Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Grandma Sue, Rosebud and Monterey

With a borrowed chariot, Lady Daysha and Don Pablo Quijote headed off on a trek up through the Central Coast of La Mancha. Bravely they set out on the Pacific Coast Highway, fighting the windmills that is LA friday traffic. We sat in bumper traffic until it opened up in Malibu, and we hugged the coast until the sunset.

After a long drive, we stopped in Buelton for Pea Soup Andersen's famous split pea soup. In all my years traveling, I have never encountered a restaurant that specialized in split pea soup, I was curious and hungry to try the Danish restaurant's split pea.
We got bottomless bowls of delicious, thick pea soup, along with rye bread and other whole grain bread. It was delicious, and the lovely waitress gave us a bowl to go for the long journey. We also grabbed some danish danishes from the danish bakery.


Although the plan was to go to San Luis Obispo (SLO), there was no room at the hostel. We found another "hostel" in Morro Bay, called the Morro Bay Home Hostel. It literally was. Daysha spoke to Sue the owner, and mentioned we wouldn't be in before late. Sue said she would leave the door unlocked and the light on for us. We arrived at what was literally a house, and let ourselves into the room. It was like staying over at grandma's place, except grandma never charged $35 bucks. We woke up the next morning and chatted with Sue the proprietor and Fred. Sue gave some great advice on second marriages- either for purse or nurse.

We headed out to see the Seven Sisters of Morro Bay, some volcanic formations, but the morning clouds made visibility nill. We drove through a golf course to get to a state park and hiked up in the clouds and past fat squirrels.

We headed back up the coast, stopping to watch the waves crash against the craggy rocks and the crabs scurry to shelter. We went to see William Randolph Hearst's castle. First we watched an imax movie about the genesis of the castle and how Hearst used it. Then we took a tour. The tour was good, with an engaging tour guide to take us through the incredible structure that was Hearst's xanadu. The place was exquisite, with fancy ceilings and ornamental lights and a spectacular Neptune pool. The gardens were beautiful too, with yellow rosebuds. The castle mixed many different elements, and was very interesting. The only problem is that it was a tour, complete with a bitchy tour enforcer named Terry who scowled at me as I lingered behind to look or snap pictures. Hearst would be rolling in his grave at the touristy schlock tours of his beloved home, and even more so at the kitch sold at the giftshops below. I am the person who could best appreciate his house, yet was shooed by some oompaloompa Terry the Enforcer who was there to make sure I didn't touch anything or step on the carpets.

After the Hearst experience, we headed back up the coast to Monterey. The clouds were as thick as the previous night's pea soup, and we couldn't see anything of the rocky surf just to our left. We drove through windy paths that hugged cliffs, but couldn't see the ocean below on account of the fog. Still, the views were great. Once we got higher up, the views turned incredible as the level of fog was below our gaze and we could see the fog sea meeting the mountains. Meanwhile, we could hear seals barking below. I like seals.

We drove through Big Sur, and caught the full rocky cliff view sans pea soup clouds as we got farther north. We arrived in Monterey and walked around the cannery and wharf made famous by John Steinbeck. Some incredible fish for dinner at a fish market, then the long trip back down. We ended the night back below SLO, whose hostel was still full.

The next day was more driving, plus another quick stop, this time in Santa Barbara for some breakfast at Esau's Cafe for their amazing California Eggs Benedict- sans ham and with spinach and avocado. I got back in time to head over to Westwood for an event for the California Council of the Humanities, which my friend Kenya is a board member. They were having a screening of Hollywood Chinese, about the role of Chinese in Hollywood and their depiction on the silver screen. An interesting point was made about the emasculation of the Chinese male, about how he is made to be inferior and effeminate compared to Western male characters. The movie was followed by an interesting discussion with the director.

Today, I went with Daysha to the Getty Villa, a recreated Roman villa with an impressive collection of Greek and Roman statues, and mosaics and collectibles. After, we stopped to get her new (for her) car, leaving me the last white person in LA to use public transportation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Picking pictures, Bluegrass and Dead Batteries

Finally back in Lala land, after an exceptionally long trip back. Monday was spent visiting friends, picking through pictures and apples-to-apples. I had lunch with my old friend Sarah, and we caught up at her favorite deli near her law school. She is having the joyous time of picking through post-law school BS as the economy has soured. Then it was off to see my friend Jed and his triplets. I had seen the babies after they were born but not in many months. I also got to try his father's vodka, 18, an artisanal vodka made in Indiana. His father's handiwork is rather good. Dinner with family friends, the Broder-Wentworths, and some great apples-to-apples fun.

Tuesday I began my return, but not before stressing over old pictures. My lead-foot mother got me in time to the airport after I was running late. I was flying to LA via Nashville, and had an hour layover. I was planning to catch up with my old roomie from Israel Ben Mezer, and was gonna check if I could change my flight to stay the night. Luck found me, and Southwest needed a person bumped. I was standing at the ticket counter about to inquire about changing my flight and quickly offered my services. I offered to switch but not before they agreed to put me out the following day from Nashville to LA, so I could have a night sojourn in the Music City capital. For my troubles, I got a $200 voucher from Southwest on a Rapid Rewards flight. Two bills towards a flight from a freebie ticket so I could stay with an old friend. Grand, I luv Southwest.

I arrived to Nashville and was greeted by General Mezer. Once upon a time, I knew him as a dirty hippy, now is a lawyer for the State of Tennessee. Life is too funny. We went swimming, then had a bonfire bbq in his backyard. As we picked firewood, fireflies swarmed about the field. Grilled kosher sausages cooked over the campfire were tasty, then off to a night of fantastic bluegrass at Station Inn, for a night of pickin' fun by the Mashville Brigade. Nothing is finer than good bluegrass, as it combines scotch-irish roots with country panache.

Wednesday was long and tiresome. It started off great, with a tour of the Tennessee Statehouse with the lovely Mrs. Miriam Mezer. We walked through the busts of Andrews Jackson and Johnson, and James K. Polk, and saw some interesting murals on Tennessee's history, like the State of Franklin. The State of Franklin seceded from North Carolina and tried to enter the union as its own state. Some fascinating history, I recommend following that previous link. Maybe I can drum up some public diplomacy work as the Ambassador for the State of Franklin, State of Jefferson and Republic of the Rio Grande. Public diplomacy as recognition for fledgling states and republics. After, I will take on my post as Somililand's ambassador, trying to drum up support for the best working state in the Horn of Africa.

