The New Celebrity Diplomat

Do style and substance mix in official diplomatic circles?

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, Richard Holbrooke a unique US foreign policy advisor to many administrations was a rather rare diplomat in combing substance and style in his statecraft.

Holbrooke was a prominent US trouble-shooter in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. However he combined this aspect of his professional profile with an outsized personality and a fabulous network worthy of any A-list celebrity from the world of business or entertainment.  And of course still going strong is the status Henry Kissinger brings to statecraft and celebrity.  Kissinger is arguably the most elevated American celebrity/diplomat since Benjamin Franklin.

What happens however when celebrity style and the diplomatic substance contradict each other?

Kissinger’s celebrity status does not mean that he operated like celebrity diplomats such as Bono, Angelina and George – with media fanfare and the pursuit of public goods and global governance.  On the contrary he mixed a desire for media attention with a sensitivity to the requirements of statecraft – seeking publicity for his societal flair but strenuously avoiding it when undertaking secret diplomatic shuttle diplomacy in the national interest. His major work whether judged for good or for ill was conducted far from any journalistic or public scrutiny.

Although far less experienced than Kissinger we may be seeing a similar cultured gap between celebrity style and diplomatic substance in the forays of Pakistan’s new foreign minister.  Hina Rabbani Khar recently made a stylistic splash on the diplomatic stage– using her uniqueness (a young female diplomat markedly different from the old boys club’s standard diplomatic image).

One interpretation is that style is substance, with the choice of such a different choice of foreign minister representing an authentic effort in re-branding, especially with regard to relations with India to which Hina Rabbani Khar gained far more positive attention in her first official visit at the end of July.  Another interpretation comes from Foreign Policy however.  This interpretation suggests that the real salience of the appointment of Pakistan’s first female foreign minister is a cover-up of substance with style.  How blurred this picture becomes is reinforced by Hina Rabbani Khar’s meeting with Hurriyat/Kashmiri separatist leaders in the Pakistan High Commission during her visit to New Delhi.

For those who interpreted her activities as a distinct break from the past, this meeting was constructive and totally transparent to the Indian media.  For those with a more negative impression, though, the meeting revealed that Hina Rabbani Khar’s appointment represented the same old reality –with a glamorous face subordinated to a dangerous state apparatus.

The Sports Celebrity in the Face of Crisis

Sports and sports players are far from immunized from the realities of the wider social or political life.

In some cases this has a beneficial effects on international relations. One instance has been recently marked with celebrations this month of the 40th anniversary of the initiation of the famous Ping-Pong diplomacy.  After a Chinese and American player established a friendship at a 1971 tournament in Japan, Chairman Mao recognized the importance of this personal US-China relationship and invited the US team to play in Beijing.  This tourney in turn facilitated the ‘the week that changed the world’ with the 1972 visit of President Nixon to China.

The harsher impact on international relations of such sports events stands out in Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. In this instance, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and ultimately killed by members of Black September.

The highly different consequences for sports participants – some celebrities and others not –was on display this week because of two very different events.

The first of these received very little attention: the difficulties imposed on athletes from the Philippines in training for the Southeast Asian Games later this year in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Because of the ongoing Spratly Island dispute between the two countries, an MOA between the Chinese Sports Ministry and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) remains unsigned.  Consequently, athletes from the Philippines – in fencing, weightlifting, wushu, diving, table tennis and shooting – have been unable to train at world-class Chinese facilities alongside some of China’s top-rate athletes.

The second story unfortunately grabbed the bulk of the attention  the tragic killings in Norway.  Such a massive shock puts activities such as sports events in perspective. Do the athletes from a country such as Norway continue in the course of their sporting events – do they continue training?

Obviously, with killings as in Munich taking place at the site of the Olympic games, this question about continuing to participate or not was hugely controversial.

On the surface the argument for Norwegian athletes continuing to participate – whether in the last legs of the Tour de France or the swimming world championship – seems much stronger!  After all the killings in Norway were far removed from the actual sporting events. Moreover, an argument could be made that it is best to maintain a sense of normalcy and keep going. Yet, as witnessed by the reaction of the Norwegian cyclist who said he just hoped for the Tour de France ‘to be over’ even elite athletes are not immune from the generalized trauma of such a national shock

Although Celebrity Blogger is about celebrities, a few points of interconnection with geo-politics merit attention.

