Monday, February 28, 2011


From Roger Cohen's What a Lucky Man:
Obamaism is taking form. Its themes are nonviolence, youth-driven social media as engines of change and limiters of autocratic brutality, and the universality of those rights listed in Cairo. I am feeling more hopeful about the world than at any time since 2001. The authoritarian decade, led by China and Russia, has run its course. And the most powerful man in the world happens to be a lucky man.

New Pics Up: Purana Qila and Lodi Gardens

Visa Denied

Haha, Bill Gates had his visa to Nigeria denied. Thought he was going to suck off the system. Paulestine would refuse his visa too.


I was interviewed on Radio Taiwan International's On the Line (starts at 31min) about my work with INDIA Future of Change, what the model of INDIA Future of Change offers for Taiwan as a pd model and how Taiwan and India can foster better ties through public diplomacy.

Radio Free Libya

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Car and Driver

As I mentioned in a previous post, it is quite commonplace to see Indians being chauffeured around by drivers, even if the chariot is a tiny little hatchback. The price of a driver's service is usually about $100US per month, less than the price of insuring a car in the US.

Trying ties.

India vs. England. 8 hours of cricket. Down to the wire. Tie. Oh, cricket. Oh, India.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Faulting Obama

MJ Rosenberg has a good piece on Neocons faulting Obama for his Israel support. Maybe because he is a socialist Muslim.

The Great Ride Forward

My compadre Peter Winter has a piece in the Huffington Post on his moto trek through Asia. You can follow his trek at the Great Ride Forward.

The Gods Kindly Request You Not Pee Here

And other Indian tales. Bathrooms here are generally wherever you can find them. So to ward off urination, places put tiles of the Gods on the walls around around hip level.

Little and litter are the two things that annoy me. The Gods kindly request you don't throw your garbage on the ground. Those who worship the earth as goods see no contradiction in wantonly tossing trash on her.

I want to start a Hindu theological anti-littering campaign aimed at kids. Comics teaching kids no to toss. Shiva says don't litter; Ganesh pities the fool who tosses his rubbish.

Afghan wigs

Hey, do you think we can just leave Afghanistan? I'm pretty sure Osama isn't there. That was the reason we went in, no?

Cut and run, sure. Better than doubling down on dumb.

We don't really like Karzai. I'm not sure why we are still doing business with him. I'd be happy to be out of that neighborhood. I don't think we would miss Pakistan too much either.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! | Video on

The Dogmas of the Quiet Past

"The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."
-Abraham Lincoln, "Annual Message to Congress 1862"

The world as well.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


The NYTimes blog Lens has the photos of the year. Some are pretty f'ing stunning. My fav is the first, in Thailand.

Get ready

Larry Derfner of the Jpost has a great piece on how Israel should expect the wave of protest that is rocking the Middle East to come right up to the Green Line. We will curse the day we dragged our feet in negotiations...

Manchurian Army

 Rolling Stone is reporting that the US Army deployed psy-ops against US Senators to get funding and equipment.  Seriously, WTF?
PS: My friend John chimed in:"The Force can have a strong influence upon the weak-minded." 

Lost for 40 years

The NYTimes has a poignant story about a man who lost his wallet 4 decades ago, only to have it recently found.

Intolerance in Oz

Surveys point to some deep-seated racist attitudes in Australia.  Can't say I am shocked by this news.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Sun Also Rises

Pamplona, India-style: Running of the Cows! I was almost speared by herd that was after my aloo tikki

Greatest. Shoe. Commercial. Ever.

On Twitter & Facebook

"Twitter makes you love people you have never met & facebook makes you hate people you actually know."
-Shashi Tharoor Lauren LaPointe

World's Largest Family

The Daily Mail reports on the world's largest family.  A fellow in India has 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren.  It takes 30 chickens just for family dinner!  My hero...

Power Management

I have too much PD on the brain. I was on a packed Delhi metro last evening with my friend Lisa. We were squished in next to a young Indian fellow who started chatting with us. He said he is studying Power Management, and I lit up and asked if this was related to foreign policy and soft power; he looked at me a little funny, and replied that it was in relation to electrical systems.

PD Div

My article on Brand India is prominently noted on the India Ministry of External Affairs's PD Division website.

Beinart on the Right's Hypocrisy in the Middle East Uprisings

Peter Beinart has been writing some terrific pieces of late, none finer than this article on the American Right's hypocrisy on democratic reform in the Middle East
The past few weeks have been clarifying. Ever since he took office, the press has been calling Barack Obama a ruthless realist who lacks the passion for democracy and liberty of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The fact that Bush’s war on terror provided a pretext for all manner of tyrants to crack down on their political opponents or that the Bush administration itself tortured terror suspects rarely intruded on the narrative. Bush was an idealist because he invaded Iraq, despite the fact that democracy became the war’s primary public rationale only after America failed to find weapons of mass destruction. And Bush was an idealist because he spoke loudly and eloquently about human freedom, even though the U.S. didn’t cut ties to a single important pro-American dictator during his eight years in office.

Now, in less than a month, the idiocy of that narrative has been exposed. In his hour of decision, Obama helped push Hosni Mubarak from office. He’s urging fundamental political reform, and opposing violent crackdowns, in pro-American regimes like Yemen and Bahrain. And while some conservative intellectuals are pleased, or wish he were even more aggressive, the people with the biggest megaphones on the American right—people like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich—are not preaching democratic idealism. They’re warning that Egypt and Bahrain are about to become Iranian- or Taliban-style theocracies. They’re comparing Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter for not standing behind our favored strongmen. And they’re suggesting that, at the very least, America should demand that Islamist parties be banned. When it comes to Muslims and democracy, much of the supposedly idealistic American right turns out to be pretty pessimistic. It turns out that the people uninterested in the human rights of Muslims at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay aren’t all that concerned about them in Egypt or Bahrain either.
PS: Marc Lynch has a good piece in FP on what can realistically be done to stop the slaughter taking place in Libya. 

Cellphones are evil; Cellphones are good

As I have long been saying, now there are studies to prove it.

But also, as I have long said, I am more of a cellphone enthusiast as the next big wave of technological interconnection than the internet (PD 1.0 rather than  2.0).  GlobalPost has a good article on how India is pushing the mobile phone revolution.


I was a bit too adventurous with my attempts to try new things. Indian chewing tobacco has my head spinning, my spittle red and my chaw filled with grossness. But o' Skoal, there would be such a market for dip here. I could make a fortune of rupees selling Redman to Indians.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Dark Ages

Ever here the conditions of the world's poorest compared to the Medieval ages? Well, it's sadly worse.

Flags over Paulestine

The pre-Gaddafi Libyan flag is flying high over the Libyan Embassy in Paulestine.

Israel anti-apartheid pd campaign

Israel is conducting an interesting pd campaign to combat Israel Apartheid Week (TYBFF). They are sending Arab and Gay Israelis to discuss life in Israel. One of the Arab delegates said, "Inequality is everywhere, but not discrimination." Years ago, a young press officer wrote up PD strategies promoting Israel through such segments of the population, I am glad that years later they finally get it. Slow learners, but learners nonetheless.

The apartheid analogy and the fight against are both a little disingenuous. No, the situation in Israel proper is nothing close to the dreaded "A" word. In the territories, the line gets a little more blurry. There is a nuanced discussion to be had on the term and its application, but neither side is interested in having a nuanced discussion.

