Feb 26, 2006

The Future and Loss.

Went to a conference on lawyering that has got me thinking about what I want to do while in school and beyond. Blogging is not really one of these things, unless directly connected with a campaign. I anticipate a slow decline in my posting, or at least a focus on keeping the posts more closely related to work that I want to continue in the long run.

Got half-way home when I was met with the sad news that my baa passed away today. I'm so glad I got to see her one last time before she did, but it makes me remember also how quickly time is passing, and how much I have yet to do to approach the legacy of my parents and their parents. It is sobering, and a reminded to stay on track and away from distractions.

Peace, y'all.

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Feb 22, 2006

New reading.

Just got turned onto some really great online journals by folks in health/medicine that are investigating the intersections of public health, medicine, racial justice... it's a breath of fresh air from the liberal lawyer perspective. I'm only a first-year student and I'm sick to death of lawyers thinking that they own/create movement - I was sick of it before I decided to join this racket, and I'm really sick of it now. And I miss science and math. So reading folks like los anjalis and the to the teeth collective is a pleasure and a reminder that a greater movement is possible.

Tip the glass, turn the page, build something.

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Feb 17, 2006

French Asbestos to South Asia; Enviro/Human Rights Propaganda

So France tried to send over a shitload of asbestos (500 tons) in the shape of the famous ship Clemenceau to the Alang shipyard, off the coasts of Gujarat without anyone being the wiser. Apparently, breaking ships up is a big business for Gujarat. I heard this on BBC news this morning.

Interestingly, a quick search on the BBC news website shows that Dhaka is turning the SS Norway back also. A ship that Greenpeace has listed as one of the top 50 most toxic in the world. 1,250 tons of material containing asbestos.

Wonderful. Send your crap over. Who cares if you kill a few hundred brown shipyard workers over the course of time? Why is there no outcry about the outsourcing of this job to the third world?

Still, dig a little deeper, and you realize the economic impact of environmental regulations that have begun to take hold in India. This piece looks at what's happening in the Alang shipyard - that only 15 of 173 ship breaking yards are even active anymore. This is a particularly poignant quote from a worker:

Gopal Gupta, who traveled Uttar Pradesh to find work at Alang, confirms that times are hard: "I've been coming here for the past six years. Earlier everyone could find work here. Today I can find work only 15 days a month. The rest of the time I have to sell peanuts."
Even though Greenpeace has been pushing for better regulations, as is usual, Greenpeace isn't very welcome by the workers - the work pays, and the money goes to their families. I don't know the details enough to make the analogy to manufacturing jobs from the U.S. sent out to overseas sweatshops, but I'm sure the argument is made by the ship-senders that they are helping out the economy of the poor, brown nation.

Anyway, it's a niche market, and it seems that India is actually losing its position in it to countries with fewer environmental regulations, like neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China. Great - now the ship-cleaning business is going to agitate regional tensions.

But this whole environmental angle lead me to think about rhetoric that I've heard about the tremendous economic growth in India and China, and the projected global environmental impact.

I know that India and China have been under a lot of criticism around issues of sustainable smart growth, emissions, and air pollution. In fact, some projections have stated that China is scheduled to meet the U.S. as the largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world in about 25 years. Then I noticed that the statement is from the U.S. government.

However, another perspective, which really surprised me, is presented here. Interestingly, this particular report says that China is actually reducing its emissions. So what's going on here? I would venture a guess: Just like its selective use of human rights records and nuclear proliferation by China and other countries when it suits its endgame, the United States is using propaganda around environmental concerns to try to ramp up fear and animosity to help quell the competition it sees from places like China and India. Meanwhile, the U.S. walked away from the Kyoto Protocol talks, has its head in the sand about global warming, and doesn't seem to want to move from its obvious oil obsession.

Likewise, the U.S brought the scourge of nuclear weapons to the world, is the only nation to have used them, to devastating effect, upon civilian populations, has the largest arsenal, and clearly doesn't seem interested in standing down. However, it uses the alleged development of nuclear weapons in other nations as justification for preemptive invasion. Well, the grounds for the latest preemptive attack are still up in the air, I suppose.


Returning to the issue of human rights, the sad thing is that Americans, on the whole, actually believe that the United States is a beacon of human rights, based on the innovations of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as well as the civil and political rights that are afforded to some of the citizenry here. But they don't realize that the U.S. is shamefully behind much of the industrialized world in the affirmative enforcement of human rights like the rights to housing, to health care, to education, to language, to peace, and freedom from poverty. Not to mention the use of the death penalty, even on juveniles and individuals with mental retardation until very recently. Europe has all but done away with capital punishment.

Can't find a link, but will post one up when I do. Did find this funny thing, though - it's a human rights record report from 2004 that China put out about the U.S., in retaliation it seems, to the United States putting out reports on every country in the world except for itself. It's interesting to see how the language of diplomacy breaks down in this setting (and all the research that went into this compilation of facts!). Of course, China has a strong interest in keeping the U.S. and everyone out of its internal policies, especially where the western provinces, Tibet, Taiwan, and religious minorities are involved.

