Monday, May 30, 2011

Virginity

Offering you a bit of my inflight entertainment:




As I am rocking out to the inflight entertainment, I am loving Virgin. I was a Virgin virgin, but now I am experienced.as Jimi would say.

I arose early to catch the supershuttle to John Foster Airport. If ever there was a terrible individual to name an airport for. Anyway, the supershuttle fetched me at 6am. I knew it was far too early for my 9am flight, but didn’t want to risk missing the boat.

"Hey, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home."
-Peter Gabriel

I shared the van with a lovely Transylvanian girl named Vanessa who is out in LA for the biz. We passed through security and I got the special screening where I had to hold my hands up above my head as they took a serious x-ray. I sang “I’m a little tea pot” as they made me pose with hands above.

“And the jailor man and sailor Sam were searching everyone for the band on the run.”

Vanessa and I killed the time in the airport, sipping tea and enjoying karma. I bought her a cup o’ chai as a bit of karma to a starving artist, but she trumped my karma by not listening to my pleas not to get me 5 Guys and returned with a veggie burger and fries.

"Remember what the doormouse said: FEED YOUR HEAD, FEED YOUR HEAD."
-Jefferson Airplane

Anyway, the flight across has been great.  Between the wifi which let me get my work done and the ridiculously cool jukebox playlist, I have been having a great time crossing the country. Currently crossing the barren but beautiful Utah. I love flying cross country for the contrasts.

DC Bike Share

NPR had a great report this morning on the DC Bike Share program. Saw something like this in Taipei, it is great. Nice to see us finally getting with the times. Figures it would be a Republican to spearhead the opposition to such things.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Pakistan I know

wonderful bit of Pak PD to show the world that Pakistanis are not all Taliban. This is the Pakistan I know from visting. Thanks Aneeq!

How much is that doggy in the window??

WaPo has a funny store about a canine standoff in China.  My Dad Some wag remarked, "He followed me home from school...can I eat him?"

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bibi and Barack

Joe Klein has a good piece in Time about Bibi and his disingeniousness regarding Obama's statements:
Why on earth would Bibi Netanyahu choose to be so boorish and provocative? Because he can be. He has the U.S. Congress in his pocket, a fact made obvious by the applause tsunami that attended his speech to a joint session (and by the fact that an astonishing 68 Senators and 286 Representatives attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee banquet the night before he spoke). He also has a stronger argument this time around. The apparent reconciliation of the Palestinian factions allows Netanyahu to focus on Israel's greatest fear: when push comes to shove, the Palestinians have never really acknowledged Israel's right to exist. The one exception to that rule — Yasser Arafat's signing of the Oslo accords — seems hollow, given the subsequent Palestinian rejection of both the Clinton and Olmert offers. But Netanyahu's offensive also had an important tactical effect: Israel's continued, illegal construction of settlements on Palestinian lands — an impediment to peace every bit as great as the Palestinian refusal to truly acknowledge Israel's existence — took a distinct backseat during the week of dueling speeches. Netanyahu was playing offense so he didn't have to play defense.
Harks back to my Bibi for President post.  I would argue though that Bibi's call for Hamas' non-inclusion rings hollow so long as Israel Beiteinu and the fascist Yvette Lieberman are in his coalition.  

Livestrong?

Say it ain't so Lance, say it ain't so.

Welcome Back


Sudan & the innocent and the good

"God save us always...from the innocent and the good."
Graham Greene, "The Quiet American"

I am reminded of The Quiet American  with the recent clashes in Sudan Abeyi region.  Abeyi is about the size of Lebanon, just for reference.  Our favorite do-gooders for Africa are getting involved, thanks George Cloony and John Prendergast.  There is just one major problem with blaming Khartoum for this current mess, the South started it this time.  Forces from Southern Sudan attacked northern forces who were withdrawing from Abeyi under UN supervision.  That attack led Khartoum to retaliate mightily.

Yet the "bad North, good South" simplistic narrative remains.  I don't love the Bashir regime by any stretch, but Cloony and Prendergast conveniently leave any of the particulars out.  Their simpleminded meddling just causes more work for the professionals who have to deal with this hot mess.


The Big Lie

CSM's Walter Rodgers has a great piece on the Big Lie that Obama can't lead.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Zen and the Art of Lawnmower Maintenance

I love the zen of lawn care.  Focusing simply on the quality of the task.  Cutting meandering patterns in the terrain, only to disappear with another lap.  A creator of words and worlds, with the leafblower to fire the helicopter lawn refuse up and spiraling down like a green snow globe.  Leaves coming fluttering down like a zen poem:
If I could use words
Like falling leaves
what a bonfire
my poems would make.
-Shogun.  

Same-Same but Different

Daniel Byman has a good piece throwing the BS flag on Bibi's claims that Hamas is the same as Al-Qaida.  I don't love Hamas by any stretch, but to conflate them with Al-Qaida is disingenuous at best.  Bibi, can't we go back to the good ol' days when we cultivated Hamas?

Words as Weapons

A while back, I read in Harper's about a proposal to study irony as a weapon.  Now the Atlantic reports on spy researchers looking into a metaphor program in Farsi, Russian, English and Spanish to see how such speakers see the world through language.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

World's grossest foods

AOL Travel came up with a list of world's grossest foods.  I have eaten half the things on the list.  I will agree the balut is vile.  But where is the stinky tofu?  Thanks Abba, I have a balut with your name on it.

