Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hagel, lobbies and cliches

My cousin Jeff likes to say that in life you should never be a cliche.  Well...

Dear Emergency Committee for Israel, don't be a f'ing cliche. See  These idiots annoyed me once already.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bye-Bye Boston

In a perfect conclusion to my Boston sojourn, I caught, not one but, two shows of Della Mae at Club Passim as part of their post-AMA tour wrap-up.  The Dellas had decorated the stage in all their swag from their tour, including fluffy telpak hats from Turkmenistan, silks from Uzbekistan, felt animals from Kyrgyzstan and a carpet from Pakistan.

The Dellas reminded me why they were such wonderful cultural diplomatesses.  They regaled the audience with stories from the ‘Stans, and played both their music and music learned while on tour.  It was amazing to hear the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Pakistani collaboration pieces again- from the bouncy Kazakh Illigay to the solemn poem by Allama Iqbal.  As they played, they cast shadows on the silk tapestries that decorated the wall.  It was such a phenomenal show, and the kind of two-way exchange that cultural diplomacy is all about.

More incredibly, the Dellas put on the show for free.  All ticket sales from the 2 shows went to support the Lettuce Bee Kids- an NGO in Islamabad that they encountered on their tour which helps Afghan refugee kids and Pakistani street kids.  The Dellas raised almost $4,000 for Lettuce Bee Kids!

And it all marked a bit of closure for me on the tour.  I had been struggling with how to put such an experience in perspective and give it some sense of closure, but this final concert seemed to mark a proper end.

Meanwhile, I slipped out with the cold wind out of the arctic tundra that is New England.  I packed up my stuff and hopped the T down to South Station, crossing the bridge that connects Cambridge and Boston as the frozen lake mirror on the Charles cast the city’s glass beauty in icy reflection.

And bade goodbye to Boston, and marveled at how I had connected with this fair city in ways I was not able to a decade prior.  Boston will likely never be a city I truly plan to call home, but I am pleased that I got a better relationship with a place I spent a few years but with which I had not previously connected.

We meant well, cont.

Two words for money pit: Afghanistan reconstruction.

The Sharks Circling around Bibi

One of my favorite writers on Israeli politics Bradley Burston has a great piece on the sharks circling around Bibi.

With King Bibi's ship of state sinking in Pyrrhic victory, the sharks begin to circle

For a politician like Benjamin Netanyahu, there is only one thing more potentially lethal that the appearance of weakness: Proof of it.

In a matter of just three months, the high-riding, politically invulnerable "King Bibi" has managed to plummet to victory in a technical triumph that has every appearance of debacle.

In the space of a few hours, Netanyahu watched as the American people formally gave their president four more years, and the people of Israel gave their prime minister six more weeks. That is the prime minister's deadline for forming a new coalition based on a Knesset majority, and it is going to be one long row.

King Bibi's ship of state limped into port at 10 P.M. Israel time, leaking from stem to stern, its sails torn and slack, its crew restive and growing mutinous. Throughout the long election day, Likud officials fielded alarming reports from the front. When the voting was over, the exit pollsters took over:

Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu, 30-31 seats. Lapid's Yesh Atid, 18-19 seats. Shelly Yacimovich's Labor 17,  Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi, 12 seats, the leftist Meretz 6-7.

Analysts, among them a former senior aide to Netanyahu, agreed in recent days that a Likud-Beiteinu showing lower than 34 seats would signal dangerous vulnerability - in effect, a prime minister snatching defeat from the jaws of a paper victory.

At worst, it could portend a host of potential sinkholes in the near term, among them, the immediate, unavoidable battle to forge a stable coalition,  followed in blindingly short order by take-no-prisoners talks over a budget. Then there are the inevitable intangibles, a tug of war over settlements,pressure from Washington, pressure from the EU, pressure from the Security Council, pressure from Iran, pressure from Hamas, pressure from the Palestinian Authority.

As recently as May, the prime minister confidently controlled 94 of the Knesset's 120 seats. Although he was to lose Kadima's bloc of 28 seats, when he announced snap elections in mid-October, he firmly believed he was about to cement his lock on power for years and years – and even prime ministerial terms - to come.

What went wrong?

When Benjamin Netanyahu launched his campaign, he had one strategy: Keep your friends close, and Avigdor Lieberman closer.

The working assumption was simplicity itself. He assumed that the center was as dead as the left. He assumed that the Bayit Hayehudi, the fossil remnant of the "knitted kipot" national religious party of old, was toothless, bloodless, barely ambulatory, a candidate for assisted living, if not life support. He assumed that if there was any threat to a premiership-for-life, it was the fact that Lieberman's legal woes seemed to be behind him, and a run for the leadership of the right – and the premiership – was dead ahead.

He assumed wrong.

Lieberman, inconceivably, ran afoul of the law that had pursued him from the Jurassic on. The center, unimaginably, awoke from years of suspended animation.  Even the left showed signs of stirring.

But it was his final assumption that did him in. The trigger was a palace revolt in Habayit Hayehudi, which yielded the meteoric candidacy of Naftali Bennett. Week after campaign week, the bleed in Likud Beiteinu progressed seamlessly into hemorrhage.

In response, Netanyahu trapped himself in the same strategy that cost him his premiership in 1999. Instead of presenting himself as a leader for all Israelis, benevolent, sensitive and broad-minded as he was indispensable, he portrayed himself as the leader of the religious hard right, a bible thumping, settlements-or-die, schmaltz-hawking, Jew of Jews.

He pledged never to uproot settlers, no matter how illegal. He pledged that Tzipi Livni, even if she joined his coalition, would be banned completely from any part in the peace process, the core of her campaign.

By this time, however, his credit was still good only in his own household. The center saw him as a stooge for tycoons. The left saw him as a stooge for settlers. And settlers saw him as the weak waffler, who, if the settlers could wrap him around their little finger, imagine what a second-term Barack Obama could do to him, if he just put his mind, and his might, to it.

If, for a man like Netanyahu, the worst kind of weakness is perceived weakness, word is clearly getting out. In fact, well before the election results were announced Tuesday night, pundits abroad were picking up the same scent of blood that the sharks of the Israeli political sea were picking up at home.

"Why Netanyahu Will Be the Big Loser in Israel's Election," Michael J. Koplow headlined an article at The Atlantic, subtitled, "The current and future prime minister will be stuck with a coalition that's doomed to fail."

The sharks have already begun to circle. They will come at Netanyahu from every angle, right, left, and center - in the case of heaven-minded haredi parties, from directly overhead - and there is no safe harbor in sight.

Veteran Netanyahu-watchers know better than to count the prime minister out at this stage. But the man whom pundits once called "the magician" has lost much of the stage presence that was once the secret of his misdirections.

Over time, the magician has looked more and more a mechanic. And in voting as they did on Tuesday, a driving-savvy public has demonstrated its realization that the vehicles Netanyahu has worked on lately and tried to resell to the public, have driven, one after another, into a ditch.

Vaya Con Scruffy

Subcommandante Jari is off to Nicaragua to fight the good fight.  Follow his blog!

Jari comes from an illustrious line of filibusters descending on Nica, see under William Walker

Moment of Silence, Please

The closest I have come to seeing my own name in the obits.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bibi blew it

As always, hubris is man's eternal downfall.  In a move of sheer hubris, Bibi called early elections- thinking that he would cruise and cement his right-wing majority.  He even hooked up with that fascist Avigdoor Lieberman to run a joint ticket.  And then he blew it.  Together, they dropped roughly ten seats from when they were running separately.

I take such pleasure in the nervous facebook posts that the Bibi put out, exhorting his minions out to the polls lest they sleep through the election.  And to think of all the insufferable preening that the Israeli right was doing prior to elections of their permanent majority and the supposed right wing shift.

