Monday, February 28, 2005

And Don't Call Him Chuck

"At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms." (That's Shakespeare for all of you rubes out there, from As You Like It.)

After the sex reassignment surgery began to take a turn for the worse, we stopped it before it was too late, and so now I am proud to announce a fourth son to advance my dynastic ambitions! Charlton John (Charlie) was born Thursday morning at 8:47 am. It’s official – I am out of the foursome, unless I want to caddy for it. But at least I am still on the basketball team (jumping center I might add). Early skills test shows some promise for professional baseball or golf (does a small white kid have any shot in any other sport ?– remember, soccer doesn’t count), but he is a horrible swimmer. The first song he listened to out of the womb – Rocky’s Reward from the Rocky soundtrack, with his little ear up against the iPod earpiece.

Early political indoctrination is going well – whenever he has crapped his pants and is uncomfortable, or if he is hungry – we put a picture of Clinton in front of him (either one, never both – he’s only an infant, after all); when he suckles from his mother’s bosom, he stares up at a tattoo of Reagan when feeding on the right, and W when feeding on the left (although we’d prefer not to feed him on the left at all). Pretty sure that political preference is genetic, but you can never be too sure, so we’ll give the behaviorist theorists of personality development their due.

Sorry to leave you hanging last week, but family duties called. In any event, my apologies to Pbryon for not understanding his housewife comment, spurred by my calling Hillary a housewife in the entry. I had written that entry 5 years ago, and didn’t take a careful read of it. In any event, it occurs to me that some out there may have thought the Hatcher was being rather rude in using the title in an insulting fashion. Let me explain.

It’s kind of like when someone calls a gangsta rapper a “nigga” – if it is a white cracker like myself, I’ll get a “cap in my ass” as the kids say today, whereas if it is another gangsta rapper, it is the ultimate term of endearment. Same word, same person hearing the word, but two very different interpretations of meaning based upon who is saying it (and Vanilla Ice is no exception). Use of the word “housewife” is sort of the converse of the above – if I use it to describe an ambitious little ice-queen feminist politician, it is viewed as an insult by said person; if I use it to describe a woman whose obvious charm and dedication to family keeps her husband from looking up the skirts of his daughter’s friends, it’s a compliment. Same word, same person saying the word, but two very different interpretations of the word based upon who is hearing it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

More Observations on Art

Whew! Four comments on yesterday's post, ending a long comment drought of sorts. And those four didn't even include Professor Vic. To stoke the fires a little more, in this entry, I reveal personal details and incriminating pictures of those who challenged the Hatcher in their comments. I try not to make it a habit of responding to many comments, but it makes for an easy entry, and I have a feeling I'll be hospital bound for fatherdom once again later this evening. So here goes:

Let's start with Alessandra, a woman of obviously impeccable tastes, who posted the following:

excellent post! There was a similar post about another art funding irony at another blog, I've put a link to it here:

Lookee there, I actually have a reader outside of the involuntary subscribers who get my e-mail notifications (unless I've now scared her off). Hurray for me. It only took 9 months and at this rate, I'll have enough of a reader base to get a lucrative book contract by the year 15050. Check out the link, and add her to your favorites - I did. I'd link to her on the sight, but I still can't figure out how to do that.


From Incredible Dirigible, we have the following (without any commentary because this guy is clearly in the choir):

If homelessness, education, the environment, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, reparations for slavery, etc., are so badly in need of money, how come no Hollywood leftists suggests that arts funding be cut to subsidize these other crises?? >:-)


Now for those who need to be censored going forward. From Pat B., esteemed professor of Economics at Duke University, we have the following, with my comments inserted in italics:

Why shouldn’t art be allowed to offend the beliefs of the majority?

Art should be allowed to offend the beliefs of the majority - the issue is whether the majority should be compelled to pay for being offended. In addition, from a status-seeking perspective, those who target Christianity with their art think themselves these courageous free-thinkers, when in fact they are choosing a soft target, and more importantly the incentives created by the art world's celebration of such attacks are such that they are well rewarded for it. I'd think differently if such attacks came during the time of the Crusades, but where is the threat now? I'll tell you where - in the world of Islam - but you don't see any courageous artists crafting their "Piss Mohammed" exhibits.

Stirring the pot was the goal of many great artists and writers.

I think smoking the pot is a more worthwhile goal for an artist or a writer, and that oftentimes great artists had their careers go down hill when they turned from a goal of producing something beautiful and true to the more parochial goal of making a political statement. Granted, the statement is true in some cases, and perhaps it is a price that is paid for great art - but rarely is it paid by an unwilling public. Also, here, I think I am more focused upon the visual arts as opposed to fiction.

Museums generate positive spillovers to cities and there are reasonable economic arguments for subsidizing these institutions. Should these institutions then be subject to censorship as a condition of funding?

One person's censorship is another's stewardship. Once I am footing the bill for your speech, I have the option in a free society to ask you to say something different or, barring that, withhold my financial support. I am not censoring you. I'm just no longer advertising you.

I value living in a free society with free speech and am willing to put up with hearing opinions I don’t like from time to time. As someone with a bit of Libertarian bent, the less government has to do with the regulation of taste the better.

Isn't any subsidy of a museum, given the known preferences of the curator and staff of that museum, tantamount to regulating tastes?

