Friday, September 30, 2011

Where the Hell is Taiwan?

Possibly the greatest PD video ever! A Taiwanese fellow did a take-off of Where the Hell if Matt?, called Where the Hell is Taiwan?  The guy is doing the stinky tofu shuffle around the world in traditional Taiwanese garb.  F'ing brilliant cultural diplomacy that plays on irreverence, something this Barnumite has long argued is necessary for Taiwan to get attention (see under: my calls for international boba day and a Buñol-esque tomato fight in the streets of Taipei).  Nice find by Frank "Made in Taiwan" Cheng.

In Egypt and Kenya In India (Jai ho Taiwan!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Days of Awe-some

NPR's Tell Me More had a segment on the group The Afro-Semitic Experience and their groove-filled Rosh Hash music. Wishing everyone a groovy 5772! PS: As I have often written, I love the holidays for what it offers as a point of memory and analysis of where I was and what I was doing on years prior. I liked this entry I wrote on RH last year, I still find it poignant today.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

neocatastrophism and punctuated equilibrium

"Neocatastrophism is a collective term.  It was coined by Schindewolf sometime in the sixties.  He was a paleontologist.  But all kinds of scholars in the natural sciences have taken party in the debate.  What they agree on is that the earth— and, in particular, its biology—has not evolved at an even pace but in leaps, which have been directed by great natural catastrophes that favor the survival of species.  Meteor showers, comets, volcanic eruptions, spontaneous chemical disasters.  The core of the debate has always been the question of whether these catastrophes occur at regular intervals.  And if they do, what determines the frequency? 
 -Smilla's Sense of Snow

"Honk if you understand punctuated equilibrium."

All of this is a long-winded and particularly obtuse way of saying "fits-and-starts."

Do you know where we are?

I have never been in a position where I had to shush librarians.  Ol' man Rockower is getting grumpy.


I believe in the sun,
The day hung heartless and grey.  I languished in ennui.
even when it is not shining.
the sky broke blue and white cloudy dissipation.  I broke out of my prison of boredom.
I believe in love,
A free ride on a ride-on later and a violinist played Vivaldi as I passed patronage. 
even when I don't feel it.
As I rode the escalator esophagus down into the bowels of the Bethesda Underground, 
Pachelbel’s canon echoed down the tunnel. 
I believe in God,
I checked my time clock until the train to come, and I stayed at the escalator’s base. 
even when there is silence.
The canon echoed down the grey ferroconcrete tunnel and for the first time today I felt.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Democracy, Saudi-style

Saudi women can vote.  The King decreed so.  Saudi women still cannot drive.  Can Saudi women vote to drive?

Smilla's Sense of Cacti

"There is something obstinate about cactuses.  The sub tries to hold them down, and the drought, and the night frost.  Yet they thrive.  They bristle, they retreat behind a thick shell.  And they don't budge an inch.  I regard them with sympathy."
-Peter Hoeg, Smilla's Sense of Snow

The greedy battle for hearts and minds

A PS on pathology. On the lies we tell ourselves in policy terms: the greedy battle for hearts and minds.  Public diplomacy is a long-term endeavor (at best).  It fails miserably when run on annual schedule:

"Everyone in Iraq was there on a series of one year tours, myself included," he says. "Everyone was told that they needed to create accomplishments, that we needed to document our success, that we had to produce a steady stream of photos of accomplishments and pictures of smiling Iraqis and metrics and charts. It was impossible, under these circumstances, to do anything long-term ... We rarely thought past next week's situation update. The Embassy would rarely engage with us on a project that wasn't flashy enough to involve photographs or bringing a journalist out to shoot a video that looked good. The willingness to do long-term work ... never existed in our world."

Keyzer Soze in written form

The beauty of pathology defined. They call me Mr. Glass.

A Sun Seeker

In a former life, I'm sure I was sacrificed to an Aztec sun god. High above, up the white pyramid steps. I run on solar energy, and I wilt otherwise. A night-and-day change. A child of light, who cannot function otherwise.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A homeless man with a PhD

I stumbled across this video on Facebook. An interview with a man with a PhD in aeronautical engineering living on the streets of Boston. Oh, America.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The War for Information

"The world isn’t run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money. It’s run by little ones and zeros, little bits of data. It’s all just electrons.... There’s a war out there ... and it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information."
-Cosmo, Sneakers

"The most valuable commodity I know of is information." Gordon Gecko, Wall Street


Interesting.....Abbas is betting that public diplomacy, soft power and popular global support can trump hard power and hard realities. Yet while Abbas is doing Palestinian public diplomacy towards global community, he still isn't doing pd to audience that matters most: Israel. I still think that the Palestinians misunderstand their enemy and need to listen more. Isolating the most isolated people is not the best tactic, try public diplomacy towards Israel.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Israel: Adrift at Sea Alone

Tom Friedman has a very good piece on why Israel is facing a particularly dire situation:
I’ve never been more worried about Israel’s future. The crumbling of key pillars of Israel’s security — the peace with Egypt, the stability of Syria and the friendship of Turkey and Jordan — coupled with the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel’s history have put Israel in a very dangerous situation.

