Archive for August, 2009

The Thinker

The end of Camelot also means the death of bipartisanship

I was born into the Camelot era. Yesterday, with the burial of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, I saw its end.

For those of you who happen to be much younger than I am, “Camelot” refers to the mystique and perceived larger than life aspects of the extended Kennedy family. Back in the 1950s, particularly with the ascendancy of John, the extended and privileged Kennedy family became sort of like national rock stars, all larger than life. The Kennedys were a whole family of Barack Obamas, personable, stylish, accessible, passionate, outspoken, political by nature, but unlike Obama, rich. Yet, perhaps because of their Catholicism, they were sincerely interested in rectifying the inequities between the rich and the poor. When President John F. Kennedy asked us to give back to our country instead of take from it, we of the Camelot generation felt energized. Nationally we also embraced his ideas of American greatness by succeeding in quixotic national quests like putting a man on the moon by 1970. Moreover, we believed that through applied intelligence that were going to lead the world into a new, peaceful and utopian age.

The current sad and nasty debate over health insurance reform, the cause of Edward Kennedy’s life, shows how far we have come from the days of Camelot. For those of us still captivated by the Kennedy aura, there is nothing more natural or patriotic than to ensure social justice for all Americans. We believe this because only a few can meet their potential if they go through life economically and socially handicapped. No senator ever did more (or is likely to do more) to advance social justice than Edward M. Kennedy. Judging by Republicans in particular, the only socially acceptable way to “ask what you can do for your country” is to serve in the military. Otherwise, it is every man for himself, brother. The sanctioned game is no longer national unity or promoting the common welfare, but to see who can accumulate the most stuff and lord it over their less fortunate neighbors. To Republicans, government should not be redistributing wealth at all, except, of course, to farmers, small businessmen and very large corporations. To them, an important role for government is to make the rich richer at the expense of everyone else. Charity is okay only to the extent it is done by churches and non-profit organizations, even though such endeavors do not come close to meeting the need for services.

Bipartisanship, which was on critical support, also died with Senator Edward Kennedy. Kennedy was a consummate cross-the-aisle type of politician. He made friends with staunch conservatives like Senator Orrin Hatch and the late Senator Jesse Helms. The right is giving Orrin Hatch all sorts of grief for his having the audacity of even being a friend of Edward Kennedy, a liberal. How could he do this? How could he associate with one of them? How can anyone call someone a friend when they do not share the same political ideology? The mere idea!

Modern American politics is sadly resembling some lyrics from the musical Chess:

But we’re gonna smash their bastard
Make him wanna change his name
Take him to the cleaners and devastate him
Wipe him out, humiliate him
We don’t want the whole world saying
They can’t even win a game
We have never reckoned
On coming second
There’s no use in losing

Senator Kennedy, partisan though he was, was not vindictive. In short, he was civilized. With his passing, it appears that political discourse must henceforth be all coarse, all the time. Any compromise is now perceived to be a sign of weakness and a reason to be cast from your ideological tribe. Anything to give you the upper hand is okay, even if it is spewing nonsense like the government is out to kill grandma.

President Obama, usually a very perceptive guy, seems to think that bipartisanship is still possible. He assumes that at some fundamental level politicians can be reasonable people. Unfortunately, our politicians mirror the nation at large, which is full of dogmatic, uncompromising, my way or the highway, plain unreasonable people. As in the book 1984, today we perceive ignorance to be strength. In doing so we merely hasten the time when our country moves from a first-class country to a second-class country.

We are rapidly devolving into the Divided States of America. More agile countries, like Canada, address societal issues like national health care with pragmatism and evidence-based approaches. We try to solve problems through turning our ideology into law.

It is unclear to me if this can be changed. I do know that with Kennedy’s passing I am very worried about our country. If we cannot inculcate and foster an evidenced-based society, our nation is doomed. If extreme partisanship is more important than using our common sense to step forward and solve problems on behalf of all the people, rather than just our own ideological tribe, our nation is also doomed. We need politicians like Edward Kennedy brave enough to cross the aisle, listen and engage in give and take, and know the other side as people. Right now, the divides in our Congress seem more intractable than those between Israelis and Palestinians.

Perhaps education will eventually turn the tide. This is essentially what I told my students yesterday. I teach part time in a community college where the percentage of students who attain their associate’s degree is only about forty percent. This is not at all unusual for a community college, which welcomes all including lots of students who lose nerve on their path toward a degree.

The country does not need a nation of relatively unproductive citizens in low skill, low paying jobs for the rest of their lives. To retain our greatness, increase the common wealth and successfully complete in the 21st century, my students need to hang in there and complete their degrees. In addition to learning advanced skills in college, they also need broad liberal arts courses so they have a better appreciation for how the world actually works. Knowing why things are the way they are will help them as our future leaders pragmatically address the problems of the day.

Perhaps as part of acquiring their degree, they should also pass classes in negotiating and listening. Ideological wars solve nothing. All wars, whether real or ideological, are karmic in character; all are zero sum gains and merely sow the seeds for the next conflict. Bipartisanship is hard but it is a worthy goal, but it is impossible if neither side will negotiate honestly and in good faith. Both sides must be willing to compromise.

If peace can come to Northern Ireland, perhaps we can find political leaders brave enough to stand up to the flack within their own party and cross the aisle. With the end of Camelot, that day seems very far off. While it continues, I worry that our great nation is moving down a slippery slope toward national dysfunction.

 
The Thinker

Are 1000 posts enough?

Back on March 31, 2006, some three years after I started my blog, I posted my 500th post. Today, August 28, 2009 I have reached another major milestone: my 1000th post. That’s a lot of posts! Moreover, each post was edited four times prior to publication. The average length of each post is currently 1,114 words. In short, this blog has been an endeavor requiring a huge amount of my time and talent. Overall, it has been fun to blog these many years, and gratifying to know based on comments received (often years after the post) that at least some of my posts have provided insight, discussion and amusement.

In March 2004, I started metering the blog with SiteMeter. Since then, SiteMeter has recorded over 250,000 visits and over 343,000 page views. Yet, it is clear that the majority of my visitors do not stick around. They are brought here by a search engine and typically leave soon afterwards. However, a few do stick around, but exactly who they are is mysterious since unlike many blogs, I receive relatively few comments (636 to date).

