Monday, January 30, 2012

Wondering about Propaganda, Rhetoric, and Public Diplomacy

A must-read  book about propaganda and rhetoric is Evonne's Levy's admirable Rhetoric and the Jesuit Baroque.

It poses a provocative question: What is the difference between rhetoric -- classical, Aristotelian rhetoric -- and 20th-century propaganda?

Reflecting on her comments, and fully aware of my immense intellectual limitations (I don't read Greek and am no philosopher) on this subject, I now venture to suggest the following:

Tone: Aristotelian rhetoric is even-tempered. Twentieth-century propaganda is marked by stridency, irrationality and violence to language.

Audience: Aristotelian rhetoric, while not overlooking the importance of human feelings (1), is an appeal to those who think and can control their dog-eat-dog instincts. Twentieth-century propaganda aims to manipulate the crowd by firing-up atavistic emotions.

Purpose: Propaganda, let's face it, exists for one purpose and one purpose only:  for the benefit of the propagandist and/or her organization (nothing wrong with that, by the way; but it's how you do it). Aristotelian rhetoric does, however, "reach out" beyond the propagandist for the benefit of the polis (here I am speculating;  perhaps I am being overly kind to politicians, even of the best sort). And, course, there is the question of religious, specifically Catholic, propaganda during the Counter-Reformation:  to whose "benefit" was it carried out? The Church as an organization? Or maybe, in the eyes of devoted priests, for the benefit of God? Or even more altruistically, for the benefit of the heathen themselves?).

Tools: The spoken word in all its purity and complexity is the essence of Aristotelian rhetoric. The brutal amplication of sound and images for purposes of simplification and therefore manipulation marks 20th-century propaganda.

Walter Isaacson, who's decided to leave his position as Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, characterized the Declaration of Independence as "in effect, a work of propaganda -- or, to put it more politely, an exercise in public diplomacy."

I am not quite sure whether our (American, but maybe universal?) Declaration -- a late-18th century document, reflecting the past but forecasting the future -- reflects classical rhetoric or 20th century propaganda. Perhaps, the Declaration is indeed propaganda, in the sense that in its putative appeal to the values of mankind, it sought to change the behavior of a refined but parochial Euro-America world (or, more specifically put, the enlighted "Republic of Letters" of that community) for the benefit of the rebellious colonies  -- i.e., to get support for American independence for the elite in that narrow but geographical extensive world (reminds me of the Internet).

Give credit to Isaacson: The Declaration, like all propaganda, benign or crude, was a me-first statement: it aimed to win over a "candid" world in favor of American independence by listing "facts" so that a white-skinned, male elite of property-owners in the American colonies could be "independent" -- arguably and more crudely put, didn't want others like themselves in the British Empire controlling/taxing them.

Be that as it may, the Declaration, for all its impolite (but, arguably, justified) polemic against George III and attacks on Native Americans, is far more civilized in its politics than the crudity of much of 20th-century propaganda, and not only that of totalitarian states.

As for propaganda in our new century, it is an illusion to believe that the "social media" mean an end to a phenomenon that has existed since the begining of mankind, propaganda. The purpose of propaganda is, essentially, "Do as I say." And that aspiration (illusion) on the part of (usually) elites, so many of them self-proclaimed, has existed since Adam and Eve, in various forms: some crude, some sophiscated.

Just ask Jared Cohen or Alec Ross.

I can see Twitter as the perfect tool for 21st-century dictators. Just read Orwell and 1984's telescreen.

(1) From Aristotle's Rhetoric, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Aristotle joins Plato in criticizing contemporary manuals of rhetoric. But how does he manage to distinguish his own project from the criticized manuals? The general idea seems to be this: Previous theorists of rhetoric gave most of their attention to methods outside the subject; they taught how to slander, how to arouse emotions in the audience, or how to distract the attention of the hearers from the subject. This style of rhetoric promotes a situation in which juries and assemblies no longer form rational judgments about the given issues, but surrender to the litigants. Aristotelian rhetoric is different in this respect: it is centered on the rhetorical kind of proof, the enthymeme (see below §6), which is called the most important means of persuasion. Since people are most strongly convinced when they suppose that something has been proven (Rhet. I.1, 1355a5f.), there is no need for the orator to confuse or distract the audience by the use of emotional appeals, etc."

Will "dangerous neighborhoods" in US cities be next?

U.S. Drones Patrolling Its Skies Provoke Outrage in Iraq


BAGHDAD — A month after the last American troops left Iraq, the State Department is operating a small fleet of surveillance drones here to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American personnel. Some senior Iraqi officials expressed outrage at the program, saying the unarmed aircraft are an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.

The program was described by the department’s diplomatic security branch in a little-noticed section of its most recent annual report and outlined in broad terms in a two-page online prospectus for companies that might bid on a contract to manage the program. It foreshadows a possible expansion of unmanned drone operations into the diplomatic arm of the American government; until now they have been mainly the province of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

American contractors say they have been told that the State Department is considering to field unarmed surveillance drones in the future in a handful of other potentially “high-threat” countries, including Indonesia and Pakistan, and in Afghanistan after the bulk of American troops leave in the next two years. State Department officials say that no decisions have been made beyond the drone operations in Iraq.

The drones are the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over functions in Iraq that the military used to perform. Some 5,000 private security contractors now protect the embassy’s 11,000-person staff, for example, and typically drive around in heavily armored military vehicles.

When embassy personnel move throughout the country, small helicopters buzz over the convoys to provide support in case of an attack. Often, two contractors armed with machine guns are tethered to the outside of the helicopters. The State Department began operating some drones in Iraq last year on a trial basis, and stepped up their use after the last American troops left Iraq in December, taking the military drones with them.

The United States, which will soon begin taking bids to manage drone operations in Iraq over the next five years, needs formal approval from the Iraqi government to use such aircraft here, Iraqi officials said. Such approval may be untenable given the political tensions between the two countries. Now that the troops are gone, Iraqi politicians often denounce the United States in an effort to rally support from their followers.

A senior American official said that negotiations were under way to obtain authorization for the current drone operations, but Ali al-Mosawi, a top adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; Iraq’s national security adviser, Falih al-Fayadh; and the acting minister of interior, Adnan al-Asadi, all said in interviews that they had not been consulted by the Americans.

Mr. Asadi said that he opposed the drone program: “Our sky is our sky, not the U.S.A.’s sky.”

The Pentagon and C.I.A. have been stepping up their use of armed Predator and Reaper drones to conduct strikes against militants in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. More recently, the United States has expanded drone bases in Ethiopia, the Seychelles and a secret location in the Arabian Peninsula.

The State Department drones, by contrast, carry no weapons and are meant to provide data and images of possible hazards, like public protests or roadblocks, to security personnel on the ground, American officials said. They are much smaller than armed drones, with wingspans as short as 18 inches, compared with 55 feet for the Predators.

The State Department has about two dozen drones in Iraq, but many are used only for spare parts, the officials said.

The United States Embassy in Baghdad referred all questions about the drones to the State Department in Washington.

The State Department confirmed the existence of the program, calling the devices unmanned aerial vehicles, but it declined to provide details. “The department does have a U.A.V. program,” it said in a statement without referring specifically to Iraq. “The U.A.V.’s being utilized by the State Department are not armed, nor are they capable of being armed.”

When the American military was still in Iraq, white blimps equipped with sensors hovered over many cities, providing the Americans with surveillance abilities beyond the dozens of armed and unarmed drones used by the military. But the blimps came down at the end of last year as the military completed its withdrawal. Anticipating this, the State Department began developing its own drone operations.

According to the most recent annual report of the department’s diplomatic security branch, issued last June, the branch worked with the Pentagon and other agencies in 2010 to research the use of low-altitude, long-endurance unmanned drones “in high-threat locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The document said that the program was tested in Iraq in December 2010. “The program will watch over State Department facilities and personnel and assist regional security officers with high-threat mission planning and execution,” the document said.

