Friday, November 30, 2012

A historian’s Spanish lessons for modern America

A historian’s Spanish lessons for modern America

By Michael Dirda, Published: November 28, Washington Post

Sir John Elliott is our greatest historian of 16th- and 17th-century Spain and the author of the magisterial biography “The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline.” In “History in the Making” this distinguished scholar — now in his early 80s — looks back on his career as a Hispanist and reflects on the developments in historiography over the past 60 years.

Straight off, Elliott lays out his cards: “I believe that theory is of less importance for the writing of good history than the ability to enter imaginatively into the life of a society remote in time or place, and produce a plausible explanation of why its inhabitants thought and behaved as they did.” While Elliott has done intense archival research and learned much from the social-science approaches of the French “Annales” school, he nonetheless comes across as very much a classic British historian: thoughtful, non-doctrinaire and quietly brilliant. He sensibly notes, for instance, that “over-interpretation” has joined “the post-modern insistence on the impossibility of interpretation as one of the sins of our age.”

As an undergraduate at Cambridge in the early 1950s, the young Elliott was initially drawn to the study of the English and European past, where his knowledge of French and German would stand him in good stead. But a holiday in Spain, coupled with the practical recognition that “there was standing-room only” for jobs in the more obvious areas of history, led him to commit his energies to Iberian civilization. He learned Castilian Spanish, then Catalan.

Not even historians are immune from history. When Elliott was starting out, Britain was no longer the empire upon which the sun never set, and its economy was in trouble. As he writes, “It was difficult not to see similarities between the situation of Spain in the 1620s and that of Britain in the 1950s: an exhausted imperial power and a reforming government, followed by disappointed expectations and at least the partial failure of reform.” In later pages of “History in the Making,” he adds that the United States currently finds itself in a similar situation as it struggles against the faltering of its global hegemony.

But why had Spain, once the dominant world power under Philip II, suffered a decline in the 17th century? One explanation for its failure to keep pace with France and England lies in the so-called “Black Legend — the leyenda negra — of Spanish cruelty and fanaticism,” usually associated with religiosity and an exaggerated sense of honor. However, Elliott’s first major book, “Imperial Spain,” argued against the view that the empire’s misfortunes resulted from its collective psyche. Couldn’t, for instance, the supposed “idleness” identified as part of the Spanish character be simply the result of “the lack of opportunities for regular employment?”

Nevertheless, imperial Spain did often view itself as a chosen nation, entrusted by God to defend traditional (and religious) values, but then “nineteenth-century Britain had no doubt of its privileged position in the eyes of the Lord, while the United States has notoriously shaped its self-image as the exemplification of ‘manifest destiny.’ ” Elliott points out that a bestselling study of postwar Britain took its gloomy epigraph from his book’s description of the 17th-century Spanish elite: “Heirs to a society which had over-invested in empire, and surrounded by the increasingly shabby remnants of a dwindling inheritance, they could not bring themselves at the moment of crisis to surrender their memories and alter the antique pattern of their lives.”

Elliott underscores that one key to understanding Spain lies in the “never-ending conflict between the country’s inherent diversity and an insistent pressure from the centre for unity. On the one hand there were the different kingdoms and provinces of the peninsula — the territories of the Crown of Aragon, the Basque provinces, Navarre, and, between 1580 and 1640, Portugal — and on the other a central administration which, over many centuries, was committed to the upholding of dynastic or state interests and of a set of transcendental values which it saw itself as divinely appointed to defend.” Similar tensions are not unknown in today’s United States.

Throughout his career, Elliott has been leery of wholesale economic and geographical determinism, being convinced that great men and women can sometimes alter the course of history. “Indeed, for me much of the fascination of the past lies in observing the continuous interplay between the individual and his or her environment.” Hence his major work — one product of a 17-year tenure at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. — is the biography of the Count-Duke of Olivares, the bitter rival of France’s Cardinal Richelieu.

These oddly similar ministers, and their sovereigns, found themselves addressing a sadly familiar problem: “The need to mobilize the human and material resources of the states they governed in order to wage and sustain their wars in an age of almost continuous warfare drove rulers to engage in all manner of financial expedients and extortions, which inevitably bore down most heavily on those least able to bear them.”

Not just a Hispanist, Elliott also helped establish the academic discipline of “early-modern history,” that period between the 16th century and the French Revolution when the medieval worldview still influenced Western culture. Its practitioners, he quips here, are best known for their intense focus on witchcraft, such that it sometimes seems “as if the study of early modern Europe has been reduced to a study of its witches.” Nonetheless, such marginalized groups, as well as entire nations outside the industrial mainstream (such as Spain), have grown increasingly central to our understanding of history. As Elliott affirms: “If the study of the past has any value, that value lies in its ability to reveal the complexities of human experience, and to counsel against ruling out as of no significance any of the paths that were only partially followed, or not followed at all.”

Today, it is apparent that “the nation state, while remaining the standard form of political organization, has been under growing pressure both from above and from below. . . . From above, it has been compelled to yield ground to international and supranational bodies, of which the European Community is a prime example. From below, it has come under pressure from the suppressed nationalities, and from religious and ethnicities demanding their own place in the sun. As a result, what once seemed certain has become less certain, and structures that once had about them an air of permanence are showing signs of frailty.”

Certainly, contemporary history has shown us, with a vengeance, that “the stronger the emphasis on secularization, the greater are the chances of religious revival. The advance of science finds its antithesis in the advance of fundamentalism, and the supranationalism of a world of multinational corporations and organizations finds itself challenged by the upsurge of the irrational forces of old-style nationalism.”

The study of history is a study in irony. Once the analysis of imperial Spain in extremis might have seemed an almost purely academic subject. Not any more.

Dirda reviews books for The Washington Post every Thursday.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING By J.H. Elliott Yale Univ. 249 pp. $26

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When you have basically nothing to do, get on a plane.

