Dean Forbes


14 July - 5 November 2013


Dean Forbes

Public Policy Scholar

Woodrow Wilson Center


It was 29 degrees and wet in Washington DC yesterday (Saturday) and expected to climb into the mid 30s today, then stay that way for the next week. Hot and humid, just as you would expect in July. I have been packing my bags as I travel to DC later this month, prior to starting at the Woodrow Wilson Center (WWC).

My project is on “City and University Strategies for Competing in the Global Knowledge Economy”. Although my primary affiliation is with the Comparative Urban Studies Project my interests cut across at least a couple of the other WWC programs. 

I have recently drafted an essay for Global Policy on ‘International university campuses and the knowledge economy: the University City Project in Adelaide’. In DC I want to explore the strategies of American universities that are establishing campuses abroad, such as New York University’s engagement in Singapore and the Yale-National University of Singapore initiative.

In parallel, I want to find out more about the Cornell-Technion initiative on Roosevelt Island in New York, and strategies to enhance DC’s attraction as an innovation hub. In particular I want a deeper understanding of how international students and graduates have fed into these kinds of processes. Impressive numbers of former international students pop up in the statistics on successful new knowledge enterprises.

I have decided that, in addition to my tweets, I should write a regular blog on the DC experience. This is DC ONE. More will come. (14/7/13)


I start at the Woodrow Wilson Center next Monday, so it was time to get to Washington and settle in. M dropped me at Tuggerah station and I boarded the Central Coast train with mixed emotions, as you do at times like this. It was warm in the winter sun, and a coffee at Shelly Beach beckoned. But the pull of getting to DC was stronger, both because of the WWC and the thought of catching up with my daughter Sarah and grand daughter, Adele.

After a quick check-in I prepared for the journey with a pleasant brunch in the swanky Qantas First Lounge. The Sydney-Dallas Fort Worth flight was fine. I took the opportunity to see The Great Gatsby. I have always liked Scott Fitzgerald’s writings, but have mixed feelings about Baz Luhrmann’s films: he can be too over the top. I think he got it right with The Great Gatsby. Over the top, of course, but I enjoyed the sumptuous sets and the overall feel of the film and its art deco imagery.

The trans Pacific flight was scheduled at 15 hours and 20 minutes. We took longer, with the result that by the time we landed Immigration had huge queues, the baggage collection queue was outrageous, and the American Airlines staff were stretched beyond their limits. I missed my connection to DC and was allocated a later flight. The Boarding Gate was changed at the last minute, and without notification, but fortunately I had time to find the new Gate. There wasn’t a single spare seat on the DC flight, as is usually the case when I travel domestically in the US. Tickets are expensive, and service is minimal: why then are the airlines in financial trouble?

Arriving in DC just after 9.00pm, I took a taxi to Alexandria. The temperature hovered around the high 20s. Adele was asleep, but Sarah and I chatted for an hour or two before we both crashed.

I have allocated today to recovery, and getting myself organised. (31/7/13)


My third day at the Woodrow Wilson Center. I haven’t yet got my security clearance, so I go through the airport-like scan and show some picture identity every time I enter. The SA Drivers Licence or the APEC Card seem to work. Then I sign in with reception, where I say I am attending a meeting with myself in my Fifth Floor office.

There are apparently 1,823 think tanks operating in the USA, of which 394 are in Washington. The WWC is rated in the top six nationally in terms of reputation and influence. The Brookings Institution is currently ranked at the top.

I have made a few alterations to my work plan which I had submitted about a year back (and have mulled over in a few blogs recently). Over the next few days I want to spend some time on the idea of think tanks both in Australia and more broadly. Many, if not most, have strong links with universities, so fit comfortably under the Cities-Universities focus of my WWC project.

The WWC occupies the third to eighth floors of an imposing gray-stone building on Woodrow Wilson Plaza, which runs between Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue. It is about a kilometre southeast of the White House, and about 50 metres from The National Mall.

The Federal Triangle Metro station is opposite, which is great for me, as the Blue Line stops at the Pentagon, where I need to transfer to a Dash bus that stops right in front of the house in Alexandria. The commute is about 45 minutes. Alternatively I can walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and get the Yellow Line which also connects with the Pentagon and gets me home about 15 minutes quicker.

Most years August is hot and very, very humid. The last week has fluctuated between warm and mild. I’m taking advantage of it by walking as much as I can both in central DC and Alexandria. (7/8/13)



Shirlington village is a 10 minute walk from the Alexandria (Park Fairfax) house. A footbridge stretches over busy highway 395, which connects north eastern Virginia with central DC. There are more restaurants than any other kind of business in the short main street. On warm evenings people sit at sidewalk tables, but prefer to be inside when it gets too hot. Several shops serve a basic coffee; I miss the café/coffee culture in Australia.

We have twice eaten at ‘Busboys and Poets’ on Friday nights because the menu suites all three of us. Fries are inevitably part of the meal. The table service is very good, and adds to the feeling of being part of a community. The account sets out the dollar and cent amount for the tip: 10, 15 or 20%. I am risk averse and opt for the 20%.

The diversity of restaurants in Shirlington is increasing. There is now Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Lebanese, Japanese, Irish, Mexican, Italian and quite a bit of American, at venues like the Carlyle and Johnny Rockets. And pizza is everywhere.

A smallish Harris Teeter supermarket is very handy. I am still getting used to the different brands, and again needing to buy enough food to last for the whole week.

Our large weekly shop is at the Alexandria old town Whole Foods Market. It is an experience. A majority of the stock is organic, and a touch expensive, but interesting. On our arrival we bought prepared food from their extensive displays and ate at the tables in the supermarket. Throughout the store on Saturdays there are many food promotions, so it can be like having a second lunch. We topped up the red wine. A litre bottle of Argentinian Tempranillo-Malbec and a bottle of Terre di Valgrande Puglian Primitivo. My favourite Italian red.