Some choice quotes (there are quite a few here, and it's really interesting to see a different propaganda machine at work, this time pointing squarely at the US):
As in previous years, the United States once again acted as "the world human rights police" by distorting and censuring in the "reports" the human rights situations in more than 190 countries and regions across the world, including China. And just as usual, the United States once again "omitted" its own long-standing malpractice and problems of human rights in the "reports". Therefore, we have to, as before, help the United States keep its human rights record.

The United States has long been in a violent, crime-ridden society with a severe infringement of the people's rights by law enforcement departments and with a lack of guarantee for the life of people, their freedom and personal safety.

Guns and Criminal Justice
The United States ranked first in private ownership of guns, resulting in drastic rise in gun-related crimes. According to a survey of crime victims, 350,000 criminal cases involving the use of guns were reported in the United States in 2002, and guns were used in 63 percent of the 15,980 killings in 2001. On Aug. 27, 2003, a jobless man carrying a gun broke into a car part supplying company, killing seven of his former colleagues. Statistical figures from US National Center for Health Statistics showed that 56.5 percent of Americans who committed suicides in 2000 with the use of guns, involving 16,586 people (see Gun Violence, Related Facts. www.jointogether.org).

The infringement of lawful rights constitutes a malignant obstinate disease of American society. Random assaults committed by the police resulted in the frequent occurrence of tragedies with heavy casualties. The New York City Police was reported for several willful shooting cases when chasing suspects in January 2003. Four people were killed by the police in the city from Jan. 1 to 5 last year. In Dec. 2003, a black man named Nathaniel Jones was beaten to death by six policemen in Cincinnati, causing a great uproar against police brutality across the country.

The United States claim itself as a paradise for free people but the ratio of inmates in the United States has remained the highest in the world. The number of inmates in the country exceeded 2.1 million in 2002, a year-on-year rise of 2.6 percent, according to the statistical figures released by the Department of Justice in July 2003. The jails nationwide receive 700 new inmates every week in the U.S. where 701 out of every 100,000 people are in prison (see Washington Post on July 28, 2003).

The US is the country that has handed most of the death penalties to juvenile offenders and carried out the most executions in the world. According to a report released by the Amnesty International on Jan. 21, two-thirds of the documented executions of juvenile offenders in the world occurred in the US in the past decade and more. Since 1990, there have been a total of 34 documented executions of juvenile offenders worldwide, and 19 of them happened in the US (an AP dispatch from London on Jan. 2, 2004).

Patriot Act and Privacy
The United States issued the Patriot Act in name of land security and anti-terrorism after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, and many substantial contents of this act encroached upon rights and freedom of citizens, especially the people of ethnic minorities. Under the authority of the Patriot Act, the government departments are empowered to wiretap phone calls of citizens, trace their online records, read their private mails and e-mails. The FBI is even allowed to keep a watch on people's reading habits.

Voting Rights and Power
The presidential election, often symbolized as US democracy, infact is the game and competition for the rich people. Presidential candidates have to raise money far and wide for their expensive campaign cost and most of the donors are big companies and millionaires.

International Covenants on Human Rights
Although the United States is the world's No. one developed nation, the US government has to date refused to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is apathetic to the rights and interests of ordinary workers in economic, social and cultural aspects, leading to serious problems such as poverty, hunger and homelessness.

Health Care
The situation of health insurance worsened. According to a report released by the US Census Bureau in September 2003, the number of Americans without health insurance climbed by 5.7 percent over 2001, to reach 43.6 million in 2002, the largest single increase in a decade. Overall, 15.2 percent of the Americans were uninsured in 2002 (see Washington Post on Sept. 30,2003).

Race and America
Racial discrimination in the United States has a long history with age-old malpractice. It has been permeated into every aspects of society. According to an investigative report released by the United Nations, the blacks and colored people received twice or three times more severe penalties than the whites for the crimes of the same kind; the number of black people who received death penalty for killing white people was four times that of the white people for killing black people. In state prisons nationwide, about 47 percent of the inmates were black people, and the 16 percent were people of Latin American ancestry. The blacks accounted for 13 percent of the total US population, yet 35 percent of the people arrested for drug abuse crimes were blacks and 53 percent of the people that were convicted for drug abuse crimes were blacks.

Apartheid recurs at school. More than one third of American students of the African origin are studying in schools where over 90 percent of students are non-white people, according to an investigation made by Harvard University in 2004. Since 1988, many schools abandoned the compulsory racial integration in class due to a series of court verdicts and changes in federal policies.

Little can be spoken of the human rights record in the US in view of protecting the rights of women, children, elderly people and other special disadvantageous social groups.

