First of all, a big thanks to all the people who have been reading me here. You guys rock!

Secondly, as some of you know, I have a full time blog called Water, No Ice that is an online magazine for Indian Americans. We recently went with a new theme( sort of equivalent to the urge to move the furniture around the house every couple of years or so) and there is room for my personal articles the way it is laid out now.

I’ve been writing there under the category called “Blog”. I would urge all you subscribers to move over to Water, No Ice and join there. Eventually we’ll move all the articles here to that section.

If you don’t want all the WNI posts and just want the “Blog” posts, I believe there is a way to subscribe only to this particular category. Try it out and let me have your feedback.

Once again, thanks for your support and hope to see you over at WNI.

Last Friday, when Senator John McCain made the announcement of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate, the first public reaction was  – “Who?”

Okay, the first reaction actually was – “What the ****?” followed by “Who?” as the media collectively scrambled and stumbled over their feet racing out the door to find out more.

My initial assessment, being a political junkie of sorts was “Uh, oh.” I had a very real worry that the media, which has given a very good impression all year of being a Democrat-hating, sexist ball of sleaze, would just lavish a lotta love over this photogenic Miss Congeniality with 5 kids(talk about family values). I even put up a diary about this over at Daily Kos, at which point I was pounced upon by Kossacks( not as good as it sounds!) with the most charitable comment being “Just wait and see, you troll.”

And wow, for this Democrat, Ms. Palin seems to have turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. In the last 5 days, we have found out that she supported the bridge to nowhere before the federal funds dried up, actually hired a lobbyist to get earmarks as Mayor of the cute little town of Wasilla( pop. ~6000. I anticipate a geo bee question) and is currently embroiled in a scandal involving abuse of power. Who would have thunk?

Through all these sansani khez( pardon the Hindi but no other word conveys this better) revelations, the big surprise has been the role of the media. Apologies, guys. Here I was thinking you were trashing Obama and Hillary because of some corporate-military-industrial- complex conspiracy.

Nah, you’re just pimps.   In this particular case it so happens that you ended up actually doing your job, which is to bring facts to light that would have otherwise remained buried. Unfortunately, the collective force of the blogosphere, youtube and “the Google” won’t let you do that anymore. I know you are trying your best to make it sound like there focus is all on personal, National Enquire-led, pregnancy-related juice, but the other stuff is bubbling up, seeping truth, slowly but surely.

Maybe you’re beginning to figure out that the typical couch potato is slowly drifting away to football and”Fear Factor” and that the real viewership and readership numbers are online, which is dominated by people who are literate and can think for themselves. Maybe the success of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow is opening your eyes to the fact that facts have a liberal bias and if you want to keep your brushed and pomaded self on TV, you need to pander to the current audience, not the one you’ve been lying and obfuscating to so far.

Maybe you’ve grown a conscience? Haha…

Whatever the reason, this viewer/reader is quite happy that at least some of you are beginning to ask the tough questions of the right people, and making sure we, the people, hear the real answers. Some of you can only do it when the mics are supposed to be off, and that’s ok too..I consider it a sign of progress. Maybe one day the US media will wake up to its role as a watchdog of democracy and be ashamed to admit that it is complicit in the fact that one candidate is successful because of his/her overwhelming support among  uneducated people. Maybe it will realize that when it uses a term like “low-information voters”, what it is really saying is it is not doing its job.

Maybe not. Sigh.

Maybe it is up to us everyday folk, armed with the tools that technology has put at our disposal, to keep spreading the word, becoming a quasi media, till our voices are so loud that they are heard over the noise of the idiot box, over the chatter of the talking heads whose IQs are in inverse proportion to their hair, over the clamor of the ignorant and the naive, the reactionary and the ridiculous, flexing the muscle of our reach and our collective advertising power till we prevail.

Thank you Sarah Palin. Thanks in no small part to you, the media is getting vetted.

And I pat myself( and Obama) on the back.

