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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Taj GMs Come to the Deccan

At least once a week I meet my friend Anand at the bar at the "five star" Taj Deccan Hotel. Last night we were there with Prasad, another acquaintance. A large group came into the small and usually empty bar. The group was male except for two women. It turned out the men were general managers of different Taj hotels and the younger of the two women, who was very attractive, was a corporate trainer. Apparently they had some seminar happening at the Deccan.

The Filipino duet, Jimbo and Sheila, performed like their jobs were on the line (or maybe they were trying to land a gig at the Taj in Calcutta or some other more exciting location than Hyderabad). The bartender, an assistant manager, and several waiters were a sweating big time serving these 20 guys, and many of the GM's were definitely playing the nizzams and nabobs roles.

A couple observations:

1. Why did these hotel GM's suck up all the service at the Deccan's public bar rather than get a private banquet room? They seemed pretty insensitive to the needs of the hotel guests and other customers. Since they were GM's for this same hotel chain, this kind of surprised me. Anand and Prasad were not surprised. They're used to that sort of behavior from senior Indian managers. It a kind of 'hey, I'm important, and I even want to make sure my customers know it' attitude.

2. My daughter is 18 years old and tends bar at the local volunteer fire company in Pennsylvania. I think she could have handled this crowd with one waiter, tops, and not broken much of a sweat. Prasad and Anand had both spent lots of time in the States and we all agreed the Deccan bar staff wouldn't last an hour at any bar in Daytona during Spring Break.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land

My buddy Subir loaned me his turban at our 4th of July party in 2007. I'm amazed it stayed together when we took it off him and put it on me (and later put it back on him).

Pretty cool, don't you think?


Dowries in Hyderabad

So I’m hanging out with my buddy Raman in the Sheraton Kakatiya in Hyderabad, drinking overpriced Kingfisher beer, and he tells me how much it's worth for an Indian male to work in America...

“If the man is working in America he gets two crores rupees ($500,000), and if he did work in America but has come back, he gets one crore rupees ($250,000)."

I asked: What’s a guy worth that’s never been to America?

“A couple lakhs ($5,000).”

I asked: So what’s a non-Indian American get for marrying an Indian girl?

“Nothing. You guys aren’t in the system.”

Interesting place, India.

Enter AIDS – the Perfect Storm

Drudge links to a Reuters article on a study that claims the AIDS virus first entered the United States in about 1969 through an infected Haitian immigrant. I read the article but didn’t try to look up the study.

Let’s assume both the article and study are accurate. This would mean that AIDS hung out in the United States, spreading slowly for about a decade until it virtually exploded onto the national consciousness in the early 1980’s. In 1969 I was 11 years old, and by 1976, when I was 18, I had a number of friends that were at least partially open about their homosexuality. I didn’t frequent the gay scene but I was aware of it, and had been to gay bars and parties attended mostly by homosexuals. I thought myself quite enlightened, urbane, and sophisticated about my gay friends, and certainly would never be so provincial as to judge their behavior in terms of morality or even common sense.

(From the mid-1970’s through the late 1980’s, a significant percentage of my friends were gay. In 1990 my wife and I moved from the Ghent section of Norfolk, VA, to Anaheim Hills in Orange County, CA. We did not plan to withdraw from our gay friends. We simply moved to a neighborhood and life-style that just didn’t tend to include open homosexuals so I mostly lost touch with the community.)

What I witnessed, beginning in the mid-1970’s, was an increasing openness in the gay community, and an increasing general acceptance (or at least decrease in open censure) of that community. This increasing acceptance was undeniably accompanied by, simply put, increased promiscuity among gay men.

So AIDS, a disease that is very difficult to spread through casual contact, but easily spread by, well, sodomy, enters the society at exactly the same time that sodomy – and promiscuous sodomy at that - goes from being completely socially unacceptable, to being acceptable, and finally, to being vigorously and publicly defended, and, I would argue, even somewhat glorified.