In the online prospectus, called a “presolicitation notice,” the State Department last September outlined a broad requirement to provide “worldwide Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (U.A.V.) support services.” American officials said this was to formalize the initial program.

The program’s goal is “to provide real-time surveillance of fixed installations, proposed movement routes and movement operations,” referring to American convoy movements. In addition, the program’s mission is “improving security in high-threat or potentially high-threat environments.”

The document does not identify specific countries, but contracting specialists familiar with the program say that it focuses initially on operations in Iraq. That is “where the need is greatest,” said one contracting official who spoke on condition of anonymity, because the contract is still in its early phase.

In the next few weeks, the department is expected to issue a more detailed proposal, requesting bids from private contractors to operate the drones. That document, the department said Friday, will describe the scope of the program, including the overall cost and other specifics.

While the preliminary proposal has drawn interest from more than a dozen companies, some independent specialists who are familiar with drone operations expressed skepticism about the State Department’s ability to manage such a complicated and potentially risky enterprise.

“The State Department needs to get through its head that it is not an agency adept at running military-style operations,” said Peter W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Wired for War,” a book about military robotics.

The American plans to use drones in the air over Iraq have also created yet another tricky issue for the two countries, as Iraq continues to assert its sovereignty after the nearly nine-year occupation. Many Iraqis remain deeply skeptical of the United States, feelings that were reinforced last week when the Marine who was the so-called ringleader of the 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqis in the village of Haditha avoided prison time and was sentenced to a reduction in rank.

“If they are afraid about their diplomats being attacked in Iraq, then they can take them out of the country,” said Mohammed Ghaleb Nasser, 57, an engineer from the northern city of Mosul.

Hisham Mohammed Salah, 37, an Internet cafe owner in Mosul, said he did not differentiate between surveillance drones and the ones that fire missiles. “We hear from time to time that drone aircraft have killed half a village in Pakistan and Afghanistan under the pretext of pursuing terrorists,” Mr. Salah said. “Our fear is that will happen in Iraq under a different pretext.”

Still, Ghanem Owaid Nizar Qaisi, 45, a teacher from Diyala, said that he doubted that the Iraqi government would stop the United States from using the drones. “I believe that Iraqi politicians will accept it, because they are weak,” he said.

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Michael S. Schmidt from Baghdad.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The point of the long and winding sentence

The Writing Life: The point of the long and winding sentence: Pico Iyer says writing longer phrases is a way to protest the speed of information bites people are subjected to each day - By Pico Iyer, Los Angeles Times

January 8, 2012

"Your sentences are so long," said a friend who teaches English at a local college, and I could tell she didn't quite mean it as a compliment. The copy editor who painstakingly went through my most recent book often put yellow dashes on-screen around my multiplying clauses, to ask if I didn't want to break up my sentences or put less material in every one. Both responses couldn't have been kinder or more considered, but what my friend and my colleague may not have sensed was this: I'm using longer and longer sentences as a small protest against — and attempt to rescue any readers I might have from — the bombardment of the moment.

When I began writing for a living, my feeling was that my job was to give the reader something vivid, quick and concrete that she couldn't get in any other form; a writer was an information-gathering machine, I thought, and especially as a journalist, my job was to go out into the world and gather details, moments, impressions as visual and immediate as TV. Facts were what we needed most. And if you watched the world closely enough, I believed (and still do), you could begin to see what it would do next, just as you can with a sibling or a friend; Don DeLillo or Salman Rushdie aren't mystics, but they can tell us what the world is going to do tomorrow because they follow it so attentively.

Yet nowadays the planet is moving too fast for even a Rushdie or DeLillo to keep up, and many of us in the privileged world have access to more information than we know what to do with. What we crave is something that will free us from the overcrowded moment and allow us to see it in a larger light. No writer can compete, for speed and urgency, with texts or CNN news flashes or RSS feeds, but any writer can try to give us the depth, the nuances — the "gaps," as Annie Dillard calls them — that don't show up on many screens. Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker.

Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can't be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won't be squeezed into an either/or. With each clause, we're taken further and further from trite conclusions — or that at least is the hope — and away from reductionism, as if the writer were a dentist, saying "Open wider" so that he can probe the tender, neglected spaces in the reader (though in this case it's not the mouth that he's attending to but the mind).

"There was a little stoop of humility," Alan Hollinghurst writes in a sentence I've chosen almost at random from his recent novel "The Stranger's Child," "as she passed through the door, into the larger but darker library beyond, a hint of frailty, an affectation of bearing more than her fifty-nine years, a slight bewildered totter among the grandeur that her daughter now had to pretend to take for granted." You may notice — though you don't have to — that "humility" has rather quickly elided into "affectation," and the point of view has shifted by the end of the sentence, and the physical movement through the rooms accompanies a gradual inner movement that progresses through four parallel clauses, each of which, though legato, suggests a slightly different take on things.

Many a reader will have no time for this; William Gass or Sir Thomas Browne may seem long-winded, the equivalent of driving from L.A. to San Francisco by way of Death Valley, Tijuana and the Sierras. And a highly skilled writer, a Hemingway or James Salter, can get plenty of shading and suggestion into even the shortest and straightest of sentences. But too often nowadays our writing is telegraphic as a way of keeping our thinking simplistic, our feeling slogan-crude. The short sentence is the domain of uninflected talk-radio rants and shouting heads on TV who feel that qualification or subtlety is an assault on their integrity (and not, as it truly is, integrity's greatest adornment).

If we continue along this road, whole areas of feeling and cognition and experience will be lost to us. We will not be able to read one another very well if we can't read Proust's labyrinthine sentences, admitting us to those half-lighted realms where memory blurs into imagination, and we hide from the person we care for or punish the thing that we love. And how can we feel the layers, the sprawl, the many-sidedness of Istanbul in all its crowding amplitude without the 700-word sentence, transcribing its features, that Orhan Pamuk offered in tribute to his lifelong love?

To pick up a book is, ideally, to enter a world of intimacy and continuity; the best volumes usher us into a larger universe, a more spacious state of mind akin to the one I feel when hearing Bach (or Sigur Rós) or watching a Terrence Malick film. I cherish Thomas Pynchon's prose (in "Mason & Dixon," say), not just because it's beautiful, but because his long, impeccable sentences take me, with each clause, further from the normal and the predictable, and deeper into dimensions I hadn't dared to contemplate. I can't get enough of Philip Roth because the energy and the complication of his sentences, at his best, pull me into a furious debate in which I see a mind alive, self-questioning, wildly controlled in its engagement with the world. His is a prose that banishes all simplicities while never letting go of passion.

Not every fashioner of many-comma'd sentences works for every one of us — I happen to find Henry James unreadable, his fussily unfolding clauses less a reflection of his noticing everything than of his inability to make up his mind or bring anything to closure: a kind of mental stutter. But the promise of the long sentence is that it will take you beyond the known, far from shore, into depths and mysteries you can't get your mind, or most of your words, around.

When I read the great exemplar of this, Herman Melville — and when I feel the building tension as Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" swells with clause after biblical clause of all the things people of his skin color cannot do — I feel as if I'm stepping out of the crowded, overlighted fluorescent culture of my local convenience store and being taken up to a very high place from which I can see across time and space, in myself and in the world. It's as if I've been rescued, for a moment, from the jostle and rush of the 405 Freeway and led back to something inside me that has room for certainty and doubt at once.

Watch Dillard light up and rise up and ease down as she finds, near the end of her 1974 book "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," "a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair. Hullo. I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown, pushed by the witless winds of convection currents hauling round the world's rondure where they must, but like a creature muscled and vigorous, or a creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit which bloweth where it listeth, lighting, and raising up, and easing down."