Biden for veep is not an exciting choice for progressive political junkies, but it is a logical one. Far from being a dreamy celebrity pinhead, as the GOP has been trying to characterize him, Obama is a cold-headed pragmatist who does not let the perfect get in the way of the good, as his recent policy position pivots have demonstrated. Joe Biden may have an unrivalled knowledge of the Middle East and a roadmap through the corridors of power in D.C., but what the pick really does is address the subliminal fears of rank and file Democrats who are thinking -” Well, I like Obama, but what if some racist crackpot decides to take matters into his own hands? Would we be left with a neophyte President at a time of national crisis?” They will breathe a little easier now.

The VeePee pick is also an indicator of how self-confident Barack Obama is. Just a casual glance at the last few election cycles will show you that running mates have typically been colorless and competent( remember Gore, Cheney?). To pick someone who is sure to make waves with his tendency to shoot off his mouth and has an ego the size of your own is not the sign of an insecure man. Expect fireworks over the next few weeks, even as the tightly disciplined message control team at camp Obama work overtime to do gaffe control.

Ooo the veep debates are going to be fun this year!

Ok, I admit it. We are a family addicted to game shows.

In the TV pantheon, shows pitting contestants against each other in contests requiring obscure skills rank just above reality shows involving manufactured romances and dubious talents. They are cheap to produce, require very little intellectual input and if you hit the jackpot, draw viewers in the multiple millions.( “American Idol” is probably the best example.)

When the intellectual age aimed at by these shows it is pretty low, it is not surprising that kids are so strongly attracted to them. We started off becoming regular viewers of “Wheel of Fortune“, a game show somewhat patterned around the popular kids game of “hangman”where you have to guess a word by working out the letters. The rationalization was that anything to do with alphabets and the English language could not be all bad.

Now we have moved on to a couple of shows that are possibly the other end of the spectrum from WOF – “American Gladiators” and “Wipeout”, both shows requiring physical strength and agility on the part of the contestants. It happened when we left the TV on a few times after WOF, alas, the kids were quick to pounce on the opportunity afforded by prime-time television.

After much soul-searching, the mom in me has decided to make the most of my children’s affection for these shows. Having trouble getting my daughter upstairs to bed? Why, the stairs have become the “Travelator “( a steep slope that contestants in “American Gladiators” have to climb up just before the finish). My 5 year old is thrilled that she can beat her mom everyday! Dawdling at bedtime routines? Just put a time challenge. “I broke my 2 minute record today, mom” she crows delightedly. My frequent trips to the gym have convinced her that I am secretly training to be a “gladiator”.

I wish.

With my surly pre-teen, the rewards are more subtle. Having hit puberty a little early, the 12 -year old has decided that he, Garbo-style, “vants to be left alone”. Evenings are punctuated by the slamming of his bedroom door, behind which( I hope) he reads and listens to music. “Gladiators” draws him out of his cocoon, as he condescends to sit with his embarrassing parents and converse knowledgeably on the vital statistics of the steroidal super-humans on the screen. While watching “Wipeout”, he very astutely remarked that it was less a show about seeing contestants pit their skills against various obstacles and more a comedy about people making fools of themselves. baby is growing up!

So we come together as a family, starting 7:30 p.m. every weekday, and spend an hour or two putting aside our differences in age, temperament, inclinations and intellectual ability to revel in the spectacle of other people’s ambitions. Dinner gets consumed in record time and I am now given some serious respect as a word-guru( thank you Pat and Vanna) . My daughter gets plenty of cuddles from both parents and I have ventured to give my son a hug or two while he is still within reaching distance.

Maybe we’ll get tired of dumbing ourselves down one day. “Jeopardy”, here we come.

Anyone who has been through the wringer of the longest Democratic primary in US election history has come away with one undeniable learning – the blatant irresponsibility of the media. Using the crutches of “They say” and “Polls show” (“they” and “polls” being the anonymous aggregate of our fears and prejudices) the American mainstream media perpetrated and encouraged the most egregious misogyny, fanned the flames of racism and demonstrated the kind of bias one usually experiences in countries under the yoke of dictatorships.

But when a sports column demonstrates the same kind of feckless reporting, it makes one sit up and take notice. Ann Killion’s article in the San Jose Mercuty News today administers the shock right at the headline – “Swimmer Torres’ achievement hard to believe.

