W-I-N-N-E-R! Desi Kid Wins Spelling Bee, Again

13-year-old Sameer Mishra spelled “guerdon” correctly to win the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The word, rather wonderfully, means “something that one has earned or gained.” Champion!

splash.jpg

Sameer was a crowd favorite throughout the tournament. When told one of his words in the semifinals was a dessert, he deadpanned: “That sounds good right now.” He rolled his eyes and muttered “wonderful” when told that one of his words had five different language roots. He once asked “Are you sure there are no alternate pronunciations?” In another round, he uttered “That’s a relief” after initially mishearing the word “numnah” (a type of sheepskin pad).

And what did he have to say while hoisting the heavy trophy? “I’m really, really weak.” link

Seriously, this kid was a delight. The last desi to win was Anurag Kashyap in 2005. Only three years ago, but an eternity for a competition heavily loaded with over-achieving, heartbreaking desi kids.

As someone who can’t spell cat without spell-check, I never really paid attention to or understood the mesmerizing drama of spelling bees. Not until I recently saw the documentary Spellbound. Suddenly the years of study, weight of familial expectation, the children’s innocence and drive, the announcer’s voices, the rigid rules, the way personalities emerged in unexpected ways under crushing pressure…This was nail-biting, stomach-knotting suspense!! Hot damn!!

I caught a bit of the finals last night – this year seemed harder than ever before. After the jump, a list of the twelve finalists (five desis!) and the words faced by the last three standing in order of elimination. Continue reading

The Termites Ate My Papers!!

Continuing my suddenly service-y news coverage this the week, I bring you the most fascinating case of corruption gone awry yet! Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is currently under trial, facing at least 10 counts of extortion and misuse of power. Legal proceedings just hit a snag when documents pertaining to a “barge-mounted power plant graft case” were found eaten by termites.

_44703972_termites_body_pa.jpg

According to her lawyers:

…many of the documents were now unreadable. The insect-eaten files were produced in court so that the matter could be officially recorded by the judge.

The defence say their case has been ruined. link

But wait! All is not so cut-and-dry (or, uh, chewed-and-digested):

The prosecution argued that only a tiny part of the cover page of the file was destroyed by termites.

They demanded to know whether the file had been damaged deliberately or because of negligence. link

Termites. Termites! Wow…think of how history might have changed if Monica had introduced a few boll weevils to that blue dress.

I wonder if I can get away with not paying rent this month… the mice ate my checkbook. Continue reading

Taking the Long View-Next Stop Denver!

SM began four years ago this summer after I wrote the bloggers who I read every day (who were all more accomplished bloggers than I) a hastily constructed email filled with bad grammar (some things never change). Part of it read like this:

Date: Thu, 29 Jul 2004 21:05:43 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Abhi ”
Subject: My Fellow Bloggers…
To: “Vinod “, “Manish”, “Anna”

Guys,

I have been thinking something over of late and would like to know your thoughts. This is me thinking out loud so don’t worry at all about saying so if the following doesn’t seem like such a good idea or you are not interested. My brain tends to think faster than I can process it all to see if I am actually making sense.

All of us are bloggers and it seems like we all enjoy it as a hobby apart from our careers. We all have different focuses or perhaps no focus at all :) This past week with the Democratic Convention in the news, and all the talk of the bloggers that have been invited and how much power they seem to have, it got me thinking how there is no widely read news/issues/discussion/politics/random musings source target for South Asian Americans on the web. Sure there are lots of magazines like India Abroad and websites like Rediff, but all of these are “old media,” and so diffuse. They all rely on editorial staffs, deadlines, etc. and are not at all dynamic or interactive. There is none of the freshness that a blog can deliver. Plus, most of them lack the perspective of people that grew up in this country. I am convinced that there exists a vacuum out there on the web just waiting to be filled…

I was thinking “what if” all the most widely read South Asian American bloggers joined forces somehow and created a superblog based on the “Menudo” model. This could be the definitive source for South Asian issues/news/opinion/culture/entertainment etc.

All of the bloggers, guest bloggers, contributors, and administrators in our “Menudo” model have worked really hard over the years. Even our readers and commenters have been quoted by major media for their thoughtful opinions. Today, with the arrival of the email below, all of us can say we have a Macaca in the tent:

Congratulations. The Democratic Convention staff has completed its review of blog credential applications and I’m writing to let you know that your blog will be credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

We’re excited to welcome so many blogs to the Convention (about 3 times as many as 2004). And we know you’re eager to make travel plans for August. We’ll contact you next week with logistical information regarding housing, credential distribution, and other key details. You probably have several questions. Please be patient – as our goal is to distribute this information to all credentialed blogs at the same time.

We did it y’all.

[The full list can be found here]

Continue reading

Nepal Abolishes Hindu Monarchy

Quick update to Amardeep’s post on the Maoist victory in Nepal last month. Delegates from Nepal’s political parties convened a special assembly yesterday and voted 597 to 4 to abolish the 239-year-old Shah dynasty:

nepal.jpg

The government has told unpopular King Gyanendra to vacate his pink pagoda-roofed palace in the capital Kathmandu within a fortnight, or be forced out… It has been a dramatic decline and fall for a king once waited upon by thousands of retainers. Many Nepalis revered the monarch in majority-Hindu Nepal as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the god of protection.

