Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposition hate

Proposition 8 on the California ballot aims at reversing gay marriage. I think this would be a real shame and should be defeated but it is going to be close, even in California. Regardless of our sexual and gender orientations, I think we should be concerned about proposition 8 going through for its adverse implications on justice and equality in our society.

This got me thinking: I can understand conservative arguments on many things- on fiscal matters, on abortion, on the death penalty and even gun rights. Apart from the death penalty (and even here I have my doubts), I don't really agree with any of those arguments or find them convincing but I can appreciate that there are arguments there, some more solid than others.

But I cannot truly think of a single intelligent argument against gay marriage. I'm not being sarcastic but I just can't think of one- the closest one is that it would involve opening up economic breaks etc. to gay married people too. Is that the reason why people oppose gay marriage? Are there other reasons? Whose rights does it harm? What is a good, rational argument against it? Is there one?

I'm genuinely curious....

So until I hear a good reason (and I'm not holding my breath) I'm thinking of this as proposition hate.

ETA: As we celebrate Obama's victory, the prop 8 race seems to be too close to call BUT it does not look good. What is particularly disheartening is the way the vote has broken down racially, by age and by religious background. What is wrong with people? How can you vote for equality in one direction, and deny others the same. A sad sad note (and a big one) on a wonderful night.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reason No. 436030

For your reading pleasure, John Mayer's post on Huffington Post on Obama and why hope is not a buzz word....

I won't post the whole thing here but I here is a snippet I particularly like:
That's why hope is a worthwhile commodity. To those who question whether hope is a tangible product worth building a campaign around, I'd say take a look at despair and how powerful that has been in reshaping how people think and live.

Talented, funny, smart, a good writer, and yes hot.. and supporting Obama. ....what, pray, is not to like?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Seeing Green

Last post today, I promise:

Though I came to blogging rather late, I like it so far. There's nothing like the instant gratification of seeing 'Published Successfully !' exclamation point and all, when most of your life is spent thinking about, avoiding, trying to work on, working on, contemplating, dreading, writing, planning etc. an unending project that may or may not ever be published. You can see the appeal.

But I'd be the first to admit that blogging, fun as it is, is pretty passe. For every truly good blog, there are a 100 others (mine included)that are basically glorified diaries or photo albums.

That's fine with me in general but this gave me pause...a Japanese potted plant now has a blog. Yes, I said plant.

The saddest part is that there will probably be more people that are going to seriously read this plant's blog compared to my dissertation, let alone my blog...

ETA: Great, and now the friggin' plant is on SNL's 'weekend update'. What's next? A 'Bloggie'?

Who would the world vote for?

Daniel Drezner has a post on data from several polls that talks about who the world would prefer to see as the next US President. Now the instinctive answer would be 'Barack Obama of course' and the polls seem to reflect that to some extent.

This reminds me of a conversation that I had with two Indian friends the other day. We were saying the usual foreign student things about the elections:
'man, if only we could vote', 'foreigners should be totally allowed to vote for the U.S. President' and 'Americans better get it right this time...' etc. until we started to think of what it would look like if the US President was popularly voted on by the whole world...

Now keep in mind that this was a rushed, 5 minute chat and we weren't thinking very seriously but this is what we thought:

China- would mostly vote McCain because of their economic interests and fundamentally realist world view.

India- a significant amount of people we thought would vote McCain because of the mis-guided perception that democrats = cuts on outsourcing etc. Also if the Desi lobby is anything to go by, Republicans are quite popular with rich Indian entrepreneurs (except for the ones that love Bill Clinton, but really, how could you not?)

Parts of central Asia = Also McCain because of the tougher stance on Russia? Interesting that the most support to McCain comes from Georgia.

At this point we hastily decided that it would not be a good idea after all if everyone in the world got to choose the US President and gave our blessings to the US elections in their current form...


Not a very good book?

Since I'm in a picture-y mood: Meet Rama, my best friend's cat (wow it's hard to say those last 3 words together fast- try it)

I liked the book (American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld) but Rama thought otherwise..

Funny, that's exactly how I look when I'm 'working'...

Friday, October 24, 2008

After the fall...

Fall is a riot of colors in upstate New York. These pictures don't really do it justice but nevertheless here they are....

This is a magnificent tree on the street I used to live on...

Sometimes when the sun comes through the leaves, it looks as if they are glowing like fire...

