Vogue Propaganda

Vogue Propaganda

Fashion-backward Propaganda

Last week I watched a documentary film from 2009 that profiles Anna Wintour and the American edition of Vogue magazine as it prepares for its annual most important fall fashion issue.  It’s called The September Issue and I highly recommend it if you are at all curious about the British-born editor-in-chief Wintour, who nevertheless remains an enigmatic figure behind those enormous sunglasses.  (The only person I have strong positive feelings for in the documentary is creative director Grace Coddington, without whom Anna Wintour would have her goose cooked.)  The Hollywood version of the diva-in-chief is The Devil Wears Prada (2006) starring Meryl Streep as the Wintour character and Anne Hathaway as her assistant.  (The 2003 book on which the film is based was written by Wintour’s former assistant Lauren Weisberger.)

In February 2011, Vogue published a very flattering profile of the lovely, fashion-forward Asma al-Assad, married to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.

Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department’s Web site says, “the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors.” It’s a secular country where women earn as much as men and the Muslim veil is forbidden in universities, a place without bombings, unrest, or kidnappings, but its shadow zones are deep and dark.

You can see from the article that the profile avoids the horrific human rights record of the Assad regime.  After the Syrian uprisings began in spring 2011, Vogue pulled the article from its online archive but you can read the original here.  (The Internet always allows such things to show up again somewhere.)  It has been reported that the global PR firm Brown Lloyd James arranged for this positive propaganda piece to help soften the image of the Assad family in the Western media.  The United Nations estimates that up to 11,000 Syrians have been killed in the uprisings, primarily civilian protesters but also armed combatants fighting the Syrian army.

Take this as a lesson in bad timing and fashion-backward reporting.

Asian-Americans Dominate New Immigrants

Asian-Americans Dominate New Immigrants to US

A new Pew Research Center survey, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” finds some startling changes in immigration patterns to America.  A decade ago, 19% of immigrants to the United States were Asians and 59% were Hispanics.  That’s all changed. In 2010, 36% of all new immigrants were from Asian countries and 31% were Hispanics.  The face of America is changing once again.  The Pew study concludes: “Asian Americans are the best-educated, highest-income, fastest-growing racial group in the country.” Consider the statistic on higher education attainment.  Almost 7 out of 10 Asian immigrants to the U.S. from either South Korea or Japan will have their bachelors, according to the Pew study:

Compared with the educational attainment of the population in their country of origin, recent Asian immigrants also stand out as a select group. For example, about 27% of adults ages 25 to 64 in South Korea and 25% in Japan have a bachelor’s degree or more.  In contrast, nearly 70% of comparably aged recent immigrants from these two countries have at least a bachelor’s degree.

That does not mean that everything is rosy for Asian Americans.


The survey noted that Indian-Americans stand out in the personal importance they place on parenting – 78% of them said being a good parent is one of the most important things to them personally.

Korean-Americans are the most likely to say discrimination against their group is a major problem, and they are the least likely to say that their group gets along very well with other racial and ethnic groups.

What do you think of the study’s findings?

Negative Ads: Hate ‘Em, Love ‘Em, Nuke ‘Em

The president, any president, should go negative early, often, and without apology if the goal is victory. The notion that negative campaigning is some toxic modern aberration in American democracy is bogus. No campaign may ever top the Andrew Jackson–John Quincy Adams race of 1828, in which Jackson was accused of murder, drunkenness, cockfighting, slave-trading, and, most delicious of all, cannibalism. His wife and his mother, for good measure, were branded a bigamist and a whore, respectively. (Jackson won nonetheless.) In the last national campaign before the advent of political television ads, lovable Harry Truman didn’t just give hell to the “do nothing” Congress, as roseate memory has it. In a major speech in Chicago in late October 1948, he revisited still-raw World War II memories to imply that the “powerful reactionary forces which are silently undermining our democratic institutions”—that would be the Republicans— and their chosen front man, Thomas Dewey, were analogous to the Nazis and Hitler. Over-the-top? Dewey was a liberal by the standards of the postwar GOP and had more in common with a department-store mannequin than with a Fascist dictator.

