Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Culinary Diplomacy cont; Health Care cont

Marketplace had two interesting stories yesterday.  One on a kosher-halal duo of meat distributors. The other on the history of health care reform in the US:
Opponents of the reform effort came up with a strategy. This was in the years leading up to World War I. America was about to go to battle with Germany. And Germany had been the first country to pass universal health care.

DUBIN: And they used this anti-German feeling as a way to attack compulsory health care as some insidious plot to undermine the American government and the American people.

WARNER: So, they called them the dirtiest word you can call an American, which is a European.

DUBIN: Right, and only in this time, there were various, "Germans," and "Prussians" and "doing the Emperor of Germany's work."

This became the pattern. When reformers tried to restart the debate in the '20s, they were called socialists.

DUBIN: Right, and in Harry Truman's era, they called them Bolsheviks and communists. And that's the whole history of health care reform is, champions, they lose, someone picks it up again, champions it, they lose.

Until the day comes when they win.

AIPAC and earnestness

A great piece in Foreign Policy about once-upon-a-time when AIPAC had a spine, and wasn't just sycophantic in their support.

Fall from grace

My roomie Andrea was making the most immaculate sandwich: turkey bacon, avocado and blue cheese.  I was so stunned by the combo, I forgot that it was Passover and took a bite of the bread.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, but I think G-d will forgive me for such a divine creation.

Dr. Strangerockower

Gracias Jorge!

the run

I woke up before dawn with the anxieties. The past and future interfering with the zen of my infinite present. I went to go running, but first I had to move my loaner car for street cleaning. I turned the block and ran into Ivan the Terrible. The people's champ had his fight postponed, but renewed mine. I went off for a run, always my best therapy, and felt my anxiety pass into enlightenment.

As I was running, I saw signs that said "citizenship." While jogging in place at a stop light, I asked some people congregated what this was for. Citizenship swearing-in. I smiled as I remembered my own days teaching the citizenship exam (Q: Who is the Senator of Maryland; A: Bar-bar-a Mi-kul-ski). I gave hearty congratulations and a huge smile to everyone I passed as welcomed them to the rolls.

In the Tolstoyan sense, of late I had been wrestling with truth versus vanity. Unfortunatley, vanity had been winning. I had been so self-absorbed, as I lost focus on what all this is really about. My run helped remind me of what is really important, what we live by and the fire we carry.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bibi, HC & ME; Brazil Soft Power

Roger Cohen has a great piece on Obama's healthcare win and the foreign policy implications of the victory in the Middle East:

The passage of the U.S. health care bill is a major foreign policy victory for President Barack Obama. It empowers him by demonstrating his ability to deliver. Nowhere is that more important than in the Middle East.

All the global mutterings about the “Carterization” of Obama, and the talk (widespread in Israel) of kicking the can down the road and so getting through the “garbage time” of a one-term president — that is suddenly yesterday’s chatter.

Meanwhile, a good BBC piece on Brazilian soft power. Obrigado, Danielle.

Finally, a good piece on China from the "Cohen brother," Richard Cohen

Monday, March 29, 2010

Iranian-Americans and the Census

Finished the census! My civic duty is done.

Meanwhile, since I am mobile in nonpublic fashion, I get to listen to the radio! There was a good piece on NPR on Puerto-Iranians and the Census.

Vanilla PD

As I was driving around today I saw that on a stop sign, there was a sticker below the "stop" that said: "...collaborate and listen." I posted it on my facebook page, and got an interesting comment from my friend Leah stating "A PD traffic sign." The more I thought about it, the more I realized how right she was. Since collaboration and listening are fundamental facets of public diplomacy, then perhaps we should call Vanilla Ice an old skool public diplomat. Rather than an OG, he is an OPD. Word to your mother.

Leaving Egypt

I woke up thinking about Passover and the many places I had been to celebrate the original story of liberation. Hiking from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean as a young man living in Israel. In Rabat, leaving the synagogue with trepidation of the news of the Netanya passover bombing and welcomed in by a Moroccan Jewish family. I shared the matzah with my host family, who kinda liked it and later to spent the week hiking in the Middle Atlas Mountains, giving out matzah to Berber villagers. In South Africa, drawing parallels of Moses to Mandela as I celebrated a different liberation. In Israel and on my way through the Sinai on a reverse Exodus towards the final stop of a long journey to Cairo.

I debated writing this part of the piece. I haven't debated writing a piece since Hanukkah. I was going to bag this cause I didn't think I would have enough to write other than its provocation. But the LA Times story this morning made me realize I needed to put it out: a settler family occupying the front room of a Palestinian family's house.

I write this with sadness but the occupation has become our Egypt and the Palestinians remain in our bondage, with Netenyahu playing Pharaoh for a Palestine Passover. How did it come to this? Next year in Jerusalem, the already-divided and unrecognized capital of Israel. In all likelihood, another year of bitter herbs, bloodshed and tears. Every generation needs liberation from its own Egypt, and we will not be free until all are free.

Obama the wicked child

Read about Muslim Obama the anti-Israel, anti-Semite celebrate passover. Those anti-Semites are so ingenious, they actually pretend to celebrate Jewish holidays to hide their real plots and plans...

Brazil Hour; Lexus Hypocrisy; What we live by; Psychobabble

I have been liberated from mass transit by Naomi who left me her car as she headed back East for passover. Drop off and pickup of a Randy's dozen for the roomies, including an incredibly delicious apple fritter (for your health!). On the way back, I tuned into my friend Daniela's radio station, which was rocking out some Waylon Jennings and other assorted Texas goodness.

I headed off West this morning to have brunch with BFF Yael and heard some sublime Brazilian music on KXLU. As the show ended, the host mentioned that it was a show sponsored by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Brazil Hour. Possibly the most brilliant piece of international broadcasting imaginable. I wonder if American Consulates would have enough sense to arrange for a hip-hop, reggae or rock-n-roll show on foreign radio airwaves. Get a program with an intro of the Violent Femmes "American Music." Probably not. Take note, State. That is absolutely a brilliant way of doing cultural diplomacy. This had me thinking about how to revamp Voice of America ("New Voice, New America").

After some overpriced, mediocre bagels in the (Jewish) ghetto, I went off hiking with an old friend Anne. While I waited for her, I met a fellow Washingtonian named Josh Fin, who went to Field (like a cousin of Edmund Burke). We had some mutual friends in this ever smaller world.

Anyway, Anne is a different kind of PD, public defender. She is equally geeked-out over her field, I always like passionate people. She told me stories of fascinating clients (sorry, none to share for public record) as we hiked up Runyon Canyon. We had to get off the beaten path cause the path up the hill was a paved parkway. We hiked through the yellow fields of mini sunflowers and took in the view of Grifith Park that looked like a lonely castle outpost in Middle Earth with the snow-covered mountains in the distance.

Anne and I chatted about respective future plans (Paul Rockower, PD for Hire). As we were chatting, she moaned about her mountain of school debts and I felt bad for her until after she later mentioned she also had car payments. I asked her what kind of car she got, cause the old one was falling apart. A Lexus. "WHAT!" I exclaimed. I had been just listening to her debt sob story, then she mentions her new Lexus. I told her I wanted my time wasted listening to her sob story to be refunded. But it was kinda funny in a lexus of hypocrisy.