I am by no means a fan of Thomas L. Friedman, a genius at simplifying complexity, but I did find his statement in his latest New York Times column worthy of note:
Finally, there’s a reason that since the end of the cold war our secretaries of state have racked up more miles than they’ve made history. Before 1995, the job involved ending or avoiding superpower conflicts and signing big arms control treaties. Those were the stuff of heroic diplomacy. Fortunately, today there are fewer big wars to end, and the big treaties now focus more on trade and the environment than nukes — and they’re very hard to achieve. Also, today’s secretary of state has to deal with so many more failed or failing states."
He's quite right. Condolezza Rice was constantly on an airplane -- as is Hillary Clinton now -- because they, God bless 'em and their devotion to the Republic, really had/have no idea (or sufficient power) of how to deal with big global problems that need big solutions.

Such non-stop motion is meant to suggest solutions, but I'm not convinced that anything is actually getting done by such peregrinations for the US national interest.

It's all too easy to blame the Secretaries of State, in our foreign policy that has increasingly become the domain of the Pentagon, for essentially doing nothing except to pretend that they are, for the TV cameras/internet domestic consumption.

But recent Secretaries of State do seem to be incapable of doing what American diplomats did in the past, when a small group of negotiators actually determined  (pretended to determine?) the fate of the planet -- granted, often badly. Think Versailles, Yalta or (as Friedman points out) U.S-Soviet treaties during the Cold War.

Diplomacy on a grand scale seems indeed to be finito. Too many players (including the military), too much "public opinion"?

Is such a situation in the decision-making-process "good" or "bad"?

I really can't tell, although there are so many transnational problems -- climate change one among them -- that need forceful civilian, dare I say elite, leadership -- rather than endless PR-produced moments of sitting on a plane going from nowhere to nowhere -- if such problems are ever to be solved.


I'm also no fan of the pretentious, intellectually-shallow Francis Fukuyama who evidently read/misread (?) too much Hegel as an undergraduate.

But what Fukuyama says in his discredited essay on "The End of History" has some pertinence to the above:
THE PASSING of Marxism-Leninism first from China and then from the Soviet Union will mean its death as a living ideology of world historical significance. For while there may be some isolated true believers left in places like Managua, Pyongyang, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, the fact that there is not a single large state in which it is a going concern undermines completely its pretensions to being in the vanguard of human history. And the death of this ideology means the growing "Common Marketization" of international relations, and the diminution of the likelihood of large-scale conflict between states.

This does not by any means imply the end of international conflict per se. For the world at that point would be divided between a part that was historical and a part that was post-historical. Conflict between states still in history, and between those states and those at the end of history, would still be possible. There would still be a high and perhaps rising level of ethnic and nationalist violence, since those are impulses incompletely played out, even in parts of the post-historical world. Palestinians and Kurds, Sikhs and Tamils, Irish Catholics and Walloons, Armenians and Azeris, will continue to have their unresolved grievances. This implies that terrorism and wars of national liberation will continue to be an important item on the international agenda. But large-scale conflict must involve large states still caught in the grip of history, and they are what appear to be passing from the scene.

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.

Yes, boredom  -- as we all try to pay our PEPCO bills on time ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Interview on Public Diplomacy with a Dubrovnik mass medium (Dubrovacki list)

Below the English-language version of the Dubrovkacki list interview with your blogger (John Brown) that appeared in print (in Croatian), Wednesday November 28:

1. In 1981 you joined the US Foreign Service and served as a diplomat for 22 years. Has your opinion on diplomacy and its effects changed since 1981? How did you feel in 1981 regarding the importance of diplomacy and what are your thoughts today?

I joined the US Foreign Service, in the early 1980s, in search of gainful employment and out of a certain sense of idealism to promote peace at a time when our small planet was arguably “bipolar” (U.S. vs. USSR) and threatened by a nuclear holocaust.

During the period -- Cold War and immediate post-Cold War -- the social media were not omnipresent. I felt there was a need to depict America to foreign audiences as honestly as possible in a communications-limited world, not only behind the “Iron Curtain,” but in other parts of Europe.

Of course now times have changed, and diplomats must adapt to change.

But no one – including diplomats – should live under the illusion that, in our multipolar 21st century world, the social media are omnipotent. Indeed, the need to understand cultures beyond “interacting” on the internet is more important than ever.

Facebook-to-Facebook “communications,” while creating professionally useful cyber-networks, will never replace face-to-face discussion/negotiations -- which ultimately is what diplomacy is all about.

That is why, as a former diplomat in the “public diplomacy” field, I feel so privileged to share ideas with the bright and energetic students at DIU [Dubronik International University], here in the “Libertas” city of Dubrovnik, with its marvelous bells -- reminding me, every quarter of an hour, that there is no minute in our human lives, when shared with others in the real world, that is not a miracle.

2. You got your Ph.D. in Russian History, but you also spent almost whole your career in Eastern Europe, in the countries of Warsaw Pact, including former Yugoslavia. What do you think, is that old West-East/NATO-Warsaw division from the Cold War era of any importance in today [']s diplomacy?

The division of Europe along East-West lines is a legacy of the Cold War. Europe, diverse and unique, is one Europe, just as diverse mankind is, ultimately, one mankind. To be sure, cultural differences among nations/regions have been interpreted by some as an example of immutable civilizational tensions that inevitably lead to conflict. But as an American living in a multiethnic society facing “diversity” issues on a continual basis, I think that we human beings can all get along if we recognize that, although we may not be all the same, we still all aspire to better lives.

3. During your stay in Dubrovnik you are holding classes on DIU  [Dubrovnik International University -- JB]. Through[out] its history, Dubrovnik was best known for its skillful diplomacy, which helped the city/state keep its independence for centuries. Why is diplomacy so important for a life of a certain country? 

