Friday, December 31, 2010

OhTen

Title borrowed from the venerable Sidney Bosley.  So begins my favorite entry of the year: the last one ('06, '07, '08,  '09).  The year begins as it ends, on the road.  One more year honing the craft of public diplomacy, one more year practicing the fine arts of knight errantry.  It was a year that began in Central America, and will end in Southeast Asia.  As usual, where it ends is never close to where it began.

The year began in a typical babablased fashion, in the Guatemalan Disneyland of Antigua.  I had lost my friends the night before as the fireworks shot over the cobblestone lanes and wandered aimlessly before retiring in the wee hours of the new year.  New Years Day was spent conducting an interview and wondering if the loud booms in Antigua were a revolution or simply kids exploding fireworks.  I spent the afternoon climbing Pacaya, an active volcano.  Looking like Moses in a pink shawl, I climbed over the ribbed black volcanic rock and up to the river of golden lava.  While roasting marshmellows in lava, as well as my the soles of my shoes, I was reminded of Borges' notion of panta rhei- everything flows.

From there, I headed on to Guatemala City, as I wrote then, a place with more arms than charm but greets you with a barbed wire smile.  My journey continued on to El Salvador, which I loved for its warmth.  I swam in a volcanic lake with the last boyscout and continued on to San Salvador for my pilgrimage to remember Romero.  I dropped down to the beach to welcome my thirties in with the waves.    I continued on to the end of El Salvador to pay my respects to the ghosts of El Mozote, and then passed through Honduras and on to Nicaragua and the Sandinista Santa Cruz that was Leon.  I passed on through Managua and the protest against Flor de Cana and on to La Gran Sultana, the grand Grenada.  In Grenada, I found Lina Fina, a lovely Swedish travel companion for my final leg onto Panama.

Don Pablo Quijote concluded his trek to from LA to Panama, ending at the Panama Canal. Lina and I took in the wonderful city of Panama, which sits so precariously on the fault lines of different worlds, and we ended my trek in true Hemingway style.

I returned to LA for a phenomenal 30th bar mitzvah brunch with my dear PD friends at Ivan Kane’s Was. The party proved a raucous affair, given that the place had bottomless Bloody Marys, Mimosas and Screwdrivers, and kicked off the race to 2014.  So began the healthiest of nonrelationships.

I returned to USC for what I thought would be a quiet semester, since I had no courses. Things proved quite the contrary as I bounced from project to project, staying super busy for my last semester. As Comm Czar for APDS, I helped launch our new website and stayed busy with conducting outreach for the org and sending out our weekly newsletters. I also played Editorial Editor for APDS, getting my classmates to submit weekly articles to Neon Tommy and the CPD Blog. I gauged the weekly news and matched it up with my classmates regional and political specialties; I have never enjoyed a role so much as that, and need to figure out how I can be an Editorial Editor when I grow up.  Also, the Rockower Post had a grand time picking a fight with the LA Times.

I audited two classes, one of which being with the unauditable Castells. I also kept busy working on Prof. Starr’s US-Mexico Network, and continued my job as news aggregator for PDiN.

I also put together one last photo show, A Focus on Global Health, the project that had me trekking from LA to Panama in the first place. If the 21st Century Family of Man celebrated humanity, this exhibit was a reminder that we still have a long way to go. Nothing stresses me like photo projects. While this one was far easier than the previous since I knew who to partner with, it still had its share of difficulties. Such as the hubris of putting up an outdoor photo exhibit in LA in the spring (C’mon, it never rains in LA- except the week of my exhibit and I have to put tarp-condoms on the photos). In the end, it came together extremely well, and I filled VKC with 8ft walls depicting various issues of global public health.

Meanwhile, I played Senior Editor for Public Diplomacy Magazine for our edition on Human Rights and Public Diplomacy. With the help of my dear colleagues Leah Rousseau and Tala Mohebi (other Sr. Ed and E-I-C), we contemplated conducting human rights violations against uncooperative human rights organizations, and I even lobbed a few land mines at a Nobel laureate.

I also had a little free time to trek around California, visiting SLO, SF, Oak-town, Leland's gift, Bacharach's fav and the Sacrament.  Seeing more of the gilded, failed state helped me firm up my decision that I had no business being there.

In the end, it was an exhausting but wonderful semester that sadly had to end. Graduation rolled around, and I collected a Phi Beta Kappa honor as well as the Order of Arete student leadership award (the People’s champ medal!). By the end of graduation, I had also packed on the pounds in my celebratory lifestyle I had been leading- thankfully my stint in Asia and rice diet has gotten rid of that.

Sadly, I bade farewell to my dearest friends and concluded the most fulfilling chapter of my life. I left Lalaland and was off to Taiwan to be a Visiting Fellow at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. It was not the easiest chapter of my life, as I always felt like a stranger in a strange land. I arrived in monsoon season, and was a mess amid the loneliness and grey skies. But the fellowship proved immensely beneficial, as I researched Taiwan’s public diplomacy and enjoyed the task of being paid to think, read and write.

Meanwhile, I fashioned a life for myself in Taipei, finding a nice apartment with good roommates (Ken and Harry) and started learning Mandarin. I began to grok Taiwan, and I bounced all around Ihla Formosa, taking in all its gastrodiplomacy charms-I even conducted a search to find the stinkiest of the stinky tofu. I concluded my 4-month stint, with some real kudos and achievements in terms of publications and interviews. Before I concluded my time in Taiwan, I had a lovely visit from my parents, as well as my sis as a surprise guest for my mother (haunted hotel!).

I slipped out with the wind and headed on to the Philippines to island hop. I arrived to Manila to remember Rizal. Then I visited the paradise that is Rasta Romblon, in its marble, coconut and bamboo splendor. I continued down the wine-dark seas to Cebu, and to Bohol and its chocolate hills before I caught a boozecruise ferry back up to Manila.

I spent November in Indonesia, skirting across Java as I dodged the exploding Merapi and on to Bali. Bali proved disappointing- although Ubud, its cat-sh-t coffee and rogue monkeys proved fun, and I made my way back past the smoking Mt. Bromo and through Yogyakarta and back to Jakarta. From Jakarta, I caught the longest bus of my life, some 54 hours to the middle of Sumatra. I arrived in Bukittinggi and never left that lovely town as I chatted it up with Lord Jim himself.  My time in the Spice Islands ended up as an op-ed in the Boston Jakarta Globe.

In December, I crossed the Straits of Melaka to take in the spice history of Malaysia. I fell in love with Malacca, its history and its diversity. The mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese really had the plague of ideas heavy.  From there, I headed to KL, a city I came to love. I was joined in Malaysia by the esteemed Sidney Bosley and we traveled north to Penang and Cameron.  I returned to KL, which proved to be a limbo as I was unable to gain entrance to Bharat.  I was forced to leave Malaysia and start a long march to Bangkok to acquire passage to India.  I conclude this rich year of adventure and change on the road to Bangkok, passing the new year in Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand.

I conclude this marvelous year wondering what the next will hold and wandering to hasten its bounty.  I don't know if I will pass it in India, South Africa or places unplanned.  I will conclude this entry as I am apt to do, with a few favorite missives from the ages, a poem from Borges and a sincere and heartfelt thanks to all who have enriched my life during this past year.


"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity."
-Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"


"The past and future do not exist; all we have is the infinite present"
-James Clavell, Shogun

The Dream by Jorge Luis Borges
While the clocks of midnight hours are squandering
an abundance of time,
I shall go, farther than the shipmates of Ulysses
to the territory of dream, beyond the reach
of human memory.
From the that underwater world I save some fragments,
inexhaustible to my understanding:
grasses from some primitive botany,
animals of all kinds,
conversations with the dead,
faces which all the time are masks,
words out of very ancient languages,
and at times, horror, unlike anything
the day can offer us.
I shall be all or no one.  I shall be the other
I am without knowing it, he who has looked on
that other dream, my waking state.  He weighs it up,
resigned and smiling.

Working part time; Fear among conservatives

An interesting article on working part time in the Dutch world:
But in just a few years, part-time work has ceased being the prerogative of woman with little career ambition, and become a powerful tool to attract and retain talent — male and female — in a competitive Dutch labor market.

