Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today's special, tomorrow ... who knows?

Trust Me / Aasif Mandvi stars in "Today's Special."
Reflecting upon our Thanksgiving 2016:

We were a couple of hours from sitting down to a quaint Thanksgiving Day meal for two in the comfort of our home last Thursday when we fired up our Roku and perused the Netflix catalog in search of just the right movie to fill our 36-inch LG flat screen TV for the early part of the holiday afternoon.

Soon, we came upon "Today's Special," a 2009 independent film starring Aasif Mandvi, formerly a correspondent for Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Neither my wife nor I had heard of "Today's Special," but we are both fans of Mandvi. So, we decided to give the film a good look – and I'm happy to say we both thoroughly enjoyed it. "Today's Special" is about an Indian American sous chef in Manhattan (played by Mandvi) who quits his job on the spot at a French restaurant when he doesn't get the promotion he is counting on, then claims he has a job offer waiting for him in Paris. However, Mandvi's character, Samir, is forced to take over his father's run-down Indian restaurant, Tandoori Palace in Queens, when he becomes ill. In doing so, Samir, finds out a little about himself along the way. His world becomes transformed via cooking lessons – that is, cooking with the mind, the heart and the stomach – from an eccentric cab driver and gourmet chef, Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah), the magic of garam masala, and a beautiful co-worker, Carrie (Jess Weixler).

"I can't do what you did," cries Samir to Akbar in a moment of introspection. "Don't do what I did. Do what you do. Just don't think too much," replies Akbar.

Soon, with a little help from his friends and family, Samir transforms Tandoori Palace into the best little Indian restaurant in New York City with booming business and a positive newspaper review from The New York Times. And, just as importantly, Samir earns the respect and appreciation of his parents, Hakkim and Farrida (played by Harish Patel and Madhur Jaffrey, respectively).

The film opened the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in March 2010 after making its world premiere at the London Film Festival in October 2009. It grew out of a one-man show Mandvi wrote and performed, the Obie Award-winning "Sakina's Restaurant" (1998), which he developed into a script for "Today's Special." The result is a heartwarming comedy with a culinary flavor that is both tasteful and rewarding to our palate.

By the end of this feel-good, 1-hour 39-minute film, Mandvi's character has rediscovered not only his Indian heritage, but also his passion for life through the enchanting art of cooking Indian food. Indeed, "Today's Special" put us in the right frame of mind for enjoying our own Thanksgiving feast.

Photo: Courtesy of Google images. Video: Courtesy of YouTube.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Opinions that matter: When these coaches speak ...

Gregg Popovich /
"Values are more important to me than
anyone's skill in business ... It tells us who
we are, how we want to live and what kind
of people we are."
It's been a week and counting since Election Day 2016. Dazed and confused, we've been trying to make sense of the new world around us. Many of us have felt sucker punched by Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton. Yet, some who are prominent in our sports culture are taking a stand while demonstrating their political activism. When these coaches speak ... I listen. So should you.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, a couple of the best and brightest minds in sports, are among the many professional coaches and athletes who have shared blistering critiques following Donald Trump's election as President of the United States last Tuesday. As coaches in the NBA, where 75 percent of the athletes are black, their opinions matter.

In a recently published ESPN interview, Popovich spoke out in frustration of Trump, who will become the 45th President of the United States when he is inaugurated in January.

"I'm a rich, white guy. And I'm sick to my stomach thinking about it," said Popovich, a graduate of the Air Force Academy. "I couldn't imagine being a Muslim right now or a woman or an African-American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person, and how disenfranchised they might feel." He went on to say that for any one in those groups that voted for Trump, "it's just beyond my comprehension how they ignored all that."

On the day after the election, in an interview with The New York Times, Kerr said: "All of a sudden you're faced with the reality that the man who's going to lead you has routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words. I didn't think this was The Jerry Springer Show." 

Over the past four years, I've had the pleasure of informally meeting Kerr on several occasions. He is a parent of University of California women's volleyball player Maddy Kerr, and my wife and I have season tickets to Cal volleyball. Kerr is warm, friendly and outgoing – and never one to shy away from societal discourse. As the son of an American academic who specialized in the Middle East, Kerr spent much of his childhood in Lebanon and other Middle East countries before returning to the U.S. to study history and sociology and star as a basketball player at the University of Arizona, then embark on a fruitful professional career in the National Basketball Association.

Steve Kerr (right) with Draymond Green /
The Golden State Warriors head coach is not one to shy
away from societal discourse.
"I didn't think this was 'The Jerry Springer Show.'"
"People are getting paid millions of dollars to go on TV and scream at each other, whether it's in sports or politics or entertainment" said Kerr, a five-time NBA champion as a player who coached the Golden State Warriors to a championship in 2015 in his rookie season as a head coach. "I guess it was only a matter of time before it spilled into politics."