This has also left the U.S. government fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s. 

Israel is not responsible for the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or for the uprising in Syria or for Turkey’s decision to seek regional leadership by cynically trashing Israel or for the fracturing of the Palestinian national movement between the West Bank and Gaza. What Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, is responsible for is failing to put forth a strategy to respond to all of these in a way that protects Israel’s long-term interests. O.K., Mr. Netanyahu has a strategy: Do nothing vis-à-vis the Palestinians or Turkey that will require him to go against his base, compromise his ideology or antagonize his key coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extreme right-winger. Then, call on the U.S. to stop Iran’s nuclear program and help Israel out of every pickle, but make sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return — like halting Israeli settlements — by mobilizing Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and by encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote. And meanwhile, get the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration or Congress who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack. There, who says Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t have a strategy?
“The years-long diplomatic effort to integrate Israel as an accepted neighbor in the Middle East collapsed this week, with the expulsion of the Israeli ambassadors from Ankara and Cairo, and the rushed evacuation of the embassy staff from Amman,” wrote Haaretz newspaper’s Aluf Benn. “The region is spewing out the Jewish state, which is increasingly shutting itself off behind fortified walls, under a leadership that refuses any change, movement or reform ... Netanyahu demonstrated utter passivity in the face of the dramatic changes in the region, and allowed his rivals to seize the initiative and set the agenda.”
What could Israel have done? The Palestinian Authority, which has made concrete strides in the past five years at building the institutions and security forces of a state in the West Bank — making life there quieter than ever for Israel — finally said to itself: “Our state-building has not prompted Israel to halt settlements or engage in steps to separate, so all we’re doing is sustaining Israel’s occupation. Let’s go to the U.N., get recognized as a state within the 1967 borders and fight Israel that way.” Once this was clear, Israel should have either put out its own peace plan or tried to shape the U.N. diplomacy with its own resolution that reaffirmed the right of both the Palestinian and the Jewish people to a state in historic Palestine and reignited negotiations. Mr. Netanyahu did neither.
Now the U.S. is scrambling to defuse the crisis, so the U.S. does not have to cast a U.N. veto on a Palestinian state, which could be disastrous in an Arab world increasingly moving toward more popular self-rule.
On Turkey, the Obama team and Mr. Netanyahu’s lawyers worked tirelessly these last two months to resolve the crisis stemming from the killing by Israeli commandos of Turkish civilians in the May 2010 Turkish aid flotilla that recklessly tried to land in Gaza. Turkey was demanding an apology. According to an exhaustive article about the talks by the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, the two sides agreed that Israel would apologize only for “operational mistakes” and the Turks would agree to not raise legal claims. Bibi then undercut his own lawyers and rejected the deal, out of national pride and fear that Mr. Lieberman would use it against him. So Turkey threw out the Israeli ambassador.
As for Egypt, stability has left the building there and any new Egyptian government is going to be subjected to more populist pressures on Israel. Some of this is unavoidable, but why not have a strategy to minimize it by Israel putting a real peace map on the table? I have great sympathy for Israel’s strategic dilemma and no illusions about its enemies. But Israel today is giving its friends — and President Obama’s one of them — nothing to defend it with. Israel can fight with everyone or it can choose not to surrender but to blunt these trends with a peace overture that fair-minded people would recognize as serious, and thereby reduce its isolation.
Unfortunately, Israel today does not have a leader or a cabinet for such subtle diplomacy. One can only hope that the Israeli people will recognize this before this government plunges Israel into deeper global isolation and drags America along with it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Where all work is equal

As one who previously reported on Time Banks, it is nice to see the story get some play in the NYTimes. 

PS: There was a HuffPo story about it too.  Nice.

Beware the Loyalist threat!

Case in point of why I never trusted Canada: they are just a British Trojan Horse bent on taking back the colonies.  How else can you explain their decision return the word "royal" to their military and hang pictures of their Monarch-in-Chief Queen Elizabeth II about?

Thursday, September 15, 2011



Read about the schwa and how it is revolutionizing the alphabet!  I am considering changing my name to PƏUL.

A vote for Palestine

I can't say I have any issue with the PA's decision to push for Palestine's entry into the UN.  Nor can I say I disagree with any of Reza Aslan's points for why the US should not veto the vote.  If intransigent Bibi won't stop settlements, then how can there be negotiations?  I put a lot of Israel's current isolation directly on Bibi.  He is bumbling Israel's relations, but such things happen when your foreign minister is a nightguard.  Bumbling, and Israel finds itself supremely isolated.  Livni rightly pointed such things out.  Here is a shocker, Israel should vote yes and then negotiate.   

