Feb 28, 2005

Asian American Re:Activism

Spinning quietly...
Cure: Disintegration

I have been getting more and more annoyed as I watched the Hot 97 controversy spill into petty turf wars, territorial pissings, grandstanding, and ethnic politics-as-usual. I can't stand the internet-enabled re:activism that has infected Asian American students and organizations. While there are a lot of groups who are doing really important work, it seems like there are just as many loose networks of college students and "press-release" organizations who seem to focus on these distraction "issues" and take up the limited space that Asian American community issues get in the media and public consciousness.

The Hot 97 thing, the Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt incident, and a few other issues come immediately to mind as these blown-up issues that some groups seem to rally around. It's like the generation is searching really hard for its Vincent Chin, its I-Hotel, or its Dotbusters. But give me a break - these things pale in comparison. It's not like there aren't other issues that the community is dealing with that could serve to codify some kind of movement.

It has become the movement du jour, in which list servs and push-button "activism" has taken the place of traditional direct action, and passions begin to flare to combat cases of simple ignorance, stereotyping, and bias. While I agree with the thinking that we have to confront these examples of bias head-on, I think that they are distractions from the real work that lies ahead, quick fixes that are "easy-wins" with non-controversial, non-rigorous actions that don't require much time or emotional investment from the participants. Taking up the airwaves and commanding the dialogue on list servs, these issues feel like white noise that drowns out the difficult fights that are more closely linked to the actual communities whose interests we purport to represent.

Abercrombie and Fitch has become a rallying call for some of the keyboard activists, and a badge of honor that some former college students seem to wear on their sleeves. Taking on a company for stupid t-shirts is one past-time, but what about taking on a company for sweatshop labor or environmental racism (or if you're down with the global fight, how about taking on a company that's refusing to take responsibility for the death and harm that one of its subsidiaries has inflicted upon an entire region in India). At the end of the day, does it really make a significant difference that the shirts aren't on the market? Did it have to become such a lightning rod, when there seem to be so many other more worthy causes out there?

The infamous Tsunami Song parody played in extremely poor taste on hip-hop station Hot 97 in NYC, and the even more damning radio chatter afterwards are deplorable. But it's a no-brainer, caught on tape, and just a matter of a concentrated campaign to make them take the proper steps. If the groups involved were more focused on addressing the deep-set racism and mistrust between communities that guides and supports some of this work, that would have been progress. Trying to crucify the idiot radio jockey is an option, but is it really the most effective way to use the attention that the stupid song gained for issues of blatant racism? Is the goal to get the FCC involved so that they can slap even more rules on radio/broadcast about decency regarding discussions of race? Do we really want to see that flipped on its head to cut out discussions of historical instances of racial injustice or other issues that occupy the bandwidths where WBAI and Air America radio live?

And then there's the question of racial/ethnic politics. Why is it that the Chinese American organizations and spokespeople took off on this one? Was it because the insulting song and chatter seemed to disrespect the tremendous suffering of South and Southeast Asians throughout the world? Or was it because the song chose anti-Chinese slurs as their catch-all to represent Asians? Perhaps I'm walking on thin ice, but I'm sick of the trigger being some kind of knee-jerk reaction to an outdated slur that an ignorant fool is still using, whether or not the context was appropriate or deliberate. I only wonder where these folks were when South Asian and other communities were being called terrorists, harassed, and routinely made the center of anti-immigrant rhetoric that spew forward after September 11th. Why weren't these rabid anti-racists (or is anti-slurists more appropriate?) around and vocal at that time? Or were they too busy singing God Bless America from beneath the cover of their oversized star-spangled banners?

A note about re:activism
In a past conversation with my compadre Boogie, he observed that the most successful press for Asian American studies on campus only seems to happen after there's a racist incident. Cases in point... University of Connecticut had a series of anti-Asian incidents, and they ended up starting a program and institute (if I'm not mistaken). At SUNY Binghamton, wrestlers beat up a few Korean American students, and there was a strong movement for punitive action, and a groundswell of support for an Asian American Studies Program. Why do we have to wait for something to happen before we act? Instead of pro-activism, it's what I call re-activism. And in this instance, where the internet plays such a key role in "mobilization" around specific issues, I think of it as "re:activism", referring to the navel-gazing of the current generation of both students and academicians who are out of touch with the community itself, as well as the email shorthand for the subject line when folks hit "reply", as they launch into another useless thread of email discussions as the world spins without their taking notice...

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It's Snowing!

Yet another storm... and while we brace ourselves once again, weatherweary and longing for warmer days, I feel a distinct sense of sadness as I realize that this may be the last real storm for another year. While it is such a challenge to go through life's regular routine in this weather, it is wonderful to curl up to a favorite movie with your favorite person, or to catch up on the articles that you have been squirreling away for a rainy... or snowy... day. The longing for snow that came with youth returns for so many of us, but are we too concerned with the everyday worries that trouble us now to truly enjoy the gift that we have been granted to see another winter storm?

While I long for the days to celebrate the turning of the seasons with my progeny, I am trying very hard to enjoy it even now, in the twilight of my extended post-adolescence. Perhaps you have to grow up in this weather to feel this sense of wonder whenever the snow comes down this hard. I can close my eyes and almost remember that feeling of hope that Calvin feels when he hopes for no school... that ultimate joy of being able to sit inside and watch the storm change my entire playground, and waking to a brisk clear sky and so many activities outside of the tired circle of school and home.

