Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sunset 2011

The year began in an auspicious fashion, dancing in the revelry of the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan.  In search of a visa that would take me to the inverted pyramid that is India, I was smack in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.   The New Year's day revelry came and went, and I was on my way to Bangkok by way of ferry to Surat Thani and night bus into Bangkok.  I arrived to Bangkok in the early hours of the morn and found my way to the farangbang ghetto that is Koh San Road.  Bangkok let me do a lil Thai gastrodiplomacy, as I lived on yellow curry, red bull, papaya salad and pad thai.  I felt the presence of my Nanny from years past as I got my Shivisa for my bday.  

From Bangkok


I got out Bangkok's brawl and on to the old imperial capital Ayutthaya for some crumbled stupas and safron-wrapped buddhas.

From Ayutthaya
I  returned and ended the extension of my Tradewinds chapter, and I headed on to the massive subcontinent.  I arrived in the late of night, to cold weather I scarcely expected.  The maruti sped out of the airport, and a Hindi high-pitched song welcomed my return to India.

I arrived to Delhi to work with INDIA Future of Change to push Indian public diplomacy in new directions.  I stayed in under the auspices of one Venkat, a friend and a mensch with little compare.   And I ate delicious curries, spicy chilies and sweet almond paste squares with their silver sliver still on.  

While in India, I went on barefoot pilgrimages that brought me close to the face the Muse and her truths.  I visited sprawling literature festivals in cities of pink.  I hobnobbed with the Indian high class over polo, and I ate street food with the street (shaved too).  I bathed in holy lakes, and dipped my toes in holy rivers.  And I watched a holy victory in the cricket world cup, and danced on car rooftops in the center of Delhi.

India changed me, and my gastrodiplomacy habits as well, as I became a vegetarian- something that has remained with me a year on.  India I love with little compare.  It is a full onslaught, but it is brimming with such warmth and excitement that it is without equal.

From Rishikesh

But all dreams need to end, and I left Hindustan to return to Ihla Formosa.  My return to Taiwan proved in some ways more meaningful and fulfilling in the short spell than the entire previous chapter.  I got to see the mark I left on the little island.  And I garnered what seemed to be some truths that I have been trying, in fits and starts, to implement since I returned.

I returned to the PNW, to stay with my little sister in the Emerald City.  That proved a tad tricky, and I cut my stay short and returned to bounce around my former haunts in Lalaland.

That proved to be a wonderful time of seeing a world that was once mine, but no longer.  I played the Phantom of Annenberg, and stopped in to witness graduations.  

From Lalaland, I returned to fair Washington.  My return proved a tad tricky as well.  I bounced around the city, networking and building a network.  This worked to varying degrees.  I found a bit of what I was looking for not to exist, so I worked on making alternative arrangements.  Things that started off well, trickled to a slow pace and I descended into limbo.  

Limbo proved difficult as I found myself occupying a world not my own.  I saved a pound of gold, but it cost a pound of flesh from my own psyche.  But the stint in suburbia had its own rewards such as spending a lot of quality time with family, and I put things in place to help me move forward.  I started a new job that practically had my name written on it.  I began as Director of Communications for American Voices, and hit the ground running on our projects of cultural diplomacy.  And I have a few things in the works that have longer-term designs in focus.  

While it started off in an immaculate fashion, 2011 did not prove to be as exciting as some of the years passed.  If you asked me where I would be at the end of 2011, I can't say I expected to be living in DC.  I can't say yet if I am happy with this, but I am happier at present, and willing to give some more time and patience to see if  But 2011 did seem to offer some steps forward, and I guess that is positive as well.  2012 starts off as a year of process and also some potential.

I will conclude the year with a poem I purchased at the poem store upon my return to Seattle, to America.  The words still resonate with me today:


Yeats
Sudden end to verse, sudden
end to the roads we travel,
the dust kicked up, the thread
unraveled.  There is a bell,
it is brass, it sounds
as long as the verses last,
but the echo carries on;
line to line, page to page,
further along.  Hushed figure
on the road.  Retreating,
but not gone.

-M. Clark
Poem Store
April, 2011

Let Poland be Poland

Former VOA Associate Director for Central Programming Ted Lipien has a nice piece in his blog on Let Poland be Poland, and he quotes my work on the program.  He even writes about it in Polish below the English.  What a multilingual week I am having. First it was Dutch, now Polish.  Dzięki, Ted!

Friday, December 30, 2011

White Blank Pages

On the last working day of the year, I am forever reminded of the scene from Buenos Aires of the pages of old day planners ripped out and thrown out the windows of office buildings across the city.  The pages fluttered down like leaves on the breeze, or white butterflies gently riding the wind.  

Make Chai, Not War

In one of the more original PD ventures, the State Dept is sending an Indian-American comedy troupe to India for some comedic public diplomacy.  The Make Chai, Not War tour is set to kick off in January and will visit a number of Indian cities.  State's spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated:
"The reason we decided to support this tour is because, among the things that they are known for is their talk about religious tolerance, about the importance of breaking down prejudices and about the positive experiences they had growing up as Indian-Americans in the United States."
I love the idea.  I wonder if State ever considered sending the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour on pd rounds as well.

It kinda reminds me of the movie "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World"



(which, admittedly, I never saw)

PS: There is another Muslim comedy tour, "The Muslims are coming" that has been touring through the heartland of America doing some great comedic outreach to explain the Muslim community.  Nice find, JB.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Santorum Surge

While Santorum might be Latin for "anus," I am pleased to see that my political perceptions are spot on.  Over the summer, I called both the rise of Gingrich (and his expected fall too) and the rise of Santorum as my dark horse in the Republican race (at least in Iowa). So it appears that Santorum has picked up some "big mo" in Iowa.  That frothy mix of a politician has whined enough about his lack of coverage, that perhaps Iowans felt sorry for that louse.

No Shabbat this week in Samoa

There is a fascinating case of a disappearing friday in Samoa this week.  Samoa is officially moving to the other side of the international date line, and will be losing Friday December 30, 2011.  No one will be born or die on this day, it will simply not exist.  Curios to know how this affects shabbat.

Operation: Eat Our Food

I was interviewed today about gastrodiplomacy by DePers, a major Dutch newspaper.  Specifically, about Indonesian gastrodiplomacy to Holland. That is a fascinating case of the colony returning to influence the former colonial master.  To be sure, Indonesia has had a major effect on Dutch cuisine (see under: peanut sauce for frittes).  I am wondering if my op-ed in the Jakarta Globe had a little effect on the Indonesian decision to embark on gastrodiplomacy.  Anywho, here is the DePeers article thrown through the google translator (note, def not a perfect translation, but my Dutch is no good):

Operation: Eat Our Food
by Camile Driessen
Forget mysterious conversations embassies. Culinary Diplomacy is the new way to power. Countries are investing tens of millions in their own restaurants abroad.