Mandarin for OMG

The OMG Meiyu biz is getting a lil more attention as WaPo does a story on it today.  A stirring reminder that pop cultural diplomacy trumps anything high brow when it comes to PD and cultural diplomacy.

DC Gastrodiplomacy via Embassies

The Washington Diplomat has an article this month on DC embassies engaging in gastrodiplomacy.  I would like to think that I may have planted a mustard seed for this.  I had approached the paper about writing a monthly column on PD, and had sent a few articles on gastrodiplomacy.  Nothing came out of it but lo and behold they have a piece on culinary diplomacy two months later  It's cool, ideas are free.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If a PD tree falls in the forest....

Mountainrunner Matt Armstrong pointed out the following statistics:
During the Obama Administration, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and PA) office has been vacant 20.4% of the time
During the Bush Administrations, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy ( and PA) office was vacant 37.2% of the time
This leads me to ask a reductio ad absurdum question: the current Undersec position is empty (save for an able acting), would anyone notice if it remained that way?  More importantly: would it matter?

Charm City; Howard & PD; Good jerk diplomacy

I had an illuminating morning, one that put things into a little more perspective.  Some of it came from my day prior up in Baltimore.  Nothing like getting out on the train gives me the ability to grab a little perspective.  I was up in B-More hanging out with an old buddy Andy.  We hung out at the harbor, eating decadent pastries and drinking iced coffee from Bonaparte's.  I had a croissant filled with almond marzipan and covered with almond slivers and powdered sugar.  We hung in Fell's Point at a pirate's deck, and back in the heart of Charm City, near the city's own Washington monument.  The city lives up to its nickname if you know where to look.

Today, I took a little inspiration and adventured down to Howard to wander around the campus.  Sounds silly but I never realized WHUR was "Howard University Radio".  I also had thoughts about a public diplomacy exhibit at Howard's comm school to focus on African-American contributions to public diplomacy.  It could make for an interesting symposium or exhibition to look at Jazz Ambassadors like Louis Armstrong, Carl Rowan and the USIA, and the role of the Civil Rights movement in US public diplomacy.  If I remember correctly, I think Nick Cull mentioned that USIA was far more integrated than State, and it would be interesting to look at that legacy.

On my way back, I found Negril, a tasty Jamaican restaurant.  I had some lip-burning, mouth-numbing, nose-running fiery goodness.  Good curried vegetables of eggplant, tomatoes, onions and chick peas with stewed cabbage over rice-and-peas.  Washed down with a Ting.  I was sitting next to a fellow from Bombay.  He was sweating bullets.  We both offered our respect to the heat.

Of course, this had me thinking of Jamaican gastrodiplomacy. I can still hear a fellow beckoning me over to his tin drum barbecue, "Good jerk chicken, two bills mon."  Two hundred Jamaican Dollars ($3) on the streets of funky Kingston for fiery delicious jerk chicken that I demolished in a feral fashion.

Jamaica already has a recognized brand from Reggae, Bob Marley and Rastas.  Red Stripe charm and fiery jerk chicken.  Add in rum and white sand beaches and you have a solid nation brand. 

 So perhaps a little gastrodiplomacy to widen awareness of beef patties, curry goat, oxtail and other Jamaican delicacies can promote Jamaica to the foodie class.  Delicious favorites like vinegar-marinated Escovitch fish with festival (corn bread fritters) could be a foodie favorite and crossover dish to the restaurant set.  Meanwhile, I would promote tin drum can jerk chicken to the bbq south; and to veggies, the curried veggies and rice-and-peas. And all the delicious drinks like the aforementioned ting or ginger beer, like the one I bought to douse out the last flames.  

I might have to send my recipe for Jamaican gastrodiplomacy off to the Jamaica Gleaner.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Never forget, courtesy of the media

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post put into words something that I had been feeling but didn't know best how to express:

Sept. 11, 2011: An anniversary dissected in the media unlike any other
On the 10th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, there were no special newspaper sections remembering its great battles or dwelling on its meaning. The leading media of the time remarked on the milestone but acknowledged it with restraint. The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune published just 12 stories each about the war during the entire month of its decennial, including one story in the Tribune announcing an Army reunion.

Likewise, as columnist George Will pointed out in his Sunday Op-Ed column, the 10th aniversary of Pearl Harbor drew a few modest newspaper mentions.

Contrast that with Sunday’s 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, a day that has been documented, dissected and debated unlike any other in human history.

