Apr 29, 2005

Bush has slime-mold beetle named after him

Thursday, April 14, 2005 Posted: 6:34 PM EDT (2234 GMT)
ITHACA, New York (AP) -- Not just anybody can say he has a slime-mold beetle named in his honor. But George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld can.

Entomologists Quentin Wheeler and Kelly B. Miller, who recently had the task of naming 65 newly discovered species of slime-mold beetles, named three species after the president, vice president and defense secretary.

The monikers: Agathidium bushi Miller and Wheeler, Agathidium cheneyi Miller and Wheeler, and Agathidium rumsfeldi Miller and Wheeler...

I don't know - I find this to just be too rich on its own to even have to write anything here. I love the oddball humor of some scientists.

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Apr 25, 2005

Anti-Terrorism Program for America's Poor Communities

Okay - so this is really troubling (just like all the other things that we read about nowadays). "Let's make sure we scare poor communities and point out the evil-doers also! Let's drop money into these communities in the name of homeland security, when their homes aren't secure from the onset of gentrification and the ever-rising cost of living while wages continue to stagnate. Oh wait - their homes are the ones near the chemical, biological, and nuclear plants. Maybe we don't have to worry as much about people trying to push us out of those homes. But they have even more at stake with terrorism - because after all, there's nothing worse than those so-called environmental terrorists who want nothing more than to target these facilities also. And then where would you be? To arms, poor folks of America! Pledge the flag and find those who want to destroy your way of life. Anything so you forget who's responsible for oppressing you and making you have to live that way of life."

In order to address the threat of terrorism to America's low-income communities, many of which are located near power plants, chemical factories, and transportation centers, the Community Action Partnership, a national anti-poverty program, has created the Community Land Security program. Local versions of the program are currently operating in Middlesex County, New Jersey; Bolivar County, Mississippi; and Knox County, Kentucky; and will soon be expanding to more communities across the country.

The partnership is offering seven $10,000 grants that will help Community Action Agencies (CAAs) across the United States implement and manage Community Land Security programs in their communities. CAAs must complete an application and be able to raise $10,000 in matching funds in order to be considered. The partnership will provide the selected CAAs with onsite training for implementing the program and ongoing technical assistance.

Eligible applicants are Community Action Agencies (i.e., recipients of Community Services Block Grant 90 percent pass-through funding) that are members in good standing of the Community Action Partnership at the time of application.

Visit the Community Action Partnership Web site for information on the partnership and to download the Community Land Security Notice of Funding Availability. Available here [pdf]

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Apr 22, 2005

I been fairly quiet on the blog front for a while, but the gears have been spinning, and there's a lot of movement on the life side of the tracks, so I believe that I will be writing more in the near future (whether it falls on- or off-line remains to be seen).

Been listening to a lot of music, some disks that I'd picked up and not really spun much, and others that are new to me. I have to say this again, but the last Cure album is phenomenally solid. I thought that Robert Smith had worn out his angst, but boy was I wrong. And it does them well to be more aggressive (no keyboards, crashing drums). I would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a good disc to play while pounding out your manifesto.

Also been listening to Rage Against the Machine more. I'm hoping that I can get introduced to more conscious music - ADF is fantastic, Fun^Da^Mental, Himalayan Project. But I want to find more. Any suggestions?

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Apr 19, 2005

A New Distraction: Blog meme thingy

Okay - so just what I needed: a new thing to do while I'm trying to stop procrastinating. Thanks a lot, Saurav. But because I'm a good sport, and I actually like the more interactive element of blogging to which I am getting more exposed (i.e.: blog melas, comment-fests, etc), I'll play along. So here are the questions and my responses:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be? (explanation)
This is a good question. Maybe I would be The Synonym Finder, by J.I. Rodale, just because then people writing articles or press releases or grad school application essays would really be interested in what I have to quote back to them, as I would have killed the guy who became the thesaurus, and this is a better book anyway.

Then again, maybe I would become the Anarchist Cookbook. But then would people get locked up for talking to me?

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Hmmm. Not that I know of, but I'm sure I'll think of something.

The last book you bought is?
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere. Usually, my answer would be something foolish, but it just so happens that this meme caught me at a good moment.

What are you currently reading?
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Friere.
The Fifth Book of Peace, Maxine Hong Kingston.
The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Brower and Leon.

Five books you would take to a deserted island
1) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. (not because the movie is coming out, but because I actually still laugh out loud when reading about Dentarthurdent).

2) The Elements of Style, Strunk and White. If I don't have a lot of books to read, I guess I'll be writing more, and I want English grammar be good.

3) The Prydain Chronicles, Lloyd Alexander. Okay - so this is 5 books, but they are kids books, and I love them, and it's my post, so I can do whatever I want.

4) The Euskera translation of Remembrances of Things Past/In Search of Lost Time (new translation title), by Marcel Proust. Essentially one novel which stretches across a cycle of 7 novels (and 3,200 pages), ROTP/ISLT is truly epic. I gave up on getting through the first chapter of the first book in the English translation of the original French, but I figure that since I'll be alone and bored on this island, it would be even more fun to go through the entire novel in Euskera, the language of the Basque people, which is said not to be related to any other modern language on Earth.