Cricket Failure

A total cricket failure in cricket-mad India. Watching the Cricket World Cup, I am shocked at the empty seats. Empty stadiums. In cricket-crazy India. That means that the ICC messed up. The ticket prices are too high. If they went for volume on full stadiums of the legions of cricket fans here, they would have a packed house every night. But the starting ticket is 300 rupees, which is too much here. If they charged one-third of the price, it would be a full hourse. I have heard that had a similar problem with the Commonwealth Games.

PR in AmCham

So the American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan wrote about gastrodiplomacy.  Actually, first they approached me, but kinda dropped the ball.  Then, they had someone write about Taiwan's gastrodiplo citing my gastrodiplo work.  Most of it was good, and I am pleased.  However the writer asserts that I am wrong about a few historical anecdotes I offered., actually I'm not.  I had sources, and considering that I am practically your source for the piece, I think your questioning of my anecdotes are a little odd.  Anywho, I haven't been sucking on bitter fruit. As PT Barnum long stated, just make sure you spell my name right.  They did, and that's ultimately all that matters.  

The Evening Commute Cont

I made my way downtown during the monday rushhour to Paharganj to meet my friend Lisa. Braving the Delhi rush hour is without parallel. Around Central Secretariat, the train flooded with people to the point of full saturation. When I had to leave at the packed Rajiv Chowk transfer station, it was literally like being expelled from the bowels of the Delhi metro. A movement of people were sh-t out of the train in a crushing stampede wave. I ran over to catch the blue line which was equally packed. Since I was running, I used my momentum to take a flying leap into the packed car. Delhi metro crowd surfing at its finest.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Open door vs. primacy; Lavon Affair

Thomas PM Barnett has a terrific op-ed on the future of America's role in the global community:
The decline of the American "empire" has been a persistent theme of the punditocracy these past several years, with the underlying logic being Washington's inability to extend, ad infinitum, the primacy seemingly conferred upon it at Cold War's end. The global financial crisis has now further revealed a suddenly -- and stunningly -- rebalanced global order, and as a result, Americans are supposed to dread the vast uncertainties of our allegedly "post-American world."

Worse, Americans are also being presented with a patently false binary choice: Should the U.S. do what is necessary to regain its primacy or simply let it slip away? Those who argue for renewed primacy take for granted the American-ness of their ambition, for surely only the unpatriotic among us will accept anything less than no. 1 as a grand strategic objective. Even those who argue against such "insane" ambition subtly buy into its logic, by presuming it has animated U.S. foreign policy these past several decades, with only our recent "hubris" having cost us our "greatness."

Both viewpoints could not be further from the truth.

The pursuit of primacy as a grand strategy is completely un-American in both its conception and execution. In fact, the Bush-Cheney neocons brought us far closer to an ideological coup d'état than any previous foreign policy scandals of note, including the secret wars of Nixon and Reagan. America's clear and succinct grand strategy, first enunciated by Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt when the U.S. was coming of age as a great power, has been the "open door." Primacy was never its prize or its purpose.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Michael Oren has an op-ed about Israel's view towards changes in Egypt:
Following an uprising in Cairo, Israel’s prime minister told the Knesset that he “wishes to see a free, independent and progressive Egypt,” and that “the stormy developments there may contain positive trends for progress.” The prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, spoke on Aug. 18, 1952, shortly after a young and seemingly moderate officer, Gamal Abdel Nasser, came to power.

Israeli leaders subsequently tried to secure a peace treaty with Nasser, but his rule proved neither progressive nor peace-minded. Instead, his hostility toward Israel set off two wars, the second of which, the Six-Day War of 1967, continues to affect the Middle East today.
Ambassador Michael Oren is by trade a historian. That is what makes this vanilla statement so interesting. He speaks of Israel wanting peace with Nasser, yet it is fairly likely he is also aware of the Lavon Affair. The Lavon Affair, which takes its name from the Israeli Defense Minister Pinchas Lavon, was Israel’s attempts to undermine Nasser’s government with a series of bombings in 1954 carried out as false flag operations targeting American and British installations. The plan was to make it look like Egyptian communists or Muslim Brotherhood. The saboteurs were captured, levels of belligerency rose and both the Lavon and ultimately PM Moshe Sharett resigned.  Not exactly something to make Nasser want to make peace with Israel, and I won't even get into the 1956 Sinai War.

Of Interest

The International Lactose Solidarity Movement

Gastrodiplomacy at its finest: someone in Cairo ordered a pizza for the protesters in Wisconsin.   "Mozzarella is the solution!"

Talking Turkey

While "Tunisia is the solution" may be the present situation in the Middle East, it is more likely that "Turkey is the solution" for the future of how Muslim countries can be both religious and democratic. The Times of India noticed as much, and wrote about Turkish soft power in the region and how it could serve as a role model in the Middle East. Turkey has been angling to be a regional leader for some time, now is the time to step up.

British PM David Cameron is the first world leader visiting Cairo; Erdogan should be the second.

Monsoon wedding

Sunday I met up with a friend from the road named Lisa. I met Lisa in Malaysia, in KL at the Oasis. She is from Oz, and is trekking around for the year after working on oil rigs. She had been wandering around India with a romantic interest, but he left back to Down Under and now she is in Delhi. We caught up in Connaught Place at a famous restaurant called Nirula's. We were supposed to meet at 2pm, I arrived a little early and found a delicious chocolate paan. Sweet paan is great, with coconut and rose petal preserves wrapped up in a betel leaf; cold, dark chocolate-covered sweet paan is an immaculate treat for your chaw. I waited outside Niruala's for 30minutes for I it dawned on me to look inside for Lisa. Duh.

We headed down to Old Delhi, but as we arrived, the sky was turning salmon as something wicked this way came. A monsoon soon descended upon us and we took refuge from the weltering sky. We spent the afternoon sipping chai in a back alley of Old Delhi as the monsoon soaked the city. We finally braved the rains and waded our way back to the metro. As we were walking in the rain, one of the most unexpected things happened as we were walking. A naked Indian woman walked past, soaked to the bone. No one is ever naked in India, let alone women walking through the streets of Delhi. She was walking too fast for us to figure out what was the situation, but I can just about promise that something bad had been happening.

Anyway, we made our soaked way back to Lisa's and spent a wet sunday evening watching movies.  Some absolutely great ones, including Spun and Machete. Spun is similar to Requiem for a Dream, but not as disturbing.

Machete is a cult classic, directed by Robert Rodriguez of El Mariachi fame.  Machete is like Robert Rodriguez doing Kill Bill ie yerking off on film.

The films were so great, I lost track of time. I checked the clock and it was 11:15pm, and the metro was closing soon. I hurried my way through the Delhi Railway station and to the metro. I got there at 11:30pm, and the station was still open and there were still trains running. Apparently. I sat waiting for my train towards Huda City Centre. Trains going the other direction kept passing, at least three while I was waiting. Meanwhile, one train went towards the direction but with no passengers. For a while, a metro worker sat next to me and we made small chat. I had a little worry that there was no minute countdown for my train but there were apparently other people waiting too. Five minutes after the witching hour, I thought my train was coming but it was a big yellow track cleaner. At that point I said WTF and went over to the group of fellows sitting on the ground waiting:

You guys are waiting for the train, right?
-No, no, no more trains, they said.
WHAT! I exclaimed. But then why are you sitting here waiting?
-Oh, we are just enjoying the moment.
F' the moment, I was waiting here cause I thought you guys were waiting for a train as well.
-HAHA, no, no more trains.