Diplomacy can be important because it can, let us hope, solve problems without violence. Sir Harold Nicolson suggested in his classic work on the subject that diplomacy began when parties involved in a conflict realized it was not in anyone’s interest to eat visiting envoys for dinner.

4. Can we notice public diplomacy making effect on our lives? How does it differ from cultural diplomacy?

To some, public diplomacy deals with fast-media, getting hard-hitting headlines to brand a country positively, moving the “needle” of foreign public opinion to promote national interests.

Cultural diplomatist enthusiasts argue that they deal with long-term processes -- e.g., educational exchanges – that will eventually bring universal harmony.

Having been a US public diplomacy practitioner for over two decades, I believe that this craft is an often uneasy mixture of both these points of view.

5. Dubrovnik suffered a lot in the early 1990’s during the Serb-Montenegrin siege. One of the most important fronts in that time was war propaganda, an instrument of war, in Dubrovnik case created in Serbia and Montenegro. Why is propaganda so effective and how it sells a war?

Propaganda and war have a sad symbiotic relationship. Propaganda at its worst inflames atavistic emotions that bring out the worst in human beings – e.g., exterminate the demon-outsider. Public diplomacy, at its best, reflects the memorable words of the US Declaration of Independence, which states: “All men are created equal” and notes that it is inspired by “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

These are powerful words, no matter how little they actually reflected the reality of late-eighteenth-century America – when blacks, women, and native Americans were not considered “equal” by the white property owners (many of whom had slaves) who signed the Declaration.

6. In March 2003 you resigned from the State Department to protest the Bush administration’s war plans against Iraq. What was the ‘trigger’ moment that made you do it after 22 years in service?

May I immodestly cite my e-mail (to which I never received an answer) to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell:

March 10, 2003
Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am joining my colleague John Brady Kiesling in submitting my resignation from the Foreign Service (effective immediately) because I cannot in good conscience support President Bush's war plans against Iraq.

The president has failed:
--To explain clearly why our brave men and women in uniform should be ready to sacrifice their lives in a war on Iraq at this time;
--To lay out the full ramifications of this war, including the extent of innocent civilian casualties;
--To specify the economic costs of the war for ordinary Americans;
--To clarify how the war would help rid the world of terror;
--To take international public opinion against the war into serious consideration.

Throughout the globe the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force. The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti-American century.

I joined the Foreign Service because I love our country. Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, I am now bringing this calling to a close, with a heavy heart but for the same reason that I embraced it.

John H. Brown
Foreign Service Officer

7. How did US Government ‘use’ propaganda on its own citizens during war in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Too much, and too stupidly.

8. What are your thoughts on US foreign policy today? For example, how does Croatia stand in the eyes of President Obama and his administration?

Regrettably, most Americans know all too little about Croatia. In many ways, we are a provincial nation, despite our immense access to vast sources of information. Our two biggest neighbors are two oceans -- the Atlantic and the Pacific – so we tend to disregard the outside world. So it will be an honor to tell my fellow citizens more about Croatia and its wonders when I get back to the USA. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kiss and Kill: Nothing Kinkier than Kovert Kombat Sex

[Sic-k] Headline -- "Rewrite the rules on miltary sex," by Laura Cannon -- in the online version of the Washington Post (Nov 25, 1:17 PM) -- or, missing an "i" (-ll-teracy) in the age of the social/corporate media to suit the needs of our hard-working, male-menopause generals (does the missing "i" have castration implications?), who turned out not to be Boy Scouts after all.

Putin image from; boy scout (by Norman Rockwell) image from

And listen to the lady author of the above article, with the above "typo" (as noted ) in its headline:

"I had no idea that a combat zone would be such a sexually charged environment. Blame it on amped-up testosterone pouring out of aggressive, athletic men. Or blame it on combat stripping even the strongest of men and women down to their core, raw emotions. Combine that with forming special bonds with comrades who promise to do whatever it takes to ensure your safe return home, including sacrificing their life for yours. What do you think happens?

Let me tell you, covert combat sex (or in my case, hard-core making out, because I was too scared to go 'All-In')

ranks high on the list of life’s thrills."

Image from

JB comment: Why does Ms. Broadwell look like a man in drag? Or like a "broad" who wishes to look "well," by looking like a man?

One more JB comment, re the above article:

General Cannon --  I realize that you have a comedy show, and that your above piece may be tongue-in-cheek --  why don't you try the below with your "aggressive, athletic men"? It's even kinkier than "combat"! And what a real comedy show that would make! No missing "i" there!

Image from

Saturday, November 24, 2012

English -- Good Enough for Jesus, But Is It Good Enough for U.S.?

"Her English is too good, he said,
Which clearly indicates that she is foreign."

--My Fair Lady

While teaching, in English, a two-week course pertaining to the United States to foreign students, most of them Croatian, in the charming Adriatic city of Dubrovnik, I cannot help but be linguistically refreshed by not having to endure the insupportable verbal tic "like," so frequently uttered by Americans of all ages, but especially the young.

It is also enchanting, while enjoying the privilege to give my course, to be blessed with hearing complete sentences, increasingly passé in America, coming from the mouths of twenties-something, even if uttered with an "accent."  Moreover, the absence among my current English-speaking Dubrovnik students of uptalk, unfortunately still prevalent in the U.S., is equivalent to being spared of aural torture.

And what a gift, when hearing young Adriatic ladies speaking in a soft, yes delightful feminine tone in a language that is not theirs, for the listener to be spared of the metallic voice of American young persons of the female persuasion, using their vocal cords like nails on a blackboard, to "speak" on their cell phone to their "friends," all the while reaching, grinding, into the deep innards of their throats, as if they were about to gag in order to utter a word.

Am I exaggerating? I suggest you ride the DC metro at 8:30 am and listen, if you can stand it, cell-phone "conversations."