Personally, I am annoyed at being surrounded by Baptists and fundamentalist Christians on a day to day basis. However, it is part of living in a free society that I must put up with occasionally being exposed to their opinions. I conjecture churches through tax breaks are subsidized at a much higher rate than the arts.

First, being tenured professor at Duke, why is your office located off-campus, or am I mistaken about the religious and political tendencies of the Duke faculty? Museums are tax exempt as well, so the comparative "tax" subsidization is only a matter of what the respective patrons of Churches and Museums are willing to donate; in theory if the private demand for both types of institutions were the same, we'd have equal implicit tax subsidies. When you then consider that Churches do not get any direct subsidies, museums receive a higher relative subsidy compared to the private demand. In addition, many churches are themselves architectural achievements. And now, for pictures from Pat's bachelor party ...

From PBryon, not a professor at Duke, but I am guessing the proud owner of one of those white suits with the hood that will protect him from all manner of biological warfare down the road:

"Imagine taxpayers having the gall to believe that they, rather than Bill and Hillary, should have a say as to how their money is spent."I love comments like this. Somehow, they only seem to work when its something you oppose. I'd love to see a popular vote on the prescription drug program at its now established cost levels, on presidential prayer breakfasts, travel back and forth to Crawford, or on any number of other issues.

Fair point, although Crawford is cheaper than Martha's Vineyard. On second thought, its not a fair point, because there is a big difference here. No one would suggest that you shouldn't vote for a candidate or support a policy that would take away the pork you think is unnecessary. But when it comes to art, all of a sudden the demand to do so is unfair censorship. Can we forever dispense with the asinine notion that pulling funding from a jack-ass is equivalent to censorship? Can we?

While I'm no big fan of all art, it is very subjective in what is good or isn't, and what is offensive or isn't. Just ask John Ashcroft and the big blue drapes behind him. I wonder if Alberto is going to lift the drapes or not.

You listen to too much liberal talk radio. The blue drapes over the nude statues at the Justice Department were not put up at the request of Ashcroft to hide the naughty bits of the statues; they were put up for the purposes of television - the all white backdrop was not conducive to good television during press conferences. That is a true story, but I am sure you have heard the recycled "isn't John Ashcroft a hopeless prude" meme (which may be true, but is not evidenced by the circumstances here). The poor television picture would otherwise distract people from listening to Ashcroft so that they could understand all of the civil liberties that he was taking away day by day. But he wanted you to hear them. During the Reno era, no one complained about the blurred picture.

And would you call Laura a housewife?

Not sure about the relevance here. But in any capacity, I'd prefer her to Hillary.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

How to Know Good Art

It seems my ability to keep up with the art world isn't all that great - I mention the hope that the Poker Playing Dogs might someday claim their rightful place as works of genius, and no less than 3 readers (one of them in the comments section of the last post, where a link is provided) point out that 2 of those paintings recently auctioned for $600K (together). Looks like a royal flush for the dog who painted them.

The sad reality, however, is that the Hatcher can't even afford works that were surely scoffed at by the art elite. And maybe they still are scoffing at such art, and we have the bad taste of the nouveau riche to blame for making such Objects de Art (as they say in Paris) wildly unaffordable. I suspect that is the case, because nothing qualifies as great art in the world of art that doesn't somehow manage to insult Christianity. Unless the dogs are playing cards that have nude shots of certain virgin mothers, I would hardly think they qualify. I'm still waiting for the daring artist to insult Islam - now that takes some real guts - ask Rushdie or the family of the Dutch film-maker Van Gough. But in the meantime, all we have is the usual. It put me in mind of one from the archives, regarding the controversy 5 or 6 years ago over at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, reproduced hear for your reading enjoyment (or not):

An exhibit entitled “Sensation” has created just that in the New York Senate race between Rudolph Guliani, the current mayor of New York, and Hillary Clinton, a housewife. The exhibit is scheduled to be shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York City, and includes a portrait of the Virgin Mary covered in actual elephant dung, as well as a picture of the Last Supper with Christ replaced by a topless woman. Because these pieces and others are considered offensive by a large number of New Yorkers, the Mayor has threatened to remove the city’s $8 million yearly subsidy of the museum, which covers a third of the museum’s budget.

Along comes candidate Hillary Clinton, who has gone out on a limb to take a stand. In response to the threat of removing the museum’s subsidy, Hillary says that it is wrong to “punish and penalize” the museum. But if she is out on a limb, she has not gone far from the tree - she went onto say that she can see how many New Yorkers would find it offensive, and that she would not attend the exhibit.

You have to love this logic. A museum that seeks to offend well over half of the constituents of the city that funds one-third of its yearly budget is being unfairly punished and penalized when the government representatives of that constituency rightly conclude that the city’s residents would rather not fund such trash.

But no one can fault Hillary for inconsistency – she knows that if government funding was removable from favored liberal causes simply because over half of the taxpayers would rather not pay for them, our government would be much smaller. Imagine taxpayers having the gall to believe that they, rather than Bill and Hillary, should have a say as to how their money is spent. To paraphrase what Bill said shortly after escaping conviction and removal from office: “We could give you your money back, but then you’d screw up and spend it foolishly.” I suppose not spending it to go see “Sensations” constitutes foolishness.

