is always some sort of drama. On a grey monday, where the sun hung like a silver pearl in the velvet grey oyster shell, I wandered around "the city." I hit the MOMA, but was underwhelmed. Some of it was cool, some really interesting and some was bollocks. A lot felt like I was looking at ikea rather than art. I had kind of a bored day with not much to do around the city. I walked in Central Park with an Arturo Fuente cigar, pale in comparison to our cigars in Mexico. I'm not really a huge fan of New York, I find it expensive and overrated. With that said, I like finding bargains in the city and trying to make a frugal existence in a luxurious city.

In the evening, I headed to Brooklyn to stay with my friend Steve. He was a friend from Brandeis, who stayed on my couch in Houston when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. We had great burgers, then watched a good UT-OSU game.

Today I ran around seeing old friends. First I had brunch with an old Brandeis roomie Milana, who is here at Fordham Law. I was so proud of myself for getting to her on time, until I was late amid local vs. express trains and subway confusions. We hit up a cool diner and I had some gooey challah french toast, as we chatted about the old days.

After that I headed down to SoHo to have tea with an old girlfriend from Prague named Alexis. Also nice to catch up, it had been years since I had seen her. No luck for a b-day fling as she had a long-term boyfriend, but still nice to see her over a cup of rooibos tea. After I walked through the streets, as snow flurries came down. Like a little kid, I tried to catch the snow flakes in my mouth. The beauty of New York is that all eccentricities are dismissed amid the pervading ludicrousness.

I was then off to see my host brother Yassine from Morocco. I trekked from Brooklyn, across the length of Manhattan to the Bronx and I met him and his Chinese wife, and his brother Younes and his Peruvian wife (the family is going UN), and another host brother named Andy who was there the semester before me. We dined on fabulous homecooked Moroccan fare. Tajine djej (chicken) with veggies, which we ate with our hands. Lotsa fun and nice to see my old host family and their new families. Now I'm in Harlem, staying with my uncle and welcoming the arrival of my 29th year upon this terra ludicrous.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Year That Was

"The past exists only in our memory, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality."
-Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"All that really belongs to us is time; even he who has nothing has that."
-Balthasar Gracian (from a one year note of the Time Notes collection)

The sun has faded on the last day of the year and all that remains are a few short hours on the year that has swept by. It was a stunning year that passed, and completely different than the years preceding it (2007 & 2006).

It was a year that began on the Beach of Wolves off the Sea of Silver, only to end in suburban solitude; a year that venturing to the ends of the earth, crossing Patagonia and the Straits of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego; a year that rose with the Inkas and fell with the Aztecs; a year of loves left, lives lost and the only constant of great change. Another year passed where I wandered the earth, where I blessed people and encouraged them to venture out to places unknown; another year where my flat screen tv was a bus window.

The year began with a fight over our hostel at Playa de Los Lobos. Our compadres fought over the bill with the hostel, while Martina and I made better use of our time. We ventured back to Mar Del Plata, where I sojourned amid the New Years Day revelers at Argentina's version of Atlantic City. I returned to Buenos Aires to give a Jewish tour of the city to a lovely Jewish family from Colorado, then spent my birthday with friends. The birthday got off to an auspicious start as I sent everyone to a bar that was closed. On my birthday itself, I enjoyed a wonderful caramel-ginger flan from Martina and we went out for asado. The following day, my locks of the previous year were shorn, and I began my journey down to Patagonia.

From Buenos Aires, I took an 18 hour bus to Bariloche, and was welcomed south with a triple rainbow and snow flurries. The next month Che Pablo trekked around the rugged south of Patagonia, climbing mountains, finding hidden lakes and sneaking into national parks as an Argentine (Che, de capital). I languished on twenty-something hour buses, taking in the incredible scenery and praying for paved roads. For months, I had seen adverts on the Buenos Aires metro with pictures of Patagonia, stating "Imaginatelo en Vivo (Imagine it live);" suddenly the stunning beauties of El Chalten's Cerro FitzRoy and El Calafate's Glacier Perrito Moreno were on display. Martina met me south and we climbed on the ice diamonds of the glacier and had a proper scotch on the rocks. From there, I crossed the straits and on to the most southerly city in the world, Ushuaia (the most southerly ghetto too). I sailed around the Beagle Channel and saw the lighthouse at the end of the world. From there, I headed north, many miles back to BA.

Next I headed over to Uruguay, for the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship. The program brought together young Jewish leadership from all over the world for an incredible summit on the future of our people. I learned a lot about myself and my Jewish identity, and was reminded of how much I missed academia and was ready to get back. After the stellar conference, I headed back to say goodbye to BA, my amiga del verano Martina and my life there.

I crossed the Andes like San Martin, and made my way to Chile. I spent a few days in the unexpectedly pleasant Santiago, enjoying time with my friend Valeria from the Fellowship and her boyfriend Jorge. We also visited the colorful city of Valparaiso and its vertical charm, and Vina del Mar and its luxury. I then headed up the long finger that is Chile, crossing the Atacama Desert and on out to Peru.

