Thursday, February 27, 2014

On Culinary Diplomacy

My culinary diplomacy colleague Sam has a great podcast on The Public Diplomat on Culinary Diplomacy. Sam gives a great response to Prof. Seib's dismissal of gastrodiplomacy, how it fits in the canon of public diplomacy and on why this field matters in the long-term.

Hip Hop Puts America In A Good Light Through The State Department's Cultural Ambassador Program

A Nice Indian Boy redux

On my way back from India a few years ago, I stopped in my friend Madhuri's reading of her play "A Nice Indian Boy."  It was terrific, and I wrote so at the time.  Now her play is being put on in LA by the EastWest Players.  When it wins a Tony, I will be proud to say that I saw it in its infant stages.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Syria Today

This is Syria today. This is a refugee line for food distribution. Take a good look.


Oriole's manager Buck Showalter handed out some homework to a player who didn't know who Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was.  

What is different? What is the same?

"The more I thought about that question the more the question changed for me. I could write a long list of the differences between SF and Boston or the US and India, or India and Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and so on for any of the places I have visited on our large but increasingly smaller planet. What continually strikes me on this trip is not what is different but what is the same. No I don’t mean the fact that the brand name box stores are everywhere. That makes me sad BTW.

I mean the people. The smiles on the faces of people who don’t speak the same language when music ignites a circuit between them. The people and their willingness to help you when you greet them in broken Russian asking for directions. Their desire to share what is unique and quintessential about their culture or daily experience. Every human I have met on this trip, from our Foreign Service Officers, to our local staff to the military at the Metro, to the hotel staff, to the musicians in all our collaborations, has been open, smiling and wanting to make a personal connection with those around them.

Above all the audiences…In every city we have done at least one free and open to the public concert. Sometimes we get to work with students at music colleges or students of English at the American Center. From the first notes of every show, the electricity is palpable. In most cases the audiences have only needed permission to participate and then we are off and running. We are fueled by every face we look into. We are fueled as they raise their voices to sing along. Clapping along on songs we would never have expected and now will come to miss, if it doesn’t happen when we return home. The separation between stage and the people seems to have never existed at all. We haven’t needed to tear down or kick in the fourth wall. We need only to look across it and the energy comes streaming back. We are all high on this connection. We leave each show energized. We should be dragging and weary after all this travel, but instead we are excited for the next adventure. "
-Laura Cortese of Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards on their American Music Abroad tour to India, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

I love this.  This is the connection that cultural diplomacy brings.  This is why we do what we do.

There was a band on the first day of the American Music Abroad audition.  I took them aside and said to them: "You are first.  There are many bands to follow you.  My advice is that you make yourself memorable."

And they did.

And they were selected to go out on an American Music Abroad tour.

And tour, they did.

Through the enigma that is India, Bengal and Absurdistan.

Congrats to Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards for a wonderful tour.  I know you made us all proud as music ambassadors.  I can only imagine the wonderful musical adventures you had.

The dog that didn't bark

"The XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, ended just as they began: with an ostentatious, exhaustive, and carefully scripted celebration of Russian heritage and culture.

The 17 days of athletic competition featured all the riveting performances, unexpected disappointments, and weather-related updates that one would expect. However, there was one event that U.S. politicians and pundits discussed for months -- which some described as inevitable -- that never occurred: a terrorist attack.

In the lead-up to the Winter Olympics, a fear-mongering media merely listened to alarmist policymakers and privileged the aspirational statements of marginalized terrorist groups. By irresponsibly providing little context for such threatening language, the media conditioned citizens to assume that violent attacks against innocent people were a near certainty."
-Micah Zenko

And other Olympic alarmism.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

Of gastrodiplomacy interest

-Public Diplomacy Magazine's much-anticipated edition on gastrodiplomacy has hit the newsstands.  You can get an advanced PDF copy here.  Congrats to the PDMag editorial board for putting out such a wonderful issue on this delicious topic!

