Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · An American in India
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An American in India

Adam Fivenson - October 13th, 2008
So there I was, taking a shortcut back home through an alleyway, drenched in sweat after another hour-long ride home from work in one of the sardine cans that passes for a New Delhi city bus, when bursting out of the evening shadows came a cow, apparently angered by my unintended trespassing on her turf and intent on putting her horns to use by bobbing for lungs in my chest if my next step wasn’t right back in the direction from which I’d come.
Had I found myself in the same situation months later, at a more advanced stage of my cultural assimilation, the only surprise might have been her aggressive demeanor (which I later understood to be in defense of her newborn calf), as street cows are generally about as active as your living room couch. But at this juncture, less than a month after my arrival in India, I had yet to grow accustomed to the company of the city’s thriving bovine population. How surprised was I? Well, if it’s any indication, I immediately imagined myself fumbling to re-pack various lobes of gray matter when my skull popped open in surprise.
Reasoning against spending the coming weeks learning to breathe through a tube, I bravely turned tail and fled, taking the long way home. It was somewhere between the neighborhood temple and the colony gate that I realized I wasn’t in Michigan anymore.

Back in early 2007, as it dawned on me that my imminent graduation did actually mean I’d have to leave university, and as my friends proudly jabbered on about the first of their offer letters from the big firms in Chicago, LA and New York, I pondered what to do with myself.
The few jobs I applied for hadn’t come through; responding with such a resounding chorus of refusals that I thought I might have accidentally emailed a letter soliciting their financial assistance in releasing millions of dollars stuck in a Nigerian bank account instead of my resume and cover letter. In truth, I was headed to New York City for journalism school, but not entirely sure if that was a direction I was ready to pursue.
It was under these circumstances that I came across a student organization whose mission is to connect students and recent graduates with internships abroad. Before long, I secured such a position of my own – a year-long posting at a company in New Delhi, a city that an estimated 17 million Indians call home and all 1.1 billion know as the seat of their national government.
On June 21, 2007, two months after graduation, I stepped off the plane not knowing quite what to expect, but with independent travel credentials on five continents bolstering a deep-seeded confidence that I’d adjust quickly. Little did I know how wrong I was.

Culture shock is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not a state of shock in the traditional sense. It’s not as if you stumble around, dazed and bewildered, eyes wide and oblivious to your surroundings, bumping into trees and elephants. No, it’s more of a reactionary attitude toward your environment that grows more and more staunch as unfamiliar sights and situations force you to question the basis of your experiential knowledge, both about other people and about the world.
In India, acrid statements like, “Haven’t they ever heard of hygiene?” or “Why is everyone always trying to rip me off?” or “There’s a monkey in the kitchen?” tend to be pretty good indicators that one is suffering from culture shock, and I found myself uttering them all (or some profanity-laced equivalent) during my early days in India.
Six weeks in, my state of shock, combined with the constant and inescapable exposure to poverty, scalding hot temperatures that dipped only slightly with the setting of the sun, a repaved intestinal tract now faster than the German Autobahn on account of the spicy food, a social life limited to awkward penetrating stares from strangers on the bus, and a dissatisfying internship that required riding those buses six days a week, had me questioning my dedication to the commitment I’d made put me in a contemplative funk.
Surely, I had come to explore a new culture. I had come with the expectation of confrontation with a world unlike anything I had experienced; a world that necessitated a new view of human agency and interaction, and one that challenged me to rear myself from the social level of ignorant neophyte to that of savvy adult – in short, to survive, assimilate, and eventually succeed in an utterly alien world. But up to that point, I found myself in the deep end and barely able to tread water, much less swim. Was my only salvation to hop the next plane home, figurative tail between my legs and with a plan to curl up in the comfort of my own bed to see how long I could hold the fetal position? For a while, I thought as much.