After coming back from the supermarket we drove to Del Ray to go to the local Library and the playground. Del Ray is a trendy area with an interesting main street. The Art on the Avenue Festival is on the 5th of October. It is a definite in the diary. (11/8/13)


I am well into my main project at the Wilson Center. Most of the last week I have been engrossed reading everything I can find on the Yale-NUS College being established in Singapore. It has been a controversial move, and the commentary on it is voluminous, revealing and stimulating.

In parallel I am reading Jonathan Cole’s tome on The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence; Its Indispensible National Role; Why it Must be Protected (Public Affairs, New York, 2009). Another world. And I say that having spent all but three of the last 45 or so years in four different universities, and visiting scores of others.

The second project I am working on is looking at what is happening in New York and Washington DC in the way of city-university engagement. New York is a standout because Michael Bloomberg set in train some major projects. It is proving harder to track down initiatives in DC, but I am working with the help of a very capable intern, Jeremie Gluckman.

Looking forward to a ‘No host lunch on migration issues’ on Monday. I was thrown by the title, but I imagine it will be like what I would call a roundtable discussion. It is part of the agenda for the Global Sustainability and Resilience Program, to which I am attached.

My essay for Global Policy has been accepted after a few minor revisions, so I am looking forward to that being published. The title is ‘International university campuses and the knowledge economy: the university city project in Adelaide’, and it will appear in a special section on higher education policy in early 2014. (24/8/13)


I am assured that August has been cooler than normal. I am certainly more energetic than I would have been if the temperatures were in the 90s each day with the drenching humidity typical of DC in mid-summer.

A couple of weeks back we drove west across to Leesburg to visit S’s inlaws, They are packing up their house and moving; some are returning to Liberia, while others will remain in the region. This part of Virginia has been hit hard by the downturn in the housing market. Many large, modern two-storey houses are perched on relatively small blocks. Leesburg is connected to DC by freeway, but the Metro, which is being extended out to Dulles International Airport, still has a long way to go before it is finished. Leesburg is an historical town but I have only seen the newer parts. Must rectify that soon.

Yesterday we drove to Annapolis, following the 395 into DC and slicing through the east. We missed the turnoff just before Cheverly and spent a lot of time turning and weaving before we connected again with Highway 50. Then it was a fast drive to the east and we reached the turnoff into Annapolis in no time.

Annapolis is an interesting place. It is both the capital of Maryland and the home of the US Naval Academy. We drove past the striking Naval Academy buildings as we headed towards the historic town centre. Male and female naval cadets dressed in their pristine white trousers and shirts were wandering the streets, along with gazillions of visitors.

We drove down Compromise St at a snail’s pace, due to the congestion, and crossed the bridge over Spa Creek, parking at the first available spot. Lunch included Maryland crab cakes in the rather nice Carol’s Creek Café. It has a great harbour view and the service was good.

After a relaxed lunch we hopped on a water taxi to cross the harbour. It deposited us in Ego Alley. I’m assuming its name derives from the yachties. They negotiate up the narrow waterway and then complete a u-turn and head back to the harbour, having paraded themselves in front of those watching. They feign an air of nonchalance in front of those eating at the restaurants or dripping ice-cream as they ambled along the waterway. 

One circuit of Main St was enough. Lots to see, but it was very busy, and the afternoon sun had begun to sap our energy. An ice-cream while sitting in the shade along Ego Alley was restorative. (25/8/13)


  1. Bullet What government agency proclaims in the carved inscription across the top of its monumental granite HQ that it ‘mingles with the throbbings of every heart in the land’? Answer at the bottom of the blog.

  1. Bullet Drivers of cars are reluctant to stop at pedestrian crossings, despite the mid-street signs that say by law they must; but at most intersections motorists are polite beyond comprehension, possibly because pedestrians seldom take notice of traffic lights or oncoming traffic.

  1. Bullet Small, cramped, chaotic liquor stores are everywhere, and seem to do well. Of course you can always get a bottle of Verve Cliquet or Pol Roger in Target if the champagne supplies run out.

  1. Bullet The quality of coffee is mostly, er, not good. Occasionally a coffee shop presents with a reasonable brew, but they are rare.

  1. Bullet Had a great time at the Washington Nationals first game of the season against the New York Jets. The National’s lost, unfortunately. I am used to teams I support losing, so I took it in my stride.

  1. Bullet The Washington Metro underground system is a gem. Great for getting around, except for the weekends when maintenance is underway.

  1. Bullet It was great in Alexandria, but also really good now we have a two-bedroom place in Dupont, on the edge of the Shaw District. It is a little over a kilometre to walk to the White House. Still waiting for an invitation, but.

  1. Bullet Dupont is full of restaurants. That includes our local strip along 17th St. Had fabulous Turkish/Greek food and French sparkling at the Agora, then good pizza the next night at Pizza No 17.

  1. Bullet Why do we always shop at Whole Foods at the same time as everyone else? Extremely busy. Must try early morning shopping.

  1. Bullet DC has some impressive art museums. The National Gallery of Arts and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery, for a start. We have been tracking down Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings. 

  1. Bullet Union Station is more like an airport than a train station. Who-ever thought of a Swarovski shop for train passengers?

  1. Bullet Capital Bikeshare will be three years old next week. Five million rides have been recorded since it was set up. Seems to be working well.

  1. Bullet The Mayor of DC rejected the living wages bill. Current minimum is $8.25 ($17k pa) an hour. The proposal was to increase it to $12.50 ($26k pa) an hour. Currently in Australia it is around $A18.00 an hour. You wouldn’t want to be on the minimum wage in DC.