-The Economist on the role of Peruvian cuisine as an incubator for cultural diplomacy, tourism and business:
The Peruvian capital has become a gastronomic mecca. Until recently, tourists headed straight for Cusco, the former Inca capital, and the ruins of Machu Picchu. Now some 75,000 visit Lima every year solely to enjoy its food, spending an average of $1,250 each, according to the tourist-industry association. Maximixe, a consultancy, estimates that restaurants alone account for 3% of Peru’s GDP and that the sector is growing faster than the economy as a whole. Gastronomy has become an export industry: several hundred Peruvian restaurants, many of them franchises, have been set up across the world in the past decade, according to Apega, the industry lobby.
-My culinary diplomacy colleague Sam Chapple-Sokol on American culinary diplomacy at the Milan Expo 2015.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Peter Beinart has a good response for what liberal Zionists should say when called "naive" by the right wing. I always laughed at those who told me I was a liberal naif, considering that I had been to many more parts of the Middle East 

Oh, Russia...

The Death of FDR

Verily, a great man hath passed. FDR is dead. All we have to fear is stupidity itself...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bruce Springsteen won the Cold War


After going on a House of Cards season 2 binge all day due to a world gone snow globe, I finally got myself out of the apartment and into the snowy tundra.  I was off to meet up with my gastrodiplomacy buddy Braden on Saturday night for some gastrodiplomacy foraging. Braden and I have foraged around Queens prior.   This time, we had settled on Central Asian fare in Rego Park, affectionately known as "Queensistan" for its Bukharan Jewish community.

I caught the 4 train up to Grand Central, and then the 7 line over to Queens.  I passed the once-hallowed ground of 5 points, which was recently savagely painted over. 

I met Braden at his residence in Sunny Side, and got to meet his fiance Robin.  We sipped some incredible Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9, which Braden had got a case of for the Monopoly equivalent of bank error in your favor.  Basically he got three bottles of whiskey worth a grand a piece for $50 a bottle.  This whiskey was exquisitely smooth with just a lil hint of smoke on the tongue.  He filled up a flask for the frozen road, as we were off into the snow drifts of Hoth.

Once more into the fray 
Into the last good fight I'll ever know 
Live and die on this day 
Live and die on this day
-The Grey

We ventured out into the tundra with the winds whipping snow in our faces.  Poor Braden had a recent injury with bursitis in his heel, and was unable to wear shoes with a back (ie boots) and was trekking in the snow in waterproof clogs.  Not fun.  But funny because in Rockower Bros. lexicon from Madden days, a bursitis injury was nomenclature for being a wuss.  It was strangely odd to hear of how debilitating bursitis actually was, when for so many years it held such a place of traves-shamockery.

On the open-air above-ground subway line, we waited on the back edge to get out of the swirling snow gale. Central Asian teens had snowball fights on the end of the platform as we waited.   We caught the 7 over to the R train to the snowbanks of Rego Park.  We trudged through the elements, searching out Queensistan joint to dine.

We ended up at a place called Registan.  I chose it because I had been to the Registan in Samarkand.  We entered the restaurant and sat down to watch the U.S.-Russia hockey game.  The menu had tons of Central Asian favorites, although we did not get the plov.

Instead, we had plates of tangy carrot salad with coriander and purple beet salad with scallions and walnuts. They also brought out the beautiful round Uzbek/Central Asian bread in its donut-ish shape with an indented center.

We had a plate of samsas- triangular meat pies that are like a Central Asian empananda.  Braden said they reminded him of the Lebanese spinach and meat pies, known as sfihas.  He mentioned that his Lebanese grandfather loved sfihas, and he used to sneak him some in his nursing home.  He also mentioned that when his grandfather passed away, all his cousins came together to mourn him.  Braden went over to the favorite sfiha pastry shop and got a couple of boxes that he brought over to his mourning cousins.  Everyone stood around munching sfihas and smiling about how his grandfather would have been pleased.

The main courses came out, and we had a plate of manti- Central Asian dumplings oozing with meat grease which we poured dill vinegar drops inside.

We split a plate of shashlik- long skewers of meat.  We had a veal, chicken skirt steak skewer- all were delicious and cheap at $3.50-$4 a skewer.  I picked at the skewered meats with hunks of the soft, crusty bread and sprinkled on pinches of salt and drops of chili sauce.  The Central Asian fare was a delicious reminder of a previous adventure, and nice to introduce to Braden.

