Saturday, June 30, 2012

Empowerment and Public Diplomacy

A buzzword of the current US administration is "empowerment" (see the Public Diplomacy Press Review for innumerable examples, including, most recently, of the USG supporting more women in sports).

A repetitive guru, Joseph Nye, Jr., endlessly talks about "soft power," a term much uttered these days, including by potential "enemies" of America, specifically China.

By the way, "smart power," evidently "soft power" on steroids, seems to be a la mode in the Washington, DC beltway.

I guess the point is that power is ok if it's soft or, especially, smart ("public diplomacy"). Like, whatever, you know what I mean; tweet me.

But still: Power, power, power ... Can we human beings not specify how we, temporary passengers on planet earth, should get along in the 21st century with a better word/concept than power, no matter what adjective ("soft," "smart") supposedly softens/smarterns it?

Junk-food science - the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health

Breaking bread with family and friends is what keeps humankind together. Meanwhile, per the below article, we have a so-called "rich body of data: the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health" (is your jaw still in place?), based on a "sample," questioning this essential part of our humanity -- sharing food together.

Of course, so-called "studies" as the above-mentioned "peer-reviewed" (this is how it justifies itself) are based on "questions" -- but the questions frame the answers.

What did Gertrude Stein say, when asked what is the answer? The question.

Sample the below "research," and I hope you won't have indigestion.

I would invite the authors (one of whom, to cite another jaw-breaker, designates herself as "associate professor of policy analysis and management") to lunch, but of course they -- the learned authors -- would probably consider that (to be invited to lunch) an efficiency-breaking travesty.

They would, doubtless, much prefer buying "food" at a "take-out" place and chewing, in solitude, in a cubicle, sans famille (or family friends), just as children (and their colleagues?) should.

O tempora, o mores ...

Is the Family Dinner Overrated?

DOZENS of studies in the past decade have found that teenagers who regularly eat dinner with their families are healthier, happier, do better in school and engage in fewer risky behaviors than teenagers who don’t regularly eat family dinners. These findings have helped give dinnertime an almost magical aura and have led to no small amount of stress and guilt among busy moms and dads.

But does eating together really make for better-adjusted kids? Or is it just that families that can pull off a regular dinner also tend to have other things (perhaps more money, or more time) that themselves improve child well-being?

Our research, published last month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Marriage and Family, shows that the benefits of family dinners aren’t as strong or as lasting as previous studies suggest.

We considered a rich body of data: the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health. This is a nationally representative sample of about 18,000 adolescents who were interviewed twice, a year apart, in middle school or high school, and then again in young adulthood (between ages 18 and 26). They answered detailed questions about their lives and well-being, and their parents also answered questions on topics like income and living arrangements.

In our study, we analyzed how the frequency of family dinners was associated with three indicators of a young person’s well-being: depressive symptoms; drug and alcohol use; and delinquency (a tally of many behaviors, from petty shoplifting to physical assault).

First, we looked at the associations between family dinners and these measures of well-being at just a single point in time, in adolescence. Without controlling for any other factors, the associations between family dinners and well-being were quite strong and in line with past research. But the associations were far less striking after we accounted, with the help of the data, for the ways in which families who did and didn’t eat together tended to differ: for instance, in the quality of family relationships, in activities with a parent (a tally of things like moviegoing and helping with schoolwork), in parental monitoring (things like curfews and approving clothing) and in family resources (things like income and whether both parents were in the household).

To give an example: without controlling for such factors, we found that 73 percent of adolescents who seldom ate with their families (twice per week) reported drug and alcohol use, compared with 55 percent of those who ate with their families regularly (seven days a week). But controlling for these factors, the gap was cut in half, from 18 percentage points to 9.

Next, as a more stringent test of causality, we looked at adolescents over the course of a year and examined how changes in the frequency of family dinners related to changes in well-being. If adolescents were eating family dinners more often a year later, were they better off? We found that following teenagers over a year provided even weaker evidence for the causal effects of family dinners on adolescent well-being — only the effect of family dinners on teen depressive symptoms held up. There was no effect on drug and alcohol use or delinquency.

Finally, we looked at whether family dinners in the teenage years had effects that persisted into young adulthood. Again, evidence for benefits was thin. We found no direct, lasting effects of family dinners on mental health, drug and alcohol use or delinquency. (Of course, it may be that family dinners have a stronger or more lasting effect on behavior that we didn’t study, like eating habits.)

What, then, should you think about dinnertime? Though we are more cautious than other researchers about the unique benefits of family dinners, we don’t dismiss the possibility that they can matter for child well-being. Given that eating is universal and routine, family meals offer a natural opportunity for parental influence: there are few other contexts in family life that provide a regular window of focused time together. (A study by Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Use asked teens when, apart from dinner, they talked to parents about their lives: a vast majority said it was when driving in the car.)

But our findings suggest that the effects of family dinners on children depend on the extent to which parents use the time to engage with their children and learn about their day-to-day lives. So if you aren’t able to make the family meal happen on a regular basis, don’t beat yourself up: just find another way to connect with your kids.

Ann Meier is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. Kelly Musick is an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

infojunk/infoconsumers/facebook/public diplomacy

It does not take a genius to figure out that the key question in 21st century information is not how much data, but what data.

Targeted infoconsumers are overwhelmed by infojunk -- no wonder the junk-food place in our USA neighborhoods is called 7/11, non-stop eating of "food," is so similar to non-stop "news cycles."

