Monday, January 31, 2011

Tag 'em, Danno

There is an absolute public diplomacy fail going on at the moment over the Tri-Valley University incident. Apparently a number of Indian students got education visas to a fake uni in the US. Claims abound of whether the students were duped, or they were using the univ to get into the US. None of that really matters so much here, what matters is the radio tagging of the students in question. The students have been electronically tagged on their legs with radio collars. Such actions are going over extremely poorly, to say the least.
 The indignity in which the students are being treated, being collared like animals, is causing a huge diplomatic incident here. News is reporting on it every night, and in vivid detail. And yet, I hear no American gov, Embassy or State voices in the interviews and newscasts. Nice.  Gonna tweet your way out of this one, State?  I realize you are a bit preoccupied with Egypt, but let's not drop all balls in the air while the Nile floods.  There is already talk that this will be a diplomatic row along the lines of the incidents in Australia regarding racism and violence against Indian students.

The Brink of Eternity

In desperate hope I go and search for her
in all the corners of my room;
I find her not.

My house is small
and what once has gone from it can never be regained.

But infinite is thy mansion, my lord,
and seeking her I have to come to thy door.

I stand under the golden canopy of thine evening sky
and I lift my eager eyes to thy face.

I have come to the brink of eternity from which nothing can vanish
---no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through tears.

Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean,
plunge it into the deepest fullness.
Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch
in the allness of the universe.

-Rabindranath Tagore

Jaipur Lit Fest

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The weekend that was

I arrived early on Friday night to synagogue and sat alone and quiet in my seat. When a woman of Indian countenance came in and wished me "shabbat shalom," I smiled wide. The synagogue filled up with familiar Indian faces of a faith familiar to me. There were about 20 people in total, mostly Indian Jews but a few of us faringi.  I hadn't been at services since I left Taiwan some 4 months ago, and it was a pleasure to be back.  Small Jewish world, I met someone from the Israeli Embassy in Delhi who knew my old bosses from Houston.  My favorite part was when a young Indian Jewish boy read Psalm 23: "Ewen vhen I valk in the walley of the shadow of death...".  Too cute.  After services, I, along with a fellow farang, was invited by a nice Jewish man named Ralphy to have shabbat dinner at his house.  Lovely Jewish sabbath hospitality.

We hopped in his car and sped out to Gurgaon- a satellite city of Delhi that has since been overtaken and absorbed by the Delhi metroplex.  We arrived to Ralphy's palatial mansion and sat down for shabbat dinner.  I glanced over at the prayer book in Hebrew and Hindi as we did kiddush.  Immediately my veggie vows were shaken as he gladly exclaimed that his wife had sent up a kosher chicken for shabbat dinner.  Not having had kosher food in months, not knowing when I would get kosher food again and not wanting to be a rude guest, I opted to eat a little kosher chicken.  My veg vows are a work in progress, but I am back on the veggie wagon.  Meanwhile, Ralphy's palatial house wasn't even his mainstay.  He had another apartment near me, but his full time residence was in Bombay.  So it goes.

On Saturday, my tonied days in Delhi continued as I headed to the posh Khan Market to meet a friend for coffee.  I had been to the area once before, but I couldn't remember if it was from a memory or a dream.  I grabbed a paneer tikka roll for lunch- grilled white cheese wrapped up with red onions.  Yum.  Plans didn't quite work out, so I headed down to Connaught Place and napped in the middle of the green area before heading back uptown for a homemade food from Andra Pradesh from one of the people staying at Venkat's Clubhouse (We had 6 people staying last night in his apartment).  Dinner was rayal seema dal- a delicious dal with grilled eggplants and red onions with rice and a curd with grilled onions.  Delicious as well.

Today, I headed with Venkat and Vibhava to a posh party that had Delhi's uppercrust out and eating "street food."  Apparently, the fellow hosting it (who went to USC) has an annual party in which he serves traditional Indian street food, only in a catered fashion.  So it goes.  But it was fun, with a great chili bloodymary and some nice banter.  It was a funny weekend insofar as I kept bumping into with India's upperclass, which makes for phenomenal peoplewatching.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lucha Libre Diplomacy

As the occupants of my Indian household tune in to WWE, I dream of Mexico instituting a cultural diplomacy to send Lucha Libre touring. My two pesos: brand Mexican Lucha Libre as Mexican cultural diplomacy to the multitude of wrestling followers across the world over.

Tunisia is the solution!

Great article from Anthony Shadid of the NYTimes on the desire for respect in the Middle East. Protesters are not chanting "Islam is the solution," but rather "Tunisia is the solution!"

Credit where credit is due

"Easy guess: if protesters usher in democratic Egypt, GOP gives Bush credit. If Muslim Brotherhood takes power, they blame Obama." -Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos


In the WSJ, Fouad Ajami has the best piece I have seen on Mubarak. I am posting the whole thing because it is truly worth the read:
'When Ramses II was over eighty he celebrated his rejuvenation at the feast of Set, repeating it yearly until he was ninety and more, and displaying his power of rejuvenation to the Gods above in the Obelisks he regularly erected as a memorial, which the aged Pharaoh decorated with electrum at the top so that their brightness should pour over lands of Egypt when the sun was mirrored in them."
This is from a classic account of this ancient and ordered land, "The Nile in Egypt," by Emil Ludwig (1937). Hosni Mubarak, the military officer who became Pharaoh in his own right, is well over 80. His is the third-longest reign since Ramses, who ruled for 67 years. The second-longest had belonged to a remarkable soldier of fortune, Muhammad Ali, an Albanian by birth and the creator of modern Egypt, who conquered the country in the opening years of the 19th century and ruled for five decades. His dynasty was to govern Egypt until the middle years of the 20th century.
In the received image of it, Egypt is the most stable of nations, a place of continuity on the banks of a sanguine river. Egyptians, the chronicles tell us, never killed their pharaohs. Anwar al-Sadat had been the first. But this received image conceals a good deal of tumult. The submission to the will of Gods and rulers has been punctured by ferocious rebellions.
From Ludwig again: "Once the fellahin (the peasants) and the workers of Egypt revolted against their masters; once their resentment burst out: a revolution dispossessed the rich men and the priests of Egypt of their power." One such revolution at the end of the Old Kingdom raged intermittently for two centuries (2350 B.C. to 2150 B.C.).
In more recent times, in 1952, the Egyptians rose in rebellion and set much of modern Cairo to the torch, which would lead to the fall of the monarchy. The agile Sadat faced a big revolt of his own in 1977 when he attempted to reduce the subsidies on bread and sugar and cooking gas. It is said that he had been ready to quit this country in the face of that upheaval.
It is hard to know with precision when Hosni Mubarak, the son of middle peasantry, lost the warrant of his people. It had started out well for this most cautious of men. He had been there on the reviewing stand on Oct. 6, 1981 when a small band of young men from the army struck down Sadat as the flamboyant ruler was reviewing his troops and celebrating the eighth anniversary of the October War of 1973.
The new man had risen by grace of his predecessor's will. He had had no political past. The people of Egypt had not known of him. He was the antidote to two great and ambitious figures—Nasser and Sadat. His promise was modesty. He would tranquilize the realm after three decades of tumult and wars and heartbreaking bids to re-make the country.
A deceased friend of mine, an army general of Mr. Mubarak's class and generation, spoke of the man with familiarity: He was a civil servant with the rank of president, he said of his fellow officer. Mr. Mubarak put the word out that he would serve two six-year terms and be gone. But the appetite grew with the eating. The humble officer would undergo a transformation. A presidency-for-life announced itself. And in an astounding change, where Nasser and Sadat feared the will and the changing moods of their countrymen, Mr. Mubarak grew imperious and dismissive.
Egypt bent to his will. A country with a vibrant parliamentary tradition in the 1920s and 1930s became a sterile tyranny. A land that had opened onto Europe in the course of the 19th century, that had given rise to professional syndicates and associations, to an independent judiciary, was brought low.
There has always been an Egyptian pride in their country—even as Egypt tried and failed to modernize, even as its Sisyphean struggle broke its heart and engendered a deep sense of disappointment—and Mr. Mubarak came to offend that sense of national pride.
In the annals of Muslim dynasties and kingdoms, wives and children have figured prominently in the undoing of rulers. An ambitious wife, Suzanne, with haughty manners, and a taste for wealth and power (a variation on the hairdresser Leila Trabelsi, the wife of the deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) and a favored son who, by all indications, was preparing to inherit his father's power, deepened the estrangement between Mr. Mubarak and his people.
Egypt had been the trendsetter in Arab politics, in its self-image the place where all things modern in Arab life—the cinema, radio, women's emancipation, parliamentary life, mass politics, forced industrialization—had begun. The sight of Tunisians, hitherto a marginal people in the Arab consciousness, taking to the streets and deposing their tyrant, both shamed and emboldened the Egyptians. They had wearied of the large prison that Mr. Mubarak had constructed for them. A man who places himself at the helm for three decades inevitably, and justly, becomes the target of all the discontents in the realm.
Revolts of this kind are always a gamble on the unknown. At bottom, they are an attempt at self-purification, a society wishes to be done with the stain of submission to a dictator's transgressions. Amid the tumult, what is so clear today is the hatred felt for the ruler and his immediate family. Reigns like Mr. Mubarak's devour the green and the dry, as a favored Arab expression has it. The sycophants come to the fore and steal what they can. Those with heart and character and pride are hauled off to prison, or banished to the outer margins of public life.
Mr. Mubarak has been merciless with his critics. For this isolated, aging man of the barracks, dissent is always treason. There remains, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood. It was in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood was born in the late 1920s. The Brotherhood has been the alibi and the bogeyman with which Hosni Mubarak frightened the middle class at home and the donors abroad in Washington and Europe, who prop his regime out of fear that Egypt would come apart and the zealots would triumph.
In one of the novels by the late Egyptian novelist and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, a pharaoh is told by his lovely mistress Rabudis of rumors of pending rebellion, of popular disaffection. "And they say the priests are a powerful group with control over the hearts and the minds of the people." But he smiles and answers. "But I am the stronger." "What of the anger of the people my lord," she asks? "It will calm down when they see me on my chariot." We shall see if and how this modern-day pharaoh copes with a people determined to be rid of him.
Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Ferdinand Mubarak

The NY Times has a good editorial on Mr. Mubarak, and compares him with Ferdinand Marcos:
In the past, Washington has often pulled its punches on human rights and democracy to protect unholy security alliances with dictators, like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. There came a time when it was obvious that the Marcos tie was damaging American security interests and President Ronald Reagan — along with a people power revolution — played a role in easing him peacefully out of power.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting

Al-Jazeera is having an incredible run as it bounces from Tunisia to Egypt, and through the Palestine Papers.  Al-J is a pd force like no other media actor on the planet.

My friend Prof. Roy Rampal has an interesting piece on Taiwan and international broadcasting.

Exhibiting Palestine

I have a new blog "Exhibiting Palestine" on Palestinian public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy's site:
As a member of a small tribe of Orientalist Zionists, I count among those who find it no contradiction in supporting both Israel and Palestine (for what it’s worth, we are cousins).  While it can often be a lonely tribe, it can also lead to some interesting academic discussions and exchanges.  One of those discussions took place when I interviewed Yousef Munayyer, the Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Development last year. 
The Jerusalem Fund is a non-profit organization located in Washington, D.C. that conducts Palestinian educational, cultural and public diplomacy.  “We really think of public diplomacy in terms of education and in educating all different types of people,” said Munayyer.  Founded in 1977, the Jerusalem Fund conducts its various forms of Palestinian public diplomacy through its three respective programs, The Palestine Center, The Gallery and The Humanitarian Link.
The Palestine Center serves as a thinktank and resource of information and analysis on Palestine, and offers a Palestinian/Arab perspective on U.S. foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and overall U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.  The Palestine Center also conducts Palestinian public and cultural diplomacy.
In part, the need to conduct Palestinian public and cultural diplomacy, he said, is to help combat stereotypes towards Palestinians and the Middle East.  “I find that particularly in the United States, you’re dealing with combating stereotypes— stereotypes that have been created in the minds of people largely by media representations that are completely inaccurate.  Mostly based on images of either money-loving oil sheiks, or rabid, insane terrorists,” Munayyer said.  Therefore, public and cultural diplomacy that is conducted by The Palestine Center works to help create more understanding of the Palestinian people. “The different types of cultural work that we do helps break those stereotypes and break down the kind of ignorance that’s involved in creating these images that are really very far from being true,” he stated. 
One area that The Palestine Center conducts cultural diplomacy is through The Gallery.  The Gallery showcases bi-monthly art and cultural exhibits of artists from the Middle East, most often but not exclusively Palestinian and Palestinian/Arab-American artists. Munayyer noted that using art and cultural diplomacy helps show a different side of Palestinian life and makes issues more accessible beyond merely a political focus of public diplomacy.  Such exhibits include projects like Palestinians, meanwhile- a photography exhibition to highlight normal, everyday life in Palestine. 
The photographer of the Palestinians, meanwhile exhibit, Elena Farsakh, sought to take pictures of what everyday Palestinian life is like.  In this regard, Munnayer noted that the exhibit highlighted:
“That Palestinians are like everybody else, they’re kids and they’re moms and they’re dads and they’re grandpas, they’re storeowners, and they’re businessmen, and they’re whatever they are.  And this goes a long way to making people go, ‘huh, its not necessarily what I thought.’ This goes a long way because, like they say, an image is worth a thousand words, so imagine a wall plastered with different images.  Images last with people; they remember them the next time they see an image that’s not the same.  It creates a context for people to work with when they’re talking about categories like Palestinian, Muslim, Arab.  It helps inform their understanding.
He commented that for opening of the Palestinians, meanwhile exhibition, there was a completely different crowd than that which normally attends political lectures.  “Not because these people aren’t interested in politics but because they are more interested in something like this,” he said. “Through this sort of the images and the discussion around the art, and the art itself, people learn something about Palestine that they might not have been able to learn from a lecture and that itself is also valuable for our outreach efforts.”

