Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Vietnamization of public education

The Vietnamization of public education By Valerie Strauss, Posted by Valerie Strauss on January 30, 2013 at 6:00 am, Washington Post

Here’s an interesting look at the false metrics of success that characterized the Vietnam War, and now, school reform, by Steve Cohen, a senior lecturer in education at Tufts University.

By Steve Cohen, Washington Post

I have been reading a new book, “The Generals,” by Tom Ricks.  He looks at individual American military leaders from World War II until the present day and offers thumbnail sketches of their successes and failures. Ricks also made some interesting points about the changes in personnel policy in the military over time.  One of his arguments was a critique of common practice in the late 1950s and leading into the Vietnam Era when the Army decided to rotate officers to provide them with more and varied experiences.  This, of course, led to the phenomenon in Vietnam when officers, like the soldiers they led, served for one year “in country.”  Those in command positions generally served for six months in a staff position and six months in the field.  When individual stints were up, officers and soldiers left the field and substitutes arrived.  Back in the field, no community was built.  No sense of allegiance to each other emerged that was as strong as that which had helped soldiers and officers survive so many other conflicts.  Officers tended to leave with medals and promotions as their careers moved along.  As one historian noted, it meant that rather than having an Army in Vietnam for eight years (1965-1973), we had an army in Vietnam for one year eight times.

As the war continued and  “victory” remained elusive, the military adopted a metric to convince the public that the United States was winning.  The “body count” became the measure of success.  As long as the U.S. military could show that American soldiers were killing more enemy soldiers than they were killing Americans, the road forward was clear.  The numbers proved that we were doing what we needed to do.  We could compare them, publish them, and show what was happening in Vietnam.  The numbers, it soon became clear, actually did no such thing.  They were often untrustworthy and even fictitious.  As numerous observers reported, the books were cooked.

This led me to reflect upon the current love affair with certain education reforms such as Teach For America and charter schools.  Rather than prepare young men and women to teach for an extended period of time, Teach For America trains new college graduates for five weeks and then sends them into classrooms full of needy students, with a promise that they will spend only two years there. Many charter schools have failed to create environments where teachers stay to hone their craft; rather, teachers often “burn out” and go on to other things.  New and eager young people take their places and then follow the same career path.  They rotate in and leave; few will ever return to the classroom.  They remain “corps” members for life, although their experience was actually quite short.  They gain “street credibility” for their two years of service.  They leave teaching before they are very good at it, but they become the experts in education, in whatever leadership position they end up in.  Who benefits from this program?  Is this really good for their students?

Improving educational opportunity for young people takes a great deal of will and a great many resources in order to make up for the truly challenging conditions that many of our children face every single day.  Instead of extensive efforts to change the conditions in which children are expected to live and learn, educational reformers have claimed that the data on standardized tests will reveal what works.  The numbers will tell us whether we are on the right road.  They tell us that uniforms work, or that silence in the hallways work, or that some other change will make all the difference. These changes are tracked against test scores and they become the educational reformers’ metrics of success.  Indeed, educational leaders argue that these tests will allow us to track our progress, determine which teachers should be renewed and which should be let go, and whether certain schools and principals should vanish from the scene.  These tests give numbers, and numbers put students, teachers, schools, and principals in rank order.

But those numbers do not tell the whole story any more than the body counts did.  At worst, they have been temptations waiting for cheaters to game the system.  In many places, cheaters have prospered, at least in the short run, and received bonuses for fraudulent test scores.  But even at best, statistical spreadsheets do not tell us all that we need to know to evaluate students, teachers, and principals.  We will see that schools work when we visit schools and watch.  We can see learning taking place.
Will a rotation of teachers and the worship of standardized testing serve our students in the long run?  Will they lead to successful schools and a deep understanding of education and how best to help our students learn?

Or will it lead to some of the same problems that we experienced in Vietnam?

Robert Komer was a former CIA analyst who became a civilian expert on pacification efforts during the Vietnam and he and reported back to Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. military operations in Vietnam.  After reporting one success after another, reporters badgered Komer with the observations that his comments didn’t square with the reality that they were witnessing.  Komer didn’t deny that.  He said that they misunderstood his job.  “I am supposed to report on progress,” he said. He did just that.

Reports of great gains in education seem similar.  The reforms are always successful.  It’s just that nothing changes. The light remains at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A lesson for on-line teaching enthusiasts?

"Few remember it now, but one of the strangest episodes in the cultural Cold War occurred in El Salvador, when a military government tried to replace schoolteachers with televisions. TV sets were wheeled into middle-school classrooms all over the country and 'teleteachers' imparted classes from a broadcast studio outside San Salvador. All teachers' colleges but one were closed; they were no longer needed. The scheme was so promising that President Lyndon Johnson himself cut the ribbon on the new studio in 1968, extolling El Salvador as 'the first nation in all the world with a complete educational television system.' 'Some day,' he added, 'we hope the United States can catch up with you.' ...

American communications gurus (enthusiastically backed by UNESCO and the World bank) conceived the plan as a way to teach marketable, 'modern' skills to teens, not to teach them to think critically. ...

After first supporting television as a didactic tool, teachers turned violently against it. The plan's main architect, a brilliant and arrogant civil servant named Walter Béneke, was assassinated by guerrillas in 1980, and the broadcast studios were decommissioned and turned into an army garrison."

--Roger Atwood, The Times Literary Supplement (January 18, 2013), pp. 22-23, reviewing the book Modernizing Minds in El Salvador


Revolution Hits the Universities - Thomas Friedman, New York Times: "Lord knows there’s a lot of bad news in the world today to get you down, but there is one big thing happening that leaves me incredibly hopeful about the future, and that is the budding revolution in global online higher education. Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty — by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have. Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems. And nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity. ...

Imagine how this might change U.S. foreign aid. For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic."


By having female scholars teaching online classes, U.S. universities could help empower women abroad - Lisa L. Martin and Barbara F. Walter, Los Angeles Times:

"The United States is leading a revolution in higher education. With the advent of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, U.S. universities will be increasingly exporting hundreds of college-level classes every year to the rest of the world. The implications of this are huge.

At the least, students in every country with Internet service will have access to the best scholars and cutting-edge knowledge in their discipline. Go online (often for free) and top classes in statistics, computer science, economics, physics and the humanities are at your fingertips. The result will be dramatic increases in skills, training and knowledge in even remote places.

But there's a potentially large implication that U.S. universities have missed: the ability to export gender equality, powerful female role models and more. Studies have shown, for example, that educating women leads to a reduction in poverty, fertility and violence, and increases in the health outcomes for families. Exporting classes taught by women could profoundly influence how young people around the world think about the roles women play in society."