After ping-pong and panda diplomacy is the newest form of influence from Asia. It's called gourmet or culinary diplomacy and is used by more and more countries. Yesterday announced the new Indonesian ambassador in The Hague to put in a lot of culinary diplomacy in Europe. Netherlands is the base for the Indonesian operations. The aim is to promote Indonesian culture and the economy a boost. Hearts and Minds rendang and gado gado win. Nice idea, but the Indonesians are not the first.

"Thailand has started," says "gastronomist" Paul Rockower the phenomenon studied and regularly publishes on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. The Thai government introduced in 2002, the Global Programme to the number of Thai restaurants abroad to raise considerably. The aim was to make Thai food more popular, attracting more tourists and subtle relationships with other countries to strengthen. "The Thai campaign has so far been most successful, the kitchen has gone from exotic to mainstream and has given a boost tourism," observes Rockower.
Soft power
Culinary diplomacy used by countries to increase their soft power. That is to influence others through attraction rather than coercion. The cultural dominance of the U.S. through Hollywood is an example. Measuring political power in international relations often depends on hard power (military influence) and soft power (including economic, diplomatic and cultural influence). The idea is that countries seeking the right mix of soft and hard power to their power in the world to expand.

Culinary diplomacy is used by countries to create sympathy for their culture and act as a special mark on the map. "This leads to such successful nation branding to increase your soft power," says Rockower.

Meanwhile, many countries with its own culinary diplomacy unofficial nicknames like Kimchi diplomacy (South Korea) and Dim Sum Diplomacy (Taiwan). Even Peru is trying its brand around the local cuisine to be built under the title "Cocina Peruana para todo el mundo, Guinea-diplomacy so.

But the most ambitious countries in the Far East. South Korea began in 2009, the "Korean Cuisine to the World 'campaign aims at showing the number of Korean restaurants abroad to have quadrupled by 2017 to 40,000. It attracts tens of millions of dollars.

Taiwan also nice hammering on the road. The main goal is to people the difference between China and Taiwain clarify and to shake off the image that only LCD monitors and other electronic junk out of the country.

Taiwan set up including a culinary think tank and flying chefs the world over that as many culinary competitions to win. As Taiwanese restaurants are concerned is used for maximum exposure. These should mainly foreign malls and airports open.

Of course, even China is not behind. Plenty of Chinese restaurants you think. Here, but not in Latin America. Hence, the Chinese government in collaboration with business and restaurant owners is working to make Chinese food to promote. So they sent this year, including five of the country's best chefs to Chile to sixty emigrant Chinese chefs to train. A similar program exists in Costa Rica.
ChangJie Dong of China's State Council this year was clear about the goal: "The Chinese cuisine, with its eye-catching colors, irresistible fragrance and rich taste, can help the Chinese culture spread abroad." This is useful if you are strategic economic and political interests trying to build.
Pyongyang restaurant
South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, that they have any success with their international diplomatic offensives have given the kitchen even understand. They have also written a neighboring country which inspired an impressive kitchen is not exactly the first thing on your mind. North Korea is doing well now because of culinary diplomacy and is busy rolling out the state Pyongyang chain restaurants. Offices are now in Dubai including, Cambodia, Bangkok, China, Laos and Indonesia.
Nice surprise: Amsterdam is the next fortress. There is already a Dutch website to open restaurant in Chinatown. Which promises traditional North Korean songs and dishes such as hot stone and hot noodles. "For people who have ever visited North Korea will feel like a return to Korea."

Subaltern Gazan Break

The Bridge

I have been saying for a little while that the most important relationship in the 21st century is that of India and China, and making sure they stay on amiable terms.  Singapore gets this, and continues to play the bridge between the two titans of Asia.  I have a feeling this will become a niche for Singapore, and an avenue for Singaporean public diplomacy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monte Pleasant

In Taipei, I battled cockroaches; in Delhi, it was mice. I will triumph over the biohazard that is my kitchen.  I will need to exert a little soft power to keep the kitchen clean, but I think I can manage.

So in short, I am settling in nicely to my new environs.  I was not doing well in limbo.  The pound of gold saved was costing me a pound of flesh out of my dignity, and I was getting depressed morose.  I thought perhaps the rainy day perhaps portended that I made an ill-advised and rash call to get myself out of limbo, but the giant arco-iris that followed the rains made me think that providence might indeed approve.  This was a silly arc, stretching up and down in perfect form as if a pot o' gold awaited in U street and in Piney Branch.  The setting skies blazed pink and gold.

The new place has potential if I can fix up some of the lackluster things like the toxic kitchen.  While I was expecting to work in the living room during the day, apparently another roomie has already staked his claim.  So it goes.  My room is spacious, and I have a nice bay window to constitute my corner office view.  This is the first room I felt comfortable working in, and I can always escape the barrio outside.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mi Barrio

Now that I am out of limbo, I am back to my favorite hobby: blogging about what I occupies my time and my stomach. But I'll get there.

I made a tour of the barrio today, doing some grocery shopping in my little Korean-owned latin grocery.  All sorts of fun products like salvadorean cheeses and creams, loroco and nopales.  Nice to get cheap produce again, although as I am finding, DC is f'ing expensive- I think it is more expensive than LA.

Anyway, I wandered around Columbia Heights, and down 16th street to Meridian Hill (Malcolm X Park).  I didn't realize that Meridian Hill referred to its location as a prime meridian point.  I walked down to U St, then made my way back up.  As I had been walking down, I passed by the Swiss Embassy, and noticed that it was home to the Cuban interest section aka the Cuban Embassy.  This being DC, on my way back, there was a rally taking place outside.  The protesters were out to show their support for Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for having the temerity to bring internet equipment to la isla.   For crimes against the Castro state, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison.  He was expected to be released in the amnesty wave of 2,900 prisoners let go ahead of the papal visit, but unfortunately was not on the rolls.  There was a nice size protest outside chanting "Free Alan," and I ran into some old family friends, the Ackmans, who have a bit of a personal connection to the case as they know the family well.

After joining the rally for a bit, I returned to Mt. Pleasant to hang in Heller's Bakery- a MP landmark, and munch a delicious flaky cherry turnover.  The afternoon involved more wandering, down to Adams Morgan and back up to the local pupusaria for dinner.  O' pupusas, how you pupus so good.  I scarfed down some delicious loroco and frijol-filled gooey cheese masas messes that are pupusas.  The accordion on the jukebox and the spanish in the air made me feel like I was on the road again, back down in Salvador or some other former adventure.  

