References
New York Times
Net.Effect (Foreign Policy)
The Economist
Wall Street Journal
The Huffington Post
AccuWeather.com


Public Square Posts
Revolt & Revolution
'Daily' News or Sitcom?
Census, Consensus, Communication
A Learning Curveball
Can Messiahs Sin?
Why "Another New York-er"
World Peace: Problems & Solutions
America's Kryptonite?
Israeli Credibility & World Peace?
Trusting el Sur (the South)
A Controversial Tiger
Olympic Standings
The Democratic Paradox
Valentine's Day
Women & Civil Society
The Banning of The Burqa
Saving the American Middle Class
The Question of Haiti


The Round Table
Stephen Mack
CircumVenture's Blog
Declassif-I.E.D
Effective Response
Footprint
Global Economic Trends
Globe-Ology
Halfway There
Intellectual Perfectual
Projections
Simply Biological
stop PRetending
The Bathe Bail Out
The Education Enthusiast
The Greenlight Blog
The Public's Interest
The Tainted Mirror
Vagrant Philosopher
We The People



April 24, 2010
Public Square - Revolt & Revolution

Revolt and revolution are American traditions. From the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam protests, revolt and revolution are the means by which the public voices its satisfaction – or dissatisfaction, as the case may be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these American traditions thanks to a movement named after ‘old-school’ American anti-Brit protests. Revolt and revolution are incredibly relevant in light of the recently established Tea Party Movement and last night’s finale of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Both take advantage of the media to transmit their messages of change, be it to American diets or wallets, in an effort to galvanize social revolution.


The Tea Party Patriots (the “Official Home of the American Tea Party Movement”) have created much of a stir in Washington, and they’re getting a little annoying to be frank. We all understand that the economy is not in great shape, but the Tea Party’s protesting is beginning to sound like parrots that keep chirping the same tune over and over and over again. The self-proclaimed Patriots reflect this sole preoccupation in their mission statement:

The impetuses for the Tea Party movement are excessive government spending and taxation. Our mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.

Meanwhile, the latest poll on Tea Party supporters finds that:

-          89 percent of supporters are white

-          73 percent consider themselves conservative

-          75 percent are over the age of 45

-          and 63 percent watch the FOX News Channel for political news coverage.

(See the New York Times article).

What is significant, as CBS News political analyst John Dickerson noted on Sunday Morning last week, is that “both parties have to pay attention to the tea party activists because they are activated, they are willing to vote, they are willing to organize, and in an off-year election that is crucial.”

Jamie Oliver, however, struggles with this element of ‘activation’ in his program Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (aired primetime on ABC). Oliver publicizes his struggle as the underdog in a battle for the health of America’s youth - “the first generation of Americans,” he often repeats “who are expected to live a shorter life than their parents.”

 

The two intended revolutions share more in common than just their British connection; we will have to wait and see if either is successful – not to question whether either should be. 

April 17, 2010
Public Square - ‘Daily’ News or Sitcom?

In a recent episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, host Stewart satirized the criticism of the Obama administration’s efforts and new policies. Stewart called the audience’s attention to recent criticism of Obama’s nuclear policy, and how he has communicated this in his foreign diplomacy. Specifically, he comments on the recently released Nuclear Posture Review (discussed in The Census, Consensus, and Communication, Oh My!), and the recently signed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (also known as START) between the United States and Russia.

Given the focus of my previous post, I thought a segment of this skit was highly significant:

          Jon Stewart: A year ago Obama made this outlandish statement –

          Clip of Obama: “the United states will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.”

          Jon Stewart: Now this statement can be seen as one of those “high in the sky”, “love your brother”, (sucks in imaginary joint) hippie statements. But Obama is a very shrewd linguistic expert. “Steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.” Is that our world, or is he planning an invasion of a nuclear-powerless, defenseless world? Or, perhaps, it is about Earth, and he will take concrete steps – yes, the kind of steps where your feet are in concrete. Or, perhaps he is talking about eliminating our nuclear weapons through detonation, creating a radioactive socialist utopia! Or maybe it was option four:

          Clip of news coverage: “President Obama arrived in Prague, Czech Republic overnight where he just signed a new treaty with Russia. It’s a major move in his push for a nuclear free world.”

In my opinion, Jon Stewart has a knack for making news entertaining, if only at the expense of the news media’s credibility. But the manner in which he does it – by making news RELEVANT – is noteworthy as well. Stewart personalizes news stories that often sound like broken recordings from over-play in the news media, often by telling the audience why it should matter to them.

Stewart also personalizes news events by raising the public’s (often subconscious) questions about these policies, and then answering them, all in the context of comedy. For example, he addresses the question of how recent nuclear summit declarations constitute “progress,” describing the START agreement to destroy a certain amount of both the United States’ and Russia’s nuclear materials as leaving “barely enough to annihilate the planet 7 to 12 times!” In considering this concession in terms of its destructive capability, Stewart implies the significance of this agreement, which otherwise sounds considerably less important (and more like yet another political agreement without any functional impact).

