Dec 15, 2005

Red Cross Head Resigns.

More evidence that my criticism and skepticism of the Red Cross were not wholly unwarranted.

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Dec 14, 2005

Debating So-Called Immigration Reform

I was glad to see that Sepia Mutiny picked up on HR 4437 (the so-called Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005) and urged its readers to do something. Regardless of whether the bill eventually passes, it sends a very strong message that the restrictionists, the know-nothings, and the xenophobes are gaining ground and pushing a restrictionist, ultra-right wing agenda that can get quite far. It's very scary stuff.

But as in the past, I was really troubled by some of the comments on about this bill. Some folks don't seem to be able to take off their desi, middle-class, status-holder hats to think about what this means on a broader level. Not that I have all the answers, but it's funny how some of these things are just understood in radical/progressive desi/immigrant rights spaces, but in mainstream spaces, they have to be revisited again and again. But since commitment to progressive work is also a commitment to education, let's learn together...

The small picture thinking around issues of so-called illegal immigration views the concerns of the state as central in a debate that affects large populations of people whose fundamental human rights are eviscerated by hateful laws . These laws do little more than slap around people who are not empowered to vote or pay the legislators to leave them alone (insert religious right, corporate hogs, and every other interest group *here*), and pander to the ignorant (and I would say, less than majority) base in America.

But we shouldn't just accept the question of who is allowed to be in this country as some kind of inherent granted privilege. This so-called "legality" is a fiction. If not for its arbitrariness, then for the sheer fact that it has become a new way to split our communities - by immigration status. And immigrants and their progeny who were allowed to come here were picked by the people in power to fulfill specific roles in U.S. economy. Let's not get too carried away with the thought that there's some real distinction between people who are "illegal" and people who have been allowed to come here. For some reason, some immigrant community members think that they are somehow more worthy of the opportunities presented by the United States (read: money) just because they fit the description of what the nation was looking for at the time (or their parents did).

People come to the United States for money and a stable future for their children. The fundamental freedom that they want is to be left alone, like the not-so-innocent Pilgrims who started the colonial experiment in the 1600s to come here so that they could continue to stone and burn people and do whatever else they did at the time. But I digress. The point is, people migrate more because the situation back home isn't stable or they won't get a good return for their investment of time and work in a lifetime. The promise of America is more the freedom to get more for your hard work than in places where the social order is even more rigid than it is here, and that inequality is state-enforced. Some (myself included) would argue that the inequality and class divide in the United States is also state-enforced, and the gap is widening, but still - the prospect (or false hope) of moving from one strata in this society to another is very present and very known to people who come here. It is the Gold Mountain myth, the land of opportunity myth, whatever else different communities have called it. But that possibility is still more than many have in their home countries.

But the critical piece that restrictionists and their apologists don't acknowledge is that the ridiculous difference in economic conditions between the North and South are very much the result of colonial and imperialist powers doing as they pleased for hundreds of years with no regard to the long-term effect, or even the human cost of subjugation of entire races of people. The vast majority of people who come to the United States, including those who come through the channels that are currently authorized by the government, do so with two hearts - leaving home, where your roots and your people are, as well as your comfort to be one of many rather than one of a minority, where you can speak in your own language and hear the songs of your ancestors in the street life - that decision is heartbreaking. The promise of America is more for the immigrants' children than it is for themselves, and I know that I am the beneficiary of my parents' decision to move here, far more than they were, isolated and far from home as they were.

For people living in the shadows of the American majority culture, immigration status is a barrier even to trying to access critical human needs, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult. Shunning those who came via different paths, and distancing ourselves from those who are the most vulnerable to the periodic waves of extreme anti-immigrant sentiment, is both a disservice to our brothers and sisters, and a movement towards becoming a house hajji who adopts the white mask and forgets that the violence of the United States doesn't end with wars - that its past and current immigration policies very much constitute a structural violence against peoples of the world, and we shouldn't sit back and take it. Not in our names.

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Dec 11, 2005

Debating Australia

Got involved in a discussion on SM for the first time in a long time, about racism in Australia. Rather than post there, and because of limited time, I decided to just to keep my thoughts here. If you're visiting from that thread, feel free to pile on here.

Australia has been extremely xenophobic as a matter of national policy. Of course, the United States is certainly not a beacon of openness in the world community (for a good example of this, and a call to immediate action this week, click here about HR 4437, an ugly bill that turns aiding undocumented immigrants into a felony) and more of Europe is moving in this direction, but Australia has been there for a long time - and my statement that you couldn't pay me to go there is a personal statement of my own fear of what may happen to me, even though I have relative privilege of gender, class, and status.

Discrimination is one thing - overt xenophobia as espoused by national policy (see Australia's refugee policy), is another. Of course the United States is a beacon on this, from exclusionary immigration acts to the death blow of the 1996 Welfare reform legislation, and even what's going through Congress right now.

Admittedly, I don't know enough about Australia first hand, but I would definitely want to hear the perspective of different people - when you listen to middle-class desis talk about the United States or the UK, the perspective is very different from that of more working class or recent immigrants.

I wonder if the same is true for different classes of immigrants and refugees in Australia, even from the same broader diasporic community. How is it for non-English speakers? How is for folks who live more on the margins of Australian society? Has Australia moved forward from its xenophobic past, the way that Canada has? Or does it remain in a way more troubling than just fringe groups or politicians, sorta how it does in the United States.

Though it's reassuring to hear some positivity out there about Australian society, individual accounts of "I'm okay, you're okay" don't seem convincing enough to me. For every person profiled or harassed for being of a particular religion or ancestry in the United States, there's always someone else ready to supply a soundbite of "I've had no problem, I'm very thankful for being here." Neither picture fully represents what's happening, and I guess it's hard to really get an accurate macro picture.

And it's also a question of more at stake than just "what's going to happen to desis here, there, or wherever." Distilling racist and anti-immigrant instances into a "what's the brown factor" analysis amounts more to a "tell me why I should care" lens that threatens the basis of coalition-building. The point isn't how this affects your future vacation plans to Australia. The point is that the fundamental infringement of peoples' rights to live without fear and to migrate peacefully are at risk, and the basic values espoused by international human rights law are being undermined.

So I've been thinking about it not just as a desi, but as a member of an immigrant community - and I've been wondering for the many different paths and peoples who have made their way to the shores of Oz, what were their experiences? Is there tension? Or is there a thin veneer of 'tolerance,' which need only be scratched lightly to reveal the animosity that festers beneath. I'm not really convinced that Australia is a welcoming place to communities of color, and I'm not convinced that it's analogous to places like Canada or the UK, which while still facing racism and other issues of difference, have a large enough immigrant/non-white community to have to deal with these issues.

The United States is still stuck in passive "multicultural" window-dressing mode, rather than more active anti-racist work, but then again, we still have our heads up our asses about global warming and radical climate shift, so I'm not holding my breath about an honest confrontation of the American tolerance myth.

I'm just driven by hope that the world will grow up quickly, so that the brat in the room (us) can follow suit.

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Dec 10, 2005

Desi Orgs: The Big Tent.

This is interesting. Some folks have come together recently to launch an initiative called "Desi Orgs" which they claim, on the website, will focus on "the use of technology to communicate better and to give the ALL desi groups an opportunity to convene online, and, perhaps, once a year in person. Groups that have never dealt with each other on a regular basis are finally going to get a chance to."

An interesting development, and worth watching to see where it goes. The meeting is today, so I'm interested to see what comes of it. It seems like, because of some of the players involved, it will probably get decent press, but I would urge anyone reading at home to wait a bit for the enthusiasm to settle. This isn't groundbreaking, but it would be useful to have a calendar and perhaps a database, for organizations. If that's the only agenda, more power to them.

However, the utility of bringing together groups of all stripes simply because they have overlapping contacts or constituencies is questionable, if it's for some other purpose. Most of the "South Asian" groups in the United States, especially those without an explicit progressive or radical mandate, are governed predominantly with an Indian, Hindu, male, heterosexual focus.

As a person with radical values and progressive tendencies, I worry about the marginalization of women, queer communities, the arts, minority religions, creeds, languages, castes, geographies, abilities, divergent or radical politics, ages, citizenship status, work status, and the like. I question the bull-headed determination to crank out the largest gathering of South Asian organizations possible, without a sense of what unites them. Race- or national origin-based organizing has its utility, but it also has its limitations. If you bring these groups together with only that common denominator, the prospect that they can see eye-to-eye on anything (even the concept of "South Asian" is hotly contested by traditionalists/neo-nationalists) is very unlikely. Regardless, even if this extraordinarily heterogeneous group of groups can find some common ground, with such radically different views on so many things, how can they work together, or find allies in a common struggle from different communities?