After dinner, we ventured out back into the snow to visit a Thai cocktail bar.  I opted for a simple Chang Beer, but Braden got a Tom Yum cocktail based on the soup.  It was a strange concoction, with bits of lemongrass and a burning red Thai chili pepper.  I munch a bite of the pepper, and felt a line of sweat across my brow.  It was super spicy, but a welcome return since I hadn't had such a hot sensation since Mexico. I later took a second bite, which was equally hot.  I followed that too soon after with a third chomp of the pepper, and my hubris was rewarded with a chili punch to the stomach.  I think the burning pepper set-off a Central Asian grease fire in my stomach. 

Swiss fighters grounded during hijacking as outside office hours

God Bless Switzerland.  No jets were scrambled during the Ethiopian Air hijacking because it wasn't during office hours.

"Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend," he said, adding: "It's a question of budget and staffing."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Exploitation 2.0

Exploitation 2.0: Millennials Trapped in a Cycle of Internships With Little Pay & No Job Offers. h/t DL.

Stein on Eating

"Nothing is more interesting than something you eat."
-Gertrude Stein

MAD World

I am madness maddened.
-Captain Ahab

Working backwards a week...

I ventured out last saturday to visit the Museum of Art and Design.  I hadn't heard of it before, but my friend Miles had recommend it, and he is a pretty good judge of cool things.

On my way out of Brooklyn, I picked up a used copy of Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents ("Das Unbehagen in der Kultur") for a dollar from a bookseller outside the subway.  I chatted with Lennox the bookseller from Guyana.  We talked of warmer weather in California, where he had never been but was interested in seeing the Pacific if only once.  I slipped the small red book comfortably into the beige pocket of the soft beige camel-hair coat.

It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement -- that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.

I hopped the 3 train, and switched to the 1 local to get to 59th and Columbus Circle on the cusp of Central Park.  I had been in the area once prior, but had not seen the building of interesting design.

I entered into a world of bling.  There was an exquisite exhibition on Fashion Jewelry.  Collections of Channel jewelry with pearls as big as grapes.  Pearl garlic slivers.  All sparkles and stones.  It was pretty stunning.

There were diamond bow ties with emerald center pieces.  Gold ravens with red saphire eyes and diamond collars.  Emerald peregrine falcons.  I found a diamond and glass praying mantis and grass hopper.
I kept wandering through the exhibits, including one on ceramics called Body and Soul.  I found an utterly bizarre yet wonderful collection of figurines by Jessica Harrison that can only be titled "The Porcelain Dead"

Much of the museum dealt with imagining the future of art based on 3D printing and futuristic designs in a wonderful collection called Out of Hand.  Paul's predictions on the future: 3D printing will revolutionize fashion, design and jewelry design.

After an enjoyable romp through the museum, I wandered through the snow-covered Central Park, and over to Rizzoli- a nice, old fashioned bookstore on W. 57th.  I wandered through the stacks, searching for a birthday gift for my friend Dani. I settled on the immaculate Shantaram for him; for me, I bought a book of phantasmal creatures from Borges.  

On my way down to purchase the books, I stumbled on a 4 foot edition of Sebastião Salgado's Genesis.  I laid out the giant book on a giant table, and called over the French book store clerk to show her my treasure and make sure she knew what was in her store.  

I was first introduced to Salgado's work a decade ago in Prague at his exhibition Exodus, an exhibit that left me riveted.  I was stunned that he was able to find such incredible beauty in the most dire places.  It was if you felt guilty for being so mesmerized by the tragedy wrapped in beauty.  I had a similar experience later on that chapter,  behind my own lens in Auschwitz in autumn.  The changing color of the leaves on the white bark trees and the symmetry of the barbed wire on the red bricks were horrifically beautiful, and I felt empty for finding beauty in such horror.

But Genesis was different.  This was far more elemental and expansive.  Free from the emotions of Exodus but equally beautiful  I slowly flipped the 3 foot page pictures, gasping and sighing. 