However, Stewart’s program is unapologetically partisan, and unabashedly criticizes the policies of his adversaries: “the Right.” However, he makes these newsworthy subjects interesting, to the effect of engaging an audience in the public discourse.

But is this redeeming enough of a quality, that he engages the public at the expense of objectivity? Is this what our news media has come to, appealing to the lowest common denominator of entertainment?

April 10, 2010
Public Square – THE CENSUS, CONSENSUS, AND COMMUNICATION, OH MY!

HeadlineThe Census, Consensus, and Communication, oh my!

Sub-headlineD.C.’s new ‘dream team,’ winding down the yellow brick road to a fairy-tale ending?


It feels familiar, doesn’t it?

As yellow bricks are laid, the myth is forming. As if it wasn’t enough of an omen that Obama has been in term just over a year and already has a number of books written about him, his own book, The Audacity of Hope, has spent 30 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List  (see the New York Times book review).


So what are the hurdles of brainlessness, heartlessness, and cowardice that foreshadow President Obama’s presidency as a journey of national self-discovery somewhere over the rainbow? In this story, our scarecrow is the 2010 census, our tin man is political consensus (including among congressional, the national public, and our country’s leadership regarding policy), and our lion is our government’s diplomacy (both nationally and internationally).

Lets dive right in to the tale:

Obama landed in ‘Munchkinville’ on Tuesday, April 8, 2010. The tornado that carried him over the threshold into this fantastical world: the full, unclassified release by the Department of Defense of its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR)This tornado is hardly a natural disaster. Rather, it placed the ruby slippers in our protagonists’ hands. The endowment of these shoes turned the Obama Administration and its key players – President Obama, Secretary of Defense Gate and Secretary of State Clinton – into a heroic ‘dream team.’ It is this dream team that is now proving our government’s ability to be the best that it can be, by both civil and moral terms, to serve its citizens and to coexist symbiotically with the world’s other countries and peoples.

 

Lets start with our scarecrow:

What is so important about the census is that it represents the foundations of this country’s principles. Equality requires knowing who is being qualified.

As annoying – and on occasion hilariously grotesque – as the TV commercials and radio spots for the census have been, these efforts show that those we have elected into power are aware of this extreme significance, and are trying to communicate with all of our country’s citizens, people with varying and disparate cultures, ideologies, values, beliefs, religions, and heritages. For example, a rap-style census ad on a popular Los Angeles radio station? Never thought I would hear a rap from the U.S. Census Bureau, personally…

It also demonstrates our leaders’ recognition of the need for everyone’s voices to be heard for our democracy to be the best that it can for the citizens it is meant to serve. This emphasis on debate has not been positively portrayed by the media; rather it looks like a lot of politicians squabbling like teenage girls. And for the most part, I believe it has been. But what is significant about this debate is that it is democracy in its truest form. Bear in mind, this is NOT to suggest that current players have not been inappropriately combative or self-righteous and ought to be replaced, or that perhaps the procedures of our congressional bodies need to be updated.

What it also means is that we are working toward consensus. Why is this so important? Because in a democracy, all law and order must be formed through consensus, throughout the political discourses of congress, the domestic public, and our country’s leadership regarding policy. This consensus in governmental and political decision making also lends credibility to the US government in its dealings with other states in the international system (as discussed in posts on 3/3/10, and 3/13).

The Obama administration may seem cowardly to those who have criticized it, but its re-construction of both domestic and foreign diplomacy is not only brave and daring, it is SMART. The NPR’s contents reflect a wholly redefined foreign policy that makes the US a better neighbor to every member in our now globalized international community. The fact that it is unclassified in its entirety promotes positive, transparent communication with the world’s various cultures, and diplomacy with the world’s various states. It promotes peaceful communication, where it is chosen. Most importantly, the content of the NPR clearly states that the US will always choose peaceful communication before any other action – a stark contrast to the Bush Doctrine’s policy of preemptive, unilateral action to perceived threats.

These actions break precedents that reflected poorly on the principles and freedoms our country was founded on. They also promote peaceful interaction by propping open a door for communication with the world’s various states. How can that NOT be good?

Perhaps critics have been too harsh of the Obama administration’s actions, or maybe it was this pressure that pushed President Obama, Secretary of Defense Gate and Secretary of State Clinton to live up to their potential. Whatever the case may be, as of Tuesday, April 8, 2010, D.C. has a new ‘dream team,’ and the path they following is looking pretty damn bright and sunny to me. 

April 3, 2010
Public Square – A Learning Curveball

A LEARNING CURVEBALL; Government Going Straight To “The People”?



China is doing it. Google is doing it. I’m doing it.

You’re doing it right now.

And now, the Department of State is getting in the game too. So what’s the score?