Aside from the sea of hegemonic indo-cultural groups (many of whom promote a monocultural narrative as the sole vision of an India or South Asia that has many more facets), there are more malignant currents in the community, many of whom are rabid about their neo-theocentric-nationalism, trying to paint India, Pakistan, Bangladesh in a particular brush, streamlining, reinventing, and rewriting histories to conform to a world view that excludes the perpetual others that make a uniform view of any of these nations very problematic. Ethnic cleansing begins with the negation of peoples' histories, and some of these folks are damn good at it. I wouldn't want to deal with them, for any reason. Even I feel marginalized by these folks - what about more traditionally oppressed groups within our communities? But perhaps my progressive bias shouldn't taint this post. Still...

Besides the obvious problem of bringing together people with many different agendas (some with communal perspectives), I am worried about the ability of the many political and quasi-political organizations and groups, including the many political action committees that have sprung up to the various folks vying for an elected seat somewhere, to push their agenda in a mixed crowd like this. Is it just a big networking opportunity for ambitious self-promoters to dredge up support for their foray into the wide and wacky self-promotive world of politics? Without a filter or framework to bring people together, what keeps these folks from hijacking the agenda?

The desi left may have many rifts and partitions within itself, but I think that folks generally agree that there is another threat to our work than a competing theory of change from a sister organization. Everyone coming to a meeting of desi organizations has an agenda, but does it make sense to bring them all together without sufficient shared common ground? What purpose will it serve, and does that purpose transcend individual dreams of recognition?

Keeping my heart open is more difficult when confronted with the ballooning egos of many desis involved in non-traditional careers and life pathways nowadays. Everyone is a so-called social entrepreneur, on the cusp of introducing the idea that will make a unified desi voice a reality. So many people enter this work with the perspective that they have the silver bullet, and that it can't be that hard - it just takes the right person, people, or know-how.

The remarkable hubris in that calculation, as well as the inability of many folks to realize that this work takes time, commitment, an open process, and a dedication to the value of community empowerment rather than personal achievement, drive me crazy. Community work is messy, is built on relationships, and takes time. Trust is built through experience, not emails. And without that trust, without that stable and firm foundation of shared values and vision, efforts are hollow and will be unable to weather the challenges of consensus building and conflict, both internal and external.

I will reserve judgment for now about the Desi Orgs initiative, because I don't have the details, and I should be positive about developments, even if I don't understand the underlying motives. I know that there will be posts and articles about this phenomenon and initiative, and thought I might as well get my initial thoughts out before the flood for what it's worth. Let's see if I'm pleasantly surprised.

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Nov 27, 2005

Indigenous languages replace Spanish in Oregon fields

Really interesting development in work with immigrant workers on the West Coast. Advocates have been dealing with the heterogeneity of our communities for a long time, unbenownst to our so-called peers in mainstream organizations and the government. We're still trying to get folks to recognize the importance of translating things into Chinese or Hindi, let alone integrating Fukienese and other dialects into their work with Chinese workers, or recognizing the need to have things translated in Punjabi or Tibetan. And these communities aren't small or simply classifiable as outliers. It's fascinating, but so challenging.

Indigenous languages replace Spanish in Oregon fields
November 26, 2005
- By GABRIELA RICO The (Salem) Statesman Journal
SALEM, Ore - Just as the Oregon Employment Department was feeling confident that it offered enough Spanish-speaking farmworker liaisons, everything changed.

In the Willamette Valley fields, a growing number of migrant workers arrive speaking Mixteco, Triqui and Zapoteco - indigenous languages from Oaxaca. [full article]

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Nov 21, 2005

Outsourcing outrage: Indian call-center workers suffer abuse

I have been thinking about this article since I received it a couple of days ago, but will have to wait until tomorrow to post... stay tuned.

Outsourcing outrage
Indian call-center workers suffer abuse
Mike McPhate

San Francisco Chronicle
November 17, 2005

Noida, India -- While irate calls are a mainstay of customer service work in any country, many Indian call-center workers say they regularly face particular abuse from Americans, whose tantrums are sometimes racist and often inspired by anger over outsourcing.

This vitriol has fueled a "searing anger" among the Indian employees, says Vinod Shetty, a Bombay lawyer who has formed a collective for call-center workers. "A lot of trauma is caused."

Debalina Das, 22, a computer help-line agent in the city of Hyderabad in south India, punched the button last winter for a call from the United States. The caller greeted her with a torrent of racial and sexual slurs, accused her of "roaming about naked without food and clothes" and asked, "What do you know about computers?"

The diatribe ended with the comment:"This company is just saving money by outsourcing to Third World countries like yours."

Such telephone tirades are fueled by outrage over outsourcing, which is expected to move 3.4 million U.S. service-sector jobs overseas by 2015, according to the consultancy Forrester. Most of the work comes to India, where young, low-cost employees now handle a range of American tasks -- they draw cartoons, interpret heart scans, adjudicate insurance claims, reserve flights and chase debtors.

Das, who quit the job after four months, said she learned to dislike Americans. "Rarely, there are people who are good," she said by e-mail, "but then others remind me that all they believe in is cursing, and they don't have respect for others." Her opinion is not uncommon among many workers in India's burgeoning call-center industry.

Relations between India and the United States have grown closer in recent years. India now sends more students to American colleges than any other country. Indians form the wealthiest and one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the United States. And in the last decade, American companies have increasingly sought Indian customers and employees.

Not everyone is happy about the growing ties between the two nations. An anti-outsourcing movement has drawn wide support as layoffs continue to mount at such U.S. companies as IBM, which is cutting 13,000 jobs in Europe and the United States and adding 14,000 in India, according to the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. In the first three months of this year, state legislators proposed 112 bills to stanch the exodus of American jobs, according to the National Foundation for American Policy.

Some opponents of outsourcing, often fired workers themselves, have rechanneled their rage at job-slashing CEOs toward India. On the Web forum Is Your Job Going Offshore? ( contributors variously describe India as depraved, as a haven for terrorists, a "giant leech" and a nation of "back-stabbing cowards."

It is this kind of commentary that has shaped a perception among India's customer-care workers that Americans are intolerant. "Everybody thinks like that," said Samik Chowdhury, assistant manager at an IBM office in northern India. "Every time, it's racism only."

This attitude is not typical of most urban Indians, who tend to admire the United States for its strength and entrepreneurial spirit. In a recent 16-country Pew poll, India had the highest percentage of citizens with a favorable opinion of the United States, 71 percent.

The less favorable view, though, is beginning to seep into Indian popular culture. The scripts for a new sitcom called "The Call Center," scheduled to air this winter on the leading channel NDTV, depict Westerners as arrogant, immoral and comically rude.
The show's villain, the Indian manager of a call center, is an India-bashing blowhard, a disposition he picked up at an Ivy League business school in the United States.

One of the episodes recreates a real-life exchange that occurred in January between an American and an Indian agent that has become notorious among the call center crowd here. On the Philadelphia radio show "Star and Buc Wild," host Troi Terrain phoned an Indian call center pretending to order hair beads for his daughter. The call quickly turned vicious.

"Listen to me, you dirty rat eater," Terrain growled, to muffled laughter in the studio. "I'll come out there and choke the -- out of you. You're a filthy rat eater. I'm calling about my American 6-year-old white girl. How dare you outsource my call?"

Indian offices have taken measures to thwart such attacks: Agents typically adopt anglicized names, undergo "accent neutralization" and U.S. cultural training, and sometimes claim to be located in the United States. They are taught to suffer attacks politely and try to calm customers. Failing that, many offices now offer callers the option to be transferred to agents in the United States.

These humiliations, say observers, are tolerated by a labor force that savors the opportunity to join India's growing middle class. With monthly incomes of about $200, call-center employees live well in a country where many are poverty-stricken.

"They feel like it is their duty" to swallow insults, says labor researcher Babu Remesh.

Sumit Bhasin, a 25-year-old call-center worker for HCL BPO Technologies in the northern Indian city of Noida, says American customers tend to have an "egoistic, bossy kind of attitude." When he was young, he said, he used to dream of traveling to the United States, as many Indians do, but after working in call centers for several years, he is not so sure anymore.

However, he loves his job, because he makes $440 a month and gets to learn about high technology like routers, modems and concepts of networking.

But for others, the abuse is taking its toll.

A group of SBC call-center workers, also in Noida, sat recently on the clipped grass in front of the silver-glassed office building where they field Americans' Web connection problems. Callers often dismiss them the moment they detect their Indian accents, they say.

"A whole lot of the time, people are yelling," says Kapil Chawla, 23. "They just want to talk to an American."

Saurabh Jha, a 22-year-old in blue jeans, says a woman phoned from Texas recently and told him that, thanks to outsourcing, "You are getting money, food, shelter. You should be starving."

