Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jesus the Liberal Democrat

For your holiday enjoyment, from the masterful Stephen Colbert:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Today I Balanced the Budget

I didn't have a very productive writing day, but I did manage to solve the country's budget deficit problem:

My solution was 65% spending cuts and 35% tax increases. I cut unnecessary defense budget items, capped medicare growth and taxed people who could afford it.  Heck, I even managed to get a half trillion dollar surplus by 2015 and a trillion and a half dollar surplus by 2030.

Your welcome, America.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Rally Ends

I'm back from the rally, after a long day of travel, and a lovely nostalgia run through the Balto-Wash corridor (I lived there in the late 80s).  You can now re-live my day at the rally via my Smile Politely article: Sanity is More Reasonable Than Fear.

We decided not to bring our own signs.  They wouldn't have fit on the Metro anyway.  It was great to go with Dave though, for the same reason it's great to have him on my side during basketball games: he is very, very tall.  Tall people are easier to find at rallies and able to get better camera angles at funny signs.

I had a great time at Dave's brother-in-law's Eric's house too, who has the second most adorable children in the world. Plus I had a great lunch with Alisa, my old friend from Maryland, where we caught up and reminisced about the being in our 20s back in the 80s.

Anyway, the rally was a huge success.  People are no longer fearful. Sane and reasonable discourse now rules the day. The election today will sweep in a new generation of moderates committed to finding common solutions that work for everyone, regardless of ideology and prejudice.

Maybe not. I'm glad I went anyway.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Signs of Sanity

Simply put, the rally was awesome. I'll have a complete report at Smile Politely in a few days, but for now, I want to post my favorite signs. Or at least my favorite signs that I have pictures of.  Here they are:

Shirt says: The founding fathers were East Coast Liberals

It was hard to tell if someone was really counter-protesting, or whether they were just being ironic.

The rally was so successful that it even brought together Darth Vader and Napolean Dynamite.
Dave and Dan, happy to be part of the awesomeness of whatever it was that just happened.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Credit where credit is due

It is nice that President Obama has joined the ranks of the "It Gets Better" campaign.  What would be nicer is if he would actually do something within his power to advance gay rights. So far, all he has done is split hairs about how to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, and then send justice departments lawyers into the courtroom to defend it everytime it is challenged.

Again, nice speech.  Now actually do something with your power to advance gay rights.

So, let's give credit where credit is due. It was a lawsuit by Republicans (in the form of Log Cabin Republicans) that led to the court decision to overturn Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Republicans have now accomplished more for gay rights during the Obama era than Obama and all Democrats combined.  All Democrats have done is sit on their thumbs and cower from doing the right thing, as usual.  And they wonder why there is an enthusiasm gap in this election.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Apologies, Apologies

Virginia Thomas' request for an apology from Anita Hill is simply too surreal not to poke fun at.  I wrote up a quick Smile Politely column in honor of Virginia Thomas:  Apology Accepted.

In the spirit of her quest for unity, I am willing to accept Virginia Thomas' apology if she is offended.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity

Thanks to my friend Dave Bullock, who has been gaming credit card companies for years for free airline miles, I now have a plane ticket to DC for the weekend of Oct 30th. Not coincidentally, this is the very same weekend of Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Also, we are staying with his brother-in-law in DC for free. The upshot of all this is that he gets to win any argument about who is the better friend for the rest of our lives.

Of course, there is the rally as well, the true purpose of the weekend.  The problem is, I'm not sure if I should be allowed to attend. After all, I'm not really a moderate. I am a radical, leftist, socialist, let's-tax-the-top-5%-an-additional-3%-on-the-part-of-their-income-that-pays-for-vacations kind of extremist. I even believe in universal healthcare. How can I possibly keep my seething anger and  lunacy in check for an entire rally?

Obviously, I need a reasonable sign. And luckily, the march organizers have put up a website to share and test signs at

Some of my favorites so far are:

I'm mad as hell. But by tomorrow, I'll probably be fine.
My political views cannot be summarized in a pithy sign
Sarah Palin for Governor of Alaska
One of us or perhaps neither of us may be right
I wouldn't presume to tell God who he hates
I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler
I support the sign that I am holding
I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it
I don't know what we are yelling about!!! (picture of Steve Carrell yelling)
Only a Sith deals in absolutes

So far, my only idea for a sign is "Sanity is not just for liberals." Jill thinks it's divisive and totally against the spirit of the rally.  And, she's right. See what I'm up against here?  I have to get sane in the next 2 weeks to earn my way into the rally.

