Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's only weird if it doesn't work....

2,014 Windmills

I wanted to write a detailed account of a crazy year, but the busyness continued to the end of the year that was.  2014 had a ton of windmills, sadly too many I was unable to give reflection on.  The past year I hit 13 countries, a few of which a few times.  I ran programs in South America, the Balkans and South Asia.  Levantine PD tilted at its biggest windmill to date: the World Cup in Brazil.  This Quixote even found a Dulcinea this year, a lovely Greek.

2015 is going to be also full tilt at the windmills.  I am off on Jan 2 to Dakar to run the Next Level Senegal program, and I have a number of trips to Southern and East Africa in the year to come.  Hopefully this PD Knight Errant will get back into the writing groove.  I do have a lot of flights this year where I can hopefully catch up on the blog.

Happy New Year to all!  May the new year bring Windmill Wishes and Cervantine Dreams!


Friday, December 26, 2014

No Shit, Hans Brix

Did North Korea actually hack Sony?  Perhaps not....

Let's consider:

1. First of all, there is the fact that the attackers only brought up the anti-North Korean bias of “The Interview” after the media did—the film was never mentioned by the hackers right at the start of their campaign. In fact, it was only after a few people started speculating in the media that this and the communication from North Korea “might be linked” that suddenly it did get linked. My view is that the attackers saw this as an opportunity for “lulz”, and a way to misdirect everyone. (And wouldn’t you know it? The hackers are now saying it’s okay for Sony to release the movie, after all.) If everyone believes it’s a nation state, then the criminal investigation will likely die. It’s the perfect smokescreen.
2. The hackers dumped the data. Would a state with a keen understanding of the power of propaganda be so willing to just throw away such a trove of information? The mass dump suggests that whoever did this, their primary motivation was to embarrass Sony Pictures. They wanted to humiliate the company, pure and simple.
3. Blaming North Korea offers an easy way out for the many, many people who allowed this debacle to happen; from Sony Pictures management through to the security team that were defending Sony Picture’s network.

4. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that blaming North Korea is quite convenient for the FBI and the current U.S. administration. It’s the perfect excuse to push through whatever new, strong, cyber-laws they feel are appropriate, safe in the knowledge that an outraged public is fairly likely to support them.

Doomsday!

Less sexy, non-clickbait headline: the world is not going to hell-in-a-hand-basket.  Not even close.  A reminder of why I feel more optimistic about life and the world when I am not reading newspapers or glued to news sites on the internet....

What Americans can learn about other food cultures

Food in France is about pleasure; food in Italy is about love.  And other food cultures worldwide.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Serbia, the Hidden Gem of Europe

Some amazing photos of Serbia, a place I fell in love with earlier this year.  Hvala Јохн Бровн 

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Days

"We consume our tomorrows fretting about our yesterdays."
-Persius

Friday, December 19, 2014

Havana Health

With all this talk of what Cuba will gain with more open relations with the U.S., perhaps we too can gain. Maybe they will share the secrets of their healthcare system with us, since the Cuban population has a higher life expectancy than U.S. citizens despite a GDP per capita almost 9 times lower.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Havana

Kudos to Che Obama for putting an end to the fallacy of our foreign policy approach to Cuba.  While this is PROOF that Obama is a socialist...it is also nice to have a policy towards Havana that wasn't put in place when Eisenhower was in office.

You Don't Protect My Freedom

A great piece on the faux worship of American troops:

No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists. It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II – an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble. If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.
Wars that are not heroic have no real heroes, except for the people who oppose those wars. Far from being the heroes of recent wars, American troops are among their victims. No rational person can blame the soldier, the Marine, the airman, or the Navy man for the stupid and destructive foreign policy of the U.S. government, but calling them “heroes,” and settling for nothing less, makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely to happen. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make much sense to call their mission unnecessary and unjust. It also makes conversations about the sexual assault epidemic, or the killing of innocent civilians, impossible. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make any sense to acknowledge that some are rapists and sadists.
The same principle of clear-eyed scrutiny applies to law enforcement agencies. Police departments everywhere need extensive investigation of their training methods, qualifications for getting on the job, and psychological evaluation. None of that will happen as long as the culture calls cops heroes, regardless of their behavior.
An understandable reason for calling all troops heroes, even on the left, is to honor the sacrifice they make after they die or endure a life-altering injury in one of America’s foolish acts of aggression. A more helpful and productive act of citizenship, and sign of solidarity with the military, is the enlistment in an antiwar movement that would prevent the government from using its volunteer Army as a plaything for the financial advancement and political cover of the state-corporate nexus and the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eishenhower’s nightmares.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Obamacare

Just signed up for Obamacare!

Surprisingly easy and user-friendly. It only took me approximately 30 minutes.

This status will change drastically if there are glitches in the system that affect my coverage, but for now: Thanks President Obama!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thessaloniki: Sailing to Byzantium

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
-W.B. Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium"

Of course a train will also do.  In the wee hours on a Friday morning, Marianna and I set out from Athens to Thessaloniki via train. Salonika, if you will.

Thessaloniki is named for the sister of Alexander the Great.  Legend has it that Thessaloniki was a mermaid, and after Alexander the Great's demise, she would sail to ships to ask the captains for news of Alex.  If they replied that he was dead, she would sink the triremes.
-Marianna

The ride was bleary-eyed, sustained by cake and filtered coffee as we swept past the morning mist.  I dug deep into the cinnamon and sand of the spice planet of Dune-- a fine Hanukkah gift from the Bene Gessarit.  Marianna was Dancing with Dragons.  I would steal a glance at her page when she left for the bathroom.  It was a calm train ride that I would have been happy if it never ended, and we spent days riding the rails--just reading away.