Bibi for President

I was listening to Bibi address Congress the other day on C-Span, and I was marveling at how he really is the perfect Republican candidate.  Smart, erudite social and fiscal conservative.   He would be darling of the Republicans.  He would be a formidable opponent for Obama. Sen. Netanyahu from Pennsylvania (where he grew up).  I can only imagine him as an American Jew (Ben Nitay) with all of the optimistic potential therein, rather than nursing his father's persecution and victimization complex.  But we could always reverse this and ponder if I had been born Israeli.

But important to note, Bibi is trying to play American politics. He is working his hardest to make Obama a one-termer.  Fair enough, Bill Clinton helped get Bibi booted from his first term after Bibi's intransigence.  Just remember Bibi, it can go both ways.   

1st to 3rd

Clyde Prestowitz has a great piece in FP on our crumbling infrastructure. I said something similar, but a little less diplomatically and with North Korea thrown in for reductio ad absurdum. But yes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Obrah

Years ago, I was at an internet cafe in Amman. As I was waiting for a computer, I was chatting with an old Jordanian man in checkered red-kefiyah and sporting a gnarled cane.  As we chatted in Arabic, I told him I was from Al-Wilayat Al-Mutahidah, the US.  He replied that he loved "Obrah."

I scratched my head, not understanding and thinking that it was modest vocab.  "Obrah, Obrah," he said, "Obrah Winfri."

OPRAH WINFREY! I had to pick myself up off the ground, I was laughing so hard.  We giggled over Oprah, and I learned the PD value of the Queen of Chicago.

McHale's Navy

SOS! SOS! Apparently Judith McHale is on her way out as Undersec for Public Diplomacy.  Grand.  Can't say anything bad about McHale's tenure, but I also can't say anything especially good.  The absence of luster is lackluster in my book.  This is the point in my blog where I snidely throw my hat in the ring to succeed her, but I will refrain because I can't exactly say I would want the job.  Rather, I am nominating former-Madame President Melanie Ciolek for the position.

Meanwhile, Man-IC has some other good suggestions ranging from Chuck Norris to Tai-Shan.  Good call, McG.

Ridic

This tidbit of news comes from GlobalPost, from its Morning Chatter newsletter:
Mubin Shaikh, a Canadian Muslim, helped take down Canada's biggest terrorist conspiracy since 9/11. Despite his efforts, Shaikh learned last week that he has been placed on a U.S. terror watch list - reportedly because his name was passed on by CSIS, the spy agency that paid him as an informant.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

1967

That dastardly Obama, look what he said about Israel and the peace negotiations:
"There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967…The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people.

Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides…While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them [the Israelis and Palestinians] will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous."
Oh, oops, that was W.  Yes, my dear chickenhawks and armchair generals, there is nothing new in what Obama said about Israel and the 1967 borders.  What other borders were we discussing?  The East Bank? The West Bank of the Rive Gauche?  Rightwing umbrage is utter bollocks.

New pics up: the Taiwanese epilogue

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bibi the Bumbler

Good piece by Yossi Gurvitz of "Wish you Orwell" on Bibi's nos

Good piece by Jeffrey Goldberg, one usually considered as Bibi's mouthpiece, who said Bibi the bumbler went too far.

Oy, Finland

Finland has apparently recently voted quite heavily for an anti-EU, anti-immigrant party called True Finn.  The party came in third in the parliamentary elections, and has shaken up the Finnish political establishment.

On tinkering

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
-Thomas Edison
Thanks Robyn!

Yahrtzeit

Friday was my grandmother's yahrtzeit- the anniversary of her death by the Hebrew calendar.  Sadly, I was in Israel when she passed away.  She had gone into a coma days before I was set to go lead a birthright tour, and we thought that she would have wanted me to journey on.  It was hard not being able to speak at my grandmother's funeral, and to say the mourner's kadish so far away from my family when I heard of her death.  I was invited to speak briefly at synagogue last night on my grandmother Maxine Sablosky and her blessed memory:
As the sun sets
On the eve of Mother's Day, three years prior, my grandmother Maxine Sablosky had a stroke and slipped into a coma.
She had previously had a serious stroke some 6 weeks before, on the 60th anniversary of her wedding with my grandfather.

She always had a flair for the dramatic.

The whole family came together to spend time by her side, and enjoy the last of her company.
I think my grandmother really appreciated all of us together, and I imagine her smiling that she was the one to bring the whole family together to celebrate Mother’s Day.

I miss my grandmother, my Nanny, but I know it was her time.
She lived and loved her life to the fullest.

She dragged out all the best and most for a long period of borrowed time.

She was ready to go, even if we would never have been ready to let her go.
Maxine Sablosky was an amazing lady and an amazing fighter.

She developed ovarian cancer in 1999 (not even her first bout with cancer), and battled the disease to a standstill for more than 9 years. She had an indomitable will and irrepressible spirit.

My Nanny had a quick mind, and a quicker tongue.

She was the ultimate "call´em as you see em" figure, and watch out if you ended up on her firing line.

But she was also a gentle, wonderful, kind and caring woman who loved life and truly appreciated every minute she had.

As the saying goes, “life lives those who love life.” She loved life, and we loved her for it.

I conclude this memory of my grandmother with the words of William Shakespeare from Antony and Cleopatra:

"The bright day is done,
And we are for the dark."

License to Drive


The State of Maryland has seen it fit to re-enfranchise my right to drive.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Life Online



A Heartbreakingly Boring Work of Staggering Bollocks

My cousin, who will remain nameless so I can pour scorn on his literary choices, gave me a copy of Dave Eggers, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius".  Not a fan.  I look forward to returning to the Dostoevsky I was reading before getting sidetracked.

Tao Te Ching

Thanks Harry!:

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

The politics of the stache

As one who grows a mustache akin to that of a 14-year old rican, I can aspire to such mustachio political sentiments in Turkey.  Teshekuredem, Lena.

