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Jul 312014
 



Dear American Airlines is a Gem of a Novel
Dear American Airlines is one of those rare novels on which we can unabashedly lavish endless praise and hail it as an unputdownable tour de force!

In just 180 pages, Jonathan Miles pens a brilliant tragicomedy the likes of which you’ll probably never encounter again.

So what is Dear American Airlines about?

Ha ha ha. Not an easy question to answer, kiddo.

The book is many things.

A lengthy profane hilarious rant punctuated with many tragic moments, an autobiography, and a wild ride metaphorically and occasionally literally (New Mexico trip for instance).

Dripping comic acid as every page does, the book is also a touching emotional account of the life of our middle-aged protagonist Benjamin R.Ford, self-destructive poet, graduate school dropout, son of a Holocaust survivor father and a schizophrenic mother, bartender, writer, alcoholic, absentee father and lately a Polish translator. Continue reading »

Jul 292014
 

South Indians Ruining America - New Book

Forgery, favoritism and corruption have enabled Telugus and Tamils (the South Indians referred to in the book) to dominate and ruin the U.S. IT jobs market, according to a new e-book published on Amazon.

If the broken U.S. IT job market has to be fixed, the monopoly of Telugus and Tamils over these jobs must be ended, argues the author (supposedly an Indian) writing under the nom de guerre Trueblue

The title of the e-book is: The Rise of South Indians: Invisible Dimension in Decline of Jobs for Americans in US Economy. It costs $3.80 on Amazon.

Valid Points

Although the book is riddled with vexing grammatical errors, it makes several valid points on the fraud pervading the H1B Visa program (which allows Indians to work as IT programmers and consultants in the U.S. for up to six years).

Indians in the U.S. are already familiar with H1B Visa fraud since they are the ones committing them.

But for the unaware, the book provides a quick overview of the growth of the IT outsourcing business in the U.S. and the ensuing H1B Visa fraud that has severely impacted prospects of American workers.

The various illegal practices cited in the book will come as a surprise to a lot of Americans who have been misled into believing there’s a serious shortage of skilled IT personnel in the country.

H1B abuses cited up by the author include benching, resume inflation, interview malpractices, fake degrees, ethnic bias in hiring, bribes and manipulation of references.

The e-book is written against the backdrop of the U.S. proposal to grant Employment Authorization Documents to H4 Visa holders (i.e. spouses of H1B Visa holders) to let them work anywhere in any job.

The author makes several good suggestions to fix abuse of H1B Visas such as not allowing H1B Visa holders to work at third party sites, charging a $5,000 fee to H4 Visa holders before providing them with employment authorization to work in the U.S and the need for vocational programs to train American workers.

South Indians in IT

It’s no secret that South Indians dominate the IT jobs market among H1B Visa holders in the U.S.

Among South Indians, it’s Telugus and Tamils who fill most of the IT jobs, be it at JP Morgan Chase, DuPont, Citigroup, Bank of America or hundreds of other organizations that rely on outsourced personnel to keep their IT systems going.

Since there are far more engineering colleges in South India compared to the north, it’s no surprise that many South Indians are filling IT positions at most places, both in India and in the U.S.

But fraud is not the monopoly of just South Indians. I’m aware of North Indians who too have committed various visa frauds.

Because there are not many North Indians holding IT jobs in the U.S., their fraud does not attract attention. So it does seem unfair to pick on South Indians. Continue reading »

Jul 212014
 

Kindle Unlimited Review - Not Worth It

Unlike Apple or Netflix, Amazon has never had class.

If you ask me, Amazon is merely a more efficient version of Walmart and the Post Office combined.

What I mean is that Amazon lets you get cheap stuff delivered to your house or office fast.

Kindle e-reader and Kindle tablet are both cheap plastic junk targeted at those who lack the class and the ingenuity to beg, borrow or steal an iPad.

And Amazon Prime Instant Video is mostly old stuff for people who thrive on leftovers.

Given my knowledge of Amazon’s lowbrow offerings, I did not expect the just announced Kindle Unlimited e-book subscription service to be anything remarkable.

Still given my passion for reading, I took a deko at Kindle Unlimited.