I love books; I read and write them for the same reason I love to talk with a friend for 10 hours, not 10 minutes (let alone, as is the case with the average Web page, 10 seconds). The longer our talk goes, ideally, the less I feel pushed and bullied into the unbreathing boxes of black and white, Republican or Democrat, us or them. The long sentence is how we begin to free ourselves from the machine-like world of bullet points and the inhumanity of ballot-box yeas or nays.

There'll always be a place for the short sentence, and no one could thrill more than I to the eerie incantations of DeLillo, building up menace with each reiterated note, or the compressed wisdom of a Wilde; it's the elegant conciseness of their phrases that allow us to carry around the ideas of an Emerson (or Lao Tzu) as if they were commandments or proverbs of universal application.

But we've got shortness and speed up the wazoo these days; what I long for is something that will sustain me and stretch me till something snaps, take me so far beyond a simple clause or a single formulation that suddenly, unexpectedly, I find myself in a place that feels as spacious and strange as life itself.

The long sentence opens the very doors that a short sentence simply slams shut. Though the sentence I sent my copy editor was as short as possible. No.

Iyer is the author, most recently, of "The Man Within My Head," published this month.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Philosophy — What’s the Use?

Philosophy — What’s the Use?
By GARY GUTTING, New York Times

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.

Ethics, Philosophy

Almost every article that appears in The Stone provokes some comments from readers challenging the very idea that philosophy has anything relevant to say to non-philosophers. There are, in particular, complaints that philosophy is an irrelevant “ivory-tower” exercise, useless to any except those interested in logic-chopping for its own sake.

There is an important conception of philosophy that falls to this criticism. Associated especially with earlier modern philosophers, particularly René Descartes, this conception sees philosophy as the essential foundation of the beliefs that guide our everyday life. For example, I act as though there is a material world and other people who experience it as I do. But how do I know that any of this is true? Couldn’t I just be dreaming of a world outside my thoughts? And, since (at best) I see only other human bodies, what reason do I have to think that there are any minds connected to those bodies? To answer these questions, it would seem that I need rigorous philosophical arguments for my existence and the existence of other thinking humans.

Of course, I don’t actually need any such arguments, if only because I have no practical alternative to believing that I and other people exist. As soon as we stop thinking weird philosophical thoughts, we immediately go back to believing what skeptical arguments seem to call into question. And rightly so, since, as David Hume pointed out, we are human beings before we are philosophers.

But what Hume and, by our day, virtually all philosophers are rejecting is only what I’m calling the foundationalist conception of philosophy. Rejecting foundationalism means accepting that we have every right to hold basic beliefs that are not legitimated by philosophical reflection. More recently, philosophers as different as Richard Rorty and Alvin Plantinga have cogently argued that such basic beliefs include not only the “Humean” beliefs that no one can do without, but also substantive beliefs on controversial questions of ethics, politics and religion. Rorty, for example, maintained that the basic principles of liberal democracy require no philosophical grounding (“the priority of democracy over philosophy”).

If you think that the only possible “use” of philosophy would be to provide a foundation for beliefs that need no foundation, then the conclusion that philosophy is of little importance for everyday life follows immediately. But there are other ways that philosophy can be of practical significance.

Even though basic beliefs on ethics, politics and religion do not require prior philosophical justification, they do need what we might call “intellectual maintenance,” which itself typically involves philosophical thinking. Religious believers, for example, are frequently troubled by the existence of horrendous evils in a world they hold was created by an all-good God. Some of their trouble may be emotional, requiring pastoral guidance. But religious commitment need not exclude a commitment to coherent thought. For instance, often enough believers want to know if their belief in God makes sense given the reality of evil. The philosophy of religion is full of discussions relevant to this question. Similarly, you may be an atheist because you think all arguments for God’s existence are obviously fallacious. But if you encounter, say, a sophisticated version of the cosmological argument, or the design argument from fine-tuning, you may well need a clever philosopher to see if there’s anything wrong with it.

In addition to defending our basic beliefs against objections, we frequently need to clarify what our basic beliefs mean or logically entail. So, if I say I would never kill an innocent person, does that mean that I wouldn’t order the bombing of an enemy position if it might kill some civilians? Does a commitment to democratic elections require one to accept a fair election that puts an anti-democratic party into power? Answering such questions requires careful conceptual distinctions, for example, between direct and indirect results of actions, or between a morality of intrinsically wrong actions and a morality of consequences. Such distinctions are major philosophical topics, of course, and most non-philosophers won’t be in a position to enter into high-level philosophical discussions. But there are both non-philosophers who are quite capable of following such discussions and philosophers who enter public debates about relevant topics.

The perennial objection to any appeal to philosophy is that philosophers themselves disagree among themselves about everything, so that there is no body of philosophical knowledge on which non-philosophers can rely. It’s true that philosophers do not agree on answers to the “big questions” like God’s existence, free will, the nature of moral obligation and so on. But they do agree about many logical interconnections and conceptual distinctions that are essential for thinking clearly about the big questions. Some examples: thinking about God and evil requires the key distinction between evil that is gratuitous (not necessary for some greater good) and evil that is not gratuitous; thinking about free will requires the distinction between a choice’s being caused and its being compelled; and thinking about morality requires the distinction between an action that is intrinsically wrong (regardless of its consequences) and one that is wrong simply because of its consequences. Such distinctions arise from philosophical thinking, and philosophers know a great deal about how to understand and employ them. In this important sense, there is body of philosophical knowledge on which non-philosophers can and should rely.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Evgeny Morozov: Public Diplomacy 2.1

Public Diplomacy 2.1: TEDGlobal Fellow Evgeny Morozov argues that the US should upgrade its social media outreach.

JB Note: How refreshing to read a article on the new social media that makes a strong case that the U.S., in its public-diplomacy efforts, should use the Internet
to share its cultural and intellectual riches with the rest of the world in an in-depth fashion.

By Evgeny Morozov

In June, the inventive use of sites such as Twitter and Facebook by ordinary Iranians, primarily to report on, but also to organize protests in the streets of Tehran, once and for all proved that new media have vast geopolitical implications. But an Internet coup it wasn’t; the real “Twitter revolution” was happening not in Iran, but in Washington’s Foggy Bottom. After all, what better term to describe the newly elevated role that social media now plays in America’s public diplomacy?

In the months after the Iranian election, American diplomats began preaching the virtues of “public diplomacy 2.0,” a fancy catchall term to describe their ambitious efforts to profit from services such as Twitter. For example, the work of the Digital Outreach Team — a 10-person group inside the US State Department that finds controversial posts about the country on foreign blogs and discussion forums, and responds to them in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu — is a direct outgrowth of this approach.

To some, the triumph of “public diplomacy 2.0” appears inevitable, given that the old toolkit used for winning hearts and minds of global audiences — consisting mostly of US-funded TV and radio broadcasting — has been rapidly losing ground to the Internet. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of the US Congress, leaves no ambiguity about the urgency of the matter, positing that a failure to adapt to the Internet age may “significantly raise the risk that US public diplomacy efforts could become increasingly irrelevant, particularly among younger audiences.” Most importantly, many of America’s adversaries have eagerly embraced new media, too; the propaganda of the deed has given way to the propaganda of the tweet.

However, navigating today’s new media maze has proven rather challenging, especially for multi-layered and inflexible bureaucratic entities such as the State Department. The edgy, chaotic, and rebellious spirit of blogging and social networking appears to be a poor fit for the stiff, officious, and centralized style of communications favored by diplomats; after all, a say-nothing press release sounds as trite when posted on Twitter as it does in print.

In retrospect, given how little influence American “cyber-diplomats” had on events in Tehran via Twitter and Facebook, one wonders whether they overestimated the power of such sites. “Polluting” these online communities with US-approved messages adds very little to the global appeal of American diplomacy; this fledgling form of geopolitical spam is surely irritating, and some online goodwill is destroyed in the process. This “geo-spamming” may have doubled the supply of American ideas, but it has not increased global demand for them.