Now Dara Torres, who qualified for the Olympic team last week at age 41, is no stranger to headlines. She made news 8 years ago when she had a comeback of sorts at age 33 after a seven year hiatus. Both times, she overcame competitors young enough to be her daughters. Even then, there were hazy rumors about her suddenly improved performance. Yes, her achievement is extraordinary. Yes, it does make you wonder. But to take your doubt and turn it into an article that completely relies on innuendo to support its argument is really poor journalism.

We’re all more skeptical, but we’re also smarter. We know better than to bite when someone points to their amazing training regimen as evidence that they are purely the product of hard work. We know that doping allows those kind of grueling training regimens. We know that money can buy not only enhanced training, but also pre-test testing and all sorts of edges and nuances. We know that a little storefront in Burlingame can’t be the only place in the United States that was ever peddling undetectable substances…..

The first exposure many Americans had to Olympic doping scandals were freakish female East German swimmers whose performances seemed too good to be true. And they were. We used to think it was just “them.” But the past few years have taught us the hard truth: American athletes are just as suspect.

Dara Torres is an Olympian again.

Incredible. Unbelievable. Exactly.

All Ms. Killion has to offer is the fact that East German athletes, once thought to be almost racially superior because of their Olympic prowess, were finally caught abusing performance enhancing drugs. Ergo, goes the logic, there is something fishy about Ms. Torres’ achievement as well. Once you eliminate the impossible, as Sherlock Holmes was fond of saying, what is left, however improbable, is the truth.

I see the attraction in posting an article of this sort. There is no downside. If Ms. Torres, who has asked for the most stringent doping tests in a bid to clear the smoke, does turn out to be a user, Ms. Killion would have been proved right. And if she doesn’t, well, Ms. Killion has cleverly covered herself by mentioning that tests today are by no means foolproof.

Why would a respected journalist put out a piece that is pure smear? Two explanations come to mind. One is that there is a real fire behind the smoke that Ms. Killion has generated, except there is no way of mentioning her sources. And this is the charitable explanation. The other is that the entire article is founded on a personal belief that women beyond a certain age are simply not capable of the kind of strength and stamina that gave Ms. Torres a berth on the Olympic team. ( The third, more mercenary explanation, is that of sensationalism, but I am going to give Ms. Killion the benefit of the doubt here.)

I hope, for Ms. Killion’s sake, that it is the first explanation that is true and her argument substantiated with facts in the near future. Even so, she has just downgraded herself to tabloid journalism and diminished the reputation of the paper she works for. A wet noodle goes to the sports editor as well, for letting this article through.

As for Ms. Torres, I wish her well. As a 41 year old myself, I would like nothing more than to believe that us middle-aged mamas are capable of just about anything. I am going to wait for the results of the test, hope for the best and then cheer myself hoarse when she competes.

So ja beta, nahi to gabbar ayega

Chances are, if you’re an Indian condemn your soul to moral perdition at least half a dozen times a day. We don’t believe in burdening our kids with the truth when a well chosen whopper can make them eat their dinner, brush their teeth, study for their tests and stay chaste till their 40′s. We invoke the police and the bad guys with equal zest, often for the same purpose. We shield our kids from bad news by telling them “Grandpa has gone for a long trip” or “Tommy(the dog) has found a new home.” We deflect questions about the birds and the bees by making up elaborate concoctions sure to keep them in therapy or couples counselling for years to come. Stories using organized religion as a backdrop maybe the biggest corkers of them wonder they are called fables.

Our movies reflect our propensity to pretext. Movie moms deal with the loss of the movie dads by telling the child “He’ll be right back.” Exactly how dumb do they think the child is?

When I was growing up, my esteemed parent frustrated me on long road trips by answering the question “When will we get there?” with “In 5 minutes,” every single time I asked. It took me a while to figure it out, but eventually I realized that I would only get the answer she thought I wanted to hear. So when I had kids of my own, I figured I was going to be absolutely truthful to them. Both my kids have been exposed to the virtues of vitamins in their veggies and the perils of tartar in their teeth before they were two, leaving them with permanently bemused expressions.

Unfortunately, all my good intentions came to a hasty end at the hands of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, who conspired to make a liar out of me.  When it came to a choice between the magic of childhood and the clinical and unsatisfactory virtuousness of truth, it was no contest.

Still, I thought I was doing a fairly good job being straight with my kids on all the stuff that really mattered and instilling in them a love for truth that would help them grow up to be responsible, upstanding citizens when an incident happened that shook my belief in the virtue of verisimilitude.

My 5 year old had been  asked by her teacher to go to bed at 8 p.m. sharp prior to an important test day. As it happened she slept half an hour later. In the morning, she was in tears because she had disobeyed the teacher.( This is a rather sad commentary on the authority system at her private school, but that is a topic for later.) I tried explaining to her that-

-each child had her own sleep schedule and an arbitrary bedtime made no sense. ( more tears)

-she was to feel free to blame it all on me.( tearful objections -”but it was my responsibility”)

-the teacher was an idiot and she was not to listen to her( shocked tears)

I went around the block (literally and figuratively..the parking lot was full) with these arguments for a while before exasperation took over. “Just lie,” I said, ” and tell her you slept at 8 p.m., ok?”

The tears disappeared like magic.

“That’s what I wanted to do in the first place,” said the politician in training.

Before anyone goes labelling me, let me say that I have yet to make up my mind who to vote for in the California Democratic primary. To clarify my own thoughts, I am going to attempt to reason out aloud  -

It is pretty clear to me that on the substantative issues, the agendas the three front-runners have laid out are more or less the same. After the awful presidency of GWB, I think we can safely say that a President from the Democratic party will be more intelligent, less inclined to go off half-cocked to war and more concerned about the well-being of the common man.

That being said, here are the criteria on which I am going to rate Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.


Hillary Clinton: Much has been said( by herself) on HRC’s “35″ years of experience. I am inclined to take this with a pinch of salt. She has perhaps 35 years of experience being in the political arena, just like anyone who starts off young involved in local politics, but by no means can this translate into legislative or presidential experience. Her perosnal legislative experience is only her term as a senator from 2000. Does being First Lady of first Arkansas and then the country count? I wish I could go and presume to compete for my husband’s job based on having been his wife for 17 years. ( would make a nice chunk of change, sigh!)

Barack Obama: Obama has been senator since 2005 and state senator since 1999 before that. He actually has more years of legislative experience that HRC!

John Edwards: State Senator from 1998 to 2004. Also has ( in my mind) the important experience of running for President before and hopefuly will have learnt from the mistakes of the Kerry campaign.

Information from Project Vote Smart.

Foreign Relations:

Hillary Clinton:  An argument can be made that Bill Clinton has accrued a great deal of goodwill in the world and leaders of foreign governments will be happy to have his ear once more. But is that really reflective of HRC’s own capabilities? Her vote for the Iraq war and her vote for a resolution urging the Bush administration to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization cannot have made her many friends.

In the Senate, Clinton has been involved in foreign policy issues through her assignment to the Senate Armed Services Committee and her significant involvement with Homeland Security issues.

Barack Obama: As Obamapedia puts it ( yes, there is really such a thing!) -Obama service on the Foreign Relations committee has placed him in an unique position in that he is the Chair of the Subcommittee on European Relations and serves on the Subcommittees on African Affairs; East Asia and Pacific Affairs; and International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection.

He has also travelled extensively and has co-sponsored the “Lugar-Obama Act” with Republican Senator Richard Lugar who was Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations at the time. This act was a bi-partisan effort to increase U.S. security in terms of the elimination of conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

John Edwards: Former Senator Edwards has travelled extensively and has already had his policy credentials scrutinised a couple of times before. In the Senate, Edwards served on the Select Committee on Intelligence. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


Hillary Clinton: Politiko argues that while he thinks Senator Obama would make a better president, Senator Clinton is better at playing the campaign game against ‘dose nasty Republicans’ and therefore, in the interests of ensuring a Democrat in the White House, one should vote for her. This argument has been doing the rounds ever since her candidacy was announced, in one form or the other. One thing I can be certain of is that unlike Gore, Hillary will not roll over if the results are close or controversial. She will fight tooth and nail and take the case to every single court she can until she can be declared a winner. She knows this is probably her last and best shot at the Presidency.

She also has tremendous grassroot support from middle and low-income families. She can also mobilise the vote verywell. But I find her a polarizing figure among all other constituencies. I doubt if she can swing the independent votes, which are sure to go to John McCAin if he wins the Republican nomination or the youth vote, many of whom will be disgusted enough to stay at home and vote for nobody.

Barack Obama: Regardless of all our pretty speeches about race equality, I am sure there will be many Americans who will be put off at the thought of an African American as president, even if his black roots are pretty shallow. Still, he enjoys tremendous support from the young, independents and even some Republicans and if he wins the nomination, there will be many people who will come out to take part in this historic moment. Imagine what a statement that would make about America to the rest of the world. I foresee a groundswell of support, even from people who were ardent Hillary supporters before.

John Edwards: Even though JE voted for the war originally, his repudiation of it later, his tireless efforts towards poverty alleviation and his anti-lobby speeches make him an every-man who would be popular among Democrats come election day. I find him passionate, forceful and willing to poke fun at himself, even though his recent poor primary performances seem to ahve drained him out. If he survives South Carolina , he has a real chance.

Trust and integrity: This is the biggie which is deflecting my vote away from HRC. I just don’t trust her. Her back-pedaling on the war( I much prefer Edward’s approach of admitting it was a mistake..he is a bigger man for it), her flip-flop on immigration, her veering to the left on globalisation after having been a strident free trade supporter, all point to a politician whose positions change with the mood of the public. Nothing bad in evolving to newer positions, we now know what it is like to have a president who does not like to change his mind no matter what evidence he gets, but it is hard to figure out what she stands for. I also don’t trust that she will tell us the truth when it is unpalatable or acknowledge her mistakes.

Barack has not earned my trust or lost it. He seems like an intelligent and earnest person, thoughtful and incisive. His poor performance in debates is a point in his favor in my books because it has been my experience that people who think deeply are often poor speakers because their speech is not in sync with their mind. He is inspiring and can command a youthful audience, good qualities if this country is to get out from the mess it is in.

John Edwards, as I mentioned before, scores big points for admitting that his vote about Iraq was a mistake. I am a little more concerned over his approach to free trade and his strident and aggressive support for unionization is a little disturbing. But overall my perception of him is that of a trustworthy man. He has real concern for the poor in the country and we need a president who has a clear vision for improving the standard of living of every American.

In the end I am torn between Edwards and Obama and will vote for one of them on Feb 5. If Hillary wins the nomination, I will go out in November and vote for her, but my vote will be tinged with regret.

Tata’s new 1 lakh rupee( $2500) car made enough of a splash to be written about in the San Jose Mercury News( either a testament to the Tata media machine or the growing India sensitivity of the newspaper). Having just returned from a hectic trip to India, I thought I should put in my 2 bits on the subject.

I visited 3 cities in my 3 weeks in India and it can be fairly said I spent most of my time gazing out the window as the car I was in slowly inched its way to its destination. The pace of life turned languid as maybe one or two things from a long checklist got accomplished, if at all. For someone who is in India purely as a tourist who wants to sightsee and shop, it is a jolting reminder to stop and smell the exhaust. The traffic situation in India is so extreme that it is a miracle that anyone wants to add a car to the whole smoggy mess.

Will the cheap car just make things worse?

If the cars are just incremental to the existing overcrowding of the streets, I foresee a day when it will take the same time to travel from the US to India as it does to travel from any major metropolitan airport to your home there! Already many car owners are ceding the stress to hired drivers and the driver-for-rent business is just booming in Chennai. Added pollution will drive up asthma attacks and road rage will migrate from the volatile north to the rest of the country.

But my New Year’s resolution having been to look at the world through rose-tinted glasses, I’d like to take a stab at an optimistic  POV. Say the car, instead of being an add-on is actually going to replace some of the 2 wheelers on the road. This may add to the gas consumption and pollution overall, it might actually improve the state of traffic. Improving traffic by adding of larger vehicles to the mix may soun counter-intuitive, but my brief look at traffic patterns suggests that 2-wheelers are a real menace to society. Unconstrained by size issues, they duck and weave through traffic, making it impossible to maintain lanes, give any wedge room for manouevering and making it very hard for car drivers to follow the road rules( where there are any, of course). Chennai roads were in a state of permanent gridlock thanks to the antics of these motorists with the typical Indian attitude of “If I let you have an inch of space, more fool me”. Whereas in South Bombay, where there are much fewer types of vehicles on the roads, the traffic kept moving , even though there were many more cars than in Chennai.

My optimism may be unwarranted and the Indian government and populace has not shown any particular signs of being traffic-friendly or rule0respecting, but there’s one thing the Tata’s can do that can mitigate the environmental impact of their new product- have easy conversion to CNG or LPG modes of fuel consumption. In every city I visited, air pollution levels are significantly down because taxis and autos have converted to one of the above fuels and if people do have to spend  an extra hour in traffic because so many more of them can now own a car, at least they can do it with relatively less impact on their physical health. Now about their mental health, bhai Tata hi jaane.

Rooting for Barack Obama this last year has been somewhat like cheering for the Indian cricket team against Australia – you hope they win, you badly want them to win but your expectations, those you keep really low. Senator Obama’s decisive win in the Iowa caucus has me cheering from the rooftops – IOWANS, YOU ROCK( At least the Democrats!) You managed to cut through the bullshit and see through the formidable Clinton media machine.

After Dubya was voted in, not once but twice, the intelligence of the average American voter has been called into question around the world. Opting for US citizenship this year, I have had to defend my decision to friends and family. Now it feels like there is some hope for Americans after all. There is a promise of thoughtful, intelligent leadership and a restoration of integrity to a beleaguered administration. After all, it is the man( or woman) at the top who sets the tone that determines whether an Abu Ghraib or a Guantanamo is tolerated or vilified, whether cronies are welcomed or given the boot.

Can Californians grab the baton Iowans have handed us? Can we understand that a nuanced, sensitive thought process is in no way an impediment to a pragmatic approach to business and immigration?

I know who I’ll be voting for in February.

While I’ve always sucked at connecting names and faces and the past is just a blurry haze, I’ve always prided myself on remembering long strings of numbers, like credit cards, library membership numbers and a rolodex worth of phone numbers. I was my husband’s Blackberry before the Blackberry was created. “What’s that Delhi number again?” he would yell from upstairs for the biweekly call home.

Now my one remaining skill is also becoming redundant. A new free program called Roboform saves the password and login at every site I visit and chose to subscribe to. Not only do I not have to remember my user name and password, I can also choose to forget my name, address and phone number, secure in the knowledge that Roboform has my back. All that is required of me is remembering one master password and should I choose to tattoo it on a less visible part of my anatomy, I am all done.

Over the years, we have slowly been outsourcing our memories. Where once our Brahminical traditions required us to memorize lines and lines of verse and pass on our culture through story-telling from grandparent to grandchild, we now rely on the digital world to be our brains. All contact info is stored and backed up on the computer. Directions to places need no longer be imprinted on gooey gray matter; a GPS will take you where you want to go. My most repeated sentence these days to my children is “Look it up” as pages and pages of forgotten history, geography and science lessons are now available at the touch of a wiki-button.

This devaluation of memory is happening early these days. In school, where once we memorized ‘Daffodils’ and ‘Abu Ben Adam’( I still remember most of those poems and plenty of Kabir dohas), kids have access to online information and no longer need to memorize poetry, prose or math tables. Like a private in an army, all that is required of them is name, address and phone number. Pretty soon, the cell phones every kid seems to be carrying around these days will do even that job for them.

I wonder what is happening to all the memory cells of the brain that are now in disuse. As it is we were only using about 10% of our brains at any given time; now technology invites us to let those few cells go too. Are we simply turning into hosts for our machines? What we consider a symbiotic relationship today is slowly turning us into helpless creatures that would be lost without their PDAs ,PCs, GPSs and other similar electronic acronyms.

A company called Memory Lane offers people with memory loss a chance to recreate their memories in the form of videos, CDs and books and use them to reminisce. It is meant for the extremely aged and those suffering from Alzheimer’s but I suspect I will soon join the ranks of those signing up for the product to keep my memory offline. That is, if I can remember to.