You Ask, Amit Singh Responds

A couple weeks ago, in response to some reader requests, we compiled some questions for Amit Singh, GOP Primary Candidate for the 8th District in Virginia. As with the first interview, questions this time around spanned a pretty broad range from the serious to the, uh, not so serious.

Between Amit’s campaign schedule and my travel schedule (I’m currently posting from yet another airport lounge…) it’s taken a bit longer than we wanted but we finally have the answers to your questions below the fold.

It’s also worth noting that although I’m a supporter of Amit’s campaign, the questions were selected by Amit from the original Post’s comments. Although not every question / statement was covered, he did hit a wide spread and the answers below are straight from his keyboard. I added a wee bit of post-production formatting to hopefully make the nearly 2000 words here a bit more readable and, in particular, highlight the mutineers who supplied the questions…

And, as with last time around, if you like what you hear, I’m sure Amit would appreciate your support. His website has a lot more campaign material and you can join up, buy a t-shirt, watch his YouTube channel, or join the facebook group.

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The Presidential Questions

Like the movies Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, and Scream, I too have returned for Part III – my third stint as a Mutineer. And like every good trilogy, I have a plot line that resuscitated me from the dark basement of the North Dakota bunkers – the exciting 2008 Presidential Elections.

Here in Southern California, the Asian and Pacific Islander community is all abuzz with the upcoming Presidential Townhall Forum to be held at the University of California, Irvine this Saturday May 17th at 4pm. In the works for the past few months, the Townhall will bring the candidates together and hold them accountable to OUR community in a historic first time ever event. At least 4,000 members of the APIA community are expected to come out, and it will be a great opportunity to have OUR issues finally highlighted in this important election.

The million dollar question – are the candidates really coming? Angry Asian Man says…

I’ve heard a pretty reliable rumor that the Clinton campaign has confirmed their participation for the event, but the organizers have yet to hear from the Obama and McCain campaigns. Dude, they better be there. Barack, where you at? And McCain, if you are indeed interested in courting the Asian vote, it might be a good idea to show up… this is Orange County, after all.[angryasianman]

McCain should pay attention — in Orange County, 47% of all Asian American voters are Republican. And why should Democratic candidates care? 46% of South Asian voters in Orange County are registered Democratic — the only APIA group in Orange County to have more registered Democrats then Republicans.

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Who’s Fat? 50% of Indians Carry Obesity Gene

I recently wrote about the worldwide food price crisis, which has the potential to leave millions in the Indian subcontinent malnourished in the upcoming months and years. A number of commenters then wrote in to point out that middle-class Indians, who can afford to eat high-calorie, processed foods, have pretty unhealthy eating habits, and are rapidly growing obese.

It’s true, but it’s not only diet. The BBC has a recent article summarizing the findings of a recent study suggesting that 50% of people of Indian descent carry a gene that predisposes them to obesity.

The gene is located near the MC4R sequence, which has been linked by some scientists with binge eating:

The gene sequence sits close to – and possibly influences – a gene called MC4R, which regulates energy levels in the body by influencing how much we eat and how much energy we expend or conserve, and which has been directly implicated in rare forms of extreme childhood obesity.

The researchers discovered that the sequence is associated with a 2cm expansion in waist circumference, a 2kg gain in weight, and a tendency to become resistant to insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. (link)

(Incidentally, a while ago we wrote about the growth of Type II diabetes amongst South Asians: here)

New Kerala actually gives a much more technical summary of the results of the study, for those who are interested: Continue reading

The Great Khali Returns

A few weeks ago I did a post on The Great Khali, an Indian WWE wrestler, who has recently risen to stardom of a sort on American TV.

Last week he visited India, and generated a fair amount of excitement and interest from Indian fans. No one seemed to be bothered by the way the WWE exploits orientalist mythology to cast The Great Khali as the bad guy. No one seemed to mind the bowdlerization of Hinduism represented by his name, “Khali,” which is a kind of tweak on the feminine “Kali,” or the anomaly of a male wrestler naming himself after a female deity.

