Thursday, December 31, 2009

Comments by Ken Yates, Senior Vice President, Jefferson Waterman International, regarding "Avatar" and Public Diplomacy

[Editorial note: Links and bracketed item added by JB]

John, as a fellow retired FSO [Foreign Service officer] who spent over three decades in USIA I found your drawing of parallels between the film "Avatar" and the communication process I was familiar with as unsettling.

I had no real interest in seeing the film, and any curiosity I might have had died after reading your description. However, I realized that I must take issue with your characterization of the communication process USIA was conducting and the objectives we pursued by that work.

Perhaps a bit of a recount of personal experience can illustrate my misgivings. My first assignment was in the southwestern part of South Korea at a one-man branch that served as the principal point of contact with a large region of South Korea. The USIS [United States Information Service, as USIA was named overseas] Cultural Center was the only Embassy contact point for two provinces in Korea and served as a lightning rod for opinions of the Korean intellectual community and a focus for both positive and negative expressions of opinion on US policy. People who took the trouble to come to the center, participate in programs and speak out on issues of concern to them did so with a full awareness that they were being heard by an officer of the American Government. Much of their intent was specifically to have their voice heard by an American official and have their views communicated into the diplomatic process between our countries. They took pride in that ability and in the presence of an appendage of the American Embassy in their community. It was a sort of recognition that their opinions counted.

"Intel" in the sense of clandestine activity done to gain some sort of edge of understanding in a competitive environment was not an objective. Each quarter the four BPAOs [Branch Public Affairs officers] from around Korea would travel to Seoul to meet with the Ambassador and recount what was being talked about and sometimes who was doing the talking, but the purpose was to understand the context of the environment in Korea and, hopefully, improve our ability to communicate. As BPAOs, we knew that what we collectively reported often made its way into the regular reporting the Ambassador made through channels, sometimes confirming what he had gleaned from other sources and sometimes at variance with what others had told him. It was part of the larger assessment of the setting for the exercise of US policy in Korea.

"Humint" in military parlance, in its broadest interpretation, would approximate what we were involved in, but the purposes it was devoted to were very different. "Humint" for the military is to expand their understanding of the battlefield - or potential battlefield and to reach an understanding of the broader sentiment of the community it exists in. It defines a major component of the environment that a fighting force will have to confront in situations of violence. For USIS, however, its purpose was to develop awareness of the issues that were paramount among the audiences we were trying to reach and thereby improve our ability to address those issues and efficiently meet the needs of the environment in which we worked.

Not all observers appreciated the process. When I served first in Korea, we were embroiled in a controversial war in Vietnam. Our Peace Corps Volunteers also serving in Korea brought with them images of officialdom from the street in the US and sometimes did real damage because of negative impressions of US policy they communicated to Koreans they met and worked with. Specifically, they were spreading the fiction that USIS operations were somehow connected to the clandestine operations of the CIA. Such innocent misinformation threatened serious harm to our programming efforts and the channels of communication we worked so hard to create and husband.

At one point, PCVs were called together and given a "Dutch uncle" talk by Embassy officers to set them straight and give a warning that any Volunteers who would not accept a true understanding of the function and purpose of the USIS Cultural Centers would be politely, but firmly, invited to return home. That effectively ended the problem, albeit with some grumbling from Volunteers who had difficulty believing that Embassy officials were not just a part of a despised conspiracy and a hated war.

Later in other assignments, most notably in the PRC, the separation of "intel" activities of the CIA and overt communication by USIS centers and programs had to be kept distinctly separate, particularly because of the super-heated issues of the moment. At a time just after the Tiananmen incident in Beijing when separations between Americans and Chinese were most pronounced, one of the few places where Chinese and Americans could mix was in USIS programs at the American Center. CIA officers hungry for Chinese contacts were specifically excluded from mixing in with audiences at the Centers because of the possibility of destroying the very fragile relationship that had to be rebuilt with internationalist Chinese who sought an improvement in Chinese-US relations. That clearly defined separation was the source of some hard feelings within the American community, but was maintained nonetheless. It was a good policy.