After, it was off for some bbq breakfast, some delicious Tennessee pulled chicken and beef with bbq beans, potato salad and a corn bread griddle cake. Yum. Then to the airport, where my troubles began. My flight was scheduled for noon, but there were some problems with my bumped ticket. My original flight left Tennessee for Texas, stopping briefly in Houston and landing in El Paso, where I would change plains for a last jaunt to LA. Charlie the counter fellow made a suggestion that I take a flight leaving an hour later, but going one less stop via Chicago and landing 5 minutes after the first. Sounded like a good plan, and all seemed in order until we were about to take off and received word that storms were hitting the Windy City. Alas, we got marooned on the tarmac for 2 hours. Some free libations helped smooth things over, as I blazed through Shogun- my summer reading before Japan.

We eventually arrived to a pristine Chicago that had nary a cloud above. No idea what storm had been about, it was clear out. The airport was a storm itself however, with chaos and bedlam raining. I ran from counter to counter, until I finally found that my original flight, which was scheduled for 2 hours prior, had just arrived and was leaving for LA. They too were delayed. Some more free libations to make up for the nasty delays and I was finally back in the Bear Flag Banana Republic.

I hopped the green line metro to Redondo, where I took a great cab with a Jordanian journalist named Kal (Khaldoon). We chatted about literature, even after we arrived to my stop. I was in Redondo to pick up my aunt's car, as she was out of town and was kind enough to lend it to this public transitnik. Alas, she had left the car on enough that the battery was dead. I had to dejectedly take another cab back to the metro then a long ride back home. The second cab ride was indicative of my mood, as it was another Jordanian, but one who wanted to discuss the Israeli-Arab conflict. I told him I was not at all in the mood, but he didn't seem to get my blunt hints. Finally, I got home close to eleven pm PST, after arriving to the airport in Nashville at 11am CST. Long day done.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cyrus is now following you on Twitter

That's right, somehow I have to imagine that Cyrus the Great, shahanshah himself is following the protests across the vast millennia of time. From a land that gave mankind justice, he is watching with disapproval. With golden weights on intricate balanced scales, he is sitting in judgment of how his lands are governed, and he can't be presently happy.

A great piece by one of my favorite columnists Bradley Burston in Ha'aretz on his support for the Iranian green revolution.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Abba's Day

Saturday was spent hanging around with the family. I was a dutiful son and mowed the lawn for my pops. My siblings and I seem to get special enjoyment from playing with our ten-year-old cousin Sabrina, who came down with my uncle. She is an only child, so we are her surrogate siblings who give her "wet willies" and other forms of torture. If only waterboarding were this wholesome.

Harry and I borrowed the convertible, and took the spectacular drive down the GW parkway. The sun had just come out, and we sped along the Potomac with the Georgetown Cathedral in the distance. I went to visit my friends Brian and Natalya to see their adorable baby TJ. He is a very cute tyke, blessed with his mother's looks and father's jovial disposition. I last saw him when he was just born, he is growing so quickly.



Back for a family dinner of different and rousing game of apples-to-apples. I won by knowing my audience well.

Father's day was spent with bagel brunch, with homemade smoked lox and other assorted brunch fare. We went down to the Natural History museum, where my parents are volunteering as docents. The are being docents at the Written in Bone exhibit, a fascinating look at the Jamestowne settlements that combines Colonial history with CSI. It was great getting private tours of the exhibit and hearing all the back story. It is perfect for my Dad, who is an orthopaedic surgeon and history buff; it is great for my Mom, who loves chatting with people. I spent a little time wandering around the mineral and gem exhibit, where I saw the Hope Diamond. We had a glorious ride back with the top down, and blasted Dire Straits and the Doobie Brothers as the sun faded.

A little Father's Day treat of Danny Boy, and a reminder to the Iranian protesters that the Ayatollah is now following you on twitter.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Right Coast

The days in California had grown long and I was ready for a change of scenery. I had been in LA since spring break, and even Southern Cali can feel like a prison to Marco Paulo after far too long. Too much June Gloom, I was ready to get out of dodge. I came back East to surprise my Dad for Father's Day. He had no idea the scheme we cooked up. I planned it with my Mom, and he had no clue I was coming back for a surprise.

I picked up some test photos for my show, then got an unexpected ride to the airport by my roomie Roberto. Kindness was rewarded with apple fritters and glazed donuts from Randy's Donuts, the giant donut in the sky near the airport. I killed time doing laps and reading erudite mags, then boarded my flight east.

Happy Birthday Southwest, as some astute attention to detail on my part noticed that it was free drink day on June 18th for the airline's birthday. Scotch and sodas as we flew out over the ocean and across the barren desert and squares of oasis.

"Are you ten?," Danielle asked. No, I replied to the adorable five-year old filipana child sitting next to me, I am a little older. "I like bumpy 'wides'," she said of her first flight, which she compared to a roller coaster. I swapped older brother stories with her elder brother Darwin, a mature seven. Danielle ate the heads off of zebra animal crackers as we chatted about the joys of kindergarten, the responsibilities of older brothers and the duties and privileges of little sisters, and the cotton seas outside the window. We descended through the night skies of Baltimore, through clouds that looked like squid ink. I was met by my mom and brother, who ferried me home for a befuddled surprise for a sleeping father.

I was jetlagged today, tired and out of place. Light errands and the simple doting of a mother was how the day was spent. A shabbat, much different than the previous week's affair that was done via video chat from the Left coast. Shabbat dinner of grilled tilapia and chilean sea bass, mixed in a salad of greens and couscous.

I spent the evening with two old friends. Two very different Bens, but both who made my teen years fun. We drank at the old watering hole, putting back Baltimore Orioles (Bell Oberon and Guinness- orange and black). An evening harking back, and picking out minor differences in girls. Then a metro back for responsibility, along with some cigars, and snacks of orzo, humus and pita chips in the back yard for some brother bonding. Nice to be home, although jet lag has me up late.