5) A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth. Alternatively referred to as "the doorstop", "that unwieldy thing", and "ugh", this tome would be an effective weapon if I were fighting beasties akin to those seen or heard on the ABC drama, "Lost". In addition, the volume would make an excellent anchor for my getaway raft.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why
Damn. I don't have a lot of blog buddies, though I do have a lot of folks who read regularly, but they don't blog (are the two mutually exclusive? I wonder). So I'll send it to BurnedOutEyes, TheSmittenKitten, and Wylev.

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Queens Hospitals Focus on Language Access

This is a great story... and indicative of why I love Queens... each of the interpreters they mention speaks at least 3 different languages!
New York Times
April 15, 2005
Queens Hospitals Learn Many Ways to Say 'Ah'


Elmhurst Hospital Center is not the kind of hospital depicted on most television dramas. Its lobbies, hallways and waiting areas could illustrate an encyclopedia of world attire.

There are men in turbans and women in flowing saris - and that is just the staff. Patients include Mexican day laborers in dusty work clothes, Sikh cabdrivers with flowing beards and Muslim women in full robes with their faces hidden behind scarves.

The hallways and waiting rooms are a babble of languages and reflect Elmhurst's location in one of the country's most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Elmhurst gets more than 500,000 patient visits a year, and roughly half the visitors speak so little English that they need some language help.

Officials at Elmhurst and the other city-run hospital in Queens, Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica, have long sought to improve their language skills. In the past, hospital workers would comb the waiting rooms or staff lounges for interpreters, and there were constant pleas over the public address system.

To defray the expense of hiring full-time interpreters and the rising cost of telephonic interpreter services, hospital officials have found a resource right under their noses, if not on the tip of their tongue: the diversity of its own staff.

The two hospitals have formed translation teams drawn from their nurses, clerks, orderlies, housekeepers and counselors. They are authorizing them to be official hospital interpreters who may be pulled off their normal jobs to translate for a patient.

For example, a hospital clerk at Elmhurst Hospital's primary care center, Faina Kokoreva, of Brooklyn, is an immigrant who speaks Russian, Yiddish, German and Ukrainian. "If someone speaks those languages, they're usually sent to me," she said recently while helping a Russian-speaking patient fill out a form.

At the managed-care center at Queens Hospital Center, a female clerical associate named Munawar Khan, a Pakistani immigrant living in Flushing, said on Wednesday that she was often called on to translate for Muslim women, or simply to make them feel more comfortable during a visit. Ms. Khan, a Muslim, speaks Urdu, Pashto, Punjabi and Hinko, a Pakistani dialect she said was similar to Punjabi.

In past years, the two hospitals have experimented with a corps of volunteer interpreters drawn from hospital staff members and local residents, but few of them had extensive training in medical interpreting. So officials at the two hospitals hired Stefanie C. Trice, a specialist in training medical interpreters.

Ms. Trice, 34, helped start the Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Development program, which has trained about 115 staff members at both hospitals, including nurses, clerks, counselors and housekeepers as medical interpreters in languages that include Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and Haitian Creole.

In the medical interpreting field, she said, working in hospitals in Elmhurst and Jamaica is "the ultimate challenge."

"I have friends working in California hospitals who say 75 percent of their patients don't speak English," she said. "Yes, but most of them are speaking Spanish. In Queens, you have to serve the whole world."

Indeed, there are more than 150 languages spoken in the borough. "Elmhurst and Queens Hospital face among the greatest challenges in the city, being in the most diverse communities on the face of the planet," said Alan D. Aviles, acting president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs the city's public hospitals. "For sheer total numbers of languages, Elmhurst is unique. In the course of a year, it probably deals with more than 100 languages and dialects."

"If your hospital staff reflects its community, then the variety of languages also mirrors the community," he added. "If you can harness that and set up language banks with employees, you have an added benefit."

As part of the hospitals' linguistic program, signs and hospital documents were ordered in additional languages.

Ms. Trice began surveying the staff for multilingual employees and encouraging them to take a 40-hour medical interpreter training course that includes medical ethics, biomedical culture and vocabulary as well as role-playing. After a graduation ceremony, the participating workers are considered official hospital interpreters and receive medical interpreter identification cards. They are not paid extra for interpreting work.

Ms. Trice said that the Health and Hospitals Corporation had adopted some of the practices citywide.

Because the group of in-house translators is relatively small, the hospitals still rely on freelance interpreters or a contracted phone translation service offering 140 languages, including Swahili, Amharic, Tagalog, Hmong, Basque and Navajo. Given the expense of the service - a total of $100,000 a month for the two hospitals - hospital officials say they are anxious to put more workers through the interpreting program.

"Having a cadre of certified interpreters already on staff is more cost-effective and gives you interpreters 24-7," said Dario Centorcelli, a spokesman for the Queens Health Network, the branch of the city's hospitals corporation that runs Elmhurst and Queens Hospitals.

It also makes good business sense, he said. In Queens, the competition among hospitals for immigrant patients is keen, and extensive linguistic services are a big selling point, as is making it clear to patients lacking full immigration documents that federal authorities will not be alerted to their status.