Indeed, for a growing group of younger professionals, the appetite for a shorter, a more flexible workweek appears to be spreading, with implications for everything from gender identity to rush-hour traffic.

Also, an interesting article about brain structure and how conservatives have a "larger fear center"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Farewell to KL; Sawadee Krup Siam

It was with little regret that I left KL. While I enjoyed the city, towards the end I was just languishing about. Upon realization that I couldn’t get an Indian visa, I felt a spark relit over the need to get down to business.

I spent the last few days hanging with hostel friends from Quebec, Germany, Belgium and Australia, and worrying about some other hostel friends who had encountered some very unfortunate trouble. For no good or understandable reason, they had ended up on the wrong side of the Malaysian law and were stuck in a place I never want to see: Malaysian prison. I don’t care to get into it in a public forum as they are still in midst of a world of sh-t, but I pray for them and their speedy release.

I did have a nice last day in Malaysia, having some wonderful last Malaysian meals. I went with friends for the delicious Hainanese Chicken, a Chinese-Malaysian specialty. We split a whole chicken, and the restaurant gave us two huge plates of roasted and steamed chicken covered with spiraling spring onions on a bed of cucumbers. The roasted one had a lovely golden brown color, while the steamed one was a whiter variety. Over chicken-stewed rice, we ate the meat that oozed a variety of flavors such as ginger, garlic, soya and other spices. The meat was cool and had a refreshing flavor and texture, especially with the cucumbers dunked in the light sauce.

I headed off with my friend Sebastian to grab out Thai visas. You get 30 days if you fly in, but only 15 if you cross overland. Meanwhile, you get 60 days if you apply at the Embassy. Not knowing how long I would be stuck in Thailand, I thought it would be best to get a longer opportunity to stay.

I went later for my last KL meal; I took my cohorts to a Malay-Chinese place where we had asam laksa and curry laksa. The tamarind fish soup with thick, gooeyish white noodles and mint sprigs was tangy and delicious, while the spicy coconut curry with long yellow noodles, fish balls and crunchy tofu and the perfect balance of spices. I will miss Malaysia’s cuisine, it was a favorite gastro hub. I should have a Malaysian gastrodiplo article out soon.

I left KL like a thief in the night, taking the LRT (metro) to the far bus station for a midnight but to the border. I met a nice English couple named Sam and Carrie who were heading my way. I slept, albeit never so well, on the night bus and crossed this morning into Thailand.

We arrived across the border and to the town of Hat Yai. We bonded with a few other travelers, another Brit and some Malaysian guys heading to the islands, so we bargained for a minivan to Sura Thani, where we could catch a ferry to our respective isles. I had thought I was going to Koh Samui for the night, as that was in with the ticket we purchased, and didn’t think there was another ferry to Koh Pangnan, but we found there was another ferry to the isle I required. The Malaysian chaps were headed, but I didn’t feel like coughing up extra to travel to Koh Phangnan when I already had a ticket to Koh Samui. However, I finagled a good deal for the ferry, paying about the same as I would for a ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangnan, so I write this from the ferry to Koh Phangnan, where I will spend New Years. Koh Phangnan is famous for its Full Moon parties, which should be a lot of fun.   It should also be a farang-bang, with a ton of foreigners filling the island.  I am meeting up with my Malaysian-Chinese friends Rainie and Gaby, who got there a few days ago. In the meantime, I have had a long day of travel, some 22 hours of transit. All and all, enough to finish one last book for the year, A Farewell to Arms by good ol’ Ernie Hemingway.

Ideas are free

A Dr. Janardhan, a research analyst with the Gulf Research Center, has a piece in the Khaleej Times about Qatar and Niche Diplomacy.  I am pretty sure I recognize my ideas at play (see under: Qatar's Public Diplomacy).  It's fine, ideas are free.

PS: In correspondence with the author, he mentioned that he did indeed read my work, and has cited it in his forthcoming book Boom Amid Gloom.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Pics Up: Penang; Return to KL; Chow Kit Market

From Penang

From Return to KL

From Chow Kit Market

What the World Costs- Malaysia

Free: Merdeka (independence) museum in Melaka; National Art Gallery in KL; Batu Caves in KL
20 sen ($.06): paan
60 sen ($.19): chocolate cream roti
1 ringgit ($.32): coffee with condensed milk in Melaka; 2 pieces of kaya toast; 5 limes in the market; pineapple with chili
1.20 ringgit ($.39): dosa in KL; sugarcane juice in Melaka
1.50 ringgit ($.49): melaka local bus; KL local bus
1.60 ringgit ($.52): KL monorail
2 ringgit ($.65): KL shuttle bus; 2 roti canai with dhal; white coffee
2.50 ringgit ($.81): cendol; bus to Batu caves, 13 km outside KL
3 ringgit ($.97): nonya laksa curry noodle soup in Melaka; entrance to Maritime Museum in Melaka; rent-a-speedo
3.50 ringgit ($1.13): veg thali in Melaka; peking duck with rice
3.90 ringgit ($1.26): adapter plug
4 ringgit ($1.29): Bobanonya curry chicken rice; curry laksa (noodle soup); 45minute bus from Putrajaya to KL
4.50 ringgit ($1,46): halal chicken sausage McMuffin and coffee
4.60 ringgit ($1.49): roasted chicken and chicken rice balls
5 ringgit ($1.62): 5 museum pass in Melaka
6 ringgit ($1.94): flipflops; chicken shwarma
8 ringgit ($2.59): entrance to Bobanonya Heritage Museum in Melaka
9 ringgit ($2.91): movie ticket to see The Social Network; whole large white tuna in KL market
9.50 ringgit ($3.07): 20 minute highspeed rail from KL to Putrajaya
10 ringgit ($3.23): ticket to Petronas skybridge
12 ringgit ($3.88): Dorm at the Oasis Hostel in KL (w/ wifi and free coffee)
12.20 ringgit ($3.95): 2 hr bus from Melaka to KL
12.90 ringgit ($4.17): McProsperity burger, twisty fries and a coke at McDonalds
13 ringgit ($4.20): 640ml bottle of Skol Beer at 7-11; large Tiger Beer in Chinatown-KL; small beer at Reggae Bar
15 ringgit ($4.85): dungeon dorm in Melaka (w/ wifi)
16 ringgit ($5.17): single room in Melaka (bargained down from 20r)
18.90 ringgit ($6.11): liter of Myanmar beer (xmas special) in Melaka
20 ringgit ($6.47): A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway; dorm in Penang (w/ hot shower and bfast)
26 ringgit ($8.41): Moroccan lamb tagine in KL
30 ringgit ($9.70): 5 hour bus ride from KL to Penang; stupidity tax for flicking a butt in KL
35 ringgit ($11.32): 5 hour bus ride from Cameron to KL
38 ringgit ($12.29): entrance to KL Tower observation deck
40 ringgit ($12.93): 4 hour minibus from Penang to Cameron Highlands
45 ringgit ($14.55): night bus from KL to Hat Yai, Thailand
50 ringgit ($16.17): a liter jar of beer at the Reggae bar
55 ringgit ($17.78): double room with a/c in Penang

Escape from KL

I am finely getting out of KL, after a long stay in limbo.  As mentioned, I could not get my Indian visa worked out.  It's fine, I am glad to be moving again, the torpor in KL was a little overwhelming.  Languishing in limbo is never good, and the hostel was a veritable lotus island that sucked all energy and motivation out.  I wrote early on that I had fallen in love with KL.  After two weeks, I can't say I still feel that way.  I loved it greatly, and still hold the city in affection but the sheen is gone.  My friend Sebastien compared it to a romance that, if it had lasted a week would have been immaculate and remembered fondly, but lasted two weeks and dragged on.  Still a good memory, but not with the passion of a short fling.

In the meantime, I'm leavin' on a midnight bus to Thailand.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Good Daily and Good Luck

I wrote a while back that Jon Stewart should be the new USIA's chief. I was a tad prescient. The NY Times has an article today comparing Stewart to Murrow,

Gulag justice

Bad things about in Czar Putin's lands.  The Khodorkovsky trial was a farce.  Some good articles about it from Simon Tisdale of the Guardian:
Vladimir Putin's unforgiving brand of vendetta politics today claimed another prominent victim with the guilty verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil magnate who dared oppose the Kremlin strongman.