"Data," which I used above, is the wrong word.

What is needed, above all, is not data but the sought-for and, of course, impossible acquisition of wisdom, an aspiration in theory fulfilled by careful study (not to speak of experience), through time and a knowledge of the past -- the past not being, of course, a "canon," but an awareness that "today" was not always the case in a society where "now" is all that counts, as encouraged by (God bless 'em) the new social media.

I don't want to sound as pontificating as Polonius in Hamlet, but only through the past can we understand the present or imagine the future.

What is wisdom, which in my convoluted prose I have tried to describe above? Lord Chesterfield has a good take on it: "In seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it - thou art a fool."

I frankly can't stand Facebook, a two-way mirror where the "information" we "friends" supposedly provide one another is just a camouflaged way for data-collection by profit-obsessed corporations to "target" us for whatever info/food/consumer junk they want us to "buy."

Facebook's latest upgrade, Timeline, which archives everything you write on Facebook, is an privacy-invasion atrocity. Big Brother?

But I do use Facebook, reluctantly, to "keep up" with the times, although evidently teenagers have had enough of it, according to a recent report by the LA Times.

Facebook is an anachronism. I give it another two-three years. Anyone (of a certain age?) who saw the film "The Social Network," with its dreadful misogynist "hero," boy-genius Zuckerberg, cannot help but come to this conclusion (don't tell me Zuck and his lawyers didn't ok the film).

Basically Zuckerberg, as portrayed in the flick, is a guy who can't stand people, especially women, face-to-face. So he creates Facebook so as to click them off his me/men-centered life.

Persons younger than I, I should note, don't agree with yours truly about this. Zuck is a hero among them. So be it.

But maybe, despite the lingering buzz about Zuck being cool, Wall Street investors are not so dumb after all -- consider their reaction to Zuck's idiotically-planned IPO.

I bet you Facebook will be replaced by another silly, me-centered social "medium," and maybe -- yes, maybe -- people, fed up with the social-media nonsense, eventually will talk and see one another again, in the light of day rather than on a computer screen.

Then, maybe, elevated in the social consciousness, will be a pleasant meal and conversation in the "real" world -- when we get down to it, the real world is all we've got on this side of the grave (think of seeing your real friends face-to-face and growing your own vegetables).

And I'm not talking about a "brown-bag" lunch in some dumpy office at "work," but a junk-free-food meal with a nice glass of red wine (if appropriate) -- which, as a human rather than "professional" experience, we will actually remember.

Nor am I talking about a cell-phone to cell-phone "conversation," with its "yeahs," "like," "whatever," screeches-on-a-blackboard by teens passing for human communication that are forgotten as soon as they are uttered.

But, of course, a nostalgic face-to-face oh-so-passe illusion about remembrance in our modern world too is subject to much, much doubt as to its survival -- we are evolving beyond what used to be called our "human" selves, with no distinction between the virtual and the real, between cyberspace experience and human rememberance.

No philosopher, but interested in philosophy (what I understand of it), I believe that Plato had it right when he condemned writing as a substitute for memory.

If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.
I stress this quotation not because I am against literature (my father was a published poet, the kind of people Plato would have expelled from the Republic), but because I find that Plato's words are relevant -- and a warning -- about our illusory, memory-less social-media world.

Or should I say memory-controlled world? (Which amounts to the same thing as memoryless). In industrialized countries people increasingly don't remember anything anymore (too much of a bother), but the powers-that-be controlling the Internet sure do.

And, I bet you, they -- the powers-that-be, and granted I cannot identify them specifically -- will use what you don't care to remember about you against you -- or, in the spirit of Brave New World, to "make you happy" through targeted "buy this" campaigns.

I paraphrase from failing memory what Gore Vidal said: "Don't call it the United States of America -- call it the United States of Amnesia."

Of course, through the social media, you and our "friend" can arrange to break bread in the real world. But please ask her/him to turn off her/his cell phone as you attempt to make face-to-face conversation.

P.S. I much worry, as a former US public-diplomacy diplomat involved in the so-called ideological struggle of the Cold War, how much today the imaginative Moscow intelligentsia (currently so outspoken on Facebook) realizes that its words/images are being recorded/archived by persons not particularly supportive of their point of view.

(And if you, dorogie druzhia [dear (Third Rome) friends], think that the creepy and cynical Mr. Zuckerberg will come to your rescue when the Putin secret police knocks at your door, think twice).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter

This Embarrasses You and I*
Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter
By SUE SHELLENBARGER, Wall Street Jurnal

When Caren Berg told colleagues at a recent staff meeting, "There's new people you should meet," her boss Don Silver broke in, says Ms. Berg, a senior vice president at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., marketing and crisis-communications company.

"I cringe every time I hear" people misuse "is" for "are," Mr. Silver says. The company's chief operations officer, Mr. Silver also hammers interns to stop peppering sentences with "like." For years, he imposed a 25-cent fine on new hires for each offense. "I am losing the battle," he says.

Employers say the grammar skills of people they hire are getting worse, a recent survey shows. But language is evolving so fast that old rules of usage are eroding. Sue Shellenbarger has details on Lunch Break. Illustration: John S. Dykes.

Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

There's no easy fix. Some bosses and co-workers step in to correct mistakes, while others consult business-grammar guides for help. In a survey conducted earlier this year, about 45% of 430 employers said they were increasing employee-training programs to improve employees' grammar and other skills, according to the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP.

