Aug 31, 2005

Many Ways to Alienate a Volunteer...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Great piece on Animal Rights Activism

I voiced this concern in the past when I found out that a friend of mine joined the PETA staff earlier this year. This piece breaks it down much more succintly. Thanks SinghPlant.
August 13 / 14, 2005

Animal Whites
PETA and the Politics of Putting Things in Perspective

Although I have long supported the vast majority of the goals set forth by the animal rights movement, I have to admit that, on a personal level, the animal rights activists I've encountered almost never fail to come off as insufferable jerks. The smug moral certitude with which so many carry their agenda forth, has, for me at least, often overshadowed the righteousness of that agenda on face value. I wish it weren't so, but it is.

First, there was the campus animal rights crusader at my college, who, in the midst of our struggle to gain divestment from companies that were bolstering apartheid in South Africa, made several remarks to the effect that "every day was apartheid day" for chickens, and that what the school should really do was stop selling meat.

Then there was the young woman who came to Tulane Law School, and upon learning that she would have to complete a pro bono legal assistance requirement in order to graduate, said that was fine, but--and this is a direct quote as told to me by a friend who was present at the time she said it--"I don't want to work for people. I want to work for animals."

The misanthropy that seems to inform and motivate such comments, and literally hundreds more I could mention, guarantees that the otherwise valid principles upon which animal rights positions are often grounded will remain unexamined, and unrecognized in policy.

It is for reasons such as this that I have long wondered what is more important to the animal rights movement: actually ending animal experimentation, and other blatant cruelties, or being able to preen about as moral superiors who gain self-esteem by looking down their noses at others: be they meat-eaters or wearers of leather shoes? After all, it's pretty hard to build a movement for animal liberation--which has to be led by people, seeing as how animals can't do it themselves--if you're castigating most of the potential foot-soldiers as willing participants in genocide.

I mean, what other than a deep-seated hatred for humanity (or a strategic incompetence so profound as to boggle the mind) would lead someone to say, as Ingrid Newkirk, Director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has, that she opposes having children, because "having a purebred human baby is like having a purebred dog; it's nothing but vanity, human vanity."

Nice going Ingrid: why don't you deliberately alienate pretty much every parent in the world, and for that matter, anyone who is someone's child (hint: that means everyone), since I've yet to meet too many people who appreciate being told they were bred for vanity like some Bichon Frise at the Westminster Kennel Club.

Oh, and while we're not caring about how many people we offend--since, after all, "human beings are cruel," in the words of Newkirk (a true but rather typically one-dimensional characterization)--let's really go off the deep end and launch a photo exhibit entitled "Are Animals the New Slaves?" which compares factory farming to the lynching of black people. This, quick on the heels of PETA's prior publicity effort: the notorious "Holocaust on your plate" campaign, which just a few months ago compared cruelty to farm animals with the extermination of millions of Jews, Romany and others at the hands of the Nazis.

This kind of absurdity would make for a really good segment on the Daily Show, if it weren't so tragically serious. The very legitimate goal of stopping the immense horror of factory farming--which horror should be able to stand on its own as an unacceptable cruelty, in need of immediate action--gets conflated with the extermination of millions of people in two separate Holocausts (that of the Middle Passage and that in Europe), thereby ensuring that damn near everyone who hears the analogy will conclude that PETA is either completely insensitive, at best, or bull-goose-loony, at worst: no offense meant to geese, by the way.

The "New Slaves" exhibition, currently making its way around 42 cities over a 10-week period has drawn outrage, understandably, from African Americans. And, typically, representatives of the blindingly white, middle class and affluent animal rights establishment, show no signs of understanding whence the anger emanates.

To wit, Dawn Carr, PETA's Director of Special Projects, who has admitted that lots of folks are upset about her group "comparing black people to animals," but who, in PETA's defense, doesn't deny that that is what PETA is doing, but rather insists it's OK, because the exhibit also compares factory farming to other injustices, "like denying women the vote or using child labor." In other words, don't worry black people: you're not the only ones we're comparing to animals!

