Midnight in Mumbai: Listening to The Language of Terror

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It was midnight in Mumbai as I stepped off the jetway into Chattrapathi Shivaji International Airport last August. I expected vestiges of the British Raj—I just didn’t expect everything to be in English. With so many languages and dialects, English is India’s national language by default. British rule ended in India 63 years ago. In the irony of war, we speak the language of our conquerors…until we are conquered by somebody else.

Will the next generation in the U.S. speak English? From an internal social revolution, will we speak Spanish? Or will we speak Arabic, the result of a global jihad? The loudest language in Mumbai last fall was the language of terror. I stayed at the Taj Palace hotel, right next to the Gateway to India. Within a few weeks of my visit the luxury hotel was smoldering from the vestiges of a well-armed terrorist siege. Across the city in four horrific days nearly two hundred people were killed. One of them was the brother of a friend.

I fell in love with pictures of the Taj’s façade, the stately cupola, and the plaza that overlooked the ocean. I wanted to sleep, just once in my life, in the same lavish luxury enjoyed by John Lennon, Winston Churchill and Princess Diana. I was disappointed when the doorman in full Sikh attire ushered me into the lobby after a ninety-minute midnight cab ride. Low modern white furniture, an endless sleek teak registration desk, smoky mirrors. Did the cabbie drop me at the Philadelphia Marriott? I craved paisley and incense, not computer terminals and Otis elevators.

Though there were lots of hotel employees, there was little security. Sometimes the guys who milled around the elevator wanted to see my keycard, usually they just nodded. My bags were never searched. I was never questioned. I was exploring Mumbai alone. I felt safe. India is not a melting pot. It is a stew—lumpy, smelly, delicious and awful. There are no buffer zones: the fingers of poverty extend into the entryways of elite apartments; there is raw sewage in the gutter just outside the Taj Palace. Across the street there is a fine linen shop abutting an open stall that displayed toothpaste that looked like war surplus.

I met Muslims, Jains, Hindus and Christians in my two-week stay. Ironically, the least tolerant was my Christian guide, who, when asked the difference between Hindus and Jains, shook her head disdainfully and said, “It’s just the positions of their gods. They’re the same.” That’s funny, I thought. Tell the Jasminlive folks in Belfast that all Christians are the same. Prejudice is as universal as religion.

On Thanksgiving, when I saw the face of the boy terrorist with an assault rifle on TV, his eyes glowing like a rabid feline, my heart fell. This boy should be slapping his buddies on the back instead of shooting people he doesn’t know in the chest. I am thankful that I live in the United States. I’m thankful for my safe journey. I’m thankful that the worst assault I had at the Taj Palace involved British food.

I’m worried that we parade a western lifestyle which is both repugnant and attractively unattainable. Our political decisions have provided fertile ground for terrorists, who prey on nations with large populations of disaffected youth. Borders smolder. We need protection, but we also need to offer alternatives to the bonds of brotherhood that jihad has to offer. Remember the old poster of Uncle Sam pointing that he needs you? Now imagine that you are impoverished, hopeless and raging with hormones, and Uncle Sam and Jesus are recruiting for a holy war. My roots are Jewish and my stomach aches.

What can we do to protect ourselves and “dis-courage” terrorists? How can we give hope to people we don’t even want to understand? The language of terror does not need an interpreter. Last fall in Mumbai people lost their lives as part of a stunt, a deadly tactic that speaks loudly to a watching world. What language will our next generation speak, and who will teach it to them?

No Mood for Neighbors

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There are nine people looking at the house next door. I don’t like any of them. With my luck, it’s the harried-looking woman, the one dressed in pastel polyester. It would be OK to have a neighbor with angst, but this lady appears overwhelmed with classic dust-bowl fatalism. Here she is, after church, with Ma and Pa and Grandma and three kids, plus two calm-looking older folks making sweeping gestures like models on The Price is Right. Those two look like realtors. The back yard is so small that the lady with a little kid in the crook of one arm is now standing in my yard. Great. Where are the rowdy neighbors in the alley when I need them? I’d love for one of them to pitch an oversize can of ‘Natural’ over the eight foot fence. If I had known there was going to be an “open house” I would have bought the folks in the alley a case of hootch at the gas station, just to make things lively.

Maybe I should run out there waving plans for a two-story garage that would block any sunlight from ever reaching any room in that house, Amen. The widow lady who lived behind us for twenty one years–now there was a good neighbor– despite her yippy rodent and the occasional north wind that sucked smoke from her chimney into our family room. God bless her, she was nearly blind, so I could romp in the yard in any state of disarray or undress, plus she never listened to any music, especially ‘country’ or ‘gospel’ or (gulp) ‘white country gospel’.