Now, his portrait has been wiped off bank notes and his name has disappeared from the national anthem. He has been asked to pay his own electricity bills.

Nepalis say much of the mystique of the royal family was destroyed by the 2001 palace massacre in which popular King Birendra and eight other royals were killed by then Crown Prince Dipendra, who then turned a gun on himself. The royal image was further tarnished after Gyanendra fired the government and assumed absolute powers in 2005, only to be humbled by weeks of anti-king protests a year later.

Political parties and Maoists say a new president will step into the king’s place as a head of state after the end of the monarchy. link

And thus the world welcomes its newest republic. The palace is to become a historical museum after the king departs, but no word yet on where the new president will reside. Especially since the new president has not been selected/elected yet: Continue reading

Vinod “Friend of Bill” Gupta’s InfoUSA Receives 2nd NASDAQ Warning

InfoUSA, the Omaha, Nebraska, based data-processing and marketing monolith owned by Vinod Gupta faces the prospect of being delisted from the NASDAQ because the company has not filed its annual reports for the 2007 fiscal year, and again for the period ending March 31.

26clinton-2.190.jpg

The company’s failure to file is due to ongoing litigation involving its shareholders, which has been stayed until June 30. In 2005, shareholder hedge funds Dolphin Limited Partnership and Dolphin Financial Partners filed suit in a Delaware court alleging that InfoUSA founder and CEO Vinod Gupta had spent corporate funds on personal expenses. link

That discreetly worded phrase, “personal expenses,” refers to the extreeeemly questionable corporate-funded generosity dear Vinod showered on his pals, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Among the allegations:

  • Mr. Gupta’s spending on the Clintons is part of a pattern of improper company expenditures for things like luxury cars, jets and houses, as well as a yacht that is notable for being one of the few to have an all-female crew. link
  • InfoUSA made $2.1 million in quarterly payments to Mr. Clinton from July 2003 to April 2005, and in October 2005 entered into a new three-year agreement to pay him $1.2 million. It also gave him an option to buy 100,000 shares of infoUSA stock, with no expiration date. link
  • InfoUSA paid $18,480 in January 2004 to fly Mrs. Clinton “and her four-person entourage” to New York from New Mexico, where she had made a campaign appearance and attended a book signing. Campaign finance records show that her committee, Friends of Hillary, made a reimbursement of $2,127 for that flight. link
  • InfoUSA has spent nearly $900,000 since 2001 flying the Clintons to domestic and international locations and political events…InfoUSA paid for use of a jet plane, the 80-foot yacht American Princess, condos in Hawaii and California and a University of Nebraska-Lincoln stadium box. link

Continue reading

What signature did for an encore

A month ago, Amardeep blogged about Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh’s audition for Britain’s got talent (it’s the second video in case you missed it before). The challenge thrown down by Simon Cowell was whether they could repeat their original success or whether they were a one-trick pony. Well, here’s what they did for an encore [HT Manish, skip forward to around 2 minutes in to see the act]:

Two things struck me about their performance. The first is how easily it was accepted by both the audience and the judges, something that would never happen in the US. The audience loved both the Michael Jackson impersonation and the Bhangra. The judges loved it as a dance act, they didn’t condescend to it at all. Heck, they even describe the dancers as typical brits with a day job and a dream. There was no talk about it being exotic or foreign, and no PC admiration for the multicultiness of it all.

The second is that it was weaker than their original performance. I thought the choreography wasn’t as tight, and the integration of the two styles was not done as well. The problem is that neither seems to have great range as a dancer. Suleman is a Michael Jackson impersonator and Madhu is a bhangra dancer. Once the shock of seeing the two together wears off, how far can they go?

Continue reading

Is Weiner just a beard for Huma?

Hillary has Huma, Barack has Love,, and Huma’s love is Weiner, or at least that’s what the NY tabloids say:

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a likely 2009 mayoral candidate… finally ‘fessed that he is romancing Clinton’s glamorous “body woman,” Huma Abedin. Asked by The Associated Press about all the time he’s spending on the road campaigning for Clinton, the 43-year-old bachelor said, “It’s largely because I’m dating Huma…” [Link]

This story has actually been kicking around since January, when the rumors of a Hillary-Huma couple were stronger. Back then the Abedin-Weiner story was floated and then denied:

Speculation that Washington’s two most eligible singles–Hillary Rodham Clinton’s fashionable traveling aide Huma Abedin and New York’s dashing bachelor Congressman Anthony Weiner–are dating has become “common knowledge” among the campaign press corp… [Link]

Hillary Clinton’s top traveling aide, Huma Abedin, is not dating bachelor Rep. Anthony Weiner. A source close to Abedin shares that the political glamour gal is “just friends” with Weiner, but is dating someone else. [Link]

Honestly, I have trouble believing the story because I can’t imagine a body-person having time or energy to do anything more than minister to the candidate’s needs. They’ve got to be there, an arm’s length away, from when the candidate wakes to when they sleep. Huma’s probably better chaperoned than a desi on their first arranged marriage cha-meeting. And besides, Huma’s got her hands so full that I can’t see how she’s able to hold Weiner’s. Her schedule’s so full that there would be no time to be abeddin’ Abedin.