"I'm shocked at the rampant illiteracy" on Twitter, says Bryan A. Garner, author of "Garner's Modern American Usage" and president of LawProse, a Dallas training and consulting firm. He has compiled a list of 30 examples of "uneducated English," such as saying "I could care less," instead of "I couldn't care less," or, "He expected Helen and I to help him," instead of "Helen and me."

Leslie Ferrier says she was aghast at letters employees were sending to customers at a Jersey City, N.J., hair- and skin-product marketer when she joined the firm in 2009. The letters included grammar and style mistakes and were written "as if they were speaking to a friend," says Ms. Ferrier, a human-resources executive. She had employees use templates to eliminate mistakes and started training programs in business writing.

Most participants in the Society for Human Resource Management-AARP survey blame younger workers for the skills gap. Tamara Erickson, an author and consultant on generational issues, says the problem isn't a lack of skill among 20- and 30-somethings. Accustomed to texting and social networking, "they've developed a new norm," Ms. Erickson says.

At RescueTime, for example, grammar rules have never come up. At the Seattle-based maker of personal-productivity software, most employees are in their 30s. Sincerity and clarity expressed in "140 characters and sound bytes" are seen as hallmarks of good communication—not "the king's grammar," says Jason Grimes, 38, vice president of product marketing. "Those who can be sincere, and still text and Twitter and communicate on Facebook—those are the ones who are going to succeed."

Also, some grammar rules aren't clear, leaving plenty of room for disagreement. Tom Kamenick battled fellow attorneys at a Milwaukee, Wis., public-interest law firm over use of "the Oxford comma"—an additional comma placed before the "and" or "or" in a series of nouns. Leaving it out can change the meaning of a sentence, Mr. Kamenick says: The sentence, "The greatest influences in my life are my sisters, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna," means something different from the sentence, "The greatest influences in my life are my sisters, Oprah Winfrey, and Madonna," he says. (The first sentence implies the writer has two celebrity sisters; the second says the sisters and the stars are different individuals.) After Mr. Kamenick asserted in digital edits of briefs and papers that "I was willing to go to war on that one," he says, colleagues backed down, either because they were convinced, or "for the sake of their own sanity and workplace decorum."

Patricia T. O'Conner, author of a humorous guidebook for people who struggle with grammar, fields workplace disputes on a blog she cowrites, Grammarphobia. "These disagreements can get pretty contentious," Ms. O'Conner says. One employee complained that his boss ordered him to make a memo read, "for John and I," rather than the correct usage, "for John and me," Ms. O'Conner says.

In workplace-training programs run by Jack Appleman, a Monroe, N.Y., corporate writing instructor, "people are banging the table," yelling or high-fiving each other during grammar contests he stages, he says. "People get passionate about grammar," says Mr. Appleman, author of a book on business writing.

Christopher Telano, chief internal auditor at the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., has employees circulate their reports to co-workers to review for accuracy and grammar, he says. He coaches auditors to use action verbs such as "verify" and "confirm" and tells them to write below a 12th-grade reading level so it can be easily understood.

Mr. Garner, the usage expert, requires all job applicants at his nine-employee firm—including people who just want to pack boxes—to pass spelling and grammar tests before he will hire them. And he requires employees to have at least two other people copy-edit and make corrections to every important email and letter that goes out.

"Twenty-five years ago it was impossible to put your hands on something that hadn't been professionally copy-edited," Mr. Garner says. "Today, it is actually hard to put your hands on something that has been professionally copy-edited."

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at

A version of this article appeared June 20, 2012, on page D1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: This Embarrasses You and I*.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Note on American Demography and cultural exchanges

In the talk ("E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United") that I am privileged to give to participants in the Library of Congress's laudable "Open World" program, which brings up-and-coming young persons from former Soviet republics to America, I touch on the subject of US demography, on a non-expert level meant for an audience coming to America for all-too-short short homestays, usually for the first time.

Here's a footnote to the talk:

In an effort to explain why the U.S. is increasingly becoming a "post-racial society," despite our lingering racial tensions, I note that "black," "white" and "asian," according to the US Census, are considered "racial" categories, whereas "hispanic" is considered an "ethnic" category.

I have, in all honesty, a difficult time explaining to my post-USSR audiences why this racial/ethnic categorization exists (e.g., the Census talks about "non-hispanic" whites, but not "non-black" whites).

After listening to the NBC national news this evening (June 19) I realized that my layman's demographic confusion can perhaps be forgiven: in his broadcast, anchorman Brian Williams, noting that right now in America  more "asian" immigrants are coming to America than "hispanic" ones, referred to "hispanic" and "asian" both as "racial" groups, evidently contrary to the Census racial/ethnic "wisdom" on the subject.