She berated him for 12 minutes before she finally allowed him to offer advice that promptly fixed her problem: to unplug her computer and plug it back in.

"I was speechless," he says. "She didn't even give me a chance."

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Nov 20, 2005

Detroit 'Sleeper Cell' Prosecutor Faces Probe

This just in... wonder if the government apologists and @$$-kissers out there, brown-nosers to the ultimate degree, selling out the community for their own short-sighted gains, know about this yet, and what they'll think. I hope this goes far, and I hope they get these guys. But then again, isn't this the government prosecuting some of its own? I love the American legal system when it actually works. Stay tuned...

Detroit 'Sleeper Cell' Prosecutor Faces Probe
Grand Jury Considering Indictment for Misconduct
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2005; A03

DETROIT -- Once trumpeted as one of the Justice Department's significant triumphs against terrorism, the case targeting the so-called "Detroit sleeper cell" began less than a week after the attack on the World Trade Center. It was only after a jury convicted two men of supporting terrorism that the flimsiness of the government's case became clear.

As hidden evidence spilled out and the Justice Department abandoned the effort, federal investigators began to wonder whether the true conspiracy in the case was perpetrated by the prosecution.


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pointed spears in circles turned inward
barbed tongues preparing for war-rise
a thousand clouds bursting
each rainbow inverted
the wretched line the floors, many deep
firesedge stretches beyond the horizon
dawn threatens us with a new day

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Why "FOB" is not "KEWL"

The word "FOB" bothers me. It's bothered me for a long time. A term of derision used against folks from the (m)otherland who came to the U.S. later than our parents, or even our friends who are 1.5th generation.

The conventional wisdom goes a little something like this: They may have come here for college, or even a little before that, but they're still relatively young. They don't seem to wear their clothes right, wearing white socks with dress shoes, jeans that are a little too tight, or acid-washed, or high-watered, or rolled up funny. They occasionally have unruly hair, too much make-up, awkward laughs. They stare, they bring their own food to events or on trips, they're unnecessarily loud, they become shy when they should speak, and are too loud when they should be quiet. They rejoice to see other Indians/Chinese/whatever when they do. They recoil when a lazy American accent rolls off your tongue (perhaps intentionally a bit lazier just to make the point, to widen the gap, to underscore the separation, to distinguish ABCD from F-O-B).

I've never been comfortable with the short-hand that native-borns use for non-native borns in the Asian American diaspora, especially in South Asian circles. I started thinking about it, and after going to a party last night, where a group of young desi socialites were laughing it up, I finally realized why. These folks were obviously not native-born, or at least were connected enough to a transnational life to feel more international than some of us - the untraveled, insular Americans. They were dressed well, spoke with a slight tinge of a proper British Indian training, and able to switch back and forth from English to Hindi, a kind of interplay that resonated of Bollywood more than Bombay, though for the foreign traveller like myself, I don't know if I'd know the difference.

They were laughing about uncle jokes, and the exaggerated accents and caricatures came tumbling out of the closet. I was annoyed. And I become increasingly more annoyed, until I finally talked it out that night at home. This was classism. These folks, and perhaps my peers with the privilege of decades of assimilation, were making fun of folks who hadn't "fit in" yet. They were pointing out the differences that embarrassed themselves, that made them feel better about where their lives were, and that again, created distance from themselves and who they did not want to be associated or affiliated with. The privilege oozed off of these folks, many of whom must have come from very well off families, flashing their financial status and entitlement, and I could sense a similar privilege from people who were just Americans.

It saddens me that this attitude, this writing off of a whole bunch of our people, happens on a daily basis. It worries me that any true attempt to build from the fragments and partitions that we've become, that we continue to create, will be ever more difficult in light of these perceptions. It bothers me that this is an old problem that we're dealing with still, and that there's no real relief in sight. And it angers me that if we can't get our shit together in some way in our own young community, amongst our brothers and sisters, how will we challenge our elders and teach those who come after us?

And the privilege leads to an enormous gap in understanding between these folks who are living in the clouds (and for the jet-set, those are literal clouds) and those who are stuck on the ground, dreaming, but daunted.

So don't use "FOB" near me. I may go postal like I almost did last night. It was the accents, but maybe it was also because one of them insulted Gujarati food. You just don't go there.

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Nov 14, 2005

Incidental Fundraising Doesn't Work

Pet peeve #?:

I can't stand so-called cause fundraisers that don't make any sense. For example, in the past couple of weeks, in the interest of donating money to quake victims in Pakistan, a couple of restaurants in NY and other parts of the country have donated 10% or some similar percentage of their receipts for the night to quake relief. I think that's great for the restaurant - first, they look good and are doing something within their means, and second, they get a whole crapload of willing people with guilty consciences who use this excuse to socialize as their "I gave to the cause!"

If you think about the economics of contributions, this is totally the wrong approach - and can be damaging in the long run. A good Indian dinner can cost you upwards of $40 - $50 a head. A couple who may not go out regularly could end up spending $100 on dinner in the name of the "cause." So what?

1) In their minds, they've spent $100. In real dollars, that's a $10 donation. Actually, since I believe in good tipping, you may end up paying more in a tip than what goes to the cause (because the tip is not included in the calculations of total receipts). I don't care if you're using the new math - that's still not very good.

2) Still, they will likely be disinclined to write another check soon afterwards, because they feel like they've just used $100 that they could have saved or bought gifts or whatever else with. So who loses out in this deal?

Frankly, you'd be better off writing a $50 check to a relief organization while saving the $100 for a dinner at a restaurant giving a small percentage of the total bill to the cause.

So the take-home message? Basically, writing checks directly to organizations that are doing this work is a far better way to make an impact. These "percent of receipts" events are incidental to actual relief fundraising, and should be treated as such. If you feel like eating out that day, go to one of the restaurants. But don't do it to say that you gave to the cause.

Of course, this is different from the events where you know that all profits are actually going to go to the cause. Those exist too, and will likely cost you a lot less.

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Nov 11, 2005

and just for contrast's sake... Kudos to the UK Parliament

Yesterday's news from the UK...

"LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has suffered his first major parliamentary defeat, losing a key vote on new anti-terror laws. At least 41 members of his own party joined the opposition in Britain's lower house of parliament to reject the measure."
Proof that politicians in other parts of the world clearly have more balls than those in the United States, and that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is not as prone, at least in this case, to knee-jerk reactions, blind partisan voting patterns, and the complete lack of backbone of the so-called "opposition party" (though that's a questionable term for Democrats nowadays) as the Legislature of the United States.

The Democrats are still not comfortable with standing up and saying that the Patriot Act needed further scrutiny before passing it in the "who's more American" of the post 9/11 environment. Let's not forget that London was rocked by attacks only 4 months ago, and still, more than 40 members of the PM's party didn't go along with this legislation. Clearly a note that people don't have to make decisions of state based on fear or narrow political leanings. Hooray for the Parliament of London. And let's all hope for some degree of reflection from France about the impact of their narror imagining of what is French identity has done to radicalize the youth who don't want to live as second-class citizens anymore.

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Senate votes 49-42 to strip habeas corpus rights of detainees

What is this country coming to? The Supreme Court startled court watchers by ruling 6-3 in 2004 to allow detainees in Guantanamo, the so-called "enemy combatants" to get their day in court as a function of habeas rights afforded via the Constitution. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of my least favorite states in the Union for a whole multitude of reasons, pushed an amendment across the Senate that just passed on a slim margin. What this, in effect, does, is strip persons being held in the United States of one of the fundamental rights that our Constitution gives to all people, regardless of citizenship or other status: the right to procedural due process, as afforded by the 14th amendment. Prof. Neal Katyal, who is preparing arguments for the Hamdan case, and speaking on this topic recently, said that the use of the word "persons" in the particular clause of the 14th Amendment, instead of "citizens," was deliberate by the drafters at the time, and remains a critical link to maintain a fragile balance between the questionable selective enforcement of our own laws in the United States and the world community that continues to move forward in a more developed understanding of human rights and international law.

But even leaving all of that on the side for the moment, the real kicker for me was this:

"Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of four Republicans to vote against the measure, said the Senate was unduly rushing into a major legal shift without enough debate. "I believe the habeas corpus provision needs to be maintained," Mr. Specter said.


In addition to Mr. Specter, Republicans voting against the bill were Senators John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. The five Democrats voting for the bill were Senators Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon."