Leaving Limbo

From Mount Pleasant, the tree branches framed the cathedral on the hill.  Dead, desiccated branch spires wove around the cathedral's masts in a perfect frame.  Don Pablo Quijote hath finally broken free from his suburban shackles and left limbo; I have a new residence in DC, in the Mt. Pleasant barrio.  Luv my new Salvadorean neighbors.

The return to La Mancha lingered on far longer than was expected.  Poor Alfonso Quijano was feeling hemmed in as if his adventures had been flights of fancy.  But a change of scenery should do this knight errant well.  It's interesting that I have finally brought something into fruition that I once thought I wanted; now, I have the capacity to fully judge that thought to see if it was just a nice idea at a different place and time, or is a real bona fide thought.  Or perhaps the Christmas notion to that thought: it doesn't matter where you are, you can find the kingdom of heaven everywhere.




Friday, December 23, 2011

Havel

"Words that are not backed up by life lose their weight, which means that words can be silenced in two ways: either you ascribe such weight to them that no one dares utter them aloud, or you take away any weight they might have, and they turn into air.  The final effect in each case is silence: the silence of the half-mad man who is constantly writing appeals to world authorities while everyone ignores him; and the silence of the Orwellian citizen."
-Vaclav Havel

When I was studying in Prague, I had the opportunity to see Havel.  It was right after the 9/11 attacks, at the Forum2k summit.  Amid a bevy of Nobel prize winners and other leading global luminaries, Havel's presence still loomed large.  Despite his diminutive stature, he carried the tremendous weight and soft power of moral authority.  I remember distinctly watching Havel, Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel slip away together to chat.  I was the only one besides their security to see the three men disappear, and I sighed at the thought of being a fly on the wall in that room.

Havel was among the few bohemian leaders who remained rooted to the world we inhabit.  It will be quite a while until a man like him graces us again.

Hanukkah in Kerala

PRI has an interesting story on the vanishing Jews of Kerala

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ba'al Zichronot

The title meaning "master of memories."

Don Pablo Quijote made the mistake of wandering through the basement of old lives, and found some amazing remnants of former adventures.  A bottle filled with the brackish water from the Cape of Good Hope; a film canister filled with the sands of the Sahara; a mortar and pestle for caiparinhas from Carnival.  One should always be careful when descending into the murky recesses of memory.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The King of Albania

O' the house of Zogu.  I giggle every time I read about King Zog.  The WSJ has a story about succession in Albania's royal family.

NK-NJ BBQ Diplomacy

The NYTimes has an interview with the unofficial North Korean rep in New Jersey on the death of Kim Jong-Il, a fellow who owns a bbq joint often frequented by North Korean diplomats.  Gastrodiplomacy at its finest.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mexico: not under siege....

The Washington Post travel section has a great article on Mexico and perceptions vs. realities of safety related to the tourism industry:

“There’s a big gap between perception and reality,” says Margot Lee Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native who relocated to Mexico with her husband six years ago. “It’s a real shame for people to write off a whole country without looking at the map and at the statistics.”
Without a solid understanding of the geography (761,606 square miles) and the nature of the drug wars (internecine fighting), many foreigners assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. But it isn’t. “The episodes of violence are in very specific pockets,” says Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of the Mexico Tourism Board, “and are unrelated to tourism.”
For proof, Lopez-Negrete rolls out the statistics, derived from a combination of government and non-government sources: Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than 5 percent, have been affected by the drug war, which accounts for only 3 percent of all crime.
Mexican cities are also safer than some urban centers north of the border: Mexico City, for example, has 8.3 homicides a year per 100,000 people. That’s fewer than Miami (14.1) and Chicago (16.1). On a global scale, Mexico is safer than many of its neighbors. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported Mexico’s homicide rate as 11.6 per 100,000, significantly lower than Honduras (60.9), Jamaica (59.5) or El Salvador (51.8).


Friday, December 16, 2011

All-American Bigotry

I posted a while back about the show All-American Muslim, a reality show about Muslim-American life in Dearborn, Michigan.  I loved the concept, and thought it would make for great public diplomacy.

Well, the agents of intolerance balked at portraying Muslims as anything less than radical jihadis, so they unleashed their own jihad at advertisers who were associated with the program.  Lowe's and other advertisers subsequently backed away in a particularly feckless fashion.

 Jon Stewart's response to this mess was priceless .


The funny thing about all this controversy is that it becomes more instructive of the nature of the American Radical Right and their own jihadist tendencies than anything about American Muslims.

In the end, I was reminded of the project My Fellow American, and the importance of such a project to show that Muslim-Americans are a vital part of the American mosaic.  

A death in the family

I was saddened to see that Christopher Hitchens passed away.  I had a tremendous amount of respect for his brilliance and eloquence.  My friend Daron posted this piece by Hitchens, I thought it was one of his more poignant: A Death in the Family

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

American Music Abroad Vid


The Educational and Cultural Bureau of the U.S. State Dept just put out an excellent video on the American Music Abroad program.

 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sugarcane

A few years ago, when I was trekking from LA to Panama, I stumbled across the Flor De Cana protests in Managua, Nicaragua led by workers suffering from chronic renal kidney failure. That led me to contact with La Isla Foundation, which fights on behalf of the workers and families affected.  La Isla Foundation has done a wonderful job bringing the workers' plight to global attention, including helping get out stories on I-Watch News, and on PRI's The World.  Keep up the good fight, La Isla Foundation!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cultural Diplomacy Idol

Think you have what it takes to be a Cultural Diplomacy Rock Star? Apply for the new American Music Abroad program.  Yes, we have officially announced the call for applications.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

UM-Shmoom

Life can be kind of funny. About a week after I started my present job, I got a letter from the UN inviting me to take a test for its Young Professionals Program in the area of public information. If you had asked me what I wanted to do after I got my Master's, my standard answer was "to work for the UN."  Here was my chance to do public diplomacy for the UN; yet here I am invited to take a test to allow me into the UN and I am not taking it.

 It was a hard decision, but I decided ultimately it wasn't where I saw as the direction my career path leading. The job would have kept me tied to the practitioner's side of public diplomacy, whereas I think my future is more on the academic side.  Meanwhile, if I got the job, it would have some serious effects on my present project and future plans.  Furthermore, I have had some recent glimpses with hulking bureaucracy, and I don't think I want to tangle with one as massive as the UN.

I had decided I wasn't going to take the test, but was vacillating back-and-forth about the decision. Here I was presented with an opportunity to accomplish something I previously thought that I wanted, only to watch it pass by from afar. I just kept wondering if I would regret not taking the test, as I always find that I regret more the things I didn't do than the things I did.