I called NBC about this, and its polite operator said it would be brought to the company's attention; I did not mention the minor issue of "racial/ethnic" capitalization.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Culture" vs. Cultural Diplomacy

If you are interested in American cultural diplomacy, you might wish to consider the below highlighted sections from the article by Anne Midgette, "What the National Symphony Orchestra gets out of its tour of South America," Washington Post (June 8, 2012), as well as my brief notes pertaining to them.
It costs about a million dollars a week to take a major symphony orchestra on tour. So says Rita Shapiro, the executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra; and she should know, because her orchestra has just announced a second international tour within a span of eight months. The National Symphony Orchestra, which leaves for a 15-day trip through South America this week, is also going to Europe in January.
Touring has long been a staple activity of orchestras. It declined in the early years of the 2000s, precisely because of the prohibitive cost. Now a lot of orchestras are on the road again: PhiladelphiaChicagoSan FranciscoPittsburgh are among those that have made national or international tours this season. The reasons for touring may have changed, though $1 million a week is a lot of money to throw at a target without knowing exactly what it is you want to hit. 
The NSO went on its first tour in 1959, also to South America. Touring in those days was a different animal. In 1959, most orchestras in this country, including the NSO, didn’t offer full-time work; musicians routinely held down other, nonmusical jobs in the off-season. The appeal of a three-month tour was obvious: you got to work longer as a musician. Emphasis on “work,” because in those years before modern union contracts, an orchestra tour was even more grueling than it is now. This June, the NSO will be playing eight concerts in 14 days — but at least the musicians are taking charter planes, staying in top-of-the-line hotels and are contractually protected from performing on travel days. In 1959, there were no such protections and perks, and the orchestra played in more than 20 cities around the continent.
Ironically, although touring itself was more grueling, it also had more cachet. The NSO’s 1959 tour was sponsored by the State Department, at a time when the State Department was active in the cultural outreach game and sponsoring visiting artists all over the world. And such visits were still rare enough to make an impact. “We cannot emphasize too much the political value of our orchestra’s visit to the Latin-American countries,” Paul Hume, The Washington Post’s music critic, wrote in a tour report in The Washington Post in June, 1959, “where clearly the musicians are observed and met as citizens of the United States quite as much as musicians.”
Cultural diplomacy is not entirely off the table today: think of the New York Philharmonic’s concert in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2008, or the Florida Orchestra’s ongoing exchange with Cuba (Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra will come to the United States this fall). But in today’s global culture, large touring orchestras are not as a rule presented as official emissaries of the U.S. government, or of American culture. While the NSO has a single new American work in its South American repertory, it’s dispensed with the formality altogether on its European tour. Now, its major corporate sponsors — in the case of the NSO’s South America tour, Dow Chemical and Whirlpool — who help pick up the tab, in part because such tours are seen as value-added public-relations devices for the company’s own employees. Cultural amenities, companies have learned, are a factor in people’s estimation of whether a given city is an attractive place to live.
“It is an honor to collaborate with Whirlpool,” Andrew Liveris, Dow Chemical’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement, “to bring one of the great national treasures of the United States — the National Symphony Orchestra — to our employees, customers, and other community members throughout the region.”
 “We want to provide consumers, customers, suppliers and the entire Latin American society with a memorable cultural experience,” added Armando Valle Jr., vice president of institutional relations and sustainability for Whirlpool Latin America.
 Other companies are even more aggressive in their marketing: Credit Suisse has been using the New York Philharmonic’s conductor, Alan Gilbert, as part of its own branding, developing an iPhone app, for example, completely independent of the New York Philharmonic. But for an orchestra, such branding is a small price to pay for getting such an expensive venture underwritten — particularly since it helps get the orchestra’s name out there to a wider audience. “We hope they found value in being able to leverage our concerts for their constituents,” says Shapiro of the China tour, which Dow also underwrote.
For orchestras today, another aspect of cultural diplomacy lies in an emphasis on outreach activities — a new focus of orchestra’s lives at home that, increasingly, they’re taking on the road. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s latest China residency, which ended Wednesday, epitomizes this trend; not only is the focus on outreach something new, but the trip is conceived as the first in a series of repeat visits.
Outreach is an explicit part of the NSO’s South America tour, which was instigated in part by the Mozarteum Brasileiro, a major presenter that also focuses on music education, and which will include a wide range of teaching and outreach activities, including NSO Music Director Christoph Eschenbach taking a turn at the head of the youth orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago. But outreach isn’t an entirely new development, either; in 1959, in Montevideo, the NSO gave the first-ever children’s concert to be performed in Uruguay, bringing instruments out into the audience so that young people could see them up close.
In the heyday of classical recording, there was a tangible benefit to the time, effort and money expended on a tour: it was (as it still is for pop groups) a way to boost record sales. But the cost of recording today makes it a luxury for an orchestra that doesn’t have its own label — the NSO has released a single disc under Eschenbach — and sales of such albums are generally counted in the hundreds (if that) rather than the thousands. Not many orchestras actually make money touring, though some do (the Cleveland Orchestra allegedly makes money in Europe); in China, Shapiro said, the NSO almost broke even.
So to pinpoint the tangible benefit of a tour today is difficult — except that it’s clear that it energizes players, raises the orchestra’s profile, and is a better thing for the institution than sitting at home.
 “It’s a good thing for the orchestra,” says Lambert Orkis, the NSO’s pianist. “It gets them out. You get to play the same thing a lot; that’s good. There’s a focus factor....You kind of climb that mountain every night, that music is not automatic. It shouldn’t be automatic. If it gets to be automatic, you’ve got a different problem to deal with. Hopefully you’re finding new things to say. Even if not, you’re playing in different conditions.”
Different tours also mean different things. The NSO may still approach South America with some of the missionary zeal the orchestra may have felt in 1959; these are audiences who haven’t seen a North American orchestra live for some time, and it’s new turf for many of the players. The European tour, by contrast, is a different animal: Eschenbach is showing his new orchestra off in the stomping-ground of classical music. There’s no lip service to cultural diplomacy paid there; even the token piece by an American composer, notably present on the South America trip (Sean Shepherd’s “Blue Blazes”) is absent from the European programs, which are of all European music. “It’s very clear with the European tour,” Shapiro says, “that it represents another step up in our game.”
But for Eschenbach, at least, the ultimate benefits of all the effort are to the orchestra.“All the orchestras I have toured with,” he says, “they come back better than they were before.”
Midgette, in her article, makes several points about cultural diplomacy:
1. She states that, "in today’s global culture, large touring orchestras are not as a rule presented as official emissaries of the U.S. government, or of American culture," while noting that for one of the sponsors of the NSO tour, DOW chemical, it's an "honor,"  in the words of its president, “to bring one of the great national treasures of the United States — the National Symphony Orchestra — to our employees, customers, and other community members throughout the [Latin American] region.” Clearly, then, in this recent tour NSO is in fact seen as an emissary of America culture by one of its major supporters, despite Midgette's claim that "large touring orchestras are not as a rule presented as ... emissaries ... of American culture." 