All I could do was laugh, as they laughed at my F bombs and faux rage. I walked back to Lisa's to have a slumber party.

Lisa and I had some thoughts on !ncredible !ndia. Incredibly Unconventional India. Convention was something that never has existed here.

Also, there is no multitasking in India. There are always more workers than needed because everyone does one task. It kind of explains the style I have spoken of, the kinda mystic, kinda precise way that people do things- the flair thrown into one task, be it making chat, pouring chai or what have you. It is the accumulated skill and style borne out of doing one thing. It is the singular uniqueness that had reminded me of Morocco.

PS: Speaking of marriage, why you aren't..

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Glazed gaze

I headed over on friday night for shabbat services. I arrived about 30 minutes late due to the metro, but hadn't miss anything because some interfaith ecumenical celebration was going on at the synagogue. There were leaders from the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jain communities joining in for the sabbath services. Such is India.

Saturday I got up early and headed downtown to Purana Qila, a giant old fortress complex constructed some five centuries ago. I realized upon arrival that I had been there once, either in memory or in dream. I was greeted by giant blue stars of David on the fortress gates, and I knew that I was in the right place for Yom Shabbat. I wandered around the complex, past the Sher Mandel library (def Jewish!) that was Hamayun's place of untimely demise as he fell down the library stairs.

I also wandered through the museum that displayed excavations from the area. All sorts of ancient necklaces, terracotta pots and other eternal relics. There were some amazing hopscotch pieces that dated back some two millennia. There were also some five centuries-old terra cotta chillums. Some things are eternal as well.

The one thing I found absolutely uncanny was a map showing the Mughal Empire in 1605ad. The Mughal map stretches from central India far past Kabul and Kandahar. Yet even then, guess which tribes were marked independent and not under central governance: the Baluch and Pathan tribes. Something the Mughals were wise to some centuries prior-- too bad we don't learn from history.

From Purana Qila, I made my way on to the Indian Crafts Museum.  The museum had some interesting statues, but wasn't as impressive as I had expected.

One side note, the thing that I find so interesting is that so many Indian women sport the veil, yet I never hear any western criticism of this modesty note.  Perhaps because the Indian veil is often in bright pastel colors of lavender, lemon and orange hues.  Color affects emotion, and the color black can create fear in ways that pastels simply do not.

From there, I walked on to the impressive National Gallery of Modern Art.  There was a stunning exhibit by Anish Kapoor that I wrote a bit about in my discovery of an aleph.

Meanwhile, the permanent collection was quite good.  There was a collection of British Romanticists who painted Indian landscapes through an orientalist's glazed gaze.  Thomas Daniell, among others, applied the romantic touch to India's white onion-domed mosques and other ghats.  It was beautiful and brilliant.  There were paintings of gold-adorned dancing girls whirling about while men decked out in white robes and white turbans watched on.  This also led to an Indian Academy that offered a local romantic brush to the Indian canvas.  This would be a fascinating exhibit for India to send traveling to the various global art centers.

I wandered through the various stylistic takes on Indian life in the exhibit titled "In the Seeds of Time," it was quite entertaining to see various styles of art with an Indian subject.

I made my way back to another Anish Kapoor installation that was also a bit of fun.  Various mirrors that distorted perspective, and colored holes in the wall that played tricks on perception and perception.  All quite good, and even better for 10 rupees (student price!).

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Great sign in Wisconsin: "United we bargain; Divided we beg"

My friend Mike noted,"It's painfully ironic that one of the first states to champion union/labor laws under Fighting Bob LaFollette is now one of the first to strip their rights away." 

American ostriches cont

Charles Blow has a piece that echoes what I have been saying about the calcifying American greatness:
It’s time for us to stop lying to ourselves about this country.

America is great in many ways, but on a whole host of measures — some of which are shown in the accompanying chart — we have become the laggards of the industrialized world. Not only are we not No. 1 — “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” — we are among the worst of the worst.

Yet this reality and the urgency that it ushers in is too hard for many Americans to digest. They would prefer to continue to bathe in platitudes about America’s greatness, to view our eroding empire through the gauzy vapors of past grandeur.

Republicans have even submitted a draconian budget that would make deep cuts into the tiny vein that is nonsecurity discretionary spending, cuts that would prove devastating to the poor and working class.

At the very time that many Americans — and the very country itself — are struggling to emerge from a very deep hole, the Republican proposal would simply throw the dirt in on top of us.

This cannot be. Financing for education and social services isn’t simply about handouts to the hardscrabble, it is about building an infrastructure that can produce healthy, engaged and well-educated citizens who can compete in an increasingly cutthroat global economy.

One of President Obama’s new catchphrases is “win the future,” but we can’t win the future by ceding the present and romanticizing the past.
He has facts and figures to back it up.

An Aleph

"O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a King of infinite space..."

"The world is a mirror."

In the Indian National Gallery of Modern Art, I found an "Aleph." What is an Aleph? It is a point of infinity where everything and nothing are one. A point of the universe where perception and distortion overlap.

 Borges was the first to identify the ephemeral Aleph.  Since he tipped me off to their quixotic nature, I have since stumbled on an Aleph once before, in the home of Dolores Olmeda.

Finding an Aleph is always rare, but I found one today in the work of Anish Kapoor and his staggeringly brilliant Random Triangle Mirror.  It was literally a "through the looking glass" installation that distorted and refracted images  into peacock eyed reflections.  Infinite reflections through a world refracted.  Yet infinity melted away and I found myself staring at me as I came up close.  It was truly one of the most incredible things I have ever come across in all my wanderings.

Never miss an opportunity

Lots of opportunities missed all around on the latest Israeli-Palestinian business in the UN.  Israel spit in Obama's face over settlements, then had the chutzpah to demand that the US veto a resolution in the UN Security Council.  For its part, the Obama admin was going to let a moderate resolution of rebuke pass the UN Security Council, much to Israeli and AIPAC chagrin.  But the Palestinians overreached and pushed forward a much more strident resolution declaring all settlement activity to be illegal, and the US was put in a position that it had to veto the resolution that contained too much opprobrium in the form of a Palestinian version of perfect being the enemy of the good.  All sides are getting adept at never missing opportunities to miss opportunities.  


Gail Collins offers a great PS to my American Ostriches blog post with her op-ed Sacred Cows, Angry Birds.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Cell

Although I hate cellphones, I have always been a much bigger proponent of their capacity to create real global change, far more than twitter and facebook.  The NYTimes has a piece on the role of cellphones and cell cameras in the protests.

India at the big kids table

India wants a seat at the great powers big kids table. Yet with great power, comes great responsibility that India has been loathe to shoulder. As India is striving to be considered among the great powers, and gain a seat at the UN Security Council, it still hasn't decided what its role should be in international politics. WaPo has a good article on this reticence for India to stand up.  Daneyvad, Bapu.

The Arab Awakening

A good article by former diplomat Lawrence Pope on the Arab Awakening:


One thing that makes me giggle every time I see it is the list of things prohibited on the Delhi Metro. It ranks up with the Guate school bus list of signs. Beyond the expected things like food and drink, inflammable liquids, corrosive acids, radio active substances, there are a few others such as:

  • blood, dried;
  • corpses;
  • carcasses of dead animals;
  • bones, excluding bleached and cleaned bones;
  • manure of any kind;
  • any decayed animal or vegetable matter;
  • human ashes;
  • human skeletons;
  • parts of any human body;

Smush Parker

After 5 weeks of being in India, I had my first real day of frustration with the place yesterday. It happens. And I am pretty amazed it took me so long.

