Wednesday, December 29, 2004

NY Times: Learn English, Says Chile, Thinking Upwardly Global

Well, at least someone is interested in learning English, even if the French and Brazilians really aren't. Chile, seeing where its future lies, wants to get all its citizens speaking at least basic English in little more than a decade (it took the Swedes 40 years). Bravo for knowing which side your bread is buttered on. Still, according to Times writer Larry Rohter, one anti-globalization Chilean makes a breathtakingly out-of-touch statement about world politics:

"We're quite worried about this because it takes an economic hegemony and translates it into a cultural hegemony," said Sara Larraín, a leader of the Chilean Social Forum, a coalition opposed to corporate-led globalization. "Chile's insertion ought to be into the world at large, not into the U.S. empire. These are not Roman times, when Latin was the universal language."

Really, Ms. Larraín? These are extraordinarily Roman times—and besides, what other language would she have Chileans learn?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Beacon No. 17: What's Good for MTV Is Good for America?


TV-industry newsletter Cynthia Turner's Cynopsis says MTV will launch MTV World, a sub-network consisting of

Three new US customized MTV channels specifically designed to fulfill the programming needs of those people with an affiliation to a home country or culture that is not catered to by American mainstream media. These new channels will feature music and other programming from MTV's international channels and original programming, promos and packaging created in the US. Launching first will be MTV Desi, which will serve audiences with roots in the Indian sub-continent living in the US. MTV Desi will be followed by MTV China and MTV Korea in 2005, with additional channels to follow.

Why are there MTV-size numbers of well-off Chinese-, Indian- and Korean Americans? Standard INS-lottery immigration, to be sure; but U.S. pre-eminence in graduate-level education—particularly in technical fields like engineering, chemistry and physics—attracts overseas students like crazy. Seeing the benefits of living in the States, these huddled masses yearn to breathe degrees and stay on after graduation, enhancing U.S. competitiveness vs. their home countries.

So it seems like MTV is making a safe bet on rising numbers of well-educated, well-off Asian Americans. (Also in the works is American Desi, an MTV Desi competitor that will offer a slightly broader mix of news, entertainment and professional cricket.)

But along comes Tuesday's New York Times to spoil the fun in "U.S. Slips in Status as Hub of Higher Education":

Foreign students contribute $13 billion to the American economy annually. But this year brought clear signs that the United States' overwhelming dominance of international higher education may be ending. [There has been] a sharp plunge in the number of students from India and China who had taken the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam, a requirement for applying to most graduate schools; it had dropped by half.

Foreign applications to American graduate schools declined 28 percent this year. Actual foreign graduate student enrollments dropped 6 percent. Enrollments of all foreign students, in undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral programs, fell for the first time in three decades in an annual census released this fall. Meanwhile, university enrollments have been surging in England, Germany and other countries.

Culprits? Onerous visa requirements and Iraq-driven unpopularity, plus aggressive efforts by other English-speaking countries to ramp up their degree programs and attract other countries' bright young things. And China, finally tiring of watching some of its best talent head West, has reportedly made it a national priority to transform 100 of its universities into world-class research institutions.

Regular readers of Beacon know will see where I'm going: The numbers of overseas students taking the GRE is a leading indicator of where U.S. competitiveness and to some extent soft power will be 10-20 years from now, when today's undergrads are in the most productive phase of their professional lives. The U.S. should make it a national priority to get the number of GRE-takers up and help overseas students get here and stay here, now.

I'd expect to see MTV, whose revenues now rely on a steady supply of newly minted Americans, to help out. Although I hate to say it, what's good for MTV World is good for America.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Beacon No. 16: Hold the Smallpox, I'll Take the Flu


Hard power is the application of military force. No other nation dares resist the U.S. in a stand-up fight, everyone says, for fear of bringing destruction down on their own heads. For terrorists, large-scale sabotage will backfire, too: It was simple for U.S. investigators to trace the September 11 hijackers back to Al-Qa'ida, Usama bin Ladin and Afghanistan, and quickly destroy the Taliban regime. So this leaves terrorists, so far denied weapons of mass destruction, to issue tape recordings from caves and perpetrate one-off bombings. Doesn't it?

About 25 years ago, science-fiction author Frederik Pohl wrote about intermediate steps between combat and influence in The Cool War. In it, a Unitarian minister named Hornswell "Horny" Hake is shanghaied into helping a CIA successor called The Team to conduct something with elements of sabotage and propaganda, but smaller than war. Here, a Team member tells Hake how the world really works:

"There are two ways to win a race, Hake. One is to beat your opponent by sheer force. The other is to trip him up. They're playing trip-him-up with us. Why do you think we're so short of energy in this country?"