Over and over with Paul's floating awareness the lesson rolled.
-Dune

But arrive, we did to old Byzantium.  We caught a cab to the apartment of Marianna's friend George. His modernist space had a nice view across the city.  We were staying there, and he was staying at his girlfriend's place.  We sat out sipping coffee and chatted of his girlfriend Eleni's desire for a cat.

We ventured out for a walk along the sea wall through the fog down past the Tower of the Undying.  No dragons, alas--just an old Turkish fortress on the waterfront.  The White Tower.

Starving, we made our way to to a souvlaki place.  Apparently, as I learned Thessaloniki and Athens have a tiff over the meaning of "souvlaki."  One place it means "gyro", the other simply a sandwich.  Whatever, the gyro was amazing.  I had my chicken gyro in a baguette with tzatziki.  It was succulent and delicious.

We trekked it back, and spent the night watching Workaholics before passing out early.

Saturday morn Marianna and I made our way

down through the city to the sea--past Alex and his horse to get some cappuccinos out on the Strand.

Some Nigerian fellows were hawking a reggae show and bracelets.  Marianna told me not to talk to them, but I ended up chatting one up.  He was a funny fellow.  We spoke of Nollywood.  He said to me: I only respect four people in America: 1) Barrack Obama 2) Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson 3) You 4) Your princess.  Then he smiled and tried to hawk a reggae bracelet to her.  Why don't you get her a bracelet? Because I bring her pearls.  That got a smile as he left.

Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert.
-Dune

If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets.
-Paul Atreides, Dune

And fish come from the sea. And Bougatza comes from Thessaloniki,

We caught up with George and Eleni, and made our way to Yanni's for a famous Thessalonikian dish: Bougatza.  Bougatza is a Thessaloniki specialty of filo dough stuffed with spinach (savory) or vanilla cream (sweet).  The vanilla cream variety get another level of sweet, with a heavy top layer of nutella-style spread.  For a full covering, add a layer of dusting from confectioner powdered sugar and cinnamon.

The full covered sweet bougatza is divine.  A complexity of flavors ranging from the chocolate-covered filo to the vanilla cream to a heady cinnamon finish.

It was a filo feast.

Thankfully, we kept walking after lunch.  We walked right into a protest.  Greece has been roiled by them as it comes on the anniversary of the death of a student.  I have heard a bit of the story--that one of his compatriots, who was in jail for robbery was on a hunger strike to be able to attend university classes.  In short, it was a bit of a mess.  I was glad to be out of Athens.

We walked past the protest in Thessaloniki I grabbed a few pics of the protest, and the anarchists in the mid-ranks.  This Yank got a few curses from bandanna-clad anarchists for snapping some pics, but it was all pretty civil.



MK's pic
Marianna and I made our way to the wonderful Museum of Byzantine Culture.  The museum was a fascinating, well-curated exhibition on Byzantium.  It looked at the Eastern Roman empire's rise and fall, and shined a light on the world that existed in Byzantium from Constantine to the Empire's fall to the Ottomans in 1453 through basic life, jewelry, funerary customs and art.  I am always amazed at jewelry, and how timeless it always is.  Fashions change, but only so much.

The art was most impressive.  I usually think of the Byzantine stuff as a tad too goyish for my tastes, but some of the other pictures were spectacularly effulgent and reminded me of Klimt's work.

Marianna and I were most impressed with the printings, which had to be done in reverse for proper printing--and in exquisite detail.

Overall, the museum was very well laid-out.  Very well designed and very accessible

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
-W.B. Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium"

After the museum, we walked along the seascape and met back up with George and Eleni by the end of the sea wall


 We caught a bus up to The Wall-- built for Byzantium, not the Night's Watch.  We watched the lights of the city come on, then made our way to a cafe on the hilltop to warm up over some red wine.

We walked down throw the maze alleyways of the Old City, until we stumbled upon a restaurant of Crete cuisine that was one of our evening options.  George said that he had looked for the place before, but when he looked for it he was never able to find it.

We sat out under vine leaves and heaters, and the waiter brought us Creten rakija (kraki in Greek) to warm us.  Dinner was utterly incredible.  It was a Crete feast. the contents of which have since been digested and forgotten.  But it was damn good.

George and Eleni
We passed out early from the long day.  The next morning, we walked through the morning fog to a yacht club cafe.  We sipped cappuccinos among the Sunday morning brunch crowd.

After coffee we hoofed it through the city to visit a famous Thessaloniki taverna.  Unfortunately, the place was full with Sunday family dining; fortunately, we managed to convince the taverna to set us up a table outside under a tree.  We were met by a mutual friend Elias, who had an internet exotic pet site.  He sold snakes, rats and cockroaches.  He had over 100,000 cockroaches.

We drank retzina--Greek resin wine mixed with coke, and dined on incredible fare.  Garlicky tzatziki with fried zucchini, horta--a collard greeny-ish Greek veggie and salad.



The main courses were equally delicious.  There was a lamb brisket and aubergine stew, kokoresi--lamb intestines filled with all sort of lamb stuffing, and a delicious roasted chicken dish.  It was a dagla (Greek siesta)-inspiring nap, which Marianna and I took on the train back to Athens that evening.