Bibi is barely returning to the PM's chair, and he is severely weakened.  He seems to have forgotten that he didn't win the last election, and the only reason he was Prime Minister was due to coalition size.  I take a particular pleasure in watching Bibi fall.  He is far too bright and brilliant to be trapped in his shtetl mentality.

I could wax on for a while about the new Shinnui bloc under Lapid II and the Israeli center that Bibi can't quite win, but I have better things to do. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Onion & Guns

62-Year-Old With Gun Only One Standing Between Nation And Full-Scale Government Takeover

Bailey, the last thing standing between the American people and a totalitarian state.

NORFOLK, VA—According to numerous reports, local 62-year-old Earl Bailey, who owns a shotgun and several boxes of ammunition, is currently the last bastion of defense between the United States of America and the federal government’s plot of a full-scale takeover.

Bailey, a recent retiree and a proud advocate of gun rights, has been confirmed by multiple sources as being a true patriot, and is, at present, the only person capable of preventing top-secret forces within the government from striking and forcefully coercing hundreds of millions of Americans to submit to a fascist and brutal New World Order.

Since the early 1990s, sources estimated the gun owner has staved off innumerable large-scale government threats, all from the center of his 12-acre ranch.

“It is every American’s right to be good and armed, and that’s a right that should always be protected,” said Bailey, now the sole American protecting the nation from the government’s hidden plot of disarming all citizens, gradually gaining control of the mass media, and installing martial law throughout the nation’s streets. “Our Founding Fathers intended for each and every one of us to protect ourselves from tyranny. That’s what America is all about.”

“What happens when the feds show up at your front door and start telling you how much meat you can eat or how to raise your kids?” continued the lifetime NRA member, brandishing the very weapon that now serves as the final hope of staving off a totalitarian state. “Is that the future you want?”

Bailey, who keeps his gun on his person at all times and regularly patrols his property in his truck, has reportedly struck dread into the very highest-ranking members of the U.S. government. According to sources, top government and military officials are fully aware that they remain unable to commence with their oppressive, systematic subjugation of the American populace as long as the 62-year-old owner of a rifle exists.

Additional reports confirmed that Bailey’s frequent practice of shooting his gun at empty bean cans in his backyard has repeatedly forced government officials to reassess both their ground and air strategies for the impending takeover.

“The way I see it, the Second Amendment’s been keeping this nation free and secure for well over 200 years,” Bailey said, valiantly standing in front of his home that is constantly being monitored by CIA agents and elite Special Forces operatives, who are told to maintain a safe distance from the formidable 62-year-old. “First they’ll come for our guns and next…well, shoot, I don’t really plan on ever seeing what the hell happens next.”

While the federal government is more than adequately prepared to begin the first phase of its plan of convoying Second Amendment adherents to newly established FEMA concentration camps, high-level members of the Obama Administration involved in the widespread conspiracy confirmed that they have been forced to resort to alternate methods due solely to Bailey’s heroics.

“As long as there’s someone like Earl out there with a gun and ammunition, we are unable to carry out our attack on America,” said Maxwell Caufield, a covert military leader in charge of the operation to turn the country into an authoritarian, one-party state wherein the basic rights of citizens are stripped away in order to create total government control. “Try as we did to spread our distorted gun control propaganda—claiming that it would protect innocent people across the country from needless deaths—the man just wouldn’t bite. There is simply nothing we can do about Earl and his gun, damn him.”

“You’ve got to hand it to him, really,” Caufield added. “If it weren’t for Earl, you’d be looking at a totally different country.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

On Peace

“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
-Moshe Dayan

comma drama

Grammar gangland: 4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence.  ty, Abba.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


At a bar in Boston. Was going to scream "O!" during the national anthem, but figured that would brand me as a Ravens fan (which I am not especially) and cause me nothing but grief and anguish from the Pats fans about.

2001: A presidential odyssy

"Flip through the 102-page official souvenir program from the 1901 inauguration of President McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, with a feature on the American Graphophone Co,. and ads for The Evening Star, The Washington Post, Georgetown University and the Barber Asphalt Paving Company ("Washington's Smooth Streets"). The program includes predictions about the 2001 inauguration: A president from the state of Ontario is inaugurated in an enormous Crystal Auditorium. The inaugural parade is 36 miles long, and features "aerialautos" and "a volley of electrical bombs." And the country has 336 Senators, and both a Supreme Court and Vice Supreme Court."

TY Abba!  Wow, the Union includes cities such as Manila, Rio, Montreal, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile.  Speaks to the expanding America of the day under Prez McKinley....

The Pun Also Rises

"(A pun) is to wordplay what dominatrix sex is to foreplay - a stinging whip that elicits groans of guilty pleasure"
-William Safire

A great piece on The Pun Conundrum.

The death of a public diplomat

Donna Oglesby has a phenomenally poignant and heartbreaking piece on Aaron Swartz as public diplomat.  Nice find, JB.

Lawrence_Lessig_and_Aaron_Swartz-1-300x225The boy, Aaron Swartz, took his own life at the age of twenty-six a mere thirteen years after this picture was taken. The man, Lawrence Lessig, grieves and rages at the prosecutorial bullying that drove his young friend and collaborator to suicide.

Those of us in the public diplomacy community should care about this case for many reasons. Like Lessig, Aaron Swartz was an internet freedom pioneer. As a child, he gave us the RSS that allows us to track topics of interest on the web. Sitting here on my sandbar in Florida, I can still feel connected to the public diplomacy community around the world because my RSS feed brings me your news. If you are interested in my musings, RSS can bring them to you as well.

I remember as Counselor of USIA, fighting off the State Department's first grab for the Agency early in the Clinton Administration. We won that round, in part, by arguing that public diplomacy believes that information is power when you share it; use it to connect, inform and influence if you can. While the State Department at the time saw information as power if you controlled it; if you had information that others did not have. We believed in the public use of information; State held its information privately. Our incompatible opperating philosophies, we argued, would not be conducive to a merger. As Nick Cull documents in his new history of The Decline and Fall of USIA, we finally lost the argument on the last day of September 1999.

The consolidation of USIA into State was muffling America's official information outreach just as the new age of open information was loudly dawning.  Then fourteen year old Aaron Swartz was a member of the working group that created RSS 1.0 to open the flood gates of information online. In some respects, Aaron Swartz had the soul and the operating philosophy of a public diplomacy officer. Listen to him:

His short life was about making information more accessible, making sharing and collaborating on-line easier.  The technical genius that gave us RSS when he was a child continued his contributions to the public good.  As David Weinberger, a senior researcher at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society wrote:

Aaron went on to make serious contributions to Creative Commons (an organization that releases licenses so authors can let their work be more easily reused), Open Library (a public library of online works), Reddit (an immensely popular open discussion forum), Markdown (a simple way to write Web pages), (making it easier for developers to create Web applications), (type-and-post website) and much more.

Unlike those engaged in public diplomacy however, in pursuit of his policy objectives, Swartz was apparently willing to engage in civil disobedience and break laws that limit access to information. It was his alleged action to liberate academic articles held by JSTOR that brought down the wrath of the U.S. government upon him. He had explained his purpose in an earlier Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. He wrote in part:

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

Swartz' willingness to pursue unlawful means to share information is what sets him apart from the work of those engaged in public diplomacy. His internet freedom agenda was not the same as that articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but the kinship is striking. Are the words she used at the News Museum in 2010 that different from his in the interview above? She said,

 We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.

Pfc. Bradley Manning made mockery of those words when he dumped his treasure trove of classified documents onto Wikileaks within a year of Secretary Clinton's Internet Freedom  speech. By doing so he placed America's diplomats and their interlocutors at risk and triggered his own arrest on charges of “aiding the enemy.”

