Sep 29, 2004

Preparing for Debate #1

Interesting articles in today's NY Times. I'll just recap a little here from the best ones... The first speaks of Kerry's prowess as a debater, and more importantly, his reputation as a good closer. It's interesting that the Bushies are spinning again, as they did 4 years ago, to send up the image of their David in the art of locution facing Kerry's Goliath. Don't be fooled. Bush may not be adept at stringing together coherent sentences, but he's a good debater in his connection to the audience, and in his ability to seem likable. The New Yorker had an excellent piece in a recent issue that highlighted his quick wit, physicality in his speaking, and command of colloquial wit that allows him to get away with not answering questions head on and testing our interpretative skills when he goes off script. Let's not forget that he has excellent speechwriters as well.

A Fast Finisher's Reputation Now Faces the Ultimate Test

Published: September 29, 2004

...Mr. Bush's aides have gone out of their way in recent weeks to talk up Mr. Kerry's prowess as a debater, with the president's strategist Matthew Dowd calling Mr. Kerry "the best debater ever to run for president," and "better than Cicero." In fact, the record shows that Mr. Kerry, so often windy in prepared speeches, can be succinct in spontaneous exchanges.

In his second debate against Mr. Weld in 1996, Mr. Kerry interrupted him at one point by saying, "There you go again," Ronald Reagan's famous line against Jimmy Carter in 1980.

"I knew Ronald Reagan," Mr. Weld replied, echoing Lloyd Bentsen's invocation of his acquaintance with John F. Kennedy in putting down Dan Quayle in 1988, only to have Mr. Kerry shoot back, "So did I, and we don't need another Ronald Reagan type in Washington."

In their first debate, with the mother of a police officer who had been killed in the line of duty sitting in the audience, Mr. Weld demanded that Mr. Kerry defend his opposition to the death penalty and explain "why the life of the man who murdered her son is worth more than the life of her son."

Mr. Kerry, a former prosecutor, replied quietly: "It's not worth more. It's not worth anything. It's scum that ought to be thrown in jail for the rest of its life." But, he added, in an unmistakable reference to his service in Vietnam (a war that Mr. Weld had avoided on account of a bad back), "I've been opposed to the death penalty. I know something about killing. I don't like killing. I don't think a state honors life by turning around and sanctioning killing."...

The Man elected President in 2000 weighed in today as well, with the following op-ed contribution. Although in my rash desire to put something to HTML, I had an earlier bit of soothsaying, I haven't learned my lesson and now have my prediction for this debate, after reading a few pieces. I think that it's going to be close to a draw. I think that they will both be careful, and that Kerry will come across less arrogant than people expect, and more direct, but that there won't be anything earthmoving in this first debate. Bush will be very careful, and won't attack Kerry that directly for this first one, because he's in the lead, and doesn't want to seem "impresidential."

I think that it's going to be fairly measured, as the teams of both have obviously been skimming the news that we're seeing, and know that at least in the media's analysis, which people are reading, the debates are supposed to make all the difference in the way that people think about this election. If that's the case, truly, then they will be careful here, and then let loose when they get closer to E-day. I would love to see something of a surprise in the way that they get into it, and I'll be watching with a play-by-play on IM if anyone's interested. Alas, though: we do not have cable. Or TiVo for those lovely Bush moments that we all are sure to remember and laugh at come November 3rd and the end of this regime.

September 29, 2004
How to Debate George Bush

This year, as usual, the dominance of attack advertisements on television has made it hard to get a clear picture of where the candidates stand. But the same media revolution that brought us the 30-second commercial also brought us televised presidential debates - and ever since the first of them 44 years ago, they have played a crucial role in shaping voters' opinions of the candidates.

America has long been devoted to the clash between opposing advocates as the best way to evaluate information. In this era of media clutter, it is all the more important for voters to have this moment of simple clarity when the candidates appear before them stripped of advisers, sound bites and media spin.

My advice to John Kerry is simple: be prepared for the toughest debates of your career. While George Bush's campaign has made "lowering expectations" into a high art form, the record is clear - he's a skilled debater who uses the format to his advantage. There is no reason to expect any less this time around. And if anyone truly has "low expectations" for an incumbent president, that in itself is an issue.

But more important than his record as a debater is Mr. Bush's record as a president. And therein lies the true opportunity for John Kerry - because notwithstanding the president's political skills, his performance in office amounts to a catastrophic failure. And the debates represent a time to hold him to account. For the voters, these debates represent an opportunity to explore four relevant questions: Is America on the right course today, or are we off track? If we are headed in the wrong direction, what happened and who is responsible? How do we get back on the right path to a safer, more secure, more prosperous America? And, finally, who is best able to lead us to that path?

A clear majority of Americans believe that we are heading in the wrong direction. The reasons are obvious. The situation in Iraq is getting worse. Osama bin Laden is alive and plotting against us. About 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. Forty-five million Americans are living without health insurance. Medicare premiums are the highest they've ever been. Environmental protections have been eviscerated.

In the coming debates, Senator Kerry has an opportunity to show voters that today American troops and American taxpayers are shouldering a huge burden with no end in sight because Mr. Bush took us to war on false premises and with no plan to win the peace. Mr. Kerry has an opportunity to demonstrate the connection between job losses and Mr. Bush's colossal tax break for the wealthy. And he can remind voters that Mr. Bush has broken his pledge to expand access to health care.

Senator Kerry can also use these debates to speak directly to voters and lay out a hopeful vision for our future. If voters walk away from the debates with a better understanding of where our country is, how we got here and where each candidate will lead us if elected, then America will be the better for it. The debate tomorrow should not seek to discover which candidate would be more fun to have a beer with. As Jon Stewart of the "The Daily Show'' nicely put in 2000, "I want my president to be the designated driver.''