South Korea goes Talmudic

Apparently, South Korea is all about the Talmudic scholarship.  I knew I loved Koreans for a reason.  Kimchi on matzah next year!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A PS from TS

Reposting this beaut I found in Panama cause it is always apt:
"We shall not cease from exploration!
And the end of all our exploring,
will be to arrive where we started...
And know the place
for the first time."
-TS Elliott

Monday, May 16, 2011

A curious case

I spent the last day of the surreal life seeing friends all over time and town.  First was Sarko in Santa Monica.  Such destinations were a point of contention, but one always accepts orders from the Commander-in-Beak.  In typical Sarko fashion, he sent me to the wrong place, a closed bar rather than an open brunch joint (Coppa, Cora; Goldberg, Iceberg).  In typical Pablo fashion, I found my way to a hostel and a pay phone and was rounded up by John and his lovely girlfriend Tarra.

We all had brunch at the immaculate Cora's Coffee Shoppe, a vine-enclosed beaut that had phenomenal brunch.  I had a delicious artichoke tarragon omelette which came with a side of toast with melted feta in between.  Yum.  Sarko had the winner though, Eggs Brandeis (lox for bacon) on a bed of creamed spinach.  We loudly discussed the Levant-Tarra the Lebanese-Palestinian-American and I pushing back against Commander Nahas.  John (re)found a wonderful girl, one who he had met his freshman year, and I am supremely pleased to see how things have worked out.  Meanwhile, beware of Semite Consulting, aka the Protocols of the Elders of Zahli & Zion.

I raced back to meet Dean Leah Rousseau.  I was late and blamed Sarko for it, not that she especially cared.  Leah and I caught up over a cup of African Sunrise ice tea (could almost taste the veld), and I heard about her brilliant ideas for looking at academic pd exchange in regards to the Middle East and Africa.   I also got to hear about social capital and admissions, and some decisions she made that require character, and beamed at my friend's integrity,

Dean Rousseau, Dr. Law and I headed crosstown to meet Dame Katharine Keith.  Lady KK is spokeswoman for the British Consulate, and we got to talk pd shop about a press officer's work.  Although KK works in the area, I gave her a tour around town and took her to her first Diddy Reese.  So glad I didn't miss that landmark.  My hands gooed with chocolate from an peanutbuttercup icecream sandwiched in between chocolate chocolate chip and chocolate chip and walnut cookies.    KK told me about the training the Brits gave her, and I just shook my head at the baptism of fire I had into the media world at the hands of the Israeli consulate in comparison.  Israelis are definitely not the English-- shocking realization, I realize.

KK shuttled me downtown to meet at Sheriff Mark Preston's place.  I got to hang with the new Masters of PD, and said goodbye to some friends over a fun game of celebrity charades.  Then the long last ride back down to Hermosa.  I had a bit of an adventure getting home, as there were no cabs running on sunday night.  I spent close to an hour trying to find a cab in the cold, windy night.  I walked probably close to a mile before I was able to flag one down.

So ends my California adventure.  It has been a nice conclusion to a surreal year.  Although I came to see my PubD friends graduate, I felt in many ways like it was my own graduation of sorts.  I left USC swimming in a river of emotions related to my program and graduation.  Although I knew that world no longer existed, I still had pangs of nostalgia; coming back was a firsthand reminder that such a world no longer exists.  Seeing another class graduate helped put the final touches on my own USC chapter.

Now, on to the next chapter in the Curious Case of Paul Rockower

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Between portabella burgers and veggie Tom Yum with old roomie Chelsea Mason at Good Earth (a delicious veggie cult) in Pasadena, and veggie apple sage sausages covered with caramelized onions and heaps of sauerkraut with the Schneiders at Wurstkuche, veggie living in Lalaland is damn good.

A grad reminder

Not from Kurt Vonnegut. And yes, HonesTea person who spoke at my brother's HS graduation, you were lying when you said you heard Mr. Cat's Craddle say it.

purrr.....

Irony is rich: first time I get to drive a car in a year, it is a jag.  I don't think I have ever driven one of those before.  It will probably be a while before I get to again.

PS: My old roommie from Brandeis Mark Hosang reminded me of an old and forgotten memory: on the drive up to Brandeis with my Dad (while I was nursing Buffett wounds), two cars pulled past us.  One was an old pick up jalopy with a sticker of my father's alma mater Muhlenberg on the bumper. The other was a shiny jaguar with a Brandeis sticker on the bumper.  Irony is rich.

things to get rid of

smartphones.  Amen.  I love the author's point:
Meeting friends now involves volleys of indecisive texts, e-mails and last-minute changes. Our constant modern refrain is: "i'll call/text when i'm close." How did we ever coordinate group gatherings before smartphones? We made a plan and we stuck to it. That technology was called "keeping our word."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

shakshuka vindaloo

Shakshuka Vindaloo: sauteed vidala onions, garlic, green beans, peporcini & kalamata onion with vindaloo sauce and eggs cooked crudo. Indian-Israeli gastrodiplomacy w/ a touch of North African and Portuguese thrown in for good measure. Delish.

Also delish: the spicy chutney fries at 23rd St Cafe

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Kids aren't Alright

USC band playing "the Kids aren't Alright" by Offspring reminded me of a great vid my roomie Mark Hosang did with the Matrix:

kimchi

O' kimchi quesadilla, how you make me realize how much I will miss the crazy city that is LA.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Since blogger went down yesterday, I was forced to share my inner monologue only via twitter and facebook.  I am sure, you have all missed my errant thoughts that would have been normally posted here, such as:

-Probably the only homeless guy in Los Angeles toting around a Nehru suit. But this is LA, so perhaps not.