Dude - it's time to cut some of these people loose. First, I hate Joe Lieberman. I've never liked him, I think that he's a disgrace as a Democrat, and he should just switch aisles officially, because his votes are so far right that he makes Specter look like a flaming liberal. Joe Lieberman should be defeated as soon as possible: if it means running a really aggressive campaign to knock him out at the primary stage, so be it. He should not remain at the table - he makes Clinton look like a revolutionary. I think that liberals should mobilize the way that the crazies did to try to knock Specter out of PA with a hard-right guy. They lost, and I'm thankful, considering, but I think that Lieberman should be shipped off as an ambassador to the moon and left on the history books as an also-ran. I hate Lieberman so much that it makes me glad that I didn't vote for Gore in 2000. I think Lieberman was the reason, actually - he's a disgrace to his forebears in the country, who built many of the progressive organizations that remain fighting for true democracy, and the many who fought for true democratic values - not pseudo-morality, war-mongering, or whatever else Joe stands for. Connecticut may still love him, but Connecticut has to wake up. Moneyed state that it is, I'd rather have a moderate Republican than a hyper-Conservative Democrat. VOTE LIEBERMAN OUT!

That goes for the other four. Why isn't the Democratic leadership reeling in these people? Why do Nebraska, North Dakota, and Louisiana get to weigh in this significantly? Yet another reason why we should have more of a proportional democracy than we do, and why people in the midwest have more relative political power than those of us on the Coasts.

But enough of my hating - I don't know enough about the folks on the other side of the aisle, save for Specter, but I think that if you're from one of those states, you should give their office a call to find out why they voted it down... and if it's not because they think it should be harsher (you know - "I won't approve of this amendment unless they pledge to kill all them foreigners!"), but because they, like Specter, believe that a fundamental function of our justice system is being gutted by legislative fanatics and isolationists who can't understand that this ridiculous idea of closing off the system of justice to non-citizens held as "enemy combatants" will haunt our soldiers in the future, as it did during WWII, when American pilots carpetbombing Japan were captured by the Japanese military, claimed that they had rights as per the Geneva convention and even Japanese military commissions, denied those rights as "enemy combatants" and executed. We don't live in a world where these things don't happen, and I can't believe that people can be so shortsighted as not to see the ramifications of these regressive policies to strip away the rights of suspects. For more on that historical tip, check out this great article by Jess Brevin of the Wall Street Journal.

Frankly, I don't have faith that many of these folks who are in captivity are more than tertiary or even secondary sources, if anything at all, but with all the time that's passed, the snippets of information that indicates that conditions are less than humane, and the expectation that something should come from all of the heat that the administration has taken for keeping folks there for so long without access to justice or the means to prove that they are not complicit in this amorphous "war against terror," I think that the heat is on for the Administration to make something appear out of it all. If they don't have anything that they can show for this situation in Guantanamo, they're heading down a very difficult path, and histrionics of Rush "Club Gitmo" Limbaugh and Michelle "can't-sing-enough-songs-for-the-white-man" Malkin notwithstanding, they may start getting desperate to show that they aren't the bad guys in all of this, and that they "have the bad guys locked up."

Maybe I have more faith in the American public than to believe that they will just sit there and not care that their government has perpetrated fraud and lies in their name, and in the name of the country that they seem to value so much. But Americans are so insular. So closed off and clueless about the world. So smug about "America," even in their true ignorance about the nation itself. But perhaps I just mean middle-America, wherever that is. Maybe I just mean white America, whatever that is. Maybe I just mean anyone but me, though as an American, I'm also pretty limited in my scope sometimes. But at least I can admit that, enit? And somewhere in that, perhaps, lies the hope that others can break out of the coma that the nation wrapped itself into after the assassinations of the 60s and move on with the world. The world is growing up... shouldn't we too?

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Nov 7, 2005

Christmas Stamp deemed offensive by "HHR"

Okay, so what the hell is this, you may ask? It's a stamp in the UK, that the organization Hindu Human Rights (what that is, I'm not clear) is protesting. From their press release:

We at Hindu Human Rights would like to express our growing concern at the reaction of the Royal Mail to protests by Hindu groups here in the UK. For those that are not aware of the situation, the Royal Mail has issued Christmas stamps depicting an offensive painting of Hindus worshipping Jesus. So far the Royal Mail has shown a dismissive and apathetic attitude towards the concerns expressed by the Hindu community and it is for this reason that we have chosen to voice our opinion on this matter.

For the rest of this, go here.

Hindu Human Rights seems like a small fringe group from the UK. Check out the choice quote:

"To our knowledge the Royal Mail has not consulted with any mainstream Hindu organisation or group before deciding to use Hindu imagery for their Christmas stamps. It is precisely because of this ignorant behaviour, which we have found to be quite prevalent, that we find ourselves in this situation.

For many this may seem like a trivial and harmless matter but we ask people to look into the wider context of this issue. There is a deep irony in that, because while the Royal Mail is issuing stamps depicting Hindus with tilaks (head markings) worshipping the Jesus, Hindus in Christian-dominated North-eastern India are banned from even walking down the street with those tilaks and face attacks from Christian Extremists if they even dare to openly perform any Hindu worship."

I don't know if they are legit, and of course, there are human rights violations taking place against Hindus, but I tend to be more skeptical about motives sometimes. Maybe I should check that. Regardless, this is an interesting story.

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Nov 6, 2005

France, and other conflicts

The news today is fairly grim. If it's not another crazy freak storm or other natural disaster, it's the tremendous conflict around the world, much of which seems to be focused on the Muslim world. Paris is burning, as are many towns throughout France, and the youth are still on the move. I don't know enough about France, but I do know that the immigrant population has been left to the most squalid corners of the cities and landscape, and the residual unrest in this post-colonial century that has torn the free states of Africa and Asia apart seems to be coming upstream to affect the migrant populations that settled in France and England. Is it unexpected? Is it hard to believe that the unrest and anger is coming from the sectors of the communities that have been least fortunate economically, and most abused by the local and national police? I think it's not a coincidence, and I think that the case can be made about a parallel with the African American community in the United States at the end of the sixties. Hope died somewhere along the way, and despair and anger lead to violence.

A few stories, on either side of heartbreak, though... I just saw this on the wire... a Jewish Defense League activist who was imprisoned recently for plots to bomb a California mosque and the office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is a Lebanese American, was killed at a federal prison in Phoenix today. It's interesting to see how there are more militant Zionists out there than people think. I wonder if there was a hit on this guy, though - it was only three days after he got to the prison.

This one is much more heartbreaking though...

Palestinian Donates Organs Of Son, Shot Dead, to Israel
A 12-year-old Palestinian boy shot in the head and chest this week by Israeli soldiers died of his wounds on Saturday, Palestinian officials said. His father said his family had decided to donate the boy's organs to Israeli children who needed them. [full story]
Why does it take this kind of event for us to reflect on the human cost of these conflicts? This one just hurts.

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Nov 5, 2005

Considering Diwali

Digital Rotation:
Black Sabbath: Sabotage
The Roots: The Tipping Point

Finally consolidating all my files from 4 different computers onto the new iBook. It has been working out pretty well, though it's a damn distraction in the middle of class. But whatever - we deal as we can.

Have been watching the Diwali frenzy in the NRI community of the United States reach new heights this year, and have been wondering "why?" For example, a number of people pushed for alternate side of the street parking to be suspended in NYC for Diwali, the closest you can get to having it declared a holiday in old New York. I'm sure there's been a push every year, but why to such a frenzy this year? Maybe the RSS has decided to focus on grassroots entrenchment of Hindu-dom in the NRI community, and build from these smaller victories towards a more unified base for funding their revolution in the future. Hell, fascists around the world have learned from America's policies in the past (see influence of American genocide of Native tribes on Nazi ideology and techniques, as well as treatment of immigrants as the new model for new Europe's rising rightwing), so why not learn how the neo-conservatives took everything over in the past 25 years.

Diwali... a topic I definitely want to return to, because it has such a weird place in the Hindu diaspora's framing of who our community is. It's taken on predominance in posture over the other holidays, but even in the talking points, you hear "it's like our Christmas." Such an interesting choice, actually, as I've heard non-commercial, non-scary Christians complain that Christmas in all its retail revelry is not the holiest of Christian holidays, and I've heard the same about Diwali. It is one of many holidays (holy days). So what gives?

Not to mention the distillation of a master narrative of Diwali that is very problematic for non-Hindus. First, it's not even called "Diwali" in South India - it's Deepavali. Second, it signifies different things for different communities. Jains consider it a holy day, because it has come to represent the day when saint Mahavir reaches moksh (nirvana). While I've seen comments to this effect thrown out in the media, I've also seen the repeated misrepresentation of Jainism as a "sect" of Hinduism. Something that drives me absolutely crazy. The confusion of the people themselves notwithstanding (my cousins still don't seem to understand why this distinction is important), it's still wrong. It's like calling Christianity a "branch" of Judaism.

