Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ambassador to Abyssinia

My old boss at the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest was just named Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia.  She is the first Israeli of Ethiopian origin to serve as ambassador.  Mazal tov, Belaynesh!

Virtual SF

With the AMA biz finished, I have stuck around San Fran to hang with my dear friends Jeremy and Vanessa. Meanwhile, the beauty of a virtual office is getting to stroll through the Palace of Fine Arts and plunk down to work in the Marina in SF. "San Francisco, a city affectionately known for its 4Hs: hills, homos, hobos and hemp." -unknown

What's in a name?

Siritaribhavanaditapavarapanditsudhammarajahadhipatinarapatisithu.  I couldn't make that name up if I tried.  I don't think I could tweet that name either. It belonged to a Burmese king.


Kudos to my friend and PD colleague Matthew Wallin for helping to establish an arm of public diplomacy research at the American Security Project.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

American Music, Coast to Coast

I have been out of bloggy touch this week because I have been on the road with the auditions for the American Music Abroad program.  As I have previously noted, the American Music Abroad program is the flagship cultural diplomacy program of the US State Department, which my organization American Voices administers.  The program is the evolution of the famous Jazz Ambassadors program.

We had received nearly 300 applications for the program, a record and more than double the previous year, of which the panel of judges selected approximately 40 ensembles for live auditions.  This week we held the live auditions in New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.  The ensembles that were invited to the live auditions were, frankly, amazing and represent the broad spectrum of the canon of American music.  Over the week we heard auditions from groups representing Jazz, Hip Hop, Bluegrass, Hawaiian, Western, Cajun, Zydeco, Blues, and even genres as diverse as Indo-Appalachian blue grass.   The process of live auditions was an absolute pleasure as we heard song selections and educational programs from the talented troupes.  One of the best parts of the audition process was listening to the folk songs selected by the groups, who put their own stamps on works such as Azeri folk songs or Guantanamera.   Imagine a Hawaiian version of Guantanamera, or a jazz version.  It was pretty impressive.

On the whole, it was a busy week but lots of fun to work with such talented musicians.  Approximately 10 groups will be sent out as music ambassadors to teach, perform and jam with local musicians in some 40-50 countries worldwide.  This is public and cultural diplomacy at its finest.  Lucky me, I will get to accompany a few tours.

So good news with AV, but bad news with AU.  I had applied for the doctoral program at American University, at the IR program of the School of International Service.  Unfortunately, I found out today I did not get in to the program.  Disappointing, but a reminder that nothing is ever taken for granted.  Similarly, they got a record number of applicants for a limited number of spaces.  Last year they got 200 applications for 10 spaces, and I imagine they got more apps this year.  So tougher odds than AMA.  I was on the bubble but didn't find my way in to the final dance.  I know I was up in the consideration process, but it did not bear out in my favor.

I have a mix of emotions about the whole thing.  I would have had a hard time walking away from the AV/AMA in the middle of something on which I I have worked really hard.  I have also had some misgivings about spending many more years to come in DC.  But with that said, I long to return to academia and thought the program would have been a good fit for me. It is proving tricky to find a PD PhD.  This was an IR program, and perhaps my PD focus didn't quite fit it as well as I had thought.  So it goes, apparently it was not part of my dharma.

But I was next to my bosses when the news came, and they were rather pleased in a fashion.  My boss John remarked that their bribe had worked, and apparently when I went out to get a drink, they did a happy dance.  It is nice to know that I have a good job that appreciates my services and will let me continue to practice PD in the field and travel long and far.  Silver lining, if there is any.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dan Bing Diplomacy

Dear Taiwan,
  Thanks for following my advice on the beef noodle soup as a centerpiece of your gastrodiplomacy.  Now, I am craving some dan bing for breakfast and think that it could make a great delicacy to promote.  Dan bing is the Taiwanese breakfast crepe made from cracking an egg on a griddle and covering it with a spring roll pancake, as the egg cooks into the pancake it is then rolled up and cut it into little bites to be slathered with chili sauce.  It is delicious, and would be a super popular street breakfast food.  I am still waiting for you to come out with food trucks too.  This would be a fun foodtruck snack worthy of gastrodiplomacy promotion.
Bao Loa

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Verily, a great man hath passed

So ends the life of a truly interesting man.


"At times in my life I have sought hermitage, generally by running off to a foreign country where nobody knows my name, place where I could go many days without speaking to a soul, and many weeks without hearing my native language.  Whether prompted by a dull job,a romance gone sour, or a general sense of all-encompassing malaise, each trek has been a welcome escape.  And each time I travel I see enough fascinating things to reignite my appreciation for the beauty of life.

  But I have always fled society out of anger rather than joy.  It is not a calm, reasoned rejection of the World of Illusions, merely frustration that the illusion isn't pleasing enough.  Perhaps that is why, when the anger burns itself out, I always come back.