-Wandering though the USC Cinema School, I stumbled upon the Hugh M. Heffner Exhibition Gallery. So disappointing.

Brothers in Publication

Apparently, I am not the only Rockower getting published. A huge congrats to my brother Harry, who is getting published by CofC for his indy study paper on the brain chem and phys of religious experiences. Mazal tov, Harry. I may have beat you by .04 (at least) but you beat my by a decade in the publishing dept.

Temper tantrums

Enjoying a fine day on the lawn of USC for graduation for the newest Masters of Public Diplomacy. Congrats, MPD peeps!

I thought I would take this solemn occasion to reflect on a tuppe that took place a year prior. As the Rockower clan was descending fair Southern California, the night before graduation the Rockower elders started to try to beg off the morning commencement for the satellite affair. As the siblings began to join them in graduation shirking, I put my foot down with an angry pout. “If you are not coming to all of it, I don’t want to see you at any of it,” I huffed. Then I began holding my breath. Harrumph!

In my defense, I had two previous trips cut short by sibling graduations, so I was in no mood to let anyone out of any graduation responsibilities. Everyone is allowed a little temper tantrum once a decade.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Common

WTF! Fox News you have gone too far this time. Common is NOT a gangster rapper, but a hip hop poet. F' you and your bigotry. Not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Black people are gangsters.

Case in Point

Some countries focus on beauty pageants and singing contests; India loves its innovation challenges.

On making a difference

‎"If you think you're too small to make a difference,
you haven't been in bed with a mosquito"
-World Nomads

I Like Big-Butt Ants and I Cannot Lie...

I cannot take credit for that title, nor can Harry.  But we can both appreciate it.  Sir Mix-a-Lot meets the Hill.  I sense a gastrodiplomacy yatra to Colombia.  See you soon Che Miles, we have some big booty ants to feast on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Happy Birthday Israel

Years ago in a galaxy, far, far away, I had to help prepare the Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) op-ed, and work the function. This year, I am on the other side of the dais:



Thanks Thoufeek for designing such a beautiful intro slide, thanks BINA for inviting me.
Reeling in cosmic ridiculousness. Impossible to fully explain. But I am emanating karmic goodness. I will simply shut up and let Lennon finish: "We all shine on."

Announcements

The president of the Gastrodiplomacy Institute is pleased to announce that said initiative has a new CEO: Silva Sevlian.  A hearty welcome please for the talented Ms. Sevlian to the gastrodiplomacy table.

The House of Assad

Like father like son, apparently.  I usually do not condone violence, but I look forward to the day when the bodies of the Assad clan are dragged through the streets of Damascus and fed to the dogs.

Responsa de Il Dottore Harry

You bastard! Lets see who gets a PhD (or a job) first :-)

Prof. Rockower (their term not mine) just found he is being published in his first peer-reviewed academic journal Issues and Studies. A one lira bet has been placed on said challenge.

I find out today or tomorrow if I am published in the school humanities journal... 2 rupees [on the bet] kind sir!


Il Dottore Harry wrote an absolutely brilliant indy study on the neuroscience of religious experiences like speaking in tongues.  Gonna have to sabotage his quals.

Osama bin Cardboard

Watching the video of Osama watching himself, I am not so sure we didn't take out a homeless guy.  Whatever, this is how he really died.

V.I.C.T.O.R.Y.

For the historical Rockower books:
"you win, i concede defeat, if i was to get a 4.0 all through next year i would only have a 3.516 [undergrad GPA]. You are just .04 smarter than me"
- Harry Rockower to moi!

A win is a win, I will take .04!

The Davis Affair, the Bin Laden Hit

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Transit Fail

“I did not come here to praise Caesar, but to bury him.”
-Marc Antony, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Figures the day after I praise the LA metro system, I have to wait a full hour for a bus! The reality is that the poorer classes who rely on public transit are penalized in their precious time as they wait for lackluster transit.

But surreality kicked in with a bus full of touched; my frustratrations somewhat melted away with a toothy grin of a simple girl.

On cells and communication

"You don't have a cell and yet are connected with the world.  I have a cell, am on it all day, and I am connected with no one."
-superagent Markari Goldoman to me.

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Nice Indian Boy

I'm at the USC New Works Festival, watching a dramatic reading of a play called "A Nice Indian Boy" by Madhuri Shekar. Here is the short:
Naveen Gavaskar wants the closest thing to a gay arranged marriage. His plans go awry when he falls for an 'inappropriate' boy, and his perfect sister brings home some not-so-perfect news.
Oh my Shiva, it is hysterical.  About a Desi family in the US dealing with their gay son's desire for a traditional Indian wedding, and their perfect daughter's divorce from her traditional marriage.  Jhumpa Lahiri was never this funny.  And a lovely side of Indian recipes.  It is also stirring reminder that family is family, love is love and the story is same-same whether Greek, Indian, Taiwanese or Jewish.  Nice job Madhuri, it is poignant, funny and truly a treat.

The wonderful LA metro

That isn't sarcasm, I promise.  Contrary to popular thought, Los Angeles has a great metro system.  Once you realize that LA is really an amalgamation of half a dozen or more cities, and it has a system that connects the various spokes of cities, then you have a greater appreciation. I don't think I know a metro transit system that covers as much distance.

From  Alhambra to Venice. The fact that you can get from Redondo to Trojanland for $1.85 or from Burbank to downtown for $1.50, it becomes more impressive.  Or DASH for a quarter (actually inflation raised it to 35cents, but I find alternative ways of fighting inflation)

Granted, it takes a bit of ineptness by LA metro for such deals and a bit of hustle.  And sometimes it feels like public transit in a post-apocalyptic world (not even including the woman carrying a head on the metro).

