Monsieur Periné: Fusing Sounds

“I spent one whole year trying to convince the other band members we should dress up,” says Catalina García, lead singer for Monsieur Periné.

“But finally I got them to do it,” she told OZY, after Colombian designer Alejandra Rivas insisted that they all needed costumes.

Now, when the Bogotá. -based quartet performs, its outfits are eccentric and just as hard to define as its music. One minute it’s a poppy, bouncy, jazzy rhythm carrying lyrics in French, and the next, it’s slow, serene, passionate and all in Spanish.

Monsieur Periné calls its sound Suin a la Colombiana, or Colombian Swing, but García insists that it’s more about fusing “gypsy swing — the kind of swing you’d find played around Europe in the 1930s — with classical Latin American genres” like Colombian cumbia and Mexican bolero.

colorful image of a band performing live on stage during a concert

Monsieur Periné

Source Luis Peña

The music reflects the eclectic character of the group.

Strings player Santiago Prieto, guitarist Nicolas Junca and classically trained winds musician Camilo Parra are all professionally trained.  When they invited García to sing with them, they knew it was a contrast. It was intentional.

García says she has no formal musical background. “For me, something comes to me and I just write it out and there, it’s done. But the other guys are more scientific about the music. … They want to listen and tweak and change things.”

Monsieur Periné wants to explore Latin American folk and reinterpret it with a swingy sound.

The tension between García and the rest is what makes their sound, she says. The members of Monsieur Periné grew up listening to music through the Internet, where Brazilian pop was just as interesting and accessible as swing from the 1930s.

Latin American artists and musicians have historically looked to Europe for influence, but Monsieur Periné doesn’t just want to grab and mix genres from other parts of the world. It wants to explore Latin American folk and reinterpret it with a swingy sound. And it’s not trying to flit off to New York or London either. Band members are excited to be part of the Bogotá. scene, which García says “has completely transformed in the last several years.”(The band does tour in Europe, though.) 

Now they’ve changing up the band’s roster, adding Argentine Alejandro Giuliani on drum set, Adinda Meertins of the Netherlands on string bass and Colombian Miguel Guerra on traditional percussion, García says.

“We’re really looking to mature our sound with this next album,” Prieto says of the album due out in March.

It was just five years ago that Monsieur Periné was a handful of college kids playing gigs at bars and parties for $150 a night when a friend who produced music insisted that he record them.

So they did — in a closet.  These days, they have plenty of space to play. See for yourself:

Janet Napolitano: Stamping Out Sexual Assault at College

press interview inside a hotel conference room between a politician woman with short hair and an aftrica-american man

OZY co-founder and CEO Carlos Watson sat down for a rare interview with Janet Napolitano, former U.S. secretary of homeland security and the newest president of the University of California system.

Napolitano told Watson that combating rape and sexual assault on college campuses would require a “cultural change” — and that we can no longer blame issues of sexual violence on alcohol or “young people being young people.” Her comments, made last week, are even more timely today, as Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed a law Monday defining sexual consent as “yes means yes” on college campuses, not simply “no means no.”

She also talked to Watson about her decision to move from Washington, D.C., to the world of West Coast higher education — where she plans to stay … for now.

Watch Part I of the interview with President Napolitano here, where she tackles homeland security, immigration, and the Islamic State group.

Geoffrey Siwo: Crowdsourcing Cures

An African man stands in front of an office building

There are more than 10,000 diseases on the planet, asthma to zygomycosis. Geoffrey Siwo wants to cure all of them. 

And the 36-year-old computational biologist believes he can. Or, rather, that we can, if we can disrupt drug discovery. It’s worth listening: Few understand the toll of disease like Siwo, who lost three sisters to disease in Kenya.

Today, pharmaceutical companies pour resources into widespread diseases that afflict developed countries, like cancer or diabetes. There’s less economic incentive to tackle rare diseases or those, like malaria and tuberculosis, that plague poorer regions. Even if there were, drug companies would still lack the manpower to tackle every disease known.

What if you could find a way in which basically anyone with a computer and Internet connection could contribute to research on a disease?