There was never going to be any other result. In modern-day Russia, challenging Putin is like standing in front of a tank. Either get out of the way or expect – sooner or later – to be flattened.

Meanwhile, the lead defense attorney Yuri Schmidt had a stirring article in defense:
Was it out of shame that Judge Viktor Danilkin ordered journalists out of Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court on Monday just after he pronounced the “guilty” verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant, Platon Lebedev? Or was it simply another example of what Russians call “telephone justice” — replacing the rule of law with direct orders from high-level politicians?

It’s hard to say whether the judge himself was embarrassed by the verdict, but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made it clear several days ago how the Khodorkovsky trial would unfold when, responding to a question on national television, he declared: “A thief should sit in jail.”

The richest man in Europe will brook no criticism or dissent, nor will he allow anyone else to pilfer as he does. Less a Soviet show trial and more a Casablanca trial.

PS: Some bad stuff about in my own neck of the woods. Will write about it in Siam. Short of it is that I am fine and uninvolved.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Odyssey continues

"A salute to a fellow who hasn't a chance.  Journey on."
-Ragtime

Call me Ulysses.  My "Odd-yssey" is what it is becoming.  I called in all the chips I could to get an Indian visa in Malaysia, but the dealer had nothing to do with it.  So now I have to make the long and unenviable trek to Bangkok for the sake of getting an Indian visa.  Makes perfect sense, right?  I had no intention of going to Thailand, so much so that I removed the pages from my guide book to Thailand.  In a strange way, it makes a little sense that I would have to go to the place that helped invent gastrodiplomacy to end my gastrodiplomatic odyssey.

Instant Noodle Diplomacy; Spamalot

A Taiwanese ultra-marathon runner has been carrying out some some ramen pd in his sub-zero runs by bringing enough hot soup to share with his fellow frozen marathoners:
Chen received a hero's welcome at the Taipei international airport from friends, schoolmates and family members, but he said he was more proud of promoting Taiwan than winning the medal.

Chen said he took many packets of instant noodles to the South Pole and shared them with fellow runners.

'At the South Pole, Taiwan instant noodles were very popular, especially with the Brazilian TV crew (covering the race),' he told reporters at the airport.
'I carried out people's diplomacy with the instant noodles,' said Chen, a student at the Taipei Physical Education College.
Luv it.  Will have to share my gourmet ramen recipe with the fellow.  'Tis an interesting, and instant, example of gastrodiplomacy.  Xiexie Jonathan.

Meanwhile, a strange article from the BBC about spam as American soft power.  Either unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I didn't try spam before I went kosher.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

150 Friends

I remember Prof. Cull mentioning that we aren't really capable of having more than 150 friends in our social sphere. The NY Times has an interesting op-ed about Dunbar's number and just such ideas.

Crackberries

Manga diplo

The NYTimes reports that Japanese universities are using manga design as a means to attract foreign students.  See under: PD Mag's article from the Japanese MOFA DG o' PD Monji piece on anime diplo.

An idea is like a virus

"An idea is like a virus.  Resilient. Highly contagious.  And the smallest seed of an idea can grow.  It can grow to define or destroy you."
-Inception

Saturday, December 25, 2010

NBA in Hindustan, Philippines

The NY Times reports that the NBA is doing outreach in India. The league would be smarter to be doing more outreach in the Philippines- the world's 10th largest country which also happens to be absolutely basketball-mad. The NBA put on NBA Basketball Madness events over the years in the Philippines, and they were packed with people.  I have dreams of a scouting for a scrappy point guard from the mean streets of Manila to run the floor.  Maybe the NBA should consider helping to support the ASEAN Basketball League.  Maybe I will go catch a KL Dragons game while I am in limbo here.

Gift of the Magi

An old classic that my friend Don was kind enough to share in a moving Christmas letter from Iraq.  Shukran Don, stay safe.  Don gave a nice intro to the story:
And the last, another truly wonderful story by an ex-con turned newspaperman who wrote for the Austin-American Stateman and Houston Post, but better known as O'Henry...The Gift of the Magi. I will never grow too old to feel humbled and teared by the simple wisdom of this short and eloquent story of Christmas. The Magi are always wonderfully wise.
With that said: O'Henry's Gift of the Magi

The Social Network; steamboat; in the drink

While I was technically a day early, I carried out the traditional Jewish Christmas ritual of going to the movies on x-mas. I went to see The Social Network, which was an excellent intro into the creation of Facebook and all of the discontents therein.  Side note: I'm still not sure why Mark Zuckerberg got Time Person of the Year.

I came back and met up with my friends Sara and Hassan. Sara is from California, but has been living for years in New Zealand. Hassan is from New Zealand, of Moroccan descent. We went out to try steamboat- a Malaysian Chinese version of hotpot.  It involves a cauldron in the middle of the table wit boiling water that you dip sticks of meat and veggies.  While it was good, I prefer hot pot because that one comes with a broth, whereas this just had boiling water to dip the veggies and meats.  Most of the sticks I picked out seemed to get barbecued anyway.

We went back to the rooftop of their hostel to enjoy the view over a few beers.  They had a nice vista of the KL Towers and Petronas in a foreground-background way.  We headed out to the sleek Skybar for some drinks overlooking the Petronas Towers.  Sara decided she wanted to go swimming in the bar's pool (not allowed during bar time), so I eyed the tub from our second floor table, but wasn't sure if I could make the leap without cracking something.

I agreed to swim too, so we handed our stuff to Hassan and took the plunge.  Once I saw Sara wade in, I took a jump into the pool going down the center of the bar.  I splish-splashed on in, and started making a lap while the bar patrons cheered and the staff harangued us.  One woman yelled at us and said it was dangerous; I said not to worry since I could swim just fine and inquired if there were perhaps sharks in the pool.  I doggy-paddled my way down and we got out sopping wet to the glaring looks of the staff and applause from the fellow patrons.  We dripped our way immediately on out and  through a few more bars before eventually heading back to my rooftop.  An x-mas day babalas has ensued.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fair is foul and foul is fair

Glenn Greenwald of Salon has a piece that echoes what I have been saying about Wikileaks: the misguided focus has been on the leakers not those who were in the wrong and have been exposed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Half-remembered dreams

"You remind me of someone... a man I met in a half-remembered dream. He was possessed of some radical notions."
-Inception

I'm dreaming of a brown Christmas

There is apparently a strange Catalonian Christmas tradition of the "caganer" added to the nativity scene:
Mary, Joseph and the shepherds are all gathered around the baby Jesus in his manger, as loudspeakers emit the occasional animal sound for extra, rustic effect.

But this is Catalonia, and no crib is complete without one additional figure.

He is known in Catalan as the caganer. That translates most politely as 'the defecator' - and there he is, squatting under a tree with his trousers down.

Porn tech

While my blog is usually PG13, or sometimes even R-rated, I am delving into the X-rated world to share an interesting article on the role of the porn industry in the tech sector:
"It's not necessarily that the porn industry comes up with the ideas, but there's a huge difference in any technology between the idea and the successful application," said Jonathan Coopersmith, a professor at Texas A&M University who teaches the history of technology.

"They're kind of the shock troops, and one of the nice things for them is that they can claim, 'Hey, I'm advancing technology.' "

While the shadowy nature of the adult-entertainment industry makes exact figures hard to nail down, it's generally acknowledged that porn was the first product to make money on the Internet and still rakes in upward of $1 billion annually online.

Mighty albeit Lame Ducks

A nice piece by Gail Collins of the NY Times on Lame Ducks Triumphant:
But let’s admit it. Nothing would have gotten done if Obama hadn’t swallowed that loathsome compromise on tax cuts for the wealthy.

If he’d taken the high road, Congress would be in a holiday war. The long-term unemployed would be staggering into the new year without benefits. The rest of the world would look upon the United States as a country so dysfunctional that it can’t even ratify a treaty to help keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The people who worked at ground zero would still be uncertain about their future, and our gay and lesbian soldiers would still be living in fear.

It’s depressing to think that there was no way to win that would not have involved giving away billions of dollars to people who don’t need it. But it’s kind of cheery to think we have a president who actually does know what he’s doing.

Europe's Mugabe

Timothy Garton Ash has a phenomenal piece on Belarus' Lukashenko, who is thuggishly stealing another election   in Europe's last dictatorship.