In addition, The Gallery hosts a summer film series, evening musical performances, art workshops and an annual souk and olive harvest festival. Munayyer also mentioned upcoming plans for a cultural event to discuss the keffiyah- the Arabic headscarf often associated with the Palestinian cause.  He noted that the keffiyah had become such a part of global pop culture that its origins are sometimes lost on the trendy fashionistas sporting the scarf.  To help reeducate the public on the keffiyah’s origin, the Palestine Center planned to host a lecture for a cultural anthropologist who is an expert on the keffiyah to discuss its history and its emergence as a political symbol and icon of the anti-establishment.

Public and cultural diplomacy is best conducted as a form of iconoclasm that demolishes previously held images and forces audiences to re-imagine prior notions.  In this regard, the Jerusalem Foundation carries out meaningful Palestinian public diplomacy by using cultural diplomacy to break down American stereotypes towards Palestinians and the Middle East.  I only wish such dialogue was conducted with Israelis, and vice-versa, but that remains for a different discussion.  

On leadership and Bibi

Larry Derfner has a great piece in the Jpost on Bibi's intrasigence:
The Western world now sees very vividly that the current Palestinian leadership was serious about negotiating peace. And what does it see from the current Israeli leadership (in contrast to the previous one) ?

Intransigence. Even now. The Netanyahu government’s case against Abbas is that he’s rigid, he refuses to negotiate, and now that Abbas is shown to have been so flexible a negotiator that he’s being called a quisling, who’s the rigid one?

Our fearless leader, Nyetanyahu. In his eyes, the glass of Palestinian moderation isn’t 95 percent full, it’s 5% empty.

The PA agrees to “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history,” in negotiator Saeb Erekat’s words – they accept Israeli sovereignty over every Jewish neighborhood in post-1967 Jerusalem except Har Homa, and how does the Prime Minister’s Office spin it? By pointing to Abbas’s demand for a construction freeze in these neighborhoods, then crowing that the leaks show this demand to be “ridiculous.”

Wrote Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea: “It turns out that Netanyahu is the first prime minister of Israel to ridicule the Palestinians for their willingness to concede.”

Fight on, Egypt

To all the Egyptians battling the pharaoh, Fight on! "Whether in chains or in laurels, liberty knows nothing but victories."
-Wendel Phillips

Or as aptly said by Sarko, quoting one Musa: "Let my people go."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's in a name?

Since no one in India seems to be able to pronounce "Paul" I think I need to find a hindi name. Suggestions? Paulianwallabagh? See under: Jonathan.

PS: A few names have been chimed in via Facebook.
Shafiq: I vote either pankaj, pallav, pallash, or palashranjan. you don't seem like a palashkusum.

Me: I like paullav or paullash.

Me: Paulaharlal?

Shafiq: paulaharlal is a little girly hahaha

Me: Nehru would partition your Bengal ass for such smears.

Jocelyn: My boss was Pankaj. Nice. But "Jammu and Kashmir" does have a nice ring to it. (without any political border disputes, though)

Jocelyn: Or Palu. That they'll get.

Jaipur Lit Fest as soft power

CPD has a nice blog from Abhay K, a diplo from India's MEA, on how India is becoming a hub for culture in Asia, and how it feeds Indian soft power.

McLuhan speaks

There is a phenomenal site of videos of media savant Marshal McLuhan. Now you can know something of his work. Nice find Deaglan.

On light and dark

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light." -Plato

The Story of My Experiments with Vegetarianism

I have taken a gastro vow to try to be a vegetarian for the whole of my time in India. It is quite easy here, and I am giving it a try. Gandhi convinced me, so goes soft power- the power of influence. I won't go hungry in the slightest and I doubt I will eat a single salad.

I went wandering around the neighborhood after work, finding a delicious snack in the form of an aloo tikki- a potato croquette of mashed spuds stuffed with coriander and other pulses and spices stuffed in the middle, then bathed in a deep bath of oil. The finished potato burger was slathered in tamarind and other sauces, and served with slivered red onions on top. Yum. Some delicious barfi- condensed milk squares for desert. Double yum.

Fast forward to actual dinner some hours later. I went with a roomie from Venkat's clubhouse (where I stay) to grab some Indian chinese. Such food entails noodles fried in a large wok with cabbage and chilies. Not sure if it would be exactly recognized by the Chinese as their own, not not too far off and a nice change. Washed down with a limca, my favorite Indian soda.  Limca is a white-ish green (or maybe just green) lemon-lime soda that is much more subtle and less sweet than sprite.  But what was really, really good was dessert. Kalakand, which is a square of condensed milk and cottage cheese that has the consistency of a rice pudding square but a little softer and a little smoother due to the condensed milk.  Yum, yum, yum.  I said the only thing is needed was a little cinnamon on top, but my friend mentioned that cinnamon is really used in India only for curry and not as an additive to other foods.  So goes different palates.

Titans to titans

"Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise."
-W.H. Auden, In Memory of WB Yeats

The Kumars

Khodorkovsky from the Gulag

The Most Important Single Act of Democratization in the last 200 years

"For 200 years, the world was essentially governed by a fragment of the human population.  That's what Europe and North America represented.  The arrival of countries like China and India, between them 38 percent of the population, and others like Indonesia and Brazil and so on, represents the most important single act of democratization in the last 200 years.  Civilizations and cultures which have been ignored, that had no voice, which were not listened to, which were not known about, will have a different representation in this world.  As humanists, we must welcome, surely, this transformation.  And we will have to learn about this civilizations."

O Brave New World

"They had mocked him through his misery and remorse, mocked him with how hideous a note of cynical derision! Fiendishly laughing, they had insisted on the low squalor, the nauseous ugliness of the nightmare. Now, suddenly, they trumpeted a call to arms. 'O brave new world!' Miranda was proclaiming the possibility of loveliness, the possibility of transforming even the nightmare into something fine and noble. 'O brave new world!' It was a challenge, a command."
-Aldous Huxley, "Brave New World"

Some great pieces on the currents shaping this new Middle East that might yet be birthed. And I pray both that it isn't stillborn or the Rosemary's baby that could come out.

-Marc Lynch on Will Arab Revolutions Spread?:
First, we must not allow fears of Islamists to short-circuit support for such transitions. Already, scare-mongering over the potential for Islamist takeovers has become a major, even dominant theme of Western and Arab official discussions of Tunisia --- and that, in a country where the primary Islamist party al-Nahda was long ago crushed and its leaders exiled. I've long expected that if Egypt got the democratic change which so many in Washington talk about, there would be a rapid and intense backlash as the still powerful Muslim Brotherhood necessarily played a major role and as popular opposition to the Mubarak government's foreign policy jeopardized American and Israeli interests. I'm hoping to be proven wrong.

