Friday, August 31, 2012

Pakistan-Israel Dialogue continues!

This is the continuation of the dialogue I helped start between Israel and Pakistan. This appeared in +972 Magazine, on the channel of Dahlia Scheindlin of +972:

 Letter from a Pakistani blogger
Over the last few months, I have engaged in a series of conversations with Pakistani writers and academics through mutual friends. These talks have been a rare and fascinating opportunity to see their country through their eyes rather than through Western media sources. We’ve discovered some surprising common concerns and a mutual desire to stay in touch. We would like to write posts occasionally for one another so that our audiences can share these understandings as well. The following is an introduction by Abdul, one of the participants, who writes his own blog tackling the stories of Pakistan that are seldom told abroad. Here he describes his site and his interest in our dialogue – I wrote a similar introduction last week for his readers.

 By Abdul Nishapuri

First of all I would like to send my appreciation to my friends Paul Rockower and Waleed Ziad in particular,
for inviting us to engage in people-to-people contact between Pakistanis and Israelis.

I would also like to thank Dahlia Scheindlin (of +972 Magazine) for her recent post in this series in which she has outlined the need for such a dialogue between the two countries.

Let’s start with a brief introduction of the web magazine Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP). Let Us Build Pakistan LUBP presents itself as Pakistan’s alternative media and is known for its non-mainstream views and discourses on issues of human rights, democracy and politics. It is a voluntary project and not sponsored or affiliated with any religious or political group. It continues to publish on topics or positions that are considered taboos in Pakistan’s mainstream society and politics.

Given the increasing dominance of the Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi-Deobandi extremist ideology and the brutal treatment of dissenting voices of journalists and scholars by the military state, many of our contributors use pen names as a precaution for their personal safety.

Therefore, it was relatively easy for us to engage with Dahlia, and freely discuss our views on the informal contact between the two countries. From the Pakistani side, we have been able to express such views without any fear of reprisal from religious fanatics, politically correct political parties and repressive military apparatus.

What do we seek to gain from this dialogue? Here are a few things that come to my mind:
1. To develop a genuine people-to-people contact (instead of State-sponsored and State-controlled, elitist, shallow contact) between Israel and Pakistan;
2. To make the people of Pakistan aware that there exists an Israel which is much different and larger than the one seen through the narrow Saudi Arabian or Iranian lenses frequently used in Pakistan;
3. To make the people of Israel aware that Pakistani society can be much more inclusive and tolerant if liberated from the shackles of Islamism which, in Pakistan, is mainly sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the tiny but financially powerful Sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf;
4. To make people of Pakistan aware that there are bold voices in Israel which oppose the occupation and seek a political resolution. Pakistanis can learn about the diversity of approaches, and open dialogue among those committed to ending the occupation.
5. To make the people of Israel aware of the extreme brutalities that certain ethnic and religious groups (Balochs, Pashtuns, Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, etc.) in Pakistan are currently facing at the hands of the military state and its Jihadist and Islamist proxies.
6. To make the people of Pakistan aware of the internal religious and political diversity of the people of Israel;
7. To make the people of Israel aware of how mainstream media (both Pakistani and international media) twists and misrepresents certain news about Pakistani society and its people;

In reaction to a question on my Facebook and Twitter, the response to the prospects of Pakistan-Israel dialogue has been clearly positive. Out of a total of 76 feedbacks that I received, 90 percent were in support of the dialogue while less than 10 percent expressed concerns due to political reasons and clouded judgement, e.g., “Israel is an illegitimate State,” “Jews cannot be our trusted friends,” “Israel is an occupier” etc. Therefore, it is imperative that we have this dialogue. I cannot speak for my friends in Israel but amongst upper-middle class Pakistanis (including expats), there is a mindset that has internalized opposition to Israel’s policies. The resulting conspiracy theory laden mindset and borderline anti-Semitism has prevented many Pakistanis from having a much needed dialogue – a dialogue that will only help in clearing the resentment and understanding each other.

I am aware that our friends at +972 have always wanted to bring the voices of both Israeli and Palestinian communities. Thus our contact is also an opportunity for Pakistanis to encounter both Israeli and Palestinian communities.

At LUBP, we value diversity and heterogeneity – both of opinion and of the social makeup of Pakistan. At the time of Partition in 1947, there were significant Jewish communities in Pakistan – especially in the metropolis of Karachi. Their subsequent departure, along with that of other targeted groups, has damaged our social fabric and pluralist society.

We hope that we can rebuild a Pakistan in which people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds feel equally valued and included. Acceptance of difference is consistent with our egalitarian interpretation of Islam and is also an integral part of the tolerant culture of the Subcontinent. Overall, we are very excited to build such a relationship between Pakistani and Israeli and Palestinian bloggers.

We understand that members of this dialogue in their respective countries may be subject to harsh criticism. However, as an alternative media outlet we are willing to accept such challenges which will only strengthen our resolve to develop better understanding between our nations. Long live Pakistan, Israel and Palestine.

About the author: Abdul Nishapuri is founder-editor of Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP), Pakistan’s leading blogzine with a specific interest in building a democratic, progressive and inclusive society. He tweets at @AbdulNishapuri

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

GW & Branding Hucksterism

GW hath unveiled a new brand and logo, and offers a stirring reminder why the branding biz is pure hucksterism.

La Mancha on the Hudson

New York cried at the prospect of me leaving, and the heavens opened up on me as I headed out of the sublet.  I got soaked to the bone as I trudged to the subway.  Once on the subway, I decided to get out of my wet clothes and into some drier fatigues.  Given that I had my daypack with me, I merely pulled out dry clothes and a towel and changed on the subway. Case in point of why a towel is always necessary for interstellar travel. Being New York no one even batted an eye at me swapping clothes in the back of the car.

I found my way to the bus, stopping first at a deli for one last New York bagel on my way out: toasted everything with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.  A cup of hot milky sweet coffee to warm my wet soul.

Thus concludes my first chapter in the Big Apple.  What an opening salvo.  I have truly enjoyed my time exploring gotham city.  I haven't been this happy in America in a while.  My hunch has thus far proved correct: I don't need much, just diversity (both in people and in a culinary fashion), places to explore and public transportation.  And external stimulation.

It has been a really wonderful month that kept my momentum from Iraq going.  This was also the first time since Houston (2003-2006) where I lived alone.  It was actually a refreshing change to have a little solitary space again, after many years of shared space.

Gastrodiplomacia de Mexico

A nice piece on Mexican cuisine's global reach.  I have an op-ed that i need to write about mas gastrodiplomacia de Mexico.  Gracias Juan Marrón.


A thief stole a cellphone from a hospital.  The previous owner had ebola.  Thief gets ebola.  While the karmic punishment is indeed beyond the crime, it still a stirring reminder not to take things that don't belong to you...

Kurdistan Chai

A great and informative piece in the American Interest on the possibilities of the rise of an independent Kurdistan.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Sea

From Machsom Watch:

"Israel gave 130,000 entrance permits in honor of the Eid to Palestinians from the west bank who have been enjoying their first forray to the oean after years of an air tight border and security wall."

End. The. Occupation.

Nomadic Wax; Mets: Brooklyn Botanical

Friday was a lekker day.  I woke up a lil tired from the Lebowski princess hunt.

I awoke to find that the media moves fast.  The Birmingham News had already produced their story on the American Music Abroad tour for Act of Congress faster than I had imagined.  I had just been handling this the previous day and had not expected such quick turnaround.

