Wednesday, October 31, 2012

R you the real Murrow? Or, Public Diplomacy and Accuracy

Tara Sonenshine, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Remarks for Edward R. Murrow Program For Journalists, October 29, 2012:

"And then I came to the State Department, where I now oversee the Department of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department, which is known as 'R.' ... Edward Roscoe Murrow was the first director of the United States Information Agency – which in 1999 became part of the Department for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. He was the founding father of public diplomacy – this Edward 'R' Murrow … . Stands to reason we’d call our department 'R.'"


Actually, Edward R. Murrow was the fourth director of USIA. His predecessors were Theodore Streibert (1953-1956), Arthur Larson (1956-1957), and George V. Allen (1957-1960). See. It would also be more accurate to say that Murrow was "a," rather than "the" founding father of public diplomacy. The coinage of the term "public diplomacy" in its modern meaning is generally attributed to Dean Edmund Gullion in 1965 -- the year Murrow regrettably passed away.

Which leads me to repeat what was said in that propaganda state, the former Soviet Union: "We never know what will happen yesterday."

Or, even better, to quote blogger extraordinaire Paul Rockower, himself quoting Mark Twain, regarding the above statement by the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, "never let the facts get in the way of a good story :)."

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Public Diplomacy and the Flight to the Academy

“Diplomacy was not like chess, Holbrooke told me; it was more like jazz."

--Michael Ignatieff

"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)"

--Duke Ellington

"When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering."

--Hegel, Preface to the Philosophy of Right

I am reading, for my sins (which are many), a book by Richard Pells, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies and the Globalization of American Culture (2012). Much of this volume seems like a series of Wikipedia entries (although far better written), and I don't quite know (as of now) what main point it is trying to make, except to proclaim that the world likes American movies. What else is new?

Having gotten that off my chest, I was struck by a passage in Pells's book that reminded me of the current state of American public diplomacy:
To the extent that jazz found a home in the 1960s, it was no longer in clubs (which were either shutting down or hiring rock musicians to entertain the patrons), but in the universities. As in the case of literature, jazz ceased to be a popular art form. Instead, it became a subject of study, encased in theory, with jazz musicians as members of university faculties. Their music could still be heard on college radio stations and in concerts on campuses. But the flight to the academy further isolated jazz musicians from African American and white audiences. (p. 153)
Let me explain. Public diplomacy (PD) is, to some, a Cold-War relic that is an anachronism in the 21st century. Indeed, the term itself was coined when jazz was becoming homeless, in the mid-1960s -- an indication that this quite undefinable activity (which, arguably, existed, under a less jaw-breaking designation, since antiquity; see Sir Harold Nicolson's book on diplomacy [1]) was, by being placed in a linguistic straitjacket, already losing its spontaneity and energy (have you ever tried to define "jazz"?).

As an American PD practitioner on behalf of our government during ten years of the Cold War and for a decade after this conflict ended, I basically considered myself a jazz performer, improvising,  as best as I could, in order to promote American national interests overseas. (See the wonderful article by my father, who was a "public diplomat" before "public diplomacy" became part of the general vocabulary; and do consult Richard Arndt's book). I saw my job, as my father did, as an opportunity to share ideas with the best and the brightest in other countries about America's role in the world. It wasn't rocket science, but I hope it contributed to a better understanding of the United States overseas.

One distinguished veteran of the United States Information Agency (USIA) put it best regarding public diplomats in the past century, who so often did "what they wanted" in the field, uncontrolled by internet-delivered instructions from Washington: "We got away with murder," he told me over (a thank-God non-brown-bag, with real napkins, and eating utensils) lunch. Call all it nostalgia if you wish.

Today, American public diplomacy, once implemented by an independent and very imperfect agency (the above-mentioned USIA), is hidden away at the regulations-driven State Department, some would say like a coffin at a funeral home, despite the good intentions of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (who, strangely enough, believes Edward R. Murrow was "the first director of the United States Information Agency") and her dedicated staff.