I never knew trees could be pink till I moved here

Even the ivy turns pink and red...

These pictures are from the country side...

And then just like is winter.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Master

Like everyone, I have a few 'triggers' that when I hear them, instantly and vastly reduce my respect for the person who said it:

Saying Paul Coelho is your favorite author or Da Vinci Code your favorite book.
Believing in 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Using the word 'gay' or 'retarded' to describe something weak, foolish or silly.
Calling someone a 'slut' as an endearment.
Liking Ann Coulter.*

Judgemental? Absolutely. But once I hear any of those things (and there are others which I will keep private) it's just done. They may be the nicest, most pleasant people but somewhere inside, a knob on my internal respect bar is irretrievably broken.

Ranking high on that list is unthinking negativity towards Sachin Tendulkar. He doesn't need to be your favorite cricketer, and you may criticize his game. But if you dismiss Sachin out of hand or ask 'what has he ever done for India', I just can't think you are very smart. By this token, there are many ignoramuses out there. And today is another occasion to say 'I told you so'.

Indeed, I'm a little late to the party but it's time to celebrate....Sachin Tendulkar is now the highest run scorer in the both Test match and one-day cricket. He reached the milestone of 12,000 test cricket runs yesterday, surpassing Brian Lara's record.

For me, before there was anyone else, there was Sachin (ETA: actually there was Steffi Graf but that's a whole another blogpost). I first became a fan when my grand father (who shares my fanaticism for cricket) pointed out the picture of a scrawny kid, barely a few years older than me, saying "this boy will play for India" soon. Well, of course he was right but I don't think anyone could have predicted the career Sachin would go on to have.

Watching Sachin in full flow is an exhilarating experience (except I may have missed some of his greatest innings because I was too nervous to look!). I would argue that he is the greatest, given the amount of cricket played in the contemporary era, the quality of bowling he has faced and his ability to dominate both the test and one day formats, and the enormous pressure from a billion Indians.

And that's not even why I admire him so much. I admire Sachin because despite all his success, he comes across as a level-headed and humble person. Reams have been written about the pressure Sachin faces in India- from the expectations of a billion people who look to him for " remission from the lifelong anxiety of being Indian" as C.P. Surendran put it (quoted by Ramachandra Guha). Add to this the fact that he shouldered the responsibility of a dependent team for much of his early career. The nationalistic fervor. The public prayers. The accusations that he 'threw' matches when it turned out that he was quietly fighting the players that did. The debates over whether it's time for him to retire. The taunts of 'experts' who write him off when he goes through a minor slump. The petty insults from ignoramuses who accuse him of caring only about money if he fails to score a's relentless.

Through all of this cacophony, the man just goes about his life and plays cricket. Graciously. Honestly. With respect for the game and his opponents. And over and over, after every success, he resists the totally forgivable urge to say, I told you so.

Class act.

p.s. I met him once, at a dinner. I didn't do much rather than surreptitiously look at him and ask for an autograph and picture. He struck me as being very much like his cricketing and public persona- gracious, quiet and focused on cricket (he unconsciously practiced batting swings throughout the dinner!). One of the highlights of my life!

*I doubt this could happen knowing all of you but if I have offended any of my readers with these examples, just don't tell me, and all will continue as always : )

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joe the plumber

...just spoke on ABC. Looks like a McCain voter to me from the way he talked. Sigh.

Flushing hopes. Down the drain. Needs his pipes tightened. Full of holes.

So many jokes could be made but so little will....

Update: He's not a registered plumber, and his name is not Joe. Does anyone connected to an election ever tell the truth?

Score sheet and summary debate 3

Huh!? Who would have thought that the third debate would be the best one? Many people I know refused to watch and they missed out on a good debate- different questions, great moderating and discussion, controversial topics and questions.

They did NOT talk about: Iraq, Iran, Terrorism, Energy, Oil etc. Refreshing.

Ok, so apart from that here's the score sheet:

Winner: Joe the plumber, take a bow.

Bob Scheiffer- these were the best questions so far.

Ok, seriously this was the CLOSEST debate for me. I have to say...If you ignore the lies, the nastiness, the rudeness and the lack of graciousness- then McCain sort of had the edge at the start. But Obama was (as David Brooks has just said) unflappable like a redwood tree (?)...