— Geoffrey Siwo

Siwo sees another way. “What if you could find a way in which basically anyone with a computer and Internet connection could contribute to research on a disease?” he asks — and it’s not a rhetorical question. This month, he unveiled the United Genomes Project, Africa’s first crowdsourced, open-source genetic database. Siwo and his team will start by asking first-generation African-Americans to upload their results from 23andMe and other commercially available genetic kits. Then they’ll fan out to African countries once they approve direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

Genomic data could help shed light on mutations and other factors that underlie diseases and susceptibility to them, as well as drug responses, allowing physicians to tailor treatments to individual patients. United Genomes’ database would also teach students to analyze genetic information, allowing even those without lab access to generate and answer their own research questions.

In 2011, Foldit players deciphered the structure of an AIDS-causing monkey virus in 10 days — a puzzle that had stumped scientists for 15 years. 

Thirty-five-year-old Siwo has velvety eyes and a schoolboy expression that breaks readily into a smile. He speaks softly but openly from his office at Dartmouth, where he’s a postdoc, describing his childhood in dusty, rural Homa Bay, Kenya — sans electricity or running water. One sister died of malaria when she was 9, and it shaped him.  

As did his teachers. A middle school teacher kindled his passion for biology when she described cancer as uncontrolled cell growth, spurring him to read voraciously about how the disease developed. At 19, Siwo wrote to the then-chair of Stanford University’s biology department, Patricia Jones, asking what determined the arrangement of genes in DNA. Six months later, he received a parcel from her: a college-level molecular and cell biology textbook. He devoured all 1,000-plus pages.

As an undergraduate at Egerton University, in Nairobi, Siwo conducted research at the Institute of Primate Research. Tucked in the Oloolua forest, where giant trees rustle with baboons, Siwo studied endogenous retroviruses. Retroviruses store genetic information in the form of a molecule called RNA. When they infect a host, an enzyme called reverse transcriptase converts RNA is converted to DNA, which then inserts itself into the host’s genome. Endogenous retroviruses are fragments of retroviral DNA from past infections, inherited from earlier generations.

Knowing that HIV is a retrovirus, too, Siwo wondered, “How could these two retroviruses interact?” He hypothesized that HIV could borrow genes from endogenous retroviruses to resist HIV drugs. Our genomes have accumulated so many different retroviral DNA sequences that chance suggests that at least some have mutations that confer drug resistance.

There was doubt about whether Siwo could test his hypothesis without large-scale molecular experiments, which would require large-scale funding. So he ditched traditional molecular methods: “I thought, ’What if I could test it on a computer?’” 

That … convinced me of the power of computing as a means of solving very difficult biological problems.

— Geoffrey Siwo

Siwo didn’t own a computer; he’d barely even used one. So he clocked in an hour or two a day at a local cybercafé, six days a week for several months, analyzing human DNA sequences available on an online database. The café charged him a dollar an hour — more than he had spent on food in a day. Siwo often skipped lunches to save money.

Less than 10 percent of available genetic data come from Africans, Siwo says. Building out a database could lead to better information and better medicine.

Sure enough, he observed that endogenous retrovirus reverse transcriptase contains mutations that can confer resistance to HIV drugs. That means if HIV incorporates some of these mutated sequences into its own DNA, the result could be a drug-resistant virus. He submitted an abstract to the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy — and, at 24, received an invitation to present his findings in Chicago. “That experience has always convinced me of the power of computing as a means of solving very difficult biological problems,” he says. He hopes the United Genomes Project database could similarly help other African scientists conduct their own research.  

Siwo then headed to the University of Notre Dame for a doctorate in computational biology, investigating drug resistance and malaria. His Ph.D. adviser, Gustavo Stolovitzky, recalls him as shy yet persistent. “If he has a question, he forces himself to ask it. It’s more important for him to know,” he says. “He’s a gem, but a rough gem, polishing himself, working actively on his own development.”

Shyness is a comparatively minor hurdle. In 2007, his two remaining sisters died of pneumonia within the span of a year. “We had grown so close,” he says with a pause. “But their kids are always a reminder. They have an even bigger struggle than I can ever have.”