Whereas Newkirk was reluctantly forced to apologize for the "Holocaust on your plate" campaign (but even then only did so "for the pain caused," not for the venality of the comparison made therein), PETA appears unwilling to apologize for the slavery and lynching exhibit. And even the apology for the pain caused by the Holocaust comparison seems disingenuous when you consider that elsewhere, Newkirk has essentially said that anyone who isn't a vegan is worse than Nazis, as with her quip that "Even the Nazis didn't eat the objects of their derision."

Now I'm sure there will be some animal liberationists who read this and who think that since animals are sentient beings too, and since they have the right not to be exploited for human benefit (positions with which I don't disagree), that comparisons with the Holocaust, or lynching are perfectly fair. To think otherwise, they might argue, is to engage in an anthropocentric favoring of Homo sapiens over other species.

But of course, whether they admit it or not, most all believers in animal rights do recognize a moral and practical difference between people and animals: after all, virtually none would suggest that if you run over a squirrel when driving drunk, that you should be prosecuted for vehicular homicide, the way you would be if you ran over a small child. The only basis for a distinction in these cases is, at root, recognition of a fundamental difference between a child and a squirrel.

And whereas most all sane persons see the problem with, say, French kissing one's three-year old, Ingrid Newkirk recently suggested that there would be nothing wrong with tonguing your dog, so long as the dog seemed to be liking it, so, draw your own conclusions.

Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it, but if the folks at PETA really think that factory farming and eating the products of factory farming are literally the equivalent to human genocide, then, to be consistent, they would have to argue for the criminal prosecution of all meat-eaters, and War Crimes Tribunals for anyone even remotely connected to the process. After all, if you consume a factory-farmed chicken, you are, by this logic, implicated in mass murder, the same way many whites were in the lynching of blacks, by purchasing the amputated body parts of the latest victims of white rage.

To draw any distinction at all--and to not support criminal incarceration of meat-eaters the way one would for a cannibal the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, indeed, draws that distinction--is to admit, whether openly or not, that there is a difference between a cow and a person. That difference may be quite a bit smaller than we realize, and that difference certainly doesn't justify cruelty to the cow--and it may indeed be so small that we really should opt for vegetarianism--but it is a difference nonetheless.

That PETA can't understand what it means for a black person to be compared to an animal, given a history of having been thought of in exactly those terms, isn't the least bit shocking. After all, the movement is perhaps the whitest of all progressive or radical movements on the planet, for reasons owing to the privilege one must possess in order to focus on animal rights as opposed to, say, surviving oneself from institutional oppression.

Perhaps if animal liberationists weren't so thoroughly white and middle-class, and so removed from the harsh realities of both the class system and white supremacy, they would be able to find more sympathy from the folks of color who rightly castigate them for their most recent outrage.

Perhaps if PETA activists had ever demonstrated a commitment to fighting racism and the ongoing cruelty that humans face every day, they would find more sympathy from those who, for reasons that are understandable given their own lives, view animal rights activism as the equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns, rather than as a struggle for greater compassion for all.

But then again, if the animal rights movement wasn't so white and so rich, it would never have thought to make such specious and obviously offensive analogies in the first place.

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Aug 29, 2005

More Musing about Metal

Kickin' it on my Sony Discman:
*Opeth - Blackwater Park
*Aretha Franklin - Young, Gifted, and Black
*John Coltrane - Stellar Regions

*(old mix of pensive songs/instrumentals):
James - "Say Something" and
Annie Lennox's cover of "Waiting in Vain" stand out

I have to give a shout to burnedouteyes for a bunch of cd's that he graciously copied for me a while back. There were some real gems in the bunch, which I've only slowly been able to uncover and listen to with more care. Opeth is an amazing band, even though I can't quite figure out what they are singing about in any album save for Damnation. Their style isn't formulaic, and combines the old school power of death metal (with requisite cookie monster vocals) with a really clean, really compelling power acoustic sound with crisp vocals that you can actually understand. Blackwater Park carried me through a trip to India on my own in January 2004 (has it been that long already!), and I have been listening to the acoustic Damnation from the minute that I downloaded it.