So, for common sense and good policy- Obama
For aggressiveness- McCain

Biggest surprise: The questions, McCain going for the Ayers jab

Most annoying: Joe the plumber talk, McCain saying "good job" perfunctorily to Obama at the end.

Stupidest point: So Obama has not travelled south of the border, McCain? Shall we delicately broach the fact that your running mate didn't get her passport until 2 years ago?

Best question:
The negative campaign one, for the manner in which it was asked

Worst question: None really, probably the economic ones because they were so predictable

Best moment:
Me toddling off to bed. And the realization that finally, after nearly 50 debates for this election, I won't have to watch another debate for a long time.

Live blogging Debate 3

Debate No. 3, the final one for Election 08 is about to start...

9:04 So they're going to be sitting down around tables (Meet the Press style) instead of at podiums which apparently will make it harder for them to be adversarial. Interesting...they should also be more familiar with this format as essentially every talk show does the same thing.
This also means McCain actually has to look at Obama tonight...

9: 05 Already I like the format a lot better- 9 minute segments with opportunity for discussion and rebuttals and Bob Scheiffer will intervene.

9: 13 "Joe the plumber"- a typical American narrative if there ever was one...

9: 20 Bob Scheiffer is not letting either candidate get away with not being specific- good for you, Bob! As a result these are some of the most clear answers they have given on the economy. They also have the time to speak without some OCD moderator (Brokaw, I'm talking to you) interrupt every 30 seconds).
Edited 9: 59 He also puts his foot down and moves topics along. I'm a new Bob Scheiffer fan.

9: 24 "Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run a long time ago" GENUINELY good line, John. The rest of the answer waffled off but that was the first direct refutation of that Obama campaign point and it worked for me...(a pig with wings just walked by my room)

McCain is actually more effective when he talks directly to Obama- interesting. Obama is not as good- because he tries to be fair.

9: 28 Wow!!! Money question: about the nastiness of campaign "Are each of you willing to say to each others face what you've been saying in the campaigns"

McCain sounds hurt and sad but doesn't go for the jugular with bringing up Aiyers etc.- which he was widely touted to do. So being face to face does make it harder to lie or be vicious...blogosphere comments take note!
Edited at 9: 38 Whoa!!! Comes up with Ayers, Acorn etc.- McCain suddenly seemed to wake up and remember he was told by his henchmen to bring this up...

P.S. He totally went there- by my drinking game, you should be smashed like a pumpkin...

Obama: could have been a lot tougher on this- he should have also listed the racist, threatening stuff that has been said about him. Could have been a LOT tougher.

9: 34 YES! good-when provoked by McCain, he mentions the 'kill him' comment. Good- that needed to be stated.

News flash John, running attacks against your policy platform is NOT negative advertising. Shouting 'kill him', 'terrorist' etc. IS. Clear?

John McCain says he is proud of the people that come to McCain/Palin ralies. If he is proud of this and this , then I rest my case about why McCain would be an unmitigated disaster....There's plenty more of those where these two videos came from.

9: 43 These questions rock! Finally someone asks about VP choices. Tricky but needed to be asked.
Obama plays it safe, Biden is great etc. Poor guy, he can't tell the truth 'she's incompetent and scarily dumb'. I'm saying it for you Barack.

No Obama don't call her should just have left it at "I think that should be left for the public to decide..."
Of course McCain does not reciprocate the politeness and calls Biden wrong. And then attacks Obama.

9: 54 More picking on Asians, but with a twist. This time the bad guys are South Korea. And the culprit? Obama.

10:00 I've realized the health care plan questions are my 'refresh drink', 'get a snack', 'use bathroom' break. It's important, of course but it puts me to sleep faster than statistics classes... See you in 5...

10: 05 I just made a joke on facebook about Joe the plumber being pretty 'flushed' (get it? get it?) with all these mentions... It is a cheesy joke, but I'm proud of it so I will shamelessly repeat it here...

10: 14 Roe v. Wade question: standard answers. Obama is convincing here-refutes McCain but there is little ground for agreement here.

10:19 Wow..last question and it is about education! Excellent! Good discussion all around.

10:31 Closing Time (like the song)
McCain goes first- fairly typical stuff- and he does mention serving for the country his whole life. Been there, heard that. I actually yawned.

Obama- fairly typical stuff- does the Bush/McCain comparison, talks about change, outlines new policies, come together etc. I yawned again.

Tepid end to a great debate.