  1. Bullet Strut your mutt. Inventive expression; refers to walking the dog, in case you were wondering.

  1. Bullet I am astounded by the number of advertisements for medicines on prime time TV.  It is a never-ending stream of pitches for every possible illness, always accompanied by a longish list of qualifying statements .

  1. Bullet The amount of recycling is disappointing. Generally I can find a place for bottles and cans, but not for paper, cardboard, plastics or green waste.

  1. Bullet Events I missed, despite them being nearby. The “Million American March Against Fear” (originally called the “Million Muslim March”), and the unofficially named “Two Million Biker Ride”, a protest to the Million American March Against Fear. Both on 9/11. But apparently the Bikers were refused a permit, so the ride was cancelled.

Answer to dot point 1: the Post Office. (16/9/13)


The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is the official memorial to the 18th President, Woodrow Wilson, who governed from 1913-1921. There is a small memorial display on Wilson’s life adjacent to the Center.

Wilson was a Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Economy at Princeton University, and President of Princeton from 1902-1910. It is fitting that his memorial is a Center dedicated to research and public affairs. Daniel Moynihan was apparently instrumental in getting the Center opened in 1968.

The Woodrow Wilson Center was located for many years in the Smithsonian Institution’s ‘Castle’ on the National Mall before moving in 1998 to an elegant space in a wing of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in the middle of Washington DC. It faces onto the Wilson Plaza. For someone who lunched at his desk for the last 13 years, sitting in the Plaza eating a salad on a sunny autumn day is special. The Federal Triangle Metro Station is on the other side of the Plaza; a few hundred meters to the north-west is the White House.

The architecture of the plaza, and much of central DC, is stunningly symbolic of the seriousness of DC’s role in governing the US, and still by far the most significant force in world politics.

Around one third of WWC’s funding comes from government through an annual appropriation by Congress of $US10 million. The remaining two thirds is from corporations, foundations and individual donations.

The work done at the Center is non-partisan. The aim is to produce actionable ideas; the WWC sees itself as part of ‘the ideas industry’. Being dependent on Government funding the Center places an emphasis on context and depth in key issues. It does not pursue specific policy agendas. The audience is the larger policy community, of whom politicians are a subset. On the continuum from policy relevance to policy advocacy, the WWC is at the front end.

It has hosted many significant scholars, including Robert Putnam and Gloria Steinem. Peter Singer’s Ethics and Sociobiology was written while at the Center. So too was Aprodicio Laquian’s Beyond Metropolis: The Planning and Governance of Asia’s Mega-Urban Regions. It was co-published by the Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, and was the book that alerted me to the opportunity the WWC offered.

The WWC has a strong media presence. It has several forums each day, attended by WWC people and many others from the DC community. The media coverage seems good. The Syria dilemma has dominated the airwaves in recent weeks, of course, and the WWC has had several people making regular media appearances. A radio program called dialogue goes out weekly to 100 radio stations, and internationally via National Public Radio.

There are regular events featuring interesting presenters. Tomorrow, for instance, in the early afternoon the President of Burkina Faso will talk; later in the afternoon the President of Somalia will be speaking. Other presenters are senior administration figures and quite a few visiting academics.

I have found the hosted book launches particularly stimulating. Authors are given a half hour or so to speak, followed by one or two others who discuss some of the key issues raised in the book. Of note: Charles K. Armstrong’s Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950-1992 (Cornell University Press); Thomas Rid’s Cyber War Will Not Take Place (C. Hurst and Co); and Timothy Hildebrandt’s Social Organizations and the Authoritarian State in China (Cambridge University Press).

The Wilson Quarterly, launched in 1976, is geared to a lay readership and can be accessed through a downloadable app. Writing an op-ed is encouraged, and we have had detailed briefings on how to deal with the Press and TV. The WWC has a very good website, enabling bookings to attend seminars. Each seminar presentation is filmed and the video streamed onto the website. The Center is also active in social media. It has a Twitter account, is on facebook, Linkedin and YouTube, and, I understand streams through Buzzfeed.

As should be obvious, I’m impressed by the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the way in which it goes about its business: bridging the gap between academia and the policy world. (19/9/13)



The Metro is a great way to get around DC. Except for the weekends, when parts are closed for maintenance. Today we walked to Dupont Circle via Q St, then caught the Red line to Metro Central. I exit here on week-days and stroll down the hill to the Wilson Center. Being Saturday we swapped to the Orange line to Eastern Market. But not before first catching the train going in the opposite direction. One of the lines was closed, so trains going in both directions were using the same platform and we miscued.

It was the first time we have been to the southeastern quadrant of the city. As it turns out, there was a community market happening as well, with part of 8th St blocked and full of stalls. It is not far from Navy Yard where the mass murders occurred a week or so ago. There is a naval barracks along the street, and they were running a cooking competition for navy chefs as part of the market. It was run like a TV program, with an announcer commenting on the cooking and trying a little too hard to make it sound very exciting. We opted for shrimp rolls from a caravan that claims to sell the best Maine seafood.

Afterwards we ambled across to the Eastern Market on 7th St and browsed. It is a mixture of fresh fish, meats, fruit and vegetables, and stalls selling the usual market goods. It was a beautiful day, in the low 20s with a little cloud. We bought fresh yellow flesh peaches as the stall I normally buy them from on Wilson Plaza on Fridays had sold all its stock. Yesterday I instead bought the Honey Crisp apples; they are sensational. Sweet and very crisp, as the name implies.