I guess it also comes from growing up in a small town, where the snow stays white and there are trees everywhere that are just covered in a dazzling array of snow, ice, and crystal. For me, the memories are not intermingled with Christmas, but rather with thoughts of my parents at home, our small family together in some snapshot of self-contained happiness, maybe Mom making pancakes, Dad getting ready to shovel the sidewalk, each of us content in our own corners, or our convening in the kitchen.

Time moves so quickly, sometimes. You wish that you took full advantage of those moments when you had them. The best that we can do is do so with what we have in front of us now...

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Feb 25, 2005

On Passing...

A friend's grandmother just passed away, and less than a week ago, a college friend's father passed after a prolonged fight with illness. It feels that I am sending condolences with more frequency than earlier years, and I believe that it is an omen of things to come. This coming of age is one that we seldom like to think about, but an eventuality for everyone, I suppose. As we age, so too do our loved ones - those who nurtured and reared us, gave us their habits, memories, advice, and hearts.

Life, in all its complexity, beauty, and grace, does not prepare us for this. How can we even imagine life without the very ones who brought us into this world, spending so much of their own lives to make sure that we had a fighting chance? Even as I look forward to the future and endless dreams, I fear the months and years to come, for the clouds loom heavily upon the horizon.

I think the same day that I wrote this post, I got an email from a high school friend that his mother had passed away the week before. It is surprising how quickly these things have been coming on.

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Feb 22, 2005

In God We Trust

A long day - little chance to write today, and I've got limited energy still. But I've been carrying around the camera diligently, and it's starting to pay off as the weather gets nicer. I'm planning to check out the Gates from above this Friday, so should have a lot more shots to share. For today, a shot of one of the doorways of St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Ave...

And one of the NY Stock Exchange as evening falls. Gotta love the colors...

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Feb 21, 2005

In Memorium

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. I have been watching a few different documentaries about the revolutionaries of the 50s and 60s. I hope that I'll have more time to read about their struggles. Malcolm's time after the Hajj, in which he became more vocal about the global struggle against tyranny and oppression, are the most fascinating to me. What really amazes me is that I actually lived 1 block away from the Audubon Ballroom for 1 1/2 years. Malcolm's daughters have been working on the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center to make it into a repository of Malcolm's writing and life's work, which will open on May 19, his 80th birthday. Here's a CNN article with more details.

Nothing deeper to write at this point, but just wanted to include a quote from the eulogy that Ossie Davis gave at his funeral:

Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man but a seed which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is. A prince. Our own black shining prince who didn't hesitate to die because he loved us so.

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Feb 20, 2005

Mozilla Rocks!

Digital Rotation:
King's X: Faith Hope Love

Feeling a lot better now, after a week of being under the weather. A shitload of work to do, including apps, future, and all that crap, so this will be brief. But I realized that I haven't yet shared with the world how happy I am to be using Mozilla products to enhance my internet experience. First and foremost, if you're reading this using Internet Explorer, STOP! There is a better way! Behold: FireFox.

Built on a chassis created for Netscape's browsers back in the day, FireFox is the bees knees. No matter what platform you use, FireFox is a better browser for so many reasons, the most important being that it is not nearly as buggy nor as prone to internet critters and cretins as IE. You just have to switch to FireFox. FireFox comes ready to make RSS-feed bookmarks (very useful for updated news, tracking your fave blogs, and all kinds of other things), tabbed browsing, a good password memory system, and a few other bells and whistles, but it's not a large, bulky program. It's also built so that users can easily create little bits of code to do all kinds of interesting things and enhance your browsing experience (like blogging straight with a left click, or weather updates within the frame of the browser). And it's FREE!

Mozilla has also created a mail and news management program called Thunderbird. I'm just starting to use that now, and I actually really like it. I'll have to give word if I like it more than Mac Mail, but I'm feeling that already, as Thunderbird is also built for RSS-feeds (so I can get updates on my favorite news and blog sites in my mailbox and read when I'm ready to read them).

Break the monopoly that MicroSoft has on your browsing experience!! Move into the 21st Century! Check out FireFox and Thunderbird! Man - sounds like Saturday morning cartoons or something...

Just saw that they are testing a Mac native browser called Camino... I'll have to check that out now and see how it compares to Firefox...

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Feb 17, 2005


I've been sick for the past couple of days. Really raining on my parade, especially after being on the go for so long, and feeling re-energized by the DC trip. I haven't been able to focus on the Mac for very long, hence no writing. But fear not, loyal reader - more regular, and expository, writing to come.

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Feb 14, 2005

The Gates and Tracking the Boss

D has been in poor health for the past couple of days, so I've not been around the Mac long enough to post something worthwhile. Her folks were in town for a NY minute this past weekend, which was nice, and I had a brief encounter with the Gates, which I'll have to write about later. In a nutshell, drove by Central Park West in the afternoon to see what we could see; saw the throngs walking amongst the saffron arches; tried to find a parking spot and ended up nicking someone's SUV and barely making it away without the ubiquitous exchange of insurance information; considered the immediate value of the Gates as twofold: first, for bringing color to the park in the midst of a grey season, and second, for bringing people into the park in spite of the cold. Otherwise, the Gates as event trumped (ouch! wrong word) the Gates as aesthetic experience (though, again, haven't fully experienced them in person yet).

I have to see an aerial shot of this thing, though. For a similar opinion... Okay - I guess I don't have to post about this later, then.