Before a recent home game against the Detroit Pistons, whose own head coach Stan Van Gundy also spoke critically about Trump, Popovich admitted he's sick to his stomach, "and not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor, tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic. And I live in that country where half the people ignored all that to elect someone. That's the scariest part of (the) whole thing to me.

"It's got nothing to do with the environment, Obamacare and all the other stuff. We live in a country that ignored all those values that we would hold our kids accountable for."

Popovich believes that Trump's words and actions cannot be overlooked or forgotten. He went on to say this: "Everybody wants him to be successful. It's our country; we don't want it to go down the drain. Any reasonable person would come to that conclusion, but it does not take away the fact that he used that fear-mongering and all the comments from day one. The race-baiting with trying to make Barack Obama, our first black president, illegitimate. It leaves me to wonder where I've been living and with whom I'm living."

The Spurs head coach also showed empathy for minority groups which might be adversely affected by the President-elect's remarks made during his campaign.

"What gets lost in the process are African-Americans, Hispanics, women and the gay population, not to mention the eight-grade developmental stage exhibited by him when made fun of the handicapped person," Popovich said. "I mean, come on. That's what an eighth-grade bully does, and he was elected president of the United States. We would have scolded our kids. We would have had discussions and talked until we were blue in the face trying to get them to understand these things. And he is in charge of our country. That's disgusting."

Popovich's frustration with the President-elect goes beyond partisan politics.

Gregg Popovich /
A Trump presidency, he said, is on the same path as the
Roman Empire. "My final conclusion is, my big fear is,
we are Rome."
"Values to me are more important than anybody's skill in business or anything else because it tells who we are, how we want to live and what kind of people we are," he said. "That's why I have great respect for people like Lindsey Graham, John McCain, John Kasich, who I disagree with on a lot of political things. But they had enough fiber and respect for humanity and tolerance for all groups to say what they said about (Trump)."

Popovich continued, by saying "One could go on and on. We didn't make this stuff up. He's angry at the media because they reported what he said and how he acted. It's ironic to me. It just makes no sense. So that's my real fear. And that's what gives me so much pause and makes me feel so badly, that the country is willing to be that intolerant and not understand the empathy that's necessary to understand other groups' situations.

Popovich was finished – or was he? As he ended his remarks, he had one final thought. He said he was concerned that the United States under a Trump presidency is on the same path as the Roman Empire. "My final conclusion is, my big fear is, we are Rome."

Photos: Courtesy of Google Images.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Stronger together: Let's make some history today

Hillary Clinton / She would be Madam President 

I woke up this morning on our nation's Election Day feeling hopeful and inspired. Like four years ago when I voted to re-elect Barack Obama, today I feel inspired, ready to move forward.

In California, I am registered to permanently vote by absentee ballot. I filled out my ballot in the comfort of my dining room on a recent Sunday afternoon, taking my time – hey, it's not a closed-book exam, so I looked over many different fliers I had received in the mail, studied the voter guide and I perused the recommendations of The San Francisco Chronicle – then, I dropped off my completed and sealed ballot at one of many convenient and secure drop boxes near where I do my grocery shopping. Across the country, more than 42 million Americans voted early. 

Since then, I've been encouraging all of my friends through social media via Facebook of the importance to get out and perform their civic duty and to vote their conscience today. This has been an election campaign unlike any we've experienced. Now, it is time for America to render its decision.

Not only are we voting for the 45th President of the United States, in a highly contested election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but throughout America, there are also many important "down ballot" races that will decide the future makeup of the Senate, the House of Representatives, as well as local races for city councils and school boards, and here in California, there are many state-wide propositions and local ballot measures to be voted upon, too. 

Using our voice to speak out by exercising the right to vote is one of the great tenets of our American democratic society.

Hillary / Where everyone knows her name
This is a consequential and important Presidential election for the future of our country, and it has Americans engaged for many different reasons. I'm excited about the possibility of my country having its first female head of state. The battle lines in the Clinton-Trump race for the White House have been drawn for many months. On one side of the political spectrum is a positive message for America filled with love and hope. On the other side, it's been a dystopian vision filled with a pessimistic tone of hate and fear. In this age of vitriol, in which social media are giving voice to prejudice and drowning our politics in anger, it has caught the attention not only of my Facebook friends in America, but also in Europe, Asia and North Africa, many who are keenly following today's election outcome with hope and patience for a brighter future. After all, as British author J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame said of Donald Trump: "When a man this ignorant and easy to manipulate gets within sniffing distance of the nuclear codes, it's everyone's business."

On the night before the election, Mrs. Clinton aired a two-minute advert spot during prime time in which she framed the election as a choice between a country that is "dark and divisive or hopeful and inclusive."