All and all, a pretty wonderful weekend in Thessaloniki.



ἰχθύς

Greek brunch of grilled spicy sardines & salted, lemoned herring with red onions and cilantro over fava paste with red onions & capers. I am a lil fishy swimming in a Greek sea of olive oil, lemon and garlic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If Eric Garner were white...

‘We need not risk our national honor to prevail in this or any war’

Sen John McCain, a victim of torture, had a very eloquent response to the release of the Senate Intel Report on Torture.  His speech is worth a watch, and a reminder why I long considered him a man of honor.


papermill

You know your shit is legit when it is plagiarizable! There exists a gastrodiplomacy papermill! Anyone want an essay on gastrodiplomacy?

I will write you one at half the price of Elite Academic Essays.

h/t Sam Chapple-Sokol for this gem.

From polling lips to God's ear

Or at least the ballots of Israeli voters.  Labor-Livni bloc would trump Bibi.  Granted, Kadima beat Likud in 2009, and Bibi still ended up occupying the Iron Throne because of coalition politics, but I pray that won't happen again.

Ljubav (The Cup Song)

In my heart there lives the hope that love will win over all. In my heart there is a place for all people, for all who need love.

These are the words in Bosnian sung by Jelena Milusic with the kids of a Sarajevo orphanage, in a music project created by the incredible Sabina Šabić and performed at the one and only Sarajevo War Theatre. This is the original video of the kids performing Ljubav (The Cup Song):





Thanks to YouTube, The River Singers Community Choir based in Vermont, found it and performed the Bosnian song Ljubav:



Keep some kleenex handy for this stirring reminder of how music can connect us.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

anti-Zionists

A good reminder that Zionism was much more than the narrow-minded Israeli Right Wing that perverts the movement today: Meet the worst anti-Zionist


Love

Great video by DJ Plainview (Russell Sticklor) tying the words of RFK following the assassination of MLK to the present situation today.



 RFK's full speech is here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/rfkonmlkdeath.html

RFK delivered the speech in Indianapolis, and his words are believed to have helped keep the city calm as other major metropolitan areas convulsed into riot.

Dictatorship of the Palateriat

An interesting article on the palates of dictators.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Bibi's Israel

This is Bibi's Israel:

Netanyahu shaped a different, darker Israel: In his own image by Gideon Levy

Benjamin Netanyahu will be remembered as one of Israel’s most important prime ministers, second only to David Ben-Gurion not just in the length of his time in office but also in the mark he made. Ben-Gurion was the founding father of the first Israeli kingdom, of the dream. Netanyahu is the founding father of the second kingdom, of the dream’s shattering.
Netanyahu is the shaper of contemporary Israel. It is a great injustice to compare him to one of his predecessors, Yitzhak Shamir — a featureless man whose creed was inaction. Netanyahu did a great deal; he influenced and he decided, he shaped and determined.
It is also unjust to view him as a cynical politician. He was one of Israel’s most ideological prime ministers ever, who could turn his extremist doctrine into the zeitgeist of the entire state.
Even when he hid his beliefs, he did so in order to advance them. Netanyahu never believed in peace with the Arabs — and he removed peace from Israel’s agenda. He never believed in the rights of the Palestinian people — and he destroyed the two-state solution. He genuinely believed that Jews are the chosen people — and he brought Israel closer to a future apartheid state modeled on his beliefs, including in its constitutional aspects.
Can one imagine a more sweeping success? Can one think of anyone who did more to advance his own worldview?
One of his predecessors made peace, another made war, but none of them was as influential as he. Pre-Netanyahu and post-Netanyahu Israel are two different states. The historian’s son made history, he can go out on top: He has guaranteed that he won’t be a mere footnote. History will remember everything about him.
Once upon a time there was an Israel. An Israel that spoke about peace and believed in it, even if it did almost nothing to achieve it; an Israel that was democratic, at least for Jews; an Israel that respected the other countries of the world and took them into account; that knew its size, the limits of its power and the boundaries of its influence.
Once there was an Israel that subdued its racism and was ashamed of it; that did not alternate only between rivers of hate and waves of intimidation. Where Arabs were not only suspicious objects and where war refugees were not only “infiltrators.” Where Judaism was not only for ultranationalists and the flag was not waved only by the settlers. Once there was hope, but it disappeared; someone severed it.
Netanyahu shaped a different Israel, in his own image. He was the prime minister of fear and hate.
Try to think of one positive mark he left, one significant way in which Israel is better after him than it was before him. Now think what a long road the state has traveled from Menachem Begin’s first resolution as premier, to take in a handful of Vietnamese “boat people,” to the last resolution of Netanyahu, Begin’s successor in Likud and in office, to enact a third version of the diabolical anti-infiltration bill. Think of the long road from banning Meir Kahane’s Kach party from the Knesset, including by Likud MKs, to the competition today among Likud MKs to introduce the most racist bills.
The darkness has emerged into the light, the margins have become the center and ultranationalism has become politically correct. Kahane lives: From his place in heaven, he can look with pride and satisfaction at the state Netanyahu has fashioned. From Kahane’s perspective, the state is surely on the right track, galloping toward the implementation of his doctrine.
This is not nostalgia for a past that never existed, nor is it an overly gloomy picture of the present and the future. Israel has changed. It’s a different place in which to live. It is more arrogant, more destructive, more aggressive and less democratic — toward minorities, both national and ideological; toward the neighborhood in which it lives and toward the world as a whole. It is more hated, and rightly so. It is a worse place.
Netanyahu is not prophesying Israel’s destruction, but he has done more than a little to bring that destruction closer.