And PD has increasingly become, like dinosaurs, "a subject of study, encased in theory," with a growing number of American "higher education" learneries (one of which has, at least, a great football team that is, unfortunately, not doing so well this year) offering courses/degrees in "pubic diplomacy" (pardon the non-typo) for students hoping, in these hard economic times, to get jobs (while amassing huge debts paying outrageous fees for "tuition") by earning a "PD" degree, often from ivory-tower professors who have themselves never engaged in this very down-to-earth, "real-life" activity.

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(1) Pp. 7-8 (1988 edition): "The Greek states from the sixth century [BC] onwards adopted the practice of choosing as their Ambassadors the finest orators, the most plausible forensic advocates, that the community could produce. The task of these envoys was to plead the cause of their city before the popular assemblies of foreign leagues or cities."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Public Diplomacy: International Exchanges: National Weapon vs. Universal Understanding?

The below article by a well-meaning but somewhat naive American boarding school teacher poses key questions about USG-funded/approved "international exchanges."

The questions, to simplify:
  • Are USG-sponsored exchanges a weapon "we" (the USA directly or indirectly through overseas NGOs funded by USG funds) use to undermine, through so-called "soft power," political/social systems abroad "we" don't like?
  • Or are these exchanges a means of non-power-politics intended for "international understanding" among "diverse" social/political entities, the kind of universal empathy identified with, ironically enough, a segregationist Senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, the founder of a program in 1946 that bears his name).

I suppose they are a mixture of both. Maybe Hegel (thesis, antithesis, synthesis), were he still alive (and comprehensible) could resolve this issue from a philosophical perspective.

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Below the article:

Seeds of Chinese Liberalization, Made in America: Studying in the U.S., then going home by the hundreds of thousands bearing Western ideas.

By FRED ZILIAN, Wall Street Journal

Right here in our cozy, conservative boarding school in New England, we are unconsciously and with no malicious intent sowing the seeds of revolution in China. Chinese students coming to the United States for secondary and undergraduate education are learning—through their formal education in American classrooms and through osmosis at corner coffee shops—liberal political ideas and critical-thinking skills that may in the long run help to destabilize the Chinese political system. These students, who will soon be part of the next generation of adults in China, could prove in the long run a more insidious force to the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army than the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

The Chinese discovered our New England boarding school only recently. Five years ago we had three Chinese students; four years ago we had 11; then 19; then 26. This year we have 32. Our experience reflects a national phenomenon. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, only 65 Chinese students attended U.S. private high schools in academic year 2005-06. In 2010-11 the number had grown to 6,725. Chinese attendance at U.S. colleges is also booming. In 2011, 157,588 Chinese students attended college here, a 23% increase from the prior year.

The Chinese students at our school are not only among our best students, they are also among our best citizens. They run and are elected to class office, they apply for the Model United Nations Club and—thank heavens—they play musical instruments and sing. Our choir and orchestra would be seriously weakened without their presence.

Sometimes they stun us with their knowledge of American culture. One of our Chinese students was the only child in a class who could identify the "Huckleberry Finn" character known as "the duke"; another was the only one who could quote the final line in the movie "Gone with the Wind."

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, one of the pre-eminent existential questions facing China has been: Can the Chinese accomplish what the Soviets could not—liberalize economically while maintaining an illiberal political system? The Chinese Communist Party reigns over 1.4 billion people with power concentrated in its 25-member Politburo. There are no genuinely free elections, no legal parties beside the Communist Party, and few guarantees of political rights. Whereas soldiers in Western armies swear to defend such things as the nation and the country's constitution, Chinese soldiers swear first their loyalty to the Communist Party.