Swartz' act of civil disobediance in liberating the JSTOR database while using guest access privleges at MIT was a far cry from the treasonous behavior alleged against Pfc. Manning whose trial is now set for June 3, 2013. Yet as a Manning supporter, Swartz had to have known that his own political activism would have its costs. As Orin Kerr writes on the The Volokh Conspiracy:

To my mind, this is one of the puzzles about Swartz. On one hand, he was deeply committed to civil disobedience and to the moral imperative of breaking unjust laws. On the other hand, he seems to have had his soul crushed by the prospect that he would spend time in jail. This is an unusual combination. Usually the decision to engage in civil disobedience comes along with a willingness to take the punishment that the law imposes.

Perhaps he would have been willing to pay a price proportional to the alleged crime. We will never know because the Department of Justice -- seeing his kinship with Bradley Manning, rather than Hillary Clinton -- charged him on 13 counts, including wire fraud and theft of information carrying the potential penalty of up to 35 years of jail. With a trial ironically schedlued for April 1, 2013 and a plea bargin effort dead, Aaron Swartz chose death. As the Economist said in a touching obituary, Aaron Swartz could accept death as he wrote in 2002,

 as long as all the contents of his hard drives were made publicly available, nothing deleted, nothing withheld, nothing secret, nothing charged for; all information out in the light of day, as everything should be.

                          R.I. P. Aaron Swartz November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Yesterday ended the American Music Abroad 2013-2014 application season.  As the application dust is settling, it looks like we will have roughly 300 applications this year.  That just about matches last year's figure.

Last year was shock and awe as the apps poured in; this year is contentment that we can show that it was not a fluke, and that we were able to do so while handling two grants at once (ie- do two jobs, with barely any additional assistance).  Last year, I really only had one job: outreach recruitment; this year was real juggling of tasks.

While I didn't reach my goal of 500 applications, mitigating factors existed like the fact I was gone for 6 weeks in Central Asia during the prime period of the recruiting season and my outreach marching orders to my fellow staffers were basically disregarded.  So, as it stands, I am pleased that we were able to match last year's numbers, and we will have an incredible class of AMA musical ambassadors for 2013-2014.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cry, the beloved country

David Remnick hit the up-coming Israeli election spot on.  Israel, I am sad to say, I barely know you.  Or rather I should I say I know you too well, and I am saddened at the direction you are heading.


YOU TOO can stop this injustice in Bethesda

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Going after guns down under

Former Australian Prime Minster John Howard has an interesting op-ed about how his (conservative) administration tackled the gun issue in Oz.

Murrow on Television

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, it can even inspire.  But it can do so only to the extent humans are determined to use it to those ends.  Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."
-Edward R. Murrow (1958)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On such a winter's day

As previously mentioned, the incredibly surreal performance of the Mamas and the Papas classic "California Dreamin" in Turkmenabad as performed by the students of the Turkmenabad music school.


Once upon a time, I wrote about spam to bring us closer. Now, I am utterly disturbed that I am getting spam emails from a friend who passed away two years ago. The internet can be a surreal place.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Founding Fathers on the 2nd Ammendment

TY Tala!

Second Thoughts

“The N.R.A. is not going to let people lose the Second Amendment in this country.”
—The N.R.A. chief Wayne LaPierre

Thomas Jefferson: Gentlemen, a thought has occurred to me regarding the Second Amendment.

James Madison: Fine amendment.

Alexander Hamilton: Superb amendment. Can’t believe we left that out of the first draft.

Jefferson: Yes, my fellow land-owning framers, but are we perhaps not forward-thinking enough? What if, perchance, we someday develop a rifle that, instead of firing one bullet per sixty ticks of the clock’s second hand, has the inverse effect—unloading sixty rounds per second through the power of machinery? Might it not fall into the hands of a town madman?

Madison: Should such a potent “machinery gun” ever come into being and somehow not exceed the cost of an entire militia, a town madman would be refused sale from any responsible merchant because of his agitated demeanor.

Hamilton: Hear, hear. Let us repair to the drawing room for a spirited game of dice. Who will roll the highest tally? Huzzah! Whoop! Fizzing! No more capital divertissement shall ever be created, just as my vernacular exclamations of joy will never become obsolete!

Jefferson: Not to flog a deceased equine, but let us suggest that man, with his infinite intellect, invents a series of machines, interconnected to one another, as if caught in a net, to purchase goods. Could our town madman procure arms more easily through clandestine means by buying them on this “interconnected net”?

Madison: Nay, for this hypothetical “interconnected net” would not debase itself as a mercenary marketplace, but instead provide a forum for only the most enlightened minds of the day to comment on scholarly works, and on previous comments, in a virtuous cycle of belletristic discourse. The scenario you envision for the “interconnected net” is as unlikely as its serving as an emporium for free daguerreotypes of semi-nude portraiture!

Hamilton: Moreover, our future physiognomists will surely improve at identifying those prone to madness, and they will be cured by our finest physicians with advances in leeches. Enough prattle; who desires to trade wigs?

Jefferson: But, two centuries from now, could not the tools of warfare progress so far beyond cavalry that arms will be woefully insufficient defense against a tyrant’s militia, such that guns would simply be inflicted by the citizenry against itself?

Hamilton: What, Jefferson, do you expect horses to be attached to some contraption that soars above the ground with the fearsome appendage of a cannon? Somebody send Revere to alert Franklin—he’ll attempt to patent this chimera! William Dunlap shall pen a stage play entitled “Top Rider of a Mechanical Flying Warhorse That Bombards Enemies with Cannonballs”!

Madison: Besides, such a firearm you describe would be employed solely by hunters to quintuple their productivity in acquiring healthful red meat along with beaver pelts for the increasingly cold winters.

Hamilton: And if there ever arises a need for an association to oversee our nation’s rifles, I am certain it will be led by men like us, our country’s most rational minds making sound arguments based on impeccable logic and selfless empathy.

Madison: Remember, Jefferson: muskets don’t kill colonists-turned-Americans; colonists-turned-Americans kill colonists-turned-Americans. If you wish to outlaw anything, it should be something an aggressor can easily and repeatedly employ in a rampage: the lethal bayonet.

Hamilton: Not to mention the violence inspired by the daily broadsheets, children’s wooden blocks, and sonnet cycles. Indeed, only town fools would seek to retroactively amend us. Who, for example, can imagine a civilized state whose disputes are resolved without gentlemen’s duels?

Jefferson: Aye, I suppose you are correct. I am retiring for the night, secure in the knowledge that we have composed an unimpeachable document whose every directive will remain as relevant in the future as it is in 1789. Now, please send for my pipe, filled with our country’s most important crop, which I, like all our yeoman-farmer statesmen, personally grow: glorious hemp. And then have my bed fluffed by that obedient sixteen-year-old girl, Sally.

Teddy Wayne’s second novel, “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine,” will be published in February.

The week that was

"Argo-f-ck ya' self"

Last week was a lot of fun, kicking off with my birthday and culminating with my brother's bday.  In the middle, we saw the movie Argo, the semi-wacky case of the removal of American diplomats from Iran via a faux movie.  The movie was excellent.  It was entertaining and kept me on the edge of my seat.  For what it's worth, I don't like hostage movies- I'm sure anyone who knows me can understand that one.  But I thought Ben Affleck did a great job retelling an interesting anecdote of the Iranian hostage crisis.  Definitely worth a watch.