-Leslie Gelb on the situation at hand in Cairo.

On the West's "cosmopolitanism"

"The West thinks of itself as probably the most cosmopolitan of all cultures. But it's not. In many ways, it's the most parochial. Because for 200 years, the West has been so dominant in the world that it has not really needed to understand other cultures, other civilizations, because, at the end of the day, it could, if necessary, by force get its own way. Whereas those cultures, virtually the rest of the world in fact, which have been in a far weaker position vis-a-vis the West have been thereby forced to understand the West because of the West's presence in those societies. And therefore they as a result are more cosmopolitan than the West."
-Martin Jaques, quoting Paul Cohen, in Understand Modern China,

TED Talk on understanding Modern China

Freakonomics on Science in the Kitchen

Freakonomics Stephen Dubner discusses on Marketplace the science of food and some futuristic notions for food. But I don't think I want a dehydrated leek ring. And the prospect of smoking a chocolate cake is intriguing but I will stick to brownies. Buen provecho Abba.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gandhi in South Africa

So I am rereading Gandhi's The Story of My Experiments with Truth.  It is a wonderful treatise on Truth, ahimsa and satyagraha as played out through Gandhi's life.  The one thing I find a little contradictory is that Gandhi cut his teeth fighting for Indian rights in South Africa yet doesn't mention a thing about equality for the African population.

Gandhi spent blood, sweat and years in southern Africa pushing for Indian rights in South African society.  Yet in the midst of all his work to bring about Indian equality, he doesn't mention a word about African rights in South Africa.  From his writings (and this is solely what I am basing this blog on), it doesn't seem as if the notion ever entered his consciousness.  He fought so passionately for the rights of one community yet never seemed to have lent his voice so all could be free.

Again, I am basing this solely on his book.  If any Gandhi scholars have other info, feel free to chime in.  It just strikes me as odd that Gandhi worked so hard for Indian equality yet didn't seem bothered by the inequality towards the African population.


India Calling the Daily Show

Indian irony

The Indian firm Mahindras has bought a stake in the British East India Company.  I didn't think it still existed!  I usually say that irony is G-d's sense of humor, but this time I will say that Shiva has a sense of humor too.

Meanwhile, the LATimes has a great piece on the Jaipur Literary Festival- terming it the "thinking-person's carnival" and notes it as a source of Indian soft power.

Doshi v. Rockower

A fellow named Sagar Doshi has a response to my piece in PolicyMic. Not so sure it is really a "vs." as the title suggests- see under India vs. China.

Just another day in India

Watching the dogs chase the monkey, while the cow grazes in trash. Just another day in India. Meanwhile, I am battling a case of Delhi Belly. Got a little too brazen and bold with the chilies.

Actually, not just another day. Today is India's Republic Day.  I remember about 4 years ago, they were marking a century of Gandhi's Satyagraha by flying fighter planes overhead.

Meanwhile, last night I wandered over to a giant mandir complex.  I walked past a giant statue 40ft of Hanuman, doffed my shoes and walked around the cold marble temple complex.  A fellow marked my head with red and tied a string around my wrist; it is always a blessing to be blessed.  I walked over to the booming prayer hall, where worshipers chants were projected into the night.  The rhythmic chants echoed along the marble.  The priest of fire brought around the ember benediction, to which people bathed in the heat.  People strolled out into the marble hall, taking a white communion-esque wafer and I made my way home.

Nation-Branding spot

The online mag has a blog about the INDIA Future of Change public/corporate diplomacy and nation-branding events in Davos.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Boo Chile!

Che Miles shared with me a great insult heaped upon Borges, Argentina and all who have literary taste.  Some d-bag Chilean author took a piss on Borges' grave.  I hope Argentina stuffs the whole of Chile into the trunk of a Ford Falcon and makes them desaparecidos.

Middle East gastrodiplo to South Asia

I am pondering how to conduct street level Israeli/Middle Eastern gastrodiplomacy in promoting falafel to veg India. Selling a fried veggie dish to India could be worth its weight in chai.

Jaipur Literature Festival

I wasn't sure if I was going to make the Jaipur Literary Festival.  I was quite comfortable not traveling at the moment, and enjoying a bit of the sedentary life.  But an exhortation that I would be missing out was enough to kick my FOMO syndrome (Fear of missing out) into high gear.  I left the office and made my way to the center of town to catch a bus from Bikaner House to Jaipur.  The ticket scrum was unnerving and I almost called the whole thing off but persevered and got a ticket to ride on a 7:30pm non/AC (who needs AC in this cold?) to the city of pink.  I almost missed the bus, I was so busy chatting with a nice twentysomething couple who were also on the way to the fair.

I arrived at 2am into the semi-sleeping streets of Jaipur.  I recognized bits like, having been there before some 4 years ago with Minseon.  I found a decently cheap accommodation, a dorm at a hotel for 200Rs ($4.44), a bit pricey by Indian dorm standards, but at 2am, I didn't care.

I awoke the following morning to the sound of someone violently retching in the bathroom.  Nothing like the joys of shared space.  I packed up and headed through the still-waking streets of Jaipur.  I found my way on to the grand festival and began to enjoy the festivities.  The Jaipur Literary Festival is the largest in the world, and some would consider it the grandest lit fest.  It was attended this year by nearly 50,000 writers, poets, journalists, critics and lit fans.

I attended my first lecture in the Mughal Tent, a enclosure of ornamental blue and white tapestries with streaming fabrics.  As I waited for the event to start, I glanced at the sponsorship of the events.  The principal partners were the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Public Diplomacy Division of the MEA and the Ministry of Culture.  The sponsorship lists was long and impressive: the British Council, the American Center, Alliance Frances, the Embassies of Poland, Israel, Sweden, and a multitude of multinationals.  Then it dawned on me the public diplomacy value of this literature festival.  I will broach that subject later in the post.

The first panel I saw was a conversation with the British author Jim Crace, author of Continent and Being Dead, among others.  He opened by mentioning that literature doesn't like good luck, and that was why his normal life meant he couldn't write an autobiography since he had a pretty normal life to date.  Literature likes ill health better than good health; war to peace.Croce also said something I loved, "storytelling is the jewel in the crown of the human species."  He mentioned that old stories like Anansi and the Indonesian poppy stories (?) were written on behalf of the community.

In discussing his work, he said that he dreamed of being a left wing socialist writer read by rightwing reactionaries.  When the discussant mentioned his books, he kinda said "I haven’t read any of my books, I only wrote them." He noted that they become things of the past.