But I rallied, and met my friend Madhur for drinks at Cafe Oz, an Aussie bar in Khan Market. Madhur keeps a great blog on Indian PD (currently under reconstruction, but check back), and that is how we meet. Over pints of Kingfisher (mine) and Budweiser (his), we had a great chat about Indian PD, Branding France in India (chic)and PDPhDs.  We grabbed some dinner at an Asian fusion place, and Madhur, who hails from Assam, explained to me how his region in the Northeast is very similar to Thailand, has food similar to Thailand and also linguistically close.  India is ever interesting.

On my way back, I arrived seemingly after the buses had finished running.  No bother, a van drove up and scooped us passengers up to be ferried.  The van was wrapped in plastic, and I think the guys were out joyridding on a car being detailed or something, and getting a little cash on the side as a taxi.  Nothing surprises me anymore.

Today, the metro was brimming.  A second metal detector had been installed, how fortuitous.  I got up to the platform and was amazed by the crowds.  The train had been delayed and there was a gaggle waiting.  When the train pulled up, it was already packed to the brim and almost spilling out.  I had to try to push my way in.  At first my efforts failed, so I was exhorted to really push.  I took 3 steps back, and made a flying leap push into the train.  I just barely found enough space to fit in.  When the door closed, my face was pressed up against the glass.  But today, I could deal with the hilarity of all of it, and the train was in high albeit tight spirits and we laughed my smushed way along.  

Davos wrap-up

INDIA Future of Change's homepage has been redesigned, and looks quite good. Meanwhile, I have a write-ups on our "How will India grow faster than China?" panel and "Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship" panel.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Brand India

I have a new piece in on INDIA Future of Change and Brand India:
The India Future of Change initiative is ultimately an effort to communicate a new nation brand that fits the emergent reality of a new India. The initiative marks a creative and innovative effort at communicating these evolving realities to a global audience, and conducting a collective discussion of what the Indian nation brand entails as the country heralds its emergence on the global stage.

Fair is foul and foul is fair

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi has a stellar piece on the cats who guarded the Wall Street cream, and how no one ever was held accountable.  It is truly sad that the best news we get is from a comedy show and the most insightful journalism comes from a rock-and-roll magazine.

PS: Taibbi had a horrific piece on the tea party.  Thanks JW.

Context is key

In Taiwan, when I arrived at the office at 9:30am, I was one one of the last; in India, when I arrive at the office at 9:30am, I am the first.

The Iceman India

State and the NBA are teaming up to send NBA legend George "Iceman" Gervin and WNBA star Katie Smith to India for a bit of basketball diplomacy.  The two will be holding clinics in Mumbai and Delhi in late Feb to the beginning of March. 

While I applaud the idea, and support it, I have some lingering doubts. It's kinda like sending sports envoy figure skater Michelle Kwan to Nigeria. Indians really don't play or watch basketball.  If you really want to send some succesful sports envoys, send Hulk Hogan, The Great Khali and other WWE stars to hold clinics and put the Indian hulkamaniacs in headlocks.  Like everyone else in the world, Indians are wrestling-mad.  My flatmate Raj couldn't name a single NBA star yet knows the Undertaker.  Supplex Diplomacy is a better use of your rupees.

American Ostriches

I saw that Florida’s Republican governor just turned down funding for a high-speed rail from Orlando to Tampa. I’m saddened that I need to keep harping on the fact that Americans have NO CLUE how far behind our infrastructure has fallen. For example, a list of the world’s best airports was just released. Not a single American airport graces the list. Try getting out more and you will stop blithely proclaiming America’s greatness as we keep slipping behind.

The morning commute cont.

Shiva help me, India sometimes you are too f’ing much.

I waded out into the morning mist. The fog was so thick it was like swimming through a dollop of spuma (shaving cream). Visibility was nil, and car headlights seemed to appear from the depths like phantoms in the fog. I boarded the packed bus and was on my way.

I arrived to the metro to find the security line snaking out of the hall, down the outside corridor and out of the station. Probably one of the longest queues I have ever seen. I waited and waded through the line, frowning indignantly in annoyance. For a country of such big ideas, it sure can be racked with small thinking. There are two metal detectors, one for gents and one for ladies. Same equipment. The one for gents often snakes far along, while the one for ladies is often empty. One would think that an extra male security guard could be detached to the second metal detector to speed up the cursory detection. Meanwhile, we inched along. Everyone sets off the metal detectors, the security doesn’t really pay attention to the beeps, so it would also make sense to have one of the extra security guards join in the frisking process to speed things up, but rather the extra staff just stood there and made sure the line was orderly. I have been to other stations where they think a little more expansively and have an extra guard create a second search line, but this was not the case.

I boarded the packed metro, and pulled out my worry beads to clear my mind. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the metro, which reminded me of the sounds of the freeways that I used to hear from my window in Los Angeles in the early hours of the morning, which reminded me of the sounds of waves crashing. I was at peace if only for a moment. “Rule your mind or it will rule you,” said Buddha.

PS: I couldn't shake from my head this morning as I waited in the security line what Palestinians must feel doing this on a daily basis.  I have been through a few checkpoints, and they are really, really not fun.  Something about security checkpoints of all stripes and the seemingly mind-numbing arbitrariness of the way they function breeds indignity no matter if you are in Delhi, East Jerusalem or Soweto. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tales of the Ethnically Ambiguous

Over the years I have found that people are oft to claim me as their own. The Moroccans thought I was Moroccan, the Spainards the same. Ditto for Argentina. Or other have thought I was Lebanese, Cuban, Brazilian among other locales. Here in India, I have even had a few people come up to me and ask for directions in Hindi. But tonight, I had two people ask if I was from Afghanistan. It makes sense, I look like a Pashtun, who in turn look like Semites. There are some who believe that the Pashtuns are a lost Israelite tribe. I smiled and merely replied "teshekur."  Maybe I shouldn't be looking for jobs in NYC, but rather in Helmand.

Four Cups of Chai

Take that Greg Mortensen! New pics up from Rishikesh

From Rishikesh

From Rishikesh

From Rishikesh


I had been a little curious about all the small little hatchback cars that seemed to be driven by chauffeurs. The Indian glitterati being driven about, and having the door of their maruti suzukis opened for them. But the Times of India pointed out that in India, if you can afford a car, you can probably also afford a driver.

The British East India Company cont

I posted a while back how India's Mahindra bought a stake in the British East India Company. GlobalPost has a good article on what the fair imperial company is up to these days. Thankfully, it is not enslaving countries but rather enslaving wallets with luxury fair. The imperial fires never fully goes out.

Give us...

"Instead of the lady in the harbor's "give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses," today it is send us your best and your brightest, taking classes."
-Adam Clayton Powell III

India to UN Security Council

President Obama made some statements in support of India taking its rightful place on the UN Security Council.  India is working with the G-4 (Germany, Brazil, Japan and India) to enlarge and reform the UNSC.  It is about time, because it is supremely outdated in that Russia has a seat while India doesn't; France has a seat while Germany doesn't; the world's 3rd largest economy that is Japan doesn't; the UK has a seat while Latin America and Africa are absent.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

BFF in HuffPo

My BFF Yael has a piece in the HuffPo on the Herzliya Conf and Israel's security.  Mazal tov, Yael!