So, if you have any suggestions for a sign that will lead others to believe I am a reasonable moderate, let me know.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bill Maher must be happy

Which Americans know the most about religion?  It turns out to be those annoying atheists:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

Unfortunately, they did not specifically track Mennonites. I suspect Mennonites would have done about average, unless the questions veered off into farming lore.

Another interesting finding:

I've long believed that most people who want prayer and religion in school don't really want prayer and religion in school. They want their version of prayer and their version of religion to be dominant over other forms of prayer and other religions in school.

For instance, if we allowed prayers to Jesus in school, we'd have to allow prayers to Allah as well. And if there were prayers to Allah at school, you'd find support for prayer in school drop like a stone tablet.

As such, it doesn't surprise me that so many people don't know about the legality of a comparative religion class or that you read from the Bible as literature.  That's not what they are fighting for.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The GOP's war on math

Paul Krugman on the GOP's promise to cut the deficit, either by declaring war arithmetic or eliminating government. We aren't sure which one yet.

On Thursday, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” supposedly outlining their policy agenda. In essence, what they say is, “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.
True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as I can see, there’s only one specific cut proposed — canceling the rest of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim (implausibly) would save $16 billion. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest, everything must be cut, in ways not specified — “except for common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops.” In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off-limits.

So what’s left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Imam Speaks

The Corboba Center Iman had an op-ed in the NY Times yesterday.  As I said, he is exactly the kind of religious leader we need in the world right now:

Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. I want to draw attention, specifically, to the open, law-based and tolerant actions that have taken place, and that are particularly striking for Muslims.

President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. As I traveled overseas, I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking: a Christian president and a Jewish mayor of New York supporting the rights of Muslims. Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations.

The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mosque Mess

I've been very frustrated with my fellow Americans about the not-Mosque at not-Ground Zero. I even got into a Facebook argument with an old high school acquaintance, which was probably a mistake. Facebook is better for announcing that you just had a great meal than for pointing out how un-American people are.

Anyway, my responses ended up being a half-written article, so I went ahead and did a full Smile Politely column about it.  It's called  The Burlington Coat Factory Mosque, and is available here.

It's hard to say much that hasn't already been said.  As usual, Jon Stewart has been the most poignant and the most funny.  Monday's show was no exception, as he pointed out how Fox News is trying to smear the not-Mosque by associating it with an Islamic group run by...Fox News' very own top shareholder. It's long, but well worth viewing.

And, in even more depressing news, Pew came out with a new poll about Americans views of Islam. Unsurprisingly (by now, anyway), 51% oppose the not-Mosque. What shocked me was this:

62% say that Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups to build houses of worship in their local communities.
Lots of opposition to the Mosque has been wrapped in language of "we believe in freedom of religion, we just think the location of this [not] Mosque is insensitive." But the numbers above are a lot more sobering. Read it and weep. About 38% of Americans apparently do not believe in freedom of religion.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Worst Traffic Jam Ever

Those Chinese -- always trying to one up us. Now they are competing for bad traffic jams too.

Worst traffic jam ever? Gridlock spans 60 miles

A traffic jam stretching more than 60 miles in China has entered its ninth day with no end in sight, state media reported.

Cars and trucks have been slowed to a crawl since August 14 on the National Expressway 110, which is also known as the G110, the major route from Beijing to Zhangjiakou, Xinhua News reported.

Officials expect the congestion to continue until workers complete construction projects on September 13, the report said.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not Dead Yet

News broke this morning that Daniel Schreiber of Flatlander Chocolate died unexpectedly last night. Rest assured, I am a different Dan Schreiber. I've not been put on the ox cart yet, and if I am, I'm pretty sure I still have the energy to scramble off before they hit me with a shovel.

Unfortunately for CU, the loss of "the other Dan Schreiber" (as I refer to him), is a bigger loss to the community. Providing fine chocolate to one's neighbors is no doubt more valuable than providing cranky left-wing opinions. 