After a coffee we walked back along Independence Avenue in the direction of the Capitol Building. We took photographs of the main building of the Library of Congress. I have a morning meeting there in a week or two for a briefing and to see some of the collections. I have been regularly borrowing books from the Library of Congress for the last few weeks as the Wilson Center has an arrangement with them and they are delivered to the Center. I must check whether they have any of my books. There was a longish queue waiting to get into the Library building, so it must be popular.

Afterwards we walked over to the Capitol Building. Inside, the Republican rump was in the process of pushing the US to the financial brink. The Tea Party and its supporters are opposed to the Obamacare package; every man/woman for himself/herself is what they’re thinking.

The danger is it will lead to a shut down of the Government, as has happened before, creating unnecessary hardship for many Americans, and diminished respect for the USA’s ability to govern itself. The Republican leadership doesn’t seem to be able to manage their excitable fringe groups. The Capitol Building was deceptively quiet from the outside, with police everywhere; inside it must have been something different.

The National Mall was busy, with large numbers scattered around the green areas near the Capitol. Two young Americans asked me where the Washington Monument was. I was pleased to be able to point them in the right direction. The Washington Monument is visible from Dupont, from the Wilson Center, and even from Route 395 in Alexandria. It has scaffolding around it at present, as earthquake damage is repaired.

It was even busier last weekend when we were also at the National Mall. On the northern side a Latino Festival was underway. On the Mall itself the Library of Congress was running a major book festival. M and I paused briefly to watch the Latino parade, but we spent most of the afternoon having lunch and wandering around the National Museum of the American Indian. As the Smithsonian says: ‘so many museums, so little time’.

After the Mall today we kept walking to the north-west along 3rd St, passing underneath the Department of Labor, and arriving at Judiciary Square. Opposite the Metro entrance was the National Building Museum, housed in a huge redbrick building. It is something for another day. We had a fast trip back to Dupont on a rather busy Metro before walking, via Q St, back to our place in Corcoran St. (28/9/13)



The shutdown happened today. And today the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) also went into operation. For the first time there is some kind of health safety net for Americans. The Tea Party coven in the House of Reps wants to ditch it, or stall it, despite the fact it has been a key part of Obama’s platform in two Presidential elections. So the Government closed shop.

Generally the media heavyweights have been critical of the failures of the Republican leadership for allowing the shutdown to happen. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times were impressed. The NYT’s editorial was titled John Boehner’s shutdown, putting the blame squarely on the House Speaker. Forbes magazine said it weakened the US dollar. Joseph Nye says it undermines American soft power. I didn’t bother looking at the Murdoch press, but Fox’s commentators are sure to be blathering against Obama.

Our rubbish was collected just as I left home, so the DC government was still active. I was in to work early after getting a seat in a half filled Metro carriage. I still had to get scanned as I entered the Ronald Reagan Building and tripped the alert; it happens about every fourth time I go through it. Show us your ankles the security staff say; so I do, and they let me pass.

All the Federally funded staff in the Wilson Center had to come to work in the morning to tidy things up, but then were required to stay away from the workplace. There was no queue for lunch in Au Bon Pain, and sitting on the Plaza, on a warmish, peaceful early afternoon was pleasant. It was a good time to do some thinking and writing on the paper I will be presenting at the Center.

A scheduled book launch and talk by Lawrence Freedman also went ahead late in the afternoon. Freedman is a major figure in war studies and his book, Strategy: A History, sounds like something I would like to read. And I say that knowing full well that it is 800 pages long. Strategy began with Napoleon, he says. It is not the same thing as planning, as strategy involves other wilful human beings, who may be antagonistic to the strategy. He noted that in a strategy facing strength, the most effective tool for success is the judicious use of alliances and coalitions. (1/10/13)


We have been staying in a two-bedroom apartment in a classic red-brick row house in Corcoran St. It’s on the border between Shaw and Dupont Circle, about a ten minute walk to the Dupont Circle Metro. A great location, close to a cluster of shops and restaurants in 16th St, and not far from another in the opposite direction around the P St Whole Food’s shop.

The days are a little cooler than in August. My walk to the Metro is good. It gets busy quite early, with large numbers of young professionals making their way to work. I walk past the Brookings Institution (where Julia Gillard will shortly have an attachment) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, two of the most highly respected think tanks, on the way to the Metro station. I also pass Johns Hopkins’ DC campus and the Australian Embassy.

M and I are spreading ourselves around the restaurants in Dupont and Shaw, of which there are many. We recently had dinner at the Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant in 14th St. It was our first taste of injera and Ethiopian food. The restaurant was unpretentious, had a warm, neighbourhood feel to it, the food was great and the service was excellent. Take note, Faye and Andinet!

Yesterday afternoon we met at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. We had lunch in a rather nice café on the first floor. M ordered a medium-rare hamburger. There was a series of comical mix-ups with the head waiter coming to our table to ask what we had ordered and whether we had received it a half dozen times. Each time he apologized profusely. When the hamburger eventually arrived they had the meat right, but got the side order wrong. Unbelievable. I still paid a 20% tip because he was very polite and well meaning. Manuel lives on.

The art in the general galleries in the National Museum of Women in the Arts was superb, even though there were no Georgia O’Keefe’s on show. The current exhibitions were Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Awake in the Dream World’ and Faith Ringgold’s ‘American People, Black Light: Paintings of the 1960s’. I was really impressed by Niffenegger’s artist books in which she combined a short narrative on one page with a painting on the opposite page. (5/10/13)




There have been some standout presentations at the Woodrow Wilson Center over the past few weeks. The most recent  was titled ‘How Many Light Bulbs Does it Take to Change China?’ The session was Thursday when a group, organized by Jennifer Turner, tackled environmental issues in China. The speakers were Christopher James, Jeremy Schreifels and Darrin Magee.