On TV and radio, in print and online, over social media that didn’t exist 10 years earlier, the tributes, reflections and search for meaning have poured forth in a kind of collective media-fed group therapy. Where were you that day, many news organizations asked? What do you remember? On Sunday, it was impossible to forget. Eight networks carried live coverage of the official memorial ceremonies at the Pentagon, Ground Zero and Shanksville, Pa. The NFL waved field-size American flags during its marquee matchups, including the symbolic New York-Washington game between the Giants and Redskins. 
Every outlet had an angle; a Web site called Food Republic surveyed chefs about their memories (“I would never forget the feeling of me cooking that night,” one said).

“I think this is what 24-hour news cycles result in,” said Gene Roberts, a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times. “If you have a lot of time to fill, anniversaries are something [the media] can plan ahead on. . . . I guess I can think of some important milestones that got coverage, but not like this.” At the same time, he added, “this was one of the more traumatizing events in American history.” 
Americans have always reflected on the anniversaries of significant and solemn days — Dec. 7, 1941; June 6, 1944; and Nov. 22, 1963, among them — but probably none has rated the buildup and attention of this anniversary.

Much of it, of course, is due to the unique and far-reaching nature of Sept. 11 itself. Its consequences and associations are insinuated into daily life, from the mundane act of taking one’s shoes off in an airport security line to the neo-tradition of singing “God Bless America” instead of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at ballparks.

Many anniversary stories assessed how that one day changed something: international relations, domestic politics, warfare, air travel, architecture, movies. Others asked American Muslims how the years since the attacks have affected them. A few stories (like this one) covered the coverage. More than a few (including in Sunday’s Post) concluded that “everything” had changed.

An overriding theme was “you.” USA Today produced brief videos of people answering the question, “How has 9/11 changed you?” (Regis Philbin said it made him feel “angry . . . sad”) and asked readers to contribute their own videos. More than 35,000 people submitted comments to the New York Times in answer to its question, “Where Were You on Sept. 11, 2001?”

The inescapability of it “must be very hard for the families who lost someone,” said John Farmer, dean of the Rutgers University Law School in Newark and a former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, the government’s official investigatory panel. “Obviously, the 10th is a significant anniversary, but to go through this every year must be a very hard process. No one wants the date to become like Memorial Day, where you have a Macy’s sale, but I’m sure they also don’t want to relive it as intensely as this.”

Farmer last week helped oversee the public release of recently declassified audio recordings of air-traffic controllers, military officials and pilots as they experienced the horror of the airline hijackings. Transcripts of the conversations have previously been released, but not the recordings themselves, making their disclosure one of the few new developments of the anniversary week.

The recordings have gotten more than 7 million hits on the Rutgers Law Review’s Web site since their release, Farmer said.

The tapes’ release suggests the full story of Sept. 11 is still far from fully told. Only about 20 percent of the vast archive of interviews, documents, recordings and other material collected by the 9/11 Commission has been declassified so far, Farmer said, suggesting that some details may not be disclosed for generations. 
One important piece of the historical record that remains under seal, he said, is a recording of the so-called Air Threat Conference Call emanating from the White House on the morning of the crisis. The call involved Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and a rotating series of officials who reported their reactions in real time. Only a few people outside of the members of the 9/11 Commission have ever heard the recording, he said.

For this anniversary, few journalists offered a “counter-narrative” to the prevailing Sept. 11-changed-everything paradigm, says W. Joseph Campell, a communications professor at American University. Campbell, the author of “Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism,” conducted a database search of post-Civil War newspaper reporting.

In fact, many facets of American life were unaffected by the event and its fallout, he said, and many of the purported changes immediately after haven’t held up over time. Since Sept. 11, for example, polls have found that Americans are less spiritual (as measured by religious-service attendance), less willing to display the flag, and less interested in keeping up with the news. Military enlistment, on the upsurge after Sept. 11, has fluctuated since then. “I don’t see the evidence of great change,” Campbell said.

Will Americans revisit and relive Sept. 11 with such passionate feelings and attendant media coverage on future anniversaries? Will 15 or 20 or 25 years out be the same as 10?

Given the human capacity to forget and for memory to fade, it’s possible to imagine that this was a high-water mark.

Pieces of the narrative — the heroism of first responders, the security lines, the wars waged in its aftermath — will remain vivid in the minds of this generation of Americans for decades, said Brian Monahan, a sociologist at Iowa State. But the fervor will ebb, he said. Already, says Monahan, the author of “The Shock of the News: Media Coverage and the Making of 9/11,” he has seen signs of “9/11 fatigue” in reaction to the media’s intensive coverage.

What’s more, new generations won’t be stirred by the same touchstones. Gene Roberts recalls teaching a journalism class at the University of Maryland in the early 1990s. In laying out his subject — a survey of press coverage of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s — he told his students that they would be discussing sit-ins and the Freedom Riders. Hands shot up.

“What are sit-ins?” “What are Freedom Riders?” Roberts recalls his students asking.

