Friday, March 30, 2012

Conservatives push for gay marriage

A Day that will live in...meh

A bit of a nonsensical question I realize, but does Pearl Harbor seem like a bigger deal because Hawaii is a state?  I mean simply that we conflate an attack on Hawaii with an attack on a U.S. state because Hawaii is indeed a state now.  Hawaii did not become a state until 1959, and in 1941 was simply a territory.  No offence to Guam, but would it seem as big a deal today if Japan had carried out a sneak attack on Guam (a territory that few Americans could find on a map)  rather than something that is A STATE IN THE UNION ?!?  Seriously, who even remembers (besides the Guamese Guamanimos Guamamanians) that this oh-so-important American territory in the South Pacific was occupied December 8, 1941 and held by Japan for almost 2.5 years?  I feel like the fact that Hawaii is now a state somehow makes the attack on Pearl Harbor seem like a bigger deal when looking backward.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Oh the people you meet in DC... an Anglo-Indian chap at the bar who had a pet lion and collected endangered turtles. Good conversation to be had as I ate my bbq tofu sandwich, which was as good and bad as it sounds.

The American Dream cont.

I can remember something that a person in Dubai once told me:

 "My father rode a camel; I drive a car; my son will fly a plane; his son will ride a camel."

 Well, my grandfather drove a Rolls-Royce; my father drives a BMW; I ride the bus; my son (should I ever have one if I can ever afford to have one) will probably have to walk.

Eat it, Don't tweet it

Yes, full irony intended given how much I write about and blog about food. But fwiw, i don't often post pics or post on Facebook about food....

The Dream for Sale

In light of my post yesterday about Eric, I found this disturbing one about the prospect of US citizenship for the highest bidder.  Quite a nightmare, if you ask me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Turkayfe Gastrodiplomacy

 "Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love." 
-Turkish Proverb

I ran into my friend Efe yesterday at the Hip Hop Diplomacy conference yesterday at GW, and he shared with me about a great gastrodiplomacy initiative he is involved in.  Turkayfe is setting up a Turkish Coffee Truck to travel up and down the East Coast.  This goes along with its Turkish coffee series that is promoting Turkish coffee culture.  I love it.  Great plan to promote Turkish culture one cup at a time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jefferson and the living laws

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
-Thomas Jefferson

When I was wandering through the Cherry Blossoms last week with my mom, I saw those words on the Jefferson Memorial. It is a stirring reminder that even Jefferson saw the Constitution as a living document, not the static, strict construction that conservatives would argue. We shall see if the justices remember such advice as they decide the health care law.

Eric and the American Dream

"You're a brave man, whoever you are.
Coming so far, expecting so much.
A salute to the man
On the deck of that ship!
A salute to the immigrant stranger.
Heaven knows why you make
Such a terrible trip.
May your own god protect you from danger.
Is it freedom or love
That you pray for
In you guttural accent?
Too late, long gone.
A salute to a fellow
Who hasn't a chance.
Journey on."

Waiting for the X2 bus on saturday night, I got to talking with a young fellow waiting next to me. I picked up that he had an African accent, so I asked where he was from. Eric was from Benin. He looked to be about nineteen or twenty. He had received his permanent residency papers and had been living in DC for some 6 months. He had won the visa lottery back in Benin, left his poor village and came to the US to work and study. He was presently washing dishes and was set to begin a training program soon.

Eric told what it was like to come here, to pick up and leave his world behind. To leave his family and friends behind so he could pursue his dream. He told me that in the beginning he would cry himself to sleep because he missed his family. We talked about his life there and his new life here. Of course, he remarked, he missed the food from home.

His story is the quintessential American story, and I was moved. My own great-grandfather made the same tough decision to leave Austria-Hungary over a century prior. I told him how brave I thought he was. I beamed as I wished him well on his journey and his dream.

 Journey on, Eric. Journey on.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Grey Day; Black Jack

The grey day was clouding my mind. Ever the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Grey.  It was like a sickness that had enveloped me, wrapping itself and tinging my thoughts with moroseness. I should have been bright and beaming but I was weighted down under grey. I went down to the National Building Museum to see the Unbuilt Washington exhibit, designs on DC that never were.

Thankfully, as I was departing the weekend grey was clearing.  I made my way in the sunnier afternoon and ended up at a monument for Black Jack Pershing.  If ever there was an American great who seems to have been largely forgotten--confined to parks bearing his name and legions of homeless.  Black Jack was a real American hero, involved in everything from the Spanish-American War and the pacifying of the Philippines to chasing Pancho Villa around Mexico to leading the American armies through the trenches of Europe (Historical note: "Black Jack" Pershing's army did not have Black troops fighting in it, and amazingly, Black American combat troops were placed under French command.  Shocking...).  Anywho, I could use a good book on Black Jack if anyone can recommend one.  Perhaps we need a good movie on the man.