The end of that day resulted in our driving past my office for the second weekend in a row, peering into the office window (as you can just manage to do if you align your eyes in the moment that the car passes my building), and seeing my boss in the lone lit room on the floor, in front of his laptop, working. I'm going to try to document how many times, and at what time, I see him there.

Sighting #2: Saturday, 2/12: ~4 PM.

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Feb 11, 2005

Living Wage, pt II and The Year of Change

Wage Resistance

i wanted to pick up on my previous post about working wages in movement orgs. There's also a sense that many folks with partners have some agreement where one of them makes mondo money while the other becomes a professional do-gooder. We know of so many examples of this - and it calls to question what happens when both folks want to do socially conscious work, and neither wants the other to give up their passion. Do we inadvertently have to struggle just to make ends meet? Or do we have to find some space between the two of us in which one has to give up the things that he/she believe in, to ensure that the institution that you share between you remains viable, rather than worrying about the same for an NGO or a cause?

We've found a good balance for us - more of a "we've both got to stay true to the work that we feel that we have to do." However, I feel that my pending decision to go to school for three years is going to test that balance in a significant way. There is much planning to do to make sure that we're not wiped out and burnt out at the end of that next phase.

But I'm getting more excited about change. I think that the trip to Washington made me more excited as well, even though I didn't get a chance to spend much time thinking about being local and what that would mean, I at least had the chance to be in the environment again. The prospect of working in communities that are wholly new to me is scary and invigorating - the prospect of working in communities and settings where things are just getting off the ground, where the deep-seated bitterness and antagonisms that gum up coalition-building in NYC are largely absent, is very appealing. Being a student in that environment may allow me to explore organizing and other skills in community-based work that I haven't been able to develop as a working staffer.

The prospect of leaving the comfort of a place that feels like home no matter how random or wonderful is frightening.

So emotional moderation is the key, at least until we make a decision.

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DesiArt, Inc?

light trails

After listening to the Himalayan Project CDs that A lent to me last week, I've been thinking about how few progressive desi music projects I know of that are based in the US. Finding ADF from the UK was a revelation for me a few years ago. Their political voice, ferocity, and commitment to grassroots organizing and empowerment were immediately inspirational. But what about here? Don't we have enough of a history in the United States to begin to see musical work that incorporates and embraces those histories?

I hear some of that in Vijay Iyer's piano and jazz arrangements, but no matter how accessible it may seem or become, it's still not a popular music format, and very few people can hear the message without the words. So what about other music projects? Have I just been out of the loop, or are there very few of them around? I mean, of course people point to Freddie Mercury (British, anyway, and though brilliant, he was mainstream with Queen), Kim Thayil of Soundgarden (who has even heard him speak about anything), Tony Kanal of No Doubt (oh yeah! you're saying to yourself... he is brown), and that brown guy in Sum 41 who gets the least screen time, isn't mentioned in many interviews with the band, but I think is the shredding Maiden-head who gives them their edge, and we can't forget Sonya Mandan of Echobelly (British again, but righteous).

I know that there's music out there, especially in the world of underground and local hip-hop - as this article testifies, but it's so hard to find and to connect to. Is it that the music is so far on the periphery, or that I'm so removed from this scene?

Even the writing scene has been a disappointment. How many pieces are out there that talk about a return to South Asia, or arranged marriages - how many novels break that mold and actually reflect some of the experiences that we can actually identify with? And the spoken-word circuit is almost completely bereft of strong Desi voices who have skills, spit consciousness, and represent real community issues. That's why we have to really support folks who are trying to do this - from D'Lo to the HP brothers. And why we have to take to the clubs, the dancehalls, and the lyricist lounges to find the next voices of this crazy generation.

I'm tired of getting crappy Asian Avenue Plugged In CDs and wondering where the South Asian voice is. I'm tired of Asian American music and spoken word events that have either no, or worse, that bad self-exoticizing kind of desi artist on the playlist. I would rather they don't appear at all than appear and put another piece about arranged marriage or terrible food metaphors out to represent some twisted worldview as a self- or other-appointed ambassador of desi culture. You can't help it if others label or try to squeeze you into a box, but you most definitely don't have to embrace and perpetuate that perception that you're a voice of a people.

High-end desi art, especially in the world of English-language literature, continues to celebrate a "Renaissance" of sorts, in which Booker and Pulitzer and Nobel seem almost pedestrian prizes for members of the global diaspora. But whose stories are they telling? And if it's art for art's sake - who are they really entertaining? And in setting the mold and the expectations of what stories from brown writers should be like, aren't we backing ourselves, and more troubling - future writers, into a tiny little room from which to write? How can the artist depict different views of the world around her, if she's got the same window to look out from as all her peers and antecedents?

All that said, I think that the stage, with plays and theater, are probably further ahead than any of the other creative art forms, at least in NYC. I have seen a number of performances and short plays that feel more with it - especially stuff that DesiPina Productions has been doing. More power to them. Documentary film-making has also been strong, and getting stronger. But the creative side still feels lacking.

However, the aggressive marketing of cultural products has co-opted most attempts at community arts movement. There's so much space for that kind of work to grow, especially in South Asian communities. Where's our Kearny Street Workshop? Is the Basement Workshop's model - something that we spoke of with reverence, if not complete understanding in the 1990s arts community of NYC - outdated and impossible in the corporate, professionalized community-work environment?