On March 13, the Department of State (Team DoS) announced the launch [link to Associated Foreign Press article] of its new interactive portal, Opinion Space.

Essentially, it is an attempt to bypass hostile governments and organizations (i.e. terrorist groups & cells) by communicating directly with the people of the world’s various states, societies and cultures. In theory, it promotes a world where new media technologies engender world peace through cohesive international dialogue. Score for Team DoS!

However, like Achilles’ heel, Opinion Space has a fatal flaw

It assumes that the people of the world’s various states, societies and cultures can and want to communicate with the people of the United States, let alone with the United States Government.

And no one likes a cocky adversary.

So two points against and one point for Team DoS. To rip off the band-aid, let’s first consider points made against Team DoS:

1. Even if Team DoS had created the most perfect interactive communication tool humanly possible utilizing new media technology [i.e.: the Internet; satellite phones and television channels; interactive and user-generated media like iReport, image below this paragraph] this portal means nothing if it does not attract individuals to communicate with the United States government. A comprehensive public information campaign needs to be made both domestically and internationally to inform and educate national and foreign publics about the existence and functions of Opinion Space, with the purpose of drawing various “opinions” to the interactive new media portal.


2. The United States government must consider what people from different states, societies and cultures see when they look at the people and values of the United States, and especially when these individuals look at the United States government and its actions and principles. I imagined, for example, that I had just emigrated from Lebanon and searched “united states government Lebanon” on Google. The below is a screen shot of the first listings of the search results, which deserve to be intellectually considered (cognizant of search optimization on search engines):

3. Recently, academics like Philip Seib and Cari Guittard have been commenting on the Obama administration’s new “strategic approach” to public diplomacy “for the 21st century,” titled Public Diplomacy: Strengthening U.S. Engagement with the World. As Seib states in U.S. Public Diplomacy’s Flimsy New Framework

Only occasionally in the plan are there ideas that represent any change in direction from the meandering and archaic tactics that have hamstrung America’s recent relationship with much of the rest of the world.

This statement is demonstrated fully by the new framework’s statement of “Competing influences” for engagement and communication in the global space. (See below).

On the offensive side, Team DoS does make several points that have gone and – in this author’s opinion – continue to go mostly ignored to the detriment of both domestic and foreign communication by the United States government.

1. The re-vamped “roadmap for Public Diplomacy” (as the unclassified document states) is at least an attempt  to reform communication and promote positive relationships with those states, societies and cultures that the United States government currently has relationships with. However, the question remains: are we really communicating with all of the various societies and cultures of the world?

2. Team DoS has truly gone on an offensive, extensively increasing its new media programming by expanding its existing new media communication tools such as the U.S. Department of State’s blog [note the awful title] DipNote (see below), as well as creating new ones such as Opinion Space.

So there we are: Team DoS scores, but it is still being heavily scored against.

 Team DoS suffers from  poor sportsmanship; the United States government sees itself enthnocentrically. In other words, it sees the world through a lens that judges other groups – and their values, principles, and actions – relative to its own culture, and its own organizing principles. Essentially, the points Team DoS scores are all flawed by this poor sportsmanship, as they are all detrimented by Team Dos’s poor defense in its lack of ‘cultural literacy’ so-to-speak. 

Keep scoring, Team DoS.

No team gets support without wins, and sadly “success” and “winning” have two very distinct connotations. Which takes us to the question of the day:

Can we – as an international society of human citizens – bear with our governments (i.e. China, the US, and every other state in the world…) and give them a learning curve while they perfect communicating with the people of the world’s various states, societies and communities?

Or should we not hold our breaths?

March 27, 2010
Public Square – Can Messiahs Sin?

*SPOILER ALLERT*

Is South Park the messiah of public discourse? Can it still be a messiah if it makes metaphorical sins in the form of tastelessness and judgment errors? 

South Park’s fourteenth season began with a bang. The season’s premier episode, “Sexual Healing,” has garnered extensive media attention for the episode’s central plot: a parody of Tiger Woods’ many recent scandals. The parody is presented through the use of a Tiger Woods golf video game.

It’s not just any virtual golf game, however. Shamed wife Elins is the second character who appears to wildly swing a golf club at Tiger, both as Tiger swings at a tee-off and as he walks out the door to his fateful Thanksgiving car accident. The game essentially depicts a battered husband and an abusive wife, a controversial perspective on the scandal that has been widely perceived as having no grey area regarding right and wrong.