After a jaunt back to Brooklyn to drop my camera, I headed north through Brooklyn up to Williamsburg for my old friend Dani's birthday.  We started out at Cafe Argentino, where we drank fernet and coke, and sipped malbec over morellas (sweet breads in cognac sauce) and medium-rare Bife de Chorizo.  How could I maintain my veggie-ness at an Argentine steak joint?  Besides, like hugging my shomer negiah friend Bethy because I knew her before she was as such, I had ex post facto relations to Argentine meat that had precedence over veggitude.

After a delicious Argentine meal, we headed over to my old friend Heidi's place for a party for Dani, before we hopped a party bus into a Bulgarian disco bar.  The Bulgarian disco bar had an Ice Cage, which offered all-you-could-guzzle vodka in the iced room for 2 minutes.  It was a baaad idea.

Let's just say I ended up falling asleep on the subway home.  I think I might have been in Brooklyn when I dozed.  I woke up in THE BRONX.  That means I slept to the end of the line in Brooklyn, back up through Brooklyn and through Manhattan to ultimately arrive in the northern tip of the Big Apple.  Not the best of moves.

I switch tracks and headed back south.  But even that was a struggle.  I usually take the 3 to get to my stop.  I caught the 2 and was heading south, but got off to try to switch to the 3.  I waited a while so I caught the next 2 as the station was cold.  So a few stops down, i got off again to try for the 3.  After watching a few 2 trains pass, I realized that the 3 was not running late night.  So I got back on the 2 and took it down to Franklin Ave to switch to a 4 train gone local.

I finally made it home at close to 6am. Not pretty.

Was the taco invented in Southern California?

An interesting piece on the culinary and migratory history of the taco in the journal Gastronomica.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Hot Valentine's Date with Zoe Barnes; the Frank Underwood of Tech Support

I had planned on a hot Valentine's date with Zoe Barnes, and was intent on watching the new season of House of Cards.

I re-signed up for Netflix, which I had been without for about 4 years to do so.  Good idea, except the f'ing video wouldn't sync with the audio. It would be fine for a 20 seconds, then the video would slow down and not match the audio.  I tried different browsers.  I tried re-setting the computer, the modem and router

Then I tried to troubleshoot it with the Netflix tech support, except the fellow named Robert couldn't tell me anything other than it was to turn everything back on and off, and blamed my ISP (Internet Service Provider).  I got annoyed that he was so inept at troubleshooting beyond something my grandfather would do with his computer to fix it so I sarcastically said thanks for the help and gave him an unsatisfactory report.


Suddenly, my netflix account was in Norwegian.  And for kids only! He changed the language on my account, and changed the settings to a setting for children.

And my Netflix account was CANCELLED after this month!

I was dealing with the Frank Underwood of the Tech Support world and I had no idea!

Thankfully, google chrome translated the Norwegian, and I was able to get it back to English.

Dealing with Netflix in Norwegian already gives me more exposure to Norway than the new US Ambassador to Norway!

Next I figured out how to reset my settings to adult.

It probably took me a solid 45 minutes to correct all the shenanigans done to my account.

Given such service, I don't think I will try to change the cancellation of my service.

But I at least took the time to tweet it all to @netflix and ask if it is standard procedure to change language profiles to Norweigian and settings to KID and cancel subscriptions when unhelpful tech support are given unsatisfactory reviews.

They haven't responded.

PS: I fixed the f'ing problem on my own. Just had to turn off the HD. Found it on message boards from SCORES of people having the same issue. Maybe I should join the Netflix Norway help desk. (I already offered them my services on twitter).  Kinda crazy that this person on tech support couldn't diagnose the problem, when it only took me a bit of time to find the answer for a common problem for Netflix users.

Friday, February 14, 2014

HHH on being a liberal

“It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
-Hubert H. Humphrey

Collusion 2.0

How the St. Jobs of the Church of Apple and the Google-do-no-harmers colluded and conspired with Silicon Valley to keep tech engineers' wages lower.

PS: And other general bulshit: the NFL Commissioner earned $44mil last year.  Not bad for the CEO of a nonprofit.  I would have less issue with his take if his org was being properly taxed.

