Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cultural Diplomacy: Some Good News

“American Seasons “ in Russia – unique cultural event - Eugene Nikitenko, The Voice of Russia: "U.S. Embassy in Moscow has announced a unique year-long American arts and culture festival in Russia. It is both a fresh start in this sphere of relations between the two countries and homage to Sergei Diaghilev’s Russian Seasons in Paris. As such, it will start with performances in Moscow of the famous American company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Meeting journalists on June 27th – and speaking Russian, U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle said: 'The performances of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre is the beginning of a very important programme of the year-long festival supported by our Embassy and the Russian-American Bilateral Presidential Commission formed in 2009 to increase cooperation. Sergei Diaghilev’s 'Russian Seasons' aimed at showing Europe the best of Russian culture. The U.S. 'Russian Seasons' also aim at showing the widest possible range of the best of American culture to the Russian public. Taking the relay baton from Sergei Diaghilev, we decided to open this festival with the performances of our world-renowned dance theatre, a synonym of the American dance arts. Of course the activities of the Bilateral Presidential Commission are increasingly important, but the main thing is the extending contacts between our peoples, and we hope that 'American Seasons' will contribute to this.' Other highlights of the 'American Seasons' in Russia include the MOMIX Dance Company, and the three-times Grammy winner hip-hop/salsa fusion band from Ozomaitli, an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz photography at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, performances of New American plays translated into Russian to be staged in many parts of this country. The Russian public will also be offered three performances in Moscow and St.Petersburg by the famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Riccardo Muti. Mikhail Shvydkoy, Russia’s special presidential representative for international Culture Cooperation, gave some details about the 'American Seasons' festival: 'The idea was born at the very first meeting of our bilateral; commission on cultural and education exchanges of youth, Mrs. MacHail [sic], senior deputy State Secretary for public diplomacy and Ambassador Byerl[e]. American culture is represented in Russia well enough, but mainly in the mass culture sphere. It’s American movies and literature, but the highlights of U.S. culture is not very much presented here. The preparation of this festival has been going on for several years, and we hope that it will be the first in a long series of festivals and events demonstrating the best of American culture, one of the most developed intellectual cultures. I hope that next year we will hold a reciprocal Russian cultural season in the United States, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Fort Ross in California. 'Russian Seasons' in America will also highlight some significant cultural events that we find it hard to hold within the framework of other events. I hope that 'Seasons' may become regular, ['] said Mikhail Shvydkoy, co-chairing the press conference dedicated to the opening of 'American Seasons' culture festival announced by the United States Ambassador John Byerle."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why Can't Barack Obama be like ...

Obama’s Afghanistan speech: A missing piece in the puzzle - Joseph Nye, Power & Policy: "As I argue in The Future of Power, a smart strategy for the U.S. in the 21st century would return to the wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower:

strengthen the domestic economy and avoid involvement in a land war in Asia. Afghanistan violates both those considerations." Image from

What Would Nixon Do? - Gideon Rose, New York Times: In Vietnam, Mr. Nixon

and Mr. Kissinger sought to extricate the United States from a war even as the local combatants continued to struggle. The Obama administration should try to do the same in Afghanistan — while planning carefully for how to keep withdrawal from turning into defeat. Image from

It Has to Start With Them - Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times: Wariness about Afghanistan comes from asking these three questions: When does the Middle East make you happy? How did the cold war end? What would Ronald Reagan do? After a suicide bomber killed 241 U.S. military personnel, Reagan

realized that he was in the middle of a civil war, with an undefined objective and an elusive enemy, whose defeat was not worth the sacrifice. So he cut his losses and just walked away. He was warned of dire consequences; after all, this was the middle of the cold war with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union. We would look weak. But Reagan thought we would get weak by staying. As Reagan deftly put it at the time: “We are not bugging out. We are moving to deploy into a more defensive position.” Image from

Obama’s prudent policy on Afghanistan - E.J. Dionne Jr.,  Washington Post: Among Dana Carvey’s most brilliant sketches on “Saturday Night Live” were his dead-perfect impersonations of President George H.W. Bush,

which made a permanent contribution to America’s political language. “Not gonna do it!” Carvey-as-Bush would say. “Wouldn’t be prudent!” What Carvey grasped is that Bush 41 was a conservative not so much by ideology as by temperament. Prudence really was one of his cardinal virtues.  But his effort to find a more stable middle ground in foreign policy deserves more support than it’s getting. There are worse things than to deserve comparisons with George H.W. Bush, Dana Carvey’s brilliant barbs notwithstanding. Image from

After the honeymoon - Electing Barack Obama president won't be enough to improve America's standing in the world – John Brown, Guardian (26 June 2008): The new administration should 

not give overseas audiences the false hope that its arrival on the world scene will mean a sudden, drastic departure from the policies of Bush, despite his low reputation at home and abroad. The American political system, which leads presidential candidates to adopt "centrist" positions, leaves the options for restructuring American foreign policy limited. Image from

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Role of Culture in Foreign Affairs: Towards a European Soft Power

The Role of Culture in Foreign Affairs:

Towards a European Soft Power

Speech by

François Rivasseau

Minister-Counselor, Deputy Head of Delegation

European Union Delegation to the United States

at the

Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies,

Johns Hopkins University,

EU Center of Excellence

Washington D.C.