The last bastion of colonialism

Larry Derfner of the Jpost has  terrific yet sad piece on the state of affairs beyond the green line.

KLimbo

With the departure of the irreverent Sidney Bosley, I am officially stuck in KLimbo as I wait for a visa to India.

Cobb: “We drop into limbo.”
Arthur: “Are you serious?”
Ariadne: “Limbo?”
Arthur: “Unconstructed dream space.”
Ariadne: “Well what the hell is down there?
Arthur: “Just raw infinite subconcious, nothing is down there. Except for whatever might have been left behind by anyone sharing the dream who’s been trapped down there before. Which in our case, is you.”
-Inception

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taste of Peace

"Knives and sharp instruments do not necessarily have to destroy: they can also create peace"
-Taste of Peace

Israel21C has a good story about Taste of Peace, a multiethnic Israeli cooking team competing in the Villeroy and Bosch Culinary World Cup that consists of a Jew, an Armenian and a Christian and a Muslim Arab.  In a bit of delicious irony, the team won a gold medal for their salmon terrine platter.

Indian Diplomacy

Great piece in the Washington Post about India's recent high level diplomatic engagement.  Britain, the US, France, China and Russia all came calling to pay respects to a burgeoning India.   With all the trade deals inked, I hope there is also some considerable public diplomacy efforts to follow between Bharat and Security Counsel that visited.  Both Indian diplomacy and public diplomacy will need to be increased to work to bring India (and Brazil) its rightful spot on that body. But this is definitely positive.

Skybar; 按摩; Malay Social contract

Dani and I returned back to KL and went to our respective guest houses. To each his own. We met up later and went out to a cool place called Skybar for drinks overlooking the Petrons Tower. Located on the 42nd floor, the place had an immaculate view of the night sky. Swanky, with pools, hot tubs and a cool dj. Not a lot of people on a tuesday night as we sat sipping black label and stared out at the darkened Petronas Towers. Some mediocre clubbing ensued for a late enough night. I poached some aircon for my comfort in the sweltering KL night.

We had a late start on the day and meandered about town. I managed to lose my lenscap into a sewer. It rolled off and down the drain into a sewage lake. I could see it and we managed to find some sticks and remove the grate but it quickly sunk to the sewage stream when I tried to fish it out. The skies looked foreboding as something wicked this way came.

We ducked back to Chinatown to grab foot massages. Dani treated me for my b-day. It was excellent. I chatted with the Chinese woman as she dug in.  The feet beating left me with a bit of clarity, and I decided that I need to start figuring out about a PhD.

My Chinese teacher would have been proud, I chatted for a good portion of the hour long toe lashing. We chatted about life in Malaysia and in America. What a massage costs per hour in the US. That she liked Obama and respected that people were (essentially) equal in America. She said China was same-same. In Malaysia, there is a bit of frustration that the Malay community gets perks that other communities don't.  For example, Malays get certain quotas for public education, civil service, quotas in publicly traded companies and discounts for cars and houses. The not-quite citizenship of the Chinese and Indians is a cause of concern towards the "social contract."  Anywho, the massage was phenomenal, and I didn't want to get back on my feet when I was done.  I love massages as birthday gifts, always a nice present.

We headed over for some tiger beers at a little outside cafe, while and old Chinese man and a young Aussie swapped unspoken magic tricks while a teen musician crooned, "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down yeah we wept, when we remembered Zion."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New START

Fred Kaplan of Slate has a good piece on the New START Treaty, from a strategic and political standpoint:
The Senate seems on its way to ratifying the New START on nuclear arms, an achievement that looked unlikely to say the least just a few weeks ago.

If a Republican were president, the accord would have excited no controversy and at most a handful of diehard nays. As even most of its critics conceded, the treaty's text contains nothing objectionable in substance.

There were two kinds of opponents in this debate. The first had concerns that President Barack Obama would use the treaty as an excuse to ease up on missile defense and the programs to maintain the nuclear arsenal. In recent weeks, Obama and his team did as much to allay these concerns as any hawk could have hoped—and more than many doves preferred.

So that left the second kind of opponent: those who simply wanted to deny Obama any kind of victory. The latter motive was clearly dominant in this debate.
and unlike his predecessor, Obama can say the word "nuclear" correctly. All those who said Obama was a political corpse can kindly shut up as he has a string of legislative victories.  Too bad he wasn't this pro-active throughout the year, perhaps he could have saved his legislative majority.  But we are looking forward not back.

The Big East

A fascinating op-ed by Ian Morris in the NYTimes about Eastern promise- something I have seen quite well in my travels:
We are living through the biggest shift in wealth, power and prestige since the industrial revolution catapulted Western Europe to global dominance 200 years ago. And the force driving the rise of the East is exactly the same as the force that drove the earlier rise of the West: the interaction of geography with economics and technology.

Brrrr....

Nearly a week of luxurious hot showers makes the cold ones even colder.

Good for the gander

Haha, Assange complains he is a leak victim!  Sorry buddy, you don't get to complain about such things.

Friend Request Denied

Interesting piece in Newsweek about the Iranian regime's fear of social media. Mark Zuckerberg is depicted as a Zionist spy!
In public [the Iranian regime] deny it, of course, dismissing him and his allies as “losers with no significant power base,” in the words of Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But the mockery rings false: in fact, the Revolutionary Guards have grown worried enough to establish a Permanent Soft War Secretariat, dedicated to plugging what the Guards’ commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, calls “the loopholes in our soft defense mechanism.” The massive demonstrations of 2009 have migrated behind closed doors, unseen by pro-regime Basij thugs, where activists spread the word of resistance via instant message, satellite television, and what authorities fear most: social networking.

Their vehicle of choice is Facebook, as evidenced by the Revolutionary Guards–produced cautionary TV program A Monster Called Facebook, in which founder Mark Zuckerberg is depicted as a Zionist spy. In coming months, the Guards are also expected to beef up their new Facebook Infiltration Task Force, which prowls the site hunting for critics of the regime and blocking ordinary Iranians’ access. It’s become almost routine for Iranian travelers at the Tehran airport to be stopped for questioning about their use of the world’s largest social-networking site.

Back to KL

Even in a full hostel, always a bed to be found. Loyalty helps. Ability to make lemonade out of lemons and snag a discount in the process helps even more.

On PR

A great article in the Economist on the history of Public Diplomacy's older, uglier and richer cousin: public relations. Go raibh maith agat Deaglan.
As they prepared to face their second big strike in four years, America’s coal-mining bosses knew they had to do something about the newspapers. It was 1906—a time of rising resentment against robber-baron capitalism and the heyday of muckraking “yellow journalism”. During the previous strike the trade unions had fostered good relations with newspapermen and won themselves a sympathetic press. To help put their side of the story, the mining bosses turned to a former journalist, Ivy Lee.

It was already fairly common for big companies and public figures to employ publicists and press agents to represent them and rebut criticism. But these men did not conduct extended campaigns to influence public opinion. And many prominent folk engaged with the mass media as little as possible. As Stuart Ewen notes in “PR! A Social History of Spin”, the standard businessman’s attitude towards the public was one of “hardened arrogance”. Lee was to pioneer new methods—and, in the process, create a new industry.

Lee observed that the rise of national newspaper chains and syndicated journalism in America since the 1880s, combined with the extension of the franchise, had profoundly changed society. Now, for the first time, there was something that could accurately be called “public opinion”, a shared consciousness and conversation across the country—and it was to be feared. Lee noted how the emerging mass media were acting as the conduit for the anti-capitalist message of Progressivism, the liberalising reform movement that peaked in America in the early 20th century. He realised not only that it was essential for businesses to counter this message, but that the same conduit could be used to spread pro-business sentiment.

His idea, blindingly obvious now but a novelty then, was to send newsdesks a stream of statements putting the mining bosses’ case and rebutting allegations against them. These, as well as the statements he put out the same year on behalf of a railway following a train crash, are now sometimes described (with a bit of spin) as the first press releases. The immediate result was perhaps the earliest recorded whinges from journalists about being bombarded with tendentious bumf.