It was about air quality, a hot issue in China (pun intended). At the beginning of 2013 Beijing experienced a long period when the quality of air was seriously bad. It was called a ‘smogapocalypse’. The severity of its impact, and the outrage of locals and visitors, forced the Chinese Government to acknowledge that the grey skies were the result of pollution - smog, not fog - and the problem was extremely severe.

The central Government has responded hard and fast and with success. An example is the ‘promote big, squash small’ approach to coal fired power plants. Coal may continue to be an important source of energy, but it is being used much more efficiently in the large new power stations. In parallel, the investment in alternative energy sources is moving ahead. In this area the China approach is at a bigger scale, faster speed, and more risky than any other government program. 

The previous day saw the launch of a book titled Climate Change in a Growing, Urbanizing World. It is a publication by the UN Population Fund and the International Institute for Environment and Development. The session was full of solid analysis about vulnerable communities and how adaptation and/or mitigation can be managed. There is a distinct style to research undertaken in international organisations; it’s empirical, detailed, descriptive and well meaning.

Although the large cities tend to attract the most attention, the biggest concern is those cities under 500,000 where the majority of urban residents live. Unlike larger cities, these usually do not have the capacity to instigate or implement climate change strategies.  (7/10/13)


  1. Bullet M and I agree. The best coffee shop in Alexandria, and possibly the whole of DC, is Killer ESP in King St. They use an excellent bean, and every coffee has a double shot. Very funky décor as well.

  1. Bullet We have taken an unfortunate liking for Whole Food’s chocolate infused with toffee and sprinkled with sea salt. Chocolove’s almonds and sea salt in dark chocolate is also excellent.  The bonus is it comes with a poem. In our case it was Thomas Moore’s ‘To the Invisible Girl’.

  1. Bullet M, S and my delightful grand-daughter Adele and I have often lunched in King St Alexandria. I think my favourite was the regional Greek food at Taverna Cretekou.

  1. Bullet DC, the District of Columbia had a population of about 632,000 in 2012. The Washington Metropolitan Area is the US’s 7th largest city with a population of 5.7 million. Not a mega-city, but a substantial urban area.

  1. Bullet The Navy Yard shootings on the 16th of September resulted in the death of 11 victims, co-workers with the shooter. Despite this sad event, and two more recent deaths on and near the National Mall, DC does not have the feel of a dangerous city.

  1. Bullet I saw Obama pass by in a motorcade along New York Avenue when I was waiting for M in the foyer of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Multiple sirens on motorbikes and the many big black accompanying vehicles, all driving at speed. Awesome and intimidating.

  1. Bullet The use of horns by motorists in DC rivals some of the behaviour in Asian cities such as Hanoi and Bangkok where blasting the horn follows every minor provocation.

  1. Bullet The local football team is the Washington Redskins. Some find the name offensive. The club has been slow to respond, but apparently said if people find it offensive they will drop Washington from the name. Boom boom. Obama, among others, has said they should change the name.

  1. Bullet The shutdown continues to have an impact on our lives. Congress is considering approving wage payments to the federal workers required to not attend work. It is the least they could do. (8/10/13)


Monday was the Columbus Day holiday. The ‘shutdown’ deadline gets closer. In DC, and the rest of the country, public museums, galleries and parks remain closed, along with many other government-financed facilities. Numerous small businesses, including those that provide food to workers in the cities, are suffering badly.

Federal employees remain on ‘furlough’ and no decision has yet been made about them getting paid during the stand down. They are one of many groups of victims of the disorganized Republican Party. It is being driven by a small group of Tea Party wingnuts.

During the afternoon CNN was getting excited about a possible resolution, but the meeting was cancelled. It appeared the two parties in the Senate had reached some sort of agreement. However the Senate Republicans are as much the enemy of the House of Reps Republicans as the Democrats.

The Wilson Center has been quiet, with all the federally funded staff absent. Many events have been cancelled. My planned visit to the Library of Congress for meetings with the specialist Librarians was also cancelled.

However I did attend the lunch and one of the presentations for the annual ‘Day at the Wilson Center’ when the Trustees and friends of the Center are invited in for a showcasing of activities. Peter Baker, a NYT correspondent and former Wilson Center Scholar, launched his new book Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. Much of it was written during his time at the Center.

Bush declined to be interviewed, but Cheney and 274 others were prepared to speak to Baker. As he said, ‘secrets in Washington want to be told’. Bush and Cheney had a close and strong partnership in Bush’s first term, but the relationship fell apart in the second term. Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State and close to Bush. Bush wouldn’t be too pleased with the book title, as he didn’t want Cheney to be seen as influential. Presidents’ demand all the limelight.

The lunch speaker was Robert Hormats, former Under-Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment. It was wide-ranging in scope, and really about the emergence of new economies (read China), and hence the need for a new kind of diplomacy, with greater focus on the economy. No problems with that, but it is hardly a new insight. (14/10/13)



‘Van Gogh Repetitions’ opened at the Phillips Collection on the weekend. It is a stunning show, and drawing good crowds. No question of the pulling power of Van Gogh. M reminded me it is pronounced Van Gok (gutteral), in Dutch. The Phillips people pronounce it Van Go as we do in Australia.

The exhibition has on display 30 of Van Gogh’s paintings from the Netherlands and the Phillips and a number of American galleries. The focus, and the reason for calling it Repetitions, is that it showed a number of versions of each of a handful of Van Gogh’s paintings, where he repeated and developed his style and interpretation.

He concentrated on a person, or a family, such as his postman and friend, Joseph Roulin, his wife and offspring. Then he painted a series of repetitions, each time changing colour, tone or composition, and ultimately producing something new and distinctive.