With a bit of perseverance, I have managed to pull my proverbial blog head out of my blog ass.  As you dear readers may have noticed, my sidebar had gone missing.  It was actually under all my blogs, and I couldn't figure out why.  The experts were called in, but they were left clueless to what had transpired to make my sidebar go south.

But, our story has a happy ending.  With a bit of poking around, this web genius figured out that because he had jammed a post in with broken tags, the sidebar had fled south of the border (figures that the issue would be caused by Texas Republicans).  So with a proper removal of the offending post, the sidebar reverted to its normal place.  I am a web g-d.

There is also a divine feeling when a son proves his mettle over his father.  Yes, I managed to fix my problem over my web savvy dad.  A changing of the guards has begun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I love my country

powerful, on why the Middle East is rising up.

I Love My Country from Areej on Vimeo.

On digital serfdom

On how we (very much me included) sold our souls to the social media company store.  Actually, give it away.

Forces that will push the world

“Tunis is the force that pushed Egypt, but what Egypt did will be the force that will push the world.”
-Walid Rachid, organizer of Jan 25 protests.

I got chills from that statement. The whole NY Times article is incredible:
Just a few months later, after a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, a group of young online organizers followed the same model, setting up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. The organizers in both countries began exchanging their experiences over Facebook. The Tunisians faced a more pervasive police state than the Egyptians, with less latitude for blogging or press freedom, but their trade unions were stronger and more independent. “We shared our experience with strikes and blogging,” Mr. Maher recalled.

For their part, Mr. Maher and his colleagues began reading about nonviolent struggles. They were especially drawn to a Serbian youth movement called Otpor, which had helped topple the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by drawing on the ideas of an American political thinker, Gene Sharp. The hallmark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that nonviolence is a singularly effective way to undermine police states that might cite violent resistance to justify repression in the name of stability.
And on the attempts to stay nonviolent as Mubarak's thugs came in:
The protesters — trying to stay true to the lessons they had learned from Gandhi, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gene Sharp — tried for a time to avoid retaliating. A row of men stood silent as rocks rained down on them. An older man told a younger one to put down his stick.
But when the sh-t hit the fan, it was the soccer hooligans who helped fight back against the thugs!
The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood played a really big role,” Mr. Maher said. “But actually so did the soccer fans” of Egypt’s two leading teams. “These are always used to having confrontations with police at the stadiums,”

And I love Obama's words to Mubarak:
“I respect my elders. And you have been in politics for a very long time, Mr. President. But there are moments in history when just because things were the same way in the past doesn’t mean they will be that way in the future.”

Kudos to Obama, your admin might have stumbled a bit in its fidelity to Mubarak (Thanks Uncle Joe), but in the end you helped dislodge the pharaoh with some deft behind-the-scenes diplomacy that was much more effective than jumping on the democratic soapbox.  Friedman agreed with my sentiments:
In the end, President Obama made a hugely important but unintended contribution to the democracy revolution in Egypt. Because the Obama team never found the voice to fully endorse the Tahrir Square revolution until it was over, the people in that square now know one very powerful thing: They did this all by themselves. That is so important. One of the most powerful chants I heard in the square on Friday night was: “The people made the regime step down.”

This sense of self-empowerment and authenticity — we did this for ourselves, by ourselves — is what makes Egypt’s democracy movement such a potential game-changer for the whole region.

Aman Ki Asha

I wrote previously about Aman ki Asha, a wonderful bit of media public diplomacy between India and Pakistan. Yesterday, Aman ki Asha held a concert of two famous  subcontinent singers crooning  in the Purana Qila in old Delhi.  A great bit of cultural diplomacy to reminds Indians and Pakistanis that they ultimately rock out to the same music.

Streetfood as the embodiment of Indian life

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Eternal lessons from Gandhi

"I have nothing new to offer you, truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills."
-M.K. Gandhi

A people as old as the pyramids have thus learned that eternal lesson.

Ecclesiastes 3:1; Number Nine

I woke up early and went on a peaceful walk through town, listening to the sound of a rushing river of life and was reminded of a few things.

"For every season, turn, turn, turn."
-Ecclesiastes 3:1

The thing I have learned on this last season of adventure is that the world isn't going anywhere, and I have more time to discover.  Revelation, I realize.  I am a slow learner, I will admit.  Ancient and eternal India reminds me of this.

I walked through the silent town (I always love the quiet mornings of places) and through idea of Hindu Liberation Theology campaigns to rid India of littering.  I made my way down to the Mahareshi Mahesh Ashram, where the Beatles hung out and wrote the White Album.  The ashram closed a few years ago, and it is closed but for a few rupees baksheesh, the guide let me in.  All you need is love, and forty rupees.  I walked through the jungle-overgrown ashram and had dreams of converting the place into a museum for the Beatles time in India.  Maybe even get the band back together (what remains) to strum some chords at the museums opening.  It has been decades since they played together, they might actually enjoy the chance to jam again.


I awoke early on the hilltop Swiss cottage overlooking Rishikesh below. I trekked down the mountain, stopping for chai along the way. I wandered in and over a giant bridge spanning the Ganges, and over to find accommodation. With lodging secured, I wandered along the meandering path out of town. I stopped on the road to share time and chai with sadhus before wandering my way down to the ghatts. I doffed my shoes at an ashram and walked on the cold marble floor down to the colder ganges to dip my feet in.

I meandered my way back up and stopped for some lunch at a cafe on the banks of the Ganges. I found some Israeli-ish fair and had some shakshouka, humus, labane and salad for lunch. An afternoon cat nap, and then I went to the giant 13 level Swarg Niwas temple.  The temple ascends with bells all along the route up.  I went LL Cool J and rocked the bells as I went up. 

Rishikesh is proclaimed as the world capital of yoga, so I took an afternoon class.  It was tough- I stretched muscles I didn't know existed.  After the muscle twisting, I hung out with a Danish fellow named Adam who was in the class, and his German fraulein friend.  We famished stretchers tore into plates of malai kofta, mushroom masala and mutter paneer with jeera (cumin) rice and garlic naans.  Rishikesh is an early to bed city for all those early to rise for the morning yoga stretches.

All and all, a nice day back on my own.  I always enjoy getting to swim through my own head and wrestle with the muse over ideas.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On being a vegetarian

When you become a vegetarian, you start looking at creatures differently. You see the life in them, and don't want to take that life away simply to satisfy your hunger.

Victory on the Nile

For all those who have been blithely comparing Cairo to Tehran 1979, let's start comparing Cairo 2011 to Tehran 2011.  Come on, ye Persians and follow the example of the Sons of the Nile.  This is civilizationsal one-upsmanship, and the score is 1-0 Egypt.

And meanwhile, ye sons of Arabia, look on to what the children of the Nile have taught you: be not afraid.

Now come the time for a little regional leadership.  Turkey has been strutting of late, it is time to see your mettle. Turkish soft power and influence can help the Egyptian transition stay democratic.  


"How do you feel?" he asked me as I walked past the multitude of statues and copper bells.
I feel that while you have many gods and I have one, that ultimately our prayers end up at the same place.
"I feel at peace," I replied

"Rishikesh is a place of peace," he said with devotion in his eyes.
There is god found in peace.
"Shante," I softly replied.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Road to Rishikesh

On the road again. I woke up early to make my way to Rishikesh. At breakfast, Raj remarked that I was looking a little too svelte . The veg diet was shedding too many kilos, so I stopped by the Kashmiri gate for a butter omelette. Close to a quarter stick of butter used to fry up shreds of red onions, chilies, tomatoes and ginger in an om with tomato chutney, folded between two egg-drenched pieces of toast. Yum. Washed down with a veg shake of carrots, beets, parsley, tomatoes and apples to add some vitamins to my system.