Curb Your Tax Cut

Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm has a great op-ed on his need for a tax cut:
To begin with, I was planning a trip to Cabo with my kids for Christmas vacation. We were going to fly coach, but now with the money I’m saving in taxes, I’m going to splurge and bump myself up to first class. First class! Somebody told me they serve warm nuts up there, and call you “mister.” I might not get off the plane!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Belarussian farce

Anne Applebaum of WaPo has a great article on the sad farce that were the Belarussian elections:
On Sunday, the nation of Belarus held presidential elections. On Sunday evening, the police officers of Belarus handed out their verdict. By midnight, tens of thousands of people had been chased out of the main square in central Minsk, hundreds had been arrested and hundreds more severely beaten. Young people limped away from demonstrations with broken arms, bloody heads. Seven out of nine Belarusan presidential candidates were in jail. One of them, Vladimir Neklyayev, was beaten unconscious and then dragged away from the hospital, wrapped in blankets. As of this writing, he is still missing, locked up in an unknown location.

Enablers for Israel

A great piece by Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz on Israel's enablers:
The activists of Peace Now and the moderate group J Street, are called "self-hating Jews" by members of the Jewish establishment. People at AIPAC and their allies in Congress are, on the other hand, "self-loving Jews." Indeed, they love themselves. Especially themselves.

Jews who truly love Israel go to synagogues in New York and tell people that if Jerusalem will not be the capital of two nations, it will never be recognized as Israel's capital.

Jews who love themselves may know there is no two state solution without dividing Jerusalem, but they prefer to receive enthusiastic applause when making the empty declaration that "a unified Jerusalem is Israel's capital forever."

Furthermore, Jews (and not only Jews ) who love Israel sign a petition in favor of lifting the futile blockade on the Gaza Strip. Jewish who love themselves assail the "self-hating" Jew, Richard Goldstone, who dared to point out the folly of Operation Cast Lead.

A Jew who loves himself deeply does not harm the Jewish state. A Jew who truly loves himself does everything possible in order to save Israel from itself.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Solecistic smiles

Amid the rain in the Cameron Highlands that is mimicking the weather of jolly ol' England, I got a huge smile in getting to play reader and scribe for a catachrestic fellow while helping him check facebook and email.

Chingay; Cameron

Dani and I had a fun last evening in Penang. I tried one last dish I had been interested in: rojak. Rojak is a combination of fruits like mango and green apples, plus cucumbers and jicama, covered in a thick, black dressing that is sugar, chili, tamarind and black bean paste based and then chopped peanuts sprinkled on top. It was pretty good, but a little overwhelmingly thick.

We made our way past the city hall that was bathed in white bulbs and reminded me of the Mysore Palace to the National Chingay Competition.  Easily one of the strangest things I have ever seen.  Chingay is a sport consisting of teams flipping giant 25ft flagpoles up in the air, while someone tries to balance the flying flag pole on their head.  The flipper uses his foot to toss the giant pole up in the air.  Wait, it gets better.  The various teams do different stunts such as riding around on bicycles to catch the flagpole, or stand on someone's shoulders.  Or a combination of the two (ie on someone's shoulders, on a bike, trying to catch a lofted flagpole).  Each team has 8 minutes to come up with various tricks to score points with the judges.  All the while, some melodic music is beat out on drums and cymbals.  Strange but fascinating.

After the Chingay competition, we foraged for some food.  We found a Malay-Indian place and I had the Penang-Malay-Indian of nasi kandar.  Nasi kandar was a rice dish on banana leaf with various curries and veggies, and a piece of fried chicken.  Dani opted for the tandoori chicken.  We wandered through the back alleys of Georgetown, and found a super strange Chinese concert.  A singer was belting out old American tunes in Chinese while the pyrotechnics were blasting and the base booming.

The next morning, we caught a gringo van to the Cameron Highlands.  Since I hate booking ahead or doing gringo vans, Dani has been paying baksheesh in the form of the difference between the normal price and the gringo price so that I am amenable to taking the reserved buses.

We arrived in the cool Cameron Highlands for a bit of trekking in the jungle.  We dropped our stuff at a nice place called Father's Guesthouse, which sits on top of a hill overlooking town.  We hung out for the afternoon, then went out for a late dinner.  Dani saw a karoke place, and got his k-tv fix over Tom Jones' "It's not unusual."  His shtick, including the Carlton Shuffle, had the place in uproar and applause.

Nollywood

The Economist has a great article about Nigerian cultural diplomacy and soft power through its film indstry Nollywood:
Nigerian films are as popular abroad as they are at home. Ivorian rebels in the bush stop fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrives from Lagos. Zambian mothers say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian television. When the president of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, a Lagosian screen goddess, to join him on the campaign trail he attracted record crowds at rallies. Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day, many more than see American fare. And yet Africans have mixed feelings about Nollywood.

Among Africa’s elites, hostility is almost uniform. Jean Rouch, a champion of indigenous art in Niger, has compared Nollywood to the AIDS virus. Cultural critics complain about “macabre scenes full of sorcery” in the films. The more alarmist describe Nigerian directors and producers as voodoo priests casting malign spells over audiences in other countries. They talk of the “Nigerianisation” of Africa, worrying that the whole continent has come to “snap its fingers the Nigerian way”.

Governments can be hostile, too. Several have brought in protectionist measures, including spurious production fees. In July Ghana started demanding $1,000 from visiting actors and $5,000 from producers and directors. The Democratic Republic of Congo has tried to ban Nigerian films altogether. Five decades after much of Africa gained independence, its elites fear being re-colonised, this time from within the continent. “The Nigerians will eat everything we have,” says a former official at the Ghanaian ministry of chieftaincy and culture.

Nollywood’s moguls make no attempt to deny their influence over the continent—they just regard it as a thoroughly good thing. “We give Africa development and knowledge,” says Ernest Obi, head of the Lagos actors’ guild, during a break from auditioning a gaggle of teenage girls dressed in ball gowns. “We teach people things. If they call us colonial masters, too bad.”

Thanks Harry. Also, be sure to check out the article on Nollywood in Public Diplomacy Magazine in the Cultural Diplomacy issue.

On blogging through the ages



A fascinating NY Times book review article of Sarah Bakewell's book "How to Live" on the life of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, the first "blogger." Merci JB. The article discusses the provenance of the essay:
Montaigne is considered the creator of the essay, a form that melds the intellectual and the personal, and his musings have inspired countless writers, including William Hazlitt, Friedrich Nietzsche and Virginia Woolf. Ms. Bakewell would add every blogger, tweeter, Facebooker and YouTuber to that list.

“This idea — writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity — has not existed forever,” Ms. Bakewell writes. “It had to be invented. And, unlike many cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person.”

Montaigne wrote about whatever crossed his mind: animals, sex, magic, diplomacy, violence, hermaphroditism, self-doubt. “Essayer” means “to try” in French, or as Ms. Bakewell adds, “to test, or to taste it, or give it a whirl.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gorbachev on Afghanistan

“We have been fighting in Afghanistan for six years already. If the approach is not changed, we will continue to fight for another 20 to 30 years. This would cast a shadow on our abilities to affect the evolution of the situation. ... In general, we have not selected the keys to resolving this problem. What, are we going to fight endlessly as a testimony that our troops are not able to deal with the situation? We need to finish this process as soon as possible.”

The words of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 to the Soviet Politburo. A fellow named Bennett Ramberg was kind enough to dig it up in his letter to the NY Times on how it might be time to learn from history.

New Pics up: KL II, Batu Caves, Petronas Towers, Hindu KL

From KLII



From Batu Caves (KL)



From Petronas Towers (KL)



From Hindu KL

Last Tango in Dubai

There is a cool article in the NY Times about tango's popularity in the Middle East. Good Argentine cultural diplomacy, if they can take advantage of the boom.

Cornwallis; Fat chicks; Betel Nut Island

"Think globalization is a new phenomenon? Reach back into the history of Penang to see the rise and fall of one of the world's mightiest corporations, the East India Company.  Back when the distinction between governments, armies and companies was less precise, the British-based juggernaut sailed into the harbour and took over the 28-sq-km island as its first settlement on the Malay peninsula, as a strategic move intended to break Dutch Melaka's monopoly of the spice trade.