It was a thrill to see the vibrant works on show, and the choice of theme was brilliant. I also started to think about the different meaning and use of repetition in writing. As a writer I try to build and refine my style, and often work around a common (sometimes repetitive) theme or proposition. But I try to avoid repetition. Am I being too precious?  Should I seek to refine by repetition more than I already do?

Today seems to have brought to an end the tedious and unnecessary Government shutdown. The wingnuts supporting the Tea Party and the Republican right have achieved nothing. Except, maybe giving one or two of their hungry ultra-conservative politicians a public profile, albeit as losers.

Unfortunately, lots of federal workers and small business owners have suffered big losses. Didn’t seem to concern the politicians who caused the problem. Their advice? Go to their bank and tell them their income has stopped and they can’t pay the mortgage. That’s it. Another variation on ‘let them eat cake’. (16/10/13)


The bus from Alexandria to the Pentagon, and the Metro from the Pentagon into Archives, were both full to overflowing on Thursday morning as Federal workers returned. There was much backslapping after nearly three weeks off work. How do you then deal with the backlog? The media have been pontificating at length about what it all meant, and whether the whole thing is likely to be repeated when Government funding again needs approval .

The Wilson Center staff returning headed straight for their offices. There were not many public events scheduled during the week, though those that were held seemed still to be attracting good audiences. Our Scholars reception was cancelled. I have some reading to do on US Immigration issues for a brown paper bag lunch next week, and I am looking forward to a book launch session on Speaking Rights to Power.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art occupies a prime location in DC, a drop punt from the White House. It has an outstanding collection of contemporary American and other art, and a highly regarded College of Art and Design. In most other cities it would be a stand-out. In DC its not to the degree we had anticipated. It recently released A Strategic Framework for a New Corcoran that may be getting it on track.

Sarah drove us to Leesburg Corner, where some of the major brands have factory outlets. From Alexandria we essentially headed west, skirting across the southern areas of the National Capital Region of northern Virginia. It’s McMansion territory and the highway at times extended to 15 lanes. The Metro is in the process of being connected through to Dulles Airport, where all the long distance flights come into DC. It will help to slow the increase in traffic through this region. The colour of the leaves is starting to change as we drift into autumn.

I enjoy the 10 minute walk from the house in Park Fairfax in Alexandria, over the walkway spanning the 395, and into Shirlington. It is very much the thing to dine at the tables along the footpath on both sides of the street. Dogs are tied up everywhere, and each restaurant provides water bowls for them. Many have ice blocks in the water, which strikes me as amusing. If its what the customers expect, its what the dogs get. (19/10/13)



Indonesia descended into chaos in 1965-66. An attempted coup, and a counter coup, unleashed dark forces, and resulted in the murder of somewhere between 500,000 and one million people. It laid the foundations for Suharto’s rise to power, which lasted until 1998.

Baskara Wardaya and Bernd Schaefer delivered a first class presentation this week at the Wilson Center on the events and their impact globally. It was based on a new edited book, Indonesia and the World, 1965-66, that was in turn based on an academic conference in Indonesia in 2011. It is still a very sensitive topic in Indonesia, as you might expect, and the conference was the first of the events actually held in Indonesia.

As usual there were a number of historians and others in the room with well informed understandings of global communism, American security activities and cold war politics at the time, making for an exceptionally interesting discussion.

I was in high school in 1965-66, but became fully aware of Indonesia’s upheaval when I started university in the late 1960s. I read a lot more about Indonesia prior to my first visit in 1974 and then while living in Makassar (or Ujung Pandang as it was then known) in 1975 and 1976. The seminar brought back names, events and places from the readings and the stories I have been told; and some thoughts about going back to Indonesia next year.

Presentations by the short term Wilson Center fellows has begun. Today I listened to an intriguing account of the mechanisms used in Iran to prevent political coups and the techniques to maintain control of the everyday lives of the masses. It includes the management of emotions (along with minds and bodies) through what the presenter, Saeid Golkar, calls the politics of sadness.

The National Museum of American History is just over the road from my office. It being a sunny Monday afternoon yesterday, I wandered over after lunch just to have a look in the foyer. It is, of course, another very well organised part of the Smithsonian group, and would take most of the day to amble through and do justice to the displays.

I saw the galleries devoted to Presidents and their consorts. They feature a couple of live polls. The running ranking for ‘who has been the most effective President?’ The top three in the votes: 1. Washington; 2 Lincoln; 3. Obama. Does that mean not many Tea Party types have been through yet? There is also a quite substantial showing of the gowns worn by the First Lady’s to the Presidential Inauguration. It attracted a large number of women spectators, and animated conversation.

There are two exceptionally good displays in the African-American History and Culture Gallery on the 28th of August 1963 March on Washington, and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Powerful stuff. A new African-American Museum History Museum will open in the National Mall in 2015. (22/10/13)



City-university strategies and foreign branch campuses: competing in the global knowledge economy’ is now accessible on the Woodrow Wilson Center website. It’s a brief account of one of the two main projects I have been working on over the last three months. I have also posted it on my website here.


I am attached to the Comparative Urban Studies Project (CUSP). Along with the China Environment Forum (CEF), the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP), and the Global Health Initiative (GHI), they come together under the Global Sustainability and Resilience Program (GSRP). Blair Ruble heads the GSRP and also CUSP.


The GSRP group decided to focus on migration as a project. There were two main reasons. It is a contentious policy area in the US, and many members had an interest in the subject.


The first meeting took place in September with presentations on migrant integration. There were two case studies. Miguel Salazar spoke on the reception of Latino migrants in the US, and Liz Malinkin talked about migrant reception in Russian cities (the Wilson Center has a strong interest in Russia through the Kennan Institute).