No one, as far as I can tell, used the words “anomaly” or “orientalism” at all.

Mostly, they just cheered on the 400 pound behemoth who eats five full chickens a day (how many calories is that?). In Himachal Pradesh, where Dalip Singh Rana is from, they honored him. In Bombay, he met with underprivileged school children. T-shirts with his face on them have been selling wildly. Even the great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar found himself taking his family to pay homage to Khali at the wrestler’s hotel room. Finally, a visit to his former employers, the Punjab police. I was surprised to learn from some of the coverage that Rana, when he left India in 2006 to join the WWE, did not quit his day job. In fact, though he is surely making much, much more money now than he ever did before, he is technically only on “sick leave” from his job as a policeman in India.

Of course, the most intriguing article on The Great Khali’s Return I’ve come across is this one, on CNN-IBN: “Is it sport? Is it fake? What is WWE?” The journalist seems to be under some confusion as to whether the fighting in WWE is real or not:

But every wrestler in the business has to be classified under two categories. He is either a babyface or “good guy” for whom the crowd cheers — like Hulk Hogan — or he’s the bad guy or a heel as per wrestling terminology — someone like our very own Khali — whom the crowd loves to hate.

And just like in the movies when a babyface is pitted against a heel, the fight is on.

But what makes pro-wrestling really interesting is that with time, the characters keep evolving — good guys turn bad and vice versa. Interesting storylines, heated rivalries and unexpected twists in the show keep the viewer hooked.

A character’s popularity is determined by the amount of POP — a wrestling term for the reaction that a wrestler gets on his entrance — he gets.

And no, most of the fighting is not fake. (link)

Not fake, huh. You could have fooled me.

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Food Price Kerfluffle: “Why Do Americans Get to Eat More than Indians?”

On May 2, George W. Bush explained that the current spike in food prices worldwide is primarily a consequence of rising demand from China and India: “when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.” The quote was widely seen in the English-language Indian media as “blaming” Chindia for the problem, and was met with outrage.

Some of that outrage is collected in a recent IHT article on the President’s controversial statement. Some of the best, most snarky comments are by Pradeep Mehta, who works for a private economic research organization in India:

The food problem has “clearly” been created by Americans, who are eating 50 percent more calories than the average person in India, said Pradeep Mehta, the secretary general of CUTS Center for International Trade, Economics and Environment, a private economic research organization based in India with offices in Kenya, Zambia, Vietnam and Britain.

If Americans were to slim down to even the middle-class weight in India, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates,” Mehta said. The money Americans spend on liposuction to get rid of their excess fat could be funneled to famine victims instead, he added. (link)

And somewhat more measured comments, along with some more statistics on caloric consumption, are here:

Americans eat an average of 3,770 calories per capita a day, the highest amount in the world, according to data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, compared to 2,440 calories in India. They are also the largest per capita consumers in any major economy of beef, the most energy-intensive common food source, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The United States and Canada top the world in oil consumption per person, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“George Bush has never been known for his knowledge of economics,” Jairam Ramesh, the minister of state for commerce, told The Press Trust of India after Bush’s remarks, which he said proved again how “comprehensively wrong” Bush is.

“To say that demand for food in India is causing increase in global food prices is completely wrong,” Ramesh said.

Politicians and academics in India cite various other reasons: diversion of arable land in the United States and Europe into ethanol production; trade subsidies by the United States and Europe; and the dollar’s decline. (link)

Those latter factors (ethanol production, trade subsidies, dollar’s decline) have also been cited by a number of economists in the west. Still, the President and Condoleezza Rice (who made a similar statement a couple of weeks ago) are presumably right when they say that there has been a rise in global demand, though I have a strong feeling that that demand started to rise more than a decade ago. It’s those other factors that, as I understand it, have really converged this year to drive up prices. (Does anyone really know? Is this an economics problem that can be solved?)