June 9, 2011

Check Against Delivery


Culture has always been an essential element of national diplomacy--it is the strongest symbol of national identity. Diplomacies of countries enjoying a strong cultural identity have always, directly or indirectly, through public or private means, used this identity as a way of presenting themselves abroad for rallying support and friendship, attracting interest and raising profiles. Numerous studies conducted over many years strongly suggest that the promotion of cultural values and achievements is the most cost efficient way of being recognized and acquiring influence in international relations. Obviously, culture is not a concept that can be used in isolation from other elements of a foreign relations network. But everybody knows how much the US image and international prestige owes to Hollywood, everybody knows that the French investment in cultural diplomacy is one of the reasons that allows France to "box above its weight in the international area" as suggested by the US some years ago.

With the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and the new impetus given to European integration, with the affirmation of a more coherent external representation of the European Union abroad and in Brussels, it is logical that observers and diplomats ask themselves: what is the cultural dimension of the present and future European diplomacy?


1.1. European cultural diplomacy takes many forms:

1.1.1. As a party to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression, the European Union includes a cultural dimension in our relations with non – EU countries and regions. The European Agenda for Culture serves as a common framework for cultural policy, and is designed to foster intercultural dialogue, to promote culture as a catalyst for creativity in the framework of growth and jobs, to develop a new and more active cultural role for Europe in international relations, and to integrate the cultural dimension as a vital element in our dealings with partner countries and regions.

1.1.2. In the developing world, we support a great variety of cultural programs. Some projects, such as one in Elmina and Old Accra, Ghana, encourage the preservation and restoration of heritage sites: the European Commission provided nearly €2 million to support that project. Others, like the Festival on the Niger in Mali, develop sustainable cultural tourism. In the Middle East, the EU has invested nearly €150,000 in partnerships with music schools to support young musicians, provide artistic education, and promote culture among the local population. In Colombia, EU support of €2.6 million helped create a technical school which promotes the artistic, social, economic, technical, and ethical dimensions of arts and crafts.

1.2. This cultural diplomacy approach is a key element of EU political soft power:

1.2.1. A good example of this could be found in the EU focus on the cultural dimension of human rights, including the protection and promotion of cultural rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, and the rights of minorities and those who are socially marginalized. For example, in Brazil, the EU sponsored the Jamac Digital Cinema program, which organized scriptwriting workshops, conferences and debates, and other activities focusing on issues relating to violence, human rights violations and citizenship.

1.2.2. The European Union itself is continuing to evolve in ways that foster such "soft power" opportunities. The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on December 1, 2009, provided for the creation of the European External Action Service, an integrated EU diplomatic corps that brings together diplomatic instruments – public diplomacy programs, economic and political actions, and development and crisis management tools – to support a single strategy of effective diplomacy. With its emphasis on increased transparency and democracy within the EU, as well as its legal guarantee of citizens' fundamental rights, the Lisbon Treaty also further strengthened the foundation of the EU's core values – and thus our soft power potential.

1.2.3. But in the present situation of economic crisis, will the EU's soft power survive the strong budget reductions that impact EU Member States (MS) as well as the EU and its Delegations? A recent CSIS study (http://csis.org/files/publication/110427_Flanagan_FinancialCrisis_web.pdf) strongly suggests this to be the case. Much of Europe's soft power leadership flows from its official development assistance (ODA) as the European Union and its Member States together constitute the world's largest international aid donor. The 15 EU countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) netted $67.1 billion in ODA, or 56 percent of the DAC's total ODA in 2009. The EU members' ODA total dipped slightly in 2009, representing 0.44 percent of gross national income (GNI). EU DAC members will fall short of their 2010 goal of 0.56 percent of GNI, and will be hard-pressed to reach the Millennium Development Goal of 0.7 percent by 2015. The effects of the financial crisis and its aftershocks have accentuated constraints impacting pre-existing European development assistance.

1.2.4. But on a purely personal basis, I believe that the level of EU ODA spending will be better protected than could be expected in the US because it directly serves the interests of the EU MS and their populations. The following three reasons explain why:

• Beneficiary countries perceive a certain part of this ODA as an element of a more global deal with EU partners, and the rest as economics, good governance, and security cooperation.

• In many parts of Europe, there is a real identification with the values linked to ODA: generosity, cooperation, etc...

• In this period where European public opinion is more sensitive than ever to the evolution of immigration trends, ODA is a key element in ensuring the result sought commonly by both southern and northern countries, which is to provide to people from the south, jobs and a proper life in their own country.