PS: A hysterical article about what happens when you write d-bag tweets.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Jews of Tijuana

I seem to be stuck in a holding pattern with the Jerusalem Report for the publication of my story on the Jews of Tijuana, so I posted the original version on my Tales of a Wandering Jew blog. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tabby's Take

Two thoughts on the Iranian election, and some guest perspective. First, the irony is that the clerical regime did far more to undermine their own survival by rigging the election than if they had just let the vote play out. Before, you had a former prime minister of the regime about to take over and work in a reformist fashion within the system; now, everything is in question. As Talleyrand said, "it was worse than a crime, it was an error."

Second, to all those who scoffed at social networking and twitter as simply a pointless way to share vapid and inane details of life or what was for lunch, welcome to Revolution 2.0. A great tweet circling about from Iran, "140 characters is a novel when you're being shot at."

Here is a little insight on the Iranian election by my friend Tabby. Tabby is a lovely Persian Jew and fellow ex-Con. Here is her thoughts on the Iranian election:

Hi PD friends,

Following on John’s thoughts about elections in Lebanon, I am sure that you have heard of the upheaval in Iran.

Here in LA, I’ve been monitoring the events coming from Iran very closely, first for personal investment (I have family in Tehran), and second for SHEER AMAZEMENT at how events have unfolded.

You are witnessing history!

I know that it may seem like the usual…another fraudulent election in the Middle East, hijacked by the incumbent extremists. But what you are witnessing from Iran on television and the internet is nothing short of SPECTACULAR. I have become very emotional watching the scenes from Tehran, where I was born and where I would have also stood in the streets today.

I’ll spare you my own political and regional analysis of what has been occurring in Iran since the June 12th elections, and I'll try to keep it light and airy, like perfectly cooked Persian rice. I will simply say that you are NOT witnessing history because of a potential regime change in Iran. A regime change, which would end the mullahs’ theocratic rule, will not be a by-product of the recent protests, strong as they are (some 5 million people taking to the streets, reportedly). I do not expect an orange or velvet or in Iran’s case, kabob revolution, from all of this. But I am no less EXCITED (yes, I put it in capitals!).

Then why 'historic"? It has been amazing to see footage of so many Iranians, average people, young people like me who were born around or after the revolution, in the streets, not only demanding that their vote be counted and counted fairly, but shouting “Death to the Dictator” (Ahmadinejad). Upon seeing the news, my mother noted that she had not seen this type of public outpouring in the streets for thirty years, since the eve of the Revolution in 1979! Ironically, the youth of 1979 poured into the streets …the pictures on their thousands of signs was of none other than…the Ayatollah Khomeini, who ironically, is the antithesis of everything today’s protestors are fighting FOR (he died in the late 1980s). And so it is that the Iranians made their Persian bed in 1979 (welcoming the theocracy into the country), laid in it for 30 years (no sleep number mattresses for them), and have now decided to literally wake up and smell the jasmine tea (coffee is for the Turks).

**Why are they so angry? Why do the protestors feel entitled?

They are angry because their vote was seemingly neglected. All over the country, not only Tehran, but in Shiraz, Esfahan, and elsewhere, people have demanded a change, literally putting their lives at stake. In addition to feeling robbed of their vote, they cannot fathom how Ahmadinejad could have possibly been re-elected, and by such an ENORMOUS margin. The man who 4 years ago won on the promise of “putting the oil money on your dinner table” has handled one of the most mismanaged economies in the entire world. Inflation is at 30%! Just imagine how much that loaf of delicious pita an Iranian wishes to place at his dinner table costs now. Besides handling the economy with the expertise of a drunken goat, Ahmadinejad has also made the country less safe for the citizens, and they know this. Unfortunately, he has spoken for them for four years, whether they agree with him or not, denying the Holocaust, alienating regional neighbors such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, threatening Israel, the U.S. and the West, and wearing an unforgivably ugly jacket.

**Who is the other guy?

Moussavi, the “reformist” and “moderate” candidate, claims that he received 25 million votes (Iran’s population stands at 67 million), but that these were swept under the rug. The Interior Minister boldly rejects this claim, but he was appointed by none other than Ahmadinejad. Mousavi even claims that fraudulent final vote results showed that he did not secure the vote even in his own province! How is it possible, he demands?

We must also understand that for Iranian leaders, the term “moderate/reformist” means something different than our term in the West.
Tabby's Thought of the Day: Do you remember “The Princess Bride”? When they took Wesley to the healer (Billy Crystal), it was official that Wesley was “mostly dead,” instead of completely dead. So it is that a “moderate” Iranian leader is “mostly fanatic,” as opposed to completely fanatic (thanks, Mahmoud). Does the moderate candidate (Moussavi) support Iran having a nuclear weapons program? Yes. Does he spout anti-Israel violent rhetoric? Yes. The main differences, for our purposes, is that Moussavi, had he been elected, may have proven more willing to discuss the possibility of renewed talks, dialogue, and relations with the West. The key word here is “mostly.”
It has been reported that over 8 people have been killed so far in the protests. Iranians have a very long memory. My grandmother may recount to you an experience that she had in April 1965, or any other date. These people have now become martyrs in the eyes of the Iranian people, to the chagrin of the regime. No one knows this better than the real man in command, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who will address the nation on Friday and has just asked the ‘Guardian Council’ to review the final election results. The OSCE, it ain’t.

The regime has banned all international coverage of the protests and election results. Why? It banned Facebook and Twitter. Ahmadinejad also has his share of supporters…they may clash more and more with those supporting Moussavi in the streets. Police have violently clashed with students at Tehran University…many will remember protests in 1979 at Tehran University SUPPORTING the mullahs (not me, I was not alive then, thank you).

Moussavi has declared today a national day of mourning. If he makes it out of his public street speeches among hundreds of thousands (and a few sharpshooters) alive, I will drink to this “mostly fanatic” fanatic for having merely survived.

And so we wait and watch with anticipation. Mostly likely, the protests will fizzle down, the West will condemn the election results, but something very important has occured...the wheels have been set into motion. What can the U.S. do to support Iranians seeking democracy? Will Israel sneak in a swift and clean attack of Iranian nuclear sites amidst the distraction of the domestic instability? If the protests continue and Iran finds itself with more dangerous political instability, a desperate regime would impact the entire region, perhaps even ordering proxies Hezbollah or Hamas to begin a new distracting war. But as mentioned, I am highly dubious of any notable regime change, including for individuals.