I walked through the park to meet Ben Herson, the CEO of Nomadic Wax.  Nomadic Wax is a phenomenal organization that uses hip hop to promote social change.  Their work in phenomenal, check out the site because they showcase their work better than I can explain.  I had a great coffee chat with Ben, who made an astute point: "how do you get Americans interested in the world?  You have to entertain them."  So true.  A central tenant of the Bernays-Barnum School of PD.   Ben and I shared about our respective work, and where we might find some areas of partnership.  To me, the essence of public diplomacy is working to connect all those who get it.

Work went fine, and the day ended and thus the week.

Since I couldn't turn Citifield into my virtual office, I decided to go to Friday night's game against the Astros.

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
-Isaac Newton (2 Train Brooklyn to Manhattan, "Train of Thought")

Well, I don't know either how I appear to the world, but to myself I see a smiling face pressed up against the glass of a subterranean subway car, watching the moving picture show go by.  Noir Desir sang about how the wind will carry us, as the train carried us of the bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan as the sun set west across the East River.

Up and across town to Queens to the new Citifield to watch the Mets take on the Astros.  I bought the cheapest ticket I could, which set me back $19.  Not too bad.  There was free kozy shack pudding being handed out, so i considered it that I hit paydirt.  I meandered through the Mets hall of fame before finding a seat up above to watch a mediocre match between two mediocre teams.  The fellow sitting next to me was in the army and on leave from a tour in Korea.  He did communications work, but the other side from the work I do.  The physical infrastructure of communications.  Stephen was on a baseball tour on his time off, and we chatted about stadiums near and far.

Today I spent a delicious day at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  Made more delicious by a free Saturday at the botanical garden.  Shabbat should always be free.  

A gorgeous green space made more so by mossy ginger beer to refresh.  I was surrounded by painted-petal fritillary.  

By a zen Japanese pond and garden, I practiced my posture and conducted yoga and meditation.  I love to stretch all parts.  

I watch large carp and turtles nip at wet leaves.  I circled the lake, and sheepishly snapped a few pics of Turtle Porn.  Yep, I found a tortuga Ron Jeremy.  That act of coitus might take months.

I found my way to a rose garden and planted myself on a bench amid globe thistles and oriental lillies (lilliacae).  Lady Elsie May kept me company as the soft roar of cicadas echoed through the arbor.

And I thought of heroes who found themselves with their clay feet exposed.   Lance Armstrong.  Livestrong. Say it ain't so Lance, say it ain't so.

Apparently, the Indian government spent $1.5 million dollars to purchase Gandhi's letters to hide that he might have been having a homosexual relationship with German Jew Herman Kallenbach.  Puts a whole different spin on Gandhi's experiments with truth and Brahmacharya (abstinence).  Just sayin, that Gandhi was getting 7 years good luck for his experiments bothers me not.  The Indian government, perhaps a little more so.

Hala & Sharaf

I didn't take this picture but I wish I did.  This is Hala, one of our volunteers from Baghdad.

This is shot is my own, called "Sharaf"

Comrade BoSox

Red Sox as USSR. I have been saying for years that New England became an "Evil Empire" in their own right.

Don't Mess...

"No one, not even the United Nations, would ever mess with Texas."
-UN Sece Gen Ban Ki Moon

While i feel like I should be crediting The Onion, that quote is related to some idiot judge in Texas who was declaring that the UN would invade the Lone Star State if Obama was re-elected to quell the upcoming civil war.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Not your office

Not your office!  Nice find...Abba (?!?)  When is the last time you hung out at a hipster coffee dive?

The Battle of Brooklyn

I was out and about in Park Slope, when I stumbled upon a historical battleground: The Battle of Brooklyn.  Apparently it was one of the first battles in which the young continental army got to test its muster under the leadership of a certain Virginian.  They lost.  Fascinating in any case.

The Crackpot Caucus

The Republicans as bad comedy.  Funny until you realize how scary it is.

The Crackpot Caucus
by Timothy Egan

The tutorial in 8th grade biology that Republicans got after one of their members of Congress went public with something from the wackosphere was instructive, and not just because it offered female anatomy lessons to those who get their science from the Bible.

Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped.

On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

Let’s take a quick tour of the crazies in the House. Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body.

We’re currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, a siege of wildfires, and the hottest temperatures since records were kept.  But to Republicans in Congress, it’s all a big hoax. The chairman of a subcommittee that oversees issues related to climate change,  Representative John Shimkus of Illinois is —  you guessed it  — a climate-change denier.

At a 2009 hearing, Shimkus said not to worry about a fatally dyspeptic planet: the biblical signs have yet to properly align. “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length.  It’s worth repeating: This guy is the chairman.

On the same committee is an oil-company tool and 27-year veteran of Congress, Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas.  You may remember Barton as the politician who apologized to the head of BP in 2010 after the government dared to insist that the company pay for those whose livelihoods were ruined by the gulf oil spill.

Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.”  Clean energy, he said,  “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter. You never know.

“You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

The Catholic Church long ago made its peace with evolution, but the same cannot be said of House Republicans.  Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House,  is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

In his party, Kingston is in the mainstream. A Gallup poll in June found that 58 percent of Republicans believe God created humans in the present form just within the last 10,000 years —  a wealth of anthropological evidence to the contrary.

Another Georgia congressman, Paul Broun,  introduced the so-called personhood legislation in the House — backed by Akin and Representative Paul Ryan — that would have given a fertilized egg the same constitutional protections as a fully developed human being.

Broun is on the same science, space and technology committee that Akin is. Yes, science is part of their purview.

Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing.

Remember the crazy statement that helped to kill the presidential aspirations of  Michele Bachmann?  A vaccine, designed to prevent a virus linked to cervical cancer, could cause mental retardation, she proclaimed. Bachmann knew this, she insisted, because some random lady told her so at a campaign event.  Fearful of the genuine damage Bachmann’s assertion could do to public health, the American Academy of Pediatrics promptly rushed out a notice, saying,  “there is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement.”

Nor is there is reputable scientific validity to those who deny that the globe’s climate is changing for the worst. But Bachmann calls that authoritative consensus a hoax, and faces no censure from her party.

It’s encouraging that Republican heavyweights have since told Akin that uttering scientific nonsense about sex and rape is not good for the party’s image. But where are these fact-enforcers on the other idiocies professed by elected representatives of their party?

Akin, if he stays in the race, may still win the Senate seat in Missouri.  Bachmann, who makes things up on a regular basis, is a leader of the Tea Party caucus in Congress and, in an unintended joke, a member of the Committee on Intelligence.  None of these folks are without power; they govern, and have significant followings.

A handful of Republicans have tried to fight the know-nothings. “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” said Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, during his ill-fated run for his party’s presidential nomination. “Call me crazy.”

And in an on-air plea for sanity,  Joe Scarborough, the former G.O.P. congressman and MSNBC host, said, “I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the stupid party.”  I feel for him.  But don’t expect the reality chorus to grow. For if intelligence were contagious, his party would be giving out vaccines for it.

Don Pablo Quijote Scategorizes

I was out with my friends Dani Disco and Reiss Reality for a night of The Big Lebowski shown in Central Park. I was enjoying The Dude, when nature called.  On my way back from the bathroom, Don Pablo Quijote stumbled upon a damsel in distress.  A girl had lost her way on her own way back from the bathroom.  We chatted as she tried to figure out how to find her friends in a horde of moviegoers.

We sipped water in the closed cafe until the flick ended, then found her friends and her research. I lost my own friends, but knew they would understand.  We headed out to grab a drink with her fellow zoological cohort.  Dr. Puma, Mrs. Puma, Esq and Dr. Turtle to join for a libation.