Consumption-wise, I admittedly look like an ordinary American: my own caloric intake is probably closer to 3000 than 2000 (though I’ve admittedly never been able to count it out… how many calories in roti? rajma-chaval? chicken biryani?). Still, on this issue, I can’t help but see things from the Indian point of view: “Why do Americans think they deserve to eat more than Indians?” Continue reading

Warrior-scholar falls

Last week the nation lost Michael Vinay Bhatia to the war in Afghanistan (an IED of course). To say he was a unique breed of “soldier” would be an understatement:

Michael Vinay Bhatia, 31, was serving as a social scientist embedded with troops in the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain Systems program.

HTS program manager Steve Fondacaro said, “He was an example of a brilliant scholar who could have made his job and done well in the U.S., but who of his own accord discovered our program and volunteered to participate as a team member fully understanding the risks. This makes him a hero three, four times over…”

A magna cum laude graduate of Brown University, Bhatia was a doctoral candidate at Oxford University. “He had a lot of integrity as a scholar in terms of studying conflict and its impact on civilians and he was willing to take that into an operational field,” said Sarah Havens, a former Brown classmate. “He was adamant that that was the right thing to do.”

Bhatia’s dream of making a difference also took him to war-torn East Timor. But friends said they believed Bhatia was looking forward to a peaceful life back home. “I got the sense this was the last hurrah for him,” Havens said. “He was building his nest egg and looking for academic positions in the States for when he came back…” [Link]

I first heard about the Human Terrain Systems Program in an NPR story a few months ago (worth listening to). The idea is quite brilliant, the type of idea that our disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could use more of if we want to see a real turn around. The basic purpose of the HTS teams is to learn about the people and customs of a region so that they can advise the military on how to win hearts and minds, not through bluster, but through mutual understanding:

  • HTS was developed in response to identified gaps in commanders’ and staffs’ understanding of the local population and culture, and its impact on operational decisions; and poor transfer of specific socio-cultural knowledge to follow-on units.
  • The HTS approach is to place the expertise and experience of social scientists and regional experts, coupled with reach-back, open-source research, directly in support of deployed units engaging in full-spectrum operations.
  • HTS believes that achieving national security objectives is dependent on understanding the societies and cultures in which we are engaged. [Link]
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Terrorists Bomb Jaipur

A series of explosions went off in Jaipur’s old city today, killing at least 60 people and wounding another 150 (thanks, Rob). Via CNN:

The seven explosions started at about 7:30 p.m. (1400 GMT, 1000 ET) and detonated within 12 minutes of each other, police said.
The bombs exploded within about 500 meters (0.3 mile) of each other in Jaipur’s old city, which is frequented by tourists
An eighth bomb was defused, according to H.G. Raghavendra, a Jaipur city official. He described all the bombs as “medium intensity.”
“There is no reason to panic,” he told CNN-IBN. “Everything is under control.”

The Associated Press says it was actually six bombs and the seventh was defused. I’ve also seen different numbers for how many casualties the bombing caused.

Ruthless timing:

One of the blasts in Jaipur hit a market near a temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, according to police. Tuesday is the day of worship set aside for Hanuman, and the temple was packed with people offering prayers on the way home from work.[AP]

No group has stepped forward yet to claim credit for the horrific, dastardly act, which Reuters said is “the deadliest bomb (attack) in India in nearly two years”. If you have relatives in, friends visiting or are otherwise connected to the Pink City, you are in my thoughts.

Developing… Continue reading

Smells Like Teen Entrepreneurial Spirit

Cool kid alert: Teen entrepreneur Anshul Samar, age 14. This fiesty entrepreneurial spirit will be one of the key speakers at tomorrow’s Second Annual Teens in Tech Conference, sponsored by Sun, Microsoft, HP, and others.