A following tour for me as USIA Advisor to the Pacific Command in Hawaii provided a front row view of the military requirement for "Humint" at some variance with the familiar USIS variety. Much earlier experience as a GI in Japan with the Army Security Agency afforded a bit of background in "Elint" as a comparison. The military has a well defined need for intelligence and "psyops" that allow an edge in military confrontations. However, it is for different purposes and is collected using different methods. This difference is currently at the root of the dilemma that confronts us in Afghanistan and in a varying degree in Iraq. Yet, the difference is sometimes lost in the dialogue of debate over winning the "hearts and minds" of people within the area of combat.

Perhaps my fundamental concern about the gloss of media such as "Avatar" lies in that difference. More than ever we have to distinguish among the separate purposes and methods of "Intel" aimed at improving communication and understanding and "Intel" with the purpose of more efficient military or security operations. There is unquestionably some conceptual and real overlap, but because the purposes and goals of the two must be kept separate, the admixture of "Avatar" cannot but add to the confusion.

Therefore, I guess I will not be buying a ticket for that film, although I guess that the special effects alone might by worth the price, "senior" discount or not.



Ken Yates
Senior Vice President
Jefferson Waterman International
1401 K Street NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Note from Deirdre Kline, Director of Communications, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc.

Response to Zogby's article on Alhurra‏
From: Deirdre Kline (
Sent: Tue 12/29/09 11:38 PM


I saw that you carried James Zogby’s article on Alhurra in the Dec. 28th Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review and I wanted to send you the comment that we posted online in response to the article.

James Zogby believed six years ago that an American television channel to the Middle East was a bad idea and is intent on proving he is right. However, latest audience surveys, conducted by international research firms such as ACNielsen, show Alhurra with a weekly reach of more than 27 million viewers. This audience total exceeds that of all other Arabic-language international broadcasters (including BBC Arabic) combined. More important than audience reach is its impact. Recent research shows that the majority of Alhurra’s audience states that watching the channel contributes to their understanding of current events, U.S. foreign policy and U.S. culture and society.

Alhurra continues to evolve and becomes better and more successful each year. This year, Alhurra launched Al Youm, a live three-hour primetime news and information program like no other in the region –it broadcasts simultaneously from four cities across the Middle East; as well as Washington, D.C. Al Youm and other Alhurra programming bring unique topics, guests and views to the people of the Middle East. For example, Alhurra is currently airing a multi-part series on the history and lives of Arab-Americans, including an extensive interview with John Zogby (James Zogby’s brother). Alhurra is creating a unique niche in the complex media landscape of the Middle East. Mr. Zogby should judge Alhurra on what it is today rather than an idea he didn’t like six years ago.

Have a very Happy New Year and call if you need any additional information.

Deirdre Kline
Director of Communications
Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Inc.
7600 Boston Blvd
Springfield, VA 22153

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cameron's "Avatar" and Public Diplomacy

"Final" version of this essay at Huffington Post

Well, by now we all know the plot of Hollywood blockbuster director James Cameron's Avatar, his latest film, but here's a good summary:

When his brother is killed in battle, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge's intentions of driving off the native humanoid "Na'vi" in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na'vi people with the use of an "avatar" identity. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand - and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora. Written by The Massie
The simplistic plot of Avatar is straight out of politically correct cowboys vs. Indians movies -- and the dialogue, if it can be called that, is pedestrian. But its images of Pandora -- as so many critics have pointed out -- are striking, almost artistic. Visually, Cameron is fascinated by the tension between machines and nature, ironically using ground-breaking computer technology to design an imaginary Garden of Eden.

Yes, like most movies, Avatar is images, not narrative or speech. But let's not dismiss some of the "lessons" of this movie, condemned by some as leftist, pantheistic, anti-American propaganda. True, subtlety (except in a visual sense) is not one of the strong points of Avatar.

But watching it last Saturday morning at the Uptown Theater (thank God I had a senior citizen discount, given the price of movie tickets these days) near where I live in Washington (the imperial capital was then immobilized by snow, and I had nothing better to do), I reflected -- as a former Foreign Service officer (FSO) involved in public diplomacy (PD) for over twenty years, mostly in Eastern Europe during and immediately after the Cold War -- about paraplegic Marine Jake Sully's ventures into Pandora.