Roberts had lived through the civil rights era, which changed America as profoundly as Sept. 11 did. His students were too young to remember.

Sometimes the best works of art are in the gift store

A wandering Jew pulls away the veil over Pakistan

Pakistan Blogzine was kind enough to repost my Jerusalem Post article I wrote for my "Tales of a Wandering Jew" series from Pakistan:

A wandering Jew pulls away the veil over Pakistan – by Paul Rockower


Editor’s note: We are pleased to cross-post this excellent article by Paul Rockower which he wrote for the Jerusalem Post. Paul visited Pakistan in 2007 and wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post on Pakistan’s more cosmo side.
Paul is an editor of the Pakistan Israel Peace Forum (ttp:// ) which aims to build bridges and people to people contact between Israel and Pakistan. In principle, Pakistan Blogzine believes in building dialogue and bridges instead of violence and war. Therefore, we fully support the Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum’s mission statement, which states: “We believe in promoting dialogue and establishing relations between Pakistan and Israel , at the political, cultural, social, and economic levels.”

Pulling away the veil over Pakistan: Kite-flying, lattes and suicide bombers

With great apprehension, I crossed the border from India into Pakistan, and made my way into Lahore. I quickly realized my fears and worries were misplaced, and my preconceived notions of what Pakistan would be like were quickly dispelled. Pakistan was utterly iconoclastic.
I expected to find essentially a “Muslim India,” some combination of Saudi Arabia and India. Rather, most women were dressed either in Western style, or in a vivid display of colored and floral pattern veils and robes. While some were in black, eye-slits only veils, most guarded their modesty in a rainbow of colored ones that loosely covered their hair. Meanwhile, while some Pakistani men looked straight out of the Taliban, others looked straight out of a Pakistani GQ.
Lahore is an utterly cosmopolitan city, with all the trappings of Western life, including McDonald’s, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts and even a Pizzeria Uno. Lahore also has a very developed cafe culture, with locals sipping lattes all hours of the night.
“Fortune favors the bold,” as Jules Verne wrote in Around the World in 80 Days; this applied to my arrival in Lahore, as I came just in time for Basant, a huge spring kite-flying festival that Lahore celebrates with utter glee.
People fly kites, shoot fireworks and party royally. The night was aglow with lights and kites. Music was pulsating and people were dancing on rooftops across the city. Giant fireworks lit up the sky and raced across the purple horizon, and the crack-cracking of celebratory gunfire filled the air.
An Afghan introduced himself to me, and said he hated President Bush. I found similar attitudes among native Pakistanis. A cab driver named Tariq said, “I hate President Bush, but President Clinton was good. Maybe Clinton’s wife will be the next president, and things will be better between America and Pakistan.”
Next I visited Rawalpindi, the twin city of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. While I was there, Vice President Dick Cheney was in Islamabad for a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf.
In the Western press, the meeting was characterized as Cheney pressuring Musharaf to do more in the war on terror. But every Pakistani I met said it was really related to Iran – US designs to attack it and demands for Pakistani support for such a strike.
Pakistanis I spoke with were uniformly critical of the war on terror and America’s invasion of Iraq. One questioned how America could have blundered so badly in Iraq as to turn Saddam Hussein into a symbolic martyr. Moreover, when it came to 9/11, I heard conspiracy after conspiracy theory even from the most educated of Pakistanis.
On a night train from Multan to Karachi, I shared my sleeper berth with a Pakistani couple. We spent the ride discussing the relationship between the Islamic world and the West. They expressed their frustration that the West seems to think that all Muslims are terrorists. “There are fanatics in Christianity and Judaism too, but it seems that the media only wants to portray Muslims as terrorists,” they said practically in unison.
The security situation in Pakistan was always looming in the background during my travels. As I was visiting Islamabad, two suicide bombers attacked the airport and a luxury hotel – far enough away from where I was wandering that I had no idea. I found out about the attacks the following day, noting also that four more suicide bombers in the cell were still on the loose.  Later in my travels, while I was visiting Multan and planning a day trip to another city, a bombing took place against an anti-corruption judge, and the police cordoned off the city, with no one allowed in or out.
With that said, the Pakistanis have an attitude that I would characterize as utterly Israeli when it comes to their security situation: they go about their daily lives and don’t bother dwelling on the insecurities that exist within their society.
When the issue of Israel came up, I heard many different viewpoints. A Pakistani named Jad asked, “What does Israel matter to Pakistan? Has either country ever fired a shot at the other?” Others were more focused on the Palestinian issue – not questioning Israel’s right to exist, but wanting to see the Palestinian issue resolved in a “just” manner.
I’m sure I could have found far more extreme opinions, but I spent a lot of time guarding my own identity and refraining from engaging in political discussions with people other than those I knew or with whom I felt more comfortable. The most ironic thing I heard from the Pakistanis is that they thought Israel to be a very dangerous country in which to live, based on what they saw on TV. I replied that there had been far more bombings in Pakistan during the two weeks I was there than in the last few months in Israel.
I found Pakistanis themselves critical of the situation in their own country. People said it seemed the only institution that really functioned was the army. Meanwhile, they spoke resignedly about the corruption that plagues their society.
Pakistan is a fascinating yet complicated place, filled with unbelievable hospitality and utter contradictions. The images we see of Pakistan are always of the little madrassas in the tribal areas, or anti-American/anti-Israel rallies, and never things like the Basant celebration or the cosmopolitan life of Lahore.
This wandering Jew had a fascinating two weeks there. And in a closing note, I would like to mention that my trip through Pakistan was conducted in honor and in the memory of Daniel Pearl, who will always remind me that “I am Jewish.”