Crace also discussed the opening to his book Continents and his hatred of epigrams and how he took revenge on the epigram- which he said should be epidurals- meant to deaden you and all to show you the writer is smarter than you.  So for his book Continet, he invented an epigram ascribed to a figment named Pycletius:
There and beyond is a seventh continent-
seven peoples, seven masters and seven seas. And
its business is trade and superstition.
(Histories, IV, 3)
He then recounted how a number of critics then referenced the famous Greek geographer and his eternal work.  He said that critics don’t like to encounter any books they haven’t read. Crace noted that there is a cult of truth in modern society that we should resist.

Crace knocked modern fiction takes the journalistic form; "I have always wanted to make things up- mix the real with the invented.  If I talk about something that is real, I make it unlikely- and if I talk about something made up, I make it as real as possible," he said.

He the discussed Being dead- an atheist’s view of death.  Crace said that he was 3rd generation atheist, but "I still have spiritual requirements." He noted that the old fashioned atheism was a political version- to say you don’t believe in God is a political statement.  "In 1930s, the ruling class owned everything; they owned English- BBC English, Oxford English, the Queen’s English; the ruling class owned the church: to say you didn’t believe in God was to reject the ruling class," he said.  But that kind of atheism doesn’t address the metaphysics, and the new version needs to offer comfort.

"The great religions have a way of narrating our worlds; even though the narratives may be false, the comfort may be real.  My attempt to find a narrative of comfort for those who don’t believe in God."

During Q&A, I asked if he ever considered filling in Pycletius' eternal works?  He noted that he had already snuck Pyceltius into the Oxford Companion to English Literature, with a full entry on the great Greek.

I attended a few other lectures throughout the day but none as good as the first.  I also got to meet a new friend named Aimee Ginsburg, who is the Yediot Achronot correspondent for India.  We had met online after she found some of my columns and we hit it off smashingly.  We chatted over life and the various paths that can and can't lead to Truth.  I hung out with her and some other Israelis, as well as meeting a fascinating panelist named Dr. Nitasha Kaul from Kashmir.

I grew tired of the festivities and headed out to meet my host and new friend Sanjay.  Sanjay is a friend of my friend Venkat and had offered to host me in Jaipur.  It was funny, he was expecting an older gentleman and so was I.  He is a young twenty-something inventor who has designed a fascinating solar-powered tourist rickshaw.  He took me out in Jaipur for some traditional Rajasthani food.  We dined on dal baati- balls of wheat that we broke up into dal.  We ate the various veggies and delicious sabji curry with missi roti- roti slathered with ghee.  It was delicious and overwhelmingly filling.  For desert, there was a little bowl of churma,  which was a mix of sugar, ghee and some kind of wheat.  It was all delish.  Meanwhile, on the way back to Sanjay's place, we grabbed a sweet paan at the famous Anu Van paan at Raja Park.  It was easily the best paan I have ever had.  It gooed and oozed sweetness in your chaw, as it settled the stomach.

I returned on Sunday for the literary festival to hear William Dalrymple and Mahmoud Farouqi (and a third author whose name I didn't catch) discuss the Sepoy Revolt of 1857.  They discussed how for years, the accounts from an Indian perspective were "lost," and all that existed were the British perspective and a British monopolization of the narrative.  They also discussed how there was no real Indian perspective on the events for almost half a century.

I stuck around a bit longer for a good but distressing panel on AfPak and another on the crisis of American fiction, then had to start heading back on the long road to Delhi.  The trip back took close to 7 hours because of the traffic, but I made friends with the bus mates and we munched delicious fried chili pakora at the midpoint.

The long bus ride gave me a chance to consider the public diplomacy value of the Jaipur Lit Feast.  It was a great bit of cultural diplomacy to offer a perspective on Indian literature to both farang as well as to Indians of different states and locations.  There were always 4 simultaneous panels that had a bit for everyone (fiction, nonfiction, politics, culture, hindi, english) plus a great number of performances of music and poetry.  The lit fest made Indian culture, literature and music accessible to both global and domestic audiences. The Jaipur Lit Fest is a great way to make more and more people more aware of the richness of Indian literature and introduce it to new, receptive audiences.  

Great Maps Cont

A great map about how states fair at being the worst:

I hail from the State of AIDS, studied in the States of the Worst Drivers and Worst Pollution, and worked in the State of lowest High School Graduaton. Nice find, John W.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best Protest Sign Ever

Nice find Jocelyn.

New Pics up: Delhi; The Yatra

Tunisia, Tunisia

It is amazing the onslaught of articles that are coming out about Tunisia.  I picked two that I thought were better than most.
-Dictatorship 101
-Facebook and Arab Dignity

Indianesia cont

The Institute for Defense Studies & Analysis (IDSA) in Delhi has a new report on India's Look East policy in regards to Indonesia.  The report looks at areas of partnership, cultural diplomacy and Indian soft power towards Indonesia.  I have been arguing for some time that India should look to bring Indonesia into the fold of IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum) and make it IBSAI.

IDSA had offered me a Visiting Fellowship to research Indian public diplomacy, but unfortunately, we couldn't make the particulars work out.  Maybe sometime in the future I will write a brief someday on IBSA(I) for IDSA.

PS: A good piece in the WSJ about the Indianesia alignment.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gastrodiplo fail

TGIFridays and Starbucks among other American "favs" now in India.  My dad said it best when he sent it to me: gastrodiplomacy at its worst.

Afghan Anecdote

The South Asia historian William Dalrymple had a great annecdote from his last visit to Afghanistan as he was researching a book on the first Anglo-Afghan War of 1839.  He mentioned that a villager remarked:
"This is Afghanistan: we drove the British out, we drove the Soviets out and soon the Americans will leave too.  Now, we worry about the Chinese."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On kisses

“The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once (we soon feel ungrateful) or those who never allow us to kiss them (we soon forget them), but those who coyly lead us between the two extremes.”
-Alain De Botton

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jaipur waking

Camel couriers carrying freights through majestic pink gates.  Chai kindness amid the chaos.  The city of pink bathed in the effulgent morning glow.  Jaipur waking.

Pink Kings of Lit

Off to the Land of Kings (Rajasthan) to the City of Pink (Jaipur) so I can hang with the global literati for the world's largest literary festival.

The Blind men and the Elephant

Swami Parthasarathy narrated this story as written by John Godfrey Saxe, which is based on a parable from India:

The Blind men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

The Yatra

"India cannot be described; it can only be experienced."
-Venkat Dhattareyan

In Hindi, a "yatra" means both a journey and a pilgrimage.  We pilgrims arose early one fine sunday morning to mark a holiday of Krishna holding up a mountain to block rain on his followers.  We set out around 6am for Govardhan, some 5 hours away from Delhi.  All was quiet on the normally choked Delhi streets.  We meandered by way of Faridabad to grab one more pilgrim for the way.

We drove on through the highway until we reached the country roads.  We drove past small villages and large camels.We pushed on past fields of mustard yellow, one that brought back memories of another trip through such colors.

While we were driving, we were listening to a discussion of vedanta by Swami Parthasarathy.  It was fascinating.  He spoke about how there can be no fulfillment with the acquisition of wealth.  "Iron and gold are only good for buying iron and gold, it won't buy happiness."