I've got it all backward, of course.  I sever all attachments, slough off possessions, home, friends and family, tread the road with no destination in mind- but only for a time.  I use hermitage to restore my love for the world, not to break free from its hold."
-Jonah Blank, "The Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God"

Amen.  As you can imagine, I can relate. 


"They have come from close by and very far away.  They have lived all sorts of lives.  They willingly tell me how they became hermits, but are baffled when I ask them why.

  Why? Why turn sadhu?  They laugh gently, because it is a foolish question, and they are too charitable to call me a fool. Why give up a world that everybody know is miserable and corrupt to seek blessed union with God?  Why recognize that luxury is unnecessary and frivolous?  Why look for peace in the only place it can be found, within one's heart?  One might as well ask a starving man why he wants bread.  The sadhus do not care where their spiritual hunger comes from, only that it is there and must be satisfied."
-Jonah Blank, "The Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God"

All Truth comes from within

"'What can I tell you?' the maharishi asked.  'All Truth comes from within- of this you are certainly aware.  I cannot teach you anything that you don't already know.'
    Rama did not protest.  He merely listened.
   'The search for Truth, Agatsya continued, 'is the search for one's Self.  When a man truly understands who he is, he will realize that he is part of God.  This understanding cannot come from the intellect, it comes from a place far deeper.  Know yourself, my friend, and you will see that you are none other than the Lord.'"
-Jonah Blank, "Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God"

As I watched cars pouring down the highway, I smiled at things forgotten and remembered, and the ephemeral way that being in motion can tune me in to a place far deeper.  From high above as we crossed the Delaware Bridge, the sky had a golden hue with one pink cloud heaving across the horizon.

On Leadership

"Any demagogue can promise a chicken in every pot, and perhaps even deliver it, but that is not the purpose of government.  A great leader is one who brings his people through the sacrifices necessary to attain their goals.  A great leader is one who points out the right direction and rouses the people to make the journey themselves."
-Jonah Blank, "Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God"

Off to the Apple

I had a nice night out with my mother and the newest Washingtonian, my grandfather.  He just moved down this week after spending a lifetime in Philly.  His care center in Philadelphia was getting depressingly old, and he wanted a new environs with some more spring chickens.  We went out for a delicious dinner at Arucola on Connecticut Ave.  I had misjudged the springishness of the day and grossly underestimated the warmth of daylight fading.  I froze on my trek down to the restaurant as I went coat-less, but warmed up over some vino. We shared a delicious portobello smeared in pesto and roasted in garlic and olive oil.  I had a rich mezzaluna ravioli that was stuffed with succulent crimini mushrooms and swimming in a yellow cream sauce.  My grandfather had his staple veal piccata with polenta on the side, while my mother had a grilled tilapia in a white wine sauce with capers, black olives and tomatoes.  We shared a delicious gooey bread pudding for dessert, and then were off to the Kennedy Center for a night at the symphony.

At the Kennedy Center, we listened to a good performance of Beethoven and Strauss.  There was a guest conductor named Herbert Blomstedt leading the NSO who was amazingly in his mid-80s.  The Octogenarian conductor did a wonderful job through the concert, although truth be told the Strauss piece was not my favorite work.  Strauss himself said, " "I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer."  I may agree with you, Richard.  But Beethoven's Fourth more than made up for Strauss.

A slow morning got off to an auspicious start as I made my way out of my house and on to the metro to head over to Union Station to hop a bus to New York.  I had gone about two blocks when I realized I forgot my ticket.  No big deal because my bus was at 11:30am, and it was about 10:20.  I had lazed about the house, reading the sunday Post and sipping coffee.  When I returned for my ticket, I was startled to find that the bus was at 11am not 11:30.  Oops.

I hoofed a little faster up to 16th st to catch a cab but realized I had little cash on me.  None of the cabs took credit, so I hopped in one and figured I would hit an ATM on the way.  A quick stop on U st at the 7-11 did the trick as I dodged in and out of traffic.  I arrived to Union Station with about ten minutes to spare and got in line for the bus to New York.  Small stupidity tax that I will pass on to the logistical cost of doing business wrapped up in the grand per diem.

Only as the time got closer, I realized I was in the wrong line for the wrong bus company.  I ducked across the parking lot and got to the right bus at the right time.  Thus far no harm, and I got on my Bolt bus to NYC.  The bus ride started off on a sour foot as a NewYawker yakked away loudly on his phone to the point that the bus driver and a few passengers told him to pipe down.  Ah, civility in its grandest forms.  