It's a guilty pleasure to meet folks who are also metalheads, of the variety who are familiar with the esoteric, the obscure, the days of tape-trading and head nodding from the power of oblivion that the best bands invoked on their albums. And at least for me, the power of the best music to make me think, when lyrics matter and Ben Franklin is not the muse that compels them to write. It's nice to be part of a group that's not really a group - those who know about the bands and see something more than a fad from the 80s and early 90s, but don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on everything either.

But perhaps that is the truly transformative quality of music - the ability it has to bridge divides, to stir up emotions, and to fuse so directly with particular memories that the song is regarded as a memory in and of itself. You'll remember the song when you hear it, it will take you back to some other time and space, but you may not remember the particulars of that time and space, save for the song and the emotions that you felt when you heard it. I know that there are a lot of songs that take on that quality for me - regular pop, and even the metal that I listened to when I was younger.

Anyway, I want to take some time to actually think about some of the elements of this particular genre (or really, set of genres) of music that never really had a mainstream following (at least in the United States, because let's remember that bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest actually chart in the UK and Japan), and has remained in that shadow from its birth in the late 60's to its revival in the mid 00's. Not only some of the elements that I've mentioned before in passing, such as the power and lyrical chops (of some groups) but also about the specific way that metal supported me, gained me my first community in adolescence, and has been a place where I feel safe within the music, and even kinship with some strains of the subculture.

Perhaps more with the music and the musicians than with the fans, but I'm also realizing that there are a lot of metal fans of color out there, perhaps not in the United States itself, but definitely around the world. And I've also noticed in the last couple of years how many young Mexican and other Latino men I see with old Metallica and other metal shirts. There's a strand of something there that I want to tease out, as well as my quest to find POCs who shred in metal bands, and what they bring to the music (see: Cyclone Temple). Let's see if I get around to it, while I try to sort out the rest of my life.

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Aug 26, 2005

Making Applesauce (Apple Brand Loyalty 5)

Black Sabbath - Sabotage (Remaster)
Chris Poland - Chasing the Sun
Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor
De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising
Bad Brains - I Against I
Dream Theater - Octavarium
Iron Maiden - Live at Am Ring, Germany 2005

I have written extensively (1,2,3,4) about my love-hate relationship with my dual-USB, 12.1 inch iBook G3, purchased about 2 years ago by my partner, which I inherited when she up/down-graded to a peecee-based machine. I am not giving up on my loyalty to Apple, but we'll have to see if this latest incarnation of the hated motherboard issue with this particular model gives rise to a breach in faith.

This is the third time that the video card has freaked out, sending my machine into a frenzy of interrupted video which inevitably leads to a frozen screen, the reluctant forced shut down, and a beautiful white laptop that no longer boots up properly after the cheery power-on chime. I actually didn't have an AppleCare agreement, which entitles you to handling with kid gloves when you call Apple Support. I made the mistake of calling and asking a question before I clearly identified my product, and I got a quick response of "we cannot convey anything 'advice-like' to you until you purchase care for that incident." Lovely. But they have been very responsive about this particular issue, and I have yet another box on its way, into which I will again pack my sad little friend and send off to the service center.

I asked the nice technician on the line what the options were, scared to push my luck lest they say "you don't have a warranty, so forget it - you're done." He said that they usually try to trouble-shoot, replace the bejeezus out of the sucker 3 times for the same problem. If that doesn't work out when they return the machine to me (at which time, conveniently, my 90-day warranty from time of purchase actually renews), I can call to see what my options are. I'm wondering if that means that they'll replace it with a new iBook. That's what I'm hoping for, but it's hard to tell what they mean.

Apple brand loyalty isn't a new thing for me, though I haven't bought a computer of my own since I invested in a bondi blue iMac in 1999. Ultimate scavenger of half-broken machines, I inherited my sister's Grape iMac DV after we were roommates in 2002, which is actually still in good working order and operates well as my jukebox. I even fixed up a Powerbook G3 with bronze keyboard that was left for dead by a few people, and which is actually providing the mechanism for me to type this at the moment. I'm a novice at computer repair, a tinkerer at simple things that people who read DIY websites can do in five minutes.