Debate Drinking Game

Daniel Drezner has a great "protectionist drinking game" on his blog for tonight's debate. So I've come up with a national security/foreign policy one along the same lines (in academicky terms, I'm borrowing his framework to apply to a different substantive area, which may not be the most original thing to do but is perfectly legitimate).

(Yes, I'm aware that a) none of my readers will read this in time for it to work b) none of them will be drinking heavily anyway c) I only have a handful (albeit much loved) of readers but work with me, guys)

So, here is my Debate No. 3 Drinking Game :

You get a sip for totally predictable things, a shot for something mildly predictable and you get to down the glass if something surprising happens...If you find yourself falling asleep, you get to have a shot to wake up....

Have a sip when:
1. McCain mentions that Obama will sit down without preconditions to talk with Iran
2. McCain calls himself a maverick/refers to Vietnam
3. The both simply refer to Ahmedanijad as 'vile', 'evil' (just noticed vile and evil have the same letters!)
4. McCain says the surge worked, Obama says he was wrong many times

Have a shot when
1. Obama mentions the real front is in Pakistan
2. McCain mentions Bill Ayers and accuses Obama of associating with him
3. McCain has a minor hissy fit

Have a full glass/down your drink if:
1. Either of them answer the question directly
2. Either directly condemn and acknowledge the use of torture
3. Obama argues that being a POW does not equate to having foreign policy or national security experience
4.Obama attacks Palin's lack of experience

Drink an entire bottle if:
1. McCain is polite and fair

Either should get hammered (or very hydrated for my non alcohol drinking friends). Judging from the last debate, you'll need it....

Sadly, I will be sober since I don't fancy doing shots of beer or wine (which is all I have) and also since I take my duties as a debate live blogger seriously...

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm angry so this might be raw

A few days ago, a young journalist was shot in New Delhi at 3 at night as she drove back from work. The Delhi police is (typically) baffled and has no leads, clues or witnesses as far as I can glean. A woman being harassed, abused, raped or even killed in New Delhi is sadly not surprising news. It is a notoriously difficult city for women to live in. There are tons of blog posts on horrific encounters and everyday humiliations that women go through. I lived seven years there, for a long time on my own, and it was frequently uncomfortable and scary. Every woman has a bad Delhi story - it's just a matter of degrees.

What really enrages me, however, is the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's remark on the incident:
""All by herself till 3 am at night in a city where people should not be so adventurous.''

Anyone can be suckered into giving a bad quote but in subsequent interviews and statements, Dikshit has only tried to qualify the comment in ever more aggravating ways. In the opportunism and hypocrisy typical of Indian politics (or any politics, lets be fair) the BJP has condemned Dikshit's (she's from the Congress) comment but for all the wrong reasons. This from the people who brought you valentines day vandalism, bans on the movie 'Fire' and Water etc. in the name of 'Indian culture'. So forgive my cynicism.

The lesson to take away from this, according to Dikshit is that the onus is on women to lock themselves up, be home at a 'decent' time, confine themselves to 'safe' jobs and no doubt not to drive, go to a bar, smoke, name it.

None of this is surprising in itself or even unique to India. You hear similar arguments everywhere. 'she was asking for it', 'she was wearing a short skirt', 'she was drinking alone'. Not new. And I'm the first to advocate basic common sense and vigilance, specially if you're a woman in a dangerous city. Yes, it's probably not a good idea to walk home alone at 2 am at night in a dangerous city, or accept a ride from a stranger or meet a blind date at their house - whether you're a man or a woman.
However, that does not mean you shouldn't be able to be a journalist, or wear a skirt or drive home late at night. Again, none of this is particularly revelatory.

What is really appalling to me, and I think is troubling about contemporary India, is that people like Sheila Dikshit (or whoever it is) can get away with making comments like these. Where are the watch dogs? Why is she not forced to apologize for her remarks and actually go after the people responsible for upholding the law? When does all this b.s. end?

The institutional discrimination and insensitivity to questions of gender (or other minorities) should truly trouble us as members of a large, liberal democracy. It is not enough to keep congratulating ourselves on our unexpected and against-all-odds success with the great experiment of 'democracy'. We need to recognize the challenges to the strengths of that tradition and to acknowledge the failures and systematic weaknesses in it. So to Dikshit and all the other protectors of our so-called morality, I have a simple point. At the risk of pointing out the obvious- caging women up after dark is not the answer. Providing security, infrastructure and a civilized public discourse about women is. It is tough in a city like Delhi but cannot be helped by statements and attitudes like Dikshit's.