The debates aren't a time for rhetorical tricks. It's a time for an honest contest of ideas. Mr. Bush's unwillingness to admit any mistakes may score him style points. But it makes hiring him for four more years too dangerous a risk. Stubbornness is not strength; and Mr. Kerry must show voters that there is a distinction between the two.

If Mr. Bush is not willing to concede that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq, can he be trusted to make the decisions necessary to change the situation? If he insists on continuing to pretend it is "mission accomplished," can he accomplish the mission? And if the Bush administration has been so thoroughly wrong on absolutely everything it predicted about Iraq, with the horrible consequences that have followed, should it be trusted with another four years?

The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: "The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined."

Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.

Al Gore, vice president from 1993 to 2001, was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000.

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Thousands of Pakistanis face deportation from Canada

This is not good news from our benevolent neighbors to the North... who took many immigrants fleeing the persecution of their community after the PATRIOT Act was enacted.

IPA NY Voices That Must Be Heard:
Thousands of Pakistanis face deportation from Canada
By Amir Arain, Pakistan Post, 29 September 2004. Translated from Urdu by Mohammed Jehangir.

The future of thousands of Pakistanis waiting for refugee status in Canada has become bleak as Canadian courts increasingly reject their applications for asylum/refugee status. Last year, 41 percent of asylum applications were approved. Refugees whose cases were rejected now face deportation from Canada.

Immigration attorneys say that chances that these refugees will remain in Canada indefinitely are very slim, since the Canadian government has announced its intention to crackdown on illegal immigrants and refugees. More than 4,000 people entered Canada as refugees in 2003, the majority coming from the United States. According to Canadian officials, the Canadian Refugee Board right now is rejecting more than 50 percent of the applications.

The Canadian Refugee Protection Division reported that since 2000 more than 4,000 Pakistanis entered Canada seeking refugee status or political asylum, a peak after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Of the 4,269 Pakistanis who applied for refugee status in Canada in 2003, 1,614 were accepted, 1,800 rejected, and 373 went missing while 236 applicants withdrew their applications.

In 2002, of the 3,878 Pakistanis who applied for asylum, 54 percent were accepted. In 2000 and 2001, 61 and 64 percent of the applications were approved respectively.
Immigration attorneys say that a large number of Pakistanis apply for refugee/asylum status on the basis of being Shiites [Shia is a sect of Islam], arguing that because they belong a religious minority, they face threats from the fundamentalists amongst the Sunni Muslim majority. Those who applied for political asylum said that the Pakistani government under President Pervez Musharraf is targeting them because they belong to the Pakistan Muslim League Party headed by of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Canadian judges, however, believe that President Musharraf is taking tough measures to crush extremists and bring down the level of extremism in Pakistan by banning militant sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Canadian judges are also increasingly rejecting applications for political asylum. The highest rate of approval is for applications filed by women who seek protection and refuge from the excesses and violence of their husbands. Also, in the past three years close to 150 Pakistanis received asylum in Canada because of their sexual orientation; some reports suggest that the figure includes Pakistani lesbians. Applications by entire families – sometimes consisting of three or four children – often accepted in the past are now being rejected and the families deported from Canada to Pakistan.

Under an agreement between the U.S. and Canadian governments, Canada must deport back to the United States all those individuals who left the United States to seek asylum. Human rights groups have expressed concern over the emerging situation.

Translation © 2004, IPA, all rights reserved. Included by permisson of Pakistan Post.

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Sep 28, 2004

Vote for Aung San Suu Kyi for Time Magazine Award

Aung San Suu Kyi is a true pillar of strength and genuine resolve, a warrior for human rights, and one of my personal heroes (if you're wondering, I didn't start saying that after reading that Bono feels the same way).

Please take a moment and vote for her before October 4th, 2004.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been selected as one of Time Magazine Asia's "living Asian hero" award nominees. She is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Please take a few moments and vote for her to help raise awareness about the horrific situation in Burma.


The finalist will be announced in TIME's 2004 Asian Heroes special website on October 4, 2004.

AFTER YOU VOTE, SEND A QUICK EMAIL TO: and let us know, so we can keep track of how many people voted! Also, email your friends, family, and colleauges and encourage them to vote too!

About Aung San Suu Kyi

Vaclav Havel has called her "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless." Bono, lead singer of U2 says, "She's my hero." Who is this woman?

Aung San Suu Kyi leads a popular struggle for freedom and democracy in the Southeast Asian country of Burma. The country is ruled by one of the world's most brutal military regimes, which uses rape, torture, and killing to maintain its grip on power. Thousands of Burmese people have perished in the struggle for human rights and democracy, while journalists, writers, students, and others remain locked behind bars as political prisoners.

For her nonviolent resistance to Burma's military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the majority of the past 15 years under house arrest. However, like Nelson Mandela when he was imprisoned, Aung San Suu Kyi serves as a beacon of hope to the Burmese freedom struggle.

Surviving physical abuse, deprivation of food, and two assassination attempts, she is a shining light of freedom in a land of darkness. For her efforts, she has won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament, India's Jawaharlal Nehru Prize for International Understanding, and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

US Campaign for Burma

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Sep 27, 2004

Traveling Without Motion...

Annoying my co-workers with:
Depeche Mode: 101

It ends up that the travel agent I'd blown up at had just lost her brother to a sudden heart attack. It just underlines the feeling that we have to be more careful in the way that we fly off the handle with folks - see where they are coming from, and try to emote what you wish to be emoted back at you. So my Mom called without my knowing and smoothed over the issue.

And now - finally - our tickets to India have been confirmed! We're leaving at the very end of the year, and will be there for 3 weeks. We're so excited about the prospect of being abroad together, especially to India, where I had an absolutely wonderful time this past January, when I flew by myself for 2 weeks to attend my cousin brother's wedding. This time, we don't have any huge events to program around, so I expect that we're going to try to do as much as we can without shirking on our responsibility to meet family and our desire to shop like suburbanites.

