Why I Should Be the Next American Ambassador to Denmark, Even Though I Didn’t Give Obama $500K

Ever heard of Laurie S. Fulton? Didn’t think so. She’s America’s ambassador to Denmark and a political appointee. And thus far, in my humble opinion, a very mediocre one, because despite living in a globalized world, so many brilliant Danish ideas still remain on the other side of the Atlantic because this diplomat has failed to spread them to America (including, but not limited to, the brilliance of the television series Forbrydelsen).

As Fulton’s Wikipedia page states, “Her great-grandfather served in the Danish parliament from 1918 until 1940. Through the years, she has visited her relatives who reside in Denmark to directly absorb their culture. Her knowledge of Danish history and society, coupled with her years of professional experience and success, provide her an exceptional background for the position of United States Ambassador to Denmark.”

Is America a land of peerage? Nope! Why should an American serve as ambassador simply because his/her family has ancestral ties to a nation? And why are we sending members of the 1% to represent us abroad?

In our “democracy,” ambassadors should be selected based on merit. Perhaps younger, more forward-thinking people, who are adept at using the media, and skilled at building an image abroad of America as a land of progress, opportunity, and innovation would be better picks.

What Fulton’s biography doesn’t state: That she “bundled” $100,000 in donations for President Obama to secure her job. Ambassador Fulton has lived her whole adult life inside the Washington, D.C., beltway (her trips to visit relatives in Denmark not withstanding), and thus she knows very little about how the rest of the world lives and works.

I, on the other hand, lived in Denmark as an adult and earned a master’s degree there, and understand Danish culture from the perspectives of people who don’t take chauffeured cars everywhere they travel.

I’m not trying to pick on Ambassador Fulton, because there are certainly worse bundlers-turned ambassadors, like Cynthia Stroum, but Fulton’s life as a Washington insider makes her a horrible ambassador. America should be choosing its non-career civil servant ambassadors from the worlds of technology, academia, media, and non-profits. Candidates for ambassadorships should be people with a vast exposure to foreign cultures, ideally the ones where they will be serving — not just those who worked at D.C. law firms and then threw large wads of cash at political candidates.

While Obama has successfully limited some lobbying efforts and increased transparency within the Executive branch, both he and George W. Bush have both made their former roommates ambassadors to Belize. This cheapens our relations with that country, and quite frankly, should be insulting to Belizeans. This kind of kickback process is not American.

Let’s get back to Denmark, a country of just 5.5 million inhabitants that has revolutionized wind energy, green building and bicycle transportation, while building up a disproportionately overpowering artistic, cinematic, and creative industries. Ambassador Fulton has done nothing to convey the achievements of the Danish way of thinking and way of life to America, or to attempt to implement positive Danish achievements in America.

Consider this the start of my grassroots campaign to become America’s next ambassador to Denmark, because regardless of whether Obama or Mitt Romney are resident in the White House in 2013, I will serve as an excellent liaison to spread American  ideas, interests, and beliefs to Denmark while also encouraging strong American collaborations with Danish scholars, thinkers, politicians, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and more.

I just hope that my efforts go farther than those of Carl Malamud, whose valiant and legitimate campaign to become Public Printer of the United States has thus far been rebuffed by the Washington insiders who will never understand that the future is already here.


Hilary Rosen is Right to Call Out Ann Romney in Mommy Wars

In the wake of Democratic operative Hilary Rosen’s recent accusation that Ann Romney has not worked a day in her life, my thoughts drifted back to my days as a Women’s Studies minor at Penn. Finally, this is my chance to show that I really learned something.

Among the feminist writing I consumed at school, there’s one body of work that is particularly relevant to this debate: Arlie Hochschild’s classic study, The Second Shift. In this work, Hochschild reveals that women who work outside of the home are also disproportionately affected by then having to complete their domestic labor.

This why I am upset that Democratic heavyweights like David Axelrod would come out in defense of Ann Romney’s choice not to work. I don’t blame Ann Romney for marrying a man who’s salary and family wealth made it such that she didn’t have to work. I also don’t blame her for choosing to raise her kids without working.

Both political parties have failed American women by not understanding the realities of a society where the gap between rich and poor has risen considerably, forcing more middle class women into the workplace, but I will save my CEO compensation over-time analysis for a future article.

I do blame Ann Romney, Axelrod, and everyone else who has implied that women who are housewives, domestic engineers, or whatever other in-vogue term they are being called today work as hard as women who, for financial need or personal ambition, work outside of the home.

Why is Hilary Rosen being skewered from both the left and the right for stating the truth, that it is more difficult to work a paying job in addition to carrying out domestic duties? Let’s face the facts: More women are working outside the home than ever before, and women are becoming educated at higher rates than men.