On the way back, I was listening to an amazing program called Speaking of Faith on KPCC 89.3 (NPR). The program was about what we live by: vengeance (Ven Ganza!), cooperation and forgiveness. It was a stunning interview that I heard about how Japanese monkeys have social classes (surprise!). If a monkey of a higher strata abuses the monkey of a lower strata, then the monkey of the lower strata will not retaliate against that monkey, but rather a monkey of the its same strata. It will do so in view of the original higher monkey so that monkey knows that its deeds have repercussions. He also talked about cooperation as the secret of society. Civilization comes from cooperation, and through cooperation we create cities, monuments, society. The last part I heard was on forgiveness and our capacity to forgive. How we forgive all the time as parents or friends and don't think anything of it because it is often so banal, we barely notice. Definitely have a listen.

I ended in Los Feliz, thinking that if I did end up longer in LA, it would have to be in this neighborhood. It is the most East Coast of West Coast domains. However I am presently annoyed because the coffeshop that I am at, Psychobabble, gives an hour free of wifi with a purchase, and 2 hours free with purchases more than $3. My double-espresso over ice was $2.60 and I am out of internet. I don’t want to pay for more and none free is forthcoming. Not a great biz sense if you ask me, but I am an e-populist. I also came to the realization that Google is socialism 2.0 and it is good. Maybe I can talk my way into being Google’s Public Diplomat. Microsoft has one; Google, I imagine, needs one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Social Contract & the Mob

Health care is the belief that the social contract evolves. It is the notion that in the 21st century, the state has an interest in the health of its citizens. Bimarck understood this, as did Teddy Roosevelt. Not exactly namby-pamby liberals.

That health care is an extension of the social contract is something that the Republicans and teabagging rabble don’t seem to understand. What could you expect of a mob?

"The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that's what an army is--a mob; they don't fight with courage that's born in them, but with courage that's borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any man at the head of it, is beneath pitifulness."
- Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Those who hurl epithets at lawmakers because of their skin color and their sexual orientation, who contemptuously hurl dollars at the sick, who exhort their followers to reload, have no understanding of the social contract. This incitement has no place in our political debate. But that rabble knows nothing of civility.

The Republicans and their teabagger allies have been out in apoplectic, apocalyptic force since the health care bill's passage. The tidal waves of incitement are rising higher and higher against the shores of reason. The delusion has become profound.

My Republican friend Bo was candidly astute in a facebook post debate:

"Only the truly delusional thought they had a chance to stop it. When you have that small a minority in the House and Senate, it's amazing you can stop anything."

But as the fight is heading to uglier and uglier levels, Frank Rich points out that this fight was never about healthcare:

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.
So we are left with Congressman Steve King and his sorry excusal of the IRS attack. If the pilot's name was Muhammed it would have been a far different story. Or those nuts who showed up at the offices and homes of elected representatives. The loonies have been quoting Goldwater's maxim, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Wrong. Extremism in the name of anything, especially liberty and poltical ends is indeed vice.

The violent rhetoric and incitement is dangerous. The responsible Republicans (if that is not an oxymoron) need to speak up, not heat things up. If not, the fire that they are playing with will leave us all in ashes.

Gastronomists in the news

Check out this NPR piece on a fellow consummate consumo, LA Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold.

He is so spot on:
When I was at the Los Angeles Times, there used to be a joke in the newsroom that there were vast parts of town that were only covered when there was a gang slaying or I wrote about a restaurant. And I think through my work through the years that it gives people a fuller sense of what their city is like and who lives in it. I really like to make people unafraid of their neighbors.

He is also spot on his power of influence:
Gold: There are good aspects of that and there are bad aspects of it. The good aspect is I can take, especially in the sort of Sub Rosa restaurants that I often write about, I can take a hard-working business owner and make him a little bit more successful, and I like that. The bad aspect of that is that unfortunately, I can probably close restaurants or make restaurants unsuccessful.

RAZ: Has that ever happened?

Gold: Yeah, that's happened. It has almost always been restaurants that have been really praised by the most prominent critic in town and where I found the food to be not just bad but pretentious and bad. But I thought that they'd be able to withstand it. But the climate is pretty bad these days and sometimes, they can't.

Friedman on hobbies

Tom Friedman has a great piece on Israeli and American attitudes toward peace:
This tiff actually reflects a tectonic shift that has taken place beneath the surface of Israel-U.S. relations. I’d summarize it like this: In the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for Israel — has gone from being a necessity to a hobby. And in the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for America — has gone from being a hobby to a necessity. Therein lies the problem.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Avaz me konam: Farsi for "I do sound." Merci, Andrea.


or "What would Jesus do?" I can guarantee he wouldn't have transferred pedophile priests to different parishes. How can Benedict remain as pope when he so woefully neglected his duty and responsibility to his flock? Bill Maher, not exactly a theologian, said it best that when given the choice between protecting children and protecting those who harmed children, he chose the latter and at every juncture the church chose to play CYA.

What is a nice Jewish boy doing weighing in on the institution of the Catholic Church? You don't have to be a follower of Christ to know he wouldn't approve of His faithful servant's behavior. Nothing destroys a brand like the emergence of revelations that destroys credibility.

Meanwhile, MoDo is spot on in her excoriation of Ratzinger:

Cardinal Ratzinger devoted his Vatican career to rooting out any hint of what he considered deviance. The problem is, he was obsessed with enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy and somehow missed the graver danger to the most vulnerable members of the flock.

The sin-crazed “Rottweiler” was so consumed with sexual mores — issuing constant instructions on chastity, contraception, abortion — that he didn’t make time for curbing sexual abuse by priests who were supposed to pray with, not prey on, their young charges.

Perhaps it's time for Ratzinger to vacate St. Peter's throne, as his conduct shows he has little reason to be there.

Cole Hand Luke

At the originator of French Dip, Cole’s. The title is up to debate. They offer a pretty credible explanation of why the are the establishment of such progeny. The house chef would dip the bread in Au Jus to soften it for customers with bad gums. It was delicious. Dipping the bread in the aus jus and slathering horseradish mustard on top. The horseradish mustard gives claritan a run. A side of spicy garlic fries covered in the horseradish mustard. A spatan to wash it down. Yum. The reason I write about food is because it is what I write best about.


" A day of serenity is a day of immortality"
-Hao Datong

Posted by Picasa

DATONG!!!!!! A symbol for all confusion and clarity. Thanks Sancho Harranza, slayer of dragons and chicken hearts. That quotation is spot on. I am planning the launch of something interesting.


A veil of honeysuckle incense rises in ringlets while I ponder and plan my future. The weight of ideas rises like the spiraling incense and it all makes just a little more sense.