That’s why he would be wise to seriously reexamine the history of a spot so effective that it’s the only aspect of the entire LBJ-Goldwater race that anyone remembers. The latest volume of Robert Caro’s epic life of Lyndon Johnson stops just short of the 1964 election. But last fall, Robert Mann, a journalist and historian with a relevant previous career seeped in the cauldron of Louisiana politics, got there first with Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds, an enterprising book meticulously reconstructing the genesis and impact of this very brief, very devastating piece of film. Mann’s account is all the more instructive when read in the context of 2012. Paradoxically, the most famous attack ad in history stands apart from many of those that followed it—including most produced today—by containing no facts or even factoids, no quotes, no argument, no image of either candidate, and not even a mention of the target’s name. And yet its power remains awesome to behold. It finished Goldwater even though Americans in 1964 tilted slightly more conservative than liberal (37 to 35 percent, according to Gallup) and even though the Goldwater campaign outspent LBJ’s on television advertising by some 40 percent, including for an attack ad of its own linking the president to graft, “swindle,” juvenile delinquency, crime, and riots.

Frank Rich, Nuke ‘Em: Why negative advertisements are powerful, essential, and sometimes (see “Daisy”) even artistic. New York Magazine, June 17, 2012

Read the entire article by Frank Rich and tell me, do you think that we moralize too much about negative versus positive political campaign ads?  Is all fair in love and political war?  Do ads turns off the people from voting or fire them up to participate in the political process?

Why Americans Stay Fat

Family lore has it that the first word out of my mouth as a toddler was “Pepsi.”  I loved the dark-colored cola over milk, juice or water, and as soon as my mom would go out I grabbed hold of the apron of our lovely family helper with my plea, “Annie Mae, Pepsi, Pepsi.”

As a consequence of this parental defiance, I have always had to watch my weight.  Drinking a sweetened soda at a young age set my taste buds primed for other things that just weren’t good for my growing body, including candy, hot dogs and chips.

By the time I knew better about what to choose and what to leave out it was almost too late.  Early eating habits stick with you and are hard to break.

Now it’s 2012 and America’s longest running conflict continues.  Of course I’m not referring to Afghanistan but the battle with the bulge.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban super-size 64-ounce sodas that are sold in convenience stores like 7-Eleven and limit sugary drinks in restaurants and street carts to 16 ounces.  Many citizens who want to drink what they want in whatever size container have ridiculed his Nanny state approach.  The major soda drink suppliers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have also met the proposal with silence.

Until now.

Katie Bayne, with the dazzling title of president of sparkling beverages in North America, is now fighting the good fight for Coca-Cola.

Katie Bayne, Sugar Evangelist

In an exclusive interview with a marketing reporter for USA Today, Bayne said, “There is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity.”  She does not like her company being singled out for expanding waistlines.  In fact, sugary drinks are just fine for the American diet as long as the calories taken in balance with the calories burned.  She goes many steps beyond the call of duty, arguing that sugary drinks offer the key to a vibrant life, sort of like yoga in a can:

A calorie is a calorie.  What our drinks offer is hydration.  That’s essential to the human body.  We offer great taste and benefits whether it’s an uplift or carbohydrates or energy.  We don’t believe in empty calories.  We believe in hydration.

I feel a little guilty that my first word wasn’t Coke but Pepsi.  Little did I know that as a toddler I was receiving nutrition, hydration and an energy source from the caramel-colored sugar water.  Hooray for my precocious mind for knowing that my choice of Pepsi-Cola over water, juice or milk was the right one.