What evolved on the formerly unpopulated 'Betel Nut Island' was a bustling port.  Entrepreneurs of every imaginable ethnicity, most notably Chinese, flocked to this new land of opportunity, creating wealth and cultural hybrids.  Like many company, towns, Penang wilted after the collapse of the British empire, and continues to decline as a player on the international trading floor."
-Lonely Planet

We got off to a slow day on our first in Georgetown.  While Dani went running, I wandered around the Street of Harmony, which is complete with huge mosque, confucius temple, buddhist temple and anglican church.  We wandered down to the esplanade and found some market stalls off the Straits for some lunch. We then went past the white neo-Palladian City Hall over to Ft. Cornwallis, the star-shaped fort built Sir Francis Light who helped found Georgetown.  There was an interesting bit of history inside the fort, which you can get from the link above.  We then wandered through town, past old pastel colonial buildings.  The city must have been a beaut in its heyday.  We then headed through Little India, past booming bollywood music.  Dani danced in traffic as I filmed his shenanigans.  He stopped in for a shave and then we decided to call it early and be good colonials and feast on gin and tonics.  Can never be too careful of malaria in these tropical locations, that's what tonic and its quinines to ward away malaria is key.  We made our way out later to a fun, kinda upscale nightmarket called the Red Garden, which reminded me of the place in Bandung with the different food stalls.  I had some Thai tomyum, while Dani opted for Filipino food.  We hung out until the christmas music sung by a chinese lounge singer became unbearable.

On Friday, we decided to rent motorscooters to putter around the isle.  I bargained a deal for the bikes, normally 30 ringgit, but 50 ringgit for two.  We tentatively headed off in traffic, riding on the wrong (British) side of the road.  We drove on until we found some lunch at a group of hawker stalls.  We lunched on penang asam laksa, which is different from the southerly Malaccan version by its more sour Thai taste.  Dani commented that the fish balls in the soup reminded him of Chinese gefilite fish.

 We passed a beautiful mosque built over the water that was swelling for friday prayers.  It reminded me of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.  We then continued along out of town along the meandering beach road that hugged the coast.  We stopped off at an empty beach for a dip in the warm Straits water.  Some foreboding clouds started coming in and we headed off to the beach resort town of Batu Ferrenghi to find some shelter from the darkening horizons.  We stopped off in a little restaurant and passed the time until the downpour passed, then headed back along the winding roads until we got to a national park.  Enough of a trip to head back through the curved passes and back into Hoyaland.  Dani went to the movies, while I opted for a quiet night and had some spicy coconut-curry laksa soup in the market, then an early evening.

Today, we headed over to the Kek Lok Si temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.  There was a yellow pastel tower that stood 30m high with seven tiers of buddhas.  It is called the Ban Po Thar, the ten thousand buddha pagoda.  We sped back into town to return the bikes on time.  Those little suckers can fly, we could get up to 80kmh/50 mph.  I kinda want a scooter.

After we gave up our chariots, we headed over for some lunch at malay hawker stalls.  I had some nasi lemak, rice with spicy red curries and little fishies and a little chicken and eggs.  Dani tried the curry laksa.  After, we walked over to the Penang Museum.  Housed in an old colonial building, the museum gave an excellent history of the settlement of Penang.

"The spell which makes those who have never been, wish to go there, those who live there want to stay, and those who have spent their appointed hour or two with a longing to return."  -J.W. Clarke, "Georgetown"

Once known as Betel Nut Island, the British East India company took possession at the end of the 18th century: "The English Company agree to pay annually to His Majesty of Pulis and Quedah. Ten Thousands Dollars as long as the English shall continue in posession of Pulo Pinang and the country opposite coast here after mentioned." The King of Kedah basically agreed to hand over the basically empty island and lease it in return for the East India Company's protection from the Siamese (Thai) to his north.  Yet, when called upon, the EIC refused to honor, and later the King of Kedah went to war against the Penang.  He lost, and the British stayed a lot longer than originally planned for the lease.

Penang became a commercial entrepot and brought a tremendous amount of migration.  Beyond the Chinese (Hakka and Hokkien) and Indians (Mostly Tamil, but also Sikh, Gujerati and Bengali) and Europeans, there were Armenians, Jews, Javanese, Burmese, Siamese, Japanese, Acehanese and Buginese that all came to the bustling company town.  The thing I laughed at the most was a painting of Halliburton Hill, with the title, "Mr. Halliburton was a Sheriff of Penang and the proprietor of Halliburton Hill."

Company towns, company islands, company countries- plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Branding Korea at the Shanghai Expo

Branding Korea has an interesting interview with Prof. Jay Wang of USC on the South Korea Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.

What would have been even more fascinating is to see Prof. Wang analyze the North Korea pavilion.  The NoKo pavilion was an absolute joke.  I visited it and got a picture of me superimposed in front the pavilion. Since it is NoKo, they printed my image in reverse. So it goes.  Sadly, I could not get a picture with Dear Leader.

Cheers to Michael Moore

Kudos for him helping post bail for Julian Assange.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Malaysia's niche

So Malaysia strikes me as a Middle Power that is underperforming.  It doesn't seem to have a niche in which it can maximize its public diplomacy exposure.  I have been thinking that because of Malaysia's diversity (nearly half the country is either Chinese or Indian), they could market the country as a facilitator of communications between China and India.  The two Asian juggernauts have been trying to find a better working relationship.  I think based on Malaysia's functional diversity and ability to harmoniously balance Chinese and Indian communities, it could promote itself as a mediator to cut through the apprehension that China and India hold towards the other.  Malaysia's tourist slogan is that it is "Truly Asia." Only when I got here did I understand how true that slogan is.  Since Malaysia is so reflective of Asia, being a mediator for Asia could be a good Malaysian niche.

India's PD reflections

CPD Director Phil Seib has a good blog on Indian public diplomacy after his trip to that inverted pyramid that is India for a pd conference.

Who is Sidney Bosley?

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Jews; Ellsberg on Colbert on Assange

Colbert addresses the recent Israel Shark Conspiracy plaguing Egypt.  Hysterical.  The Jews control  the tides.

And an amazing interview of Daniel Ellsberg on the Colbert Report on Julian Assange.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Petronas; Hoya Saxa; The Odd Couple

After Sidney Dani arrived, we meandered about KL, heading to the Malaysian National Museum.  The palatial museum gives a great overview of Malaysian history, from the early times through the European conquests and colonial era on to modern day.  It gave Dani a good perspective on the place he had just arrived.  We grabbed some South Indian food for lunch as I taught him how to eat with his hands.  We sat out that night, drinking Tiger Beer on the Chinatown strip, chatting with NAFTA.  We met a Mexican and a Canadian, two engineers working on a light rail project in KL.  We laughed about how none of us had such nice trains in the New World. A toast to la panamericana.

Yesterday, I got up at 6am to meet Dani at his hostel so we could go to the Petronas Towers.  Formerly the tallest buildings, the towers only offer a certain amount of tickets to visit every day.  They start selling tickets at 8:30am, but the lines begin hours before.  We decided to be there at 7am to try to get tickets to the top, which are in short supply.  Dani and I were joined by Adam an Aussie and a Scot (maybe his name was Adam?).  Sure enough, at 7am there was already a considerable line.  We sat down in the burgeoning snake curve and waited.  And waited until 8:30 hit.  We were set to go to the 86th floor, and it looked like we could get tickets for the 11am spot.  But by the time, we got to the front, all we could get were tickets to the skybridge on the 41st floor.  We weren't pleased, but nothing to do.  

We sat through a ridiculously bad video from Petronas that was part cheesy commercial, part spiel.  Then we got 15 minutes on the skybridge that connects the two towers.  It was okay, but not great.  A view from 41 stories up is always nice, but not when you are expecting a view from twice as high.  We took in the view, but it wasn't a whole lot better than from the top of other office buildings.  Our time was up and we were shooed out and back down.  It was pretty disappointing.  The KL Tower, which I went up a few days before, has better views with no line.  The Taipei 101 lets people come up all throughout the day and go up to the top.  Apparently, the Petronas had only recently let people go to the top.  Fine, but apparently they were only selling 100 tickets.  Really weak.  You have two towers, you should be able to accommodate tons of people. Not worth the early aggravation, not worth the contrived line that wasn't necessary.  