The Panama Hat

A fascinating story from This American Life about a pen pal relationship between a young American girl and General Manuel Noriega. Gracias Naomi.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tala in HuffPo on Cultural Diplomacy

One of my hats I wear is the media director for Public Diplomacy Magazine. I helped arrange a piece by our Editor-in-Chief Tala Mohebi on Cultural Diplomacy. Have a read of: "This Isn't Your Parents' Cultural Diplomacy"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Korean Tacos and Kimchi Diplomacy

The Consummate Consumo has a piece on CPD's site:

Korean Tacos and Kimchi Diplomacy
“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
- James Beard

South Korea has recently launched a serious re-branding effort. The South Korean government has been worried that the country’s brand has been underperforming in years past, and not at the level befitting a country that is the solid middle power that South Korea believes itself to be. There was consternation at the fact that Korean brands had better awareness recognition than the country, or that often, when recognized, Korean brands were mistaken for Japanese models.

Seoul has held public diplomacy commissions and brought in the experts to discuss how to raise awareness of Korea in the international community. The government tried various slogans with the appropriate buzzwords that never exactly connected or meant anything (‘Sparkling'? 'Be Inspired'? Really?).

One area that the Korean government has recently chosen as a target for outreach is the realm of gastrodiplomacy. Gastrodiplomacy, simply put, is the act of winning hearts and minds through stomachs. The technique of gastrodiplomacy was perfected by Thailand as it used its kitchens and restaurants as outposts of cultural diplomacy. Given the growing popularity of Thai restaurants around the globe the government of Thailand implemented the “Global Thai program” in 2002 as a means to increase the number of Thai restaurants worldwide.

The Thai government’s rationale, The Economist noted, was that the boom in restaurants would, “ not only introduce delicious spicy Thai food to thousands of new tummies and persuade more people to visit Thailand, but it could subtly help deepen relations with other countries.”

More recently, the Los Angeles dining scene has been abuzz with Korean-Mexican fusion cuisine. The Kogi Taco Truck, which sends out its location via Twitter and features Korean-Mexican fusion fare, has become a veritable cult phenomenon on the LA dining scene. When it first opened, lines snaked for up to two hours, as hungry diners waited to eat barbecued beef tacos slathered in Korean “salsa roja,” and topped with cilantro, onions, cabbage slaw and soy-sesame chili. The Los Angeles Times commented on the popularity, “perhaps it’s the exquisite cultural co-mingling inherent in the food that draws the crowds; the only-in-LA combination of two of the city’s most beloved ethnic cuisines.”

According to Kogi owner Roy Choi, the idea, “was to bring his ethnic background together with the sensibility and geography of Los Angeles, where Koreatown abuts Latin-dominated neighborhoods in midcity, and where food cultures have long merged. Former Mexican restaurants, now Korean, serve burritos, and Mexican workers populate the kitchens of Korean restaurants.” The popularity of Kogi and Korean-Mexican fusion food has led to a mushrooming of Korean taco trucks getting involved in the act, although Kogi is still the best (in my opinion). Korean taco trucks have now also begun to pop up in New York.

Moreover, other ethnic foods are also pushing fusion cuisine like the delicious Indian-Mexican tikka tacos and chicken masala quesadillas available at 23rd Street Café near USC, Japanese tacos found in Little Tokyo and Chinese tacos from Don Chow’s (the ginger lime-marinated tofu tacos are incredible). Most recently, I found a Mexi-terranean taco truck called Kabob Express that served shwarma tacos.

The point of this blog is not to cause hunger pangs, but to point out one of the most serious and central components of Public Diplomacy: listening. When public diplomacy actors pay attention to local and global public opinion rather than gluttonously engaging in advocacy, they are more adept at taking advantage of unorthodox openings created by authentic cultural innovations to carry out enhanced public diplomacy.

At present, the preponderance of various fusion food trucks led to an LA Street Food Festival. It would have been a wise PD investment for the Korean Consulate of Los Angeles to help sponsor such an event, or try to push something similar. For all that Korea is spending trying to rebrand itself and push Korean gastrodiplomacy, it would be better served listening and looking for examples of organic, authentic and homegrown outlets of cultural gastrodiplomacy like the Korean taco truck. My advice is not free, mind you - the Korean Consulate may kindly pay my consulting fees in the form of bulgogi tacos covered in kimchi.

Paul Rockower, gastronomist, is a candidate for a Master’s of Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California. He is the Communications Chair for the Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars (APDS) and a Contributing Researcher at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy.

Dragon Rising

Wow, China passed the US in funding for alternative energy sources. For the first time, I am beginning to think I should learn mandarin. Oh wait, I will be learning mandarin in Taiwan.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What it means to be pro-Israel

The beauty of the settlement kerfuffle is that we can finally discuss what it means to be "pro-Israel." Robert Wright has a great piece about "pro-Israel."

For more thought on it, Foreign Policy has a piece on Israel vs. the Diaspora.

Meanwhile, Jeffery Goldberg has a great piece on AIPAC and the discontents with its conference.

Finally, Hussein Ibish writes in the Guardian a "shukran" to Bibi for bollocksing up the US-Israel relationship so much that the Palestinians prosper.

As I learned long ago in Texas, not everyone who supports you is your friend and not everyone who is critical of you is your enemy. Wisdom and maturity is knowing when the criticism is constructive and the praise is sycophancy.

Remembering Romero

From San Salvador (Remembering Romero)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Any of you who read my blog know my affection for the slain leader. I considered my time in El Salvador as a pilgrimage to his memory.

There were a few articles about the anniversary, one from the LA Times and one from the Huffington Post. The LA Times also reported that this was the first year that El Salvador publicly marked the anniversary. I'm in Castells class, listening to him discuss Latin America and globalization, with special focus on Chile. Rather apt.

The Rockower Post

"The subjective pursuit of the objective truth."
-Arthur Koestler

I am pleased to announce the launch of the Rockower Post. Easily the nation's second finest news source, after The Onion, the Rockower Post is collection of articles from Public Diplomacy students on pd issues and global affairs. The stories are a compilation from our contributions to Neon Tommy and the Center on Public Diplomacy. As the Communications Czar for APDS, I have been playing news editor, handing out weekly assignments for articles. Now they are all collected in one place. I would venture to say that the Rockower Post has a more adept eye on global affairs than the vast majority of legacy and online publications. Enjoy.

Service-Learning, Kipling

We had an interesting discussion on monday with Robert C. Terry. Terry was one of the first team leaders in the Peace Corps, and spent considerable time in South Asia. He is writing a book on 50 years of the Peace Corps. We discussed service-learning (Peace Corps, City Year, etc) and its present state. I asked a few questions about the reality that while 40 years ago you needed Peace Corps as an entry in to global society, today you can be a free agent and hook up with various ngos in global civil society, Terry's response was that people still like the structure, the support and the knowledge that if things go sour, Uncle Sam will look out. I had an idea to have a reality show for Peace Corps as a way to get more people interested, and also kick the social networking component up a notch or two.

Prof. Cull had brilliant piece of poetry from Rudyard Kipling's The English Flag on what a person knows who doesn't travel (see under: St. Augustine):
"Winds of the World, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro —
And what should they know of England who only England know?"