Of course I speak in jest.  Katie Bayne is the modern equivalent of a P.T. Barnum.  Barnum, like Bayne, was the quintessential American huckster.  The huckster believes that most Americans fit into one of two categories: (1) fool or (2) damn fool.  So when it comes to our weight battles, Americans love to believe the hype: that over-expensive sugar water is a suitable replacement for zero calorie H2O, or that a sugary pick-me-up in the afternoon is as good as a short walk or quick nap to reenergize.  Katie Bayne can make her ridiculous claims because it’s what most Americans want to hear.  We want to believe that we don’t overdue it, that our portions aren’t so big, that American freedom is really just freedom of consumer choice as measured by the refrain, “I want my 64 ounce soda and I want it now!”

There is an election going on this year in America.  It’s not the one between Romney and Obama.  It’s between the truth and the hype, the facts and the propaganda.  As long as American media continue to give serious reporting space to paid propagandists like Bayne, I’ll know who’s winning and the rest of us will wobble merrily along sipping our Big Gulps.


Check out this review of Burger King’s new bacon sundae.  It’s just the thing to eat with that Coca-Cola.  Note this patriotic tone, as if grease and sugar together equal good citizenship:

There is something about the fusion of fatty meats and sugar-enriched ice cream that makes me feel so … American. Halfway through the sundae I was expecting a bald eagle to swoop in, carrying sparklers.

While Burger King claims that they are only offering this dessert for a limited time, part of me believes that the insatiable appetite of our country will have this item become a menu staple faster than you can say “God Bless America.”

Barackaganda: Where Hollywood Meets Washington

Just weeks ago President Obama was hard at work delivering his Washington Correspondents’ Dinner stand-up routine and now we find him on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for what is being dubbed his “Checks and the City” tour, a play on words for actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s $40,000 a plate soiree featuring Michelle and Barack Obama.  Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine and screaming diva in the documentary film, The September Issue, will also be at the Thursday gathering.  For $40,000, that plate should come with a new Prius c.

The AP author of the article says that Obama has no choice but to hook his falling star status onto the ready cash of multimillionaire Hollywood actors and actresses like George Clooney, Cher, Matthew Broderick, Ellen Degeneres, among many others.  There is great potential for this money-raising tete-a-tete to backfire.  Americans have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Hollywood.  While we may like the product that comes out of the industry, we don’t think much of the lifestyles of many of the rich and famous.  These are not the Go Go 1980s anymore nor are these the “Yes, we can!” feelings of just a few years ago.  Granted, anyone who hates Hollywood isn’t going to vote for Barack Obama anyway, but he needs the Independents to beat Mitt Romney.

Is President Obama looking too closely aligned with Hollywood?  Do you think this close alliance between Hollywood and Washington will make any difference in the presidential election?  Or do you just want to know what they are serving for $40,000 a plate? 

Friendless in America

Friendless in America

A new study, “Intercultural Friendship: Effects of Home and Host Region,” published in the June 2012 online issue of the International Journal of Intercultural and International Communication, reveals that many foreign students in the United States do not make closer, personal friendships with American students.

450 foreign students in the South and Northeast were surveyed and 40 percent revealed that they had no close American friend.  The least satisfied in their friendship pursuits were from East Asia, which represents the highest proportion of foreign students in the United States.  Newswise.com reported some highlights from the study:

  • Friendship numbers and satisfaction levels were highest in the South, with the nonmetropolitan Northeast ranking second, and the New York City metropolitan area ranking lowest.
  • Participants from English-speaking countries were most likely to report having three or more close American friends, whereas students from East Asia often had no close American friends.
  • Among all races and ethnicities, 46 percent thought that the reason for their friendship problems was an internal factor, such as low language proficiency or shyness. However, among East Asian students, that percentage was much higher, at 78 percent.
  • The most common reasons why students attributed their friendship difficulties to Americans or to U.S. culture were superficiality (32 percent) and not being open-minded or interested in other cultures (25 percent).

The author of the study, Elizabeth Gareis of Baruch College/CUNY, said: “A central predictor of overall sojourn satisfaction is international students’ contact with the hosting country’s nationals, in particular, the meaningful contact found in friendships.  Through friendships, international students have stronger language skills, better academic performance, lower levels of stress and better overall adjustment to a new culture.”