But we sped out in silence with the skies alternating in rows of grey, pink and overcast yellow with an occasional blue streak above the wintry desiccated branches of field.  As always, I love being on the move.  Off to New York to begin the live rounds of the American Music Abroad auditions, and I will get to be a fly on the wall of some amazing ensembles as they try to jam their way to cultural ambassadorship.  In the meantime, I will settle in to my seat and pick up where the trail of the Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


On a glorious spring-ish day, I headed out on a bike ride through DC.  I biked down into Rock Creek park and meandered down its curved path that hugged the gentle river.  Past stone bridges and dead branches reflecting in the crystal stream and past old cemeteries with graves in symmetry on the green hill.  I sucked on a snus like a hard candy sucker turned teabag of sweet juice.  It oozed frosted nicotina goodness out of its lace pouch and into my chaw.  Georgetown towered spires like a central European hamlet of memory, the Vlatava-upon-the-Potomac.  The Waterfront looking like a mini modern Alexandria.  Panta rhei- everything flows, as Borges taught.   Still water looking to run deep.

Everything looks perfect from far away.
-Iron and Wine, "Such Great Heights"

I made my way past monuments and through the Smithsonian to the Native American Museum.  I stopped in the cafe for the fry bread, which I covered in pickled beat and bandera salsa of onions and tomato chunks and cotija cheese.

Contact changes the world

Tobacco changes the world

Potatoes change the world

Chocolate changes the world

Corn changes the world

The walls bore reminders of what was and what changed.  The exhibit was quite good, recounting like the pre-and post-Colombian world.

Disease changed the world. 900 conquistadors changed the world

There was a passage I found to be a poignant reminder:
The first 150 years of Contact witnessed one of the greatest transfers of wealth in world history.   What Galleano would call veina abeirtas.

Horses changed everything, and there was an interesting exhibit on the role in which horses became part of Native American culture.  I always find it fascinating that one of the most dominant images associated with Native American life is a result of that Contact.

I biked back through the city, cutting up and over blocks before I hit 16th street and headed straight back up to my barrio.  Off tonight for a night of Beethoven and Strauss.

Friday, February 17, 2012

MD, NJ & Marriage

As one who has held evolving views on gay marriage, I am pleased to see Maryland pass a bill supporting such rights.  Congrats to those who will now have the opportunity to say the world's shortest and longest sentence: I do.

With that said, I'm not sure if I have issue with Gov. Christie's move either:
At the same time, Mr. Christie repeated what the State Supreme Court said in 2006 — that same-sex couples deserve the same benefits enjoyed by married couples. Answering testimony that same-sex couples in civil unions had more trouble than married couples in matters like obtaining mortgages and making health care decisions, the governor said he wanted to set up a new ombudsman to make sure gay and lesbian couples did not suffer discrimination. But he argued that civil unions did not discriminate, saying there had been only 13 complaints about the law since it was passed in 2006, compared with 1,300 complaints about discrimination based on disability and 1,200 based on race.
I have long stated that if the issue is about rights, I support it; if it is about defining what constitutes marriage, I waver a bit.  New Jersey already has provisions for civil unions, and if such a measure is providing all the rights and privileges therein, I am less inclined to offer my support further.  I admit that perhaps my stance isn't completely logical.  So it goes.

The Times

'Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.' -Cicero, circa 43 BC

Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God

"'Perhaps,' I ventured, 'fate is Borgesian labyrinth.  We are perfectly free to wander through it at will, but the paths we tread are wholly determined by the walls of the maze.  We can select any route we please, even change routes from time to time, but we still must follow the corridors wherever they may lead.'"
-Jonah Blank, Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God.  Ty, Harryana.

The Black Arts

To protect Iran's nuclear program, it has recruited a crack team of ninjas!

India, its near abroad and its PD

The Economist has a few interesting articles on India's relationship with its neighbors, both on its positive outreach and its previous shortcomings.  Also of interest, the USC MPDers who were in India on a fact-finding public diplomacy mission have released their report on Indian PD.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Diplomats and Diplomacy

"Diplomats were invented simply to waste time"
-David Lloyd George

"Diplomacy is the art of saying nothing really carefully."
-The LA Times

Ebony and Ivory

Interracial marriage is up, and apparently Virginia is the most mixed state.  A nice reminder of why I am glad to be back in America.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Noodles and a movie

An interesting bit of cultural and culinary diplomacy by Taiwan, as it hosts Noodles and a Movie at the Freer on Wed Feb 15th at 6pm.  the TECO office is showing the Taiwanese film Eat Drink Man Woman and serving up Taiwanese cuisine.  Smart and creative cultural diplomacy, Taiwan!  Thanks for the heads-up, Jackie.  Alas, this gastrodiplomat can't make it on account of Urdu class.

Valentine's Day

Possibly my best Valentine's Day, from 2007 with Minseon at the Taj
From The Taj

Greatest Valentine's card ever

and a cute story. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine. He was in France, she was in Buenos Aires. He got a girl's email address wrong and they began chatting. A year later, I met them in Buenos Aires when they were engaged.