With proponents of a fully realized Hindu state of India ("Jai Hind!", they proclaim) eager to cobble together a portrait of a super-majority Hindu nation (while gobbling up the true heterogeneity - including more than 300 million tribals and animists), the conflation of different and distinct groups beneath a saffron flag is extremely problematic. And the increased fervor of seemingly educated NRIs in the United States to push a Diwali agenda feels misguided in the light of true civil and human rights concerns (especially as reports from Congress seem to indicate that a lot of important programs that support less affluent members of the American public, including documented immigrants, are on the chopping block).

Freedom of religion means that you can practice whatever you want in your own home without fear of persecution. But as Peter Irons, best-selling author of many interesting volumes on Constitutional law and the Supreme Court, said recently, the Puritans who first came to the US wanted that freedom because they were pretty extreme and were persecuted for being on the edge when they were in Britain.

Freedom of religion doesn't mean that we have to adopt a religious holiday as the sole representation of a cultural identity, especially one that is as polycultural as the many branches of the Indian diaspora. So if I don't immediately respond to "happy diwali!" greetings with the same gusto as the well-wisher, maybe this explains my thinking.

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Oct 24, 2005

Apple Brand Loyalty VI: The Saga Ends at Last

Folks who have tuned into these pages over the months have seen a number of posts about my struggles with a dual USB iBook G3 that is just over 2 years old and has had its logic board replaced 3 times.

The last time that I sent it into the shop, I was impressed with quick turnaround, and the fact that they actually decided to change the top case and bezel of the laptop, which at the time seemed like bonus to the expected logic board brain transplant.

Alas, they seem to have been the main problem this time around. A week after I received the machine, I suddenly realized that the CD tray neither responded to eject requests from the keyboard, nor actually seemed to recognize any disks that I placed in it after forcing an open with a paper clip. Uh-oh. Why isn't the CD tray working? I wondered aloud.

Then, many of my programs started to quit out regularly. It got to the point where I couldn't use iTunes, Mail, or even FireFox, as they all crashed regularly. So what to do? I finally called Apple and registered my complaints.

They were remarkably responsive - I thought that they would first ask if it was a logic board issue again, and then when I said not directly, would tell me that I'd have to pay $100 - $150 just for advice. But I explained quickly that the new developments felt directly related to the last service that they'd conducted on the machine.

My customer service rep listened, noted my complaints, and spoke with a supervisor. It was soon after this moment that I realized that their approach towards this problem was very similar to client case management - not only did they validate what I was feeling and try to keep me positive, but when it came to transfer me to another representative, the first person explained that he'd tell the person what my situation was before he handed me over. It was almost exactly like the conversation that happens between a case manager and a referral source, with the interest of minimizing the number of times that a client has to repeat their story. It's a very effective way to ensure that the client doesn't get worked up as they remember why they are on the call to begin with.

Anyway - long story short, they said that they didn't have faith that the machine was going to recover, and that I had the option to trade it in for another computer. I was ecstatic, as I thought I was going to have to buy a new computer anyway. So - I get to send this thing in, stripping it, of course, of all the programs and files that have occupied its space for a while, and I get a new(ish?) iBook G4 with built-in Airport and Bluetooth capability. Rock on. I'm so thrilled, and I have to give Apple major props for treating this situation as they are - because it definitely bolsters my confidence that they care about their customers. Considering that I didn't have an AppleCare warranty on the product, it could have been a very different outcome, and I'm thrilled that it turned out this way.

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Oct 22, 2005

Rainy Days and Live Albums

Took this thing offline for a while, but it's back now. At least for now. When in doubt, it disappears.

Rainy day at home. A lot of work to do, but it's nice to be at home. I've been listening to a lot of music, as is my way, I guess. Lately, (today) it's been a lot of live stuff, the first being Maxwell's short but amazing unplugged session with MTV from years ago.

On that disc, if you're so inclined, check out his absolutely stunning reworking of the Nine Inch Nails' "closer" - a radical shift from the original, which turned an otherwise bitter and dark song into an affirmation of love and sensuality. Definitely my best reworking of a NIN song by someone from a totally different genre (Johnny Cash, rest his soul, was great, but it was the video that really gripped us, and you have to hear Reznor's stripped down versions of his own songs on the rare "Still" to appreciate the raw hurt of some of those songs). Also, the "Perfect Drug" remixes by Meatbeat Manifesto, the Orb, etcetera, are awesome.

As I've written many times before, I've been listening to more metal again, and just put in the symphonic double live album that Metallica put out a number of years ago. Perhaps an orchestral treatment of "The Call of Ktulu" is a good thing, but I don't know, there's still something predictable and generally flaccid about a Michael Kamen orchestration (rest his soul). I would have been far more interested in a collaboration with a less predictable composer. What would John Cage or Philip Glass have done? Forget that, get the Chronos Quartet involved! Still, it's the only live album they've put out, and if you want to hear something from the vault that was actually respectable, this is what you're stuck with.

I popped in the second Organization disc in a car ride recently - after hunting for and purchasing it through a while ago. It didn't initially impress me as much as their excellent first disc, but on second listen, there were some gems on this one too. 4/5 of Death Angel, the short-lived Organization was strongest when their music wasn't complicated, and Rob Cavestany was allowed to sing his heart out. Rock on, Bay Area pinoy thrashers. Rock on.

After re-purchasing Slayer's live "Decade of Aggression", their double live album that I'd bought years ago, and then lost in a fit of selling a lot of stuff back after college, I remembered why they were considered at the top of their game in the early nineties. It's a brutal trek through their catalog, the sound is awesome, and for a "can't-deal-with-the-posers-and-the-assholes" kind of day, you just have to play this disk. I don't think any of the other "big four" thrash bands can compare to this live album (and who wants to listen to Dave Mustaine whining live, anyway?).

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Oct 21, 2005

Planet of the Apes

For a while, I've been hating on the activists that think they're more hardcore than the rest of us, but I'm refocusing. There are a lot of brown monkeys out there playing up their race and selling out their communities for a slice of status pie. I'm talking to all the stupid people who aren't content with living an unconscious life in the mainstream. Rather, they front as "faces and voices" of the community. Or better yet "authorities." Anyone who says they are an authority on the community, whatever community, are flat out inauthentic, fake-ass, goddamn liars.

No one speaks for this crazy community. We should be trying to let the community speak for itself. So question when you hear about some of these folks. It's not enough to be happy to see a brown face in a non-traditional space. We need to question people and assure ourselves and those we care about that they aren't just pimping themselves for the next big thing.

I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the self-promotion, I'm sick of the aspiring, pitiful second generation desis who are so obviously vying for a political seat in the future that it's not funny. I'm sick of a community of young professionals and even progressive folk who are so desperate for a single leader to point to that they're willing to settle - and sell our community down the river to support some of these jokers.

Keep your awards, your subjective trophies that represent your crony friends more than your value, and stick them where the sun don't shine. I'm not casting myself as any better - but just know that I can't stand them. And were I not looking to resolve internal strife and conflict, I'd go postal on them all.

We know who you are. We're watching. And waiting for you to trip yourself up on your own serpentine tail.

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Oct 6, 2005

Tuning out.

As you can clearly tell - it's been a bit of an adjustment with law school and all to actually post up here. I'm hoping that I can put up some more critical thinking once I actually have some to share. Also rethinking the idea of the blog as a whole - I firmly believe that it's only worth the time if it's actually contributing to change of some kind, rather than just a site for navel-gazing or self-therapy, the likes of which are apparently rampant in the blog universe.

I would rather focus on writing something that's thought out than off the cuff, at least at this point. And the cacophony of voices make it more difficult to actually pick out the ones that are worth listening to. That said, I'm enjoying podcasts more and more - may climb even further if I can find an affordable MP3 player that I'm willing to pay for.

Stay tuned. Maybe I'll get inspired by some of my classes.

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Sep 14, 2005

Good Faith

I wrote here that we should have some faith-based action against the "National Day of Prayer" set up by Prez Bush for Friday 9/16. Though it isn't the same day, this press conference this afternoon is a really good thing. I didn't know anything about these folks, and while I'm sure that there are more progressive churches and other faith-based institutions throughout the nation, this one seems closer to radical. Right on!


Press Conference
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
National Press Club, Zinger Room

Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice joined a broad
coalition of activists calling for Congress to bring charges to
reprimand and/or censure United States President George W.
Bush for the handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. At a
press conference on Wednesday, September 14 at the National
Press Club, the coalition will outline President Bush’s
incompetent and ineptitude leadership that has resulted in
hundreds of deaths and unbelievable human suffering of United
States’ citizens...

“More and more lives are being lost –both in body and mind--in
the aftermath of the insensitive, racist, and incompetent way
the Bush Administration has handled the devastation of
Hurricane Katrina. This is, to say the least, criminal negligence
to the highest degree. The president in his negligence of old,
poor and Black American people in the Gulf Coast has
committed a serious breach of official duties as head of state
and it begs the question whether he should continue to lead this
country”, says national president of the group, the Rev.
Graylan S. Hagler.