People have been protesting all over the U.S. as well…Iranian Americans from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

I believe that at the end of the day, something snapped in the Iranian people last Friday, upon realizing that they may be faced with four more years of Ahmadinejad and even worse, 12% unemployment, 30% inflation, and nothing to show for their greatest natural resource…their youth…other than instability and misery for 30 years. In the end, the public outcry is more than “mostly” good. It’s phenomenal!
Have a fabulous summer,

Tabby

Cassettes and Twitter

All this talk of twitter and the Green Wave's use of social networking reminds me of lessons learned at Brandeis, in a class by Prof. Yitzhak Nakash. Prof. Nakash is one of the foremost experts on Shi'ism, and I took his class on the World of Shi'i Islam. A lesson remembered all these years later:

The irony of the ongoing tumult in Iran is that 30 years ago, those clinging to power were carrying out their own revolution based on the new use of communication technology. It was the use of cassette tapes that helped spread Ayatollah Khomeini's message to his supporters. Cassettes were smuggled into Iran by pilgrims returning from abroad, then broadcast over the loudspeakers in mosques to his supporters to foment revolt. When that didn't work, tapes were played by phone from abroad into loudspeakers. These cassettes were also distributed to Khomeini's followers. These same revolutionaries also adeptly used small press like photocopiers to make pamphlets for their followers. Now, the children of the Revolution are tweeting and using social network to foment their own revolutions.

And I looked and behold a blue bird, and his name was Twitter and Revolution followed with him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

twitpocalypse

The Tehran Times on why Twitter was mysteriously not working during the election.

Cricket

The WSJ has a good piece on the evolution of cricket. Thanks bapa.

LA Observed III

A lovely mural in honor of LA's finest teachers.



This mural features Jaime Escalante, the teacher famous for teaching calculus to inner-city youth. He is flanked by Edward James Olmos, who played him in the movie Stand and Deliver.



Too bad he didn't teach English as well.

Photos "borrowed" from www.justabovesunset.com. Thanks, I couldn't get my camera out fast enough.

I'm not a crook

A little backtracking here, but I have been busy. Thankfully, the sun has come out and dried up the landy-landy. I'm back to me.

Sunday I went with Kenya down to Yorba Linda to visit the Nixon Library. We had considered going on Memorial Day, but that just felt so wrong. The library was interesting,very white and somewhat whitewashed. Nixon was dour even as a young man, with a scowl on his young face. Still, fascinating for the memorabilia and my own interest as a history buff. He really made a meteoric rise to VP, then years in the wilderness, then back to the pinnacle, only to be brought down by his own hubris and faults. Great old pics, State gifts and knick-knacks from Nixon and his campaigns.

Amazingly, there was scant info on Watergate. For years, there was nothing about it in the library. Finally, the library felt the need to do something, and started putting a gallery together- which the brochure said would be finished July 2008, but didn't look like much had been done.

We saw the presidential helicopter, and I posed for the "V" salute. We also chatted with a fellow who worked at the site about the various events held on the gardens and grounds. Events like weddings, prom parties and BAR MITZVAHS! Too bizarre.

Meanwhile, I am making good headway on my photo project. Poca a poca, it will get done.

Obama's Middle East Expedition



For all my aggregation aggravation, the Media Monitor I prepared on global media coverage and public diplomacy assessment of Obama's Middle East Expedition is now up on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy website.

It was actually a lot of fun to track all the different angles and perspectives on the story and speech. If the coding and web site construction hadn't gone a little haywire, it wouldn't have been nearly as much of an interesting project.

Next up, a blog on the Iranian election and Green Wave Public Diplomacy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quack, Quack

My Dad was on News Hour with Jim Lehrer last night about Doctors and Health Care.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Welcome to Tehrangeles

"Two teenage girls carrying bricks had French manicured fingernails and designer sunglasses. The protesters threw objects, burned trash bins, honked their horns and chanted "death to the dictator!" Funny, I saw the same thing, only they were wearing purple and gold, and chanting "let's go Lakers." Welcome to Tehrangeles, which, thanks to Lakers fans resembles the Persian capital. I went with the Brazilians downtown to see the Laker revelry. To paraphrase Bob Marley, we are burning and honking tonight. The riot police were out in full force to break up the hooligans setting fire to newspaper bins and trashcans. Strange how the smell of victory is that of burning plastic pylons.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Green flowing through the streets of Tehran



I withdraw my earlier critique of Obama's apparent silence:
Iran's most prominent reformers, including Nobel-laureate Shirin Ebadi, have said the best thing the U.S. can do is step back and let Iran's indigenous human rights movement progress on its own, without overt involvement from the U.S-however well intentioned.


Apparently, "Death to America" has been replaced by "Death to the Dictator." Hang in there, Green! We are praying for you.

"Disobedience to tyranny is obedience to God."
-Benjamin Franklin

BTW: a campaign is circling around the internet to wear Green on Monday in support of the Iranian resistance. It's like Saint Patty's Day, except we're dealing with Shi'ites rather than Guinness.

Irony

I hadn't weighed in on the shooting at the Holocaust Museum because I didn't think there was anything I could add to the discussion. It's a pretty vile incident, and there was not a lot I could add to the mix. All I will do is post an amazing letter to the Washington Post from Gail Chadwick:
James W. von Brunn -- racist, domestic terrorist and anti-Semite -- never knew that when he and his then-wife sold their Lebanon, N.H., home in 1982, they sold it to a Jewish family.

The von Brunns had moved to Maryland before we looked at the house, and he was incarcerated when we bought it, imprisoned for attempting to hold hostage members of the Federal Reserve Board. When we moved in, we realized we'd bought it from an anti-Semite survivalist because he'd left behind several boxes of anti-Jewish books. We immediately added them to the trash.

Anyway, James W. von Brunn, we want you to know we took great pleasure in living there despite the hate-filled man who occupied it before we did. We celebrated Passover Seders, exchanged Hanukkah gifts and raised two wonderful Jewish children there.

Speak up, Obama

Iran burns, and President Obama and his administration are still talking in restrained terms and discussing engagement. What's the matter, did you lose your voice in Cairo? I never thought I would write this, but Bush would have been far more vocal in the face of this farce.

