Sunday, July 31, 2011

Obama in the Middle

Listening to the criticism of Obama from both sides reminds me (again) of the classic Onion headline after his election: "Black man hired for worst job in the world." The criticism from his base is hardest to hear, those who claim he has become--gasp--centrist-right. Meanwhile, those on the right see him as a Maoist Kenyan usurper. I wish they would at least acknowledge that he is making compromises for them, and make a commensurate effort themselves. I don't see that effort, do you?

While the people at the ends of the spectrum try to pull the tent down--in the rain--the people in the center are getting more and more pissed off.

I lost the tweet, but someone on twitter says: if you want a progressive president you need a progressive congress." My expectations of him weren't high going in because of the huge mess he inherited and what was looming on the horizon, and because of what we've seen over and over--the way the realpolitik of DC and the world degrades the best intentions and means much unpleasant compromise. He HAS to compromise to get anything done. Right now he's trying to save the country while every faction fights for its own agenda instead of for survival and growth for all.

That, at least, is how it looks on the outside looking in.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monkey at my Window

He is watching me write. Our eyes meet and he squeals quietly. The rains have let up, briefly, and the monkeys are everywhere, looking for food. Yesterday, I took my trash to the dumpster up the hill and when I threw it in a large monkey jumped out the other side. I put potatoes and cucumbers out on the road for them, away from the building so as not to tame them or get too close. Wild monkeys, especially wild forest monkeys who are hungry, can get aggressive.

This ain't Gorillas in the Mist, although the valley below is filling with mist as I write this. At the moment, it's light, making the vista an impressionist painting. In about 20 minutes it will be white-out fog. More heavy rain forecast for tonight.

Monsoon rain is not a downpour--it's more like intermittent explosions of ocean so dense they can almost knock you unconscious. After a few days of heavy rains everything inside is damp and matches won't light. If you're caught out in it, your average telescopic umbrella is a feeble defense. People carry big, sturdy umbrellas with enormous wingspans, making it difficult and dangerous to navigate crowded bazaar lanes during monsoon without losing an eye. Throw in a couple of cows and a few auto rickshaws for extra fun.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Good News Bad News

Upside: so many different and beautiful birds here. Downside: So many big, scary insects here. I saw the biggest motherbleeping spider today, and there's something that seems to be a cross between a bat, a bee and a buzzsaw that growls at my windows screens every night.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Travel to Live

I ran into a French artist hiking with a monk. She said: "It is cheaper to travel than to rent an apartment in Paris, so I travel." A horde of other European backpackers have the same idea, many more than I've encountered before on the road, outside of Europe bien sur. European backpackers are a different breed from the more upscale tourists-- not as fussy or standoffish, generally speaking1. Fluent English helps: It makes them more open, confident and approachable.

More than that, it's some shared philosophical foundation that makes them gentle rebels, at least here.

My friend Vineet says, "Most westerners who stay long enough in India turn into hippies2." You confront your middle-class, and often fair-skin, privilege here pretty much every day. It's hard to stay entitled and judgmental when you are face to face with the gross unfairness of the world and the folly of your petty complaints.

I've noticed more Chinese backpackers, traveling independently instead of in supervised groups. And they are out there, not huddling to themselves but engaged with other travelers, dancing, passing the chillum, singing at some primitive dusty 19th century tea house with a 21st century karaoke machine, discussing the state of the planet. They too speak English. The English-haters of the world need to get over it. It may not be the most beautiful language in the world, but it is the most useful. It's a good language, one that easily embraces and incorporates other languages. It's masala.

On the road, I end up among much younger people most of the time. I like this. I feel like I'm spying on the future.

1 Happily, some things are eternal. You don't want to get on line at a coffee place behind some Euro guy painstakingly explaining to the barista how to make a correct coffee.

2 Vineet also said that Feringhi backpackers always tell him they aren't coming to India to find themselves, but they almost always do.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I lost a friend this week. That's Brandy on the right. She was a great dog, a loving friend, and a fierce mother and hunter. Her puppies are in homes all over India.

On the left is her mate, Ceaser.


I sympathize with people who have been outsourced because much of the bread-and-butter work writers did to survive has been outsourced to English-speaking students in Asia and Africa at rates around $1.00-$1.50 per 300 words. I'm not going to begrudge them. In the long run, this is good for the world. But it makes my survival more challenging.