Image from

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Public Diplomacy" Karen Hughes at Harvard as a Spring Fellow

Hughes image from
"UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES:  ... I had one person at one lunch raise the issue of the President mentioning God in his speeches. And I asked whether he was aware that previous American presidents have also cited God, and that our Constitution cites 'one nation under God' [which of course it doesn't -- JB]. He said 'well, never mind' and went on to something else. So he sort of was trying to equate that with the terrorists’ (inaudible). So I explained that I didn’t really think that was something you could equate. And he sort of dropped it and moved on. He was one of the opposition leaders in Egypt."
--Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes, recently named as a "Spring Fellow" at Harvard University

Of all the people on our small planet to choose as an inspiration for the young (and not-so-young) students at a major American University, Harvard, I cannot think of a worst choice than Ms. Karen Hughes. [See below Harvard announcement on "Harvard’s Institute of Politics Announces Spring Fellows"].

Never mind that she has no academic "credentials." Given the so-called "scholarly" works produced by all too many American learneries, monographs mostly unreadable except for those that write them (if indeed those that write them can make any sense of what they've actually written), this need not be a primary consideration. Is not "experience," in the long run, probably more important than "scholarship" in the field of diplomacy?

Yes, experience counts. But what concerns me, as someone who left the State Department to protest the Bush II war plans regarding Iraq, about Hughes-at-Harvard is that of all the people involved in/concerned by a tragic period in American history -- the War in Iraq and its aftermath -- is why this superficial go-Dubya-go PR/propagandist (I have actually read her illiterate Ten Minutes from Normal, now available on Amazon for $6.00, far too high an expense), should have been chosen by a major American university to enlighten students.

Are there not others to deal intelligently with this sad part of our history?

Invite her for a Harvard conference, fine. But as a "Spring Fellow" at a university founded by religious persons with a conscience, a putative center of learning rather than of spin or "truthiness"?

Is Harvard rewarding/acknowledging intellectual, if not moral, mediocrity, dare I say in the name of "diversity of opinion"?

Just askin'.

There are many distinguished scholars/practitioners who have examined the tragic American intervention in Iraq  -- from a "public-diplomacy" perspective -- critically and honestly despite that they are not "Worldwide Vice Chair, Burson-Marsteller."

Why not consider them rather than Ms. Hughes? I can provide Harvard with names, if I can be useful to its educational efforts.

Among my modest pieces re Ms. Hughes:

What’s WHIG all About? An Open Letter to Karen Hughes
A Failed Public Diplomat
Karen Hughes on the Middle East
The Second Coming of Karen Hughes
Sinking in the Polls: Karen Hughes' Public Diplomacy
Indoctrination at an Early Age
Memo to Karen Hughes

Here's the Harvard announcement, in abbreviated form:

"Harvard’s Institute of Politics Announces Spring Fellows

Cambridge, MA – Harvard’s Institute of Politics, located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, today announced the selection of an experienced group of individuals for Resident and Visiting Fellowships this spring. Over the course of an academic semester, Resident Fellows interact with students, participate in the intellectual life of the Harvard community and lead weekly study groups on a wide variety of issue areas. Visiting Fellows join the Institute for a shorter period and maximize their time meeting with students, faculty and Harvard research center staff.

'We are looking forward to welcoming a great group of Resident and Visiting Fellows to Harvard this spring,' said Harvard Institute of Politics’ Director Trey Grayson. 'Our spring Fellows class features public servants with significant experience in politics, campaigns, international diplomacy, journalism and elected office that is sure to interest our students, faculty and the Harvard community.'

The following Resident Fellows will join the Institute for the spring semester and lead weekly study groups on a range of topics:

Charlie Cook, Political Analyst, Editor and Publisher, 'The Cook Political Report;' Columnist, National Journal magazine

Amb. Karen Hughes, Worldwide Vice Chair, Burson-Marsteller; Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (2005-07) and Counselor to President George W. Bush (2001-02) ..."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Women in Combat

--Image from RB on Facebook

I find the below superficial remark by a gentle right-wing, reactionary friend regarding U.S. women in combat as not totally off the mark [revised since the original posting of this entry] :

"In medieval times, women were expected to give birth.

In modern times, women are expected to kill.

Such is progress."

I also think as not totally off the mark the following "sexist" comment,

"Women who seek equality with men lack ambition."

One additional quotation, from a bumper sticker, which I came across after posting the original version of this entry:

"I’m out of estrogen and I have a gun."

And yet another quote:

“Honey, tell the kids that mommy will be late tonight. I’ve still got some killing to do.”


Take note: Molly O'Toole, “Military Sexual Assault Epidemic Continues To Claim Victims As Defense Department Fails Females,” Huffington Post

See also.

Top image from, with caption: Cenni di Pepo Cimabue. Majestas Mariae (The Most Holy Mother of God in Majesty) with Two Angels. Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Servi. Bologna ITALY. circa 1270; middle image from; below image from

Thursday, January 24, 2013

No to the Word Police

No to the Word Police
24 January 2013 | Issue 5054
By Michele A. Berdy, Moscow Times
Уважаемый Владимир Вольфович! (Dear Mr. Zhirinovsky [see])

I read with great interest your proposed ban on американизмы (Americanisms) in Russian, and all I can say is: Good luck with that.

Not that I don't have some sympathy for your position. Using English loan words like флайер (flyer) and тинейджер (teenager) when there are perfectly good Russian words like листовка and подросток needlessly complicates communication in Russian.

But a ban is going to be problematic. First of all, what's your start date? Are you going to outlaw words like клоун (clown) and insist on шут? Will компьютер (computer) be out and вычислительная машина be in? How about ксерокс (copy, copier)? Are people going to say, Сделайте мне три точных воспроизведения (Make me three exact replicas)? Color me skeptical.

You're also going to have a hard time figuring out which loan words have a Russian equivalent. To use your examples, перформанс (performance) isn't the same thing as представление (presentation). Russian dictionaries define перформанс as a specific art form. This is quite distinct from представление, which can mean a theatrical performance but not an example of performance art. And according to various general and specialized Russian dictionaries, дилер (dealer) describes a particular profession, while посредник is a more general term that describes any kind of middleman.

Another problem is deciding when a word came from English and when it came from another language or its Greek or Latin root. Did полиция and полицейский come from the English police and policeman, or did it enter Russian through the French police, the German polizei, the Latin politia or Greek politeia? And are you going to allocate a gazillion rubles to change every stamp, letterhead, sign, insignia and uniform to городовой (the pre-revolutionary name for a policeman)?

And then, if you manage to come up with a list of banned loan words, you're going to have a heck of a time enforcing it. People are very resistant to changing their language use, even when they want to. Listen to one of your politically correct compatriots try to remember to say в Украине instead of на Украине (in Ukraine). How are you going to prove willful intent in court?

Finally, I'm not a specialist in constitutional law, but Article 29 of the Constitution states: Каждому гарантируется свобода мысли и слова (Everyone shall be guaranteed the freedom of ideas and speech). Wouldn't the Word Police (Полиция Слов, or rather Городовые по употреблению слов) contradict that constitutionally enshrined right?