Couscous & Cultural Diplomacy

A great story about an Algerian couscous joint in Elkader, Iowa- named for Abd al-Qader, the Algerian hero who fought the French.  A wonderful bit of gastrodiplomacy! Shukran Youhanna Bounii.

Somaliland Cont.

My friend and former roomie Danny's trials and tribulations in Somaliland:
So things are finally starting to pick up. Before Hargeisa seemed like a dusty ghost town being aggressively gentrified by goats. That was because during Ramadan people could neither eat, drink or chew Qat (the local drug of choice, a stimulant plant that is probably easiest to describe as the Middle-East’s coke), during the daytime. So when you live in a hot semi-arid climate and you can’t eat, drink, or get high, it’s best policy to just hang out at home. So now that that is over people are out and about and working. I have experienced numerous consumer-based revelations, but none of them are actually worth mentioning.
 However things are still really fucking boring. After 4, when most people stop working (of those that do work, because unemployment is an issue here) most men just sit around and get high. By most I mean all. Except there are a few cafes that seem pretty popular, but they are occupied primarily old men. I asked a few people about this and it turns out that the people who go to the cafes are the ones who can’t get high because of health reasons. So it seems that they, along with this white boy, are shit out of luck. There really is nothing else to do. No movie theaters, malls, bowling alleys, dance halls, cock fighting matches, or even bars (as this is a Muslim country and alcohol is illegal here). So for foreigners who don’t want to get high, and decrepit old men who can’t get high, there is literally nothing to do once the workday ends. So fortunately my hotel room has cable TV, and several channels from Dubai that show American television shows. Needless to say, I have become a huge fan of Project Runway.
A few days ago I did hang out with a kid from London who got high on Qat with a few of his friends. It was a lot like being around people that smoke pot, as in they sit around, drink a lot of water, and just want to listen to music and not talk to anyone. However they didn’t eat anything, because Qat serves as an appetite suppressant and notoriously quells hunger pains, a big boon when you live in a semi-arid region that experiences frequent droughts and famines. They offered to get me some alcohol, but it took some time. Apparently the town was almost dry (figuratively) because lots of people drank alcohol during the traditional feast celebrating the end of Ramadan. I found this to be ironic that people would use alcohol on a significant religious holiday of a faith that is famous for its requirement that people abstain from alcohol consumption. So I eventually got my bottle of, “Scotch” which cost 40 dollars. I’m pretty sure it was less scotch and more turpentine and food coloring, and I don’t think I’ll make that mistake a second time…..maybe. Apparently pre-marital sex is also becoming more prominent, and for hours these guys were calling girls to try to get them to come over. I really wanted to see some hot young Muslim pre-nuptial action, but nothing happened. 
Question to the audience: Does anyone knowing anything about goat herding practices. They wonder the streets with impunity and without supervision or any discernable markings/brandings. How does that work? How do pastors keep track of their livestock?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Tamale Wagon

The LA Times has a fascinating piece on tamale wagons as LA's first form of mobile cuisine.

Hulkamaniac Diplomacy

I happened to glance on tv and saw an interview with Hulk Hogan.  I have previously mentioned about wrestling's global reach (I, II).  As such, the thought of making Hulk Hogan a PD ambassador came to mind to this Barnumite. Ambassador Hogan touring the world touring the world doing American PD and cultural diplomacy is pure PD kitsch, but compelling nonetheless.  All kidding aside, it actually isn't a bad idea.  The man is full force Americana and communicates good ol' American values.  The attention factor for such an effort is a plus.  Hogan meeting with global hulkamaniacs, offering clinics to his legions of fans and bodyslamming bad guys.  It is celebrity diplomacy at its finest. As Undersec for PD in the Vinick State Department, I would make it so...