While this perspective is significant, it pales in comparison to the central message of the episode: as stated by a SWAT team member [in the raid of Independence Hall to find the ‘wizard alien’ causing the sex addiction problems in 99 % of high school boys (who else comes up with such inspired themes?)],

"Hang on guys. I mean, come on, this is getting a little ridiculous. Wizard aliens? We all know what’s going on here, don’t we? Whenever a story breaks about some rich famous guy going around and having sex with tons of girls, we all wanna act like we don’t understand it, but we do. We’re guys, you know? Our brains are wired to strive to be the alpha male and get all the women we can. I mean, look where we are. Even, even Benjamin Franklin screwed everything that moved. Because he could. We don’t have to condone what these rich, famous people do, but… we can at least admit that, given the same temptations and opportunities that somebody like Tiger Woods has, a lot of us guys might do somethin’ similar.”

The SWAT member is then taken away by the rest of the SWAT team, on orders from the President.

Could it be that South Park is the only program distributed via mass media that is making the American public consider the right questions?

This statement just sounds wrong. South Park is known for its vulgar, grotesque and satirical reincarnation of events in popular culture for entertainment and comedic value. Case in point: the season’s second episode, “The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs.” The episode’s central parody is of society’s tendency to “read into things that aren’t there,” demonstrated by the creation of the most foul book ever written being hailed as a modern literary masterpiece (Butters as the next Salinger).

(Stan: “God damn it! There is no deeper meaning in this book! … Will you people stop reading into stuff that ISN’T THERE!”)

While I take no issue with this message, the completely unnecessary illustration of almost every character on the show repeatedly throwing up chunks of their most recent meals detracts from the aforementioned more significant theme.

So what do you think? Can a messiah sin?

March 20, 2010
Public Square – Why “Another New York-er”

I would like to take this opportunity to do something I should have (and would like to have) done nearly two months ago: explain this blog’s title. It is especially significant in light of my last post, which draws theories from several different disciplines to examine why World Peace has eluded human civilization, and what we can do to fix this.

There are two primary reasons behind the moniker “Another New York-er”.

The first reason relates to my self-perception. Although I consider myself a ‘born-and-raised’ New Yorker, I did not realize until I finally escaped from my comfort zone how this part of my identity has trumped every other demographic, psychographic, or behavioral characteristic that I possess.

To get anecdotal for a moment, please bear with me:

My first 13 years in academia were spent with the same 90 studentsin an exceedingly liberal, creative, and competitive environment. I did not experience a “new” school until I was 18, and as it turned out, I found myself in the same social environment I had spent the majority of my life in. The microcosm of New York City private schools extend in networks all of the country; it is perpetuated by continuing intermarriage within this social “class” (if you will), as the same people grow up together, go to college together, and move back to the same neighborhoods to have similar careers (thanks to the sociocultural influences of parents, who were more often then not socialized in the exact same manner).

So at 19, I had my first experience in a “new” place. This might seem unusual to many people, especially if those who attended different primary and secondary schools. But the move from Boston to New York had brought me with a sea of 18-22 year olds from the tri-state area. It is incredibly important to note here that the tri-state area may technically refer to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but Long Island is often jokingly referred to as the third “state”, a reasonable replacement considering that Long Island sent the second most students to Boston University (only after New York, of course) in September 2007, when I first matriculated there. In other words, as a half-Jew, I was always a member of the majority.

I have never particularly associated with any religion; I consider myself agnostic because I simply find it impossible to have faith in anything without proof.

It is both disturbing and ironic that socially this “minority” stuck so close together in another city, most of us with only a few connections to students from other high schools in our hometowns. However, these connections quickly spun into a VERY web, largely for socioeconomic reasons: most of these students were from priviledged families/situations, and had thus engaged in similar social activities (i.e. going to clubs, etc.). Once relocated, the tri-state groups stuck together largely due to these shared activities.

Going to the University of Southern California was my first experience outside of this socio-cultural bubble. I had certainly been exposed to a plethora of diverse cultures from living in New York City, but I had never been asked to associate myself with a particular culture or ethnic community.

In my first class on my first day at USC, my professor in a course titled Examining Ethnicity through Film asked us to do just that: identify what ethnic group we associated ourselves with.

I wrote “New Yorker.”

The experience of living in New York City for a period of years – at any age – is an eye-opening venture into a very different reality than the reality present in most of this country. I’ll be discussing this theme in an upcoming post… but for now, know that the first reason for this blog’s New York-centric title is that I associate myself with a different society than American Society; one which is thought of as more politically active, creative, and involved in the public discourse than the connotation with American Society.

The second reason is that – following these inquisitive and active characteristics of New York society (at least as I see it) – I have been deeply inspired by a variety of New York-titled publications: the New York Times, The New Yorker… even New York Magazine (to name a few).

I hope that this blog acts as such an inquisitive source, encouraging active participation in debates taking place in the public discourse.

Had this been my first post, I would have said:

And with that, let the games begin!

March 13, 2010
Public Square - World Peace: Problems and Solutions

I have two incredibly important questions, with similarly important answers: what is stopping world peace from being accomplished, and what can we do to change it?

To paraphrase Rod Serling:

You unlock this door to the fifth dimension with the key of imagination. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. You have just entered the Twilight Zone.

