The Ugly American


Poster from "The Ugly American" movie starring Marlon Brando

Poster from “The Ugly American” movie starring Marlon Brando

In the book The Ugly American (1958), the authors Eugene Burdick and William Lederer describe Americans living in a fictional, Southeast Asian country that was a thinly disguised Vietnam.  Popularized by a movie starring Marlon Brando, the book’s title came to symbolize the view of Americans as often seen from abroad—arrogant, loud and ostentatious.  The title actually alludes to an American government worker who, while physically unattractive, lives and works closely with Southeast Asians in improving their daily lives by bringing small scale, innovative technology into their local villages (a bicycle-powered water pump, improved chicken coops, etc).  The fictional hero of the book was actually a real person, Homer Atkins, who worked in Vietnam with the International Cooperation Agency—now the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)— in the 1950s.  Our efforts of civilian aid to Vietnam then were obviously overwhelmed by the ensuing military conflict of the Vietnam War of the sixties and seventies, leaving scars and tragic memories still felt by many Americans to this day.  Arriving at Hanoi International Airport recently I was curious, if not somewhat apprehensive, as to how an “ugly American” might be met.  The following describes my own personal experience and thoughts about going forward in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Continue reading


The Secrets of Florence—Or Following in the Steps of Dan Brown’s “Inferno”

I apologize in advance to my good friends and scholars of Florence for any mistakes I have inadvertently made in describing their wonderful city and history—PM


9780385537858_p0_v11_s260x420I am just wrapping up nine weeks in Florence, Italy where I tried to see if my grey cells could accept the idea of learning a new language (Italian) and maybe unleash some long dormant art skills.  In the process of wandering the streets and checking out the sights of the city while not otherwise occupied conjugating verbs like “essere” (to be) or splashing paint on canvas (and my clothes—I finally got smart and bought one of those tourist aprons) I learned a bit about Florence and it’s “secrets.”  For those of you who are aficionados of Dan Brown you know his latest book “Inferno” mostly takes place in Florence where his main character, Dr. Robert Langdon, races through various secret passages among some of the more famous landmarks of the city.  The Italian tourist industry being very astute has developed an entire new series of tours which retrace Langdon’s fictional steps through the city.  I managed to get on some of those tours as well as a few private ones that I describe here and where I also try to add a little “fact” to the “fiction” of “Inferno.” Continue reading


By the Numbers–Off the Beaten Track in Europe

Since arriving in Europe in mid-May, I have traveled just over 16,000 kms, visited ten countries and stayed in some thirty-odd cities, some more than once.  The following gives not only some of the costs broken out in terms of travel, lodging, food and “other” (the odd piece of clothing or added unexpected expense) but some of the other “issues” to be considered by anyone who might consider a similar journey. The overall goal was to keep the costs at roughly 150 Euros or $200 per day to try to maintain a reasonable budget for such a trip. In the end it is more than just costs that determine what is or is not a successful venture in traveling to Europe or elsewhere for that matter. Continue reading


Save the Stacks–Last Chance!


Conceptual vision of mixed use of ASARCO property

We wrote in an earlier article (“Save the ASARCO Stacks–Create a Sustainable Future“) of the historical and economic importance of preserving the smoke stacks associated with the now closed industrial complex just off Interstate-10 near downtown El Paso, TX.  We discussed possible mixed uses of the property, including academic research,  a “Green Technology” research park, an international cultural heritage museum,  and outdoor recreational uses of the property all centered around the cultural and historical heritage represented by the stacks.  A small, non-profit organization—Save the Stacks –has led the fight to keep these iconic structures as part of our border skyline.  Made up of concerned El Pasoans  with no political or commercial interests in the stacks or the approximate 400 acres on which they stand, Save the Stacks has advocated using the stacks as part of a monument dedicated to all the individuals impacted by the regional industries and activities represented by them.  However their backs are against the proverbial “wall” as they must convince authorities to stop current plans for the stacks imminent demolition in early April.  This is the last chance to save the stacks or they will be destroyed and a bit of our border’s history lost forever! Continue reading


Growing Our Own– Creating Young Entrepreneurs (Part II)

Elevator Pitch contestant during STEM3 Challenge competition

The young lady stood calmly before an audience of some two hundred and in 90 seconds explained how she could turn their investment of $750,000 into a new company with a new unique product that would save the US Postal Service hundreds of millions of dollars and get the potential venture capitalists 12 times their investment within 2 years–“We are Inkblot, a new startup!”.  Her poise and confidence seemed more akin to an aggressive entrepreneur ready to compete in the global market than the high school senior she actually was.  She was participating in the STEM3 Challenge— an exciting and unusual (if not unique) business plan contest— sponsored by the Upper Rio Grande Workforce Solutions and other public and private institutions.  This new entrepreneur Continue reading


Growing Our Own — Creating Young Entrepreneurs (Part I)

Years ago (too many to recount!) when I completed my education and looked to enter the “real” world, my fellow students and I saw great opportunities but somewhat limited choices.  We all looked to land good jobs in big companies, big government or a prestigious university.  None of us looked at starting our own business.  Professors and mentors never mentioned such a pathway and, frankly, it never occurred to me.  Looking back I can only wonder what may have been had someone given me a slight nudge in that direction.

Today our world of global competitiveness is much different and at least some of our aspiring graduates look to be captains of their own destiny, choosing riskier but, perhaps, the more rewarding option of creating a new startup of their very own.  Institutions such as Stanford and MIT have long understood the opportunities for innovation from their research and education enterprises.  In their culture, entering students see themselves as failures if at graduation they aren’t part of a new startup–the next Google or Facebook or whatever. Continue reading