I will conclude with my favorite line about Kipling, which comes from a postcard from Donald McGill:
"-Do you like Kipling?
-I don't know as I have never been kipled."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Luv the liberal lion Keith Olberman rip the Republicans and teabaggers a new one.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


I was playing K-os, "I wish I knew Natalie Portman," when my roomie Marco asked if I like music from the OC. Not exactly understanding, he explained to me that the refrain was from the tv show "The OC." Sure enough, he was right:

The OC - California song ( clip chanson)
Uploaded by FATIH_914. - Explore more music videos.

Hope & Change vs. Fear & Loathing

Hope and Change vs. Fear and Loathing, that is the battle we find ourselves locked in. Obama swept in on a wave of hope and change but the agents of fear are battling back. They lost a round this week, amid their overheated rhetoric and political mob rule tactics. As I have written here before, incitement is powderkeg, and the Republicans are playing with matches.

Amid many other good articles about the health care fight, i am singling out Richard Cohen of WaPo to post:
Do not underestimate the importance of Sunday's House vote. It was momentous, and it will not be repealed by the results of the November elections. Against the hopes and insistence of the GOP, America did not reverse Social Security (as late as the Eisenhower administration, that was the fervent wish of the party's right wing) or Medicaid. The worth of these programs became evident, and thus they became politically sacrosanct.
Obama stepped it up and pushed back, using that gift of communication that he so deftly wields. Still the Dems need good domestic public diplomacy to counter Republican misinformation and propaganda. Still, a good win that all partisans of Hope and Change can be be proud of.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stand Tall

"Stand tall it gets a little better
I see the wall that we can break down together
Stand strong it gets a little better now
We can break it down, we can break it."
-Dirty Heads, Stand Tall

It seems that the health care bill has the votes to pass.  And with it a little hope that all those struggling for health care will have more options.  I wish it had a more robust public option, but as they say, perfect is the enemy of the good.  This is still momentous, as it has eluded presidents since Truman Teddy Roosevelt to get such change.  Mazal tov, President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid.  Mazal tov for the Dems for not screwing this up.  I find the opposition to be a little deranged.  There were reports that protesters were calling out racial and homosexual slurs at lawmakers.  They are on the wrong side of history here.  

I will leave it to a man who said of a fellow named Buzz, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."  As for the teabaggers, they can be found on Uranus.

For some amazing political rhetoric, watch President Obama's 11th hour push.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Orange Blossoms

The are some young citrus trees in my front yard.  Orange, lemon and lime trees.  Eureka lemons.  Valencia oranges.  Blood oranges.  The blossoms are coming out on this first day of spring.  They smell like memories of Morocco.  One of my most endearing, enduring memories of the Magreb is sitting in an orange mudwalled casbah, basking on pillows on tiles.  Eating sugared almond cookies and sipping sweet mint tea.  The smell of orange blossoms filled the courtyard with the dreams and fantasies of a thousand and one nights.

The second coming

Sublime reborn.

Wow, I just checked out their website.  They are dope.

Ever the contrarian, Harry disagrees and thinks Slight Stoopid is the secondcoming:

I think they are damn fine, but I will stick to my guns.  How can a child born in 1990 decide who is the secondcoming of Sublime when he was still on a teet when they were blowing up.

Reactionary reaction

The kneejerks were out in full force, with many weighing-in to give cover or condone Israel's behavior. Some sought to blame the Obama administration, others sought to blame the Palestinians. Some riffed comparisons to those who disagreed to children (& II), others said that was no way to treat a friend (& II). Some whined that Israel was being singled out. The victimization has become so ingrained that everyone looks to pass blame rather than internalize. Addicts always try to blame others for their problems.Some comments were delusional, some detached.  Israel settlement addiction is a pathology, it isn't a rational.  All a little unsettling. All and all, a sad reminder the addicts and their enablers need help.


I woke up this morning to the smell of pancakes cooking. Homemade pancakes cooking by Aunt Hamima, one of my Vietnamese roommates. Ha lives with Ha, another Vietnamese film student. Ha and Ha live together in my hostel that is life.

PS: I miss my Mom's banana-chocolate chip pancakes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spud question

Do any of you fair readers know who brought the potato to Asia? It is not indigenous to the Old World, and was brought from the New. It is pretty ubiquitous now. I have read about its introduction to Europe, but how did it get out to India and the Asia Pacific? Missionaries? Colonials? Companies? Jesuits? Taro is native to the region I think but not the Idaho spud. Anyone who has an answer, please feel free to chime in.

Kanadian K-os PD

Kanada would do well by making their favorite son K-os a kultural ambassador. He is the finest poet, rapper and hip-hop artist. Knowledge of Self. So true. His lyrical style is the finest and every song is quality. If I ran DFAIT, I would endow him an ambassadorship and send off doing Maple Leaf cultural diplomacy.

South Africa would be wise the same with Pro-Verb:

I will have to bring this up with the LA South African Consulate. Advice will cost them 1 rand, a bottle of amarula and a cup of rooibois.

Found in Lost Souls

"I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity."
-Edgar Allan Poe, found in Lost Souls Cafe

PD Analytics

From Harper's Index this month: "Amount that President Obama has added to America's "brand value" according to the Nation Brands Index: $2,100,000,000,000"

Stir it up

Jeje, luv when the posts cause a bit o' controversy. My piece on Israeli settlement addiction in Neon Tommy had some nice comments going, both on the piece and even more so on facebook. Any blog readers who are also Facebook friends, do be sure to check out the howitzer fire on my post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Carnivale di Venezia; Smithsonian Institution International

I won a trip from the Institute of Don Quixote Studies for a trip to the carnival that is Venice for some spring break enjoyment. The power of persuasion in full force yesterday as Nomi convinced me to celebrate spring break at the freak show carnival. En la gran feria de los suenos, Don Pablo Quijote celebrated la primavera.

The Apostle of Venice was preaching in front of St. Mark's and his words wafted in the winds and off with the honeysuckle incense: "Smoke weed every day or you will burn in hell." Missionaries stood out pointing to the various churches of green. No words spoken, just pointing at signs with two fingers.

We sat in beach chairs eating gelato with yellow plastic shovels. The winner of the good taste award went to Naomi with her choice of "salted caramel" which deftly left an aftertaste bordering on savory on the tongue. DPQ finagled a second scoop of salted caramel for a buck.

Naomi and I discussed the burden of the plague of ideas. We were left with the best PD idea of the day. Professor Nancy Snow makes a good point in HuffPo on the necessity of an American Culture Institute:

We also need to seriously pursue the establishment of a Ministry of Culture or at least do more collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution. It's very difficult for the State Department to take the lead in telling America's story to the global masses when it is also responsible for official diplomatic negotiation and security. We have so many war memorials in the United States and a Department of Defense to coordinate our national security. The Chinese now have over 45 Confucius Institutes on American university campuses. Why no U.S. agency to coordinate cultural ties with our global partners like the Japan Foundation, British Council, or Goethe Institute, or Alliance Francaise?

Kristin Lord of Brookings wrote of something similar in our fair Public Diplomacy Magazine.

Naomi and I agreed on both counts, but we wanted to take it one step further. We propose expanding the Smithsonian and endowing it with the power and capacity to serve as the liaison for American cultural diplomacy abroad. The Smithsonian Institution International. Use an institution that is already known and respected in the US as a purveyor of American culture, and expand its outreach. No new government agency, simply bettering an already trusted institution with work I'm sure it is capable of doing- given the proper tools and mandate.