If you have ever watched the famous 1960s TV program, you may have your own ideas about where I am going with this. For now, let’s just say that if you plan to continue reading, you need to open your mind to this fifth dimension where anything is possible and the situation must not be rational, from a man reliving his nightmare of receiving the death penalty every night, to aliens taking over the Earth to “Serve Man” on a dinner plate.

Gary Larson’s striking “The Far Side” cartoons have entertained me since before my age turned double-digits; the cartoons are witty yet simple, accurately depicting nuances that we often overlook in our own society. I think it is appropriate, therefore, to use selected comics by Larson to navigate through the complex topics I will be discussing.

So what are these topics? I’ve already suggested their complicated nature. Their interrelated nature is epitomized by the study of Public Diplomacy, which examines communication between the public, the media, and the government. (These units will be important for the solution.)

I return now to the first question: what is in the way of achieving world peace that we must overcome as a human race to make the world a better place (for posterity)?In recent posts I have discussed the realistic nature of world peace, and several possible problems that have mitigated its accomplishment. What I did not include was the answer:

“the problem” (of non-existent world peace) stems from two fundamental predicaments – one inter- and one intra-national in nature.

We stand today, as a human race, at an impasse in both foreign and domestic communication & diplomacy. But to overcome these hurdles, we have to know what they are.

  This leads me to the first predicament: Inter-nationally, human society has employed an analytical framework in diagnosing problems and solutions that is inherently flawed.


Our flawed analysis overemphasizes power and strength as symbols of security, consequently undervaluing shared emotional perspectives of different communities. [Both of these consequences represent recently propagated theories in the study of International Relations and foreign affairs. The good news? You already know a bit about them if you read ANY of the following posts: The Banning of the Burqa, The Democratic Paradox, or Women & Civil Society: Are Men the Problem?]

  This framework overvalues using “hard line” displays of power to enhance a state’s credibility. Power has thus been the core preoccupation of international diplomacy – especially regarding perceptions of one’s power relative to an adversary’s. Ann Tickner’s  feminist theory of international relations criticizes these preoccupations as based in machistic (male-centric) conceptions of security that prioritize hard power to ensure national security, and that do NOT acknowledge the feminist conception of security (having food to eat and a place to sleep, etc.). What is significant about Tickner’s critique is this: especially in today’s world, where “soft” power has an ever-increasing role in inter-state communication, it is dangerous to consider adversaries as well as allies in solely by “hard” power terms.

A social constructivist critique of the aforementioned analytical framework can be found in Samuel P. Huntington’s theory of a post-Cold War world characterized by a Clash of Civilizations. Huntington demonstrates how the predominant theories in international relations poorly identify nuanced contexts that result from shared historical narratives and culturally embedded emotion. In other words, what this means is that when we look at other nations, we take them out of context from their national culture and compare the state to an objective list of norms that apply to Western cultures. In doing so, we ignore the cultural perspectives of these nations, which materialize in a culture’s shared values, habits and rituals, among other things.

For example, in the culture of the Dobe Ju/’hoansi (an African aboriginal group studied by anthropologists due to the culture’s relative isolation), gifts and accomplishments are always criticized and complained about – a cultural habit that maintains their egalitarian social and political structure. Without this knowledge and sensitivity toward the Dobe culture, we would likely confuse their complaining and criticism with dissatisfaction and discontent for gifts or accomplishments.

This is especially important when considering how easily communication can be misinterpreted, and how easily these misinterpretations can lead to actions that precipitate conflicts.

This leads me to the second predicament: Intra-nationally, while technology has advanced exponentially, human society has not emotionally advanced to cope with these technologies and their impact on communication and diplomacy.

The newest of these new communication technologies are called new media, and they have made important impacts on societal construction and political organization, the process of democratization, and media literacy (how the public interprets and assesses visual, vocal, and graphic information from the media).

Before examining these results, however, we need to understand HOW new media impact these processes.

The immediate affects of these technologies on communication involve: timeliness (instant nature), accuracy and transparency, quantity (volume) and quality, and the power of an individual or group’s voice in relation to censorship and control. So… what does this mean? Basically, that information is available when, where, and how (in what format) we want it. Anyone with Internet access can participate in dialogues with people around the world, and a constant stream of information means that it is easier to get caught in a lie or with mistaken information. Regulation by governments is incredibly difficult – and may eventually be impossible – and the transnational nature of the virtual world makes crimes committed on the web very hard to prosecute.

The world as we know it has changed markedly with the introduction of new media. Satellite phones and networks, social networking media, user-generated content, the blogosphere… all of these belong to the realm of new media. What is significant is how they have impacted communication and diplomacy.

First, social construction refers to how we group ourselves in relation to other groups; in other words, how we decide who is “us” and “them.” These new technologies have vastly expanded our membership opportunities to groups by connecting people with some shared interest – be they political, religious, cultural, geographic, or otherwise – regardless of their physical location.