What makes the story even more absurd is that the Museum is taking legal action against the city for cutting their funds. The lawyers hired by the Museum are most likely being paid for partially with past subsidies from the city, and the city, of course, must mount a defense. So, in effect, the taxpayers are financing each side of a legal dispute over whether or not taxpayers, through their government representatives, are allowed to determine the uses of their money. My guess is that suing themselves would not rank high on their priority lists.

And it is only a matter of time before some idiot says the big “C” word – censorship. If every idiot who does something creative thereby creates an obligation from the public to fund further work by that same idiot, then sign me up for a big fat government grant to publish Ideas Hatched.

Imagine that the portrait of the Virgin Mary was reverent instead of intended to merely shock, and that the same was true for the Last Supper painting. It is easy to see that these would never make into a major museum exhibit for several reasons. First, if it fails to satisfy the only requirement for modern art: that if a piece deals with religion, it should do so irreverently to madden as many bourgeois religious believers as is necessary to generate publicity. Second, if one respectful painting were to slip into an exhibit in a Museum that receives any sort of subsidy from any level of government, the same cranks who will call Mayor Guliani’s current efforts censorship would be filing a suit against the subsidizer claiming that they have violated the separation of Church and State. You can insult religion with publicly subsidized art, but you cannot dare to advance religion in the same manner.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Eiffel Tower Posted by Hello

I'll Always Have Paris

I take a train right from DeGaulle airport to Notre Dame Cathedral, arriving at 8 in the morning. The city is still asleep, but I'm wide awake, having slept a good seven hours on the flight from Delhi to Paris. I stroll into the cathedral - it is a beautiful building, and I meander around checking out all of the interior sights. A morning mass is being said by a priest - and it strikes me that there is no accurate way to describe the priest to you other than to say he is colored. Saying African-American doesn't work, because he's not American; I'm not sure African-French is even a term, and if it is, for all I know it refers to Northern Africans - Algerians for example - and this priest is clearly not Algerian. I might say black priest - but wouldn't that refer to a priest steeped in the black magic of Satan - clearly such a priest would have no audience or sermon rights in one of the great cathedrals of Europe - but then again this is France. I pause to listen to his sermon, spoken in French, and understanding nothing that is being said, I move along. Outside I take more pictures that turn out like crap.

Next stop - the Louvre. It is an impossibly big museum - too daunting for the layover tourist with limited time on his hands. So I shoot for the big items - the really famous stuff - only problem is that not being an art connissour, I don't know what's famous. But luckily the map of the museum highlights some of the more famous works to make it easy to know where to go. I realize too late, after launching myself into one of the wings of the museum, that I've grabbed a map that is written in Chinese - after a couple minutes of deliberating over whether this will do, I head back for one written in English. The one clearly recognizable masterpiece is the Mona Lisa. I make a b-line for it, walking faster than your average museum gawker, but I pause whenever I see a name on a painting that I recognize. El Greco - big crucifixion painting - got it. Titian - can't remember the painting I saw - I was staring right at it but all I could think about was Dan Akroyd.

And then, en route to the Mona Lisa, I see paintings by Guiseppe Arcimboldo, a 15th century Milanese artist who had three or four paintings - all still lifes of various fruits and vegetables arranged to make pretty scary looking human faces. I take a picture of one that looks like Freddy Krueger with my cheap Indian disposable camera, but it doesn't turn out. The inclusion of such paintings in the Louvre, paintings which must have been laughably bourgoise in their day, makes me hopeful that the genius who painted the series of dogs playing poker will someday receive his due. It all gets me to thinking about the degree of subjectivity that governs what is considered great art. I come to the Mona Lisa - smaller than I expected - and the subjectivity riddle is not instantly solved. I am looking for an angle to take a picture, and then I think - why? I can download far better pictures from the internet, so it doesn't make any sense to waste a picture that won't turn out anyway on the most famous painting in the world.

My time at the Louvre is done, and I head back to the left bank of Paris, taking a slightly indirect route to the Eiffel Tower. From a pretty good distance, I can see the tower, but as I get closer, I can't see above the city buildings to the tower. I am making progress, expecting to see it at any moment, checking my map thinking I should be standing below it by now, walk another block, turn right at the corner and WHAM! - there it is. The picture above is my first up-close view of it. It was built for the last World's Fair of the 19th century, and if you've ever read The Devil and The White City, about the next World's Fair held in Chicago, the main challenge was for the Yanks to top the Eiffel Tower ... they responded with the world's first Ferris Wheel. I always thought that the Ferris wheel was so named because ferris is the latin route for iron, but in fact the engineer's name was Ferris. There is a metaphor here somewhere- France comes up with a lasting monument that cannot be duplicated, and America comes up with something that is duplicated the world over. Not sure what it means, but I'm sure it doesn't speak well of the French.

The city is still rather quiet - there is really no prolonged exposure to the people that allows me to confirm or deny the stereotypes I carry in my head. I duck into lunch at a bar in an ally off of the Champs El'Essye (sp?), and I am addressed in French. Hey, I thought they could tell an American from a mile away? I then realize that I've been in the same clothes for 36 hours, my hair is slightly greasy, I have some mild body odor, and a nascent beard - I look perfectly European.