From Pershing Park, I wandered into the Willard Hotel, the illustrious abode from whose gilded lobby we received the term "lobbying."  A low light gilded delight, nonetheless, and guests were enjoying their tea with clotted cream as I enjoyed the gilded reflections in marble tables as a kimono-clad woman plucked a Japanese board guitar.
From DC Weekend


I attended a program this morning at the Wilson Center on SAGE (Strengthening America's Global Engagement).  The project is meant to combine a number of previous public diplomacy reports and recommendations, and help set up an indy strategic communications organization for America's stratcomm needs. Sagacious, indeed.

Somewhere along the way, the project lost its connection to "public diplomacy" but I will not harp (too much) on such things at present, even if I am not exactly fond of the stratcomm label (too militaristic; also, when is communication not strategic?).

Anne Marie Slaughter gave a nice discussion of the interactions between government and civil society, and how State is playing a role in facilitating such interactions.  She mentioned how State is facilitating gov-to-civ society interactions, and building relationships with nongov actors (polylateralism, by Wiseman's definition).  Slaughter mentioned some interesting projects that State is convening such as the tech exchanges.  I had heard good things about her, and read her previous pieces on the role of pd in the public sphere, and came away impressed.  She noted that the SAGE project could increase the impact of what gov is already doing, but with independence that is vital for success.

I applaud the initiative in theory, and think that a public-private organization is a great idea.  I like their mission to promote independent media entities, and I would like to hope that when I previously chatted with the project director Brad Minnick about pd public/private initiatives, my highlighting of The Tiziano Project as strategic might have had some resonance.  Apparently SAGE will be a grant-making organization, so perhaps this will be a stratcomm kickstarter.  (Take note, Naomi and Jewcer, we need a PD crowdsourcing platform!).  They also have an interesting proposal for IhearU, some kind of cyberdiplomatic social network (perhaps?).  It is supposed to be an innovative way to foster p2p, but I am not entirely sure yet what the platform entails.

Here is where things got a little tricky.  For one, apparently SAGE is now moving out to LA to be possibly housed at USC Annenberg.  When this was said, I glanced across the room at Prof. Nick Cull, and the look on his face seemed to indicate that this was news to him.  Nor did I see any of the other USC DC leadership on hand that one would think such a strategic partnership would warrant, nor was CPD brass in the crowd.  I think I saw a chuckle on Nick's face when the prospect of MPD students interning at this new project was raised.

First question, how will such an org interact with CPD?  Second question, is it wise to have both CPD and SAGE connected with USC Annenberg, or does that connect PD/Stratcomm too much with one institution?  It is hard enough to explain to gen pop what pd entails, and the differences between the MPD program and CPD, let alone to add a stratcomm outfit into the discussion. While I think it is a good thing for PD/Stratcomm to be outside DC for a broader perspective, I think a Wilson-to-Wilson (Princeton) perhaps might have made more sense, especially given Slaughter's connection rather than Wilson-to-Wilson (Dean Ernie).  Perhaps this came about because the president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, former Congresswoman Jane Harman is also on the USC Board of Trustees?  (H/T to Ima for that) All curious....

Secondly, during the Q&A, the question I was raising my hand for got asked by a fellow with the Goethe Institute about the role of cultural diplomacy in said SAGE.  The answer was far from satisfactory, and nothing in the SAGE business plan has led me to believe that cultural diplomacy is strongly connected with such endeavors.

So I will hold off further judgement and give said SAGE a chance.  But I am a bit curious of how everything will progress.

Gastrodiplomacy Fail

FYI for American gastrodiplomacy efforts: fastfood does not make for good gastrodiplomacy!  TY McJB

Sunday, March 25, 2012

DC in focus

Lots of new pics up!