Let us also remind politicians on both sides of the aisle, as well as the mainstream media, that we are not out of the recession just yet. One thing this recent recession showed us is that women were the backbone of our economy during these tough times, oftentimes working when men did not.

As the son of a woman who worked while raising me and the grandson of two more women who worked while raising their children, I am shocked by how this conversation has taken such an anti-working woman tone. Why are both Democrats and Republicans insulting the many millions of women who will be voting in upcoming elections? Someone needs to step up and say, “We know how hard you work out of the house and in the house.” For now, that someone is me.  I hope others join my chorus.

Is there a startup accelerator bubble or is the startup accelerator model simply a nascent and fast-growing industry?

As a Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism Fellow at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, I am one of 16 lucky new media entrepreneurs who have access to world class mentors, financial opportunities, industry leaders, venture capitalists and like-minded thinkers. It is difficult to classify the program as a seed accelerator (because no seed funding is provided from the get-go), an incubator (because of the aforementioned relationships and opportunities that go beyond free office space), or an intrapreneurship for in-house academic experiment (because we have no obligations to continue our relationship with the university after the program ends).

What I had not considered before embarking on this adventure was that a major benefit of having the Tow-Knight Center housed at CUNY is that all intellectual property that my colleagues and I create is our own. We don’t have to fork over any percentage of future revenues that we may derive from our forthcoming ventures to the institution or our advisers. I consider us lucky and rare to have this combination of resources without the potential of buyer’s remorse if a project grew but some equity was already distributed.

This morning, I read an interesting INC article that provides an insider’s look into TechStars, the popular and fast-growing startup accelerator. While TechStars and YCombinator are generally considered the Harvard and Princeton equivalents of the accelerator world, I wonder whether the rest of the pack, essentially startups themselves, has equal value. While I enjoyed the INC piece, I was disappointed to learn that some TechStars applicants are accepted because of their relationships with the organization’s leaders, despite having severely underdeveloped or non-existent products. But on the other hand, I recognize that this is the way the world works. In private business, democracy has a very limited role. And merit may have even less. In the startup world, a frequently heard maxim is that venture capitalists invest in personalities and founders, not companies.

With seed accelerators proliferating all over the world, one wonders if the talent pool at each individual accelerator will become severely diluted. Though it is impossible to gain data about the success of companies grown from seed accelerators that have not yet had the opportunity to flourish or flop, one can surmise that more startup accelerators will mean fewer success stories from each specific program. When YCombinator had less competition, it meant that they got their pick of the litter. Nowadays, founders may not want to schlep to Silicon Valley if they are confident that they can still make it in their home cities or countries.

Jed Christiansen, a London-based American who works at Google, keeps track of seed accelerators through a spreadsheet on his personal blog. He defines seed accelerators as follows:

The following are required to be a “seed accelerator”

  1. Open application process; anyone with an idea can apply
  2. Accelerator invests in companies, typically in exchange for equity, at pre-seed or seed stage
  3. Cohorts or ‘classes’ of startups; not an on-demand resource
  4. Programme of support for the cohorts, including events and company mentoring
  5. Focus on teams, and not individual mentoring

Examples of what isn’t a seed accelerator:

  1. Programme where the startup pays for mentoring
  2. Incubator where the startup pays (discounted) rent in return for equity and/or discounted business services
  3. Programme where applications are restricted to certain groups (like students from a particular university)

Because of the rapid growth of seed accelerators, now would be an ideal time for someone (an academic, perhaps, hint, hint) to create a more comprehensive database that keeps track of the success to failure ratio at each of these accelerators. I can already guess that firms that are only given $20K in seed funding in exchange for 7% of their company won’t have the same advantages that firms who are given $100k for an equal stake. In this sense, it will also be important for entrepreneurs to report back on any seed accelerators that are disorganized, don’t deliver on what they promise, or steal intellectual property — all issues that I foresee arising in the near future.

At the end of the day, one must think about Facebook, YouTube, Google, and countless other uber-scalable companies that weren’t working within any set of rules at a seed accelerator when they launched. Investors flocked to them when their products had true growth potential and superb execution.

While some people wonder, what comes first —  the chicken or the egg —  I wonder what comes first — the seed or the flower that creates its own seeds to spread.

My food evolution: Atoning for my culinary sins and the 11 Commandments I will now follow

My first proper foray into journalism was, at age 14, writing a restaurant review column titled “Morse’s Morsels” for Oceanside High School’s Sider Press. Today, I rarely discuss my own eating habits, concerns, and woes. And there are many.I’m not pulling a Frank Bruni here, I promise. Just keep reading!