I caught the local bus to Rishikesh, some 250km north of Delhi. As usual, the only gora on the rickety, cramped bus. The fellow next to me was falling asleep on my shoulder, much to the humor of the other passengers. The seat was so crammed that I had to shove a newspaper between my knees and the seat for cushion. I earned ever km on a bus with nary any shocks, and made friends with the busmates, who passed me bidis to smoke out the window.

And there I was sitting the in the back of the bus, watching porn with the Hindi shabab on someone's cell phone. Because isn't that what the digital revolution all about? Allowing shabab the world over the cyber capability to watch xxx on their mobiles.

The ride was a bumpy honkfest, and I arrived in Hardiwar some 7 hours later. Just as comparison, DC to Philly is about 225km and that takes 2.5hrs. This took three times as much because we were heading so slowing down a 2 lane highway filled with potholes.

We arrived in Hardiwar, the last stop before Rishikesh some 25km away. As we were pulling out of Hardiwar, I glanced in my guidebook and read that Hardiwar is an immensely holy city, more so than Rishikesh. I hopped up and had the busdriver let me off just a bit outside of town. The beauty of traveling with no real plans.

I hiked my way back in and down past the sidewalk ends to the Har ki Pauri ghatt, the steps of Shiva.  I made my way down to watch pooja (offerings) of floating flowers and candles, and I washed myself in the cold, turgid Ganges. Hardiwar is where the Ganges opens up from the Himalayas, far before it becomes a fecal river.  I washed away all my sins in Mother Ganges, sure beats Yom Kippur.

I made my way back through town and caught a bus to Rishikesh.  25km, not even 20 miles.  It took an hour on the cramped bus.  I arrived to Rishikesh, and caught a shared rickshaw up the slopes towards the Swiss Cottage guest house, where I was going on recommendation from a friend.  Except, I arrived to the Bhendari Swiss Cottage, far above the city.  Accept some substitutes.  Tired, I decided to stay the night and I crashed early in my hilltop perch overlooking the city below.

PS: I marvel at the occasional glimpse of colonial progeny.  Every once in a while, I see the face of an Imperial left behind- a  brown-skinned British legacy.

Mabrouk Egypt!

Congrats to Egypt! The thing I hated most during this whole affair was all the breathless coverage of Israel's worries. While Israel may indeed be a bit worried, the autocrats of the Middle East are far more so. The Houses of Gaddafi, Assad and Saud, you're next...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lanny on the DLC

Lanny Davis has a great piece on the DLC and its legacy as it is poised to close.

Jazz Diplo

My friend Ren has a great post on Jazz Diplomacy at Mountainrunner.

Indian Public Diplomacy at Davos: Credibility as PD

I have a new blog on CPD's site on Indian Public Diplomacy at Davos:

As India asserts itself within the global power dynamic, India is having a vibrant discussion about public diplomacy and how to engage in channels of public diplomacy as a means to project its emergence. Recently, as the world’s powerful gathered in Davos, INDIA Future of Change held two unique public diplomacy events that focused on corporate diplomacy and nation-branding on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum 2011.

The overall INDIA Future of Change initiative is an exercise in nation branding and public diplomacy, promoting India through its culture, diversity and democracy, as well as through its innovation and entrepreneurship (Full Disclosure: I am currently working with INDIA Future of Change as their PD Guru). The events were part of the initiative’s work to create awareness amongst audiences worldwide about the emergent reality of India to move past the existing stereotypes of India.

On Thursday, January 27th, INDIA Future of Change hosted an all-star ensemble of business leaders, policy makers and academicians to discuss how India can surpass China in economic growth. Also central to this discussion were how Indian government and business can partner to make this outcome a reality. Joining moderator Martin Wolf of the Financial Times on the panel were a high-level cast of Indian government officials and international business leaders.

While the panel centered on how India can surpass China in economic growth, part and parcel to this discussion was a focus on corporate diplomacy and how the private sector can work with the Indian government to project the business realities of a new India and where it fits into the global marketplace. Elements of corporate diplomacy were also tied in to the discussions. However, this theme was somewhat different than traditional notions of corporate diplomacy as diplomatic corporate social responsibility; rather, the corporate diplomacy taking place was more analogous to Indian corporations engaging in nation-branding of India to project a new Indian business and social reality.

Meanwhile, the following day, INDIA Future of Change convened a second panel featuring experts from the fields of innovation and design, as well as business entrepreneurs. The design, innovation and entrepreneurship panel sought to create a dialogue among the global creative classes about India, and how the field of design can lead both to innovation and entrepreneurship, and how each field can communicate a new Indian brand. While delving into the intersection of design, innovation and entrepreneurship as a catalyst for India’s inclusive growth, this panel focused on how India’s culture, its culture of innovative creation and cultural diplomacy could lend itself to such synergies.

In the realm of public diplomacy, these events served as a platform for discussion about India, and created a multilevel dialogue between Indian government officials, international business leaders and members of the global creative class. The panels were globally telecast on Bloomberg TV; furthermore, for both panels, INDIA Future of Change reached out across social networks, soliciting questions for the panelists via Twitter and Facebook.

During a different conference, the Public Diplomacy in the Information Age Conference held in December 2010, Shashi Tharoor made the point that what was time to turn an “Incredible India” into a “Credible India.” Events such as the INDIA Future of Change panels in Davos are just such an endeavor to shape the dialogue about India and introduce a maturing India onto the world’s stage.

The two panel INDIA Future of Change discussions were an exercise in credibility. Akin to the Voice of America credo, “the news may be good or bad but we will bring you the truth” as a means to create credibility, the panels held frank and honest discussion about India’s strengths as well as its shortcomings. Such openness is ultimately a form of public diplomacy, as Indian government and business officials spoke of the deficiencies as well as strengths of an emerging India, and by doing so, created more credibility for the Brand India story.

Image 1: An interview with Tim Brown, moderator of the Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship panel
Image 2: The panelists and the organisers of the first INDIA Future of Change session on Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in India at Davos assemble before the start of

New Pics Up: Delhi, Jaipur, Polo

From Around Delhi

From Jaipur

From Polo

Consent revoked

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Mabrouk Egypt for no longer consenting.

For all eternal 12 year olds

Naming fail. Thanks to a great eternal 12 year old who will go unnamed...

The Jews of Formosa

I have a little piece on the Jews of Taiwan on my Tales of a Wandering Jew blog.

Hubris is man's eternal downfall

Public Diplomacy Magazine- Corporate Diplomacy

Public Diplomacy Magazine has released its latest issue on Corporate Diplomacy, and its content is now live on its website.  And I am officially a has-been.  Congrats to the PD Mag staff for a fascinating new issue.

The Big Jingle

Patricia Lee Sharpe of WhirledView has a good post on the pd failures related to the Tri-Valley case I wrote about earlier.