"Well, because the world is running out of—"

"Because they manipulate our balance of payments, Hake. The mark is up to three dollars, did you know that? And what about crime?"


"You've heard of crime, haven't you? It's not safe to walk the streets of any city in America today. Even our highways aren't safe, there are bus robbers in every state. Do you know why you can't get an avocado for love or money? Because somebody—somebody!—deliberately brought in insect pests that wiped out the crop."

Horny said, "I think you jumped over something about crime. I didn't quite get that part."

"It's plain, Hake! Somebody's encouraging this lawlessness. Cheap Spanish and Algerian porno flicks that show muggers and highwaymen doing it to all the girls. They look crude. But, oh, how carefully engineered! War is not all bombs and missiles, my boy. It's hurting the other fellow any way you can. And if you can hurt him so he can't prove it's happening, why, that's one for your side. And that's what they're doing to us, Hake. Here, have a look at this tape." And she threaded a cassette into a viewer.

Horny stared at it, bemused. It started way back, back before the Big Wars entirely. The peace-loving British had pioneered in this immoral equivalent for war as far back as the nineteenth century: they found a good way to discourage resistance in subject populations by encouraging them to trip out on opium. America itself had exported cigarettes and Coca-Cola around the world. Now, according to the tape, it was becoming state policy, and William James was turning in his grave. China flooded the Soviet Union with Comecon vodka at half the market price. It was not a weapon. No one died. But twenty percent of the steelworkers in Magnitogorsk were absent with hangovers on the average working day. Tokyo flooded the Marianas with cheap, high-quality sukiyaki noodles, reminding the voters of their ancestry just before the referendum that rejoined the islands to Japan. During the London water shortage just before the completion of the Rape of Scotland waterworks, Irish nationalists went around turning on hydrants and covert sympathizers left their taps running. It worked so well that Palestinian refugees, circumcised and trained for the occasion, repeated the process in Haifa to such an extent that two hundred thousand acres of orange groves died for lack of irrigation.

By now such tactics had become well institutionalized, and wholly secret. Everybody did it. Nobody talked about it.

Pohl's plot follows the reluctant Hake through his transformation into a not-so-glamorous international saboteur. For example, he chaperones a group of schoolchildren on their European goodwill tour, dispensing gifts of paired marmosets everywhere they go. The marmosets carry a disease that gives everyone recurring diarrhea—and not incidentally cuts European factory production. Meanwhile, others plot to use deniable, seemingly random events like labor strikes, messianic cults and cheap PCP to slow down their competitors.

In this world, cutting other people's efficiencies is a job for professionals employed by roughly symmetric competitors. (In The Cool War, the low cost of "tripping people up" lets countries like Spain and Argentina compete successfully with the U.S.) It grinds people down, creating chronic strikes, power outages, mild epidemics that harass or sideline workers.

It's a wonder it doesn't occur more frequently in our world, particularly in asymmetric warfare. If al-Qa'ida weren't so obsessed with annihilating infidels, it might do better to give them really bad colds or flood the U.S. market with cheap heroin—technically simpler solutions that are harder to trace to terrorists or their backers.

But then, the U.S., Iran and several other countries are all about to receive lots of quality narcotics from Afghanistan. It's just that the cheap smack about to wash up on U.S. shores is gang-sponsored, rather than government-sponsored, and market-driven rather than policy-driven.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

USC's New Center on Public Diplomacy


The University of Southern California has created a new Center on Public Diplomacy headed by executive director Joshua Fouts, "a cross-disciplinary research, teaching and training institution run jointly by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the School of International Relations in the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences.

"'U.S. society needs to understand and to be more aware of the fact that the world sees us in a dramatically different light than we see the world seeing us, or for that matter, than we see ourselves,' says Fouts. 'Enabling this process is a critical mission of our project.'"

USC plans to have the first public diplomacy master's-degree program in the U.S. Read the full interview with Fouts and more about the CPD here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Beacon No. 15: Mugabe Cracks Down on NGO "Plots"


About the only people who aren't being cracked-down on in Zimbabwe these days are foreigners working for NGOs. Whoops! I spoke too soon. In the December 10 New York Times, Michael Wines writes that the Mugabe government is banning domestic groups from accepting outside money or other aid:

The Nongovernmental Organizations Bill, passed by a 48-to-28 vote [in Zimbabwe's Parliament], bars domestic civic groups and other organizations from accepting foreign money or other support to promote human rights or "issues of governance." Domestic groups are deemed to have foreign support if any member is a foreigner or a Zimbabwean living abroad.