Stand-up Diplomacy: Humor as Public Diplomacy

I have a new blog on the USC Center for Public Diplomacy's site on comedic pd


“If you are going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh; otherwise, they’ll kill you.”
-George Bernard Shaw

I used to think that humor was one thing that didn’t translate in cross-cultural communication. In my travels, I had watched numerous attempts at jokes fail miserably as they got lost in translation or cultural nuances. Things often ended awkwardly amid the seemingly untranslatable nature of humor.

Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World

Yet when I was visiting Pakistan a number of years ago, I first saw the transmutable nature of humor while attending a concert in Lahore during Basant, a huge kite flying festival. Before the concert descended into riotous fun, there was a troupe of performers who took the stage for a little comedic interlude. I was surprised by the uncanny resemblance of a comedian to the Seinfield character “Kramer,” complete with tall curly hair and similar “herky-jerky” mannerisms. Watching the “Pakistani Kramer” and some more recent comedic observations made me realize that, if done correctly, humor can be a potent force for public diplomacy.

Public diplomacy is predicated on the communication of culture, values and ideas; humor represents a more oblique manner of communicating ideas, and therefore can be a powerful medium to conduct public diplomacy. The beauty of using humor as a means to transmit ideas is that the jovial nature of comedy can indirectly communicate weightier subjects in a lighthearted manner that can diffuse weighty realities.

In some regards, the influential nature of American humor can delve into notions of “soft power” related to Joseph Nye’s theories on attraction through culture. If imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, then one such example of American soft power can be seen through Egypt’s El Koshary Todaya satirical media endeavor akin to The Onion(“America’s Finest News Source”). While I have blogged a few times, semi-seriously, that Jon Stewart is the closest thing we have today to an Edward R. Murrow, and that he should be named chief of a reconstituted United States Information Agency, perhaps even Stewart’s style of satire constitutes a bit of soft power. With Parazit, considered the “Daily Show of Iran,” the Voice of America has found considerable audiences in Iran that tune in to the satirical programming casting fun at the Iranian regime and its idiosyncrasies — including many who wouldn’t usually tune in to VOA. I would also highlight the popularity of the VOA program OMG Meiyu, the teenybop language class production designed to teach American slang to China, as a point to burnish the case for a less serious side of public diplomacy.

In the realm of people-to-people connections made through comedic interplay, perhaps nothing compares with live stand-up comedy. There have been iterations of comedy tours, such as the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, which helped challenge stereotypes and misconceptions of the Muslim world while walking an edgy politico-comedic line of satire. The program proved so popular that the comedy tour ended up with its own Comedy Central special.

More recently, a comedy tour called The Muslims are Coming barnstormed through the southern heartland America to help iconoclastically break stereotypes and perceptions about what it means to be a Muslim as well as satirize the Muslim-American experience. The troupe had Dixie in stitches, as they traveled through Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi to give free comedic performance in cafes, community centers, and theaters that light-heartedly dealt with issues of identity.

Finally, one of the more original public diplomacy ventures enacted by the U.S. State Department, has been to send an Indian-American comedy troupe to India for some comedic public diplomacy. Comprising three comedians of Indian origin- Rajiv Satyal, Hari Kondabolu, and Azhar Usman- the comedians poke fun at religious intolerance as a means to broach difficult discussions and bridge religious gaps. The “Make Chai Not War” tour kicked off on January 4th and visited seven Indian cities including Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, and Kolkata to carry out comedy shows and workshops. Regarding the tour, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated:

The reason we decided to support this tour is because, among the things that they are known for is their talk about religious tolerance, about the importance of breaking down prejudices and about the positive experiences they had growing up as Indian-Americans in the United States.

Speaking to NPR’s All Things Considered, Michael Macy, the cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy who helped arrange the tour, drew links to stand-up as a unique part of American culture. He stated, “This commitment to free speech, this commitment to free discussion of what can be difficult or sensitive topics, it's very American." Rajiv Satyal, one of the comedians on the tour, elucidated the public diplomacy promise of the endeavor: "It's a measure of diplomacy and a message of religious harmony. We're not even really religious on stage. We might do some religious jokes, but it's more just bringing people together."

The Make Chai Not War program is ultimately a brilliant public and cultural diplomacy move to communicate ideas of life in America and notions of American religious tolerance through a comedic voice—that the transmitters of that comedic voice also resemble the audience is doubly effective. Using comedy to communicate American cultures and values is both novel and effective. That the program was met with acclaim in India, and covered extensively and positively in both the Indian and American press underscores the importance of a bit of irreverence in public diplomacy.

Juan Valdez

I am having an interesting week of meetings related to cultural diplomacy in South Sudan, Kurdistan and the Gulf.  I just finished a meeting related to cultural diplomacy in the world's newest country, and I popped over to my favorite gastrodiplomacy coffee shop in the district: Juan Valdez Cafe.