By some measures, I have more regular readers than ever. Feedreader says I have 42 readers, and I am sure I have others who are subscribing via email. I also have 15 people following me on Twitter. Yet overall, browser based traffic around here has dropped. Whereas I used to average 200 to 300 page views a day, now it is closer to 150.

Some of this may because content is moving away from browser-based HTML into newer forms of syndication like RSS. Part of this is also likely due to it being summer, when traffic typically dips. Some of it is also likely me. Inspiration comes less often now. Most of my best posts are five or more years in the past. The result is while I am still pleased with the quality of my writing, the content tends to not be as fresh or as interesting as I would like it to be.

So there are times when I feel throwing in the towel. Perhaps I have said nearly everything worth saying in 1000 posts. For now I will keep plodding away, adding to the some 1,113,000 words I have posted since December 13, 2002.

However, I could use some inspiration. If you appreciate the blog, or read the blog regularly, this would be a good time to leave a comment reassuring me that my words are still worth reading. I would hate to shut down this long-standing blog, but its time may be nearing an end. Whether it ends, dear reader, may depend on your feedback.

In any event, thank you very much for reading!

 
The Thinker

Mission Accomplished in Afghanistan

Tuesday in the Afghani city of Kandahar, five cars rigged with explosives detonated simultaneously, killing at least forty-one people and wounding at least 66. This is just one of the most recent and egregious incidents of terrorism in Afghanistan, which has recently seen a significant upturn in violence. In July, American casualties in Afghanistan reached forty-five, their highest monthly level ever. Great Britain also recently marked a sad milestone, suffering its 200th casualty in the Afghani Theater. The higher casualty rates recently is likely due to the presence of an additional 21,000 American troops in Afghanistan since President Obama took office, as well as a change of military strategy to root out the Taliban by moving our forces into areas they control.

If this strategy feels foreboding, it is because it eerily similar to what we did in Iraq, both years ago as well as very recently. At least in Iraq our troops are now largely out of harm’s way. The Iraqi government has had us move our soldiers out of their major cities. Our troop transports now move largely only at night. Coincidentally, American troop deaths in Iraq have plunged. Unfortunately, as much as the people of Iraq might wish it, their sectarian conflicts have not gone away. Recently, there have been renewed car bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, the same ethnic tensions that existed while Saddam Hussein ran the country remain and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

From my perspective, we are repeating the same flawed strategy in Afghanistan that we used in Iraq. We are not learning from our mistakes. Granted when he assumed office President Obama was very careful qualifying what constituted success in Afghanistan. Nation building and instilling democracy are lofty goals, but are expendable if need be. Our new general in the Afghan theater Stanley McChrystal seems intent on winning through intense nation building facilitated by having American troops control Taliban occupied areas of the country. In addition to the 21,000 new American troops now in the theater, it appears McChrystal will soon be appealing for additional troops.

It seems reasonable to predict our future “success” in Afghanistan based on our “success” in Iraq using this strategy. Why do we need so many troops in Afghanistan? What is it that we are really trying to accomplish? In 2001, we went into Afghanistan because the Taliban were shielding Osama bin Laden and the core elements of al Qaeda. Our strategy then was quite effective. Al Qaeda did a quick tally ho across the border into Pakistan, where they did not have to deal with the hassle of our troops and exploding bunker bombs. According to experts, al Qaeda no longer exists in Afghanistan. What remains of the top al Qaeda leadership (and it is likely that it is a shell of its former self) now exists in tribal northwest Pakistan. In short, we succeeded in our stated mission in Afghanistan: al Qaeda can no longer use the country as a place of organization, training and refuge for attacks against the United States.

We have also tried to foster democracy in Afghanistan. New national elections for Afghan president are being tallied this week. As in neighboring Iran, the eventual results look like they might reflect substantial ballot box stuffing. Our initial presence did drive the Taliban, an admittedly thoroughly loathsome regime from power. Inattention has allowed the Taliban to regroup. Our presence in Afghanistan has brought many good but likely temporal things, including some semblance of national government, economic growth, some restoration of women’s rights and more education to the populace. What our presence did not do, and really can never do, is allow complete control over the country. Afghanistan is far too large to be controlled by any occupying army. Even if it could be, occupying it will prove financially ruinous, as it has in Iraq.

Our expanded mission seems to be ensuring that the Taliban do not return to power.  Should the Taliban return to power, it is certainly possible that they will provide safe harbor to al Qaeda again. Most experts though do not believe the Taliban would be stupid enough to do this again. Al Qaeda’s goals have always been international. The Taliban has no such interests. It is a nationalist movement. It is interested in instituting a strict form of Muslim fundamentalism across all of Afghanistan.

Just as in Iraq, there has been a bad case of mission creep in Afghanistan. In this case, the American people seem to be saying that having been burned once in Iraq, we should not get burned again. A majority of Americans believe, as I do, that this war is not worth fighting. To the extent that we should have a role in the country, it should be to train Afghani troops, police and bureaucrats to secure, police and govern themselves, as we did with some success in Iraq. Regardless of whether democracy flourishes in Afghanistan in the future or not, Afghanistan is extremely unlikely to be part of a war aimed at the United States again.

Back in 2003, President Bush foolishly proclaimed Mission Accomplished on the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. The irony in Afghanistan is that President Obama could pull the same stunt and plausibly get away with it. We really have accomplished our mission in Afghanistan, at least as it was originally defined. Al Qaeda is gone and is unlikely to return. Even if they try to return, the Taliban are likely to throw them out, knowing they lost power by letting them in. In fact, our original mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished for several years now. We won this battle.

Granted, it might not make a great photo op proclaiming Mission Accomplished when Afghanistan seems to be teetering back toward anarchy. Violence today in Afghanistan may be as bad as it has ever been since we engaged our military there. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that most of this violence is a direct result of our troops being in the theater. It is evidenced, not just by these car bombings but also by the many roadside bombings that are killing our soldiers, just as they did in Iraq. In short, many Afghanis, many of whom are also friendly to the Taliban but certainly not all, simply do not like having their country occupied. They are doing what most nationalists do in such circumstances: resisting through force of arms.