We've both been in town for a few years now and I'm sad that I never got to actually meet him.  My heart goes out to his friends and family. I hope he has chocolate waiting for us all on the other side.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fox strikes again

I've gotten used to the lying, the fear-mongering, and the hypocrisy. It's the shamelessness that continues to baffle me. Rachel Maddow does a servicable job of recounting the damage (too bad Jon Stewart is on vacation this week):

As Roger Ebert just put it: "Fox News has more alibis for itself than a drunk-driving moonshiner."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why Soccer Sucks

Usually, I enjoy watching soccer. And then I see stuff like this:

A guy kicks the air in the direction of another player who looked liked he was going to throw the ball at the first guy. The second guy, without even being touched, flops down and writhes in pain, drawing a red card for the first guy from an out-of-position umpire. The first player is ejected, his team is now down one player, and the other team scores two goals to win 2-1. 

In any other sport, it would be considered at least unsportsmanlike and at best unseemly to flop down on the ground and writhe in pain without being touched.  Why do soccer players embarrass their sport like this?  I hope someday that soccer players will become as brave and manly as tennis players or bowlers, who manage not to writhe on the ground when people come near them.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

God is Angry

If God's wrath is revealed through lightning strikes and other natural disasters, He or She is just swinging wild punches at this point. All three of these stories are getting airplay right now:

Fire on Containment Ship Halts Oil Spill Collection

Arkansas Flash Flood Kills 19

And the Pièce de résistance: 
Touchdown Jesus Destroyed by Lightning

Touchdown Jesus before God's Wrath:

Touchdown Jesus after (or during) God's Wrath:

I'll leave the theological implications of God being angry at oil cleanup efforts, Arkansas campers and Touchdown Jesus to the comments sections.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Some Ebert Frisson

knew my love of obscure quotes from an almost-forgotten 17th Century French mathematician would eventually pay off with some love from Roger Ebert:

Background: Roger Ebert wrote a blog post a few weeks back about frisson, a french word that means a brief intense reaction, usually a feeling of excitement, recognition, or terror. The article was about the internet, our increasingly short attention spans, the rewiring of our brains, and twitter's enablement of our collective and questionable daily search for frissons. In other words, another entry in a great series of blog posts Roger has been cranking out.

This particular post very much resonates with me, as I try to make progress on a book-length project while parenting three kids and constantly getting sidetracked by the daily frissons of the internet. It made me remember one of my favorite quotes by Blaise Pascal, so I included it in a comment to his article. The comment itself got some love by Roger, who made a comment to my comment that sitting quietly has never come easy to him.

He apparently liked the quote enough that he tweeted it.  This was a couple weeks ago.  Just two days ago, I set up a twitter account.  I didn't set it up to enter the world of tweeting, but to verify that, yes indeed, all the things that I told my 15 year-old daughter that she should not say on Facebook, she has instead been saying on Twitter. She calls it "spying on her."  I call it "parenting."  She's a great kid (like all my kids), but we sometimes have generational issues.

Anyway, I was catching up with my friend Pat Gabridge yesterday, and he congratulated me on being "quoted" by Roger Ebert. I had no idea what he was talking about until I searched my shiny, brand new twitter account, and found the quote above. Talk about a frisson.  I knew that being a good parent would eventually pay off. My twitter feed now consists of three people: Roger Ebert, Barack Obama, and my daughter. They are all quite prolific.

Believe me, I understand the multiple layers of irony of this blog post.  I am quoting someone who quoted me in quoting someone else on the topic of spending too much time noticing what everyone else is noticing. On the other hand, it is nice to get a small sliver of notice from someone I admire so much and who is well-known and respected by so many others.  On the other, other hand, this just underscores how addicted I am to the frissonedness of the internet. And why my long, book-length project is going sooooo slowly. After all, it takes time to write about yourself being noticed by someone quoting you quoting someone else.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Real Axe Market

I've always wondered who buys Axe. The ads for the body deodorant don't just subtly suggest that women will love you if you buy their product. They go for a more direct approach: If you buy Axe, thousands of scantily-clad, beautiful women will run you down to have their way with you.

Sure, the commercials are funny, in an offensive, sexist sort of way. But who would fall for this kind of advertising? Certainly no one with any experience with actual women.

