Engineers = Evil

Every now and then you come across a new study or news article that really just hits home. It helps provide some “professional” or “scientific” insight into something that you always kind of suspected but could never quite properly articulate to yourself. I came across just such an article today (and the study behind it) and it has me re-examining myself (and many of my friends) in a new light:

Is there a thread that ties engineers to Islamic terrorism?

There certainly is, according to Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog at Oxford University, who recently published a paper titled, “Engineers of Jihad.” The authors call the link to terrorism “the engineer’s mindset.”

The sociology paper published last November, which has been making rounds over the Internet and was recently picked up by The Atlantic, uses illustrative statistics and qualitative data to conclude that there is a strong relationship between an engineering background and involvement in a variety of Islamic terrorist groups. The authors have found that graduates in subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world. The authors also note that engineers, alone, are strongly over-represented among graduates who gravitate to violent groups. [Link]

One risk factor alone usually does not provide cause for worry (although I do have two engineering degrees). However, when combined with other risk factors such as this one that I had previously written about, you can imagine why I have decided to do some real soul searching. I mean, us engineers do have a lot of things in common with terrorists besides the fact that there are a lot of South Asian engineers and quite a few South Asian terrorists. For example, both groups hope that there are virgins in the afterlife (cause there definitely ain’t many women in engineering school). Both groups also stay home on Friday nights and have time to become increasingly bitter.

However, contrary to popular speculation, it’s not technical skills that make engineers attractive recruits to radical groups. Rather, the authors pose the hypothesis that “engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism,” which becomes explosive when fused by the repression and vigorous radicalization triggered by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries. [Link]

I wonder if people that know me think I have an “engineer’s mindset.” I will now have to suppress it by pretending to be intellectually lazy and incurious. How do you liberal arts and business majors do it so well?

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Democratic primary omnibus

As I’ve been thinking about the democratic front-runners, I’ve been taking note of how different desis have been choosing sides.

Key Clinton advisor Neera Tanden made it clear in the New Yorker Magazine that she thinks Obama is too soft for the dirty work of winning an election:

Advisers to Clinton told me that there is something naïve, even potentially fatal, in Obama’s vision of leading the country out of its current political battles… Obama will be annihilated by what members of the Clinton campaign call “the Republican attack machine.” Neera Tanden, the campaign’s policy director, … cautioned that the general election will be brutal. “You cannot let your guard down with these guys,” she said of right-wing politicians. “They take people’s strengths and make them weaknesses; if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. …Both of the Clintons have been through it and won before.” [Link]

From a more parochial perspective, the Clintons have a decades long association with South Asians:

No other candidate has raised more money from the Indian America community than Hillary Clinton. More Americans who trace their roots to India are working for Hillary Clinton. [Link]

As a young’un 16 years ago I worked a South Asian fund raiser at the Waldorf for the Candidate Bill Clinton (just after the Gennifer Flowers scandal). There’s a reason why Hillary herself cracked:

“I can certainly run for the senate seat in Punjab and win easily,”… [Link]

However, as the primary season (and general election) grew nearer, Hillary distanced herself from public appearances with Sikhs, perhaps to avoid more photos like these. Instead, she cancelled several fundraisers and refused to engage with issues that were important:

She stands up for the Sikh community when politically expedient. On the campaign trail, she made several cancellations to appear with Sikhs in public and refused to join Obama in supporting the Sikh Coalition’s appeal to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to protect turbans from searches at airports. [Link]
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Expats last chance to vote

Many SM readers from here in the U.S. have friends or relatives currently abroad. Heck, some of our U.S. readers may be abroad right now. For the Democratic U.S. Citizens among them that haven’t yet filled out an absentee ballot, it is still possible to vote in the U.S. primary elections, even from abroad. From Newsweek:

London’s Porchester Hall–where Elton John celebrated his 47th birthday–is a most unlikely setting for American democracy in action. But the ornate Victorian hall, which also houses a library and gym, will host hundreds of expat U.S. Democrats next week in the international version of Super Tuesday. Democrats Abroad (DA)–the overseas arm of the U.S. Democratic Party–is considered as a state under Democratic Party rules and will send 22 delegates (the same number as New Hampshire) to Denver for the Democratic convention this summer. The Republican Party does not offer primary voting overseas and encourages members to vote by absentee ballot in their home states. [Link]

The catch is that they have to register online by THURSDAY NIGHT. If you think this isn’t an important demographic then you’re wrong:

In a very tight race, the leading candidates are taking the overseas vote seriously. Representatives of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards (who dropped out of the race Wednesday) have been working to rally undecided voters in several countries. Karin Robinson, who works for a London recruitment firm, says she sees a huge difference between how John Kerry–whose campaign she also worked on–dealt with the overseas contingent and how Obama is reaching out. “[Obama's] campaign has been extraordinary,” she says. “There are dedicated staff people who get in touch with us. I am sent daily talking points and we never have to beg for resources or information…” [Link]

If any of you go to an Expat voting location please send us pictures so we can share them. Continue reading

The Story of Oil

Sonia Shah: Beat me to the History Channel

For many folks, showing up on the 6 o’clock news or having your mug on the cover of Time or Newsweek is the epitome of “making it.” For a strange breed of geeks like me, however, it’s being interviewed on History Channel.

When I’m working at home, it + a few other, similar channels are the “background music” to my daily office chores and it makes up perhaps 75% of my overall TV viewing. Thus, while I don’t know who won last year’s American Idol, thanks to History, I can probably tell you more than you wanted to know about key ingredients in modern ag economics. Oh yes, I’m a hoot at parties.

So, imagine the surprise when they aired a 2 hour documentary titled Crude this past Sunday and interviewed a young-ish desi woman by the name of Sonia Shah for her commentary. And, to make my budding jealously worse, she wasn’t merely interviewed but actually wrote a book chunks of the program were based on

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Bolly gets pwned by the Mouse

Bollywood must be reeling from the disrespect paid to it by its smaller cousin in California. It’s not bad enough that the Hindi version of Spiderman 3 broke box office records in India, outgrossing domestic productions with a clear ripoff of Indian cinema complete with Tobey Maguire’s Bollystyle costumes, dancing, and hair acting. But to make matters worse, Disney has been muscling in on Bolly’s home turf, the absurd movie musical.

In an audacious move akin to bringing coals to Newcastle, Disney released High School Musical (1) with songs and dialogue dubbed into Hindi in 2006. The new release involved a few subtle changes that revealed how well Disney understands Indian film audiences:

Consider “Bop to the Top,” the title of a song from the first movie. In India, one of Disney’s most important foreign markets, the phrase was changed to “Pa Pa Pa Paye Yeh Dil,” which the company said roughly translates to “the heart is full of happiness” in Hindi. A Hindi translator contacted by The New York Times said: “It’s sort of like a Duran Duran song. The words sound sexy but mean nothing…” [Link]

The dubbed version of HSM did well enough that now Disney is releasing the sequel, High School Musical 2, with an entirely Indian cast. It’s just one of many versions of HSM2 with local casts – you can see them displayed in this medley of different adaptations of HSM2 from around the world.

Below is the climatic song in the all-desi HSM2, Aaja Nachle, the replacement for “All for One” in the American version of HSM2:

The song is a hit worldwide:

According to Nielsen Media Research, more than 1.5 million children age 6 to 11 watched “Aaja Nachle.” Even in a foreign language, children “can feel what they’re saying,” Ms. Sweeney said. [Link]

The Indian film industry is taking Disney’s blatant neo-imperialism very seriously, and is launching a counter-strike. They have announced that SRK will star in a completely naturalistic biopic of Dalip Singh Saund‘s life to be released for American markets, saying that anything Miramax can do, they can do better.

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Urban legend becomes real?

There is an old and familiar urban legend about kidney thieves that prey upon unsuspecting travellers, stealing their bodily organs. The most common version involves a business traveller who goes out for a drink, gets knocked out, and wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with his kidneys missing.