In other words, I may be decent at math, but I am not a computer fixer-upper by any means.

And I guess that my adoption of the Apple/Mac brands as a badge of my individuality was part of my stepping away from the norm. Maybe I have been a Mac user, in a personal bout of subtle bias, to distinguish myself from the cliche of computer whiz kid from India, since I know that the nuanced observer would recognize that there aren't that many Mac users in India, as the cost of the machines is prohibitive for folks to actually get a hold of one.

Let's face it, even in the United States, save for the recent entry of cheaper Mac products, Apple was a yuppie toy because it was so expensive. Their education presence still astounds me - I remember having nothing but Macs in my high school. But families that were just starting to get their first personal computers were less likely to go for style over savings, and even nowadays, a WinTel laptop with more memory and speed (though the gap is quickly shrinking) is still cheaper than an iBook. It's just not cooler - but the currency of cool doesn't go as far as that of Windows proficiency in a Windows-based world.

So, if all that I hold is correct, and this is completely unresearched at this point, Apple may have lost out on two fronts that concerned immigrant communities: first, less affluencial families in the States were less likely to go for the more expensive alternative. Second, in a world in which computer proficiency meant a first-class ticket to opportunity, Apple's niche of outperforming everyone in graphic design, music, and other artistic endeavors was not enough to entice the super majority of bright young minds entering the field around the world, keeping many of those folks away from the "cool" of Apple, until their iPod brought them in direct contact with it in the last 2-3 years.

The hardcore techies probably don't like it much anyway, as the Graphic User Inferface (pronounced "Gooey") is so omnipresent in the design and Apple is very protective of their core operating system (to the point of recently suing some meta-fans for posting up too much information about what's coming up in the product line). I had a cousin who thought that it was a dead format, but had never actually played with one before.

Anyway... I'm sure there's more to write, but I'll give it a rest for now. Wish me luck with that DHL box, once it gets here.

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Aug 21, 2005

More thoughts on NMAI

Had a chance to spend some more time at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington recently. It was a beautiful day, and the facade of the museum building shone with the opulence of canyons in the desert. Very much the point, I guess. It's really quite serene outside of the museum, where the architect and ethnobotanists have created a rich landscape of waterfalls, grandfather rocks, serene streams, and flora that has attracted interesting local fauna, namely ducks that float contently around the building.

Starkly different from its neighbors on the National Mall, the Museum is a hallmark of the dedication and commitment of many folks who brought their collective visions together to make it happen, many years after the commitment from Congress to build it.

This was my second visit, but the first time that we were able to go together, and it was interesting to see it through someone else's eyes. We were rushed, with less time to spare as a result of our tight schedule, but we took some time outside, which lead me to a few observations.

The large waterfall on the Mall side of the Museum beckons you, asking to come closer to hear the water, feel the mist, and try to channel the landscape that it echoes and pays tribute to. I felt drawn to it immediately, and as with other waterfalls and fountains, just watched it for a while, captivated and rejuvenated by the flow.

The low serpentine walls around the inner perimeter of the path around the NMAI, one bordering the body of water that surrounds the accessible sides of the museum, and the other across the main thoroughfare from the former. The walls are conducive to sitting, and mirror the larger walls of the actual museum. I was immediately struck at how perfect they would be for skateboarding, the low walls in smooth material the perfect staging ground for a wide assortment of tricks. The funny thing is, there were no skateboarders, there were no marks, and you couldn't even imagine it happening.

Meanwhile, I was reminded of the renovation and beautification at the end of Wall Street that has been going on for at least 2 years. At long last, they were finally able to put in the final touches around the plants that they'd put in, with the penultimate step being the installation of beautiful stone benches where worn out Wall Streeters could take five, smoke a cigarette, or have lunch. Within a week of the installation, long grating marks could be seen on the benches, and youth with boards could be seen testing their acumen and prowess to the accolades of their peers. However, the folks who put in the benches were certainly not happy, installed another addition to the whole works, a sign that said "Absolutely No Skateboarding."