Political organization of citizens or niche target audiences (especially transnational communities) has also been further facilitated by these technologies; political ‘action’ must no longer take a tangible form. These effects have notably led to a drastic rise in the strength and coercive power of non-state nations and other transnational communities. For example, in Columbia’s “One Million Voices against the FARC” Facebook campaign, a diaspora community was able to politically organize trans-continentally using social media (see: "Facebook-Led Peace Protests Draw Millions").

The effects of these technologies on the process of democratization constitute an entire realm of study in themselves, so I’ll try to be brief. In essence, I believe new media promote democratic principles of freedom by giving a voice to the oppressed. First, oppressed demographic groups find their voice in the anonymity of the Internet, promoting freedom of speech as well as freedom of press (for the same reason) regardless of political context of the author’s location (see: The Rise of Netpolitik: How the Internet Is Changing International Politics And Diplomacy, a Report of the Eleventh Annual Aspen Institute, page 33). Second, (as mentioned earlier) governments are finding it increasingly difficult to censor unfavorable or unapproved content. Examples can be seen in Moldova’s Twitter Revolution, the leak of China’s SARS outbreak, and Iranian woman who discuss their socially unacceptable sexuality in blogs and other forums on the Internet.

The significance of media literacy has grown with new media, as a result of the changing role of the press. This role was previously meant to be as a 4th branch of government, keeping the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government in check by informing the public. Now, people can get what information they want, how they want it, where they want it, and when they want it. In America, for example, what the public seems to want is to be entertained. As a result, news media have increasingly catered to this desire, and news programs (broadcast or otherwise) are increasingly dominated by human interest pieces and other ‘soft’ news, most cringingly that of never-ending celebrity scandal.

Media literacy means understanding the cultural context of where given information originated. Because news has become increasingly directed at niche audiences to satisfy their interests, various news media increasingly cater to cultural perspectives. For example, Al Jazeera caters to a – largely Arab – community with negative feelings toward American and Western cultures. As David Bollier describes in The Rise of Netpolitik“Clashes are not just a matter of disputed content; they also are a matter of disparate contexts for interpreting that content (p. 32) [emphasis in original excerpt].”

 So, what is the result? What does all of this mean for international communication and diplomacy?

Philip Seib’s theory of The Al Jazeera Effect describes the world as being reshaped by new media. Seib writes,

The media” are no longer just the media. They have a larger popular base than ever before and, as a result, have unprecedented impact on international politics. The media can be tools of conflict and instruments of peace; they can make traditional borders irrelevant and unify peoples scattered across the globe. (p. xii, The Al Jazeera Effect) [italics added for emphasis] 

This means that ordinary people have more power to affect change due to their new-media-granted ability to organize and mobilize around a cause or interest, making governments increasingly susceptible to the whims and emotions of their publics when states conduct foreign policy. Case in point: it’s harder now for a government to convince a public that doesn’t want a war to support one. 

This power of the people is incredibly significant in light of a state’s credibility. If the public does not support its government’s policy, this sentiment is vocalized on the Internet to an international audience. As a result, the policy is not seen as something that the government is or will be deeply committed to, and the policy becomes drastically less effective, often being disregarded by the international community or the state the policy was directed at. It is through this process that governments are made subject to the shared cultural perspectives, emotions, and values of their respective publics

So now you know the problems: when we examine conflicts and possible solutions, we do not give the necessary emphasis on analysis that fully understand the cultural nuances in inter-national communication, or on how our intra-national context has changed due to new media [“we” being human society]. As a result, world peace has been eluded. 

NOW WHAT CAN WE DO TO CHANGE THIS?

We, as a human race, must actively change our behaviors as publics, media, and governments. Each state in the world can divide its society into these three groups, and each group must make different changes to their respective behaviors. I use the United States as an example to demonstrate what behavioral changes need to be made in the following prescriptions that would promote the attainment of World Peace.

The following prescriptions intend to solve what I see as questions of each group’s purpose, function, and the extent of their responsibility. Although each group has its own prescriptions, all three groups need to communicate with one another to establish a consensus for both foreign and domestic policy-making.

The government must make three notable changes. First, it needs to increase transparent communication with both domestic and international publics, and in foreign diplomacy. The more transparent we are, the harder it will be to wage war against a culture that can be seen to stand for equality, personal freedom, and justice.

Second, it needs to promote discourse with the domestic public, with the goal of establishing what the public feels is in the US’s national interest. The resultant majority consensus ensures that there will be a solid foundation of principles to form policy on with the public’s support. The public can later change its mind. In the meantime, however, the national consensus confers increased credibility on the government’s international reputation, while holding the President and the government as a whole more directly responsible to the American public.

