Highly recommended: “Working Life (High and Low),” by Steven Greenhouse, adapted from Greenhouse’s book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, which weighs the challenges workers face across the country. This article excoriates Fed Ex’s ill treatment of a woman who was fired when she requested a leave of absence to battle cancer for the third time; it lauds Patagonia and employers like it that offer employees flex time and attractive health-care and other benefits.

Unintentionally laughable: “Bear Stearns’s New Hires Become Job Seekers,” by Louise Story. Poor unemployed MBAs; use that $50,000 signing bonus, which you get to keep though you won’t actually perform any work, to keep you warm. An excerpt:

They polished résumés; they sweated interviews; they landed dream jobs. But now a small group of college and business school students are discovering that their careers at Bear Stearns ended before they began. JPMorgan Chase, which bought the beleaguered investment bank last month, rescinded many of their job offers.

Yashoda Khandkar, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is among 250 Bear hires who now find themselves unemployed in one of the worst financial job markets in years.

“The worst part about the entire situation is that it’s a really hard market for us to look for other jobs,” Ms. Khandkar said. “We probably can’t get as good of jobs as we would have had.”

Ivy Leaguers like Ms. Khandkar have more options than most, of course. And for now few of them have mortgages, unlike millions of Americans who are struggling just to pay the bills.

But instead of starting new jobs at Bear, these students are now hunting for work along with a growing number of bankers and brokers.

God, imagine if they actually had to suffer injustices like … oh, not having money to put food on the table, or needing to apply the welfare … or going to a state school!

Little-known fact: surly old T was a varsity cheerleader for a number of years in high school. Her caboose was loose, and her team was boom dynamite, and even when a rival high school burned the words “white trash” in 20-foot letters on her alma mater’s football field, she kept high kicking.

But even she is skeptical of the Washington Redskins’ stunt to cobble together a cheer squad for a new cricket side in India, as reported by Tunku Varadarajan in today’s Times op-ed section. And though I find the idea objectionable, I do like Varadarajan’s take on things:

Inevitably, moral scolds — of which India, as a society, has a surplus — will write letters to the editor complaining about the vulgarity/anti-Indianness/neocolonialism of the cheerleaders. It is conceivable, too, that there will be demonstrations outside the cricket stadium by women’s groups and Hindu fundamentalists.

All this, however, pales when compared to the broader lessons. With the Redskins cheerleaders on Indian soil, one can safely declare that the British cultural influence in India has been entirely replaced by an American one, cricket notwithstanding. India’s relationship with the United States — economic, strategic, diasporic and cultural — is now its primary external alliance, with a complex nuclear deal at one end of the spectrum and 12 cheerleaders and two choreographers at the other.

I sometimes verge toward holding our fucking idiot president responsible for the fact that two of my brothers have risked their lives in the Middle East numerous times, but I try to stay rational about it. But….this? Despicable. Unforgivable:

HuffPo: Bush “Envious” of Soldiers Serving “Romantic” Mission in Afghanistan.

This is not bull-fighting in Spain. This is men and women, putting their lives on the line, often not really believing in the mission, but doing it anyway, because they feel a sense of responsibility. This is our youth — often, our underprivileged youth — fighting and dying because they were told to fight, because they were told our idea of ourselves depended on them being there for us. It is fodder for tragic novels, for reflection, for analysis. But it is not romantic.

And if you are really envious, go there. Fight. Subsist on MREs. Point a gun at someone who does not speak your language and may hate you not because you’re American, per se, but because you’re in his country and have leapfrogged diplomacy for conflict. Put your life on the line. Then come back and do it all over again, because you feel you owe it to us, or because you have no better options, or because you feel adrift. But don’t patronize us with your fucking delusions of grandeur, your sepia-toned imaginings of a conflict you wrought and yet seem not to fully grasp.

(HuffPo blurb from Reuters article.)

So I was watching network TV today, which I rarely do (I usually save my TV watching for the weekend and catch up on NBC.com, &c.), and a commercial for Vitamin Water that featured Kelly Clarkson came on.

“Oooh! K-dawg! You’re muh girl! I wanna break away!”

She looks awesome and cute, but the commercial is utter tripe — and not only because the product she’s shilling is, at best, utterly unnecessary. I think it’s supposed to be a spoof of German talk shows (?!), and the host is like, “Rock und roll! I hear you’re into trying new things! Like India!” And then Kelly’s all “Yes! I wanted to learn to be a snake charmer!” and the host honks “Rock and roll!” and then we cut to a guy dressed up kind of like one of those monkeys that wear fezes, and he’s playing a tiny piano, and he’s in … brownface?

Oh, India. More than a billion people, and the American media would have you believe that all of them fall into neat categories like (1) gurus/godmen, (2) starving peasants, and (3) tech geniuses.