Turns out that this humble knight errant had met a Romanian princess turned PhD student interested in snow leopards.  The daughter of a Transylvanian Baron, which makes her a Lady.  When Don Pablo Quijote found out this fact, he ceased trying to get her home for the night and dropped to one knee to kiss her hand.   A sad lapse in chivalry, to be sure.  A fun night of scategories at the 75 Dive, and the promise of a night at the museum awaits.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Connecting Pakistan and Israel

"There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
-Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy

Because my Abba used to recite that one to me.

I am super proud of this one.  I had a hand in helping foster connections between +972 Magazine and Let Us Build Pakistan.  Both are liberal progressive online magazines in Pakistan and Israel.  Under the auspices of Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum, Waleed and I helped conduct virtual discussions to address common issues in both societies regarding human rights, the military establishment, the religious establishment.   And it all began in my parent's breakfast room, soon to be dubbed: Oslo-upon-Bethesda.This is the fruits of almost a year of sporadic chats.  It is also my PD504 final project come to life!

+972-LUBP dialogue: Fostering people to people contact between Israel and Pakistan – by Dahlia Scheindlin

LUBP Editor’s note: +972 is a blog-based web magazine that is jointly owned by a group of journalists, bloggers and photographers whose goal is to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine. Not unlike LUBP, the +972 Magazine is committed to human rights and freedom of information, and opposes the occupation.

For the last few months, some of my LUBP colleagues and I have been in touch with +972 Magazine through Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum (Paul Rockower and Waleed Ziad) with a view to develop better understanding of each other’s society, people, media and issues of human rights and equality. As a part of our dialogue, we are pleased to publish an original post by Dahlia Scheindlin which highlights the importance of people to people contact between the two countries. Happy reading.

+972-LUBP dialogue: Fostering people to people contact between Israel and Pakistan

Pakistan and Israel are not exactly natural bedfellows. Yet underneath the veneer of political rejection, there has been mutual-interest based contact at the higher levels of politics and business over the decades.

What’s been missing is constructive contact at the level of regular people, which has a different dimension and a different set of interests.

As an Israeli who is committed to human rights and democracy, I want to explain why a relationship with Pakistani counterparts is of great interest to me.

Our societies have more in common than we may realize at first glance (here’s an excellent, if somewhat dated, summary of a few reasons why).

We both wrestle with dilemmas of a society facing a protracted conflict which has had an abiding influence over the national consciousness and a major impact on the social, economic, and psychological development of our relatively new states. We both face severe internal social divisions. We are threatened by theocratic forces encroaching on democratic principles, rights and freedoms; and nationalist attempts to marginalize or oppress minorities.

Those of us who believe that we must expose, critique and constructively address those difficulties in order to improve the countries we care so much about, often feel alone.

We may even be ostracized by large portions of our own communities on ideological grounds. We experience the tension of either arguing within our own societies, or keeping our silence about injustices, which inevitably burns inside. To find refuge and kindred spirits, we may look to the international community – but that can compounding accusations that we are elitist or disloyal. The other option is to huddle within ourselves and find pockets of the local like-minded people. That carries its own risk of parochialism and stagnation. I sometimes experience a loss of perspective within like-minded circles, a certain defensiveness about the uniqueness of our situation. If so many other peoples have suffered from ethno-national conflicts, at least we might learn from them.

These are some of the reasons we established +972 Magazine. We are a group of independent journalists and bloggers who came together to carry on debates in English. That helps both internationalize the conversation, while allowing Israelis and Palestinians to join in as well, with only a minor language hurdle. The content is free and accessible to all, and that’s because all of our writing is on a volunteer basis.

Here we have total license to speak our hearts and our minds. We try to provide accurate information about underreported aspects of the threats to democracy, human rights, and the fundamental mechanism that violates them – the occupation. The writers are free to write about anything, from any perspective, with no editorial constraints, although of course we do not tolerate outright racism or incitement, and oppose severely offensive historical comparison.

Over the course of two years, we hope that +972 Magazine has helped broaden the community of people with wide-ranging ideas, from the Jewish and Palestinian diasporas to policy circles, to regular people living their lives in this region. We sincerely hope to have strengthened the position of those who share our goal of strengthening democracy and human rights and resolving the conflict. We try to push boundaries and open up new direction of thinking through information and analysis that is not commonly provided by mainstream news.

My wish is for +972 to help release existing attitudes that are locked inside constraints of the current discourse, voice them and allow more people to speak their minds. Ultimately, I hope that even tiny steps, a blog, an article, or a sentence, contribute to a changed environment that will lead eventually to better policies.

I want readers everywhere to know that there are Israelis and Palestinians committed to the rights of one another, who respect the narrative, feelings and experience of the other even as we differ in our political opinions. And that we are all committed to changing the policies that violate such rights and narratives.

In my initial conversations with Pakistanis committed to similar values, facing their own struggles, I have been struck by the sheer physical risk they take to express such views. But I was also struck by the similarities of our underlying social and political dilemmas, although the manifestations are different. The understandings and common language from just a few conversations have shown me that we can learn from each other’s experiences – of shared dilemmas and possible solutions.

I believe our readers on +972 Magazine would benefit as much as I have from greater contact with Pakistani writers at LUBP who are committed to human rights. That’s why we are fostering this relationship, and I hope to host articles of interest from my colleagues here when possible.

About the author: Dahlia Scheindlin is a public opinion researcher, analyst and political consultant. She is a columnist at Jerusalem Report, blogger at +972 (; also a visiting lecturer at Ben Gurion University.


Time Banks

"All Time Wasted Shall be Refunded"
-The Phantom Toll Booth

I have a new article up on the Huffington Post on Time Banks.  I had reported on this story when I interned at Market Place.  I always felt that I could tell a better story in a thousand words than in 3 minutes of radio.  The story was going to be run by the American Prospect, then by a more apt outlet called In these Times.  But In These Times could not get its act together.  It is now up.

Time Banks

"Time is the most valuable commodity we can spend," stated the ancient Greek philosopher Theophastus; in Time Banks, the idea that "time is money" takes on a whole new significance. Time Banking is a social movement predicated on exchanging the value of time for time. It is an online community that brings people together based on the service of their time.

Through Time Banks, members can use their time as a resource to fulfill a variety of needs. For an hour of work, members earn one Time Dollar, no matter if their work was gardening, tax help or dog walking. Then, they are able to use their accumulated Time Dollars to spend on other people's time within the Time Bank network.

Time Banking is different than traditional forms of barter because rather than a one-on-one exchange of goods or services, Time Bank members are able to tap into a network of services that comes in exchange for the Time Dollars they have earned. Time banking is a way to trade services without directly bartering with another person -- rather members trade services through the Time Bank. And more importantly, they do this through an Internet-based system that easily allows members to list the services they both need and offer.

"Time Banking understands that there are two ways to value time, one is the market value, but for all of us there are domains in our life that are beyond market value," said Time Bank founder and CEO Dr. Edgar Cahn, "Time Banking is an attempt really to say when you get right down to it, all hours are equal."

Time Banks span the country and the globe. There are Time Banks located in 44 states, and in 32 countries throughout Europe, Israel, and Asia. Dr. Cahn notes that Time Banking helps connect value to the ephemeral things that market often does not. He states, "Barter follows market pricing but all barter currencies follow market pricing, which means they value most what the market values. They devalue what the market does not value. Caring labor, civic labor, those kinds of labor are not valued by the market."

In Los Angeles, Echo Park Time Bank co-founder Lisa Gerstein echoed this sentiment. Gerstein noted, "It does level the playing field, in terms of valuing both your own services and as the services of other people. Suddenly the person who cleans your house has the same value as the person who helps you edit something or baby-sits your children. It's placing value on things that we don't necessarily place value on."