Extra, Extra, read all about it

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a nice feature on the cultural diplomacy work of American Voices:
Headlines about the Middle East and Asia are usually dominated by stories of war and political confrontations. But in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, Gaza and Malaysia, music, art and dance are helping to bring people together.
"It's cultural diplomacy, cultural engagement," says American Voices founder and artistic director John Ferguson, a jazz pianist.
Ferguson, who now lives in Bangkok, a new center for the group's efforts, was living in Paris in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. His trio was called on by the new American embassies in the former Soviet Bloc to perform and work with children there. "It opened up an idea in my head that there was a need out there."
In 1993, he formed American Voices, expanding to bring a variety of teaching and high-quality American cultural programming to countries in Central Asia and the Middle East. The organization, which relies on part-time teachers, has since taken its mission around the world, to 110 countries on five continents, reaching hundreds of thousands of people with classes and performances of everything from classical music to hip-hop, Broadway and jazz: "West Side Story" in Vietnam, Broadway classics in Kazakhstan.
"In a lot of these countries," says Ferguson, "there is no music curriculum, no access to trained teachers. We're trying to train students, give them a musical education and help re-establish that curriculum."
Marc Thayer, a violinist and the former head of educational programs at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, went to work full-time for American Voices a year ago as its director of education. He got started with the organization on a part-time basis in summer 2007, when he taught a string orchestra in a two-week academy in northern Iraq.
Since then he's worked in a dozen other countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Thailand — and, in December, Gaza, which he had to enter through a tunnel when Egyptian Army guards wouldn't let him through. "It's the only time I've done something a little risky," Thayer says. "It's not how we normally operate."
The organization "normally goes to places where things are very stable," he says. In Iraq, that means Kurdistan, in the country's mountainous northern region. "The south is not as safe." In Lebanon, they stay within Beirut's Green Zone.
The reward, he says, is the fulfillment of teaching students who are hungry to learn, "and seeing the impact you can have on 1,000 people in just two weeks."
The academies typically take place during school breaks in the host country. Some promising students are later able to come to the United States to study. The programming and length of stay in a particular place is largely dictated by the local embassy's cultural attaché. Still, there's always an element of both teaching and performance, and both American and local artists take part. The funding comes largely from a U.S. State Department grant, with some corporate funding, foundation grants and individual gifts.
There is a constant need for music and instruments. Alfred Publishing has given hundreds of musical scores, student materials and teaching guides — "tons and tons of materials," says Thayer. "We donate as many instruments as we can, reeds, mouthpieces, strings, whatever we can get."
With Ferguson in Bangkok and Paul Rockower, the director of communications, in Washington, American Voices is "de facto" centered in St. Louis, says Thayer, where he and Jeremy Idleman, the director of operations, are based.
Thayer is gearing up for an academy beginning next month in Thailand. With support from the American embassy there, students will come from countries including Burma, Malaysia, Pakistan, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Thayer says he hasn't encountered political problems.
"We're not going there to promote American culture," he says. "We're sharing ours and learning about theirs. We have a lot more in common than differences. Music and art are a great way to realize that, to realize that we can work together."
American Voices Student Profile: Rebin Ali
American Voices educational director Marc Thayer has been able to bring several students from the Middle East to study here, with the expectation that they'll go home and work in their own countries.
One is Rebin Ali, 21, from Kurdistan.
Ali took part in an American Voices string orchestra academy in 2008. He began his studies at St. Louis University in 2010, and is now half-time at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as well. He studies violin with Thayer (who also teaches students in Gaza and Syria every week via Skype), and plays in the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and SLU's string orchestra.
"It has made a huge difference in my life," Ali says. "I have a chance to live in another culture; I have a huge opportunity music-wise, with great teachers, a very good youth orchestra, things I couldn't have at home."
He says he's impressed by American generosity. "Here, when someone knows you want to do something, and you have potential, they want to help you. I'm surprised by how good people here are to me. These people like Marc, and (pianist) Vera Parkin — they are very, very helpful. They do these things for nothing."
Ali plans to teach. "At home, there is lots of talent, lots of potential, but a huge lack of teachers." 
At SIUE, Ali is learning Suzuki teaching methods. "In Kurdistan, nobody is teaching by this method; I'll be the first one. And all of this was because of American Voices, especially Marc."

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Mazal tov to my little brother Harry for some medals pinned to his soon-to-be-graduating chest.  Harry is a double major in Chemistry and Religious Studies.  He has done some interesting work looking into the intersection of neuroscience and religious experiences.  The Religious Studies department is bestowing a scholars award on him.  Meanwhile, he has been slated to receive the Cistern Award by 2012 S.A.L.A. (Student Activism & Leadership Achievement) Awards Selection Committee.  Quote: "This award recognizes senior students who have been the motivated and engaged worker or member of an organization because of what they do for the organization and College community."  A well-deserved congrats to my brother, he does the Rockower name proud.

chasing away the grey day

A grey and heartless day needed some radiant cheer.  I headed south down sixteen until I got to the Mexican Cultural Center.  Always a resplendent beaut.  There is an exhibition going on, of the masks of Mexico.

The last exhibit I saw on masks of Mexico was at the exquisite Museo Rafael Coronel in Zacatecas

The masks were, as imagined, impressionante.  

The all-seeing, all-knowing Time with his multifaces.

Ahuyentar espiritus with horns and horned chin.

The puckered lips and forked beard of ehecatl, the god of wind.

 Forked horns and forked tongues.  The devil's horns; the red man with scorpion cheeks.

Mi santo Ermitaño, the hermit mask that bore swarthy resemblance.  

Toothless viejitos with pickled and hooked noses.

Masks from passion plays.  Black-spotted yellow jaguars with hooked teeth.

Along the way I found my way into one of the most beautiful rooms in DC.  The exquisite blue and white hall that the Mexican Cultural Center uses for events.  The room was a radiant blue and white tile that exuded azul and blanco light to illuminate a grey day.  The whole building emanated charm and beauty.  An old school charm.

I made my way downhill to Starbucks, where i sit dipping sugar-dusted mallorca sweet bread into cinnamon dolce latte to chase away the grey day.