When it comes to crucial medical information, relying on a patient's relative or an untrained patient or hospital worker to translate, even if the translator is fluent in the language, could lead the doctor to miss certain nuances of a patient's story.

Young Mexican immigrants, for example, often use slang terms for ailments that might confuse the average Spanish speaker, Ms. Trice said. A French translator might not understand Haitian immigrants from Elmhurst or eastern Queens, whose own versions of Creole differ depending on what part of Haiti they are from.

The most common foreign languages at Elmhurst Hospital are Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Bengali and Hindi. On a recent weekday at Elmhurst Hospital, a Chinese immigrant walked up to the main information desk with a confused look. Ms. Trice quickly excused herself and approached the woman and began chatting with her in Chinese.

Ms. Trice beamed and reported that the woman, Yun Qian Hu, 54, of Corona, said she had come to Elmhurst Hospital because at "the other hospital she went to, it was hard to get a Chinese interpreter."

Ms. Trice, who speaks Mandarin, French, Spanish and Portuguese, introduced the woman to Fernando Lee, 31, of Woodside, one of Elmhurst Hospital's multilingual patient representatives assigned to entrances and waiting areas. Mr. Lee's mother is Japanese and his father is Chinese, and he speaks both languages. Raised in Brazil, he also speaks Portuguese and Spanish.

Language barriers can hinder immigrant patients from informing doctors about remedies that they still may be using from their native countries and culture, said Debra J. Brennessel, a doctor at Queens Hospital. Those might include acupuncture among Chinese patients, elixirs from botanicos among Latinos, spiritual healers among South Asians or voodoo among Haitians.

"Whether they take herbs or use hot rocks on their back, we call it complementary therapy, not alternative medicine," Dr. Brennessel said. "You can't dismiss it. My Italian grandmother used to say the best cure for a headache was to go into a dark room and put a clove of garlic on your forehead."

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Apr 15, 2005

They Might Be Awesome

Okay - so the award for coolest band website that I've seen (not that I'm really looking) goes to They Might Be Giants.

New York native TMBG have been kicking their accordion around for a long time now, and they had free content available for fans far before the web made it fashionable, at Dial-a-Song. Basically, they set up an answering machine with new snips and sounds of stuff that they were kicking around, which you could call into and listen to. Many times, they were just goofing off, but they'd also preview new stuff on there, and some clips eventually grew up to be full-fledged ditties.

You can go to the Dial-A-Song website now, for the same effect.

They have 2 family/kids albums out (who would have thought, but then again, what a perfect match). They've also taken on their own distribution of their songs, and their live shows through their website, which I definitely support. Finally, for joining their mailing list, you get access to free content on their site, including mp3s, etc. I love free stuff, and I think that TMBG are great.

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Apr 13, 2005

Dalip Singh Saund, Revisited

this post has been edited to focus on Saund

This is a quick turnaround for me, but I've been doing some thinking about my previous post on Congressman Dalip Singh Saund. I began to think that I was unfair in my assessment of his importance in the overall scheme of things, and I may have been overly dismissive of his legacy. I realized that I was coming more from Saund-name-drop-fatigue (SNDF) than from knowing much about him in particular.

This review of my stated position was actually prompted by another moment of frustration when I opened up my email and saw the announcement for the National South Asian Bar Association's second annual convention. I scrolled down to get a sense of the guests and speakers, and lo and behold! They are giving an award called:

NASABA Attorney of the Year Award (Dalip Singh Saund Award) - Presented to an attorney who has made extraordinary contributions to the South Asian community through legal activism, pro bono services, or other means.

It is really striking to me that two national "legal" South Asian organizations were calling their awards "Dalip Singh Saund" awards. Couldn't they come up with someone or something else? What about a Chadha Justice Award? Or Bhagat Singh Thind Award? Or let's be really adventurous and call it an Urvashi Vaid Justice award, though she's still with us?

Since I am not as familiar with Dalip Singh Saund's story as I probably should be, I decided to do a little reading this afternoon of his autobiography, Congressman from India, which I had discovered and gifted to D many moons ago in a spontaneous used bookstore moment straight out of a romantic comedy.

I skimmed the book, but it seems that he actually obtained his M.A. and PhD in Mathematics in California, and later went on to take a local exam to become a justice court judge in 1952, where he served for 4 years before getting elected to Congress. He recounts his time as a judge in 12 pages of his 191 page autobiography. I don't know if he was being modest, or honest about the impact of his judicial career in Southern Cali.

However, Judge Saund did go through quite a bit as he entered the fray in the 29th Congressional District of California. He faced the attacks of the Democratic opponent during the primary, and later the Republican with deep pockets and Vice President Nixon's support. But he eventually prevailed, and made his way to Washington, the freshman desi Congressman.

While I find his book interesting, there are also some very distressing elements to his own account of his life in the United States (from 1920 onward). While he notices that "Outside of the University atmosphere it was made quite evident that peoples from Asia - Japanese, Chinese, and Hindus - were not wanted," he doesn't go into much greater detail. He chose to glaze over the overt racism that he observed, and clearly experienced, and focus on the positive side: "American practices that had a more favorable impression on me." While I understand that as a sitting Congressman, he can't slam the pervasive injustices that immigrant and non-white Americans faced in the early half of the 20th Century, but I would have hoped for at least a little more thoughtful reflection.