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Justice in America

Forgive my ignorance, but what does it take for a Black man to get justice in America? There seems to be a "trend" that if you are a Black man killed, it must be your own fault. I am really at a loss.

Dear Black America, it is really your fault for the cross that is burning on your front lawn. You should have not provoked the Klan so....

Charlie's Journey

I travel a lot.  A bit of an understatement.  I haven't had a true fixed residence in almost 2 years.  I have been to over 70 countries.  I literally live on the road. Beyond being internationally homeless, I run cultural diplomacy programs around the world.


I was in Samarkand, Uzbekistan one cold night, and wandered down to the dining room for its warmth from the fireplace.  There were two gentlemen sitting in there already.  I sat down and we got to chatting.

The first was a British-Canadian fellow, who was coming from Pakistan and heading to Afghanistan.  He also had Turkmenistan, Burma and North Korea on his upcoming travel itinerary.  Not for the backpacking faint of heart, by any stretch.

The second fellow was a bushy-bearded fellow named Charlie.  He had biked here.  From the UK up past the Arctic Circle and East across Central Asia to China.  He was now on his way back.  By way of Capetown.

Yes, he was continental cycling.

I was just touring the 'Stans with a five-girl bluegrass band, and suddenly my epic journey did not seem so far.


I was stunned.

This man had biked his way across Europe, across Central Asia all the way to China, and was now heading back by the southerly route.  He had been on his bike for about two years at that point, and figured he had another two years to go.

In Laos, Charlie had been through a harrowing crash in that almost took him off a mountain; in China, arrested as a spy; through a world of punctured tires and adventures.

We sat drinking beer out azul blue pottery tea cups as the fire crackled.

I was beyond impressed with his journey.  It takes a man of real grit and determination to bike the Silk Road.  And then through the Middle East and Cairo to Capetown.  And back up.

We ate the house meal of rich lamb soup with dollops of yogurt in the broth.  The hunks of hot lamb warmed we weary travelers.  The soup-cooked vegetables were soft enough to cut with a spoon.  The crusty round Uzbek bread with little black sprinkle spice on top made for proper dipping fodder.

Charlie told stories of riding horseback across the Central Asian steppes.  Of unenviable situations with gruff drunken Kazakhs bent on having you circumcised.  Of a world of adventures without compare.

The next morning I had tea with Charlie in the courtyard.  He was about to head out on his seemingly-endless journey.  We sipped black tea out of the china blue cups, and ate candied melon rinds.  I drizzled the honey syrup in my black tea.  We bade farewell, and I wished him well on his way.  Vaya con Dios, were my last words to him if I remember correctly.


I followed Charlie's journey across the Middle East and down through Africa, through every joy and malady possible.




After a journey of more than 43,000 miles through over 60 countries (and Hundreds of Unwashed Faces), Charlie recently made it home.  He faced war, herds of charging elephants and the endless road until he biked his way back.  There and back again, if ever there was a journey.




Congratulations to Charlie Walker for the completion of his incredible journey.  It is a road few else in this world will ever see.

I salute your courage and determination for choosing the road less traveled.  Welcome home, Charlie.


For more on Charlie Walker's incredible bike journey around the world, visit: http://www.charliewalkerexplore.co.uk/

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

RTW w/ Charlie

Honored to have crossed paths with Charlie in Samarkand, Uzbekistan and shared a night of drinking beer out azul tea cups:


Cyclist who wanted to see the world on the cheap finishes epic four-year journey after riding 43,000 miles through 61 countries - the equivalent of TWICE round the planet 

  • Charlie Walker, 27, cycled through three continents on his second-hand bike 'Old Geoff' despite 'not being a cyclist' 
  • He visited Arctic Circle, far east Asia and southern tip of Africa, after wanting to see world in a 'cheap and slow' way During trip, he was chased by elephants, arrested in China and had to run the gauntlet of a war zone in Mozambique 
  • Travel writer returned home last week to his home village of Bowerchalke, Wiltshire after 1,606 days on the road 
Here is the full article in the Daily Mail


A lotta windmills...

Paul’s Travel Map
Paul has been to: Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palestinian Territory, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Martin, Serbia, Serbia and Montenegro, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tibet, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vatican, Venezuela, Vietnam, Western Sahara, Zimbabwe. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Things that I am thankful for (IV)

Things that I am thankful for: working with brilliant, creative partners.

 On the Next Level Serbia program, I got to work with Hip Hop dance legend Jorge "PopMaster Fabel" Pabon and the brilliant Anshul Gupta of Stand 4 Productions.

Together PopMaster Fabel and Anshul created this fantastic dance masterpiece that showcased Fabel's unmatched dance skills along with Anshul's creative gifts.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Things that I am thankful for (III)

Things that I am thankful for: BaulBeats

I work on the Next Level program--a State Dept project that partners with UNC's Department of Music to implement.

During the Next Level India program in Calcutta, we created space for musical fusion between Hip Hop and Baul Music--Bengali Folk Music.

During the collaboration program, the velvety smooth MC Purple Haze connected on a soulful level with the Bengali Banshee Malabika Brahma--an alumni of the State Dept program OneBeat. The outcome of their collaboration came to be known as "BaulBeats," a new musical style that we are still exploring.