Caught between the Sudans

There was an interesting article in WaPo this morning on China being caught between Juba and Khartoum.  Scylla and Charbdis, if there ever were such rocks and hard places. The article makes me wonder about a Chinese role in conflict resolution. Assuming they wanted it. From my pd perspective it makes sense. From China's economic perspective, it should make sense too.  A good issue for Chinese diplomacy, but I am not sure they would want to broker such biz. But it makes pd sense to me.

Friday, March 23, 2012


At a medal ceremony in Kuwait, the gold-medal winning Kazakh was honored with the anthem from Borat!  Kazakhstan never found humor in the movie, but I think it has been a nation-branding success for the country.  People know Kazakhstan in ways that Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan could only pd dream. Granted, for all the wrong and fictitious reasons, but the PT Barnum School of Public Diplomacy argues that as long as they spell your country's name right, it is good attention.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


An excellent article on what sets Finnish schools apart (hint: by doing everything opposite from us)  Nice find, Yael.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Israel-Iran Facebook Exchange


Cute story about a returned passport, some six decades lost. TY, Ima.

The Help

A couple weeks back I was chatting with a friend from India. I had just mentioned that I had watched the move, The Help.  She mentioned that she had watched the movie on her flight back to India.  She loved it, and was riled up at the end, filled with indignancy at the injustice.  Then she got home, and remembered that her servants have their own separate bathrooms.  And the help who cook are only brahmins, lest lesser classes defile the food.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Maroc gastrodiplomatie

On thursday night, I headed over with some friends for an event of Moroccan gastrodiplomacy, hosted at the French Embassy.  The event, Morocco on the Road of Spices, was part of the Francophonie DC 2012 festival.  The program was quite interesting, and echoed a bit of my own gastrodiplomacy lectures.  The lecture was given in French by Fatema Hal, a Moroccan culinary author and anthropologist.  We arrived a little late, and were welcomed to a film of piling mounds of couscous as the chef was on screen describing various methods of making the wonderful dish.

She then gave a lecture in French that was translated.  She spoke about how, to know a human being, you must know his cuisine.  She also spoke about the history of the world is a history of spices.  Hal also spoke about how couscous could be used a medium for integration in France (Couscous for Coexistence?), and I was reminded of the Vindaloo against Violence campaign in Australia.  I think I need to write an op-ed on Moroccan coucous gastrodiplomacy.

She also spoke about the difference influences on Moroccan cuisine, and how it is not as influenced by French or Ottoman cuisines as Algerian or Tunisian cuisine.  She did mention, interestingly, that Moroccan cuisine was much affected by the fall of Andalucia and how Moroccan cuisine had gained much from Spanish Muslim and Spanish Jewish refugees who fled.

During the Q&A, I asked a question, noting that she mentioned how Moroccan cuisine had influenced Europe, and asked how Moroccan cuisine had influenced that of its West African neighbors, and vice versa.  The thought of West African cuisine had been on my mind since reading a review of Bukom Cafe in the WaPo (“A layer of oil on top of the food is a way of honoring you.”).

The only problem was that when the lecture let out, we expected there to be mounds of couscous waiting.  The lecture requested a $15 donation, and the program noted that there was a reception to follow sponsored by the Moroccan Embassy.  Yet there was nothing save some empty plates of finger foods.  Gastrodiplomacy fail.  If you are requesting donations for a food lecture, there should have been real food to follow.  Major missed opportunity by the Moroccan Embassy in this manor, and left us with a bit of a bad taste as we trudged out to Georgetown to find Persian food instead.

Friday, March 16, 2012

American Voices on Cityscape

St. Louis Public Radio KWMU's program Cityscape interviewed American Voices Director of Education Marc Thayer on our cultural and public diplomacy work and the American Music Abroad program.  Also interviewed were AV scholarship students Tony Moussa (Lebanon) and Rebin Ali (Kurdistan), who discussed their cultural exchange experiences in St. Louis.   


The Road we've traveled

I don't care if it is docuganda, I luv it. 4 more years!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Portrait of Dorian Rockower

I have had at least three or four people this week doubt my age.  They seemed incredulous that I was in my 30s, and thought I was probably a mid 20something.  While the painting in my closet decays....

The Liberation of Willard

Because I'm all ya got, bitches.  Hysterical.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A-Z, no more

Sadly, Encyclopedia Britannica is going out of print after this year.  I always held dreams of going from A-Z, page by page.  