Ultimately, I did enough homework into the background of the test and found out it was really for an entry-level position. Thanks UN, but I am not starting at the bottom of your byzantine labyrinth, I will just have find another way into the halls of Turtle Bay.

 PS: The title of the blog comes from the Ben Gurion's famous dismissal of the international body. After a one-sided resolution, Ben Gurion reportedly said "um-shmoom." "Um" is the pronunciation of the UN in hebew, "shmoom" means "nothing."

PPS: I have a funny story about my friend Beth Meshel storming the UNGA for anyone interested.

"We're not a country of snake charmers"

The Indian newspaper Mid-Day has a great profile of INDIA Future of Change and its nationbranding efforts, under an immaculate headline.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Dog Bites Car

Paul Krugman has a phenomenal op-ed on what ails the Republican presidential nominees, what ails Republican voters, and perhaps what ails the Republic: send in the clueless.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

I am not SPAM

So I have been having a somewhat unsuccessful search for a place to live. I had been using Craig's List to find a new abode, and was having little luck. I must have sent 60 emails, and I couldn't figure out why I was getting so few responses. Until I found out that I was using a word in my reply that was a major flag word: "advert." On top of my somewhat varied background (living in India, Taiwan; working w/ Iraq, Afghanistan, etc), I was apparently tripping major spam filters. So that explains why no one was replying to my earnest attempts at finding a dwelling.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Down the Nile

Still early to tell, but the elections in Egypt were worrisome. The 40 percent for the Muslim Bros, I expected and could handle but the other 25 percent for the Salafis is troubling. We shall see who ends up in government and outside. The Muslim Brotherhood has been walking a cautious line and distancing themselves from the Salafis. If the MB can consolidate with the liberals, things might be ok. But naysayers may have been right about the titanic effects of the fall of Mubarak on Egypt and the region.

And then he gave him some silver candlesticks

An amazing story about what we live by.

Collaborative Power

Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter of  Princeton has a fascinating article on theoretical and practical notions collaborative power:
I will call it collaborative power and define it as the power of many to do together what no one can do alone. Consider the power of water. Each drop is harmless; enough drops together create a tsunami that can level a landscape.
Collaborative power can take many forms. The first is mobilization; to exercise collaborative power through not a command but a call to action. The second form is connection. In contrast to the relational power method of narrowing and controlling a specific set of choices, collaborative power is exercised by broadening access to the circle of power and connecting as many people to one another and to a common purpose as possible. A third form (many more dimensions of collaborative power will likely emerge) is adaptation. Instead of seeking to structure the preferences of others, those who would exercise collaborative power must be demonstrably willing to shift their own views enough to enter into meaningful dialogue with others. The first step toward persuading others is often an evident and sincere willingness to be persuaded yourself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

They call me...Mr. X

The New York Review of Book has a great review of the new book on George Kennan.  Brings me back to my days at Yohuru's history class at Edmond Burke, where I diagrammed the Cold War out of ice cream:  french vanilla, milanos, and heath bars on one side of the Hershey's Syrup Curtain, and pink Cherry Garcia as the USSR.  

Gay Marriage and Equal Rights

This is a a stirring and poignant defense of gay marriage fr the son of a lesbian couple in Iowa

 I have had a complicated view on gay marriage. I always said that if it was about rights, then I was all for it, but if it was about defining marriage, I had a harder time supporting it. I tried to have a little nuance in an issue I am finding not very easy to hold a nuanced position about. My position is evolving because I am not finding any middle ground anymore.   If marriage as a religious covenant between a man and a woman, then I am not sure if I support that being applied to a same-sex couple.  If there was an option for civil unions, I would prefer it. But that middleground doesn't often seem available, and if it comes down to being for or against gay marriage, then I have to side with being for it.  If this is about an issue of rights, then to me that trumps other considerations and I support it.

Last Dictator Standing

Hysterical Nando's commercial! Although, apparently Mugabe's cronies didn't find it so funny.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fishing

"Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank and he can rob the world." -? via JW

Monday, November 28, 2011

Muslim Democrats

As Egypt goes to the polls, following Tunisia and Morocco's elections (and as Libya transforms), a fascinating wave is possibly overtaking the Middle East.  Not in the manner of the war and occupation of Iraq, but rather this homegrown, organic wave of change that is shaking the calcified foundations of the Middle East.  The question has always been whether the Middle East can fashion a party of Muslim Democrats along the lines of the Christian Democrats of Germany.  The answer is still yet to be determined, but with the help of the Arab Spring, of Qatar and Al-Jazeera, of Turkey's Ak Party and perhaps with the help of the quiet diplomacy of the Obama administration, we may find out.


Call Central

The NYTimes reported that the Philippines overtook India as the capital of call centers.  Interestingly, the article notes that this came about because of culture, not wages:
Executives say the growth was not motivated by wage considerations. Filipino call center agents typically earn more than their Indian counterparts ($300 a month, rather than $250, at the entry level), but executives say they are worth the extra cost because American customers find them easier to understand than they do Indian agents, who speak British-style English and use unfamiliar idioms. Indians, for example, might say, “I will revert on the same,” rather than, “I will follow up on that.”
It helps that Filipinos learn American English in the first grade, eat hamburgers, follow the N.B.A. and watch the TV show “Friends” long before they enter a call center. In India, by contrast, public schools introduce British English in the third grade, only the urban elite eat American fast food, cricket is the national pastime and “Friends” is a teaching aid for Indian call center trainers. English is an official language in both countries.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

On truth and distance

"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." - Mark Twain

Rising Power PD

Prof. Robin Brown of University of Leeds has a very interesting article about Brazil's public diplomacy challenges as a rising power, given the growing apprehensions of its neighbors.  I wrote a bit about Brazilian consensual hegemony and its attempts to use soft power to "soften" its rise regionally.  I am quite interested to explore the topic of rising power pd further.