To follow Cameron's comic-book plot, Sully, resembles, one could say, a PD FSO (some in the military would say psy-ops officer). To provide Intel, Sully's avatar -- his public presence in another society -- is meant to spy, ever so "invisibly," on an Enemy. Problem is, he falls in love with the Enemy; he goes native. He becomes, therefore, useless as Intel. He rebels against the Intel world -- Colonel Quaritch -- and Quaritch can't wait to eliminate him.

Sure, during the Cold War there supposedly was a "firewall" between covert CIA/military intelligence and the USIA (United States Information Agency) "overt" activities like academic exchanges and artistic presentations (much research, however, needs to be done about this sensitive topic of a so-called "firewall").

In my own career (1981-2003) as a USIA "press and cultural officer" overseas I was never asked to provide "Intel" to the embassy or headquarters (I was, however, expected -- but not forced -- to write reports about whom I met -- was that, in fact, "providing 'Intel'" that the USG food-chain handed over to "other agencies"? No doubt, in a sense, it was: I'm not that naive). I always could not help wondering if what I was doing -- meeting people in other societies who made a difference, talking with them about the United States, and trying to understand them and hoping that they would understand us -- was not (bottom line) a way by secretive powers-that-be in Washington to use a PD officer (in today's lingo, an "Avatar") and -- far more important -- his/her "local contacts" in the hopes of obtaining "Intel."

Such a conscience-troubling suspicion on my part never reached the point of my becoming a Sully ("going native"), because (ironically) the best and the brightest in East European societies where I had the privilege to serve were looking to the U.S. for information -- if not inspiration -- about what a free society was.

In the communist-dominated heart of Europe during the Cold War, the Quaritches were Soviets and Soviet collaborators (up to a point); we American diplomats in the field were the "good guys" allied with the "natives" and thus had no need to change our identity -- but I always doubted about how "good" we in fact were.

I still do, even more than ever, after the US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Words of Wisdom from a Senior Foreign Service Officer: Jack Harrod on USIA and Public Diplomacy

Jack Harrod, a distinguished USIA senior official, has kindly authorized me to post his below comments:

(1) Among the reasons noted for USIA's demise, there are two that I think were critical, namely the stress on "reinventing government" by the Clinton/Gore administration, which seemed to put a priority on demonstrating new "paradigms" even when they may not have been necessary (and which to me predestined the "consolidation" of USIA into the State Dept. no matter what the actual arguments -- change is good, per se), and also the lack of firm leadership within USIA itself to defend the agency's mission. Here I must be subjective, but my impression is that Dr. Joseph D. Duffey, the director at that time, did not understand or subscribe to the basic raison d'etre of USIA and therefore did not argue as effectively as he could/should have for its continued existence......

(2) The end of the Cold War was also a major factor, but nuanced by the assumption that the Soviet Union and Communism were the only reasons USIA existed in the first place. Public diplomacy, of course, should not be dependent upon a specific "opponent" but should be a positive expression of American values and interests no matter what the external environment. The fall of the Berlin Wall was not/not the "end of history". If Islamic fundamentalism or international terrorism disappeared tomorrow, that would not be a reason to do away with PD.

(3) Former Congressman Lee Hamilton has commented that public diplomacy is akin to the relationship of politicians with their constituencies. That, as the Brits would say, is spot on. In 1982-83, I had a 16-month Congressional Fellowship from the American Political Science Association and worked for (now former) Republican Congressman Jim Leach (also a former FSO) and Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. As I wrote in a report for APSA, my two trips to New Mexico while I worked for Bingaman (unfortunately, I didn't get to Iowa while I was with Leach) were uncannily like my USIA work overseas -- meeting with media, educators, and civic organizations to talk about issues, the one difference being that I was explaining Sen. Bingaman's positions rather than USG positions. Should we recruit more PD people from Capitol Hill?