2.1. Does European culture exist in addition to the cultures of the European Union's 27 Member States?

As an old friend of mine, Joe Fitchett, recently reminded me, the legend was that once upon a time, at the end of his life, Jean Monnet, as he was considering the results of his efforts and his successes and shortcomings, shouted as a kind of "cri du coeur": "If I had to do it again, I would start not by the economy but by the culture…"

It is true that in a typically Hegelian vision, the EU construction began with the building up of shared economic interests which were supposed, once the time came, to produce political solidarity, and finally cultural identity. We have clearly not reached that phase. For the best or the worst, a European cultural identity remains a distant vision, something that in the US we could call the last European frontier… and it is obviously a serious challenge for any European diplomacy to be obliged to base its identity and its practices on such a diverse reality.

On one hand, maybe it could be a good thing in a number of circumstances: Amin Maaloof did remind us that there are identities that can be dangerous. But on the other hand, how do we deal with non-European cultures if we are unable to define what is European culture?

2.2. The European cultural dimension

I would not dare to define what European culture is: in the view of many Europeans, it would be inappropriate. But I think we should recognize that there is a cultural dimension to the European identity. And if we want to search for this European cultural dimension, we follow four paths, seen from this Delegation's operational point-of-view, i.e. from the perspective of someone who must explain the EU to tough American interlocutors both inside and outside the beltway:

1) There is a common European culture of values: democracy, human rights, condemnation of the death penalty, social solidarity, protection of the environment, which are all the elements best known here. But I would say that the whole vision of democracy of the entire EU is relatively specific and has been developed as such. We have some specific ethnicities shared outside of Europe but which have also become part of any European identity.

2) A second path would take us, as in any company or institution, to analyze the institutional culture of the EU: a culture based on the specific way the EU has been built, which respects small countries and their sovereignty; a very specific way of solving problems together and reaching unity while respecting diversity; and, also good doses of bureaucracy and technocracy, two concepts which often carry with them not only a negative image but also, we should not forget, an aspiration for independence, rigor, and a sense of the public interest.

3) On a diplomatic level, we have seen a growing trend toward the conclusion of cultural cooperation agreements with our major partners, which are not concluded in a spirit of one-way assistance and cooperation but in a spirit of two-way partnership. We now share cultural diplomacy programs with our major international partners. In October last year, the EU and China launched our first-ever joint High-Level Cultural Forum to strengthen people-to-people exchanges and to foster mutual understanding between Europeans and Chinese. And through the EU's support of the Anna Lindh Foundation, a network of civil society organizations in Europe and throughout the Mediterranean, the European Commission helps bring people from 43 countries together to promote intercultural dialogue and improve mutual understanding.

4) Here in Washington, we look at the European cultural activities with a keen interest.

On one hand, cultural events are organized by EU embassies or the EU Delegation, including the EU Open House Day (more than 80,000 visits: the single biggest one-day celebration of EU in the world), the EuroKids Festival, the Euro night at the Maison Française, and the AFI European Film Showcase, a selection of top films from EU Member States. We engage in cooperative programs with American think tanks as well as Centers of Excellence; in New York and in Washington a new association of EU cultural associations, EUNIC, will help develop new possibilities.

On the other hand, significant European cultural events are organized on a purely private and community basis throughout the United States: Euro Film Festivals, Gastronomic encounters, European restaurants here, a European dancing festival there … It means that the consciousness of the elements common to our European countries and their diverse cultures begin to be perceived more clearly in this time of globalization than previously. It also means that these cultural commonalities are perhaps more easily seen by those from different continents, who tend to have a more unified vision of Europe as a whole.


Of course, if I may conclude on that, European cultural diplomacy will never be simply a function of a European institution; it will be the sum of all of our cultures, languages, and heritages, of all the cultural diplomacy programs that 27 Member States have creatively developed. And this sum will include a common layer that we look to progressively strengthen. This common cultural layer should be the basis that a collaborative entity like the European Union and the EU Member States use to better convey important messages about Europe and our experience of building bridges amongst different nations.

As you know, the bridge has been chosen as a cultural symbol to define one of the key elements of our identity: the euro. It is a strong symbol: from the Allenby bridge on the Jordan River, to the Mostar bridge in Bosnia, from the Strasbourg-Kehl bridge on the Rhine to this bridge on the Potomac here in Washington which unites the two – once separated parts – of the United States. It is a universal symbol, as is the European culture.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Want a Real Public Diplomacy Job? Go East, Young Person ...

In a piece posted in November of last year "Public Diplomacy: 'Out' for the U.S., 'In' Overseas?"  (Huffington Post), I noted that "Irony [of] ironies: While the US 'drops' public diplomacy, a term it created, the outside world (or at least foreign governments) embraces it."