Besides, why would you want to dull the richness of the Russian language? Over the centuries, Russian has borrowed, refashioned, redefined and incorporated thousands of words from foreign tongues. From Greek and Latin came words and concepts connected with religious belief and state structure, like Библия (Bible) and демократия (democracy). From the Tatars came monetary terms, like деньги (money) and казна (treasury). Peter the Great's love affair with all things Germanic brought бухгалтер (bookkeeper), бутерброд (open-face sandwich) and картофель (potato). And how could Russians cook or dress without all those French imports like мусс (mousse) or декольте (decollete)?

The Russian language and culture are very adept at incorporating new words and concepts, and yet no one would claim that Russians became Greeks or Tatars or Germans in the process. Бизнес ланч is not going to turn them into Americans any more than the English name for that, prix fixe lunch, is going to turn Americans into French. [Re this, a reader might be interested in my piece at  -- JB]

Relax, man.

Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of "The Russian Word's Worth" (Glas), a collection of her columns. Via HS on Facebook

"Public Diplomacy is a cornerstone of today’s influence operations" -- PSYOP Honorary Colonel

"Public Diplomacy is a cornerstone of today’s influence operations. The MISO [Military Information Support Operations] Community has a symbiotic relationship with the Department of State. MIS teams may be employed to support embassy staff on one end of the spectrum and on the other MIS Task Forces may be deployed to hostile areas to take on the primary burden of supporting US informational efforts."

--Lawrence Dietz, PSYOP Regimental Blog: Authoritative source of information on Psychological Operations (PSYOP) or as it is now called Military Information Support Operations (MISO). Written by a retired senior Army Officer and former Honorary Colonel of the PSYOP Regiment; image from, with caption: Air University offers a one-week Information Operations Fundamentals Applications Course for rated officers and Airmen in public affairs and communications career fields with the ranks E-3 through 0-5.

Comment: I find the above observation, no matter how well-intentioned, unsettling. As a former U.S. Public Diplomacy practitioner for over twenty years, I saw my job, at its best, as not a "cornerstone" of "influence operations," but rather as the sharing of ideas and experiences, primarily about America, with the best and brightest in other countries. And, while I got along very well with military colleagues at our American embassies, many of whom I admired, including for their public relations skills, I never considered my relationship with them as "symbiotic," as we were engaged in very different kinds of activities -- both activities, let us hope, being carried out in the U.S. national interest, but by no means equivalent. 

At the risk of generalizing, I would say that "influence operations" are essentially meant to defeat an enemy. In contrast, USG-funded public diplomacy -- at its most commendable, polite but honest communication between U.S. diplomats and non-American opinion-makers of diverse backgrounds and interests -- seeks to find common ground with fellow human beings, for the interests and aspirations of all involved.

Note: My comment in this entry has been repeatedly but not substantially updated, a reflection of the complexity of the subject.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Concrete Challenges of Abstraction

The Concrete Challenges of Abstraction
By TOM L. FREUDENHEIM, Wall Street Journal

(Also you might wish to see my review of a book pertaining to this topic: Richard Pells, Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture, New Haven and London, 2012, ISBN-13: 978-0300181739, 498 pp, in paperback edition $24. The review challenges Mr. Pells's contention that America was unique in its reaction to/adaptation of modernism; see below highlighted paragraphs).

New York

The Museum of Modern Art's revelatory, expansive and exhilarating new exhibition, "Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925," makes a persuasive argument that, while we may believe that by now abstraction in art is kind of a no-brainer—something so familiar we can take it for granted—a review session is in order. Familiar artists such as Paul Klee and Georgia O'Keeffe show up here in a context that demands our considering them anew, alongside a number of artists, like David Bomberg and Duncan Grant of Britain, or Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini of Italy, too rarely on view.

But was abstract art really "invented," or was it "discovered"? We now organize so much of our vision around sensibilities of abstraction—as in our fascination with Cycladic and African sculpture, or in the way our eyes automatically organize formal composition in Old Master paintings—that it's difficult to work ourselves back to some kind of mental tabula rasa that conceives of abstraction as a radical idea. Leah Dickerman, a curator in MoMA's Department of Painting and Sculpture, who organized this stimulating exhibition, contends that, whereas the work of earlier artists appears abstract—the late watercolors of J.M.W. Turner or James McNeill Whistler's "Nocturnes," for example—they nonetheless "described things in a real or imagined world," as she writes in the catalog. On the other hand, this exhibition is developed around the concept that the artists included here wrought something completely new: "Shunning the depiction of objects in the world, they displayed works with no discernible subject matter. Indeed they abandoned the premise of making a picture of something."

This is an intense, often emotional, journey through more than 350 works that tracks us through a decade and a half of 20th-century art history and its fertile interactions with music, dance and film. From the dizzying opening works by František Kupka that plunge us into vertiginous spaces, to the space-denying geometry of Piet Mondrian, we are led through galleries of paintings, drawings, photographs and prints that tend to overwhelm the other media, although strategically placed sculptures and videos accentuate the depth of this subject. Arnold Schoenberg and Edgar Varèse in music, along with Mary Wigman and Rudolf von Laban in dance, suggest the complexities and scope of the subject. The show is especially rich in works by Jean (Hans) Arp, Fernand Léger, Vasily Kandinsky, Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich. There are also lots of discoveries (for this viewer): overlaid photographic images by the Italian Anton Giulio Bragaglia, drawings of "constructions" by the Latvian Gustav Klutsis that call into question the exhibition's premise of abstraction not referring to images of anything, and Wacław Szpakowski's drawings that look as if the Polish artist had just designed them on his computer.

That deliberate flight from imagery turns out to have involved a significant struggle, which is evident almost everywhere in this exhibition. While "observers spoke of the exhilaration and terror of leaping into unknown territory, where comparison with the past was impossible," that plunge was manifestly difficult for many of these artists.

Léger and Marsden Hartley—two artists of very different temperaments—present their strongly articulated forms as indecipherable objects swimming in not-quite-readable space. Léger conveys this by somewhat traditionally centering his compositions, clearly asserting the periphery as less important. Hartley manages to fill the field of his canvases evenly, yet they seem tied to a kind of depiction of crosses, checkerboards and even actual numbers. Francis Picabia's "La Source (The Spring)" of 1912—several versions are shown in the catalog—epitomizes the effort involved in illustrating imagined forms while not actually representing anything specific at all. "Going abstract" isn't really all that easy, and the excitement and success of this exhibition comes from its ability to help us participate in the difficulties faced by many of these artists.

It's also energized by the extraordinary mélange of works that engage us in what was arguably a momentous revolution in the history of the arts. Unlike so many exhibitions that have dealt with individual (and famous) pioneers of abstraction, this exhibition is generally organized around groups of artists in different countries—an approach that appears to suggest identifiable, differentiated and perhaps even national aesthetic principles. But insofar as there is any stylistic unity that bonds the various clusters of works, it has little to do with geographic boundaries.