Jezebel reports on a new exhibit in France aimed at educating children and teens about sex. Elsewhere, teachers, parents, and students debated sex ed in Indian high schools; the education ministry in Israel pushed for programs to raise awareness about sexual violence and harassment; and in America, the battle continues over abstinence-only courses and those with a more comprehensive view of sex education. Is it me, or does it seem strange that other cultures are attempting to embrace the availability of information vitally important to public health while America seeks to repress it? Perhaps this is not a fair assessment — indeed, maybe I should be criticizing other countries for not more wholeheartedly embracing sex education to this point — but I am continually amazed about the ignorance displayed by so many of my countrymen (and women) concerning more base affairs than should probably be mentioned in this space. No, I don’t think that 11-year-olds should be trading sexual favors, and in general, I think a lot of people have sex before they’re really ready — but isn’t it more effective to, at the very least, equip those with the options in front of them with basic facts about reproduction, rights afforded by our Constitution (and judicial precedent), and resources they can turn to if they get in a jam?

One of my latest guilty pleasures has been doing Google Book searches on my favorite topics. A search for “tea” yielded a full scan of Kakuzo Okakura’s The Book of Tea, a meditation upon the social meaning of the beverage (particularly in Japan, but larger meaning can certainly be extrapolated). Okakura writes:

Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the ordinary facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life. … [W]hen we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup.

Okakura also offers insight on the foibles of globalization (applicable, still, 100 years after he penned this tome):

Unfortunately the Western attitude is unfavorable to the understanding of the East. The Christian missionary goes to impart, but not to receive. Your information is based on the meagre translations of our immense literature, if not the unreliable anecdotes of passing travellers.

(And, an addendum in the form of a cool link: the National Institute of Health has an interesting collection of info on America’s tea craze, which blossomed right around the time Okakura’s book came out.)

“By the time I learned what I was really supposed to be afraid of in New York, I knew better—which isn’t to say that there was nothing to be afraid of, because, as all of us know, there are always dangers, everywhere.

But even now, at a much more wary and guarded age, what I feel when I am told that my neighborhood is dangerous is not fear but anger at the extent to which so many of us have agreed to live within a delusion—namely that we will be spared the dangers that others suffer only if we move within certain very restricted spheres, and that insularity is a fair price to pay for safety.

— Eula Biss, “No-Man’s-Land,” The Believer, Vol. 6, No. 2

This weekend, my mother brought up her discomfort with my plan to go to Guatemala alone for Easter. “Isn’t it dangerous there? And what are you going to do, anyway?”

I tried to placate her by talking about Antigua’s tourist police, and noted that I had hacked it alone in Delhi for quite some time — not to mention the fact that I’m navigating New York living with relative aplomb. But what I really wanted to do was launch into a tirade about American ideas of safety and danger, comfort and discomfort, abundance and want. Biss does so much more eloquently in this essay, which “expos[es] the delusions and hostility of the American fear of ‘bad’ neighborhoods, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Chicago’s North Side.”

Final photo posting from Florida; these are from Bradenton’s Red Barn flea market.

In addition to the crazy-awesome barnside mural, we saw huckster tactics aimed at those fearing a recession ….


(Sign reads “Depressed by the recession/Relax with a good book or C/D”)

… as well as inappropriate black-face magnets for the bargain price of $1 (I suppose that while we red-blooded Americans fear the fall of the almighty dollar, we’re always game for a bit of insensitive racial politicking).


Photo courtesy Flickr’s cheesebikini, licensed via Creative Commons

NYT offers a neat piece on the siphon bar, a glorified coffee-brewing machine from Japan that retails for $20,000.

I’m happy with my Aeropress (a bargain at $25.95!), but the artisanal brewing fad is intriguing. One question — just how much does a single cup cost?

It’s mere happenstance that on Martin Luther King Jr. Day I am reading Lawrence Hill’s Someone Knows My Name, the fictional narrative of a slave in the eighteenth century. But it’s no surprise that I’m captivated by the absorbing story of Aminata Diallo, which Hill chronicles with a deft sensitivity I didn’t entirely expect from a middle-aged man.

The Times’ glowing review focuses on the power of language to undermine great social ills. But rather than being overtly political, the text strikes me as a testament to the importance of independent voices echoing in the night:

If I live long enough to finish this story, it will outlive me. Long after I have returned to the spirits of my ancestors, perhaps it will wait in the London Library. Sometimes I imagine the first reader to come upon my story. Could it be a girl? Perhaps a woman. A man. An Englishman. An African. One of these people will find my story and pass it along. And then, I believe, I will have lived for a reason.

Much has been written on the place of witness and testimony in creating a case for change; what is so compelling about this book (and others like it) is that it asks for nothing directly, but rather allows the narrator’s voice to ring clear as a sounding bell, audible long after the the gong is initially struck.

