Jul 27, 2006

False Condemnation.

I read a comment asking why South Asian American groups haven't had any collective "action" concerning the Bombay bombings earlier this month. I had to write out my feelings on this...


I don't understand why South Asian American groups have to condemn the bombing in Mumbai. That doesn't seem to make any sense at all. First, because I don't see the relevance. The groups that have been sending out press releases about the bombings are only using the events politically to paint India in some portrait with Israel and the United States - inflating the incident to justify some alliance against an imagined cohesive Islamist conspiracy. More than anything, India is afraid of being left out again as the U.S. continues to give tremendous military aid to Israel to continue to fight battles that the U.S. doesn't want to fight.

There is a clear sense of indignation by nationalists (both in India and with NRIs abroad) that India isn't in the best of relationships with the U.S. They fear the dual threat of China and Pakistan (the former is more an economic threat, and the latter is an unstable, poor country that has few of the resources of India and poses less threat than Delhi wants its citizens to think). If anything, the statements against "terrorism" from Indian nationalists are masked anti-Islamic statements that are pleading with the world audience to let India out of the doghouse and into the clubhouse of accepted nuclear powers (or at least, the unique status of Israel - we know you have them, but it's all good).

Second, I think that South Asian American groups should focus on South Asian American issues. Of course there is less of a divide between what happens "over there" and "over here" than earlier activists used to make out in the past. Sure we're intrinsically linked in the global economy/world migration/cricket and cultural enthusiasm, but South Asian American groups should only get involved in homeland issues when there are issues to get involved in. Condemning a bombing seems incredibly shallow, useless, fake, and manipulative of high emotions. Progressive groups that are directly involved in work in Mumbai have more to think about on this issue, but diasporic groups should basically shut up on it - because what value would they add? "Bombings targeting civilians are bad." So what? What does that prove? It would be (and as statements from GOPIO and other groups that are either centrist or decidedly nationalist and reactionary prove) political, and the suffering of the people in Mumbai should not be used as some cheap political statement to gain ground on your issues. But that never stopped the ultra-right. And Islamophobia is an easy sell nowadays, whether it's called for outright, or masked in broad statements against "terrorism."

If anything, South Asian and other American groups of color should be condemning the bombing in Lebanon, because it's more tied to American policy condoning the wanton and racist actions of reactionary forces in Israel. Desi groups should recognize that the oppression and subjugation of Lebanese civilians in the name of "national security" is paralleled in the U.S. actions after September 11th, both with the wars raged abroad, and the unconscionable domestic policy against members of specific communities.

But when you think about it, after most groups were silent on the issue in the post 9/11 United States, I'm not holding my breath for more people to actually get the point now, when it's even more removed from their everyday lives.

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Jul 24, 2006

Atlantic City.

I was in Atlantic City this weekend for a whirlwind tour of the sights and depravities. I hadn't been there for years, and while much has changed about the physical "look" of the strip, a lot remains the same. One thing that I was really surprised about, however, concerned the make-up of the brown folks there. I knew, from parents, family, and friends, that Atlantic City was a choice destination for many older generation desi folks - it was just a getaway that they liked to take, getting away from the kids most of the time.

Atlantic City, the one of dreams and not the spare Springsteen song that looks at the flip side of a decaying urban beach front, plugs right into the "American Dream" mythology that is so often tied up with immigrants and their paths of migration to the States. What is more of the American Dream than getting incredibly rich instantly, by chance, (or fate, depending on your perspective), and without having to work your whole life for some taskmaster. So Atlantic City could represent that side of the American Dream.

Or, you can dig further below the surface of all the uncles and aunties chasing their dreams at the incredibly unsubtle Taj Mahal (easily their favorite place to be), to see the desi yuppies in fancy threads, emoting a different level of guido cool or newlyweds from India taking in a peculiar variety of Americana and living out their private versions of Bollywood uber-schmaltz.

