Sunday, June 30, 2013

RIP Jim Kelly

Not the Bills QB, although I got sad for a sec.  The other one.

 The one who fought Bruce Lee, which is more difficult than a field goal for Scott Norwood.

Soap Power

When I was first studying in Morocco, I learned about Soap Power.  I would go to school from 9-12am to study Arabic.  Then I would return for lunch with my host family in the casbah of Rabat.  It was always a three hour affair.  One hour of eating, one hour of Mexican soap operas dubbed into Arabic, and one hour of nap.  It was amazing I ever made it back to class in the afternoon.

My favorite soap was "Baloma."  That would be "Paloma" but there is no "p" in Arabic.  Hard to say dove in Spanish without one.  I loved it, and so did my host family.  We watched daily as it slunk through the plot twists.  The main character Baloma would declare: Oh Fernando Jose, shukran habibi.

Soaps in a Brazilian context were always interesting too.  Brazilians learned to love Morocco through the soap "The Clone."  They were watching a Brazilian soap based in Turkey last time I was there.  Something related to St. George, with Istanbul playing a big role.

Soap operas have been used as a tool to learn languageslearn finance and  a tool to deal with social issues.

There are also downsides to such fiery passion.  I had heard anecdotes about Vietnamese women watching Korean soaps, and thinking how romantic Korean men were.  So much so that some agreed to be mail order brides in South Korea, only to find Korean farmers were not as romantic as the men on the soaps.

The thought that spurred this blog was a piece was the neo-Ottoman soaps that are all the rage in the Arab world.  Public diplomacy is about telling stories, and soap operas do tell stories well.  I would be curious to see the effect of Taiwanese soaps on China.  Also curious to study Mexico soap industry as a source of soft power in the Americas and otherwise.  Besides, what did good ol' Will write if it wasn't soap operas.

PS: Arts Diplomacy Network tweeted me a great story about Soaps for social change from the Population Media Center.  Merci, I met someone from the Population Media Center years ago at the SAGE launch, and remembered the initiative when I was writing this piece but couldn't remember their name.


Whenever I tell people how much I loved living in Houston, they usually look at me like I am nuts (kinda the same reaction when I tell people I lived in LA for two years without a car).  But I did love Houston, so much so because of its diversity.  A majority-minority city, and I knew all the colorful pockets.  NPR has a great piece on Houston's diversity and how it affects its cuisine.  And also its diversity in general.


NPR has a story about how the utensils you use affects the taste of food.  This is something I have long mentioned.  And while food might taste better on a silver spoon than plastic, it still puts more of the utensil in your mouth which is detrimental to the taste.  You are better off with chopsticks, but the best is using your hand(s).

Eating with your hand (right in almost all places) triggers a tangible connection to the food we are consuming. Over eons of chowing down, we have been hardwired so that when our fingers touch food, we start to salivate.  The more we salivate, the better the food can taste.  Hence why eating Indian or Moroccan food with your hands is the best way to consume, sayeth the consummate consumo.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blu-Uz Grass

I wasn't the only one who enjoyed Della Mae in Uzbekistan.  This report is from Lisa Goodgame, who was the Press Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan during the tour.  Wonderful to think that this was one of her highlights.

Tilting at Stinky Cheese

T-minus 2 days until I depart to Gaul, with the galling gauntlet I am throwing down: to find the stinkiest French cheese imaginable.

As readers of this fair blog may recall, while in Taipei, Don Pablo Quijote was on a quest to find the stinkiest of the stinky tofu, and did battle with some pretty putrid stuff. 

I am planning on taking it to the next level with search to find the stinkiest French cheese in chez Paris.  I can remember from my last stint in La Ville-Lumière (et Fromage) passing by a cheese shop and being bowled over by the winds of fromage funk escaping from the little fromagerie like a wave of biological warfare.

So, I am off on a gastrodiplomacy mission to find the most potent piece of cheese imaginable.  Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, the fromagistas in États-Unis were dealt a recent blow by FDA bureaucrats, who banned Mimolette on the grounds that mites might inhabit the cheese delight. Sacre bleu! Stupid FDA bureaucrats, do you honestly think that cheese lovers of such magnitude as to pay $20 per pound of Mimolette care about the possibility of mites? Allez boire des égouts de Montmartre!

Rotten in Denmark...

Oooh, that does not sound good.  That is the email that journalist Michael Hastings (of Rolling Stone-Shiva the Destroyer of Gen. Stanley McChrystal fame) sent to colleagues before his car crashed in a fiery accident.