Anyway, Dani and I made our way out of town and over to the Bukit Jalil bus station to get a ticket to Penang.  I ran the gamut of ticket sellers and got us a decent price for a bus to Penang.  We sat on the bus for 45 minutes, waiting for it to get full enough to leave.  After 45 minutes, they then told us to switch buses because the one we were on was going to Ipoh not Penang and we moved over to another bus.  Finally we were off.  We drove out of KL and through the green highlands.  After about 3 hours, we stopped at a gas station near Ipoh, and they made half the bus switch again.  Half the bus got off and switched back to the original bus we had been on.  Just another day on the road when nothing really makes sense.  We arrived late to Penang, outside the city of George Town.  We fought the taxing taxis and found a bus into the city, then a cab to a hostel.  

So between Dani and me, we have been to nearly 65 countries.  He clocks in somewhere in the forties in terms of places visited.  We are both inveterate travelers.  But we do it differently.  Dani and I lived together (with a third roomie Jed) in Arad, Israel in 1999, and we were the odd couple.  He wanted to turn our place into a bachelor pad; I was a slob.  He wanted to decorate; I decorated by hacking luggies on the wall.  He wanted to bring home the girls; I brought home a puppy named Vashte to live with us and trash the place.  Somewhere in all this, Jed remained the oracle.  It would have made a good sitcom.

Year later some has changed, some hasn't. We are both still 30 year old boys, as the rest of our friends grow up, get married and have children. I never plan ahead; Dani books buses and does reconn on his locations.  Dani makes reservations; I show up.  I am happy with the cheapest bed in town; Dani was just in HK, producing a commercial and living it up in the penthouses.  I am supremely patient; Dani less so.  But trips are made good when you can appreciate different perspectives, and we are meeting in the middle and compromising to enjoy the trip.

Able and Insufferable

John Brown of PDPBR wrote a wonderful piece on the legacy of Richard Holbrooke:

May Allah bless the insufferable and able Mr. Holbrooke. And may the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan remember that he -- of Jewish ancestry -- strove to save Muslims in Bosnia, when precious few in the world cared.

Meanwhile, US "Predators" unmanned aircraft are killing "insurgents" in a part of the world most Americans, worried about their credit card payments, know nothing about.

Such is "foreign policy."

Reggie

A nice piece on Reggie Jackson as a symbol of an era.  I grew up on stories of Mr. October, and remain a huge fan.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two good lefty Israel-Pal articles

F'ing Stockholm Syndrome, I can't get away.

First one from Akiva Eldar and Carlo Strenger of Ha'aretz on the easy path to Palestine provided the Palestinians spell out what Israel means to them.

Second one from Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator on why the Israeli Right is wrong to smile at their perceived victories.

Putrajaya; Surprise guests

Yesterday, I woke up early to head down to Putrajaya to chat with the Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy at the Malaysian Foreign Ministry.  I donned my suit, which I have unenviably been carrying at the bottom of my backpack for the last two months.  It was a real effort to get all the wrinkles out of the suit and shirt with nary a laundry place in all of Chinatown.  I hopped the LRT and caught the superefficient KLIA high speed light rail.  Man, I wish we had a rail that nice and smooth in the US.  I got to Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia.  It is a new planned city just south of KL to help with the congestion.  I arrived and hopped a bus through the precincts and avenues.  I was reminded of Islamabad (Pakistan's Orwellian Brasilia) and the La Plata (The City of Silver).  I crossed beautiful cantilevered bridges, past bulbous onion-domed mosques offering shimmering reflections in the calm river and on to the Malaysian FM.

The Undersec was kind enough to meet me and chat about PD and gastrodiplomacy for a piece I am working on for Malaysian gastrodiplomacy.  I got to talk a little pd shop with the director of the PD section over a great Malaysian gastrodiplo fav that is teh tarik ("pulled tea") that is black tea with condensed milk that is poured ("pulled") from a distance between two glasses.  The best gastrodiplo includes a bit of showmanship, and as such, teh tarik and the roti canai- the flying roti that is twisted and tossed and twirled like a pizza- make great Malaysian gastrodiplo treats for the show as well as the taste.  Regarding roti canai, I can remember the throngs crowded around the Malaysian stall at the Shanghai Expo dining hall where a fellow was tossing the dough about.

Last night, I was getting ready to go to bed. I had just turned out the light, and was lying in the dark when I felt something hit my shoulder and fall off. Not sure what it was, I got up to turn on the light. I thought it was my alarm clock above my bed that had fallen off. When I turned on the light, I saw my alarm clock still in the same place, and my eyes widened. Then I heard a little scuffling and saw a big f'ing rat climb up the bed frame of the bed next to mine, scurry up the wall and back out the window it had just fallen in through. I screamed like a little b-tch, I do admit.

Today I was set to meet a friend of a friend, one Sidney Bosley. Sidney Bosley is a friend of my old yearcourse roomie Jed. He had emailed to introduce us, since Sidney was going to be traveling. Since it was a friend of a good friend, I agreed to meet this person, but I thought they sounded a little lame with these hesitant emails that I was receiving.  About two days ago, I found out Sidney wasn't a loser boy, it was a blond girl. Sidney was a she and sent me a few pics so we could recognize each other when we met. Ok, that made a little more sense. Maybe Jed was kind enough to hook it up for an old roomie with a cute blond chica.  Sidney and I made plans to meet outside my hostel this morning for coffee and maybe would go on to the Cameron Highlands to get out of KL.

The morning came and it was time to meet dear Sidney. I was sitting outside my hostel, when a fellow with a heavy euro-accent and a camera came up and asked if he could film me for 30 seconds introducing myself. He said he did it wherever he went. I was glad to oblige and I started talking into the camera. Just as I finished introducing myself, the beautiful and voluptuous Sidney popped out...in the form of Disco Dani Rotstein. Sidney was a fake, a figment or a pigment or whatever. Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, Hanukkah Harry, Keyzer Soze, Rolo Tomassi. Dani and Jed had conspired against me, and I was in shock. I got punk'd hard. It took me a good few minutes to recover. It is all on camera, I will post it. Dani even got it on his supersecret sunglasses cam.  There is a great POV video of my eyes widening in shock.  So now Dani Disco and Paulie Rockstar are trekking over Malaya.

On the Gulag Lite; On Remembering Holbrooke

Two good pieces, one from David Remnick of the New Yorker on Khodorkovsky and the Gulag Lite. Remnick wrote the phenomenal book, Lenin's Tomb, on the Soviet empire's collapse from the eye of the storm. I remember reading the book on yearcourse in 1999, then backpacking through Central Europe with a greater appreciation for the landscape.

The other piece is in memory of Richard Holbrooke. The man was a warrior's diplomat, and his passing leaves a bigger hole in American diplomacy than some leaked cables ever could.

PS: a nice eulogy of Holbrooke from Nick Kristof

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gadling

In a blog, "Gastro-diplomacy and the politics of food" Jeremy Kressman of Gadling addresses the "growing school of thought called Gastro-diplomacy." Growing a few pants sizes, hehe.

Twain on Travel

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime." - Mark Twain (Thanks to a different JBrown via Ren)

Prove it

Good op-ed by the Lara Friedman, director of Americans for Peace Now, about how Obama's cred is on the line with Bibi's intransigence:
It is now up to the president to prove he wasn't bluffing.

If he fails this test, the implications are global. U.S. allies and adversaries are watching. So far, they see a U.S. president who for two years has been unable to achieve significant progress towards one of his key foreign policy objectives. They see a president who directly connected his Middle East foreign policy to U.S. national security interests, but then, faced with game-playing and delay tactics of the parties, has behaved as if the U.S. was politically impotent. Obama needs to recognize that after two years in office, good intentions and powerful speeches count for nothing; he has exhausted the goodwill and the benefit-of-the-doubt he enjoyed when he first entered office. Today his foreign policy is being judged solely on actions and results.

If Obama fails this test, the conclusions that will be drawn -- in Tehran or Pyongyang, when negotiating over their nuclear programs, or in Moscow, when negotiating over arms control, or even Paris and London when considering NATO interests -- are worrying. Their potential impacts are far more devastating for U.S. national security than the WikiLeaks fiasco. The credibility of Obama's entire foreign policy is at stake.

Dionne on Obama and a clarion call; Zakaria on manana economics

EJ Dionne has a good piece on Obama's need to communicate renewal.  Fareed Zakaria has a good piece on why it's never a good time to do the tough stuff.