With United Genomes, Siwo joins the ranks of citizen science advocates like David Baker, who uses games to predict the structure of proteins, and the ILIAD Project, which asks citizen scientists to test plants and other specimens for antibiotic properties. Critics of the citizen science movement question the rigor of data collected by amateurs. But there are clear advantages to crowdsourcing genetic data, especially when it comes to data from African countries. Less than 10 percent of available genetic data come from Africans, Siwo says, and building out a database could lead to better information and better medicine for not only Africans, but all other races. 

He’s got good timing. A digital revolution swept Africa in the latter half of the last decade, thanks to the installation of undersea fiber optic cables that boosted data transmission capacity. The number of Internet users in Africa grew a whopping 3,600 percent between 2002 and 2012, to 167 million. 

Investors seem drawn to his quiet warmth and depth of knowledge. “He gets what he wants when he meets an influential person,” says biomedical consultant and Siwo’s longtime friend, Susan Morgensztern. “They’re in his camp.” He and his colleagues recently licensed a method to predict age from DNA to an undisclosed company, and they are in talks with another company to further develop the technology. 

Siwo is still a bachelor. He doesn’t sleep much, according to Stolovitzky, who worries about Siwo “spreading out too thin,” he says. “At this stage of his career … he could focus a little bit more to get the most of his projects.”

But Siwo remains as dogged as ever. “We need to find new mechanisms that can work across multiple diseases,” he says. “Every disease deserves to be worked on.” When it comes to eradicating disease, he can’t spread himself thin enough.

Feminism’s New Phone Number

a woman puts a glowing cell phone inside her back pocket

Most women know the feeling: A sketchy guy asks for your digits and won’t take “no” for an answer. Many come up with a fake number and are done with it. But there might be a more enlightening alternative: an educational rejection hotline. 

The Feminist Phone Intervention answers unwanted texts or calls by reading back passages from feminist author bell hooks. The caller might not get what he wants, but at least he’ll learn something. 

“The idea is to pass it off as one’s own number if you’re in a dicey situation, afraid to give out your personal cell phone number or outright reject somebody,” says the hotline’s anonymous creator.

The caller might not get what he wants, but at least he’ll learn something.

The number is 669-221-6251 because apparently 669-UGH-ASIF, 669-WTF-DUDE and 669-MAJR-SHADE were already taken.

When the unwanted suitor dials the 10 digits, he’ll be greeted by a distinctly enthusiastic computer-automated voice reciting nuggets of bell hookian wisdom, such as “Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power,” or “If any female feels she needs anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”

The service is free, but the website accepts donations to keep it going, and its creators are quickly expanding the number of locations and languages. There are currently area-specific numbers for New York; Chicago; London; Toronto; Montreal (in French); Monterrey, Mexico; and Tel Aviv.


As empowering or just plain funny as the concept might seem, there’s something unsettling about it. Has it come to this? Isn’t this just another form of deception? Surely if a woman doesn’t want to give someone her number, shouldn’t a simple “no” suffice? 

If only. The website’s founder argues that the hotline is sadly necessary “because we’re raised to know it’s safer to give a fake phone number than to directly reject an aggressive guy. We’re raised to know that evasion or rejection can be met with violence.”

Of course, this is no real solution to harassment. While it’s useful for fending off number-demanding creeps on the spot, chances are that hearing a robot say, “Whenever domination is present, love is lacking,” will not make much of an impression. But it might offer some relief to women feeling cornered.

The source code for the service has been posted online, for those looking to create their own versions. One has already launched in Germany.

Now the creators of the world’s most disappointing hotline hope others will help them expand the work. The open source code for the service has been posted online , together with instructions for those looking to create their own versions of the Feminist Phone Intervention. One has already been launched in Germany .

Maybe next will be similar services for Facebook or WhatsApp. For now, the line’s creator is “thinking of putting up a Gmail account too, which would automatically respond with a candid ‘Thank you for your note. However, I am away on vacation — from the patriarchy.’”