"It seems like pretty interesting way of dealing with the economic crisis that we are going through right now. It's about providing valuable services that are really simple," said Erin Smith, a member of the Echo Park Time Bank. Smith earns her Time Dollars by putting on puppet shows for both children and adults that deal with themes related to the environment and recycling. "It's about figuring out what your skill or interest is, and being able to trade that service with people in the community," she said.

"Basically you're trading services with a pool of people, and you're also getting to know the people in your community as you're doing it," said Lisa Gerstein, "So you are saving money and you are building relationships within your community at the same time." The Echo Park Time Bank also helps build community as Time Bankers get together for potlucks and other events to strengthen community networks.

In an age of social networked virtual communities, Time Banking works on building real, offline community. "It's nice that we get together for potlucks once a month, so you really have face-to-face interactions with people in your community," said Echo Park Time Bank member Carrie Grace, "It's a way to make the community stronger."

"You have the altruistic benefit that people get to give to others, and you also yourself get to receive things out of the network. And all this is done without cash, and the currency of time is something that people have extra of and are able to participate," noted Prof. Ed Collom, a University of Southern Maine sociology professor who researches social movements like Time Banks.

Time Banking is fundamentally about restoring social infrastructure, which is especially relevant as people deal with the ongoing economic downturn and its repercussions. According to Dr. Cahn, "What we're finding is that Time Banking can be used to build and rebuild the social infrastructure in ways that are critical to virtually every social problem that we face, that's waiting for attention, waiting for energy. And there may not be funds, but there are people who have capacity to give."

"Through Time Banking, we have seen people come together across racial and class lines," stated Dr. Cahn. There are examples abound of Time Bank members performing acts of service in the community to earn Time Dollars such as former LA gang members helping take seniors to church in order earn Time Dollars to get gang tattoos removed. In Washington, D.C., the law firm Holland and Knight put in close to $250,000 in legal services -- paid out in Time Dollars -- to close down crackhouses in the Shaw neighborhood, and in return donated the Time Dollars to a local nursing home so that the home could bring in more volunteers visitors via the time currency.

Time Banking is thus redefining the way people value both time and community; with Time Banking and Time Dollars, communities learn to trust the wealth and value of time and each other.

Vote Early, Vote Onion

Ever the most delicious source of new: Restrictive Voter Laws, The Onion Reports.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Closing of American Academia

I had considered myself kinda lucky that my plans to pursue a PhD at present hadn't quite worked out.  Then this article made me think doubly so: The Closing of American Academia.  TY Lena, g'luck with that....

Swords into instruments

"Don't stop after beating the swords into ploughshares, don't stop! Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into ploughshares first."
- Yehuda Amichai, "Appendix to the Vision of Peace"


The Kony-ification of Pussy Riot

A great piece by Joshua Foust of the American Security Project on social media slacktivism, Kony and Pussy Riot:
The world wants to help, and that's great. but that effort may actually misunderstand both Russia and its challenges in ways that are not always constructive. Pussy Riot have been turned into a cause célèbre by Western pop culture mavens. Madonna, Paul McCartney, Bjork, even Sting -- who apparently learned his lessons after screwing up in Kazakhstan, where he once sold his services to a dictator -- have publicly issued statements supporting the fem-punkers.
Pussy Riot are being unjustly persecuted (in a free society, they'd have been given a slap on the wrist and a fine, then let go), and that's appropriate and good to protest. But the support movement also carries some uncomfortable echoes of the Kony 2012 campaign and its many less-infamous predecessors, repeating an unfortunate practice of activism for the sake of activism, of enthusiastic support for someone who seems to be doing the right thing without really investigating whether their methods are the best, and privileging the easy and fun over the constructive....
In a real way, Kony 2012 took a serious problem -- warlords escaping justice in Central Africa -- and turned it into an exercise in commercialism, militarism, and Western meddling. Local researchers complained about it, and a number of scholars used it as an opportunity to discuss the dos and don't of constructive activism.
In Russia, Pussy Riot's newfound Western fans are taking a serious issue (Russia's degrading political freedoms and civil liberties) and turning it into a celebration of feminist punk music and art. Feminist punk music and art are great, but they are not the solutions to this particular problem, and pretending that they are takes attention away from more worthwhile efforts. Pussy Riot might have made punk music, but they got themselves imprisoned for an act of political dissent. Their unjust imprisonment doesn't necessarily make anything done in their name -- or, particularly, in the name of their punk music -- a step forward for Russian political rights.

"What does Madonna understand about Russia? Nothing.  What  does Madonna understand about publicity? Everything."

Meanwhile, my fellow fellow Taru brought up an analogy of Pussy Riot and the Dixie Chicks, and I am running with it.  Where were all you tough-talking rocktivists when the Dixie Chicks were getting pilloried?  Did you offer a note of support when they were getting socially and culturally ostracized?  

Monday, August 20, 2012


Shakshouka with sauteed yellow summer squash, spanish onions, mushrooms and spinach, eaten with burnt tortilla #yum

Sundays in New York

Yesterday I played in New York's parks.  I had made myself a delicious brunch of an omelette of sauteed onions, mushrooms and spinach with cheese and jalapenos, then headed out into the city.  I took the train to Union Square to sit and read in the park.

I arrived, and headed over to find some coffee.  Starbucks was packed, so I popped in next door to McDonalds.  $1 for a cup of coffee, any size.  New York is always good for deals.  Throw in two apple pies for a buck.  What could be more Americana than apple pie?  I heard a great American gastrodiplo story from my lecture about an FSO who went on a morning tv show to bake an apple pie.  Good American gastrodiplomacy indeed, she said people would come up to her and refer to her as the "apple pie lady."

Anywho, I made my way into the park and read A Storm of Swords.  I poured through it like a Valyrian swords through silk.  I sipped my coffee and fed pigeons pie.

Things I don't miss from Iraq: 1) Hauling pianos up flights of stairs.  

After a bit, I headed into Washington Square.  There i stumbled upon a phenomenal pianist.  His name is Colin Higgins, and he sits in a corner of the square, playing the ivories.  He played all sorts of beautiful brilliant pieces by Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and others.   And more recent, like The Piano of the Piano.

And the beautiful rain drops of Amelie.

A perfect afternoon of a piano serenade and a game of thrones.  I picked up where I left off in Istanbul and poured through the twists and turns.  I don't think anything has ever taken me on such a story.  After Colin was done playing, I told him about hauling pianos in Iraq.  We chatted for a bit about music and American Music Abroad.

I wandered away, and to happy hour for some wine.  After finishing Game of Thrones I felt I needed a glass of Dornish red.  I chatted with the bartender, who had also read the book.  He had not read a book of which he had a part in: Man of La Mancha.  He was playing the priest.  There is no coincidence.

I wandered my way through Greenwich Village, looking for a humuseria.  Those are always in short supply.  I found a block of falafel and kathi rolls.  I had a first roll of Calcutta flair.  A delicious potato onion curry roll.  It was good but I was still hungry.  I popped in to Mamoun's falafel and had some incredible falafel.  For only $2.50.  Amazing.  And they had some hot sauce that utterly lit me up.  Impressive hot.  My lips smoldered for 45 minutes.  No joke.  Tingly burn for almost an hour.  F'ing right.  It takes a lot to impress me with hot sauce, but this was a champ.

I was on my way back on the subway.  I transferred in Brooklyn and was waiting in the hot depths for a train.  As i was waiting, a Chinese family was babbling, a bit loudly but nothing out of the ordinary.  Suddenly, this fat white decrepit guy sitting near me starts saying loudly, "ching chong chung chong."

I turned over and growled at him to stop.