Surprisingly, his account of his student life in Berkeley glosses right over the fact that the Gadr Party had been based in San Francisco only years before he got there. Even more shocking, his account of life in Imperial Valley (near LA) completely skips the start of World War II, failing, at least in my scan of the relevant chapter, to even mention Pearl Harbor, the ensuing paranoia of the United States government, or even the displacement and internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans. I can't believe that he could have been so insulated, especially in the Los Angeles area.

A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Saund was more concerned about the crossing of minors from California into Mexico, where they could "[become] the victims of the evils of drink, marijuana, and other narcotics, and even prostitution," than he was about the radical changes in the colonized world. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to get any headway with the Dept. of State on passport regulations for children under eighteen to cross the border into Mexico. He eventually got a bill passed to promote informal discussions between the houses of the Mexican congress and his buddies on Capitol Hill about the young-people-going-to-Mexico problem.

Meanwhile, there's no mention of the 1955 Bandung Conference, or even any real notice of what else is happening in the world, which seems a bit strange for a member of the Foreign Affairs committee. Perhaps he was too pre-occupied with the Mexico issue, or perhaps it was the "breakfast meeting in the Capitol of a group called the Breakfast Prayer Group, made up of members of the House of Representatives." Saund goes on to describe the weekly meeting of 30 to 40 representatives from both parties who met for an hour at a time. A leader was chosen for each week, and the sessions began with a prayer, and "then the leader introduces a subject based on a verse in the Scriptures or tells of an appropriate personal experience of his own."

Saund recalls, "I became a member immediately, and as far as I can recollect, have not missed a single meeting during my almost four years in Washington.... I consider membership in this group one of the many rewards of being a member of the greatest legislative body of the United States."

Okay - isn't this a little scary? I thought that he was a Sikh, as he recounts (barely) in the beginning of his book. However, it doesn't matter what his personal faith was - he was going to weekly prayer meetings with congressmen in the late 50s? And thought it important enough a part of his career as a congressman to mention it here? That's pretty scary to me.

But let's go on. So there was no mention of Bandung, no mention of McCarthyism, the red scare of the 50s, or even the Korean War. What kind of a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee was he?

Okay - so just to keep this positive, it seems, at least from his own account, that the congressman played an important role in land right negotiations for a number of Indian tribes, including the Agua Caliente Indians of Palm Springs. Though he initially introduces the subject of this particular tribe by writing about "an entire section of tribal land in the heart of the city [that] remains undeveloped and covered by miserable shacks."

As I read forward, I imagined the worst, anticipating a fitting coda to a less than distinguished record. But I read about Saund's concern that the Indians get a fair chance to appeal the way that their land was to be dealt with by a special commission created by Congress. The bill was drafted by the Secretary of the Interior, and then passed to Saund by "the Honorable Clair Engle of California... a good friend of mine, who in turn sent the bill to me in order that I might introduce it and thus be credited with having a major piece of legislation passed in Congress."

The bill had significant issues, including a violation of the normal regulation that exempted Indian lands from local taxation. Saund continues, "The bill seemed to me completely obnoxious.... I knew from my reading in American history how shabbily some American Indians had been treated, but here was an example right before my eyes, in my own district, to be carried out by special legislation of Congress."

The interesting thing that I note here, which Saund doesn't, is that while he thought it was good of Engle to pass the bill to him, it's questionable whether the motivation was altogether charitable. If there were such significant problems with the bill - shouldn't Engle, the experienced statesman, have caught the problems? Or was it an Indian bill, that an Indian could take care of? Or finally, was it what Engle thought was appropriate for the tribe?

At any rate, Saund fixed the bill and saw some things through for a number of other tribes, so I can't smack him on that side of his record, since I'm an "Indian-for-Indians" by heart, feel that native peoples have had very few allies in the halls of Congress over the centuries, and have to give credit where credit is due. Though of course, I haven't done thorough research, and this point am only taking Saund at his own word(s) through the pages of his book. Still - that's what I've based the rest of this crack report on too, so it should be all good, or all invalid.

At any rate, so there's a quick snapshot of the man, much celebrated (or at least, mentioned) of late. Comments would be lovely.

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Who was Dalip Singh Saund?

This post was revised to focus on Saund

The Sikh Legal Defense and Education Fund, SALDEF, the agency formerly known as SMART, sent out an announcement on March 31st about an event that they'll be hosting at the Smithsonian in DC. I can't find the release or the news on their website, but I'll summarize to the best of my ability since I've long deleted the message.

It seems like they will be hosting a musical performance by a Sikh/Punjabi collective, Dya Singh World Music Group, and wanted to let folks know that they're bringing culture to the capital. My initial response was "aiight - they're representing in the nation's capital. That's cool."