He also said something that I have been saying for years but never heard from someone else: "As long as experience flows, there is life; when it ceases, there is no life."  I had often compared life and travel to water, and how that when it flows, there is life, but when it is still, it is stagnant.  My trip through the East is however teaching me that still water can run deep.

As I like to quote from Zen thought, "the past and the future do not exist, all we have is the infinite present."  Yet I have always had issues with the present.  I look back well and I look forward well, but I am working on feeling comfortable in the present.  That has been my challenge that I am making progress on in the latest yatra, and I am starting to grok.

As I stopped in the fields of golden yellow mustard, I though of how I loved photography for how it allows me capture the present.

The swami spoke of truth and how no one religion can claim it as it belongs to all.  He spoke of the rigidity of precepts that sap the vitality of religion, and how "what is forced is never forceful."  He continued on self-realization as the path to self-fulfillment.  "He who realizes the self enjoys real peace and bliss; only the one who discovers the self within is fulfilled."  Part of self-realization involves ruling over your mind and body.  As Buddha said, rule your mind or it will rule you.

"It is difficult to find happiness in one's self, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else."
-Arthur Schopenhauer

We arrived to the teeming streets of Govardhan.  The fellows doffed their shoes but told me I could keep mine on.  You can guess what I chose.  Then I asked, so how far are we walking?  9km.  I was only the second farang to join them on the trip, and the first kept his shoes on.  Before setting out, we took our breakfast on the road, eating fried dough with Indian pulses served in bowls made of leaves and drinking ginger chai in red clay cups.  We tossed our leaf bowls and broke our clay cups as is done, and were off down the cold street.

When you trek barefoot, you do it at a measured pace-focusing on each step in front of you and what the path brings.  I chatted with Venkat's friend Rishi on Hindu theology, about the enmity between the Krishnaites and the Vishnuites (Sephardim and Ashkenazim of the Hindu world) and about the (out) castes.  We switched from street to dirt path, past fields of mustard yellow, past beggars of all shapes and sizes, past old stereo blasting holy music and past white, tapered-to-a-point temples.

We walked on dirt until we got back to the road around the holy pools.  I held a chain as I descended to dip my feet in the cold water in the two pools.  We then continued the pilgrims loop, and I ended up the pied piper with a cast of kids who were eager to follow.  Along the route, there were numerous temples to give alms, and people asking for alms.  Yet every time I tried to give alms to people, I failed.  One woman looked at me confused when I confused her hands together blessing us for a request for alms.  Another case, a fellow tossed my coin back at me, I think it was insufficient in his taste.  Along the way, we stopped at a temple and I got marked up with a blessing.

Along the way back, we made one stop at a swarming temple.  It was overwhelming the number of people pushing and shoving to give offerings to idols of krishna.    Priests were walking around with trays of fire, that people waved their hand over.  It was all a site and a scene.  As for me, when I was expected to pray at various locations, I merely said the shma under my breath.  We continued on to the end of the road.  We made one more stop at another temple town, the name of which escapes me.  We got back to Delhi late in the evening, it was quite an unforgettable day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Saving Israel In Spite of Herself

A notion that seems to be a reoccurring meme. Just look what was recently written in Foreign Affairs:
“Because many articulate Americans are passionately committed to Israel, the slightest challenge to any aspect of current Israeli policy is likely to provoke a shrill ad hominem response. To suggest that America should take a stronger and more assertive line in the search for Middle East peace is to risk being attacked as a servant either of Arab interests or of the oil companies, or being denounced as anti-Israel, or, by a careless confusion of language, even condemned as anti-Semitic.”
Except that was written in 1977 in FA under the title above by the venerable American ambassador George Ball. It seems that the conversation never really changes.

Fulbright was an anti-Semite*

It didn't come through. A bit surprised.  So it goes. Disappointing but I will move on. I just need to figure out literally and figuratively which direction my next step it. As I realized years ago that I didn't need the Peace Corps to go abroad, I am finding that I don't need the Fulbright to do PD research abroad.

After stewarding Britain to victory in WWII, Winston Churchill wholeheartedly expected to win the 1945 UK election. But when the votes were cast, his party, the Tories, were beaten in a landslide. His wife Clementine, who wanted him to retire from politics remarked that perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. Churchill responded that if this was a blessing, it was indeed very well disguised.

*My brother warned me of lashing out at anyone in the Facebook age lest my words come back to bite me (See under: The Social Network).  That Fulbright was branded an anti-Semite was an old critique of the Arkansas senator, not specifically my opinion.

On Soft Power and India (II)

"Meanwhile, Jawaharlal Nehru, was also a skilled exponent of soft power: he developed a role for India in the world based entirely on its civilizational history and its moral standing, making India the voice of the oppressed and the marginalized against the big powers of the day."
-Shashi Tharoor, "Indian Strategic Power: Soft"

The last .914 meters

PD guru Edward R. Murrow used to describe public diplomacy as being about "the last three feet." In that case, is American public diplomacy hindered by the fact that the rest of the world uses the metric system?

On Soft Power and Sex

"Soft power is, after all, like sex appeal on a national scale: it is more a reflection of who you are than how you talk about yourself, and if you say you have it, you probably don’t."
-David Wolf (Via JB)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On Soft Power and India (I)

"After all, Mahatma Gandhi won India its independence through the use of soft power- because non-violence and satyagraha were indeed classic uses of soft power before the term was ever coined."
-Shashi Tharoor, "Indian Strategic Power: Soft"

Comparing States to Countries

The Economist has one of the more fascinating articles I have seen.  It has an interactive map comparing US states to various countries.  Mississippi has the same GDP as Bangladesh; DC to Kuwait; Lone Star to Russia.  It also has by population too.

Challenges of the Asian Century: The China-India Relationship | PolicyMic

I have a piece drawn from my blog in PolicyMic: Challenges of the Asian Century: The China-India Relationship | PolicyMic

My Empire for an Onion

First it was the Kimchi Crisis in Korea. Now it is Affliction of the Onion in India Onion prices are skyrocketing in India and it is causing a national crisis!

Delhi mornings

Silhouettes of minarets, minars and mandirs in the morning Delhi haze; bulbous domes, Hindu ziggurats and a giant sentinel Shiva peak through the grey shadows.


While some covet a BMW or Mercedes, I dream only of the H.M. Ambassador.

Quiet in Taiwan

My friend Jonathan Seidman of Radio Taiwan International's Soft Power has an article in World Politics Review on the quieting of Taiwan's opposition to ties with China.  Mazal tov Jonathan- first time is always special.

Food for thought

A measure of Indian gastrodiplomacy and food for thought: In England, Indian curry houses employ more people than the iron, steel, coal and shipbuilding industries combined.