Of course, that describes a decent percentage of young males. And once you throw skateboarding into the mix, it becomes obvious who they are marketing to: 11 year-old boys.

A product that makes you irresistible to the ladies and helps you with impossible skateboard moves? My son was sold on the spot. He bought some with his hard-earned allowance money. Not only does he love his Axe, but he is of the opinion that if something is good, more of it is better.

So, in addition to spraying it all over his body, he has also been known to use it:

  • On his clothes, as a substitute for washing them
  • On his bedsheets, as a substitute for taking a bath before bed.
  • Directly at his sisters, as a weapon when they annoy him.
The last bit seems counter-productive if girls love Axe so much that they will run you down on a beach to make out with you. But, like all boys everywhere, he does not consider his sisters to be girls.

So, I'm impressed that Axe has found a natural market. I'm just sad that my son's room now smells even worse than 11 year-old boy.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Heart of the Graystone

My oldest friend in the world (because I've known him since kindergarten, not because he is so old) has finally gotten his book published. That would be Mike Brown, or M.K. Brown if you believe book titles, or Brownie or Delicious Cipher if you believe blog commenter names. His novel is The Heart of the Graystone, an fantasy story about a young man who finds a jewel with magical powers, then the bad guys who are looking for it and then a full-on adventure after that.

So, do your part to fix the economy by buying more stuff. Specifically, buy Mike's book, available at Virtual Book Worm, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This makes me happy

I should do this every morning:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul is against racism everywhere except in Capitalism

Below is a really long interview by Rachel Maddow of Rand Paul. He's the new Kentucky Republican senate candidate and Tea Party adherent.

He doesn't directly answer her one essential question, which is: Do you think businesses should be allowed to not serve black people? Instead, he uses lots and lots of words, says he thinks racism is abhorent, that he would never support anything or anyone who is, but that, in the end, yes, the part of the civil rights law that allows black people to eat at countertops with white people is government intrusion into business.

This is like saying that you are a big environmentalist, that you totally support people who take care of the earth, and would not support any business or organization that pollutes. But also, it is government intrusion to have laws that make it illegal for businesses to intentionally dump poison into rivers.

He quickly retracted what he said today, but I actually find it refreshing that he would say what he actually believes for a news cycle. I wish more Tea Partiers would do that. I still wonder why they don't angrily denounce Social Security and Medicare as the biggest examples of the socialism they hate so much.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Nazi Tourette's

Lewis Black on Glenn Beck's NTS (Nazi Tourette's Syndrome):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

For those keeping track at home, here are the times it is appropriate to make comparisions to Nazis and the times it is just crazy talk:

  • Including empathy as a desirable characteristic in a judge
  • Providing health care to the poorest among us
  • References to the term “social justice”
  • Attempts to address climate change
  • Teaching kids about climate change
  • Government support of the arts
  • TARP funding
  • The Peace Corp
Crazy Talk:
  • Invading another country to gain access to their natural resources
  • Requiring police officers to demand identification papers from people
  • Wiretapping citizens

Monday, May 03, 2010

It’s Obama’s Karma, not his Katrina

It looks like a narrative is emerging that the massive oil spill in the gulf is now Obama’s Katrina. This makes sense, if you don’t remember much about Katrina, or know much about this oil spill.

It is true that this oil spill is likely to exceed the environmental damage and human cost that even Katrina dished out.

But the problem with Katrina was that we knew it was coming. Then we knew it came. Then we knew the levees broke. Then we knew that people were stranded and starving and desperate. Only after a day or so of chaos did the Bush government swing into action to help actual people in immediate crisis.

The problems this time around are:

  • The oil platform explosion was unexpected
  • Bad weather hampered initial efforts to figure out what was happening
  • British Petroleum totally underestimated the extent of the problem it reported to the government.
  • There might not even be a fix to this for 3 months, until they can drill another pipe into the oil field to drain off the leak. That's not a government response problem, it is a science problem. Perhaps it is a government policy problem not to have stricter guidelines when doing off-shore drilling.
  • People have been working around the clock on the problem, but since it’s in the middle of the gulf and underground, no one is seeing it, so it gives the impression nothing is being done.