Finding that tactic far less than effective, they were finally forced to resort to a crude deterrent: thick metal chains placed around the benches at 2-foot intervals which made it near impossible to pull off a skateboard trick worth the hassle of glares from the local patrons who had been so quickly robbed of their only respite in the ruthless financial jungle.

You can't stop the passion of a good ride, a crushing move, or the temptation of a smooth surface to stage your best set of personal pyrotechnics.

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Connection (PAS1)

Part of my new Personal Archaeology Series, in which I try to unearth funny little things that I'd written a while ago, in an effort to wean myself from that much hated blog format of "citation/link, sardonic and self-important commentary, discussion in comments section. rinse. repeat ad naseum." I'm also trying to figure out how to use this space to actually contribute more nuanced perspective and analysis than the entries that clutter most of the archives at this point.

whatever happened to that artform, the long email? I sit
here in front of my computer, realizing that the form of
communication that I once cherished so dearly for the ways
that it opened doors for me has become pedestrian, common,
and a way to send out sound bytes to the anonymous and
hidden names on my addressbook.

i sit saddened by this fact, knowing that in the heart, all
i want is what we all want, to reconnect, to feel the human
touch of compassion - the heart of another near the
fingertips as s/he, a loved one of mine, types from where it
hurts or sings, types from the insides out to let me know what's
happening in his/her life.

have we come this far with technology only to lose our
infinite soul? Are we only removed from our
mechanized counterparts in our eventual fatigue, our
proclivity for error, our bodily needs? and yet the spirit
dies without the urge to soar - the warmth of the spring
air a joy without comparison relegated to a casual footnote
in the walk from one computer terminal to the next, and yet
with all the time that we spend in front of the screen, are
we connecting with anyone, let alone ourselves?

I rebel and refuse to live in this shell of an emotional
life - I resist and I subvert - I miss the sheer humanity
of the simple hand-written letter - I have fallen to the
internet and the internet has engulfed me whole, spat out
my soul, my wit, my self - left me cold in the remnants
of an eternal night - i feel alone and detached from people
- I see fewer people during my weeks, I have been fooled to
think that Instant Messenger is a suitable substitute for a
casual meal with a dear friend.

I will not become a statistic as our generation becomes
weaker and is prescribed a stronger pair of contact lenses.
I will not be lost in the webs that have been spun to
ensnarl me - as i have refused to support chain bookstores
and coffee shops, I will rebel against the prominence of a
"community" online - an oxymoron - there is no community
when I sit alone in my room, anxious to see any sign that
there is life out there beyond my telephone line and 56K

I will not submit to the whims of the internet moghuls. I
will not type away my existence in the sad replies to sad
one-line emails. I will handwrite my loves for watermelon, good
poetry, volleyball, and the cool, sweet taste of a brisk
summer rain after an active day away from any desktop.

I will impress the importance of personal contact upon my
contacts. I will respond only with long emails or phone
calls - or personal visits. I will regain my humanity as
the words that i write will be the words that i feel once more...

i will continue the struggle in the three dimensions into which
i was born, and from which i will someday depart.

- Sept 2000

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Aug 20, 2005

Modern Jainism

This is an interesting story that highlights some of the extremes in modern Jainism - the young 17-year old who has chosen the path of ahimsa as a life direction, versus the businessmen, diamond merchants, and other affluent members of the community who equate vegetarianism and sobriety with fulfillment of the most important Jain values.

I have ruminated before in these pages about how vegetarianism has taken the place of a broader, more inclusive vision of non-violence, and represents an essentialization of the broader values that should be considered in the definition of Jainism. I would almost argue that adherance to vegetarianism has taken on a ritualistic fervor all its own within the community, at the expense of other, equally important facets of the philosophy, like the importance of multiple viewpoints.