The second meeting in October looked at the US immigration system and the current reform debate. Mae Ngai and Andrew Selee introduced the topic and led the discussion. There are three key immigration issues confronting America: legalisation, enforcement (border protection), and what to do about temporary entrants. Refugee matters are dealt with separately.


There are a raft of new proposals to reform cumbersome immigration processes and much debate underway. Under current arrangements the US has an immigrant quota of 420,000 and 500,000 non-quota (dependents, children etc). This represents just 0.3% of America’s population (net immigration into Australia amounts to about 1.1% of the population, over three times higher). The queue for people to get assessed for citizenship is getting longer and longer, and counted in decades rather than years.


The reforms being discussed draw to a degree on the Canadian policies, which are similar to Australia’s policies, and include a points system for differentiating between applicants.


America has around 11 million unauthorised migrants who are neither citizens nor have visas. The discussion on legalisation is escalating, but is polarised, particularly as their distribution is skewed towards the conservative Republican voting states. And they tend to vote Democrat. At the 2008 Presidential elections politicians really came to understand the importance of Latino voters.


Some argue that reforms will not pass because it would effectively undermine the prospects of the Republicans winning national elections for decades. That is, if the Tea Party hasn’t already done it. (25/10/13) 



  1. Bullet On a cold, sunny autumn day we walked around the Washington, Lincoln and Martin Luther King memorials on the National Mall. The Washington Memorial is wrapped in scaffolding to enable the repair of earthquake damage. The King memorial is substantial, but elongated and not as high, somewhat in the style of the Vietnam and Korean war memorials. A lone protestor with a banner supporting Edward Snowden hovered nearby.

  1. Bullet I rarely buy The Washington Post (WaPo), though I enjoy it when I get time to read it; I often look at it online. The Sunday WaPo comes out on Saturdays. A quirky touch.

  1. Bullet I can access the complete New York Times online, as the Wilson Center has a subscription. Headlines I pickup through an iPad app. I haven’t yet seen a paper version of the International Herald Tribune, now re-badged as the International New York Times. It has been my favourite newspaper for many years, and kept me engaged on numerous airline flights and in airport lounges. Because it is edited from Hong Kong, Paris and London, as well as New York, it seems to have a pleasant global feel.

  1. Bullet The election for the Governor of Virginia is underway. The TV advertising is relentless, highly critical and personal. Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat candidate, is well in front. His Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli seems to have alienated just about everyone.

  1. Bullet ‘Cash back’ when you buy is a big thing. I noticed that cars are advertised with the cash back first, then the monthly instalment. No mention of the price. A new credit/debit card does the same thing. Sign up for the card and they will pay you 1.5% of the price of the product as ‘cash back’. No mention of any card charges, of course.

  1. Bullet A confession. I have become addicted to Million Dollar Listing LA. My flimsy excuse is I have been helping out on a search for a new house in DC and hence we are trying to understand how the housing markets work. The real estate show stars three brokers: Madison Hildebrand, Josh Altman and Josh Flagg. They operate in the LA/Malibu markets, driving flash cars and talking like suburban versions of Tom Wolfe’s masters of the universe. With deft touches of bathos they sell homes for multiple millions of dollars. (27/10/13)


It is my last week at the Wilson Center. I have been tidying up and tried to get to a last few presentations. There was plenty I wanted to hear.

The launch of Alison Brysk’s Speaking Rights to Power: Constructing Political Will (Oxford University Press) last week zeroed in on human rights issues and advocacy, the subject of her book. She is a believer in the importance of narratives and story-telling. Emotion and connection with important issues come most readily through stories.

The book, which was described as ‘a primer on civil society’, examines human rights campaigns organised according to five themes: voice, message, performance, media, and audience. She drew on case studies across the world, from Aung San Suu Kyi to Pussy Riot.

Michael Barnett from George Washington University, one of the commentators, drew out a contrast between advocates of human rights and humanitarian issues. Both agreed they were very different kinds of causes. The rights groups emphasise solidarity and tend to be optimistic. It is because many are lawyers, someone said. Those engaged in global humanitarian issues are pre-occupied with the suffering, and tend towards pessimism. They are less interested in the narrative; instead it’s ‘don’t tell me about suffering, tell me what I can do’. It resonated for me.

My first Halloween event was watching the community parade in Mt Vernon Avenue in Del Ray last Sunday. There were kids everywhere, and a vast array of scary, sometimes bizarre, outfits. Parents do it for the kids, but quite a few looked smugly pleased to be dressed up. Afterwards we drove to the costume shop, where Adele chose an outfit that contrasted with many of the overwhelmingly gruesome costumes for sale.

We have seem some extraordinarily decorated houses and yards, and a Halloween maze in Del Ray. Becketts, the Irish pub in Shirlington, had done it really well. The gruesome figures and cobwebs seemed to blend with the faux Irish décor. Behind a table near us was a life size human figure dummy fully wrapped in bandages. Spooky. (30/10/13)


The last event I attended at the Wilson Center was ‘Small Business is Big Business in America’. It fits within the Program on America and the Global Economy, and it interests me because my project is about how globalising universities improve the economic competitiveness of cities. Starting small businesses is one of the ways this is done, either through the university or, more likely, with government or other support.

In his event opening speech Kent Hughes said that ‘money is the mothers’ milk of politics’; it has the same role for small business start-ups, so, to no-one’s surprise, much of the discussion was about finance. The featured speaker was Jeanne Hulit, Acting Administrator of the US Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA is responsible for $90 billion in venture capital. Banks make the loans, but SBA provides the guarantee. It represents about 5% of the national total of venture capital. The SABA program is internationally respected, we were told. Apart from its size, it was not clear to me whether there was anything distinctive about the way it operates.