The U.S. Gets the Kurds Wrong—Again


Gastrodiplomacy case-in-point of why I love my Crown Heights neighborhood: doubles. Doubles are West Indian/Indian puri fry bread covered in channa peas, and slathered with spicy pepper sauce and tamarind. Double doubles for lunch. I'm becoming a huge fan of food from Trinidad and Tobago. Influences of India, Africa and Caribbean. I could def do some TNT gastrodiplomacy.

Cajun Country

"We squeezed in at the oyster bar, opposite a hulking man named Shrek. Talk about fresh: Shrek was dumping out bags of oysters, still covered in silt, and jimmying them open with a shucking knife. They were the bulldogs of bivalves, plump as my hand."

A great piece about Cajun life in Houma, Louisiana by Jennifer Miller in this weekend's WaPo.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

U-S-A! U-S-A!

We're number 46!  That's right, we are number 46 in Press Freedom.  Behind Romania, South Africa and Cyprus.

Take it from Lee Greenwood. "I'm proud to be an American because at least I know I'm freer than 47th-ranked Haiti" just doesn't have the same exceptionalist ring to it.

My F'ing Heroes

Vadim and Vitaly.  These fellows snuck their way up scaling the Shanghai Tower.  This is their view:

And watch the video

Mind you, these are the same fellows who snuck their way up the Pyramids in Giza.

In the running for Asshole of the Year

Gastronomic Diplomacy and London Metropolitan University

The students of London Metropolitan University's class on Public Diplomacy and Global Communication tackle gastrodiplomacy.  Prof. Rockower gives them an "A".

Of interest

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Players accused of rape? ... We're comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far"

A wonderful speech by Texas sportscaster Dale Hansen on Michael Sam's announcement that he is gay.

Selfies with Homeless People

My friend Jason Feifer is becoming (in)famous for his "Selfies" tumblr.  He did a few previous that went viral on Selfies in Serious Places and Selfies at Funerals-- the latter got a bit of help from the president at the Mandela funeral.

Well, he is at it again, and just released Selfies with Homeless People.  Thanks to some keen advice from his wife, Jason linked the Selfies with Homeless People with a tag line: Angry: May we suggest donating to City Harvest, Habitat for Humanity, or any other fine organization that helps the homeless.  Smart move--lest he be seen to be just as exploitative, and giving the project a higher goal.

Jason's project earned him a bit of media, including a piece today in USA Today.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Only in Brooklyn

My "only in Brooklyn" moment came over lunch. At the $1 pizza joint, the two guys working at the place were from Guatemala and Yemen. The Guatemalan spoke some Arabic and called his co-worker "majnoon" (crazy); the Yeminite spoke some Spanish and wanted shots of Patron.

Of interest

-The world's most interesting curses.

Like: "Go n-ithe an cat thu, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!" ("May the cat eat you, and may the devil then eat the cat." that would be Gaelic)

-Smartphones make you tired and unproductive.

On Politics

"Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other."
-Oscar Ameringer

"We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office."

Monday, February 10, 2014

City Branding for T-dot

An interesting piece on city branding, its history and its recent machinations in Toronto.  Ah huckster city branding, like its cousin nation branding, is how pr firms and graphic designers rake in big bucks for drawing pastel or pointy logos and inane, meaningless slogans for various entities.

The Sun Also Rises


Culinary Diplomacy difficulties

Leave it to the French to make culinary diplomacy difficult.  With L’affaire Hollande, the White House is left in a bit of culinary diplomacy trickiness with what to do with the empty seat next to French President Hollande.

There is a second interesting tidbit to the story:
The state dinner has long been one of the most celebrated of presidential affairs, “an event that also showcases global power and influence,” as the White House Historical Association puts it. The first president to have one for a foreign leader was Ulysses S. Grant, who in 1874 feted King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii.
Merci, JB.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Splendid Table

Kudos to my culinary diplomacy colleague Sam Chapple-Sokol for his interview on NPR's The Splendid Table on the subject! 

But I guess that's just a cutesy project and is unlikely to have any lasting effects ;)

What's in a name?