The prospect of sharing her first trip back to India in 8 years is also humbling. I think that it's going to be a lot of fun. Just have a million things to do before that time, though, including some more political writing, which I haven't really done in quite a while.

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Sep 26, 2004

Apple Brand Loyalty, Vol. 3 (finale)

I'm typing this on the afore-mentioned laptop that had crashed out because of a logic board issue that's been well-documented with dual-USB iBooks. We sent it out on a Saturday, and had it back by Thursday, when they told us that it may take up to three weeks. Not 1 piece of data was missing, when they told us to expect that they'd wipe the hard drive clean. It was excellent service, at the end of the day, and while I think it sucks that the product shipped with this flaw waiting to rear its ugly head, I think that Apple has done a great job of damage control by taking full responsibility and repairing the laptops quickly.

I haven't heard anything about the powerbooks, but who can afford something at that price level? So my review? I would say that Apple has average customer service on the front end (when you first report the issue or concern), not so good service at the Apple stores, and fantastic support when you send it in.

Still - who wants to get a Wintel box that you wouldn't even want to give a name because it has no personality of its own??

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Wedding #9... Music and Memory

Yes, that's right - the year is 3/4 over, and we've gone to an average of one wedding per month. We went to my childhood friend's wedding reception last night, with Mom, sis, and A. We had a great time together, and we're just so happy for our friend, who looked radiant and effused a kind of joy that makes you want to jump onto the dance floor to join her in her revelry. I wish that we'd been able to make the wedding in the morning, but with our hectic schedules of late, we just weren't able to commit to a full day.

The reception was held in a vineyard in western NJ, which is a world apart from the crowded, traffic-ridden metropolitan regions closer to NYC. It reminded us individually of the places where we'd grown up, the smell of freshly cut grass, the rolling hills in the near distance, and the wider openness bringing a sense of return, a sense of familiarity to the 90-minute drive.

I was inspired by at least one small element of Rush drummer Neil Peart's latest book Traveling Music, which I'm still committed to finish (at least so I can move on and not feel that I may have missed out on some solid kernel of revelation, embedded somewhere in the final tenth of nearly 400 pages of navel-gazing and meandering recollections of disjointed past experiences and moments, many of which have little to actually do with music). Though I find his style is alternately dull, repetitive, self-important, and affected, (there are probably 600 individual words that have been italicized to make some emphatic point - the stylistic and repetitive equivalent of a valley girl saying "like" - we get the point, Neil. Give it a rest.)

I really liked his concept of filling a CD changer with specific CDs and allowing the albums to speak for themselves and both recall specific moments of memory, and at some point, if the album is strong enough a musical statement, to transcend the personal memories and still stand on its own as superb music. So I popped in 10 CDs a couple of days ago, anticipating the road time, and trying to anticipate the moods that we'd all be in on both the road to and return from the festivities. I think that I did okay - my favorite moments came from the impromptu sing-along to a number of selections from U2's Achtung Baby from the trio choir of decked out desi women in the back of our small sedan at 11 PM!

I had just found the album again after months of backburner searching, and to no surprise, the songs, and album as a whole have stood the test of time and my own intermittent genre jumping for something entirely different once in a while. Peart writes about this ability of the finest music to transcend the interaction between that music and specific memories (which has such a strong ability to make music appreciation into a highly personal, and emotionally charged - endeavor). Achtung Baby most definitely marks a personal high point for me, recalling the heady days of freshman year in college, when anything was possible, and everything was new. Interestingly, I can also trace the album to the following year, which was mixed in a lot of ways for me - the variation in the individual songs lending themselves to my changing moods. I guess a sure sign of a great album is when your favorite track on it changes over time. It was an appropriate disk, considering that it was also a favorite of my friend who had just gotten married.

Back to the reception... and music. It was interesting that once the dancefloor opened up, certain music elicited excited responses from the entire mixed group of second generation desis, white folk of the gen-x variety, and assorted first and 1.5 generation immigrants. The bhangra and filmi remixes were almost uniformly celebrated, everyone with their own take on how to enjoy them. Even when the DJ played Girls Just Want to Have Fun, it seemed like a lot of folks were grooving in their own way. But later in the evening, when aforementioned triad decided to take the set list into their own hands and request from the retro tracks carefully selected by the stars of the evening, half the floor cleared out almost immediately, leaving only the children of the 80s to revel in their collective memories of simpler times (and music). With the first chords of A Little Respect, the wave of pure exaltation that audibly rose from those who had been dancing to Billy Idol's Dancing With Myself was a marvel. For almost half an hour, while those of us who remembered, danced... those who did not share in those memories watched, standing in the sidelines. New Wave is such an interesting phenomena that doesn't seem to have the same broad appeal, at least on the dancefloor, as hip-hop. I remember on L's b-day, when a cousin of ours had an incredulous look on her face as the rest of us sang along and danced with New Wave songs at Odeon.

What is even more interesting is that M, our friend whose wedding we were celebrating, went to the DJ and said "I want to hear Big Country, now!" I didn't know the song, but as it came on, others seemed really happy and excited about it - including D. As we danced to it, A and I realized that neither of us knew the tune either - but saw my sister - 5 years younger than us - singing along... Apparently, learning the lyrics of an 80s song isn't all that hard. In an even more interesting sidenote (assuming that any of this is of interest to anyone who isn't mentioned in this thing): I listened to Big Country again today, aided by the wonderful technology of... well... if the FBI is reading (or the CIA is monitoring this because it's acquired Blogger as part of its comprehensive web-based counter-terrorism initiative "Cointelpro-ster")... I won't name names. But I sure do like Lime juice! In listening to the first 10 seconds of the song, I noticed something that sounded familiar, cross-referenced it with another mp3 in my library, and have confirmation. Get ready for this, cuz it's a doozy:

The drumbeat, and initial enthusiastic yell of "Shot!" or "Shout!" in the song Big Country, is echoed, repeated, and otherwise duplicated with a small revision of verbal exclamation "Not!" in.... Anthrax's I'm The Man, their loony foray into rap-metal.
How weird is that? I've known the Anthrax song well enough, actually for years, but I had never heard this song that it was mocking, when I thought I've heard every New Wave 80s tune ad nauseum. Ahh - the beauty of small and weird things.