Out of the limelight athletes of a small vulnerable country such as the Philippines must struggle to react to circumstances (perhaps with a new forms of Ping-Pong diplomacy!) to deal with the policy linkages imposing restrictions on them.

In the limelight a country such as Norway with not only a host of sporting celebrities but a positive brand of diplomatic activism – its mediation efforts in a number of arena, including most famously the Oslo process aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East – has a much great range of agency.

Even with all these resources, however, Norway will now require renewed efforts to craft its global brand due to the actions of one individual- the antithesis of a celebrity.

Public domain This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code  U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Shawn Burns. (RELEASED) 021126-N-1777B-001.jpg


The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

All of us – including your faithful Celebrity blogger – love a good celebrity scandal.

Who can fail to feel some base satisfaction or schadenfreude when a star is ‘outed’ for nefarious activity and behavior? Think, Tiger Woods as prime example! Or Ryan Giggs of Manchester United! Or for that matter Paris Hilton – on many – too many – occasions!

Yet, as the ongoing News Corp/News of the World saga demonstrates there are dangers when media is allowed to investigate without restraint the private lives of these celebs.  And in this case the Murdoch Empire has become the ‘Celeb’ and the scandal concerns this media giant.

The techniques of illegal hacking of voicemails/messages and buying stories came to light after the Murdoch Empire targeted politicians, soldiers killed in Afghanistan, victims of the 7/7 2005 terrorist attacks in London, and at least one murdered schoolgirl.  The  techniques used were initiated and perfected with respect to traditional celebrities.  They were extended to a variety of individuals and situations and now those who targeted celebs have become both the Celebs and the scandal.

Some of the celebrities whose phones were hacked were part of a central preoccupation of the Murdoch media – celebrities including most likely Princess Diana, her personal assistant and a lawyer connected to her.

But the range of celebrities who were followed not by old-fashioned private investigative tactics but allegedly illegal techniques of scrutiny stretched across the entire spectrum of celebrities from Sienna Miller to Hugh Grant. And this leaves aside undercover sting operations such as the one that implicated Sarah Ferguson in the well-known cash for royal access scandal.

To be sure, some of these behind these operations were caught and punished as witnessed by the jailing of the Murdoch’s royal editor and (well-paid) private investigator in 2006. But these actions failed to retrain the Murdoch media and prevent the escalation of illegal activities. The Murdoch papers were allowed to argue that the culprits were rogues disconnected from the overall Murdoch media culture.

And confirming the impression that sensationalism sells, the public continued to favor the results of this sort of investigation in connection to private wrongs over other sorts of scandal – such as those involving deficiencies in governance.

Instead of being ring-fenced, the success that the Murdoch papers and other media had in naming and shaming celebrities wetted the appetite of the Murdoch media for other targets – targets that were looked upon with far greater public sympathy.

Celebrities with some justification are often viewed as being exceptional. With the (now happily defunct) News of the World this unique quality seems to have justified an open season on a wide range of individuals and permitted the Murdoch media to target these people in the news. These nefarious actions led to a serious drop of ethical standards that eventually swallowed the Murdoch media itself.  The hunter became the hunted.

Where Have the Sports Stars Gone?

The reluctance of sports stars to get involved in celebrity activism in any sustained fashion has been a recurring theme of this blogger’s Celebrity posts. I have mentioned this issue in the past with reference to team stars: despite some notable exceptions this category – sports figures – have seldom been engaged in celebrity activism in comparison to personalities located in the world of movies and music.

But when examined against stars in individual sports such as tennis and golf – sports with high profile through Wimbledon and the US and British Opens – team players in fact do quite well.  At least in team sports we have clear exceptions, some of which we have profiled (Yao Ming, and the Barcelona football team) and others which deserve attention.

As this is a large topic I will isolate and examine independently the individual sports – tennis and golf – with tennis leading off, as we are in the midst right now of Wimbledon.

One name that represents major commitment is Maria Sharapova, who joined National Basketball Association icon LeBron James in 2007 to “Team Up Against Poverty” on a new UN Development Program advertisement.  The UNDP initiative was to raise support for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Well-known photographer Patrick Demarchelier photographed both stars in a striking series of UNDP campaign ads.