"Sunday on the pot w/ George"
After the movie, Harry and I stumbled upon the Louvre: the Museum of Bad Art. Housed in the bottom of the Somerville Theater, the MOBA was a testament to man's capacity to make really dreadful art. Its collection showcased works meant to be art but really quite dreadfully done.  No touristy kitsch reproductions, but rather earnest attempts gone dreadfully wrong.  This was hallowed artistic grounds for those with no business attempting to paint.  It was incredible.  Worth a visit for anyone in the Boston area.

Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.

On Friday evening, my parents came up for the weekend to join their boys in Boston.  On a grey Saturday morning, we headed over to the JFK Library.  The museum began with a moving movie of JFK recounting his childhood and decision towards a life of service.  The movie ran until just before his nomination, and opened into the museum beginning at the 1960 Democratic Convention in LA.  We watched his masterful acceptance speech, as JFK laid out the horizons of the new frontier, and the directions that the country could and would take.

The museum meandered through the 1960 election, with all its twists, turns and tv highlights, and on through the presidency of JFK.  It incorporated Jacqueline Kennedy's impressions into the age in a fascinating fashion.  The museum did a great job recapturing the zeitgeist of the events and era, through pictures, objects and movies.  

It also dealt a bit with RFK and his run at the presidency.  We all got a little choked up watching Teddy Kennedy's eulogy of his brother, and his recitation of the "Some people see the world..."

On sunday, Harry and I went to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum up in Brookine.  There was a phenomenal collection of old British roadsters, and how they became so popular in America following WWII.  The museum also had a tremendous collection of turn-of-the-century automobiles, including old Packards and Wintons.  The thing that struck me most was how these original autos were really "horseless carriages."  They were designed as carriages sans the equine motor.  And these carriages were HUGE.  There was one that had room in the compartment for a bed, and had a toilet under the seat.  I was amazed by the size of these old contraptions.  We've come a long way to reach the Cooper Mini.

After the museum, Harry and I headed later to the Mary Baker Eddy Library. While on our way over, as we were on the T, we noticed the strange phenomenon that a number of people on the T were not wearing pants.  First it was two guys in matching Bert and Ernie attire, sans culottes.  Then two girls across from us promptly disrobed their pants.  We started looking around the train and saw other people in their skivvies.  Ummm....

I tried to ask the girls why they were making such a bold fashion statement, but all I got was an answer about the weather.

As we walked through the Park Street station, we noticed a large number of other individuals missing a most important part of their attire.  Curious....

On the greenline train, across from two other guys not wearing any leggings, Harry checked his smartphone and found out it was No Pants Subway Ride Day.  Not one to miss out on the show, I promptly dropped my jeans.  I stood there in the full regalia of my boxers amid the T, with other curious onlookers.   I exhorted Harry to do the same, pointing out that that he would never have an opportunity again that wouldn't land him in trouble.  He refused.  I stood on the T like this for 3 stops or so, then the other people without pants got off the train and I realized I was the only one on with my pants dropped so I quickly pulled them back up as not to be the ONLY one on the train in my boxers.

Anywhoo, we arrived to the Mary Baker Eddy Library.  We had a little time to kill before our tour, so we popped into the huge, ornate church.  "You know we're not Scientology," the tour guide said.  Yes, we know.  And it was fascinating both for all the Eddy quotes alongside quotes from the Gospels, as well as the lack of crosses in the church.

We then popped over to see the incredible Mapparium- a giant stained glass replica of the word circa 1935.  The map was fascinating for the world it displayed, just before the beginning of the end of an age of imperial empires.  And the acoustics of the room were incredible.  From the center, every little sound was echoed.  Across the ends, you could whisper and pick up the sound.

After, we wandered through the displays on Mary Baker Eddy's life and times.  It was an interesting display on the genesis of the Christian Science movement.

I left Harry to meet up with some old USC classmates, Tala and Alex.  We hung out, recounting old times in Lalaland at a pub called Grendel's Den.

After, I went to meet up with my brother out in Allston for a night of trivia.  As I was walking, a missionary girl came up to me and asked if I had heard of Jesus.  Umm, yeah once or twice.  She asked me what I thought of him.  I said he had an incredible message of compassion.  I also said I was Jewish.  "You're Jewish?!?!"  She proceeded to tell me how blessed I was, and gave me a special Jewish pamphlet.  She then asked if I would bless her.  Sure, why not.  She also asked if she could have a hug.  Of course.  Then her other missionary friends found out she was hugging a Jew, so they wanted hugs as well.  I offered them all one step even better- 7 years good luck, but did not bother to explain further...

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A very merry unbirthday to me

A very merry unbirthday to me today, but yesterday the other day was one of the best birthdays I have had in a while. Big thanks to all the peeps near and far for the bday wishes!

For my birthday lunch, Harry and I went out to Rami's Falafel for lunch. I hadn't been there in close to a decade but it was exactly the same.  Just as tasty too!  Perfect example of Israeli falafel.  The owner Rami gave me some birthday cheer and said I looked younger than 33.  He stated that if you feel young in your heart then you will remain so.

After lunch, Harry and I then went down to the Prudential Center to drink arbor gold at the sky bar.  Skip the observation deck, we went 2 floors higher to the bar.  The sun light poured through our chardonnay glasses and bathed the city in effulgence.

 Afterwards, we went to Chinatown and got shampoo scalp massages. I think the masseuse took a liking to Harry.  And I kept the bday tradition going of getting shorn.  I will post a pic of my sans hair in due time.

And on to the candlepin bowling party, which was lotsa fun.  A whole fascinating crew of bowlers drawn from all over my days.  Dellas, Yearcoursers, former diplomats and a girl I met hiking in volcanos in Java.  As Lord Jon Snow said, "only you would bring together such a bunch."

The night ended at the Burren, with an Irish band playing me a celtic version of "Happy Bday."

Keep Cooperstown Clean

Kudos to the Baseball Writers of America for electing NO players this year to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the ballot for the first time were steroid stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, as well as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Keep 'em out of Cooperstown.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Oh the onion