(4) Among the characteristics that are indicated/required for public diplomacy specialists, I would also stress management skills and programming expertise. USIA officers (or public diplomacy specialists now) were distinguished from their State colleagues by the need to supervise FSN staffs and arrange public programs, while their political officer colleagues wrote reports. My experience tells me that somebody who has some management and programming background has a leg up when it comes to public diplomacy. Give me somebody who has actually "done" something rather than somebody who has just studied it (I write this as somebody who had just studied it before I joined USIA).

(5) It occurs to me (since I arranged a couple of them when I was the USIA area director for Western Europe and Canada) that Embassy internships for promising public diplomacy candidates could be possible at overseas posts WITHOUT security clearances since a lot of public diplomacy work does not require access to classified information and an intern could be given similar status to an FSN. My experience could be out of date, to the extent that PD functions have been dragged kicking and screaming behind fortified walls. But then if you're behind fortified walls, it isn't really PD. One of my first experiences as an Embassy spokesman 30 years ago got me into hot water because the talking points I was using were classified. Think about that -- how can you have classified "talking" points?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amb Robert R. Gosende Keynote Speech for the 50th Anniversary of the Fulbright Commission in Spain

(with many thanks to Ambassador Gosende for authorizing the posting of his speech)

Madame Minister, the Hon. Angeles Gonzales-Sinde (and a Fulbright Alumnae)

Sr. Rafael Rodrigo, President of the National Scientific Research Council

Sr. Calrlos Alberdi, Director for Cultural and Scientific Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Sr. Arnold Chacon, Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Madrid

Sr. Thomas Genton, Cournselor for Press and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Madrid
(and my very dear friend and colleague!)

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my great pleasure to be with you this evening. You should know that I owe this distinction to the Comision-Fulbright Executive Director here in Madrid, Maria Jesus Pablos. Maria Jesus and I met some years ago when she first became the Executive Director here and when I was just beginning my service in Washington in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. Part of my responsibility in that position was to work closely with the Fulbright Executive Directors around the world and there was no more effective Executive Director than Maria Jesus. We worked together for some three years then and have enjoyed a great professional relationship ever since. She is perhaps the strongest of all assets here in Madrid insofar as good relations between Spain and the United States are concerned.

Yo naci en Estados Unidos de padres imigrantes. Mi madre imigro a Estados Unidos desde Escocia y mi padre desde Galicia. Mi padre nacio en mil ochocientos noventa y quatro en una aldea llamada Angueira de Castro, en el distrito Rois. Mi padre decidio emigrar cuando mi abuelo y el no se pusieron de acuerdo sobre los estudios de mi padre en el seminario en Santiago. El hable esudiado seis anos en el seminario sin haber recibido la llamade de Dios, pero no lograba convencer a mi abuelo de que no deberia haceerse sacerdote. (I sometimes say that my father emmigrated from Spain because of religious persecution BUT this persecution was at the hands of my grandfather!) Decidio emigrar a Cuba en la vispera del inicio de la primera guerra mundial. Fue a Massachusetts a encontrarse con dos de sus hermanos que ya habla emigrado a Estados Unidos. Mis padres se conocieron y casoron en Springfield, Massachusetts. Yo naci en el mil novecientos treinta y seis.

Mi padre murio relativamente joven y perdimos el contacto con la familia en Espana y este ano he pasado de trener solo un parente de sangre viviendo en Estados Unidos, mi hermano, a tener ahora trece primos hermanos viviendo en Galicia. Es para mi una gran alegria haber descubierto una familia tan carinosa y maravillosa.

I was born in the United States of immigrant parents. My mother emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland and my father from Galicia. He was born in 1894 in an aldea called Angueira de Castro in the district of Rois. My father decided to emigrate from Galicia when he and my grandfather could not come to agreement about my father’s study at the Seminary in Santiago. He studied at the Seminary for six years but really did not hear a calling to the priesthood but he could not convince my grandfather of this. He decided to leave for Cuba just before the outbreak of World War I in 1913. He stayed there for some eight years, establishing a small business, until the financial system in Cuba collapsed in 1920. He then joined two of his brothers, my Uncles Manuel and Jose, who had already emigrated to the U.S. He and my mother met and married in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was born in 1936 and my younger brother in 1939. My father died in 1951 at a relatively early age and contact with our family in Spain was lost at that time only to be reestablished over the past eighteen months. So in these past eighteen months I have gone from having one blood relative in the U.S., my brother, to now having thirteen living first cousins in Galicia. My cup runneth over with this warm and wonderful newly-discovered family!