Hillary for America / A slogan with value
Our core values are being tested in this election. However, I am supporting the election of Hillary Clinton not only because she is uniquely qualified as a life-long public servant and has the right temperament, but also because she best represents the issues and values that I support as a Democrat: Equal rights for women, children, minorities, and gays and lesbians; a strong and improving economy; sound environmental protection; the protection of Roe vs. Wade and women's health; the appointment of Supreme Court justices who believe in equality for all; a clear and comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS and radical jihadism to keep our country safe; and I know Mrs. Clinton will never stop speaking out about the need to prevent gun violence. I could go on and on about what I value in Hillary Clinton's candidacy. At the same time, there's nothing in Mr. Trump's candidacy, which has been marked by lies, racism, bigotry, misogyny, sexual abuse and bullying, that I can believe in or support. He is arguably the least-qualified person ever to run for President of the United States. This is not reality television, Mr. Trump. This is real life and you've more than abused your 15 minutes of fame. If this were an election based solely upon the character trait of empathy, Clinton would win hands-down in a landslide. 

America is already great for so many different reasons. I believe Mrs. Clinton's vision for the United States provides our country with the best hope for its future. If America hasn't figured it out now, they're not going to. 

"I'm will work my heart out as president to make life better for you and your family," Clinton pledges. "We won't always get it right, but you can count on this: I've never quit and I never will." 

I'm inspired by Mrs. Clinton's message – and I'm ready to move forward, knowing that our country's best days are still ahead of us. I hope everyone will join me in supporting Hillary Clinton for President. Love trumps hate.

Indeed, we are stronger when we're together.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Reflections on a Halloween night

When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,
May luck be yours on Halloween.

Reflecting upon my childhood, one thing I looked forward to each year was Halloween. 

Last night, over the course of two and one-half hours, kids – white, black, Asian, Hispanic – were out in great enthusiasm, if not in great numbers, in our Oakland, Calif., neighborhood celebrating Halloween. They represented a microcosm of the city at large. They came full of enthusiasm, and they dressed in wonderful, creative – even traditional – costumes. 

One of my favorite Jack O' Lanterns
Some reflections on this latest Halloween evening:

• Dressing up as a ghost or witch, as traditional a costume as you'll see, is still quite popular as well as going trick-or-treating decked out as a super hero like Batman, Spiderman or Superman. Years after their motion picture debuts, Darth Vader and Harry Potter still garner a lot of attention, no doubt thanks to their movie-star appeal – and both remain among my favorites. As a kid, I remember dressing up as a NASA astronaut back when kids aspired to be astronauts and fly to the moon. Simpler times, I guess.

• This year, my favorite surprise was a tiny three-year-old girl who dressed up as a beautiful hand-knitted farm hen.  Of course, it's always cute to see little kids dress up as lovely and cuddly tigers and dinosaurs, too. Whether homemade or store bought, imaginative costumes are what make Halloween special.

• In recent years, there's been more and more parental chaperones present on Halloween evening – many in costume – and it's always fun to see a few toting their pet dogs and baby strollers for the littlest ones, too. While some youngsters are very eager and outgoing, ready to shout "Trick or Treat" at the top of their lungs, every year there's always a few kids who are quite timid and shy, especially the youngest ones. Parents do their best to coach their little ones, standing by the bottom step of our porch, whispering "trick or treat," then "thank you."

• Halloween has definitely turned into a family event -- a sporting event, maybe? -- and this year, we budgeted for 200 mini chocolate bar candies to give out! With rain in the forecast and temperatures in the low 60s, some kids got an early start on their trick-or-treating to beat any precipitation. (Around 7 p.m., there were a few sprinkles and out came the umbrellas. Fortunately, it was short lived.) Our first trick-or-treater came knocking at the door at 5:43 p.m., just before sunset, a young grade-school girl dressed as a fairy princess. By 6 p.m., we had greeted five, including a little toddler dress up as the Big Bad Wolf while his mother accompanied him as the Little Red Riding Hood. 

• Soon after and for the next couple of hours, a steady group of youngsters came knocking on our door, dressed as teenage mutant ninja turtles, robots, skeletons, assorted royalty, Hello Kitty, Pokémon, soldiers in camouflage, softball players, Raggedy Ann, Batgirl, Elsa from "Frozen," the Mad Hatter, assorted zombies from "The Walking Dead," the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz," the Grim Reaper, "the Scream" (based upon the Edvard Munch painting), a couple of preppy middle school girls in white sweater dresses and matching black Urban Outfitter canvas bags, a beautifully attired Cleopatra, and on and on. Our best estimate is we greeted about 100-120 trick-or-treaters this year. 

A basket full of pumpkins / Happy Halloween!
• By 8:30 p.m., once the crowds had thinned, we turned out the lights, shut the front door, and treated ourselves to a few pieces of leftover candy. I love a good Kit Kat bar.

Looking back, the festiveness of Halloween left me in a happy, reflective mood. Indeed, it was another Happy Halloween – one of the most enjoyable evenings of the year – and I look forward to the next one.

Photos: Cover image, courtesy of Google Images. Pumpkin photos © Michael Dickens.