And if you really do want to cage people- I would suggest starting with the charming men of Delhi.

Lastly, thanks a lot, Sheila. You've shown nicely why women leaders are not necessarily the best news for women's interests. I'm not going to say the word but it starts with a P, ends with a N and rhymes with a brutal, bearded Soviet Dictator.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reasons to love John Mayer: Reason No. 63247

Oh, John Mayer, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

Mayer has been teaching/participating in music clinics/ writing songs with students this whole week at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Just because. He looks happier than he has for ages.

Here he is with his former guitar teacher at Berklee, performing for and with current students. The part when they all sing Otis Redding's 'I've got dreams to remember' together in the end is just : )

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Score Sheet Debate 2: 'That one' won

Quickly, before the talking heads start:

Winner: I would say it was pretty even but Obama was far more focused, more clear and more of a gentleman.

Loser: Tom Brokaw, Sheesh.

Ach! the talking heads have started and David Brooks gives it (narrowly) to Obama.

Live Blogging Debate No. 2: Q and A

9: 05 And we're off...

This time I'm going to change the rules a bit, befitting the changed (town hall) format of the debate. Since the debate revolves around audience questions, I will post questions pertaining to the debate (and then proceed to answer them).

Q: How soon before I yawned and nearly dozed off?
A: 28 minutes.

Q: Does McCain do better in town hall settings?

A: Yes, and no. McCain has maintained that he prefers town hall formats - so the pressure is on him tonight for that reason too. His first answer is interesting in his body language, engagement of the questioner and audience. He's clearly going for that connection, with his body language, using first names repeatedly etc. The problem is he sounds like he's lecturing a bunch of kids.
I would like to think McCain's potshots at Obama would alienate people- it came across as churlish, unfair and petty. But the 'talking heads' are baying for blood and so maybe this works. Shudder.

Obama tried not to sound too professorial but he can't help it- he's just too smart to deal in sound bytes. He clearly has a disadvantage in this sort of setting- his voice and demeanour work better in bigger, grander settings than more intimate ones.

Q: Did the town hall setting work?
A: No, not at all. It was intensely annoying that the candidates didn't get to rebut the arguments- the 'discussion' after questions was just another related question. It left the first speaker (Obama) with no chance to address the charges (read blatant lies and misrepresentations) leveled at him- and he was then forced to take time from his next answers. Two thumbs down.

Q: How annoying was Tom Brokaw's repeatedly telling the candidates to stick to time?
A: Very. First of all, they're politicians, they're going to talk- get used to it. Secondly, what's more important? Flashing lights or a detailed discussion and an opportunity to discuss things with some degree of nuance. Two thumbs down Mr. Brokaw.

10:18 Brief hope when the candidates tried to change the rules but no, Mr. Brokaw held firm and forged ahead...

Q: Most annoying thing about Obama?
A: Barack, was I not clear enough last time? Stop saying you agree with McCain and that he's right. He will just spin it in egregious ways..he actually did so tonight when you called him responsible. know what they say about nice guys.

Q: What was the most enraging thing McCain said?
A: many hours do I/you have?
1. First of all, what is with the sarcasm, Johnny? "I've got some news Senator Obama, the news is bad". This from the man who claimed that the fundamentals of the economy were strong as wall street was collapsing??
2. Casually proclaiming that giving up veterans programs would be one of the sacrifices he would ask for? Are you kidding me?
3. 'My friends'
4. The numerous (rude and ludicrous) pot shots at Obama- 'that one', really?
5. The bad jokes
6. Calling himself the 'cool hand'

Q: Stupidest moment?
A: Came at 10: 15 So let me get this straight Mr. McCain, you won't telegraph that you'll get Bin Laden but you'll announce that intention in the debate. Hmmm...what's the flaw in logic there?

Q: Best part of watching the debate?
A: Live blogging while reading other live blogs and reactions. Best comment of the night goes to my friend Patrick "Damn it, McCain I'm not your friend" Amen,

Q: Best Question?
A: The one about Pakistan, the one about sacrifices the candidates will ask for, and the last question 'What don't you know?'

Q: Best Answer?
A: Obama on Iran- intelligent, clear, within the bounds of American discourse.