My Passion

Since reading is my refuge from the tedium and turbulence of daily life, I quickly signed up for the $9.99 per month Kindle Unlimited service.

Kindle Unlimited is kinda like an all-you-can Indian buffet in the U.S. (btw, only Chinese and Indian restaurants offer buffets in America).

Of course being a desi, I quickly took advantage of the free 30-day trial for Kindle Unlimited.

You can borrow  up to ten books at a time from the Kindle Unlimited catalog and read them on up to six devices or reading apps.

You have to sign up for the program. Since I already had an Amazon account it took just 10-seconds to sign up for Kindle Unlimited. And then to fire up the dormant Kindle app on my iMac and registered my account, it was another 10-seconds.

Most of the books I searched for were not available on Kindle Unlimited.

Finally, I settled on The Order of Things: Hierarchies, Structures, and Pecking Orders and a couple of other books.

Once I added a book via the browser on the Amazon web site, I could send it to both my Mac as well as the Kindle app on my old iPad 2. If the book doesn’t appear on your PC or tablet, hit refresh and you should see the e-book. It took less than a minute for them to appear on my computer and tablet. I did not test the service on my Kindle e-book reader but I have no doubt it’ll work on any device registered with Amazon.

But easy signup and fast delivery of e-books to the PC, tablet or other devices are only two aspects of Kindle Unlimited.

More important is the breadth of quality books available on the service.

Lacking Good Content

Amazon is making a big deal about the 600,000 titles available on Kindle Unlimited.

The service also includes a few thousand audiobooks.

But Kindle Unlimited’s glaring weakness is that a ton of good content is missing on the service.

Decades-old classics like Nabokov’s Lolita and Pnin are not available on Kindle Unlimited. It’s like Netflix not carrying movie classics like Casablanca, Star Wars, Citizen Kane or Forrest Gump. Continue reading »

Jun 262014
 

NSA Sniffs It All, Collects It AllTop Secret NSA Slide (Source: No Place to Hide)

The true measure of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they will do in the defense of those beliefs. If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.
– NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald, p.45

It’s the curse of every age to kneel at the feet of false prophets.

In our times, millions of unthinking Americans genuflect at the altar of scum like Ronald Reagan (darling of Conservatives), Bill Clinton (darling of Democrats), Dick Cheney (darling of the Military-Industrial complex) or Barack Obama (darling of the Hopefuls).

In reality, every one of these ‘heroes’ brought nothing but disillusionment and misery to America and the world.

Shame on me for voting twice for the Cock Sucker-in-Chief Barack Obama who has destroyed the little privacy Americans had.

Tragedy of Edward Snowden

And when the rare genuine hero like Edward Snowden comes along to direct a beam of sunlight on all encompassing mass spying by the U.S. National Security Agency, he gets the cold shoulder.

One year after Edward Snowden leaked a ton of material exposing the reckless, relentless spying on Americans, very little has changed at the NSA.

With the blessings of Obama and Congress, NSA continue its nasty, reckless spying practices. And the American people seem more concerned about the next generation, large-screen iPhone than about the loss of their liberties and privacy.

To the vast majority of Americans, Edward Snowden might as well have not existed. They’re so busy with their Facebook and Twitter drivel, iPad Airs, MacBook Pros and the new Android Gear smartwatches.

If you ask me, most Americans are unworthy of Edward Snowden who risked his life and liberty to expose the nasty spying practices.

Worth Reading

Although the details of the various mass spy programs of the NSA are by now well known after the series of articles last year in the British newspaper Guardian, Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide is still worth reading for the excellent overview in the first two chapters and solid analysis in chapters 3-5.

The book reads like a thriller. Continue reading »

May 202014
 

Is it the long, sun-less winters that turn Scandinavian crime fiction writers to morbid, dark thoughts of blood, gore, murder, suicide, torture, guns and knives?

Or is the selection of crime fiction niche just a serendipitous move that succeeded beyond any Scandinavian novelist’s wildest hopes.

Some even say Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme’s murder in 1986 was the catalyst that provided the fuel for Scandinavian crime writers to lift off into the stratosphere!

Whatever.