Thinking we can succeed in nation building through force of arms in Afghanistan of all places is foolish. To the extent we succeed in this expanded mission, it will not be because of military action, but because we helped create and provided effective aid and advice to the shaky Afghani government. Afghanistan has a long history of attempts at foreign occupation and none succeeded in the end. The USSR was the most recent country to fail spectacularly in Afghanistan. So will we, if we think we can build a new nation though our occupation, however benign and temporal our stated intentions.

It is up to Afghanis to chart their own way forward. Fortunately, despotic regimes like The Taliban rarely stay in power long. Any government that oppresses for too long meets resistance. In time, balance will be restored to something that approximates natural governance in Afghanistan. In the end, it is unlikely to look like a western democracy.

The only question for the United States is how many more lives we want to waste on a flawed military strategy after we accomplished our original goals. If we had the right general in the theater, which apparently we do not, he would be advising that this war cannot be won militarily, so we should no longer try. Instead, we should provide money and advice only and use our military inside the country only when we know al Qaeda has returned.

 
The Thinker

Playing health care roulette

My two weeks out west on vacation were great. While I love the extra oxygen we have here in the lower altitudes on the East Coast, I do not particularly welcome the return of hazy, hot and humid, which passes for normal summer weather around here.

Nor did I particularly welcome the stack of unpaid bills, many of them large co-pays from various specialists for various procedures for my wife and I. My co-pay to have a varicose vein cauterized was $490.30. Still, at least I am insured. Anthem BC/BS paid the doctor another $3,268.71. The list price for the procedure was $4,843.00. Bear in mind the procedure was done out patient and including time in the waiting room took no more than two and a half hours. I was sedated but awake through the whole procedure.

Wednesday afternoon while I was still recuperating from the jet lag, I went in for a second procedure, this one taking about an hour longer. I expect I will pay at least another $490.30 co-pay for this procedure too. I hope that as a result the pressure will ease on the nerves in my right foot, although there is no guarantee.

While I sat in the waiting room, a working class man shuffled into the office. He did not have insurance and inquired on how much it would cost for a consultation. The fee was $475. Yes, it would cost $475 just to find out how bad his varicose vein problems were and to determine a treatment plan. If he requires surgery similar to mine, he can look forward to $10,000 or more of out of pocket costs to address them. As a self-employed individual, he is priced out of the health care market. His best hope is to work out a payment schedule with the doctor. Since he is not insured, it is likely that he is looking at years of payments to deal with his vein problems, assuming the doctor decides his credit is good enough to go ahead with the surgery, and assuming he can convince his wallet to go ahead with the work. With luck at age 39, this is his only major medical problem. What is clear is that like millions of uninsured Americans, he is playing health care roulette.

According to Republicans, he must be protected from socialized medicine at all costs. While he clearly cannot afford health insurance, according to Republicans he is better with no health insurance reform. In particular, Republicans, who are so much about “choice”, want to deny him the option of belonging to a public plan, perhaps similar to Medicare. For that would be “socialized” medicine, which must be bad, although would be perfectly acceptable if he were 65 instead of 39 and thus eligible for Medicare. We know the public option is bad because so many disgruntled Americans are shouting down speakers who say otherwise at community forums. According to Republicans, Americans will be better off, more solvent and presumably healthier if uninsured people like this man remain uninsured.

The disinformation campaign is working to some extent. P.T. Barnum famously told us a sucker is born every minute. Americans seem to revel in their ignorance.

About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn’t even locate the U.S. on a map. The Pacific Ocean’s location was a mystery to 29 percent; Japan, to 58 percent; France, to 65 percent; and the United Kingdom, to 69 percent.

With such widespread geographic illiteracy, it is not surprising that well-funded campaigns financed primarily by insurance companies who are benefiting handsomely from the status quo are succeeding in convincing many Americans to act against their own interest. It is like we are living the novel 1984: Ignorance is Strength!

Republicans have proven adept at exploiting America’s ignorance and paranoid tendencies and seem to have no problem with bald-faced lying. The “problem” with Democrats is they seem incapable of the same disgusting behavior. Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in shameless and bogus claims that health care reform will mean government-sanctioned “death panels” that will determine whether you live or die.

What one bill proposes is that Medicare will reimburse your doctor if you are in Medicare (i.e. age 65 and above) and choose to meet with him or her to discuss end of life care alternatives, such as whether you would like to be placed in a hospice toward the end of your life or should get a living will. This is certainly not a death panel, and such sessions are not even required. The patient chooses. If this is a government death panel then apparently our doctors are going to be secretly inducted into the civil service and given strict marching orders. It is such a mind-bogglingly false claim that it is amazing that anyone with two brain cells would believe it. Nevertheless, this is America, and our paranoia is always close to the surface. Thanks to Republicans, we are conditioned to believe the ridiculous. After all a plurality of Americans (45%) believe the earth was created by God no more than 10,000 years ago.

News flash: we already have medical death panels that effectively determine whether you live or die. We would be fortunate if the government was deciding, then we might have some say in it. Instead, the insurance companies often decide whether you live or die. If you don’t believe me and are insured, simply take the time to read the fine print of your health insurance contract to find out what conditions they will not cover. If your particular condition is not covered, assuming they do not unilaterally drop you as a client, you have two choices. If you are independently wealthy, you can pay for these other treatments out of your pocket. Alternatively, you can sell pretty much everything you own until you are nearly destitute and hope that the socialized medical system called Medicaid will cover the treatment you need.

It is legitimate to question the cost of a new national health insurance program. It is not legitimate to focus the debate on spurious and bogus claims that are simply boldfaced lies, like these imaginary government death panels. Other bogus claims: that illegal aliens will get health insurance, that federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and that you will be required to sign up for a government health care plan. It’s a public option, not a public requirement.

What you will likely get from any bill that the president signs is the right to be insured by any insurance company licensed in your community, including a nationwide government plan if you prefer or if no insurance companies are available in your area, regardless of your preexisting conditions and with no fear of being dropped because your conditions have become too expensive. What you will also get is the ability to buy into any plan offered, including a government plan if you choose. If you are poor or have modest means, most bills would subsidize the cost of your insurance for a period. In short, you are much more likely to be able to be insured and more likely to stay insured. Logically, this should trickle down to those of us who are lucky enough to be insured now. For our premiums are already marked up to cover the cost of the uninsured clogging our emergency rooms.