Q: Worst Answer?
A: McCain on the 'sacrifice' answer. Made no sense at all. For sheet tediousness, Obama's energy policy answer.

Q: Best closing statement?

A: Pretty even actually. Both end well- with large statements and stories of humility.


Sitting in the library today, I realized that the depth of my ambition is to one day have a book (all of my own) that nestles dustily on some forgotten shelf on the 5th floor of a quiet library...
That, and to get a job.

When September Ends

Slowly the leaves are beginning to turn and there are glorious glimpses of orange and red amongst the favorite time of the year. More pictures when fall arrives in all its glory...

The view from my window

Monday, October 6, 2008

Muddy Waters: Starbucks Water Waste

Thanks to a friend for pointing me to this shocking news about Starbucks and their waste of water. According to reports from various countries, Starbucks has a standard policy of leaving a cold water tap on the entire day for reasons that I find wholly unconvincing- something about keeping taps clean and washing spoons.

According to the article, Starbucks lets 23 million litres of water literally go down the drain every day. 23 million litres. That is just mind boggling. There are all sorts of statistics in the articles about how many people that water would save but the number alone- 23 million litres - should leave us shaken.

Starbucks denial of their waste is strange- they don't deny that they do have this absurd policy, they just try to justify it. This lends itself to various 'wake up and smell the coffee' jokes but really, the argument is just ridiculous.

I'm not buying it - not the argument and from now on, not the coffee...
To quote my favorite politician of the moment "Thanks, but no thanks."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More Lists, Political One Liners and a mini-rant

Just the other day, I was confessing my love of lists and look what I find...Vanity Fair is celebrating its 25th anniversary with lists of top 25 everything- books, songs, name it. So far they just have a few categories including best book and album covers but more will be added as time goes by. The categories are interesting in themselves because they're not obvious like 'best actor' or 'best music video'. You can vote for your favorites and see how they are doing in an online poll. So a lot of fun!

Since this is sorta turning into a politics blog, I thought I'd focus on their ongoing poll of 25 best political one liners.

Some are obvious candidates for inclusion ("Ask not what your country can do for you" ...JFK or "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" Reagan or "Read my lips, no new taxes" Bush Senior) and others are more dubious but equally infamous "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is"...Bill Clinton.

Of course the list is heavily skewed (actually totally skewed) towards American Presidents. What happened to the rest of the world, Vanity Fair? No Churchill? No De Gaulle? No Mao? No Saddam Hussein, even. They said some memorable/important/crazy stuff.

This brings me to one of my pet peeves: the assumption that American history/ culture is world history/ culture. Putting aside all the intellectual arguments about Eurocentrism, the interconnections of power/knowledge etc.- lets just look at it from a commonsensical point of view. I totally understand that given that this is America and Vanity Fair is an American magazine, it is natural to focus on American history and culture but why not just call it that? Call it top 25 American Political One-Liners and be done with it.

Ok, my mini-rant is done.

Anyway to correct this imbalance, I'm going to ask you (my imaginary but beloved readers) the following question (this might be something to comment on- hint hint):

What's your favorite political one liner? Extra points for non-American submissions.

I'll start with mine, it's a little cliche but I think its humor and sophistication endures:

"I think it would be a good idea" - Gandhi on being asked what he thought about Western Civilization.

Other notes:

I'm pleased to see the Secret History by Donna Tartt getting a mention for book cover. I never really noticed the cover but I have loved the book for more than 10 years now.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Palin Plan?

Does Sarah Palin purposely umm...'under-perform' in media interviews so that when she can sound half way coherent, we get impressed? That's what I'm thinking after watching the debate (which I couldn't watch live as my commitment to my trivia team, I am sad to say, trumped my responsibility as a citizen of the world.)

Yes, she didn't make too many gaffes, she didn't make any obviously funny mistakes and generally kept it together. She was also vague and stuck to rehearsed stock Republican talking points. Nothing wrong with that per se but I'm just sayin'. Biden, in contrast, actually really performed- he kept a lid on his impulsiveness, handled the difficult balance between politeness and forcefulness and was much the more informed debater.

But the law of low expectations being what it is, Palin comes out looking better than she actually did.