According to Snopes, there have been no documented occurrences of travellers’ kidney being stolen. The roots of this story are probably an incident in 1989 where a Turkish man falsely claimed he had been lured to England with the promise of a job only to find his kidney removed. The story fell apart once it was revealed that he had advertised his kidney for sale, but not before the account had mutated and spread.

So you’ll have to understand that I was shocked, and a bit skeptical, to hear about roughly 600 kidneys stolen from poor people in India for transplant in rich foreigners:

Many of the donors were day laborers… picked up from the streets with the offer of work, driven to a well-equipped private clinic, and duped or forced at gunpoint to undergo surgery… The men said there were no postoperative medical checks and no discussion of money or other compensation.

Four doctors, 5 nurses, 20 paramedics, 3 private hospitals, 10 pathology clinics and 5 diagnostic centers were involved… The officials suspect that several private hospitals in Delhi and its suburbs were quietly complicit in Dr. Kumar’s work and treated patients recovering from kidney transplants.[Link]

Beyond my moral revulsion, I was also a bit confused as to why they were robbing people of body parts when there was already a voluntary (and still illegal) trade in kidneys. Generally speaking, one would prefer to buy rather than steal kidneys because the donors are less likely to go to the cops and because you’re less likely to have your gundas stage a coup and take all your money.

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Desi women given DNC power

The Democratic National Committee, a group consisting of party officials who guide the Democratic Party and are currently led by Howard Dean, have just selected three desi women and one man to positions within the party in preparation for the convention in Denver later this year. SM is determined to be on hand at said convention to hopefully see these new committee members in action, and to witness how/if South Asian Americans are making strides by integrating into all levels of political participation (including smoky back-room-type politics).

The executive committee of the Democratic National Committee has elected three Indian Americans to the standing committees at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, convening Aug. 25-28 in Denver, Colo.

Sunita Leeds, co-chair of the Washington, D.C.-based education-oriented Enfranchisement Foundation, was named one of the three co-chairs of the rules committee, which proposes convention rules, adopts an agenda and makes recommendations for permanent convention officers.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and Smita Shah, founder and president of Chicago-based engineering and construction management company Spaan Technologies, were named to the platform committee, which drafts the party’s national platform.

In addition, Pakistan-born Iman Malik Mujahid, founder and president of Chicago-based Islamic teaching materials distributor Sound Vision Foundation, was named to the credentials committee, which coordinates selection of convention delegates and alternates. [Link]

Of course, all of these new members will have their personal favorite among the candidates. For example, despite the fact that Smita Shah is a former Bill Clinton appointee, she is backing Obama in this race:

Shah, who will be married in February, was a delegate to the Democratic national conventions in 1996 and 2004 and on the rules committee in the 2000 and 2004 conventions.

She said that the Indian American community has changed dramatically since 1996, when “there were just seven people of Indian origin as delegates.” There were about 19-21 in 2004 and many more are expected this August.

A former appointee to President Bill Clinton’s Millennium Council to Save America’s Treasures, Shah is supporting Barack Obama for president.

“I have great respect for them (the Clintons), but I have been a supporter of Barack Obama and they have been gracious and understanding to me. They know I have to support my guy…” [Link]

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Arun Gandhi: A Saffron Finklestein?

It seems rather obtuse for someone to resign from a foundation which bears their name, but in some circumstances it seems entirely justified. This is the tack taken by University of Rochester president Joel Seligman in a terse statement, describing his reaction to the recent resignation of Arun Gandhi from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence (which is now situated at the University of Rochester):

I was surprised and deeply disappointed by Arun Gandhi’s recent opinion piece in the Washington Post blog, “On Faith.” I believe that his subsequent apology inadequately explains his stated views, which seem fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of the University of Rochester. In particular I vehemently disagree with his singling out of Israel and the Jewish people as to blame for the “Culture of Violence” that he believes is eventually going to destroy humanity. This kind of stereotyping is inconsistent with our core values and would be inappropriate when applied to any race, any religion, any nationality, or either gender.