Fresh evidence for this hunch comes from materials covered in the Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review (June 11-14 edition). Here's a quote from words recently uttered by Mark C. Toner, Deputy Department Spokesman, Daily Press Briefing, U.S. Department of State:
"MR. TONER: Hey, everybody. Happy Monday. Just a bit of news, actually, from the traveling party before I give you a couple of statements and then take your questions. We did just receive that due to an apparent volcanic eruption in Djibouti, I believe, the Secretary will have to cut short her trip – her visit to Addis Ababa.

QUESTION: I think it was Eritrea.

MR. TONER: Or Eritrea, sorry. Thank you. Eritrea. The diplomatic portion of her trip was unaffected, and she did tell the Ethiopians that she was committed to coming back, but unfortunately, due to this volcanic ash cloud, she was advised to leave early. So –

QUESTION: When is she due back?

MR. TONER: I’m not sure, frankly. I literally just got this news before coming out here. So –

QUESTION: Is she wheels up already? Do you –

MR. TONER: No, she’s not wheels up already, but shortly is my understanding, and obviously it’s going to be a several – or at least one stop, I believe, in Europe. But again, I don’t have those details.

QUESTION: She had events tomorrow, right?

MR. TONER: She did.

QUESTION: So why was the diplomatic –

MR. TONER: Well, for example –

QUESTION: -- portion of the –

MR. TONER: -- I know she was supposed to meet with the Sudanese, but I believe she’s already done that. So – and there were some events tomorrow scheduled, like the Cookstove Initiative, I believe, and other –

QUESTION: Diplomacy, no?

MR. TONER: Not public diplomacy, but important events.

Meanwhile, we have the following recent special report from Vietnam Net:
Chief negotiator of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Binh said about the success of the 1973 Paris negotiation as follows: “The biggest characteristic of Vietnam’s diplomacy is the combination between state diplomacy and public diplomacy. State’s diplomacy has good strategy and tactics but public diplomacy is a sharp weapon to win the world’s support to our war of resistance”.

If public diplomacy was a power in the Vietnam War, in the 21st century, it is still a great power.

Addendum (June 16)

Chinese ambassador talks to compatriot netizens europolitics.info - Thursday 16 June 2011:
The Chinese Ambassador to the EU, Song Ke, talked to Chinese netizens about EU-China relations on an online forum, on 16 June. He confirmed that Beijing supports European integration because it will provide more opportunities to deepen bilateral relations politically, economically and culturally. 2011 was proclaimed the EU-China Year of Youth, which aims to “promote” and “deepen” strategic partnership between the EU and China through exchanges and communication between young people. Song said that the relationship between young people is a decisive factor shaping the future of the China-EU relationship. Public diplomacy has become an important mechanism for Beijing to promote bilateral relations. China has already established 130 Confucius Institutes in 20 European countries and signed educational partnership agreements with all 27 member states of the EU. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has launched a scholarship programme (EU Window), which provides the opportunity for a hundred European students to study in China each year. The EU-China Year of Youth webiste is at www.2011y.net. Further information on EU investments in China is available at www.europeanchamber.com.cn/view/home

Friday, June 10, 2011

Needed: An Inventory of State Department Public Diplomacy Programs

With Ms. Judith McHale leaving her post as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, I have a suggestion for her successor, whoever it may be.

Instead of trying to create yet another vague "roadmap" or "strategic plan" for public diplomacy, initiate a far more concrete, down-to-earth project: have your staff compile an inventory of all the programs currently implemented/funded by the State Department in the area of public diplomacy, organized in two ways (a) alphabetically (b) by subject. Each entry would have links leading to further information about the program.

Such an inventory would include all information, educational, and cultural programs. Right now, the State Department homepage, organized as it is by bureaus (e.g. "Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs"), does not not provide a clear, easily accessible listing of State PD programs.

The new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs should expect considerable bureaucratic lack of interest, if not opposition, regarding such a simple-sounding project. While in the Foreign Service as Cultural Affairs Officer in Moscow (1998-2001), I tried to compile, with the assistance of my colleagues at post, a list of all the State Department cultural/educational programs pertaining to Russia. To my great regret, I did not succeed, in part because headquarters was too "busy" (or uninterested) to provide the basic information needed for such a list.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hack Attack of the Pocket Zombies: 2011, a Cyberspace Odyssey

Hack Attack of the Pocket Zombies: 2011, a Cyberspace Odyssey
ERIC FELTEN, Wall Street Journal

It's been a banner week for hacking. First, on Sunday, fake news started popping up on the PBS website, along with a pixelated animation of a gray cat with a cherry Pop Tart for a body leaving a waving rainbow in its wake as it flies through space. (Ah, if only more of what aired on PBS was as interesting as the flying "Nyan Cat.") Then, on Wednesday, Google revealed that, for months, Chinese hackers have infiltrated some Gmail accounts used by senior U.S. government officials, journalists and Chinese activists. And in between, the nation snickered at the news that a smutty picture had been sent to a co-ed from the Twitter account of a congressman. The delightfully named Rep. Anthony Weiner asserted that a hacking prankster was responsible.