As I sipped the wonderfully rich Colombian coffee and ate a delicious almojabana- a soft cornbread cheese roll, I smiled at the gastrodiplomacy value of the location as a means to introduce Colombian food and culture. The Colombian coffee retailers' chain is a wonderful endeavor designed to promote Colombian coffee and culture.  There are stores located in New York City, Washington D.C., Madrid, Quito and Guayaquil (Ecuador) and Santiago, Chile.  I think the Colombian government would be wise to use these shops for gastrodiplomacy purposes and spread them far and wide.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012


My brother Harry's friend is conducting a survey:
Jewish? Between the age of 18 and 26? Help my friend out with research she is doing and fill out this survey. She needs over 400 people, so please help. It will only take 5 minutes. Thanks! https://sites.google.com/a/g.cofc.edu/ati/

Learning to be still

Learning to be still remains the most difficult challenge for one Don Pablo Quijote. Forever with the urge to go off tilting at windmills, this PD knight errant forever grapples with the ability to stay put. That ephemeral challenge of existing in the present remains present.

Puppy Hearst

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Puppies (PFLP) is officially taking Scruffy hostage.

Hong Konger

There was another interesting article I read a while back about identity in Hong Kong and the dismay of mainland China to the upsurge in the Hong Kongerness:
The survey, conducted last month by the University of Hong Kong, found that the number of respondents who view themselves as Hong Kongers is more than double the number who see themselves as Chinese and that bonds of shared identity with the mainland have grown weaker since Britain relinquished control in 1997.
Infuriated by the results, Chinese officials have orchestrated a campaign of denunciation — the latest blast in a barrage of verbal and written broadsides against alleged disloyalty in Hong Kong.

Romney '12

WaPo had an excellent article on the only Romney I respect: George Romney.   Not the pandering Mitt, but a man of pragmatic principles.  The article make a great case that George Romney would be just the pragmatic Republican leader that America needs today:
George Romney inhabited a different world. His executive career took place within a single company, American Motors Corp. There, his success rested on the pursuit of more fuel-efficient cars to compete with the gas-guzzling “dinosaurs” (in Romney’s words) of AMC’s larger competitors. Like Bain, AMC was emblematic of its time. Rooted in the industrial Midwest, its corporate philosophy recognized the connections among workers, managers, shareholders and communities. Romney the elder dismissed the “rugged individualism” touted by conservatives as “nothing but a political banner to cover up greed.” Entrepreneurship was vital, but prosperity was not an individual product; it was generated within a community, through bargaining and compromises...
As governor and then as a presidential candidate, George Romney sought a party that reached toward the broad middle of American society. His allies were figures like New York’s Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who argued for an effective partnership between government and the private sector. His bête noire, as the historian Rick Perlstein documents in his 2008 book “Nixonland,” was the insurgent Arizona conservative Barry Goldwater. Romney supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act; Goldwater opposed it as a threat to states’ rights. Responding to Goldwater’s dictum that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” Romney countered that “dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Propaganda and the Great War

"Lead this people into war, and they'll forget there was ever such a thing as tolerance. To fight, you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fibre of national life, infecting the Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street."

"WWI was the defining moment of the 20th century. Everything else is a footnote. Thus Spake John Brown."

A great piece on propaganda and the Great War.  Nice find, JB, and nice quote.

 I am off to start on Paris 1919, thanks Harry for the great bday gift.  I had started Paris 1919 on my drive out across the country with my father on my way to begin my life in Southern California.  I had to stop the book-on-tape because it was too interesting and I wanted to read it for myself.  Now I am.

"I cannot say for how many years, perhaps I should say for how many centuries, the crisis which has begun will continue...Yes, this treaty will bring us burdens, troubles, miseries, difficulties, and that will continue for long years."
-Georges Clemenceau

"In diplomacy, as in life itself, one often learns more from failures than successes.  Triumphs will seem, in retrospect, to be foreordained, a series of brilliant actions and decisions that may in fact have been lucky or inadvertent, whereas failures illuminate paths and pitfalls to be avoided- in the parlance of modern bureaucrats, lessons learned."
-Richard Holbrooke, forward to Paris 1919

Barbary Coast

I went to a fascinating lecture the other day at the Wilson Center on the Barbary Coast, colonialism and identity.  The lecture was given by Prof. Julia Clancy-Smith of University of Arizona.  She had recently written a new book called Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800-1900.  She began her lecture by noting that she had seen Los Angeles described as the "Barbary Coast of the West."  Whereas in the past, barbary had a connotation as "uncivilized," with its moors, pirates and corsairs- but now the word was perceived in a more positive allure as a place of mobility and motion.