Given her embrace of a glamorous consumer-oriented life style her commitment to this UNDP initiative might seem surprising. Yet Sharapova’s role in this campaign is not as surprising as it might appear given her very poor origins.  In fact she was born in in Siberia, after her family fled the town of Gomel – now part of Belarus – in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl accident.  Moreover, although living the American dream in Manhattan Beach (with a mega engagement ring from another NBA player, Sasha Vujacic) Sharapova’s commitment to her place of origin – at the center of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster seems completely genuine. Not only did she provide a UNDP video marking the 25th anniversary of the accident but she has donated money from her own personal foundation and made a UNDP sponsored trip in June 2010.

Sharapova, however, is an exception, largely, who stands out at among women players. But there is also Justine Henin, the now retired player from Belgium, who is a UNESCO Champion of Sport. And there are several others who are UNICEF National Ambassadors.

A similar situation exists among male tennis players, as the only star that jumps out (albeit at the top of the all time greats list) is Roger Federer, who became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2006. In a welcome message the Swiss legend said: “It is our responsibility to connect with the real world beyond our sport, to use our fortune to make a difference in the lives of those who most need it.”

Cynics of course can say that Sharapova and Federer are in a position to take on these responsibilities, as they can balance this work with enormous commercial endorsements including those for luxury items (Tiffany among other things for Sharapova, Rolex for Federer). They also have the management teams to facilitate their celebrity matters.

Yet, whatever the motivations and support, Sharapova and Federer remain the exceptions that prove the rule. This exceptionalism is further emphasized by the fact that all of the athletes mentioned as celebrity activists (besides LeBron, who himself needs further attention) have been born outside of the United States.

As golf further attests, US distinctiveness highlights a decided lack of enthusiasm by individual sports celebrities getting involved in celebrity activism. I will scrutinize this in upcoming blog posts.

Is Bono MIA from the Gx Summits?

Among the diplomatic steps of the recent G8 summit held in Deauville, France last week (May 26-27) a significant gap in participation went unnoticed by media – the absence of Bono.

This celebrity blogger has attended a few G8s in my days and I appreciate the buzz the U2 lead singer received in the past when he attended a G8. At the Heiligendamm G8 in Germany in June 2007 Bono was everywhere.  He participated at a packed press conference with Bob Geldof and Kumi Naidoo from CIVICUS the umbrella civil society organization. He gave interviews with the BBC and other media. Finally he took centre stage at the Voice Against Poverty rock concert in Rostock.

Nor was Bono alone. With him came a large and skilled entourage of advisors from his organization ONE and other NGOs such as Oxfam.

And if you believe that Bono is only on the margins of the G8 think again. Unlike many of the G8 leaders, Bono gained a personal meeting with then US president George W. Bush (on top of earlier meetings UK prime minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel). What impressed observers – including this celebrity blogger was how seamlessly Bono moved from being an outsider at the G8 to obtaining an insider status and then moved to become an outsider again.

The puzzle of his absence is accentuated by the fact that Bono has had close interaction with Carla Bruni, the wife of President Sarkozy who served as the host of the French G8.. Is it simply because he wants to return to the celebrity game without any diplomatic role attached? For in a strange staged juxtaposition Bono appeared not in Deauville but on the finale of American Idol in the same week a show he said he found “exciting” because it brought him to “the centre of pop culture.”

Before worrying that Bono had indeed grown fatigued by activism, worn down by constant lobbying and exposure to politicians though it is worth noticing how Bono and ONE are re-positioning away from the G8 and towards the G20.  It seems that Bono has decided that G20 is the place to be: increasingly the hub of economic diplomacy due to the inclusion of the BRICS and other big emerging states including Mexico which will host the G20 after France.