Google Maps Has Been Missing Sound — Until Now

street scene at night

Google Maps is to our daily lives as batteries are to our smartphones, as milk is to a baby, as fuel is to a jetliner … OK, maybe I exaggerate, but some of us would be lost in the middle of the Mojave Desert on our way to Disneyland were it not for this free digital tool that we all love to love.

Google’s iconic service has grown to map live traffic conditions, (sometimes creepy) Street View and even the bottom of the ocean. But Google Maps is still missing a key layer: sound.

Amplifon, a European hearing-care company, heard the call and developed an innovative experiment that brings a 3-D sound experience to Google Street View. Imagine tuning into the cacophony of Midtown Manhattan while virtually touring the neighborhood or listening to water crash down Niagara Falls from the comfort of your couch. What this all means is that you could hear the corresponding sounds while you’re visually exploring a location via Street View.

Each sound file is given a latitude and longitude, and then the distance is calculated between the sound and where the user is “standing” on Street View.

Amplifon’s “Sounds of Street View” project hasn’t automatically added an audio layer to Street View. Instead, it’s developed a framework to let anyone with some coding experience add his or her own recordings to a location on a map hosted elsewhere. So with some inspiration, you could create an audio experience for a place you’ve visited and recorded; it’d be accessible on Street View. (The Sounds of Street View site is even soliciting user entries.)

If coding is not your cup of tea, the open-source project already features an example from Chicago, where someone captured the sounds of the city’s Buckingham Fountain landmark. You can hear the water from the fountain, people walking and the general bustle of the environment in this particular experience.

The Sounds of Street View technology was designed to mimic what it is actually like to stand in a specific location. Each sound file is given a corresponding latitude and longitude so it can be mapped — and then the distance is calculated between the sound and where the user is “standing” on Street View to replicate what it would sound like if you were in fact there. So if you pop on a pair of headphones for the full 3-D sound experience, things in front of you will sound clearer and louder, while noises “behind” you will be seem duller and more distant. Moreover, like surround sound in movie theaters, with stereo headphones, you’ll appropriately hear sounds taking place on the left in your left ear and sounds from the right in your right ear.

It’s an intriguing project to check out, especially when you consider what’s coming down the pipeline in the tech world. Oculus VR (the virtual reality headset company that Facebook paid $2 billion for earlier this year) recently unveiled a new prototype VR headset that reportedly has built-in headphones and 360-degree head tracking. If virtual reality tech becomes more mainstream, the way in which we explore the world through maps could change forever. Not only will you see places, but you’ll also hear them and feel like you’re actually there.

And if a trip to the Eiffel Tower in Paris is simply not in your travel budget, who knows? Maybe the next best thing will be savoring a virtual experience of being in France just by putting on a headset and navigating Street View. Baguette not included.

#PEACEROCKS Selfie for a Good Cause

BW of Ringo Starr

John Varvatos recently launched its fall 2014 advertising campaign in support of the Ringo Starr Peace & Love Fund, featuring — on his 74th birthday — Ringo Starr.

This article is sponsored by John Varvatos.

The Ringo Starr Peace & Love Fund was established to support the non-profit David Lynch Foundation, which provides Transcendental Meditation to at-risk students in under served schools, women who are survivors of domestic violence, and veterans with post-traumatic stress.

BW image of Ringo Starr driving a convertible car holding up peace sign towards the camera

Source Danny Clinch

Help us support Ringo’s vision by promoting #peacerocks on your social media channels. For every photo showing your peace sign with #peacerocks and posted to Twitter or Instagram, John Varvatos will donate $1 to the charity benefitting the David Lynch Foundation.

You can watch the full campaign video by going to

India’s Banks Need to Clean Up Their Act

India banker showing rupee

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised many things in his eagerly anticipated Independence Day speech, but the newly elected leader was mum on the one thing businesspeople in India and abroad want to know perhaps most of all: how to revive India’s banks.

“I was out in India in February, and when I’d sit down with companies … that was the only issue they were talking about,” says Rick Rossow, an expert on Indian business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Behind closed doors people were really getting panicky about it.”