When I read Fast Food Nation as a teenager, I was disgusted by the atrocities perpetrated by American fast food companies against their employees (many of them undocumented immigrants) who risked life and limb to bring Chicken McNuggets to the masses. Yet I was not moved to take action. My 17-year-old self went, along with my friends, to McDonalds, Burger King, or Wendy’s five days per week to raid their dollar menus. At this hormonally and metabolically gifted age, we hardly gained a goddamn pound, despite consuming chicken feces and all the other junk that’s inside any standard fast food sandwich.

I had the knowledge, yet I remained ignorant.

In college, not much changed. Food trucks and ethnic cuisines in West Philadelphia at Penn replaced the fast food of old, but even reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” didn’t do a thing to majorly shake up my habits. I naively considered the lettuce and tomatoes on top of my Greek Lady chicken salad hoagies to be sufficient vegetable intake. None of this was helped by the fact that I lived in places with some really nasty kitchens featuring roaches or mice. I was convinced that I’d rather spend the money eating out then dying of some foodborne illness.

Sidenote: For the only math class I took at Penn, I wrote a paper explaining why I would  continue to eat at Taco Bell despite an outbreak of salmonella and nationwide produce recalls, because statistically, there were greater odds of many more obscure things happening to me than being effected by diseased lettuce. I earned an A.

Some of my food consumption habits changed when I lived in England after graduating from college. Someone once said that, food-wise, for every mile outside of London it’s like taking a year back in time: I was based almost two hours outside of London. I was horrified by the low quality of food at restaurants in Norwich. But British supermarkets are surprisingly cheap and offer a better selection than America.I started cooking for myself by eating eggs every morning while frequently making myself pastas that were heavily laden with vegetables.

Some of my progress was likely erased when I returned to America and started working. I found little time to cook find time to cook while spending 12+ hours per day commuting and working.

It was only when I returned to Europe again, this time Denmark, that the obscene, and I mean obscene prices of food when dining out in that socialist paradise forced me to eliminate eating out except for very rare special occasions. However, at this moment, I had the time and the motivation for start eating better. Snagging a girlfriend with a keen interest in healthy eating didn’t hurt. In fact, her daily reinforcement of healthy living was lifechanging!

Fast forward two years.

One friend insisted that I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals since it first came out, as it inspired her to convert to vegetarianism. Only after I purchased a Kindle in late 2011 did I get around to reading this piece. By early December 2011 I was shocked and horrified by what I read about meat production, especially in America.

A sore spot for me has always been the threat of going bald. Despite my hair starting to thin in high school, it has remained largely in tact. (Knock wood!) Though my dad, bald himself, thinks I’m crazy, I attribute my hair retention to the egg yolks packed with biotin and silica that I have eaten regularly since age 21. But the more I read about eating animals who themselves were fed all sorts of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics, the more that it grossed me out to even consider eating them myself.

So on New Years Eve, on the verge of 2011-2012, at a supermarket in Amsterdam, I ate a sample-size piece of salami, and proclaimed that I would never eat meat again.

Three months later, I’ve done a pretty decent job. There was one transcontinental flight where I was unable to obtain a vegetarian meal, and there were certainly a few instances when, after consuming alcohol, I snuck a bite or two of meat. (I felt physically ill after each of these errors, one time even regurgitating.)

Only today, after walking for 100 blocks did I really screw up. My stomach was growling like a lion when a storefront signboard depicting a juicy, succulent barbecued chicken stood before me. I turned to see that Boston Market was running a promotion for a half chicken, two side dishes, and a corn muffin for $7.99.

I don’t know what made me do it. But I walked into that restaurant and ordered that chicken. I felt like I’d just committed a personal felony. I didn’t enjoy one bite, but it inspired me to do better.

I don’t want to be a forty-year-old who looks sixty. I want to be a forty-year-old who looks thirty. I want to live a long life without needing medical care. Plus, I want my hair.

So, for the next three months, I am setting 11 Commandments for myself that I am determined to follow:

1.No fried food.

2.No cheese (unless it’s a rare high-end import).

3.No Chinese takeout (because of the low quality oils).

4. Carry small bags of mixed nuts with me or similar snacks at all times.

5. Consume no carbohydrates that are not of the whole wheat/whole grain variety.

6. Eat small dinners that have limited carbohydrates.

7. Never drink more than one beer per night. (Switch to red wine.)

8. Do not eat within four hours of going to bed.

9. Consume eggs, yogurt, or a Larabar for breakfast.

10. No sweets, except for the occasional dark chocolate bar.

11. Consume no less than six vegetables per day.

A follow-up post with additional details about my self-imposed (and crowdsourced) punishments for violating any of these tenets is coming soon! Also, I downloaded Lose It! — a free diet and weight monitoring iPhone app — to help me keep track of my food intake.