Then I was told to re-read the notice and realized that as part of the event, they are honoring the assistant Attorney General, Alex Acosta. It's not only that they are kissing up to this guy and to the Feds in general (and the worst kind of Feds: Justice Department cronies). Regardless of Acosta's support of language access initiatives for English Language learners, he's still in Ashcroft's old house.

Worse yet, they are actually giving him a "Dalip Singh Saund Award."

What is a Dalip Singh Saund Award supposed to be, anyway? I thought initially that it sounded like a cool thing - honor the man who broke the mold and became the first Indian/Asian American congressman by naming an award after him. But is it enough to be a "first"? Councilman John Liu, of Flushing says it all the time. He's not comfortable or content with being called "the first". So what - by chance of racism, quirky electoral politics, and historical inevitability, you were the first. But what did you do with that position? I was asking D, can she think of any legislation that Saund actually drafted and shepherded through congress? Wasn't he married to a white woman? Did he stay quiet on the floor of congress? I respect that he became a congressman, but it's not enough to stop there. And just flaunting his name as a superstar of the community doesn't really mean much either. Will M. Night Shyamalan be seen as a "first" as well? How about Bobby Jindal? So what?

I'd rather that we celebrated more revolutionary characters and leaders in our history here, though the names may not be as prominent (or their stories as mythologized). Like Gurdit Singh, who risked his life (and those of more than 300 people who were not as affluent or protected as him) on the continuous journey of the Komagata Maru to challenge the racism of the British Empire and Commonwealth Canada. Or those folks who were part of the Gadr Party and eventually killed by the British in an effort to quell the growing unrest within the subcontinent and the diaspora about being subjects of the Empire.

I know that the Congressman from India is in vogue at this point, with endless stories about his life entering the desi media as Jindal, the jilted gubernatorial candidate, marched his diverted path toward the partisan pandemonium in Washington. But I'm just annoyed that the focus takes all light from the far more interesting individuals in our community memory, and as usual, distills our complex history into video/sound/personality-bytes for the mainstream.

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Apr 12, 2005

W. Virginia lawmakers pass English bill

I guess New York isn't the only state where legislation passes without much scrutiny. Then again, didn't I hear something about how most congressmen didn't actually read the USA PATRIOT Act before rubber stamping it into law?

CNN.com - W. Virginia lawmakers pass English bill:
CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) -- Two days after the end of the legislative session, state lawmakers are discovering something few were aware of: They voted to make English the official language of West Virginia.

The language amendment was quietly inserted into a bill addressing the number of members that cities can appoint to boards of parks and recreation. Among mundane details about record-keeping, the amendment adds the provision that 'English shall be the official language of the State of West Virginia.'

Senate Majority Whip Billy Wayne Bailey successfully offered that change to House Bill 2782 amid a flurry of bills moving back and forth between the House and Senate on Saturday, the last night of the 60-day legislative session.

'I just told the members that the amendment clarifies the way in which documents are produced,' Bailey, a Democrat, said Monday.

House Majority Leader Rick Staton recommended that his chamber agree with the Senate's changes. But Staton, also a Democrat, said he was unaware of the substance of the amendment until asked about it by The Associated Press Monday evening.

Efforts to make English the state's official language have been introduced annually since the late 1990s. A group called U.S. English has championed the cause.

'I think it's wrong that's something like that was snuck into that bill in the last minute,' said House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores, who helped kill an earlier proposal to forbid any state or local agency from having to print documents in any language but English.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin could not immediately be reached for comment"

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Apr 11, 2005

An Existentialist's View of Online Journals (or: Blogger is PISSING ME OFF!)

Okay - so I lost a post. Even though the post was nothing special (actually crying about the fact that I can't post about the real meat from my days because it would be too incriminating of others - and risky of potential libel suits for me), it still represents my time, and I want to be the judge of whether something is post-worthy - not some glitch in a user interface that doesn't let me hit "back" when the system shows me an error page. BAD BLOGGER, BAD!!

Anyway, that said, somewhere along the way I said that I was glad that I have this online mechanism to track my ranting writing, but then I started to panic a little. Though nothing here is absolute gold (I wouldn't share it without some benefit to me, folks - I'm not a capitalist, but when in an Empire, act like the cowboys), what if I lost it all one day when Starbucks or Walmart, or some other Goliath comes by, swallows up Blogger, and uses its hard drive space to compute profit generation to the nano-second? Wait - doesn't someone already own Blogger?

The point is, I don't want to lose my writing - because perhaps it will remind me of this funny time between now and then, when I was in a questioning phase about the universe and my small role in it, and I thought that by putting my small thoughts to the page like every other ninny out there, I'd somehow sort it all out. Okay - well, in retrospect (or at least looking back at that last sentence), perhaps it's not all nails if I lose this load of crap. Or at least, this post.

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Apr 8, 2005

Remembering New York: St. Mark's Place

I'm approaching 10 years in this City, and it feels like the streets have changed so much that I don't feel at home in it anymore. I feel more comfortable in the small town where I grew up, but haven't really lived in since high school. But instead of complaining, I think that I want to take some time to recount the aspects of the city that I loved so much when I was bright-eyed and new, still exploring, and unencumbered by work or the future. I feel like I'm returning to that state slowly, and as I try to enjoy the same habits and places that once thrilled me about living here, I realize that they have grown up and moved on, leaving the nostalgia to the nouveau-retro crowd.