What they’re panicking about is the state-owned banks’ nearly trillion dollars in bad debt. Unless Modi and his government can figure out how to write it down, the government-owned banks won’t be able to lend enough money to support the economy, and his government will fail to make good on his central pledge of the 2014 campaign: reviving the economy.

…the modus operandi has been the same: lend money to those who didn’t deserve it, or price loans lower than what they should have been…

“The health of the banking sector is definitely a first-term project,” says Sadanand Dhume, an expert on South Asia at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “It’s a hugely important economic issue.”

Fixing it will require a series of financial maneuvers to write down bad debt, as well as injecting new capital. But the government doesn’t have enough cash to give banks what they need, which could force Modi to consider the politically charged step of inviting in the private sector and dramatically downsizing the government’s role in the lending business. Good-governance advocates endorse the idea, but he’d face vocal opposition. Modi’s leadership will be key, and so far he hasn’t spoken publicly on the issue.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on 68th Independence Day from a podium pointing his finger towards the right of frame

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on 68th Independence Day

Modi inherited a sick banking sector, which is mainly owned by the government, and that’s the underlying problem. The banks lent freely during the go-go years of the last decade to personal and political friends, but when the economy hit the skids in 2009, borrowers lost the ability to repay. As a result, the number of “bad” loans — those not being paid back — has been mounting, particularly in the crippled real estate market. 

India’s central bank has estimated that bad loans will amount to a full 5 percent of all bank lending in the country by the end of this year. According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that is a good bit higher than Asian neighbors, most of which hover around 2 percent. And an article in DNA India pointed out, “Even if the percentage appears to be small, the actual numbers are huge” — the equivalent of $935 billion.

The soured loans have stifled lending, a familiar picture for banks in the United States and Europe from the financial crises of the last decade. When banks stop lending, businesses can’t get money and stop expanding, markets gets spooked and the economy can spiral downward. In India, it has raised borrowing costs and stymied investment.

Any serious banking reform has to hinge on getting the politician out of the decisions of giving or making a loan.

— Sadanand Dhume, expert on South Asia at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington

Indian banks face less risk of collapse than those in the U.S. or Europe. A benefit of state-run banks is that “it kind of insulates India from those kinds of panics,” says Dhume. So they’ve continued to limp along, wounded, as a major drag on the country’s economy. 

Banker Sudhir Kumar Jain’s arrest in Bangalore earlier this month has come to symbolize all that is wrong with India’s banking industry. According to India’s Business Standard newspaper, Jain, the chairman of the state-run Syndicate Bank, is accused of taking bribes in exchange for expanding the credit limits of certain private companies, in violation of rules and regulations.

“Jain was the last in a series of alleged corruption cases involving top officials of government-run banks and the modus operandi has been the same: lend money to those who didn’t deserve it, or price loans lower than what they should have been, or give breathing time to errant borrowers,” wrote Indian columnist Shyamal Majumdar

Jain’s alleged indiscretions are but an extreme example of the way political and personal incentives, instead of sound financial evaluation, drive lending decisions at many state-owned banks.

Critics blame the fact that the board of governors running India’s state-owned banks — which make up roughly three-quarters of the banking sector — are appointed by the government. The practice started when banks were nationalized in 1969 under then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 

As the P.J. Nayak report, commissioned by the Central Bank of India and released this spring, observes, “many of the provisions in the Bank Nationalisation Acts are anachronistic and a powerful source of governance ills,” allowing politicians to “intervene in diverse areas such as banks’ capital structure, board composition, retirement of directors and the reconstitution, amalgamation and transfer of bank shares.” 

The Nayak report called for the government to reduce its stakes below 50 percent, giving private investors a majority stake. But for populists who believe the banking sector should help promote public interest, the proposal, which would amount to de facto privatization, bordered on sacrilege.

India’s central bank chief, the well-regarded Raghuram Rajan, has suggested a middle ground. Already, Rajan and his Reserve Bank have taken smaller steps, such as tightening rules for restructuring bad loans and threatening penalties if banks don’t sell off those loans to force them to come clean about their bad assets and gradually get them off their books

“The whole point is, can we get the governance structure straight and can we distance the governance structure from succumbing to some of the political interests that are around?” he told Indian journalists earlier this month. “There are a number of suggestions in the [Nayak] report that can be implemented without necessarily … changing the ownership.” 