I find the attention this study is receiving a bit mind-blowing, though I suppose that the high number of self-reports of no intercultural friendships is what drew media attention.  I’m happy to read that foreign students in the South seemed the most satisfied with their cross-cultural friendships.  We’re known to be quite friendly in the South.  The author’s predictive measures that link close personal friendships to academic success and lower levels of anxiety are quite standard in the sojourn literature.  When I defended my doctoral dissertation in 1992, “Fulbright Scholars as Cultural Mediators,” I found that foreign Fulbright scholars who formed meaningful multicultural social networks was the single best behavioral predictor for having academic success and personal satisfaction than those without such networks.

What do you think of the foreign student study findings?  Do they surprise you?  The students who reported no close personal friendship tended to ascribe blame to their American counterparts.  Would you?

Obama, the Rock Star? No More

Many American reports are out today, including this article in the Christian Science Monitor, citing the just released Pew Global Attitudes Survey that President Obama’s rock star status in the world has severely declined.  I could have told you this, as it comes as no surprise to this American, but some of the data in the report is quite revealing.  Obama’s support for deadly drone strikes has all but evaporated any goodwill he had in Muslim majority countries.  (Anyone remember his famous Cairo speech in 2009?)  The world’s majority does not support the Obama drone campaign, with the American people (62%) still mostly in support of such actions to take out extremists and Al Qaeda supporters.

Not only has Obama’s popularity waned, but also the perception that the United States is the leading economy in the world.

The Obama era has coincided with major changes in international perceptions of American power – especially U.S. economic power. The global financial crisis and the steady rise of China have led many to declare China the world’s economic leader, and this trend is especially strong among some of America’s major European allies.

Four years ago, a plurality of 45 percent in the 14 countries also surveyed in this year’s poll named the US as the king of the global economic hill, as opposed to 22 percent who picked China. Today 42 percent place China in the throne, while the percentage naming the US has slipped to 36.

In European countries especially, China is viewed as the leading economic power: About two-thirds of Germans hold this opinion, while nearly 60 percent of Britons, French, and Spaniards do as well.

Thanks a lot, Europe, especially you, Germany, where nearly four years ago in August 2008 several hundred thousand of your own citizens cheered on the American presidential candidate Obama as he spoke in Berlin.  Check out this Associated Press photo of Obama’s fans in Berlin.

“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end,”goes the old song made popular by Welsh singer, Mary Hopkin.  Seriously, this China economic power number one ranking is a somewhat shocking perception, but I recall telling many a listener when I lived in Beijing in 2007 that this century would not be called “The American Century,” but rather “The China Century,” thanks to not only China’s growing economy but also its super culture power status (Confucius Institutes, for example).  Little did I know then that a mere five years later many parts of the world would view China the greater economic power over the United States.  Interestingly, 48% of the Chinese people surveyed by Pew still consider the United States the world’s economic leader versus just 29% citing China.  For the record, the United States is still the world’s strongest economy.  Most of the US slippage is due to the perception that the dollar is not the leading economic indicator it once was.

The US president, much less the United States, may not hold rock star status in Europe these days, but we can cast our eyes across the Pacific to our Northeast Asian treasured ally.  Here is what the Pew Global Attitudes Survey had to say, and I thank you in advance:

In Japan, 72% currently express a favorable opinion of the U.S., up from 50% four years ago. America’s image in Japan improved dramatically in 2011, due in part to American relief efforts following the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Fully 85% of Japanese respondents expressed a positive view of the U.S. in last year’s poll.

Is there anything about this drop in Obama’s popularity that surprises you?  How about the United States?  Do you think we obsess over our position in the world more than other countries?  I think we do.  After all, we are the nation of celebrity, and just like actress Sally Field once said after winning her second Oscar® for Best Actress, “you like me right now,  you like me,” America really wants to be liked, not just in the Facebook sense.