That said, it doesn’t really matter to me whether she likes Weiner or not. We’re desis, we like our politics without sex, thank you very much. You go girl – whatever direction you want.

Continue reading

Food Price Kerfuffle: Sen Weighs In

The grandaddy of welfare economists, Amartya Sen, chimes in with his view on the causes of the Food Price Kerfuffle in an NYT OpEd. Sen identifies 3 factors behind the global rise in food prices (and no, none of ‘em are “Americans need to go on a diet“)

(1) Short term (supply shocks) -

The recent rise in food prices has largely been caused by temporary problems like drought in Australia, Ukraine and elsewhere.

(2) Longer term (new wealth = increased demand; the argument that got dubya in so much trouble with the Indian Press & Politicians) –

The rapid economic expansion in countries like China, India and Vietnam tends to sharply increase the demand for food.

(3) Politics (US Ethanol mandate) –

Misdirected government policy plays a part here, too. In 2005, the United States Congress began to require widespread use of ethanol in motor fuels. This law combined with a subsidy for this use has created a flourishing corn market in the United States, but has also diverted agricultural resources from food to fuel. This makes it even harder for the hungry stomachs to compete.

Sen & I generally agree about these causes but differ on the solutions… probably reflecting our different political proclivities. True to his intellectual roots, Sen tends to recommend intervention on the consumption / demand side (“find effective policies to deal with the consequences of extremely asymmetric expansion of the global economy”). That type of attack could be things like food vouchers for the extremely poor, potentially rations for the rich, and other forms of direct welfare, for ex.

By contrast, I tend to focus on the production / supply side. That’s more stuff like finding ways to replicate Brazil’s food production miracle in other countries and bring down prices via the market so even the extremely poor can afford food.

In either case, it’s a good OpEd and makes a bunch of interesting points (his summation of his Nobel Prize winning theory on the Bengal famine, for ex., is particularly concise and readable).

Continue reading

The other race: Abedin vs. Love

With the Obama vs. Clinton contest in its death throes, I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the big picture. There is another contest between an accomplished woman and a black man that is also about to come to an unfortunate end. It is the contest between Clinton body woman Huma Abedin and Obama body man Reggie Love (yes, that is his name).

Mr. Love now knows that when it comes to food, Senator Obama “eats pretty much anything, from chicken wings and barbecue and ribs to grilled fish and steamed broccoli.” But when he is campaigning in a small town with limited options, a cheeseburger is always a good bet. (“Cheddar is the cheese of choice,” Mr. Love added.)

He knows that “the boss,” as he calls Mr. Obama, likes MET-Rx chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew — Black Forest Berry Honest Tea. He keeps a supply of both on hand…

Mr. Love, 26, is Mr. Obama’s body man, the personal aide who shadows the senator and anticipates everything he needs — and everything he does not need. He is not a bodyguard (security is provided by the Secret Service), but rather the ultimate assistant, rarely more than a body length away from the candidate. [Link]

Even in a story about Obama’s body man, the Times lets us know that it too is smitten by giving a nod to the underdog:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has a body woman, the efficient and glamorous Huma Abedin. [Link]

Yeah, that’s right. She is efficient and glamorous in addition to being dreamy. What does Mr. Love have going for him?

Mr. Love had summer try-outs with the Green Bay Packers in 2004 and the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 before being cut.

Which is how, in 2006, after applying for an internship on Capitol Hill, Mr. Love ended up interviewing with Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama’s communications director, for a position in Mr. Obama’s Senate office. “It’s the only time I’ve ever interviewed somebody whose work experience included the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys,” Mr. Gibbs said. [Link]

Misogyny rears its ugly head once again. The popular jock is pitted against the female achiever. Continue reading

Thank you readers!

After we put out a call for donations to keep the site going last Tuesday, SM readers responded graciously by helping us meet our target for the next year in one week! We appreciate every dollar and will do our best to keep SM as interesting, informative, and relevant as we possibly can. I’d especially like to thank the following individuals who gave extra large sums to put us over the hump:

Alma, Sandhya, Susan, Jayanand, Anunradha, Chaitan (our admin), Rachel, Ansabenazeer

I’ll be writing each of you an email to thank you.

But I want to give a general thanks to everyone who contributed. I know a lot of the people that donated are students. Having been a college student for a total of 10 years I know that every dollar is a big deal.

For those of you who would still like to contribute, we will keep the money in a separate account to only pay for SM server costs. All our labor, including the bloggers and fabulous admins is on a volunteer basis (and if you are a website designer who thinks you can improve SM then let us know).

And in case you are wondering what the point of it all is, keep your fingers extra crossed this week.

Continue reading