American diplomats should stop trying to explain the country’s often inexplicable foreign policy in 140 characters or less. Instead, they should use the Internet to sell the very idea of America, and there is no better way to do this than to open up the country’s vast cultural riches to the rest of the world — in cyberspace. Allowing the global public to view what America’s best universities, libraries, and museums have to offer from the comfort of their browsers must be at the heart of any “public diplomacy 2.0” efforts.

For example, videos of more than 200 full-length university-level courses are available for anyone to watch online for free, virtually all of them produced by a handful of American universities. This, however, is only a tiny fraction of what American universities offer in one term. Helping schools to put more of their courses online could be the most effective way to promote American ideas to the “digital natives” of India, China, Russia, or Iran, as well as to teach them practical skills essential to their emerging middle classes.

Similarly, American libraries and museums should be encouraged to open up their virtual doors to foreign audiences. Although not every Indonesian or Egyptian can visit New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or Harvard’s library, they would surely appreciate more opportunities to explore their vast collections from their laptops and cell phones. A stronger nudge from the government, especially if it comes with financial incentives, could help boost the nascent digital outreach strategies that many of these institutions have already developed.

This could be done by having American diplomats forge effective partnerships with the private sector; companies such as Google and Amazon have already done a lot to make America’s best literary works available remotely. Unfortunately, much of this digital goodness is still unavailable to foreign audiences: Even the Kindle, Amazon’s revolutionary reading device, is currently available only in the US. Ideally, it should not only be available in Moscow or Delhi but also arrive there full of works by people who shaped American identity, from Franklin to Thoreau, and from Lincoln to Whitman, all brought to you by the US State Department. Now, that would be something even America’s loudest critics won’t ever dare call spam.

Journalist and author Evgeny Morozov is currently a Fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York. He spoke at TEDGlobal and is a TEDGlobal Fellow.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kind Response on Facebook from US Ambassador to Russia McFaul re US Public Diplomacy in Russia

JB Note: I do hope the new US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, given his many official duties, which doubtless will increase exponentially the longer he's in Russia, will, if he can, continue his social-media dialogue with those concerned, as he is now, about US-Russian relations.

He is much to be admired for responding to members of the public, including with the below -- the kind of open communications not all government officials, and not only in the United States, welcome -- or, more appropriately put, even bother to acknowledge.

Having worked in the USIA/State Department as a Foreign Service officer for over twenty years, however, and having witnessed how busy an Ambassador's schedule is, I wonder, for his sake, how Dr. McFaul will be able to respond personally, as he kindly did to the below, to all the electronic messages that he undubitably will be getting.

I wish him and his busy and devoted staff all the very best in this new age of the social-media information revolution in their efforts of keeping the lines of communications open to all -- not only with Russians but also now (with the internet-caused breakdown between domestic and foreign audiences) more than ever with Americans as well.

 From a Facebook exchange:

"John Brown [to Ambassador McFaul:] This interview [Russian-language interview at] Mr. Ambassador, is (in my modest opinion) far more on the mark from the perspective of US-Russian relations than your YouTube []
presentation, which seemed produced by a USA advertising firm without knowledge of Russia or its culture. And, thank God, [the above-cited] print version of your remarks did not allow for corny background music as was the case with the video! Best wishes, John Brown, former CAO Moscow [98-01]  (my Huffington Post piece on your YouTube presentation at U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul's YouTube Presentation From a Public Diplomacy Perspective  [:] I've looked at/listened to newly-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McF...aul's recent video presentation to the people of Russia. Based on my Foreign Service experience in Moscow as Cultural Affairs Officer (1998-2001), several aspects of the talk struck me.See More..2 hours ago ·

LikeUnlike · .Michael McFaul Ill take a look.

2 hours ago · LikeUnlike.Michael McFaul Just read. Thanks for feedback. I did whole take in Russian, but producers obviously felt that my Russian not good enough YET. Working on it. On high culture, eager to learn more while here, but would have been dishonest for me to praise books and symphonies I havent read or heard. Remember, I grew up in Butte, MT. I am VERY proud of that fact, dont get me wrong. But I may not be as refined as I should be at this stage in my career. Never too late to learn!"

Libya, Rice, and Jareb Cohen

I continue to be struck by the vulgarity of the below photograph, posted on facebook by social media guru and "terrorism" expert Jared Cohen, a former State Department official, with his following comment: "Standing on top of Muammar Gadaffi's former house in Libya."

Mr. Cohen, displaying himself in this triumphant gladiator pose (at least he's not urinating) seems to have forgotten that he was one of the "best and brightest" in the Bush II's State Department, during which the US established diplomatic relations (2006) with an odious regime.

Cohen's Foggy Bottom gig at/around that time? Member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff (2006-2009).

I wonder if, because of possible public-diplomacy "social media" advice Cohen gave Rice (of course, not about Graig's List), Gadaffi so admired his "darling black woman."

Here I fantasize: Could the the doctor and the colonel have met, prior to their encounter in the grubby real world, in the far more tititllating paradise of cyberspace?

But I better stop here, unless I aspire to be as vulgar and ridiculous as Mr. Cohen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What You (Really) Need to Know (not Foreign Languages) -- Summers

January 20, 2012

What You (Really) Need to Know

JB note: Evidently Mr. Summers feels that studying foreign languages is a waste of time. Well, ok, we all know that "English, if it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me." But certainly, in at least one field, public diplomacy, knowledge of the language(s) of the country in which a diplomat is serving is quite essential.


A PARADOX of American higher education is this: The expectations of leading universities do much to define what secondary schools teach, and much to establish a template for what it means to be an educated man or woman. College campuses are seen as the source for the newest thinking and for the generation of new ideas, as society’s cutting edge.

And the world is changing very rapidly. Think social networking, gay marriage, stem cells or the rise of China. Most companies look nothing like they did 50 years ago. Think General Motors, AT&T or Goldman Sachs.

Yet undergraduate education changes remarkably little over time. My immediate predecessor as Harvard president, Derek Bok, famously compared the difficulty of reforming a curriculum with the difficulty of moving a cemetery. With few exceptions, just as in the middle of the 20th century, students take four courses a term, each meeting for about three hours a week, usually with a teacher standing in front of the room. Students are evaluated on the basis of examination essays handwritten in blue books and relatively short research papers. Instructors are organized into departments, most of which bear the same names they did when the grandparents of today’s students were undergraduates. A vast majority of students still major in one or two disciplines centered on a particular department.

It may be that inertia is appropriate. Part of universities’ function is to keep alive man’s greatest creations, passing them from generation to generation. Certainly anyone urging reform does well to remember that in higher education the United States remains an example to the world, and that American universities compete for foreign students more successfully than almost any other American industry competes for foreign customers.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to speculate: Suppose the educational system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society and what we now understand about how people learn. How will what universities teach be different? Here are some guesses and hopes.

1. Education will be more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it. This is a consequence of both the proliferation of knowledge — and how much of it any student can truly absorb — and changes in technology. Before the printing press, scholars had to memorize “The Canterbury Tales” to have continuing access to them. This seems a bit ludicrous to us today. But in a world where the entire Library of Congress will soon be accessible on a mobile device with search procedures that are vastly better than any card catalog, factual mastery will become less and less important.

2. An inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration. As just one example, the fraction of economics papers that are co-authored has more than doubled in the 30 years that I have been an economist. More significant, collaboration is a much greater part of what workers do, what businesses do and what governments do. Yet the great preponderance of work a student does is done alone at every level in the educational system. Indeed, excessive collaboration with others goes by the name of cheating.

