Saturday, July 31, 2010

Just Another Victim of 9-11...

My mom's long time colleague and fellow Sociology Professor, Shirley Kolack, was married to Sol Kolack, the New England Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Sol, who passed away a few years ago at age 80 but whose image and principles are still vivid in my memory, stood for everything this inexplicable decision by the ADL does not: equality in law and culture for all religions and faiths. (Debate Heating Up on Plans for Mosque Near Ground Zero, New York Times, July 30, 2010)

While I can understand and appreciate a desire to be sensitive to the families of the nearly 3,000 victims forever lost at the site, we have to remember that the attack itself was committed by radical Muslim extremists against us and our way of life, which includes at its core religious pluralism and diversity. The hundred or so Muslims who also died in the attacks, who make up about a percent of the victims, and the families who loved them should not be forgotten.

Abraham H. Foxman's decision to endorse the Palin/Gingrich position opposing a Islamic Center near ground zero goes far beyond the professed goal of being sensitive to the majority of the victims and approaches the realm of religious intolerance that the ADL was formed to fight. Kudos to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, for standing up for the principle of religious freedom, which may have just become another sad victim of that horrible day in 2001.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

My Own Private Indian Joke?

Funny or Racist?

I had been hearing about Joel Stein's article in Time Magazine, My Own Private India, for a few days but until just a few moments ago, hadn't read it. Why read about a dust up involving Indians in Jersey when I feel that I'm living in one dust up or another involving a whole lot more Indians in India itself? For whatever reason, sitting here in Bangladesh inside a substandard hotel, I decided to read Stein's piece; perhaps the bad Indian food in Chittagong that has me throwing up stirred me to it.

There is a lot of outrage about what Stein wrote. While I understand that feelings were hurt within the Indian community, I can't necessarily understand the outrage. Many have said that Time should never have published the piece. I disagree. It has its moments of humor, partially reflects the jokes Indians tell about themselves, and doesn't shed the most positive light on the natives the immigrant Indians have replaced (i.e. "There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime.")

Sure, Stein's references to Arizona, and understanding how people there could support a draconian and racist new law can be viewed as hurtful. His message can be viewed as unfunny, his viewpoint misguided. Or, we can hear the guy out and laugh as much as we can about life and the people who live alongside us.

I am a North Andover, MA native, and must admit that the town has changed a lot over the more than 30 years I've lived there. I can't stand many of the new people who have moved there. They bring traffic, higher property taxes (because they have kids who actually require good public schools as opposed to just relying on the good ole Pike Schools of the world), and tons of new traffic lights to the sleepy little town I once knew and could speed through. Now, I could have said that I don't like the new white people who have moved into town (most of the new folks are, after all, white). Most of you who know me would have laughed because you know that I often interject race into humor to force people to laugh about the topic. It is the only way that I believe we will ever be able to tackle the much more complicated issues of race and religion in America and around the world.

Stein could also have left race out of his piece, and many would argue he should have. But then it would have just been a dry piece about his hometown growing up and evolving. Who reads stuff like that? His humor is overdone, for sure. But underlying a lot of his perhaps poorly executed humor are real facts: Indians who came here in the 60s and 70s were far more accomplished, on average, than the relatives who followed them more recently. That's not a necessarily important phenomenon to explain; after all, there are plenty of dumb white folks in Jersey too and they didn't need to move there, they've been there for a while. Did he need to explain that fact in this particular Time magazine column? No, but comedy routines, whether delivered in an article or as part of a stand up gig, never really need to do much, except make people laugh -- sometimes uncomfortably.

What I guess I don't get is that Russell Peters, the Canadian comedian of Indian origin that pokes fun at almost all races, does similar stuff. Perhaps his comedy is a touch different, perhaps a touch better executed. But underneath the humor is a lot of racial stuff. We laugh because he's a comedic looking Indian guy that pokes fun of every possible race including his own. Doing so may be funny, but it is also is eerily similar to Stein's humor.

I'm not defending Joel Stein. I'm just suggesting that perhaps we can all learn a thing or two by sometimes attempting to laugh and in the process see a different perspective and not assuming that everyone that brushes up against our racial sensitivities is a racist. I don't give a shit that Stein lost his town to a whole mass of Indian immigrants. They have as much right to be in Edison as he does. What I do care about is the ability for society to continue to laugh at itself and others in an effort to notch down the rhetoric that we see around us. Surely, there is racial humor that crosses the line into racist territory. While I don't think Stein does that, I also don't think that we should stop trying to poke fun at things that might be a touch thorny.

The great thing about America is that our freedoms allow us to speak openly and candidly and debate issues of significance (or even insignificance). During my recent travels in Bangladesh, I spoke to the owner of a TV channel that has been shut down for broadcasting, on live TV, views the current government finds offensive. Better we allow Stein to speak, and then respond -- either using humor, or when appropriate, otherwise -- than to censor and disallow because sensitivities may be affected.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Vie Deck & Lounge

102 Juhu Tara Road,
Vile Parle West
Mumbai, Maharastra 400 056 India
Tel: +91 22 26604884


Mistakes and Mosquitoes. That summarizes our recent meal at Vie Deck & Lounge, which in my opinion has become nearly unbearable for anyone seeking decent food and passable service. While I can't entirely blame Vie for the mosquitoes, I can certainly hold them accountable for the mistakes. We were seated at perhaps the worst outdoor table in the house. I asked repeatedly about better tables that appeared to be available. All taken, I was told. More than two hours later, when we left Vie, most of the tables I had inquired about were still empty. The one table that was no longer empty was taken by a couple that apparently was given a different answer by the restaurant; they hadn't reserved that table either. Let's set aside seating issues. After all, had the restaurant been packed -- and not nearly empty -- we might have justifiably been seated where we were.

Unfortunately, the food and service were unacceptable as well. The humus plate came with six mini pita wedges. Yes, mini wedges (think pita chips from a bag). Having ordered the humus in the past, I had ordered extra pita wedges. The ten additional mini wedges that came for Rs. 150 (US $3) were equally inadequate. The baked mushroom appetizer was tasteless, while my kebabs/skewers were woefully undercooked (evidenced by the pool of blood and the fact that the kebabs refused any attempt at cohesion). Raw and unacceptable. I asked that the kebabs be cooked some more. They were taken back to the kitchen and never returned.

Besides the food quality, the service left me feeling cheated for leaving the house. My drink order came without the vodka that I had asked be repeated and a pasta dish with shrimp came without the shrimp. When I asked Glen, our server, about the missing crustaceans, he advised me that he had heard and confirmed that the dish was to be presented with mushrooms. While all four of us at the table had heard shrimp be ordered, there was a bigger problem with Glen's claim: the pasta lacked even the mushrooms he had based his defense on.

I spoke briefly with the manager, Dilip, who offered little in the way of consolation. When the bill finally arrived, the bloody kababs had been taken off, but a service charge had already been added to the check. Given how bad our experience was -- and we were multiple-time repeat clients -- I would have expected some additional gesture from the restaurant to help palliate our concerns.

On my way out, manager Dilip walked me to my car and said, "hope to see you again, sir." No, Dilip, I don't think you will. I wasted an evening at Vie. I won't let that happen again.