Sure, there are monikers, often country-based, for some of these movements: Blue Rider, Vorticism, Neo-Plasticism, De Stijl, Futurism, Synchromism; and let's not forget Cubism, since Picasso provides a familiar and elegant entrée into the exhibition. There's also the revelation that comes from standing in one place and being able to see, for example, Kupka, Robert Delaunay, Léger, Picabia and Morgan Russell creating visual harmonies that now feel considerably less radical than the atonal pre-1910 Arnold Schoenberg scores and sounds that are among the early works we encounter. Moving across borders physically and conceptually is a reflection of the age in which this transformation was taking place, and the changes in travel and communication that were among its enablers.

That's asserted on an introductory wall, where the curatorial team's own original abstract diagram demonstrates the complexity of artistic and geographic relationships better than any text can. It's a staggering aesthetic and intellectual cat's-cradle of lines that connect the various actors in this artistic drama across a span that moves from Russia across various European capitals to the U.S., while also describing the intensity of their networks. Among artists who had more than 20 connections within these networks are Alfred Stieglitz, Tristan Tzara, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Natalia Goncharova—whose origins were American, Romanian, Italian and Russian, respectively, yet who moved about freely, with bases often in Paris, but also in New York, Zurich and Munich.

A "sound room" attempts to give us the flavor of the era's musical issues, just as large videos of dance demonstrate the introduction of abstract visual approaches to the performing arts. That's a tough challenge for an art museum to master, as was evident at the recent Whitney Biennial, which introduced performances, inevitably time-limited, trying to demonstrate the importance of an artist not being limited to a specific medium. MoMA's various Atrium projects have themselves emphasized the differences between art that exists primarily in space and that which also exists in time. This exhibition tends to give short shrift to many of the players in music and dance (the audio and video segments are engaging but appear somewhat incidental), while barely suggesting how the so-called invention of abstraction worked its way into other aspects of the performing arts (theater, film), as well as into literature.

That's not so much a flaw of this exhibition as a confirmation of the limitations of a museum-gallery format to demonstrate fully the vast reach of these movements over this relatively brief period of time. Viewers have an opportunity to engage visually in the adventure that accompanies the struggle of so many of these artists as they work at what appear to be self-set tasks.

These guys (they are mostly men) want to redefine how we encounter space and perspective—Paul Cézanne's challenge!—and it's fun to watch László Moholy-Nagy and Gerrit Rietveld working to find new articulations of spatial concepts. Mondrian works his way from pictorial space to rhythmic color pattern; Kandinsky—in what are probably his most gorgeous works—tries to bring music and poetry to paint and canvas; Léopold Survage seeks the liberation of color and rhythm, yet is forced to give it structure; the Russians, Ivan Kliun and Malevich, may succeed best at releasing—or is it revealing?—pure geometric form, yet they are stuck with art's traditional modes of expression: oil paint on canvas or board.

In these days of CAD (computer-aided design) the structures of Constantin Brancusi, Georges Vantongerloo, El Lissitsky and Vladimir Tatlin may feel quaint. Tatlin's 1920 "Monument to the Third International" is here in a massive 1979 reconstruction and belongs to an older tradition of visionary architecture as much as it does to the innovations of abstraction. Nevertheless, it's a tribute to this extraordinary exhibition that we feel the thrill of both discovery and invention throughout, in what may well be a broader sweep of this subject than has heretofore been attempted. In its own departure from tradition, the huge accompanying catalog explores different aspects of abstraction with 36 unusually terse and readable essays that admirably expand the exhibition's reach.

Mr. Freudenheim, a former art-museum director, served as the assistant secretary for museums at the Smithsonian.

A version of this article appeared January 15, 2013, on page D5 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Concrete Challenges of Abstraction.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Police state

That is my reaction as I watched the post-inauguration "presidential parade" on Tee-Vee going down Pennsylvania Avenue, with wall after wall of DC cops, military, and Secret Service agents (well, at least the SS is walking rather than frolicking with prostitutes in Latin America), supposedly "protecting" the president -- from ourselves, and at our taxpayers' expense.

Pardon the outburst.

If interested in the SS's behavior overseas, see my piece at.

Great review of Wood's book on Ben Franklin, America's first "public diplomacy" diplomat

Just came across this great review of Gordon S. Wood's book while preparing for class 3 ("U.S. Propaganda before Wilson") of my course at Georgetown, "Propaganda and American Foreign Policy: A Historical Overview."

A Folksy Aristocrat
By Barry Gewen
Published: August 08, 2004

By Gordon S. Wood.

Illustrated. 299 pp.

The Penguin Press. $25.95.

(FYI, more on Franklin as a "public diplomat" at Fitzhugh Green, “Our First Public Diplomats,” Foreign Service Journal;  and at (the somewhat less humanistic) "A Look Back ... Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father of Covert Action")

IT'S Benjamin Franklin's time. Two years ago Edmund S. Morgan gave us a fine character sketch with ''Benjamin Franklin.'' Then Walter Isaacson's ''Benjamin Franklin: An American Life'' planted itself on the New York Times best-seller list for a long stay. H. W. Brands has chimed in with ''The First American,'' a more commodious biography than Isaacson's, if a less fluent one. And now we have Gordon S. Wood's engaging book ''The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin.''

Wood has some tough acts to follow, but he is no slouch. A skilled writer with both Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes to his credit, he possesses as profound a grasp of the early days of the Republic as anyone currently working. He is the author of two books -- The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787'' and ''The Radicalism of the American Revolution'' -- that are essential for understanding the United States from its founding down to the present.

This study is not a biography, at least not a conventional one. Wood focuses on Franklin's personal development and constructs his narrative around various turning points in the life, almost like a bildungsroman. We learn the choices Franklin made, the conflicts he had to resolve. This is the most dramatic of the recent Franklin books.

One of Wood's major topics is Franklin's reputation, then and now. A reader today cannot fail to be astonished by Franklin's remarkable modernity. Isaacson calls him ''the founding father who winks at us.'' Wood echoes this judgment: ''He seems to be the one we would most like to spend an evening with.'' Washington was too solemn, Jefferson too lofty, Hamilton too driven, Madison too lawyerly, Adams too difficult, a royal pain. With his disdain of powdered wigs and the other formalities of his very formal age, Franklin comes across as the most recognizably human of them all, a man for our time. His immediacy compresses centuries. He is not even Franklin, he's just Ben -- witty, ironic, plain-spoken, shrewd, congenial, devious, visionary, lusty, magnanimous, hardheaded, manipulative, brilliant Ben.

Not everyone today would enjoy his company, be seduced by this consummately seductive man. The politically correct would most likely hector him if they could. For Franklin was a slaveholder. It's true he turned against slavery, and ardently so, at the very end of his life, but he took a long time getting there. He could be a bigot as well. He wrote nativist diatribes against the large German population in his own colony of Pennsylvania. In 1751 he argued for excluding everyone from Pennsylvania except the English; Morgan calls him ''the first spokesman for a lily-white America.'' Franklin loved the company of women, but he was no feminist. He treated his wife miserably, and he admonished young brides to attend to the word ''obey'' in their vows. He worried that handouts to the poor would encourage laziness, and he was a fervent supporter of a strong military.