Together with Sanjay Bhattacherjee and DJ 2-Tone Jones, they performed a BaulBeats rendition at a concert at the American Center in Calcutta.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Things that I am thankful for (II)

Things that I am thankful for (II): the Hawaiian-Venezuelan collaboration session.

Levantine Public Diplomacy ran the Aloha Venezuela project to bring Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar legends Keola Beamer and Jeff Peterson, and Kumu Hula Moanalani Beamer, to Venezuela. On the first day in Caracas, we connected with the Grupo Eduardo Betencourt at the U.S. Ambassador's residence.

The residence has been vacant for almost 4 years, in wake of Venezuela and the U.S. pulling their respective ambassadors. Yet the place became alive with the magical sounds of Hawaiian-Venezuelan collaboration.

In the collaboration, we were joined by two OneBeat fellows Manuel and Omar. Together, we filled the residence with the beautiful sounds of cultural exchange.



Following the jam session, we had a bit of gastrodiplomacy with an incredible Venezuelan-style Hawaiian luau, and sipped fine Diplomatico rum.

Friday, November 28, 2014

#TigerMom

Things that I am thankful for (I)

16 Tons



Things that I am thankful for: 16 Tons. I put together a project to send the Grammy-nominated Dulcinea Dellas to Brazil for the World Cup. This was done with a dream of having Della Mae play at the spectacular Teatro do Paiol in Curitiba.

The old gunpowder depot-turned-theater has some incredible acoustics, and this Quixote took on the Windmill of getting the Dellas there to play. The thing that this PD Knight Errant is most thankful for is the behind-the-scenes warm-up, when I am the only one there to take in the practice session and have my own private concert.

 This is the video of Della Mae performing 16 Tons at Teatro do Paiol. It was incredible. But the most incredible song was when I had it to myself-- hearing the song bounce of the walls of the empty gunpowder depot.

The Art of Stillness

An interesting talk by Pico Iyer on the art of stillness.


Interestingly, I find my stillness when sitting on a long bus or train ride. I can just sit and stare out the window at life going by without the distraction of the internet, just kept company by a book or my music. Not so much a plane because there is the distraction of the tv monitor, where I catch up on pop movie culture. But when I can sit and stare out the window for hours across the lush countryside of Bengal or Guatemala, or wherever, I can reconnect with past places and past journeys--and there I find my stillness albeit while in motion.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hip Hop Diplomacy

The Avid Listener has a great 4-part series on hip hop diplomacy and the Next Level program (I, II, III, IV).  

Help Sanjay's Jungle Music School!

Hey musical friends and humanitarians! Help support Sanjay Bhattacherjee's wonderful project to teach tribal youth in West Bengal! His school only has two guitars, which are shared among 35 students. Help bring more music to this incredible jungle music school!

Gastrodiplomacy, with a side of pumpkin pie

Almost a century ago, the U.S. tried to export Thanksgiving as an international holiday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Nation Doesn’t Know If It Can Take Another Bullshit Speech About Healing

From The Onion, the nation's only real news source: Nation Doesn’t Know If It Can Take Another Bullshit Speech About Healing

WASHINGTON—In the wake of a grand jury’s divisive decision not to charge Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, a weary American populace told reporters Tuesday that they are not sure if they can take another bullshit speech about healing. “If I have to watch some politician, law enforcement official, or pretty much anyone regurgitate the same meaningless platitudes about setting aside our differences and coming together as a nation, I might just lose it,” said Atlanta resident Samantha Hubbard, echoing the sentiment of hundreds of millions of Americans who are uncertain if they can stomach even a single empty call for respect and civility. “I honestly don’t know if I’m physically capable of listening to another community leader recite the same unbearable garbage about how it’s time for an open and honest dialogue. I swear to God, if I hear even one goddamn person assert there’s more that unites us than divides us, I will immediately blow my brains out.” At press time, the nation was particularly apprehensive at the prospect of a bullshit speech that declared words were not enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Matuto's Africa Suite release concert

Cultural diplomacy friends in NYC, check out Matuto's "Africa Suite" EP Release Event at Joe's Pub on November 24.

On their American Music Abroad tour, Matuto toured Mozambique, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Each member of the band was tasked with writing a song for each respective country.

This is the outcome of that cultural diplomacy project! Here is a vid from the Ivory Coast track:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The whirlwind

Once again, I am at a loss for words.  The incredible Next Level Bangladesh program has just concluded, with a thunderous performance at Shilpakala--the national auditorium of Bangladesh.  




The Next Level Bangladesh artists and NL Dhaka Academy gave a flawless performance that put Dhaka on the map as the hip hop capital of South Asia.  


The NL program gave legitimacy to a burgeoning hip hop community, and gave them a huge platform on which to showcase their immense talents.  They went from the backstreets to the biggest performance hall in Bangladesh.  Fully packed beyond the brim auditorium, with a mob outside trying to get into the show.  Hall filled with tv crews and print media. 

And they flawlessly rocked it. 
And the collaboration with legendary Bangladesh Baul singers was one of the finest cultural exchanges I have ever seen or heard.

This residency was a dream-come-true for the Dhaka hip hop community, and they rose to the challenge and seized the moment. The NL Bangladesh team was incredible, and truly got the most out of their students.  They legitimized hip hop in Dhaka. 

The team members Asheru and Jocelyn even met the Nobel Laureate Dr. Mohammud Yunis, who publicly welcomed them at an event.  He literally stopped the event to welcome the Next Level Hip Hop Artists to Bangladesh, and invited them to speak about their experiences in Dhaka.  