A side note: Anyone have suggestions for similar narratives about non-African slaves? I’m particularly interested in reading something similar about the experience of indentured servants from India in the Caribbean. Looking into reading The Counting House (David Dabydeen), Maharani’s Misery (Verene A. Shepherd), The Last English Plantation (Jan Lo Shinebourne), or Bechu (Clem Seecharan). Tips or insight?

The Times has a brief today about a man in Queens who has been charged with a hate crime. I suppose the racists are never known for having a nuanced grasp of the world, but it’s always dimly amusing to see yet more evidence of their ignorance.

 David C. Wood was charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after he shouted “Arab, go back to your country!” at 63-year-old Chadha Bajeet, a Sikh, and punched him in the face. Bajeet, who presumably ties a turban (as many Sikhs do), suffered a broken nose and jaw.

Violence against Sikhs in the U.S. isn’t new; particularly after 9/11, the visual cue provided by the turban has made the religion’s predominantly Indian adherents a rather easy target. From Congressman John Cooksey’s reactionary comment urging racial profiling after the terror attacks (“If I see someone (who) comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over”) to the Sikh Coalition’s exhaustive listing of hate crimes and bias incidents against Sikhs since then, discrimination is blatant and well-documented. But I still find it confounding: Really? You’re so threatened by this Other that you have to break a 63-year-old’s jaw? What did he ever do to you?

The subject gets me all het up, I suppose, is that my husband is Sikh; even though he doesn’t tie a turban, he has long hair and a beard, which means we are inevitably pulled aside at the airport for grilling and patting down. The worst that’s happened is a TSA official asking the hubby why he looked so fidgety; hubz remained calm and explained, “It’s the first time I’ll be visiting my in-laws at their family home.” But when you hear about random attacks in a neighborhood less than five miles from your own humble apartment, it’s easy to get a little paranoid.

Today it was widely reported that mortgage lender IndyMac will cut its workforce by 24% — or about 2,400 employees; just another headline in a paper full of the depressing consequences of the housing-market shakeout from this summer, at first glance, but some reports chose to highlight a rather interesting factoid.

About 400 of the employees cut are based in India.

There’s such a to-do about people in India “taking our jobs” that (in an admittedly sickening way) it’s almost refreshing to hear that they’ll also be affected by the downturn. See, fellow Americans? It’s not as if people in the subcontinent are immune to shocks to the economic system. Certain people benefit, and certain people get screwed, and eventually we all either find a way to adjust, or we sell our Harley-Davidsons and move back in with our parents.

In this spirit, I recommend Steven Landsburg’s op-ed today in the Times, “What to Expect When You’re Free Trading.” We all want that damned Wal-Mart smiley-face to whistle down the aisles as prices fall, but you can’t have everything: higher wages and no job loss and prices dwindling ever lower. Something’s gotta give — which is not to say that we can’t endlessly debate the fairness or unfairness of whatever snaps at the stress — but something’s gotta give.

I’d prefer if the Western press featured better coverage of international stories, or if there were less anachronistic synopses of current events in India, and I just happen to be more fascinated by social phenomena than by economic shifts. But I’ll take this glimpse into the country — even if it’s only a passing glance as the door behind which millions of lives teem closes — as a start.

Gridskipper, the bastion of hip urban travel, has for some reasons decided to highlight the benefit of Christmassing in India…without actually saying anything. John Rambow notes:

Christmas in India! What could be wackier? It’s true that Christians make up only a sliver of India’s total population. But in some areas, such as parts of Kerala and Goa, on the southwest coast, their numbers may be as high as 20%. Additionally, cities that were once centers of power under the British Raj, including Kolkata (Calcutta), Bangalore, and Chennai, also have fair numbers of Jesus-loving types, and that means garlands, nativity scenes, and Christmas stars are easy to spot in December.

Yes, what COULD be wackier? Those heathens, always coopting our perfectly benign, semi-secular traditions; what will they do next — buy their sweethearts chocolates on Valentine’s Day? Insane-o!

What disturbs me most about this, though, is not that Rambow is so patronizingly astounded that people in another culture might be Christian and/or celebrate “Western” holidays, but that Gridskipper — which I find generally informative and helpful — moves so far away from its generally palatable tips about occasion- and location-specific to-dos. Why not stick with your formula and highlight the five best places for a Christmas brunch in Delhi or Mumbai, rather than mawkishly marveling about another symptom of globalization?

To fill their void, my picks for making merry in India’s capitol:

1) Wenger’s in CP

2) Pam’s Breakfast & Food Centre (for more egg-based propaganda than you can shake a stick at)

3) Chocolate Wheel in Jor Bagh

4) The German Christmas carnival in Chanakyapuri

5) INA Market, across from Dilli Haat, for any fresh fixing you need to create your own Christmas dinner (even the notoriously hard-to-find jellied cranberry sauce)

(Alternatively, some ideas from journalists at the Hindustan Times, Times of India, and The Indian Express.)