He continued.

Then I snarled at him, "SHUT UP."

He slunk back off into the depths.


Dear Todd Akin,

  Why would you even dignify the term "rape," when everyone knows it is merely "surprise sex."

And other unbelievable notions: this man is on the Republican House's Science Committee.  Kepler, indeed. I wonder what qualifications that dolt has to be on a science committee?  A PhD in Astrophysics I am sure.  Enough.  

Rollin w/ Bolen in the Waco Trib

Prof. Bradley Bolen was featured today in the Waco Tribune for his work with American Voices:

Baylor music instructor teaches in war-torn countries


When Baylor University music professor Brad Bolen was offered a chance to teach piano lessons to young students in Iraq, he had more than a few reservations.

“My first thought was, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Bolen said of the offer from American Voices, a nonprofit group that hosts music and arts programs in countries across the globe.

“My second one was there can’t possibly be any people there at the level that I’ve worked with my whole life to help or who could have that much familiarity with Western music.”

But what he found instead was a country full of charm despite its civil struggles.

And he was inspired by students who didn’t let the wars around them deter their focus on nurturing their musical talents.

“I can’t think of very many places where I can win that many kids over so fast and feel like I’ve inspired them and really changed their lives,” Bolen said.

Now, Bolen wants to create a greater opportunity for the young musicians to expand their studies. The Baylor School of Music has started an American Voices Scholarship Fund and is seeking donations to help students from the country study music at Baylor.

Dean William May said the school of music has had some students from the Middle East before, but never anyone from a war-torn county. He thinks bringing some of Bolen’s pupils will add a deeper perspective on the value of higher education.

“We’re talking about putting examples of people who’ve literally risked their lives to do what they want to do, not because Mama’s sending them to college,” May said. “That’s a kind of student intensity that our American students don’t comprehend until they see it in action.”

May said the students will need more than just tuition support. The scholarships will be needed to help with everything from housing and clothing to school supplies and medical care.

“Oftentimes they come to us needing to go to the dentist,” May said. “Those kinds of things we don’t think of in terms of students coming because we sort of expect them coming with some level of support from home.”

Bolen recently completed his third summer teaching in American Voices’ Youth Excellence on Stage, or YES Academy. The program has taken him to Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon for two-week intervals to introduce classical piano music and techniques to young pupils from around each country.

During his first camp in Iraq, Bolen had four translators in the room as he taught 15 to 20 students that included Christians and Muslims, Kurds and Arabs.

On the first day, he had each student play a piece of their choice to demonstrate their skill level. As one girl played, a mouse would crawl across the worn piano, then flee back to its hiding space when she stopped, he said.

After this continued for a few minutes, another student went over and began playing Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2,” a piece famously used in a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which a mouse crashed his recital.

“Instantly, everybody started laughing, and everyone knew what he was referring to,” Bolen said. “I knew right away we were going to have fun after that.

“I also realized that what we were doing was helping this very diverse group of kids that would not ordinarily work together in their own country, come together and break boundaries within their own culture.”

Bolen said he also experienced a culture shock of his own in discovering that Iraq wasn’t quite the chaotic country he pictured it to be.

He found that the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq was calm and welcoming, and visitors could travel easily and enjoy normal tourist activities like sightseeing or dining out.

“I quickly learned it wasn’t all I thought or feared,” Bolen said. “People get preconceived notions about things until they go there, and I think I was just as guilty of that as anybody.”

Danger persists

But Bolen acknowledges there has been some danger in his work. The YES Academy canceled its programs in Iraq and Syria last summer because of a rash of civil uprisings, opting only to go to Jordan.

This past summer, some of the lessons took place in Kirkuk, a city on the southern edge of Kurdistan that long has been the center of conflict between Arab and Kurdish groups.

Soldiers accompanied the instructors in a caravan to and from the lessons at the Kurdistan Save the Children center. The group also had to change cars each day and switch routes to make sure they would not be followed, Bolen said.

Three days after the lessons wrapped, a series of attacks broke out in the city and a bomb struck the police station next to the children’s center.

Bolen later learned that none of his students had been hurt, but 42 people were killed during the bombings and the center was damaged.

“Quite frankly, the university and I, at the beginning of all this, were pretty nervous,” May, the music school dean, said. “We’re talking about a pianist entering a war zone, and that’s not the kind of place pianists usually go.”

Bolen said he often was amazed at the students’ resilience to continue their music studies despite the circumstances.

Once, a student from Syria contacted Bolen on Facebook to talk about his progress in violin lessons. The student told Bolen two bombs exploded outside his window as he practiced just a few minutes before their chat.

One of his pupils, 16-year-old Mohammed Akmed, attended the YES Academy in Iraq in 2010, driving six hours from his home in Baghdad to make the lessons. His father owned a pharmacy that was destroyed in a firefight between American troops and insurgents.

That same summer, Mohammed participated in a regional piano competition in Syria at the same time Bolen’s group was in the country starting piano lessons. Mohammed rejoined the program in Iraq again this summer.

Bolen said he’d like to see the students have a chance to come to America and focus on music without the distractions of war.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


"As stateless people, Assyrians rely on food, language and church as the pillars of their culture and group identity, according to festival coordinator Elizabeth Zia-Estensen."

Great story about Bay Area Assyrians sharing their ancient culture through food.

Pics from K-Stan

Not nearly as much as usual because my camera is on the fritz.

From Views of Duhok (Kurdistan) from hotel roof

From The Picnic in Duhok (Kurdistan)

From Erbil

From Sulimaniyah

From Suli Nights

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Under a Banyan in Brooklyn

Under a banyan in Brooklyn, this little Siddhartha sat.  With lotus clam shells spraying high above.  Two mermen with conch horns serenaded my thoughts, while an aqua Adam and Even bather in the plaza.  Cross-legged on the marble, a Brooklyn buddha observes.

Under a banyan in Brooklyn, this buddha began to write his own story.  A flurry of flourishes and the pen begins dreaming.  How many angels on the head of a pen?

On the Q to Island of Coney, an impressionist blue and white cloudscape covered across the sky.  The high-definition widescreen was the window of the Q.  The day before it was the bus window, as the Bolt sped back to Gotham via a bay detour (Seagirt and Dundalek, two great words that taste great together).

A yogi grows in Brooklyn.  On the pier over the water, I practiced my posture.  The Coney Island Ashram.  What I love about New York is that as strange as I can be, I still don't hold a candle to the rest.  In the big apple, I am only marginally more eccentric than the average bear and still on the low end of the spectrum.

From Warrior II, I pointed toward the clouded horizon of the Atlantic Ocean.  Towards a metal clasp bridge that connected beach to island.  A humbled warrior pointed back towards the luna park and the block buildings that lined the beach.

And what is the grand enlightenment of this Brooklyn buddha?  A double eureka- one to share and one that will take time.  Simply feeling comfortable in the present.  Comfortable with my own age.  Comfortable in my own story.  Priceless wisdom indeed, especially because I traveled long and far to find it.

Top Ten Things I miss from Iraq

10) Fairouz mornings (it seemed that Lebanon's gem was played everywhere for the breakfast hour)

9) Triangle pita bread kebabs bought on the street (says a re-constituted veggie)

8) A constant barrage of musical and dancing talent

7) Iraqis calling me "Meeester Paul"

6) Arak afternoons

5) Soup for breakfast (and actually I kinda miss the boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers with sheep's milk cheese and tahini for breakfast)

4) The mountains

3) My volunteers

2) My pesh merga

1) Too much

Coney Island

I was inspired to go to Coney Island today by Caitlin Price, whose photos were featured in the NYTimes.  Caitlin and I went to Edmund Burke together, and while we were in the same photo classes, we were not in the same photo class.