And you have to have ample time and patience, somethings that seem to be in short supply in the City of Angels.

BINA Yom H & Jews in Far-Flung Places

I was kindly invited by BINA, a Jewish/Israeli Young Prof org in LA to be a guest speaker at their Yom Ha'atzmaut party.  Yom H is Israel's Independence Day.  I am going to be giving a talk about Jewish communities in far-flung places.  Although apparently another speaker is discussing extraterrestrial life so I might not mentioning the most far-flung stories of Jewish life.  If you are in the LA area, come check it out and see my shtick and new Nehru suit.

San Fran to Paris on timelapse (incl Northern Lights)

Here is the story, check out the vid:
An Air France flier found himself with a whole row to himself on a San Francisco-Charles De Gaulle flight, so he set up his SLR and a tripod and shot a time-lapse of the entire flight out the window. As the plane passed over the Arctic, he caught some breathtaking shots of the Aurora Borealis. The Air France crew were apparently very supportive of his project, which is a credit to them.



SF to Paris in Two Minutes from Beep Show on Vimeo.

Samoan Back to the Future

Samoa is shedding a day to align its time with Asia-Pacific not the West.  Fascinating.  Just hope nothing happens to those delicious caramel-coconut chocolate cookies in the process.

barefoot shoes

I first saw these "barefoot shoes" in India on a Canadian fellow who was backpacking around with his dad.  He convinced me of how cool they are.  I told myself I would get a pair.  Or maybe just do the old-fashioned thing and walk barefoot.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

One can hope.  Happy Mother's Day, Ima!

Tales of a Wandering Jew

I'm going to be speaking at the BINA Yom Ha'atzmaut party on Jewish communities in far-flung places. Come check it out if you are in the LA area. 7 years good luck available.

One lump or two?

Irony of irony: as I finish my report on Taiwan's public diplomacy for the journal Issues and Studies, there is a sign in the Coffee Bean promoting its partnership with Taiwan's tea estates. Tea Diplomacy, anyone?

On Wit and Insolence

‎"Wit is educated insolence"
-Aristotle

Debtors' Prison

A whole different kind of stocks for this current state of economic affairs in the good ol US of A. Apparently,  a third of states still allow for debtors to be imprisoned.  Nice.  If they really default, how about we give them the guillotine.  America: we lock up poor people.  Thanks Mike.     

Outsourced

Holy Shiva, I just watched Outsourced.  It is an American sitcom about a call-center in Bombay, and is rather funny.  Not entirely accurate but close enough for American audiences and an amazing and colorful window into Indian life and culture.  The particular episode was about an Indian wedding, and the bachelor party that ensued with a hijra. It is a somewhat fascinating way to introduce a caricature of Indian society to America.  A bit of PD Barnum cultural diplomacy, along the lines of so long as you spell the name of the country right, it is positive.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

On Vegetarians, Near and Far

So for all those that think we veggies are liberal hippies, I offer up the most famous vegetarian:


Yep, there are rumors that the dictator who most liked to drink blood also eschewed meat.  Of course, there are plenty who argue this is just a myth and really not remotely true.

But while chatting with my Aunt Phylis about vegetarians, she said something that had me breakout in tofu goosebumps (or the Godbumps, as my old friend Terry Lowry would say).  Apparently in his later years, my grandfather Harry was a vegetarian.

First it is important to understand the sort of reverence that is attached to the venerable Harry E. Rockower, the Elder.  His memory and legacy are of considerable weight and heft among we Rockowers.  Secondly, it helps explain how a man with a history of heart disease, and who had his first heartattack at 45 years old, still managed to live to the august age of 72.  It is a reminder for this little gastrodiplomat, who has a family history of heart disease and lifelong high cholesterol, that if I want to reach such ages I should continue down this veggie path.

PS: I stepped on the scale for the first time in a year.  I shed 30 pounds, thanks to the road and to the veggies.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Pablo's soft power

My article on Country Music Diplomacy has spurred American Voices to hold a new Country Eastern tour in 2012. First in some six years.  Country Music Diplomacy is off like a buckin' bronco!

An oft-quoted line from one British cowboy, Señor Winston Churchill: "We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."  Since I sure don't get much for my work, I will remain content with what I give: ideas.

Next idea: punk diplomacy. Because Indonesia and China love it, and I would love to see my favorite punk band DC Fallout sent over to Jakarta to be the first official Ramones Punk Ambassadors on a punk exchange pd project.

A slice of life

Downtown at Big Mama and Papas Pizza (home of the immaculate katchapouri- Georgian gondola pizza), the place was full so I joined a table with a stranger.

He had a Russian accent and those icy Russian blue eyes, but skin made golden by the California sun. Vincent, his name was. He looked like a suntanned Putin. I’m not sure if he was homeless. It doesn’t matter.

Over hulking slices of mushroom pizza that could give Pizza Mart a run for its cheese and dough, we chatted about a world gone crazy. We established that India is crazy, Russia is crazy but LA is the craziest.

Hey Bobby Marley, play something good for me. This world go crazy, it’s an insanity.
-the High Priest Manu Chao.

He told me that as a child in Mother Russia, he was tethered to a tree and left by his family overnight. As if some sort of initiation. The winds whipped and howled throughout that long night, he shuddered just recounting it. In the morning, they returned and took him home. Test passed, you are one of us.

I told him of the woman in India chained to a tree for five years by her husband because she was mentally ill. He shuddered and laughed that his one night wasn’t so bad.