Scandivavian Writers Enjoy Huge Success in Crime Fiction

Be it a serendipitous pick or a strategic gamble, it’s worked remarkably well and turned top Scandinavian crime fictionists into rock stars.

Scandinavian crime writers are now embraced by readers around the world (thanks to English translations) with an enthusiasm that has earned them the undying enmity of novelists in other countries.

I read in a recent issue of New Yorker (May 12, 2014, p.39-40) that Scandinavia is not just teeming with crime fiction writers but that the works of 100 Scandinavian crime novelists have been translated into English for global consumption.

Must be true. There’s not a single American library I’ve visited in recent years whose stacks are not lined with several books by Scandinavian crime novelists.

Now consider all Scandinavian languages combined have no more than 20 million speakers. In comparison, there are 75-million Telugu speaking people and another 70-million speak Tamil. Yet no current Tamil or Telugu novelist is read by more than 10,000 people. ‘Nuff said!

In recent years, the best known Scandinavian crime writers are the Swede Stieg Larsson and the Norwegian Jo Nesbo. Together, these two writers have sold nearly 100 million copies in a gazillion languages.

And several movies have hit the screens based on novels by Scandinavian authors including Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and Nesbo’s books (Headhunter).

But Larsson and Nesbo are only the tips of the towering Scandinavian crime fiction pyramid.

Other Scandinavian crime novelists, past and present, include Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö, Peter Hoeg, Henning Mankell, Leif G.W.Persson, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Liza Marklund, Karin Alvtegen and Camilla Lackberg.

So are there lessons that Indian novelists and wannabe novelists can draw from the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians?

Yes!

And the biggest lesson for Indian novelists before embarking on their next tome is to pick a niche.

Niches for Indians

Except for the moderate success of a few novelists like Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai, Anita Desai, Vikram Seth, Aravind Adiga, Akhil Sharma, Bharati Mukherjee, V.S.Naipaul, Amitav Ghosh, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Chetan Bhagat etc, most Indian or Indian origin writers have never hit the big time worldwide.

And even a popular writer like Chetan Bhagat is geographically speaking an Indian phenomenon read mostly and relished entirely only in Mera Bharat Mahaan.

Truth be said, the majority of Indian writers have a small audience whether in India or outside.

Of Indian regional language writers, the less said the better. Theirs is a pitiful plight condemned as they’re to languish in the dark cave of obscurity even if their works have merit.

In the global reckoning of novelists, most Indian writers are mere footnotes.

Sales of novels by the late Stieg Larsson alone have passed 73 million. And the man has been dead for almost a decade!

Jo Nesbo’s books have sold 23 million copies.

If Scandinavian writers can find their El Dorado in the crime niche, surely Indian writers have corruption and cowardice to dip their quills into.

No other ethnic group in the world is as familiar with corruption and cowardice for these are the two traits that define Indians and form their essence.

Corruption is the lifeblood of Indian economy, society and politics.

The unhesitating, shameless proclivity to offer, demand and accept bribes big and small is as Indian as Idli-Sambar, Dum Biryani and Dal Makhani.

But bribery is only one form of corruption that flourishes in the Indian soil. Nepotism, favoritism, dowry and theft are other forms of corruption that have taken deep roots in that fetid land.

If corruption is one side of the Indian coin, the other side is cowardice.

Beneath all the bravado, swagger and preening a more pusillanimous race than Indians is hard to find even if you scour the far corners of the planet.

Indians exhibit bravery only in the reel imagination of Bollywood and Kollywood fantasies.

In the real world, the Indian propensity to turn tail at the first intimation of danger is as well recognized as the enticing aroma of Curry. When terrorists from neighboring hellholes like Pakistan blast their way into Mumbai with guns and bombs and inflict mayhem for days on end, Indians cower in fright and by not retaliating willingly spread their legs for the next round of invaders.

Such is the depth and depravity of Indian cowardice.

Surely Indian writers in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Oriya and Bhojpuri can weave a million fantasies within the broad framework of brazen corruption and abject cowardice.

Write what you know is the advice frequently rendered to budding novelists and one that even great Western writers like the late John Updike and the recently deceased Gabriel Garcia Marquez have unhesitatingly embraced.