Gender Equity
American women cannot enjoy the equal rights with men to take part in government and political affairs. Statistics from the Center for American Women in Politics indicated that in 2003, women hold 59, or 13.6 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives, and 14, or 14 percent of the seats in the Senate. Despite an increase in the number of women seated in state legislatures in 2003, they made up only 22.3 percent of the total 7,382 state legislators in the US. (Women in Elected Office 2003 Fact Sheet Summaries, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/Facts/Officeholds/cawpfs.html).

There has been serious domestic and sexual violence against women. According to figures released by the White House in October2003, a total of 700,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported in the U.S. in 2001. One-third of women murdered each year are murdered by their current or former husbands or partners (National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 2003, by George W. Bush, www.whitehouse.gov).

International Relations
In recent years, the United States has been practicing unilateralism in the international arena, indulging itself in military aggression around the world, brutal violation of sovereign rights of other nations. Its image has been tarnished by numerous misdeeds of human rights infringement in other countries.

The United States has been active in sabre-rattling and launching wars. It is the No. One in terms of gross violation of other countries' sovereign rights and other people's human rights.The United States has resorted to the use of force against other countries 40 times since 1990s. Well-known US journalist and writer William Blum said in his recent book "Rouge State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" that since 1945, the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, suppressed over 30 national movements, in which millions of people have lost their precious lives and many more people been plunged into misery and despair.

The US is the nation with the most troops stationed overseas, about 364,000 troops in over 130 countries and regions. The violations of human rights against local people frequently occurred.

For a long time, the US State Department has been publishing "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" every year. It presumes to be the "Judge of Human Rights in the World" and, regardless of the differences and disparities among different countries in politics, economy, history, culture and social development and strong opposition from other countries, denounces other countries unreasonably for their human rights status in compliance with its own ideology, value and human rights model. Meanwhile, it has turned a blind eye to its own human rights problems. This fully exposed the dual standards of the U.S. on human rights and its hegemonism. The human rights record of the U.S. is absolutely not in accord with its position as a world power, which constitutes a strong irony against its self-granted title ofa big power in human rights. The United States should take its own human rights problems seriously, reflect on its erroneous position and behavior on human rights, and stop its unpopular interference with other countries' internal affairs under the pretext of promoting human rights.

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Feb 16, 2006

Rage Against Sexually Frustrated Cops in VA

This story pissed me off. Why? Because folks are laughing that these cops can get their sexual kicks while "scoping out" the alleged ring of prostitution, but I see it as further victimizing the women who are involved in these businesses. It should be their job to protect these women from the people who are preying upon their need for money and possibly (though I have my questions about their status as well) their fear of being deported.

I think that it's an outrage that these cops are taking advantage of the situation, that they don't care at all about what the plight of the women are, that they are just feeding the argument that there's a steady supply of stupid, sexually frustrated, predatory, asiaphile white men who will find these places and continue to frequent them. If the law enforcement isn't taking this seriously, the system breaks down. And it's fucked up. If this were drugs, would it be okay for them to snort a few lines, just to make sure that it's real before they crackdown on the suppliers? Here's a related quote from the story:

In their news release, Smith and Neely said that undercover officers often purchase illegal drugs to build cases against dealers and that the "same lawful investigative technique" was used in the prostitution cases. A Virginia law banning drug possession exempts law-enforcement officers who possess narcotics as part of their job duties. The prostitution statute makes no such exception.
And pulling the "they don't speak English" line is bullshit too. You find a way to get through to them. These cops should be busted and debadged. And someone should see how they'd feel if their sisters were in the same situation. I can't believe that there isn't more of an outrage about this. It's not just about the ethics of the officers - it's about protecting and safeguarding the dignity and rights of the women involved. Even if they are voluntarily part of the business, they are a prop in this fiasco, and I'm disgusted and pissed off.

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Feb 15, 2006

Fun with BBC Desi Photos.

From the vaults over at BBC News is this interesting archival photo:

No - this is not the new ad for Windows - "Mac OS X Killer." Apparently, and I can't find the original caption because it's off the BBC site, but this was a princess of some sort from the early 20th Century, posing with a great cat that she shot. Shit man. That ain't no quail.

More current pic:

Airport employees are on a nationwide indefinite strike against government's plan to privatise Mumbai and Delhi airports.

Woah. Aunties on the move. I have much respect for them to be able to go out and do this. The strike was called off on the 4th of February. Regardless, apparently, these guys ween't quite as impressed:

Riot police have been deployed at airports. Strikers have now been ordered to keep 500 metres away from terminals.

But on the other hand, I'm impressed by these guys:

Dare Devils from the Indian Border Security Forces show off their skills.

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Feb 14, 2006

With Love.

Amardeep posted up a couple of lists of V-Day music. Good idea, regardless of my thoughts about the day. Still, I may be full o' rage, but I ain't nothing like the list of nations around the world who can't stand Valentine's day, with India leading the charge. I can't remember if Europe feels about Valentine's day as it does Halloween (it's funny that we have to look to Europe when it comes to someone trying to put the brakes on the coca-colonization of the world's cultures, but I guess we could write reams about the privilege to resist and all that, but back to love).