Addicts and Interventions

Breaking the addiction is never easy. Lord knows I have tried countless times with cancer sticks. Never fun. Like any addict who is caught in the act, Israel got caught redhanded with its settlement addiction. Every addict has tons of excuses, a few bordering on delusional. Addicts never like giving up their vice and are loathe to admit their problem in public. Sometimes it just slips out into the air on bad timing. The reality is that addicts need intervention: tough love from best friends.

It is never easy telling best friends (or housemates) to clean up their act. Honesty helps: the reality is that the settlement addiction has been allowed to go on too long. And we have been enablers. All of us. I wonder what the dealer that is AIPAC said about all this? J-Street was more candid:
Tensions between the United States and Israel remain high ever since Israel's government stunned Vice President Biden and supporters of the peace process by announcing major new construction in East Jerusalem during his visit to Israel last week.

Some hawkish pro-Israel activists are seizing the opportunity to attack the Obama Administration over Israel, urging the Administration to slow down and back off.

The pro-Israel, pro-peace movement is stepping up strong. Just yesterday, J Street, the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans, delivered over 18,000 signatures to White House officials - demonstrating the many Americans who agree with the Vice President that sometimes friends need to tell friends hard truths, and urging the Administration to turn this crisis into an opportunity for progress on two states.

Now that the White House has heard us loud and clear, we're setting our sights on the U.S. Congress.

Click here to contact your representatives to voice your support for the Administration's strong stand and urge them to turn this crisis into an opportunity.

TR Nomi. Cold turkey or with serious therapy and negotiations to slowly kick the habit, but it needs to end.

MoDo has a great piece on Bibi and Israel's pathology in the NYTimes:
The president and his inner circle are appalled at Israel’s self-absorption and its failure to notice that America is not only protecting Israel from Iran, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also dealing with a miasma of horrible problems at home. And Israel insults the Obama administration over a domestic zoning issue that has nothing to do with its security?

“That’s not how you treat your best friend,” said one Obama official.

So true. Priceless schoolyard logic. Public diplomacy can help treat this addiction. President Obama needs to do some serious public diplomacy with Israel. Go up to Jerusalem, to the Knesset and declare why this can't continue, all while declaring US fidelity to its friend.

Meanwhile, Israeli PD reverted to its favorite play: when in doubt, point out that the Palestinians are worse. Not about them this time, it's about us.

The sad reality is that Israel has options. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can pretend to be a statesman, dump Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas and bring Kadima into government and actually make earnest efforts towards peace. If Bibi can sit with Ehud Barak, he can sit with Tzipi Livni. 68 is a comfortable Knesset mandate. Tzipi as Foreign Minister has such a better feel and fit than Avigdor “Yvette” Lieberman. Bibi just has to want to make peace, not play Yitzhak Shamir.

The reality is that this current crisis so too shall pass. The silver-lining in this crisis is indeed if it is used as an opportunity to re-engage all sides in putting this long-festering and heart-breaking problem to rest.

Meanwhile, Paul and the AlfaJewesses are causing commotion, coming up with PD campaigns for J Street and for the Obama admin to the American Jewish community. Friends don't let friends...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Census came! So excited. Luv doing my civic duty and the commercials.

The debacle continues

Israeli FM Yvette Lieberman is now reportedly boycotting Brazil's president Lula.  Wow, if that thug isn't the worst foreign minister Israel ever had.  Let's try and isolate Israel from everyone. Somehow the Likudniks and on to the ultrarightists claim the mantle of Zionism, a movement meant to take the Jews out of the ghetto, as they turn Israel into a bunch of isolated shtetlite ghettodwellers.  Pathetic.   Meanwhile, Roger Cohen has a great piece on the Biden debacle:

In this sense, Biden’s foray has been salutary. It brought U.S. “vital interests” to the surface. It challenged Israel’s ostrich-like burrowing into polices that, over time, will make one divided, undemocratic state more likely than “two states for two peoples.” It asked again the question posed recently by David Shulman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Are Israelis, cocooned, still able “to see, to imagine, and to acknowledge the suffering of other human beings, including those aspects of their suffering for which we are directly responsible?”
The mass-market daily Maariv had a front-page post-Biden cartoon of Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot. It was supposed to illustrate a relationship “in flames.” But the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.
Israel is wrong to mock its constructive critics. They alone can usher the country from the one-state dead end — a vital Israeli interest.

And a late edition about the Petraeus briefing. Wow on the last one.

Ides of March

I'm being stabbed in the back by Brutus and Cassius in the form of Bureaucracy and the Failed State of California.  F'em both.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Owls and Vowels

Chelsea, the former Empress Dowager, says that Chinese words all end in vowel sounds.  Fascinating.  Can I get a confirmation from some cunninglinguist who speaks Chinese?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Seven Samurai

Just finished the magnificent but really long (3.5 hrs!) Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa.  Grand movie, and it was this masterpiece that the later Magnificent Seven was based on.

Here is the trailer:

My favorite part below:

Shimada Kanbei: Take the North. That's where we'll battle it out.

Katayama Gorobei: If you knew that, why didn't you build a fence there too?

Shimada Kanbei: Every great castle needs a breach. Draw the enemy there and attack. You can't win by defense alone.

The Israel shadow self

My friend and former editor at the JPost Amir Mizroch had a piece about his 10 year "aliversary" in Israel. I found it rather moving, as I always wonder what would have been if that 19 year old had listened to his heart and stayed put, rather than his head and returning to go to Brandeis. Points of reflections are always such good fodder for pieces of self-awareness. I remember Rabbi Zemel talking once about the "shadow self" that resides in Israel. I always wonder about mine. I have gamed out what that shadow self has been up to, where he might be and how he ended up in the same places I have passed through. Traveling to all the places I hit up on the tiyul shichrur; working for the Israeli foreign ministry as a diplomat, not a local hire; probably doing a Masters in Public Diplomacy at Ben Gurion, the University of Southern Israel. As they say, "if 'if' were a fifth, we'd all be drunk"; I'm content to be slightly buzzed on the prospects of what could have been.

However, while I'm on Israel, I will pivot a bit to the Biden-Settlement debacle:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Path From Peace
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

And a good piece from Jpost Ed-in-Chief David Horovitz on Biden's speech in response.

But on the more banal note, my parents are in Israel for the next two weeks, on a mission with the synagogue Temple Micah (worth the schlep). My Dad is keeping a blog, you can follow it at: Keep writing about what you eat Abba, and I will keep tuning in. Meanwhile, I am taking the liberty of posting the email my Mom sent to her progeny, I don't think she will mind:
Shabbat shalom from Israel. The trip has been really wonderful so far.