Ah, March Madness time. I haven't paid much attention in many years, but I am picking brackets anyway. This is what my bracket says about me: 

The Out-of-Date Bracket
You overrate teams that were powerhouses about 20 years ago. You have Michigan going all the way. Nevada-Las Vegas is in your final four. What: Loyola Marymount did not make the tourney this year? What gives? 
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT YOU Back in the early 1990s, you were single and had leisure time and disposable income to spare, so you spent winter evenings at the local tavern, hoisting beers and thrilling to the exploits of Bobby Hurley and Lionel Simmons. But now you have a family and a serious career, leaving you with little time for college basketball, but you cannot bring yourself to admit that your carefree weekends with Jerry Tarkanian ended decades ago. Don’t worry, friend. Grab a flannel shirt, pop the Spin Doctors into your CD player, and get ready for Georgetown and Indiana to make big runs. Your loved ones will break the news gently that you are actually watching ESPN Classic.
Meanwhile, Foreign Policy had the best brackets around.  Democrats vs. Dictators.  My Final Four is Obama, Rousseff, Mugabe and Abdullah.  Rousseff and Mugabe in the Finals. Rousseff with the buzzer beater over Comrade Bob.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Prof. Yohuru Williams, my old teacher from Edmund Burke, on the politics of Obama's "religion"

Monday, March 12, 2012

No Country for Young Men

Beware gentle knight. There is no greater monster than reason...That is of course a spanish idea.  You see. The idea of Quixote.  But even Cervantes could not envision such a country as Mexico.

Also known as All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.  Quite an enjoyable and beautiful book of two boys who set off on horseback south of the border.  The story weaves through the rugged and beautiful landscape of northern Mexico, an area I know and love.  McCarthy's sparse, rugged style mirrors the the desolately beautiful landscape.

I realized why I love his work so much- he reminds me of a modern day Ernest Hemingway.  McCarthy's understated style reminds me of Hemingway's tip of the iceburg style.  The Young Man and the Desert.  Also, he takes to Mexico and Texas like Hemingway to Spain and Cuba, and the catholic Catholicness perhaps shades the story as well.

Nothing was the same and yet everything.  In the Spaniard's heart is a great yearning for freedom, but only his own.  A great love of truth and honor in all its forms, but not in its substance.  And a deep conviction that nothing can be proven except that it be made to bleed.  Virgin, bulls, men.  Ultimately God himself.

And the "there and back again" nature of the story reminded me of former foray of Los Hermanos Rockower into Mexico.  That the characters passed through Zacatecas helped stir the cauldron of memories.  Nostalgia is like witches brew.  The book has me plotting and planning new adventures for Sancho Harranza and Don Pablo Quijote south of the border.

American Music Abroad 2012-2013 selections

After a week of bouncing around NY, STL and SF for live auditions for the American Music Abroad program, the selections have been made for the 2012-2013 American Music Abroad ensembles:

·         Act of Congress (Americana/Acoustic Rock, Alabama)
·         Audiopharmacy (Hip Hop/Dub, California)
·         Boston Boys (Soul/Country, Massachusetts)
·         Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer with Barbara Lamb (Folk/Roots, Maryland)
·         The Clinton Curtis Band (Rock/Blues, New York)
·         Della Mae (Bluegrass, Massachusetts)
·         Keola Beamer & Jeff Peterson, with Moanalani Beamer (Hawaiian Slack Guitar/Hula, Hawaii)
·         Kyle Dillingham and Horseshoe Road (Heartland Acoustic, Oklahoma)
·         Mahogany Jones (Hip Hop/Soul, Michigan)
·         Matuto (Americana, New York)
·         PROJECT Trio (Jazz/Classical/Hip Hop, New York
·    Real Vocal String Quartet (Classical/World Strings, California)

Competition was really tight among the approximately 40 bands selected for the live auditions.  The final list has some really amazing ensembles that span the whole scope of American music.  For instance, PROJECT Trio creates some amazing music with flute beatboxing.  Keola Beamer was involved in the music for the move "The Descendants," while his partner Jeff Peterson has won a Grammy or two.  Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer also won two Grammys.  I am a huge fan of Della Mae, an all-girls bluegrass group.  A great group on the whole, and I am going to enjoy touring with some of these groups.  This is where good cultural diplomacy starts.

White Bread

An interesting story on a word that is writ shorthand for boring actually has a deeper history. Behold, White Bread. TY Abba.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The present of present

Hai Ram.  That hindu eureka, and the last words of the Mahatma.  Catching an arrow from  the blue-skinned god is about opening your eyes to the gifts around you.  The present of present.  The gifts of God, glory be he.  Such glory found in stopping, listening and looking long enough to appreciate such gifts of a DC Spring.  A DC Spring to shake of the winter's discontent.

A DC reset borne out of stops in a few places that won't hold me at present.  New York, possibly in the future but not for a bit.  St. Louis on occasion at present but not for full.  San Francisco, perhaps in the future but doubtful.  LA in the past, but always a place to return.  For the first time in a while, I can sit back and enjoy my place for a bit, and engage in my present.

So I spent the present sunday visiting the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  I stumbled upon the museum in the US Air magazine on my flight home.  I like arts; I like women; sounds like a good combination.