But perhaps a word or two on my wife and me would be in order. We grew up and were educated in Massachusetts. We began our overseas careers in 1963 when we joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts on a project to establish a senior secondary school for women in the Eastern region of Uganda. John F. Kennedy, a Massachusetts native son, had been elected President of the U.S. in 1960 and in his inaugural address he inspired our generation of young Americans, most especially Mary Beth and me, to,”ask not what your country can do for you but rather what you can do for your country.” We took this very much to heart and we went to teach in Uganda – an idyllic country at that time.

The election of Barack Obama last year harks back to the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy in many ways. We now have a new young President elected with the overwhelming support of young Americans who brings to the Presidency the perspective of a person who spent part of this youth in Indonesia and who has a grandmother who lives on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. But, most of all, President Obama looks out upon the world and its nations in a spirit of collaboration and partnership.

We were in Uganda well before the corruption and terror that would scourge that land and its people had begun. We stayed there for three wonderful years and then decided that we did not want to go back to the U.S. but rather to join the diplomatic service of our country. We subsequently worked in Tripoli, Libya; Mogadishu, Somalia; Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa; Warsaw, Poland; then once again in South Africa and Somalia before completing our overseas diplomatic service in Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation. Our diplomatic service encompassed the whole of the 60’s and the African independence movement through the end of the Cold War and into the post-Cold War era with the emergence of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe into mainstream European political existence.

Our lives as international educators have been full of challenge and opportunity working, sometimes under difficult conditions but all the while with some of the most interesting and competent people on earth. We watched Poland emerge into Western culture once again. We witnessed the monumental transformation from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. We saw Uganda sink into despair under a brutal dictator only to now begin to rise from that darkness. I was President Clinton’s Special Envoy for Somalia at the height of the humanitarian crisis in that country in the early 1990’s. Somalia is now perhaps the most vivid example of how far civilization can fall. The Horn of Africa is at once the world’s most environmentally degraded region while its population grows at among the fastest rates anywhere. Last month Somali pirates commandeered a ship at sea 800 miles from the country’s coastline. Somalia in its present state of complete collapse is a world problem. All of us have interests in maritime safety off its shores and through the Red Sea. When it became known that Somali pirates commandeered a Saudi oil tanker last year, the world market price of oil shot up by $2.00 per gallon overnight.

Finally, at the end of our diplomatic service, between 1995 and 1998, we watched Russia’s emergence from over seventy years of dictatorship.

Throughout my career I have been closely involved with the Fulbright Program. While in Washington that meant working with our Administration and the Congress on support for the program. In other words, working to convince a sometimes skeptical group of elected American officials of the essential vision and necessity for Fulbright. We had a good period during the late 1980’s when the U.S. budget for the program expanded and most recently Congressional interest and support for Fulbright has been on the increase but what is most relevant tonight is that the Government of Spain and Spanish private institutions, especially Spanish banks, have over these past fifty years provided strong support for Spain’s Comision-Fulbright. It is accurate to say that Spain took to heart Senator Fulbright’s vision to a much greater extent than did the United States itself.

And what was that vision? In a debate over the Fulbright budget in the Senate in 1958 the Senator said, “The overriding question before us is whether this nation is prepared to accept the permanent and inescapable responsibilities of having become a major power…..Our national purpose is a process to be advanced…..That process is the defense and expansion of democratic values, the furtherance of which rests ultimately on the wisdom and maturity of judgment, and the moral fiber of a society of free individuals.” But by defending and expanding democratic values Senator Fulbright did not mean the creation of an American empire. On that he said, “The price of empire is America’s soul and that price is too high.”