Of course Croatians, avid users of the latest form of electronic communications, do seem, I have noticed, to have their own verbal tics, most noticeably the repetition of "ovai." So obviously no one on our small planet is linguistically perfect.

Yet I cannot help but observe that English, even if spoken with (without?) an American twang in foreign lands, often is far more bearable to the ear (or at least mine) than what is heard in the US of A itself.

I attribute this odd situation -- English spoken "better" overseas than in the homeland (1) -- in part because when educated foreigners learn English, many among them actually pay attention to its grammar, and give it the respect it deserves by speaking it as clearly and accurately as they can -- a form of minor discipline not often required in American schools, with their emphasis on encouraging "self-expression," no matter how incomprehensible.

It is no surprise to me that, because American learneries have totally abandoned the art of rhetoric -- speaking well -- many US undergraduates are incapable of producing a coherent sentence in writing, with the use of apostrophes (e.g., its vs. it's) a special "issue" (of course, nothing in the Land of the Brave is a "problem" anymore, given how perfect we are).

Yet how can American students, especially those interested in "international relations," learn a foreign language if they can't even master the basics of their own (basics which, some would say with considerable justification, don't exit -- oops typo, I meant exist) ?

I should also mention Hollywood movies/TV shows, so many of which, unlike 1930s film classics, do violence to the language of Walt Whitman by replacing dialogue with mumbling mushed in muzak.

I often ask myself while watching Tee-Vee after a "long day": Am I getting hard of hearing, or are these idiotic programs actually not meant to be listened to but only "watched," as writing a script to be spoken becomes "such an expensive hassle,"  from a media corporate "bottom-line" perspective,  for audiences who are so zonked-out that they'll sit in front of anything that has flashing pictures/"reality shows."

Mind you, I am not a believer in the "purity" of any language/culture. American English, constantly re-inventing itself,  is an all-receiving sponge, sucking in all kinds of high-/low-brow words, much to its enrichment. Indeed, one of America's great strengths is that we don't judge people by their accents when they speak our version of English.

Still, the degradation of language in America -- of clear, concise communication that is based on accepted (yes, whatever that may mean) conventions of understanding and is not unbearable to the ear -- can be cause of worry, if we wish to exchange ideas with one another -- and the world -- in intelligent ways.

In connection with the above, please see Shannon Chamberlain. "A College Admissions Tutor Spills All: Outlines! Edits! Rewrites!" Shannon Chamberlain, Slate

Top image from; below image from


Well, ok, let's get real here. Why should we (persons concerned about America's role on our small planet) need to worry about admittedly minor linguistic matters, in the elastic society that America is? Perhaps we should sit back and relax in front of the Tee-Vee.

As that genius of the U.S., Alfred E. Newman, said (pictured below), What Me Worry?

Maybe, indeed, we shouldn't.

And, after all, American adolescents sure make great videos ... and boy can they "write" as they think is right in, like, under 140 characters! 

Like, you know what I mean? Chill out old man!

USA-ers sure can, like, kommunicate! Awesome!!! Hey, dude, see, like, the below free sample!!!! -- when social media illiterates nail a job and have to turn to "serious" writing to get ahead:


"Updates to Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities [:] We are also proposing changes to our site governance process for future updates to our Data Use Policy and SRR. We deeply value the feedback we receive from you during our comment period but have found that the voting mechanism created a system that incentivized quantity of comments over the quality of them. So, we are proposing to end the voting component in order to promote a more meaningful environment for feedback."

--From an email from Facebook; image fromsee also

(1) An appalling, Nazi-sounding word for which we have George W. Bush to thank for its reprehensible introduction into the general American vocabulary.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Literacy, US International Broadcasting, and the Wilson Center

"In any given week, from North Korea to Iran and across the Middle East, from China to
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar, through Africa and India to Russia, Belarus, Central Asia and Cuba, 165 million people—equivalent to more than half the U.S. population—tune into the radio and television programs of U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB) by satellite, Internet and in some cases cooperating local radio stations.

After more than half a century, Congressionally-funded U.S. broadcasting remains the leading edge of American soft power—the principle [sic] means by which the United States speaks directly to less free and impoverished nations."

--A. Ross Johnson and R. Eugene Parta, A 21st Century Vision for U.S. Global Media,; image from

Question to the above learned authors: How do we "communicate" with the outside world if we can't even use our own language properly?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Bells of Dubrovnik

Yours truly is certainly not the first visitor to Dubrovnik to recognize the charm of its bells.

Indeed, this video can give you an idea of their captivating sound, heavenly music to many who are freed of a Mediterranean cruise ships for a few hours.

I am still trying to pinpoint the exact location of the bells, although I'm quite sure part of ringing emanates from the Dominican monastery and St. Blaise, both a walk away from where I am currently staying for two weeks in old-town Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik natives/aficionados can perhaps assist me in providing this information.

What is most striking to me is that, so far as I can tell, the bells do not all begin at the same time. There is a slight interruption between each bell(s) at different locations. This seems timed in such a way that no bells will interrupt other bells, even if clockwork-time-precision is slightly sacrificed in such a harmonious bell time-sharing.

After less than a week in this ancient Adriatic city, which has survived control by empires and nation-states (but will it survive tourists such as myself, the latest invasion?), I much prefer to be woken by the bells at 5:00 AM than by my alarm clock.

The sound of the bells, though certainly of a certain loudness, is subtle, and is far more agreeable to the ear than the screeching of an electronic device.

And the bells, God bless 'em, ring every quarter of an hour, reminding one, as they should, of one's mortality -- or, to sound less metaphysical, of my often unstoppable ability to procrastinate, including the demanding, down-to-earth art of getting out of bed.

Image from
Posted by John Brown at 9:06 AM

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rice on Ice


97 Republicans sign letter urging Obama to avoid Rice nomination for State - Pete Kasperowicz, The Hill

--Image from, with Notes and Essays comment: Opps, wrong Rice!