So do yourself and the community a favor - support local art that brings forth local and community voices. It may not be polished, but if it's honest, it will have something that no MFA program is going to teach you: it will begin to give us our anthems to sing as the struggle continues.

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Feb 7, 2005

Road Trip Upstate: Campus & Community


Cat Stevens' Greatest Hits
Q-Tip: Amplified
Black-Eyed Peas: Elephunk
Himalayan Project: Wince at the Sun
Warrior Soul: Last Decade Dead Century

I made it up to the state college 200 miles away and back in one day, one piece (one love). It was a good thing for me to go up and speak to a few of the students who came out for a pre-game show far different from what they may have caught on TV. I don't think that it was the most coherent thing that I've done, but I was asked to talk about moving from campus awareness to community activism, and I didn't have a good sense of what the awareness, or consciousness, was on campus. The scene changes so often on college campuses - administrations depend on the turnover taking the wind from the sails of any large-scale movement for change that's initiated by students. Over the years, you hear the same refrain from the few student leaders who've stepped up - we may have a large presence in numbers, but where my people at when I need them to represent?

This time around was no different. We actually didn't have any representation from the umbrella Asian American organization on campus, which was a shock compared to the last time that I was on campus and half the e-board (of more than 15) showed up. I felt the need to shake it up a little, and to get these students to think about how they can and should be connected on campus. And how it only takes a few folks to start a movement. I am regularly inspired by students when they are open and honest about what they're feeling and what they see as the issues at hand. This time was no different, and it just really re-energized me about the work that I want to do to help develop the next wave of leadership from out of students and young people who come from the communities that we're trying to work with all the time. I feel like I am the one who should be listening and learning from them.

Afterwards, I had dinner with an old friend who teaches at the University. We have very similar views about how important it is to make sure that Asian American studies is connected to students and to community. The theoretical navel-gazing of the academy has displaced the roots of the Asian American studies movement - in which Asian American students and community groups came together to demand that the curriculum on campus more accurately represented the histories, lives, and struggles for self-determination of people of Asian descent in the United States.

My interest, and those of some of the folks who are also talking about the work ahead is to support student leadership in state and city campuses, and to empower students to build strong student-focused movements that fight for responsive administrations on their campuses, Asian American studies programs that are more directly connected to the actual communities off-campus, and create the next generation of leaders to take over from those of us that are currently doing this work.

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Feb 6, 2005

Heading out upstate
My love curled in peaceful dreams
The road winds ahead

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A Tale of Two Diners

Another night, another crazy memory in this city of blinding lights. After using most of the day to clean and explore web photo-hosting options (I'm taken again by the idea of photoblogging and definitely want to make full use of the Sony DSC-W1 that I picked up just before we went to India), I told D that I'd drive her into the city for her dinner plans with a friend and fellow desi community worker. I didn't want to crash their party, and thought it a good chance to just cruise a bit in the city leisurely before my long trip tomorrow. I gave A a call to see if she was around, since I'd be in her 'hood.

I had a tentative plan in mind already, thinking that we could drive up to the Park to see what we could see of the progress of The Gates installation process. After reading the blog relating the stages of installation, I was hooked and wanted to catch what I could of this historic piece before the masses crowded the walkways and ruined the experience.

So we head out, taking the Brooklyn Bridge and admiring the wide array of midtown towers gleaming with various bright lights - far more than I was accustomed to, in fact. Maybe V-day has something to do with it? We swung around the South side of Manhattan to catch the West Side highway, and were actually able to peer into my office, which is lined up perfectly with the FDR. As I predicted, my director was in his office, working at 6:30 PM on a Saturday. That caused D and I to talk about work/life balance and realize that our priorities are definitely more clear than some folks out there.

Anyway - so I drop D off, pick up gas, and get to where A was to meet me. We started catching up, and drove up to Central Park. We took in the City as we drove up, some of which we hadn't seen in some time, including a small group of dedicated protesters in front of the Waldorf-Astoria with signs like "Fuck Marriage: Universal Healthcare Now!" and shouting slogans about AIDS/HIV Drugs for All. We weren't sure of the target, but it's interesting that folks within this particular movement have such a different take on yesterday's ruling. Of course we didn't think that marriage was the Holy Grail for the activist LGBT community, but the message was more clear after seeing it in stark terms.

Once we got to the park, sure enough, little to nothing was visible of the Gates, which haven't even gone up yet, I don't think. So we drove up to the 79th street crossover, and I made clear to A that my next priority was eating, which I hadn't done since morning, which was quickly becoming a 9-hour fast. We drove down Fifth avenue, and my crazy neurosis about eating at just the right place took over. For some reason, I was again consumed by the desire to eat at the perfect place, driven by the fact that I don't go out that often in Manhattan anymore, and I wanted to make the most of having the car, and command of the decision-making. Meanwhile, we were bordering on an hour in the car, driving through neighborhood after neighborhood, and laughing at the sheer idiocy of car and food culture in the city.

When we got to 14th Street, I had a sudden craving for wasabi mashed potatoes, of the variety served at Fuzion on A, and wanted to pay the place a visit to repay an old debt of friendship and coolness that the owner had bestowed upon me at my last birthday, which friends and family celebrated with me in that fine establishment. We get down to 13th and A, where the spot is located, and there's a Tsunami-related benefit going on. I, with $6 in my pocket, and limited patience for tsunami-related benefits at this point, wasn't having it. And so we continued, past 1 million joints to eat and nary a parking spot to be had. We swung around to Houston, where the cab stops beckoned with promises of $.75 samosas reheated and served in paper trays with the perfect chutney. But there was nowhere to park, and I was feeling more road rage than hunger - at drivers, at weekenders walking the streets that I once so proudly walked, and at my stomach for being so relentless.

