Smearing Al Jazeera's Good Name
Most English-speaking Americans know the Arabic-language channel Al Jazeera ("Al Jazeera's Global Mission") only from what they read in the press or learn from checking out the station's English-language Web site. If you Google "Al Jazeera" ("the Peninsula" in Arabic), one of the first sites that pop up—Aljazeera.com—is a mix of anti-American and anti-Israeli vitriol.
Trouble is, that's not the Web site of the Doha, Qatar-based broadcaster. Al Jazeera moved too late to secure the coveted ".com" after its name. Now it's left with the cheesy ".net" tag and the public-relations problems spawned by its Dubai-based evil twin. "They're probably the leading source of misinformation about Al Jazeera in America," says former U.S. Marine Josh Rushing, one of Al Jazeera's on-air personalities. "I've received death threats and emails from people who are always citing Aljazeera.com." The Saudi-backed site has existed since 1993 as the online presence of a small magazine and has secure legal rights to the name, which is a common one in the Arab world.
Aljazeera.com, it seems, is equally pained by the association. Its site offers this disclaimer: "Aljazeera Publishing and Aljazeera.com are not associated with the controversial Arabic Satellite Channel known as Jazeera Space Channel TV station, whose Web site is Aljazeera.net… and disassociates itself from [its] views, opinions, and broadcasts." Bad press, evidently, is in the eye of the beholder.
India guidebooks warn you about autorickshaws. The petite three-wheeled motor scooters buzzing around India's cities like swarms of angry diesel-spitting bees have a penchant for flipping over. While reporting "Crack This Code", I, of course, couldn't resist.
I'm far from an adrenaline junkie. But I realized early on in my voyage that the most frustrating thing about traveling to India on business is being trapped in a windowless conference room while knowing you're amid the most viscerally fascinating culture on earth. Since I had barely any free time, the yellow-shell-covered autorickshaws were my best ticket to immersing myself in India's atmosphere. In Bangalore, I gripped its metal siding as my fearless driver steered us through tiny one-way side streets where we almost collided with a camel. In Mumbai, as pellets of pollution thick as sand stung my eyes, we sped through the city's famed contrasts: miles of shantytowns built of burlap and rope, while billboards for Nokia's latest wireless device loomed on the horizon; shoeless kids peddling copies of Jack Welch's Winning just kilometers away from Bollywood studios.
I kept having flashes of my mother's disapproving glance at my reckless disregard for my own safety. But I never felt so exhilarated. India wasn't meant to be experienced from a sanitized, air-conditioned hotel. It's meant to be inhaled, fumes and all.
Scott Cowen is sitting in the dining room of an Israeli-based cruise ship munching on a lukewarm hamburger and fries. Cowen, president of Tulane University ("The Storm After the Storm"), isn't steaming through the Mediterranean to escape the horror that befell New Orleans and his school. He's showing off the school's new floating dorm, The Dream, anchored in the Mississippi River. About 150 students and Tulane employees (attended by ship staff in snappy naval whites) live onboard until Tulane can provide permanent housing for them in the hurricane-ravaged city.
The dining room has been transformed into a wireless study area. And while the bars have been closed on Cowen's orders—a particularly un-New Orleanian touch—the students can do their reading while lounging on the sundeck. When I ask Cowen if he ever imagined that he'd be leasing cruise ships as part of his job, he just laughs. "No one has any idea what we went through." That's what I set out to discover.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.