And I found a recycled tribute to Princess Grace of Monaco.  What a beauty.  Understatement of the day.  The tribute by Nikos Flores was fascinating.  Stunning gowns of cans.  Yes, cans.  A silver diet coke can wedding dress shimmering silver.  Bottle cap buttons.  A dress' tress with strands of cans; a tress to impress of folded silver aluminum.
A smart sprite suit.
A red blouse that was the real thing, and some ruby cola slippers to accompany.  Impressionante.

The collection at the museum is quite good, and the hall ornate.  A hidden gem in fair DC.

"If it were customary to send little girls to school and teach them the same subject as are taught to boys, they would learn just as fully and would understand the subtleties of all arts and science."
-Cesarine Davin-Mirvault.  How radical.


Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco; Q Tip left his wallet in El Segundo;  I left my coat at a Goodwill store in LA.  I need to remember that DC is not LA, and that seasons linger longer here.

Wheel in the Sky

Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'
I don't know where I'll be tomorrow
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'
-Journey, "Wheel in the Sky"

After three long weeks, I was on my way back home.  When I last checked in, I had finished with my American Music Abroad auditions and was on my way down the vastness that is the Golden State.  I arrived to Hermosa Beach to stay with my cousins for the auspicious occasion that was my cousin’s 50th birthday.  The birthday party was a rambunctious affair with ample amounts of vino.  My cousins Jeff and Deidre are some of my favorite family, truly the coolest of cousins and it is always a joy to stay with them and their two teen daughters.  It always offers a brief window into the teen psyche, a segment of the population I am not often in contact.

I spent my days preparing for my two lectures at the Sister Cities convention.  As I noted, previously I had to stand and deliver my first lecture on gastrodiplomacy, but that went just fine as I spoke at a Japanese restaurant.  We switched the location outside, and I used a menu stand as a lectern.  How apropos.

It was my second lecture, however, that really earned me my PD stripes.  I should point out that Sister Cities convention was related to US-Mexico sister cities.  Well, as I got prepared to give my lecture, it became apparent that the vast majority of the audience were Spanish-speakers, or strongly bilingual.  So rather than give my lecture as I had prepared in English, I winged it in Spanish.  While I speak Spanish pretty well, there is a difference between my functional, travelers Spanish and actual lecture-quality Spanish.  But I rolled with it, and gave a decent enough presentation.  I think the audience appreciated my efforts.  I also think that if I had tried to prepare for the lecture in another language, it would have been much more difficult and taxing.  This was better because it was on the fly.

The week continued over in Burbank at Castle Hallquist, the house of my pd classmate Mike and his wife Amanda.  Mike works for the British Consulate, in the trade division.  He is also considering the professorship path, but is more interested in traditional IR than moi.

We were both making pilgrimages back to Trojanlandia to solicit opinions from our old professors for our PhD prospects.  I stopped in to see my old friends at CPD, and haunted Annenberg for a bit before chatting with one of my best professors, Dr. Starr.  She had some good advice on seeking out constructivist schools, where there is emphasis placed on the role of institutions, identity and socialization within societal norms and values.

Anyway, I spent my time in Burbank, working in my virtual office and hanging with the lovely couple, their adorable black cat Puma and watching episode after episode of Game of Thrones.  I got hooked quickly on the show.  I had never watched an episode, but in three days I watched the whole first season.  It is a terrific show of medieval fantasy, and takes wonderful twists and turns through pursuits of power; I would recommend the show, it is quite addictive.

I got to catch up with my PD buddy John Nahas.  One day, we are going to start Semite Consulting (he is Lebanese Christian) to . I also had the chance to have coffee with Rajiv Satyal of Make Chai Not War fame.  He contacted me after my CPD blog post, so we caught up to chat over a cuppa chai (truth be told I had coffee) and discuss the more humorous side of cultural diplomacy.

I returned my way to Redondo to stay with my Aunt Phyllis.  Just as I arrived, I found out that her ex-husband had passed away.  For as long as I knew him, he was my Uncle Frank.  He was always kind to me, and made me laugh when I was a kid.  He taught me a fine trick to holding a baseball glove with two fingers in the last part of the mitt to create a bigger pocket.  Years later, I still play baseball that way.  They had a nasty falling-out and I never saw him again.  She had a bit of mixed emotions but remained rather impassive.  

I continued to work remotely, and also headed back to USC to meet with Prof. Wiseman, whose classes I enjoyed in my USC days (Polylateralism- how states and nonstate actors interact, and other thoughts on diplomacy that perked my interests).  He had good advice on seeking out a “practical PhD” so that if I do purse such a path, I will be done this side of the big 4-0.  We also discussed the difficulties of the academic market these days, something a few others have warned me as well.

I headed back up to happy hour with my PD friends Vice Consul Dame Keith and Lady Rousseau of the British and Canadian Consulates, respectively.  We swapped stories of ministerial life and the difference between theory and practice of our fair craft.