Don't have time to think of a full list, but here are some personal faves - not too obscure, but beyond the most obvious...

1. In a Sentimental Mood, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane.
2. Please Forgive Me, David Gray.
3. Her Majesty, The Beatles.
4. Wonderin' Aloud, Jethro Tull.
5. Cool Drink of H20, Kevin So.
6. Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder), Maxwell.
7. Somebody to Love, Queen.
8. The Sweetest Taboo, Sade.
9. World Without Love, Anything Box.
10. Try, Nelly Furtado.

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No Luv 4 Google; V-Day


I'm on this really late, because lo and behold! the day is upon us, but better to get educated later than never. I have had my qualms about Google for a long time, and this just confirms it. It doesn't help that I'm particularly partial to the plight of the Tibetan people, who I feel are just as desi as the rest of us, and have been totally under attack since the Chinese oppression became institutionalized in 1950. More power to the movement against Google, and it's never too late to turn away from them, and towards an email provider with more scruples. Hmm. Doesn't Google own Blogger?

Regardless, happy V-Day.

On that tip, check out the V-Day movement while you're reading this. They are doing important work about the issue of redress and Justice for the hundreds of thousands of Comfort Women forced into sexual slavery in Japan during the WWII period. War truly does inflict some of its ugliest casualties upon the bodies and freedoms of women.

Get informed, and get involved.

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Feb 13, 2006

Bahubali Celebration in Karnataka

Pilgrims dance ecstatically at the feet of the 58 ft high statue of Bahubali in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka, South India, during the Mahamastakabhisheka festival. This is one of the most important Jain religious festivals, with pilgrims arriving from all over India and the world. Photo: Karoki Lewis, BBC NEWS

I've been to this sacred site, and the statue of Bahubali is breathtaking. It stands at more than 57 feet tall, is carved out of a single piece, and is on the top of a mountain overlooking a considerable number of temples. It is considered one of the most important Jain sites in South India, which was in itself a revelation as I used to think that Jainism was limited to the Northern and Western states of India. But I've been reading about how that's not the case at all. Anyway, this celebration only occurs once every 12 years. Relevant article.

Damn. Missed it again.

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On Desi Blogging

I have been reminded a number of times, by a number of people, that I should be careful about what I write in these pages. I laughed at them in the beginning, thinking that there are few (but much appreciated!) folks tuning in regularly, and I can't foresee that changing drastically.

However, with search engines like Google and the wide array of special-interest list servs, it is generally pretty easy to get more people to tune into your site once, when you know what buttons to push (i.e. write something timely and that has a kick). And with that power, as Peter Parker's Uncle Ben told him, comes great responsibility. Or does it? I've been thinking a bit about the whole blogging with a consciousness thing, especially as the number of blogs, even those that are just desi/brown in focus, has mushroomed.

Self-publishing has been going on forever, and is generally a very good thing, taking the control of content out of the hands of the mainstream production and dissemination circuits who focus more on the bottom line than the fine line between art and a simple commodity. I'm old enough to remember the explosion of 'zines in the 90s and went through the community literary scene when self-made/bound/(sometimes) handwritten poetry chapbooks were also in vogue (and still are in some corners of La Boheme). Those chapbooks were one part mini-rebellion to the concept that publishing poetry is a losing proposition, and one part the DIY spirit that makes artists and other free spirits so vital in our overly specialized and technologically dependent world.

Self-publishing can be empowering, it can be honest, and it can focus on views and news that may not be widely covered or coveted in the mainstream. It can be flippant, irreverent, and profound. Fox News can be profane, but not really any of the other things. When the market guides your decisions, you're no longer independent.

But the difference between the old school paper and ink publishing and self-production and dissemination in weblogs is that anyone with time and internet access can create a site, and more importantly, anyone with internet access can tune in. A homemade 'zine or poetry chapbook will not go nearly as far as a home"made" weblog can. Production cost for the former can be quite prohibitive when distribution is a question; you can't drive demand from referrals alone; and folks have to see what they are getting before they are willing to "buy" it (with money or their hearts and minds). But a blog is like a candy shop that gives out free samples all day. You can stay, linger, move on. Get addicted.

Weblogs are generally opinions, mixed with some research to support the arguments being made by the blogger. However, blogs have begun to take on a more serious place in the business of news in the past year. Mainstream news sites, television channels refer to their own "blogs" of news, and have even occasionally turned to the blogs to see what the "blogoverse" is thinking/saying about a particular issue or event, in real time. "Let's see what the bloggers are saying" is quickly replacing "Let's go to the video tape" as a favorite cut in broadcast news.

I have some very keen problems with blogging, especially in niche markets like the South Asian community.