With great examples found in China, Brazil, India and Germany (and Japan in the 1980s), there is ample wonky pd fun to be had.  I have been kicking around a working concept of what rising power (or emerging power) public diplomacy entails, and how it differs from the public diplomacy of middle powers.  It is kind of a middle power+ pd strategy, that relies on a broader version of niche diplomacy, a more pronounced approach to soft power projection and a consensual hegemony model of projecting value and utility.  Perhaps it could be mixed in with conceptualization of the public diplomacy of regional hegemons, and then I could include South Africa or Nigeria into the mix.  Sounds like some fun stuff I will get to work on for PhD research.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On Obama and context

Nick Kristof has a great op-ed on a lil perspective on the Obama presidency and his chances for re-election:
President Obama came into office with expectations that Superman couldn’t have met. Many on the left believed what the right feared: that Obama was an old-fashioned liberal. But the president’s cautious centrism soured the left without reassuring the right.
Like many, I have disappointments with Obama. He badly underestimated the length of this economic crisis, and for a man with a spectacular gift at public speaking, he has been surprisingly inept at communicating. But as we approach an election year, it is important to acknowledge the larger context: Obama has done better than many critics on the left or the right give him credit for.
He took office in the worst recession in more than half a century, amid fears of a complete economic implosion. As The Onion, the satirical news organization, described his election at the time: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.”
The administration helped tug us back from the brink of economic ruin. Obama oversaw an economic stimulus that, while too small, was far larger than the one House Democrats had proposed. He rescued the auto industry and achieved health care reform that presidents have been seeking since the time of Theodore Roosevelt.
Despite virulent opposition that has paralyzed the government, Obama bolstered regulation of the tobacco industry, signed a fair pay act and tightened control of the credit card industry. He has been superb on education, weaning the Democratic Party from blind support for teachers’ unions while still trying to strengthen public schools.
In foreign policy, Obama has taken a couple of huge risks. He approved the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and despite much criticism he led the international effort to overthrow Muammar el-Qaddafi. So far, both bets are paying off.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Jesus Saves

And so does Northern Europe.  America spends.  Moses invests.

Thanksgiven & Black Friday

I am thankful that tofurky was better than expected. Ok, it wasn't exactly tofurky but rather Quorn Turk'y Roast.   It actually kinda tasted like turkey and had a consistency that wasn't too far off, especially when slathered in all the trimmings.  And I made some ginger garlic mashed potatoes that were money.  But the upside of the faux turkey was that when everyone was in a tryptophan coma, I was still awake.

Meanwhile, Black Friday is a reminder why the 1% will reign forever.  


Watching the people fight over Walmart crap, I was reminded of watching mindless carp fight for food.

From Down Vietnam, by way of Hue

PS: Since my faux turkey was made by a company that sounds like Quran, now is a perfect time to bring up the lunacy of the American Right Wing and their anti-Islamic rants.  Apparently, the rabid Muslim-haters like Pamela Geller and her ilk are incensed that Butterball turkeys are halal.  Sacrificed in the NAME OF ALLAH!  More like an issue sacrificed in the name of gobble.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Tofurky Day!

Thanksgiving is always my favorite holiday.  No rampant commercialism or bubbling patriotism, just food and family.  This marks my first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian.  I was having a bit of a veggie existential crisis over whether I would make a Thanksgiving exception and eat the bird or opt for faux turkey.  I ultimately decided that I would  remain meat-free and got some strange faux turkey log.  Given that last year I was in Sumatra eating steak and durian for turkey day, I am used to going without the traditional bird.  In any case, Happy Thanksgiving to all.  I will close out this entry with a great story about Butterballs in Baghdad.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fox and Facts

"If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed." ~Mark Twain

Apparently if you watch Fox News, you are less informed than if those who don't watch any news. A new Fairleigh Dickinson poll found Fox News watchers to be less informed than those who watch no news at all.

stuck in the bizarre bazaar

Fouad Ajami has a great piece on the folly that is our continued business with Karzai.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Iron Chef Meets Afghanistan

Check out this promo for "59 Minute Duel," an Iron Chef-like cooking competition that pairs Afghan and American chefs. The US PAO in Afghanistan was the judge.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Forgottonia

Forgottonia: the lost 51st state,  Capital: Fandon.  No zip code though.  

Wall St

Gekko: The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons – and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now, you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you, buddy? It's the free market. And you're a part of it. You've got that killer instinct. Stick around, pal, I've still got a lot to teach you.

Protocols of the Elders of Boise

The spud council and the tomato paste lobby flexed their muscles and killed meaningful attempts to fix school lunch.   Gastrodiplomacy gone wrong. Sad. Such is our state.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lost Angels

My feelings about this weirdly inflated village in which I had come to make my home (haunted by memories of a boyhood spent in the beautiful mountain parks, the timberbline country, of northwestern Colorado), suddenly changed after I had lived in Los Angeles for seven long years of exile. I have never been able to discover any apparent reason for this swift and startling conversion, but I do associate it with a particular occasion. 

The dog riding the bus made me know I was back in Lalaland. Amid the perpetual state of perfect weather, the gaggle of languages overheard, the multitudes of crazies gesticulating in crosswalks and the babbling homeless wafting chronic smoke into fair Pershing Square, I considered the strangest of cities I have encountered, one that I once called home. This pacific paradise that I find less than pacific.  Semper Loco.

I had spent an extremely active evening in Hollywood and had been deposited toward morning, by some kind soul, in a room at the Biltmore Hotel. Emerging the next day from the hotel to the painfully bright sunlight, I started the rocky pilgrimage through Pershing Square to my office in a state of miserable decrepitude.

Filled with memories, foods that I love and friends that I cherish, this city will always have a place in my heart. I relished the multitude of diversity found on the quiet commuter bus speeding down Wilshire. I heartily enjoyed bowls of Persian osh with Diddy Reece cookies sandwiches for dessert, or Ethiopian injera as the sweet smell of burning cardamom filled the Fairfax ave strip, or the soyrizo scramble at Swinger’s dinner, or the frou-frou macaroons at Bottega Louis.

 In front of the hotel newsboys were shouting the headlines of the hour: an awful trunk-murder had just been committed; the district attorney had been indicted for bribery; Aimee Semple McPhereson had once again stood the town on its ears by some spectacular caper; a University of Southern California football star had been caught robbing a bank; a love mart had been discovered in the Los Feliz Hills; a motion picture producer had just wired the Egyptian government for a fancy offer for permission to illuminate the pyramids to advertise a forthcoming production; and, in the intervals between these revelations, there was news about another prophet, fresh from the desert, who had predicted the doom of the city, a prediction for which I was morbidly grateful. 

And I welcomed the time spent with friends dear to me from one of the most meaningful periods of my life. The LA that I know is unique and not shared even by those who have spent far more time here.  Part of LA is always with me, even if it isn’t for me.

In the center of the park, a little self-conscious of my evening clothes, I stopped to watch a typical Pershing Square divertissement: an aged and frowsy blonde, skirts held above her knees, cheered by a crowd of grimacing and leering old goats, was singing a gospel hymn as she danced gaily around the fountain. Then it suddenly occurred to me that, in all the world, there neither was nor would ever be another place like this City of the Angels. Here the American people were erupting, like lava from a volcano; here, indeed, was the place for me, a ringside seat at the circus.
-Cary McWilliams in Southern California Country, 1946 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

All-American Muslim

The NYTimes had an interesting story on "All-American Muslim" a reality show on a Muslim-American community in Dearborn.  For what its worth, I would show it on VOA and it will be better public diplomacy than the "Shared Values"   campaign ever was.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

#OCCUPYCLICHE

sorry I want to love the #OCCUPYDC biz, but I wandered through the tent city of tired slogans, yoga and dilapidated kumbaya and was saddened that it just seemed to occupy the full spectrum of cliches.