Republicans attack Rice, not race

--Headline In Washington Times (November 22)

"Really this Stanford dictionary of expletives must be replaced by something more Victorian, because certainly this is not the language in which we intend to discuss matters with our partners in the Security Council," said [Russian UN Ambassador] Churkin, mocking Rice's education at Stanford.

--Huffington Post

MOOCs -- less than 5 percent enrolled complete them

Teaching Introduction to Sociology is almost second nature to Mitchell Duneier, a professor at Princeton: he has taught it 30 times, and a textbook he co-wrote is in its eighth edition. ... [L]ast summer ... he transformed the class into a free online course . ... [T]hese massive open online courses, or MOOCs, harness the power of their huge

enrollments to teach in new ways, applying crowd-sourcing technology to discussion forums and grading and enabling professors to use online lectures and reserve on-campus class time for interaction with students. ... As with other MOOCs, less than 5 percent of those who enrolled in the sociology course completed it."

--Tamar Lewin, "College of Future Could Be Come One, Come All," New York Times; image from article, with caption: Prof. Mitchell Duneier of Princeton is adapting his classroom teaching style for an online audience of tens of thousands.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dolphins to Montenegro; or, why the U.S. Government is broke

[Note how many USG organizations (marked below in yellow) were involved in getting dolphins to the inviting waters (not just for dolphins, but especially for the US military) of Montenegro, which most Americans could not find (I bet) on a map. And the article does not mention how many "submerged unexploded munitions" were actually found by the dear bottlenose dolphins.]

The State Department Helps Navy Dolphins Make a Splash in Montenegro - David P. Hardison, DipNote: "Pigs might not fly, but dolphins just did, and in the process helped Montenegro pinpoint the location of unexploded bombs, mines, and other munitions that were fired, dropped, and dumped in its coastal waters. On October 5, six specially-trained bottlenose dolphins and their handlers from the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program flew to TivatMontenegro from their base in San Diego,California as part of Operation Dolphin 2012. Thanks to the coordination of the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica, Montenegro, and with a little help from the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the dolphin teams participated in a multinational military operation to search for submerged unexploded munitions from past conflicts in the Bay of Kotor. The dolphin teams, along with the U.S. Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit-1 based in Point Loma, California, also trained Montenegrin Navy divers to conduct similar operations. 

Military divers from Slovenia and Croatia observed operations as well. ... Upon completion, the Montenegrin divers were recognized in a graduation ceremony at which U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Sue K. Brown donated diving equipment to Montenegro, courtesy of the U.S. European Command's Humanitarian Mine Action Program. Grids with the precise locations of hazardous items will be provided to the government of Montenegro. With this information, equipment and training, Montenegro will be better able to continue neutralization of underwater explosive hazards to ensure that its beautiful waters may continue to be used safely by fishermen, recreational boaters and divers, cruise ships and freighters. This operation was a team effort, and a great example of ongoing State Department/Defense Department cooperation.

For the State Department, U.S. Embassy in Podgorica, Montenegro, coordinated the deployment, and the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs provided funds for some logistical costs of the deployment. For the Defense Department, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. European Command Humanitarian Mine Action Program, and the U.S Department of Defense's Humanitarian Mine Action Program were instrumental in the deployment. All of this was accomplished with the kind cooperation of the Montenegrin Ministry of Defense. This was the first time that the Marine Mammal Program [love that term -- JB] partnered with the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and the Department of Defense Humanitarian Mine Action program [mamal-to-mamal exchange program? JB] simultaneously. The State Department and Defense Department plan to employ this collaborative approach in the future to help countries affected by unexploded mines, bombs, and other munitions." Above Image from entry; below image from

A must-read for academics teaching "public diplomacy"

Forget creativity: Can lobbying be taught? - T.R. Goldman, Washington Post" [JB highlights]

"Now that the presidential and congressional elections are over, Washington’s quadrennial personnel shift begins, with hundreds of Hill staffers and political appointees from dozens of federal agencies preparing to descend on K Street, trying to convince prospective employers that they can either advance their agenda or stymie those of their opponents. For many, signing up for American University’s two-week series of lectures and seminars, enrolling in the master’s degree program at George Washington’s Graduate School of Political Management or taking the American League of Lobbyists’ Lobbying Certificate Program by attending 11 of 14 different monthly lectures — to name some of the most popular programs around town — might provide that competitive edge. Then again, it might get you no more than a very expensive piece of paper, one that costs $1,500 for a certificate of completion for American’s course and as much as $47,160 for the 36 credit-hours it takes to earn a full-blown master’s of political management at George Washington. It certainly won’t let you waltz into one of the city’s thousands of lobby shops with a guaranteed position — particularly not in today’s tight job market.

In short, you can go to school to learn about lobbying, but you don’t become a lobbyist by going to school.

...American [University]’s Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute — it used to be called the 'Lobbying Institute' until it was changed by a university dean who didn’t like the connotation, says Thurber — offers a full-time, two-week workshop whose speakers include some 30 lobbyists who talk about strategies and tactics used to influence public policy.

'One misconception about lobbying is that it’s simply hiring somebody who goes into Congress and talks to people to influence legislation. That’s a very narrow view,' says Thurber, adding that 'what we think lobbying is, and what we teach, is that it’s important to develop a clear strategy. These include everything from TV and print ads, social media, using survey research to evaluate how effective your lobbying campaign is to the public, developing grass roots and grass tops, coalition building, and knowing the law.'

Yet there is widespread agreement that perhaps the only sine qua non to becoming a successful lobbyist is a prior job on the Hill. 'It’s not just understanding the mechanics,' says House, 'it’s having a feel for how Congress operates and the mood of Congress, and the only way to get that is to have been part of the process.'