1) No matter what we think, most bloggers are not journalists. They often just play them on the 'net. We haven't been trained to idealize "objectivity", we don't get paid to do this (though by the looks of it, I'm sure that quite a few are earning a salary at the same time that they are blogging), and we are often not fit to appear in front of cameras. In other words, while browsing, the casual reader should keep in mind that it's not the "news" page of the paper that you're reading, but the op-eds and the letters to the editor. There are many personal biases built into the information product, even moreso than usual.

2) This brings us to the fact that there is no code of ethics for bloggers. Netiquette is really not a code of ethics, but rather more of a hip way to squash someone that pisses you off. So anything goes, and some folks can get pretty nasty for undisclosed reasons (or sometimes just because they're having a bad day). A biased writer may not be obvious in a post itself, and her work can be picked up as "objective reporting" by the casual reader and battle its way into conventional wisdom on a topic, especially when subsequent web searches ring up the slanted piece and unwitting readers stumble onto it without the context of the blog, the writer, and sometimes even the facts themselves.

3) Speaking of which, who are the fact-checkers? What kind of research are we talking about? Specifically, push-button publishing makes it infinitely easier than ever before to just write up what you think, or what you heard, and pass it off as fact, especially when you juxtapose that with "real" news reporting and snippets of articles from here, there, and everywhere.

Moreover, I'd wager that the "research" is more often than not, internet searches. How much history, fact, and nuance is missing from the 'net about so many events, even in recent memory? I have experienced and witnessed enough in my handful of years in the social change arena in NYC to know that much of the Asian American organizing, history, struggles, triumphs, and challenges have not really been documented anywhere, let alone on the web. (Which, as an aside, is why it is important to support something like Asian American Movement webzine, and to get more representative voices to join their collective).

Additionally, even when something is documented and linkable on the web, who is to say that that piece (often an academic or a journalist) is balanced, correct, and has weighed the different perspectives before choosing one in their (re)telling of history?

4) Where is the accountability? Many bloggers are anonymous, using nom-de-plumes, or just make things up about themselves. If we can make things up about our own identities, what makes you think that we can't make things up about the news, the world, and what's happening out there? And what makes us believe that there aren't hidden agendas guiding attack-posts (which can't even pretend to be investigative, since they don't pick up the phone and talk to people before writing about them), especially concerning community-based organizations, public individuals, and other matters of significance?

Aside from the occasional thorn-in-the-side commenter, who is going to call them out on matters of fairness and transparency in their writing? Would a likely response be: "It's my personal journal/weblog, and I can write what I want"? I think that I've read that flavor of response fairly regularly on some of the sites out there.

Even if there is dissent by way of an engaged readership, who really reads the comments with that level of scrutiny? It's like reading the corrections box in a newspaper for the news the day before. Some of us do it, but most do not. And therefore, aside from egregious errors that are often pointed out and corrected in the body of the text, the post stands as the principle communication about any particular topic, and that's what gets read the most. Not to mention that that's what gets picked up by newsreaders and syndication feeds.

Which may bring us to the ultimate question about desi blogs, specifically when they purport a "community" perspective. Where is the line between sharing your opinion, and shaping your post so that others believe it, and therefore, adopt your particular perspective about the community? Are blogs set up to inform people about news (even though they usually just "report" on news that's already been reported on in an actual media source) or encourage a dialogue to explore issues that the news presents? Or are their principle purpose to build a chorus to ultimately feed egos?

While the advent of push-button publishing has made it possible for anyone to share their opinions, their routines, and the minutiae of their days, it has also allowed for people with opinions about the world to have access to an audience. Technology has opened many doors this way, and created a form of populist media that has become very popular, but we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that bloggers are everymen/women who represent anyone other than themselves, and also to recognize that more often than not, blogs are far less about populist media than popularity games, and that the currency of truth is not measured in hits per day but rather in track record of experience, quality of research, depth of analysis, and honesty about shortcomings, failings, and mistakes.

Maybe this is a good place for an example. I have been guilty, myself, of stating that some sites are a good source for desi news. I have begun to check myself, explain that I look at these sites to learn about things that are going on that I may not have heard, and then try to formulate my own opinion about that event/incident/issues/organizations. While I value some of the opinions, I still treat these sites like an advanced and fairly thorough clipping service more than a place to actively and safely develop my own thinking and perception of the issues raised by the writers.

However, if someone were to begin reading a blog as a primary source for their understandingof a community and/or issues that pertain to it, they could be led astray, especially by folks who are on a soapbox about their perspective, or their authenticity, but don't have much more to back it up than a lot of hours in front of a computer screen and, more often than not, minimal interactions with the subjects of their posts. I know that I've been guilty of the same in the past, and have tried to remedy what I could when I was reminded of the flaws. But others don't do that, and their pieces remain up, virtually unchallenged (especially if it's about community organizations or initiatives, when the principals of those entities seldom have the time to respond to misrepresentation (or no representation) in the media, let alone the blogosphere). Then, the next time that someone searches about agency X or person Y, what they get is a source that is often an under- or even un-researched polemic that hasn't even been seen, let alone replied to, by the person/group in question. Is that fair? Perhaps one could argue that the comments section more democratizes the process, or someone else could argue that the process doesn't have to be democratic because blogs are private viewpoints, but is that really true anymore? What's private when everyone can read it?