That cuts out just about everybody, including Zimbabwean churches and the approximately 3 million Zimbabweans who live outside the country and may want to support Mugabe opponents. What's so threatening about NGOs? Apparently they're part of 'Western plots to restore colonial rule,' as though Zimbabwe was still an African crown jewel rather than a civil-war-in-waiting. The law also requires each NGO to "disclose its financing, budgets and supporters," setting NGO members up like bowling pins for an easy strike.

Mugabe seems determined to cut Zimbabwe off from Africa and the rest of the world, steadily weeding out soft-power influences from at home and abroad. Watch for a satellite-dish ban as the final indication that Mugabe would rather rule a pile of rubble in the Gap than embrace the rules and rewards of the Core.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Beacon No. 14: The Zakat Racket


The December 3 Wall Street Journal featured an article on a recent uptick in the Islamic world's donations to Western charities. This is remarkable because before 9/11, Muslims had given this zakat—donations to the poor that are one of the pillars of Islam—primarily to Muslim charities:

As humanitarian crises multiply across the globe, straining Western contributions, relief organizations are moving in on a source of money that has eluded them in recent years: the Islamic world. Muslim governments and individuals have long been generous donors to charity, heeding the Islamic obligation to give a portion of annual savings to the poor. Most of their giving has flowed through Islamic charities that fund their own projects, or directly from one government to another. Relatively little has gone to the international organizations that do the bulk of the feeding, housing and healing in crises around the world.

Last year, the World Food Program, a United Nations agency that's the world's largest humanitarian organization, fed 1044 million people. A full 57 million of those were in Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, countries. Yet less than 2% of the WFP's $2.6 billion came from these countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the leading agency caring for displaced people, received less than $4 million from Arab donors in a budget of nearly $1 billion. Of the $3.1 billion raised since 1988 by the global coalition to eradicate polio, less than $3 million has come from OIC states, even though most remaining cases of polio occur in predominantly Muslim countries.

Here's where 9/11, and the inability of Muslim charities to handle all the big problems, comes in:

Now, these organizations' appeals are getting a better reception in the Islamic world, and they cite three main reasons. Investigations into terrorist financing after the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. have brought more scrutiny on donations to Islamic charities. In response, donors are looking for more globally respected recipients. Arab governments believe that greater contributions to multinational humanitarian efforts can improve their image in the West. And they see that their charities alone can't relieve the massive humanitarian crises in their own regions, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Palestinian territories and West Africa.

Transparency in Muslim charities has long been a concern among those wanting assurances that their money does good, as well as governments wanting to keep tabs on cash flows to terrorists. The article quotes a Dubai-based businessman who began donating to the WFP out of transparency concerns: "After 9/11, people are scared to give because they don't know where the money goes. … But if you give to the WFP, you're protected. You know where the money went. I saw it for myself," the businessman said, citing firsthand experience with food-distribution drives in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

So recently, the Journal says, Malaysia coughs up $1 million for polio eradication, a Saudi group kicks in $6.3 million for WFP feeding programs in the West Bank, a UAE foundation gives UNHCR $200,000 to supply clean water for Sudanese refugees, and so on.

With donations like these increasing, the Muslim world's hard power—a direct voice in the spending decisions Western charities make—will multiply, while their donations' new visibility outside the Muslim world will add to Muslim soft power.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Correction: "Voices" DOES Have Distribution

Voices of Iraq's Martin Kunert writes to say that contrary to what I wrote a few days ago, the documentary does have distribution through Magnolia Pictures, which will show it in Landmark Theatres beginning (sigh) in October 2005. Meanwhile, readers are highly advised to take the Netflix route and watch the DVD.

Beacon No. 13: "Local Knowledge" and "Catastrophic Success"


This week I heard about a great ad campaign by HSBC, the London-based bank with offices in 76 countries: "Never underestimate the importance of local knowledge." The campaign emphasizes that although HSBC is a globe-spanning institution, its employees are well-versed in local customs and, by implication, won't do anything embarrassing with you or your hard-earned pounds, rupees or ringgit.

One "Local Knowledge" television commercial is available on HSBC's site, and it makes the bank's point nicely: Where in U.S. golf you buy all your partners drinks after making a hole-in-one, in Japan the cost can be a bit steeper. It's a fun look at the unintended consequences of catastrophic success.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Beacon No. 12: Iraq Talks Back Real Soon, Part 2


Producers Archie Drury, Eric Manes and Martin Kunert have made a film called Voices of Iraq. They start by transporting 150 camcorders to Iraq and give them out to Iraqis:

The producers of Voices of Iraq distributed over 150 DIGITAL VIDEO CAMERAS across the entire country to enable everyday people - mothers, children, teachers, sheiks and even insurgents - to document their lives and their hopes amidst the upheaval of a nation being born.