Apparently, the president of Kazakhstan is considering changing the name from K-stan to "Kazak Yeli."  Kazak Yeli means "country of the Kazakhs."  His premise is basically having a "stan" in your name links you with Afghanistan and Pakistan and all the other "icky-stans," as a stewardess once referred them to me as I was trying to explain after the Della tour of why I deserved a free drink.

He does kinda have a point that the "stan" suffix has a negative connotation for much of the Western world. But of all the 'Stans, Kazakhstan probably has the biggest nation brand recognition because of Borat.  For years Kazakhstan was indignant about the movie until the foreign minister finally fessed up and said it had been a great thing for global recognition of Kazakhstan, and that it was far more well-known than its neighbors.  With that said, I still have met a number of Americans who didn't believe I had been to Kazakhstan because they thought it was a made-up place.

And the name tinkering is not without precedent in Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev already changed the name of Alma Ata to Almaty, and changed the capital to Akmoli with a new name Astana.

My worry is that there are not a lot of people who know where Kazakhstan is, and even more will be confused by Kazak Yeli.  I would leave it as is Sr. Nazarbayev.  

Soft power, gastrodiplomacy and long-term effects

In his op-ed "Bringing a Hard Edge on Soft Power," Prof. Phil Seib took a lil shot at gastrodiplomacy:
"Soft power advocates ... have been distracted by cutesy projects such as 'gastrodiplomacy,' which may produce a few newspaper articles about the virtues of kimchi or mushy peas, but are unlikely to have any lasting effect on their audience."
While I respect Prof. Seib, I have to disagree with Uncle Phil this time.  I responded:
I have to disagree with you about the long-term effects of gastrodiplomacy, and by extension cultural diplomacy, on long-term effects on audiences. Gastrodiplomacy is simply a newer medium in the sphere of cultural diplomacy, one that understands that emotional, trans-rational long-term connections that are the basis of soft power can be just as easily made with food as music or art. There are ample examples in public diplomacy history to back up the notion that cultural diplomacy drives the long-term effects of soft power. So if you accept that one of the key drivers of soft power is cultural diplomacy, then I would not be so quick to blithely dismiss a new manner in which it is practiced.
I understand that soft power is ultimately a form of power, but I think it is short-sighted to think that long-term interests can truly be advanced by a harder edge of soft power.  I agree that public diplomacy is ultimately about the long game, but to connect to long-term interests, you have to build connections and broader relationships with foreign publics.  That comes through cultural diplomacy, be it through music, art or food.   As such, these days I am convinced there is no public diplomacy but cultural diplomacy.

Dr. John H. Brown also disagreed with such sentiments and responded with a lovely story of his diplomat father Dr. John L. Brown making connections at the dinner table :
Prof. Seib, In response to you article, which gave me a slight indigestion, may I cite a passage from an article from my father, diplomat/scholar Dr. John L. Brown (who actually practiced "public diplomacy" rather than just writing /pontificating about it), in the Foreign Service Journal (1964): 
"In the course of the inauguration, I was introduced to the ranking Belgian present, a high official from the Ministry of Education, a gifted, somewhat erratic 'intellectual of the Left.' He was known for his hostility to the United States. 
We were seated side by side at the banquet which followed the inauguration. The savory ham of the Ardennes, smoked over a juniper fire, the fresh mountain trout, lightly browned in butter with golden almonds sprinkled on their crisp skin, the tender chicken (the famous 'Coucous de Malines'), their white flesh punctuated generously with black truffles, the excellent wine, the cordial atmosphere of the old Hotel de ville all made conversation very easy. We talked about the concert, the music of Joaquim des Prez, the contributions of Belgium to medieval art, the researches of Pirenne on the Flemish cities. I found him a most pleasant companion, learned without being pedantic, animated with real enthusiasm for the past of his country. 
When the cheese came, he asked: 'But how can an American be interested in these things? Americans like only jazz.' I said that of course many Americans did like only jazz and in this they were like many Europeans. But, I went on, the organizer and director of the ensemble which played for us is an American and there are many such groups in the United States, which are specialized in ancient music. We began to speak about musical education, about Julliard and Curtis and Eastman, about the place that music occupies in the public educational system in America. We parted friends. We continued to see each other. I am still in correspondence with him."
--John L. Brown, "But what do you do,"  American Diplomacy (reprint of 1964 Foreign Service article)

Friday, February 07, 2014

Dealings between Yahweh and Lucifer

“Suppose neutral angels were able to talk Yahweh and Lucifer – God and Satan, to use their popular titles – into settling out of court. What would be the terms of the compromise? Specifically, how would they divide the assets of their earthly kingdom?