He told me that he felt like he was tethered to LA. That he kept trying to leave, that he did leave, but he kept on finding himself back in LA.

That’s deep, I heard the city breathe in its sleep. A reality I touch but for me it’s hard to keep. 
-the Common Prophet.

It wasn’t all crazy talk. We also discussed the things that the world lives by. As Tolstoy wrote, what men live by. He said he was fighting the past, so I imparted two thoughts that help me with my own such struggles.

The past and the future do not exist, all we have is the infinite present. 
-Zen

Rule your mind or your mind will rule you. 
-Buddha

He asked my background, guessing something Middle Eastern. I laughed at my ethnic ambiguity and told him I was a Jew. “I like the Jews,” he said, “so smart. But you told me zen. The Jews have an all-powerful God but not a zen god.” Perhaps. But all thoughts and all prayers encompass the all-powerful.

“The Jews are so giving,” he said.

“It is our belief in tikkun olam,” I replied, “our fundamental belief that we must all repair the world.”

I bade farewell to the stranger. Shared tables always make good stories.  A greasy dough covered handshake that was shared by both hands holding mushroom slices, and escaped into the city’s embrace. The Muse shown down her radiance in the effulgent sun of the Angels.

Public diplomacy is about getting the world to communicate. It is about listening to the stories of strangers, and sharing your own. Public diplomacy is ultimately a form of tikkun olam, the Jewish belief that we must all repair the world. Getting the world to communicate and to listen is fundamental to both public diplomacy and tikkun olam.

Not quite ready for prime time

Up until the Arab Spring, Turkey looked like it was poised for regional leadership.  Neo-Ottomanism, was the term bandied about,  But the Arab Spring led to a Turkish Fall, as Steven Cook adeptly points out.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Patron Saint of Wordsmiths


St. Frances de Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists.  I love the Catholics.


Ganesha, the God of writers.  He was willing to sacrifice a tusk to our fair craft. I love the Hindus.

Mama, Let your babies grow up to be diplomats

I have a new article for USC CPD on Country Music Diplomacy for their PDiN Monitor, the monthly online news mag:

Good cultural diplomacy is always drawn from the unique.  American country music is one area that projects a wholly American image of the rugged hero sitting high in the saddle or a scorned yet powerful woman singing about lost love. Country songs are about what the French would call la condition humaine, universal stories strummed on a guitar. As such, country music has a vast global appeal. While it is debatable in which category Elvis or Johnny Cash might fit, we can reasonably place them in overlapping categories that include country music and American musical icons with global brand status.

Music has long been a potent platform for expression, and thus for cultural diplomacy.  Perusing recent PDiN headlines, we find that the youth of Kashmir have been turning to hip hop and rock-and-roll as a means to nonviolently express their frustrations with the status quo, and using music as a means for dialogue and conflict resolution. In Pakistan, secular musicians are using their craft to push back against the clerical establishment’s attempts to impose increased religiosity on Pakistani society. Meanwhile, Delhi has been jazzed up amidst a festival that brought some nine global jazz bands to the Indian capital for a bit of cultural exchange. And around the globe, in Montreal the Korean pop wave has been washing over Canada’s fair shores.

American cultural diplomacy has long understood the power of music diplomacy, such as jazz, symphonic  and hip-hop diplomacy. A bit of country music diplomacy has already taken place, such as the concerts by Muslim American Kareem Salama in the Middle East, but there could be much more.

I first encountered country music abroad, in the middle of Bohemia of all places. Later, when working as a Press Officer for the Israeli Consulate to the Republic of Texas, I wanted to organize a country music program to visit Israel—to bring a country singer out to Israel, and to strum his guitar while floating in the Dead Sea and to visit the Western Wall and Via Dollorosa in a big ten-gallon hat. Then bring him back to Texas and Oklahoma, and on the country music stations talking about how much he luved his visit to the Holy Land— public diplomats who share the same twang always make the best ambassadors. It was a good idea that never made it up the ministry food chain.

More recently, I found those American campfire songs in India. I got a hint from the book Shantaram, but I encountered it myself with the Whiskey Lullaby that I kept hearing bouncing around in my office in Delhi. And when we buried him beneath the willow, the angels sang a PD lullaby. Turns out it was the ring tone of an officemate named Suresh.  The other officemates mentioned over lunch that India loves country music.

I saw the influence of American country music first hand as one evening my Indian roommate kept playing Don Williams over and over again. He told me how much he loved country to the point that he had proposed to his wife while playing the Don Williams song, "It Must Be Love."  I started Googling the artist and found sites dedicated to Don Williams in Slovenian and other languages.

Should the U.S. State Department be interested in orchestrating government-led country diplomacy tours, there are tremendous partners who can help promote some good old American culture such as Country Music Television (CMT) among others.  It would be great to see a reality show on CMT about country singers touring the world and the reactions therein.  Even more so, I would love to see it as a bit of American female empowerment and send a honky tonk country woman tourin' about.

As previously mentioned, some country music diplomacy has been conducted. Another great instance of country diplomacy has been conducted by American Voices, a not-for-profit organization that conducts cultural diplomacy and cultural engagement. American Voices carried out two projects called “Country Eastern” in 2005 and 2006, sending Austin singer/songwriter Jesse Dayton to Kazakhstan and Vietnam, respectively. The tour through Vietnam came with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, while the tour through Kazakhstan was supported by private funds.

As part of these tours, Dayton was paired with local musicians and had some raucous performances that combined Country and Eastern musical styles. According to John Ferguson, Executive Director of American Voices, “Country music is very big in Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma in particular—almost unheard of in Kazakhstan, but even where it was unknown it had huge appeal.”