Moreover, some writers have developed a false sense of authority (equating and conflating the depth of their archives with past scholarship), egotism, and self-righteousness. Criticism is handled harshly, with the echoes of casual readers and avid addicts ringing in that closed courtyard of "public" opinion called the comment area. They zealously guard their fifteen minutes of fame, earned for timing and cleverness in the marketing of a product that the frenzied desi masses are hungry to gobble up. But at the end of the day, how many of the sites will actually make a difference, and how many will survive the inevitable fade from relevance that dooms most ephemeral fads? And who really cares, anyway?

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Feb 12, 2006

NASABA and the DEA: What the?!

The North American South Asian Bar Association (NASABA) put out a problematic press release nearly two weeks ago, which at the time of this writing, still isn't on their site. I wrote much of this response immediately after hearing about this new program, but pocketed it in hope of finding out more about it. However, upon reading this post at Sepia about it, I commented, and figured I should post this since I'm still confused about what they (NASABA) are trying to do.

This time, in relation to Operation Meth Merchant, the sting and profiling of predominantly South Asian merchants in Atlanta, Georgia, NASABA has decided to "partner" with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to create a national program to "educate" South Asian merchants about meth production and usage. I really don't understand this project on a few objective levels, and I'm deeply offended by it on another level, because I feel like NASABA has decided to be the voice of the community without much consultation with anyone. Even that they claim to speak on behalf of South Asian attorneys in North America is problematic, but that's a different post.

First of all - the DEA is a very, very problematic agency, specifically because the so-called "war on drugs" has decimated communities of color and placed the crosshairs squarely on the hearts of the small-time pushers when the much larger fish roam free. And this is not just the opinion of someone who doesn't trust in the benevolence of a government driven by radical idealogues.

Secondly, NASABA is perhaps the least appropriate "agency" to get involved in this issue. What is their expertise? What do they bring to the table? They seem to have more government partnerships than community partnerships, because local chapters of your organization are a long stretch from community partnerships, and frankly, their chapters aren't very happy with the National board and haven't been for a long time. Where is the statement of the local group that's working with these merchants, and has a better sense of what's happening down in Atlanta?

Third, what the hell does this press release even mean? Let's break down the title:

1) "DEA partners with NASABA
[that is already problematic, see above]...

2) to Rally South Asian store owners
[how the hell are they "rallying South Asian store owners" - by educating them about Meth? Is that really the problem here, that desi store owners don't know about meth and therefore, they are helping to promulgate drug use? Give me a break. Talk about not really conducting a thorough analysis of an issue]

3) to fight top drug problem in rural United States" [So basically, this means that NASABA believes that the way to "fight top drug problem in rural United States" is by "educating" store owners in major cities in the South? What specifically are they saying? That the South is rural - including the cities that they've named, like Atlanta and Houston? That store owners in real rural communities will actually have to travel to these cities to get "educated" about meth?]

Is any of this reasonable? More importantly, is this the appropriate focus for a program? Should we be looking at drug usage in our communities and unjust and selective targeting, or should we be looking for new ways to help law enforcement? What's next, a training program for cab drivers to identify and turn in traffic violators or fares conducting questionable phone transactions? Does this seem like missing the forest for the trees to anyone else out there?

Is easy supply of raw materials for meth production the key issue facing these and other South Asian merchants, or is this a problem where the government targeted a group of merchants in on of countless skirmishes in a hopeless "war on drugs" (more like the battle to maintain the status quo, but whatever).

Is this anything more than a publicity stunt to show government officials that NASABA is a "good" desi organization that they can partner with on initiatives that others may find questionable? That may end up costing the coalition and the merchants themselves the cases that they are fighting?

What gets to me is that NASABA has no real legs to stand on in this work. They may be sleeping with government agencies, and may even have some prominent firm and government attorneys involved with them as a professional organization, but why are they trying to put themselves forward as anything more than that? If they grew more of a backbone to truly support communities rather than put their own agenda front and center - perhaps then I would be more forgiving of ill-advised moves like this one.

But at this point, NASABA seems misguided and representative only of a small group of perspectives from the corps of South Asian American attorneys. They should leave civil rights work to civil rights advocates and stop muddling up the lines of communication with these occasional befuddled and confused volleys.

I've written more of my thoughts in this comment at SM, and I'm sure I'll post more as this continues to develop. The full press release (sent by NASABA's media consultant) is below, since I can't find it online.