The perfect storm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I read Beowulf recently. I bought a used copy at my local (U.S.) library's used-book room. I'm at the office now so I don't recall the publisher or even the translator's name but I'm pretty sure the translation was done in the early twentieth century. I haven't really read anything about Beowulf, other than it is the oldest known epic written in a vernacular (as in, it isn't written in Latin) European language.

I thought I would put down a few comments before I go and find out what the various experts have to say about the poem. I read the poem over a week ago so these are not initial impressions, but rather impressions that remain after reading a book casually and then thinking about it a short time later.

1. It's interesting what the author is ignorant about, and what he seems to know things about. Or maybe I should say, it's interesting what the author would expect his audience to know and what he does not expect them to know.

A. For instance, Beowulf goes more than once into the water to fight monsters, and at one point swims a great distance because no ship is available. He does this in full armor, and sometimes holding a sword, and sometimes actually killing sea monsters with the sword while swimming. No mention is made of having to hold his breath, even when he fights those monsters underwater. I infer from this the author (and/or intended audience) are quite unfamiliar with swimming. I understand Beowulf is a essentially a superhero but that isn't my point. His great strength is acknowledged to require at least some explanation: he is said to be stronger than thirty men. The very fact that a description (strong as thirty men) of the ability is presented indicates the author knows the audience will want to know exactly how strong this fellow is. The lack of concern about even mentioning how well he can hold his breath, or any special power he might have to allow him to stay underwater, leads me to think the epic is written to people that don't know anything about being in the water.

B. Conversely, in his fateful battle with the dragon, Beowulf's sword deflects off a bone when he strikes the dragon. This is a detail that wouldn't even occur to most audiences today - we don't fight with swords so how would we know that sometimes the blade glances off bone and doesn't go in where you want it to? But the audience of the time would certainly immediately "get it". It would be (and still, come to think of it, is) a realistic touch.

2. The character Wiglaf is introduced at the end of the story and comes from nowhere to become a very important character. Is this simply because Beowulf in his twilight years simply could not be capable of killing the dragon by himself. Sword fighting is a young man's business. I don't know anything about the conventions of 12th (or 8th, or 5th, depending on who you ask) century epic literature but is this character in the story because the audience simply would not be able to suspend disbelief enough to accept a 70-something swordsman single-handedly killing a dragon? I don't know.

There is more that occurs to me but does anybody have any thoughts on these, or any other aspects of Beowulf?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Idiot Ronin

This Op-Ed by Nobel winner Doris Lessing (hat tip:Instapundit) reminds me of thoughts I've had for years about the connection between the visceral anti-Americanism of the modern "intellectual" left, and the humiliation and fall of Soviet Communism in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

"Useful Idiot" - There is a phrase that was common during the Cold War: "useful idiot". Though the origin is debated, the phrase was commonly used as a label for leftist liberals in the West during the Cold War. These liberals seemed willing to excuse anything Communists did, however horrific, and to jump at any and every opportunity to point out, exaggerate, and even invent out of whole cloth accusations about the supposed shortcomings of Western societies and governments. The "idiocy" being referred to was based on the fact these people were perhaps unknowingly helping a vicious enemy attack their own society.

"Ronin" - "The Forty-Seven Ronin" is a Japanese story about 47 samurai whose lord was murdered by a rival. The 47 had been unable to protect him and they felt great shame. For a year after the murder they pretended to scatter, some seeming to become criminals, others mercenaries (ronin), others drunks and vagabonds. Then one night they mustered secretly at the castle of the murderer of their liege lord and attacked. They overpowered the castle guard and slew the man that had murdered their master. They then all committed seppuku (ritual suicide).

When I think of some of the modern Western critics of the current war I can't help but think some of the useful idiots of the Cold War must have just been biding their time, like the 47 ronin, while waiting for a chance to attack America. America is, after all, the power most directly responsible for the death of the idiots' late master, the Soviet Union. Yesterday's "useful idiots" have become today's "idiot ronin".

I kind of like the label. I wonder how I can get it to catch on?