There I sit eaves dropping on the sad sight of an American college kid trying to ingratiate himself to his new European friends by listening without protest to them spout absurdities about America . Only the lecture to this American kid is not being given by a Frenchie - it appears the guy is Scandinavian. So once again I can confirm my general anti-continental prejudices, but not my French-specific ones.

Reason alone to never send your kid to Europe when he is young and impressionable. Because the truth is that Americans are more open-minded than many Europeans are, and they'll politely listen to the absurd fairy tales told by ignorant Europeans who are sooo convinced that they have all of America figured out, and that each of us needs a stern talking to. The truth is that I'll take such behavior from the English, in the manner that a respectful son takes advice from a less talented but nonetheless respectable father, but other Europeans are like the drunk uncle trying to tell you what's what. Germany is what - two, maybe three generations removed from the Holocaust. France will lecture the US about capital punishment, while during the hot summer of 2003, over 15000 elderly Parisians died because Pierre couldn't be bothered to reduce his holiday from six weeks to five, drag his ass out of the cafe, and go buy grandma an air conditioner. Spare me the lecture.

(The sycophancy of some Americans vis-a-vis Europeans is frankly disgusting. Do you remember shortly after the election the many Kerry-voters who photographed themselves with a sign saying "Sorry" in an internet campaign to apologize to the rest of the world for the results of the election? There is now a book out with these photos. Absolutely disgusting, and there is nothing more than can be said about it. )

If I were a college president, I'd develop a curriculum that exposed all students proposing to study abroad to the most shameful portions of the history of the country they are going to. I'd drill them so hard that they could sing out a decent timeline of atrocities committed by their host's forebears in their sleep. It would be a mandatory course, and a component of it would expose them to what anti-American crap they can expect to hear while they are there, and how they might counter it. And now you see one of the (many) reasons why I will never be a college president.

I'm heading back to the train station on the left bank, hugging the path along the Sienne. Every ten yards or so there is something akin to a newsstand selling prints of Paris and other pieces of art. One has a picture of Lenin, with the Golden Arches of McDonalds behind him, and the word "McShit" beneath the arches. Get it - the Gulags never gave us cheap hamburgers - the superiority of Communism is clear. Other stands have pictures of everyone's favorite brutal Communist murderer - Che Guevera. We should always be proud to be hated by people within any country where such things claim some demand. Of course they claim a demand here, as well, but perhaps not as much.

In any event, there is hope that the French will eventually come around, as the picture below taken on the Champs L'Essye (sp?) indicates; they'll come around.

French Culture At Its Best Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Sandlot Cricket Posted by Hello

Random Observations

Nature versus Nurture

Pictured above, though barely visible, is a sandlot cricket game, the likes of which I dare say you will only find in India. Vijay had just taken me to see some new Hindu temples under construction, and the access road to the carved marble temple paralleled a shanty town. As we were leaving, I asked him to pull over so I could get a shot of the action. As we walked closer to get a shot, and were noticed by the players, they all quickly abandoned the game to crowd to the focal point of my aim with hands in the air. I took a picture and then asked them to assemble for an action shot, using my considerable abilities to mime a cricket player in action. This was not the only sandlot cricket game I witnessed, and indeed the prospects for a proper game of lawn cricket were dim, as most of Delhi is grass free.

Sport fans will of course try to attribute the superiority of the Indian cricket player to some genetic difference in Indians versus Anglos - an extra muscle in the leg, perhaps? But my eye-witness account of these young lads viewing a career as a professional cricket player as their only way out of the shanty suggests that their superiority stems from the cultural difference - the endless days of practice in the face of an otherwise too grim reality, with sport offering their one chance to dream beyond the sandlot. Maybe I should send this to Bob Costas and I can takeover Jimmy Roberts job for the 2008 Olympics telling scmaltzy stories that elevate sports to some grand spiritual quest, ignoring the steroid track marks on the arms of most of the athletes. Whaddya think?

Breaking Down the Caste System 1 Driver at a Time

What do you do when you have 8 hours between the end of your Friday meetings and the 1 am departure of your flight from Delhi to Paris? Why, you treat your driver to a meal the cost of which approximates his monthly salary, that's what. Vijay and I head for the Sola Toppe, a fancy restaraunt with an interior meant to mimic the colonial British life in India. The waitstaff in such places tends to be a tad more educated, fluent in English, and higher on the hierarchial ladder within the Indian caste system than your average driver. I gather this is the first time for Vijay dining in a restaraunt like this, which I am sure he deems a terrible waste of good rupees, especially given the inability to negotiate a better price. He comes across as being slightly uncomfortable with being waited upon, as if he doesn't feel he belongs here. But his feelings are irrelevant - the Hatcher is on a quest to break down the boundaries of a 5000 year old caste system before leaving town in a few hours, and frankly the feelings of those lowest in that caste system are the least relavent concern to my quest. If he was uncomfortable, it was due to the same false consciousness attributed by Marxists to the largely satisfied proletariat body in capitalist economies, who have to be convinced that revolution is more in their intrest than watching TV from their couch all day. It was up to the Hatcher to foment the liberalizing revolution in India. That's what we neo-conservatives are all about.

What is Howard Dean and the Staff of DNC Doing in India?