Sushi Diplomacy: Japan in the World

The following is a prepared text of my May 30th speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.  I was asked to discuss Japanese Public Diplomacy as part of a panel on Public Diplomacy in Northeast Asia.


In 1923, the Japanese Diet created a Special Account from Japan’s share of the Boxer indemnities to fund cultural activities to China.  That same year a China Cultural Affairs Bureau was established within MOFA.  This cultural bridge between China and Japan was severed with Japan’s invasion and occupation of Manchuria in 1931 and the Marco Polo Bridge incident that led to the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).  Japan’s defeat in World War II led to almost thirty years of focus on economic reconstruction and recovery.  By the 1970s when Japan had become an economic superpower, it began to channel more of its resources into cultural diplomacy.  The Japan Foundation was established in 1972 for this sole purpose.

In the last 40 years, Tokyo’s cultural diplomacy has been focused mostly on the United States and its ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors.  The US –Japan Alliance is Japan’s foreign policy cornerstone and ASEAN involves expanding markets and energy security issues.  The Fukuda Doctrine pledged “heart to heart relations” between Japan and Southeast Asia after anti-Japanese protests occurred in Bangkok and Jakarta.  Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda’s 1977 speech in Manila, Philippines reasserted that Japan was a peaceful nation that would never become a military power and would show mutual respect, fairness and equality to its ASEAN members.  Japan asserts a peaceful approach because it cannot exercise hard power according to the no-war clause of Article 9 in its constitution.  Hence, Japan’s soft approach in the post-Meiji and post-WWII era is two-fold: cultural diplomacy (CD) and developmental assistance, official and nongovernmental through Japanese NGOs.  Institutions involved include the Japan Foundation, Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) Program, founded in 1965 and modeled on the US Peace Corps, Global 30, and the Office of Global Communications, Prime Minister’s Office.

Cool Culture

Japan is playing catch-up with other nations in the region in making public diplomacy an integral part of its foreign relations.  It has always had a “soft power” agenda in the aftermath of WWII when Japan’s new constitution (Article 9) forbade any military aims.  Japan’s core strength is in cultural diplomacy, Cool Japan (manga, anime, J-Pop, J-Fashion) as well as traditional Japanese culture (rock garden, Zen architecture, tea ceremony, Kimono culture).   The global appeal of manga and anime has everything to do with globalization and global consumer tastes and nothing to do with the Japanese state.  So the challenge remains: how does the state expand and exploit its new “hip and cool” soft power image and reconcile that positive image with Japan’s East Asian mixed reputation.

Before 3.11, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was working with the Japan Foundation to expand cultural exchange programs.  In April 2006, Foreign Minister Aso Taro linked manga and anime with a hearts and minds campaign to China’s youth in a speech to the University of Digital Content located in the Akihabara district (electronics Mecca) of Tokyo.  He wondered what pictures emerge in the heads of foreigners when they hear the name, Japan.  The more positive, the easier it is for Japan to get across its long-term views.  That same year, the head of Toyota Motor Corporation, Cho Fujio, who was also head of the MOFA-advisory Council on the Movement of People Across Borders, recommended a “Japan Manga Grand Prize.”  Its purpose was two-fold: (1) target foreign artists of manga and anime; and (2) appoint Japanese artists as cultural ambassadors to help promote J-Pop overseas.

In January 2007, Aso Taro gave a policy speech to the Diet that officially called for J-pop to be used as a public diplomacy tool.  “What is important is to be able to induce other countries to listen to Japan.  If the use of pop culture or various subcultures can be useful in this process, we certainly should make the most of them.”  A natural offspring of this vision is the AKB48 girl group (Akihabara 48), not only in Japan but also through spin-off versions throughout the region.  The popular song and dance act is now being enlisted in the sale of “reconstruction bonds.”  Japan has held cultural appeal for quite some time.  Before Hello Kitty, Doraemon (the earless robot cat), or Pokemon, there was Astro Boy and Godzilla.  The difference between then and now is that the J-state is finally taking notice that J-pop has J-policy links.