I caught the metro back up, blue to green.  At the green transfer, the platform smelled of chronic as only LA can.  The moon was rising like a giant wheel in the vast purple tank of night.  I met my aunt and we headed to a restaurant fav, The Spot.  The Spot is California veggie cuisine at its finest.  It has a dish we always get of steamed veggies over brown rice with tempeh and tofu, covered with a savory sauce that is truly delicious.  

Friday began in a bit of a frustrating fashion as I got a parking ticket on the car I had just rented.  Street cleaning day, as the signs said, but the signs were nowhere in sight, placed at the far ends of the block while I was in the middle.

But Friday also marked the wedding of my dear PD friends Kenya and Cesar.  Prof. Kenya is one of my more brilliant friends, she received her PhD at the tender age of 21.  I believe she received tenure this year, an honor she well deserves.  I had the joy of attending one of her classes on race in America- it was fascinating.  Her husband Cesar is from Mexico City.  He is an expert on Expos, and I had the fun of getting to tour around the Shanghai Expo with him.  It was a lovely affair, even more so because I helped introduce them.  Cesar and I went out for a drink after my last class at USC, and I was meeting Kenya later that evening, so I had her meet us at the bar.  So began fate.  This is the third wedding I contributed to, thereby securing my place in heaven, as is Jewish lore.

Leaving LA this morning, under the placid perfect skies, I was struck by my feelings for the city of Angels.  For me, LA is like a tumultuous love- one that burns torridly but flames out after the honeymoon.  The more we come in contact, the more I know it won’t work, yet she winks at me with bright blue skies and smiles at me with her pacific waves.  The promise and potential that she always represented to me remains, and I am left thinking “what if,” and “maybe this time it could work” like any abusive relationship borne out of passion and peril.

And I know it isn’t all her but me as well: me, and my own inabilities to still, to be content.  I want to blame this dysfunctional relationship on her, because  deep down she is truly dysfunctional, but I know I share some of the blame.  She is as she is, and I am as I am, and it is our own respective dysfunctions that clash.  I love about her what I have always loved about her: her people and the multitude of diversity; her perpetually perfect weather; her food; my dear friends who remain here.  But I was never able to build on those foundations.  And her vastness, and her chaos overwhelmed me.

Perhaps it is that the city of Angels has already served its purpose on my path, and it is sad to realize that one cannot turn back lest we be turned to pillars of salt.  The city’s connection to my dharma has already played itself out at present.  Fate and destiny, meaning and fulfillment—words and thoughts that this Jacobin has long wrestled with.

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.  The events that cause them can never be forgotten, can they?”
Cormac McCarthy, “All the Pretty Horses”

As I come to close out a period of three weeks on the road that were punctuated by moments that very much shape my days moving forward, I am working to regain an equilibrium that I had and lost, and I am working to regain.  That fine balance begins with allowing myself to accept my present, and give myself the permission to be happy in that present.
And somewhere, when I was lost in thought, the desiccated desert with its filigreed lines of river bed and vast canyons gave way to the snow-capped peaks with black tree shading like black sprinkles on vanilla canvas.<

Friday, March 09, 2012


I have been impressed with the viral sensation of the Kony 2012 video by Invisible Children. Over 40 million views in just a few days. It is worth a watch, it is well done.

The video has caused a bit of controversy related to full disclosure of Kony's whereabouts these days (not Uganda but like the Central African Republic), and the funding transparency of Invisible Children. There is also another major issue of the fact that Uganda's president has some dictatorial tendencies.  And I am very curious of what transpires when these "Stop Kony" supporters realize how awfully gays in Uganda are persecuted.

But I will focus on the bigger picture at the moment. I think Invisible Children has done a wonderful public diplomacy campaign to educate global citizenry on an issue that until a few days ago drew a blank. I commend IC for their PD efforts and use of new mediums to conduct such campaigns.  I also think the groups kicking up a fuss (academics, other ngos, etc) are missing the point, or jealous, or both.

This nonstate actor is doing a tremendous job trying to craft new policy via new mediums. Call it the YouTube Effect. IC is being a proverbial fast learner to the new world of PD...and so were we at Public Diplomacy Magazine. When I was a Sr. Editor on Public Diplomacy Magazine, the issue I helped direct was on public diplomacy and human rights, specifically how nonstate actors pursue human rights through public diplomacy. One of our case study contributors was Invisible Children, chosen because we had a real sense that they understood the new paradigm.  