That house is just the right size for one, or maybe two quiet adults, not a young family of four or five. It sits only about ten feet from my back door, since at one time it was the ‘carriage house’ for the place I’ve called home for the last two decades. I don’t want to deal with a thirty-something divorced mother yelling at her three Live jasmin boys while I’m trying to weed the herb garden and listen to NPR. I don’t want her being friendly at the back door. I don’t want her asking my husband to ‘loan her a tool’, and I don’t want her ex showing up at odd hours providing vocal counterpoint to the already operatic pathos that plays out in the alley.

I fervently hope she goes somewhere else…now the adults are huddled just outside my window, and the boys are climbing my 115-year old decorative wrought iron fence (except the one in the tired lady’s arms, and I think I smell that one). God, I hope she doesn’t have a dog. Every time I look at a dog I see an asterisk of an asshole, and envision its center dilating and depositing organic waste like a pasta extruder.

‘Sickhead’ is Dead

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I am a little ‘sick in the head’ about Walter Cronkite’s passing. The literal translation of Cronkite in Yiddish, the most literal of languages, is ‘sickhead’. As a student of language, Walter had to know. I became a sickhead for news thanks to Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, and from my mom, who insisted on watching CBS and NBC news back-to-back every weeknight. Huntley was a Montana boy made good. All I can remember about David Brinkley is that he seemed to speak through clenched teeth and that he had excellent posture.

Cronkite was a curiously gutsy guy swallowed by a fleshy mustached sound box. He established the CBS tradition of the caring town crier; glee or grief didn’t have to be in the script: we felt privileged to witness the big fella fighting to maintain composure. JFK had just visited Montana two months before his assassination; I might have only been seven years old, but I’ll never forget when Walter Cronkite took off his dark framed glasses just after telling us John F. Kennedy had died. I knew the world had changed forever: I saw it on Walter Cronkite’s face.

From Cronkite to Dan Rather to Katie Couric, CBS Evening News is still married to a simple, folksy style, for better or for worse. Network news audiences have gone from better to worse, losing an average of *one million viewers every year. Cronkite’s competitor Chet Huntley died a few months after his return to Montana in 1974, David Brinkley died in 2003. With Cronkite’s passing Friday, network news, once a proud packed three-chimney steam liner, cast off its last anchor and is a dinghy adrift in international shipping lanes–perhaps with Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart at the helm.

Instead of 23 minutes of news that’s pre-digested, organized and delivered at dinnertime by middle aged white males, there’s an avalanche of fact and opinion, theory and perspective at our fingertips. The wonderful, awful thing is that news and opinion aren’t filtered, boxed and labeled any more. The wrapping changes the contents to suit the specific sickhead who opens the box. Sometimes I long just to sit down with a Swanson TV Dinner and wait for Walter Cronkite to make sense of the world for me…but that’s just not the way it is today, Saturday June 18th, Two Thousand and Nine.

Joe Rosetti Swallows an Amero & I Choke on His Logic

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Joe Rosetti owns a multimillion dollar company. He has impeccable taste in Western art and an impressive collection of motorcycles. He walks with a swagger and has played the markets for years. In the midst of tough times he built a new headquarters. Joe Rosetti is nobody’s fool. I’ve been trying for months to convince Joe to put a small percentage of his net worth into some hard assets. I sent what I thought was a very convincing e-mail about using gold and silver as a hedge against possible inflationary times. I thought he’d understand the logic of holding a fistful of private tax-free assets.

Instead, I received a stinging response that gold bugs are basically idiots who are betting on the downfall of western civilization. A tax-free investment that goes from $400 to $900 in 5 to 7 years? So what. “Can that compare to a www.chaturbaterooms.com stock that I bought at $18 a share cashed out at $300 in 18 months?” he almost spit back at me. I agree with Joe that gold might not be a good investment. And I’d rather not envision the unraveling of our economy, thanks. I just believe that a small amount of precious metals offsets a large portfolio of paper. I presented what I believe to be a logical argument, and Joe responded in kind. We had a simple disagreement, and I stopped trying to pitch him for a lousy 3% commission.

I was surprised when I got an e-mail from Joe recently asking about gold and silver. It was a short message. “I’m looking at precious metals. Now that I’ve seen this You Tube video, I understand the urgency of the situation.” What did the You Tube guy say that finally swayed my client? After Joe ’s blistering response to my benign inquiry, it must be darn convincing. It’s worse than convincing. It’s embarrassing. It’s frightening…and just plain weird.

The video, by a discredited Internet radio host, claimed that the US dollar faced extinction and imminent replacement by something he called the ‘Amero’. To prove this point, he claimed personal persecution by the U.S. government as he tapped a poorly made brownish coin on a desktop to prove it was real. “Do you see this tiny letter D?”he asked. “That proves this coin was secretly made by the Denver mint.” Yeah, right. And the JLo swimsuit I wear means that my girls are as nice as hers.

It was odd that other YouTube videos visible on the website’s sidebar featured different versions of the same conspiracy, often showing entirely different coins. At least these conspirators should get together to decide what the damn thing looks like. Hal Turner’s YouTube video claims the US government, Canada and Mexico have been conspiring behind everyone’s backs to dismantle currencies in favor of the North American version of the Euro, the Amero. This merger is the first step toward the US, Canada and Mexico erasing our borders: step one to a New World Order. Can I Order fries with that?