As a final aside, in my internet search for any mention of this interesting connection, I found this Langston Hughes poem, which I actually want to write about at some point - it hit close to home for me - as a number of his poems have.

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Sep 25, 2004

America's Next Top Desi

In my aimless channel-flipping last night, I caught the first elimination round in the Tara Banks vehicle "America's Next Top Supermodel". Remarkably - there were 2 desi women in the first round (how come I didn't see anything about this on the SAJA list serv?). As expected, only one of the 2 desi women was selected to be part of the 14 that move on, and as expected, the one with the Christian name, long straight hair, and "indic/exotic" features was the one who was selected. I'm not sure of their backgrounds, but I think that the other one may have been non-Indian. How typical. Does this mean that we've "made it"?

I'll update when I have more info.

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Sep 24, 2004

despair a distant
landscape: outspoken, bitter
still hope carries on

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So long, Stacie with a J

Work has been a madhouse the past week, which in one way, I actually enjoy. It's nice to feel a little fire underneath your ass when you're getting too comfortable. Of course, it coincides with what should be crunch time for the standardized exam that's looming on the horizon, but I don't believe in coincidences!! It all happens for a reason!!

I wanted to write a couple of updates on my customer service issues... I learned a couple of lessons in the past week. But I'm still reeling from The Apprentice this week, and I think that I have to vent. Those sorority chicks ganged up on the one woman of color (Ivana doesn't count, okay? She was trying so hard to pass culturally; I thought she'd pull something. Maybe she's from Cali) and got her tossed out. It can be seen as a case study of how behavior is so closely regulated in corporate culture that any deviation can be used as a clear signal of incompatibility, challenge, or heaven forbid! - dissent.

I think that Stacie J. was a little too sure of herself in the first episode (though I didn't see all of it), and thought she was in an accepting, or more open environment than it was. She acted like she would in any other situation, without the game show. But unfortunately, the chicks weren't down, not even the wack-job Jennifer (who gets a lot of camera time - when the woman who looks like seven of nine from voyager is the one that everyone keeps staring at). I'm disgusted at the show, but not really surprised. Still, I was hoping that after scapegoating the beyotch Omirosa last time, they'd not persecute a woman of color for being different. So much for that. Still - I was really rooting for her, especially because I liked how she chilled out when she saw how the claws came out, and they all started digging into one another. I liked seeing her sit in a corner and listen as they cut into each other. Sadly, she got with the program a bit too late.

Sorry that I'm so fascinated by this show. It's like a window into a whole world that I didn't really know before Trump came on TV. My friends who work in Corporate America (or should I just call it America nowadays - has it become redundant yet?) first criticized the show last year, stating that it wasn't realistic at all (not the game show part, of course, just the business atmosphere). But they got hooked quickly enough, and said that some of the "subtlety" is actually quite accurate. I think of it more like saving admission for the zoo, and watching much more vain, simple creatures than any I could find in any amusement park. It's like the Mermaid Parade, every week.

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Sep 21, 2004

Kerry's "Top 10 Bush Tax Proposals" are:

10. No estate tax for families with at least two U.S. presidents.

9. W-2 Form is now Dubya-2 Form.

8. Under the simplified tax code, your refund check goes directly to Halliburton.

7. The reduced earned income tax credit is so unfair, it just makes me want to tear out my lustrous, finely groomed hair.

6. Attorney General (John) Ashcroft gets to write off the entire U.S. Constitution.

5. Texas Rangers can take a business loss for trading Sammy Sosa.

4. Eliminate all income taxes; just ask Teresa (Heinz Kerry) to cover the whole damn thing.

3. Cheney can claim Bush as a dependent.

2. Hundred-dollar penalty if you pronounce it "nuclear" instead of "nucular."

1. George W. Bush gets a deduction for mortgaging our entire future.

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Sep 17, 2004

Customer Service (Apple Brand Loyalty Vol. 2)

Speaking of customer service (see the post before this one)... I called up Apple on Wednesday to talk about D's laptop to see if they'd listen to me and be convinced that we have the nefarious logic board issue. When my partner had called, they put her on hold for 20 minutes, and told her that they didn't have any record of the machine being sold or even being worked on in an Apple store, nor that they would be able to do anything unless the store called them.

So I called, ready for their challenges. Ends up that the guy on the phone put me through about 15 minutes of tests, and then took my information, letting me know that a box would be on its way by Friday (today). I have yet to go home, but I expect the box to be there, which I'll call in to be picked up by Monday (I hope), and then we'll wait. They said that it'll take upwards of 21 days, and most likely, the machine will be wiped clean of all data.

I'll begin the timer from the moment that DHL picks up the machine, and we'll even track what the Apple Service site tells me about the status of the laptop as we go along. Let's hope that they don't lose this loyal custo/con/sumer by messing this up.

Meanwhile - I realize that I like taking things apart and trying to fix them. I don't know what this means, given the kind of work that I do.

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How Rage Might Cost Me a Perfect Vacation

Argh. I screwed up our plans to be on a plane at the end of December by having a meltdown confrontation with the travel agent when they told me that I didn't have a reservation anymore. I think that we totally missed one another on something, but I didn't have patience for her attitude, and I let it out - nothing that abusive, but I guess I was trying to pin blame on them, which they just weren't having at that point.