Would God be satisfied the loaves and fishes and itty-bitty thimbles of Communion wine, while Satan to have the red-eye gravy, eighteen-ounce New York steaks, and buckets of chilled champagne? Would God really accept twice-a-month lovemaking for procreative purposes and give Satan the all night, no-holds-barred, nasty “can’t-get-enough-of-you” hot-as-hell-fucks?

Think about it. Would Satan get New Orleans, Bangkok, and the French Riviera and God get Salt Lake City? Satan get ice hockey, God get horseshoes? God get bingo, Satan get stud poker? Satan get LSD; God, Prozac? God get Neil Simon; Satan, Oscar Wilde?”
-Tom Robbins, "Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates"

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Why is it so hard to find a good Filipino restaurant?

A good question from PRI's The World.

I would attribute it to an underperforming nation brand and a nonexistent edible nation brand.  All easily remedied by the Philippines conducting more public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy, including outreach to engage its diaspora (the second-largest in the US!) to be cultural ambassadors.


Olympic roundup

-Why Sochi?

-Move over Jamaican bobsled team, meet East Timor's alpine entry for Sochi

-"We are looking for Drunks and Blacks," sayeth the raping Cossack hordes who are guarding Sochi.  Yes, thanks for the reminder of why we left the Pale of the Settlement so many years prior.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Support liberal arts education in Pakistan

Here is a great cause to support: teaching critical thinking, tolerance and creativity to under-privileged students in Pakistan. Help support Rabtt, an education initiative founded by former Seeds of Peace camper Aneeq Cheema in Pakistan three years ago.

Rabtt launched a crowdfunding campaign to help gather funds to help scale up their work to at least six schools in the summer 2014. This will mean a greater access to quality liberal arts education for 240 Pakistani children.

Please consider helping out with this excellent program.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Last words on America the Beautiful

In praise of Jeopardy game-theory

How to break Jeopardy, and why that is incredibly strategic and brilliant.

Turkey: Home of Absurd Promo Posters

My friend Efe has a great post on some strange nationbranding by Turkey.

I think they are missing Turkey: Home of Mustaches

And home of mustache implants...

Curry Connections

Is Mexican mole really Mughal curry?  Read up on some gastrodiplomacy history of the historical culinary connections between New Spain and the medieval Islamic world in a fascinating piece by Rachel Laudan ("Cuisine and Empire")


Some exciting news to share: I am going to be running in-country programming for a new State Dept Hip Hop program. Over the next year, I will be running three-week hip hop, DJ and break dance cultural diplomacy programs in Serbia, Bosnia, India, Bangladesh, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

And if you don't know, now you know...

And to think of all of those people who laughed at me when I was 13, wearing superbaggy jeans and spending my allowance on The Source and mixtapes.  Who's laughing now?!?

Sunday, February 02, 2014

A return to Charm City

working backwards...

The idea came to me on a thursday.  I was in the supermarket shopping for my Grandfather, when the idea hit me that I could make an escape from suburbia up to Baltimore for the weekend.  It was an easy enough idea to implement, and I was off the following day.

After a wonderful gastrodiplomacy Peruvian lunch at Las Canteras with the PD Div of the Peru Embassy, I headed over to Union Station and was just in time to catch the MARC (not Acela!) train to Baltimore.  We sped out of the city and across white frozen Marylandia tundra.  We arrived shortly in Charm City, and it was nice to be back.