An 18th-century Jesse Helms? Modern right-wingers would probably be even more uncomfortable with him than left-wingers. Take his religious views. Franklin was a deist; God, in his opinion, was a distant presence in the affairs of men. He was no churchgoer. He accepted neither the sacredness of the Bible nor the divinity of Jesus. His ideas about property rights were similarly unorthodox. Beyond basic necessities, he said, all property belonged to ''the public, who by their laws have created it.'' Brands calls such remarks ''strikingly socialistic.''

What most sets Franklin apart from contemporary conservatives, however, is his attitude toward that panoply of issues gathered under the heading of ''family values.'' As a young man he consorted with ''low women,'' and fathered an illegitimate child. In 1745 he wrote a letter to a youthful friend -- long suppressed -- offering advice on choosing a lover. (Older women, he declared, were preferable to younger ones.) Franklin was always an incorrigible flirt. How much actual sex was involved is anybody's guess, but one incident stands out among the rest. When he was in his 70's and living in Paris, he became enamored of the captivating 33-year-old Mme. Anne-Louise Brillon, one of the leading lights of Parisian society. Even the puritanical John Adams was enchanted by her. She was no less taken with Franklin, and their vivacious correspondence consisted of a determined campaign on his part to bed her and her equally stalwart resistance, based on the customs of the day and what was proper between a widower and a married woman. Their bantering give-and-take, as quoted by Brands, constitutes one of the most charming episodes in early American history and -- since as far as the historians can tell they never did sleep together -- also one of the most poignant.

Moral zealots of his own era -- Adams, for example, and the Lees of Virginia -- didn't like him, and our own zealots of both the left and the right wouldn't like him now. In these overheated, bipolar times, if a decision had to be made about our currency, it's a safe bet that a slaveholding lecher would not be gracing our $100 bills. But Franklin was a hero of moderation throughout his life, and he is a hero for moderates today. He took the world as he found it, accepted people for what they were and didn't try to make them over. He had no axes to grind. His code of conduct began in sociability, with a firm commitment to the practical. Franklin has been criticized for not being a dreamer. He wasn't; he wanted to get things done. He was devoted to public service, the public good. Thus, the library, fire company, insurance company, hospital and university he founded in Philadelphia; thus, the inventions and scientific experiments that won him fame on both sides of the Atlantic; and thus, the magnificent political and diplomatic achievements. Franklin, as Isaacson points out, was the only person to sign the four major documents establishing the country: the Declaration of Independence, the treaties with France and Britain, and the Constitution. Wood calls him ''the greatest diplomat America has ever had.''

So extraordinary was the multifaceted Franklin that it's all too easy to sentimentalize him, and here Wood's book can serve as a useful corrective. Two themes in particular lend themselves to fuzzy effusiveness. The first is that Franklin was some kind of tribune of the masses, the populist among the founding fathers. But no less than Thomas Jefferson, Franklin believed in the idea of a natural aristocracy, and well understood where he was positioned within that hierarchy.

He could interact enjoyably with anyone, commoners as well as kings, yet as Morgan observes, he preferred associating with those ''on the same wavelength'' -- which meant neither commoners nor kings but Hume, Burke, Condorcet, Boswell, Beaumarchais, Adam Smith. He hated the rabble, feared mobs. When it came to decision making, he held that wisdom resided with the wise. ''The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin'' makes clear just how much of an elitist our folksiest founder was.

The other problematic theme concerns Franklin's ''Americanness.'' He seems almost a checklist for those national qualities Americans take pride in -- and others despise us for. Yet Wood alerts us to be careful in how we think about this aspect of his character. For he was the most cosmopolitan of the founders, at home anywhere. Twenty-five of the last 33 years of his life were spent abroad, and those years were anything but a hardship for him. He was wined and dined and celebrated by the Europeans more than he ever was by his own countrymen. Soon after arriving in London he was complaining about the provinciality and vulgarity of Americans. In Paris he was quite simply a superstar, acclaimed as the equal of Voltaire, and he gave thought to settling permanently in ''the civilest Nation upon Earth.'' These sentiments did not go unnoticed back home, and Franklin fell under suspicion of being a foreign agent, first for the British, then for the French. When he returned to Philadelphia for the last time in 1785, it was in part to clear his name.

So what does it mean to speak of his ''Americanization''? What changed him from a citizen of the world to a citizen of the United States? As Wood shows, these aren't easy questions to answer. But it should be said that in one way Franklin never really did change. He turned against England because it had become smaller in his mind, oppressive and corrupt, no longer the center of civilization that he had come to love. Now it was America that seemed to be civilization's future. The Revolution was not a conflict over taxation or home rule, not even a dispute over the rights of Englishmen. For him it represented something universal, a world-historical event, ''a miracle in human affairs.'' That is, Franklin never stopped being the urbane cosmopolitan, the ultimate sophisticate. He stayed true to himself. But by 1776 he had concluded that the only way to remain a citizen of the world was to become an American.

Barry Gewen is an editor at the Book Review.

Maybe we're a miracle after all ...

Paleoanthropologists have long thought that humans descended from a chimpazeelike ancestor and that early human fossils belonged to a single evolving lineage. According to this view, only later did our predecessors diversify into multiple overlapping branches of humans, of which our species is the sole survivor.

Recent fossil discoveries have upended that scenario, however, providing intriguing evidence that the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees may not have looked particularly chimplike and that our early forebearers were not alone in Africa. The findings are forcing researchers to reconsider what traits indicate that a species belongs on the line leading to us -- and to question whether it will ever be possible to identify our last common ancestor.

--Scientific American (February 2013), p. 44; image from

Sunday, January 20, 2013

[Updated/Amended]: What? Newspaper says PR man Balsera nominated to PD Commission that no longer exists


United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State [undated]

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy was reauthorized by the Congress and the President under H.R. 4310, Section 1280, signed into law on January 3, 2012. The Commission authorization is retroactive to October 1, 2010, and continues through to October 1, 2015. At this time, the Commission is in the process of restarting operations. Check back for updates. The Commission's website, email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts will be updated after the office is staffed and operations restart.

Since 1948, the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) had been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics and to increase the understanding of and support for these same activities. The ACPD accomplished this through reports and symposiums that provided honest appraisals and informed discourse on these efforts.

What? Newspaper says PR man Balsera nominated to PD Commission that according to the State Department homepage [AM January 20] no longer existed -- but that evidently has just been reauthorized (thank you Bill Kiehl [see his informative comment to this posting]).

Balsera nominated to U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy - The Miami Herald, 1.19.13: "Freddy Balsera, founder of a Coral Gables public relations firm, has been nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

'I am proud to nominate such impressive individuals to these important roles, and I am grateful they have agreed to lend their considerable talents to this Administration,' said Obama in announcing the nomination of Balsera and others to key administration posts.