According to Turner, there are 8 hundred million Ameros waiting in China, ostensibly waiting to offset some of our national debt. How were all these coins minted? On the night shift? Assuming each metal coin weighs 1 ounce, how were 27,428,571 tons trucked to waiting cargo ships and secretly loaded and transported, without a peep? Why on earth would a Chinese bank accept them? This insults the nation that invented the abacus (no worries, later Hal Turner insults Jews, too). Turner forecast that by February 2009 (Note to Hal: revise ticking clock of fiscal doom), the U.S. Treasury secretary would de-monetize the dollar, making it worthless. Your savings, checking, IRA, stocks, bonds, retirement: poof. The commies who run the U.S., Canada, Mexico (and China) will take it away with the stroke of a pen. The only way Americans will get any value, perhaps two cents on the dollar, is if we line up at the bank with wheelbarrows of dollars to exchange for…you guessed it: Ameros.

This solution to our economic woes (explain again how that solves all our problems without creating bigger ones, please?) is aimed squarely at the working class, Turner extolls. Even more incredible than the Amero is Turner’s advice to Americans. Not only should we buy gold and silver (duh!) but “more importantly, we should transfer whatever funds we have to FOREIGN BANKS and denominate them in British, French or Swiss funds.” Turner never mentions that these currencies are economically tied to the U.S. Dollar and they are also fiat currencies, not backed by precious metals. In an odd caveat, Turner says the Euro is a bad choice, “because it is not backed by anything.” (?)

It frightens me that rational arguments about hedging failed to convince Joe, a man I respect and admire, but a dangerously flawed home movie posted by a discredited reactionary did the trick. When sloppy slogans and scare tactics lure guys like Joe, we are poised for a worse fate than the Amero.

*I changed the name of my client to protect his privacy–his sanity is already in question.

Ding! Glenn Beck vs. Keith Olbermann: Health Care on the Ropes

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Is Real Health Care Reform Down for the Count? The demands of my business have kept me away from blogging. I was heartened to see how many hits I generated in the last week (over 300!) so despite scattered energies, I couldn’t resist posting another rant. House lights dim as the Ref grabs the lowered microphone: “Ladies and Gentlemen! Ladies and Gentlemen! May I have your attention, please?” “In ‘The Cable TV Championship for Healthcare Reform’ we have, in the upper left corner, former sportscaster and liberal heavyweight Keith Olbermann.

“In the FAR right corner, we have Fox News Pundit and LDS spokesperson Glenn Beck (cheers and boos as Beck, still seated, makes a futile attempt at an obscene hand gesture with a huge red glove). The venue is packed, and just about everyone has a vested interest in the outcome of this Rumble in this Political Jungle. There’s Max Baucus, Senate Finance Committee chair, with an affable lip-licking lisp as promoter Don King; congressional Republicans, waiting lazily with brooms to sweep up votes after the brawl; and that skinny black guy Obama with the microphone in the middle of the ring, trying to dodge premature punches as he explains the rules of a fair fight.

If you’re like me, watching the health care fight on ‘Pay per View’, try turning down the volume. It doesn’t matter who says what: like most Americans, Olbermann and Beck hit the canvas with the same obese thud. Hey, it’s not that these guys are idiots–in my mind, only one is an idiot, and you’ll have to guess—it’s that by the time they got into the ring, it was too late to save either of them.

Like 66% of Americans (according to the CDC), Olbermann and Beck are pudgy and pasty and about to die. They can barely raise their gloves. Everyone has overlooked the big reason that health care reform will fail: it’s too late. We are so sick that our entire economy has become dysfunctionally vested in disease. Genuine reform would gut entire industries: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Archer Daniels Midland, Frito Lay, Coca Cola, Sonic, TV remote manufacturers, Altria (Philip Morris): bye, bye! What would plus-size clothiers and big Pharma do without the cash cows of obesity and diabetes?

We don’t have the courage to admit that we prefer to work at the ass end of health care, rolling up dollar bills and shoving them into that end of the system because real reform means we’d have to work to follow a plant-based diet and walk to work. Can’t someone just give me a friggin’ pill??? We talk about health care reform in this country as if we have a right to plant our widening hineys on the couch and suck down greasy takeout. If aliens from outer space watched prime time TV ads, they might decide to come back in a couple of generations to be spared the trouble of eradicating us from this gift of a planet. By that time our allergies, immune disorders and erectile dysfunctions might have us all down for the count.

Everyone has a right to be treated for what ails them, but many Americans want to cash in on health care without investing in a healthy lifestyle. Keith, Glenn, are you listening? Take off the gloves, boys, skip the ‘Thrilla in Vanilla’ and make your way from the political boxing ring to the salad bar.