Friday, March 6, 2009

March 6

It's impossible to predict when this is going to happen, and then we said, well, we'll predict it anyway.”

--Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James K. Glassman, regarding hazarding a guess in his book, Dow 36,000, where the stock market would go; image from

"Sending less e-mails is polite 2.0."

--B.L. Ochman, Advertising Age


No Twitter for Hitler; cited in William Bradley, “The Trouble with Twitter: Why ‘Tweets' Are Like 'Blipverts,'” Huffington Post


Out of the rubble of Gaza. . . glasnost in DC: Scott McConnell, American Conservative: “An explosive event on Capitol Hill.

About 150 people crammed into a hearing room with seats for 70 to hear Congressmen Keith Ellison (D. Minn.) and Brian Baird (D. Wash) report on their last month’s trip to Gaza. … In the question[s], Ellison and Baird came back to broader issues, public diplomacy, hope, the children of Gaza and the region, the sense that this whole thing just can’t be allowed to go on has it has for the past forty years, worsening all the time.” Image from

Diplomacy by Invitation – Jameson, Perspectives on Public Diplomacy: "Secretary Clinton means business in redefining the role of the Secretary of State. With one of the Secretary's new tools, [Interactive travel map] anyone can get on the Internet and keep track of the Secretary's carbon footprint (she's up to 57,944 miles traveled thus far). … Here, you have a tool that caters to domestic and foreign 'publics' alike. The Secretary is distinguishing not only the Office of the Secretary of State, but also herself as Secretary of State. This innovation atop the Department sets a high bar for the lower level PD folks."

Public Diplomacy in the Digital Age, Part 2 - Mark Hannah, MediaShift: “Matt Armstrong, who authors a prolific blog, Mountain Runner, on the topic of public diplomacy, urges us to ‘reestablish public diplomacy as the tool of national security it must be.’ … A report out this week from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled, U.S. Public Diplomacy -- Time to Get Back in the Game [PDF] shows that some elected officials are taking the dire state of public diplomacy seriously (despite its casual title) … . The ‘war of ideas’ is -- and will continue to be -- an increasingly important front on the War on Terror. And much of this war of ideas will be played out on through new media such as the Internet.” Image from

Outspoken: A Conversation With James K. Glassman – Interview by Carlos Lozada, Washington Post: “At the end of the Bush administration, you served as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, leading U.S. efforts against terrorist ideologies. How do you think you did on that? I think we did pretty well. The undersecretary for public diplomacy has a broad portfolio, which includes traditional means of engaging the foreign public, such as cultural and educational exchanges. These we do very, very well. But what we haven't really done very much of is what some people call the war of ideas. . . . This is a tremendously important battle, and it's not just a military battle, as [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates has said. I only had this job for seven months, but I think we got on the right track. … In your Senate confirmation hearing last year you said that 'the problem is that the majority of people in the world have never met an American.' How much of the problem is that people do know America but don't like it? The question of why people don't like us is a very complex one. Part of it is they don't like our policies. Part of it is they don't understand our policies but then when they do understand them they don't like them. The third is -- and this is the one I think we can actually work on -- that they feel we don't respect their point of view, that we get out the megaphone and we yell at them: 'Here is what we believe; here is how wonderful we are; listen to this, world!' That is the approach that I tried to get away from.” See also; image from

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women - Rebbekah, Heal Yourself Magazine: Actress Fran Drescher, from “the speech I gave yesterday at the United Nations Global Women’s Status Conference. … ‘I was appointed by the US State Dept. as Public Diplomacy Envoy of Women’s Health Issues. It is my vision to unite women around the globe through the commonality of health, gender and social oppression into a sisterhood that overrides borders and religious differences. I believe with every fiber of my being that this is a certain path towards a shift of the negative paradigm existing in our world today.’” Image from

Where is the father of public diplomacy voice to Iran?WeareHypocrites: ”On the TV set, you see Ahmad Reza Baharloo, the sharp looking veteran journalist who wears his one million dollar smile and hosts the show with his unpretentious style. Millions of Iranians have tuned into 'Round Table with You' since October of 1996. He is the trusting voice for millions of Iranians after the revolution. Baharloo is considered the voice of reason. He neither sugar coat the problems that exist in Iran nor does he exaggerates the situation as many hosts do after the Islamic revolution. Baharloo’s calm, reasonable commentary with careful question and answer becomes the ultimate public diplomacy tool.”

Nauman, U.S. Representative at Venice Biennale, Presented at Three Venues - "Bruce Nauman: Topological Gardens, the official United States representation at the 53rd International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia … . The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State (ECA) led the selection process for the artist who will represent the U.S. at the Biennale. Following a recommendation by the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, ECA selected Bruce Nauman … . Making U.S. culture more accessible to a broader international public is a major objective of American public diplomacy.” Image from article: Bruce Nauman with U.S. Commissioner Carlos Basualdo at the U.S. Pavilion, Venice, Italy in June, 2008. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art © Michele Lamanna 2008.