The focus on the talk dealt mostly with Tunisia, as it sat precariously on the convergence of 3 empires (the Ottoman Empire, French Algeria and British Malta).  Prof Clancy-Smith went on to discuss the active migratory frontier that was North Africa in the 19th century, as waves of Italians, Spanish and Maltese peasant conducted north-south labor migration.  She spoke on the subsistence migrants that came primary from Sicily and Malta to work and settle in Tunis, and how that changed the dynamic of Tunis.  She made an interest point about port cities as being synonymous with vice- as being center of moral suspect. Clancy-Smith noted an old Sicilian proverb, "one does not set out on such a journey with a joyous heart."  Some of the migrants came for work, others were tricked by "coyotes"- thinking that the voyage would possibly take them to the new world, and other chasing promises of free land.  Also a fascinating reminder that migration, which today is south-north was once the opposite.  Beyond the north-south labor migration, a considerable bit of migration came from the French pacification campaigns in Algeria, which drove Algerian Muslims and Jews into Tunis.

All of this contributed to a shifting cityscape in Tunis.  With the influx of these impoverished Maltese, Corsican and Sicilian migrants, Tunisia underwent changes in its public spaces.    For one, private drinking- something winked and nodded at in North Africa for a long time (see under: the import of "vinegar"; prescriptions to imbibe champagne to cure gout)- suddenly became bowled over with public drinking houses of the Italians and Maltese.  Also, the Italian and Maltese peasants helped contribute to a ruralization of the city-center, as they brought their  live stock into the dense medina.  This all played into notions central to many migrations surrounding impurity, pollution and the newcomer.

There were some other interesting factors at play that Prof. Clancy-Smith discussed, such as the global costalization of human society, and the growing divergence between the coast and the interior.  This played itself out in the Tunisian context as the coastal elite ceased marriage confederations with the tribal interior and rather preferred Italian and Circassian brides.  Fast forward to today, the disconnect between coastal and interior played itself out in the spark for the Tunisian revolution beginning in Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia's interior- a place seemingly disconnected from Tunis.   Another interesting point made was the unease of French systems of communication innovations such as the telegraph and the railroad leading from Algeria to Tunisia.

Anyway, it was a fascinating lecture on issues I love most: identity, migration, conceptions of public space and imperialism.  A few other points I found interesting from the lecture:

-19th century Britain's abolitionism and fight against contraband trafficking didn't really apply when it came to Malta, as the island served as a hub of contraband and trafficking of persons.

-the relationship of Tunisia's Jewry in the nationalist narrative.  While half of the Tunisian Jewish community's leadership sided with the nationalists, and a large number remained in Tunisia after its independence, Tunisia's Jewry was largely written out of the nationalist narrative.  However, more recently there have been scholars working to bring the community's role back into its place in the national narrative.

-Tunisia's public diplomacy towards Europe as projecting itself as "mediterranean."  In this regard, it hosted the Mediterranean Games, and played an active role in the Union for the Mediterranean (Euro-Mediterranean Partnership).

-some interesting tidbits I gleaned in post-lecture discussion:

 a) I Love Hip Hop in Morocco

b) Edward Bernays worked for India doing PD/PR.  In the late 1940s, early 1950s, India- with minimal money in its governmental coffers put Bernays on the payroll for an exorbitant sum.  He reportedly pushed India to conduct PD/PR to promote itself as the most democratic republic in Asia, and supposedly is to have advised the Indian government that all Americans knew about India was cows and snakecharmers- and that they should adopt an American-style Bill of Rights into their Constitution.  Legend has it, three days after they paid his fees, such a bill was added.  I need a little more confirmation and details on this story, but... Twain and facts...

Oodles of Noodles

Focus Taiwan has an article about Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy and the promotion of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.  You may recall, I called for this Taiwanese delicacy to be staple of Taiwanese gastrodiplomacy.  It seems that they took my advice, although I advocated the promotion in the middle of the country.  I will be patient and let Taiwan work its soup magic inwards.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

RFT & Me

I was in St. Louis last week to do some media work for American Voices.  The alt weekly RFT did a nice story about our guerrilla cultural diplomacy work.  I like the opening line:
​Diplomacy between nations doesn't always involve dignitaries or high-level negotiations. A group with a presence in St. Louis engages in "cultural diplomacy," which involves exchanging musical expertise between Americans and countries often hit hard by conflict.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Thanks facebook

Two good shares worth sharing again

Christianity and the Death Penalty

"Catholic children would be wearing little electric chairs round their necks instead of crosses."

--What Len[n]y Bruce speculated would be the case if Jesus had been killed in the twentieth century; cited by J. C. in The Times Literary Supplement (January 20, 2012), p.32; image from

Granted Lenny Bruce and I are both of the Hebrew persuasion so I hope this doesn't come off as offensive, but I imagine the best reason for Christian opposition to the death penalty would come case-in-point from Jesus.