So what was it about the City that I liked back then? I liked that walking down St. Marks Place, where I spent a lot of my first 2 years in the city, felt both safe in the general camaraderie of the confederation of misfits who hung out there, and still edgy, as strands of east village anarchy threatened still to take out the Gap that opened on Second Avenue. I remember the half-way home for addicts (now Chipotle and other various businesses). I remember the storefront that announced "Religious Sex" to anyone who cared. I remember St. Mark's deli with 2 video games out front, where I spent many quarters and many hours playing my favorite games until they replaced them. I remember my habit of cruising the block between second and third avenues for used CDs - and recalled with some degree of wonder that this was the block that had most immediately captured my imagination when I first hung out in the city a couple of years before.

I remember feeling, to paraphrase Samuel Selvon, a block was a world, with requisite shops that I'd never visit, music, comics, books, falafel, a subways where they were more generous with toppings than anywhere else, a Pomme Frites around the corner, Dojos - the grungy sibling of the sterile 4th Street incarnation - where punks, tourists, Japanese ex-pats, and various other bohemes came for a $3 meal.

I remember moving on from that block, and slowly feeling distant from it as my everyday life kept me away for weeks and then months on end. I remember feeling surprised at new developments on the block whenever I snuck time away to visit, perhaps for a new CD or just a trip down the block that formed my initial impression of the world. I was shocked when the Gap was gone, but the gradual sterilization of the neighborhood was evident, from the 3 Starbucks within 2 blocks of one another (Barnes & Noble Astor Place, Astor Place and Lafayette, and 3rd Ave/St. Marks Place) to the closing of many of the small non-tourist local spots. These "developments" have blended what was once a unique and vibrant neighborhood of artists, students, and dreamers, into the homogenized mess that has taken over most of Manhattan.

I can't even walk down some streets that were so familiar to me without feeling like a complete outsider. I can't stand seeing the yuppie (and buppie, and sauppie, etc) borg take over all that I once loved about the city - I can't even hang out in the East Village without feeling like I'm not chic enough to fit in, when the sheer non-conformity of the residents of past was the whole reason that I felt at home there.

But it's not all bad. At least this means that I'm not fixated on one neighborhood, and I can continue to explore the true neighborhood NY, which now resides in Queens and Brooklyn far more than most of Manhattan.

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Apr 6, 2005

Music in the City

Written on March 30, 2005
I love spring. I can feel it in the air, though I can't see it on the trees yet. But most importantly, I can feel it with the music that I'm starting to hear. Last summer was a banner year for me, getting the chance to see quite a few live acts. I put some reviews here, there, and everywhere.

In the past week, D and I have seen three different acts. Susie Suh, a Californian, was doing a mellow residency of sorts on Tuesdays at the Knitting Factory. It was a free show, in promotion of her upcoming debut on Sony/Epic. I'd heard a few of her songs because the company had the foresight to send our office a bunch of singles (good to see that they are actually trying to promote this artist instead of letting her sit on the shelf like Fiona's latest). The vibe in the basement level of the Knitting Factory was good, and it seemed that she had more than a few friends in the audience. Her music was comfortable, her voice smooth but more complex than the usual nuevo-folk singer. I liked the show, and it was a good kickoff to a great week.

On Saturday night, we were out in different locations, D interested in dancing, and me catching up with an old friend. We ended up walking in the West Village and stumbling upon Arthur's Tavern near Christopher Street/Sheridan Square where we heard live music of the sort that just makes you smile. Ends up that the house band (Off the Hook) was playing soul and funk from the 70s on up, and over the next hour, we were treated to a set list that included Sly and the Family Stone, 3-4 tunes by Prince, and when the main man, EJ, went to collect donations, Amadou, the lean guitarist, ripped into a version of the Hendrix classic Fire. It was amazing - basically felt like we were taking an extended trip through the looking glass that Mos Def unveiled for us all in "Rock 'n' Roll", representing the diversity of the African American contribution to American music in general. Ends up that Off the Hook have a gig there every friday and saturday night until 3 AM. I'll be back for seconds, I'm sure.

Last night (3/29), D and I went to Rockwood Music Hall to catch Kevin So, who I've seen about 4 times in Chicago and NYC. It was a rehearsal show for his bigger gig at the Bitter End on Thursday, but the venue and the music was just to my taste, with fewer than 20 people in the room, and the warm feeling that you get when you're in the company of the one you love, and listening to an artist who is doing what he's wanted to do, keeping at it, playing with the love of music guiding him more than the hunger for a major contract.

If I were to use one word to describe Kevin So, it would be either "earnest" or "honest". I remember when he sent out an email to his list, a semi-regular offering from the man to his fans, one part marketing, one part journal, one part extended message on your voicemail from an old friend that you've not heard from for a couple of months. He actually wrote about the challenge of moving from the acoustic folk roots that people knew him for into more soulful, piano-based work. He exposed that inner conflict of the artist who isn't wholly wrapped into himself and oblivious of the audience listening and watching him. He shared that it was difficult for him to move forward without support, and that the questions about the direction in which he was going were okay, but making him doubt himself, and finally, a triumphant declaration that this is who he was, and what he was going to do, and he hoped that folks would be along for the ride. I wrote him an email to give him support.