At the tail end of our hour on the road, we head back up 1st Ave and finally settled on a Belgian place on 19th and 1st. We parked, and checked out the menu: not good. Pricey, and not veggie-friendly. Where were the pomme frites?! So we ended up, at long last, in a diner. Of all the places to end up in Manhattan, we ended up in a diner. It took us way back to our respective towns, during high school, when driving around and going to a diner were the stuff that nights were made of. But who does that in NYC? Apparently, tourists go to diners, and so do people who don't want to venture far from their comfort zones. I went there searching for fries - the night one long spud quest - from mashed to fried (finally to hashed, which is what ended up joining my shitake-scallion-mozzarella omelet and toast).

Afterwards, I drove A home, and passed a Home Depot on 23rd Street(!) as I went to pick up D from her after-dinner coffee, at the Moonstruck Diner in Chelsea. A Saturday night in the city at last, and I spent it in two diners. I'm so done with the dining and drinking "scene" in Manhattan - this just reminds me that I'm really only looking for comfort in this city, and that in that search, I'm starting to revert to patterns from my yout.

I just want a nice comfortable, non-gentrified neighborhood in Queens where I can speak to my neighbors and their kids about their days and their lives, and integrate more fully into the peaceful hum of what's left of neighborhood NY.

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Feb 4, 2005

New York Ruling on Gay Marriage

This is amazing news... and I'm proud that this is an Asian American judge who's behind this ruling. I don't know what the appeals process will be like, but at least for this moment, I feel proud to be a New Yorker. More than usual, in fact.

Of course, this issue has taken over the spotlight and hogged the debate around justice and human rights for all members of the society that we live in. And it's an easy blanket to cover over the uneasiness that the hetero left sometimes feels about their "moral" convergence with the far right on issues of real equity when it comes to their queer counterparts in the movement. "Hey - they can marry now, so their issues don't have to aired anymore!"

I know that there are a lot of criticisms and look forward to reading and learning about them soon. For now, though, I'll just think to myself that this is a small step in the long journey in the right direction.

New York court rules in favor of same-sex marriage
Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in New York State, a court ruled on Friday in a decision that Lambda Legal called "a historic ruling that delivers the state constitution's promise of equality to all New Yorkers." Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit last year, representing five same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses in New York.

In a 62-page decision issued Friday morning in New York City, state supreme court justice Doris Ling-Cohan said that the New York state constitution guarantees basic freedoms to lesbian and gay people and that those rights are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry. The ruling said the state constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal must be given marriage licenses.

For full article.

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Feb 3, 2005

Brother, can I get a living wage?

Sony NetMD Blastin':
Opeth: Deliverance
Iron Maiden: Live After Death
Testament: First Strike Still Deadly

Got into a conversation with Boogie, an old friend and ally, via AIM about the crappy wages and long thankless hours that movement organizations force their staff to endure. D had just gone through a workshop about taking what you need to make sure that you can do this work for the next 30 years, and I don't think that slave wages were part of the equation. But it seems that more groups than not don't take their workers welfare into account when doing their accounting. In a lot of ways, this is wholly hypocritical of organizations claiming to fight for social justice. Happiness starts at home. Or more appropriately, do unto your own as you'd have the world do unto its workers.

So why do so many of these organizations pay such low wages? Part of the equation is clearly that the work itself is not valued on the market, and thus organizations have a hard time rustling up the funds to pay a decent salary to their workers. But I sometimes think that a part of it is also a whole culture of struggle that's taken over the consciousness of the conscious. That you aren't completely legitimate if you aren't really suffering, like "the community." At times it feels like an over-idealization of the state of the have-nots, that status in the movement is inversely proportional to your comfort in your personal life. That "the struggle" has to be more than a metaphoric or representative condition, but instead must be a much more literal struggle in your own daily life. Hyper-reality, perhaps, especially as more and more privileged folks with professional credentials enter the field and displace some of the folks who actually hail from the communities that the movement hopes to organize and bring towards self-determination.

It's not that I fully agree with the notion that authenticity in the movement only comes from going through the physical struggle in your past. But I definitely don't agree that you have to struggle while doing the work to be considered authentic. And how are we supposed to sustain this movement and recruit and train new leaders if we burn through ourselves by pushing ourselves at the brink of tolerable working conditions? Is it a wonder that so many people burn-out and drop out of sight for stretches of time or even for good? We have to critically evaluate the way that we treat ourselves and those around us in this work. Or else we'll end up with a lot of bitter, disillusioned drones, and the wrong side will have won the larger battle.

You cannot win the larger struggle by having pissing contests with your allies about who's a more authentic advocate. Let's focus, people. And let's build a conscious movement that takes care of everyone who shares in its vision.

I just remembered two other things that I wanted to include in this. First, I'm fortunate that I work somewhere that pays competitive wages in the nonprofit sector. I may bitch about leadership and mission drift and the detachment of the org from reality, but I definitely have to be thankful that I'm being paid for that privilege. Second, part of what fueled this strand of writing was a site visit that we conducted with a group that we work with last week. The executive director told us that the board voted to cut senior staff's salary by 1/3 so that the organization could move into a more accessible space for the community. That's honorable, but the salaries were low to begin with. He told us that he made $20K in 2004. That's just ridiculous. You can make more working in a bookstore.