If writing what you know is a dependable recipe for success surely Indian novelists can’t find better niches than corruption and cowardice in their search for a global audience.

May 142014
 

Jonathan Miles' Want Not is a Superb Novel

India made Micah cry….It wasn’t the makeshift blue shanties and lean-tos, or the women thrashing clothes on rocks, the men squatting to defecate in the shade of Peepal trees, or the naked, cinnamon-colored children cooling themselves in puddles–all this was too familiar, even nostalgically comforting, to faze her. What wrenched her, instead, was the unnatural landscape of the poverty: the scale, the density, all the degraded details. The coolant-green, battery-acid-yellow swirls in the puddle those children were cooling in. The mustardy burning-trash haze that strangled the breeze those women were sucking into their lungs as they paused between thrashings. And the hunger: the everywhere night-and-day hunger that seemed to her so impossible – how could so many be so hungry and contaminated, yet the earth still be spinning, the newspapers publishing, the factories factory-ing, the lovers loving, the preachers preaching? How could God justify this lopsidedness, with endless Hamburger Helper granted to one side of the world and what looked like nothing to the other?—and yet so insurmountable, so unrelievable at the same time? It can’t be like this but it is; it must change but it can’t.
Want Not by Jonathan Miles, p.182

A more serendipitous find than Jonathan Miles’ new novel Want Not I have not enjoyed in recent years.

Want Not – I Want

Want Not lay forlorn in the New Arrivals section of my local library.

The title and jacket lack the gaudy design to get the book to easily jump from the shelf into readers’ hands.

And Jonathan Miles, the author, is still unknown quantity to many.

Let alone reading him in the past, I had not even read about Miles.

On a lark I picked up Want Not little realizing the huge favor I was doing myself.

Clearly the product of years of labor, Want Not is Miles’ second novel (Dear American Airlines was his first).

Want & Waste

For much of human history, wants of average people were limited, largely I suppose because there were not many things around to want.

With the industrial revolution, rapid pace of technological developments and growing prosperity has come an endless supply of goods to fuel our wants.

The novel is loosely about the two Ws that dominate our lives in the current age – Want and Waste (including the horror of nuclear waste that one of the characters in the book grapples with).

The modern era is distinguished from earlier ages by Insatiable Want and Incomprehensible Waste.

One inevitably follows the other.

There would not be a vast stinking wasteland of trash around every city nor huge trash bags outside every home on trash pickup days were not our wants limitless.

Want and Waste bother few of us.

But they bother Jonathan Miles a lot since Want and Waste are the broad framework in which he sets his main characters and their stories.

The urban scavengers Micah and her boyfriend Talmadge, the linguist Elwin Cross and his Alzheimer’s ridden father, the troubled young girl Alexis, her debt collector step-father Dave, shopaholic mom Sara and aunt Liz, Talmadge’s recidivist friend Matty, and Elwin’s man-boy neighbor Christopher are a motley but interesting lot.

At close quarters, I suppose every life, including that of average Joes who make up 99% of the world, is interesting in its own way.

And Miles’ fine writing makes each of his main ordinary characters (as well as the several lesser ordinary characters) jump to life and leap out of the pages.

Broadly, there are three stories in the book and not that big a connection between them except to some degree toward the end.

Miles’ writing is excellent all through and, to my immense delight, often bitingly sarcastic.

At the end of the book, I felt civilization, if that’s we have now, is terribly overrated.

Indian Connection

Of course, there’s an Indian thread in the book.

Don’t all great works in the world have an Indian connection? ;)

Micah makes a trip to India, visiting Mumbai, Varanasi, Haridwar, Chennai and Mangalore, makes love in a poppy field outside Bundi (Rajasthan) with her girlfriend Leah, chews paan, turns vegetarian and while riding the train from Mangalore to Mumbai makes the depressing discovery that the sea of plastic trash bags by the tracks did not save the Indian elephant from their miserable fate.

Plastic had triumphed, and not in a pretty way!

I greatly enjoyed Want Not.

This is one of the rare books I Want to read a second time.

I hope Jonathan Miles will forgive me for wanting more of his fine novel! ;)

Want Not is available at most U.S. libraries.