Friday, September 09, 2011

Titus Adronicus and Afghanistan

Writing in FP, Nick Schifrin has an excellent essay on Titus Adronicus and the Afghan War:
Titus Andronicus is a play about revenge. It is about how a general fighting for an empire -- Rome -- finally defeats the "barbarous" Goths and returns to his capital with prisoners, the vanquished queen and her sons. Despite the queen's pleas, Titus kills her oldest son to avenge his own sons' deaths, beginning cycles of brutal violence that end in the death of nearly every major character. At its core, Titus Andronicus is a play about how good people can become unhinged and indeed overwhelmed by the need to avenge. It is about how powerful people surrender themselves to cycles of violence, how tribal and religious customs unequivocally demand retaliation, and how two tribes' or two religions' speaking past rather than with each other can lead to chaos. "Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,/Blood and revenge are hammering in my head," one of Titus's enemies says before the bloodletting begins.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Turkey strut

I have been so disgusted  watching Dick Cheney strutting about like some victorious peacock.  Such gall.  That turkeyhawk is the reason we are in this mess today.  "Deficits don't matter," he said.  Right.  And all the wars he dragged us into.  He ran us down the path of destruction, and now has the temerity to act like his stewardship helped us.  It didn't, and we are still muddling through your mess.

Kind of Blue

I am posting a comment from John Brown 
Paul, Thank you for your piece. Allow me to speculate: American "coolness" is a late 20th/early 21st century version of Old World European "culture" (with a capital "K") when the continent's political, economic, and military power began to decline. As for those who maintain that the "cool" American popular culture will continue to dominate in our new century, please consider my "Is the U.S. High Noon Over? Reflections on the Declining Global Influence of American Popular Culture"  which I wrote some years ago. Best, John.
P.S. As for the pix that accompanies the article you cite, to me it suggests that Americans, far from being "cool," appear to be absolute clowns. I would have chosen another photograph, as for example of Miles Davis...
John's piece on the decline of American popular culture is quite excellent and deserves a read.  I was thinking about all this at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery yesterday when I saw two quotes that made me think about such business.
"American Jazz, Hollywood movies, American slang, American machines and patents are the only thing that every community in the world, from Zanzibar to Hamburg, recognizes in common." - Henry Luce, 1941
But perhaps that newness has indeed worn off as John points out in his article, and there are far more actors plying and playing out their cultural diplomacy and softpower.  That was then, perhaps this is now:
"When I first went to China in 1996, I'd say 'I'm from Korea,' and I would get a disinterested response.  Now, I go to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore and people look at my name and say, 'You're Korean! We love your soap operas, your films.'" -Min Jung Kim, 2008

Portraits of Encounter

I took a break in the storm to make a break from some possible cabin ever and caught the metro down to the National Portrait Gallery  There is a wonderful new exhibit called Asian American Portraits of Encounter:
                                              (Shimonaura Crossing the Delaware)

The section I found the most striking was a series of photograph portraits by the artist CYJO running down the long hallway and flanking both sides.  The photographs were of Korean Americans standing full on.  Some were playful, some were dignified and all had the same basic white background.  Below the pictures were short paragraphs about the person's identity.  Their stories were poignant and placed the subjects within the American landscape.  The statements were about their feelings on being Korean, American and Korean-American.

 I walked through slowly,  looking at their faces and poses.  The exhibit was a stirring reminder of the American dream as seen through Korean-American eyes.  I got chill reading their stories, which are my stories, which are our stories.

There was a constant push and pull on identity, something I always find fascinating.  A sentiment that seemed to tie so many voices was "my relationship with my identity is complicated."  There was a constant balance of what you accept and reject.  One thought I found interesting was someone who noted that although she always rooted for America in sports, during the Olympics she still found that she rooted for Korean athletes.  Another interesting point was the notion of language being a barrier for connection for those who are not fluent.

And of course, I find a way to bring gastrodiplomacy into the mix.  A re-occurring theme was the nostalgia of taste.  Or the connection with culture through food.  Or the pride of combining tastes, as one person noted that they ate kimchi with spaghetti.

More importantly, what hit me was what a wonderful bit of American cultural diplomacy this exhibit could be in Korea.  It is a wonderful and poignant display of what what it means to be Korean in America, of the identity of Korean-Americans and the balanced identity that exists and the story of all hyphened Americans.