Last week members of Congress said they were outraged by
and ashamed of the government’s response to the Hurricane
Katrina disaster. The coalition of ministers and social justice
activists say that Congress should formally reprimand and
censure the president.

The ministers also charged the Bush administration with overt
racism. “Many of those suffering are black and poor and we
cannot deny that race played a factor in the slow,
uncoordinated and incompetent response of the government,”
says Rev. Luther Holland of Chicago’s Congregational Church
of Park Manor.

About Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice
The Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice is a
historic organization of the United Church of Christ that
encompasses other clergy from other denominations and
movements. Our purpose is still to address racial justice,
within the structure of the church and within the world, to focus
on economic justice, noting that economic denial is one facet of
racism, and to give voice and power to the many social issues
where people are denied justice. MRSEJ, standing upon rich
history will utilize that history to reach from our past into the
future. MRSEJ will continue to grow and reflect the diversity
within the church and society with an eye, voice and action
toward affecting change that will bring into being racial justice,
social wholeness, and economic equality.

[click here for more information about MRSEJ]

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Sep 13, 2005

Mark Fiore's New Animation

Wow. I've heard the real audio that Mark Fiore uses in this animation [audio/video], but it's just that much more striking when you're looking at something... we cannot allow this administration, and the others who turned their backs on the people of New Orleans. I just wish there was more that I could do.

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Karmacy Video is Ticku!

Just saw the video and listened to a track from Karmacy's debut album, The Movement. I knew they were desi, and I knew that they were hip hop, but I didn't know that they rap in Gujarati too!! That was a total trip, and they're actually good. Must check out the CD. Must find some way to collect money so that I can check out the CD. Must beg readership for donations. It's okay. I have some credit somewhere that I can use for it, once it's more widely available. But definitely check it out.

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Sep 12, 2005

The Boondocks May Be Back on Track

After months (or maybe years?) of boring mediocrity, I think that Aaron McGruder may be returning to his post-9/11 form. It's still early to tell, but here's today's comic. I'm hoping that it's okay to post it like this - I received it from UComics in my email, and assume that there are copyright restrictions that disallow me from posting it like this, but if there's a complaint, I'll be happy to take it down. If you're interested in keeping up with the 'Dockses, you can check it out online here. Especially if he gets pulled from the center-right papers that make up the bulk of media nowadays...

What I'm hoping is that McGruder goes for the jugular in a way that reporters can't won't. Maybe this is also a good time to check back into Doonesbury too.

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Sep 9, 2005

National Day of Prayer

President Bush, in his wisdom, stated that Friday, September 16th should be a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Day of Prayer, huh? I think that we should all pray that things blow up around the response, the appointment of horseman Brown as the head of FEMA, the blatantly disrespectful and flippant actions of top government officials like tourist Rice, invisible Cheney, and even the President's mum.

Actually, I think that a National Day of Prayer would be a great time for a National Day of Protest from the progressive faith-based organizations around the nation. We could call it "Not in Our Faith" or "God's Eyes Are Watching You" or something similar.

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Sep 8, 2005

Rage Against Rage.

In the aftermath of the disaster in Katrina's wake, and the looming anniversary of September 11th, I'm faced with the dire reality that I have suppressed a number of things from my childhood, my intermediate adulthood, the past 4 years, and that these individual events, experiences, and conditioning have fermented into a seething, unbalanced, spiralling mess that threatens to topple the sane and relatively reasonable person behind the persona. I have to work through this, and I have to find answers outside of myself to confront and control my demons. It is with this realization that I begin to focus internally, pick up the pen and write longhand again, and withdraw from the daily pattern of commenting on external issues at the cost of recognizing my own weaknesses.

I have to find ways to deal with my pain, confusion, fear, doubt, grief, and anger in some way that allows me to heal, and to become once again whole.

I cannot allow 'rage' to win over 'reason'.

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Sep 7, 2005

Refugees for Refugees

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Library Plans to "Lend" People in Netherlands

Though I'm now morally opposed to just posting up articles and weird things that are forwarded to me all the time, because as responsible and original bloggers, we try NOT to do these things and pass them off as witty or innovative, I'm still feeling that I have to break the rule for this one, for the sake of sharing something a little lighter than what I'm feeling at this moment:

Library that's having a lend of us

"A public library in the Netherlands has been swamped with queries after unveiling plans to "lend out" living people, including homosexuals, drug addicts, asylum seekers, Gypsies and the physically handicapped."
For the rest of the article, click here. [tx again, A!]

Okay - so what do you make of this? I want to borrow a Luxembourgian, just because. Or maybe a Leichensteinian. Wait, is that the spelling?

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Sep 6, 2005

A Prayer Band - Suheir Hammad

Powerful words from Palestinian American poet/activist Suheir Hammad can be found here... not sure what the restrictions are on reproducing it here, but I got it through email (thanks A):

a prayer band

every thing

you ever paid for
you ever worked on
you ever received

every thing

you ever gave away
you ever held on to
you ever forgot about

every single thing is one
of every single thing and all
things are gone

every thing i can think to do
to say i feel
is buoyant

every thing is below water
every thing is eroding
every thing is hungry

there is no thing to eat
there is water every where
and there is no thing clean to drink

the children aren't talking

the nurses have stopped believing
anyone is coming for us

the parish fire chief will never again tell anyone that help is

now is the time of rags
now is the indigo of loss
now is the need for cavalry

new orleans
i fell in love with your fine ass poor boys sweating frying
catfish blackened life thick women glossy seasoning bourbon
indians beads grit history of races
and losers who still won

new orleans
i dreamt of living lush within your shuttered eyes
a closet of yellow dresses a breeze on my neck
writing poems for do right men and a daughter of refugees

i have known of displacement
and the tides pulling every thing
that could not be carried within
and some of that too

a jamaican man sings
those who can afford to run will run
what about those who can't
they will have to stay

end of the month tropical depression turned storm

someone whose beloved has drowned
knows what water can do
what water will do to once animated things

a new orleans man pleads
we have to steal from each other to eat
another gun in hand says we will protect what we have
what belongs to us

i have known of fleeing desperate
with children on hips in arms on backs
of house keys strung on necks
of water weighed shoes
disintegrated official papers
leases certificates births deaths taxes

i have known of high ways which lead nowhere
of aches in teeth in heads in hands tied

i have known of women raped by strangers by neighbors
of a hunger in human

i have known of promises to return
to where you come from
but first any bus going any where

tonight the tigris and the mississippi moan
for each other as sisters
full of unnatural things
flooded with predators and prayers

all language bankrupt

how long before hope begins to eat itself?
how many flags must be waved?
when does a man let go of his wife's hand in order to hold his child?

who says this is not the america they know?

what america do they know?

were the poor people so poor they could not be seen?

were the black people so many they could not be counted?

this is not a charge
this is a conviction

if death levels us all
then life plays favorites

and life it seems is constructed
of budgets contracts deployments of wards
and automobiles of superstition and tourism
and gasoline but mostly insurance

and insurance it seems is only bought
and only with what cannot be carried within
and some of that too

a city of slave bricked streets
a city of chapel rooms
a city of haints

a crescent city

where will the jazz funeral be held?

when will the children talk?

tonight it is the dead
and dying who are left
and those who would rather not
promise themselves they will return

they will be there
after everything is gone
and when the saints come
marching like spring
to save us all

- suheir hammad

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Sep 5, 2005

you, too, feel the eyes
of the young - peering keenly
into your deep fears?

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Sep 4, 2005

New Zealand Billboard

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New Orleans is Burning

The tragedy, devastation and resulting human suffering in the South in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been heavy on our minds this week. I had been living in relative isolation from the incident until D told me how bad it was. After reviewing some reports, I realized that I've been nonchalant about something far more significant even than what was being reported on the evening news. I'm completely overwhelmed by what I'm seeing and hearing, and what's frustrating is that I don't feel like I'm getting enough information, and I'm sitting safe and sound in a neighborhood far away from the disaster sites. I can't begin to imagine what people in the midst of this disaster are going through, with no information at all.

I can't believe that I was just there last year on a wonderful surprise birthday trip planned solely by D, for which I am so thankful now. She fell in love with the city, and vowed to return. I remember feeling like there was so much to the city, but not taking full advantage of it because I was hot and it was humid. I remember going to the Voodoo Museum, which was more like a living cultural center, in the French District. I remember, of course, Cafe DuMonde. I remember picking up Ward Churchill's "From A Native Son" in a used bookstore and later meeting James Carville in a local record shop. Well, being near D when she introduced herself and expressed her condolences for the 2000 election. "We'll get it right this time," the Louisianian said in his trademark deep voice.