The Hip-Hop Revolution

"Pray, tell me when the revolution will begin."
-Lauren Hill of the Fugees, Vocab

A stirring reminder of American soft power found in the rhythmic language of protest in North Africa and the Middle East.  Shukran to a most unexpected source for the story: Mom.  Ma, why didn't you tell me you were a hip-hop head?  We could have gotten along so much better during the teenage years...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Thanks friend o' KK, Pat Hoskins.  This one is a resplendent beaut

Time to move

The funny thing is that for someone who loves and constantly needs change, I am sometimes slow to embrace it.  The story below I wrote my freshman year in college about my parents plans to move, and my, um, reticence.  Of late, I have been feeling like I need to start evolving again, ie preparing myself for a new move.

The Siege
“We’ll see if you can get me to give up my home peacefully,” I said as I scanned the room for the best possible barricade for the front door. My parents had just dropped the news on me that they planned to move houses and already I was trying to figure out if the sofabed would make better fortification than the kitchen table. They could move, I had no problem with that, but I wasn’t planning on going anywhere. I was fully prepared to hold siege.

I wanted no part in moving. The last time my parents moved, when I was four, I bombarded them with stuffed animals and locked myself in my room for days. I was hardly any more mature fourteen years later. My parents attempted to reason with me. They told me that I would be out of the house, that it wouldn’t affect me because I would be at college. This only hardened my resistance. My house had played a formative role throughout my life. My family had lived there for the last 14 years, it had been a place of many firsts for me. First kiss and first cigarette, broken windows and broken arms. This was the center of all my memories. This was were I had grown up, and I refused to give up on it so easily.

I decided that before I turned violent, I would seek legal options. Despite the fact that property is considered 9/10 of the law, my name was on no lease or mortgage payment. Perhaps I could claim “squatter’s rights.” My mother, who is a lawyer, quickly dissuaded me of the use of the legal system when she pointed out that the hourly fee of a lawyer would cost me more than I earned in allowance in a month. Besides, I would need to save my money to stock up on rations if I planned to hold out for any extended period of time.

Whenever the conversation of moving was brought up, I immediately left the room. I refused to converse with the enemy; the battle lines were drawn. I attempted to recruit my little sister to take up arms with me in the struggle. “We must make a united stand against this evil tyranny or we shall lose our home,” I proclaimed as I threw the soapbox at her head. Unfortunately, her ears were closed to my revolutionary zeal; she had already been bought off with promises of a huge room and personal phone line. My last hope for support, my little brother, was thwarted as well. His “thirty pieces of silver” was comprised of a Sony Playstation.

While my parents created plans for the new house, I worked on my own. I had blueprints also; my house was to become a citadel. Just as the zealots of Massada made their final stand against the evil Romans on their mountaintop fortress, I would hold out against the legions of moving vans.

Then one night, while I was sleeping I had a vivid dream. My dream took place at someplace which I didn’t recognize, sometime in the distant future. Everyone had grown up around me but I had stayed the same age. My mother’s hair had become completely white while my father walked around with a cane. My younger sister and brother were now adults. My sister looked about 25 and my brother around 20. My little brother even had a goatee. Yet I hadn’t changed in the slightest. It was if time passed me by. In my dream everyone had moved on with their lives, while I was still in the same place.

When I woke up I spent all day thinking about the dream. “Why had everyone aged but me,” I pondered to myself. I interpreted the dream as being related to the issue of moving. Everyone in my family was progressing with the move, just as they had progressed in my dream. Yet during this whole process, I had become stagnant.

It dawned on me that my siege was not based on the principle of revolution, but instead reaction. I was fighting for the status quo, I had become a reactionary. I would be judged on the losing side of history, with the likes of Metternich, who sought to stem the tides of nationalism in Europe. My refusal to evolve had turned me into an anachronism, just like I was in the dream. I was fighting the inevitable flow of progress; it was a battle I would surely lose. I realized that the sweeping sands of time would swirl over me, even if I continued to be static.

Sadly, I lowered the red banner of revolt and raised the white flag of defeat. My dream helped me to understand that my holding out was only hindering progress. The dream forced me to come to grips with the inevitable; I had to move on as well. Finally I agreed to call off the siege and I acquiesced to seeing the new house.


For some reason, my sidebar is hiding below my blog posts and I can't figure out why. Anyone who can diagnose the problem with my blog will receive 1 whole rupee.

Cool as a Turk

Oedipus in veggie form- hysterical

Bollywood vs. Bin Laden

Shikha Dalmia has an excellent piece in Reason Magazine on how Indian soft power via Bollywood can help combat Islamic extremism:
But can Western pop culture do the trick against radical Islam? Unlikely. American culture, despite its alleged ubiquity, doesn’t have the same transformative power in eastern countries that don’t share the West’s ethnic, religious and cultural background. MTV and Hollywood are certainly watched in the Arab world—but their appeal is more voyeuristic than aspirational; it stems from a curiosity about how exotic people in alien countries live, not out of any inclination to live like them. But Bollywood’s allure, rooted in a shared heritage, values and issues, is different. And India's recent economic success makes its pop culture even more compelling.

The Middle East is Bollywood’s third largest overseas market and growing so rapidly that many Bollywood movies now hold premiers in Dubai on opening night. Dubai is even erecting a Universal Studios-like Bollywood theme park that is expected to be a major draw for regional tourists.

But the Muslim country most in the grip of Bollywood mania is Pakistan, India’s cultural twin in every respect but religion. As with the Beatles under communism, the more aggressively Pakistani authorities have tried to purge Bollywood from their soil, the more its popularity has grown. During the country’s four-decade-long ban on Indian movies, Pakistanis smuggled VHS tapes and installed satellite dishes. When the ban was finally lifted in 2008, the Bollywood scene in Pakistan exploded. Not only have Bollywood movies been playing to packed houses, but Indian movie stars—despite Islam’s taboo against idol worship—are treated like demi-gods. The latest fad among Pakistan’s urban nouveau riche are Bollywood theme weddings in which the bride and groom dress in outfits worn by a movie’s stars and hold their wedding reception in elaborate tents patterned around the movie set.

It is not possible to emulate—and adulate—a cultural form while simultaneously rejecting its message. And Bollywood’s message is as profoundly at odds with the strictures of Islamic extremism as Rock and Roll’s anti-establishment message was with the diktats of Soviet totalitarianism. At the simplest level, women who don Bollywood outfits—even when adapted for more modest sensibilities—are clearly resisting the Islamic strictures that would shroud them in a burqa. But at a deeper level, Bollywood movies offer a compromise between the values of tradition and the demands of modernity that is appealing to ordinary Muslims—and subversive of Islamist designs.

On the Raymond Davis Affair

There is a case going on in Pakistan right now that has the diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the US aflame.  B. Raman, one of India's top strategic analysts discusses the Raymond Davis Affair on his blog with some good questions and answers addressed.

Like...Brilliant...ya know?

A wonderful poem/vid on speaking with convictions in our age by the poet Taylor Mali.  Like...thanks Aunt Jilly.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Life loves those who love life

I stepped out into the effulgent morning spring light.  Gone was the fog of yesterday that cloaked the city in a shroud of secrecy.  The day's-prior fog had been so thick, it was as if walking 20,000 leagues under a sea of grey.  A tribute to a Mr. Verne.  But today, the warmth of the sun's light cast spindly shadows through the dust.

I made my way to the street side barber and hopped in his chair.  The barber "shop" was a chair on the corner of the road with a mirror hung on a red brick wall.  For less than the price of a razor, I was shaved with a straight edge. Slathered in lather, then cut smooth and clean.