The Gambler and Other Stories

I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as before. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when they laugh at me - and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly dear to me. I could join in their laughter - not exactly at myself, but through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad because they do not know the truth and I do know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won't understand that. No, they won't understand it.
-Dostoyevsky's Dream of a Ridiculous Man

I finally finished Dostoyesvky's The Gambler and Other Stories.  I bought the book in India at the Idiom Bookseller in Ft. Cochin in Kerala, in what seems like a lifetime ago.  Given Dostoyevsky's denseness, it took me a while to finish even his short stories, but it was wonderful in texture and tone and gratifying to pour through.

I had a few favorite stories.  One in particular was "The Gambler," about a roulette addict that echoes Dostoyevsky's own issues with gambling.  This particular story was written under severe threat to Dostoyevsky by his publisher.  Having squandered his upfront payments, and under threat that if he didn't finish the story by the due date, he would lose all royalties for all his works for a decade, the author dictated this story over 26 days to his stenographer.  The story reflects the fevered pace of a gambler's luck and life.

There was another haunting story called "The Meek One" about a man recounting in feverish tone about his young wife's suicide and his role in driving her to it.

Also, a fav was the above and below quoted passages from "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" about a man on the path to commit suicide until a lucid, lurid dream saves him.  The dream is of a eden-esque world that he loves until he pollutes it and it all gets torn asunder.  
Yes, yes, it ended in my corrupting them all! How it could come to pass I do not know, but I remember it clearly. The dream embraced thousands of years and left in me only a sense of the whole. I only know that I was the cause of their sin and downfall. Like a vile trichina, like a germ of the plague infecting whole kingdoms, so I contaminated all this earth, so happy and sinless before my coming. They learnt to lie, grew fond of lying, and discovered the charm of falsehood. Oh, at first perhaps it began innocently, with a jest, coquetry, with amorous play, perhaps indeed with a germ, but that germ of falsity made its way into their hearts and pleased them. Then sensuality was soon begotten, sensuality begot jealousy, jealousy - cruelty . . . Oh, I don't know, I don't remember; but soon, very soon the first blood was shed. They marvelled and were horrified, and began to be split up and divided. They formed into unions, but it was against one another. Reproaches, upbraidings followed. They came to know shame, and shame brought them to virtue. The conception of honour sprang up, and every union began waving its flags. They began torturing animals, and the animals withdrew from them into the forests and became hostile to them. They began to struggle for separation, for isolation, for individuality, for mine and thine. They began to talk in different languages. They became acquainted with sorrow and loved sorrow; they thirsted for suffering, and said that truth could only be attained through suffering. Then science appeared. As they became wicked they began talking of brotherhood and humanitarianism, and understood those ideas. As they became criminal, they invented justice and drew up whole legal codes in order to observe it, and to ensure their being kept, set up a guillotine. They hardly remembered what they had lost, in fact refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They even laughed at the possibility o this happiness in the past, and called it a dream. They could not even imagine it in definite form and shape, but, strange and wonderful to relate, though they lost all faith in their past happiness and called it a legend, they so longed to be happy and innocent once more that they succumbed to this desire like children, made an idol of it, set up temples and worshipped their own idea, their own desire; though at the same time they fully believed that it was unattainable and could not be realised, yet they bowed down to it and adored it with tears! Nevertheless, if it could have happened that they had returned to the innocent and happy condition which they had lost, and if someone had shown it to them again and had asked them whether they wanted to go back to it, they would certainly have refused. They answered me:
"We may be deceitful, wicked and unjust, we know it and weep over it, we grieve over it; we torment and punish ourselves more perhaps than that merciful Judge Who will judge us and whose Name we know not. But we have science, and by the means of it we shall find the truth and we shall arrive at it consciously. Knowledge is higher than feeling, the consciousness of life is higher than life. Science will give us wisdom, wisdom will reveal the laws, and the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness."
That is what they said, and after saying such things everyone began to love himself better than anyone else, and indeed they could not do otherwise. All became so jealous of the rights of their own personality that they did their very utmost to curtail and destroy them in others, and made that the chief thing in their lives. Slavery followed, even voluntary slavery; the weak eagerly submitted to the strong, on condition that the latter aided them to subdue the still weaker. Then there were saints who came to these people, weeping, and talked to them of their pride, of their loss of harmony and due proportion, of their loss of shame. They were laughed at or pelted with stones. Holy blood was shed on the threshold of the temples. Then there arose men who began to think how to bring all people together again, so that everybody, while still loving himself best of all, might not interfere with others, and all might live together in something like a harmonious society. Regular wars sprang up over this idea. All the combatants at the same time firmly believed that science, wisdom and the instinct of self-preservation would force men at last to unite into a harmonious and rational society; and so, meanwhile, to hasten matters, 'the wise' endeavoured to exterminate as rapidly as possible all who were 'not wise' and did not understand their idea, that the latter might not hinder its triumph. But the instinct of self-preservation grew rapidly weaker; there arose men, haughty and sensual, who demanded all or nothing. In order to obtain everything they resorted to crime, and if they did not succeed - to suicide. There arose religions with a cult of non-existence and self-destruction for the sake of the everlasting peace of annihilation. At last these people grew weary of their meaningless toil, and signs of suffering came into their faces, and then they proclaimed that suffering was a beauty, for in suffering alone was there meaning. They glorified suffering in their songs. I moved about among them, wringing my hands and weeping over them, but I loved them perhaps more than in old days when there was no suffering in their faces and when they were innocent and so lovely. I loved the earth they had polluted even more than when it had been a paradise, if only because sorrow had come to it. Alas! I always loved sorrow and tribulation, but only for myself, for myself; but I wept over them, pitying them. I stretched out my hands to them in despair, blaming, cursing and despising myself. I told them that all this was my doing, mine alone; that it was I had brought them corruption, contamination and falsity. I besought them to crucify me, I taught them how to make a cross. I could not kill myself, I had not the strength, but I wanted to suffer at their hands. I yearned for suffering, I longed that my blood should be drained to the last drop in these agonies. But they only laughed at me, and began at last to look upon me as crazy. They justified me, they declared that they had only got what they wanted themselves, and that all that now was could not have been otherwise. At last they declared to me that I was becoming dangerous and that they should lock me up in a madhouse if I did not hold my tongue. Then such grief took possession of my soul that my heart was wrung, and I felt as though I were dying; and then . . . then I awoke.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