2.  Midgette further states, to qualify her above statement, that "The NSO may still approach South America with some of the missionary zeal the orchestra may have felt in 1959." What she means by "missionary zeal" is not quite clear, but cultural diplomacy that aims to convert rather than enlighten or delight is seen by audiences as yet another form of propaganda and thus as a rule fails to move them. In the case of the Cold-War Jazz Ambassadors, for example, much of their appeal was that "America [was]  ... exporting its ... deepest conflicts and contradictions," not engaging in an "outreach game" (I cite Midgette's words) or pumping an agitprop message. This, at least, in the view of how the jazz musicians saw themselves, although they doubtless had no illusions about who -- the USG  -- was paying them.

3. Midgette seems to distinguish between "culture" and "cultural diplomacy." On the NSA European tour, she writes, "There's no lip service to cultural diplomacy." She suggests that culture in its highest form (as to be demonstrated by the NSA "in the stomping ground of classical music," Europe; is she, risking to be accused of being Eurocentric, downplaying the cultural importance of Latin America, another NSA destination?) As I read her words, I thought was she was essentially saying that culture, when used for "diplomatic" purposes, is a form of propaganda. But what she fails to understand is that the most memorable cultural diplomacy -- cultural relations among nations supported by their governments -- is cultural diplomacy that represents, at its best, the highest forms of culture as created by artists throughout the world.
4. Midgette's article does not exactly suggest that the international sharing of high culture -- another aspect of cultural diplomacy at its best -- is really on the NSO's administrators' mind. Essentially, from my perhaps misreading of the above article, their Euro (Euro-cash?) tour is all about them and their narrow personal/financial interests (the NSO, even they're called a "National" Symphony Orchestra). I quote from the above:  “It’s very clear with the European tour,” Shapiro says, “that it represents another step up in our game.” (What "our" game, may I ask, is Ms. Shapiro playing?) ... [F]or Eschenbach, at least, the ultimate benefits of all the effort are to the orchestra. ''All the orchestras I have toured with,” he says, “they come back better than they were before.'' So ... What we NSO-ers really care about is us (as not in U.S.), the "National" Orchestra ... well, at least Ms. Shapiro and Mr. Eschenbach are "honest" about saying so ... As the French say, "vive nous, a bas les autres."
5. Finally, Midgette's piece reflects a form of thinking, quite prevalent these days, that anything that has to do with the US government is inherently anachronistic, dysfunctional, or corrupt -- including in the cultural sphere. In our flat, interconnected world, or so the argument goes, government-free means pure, honest, direct, better. Of course, nobody in her right mind wants a Ministry of Culture in the United States, but why should "we the people" not welcome a positive role by our government in encouraging Americans to share artistic delight with other nations? After all, the United States, with its rich and complex culture, has far more to offer the world, with the support of its government, than expensive drones exterminating "terrorists."

Monday, June 11, 2012

College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be

June 8, 2012
Light, Truth and Whatever

Review: COLLEGE: What It Was, Is, and Should Be
By Andrew Delbanco
229 pp. Princeton University Press. $24.95.

Andrew Delbanco must be a great teacher. A longtime faculty member at Columbia, he is devoted to the development of his students as individuals, and recognizes that their time in college should be formative: “They may still be deterred from sheer self-interest toward a life of enlarged sympathy and civic responsibility.” Like most professors devoted to teaching, he has no interest in telling undergraduates what to think, but he does want to draw them toward a sense of skepticism about the status quo and to a feeling of wonder about the natural world. College, he tells us, is a time to learn to “make connections among seemingly disparate phenomena,” to see things from another’s point of view and to develop a sense of ethical responsibility. At a time when many are trying to reduce the college years to a training period for economic competition, Delbanco reminds readers of the ideal of democratic education.

In “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be,” he recalls this ¬ideal’s roots in English and American Protestantism. In this country, education was never supposed to be only about imparting information. It has long included character development — turning the soul away from selfish concerns and toward community. Delbanco cites Emerson’s version of this turning: “The whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men are convertible. And they are. They want awakening.” Even secular teachers are trying to “get the soul out of bed, out of her deep habitual sleep.”