My Chinese professor friend has told me that the Chinese people are used to following an emperor or strong man. Until 1911 the leader was an emperor or empress, from 1949-76 it was Mao Zedong. But that was the old China. Because of the tremendous double-digit growth China has realized during the past two decades, the country's middle class has grown to more than 300 million today from under 100 million.

It is a good bet that these people will eventually shift their focus from rudimentary physical and security needs to self-expression values such as freedom of speech and assembly, representative government, and free and fair elections—the values of the Enlightenment that destabilized so many Western countries where power had been concentrated in a monarchy or aristocracy. History is replete with the inexorable spread of a powerful idea or art form.

I asked some of our Chinese students after graduation what they believe they had obtained at our boarding school that their friends in China had not. More practical knowledge, said one.

"Here we have a lot of chances to apply the knowledge we have learned to see if we really understand them, such as essays and labs. These are very good ways to develop independent thinking as well."

Another emphasized the confidence in herself that she developed. If she had not come to our school, she "wouldn't have become this strong person." These students have tasted freedom of thought and have been educated to think independently and critically. As adults they will not easily be made to kowtow to anyone or to any political system that suppresses their freedoms.

Not Mycenaean warriors hiding in a wooden horse but Han students speaking native Mandarin—and excellent English—will return to China after their sojourns in America, carrying not weapons but liberal political ideas and critical-thinking skills. These students, combined with the masses of the new middle class, may prove to be a revolutionary cocktail for Chinese society. Call it the Han Spring.

Mr. Zilian has been a history teacher and the international student adviser at a New England boarding school for 20 years.

October 28-29 Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24 Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

The Odd Case of the Disappearing "Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review"

Below an email, slightly edited, sent to a valued PDPBR subscriber:

Dear --- ,

Thank you for your interest in the rather odd case of the disappearing Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review (PDPBR) blog on Google Blog Search, where until recently it was prominently featured when "public diplomacy" was used as a search term. Much appreciate your attention -- and I hope your queries re this matter provide you with un po' di divertimento about the Wonderful (but often so Self-glorifying and Absurd) Social Media World.

To bring you up to date, if I may:

(1) Some days ago I sent a Facebook message to former St. Dept. social media guru Jared Cohen (now working for Google in a high profile capacity) re the "disappearance" of the PDPBR. I recently received what seemed to be a response from him via Facebook, but it contained no text.
Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas, explains how the ‘think/do tank’ is using open technology solutions to help people tackle some of the world’s toughest problems.

Like ·  · 4 hours ago ·  

[Note: Mr. Cohen's "interconnectivity" paradise apparently allows no room for "comments."]

(2) Hoping to get the PDPBR back on Google Blog Search, what I did, as an experiment, was to make it accessible via my Notes and Essays, my second blog, by citing PDPBR link on entries on this second blog. Lo and behold, the PDPBR did, thanks to this procedure, again appear on Google search -- but not, of course, as the PDPBR per se, but as a subject included in the Notes and Essays.

(3) Which leads me to conclude that perhaps someone/somewhere (the Wizard of Oz?)

has "nixed" the PDPBR, without realizing/taking into consideration that it can be sent via the Notes and Essays (although whatever small impact it had as a "free-standing" site is thereby lessened).

(4) I'm still inclined to consider the option that this minor matter of the "eradication" of the PDPBR on Google Blog Search could be a technical glitch, although the whole episode stirs my curiosity (and slight paranoia after decades of US foreign service in communist/post-communist societies) -- as well as increases my humanistic skepticism re the Internet as an "open communications space." The argument against such a "conspiratorial" view is, of course, that it seems incredible that anyone would bother "liquidating" a non-political blog whose audience is, in terms of numbers, a limited one, if I read Google Analytics correctly.

(5) I've never been able to reach Google by phone. Maybe the Google-ites consider it passe technology or (which is far more likely) they don't want to be bothered by the public (oddly enough, in an age when the social media are supposedly creating a communications paradise where everybody is in touch, incessantly and openly, with everybody else).