AMA in the Washington Diplomat

I have an op-ed this month in the Washington Diplomat

American Music Abroad Cultivates Next Generation of Voices

Somewhere etched in memories and images of Louis Armstrong being royally greeted by throngs in Cairo and blowing his trumpet to the ear of the sandy sphinx, or of Duke Ellington's regal jazz ambassadorship as he stared down at sitars, American cultural diplomacy found its groove.
The American Music Abroad program represents the evolution of the great Jazz Ambassadors tours organized by the State Department that once had the world enthralled with the swing of the beat. Today, American Music Abroad artists represent the new generation of citizen diplomats creating musical exchanges abroad.
American Voices administers the American Music Abroad program on behalf of the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Since 1993, American Voices has been conducting cultural diplomacy as a means to foster people-to-people connections. Founded with a focus on bringing American music and culture to the recently independent nations of Central and Eastern Europe, American Voices has expanded its mission to support youth through cultural and educational programs in nations emerging from conflict or isolation. The American bands that are sent overseas participate in public concerts, lectures, demonstrations, workshops, media outreach and collaborations with local musicians.
To project the full spectrum of the American musical landscape, all musical genres are invited to apply for the American Music Abroad program. The most recent season included blues, bluegrass, cajun, country, folk, Latin, Native American, gospel, hip hop, indie rock, jazz, R&B and zydeco. In short, any and all musical traditions that can claim roots in the diverse American musical canon are welcome to apply.
Della Mae performs at Turkestan Palace in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, where the five-girl bluegrass ensemble from Massachusetts collaborated with Uzbek music star Jassur and Sultan.
The crop of musical diplomats for the 2012-13 season were selected from nearly 300 applications; music ensembles applied from more than 40 states, as well as D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and represented a tremendous variety of musical styles and world-class experience. From bluegrass to hip hop to Hawaiian slack key guitar, the American Music Abroad program is designed to communicate America's rich contributions to the global music scene as it fosters cross-cultural communication and people-to-people connections with global audiences.
Prior to going abroad, American Music Abroad ensembles perform and work with students in Washington, D.C., as they conduct their orientation. Before heading off on a five-country tour in Africa, the Detroit-based hip hop group Mahogany Jones-Live had a poignant and inspiring concert at Duke Ellington School of the Arts — poignant because of the connection to a school named for the pioneer Jazz Ambassador, and inspiring as hip hop artist Mahogany Jones rhymed to teach girls respect and empowerment through hip hop poetry.
American Music Abroad ensembles traveled to nearly 50 countries around the world during the 2012-13 touring season. These musical diplomats perform at national halls and offer master classes to music students to teach American musical mosaic. And they reach beyond concert halls, with a focus on interaction and collaborations with local musicians.
"Communicating through rhythm and melodies is an experience that transcends boundaries and transcends language," said mandolin player Eric Robertson with the Boston Boys, which just concluded a musical tour through the Middle East, from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco to the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
Before heading off on a five-country tour in Africa, the Detroit-based hip hop group Mahogany Jones-Live engaged with students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.
I recently toured with the dynamic five-girl bluegrass group Della Mae for a "Bluegrass on the Silk Road" tour of South and Central Asia. American Music Abroad activities focus on younger and underserved audiences in countries with little or no access to live American performances. As such, Della Mae kicked off their tour in Pakistan, in Islamabad at the all-female Fatima Jinnah University, a first of its kind in the nation.
Della Mae's presence on campus was akin to that of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones — the female university students were so excited to hear the female bluegrass band that they literally tore the doors off the hinges of the theater to get in on the sound check warm-up. "We've never played for crowds so excited and enthused to hear live music," said Della Mae fiddler Kimber Ludiker.
Meanwhile, there is a real focus on collaborating with local musicians on songs that resonate with local audiences. While on their tour of Thailand amid a Southeast Asian swing, the Alabama acoustic rock band Act of Congress worked with Thai music students to learn and perform "His Majesty's Blues," a piece written by the Thai monarch, borne out of his days jamming with the Jazz Ambassadors.
As it looks forward to a new season of sending American talent abroad, the American Music Abroad program is building on the rich legacy of U.S. cultural diplomacy programming, while shaping a whole new generation of musical diplomats.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Great Questions!

From the dear Stacy Ingber
Happy Birthday my friend. A few questions for you:
1. What age do you feel most of the time?
2. If you were to be a female, who would you be?
3. Most divine bit of food (where, what, with whom)?
4. First sight/place that made you feel a sense of home?
Happy and healthy!

GREAT Questions! That is the best compliment I can pay.

1) 25 or 8
2) Emma Goldman
3) hot chocolate at the lunch counters of the mercado in Oaxaca. It was like warm velvet chocolate, with pan de yema to dip in- kinda like a Mexican yellow challah. I spent a rainy afternoon there reading "Stranger in a Strange Land" while taking in all the squat women with long black braids.
4) On a bus, staring into the Judean desert in Israel when I was 16. 

Pic of the Day 1.7.13

From Levantine Photo: The Daily

While it might seem morbid to post a picture from a cemetery on my birthday, this pic comes from the hauntingly beautiful and ornate Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. Valar Morghulis.


We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground. 
What have we found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
-Pink Floyd, "Wish you were here"

On a sunny but wintry Boston morning, I am slowly working into my 33rd year.  I woke up a lil flat, but I am starting to rally. I find as I get older, it takes a little longer to warm to birthdays. But warm, I will.

I am heartened by birthday wishes coming in literally from all corners of the globe: Iraq, Israel, Uzbekistan, Japan, India, Pakistan, and on and on.

My brother Harry is here with me, and I have an auspicious day planned for us including falafel from Rami's (possibly the best in the US, at least top 5), a Chinese shampoo massage and later tonight a candlepin bowling birthday party.

Answers for my own 4 bday questions:
1) If you could have your bday dinner with anyone: Tyrion Lannister
2) Best Bday ever: Might not have been my best, but I had a great bowling bday party at Bowl America when I was 8 or so. 25 years later, I am having another bowling party- a candlepin affair
3) Where was I last year for my bday: DC- it was ok but kinda lackluster
4) Where will I be next year: India (ShivaShallah!) or The Shire

I will conclude this birthday blog with taking the liberty of posting a fav poem. This comes from "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote, although I'm not sure its authorship. Harry (Sancho Harranza) found it, as all good sidekicks do.

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that cant stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of gypsy blood, and they don't know how to rest.
If they just went straight home they might go far;
They are the strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Kurdistan on the horizon?

Mayhaps, argues David Hirst in the LA Times.  This Levantine can only hope.  Spas, JB.

Two x-factors to think about from the article:

a) the fact that Jalal Talabani is in a coma.  He played a key role in keeping relations between the Kurds and the Arabs on civil terms.  Here is an interesting piece by Peter Galbraith on Talabani as the glue of both Kurdistan and Iraq.  Galbraith is a fascinating fellow in his own right.

b) the effects of the deterioration of the Syrian state.  If Iraqi Kurdistan is breaking away and Syria is breaking apart, there might be some centrifugal force for a Kurdish realignment.  But that is a big, big if.

Pic of the Day 1.6.13

On the Levantine Photo: The Daily

Roar! It's hard to be fearsome and ferocious when you are so cute.

On Smell

"Smell is our oldest sense"
-Chandler Burr

Something I have long said as well:

"Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell one associates with it."

North End

After a lovely day at the ICA, I meandered the harbor walk up to the North End for some Italian food.  After some passable fare, I grabbed an immaculate cannoli from the bustling Mike's Pastry.  The chocolate chip cannoli from the legendary shop was as good as remembered.  Soft ricotta filled the semi-crunchy fried dough with chocolate chips on either end and a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top.  Yum.

I walked across the North End with canolli in hand, and found a metal slat with moving quotes about life in the neighborhood among the various ethnic groups that had passed through the North End.  English; Irish; Jewish; and finally Italian.

One quote in particular caught my gastrodiplomacy fancy:
"My parents came from the province of Abruzzi.  They came because my father used to say: 'There is bread and butter to be eaten here.'"
   -Viola Petinelli

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Go, Canada

Sensible immigration and temporary worker policies between our neighbors to the north and south.  Maybe we can learn something from how Canada handles temporary workers from Mexico....

Socialites of Absurdistan

Tweets from the princess of Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan.  Absurdistan in its social media finest.


I hope President Obama ends up nominating Chuck Hagel for SecDef, and I think the notion that there will be a confirmation fight is utterly bunk.  The man was a Republic senator, who was well-respected by his colleagues.  No way McCain or Graham (or any lesser Chicken Hawks or NeoCons) has the moxie to challenge him in a nomination hearing.  Not a chance.  I am throwing a bullshit flag on the so-called murmurings.

My only issue is that I don't like that President Obama will have nominated two Republicans for Secretary of Defense.  Part of me says it sends the wrong message that only Republicans can handle defense.  Although I do think the Obama administration has done a good job pushing back on such notions.

But typecasts are not helpful, in defense or diplomacy.

PS: The last time a SecDef nominee was rejected was John Tower, who was nominated by President Goerge H.W. Bush, but was defeated over questions of his womanizing and alcoholism.  Instead, we got Wyoming Rep. Richard (Dick) Cheney as Secretary of Defense, launching the career of then-Minority Whip in a trajectory far more dangerous than could have been anticipated.  Let that be a lesson...