But, before I booked the ticket, I decided to give India one last shot. A pair of roommates were headed up to the low Himalayas, and kindly offered me an invitation to accompany them. I accepted, on the premise that it might be nice, before I shipped off, to see something other than New Delhi, whose omnipresent rotten stench I had found only slightly less enchanting than its inescapable contingent of scoundrels and swindlers.
It was in Haridwar, 130 miles to the north and one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities, where I was gifted with a new perspective.
Outwardly, the city is your typical cluttered Indian metropolis, replete with tangled streets, chattering car horns, animals on the loose and plenty of kind souls willing to separate tourists from the gobs of extra cash that burn deep holes in their pockets. It is also bisected by the sacred river Ganges, where thousands of Haridwar’s Hindu pious gather for the nightly Aarti ceremony.
As the sun retired from its daily duties high in the sky, my friends and I slogged our way through the muddied streets of the local market and down to the riverside mandir (temple or shrine) for the ritual, doing our best to melt into the crowd. No such luck was to be had, and within two minutes we were swarmed by local children, all demanding that we purchase their blanket-sized sheets of uncut snack wrappers for use as ground covers to sit upon instead of the stiff ground. We made it known that our interest was minimal, but that only served to incite them.
Wading our way through the crowd, excoriating the hawkers from our flanks and in search of a clear view of the opposing riverbank, where the poojah (prayer ceremony) would be centered, it was our luck to be spotted by an official of some sort who offered an invitation up to a cordoned-off set of stairs with a clear view. Graciously, we accepted, ridding ourselves of our unwelcome entourage.

So we waited on that staircase, an Austrian, a Dutch woman, and an American, eyes focused 20 yards across the river, wondering what spectacles might yet beset our eyes and ears that night.
As the last rays of sun slipped past nearby rooftops, dozens of bells began to chime and the crowd joined together in a low chant. The chant turned to song as prayer leaders lit pint-sized torches, while hundreds set prayers afloat in small leaf boats crewed by candles and loose orange, white, and pink flower petals–an armada of little green galleons sweeping down the river illuminated by the light of their own golden flames and those in the hands of the men on the riverbank.
Meanwhile, the collective verse swelled to a fervor and our thousand companions threw their hands up in one simultaneous motion, supplicating the blessing of some deity unknown to us. Making effort to draw some meaning from the proceedings, we focused on the prayer leaders, now waving frenzied bouquets of fire through the air. Mothers held their babies tight and swayed like tree branches in a light wind as sadhus (holy wanderers) bobbed their powdered foreheads, bodies draped in loose orange cloaks and feet bare as they undulated in time with the collective song.
I sat in awe, a state of total sensual immersion gripping my consciousness, and even if I couldn’t grasp the Aarti’s significance, I did understand one thing. For the first time, I was in India. Not the “India” in which I lived and worked every day – that India is a world of contradiction; a place wherein ultra-modern office buildings, ostensibly plucked from some futuristic post-apocalyptic gun-metal world (see: Blade Runner, The Matrix) lorded over shanty towns where corrugated tin-metal and blue plastic tarps are the crude building blocks of necessity. Where shopping malls filled with the hottest gadgets, designer clothes and all the trappings of self-indulgent “modern society” sit mashed right up against impoverished dust-streaked shack villages which coincidentally, house most of those who labor to build those towering modern monstrosities where ironically, they’ll never set foot. No longer was my view of the country constricted by the glaring inequality that so distracted me in the city.

As I rested beside the river that night in Haridwar, swaying with the music, watching the holy waters of the Ganges race past, mesmerized by the furtive flicker and dance of a thousand candles’ reflection in the river, it occurred to me that everything fit. This was the real India. It was spiritual, color-splashed, congested and all unabashedly so as it has been for thousands of years. That night down by the Ganges, the scene offered scant reminder that the Western world even existed; It was India in its purest form, and the pleasure of our introduction was all mine.
Of course I decided to stay, in the hope that my experience with the Aarti would not be a singular one. It wasn’t. The subsequent weeks and months brought extensive travel through jungles, deserts and mountains, a new job in sales at a multi-national real estate firm, new friends from every corner of the globe and a vastly deeper understanding of the culture and the people who comprise it. By the end of the year, I found myself bargaining and arguing in Hindi, navigating New Delhi’s labyrinthine expanse with verve, of iron stomach and no longer subject to the hygienic hijinks that plagued my first months, accustomed to the exotic odors and sights that once irked me to no end, and maybe most importantly, became friendly with the neighborhood cows.
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