Thursday, March 08, 2012

LA commutes

The first blue line was packed so I got off on Grand and waited for another. The second train was filled with the fetid funk of the unwashed homeless. A ragged straggler with sores on his face babbled his scabbed lips. LA reminds me of the Walking Dead. At the green line transfer, the sun was setting radiantly on downtown LA. The city shimmered golden in the refulgent dying light. The horizon was tinged pink above the already darkened mountains that ring the city of angels. Traffic sped west while the easterly winds shook the palm trees in the other direction. Out the paneled flat screen window, the moon rose high and thick, high above the purple cloudless night. Sure beats sitting in traffic.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

on governmental punishment

"The punishment of wise men who refuse to take part in the affairs of government is to live under the government of unwise men." -Plato

NorCal to SoCal

So ends a week I won't miss.  Granted, there were a few bright spots in it.  Any week for me on the road is usually a pretty good one.  The week got off to a pretty auspicious start with some bad news that I have already addressed.  News that was unexpected, and gave a change to expectations.  I rallied as best I could and moved on in my own way.

The better part of the week was spent visiting my friends Jeremy and Vanessa. Jeremy and I have known each other since we were 16 and on Israel programs.  We have always had a healthy respect and appreciation for each others' talents.  I had the pleasure of hanging with him and his then-fiance in Buenos Aires while I was living there, and we had some wonderful evenings over fernet and cola at the Red Door- BsAs' finest speak-easy.  The last time I saw him and his lovely wife together was at their wedding, an affair I trekked the other way across the country for, in the midst of some busy days that seem like a lifetime ago.

I got to enjoy their San Fran, and I spent my days in their lovely apartment, chasing after their adorable black cat Mafalda, which they found on the streets of Mexico City.  I worked in the coffee shops in the Marina, their barrio, as I put together my presentations for the weekend.  When I wasn't working, I was wandering in and out of the Palace of Fine Arts- a testament to an expo once held by San Fran, and a reminder I can never escape PD.

Jeremy is in grad school in University of San Francisco for a Master's in political science.  He is using the program as a platform for bigger and better, and I am proud to have helped him conceptualize his opportunities for such.  Ah, the soft power we wield.  I stayed for three evenings, but only spent one with the busy couple, out at a cafe in the neighborhood for delicious veggie chili on monday night.  Tuesday, I went to the famous Nick's for tacos with Vanessa, a chandelier and velvet taco bar with $2 shells of goodness.  On Wednesday, Jeremy and I stayed in to watch the help and eat gooey Chicago-ish pizza.  It was time well spent with old friends, and nice to see their world.

Somewhere along the way, I sprung a leak over the fundamental nature of what it means to visit friends and was left saddened, a bit offended and disappointed.  No need addressing in this post, just chalk it up to a difference of opinion.

The nice weather I initially encountered in San Fran slowly dissipated, and by the day I left it had gone grey and rainy.  I was ready to get out of San Fran, as I find the city just a tad too strange for me.  Goin' where the wind don't blow so strange, but LA isn't that place.  I caught the CA shuttle bus down the golden state and sped out into the rainy mist.  The bus was filled with Norwegian backpackers trying to have dip as snus and I can't imagine they enjoyed it.  We sped south in the grey and muck that slowly disappeared as we passed by Palo Alto and San Jose.  Slowly, slowly the grey went away, and fully vanished around the vast San Luis Reservoir.  The giant lake was stunning, with the sun peeking out in various hues of light on the rolling green ridges across the large lake blue lake hemmed in by canyons.  Along the road, fields of dead shrubs looks like bunches of withered fingers.

We pushed on to the curved ridges that swirled and dipped into mini canyons, and I remember why I had loved the ruggedness of California.  The vast fields and mountains reminded me why California's vastness always seemed to hold such potential and promise to me in ways that the East Coast just can't match.  We drove down past fields of white blossom trees in perfect symmetry as they began to drop their white petals like flowery snow covering the rows.  And there were brown fields with signs cursing Congress for their fallowness on account of a lack of water.

NorCal eventually became SoCal on a glorious stretch of farm and mountains with clouds clung high above.  We climbed through various passes and descended into the city of angels.  Bounding down Hollywood until I reached Union Station.  I marveled that I really must be back in Lalaland as I saw two kids at the station bus bay smoking a blunt just across the street from a sheriff car.  I hopped the train, red to blue and sped past my old stomping grounds.  Blue to green as I transferred at Rosa Parks and spied the city now far away in twinkling night lights.  The cars speeding in traffic reminded me of waves crashing.  Green to the end of the line, and I traveled from Union Station to Redondo Beach (about 20 miles) in an hour on the metro.  Quite a feat; as I have always said, anyone who says LA public transit sucks has never been on it.

Today, I finished up my presentations and took a quick walk down the pier.  Something about the pacific truly is.  With nary a cloud in the sky, and the smell and sounds of the surf, I even began to question if maybe i could make my way back here.  Then reality shook off the luridness of such nostalgia.  Such a fine, wonderful place that is paradise on the surface but ultimately a land of lotus eaters. 

Friday, March 02, 2012

Stand and Deliver

Great, I just found out the day before that one of the presentations I am giving tomorrow on gastrodiplomacy has to be done without a powerpoint.  I am so glad I have been dutifully working on the presentation.  This should be interesting, I am just going to have to paint a visual picture of stinky tofu.