The Senator had come to such broad vision for the United States as a result of having been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University from 1925-28. He was from Arkansas. He was not an Ivy League college alum but rather a graduate of the University of Arkansas. He said that this experience at Oxford had transformed him. He deeply believed that this kind of transformation needed to be part of the university experience of as many young people as possible. And the numbers who have participated now are truly impressive. These total now in the case of your Comision 7060 scholars: 4240 Spanish and 2420 U.S. Fulbrighters.

These have been over 7000 of Spain and the U.S.´s best and brightest and hardest working people. When Javier Solana traveled to Warsaw in the mid-1990's, the American Ambassador asked him if he was, “by any chance a Fulbrighter” like so many of the new Polish leaders. Mr. Solana answered, “by chance no, I worked like hell for that fellowship.”

And this is most certainly impressive and important for both countries. I work for the State University of New York. We now endeavor to expand our relations with Spanish universities, and as we do so it is of immense value when we discover that our interlocutors are people who have studied in the U.S. and the reverse is true for our Spanish educator colleagues. There is a commonality in our language and understanding.

So Fulbright has taken the lead and laid the groundwork very effectively for those of us who work on academic exchanges between the United States and Spain.

But where does all this leave us now? How is the Fulbright vision relevant for the world in which we find ourselves today? And here I am trying to imagine what the Senator would think about things now. He studied abroad on that Rhodes scholarship as a graduate student completing a Masters Degree at Oxford. The program he established focuses principally on graduate exchanges seeking out the best and the brightest from both Spain and the United States.

But today’s world is very different from the one the Senator left in 1995. Time is now ever-more compressed by our Internet age. Events now tumble into one another with alarming and sometimes terrifying speed and international borders have become virtually irrelevant in today’s world. The movement of people across much of Europe now is virtually unobstructed. And what does this all mean for young people in Spain and the United States? Senator Fulbright, I believe, would now think that the experience that he had as a graduate student needs to be moved vigorously into undergraduate education and that today’s university students need to be sitting in the same classrooms at least for part of their undergraduate experience with students from across the globe. And it would appear that you here in Spain and across Europe agree given the resources that you have devoted to the Erasmus program and its evident success. I venture that the Senator would also think that it is time that we were teaching together – that we should be working quickly to completely internationalize university education.

My father left Spain for Cuba, and then went to the United States. I have always revered my Spanish heritage but I am an American. I speak to you tonight as one. What does all of the change we have seen of late mean for relations between Spain and the United States? And what can this mean for the United States? It is not that I do not care what happens to Spain but rather that I would like you to be aware of and perhaps helpful to the United States through educational and cultural exchange as we try to find our way to a better world together.

Spanish is now spoken by something over 300 hundred million people in the world. Spanish is now the home language of the largest minority of people in my country and that group of people is growing at a faster rate than any other group in the United States.

But are we on our way to becoming a Spanish-speaking country? It does not look as though that will happen. Children of Spanish and Latin American parents in the United States are assimilating rapidly as other immigrant groups have done throughout our history. Is there a chance that we could become a bi-lingual country? Would that make sense for us? Should we, at minimum, be doing a better job at teaching Spanish language and culture in our country? Could improvement and expansion of the educational and cultural relations between Spain and the United States foster such a goal for us? Might this be where The Senator was pointing us by his 20th Century vision? What is our vision for the 21st Century?

I will end with a story that I believe is relevant tonight as we think about vision for educational and cultural exchanges and how important they might be for all of us but in this particular case for my country.

Last year, I was invited to speak to a group of students at the Universidad del las Americas in Puebla, Mexico. The Vice Rector for International Relations, an old friend, warned me that the students were seething over the wall that our country is building along our 1,500-mile border with Mexico. This wall is an outrage. Its cost is beyond belief. It is an insult to our southern neighbor. It is an insult to our country. Some say that if it were to be built with only legal laborers it would take thirty years. So I thought pretty hard about what I would say to the students about the wall and decided that I could only condemn the decision to build it in the first place BUT that changing the attitudes and understandings between people on each side of the Mexican/US border was the responsibility of people on both sides of the border including students at Puebla. We will most certainly tear this wall down but how long will it take for us to wake up to the reality that this is our only choice if we hope to live in peace and prosperity on the North American continent?