Yesterday, Friday, we went to Attlit, a camp that was built and used to detain Jews trying to get into the country at the end of WWII. At its height it had 100 barracks and more than 2,000 detainees. At the point that it was down to the last 250 detainees, the Brits were going to deport everyone and the Palmach conducted a succesful raid and sprung everyone from the camp. It was an interesting sight to visit. Then we went to Zichron Yakov, the first Jewish town that was started in the late 1800's by Baron Rothschild. We visited a museum on the first aliyah, which was interesting and then walked around the town. Last night we went to Or Chadash, our sister synagogue in Haifa. The service was wonderful - all music and it was all songs we know or were recognizable - it was like being at Micah only even more music. I had no problem following the service, except for Danny's sermon, which was in Hebrew and I did not understand at all. And therein lies the difference between knowing prayerbook Hebrew and the spoken language.

Today we stopped at one biblical site and Danny read a passage from the bible. Then we went on to Zippori, a Jewish town that existed during the Roman times (around 100 CE). Walking around the excavated ruins was fascinating. There were beautiful mosiacs from the Roman era they have found, including the remains of an early synagogue. Danny's words about what the synagogue teaches us were really inspiring. The mosiacs in the synagogue told our biblical stories from Sarah and Abraham, to the binding of Isaac, and others. There were also mosiacs of the zodiac signs and other Roman iconography. Also, the synagogue was oriented toward the west instead of facing Jerusalem to the East. What he felt that all of this shows us is that Jews historically were not tied to one tradition but modified their tradition to fit their surroundings and the times they were living in, which we need to do today too. So that when the Orthodox say that the Jews have always done something one way and should do it that way today. That line is absolutely not true.

Tonight a whole group of us are going to a fish restaurant for dinner (that also has crabs and shrimp!). Then on to the Negev tomorrow.

I will write again in a few days.

Wish you were here!!



I wish I was there too.

On a last, celebratory note, my dear old friend Beth Meshel recently got engaged. We go way back to Young Judaea days, when I was social action programmer and she was programming planner. Bethy, now Bat-el, made alyiah a few years ago. She is always a fascinating friend to discuss religion and politics with. She runs in a far more rightwing circle than moi, but she is always thoughtful and compassionate in her beliefs. She became shomer negiyah (no-touchy of boys) but I always ducked under claiming ex post facto it didn't apply to me as I gave her a hug. When my brother Harry was studying in Israel, I told him that when he saw her to give her a big hug from me. He did, and she asked if I told him to do that. He puzzledly answered affirmative. It was only later in the shabbat evening did he realize her ortho-cordon sanitaire and was mortified. He said, "but...but...Paul told me to." To which she replied, "of course he did," with a wink. Mazal tov Bethy and Shlomo for your new life together, preferably not on a hilltop outpost, and always with all my love.

A life fulfilled

The unanswerable question I have been grappling with of late is what constitutes a life fulfilled. I have been pondering on the question and reflecting on the answer. I took my journey to the marble windmill that is the Getty to work it out.

I have been thinking about it a lot because I near the end of a period of time where I have felt the most fulfilled. Fulfillment in seemingly all aspects of life, be it academic, social, spiritual and emotional. There are always a few outstanding elements, but really good on the whole.

But this particular period of fulfillment is soon coming to a close and I am wrestling with it like an angel in the night. I have been thinking back to past periods of fulfillment and what might have been lacking from the whole holistic picture- what was aligned and what was out of whack.

I had a conversation about this with a new friend Laurel and she gave me some stellar advice on the intrinsic and extrinsic foundations that create fulfillment. Her advice consisted of point out the institutional framework that creates fulfillment.

Later that day, on a gold line rocinante to Pasadena, I reconnected with an old friend, the esteemed Don Q. Always a paragon of fulfillment, Quijote is always finding fulfillment by chasing down windmills and destiny. Is it real fulfillment or merely deception? Does it matter?

I find fulfillment in adventures large and small. In adventures across boundaries, borders and worlds. Across continents and content in adventures across town. I find fulfillment in the simple things found, like poems on the bus, like this one by Francisco Segovia on "The Clarity of Silence":
"It frightens us to see that the forest
falls silent so clearly
-in its quiet moments-
because we see that the clarity
with which it silence is empty.

It hurts us, perhaps, to understand
that the silence isn't for us,
that it leaves us with empty hands."
I find fulfillment in trying to help other find fulfillment and meaning.  Whether in my photos or simply to to figure out how others can go away.  I had an interesting conversation with Jesus about just that yesterday.  That gives me a chuckle.

Between my dash and steed across town, I saw people in line at a restaurant called Mendocino Farms, lining up ten feet to pay ten dollars for a sandwich.  We all have different was of defining fulfillment.  I laughed but I am curious.  That brings up other issues of Quality but I'll save that for another conversation.  Instead I will sunk back into my rabbit hole and ascended up to the marble palace of the Getty to see some old friends.  Friends that hung on the walls of a museum of moi in a different period of fulfillment.  I will post some other stories that came out of my journey, but I will leave off with Bouguereau (Boo-guh-roe, not Boo-jhee-roe) and Van Gogh and the fulfillment that good art can bring.  I had the utter fulfillment of chatting with a good guide named Keri about the deeper significance of these grand works. She taught me about how color influence emotion, and how the invention of the camera and the influence of Japanese woodblocks (something I knew) revolutionized art to focus on fulfilling the subjective creation of beauty, changing the definition of art from top to bottom.

Est Deus en Nobis (There is God in us)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fr(oy)d PD

Have a peep at a new Israel PD campaign:

Possibly one of the dumbest things I have ever seen. Please somebody stop this farce. Dimitry Reider has a great piece in Foreign Policy about it. I sent it to Prof. Cull, he simply stated that it looks like something from The Onion. We could be so lucky.

Meanwhile, thanks to Eli Yishai of Shas for showing the real face of the Likud-led government. Way to expose the farce taking place.

Cervantino Diplomacy

A PD twist on Cervantes:

“I should think that your grace has pretty clearly attended lectures at a university. In what field?”

“Public diplomacy,” replied Don Pablo Quijote, “which is quite as noble an undertaking as poetry, and even a bit more.”

“I have no idea what branch of knowledge that might be,” said Don Lorenzo, “because till now I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s the kind of study,” said Don Pablo Quijote, “which embraces within itself all, or most, of the world’s knowledge, since he who takes up that profession must have mastered the law, including the laws of both distributive and equitable justice, so he can give every man that to which he is rightly entitled; he must also be a theologian, in order to clearly, distinctly, and obediently understand the Truth to which he professes obedience, whenever its applicability is invoked; he must be a physician, and in particular, an herbalist, so he knows what plants and roots can heal his wounds, even in the middle of uninhabited lands and deserts, for a public diplomat cannot forever be stopping to hunt for people who can cure him; he must be an astrologer, so that the stars will tell him the time, even at night, and so he can know what part of the world, and in what climate, he finds himself; he must know mathematics, because he’ll find himself constantly in need of it; and above and beyond the necessity that he be adorned with all the theological and primary virtues, we must descend to all sorts of other , minor requirements— for example, that he be able to swim as well, according to legend, as the Italian half-man, half-fish, Nicolas; that he be able to shoe a horse and mend his saddle and bridle; and– to return to loftier matters— that he keep his faith with God and with his lady; his thoughts must be chaste, his words modest, his actions generous, his labor patient; he must be charitable to the needy and, to sum it all up, a defender of the truth, though he loses his life in the process. A good public diplomat is composed of all these parts, large and small, from which your grace can judge, Don Lorenzo, whether the knowledge a public diplomat must acquire, and study, and profess, is or is not the equal of the most elaborate matters taught in our colleges and universities.”
Cervantes at his finest, with a little PD interchanged for knight errantry, befitting such noble mashups as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

on why

The RFK quote had me thinking.  As a child, I was a "why" kid. Why, why, why?  Everything was a "why?.  Now as an adult, the question has become "why not?"  That is the biggest difference I can see for what the years have wrought and brought.