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Oct 22-23 Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

More Eagerly Sought When It Was Precious

More Eagerly Sought When It Was Precious - Melvyn Dubofsky, New York Times

Melvyn Dubofsky is distinguished professor emeritus of history and sociology at Binghamton University. He is the author of, among books, "Hard Work, the Making of Labor History.''

OCTOBER 22, 2012

Never before has a population -- nearly all of whom has enjoyed at a least a secondary school education -- been exposed to so much information, whether in newspapers and magazines or through YouTube, Goodlge, and Facebook.

A century ago, even the semi-literate attended lectures, had lectors read to them at work and knew their Shakespeare.
Yet I remain unsure that Americans today are more knowledgeable than their predecessors 100 years ago, many of whom were barely literate. A century ago nearly every city, town, and village had a lyceum or other venue in which visiting speakers regaled packed auditoriums with lectures on popular and abstruse subjects. In Brownsville, Brooklyn, a poor, largely East European Jewish neighborhood, the local Labor Lyceum scheduled talks on Marxism, socialism, anarchism, evolution, and religion as well as performances by talented musicians. There as a teenager the famous mid-20th century impresario Sol Hurok honed his talent for staging concerts and developing musical virtuosos.

Such venues existed even in such far off places as Lead, S.D., Butte, Mont., and Cripple Creek, Colo., often in conjunction with local trade unions or labor and/or socialist parties. In unionized cigar-making factories in Tampa, Fla. and New York City lectors, or readers, sat on high stools reading Shakespeare, Marx, Engels, Darwin, Hugo, Balzac, and Tolstoy as cigar rollers performed their skilled work. Decades later during the depths of the Great Depression and the emerging New Deal, the union leader John L. Lewis and President Franklin D. Roosevelt battled each with fierce oratory that drew on the Bible, Shakespeare, and other classical sources, knowing full well that their auditors would understand literary allusions and flourishes.

While teaching undergraduate college students for 50 years spanning the eras when knowledge derived from printed materials to the days of Wikipedia and the World Wide Web, I saw how contemporary advances in technology offered more serious and inquisitive students access to realms of knowledge previously unimaginable and unavailable.

But I also observed how such readily available knowledge led many more students away from serious study, the reading of actual texts, and toward an inability to write effectively and grammatically. It has let people choose sources that reinforce their opinions rather than encouraging them to question inherited beliefs. And it has diluted the shared bases of knowledge that a Lewis or a Roosevelt assumed bound their listeners together.

Having made citizens more and less knowledgeable than their predecessors, the Internet has proved to be both a blessing and a curse.

George W. Bush Won This Debate

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Invention and Adaptation

"When it came to modernity, the true American specialty was not invention but adaption. Just as American artists, writers, and entertainers would reassemble and repackage the ideas they received from abroad before retransmitting them in altered form to the rest of the world, so American industrialists adopted foreign economic innovations and transformed these into consumer products on a global scale."

--Richard Pells, Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture (2011), p. 13-14

Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review, Oct 20-21

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Minor Matter: Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review Hatcheted by Google Blogs (updated)

A kind and very professional person interested in public diplomacy suggested that, to solve the Google Search zapping of the "Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review" on the Internet, which I mentioned in a previous blog, I do the following:

Go the link:  [A link which could be most useful to persons with blogs.]

I dutifully did so, and still my minor contribution to updates on PD on Google remains "verboten," so far as I can tell.

Meanwhile, I sent ex-Department of State social media "expert," now cashing-in Google employee Jared Cohen (he and SM guru Alec Ross are --still? -- pals), an

e-mail via Facebook re this situation, asking on why, essentially, my modest blog has been "liquidated" by Google Search.

No reply thus far. Never expect an answer from a social media functionary, despite their commitment to "communication" (which, on their part, is carefully selected to their own advantage).