U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Partners with South Asian Legal Group, NASABA to Rally South Asian store owners to fight top drug problem in rural United States

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- The North American South Asian Bar Association (NASABA) today announced a joint outreach project with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), "C-Store Outreach Project," aimed at educating and creating awareness among the South Asian community about methamphetamine (meth). The outreach project comes in light of the recent increase in the prosecution of South Asian convenience store owners for selling common products to customers that can also be used to make meth; prosecutions many claim are racially motivated. According to a 2005 crime survey conducted by the National Association of Counties, meth has become the number one drug problem, surpassing cocaine, in rural and small towns in the US. Because ingredients to make meth are readily available over the counter, NASABA's outreach program is aimed at educating South Asian retailers, many of who have limited command of the English language, to be aware of purchases that can also be used for meth production such as common cold remedies, cooking fuels, kitty litter and aluminum foil. NASABA believes education and creating awareness among South Asian convenience store owners are key steps to fighting the drug problem.

"The problem requires educating store owners and operators who sell these harmless products that (a), the products can be used to make drugs, and (b), how not to be exploited by those who use convenience stores to purchase those products" said Habib F. Ilahi, Co-Chair of NASABA's Criminal Justice Committee. "We want to work with the DEA to break the language barrier and educate the c-store operators on what to watch out for. This will allow the South Asian community to take an active stand against the meth problem."

As part of the outreach, the DEA, with NASABA's input, has created a poster translated into several South Asian languages for retailers to post in their stores. The poster graphically depicts the items commonly used in meth production and directs store employees to contact the DEA if they suspect a customer purchasing items to produce meth. In addition, NASABA plans to hold forums in major cities like Atlanta and Houston, and has invited the DEA to speak to the community about how meth is made and what items store owners should keep an eye out for. The forums will also provide an opportunity for South Asian store merchants to direct any concerns and questions they may have directly to the DEA. "Meth has spread across our country like wildfire,
leaving only scars of human potential in its wake," said Mary Irene Cooper, Chief of Congressional & Public Affairs for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "Retailers need to be part of this nation's strategy to effectively beat back this blaze. Fortunately, DEA is making progress fighting meth manufacturing and trafficking, and teens' use is declining. We are committed to working with allies like NASABA to promote knowledge about meth and further combat this deadly drug."

NASABA's President, Sabita Singh, understanding the need to educate, both the South Asian community and the DEA, explained that "NASABA hopes that this outreach program will help the nation's efforts to combat meth production while also helping to insure that South Asian store owners are not unfairly targeted by public entities." NASABA's C-Store Outreach Project is set to start in the first quarter of 2006.

The North American South Asian Bar Association advocates for the South Asian community and promotes alliances between South-Asian legal professionals in the United States and Canada. In addition, the organization supports those who value diversity in the legal profession and helps law students, and those interested in the law, develop contacts with practitioners. NASABA provides information to members on careers and the legal market and provides an avenue for professionals and community leaders to take an interest in matters of concern to the South-Asian community. (www.na-saba.org)

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Getting to Know You, Sorta

My pal at Dark Days Ahead just tagged me with an interesting little exercise that he created, based on a simple Census exercise. While I'm all for sharing more about where you're at, I wonder who I'm going to tag, given that most of my readers are on the moon, or at least, out of the U.S.

Anyway, so here goes. In the census tract where I live:

There were a total of 2,240 people in the year 2000. It is 73% African American, 16+% white, and ~10% OTHER. 85% of the people over 25 are high school graduates or greater. 25% claim some kind of disability. The median family income is $75,000+ (compared to a National median of $50,000), while the median per capita income is approximately $27,000 (about $5,500 higher than the National median). The mean travel time to work is 33 minutes. There are only 94 people living beneath the poverty line. Fourteen percent are civilian veterans. Forty-six percent were born in a different state. The median mortgage in the area (there is a 65%+ home-ownership rate) was $1,205 in 2000.

I'm looking to move soon, and thought it would be interesting to compare the data from that area to this one, so here it is for that census tract:

There were a total of 3,630 people in the year 2000. It is 24% African American, 66% white, and ~9% Latino. ~89% of the people over 25 are high school graduates or greater. 15% claim some kind of disability. The median family income is $71,000+ (compared to a National median of $50,000), while the median per capita income is approximately $31,000 (about $9,000 higher than the National median). The mean travel time to work is 33.5 minutes. There are 364 people living beneath the poverty line. Seven and a half percent are civilian veterans. Sixty percent were born in a different state. The median mortgage in the area (there is only a 42% home-ownership rate) was $1,671 in 2000.

Fascinating. I definitely learned some things. Like, no wonder I can't find a decent Asian market nearby. And also, that you can't make assumptions on socio-economic status characteristics just based on race (duh). Okay, so who are my victims? I tag flygirl and burnedouteyes.

Just do this:

1) Go to American FactFinder on the Census Bureau website.
2) Type in your zip code to get a fact sheet on it.
3) Identify at least 5 interesting facts about your zip code.
4) If you don't live in the U.S., then use whatever comparable data you can find. And if there isn't any, just describe your neighborhood to us to give us a sense.

Thanks DDA.

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Feb 7, 2006

Pandora's Box.

Totally over my head in work, so though the post ideas are flowing, I don't have time.