For most people, school is the last time they will be evaluated on individual effort. One leading investment bank has a hiring process in which a candidate must interview with upward of 60 senior members of the firm before receiving an offer. What is the most important attribute they’re looking for? Not GMAT scores or college transcripts, but the ability to work with others. As greater value is placed on collaboration, surely it should be practiced more in our nation’s classrooms.

3. New technologies will profoundly alter the way knowledge is conveyed. Electronic readers allow textbooks to be constantly revised, and to incorporate audio and visual effects. Think of a music text in which you can hear pieces of music as you read, or a history text in which you can see film clips about what you are reading. But there are more profound changes set in train. There was a time when professors had to prepare materials for their students. Then it became clear that it would be a better system if textbooks were written by just a few of the most able: faculty members would be freed up and materials would be improved, as competition drove up textbook quality.

Similarly, it makes sense for students to watch video of the clearest calculus teacher or the most lucid analyst of the Revolutionary War rather than having thousands of separate efforts. Professors will have more time for direct discussion with students — not to mention the cost savings — and material will be better presented. In a 2008 survey of first- and second-year medical students at Harvard, those who used accelerated video lectures reported being more focused and learning more material faster than when they attended lectures in person.

4. As articulated by the Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” we understand the processes of human thought much better than we once did. We are not rational calculating machines but collections of modules, each programmed to be adroit at a particular set of tasks. Not everyone learns most effectively in the same way. And yet in the face of all evidence, we rely almost entirely on passive learning. Students listen to lectures or they read and then are evaluated on the basis of their ability to demonstrate content mastery. They aren’t asked to actively use the knowledge they are acquiring.

“Active learning classrooms” — which cluster students at tables, with furniture that can be rearranged and integrated technology — help professors interact with their students through the use of media and collaborative experiences. Still, with the capacity of modern information technology, there is much more that can be done to promote dynamic learning.

5. [JB highlight] The world is much more open, and events abroad affect the lives of Americans more than ever before. This makes it essential that the educational experience breed cosmopolitanism — that students have international experiences, and classes in the social sciences draw on examples from around the world. It seems logical, too, that more in the way of language study be expected of students. I am not so sure.

English’s emergence as the global language, along with the rapid progress in machine translation and the fragmentation of languages spoken around the world, make it less clear that the substantial investment necessary to speak a foreign tongue is universally worthwhile. While there is no gainsaying the insights that come from mastering a language, it will over time become less essential in doing business in Asia, treating patients in Africa or helping resolve conflicts in the Middle East.

6. Courses of study will place much more emphasis on the analysis of data. Gen. George Marshall famously told a Princeton commencement audience that it was impossible to think seriously about the future of postwar Europe without giving close attention to Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War. Of course, we’ll always learn from history. But the capacity for analysis beyond simple reflection has greatly increased (consider Gen. David Petraeus’s reliance on social science in preparing the army’s counterinsurgency manual).

As the “Moneyball” story aptly displays in the world of baseball, the marshalling of data to test presumptions and locate paths to success is transforming almost every aspect of human life. It is not possible to make judgments about one’s own medical care without some understanding of probability, and certainly the financial crisis speaks to the consequences of the failure to appreciate “black swan events” and their significance. In an earlier era, when many people were involved in surveying land, it made sense to require that almost every student entering a top college know something of trigonometry. Today, a basic grounding in probability statistics and decision analysis makes far more sense.

A good rule of thumb for many things in life holds that things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then happen faster than you thought they could. Think, for example, of the widespread use of the e-book, or the coming home to roost of debt problems around the industrialized world. Here is a bet and a hope that the next quarter century will see more change in higher education than the last three combined.

Lawrence H. Summers is former president of Harvard University and former secretary of the Treasury. This essay is based on a speech Dr. Summers gave at The New York Times’s Schools for Tomorrow conference.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Facebook Exchange, Pertaining to Public Diplomacy, with the Washington Post's Chief Executive Officer Don Graham

Facebook exchange:

"John Brown [to Don Graham, chief executive officer and Chairman of The Washington Post Company; director and chairman of Facebook Inc.]: 'Too many adjectives in describing your declining newspaper's articles, e.g., 'excellent' and the horrid 'terrific.' You need better editors, not more self-promoting facebook entries. Thursday at 7:28am"

"Don Graham [chief executive officer and Chairman of The Washington Post Company; director and chairman of Facebook Inc.]mentioned you in a comment. Don wrote: 'John Brown, stop by and talk about it one morning. You can bring a supply of new adjectives.'"

"John Brown: Hi Don, How about meeting at the Subway eatery right off the west side of the Cleveland Park Metro Station on the Red Line? We could have lunch over a tuna/cheese 6" delight. It's a 'terrific' (or should I say 'excellent') place, so I'll be glad to be your 'friendly' host any day/time that's convenient to you. And of course we could, if you agree, read at à haute voix the 'fab' pieces from your intellectually declining 'high-quality' Washington Post, which matches the 'great' culinary qualities of Subway extremely well. Regrettably, I don't have a 'with-it' supply of new adjectives; so, if you don't mind, I'll bring loads of antiquated descriptive words (the older the better, I assure you, like what 'a-piece-of-crap' articles) -- and Alka Selzter (the item, not just the word) as well. Looking forward to our meeting," John

'35 minutes ago [from facebook] · LikeUnlike. Bill Kiehl I think someone should referee this grudge match!"

Blogs vs. Term Papers

January 20, 2012
Blogs vs. Term Papers


OF all the challenges faced by college and high school students, few inspire as much angst, profanity, procrastination and caffeine consumption as the academic paper. The format — meant to force students to make a point, explain it, defend it, repeat it (whether in 20 pages or 5 paragraphs) — feels to many like an exercise in rigidity and boredom, like practicing piano scales in a minor key.

And so there may be rejoicing among legions of students who have struggled to write a lucid argument about Sherman’s March, the disputed authorship of “Romeo and Juliet,” or anything antediluvian. They have a champion: Cathy N. Davidson, an English professor at Duke, wants to eradicate the term paper and replace it with the blog.

Her provocative positions have lent kindling to an intensifying debate about how best to teach writing in the digital era.

“This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers,” says Professor Davidson, who rails against the form in her new book, “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.”

“As a writer, it offends me deeply.”

Professor Davidson makes heavy use of the blog and the ethos it represents of public, interactive discourse. Instead of writing a quarterly term paper, students now regularly publish 500- to 1,500-word entries on an internal class blog about the issues and readings they are studying in class, along with essays for public consumption.

She’s in good company. Across the country, blog writing has become a basic requirement in everything from M.B.A. to literature courses. On its face, who could disagree with the transformation? Why not replace a staid writing exercise with a medium that gives the writer the immediacy of an audience, a feeling of relevancy, instant feedback from classmates or readers, and a practical connection to contemporary communications? Pointedly, why punish with a paper when a blog is, relatively, fun?

Because, say defenders of rigorous writing, the brief, sometimes personally expressive blog post fails sorely to teach key aspects of thinking and writing. They argue that the old format was less about how Sherman got to the sea and more about how the writer organized the points, fashioned an argument, showed grasp of substance and proof of its origin. Its rigidity wasn’t punishment but pedagogy.

Their reductio ad absurdum: why not just bypass the blog, too, and move right on to 140 characters about Shermn’s Mrch?

“Writing term papers is a dying art, but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking, argumentation and the sort of expression required not only in college, but in the job market,” says Douglas B. Reeves, a columnist for the American School Board Journal and founder of the Leadership and Learning Center, the school-consulting division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting blogs. But nobody would conflate interesting writing with premise, evidence, argument and conclusion.”

The National Survey of Student Engagement found that in 2011, 82 percent of first-year college students and more than half of seniors weren’t asked to do a single paper of 20 pages or more, while the bulk of writing assignments were for papers of one to five pages.