In the meantime, a stronger economy could help erase some of the bad loans that banks are sitting on, Rossow says. 

Still, Dhume insists, “Any serious banking reform has to hinge on getting the politician out of the decisions of giving or making a loan.”

Headshot of Raghuram Rajan

Raghuram Rajan

Dhume says he expects Modi’s policy toward bank governance to start taking shape early next year, when the government issues a full-year budget. It will be a test: Will Modi succumb, like his predecessors, to the temptation of controlling the banks?

This OZY encore was originally published Aug. 26, 2014.

Brazil’s Interactive Soaps: The Internet TV Revolution

One night in June, at 7 p.m., Luana Rosado settled in for her favorite TV show, the Brazilian soap opera Geração Brasil. Rosado, a 28-year-old student from the northeastern city of Fortaleza, joins many millions of Brazilians also addicted to the evening soaps. But this night, she was watching for something else: herself. 

Imagine appearing in your favorite TV show, with your face right up there between shots of your favorite actors, broadcast around the country. Implausible? Maybe in the U.S. But in Brazil these days, thanks to a new type of interactive television, that dream has become a real possibility, thrilling Brazilian viewers. It could change the television game for all of us. 

In one episode, a Steve Jobs-like character called for viewers to send in ideas for a romance-oriented mobile app — the best would be aired.

While the concept of interactive TV has gained traction over the past decade, the latest technology has created new possibilities and blurred the line between the Internet and TV. Brazil is now using technology to test the limits of high interactivity, in which viewers affect the content of the program — in this case the unfolding of a drama. Early indications, at least in Brazil, are that viewers are hooked on it.

“Even soap operas that for many years had this very stable format, even they are changing,” says João Brandão, a screenwriter for Geração Brasil, who’s crafting the new interactivity. “This new format we’ve put forward has the chance to change how people arrive at the soap operas, how they interact with their favorite shows.”

A scene from a popular Brazilian tv show with lots of actors looking at their mobile devices

Scene from Geração Brasil

Geração Brasil this summer crafted a storyline in which a Steve Jobs-like character sought a successor. In one episode, the Jobs character called for viewers to send in ideas for a romance-oriented mobile app, the best of which would be aired within the show’s fictional program, with the successor selected from the group by viewers. 

Brazilian viewers like Rosado responded with such force that they crashed the Globo network website. “They offered something different,” said Rosado. “Geração Brasil turned out to be a very tech-savvy show, one of the first of its kind in Brazil.” In the end, Rosado didn’t appear on Geração Brasil, but she wasn’t by any means crestfallen. “It was the first time any soap asked us for something,” she said.

Brazil leads the way in social media. Last year The Wall Street Journal named Brazil “The Social Media Capital of the Universe,” and recent studies confirm that Brazil is at the front of the pack. A growing middle class, a young population — 62 percent of Brazilians are 29 or younger — a lack of government blocks like those in China and the loquacious, share-friendly culture of Brazil all bolster the obsession, which helps open the door to TV interactivity. 

“This was something really different that changed the system,” said Brandão. “Our show’s creators, Filipe Miguez and Izabel de Oliveira, were extraordinarily street smart in this sense.” 

Actually, smarter than viewers realize. Turns out the interactivity is partly illusion, hedged in by the most boring of all aspects of production: logistics.


The Bravo TV channel is now experimenting with the connection between Twitter and TV in The Singles Project, in which viewers tweet dating advice. 

“The production to mount a soap opera is huge,” Brandão explained, “especially if it is being filmed abroad,” such as Geração Brasil, which was filmed partly in California. “Normally all we can do is look at which character the public is identifying with, and we writers will mess with the script a bit to please the public and recenter the soap opera on that character.” But to completely change the show, to completely change the direction as a result of viewer interaction? “The possibility of that is minimal, because this is an industry, you know?” 