In what this celebrity blogger regards as a significant activity – more important than even American Idol even – Bono met with President Calderon of Mexico on May 11 just weeks before the G8 to ask him to make the fight against poverty central to the G20 agenda.   Speaking after the meeting, Bono said: “Next year Mexico will chair the G20, the annual get together of the most powerful leaders on the planet. Obama, Hu Jintao, Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Jacob Zuma, Dilma Rouseff, they’ll all be flying in.  By the time they fly out, we want them to have agreed specific decisions, which we know will save and transform lives in the poorest parts of the world.  As the host, President Calderon will set the agenda.  I asked him to persuade the G20 to take bold action on the fight against corruption globally, on improving healthcare, and on boosting agriculture around the world.

And to accent the fact that this was a strategic choice, ONE’s organizational capacity moved into high gear as well. Oliver Buston who did a lot of the work behind the scenes for the Heiligendamm G8 has now become ONE’s Central and South America Director.

Far from being a sign of fatigue, Bono’s choice of appearance sends a signal about the shift in the global calculus of power. Although absent from the Deauville G8, he has not gone missing in action. Bono has simply changed summits.  It is the G20 now.

One Conspiracy Theory Too Many

These last few weeks have seen more than one fall from grace for prominent men. There is a serious competition for who has fallen the fastest! Under normal circumstances ex-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would grab the prize. In a unique script, Maria Shriver went on the Oprah show to tell her side of the drama  – a story worthy of a Jackie Collins novel.

Yet, having been in Paris for the last few days, the Schwarzenegger story is totally overwhelmed by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn or DSK story.  This is a scandal that reverberates well beyond just the $3000 hotel room in NYC:  serious implications for the running of the IMF; the spillover of the debt crisis in Greece and other European countries; and the impact of one of the scandals on presidential politics in France.

The DSK story can be framed as an elite controversy, complete with a supportive wife (Anne Sinclair) who is a celebrity in France in her own right. But the controversy also reveals societal attitudes: whether described as an accusative or abuse of power theme; or a defensive – “he was framed by some unknown forces” – theme.

But in Europe these serious moral missteps have a competitor. This is the scandal of a Manchester United player who reputedly not only had an affair with a minor celebrity but tried to have his lawyers gag the UK media from publishing the allegations, only to be ‘outed’ by thousands of Twitter feeds – an interesting twist itself given the attention supposedly of the G8 on the Internet.

The magnitude of this story is enlarged by the fact that Manchester United is playing in the Champions League Final this weekend against Barcelona. What jumps out for this Celebrity blogger is the fundamental difference between the two teams in terms of image projection. Before turning to AON in 2009 – a large insurance company – Manchester United was sponsored by AIG – another large insurance company and one the biggest ‘stars’ of the 2008 financial crisis.

Barcelona by contrast has UNICEF on the team jersey. This has led to some jibes by other teams about the advantages of this ‘good guy’ status – an attitude most recently expressed by the Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho’s – who alleged that the UNICEF sponsorship led the European football association to favor Barcelona.  This conspiracy view (no less that in the DSK case) appears to this Celebrity blogger as rather ridiculous! Support for a UN organization and worthy causes should be applauded. However, even Barcelona may suffer a fall from grace as its sponsorship by UNICEF runs out next year.

Looking for Just the Right Royal Charity

Two major events confirm the star power of the British Royal Family. The first, of course, was the glamorous wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (with major support from Prince Harry and Pippa, Kate’s younger sister), an event that is still powering the output of the global soft media. The second event is upcoming.  This is first state visit by a serving British monarch to Ireland since independence in 1921. As one noted professor of Irish history told the Financial Times, the image of the Royals is no long that of an agent of coercive but celebrity power: “My students don’t associate the monarchy with the Northern Island Troubles, they think of the royal family as pop stars.”

Yet, despite this apparent transformed image of the Royal Family, it is interesting to see how connected with state institutions are many of the philanthropic interests of even these younger generation of Royals. The list of charities Will and Kate identified for possible donations in the context of their wedding included: Combat Stress, Bereavement Care for Children of Forces’ Families, Household Cavalry Benevolent Fund, Irish Guards Appeal, Army Widows Association, and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Harry, William’s younger brother is well known for his support of Help For Heroes, a charity aimed at helping injured service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet the extended list reveals the hybrid nature of the young Royals concerns –  a mix that demonstrates very strongly the fact that they are influenced not only by state interests but also by the non-conformist interests made so identifiable by their mother – Princess Dianna.