The term paper has been falling from favor for some time. A study in 2002 estimated that about 80 percent of high school students were not asked to write a history term paper of more than 15 pages. William H. Fitzhugh, the study’s author and founder of The Concord Review, a journal that publishes high school students’ research papers, says that, more broadly, educators shy away from rigorous academic writing, giving students the relative ease of writing short essays. He argues that part of the problem is that teachers are asking students to read less, which means less substance — whether historical, political or literary — to focus a term paper around.

“She’s right,” Mr. Fitzhugh says of Professor Davidson. “Writing is being murdered. But the solution isn’t blogs, the solution is more reading. We don’t pay taxes so kids can talk about themselves and their home lives.”

He proposes what he calls the “page a year” solution: in first grade, a one-page paper using one source; by fifth grade, five pages and five sources.

The debate about academic writing has given rise to new terminology: “old literacy” refers to more traditional forms of discourse and training; “new literacy” stretches from the blog and tweet to multimedia presentation with PowerPoint and audio essay.

“We’re at a crux right now of where we have to figure out as teachers what part of the old literacy is worth preserving,” says Andrea A. Lunsford, a professor of English at Stanford. “We’re trying to figure out how to preserve sustained, logical, carefully articulated arguments while engaging with the most exciting and promising new literacies.”

Professor Lunsford has collected 16,000 writing samples from 189 Stanford students from 2001 to 2007, and is studying how their writing abilities and passions evolved as blogs and other multimedia tools crept into their lives and classrooms. She’s also solicited student feedback about their experiences.

Her conclusion is that students feel much more impassioned by the new literacy. They love writing for an audience, engaging with it. They feel as if they’re actually producing something personally rewarding and valuable, whereas when they write a term paper, they feel as if they do so only to produce a grade.

So Professor Lunsford is playing to student passions. Her writing class for second-year students, a requirement at Stanford, used to revolve around a paper constructed over the entire term. Now, the students start by writing a 15-page paper on a particular subject in the first few weeks. Once that’s done, they use the ideas in it to build blogs, Web sites, and PowerPoint and audio and oral presentations. The students often find their ideas much more crystallized after expressing them with new media, she says, and then, most startling, they plead to revise their essays.

“What I’m asking myself is, ‘Will we need to keep the 15-page paper forever or move right to the new way?’ ” she says. “Stanford’s writing program won’t be making that change right away, since our students still seem to benefit from learning how to present their research findings in both traditional print and new media.”

As Professor Lunsford illustrates, choosing to educate using either blogs or term papers is something of a false opposition. Teachers can use both. And blogs, a platform that seems to encourage rambling exercises in personal expression, can also be well crafted and meticulously researched. At the same time, the debate is not a false one: while some educators fear that informal communication styles are increasing duress on traditional training, others find the actual paper fundamentally anachronistic.

Take Professor Davidson, who anchors a more extreme position, as she has for many years, even before the advent of the blog. When teaching at Michigan State in the 1980s, she says, she infuriated some colleagues because she scrapped the traditional research paper — what she calls “researchese,” writing not relevant outside academe — and had her students learn to write cover letters and business letters, their life stories and essays about their chosen careers.

“I was basically kicked out of the writing program for thinking that was more important than writing a five-paragraph essay,” she says. “I’m not against discipline. I’m not sure that writing a five-paragraph essay is discipline so much as standardization. It’s a formula, but good writing plays with formulas, and changes formulas.”

Today, she tries to keep herself grounded in the experiences of a range of students by tutoring at a community college. Recently, one student she tutors was given an assignment with prescribed sentence length and rigid structure. “I urged him to follow all the rules,” she says. “If he’d done it my way, I don’t know he’d have passed the class.

“The sad thing is, he’s now convinced there is brilliance in the art world, brilliance in the multimedia world, brilliance in the music world and that writing is boring,” Professor Davidson says. “I hated teaching him bad writing.”

Matt Richtel, a reporter at The Times, writes often about information technology in the classroom.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Amglish In, Like Ten Easy Lessons: A Celebration of the New World Lingo” by Arthur E. Rowse

By Justin Moyer, Published: January 13, Washington Post



A Celebration of the New World Lingo

By Arthur E. Rowse

Rowman and Littlefield. 239 pp. Paperback, $16.95

It may be unforgivable to mistake “lay” for “lie,” confuse “that” with “which,” or use the serial comma. Or to deploy too many semicolons; usually, periods can take their place. Or to wanna use informal contractions and write run-on sentences and — OMG! — publish new-fangled abbreviations in a newspaper.

Perpetrators of these common grammatical slip-ups should pray that they don’t run into Arthur E. Rowse wielding a red-tipped felt pen. In what must be the most passive-aggressive grammar manifesto ever written by a nonagenarian former Washington Post copy editor, he takes imprecise writing and speaking to task by sarcastically embracing them.

“Life is too short to worry about making errors in language,” Rowse writes sarcastically in his withering book about “Amglish,” the still-evolving “informal mixture of American English and other languages.” “Unlike the rules of formal English, the rules of Amglish are unwritten and as fluid as society itself. . . . The resulting mishmash is being embraced enthusiastically almost everywhere.”

If Rowse sounds like a fussbudget, it’s because he is. The author disapproves of profane hip-hop and “its rapid-fire lyrics set to the sound of heavy drums”; “freaked-out valley girls” whose “greatest single contribution to today’s lingo . . . is the word ‘like’ ”; Jon Stewart (“By uttering the f-word so often while knowing it will be bleeped, he spares the millions outside the studio audience from hearing the word and, of course, laughing at his jokes”); and Apple’s ungrammatical “think different” campaign, which sought to “capitalize on the informal language trend.”

Though his discussion of novel English variants such as “Arablish, Chinglish, Konglish, Spanglish, and dozens of other international mixtures” is fascinating, Rowse’s gripes may resonate only with fellow graybeards whose sometimes justified complaints about declining linguistic standards frequently appear on the Free For All page of this newspaper. As Rowse explains, “Language errors have become an integral part of the current linguistic upheaval. . . . The whole exercise is either a delight or a continuing disaster.”

— Justin Moyer

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Martin Luther King Statue: "Vaguely Socialist Realist Aesthetic"

"I have mixed feelings about the vaguely Socialist Realist aesthetic of the new Martin Luther King memorial downtown [Washington, DC] – colossal statues of famous men are broadly associated in my mind with oppressed people tearing those statues down."

--Blogger Caro; see also John Brown, "Martin Luther King -- Hero of all-American Communism!," Notes and Essays

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Who is Emboff?

I don't quite remember when I encountered the term "Emboff" at an early point in my public-diplomacy Foreign Service career (1981-2003). While on one of my brief tours at USIA (United States Information Agency) Washington headquarters, I was assigned, among other tasks, to read for several weeks cables (telegrams) from the US mission in Paris. In these missives, I kept seeing references to Emboff: what he did, what he thought, what he recommended. Having studied Russian history (my dissertation was on an obscure 18th century Russian nobleman, Andrei Timofeevich Bolotov, arguably his country's first pomologist*), I wondered about the Russian connection of Mr. Emboff, as his name sounded Russian.

Bolotov image from

After some reflection, I came to the conclusion that Emboff's family must have been White Russians who emigrated to France after the Bolshevik Revolution. My reason for believing this was that his Russian-sounding name ended in "ff," the way Russian émigrés traditionally transliterated the Russian letter "в" (sound like "v" in "voice") into French. The common US transliteration, however, is "v" (Embov).

The more I read about Mr. Emboff, the more I was impressed by his multifarious activities. He seemed to be everywhere: at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at meetings with French intellectuals, on a visit to the provinces. I also wondered when his family had moved to the United States.

After too many days, it finally dawned on me, when I realized that no ordinary human being could do as much as Emboff did, that Emboff was an abbreviation for "Embassy Officer," a generic term for US diplomats overseas ...