Around the world, the “Social TV” trend is catching on in surprising ways, thanks to the Internet, with Japan, India and Brazil leading the way. The U.S. originated the format with phone-in game shows such as American Idol and Dancing With the Stars. The Bravo TV channel is now experimenting with the connection between Twitter and TV in The Singles Project, in which viewers tweet dating advice to a group of young people losing in the dating game. 

The rise of interactive TV (iTV) has coincided with the rise of IPTV, or Internet Protocol television. IPTV allows viewers to watch TV via the Internet, using platforms such as Hulu, Roku, Apple and Amazon. IPTV, which claims 100 million users worldwide, continues to grow 15 percent annually in the U.S. It’s not yet popular in Brazil, but it’s coming. A new study shows that by 2017, 3.9 million Brazilians will be using IPTV.

“It turns out iTV is often a laptop, mobile or tablet experience,” reported Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Omnicom Digital. “It’s not coming through the cable operators that, at one time, were thought to hold the keys to iTV.” 

And it’s created new marketing possibilities. Recently, “addressable ads,” TV ads tailored to the specific viewer, have gained traction. For example, an insurance company ran ads for renter’s insurance only on the TVs of apartment dwellers, saving marketing costs by targeting only potential clients. Marketers are scrambling to find a way to turn TV into a more direct product-purchasing conduit. 

So it’s a two-way street: viewers are shaping the shows and advertisers and marketers are starting to shape what individual viewers are seeing.

While the potential is clear, producers will also have to consider how to exploit the new technology while not losing traditional, still highly lucrative, audiences.

Brandão sees this concern as alarmist and old fashioned. “People also thought that when television came out that it would be the end of movies. But in fact it was the opposite effect. People did not stop going to the movies. Rather, one enhanced the other.” 

As more and more people cut the cord on cable TV, producers had better hope Brandão is right.

What If Republicans Own the Senate?

Elephant on tree stump holding American flag.

Barack Obama may have a whole lot more sympathy for Bill Clinton come next January. 

Like Clinton in the wake of the ’94 Republican Revolution, President Obama may well have to make the trek up Pennsylvania Avenue, hat in hand, to ask a hostile, Republican-controlled Congress, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Clinton didn’t beat around the bush when he made the annual presidential pilgrimage up to Capitol Hill for his 1995 State of the Union address.

He couldn’t: The political reality was staring him in the face, in the form of 84 new Republican members of Congress.

”As I look out at you, I know how some of you must have felt in 1992,” joked the first-term president—just two years removed from his own upset of Republican George H.W. Bush. Shifting quickly to a more serious tone, he pointed out that in both the ’92 and ’94 elections, ”we didn’t hear America singing—we heard America shouting.”

“Now all of us,” exhorted Clinton, ”Republicans and Democrats alike, must say, ’We hear you. We will work together to earn the jobs you have given us.’”

US President Bill Clinton (C) is joined by Vice President Al Gore (L) and Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich iduring President Clinton's State of the Union address 24 January 1995.

President Bill Clinton with Vice President Al Gore and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Source AFP/Getty

Clinton initially found some ways to do just that, on issues like welfare reform. Could Obama do the same? Or will he be reduced largely to lame duck status, à la George W. Bush when Democrats took over Congress during his last two years in office (at least until the financial crisis hit and he rallied them to help with the emergency response)?

The current president knows well the travails of confronting a Republican-controlled House. But with two weeks to go before voting day, polling shows the odds are also against Democrats hanging onto the Senate, as well. That would stick Obama with a Congress entirely controlled by the opposing party for the final two years of his presidency.

Could Obama find common ground with Capitol Hill Republicans the way Clinton did? Or is he likely to be reduced to lame duck status, à la George W. Bush?

The implications for the White House are significant. The chances for confirming any major presidential nominations would go to virtually nil. Bills to gut health care would all but certainly flood the president’s desk—and invite his veto.

Over flowing trash bins during the government shutdown with the Washington Monument in the background.

Trash bins overflow during the government shutdown

Source Jon Hicks/Corbis

But for the Obama White House, there would be one significant opportunity for consensus: trade.