On Indian Nationalism

"Indian nationalism is the nationalism of an idea, the idea of an ever-ever land- emerging from an ancient civilization, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy."
-Shashi Tharoor, "Indian Strategic Power: Soft"

The Evil Empire invades the Rockower Gallery

Like Afghanistan, just before my birth, the Soviets have invaded- this time with propaganda.  I have officially been replaced at the Annenberg Gallery.  I am a tough act to follow, it took them 6 months to replace my exhibition.  The new exhibit is: "Laughing Matters: Soviet Propaganda in Khrushchev's Thaw, Posters from the Collection of Monroe Price and Aimée Brown Price." спасибо Mel.

Meanwhile, i am finding I have been replaced in other forms and fashions.  So it goes.  The medium is the message.

Israel and Soft Power

Eureka! So my recent revelation is that the problem isn't that Israel doesn't understand public diplomacy (although Israelis, among many others, don't understand the listening aspect).  Israel has long been cognizant of public diplomacy, quite adept at PD and at using new platforms to conduct PD.  The problem is that Israel doesn't have the slightest ideas about soft power.

Despite a democratic system, a culturally diverse population and sectors that create tremendous innovation, Israel has almost no soft power, and is still dealing with the fact that its mention can often associate negative images of war and terror. It hasn't internalized the three pilars of soft power, that its culture should be attractive to others; that its political value should be attractive to others; that its foreign policy should be attractive to others. How can we get Nye's Soft Power translated into Hebrew?

Nye mentioned that it is the side with the better story that wins.  In this regard, as long as the occupation continues, Israel's story loses out.  The Palestinian David to the Israeli Goliath is the reality when Israel only flexes hard power not soft power.  The reality is that Palestine has a lot more soft power these days than Israel.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Of Interest

-I like Ike....Susan Eisenhower that is, on her grandfather's meaning of the military-industrial complex.

-Congrats to Mr. Karimov, a tongue-in-cheek cheer to Uzbekistan's long-serving leader.

-Why America demonizes China by Thomas P.M. Barnett

-A poignant piece in the LA Times on South Sudan's vote.

-A great article on the consumer gold rush through development opportunities in Afrika.

-Paul Krugman has a phenomenal piece that explains Europe's economic crisis.  Sounds boring, but it isn't.  The article is well-written enough to be interesting, and explained well enough to not be in economist speak but rather accessible as he compares the situation of Ireland to Nevada.

On names and historical irony

The name "India" comes from the river Indus.  The Indus River today flows in what is Pakistan.

The Shadow War

Mossad's greatest hits: Der Spiegel has a fascinating piece on Israel's shadow war with the Iranian nuclear program.  And another one on the Mossad's hit squads and Dubai.


"A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation. A politician is a statesman who places the nation at his service"
-Georges Pompidou

I remember years ago at a Betar Yerushalayem football match, the Betar Likudniks chanted "Ehud Barak hoo Ben Zona! (Ehud Barak is an SOB).  Today, Ehud Barak is nothing more than Bibi's poodle.  Sad, but I had branded him as a sellout long before, so I am not surprised.  Daniel Levy has good commentary in Foreign Policy on A Requiem for Israel's Labor Party.

To be honest, Labor did it to itself years ago by turning on the last good and decent leader it had, Amram Mitzna.  Mitzna was sacked too soon in his tenure because Labor got restless under his leadership after their MK count dropped from 26 to 19, but a decline that had more to do with he paid the price for Barak's fumblings in the second intifadah; Laborniks cheered years later when the inept Amir Peretz won the party the same 19 seats.  Mitzna ran on a platform of negotiations but unilateral disengagement if that failed.  Sharon chided him at the time, only to adopt Mitzna's ideas and plan.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Incredible !ndia

Good Incredible !ndia video spot

Remembering Lumumba

Today marks the 50th anniversary of what can only be called one of the CIA "greatest hits," the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.  Years ago, I saw the film Lumumba with my friend Jeremy and we were both moved.  Adam Hochschild, who wrote the phenomenal King Leopold's Ghost, has a terrific op-ed about the assassination and its aftereffects.  Only now do I realize that he was assassinated after just 4 months in office.  Congo still suffers for these crimes today.

The Challenge of the Asian Century

As the swirling currents of geopolitics continue to reshape the international order, the challenge I see most immediate for the Asian Century that is upon us is that of keeping the two heavyweights, China and India, in a modicum of civility.

Over the past half century, the relationship between the dragon and the tiger has been precarious, marked by war in 1962 and continued mistrust.  China backs India's nemesis Pakistan and has been hemming it in with the String of Pearls strategy.  India, in turn, has grown closer with the US and has been conducting more outreach in Southeast and East Asia (The Tiger's Tail strategy). More recently, there has been some quibbles over the status of Arunachal Pradesh, last year over google maps positioning of the border, more recently over stapled visas.

Asia, and for that matter the world these days, depends on these two juggernauts getting along.  They fill different roles and have vastly different talents in the rising Asian tides.  Rather than see the two poles of Asian growth destroy the possibility of grand things to come, I am hoping and praying for better communications between these two titans.  For starters, install a direct link phone between Beijing and New Delhi ala the old red line phone between Washington and Moscow.  Increase bilateral public diplomacy between both states and their peoples.  China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was just in Delhi with a huge business contingent; that is good but there also needs to be cultural exchange not just commercial exchange.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao gave a stellar address in Singapore on Rabindrath Tagore's vision of Indian-Chinese friendship.  The more that the world's two oldest civilizations and biggest countries understand each other via public diplomacy, the better off we all are- as sayeth a member of an equally old yet far smaller tribe.  

PS: That Singapore was the place where Rao's speech was given was telling.  I remarked in my blog earlier that Malaysia could find its PD niche in serving as an intermediary between India and China.  If it doesn't act, Singapore looks poised to play that role.

MLK & Gandhi

MLK Day is always a poignant holiday to me.  I can remember learning about his legacy as a kid.  I remember sitting in the church of Reverend KirbyJon Caldwell in Houston, celebrating the auspicious day with a little gospel.  That evening, I went to an United Orthodox synagogue to hear a fantastic discussion by Rabbi Berry Gelman on the various Torah references of Dr. King's speech.

I remember tears falling like rain on his birthday in 2009 as the weight of historical memory proved too much for me as I sat through a play on the Civil Rights Movement at the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the eve of Obama's swearing-in.  This year I am in India, and thought it would be proper to honor both MLK and Gandhi with Dr. King's thought on Gandhi:
"Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigour and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love.
PS: A moving piece by Clarence Jones on the first drafts of "I Have a Dream." (TY Abba)

American diversity as American PD

I was heartened to see coverage here in India of the swearing-in of Nikki Haley as governor of South Carolina.  It was prominently covered  on tv and in the news.  She is the second Indian-American to be elected governor, the first woman and I think I read also that she is the first non-white gov of the palmetto state.

Meanwhile, I came across this interesting article about new San Fran mayor Edwin Lee, who is of Chinese descent.  America showing the world that it integrates and allows the hyphens to reach levels of prominence is better public diplomacy than any overwrought advocacy work.