Down the rabbit hole

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said;
"Keep Your Head!"

-Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit"

I was planning on going to Vegas this weekend with a bunch of friends.  But I was feeling a little under the weather, which checked feelings of the nasty disease that is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and I stayed here to rest.  Saturday was nice and slow.  Spinach and onion omelettes cooked in turkey bacon goodness for brunch.  An afternoon opera from my friend Andrea (Zwei, as we have two).  She is in a chamber opera group at campus called COUSC, so Marcos and I went out for the show.  We arrived late for a very important date because Andrea told us it was at 2:30pm.  It was at two.  She arrived at 5 to 2 for her show.  Ooops.  But she just made it and we got there just in time for her performance.  The show was lovely.  A mix of zarzuela, opera and musical theater that combined El Barberillo de Lavapies, Sweeny Todd and a series of songs from musicals like The Music Man.  The buoyant voices floated to the heavens but were contained in the acoustic delight that is the United University Church. "A verbal art like poetry is reflective; it stops to think.  Music is immediate, it goes on to become," sayeth W.H. Auden on the COUSC site.

That rainy evening, Naomi and I fed our heads and made our way through Lalaland to Wonderland.  In the rain, we went down to LA Live and its purple-lighted trees to see Alice.  We killed time at Trader Vics before the 7pm show, Naomi sipping on a Tahitian coffee while I had a snifter of grand marn and cognac to warm the soul and give a little warm glow on a wet, rainy evening.
The movie was good.  It met all expectations of what a Tim Burton-directed wonderland should and would entail.  It was a visual trip down the rabbit hole and was a lot of fun.  LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan panned it a bit, as too Lord of the Ringsy and not as visually stunning in the 3D medium as Avatar but I disagree.  Burton gave you everything you would want from his Wonderland creation.  Fantastic stories of destiny and Alice becoming Alice are universal and not cheapened just because, like Lords, there was a battle scene pitting two fantasy armies.  Meanwhile, the visuals were quite fun and offered a very different perspective than Avatar.  It played with you in a far different fashion, and it is shortsighted to compare the two films simply because they are both in 3D.  Johnny Depp, who I don't always love, put on a wonderful show as the Madhatter.  The Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat and Tweedle Dee and Dum characters were all enjoyable to watch.  Helena Bonham Carter made a great Red Queen.  I sat glued in my chair, enjoying every minute of it.  I would give it an A-/A and it was almost worth the ridiculous $16.50 ticket price.  That was the only thing maddening.

After the movie, we headed over to Figueroa Hotel, a Moroccan-themed hotel and bar.  A great steak and fries for the very reasonable $10 and some free hummus for Naomi based on a little persistence (I will never understand LA and its $10 mojitos that cost the same as a steak frittes).  Over questions of why and why not (There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why...I dream of things that never were and ask why not? -RFK) we tried to figure out how to get in the jacuzzi.  Hot tubs on cold nights require towels, towels require rooms, rooms require a fair deal of bsing (Point A to Point B to Point C).  I came so close to hitting blackjack on eleventwentyone but busted  and learned a valuable lesson that when the dealer hands you the key, you always go towards the room not the bar.  But karma was repaid in the form of two lost and found tickets to a midnight showing of Alice, given to the humus purveyor  for his kindness and from our exhaustion at the prospect of doing a doublefeature. Meanwhile, the view from the roof over the sparkling city was divine; from the fire escape, I saw the city shimmer and the spotlights of the staple center dance about my own Wonderland.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

To Armenia and Israel, with Love

My friend Lena (GlobalChaos) has a very good, very candid post on the Armenian Genocide Resolution, its distorted significance and distorted effects. I know full well how hard it is to tell the ones you love that they are bollocksing it up with shortsighted, myopic behavior. Naomi and I tried to do that recently over Israel's recent PD moves. In case it was too much to go through PDiN Monthly, I pulled out the article and I am posting it here:

Lost in Explanation by Naomi Leight & Paul Rockower

PDiN Monthly February 2010, Volume 1, Issue 2

In the past month, Israel’s attempt to rebrand itself through citizen public diplomats caused a stir in the realm of public diplomacy. Israel’s Minster of Information, Diaspora and Public Diplomacy, Yuli Edelstein announced a plan in early January to recruit Israelis living abroad, as well as the multi-tude of Israeli travelers, as citizen public diplomats.

The notion of citizen diplomacy is not a new concept. The United States conducted similar projects under the Eisenhower administration, where the government provided leaflets for American travelers and enlisted private citizenry to engage in people-to-people diplomacy (Cull, The Cold War and the United States Information Agencies, p. 119, 2008).

Since Israelis, especially after army service, often partake in a rite of passage trek to either Southeast Asia, India or Latin America, in theory, Israel has a reservoir of public diplomats. Israeli backpackers are ubiquitous travelers creating the perception that Israel is a far more populous country than it is, given the overrepresentation of backpackers abroad.

On February 17, the government of Israel launched the citizen diplomat campaign, entitled Masbirim or "Explainers". Posted on the campaign’s website are three videos, produced by the Ministry in English, French and Spanish, satirically explaining how foreigners view Israel. The tongue-in-cheek description of Israelis using camels to get to work and carrying ammunition pokes fun at supposed foreigner perception of this "desert-warrior" country.

Through this campaign, Israeli citizens are encouraged to learn how to fight misperceptions about Israel by explaining various aspects of the country. The Ministry plans to distribute information to Israeli travelers on all three of Israel’s airlines. According to YnetNews, these brochures encourage travelers to discuss "personal stories, feelings and experiences–share them. We're all human. Present new points of view – it's worth noting that each side has its own version of events. Speak concisely – long speeches are likely to lose your audience's interest. Clear sentences aid understanding. Use humor – it always helps."

The media khamseen (sandstorm) ensued with the launch of this public diplomacy campaign to socialize Israeli citizenry as public diplomats, with media outlets of all stripes weighing in on the endeavor. The most chatter regarding the new public diplomacy campaign has come from within Israel as Israelis on both sides of the political divide have responded to the plan.

Some offered their kosher seal of approval for the campaign. From The Jerusalem Post, columnist Liat Collins praised the Ministry’s decision to encourage Israelis to act as envoys abroad. YnetNews correspondent Itamar Eichner offered similar sentiments of approval. According to right-wing media outlet Arutz Sheva, the Ministry pronounced the initial campaign successful with "more than 130,000 entrances to website in the five days since its creation."