Imagine my surprise when I saw Howard Dean and his new DNC staff emerging from some of the government buildings in Delhi (see the picture below). I can only guess that they were here to see about outsourcing some of the lower level jobs of the party to some willing Indian firms to save on labor costs. Next election, expect that friendly call asking you to support the candidacy of HRC to come to you straight from New Delhi.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

DNC Posted by Hello

The Snake Charmer Posted by Hello

A Fool and His Money

This is business travel after all, so most of my time in India is spent wholed up in an interior conference room. I have three days of meetings, but Thursday is a day off due to elections in the state of Haryana, where the town of Gurgaon is located. Delhi is in a different state just north of Haryana. The bad news is that Haryana lies on the route between Delhi, where I am staying, and Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located. Due to the elections, the border to the state will be shut, and what would normally be a three hour drive would instead be a five hour drive. Even on the night prior to the election, when I go to dinner with Manish, we can't get served any alcohol. Indians suffer from the perception that sobriety makes for less corrupt elections, but I am of the opposite opinion - a man good and drunk isn't likely to be pulling any fast ones on the election process. I have a water instead of a Kingfisher Premium, and I'm fully sober enough to vote in every district in the city.

The World's Greatest Golfer is very bearish on the Taj Mahal, recommending instead that we go shopping and see some of the sights of Delhi. Who am I to argue - I'm lucky if I can break 100? As he drops me back at the hotel, we decide that he'll pick me up at 10 am. Instead of heading straight for the room, I take a detour into the lounge, where an Indian band is playing Bob Marley's Wait in Vane. Not bad, I must say, though despite myself I can't help thinking of the Mellencamp line about a "Cuban Band is crucifying John Lennon," even though it doesn't apply here. (And besides, unless you were a Baby Boomer stoned through the entire sixties and you therefore considered Lennon a combination poet/prophet, you'd find most of his lyrics can't help but be crucified; obviously Mellencamp was stoned through the Sixties.)

I then make the mistake of going to the second floor of the hotel, where there are several shops. Next thing I know a salesguy is attached to me, wanting to show me everything across several different stores, all of which are commonly owned. He offers me a Pepsi (much bigger than Coke in India), assuring me that there is no obligation to buy. I eventually beg off after saying that I'm not sure what my wife wants - jewelry or a shawl - and tell him I'll be back tomorrow. He wants to know what time. I lie and tell him I'll be working all day, and that I'll be in at around 8 pm. Before I depart, he warns me of the Government Shops, the first scheduled stop on my tour of Delhi in the morning, and tells me that my driver will get a commission for taking me there. But I know this is a lie because why would the money leader on the PGA tour be interested in some measly commission.

The hotel is the Intercontinental, a four star hotel. But you have to understand that in India the ranking system is based on 100 stars. When my colleague and I arrived Monday morning at 1 am, they didn't have any rooms ready for us, and asked us to wait for five minutes and they'd be ready. Apparently check-in times for Indian hotels are closer to 4 am than 4 pm. A half an hour later and after a few trips to the counter, the deskgirl offers one room for the two of us. Not acceptable. Finally, they relent and put us both up in separate suites, which were really nice rooms. But we were going to have to move the next day.

More shenanigans occur the next day in trying to recover our luggage to our new rooms from the front desk. After a second call to the concierge, who assured me the first time that my bags would be sent right up (the second person to assure me that), I am asked to come down to identify it. Apparently they just figured they'd wait it out and see if I noticed that no one had brought it up rather than tell me they couldn't find it. I go down, find it immediately, and a bell boy attaches himself to the bag, insists upon escorting me to the room, and stays there with a hang dog expression waiting for a tip. I give him 10 rupees, about $0.25 - big spender, I know, but that is standard in a hotel that ranks 4 out of 100 stars.

First stop on my tour of Delhi - the Government shops. I'm whisked to the handwoven silk rug section, where again I am offered a Pepsi. I decline, and the salesperson assures me that drinking a Pepsi will not obligate me to buy a $4 thousand dollar rug. I accept. See, it's different here - in the U.S. of course you are obligated to purchase thousands of dollars of goods when you accept a cup of coffee from a merchant - it's an implicit contract enforceable in the courts. But in India, they are only offering you the Pepsi out of courtesy.

The salesguy gives me a demonstration of how the rugs are made, bringing out a loom and the various tools; there is a piece of paper with some sort of shorthand scribbled across it which tells the weaver the pattern. It is a remarkably simple sheet of instructions given the detail and intricacy of the rugs. I pick the smallest size rug they have, and talk the guy down from $1200 to $800. Sold!, and Vijay smiles, the little commission loving bastage! In retrospect I realize that over the course of the day, Vijay will negotiate everything for me, expect for the things I buy in the Government Shops. But I like him, so what do I care if he earns a few bucks off of the deal.

Thinking I have now filled my end of the Pepsi bargain, I am ready to hit the road, but no, there is yet another room downstairs where I should buy something for my wife. So there I go, handed off to another salesguy, with the rug guy no doubt giving some sort of signal that I am a very live fish - just offer me a Pepsi. The new salesguy offers me a Pepsi - not so fast, guy, I fell for that one upstairs and now I'm $800 lighter. I tell him I'm interested in a Pasmina shawl for my wife. Pasmina is a wool made from the chin of the mountain goat, the finest wool in all the world. In the hotel shops, a shawl that was 80 percent pasmina and 20 percent rayon sold for about $60. But 100 percent pasmina goes for a lot more, and he starts right in trying to sell me one. (Not that it was as expensive as the rug, it just seemed really expensive for what it was). I'm thinking this sale will take at least two cold Pepsis.