And what does this have to do with the relations between Spain and the United States? As you know the U.S. worked tirelessly to assist Europeans to achieve greater unification. We are living in an age when prosperity is the result of greater integration and more permeable borders. Looking at Europe, where national boundaries are porous, we glimpse a path to greater economic and political stability through intense interaction among nations on a continent where one knows one’s neighbors. All of us can remember when it was predicted that the accession of Spain and Portugal into the European Union would spell its demise. And if you examine the reasons set forth the by the naysayers at that time, they were little different from what one hears now about why we need a wall between the United States and Mexico.

So we need your help now with this. These are the kinds of issues we are dealing with in the internationalization of higher education at the Comision-Fulbright and at colleges and universities across the United States and Spain. These are first-order issues in international relations not some minor side-show of diplomacy. Good relations among nations, now more than ever, depend upon how quickly we move vastly increased numbers of our students across our borders so as to prepare them properly to lead our countries and the world in the 21st century.

Gracias por su atencion y por el honor que me han hecho al invitarme a hablar esta noche. Es un momento muy especial para este “fillo de Galicia”!

Thanks for your attention and the great honor you have bestowed on me by inviting me to be your speaker tonight. It is a very special moment for this son of a Galician immigrant!

Americans as "digital zombies"

We can't see the forest for the T-Mobiles: As we consume Apples and BlackBerrys, natural world beats a sensory retreat

By Adrian Higgins

Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You know you have crossed the river into Cyberland when the guy coming your way has his head buried in the hand-held screen. He will knock into you unless you get out of his way, and don't expect an apology. It's as if you aren't there.

Maybe you're not.

Technology has drawn us into our interconnected webs, in the office, on the street, on the park bench, to the point that we exist virtually everywhere except in the physical world. Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford University, laments that when students pass through the school's visually stimulating campus, iPhones, BlackBerrys and all the evolving devices and apps draw them into their blinkered personal realms. "Most of the groves, courtyards, gardens, fountains, artworks, open spaces and architectural complexes have disappeared behind a cloaking device, it would seem," he writes in his book "Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition."

This retreat from the natural world is most evident in the young, but it is not a generational phenomenon, he argues. Instead, the ubiquity of the computer is changing the very essence of the human animal. We are in the midst of a historical change in "our mode of vision," he says, "which is bound up with our mode of being."

According to a recent landmark study of viewing habits, adults spend an average of nearly three hours a day interacting with computer screens. Add TV viewing and you get a screen time of about 8 1/2 hours. "People are spending more time in media and especially screen media than anything else they're doing in life," says Bill Moult of Sequent Partners, one of two organizations that provided the study.

But you don't need numbers to know how absorbed we have become by screens and their mesmerizing qualities. In October, two Northwest Airlines pilots who flew their jet 150 miles past their destination told investigators they were distracted by their laptop computers. Walk the streets of downtown Washington and you will see many people, a majority perhaps, plugged in to a two-dimensional world. Peer into the vehicles, and tally a scary number of drivers on hand-held cellphones, even texting. This may be illegal in the District, but the temptation is too great. We have become digital zombies.

Actually, we have become symbionts, says Katherine Hayles, author of "How We Became Posthuman." Just as a lichen is the marriage of a fungus and an algae, we now live in full partnership with digital technology, which we rely on for the infrastructure of our lives. "If every computer were to crash tomorrow, it would be catastrophic," she says. "Millions or billions of people would die. That's the condition of being a symbiont."

Hayles is among a number of intellectuals who see this dependence as not necessarily bad, but as advancing civilization and, above all, just inevitable. "From Thoreau on, we have had this dream we can withdraw from our technologies and live closer to the natural world, and yet that's not the cultural trajectory that we have followed," says Hayles, a professor of literature at Duke University. "You could say when humans started to walk upright, we lost touch with the natural world. We lost an olfactory sense of the world, but obviously bipedalism paid big dividends."

In the Computer Age, "we are making our environments more responsive to humans' needs and desires than ever before."