US actress/activist Jurnee Smollett shares her experience with Swazis- Nokukhanya Aimienoho – Swazi Observer: “Smollett who arrived in the country on Monday and is scheduled to leave today was hosted by the United States Embassy in line with its ongoing foreign exchange programs.

According to the US Embassy Public Diplomacy Section’s Information Assistant Gciniwe Nsibande, the US Embassy brings several speakers from the US to Swaziland annually. ‘We support a variety of professional, youth, cultural and sports exchange programmes to further our nation’s foreign policy to provide Swazi participants with the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and understanding so they can better address the challenges facing their countries and to offer Americans the opportunity to share their expertise and experience with their Swazi counterparts’, she said.” Image from article.

“Her Majesty’s Consul General at SICC last night (among others)!” - Summer Teal Simpson, Creative Coast Alliance: “Martin Rickerd, Her Majesty’s Consul … was kind enough to speak briefly … about his role as CG and his love of Savannah. The Consulate-General is staffed to deal with a range of services, including support for British nationals, public diplomacy on the British government’s policy priorities, and science and technology collaboration.”

New brochure about Norway’s relations with the “The brochure will provide a boost to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ public diplomacy efforts abroad and will be widely distributed to Norwegian diplomatic and consular missions in Europe.”


The "Smart Power" List, Part Two - Rachel Sklar, Daily Beast:

Last month, The Daily Beast published the “Smart Power” list recognizing those who best exemplified the use of hard and soft power, old and new tactics, muscle and moxie to come out on top. Even Colin Powell is a fan: Earlier this week he urged its use in preparing the budget, and thinking ahead to its use in military contexts. Now we add a few more -- Rachel Maddow, Kathleen Sebelius, and Newt Gingrich for starters. Image from

Our Manic White House - Leslie H. Gelb, Daily Beast: Maybe The Obama team wants to show the world that it’s not the Bush team. But really, even the lamest minds have already glimpsed that inescapable reality. It’s enough for the White House and the State Department to demonstrate in public statements that they truly understand the nature of the problems around the world and are prepared to play a leadership role and work with the countries involved in order to solve those problems. It’s not the world that expects daily miracles, it’s cable-TV news and the White House.

Augmentation All Over Again: From Iraq to Afghanistan - Robert Fantina, CounterPunch: Rarely, if ever, in the history of the United States has a president inherited such a colossal mess, ranging from the implosion of the U.S. and world economy, to two disastrous and ill-conceived wars. Let us all hope that his diplomatic gestures overshadow his military ones, and that the hope the world embraced with his presidency is not disappointed. Image from

A Misconceived Paradigm: Obama's War on Terror - Joanna Mariner, CounterPunch: Disappointing many who expected the Obama administration to mark a clean break from the Bush presidency's world view, the attorney general-designate signaled his apparent approval of the "war on terror" paradigm.

Diminishing Human Rights: The Obama administration's disappointing start - David J. Kramer, Weekly Standard: Clinton and President Obama can get back on track, however, if they quickly send clear, unmistakable messages to two very important audiences: to repressive governments around the globe that they will not get a pass on human rights, and to human rights defenders the world over that they will not be forgotten.

Obama's Guantánamo? Bush's Living Legacy at Bagram Prison - Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch: It's time for a change. It's time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and deal with it.

The "Other Gitmo" Obama backs Bush on key terrorist detention policy - Stephanie Hessler, Weekly Standard: Fadi Al Maqaleh is one of the many "unlawful enemy combatants" being detained by the U.S. military at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. He seeks to challenge his detention in a U.S. court, but recently last week the Obama administration argued that he cannot. Adopting one of the Bush administration's controversial terrorist detention policies, President Obama's Justice Department told a federal court that it had no power to hear the case. Image of Bagram from

Fresh Start in the Middle East – Editorial, New York Times: Hillary Rodham Clinton put down the right markers on her first Middle East trip as secretary of state.

This Time It's Mrs. Clinton's Turn: One More Farcical Tour of the Middle East by a Secretary of State - James G. Abourezk, CounterPunch: There will be no peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians unless and until the President of the United States tells Israel that they must remove the settlers from the West Bank, thereby allowing a Palestinian state to be formed.

US Military Dominance in Mideast Proven a Costly Myth - Gareth Porter, Obama administration officials are still talking about Middle East policy as though the U.S. military presence has conferred decisive influence over developments in the region. However, the events of the past six years have shown that to be a costly myth.

Obama and Israel's Military: Still Arm-in-Arm - Stephen Zunes, Focus Policy in Focus/Common Dreams: The new administration must heed calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to condition military aid to Israel and all other countries that don't adhere to basic principles of international humanitarian law. Image from

The Ultimate Earmark: U.S. Military Aid to Israel - Kathleen and Bill Christison, CounterPunch: U.S. military aid to Israel is doled out in annual increments of billions of dollars but remains virtually unchallenged while other fiscal outlays are drastically cut.

Please Squeeze the Mullahs: Some Congressmen see a way to stop Iran from getting nukes - Clifford D. May, National Review: By Clifford D. May. Short of military action, what leverage can Obama exert? He could cut off the flow of gasoline to Iran.