Sucks, because I had she and her co-worker hang up on me a bunch of times at the end of our conversation, with her telling me that she can't spend this kind of time on one customer, and that I was basically just doing things to waste their time. I can't believe that it got to that level. I just wish that I hadn't let go of all inhibitions, because now - I'm stuck without tickets. I have to find a travel agent in time to get tickets for the days that I've asked to take my annual leave from work. What a mess.

And what an awful way to start the weekend. I don't want to make anyone upset. I don't want to ruin anyone's weekend. But I most definitely don't want to be taken advantage of, and in this case - I think that they booked something and just let it go, which I would understand if they didn't try so hard to mask that fact.

Anyone out there know a travel agent? Get back to me, QUICK!

Is it so much to ask for good customer service nowadays? Maybe from a desi place that knows you're desi...

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Sep 15, 2004

A story from July...

Since I haven't had or taken the time to write something longer in the last month, and foresee a limitation in my ability to do more than comment on some of the news as I see it at least for another 2 - 3 weeks, I thought that I'd share with my lovely friends and readers something that I'd written a while ago about an encounter that made me smile. Please read if you have time... i haven't really polished it at all, but I just can't wait for that kind of close reading at this point...



Sometimes I wonder if there's a look on my face, or in the way that I listen to some folks, that makes them feel comfortable that they can speak with me. I know that there have been a number of other incidents, none of which, of course, I can remember right now. Well – there were the folks that I spoke with on my trip to India. That was pretty neat. Maybe I should get in touch with some of them – just to see how they are doing, and to keep that connection – something that seems so rare nowadays. Remember that woman on the plane to Trinidad? That was a trip as well.

But most of all, what about the gentle Egyptian at the Inn on Venice Beach? Most likely, he is whom I remember the most. And yet, what was his name? I had gathered so much from his story... perhaps D will remember what his name was. Perhaps I would be able to be in contact with him again before he leaves the Inn. I remember his talking about his family, and how his wife does not want to come to America, and how he missed his two boys, and how he was a banker in that life in Egypt, and couldn't get into a bank job here. How he thought there was a lot of prejudice, and how he saw the irony of being persecuted as a Christian in Egypt, and an Arab in America.


Today, I had a great conversation with someone new who trusted me enough to speak for a while, and seemed genuinely happy about the exchange. I was sitting in the Queens office that I'd been working to close out completely, while the landlord was having the hallway painted. As I walked out my door to get something outside, one of the guys who were painting asked me something. I didn’t quite follow – unable to contextualize what he was asking since I couldn’t make out where he was from. He had a fairly recognizable Russian accent, but a complexion closer to mine than the Russian movers that we'd had clear out the office a couple of weeks earlier.

I asked him “what"? And he repeated what sounded like “are you from Russia"? I replied, “My parents are from India". To which he said, “yes! Asian!” I asked him where he was from, and he responded “Uzbekistan". He said that in his country, people listen/watch a lot of Indian movies. I knew a bit of that, but didn't realize that it continued still. He told me that Raj Kapoor had visited 15-16 years ago, and that was a hit in the country. I smiled, and said that I'd heard something like that, and then moved out the door.

The next time I went out, he said something about King Babir. I didn’t quite follow again, and he repeated, saying that he was from Uzbekistan. That there was a line that connected the Mughal emperors between his country and my imagined homeland. I thought that was cool – and then he mentioned a few other kings, Shah Jahan included, mentioned the Taj Mahal, and then a date... 1546. I was impressed, saying that I didn't know anything like that, and then walked into the office.

The third time, while I was downstairs, he started asking me if I'd heard of a particular song, which he started to whistle, but then the landlord came by to speak with him, and I made a quick escape. By this time, it was somewhat evident that he wanted to connect, to speak with someone else, but I was still in a bit of shyness/isolation, as you'd expect from my American upbringing. Rather than engage, you're supposed to be very uncomfortable with these exchanges, polite, and run away as quickly as you can. I wonder if the primary driver is the inherent separation of classes in the United States, or it's simpler and just about speaking with anyone that you don't know. I wonder if that's “American” or if that’s strictly a NYC thing.

Anyway – the fourth time was the charm. I came back to the office, and he was working on the front door, and quickly said “do you know this song?” and whistled something for a second, started humming, and then the words started to come in Hindi. I didn’t know the tune, but it sounded somewhat familiar. He mentioned the title of the movie, Sangam, perhaps? And then he asked about another one, and suddenly the tune that came from his lips reminded me of my mom, of my home. He was singing an old Mohammad Rafi song... I think from Shree 420, which he mentioned then, but translating back from a few languages. In his halting English, he described Raj Kapoor's character stylings, with pockets empty and hat off-center. He mentioned that Nargis was in the film. It was a deep moment as his eyes twinkled from the memory of the song, and as I recognized it from his rendition, his voice taking a different tone than English. I could feel memory and longing in that song, and it reminded me of home, of exile, of paths that seldom double back to where we once were, and where we always think we want to be again.

His name was Rustam, he told me later, as we spoke in the rain for about 45 minutes. He was working as a cook at Glatt Kosher in the LES for 2 years, but then when the work dried up for the summer, he started to do construction work. He was very interested in hearing more about India, and what I knew about it. He seemed to know some things about Gujarat, and I told him about the anti-Muslim violence there. He told me that he spoke Russian, Turkish, Farsi, and he was learning Polish (his girlfriend was Polish – this was something that I didn't think of at the time, but his wife is in Uzbekistan, and his girlfriend is here). Everyday, he calls home, via phone cards he buys at the Bangladeshi store around the corner from his apartment in Kensington, Brooklyn.

He was pleased that I spoke with him for a while, and we spoke of the politics in Uzbekistan. We spoke of the different feeling between America and many other places, where people receive you with a smile, and some connection between the two of you. He said that here, people give you a smile, and after 5 minutes, they have to run off somewhere else. When I heard that he was a cook, I mentioned ROC-NY, going into detail about all the work that they do. Perhaps outreach isn't my cup of tea, since I don't think that he was very interested in it.

