Thursday, January 29, 2009

Links For Thursday

Lots and lots of links today. You can thank me in the comments section.

My friend Oba has a very good post on what aspiring young rockers should do on stage. Some of it is technical advice, and some of it is, well, stuff like this:
2) Don't waste time in between songs.
Ugh, this one really gets me. So you've just played a rocking song, the crowd is sweaty and delirious from the sonic pounding they've received. And then the guitarist starts fiddling with his amp/ 15 pedals. The singer starts looking for lyrics sheets for the next song. The drummer starts playing irritating fills because drummers are like that and wont shut up. The bassist takes out his cell phone and checks for messages. End result = you lose the crowd and allow them to focus elsewehere. Now every time you start a new song you have to win them over again.

Concerts for me are like a big ball of energy thats being tossed back and forth between the band and the crowd. Everytime someone catches that ball of energy it grows bigger. But when you waste time, it's like you've dropped the energy ball, and now you have to start again to build it up to where it was.

So all you aspiring guitar heroes out there, keep your guitar effects to a minimum of three pedals that you can handle, know your amp setting stone cold before you go on stage. Singers, stop being pussies and learn the lyrics, no one ever looked cool holding up a sheet of A4 size paper in front of their face(although I have been guilty of doing this myself at acoustic shows) If you forget lyrcs, make something up, it's still better. Drummers, (this is a universal plea) please shut the fuck up when you're not playing a song.

And if you don't love rock'n'roll enough to turn your damn cell phone off when you're on stage you should quit music and kill yourself.

Poor drummers!

The Foreign Policy blog has a post on India's lobbying efforts against explicitly including Kashmir on Richard Holbrooke's agenda. For a rejoinder, read this post on the Acorn. And finally, read Cyril Almeida's latest piece, on matters not unrelated to that brouhaha.

Speaking of Foreign Policy blogs, they've recently added a whole host of bloggers to their mix. The three IR-students who read this blog might be interested to know that Stephen Walt is one of them, and it has become a daily read for me. Really informed and interesting commentary.

Younis! Two links here: one, a great column by Osman. Two, a typically over-the-top post from Farooq.

A detailed account of how Israel helped spawn Hamas. (Courtesy Asad)

It's always heartening to see that Pakistanis do not have a monopoly on inanity in South Asia. Check out this tidbit on the reaction to "Slumdog Millionaire" in India: (courtesy the W)
The film generated controversy in India even before its release there. A Jan. 13 blog entry by Bollywood maharaja Amitabh Bachchan, in which he asked if the film would have generated such hype if it had been made by an Indian director, led to an avalanche of Bollywood stars and critics taking positions for and against him. On Jan. 22, some 40 slum dwellers protested outside the Mumbai home of actor Anil Kapoor, who plays a leading role in the film. The protesters held banners reading "I Am Not a Dog" — referring to slumdog in the film's title — and "Poverty for Sale." Two days earlier, a slum leader in the central Indian city of Patna took the Indian cast and crew of the film to court for allegedly offending slum dwellers by the pejorative in the title.

A funny post over at India Uncut on cows and alcohol.

Speaking of alcohol, here's another way Obama will be different from Bush: cocktail parties in the White House! Good times.

Man, rightwing Republicans are insufferable. And rude. And general all-round assholes.

A great video of Obama's first bill signing. Watch it all the way to the end, to see what he does with the pens. For background on who Lily Ledbetter is, read this column by Gail Collins.

Hey, guess what? The left in France is upset about something or the other! This has never happened before!

Poor Meg Ryan. Here's Eduardo Alvarez - Phil Ball's inadequate replacement on Soccernet - giving us his assessment of La Liga at the halfway stage:
Espanyol resemble one of those beautiful Hollywood actresses who abruptly age and look terrible (i.e. Meg Ryan).

I don't know too much about that, but I do know they almost ended Messi's career about three times today (a 3-2 win for Barca in the Copa del Rey).

Have a good weekend, people.

Lost Season Five: Episode 3

Spoilers for the latest Lost episode follow.

In the comments last week, supersize me hoped that Lost would get back to concentrating on one character per episode. Well, his wish came partly true as 'Jughead' moved between Desmond and Faraday, with the Oceanic 6 nowhere to be seen. Overall, a very satisfying episode that had several great emotional payoffs as well as many 'wow' moments.

Let's move straight to the bullet points.

- So, the Jughead of the title refers to a hydrogen bomb and not the Archie comics character. Or does it? Here's something I didn't notice while watching the episode but read about later in the forums. Jughead tried to hide his real name for a long time (Forsythe) while his surname was Jones. One of the Others captured by Locke goes by the pseudonym of Jones but doesn't reveal his first name. And if you want to see something truly freaky, check out the contents of this Jughead spin-off comic.

- How awesome was it when we find out that Jones is actually Widmore. Now we know that Widmore, as many have speculated, was actually on the island. But how did he end up back in the real world? Was he banished because he moved the island, like Ben did in the season finale? Last week, I ventured a guess that the commandoes were Widmore's men. I never freakin thought one of them was Widmore himself.

- It's sweet enough that Desmond named his son Charlie but let's examine some other possibilities. There is a good chance that Desmond and his son will go back to the island. Might his son then get caught up in the time warp, move back in time, and become a rock star with a drug problem?

- While the obvious answer to Desmond's son's name is that he was named after Charlie, it is intriguing that Penny's father is Charles. Even if he had nothing to do with the name, surely Penny would have been resistant to the idea of naming her son after her father.

- Thus far, Daniel Faraday has been portrayed in an entirely sympathetic manner. Nice to see that he can be capable of cruelty. Abandoning his time-travel test subject is hardly the most noble action. But it is entirely possible he was forced to do so by his benefactor Charles Widmore.

- My mind is still reeling from the revelation that Richard Alpert visited John Locke at his birth and gave him the test when he was a kid because Locke told him to.

- It seems likely that this season we will cover much of the island's history. I really hope this means a reappearance by the late Rosseau as we finally get her backstory.

- I think Charlotte is dead but given the structure of this season I am pretty sure we will see her again.

- Daniel finds Ellie (the Other who takes him to the H-Bomb) somewhat familiar. Any chance she is his mother? Also, does Widmore telling Desmond that Daniel's mother is in LA confirm that Mrs Hawking is Daniel's mother or is this another big fake-out?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Taliban's Tactics Toward Imposing And Maintaining Control

A reader named Wasay sent me an email yesterday. I want to post it here and respond publicly. Here's the email:
Hi Ahsan,

After monstrous beheadings and digging up of graves by the Pakistan Taliban I am starting to wonder if these acts are really religiously motivated?

These acts are no different to acts by other messed up leaders such as Saddam, Hitler, Kim Jong etc. I dont think such acts are even promoted by Wahabism or Saudis (havent heard of saudis digging up graves etc). Unlike Jihad which can be interpreted in different ways and of which there are many examples in Islamic history, I dont think these acts can be justified even by Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist outfit. There is no example of such acts in Islamic history, Quran or Sunnah even remotely.

Is it possible that these acts are politically motivated to have power, influence, take over area etc? Everyone thinks that they are just fighting for Sharia. Hypothetically speaking if Pakistani government were to implement sharia do you think these people will sit at home?

I just dont see how them beheading local population and Saddam gassing kurds is much different in terms of motivation? Taliban are terming everyone who do not agree with them as unislamic while Saddam termed shias and kurds as traitors.

Sorry for the long rambling email.

Just wanted to know what you thought of it.

Ask and ye shall receive! Here's what I think of the issues raised:

1. The Taliban are fighting for political control, not for religious purity per se

I want to be very clear here, because there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Taliban are fighting for religious purity. But as Wasay points out, there is very little categorical religious justification for the Taliban are doing. Though the Quran does countenance violence explicitly, nowhere does it say you should murder someone for not pulling their shalwar above their ankle, and then murder their father for good measure. Nowhere does it say you should be digging up bodies and hanging them in public. Nowhere does it say you should destroy and bomb girls' schools. So the idea that they are fighting as religious vanguards is wrongheaded. They are not. They are, to the contrary, fighting strategically for a political goal.

2. The methods of imposing and maintaing political control involve clearing away extant political orders...

When the Taliban move into an area, they seek to do away with the traditionally tribal layers of authority that exist (the Taliban is a decidedly non-tribal movement). They begin collecting taxes, often at the barrel of a gun, to set up alternate structures of governance. They kill tribal leaders and political representatives that have traditionally enjoyed prominence in the area in question (about 400 tribal maliks have been killed since 2004 by the Taliban). They set up Sharia courts that dispense justice differently than tribal jirgas do so. And they organize administrative issues on non-tribal lines. All this is done to make the Taliban the new bosses in town.

3. well as sticks...

For the Taliban, digging up bodies and burning down CD shops and threatening barbers and blowing up girls schools is all about intimidation. Political authority rests on explicit and implicit notions of coercion. You do not cross a red traffic light because you are threatened by the law of the land if you are caught doing so. Similarly, you do not mess with the Taliban's aims because you and your family will be beheaded if you try. The argument is the same. Authority rests on the ability to coerce, which in turn rests on punishing disobedience, and what the Taliban are doing in order to impose their authority is demonstrate their ability to punish. This is not complicated - it is terrorism in the strictest sense of the word.

4. well as carrots

Do not underestimate the power of a three day trial. Please read this:
At the Mingora district court Ali Shah has been fighting a land dispute for two years, trying to wrest back several acres he says were seized by relatives. He misses work three or four times a month to attend hearings, and he's fed up.
"If Islamic law is enforced here our cases will be solved in two or three weeks," he tells me. "Plus in the courts right now there's no difference between the oppressed and the oppressor. If Islamic law is imposed we'll be able to distinguish between the two and get justice."
Many others agree. The government system is painfully slow and seen to favor the powerful. For ordinary people Islamic law means swift justice.

Along with promises of swift justice, the Taliban also hold out guarntees for dealing with petty crime.

So, to recap: they want political control, and they try to establish it through (a) wrecking old systems of order, (b) intimidating the crap out of people, and (c) promising justice. And if you ask me, it seems to be working pretty well - particularly (a) and (b). Which means that the 91% of Swat residents who deem the Taliban way the "wrong way" (via Rabia) are in for a rough time.

Poll Post

You can comment on the poll on this thread.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's About Goddamn Time

So it turns out that Barack Obama is not the only savior hoisted upon us this January.

There's some news items that simply make your morning. This is one of them. Better late than never, yes?

Anyway, here's what I had to say about Younis Khan's captaincy potential more than two years ago immediately after the whole "dummy captain" fiasco. While some of it is surely cringe-worthy, I stand by most of what I said.

UPDATE: Younis, as quoted by Osman Samiuddin:
I will try and fix things that aren't right at the moment. But the boys will all have to get together and wave their magic wands. I can't just wave it by myself.

Is that supposed to be a metaphor for something?

Monday, January 26, 2009

A New Dress Code

Consider this a follow-up to Ahsan's post Our People? This is the reality of life in FATA and Swat today:

Militants gunned down Amjad Islam, teacher of a private school who himself waged a Jihad against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, for not hiking up his shalwar (trouser) above his ankles.

However, the issue did not end here but the militants went to the slain teacher’s house and gunned down his father, Ghani Akbar, a lawyer by profession. The militants later hung Amjad’s body from a pole in the Matta College Square.

Quote Of The Day

ere's the Catalan press, explaining why Messi will not follow the Luis Figo route to Real:

"We Love You Messi", simpered Sport's cover, its editor declaring "Messi's kiss not just any kiss", and "this won't be like Figo because Messi is nether a money grabber nor a gypsy".


Anyway, I find this whole Messi-to-Madrid meme planted by Florentino Pérez (the favorite to become Madrid's new head honcho; you may remember him as the architect of the Galactico era and specifically for luring Luis Figo from Barca to Real) to be blatantly transparent and quite stupid. Let me tell you right now: Messi is not going anywhere. He has said so himself in quite categorical terms (and his words actually mean something, unlike some douchebags I am familiar with). Joan Laporta too has rubbished the idle speculation, dismissing it (accurately) as a campaign to "destabilize" Barca. Even Messi's dad has piped in, saying "I know Leo wants to stay with Barça and will never go to Madrid. In Madrid they can say what they want. All I am saying is that it is up to him because it is his decision and he feels very, very good in Barcelona."

In other words, Messi is not a gypsy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Islam And Urdu In The Development Of Pakistan (As A State)

Reading Pervez Hoodbhoy's otherwise excellent piece in Newsline, linked to by Bubs earlier, I came across a misconception commonly made in readings of Pakistan's political history. See if you can spot it here:
For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years. This culture produced Mughul architecture, the Taj Mahal, the poetry of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, and much more. Now a stern, unyielding version of Islam (Wahhabism) is replacing the kinder, gentler Islam of the Sufis and saints who had walked on this land for hundreds of years.

This change is by design. Twenty-five years ago, the Pakistani state used Islam as an instrument of state policy. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for academic posts in universities required that the candidate demonstrate a knowledge of Islamic teachings and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. Today, government intervention is no longer needed because of a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state – still in an amorphous and diffused form – is more popular now than ever before as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state.

Figure it out? It's the timeline, of course.

Pakistan's flirtation with, courtship of, and consummation with political Islam is generally thought to be kicked off by the Zia regime. It is thought that before that particular mullah-without-a-beard took over the reigns of the state, the country was a thriving secular, pluralistic and tolerant republic, teeming with nightclubs, evening gowns and American scotch.

What to make of this caricature? On the one hand, it is partly true: Pakistan was a distinctly more liberal country, at least socially, before General Zia's regime. Both the practice of religion, and its invocations in the public sphere, were restricted. But how much light does this observation shed on where we are now? I would submit not very much, because it misses the key piece of the puzzle: the role of Islam (and Urdu, no doubt) as a state-unifying mechanism.

The founders of the state, you see, faced a very simple and yet predictable problem: having made the demand for Pakistan on the basis of Muslims' purportedly shared identity - one distinct and separate from the Hindu majority of pre-partition India - they quickly discovered that this identity was not enough to preclude regional, provincial, and linguistic cleavages from becoming salient. Put differently, they quickly discovered that being a Pathan or Bengali mattered more than being a Muslim, at least insofar as collective action and political mobilization were concerned. Faced with ethno-centered claims to political identity, the guardians of the state consciously and deliberately decided to use Islam as a religion and Urdu as a language to foster a sense of unity in the trying times that followed the end of the British raj.

The point to be made is this: these decisions were taken at and immediately after independence. The idea that the state mixed its hands with religion only at the onset of the Zia era is completely false. In their first speeches and actions following independence, Pakistan’s ruling elite stressed the need for national cohesion because its early leaders saw its linguistic diversity and cultural heterogeneity as a threat to the state apparatus.

Now, ex-ante, this may not have been the most ill-thought idea in the world. Plenty of modern nation-states have engaged in overt exercises of building state-based-nationalism (one of my three favorite academic books is centered on how the French managed to do it). For us liberals, who value cultural and linguistic heterogeneity, not to mention secular ideals, it was - quite naturally - an unmitigated disaster. But I can see why it made sense to the leaders at the time - even if the bungled execution of such state policies led to things like, well, this.

The thing to keep in mind, then, is that the exclusion of hundreds of years' worth of cultural mixing, and the promotion of Urdu and Islam - as an explicit policy of the state - did not begin with Zia. It began the moment Pakistan achieved independence. And the results, as both Hoodbhoy and Muhammad Hanif attest to, are before us today.

Our People

Heartwarming couple of paragraphs from the NYT's piece on Swat today:
Few officials would dispute that one of the Pakistani military’s biggest mistakes in Swat was its failure to protect Pir Samiullah, a local leader whose 500 followers fought the Taliban in the village of Mandal Dag. After the Taliban killed him in a firefight last month, the militants demanded that his followers reveal his gravesite — and then started beheading people until they got the information, one Mandal Dag villager said.

“They dug him up and hung his body in the square,” the villager said, and then they took the body to a secret location. The desecration was intended to show what would happen to anyone who defied the Taliban’s rule, but it also made painfully clear to Swat residents that the Pakistani government could not be trusted to defend those who rose up against the militants.

By the way, Rabia has been dealing with the Swat issue - almost to the exclusion of everything else - on her blog. Some interesting links and stories on there; check it out when you have the time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lost Season Five: Episodes 1 and 2

Given that there seems to be some interest in Lost around these parts, I’m going to be blogging about the show each week. Originally, I’d planned to do episode recaps but I think it would be more fun to offer bullet points on the crazy-ass coincidences, offer half-baked theories and document all the WTF moments of each episode. Here are my thoughts on ‘Because You Left’ and ‘The Lie’, the first two episodes of the fifth season of Lost.

Spoiler Alert: Do not read further if you plan on watching these two episodes at a later date. Do no read further if you will never watch Lost. It will make no sense.

Onto the hail of bullets:

- It was great to learn that the star of the Dharma orientation videos, variously known as Edgar Halliwax and Marvin Candle, is actually Dr Chang. Any chance his new-born daughter is Charlotte, who, as an off-hand comment by Miles last season led us to suspect, may have been born on the island? Probably not, as the baby looked Chinese.

- Note that Dr Chang’s alarm goes off at 8:15.

- Sweet shout out to the opening scenes of season 2 and season 3. In the second season Desmond listens to The Mama and The Papas. In the third, Juliet to Petunia Clark. Now we get Chang listening to Willie Nelson. Also, nice foreshadowing of Faraday’s explanation that the island is like a broken record.

- In the stunning opening scene, we see that Daniel Faraday is working with the Dharma Initiative. It soon becomes obvious that this is present-day Faraday and the island has moved in time. Or is it? We learnt in ‘The Constant’ that, like Desmond, Faraday can also experience time travel. Has he traveled back in time to infiltrate the Dharma, and for what purpose?

- Who set the lawyers on Kate? As Sun points out, it is not someone who wants to go public or he/she would already have publicly revealed that Aaron is not Kate’s son. Three candidates come to mind, the most obvious of whom is Ben Linus. Ben has the motive: forcing Kate on the run should help convince her to go back to the island. But it could certainly be Charles Widmore, who thinks this might help him get more information from Kate about the island and the survivors. A third, although somewhat unlikely, possibility might be Sun. Despite her weak denial, it is very likely that she blames Kate for Jin’s death. Denying Aaron his mother would be pretty sweet revenge considering Sun’s daughter will never meet her father.

- In the first season, Locke found boars with his hunting skills. Miles just hears dead boars.

- Given that Desmond met Faraday in the past in ‘The Constant’, why he doesn’t he remember him?

- We get lots of old characters and situations making an appearance. Why was Ethan so shocked that Ben would appoint John Locke as the leader? Is it simply because the man was unknown to him or did the island move back so far in time that Ben isn’t their leader yet? And Ana Lucia warning Hurley not to be caught by the police shows that the island can work in the real world, too. This would mean that Charlie and Libby (or at least their ghosts, or whatever these apparitions are) actually did meet Hurley and Michael. They were not hallucinations.

- Now we know what Richard Alpert wanted the adolescent Locke to pick when he visited him. It wasn’t the dagger; it was the compass.

- Richard Alpert never seems to age because he is moving back and forth between time. Thus, present-day Alpert kept visiting Locke at different points in his childhood because he knew that Locke would eventually lead The Others. Maybe he was trying to hasten the process, although that didn’t work, probably because the future can’t be changed in significant ways. Or at least that’s my theory.

- Hurley’s dad watches Expose. Apparently, Nikki’s death wasn’t enough to take the show off the air.

- Those with a good memory would have recognized the woman who told Ben that he has 70 hours to get the Oceanic Six back to the island. That was Mrs Hawkings, the woman who refused to sell Desmond the ring back in season 3 because that would change the future. Here’s a theory about her: Faraday told Desmond that he should seek out his mother in Oxford. Given that Faraday is a thirty-something Englishmen, his mother would likely be British and in her sixties. Mrs Hawkings is the only one who fits the bill.

- Why is Sayid so pissed off at Ben? Did he find out that Ben had Nadia killed just so he could acquire the Iraqi’s services?

- It is quite puzzling that Sun would want to kill Ben. As far as she knows, Ben had nothing to do with Jin’s death? Is she lying about that just so she could get close to Widmore. Or is she working with the mysterious Economist, who we heard about, but was never shown, in season 4?

- Did Charles Widmore control the island only to have it wrested from his control by the Dharma Initiative? It seems more of a possibility given that the paramilitary guys who attacked Sawyer and the other Losties were British.

- This is a question I expect to ask every week: What is Ben up to?

- Next weeks episode is titled ‘Jughead’. Anyone care to speculate how it will tie in with Archie comics?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Guest Post: Four Culture Shocks Of Karachi

So I got married last month, and invited a few of my friends from the U.S. to attend. Two of them, Sarah and Lindsey, came to Karachi and then continued their travels to India after my wedding. I asked them to write something up for the blog. So far, only Lindsey has obliged. Without further ado, here are her thoughts:

Having recently returned from a trip to Pakistan and India (10 days and 1 week respectively), Ahsan has asked me to write something up to reflect an American's first impression of these countries. Now that's he's back from his honeymoon and can actually get on my case to do it, I finally have written something up. Since this isn't a personal blog, however, I'm afraid I can't share my favorite things from the trip - Ahsan's wedding, AKS's family, the friends, etc. Conversely, I thought I'd spare you the usual self-important rant about the four evil p's of developing countries- pollution, poverty, population and political violence. Having said that, I give you my four biggest culture shocks of Karachi (in no particular order):

1) Servants
As an American, I have only two references to make sense of servants- slavery and the butlers of über-rich assholes. However, my observations of servants in Pakistan didn't fulfill either of these criteria. At least with the families I stayed with, the servants were treated affectionately; they attended school; and they didn't seem to resent their jobs. Nevertheless, I felt really uncomfortable to be served. As such, I developed a compulsive need to signal to the servants that I was capable of doing my own housework, and that if a proletariat revolution breaks out, I'll get their back. Of course, I was also very wary of insulting my hosts by breaking some unspoken rule of social interaction. The end result was that the servants found me enormously amusing. Every time they caught me sneaking off to wash my dishes or make my own tea, they would burst out laughing and animatedly chase me out of the kitchen. Correspondingly, they became even better hosts: preparing my favorite food and beverages at every meal, decorating the salad with flowers, bringing me custard apples and tea every time they caught me alone in the house, etc. Unfortunately, language barriers prevented conversations beyond the level of "Brazil football good?" and "Bush president bad!" but I was really glad that I met them and they remain one of my most memorable experiences.

2) Nationalism:
Since I spent time in Pakistan and India during some of the peak points in the recent brinksmanship over Mumbai, I got a first-hand look at South Asian nationalism in action. As a student of political science, I know that I should not be surprised by nationalist appeals by governments or faulty logic in a population's reasoning. Nevertheless, I often found myself pondering questions like: How can anyone actually believe that Israeli jets had invaded Pakistani airspace during the crisis? That the Indian government had perpetrated the Mumbai attacks to frame Pakistan? Or for that matter, that 9/11 was a conspiracy by U.S. Jews?

Moreover, I was still surprised by exactly how similar and transparent each government's appeals were as a diversionary tactic from their failures to deal with massive domestic concerns like poverty, crime, crumbling infrastructure and corruption. The phrase 'hysterical twins' comes to mind, but perhaps given the cultural ties between the two countries, 'hysterical Siamese twins' is more accurate.

3) Whiteness=weirdness
Being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American girl in Pakistan: Ahsan had warned me that I was likely to be stared at. Still, it was really weird. From men taking pictures with their camera phones, to the odd silence that would come over a store whenever we walked in, to the heart attack I nearly gave Ahsan's servant when he realized that he was making a bed with an asleep white girl in it, Sarah and I seemed to have at least two dozen eyes upon us every time that we were in public. My favorite moment came in a restroom with two little children. Upon seeing me, one little girl panicked and hid behind her mother's leg, the other walked directly towards me with her arms extended as though I was the messiah.

Except for one man who grabbed my ass in a market, however, being white was far, far more of an oddity in India. In India, street children would literally grab my arms and hair or follow us while incessantly repeating "hello money," men would simply sit at our table in restaurants without invitation, and there are dozens of Indian families who now have pictures of their whole clan with the random white girl that they saw at some cultural monument. I found this odd because I imagine that they have far more white people in India than Pakistan. Anyone have a good explanation for this discrepancy?

4) 'Third World' mentality:
People often complain about how business is done in the developing world. There is certainly a lot to complain about: blatant bribing for privileged treatment, bureaucrats who don't give a damn about your convenience, outdated social values, dishonest merchants and overt sexism. However, I just wanted to say that I think there are some practices that we really ought to adopt in America. For one, I really liked that it's culturally acceptable to complain about poor service without being considered an asshole. Second, haggling over prices is excellent. Although it was a pain in the ass to know that all prices were enormously exaggerated on account of my skin, I would love to be able to walk into a J Crew and say, "this price is ridiculous, I'll give you half." Third, in many ways, Pakistani culture just seemed more reciprocal, more tit-for-tat. If you treated someone well, they responded with extreme politeness. When you weren't treated well, Ahsan would say something in Urdu and then I would feel vindicated.

I know I'm leaving some important things off this list. All in all, however, I really enjoyed the trip. The people were overwhelmingly interesting and friendly, the food delicious (except for your cultural obsession with cilantro), the clothes comfortable, the traffic became fun once I got over my fear, and being a part of the wedding was one of the coolest things I've done in my life.

Recommended Reading

A couple of pieces you guys should check out. Mohammed Hanif examines the changing role of the mullah over the decades. It is occasionally exaggerated for comic effect but well worth reading.
Secondly, a more scholarly piece by Pervez Hoodhboy on how the Saudi influence has changed the education system of Pakistan.

Links For Thursday

Stuff to help you procrastinate:

Hillay Clinton, drawing up on a lifetime of experience of dealing with sleazy men who get off on power, calls Asif Zardari for a chit-chat.

Did the Lahore High Court actually say murder is justified if it's done "to save a woman's honour"?

Great story in the Guardian on the Kaka saga. This is the first paragraph:
From start to finish, the whole process took 34 days. It was 15 December when Manchester City's executive chairman, Garry Cook, first made contact with Milan. "I'll come out with this straight away," he said over the phone to Adriano Galliani, the club's vice-president. "We want your best player and I'm ringing up to see how much you want for him."

Remember how I said the PPP and the PML-Q would form an alliance after the elections last year? What I should have said was: the PPP and the PML-Q will form an alliance in twelve months' time.

I think this statement from Shoaib Malik effectively ends Shoaib Akhtar's international career. Or is that just wishful thinking from me?

I'm sure this clarificatory statement from the British foreign office will please the Indian government.

Speaking of India, a blog post on Freakonomics on why rickshaw drivers behave differently in Mumbai than they do in Delhi.

Good news for Karachiites: a parking plaza is going up in Saddar in a month's time to relieve traffic congestion. Why can't every Pakistani politician be like Mustafa Kamal? Hard-working, industrious, concerned with problems on the ground, willing to do whatever it takes to make his citizens' lives easier. Oh well. At least we have one.

Finally, Chris Matthews apparently embarrassed himself on TV on Inauguration Day. I wouldn't know because I don't really watch news on TV (except for Jon Stewart), but I'll take Slate's word for it.