Stacked Deck

Hey, guess what? Dems should have won the House too. If 2010 redistricting by Republicans hadn't skewed the game beyond compare. We out-polled Republicans by a full percentage point (1.4 million votes), but the Republicans have ensconced themselves behind the Great Wall of Redistricting.

'History doesn't repeat itself. But it often rhymes'

'a "weary titan staggering under the too vast orb of its fate," sayeth Joseph Chamberlain. Fascinating man with some fascinating words. Fascinating article on our era compared to the coming of the Great War.  Nice find, Yael.

Bostonia Regina

A sleepy, slow Saturday that began in modest fashion.  Some delicious eggs scrambled in a sturdy skillet with chopped onions and veggie sausage crumbles, scrambled with salsa and cheese and slathered with sour cream in a warm tortilla.  Yum.

I hopped the T, red to silver and on to the Institute of Contemporary Art.

The museum was not here when i last resided in Boston, and has certainly made a welcome addition.  I made my way over to the museum, and out to the back harbor.  White sailboats meandered in the distance on the subtle winds like white triangle tops.  A window hanging down from the silver awning left a widescreen image of the meringue triangles.

Once again, I opted to pay full admission.  In my own mind I deserve a medal for this fact, but I know in reality that it matters not.  There was a tour going on at one.  I was the only one.  Lucky me.

The tour guide Sally gave me an in-depth explanation of the building's creation, its surroundings and its role in the community.  I love spaces that create space for creativity.

Anyway, I had a private tour that was excellent.  I was free to ask as many or as few questions as I wanted. The docent mentioned to keep one question in mind, that we continually came back to: why was this material used?

The first exhibit we visited was a video display by Ragnar Kjartansson on all sorts of fascinating clips. I'm not sure if I tried to explain any of them, they would make much sense.  But I will try.

One video was of him and a musician friend playing in the ruggedly beautiful tundra of the Canadian  Rockies.  They are playing music on various screens in various places, and it is all synthesized together to make a frozen song (of sorts).  Another was of him buried up to his waist in a public park, naked and strumming a song along the lines of "Satan is real."  A camera is left filming as all sorts of people pass by.  Another video is an old blues piano wiz, wizened by age and dementia sitting on a piano outside an old shack playing and smoking cigarettes.

The next exhibit of Mickelane Thomas was bright, beautiful and like a blown-out graphic novel still life of a mix between Klimt and blaxploitation.  With all of the glorious texture therein.

These were the new exhibits.  Then we passed through some of the permanent collection.  There was a phenomenal piece of hanging charred wood called Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), which was just that.  Another piece that was a freestanding, free form box made of pins and nothing else.

There was a fascinating video of Karoke Wrong Numbers, of an artists doing karoke spots to the wrong numbers she received.  Here's a hint: make sure you dial well.

And the tour led out to the giant flatscreen tv expanse of the bay.  My tour ended, with much appreciation.

I continued on my own to a wonderful exhibit of the 1980s.  The exhibit dealt with the 1980s in terms of power, gender, sexuality, materialism and on and on. In short: 80s exhibit, in full regalia. Neon, spray paint and Reagan. I ♥ the 80s.

I ended the afternoon in the glass cafe overlooking the bay. White sailboats flittered in the distance as I sipped the finest of glass of arbor gold and ate a delicious flatbread with grilled eggplant, grilled spinach and grilled red onions topped with ricotta and other cheeses.  I decided to be decadent, so I had a cinnamon apple bread pudding and a cup of Peet's coffee.  Unnoticed baking delays bought me a second cup, and I wrote and read and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon fade on out into a golden hour sunset into the bay and bridge spanning.

Better you than me, homie...

There and back again

The last day in Dushanbe was supposed to be a rest day, but the Dellas requested to visit an orphanage as their last part of the tour.  We headed out early in the morning, first stopping at the bustling Green Market to pick up some mandarinas (oranges) for the kiddies of the orphanages.  We were going to bring candy, but this was noted as being as much if not more of a treat for the kids of the orphanage.

Through the market lightly dusted in soft snow, we wandered.  We picked up the last of the dried fruit provisions to take home.  I got a half kilo of roasted apricot pits for my parents to try.  I also picked up some "rich man's raisins," which were golden, plump and juicy.

I popped out to take some pictures of the market covered in hoarfrost.  The marketeers were not the most conducive to pictures.  I took one shot of some stacked bread, and a woman whose stall it was went furiouso.  She demanded to see the picture to see if she was in it/  I pointed simply to the bread, but she wanted to see it.  When I showed her, and she saw her back (!) in the picture, she made me delete it.  Fine, you are ugly anyway.

We wandered through the hanging carcasses of meat kept cold by the winter weather, and the sacks of colored spices piled high unto the heavens.  The ladies got 5 kilos of mandarins for the orphans, so much that the boxes of oranges needed to be wheeled in a cart back through the market.  They also bought last supplies of pomegranates and jars of golden honey (honey laundering).

On the way out of the market, I grabbed us some hot, fried-dough delights stuffed with caramelized onions.  Yum.

We drove an hour or so outside the city to the orphanage.  We were greeted by some of the excited kids, and giant pictures of the president caring for all his children, even those most dispossessed.  Since it would have caused a stampede if we gave out the oranges at the show, we gave them to the staff to disburse at the lunch hall.  But I smuggled a few out to the kiddies who came to greet our arrival.

The orphanage was cold and dark.  It only had electricity for 2 hours in the morning, and 2 hours at night.  We walked through the hallway, under the president's watchful eye, and into the performance hall. Kids in wheelchairs and walkers filed their way in to the hall.  Many of the kids had down syndrome, or were suffering from polio or some other malady.  They were all hacking from the coal stoves used to keep their rooms warm.

But the kiddies were warm and wonderful, and loved the music.  The Dellas played, and the kiddies danced.  One little girl with down syndrome came over to Shelby's big bass, and was tapping on the instrument as she played.  I do-see-doed with a few of them, and we spun in circles around the auditorium.  The kiddies were beaming from the music and dance, it was a morning that the orphanage will not soon forget.

We drove our way back in to town, and had a last large wooden bowl of qurotob.  We had it at a place that was formerly the embassy's fav spot.  I kinda liked this one more.  The yogurt was a little less watery, and it had more salady stuff topping the dish.

The afternoon was spent with the Dellas doing some last shopping and packing.  We had dinner that night at Sandy the CAO's house for some homemade pizza and Xmas cheer.

We got back to the hotel, and everyone went to finish packing ahead of our 4am departure to the airport for the 6:45am flight to Istanbul.

I went to the front desk to pay for my hotel bill, but ran into a problem.  The front desk informed me that the credit card machine was down, and would not be back online until the morning.  Problem, because I didn't remotely have the cash to pay for my room for a week.  I told them that they should have informed me far earlier if there was a problem.  We callled Mahmud, our Embassy assistant, and after a while, worked out that the hotel would check us out, and we would transfer the money to them upon return to America.  Having the Embassy as a a guarantor was probably the only reason they were willing to let us go without paying.

I arose bleary eyed at 3:30am to start making our way back.  I made sure all the Dellas were up, and we were standing outside the elevator at 4am.  When the elevator opened, a German fellow walked out.  He asked if we were going to Istanbul, to which I said yes.  He said: flight's cancelled.  In shock, I simply deadpanned: "F-ck You."  A little taken back, he replied: "Not f-ck me...f-ck the airline."

I told the Dellas to hold tight, and I hopped the elevator down to reception.  Celia was standing there with her stuff.  I told her to brace herself.

At the front desk, the reception fellow informed me that he had told me such information the previous night.  You absolutely didn't, I replied.

Sure I did, he emphatically stated.

You didn't, I am in room 1106, and no one called me.