Cool Japan has its problems.  What it means to be cool is ephemeral.  Today’s Cool Japan is tomorrow’s (or today’s) Cool Korea or Cool India.  The Japanese government and institutions like the Japan Foundation recognize that being a cultural superpower isn’t enough, especially against the backdrop of the lost decades.  Nevertheless, the emphasis on culture continues in a region where China, Korea and Taiwan assert their own cultural features, China with its global Confucian Institutes in particular.  The question remains: Is culture power in the East Asian region just politics by other means?

Whither JPD after 3.11

Everything has changed with 3.11.  It is no longer exclusively Cool Japan but rather Gratitude Relations (Yamato spirit) that is driving Japan’s soft power.  Disaster pictures spoke 1,000 words, with long lines of people politely lined up and waiting for hours for water and food.  What started out as neighbors helping neighbors in Japan after the quake and tsunami was quickly appreciated globally and donations poured in.  Pray for Japan, the Lady Gaga effect in 2011, became Japan thanks you in 2012.

Japan’s image today is on the rise with its recovery.  But there is another side to this coin that is a major concern.  JPD holds opportunity for person-to-person diplomacy but public suspicion persists related to the Fukushima nuclear fallout and the Japanese government’s lack of transparency.  There is a huge loss of trust in government and corporate institutions.  Will this be a nuclear Japan, a post-nuclear Japan or something in between?  Mass anti-nuclear sentiments challenge the government’s efforts to link nuclear power with the Japan nation branding campaign of the Future City.  Former PM Naoto Kan told the Diet on Monday, May 28 that Japan should give up nuclear power, while Noda will decide soon whether or not to start the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.  (Coincidentally I’m meeting the mayor of Fukui city June 7th as part of a sister-city goodwill exchange.  Fukui is the sister city to my university employer home city, Fullerton.)

Another concern involves the persistent lack of internationalization in Japanese higher education.  Internationalization has always been linked more with economic and business issues.  To address this concern, the Japanese government formed the Global 30 project, which was originally slated to involve 30 universities but stands at 13.  These 13 Japanese institutions of higher learning are using government funds to internationalize their curriculum, increase foreign student percentages and offer more English-language instruction.  The program’s goal is to attract 300,000 international students by 2020. (The 13 member institutions had 21,429 international students in 2011.) Most coursework is offered in English so that the Japanese language requirement is not an impediment, but the hurdles are high for other universities to participate because of strict Ministry of Education standards.

Foreign student numbers in Japan were just over 138,000 in 2011, with nearly 90,000 coming from China and the rest from Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia.  USA student numbers were 1,400.  Global interest in the Japanese language is on a significant rise, in part because of great love and affection for manga and anime more than for economic reasons, but Japan has no equivalent to the Confucian Institutes outside the Japan Foundation.  Less than 4 percent of Japan’s university students are from overseas (133,000) compared to China’s 223,000 and the US with over 672,000.  Five percent of faculty is foreign and most are hired to teach in English or as ESL instructors.  Today fewer Japanese students are going abroad to the US and Europe.  South Korea, half the size of Japan, sends twice the number of its students to America.  All of this is causing angst about Japan’s ability to compete globally, but with the worse public debt among industrialized nations, change will be slow.

It is also plainly obvious that Japan’s public diplomacy suffers from the lack of a CNN International or BBC-like global media presence.  The Prime Minister’s Office recently opened an Office of Global Communications to strengthen its presence with international media and to reestablish the credibility of the Japan brand. But a closed society image persists.  Japan’s government policies favor ethnic homogeneity to maintain social order over a more open immigrant policy.  If you add in the fact that Japanese is not a global language either in business or diplomacy, then you have a recipe for a more sluggish soft power nation.