Caitlin's photography ends up in the category with Sarah Blackman's writing as two whose talents far exceed my own.  I went to school with some talented peeps, o' Edmund Burke class of 2008.

A storm of pages

It's nice to be back in Westeros.  Especially with the correct. pages.

It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them.  We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our steads.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Global Cipher

An amazing cipher session in DC caught by Nomadic Wax of a bevy of hip hop artists from Afrika in DC on a State Dept exchange program

Revenge is a dish best served pink

Aaaaammmmaaaazzzzzinnggg....TY Abba

Me on ASP

The think tank American Security Project had me over for an interview/podcast on the YES Academy Iraq program.  Thanks to Matt Wallin for organizing this PD podcast.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cultural Diplomacy in the Age of...

The title of my lecture today at the Foreign Service Institute as seen above.  I was kindly invited by FSI to lecture about public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy.  They had invited me under the auspices of speaking about  "Cultural Diplomacy in the Age of Social Media" but I put the kabosh on such notions, and spun off to discuss the need for PD 1.0 and 19th Century Statecraft.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

I left New York yesterday morning yesterday on the Bolt Bus to DC.  I sat next to a fascinating fellow named Steve Greenberg, who hosts a number of tv programs on innovation and gadgets.  We got to chatting on his upcoming trip to Argentina, and I was offering up recs for my former Southerly home.  The fellow was quite interesting, he has his own show on The Food Network called "Invention Hunters" and had written a book called Gadget Nation.  The innovation angle got me amped about my work with India and Israel, so now I am trying to figure out ways to get him to both locales to connect on innovation in both countries.  Meanwhile, he had some tips and assistance to offer for my own media biz.  There is no such thing as coincidence.

I got in to Union Station and hopped the metro over to DuPont to have happy hour with JB and Lena, but alas poor Yelena was struck down by KGB poison ala Yukeschenko.  Il Signorre Marrone and I had a great time chatting about my travels and travails in Iraq and picking out East Euro girls by their accents (Ukraine?  How did you know? ;).

Today, I had the lecture at FSI.  I was speaking to a class of Foreign Service Officers who had been posted to other assignments but were now transitioning to the PD cone.  I won't lie, I was a bit nervous to lecture to people with such experience, but I swallowed my nerves.

I began my lecture with a picture of a nexus of communications with the title "Cultural Diplomacy in the Age of..."  and continued to the next slide " the Age of..." with a picture of Gutenberg and King William Ludd.  I then explained the mistake that they had made in inviting me to talk about new methods of engagement, because I cared for only the old ones.

" old as the hills." I continued with Gandhi's famous statement, "I have nothing new to offer you, truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills."  I said I had nothing new to offer them, that connecting through culture, music and food is as old as the hills, but i could offer some new ways of doing this for statecraft.

I put up the great quote of Castells about public diplomacy being about building a sphere in which all could be heard.  I then went into the Bernays-Barnum School of Public Diplomacy, and offered 1,000 Iraqi dinar for whoever had conducted the most irreverent PD campaign at post ("I know what you are thinking...Paul, that is like 4 cups of chai").  While supporting the Hemingway Festival in Georgia was a worthy candidate (less so because no scotch and cigars were supplied), the winner was a girl who helped conduct a "Big Lebowski" Fest at her post, including with a Lebowski look-alike.  The PDude Abides....

I continued my lecture on American Voices Guerrilla Cultural Diplomacy work.  I spoke about our work creating the next generation of cultural leaders, and all the fun places we do it.  I also showed them the VOA spot on our work, and warned them that if they were worried about the Smith-Mundt Police, perhaps they should leave now.  After, we had some Q&A, then a break.

After the break, I got to lecture about gastrodiplomacy.  I offered the bounty of 10 rupees for whoever had eaten the strangest thing.  Cricket larvae; bulls balls; live squid.  The winner was a fellow who had tried ballot (Philippines baby duck on the way to being hatched), which I could agree was awful.  I spoke about the history of the role of food in shaping our world.  I went into a number of gastrodiplomacy campaigns, and ended with a look at the new State Dept culinary diplomacy initiative.

In short, culinary diplomacy is to gastrodiplomacy what diplomacy is to public diplomacy.  Different scope, different audience and different focus.  I passed out the one-pager, and we discussed how they could shift this new culinary diplomacy program into a gastrodiplomacy program at their new posts.  We had a great discussion about how to communicate a broader range of state and regional cuisines, and what more robust American gastrodiplomacy would entail.

On the whole, i think the lecture went well.  The class seemed pretty engaged and active.  They were even more appreciative when they realized I had traveled from NYC for the lecture.  Such is my commitment to socializing public diplomats to the Bernays-Barnum School.

Now off for a drink at the PDDC Augusto Happy Hour at Bedrock Billiards.  My friend Ben Fiske, who runs the bar, is making a special soft power cocktail: The Murrow.

Piano Man in Iraq

My friend and YES Academy colleague Prof. Bradley Bolen is tearing up the Waco media landscape. He hit the media trifecta (tv, radio and newspaper), and this flak had a lil role. I will post it as it appears. First up, the KWTX tv report

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Who is Paul Ryan?

Atlas Spurned: On why Paul Ryan ain't John Gault:
‎"As a woman in a man’s world, a Jewish atheist in a country dominated by Christianity and a refugee from a totalitarian state, Rand knew it was not enough to promote individual freedom in the economic realm alone. If Mr. Ryan becomes the next vice president, it wouldn’t be her dream come true, but her nightmare."


How to write good and with a prompt


This is why I love my father.

Email: According to MarketPlace Radio, the population today hit 314159265 


Turkish gastrodiplo!

Some wonderful P2P Turkish gastrodiplomacy going on in Middle America!  I need to get cracking on my article on Turkish gastrodiplomacy and my exhortations for Turkey launch a fleet of pides across the Hellspont.

Shalom, Motherf-cker!

Leader of Hungary's worst anti-Semitic party discovers he is indeed a Jew!  Hope they give you another bris!

HuffPo YES!

The Huffington Post picked up my article on the YES Academy Iraq!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Cipher

New York has me happy as a clam, I love its diversity and I am finding it surprisingly friendly.  I had an amazing night on thursday evening.  My friend Toni Blackman, a global hip hop ambassador and all-around Dove, invited me up to Harlem to come to her cipher.

I hopped the train from Brooklyn all the way across Manhattan.  The train was slowed by the fact that the express switched to local, and we went stop to stop.   I got up to Harlem, and was singing to myself Across 110th St.  I found the place, a loft office for a social justice organization, and was welcomed into the most amazing class on freestyle.

Toni was running beats, and four hip hop artists were going back and forth on rhymes.  One of the artists was Mahogany Jones, who is going on the American Music Abroad program.  Mahogany was an amazing artist with a real poised flow.

The class/cipher was incredible.  Over polished beats, Toni would give the artists topics or questions and they would then freestyle.  She picked proverbs from the bible or other sources ("there is no progress without struggle"), and they would flow to the thoughts posed.  

I spent the whole time thumbing my prayer beads and bobbing my head to the beat and rhymes.  Toni gave the artists insight on how to channel their energy and thoughts into their lyrics.  She threw out topics like "what do you regret" and they would spit poetry to answer her.  The session on regret was my favorite, as it became a freestyle confession, communion and benediction.

By the end of the night, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.  It was an unforgettable experience, and an amazing welcome to New York.