I meandered down to the hostel and checked in.  I hit the happy hour at favorite old speakeasy watering hole of The Owl Bar. After happy hour, I wandered out looking for a good Pakistani restaurant I had found prior, but no such luck.  I opted for cheap fair of a veggie delite at Subway.  The proprietor of the place was Moroccan, and between wonderful reminiscing over the Maghreb, I chided him for knowing what real food is (couscous, tajine) yet serve me Subway.

I grabbed a pint at the favorite catacomb bar The Brewer's Art, but it was busy in the underground so I made my way over to an Irish pub close to the hostel called Mick O'Shea's.  I ended up chatting with the fellow next to me, also named Paul.  Pauls are always good peeps.  Poor fellow had a water main break in his condo, and everything had been flooded.  He was living at a nearby hotel.  I bought him a Yuengling in sympathy,

I wandered back to the hotel, and ended up chatting with another pipe-smoking Paul.  Two Pauls, always auspicious.

On Saturday, I awoke to fresh waffles that I appreciate at the Baltimore hostel.

I traversed across the frozen grey Baltimore like a snow bedouin.  My face wrapped in Kyrgyz wool, with my eyes peering out the wool slits that was like a winter niqab.  I peered out like a desert dweller in a hamseen of snow flurry fury.  I sat out on a frozen grey-black harbor as grey-black and white birds sat on the frozen ice granite surface.  

And I made my way to the oasis of ideas that had been the beacon of my journey: the American Visionary Art Museum.  I entered the building of spirals of blue glass and mirrors, past a bus of the same visage.  In the reflections, I saw a glass-mirrored starry night of blue glass spin-wheel swirls.

All of a sudden we've lost control.  We can't turn off the internet; we can't turn off our smart phones; we can't turn off our computers.  You used to ask a smart person a question.  Now who do you ask?  It starts with G-O, and it's not god."
-Steve Wozniak

And with that, the most eloquent welcome:

Welcome Earthlings, techies and Luddites!

And some pearls of wisdom from Uncle Albert:

"If you can't explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself."

And some thought on Singularity: the point of which all the change in the last million years will be superseded by the change in the next five minutes.
-Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine

Others would term this point an Aleph.

The museum was filled with both beauty and wisdom.  Some more thoughts that resonated:

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
-R. Buckminster Fuller

"The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people."
-Karl Marx

But the real beauty of the American Visionary Art Museum is that I can barely describe either its beauty or its brilliance.  My words fail me to describe this precious gem.  It is unique and wonderful, and I can simply exhort on to visit it yourself.

Quo Vadis?

The afternoon meandered on with having drinks with a friend I had met on a previous trip to Baltimore.  A fellow named Jefferson, who has a background in military history.  We drank wine and Belgian beer as we spoke of the wars of the Old World.

Sunday was spent visiting the Walters Museum, which continues to astound me with its immaculate collection.  I took the advice of a guide, and started from the top and worked my way down.  I passed through halls of romantic landscapes, incredibly intricate crafts, stellar pocket watches and stunning armor.  The collection is really without compare.  In the Collector's Study, I could have spent months peering at all the intricate objects.

Genius lives on, all else is mortal.

The Super Bowl- Over There

How the Super Bowl would be covered if it took place over there:

But the spectacle of the Super Bowl—which can consume more electricity on its own than some small countries—involves more than just football. The nation’s largest corporations use the event to showcase their latest products in elaborately produced advertisements that some fans find as entertaining as the game itself. (American businesses, in defiance of normal economic logic, consider it worthwhile to spend $4 million on just 30 seconds of airtime during the event.) America’s premier recording artists are brought out to perform at the game’s midpoint. Millions of chickens are slaughtered to obtain only their wings—the traditional American delicacy consumed by fans at home.

Foreign human rights NGOs have often found it difficult to reconcile their respect and appreciation for America’s rich cultural heritage with their shock at the violence, excess, and wastefulness of this event. But however problematic the international community may find the game, it is a rare unifying tradition that binds most segments of a society increasingly divided by class, culture, and geography.

Proud to be...

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Mincha at the Blue Lagoon

Swimming through the blue lagoon of an old memory and story that was in The Jerusalem Post : The Jews of Jamaica.