I moved on to the third floor, back over to a section on America in the 1900-1930s and the titans who shaped the age:
"'The world was never so young as it is today,' noted Walter Lippmann, 'so impatient with old crusty things.' The individuals in this room changed America, transforming an agrarian, continental power into an industrial, world power. Financiers and industrialists...provided customers with mass-produced, affordable cars.  Suffragettes won the vote; minorities began to voice their protest.  Journalists and various reformers advocated for workers, immigrants, and the poor.  The avant-garde reinvented literature, poetry, and painting, and the Harlem Renaissance introduced new voices.  American jazz and cinema established the century's rhythm and these became popular worldwide.  World War I marked an emergence of American power on a world stage.  Meanwhile, flappers introduced the new sexual mores, gangster violence fascinated the public, athletes became heroes and 'Lucky Lindy's' solo flight across the Atlantic defined this era's exuberance. Although not without serious problems, the century opened with a new sense of dynamic change."
The room was filled with portraits of the likes of Jane Addams, William Jennings Bryan, ee Cummings, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway ("You are all a lost generation" -Gertrude Stein), Henry Cabot Lodge, Madame Walker, Eugene Debs ("While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and where there is a soul in prison, I am not free."), Charles Evans Hughes, among others who shaped this fascinating age.
"We stumbled along for a while trying to run a new civilization in old ways, but we've got to start to make this world over." -Thomas Edison, 1912.
As I was taking it all in, my thoughts slipped to a more modern age and quandary.   We both want America to be great, to be exceptional, but the Tea Party seems to think that they can just declare it and wish it to be so.  I think we have to work for it, and government has a place to work with us to make it so.  The last room I visited was a later era, but its words struck me as apt:
"These unhappy times call for...plans..that build from the bottom up not the top down, that put our faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." -FDR  

Deep-Fried Bubble Gum

Winner of the 2011 State Fair of Texas: Deep-Fried Bubble Gum:

This Barnumite would make Deep-Fried Bubble Gum the hallmark of American gastrodiplomacy efforts.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The little things

The beauty of semi-unemployment is found on rainy days when I can slough up any thoughts of leaving the warm house and can curl up with a fine novel (A Fine Balance) and sip cinnamon orange spiced tea as the rain comes pouring down.

The Secret to the Social Media Age

I once heard from a diplomat who will remain nameless that the popularity of his Embassy's Facebook site was that its tone reflected that of a 14-year old girl.  In such fashions, the BBG noted a VOA program gone viral called OMG Meiyu which teaches the Chinese idiomatic slang.  In Bharat, I learned on the road to Rishikesh what the digital revolution was really all about: the ability for the global shabab to watch porn on their mobiles; now, it becomes clear to me that the social media revolution is really comes down to the spread of globalized teenspeak.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Consider me Miles Davis

For all the brow-beating over a falling, failing American global reputation, apparently we are still numero uno.   The social network site polled 30k people in some 15 countries, and America ranked as coolest.  The rationale :
"We hear a lot in the media about anti-Americanism," says Lloyd Price, Badoo's Director of Marketing. "But we sometimes forget how many people across the world consider Americans seriously cool." "America," says Price, "boasts the world's coolest leader, Obama; the coolest rappers, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg; and the coolest man in technology, Steve Jobs of Apple, the man who even made geeks cool."
On the least cool side: Canada! 

What I read in this is that all of these components can fit within in the parameters of American culture.  Say what you will about Obama the politician, he still has cred as a cultural icon; the rest fall in within American culture.  Just burnishes my own thinking that the most important thing to promote is American cultural diplomacy, because that is an area where we still are held in the highest regard.

Muslims for Life; My Fellow American

I have seen a bit of interesting pd done on behalf of the Muslim-American community.  On the metro, I have seen some advertisements for Muslims for Life, a project for Muslim Americans to honor the victims of 9/11 by donating blood on 9/11.

Meanwhile, the org My Fellow American is doing some wonderful community connecting ahead of the anniversary of 9/11. Have a look at the video and click on the website to sign the pledge to continue to make Muslims a welcome part of America's mosaic.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


"The trouble with television is that it is like a sword rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival." –Edward R. Murrow

Saturday, September 03, 2011

China charms Brazil

Interesting piece in WaPo on China's charm offensive in Brazil.  I love the line in the piece on Chinese frustrations with LatAm time and lateness. Ah, cultural differences.


"Michael Jordan makes more money from Nike each year than all the Nike factory workers in Malaysia combined." -fr @injusticefacts

Friday, September 02, 2011

Confederate State of Sierra Madre

Turnaround Tango

The NYTimes op-ed section has a nice piece on Argentina and its economic turnaround:
Argentina may seem like one of the last countries on earth to offer lessons for dealing with economic malaise. Once the eighth-largest economy in the world, it steadily slid through the 20th century, thanks to decades of repressive dictatorships and inconsistent market experiments. This ended ignominiously in 2001, when it defaulted on $100 billion in sovereign debt, plunging over half its 35 million people into poverty. That, at least, is the Argentina people know.
Since then, it has performed an economic U-turn — an achievement largely unnoticed outside Latin America, but one that President Obama and Congress should look to for inspiration. Argentina is not without problems, but its recent economic record speaks for itself: the economy has grown by over 6 percent a year for seven of the last eight years, unemployment has been cut to under 8 percent today from over 20 percent in 2002, and the poverty level has fallen by almost half over the last decade.
The Porteños portend well for how America could get back on track.