There were doubts about this, given the congressman's bizarre responses to direct questions throughout the week. Most notably, Mr. Weiner was unable to categorically deny that the crotch in the photo was his. Still, when that image appeared publicly, he quickly tweeted that he was a victim of technology, that his TiVo had turned on him and his Facebook account had been hacked: "Is my blender gonna attack me next?"

That may have only been an effort at damage control, but it does vividly capture the angst of our age, the nagging apprehension that we're surrounded by machines that are just setting us up for a fall. Never before have we been so dependent on devices, and we aren't so sure we can control them. Once the ominous HAL 9000 was envisioned as a mainframe computer. Now we each carry our own HALs in our pockets.

Even if our computers don't go rogue, we're right to worry that our own clumsiness with these powerful technologies can lead to embarrassment or even disaster. There is the scourge of "pocket-dialing," accidental phone calls that leave one open to eavesdropping. What misery has been visited on the human race by mistaking the "Reply All" email button for "Reply"? And in Mr. Weiner's case, it has been speculated that he meant to send the photo privately via Twitter to the co-ed, but published it publicly through a keystroke error. And these are just ways that we do ourselves in.

How much worse it is when hackers take control of our devices and use them against us. Some are after our banking and billing info (the apparent motive behind the recent infiltration of millions of Sony PlayStation accounts). Some are out to punish and intimidate—the PBS website hackers claimed it was payback for a "Frontline" documentary on Wikileaks. And others are out to spy—the Google hack seems to be such an effort.

It doesn't help that the burden of keeping safe falls so heavily on mere casual users of technology. We're told to use antivirus software and update it regularly. And so the hackers start spoofing us with fake antivirus software and phony security updates. What hope does grandma have when hackers get past even the IT guys?

A stealth army of evil geniuses spends every day crafting crafty code, and the only thing keeping them from taking remote control of our lives is a password. It's a flimsy defense. We're told to make our passwords more robust: Don't use actual words. Make them longer. Include numbers and symbols. Make them case-sensitive. Don't use the same password on different accounts. Change all your passwords regularly. Soon we'll have to use 57-character randomly generated passwords that we switch out daily if not hourly. And probably the only ones stumped by them will be us.

Maybe all this hacking is responsible for the resurgence in popularity of zombie movies and books. Science-fiction, fantasy and horror genres tend to reflect, if not exploit, the anxieties of an age. Mary Shelley tapped into steam-powered worries that science was getting too big for its britches. B-movies of the 1950s thrived on uncertainty over what The Bomb would bring (screenwriters never could settle on whether fallout would make people tiny or insects huge). Now we worry our digital companions may become zombified—their little electronic brains taken over by shadowy forces and turned against us.

Technology, with all its promise to empower us, is also making us vulnerable in new ways. And nothing is quite so anxious-making as vulnerability. Not that there's anything wrong with a little well-placed anxiety. After all, as Kevin McCarthy learned in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," it pays to be paranoid.

—Mr. Felten is the author of the new book "Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue." Write to him at EricFelten@WSJPostmodern.com.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Imagining a world without standardized spelling

After the spelling bee, imagining a world without standardized spelling
By Erin McKean, Washington Post

JB Comment: Why "imagining" such a world? Just read college papers ...

The 275 spellers who gathered in Maryland this past week for the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee are well beyond “i before e, except after c.” They’re top-notch orthographic athletes, able to rattle off, in order, the letters of words such as “tchotchke,” “schottische” and “aryepiglottic” without a second thought. But what if correct spelling — a standard ordering of alphabetic characters, used to represent spoken words — didn’t exist?

At one point, English speakers lived in a world without standardized spelling. According to the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, in the late Middle Ages a word such as “through” could have as many as 500 variant forms, from recognizable formulations such as “thurgh” and “thorough” to more inventive combinations such as “orowe,” “drowg,” “trghug” and “trowffe.” There were pecuniary reasons to use inventive spellings: Lawyers’ clerks were often paid by the inch, and they added superfluous letters to words to pad the bill. Typesetters, on the other hand, might spell the same word several different ways in the same text to save space.

But not everyone was happy with a free-and-easy approach to spelling. In 1582, an English schoolteacher named Richard Mulcaster put together a book of “the right writing of our English tung,” including a list of 8,000 words. More than half (“elephant,” “gunpowder” and “glitter,” but not “tung”) are spelled the same way today. Mulcaster was moved to set down his list because he thought that “forenners and strangers . . . wonder at” English speakers “both for the uncertaintie in our writing, and the inconstancie in our letters.”

There are plenty of folks today who would like to see a world without spelling — or at least without what they see as the quixotic, inconsistent spelling of modern English. Spelling reformers have pointed out the illogic, ambiguity, overcomplication and general messiness of English orthography for nearly 500 years, and their lack of progress in solving any of these issues has not dissuaded them from trying. The last person to have any significant effect on the spelling of standard English was probably Noah Webster, who in 1806’s Compendious Dictionary of the English Language managed to shift “mould” to “mold” and “masque” to “mask” — though he lost the fight on “women” vs. “wimmen” and “ache” vs. “ake.”