I am sorry, but if you really believe that the government is getting ready to set up death panels for grandma, you are dumber than a box of rocks. Please send me your name and address so I can invite you to purchase some fine land that sits in the middle of Lake Okeechobee. Moreover, if by shouting down other voices at these rallies you succeed in stopping health insurance reform, you and millions of others who desperately need insurance will needlessly reap the foul results of your ignorance and rank stupidity. Instead of the government you need, you will get the government you deserve.

 
The Thinker

Top of the world

Perhaps when you were young you had dreams similar to mine. The nightmare rarely varied and they were always ended the same way: I would end up falling off something very high and feeling very panicked, knowing I was about to die. In the dream, I never quite actually met the bottom of the cliff and my maker. Perhaps they were a result of watching too many Road Runner cartoons, or perhaps they were vestigial memories of being in utero.

Perhaps this explains my vertigo. I am fine peering down over something from way up high, providing there is a guardrail or something similar to inhibit my fall. Otherwise I am incapable of getting near the edge of anything with a precipitous drop.

This phobia makes little sense as I can and do fly frequently. In fact, if the weather is nice, I prefer a window seat. Only a couple times have a felt panicky in an airplane, and only during moderate or severe turbulence.

I only rarely experience vertigo, mainly because I deal with it through rigorous avoidance. Occasionally though I have no choice. For those of us who suffer from vertigo, you should avoid Trail Ridge Road in The Rocky Mountain National Park. Up there above the tree line at altitudes from 10,000 to 12,000 feet there are miles of road where you drive literally along the side of the mountain with not so much as a guardrail between you, your car and careening thousands of feet down the side of the Rocky Mountains to certain death. Moreover you may be shadowed by tailgaters because you are going the speed limit of 35 mph and they want you to go faster. In short, if you suffer from vertigo like me the drive will be nerve wracking and heart pounding, and that is assuming that the weather is fine, which it often isn’t. The wind has been clocked at up to 150 mph at the Alpine Ridge Visitors Center, and you can get snow, hail or sleet on the road at any time of the year.

View from Alpine Ridge Vistors Center

View from Alpine Ridge Vistors Center

Granted, if you want to kill yourself, you should have a spectacular view on the vertical descent. You may piss off a few elk, big horn sheep and moose on the tundra on your way down. Yet, even if you suffer from vertigo, you might want to take Trail Ridge Road anyhow, for few roads command such a breathtaking view. You are only guardrail-less for a few miles and once you get below the tree line the feelings of vertigo should recede. Trail Ridge Road is as close as many of us ordinary mortals will get to being on top of the world.

The Alpine Ridge Visitors Center is only publicly accessible during the short summer months. During the winter the road is closed. The snowdrifts can extend up to thirty five feet above the road. It takes the National Park Service months to make the road drivable during its short driving season. As I discovered, even in August the weather can be bracing at the Alpine Ridge Visitors Center so bring a jacket and gloves. If you are not too faint from the thin air, you can take a trail a thousand feet or so to the summit and, like me (see picture) perch next to a sign that tells you that you are at 12,005 feet above sea level. This is likely as high up as I will get in my life.

Me at the top of Alpine Ridge

Me at the top of Alpine Ridge

When you vacation around The Rocky Mountains, you have to expect to be altitude challenged. I have flown to Denver enough times to no longer notice the thinner air, but move a couple thousand feet higher and I found myself short of breath and my heart racing, even while sitting still. East of The Rocky Mountain National Park is the city of Estes Park, which sits 7500 feet above sea level. My wife and I spent two nights in this mountain-lined city but even at that modest altitude my wife and I noticed the change in elevation.

Estes Park, a beautiful touristy city with expansive views, is something of a low altitude city compared to the last destination of our journey, Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the continental United States at 10,200 feet in elevation. It sits below the tree line, but not much below it. My wife and I spent a night in The Ice Palace Inn, one of dozens of bed and breakfasts in Leadville, a historic mining town that was once the largest city in the state and its presumed state capital. Even in August the weather in Leadville was bracing with cool blustery westerly winds and evening temperatures in the forties. Much of its lower temperature was likely due to its high altitude. Leadville can make an east coast guy like me feel humbled, for you can be at rest and still find yourself breathing heavily and your heart racing. Monday we took the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad ride 900 feet higher into the mountains. While the view was breathtaking, you will probably find yourself hyperventilating out of necessity. I found myself constantly taking deep breaths. We were grateful later in the day to be back with my brother and his wife in Boulder at a mere 5400 feet.

Today we fly back to low altitude Northern Virginia where we can breathe effortlessly again. Our trip out west exceeded both our expectations. In addition to the places I documented, we also spent two nights in Laramie, Wyoming at a B&B called The Mad Carpenter Inn, absolutely the best B&B where we have ever stayed. There we toured the well restored Ivinson Victorian Mansion, a local art museum and the Wyoming Territorial Prison (a far more interesting a place than it sounds) which housed many a ruffian including Butch Cassidy. Overall Wyoming is a beautiful state, if vastly underpopulated and very dry by east coast standards. The whole state has just 533,000 people in it. By contrast, the county I live in, Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, has over a million inhabitants. To go from one city to another in Montana usually requires a journey by car of several hours. There are no large cities in the state, with Cheyenne being its largest at about 53,000 residents.

We were amazed by the friendliness of people we met. We found it disarmingly easy to slip into intimate conversations with relative strangers. Perhaps the lack of people in states like Wyoming makes people naturally friendlier and inquisitive. In Estes Park, Colorado we had continental breakfasts at a Comfort Inn with the same two couples two mornings in a row. One couple left us their name and address so we could visit them in Western Nebraska.

The West has much to teach us somewhat insular East Coasters, including the somewhat lost art of friendliness. We will be back again. Perhaps we will retire out here.

 
The Thinker

Buffalo, Wyoming: Mayberry of the West

Small town America used to be ubiquitous. Even if you are fortunate enough to live in a small town, it has probably changed for the worse over the years. The Wal-Mart just outside the town might have made Main Street a sad and mostly boarded up place. Or you could live in a small city like this one where the principle industry went elsewhere leaving behind a poor tax base and lots of boarded up houses. So when you find an authentic and healthy small town in America today that feels kind of like Mayberry, it should be noted.