Even if you rewound time, it isn’t clear what the government should have done differently. Throwing a bunch of helicopters and food at it is not going to fix it. See Media Matters for a complete timeline. And compare it to the Katrina timeline if you think they are comparable.

The most ironic thing about this is that the people complaining about the government’s response are the same people that don’t want any government involvement in their lives. Make up your mind, folks. About the only mistake you can say the government made is in believing its profit-oriented industry partner about the extent of the spill. Sounds like a case for more government regulation, oversight and involvement to me. Katrina, indeed.

I say if you want to blame something, blame Karma. Obama reversed himself a month ago to suddenly support more off-shore drilling, which conservatives had been demanding since Sarah Palin started the chanted "Drill Baby Drill" at the Republican National Convention. Now we get to learn why potential environmental disasters should factor into our resource-use policies, just like all the tree-huggers say they should. Like Earl, Obama should not have messed with Karma.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Fun Signs

All I can say for these folks is that they should be happy that citizenship is not tied to passing an English test:

Finally, this gentleman seems to be saying we should not, not be France (the circle with line across indicating that we don't want what is said on the sign). Or maybe he's asking where to find Not France. Or not asking where to find Not France. Whatever it is, it's too deep for me.

Friday, April 23, 2010


It's Ebertfest time here in Champaign-Urbana, and usually I spend the week watching movies and then typing about them as fast as I can afterward. I'm taking a break this year, because it is very exhausting and I decided to just enjoy the festival this year.

But I did agree to do one day of regurgitation for Smile Politely, which was yesterday's batch of movies. It's available here.

Now, back to the Virginia for more fun.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Difference Between Girls and Boys

My 7th grade daughter is in an all-girls math class this year.  She has struggled with math over the years, and 6th grade was especially tough for her.

But the school decided to do something different this year and segregate by gender.  It's made a huge difference for her -- she has always said she's not very good at math, but this year, we've heard her say things like "I'm smart at math."  Night and day difference.

Some researchers came to the different classes to see what the girls and boys thought about it.  The girls were all highly enthusiastic, saying things like "It's great!", "No boys to distract us!" "Girls Rule! -- WonderSister Powers, Activate!!!"

And the 7th grade boys?  At least one of them said "Oh.  There aren't any girls in our class?  Huh."

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Did I Miss Anything?

I’m back from spring break, where I spent some quality time on our fine socialist highway system. Also, since traveling internationally, I’ve been enjoying our socialist water quality standards and our socialist sewer systems. Of course, I’m using the term "socialist" the way it is commonly used these days, to mean anything that is in any way connected to the government.

What happened while I was away? Health insurance reform was passed. Death threats were issued. Glenn Beck went ballistic because John Lewis acted like a civil rights activist. He must have missed the history lesson where John Lewis got his head busted open for … being a civil rights activist.

So, I missed some history and also missed some more of the same.

But I’ve definitely not been feeling very bloggy lately. I’m about as down on our democracy as I was when we invaded Iraq. I’m depressed that it is so easy to spread so much fear and so many lies. And I’m depressed that it works so well. Yes, a weakened version of healthcare passed, but look at how much effort it took. When a plan that is more conservative than Richard Nixon’s is believed by so many people to be some kind Marxist plot, I just have to sigh.

At least Obama has a sense of humor about it. Watch him below make fun of the crazy that so many people have been peddling. Sometimes, I just love that guy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Half a Loaf of Bread

Things have returned to normal here in Schreiberland since my trip to India.  I've finally re-adjusted to Central Daylight Time, taxied kids to all reaches of Champaign-Urbana, scheduled parent-teacher conferences, enjoyed grocery shopping amidst the vast consumer choices of a big box store (Meijer), attended approximately 384 church meetings, done my regular tutoring at Danville prison, and caught up on The Office, 30 Rock and Lost. Trying to make sense of Lost is no easier than before leaving for India, but I'm all in at this point.

But what really makes me feel at home is staring at my computer when I should be writing.  Instead, I am now fully up-to-date on all the latest ways to be frustrated with our political system.