I remember the feeling that this was a different place, a unique place, especially in the relative quiet of early August 2004. Echoing what many people must be saying, I think to myself "at least I saw it once... before."

Perhaps that's what people say about the World Trade Center, though just visiting the buildings was not to understand their place in personal geographies of the City. Gazing upon their height did not do justice to the otherworldly feeling of peering out of Windows on the World at twilight, over the shimmering elegance of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, to the curved edge of the world.

But New York wasn't destroyed. New York was not the new Pompeii. Is NOLA? Or can it be equated with Galveston, Texas, a booming metropolis before it was virtually destroyed by a hurricane on September 7, 1900. It is estimated that between 6,000 - 12,000 people lost their lives during that disaster, which was the single largest natural disaster recorded in United States history.

I am absolutely appalled at what I saw on the news at home today, about the dire situations at the Convention Center and the Superdome in New Orleans. It's absolutely scandalous that so many people were corralled into these sites and then JUST LEFT THERE. Where is the accountability? I heard "we're witnessing modern-day genocide" and "it was like being in a refugee camp in a third-world country." There were no cops there. There was no food or water there. There were thousands of people in a very small space, who didn't have a lot to begin with, and had lost all of it. There were people dying, and others taking advantage of the chaos. It was crazy. And five days later, the water and the troops came, and perhaps they are starting to bus more folks away. But why did it take so long?

I saw that one-third of cops in New Orleans abandoned their posts immediately after the levees broke. I saw, for the first time, a cop go off on screen, deliberately, calling out all his fellow cops who left as not being worthy to have the badge. I saw cops crying, as they saw the despair and lawlessness take over the streets that they'd guarded, and even a cop who made a statement to just tell his wife that he loved her. He didn't say it, but the desparation in his voice and the tears on his face made it seem that, perhaps, he wasn't sure if he'd make it through the next weeks. It was very moving, very scary, and very haunting.

And what about the rest of the world? I heard that Cuba moved nearly 2 million people out of the destructive path of Hurricane Ivan without losing a single life, and they have a system for dealing with this kind of natural crisis. Castro has offered doctors and medicine from Cuba to assist in the aftermath of Katrina, and has refused to comment on the preparedness or response from the White House, stating "this is not a time to kick an adversary, when he is down." Venezuela's populist President, Hugo Chavez, the subject of an assassination rant from Pat Robertson a couple of weeks ago, offered increased gas supplies and donations from Citgo, the nation's retail outlet in the United States [1].

An official from Germany was more direct, citing environmental irresponsibility by the United States as one of the reasons that there were more big storms - and this was even before the storm hit the Gulf Coast. His higher-ups have since offered aid, but have not distanced themselves from the comments. I anticipate more comments like this, that it takes a slap in the face for the United States government to realize that they are part of something larger than just their own power games. But this is not the time to focus on this. People are still dying.

I heard the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, reply angrily to questions from the press:

"I don't want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. Put
a moratorium on press conferences. Don't do another press conference
until the resources are in this city. And then come down to this city
and stand with us when there are military trucks and troops that we
can't even count.

Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's
too doggone late. Now get off your asses and do something, and let's
fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country."
[full interview]

Some more information that I've picked up:
*More than 100,000 poor people in New Orleans did not have cars or access to cars to get out of the city. How are you supposed to leave if you don't have the means to do so? How can you expect people to leave whatever they have without a clear indication of the danger?

*FEMA ran a drill in 2004 to see what would happen if there were a category 4-5 storm in the vicinity of New Orleans. The simulation revealed that there was a distinct possibility that the city could have been partially or fully flooded. They had a year to plan, and they didn't. There was no deployment of troops, there was no help coordinated and brought to those who needed it as quickly as possible. They said that they were having communication problems (and then later, CNN, to their credit, had a former FEMA director on who said that there should be at least 3 - 4 alternatives to cell phones, which was Standard Operating Procedure).

*FEMA should have been at the heart of the response to the disaster. There's no question of that, as witnessed in many other natural disasters, and even in New York after September 11th. What happened? Why was the response not coordinated? Why is the Dept. of Homeland Security, which is now in charge of FEMA, dodging the bullet on this? I've heard the Mayor blame everyone, the Governor blame the Feds, the Feds blame each other. But I'm blaming FEMA right now. We need some answers.

I want to focus on FEMA for a little bit, since I saw some of their work as one of the many people who working on relief in New York City after September 11th. During that time, we saw FEMA come in, set up shop, and begin the multiple tasks of managing the disaster recovery efforts at the site of the World Trade Center and distributing rental assistance for affected residents and workers. FEMA drew a line across Canal Street that cut Chinatown in half and iced out affected folks north of the "frozen zone," until community advocacy changed the requirements. FEMA offered rental assistance to folks who could prove either that the events of Sept. 11 directly affected their housing, or in the much larger group, that it affected their income. There were tens of thousands of folks who received rental assistance for 12 months, and then 18 months upon renewal. It was a critical program, replete with many problems in initial implementation (taxi drivers were shut out of the system for months until the direct advocacy of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance turned this around for the industry of 30,000+ drivers who had been hit so hard by the disaster, a social security number was necessary to actually qualify, which shut out a lot of people at the bottom of the economic food chain).

I worked with a number of community groups and community members who qualified, and the program really helped them, but in a housing market like NYC, where rents are always rising, having an income that was still only a fraction of its modest state before the disaster was cause for concern. Add to that the possibility that business was not going to get better, and the prospect of a clear end date for FEMA benefits and the clear indication that economically affected folks were not going to be the recipients of the massive reserve that the American Red Cross had collected in the name of September 11th[2]. Many people weren't able to recover financially after the tragedy in NYC, even with the rental assistance from FEMA, and they either left the city, or the nation altogether. And these were folks who, on the most part, either lost their jobs and couldn't find gainful employment, or had a significant dip in monthly income. Those members of the greater NYC community, four years later, are not the same. And many of the stories were heartbreaking, but deemed far less important than many other interest groups, who took up most of the bandwidth about who was hurt by this tragedy.

Now take the still unfolding situation in New Orleans. Regardless of who messed up where and when concerning the warning, planning, evacuation, and rescue of this city without parallel, when the waters recede, and the lost have been estimated, we will face a recovery effort the likes of which this nation has not seen since Reconstruction. And let's face it: New Orleans is years from coming back to where it was, if even then. So what is going to happen to all of these evacuees and refugees from a city with deeper roots than most of the places in this young nation? Where will people who have lived nowhere else, whose family is tied to this place, whose ancestors have been buried there for generations, whose loved ones may still be there now, stolen from them without a proper goodbye, where will they go? What will happen to them, without homes, without jobs, without anything save for broken hopes and broken dreams of what once was? Without a registration program, a rolling database, or any way to track the living, the dead, or the relocated, how are we going to find these folks that have been moved to so many states around the nation already?

Let's break it down:

1) Folks have lost family members to this disaster.

2) Folks have lost their homes, possessions, and jobs.

3) Folks are not familiar with their new surroundings, don't have money or prospects, and haven't any idea of what comes next.

4) It's going to take a long time before NOLA can take people back, and when they rebuild, they won't be rebuilding low income housing. So will the poorest of the city ever return to their home city, reborn from the refuse?

5) How will this massive a population of folks with nothing be supported through this transition?

You can't just write rent checks for a year and wish them well. You can't even find them all. There will be a massive identity verification issue, as folks realize that they don't have valid identification on them, or they don't have or know their Social Security numbers. Without a driver's license, a permanent address, or a social security number, with these folks really be able to collect anything from the Federal Government? At least people in New York, if they had status, still had their paperwork safe in their homes. Katrina's wake will leave so many people without any proof of identification, and while they are grieving for personal and collective loss, they will not simply be able to start over. It's a lot more complicated than that.

I'm really just so worried and frustrated about what this means, a month, a year down the line. And to think about all those kids - where will they go to school? How can they focus? What does that mean for their future?


[1] Did you know that Chavez offered gas at cheaper prices for America's poor before the storm hit, to be distributed by the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA's Citgo stations? Did you know that Fidel Castro has been offering free medical education for America's minority population, provided that they return home and work for impoverished communities for at least 5 years? While neither is a perfect picture of what leaders should be, I find their attention to the gaps in the American Dream to be more astute than that of our own leaders, whatever side of the aisle they are on.

[2] Let's not forget: the Red Cross does not use all monies raised at the time of an emergency for that particular emergency. They keep at least some percentage in the bank for future calamities. After coming under harsh fire for this in the wake of Sept. 11, they revised some of their policies. On the other hand, the United Way created the September 11th Fund, and they gave everything away.

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Sep 2, 2005

Apple Care is FAST

I got my iBook back already, which means that the turnaround from sending it out to getting it back was less than 48 hours. That's amazing. Aside from the logic board, they also replaced the Bezel brace and the top case, which is basically the part of the laptop that supports the keyboard (and includes the track pad, which is brand spanking new). I'm really impressed. Let's just hope that this time it lasts.