But I'll share this with the faithful reader(s?) who love music and have a high-speed connection. Check out Pandora. It's so dope, I'm flying through my work using its intuitive, customizable radio "stations" that you can create based on your personal taste. It's been awesome so far. Give it a spin!

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Feb 5, 2006

Troy Polamalu

I don’t know anything about American football (or really, any football), but I do know that there have been a number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have done well in the game. Troy Polamalu was just onscreen, and they have been talking about his as a defensive force to be reckoned with. He’s Samoan American, and I guess all I can say is, you go brother.

His Wikipedia link.

There's another Samoan American in this game. LofaTatupu, son of another former pro-ball player. Wow.

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Feb 3, 2006

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

It’s easy to be paranoid these days. And I have nothing to complain about - an Indian guy who sort of blends into the crowd and isn’t anything out of the ordinary, especially in urban settings. But there’s still an element of question when people look at me funny. There’s still the lingering feeling that I’m being sized up from the corner of their eyes, and I don’t like that feeling - opting to make myself as unassuming or inconspicuous as I can in most instances, or sometimes, staring back/straight on with a bit of a challenge in my eyes: “if you want to stare, I can too.”

The funny thing is that I don’t know if it’s truly there for me, or if I’m just flipping out. Of course I’ve heard things, and growing up in small-town suburbia, I’ve been told some choice things. But all in all, the harassment, when at all there, was minimal. I can understand how a lot of people can either ignore it, or even be oblivious to the very fact that it exists at all. I’m not surprised when I hear members of South Asian communities - even those that are more often profiled or targeted than others - state with clear conviction that they’ve never run across discrimination, hatred, or animosity. it’s likely that they haven’t, at least face on, because that animus is hard to forget, let alone deny.

But I think that it’s interesting what you start to notice. I’ve sat in the dining car for as long as I can remember in my trips on Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor. it is very unusual for anyone to occupy the other side of the table, across from me. Not that I welcome a slew of neighbors in my personal space - I rather value the ability to stretch my legs - but the point is - why aren’t people sitting here? Even when the trains are very crowded, I hardly ever have a request to sit next to me. I’ve seen white folks pass it up, which I can understand, but people of color just as easily pass it up, willing to forge new understandings with “non-swarthy looking fellows” rather than just overcome whatever may be affecting the split-second decision of where to sit.

It’s hard not to read into things sometimes.

And I have the privileges of class, “perceived non-foreignness” (at least when I open my mouth and my blended mimicry of urban/suburban/midWestern/Southern comes out. Whatever it is, while they can’t always place what part of the country I’m from, at least the country is never in doubt), and non-profiled physical characteristics (generally clean-shaven, no head covering). I stop myself from getting too worked up from a couple of stares or questionable looks when I think about the experiences of practicing Muslim men and women, Sikh men, or anyone who speaks English with a non-American accent, speaks another language in public, wears traditional clothing... it seems so hostile. And I know that they aren’t always facing the gentile racism and mistrust of the middle class/northeast.

So I have little to complain about, but feeling this way - on guard and wary - makes me appreciate the gap between melting pot rhetoric and bubbling cauldron reality that much more. Maybe we’re not on the brink of a riot, but is this really liberty?

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Feb 1, 2006

To Be or Not to Be... A Planet.

I've been meaning to post about this for a while. So last year, they found an object (actually 3 or 4) that seemed the equal to or greater than the size of Pluto in the Kuiper Belt - the ring of icy debris that orbits beyond Neptune. But tomorrow, Nature will publish the first measurements of the size of the object, which is estimated to be 30% larger than Pluto.

So now that brings the question of what is a planet, and what isn't, into a raging debate in the science world. What I find interesting in all of this is the assumption that the object(s) will be named after Roman deities once they are accepted into the planetary pantheon. I find that to be incredibly annoying, so-called Ancient Western Civ-centric, and just plain regressive. Why can't they take a look at something out of Sumerian or Egyptian, or indigenous cultures?

Then again, when you think about it, these are just hunks of ice and rock way the hell out there. Do I really care if they name these things more responsibly? Does it really make a difference when in truth, all the stars in the sky have many names, and belong to different interstellar families and stories throughout the oral traditions of the peoples of the world. They are not rigidly aligned by the conventions of one tradition, but rather a million million points of light, woven together by mystics, dreamers, and pets of the ages, forming intricate matrices of our own history between them, even though the sum of all our generations are but a moment in their own lives.

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Maxim India off to a great start

Well, not that this really surprising, but male-centric Maxim's recent launch in India is already facing litigation from an actress of whom they printed a mock-up picture. The story can be found here
and I'm not interested in writing about it in detail because commentary about controversy between a media rag (if you can even call it that) and an actress just isn't very interesting to me.

I just want to scoop people. And I think that it's funny, because I wonder how long it would take a case like this to go through Indian courts when many more important cases are languishing there. Is this the reason that genocide cases take forever to see the light of day? Is it frivolous litigation or just a court system gummed with molasses?

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