Monday, August 24, 2009

Look at me, I'm so professional

I finally decided I wanted to write some blogs that were actually work/life/career related, but didn't want to compromise my ability to bash people and concepts at will, tell embarrassing stories about my life, and be generally unprofessional.  So I created a new blog:

Check it out, and follow if you're actually interested in my work.  If you're just interested in my shenanigans in India, keep reading this one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shameless propagandizing

Check out our snazzy new brochure!

This is exciting because it is way, way, WAY less text than I've ever seen on a description of my organization to date. It's still a little hard to understand, but it's a vast improvement.

If you don't believe me, check out the text on our current website - which is also undergoing a major overhaul, relaunch scheduled for this month. But no guarantees on content quality.

Friday, August 14, 2009

This is why I love the internet

I was browsing through comments from my old blog posts today and wandered across a note from Mike Gannet. Turns out this guy was a Peace Corps volunteer 45 years ago in India, and spent 20-odd years working in and around the country in the 60s-80s. India doesn't have a Peace Corps program anymore but it's amazing to see how similar the experiences are and how much the country looks the same. Check out his picasa album for Rajasthan, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Kashmir and more circa 1966 -

Great pictures Mike, cheers and thanks for getting in touch!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fighting fire with fire sets the whole world ablaze, Mrs. Clinton

When I saw this clip of Hillary Clinton giving a “sharp response” to a Congolese student who asked what Mr. Clinton thought of China’s loan to the DRC, my first reaction was my aggressive feminist side: way to go Mrs. Clinton, way to stick up for yourself and show ‘em that’s not acceptable.

My second reaction was holy shit, that’s the DRC. And that got me thinking. Did she come off a little strong? Granted, I can’t tell the context of this interview session or what was said before, but I can imagine a few different interpretations of this question besides “you respect my husband more than me because he’s a dude”: how about “because he’s a former president of the United States” or “because he just got back from diplomatic negotiations in North Korea” or “maybe something was lost in translation”?

On the other side of the coin, what if the kid meant exactly what it sounded like? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m your biggest neighborhood fan of the long-term systemic need for women’s rights in a society. But maybe, just maybe, for a country that’s been ravaged over and over by war and corruption and genocide in recent years, ensuring gender equality in the home isn’t at the top of the priority list.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe. Probably the most high-profile and influential woman in the world, one who has years of public speaking behind her back and is responsible for international conflict resolution, had the opportunity to start a dialogue about a critically important global issue and instead came off looking like a bitter whiny old lady. Seriously you think the phrase “my husband is not the secretary of state, I am” comes off as anything other than the emotional blabber of a woman who’s sick of being stuck in her husband’s shadow? When she could have asked the kid why he cared about a civilian’s opinion, stimulated a conversation about gender equity and provided the example of a woman who has the power to challenge engrained cultural viewpoints, she may well have caused the opposite impression: that’s what happens when you put a woman in power, she gets all emotional and defensive at routine interview questions.

Wasted opportunity, Madame Secretary.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Quit your whining or I will pull this car over right now

Hmmm. Raila is whining about ambassador Ranneberger's "lecturing on governance":

Now, I'm not saying the west has any business lecturing anyone on governance. But two things:

1) Uh, how are statements like "you need to implement the reform agenda you made when you formed the coalition government" controversial? Seriously?

And 2) haven't we heard this complaint before? Like, in 1964, when it was uncouth to criticize a newly independent government for corruption that was probably the Brits' fault anyway? This argument seems sliiiiightly outdated.

Also funny that Raila didn't mind when Obama said the same thing two weeks ago... I guess the Luos have to stick up for each other, si ndiyo?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New boss, same game?

I rarely follow Peace Corps news. But hey, what the hell. Maybe this one will be interesting.

Obama nominated Aaron Williams to be the next Peace Corps Director. And now it looks like he could be confirmed, really soon.

Who is Aaron Williams? Well, he was a USAID country director for a while (hmm...), and is now a VP of inernational business development at RTI International (hmm!). He also serves on the Council on Foreign Relations, and happens to be a board member at CARE alongside a number of my esteemed mentors (hmm hmm!). Sidenote: interestingly, his USAID experience isn't mentioned in his CARE bio...

So, will he be a good PC director, or more of the same? Chris Dodd, resident Senate Peace Corps mouthpiece and reform campaigner, seems pretty ecstatic about him. So do the other advocates pushing for reform. That and his experience are a pretty good sign.

That said, I was a little underwhelmed with his statement to the Senate committee - plugging sustainable expansion (yay for sustainability, ? for expansion), the continuing importance of volunteer security (sounds reasonable, but this is what cost me my respect for the organization), and the Third Goal of Peace Corps - coming home and getting Americans to "better understand people of other cultures" (yawn... like Peace Corps volunteers can do that). To give him the benefit of the doubt, I'm not sure what he could have said that would have been politically correct and actually impressed me. Maybe something about overhauling the priorities of the whole organization.

So, we'll have to wait and see.

Delhi enters the 21st century

For those who haven’t been following recent (not so recent anymore) news from Delhi - the High Court decriminalized homosexuality this month by ruling down the famed Section 377 of the penal code. Very exciting. Very about time. Very controversial.

Original breaking news:

Now Baba Ramdev, a very famous acclaimed yoga guru with millions of followers, is shooting his mouth off and trying to get the ruling overturned. Below is the (albeit very biased) summary of a (somewhat more, but still outdated) recent interview on Hindi TV from an LGBT listserv I get:

Just saw Baba Ramdev's Interview on :Seedhi Baat" at Aaj Tak. 
Prabhu Chawla, the interviewer tried to bring in some objectivity and reason to the rhetoric, but the baba went on and on with his tirade against
homsexuals. The gist of his arguments:
1] Its harmful to the character of the nations and therefore should be criminalised.
2] Only criminalisation will ensure that these people are brought in for 'rehabilitation'
3] That he will organise rehabilitation camps and change people using yoga.
4] That it is all about national interest and that irrespective of the court, the people of India who are opposed will win, because theirs is the
path of truth.
5] That his stand is constitutional because the exceptions to fundamental rights includes grounds like national sexurity and morality and
homosexuality is against both.
6] That WHO, UN etc are wrong in describing that homoseexuality is not a disease, and that he is right in describing it as such
7] That because homosexuality is a disease, homosexuals should be barred from donating blood, since anyone who receives this blood by transfusion
will also be infected with homosexuality.

I think the WTF is self-explanatory. I did like this response comment on India Today though:

Baba Ramdev said on Seedhi Baat that receiving blood from gay people makes the recipients gay. Why don't the people follow Ramdev's advice and donate blood to gay people and make them normal?

In better news, the mood here in Tamil Nadu is a bit more optimistic. Chennai, a particularly conservative part of India, does have one advantage in that transsexuals have traditionally been respected members of society – the community may not mingle with them, but few tamper with fate by failing to give money and get their newborns blessed by the hijras. More in the mainstream, one of the many sexuality rights organizations in the state is organizing a workshop to sensitize the Tamil media on LGBT issues, as well as undertaking the ambitious goal of coining new terms in Tamil to better define LGBT communities. Good luck to them.