Dellamanistan #GeographyFail

Great piece on the Dellas in Synthesis Weekly, with a tremendous #GeographyFail (emphasis mine):
There aren’t many bands that visit Chico not long after making a 43-day jaunt through Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Hell, there aren’t many bands who’ve even heard of most of those places. But the U.S. State Department thought that five prodigiously talented young women, steeped in knowledge of and skill in playing deeply American music, might just be good representatives for our country in that volatile region of the world. So, Della Mae  hit the bumpy roads south and east of eastern Europe, pickin’ and singin’, conducting music programs for children, playing concerts for audiences who were hearing their kind of music for the first time, and collaborating with local musicians to merge very diverse musical cultures.

"War is God's way of teaching Americans geography."
-Ambrose Bierce

Time to invade Absurdistan....

And RIP Della Mae Frodge.

Pics from the Ambassadors of Aloha tour to Brazil

And I finally got to upload all my pics from the American Music Abroad tour to Brazil with Keola Beamer and Jeff Peterson w/ Moanalani Beamer.  This was perhaps the first time that Hawaiian music and culture was used projected as cultural diplomacy (I could be wrong, if there are any diplos out there who know of other instances, please chime in).  Up are my pics from the tour, and also from the vacay after in Belo, Rio and Sao Paulo,

From Brasilia

From Goiana

From Hawaiian music & Hula class in Gama & Brasilia

From Receife

From Salvador

From Inhotim

From Saint Paul

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Dellas on Ram Country on Yahoo Music, Rolling Stone

The Dellas have an awesome interview on Ram Country on Yahoo Music, discussing their AMA tour.

And the Dellas share about being rolling stones through Central Asia on Rolling Stone!

In addition to their recording and festival work, the band has a remarkable philanthropic credit on its resume as well: Cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department's American Music Abroad program. Their work with the project involved 43 days traveling in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, collaborating with local musicians and providing musical education for local children. 
The experience was a life-changer, as guitarist [Courtney] Hartman notes: ""We were received with so much love and generosity, it was so overwhelming. We couldn't speak with them--we couldn't speak the same language, but we could play music for hours with them."

Thursday, June 27, 2013


As always, The Onion hits the nail on the head for the pitfalls of finding a job: "'I Would Be Absolutely Perfect For This,' Report 1,400 People Looking At Same Job Posting"


The "full-blooded Indian" defender of the Redskins moniker might not have quite the pedigree advertised.  I find it shocking that in 2013 you can still have a racial slur as a team name.  And I am a fan of the team.  (Redskin potatoes, anyone?)

Pics from Dellamanistan

Funemployment has finally offered me the time to upload all my pics from Central Asia for the Della Mae tour.  I dare say the finest cultural diplomatesses the State Department has ever sent out.  Enjoy!

From The Dellas in Tashkent

From Della Mae at Pop Circus (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
From Tashkent

From Della Mae Concert in Tashkent

From Dellas cultural exchange in Urgench

From Khiva

From US Cultural Days in Turkmenistan

From Ashgabat (City of Love)

From Turkmenabad

From The Dellas in Almaty

From The Dellas in Capital of Glorious Nation

From Della Mae at Astana Orphanage

From Drive across Central Asian steppes

From Bishkek Orphanage

From Dellas in Pishpek
 (Holding a Jew Harp!)

From Bishkek

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fellow fellow

Che Hemingway gets an adjunct fellowship at the American Security Project. Merci Matthew Wallin. Lotsa fun transatlantic public diplomacy to be examined...

Matuto in Mama Afrika

Afropop Worldwide interviewed Clay Ross of Matuto about the ensemble's American Music Abroad tour:

When you look deeper into it, from the perspective of American music, the broad perspective of American music, there’s a shared story there. And more sort of superficially, Americans have been adopting Brazilian rhythms and Brazilian music for years, I mean, bossa nova was a huge craze! Charlie Byrd, who is a great musician, and Stan Getz, who made the quintessential American/Brazilian fusion record with Girl from Ipanema… That whole thing, all of that happened because of the US State Department. Charlie Byrd was on a State Department tour in Brazil, playing jazz music, when he heard the bossa nova rhythm, and then he brought it back to Stan Getz, and that led to this huge phenomenon in the US of bossa nova, the popularity of bossa nova in the US. Which even led Elvis Presley to record a song called, “Bossa Nova Baby,” like this fusion of rock and bossa nova. And that was in the ‘60s! So this conversation has been going on… And then you look at the tropicalia movement in Brazil, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, all these incredible musicians who we really love and are inspired by, they were just trying to do what the Beatles do! They were trying to use Brazilian music and play rock and roll, and incorporate rock and roll into their Brazilian sound. And then furthermore, rock and roll, the British invasion, is a reflection of American roots music coming back from Britain, from the Old World. So it’s really interesting to me, at the end of the day, it really just comes down to, is it good or not? That’s the only reason the State Department would even send musicians out! I’m thinking that’s why they liked our music, and why they might even overlook the fact that maybe it’s strongly Brazilian. From one perspective, yeah, it is strongly Brazilian, but it’s also really good! It’s smart, and it’s joyful, and that’s the type of thing that the US State Department wants to promote abroad, you know?