Third, in a conflict, the government must be cognizant of the affects of new media technologies on communication, and apply a new analytical framework that acknowledges different cultural perspectives. This includes being respectful of other cultures’ values and traditions to help policymakers consider why other side might be acting as they are, rather than just writing them off as ‘irrational’. Conversely, the government must also recognize how other cultures may perceive America’s behavior. Case in point: just because the US makes a peaceful overture amidst a war does not mean the adversary sees your action as peaceful. Rather, without considering the US’s good intentions, the adversary might think you are trying to trick them – based on US credibility in similar past situations – or perhaps that you are just choosing to be a little less hostile. 

The news mediamust undertake three major changes. First, it must determine what its role is and will be in a society fundamentally changed by technology and increased cultural contact. To do so, the news media must open a discourse with the public to establish what the role should be moving forward: as a commentator and analyzer of events, or as in its previous role as an informant. This faces several challenges, largest among them that it is increasingly hard to imagine “objective” news coverage in today’s world.

Due (largely) to the aforementioned new analytical perspective, we now recognize that much of our bias is inherent and subconscious, recognizable only to those with different biases (as a result of different cultures). As a result of the growing prominence of niche news media, these biases are increasingly exasperated to attract a given audience, such as Al Jazeera or TeleSur (both discussed in previous posts), which establish the news media as biased commentators rather than objective and credible informants. This is a dire threat to world peace, as it puts peace and order in the hands of the emotional and volatile masses (think: Freud’s group psychology or Le Bon’s masse psychology, in which audiences tend to act like herds of animals ruled by the most banal and basic of social rules).

Second, the news media must reestablish its credibility. Although I believe the role of the news media must remain as an informant, I also believe that commentary can be included in news programming without detracting from the news media’s credibility. However, this can only happen if facts and critique are clearly delineated. This would allow the public to trust that they are still drawing their own conclusions from what they hear, watch, or read in the news, rather than commentators or journalists drawing their own conclusions and feeding these to the audience.

To reestablish its credibility, the news media must also be cognizant of how its programming is perceived by other cultures and foreign publics. For example, many Arabs believe that the purpose of US news programming is to serve US and Western interests.

Third, the news media must change the way it approaches foreign conflicts. Recognizing new media’s effect of increased contact between disparate (and even incongruent) cultures, it must encourage and promote transparent discourse between cultures, consequently promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts. This is significant because it is now easier than ever for news coverage to galvanize international attention on a conflict. As a rule, the international community almost always supports the victim of aggression in a conflict and ostracizes the aggressor, damaging the nation’s credibility and deterring other states from making agreements with this nation in the future. As a result, news coverage and the resulting international attention pressures all parties in a conflict to appear as the victim by trying to act more peaceful than the other parties. It follows that if actors in a conflict are trying to one-up each other in peaceful actions, cooperation is likely to result, bringing the actors to a peaceful resolution.

The news media must also painstakingly ensure that when reporting on a conflict, the public must be informed of the perspectives of all parties in the conflict. This serves two purposes. First, it ensures that the public has the sole power to judge the news for themselves. Second, it counters allegations from members of the international community that the US exports its culture and values with its commercial products when they are experienced abroad, such as through value judgments in news programming or images of the perfect American family in a McDonalds happy meal.

The public must make a fundamental change in its degree of participation, or change its expectations from our government. It is now easier to engage in the public discourse without physically having to ‘act’ – no more door-to-door salespeople; now they just email you. So the public must either engage in this public discourse, or stop expecting so much change with less effort.

This has been the underlying problem of Obama’s presidency so far. For example, regarding health care, the public claims that it voted for “change” and then complains that it can’t see any. However, they could have quite easily mobilized by signing online petitions to their respective representatives in Congress to get what they wanted done. Why didn’t they? Because the public did not invest the time or effort into analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of various measures. Who would’ve thought that the abortion debate could be drawn into it!

This also applies to criticism over foreign policy. For example, deploying US troops to Afghanistan. Again, if the public wants change in US policy, it must engage in the public discourse to establish new priorities for the national interest. The public now has a variety of easy tools through which to participate in the public discourse: social media, user-generated content pages on news organization websites, blogs… What is left now is for the public to take up these tools and participate in open debate and frank discussion about the things that matter to the American people. If we don’t know, how can our government know?  

If you take one thing away from this diatribe, let it be that World Peace is not a peace between governments or states, but between people. If the people do not participate in the public discourse, there can be all the peace between governments in the world, but wars will still occur.

World Peace must come from the people.


March 7, 2010
Public Square - Economic Success, America’s Kryptonite?

Is Success for Corporate America Bad for the U.S.?

In his recent post, Climbing the Ladder of Success (or Be Careful of What You Wish For), Stephen Mack questions whether economic success is America’s kryptonite, leading to an inevitable threat to democracy. He writes:

Of all the threats to our democracy that we fear—terrorism, run away debt, economic decline, moral decay, could it be that the most lethal of them all is our economic success? Perhaps we should just eat the rich while we still have a knife and fork.