By the end of the 19th century, this commitment to character formation, to sustaining “curiosity and humility,” as Delbanco writes, was in sharp tension with a commitment to professionalization. Colleges were becoming universities, which meant they were getting into the business of research. Community took a back seat to expertise, and schools once exclusively devoted to undergraduate learning sought prestige through the development of graduate and professional schools.

With the substantial increase in the number of students wanting to pursue a college degree and the expansion of the number of fields of learning that schools were expected to cover, the dream of a “common learning experience” for undergraduates faded in favor of offering a plethora of courses from which to choose. Modern universities are meant to produce knowledge through specialization, and they often reward faculty members by giving them “relief” from teaching. Our best universities are adept at steering resources to their most productive researchers, but the undergraduate curriculum gets little more than lip service. “Very few colleges tell their students what to think,” Delbanco notes, and “most are unwilling even to tell them what’s worth thinking about.”

Curiously, the elite universities’ neglect of their core college mission has coincided with a frenzied competition to enter their gates. The desire for learning and character formation seems no longer to motivate a majority of college applicants (or their parents), but the desire to gain access to the schools with the highest rankings certainly does. Selective universities confer status, and their diplomas are thought to bring higher earnings. The wealthy have a much better chance of appearing qualified for admission; high schools for the rich know how to polish those résumés and pump up those SAT scores. At many schools, the so-called meritocracy in admissions is increasingly an excuse for reproducing economic inequality. The class divide grows ever greater; those with money and those without “know less and less about each other,” Delbanco writes.

It’s no wonder that politicians on the right are now exploiting resentment about higher education, even though their own economic policies would increase income inequality. Universities have become complicit in solidifying the class divide by instilling in their students a sense of entitlement: you got in because you deserved to, and once we certify your talent, you’re entitled to whatever you can accumulate in the future.

Delbanco surveys this sad terrain, but he knows it’s not the whole story. Over the last 40 years many highly selective schools have emphasized creating a diverse undergraduate student body in the belief that this results in a deeper educational experience. Liberal arts education has moved away from cultivating homogeneity and toward creating a campus community in which people can learn from their differences while finding new ways to connect. This has nothing to do with political correctness or identity politics. It has to do with preparing students to become lifelong learners who can navigate in and contribute to a heterogeneous world after graduation.

Selective colleges and universities ought to be shaping campus communities that maximize each undergraduate’s ability to go beyond his or her comfort zone to learn from the most unexpected sources. To do so, and to deliver on the promise of our ideals, we must maintain robust financial aid programs and end the steep rise of tuition. If we’re to become more affordable and more responsible, we must replace spending for cachet with investments in student learning.

Delbanco stresses that “one of the insights at the core of the college idea” is the notion that “to serve others is to serve oneself by providing a sense of purpose, thereby countering the loneliness and aimlessness by which all people, young and old, can be afflicted.” Like John Dewey, he knows that education is a “mode of social life” in which we learn the most by working with others. Like William James, he prizes those “invasive” learning experiences that open us up to the “fruits for life.” The American college is too important “to be permitted to give up on its own ideals,” Delbanco writes. He has underscored these ideals by tracing their history. Like a great teacher, he has inspired us to try to live up to them.

Michael S. Roth is the president of Wesleyan University. His most recent book is “Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living With the Past.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Who Really Won World War II ...

"It is time for Germany, once the recipient of aid, to design its current policies with the same sense of urgency and vision that America did after World War II with the Marshall Plan, a farsighted program of assistance for the reconstruction of Europe."

--Charles S. Maier, "Europe Needs a German Marshall Plan," New York Times

Friday, June 8, 2012

Propaganda, Public Diplomacy, and the Most Watched Foreign News Channel ....

Re the success of the Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today (RT) television in the US of A -- pointed out by Kim Andrew Elliott below -- I would suspect that many of the quite clever and sophisticated RT editors (propagandists) are the cosmopolitan, multilingual, cynical sons and daughters of the now dying Red Cold War Russian upper bourgeoisie whose family privileges under the communist regime allowed them and their offsprings to travel/live abroad in style (by Soviet standards).

These jeunesses dorées westernized Russian RT propagandists are, doubtless with an ironic smile on their perfumed faces, turning our putative USA belief in free speech "against" us, by suggesting all along that opinions expressed by Americans themselves on RT are mostly ignored by US mainstream media.

It's the old "surrogate" public-diplomacy game, used (with the most honorable of intentions, of course) by RFE/RL during the Cold War information circus (e.g., dissidents, so often despising one another, "speaking out" against "the regime" and for "democracy"), and which was (I guess) quite effective then (exactly how no one can really tell; 1956 Hungarians who were not crushed by Soviet tanks might provide an answer), and seems to work, according to statistics (and who can ever trust statistics) in the 21st century American homeland today.

Maybe RT will incite the now passé 99% Occupy Wall Street loony left to take over the 1% sales capitalistes on the NY Stock exchange; but Russia Today's propagandists are careful not to suggest that Mother Russia will come to the rescue of America's oppressed masses (least of all by tanks, as she did to "save" the proletariat Eastern Europe before the USSR collapsed).

Also, RT has, so far as I can tell, no insufferable ads for, say, penile dysfunction that would lead some (I include myself among them) to throw shoes at the monitor facing them when tuning on to the "news"-- knowing all along that most news and news programs are, after all, the "shock troops of propaganda":  Sir John Reith, cited in Philip M. Taylor, “The New Propaganda Boom,” The International History Review (Volume II, Number 3, July 1980), p. 498).