Japan’s future public diplomacy agenda will likely expand its Gratitude Relations through ODA and ORC (Open Reconstruction Collaboration).  A recent boost is that Japan has 18 months to convince the IOC that it would be a better host for the summer Olympics in 2020 than either Istanbul or Madrid.  The publicity surrounding this Olympic bid is driven by the rhetoric of thanks and acknowledgment to the world for helping Japan after 3/11.   The Japan Foundation is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Some, but not all of its staff, prefer a more human touch and less statist touch approach to cultural diplomacy, what might be called “The Personal (Kizuna) is Public Diplomacy.”  JF’s Hideki Hara cites the Israeli Association for Japanese Studies (http://www.japan-studies.org) launched at Hebrew, Haifa and Tel Aviv universities this year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of ties between the two countries or the sponsorship of Japanese-Brazilian artist Hamilton Yokota (Titi Freak) colorful fish murals on temporary houses in Ishinomaki.  Hara says,

The worst thing that can happen to scholars or people like me is to have set prejudices about my country versus other country’s uniqueness.  The cultural diplomacy based on uniqueness, superiority or inferiority for that matter is over.  Now it’s all about compassion.  It’s all about getting nods from other countries.

The US-Japan Tomodachi Initiative to support more interpersonal artist and student ties into the Japan recovery.  (The Lady Gaga Teacup from which she drank during a news conference in June 2011 was auctioned off in early May for $75,000 to support Tomodachi efforts.)  In the Kizuna and Tomodachi spirit, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attended the 60th anniversary of the Japan-US Educational Commission (Fulbright) at the Imperial Palace Hotel on May 25, 2012.  What was striking was to see so few young people at the reception.  Attendees were mostly the Japanese Fulbright students from the 1950s and 1960s.  Who will replace them?

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of 3,000 cherry blossom tree saplings by then mayor Ozaki of Tokyo City to Washington, DC.  A recent Gallup rating showed a slight majority of Americans considers Japan “the most important partner of the US in Asia.” The challenge for Japan is this: Does clicking “like” on the Sushi page of Facebook translate into state and foreign policy goals?        

The American Love Affair with the Automobile

There is no getting around it.  We Americans love our autos.  In California you are what you drive, or so it seemed to me when I first moved there.  I still drive a 1998 Honda Civic that has over 175,000 miles showing on the odometer.  I really don’t care to drive something fancy.  I like the reliability of Honda, thank you very much.  But when I first moved to Southern California in 2000, one of my friends said that I should consider driving something much cooler and sexier than a Honda Civic.  She really meant it.  So you see, friends, driving means a lot to us in America.  We would just as soon drive around the corner as walk.  And since we spend so much time in our cars, we like to look good driving.

A late 1990s model compact car won’t earn any head-turning quotient points.

Here’s an interesting article to read about the American love affair with the automobile from CBS Sunday Morning.  I did not realize that FDR deserves more credit than President Dwight Eisenhower when it comes to our interstate system.  FDR had the vision and Eisenhower put it all in place by the mid-1950s.  We’ve never looked back since, that is, unless we are looking back in our rear view mirrors on the open road.

I’ve driven across the southern United States at least twenty times in the last twelve years.  When I first moved to California in February 2000, I drove from New Hampshire.  No big deal.  I stopped at mom and dad’s place in Birmingham, Alabama after picking up Interstate 20 in South Carolina.  Interstate 20 connects directly to Interstate 10 in western Texas and you take it all the way to California.  The other route is Interstate 40, the freeway that follows the old Route 66.  If you ever go to America and have the time, take the open road.  You’ll meet a lot of people, see a lot of land, and enjoy some great sunsets.

What’s the biggest problem with the American love for the automobile?

A Night to Remember: 60th Anniversary of Fulbright and Meeting Royalty

On Friday, May 25, I took a few train stops over to the Imperial Hotel of Tokyo.  As one of just a few Fulbright professors to Japan, I was invited as a guest of the Japan-US Educational Commission that oversees the Fulbright international exchange program.  2012 marks the 60th anniversary of this esteemed program. I did not know that my evening would be a lifetime memory.  More on that later.