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Skipped the speech, pass the nachos

The Essential Bruce Springsteen

Had dinner with a few of my favorite cousins in the city last night, at Dragonfly, an old standard that D, my sister, and I have been going to for a while. I haven't had a bad meal there, though there are some dishes that I definitely recommend over others. It's a great place to go with a mixed crowd (veggie + non-veggie, drinkers + non-drinkers), convenient for NJ'ers (5 minutes from the Holland Tunnel) and even close to Basement Bhangra. We had a great time, and it reminded me that you don't need an occasion to see people that you care about.

In going out late, we skipped the State of the GOP address. I guess we didn't give it a second thought while scheduling for the week. Just like I didn't think twice that I'll be speaking at an upstate college on SuperBowl Sunday. The State of the Union and the biggest single-day event in American sports are both commercial magnets, with the GOP vying for our attention and our hearts in the same manner as their buddies in corporate Amerika. With the fall-out from the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake half-time show of last year, even the commercials this Sunday aren't going to be that entertaining.

I pass. No thanks. Give me an ultimate tournament, a third-party candidate stump speech, anything but the carefully primed, proper, and pathetic barrage of images and imagery that both events will present.

Looks like I'm not the only one making the leap from elephant to pigskin.

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The Stuff that Dreams are Made of...

Okay - so this was wild stuff. I read it, thinking that it was more of an modern art installation on pop and eating culture, only to find that they were actually serving the paper! I was fascinated by this, and as I read the article, found myself immediately remembering Milo at the banquet in Dictionopolis. I remember loving the Phantom Tollbooth (by Norman Juster) for many years after I read it in elementary school. It's one of those books that really sticks with you - the references, jokes, and images remain relevant and even enlightening in your adulthood. If you haven't read it, you should. Meanwhile, I can't wait to check out this restaurant and crumble their menu into my soup.


New York Times
February 3, 2005
When the Sous-Chef Is an Inkjet
CHICAGO. HOMARO CANTU'S maki look a lot like the sushi rolls served at other upscale restaurants: pristine, coin-size disks stuffed with lumps of fresh crab and rice and wrapped in shiny nori. They also taste like sushi, deliciously fishy and seaweedy.

But the sushi made by Mr. Cantu, the 28-year-old executive chef at Moto in Chicago, often contains no fish. It is prepared on a Canon i560 inkjet printer rather than a cutting board. He prints images of maki on pieces of edible paper made of soybeans and cornstarch, using organic, food-based inks of his own concoction. He then flavors the back of the paper, which is ordinarily used to put images onto birthday cakes, with powdered soy and seaweed seasonings.

At least two or three food items made of paper are likely to be included in a meal at Moto, which might include 10 or more tasting courses. Even the menu is edible; diners crunch it up into a bowl of gazpacho, creating Mr. Cantu's version of alphabet soup.

Sometimes he seasons the menus to taste like the main courses. Recently, he used dehydrated squash and sour cream powders to match a soup entree. He also prepares edible photographs flavored to fit a theme: an image of a cow, for example, might taste like filet mignon.

"We can create any sort of flavor on a printed image that we set our minds to," Mr. Cantu said. The connections need not stop with things ordinarily thought of as food. "What does M. C. Escher's 'Relativity' painting taste like? That's where we go next."

Food critics have cheered, comparing Mr. Cantu to Salvador Dali and Willy Wonka for his peculiarly playful style of cooking. More precisely, he is a chef in the Buck Rogers tradition, blazing a trail to a space-age culinary frontier.

Mr. Cantu wants to use technology to change the way people perceive (and eat) food, and he uses Moto as his laboratory. "Gastronomy has to catch up to the evolution in technology," he said. "And we're helping that process happen."

Tucked among warehouses and lofts in the Chicago meatpacking district, Moto attracts a trend-conscious crowd. Some guests leave scratching their heads; others walk away spellbound by a glimpse of Mr. Cantu's vision of the future of food.

William Mericle, 41, described recent meal at Moto as "dinner theater on your plate." He did not care for all 20 small dishes he sampled, but he said he liked most of them. He found Mr. Cantu's imagination appealing. "He's mad-scientist-meets-gourmet-chef," he said. "Like Christopher Lloyd from 'Back to the Future,' if he were more interested in food than time travel."

Mr. Cantu believes that restaurant-goers, particularly diners who are willing to spend $240 per person for a meal (the cost of a 20-course tasting menu with wine at Moto) are often disappointed by conventional dining experiences. "They're sick and tired of steak and eggs," he said. "They're tired of just going to a restaurant, having food placed on the table, having it cleared, and there's no more mental input into it other than the basic needs of a caveman, just eat and nourish."

At Moto, he said, "there's so much more we can do."

Mr. Cantu is experimenting with liquid nitrogen, helium and superconductors to make foods levitate. And while many chefs speak of buying new ovens or refrigerators, he wants to invest in a three-dimensional printer to make physical prototypes of his inventions, which he now painstakingly builds by hand. The 3-D printer could function as a cooking device, creating silicone molds for pill-sized dishes flavored, say, like watermelon, bacon and eggs or even beef Bourguignon, he said, and he could also make edible molds out of cornstarch.