Yet others have declared the efforts treif (unkosher), The Jerusalem Post’s Editor-in-Chief, David Horovitz poked fun at the Ministry’s attempts to foster banal conversation as public diplomacy and offered a sarcastic scenario on the London Underground between an Israeli and a Brit. He goes on to question the nature of the Ministry itself, saying:
"Of course it’s easy to scoff. And everyone’s a critic. But really, our new ministry and its new minister, created as a function of coalition arithmetic rather than in recognition of a strategic need that does genuinely exist, should stop deluding themselves and the rest of us about the nature of the challenge, and instead start meeting it properly."
Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post also reported that Peace Now secretary-general, Yariv Openheimer sent a letter to PM Binyamin Netanyahu protesting the new website over its "right-wing" slant. The liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz echoed the sentiments that the campaign simply mirrors the Likud-led government's attempts to explain its policies not rebrand Israel as a whole. In its editorial, Ha'aretz slammed the campaign, stating:
"Explaining Israel. exposes in full the two-faced nature of the prime minister and his government. Even worse, the campaign does not offer hope for working toward a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, only baseless faith that hasbara - public diplomacy - will lead the international community to abandon the Palestinians and begin supporting the settlers. This attitude should deeply distress all Israelis "tired of seeing how we are portrayed in
the world".
In the global discourse, the campaign received considerable coverage as well. The launch of the Israeli citizen diplomacy campaign came on the heels of an assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai that many speculate to have been carried out by Israel’s Mossad. The Independent in Britain and the National in Abu Dhabi highlighted the juxtaposition of the public diplomacy campaign alongside the Dubai hit and noted that increased public diplomacy does not change questionable policy moves.

Across the Atlantic, Israeli-American Ami Kaufman discussed in The Huffington Post the campaign website and how it is an embarrassment to Israelis. In a section discussing myths and facts, Kaufman cites his favorite absurdity:
Myth: Because of the settlements there is no

Not true: ...Tel Aviv and Jerusalem may also be
seen as settlements by the Arabs ....
Kaufman railed against the campaign as Israel shooting itself in both legs. Meanwhile, in The New York Times, Israeli political scientist Shlomo Avineri highlighted the
deficiencies of the campaign. He stated, "The campaign stems from a genuine fear that Israel is misrepresented, sometimes in very vicious ways... On this level it is understandable. But I think it is puerile. Some of the information is ridiculous, and behind it I find a Bolshevik mentality — to make every citizen an unpaid civil servant for the policy of the government. There is never any intimation that some of our problems have to do with actual policies." The Hebrew University professor points out that the issue is not people’s dislike of Israelis—it is the dislike of Israeli policy.

As noted, there were mixed reviews across the board on this public diplomacy campaign. While the concept of creating a cadre of citizen diplomats to engage in people-to-people diplomacy is sound, the execution and implementation has left a bad taste in the mouths of many public diplomacy practitioners. For one, the Ministry acted in a particularly tone deaf fashion by calling upon the Israeli citizenry to serve in the "Israeli Public Diplomacy Forces"; while the name is derived from the Israeli Defense Forces, describing a public diplomacy initiative in military language is somewhat discordant. Meanwhile, those like Oppenheimer, Kaufman and Avineri object to the notion of turning Israeli citizens into shills for Likud policy. The Israeli governments’ official term for public diplomacy is hasbara, translated as explanation. Israel doesn’t seem to understand that no amount of hasbara will change the world's perception of a nation whose policy of continued occupation and settlement expansion they do not support.

Time and again, Israel forgets that public diplomacy is not just about advocacy—it is also about listening. Similar to the failed U.S. "Shared Values" public diplomacy initiative, the problem with the Israeli campaign, as The Jerusalem Post’s Jeff Barak notes, offers answers to questions that are not being asked and demonstrates a political tin-ear to global critiques. In a very candid video, David Sable, a leading marketing and branding specialist and an Israeli-American, explained the short-comings of trying to do public diplomacy amid bad policy.

As the oft-cited public diplomacy maxim states, .good public diplomacy cannot make up for bad foreign policy. and until the policy of occupation ends—the world’s view of Israel will not change no matter how many highly-trained citizen diplomats.

Making My Mark; Augustine Diplomacy; Pablo of Hippo

"My life is my message."

A quote I often use and mention when I talk shop with those seeking travel advice. A few undergrads have reached out for travel advice, most recently a lovely girl named Tina who was originally from Hong Kong and just spent her junior year there. All part of Che Pablo's public diplomacy socialization campaign to spread backpacking softpower (see under: Avatar).

However, one of the stranger anecdotes of influence just popped up. I got an email from a friend Xela, who I met in Leon while she was backpacking about. We shared an early morning coffee, and bumped in to her at Grenada but was stood up in serendipitous fashion to meet Lina Fina. Anywho, I got an email from her and she mentioned she was back in the US, dealing with culture shock and planning on getting my email message tattooed on her(!). My email tag, as in: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page" As said by Saint Augustine. Augustine Diplomacy. Not the lasting mark I would hope to leave on anyone, I responded. As I have often said, "bodies are works of art, not canvases." I also mentioned, I didn't think dear St. Augustine would approve (actually, he probably would ;). With that said, if Xela does get inked up with Augustine, I will def have her post a pic here- that should make ol' Prof. Brown's Press and Public Diplomacy Review for good public diplomacy in practice.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Push Back

Those d-bag teabaggers are flooding a CBS poll on Obama's tenure, overflowing it with an "F" rating. Please take a second and vote so they can't stuff the ballots. I'll be honest, I didn't give him an "A" for most categories, but a B or B- is deserving with a grade curve given the joker he followed.

On a not-so-unrelated note, I just saw that there was a shooting at the Pentagon. This comes just weeks after some nut flew into the IRS building in Austin. I hold the Fox and its cohorts responsible for this ongoing incitement frenzy against "Washington". Yes, you Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of that disturbed ilk . You play with the emotions of the paranoid, and whipping them up into an agitated state- this is what happens. The incitement has consequences that are very real (see under: Yigal Amir), and you have been playing with matches with those who have flammable psyches. It is dangerous, and goes far beyond your feeble ratings quest.

Christopher Hitchens at the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture

It is a phenomenal lecture, please do give it a watch. Far better than me trying to sum up his brilliance.

Troubled Sleep

A little passage from Sartre's Troubled Sleep that seems just a little too apt these days:

"And those who words suddenly reveal to us the countenance of that France of sinfulness, which for a quarter of a century, has been forgetful of its duty to God. Why did we not produce enough? Because we did not work. And whence, my brothers, came this wave of idleness which has descended upon us as once locusts descended upon the land of Egpyt? Because we were a nation divided by internal quarrels. The workers, led by cynical agitators, had grown to detest their employers; the employers, blinded by selfishness, cared nothing about satisfying even the most legitimate of claims, our businessmen were eaten up with jealousy of our public functionaries, the functionaries lived like the parasite mistletoe upon the oak; our elected representatives in the Chamber, instead of discussing affairs of state calmly, with only the general interest in mind, spent their time in brawling and hurling mutual insults so that at times they actually came to blows. And what, my dear brothers was the cause of all this discord, this conflict of interests, of all this degradation of public conduct? The cause of it was that a sordid materialism had spread through the country like an epidemic. And what is materialism if not a turning away from God."