On Security in India

One thing that I have noticed in a week back in India is the increased security presence here.  Every time I want to take the metro, I need to queue up and pass through a metal detector, get frisked and xray of my bags.  I do this at least twice a day.  They divide the lines up, one for gents and one for ladies.  Not sure where the hijras (Indian ladyboys) go, I haven't seen any line up.  Sometimes the lines are really, really long.  Tonight, the line stretched down the hall and up the stairs, almost to the top.  But it moves quickly with the cursory pat down.

I have not been back to the US since the TSA instituted the controversial "pat down" procedure.  I can't imagine that in reality it is such a big deal, but again, haven't had one.  One thing they don't do here is frisk kiddies, one thing I noticed that caused some consternation in America.  The metal detector, frisk and x-ray aren't a big deal, just part of daily life.

Meanwhile, I am finding I need to keep bananas on the ready for the elephants and monkeys I pass in my daily commute.

India Future of Change

I am using my blog as a platform to plug my present work for India Future of Change.  I am happily aggregating news about India's areas of innovation for the Facebook and twitter sites.  Follow the Facebook (India Future of Change) or the twitter feed (@futureofchange) to read all the fascinating ways India is contributing to global innovation.

On Reason

"He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave."
-William Drummond

Sunday, January 16, 2011


"To a worm, a plate of spaghetti is an orgy."
-Eduardo Galeano, Walking Words

Using some Jewish brains to take out the Iranian nuclear program.  Hehe, luv it.  Take that, Ahmadinejad.

PS: But Reza Aslan postulates that perhaps we have Ahmadinejad all wrong.

New Pics from Thailand

From Koh Phangnan

From Bangkok

From Ayutthaya

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On call

"Many are called but few are chosen."
-Mathew 22:14

Mahout; Connaught

Even if my words did glow, I could never fully describe India.  India assaults you and your senses, but does so with an affectionate smile and an endearing head bobble.  I find that I forgive India for things that I find fault in other places.  But isn't that what love is? 

After waving to the neighborhood monkey, I was walking toward the bus stop on Nelson Mandela Marg (who isn't dead, f'ing twitter hijinks).  On the road to the bus stop, I saw a pachyderm walking through traffic.  Mahout (noun): one that drives an elephant.  The mahout waved me over for a ride, but I was content taking pictures and didn't feel like forking over rupees for the lift.  I did, however, wonder what it would cost to rent the elephant to take me to work on monday through the morning traffic. 

As usual I got a bit lost, but after some immaculate ginger chai, found my bus towards downtown New Delhi.  I got off in Connaught Place, the commercial district of Delhi, for some shopping for provisions for the north Indian winter.  I wandered through the sweater market, past piles of jackets and sweaters and found one that fit the bill.  The bill was 150 rupees, about $3.  I wandered through the bizarre bazaar and on to the underground labyrinth Palika Market to get a lens cap that I had been missing since KL.  The lens cap cost me more than the sweater, but far less than the $15 that the thieving camera stores wanted in KL.

I escaped from the materialist minotaur and wandered through Delhi's Central Park and back over to have some street food treats for dinner.  I had a bread deep fried with chilies covered in potato lentil dhal with cumin sprinkled on top, served in a bowl made of leaves.  It set me back 12 rupees, less than 20 cents.  India is ever the gastronomist's dream.  

I finished my provision shopping with the purchase of a winter hat ($1) and hopped the metro over to the New Delhi train station to wander through Paharganj, which had been my stomping grounds last time I was in Delhi.  Nothing too much to speak of, except a hot jalebi for dessert.  Jalebi is a dough that is fried in pretzely circles then dunked in honey syrup.  It is a bit crisp on the outside, but oozes hot honey syrup when you bit into the center.  Yum.

Re-setting India's PD

The esteemed diplomat Kishan Rana has a great piece on resetting Indian PD (Nandri Venkat).  First, I love that he references Kautilya:
The practice of PD is much older than its name. Many of the practices of statecraft that Kautilya recommends to the king in his classic, Arthashastra, involve deliberate effort to mould public opinion in the king’s favour, vis-à-vis his own subjects, and in dealing with adversaries. Leaders of all ages have understood the value of carrying with them public opinion at home; contemporary PD engenders realisation of the utility of reaching out to foreign audiences through varied methods, beyond overt propaganda.
Second, he comes to a conclusion that I had been sensing:
What India needs is a ‘public diplomacy board’, along the lines of what exists in France and the UK, where foreign ministries bring together independent agencies that deal with image issues in their regular work remit. For India this would include agencies handling tourism promotion, the official and private media, business and industry promotion, the public and private education sectors, and others, to work out a shared broad strategy and possible harmonised actions. Of course, this will not be easy, but on the plus side we have a foreign secretary who understands well the importance of the media and image, and is committed to advancing PD. Establishing such a regular discussion forum would also bring to MEA the perspectives of these partners in working out effective PD activities, and expose MEA to the rich experiences of non-state actors.

Gandhi's experiments with Truth

"But for me, truth is the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles.  The truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought also, and not only the relative truth of our conception, but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God.  There are innumerable definitions of God, because His manifestations are innumerable.  They overwhelm me with wonder and awe and for a moment stun me.  But I worship God as Truth only.  I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him.  I am prepared to sacrifice the things dearest to me in pursuit of this quest.  Even if the sacrifice demanded be my very life, I hope I may be prepared to give it. But as long as I have not realized this Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it."
-Mohandis K. Gandhi, The Story of my Experiments with Truth

Mabrouk Tunisa

Congrats to the Middle East's Gdansk.  Robert Mackey of the NY Times has a good summary of the swirling press stories.

And Mona Eltahawy has a great piece in WaPo on the Jasmine revolution.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Israeli Vulture Spy

I had a small wing in this story :)

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The commute

I walked out the apartment complex into scenes of Mad Max. While on the overpacked bus, I had a vision of Shiva amid the different arms I saw gripping the rails. The Delhi metro is my sanity, and I even got a smart card. Ain't I smart.

Some old men feed pigeons in the park; on the way home, I feed the neighborhood monkey. Meanwhile, I am currently trying to coax a pigeon out of my friend's apartment with a trail of breadcrumbs.

Kristof on Guns

Nick Kristof offers some novel ideas on gun control:
Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college. He was rejected by the Army. Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine? No problem.

To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?

Tunisia afire

Tunisia has been up in arms over the past week.  The literal spark for the protests was a from a 26-year old college grad who couldn't find a job, and was selling vegetables on the streets.  When the police roughed him up over his lack of registration, he self-immolated and brought a simmering rage in Tunisia out.

There have been some fascinating articles about the protest that have erupted.  Tunisia had been considered the most stable country in North Africa.  Change comes suddenly.

-The Sick Man of the Middle East by Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy
-Where are the democracy promoters on Tunisia by Marc Lynch, also in FP
-What if Tunisia had a revolution and nobody watched by Ethan Zuckerman