There is a type of personality common among the best lobbyists, 'a certain indefinable quality that makes certain people appealing,' says one top Senate aide who has been lobbied hundreds of times over the course of a two-decade career. Burdett Loomis, one of a handful of university professors who actually study lobbying, puts it this way: 'I do think you can teach a lot of this stuff,' he said from his office in the political science department of the University of Kansas, 'but obviously you can’t give someone a personality transplant.'

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Limestone or marble? - Speculations on Dubrovnik and America

The travel literature on Dubrovnik -- a city that has endured many empires and nations, but has nevertheless survived -- cannot cease to cite the putative words of George Bernard Shaw that "those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik ... the pearl of the Adriatic."

As a dedicated walker, on leave from Dirt-City DC (yes, Washington, our American capital, where the Mall, the heart of this town, has "green" spaces that look like an abandoned baseball playground, not speak of appalling social/economic conditions in parts of the imperial city as we "rebuilt" the Middle East/Central Asia), what has struck me most thus far about this European city's old-town are its impeccable, shiny main streets (needless to say, car-free), almost unreal, if not eerie in their cleanliness (they remind me of the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz, or maybe Disneyland).

My main question, though: Are the streets made of limestone or marble?

This evening, on yet another stroll, I asked a TV cameraman filming an event (a wedding?) near  St. Blaise's Church on a main old-town street and asked him, pointing to the ground below me: "Limestone or marble? And do they wax the streets?"

"Definitely limestone," he said, ignoring the silly waxing query and, to some, its "sexual" connotations. (Everyone a foreigner addresses in Dubrovnik speaks some form of English).

Why do the streets shine? "Because," the cameraman said, "for centuries people have walked over the streets, making them shine." He did not specify who these invaders were, but tourists, I would say, are the latest among them....

Image (no, the reflection is not water caused by global warming) from

Saturday, November 17, 2012

In Croatia, they praise the generals ...

I arrived in Croatia -- Dubrovnik, where I'll be teaching for two weeks -- yesterday afternoon, and the kind person who met me at the airport informed me (I quote the accurate words of the Washington Post) that "the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Friday overturned the 2011 convictions of generals Antee Gotovina and Mladen Markac for ethnic cleansing of Serb civilians in Croatia in 1995." Serb forces bombed Dubrovnik during a 1991-1992 siege.

The freeing of the Croatian generals from prison was met with celebrations in Dubrovnik. Singing, cheers, loud noises (I won't say explosions), could be heard long throughout the night. I witnessed rather wild expressions of joy, lubricated by alcohol, by young people in bar in the center of town.

Back in my apartment, I looked at Croatian TV where the news reports, needless to say, were dominated by "the freeing of the generals." Happy Croatian crowds were prominently displayed.

I couldn't help but compare, without drawing any conclusion, this veneration of the glorious freeing of the generals in Croatia with very mixed feelings to the humiliating revelations about our generals in the USA.

Image from, with caption: Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina, right, is embraced by an unidentified Croatian war veteran upon his arrival to the airport in Zagreb, Croatia on Nov. 16, 2012. The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal overturned the convictions of two Croat generals, including Gotovina, on Friday for murdering and illegally expelling Serb civilians in a 1995 military blitz.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?

Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker? - Robert F. Worth, New York Times (via DiploPundit)


The obsession with pushing your body to death in the name of "health" in a society that refuses the most elementary of exercise -- walking - drives me (well, ok, I don't have a car) nuts.

Image from

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

If you have nothing to so, you send messages to kill and flirt

My view as a not-yet-over-the-hill civilian (or should I say elderly "concerned citizen") opposed -- like so many ordinary Americans -- to stupid, budget-bleeding military adventures abroad, is that the ill-conceived military campaigns against ME /Central Asia "furreners," with no clear purpose, left the generals (Petraeus, Allen), wondering if not despairing (give them, civilian-powers-ass-licking military higher-up guys, some credit) in private about what their actual "mission" was, except to kill/pacify "insurgents" and so inform the White House and Congress about "success." Or so I suspect.

So they, the generals, unsure of what their job consisted and thus, overtly/publicly "busy" while basically underemployed, passed the time away/"relaxed" by sending flirtatious emails to rapacious persons, incidentally of the opposite sex (persons who, unlike the powers-that-be the generals report to, actually knew what they wanted).

More, on the absurdity of it all, at.

Not a feel-good story, but one which, arguably, has been repeated throughout history.

Gladiator image from; Cleopadra image from

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cell phones

My dear elder brother, a very successful businessman, recently bought me a cell phone as a birthday present, doubtless more out of kindness than pity.

At the risk of sounding like a modern-day communications "Luddite/dinosaur,"  I have felt no need to be constantly interrupted by being non-stop in "touch" with everyone.

There is much wisdom in the verse, "elected silence, sing to me." To go against the grain, we all need time for reflection, without the "threat" of being hounded by a cell-phone call.

Cyber-utopians, among them naive Americans like Alec Ross and Jared Cohen, laud the new internet world of "being connected" for the well-being of us all. But Cohen, an indefatigable lobbyist of the myth that technology-will-bring-us-paradise, and who now works for Google (surprise?), doesn't bother to answer Facebook messages, as I have personally experienced. Indeed, his Facebook entries, so far as I can tell, do not allow room for comments.

Having said that, I find the internet a wonderful research tool. If I had my way, I'd put all "knowledge" on the "Net," free of charge. Forget about silly copyright rules by profit-mad publishing businesses, which all along have mercilessly exploited their authors and readers for the bottom line.

But I have doubts about being "constantly in touch" with "anybody/everybody." (While you search the internet, you initiate the search, not the reverse, to state the obvious). Sure, a cell phone allows you not to receive calls non-stop.

But the basic assumption of such a "me-you-you-me" communications system is that you are, in fact, "reachable at all times," which in case of emergencies/important decisions is of course laudable. But for persons trying to have moments of reflection and privacy this assumption poses certain problems, even if (let's hope), "you can turn the damn thing off."