See American diplomat and State Department dissindent Peter Van Buren on Alec Ross (a) (b):  Ross as a pretentious, unpleasant, arrogant self-promoter, aiming to be an "eternally-young" ambitious political operative by now far over forty who apparently studied medieval history (I had the unfortunate opportunity to sitting next to him at a British Embassy dinner some years ago; he couldn't think of talking about anything "interesting" except himself). Thank God I had some red wine to drink.


From an edited a Facebook communication with MC (October 20, 2012):

Of course, we all know that Google, Inc., has no real "person' behind it to deal with the public. Try contacting a "human" directly at Google. For a "social media" company that prizes so-called "interconnectivity," it -- and Facebook -- are totally unresponsive to individual requests/concerns, except through the so-called "help" feature (available on Google; not sure if this is the case of Facebook), which essentially is the blind leading the blind.

The SM (no, not sado-masochism, but social-media) companies' justification for this neglect of the so-called consumers (don't expect them to call us human beings!) is : Our product is offered "free" to you, so stop bitching!

Free my butt! These companies are collecting, free of charge for them (the SM executives), tons of info that they can sell to the powers-that-be, through advertising (and doubtless other methods we "consumers" know nothing about) info about OURSELVES by proclaiming that our Brave New World of cyberspace is bound to be "Facebook-to-Facebook."

Let's not mince words: Essentially the whole SM process, while proclaiming that its aim to to "bring people together," is about techno eager beavers (what's the right word? Silicon valley "entrepreneurs") selling data about consumers to marketers).

To make all-American MONEY.

All this in the name of "communications" ...

And remember, above all: "The business of America is business."

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Minor Matter: Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review Hatcheted by Google Blogs


My modest near-daily blog, Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review (PDPBR), in the past was regularly cited by Google. In recent weeks, however, it is not longer mentioned by this search engine. No big deal, but I wonder why.

I do know from sources I consider reliable that in mainland China my blog is verboten, but why should it be "liquidated" by a US-based company run by individuals whose credo is “Don’t be evil”? I would think such a rule of conduct would certainly apply to dealing with an unfunded blog whose main purpose is pedagogical. (A former senior Foreign Service officer, I'm currently affiliated with a Washington, D.C. university, sharing ideas with students on foreign relations).

Any suggestions on why PDPBR blog has "evaporated" from cyberspace -- or on how I should fix this situation -- would be welcome, including, needless to say, from Google itself.

Of course, all of the above could just be a minor "technical" issue that will, as they say, "solve itself."

P.S. Oddly enough, this "Notes and Essays" blog seems to be acceptable to Google.

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For Public-Diplomacy Lovers of Alliteration

Announcement from the United States Institute of Peace:

Exchange 2.0: The Science of Impact, the Imperative of Implementation: With Her Majesty Queen Noor Al Hussein and Tara Sonenshine, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy.

From the Program: "Exchange 2.0 is a critical next step in international education and exchange that leverages the power of new technologies to vastly increase the number and diversity of students who have a profound cross-cultural experience as part of their education. The pressing need to multiply constructive people-to-people connections and build bridges across divided cultures is clear. And yet, in recent years, the pressure to expand exchange opportunities has collided with a resource-constrained environment in which all programming outside core priorities has come under renewed scrutiny."

Bring on Spiro Agnew!

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Floating Gold

From: Jennie Erin Smith, "Something indescribably elemental: A history of ambergris" [Review of Christopher Kemp, FLOATING GOLD A natural (and unnatural) history of ambergris 187pp. University of Chicago Press], The Times Literary Supplement (September 10, 2012)

"Ambergris is sperm whale faeces that have been transformed by intestinal bacteria and oxidation into a solid, waxy mass that is pleasantly aromatic, though not without betraying a whiff of its origins. It begins as a build-up of indigestible squid beaks and waste in the whale’s rectum, growing layer by layer around a hard core.