Anyway, so as not to be uncharitable to Palin, I shall give her some free tips for when she next has to talk:

1. Tone down the folksy stuff (betcha, darn it etc.) may be appealing to some people but overdoing it is annoying. On the other hand it may play well as sound bites so don't abandon it all together.
2. Winking at the camera? I once saw Donald Trump fire a contestant on the Apprentice for doing that.If its not good enough for the Donald...
3. Good eye contact and body language - give your running mate some tips.
4. Please stop beginning and ending every sentence with 'also'
5. Alaska is not the US, not the world but I suppose there is no alternative thing to talk about given your ummm...experience.
6. You have in common with President Bush the characteristic of looking thrilled/smug/waiting for applause when you finish complex sentences and thoughts. I realize this is natural but this might be something to work on in the whole "we don't know who this Bush guy is" enterprise.

Tips for Palin - done. See, I can be fair.

Edited later today to say: To be truly fair, one has to acknowledge the sheer camera friendliness of Palin, as some bloggers are pointing to. She comes across as goofy, able to laugh at herself and sort of crazy but likeable...and attractive, yes. Those are important assets. Though I agree with Bill Maher when he says that he finds it crazy that Americans keep saying they want to elect someone they can have a beer with instead of wanting to elect someone who would be responsible with nuclear codes. Likeability should not be this important folks, except it is. Sigh.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Delhi Men Flashback

Asif Zardari, meet Sarah Palin....

Truly cringe worthy...on so many levels.

It's not too often that I find myself sympathizing with Sarah Palin, so thought I'd share..

Edited to add: Apparently the clip has resulted in a bit of a storm in a teacup in Pakistan, with fatwas being issued, feminists getting upset and Benazir fans being offended...gotta love subcontinental politics.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Do Norms Matter part 2: the N deal

Congress approved the US's nuclear deal with India today. Under the agreement, India will be able get material and technical support for its civilian nuclear program and in return will open up 14 of its nuclear sites to inspections.

This move is note worthy for several reasons:

First, it is a rare victory for the Bush administration's foreign policy, and particularly in a very bad week for the administration. I mean congress actually passed something Bush wanted- weird. Relations with India have been one of very few foreign policy successes of the Bush administration in general so we should take note of this moment.

Second, if you believe the hyperbole, this is a 'tectonic' moment in not only Indo-US relations but also in the development of the nuclear non-proliferation regime itself. Making an exception of India signals many things - it validates the idea that liberal democracies stick together (a variant on the 'democratic peace' thesis), it opens up the pressing question of demonstration effects on other undeclared nuclear states and it recognizes that there is a range of behaviors within the category of nuclear non-proliferation norm violators, eroding the salience and the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime itself. The deal jolts the shaky foundations of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, while still showing that states want to abide by it. Third, despite the easy passage of the bill, there is much disagreement on the impact and moral salience of the bill. We are not done with this at all.

So, does this mean that nuclear non-proliferation norms have comprehensively failed? Sure looks like it- the US is actually rewarding 'bad' behavior like testing nuclear weapons, right? Not if you read Karthika Sasikumar's fascinating work on India and the non-proliferation order. According to Sasikumar, the 'norms worked' by forcing India to act in regime compliant ways, even as an outsider to the regime. By this interpretation, India should be seen as an exception that proves the efficacy of a set of still stringent rules. It will not be easy for other states to make the same case that India did and thus the standards of acceptable nuclear behavior remain high.

Of course, the counter-argument is the one that will get the most coverage in the next few weeks. This is the argument that the deal sets a dangerous precedent and will encourage other states, including 'rogue' states to also openly violate non-proliferation norms. Rebutting such behavior will be hard to justify, given the preferential treatment given to India.

My take on this: This is a toughie. On the one hand, I agree that India is a special case, given its record which stands out against the behavior of the usual suspects (A Q Khan anyone?). I also understand the benefits that the deal brings in both material and symbolic terms- not the least of which is the promise it holds for India's rapidly growing energy needs. Thirdly, the deal exposes the sham that the structure of the nuclear regime was which was built on the discriminatory premise of freezing into place the power hierarchies of the post second world war period. Out of the weakening architecture of the non-proliferation regime, comes an opportunity to rethink what non-proliferation means in todays day and age.

What I'm concerned about is the reaction from two quarters- the jingosm that I predict in India and the reaction of other undeclared states. I fear that the deal will dilute the already waning nuclear non-proliferation order.