India's Jains take nonviolence to new levels

Palm Beach Furniture
By Nirmala George
the Associated Press

August 20, 2005

NEW DELHI · Dressed in a coarse white cotton sari, her hair shorn and a small square of white cloth covering her mouth, Sadika Sansiddhi looks nothing like other 17-year-olds.

Two years ago, she left her middle-class home to become a nun in the ancient Jain religion practiced by more than 4 million people in India.

Her parents and grandparents opposed her decision. They were Jains, and believed in the small daily sacrifices the religion demands. But they wanted to spare Sadika the deprivation and hardship she was choosing. Eventually, after two years of demand, they relented.

Along with 15 other nuns, Sadika now lives in a rundown building in a crowded New Delhi neighborhood. They sleep on bare cement floors, spend long hours in meditation and read religious texts. Ahimsa, or nonviolence, guides their lives, and much of what they do is dictated by their efforts to kill no animals, not even insects.

Only a tiny percentage of Jains have chosen Sadika's path. But as India joins the global economy, it is the ascetics who have become one of the most powerful symbols of an older, more religious India. They beg for food; they travel by foot; they are celibate.

Like Hindus, Jains believe in reincarnation. But while Hindus believe all souls are part of a universal spirit, Jains believe in an independent soul reincarnated in pursuit of an ultimate state of happiness. Salvation is obtained by personal effort -- austere, nonviolent lives.

Jains take extraordinary measures to avoid killing. Groups of ascetics are often seen walking along roads, sweeping the ground before them with a soft cotton brush to make sure they do not step on insects. Some, like Sadika, wear face masks to make sure they don't accidentally breathe them in.

Jainism, similar in its asceticism and monastic discipline to Buddhism, originated in India around 500 B.C. Swetamber Jains wear white unstitched robes. Digambers -- or "sky-clad" -- wear nothing.

"If we had to wear clothes, we'd have to beg for money. That is an obligation we can do without," said Muni Shiv Sagar, a 46-year-old Jain sadhu, sitting naked on a raised wooden platform to spare his audience embarrassment.

A wooden water bottle and a fan are his only possessions. A meal consists of one handful of grain --"just enough to stay alive," said the sinewy ascetic.

Traveling, he said, is by foot only, walking for weeks at a time along ancient routes, sleeping in temples or the homes of Jain lay people.

Yet some Jains have no problem at all with wealth. Its lay believers are among India's richest communities, long known for their diligence, honesty and being considerate employers.

"Why are Jains successful in business? In three words -- it's humility, humanity and hard work," said Anil Jain, a tax consultant.

"We don't drink, don't smoke, eat only vegetarian food, don't go to clubs or night spots. Even the younger generation of Jains don't get too many opportunities to spend money," he said.

Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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Aug 14, 2005

85,000 Manuscripts Recovered in Canvassing Effort

I just find this to be so interesting. I've always been shocked at how ancient ruins, sites, and artifacts are often treated with limited reverence in India, whereas in the United States, such things become ossified almost immediately after their historic moment (think of all the gowns of the first ladies, the creation of Presidential libraries with millions of dollars to preserve the paper trails of average bureaucrats, and the list goes on). I'll be really interested to see what it is that they actually find in all these documents, and if anything is of historical/cultural value besides what they've already managed to document.

Mission Manuscripts yields 85,000 documents

New Delhi: Surveyors have stumbled upon an astounding 85,000 manuscripts from various parts of the national capital region (NCR), among them a 400-year-old Quran written on deer skin.

The Quran written on deer skin written about 400 years ago was found in the Jama Masjid. Another manuscript found from the mosque was probably written by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the surveyors believe.

Walking more than five km everyday for ten days, the young students of archaeology and conservation catalogued several thousands of manuscripts previously unknown.

Part of the National Manuscripts Mission, the NCR survey was conducted from government offices to monastries and havelis of Chandni Chowk to private residences and libraries.

Working on a pittance of Rs 300 a day, 125 surveyors drawn from the Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jamia Hamdard and Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, went door-to-door cajoling people to part with information on uncared-for-manuscripts lying in their possession.

The Delhi Mission, which came after similar surveys in Orissa, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, began on July 23 and ended on August 2, looking for moth-eaten, attacked by fungus and brittle manuscripts lying undiscovered.