He told me that he was a professor in history in Uzbekistan, and had reached mid-level (between assistant and professor) for 5 years. But there was no money, and he came here that he could send money back for his daughter. He'd been waiting for them to come here, but their visa application is stuck in the process, a limbo that has claimed many others. He said that if he could speak better English, he could have a job here that paid better, but his English was still very poor, and there was no time to fix it. He was a warm fellow, with a keen eye towards the things that he saw in behavior here in the States, and a comment about most of them.

I gave him my card, telling him that he should give me a call if he has any questions/needs, and took his full name and number, and the address of the deli where he worked as a cook, should he go there again. He was thankful, and I think, happy to connect with someone else during an otherwise dull, rainy day. I think that he was looking for some other job, without complaining much about the work. At 46, you want to find something else, especially if he is a man of letters.

I told him, near the end of our conversation, that he should go to the Brooklyn Public Library – that he could take a couple of hours, and train himself in English, and find some escape from work and the distance from his family. He seemed to think about it – but didn’t seem like it was a light bulb that went off... so we'll see. Perhaps I'll run into him again... in the LES, at his deli.


There's something to be said about our conversations in broken languages with people. There is an inherent victory integrated in active listening in which the other participant is encouraged to keep trying to get their point across. I feel like it gives a kind of confidence to someone, that they can actually communicate with you, and get some of their point across. Sometimes I wonder if it's just a matter of teaching people to be more patient, and to listen. Part of the problem with modernization, or at least the neo-capitalist culture in which we are embedded is that popular adage, “time is money” has resulted in people scurrying off at a clipped pace, cutting conversations into tiny pieces, small sound bites... it's the conversational equivalent of reducing letters thought out and composed into short, scattered emails. Without listening, how will we uncover the hidden story, the marvelous layers that lie just beneath a surface we may think we understand? A million million stories, each waiting to be told, each yearning to be free.

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back from Vegas... and into the universe we go

Digital Rotation:
Megadeth: "Die Dead Enough"
Jesus Jones: "Right Here Right Now"

What a whirlwind of a few weeks it's been, and what a continuation of the above it will be for at least another 2 weeks. Went to Vegas to celebrate the approaching, and long anticipated, joining of two lives that have been linked for longer than I can remember (well, Feb 1994, if I remember correctly). So after various dives into Vegas-related debauchery (though I must admit that I didn't really partake in much of what Vegas has to offer, save the wonderful opportunity to lose your hard-earned cash on a few measly thrilling moments. I felt like the brownest cooler (not coolie, mind you) that the strip has ever seen. At one point, I dropped a twenty in a slot machine, and while the guys around me were hitting something every 2 or 3 spins (even a 2 credit return is SOMETHING), I went through 80 quarters without getting a single hit. Not one. I can't believe that luck. It was straight out of a nutty short story. Of course, that was at the tail end of my fruitless wagering - if only I'd left my bank card at home!

Back in my home city again, thinking about the next couple of weeks, and just knowing that I have to buckle down, and not think about too many things on the periphery of my prize - a high score on the standardized exam that looms in front of me. I'm not hitting as high on the scale as I want to, need to get - so I have to find a way to concentrate and just increase by at least 4 or 5 questions per exam. We'll have to see what happens.

Otherwise, I'm looking forward to moving forward in my life, and moving beyond the 4 walls that have both protected and sheltered me over the past 5 years. Milestones should not be so far and few between in our all too short lives. So here's to movement, both in our lives, and in the lifestream that surrounds us, ebbing and flowing with the constant motion of the universe around us.

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Sep 3, 2004

The Long Road Ahead

I listened to the second half of the Bush convention speech last night, and I grew very sad at the prospect of what I felt for the first time deep inside: I think that he's going to get re-elected. I don't know why I have this feeling, but the fervor in the room, the unflinching resolve of this Administration to push forward an agenda that it believes is the right way for this country to go, regardless of what the vast majority of Americans think, and the virtual invisibility and hard-edged crackdown on what I thought was an amazing showing of solidarity, dogged determination, and just-plain-old-guts of the hundreds of thousands who left their normal routines to voice their objection to some or all of this Administration's priorities and actions over the last 3 1/2 years have led me to believe that there's little hope for a future that doesn't have this man with his minions in tow conquering the White House for another four years, this time possibly with an actual mandate.

I just felt that his team, with Carl Rove at the top of his game, are moving fast to keep the advantage and attack the Kerry-Edwards team with everything that they've got. That Kerry may not have acted exactly as is claimed in Viet Nam is hardly the point. That he went voluntarily to serve for his country, and then realized what a mistake the United States had made in committing to a war that didn't have as much to do with us as the American people were led to believe, and came back to state his beliefs openly at the highest level, advocating that more idealistic young Americans who would and did give up their lives when asked would not have to die for nothing: these are the real points. That Kerry, who I'm not the largest fan of, but who I respect even more as I think more about what he did, turned around and did exactly what wasn't expected of him by enlisting, and then when he returned, a dashing young war hero, instead of swallowing what he'd seen and what he felt was wrong with where the country was going, he again did what was unexpected, what he had to know would bring him in the public eye in a very charged way, and spoke up, well - that's just admirable, and a stark contrast to what the boy born with the petroleum pump in his mouth has done, being handed things left and right, and finally "inheriting" the throne that his father relinquished.

I didn't like the first George Bush, but I didn't have anything close to the same level of disgust as I do for his son. And I didn't fear the impact of his administration the way that I fear this one. And after that speech, whose soundbites will be carried much farther than the immediate reaches of a 1.25 hour speech on a weeknight by all the news channels and all the other ways that people get their news, I fear that people who do not access alternative media, and who really cares aside from those who are already voting ABBA anyway, will buy into his personality, into his proclaimed compassion, into his so-called patriotism, and will want to keep him in office to continue the work that he's been doing, much of which is running this nation into economic, diplomatic, and possibly physical ruin.