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Sep 1, 2005

Show Daily Candy NYC Your Love

Got this from a friend (a lot of good email in the past couple of days!). It's nice to see something positive once in a while. Take a minute and email these folks. They should know that they're doing something right. Incidentally, it's a great site, even before I knew about their cool politics.

"Do check out today's email from Daily Candy NYC,
a daily nyc email about cool events, trends and shopping.

The first tip reads:
"DO Be Generous (and not just this weekend, you stingy bastard)
What: Tip your cabbie an extra buck or two.
Why: Gas prices. Plus, they're working so you don't have to.
When: Anytime you flag one down.
Where: From your wallet to your heart. Aww."

If you want to contact the staff to congratulate them
on making such a smart suggestion to their audience,
I'm sure they'd want to know people appreciated it.
The contact page can be found at this link."
[rage note: thanks pepsi patel!]

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More Thoughts on NOLA in Katrina's Wake

I got an email from a contact who's very involved in the relief effort being staged in Northern Louisiana at this time. That's where the refugees from NOLA are headed, and she wrote (quickly, I'm sure) of some additional things to keep in mind. I don't want to write endlessly about this subject - just thought that some of the things that I'm seeing via email, especially those that are more personal, are very compelling:

"Some things that do not readily come to mind during a disaster of this magnitude include:

1. the evacuees cannot work at their jobs and earn money for the foreseeable future

2. pay day did not come for these people at the end of this month because there was no one at the office to issue checks or carry out direct deposit instructions

3. Gas is hard to come by for people trying to make their way north

4. People with Oschners Clinic health insurance cannot get certified for medical procedures because Oschners is in New Orleans and not operational

5. State retirement checks and Social Security checks cannot be mailed to the affected areas.

More unanticipated impacts of Katrina continue to unfold. "

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Aug 31, 2005

Many Ways to Alienate a Volunteer...

You know, I have a bone to pick. I was involved with two groups for a while as a volunteer, and my circumstances have changed significantly enough, with school and the such, for me to have to rethink my commitments. So I mentioned that I'm in that process, and though I'm stepping away from my declared responsibilities, I'm still around and want to be supportive.

One group has actually found ways to get me more involved, and I feel more fired up and happy that I'm involved than ever. I may not have a formal role with the group (though that's even changing gradually and organically), but I feel valued, and I have a clear sense of what I can bring to the table. It's also being organized by a good friend who is very attentive to making sure that different and disparate voices are heard equally around our virtual conference table. A good experience.

The other group, where I actually had more of a personal stake involved, and my affiliation certainly helped the group to gain credibility, has pretty much written me off, and hasn't been in touch at all save for the same mass emails that everyone else is getting. That's a terrible way to keep people interested and willing to stay plugged in. I actually feel somewhat used, and as if I'm past my utility to the main driver in the organization. What a terrible way to try to build a community organization. I have seen others do such a good job at this - making you feel like part of the fold, even if you just volunteer once in a while, send a check once a year, or talk about the organization to others who may be interested. I had my suspicions, but they are confirmed now, and I'll be more careful.

It comes part and parcel to being involved with groups and organizations in the work that we do - it's not always neat, and you have to have some level of patience, understanding, and flexibility, but you also have to make sure that you're not taken advantage of, which is the feeling that I'm starting to get from this second group. It's okay, though. I can deal without causing a scene.

In the wise words of George Costanza: "Serenity now!"

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"It's Like Being in a Third World Country"

[UPDATE: Here's a good Slate article (thanks again, A) about some of the reporting bias in the news. It actually turns on a premise that reporters don't talk about race because they're worried about doing it incorrectly.]

I feel the pain of the survivors of hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast. I know that it is an absolute devastation of many homes and lives, and that the suffering of one cannot be put on a scale against the suffering of others. But I think that the relief effort and summary about what this phenomenon actually represents will be very interesting in the weeks to come. I've heard "this is our tsunami" before it hit. I've read eloquent accounts on a neighborhood list serv that equates the flooding and dislocation of tens of thousands of poor blacks this week with that which occurred as a result of the great flood in 1927:

From a historical standpoint if one considers the great flood of 1927 when the Mississippi River breached into southern Louisiana and Mississippi and the population shift that ensued the fabric of the eastern and mid eastern states was altered forever. Quoting from <b>Rising Tide</b> by John M. Barry, "The favorite destination for Delta blacks was Chicago. They brought blues to that city and there the black population exploded, from 44,103 in 1910 to 109,458 in 1920 and 233,903 in 1930. Certainly not all of this exodus came from the floodplain of the Mississippi River. And even within the alluvial empire, the great flood of 1927 was hardly the only reason for blacks to abandon their homes. But for tens of thousands of blacks in the Delta of the Mississippi River, the flood was their final reason."

I'm sure that the racial and class dynamics, of course, will come to bear in the eventual estimation of loss and irreparable damage suffered by Louisianans and Mississippians in this natural disaster. But there's another question here, which comes up again and again. But listen to a quote from a manager at a public hospital in Louisiana:

"It's like being in a Third World country," Mitch Handrich, a manager at Louisiana's biggest public hospital told the AP. "We're trying to work without power. Everyone knows we're all in this together. We're just trying to stay alive."

Aside from the strains of racism and Ameri-centrism that are inherent to the comment, this comment prompts me to think about the peoples of the world who suffered immeasurably after the massive tsunami wiped out more than 200,000 people last December. It reminds me of how the poorest and those with the least access to everything are the ones who get hit the hardest in these scenarios. And the below forward that I received from a friend (thanks A) is quite sobering in that regard:

The following was sent yesterday by Ned Sublette, author of "Cuba and its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo," who was raised during part of his youth in Louisiana and who recently spent nine months in New Orleans doing research on popular music, history and culture there and their relationship to the rest of the Caribbean.

"Below is an e-mail by a rescue worker that was forwarded to me. I'm leery of forwarding unattributed material because wild tales spread via internet, but this comes from a good source.

I have refrained from any political commentary (in news items that he has sent) thus far, but I will say this, re. the penultimate paragraph:

The poorest 20% (you can argue with the number -- 10%? 18%? No one knows) of the city was left behind to drown. Period. And this was the plan. Forget the sanctimonious bullshit about the bullheaded people who wouldn't leave. The evacuation plan was strictly laissez-faire. It depended on privately owned vehicles, and on having ready cash to fund an evacuation. The planners knew full well that the poor, who in New Orleans are overwhelmingly black, wouldn't be able to get out. The resources -- meaning, the political will -- weren't there to get them out.

White per capita income in Orleans parish, 2000 census: $31,971 Black per capita: $11,332. Median household income in B.W. Cooper (Calliope) Housing Projects, 2000: $13,263.

And now here's the rescue worker, whose name I don't know:

* * *

There are dead animals floating in the water, pets left behind. Surely people thought they would be back to collect the pets. Not so. The rescuers smell like gas when they come back in; there's gas in all of the water that
consumes the area. Fires are burning all over the place. Our teams are tired and they are thirsty and they are hungry. And they have a place to sleep and water to drink and food to eat. I can only imagine how the people without these "luxuries" are feeling right now.

Each night will be a race against time. When night falls, people can't get picked up from roofs, the rescuers can't chop into people's roofs to check the attics for anyone alive or for anyone dead (sadly, there are dead). At night we can't see power lines we can't see obstacles, we can't see any of the things that will bring down a helicopter or pose a danger to boats rescuers.

One of the teams came in today after having been out for hours at a time. One particular rescuer went straight to a corner and collapsed into tears. I went directly to him and just held his hand. What else could I do?

I said nothing. He said it all. They lowered him 26 times and he pulled 26 people to safety. He wants to be back out there but there are mandatory rest periods. His tears are tears of frustration.

Entire teams are working on nothing but evacuating the hospitals. All four of the major hospitals are beginning to flood. Critical patients have to get out or surely they will be lost. Generators cannot run forever; that's just the way it is. There are limited facilities to take those that are rescued and those that need to be evacuated. Anything that leaves by air leaves by helicopter. There are no runways for planes that aren't under water. Only one drivable way in and out.

Water everywhere and more keeps coming. Until they can do something about the three levees that are broken, more water will come and more water will kill. The water poses major health threats. Anyone with even a small open cut is prone to infection. Anyone who touches this water and touches his eyes, nose or mouth without find a way to "clean" himself first will be sick with stomach problems before long. It's bad and it's getting worse. It's not going to be anything better than devastating for days or weeks at best.

I wish I could tell you that I'll check in again soon. I can't. I don't know when my next message will get out. We'll be leaving where we are within just an hour or so.

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