Welcome to America

Ummm...I have an Iraqi refugee violinist lost in New York.  One of the American Voices Scholarship Students Alan Rasheed (of NPR fame) was on his way to St. Louis to begin his scholarship at Saint Louis University.  He was flying from Iraq through Istanbul via New York to St. Louis.  Except, we got word last night that his flight to St. Louis had been cancelled by the airline, and he was rescheduled for the next day.

Unfortunately, we have had no good way to get in contact with Alan.  He texted my Edu Dir Marc that his flight got cancelled but didn't respond to any further calls or texts.  We had hoped to connect him with me, so he could come crash at my place but have had little luck.  Hopefully, the airline put Alan up at a hotel (inshallah!).   Merhaba Alan, welcome to Amrika!  At least we have a dapper picture of him to put on the milk boxes....

PS: Alan has indeed been found.  Poor fellow couldn't receive any of the texts back, and spent his first night in America staying at the airport.  He has indeed made it to St. Louis and is recovering over a cup of tea.


I went to pay my respects at a Sikh temple.  Sadly, the directions I had did not take me to where I wanted to go.  So it goes.  These were my thoughts along the way of why I was making the journey.

Because I have been to your holy golden temple in Amritsar.

Because I had one of my most unforgettable meals amid your marble splendor.  I sat in cross-legged silence, eating lentils and drinking chai from silver bowls with thousands of my fellow pilgrims.

Because I know a little of your history, and I know the persecution you have faced.

Because I know a little of my own history, and I know the persecution we have faced.

Because I find the senselessness of it to be heartbreaking.

Because those targeted always deserve it the least.

Because an attack on you is an attack against all of us.


And because this is New York, I got to express such sentiments to the Sikh taxi driver.  He was as appreciative as any priest.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Clinging to the rainy Brooklyn breeze was the smell of cinnamon sticks.  And I was reminded of the smell of rosemary on winds when i dwelled in the City of Angels.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Fuggedaboutit Diplomacy: NYC as Capital of PD

I was lost in thought yesterday evening about whether New York needs do its own public diplomacy.  Everyone across the world knows New York, its brand is global.  So much of what constitutes American cultural diplomacy comes from this city.  In terms of New York's soft power, the power of its influence is without compare.  New York is a global trendsetter.

Yet I fault New York for letting Washington run the public diplomacy show.  What if the USIA had been based in New York, and had its own ties to the arts community?

Public diplomacy gets dwarfed by diplomacy and the military in Washington.  And while I love LA, it is too remote and removed to be a public diplomacy epicenter.  Public diplomacy, and more importantly cultural diplomacy, needs to be able to tap into culture.  Sorry DC, but American cultural life is here in New York not in Washington.  While I recognize PD might need some proximity to apparati of government, at the very least it makes sense that New York is a better beacon for cultural diplomacy than DC.

There is more soft power emanating from New York than Washington.  It seems everyone hates Washington, as it gets railed at as the symbol of government dysfunction.  But those same voices pipe down and stand starry-eyed amid the lights and glitz of Times Square.  Washington's rep constantly gets beat up; New York would give you a bloody nose for such talk.  Fuggedaboutit.

And, of course, I can think of the fun of doing a New York gastrodiplomacy campaign, with bagels, pizza and delis as the centerpiece of such endeavors.

So perhaps I will make New York the base of my PD empire.  I will open up shop of the Edward R. Murrow Institute for Public and Cultural Diplomacy in the heart of Gotham.

Curbside Haiku

8 million swimming,
The traffic rolling like waves.
Watch for undertow.
-John Morse
Curbside Haiku, Washington Ave

Trojan Gold

Via the great Trojan himself John "Priam" Williamson:

"Point of information:
Gold medals won so far by USC Trojans: 9
Gold medals won so far by Australia: 6"

I coulda been a contender...

An amazing version of The Boxer by Jerry Douglas

There's a Crowd on My Desk

“The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us.”
-King Lear

Brilliant piece on privacy, isolation and relationships in the social media age:
You are worthy or desirable, insists the culture of today, inasmuch as you can demonstrate acceptance by others via circuits and cables (or in the case of Reality TV, as long as you can remain a contestant and avoid getting kicked off the show). Similarly, we hear it alleged: You are valid, you are real, inasmuch as you publish evidence daily — even hourly (Twitter, anyone?) — of your existence, your validity.
But there’s a paradox here, which is this: Even as we crave to abolish isolation and seize proof that we exist, the selves we wish verified may actually become less and less singular or unique, at least in the principle realm we use to verify them, the Internet. Online we are more isolated than ever, but without the soul-shaping benefits of real aloneness.
 Nice find JB, but undone slightly by the irony that you posted it on FB.  Or at the bottom of the article, the apps to share on social media are tagged as "Sharing is Caring."  Ah, the ironies of the social media age.  And I find no shortage of irony that social media shares the same initials as the Marquis' favorite pursuits.

PS: My brother Harry pulled this morsel out:
Interaction is apt to become the raison d’être of our time. We rate our technologies first by the efficiency with which they allow us to reach another person and gather data. And quick, even instant measurability of that efficiency is a chief advantage of online media. Send an e-mail, get a response. Build a website, then tabulate “unique visitors” and hits per day. Set up a Facebook page, count your friends. Despite certain pragmatic advantages afforded by these tools, they are ultimately a bane to writers, for within such a hyper-social, data-driven ethos, it appears to follow that endeavors failing to serve the ultimate utilities — i.e., connection and measurability — call for abandonment. How, if steeped in social media culture, can one still conceive of spending three to seven years writing a novel in the quiet of one’s study?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

YES Academy Iraq on CPD

I have a blog on the CPD site on YES Academy Iraq.  Don't worry JB, I am writing a longer piece for other outlets....

“Min hem ya neem,” bellowed the baritone Kurdish Hamlet. To be or not to be—always a good question to be asked of any public diplomacy venture.

Recently, American Voices held its annual Youth Excellence on Stage (YES) Academy in the city of Duhok, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.  American Voices, the nonprofit for which I am the Director of Communications, conducts cultural diplomacy to countries emerging from conflict or isolation.  At American Voices, we believe that cultural diplomacy requires sustained engagement, and as such this year marked the sixth in which we  held the performing arts academy program in Iraq.

With support from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government, the YES Academy Iraq program brought together over 300 Iraqi youth from across the country to study music, theater and dance in a two-week performing arts academy.  With the still-precarious security situation in Iraq, the program offered students from across Iraq an opportunity to meet, and ultimately jam, with their compatriots.  Meanwhile, it fostered people-to-people diplomacy as the students bonded with and learned from their American teachers.  It felt like nothing short of a public diplomacy miracle to hold together a quadralingual program—Arabic, two dialects of Kurdish (Badini and Sorani) and English— for two weeks.

And since nature abhors a vacuum, somehow I ended up playing Assistant Director for this veritable Iraqi band camp.  While I don’t play any instruments, I became a musical wiz at banging pots and pans through the dorm halls to wake up oversleeping participants.  Thankfully, the only hard power I had to exercise came from kicking in a few bathroom doors when locks got stuck (I was greeted as a liberator).

The YES Academy program does not teach beginning musicians how to play, but rather works with aspiring musicians to teach them to play at a more professional level.  As part of the program, we brought a dozen faculty to Iraq including professors from universities such as Baylor University, University of Missouri and East Carolina University.  Throughout the day and late into the night, the YES Academy faculty labored away teaching these budding musicians and thespians new ways to perform their craft.

The program ran the entire spectrum of the performing arts.  There were classes for classical symphony, and the YES Academy Orchestra learned everything from Vivaldi’s Concerto Gross to a stirring rendition of Coldplay’s Clocks.