After her divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Di’s aim was to become a roving goodwill ambassador for Britain – a role she played on a few well-publicized trips to Argentina (1995) and Pakistan (1996). However, the conservative establishment was never going to allow Diana to perform in this fashion, fearing that she would act as a “loose cannon”.

Shut out of official diplomacy, Princess Diana found the perfect role for herself on the anti-personnel landmines campaign working with the Red Cross and the HALO Trust. The 1997 pictures of Princess Diana on the front lines of this campaign in Angola serve as an iconic moment in celebrity diplomacy.

Prince Harry lists the HALO Trust as one of the charities he supports. William follows in his mother’s footsteps in a number of causes, including taking on the position as the Patron of Centrepoint, the UK’s leading homelessness charity.

The big question that this guest blogger asks is whether the young Royals can achieve a balance between their state connected activities and a more diverse community-oriented form of engagement? Or, will the Royals be unable to maintain a reasonable balance?

Given the extent of the star power of the Royals, the trajectory of their choices will have a decided spillover effect into the wider world of celebrity activism.

Lost in the Global South

Your fearless Celebrity Blogger has a new book out on internet gambling entitled Internet Gambling Offshore: Caribbean Struggles over Casino Capitalism World of Celebrities (Palgrave Macmillan IPE series). The main idea of the  book is how Antigua- a state of 70,000 people – took on the US in a protracted fight at the World Trade Organization over the future of this ascendant cyber-business.  Without the resources of a big country Antigua demonstrated an unanticipated amount of creative diplomatic ingenuity taking on the US, harnessing the power of key (mostly American) entrepreneurs who saw internet gambling as a real start up opportunity.  In doing so Antigua gained both cult-status and notoriety.

Beyond the details of this fascinating study, the Antigua challenge raises the question whether in a world of accelerated globalization – and in many ways significant homogenization – can small states nevertheless produce recognized celebrity activists that can play on the global stage?

If speaking English is one necessary ingredient, then countries from the Anglophone Caribbean possess a built-in advantage. But there does not appear to be these days anything like a Bob Marley – a native of Jamaica – but a huge global celebrity.  As mentioned in earlier blog posts, the only one who can claim something close to a Marley status today is Wyclef Jean.  But Wyclef was raised in the US and has long lived there.  And this has influenced the career of Wyclef.

One explanation for the lack of celebrity from the global South is simply that celebrities from small countries – especially in the global South – fly under the radar. Cricket or football/soccer stars (or even ex stars, as exhibited by the number who are in the adverts especially for mobile phone companies!) can be huge in a Caribbean island but still hold no name recognition in North America.

Another explanation is that the hybrid nature of many of these celebrities in the  diaspora doesn’t translate into a fixed identity. Wyclef himself ran into this problem when he was barred from running for president in Haiti because he had not lived there for many years. But equally North American audiences don’t see Rihanna as being from Barbados, even though she was appointed as a Culture and Youth ambassador. Among Bajans, this appointment attracted equal degrees of cult status but also stigmatization.

The final explanation is a more commercial and economic one. Having ‘made it’, many stars from small – or for that matter big – countries in the global South are unwilling to divert themselves from material success. As we have seen from the past St Barts parties of the Gaddafi family many celebrities, including Beyoncé, Usher and Mariah Carey have little awareness of political events or personalities – as long as they get paid.

Notwithstanding these constraints the reach of celebrity activism can extend to small countries. If Bono (and Bjork from another small island, Iceland) can combine to achieve a global reach, a hybrid identity, and an association with specific causes, there is no question that other celebrities whether from small island states or from the global South can reach cult status. If Bob Marley transformed musical culture there is hope for others to do the same whether from the global South or not.

How Wide Spread the “Bad Boy” Behavior – The Case of Charlie Sheen

It is hard to ignore Charlie Sheen and his ‘bad boy’ tour even if his basic image is far removed from celebrity activism.

The nature of Charlie’s engagement contrasts rather markedly even with other members of the Sheen family. How could such an authentic and sustained celebrity activist such as Martin Sheen pass on so few of those characteristics to his son? Does this evident divergence of behavior signal a generational split making the issue more sociological rather than psychological?