Doubtless, the cell phone is very much a steroids-propelled extension of the traditional landline telephone -- which did not allow consumers (I hope I am not incorrect technically in saying this) to "turn that ring off," except pretending by not answering the call from your angry lover (I am generalizing) that you weren't there dying to receive her/his oral missives, a wonderful theme in some great 1940s movies.

I also worry (too strong a word) about the impact the cell phone is having on the American "public space." As an example, you walk on streets, here in the DC imperial capital where I live,where maybe 50% of the passers-bye are uttering, with acid-sounding voices, whatever is on their minds on their cell phone, never sharing eye-contact with the unknown person near them, doubtless, in their view, a potential serial killer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Timothy Garton Ash on China

While serving as a US diplomat in the Cold War and immediate post-Cold War era, I had the privilege of speaking on several occasions with the brilliant Timothy Garton Ash, whose articles I have always read with admiration.

In the modest opinion of this total non-expert about a country I have never visited and whose languages I do not speak -- but, based on my experience during the last decades of the 20th-century in communist and post-communist countries: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Estonia, Ukraine, Serbia, Russia -- Garton Ash's latest piece on China seems absolutely spot-on.


China's next hurdle

You think the United States has problems? Take a closer look at China

By Timothy Garton Ash

November 8, 2012

In the same week it is revealed to us who will be the next leaders of both superpowers: Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. The only difference is that we didn't know it would be Obama until after Tuesday's vote. By contrast, we knew it would be Xi long before the process that begins in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 8, from which he will emerge as Communist Party leader, becoming president next spring.

The coincidence prompts two questions: Which superpower is getting stronger? And which faces the deeper crisis of its economic and political system? Though this may sound contradictory, the answers are: China and China.

Through its sheer size, developmental "advantages of backwardness," entrepreneurial people, history of imperial statehood and manifest individual and collective hunger for wealth and power, China will become relatively stronger. Therefore, since all power is relative, the United States will become relatively weaker.

But China also has the more profound systemic problems that, if not addressed, may both slow its rise and make it an unstable, unpredictable and even aggressive state. Over the last five years, the United States has gone through a great time of troubles. I predict that China will face its own time of troubles over the next five.

We all know about America's problems: deficit and debt, gridlocked Congress, a tax code longer than the Bible, neglected infrastructure and schools, dependence on foreign oil, the stranglehold of money over politics. I don't underestimate the difficulty of tackling them.

But we all know about them — and that's the point. We don't know the full extent of China's problems because Chinese media are not allowed to report them properly. In official party-state deliberations, the issues are hidden behind ideological code phrases.

Some of China's developmental challenges would exist even if it had the best political system in the world. It has gone through the biggest, fastest industrial revolution in human history. Its urban population has grown by 480 million in 30 years, so that more than half its people now live in cities. Its supply of cheap labor from the countryside may be close to drying up. It must attend to its own domestic demand, for it cannot rely on the U.S. being forever the consumer of last resort.

But many of its problems do result from its very peculiar system, which may be called Leninist capitalism. Since the mechanics of America's electoral college have been explained to the point of exhaustion, let me just remind me you of the Chinese version: 2,270 delegates to the 18th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which starts Nov. 8, "elect" some 370 members of the Central Committee, who in turn "elect" two dozen members of the Politburo, who in turn "elect" a nine — or perhaps now only seven — member Standing Committee, which stands at the pinnacle of the party-state. All the key appointments will in fact have been decided in advance, in horse-trading and intrigue behind closed doors. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin would thoroughly approve.

Yet at the same time, the vast Chinese state has a staggering degree of barely controlled decentralization and a no-holds-barred hybrid kind of capitalism, both of which would have the wax melting on Lenin's mummified brow. The result is dynamic but deformed economic development in which, for example, cities have run up mountains of bad debt with financial institutions ultimately controlled by the party-state. To call the allocation of capital in China "sub-optimal" would be beneath understatement.

The nexus of money and politics may be at the heart of America's systemic blockage, but so it is of China's. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, you see former Communist Party leaders who have become mega-rich practitioners of capitalism-in-one-family. In China, their counterparts have become mega-rich practitioners of capitalism-in-one-family, but remained Communist Party leaders. A Bloomberg investigation estimated the total private wealth of incoming President Xi's family at close to $1 billion; a New York Times inquiry put that of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao's family at $2.7 billion.

In China, as anywhere else, a crisis can catalyze reform or revolution. Pray that it is reform. This increasingly urgent reform, if it happens, will not result in a Western-style liberal democracy any time soon, if ever. But even some Communist Party analysts acknowledge that, in China's own long-term national interest, the changes will need to go in the direction of more rule of law, accountability, social security and ecologically sustainable development.

Now here's the rub. We, in the rest of the world, have an existential interest in the success of both America's and China's reforms. The bellicose edge to confrontations in the Asia-Pacific region between China and American allies such as Japan is deeply worrying. A recent Pew poll shows mutual distrust between the Chinese and American publics growing rapidly. Unhappy countries, unable to solve their structural problems at home, are more likely to vent their anger abroad. We must want them both to succeed.

Timothy Garton Ash, a contributing writer to Opinion, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and professor of European studies at Oxford University. He is the author, most recently, of "Facts are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name."

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Quotation for the Day

"when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split."

--Raymond Chandler; cited in The Times Literary Supplement (October 26, 2012), p. 11

Image from

Saturday, November 3, 2012

On the enlightened man who drafted the Declaration of Independence, arguably America's first "public Diplomacy" document

For persons interested in Public Diplomacy, especially American diplomats serving overseas:

On the Declaration of Independence as a "public diplomacy" document, see the article by the former head of the Broadcasting Board of GovernorsWalter Isaacson; on Jefferson's views of Native Americans, see. 