"We were shocked by the sheer number of manuscripts. We could not even count them," says Aarti Rawat, an archaeology student who was part of the group surveying Nizamuddin and Chandni Chowk.

Palam village near the airport turned out to be a treasure trove of manuscripts. The surveyors found manuscripts in nearly every home, most of them relating to Jainism.

"Palam was a scribes' village. The main profession of the villagers was to write records," says Dr V S Shukla, a conservationist with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), who led the survey in West Delhi.

It will take six months to collate information and verify the authenticity of the mansucripts, says Dr Shukla.

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Aug 11, 2005

Examining Human Bingo

I just noticed that I'll be playing Human Bingo during my program orientation for law school. Are you familiar with the game? Basically, you're given a grid with 25 or so factoids, such as "Came from a family of larger than 10" or "Plays a Musical Instrument", and you have to walk around the room asking your peers if they fit into the categories. Usually, you can't use a person for more than one thing.

The concept is simple, using a game structure to get folks to network, reach out beyond their comfort zone, ask some non-generic questions, and hopefully, get to know one another better. I enjoy games, but I started to think about this.

My program will be majority white female, I'm guessing. And there are inevitably questions on the bingo sheet, especially in non-profit or progressive spaces, that include things like "Speaks another language" or "first person in my family to go to law school."

Instead of following my instinct to try to "win" (partially because there's a capitalist, oppressive quality to games that portend that there are "winners" and there are "losers" in something like this), I want to challenge some of the patterns that usually come out of these exercises.

For example, how likely is it that I'll be asked if: a) I speak another language (I do), or b) I was born in another country (I wasn't), or c) I am a vegetarian (I am)? It's not the questions so much as the underlying assumptions that folks use to guide who they ask in a situation where they are just trying to "win." I played the game in a very progressive training space as an ice-breaker, and it was obvious, even in a crowd of people of color. I was asked about being born in another country, and even got a surprised look when I said "no."

I don't want to just assume things about people, and feel like this game can easily devolve into that kind of exercise. That may be an interesting thing to explore if there's a debrief afterwards, but this is an icebreaker. And I hate being in "liberal" spaces and feeling like a fringe spiky thing left in the corner because people either think that they've figured out my deal, or they don't know or care to deal with me.

So I'll flip it. I'll ask the white folk if they speak a second language and say "really?" with incredulity if they say no. I'll ask the most trimmed and prepped out if they are the first in their family to go to college, let alone grad school. I'll focus on the Asian folks if there's a question about drug use or overeating. I'll ask the African Americans if they were born abroad. I'll ask the Latino/a students if they are from the Northeast, or if they ski. And I'll count how many times I'm asked if English was my first language.

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Open Thread on GOOD Music to Check Out...

Okay - so after trying a thread for bad music to continue the hater brigade, I quickly realized that this would be a better idea (thanks, DD). So go at it, folks. Share your passions, your finds, your secret faves, your oldies but goodies...

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Aug 10, 2005

Geico Insurance Should Shoot Their Ad Person

I'm so annoyed at Geico Auto Insurance radio ads. After naming a few appropriate state trivia points (state animal, flower, etc) they go on to say that "the unofficial favorite state amphibian is a gecko."

That's cute, and competitors have been quick to put out their own ads to refute their coolness, but I haven't seen anyone address the fact that the gecko is not an amphibian.

It's a lizard, which is a reptile. I know that for many folks this isn't a big deal, but I can't remember a larger factual blunder in a major ad campaign, and am mortified at their ascientific ad.

Illiteracy is a documented problem in the United States, while innumeracy is a larger problem and less addressed (new math anyone?), but the lack of science in the minds of average Americans is really sobering.

Many of the debates that will be decided by the representatives chosen by the people are science-based. The head-in-the-sand approach of the Bush Administration regarding global warming, embryonic stem cell research, and renewable energy are major policy decisions that the population seems to take at face value.