In addition to centrist Democrats, a chunk of the Republican caucus supports current White House negotiations on two sweeping free-trade agreements—one with Europe (known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and another with a bloc of countries along the Pacific Rim (known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership)—that together encompass a huge chunk of the world’s commerce.

Democratic leaders backed away from Obama’s trade agenda earlier this year, not wanting to alienate the party’s liberal base. But should Republicans win the Senate, there are incentives for both sides to cooperate on trade.

For the GOP, it’s an opportunity to burnish their bipartisan bona fides and prove they can govern, not just obstruct.

The momentum to reach across the aisle and cut some bipartisan deals could also extend to reform efforts on American mortgage lending and the hot-button issue of immigration.

”We’re all expecting that if we get into the majority, the Senate’s going to function,” insists Tennessee Republican Bob Corker. ”If we get into the majority and that didn’t happen, I can assure you … the vast majority of the Republican caucus will be highly disappointed.”

It would also be something of a peace offering to the pro-business community, a traditional GOP constituency that has been rankled by some of the House’s more extreme budget-cutting positions in recent years.

For Obama, meanwhile, it would mean delivering on his promise to expand American exports and create more American jobs (something some of his more liberal supporters might dispute).

Of course, any agreement on trade assumes that the United States is able to work out its differences with Japan, which has bogged down the TPP talks, and assuage Europeans about consumer protections, among other things.

The momentum to reach across the aisle and cut some bipartisan deals could also extend to reform efforts on American mortgage lending (where there’s consensus that the current system dominated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is broken) and the hot-button issue of immigration, although it’s unlikely the GOP would agree to the sort of comprehensive immigration package that Obama and Democrats have been pushing for.

“There’s going to be a moment there for Kumbaya to some degree,’” agrees one veteran Capitol Hill staffer turned lobbyist, who is watching congressional action closely.

But the window for compromise is likely to be a narrow one, as Washington quickly swings its attention from one election to the next: a 2016 contest with a much bigger prize.

And in two years’ time, the tables will be turned, with Democrats on the offensive and Republicans stuck defending a whole host of vulnerable Senate seats. The presidential election is also guaranteed to propel a burst of energy on the Left.

So while Congressional Republicans are bound to be emboldened should they win that 2014 mandate, Democrats will have little incentive to cave to conservative lines in the sand when their own fortunes could change in another two short years.

“A lot of Democrats who I talk to in town have already sort of reset their watches to 2016,” says the former Capitol Hill staffer. “So not a whole heck of lot is going to happen until then.”

Mr. Modi Goes to Washington

an Indian older man stands against a red background

Today, India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues on a diplomatic hot streak as he visits the White House to sit down with President Barack Obama. Just last week found him in the company of China’s Xi Jinping. Here’s what you should know about this historic visit — and why you should care about something that might seem like a mere handshake occasion.

Not long ago, Modi wasn’t even allowed to enter the United States

Prime Minister Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept into power in the spring, was denied a U.S. visa for the last nine years because of suspicions around his role in anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002, when he was chief minister there. By the way — it turns out this is a common strategy used by the U.S. government against leaders it’s not a fan of. Read more about famous world leaders’ travel woes here.


Modi himself continues to be controversial, but many believe he’s a boon for big biz

Chief among the controversies is the riots and his role in them. But for those who support him, the hot topic is his plan to deregulate the Indian economy and encourage big biz to boom. OZY contributor and bi-continental businessman Prashant Agrawal writes that Modi could mean boons for infrastructure, manufacturing and even environmental protection. But getting his agenda through requires that he succeed with his “public-private partnership” model, a style of getting sh*t done that may not yield all that Indians hope it will. Uniting government with corporate innovation, reports OZY’s Michael Edison Hayden from Mumbai, will likely be a challenge for Modi.

Modi often speaks of the large Indian-American diaspora as all part of the Indian nation

And that diaspora is divided. Although he spoke to a crowd of 20,000 Indian Americans at Madison Square Garden yesterday, he’s controversial among many left-of-center Indian-Americans. And Indian-Americans are frequently leaning further and further left, reports OZY’s Pooja Bhatia.

All we can say is that it promises to be a spaghetti bowl of diplomacy ahead.