Our students had their parents coming to their first shows ever.  The NL Dhaka Academy was an opportunity like no other for the Dhaka hip hop community, and they made the absolute most of it.

Already some of our Dhaka artists are being invited to perform and discuss the NL Bangladesh program at the Hay Festival, Bangladesh's premier literary festival.
And the partners we had were peerless.  The indomitable Team Dhaka of the US Embassy to Bangladesh was the best team we have worked with yet.  The embassy went above and beyond.  From the ambassador on down, this post exceeded all expectation.

The program was a stirring reminder of the universal nature of hip hop, and its ability to connect communities like no other form of music that exists.  Hip hop diplomacy is what jazz diplomacy once was--and I am so proud to be a part of a program that is nothing short of the next generation of the famed Jazz Ambassadors program.

Following the conclusion of the program, we left Dhaka. Two member stayed on in Dubai for a few days, and the other two went home to America.  I had a 7 hour layover, so I left the airport and joined Amirah and Asheru for some humus, kebabs and hookah in Dubai.


I returned to the airport and caught an early morning flight to Athens via Istanbul, where i am presently lounging with my Greeek girlfriend Marianna at her lovely apartment.  I presented her with a lovely pearl necklace from Bangladesh's famed pearls.  I was met in return with homemade stuffed peppers filled with rice, raisins and pinenuts, and homemade spanakopita, and apple cake for dessert.  

I am taking a few days to relax after the whirlwind that was the NL Bangladesh program, with its unending traffic and overflow of emotion from the incredible program,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dear Leader would like to sing with you

Umm. Yeah, so I was just at Pyongyang--a North Korean Restaurant and Karoke bar in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Kimchi, bibimbap and endless visions of the workers' paradise.

Juche and gastrodiplomacy at its finest.

All the North Korean waitstaff also doubled as a karoke band, and put it down on the drums, bass, sax and synthesizer. I did a duet on the karoke, it was epic.

It was all fun and games, until a rowdy band of drunken Chinese fellas took over the karoke stage. But we made friends over soju, and they did a love song in honor of our group, so it was cool.

My head is bursting with surreality.

PS: Thankfully, Prof. Mark Katz was able to smuggle some photos out of Pyongyang. He really put his life at risk to get such evidence out of Pyongyang, and should be commended for it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rest Day

I spent the evening in a pearl market, watching the Chinese and the Bengalis duke it out over strands of pink and grey pearls. Two of the oldest, savviest bargainers going head-to-head. It was a mercantile meeting of the civilizations.
The night ended with me scarfing done a supernaga chili burger. At first the clerk didn't want to sell it to me.
"Too hot," he said.
I replied not to look at me like a gora, but rather as a light Desi.
The burger was H.O.T.
It was a fiery nirvana.

Dhaka streets

Riding through the naked, unclogged streets of Dhaka in a van full of a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim American breakdancer artist and three African-American hip hop artists.

Sounds like the beginning of a good joke.

The rarity was the empty streets.

The streets of Dhaka could swallow a car.  Swallow you up whole.  Potholes like endless valleys.

It is so packed it takes an hour and a half to go 10k, only 6 miles.  That isn't even rush hour, just a normal day.

The Honorable Asheru recommended a rickshaw lane.  I upped it to an elevated rickshaw lane.

Built by the Dutch for good public diplomacy.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Rabin, I remember you

This is slain PM Yitzhak Rabin lighting a cigarette with King Hussein after they signed a peace deal between Israel and Jordan.

And then I think about the chickenshit, chickenhawk leaders that Israel has today (Bibi, Yvette, Boogie), and I want to light up a cigarette myself :(

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Bangla

Nationwide blackout.  City-wide strikes.  The distinct possibility of armor-plated convoys.  And me, running a hip hop academy.  Looks like it is time for this public diplomacy knight-errant to ride again.  I live for this shit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Plato

TY to Marianna for this delight:

I will tell you a tale; not one of the tales which Odysseus tells to the hero Alcinous, yet this too is a tale of a hero, Er the son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth. He was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world. He said that when his soul left the body he went on a journey with a great company, and that they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth; they were near together, and over against them were two other openings in the heaven above. In the intermediate space there were judges seated, who commanded the just, after they had given judgment on them and had bound their sentences in front of them, to ascend by the heavenly way on the right hand; and in like manner the unjust were bidden by them to descend by the lower way on the left hand; these also bore the symbols of their deeds, but fastened on their backs. He drew near, and they told him that he was to be the messenger who would carry the report of the other world to men, and they bade him hear and see all that was to be heard and seen in that place.

Then he beheld and saw on one side the souls departing at either opening of heaven and earth when sentence had been given on them; and at the two other openings other souls, some ascending out of the earth dusty and worn with travel, some descending out of heaven clean and bright. And arriving ever and anon they seemed to have come from a long journey, and they went forth with gladness into the meadow, where they encamped as at a festival; and those who knew one another embraced and conversed, the souls which came from earth curiously inquiring about the things above, and the souls which came from heaven about the things beneath. And they told one another of what had happened by the way, those from below weeping and sorrowing at the remembrance of the things which they had endured and seen in their journey beneath the earth (now the journey lasted a thousand years), while those from above were describing heavenly delights and visions of inconceivable beauty.