There are 28 million small businesses in the US. However, access to finance can be difficult. As Giovanni Coratolo lamented ‘you can get a $100k loan to expand your intellectual capital [to study at university], but can get none to monetize that capacity’. It was apparent from the discussion that there is still some hesitancy about the value of intangible assets/capital, from a bankers perspective. Most applications for finance get rejected because of a collateral shortfall; revenue is more important in the assessment than assets.

Sean Mallon is a pre-angel investor working for an independent non-profit in Arlington that focuses on early start-ups, prior to venture capital interest. They contribute between $50-200K as an investment, not a loan. They have 80 companies in their portfolio, adding about 20 per year. Crowd funding is new and can be successful. Mentoring, he said, ‘has become a wildfire’.

The seminar started slowly, but by the end I felt I had got a lot out of it. Small businesses are important, and there is a lot of support available, even if at times it does seem too much to navigate with comfort. (3/11/13)



I left DC on Halloween. I had just enough time to attend a morning Halloween parade in the pre-school in the Department of Labor. It was quite an event, with the kids (babies up to 4 year olds) rambling through the foyer and around the passageways, flanked by parents, staff and visitors. The Department head came down to greet people.

I took some photos on the roof of the building, which overlooks the National Mall and the imposing Capitol Building.

Being in DC has been a great experience. I have managed to get a substantial amount done on my research project which I hope will eventually become a book. The seminars I attended, particularly the book launches, were invariably insightful and stimulating.

I also got to know some helpful and stimulating Wilson Center people. Blair, Lindsay, Arlyn, Kim, Krishna, Lauren, Janet and Michelle. And some new scholars; Martin, JP, members of the migration group and others.

I took Jeremie Gluckman, my Intern, out for lunch earlier in the week. We ate at Chef Geoffs on Pennsylvania Avenue and had a great, wide ranging talk about universities, cities and the arts. We share a number of interests, so it has proved a good match-up. Jeremie will sign on to another urban program at the Wilson Center.

By my calculations it took 31 hours between entering Washington National Airport and arriving at Shelly Beach. The flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Brisbane was a monster: 15 and a half hours, now the longest regular passenger flight in the world. On the positive side I managed to see the whole first series of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

One more DC blog to come; I will post some retrospective thoughts in a day or two. (4/11/13)


I first landed in the USA in 1981; I have just returned from my 13th visit. The first trip was to LA, where we hired a car to drive to Santa Barbara, then on to San Francisco. Subsequently I have spent time in many different places: from Seattle to New Orleans, Los Angeles to Minneapolis, Santa Fe to Storrs. I followed the conference circuit, beginning with academic events, and from the late 1990s, moving on to higher education trade shows and conferences.

Usually I was away for two weeks. This time was longer, and it has had a more significant impact on me. I liked being able to spend three months in the one city, living part of the time in trendy Corcoran Street between inner city Dupont Circle and Shaw District, and the rest in Alexandria, a short walk to Shirlington Village. Both areas are predominantly white, whereas African Americans make up the largest group in DC. 

DC is a city under stress. It is where the most significant decisions are made about world politics, but its’ citizens have no national political representatives, and the wellbeing of its federal employees and the businesses dependent upon them are subject to the whims of the wingnut element in Congress. Hence the pointless and destructive farce known as Shutdown.

It is also a city where the growth and re-vitalization of interesting areas like U St results in gentrification and the squeezing out of African-Americans. There are too many homeless on the streets in DC. On my walk to the Center from Archives Metro Station, or the Department of Labor, depending on whether I get a lift in, I passed through clusters of the homeless along Pennsylvania Avenue, close to Wilson Plaza, and others between C St and the US Navy Memorial Plaza. They are mostly male, and mostly African American.

The homeless are also paid by unions to hold placards outside commercial premises where the rights of workers are abused. They are often to be seen, silently trying to make a simple point about the need for a living wage. And this in a country that relentlessly proclaims itself the richest on the planet.

I saw relatively little of the city’s violent underbelly, though it was disturbingly close at times. The shootings at Navy Yard were a reminder of the pervasive gun violence in America, and the ruthless manipulation of members of Congress by the National Rifle Association. Politicians need for substantial budgets to ensure re-election has been exploited single-mindedly and effectively by the NRA and other lobby groups. It helps to bring about the stalemate so often evident in Congress.

American exceptionalism is often on show, and spoken of naturally and without qualification. It is deeply embedded. Resistance to health reform (Obamacare) was regularly accompanied by a disparaging dismissal of the socialist medicine in other countries. It would result in the loss of the unique rights and freedom of Americans to die because of unaffordable medical treatment. The global rise of China, and the steady expansion of its economy, has made little inroad into the sense of the specialness of America.

‘That’s American ingenuity…’ says the TV advert. America’s capacity for innovation has been evident in the internet revolution, where the Silicon Valley start-up culture has been critical. Since the mid 20th century immigrants have been disproportionately significant contributors to American ingenuity, yet 11 million are in limbo, with little chance of ever acquiring citizenship.

America’s quality universities are, with justification, praised as the best in the world. Their assets and investments climb well into multiple billions so expectations should be high. Along with it goes a sense of importance and high moral purpose. When Yale University decided to participate in a college in Singapore its leaders spoke about their pioneering role in bringing liberal education to Asia, offering opportunities to selected students to get the best education available. Status and wealth hand in hand with hubris.

I am writing this in Shelly Beach, and tomorrow we will drive to Adelaide. The jet lag has passed and the cultural re-adjustment is under way. What remains, though, is a renewed energy. For writing and exploring universities and cities, both in themselves and through their interconnections. Back to work. (5/11/13)