This egregious Gecko ad, and the fact that it's still playing all over the place, is just a testament to the opiated masses who have been sufficiently dumbed down enough not to ask questions, and challenge the status quo fed to us by the corporate media.

This rant was coming, so no apologies.

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Def Leppard and Megadeth as Biters

I was listening to the first Def Leppard album, On Through The Night today and noticed another interesting coincidence. Or BITE. Before you start laughing out loud, Def Leppard used to be one of the premiere bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) before they went ultra-pop. Come on - you know of other examples (can anyone say Starship Jefferson Airplane? On Through the Night is a true testament to that initial spirit, parallel in many ways to Iron Maiden's debut, though less punk-influenced. Anyway, so I'm listening to "When the Walls Came Tumbling Down" and lo and behold! The melody line from the title track of Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth falls out of thin air. I knew that it was a familiar tune when I'd first heard the latter album in '92, but couldn't really place it. So there you are: Dave sings about "Back in the Day" on his last album, but he's a biter like the rest of them.

Still – you have to give him a lot of credit for calling it like it is with “Never Be Me” about the self-indulgent therapy and filming sessions that were Metallica’s last project, the documentary Some Kind of Monster. I thought it was great for him to be on it though, and the drama thereafter was even better. Mustaine basically stated that he was misquoted and it wasn't cool that Hetfield was nowhere to be found during the interview/reconcilliation. Not to mention that he still thinks that Ulrich is a totally lame-ass and control freak.

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Airplane Woes

Considering how much we pay for even coach seats in commercial airplanes, you’d think that they would serve food of some kind. Or that the space would increase in some way, and we’d be able to sit in some kind of comfort. But no – instead, we are taunted by the space that we walk by in first class, the view that we’re given of their drink service (complimentary wine is a good thing when you’re stuck in a holding pattern on the ground or in the air). And the scent of their food throughout the full cabin while we’re waiting for our complimentary soft drink and wonder whether we get pretzels or snack mix to tide us over until the next meal. The meals have shrunk to the point where receiving peanuts in a Southwest flight feels like an extravagance. Peanuts!!

Compare that to Indian domestic flights, where even in an hour flight between Bombay and Ahmedabad, you get the equivalent of a small, hot meal, limbu pani, hot towel, hot tea/coffee service, and candy. It’s times like these, when I’m supposed to be grateful that I get two drink services instead of one, that I just wish I was in India again. Where I actually anticipate the food and service that I’m about to receive.

*sigh* How depressing. Sorry for the rant.

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Aug 9, 2005

Annoyed Little Haiku

Endless babbling
are you conscious or clueless?
I know your secrets

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Aug 8, 2005

Open Thread...

It's been a long week. Many thoughts, little energy. Open thread to tell me how you are doing. Feel free to send cookies, too.

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Aug 6, 2005

I have been out of town for a while, helping with a close cousin's wedding, for which the festivities will be over on Sunday. I have a lot to think about, and hope to have some more interesting stuff to write about family, community, and boundaries here, to add to thoughts from the past few months. I am so happy to be part of this ceremony and process, but as the first wedding to a non-Indian in my immediate family, we're coming across some interesting cultural and boundary issues in the proceedings. I couldn't be happier for my cousin, but it's brought me face-to-face with questions that I've never really had to deal with or think about before.

And it's made me think about the different branches in my family tree, and how I've sometimes used the interactions that I have with them to inform and ground the way that I think about working with community members in general, and that may be unfair to both my family and my community, because I'm only seeing a small, non-random sample. But anyway, religion, language, customs, and culture all seem to come into play in large family functions, and there's nothing larger, nor more intense, than a wedding.

Interestingly enough, though, we've had the chance to engage different cousins and elders on issues as wide-ranging as religion, language, family relationships, the train profiling that's going on now, hate crimes/bias, and a range of other things. Not to mention mediating expectations and the vocalization thereof in regards to the wedding traditions and program. In my family, it seems like everyone has an opinion about these things, and few folks can keep those opinions to themselves. Myself included.

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Aug 4, 2005

many days pass by
august dreams, plans for futures
unkept memories

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