Oh, oops, I called 1006.  So sorry.

Not that it changed the situation.  We called Mahmud from the Embassy.  He got on the phone and started calling Turkish Airlines for more info.  The flight hadn't been cancelled, just indefinitely delayed due to bad weather coming out of Istanbul.  The best info we could get at present was that there would be more info the next morning.  I told the Dellas to go back to bed, and we would reassess in the morning.  Mahmud proceeded to call Turkish Airlines every hour on the hour until they finally told him, "Brother, get some rest.  We won't have any more info until the morning."

I woke up around 8:30am, and called Mahmud.  He came by at 9am, and we went over to the Turkish Airlines office, which happened conveniently to be located in our hotel.  The place was only slightly a bit of a zoo given all the people with flight issues because of the delayed flight and missed connections.  Dushanbe is not exactly a transit hub, and there are maybe 3 flights to Istanbul a week so we were slightly worried about getting out.

The Turkish Airlines attendant couldn't rebook us onward from Istanbul because her office didn't have access to all the flight info, and Turkish Airlines was only one leg of our journey.  She gave me forms that indicated we had missed our flights due to issues with Turkish Airlines' service.  Armed with this, we went up to inform the Dellas of the situation.

We went up to their apartment, and called them together.  I told them the situation, and with steely gaze I said to them: "Look, I promise I am going to get you all home.  I need you to trust me, and be patient, and I will get us through this."


As backup, I got on the phone with the travel agency that had booked our flights.  They were able to get us on backup flights out of Istanbul on United back to Boston and DC.  But I had one problem, Kimber and Shelby were going to miss their connecting flights in Boston to Nashville.  The agent couldn't change their final destination but said that the United counter in Istanbul should be able to change it without problems.

Finally, we got word that the Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul would be leaving at 2:30pm, so we packed up and headed on to the Dushanbe Airport.  We were met at the tiny little airport by the expediter, who helped us navigate through the chaos of the little, dilapidated airport.  It was a clusterf-ck given all the people who had their flight to Istanbul delayed.  But we worked our way through the smush of ticketing and the capriciousness of security.  The security wanted me to check the Della Mae banner I had been carrying for 6 weeks.  I explained that it was just a posted, and that I had been on 14 flights, and not one had made me check it, I wasn't going to do so on the last flight.  After about 10 minutes of disagreement, they finally let me go on.

Inside the little terminal, we killed time over balticas and jello cups of vodka as we made our own version of scattergories.  The smoking section was covered in plastic wrap, so men furtively smoked cigarettes in the bathroom stalls.  Absurdistan, how I will miss you.

Finally, we got on our flight and were off to Turkey.

On the long flight to Turkey, I kept mentioning to the Dellas that while it wasn't ideal, a night in Istanbul would be quite a treat.

We arrived to Istanbul to the chaos of too many missed connections and too much holiday travel.  I got in the snaking Turkish Airlines line, and twisted and turned for 40 minutes.  I was about to get to the front when I found out it was not likely a line to help me.  I went ahead anyway, given the time spent.  Sure enough, since Turkish Airlines wasn't our main carrier, they couldn't especially help there.  And since we weren't flying Turkish Airlines on, they did not want to give us a hotel voucher for our layover in Istanbul.  I needed to go inside the airport and deal with the United desk.

First, we had to get through passport control.  We paid our $20 for visas into Turkey, and got in the snaking line for passport control.  Apparently, the system was not quite working correctly.  And they were short-staffed to deal with the traveling hordes.  So we snaked around for another hour.  Over on the Turkish nationals side, a few fights and screaming matches broke out.  I love the Turks.

Finally, we got into Istanbul, a bit exhausted but okay.  We grabbed our luggage, and Courtney and I tried to go deal with our flights.  We stopped at the Duty Free for a shot of steely courage in the form of a chivas sample.  We realized we would all need to exit customs, so we rounded up the Dellas and passed into the airport.  They holed up in a cafe, and Courtney and I went upstairs to find the United desk.

As we were searching for the United counter, we passed the Turkmen bag ladies!!  These bag ladies had been introduced to us in legend from the travails of the Clinton Curtis Band.  They were lined up in their distinct Turkmen dress with bags upon bags of duty free booty.  Unbelievable.

To our dismay, Courtney and I found the United Airlines desk.  Closed.  And it would be that way until 4am.  My flight left at 5am, so I needed to get through security around 3am.  Not good at all.  Courtney and I passed a bit, trying to figure out what to do.  At the very least, we theoretically had some tickets rebooked by the travel agent I had spoken with earlier.  But I had no idea about getting my Nashville ladies home, or how to get them tickets, or if they were booked to Boston as originally slated.

After a lil deliberation and wandering around, we found the Turkish Airlines supervisor desk.  I went up to the corner and tried to explain as best I could what the problem was (no United) and tried to look pathetic enough as to deserve help from an airline that had only minor (although large given the delay) stake in our plight.  The kindly woman behind the counter got to work on it.  To explain who I was referring to and to which destination, I climbed on the conveyor belt to point out who was going to Beantown and who was trying to go to Nashville.  She poured over the keys for a solid 20 minutes, and was able to rebook us on flights out to Boston and DC.  But she said that unfortunately, because it wasn't their flights, she couldn't get the two Dellas to Nashville.  She didn't close the door completely though, she said to come back in 30 minutes.  It was about 9:30pm at this point.

I told the Dellas of where we stood. Next task was to see about our hotel. I went to check the Turkish Airlines hotel desk, but the long line made me realize that I would spend all night trying to get a hotel voucher for a 3 hour sojourn.  We discussed it, and decided we would rather just stay at the airport and see about getting into a first class lounge to rest.

At 10pm, I came back to a scene of people screaming and yelling about flight problems.  I watched one fellow start trying to upbraid a Turkish Airlines supervisor.  With a bat of her gorgeous green eyes, she curtly told him he had no idea what he was talking about, and to chill out.  I liked her style, and pegged her as someone I could deal with.  I waited patiently until I got to speak with her.

I explained our plight about our Turkish Airline delay and our plight with the United desk being closed.  At that moment, Shelby and Kimber walked over, so I started laying it on as thick as I could.  "These cultural ambassadoresses have spent the last six weeks playing music for refugees and orphans, and all they want is to go home for Christmas, please can you help them?"  Sara the supervisor smiled, and said she would see what she could do.

Over the next 30 minutes, I flirted without compare as to get the problem fixed. Shelby caught me batting my eyelashes at her, and laughed.  I said to Shelby that these eyelashes are going to get you home.

And then it worked.  She told me she would be able to route Shelby and Kimber directly back to Nashville via New York.  She had me come with her to the back office while she worked on the details.  I kept staring at a giant map of the world, laughing at how far we had come and how far we still had to go.  The process was taking a while because there were some systems problems, so she told me to come back in 30 minutes.

I joined the Dellas in the corner of the cafe that we occupied, and had some Turkish lentil soup with lemon and the tapoica delight that is salep.  30 minutes later I returned and still no resolution to the system issue, but the green-eyed supervisor assured me things were ok.  She also tried to convince me to stay in Istanbul longer, to which I was so burnt that I had to pass on such green-eyed hospitality and advances.

So I returned to our corner at the cafe shop, and killed time.  Around 1am, I returned to the office.  Sara the supervisor explained that the system was still having issues, but that everything would be ok and to come back an hour later.  So I spent another hour at the cafe, desperately trying to keep my weary eyes open.  A few of the Dellas had passed out on benches and face-down on tables.