He also plans to buy a class IV laser to create dishes that are "impossible through conventional means." (A class IV laser, the highest grade under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's classification system, projects high-powered beams and is typically used for surgery or welding.)

Mr. Cantu said he might use the laser to burn a hole through a piece of sashimi tuna, cooking the fish thoroughly inside but leaving its exterior raw. He said he would also use the laser to create "inside out" bread, where the crust is baked inside the loaf and the doughy part is the outer surface. "We'll be the first restaurant on planet Earth to use a class IV laser to cook food," he said with a grin.

He is testing a hand-held ion-particle gun, which he said is for levitating food. So far he has zapped only salt and sugar, but envisions one day making whole meals float before awestruck diners.

The son of a fabricating engineer, Mr. Cantu got his start as a science geek. "From a very young age, I liked to take apart things," said Mr. Cantu, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest. "All of my Christmas gifts would wind up in a million pieces. I actually recall taking apart my dad's lawnmower three times to understand how combustible engines work."

When he was 12, he took a job as a cook and busboy, mainly to earn money for remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters that he then took apart. But the restaurant business rubbed off on Mr. Cantu, and after high school he attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Ore. A series of jobs followed, nearly 50 in all, Mr. Cantu said. He worked as a stagiaire, or intern, in some of the top kitchens around the country, eventually talking his way into a job at Charlie Trotter's, a well-known restaurant in Chicago. He became a sous-chef there before opening Moto last year.

Mr. Cantu has filed applications for patents on more than 30 inventions, including a cooking box that steams fish. The tiny opaque box, about three inches square, is made of a superinsulating polymer. Mr. Cantu heats the box to 350 degrees in an oven and places a raw piece of Pacific sea bass inside it. A server then delivers it to diners, who can watch the fish cook.

Assisting Mr. Cantu with what he calls his " 'Star Wars' stuff" is DeepLabs, a small Chicago product-development and design consultancy. Mr. Cantu meets weekly with the crew of aerospace and mechanical engineers, programmers and product designers at DeepLabs for brainstorming sessions.

"I tell them I want to make food float, I want to make it disappear, I want to make it reappear, I want to make the utensils edible, I want to make the plates, the table, the chairs edible," Mr. Cantu said, "I ask them, what do I need to do that?"

Ryan Alexander, an industrial graphic designer at DeepLabs, said he and his colleagues at the company, which has designed more conventional products for Motorola and Home Depot, are enthusiastic about Mr. Cantu: "We don't say no," he said.

Using engineering, graphics and animation software, DeepLabs designers have begun to turn Mr. Cantu's dreams into realties.

They have created mockups of his all-in-one utensil, a combination fork, knife and spoon, as well as utensils with pressurized handles that release aromatic vapors. The latest prototype is a utensil with a disposable, self-heating silicone handle that can be filled with liquefied or pureed foods. A carbon-dioxide-based charge heats the food (soup, for example), and the diner squeezes the handle to release it onto a spoon. Mr. Cantu envisions many applications for such a utensil, from military meals to cookouts.

Mr. Cantu said his experiments and kitchen inventions could one day revolutionize how, where and what we eat. "This will tap into something," he said. "Maybe a mission to Mars, I don't know. Maybe we're going to find a way to grow something in a temperature that liquid nitrogen operates at. Then we could grow food on Pluto. There are possibilities to this that we can't fathom yet. And to not do it is far more consequential than just to say, hey, we're going to stick with our steak and eggs today."

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Follow-up on Hot 97

So they've taken some stronger action, but the powers that be state that it's not enough. I wonder if there's a clear picture of what folks would accept as a win in this case. There are a lot of players vying for the spotlight in the protest effort - I give props to the folks who didn't have as much to gain for standing up - I haven't heard the transcript yet from the morning show, but Miss Info gets props, and Jin gets props for his average Hot 97 diss track. At least it was timely.


'Tsunami Song' fallout: 3 suspended, 2 fired
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

Hoping to quell the storm over its "Tsunami Song," WQHT yesterday fired morning-show producer Rick Del Gado, who created the song, and morning-team member Todd Lynn, who cracked on the air, "I'm gonna start shooting some Asians."

But Hot-97 did not meet the demands of some critics and fire the rest of the Miss Jones morning show, which aired the parody for four days last month.

Miss Jones, DJ Envy and production assistant Tasha Hightower will all be suspended for two weeks, said the station. They have been off since last Wednesday.

Reaction from critics was swift yesterday and not all favorable.

"Their statement is a joke," said City Councilman John Liu (D-Queens). "They need to fire Miss Jones, but even more important, they need to accept corporate responsibility."

Noting that Hot-97 pledged a million dollars to tsunami relief, Liu said, "That's a joke, too. It should be $10 million. They said employees will donate a week's pay to relief funds. Fine. So they should donate a week of corporate profits."

Hot-97's statement yesterday cited Del Gado for the song and Lynn for "offensive, racially insensitive comments," calling them "singularly egregious."

Miss Info, the other member of the morning team, was not suspended, though she also has been off the air since last week. Miss Info, who is Asian, said on the air that the song offended her - which sparked the heated exchange during which Lynn made his "shooting" remark.

Racial banter and exaggeration are not uncommon on morning shows, but critics said Lynn went way over the top.

The "Tsunami Song" itself, set to the tune of "We Are the World," has been blasted for use of racial slurs and for making light of tsunami victims.