With all due respect, I disagree.

Mack quotes a review of the book that spurred this question:

It is economic inequality, not overall wealth or cultural differences, that fosters societal breakdown, they argue, by boosting insecurity and anxiety, which leads to divisive prejudice between the classes, rampant consumerism, and all manner of mental and physical suffering.

While I respect this notion, I think it is a misdiagnosis to blame economic success for economic inequality.

The source of this disagreement is illuminated by Mack’s comment regarding the American respect and valuing of equality:

And as for equality—well, that’s kind of a theoretical thing. It’s how we describe the “potential,” purchased by our opportunities—or our “metaphysical” condition (which is to say anything but our real life “physical” relationship with one another).

The difference I would like to consider is regarding the American conception of equality.

I agree with Mack that it is a potential, which we must choose to activate as individuals. However, I feel that economic inequality is the result of inequality of potential, rather than of success – many people simply do not have opportunities or the support needed to achieve various accomplishments provided to them.

I feel that to blame the rich is a generic statement that is just as prejudiced and myopic a statement as it is to say that all poor people are poor by choice. (This is not to say that the above is Mack’s claim, but to play devil’s advocate to disprove the converse argument). There will, of course, be cases in which the rich take advantage of the poor or disadvantaged because they can (i.e. as Simply Biological argued to legalize in the post Legalize Discrimination). But to attribute this fault to all people who achieve economic success is to discredit the hard work that made it possible.

This leads us to question how to fix this inequality, if the fault is not economic success. I do not personally believe in affirmative action (although I am a minority in more ways that one), although it is one effort that has been employed to rectify the economic inequality.

So I ask: Is there a way to solve the economic inequality in our country? Is it our government’s responsibility to make sure that every individual is supported and given the opportunity to succeed?

I personally think that this interpretation implies a government that is much too invasive, and a public that expects must too much of its government. The most basic purpose of our government is to protect its citizens from harm – I believe this only goes so far as to protect individuals from discrimination, and that it is not the government’s responsibility to baby-sit or parent its citizens. It is for this reason that I support the legalization of marijuana, as well as lowering the drinking age to the draft age. I see this as different from paternal law – the use of law to force citizens to protect themselves, such as seatbelt laws in cars and helmet laws for motorcyclists – which I respect.

What do you think?

March 3, 2010
Public Square – Israeli Credibility and World Peace?

WORLD PEACE.

It’s not a joke. And I’d like to make perfectly clear that believing in the possibility of attaining world peace does not make one naïve, or uneducated, or Miss America. [You may recall the 2007 Miss Teen USA YouTube blitz thanks to a memorable answer from Miss South Carolina circulated in a clip].

It does suggest a certain present idealism – a quality I proudly possess. But most importantly, the belief in world peace stems from a rational argument that takes into account both problems in the past, as well as changes in the present and future.

I will be describing the above ‘rational argument’ in more detail later in this post, and in great depth in a post in the coming weeks.

What I would like to consider here is an example that caught my attention this afternoon as I watched my TiVo-ed episode of Amanpour on CNN (2.28.10 at 11 a.m. PST). The Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was being questioned regarding Israel’s credibility given the decades of fruitless negotiation processes and continued hostility between Israelis and Arabs.

(photo courtesy of: http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2010/02/28/israeli-defense-minister-ehud-barak/)

I do NOT want to divulge into an analytical appraisal of who bears responsibility for the continuing – seemingly never-ending – Arab-Israeli conflict. Rather, I would like to consider what would be reasonably possible in an ideal world for the conflict to reach a settlement of lasting (even indefinite) peace.

Read More

February 22, 2010
Public Square – Trusting el Sur (the South)

I was listening to Bernardo Álvarez, the Venezuelan Ambassador to the US, yesterday on CNN’s “Amanpour” program, and I was drawn into the question of Cuban involvement in Venezuelan politics.

Some background on the significance of this question:

Philip Seib writes in his book, The Al Jazeera Effect (see summary from “the war and media network”), that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has been “the moving force behind Telesur, a regional channel on the model of Al Jazeera (x, 2008).” Seib quotes Chavez as saying the networked would be aimed at “counteracting the media dictator ship of the big international news networks (33, 2008).” In 2006, Telesur and Al Jazeera signed an agreement to share content and technical expertise, demonstrating again the potential for problems arising from anti-US coalitions. This is especially notable given Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent overtures of friendship towards liberal leaning South American leaders (i.e. Brazil).

In September 2008, as a result of US-Venezuelan tensions, President Chavez announced he would expel American Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duddy – Chavez accused Duddy of plotting to overthrow him – and recalled Ambassador Álvarez from the US (see more).

Back to the Cuba question…

There have been accusations of Cuban involvement in Venezuelan politics. In my mind, this sounds like a rationalization of Chavez’s anti-American behavior, and his oppression of civil and human rights in Venezuela.

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