All of which led me to suspect that my slow-working brain cells were not quite up to the high standards of FSOs (or should I say FSOffs). But, largely thanks to compassionate supervisors, I somehow managed to pull through.


*He also tried to cure his serfs of hemorrhoids by the use of electricity, a experiment Benjamin Franklin never attempted. 

10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free

10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free By Jonathan Turley, Washington Post Published: January 13

Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

Assassination of U.S. citizens

President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him, the right to order the killing of any citizen considered a terrorist or an abettor of terrorism. Last year, he approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi and another citizen under this claimed inherent authority. Last month, administration officials affirmed that power, stating that the president can order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists. (Nations such as Nigeria, Iran and Syria have been routinely criticized for extrajudicial killings of enemies of the state.)

Indefinite detention

Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism. While the administration claims that this provision only codified existing law, experts widely contest this view, and the administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal courts. The government continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. (China recently codified a more limited detention law for its citizens, while countries such as Cambodia have been singled out by the United States for “prolonged detention.”)

Arbitrary justice

The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)

Warrantless searches

The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records. The government can use “national security letters” to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan operate under laws that allow the government to engage in widespread discretionary surveillance.)

Secret evidence

The government now routinely uses secret evidence to detain individuals and employs secret evidence in federal and military courts. It also forces the dismissal of cases against the United States by simply filing declarations that the cases would make the government reveal classified information that would harm national security — a claim made in a variety of privacy lawsuits and largely accepted by federal judges without question. Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.

War crimes

The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries. (Various nations have resisted investigations of officials accused of war crimes and torture. Some, such as Serbia and Chile, eventually relented to comply with international law; countries that have denied independent investigations include Iran, Syria and China.)

Secret court

The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance. (Pakistan places national security surveillance under the unchecked powers of the military or intelligence services.)

Immunity from judicial review

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy. (Similarly, China has maintained sweeping immunity claims both inside and outside the country and routinely blocks lawsuits against private companies.)

Continual monitoring of citizens

The Obama administration has successfully defended its claim that it can use GPS devices to monitor every move of targeted citizens without securing any court order or review. (Saudi Arabia has installed massive public surveillance systems, while Cuba is notorious for active monitoring of selected citizens.)

Extraordinary renditions

The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.

Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ambassador McFaul's YouTube Presentation from a Public Diplomacy Perspective

I've looked at/listened to newly-appointed US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul's video presentation to the people of Russia. Several aspects of the talk struck me.

First, the negative ones, from the perspective of US public diplomacy with the Russian Federation, and especially its younger generation:

1. Repeated references to the Soviet Union (including showing a map of that former geographical expression), which collapsed some twenty years ago;

2. The fact that the Ambassador did not speak in Russian (as his predecessor did fluently on YouTube clips), except for a few words at the end of his remarks*;

3. The use of the word "help" (translated as pomogat' in the subtitle) in US dealings with the Russian population. Of all things Russians dislike most about foreigners, it is condescension of any sort on their part;

4. No reference to high Russian culture, except for Tchaikovsky (to which the Ambassador refers in the same breath as he does to Russian hockey); no references, even indirect, to intellectuals who condemned the USSR.

5. Irritating, feel-good background music that could be straight out of a US TV commercial for a Penile Dysfunction pill (an abbreviation of which, I can't resist saying, is the same as for public diplomat).


1. Mentioning a new visa agreement that will make it easier to Russians to visit the U.S.;

2. An effort to reach out to the Russian "provinces" by comparing them to the Ambassador's home state of Montana;

3. A "down-to-earth" approach that might appeal to the "muzhik" (regular guy) side in the character of many Russians;

4. Stress on people-to-people exchanges;

5. He did not go on for too long, as do so many Russian politicians.

The Ambassador was careful not to confront the Putin regime, except by stating that he would be in contact with "civil society activists," whom he not very tactfully distinguished from "regular Russians."

Russian speakers/readers of the language might be struck, as I was, by the number of negative comments to the Ambassador's presentation, which suggests that Russian anti-Americanism is indeed a factor to consider in the two countries' relations -- and that, on a more mundane level, Russians use the Internet as a way of "letting off steam." It is not out of the question that some of the comments were "planted" by Russian security services.


*However, it is better, in official remarks, for a foreigner to speak in his own language than address Russians in "bad" Russian, which will quickly "turn off" his audience. A few words indicating an appreciation of their language, yes; a long delivery full of grammatical and pronunciation errors, no. The Russians, though more tolerant of foreign accents than some other Europeans, are a bit like the French who cringe when they have to endure an American murdering their mother tongue by trying awkwardly to express himself in it, in his effort to show that he "understands" them. In contrast, we Americans, a nation of immigrants, tend not to be concerned with such linguistic niceties, even though there is a feeling in this country, not limited to Texas, that "English, if it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."

Mc Faul image from

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Public Diplomacy and the National Museum of the American Indian

In the company of a distinguished American journalist, I visited the National Museum of the American Indian the other day. I had been there before, and been taken off guard by its emptiness -- its lack of well-identified objects on display. This time around, I was again shocked by how little this cavernous building in central Washington tells (can tell?) about

the history and culture of Native Americans. It is a coffin without a body.

My friend, a man of far more profound ideas than my own, shared my concern, and made a memorable remark, which I paraphrase here: "In an ironic way, in its voidness, this place tells us more about the extermination of a people than the Holocaust Museum nearby."

My widely-traveled pal added that the Indian Museum was among the sites most visited by foreigners who come to Washington. (Again, I paraphrase him: "Tourists don't come to DC to see European masters at the National Gallery of Art").

So, impressed by his comment, I wonder, former diplomat that I am, what public diplomacy impact this essentially vacant stone structure on the Mall, "sheltered by a roof that recalls a limestone overhang in a Southwest U.S. canyon" and dedicated to the ancestors of native Americans, has on persons from other countries in search of enlightenment about the U.S.

If disappointed by the museum's exhibits, tourists might at first be intrigued by its restaurant, which promises to have interesting and "unusual" food. But, judging by the "Buffalo Burger" that I consumed more out of hunger than delight, this souped-up, outragerously expensive cafeteria has much more to do with squeezing dollars out of visitors than titillating their palates.

Image of the National Museum of the American Indian from

Friday, January 13, 2012

The power of "soft power"

Near-riot prompts Apple to halt iPhone 4S release in China: The device has sold out at the company's five China stores. When one store refused to open, a mob responded by throwing eggs. The company says the phones won't be available in China "for the time being" - Jonathan Kaiman and John Lee, Los Angeles Times

1:52 AM PST, January 13, 2012

Reporting from Beijing

Apple Inc. halted the release of its iPhone 4S at retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai on Friday after a riot almost started outside one of its stores in the Chinese capital.

An angry mob of people who had waited overnight pelted the store with eggs and assaulted a mall manager after employees refused to open as scheduled.

Carolyn Wu, an Apple spokeswoman in Beijing, said the company's five authorized stores in China had sold out of the iPhone 4S and the Beijing store was prevented from opening because of the large crowd.

"To ensure the safety of our customers and employees, [the] iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being," Wu said.

The phone is still available online through its service provider, China Unicom, which is offering the device for free provided users commit to multiyear contracts. But the crowds that lined up at Apple stores were not interested in cell phone plans, and were willing to pay $790 to $1070 for the device alone.

People started converging Thursday outside the Apple store in one of Beijing's most popular high-end malls. Some brought sleeping bags. Tension grew overnight and through the early morning as prospective buyers sought positions near the front door. Fights broke out between bands of migrant workers who had been hired by scalpers to purchase the phones for later sale on the gray market.

"Ninety percent of the people here are scalpers," said a man surnamed Jin, who said friends recruited him to stand in line.

The incident underscores the popularity of the Apple brand in China, which has one of the world's fastest growing markets for mobile phones and personal computers.