My wife and I rediscovered small town America by spending a night in Buffalo, Wyoming, population three thousand or so as well as the Johnson County seat. I picked Buffalo as a place to spend the night on our vacation because we had planned our day around visiting Devil’s Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming. Devil’s Tower was so worth the trip, but finding a good place to stay near Devil’s Tower was next to impossible unless you had an RV. So instead we chose to drive two hours to its west, to the town of Buffalo, and sleep there instead.

Main Street in Buffalo, Wyoming

Main Street in Buffalo, Wyoming

Buffalo is an eastern gateway into Yellowstone National Park. The Bighorn Mountains frame its western horizon. The aptly named Clear Creek runs through the center of town. Its clean and abundant mountain waters doubtless made it a logical center for commerce in the area. Our destination was The Occidental Hotel on Main Street. To call it just a hotel is to give it short shrift. It is a hotel, a saloon, a fine dining establishment and perhaps most importantly something of a private museum. The hotel was actually constructed in the 19th century. Among its early guests were the western notables Calamity Jane, Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and Buffalo Bill Cody. No less than two U.S. presidents have also slept in the Occidental Hotel. You can find and sleep in Teddy Roosevelt’s suite on the upper level, or if you prefer sleep in the somewhat humbler Herbert Hoover Suite on its lower level.

We chose the Herbert Hoover Suite. Hoover is infamous as the president at the start of The Great Depression, so perhaps sleeping in his room was not that great a privilege. He was campaigning for reelection in Wyoming when he arrived at The Occidental Hotel in 1932. In the room you can see pictures of him somewhat overweight and in a full suit and tie.

It was a strange experience to spend a night in a room inhabited, however briefly, by a president of the United States. The original claw footed bathtub is still there, so I stripped and showered in the same place as a U.S. president. I am sure the bed has been replaced since the 1930s but presumably we were sleeping in the same spot as President Hoover as well. The room, like all the rooms in the hotel, feels very early 20th century. Our room came complete with a number of old books, including a book about “The World War”, which when it was published meant World War One. Inside it was a letter postmarked in 1918 from the original owner of the hotel. This, the old fashioned radio, the antique furniture, and the ancient wooden flooring that creaked under you as you walked on it made it feel absolutely authentic which, in fact, it was. The room’s only defect was its walls, which were authentically wooden with no soundproofing. Fortunately by ten p.m. the hotel had quieted down. This and my silicon earplugs ensured that my sleep would be undisturbed.

The hotel sells its history and ambiance as well as a night’s rest. The clerks behind the counter are exceptionally friendly. In the hotel lobby, rife with antique furniture, you can play a game of chess or gaze at the many stuffed animal heads on its walls. Pre-ragtime music sounding like it came off a Victrola can be heard overhead. The hallways abound with vintage pictures and historical documents, most of them marking events of notables staying at the hotel.

A trip into the adjoining saloon reveals the hotel’s likely naughty past. A large painting of a naked woman hangs on the wall. Perhaps she was a naughty lady of the house that could be found in many western hotels and saloons in the 19th century. Today the saloon attracts a higher class of clientele, who principally are guests of the hotel. Its counters and floors gleam. In a room in the back is a pool table that might have been heavily used a century ago. Next to the saloon is The Virginian, a restaurant affiliated with the hotel, which is doubtless the best dining available in Buffalo, and probably within a hundred miles. My wife and I enjoyed steak dinners in our own private dining alcove. Appropriately, my wife chose a buffalo steak.

On the hotel’s patio are two sets of rocking chairs where you can enjoy watching life on Main Street pass by. You can hear Clear Creek babbling to your right. During the evening, horse drawn carriage rides are available for a modest fee, which you can conveniently board at the hotel. Or you can amble up and down its considerable Main Street, stopping if you wish at a local ice cream parlor. The closest thing you will find to a chain store on Main Street in Buffalo is a Rexall Drug. In the evening you may notice, as we did, an owl perched on the top of the court house.

The character of Buffalo is borne out simply by crossing the street. Motorists will happily stop to let you cross, even if you are jaywalking. Eat breakfast as we did at the Main Street Diner and you may find a kindly local willing to move a seat down on the counter to make room for you. The Main Street Diner, like the Occidental Hotel, is an experience that should not to be missed. Behind the counter are four very hard working people serving twenty to thirty patrons. Our young blonde waitress was efficient, pleasant and personable. I found her interesting to observe, her hands constantly in motion as she orchestrated the complex process of serving all the patrons, managing the counters, calculating all the tabs (on paper) and processing all the payments. If you like getting great value for your money, you will find it at The Main Street Diner. The portions are beyond enormous. I ordered a western omelet, to find fully stretched across an enormous plate, along with toast and hash browns hanging on the side. It was good but I only ate half of it, certain I was already consuming far more fat and calories than I should. Perhaps the portions were sized assuming you were going to spend the rest of the day roping steers rather than driving a rental car.

In short, our brief stay in Buffalo, Wyoming made us wish we had booked a second night at The Occidental Hotel. To me, if felt very much like I was in a time warp. From the nearby City Hall to the county courthouse built in 1886 next door, to the elegant grand hotel itself, to the babbling brook, to the nostalgic diner on Main Street, it struck a resonant chord of comfort in my heart. I did not find Sheriff Taylor or Floyd’s Barber Shop, but perhaps I did not look hard enough. However, I did find boys biking along Main Street, blissfully unaware of how special their authentic small town experience actually was.

If you were to drop Mayberry somewhere in the West, you would most likely find it in Buffalo. I feel like I left some part of my heart in the town, and I sure hope I live long enough to return for a proper and extended visit.

 
The Thinker

South Dakota’s enchanting Black Hills

For most of us air travelers, America’s north central states are just flyover country. I have flown over the Dakotas more times than I can count. Yet until Sunday I had never set foot in the Dakotas. Perhaps this is because they are so hard to get to. The airlines give the Dakotas short shrift, making flying into these unpopulated states difficult and expensive. So we fly over them instead and mostly what we see out the airplane window seems featureless.

Yet, the western side of South Dakota is anything but flat. It is framed by The Black Hills, which push up against Wyoming’s eastern edge. While not quite The Rocky Mountains, The Black Hills are an appealing destination nonetheless. There is a surprising amount to do in The Black Hills. A family could easily spend a week or more there without feeling like they had seen it all.