My friend Mike made a great point to my naivety, he wrote, "I'm confused why people thought elections in Iran would be fair and free..." You are right, Mike. Among many others, I got swept up in the idea that while it wouldn't be totally "free and fair," a candidate working within the Iranian system would be able to make some changes. We were all wrong.

Posted on one tweet IranRiggedElect: "gov announced there has been no fault in election, cause they had been counting very carefully from 20 days ago!!"

And another: "Tienanmen + Twitter = Tehran."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Foul

Sorry, maybe if "I'm a dinner jacket" had won a squeaker, it may be believable. But the landslide is bullshit.



Anyone know of any rallies to support Mousavi and Iran in LA?

Tala's take

If these fraudulent election results remain, Reza Pauhlavi is taking to the streets of Westwood, to the barricades of Beverly Hills!

This comes from my friend and classmate Tala (affectionately dubbed "O daughter of Persia" by the esteemed cultural diplomat Richard Arndt). Her initial thoughts and reactions on the Iranian election:

Yes I did get myself up and out of bed extra early to go vote at the west LA location this morning, all the good that seemed to do. I'm not alone in believing the election was rigged and that our votes to Mousavi (and I don't just mean the votes from the diasporic community) were left uncounted.

If I get a chance to jot down some of my thoughts in the next few days I'll be sure and pass them on to you. It really was a very exciting election in terms of popular activism. No Mousavi was not a saint, but he and his wife are articulate and intelligent people who could have at least represented to the world, through rhetoric if nothing else, the depth and complexity of the Iranian people. Unfortunately it seems that Ahmadinejad will be reprising his role as utter stereotype making Iranians out to be war-mongering hateful supporters of terrorism.

It's easy for someone like me, living in all the comforts of Los Angeles to say that I'm disappointed, but my heart goes out to all the young people in Iran whose votes aren't being counted and whose voices remain unheard by their own government of middle-aged greedy ayatollahs who care only about lining their own pockets and profiting from a revolution that was never intended to put them into power in the first place.

We'll see what comes of this. At least for now it seems like the media is paying a little bit closer attention to what Iranians are actually saying, not just the convenient sound bites from ignorant political leaders.

peace be upon you Paul, pray for my country! ;)

What makes a suicide bomber 'tick'?

The name of the senior thesis I wrote years ago [posted on the side]. I saw this headline of a moderate Muslim cleric who denounced suicide bombings killed by a suicide attacker. Killed leaving a mosque. This comes after a spate of bombings in mosques. How can you carry out "holy war" while targeting mosques of your co-religionists? Truly sad. I can't understand how this wouldn't cause the Muslim world to rally, as if some stupid cartoons would offend the Prophet Muhammed more than his followers blowing up the umma.

Fight on, Green!

Initial results sounds like initial BS. No way "I'm a dinner jacket" rolled over Mousavi and Green. No way. I don't buy it, and neither does Iran. Fight on, Green. Fight on, Iran.

Go Green!

Here's to hoping that the Green wave sweeps Iran. Below is a fascinating report on the use of new media in the Iranian election. See under: the Obama campaign



Uh oh, looks like we have shades of different elections. See under: Kerry 2004, with possibly declaring victory too early and Gore 2000, with some real chicanery and unsavory electoral practices to steal the election. And lots of tumult to follow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grey, grey, go away

I remain trapped on the grey island of Dr. Morose.

Thankfully, around 4 or so, the clouds dissipated enough that I could function again. I went off for a bike ride through from Central America to the Korean Peninsula. The smell of sweet Korean barbecue and kimchi hung on the night air in Koreatown. I luv Koreans, they and their food have so much personality. I had some Japanese tacos the other day, and they just didn't stand up. Japanese food is light and doesn't possess the gravitas to fill a taco. I had some bimbimbap and varieties of kimchi, yum!

I find Koreans have different personality than the rest of Asia, more of a jovial sort, but in a different manner from the gregarious Chinese, boisterous Vietnamese, slight and polite Japanese, somber Cambodians, quietly charming Laotians and the lively Thais.

Korea is trying to do a nation branding strategy. I saw something stupid called "Korea sparkling," wtf does that mean? If I were running their branding, I would highlight Korea's more spicy personality, something like "Korea: Asia with Attitude".

Thoughts on Lebanon, Iran

These last few days have been a doozy for democracy in the region. Lebanon's vote and Iran's upcoming have been fodder for thought and inspiration. I still believe Obama helped tip the Lebanese elections, away from Hizbullah and Michel Aoun's pandering. I remain hopeful that Mousavi can tip the scales away from Ahmedinejad. The Iranian election has been startling for its vibrancy in an mostly undemocratic country. The Iranian third wave is here. Roger Cohen made a great point about comparing Iran's semi-democracy with the decidedly undemocratic Middle East.

I don't think any of this would be possible without our current president. Engagement is in, the GWOT is out. Chalk one point up to public diplomacy, and another up to soft power. To be fair, Lebanon's second real democratic election wouldn't have been possible without Bush standing up to Syria. Credit where credit is due. Amazing to think where the vaunted "freedom agenda" could have gone if the Bush administration had been less myopic once votes in the Middle East were actually cast.

Let's hope "change" comes to Iran, as I am curious to see this play out. Change is in the air in the Middle East, and in LA terms, green is the new black and public diplomacy is a marching force to be reckoned with.

PS: A good post by Attackerman on Bibi stepping boldly in 1993 and Hamas likewise into 1948

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The return of grey

Grey Miserables is back with vengeance, and I have been awful. I have been accomplishing nothing, merely moping about. Then around 4pm, the grey burns off and I am transformed. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Grey.

The Iranian Michelle Obama

See: The Iranian Michelle Obama

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

LA observed II

I kept noticing all these fellows wearing Washington Nationals hats. The big "W" on all these thugged out guys. I was so curious why there would be so many Nats fans out here. First I though maybe it was for Watts. The other day I sat next to a fellow on the metro who was wearing one and I asked what was up. He said it was for "Westside," as in for those from the West Coast. "I don't no nuthin' about no Nationals," he said. So, sorry Lerners, no dice about the fan base. What can you expect when the Nationals and Orioles COMBINED have less wins than the Dodgers.