The story, Glaucon, would take too long to tell; but the sum was this: He said that for every wrong which they had done to any one they suffered tenfold; or once in a hundred years -- such being reckoned to be the length of man's life, and the penalty being thus paid ten times in a thousand years. If, for example, there were any who had been the cause of many deaths, or had betrayed or enslaved cities or armies, or been guilty of any other evil behavior, for each and all of their offenses they received punishment ten times over, and the rewards of beneficence and justice and holiness were in the same proportion. . . .

Now when the spirits which were in the meadow had tarried seven days, on the eighth they were obliged to proceed on their journey, and, on the fourth day after, he said that they came to a place where they could see from above a line of light, straight as a column, extending right through the whole heaven and through the earth, in color resembling the rainbow, only brighter and purer; another day's journey brought them to the place, and there, in the midst of the light, they saw the ends of the chains of heaven let down from above: for this light is the belt of heaven, and holds together the circle of the universe. From these ends is extended the spindle of Necessity, on which all the revolutions turn. . . .

Now the whole spindle has the same motion; but, as the whole revolves in one direction, the seven inner circles move slowly in the other, . . . The spindle turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the upper surface of each circle is a siren, who goes round with them, hymning a single tone or note. The eight together form one harmony; and round about, at equal intervals, there is another band, three in number, each sitting upon her throne: these are the Fates, daughters of Necessity, who are clothed in white robes and have chaplets upon their heads, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, who accompany with their voices the harmony of the sirens -- Lachesis singing of the Past, Clotho of the Present, Atropos of the Future; Clotho from time to time assisting with a touch of her right hand the revolution of the outer circle of the whorl or spindle, and Atropos with her left hand touching and guiding the inner ones, and Lachesis laying hold of either in turn, first with one hand and then with the other.

When Er and the spirits arrived, their duty was to go at once to Lachesis; but first of all there came a prophet who arranged them in order; then he took from the knees of Lachesis lots and samples of lives, and having mounted a high pulpit, spoke as follows:

"Hear the word of Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity. Mortal souls, behold a new cycle of life and mortality. Your genius will not be allotted to you, but you will choose your genius; and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and the life which he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue is free, and as a man honors or dishonors her he will have more or less of her; the responsibility is with the chooser -- Theos is justified."
-Plato, The Republic

Saturday, October 25, 2014

By the rivers of Babylon...

I was chatting with my friend Omar.  Sarsamovich, if ever there was a good Jewish doctor.

Omar is an Iraqi Christian.  First, he was forced to flee Mosul.  Then he was forced to flee Iraq.

He is now safer in France, and I pray he stays there.

He once told me that after it was the Jews to flee Iraq, so next it will be the Christians. After Saturday, comes Sunday.

So true.

It is sad to think that he, and many more, had a better life under Saddam, but it is so.

There are deeper existential questions that plague Iraq.  First of which being: is it even a country.

Besides British deigns and designs, what does Mosul have in common with Basra beyond oil and the Tigris?

What did America know about invading Iraq?

By the rivers of Babylon, I wept for the mess we caused.


The Yugloslav Ambassador to Zimbabwe

As a taker of titles, real and imagined, I just added a new one: The Ambassador of Yugoslavia to Zimbabwe.

As I was passing through Harare, driving along signs for Embassies in the capital, I spied a sign for the Embassy of Yugoslavia.

Been a while since that Post was filled.

Hmm...given that I have been in Yugoslavia more recently than most Zimbabweans, I decided that perhaps I could take on the role of Ambassador.  At least I have the Yugoslav flag on my laptop, I figure that makes me a rarity in Harare.

So there it is.  Adding to my growing list of titles, I am taking on the Ambassadorship of Yugoslavia to Zimbabwe.  I figure it is probably a long vacant post.

I may have to kick some squatters out of the embassy residence, but it shouldn't be too hard.  No one is exactly expecting the Ambassador to return.

I would probably have to present my credentials to President Mugabe.  I think he might be a little puzzled by the exercise.  But a little rakija should smooth out the diplomatic formalities.

But I figure I have a better claim to most, given that I spent my summer in Yugoslavia, and I doubt many other in Zimbabwe could proffer the same.

I will add the title up there with Chief Rabbi of Lesotho and Tajikistan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Blaming the Boomers


Readers of this post have no doubt seen articles admonishing millennials for their perceived apocalyptic effect on the workforce, society, family and everywhere in between. The seemingly endless list of complaints about millennials begins with lazy and pampered, and ends with “selfies.” The accusations, guilt and fear-mongering are unfounded and – even worse – are mostly blame-shifting. Frankly, I am tired of it. What makes the millennial-bashing even more unbearable is the generation that is slinging the mud: the baby boomers.
Baby boomers came of age in an era of unprecedented prosperity. They were raised by parents who had survived poverty, war and the true sacrifice of a generation burdened with great moral struggles. As a whole, they experienced economic and physical security. Baby boomers received, by today’s standards, inexpensive and widely available education, preparing them for a thriving and open job market. Success at the beginning created a strong foundation for financial and personal success on a level the world had never known.
This led to America’s greatest asset: the middle class. So what did they do with all their good fortune? From the time the baby boomers took over, the United States has experienced an economic environment plagued with unfounded asset and real-estate bubbles and collapses. The bubbles were caused by blind greed on the part of investors, and a blind eye on the part of regulators. The baby boomers forced the financial and banking system out of relative security to high-risk systems.
The perfect example of this was the 2008 collapse of the toxic housing debt market. In government, baby boomers ballooned the defense budget beyond the point of reason. They then raided government programs to pay for their mistakes. Regarding the environment, baby boomers left the United States reliant on coal (cough, cough) while eroding the advanced nuclear energy infrastructure built by their parents. We can thank baby boomer leadership for a nation that has no sound policy on foreign affairs, the environment, energy, social welfare, human rights, terrorism, technology development, education, debt, etc. The point being, baby boomer leadership has provided America with a government that is the most partisan and self-serving the union has ever seen, and remains entirely reactive to the world around it.