Getting to The Black Hills from our starting point of Boulder, Colorado (where my wife and I spent a couple days with my brother Tom and his wife) made for a memorable driving journey through the eastern half of Wyoming. It takes about six hours of driving to get to Rapid City, South Dakota from Boulder. You pass through hundreds of miles of empty land. It is not empty desert as you might find in Nevada, just miles of buttes with virtually no people and little in the way of trees to obscure your view. This is big sky country. For a while The Rocky Mountains shadow you to your west, and then they recede altogether. I-25 reveals a land dappled with vegetation which is not quite desert. Occasionally you pass picturesque places like the Platt River, but mostly the area consists of enormous ranches where widely scattered groups of cattle graze. For an east coast guy like me, Wyoming is appealing for its remoteness and its feeling of being unspoiled. It is not quite unspoiled. If it were unspoiled, it would be rife with bison and Native Americans on horseback. The bison were hunted to near extinction long ago and the Native Americans are now largely sequestered on Indian reservations on far less interesting land. Eastern Wyoming is a pacified west, with only an occasional oil derrick to spoil its majestic view.

Pass from Wyoming into South Dakota and not only do you find yourself in the gently rolling Black Hills, but you also feel you are in a different climate. Wyoming feels dry but South Dakota, at least its western side, receives more rain, so there is more vegetation, more green things on the fields and plenty of pine trees and gently winding roads. Yet like Wyoming, it still feels remote. This is something of an illusion. While South Dakota remains one of our least populated states, if you travel through The Black Hills you will find plenty of tacky tourist traps, roadside family restaurants, inexpensive campgrounds as well as some first class tourist attractions.

My wife and I took in three such attractions on Monday, working from our home base, a Country Inn & Suites in Rapid City. Rapid City, like The Black Hills near which is sits, is a pleasant city in its own right. While the East Coast sweltered under a heat wave, we enjoyed blue skies, dry weather and highs around eighty degrees. There are lots of dead presidents in Rapid City. Since it is something of a way station for people on their way to Mount Rushmore, it plays up its association with U.S. presidents by placing metal sculptures of presidents on its street corners. It is also a thoroughly white area of the country. If you are Anglo Saxon, you will find plenty of your own ethnicity in this state. Rapid City also ensures that you have to wade through plenty of traffic lights on your way to Mount Rushmore. Naturally there are plenty of businesses catering to tourists along Mount Rushmore Road. We noted some pretty inane tourist attractions, including a Cosmos Mystery Area and an Old MacDonald’s Farm that would make even Mr. Rogers retch.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore remains a worthy destination, but what makes it distinctive is not just the chiseled images of four great presidents on the face of The Black Hills, but its frame of the beautiful Black Hills themselves. One can of course marvel at the engineering involved in making Mount Rushmore back in the 1930s, but the geography only allows you to see it from a few angles. There is a large promenade and theater which sits before the mountain that will tell you more than you probably want to know about the memorial, and a trail you can take with many steps that will take you half way up the mountain, but no further. You can look at models of the memorial in a sculptor’s studio.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

To my mind, far more impressive is the Crazy Horse Memorial some twenty miles away, which sits atop its own mountain not too far from the town of Custer. It is a work in progress. Some sixty years since construction began, the memorial consists mainly of Chief Crazy Horse’s head and an exposed tunnel of granite. When completed, this memorial will dwarf Mount Rushmore. In fact it will be in the largest chiseled work of art in the world, surpassing even the Great Pyramids. Construction might have proceeded at a faster pace had Korczak Ziolkowski, the obsessed visionary who also helped chisel Mount Rushmore not spurned government money. The Ziolkowski family still directs work on the mountain, and supports its construction primarily with fees contributed by visitors. At $10 a person or $27 for a carload, it looks like the project will remain well funded through private sources. For an extra $4 you can take a bus ride to the base of the memorial, or you can observe it from a distance, and enjoy the many buildings on its campus. It is hard to find fault with the project, which seeks to honor a distinguished and fiercely independent Native American chief for all posterity. There are many Native American artists selling amazing works of art on premises. The scope of the project is audacious and is unlikely to be completed in my lifetime, or even my daughter’s. To get a sense of the scale of the project, Crazy Horse’s face, which has been completed, is much larger than the engravings on Mount Rushmore itself. Still one cannot feel more than a bit humbled by the size and scope of this amazing engineering endeavor and labor of love. I do hope that one day it is fully realized. If so it will be a new wonder of the world.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument

After seeing so much enormous statuary, we were glad to end our day underground touring Jewel Cave, also located in The Black Hills. The Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore are monuments to man’s audacity and ambitiousness. Jewel Cave is a monument to Mother Nature, who has the luxury of time to dazzle us with underground delights. Over the years I have gone on a number of cave tours, but our tour of Jewel Cave was by far the most extensive and interesting of the bunch. Jewel Cave is enormous, measuring 146 miles. It is likely a lot larger, since based on air pressure calculations only about three percent of the cave has been mapped. The site was designated as a national monument by President Teddy Roosevelt, so it is perhaps fitting that his face is chiseled in granite on nearby Mount Rushmore. Two elevators take tourists down nearly three hundred feet below the visitor’s center. We had an excellent park ranger who guided us on a ninety minute tour of the cavern. We marveled at the diversity of rock formations and crystals in the cave, which is second in size only to Mammouth Cave in Kentucky. Having the cave managed by the National Park Service made quite a difference compared to places I am more familiar with that were privately run. The park ranger provided a great deal of cave history and explanations for the natural works we witnessed. The extensive sets of staircases made traversing the cave as painless as possible. The forty nine degree temperature made it invigorating after being outside all day.

If you have been flying over South Dakota like me, you are doing yourself a disservice by not stopping by for a proper visit. It is time to consider South Dakota as a vacation destination. For those enamored with natural wonders, there is much in South Dakota to enchant and delight.

 
The Thinker

Demographics happen

There are few things more American than the right to make an ass of yourself. Perhaps it is the swine flu but lately it seems like the Republican Party is being gripped by a form of insanity. It must be a fever because what else could explain such delusional thinking of late? Substantial numbers of Republicans actually believe that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen, but was born in Kenya. Then there are these orchestrated protests at town halls being given by our congressional representatives and senators that seem to be attracting large numbers of orchestrated lunatics. It is one thing to be opposed to health care reform and to speak up in a civil manner. It is quite another thing to show up at these events, recite inanities if not outright falsehoods about health care reform and basically try to prohibit even a discussion on the topic from taking place. The National Republican Committee seems to be behind these protests, but they are also being whipped up by prominent conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck too.