Kai Yu of the group Asian Media Watch called Hot-97's actions yesterday "a start," but said they fall short of "full accountability ... all the way up to the people who approved this going on the air."

Liu said further protest actions are planned: "We're only getting started."

Several Hot-97 advertisers temporarily withdrew after the initial controversy.

"The actions of the morning show were socially and morally indefensible," said Emmis President Rick Cummings. "The entire Emmis family is ashamed. Our decision ... sends a message that this type of insensitivity is utterly unacceptable."

Jay Smooth, whose hiphopmusic.com has been bulldogging the case and has recorded a half-million hits, had a sharp E-mail exchange yesterday with Lynn, who told Smooth that his on-air remarks were "taken out of context."

In the exchange, Lynn called the episode "one of the biggest mistakes of my life," describing the song as "very poor taste and bad judgment."

But, he added, "None of us are bigots."

Meanwhile, Miss Info will co-host an Asia Relief Fund Benefit on Saturday at Capitale on the Bowery with rapper Jin, who recorded a track blasting Hot-97.

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Feb 2, 2005


Spinning Quietly on my Studio Monitors:
Testament: "Trail of Tears"

I can listen to this song forever. Although I really like the acoustic version on Live at the Fillmore, the studio version of the track, on the album Low is really good too. There's something about Testament's sound - from the crunch of Eric Peterson's dark riffs to the soulful, spirited runs that Alex Skolnick, and later James Murphy, integrated into the music. There's something about Testament that both reminds me of that critical period when I was thrashing it up in the early nineties and connects in some deep way to the many different interests that I've had over the years, from the environment ("Greenhouse Effect") to indigenous community issues ("Trail of Tears").

Maybe it's just that they seem to be able to connect the very powerful metal element of their music with something more rootsy, more basic, in a way that the technical thrash, math, and death metal bands aren't able to do. Even Metallica, in their prime, seemed more constructed than Testament. And I can say, without prejudice, that I can rock out far more regularly to Testament than I can to Metallica. And also just toss on a few tracks in iTunes from Testament that carry me within one particular mood. They don't mess up a track with intros or instrumental breaks that go on forever, nor do they sacrifice melody and vocal complexity for the sake of trying to make a record to quiet their critics and "retake the throne" of metal, the way that Metallica attempted with St. Anger, failing miserably. Testament never left their base, straying only as far as The Ritual would take them from their metal roots, before returning with a powerful vengeance in Low, Demonic, and The Gathering.


Yeah - though I'm sure that very few of my readers are listening past the initial mention of Testament in this post (I'm sure that there's at least one reader still with me) - there's something pure about the way that Testament approaches the music. I wish that I had more of their albums on CD, actually. I have a road trip coming up next week to speak about the transition from Asian American student organizing to community-based work in NYC. I'll again use the Neil Peart method, filling my CD changer with select disks that I want to become more acquainted with, and allowing the thoughts and memories to flood through me as I drive for about 8 hours. Although I'll definitely miss D, I think that it's a good thing for me to have time on the road like that. Still, the weather has been more than treacherous, and I'm worried about the conditions. Stay tuned.

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Feb 1, 2005

Fur out

A childhood friend of mine just got a job with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and in one fell swoop, has out-radicalized the rest of her friends who work in some kind of socially conscious job or space. Not that I'm saying that I agree with everything that they do, but PETA ranks right up there with ALF and ELF (Animal/Earth Liberation Front). She's already a vegetarian, but I've started a pool amongst our friends about how long it will take her to go vegan.

Still, more power to her for actually taking this leap from working as a journalist for a number of years to actually staking out ground on the other side, working on media content and internet public relations for such a strong org. I'll be interested to hear about the internal dynamics - are there a lot of people of color involved in these radical animal rights organizations? Though I'm all for the fight, I feel like it's primarily a white liberal issue. Am I wrong?

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This Year's Stella Awards

Forwarded to me from a friend (thanks, MS):

It's once again time to review the winners of the annual Stella Awards. The Stellas' are named after 81 year old Stella Liebeck who spilled coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonald's. That case inspired the Stella Awards for the most frivolous successful lawsuits in the United States. Unfortunately the most recent lawsuit implicating McDonald's, the teens who allege that eating at McDonald's has made them fat was filed after the 2004 award voting was closed.


5TH PLACE (TIED): Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas was awarded $780,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving toddler was Ms. Robertson's son.

5TH PLACE (TIED): 19 year old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently did not notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal the hubcaps.

5TH PLACE (TIED): Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania was leaving a house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage. He was not able to get the garage door to go up since the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He could not re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family was on vacation and Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for 8 days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found and a large bag of dry dog food. He sued the homeowner's insurance claiming the situation caused him undue mental anguish. The jury agreed to the tune of $500,000.

4TH PLACE: Jerry Williams of Little Rock,Arkansas was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor's Beagle dog. The Beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard. The award was less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been a little provoked at the time as Mr. Williams, who had climbed over the fence into the yard, was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.

3RD PLACE: A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania $113,500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx (tailbone). The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier, during an argument.

2ND PLACE: Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a Night Club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out two of her front teeth. This occurred while Ms. Walton was trying to sneak in the window of the Ladies Room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.

1ST PLACE: This year's runaway winner was Mr. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new Winnebago Motor home. On his trip home from an OU football game, having driven onto the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly the RV left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the owner's manual that he could not actually do this. The jury awarded him $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago Motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit just in case there were any other complete morons buying their recreational vehicles.

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