But then he does the presentation, where he passes the entire shawl through my wedding ring. As a demonstration I am not sure what this proves, but I'm pretty shore it proves something, and now he has me on the hook. I go right down to 67 percent of the asking price, the endpoint of my rug bargain. He can only do 10 percent off. I tell him that the rug guy came down that far, so what is the issue? He gives me some plausible reason. I tell him I can't go any higher. He then proceeds to tell me that in other markets, they will say 5 percent off, and will go down to 50 percent off, but that he has offered me the best deal he can give me right off the bat - 10 percent off is as low as he can go, and he wants to treat me fairly. But then he says he'll go talk to the manager to see what he can do. Apparently I am not supposed to notice that if his manager goes beneath 10 percent everything he has just told me is a lie. I end up getting 25 percent off.

My only comfort is that I see a rich Indian family shopping there as I leave, making me think that this store is not just for stupid Americans and Europeans. But then again the Indians probably get the same treatment Eddie Murphy got in the SNL skit where he disguised himself as a white guy.

Throughout the rest of the day Vijay saves me at least $0.25 on everything else I buy. Savings on all manner of cheap trinkets - little plastic helicopters that you shoot in the air with a rubber band sling shot - 20 rupees - you have to be kidding me? Vijay walks away angry, insulted, looking like he wouldn't even let me take the toys for free from this vendor, takes a few steps in a perfectly scripted scene, the guy has barely opened his mouth to lower the price to 10 rupees, and Vijay turns on a dime, takes 30 rupees from my roll, and now I've got three cheap helicopter thingies for my kids. Total savings - about $0.75.

I take the picture above close to where we park to see India Gate, a momument to those who fought and died for the British cause in WWII, and the snake charmer is running after me for compensation. Again, Vijay intervenes - 50 rupees for a picture of a snake charmer and a dancing monkey - do you think we were born yesterday? - you'll get 10 rupees and like it! You want 500 rupees for a cheap knock-off disposable camera that will ruin every picture you take with it - preposterous - 350 rupees is our final offer!

Thanks, Vijay, where were you when I needed ya?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Being Driven In Delhi

My driver for the week is Vijay, aka the World's Greatest Golfer. Vijay is a 26 year old Hindu, and his driving skills are unparalleled with the exception of the other million Indians traversing the roads of New Delhi. The horn is the quintessential feature of any car, and Vijay, like everyone else, uses it constantly so as to keep the buses, cycles, mopeds, cars, bikes, and oxen merging seemlessly without braking (or pulling the reins on the oxen, whatever the case may be). In America, the horn is fightin words (with the notable exception of NYC) - a challenge - a general statement about comparative levels of testosterone, but in India, the horn is no such thing. Buses and commercial trucks (which were forbidden from travel during daylight hours) have "Horn Please" painted on their bumpers, practically begging other Indians to insult them with their honking.

Lane lines on the multilane highways of Delhi and the suburb of Gurgaon are for aesthetic purposes only, whereas the shoulders of such roads, where they exist, exist solely for the inscrutable purpose of forming 3 foot high conical piles of dirt, bricks, or rocks spaced every ten feet. There is clearly a thriving excavation industry in India, clearing new roads and property for the construction of shiney new office buildings donning the shingles of big American companies. But the removal industry lags behind, as excavated dirt just sits in a pile that parallels the road from Delhi to Gurgaon. Everyone is going somewhere, but no one seems to need to get anywhere, which gives rise the curious calm of drivers in conditions that would easily lead to rampant road rage in any part of the U.S.

My one other third world experience was in Jamaica, and it couldn't have been more different. In Jamaica, people just sat around and watched the gangi grow; in India, anyone sitting still is doing so behind a counter surrounded with various items for sale. 7-11s are unnecessary (again with the notable exception of the dirge of slurpees) because Delhi is like one big connected convenience store. If gangi is the native drug of the Carribean, then there is some form of speed in the water of India, not that I would ever drink it. (Incidentally, my trip to Jamaica was to a Sandals resort for my honeymoon; while sitting with 2 other couples for about 30 minutes while getting checked in, both of the other guys on the way to the can were offered marijuana, not more than an hour after landing in Jamaica. The Hatcher got to at least day five before some native finally was desparate enough to offer me some - apparently the Richie Cunningham looks make you an unlikely sale. Of course they were right, but they're discrimination based on hair color is still offensive. Didn't Danny Bonaducci have a drug problem?)

We pass on the way to the office a non-stop stream of Indian men on bicycles, riding double and sometimes even triple on bikes that look like 20 year old scrap metal; all the bikes are identical in appearance - fixed gear cruisers you'd only see on U.S. streets in black and white photos of the days of yore. (A bat bike reggata held in Delhi, for those from my lifeguard days, would provide more than an ample supply of bat bikes to steal for drunken revelry). One step up the commuter ladder are the mopeds and motorcycles, dodging and weaving from lane to lane or in between. Cars pass each other within inches, constantly cut each other off, form three lanes where two are intended, and follow the rule that for every ten miles per hour of speed, it is best to leave a microsecond gap between you and the car you follow.