The YES Academy Iraq had a new and innovative program this year on music composition—likely the first time such a class has ever been taught in Iraq.  Led by Dr. Patrick Clark of the University of Missouri the music composition class taught neophyte composers theories of western musical composition and how to apply it to Kurdish and Arabic music.  The outcome was stunning as the students wrote eight full compositions ranging from a piece that melded Western classical music with Kurdish folk melodies.  Another favorite was “The Baghdad Waltz,” which whimsically tied triple-metered waltz music to the essence of the Iraqi capital.

The jazz & rock classes learned the history of that uniquely American art form, and some fascinating variations on it.  For the final gala, the jazz class performed a Latin Jazz favorite by the legend Tito Puente, among other jazz tunes.

 Often for the performing arts academies, we have to work with a scarcity of instruments.  This was most apparent in the piano program, which was forced to share one piano among a dozen students.  Yet, under the tutelage of Dr. Bradley Bolen of Baylor University, these piano virtuosos rose to the occasion, and by the end they were masterfully playing works by Chopin and Rachmaninoff.   Meanwhile the piano shortage led to some precarious moment when we had to hoist the sole piano up and down flights of stairs for the gala performance.  I never imagined that public diplomacy included avoiding a hernia.

The Adult Theater program offered lessons in staging, miming and other theater techniques.  Also, as indicated by the opening stanza to this blog, there was an engaging production of Shakespeare’s classic Hamlet.  It was riveting to watch that eternal question uttered in Arabic, Badini, Sorani and English by a score of princes of Denmark.  Meanwhile, the Children’s Theater program taught aspiring thespians fables from around the world, and helped them to stage Kurdish folk tales.

Perhaps the most exciting portion of the program was found in the hip hop & breakdance class.  The highly athletic and energetic ADS Crew- Baghdad’s only breakdance crew worked with breakdancers from Kurdistan to hone their breakdance talents.  YES Academy dance faculty instructor Michael Parks Masterson pushed these nimble artists to learn new levels of choreography and staging so that their raw talent could be transformed into new levels of breakdance savoir faire.

                                           (photo by Dany Chrswana)

I also learned a lot at the YES Academy Iraq, especially about the practical application of public diplomacy.  Far removed from theories of public diplomacy, sometimes the most essential acts of public diplomacy are the banal nitty-gritty aspects that are ultimately so important.  Things like ensuring that an army of students remains fed; that students are awake and attending class; that there are enough translators in a class who are able to translate the right dialect of Kurdish so the students can understand the professor’s lesson.  Sometimes I felt like I was a public diplomacy camp counselor.

Yet working with such immensely talented youth, it was hard not to be inspired.  In the end, we concluded with a two-day gala concert showcasing all that had been learned; it was then apparent that the program had been a great success.

As a post-script on the YES Academy Iraq, the faculty split up to run mini-YES Academies in Kirkuk and Baghdad.  I helped run the 4-day Kirkuk program, which was held at the Kurdistan Save the Children’s Fund office in Kirkuk and included classes on children’s theater, woodwinds and jazz, piano and symphonic orchestra.

Kirkuk is a fiercely divided city these days, and given its precariousness, we had to commute from Erbil- the capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq.  To make this hour commute, we went in an armored convoy with Kalashnikov-sporting Asayesh (Kurdistan Regional Government Security Forces).  As if something out of a spy novel, we rode down the desert highway with guns a-blazin.  We had to switch routes on a daily basis, and often changed cars while entering and exiting the city.   When in Kirkuk, I got yelled at a few times by security for moseying outside the building to take pictures— with good reason, a week later an al-Qaeda car bomb went off on the block as Iraq convulsed with its worst spate of violence of the year.  Thankfully, no one we were working with was hurt, and just some windows were shattered, but a terrifying reminder of the realities of conducting cultural diplomacy in countries emerging from conflict.

It is hard to describe the feelings that accompany such a program as the YES Academy Iraq.  It was an exhausting endeavor, yet one that felt so utterly meaningful and fulfilling on so many levels.   It was amazing to watch the progress of the students over the intense two weeks.  And I learned so much from the students and from the faculty as only such people-to-people engagement can foster.  It is ultimately programs like the YES Academy Iraq that do the most to cover that hallowed ground that is the last three feet.

If I only had $100 million dollars

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Chow Down at Chick Fil-a

 And to think that this video came out way before the latest controversy. haha.

Brazil's African Flex

Brazil is starting to flex its economic muscles in Africa in aid and developmental diplomacy.   The article also mentions some Brazilian academic exchange diplomacy to bring lusophone African students to Brazil:
"Other projects are intended to lure Africans to study in Brazil. A new university began offering classes last year for students from Portuguese-speaking countries, including Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Principe." 
I am still waiting to read more about more robust Brazilian cultural diplomacy to Africa, and a more active niche diplomacy role in sorting out some problems on the continent.   Brazil has a considerable amount of soft power in Africa, but still I don't think it is doing enough to bring its pd clout to full potential.

Pravda & Pussy Riot

"U.S. State Department officials said that they were concerned about "Pussy". What can we say in response? Only one thing - try to be less concerned, and this too, will pass. The same can be said for the legion of supporters of Pussy Riot. They rave themselves horse claiming that even if the Russian believers were outraged with the "concert" of the band at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, then it is their problem."

Classic.  Thanks for your official take, Pravda!  Speciba, ManIC.

A Friday in Ramadan

This comes from my friend Dr. Omar Sarsam.  I previously mentioned Omar, who is a Christian from Mosul who now lives in Kurdistan.  He was kind enough to share it with me, shukran Omar!

A Friday in Ramadan
There were moments in my life when I thought that it’s all over.

Thought?!  I need to rephrase that, I didn’t “think”, I actually BELIEVED; that it was all over. I learned the hard way that belief is not a true one unless we doubt it. Deep inside, I still had some doubt that it wasn’t the end; there might still be a chance for me to go on. As you can see, doubting in this case was hope. The following is dedicated to all who gave me hope, all who were there for me, to all “my true neighbors”.

To give a clearer idea about what is meant by the true neighbors; I quote the following parable from the holy Bible

25) On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
 26)"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
 27) He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
 28) "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
 29) But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
 30) In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 
31) A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 
32) So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 
33) But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 
35) The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
 36)"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
 37)The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." 
      Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
(Luke 25-37)

Last Friday, one of the closest people to my heart came to visit and stayed for the night, it was the Friday of mid Ramadan. We got to fast this day and have our Iftar together; it was an amazing day. I’d love to take this opportunity to write about the story behind the story of this tradition that has been going on for the last 5 years.

It was winter time shortly after my mother passed away and everybody was busy doing their spring cleaning; a task that requires a lot of effort; cleaning the carpets, the floor, moving the furniture to put the carpets and returning them to their places afterwards. At that Ramadan, 3 of friends volunteered to help. I still remember that day, it’s engraved in my memory, I woke up at 7 a.m. to see them waiting at the main gate. We worked till around 6 p.m., they were fasting and refused to have anything to eat and drink.

As a sign of my appreciation and respect I fasted that day with them. It was on my heart to keep this as a tradition in my life; fasting the Friday of mid Ramadan.

To my family,
To all my true friends,
To all who fed me when I was hungry,
To all who sheltered me when I was homeless,
To all who called and asked about me when I was down and lonely,
To all who prayed for me,
To all “my neighbors”,
THANK YOU, You are in my prayers, May God bless you more and more and enlighten your ways.
I am blessed and so much loved by our heavenly father; he hasn’t sent one Good Samaritan but a whole bunch of them.
Ramadan 2010
P.S: A priest and a Levite are both people of religious ranks.

For more info about the historical and cultural background check Wikipedia: