Smug Edition

By , 3 June, 2010, 5 Comments

Since I started writing professionally in 2005, I’ve covered a pretty wide terrain: from tech to media to energy to regulation to macroeconomics to international geostrategy. The upside of that is the rich and diverse set of experiences I’ve had. The downside is that I rarely stay on a beat long enough to see a company or person I’ve followed through their career.

This blog is great fun for me because I get to write about all my beats at the same time, to keep my fingers in multiple pies even when, professionally, I’m covering just one or two.

Today, I learned that Lending Club, a peer-to-peer loan site has hit the 10 million dollar mark in loans, secured its Series C round of funding and started to tap top talent from other e-businesses. I haven’t written about social media in a while, but way back in 2007, I wrote about Lending Club for BusinessWeek, where social media was my primary beat. I said then:

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Apocalypse 33: News on the Dole

By , 1 June, 2010, 3 Comments

The FTC has released a report on the state of the news media, in preparation for a meeting on June 15. The FTC draws heavily on previous reports by the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism and the Columbia Journalism School.

To new media evangelists, the report suggests the government should protect old media organizations against dangerous digital forces, i.e. the evangelists themselves. And the FTC’s focus is traditional, The report defines journalism as original reporting in real, or very recent, time. This means newspapers and online news sites, but it does not include magazines or opinion blogs or most TV news.

Some bloggers think this line is arbitrary, but I disagree. Aggregators and analysts are beginning to find sustainable business models online, but the raw news they rely on hasn’t. Raw newsgathering is inherently inefficient, and has never been profitable. But in print, you can bundle in the money-losing news with the profitable commentary, the spinach with the candy. The web breaks the bundle. It’s no surprise that no one has figured out to monetize raw beat reporting—on its own—online. The FTC has not only chosen the most essential segment of media, but the one that, demonstrably, the market hasn’t figured out. That’s what the state should do.

The web-istas say the state has no business in journalism. But for most of history, and especially at times when new technologies were emerging, American journalism has relied on government support. Done wrong, of course, this is propaganda. But done right, it’s great. Jim Lehrer is still the best evening anchor. Enough said.

As for the FTC’s actual recommendations, I have mixed reviews:

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In Defense of Anglophilia

By , 15 May, 2010, 1 Comment

Regular readers of this blog, as well as followers of my Twitter and Reader feeds, will know that for many months, I have been obsessed by the British general election. Earlier this week, my friend and True/Slant blogger Ethan Epstein chastised American journalists for over-hyping this story at the expense of more significant elections, like the August ouster of the Liberal Democrats in Japan.


To be sure, in their domestic political contexts, the recent Japanese or (I might add) Chilean elections were milestones that deserved better treatment from the media. But from the perspective of U.S. media outlets concerned primarily with American foreign policy, the British election carries weight.

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China’s Pearl

By , 29 April, 2010, No Comment

My latest story is up, on Chinese investment in Balochistan, a Pakistani province that borders Afghanistan, Iran and the Persian Gulf. As others have reported, China is building up investments in Central and South Asia in a strategy it calls the “string of pearls,” in a way that contains/constrains India. My piece looks at how China goes about staking its claim and what the strategy, as applied in Pakistan, means for the United States.

“Beijing is willing to play hardball to protect its position in Balochistan. That’s a lesson learned the hard way for Tethyan Copper, a joint venture between Canada’s Barrick Gold ( ABXnews people ) and Chile’s Antofagasta. In 2006 Tethyan signed a deal to survey, and then develop, the Reko Diq reserve in Balochistan, estimated to hold $70 billion in copper and gold…

In January the Baloch government, struggling politically and looking to appease separatist hardliners, announced it would cancel Tethyan’s license and force investors to absorb a $3 billion loss. Almost immediately the U.S. intervened, putting pressure on the Pakistani central government to dissuade Quetta from doing this. U.S. diplomats believe the sanctity of the Tethyan deal is essential to its efforts to encourage Western investment in Pakistan as a counterterror tool.

For China, however, American intervention was an alarm bell…”

To find out what happened next, read the rest (and comment!) here.

In Favor of Results

By , 11 March, 2010, No Comment

I’ve been off the Pulitzer blog for a bit, I know, but I promise it’s because I’m chasing good stories and am totally overwhelmed by them. In any case, here’s the latest, on some nonprofits I’ve had the opportunity to look into.

“The ALBA Collective’s model is premised on identifying failures in the models of its local partners and presenting itself as a solution. That is rather the opposite of Lend-a-Hand’s model, which identifies successes and then asks locals “How can we help?” In my travel across South Asia, I’ve been stunned by the number of nonprofits who make ALBA’s mistake.”

Read the post, and comment, here.

His Name is Khan

By , 7 March, 2010, No Comment

This week, I saw My Name is Khan. Generally, I do not like Bollywood cinema. And Shahrukh Khan, Bollywood’s Alpha Male du jour, specializes in my least favorite Bollywood genre: the “masala,” a saccharine mix of romantic comedy, melodrama and musical. Yet there I was, in line to see his latest venture, my curiosity piqued by the political maelstrom the film has unleashed.

First, the plot: Rizvan Khan, an Indian Muslim with Asperger’s Syndrome, immigrates to America, becomes a beauty products salesman, marries a divorced Indian Hindu beautician, and adopts her son Samir. Then 9/11 happens. Locals boycott the Khans’ beauty salon. A neighbor dies in Afghanistan and his son blames Samir. Samir is killed in a fight between the boys at school, Rizvan’s wife throws him out in a fit of rage, and tells him not to come back till he has convinced America not to hate on Muslims. She says, “Tell the President of the United States, ‘My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.’” Autistic Rizvan takes her literally and runs off on a road trip across the country trying to convey his message to George W. Bush. At a presidential rally on a Los Angeles university campus, a social security operative overhears Rizvan shouting “terrorist” in the crowd, and has him arrested. A student journalist catches the incident on film and begins investigating, discovering just how harmless Rizvan is. When the story airs, disability rights groups begin phoning government offices, and Khan is released. Instead of going home to his wife, he continues his quest, but is derailed by a major hurricane that Washington is ignoring. [Sound familiar?] Khan takes charge of the relief effort in a small Georgia town, and becomes a national hero, again. By this time, Bush has been replaced by President Obama, who comes to Georgia to meet Khan on his release from the hospital, and the film (finally) ends.

There are no song and dance numbers and there are no long-lost cousins back from the dead. For Bollywood, that’s realistic, but to audiences unused to Indian cinema, the above should sound absurdly far-fetched. Many Indians had hoped that after Hollywood came to them via Slumdog Millionaire, their own work would have crossover appeal. But a plot like this is not going to appeal to American audiences.

Rather, I think MNIK’s merits lie in the conversations it can start inside India. It is these nerves touched that have invited all the outrage

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Jaipur: Adventures in Time and Space

By , 13 February, 2010, 4 Comments

A few weeks ago, I took a weekend business-cum-pleasure trip down from Delhi to Jaipur. I was there to attend the Jaipur Literary Festival, a 5-day conference of writers, journalists and artists organized by Namita Gokhale (a great champion of Indian writers) and William Dalrymple (the dean of expats in India). But the Lit Fest has grown far beyond literature related to India into what might be the largest free gathering of its kind anywhere in the world.

I spent most of my time in newsy panels on everything from terrorism to regional politics to civil liberties, featuring such personal heros as Steve Coll, Lawrence Wright, Anne Applebaum, Asma Jahangir and Niall Ferguson. If 1% of their collective wisdom seeped into my brain, I’ll have done well.

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Getting Serious for a Moment

By , 3 February, 2010, No Comment

Latest blog post, on the trillion-dollar question of Indo-Pak peace:

‘…These days, optimists are focused on a new effort by two leading newspapers—the Times of India and The News in Pakistan—to promote “Aman ki Asha,” or “Hope for Peace.” In Delhi, the campaign is ubiquitous: billboards, posters, and television advertisements, some featuring major Bollywood lights. But the simple one below, where Pakistanis are trying to request a song on Indian radio, is my favorite.

The goal, says the News, is “mobilising popular pressure for peace on the establishment of both countries.” The mechanism, says the Times, is “a series of cross-border cultural interactions, business seminars, music and literary festivals and citizen meets that will give the bonds of humanity a chance to survive outside the battlefield of politics, terrorism and fundamentalism.”

Looking back on the last year, and speaking to politicians here in Delhi, I am skeptical…’

Here’s the video I reference. But read the whole post, and comment, at Untold Stories.

Video: The Phantom Dog

By , 19 January, 2010, No Comment

I’m back on BloggingHeads today, this time talking up my work in Pakistan with Zeke Webster (alias: Don Zeko) of the blog Discord. We cover counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in general, US counterterrorism/counterinsurgency in South Asia, what Pakistan is really thinking, and the rights of South Asian women. Though they just posted this to BHTV, we filmed in mid-December, when I was in Karachi, and before the last wave of attacks in Pakistan and in the U.S. Some of this is outdated, but hopefully it still informs and entertains.

Comment here.

*Title Character is revealed at 10:28, 24:05 and most hilariously, at 42:00.

A Spoonful of Sugar

By , 17 January, 2010, No Comment

I’ve got a piece in this week’s edition of Forbes on the real crisis in Pakistan—the systemic failures of government, particularly on economic issues. My case study is the mismanagement of the nation’s sugar supply:

The sugar crisis has its roots in the fragmentation of Pakistan’s sugar sector. Growers, millers, wholesale distributors and retailers each have their own regulatory overlords offering protectionist perks and their own cartels to defend such gains. Though this structure goes back to the 1950s, recent policy decisions and the worldwide spike in prices of commodities like sugar have aggravated its effects.

…Economic problems provide rallying cries for opponents like Sharif and radical insurgents eager to bring down the government, while a weak and dysfunctional state contributes to economic distress. In the case of sugar, whose consumption in Pakistan is approaching developed-country levels, the danger is acute: In 1969 a sugar shortage helped bring down the rule of military dictator Ayub Khan.

Read the piece in full (and comment!) here.