Monticello's Slave-Driver: Whatever moral ambivalence Jefferson may have felt toward slavery he overcame when he sat down to do the numbers for his estate. [review of Master of the Mountain By Henry Wiencek (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 336 pages, $28)]

By FERGUS M. BORDEWICH, Wall Street Journal

Posterity justly reveres Thomas Jefferson as a president, political thinker, renaissance man and diplomat, but until recently little attention was paid to his practices as a slave master and man of business. Although he owned one of the largest estates in Virginia, his management of his labor force at Monticello has usually been treated as a sideshow at best. As a slave owner, Jefferson has generally gotten a pass even from liberals, who lionize him as the founder of the forerunner of the Democratic Party, as well as from historians who have been all too eager to describe him as a generous, enlightened and reluctant master. After all, hadn't he written the words that became a clarion call for the abolitionists of later generations: "All men are created equal?"

Jefferson's long honeymoon is now over. In 2008, Annette Gordon-Reed, in "The Hemingses of Monticello," plumbed the depths of Jefferson's complex relationship with his enslaved concubine, Sally Hemings, and her family. Henry Wiencek's indictment of Jefferson in "Master of the Mountain" is even more damning.

The strongest sections of the book track Mr. Wiencek's close reading of Jefferson's estate records, where he found a coldblooded taskmaster who ruthlessly exploited child labor and overworked his slaves as a matter of course. Jefferson sometimes countenanced brutal punishment, including the whipping of boys as young as 10 or 11 in his highly profitable nail factory, "whose profits paid the mansion's grocery bills," Mr. Wiencek writes. Despite Jefferson's occasional assertions that slavery would one day wither away, he never lifted a finger to weaken it as an institution, even when implored to do so by friends and allies who regarded slavery as an affront to the values for which patriots had fought the Revolutionary War.

In his youth, Jefferson did hold antislavery convictions. And in his earliest draft of the Declaration of Independence, he may well have had slaves in mind when he declared that all men were created equal.(Southerners were sufficiently worried that they tried unsuccessfully to have the word "men" changed to "freemen.") By 1784, however, in "Notes on the State of Virginia," he expressed in graceful but cringe-inducing prose a deep personal distaste for blacks, who, he asserted, smelled wrong, copulated with apes in Africa, and were incapable of intellectual achievement.

Whatever moral ambivalence he may have felt toward the institution of slavery he overcame when he sat down and did the numbers for Monticello. In 1792, he calculated precisely what his slaves were worth. Mr. Wiencek writes: "What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved children were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest." To intimates, Jefferson described slavery matter-of-factly as a good investment strategy, advising one friend that if his family had cash to spare, "every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes."

When it comes to Jefferson the slave owner, Mr. Wiencek's judgment is unsparing. "His assets reliably compounding, his philosophy rendering him deaf to the appeals of humanity, he plowed through any contradiction," he writes. "He wielded a species of power that made its own reality." Mr. Wiencek notes that Jefferson deliberately presented visitors with an idyllic but artificial picture of slave life at his estate. He would point to a few exceptionally industrious slaves who in fact, Mr. Wiencek says, "were desperate to remain in the master's favor, to stay on the mountaintop"—that is, the part of the estate closest to the house—"and not be sent [to the plantations] below, where the overseers were in charge."

As a businessman, Jefferson was in tune with the evolving economy of the slavery-dependent South. By the eve of the Civil War, a generation after his death in 1826, slaves would collectively constitute the second most valuable capital asset in the United States, after land. Jefferson owned more than 600 over the course of his lifetime. At any given time, as many as 140 lived on the estate, some of them blood relatives of his deceased wife Martha, including Sally Hemings, Martha's mixed-blood sister, who apparently bore Jefferson several children.

Mr. Wiencek differs from Ms. Gordon-Reed on the significance of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship and devotes comparatively little space to it. Ms. Gordon-Reed concluded that, despite the inherent inequality of slave and master, a degree of mutual affection must have existed between two people who, she argued, remained intimate for more than 30 years. Mr. Wiencek is convinced that Jefferson felt little emotion for any of the people he owned and believes that the Jefferson-Hemings relationship was a mere "transaction" that lasted just a few years.

It seems sadly all too true that, as Mr. Wiencek puts it, "Jefferson constantly moved the boundaries on his moral map to make the horrific tolerable to him." He spoke about the practical impossibility of emancipation, but he knew several Virginians who had freed their slaves as a matter of principle. As Mr. Wiencek showed in "An Imperfect God" (2003), his fine study of George Washington and his slaves, one of these Virginians was the nation's first president, who liberated, in his will, all the bondsmen he held in his name. In this deeply provocative and crisply written journey into the dark heart of slavery at Monticello, Henry Wiencek brings into focus a side of Jefferson that Americans have largely failed—or not cared—to see. This book will change forever the way that we think about the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Bordewich's most recent book is "America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union."

A version of this article appeared November 2, 2012, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Monticello's Slave-Driver.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Public Diplomacy Practitioner Reacts to a Public Policy Anthropologist's Pronouncements

"Dear ---,

"I hope you receive this message.

Did you find that [Professor Robert] Albro's article ['The Hard and Soft of Cultural Diplomacy: Networks and Stories in Global Affairs'] was a monument to gibberish? And what is a 'public policy anthropologist' anyway?

'partial privileging', 'conjoined', 'Information brokers" (This reminded me of the POMs - Public Opinion Molders - in our [USIA] day), 'network centrality', 'Their analysis privileged connections that were highly assortative.' Maybe I am dense, but his piece did not connect with me.

'Assort' in my dictionary is defined as 'classify'. Why does he not use the simpler verb?

It brought be back to the [USIA] motto over the door of 1776 Pennsylvania:

'Telling America's Story to the World' - Now that is soft power!

All best,

Phil" [Pillsbury]
Retired US Foreign Service officer

Posted here with Mr. Pillsbury's kind permission.

Image from