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


"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: 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


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"

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:, but I have a feeling he will quickly learn that India is indescribable.