What is really going on here? What is happening is that America’s demographics are changing to the point where their impact is being acutely felt. What is really very scary to these protestors is that white privilege is losing its grip on America. For years the demographics of America have been trending less white and more multicultural. America witnessed a watershed moment with the election of Barack Obama. In the minds of most of these protestors, having an African American as president was insulting enough. It was just as insulting that Barack Obama would also try to rapidly enact the exact reforms on which he campaigned.

The opposition, as it always does, tries to push back. What is unique this time is the extraordinary lengths this group is going to in order to get attention. Obviously these people have been seething since the election. When a balloon pops, it pops at its weakest point. Today we see that when these feelings become overwhelming, they are articulated by their loosest cannons on the GOP ship of state.

Do not assume though that these loose cannons are rolling around the deck because their pins rusted out. The crew (in this case the National Republican Committee and prominent conservative commentators) has been actively working to pull out their pins. They do so deliberately because they know that talk has its limits and to effect change it must be followed by actions. These tactics seem to be working to some extent. People whose support for Obama was tentative to begin with might be persuaded to believe the incredible about him if sufficient numbers of their neighbors say so, particularly in a bad economy. Similarly, much of the disinformation about national health care reform feeds into general American paranoia about Washington and its surreptitious motives.

The general thrust of all these actions is arguably quite conservative. Conservatives by their nature do not welcome change. They resist change. Conservatives are used to a power structure where white men hold most of the political power. It is as American in their minds as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. However, when you run out of convincing arguments and when the American people are generally not behind you, then in their mind some extreme tactics are required. Playing by the rules simply means they will become further marginalized. Go on the offensive using bizarre and unworldly tactics and at least you have attention and can attempt to direct the conversation. Trying to do so in gentlemanly conversations in Congress does not change the dynamics.

The attempt will likely prove futile. At best it may prove effective in the short term, but it will not prove effective in the long term. While there is an excitable minority that believes in conspiracy theories, most of us have brains that are more firmly attached to reality. For those of us who inhabit the real world, the silly belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and is thus a “false” president, is laughable and ludicrous. It amazes us that anyone other than the tiniest fraction of the weirdoes could possibly believe something proven so demonstrably false.

Similarly, we wonder what these people are smoking when they worry about socialized medicine. We already have Medicare and Medicaid. Many of the people squawking the loudest are already receiving Medicare and would be unable to pay for their own medical care if it disappeared. Many of these same people choose to remain blissfully mindless that health insurance companies already effectively decide who lives and dies by deciding which treatments they will or will not cover. The only way to make sure that insurance companies will not deny necessary coverage is to have the law require universal coverage. In any event, America is a democracy. Who would you rather make this crucial decision, a representative democracy where at least you could petition for changes or an unelected insurance company accountable only to their stockholders?

America’s changing demographics is a trend that cannot be changed. America is already very multiracial. The biggest change is that changing is that the era of white male privilege is going away, and it is being noticed in the form of “scary” things like Hispanic Supreme Court justices, African American presidents and new policies that include audacious notions like health insurance companies shouldn’t be able to pick and choose who they cover. This is a privilege, by the way, that has been enjoyed by members of Congress and federal employees for decades with no complaints. No member of Congress, even the conservative Republican ones, is anxious to change their Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan so they could be excluded from coverage because of their preexisting conditions. Regardless of what happens to other Americans, they will give up their FEHBP coverage shortly after their cold dead fingers are pried off their guns.

The sad reality is that protestors trying to crash town hall meetings on health care or who push crazy ideas like Obama was not born in the United States are being manipulated by people who really do not have their best interest at heart. Except for the self made millionaires attending these rallies, attempts to avoid health insurance reform simply mean these very people are likely to be excluded for their own preconditions, if they have not been already. Moreover, they will likely soon be priced out of the health insurance market altogether as premiums continue to rise beyond their ability to pay for them.

 
The Thinker

Suck it in, America

As you may recall, President Obama ran for office by saying that he would not raise taxes on the middle class. Recently in a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights, Ohio, he also said that he would not sign a health insurance bill if it added even one dime to our deficit over the next ten years. Presumably, paying for all these new programs cannot be done solely through taxing the rich and by ending wasteful government programs. Every president in my memory has said they will cut government waste. None of them succeeded in any meaningful way because Congress would not allow it.

Polls show public nervousness about the cost of all these new initiatives as well as our record deficit spending. This nervousness is understandable. As I noted back in 2003, civilization does not come cheap. The gap though between our needs and our resources has probably never been wider. All sorts of bills are coming due. The vast majority of Americans want health insurance reform but are also frightened by how much it costs. Granted they are also frightened about losing their health insurance. If they have health insurance, they are worried about whether they can afford to keep it.

Other bills for our Great Society are coming due. Medicare may get high marks from seniors, but it requires huge subsidies to keep it solvent. Medicaid is also costly and during this recession, its costs are more than the states can bear. This year, for the first time in its history, Social Security will give out more money than it collects. It remains solvent since it has large amounts of government securities it can cash in. Nevertheless, in twenty or so years time if nothing changes the Social Security system will be requiring subsidies just like Medicare. Then there are all those other fixed obligations, like civil service pensions for people like me, which the government may not default on as well.

Hitherto, we have been largely successful in hiding the cost of government through additional borrowing. Unlike the State of California, the federal government can print more money to pay expenses. By doing so of course, it only cheapens the value of the currency, making all our assets worth less and feeding inflation. Understandably, the Treasury prefers to borrow the money rather than create it. Our principle creditor, China, is one of many wondering if putting their foreign reserves in American dollars is still a smart thing.

To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, the United States Government is like too little butter being spread over too much bread. Government needs to do something it doesn’t like to do: govern competently. In a perverse way, all the deficit spending we accumulated may finally force the conversation about just how big a government we actually are willing to have. The real question is this: do we raise taxes to pay for the government we want, or do we take a meat cleaver to our government instead? We are reaching the point where we will have to do one or the other. We are reaching the end of trying to borrow our way out of making hard choices.