From Peru, I had adventure after adventure. I ran into strikes on the Inka trail, and had to hike my way into the naval of the world, Cusco. I took in the old charm and history of Cusco, then trekked my way to from bus to bus, small town to small town, until I reached the base of Machu Picchu. I scaled the rainy heights of Macchu Pichu, then climbed to the higher Huana Picchu as the clouds dissipated and I saw the glory of the lost city (enjoyed over peanut butter and banana sandwiches and swedish fish, thanks to a lovely Mormon family- I almost converted!). I took the easier train back to Cusco, then a last bus that was anything but easy to Lima. Figures my last ride would be my worst. The bus got stuck and I had to wade out in freezing cold water to push the bus out of the ditch. That was unsuccessful, so we tossed enough rocks to move the flow of the water and then were able to free our steed. Finally, I arrived to the City of Kings, Lima and the end of my South American Journey.

I returned to the United States to see my friend Ben Mezer get married. It was a lovely wedding in Nashville, and highlights of the party included me almost getting tazed by some heavily-armed Confedate nut. From there, I returned to my St. Helena of Surburbia, to exile to work and wait for news of my acceptance to USC. I passed my time volunteering for the Obama campaign and languishing in American ennui. I was indeed accepted and began preparing for my return to academia.

It was a long stint in suburbia exile, working my days for the knowledgeable reader. I made a brief escape from my prison, leading a Birthright tour in Israel. For roughly two weeks, I helped lead a tour of 38 Jews, age 25-26 and 90% female, all over Israel. It was an amazing experience as I was given the opportunity to help people connect with the land I love. With "O Jerusalem" under my arm, I helped guide the group through the ins-and-outs of the Jewish state. Meanwhile, one of my tour participants, Deborah- a lovely grad student at University of Michigan, stuck around for a personal tour of the region.

While I was leading the tour, my grandmother passed away. She had a stroke shortly after I returned from South America, and another right before I left for Israel. It was a sad passing, but she had maximized her time to the utter fullest and it was her time.

The summer went slowly, but I survived, then packed my stuff up like the Joads and headed to California. My father and I made the road trip across the country, visiting a wide variety of baseball games (Chicago, St. Louis, KC, Denver) and Presidential Libraries (Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower). We also visited the gorgeous Zion National Park on our way out to the Golden State.

We arrived to the Angels, and I started my life back in school, pursuing a Master's in Public Diplomacy at USC. I was misguided when I thought that going back to school meant the death of this Peter Pan; rather the student's life was perfect for me. I spent the last few months of the year engaged in academic pursuits, working at Marketplace and exploring the diverse nooks and crannies of Los Angeles. I fell in love with LA, its diversity and its weather. I also made my way down to SanDi and TJ for a little bullfighting and the class 5 Hurricane Katarina that made landfall.

Meanwhile, the ultimate change came to the US as Obama scored an electrifying victory to take control of the White House.

I finished my first semester back and headed off to meet my little brother for some backpacking south of the border in Mexico. From Houston, we took a bus to the border, then another night bus to the colonial city of Zacatecas and its collection of masks. Then down to the megalopolis of Mexico City for D.F. immense charm, history and culture. We took in the Aztec glories, and the imagination of Diego and Frida as well as the low-brow lucha libre. North to Guanajuato, the colonial gem and Cervantino dream. Another night bus back to Monterrey, for cabrito asado and the MARCO (Polo) museum, then back across the border and the end of an adventure and a year.

So ends the long recounting of an incredible year. And that brings me to where I am. Sitting in the friendly confines of suburbia, penning the lost time of the last year. Just another year in the life of the Paul S. Rockower, eccentric in every virtue and vice- a cross between mystic and hedonist, in search of life's adventures. The wanderer Marco Paulo, lost in a labyrinth of maze markets; the old knight Don Pablo Quixote spent his year chasing windmills across the spans of vast distance and finite time. Sometimes alone; sometimes with companions like Linababa, Phaedrus, Thomas Fowler & Alden Pyle, Sal Paradise & Dean Moriarty; sometimes with friends and family; always with grace and blessing of the almighty.

I will end this yearly reflection with the passage from Pirsig's Zen and the Art about Quality and Lao Tsu:
The quality that can be defined is not Absolute Quality.
The names given to it are bit Absolute names.
It is the origin of heaven and earth.
When named it is the mother of all things...
Quality and its manifestations are in their nature the same. It is given names when it becomes classically manifest.
Romantic quality and classic quality together may be called "the mystic."
Reaching from mystery into deeper mystery, it is the gate to the secret of all life.
Quality is all-pervading.
And its use is inexhaustible!
Fathomless!
Like the fountainhead of all things...
Yet crystal clear like water it seems to remain.
I do not know whose Son it is.
An image of what existed before God.
...Continuously, continuously it seems to remain. Draw upon it with ease...
Looked at but cannot be seen...listened to but cannot be heard...grasped but cannot be touched...these three elude all our inquiries and hence blend and become one.
Not by its rising is there light,
Not by its sinking is there darkness
Unceasing, contiguous
It cannot be defined
And reverts again into the realm of nothingness
That is why it is called elusive
Meet it and you do not see its face
Follow it and you do not see its back
He who holds fast to the quality of old
Is able to know the primeval beginnings
Which are the continuity of quality


Goodbye 2008, you were a beauty. Shalom 2009, may your enigmatic days rival all that has come before.