University presidents are a curious breed, in large part tasked with finding big donors and implementing ‘big picture’ programs across entire educational institutions. As a result, they are sometimes easy targets for backlash–I remember the former President of my own alma mater, declaring at a commencement speech that all previous graduating classes amounted to “mush in, mush out” and was hounded from that post (directly into a cushy job in the Business School). It seems unlikely, however, that Mr. Seligman will face any sort of flak for his official statement on Arun Gandhi’s resignation. Continue reading

Soul Tap’s Nivla and P.Oberoi– Crashing the Superbowl

So…I meant to have this post up last week, but I have pneumonia and my life has come to a screeching halt after one damning chest x-ray. Despite such extenuating circumstances, I feel terrible about the delay, because the video embedded above, for New Yorkers Soul Tap featuring Nivla and P. Oberoi’s “Be Easy (Koi Naa)” is part of a contest sponsored by Doritos called “Crash the Superbowl“, for which voting ends either tomorrow or tonight (I’ve read both dates, so just vote asap).

I’m slightly comforted by the fact that the grassroots outreach on behalf of this South Asian American quartet has been solid, so you probably didn’t need SM to tell you about them (though you may have read about them on our news tab). I’m massively tickled by the fact that Nivla peppers rap with Malayalam phrases like I do my posts, though he is not as consumed with the word “kundi”. Despite that minor shortcoming, when he’s flowin “edi penne…ingota va “, I’m goin’, “HELL YES!”.

Barest of details about the group that is fighting off two Texans for a shot at an Interscope record deal plus sixty-seconds of prime-eyeball time for their video, during the biggest bowl of ‘em all: Continue reading

Little Bundlers of Joy

A few weeks ago Little India published an article spotlighting some of the Indian American “bundlers” that will be playing a big part in the behind-the-scenes money war this primary season. At least half of them (a group aptly titled “Hillraisers”) will be sending their money Senator Hillary Clinton’s way:

Federal law caps personal contributions in an election cycle to $2,300, limiting individual donations to a presidential campaign to $4,600, as the primaries and the general election count as separate elections.

The way major presidential campaign donors stick out among the tens of thousands who make the maximum permissible contribution is not on the strength of their individual donation as much as by becoming “bundlers.” These bundlers typically package and bundle donations from friends, family, business and professional associates, etc., by hosting private and public fundraising events. Bundlers account for nearly half of the almost $160 million raised collectively by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the first three quarter of 2007.

A Little India analysis of the 2,493 bundlers in the 2008 presidential campaign identified thus far by the public interest watchdog group Public Citizen revealed 21 Indian American bundlers, almost half of whom work on behalf of Sen. Clinton. Sen. Obama has six Indian American bundlers, followed by two each for Sen. John Edwards and Gov Mitt Romney and one for Sen. John McCain. None of the other candidates listed any Indian American bundlers. [Link]

For those of you hearing the term “bundlers” for the time, here is an excellent reference. The biggest bundler is someone we’ve blogged about before, most recently in a post by Amardeep last September: Hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal.

Bundlers are far more valuable than the legions of individual donors on whom candidates, and indeed the bundlers rely, as is illustrated by Sen. Clinton’s most visible Indian American bundler, the hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal. Chatwal, whose association with the Clintons dates back to Pres. Clinton’s first primary campaign in 1991, has reportedly raised $3 million for Sen. Clinton, headlined by a 1,200 person dinner in June 2007. He told Little India that he was confident that Indian Americans would easily top $5 million for her campaign. But Chatwal had not pitched in his own personal contribution to her campaign, as of the third quarter of 2007, according to records of the Federal Election Commission. However, several members of his family, including his wife Pardaman Chatwal, and two sons Vivek Chatwal and Vikram Chatwal (who is listed as a $100,000 bundler himself) contributed $4,200 apiece to Sen. Clinton’s primary and general election campaigns. [Link]
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