Bear Flag Banana Republic

LA observed

Sitting on the bus today, I had the opportunity to watch two schizophrenic homeless fellows chat back and forth. It was like watching a spam email conversation take place. This is the summarized transcript of their discussion, which started after one accused me of plotting evil against the world with my computer:

"joys of mayonnaise jolly rancher suckers and yellow apple plantations. Cattle ranchers of jollies, green ones, red ones, cream ones. Caramel and nuts on the bullet, make it taste real good. Stop playing the fool cause the suntan will do you good."

Sounds kinda like spam, no?

bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong

Or the universal greeting as stated by Hot Rod in the Transformers movie, aka the greatest movie ever. And not that crappy Michael Bay flick.


So why do I show my nerd hand and mention this? Because we just had a Transformers moment. The Deceptecons (Al Qaeda) and Unicron had been sewing terror by destroying planets and looked like they were on the verge of defeating the Autobots (U.S.).



Then, Hot Rod (State Sen. Obama) appears (in 2005 as the Transformer movie stipulates, which was almost two decades away when I saw the movie at Rehoboth Beach)




Hot Rod takes the mantle of Autobot leadership, after Optimus Prime is killed and Ultra Magnus (John Kerry) proves unworthy for leadership. This new leader comes from the most unexpected place to "light our darkest hour"



Hot Rod proves to be "the chosen one" and turns into Rodimus Prime (President Obama). He uses the (public diplomacy) matrix and turns the tide to destroy Unicron, vanquish the Deceptecons and save the day.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Shalom TJ

O readers, have a peep at my precious godson, Tristan John (TJ) Dean. The little dude gets all the cuteness from his mother Natalya, and not his ugly father Brian.
 
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One thousand and one posts

For my 1,001 blog post, a fitting article about Abou Salim Ramirez, the hookah king of LA who makes hookahs out of pineapples.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

On Lebanon

This post comes from my friend John, who is a Lebanese-American (Greek Ortho) working in Beirut this summer. I have taken the liberties of posting his impressions on the election today:

Having spent three weeks in Beirut much has transpired that needs to be assessed and looked at objectively. Most of what we hear and often seen seems to be portrayed through the looking glass of optimists and analysts shape the status quo through their own worldview, focusing on a hopeful end game than that of what is truly happening an how it can be dealt with.

First issue is President Obama's speech. Historic in nature,scope and message the speech set out to create a new beginning between the US and the Arab and Islamic world. For his effort the President deserves an A for effort. In reality though a grade without work turned in can not be assessed properly. Like the promising student who speaks of one day being valedictorian, the future sounds rosey, but the current fact is that this student is in an average situation, if not below average. Many anticipated the presidents speech and appreciated its message, now lies the hard part for President Barack Hussein Obama to turn his eloquent speech into meaningful action. The great benefit of leaving out a coherent plan is that there is not a ticking clock on his goals, whatever they may be. However, he must seize whatever momentum he created with substantive action to walk the walk outlined by his talk. People here enjoyed and welcomed the speech with great anticipation...... the gre
atest blunder of our president will be to leave it at that, just a speech. Let us see whether that historic day turns into a historic outcome. ( A quick caveat, I could not help but call out every PD related thing Obama talked about in his speech which watching it in the office with the staff.)

Now on to the most pressing and truly pivotal issue facing the Middle East and Lebanon; the Parliament elections today. If we as Americans think we care about elections, you won't believe this place. Banners, posters, t-shirts, car stickers, etc.... are everywhere. As many of you already know I have my own views of the politics and parties in this nation. Democracy is alive and well, and its chaotic. Most of my predispositions have been formed by my upbringing in the US, my background as a Christian, and the nature in which we view the news at home ( often skewed toward a US interest). I, as well as all of us, could not be more misinformed on the nature and political makeup of this nation and its significance in a region which is historically unable to speak out and represent its interest in an orderly fashion.

The western world and the US likes to portray and frame the Lebanese elections in a pro western and anti western ( pro syria/Iran) dichotomy. This could not be further from the truth. In addition, the March 8 Opposition is not and will not be a Hezbollah dominated coalition just as much as the current March 14 ruling coalition is not and will not be a total pro-US coalition. In actuality, this nation for the first time since 1975 ( the start of the civil war) is conducting free and fair elections ( Jimmy Carter is even here). Yes, they are free and fair and in compliance with Lebanese law. Some abnormalities or acts of frauds are inevitable ( just as they are with a Diebold voting machine in the US, or illegal campaigning tactics other places in the world). We can not and should not look at other elections through our own looking glass but rahter what is in the best interest of the Lebanese people. the nation, and the greater regional impact it will have.

The March 14/ March 8 dichotomy has been created to disturb and polarize this nation which historically have been sectarian by nature. It is a common here to follow ones sect and its leaders. With that in mind not much is going to change, despite who wins. Sunni's will overwhelmingly follow Hariri and his future movement and the March 14 coalition. Shiite's will also follow either the Amal or Hezbollah parties which make up the sole choices for Shiite Muslims and are part of the March 8 oppositions. A small sect, the Druze, will follow their historic feudal leader Walid Jumblatt and his shaky support for March 14. The only group in question, and is up for grabs, is the Christians........

It is not for or against Hezbollah, that is the truth. It is which Christian parties will win and with with camp they are aligned with. Regardless who does win a majority it will only be by a few seats, not enough to create a government on its own. Most if not all Christians were part of the Pro-Western March 14 alliance which drove Syria out of this nation. That force dubbed the "Cedar Revolution" saw a never before unity between most members of all sects of this nation. However, five years later that movement is long gone, with politicians clinging to those historic days as cover for their treacherous pasts. In reality, the March 14 Coalition, just as the March 8, both are composed of former wartime criminals, feudal leaders, and Syrians henchmen. Under the guise of a "Pro- Western" movement they have sought to put behind them their awful pasts, and people here also have short memories.