At 2am, I returned again- only to find out that Sara had been pulled into a meeting.  Now I was starting to get worried.  But the other supervisors also said it was not a problem, and that we did indeed have our tickets but there were some issuing issues.  Part of the problem was that because we were out of the Turkish airlines system, the supervisors needed a private ticket office to issue our e-tickets and there was some issues at hand.  Time kept meandering on, and suddenly it was 3am and Celia, Courtney and I had to check for our flights but we still didn't have the tickets, and I didn't have e-tickets for Shelby and Kimber's flights to Nashville.  I couldn't leave Shelby and Kimber without tickets, so I was starting to wonder if I would be staying in Istanbul to make sure they got out.

I got the other supervisors moving, and one slight girl came with me from the supervisors desk to the ticket issuing desk.  Around 3:20am, the ticket issuing desk stopped pounding the keys, and printed out 2 e-tickets, one for me and one for Celia.  "This is it, no?" the woman behind the counter asked.  Now my patience started to slip.  No, we need 5 tickets not 2.  More shuttles back-and-forth to the supervisors desk, and time was slipping away.  At around 3:45am, Celia, Courtnet and my electronic tickets were printed.  I handed them their tickets and told them to go check in (at the Lufthansa desk across the terminal).  At 3:55am, Kimber and Shelby's electronic tickets were finally printed to Nashville.  They were going home, and so was I.

The Turkish Airlines staff now instructed me to run to the desk to make sure I got checked in.  Sara the supervisor had returned to wave goodbye.  Amazingly, after waiting around all night, I now had to run post-haste.  I barely got to say goodbye to Kimber, and I don't think I even got a chance to hug Shelby goodbye.

And then I realized that Courtney hadn't taken her carry-ons and guitar over to the check-in desk.  So now I had to run with all my stuff and all her stuff as well across the terminal to get to the desk before it closed on me.  The slight lil supervisor grabbed Courtney guitar and I grabbed all the rest and went huffing and puffing across the terminal.

I arrived to the Lufthansa desk to find a line, and realized I was fine.  Courtney hadn't realized we weren't going back and had not said goodbye to anyone.  We meandered our way through the line, and got to check in.  At check-in, the Lufthansa clerk gave my reservation a funny look.  "Mr. Rockower, we have two reservations for you, one of them is first class."  My eyelash-batting had not only gotten Kimber and Shelby new tickets to a new locale, but got me bumped up to first class on the leg to Frankfurt.  I tried to get Celia and Courtney bumped up as well but to no avail.  We dropped our stuff and hurried to security.

As we got to security, Courtney decided that she had to run to say goodbye.  She ran off, and Celia and I passed through security.  Once on the other side, I sent Celia on to the gate and I waited to make sure Courtney got through.  I figured we had a better chance of delaying the plane (if needed) if there were 2 of us being tardy.  Thankfully, she passed through security quickly and we huffed to the gate.

At the gate, my first class status let me board early with the instruments and carry them on.  First class got me a whole row to myself, and I promptly passed out.  I woke up just before arrival to Frankfurt, just in time for a hot towel and glass of fresh-squeezed oj.

In Frankfurt, we worked our way to the other terminal.  When we got to security, Courtney was informed that she had randomly been selected for additional security screening.  Then Celia was also informed that she had also been selected at random for additional screening.  Ah, amazing how visiting Pakistan ups the randomness.

Once through, we reconvened and tried to get into a first class lounge.  But alas, we could not even buy our way in, there was no such privileges at the Lufthansa lounge.  So instead, we found a place to take a shower for $8.  Well worth it.  As the Dellas showered, I chatted in Spanish to an elderly Italian woman from Sicily who worked at the shower depot.  Amazing how well we could communicate across Latin linguistics.  We talked about life in Germany and life in Italy, and the difficulties of both. As we were chatting, a co-worker of hers from Ethiopia stopped in to give her some coffee that he pulled out of his cart.  I jokingly asked if he had a cup for me, and he handed me a second cup to my surprise.  To his surprise, I thanked him in Amharic, and we both smiled big.

After a soul-cleansing shower, the Dellas and I regrouped at a cafe for breakfast.  We sat in the cafe, killing time over good bread and cheese and real bloooodi maris, as we tried to make sense of the crazy adventure that was, and the future to be.

Time to fly, and I bade Courtney and Celia goodbye as they boarded their flight back to Boston.  Since I was headed to Beantown, I said it was merely "ciao for now."

And thus Don Pablo Quijote had ridden through the path of all tilting windmills as he guided the Dulcinea Dellas across La Manchastan, and this PD knight errant had safely returned his charge on home from an amazing cultural diplomacy adventure without compare.

The End. 

Winning at the internet

Title comes from Justin Goldner, who posted this story on a fellow who managed to use Okcupid to get his phone back after it was misplaced and returned refusal stolen.

Pic a Day 1.5.13

This pic is from the island of Rasta Romblon in the Philippines at the Sunday cockfight. Cry Havoc and unleash the Poultry of War!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Fox News vs. Fox News Latino

It's your policies, stupid

There is a bit of conventional wisdom among Israel and its supporters that Israel has a public diplomacy problem.  If only Israel explained itself better, the notion contends, then the global public would be more sympathetic to Israel.

A think-tank in Israel called Molad recently came out with a report backing up something I have long been saying: rather just the opposite, Israel does public diplomacy quite well, but can't cover for bad policies.

Israel is quite adept at public diplomacy, and is an early-adopter of new mediums and platforms.  It does a good job of engaging its diaspora, and fostering people-to-people connections.  Its public diplomacy promotes Israeli innovations, and its cultural diplomacy can be dynamic in scope and often showcases iconclastic sides of Israeli life.

But...all that can't cover for the fact that occupation and settlement-building is TERRIBLE policy, and no amount of public diplomacy can change that.  It's lipstick on a kosher pig, at best.

As Murrow contended, not even the best public diplomacy can cover for bad policy.  It's time for Israel to learn that maxim.

On the wall

So I was wandering around last night, a lil aimless and feeling a lil lonely. My solitude was grating on me as I was trying to figure out what to do for the evening.  I had already wandered up a ways towards Tufts but didn't find much of value.  I was wandering back, and stopped in front of a bar called Orleans.  I was thinking about how much fun my brother had in N'awlins, and that maybe I could get a fried pickle po' boy or something so I stopped in.

I was sitting at the bar for about five minutes, when an old friend from Year Course came up and surprised me.

His name is Jon Snow (Lord Snow of the Wall), and he was with some nice friends visiting from out of town.  Jon is a PhD student at Brandeis, in the IR department.  He is doing some fascinating work in signaling between opponents in times of conflict (slight PD geek out ensued).

He was with his friends Ary and Russel.  Ary is a Korean-American who owns a vintage shop in Athens, Georgia.  She told a very moving story about how she came to have that hyphen because of Obama.  She had lived in the US since she was 1 year old, but had not gotten citizenship.  But at some point, she heard Obama speak.  She was so moved that she said she would apply for citizenship if he ran for president.  He did, and she did, and got to cast her first ballot in the 2008 election.

Her husband  Russel ran a quixotic campaign against Congressman Paul Broun of GA.  Congressman Broun is the tea partyite who called science to be "lies from the pit of hell" and yet remains on the House Science Committee.  Nice work, Tea Party.  Russel decided he couldn't let Broun run unopposed, so he mounted an effort at unseating the buffoon.  It was 2010, so as you can imagine, he failed.

I joined them as they ate oysters and 30cent wings, and I had a really solid portobello burger.  Washed down with a Porter Square Porter that was the epitome of local (brewed nearby, with locally produced chocolate).

We continued on to The Burren, where they were playing lovely live Irish music on fiddle, banjo and bass.  The lively yet melancholy music punctuated our chat in the corner.

I am blogging about all this because I was so utterly amazed by the good Lord (of Light) always grants you what you need.