As such, there is a great article at Smile Politely today, Something is better than nothing, where Joel Gillespie interviews Claudia Lennhoff from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers. Over the last nine months I've swung between tepid support of the proposed health care reforms (because they are so watered down compared to what is really needed) and general anger at Republicans (for consistently lying about and obstructing any kind of reform that is so desperately needed by so many people).

Lennhoff is in the trenches and sees the daily effects of our current health care system. 

The way I think of this imperfect legislation is this: If one is hungry, one does not walk away from half a loaf of bread just because it is not a full loaf of bread, or the type of bread we really wanted. You take the half and come back the next time for the other half or for another loaf. You don’t walk away from the opportunity to help real people. Our nation is desperate. I think Rep. Kucinich must not feel the desperation and must not have had to witness the destruction of people’s lives because of our current health care situation. I would invite him to walk one day in my shoes, working with local clients. Or better yet, walk one day in the life of one of my clients. Being sick and not knowing how, or if you’re going to get better is a very terrible way to live.
I may be tepid about partial reform, but she's convinced me that, indeed, something is better than nothing. Like Nader in 2000, making a statement about one's unhappiness with a pure, ideal state is a sign of privilege. And like Nader in 2000, demanding perfection will lead to continued suffering that the least among us can least afford.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ushapalooza 2010 Wraps Up

Ushapalooza 2010 has officially ended its tour through Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodphur, Jalna, Mumbia and Kochi. Usha is coming back to the states this weekend, but the rest of us have made it back safely. We travelled 34 hours and dropped two passports (the Breezes) that were returned by a guy in line, lost one jacket (me) that the taxi driver had to come back for, and had a temporarily lost ticket to Chicago (Thom). The only thing Martha reported losing was her appetite from eating airport food for 34 hours.

For posterity, our modes of transportation during the trip included: Van, Ell, plane, cars, rickshaw (bike and motorized), horse cart, airport bus, elephant, camel, jeep, safari truck, taxi, ferry boat, escalator, and feet.

Animals we saw, in no particular order: Lizard, antelope, chicken, duck, gazelle, pig, sheep, water buffalo, cow, dog, bobcat, peacock, rooster, camel, cobra, horse, monkey (lemur & red faced something or other), tiny squirrels, mosquito, swan, egret, parrot, pigeon, crow, hawk, goat, ox, elephant and cat.

We should have created a list of food we ate too. I apologize for being such a sucky food correspondent. I will say that the mango juice was excellent.

I have a few random photos to mention that didn’t make it elsewhere, below.

One thing I learned about Thom during the trip is that he meets a new best friend at every stop. Here he is with the Barwale family drivers in Bombay:

These guys below were tenacious in following us around one night, asking for money. The problem with giving in India is that it is interpreted as the beginning of the transaction, not the end, and only increases the intensity of the asking and there is no end to people in need. Wanting to help but being overwhelmed was probably the hardest part about being here. I hope one of these guys gets the girl and wins a million dollars on Who Wants to Be Millionaire in a few years.

It was interesting to see the easy affection between males here. Holding hands and having arms around each other was quite common.

Also quite common in the smaller villages: Men hanging out, while women work. It’s still a very patriarchal society, although while we were here, a bill was before parliament that would reserve a third of the elected seats for women, which would put them ahead of us.

I never got tired of the bright colors that women wear. When talking to men is considered forward, I guess you go with the bright colors to show yourself off.

And it never ceases to amaze me how they can carry all that stuff on their heads

And, I can't leave India without mentioning how much I love the “notorious” Indian head nod, as Usha calls it. It needs a video rather than an explanation, and here's one I stole from the intertubes:

A very small subset of meanings the head nod has:
  • yes
  • no
  • maybe
  • whatever
  • thank you for the tip I am very grateful
  • sure buy that crappy hat -- it's your money to waste
  • I am honored to open this door for you
  • sure you can think you will pay for dinner tonight
  • I see that you are indicating you do not want coffee or tea, but I cannot believe that anyone would not want coffee or tea
  • no we don't make the dish mild spicy but I will say we do anyway
  • yes our destination is 30 minutes away (repeat 3 times during the trip)
In conjunction with a slight smile, grimace, smirk, raised eyebrow, scowl, or other facial expression, it can mean just about anything. I wish I could do it properly.