I believe it was Miss Collins, in Junior year driver's ed class, who emphasized the fiction that all drivers are like members of a team with the common goal to arrive safely at their respective destinations. And this is the miracle of Delhi traffic - it is lawless anarchy - but it is largely accident free, and it moves steadily in conditions that would make U.S. drivers just stop dead, turn off the car, and walk away. If I were an anarchist, I'd point to the lawless nature of Delhi traffic as the utopia that awaits us all.

On Wednesday morning I read an interview in the Hindustan Times with India's first and only formula 1 race car driver, and the fact that there is only one stuns me, because they are all qualified. On my last night, prior to heading to the airport, I take the World's Greatest Golfer out to dinner, when he tells me in broken English that he doesn't drink on the job. I didn't want to ask, but part of me pondered whether a little alcohol was the necessary lubricant that kept the gears of Delhi traffic moving, or if extreme sobriety accounts for it. I would have bet on the slight and steady buzz, and despite Vijay's chosen strategy, I suspect the game of Delhi traffic admits both extreme sobriety and a little of the hair of the dog as equilibrium strategies. For any American who braves the traffic there without hiring the services of the World's Greatest Golfer or other suitable substitutes, and instead chooses to rent a car, bring a flask - because even if you decide to try it the sober route, getting into a horrific accident within a mile of the airport will leave you wanting to take the edge off.

Vijay and I Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hatcher Achieves A Higher Consciousness

I know, I know, I know, I promised to come back from my world travels as small minded as I was when I left, but I must confess that I lied at the time. The truth is, in the words of the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, that “the mind, stretched by an idea, never returns to its original dimensions,” and so it is with the Hatcher. Something very similar was once said by Swarimuran Karishnamarti long ago, but I wouldn’t expect you to know that, because you, unlike me, have never been to INDIA. And so now the plain facts are these – from this point forward we still share certain things in common, but now I stand out clearly from the bulk of you because I’ve been to INDIA, and there are certain pieces of local knowledge that provide one a sense of the deep mysteries of that civilization, which cannot be internalized except through direct experience. Telling you about them would be like trying to share an inside joke, but I’ll try anyway.

Maybe a few of you have been there, and together we can share that unspoken bond that allows us to express our social superiority over those who haven’t by treating them as the benighted small-minded vermin that they are; or, short of showing utter contempt for them, we can at least forthrightly wear are boredom with the normal platitudinous conversational fare of our xenophobic American counterparts (I can no longer call them brothers). It may take awhile for me to get to either of these points, as I have always looked forward to playing the ignorant blowhard, constantly trying to put my experiences on display for others to marvel over, but I will do so with the ultimate aspiration of complete boredom and borderline contempt. So I have that to look forward to, anyway, which is nice.

Yes, I’ll play the blowhard well whenever there is the smallest inkling of a potential conversational segue to any and all topics Indian. As an example, I’ll say things like “Sure, in America, Kingfisher Premium tastes good, But in India …” and I’ll go on to explain how the brewing process is different and far superior. I’ll laugh uproariously, overly pleased with myself, when the subject of football comes up, and I'll explain that in India, ha ha ha, when they say football, ha ha ha, they are actually talking about soccer.

I’ll grab such opportunities as fast as a homeless Indian child grabs a dropped rupi. And I’ll hang onto that opportunity with the dedication of family from Kashmir weaving a silk rug by hand, one strand at a time, for years on end. But then again, these analogies are lost on you, are they not? I might as well be explaining a Hindu prayer to a Sikh. Oh, there I go again – you see what I mean, the Hatcher and his involuntary subscribers are no longer on the same cosmic plane.

Of course the drawback for you is that my new worldly status prevents me from making certain off-color observations about India (of which I have three) – the new Hatcher is filled with a new sensitivity, a strong feeling of the underlying oneness of humanity, a warm glow that comes from a common understanding shared between men of goodwill across all the far flung races and religions of the world. I can no longer make boorish jokes. Sure, the old Hatcher might have shared with you some surprising facts, such as that there are no (zero, zip, nada, nunca) 7-11s in all of New Delhi – a sweltering hot city of 13 million people, each deprived of the joys of a Coca-Cola slurpee. Third World indeed! Makes you wonder why their ex-pat brethren haven’t exposed them to the bliss of a cool slurpee on a hot day, not to mention 99 cent footlong hot dogs.

The old Hatcher would also have delighted in sharing the even more surprising observation that there were no Hare Krishnas in the Delhi airport. Of course an equally plausible hypothesis is that everyone in the airport was a Hare Krishna, and that Krishnas as a people only chant and sing when they are cornered and outnumbered in California airports. Finally, the old Hatcher would have surely made up some story of a one night bender that ends with me waking up 100 rupees lighter with a dot tattooed in the center of my forehead. But that was the old Hatcher.