Prior to founding his company in 1999, Balsera worked for the Miami-Dade Mayor’s Office handling intergovernmental relations and media relations duties. Balsera currently serves on the board of the YMCA of Greater Miami and was elected to the Miami Dade College Alumni Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2008, he worked with the Obama-Biden Transition Team as part of the agency review panel for the Federal Communications Commission."

Image from article, with caption: (L to R) Freddy Balsera hugs President Barack Obama in a visit to Miami on June 2012.

[Added to original posting Jan 20, 2013: Please note that the nomination of Mr. Balsera dates back to late 2011]


The U.S. Advisory Commission has been closed, according to the State Department. See:

"The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy has not been reauthorized by the Congress. As a result, the Commission concluded its business on December 16, 2011, and the office has been closed. The Commission's website, email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts will not be monitored or updated."

--United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Twitter is, like, so cool!

"s.v. TWITTER:

2. It is transferred to any person or thing that is slender or feeble. It is said of a lank delicate girl; 'She's a mere twitter,' S."

--Entry in the above dictionary cited in the review by Robert Crawford of Susan Rennie's JAMIESON'S DICTIONARY OF SCOTS: The story of the first historical dictionary of the Scots languages (304pp. Oxford University Press), The Times Literary Supplement (January 11, 2013),  p. 11 [Please note that Professor Crawford does not specify in which edition of the Dictionary this definition appeared -- JB].

--Above image (the Pope twiteering) from; below from

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Another fine example of academic prose ...

Here is an entry from Hamid Dabashi's book The World of Persian Literary Humanism (Harvard University Press).
The heteroglossia that results from the historical dialectic between the context and the text translates into the hybridity (polyglossia) of literary utterances that makes up a literary tradition. In such utterances, Sa'di's words are always already animated by the emerging intentions of their readers. This is how, in Sa'di's case, the mind of the moralist was at once literary in its disposition and moralizing in the collective consciousness of the people, who in loving and quoting and procreating him in effect celebrated their own repressed aspirations and thus collectively enacted a nonprophetic, self-revelatory act of prophecy, which in turn ipso facto detranscendentalized the sense of the sacred.
--J.C., "From the Top," The Times Literary Supplement (December 21 and 28, 2012), p. 42; image from

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Doubtless these gentlemen are talking about the USIA

In the photo, from left to right: William Wilson, Ronald Reagan, Walter Annenberg, William French Smith, and Charles Wick [United States Information Agency Director during the Reagan Administration]. Photo (not subject line) via JJ on Facebook

Friday, January 11, 2013

Destined To Fail: China’s Soft Power Push

Destined To Fail: China’s Soft Power Push
January 07, 2013
By Zachary Keck,

In a little noticed event on New Year’s Day, China inaugurated its first non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of soft power—China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA). Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi attended and spoke at the unveiling ceremony for the group, which elected as its president Li Zhaoxing, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress. Addressing the group after the vote, Li told its members that the CPDA would mobilize and coordinate “social resources and civilian efforts” towards the goal of "promoting China's soft power."

In some ways, China’s desire to strengthen its soft power capabilities seems entirely logical. After all, ancient Chinese leaders masterfully wielded soft power. And as China’s economic power has risen in recent years, the Chinese government has adopted various measures to enhance China’s soft power, such as establishing global news services (most recently, China Daily’s Africa Weekly) and Confucius Institutes across the world. Outside of China some have spoken of a Beijing Consensus that is supposedly supplementing the Washington Consensus in terms of the most favored political-economic model.

Yet even as China inaugurated its first organization dedicated to enhancing Beijing’s soft power, a number of disparate events in China were illustrating why the CCP’s charm offensive is doomed to fail.

For example, in recent weeks the Chinese government has redoubled its efforts to censor the internet. After social media users in China exposed a series of scandals involving low-level government officials, the CCP adopted new regulations that require internet service providers to quickly delete “illegal” posts and turn over the evidence to government officials. Additionally, after trying to require citizens to use their real names on social media sites like Weibo, the new regulations require citizens to use their real identities when signing up with an internet provider. More secretly, according to many inside China, authorities have been strengthening the great firewall to prevent users from employing various methods in order to gain access to a growing number of sites that are banned.

China is hardly the only government concerned about the political instability unfettered internet access can generate. In fact, last month China joined 89 countries in supporting a United Nations telecommunications treaty that over 20 nations opposed over fears that it would open the door to greater government control over cyberspace. But while China’s suppression of information may resonate with political elites in authoritarian states, the world is living in the information age and attempts to restrict the flow of information for political reasons will not endear China to the global masses that soft power seeks to attract.

China’s internet policies also conflict with the stated goals of its soft power offensive in more concrete ways as well. For example, one of the primary goals of the CPDA is to increase the number of people-to-people exchanges with other countries. However, if the CCP is successful in preventing users from accessing popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and the New York Times, it is likely to discourage foreigners from living or studying abroad in China. Similarly, blocking access to these sites inhibits communication between Chinese and foreigners over cyberspace.

Along with tighter restrictions on the Internet, Chinese authorities have also increased their scrutiny on media outlets, both domestic and foreign. Domestically, the CCP ushered in the New Year by closing downthe fiercely liberal magazine, Yanhuang Chunqiu, ostensibly because its registration had been invalid since August 2010. Then, on Friday, 51 prominent journalists issued an open letter demanding the resignation of Tuo Zhen, the Communist Party’s propaganda chief in Guangdong Province, who they accused of “raping” the Southern Weekly’s editorial page when he allegedly altered its annual New Year’s Greeting right as it went to press, and without the knowledge or consent of the editor. The journalists were later joined by over two dozen prominent academics from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan who published their own open letter calling for Tuo's resignation.

Southern Weekly (also referred to as Southern Weekend) is a highly regarded reform-minded Guangdong newspaper, and its annual New Year’s Greeting has traditionally pushed the bounds of acceptable political discussion in ChinaThis year’s editorial originally parodied Xi Jinping’s "Chinese Dream" by calling for the realization of the “dream of constitutionalism in China” where civil rights and the rule-of-law are respectedand upheld. After Tuo’s changes, the editorial expressed gratitude to the Communist Party for helping the country achieve the Chinese Dream.  According to David Bandurski, editor of China Media Project,"This kind of direct hands-on interference is really something new” and extreme even by China's strict regulation of domestic media. Indeed, after the government tried to silence the growing outrage over Tuo's actions, including by shutting down Southern Weekly staff members' personal Weibo accounts, the entire editorial staff at the newspaper decided to stage a strike, marking the first time in over two decades that the editorial staff of a major Chinese newspaper has gone on strike over government censorship, according to the South China Morning Post.

China also continued its campaign against foreign journalists and news organizations last week when Chris Buckley, an Australian-national and China correspondent for the New York Times, was forced to leave the country because Beijing wouldn’t renew his visa. Following Buckley’s departure the New York Times said its China bureau chief, Philip P. Pan—author of Out of Mao’s Shadow—has been waiting since March to receive his own credentials.