Minimum wage

via DL

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Surveillance-Marketing Complex

Snooping 2.0 meets social media: the surveillance-marketing complex.

Walt on Snowden

"If Snowden were Chinese or Iranian, had leaked info about their spying and then sought asylum in US, we'd grant it and call him a hero."
-Professor Stephen Walt 

Friday, June 21, 2013

"We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat."

A riot in China, after the school stops the kids from cheating.  The parents went nuts...

"I picked up my son at midday [from his exam]. He started crying. I asked him what was up and he said a teacher had frisked his body and taken his mobile phone from his underwear. I was furious and I asked him if he could identify the teacher. I said we should go back and find him," one of the protesting fathers, named as Mr Yin, said to the police later. By late afternoon, the invigilators were trapped in a set of school offices, as groups of students pelted the windows with rocks. Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat."
According to the protesters, cheating is endemic in China, so being forced to sit the exams without help put their children at a disadvantage.
Teachers trapped in the school took to the internet to call for help. "We are trapped in the exam hall," wrote Kang Yanhong, one of the invigilators, on a Chinese messaging service. "Students are smashing things and trying to break in," she said.

Kudos to Matuto

Even funemployed, I am good at what I do. This is a letter from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the band Matuto, honoring them for their cultural diplomacy work on American Music Abroad tour.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

That time...

for a shellacking.  Wow, what a response.  see: this.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Queens- Gastrodiplomacy Haven

To celebrate my new funemployment last friday, I went to Queens to meet a friend Braden- a speechwriter for a Mission to the UN and a fellow gastrodiplomat.  I had never been to Queens before, and immediately it felt different than my Brooklyn haunts.

We stopped to celebrate my freedom at an Irish pub, before heading down to Jackson Heights to have Nepalese food.  It would  be generous to call the place, Tawa, a hole in the wall.  It was literally three tables (one which was serving to hold containers) and a kitchen.  And it was f'ing phenomenal.  I had a veg thali, and it was the best thali I have had this side of the subcontinent.  The Nepalese owners smiled when I waved away the utensils, and they were impressed with my fingerfood skills.  "You eat like Nepal," the owner remarked.  Not that I eat like the Nepalese, mind you, but that I eat like the country.  I tapped my curry yellow-stained fingers on the silver platter in appreciatiation as I took that as a supreme compliment.  We split some incredible veggie momos- Nepal's steamed wonton-like treat that I covered in chili, orange and mustard sauces.  It was delish.

After dinner, we wandered over to a little Indian market and we got some paan to aid in digestion.  We were spitting red betel nut into the streets as we made our way from the Indian section to the South American section.  We stopped for cafe con leche and alfajores (dulce de leche sandwiched between buttery cookies) at an Uruguayan bakery, then made our way on for Colombian music at a cool club.  We sipped pisco sours until I grew tired from the long day.

Queens, we may be new friends.  I have come to learn that Queens is one of the most (if not the most) diverse places on the planet.  Maybe that is where I will next set up shop, because I need a neighborhood where I can go from Irish to Nepalese to Indian to Uruguayan to Colombian in mere minutes.

Turn the Page: Closing the Chapter that is American Voices

"We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give."
-Winston Churchill

An oft quoted sentiment on this fair blog. As previously mentioned, I submitted my resignation to American Voices, where I had been the Communications Director for the last two years. It was a hard decision because I really loved the work I did: cultural diplomacy to countries in conflict, and running the flagship musical diplomacy program for the State Department. Lotsa travel, lotsa adventure. Many, many people commented that I had the best job in the world, including a lot of Staters, who said they wanted my job. And yet I walked away.

Why? For a number of reasons, some I will share and some I won’t.