As I have noticed in the Shanghai Expo and Taipei Flora Expo, different states like Texas and Montana do a bit of state branding; getting some state buy-in to a country music diplomacy tour could be a great way to get Red State America to appreciate what cultural and public diplomacy is really about.

In my two-rupee opinion, I would send a cultural diplomacy country tour to India and the supremely musical Indonesia and Philippines. You could achieve some great cultural exchange opportunities in all three countries. Heck, the same way I propose sending Taiwanese or Malaysian night markets abroad, I would send the whole rodeo as a bit of cultural diplomacy. I have personally witnessed how much the Japanese loved frito chili pies and deep-fried oreos in some state fair-like cultural exchange in Japan. But let's not put the wagon before the horse....

Simply put, American country music is an internationally popular brand in itself, and something that communicates uniquely American cultural values. Helping it to venture off the American range could provide the United States with some powerful and creative cultural diplomacy opportunities.

Cheers!

God bless the Scots, they are making bio-energy from whisky mash!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Modern Immortal

"To be immortal is to be exempt from oblivion, and only the rarest achievements escape forgetting."
-"The Modern Immortal: Paderweski " exhibit, USC Doheny Library

In the immaculate Doheny Library, there is a wonderful bit of Polish public diplomacy on the life of the life of Ignacy Jan Paderewski.  Paderewski is a name I have long known, stemming from a camp song my Mom used to sing to her kids.  I knew the broad generalities of the man, but not the incredible details of the great Paderewski.  The Polish Music Center and my dear friend Krysta Close did a fabulous bit of Polish public diplomacy with the exhibit on this titan.  The exhibit tells the story of this modern immortal Paderewski, his impact on music, global politics and his role in the resurrection of the immortal nation that is Poland, where he served as its first prime minister. Through passages, images and books, the exhibit weaves the tale of the man and the nation, and does a wonderful job educating about Paderewski and Poland.  Fantastyczna praca, niech żyje Polska!

Kaiser Wilhelm's Ghosts

Adam Hochschild, who wrote the nightmarish  King Leopold's Ghosts, has a great piece today in the LA Times about how our wars of today echo that of the Great War.  TY JB.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Pissed at Coffee Bean

I hate places like Coffee Bean that have bathrooms that they won't let me use. Telling me that I should go across the street, especially when you clearly have one albeit for employees, pisses me off (yes, bad pun). I promise I am potty-trained and will put the seat down. If you are going to provide me with a beverage, then give me a place to deposit it. Bad corporate practices...

The Hinges of History

I am somewhere between overcome and hungover, I barely know where to start. I spent yesterday lounging on the porch, hanging with a new friend Libby who now lives in the house. She took Danny’s old room, and I had to laugh and ask if there was anything found dead in the closet.

We sat outside in the lovely weather listening to a new band addiction and chatted, sipping chai and chai banana coconut milkshakes whipped up in the blender. I am finding the America I returned to has a lot of angst among bright and talented people frustrated about finding jobs. I am serving as the purveyor of perspective to anyone who will listen.

Libby Donnell from Houston, TX was kind enough to give me a ride down to K-town to meet my friend Don Donnelly from Houston, TX, perhaps on the off chance they are somehow related. We met Don and his buddy Joe, a Taiwanese-American fellow who also served in the Navy and had been at USC for his masters. This little veggie sat amid the smoke of grilling meats of KBBQ and ate kimchi and other assorted veggies. We toasted soju and beer to Texas and to Don for his return, and chatted about all things political and military. Don is a conservative of the libertarian bent, and we agree on some while disagreeing on other things, but we respect each other’s opinion. Libby headed back, and Don, Joe and I remained for a while amid banter and soju.

Joe and I took Don down to USC to see the landscape and scenery, then over to the 901 to see the landscape and scenery. As we were walking over, Don got a text that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. We ducked into the bar and the surreality kicked in.

The hinges of history, a term that came from one of the best articles I read post-9/11 and one I still remember to this day. As in, what seemed important on 9/10, things like Chandra Levy and Gary Condit or other assorted business, was suddenly no longer important and everything after that changes.

I was in Prague on 9/11. It was after school and I was in the dorm when the first plane had hit the World Trade Center. Not sure if it was an accident or terrorist attack, and half a world away, I continued on with my day and went to see an Andres Serrano exhibit with Cynthia and (?) Erik (?). Serrano is surreal in his own right, the artists known for Piss Christ, pictures of blood mixed with semen and for pictures of cadavers. I was not a fan of his work, but the exhibit sure contributed to the surreality of the day. When we returned from the exhibit, my roommate Jeff came running out and declared that America was under attack. We came in to find that both towers had collapsed, and the world we knew had been somewhat shattered. We stayed glued to the small tv set for the rest of the evening, and tried to calm down my friend Lauren who was from NYC. I made some tasteless comment to my friend Marko about Arabs, a comment I would never make today. It was ultimately a day and period etched into my life and timeline.

The days to come were also surreal. Czech children wore American flags. Everyone came up to us to express their sorrow for what had happened. A siren rung out across Europe and all stood in quiet attention. The high holiday services were absent a rabbi stuck in the US, and as we would later learn, because 9/11 was really supposed to be 9/18. I attended the amazing Forum2K in the weeks to come and listened to the likes of Vaclav Havel, Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel discuss the events of 9/11. And I wondered if I would indeed be studying in Morocco that Spring as everything seemed in question.

All of this came flooding back as I watched the news in the bar. The 901 filled with sorority girls in patriotic stars and stripes bunting: the generation that were children of 9/11. I wondered how old were they when 9/11 happened? Nine, maybe ten years old. We sat drinking at the bar and watched Obama’s speech, and the gathering crowds outside the White House in celebration.