If you keep digging below, however, you start to see how much of the service industry is now occupied by brown faces. The human pushcart rickshaws, operated almost entirely by immigrants, have many, many South Asians toiling them. A picture of a typical young desi couple taking advantage of their service, complete with the worker pushing them, would have been right at home in a photo album from Mumbai. Many of the low-level security, and even dealers and other casino floor workers were desi. You start to connect the availability of jobs in NJ where English isn't always needed, the turn-over is high, and the demand is higher with the eligible workforce, and you start to realize that there are a lot of opportunities for abuse, violation of rights, and isolation. And while Vegas is starting to make a dent in the way that people think about Asian America, who thinks of Atlantic City as a place to organize desis?

Though I remember hearing that there is a desi organizer working to reach into these populations now. More on this as I find out about it...

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Jul 20, 2006

Nader's Letter to President Bush about Israeli Government's War Crimes

Ralph Nader - well-known for a lot of reasons, but in this case, one of the most famous Lebanese Americans ever - sent a letter to President Bush stating that the "U.S. Carries 'Inescapable Responsibility" for "Israeli Government's Escalating War Crimes.'" I wonder if he'll get a response.

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I am so disheartened and ashamed of the way that the world is dealing with the Israeli bombing of Lebanon that I haven't been able to write about it. It doesn't take personal stories or a personal connection to realize how unjust this whole situation is. It just takes a couple of steps back to see the big picture, and to see the conflict as an extension of the colonial aspirations that the radical Zionist project in Israel and in their diaspora continue to push as public policy (in the name of national security). The impact on individuals, families, and communities have been well-catalogued, by people far more knowledgeable and eloquent than I, but unfortunately, the global mainstream sees this as a fight against "radical Islam" which is hardly divorced in their mind from the faith as a whole.

Nevertheless, this isn't only about politics. This is about real lives, torn apart, or tearing. This is about the millions on the run, the millions more who do not know what tomorrow holds. It is about the family members here, desperately clinging to hope and searching frantically for news about the neverending nightmare. To us, this is a "conflict" or "flare-up." To many, this is the next chapter in an ongoing continuum of fear, terror, and oppression. Your own government is one thing. A neighboring government is quite another. And the United States sits idly by as Israel has free license to bomb whomever, and whatever, it wants.

But I still have faith that someday, the millions of Israelis who do not condone these massacres and widespread human rights abuses in their name will rise up, as have so many soldiers in the Israeli army, and said "enough is enough." We want peace.

Just want to give a shout to friends and family who are currently watching and waiting to hear about their loved ones caught in this crossfire.

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Jul 19, 2006

Gambling for Votes

Heard recently about a ballot initiative in Arizona that would give one lucky voter a million dollars in a lottery system. I have heard about voting lotteries before, but it's an interesting idea being pushed right now. I can see the argument - get more people to the polls because turn-out in the United States is ridiculously low for a country that pushes democracy as the best form of representative government.

The idea is that once they commit to voting, they'll start looking at the issues and thinking about the candidates rather than just blindly vote to get in the running for the money. But money has been seen by many as a corrupting force that will neither enhance nor strengthen our democracy, nor meaningfully balance out the overrepresentation of senior citizens and affluent people who come out consistently to cast their ballot.

Of course tying the money to a vote for a particular party is not permissable, but what if one of the candidates goes out with the new information that by voting, a person would be eligible for winning this money, and ties it together with their own message... "remember to vote for me on Tuesday, November 4th, and if you vote, you'll be entered in the running for a million dollar giveaway!" Implicit in that seemingly correct statement is "if you vote for me" rather than just "if you vote."

I'm curious about whether this will pass - the incentives for voting for a particular candidate in the United States have either been completely under the table and in the back room, or vague beliefs based on general assertions in stump speeches and campaign literature. But "what's in it for me" seems a little at odds with the democratic spirit (yet not at all in conflict with the American ethos of "gimme gimme gimme"). Compulsory voting is the other extreme, enforced in Australia and some other nations, which I also think is problematic. If you're not motivated on your own to participate in the institutions of democracies, then the system is failing in some way.

But a million dollar "prize" for going to the polls seems like we're just dangling the fat carrot in front of the face of the American public, and appealing to the lowest common denominator of the American psyche. One of the proponents of the initiative says that millions of dollars are used each year for GOTV efforts, which could be diverted into better civic/voter education work with people throughout the states. That's another interesting perspective.