The Gathering

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands...
-Revelation 7:9





Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Place

The Place by C.P. Cavafy
ευχαριστώ, Marianna

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

You said: “I will go hence to another land,
I will betake me to another sea.
A better place than this may well be found.
All my endeavours are foredoomed to fail,
and as though dead my heart is sepulchred.
How long shall this corrosion sap my brain?
On every side — whichever way I look —
dark ruins of my life confront me here
where I have spent and wrecked so many years.”

You shall not find new places; other seas
you shall not find. The place shall follow you.
And you shall walk the same familiar streets,
and you shall age in the same neighbourhood,
and whiten in these same houses. Ever this place
shall you arrive at. There is neither ship,
nor road, for you, to bring you otherwhere.
As here, in this small nook, you wrecked your life,
even so you spoilt it over all the earth.

Where the Midwest meets Southern Africa

The strangest thing is that Harare reminds me of an African Tulsa or African Phoenix.  Said probably no one else ever....





Share a coke with....


Cubola

Interestingly, Cuba is in the lead on the international front line on the fight against Ebola.  Not entirely a surprise, Cuba has been sending medical teams to Africa for years-- as well as military forces.  There was a time when Cuba had the most foreign fighters in Africa, serving as shock troops for the Soviets.  I have some of my own personal theories of how the Apartheid South African went after them in Angola but that is a different story.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Paris to Dakar to Harare

As is par for the course these days, I am at a loss for words and for time to encapsulate the worlds I am passing through....

I barely know where to begin these days.  First I was in Sarajevo, then I was in Suburbia, and immediately thereafter I was in Paris, joined by my girlfriend Marianna.  Yes, I have a girlfriend now.  A Greek one at that.

And she met me in Paris, and we did it up Parisian style over red wine and stinky cheese and steak tartare and Rodin and the Mona Lisa and La Tosca at the Bastille.  But that isn't what I am updating about.

And then I was in Dakar.  The former capital of French West Africa was a treat.  Hanging out under baobabs and banyans.  Wonderful people, and surprisingly great food.  I am now a huge fan of poulet yassa, a grilled leg and thigh of chicken covered in a rich sauce of grilled onions, olives and a lil peppery spice over rice.

Dakar reminded me of an African Morocco, and has an incredibly vibrant hip hop scene that I visited for the upcoming NL program in January.  The people were incredible, and so friendly and kind.  I truly loved it.  We found partners to work with, and a wonderful seaside paradise to stay in come January.  I even took the morning ferry to Goree Island, the infamous slave island but the pastel colonial island was not quite open yet in the morning hours. But that isn't what I am updating about.

What I am updating about is my return to Southern Africa, and the surprising wonderfulness of Harare.  For starters, the fact that I was coming from Senegal gave the Zimbabweans pause as they were convinced I had Ebola or was coming from an outbreak area.  It doesn't matter that Senegal has had exactly ONE case of Ebola, and they quarantined the shit out of that fellow--unlike the U.S. which sent their case home and told him to take two aspirin and come back in the morning.  But they did ultimately let me in.

Harare is surprisingly tranquil, with wide boulevards covered in purple jacaranda canopies.  I even spent a little time in a building designed as a termite mound.

I expected that gritty Jo-Burg feel, and actually was anticipating even more precariousness, but thankfully I was wrong.  Instead, I found a nostalgia for the 1990s, when Zim was booming and was a poster child of the "African Renaissance" before the economy went off the rails in the early 2k over the appropriation of land from the white Zim farmers.  Not a bad idea in theory, but for the "breadbasket of Southern Africa," such willful and capricious takeovers caused the farming industry to tank and FDI to shrivel.  And then the currency, which had been one-to-one with the dollar went turboed.  I had a Trillion Zim Dollar note in my wallet for years.

And of course, I should describe the food.  At a great grill, I had a wonderfully rich beef stew with corn meal and collards.  The Zims say their beef is better than South Africa, which I find hard to believe but I am will to test.

But the place still has a placid charm to it.  It feels like a suburban American city, like an African Tulsa or Phoenix without the mountains.  Salisbury.  And a surprisingly decent skyline that harks back to better booming days,

And it has an easy going spirit so long as you don't get into the politics.  I spent the night at a fun club called "Pariah State," which sums up the sardonic sense that the Zimbabweans have.  It was a posh lounge of which I was among the handful of whites, and made me hopeful for Zim's future--if only it can get through its present.

But Zim was always different than South Africa.  Even during the Rhodesia years, while the racial system was off, it was not as fragmented as apartheid South Africa.  It didn't have the same meanness that the Apartheid system possessed, albeit it was still not good.

I asked my Zim friends why Harare was not like Jo-Burg, and the basic answer I got was that the disparity in wealth is not as profound.  Many of my friends in Harare mentioned how precarious South Africa felt even to them because of the crime situation.

I had such misconceptions of Zim and Harare borne out of skewed imagery and media distortions. I am not saying this to downplay the problems it has, they are manifold.  But it is not remotely what I expected.

As usual, I wouldn't know if I didn't go.