Such battles don’t happen everywhere. Speakers of quite a few other languages inhabit a world without correct spelling. Spanish, Italian and German have much more regular orthographies — and not coincidentally, don’t have national spelling bees. But a world in which every English word could take any form would be a strikingly different place. In a best-case scenario, we would write every word exactly as we pronounce it. If orthography faithfully reflected pronunciation, new English speakers would have an easier time, and linguists could more easily track changes in the sounds of English across regions and centuries.

Without a recognized system of standard spelling, elementary education would be turned upside down. No more spelling books, spelling tests or “points off for spelling,” and perhaps a decline in sales of red pens and pencils. Children would learn the simplest possible spellings, such as “Goodnite Moon” instead of “Goodnight Moon.” In place of spelling bees, perhaps we’d see contests for the most creative, beautiful or evocative formulations of words, turning spelling from a chore into an art form. Making ambigrams — words that read the same right side up or upside down; they take center stage in Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” — and palindromes would be much easier, too, and English would have even more onomatopoeic words such as “oink” and “meow.”

In a world without standard spelling, writers would pledge allegiance to different spelling schools. Some would fancy double letters; others would dispense with the silent “e” or add decorative umlauts; romance writers would gravitate toward faux-French endings such as “-eau/x”; and science-fiction writers would use even more of the letters “x” and “q” than they do now. Fans would copy the spellings of their favorite authors, and your letter choices would identify you as a loyal reader of particular publications. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds: For more than 40 years, the Chicago Tribune advocated the simplified spelling of words such as “hemloc,” “iland,” “tarif,” “rime,” “philosofy,” “photograf” and “burocrat.” Some were dropped, but the spellings “thru” and “tho” were used until the mid-1970s.

Computers, however, might have a harder time. Search engines would struggle to retrieve the right links, although phonological spelling might make it easier to provide relevant results when a Southerner is looking for somewhere to eat in Worcester, Mass. On the plus side, though, we’d have no more problems with the Cupertino effect — spellcheck software’s tendency to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspellings and words not in its dictionary, such as suggesting “Cupertino” for “co-operation.” We’d have near-perfect dictation software, and no one would complain about weird words being added to their phone dictionaries through predictive texting. Meanwhile, dictionaries would become both easier to use and used less often.

But a world without spelling would also rob us of the pleasure we get from mastering the complicated, illogical English language. There’s a certain satisfaction to sticking the landing on a difficult word such as “silhouette” or “subpoena” or “surreptitious.” English spelling is messy and difficult. As this past week’s spelling bee competitors understand, that’s what we like about it.


Erin McKean is the founder of Wordnik, an online dictionary, and a former editor in chief for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Live Public Diplomacy

Leaks and Live Diplomacy: Why WikiLeaks Contributes to both U.S. and Global Diplomacy? - nataliatsvetkova.wordpress.com
Posted on June 1, 2011 by Natalia Tsvetkova

St. Petersburg State University, Russia

JB: This essay, written by someone for whom English is evidently not her native language (but then how many Americans could write in Russian as well as she writes in English) makes an important point, often overlooked in inside-the-beltway academic/bureaucratic discussions of "Public Diplomacy 2.0": that the new social media should not solely be used as a tool for Washington to "engage" with the world, but also as an important instrument for diplomats in the field to interact and stay in touch with their local interlocutors ("live diplomacy"): To quote from the article:
Live diplomacy will connect, first, the governments of all the counties within the Internet through communications and, second, public and governmental diplomatic activities in real time. The diplomatic practice will finally use the Internet as global fora or a virtual, interactive, and global diplomatic gate which will link up states, problems, negotiators, and, moreover, will invite the public to make a contribution to the resolution of diplomatic problems in terms of real time. The The State Department moves in this direction. But the American digital diplomacy and its innovative projects as i-diplomacy, tech@state, Opinion Space 3.0. and etc. mostly connect the foreign public with the American government rather than foreign governments and American diplomats in real time.

Finally, a new generation of diplomats, who were born in the period of complete computerization will not be able to resolve any diplomatic question without the digital technologies. This generation will more often negotiate in social media than in traditional rooms located somewhere in Ministries of Foreign Affairs. this Live diplomacy encourage social networks to become the primary methods of negotiations and engagement policy. Those officials who exploit the well known social networks to engage the autocratic states into a dialogue have known that the Internet accelerates the policy of engagement. This engagement in real time will make some diplomatic reports be valueless in terms of their confidentiality.
From a social media perpective, in my view, this "live diplomacy" of engagement  -- although Ms. Tsvetkova seems to limit it to essentially diplomat-to-diplomat rather than diplomat-to-people discourse -- is indeed the most "public" kind of public diplomacy. But only from a social media perspective. For, I would suggest, "the last three feet in face- to-face conversation" (to quote Edward R. Murrow) far surpasses facebook-to-facebook diplomacy as a means of human communication (if you actually can still have a lunch today with someone who won't thumb his cell phone rather than speak with, or even pay attention to, his luncheon partner).