Beijing later claimed Buckley hadn’t submitted the proper paperwork, but his case follows on the heels of Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan’s expulsion from the country and the Washington Post’s Andrew Higgins finally ending his three-year quest to gain reentry into China, which failed even after the newspaper enlisted the help of Henry Kissinger. Thus, the more plausible explanation for Buckley’s inability to renew his visa is that Beijing is retaliating against foreign journalists because of the extraordinary reporting organizations like the New York Times have been doing on politically taboo subjects in China, such as stories on the enormous amount of wealth the families of senior leaders have accumulated. This reporting is also why the websites of the New York Times and Bloomberg News are no longer accessible in China, and why reporters from these organizations weren’t able to attend the unveiling of the Politburo Standing Committee at the 18th Party Congress in November.

Finally, the CCP’s soft power offensive is doomed to fail because of its ability to tolerate (much less cultivate) “cultural ambassadors.” In the realm of soft power, a county’s entertainers, artists, and intellectuals are some of its strongest assets. One needs only to look to South Korean rapper Psy, and the “flash mobs” he’s inspired in places as varied as JakartaBangkokSydneyDhakaMumbaiDubai,American college campuses and shopping mallsTaipeiHong Kong, and, yes, the Chinese mainland.

A country as large and dynamic as China undoubtedly has many potential worldwide celebrities. And yet, as a China Daily op-ed points out, China “is still far from making a product like Gangnam Style. China does export a large amount of cultural products every year, but few of them become popular abroad.”

The major reason China fails to export its cultural products, as Peng Kan, the author of the op-ed rightly notes, is that “Government organizations and enterprises are the main force behind the exports….But these organizations and enterprises… cannot promote satires like Gangnam Style through official communication channel. But cultural products without entertainment value rarely become popular in overseas markets.”

Indeed, it’s telling that China’s most popular non-governmental figures abroad are all opponents of the CCP. One such individual is democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, who celebrated his 57th birthday on December 28th and the 3rd anniversary of  being sentenced to an 11-year prison term on December 25th.  This sentence only increased Liu’s international stature where he has been celebrated widely and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 (which the CCP responded to by placing his wife under house arrest).  Indeed Liu’s international renowned was on display last month when 134 Nobel laureates sent Xi Jinping a letter urging him to release Liu.

Eclipsing Liu in popularity at least in the West, however, is Ai Weiwei, the famous Chinese artist and dissident. Ai Weiwei’s remarkable artistic talent made him famous in some circles, initially including the CCP and across the globe before his turn to social activism. It is undeniable, however, that much of his popularity has come from his courageous and witty challenge to Communist Party rule in China. It is this charismatic political dissent that explains why documentaries of him win at Sundance, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times interviews him while visiting China, and his “Gangam Style” parody becomes an instant You Tube sensation, despite the fact that its underlying political message is lost on almost all its viewers.

China is hardly alone in making dissidents it persecutes famous internationally. In fact, this problem is practically inherent in authoritarian states (just ask Vladimir Putin). There’s a nearly universal tendency for people to sympathize with an “underdog” who is courageously battling a powerful force like a government, which is why a Tunisian street vendor setting himself on fire can spark uprisings throughout the Arab world, and David and Goliath is one of the most recognizable stories from Jewish and Christian religious texts.

But this fact does not make Liu and Ai Weiwei any less damaging to the CCP’s ability to project soft power. Symbolic figures like Liu and Ai Weiwei ingrain into people’s minds the perception that the CCP is synonymous with injustice. And hardly any emotion is as universally held as the righteousness of justice, however one defines it.

On a more primeval basis, people are attracted to confidence, and attempts to suppress information and dissidents creates the perception that, despite all its power and remarkable achievements, the CCP remains at its core fearful and paranoid. Few people are attracted to, much less want to emulate, those they consider fearful or paranoid. Which is why, despite China’s ancient history of soft power, and the soft power individuals like Ai Weiwei command, modern China’s soft power will remain limited under the current political leadership.

Zachary Keck is assistant editor of The Diplomat. He can be found on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Call for Papers: Selling America in an Age of Uncertainty: U.S. Public Diplomacy in the New International Order, 1965-1980


Maybe it sounds better in French ...

FROM: The great swindle: From pickled sharks to compositions in silence, fake ideas and fake emotions have elbowed out truth and beauty - Roger Scruton,

"Consider the following sentence:
This is not just its situation ‘in principle’ (the one it occupies in the hierarchy of instances in relation to the determinant instance: in society, the economy) nor just its situation ‘in fact’ (whether, in the phase under consideration, it is dominant or subordinate) but the relation of this situation in fact to this situation in principle, that is, the very relation which makes of this situation in fact a ‘variation’ of the — ‘invariant’ — structure, in dominance, of the totality.
Or this:
… it is the connexion between signifier and signifier that permits the elision in which the signifier installs the lack-of-being in the object relation using the value of ‘reference back’ possessed by signification in order to invest it with the desire aimed at the very lack it supports.
Those sentences are from the French philosopher Louis Althusser and the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan respectively."

JB comment: Comprende?

Via NI; image from

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Initiatives in Cultural Diplomacy: A Comment

Yesterday (January 7) I had the privilege to attend a one-hour forum, "New Initiatives in Cultural Diplomacy," presented by the University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Communications Policy and Leadership, the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, and the Public Diplomacy Council. The event's venue was the American Foreign Service Association in Washington D.C. Among the 80-person audience were key individuals from the diplomatic, media, and academic world.

The elegant and brilliant Adam C. Powell III, Senior Fellow, USC Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and the equally charismatic Morris "Bud" Jacobs, President, Public Diplomacy Council, gave brief introductory remarks. Jacobs noted, quite astutely, that cultural diplomacy's importance was inversly related to the funding it received.

Speakers were (in order of their ten/fifteen minute presentations): Aluwani Museisi, First Secretary, Socio-Economic and Development, Embassy of the Republic of South Africa to the United States; Roger J. Whyte II, Director of Special Events, Washington Performing Arts Society; Anita Maynard-Losh, Director of Community Engagement, Arena Stage; Pennie Ojeda, Director, International Activities, National Endowment for the Arts. The moderator was Susan Clampitt, a consultant to nonprofit and foundations in organizational capacity.

Museisi said that although he, as a diplomat, was "paid" to speak, he personally strongly believed that cultural programs brought people together and thus underscored our common humanity. He outlined some of his embassy's cultural current and future initiatives. Whyte, whose bio includes "producing the logistics of the First Lady's trip to Haiti," spoke about his collaboration with the South African Embassy. Maynard-Losh, who (among her many activities) conceived and directed an Alaska Native-inspired production of MacBeth, summarized her cultural outreach activities in India. Ojeda, who provides expertise and guidance on international cultural policy issues with the U.S. Department of State, power-pointed the international activities of the National Endowment for the Arts, focusing on "Southern Exposure," a program to introduce North Americans to Latin American culture. (I am citing from the hand-out at the meeting).