Kevin feels like an old friend, probably because I was onto his stuff early in my post-Asian American arts scene stuff, and his music and his gigs have followed me through the next few years. I like that he's proud to be Asian American, and that he writes about that experience, but that his songs are more about just being, and when he sings about Asian American-ness, it's from his experience, rather than putting the pages of a history book to music. His song "Streets of Chinatown" is about him. Or at least, it could be - and it's not about the "movement". Kevin So rocks.

UPDATE: 4/06/05
Since I loved the Rockwood Music Hall so much (a button of a space on the trendy Lower East Side that has a 2-for-1 special on drinks until 7, and at least 2 - 3 live acts for hour sets between 7 - 10), I decided to meet L there for a drink and to catch up. Ends up that there was a good singer tonight - Amanda Baisinger - singing with just an acoustic guitar (and its player) for company. Who ends up also being of Asian descent, and from California. Her music was less my style, more of a Joni Mitchell, sad guitar sound, but she was warm, and seemed to be very happy to be there. It was her first gig of original material, though when she sang a Joni song about California, she made me want to go there, or at least imagine my life if I weren't so bound to seeing the sun 3 hours earlier than the left coast each day. She came to speak with us afterwards, thanking us for being 2 of the 5 people in the place who weren't her friends, and that she'll be playing the same space on April 20 at 7 PM if we were interested. Cool. Spring. And live music galore.

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The Legacy of India

From the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate April 2005 Newsletter (The Saffron Dollar) comes this great quotable:

"Mr. Modi of course had compared himself to Gandhi, by drawing the ridiculous
and nonexistent parallel between his U.S. visa denial/cancellation, and Gandhi's
forced expulsion from a train in racist South Africa early when he was a young
lawyer -- an event that triggered his nationalist anti-colonial sentiments and
impelled him to embark on a lifelong struggle against the British empire. The
closest link between Modi and Gandhi is that Modi's RSS assassinated the
Mahatma, and its followers are carrying on the legacy of Savarkar's fascist
collaborationist dream. This is one truth no amount of chicanery can mask."
I definitely don't think that even Modi can spin this one that far off the mark. Still, as I've said before, I can't give all the credit to the organizers of the mobilization against his speaking gigs in the States. Regardless, Modi and his ilk will continue to use this as a wedge and a rallying point for those who believe that the United States is a bully around specific issues. Can't argue with the conclusion, but I don't agree with this particular angle. Of course, India entered the playground of the so-called "superpowers" decades ago, and now has to play by their rules to get ahead in the game - from vying for a seat on the UN Security Council to being considered a regional power, it seems like that's India's plan.

But speaking as someone who was born in the U.S., it sometimes feels as if India has a chip on its collective shoulder about its status in the world. The nuclear pissing contest with Pakistan, the staunch refusal of aid for its citizens in need after the December tsunamis devastated Tamil-Nadu and Pondicherry, its clear insecurity as the only Hindu majority nation in the world. That definition is clearly an oversimplification of a nation as diverse as India (and this is another point, raised a bit in a comment exchange in this post: I know that India is diverse, but even though it sometimes legislates tolerance (which is still more than I can say about the United States) it still doesn't deal with the inherent and inherited biases concerning caste, class, religion, culture, gender, orientation, ability, and on and on).

India is an interesting conundrum. On one hand, the nation celebrates M. Gandhi and a sanitized view of his canonization in the world imagination. On the other, it seems that many Indians are very conflicted about the nation's legacy, and seem to favor displays of physical (military, economic, intellectual) over moral and ideological strength. Still - I hear so many different opinions about M. Gandhi and his legacy (from both the right and the left) that it's difficult to place him in proper context. There are issues of selective historical memory (blame the writers and censors of history) and political opportunism (or is it strategy?) that have guided the dialogue for a long time.

M. Gandhi has a place in India in a way more befitting a monarch than a lawyer who became the face (and many would argue, the soul) of the revolution. He's on all the paper currency. His face now seems, in the new capitalism, to be an ubiquitous logo of national merit for a product (in my last visit to India, I saw the image of Gandhi on a lot of products that didn't seem connected to satyagraha, independence, or cotton). I guess there would be a good market for Gandhi™ brand salt, if someone thinks of it.

While the legacy of M. Gandhi has been distilled to specific points (much like the legacy of Dr. King in the U.S., where non-violence is celebrated, but his later views on economic justice are not on the typical liberal's playlist), the legacy of other leaders from his time have also been distorted. Gujaratis still think that Vallabhbhai Patel would have been a better first prime minister than Nehru, claiming (these are my words) that Patel had a backbone and Nehru conceded too much. These are the same folks who believe that the creation of Pakistan was facilitated by political arm-twisting that Nehru could not contain. I have a lot on this particular issue, but I'll table that for a future post.