We headed on to the Spearmint Rhino, a strip club so our boy from the foxhole could see a bit of what he had been missing. Joe and I were engaged in a loud exchange on the surreality of the sorority girls in flag attire, out cheering for Bin Laden’s death. Naked girls tried to get our attention and dollars but we were engrossed in a different matter altogether. No Joe, the sorority surreality it isn’t an article worthy story, but it does make for a good blog.

I would like to say that Osama's death changes something but I am not so sure.  My friend Sofia liked to say, "he's dead and I'm glad."  Personally, I think that if they had such actionable intel, it would have been better to capture him and try him but that isn't my call and I am not about to start monday quarterbacking. And I will be honest, I have been a bit disturbed by all the cheering over vengeance.  It strikes me as a bit barbaric to be dancing on someone's grave, even one as vile as Osama Bin Laden.

I also wish that Bin Laden's death meant we won, but I ultimately think he won.  Before 9/11, there was the talk of America the hyperpower, America the new Rome.  No more.  Now it's America the 21st century France.  Still powerful but not in the same class it once was.

Bin Laden drew us into Afghanistan, and we are still mired in that graveyard of empires.  Meanwhile, we rushed headlong into Iraq.

Osama won because we lost our "greatness," compromised our values and changed our outlook on the world to that of fear.  Nietzche warned: "Be careful when chasing monsters lest you become one."  We became one, and we have paid dearly in blood and treasure.

Perhaps the death of Osama Bin Laden creates some closure for the families of 9/11, and for us as a nation.  One can only hope.  But as President Obama walked away from the lectern, amid the cheering sorority girls in the bars and the throngs outside the White House, I had a brief hope that maybe we can finally move on.  That maybe we can finally get out of Afghanistan, and finish getting out of Iraq.  That maybe we can finally end this nightmare chapter and move on.

Markari Goldoman in HuffPo

My old friend the superagent Markari Goldoman is quoted in HuffPo.  Nice work Mark!

Monday, May 02, 2011

OBL vs BHO

"See what happens when you let Gays into the military?"
-from a friend of a friend

Anyway it takes a mooslem to catch a mooslem. Besides, Obama was born in Pakistan so of course he knew where to find Osama.

I will have more to say on such issues later. It was indeed a strange night and befitting a bloggy of its own.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Recognition

Khaleed Meshaal says Hamas won't recognize Israel. Funny, Sheikh Yassin said the same thing. Pretty sure Israel recognized him. Rantisi too.  Actually and there was that time Bibi recognized dear Khaleed in Jordan.  How's that in your ear?  Sounds like you are still not listening.  No one is.

PS: Horrible PD Fail by Hamas for condemning Bin Laden's death.  Brilliant, simply brilliant move.

אני זוכר

I remember, אני זוכר

May Day May Day!

Happy May Day. Strike up the band and play the Internationale. Says Che Pablo.  For 1st comrade Sverdlov (the Czarkiller).  His great grandniece took this little menshevik to the immaculate Disney Hall, the crown jewel of the Angels.  Благодаря лучшим товарищем Однако сейчас начать работу повашей книге.

The sun set in golden panes on its silver skin.

We saw an intern--Dudamel's intern, David Afkham, who looked like he was 12 in a Nehru suit conduct with the best of them.  He was a little green on his first piece, the Corolian Overture by Beethoven. What's the greatest trick Austria ever pulled...

Still, the piece was excellent.  And the next by Prokofiev was fantastic.  A superb Soviet piece that drove my mind through the snowy Russian tundra on a sled, wrapped in fur and vodka.  Hints of Diego Rivera's electric blue landscape of Mother Russia.  Also, dreams of espionage, and cold war spy novels.  Timbels of Central Asian steppes.  The cellist Peter Stumpf was superb.  It shocks me to think that I ever touched a cello, because we did not play the same instrument.  He picked and plucked and did side swipes with his bow in a manner that was masterful.

The third piece, Beethoven's 5th was also excellent.  Done a bit faster and lighter by Herr Afkham, but done brilliantly well.

I meandered through memory as the perfect acoustics filled my ears.  I closed my eyes for intervals to hear the music dance through my head.  Life as Fantasia.

After the symphonic romp, we had some delicious veggie fair at Gingergrass.  Imperial summer rolls, as we imperious enjoy.  Yael had a Jack and Ginger salad, of delicious jack fruit, lotus root and shitake shoot. Jaja, and what the dressing for Ginger and Jack is...shrimp vinaigrette. Luv it. 'Twas delicious, I love being an easygoing kosher veg.  I had some fresh Japanese eggplant sautéed in a hoisin-sesame sauce with seasoned minced tofu.  Also delicious.  I am still utterly amazed at portion size in America.  One plate is often easily enough for two meals.  Maybe three.  Cảm ơn bạn thân mãi mãi.

My May Day is being spent basking in the Southern California sun and connecting with an old friend from Texas.  My buddy Don Donnely just got back from his third tour in Iraq with the Navy, and I am proud to buy him a beer.  Probably a cheap Mexican one, but nonetheless.  A salute to Don for his service to this nation.  He is driving his motorcycle up the California coast then heading across the desert back to the Lone Star.  Don is a soldier-diplomat, one who gets the world in things like policy and public diplomacy.  We may disagree, but he has my respect.  Welcome back Don, may your beer always be cold and your señoritas always be hot. Welcome back.

Brilliant Minimalist Ads

Pictures that don't need a thousand words. My fav
Nothing more to say.

Trumped

The Donald gets roasted by Obama.  The Prez killed it.