The speakers admirably demonstrated their deep commitment to culture. But as they spoke I could not quite agree with what they perceive culture to be. Essentially, for them, it is an instrument for a purpose other than itself. At the risk of simplifying, their views on culture seemed to me to be, in a nutshell:
  • A tool in an embassy's efforts to present a positive image of a country (e.g., South Africa) as multicultural and diverse (Museisi)
  • Yet another "program" that has to be organized efficiently (Whyte)
  • A kind of social/political therapy that gives the oppressed/underprivileged (e.g.. young women in India), a chance to "speak out" (Maynard-Losh)
  • An activity -- gentle social engineering with international dimensions -- that constantly needs funding (Ojeda)
"Engagement" and "listening" were key words in the compelling speakers' presentations. I'm not quite sure what "engagement" exactly means; it reminds me of an over-priced ring for someone you might never marry. As for "listening," thank God Picasso created while not waiting for anyone to "listen."

Distant from the distinguished speakers' minds seemed that culture:
  • Provides a magic moment, in and of itself, that goes beyond national/state/bureaucratic/political/gender-focused interests
  • Is not merely about social events that from a PR perspective have to "look great"
  • Doesn't necessarily mean making discriminated-against persons in poverty-stricken countries feel good about themselves, an attitude reflecting a kind of missionary condescension from citizens in a "homeland" where children get murdered in an elementary school
  • Is not a state/corporate program, needing millions of taxpayers' dollars to administer, that supposedly "brings people together"
In response to such utilitarian views on culture, I could not help but think of La Fontaine:
Ô douce Volupté, sans qui, dès notre enfance,/ Le vivre et le mourir nous deviendraient égaux.
But, as the flip side of the same "pleasurable" coin, the unique treasures of culture (please, please don't call them "new initiatives" -- since when do "initiatives" need the adjective "new"?) can be terrifying and unsettling, produced by often thank-God mad outsiders who question everything, including culture itself.

This "dark" side of culture (think of Burroughs or Céline) -- part of our human condition here on planet earth -- was totally missing from our speakers' memorable wonder bread presentations.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A useful article for courses pertaining to diplomacy/public diplomacy

Stuart Murray, “Consolidating the Gains Made in Diplomacy Studies: A Taxonomy,” International Studies Perspectives (2008) 9, pp. 22–39 is doubtless well known to some scholars (am no scholar), but I stumbled upon it several months ago and find it a very useful (although it appeared some four years ago) as a pedagogical tool for BA and even MA students interested in diplomacy/public diplomacy. So far as I can tell, the article is not available via internet search engines (e.g., Google) but is accessible via databases to which university libraries subscribe.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Passion and Compassion

If I must endure reading the word "passion" in yet another college grad /self-serving résumé/blog, I think I will react -- not by using a revolver, as stated about culture in a play by the prominent Nazi writer Hanns Johst -- but with com-passion, granted in a much irritated form, if at all possible.

I always thought passion was about really passionate things like love, not "passionately" promoting oneself for a job.

Image from

And another master of academic jargon winner is ...

"[O]n Wednesday, 9 January, Dr. [Derrick L.] Cogburn will present a paper entitled, 'Computationally Intensive Content Analysis of Public Diplomacy Data: Understanding the Public Remarks of US Secretaries of State, 1997-2011,' co-authored with former COTELCO research associate Ms. Amy Wozniak."

--COTELCO/IDPP Faculty Share Research Findings at HICSS 46

For a previously mentioned big-words higher education master, see.

"Smart power": a brief history

Brainier Brawn: "Smart power": a brief history -


The term "smart power" is just half a decade old, but the concept behind it goes back much further. Grand strategists from Carl von Clausewitz to Lawrence of Arabia advocated a mix of "hard" military power and "soft" ideological sway as the recipe for winning wars. To its boosters in today's Washington, smart power is a way to better husband U.S. resources in a changing world; to detractors, it's a slick marketing phrase masking a policy of weakness. Either way, smart power is now not just a theoretical construct but a way to cash in. The U.S. defense industry has seized on smart-power-style contracts, monetizing a catchphrase that has become the hallmark of the Obama administration.

1832: Carl von Clausewitz's seminal work On War distinguishes two necessary ways to defeat an enemy: using "moral qualities and effects" (which later came to be called "soft power") and "the whole mass of the military force" ("hard power").

1917: T.E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, describing a successful insurgency in his "27 Articles," cites both the need for a moral base on the ground and the physical ability to inflict damage.

March 1, 1961: The 1960s see the United States embark on a new set of soft-power programs aimed at isolating the Soviet Union. "Our own freedom, and the future of freedom around the world, depend … on [developing countries'] ability to build … independent nations," President John F. Kennedy tells Congress in proposing one such initiative, the Peace Corps.

November 9, 1989: Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. emphasis on soft power plummets; the number of Foreign Service officers working in public diplomacy, for example, drops about 25 percent, and educational and cultural programs lose funding every year until 2002.

1991: In Bound to Lead, Harvard University political scientist Joseph Nye defines two types of power. Hard power is the kind "associated with tangible resources like military and economic strength," while soft power includes things like "culture, ideology, and institutions."

2001-2004: Following the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush's administration emphasizes the use of hard power, most notably pre-emptive force.

January 2004: Nye promotes a new phrase, smart power, in his book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. "Smart power is neither hard nor soft. It is both," he writes, noting that it means "learning better how to combine" military might with moral and cultural prowess.

March-April 2004: In Foreign Affairs, analyst Suzanne Nossel also adopts the catchphrase: "Smart power means knowing that the United States' own hand is not always its best tool: U.S. interests are furthered by enlisting others on behalf of U.S. goals."

March-September 2007: Nye and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage set up the Commission on Smart Power, stocked with 20 leaders from across the U.S. government and NGOs. The term takes hold on U.S. op-ed pages, with dozens of mentions in three top newspapers from 2007 through 2009, up from just one in the two years before that.

2008: Smart power enters the political arena when Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promote the concept during the U.S. presidential campaign. Obama describes his foreign policy as one that would "shape events not just through military force, but through the force of our ideas."

January 13, 2009:In her confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Clinton defines her strategy as one of "smart power." Defense contractors soon look to cash in, building their portfolios in health and human rights to align "with the Obama administration's emphasis on the application of 'smart power,'" as DynCorp Chief Executive William Ballhaus puts it.

Fall 2009: Commentators around the world embrace the term. An op-ed in the Times of India on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington concludes, "The impact of joint exercise of India-U.S. smart power will be felt across central Asia, ASEAN and beyond the Indian Ocean."

November 16, 2009: Conservatives step up the attack on the Obama administration's ability to turn smart power from slogan to strategy. National Review argues, "Obama's team has managed an early record of glaring diplomatic ineptitude that suggests 'smart power' is neither."