The new Hatcher instead feels an obligation to make you “alive” to certain facts regarding India, as my colleague Dinesh would curiously phrase it; so far as I could tell the “alive to” colloquium was unique to Dinesh within India, as others I spoke to were content to leave me dead to certain facts. But in India, there are in excess of 30 languages other than Hindi (the national language) and English, so the alive to expression may be a carryover from a particular dialect. Over the course of the next several blogs, I’ll enlighten you on Delhi traffic, the Hatcher’s one man attempt to dismantle a 5000 year old caste system (one taxi driver at a time), the most effective ways to negotiate and save 10 more rupees (about $0.25) when buying cheap crap, and my take on the age old debate of whether it is nature or nurture that makes Indians superior cricket players. I’ll also be sharing some photos with you, the quality of which should convey to you a key commercial lesson: never buy a disposable camera from a street vendor outside the Moslem ruins of New Delhi.

A Crowded Indian Market Posted by Hello

Pollution, like Greed, is Good!

Global warming! Global Warming! Global Warming! Three cheers for global warming. Turns out that in the absence of human activity, we'd be in the midst of a catastrophic ice age. I think special thanks are particularly due to multinational companies, especially the oil-related ones, who have done their best to draw every bit of fossil fuel from the deep recesses of what would otherwise be the frozen tundra of the Middle East and other areas so that we could burn, burn, burn. And let's not forget those companies in the business of making it easier for them- you know who you are Halliburton - thanks for keeping us warm! A couple of no-bid government contracts for you guys is the least we could do. I feel comparatively ashamed given my paltry contribution, but I recently upgraded to a new Chevy Suburban to right my past of pitifully low pollution-creating activity. What are you doing to keep us from living in igloos? Have you left the lights running when you left the home today? Did you take the long way to work? Do you commute great distances alone in a SUV? We all have to do our part, and every little bit counts.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

How to Ace the New SATs

The SATs have added an essay question and there is a story on it in the Washington Post. Here is a paragraph concerning the grading criterion for a question where the student was asked to either defend or argue against the value of secrecy:

"An essay that does little more than restate the question gets a 1. An essay that compares humans to squirrels -- if a squirrel told other squirrels about its food store, it would die, therefore secrecy is necessary for survival -- merits a 5 [a good score]. Brian A. Bremen, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, notes that the writer provides only one real example. Nevertheless, he says, the writer displays "a clear chain of thought" and should be rewarded, "despite his Republican tendencies."

How absolutely beneficent of the good professor to reward the student "despite his Republican tendencies." But somehow I doubt that will hold up over time. If I were a student taking the SATs, in answering any essay question I got, I'd find a way, no matter what the topic, to insert something about being a cross-dressing multi-racial bisexual who eschews organized religion (but nevertheless consider myself to be very spiritual) - 1600 and Harvard here I come.

I remember taking the Achievement Tests, some offshoot of the SAT, which required me to write an essay considering the following quote: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Here is how I should have responded:

"Despite all of the so-called progress with respect to tolerance in Amerika, I can tell you first hand that it is no picnic being a cross-dressing multi-racial bisexual in suburbia. When I came out of the closet in my high school, dressed from head to toe in a beautiful black Versace gown and Dolce Gabbana shoes, I can tell you right away that the Student Christian Group jeered uncontrollably; I was so upset that I had to skip my yoga meditation class after school. Sometimes I wish I lived in France, where my unshaved armpits would not look out of place in a good sleeveless dress. Despite all of the progress that was made by brave youths in the sixties, Amerika is still a fascist intolerant nation - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sometimes I wonder what in the hell my parents were thinking when they left Cuba. P.S. I have a poster of Che Guevera in my room - he is my hero."

Monday, February 07, 2005

Misery Loves Company

Ughhhh! At least two things can be said about the Super Bowl for us Eagles fans: 1) our celebrity introducer, the Fresh Prince of BelAir, vs. theirs, the freiking Commish, was a no brainer win for Philly - we should have quit while we were ahead; and 2) at these moments, it is instructive to remember that Rocky, the fictional Philly underdog, lost his first title bout; sure he won the rematch, later avenged a loss to Clubber Lang (thus avenging the death of Mickey), and then avenged the brutal beating of Apollo Creed and ended the Cold War by beating the snot out of Ivan Drago, but this was just Stalone cashing in on the franchise (we won't mention the whole Tommy Morrison thing). It is our lot in life, as Philly fans, to suffer.

And suffer I did - in the end I decided not to bet the Pats for the emotional hedge - I needed to feel the unmitigated misery of the true fan. They played well - really there was only one unforgivable mistake - throwing 2 straight interceptions in the red zone on their first promising drive (the first was called back on a penalty). Was it obvious only to me that they should have kicked the field goal on first down?

Did anyone catch Michael Douglass in the pre-game, making the gaffe of saying that our troops in Afganistan and Iraq were actually defending our country? I'd hate to be him at the next meeting of the Actor's Guild - didn't he get the memo that the war was about providing profitable contracts to Halliburton?

The twins were pulling hard for the Eagles, and Jake, as the iconoclast of the group, initially pulled for the Pats. After that first big pass play to TO, me and the twins were hoppin around, and three-year old Jake pulls the fastest (and in retrospect a too hasty) hop on the bandwagon, saying "OK, I am rooting for the Eagles." And just like that he committed himself to a lifetime of disappointment. It could be worse - he could be a Lions fan, like Vegas Heavy-T.

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