Adriana de Souza e Silva, assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University, says the widespread acceptance of public phoning, texting, surfing and tweeting on mobile devices has changed our lives so that we exist in a duality of the physical and electronic worlds.

"What we are witnessing now is a different kind of public space composed of people who are physically there [but talking to] people who are remote," she says.

She argues that this has actually made us more aware of our surroundings because so many devices are driven by their location and the user's awareness of place. "The BlackBerry might be looking for a local restaurant and a person two blocks away, not overseas. If you're walking downtown and you can access information that's been tagged there, that information suddenly becomes part of that location."

The difficulty, Harrison argues, is that we are losing something profoundly human, the capacity to connect deeply to our environments.

Landscape designers talk about bestowing on a garden its genius loci, or spirit of the place, that bubbles up into your consciousness if its presence is strong enough and the visitor meditative enough to receive it.

Harrison says a garden truly reveals itself only when its own depths and those of the beholder flow together. But that takes time. "For the gardens to become fully visible in space, they require a temporal horizon that the age makes less and less room for."

He is captivated by the Czech writer Karel Capek, who gave the world the robot in his play "R.U.R." and in it warned that technology would be our ruination. But Capek was also a passionate gardener who wrote "The Gardener's Year," published in 1929. "No one knew better than Capek that the cultivation of the soil and cultivation of the spirit are connatural," Harrison writes. He believes gardens hold the key in leading us back into the visible world, because they are three-dimensional and made of living plants that speak to our "biophilia."

"Gardens are the best place to begin this reeducation," he says. Without it, he fears that the prophecy of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Duino Elegies, will become so. "Earth, isn't this what you want; invisibly to arise in us? Is it not your dream to be someday invisible? Earth! Invisible!"

Note from JB: My dissertation was on Russia's first (arguably) horticulturalist (late eighteenth century) ...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wind's Way: Unscientific Thoughts Shared with Dinner Friends about Wind Turbines

I have my doubts about wind turbines, based not on technological know-how but on my very limited, but always eager examination of history.

The well-intentioned few who try to "improve" nature in order to provide better living human conditions (or, in some sorry cases, to extend their own power and influence; take Stalin's irrigation projects) are often unaware (or unwilling to be aware, as it could stand in the way of their dreams or master-plans) of the ecological dangers of their projects -- mostly because what they hope to "replace" is what they perceive (often, granted, rightly) as unacceptable deficiencies or catastrophic failures (e.g., gasoline-produced power).

Thank God, I don't own a car, perhaps reflecting the views of "quirky" people:
Soil, too, he [George Kennan] forecasts direly, is in short supply. The automobile is the “enemy of community.”
In the case of wind turbines: A major corporation, GE, is gung-ho about them, and I would say not simply for PR reasons.

Let me present my doubts about the turbines (acknowledging, however, that the wind turbines are -- conceivably -- far "better" than gasoline emissions, just as gasoline emissions are arguably "better" than smelly dung all over city streets produced by animals carrying humans. Needless to say, such "emissions" do not improve human health).

(1) What will be the effect (produced by the wind turbines) on wind patterns -- and on weather as a whole? Surely you cannot interfere with delicate zephyr in a major way without some consequences in nature -- consequences, granted, which have to be scientifically determined (if that is possible). Worse-case scenario, let's say: more hurricanes and/or droughts.

(2) What about, to be more specific, human-indispensable insects (e.g., bees): what will be the effect of changing wind patterns produced by the wind turbines on them? Of course, birds are already an issue.

(3) Noise (as I understand it the turbines do make considerable noise; but I could be wrong about this), and the de-beautification of the environment produced by these dreadful-looking wind turbines (they look like creatures from the "War of the Worlds") -- here are, perhaps, issues to keep in mind as we try to "improve the way we live" without ruining the planet.

Is not wind, in its "natural" flow, as "delicate" a cocoon of human/animal/insect life as water or soil, which too have a life of their own? How "safe" is it to interfere with wind's way?

When the Hoover Dam (not to speak of the TVA) was built, how many people were concerned about its ecological consequences, as it was "only about water"?