Having said that, I must confess that after over twenty years of person-to-person contact as a public diplomacy practitioner, I can understand why, in the eighteenth century, members of "the republic of letters" often preferred exchanging correspondence than being in each other's presence. Also, in a letter, like a blog, you are reassuringly talking to yourself, while pretending to be communicating to others, a far more dangerous and challenging enterprise.

I often think of the words of Pascal: "I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man's being unable to sit still [presumably alone] in a room." Or, as Greta Garbo said in the film Grand Hotel, "I want to be alone."

Just kidding (but not quite).

St. Petersburg State University, Russia


The publication of confidential American diplomatic cables has a great many dimensions and opinions. U.S. officials, experts, journalists, and researchers estimate this event in such terms as free speech, espionage, censorship, power of corporations in Internet, piracy, cyber attacks, statecraft and Internet, radicalism, political secrecy, and etc. Most of experts argue that this disclosure is damaging the American foreign policy and diplomacy, and most of their interpretations relative to the release are strongly-worded.

We state that the publication of the diplomatic documents, on the contrary, will finally produce a positive effect for the development of both American and global diplomacy in terms of establishing a new form of diplomatic intercourse in the frameworks of the Internet. The reason for our favorable judgment is an analogy relative to previous leaks happened in world politics.

We live in the epoch of so-called Open Diplomacy: what is it?

According to the theory and practice of diplomacy, we live in the epoch of so-called open diplomacy. The system of open diplomacy began developing after the end of the First World War due to the well-known efforts of President Woodrow Wilson. The President called for the replacement of a secret European diplomacy by an open one.

Despite their idealism, his points led a foundation for a structural reforming the diplomatic system after the end of both the First and after the Second World Wars. The traditional and secret diplomacy, existed in Europe since the Renaissance, was accompanied by such new diplomatic structures as the League of Nations and later the United Nations and by such new diplomatic notions as multilateral diplomacy, two-track diplomacy, public diplomacy, mediation diplomacy, and finally the diplomacy of non-state entities as well.

Although these new structures and notions did not completely substitute the secret diplomacy, they contributed to the building of a more open channel of communication between makers of foreign policy and public. This channel transmitted certain information about the policy in the field of diplomacy, selected of course by governments. This transmission was carried out by means of the publication of diplomatic documents, treaties, and diplomatic corres­pondence in both local newspapers and separately edited books. In addition, the system of open diplomacy established press services in each Ministry of Foreign Affairs of European countries to disseminate certain information. Finally, the open diplomacy created a parliamentary control over governmental diplomatic activities.

However, few politicians and diplomats can answer the question of which events served as the reasons for Wilson’s statements and for establishment of the open diplomacy. The reasons turn out to be found in the cases relative to the publication of secret diplomatic documents happened in European countries during the period 1917-1919.

How Nikolai Markin and Woodrow Wilson undermined the Old and Secret Diplomacy

In November 1917, the government of Bolsheviks unexpectedly published all the secret diplomatic treaties and correspondence of tsarist Russia. A group of “editors” was led by Nicolai Markin, who made a great work. He retrieved, deciphered, and edited more than one hundred secret diplomatic documents by himself. Initially, Markin published the part of documents in Bolshevik newspapers. Since December 1917, the secret documents were published as seven volumes called Compilation of Secret Documents from the Archive of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Traditional diplomacy, existed then, has never known such a radical move conducted by any entity. The Great Britain, France, Germany, the United States and Russia had efficiently prevented any leaks by releasing the volumes of documents called Blue Books, Yellow Books, White Books, Foreign Relations of the United States, and Orange Books, respectively. Selecting and editing its documents, the global diplomatic system had satisfied the interest of the educated segment of public, who concerned in international politics. Since the end of the First World War, this system of communication between the public and governments encountered with the first and huge leak of diplomatic documents.

In contrast to the current case relative to WikiLeaks, Nicolai Markin published certain authentic secret treaties but not only diplomatic reports. Markin released, for example, a secret treaty called the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 which stipulated a division of the Ottoman Empire by the Great Britain, France, and Russia. Another secret treaty said about the alliance between Russia and Japan against expansionist intentions of both the European countries and the United States of America in China. In addition, the new Russian government published a great many sensitive diplomatic memoranda with critical comments about European and American ambassadors accredited in Russia.