The Failure that is Bibi

And what Sarkozy said in private-turned-public that reflects the attitude of world leaders to "Statesman Bibi."

Larry Derfner has a good point about it:
The funny thing is that this guy is considered Israel’s Great Communicator – and he is, but with a very, very narrow audience. Republicans, AIPAC-owned Democrats, right-wing Zionists and the uninformed. Everybody else thinks he’s a liar and can’t stand him. A piece of work, our Bibi.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

PD Notes and other stuff

-Iron Man Diplomacy:  Cal Ripken is now a cultural ambassador, and is on his way to the Land o' Rising Sun.  My friend Mike said he should be sent to the Dodgers; he is safer in Baghdad than Chavez Ravine.

-Mexican Taxicab Confessions: Mexico has a great tourism branding campaign: Mexico Taxi Project.  I like it because it is subtle, comes across as semi-authentic and deals with the security issue in a creative fashion.  If only Mexico did public and cultural diplomacy as well as it did tourism pr.

The smart thing about the campaign is that it delivers a message in a voice that is American, and comes across as a little more credible because the voice is recognizable to the target audience.  Meanwhile, the voyeuristic side of eavesdropping adds a little additional credibility.  Britain had a similar voyeuresque tactic for some of their public diplomacy campaigns towards the US during WWII.

-Hiplomacy: Al-Jazeera has a great op-ed on hip hop as American cultural diplomacy.  Some myopic dolt got on his square soapbox at National Review to criticize the smArt Power initiative and hip hop as cultural diplomacy.  Blah blah...hip hop is too ghetto represent American culture, blah blah...graffiti sends the wrong message...blah blah .  Funny that he holds up jazz diplomacy as an example of good cultural diplomacy, when that had its own critiques way back when, who said it was too associated with reefer, the inner city and other degradations of modern society.  Would you prefer we send Pat Boone and Billy Ray Cyrus abroad as cultural ambassadors?

-Finally, I noted that the new Undersec for PD Tara Sonenshine comes from USIP.  If I had my druthers, I would march PD out of State and across the street to #OccupyUSIP.  The new USIPD has a nice ring (or even USIPPD: U.S. Institute for Peace & Public Diplomacy).  And actually, really isn't bad to give PD the ability to think more long-term as USIP is able and willing.  Cultural diplomacy concerts could sure fill up that magnificent Safdie-designed hall.

An outside, independent institution like USIP would be a better model for a long term pd organization.  James Glassman noted that it may represent a shift to medium-term PD rather than long-term PD, but I think I oppose such short-term thinking.  PD must be a long-term endeavor, which is why it needs to be removed from its present home and left to its own devices.   In the Vinick State Dept, where I am Undersec for PD, I would make it so.

Friday, November 04, 2011

public office

Watching the news of late has had me rather depressed about the state of things in America, but this article in the Washington Post on new American immigrants pushing to serve more in public office was a nice reminder why this place will be okay.

New Undersec for PD

A while back I asked a reductio ad absurdum question about the Undersec for PD position, but I am pleased to retract my snark with the new appointment of Tara Sonenshine for the position.  I met Tara a few months back on the morning before she went on sabbatical.  She was kind enough to give me a tour of the beautiful Moshe Safdie-designed USIP building and we had coffee in the atrium.  We had a great chat about public diplomacy, and the people-to-people side that remains so utterly important.  So FWIW, this Undersec for PD for the Vinick State Dept is going to put his kosher/halal stamp on the appointment, because she gets PD.

PS: Thanks to @sarahbmyers for digging up Sonenshine's PD recs to McHale to help back up my PD seal of approval.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Voices of Kurdistan

Meanwhile, I went from 0 to 60 in no time flat.  We have a few other projects going on like a Voices of Kurdistan event on Nov 5th in New York.  Kurdistan takes Manhattan with a bit of music and cultural diplomacy from the Kurdish ensemble Nergez.  The event is a great interfaith event too, as it is being hosted by the Park Avenue Christian Church, and there is a Jewish Ladino singer to join in the festivities.

P2P Engagement through music: American Music Abroad

As I had mentioned before, some of the details concerning my new job were being embargoed.  Embargo gone, and I am pleased to announce on this fair blog, among other places, that American Voices will be partnering with the US State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on the American Music Abroad program.  We are administering the cultural diplomacy program, and are helping to arrange auditions and touring for approximately ten American roots music ensembles.   All sorts of American genres are up for the tour, including hip hop, jazz, blues, bluegrass, zydeco and even indie rock and punk.  Public diplomacy is always of the finest sort when accompanied by a bluegrass banjo.  In short, if you are in an ensemble that plays any kind of American music, do be sure to audition and possibly become the next American cultural diplomacy ambassador!  More details about that coming soon.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

How the mighty have fallen!

"Fair is foul and foul is fair"
-Macbeth

Somehow things have gone backwards.  My parents are off to India while I am slaving away at work and stuck in suburbia tending the house.  They are even visiting my old home at Venkat's Club House! How did this happen?  But I guess it is only fair after all the time they spent reading my tales from India that they should get a turn.  Especially for my Mom's 60th birthday, of which the Taj is a big present.  But I am supremely jealous that they get to visit my dear India while I am not.  My Dad will try to keep a blog: http://drrockower.blogspot.com, but I have a feeling he will quickly learn that India is indescribable.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Posters for the Iron Heel

And other great posters. Nice find, JB. Seeing these, I couldn't but think of the classic "The Iron Heel" by Jack London:.
`This, then, is our answer. We have no words to waste on you. When you reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns will our answer be couched. We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I read history aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power.'

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mascot Diplomacy

There is a great story about the Washington Nationals' mascot Screech visiting with the Taiwanese Ambassador ahead of his trip to Taiwan (xie xie Abba). First, I love the historical irony that the Nationals are sending their mascot to the island of the KMT nationals.  Beyond the historical irony, it is smart public diplomacy all around.

Smart because Taiwan loves the Washington Nationals because the Taiwanese pitcher Chien Ming-Wang is on the club. The Nats' "W" hat was pretty ubiquitous in Taipei, as was Wang jerseys.

Moreover, Screech inadvertently probably wrinkled Chinese feather by referring to his visit with the "Ambassador of Taiwan," which is technically diplomatically incorrect as it messes with the "One Mascot Policy."