Following my streetside shave, I meandered over for a spot of street breakfast.  The morning fare consisted of chole- a fiery garbanzo stew served with large puri- giant fry bread and thin radish slices bathed in chili chutney.  The fried bread sopped up the spicy gravy as my mouth was set a fire.  With a bit of fortuitous luck, I procured a djarum to finish my meal.  The sweet clove lingered on my lips as it mixed with the chili spice still smoldering on my palate and the back of my throat.

Mornings like this in India leave me to ponder the maxim, "life loves those who love life." 

The decline of human rights?

My professor Pam Starr taught us that context is always key.  William Schultz has a great piece in the CSM on the speciousness of the decline of human rights, and provides a little context for the discussion.

Takes one to know one

David Remnick has a good piece on the revolutionary spirit in the Egypt and the Middle East.  He should know, he was the WaPo chief in the USSR as it all fell.  His masterful "Lenin's Tomb" is a must read for anyone interested in the events of 1989.

Israel at 56

I found an old op-ed from my wordsmith days at the Israeli Consulate.  It seems like an eternity ago.  Nostalgia plays lurid tricks with your mind.

Monopoly, it ain't

Queues have returned to Poland, but this time to buy a board game recreating the old lines for shopping in the good ol' Communist days.  Instead of getting sent to jail, do you get sent to the Gulag?  

Brand India

Bloomberg UTV's program Logo had a show on Brand India at Davos (begins around 4:15).  In it, they interviewed my boss and had lots of images of our initiatives at Davos.

Speaking of...Rollin' with the Cosmo Class

In light of my last post, I finally get to recount my posh sunday at the polo grounds.  I rolled up with Venkat's Clubhouse to the Polo Grounds on a fine, dusty sunday afternoon.  We crossed the red carpet and furnished our golden tickets to the Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve Polo shindig.

In some ways it was Wonka-esque, with an romp through the Johnnie's Whiskey Factory.  There was gold decorations everywhere, and a ridiculous and delicious spread that included CHEESE!  That might not sound like a big deal, but it has been nearly a year since I had real cheese.  Brie!  Swiss! I took this as a sign from Shiva that the cheesehead Packers would be triumphant in that night's superbowl. I went Augustus and started feeding my face with little squares, and other various appetizers like roasted peppers, roasted mushrooms and olive tapenade.  Meanwhile, waiters walked around with goat cheese quiches, little quattro formagio pizzas and other assorted hors d'oeuvres.

And the drinks. I found a drink called Walker Fizz, which included Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve, lemon, mint and Perrier.  I have rechristened it "Ambrosia."

I will admit though, I felt just as out of place in this set as I did in the Hollywood high life scene.  Cries of "aw, Darling, mahvelous to see you," filled the air as the Hindi glitterati exchanged kisses.

After a round of lunch and sumptuous desserts, we reconvened at the polo pitch.  I noticed as they played the British anthem that "God Save the Queen" sounds just like "My Country 'Tis of Thee."  Hmm...  Anyway, the polo match was actually a lot of fun.  First off, captain of the UK team was actually an Indian.  Ironic.  The ponies raced up and down the pitch as the jockeys walked at the ball with large mallets.  It was actually quite exciting as the horses came roaring down the sidelines in hot pursuit of the ball.  And be it India, we had all sorts of unexpected guests on the field like stray dogs.  My friends ducked out around the 3rd checker, but I decided to stay till the finish.  Happy to be the only one at the polo match to hop the bus home.  India kept up its lead throughout an exciting five checkers and prevailed 6-4.  I actually kinda dig polo, it was fun to watch.

Thankfully, I was spared the public transit back as I managed to hitchhike my way back, with a ride in an SUV from a fellow named IJ.  IJ, who runs an adventure tourist outfit, happened to be going right to my neighborhood.  "Fortune favors the bold," as Jules Verne said.  Happy birthday to him, and cute logo from google.

The Russian Oligarch Bowl

"Nothing exceeds like excess"
-Michelle Pfeifer in Scarface

I wrote a few days back about the NFL's socialism, but Sally Jenkins has a great piece about the Super Bowl as the Marie Antoinette equivalent of the sports world:
It's a rough morning-after for the NFL. The Dallas Super Bowl was a bender, but now that the confetti has fallen, it looks like litter. The hangover has hit, a splitting headache and a sour stomach from the $19 margaritas and the $12 wine and the $10 beers and the rest of the fiscal insanity. Is this really what the NFL wants to become? A divorced-from-reality debauch?
I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in Jerry World. In Jerry World, a $1.15 billion stadium looks like the Taj Mahal on the outside, but inside some of the seats violate the fire code. In Jerry World, the state of Texas spends $31 million to host the Super Bowl, even as deficits force public school cuts. In Jerry World, it can cost $900 just to park. In Jerry World, fans pay hundreds of dollars to stand outside the stadium. 
Buried somewhere in all of the superbull, the booze, bad concerts and relentless commercial squeeze, there was a good football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But to be honest, it was an ancillary event. The NFL may want to rethink that strategy. It may also want to rethink its tendency to look like the Marie Antoinette of the sports world.

Monday, February 07, 2011

What Israel is Afraid of

Peter Beinart has an excellent piece in the Daily Beast on Israel's fear:
We’re almost two weeks into the revolution in Egypt and the American media keeps asking the question that my extended family asks during all world events: Is it good for Israel? Ask a Jewish question, get a Jewish answer, by which I mean, another question: What’s good for Israel?

Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood is not al Qaeda: It abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process, which has earned it scorn among Bin Laden types. Nor is the Brotherhood akin to the regime in Iran: When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to appropriate the Egyptian protests last week, the Brotherhood shot him down, declaring that it “regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” and insisting that "The Egyptian people's revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political" tendencies. In the words of George Washington University’s Nathan Brown, an expert on Brotherhood movements across the Middle East, “These parties definitely reject the Iranian model…Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”

Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens. For one thing, the best estimates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Cook, are that the Brotherhood would win perhaps 20 percent of the vote in a free election, which means it would have to govern in coalition. What’s more, the Egyptian officer corps, which avowedly opposes an Islamic state, will likely wield power behind the scenes in any future government. And while the Brotherhood takes an ambiguous position on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel--it opposes it but says it will abide by the will of the Egyptian people—the Egyptian army has little interest in returning to war footing with a vastly stronger Israel. Already, Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel “rock solid.”
But Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters. It’s easy to imagine a newly democratic government of Egypt adopting a policy akin to the one adopted by the newly democratic government of Turkey. The Turkish government hasn’t severed ties with Israel, but it does harshly criticize Israel’s policies, especially in Gaza, partly because Turkey’s ruling party has Islamist tendencies, but mostly because that is what the Turkish people want.
More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence.

Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.

All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.

The Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power. The Israeli and American Jewish right will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence. The Turkish government, after all, has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel even as it excoriates Israel’s policies in Gaza. ElBaradei this week reaffirmed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel even as he negotiates the formation of a government that could well challenge Israel’s policy in Gaza.

Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do. And really competing means reassessing policies like the Gaza blockade, which create deep—and understandable—rage in Cairo and Istanbul without making Israel safer. It is ironic that Israel, the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy, seems so uncomfortable in a democratizing Middle East. But at root, that discomfort stems from Israel’s own profoundly anti-democratic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. In an increasingly democratic, increasingly post-American Middle East, the costs of those policies will only continue to rise. Israel must somehow find the will to change them, while it can still do so on its own terms, not only because of what is happening in Tahrir Square, but because the next Tahrir Square could be in Ramallah or East Jerusalem. After all, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar recently noted, Palestinian kids use Facebook too.