Beginning amidst the Falluja uprising in April, going through the marshlands in the South, the Kurdish communities in the North and ending in September of this year, thousands of ordinary Iraqis became filmmakers to reveal the richness, complexity and emotion of their lives.

Voices of Iraq is an unprecedented film. This new documentary genre offers a unique window into what is happening in Iraq. Voices of Iraq has allowed Iraqis to tell their own story.

Martin Kunert told me that practically all the cameras were returned, giving the producers 400 hours of footage to stuff into a documentary. Since the footage was date-stamped, they could overlay it with Western newspaper headlines from the same day, highlighting disconnections between image and coverage.

You should view the trailer at the Voices of Iraq site for a taste. Basically, a Humvee gets torched and just sits there burning—until the media arrive. A crowd magically materializes and starts throwing rocks at the burning vehicle, an insurgent testifies for the cameras, and God is undoubtedly found to be great. Then the journos leave—and the crowd disperses. Although I haven't seen the film yet, there are likely important lessons here in the soft and hard power of Middle Eastern crowds.

Kunert says he, Drury and Manes are looking for a distributor. Until then it's available on Netflix, though, so interested people can get the Voices of Iraq DVD delivered.

Beacon No. 11: Iraq Talks Back Real Soon


I was just in D.C. and wound up at a reception for two visiting Iraqi bloggers—dentists in their day jobs, shades of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—who do the English-language blog Iraq the Model.

They're helping a Los Angeles-based NGO called Spirit of America to develop an Arabic-language blogging tool. It's in beta right now but I saw some screenshots and it looks really cool, very much like the Blogger composing tool's interface (push-button support for bold, ital., links, bulleting etc.). It's the first free public tool I know of that's custom-designed for composition in Arabic.

Spirit of America will provide free hosting so I suspect Arabic-native blogging will spread like wildfire once they get it locked and released. Citizen-to-citizen contacts in the Arab world—who would have thought?

Iraqis and other Arabs have already been talking to us in English—but now Arabic speakers will be able to talk with one another at length and compare notes.

See here for more.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Beacon Reads "Strategic Communication"

One particularly action-packed paragraph caught my eye while reading the Defense Science Board's new 111-page report, Strategic Communication (which you can download from here).

On pages 26-27 the DSB task force throws in a laundry list of what the U.S. is doing or failing to do in the field of opinion and media research:

U.S. strategic communication is limited by insufficient and decentralized research capabilities. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) engages in foreign opinion polling and provides daily reports on foreign media editorials and commentary. Its small annual budget has long been stable at approximately $6 million ($3 million for polling, $3 million for analysis). Opinion research is appreciated in the Bureau, but more for its contribution to all-source intelligence products than for strategic communication.

Other government and private organizations also conduct opinion and media studies. The Foreign Broadcast Information Services collects and analyzes foreign print, radio, TV, web-based, and gray literature publications, including assessments of Al Jazeera and other Arab/Muslim satellite TV broadcasting. The Broadcasting Board of Governors engages in audience and media research through contracts with Intermedia, a private research organization. Foreign opinion and attitude assessments are available also from U.S. embassies, the DOD, U.S. combatant commands, the CIA, non-governmental organizations, and commercial polling organizations.

Each of these activities has merit, but overall U.S. government opinion and media research faces a number of challenges. Research findings are not used sufficiently in policy formulation and policy advocacy. Policymakers, diplomats and military leaders often do not appreciate that “listening” and influence analysis are critical prerequisites to effective communications strategies. Funding is woefully inadequate. Collection often outstrips analysis. Data bases are stovepiped; “the U.S. often doesn’t know what it knows.” Users often do not task for product; providers often are late in delivering product. Media trends research and media framing analysis have low priority relative to polling and strategic communication requirements.

The gist of all this is that listening to foreign opinions is important, underfunded and frequently ignored—none of which is news. But what does stand out here is that the State Dept., armed services, CIA, NGOs, and private polling organizations all assemble information on what citizens in other nations think.

Perhaps an intelligence reform bill—dead for the time being but sure to be resurrected in the 109th Congress—could include a way to collate all this data to help improve the picture civilian policymakers get about other nations, masking each bit's agency origin to keep anyone from having to be responsible for an individual poll's conclusions.

Just a thought for the weekend. I'm going to get back to reading. ...

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