I hope that Kerry and Edwards respond with strength and conviction that we are behind them, and that we want change. That we cannot allow this group of hard-right reactionaries to keep pushing what is considered "moderate" in this country to move further and further to the right. That we cannot sit back and idly allow them to make their statements without any equally tough responses. That we cannot rely on common sense and traditional engagement. That we are dealing with an enemy who is willing to do and say anything, even when it's a direct and utter lie, to get what they want. That we cannot wait for fate. That we cannot hope for a swing in the correct direction. That there's too much at stake.

I don't want to believe that middle America, the hard-working people across this nation who don't know that much about world events, who believe what they hear on the evening news, and who don't over-analyze what they hear and see are going to be duped in this election. But I wonder how different John Kerry seems to them than Al Gore. Gore served in Viet Nam also - even though he wasn't in the same capacity as Kerry. He was the sitting Vice President with one of the most beloved Presidents in recent history, and was very intelligent. But he lost the election that counted - and even though he won the popular vote - the opposition found a way to win. Can we wait for that to happen again? That's what's been happening in the streets, holding pens, and courts of NYC this week - we were right, we were careful, and we still got caught in the intricate web that was laid out for us. So what if they were breaking the law in holding our brethren in Guantanamo on the Hudson for more than 24 hours? They'll release them all in the next 24 hours, but they'll have made their point already. Oppose us, and we'll crush you. Same at home as abroad.

We'll keep fighting, but the road ahead is long and I can't see the end through the dark forest in which we are mired. Below: Bob Herbert of the Times responds to the RNC and Bush's speech. Peace.

NY Times
September 3, 2004
Heads in the Sand

When asked this week on CNN how long the U.S. military is likely to remain in Iraq, Senator John McCain replied "probably" 10 or 20 years. "That's not so bad," he said, adding, "We've been in Korea for 50 years. We've been in West Germany for 50 years."

Reporters have come to expect candor from Senator McCain, and in this case he didn't disappoint. But there weren't any speakers mounting the podium at the Republican National Convention to hammer home the message that G.I.'s would be in Iraq for a decade or two.

That's not the understanding most Americans had when this wretched war was sold to them, and it's not the view most Americans hold now.

If Senator McCain is correct (and the belief in official Washington is that he is), then boys and girls who are 5 or 10 years old now will get their chance in 2015 or 2020 to strap on the Kevlar and engage the Iraqi "insurgents" who, like the indigenous forces we fought in Vietnam, will never accept the occupation of their country by America.

Marcina Hale, a protester who came to New York this week from suburban Westport, Conn., said she has two teenage boys and that Iraq "is not a war that I'm willing to send my sons to." As the years pass and the casualties mount, that sentiment will only grow.

The truth is always the first casualty of politics. But there was a bigger disconnect than usual between the bizarre, hermetically sealed perspective that was on display in Madison Square Garden this week and the daunting events unfolding without respite in the real world.

Iraq is a mess. While the cartoonish Arnold Schwarzenegger was drawing huge laughs in the Garden and making cracks about economic "girlie men," reports were emerging about the gruesome murder of 12 Nepalese hostages who had traveled to Iraq less than two weeks earlier in search of work.

At the same time, an effort to disarm insurgents in the militant Baghdad slum of Sadr City collapsed, and the death toll among American forces in Iraq continued its relentless climb toward 1,000.

The Los Angeles Times noted yesterday that a report by the respected Royal Institute of International Affairs in London has concluded that Iraq will be lucky if it avoids a breakup and civil war. The often-stated U.S. goal of a full-fledged Iraqi democracy is beyond unlikely.

In Afghanistan, a legitimate front in the so-called war against terror, much of the country remains in the hands of warlords, and the opium trade is flourishing. Experts believe substantial amounts of money from that trade is flowing to terrorist groups.

In Israel, 16 people were killed by suicide bombers who blew themselves up on a pair of crowded buses on Tuesday. In Russia, a series of horrific terror attacks, in the air and on the ground, have cast a pall across the country.

Despite all the macho posturing and self-congratulating at the Republican convention, the wave of terror that's been unleashed on the world is only growing. The American-led war in Iraq is feeding that wave, causing it to swell rather than ebb.

Any serious person who looked around the world this week would have to wonder what the delegates at the G.O.P. convention were so happy about.

The Republican conventioneers spent the entire week reminding America that we were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. But interestingly, there was hardly a mention by name of those actually responsible for the attacks - Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Discussions about the nation's real enemies were taboo. We don't know where they are or what they're up to. The over-the-top venom of some of the speakers and delegates was reserved not for Osama, but for a couple of mild-mannered guys named John.

What Americans desperately need is a serious, honest discussion of where we go from here. If we're going to be in Iraq for 10 or 20 more years, the policy makers should say so, and tell us what that will cost in money and human treasure. The violence associated with such a long-term occupation is guaranteed to be appalling.

Vietnam tore this nation apart. As we've seen in this campaign, the wounds have yet to heal. Incredibly, we're now traveling a similarly tragic road in Iraq.

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No girls, please, we're Indian

This is very sad and sobering news...

The Hindu
August 29, 2004
No girls, please, we're Indian

India now has the dubious distinction of being known as the country that likes to ensure that girls are never born. We are facing a national emergency, an `epidemic' that will have far-reaching social consequences, says KALPANA SHARMA.

IN the 1980s, it was a suspicion. In the 1990s, it was a near certainty. In 2001, it became indisputable fact. India may be known for many things but it now has the distinction of being known as the nation that likes to ensure that girls are never born. The 2001 census figures of the 0-6 years sex ratio are a stark illustration of this reality. We are facing a national emergency, an epidemic that will have far-reaching social consequences.