Missile Defenseless: Security should not take a back seat to placating Russia — or U.S. liberals – Editors, National Review: President Obama has wasted no time in trying to turn back the clock on missile defense, one of the great foreign-policy achievements of the Bush administration. If he succeeds, he will cause European allies to question America’s commitment to their security, convince Russian leaders that bullying has its rewards, and leave the United States vulnerable to nuclear blackmail by Iran.

No 'Grand Bargain' - David J. Kramer, Washington Post: Any "grand bargain" the United States makes with Russia would be viewed in Moscow as a sign of U.S. desperation. A major American shift in missile defense policy absent a real retreat by Iran would be seen as a sign of weakness and would undercut friendly governments in Warsaw and Prague

From Obama With Love: How his 'secret letter' to Russia helps isolate Iran, undermine Putin, and save us money - Joshua A. Tucker, New Republic: Overall, given Russian political developments over the last decade, it seems likely that there will continue to be many points of friction between the United States and Russia during Obama's term of office. Thus, we ought to carefully reduce or remove sources of conflict where we can, especially when there's little cost to U.S. national security.

The Very Sensitive British – Andrew Sullivan, Atlantic: The saddest thing, apart from the vacuous invocations of the "special relationship", is the way in which the Brits seem to examine every scintilla of protocol for evidence that Americans don't like them any more.

The TNR Roundtable Part 4: What Should Obama Do About Darfur?The case for caution - Alan Wolfe, New Republic

Web 2.0 Etiquette -- A Review: A Few Things That Really Get Me Going - B.L. Ochman, Advertising Age: E-mail, Facebook, Digg and Twitter all offer opportunities to delight -- or annoy. Make sure you do the former, by following a few simple rules.

The Ghost in the Love Machine - Dara Horn, Wall Street Journal: Singles suffering through a lonely winter may soon have a new way to break the ice. Students at the University of Maine recently announced a prototype for a wearable matchmaking device called the "Friend Finder."

The gadget, programmed with information about the wearer's interests and tastes, features a series of LED lights that flash whenever another user with compatible interests is within 30 feet -- allowing humans to mimic the romantic signaling of fireflies. Image from


From: A Little Help From My Friend -- Mr. Dell - Michele A. Berdy, Moscow Times

Помощь: help, aid, assistance

Oh, boy: there's a spring thaw in U.S.-Russian relations. Folks are meeting and talking more often. Good thing? Absolutely. Guaranteed to be successful? No way.

This seems like a good time to revisit the exchange between Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Davos earlier this year. It's an excellent example of the perils of cross-cultural and interpersonal communication and the limitations of interpretation.

To my ear, Dell made a classic American sales pitch to Putin.

1. Establish that you are on the same wavelength: "I completely agree with you."

2. Flatter: "You've made some pretty considerable progress ... take advantage of that great scientific talent that you have."

3. Suggest you have something to offer: "There is still room to further utilize the IT sector."

4. Make your pitch: "How can we as an IT sector help broaden the economy?"

The whole speech could be condensed to: Wanna buy some of our computers?

Here the word "help" is from the lexicon of salespeople and shop owners. When they ask, "How may I help you," they really mean, "What can I sell you?" The interpreter, however, rendered Dell's question literally: Как мы можем помочь вам расширить экономику?

How did the pitch go over? Not well. Putin responded testily: " ... нам не нужно помогать. Мы не инвалиды" (We don't need help. We're not invalids). Here the tape of the translation has a long pause before the word "invalids," as if the interpreter ran a search program on the internal PC that is his brain, deciding between the derogatory "invalids" and the politically -- and morally -- correct "disabled people." I think he chose correctly. Putin meant инвалиды (invalids) in the now-pejorative sense of weak and helpless people.

Then, after a pause, Putin clarified in more neutral language: Реально нужно помогать бедным, нужно помогать людям с ограниченными возможностями ... пенсионерам ... [и] развивающимся странам (Actually, you should give aid to poor people, to people with disabilities ... to pensioners ... [and] to developing countries"). Here the interpreter got a bit muddled and muttered about people with limited mental capacities (or so it sounded). Putin then went on to criticize international aid programs.

Putin's reply might be condensed to: We don't need any handouts. We're not weak and helpless. Besides, Western aid is not a blessing but a curse.

This was a textbook unsuccessful communicative act. Dell isn't going to get a big fat contract. Putin looked defensive and uncooperative. I don't think either wanted that outcome.

The problem in part was the word "help." Dell meant it as a "product for sale," but Putin understood it as "Western aid." What if the interpreter had translated Dell's question differently: В чём мы можем оказаться полезными? (How might we be useful?). This is the sort of thing you come up with after analysis and professional discussions.

Perhaps such a translation might have smoothed over the communicative process, but perhaps not. It seems that the deeper problems were interpersonal and intercultural. In a purely American context, a CEO with a high opinion of his goods and services could make this kind of pitch to a leader and expect to at least get to first base. But in the Russian context, this kind of pitch struck out.

It sure makes translators and specialists in cross-cultural communication want to ask: Господа, чем вам помочь? (Gentlemen, how can we help you?) Call us before your next meeting.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.

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