I am sure most conservatives out there are hoping for the “liberal” use of a meat cleaver. The irony though is though that Republicans and reputed conservatives actually in government do not really want to shrink the size of government. They want it to grow. They cannot come out and actually say it but this is in effect what their votes have demonstrated over the years. Every Congressman is in favor of cutting services in other districts, but want to expand them in their district. We saw this absurdity played out last week. Conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats were trying to restrain the cost of health insurance reform, while writing in provisions to raise Medicare reimbursement rates for their own rural districts.

Barring a constitutional convention, the only way to make unpopular decisions is to come up with a mechanism where it can be done without your senator or Congressional representative taking the heat. It worked before with the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which decided which military bases to close subject only to congressional override. Something similar has been proposed as a way to pay for health insurance reform: have a panel of experts decide what care should be paid for and what reimbursement rates are reasonable subject only to a congressional override. It’s a good idea because it recognizes the reality that when given the opportunity Congress will choose pandering to governing.

Conceptually this is a great model that should be extended to much of government. However, if you do too much of it, you wonder what is the point of having a legislature at all. Our representatives are supposed to be making hard choices instead of avoiding them.

Another possible solution would be campaign finance reform. At least this way a congressional representative would feel freer to vote their conscience rather than placate the sponsors that fund their campaigns. Attempts have been hit or miss, but more importantly, our Supreme Court as it is currently constituted seems hostile to the very idea. This means, of course, that nothing will change and those who provide large campaign contributions will receive a disproportionate share of the federal largess.

This implies, perversely, that the easiest solution for paying for the cost of government is to raise taxes. Granted the idea in general causes hives among most members of Congress. What choice do we have, really? We can either make sure our revenues meet our expenditures or we will effectively reduce the size of government through inflation. However, if we choose inflation your dollars and your investments (at least those valued in dollars) will be proportionately worth less too. Whether we like it or not, our individual wealth is intricately tied to the solvency of our federal government.

If you think of the nation like a group home where we all have a room, would you rather have it shabby with holes in the roof and termites eating at the foundation? Or would you rather it well maintained? For most of us, we would demand the latter. It would be miserable to live in a house that was largely a wreck where the paint is peeling and cockroaches skitter across the floor. We wouldn’t put up with it. Neither should we tolerate a country that is a shabby representation of its former glory.

For myself I would rather have my taxes raised. Granted, I will have less money to spend on other things, but at least some of that money will go to things that matter to me, like making sure when I need health care I can get it, or when I retire there will be enough non-inflated money in the till to pay my Social Security benefits.

I just wish we could have an honest conversation about taxes. I wish the American people would get out of its collective cognitive dissonance. We cannot have it both ways any longer. We must either raise taxes because we agree that civilization in our modern world costs more money, or we must reduce the size of government while understanding that by doing so we are really doing the equivalent of chopping off one of our limbs.

It’s time to stop whining and pay for the government we have. We need a president brave enough to tell us the truth. President Obama, I am looking at you. This is what leadership is really about.

 
The Thinker

Review: Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Like most Americans, I do not watch a whole lot of Indian movies. Actually, I can count the number of Indian movies I have watched on one hand. Bollywood is a lot different than Hollywood. Steeped as I am in American culture, I haven’t absorbed much Indian culture. However, on a recommendation I rented Monsoon Wedding, a film not only made in India, but also very much a product of Bollywood.

When I worked regularly with Indians, I noticed that by American standards they talk very quickly. This makes Monsoon Wedding hard to follow at times. About half of it is in English, and the other half presumably in Hindi, with English subtitles. So be prepared to listen closely or you may miss some key plot points.

Weddings in India are a very big deal. Tradition requires that the bride’s family pay for the wedding, which often includes a large dowry. Fortunately, the Verma family is loaded by Indian standards, with their own private estate that comes complete with a maid who took the English name Alice (Tillotama Shome). The bride, Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das) has beautiful brown hair and enormous eyes that make her look a bit like Elijah Wood. You would think Aditi would be glad to be getting married, but like most Indian marriages, her marriage is an arranged marriage. She is betrothed to Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas) but is still secretly in love with her ex-boss Vikram (Sameer Arya) who also happens to be married. This couple’s prospects for marital happiness do not appear to be great, particularly when Aditi does things like sneak out in the middle of the night right before her marriage to see her lover.

There must be something in the air though, because new romance, like the plentiful marigold flowers, is blooming all over the Verma estate. The wedding planner P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz) is having trouble focusing on his work because he is smitten by the Verma family’s maid Alice, but has a hard time articulating his feelings. P.K. has been in the wedding planning business for fifteen years. He has neglected minor things like finding a wife, the consequences for which mean plenty of nagging from his mother at home. Aditi’s unmarried relative Ayesha (Neha Dubey) is also feeling some tentative heartstrings, in this case with Aditi’s cousin Rahul (Randeep Hooda), who is all westernized since he has been working in Melbourne.

It is understood that Bollywood films will be rife with songs and dance. Songs there are aplenty, mostly in the background, but the dancing is largely confined to the wedding itself, which as the title implies begins in a monsoon. There is quite a lot of plot to this two-hour movie which becomes much more adult than expected. Cinematic nudity is verboten in India so sensuality is accented instead. Yet, there is a surprising amount of adult material in this movie beyond the infidelity. Is the Verma’s boy Ayesha possibly a homosexual? It is not stated, but it is implied from his unsocial behavior and his father’s desire to send him to boarding school to rectify things. The family is also burdened by a secret that the wedding brings out: a closely connected friend of the family is actually a child molester. The patriarch of the family, Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) has to sort out what to do about this situation all while dealing with the chaos and expense that comes with marrying off his beloved daughter.

For those wanting a taste of Bollywood with an adult storyline and good acting, Monsoon Wedding is worth a rental. You get a taste of not only Bollywood, but of Indian culture. Nor are the problems of Indian families that much different than our own. This very relationship-centered film takes you through several pivotal days in the Verma family. Sometimes the movie feels like a comedy, but more often feels like a tightly scripted drama. So don’t go seeing this hoping to see My Big Fat Indian Wedding. Yet it is probably worth your time nonetheless.

This movie rates a solid “B”, neither exceptional nor mediocre, but just good. As such, it gets 3.0 on my 4.0 scale.

 

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