The adult sex ratio in India has been declining for several decades. That itself was reason for concern. But the sharp decline in the child sex ratio in the last decade from 945 to 927 is a devastating indictment of our society. Sex-detection and sex-selective abortions are today spreading like an infectious disease, from the rich to the poor, from the upper castes to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and even to the Scheduled Tribes (ST). No one wants girls anymore. Eliminate them now instead of dealing with the problems of raising a girl, goes the thinking behind the deadly actions.

In just two States

At a recent seminar in Delhi organised by Action India and the Nehru Memorial Library, the Census Commissioner, Dr. J. K. Banthia presented a visual horror story. He showed maps graded in different colours according to the 0-6 sex ratio. The growing number of districts where the 0-6 sex ratio has fallen below the 800 mark was deep red. And the reds were popping up in every State, in ever greater numbers.

The "Top of the Pops", so to speak, the districts with the worst child sex ratio were all in Punjab and Haryana, two of India's wealthiest States. The worst of these 10 was Fathegarh Sahib in Punjab with a child sex ratio of just 766. And the best of the worst was Gurdaspur, also in Punjab, with 789. What a range — 766 to 789 and all within two States. The other eight districts were Kurukshetra and Sonipat in Haryana and Patiala, Ambala, Mansa, Kapurthala, Bhatinda and Sangrur in Punjab.

The districts with the best child sex ratios were divided between Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhatisgarh, Orissa and Sikkim. East Kameng in Arunachal Pradesh had a child sex ratio of 1035 (that is 1,035 girls to every 1,000 boys) while North Sikkim, at the bottom of the list had a child sex ratio of 995. The national average is 927.

In the 1980s, when women's groups first exposed the use of technology, devised to detect genetic abnormalities, to determine the sex of the child, only a few people were alarmed. The media was virtually unresponsive. The problem seemed restricted to the metros. We thought that only the better off could afford the technology. No one expected that within two decades, sex-detection techniques would become so widespread, and affordable, that they would be available all over the country with devastating consequences on the child sex ratio. What is more alarming is that the disease of sex-selection is not restricted to certain castes and classes. Dr. Banthia's latest figures revealed that even among the SCs and STs, where the average child sex ratio has always been higher than in the general population and better than the national average, it has begun to dip substantially. Thus while in 1991, the child sex ratio for STs was 985 (against a national average of 945), in 2001 it had fallen to 973. And amongst SCs, the figures were 946 in 1991 and 938 in 2001.

A madness catching on

In 1991, not a single district in India had been recorded with a child sex ratio of less than 800. In 2001, there were 14. In 1991, only one district recorded a child sex ratio of between 800-849. In 2001, this number had risen to 31. At the other end of the spectrum in 1991, 21 districts had a child sex ratio of over 1,000. In 2001, only five districts were in this range. In other words, while the number of districts with abysmally low child sex ratios is increasing, the number with higher than average child sex ratios is declining. The madness is catching on.

There is now substantial data that reveals that private as well as government facilities are used for sex-selective abortions despite the law that prohibits it. Government doctors admit that there is no way they can ensure that a woman who comes to them for an abortion has not already detected the gender of the foetus. Reports have also shown that apart from abortions, if a female child is born despite all efforts to ensure that this does not happen, the baby is abandoned at the doorstep of hospitals. This has been documented in Punjab.

What are we to do about this problem? Surveys in Haryana and Punjab have revealed that some women genuinely believed that if their numbers decline, their value would increase because men will not find brides. Instead, men are buying brides from other States for as little as Rs. 5,000 (in Haryana a buffalo costs Rs. 40,000). These women are available to all the men in the family. Instead of being valued, women are now becoming targets of violence in districts with the lowest sex ratios.

Education makes no difference

There is also an assumption that education and economic independence will ensure that women assert their rights, including their right to reproductive choice. But a survey by Action India of women in Delhi revealed that even highly educated women have resorted to as many as eight abortions to ensure that they only give birth to a son. In this country, education and economic progress seem to make no dent on attitudes. On the contrary, these are getting more embedded.

Government intervention has been in the form of a law that is inadequate and poorly implemented. Furthermore, in its desire to curtail the growth of the population, the government has been pushing the two-child norm. Women's groups argue that the combination of son preference and the two-child norm, and the widespread availability of sex-detection techniques, will ensure that fewer girls will be born in the future.

Son preference, sex selection, female foeticide, whatever we want to call it, is a damning indictment of India in the 21st Century. Men, women, doctors, nurses, health workers, the media, and the government — we are all involved. We boast of our prowess in IT. Yet technology is being used in this country to fashion a future without women, or with very few of them. Is this progress?

© Copyright 2000 - 2004 The Hindu

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Sep 1, 2004

Stonewalk 2004 USA and Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

While politicians convene in Boston and New York this summer, family members of 9/11 victims will make a dramatic statement of solidarity with victims of terrorism, violence and war from around the world. From July 26 through September 2, they will walk from Boston to New York, pulling a 1400-pound granite memorial honoring the "Unknown Civilians Killed in War."

I am deeply moved by this action that has been happening, apparently, around the world, and I am so happy that they have chosen to come to NYC for the third anniversary of September 11th. I will sadly be out of town that weekend, but I'll do my best to visit the vigil or some other part of their time in NYC. Please do your best to go out as well, and check out the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows website.

After working with September 11th-related cases, stories, and issues for almost 3 years, reading about their work has still touched me very deeply. The loss and grief that many of these families have endured should not be used for political gain, for the justification of anyone else's violence, or for the darkening of our future as a world community. That they have come together, and that they see the resonance between their loss and the losses that people around the world have endured, and still endure is quite amazing, and touching. I wish them Godspeed in their journey and in their mission.

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