Finally, I love it that the Taiwanese Ambassador feted Screech with Taiwanese food, as a further instance of Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Bagels

Tony from Lebanon: "what is this?" me: "it's a bagel & cream cheese." T: "is it like khanafey?" me: "well... it has tehina seeds."

Devil in the Red City

I had a glorious day to myself this sunday, so I headed over to Wash U to explore. On the way, I passed by Forest Park, which is home to the remnants of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, aka the St. Louis World's Fair.  I made my way over to the Missouri History Museum, which had a great exhibition on the event.

I love Expos and World's Fairs for the historical and public diplomacy value found in such events.  From Devil in the White City, I came to learn about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, but I admit I knew little about the one in St. Louis.  The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Expo celebrated the centennial of Jefferson's famous bargain with Bonaparte, and did so in regal fashion.  All sorts of neoclassical structures were built to showcase humanity  at the turn of the century in the realms of agriculture, trade, science and people.

The sprawling display featured all sorts of fascinating expositions like a City of Jerusalem exhibit, for a city still part of the Ottoman Empire.  There was a twice daily reenactment of the Anglo-Boer War with real vets doing battle once again.  And there were a plethora of BBQ tents, hanging under the "Flag of the Red Steer." Speaking of, apparently St. Louis claims that it eats more BBQ than any other city.  Other gastronomic curiosities unleashed at the fair include the ice cream cone, Dr. Pepper (10-2-4) and puffed wheat.

The event was termed an "Invitation to a foreign land," and it really was.  Camels and elephants were brought in to give rides.  Meanwhile, there were some 50 countries with pavilions at the fair.  The museum noted that the German expo had "[a] rich and diverse collection of exhibits to show the progress and aptitude of an imperial nation, showcasing technological advancement and participation in African colonization."

Furthermore, the Japanese and Chinese exhibits were immensely popular for the glimpse they gave to the Far East.  This was the first expo that China participated in, and offered Americans a chance to explore Chinese culture, foods and decorative arts.  Also, Japan participated and was met with much curiosity from an American audience trying to understand the Land of the Rising Sun.  The museum noted that both the Chinese and Japanese pavilions sought to capitalize on the interest in their goods by constructing traditional objects in nontraditional styles with Western influence and style.

I could not but think of the Shanghai Expo I visited last year, and the symbolism of all of it.  An America at the turn of the century that was brimming with promise and confidence, and poised to take on a new century, compared to a country wrestling with malaise and political paralysis, and corporated half-hearted attempts to take its place at the World's Fair.  All of this juxtaposed with a new country projecting its rise and welcoming the world to its shores.

The St. Louis World's Fair also had a real insidious underside that was seeped in imperialism, racism and colonial bigotry.  Over 47 acres  at the fair was a giant Philippines Pavilion to show off America's recently-gained colonial possession.  There were 6 encampments showing off Christian Visayans, Islamic Moros and "pagans" from Igoroto, Negritos and Bogotobo.  The sections were laid out to show off the various "stages of civilization" found, from primitive to Westernized Filipinos.

There was also a significant American Indian theme, that showed "evolutionary representations of cultural progress that led to 'enlightened' civilization."  There were mock Indian reservations held at what is now Wash U with representation from 20 tribes including Lakota Sioux, Osage and Navajo.  At the base were constructed replica dwellings, but towering high above the area was a US Indian school to represent were :Americanization" took place.

In short, there was a real air of patronizing exoticism throughout the fair that simply reflected its age.

Otherwise, an interesting note from the fair was that the first Olympics took place on US soil there.  The 1904 Olympiad wasn't much for an international Olympics.  The thing was so poorly run, that it almost ended the event.

With all that said, it was an interesting display of moment that was so very important at the time, only to be consigned to the pages of the forgotten.  The rest of the museum was interesting too, discussing the history of both St. Louis and Missouri on multiple levels.

After the museum, I drove up to study at the beautiful Washington University in St. Louis.  Wash U has a quintessential college campus feel  The university had been downtown, but the new campus was built just before the 1904 fair and was host to a large portion of the fair.  After the fair ended, the school moved in.  I met a family friend named Lindsay, who is in her senior year.  We hung out on a warm autumn day as daylight faded across the campus, then we went out for traditional St. Louis pizza at Imo's.  Imo's Pizza is a St. Louis institution, know for its circular pizza cut into squares.  The pizza is very, very thin, and covered with an ooey, gooey cheese blend called provel.  It was pretty good.  The crust is almost like a cracker, while the cheesy is less tasty than it is gooey.  Still have t-ravs, gooey butter cake and custard on my St. Louis gastrodiplo list. 



Sunday, October 23, 2011

AV 2 SIUE; Kurdpop 2 K-Pop

So as I briefly mentioned in my previous blog, I am working now for American Voices as their Director of Communication.  American Voices does cultural diplomacy work in transitioning countries, and brings American roots music (jazz, blues, bluegrass, hiphop, classical) to such exotic locales as Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan.  We hosts YES (Youth Excellence on Stage) Academies for theater and musical education in Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Thailand and some other locations.  More info to come, but that is still in a holding pattern.

American Voices also sponsors a number of music students in the U.S., including three that live with Marc Thayer, our Director of Education.  Marc has two Kurdish violinists and a Maronite Lebanese violinist staying with him.  A few nights ago, we took the music students plus two other AV sponsored students from Kurdistan and caravened across state lines to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE!) to give a presentation about cultural diplomacy and American Voices' work.

When we arrived, we found out that the piano we needed was otherwise supposed to be in use by a gospel choir.  So we played #Occupythepiano, and stole the baby grand.  The Kurdish music students performed traditional Kurdish music on violin, oud and percussion, and John (the exec dir) and Marc spoke about American Voices work.  We also showed a cool clip of a cultural diplomacy hit from AV called "Camp Unity"


 After dinner, we took the Middle Eastern violin troupe out for Korean food. Kurdpop to K-pop. I conducted gastrodiplomacy as I taught the Kurds to use chopsticks and forced them to try kimchi. They weren't big fans, but they like the bulgogi.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Scenes from MittelAmerika

"If only the Israelis would let Evangelical Christians spread the word to the Palestinians in jail, then they wouldn't have to worry about the Islamists."

"The Serbs are Jewish, right?"

And other scenes from Middle America.  But is endearing here.  The bar sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and I got chills- and screamed "O!"  The bartender Jackie knew everyone's name at the bar  (including mine), and she made me a delicious grilled cheese of tomatoes, pickles and grilled onions.  And St. Louis is a gorgeous red brick, and has architectural charm.  And an arch. I will say this: it is warm here, even in the Autumn chill.

PS: A welcome to the world to Annabelle Lee by the Sea.