Subhas Chandra Bose is still a mystery to many people - his attempts to bring India's plight to Hitler, and his belief in armed struggle, are the only aspects that many focus upon.

Meanwhile, the neo-capitalists tend to blame Nehru's socialism specifically, and the whole Nehru/Gandhi dynasty generally, for keeping India's markets closed to the world for so long. They seem to feel that "India Rising" in the 90s, and "Shining" under BJP control, is directly linked to the move towards privatisation, free market competition, and allowing India's boundless talents to compete on "equal" ground with the big boys. I would suspect that the nuclear jockeying with Pakistan (as well as the refusal to take aid) are also efforts to show the world that India is not in the "third world" anymore.

I would like to believe that some of Nehru's legacy (written by someone who has only dabbled in Indian and world history at this point) is connected to the inspirational rise of independence movements in the 50s and 60s in colonized nations around the world. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference of non-aligned nations, it is hard to believe that India was once a leader in this movement. That India was once respected in this new paradigm of leadership for fighting for its liberty and winning against the British (though the human cost of liberation and especially Partition were so scarring for the nascent nation).

India stood at a crossroads at some point in its history, when it could have continued to lead and support the non-aligned nations, but instead, began to focus on its own nation-building, and eventually stopped challenging the status quo set by the so-called first and second world nations. To play in that game, India had to enter the nuclear arms race, the global marketplace, and the continued advancement of the elite, at the expense of the rest of its population, and the larger global movement. And so here we are, with a nation that hasn't paid attention to its population explosion, hasn't dealt with the gaps between the affluent and the destitute, and is barreling full speed ahead towards an AIDS pandemic.

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Apr 4, 2005

Actor's tsunami work under fire

This is a good story - seems like there's a lot of Tamil-related news in the BBC lately, though at least this is a bit less grim than the last one. I try not to do media commentary when I can help it, because it seems like some people do very little else. But it's been a really crazy time, and I haven't had the time to polish off some of the posts that I'd started earlier. Anyway - I'm very amused by J Jayalalitha. She's quite a character in her own reality drama.

Story from BBC NEWS
The chief minister of India's Tamil Nadu state has accused famous Hindi actor Vivek Oberoi of overstating his tsunami relief work to gain publicity. J Jayalalitha told the state assembly Oberoi had achieved "maximum publicity" for doing "nothing tangible".

Oberoi set up his Project Hope after the tsunami but moved his operations to neighbouring Pondicherry because of land ownership "hitches" in Tamil Nadu. Oberoi could not be reached to respond to Ms Jayalalitha's comments.

The 26 December tsunami killed about 8,000 people in Tamil Nadu and almost 600 in Pondicherry. Many more are still missing.

Opposition questions
Oberoi became actively engaged in providing relief to people affected by the tsunami in the coastal town of Cuddalore over the past three months.

He says he has built more than 100 temporary shelters for displaced fishermen. Oberoi says he was so moved by the devastation that at one point he camped in one of the villages, Devanampattinam, to supervise relief operations for several days.

But in a recent press conference, Oberoi said that although the Tamil Nadu government had been helpful and tried to acquire land for permanent houses for fishermen, there were "several hitches" as much of the land was privately owned.

He alleged there were "vested interests" in Tamil Nadu which put a spoke in the wheel of his relief efforts.

Oberoi said he was forced to abandon Tamil Nadu and move to Pondicherry, a federally-administered territory, where the government could process requests for land within 10 days.

He said the preliminary work in a 25-acre plot in Pondicherry had already started. But Ms Jayalalitha responded to the perceived criticism by saying that Oberoi had done only 10% of relief work at Devanampattinam and the government the remaining 90%.

Responding to questions from the opposition in the assembly, she added that even the 10% of the actor's work was not done with his own money but with that of donors. She denied opposition accusations that Oberoi had withdrawn because the government failed to provide land. "The Tamil Nadu government was not responsible for his decision," Ms Jayalalitha said.

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Apr 3, 2005

'Bloodbath' at church in Germany

from the BBC News Online

A man wielding a sword has killed a woman and injured at least three other people during a service at a church in southern Germany.

Police said they found "grisly" scenes, including severed limbs, at the scene of the attack in Stuttgart.

A 25-year-old suspect was overpowered by officers and arrested.

He is an ethnic Tamil, as were most of the congregation. Police say the attack was not politically motivated and was probably prompted by personal problems.

The man stormed into the church just before 1600 (1400 GMT) waving a sword before going on the rampage, according to eyewitnesses.

He killed a 43-year-old woman and seriously injured three other people, including one whose hand was hacked off, police said.

Police described the scene as a "bloodbath".

About 65 people - half of them children - are believed to have been in the church at the time.

Counselling has been offered to those who witnessed the attack.

Tamils are a predominantly Hindu minority in Sri Lanka and southern India.

The group regularly rented the Stuttgart church to hold its services.

I wonder what the story is behind this story. How tragic this is. I'm wondering, though - are they intoning that this is a Hindu congregation at a Christian church? That would be really strange, and if it's actually a Christian congregation, then the coverage should note that instead of mentioning that in general, Tamils are Hindu. More if I can find it...

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