Indian PD and Soft Power

India had a high-level PD conference last weekend.  A number of my profs were on hand, including the sagacious Prof. Nick Cull.  I love his remarks from the conference:

"I think in a world where diplomacy is based on culture, India is in a very, very strong position. If you are comparing Indian power and Chinese power, India has an advantage because when people think of India around the world, people smile", said Cull.

"India is all about the celebration of diversity, and that's why I feel that as India pays more attention to soft power, more attention to public diplomacy, India moves into an ever stronger place in world affairs," he added.
A smile and an endearing head bobble.  'Tis why I am going to India- to help them figure out how to project that soft power, and use public diplomacy to amplify their efforts. Things are looking promising that I indeed might cut the Gordian bureaucratic knot.

Stupidity Tax averted!

Thanks World Nomads for honoring my insurance claim for my flight I couldn't take from Medan, Indonesia to Penang, Malaysia!  No stupidity tax on moi!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Health and Wealth of Nations

Fascinating presentation tracking the Health and Wealth of Nations over the last 200 years from Hans Roslin of Gapminder.  Thanks Abba.

The Alchemist

So I pitched this picture to HarperCollins to be the book cover for Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist. Not sure if they paid any attention to me. I sure think it is a more apt cover for Coehlo's story than their current cover, but what do I know.

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Understanding Obama

Great piece by Ishmael Reed in the NY Times on the need for progressives to understand Obama:
One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

staying put

Slept in the same bed for a whole week. First time since Taiwan, which was many moons ago, that I have been so stationary.

Reality Check

Tom Friedman has a great piece on the necessary wake-up call for the Israelis and Palestinians:
Oil is to Saudi Arabia what unconditional American aid and affection are to Israel — and what unconditional Arab and European aid and affection are to the Palestinians: a hallucinogenic drug that enables them each to think they can defy the laws of history, geography and demography. It is long past time that we stop being their crack dealers. At a time of nearly 10 percent unemployment in America, we have the Israelis and the Palestinians sitting over there with their arms folded, waiting for more U.S. assurances or money to persuade them to do what is manifestly in their own interest: negotiate a two-state deal. Shame on them, and shame us. You can’t want peace more than the parties themselves, and that is exactly where America is today. The people running Israel and Palestine have other priorities. It is time we left them alone to pursue them — and to live with the consequences.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I hate football!

Watch this video of my friend and superagent Markari Goldoman's client Ryan Mathews cheer up a frantic little Chargers fan on the Jimmy Kimmel Show

Rockstar hostel- Wandering Paisa

My buddy Che Miles just opened a hostel in Medellin.  The place looks awesome, I can't wait to meander my way down.  If you are on your way to Colombia, be sure to check out the Wandering Paisa Hostel in Medellin.  Tell Che Miles that Don Pablo sent you for the pd discount ;)

KL is a fine city

There is a t-shirt in Singapore that says, "Singapore is a fine city" on the front; on the back it lists all the things you can get fined for.  I almost ran into such business here in KL today, I will explain.

So I was walking to a big wholesale shopping center to get an alarm clock (haven't needed one of those in months).  I was smoking a clove, shame on me, I know.  I flicked my clove and was about to enter the store, when a fellow came up to me flashing an IDcard.  He claimed to be worker with the KL city government and said I had littered.  I walked over, picked up the butt and put it in the trash.  He then demanded to see my passport and said I had to pay a fine for littering, to which I said no way.  He said he would take me over to his supervisor desk, and I said please do so because I don't know if this is a scam.

I was escorted over to a table of people with similar id cards and a little book of fines.  He began to show me all the other foreigners who had to pay fines for littering.  I balked, saying this was BS.  I pointed to all the other butts in the area, and asked if they fined all of them too.  I tried to get up to leave, but he grabbed my bag and was holding on.  I calmly said that I was not touching him and I would appreciate if he didn't touch me.

I sat back down and we continued talking.  He explained that they were cracking down on litterers and that I would have to pay 30 ringgit (about $10).  I opened my wallet to show I only had 5 ringgit.  I asked if he could just cane me instead.  He gave me a spiel about coming to countries and respecting their laws.  I calmly replied that I had no idea that I could be fined for it.

I said that in Singapore or Bangkok, I knew that they would fine me because there were signs.  I asked him to show me a sign that would let me know that I could be fined for such things.  He said that there had been a media campaign about the effort, to which I replied that I hadn't been watching Malaysian television.  He said that they were trying to get people to respect KL.  I replied with a gush of how much I loved KL and Malaysia, and if I had known I would have not littered.  He asked what I did and I explained about PD.

When he started haranguing me for my "aggressive behavior," I calmly replied that I was being careful of a scam.  I pulled out my drivers licence and asked that if he were in a foreign country and I walked up to him, not in uniform, and waved an ID and asked to see his passport, would he trust me?  I apologized if  I came off as aggressive, I was merely trying to make sure the situation was legitimate.  I said, "I am listening to you and can appreciate what it is that you are doing, please listen to me in that I wasn't trying to be aggressive just trying to figure out the truth."  I stayed calm and cool and flexed the PD charm well enough to talk my way out of a fine.  I got a stern warning, to which I said thanks and left.  Let this be a warning to you as well!

Friday, December 10, 2010

American PD successes and fails in India

Amazing juxtaposition of pd praise for Obama and America as seen in the USC CPD blog, with the ability to mess it all up with the ambassador pat-down debacle.

The South's Secession Commemoration

Have a watch of this Daily Show piece on the South's 150th Anniversary of Secession.  So funny, so sad.  Thanks Harry.

Spice Island Gastrodiplomacy

I have a new oped on Indonesian Gastrodiplomacy in the Boston Jakarta Globe. A poor man's Tom Friedman, with an emphasis on poor. Or perhaps a fat man's....

Here's a taste:
In many ways, Indonesia is the perfect country to engage in gastrodiplomacy. It was Indonesia’s spice island bounty that helped initiate the European age of discovery and brought hungry colonials to Indonesia’s shores.

In more recent years, Indonesia started its own gastrodiplomacy campaign in the United States, with the Indonesian Embassy initiating a Restaurant Task Force in 2008 to help promote Indonesian restaurants and raise the awareness of its rich culinary bounty. Moreover, the success of the book and movie “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert helped highlight Indonesia’s culinary treasures.

As such, now is the perfect time for Indonesia to initiate a robust gastrodiplomacy campaign.

Indonesian favorites like nasi goreng , sate and dishes associated with masakan Padang (Padang food) could all be gastrodiplomacy hits abroad.

For the wide swaths of Americans who don’t travel abroad, it is through culinary experiences that they often discover other parts of the world. My travels in Indonesia introduced me to some local flavors that could be favorites for a gastrodiplomacy campaign in the United States.

Good public diplomacy pays attention to local culture to find ways to share something foreign and introduces it through a more familiar access point to the local culture.

In this regard, cities like Los Angeles are full of popular fruit carts of Latin American extraction that offer slices of mango, papaya, cucumber, watermelon and jicama covered in chili, salt and lime.

While I was in Solo, I found serut, the tasty concoction of shredded mango, papaya, cucumber and jicama, covered in chili and red sugar molasses, and immediately thought of how Indonesia could market its own version of the fruit cart. Or Indonesia could promote dishes like martabak. The tasty roti cani dough filled with ground beef, eggs, red onions and shallots, and served with chilies and pickled carrots and cucumbers could be the perfect recipe for Indonesia to take advantage of the growing food truck craze that has been sweeping across America. Other local favorites like the batter-covered, deep-fried tofu could be a delicious gastrodiplomacy snack that could be Indonesia’s answer to KFC. Meanwhile, the delicious ginger bandrek could be Indonesia’s hot beverage answer to increasingly popular imported drinks in the United States like Argentine mate and Indian masala chai .

With Indonesia’s initial Restaurant Task Force project, it has already shown an understanding for the ability to use its cuisine to serve as a forward cultural diplomacy outpost. A robust culinary-based public diplomacy campaign could be the key to help Indonesia enhance its long-standing reputation as an exotic culinary locale.

Such efforts to engage in gastrodiplomacy can ultimately increase Indonesia’s brand reputation as it tempts global audiences with its variety of delicious delicacies.

Speaking of Indonesia, check out this month's PDiN Monitor on Obama's visit to Indonesia.