Saturday, August 28, 2010


Have you noticed lately that Indians are suddenly cool? I'm not talking about Native American people who we once called Indians in those pre-p.c days of gauche; those "Indians" have been cool since the 60's. I'm talking about people with ancestry from India. Suddenly, Indians are popping up on television and in movies. The movie, Slumdog Millionaire, was a huge hit, and the West finally recognized Bollywood as a legitimate source of fine movies. One of the big networks this fall is running a show about a group of Indians at an outsourcing company. And there's that chap who sells fiber bars in the TV commercial. He sort of epitomizes the common view of Indians as smart, modest, psychologically balanced. They seem to have their shit together, evincing a kind of Zen savoir faire.

Sometimes, though, the portrayal of Indians borders on comic caricature. Have you seen the two geeks on that Internet commercial? I wonder what Indians think when they see that commercial as well as other media depictions of them as nerds. I think most of them probably laugh along with the joke, as they seem to be an ethnic group with a high degree of self-confidence. After all, immigrant Indians have to a significant degree fostered US's technological dominance, so they have a lot to be proud of. (All the more reason to be furious at the dimwits in Congress who won't increase the visa quota for foreign workers, which has been stuck at 65,000 for ten years, thanks mostly to union goon opposition.)

The media can get away with caricaturing Indians because they are not placed under the unofficial classification of "protected group," as are, for example, blacks and gays. What do you think the reaction would be if Nike, say, ran a TV spot depicting blacks as dumb jocks, which stereotype has as much of a kernel of truth as the depiction of Indians as super-smart geeks. Can you imagine the uproar such an ad would cause? But, thankfully, we have not heard a peep from any Indian "advocacy groups," if any actually exist, or some Indian version of Al Sharpton.

But this discussion about Indians in America betrays a subliminal presupposition and prejudice, raising the question as to why we assume that all these characters are Indian. Why could they not be Pakistani, a group that once was part of India, that for the most part looks and speaks English like Indians? The main difference between Indians and Pakistanis is that Indians are mostly Hindu and Pakistanis are mostly Muslim. Our media never portrays Muslims in a positive or light-hearted way. Not only have we not placed Muslims in the "protected group" bracket, we've pretty much declared open season on them.

Take, the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy for example. First of all, this development is not a mosque but more like a YMCA with a prayer room. Anyway, no one would have problem if a church or synagogue were built there; so the problem is not that a religious facility is being built on what most Americans regard as hallowed ground. The problem is that Muslims sponsor this project, and Muslims are a group that many feel it's ok to discriminate against, despite our Constitution and the tenet of religious freedom, which our nation holds as sacred.

Whenever someone mentions that not all Muslims are terrorists, the retort is typically that all terrorists are Muslims. Assuming that statement is true, which it's not, what is the logic there? It's a non-sequitur. The fact is that probably 99% plus of Muslims are not terrorists and do not support terrorism. More Muslims have been killed by Islamic terrorists the past few years than by "infidels." Consequently, I don't think terrorists' popularity rating in the Muslim world is very high. As far as Muslims in America go, the percentage supporting terrorism and violence against other religions is probably infinitesimally small. So why are we condemning a whole religion for the actions of a few? Did the fact the Christian Serbs massacred tens of thousand of Muslim Bosnians mean that all Christians are mass murderers?

The few times that I have seen the developers of this project speak, they seem to be moderate Muslims who have engaged both Christians and Jews in their community and disavow any ties to Iran, Al Queda, Hamas. I blame them for not being Muslim but for being politically tone deaf and PR klutzes. They should have positioned this project as effort to reach out to non-Muslims and show the world that American Muslims stand in solidarity with those who lost love ones on 9/11 (which number included many Muslims). From what I can tell, I believe that was the primary motivating force behind this development, but the developers have done a terrible job conveying that.

All the while that this brouhaha has been percolating, the message to the world of Islam is that the US is inherently hostile to the religion, despite the fact that 6 million or so Muslims live here and are in many cases thriving. This whole contretemps has been a PR disaster not only for the project developers but also for the USA's image to the 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe.

So we love Indians and hate Muslims. Both sentiments are based on stereotypes and reflect America's sometimes schizoid relationship with its immigrant population.

Let them build the damn community center, mosque, whatever it is and let's move on to something more important, like Barak being a closet Muslim.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


The Great Recession has been followed by the Great Unease...or better yet, let's call it the Big Uneasy. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed an era when so many people are so uncertain and nervous about the future. Sure, I remember getting under my desk in 1st grade when we practised civil defense against a Soviet nuclear attack. We all may have been nervous, but nonetheless we were confident that ultimately we would prevail against the Evil Empire. And the Sixties scared the living shit out of me, with the assassinations, riots, war, and psychos. Don't talk to me about what a groovy time the Sixties were. As a pre-teen, I thought our country was caught in some vortex spinning down the drain. But we all still believed that maybe something good would emerge from this chaos, like the Civil Rights Movement.

But today, we don't seem so confident that we will prevail or that something good will emerge from our mass financial trauma. The American Spirit seems to be succumbing to a profound pessimism, the depths of which it has not experienced since the 1930's. Despite the monster rally in the financial markets since March 2009, no one has any real conviction that national economic health is just around the corner. Even more disturbing, a recent poll showed that for the first time ever, most Americans doubt that their children will attain a better standard of living than they presently have.

The general mood is that a bad moon is on the rise. Nasty events are going to overwhelm us, like a terrorist event that will make 9/11 look like a warm up act. Yet my sense is the the Big Uneasy is less a fear of some historic catastrophe and more a fear of a gradual winding down, coming apart, dissolution of the bonds that bind us, dissipation, devolution. Deep down we suspect that America is in a permanent cultural, economic, political, social decline. That decline will result in social unrest as the Have-nots finally rise up against the Have's and our enemies around the world, particularly would be Islamic mass murderers, will slowly encircle us.

Suddenly, I'm hearing of "escape plans." For example, I was at at cocktail party recently when a guy was telling me that he was thinking of buying a farm in Ireland that he could flee to when the "the shit finally hits the fan" in the US. People standing around downed their drinks and nodded their heads as if accepting the premise of such drastic action. And then I read an interview in the WSJ with John Malone, the media mogul who controls the conglomerate, Liberty Media. Asked about the biggest risks to Liberty, Malone said that his greatest concern was the country's survival. "We have a retreat that's right on the Quebec border. We own 18 miles on the border, so we can cross. Anytime we want to, we can get away." This, from the 400th richest man in the world according to Forbes. In the Sixties, the rich built bomb shelters; today they buy ranches in Canada or some place like Costa Rica.

These intimations of Armageddon are not limited to the US. I recently read that the fad among the newly mega-wealthy in China is to buy property they can flee to when the proletarian masses finally remember that they are communists.

One might wish that we had a leader who could inspire and make us feel that truly all we have to fear is fear itself. A long time ago, one might have harbored such expectations for Barak Obama, with his charismatic if nebulous message of hope and positive change. But he has turned out to be nothing more that a classic ole time liberal who kowtows to the unions and left-winger superannuated ancient mariners in Congress. Why else, for example, would he have spent the first year and half of his administration focused almost totally on passing the old liberal chestnut, national healthcare? What did that monstrosity of a bill do to heal us economically and rejuvenate our nation's natural optimism?

God can best bless American by sending us Ronald Reagan reincarnated.