But if the RT propaganda is at times somewhat more interesting (or at least less unbearable) than the ad-filled USA-all-the-way marketing by the robot-like "anchor-persons" of the US mainstream TV corporate media (how often could we watch the vulgar and ignorant Katie Kouric, thank God now gone, with her Joker-like smile

reminiscent of the comic-book monster in the Batman films) or the two dreadful pundits with their so-called "analysis" on "public" Tee-Vee (a senior moment prevents me from remembering their names, given the mediocrity of their oh-we-can-disagree-but-really-agree commentary) why not "watch" it, the RT propaganda, right there on RT itself, in the good ol' homeland, without being told to buy pills to keep you potent even after you reach age 100 -- or (in putatively ad-free public television, although constantly demanding your "donations," for what purpose is not utterly clear), looking at the rooster-like neck (hidden in this clip)

of Mr. Shields or the balding head (nearly hidden) of Mr. Brooks who always smiles as if he were about to gag while they both utter (suddenly, why oh why do I remember their names) inanities under the pretense of pundit "analyzing." As for Fox, I was warned nearly ten years ago (Iraq-invasion time) that "John: Looking at Fox in the morning is like drinking in the morning."

May I note, hoping that my sense of humor will offend no one, that the BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors) consider hiring russkii impropergandists -- bright, young, savvy, English-speaking RT experts who would love to have a Madison Avenue PR job but would settle working here in America for the USG's dinosaur-like international media outlets, if only to get out of Russia (from which they were not "really" from to begin with) willingly contributing (anything for a green card) to the effort, as some in Congress desire, that the USG-funded media be used to propagandize the American people in the "war on terrorism."

Image from (1) (2


RT (Russia Today) "most-watched foreign news channel in five key US markets" - [Elliott comment:] "Why this apparent success for RT? There might be parallels here to CNN versus Fox and MSNBC. RT's competitors are merely news channels, whereas RT itself is edgier, appealing to a coalition of groups with motivations to view like-minded content. The RT coalition consists of the far left, the libertarian right, conspiracy theorists, UFO believers, adherents of the gold standard, and perhaps a few who want to meet Russian ladies."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Speculations about the Smith-Mundt "Modernization" Bill and Public Diplomacy

The more I think about this rejected-by-the-Senate bill (about it some of my previous postings - [1], [2]) the more I am convinced that it's basically meant to be a Trojan Horse giving persons in military circles, no matter how honorable their intentions may appear to them, a free pass to indoctrinate the American people through USG Defense Department psyops in order to have US citizens support what turns out to be often senseless wars (e.g, the invasion of Iraq, to cite the most evident and relatively recent example) and fight nameless enemies (the "terrorists").

All this in the name of national security and, supposedly, because now terrorism knows no boundaries, obliging us to fight the global jihad here in the homeland by winning ‘hearts and minds,’ including  those of J.Q. citizens (e.g. Somali-Americans in Minneapolis). Far more important than the bill allowing the American public to, say, listen to the Voice of America (as if we Americans today really needed official permission to access VOA reports on the Internet, since we can do so by a click on our computers via the internet), what this bill really underscores is that the Pentagon is "off the hook" as regards targeting the American public through psyops, by stressing, as it does, that the Smith-Mundt Act -- which, as it evolved through its amendments, made it clearer and clearer that the US population should not be propagandized -- does not apply to DoD, as some (granted, erroneously) thought.

What we really need is a strengthening of the Smith-Mundt Act, so that US citizens won't be the target of the black/grey propaganda used by the military and other branches of the USG overseas, supposedly (and, granted, justifiably, but oh-so-rarely) to keep Americans "safe" here at home.

No way, if we truly honor American values, should we be fed embellished "truth" (or plain falsehoods) in the name of national security by our federal government here at home. We are a free-thinking Republic. Benjamin Franklin's words are well-known on this topic, but bear repeating: "Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security." 

As for white propaganda directed abroad (like VOA reports on the harmless all-American skater Kwan traveling as a State Department public diplomacy envoy, smiles and all), of course there's no reason why Americans can't know about this -- as easily as they can right now, without the verbiage of the modernized Smith-Mundt Act letting them do so (and without, rest assured, of fears of being imprisoned) by simply going to the State Department homepage

But this "modernized" piece of legislation, justifying itself by supposedly making some USG public diplomacy items overseas ("white propaganda") more accessible ("transparent") to the American public, actually formalizes that the DoD -- whose "grey/black propaganda" funds are far greater, I am quite sure, than those for the Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs office at the State Department -- should not be subject to further restraints in brainwashing (sorry, I meant "informing") the American public here at home.

I wish, if he were alive, I could send a Facebook message to Franz Kafka with this posting. He might be intrigued by the absurdity of what it describes.


(1) During World War I, the Committee on Public Information, the first USG propaganda agency, was most concerned about the loyalty of German Americans (read, as pertains to today, Somali-Americans). Which leads me to cite Mark Twain: "History may not not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Public Diplomacy: The most unsettling section of the Smith-Mundt "modernization bill"

From the proposed "modernized" Smith-Mundt Act, which creates a firewall between the domestic and foreign dissemination of certain US government information:

"10 (c) APPLICATION.—The provisions of this section [line] 11 shall apply only to the Department of State and the [line] 12  Broadcasting Board of Governors and to no other depart-[line]13 ment or agency of the Federal Government.’’