The Cupertino-based company said in October that sales in China rose to $13 billion from $3 billion for the fiscal year ended Sept. 24. Plans are afoot to make the iPhone's digital assistant, Siri, fluent in Chinese.

Apple's five official stores in China -- three in Shanghai and two in Beijing -- generate more revenue on average than any other Apple stores in the world, the company said last year.

Many upwardly mobile urbanites wouldn't be caught dead without an iPhone. In June, a 17-year-old high school student reportedly sold a kidney to buy an iPad 2. And in September, a 16-year-old girl was killed in a fight with her mother over the right to buy an Apple computer.

The scene Friday was not the first time an Apple release had caused a public disturbance. The same Beijing store had its glass door shattered in May after a scuffle between a scalper and an employee during an iPad 2 and white iPhone 4 launch.

Bill Bishop, a Beijing-based technology consultant, said the mobs were a result of Apple delaying products and limiting supplies to create a frenzy of demand.

"It's a conscious marketing strategy by Apple, and it's going to cause a problem because things are ridiculously out of control," he said. "Nobody can be happy with Apple today in Beijing."

Because the store limits customers' purchases, scalpers organize large groups to swarm product releases, hoping to resell the products at a cut above retail.

Buyers were reportedly recruited to queue at the Shanghai store Friday as well, promised a free breakfast and $15.

Even when a major release is not impending, flocks of men hawking iPhones and iPads have become a regular sight outside China's authorized Apple retailers. Scalpers made up much of the crowd Friday in Beijing. The eclectic group ranged from seniors from the countryside seeking their fortunes in the capital to high-school dropouts looking to make some quick cash. Some said that they had organized on Internet forums designed for temporary job seekers.

One member of the crowd, a film extra from Beijing, said he was offered about $20 to wait overnight for the phone. He said scalpers picked up hundreds like him in buses outside film studios where extras commonly work.

"After Apple said they were not selling the iPhones today, no organizers paid their temporary workers," said the man, who declined to give his name.

One man wearing a puffy red jacket said he had organized 500 buyers to wait overnight for the release. That was more than a rival group, he said.

"They have a lot of people, but we have more," said the man, who also declined to give his name. "They will be overwhelmed."

Just before the store was set to open, a guard announced through a megaphone that the coveted phone would not be sold. A brief moment of disbelieving silence was then broken by loud expletives and shouts of "Apple lied to us!" and "Open the door!"

Soon afterward, a man arrived with a bag of eggs, which he began handing out to the crowd. A space cleared, and moments later, gooey yolk dripped down the store's glass facade.

When the mall's property manager tried to intervene, a gang of men chased after him.

"I'm not an Apple employee, I'm a mall manager!" he shouted while trying to block punches and kicks.

By 9 a.m., police had managed to disperse the crowd and clear the square. Police could not be reached for comment.

A 60-year-old woman who gave only her surname, Chen, said the melee ruined her plans to give her son the latest iPhone for his birthday.

"There are so many people, and it's so cold, and now they say they won't sell us the phone," she said. "This is just so, so wrong."

Kaiman and Lee are special correspondents Times Staff Writer David Pierson in the Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

China strikes at West through pop culture wars

China strikes at West through pop culture wars
By Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY

BEIJING – When Chinese leader Hu Jintao recently warned his nation's ruling Communist Party of an imminent risk from the West, he wasn't talking about the United States boosting its military capabilities in East Asia. He was alluding to things such as video games.

"International hostile forces" use thought and culture "to Westernize and split" China, Hu stated in a speech publicized in January in the party magazine Seeking Truth.

At least China's embattled youth can strike back at the West come May when Glorious Mission, a civilian version of the Chinese army's first training simulation game, goes on sale, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper. Co-developed by the People's Liberation Army, the online, first-person shooter game allows players to destroy enemies that resemble U.S. forces.

Glorious Mission and other "serious games" supported by Chinese authorities form one front in Beijing's multiheaded cultural offensive, launched last fall. There's been fighting talk from Hu's likely successor, Xi Jinping.

China's universities are "a key ideological front to equip our youth with the core values of socialism," he told the country's deans last week. Xi, 58, is likely to succeed Hu, 69, as party general secretary this year.

Through massive investment, and countless censors, the Communist Party aims to boost China's "soft power," or cultural influence, abroad and shore up "cultural security" at home by reinforcing state control of the sector and guiding audiences back to "socialist core values." Neither goal will come easily.

"The international culture of the West is strong while we are weak," Hu Jintao admitted.

China is the home of pandas and kung fu, yet it took Hollywood to make the smash-hit animated movie Kung Fu Panda, the sequel of which was China's most popular film in 2011. The fast-swelling ranks of young, urban consumers here have proved highly receptive to the pop culture of the USA and Asian neighbors South Korea and Japan.

State censors launch regular crackdowns, sometimes with bizarre targets: Last year, authorities restricted time-travel TV dramas and banned downloading of certain foreign pop songs, including The Backstreet Boys' seemingly non-political 1999 hit I Want It That Way.

In recent weeks, the government has stripped two-thirds of entertainment programs, mostly talent, talk and dating shows, from the schedules of China's popular satellite stations. Citing "excessive entertainment and a trend toward low taste," regulators have forced satellite channels to switch to programs promoting "traditional virtues and socialist core values," the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Some viewers reject the changes.

"I can't understand why the government deprives us of the right to enjoy TV entertainment programs, as they are so mild and interesting," complains Zhu Qiansheng, 23, an unemployed graduate from Zhengzhou, central China.

As authorities shrink his options, Zhu has gone online for U.S. shows such as House and Prison Break and Chinese websites' own shows that dare to air "more open" content, he says.

"But I worry the Internet will also be more controlled this year," Zhu says.

The clamor of cultural rhetoric reflects the political atmosphere of this transition year for China's leadership, says Sheila Melvin, a U.S. writer working on a book exploring China's cultural rise. Some party analysts hope to buttress China's cultural strength against the Western culture they see spurring the "Arab Spring" revolutions and the collapse of another communist dictatorship, the Soviet Union. There's also a deeper, moral purpose, Melvin says.

"The Communist Party has inherited the ancient belief that culture transforms — exposure to high culture can make you a more moral person, exposure to low culture can cause you to behave immorally," she says. "The party sees the many problems in Chinese society and hopes to address them with culture; to some degree, it can be seen as a substitute for religion."

Grabbing the world's attention will remain a tough task unless the government relaxes its decades-long control of "cultural products," cautions Yin Hong, a professor of film and television studies at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

"The restrictions on culture always make it hard for China to produce world-influencing literature and cinema," writes China's most popular blogger, novelist Han Han.

Despite stiff odds, Chinese video game creator Linus Xin hopes his "serious games" achieve some impact by enlivening the ideology and morality classes every Chinese college student must take.

Being tested in the capital's colleges, the Emotional Quotient Gas Station game teaches students, often nervous and naive, how to tackle the opposite sex in a respectful manner, says Xin, CEO of Intellect Valley Communications.

China's Ministry of Culture promotes the "serious game" category, characterized by strong educational and moral messages, although Xin and fellow game developer Zheng Yaqi say they have not received funding support.

"I hope the name 'serious game' won't scare off players," says Zheng, CEO of Pipilu Culture and Technology, who is transforming the popular children's stories of his father, Zheng Yuanjie, into educational games. "Games can also show a country's soft power," says Zheng, who hopes U.S. players and readers will develop a taste for his dad's creations.

Online game fanatic Liu Bowen, 23, has never played a "serious game" and dismisses EQ Gas Station for its "boring and silly" name. But he looks forward to the PLA's Glorious Mission "if it's violent and bloody." Otherwise, "I have no interest."

"I don't think it's good for government to control or encourage which type of game we should play," Liu says.