The Fulbright Program has been a major part of my cultural identity since the mid-1980s when I set out on a year’s stay to the Federal Republic of Germany.  (If you know nothing or very little about the program, please check out JUSEC.)  I had never even heard of the program until I had a meeting with the director of off-campus housing at Clemson University in South Carolina.  He wore two coordinator hats: one for housing and one for the Fulbright program.  As we talked about my off-campus housing options, he mentioned if I ever thought about applying for a Fulbright.  I asked, “What’s a Fulbright?”  Well I think I’m quite up on the program now. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on “Fulbright Scholars as Cultural Mediators,” so I’d say that I’ve come a long way since my Clemson Tiger days.  Which leads me back to Friday night.

As the guests walked into the Peacock Room of the Imperial Hotel, I looked to my left and saw a stage for the large contingent of media in attendance.  I thought to myself, they sure do love the Fulbright Program here in Japan.  But alas, there was more to the media’s interest.  I heard an announcement in Japanese and then saw people form two lines in waiting.  This was not a crowd lined up to do a Soul Train dance number.  An English-speaking attendee turned to me and solved the mystery: the emperor and empress were on their way.  Of course, that meant that we were about to see Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.  I was ripe with anticipation.  We waited a few more minutes.  We were told no pictures but I noted a few stealthy iPhones at hand.  And then the doors were slowly opened to reveal the royal couple.  We applauded as they made their way very royal-like (to be expected) between the two lines of gleeful admirers.  Whatever you think about royalty and imperial government, I wasn’t thinking such lofty thoughts.  Here I am a political science and international relations major and all I could feel were goosebumps.  I recalled my first visit to Japan in 1993 when, as a participant in a Japanese government program called International Youth Village, we got to attend a reception featuring Prince and Princess Akishino.  (I later found out that Prince Akishino is a Beatles fan.  His hairdo is at times a bit Beatles-like.)

I realize that our celebration of 60 years of Fulbright was truly a night to remember.  I am so thankful to have a Fulbright grant to teach undergraduate students at Sophia University in Tokyo.  As part of the festivities, I also met Ambassador John Roos and shared my recent experiences giving embassy-sponsored talks on “The Lady Gaga Effect.” He actually put me on the spot and asked, “What is the Lady Gaga effect?”  I told him, “You should know.  Weren’t you are her Tokyo concert?” (We both were, but on separate nights.)

Photo of Harriet Fulbright at 60th Anniversary

I also spent time with someone I’ve know for twenty years, Harriet Mayor Fulbright, a true champion of her husband J. William Fulbright’s vision for the program.  Harriet has worked tirelessly on behalf of the senator and his commitment to mutual understanding between individuals from all nations.  I reminded Harriet of my foot-in-mouth experience when I called her shortly after Senator Fulbright’s passing at age 89 in 1995.  I called their Washington residence, thinking that an assistant would answer and I could just give my condolences.  To my surprise, Harriet took the call directly.  I told her how sorry I was and offered to say a few words about what the Fulbright program has meant to me at the senator’s upcoming state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral.  She, in all her gracious dignity, didn’t miss a beat.  She said, “Nancy, that is so kind of you to offer.  President Clinton is giving the eulogy.”  Indeed he did, and that was the first and only time I met an American president at the reception that followed.

Here is the picture from Fulbright’s state funeral at which Bill Clinton, and not Nancy Snow, gave the eulogy.

Now back to our gathering at the Imperial Hotel.

Toward the end of the gathering and long after the emperor and empress had left, an embassy friend said, “Do you realize that you get to experience things here in Japan that many Japanese may never experience?”  I do realize my privileges.  And with privilege comes a duty to serve.  I hope that I can fulfill my goal of being a positive representative for the United States in Japan and both a teacher and learner with my Japanese students.

P.S.  I was able to tell Empress Michiko that I’m a Fulbright professor at Sophia University.  I’m sure she won’t forget that!