the slow death

"Muere lentamente ...quien se transforma en esclavo del hábito, repitiendo todos los días los mismos trayectos, quien no cambia de marca, no arriesga vestir un color nuevo y no le habla a quien no conoce. Muere lentamente quien hace de la televisión su gurú. Muere lentamente quien evita una pasión, quien prefiere el negro sobre blanco y los puntos sobre las "íes" a un remolino de emociones, justamente las que rescatan el brillo de los ojos, sonrisas de los bostezos, corazones a los tropiezos y sentimientos. Muere lentamente quien no voltea la mesa cuando está infeliz en el trabajo, quien no arriesga lo cierto por lo incierto para ir detrás de un sueño, quien no se permite por lo menos una vez en la vida, huir de los consejos sensatos. Muere lentamente quien no viaja, quien no lee, quien no oye música, quien no encuentra gracia en sí mismo..." -Martha Medeiros

Hail to the Skins

By the transitive power of sports, the Washington Redskins- who beat the Giants twice- are the NFL Champions.

Super conundrum

How do you bet on a game when you want both teams to lose?

The Trivia Bowl

Can you name the other two names of the New England Patriots? I rung my call button and answered one correct and got bumped to first class on my flight back to DC. All the liquor and snack privileges therein. Answers to the question in the comment section.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Exile in America

After a busy week in St. Louis that included three interviews with local papers, two editorial meetings and one board meeting, I got off a little early.  Not sure what exactly to do with my time, I wandered into a place called Jay's International Market on Grand Ave.  Jay's International Market is kinda like my gastrodiplomacy world in one store.

I had visited the place a few days prior with our Education Director Marc, as he stocked up for some provisions for his Kurdish and Lebanese boarders such as big bags of fluffy Iraqi-style pita, nana mint and mee goreng ramen noodles.  I had bought some Japanese udon soup noodles and a bottle of sweet Vitamilk soy milk that I introduced to my Middle Eastern friends (they liked it).

Today, I just slowly meandered down the aisles, past jars of Hungarian pickled yellow peppers, Armenian eggplant smash and cans of Croatian pate.  There were sacks upon sacks of basmati rice.  Bouncey Vietnamese sounds echoed down the aisles of yellow curries, red chili pastes and lime pickles, as boboushkas filed past pickled purple turnips slivers.  Tea as far as the eye could see.  I stared at jars of breadfruit as an African family thumbed avocados and yams behind me.  The meat counter proudly displayed fish heads and cuts of cuisine not often found on the American palate.  Bags of naan sat fluffed next to pita, and beckoned to be slathered with the assortment of exotic jellies just further down.

I wrestled with the decision to get a can of Chinese chrysanthemum tea or Philippine calamensi juice, before I bought a can of Ting and savored the grapefruit-tinged nostalgia.  My taste for nostalgia leaves me missing the world I know, but gems like Jay's International Market are part of the America that I relish.

Asia According to Americans

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Declining Decline

Rosa Brooks has an interesting note on Conservatives and America's decline:
There's an irony here. It's usually conservatives who decry the culture of self-esteem: a mentality of entitlement in our schools, a "Lake Wobegon effect" that replaces tough standards and honest criticism with grade inflation and gold stars for all. But when it comes to America's global stature, it's conservatives who seem most intent on insisting that America deserves a gold star, without regard for actual achievement.