I think one of my main goals was not to be seen as this during our trip:


Final thoughts from everyone:

Martha & Clark: The sense of hospitality here was quite moving and well beyond what we usually experience. People seem genuinely happy to be with you.
Martha: Struck by the diversity of people, circumstances, colors, smells, of everyone and everything sharing the same space with much incident. There is a respect for life and an acceptance of death. And at no time did we feel unsafe.
Cindy: Enormous gratitude towards Usha. We couldn’t have had this experience without her. (Of course we feel this way too).
Thom: He had heard over the last 10 years (since last being here) how India is developing and moving forward and making progress. This trip underscored that as he’s now seen it first-hand – although there is still a lot of poverty, there are many more cars and motorcycles and fewer animals on the road.

Clark: Impressed by the diversity of the experience – we saw desert, sea, hill, the capital, rural and a lot of history.

Dan: I really enjoyed the barely contained chaos of the street and the shops. Although it was hard to move sometimes, it was an experience I just don’t get in the states. I wouldn’t want to live in such chaos, but it was fun to experience it.

And thanks for everyone following along in the blog -- it been a great experience and we are eternally grateful to Usha and her family for such graciousness and hospitality.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Kochi Tourists

This will likely be my second to last India blog post. We leave tomorrow, and I’ll post one more when I get home, assuming we don’t get eaten by tigers. Or at least I don’t get eaten by tigers.

We were not as helpless as we thought we might be without Usha. We managed to ignore the guy trying to sell us a boat ride for 100 rupees, find the ferry, pay our 2 rupees (about a nickel), and make our way to Fort Kochi to look around and be tourists.

The ferry

We chose to walk to the Jewish Synagogue, the oldest in the British Commonwealth, dating back to the 16th Century. It was late morning, before things really get started, and we were treated to a Kochi that was just waking up.

Not pictured is the sauna-like heat and the occasional waft of pungent waste in the gutter on the side. But walking was a good way to get around at first, because usually we are behind the windows of a car and don’t get as much of a feel for the place.

However, we were bedraggled by the time we found the synagogue. So, we found a taxi and were able to negotiate a ride across town for 30 rupees (about 70 cents). Usha would have been proud.

The streets looked like this by the time we got our taxi:

Our taxi driver had his kerosene stored in a plastic soda bottle, which he took out to refill in the middle of our trip. Martha, who is on a roll with great one-liners, remarked that our taxi was apparently powered by a molotav cocktail:

We also managed to feed ourselves without Usha. We found Dal Maki, one of the Frommer-approved restaurants. We collectively had chicken biryani (rice and chicken dish, with other spices), paneer wraps (which tasted like yummy paneer chimichangas) and paneer mughlai, which was paneer and egg inside a pastry-ish dough (which I liked best).

One of the things Kochi is famous for is its spice shops:

Spice is one of the few things I did not buy in India, although I’m sure there is something I should have picked up. Sorry Jill, no spice is coming home.

I took a break to watch some kids play cricket. Boys play sports with the same enthusiasm everywhere.

On one of our taxi rides, our taxi driver kept stopping at various places and telling us we should shop here – “very good prices. You like.” We kept saying no. Then insisting no. Then shouting no. They obviously had some kind of deal worked out with the store to funnel tourists there.

But while I was watching cricket, a taxi driver was hanging out and simply asked me if he could drive us to a shop right across the street, because he would get 2 somethings of rice to bring people there. He said we didn’t have to buy anything, all they had to do was write his taxi number down. Whether he was telling the truth or not, I don’t know, but I found it refreshing that he was simply upfront about it. So, we decided to go. It had a $9,000 swing in it:

We didn’t buy the swing, or anything else, even though they offered free shipping. And it only cost us about 10 minutes to see the shop and maybe help the taxi driver out. Nonetheless, I can see Usha doing the Indian head nod right now, which in this case would mean “don’t let these guys take advantage of you.”

We arrived back in the afternoon wet and soggy from sweat, but ready to lounge around until our flight leaves tomorrow.

We did take a boat ride out in the bay, where there are a lot of Chinese–style fishing nets. I really think Clark should think about a second career as a photographer:

So, thanks to everyone for following along. It’s been an exhilarating trip. As I mentioned, I’ll post something when I get back, before returning to my life as the Schreiber Family Taxi Driver.