The most important reason: I was burnt-out. Twenty months of putting out fires had left me burnt-out, and I needed to disconnect. It was full tilt from the day I started. I stepped into a communications office that did not exist, and I had to build it from scratch. And build it, I did. But such unending toil takes its toll.

I can't say that I always loved the virtual office. The irony is that for someone who wanted a nontraditional 9-to-5, when I got it I did not exactly love it. I found the virtual office to be very isolating. I missed the basic interactions that come from having co-workers and colleagues to bounce ideas off of, not by phone or email but in real life. And I found it very hard to check out of my virtual office. It was a real effort not to start working at 6:30am when I wake up. I usually did for about 30 minutes, before I forced myself away. It is hard when the lines of work and life are so blurred.

But I am grateful for the opportunities that my work offered. I got to travel to some amazing places (Iraq, the 'Stans, Brazil), hear some incredible music and make so wonderful new friends along the way. I learned a lot over the last two years in regards to the practical application of public diplomacy. I played everything from a pd travel agent to pd roadie to pd camp counselor.

I finished my last day in the best fashion imaginable: on a post-tour debrief with Keola and co and the State Department, having a big aloha lovefest about the tour that had just concluded.  It was a fitting way to end my tenure, and gratifying to walk out with my head high. Journey on.

Leave No Quagmire Behind

Oh Borrowitz: U.S. Promises Smooth Transfer of Quagmire from Afghanistan to Iraq:
Harland Dorrinson, executive director of the National Quagmire Institute, a think tank dedicated to promoting the United States’ involvement in intractable conflicts around the globe, said he found General Dempsey’s words about Syria reassuring: “I felt a lot better after hearing what he had to say, and I know a lot of defense contractors felt the same way.”

Whirling Dervishes in Gas Masks

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bank of America

Too aptly named, it would seem: swindling borrowing and rewarding foreclosure.

Oh, The Onion

Going Grey

From NY Mag:

"How was the G8?"

"It was good. We discussed economic cooperation and anti-terror policies and sacrificed a baby calf to the gods of capitalism and laughed maniacally."

To paraphrase Viscount Grey: The lights are going out all over the world and I doubt we will see them go on again in our lifetime.


In two successive days, Harry was asked by two separate people which of us was older. We are fraternal twins, he is five minutes older.

[Yes Abba, I remember in Eatzi's when that blind man asked if we were brothers....] 

Monday, June 17, 2013

On Soft Power

"Countries too eager to embrace soft power can come off like the stereotypical Don Juan, whose powers of attraction eventually taught women to be wary. Others, overconfident in their positive qualities, choose the wrong aspect to emphasize and end up the butt of jokes. In the context of soft power, this mockery is leveled against countries whose public diplomacy degenerates into propaganda."
-Prof Nick Cull, "Why Project Soft Power is Difficult"

Le Deluge

How do you say "oops" in Greek?  The IMF is quickly learning, as they apologized for screwing up in Hellenestan. ευχαριστίες (thanks) for effectively ruining Greece for at least a generation.  And you better learn to say sorry in Castellanos, Portuguese  and Gaelic.  You were wrong on austerity as a means to get out of the crisis, and real people paid for it.

Meanwhile, apres nous, le deluge.  No sooner do I leave Brazil does the country fall into protests over priorities in the face of the World Cup.

Interestingly, if I had been going to YES Iraq, I would have been in Turkey when all of those protests unfolded.

Lost in Taksim

The view from the square that made Turkey convulse.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


I am a vegetarian (usually) but damn if I can't pass up that good jerk chicken- especially late night when it comes right of the smoking steel drum and leaves my lips smoldering like the fire that cooked it. Gandhi, forgive me. So long Brooklyn, always a pleasure and I will be back soon. On to Charleston. Journey on.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

McClatchy and WMDs

McClatchy was one of the few media outlets that cast doubt on the Iraqi WMD claims leading up to the invasion of Iraq; they are casting doubt on chemical weapons use in Syria, so it is worth listening this time in ways we didn't last time.

The Private War

I have long been curious of the intersection of the private sector into the public domain, I am tremendously concerned at the rise of private intelligence gathering services:
What has received less attention is the fact that most intelligence work today is not carried out by government agencies but by private intelligence firms and that much of that work involves another common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.
Private eyes in public places, I do not like it.

This also all weighs heavily on me as I consider my own future on the private side of public diplomacy, and I try to figure how to do independent public diplomacy.  

Bigger brass

The Chief of the Australian Army shows how it is done to combat sexual abuse in the military ranks.  Begs the question, why have none of America's top brass ever been this direct?