After the last election, the FMP movement and its formerly exiled leader Gen. Michel Aoun gained nearly 70% of all Christian seats in Parliament. They along with the Sunni's, Druze, and other Christian groups ( Lebanese Forces and others) fought for and achieved freedom from Syrian rule. In the wake of their victory the Pro- Western March 14 alliance created its government and in doing so excluded the most popular and Christian leader Michel Aoun and his MP's. In addition the past years have seen corruption within the government along no benefits and true progress for the Lebanese government or nation. Due to isolation by the Hariri led March 14, the FMP movement led by Aoun moved into the opposition ( which includes Hezbollah). Therefore they are the true majority opposition, not Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is and will always be a resistance movement, not a governing body capable of running a nation. They will win their seats in Parliament ( around 14). That is not enough to lead an opposition, nor is an alliance with Shiite Amal ( which will gain about 15-20). The true opposition is that of the coalition with the Christians and the FMP movement which have been disillusioned and were the basis of the March 14 alliance. They are set to win 20+ seats int he government thereby giving the opposition a majority in the 128 seat parliament. The only reality is that the March 14 coalition hides under a date and a message whose ultimate founders and most of its defenders have left. Therefore they are baseless to an extent.

The reality is this; no matter who wins, nothing will change. The " Hezbollah led" coalition is nothing of the sort. It is a motley crue of those who have become disillusions by five years of corruption and a lack of progress, Hezbollah just happens to be in the opposition and the creator of the oppostion, not its foundation. So that's is truth for truth's sake. What the west and the Untied States should do is to embrace these elections for what they are, democratic and free. Instead of Hillary Clinton and VP Biden parading through the nation hailing democracy but warning retribution against an opposition win does nothing but show that the US will not and does not care about the nation or its democracy but only wants its own people "elected." The same people who four years ago were sworn allies of Syria have swapped masters and now scare the nation and its people against the opposition. This is not a way forward, American ultimatums and Israeli threats have only sought to d
isillusion the people of this country to vote for who they think will help them and their country and not the rest of the world.

What we can do and should do is support the election results. Coming down on the side of truth will be a greater asset for the US and its allies than turning its back on freedom and democracy. Regardless who wins it will only be by a few votes and a few ship in MPs, a nation unity coalition must be created. In that likelihood two or three MP's for or against either side will not change much. Labeling a Christian majority opposition a "Hezbollah Pro-Syrian/Iranian" alliance is only a scare tactic that continues to anger most in this nation. It is true Hezbollah and Amal are pro-Syria/Iran, but the majority of the rest of the coalition is not. Let us look at things the way they are and support the outcome and work toward a prosperous future for this nation and its role as a democratic nation in a turbulent region. On this pivotal day in Lebanese and Middle Eastern history let us hope all goes peacefully and the outcome is accepted by all parties involved so that this nation c
an proceed successfully. With or without foreign assistance this nation has always found a way to survive, and I am sure it will.

Having said all that, in true conservative fashion, I hope the opposition loses..... that's just me ( I am an American after all, and I have to believe a Pro-US alliance helps this nation both for domestic security, economic stability, and its status among the family of nations) . But I do not speak for the Lebanese people or their plight, they do and lets respect their decision.

Watching history unfold is an amazing thing.... lets hope for my sake it remains peaceful.

Wishing you all a great summer.

-John

Shukran, John. As results are pouring in, it seems that the pro-West side might have squeezed out a win. I'm willing to point a little credit to our pres for his bridge-building efforts in the Middle East. Apparently, the NY Times agrees.

PS: Thanks to Julep for passing a sad NPR driveway moment on the death of a young AIDS activist in South Africa.

Changes afoot at CPD

The Center on Public Diplomacy announced that it will have a new director, Prof Phil Seib. I don't know Prof Seib, but the reputation that precedes him is good. Prof. Wiseman, probably one of my most favorite professors, is stepping down from the position and returning to academia full time- I'm sorry to see him go. Not to comment one way or another about the move, as I don't know the incoming director or back story behind the moves afoot, but I find it ironic that CPD is keeping up with the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy in musical chairs. This is the center's third director since its inception in 2003, a pace matching State's own shifting Under Sec for Pub D. An upcoming piece in Public Diplomacy Magazine notes the necessity for continuity in the Under Secretary position for Public Diplomacy, and wishes a long tenure for the new director- let's hope for the same at CPD.

Beyond Broadcasting, Buses and Bloom

It seems to be the end of grey miserables, thank Valjean. I finished the Beyond Broadcasting conference. Some other interesting panels about Mobile Voices and the use of cellphones to gather news and tell immigrants' stories, youth radio and an interesting scenario session designing an Indian global network ala BBC or VOA and how it would look. I said it should be "all Bollywood, all the time." Unfortunately, I kinda didn't pay nearly enough attention to the conference as my aggregation addiction attracted my attention- only to find a snafu had occurred, causing more aggregation aggravation. Moving on, the conference ended with a lavish reception. The conference was interesting, but the critique I heard most was that this digitally-inspired conference was rather analogue in practice. Lots of panels and discussion, not enough interaction with new technologies. Still caught in the old paradigm of discussing over panels, and hearing about how some new technologies were being used, and not enough hands-on interactive use of the new technologies and how they fit into the new digital world.

Daysha and I took a post-reception constitutional, sneaking into the beautiful Mount Saint Mary's campus and walking past the lovely, ornate castle-houses on campus. We stumbled across a group of Indian students playing a fascinating game called pithoo. Imagine dodgeball, hide-and-seek and jenga all rolled into one. We then trudged up to Venice to meet a bunch of conference folks for an art walk in Venice. The streets of Venice were filled with carnival festivities, as bands played and people caroused. It was dragged down, however, by not enough bars and too many people trying to fill them, and some overzealous cops who sought to play parents and end the party at the witching hour. I always luv insecure authorities who feel the need to scream to show its authority. Over to a more civilized bar called Warzawa for some buffalo grass vodka and some fascinating conversation with a fellow named Eric, who spearheaded the use of new technology to monitor Malawi's elections.

Saturday was a pure shot of californication, beautiful and sunny over at the Farmer's Market in Silver Lake. Daysha and I finagled a day-pass into a double day-pass, and took our chariot cross town. Salvadorean pupusas and fresh produce at the market, before a trip west to Westwood on the bus. I listened to Tupac rap about Changes that he sadly never saw, but would be smiling down today. We hopped off at the Hammer Museum for some free student passes to the great museum.