Sometimes the whale expels the mass into the sea, where it may drift for many years before washing ashore, usually in small pieces resembling rocks. At other times the mass becomes large enough to occlude the bowels of the whale and kill it. Whalers once looked for ambergris only in thin or sickly whales, and even in recent years beached sperm whales have been disembowelled by shrewd ambergris seekers in Sri Lanka and New Zealand. The price of good ambergris, which is still used in perfumery, is about $1,000 a pound; it gives depth and power to heady scents like Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar."

Image from, with caption: Ambergris New Zealand

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A dog-love-dog exchange with Ambassador Mc Faul

Reaction to a Facebook entry by US Ambassador to Russia Ambassador Mc Faul:

Bo, the Obama family dog, poses for a photo on the North Lawn of the White House, Sept. 28, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

John Brown facebook entry: Mr Ambassador, At the risk of being ironic, I hope you are not providing a photo of your key contact at the White House. I know you have a sense of humor so I'm sure my comment will not offend you. BTW, in the Eisenhower era a people-to-people group was established to improve international communications between dog-lovers. The group believed that "dogs make the best ambassadors."

Why Obama won the debate

Why? Because he showed total boredom/disdain with the corporate media's framework on how our country should deal with issues facing us Americans. His all-American, finger-giving message: "don't fence me in." See also.

American Culture: Blowjobs and Golf?

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man without a Country, pp. 116-117:

"But seriously, if you keep up with current events in supermarket tabloids, you know that a team of Martian anthropologists has been studying our culture for the past ten years, since our culture is the only worth a nickel on the whole planet. You can sure forget Brazil and Argentina.

Anyway, they went home last week, because they knew how terrible global warming was about to become. Their space vehicle, incidentally, wasn’t a flying saucer. It was more like a flying soup tureen.

And they’re little all right, only six inches high. But they are not green. They’re mauve.

And their little mauve leader, by way of farewell, said in that tweeny-weeny, tanny-wanny, toney little voice of hers that they were two things about American culture no Martian could understand.

'What is it,' she squeaked, 'what can it possibly be about blowjobs and golf'?"

Top image from, with caption: Jean Siméon Chardin, Still Life (The Silver Tureen), dated 1728; below image from

Friday, October 12, 2012

How Belt-Conscious Inside-the-Beltway Americans "Eat"

In recent days I have been privileged to attend two luncheon occasions featuring important US officials on the topic of foreign affairs.

While listening to speakers at these at institutions dedicated to international understanding, I could not help but note how my fellow Americans "consumed" the food at the three-course meals offered to them.

Most didn't eat, they nibbled. They fiddled around the main course with their forks, took a reluctant bite out of their bread, looked at the dessert hey hardly touched with longing eyes.

Their plates, when waiters took them away, were full of wasted food.

I couldn't help but think: In a world where so many people (including in the USA) long for a decent meal, what does such disrespect for food, among the "DC elite," say about its views about what keeps us human beings alive?

Image of Marie Antoinette from

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We need a Czech anti-missile military base near Washington!

Following up on the article, "U.S. base should have been built near Prague – Cheney in press," I think that, in the true spirit of reciprocity and

Czech-American solidarity (which goes back at least to the time of Woodrow Wilson) the Czech government should be formally invited by the USG to construct an anti-missile base (AMB) near Washington D.C., to protect the "homeland" against incoming Russian/Iranian intercontinental rockets.

I strongly suggest that a relative of the the Good Soldier Švejk be put in charge of the Czech AMB project to defend the USA imperial capital.

That would assure it would never be built, thus greatly contributing to the prolongation of US-Czech friendship.

Top Image from; below image from, with caption: article via PS

Who really won WWII in Europe?

As the most elementary overview of the state of the European Union suggests, Germany (albeit no longer Nazi) won the Second World War

in the Old World (not through arms, but by finance/economics) some 70 years after this conflict ended! History is full of ironies ... See.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

An exchange (doubtless not yet complete) with US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul on academic ratings