Anshul is the founder and CEO of Alchemist Empire, Inc. He has created a fantasy role-playing chemistry board game, Elementeo: “Our aim is to combine fun, excitement, education, and chemistry, all in one grand concoction! We don’t want to create a fantasy wizard world or create a boring education textbook world, but combine the two where fun and learning come together without clashing!” [more]

MSN recently featured Anshul in “Whiz Kids: 10 Overachievers Under 21″ (thanks to newstab posters garbanzobean and anmdavadi). How did he get started? In in his own words:

Entrepreneurship is cool, and so is chemistry! Both have lots of actions, reactions, explosions, experimentation, and most importantly, the joy and excitement of creating something new! Creating a company has been on my mind for a long time, but it was only in the 5th grade when the idea of a chemistry based card game struck me. I must have created and thrown away dozens of prototypes to get just the right concoction of education and fun. … Elementeo is a game where you create compounds, combat elements, and conquer chemistry… A game of battle, chemical reactions, and powerful scientists… And a game that kids, teenagers, college students, teachers, scientists, parents, and grandparents can all play and have fun.

The excitement Anshul has poured into his maiden entrepreneurial voyage (the game will be released this month!) is evident at his company’s homepage which is very much written in his voice … and in this video from Mark Coker of VentureBeat, taken at the 2007 TieCon conference in Silicon Valley.

Here’s to his motto of “Create, Combat, Conquer!” Continue reading

The end of the flying Beefeater

In a rather surprising move, British Airways announced this week that it will no longer be serving beef aboard its (often Hindu-filled) flights in economy (a.k.a. “cattle”) class:

What will become of me now? What will they pay me in if not in beef?

British Airways has ditched beef for economy class passengers this summer in an attempt to appeal to a more international passenger base.

The familiar cabin crew inquiry of “chicken or beef?” will not be heard in economy after the airline ditched the national dish in favour of what it calls a lighter, healthier option.

Critics will suspect that the relentless pressure to cut costs that all airlines are facing is behind the move, although BA said cost was not a factor…

“We can only serve two options and beef and pork obviously have religious restrictions,” the spokesman added. BA’s second-biggest long-haul market, after transatlantic routes, is to India. [Link]

As might be expected, many Brits were not happy about this. For one thing, what the hell are all the Beefeaters going to do?

The decision to scrap the nation’s favourite fare was described as a “great shame” by the English Beef and Lamb Executive, formerly part of the Meat and Livestock Commission.

A spokesman said: “It is regrettable that Britain’s flag carrier is not proposing to serve Britain’s national dish.

“It is a meal we are rightly proud of. Roast beef and beefeaters are symbols or Britain used to promote tourism.

“Our beef is also much in demand overseas. It is predominately grass fed and highly praised for its flavour. [Link]

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Dancing in the Family


He is tall, slim, and strikingly long limbed. Dressed in jewel-colored silk tunics and antique ornaments that are family heirlooms, he looks more like a handsome young maharaja than a traditional South Indian dancer. Newsweek

Yes, I know, vomit, it sounds like more exoticizing pablum from a mainstream media source. But getting past the opening drivel, this article (posted in the news tab, thanks Brij01!) turned out to be about a rather fascinating family:

Aniruddha Knight is the ninth generation heir of a 200-year-old family of professional dancers and musicians from Chennai, India. He is also half American. His father, Douglas Knight, married into this artistically rich family when he studied classical drumming on a South Indian mridangam at Wesleyan University, where Aniruddha’s late grandmother–T. Balasaraswati, India’s prima danseuse–and her two musician brothers had taught since 1962.

Aniruddha followed his mother and grandmother, continuing the family’s bharatanatyam tradition:

Knight is fluent in Tamil, his mother’s language, and spends half a year in India, performing and learning from aunts and cousins who had worked with his mother. He has established a school and an archive of family history in Chennai. (The Smithsonian boasts an archive of Bala’s performances, too.) It houses all the records of his grandmother’s performances.

About his mixed parentage:

“It’s isolating to identify with two cultures, it creates a split personality. I can never be just one or the other, it’s a heartwrenching lonely process. But then, what I have, many don’t have.”

Those against mixed marriages often cite fear of waning traditions, culture, language, etc., as a reason to date within one’s own ethnic community. So it’s heartwarming to see this family’s artistic legacy continuing on, and even thriving, under the stewardship of its youngest, half-desi member. But do other half-desis feel the same sense of loneliness and isolation? Continue reading