After wandering through the galleries, and taking in the exhibits, we walked over to the campus of the crosstown rivals. Rays of light peered in through some ominous clouds in the distance as UCLA was going through commencement planning, and a band cemented their nickname for me, blaring YMCA and Copacabana. We walked up to the beautiful moorish Powell library, then down to the Fowler Museum for a quick run through and realization for return.

"Eat dessert first, life is too short"
-Stan's Donuts

Thanks for the advice Stan, we grabbed some donut holes at said location and cookies sandwiches at the phenomenal Diddy Riese, then wandered over to the Persian section of Westwood for some tea drank through sugar cubes and perusing of Rumi at a Royalist book shop. We watched the Brothers Bloom, which was entertaining but not great. It was good, but tried a little too hard and ultimately missed.

After dinner, back to Attari Sandwich shop for some incredible persian cuisine. Bowls of osh- slightly sour soup of kidney beans, spinach, caramelized onions and a dollop of yogurt, a sandwich of kuku, a green almost minty delight and a cornish hen kabob plate with skewered tomatoes and onions wrapped in sesame flat bread. Lotsa yum. The night ended with the chariot back across town- probably close to the eighth of the day, and of course, grief over the finagled day pass from the last bus driver.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Beyond Broadcasting

An interesting day at the Beyond Broadcasting event. Daysha and I showed up for lunch and sat next to a fellow named Michael Kleeman, who had apparently organized a great deal of the conference. Fascinating fellow, he had previously done work about how different intelligence agencies share information (or like bad kindergartners, don't).

I came just in time for a panel discussion on Public Media at the National & Global Levels. It was about how "traditional media organizations’ use of new media to further their public service mission, expand their coverage and build an audience." Panelists included my old Prof Geoff Cowan, who had headed VOA and spoke about their efforts regarding the Obama Cairo speech and how they utilized social networking capabilities. Other panelists were: Steve Herrmann, Web editor, BBC News; Ali Jaber, dean, Mohammed bin Rashid School for Communication, American University in Dubai; Vibodh Parthasarathi, associate professor, Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi; Kinsey Wilson, senior vice president and general manager, NPR Digital Media. I'll be honest, I kinda zoned out on the rest as I was aggregating stories about Obama on the Nile. News aggregating is turning into a nasty addiction.

The next panel was interesting, on "Public Service Media in Areas of Conflict."
Panelists were: Nouneh Sarkissian, director of Internews Armenia; Ryan Schlief, the Asia program coordinator at WITNESS; Ivan Sigal, the executive director of Global Voices; Lubna Takruri,a freelance journalist and managing editor for breaking news at Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre. The moderator was Sandy Tolan, a journalism professor at Annenberg. The panel related to how new media technologies were being used in citizen journalism projects. My question was about if these organizations, with similar missions of offering a platform and voice to the voiceless were in collaboration, or if they saw opportunities for future collaboration. The short answer is that they were already.

Last panel of the day was "The Global Connectors of Public Service Media."
Panelists: Orlando Bagwell, director, Media, Arts, and Culture unit, Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom Program, Ford Foundation; Elana Yonah Rosen, senior advisor, One Economy and One Global Economy; Herb Scannell, board chair, WNYC Radio, and chairman & co-founder, Next New Networks; and Ethan Zuckerman, senior researcher, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

Zuckerman stole the show, with a fascinating project called Media Cloud, which maps data on practically all news stories on the planet through various algorithms. He made a great point citing Marc Lynch about how the bloggers may not threaten the autocratic regimes now, but in 15-20 years, they will be the ones shaping their respective societies and their involvement now in online information will bode well for the future.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Obama on the Nile

Having been aggregating about the "New Beginnings" speech all day, I am finally getting an opportunity to watch it. Amazing. So proud that this man is our president.



Brilliant on all counts. I was moved by President Obama's courage to speak clearly and boldly about Holocaust denial in Cairo. As a moderate, I agree with all points raised regarding responsibilities on all parties. Jeffrey Goldberg had a great comment to the right-wing naysayers in Israel.

Grey Days, Blacklist, Obama on the Nile

It's been a hectic week, I have been so busy that I haven't had a chance to blog. I'm currently at Annenberg Beyond Broadcasting conference, which ironically is giving me a moment of pause. The week has alternated between grey and glorious as June gloom continues to play tricks on me.

Monday began grey, as I headed over to the art library to find some books on Family of Man. While wandering around the art area at USC, I wandered into a sculpture garden with a sombre, moving memorial to those who suffered under the Hollywood blacklist. Jenny Holzer's Blacklist consisted of different "spokes" of quotes related to the Blacklist process, leading into a central point with granite benches carved with quotes from those who were victimized. Some of the quotes that really got me were:

"Either the 1st amendment is binding upon Congress and all legislative bodies of our government, or it means nothing at all" -Alvah Bessie

"As always what happens, what drew the headlines were the accusations, not the denials."

"One is destroyed in order that a thousand will be rendered silent and impotent by fear" -Albert Maltz

After, I hopped the bus across town, alternatively listening to a fat homeless fellow croon r&b in a high voice to the snickers of we fellow passengers. When he finally departed, a dapper-dressed fellow proceeded to give a loud lecture on bizarre politics. Ah, the bus is always a blast. I went down to Samy's to look into developing, then I had some coffee with BFF Yael at the Grove.

Tuesday was spent setting up a Media Monitor for the Center on Public Diplomacy for Obama's trip to the Middle East. I was dived into PD news aggregation, which is becoming an aggravation as I can hardly keep up with all the stories coming out on Obama's trip. I have become addicted to news gathering and need an intervention.

Later, I headed downtown with Daysha for some dinner. The city has become rather beautiful as the Jacaranda tree have left a veil of violet violence and purple puddles of petals on the ground.

We wandered around town, stopping in the tonyed Biltmore Hotel, then hit up the Rocket Pizza lounge for an interesting pizza with scrambled eggs, peppers and onions. It was a little dry, sans sauce but added siracha made it good.

Wednesday continued the media monitoring in full force, and work on PD Mag, until I broke free and had lunch with Kenya for some veggie soul food, then pick-up of photo samples and milkshakes. I went out later with Daysha and Emilie for some sketch improv comedy at the UCB theater.

A few article I have been holding on to:
Travel Nomads

Dying Industries