Question, to reiterate the main point of my earlier piece on this subject: Should not, in fact, the Smith-Mundt Act (if modernized, understandingly stripped of some of its Cold-War idiocies/anachronisms, e.g., American citizens can't listen to the Voice of America [VOA]), actually, and far more importantly, be reinforced in order for our government to make it clear to the US public from where USG non-State Department information pertaining to foreign policy -- e.g. Pentagon grey/black propaganda reaching our shores -- is coming?

Illustration of this issue: What about retired Pentagon military enlightening us in the USA on spending billions on senseless wars? To what extent are they "unofficial spokesmen" for the Department of Defense?

Would such full disclosures (and, granted, there may be no "disclosures" to be made; if so, why not reassure the public that's the case) not be true "transparency"? Would it be against the Republic's "national interests"?

These are my main questions to Reps. Thornberry and Smith, the sponsors of the above-mentioned bipartisan Smith-Mundt "modernization" bill.

Why am I concerned about what could be to some a minor legislative issue? (Few are those, among the American public, understandingly so concerned about the economy, who could care less 60+year old Act dealing with foreigners)?

Because I, among many others, witnessed a White House/Pentagon domestic propaganda campaign that got us into the senseless war in Iraq, and that certainly has not helped the US economy, although Iraqi oil is apparently flowing.

Still, to me, the Iraq propaganda campaign was a lesson, perhaps learned too late (I was a "public diplomacy" Foreign Service officer for over twenty years when I left the State Department in opposition to the planned invasion) that, indeed, the US government -- any branches of it -- should not, repeat not, propagandize the American people.

Yes, I must confess, it was embarrassing, as an American diplomat in Eastern Europe for some twenty years, to "explain" to local interlocutors why VOA's immensely popular Willis Conover, its jazz DJ, was "banned" in the United States according to the Smith-Mundt Act (few Americans know who Willis is, although Willis was US hero in the Cold War in Eastern Europe for his non-propagandistic jazz program; or should I say subtle propaganda jazz program).

While posted in Russia (1998-2001) as Cultural Affairs Officer I helped organize a festival to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Willis's death, thanks to the coooperation of the brilliant and energetic Director of VOA's European Section. I tried, as "diplomatically" I could, when asked by Russians about Willis and why Americans couldn't listen to him, to turn the conversation to how much Laura Bush loved The Brothers Karamazov (am I embellishing my memory to make my point? Yes.)

Along with information from all sources available on the internet, this we-Americans-never-heard Willis anecdote makes a good case for "modernizing" the SM Act, but still not for abandoning its core principle: a government should not propagandize its own people.

Just ask Chinese dissidents. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Culture as Propaganda: Early-Cold War Memories

The below interview cited at: Exclusive: The Paris Review, the Cold War and the CIA: Letters discovered by Salon show even deeper Cold War ties between the Paris Review and a U.S. propaganda front - Joel Whitney, Salon: (Via ACP III on Facebook)

Conversations from Penn State Episode 203 [undated]: Peter Matthiessen: "SHOW OPEN SATALIA: He’s a renowned novelist nature writer environmental activist and Zen master. The New York Times Book Review calls him 'one of our greatest modern nature writers.' Peter Matthiessen has written more than 30 books and is one of the few American writers ever to win a National Book Award for both fiction and nonfiction. He has traveled to the far reaches of South America Asia and Africa. This past October he visited Penn State as a guest lecturer for the Rock Ethics Institute. We talked with him about the inspiration behind his work his travels and about the only adventure he’s ever regretted. Here’s our conversation with Peter Matthiessen ... MATTHIESSEN: ... [W]hen I was in in Yale University my favorite professor conscripted me in the CIA. As you know he said this is your patriotic duty. Well my girlfriend and I we were actually we met in Paris and then we got married and I didn't have a job and this was offered to me. I was a green horn. I didn’t  have any politics at all. I was just a Yalie. You know but they said we will send you back to Paris because Paris was in the middle of all the ferment that happened in the beginning of the Cold War. And the CIA then was very new. It was just coming out of the OSS [link from JB] and it didn't have this very ugly history of assassination and stuff that later got into. And then but even so and also I was writing my first novel. So I was my cover. So SATALIA: Working in Paris and creating the Paris Review which was what you did in your mid-twenties. MATTHIESSEN: Yeah the Paris Review [link from JB]. That augmented my cover but that's how the Paris Review began. And but then right in the middle of my first assignment I knew I was dealing with Communist French Communist people and I said these guys. They are humorless and wrong headed but they are honest. They are committed. I just didn't we were at home the same time we were having those witch hunts you know Communist witch hunts which were awful very ugly and I said I am on the wrong side here. I really got I got politicized but the other way. So I finally went to my bosses and said you know I am not on your side anymore. You can’t. SATALIA: In fact you said that two years with the CIA was the adventure the one adventure in your life that you regretted. MATTHIESSEN: The only adventure in my paltry career as a spy in Paris yeah. SATALIA: And and during this time your ... cofounder of the Paris Review Howard Hume he had no idea that you were that you were undercover for the CIA. MATTHIESSEN: No. Well I wasn't legally permitted to tell him you know. I did I did finally but I waited about ten years and then I still wasn't legally permitted but I did anyway. I didn't think anybody would care by that time."