Much of the anger against India I've encountered in the west is misdirected. A friend runs a call center and one out of five calls is abusive according to him. Why hate the Indian worker, who is just trying to feed his or her family? The corporations who move jobs get off scot-free. In fact, the U.S. used to give them a tax break for sending jobs offshore. I don't begrudge the Chinese people either, but I do blame their government. India is a flawed but great democracy making efforts to build a stronger and more equal trade relationship with the west. The Chinese government is a cruel dictatorship who owns so much of our debt it practically owns us.

Here's another key difference between the two countries: India is not conquest-oriented. The Chinese government is. Look what they did and are still doing to Tibet. China makes regular trouble for India--and for the United States. Whenever America frets too loudly about their debt to China or its human rights situation, the Chinese government talks about dumping dollars. Coincidence?


Now that I know how to do static pages on blogger, I have reconfigured this site so some topics have their own pages. Conversion of books to e-book form is underway.

Monday, July 4, 2011

New India

"There are so many ‘caste no bar’ ads in the matrimonials now," I said to my friend Pramod.

"Yeah, ‘Caste no bar. Must make minimum six figures a month,’" he said.

(100,000 rupees=1 lakh=$2275 approx.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Delhi Belly

The Censor Board must have been drunk.

2 “Flaky on the outside and concrete on the inside.”

Deepak1, a friend's cook, made the most delicious parathas. They were light but chewy, flaky but not too, with just the right hint of butter.

I watched him carefully, did everything he did, and mine turned out like paving stones. This is not a joke, but a fact, and you could ask my American friend Commander who tried to eat one of my parathas.2

I think it has something to do with the amount of pressure applied when kneading and folding. A subtle change in that part of the process is the difference between delicious and doorstop.

Here you can see a popular online chef, Manjula, making parathas. Looks easy, right?

If you can’t master parathas, forget about mastering the chemical potion known as masala. Several thousand years of Indian cuisine have refined this mixture of many herbs and spices, which each cook personalizes. It looked like Deepak was putting a pinch of this and that in, recklessly, but his fingers seemed to know if that pinch had a grain too little or a grain too much.

Just think how much experimentation has gone into food over the millennia, and how many people never got credit for their innovations in the kitchen, and every area of life. Who realized you could drink the milk of a cow? How many people died eating poison berries before people figured out which ones were inedible? Who spoke the first real word? Who invented stairs?

Now we are proprietary about our ideas. Ideas have value and we’ve learned to monetize them, even though everyone steals ideas every day--a joke, a figure of speech, a concept, a recipe, a system.

When I watched the episode of 30 Rock where Jenna Maroney makes her own fake obit, I thought, “Hey, I did that over 20 years ago. I thought of it first.” Then I remembered that I got the idea from a guy named David Sager, who was Myron “Mike” Kandel’s producer at CNN. On a slow news day he decided to do a joke obit of Mike, our senior financial correspondent. He grabbed an idle crew and went out on the street to do some AOA3, also known as man on the street. CNN wasn’t well-known yet and David deliberately chose people who wouldn’t know Mike. He asked them what they thought about his death and cut the funniest comments, and puzzled looks, with Mike’s outtakes. The obit featured in the New York bureau Christmas reel. I told him, “David, I am going to steal this.” I stole some of David too, because I conflated him, another David and a guy named Alec into a character in my mystery series.

For all I know, David Sager stole that idea from someone else, perhaps a Journalism 101 professor (“Your first assignment is to write your own obituary”).4 I mixed it up differently, adding an idea from the Mary Tyler Moore show, where she and Rhoda get bored writing advance obituaries and write a fake one for a 90-something woman. It‘s mistakenly put in with the real obituaries, and before it’s caught the old woman dies and Ted Baxter reads it on the air. Where did the writers of MTM get the idea? Who invented the fake obituary?

1 Deepak from Nepal, not Deepak the bazaar tout.

2 "Flaky on the outside and concrete on the inside."

3 Any Old Asshole

4 "Sparkle Hayter, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic fueled only by sour mash sippin' whiskey, died today while attempting to climb Mount Everest. She was 96..."

Take a leap of faith: Reserve your copy of "Last Girl Standing" in advance.