Just as a reminder to those who do not follow this side of celebrity life so closely, Martin Sheen, Charlie’s father, has a long history of support for the disadvantaged –  from US Latino farm workers to under-paid hotel staff.  Martin Sheen also has lent support for a myriad environmental causes and he was an open opponent to the Iraqi war.

Charlie Sheen to his credit has supported various AIDS campaigns but is best known for his conspiracy-oriented views of 9/11, even going so far as to suggest that the Bush administration may have been responsible for the attacks.

So some fathers have to expect the unexpected in the way of their children’s public behavior!

On another theme, does “bad” celebrity activist behavior alter the public image of celebrities generally? If Charlie Sheen is constantly erratic, do we expect various aspects his “bad” behavior to be displayed by other celebrities?  Just to give one illustration, do we expect Madonna’s efforts to build schools through her foundation  in Malawi to end in disaster, or did we still expect a positive outcome?  Is it a good idea to use Ginger Spice as a UN goodwill ambassador or should we fear bad celebrity behavior?

Although a number of celebrities appear to be “disasters waiting to happen” others can surprise us. Bob Geldof has come a long way since his bad boy days with the Boomtown Rats. Sean Penn, best known for meeting Saddam Hussein in December 2002, has become deeply engaged – and apparently quite effective – in the Haiti relief efforts.

Is there hope for Charlie Sheen, then? Most probably not! This probably about personality.  But nothing in celebrity activism is clear-cut. Sean Penn invited Charlie Sheen to visit Haiti in March 2011, and Charlie responded by telling Access Hollywood: “I’m excited as hell because, you know, if I can bring the attention of the world down there, then clearly this tsunami keeps cresting.”

So who knows!

Operating on the Front Lines

There is lot going on in the world of celebrity activism.  I hardly know where to start.  However one episode in the midst of the Libya crisis rises to the top of my celebrity blogger list. The Libyan “humanitarian intervention” helps to tease out a major puzzle about the engagement by celebrities in world affairs. The puzzle – how does the profile and projection of celebrities from the world of entertainment differ from the profile given to public intellectuals?

As I have noted in previous posts one of the fundamental shifts in celebrity activism has been on the level of intensity. As opposed to simply becoming the recognizable name and face spokespeople for particular causes, select celebrities have moved to the front lines. This trend stands out among the celebrities I have profiled up to now: Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Mia Farrow and Bono and Bob Geldof. But this approach is evident for a wider celebrity group including Richard Gere, Bianca Jagger and others.

Adding to the intensity is the willingness of celebrities to make normative judgments of right and wrong in conflicts. Attempts to name and shame have become a tool in the repertoire of growing celebrity activism.

Given this contextual what then is to be made of the story of a well-known French public intellectual – Bernard Henry Lévy (or BHL to audiences in France and beyond) who recently conducted a secret mission for President Sarkzoy.  His mission – make contact with Libyan rebels. One way of interpreting this mission is to view it as an updated version celebrity diplomacy – the mobilization by states of public intellectuals for ‘ambassadorial’ roles.  This traditional celebrity diplomacy goes back to the 18th century with the appointment of Benjamin Franklin to represent the US at the court of France.

Another way of looking at the BHL episode is to relate it to a a competitive dynamic between public intellectuals and celebrity activists. As Bono, Angelina and George Clooney have grabbed attention for the intensity of engagement on select global issues, public intellectuals have been relegated to armchair experts. Worse for these public intellectuals there is the added dilemma that a good number of these experts clearly got it wrong on big issues.  The most notable “wrong view” was the support provided by many liberal as well as conservative public intellectuals for the 2003 Iraq invasion.

The BHL mission suggests, however, that public intellectuals can get out of their armchairs and operate on the front lines of international crises. Although a number of celebrity activists have made a impact by flirting with danger, including Princess Diana’s famous trip to the anti-personnel land mine fields of Angola, few narratives have the verve of BHL’s top-secret mission. How can you compete with a commandeered vegetable truck racing across the desert to rendezvous with the rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime (James Crabtree, ‘Philosophes sans frontieres as Plato battles Nato’, Financial Times, April 2/3, 2011).

The big question remaining, however, is whether this BHL intervention will represent a “high wire” solo act; or alternatively will secret mission become iconic leading to various  copycat actions by public intellectuals.