Let me explain. No doubt there will be a lot of celebration in certain quarters in India - validating the enormous expense of developing nuclear weapons programs and the risk that comes with testing nuclear weapons with Pakistan as a neighbor. There are few things I find as disagreeable as Indian jingoism and we will see a lot of it in the days to come, specially from those that will tout India's growing relations with the US as validation of India's arrival as a great power.

Apart from the crude spectacle of excessive nationalism, we should be wary of such self-congratulation for other reasons. Even while acknowledging that India's nuclear record has been exemplary in terms of responsibility in upholding non-proliferation norms, we should worry about the resentment this will breed in the subcontinent. More importantly for me, the deal signals India's growing embrace of 'real politik'. India's great strength in the nuclear non-proliferation order was not its material capability but its ethical argument about the in built discrimination or 'apartheid' of the regime. We should not lose this moral ground by touting our 'power'.

Moving beyond India, the precedent this sets for other undeclared nuclear powers is troubling. Not because the US will be compelled to similarly reward other states (which it won't) but because this decision will erode the 'nuclear taboo' that has held strong for 50 years, despite the flaws of the non-proliferation regime. We should be alert to the demonstration effects the deal will have on other regimes and the arguments that will become 'thinkable'.

To put it mildly, the process of negotiating the deal has been turbulent - it nearly brought the current coalition government down in India when the CPIM bailed out in protest. It has been furiously opposed by left liberals in India and by Democrats in the U.S. This passage is probably not the end of the story - but it is a landmark day in the ongoing saga. It's too early to predict the long-term effects of the deal but that won't stop all of the talking heads ( including me!)

Bottom line: I don't know yet.

Edited 10/02/08 to add: According to the BBC, already Pakistan is arguing that Washington needs to extend a similar deal to Islamabad. Now this is just a bit rich. I'm no Pakistan basher (making fun of lecherous Presidents does not count) but with its rather dodgy chain of command, history of proliferation and you know, just that little matter of A Q Khan, I think this smells of a little boguosity...but, it just underlines the point about precedents set.

D-List : September

I love making lists. Heck, I'm even writing a dissertation on 'lists'... I would be perfectly content to spend hours making random, disconnected lists, both profound (like the ambitious but spectacularly unhelpful "what do I want in life" or that eternal favorite, "Current Worries") and banal ("Songs to buy next month", "groceries", "annoying people").

I'm not alone- there are entire books and even magazines dedicated to lists, including this blog that became a book, as I discovered to my delight.

That said, here is the first of a series - my monthly list of recommendations for the viewing, listening, eating pleasure of my readers (now more than 1.5):

Best New Discovery: A tie between Vanilla Soy Milk and Turkish red lentil soup...

Podcast of the month: I'm discovering Podcasts in general, but particularly like the ones offered by Slate. Check out the Audio Book Club for erudite, truly insightful and often heated discussions on new and classic books, hosted by Stephen Metcalf. The 'Eat, Pray, Love' discussion is particularly full of intense sarcasm between the panelists.

Song of the month: Yes, I'm going to promote a John Mayer song (hey, it's my blog, I can do what I want) but, in my defense, this one is a duet with Eric Clapton where JM plays guitar and doesn't actually sing and it was performed for the victims of Hurricane Katrina: Broken Hearted

Book of the Month: I didn't read a truly good book this month so I'll hold off on that rather than offer up something mediocre.

Article of the Month: I'm always amazed by how I find just about anything in the New Yorker riveting. This week's article on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for war veterans took something easy to treat with cliches and made it both touching and eye opening.

Blog of the Month: Jabberwock, a prolific Delhi-based blogger. His writing on film, books, cricket and commentary on issues reveal a deep intelligence and the rare combination of a lack of pretentiousness with a refined sensibility. The 'spleen' section is very funny. Intimidatingly good.

Academic Article: "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict"
International Security, issue 1, volume 33 Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth
Non-violent actions are more likely to succeed in the solution of political conflict than armed conflict. It's 'feel good' (rare in political conflict studies) and it is based on an impressive combination of large n and case studies.

Challenge of the Month: Trying to make a website and learning HTML... with the emphasis on 'trying'

Lesson of the Month: Even if you fall on your face (literally), get up and laugh....(or try to laugh).

New Month, New Template

No, I'm not going to change the template every month...but it's fall, the trees are turning, the air is misty and the weather has been wonderfully grey the last few days. And this is just crisper and neater, like fall and winter. I like it already.