The publication of the Russian secret diplomatic documents produced certain impression in Europe and in the United States. The newspapers of the Great Britain and France provided excerpts from the diplomatic correspondence and treaties. The parliaments of these countries initiated hearings on the secret diplomatic activities of their governments raised by Bolsheviks. A response to this leak from the governmental circles in Europe and opponents of the Bolsheviks inside Russia remind the response to the current case relative to WikiLeaks: the documents contained nothing new. The New York Times wrote that “The publication of the secret documents at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs aroused no sensation. The substance of most of them was known beforehand. <…>…and the crowd, ignorant of geography and incapable of understanding diplomatic style, will simply be bored and bewildered by multiplicity of documents published in the Bolsheviki press.” (NYT, November 26, 1917).

After this disclosure Germany, being defeated and excluded from the European diplomacy, decided to publish, like the Bolsheviks, certain diplomatic correspondence. First documents began appearing in Berlin’s newspapers, notably Berliner Tageblatter, since January 1918. Later, the Weimar government established so-called Kriegsschuldreferat (War Guilt Division) in the Foreign Office. This Division published voluminous books titled the Grosse Politik that contained diplomatic correspondence between the German and other European states relative to the beginning of the First World War. These documents, carefully selected by the Weimar government, showed that the governments of the Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia should assume their responsibility for the beginning the war.

These publications compelled to follow the Great Britain, France, Austria, and Belgium. The European powers opened their diplomatic archives and began publishing a selection of their confidential documents. Moreover, nongovernmental organizations leaked secret diplomatic documents obtained from various hands in European newspapers that disclosed the European diplomacy in the pre-war period.

Finally, Woodrow Wilson proposed the new principles of open diplomacy in his address to the U.S. Congress. He called European states for the elimination of secret diplomacy and articulated his famous statement that “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.” Specialists in the field of Diplomacy Studies argue that this and other points articulated by the President were determined not only by Wilson’s idealism and by new aims of American global diplomacy but also by the disclosures happened in Europe.

Woodrow Wilson’s ideas and the leaks led the foundation for establishment of the open diplomacy, which dominates in our world today. Such new diplomatic structures as the League of Nations and later the United Nations and such new diplomatic notions as multilateral diplomacy, two-track diplomacy, public diplomacy, mediation diplomacy, and the diplomacy of non-state entities became common parts of world politics.

The new diplomacy allowed the public to obtain to some extent knowledge about what a government was doing in the field of international politics through mass-media, publication of diplomatic documents, press-releases, data compiled by various global and regional organizations, and, finally, the web-pages of agencies responsible for implementation of foreign policy. In addition, open diplomacy gave a voice to both new groups and states in the system of global diplomacy marginalized earlier.

WikiLeaks and Live diplomacy

However, this system of open diplomacy became obsolete due to existence and power of Internet community. At the end of the 19 century through the early 20 century, the circulation of printed mass-media created a segment of educated public which demanded an open diplomacy in terms of a parliamentary control, an access to any documents, and a role of non-state organizations in international relations. All these mediums effectively provided the societies with information of the diplomatic activities of governments. However, these channels of communication cannot satisfy the public, who exploited both computers and the Internet.

Today, the spreading of the Internet has globally formed the segment of public which demands a new diplomacy in terms of its access to governmental diplomatic activities in real time. The phenomenon of WikiLeaks has demonstrated that public is put aside from those layers of diplomatic activities of governments which is running by means of cyberspace but without control and participation of public, who uses the Internet.

Instead of the open diplomacy, which goes out of date due to the development of net technologies, a Live diplomacy will therefore take place.

Live diplomacy will connect, first, the governments of all the counties within the Internet through communications and, second, public and governmental diplomatic activities in real time. The diplomatic practice will finally use the Internet as global fora or a virtual, interactive, and global diplomatic gate which will link up states, problems, negotiators, and, moreover, will invite the public to make a contribution to the resolution of diplomatic problems in terms of real time. The The State Department moves in this direction. But the American digital diplomacy and its innovative projects as i-diplomacy, tech@state, Opinion Space 3.0. and etc. mostly connect the foreign public with the American government rather than foreign governments and American diplomats in real time.

Finally, a new generation of diplomats, who were born in the period of complete computerization will not be able to resolve any diplomatic question without the digital technologies. This generation will more often negotiate in social media than in traditional rooms located somewhere in Ministries of Foreign Affairs. this Live diplomacy encourage social networks to become the primary methods of negotiations and engagement policy. Those officials who exploit the well known social networks to engage the autocratic states into a dialogue have known that the Internet accelerates the policy of engagement. This engagement in real time will make some diplomatic reports be valueless in terms of their confidentiality. The diplomatic correspondence, comments, and diplomatic activities per se will be therefore posted in real time in the net.

Summing up, the phenomenon of WikiLeaks does not undermine either global or American diplomacy. Quit contrary, this phenomenon will establish the Live diplomacy, when the ninety percent of diplomatic communications will go through the Internet in real time and most of diplomatic correspondence will be an open data base, but only ten percent of all the diplomatic activities remain confidential. The only question is to find a politician similar to Woodrow Wilson whose political will would connect the new demands of the public with the statecraft.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A future/return

With the cacophony of the multitude of internet voices, maybe there will be a future/return to special voices you love.