How to get out of recession, St. Louis style

In St. Louis it is by playing winning baseball.  The Cardinals run to the World Series brought in enough cash to stave off furloughs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Foreign aid on the chopping block?

My friend and pd colleague Matt Wallin over at the American Security Project has a great piece in The Hill on why not to cut foreign aid.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I dare you

I get a great news aggregation email from Zachary Peterson of RFE/RL called the Rundown.  Yesterday, his update had the simple line: "Just click here and read this story." Of course I couldn't resist such temptations, I would recommend you do the same.

Ears open in AfPaklandia

A great piece in FP on trying to understand a Pakistani perspective on Afghanistan, and a reminder that listening is the first virtue of public diplomacy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chapter: The Next


I woke up in the darkness and caught a shuttle to the airport.  The problem with shuttles and their time windows is that I was fetched with an inordinate amount of time to spare.  I caught the first leg of my journey from Baltimore to the Motor City, and slept the entire way.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

And yet I was growing torpid and mossy as I languished in the ennui of limbo.  But an opportunity presented itself, and I took it.  So now I am Communications Director of American Voices, a nonprofit that conducts cultural diplomacy.  They do such work with special focus on strife-torn areas like Iraq, Afghanistan and the like.  With any luck, I will get to tour such luxurious locales.  I will share more details in the coming days, but for now some of the news is embargoed. 

Meanwhile, I had been trying to shake the nerves that come with new endeavors.  But little signs kept me moving forward with cautious alacrity.  Like a double canon on the day everything went down.  Or the statue of our Quixotean hero in the Motor City airport to remind this knight-errant that the spell that had kept him trapped in La Mancha had been broken.  Or the big arcoiris that greeted smiled down after I had been pelted with hail (Ah, midwestern weather...)

Travel is like yoga to me.  It allows me the moments when I can just breathe and focus on what is next.
-Stephan Starr

I boarded the flight to Paris of the Midwest, took a deep breath and began to focus on what is next with a clarity I have lacked in a while.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Call-Center Diplomacy?

Indian companies have been setting up call-centers outside of India, many in the Philippines. I saw this firsthand when I was in Cebu, as I noticed Indians visiting and working at the IT parks.  The big question is: will Indian public and cultural diplomacy to the Philippines follow? The karoke-crazy melodic Filipino society would be a grand match for Bollywood.  The Filipino-Indian relationship could be an important one in the coming century, and the Philippines should be a prime target for India's Look East Policy.  Perhaps Bollywood can be the bridge.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Haven

NPR has a wonderful story on my cousin Ruth Gruber.  She is most famous for being the reporter on the ship Exodus, but as you can see from the story, was pretty famous for a lot of other things too.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When Jewish eyes are smiling

I went to meet my friend Dan last night down on the H Street corridor at a fantastic place called the Star and Shamrock Tavern.  That's right a Jewish deli and Irish Tavern combined:
"The Star and The Shamrock is a New York- style deli and traditional Irish pub. Sound like a contradiction? Jewish and Irish cultures, celebrated (and tormented!), have more in common than you'd think! Misery loves company-- Oy Vey! So come in and enjoy the best of both in one place! Sample an extensive mix of Irish bottles and drafts, alongside a pint of He'brew Ale. Try a Reuben with a side of latkes and a pint of Black and Tan, or a shepherd's pie with a side of matzo balls. Irish Folk or Klezmer? Both go great with a fine Irish or Rye Whiskey! So here's to your good health, and to life! Sláinte and L'Chaim!"

Amerika ist Wunderbar

Gotta love Rammstein for this one. Kiitos Taru:

Open the harbors

Thank you Congress for having enough sense to pass the FTA bills with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.  I still can't believe it took so long to get them passed, but better late than never.  If we are to ever get the American economy back on track, it is going to take a lot more openness for our economy and a lot more trade with dynamic economies like South Korea.  

Musically Made in Taiwan

Neda Uluby of NPR had a phenomenal piece on Taiwanese music as contributing to its identity.  She spoke about Taiwanese Death Metal, as well as traditional Taiwanese songs done in a modern style.  The piece focused on music as a form of expression post-martial law, and the use of Taiwanese and aboriginal languages as a form of expression:
Chthonic's pretty famous in death metal circles worldwide, but its fanbase in Taiwan is a little unusual for a band that cavorts around stage in black makeup. "They get old people coming to their shows," says Brown. "They're sitting in the audience smiling happily and enjoying this head-banging music."
These old people, says Brown, appreciate freedom of expression as only those who have lived without it can. Chthonic incorporates Tawainese mythology and takes pro-human rights positions on sensitive subjects like China's occupation of Tibet. And those older fans, who were once forbidden from speaking Taiwanese, get a huge kick out if hearing it sung like this.
Using music to rediscover Taiwanese identity is also the work of a 40-year-old classically-trained singer named YunYa Hsieh, who's known professionally as Mia Hsieh. She leads a group called A Moving Sound that explores traditional Taiwanese music including songs from its 14 aboriginal tribes. Music like it was suppressed during decades of marital law. Now Hsieh combines it with decidedly contemporary sensibilities.
The piece was a tremendous bit of cultural and public diplomacy for Taiwan, and is a reminder that the best forms of such business come not from when you promote what you are doing, but when other people notice of your authentic, organic cultural idiosyncrasies and share it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan

"When they ask me who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m gonna say, ‘You know, I don’t know, do you know?’ And then I’m gonna say, ‘How’s that gonna create more jobs?’ I wanna focus on the top priorities of this country. That’s what leaders do.”
-Herman Cain

The man has likely captured the all-important durka-durka vote!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gilad, Bibi and Hamas

I am infinitely pleased to see that Gilad Shalit apparently on the way to freedom.  But pardon my cynicism for the timing of this release.  Bibi was reeling from Israel's isolation after Abbas went to the UN, and so was Hamas.  This was a way for both Bibi and Hamas to change the channel on Abbas' bid for Palestinian statehood in a diplomatic manner.  Bibi gets a win with the Israeli public because he was able to bring Shalit home as well as undermine Abbas and the PA (apparently releasing Barghouti? really?); Hamas gets a win with the Palestinian public because it flexes its role as a player and one who delivers tangibly for the Palestinians; Abbas and the PLO in turn look weak and unable to deliver concrete improvements or results.

While not quite the old Middle Eastern maxim of "the enemy of my enemy," to me this is a reminder about the speciousness that Israel and Hamas can not find some modicum of working relations.  Hamas was tacitly allowed by Israel to come into existence to undermine the PLO in the 1980s. Forgive this cynic but I don't especially trust Bibi or Hamas when it comes to their political calculations, and I find this case a clear example of Bibi and Hamas finding a bit of common cause.