But what's the difference between giving $10 to someone to vote (where there's a guaranteed reward) instead of the prospect of $1 million for just one lucky sap? Is it just that hearing "$1 million" is enough to get people jazzed about participating? Well, think about it - people vote for things... after all, if we have to ask if there were more votes cast for the American Idol winner than those in the last Presidential election, that's a problem!


On a related note - why is election day on the first Tuesday of November? It's for these questions that we have the internet (and once upon a time, The Straight Dope, by Cecil Adams). So this is what I found out here

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Good Music Day.

Y'day was actually a really good music day for me. I found out, really by chance, that the new Maiden album was named and coming out in September, and that the new single, "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" came out the day before. The video is available for viewing at the main site.

Also found out that the original line-up of Testament is back on the road, and may be coming into my area. Awww yeah. Haven't seen them for 15 years. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get my head around Coheed & Cambria's stuff.

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Jul 18, 2006

She said WHAT?

Just read this piece about turf wars, drama, and staged violence as connected to Hot 97 in The New Yorker. Hot 97 is on my shit list for a lot of reasons, number one being crazystupid (not in a good way) Miss Jones, who is a racist, xenophobic pig head who pushed the insane Tsunami Song onto the masses and laughed her crazy head off about it.

Anyway, the piece isn't very good - left me with an unpleasant feeling that I don't feel like exploring here. But the best quotes are from a worker at another tenant organization in the building at 395 Hudson Street. Amy Hackett, the director of institutional relations at Legal Momentum was working late one night when there was a shooting outside. She came down later and this ensued:

...she saw police lights and yellow tape everywhere, and asked one of the detectives, "Is this another gangster-rap event?"
Hmm. No, that's not cracker-ass crazy. That's not just a little racist. But in case you were wondering, McGrath hits her back at the end of the piece, when she says:
"I'm not sure I would recognize what a posse was," Amy Hackett told me. "The only person I've recognized was Spike Lee. And he, I think, is fairly safe."
Director of institutional relationships. Does that mean that she does development work? Don't know, but damned if I would have her talking to anyone in any community of color. "Spike Lee is fairly safe." Thank you, liberal white woman, for the stamp of approval. Spike, my man, you've officially passed. Girlfriend needs at least a few public relations and communications trainings.

But my favorite quote is from another worker in the building, who broke down the racialized notion of "gangsters" and the reality that she saw in the building's other residents:
One employee in the building - a black woman - adopted a mock-hysteric voice when I asked her about the feud. "The other tenants are calling me up: 'What are you guys doing about this? Did you hear about the shooting? Should we write letters?'"

She paused, and said, "Let me just say this, O.K.? We talking about the carpenters'
union. The carpenters' union, if you look at those men up there, is full of nothing other than gangsters. You should see these people. You can tell them, because they all have pinkie rings on their fingers - you know, come on. An engineer can't come up here without - gangster style - three men standing behind him. So it's, like, the pot can't call the kettle black. Their mentality is the same as these rappers. They have to come with their entourage."

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Verizon SUCKS.

I really hate Verizon. They are an evil, evil company. The funny thing is that their service reps go from congenial to steel in just a couple of minutes. Frightening.

Related, make sure you fight for net neutrality, people. This is serious.

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Shuttle re-entry.

Check out the article.

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Jul 17, 2006

Well They Could Just Kill a Man...

There you have it. No officer in the UK will be prosecuted for the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian man taken down at the London tube in the immediate aftermath of the July bombings last year. Remember that Menezes was shot 7 times in the head. Remember that London cops don't really shoot people - that's an Amerikan phenomenon. Here's a quote:

Senior CPS reviewing lawyer Stephen O'Doherty, said two officers who fired the fatal shots could not be prosecuted for murder or any related offences because they "genuinely believed" he was a suicide bomber. [source]
Lovely. What may be even more scary is that London police are supposed to be more civil, less trigger-happy, and able to keep the peace without drawing a piece. But in these days of hyper-vigilance (read: every(br)o(w)ne is a suspect). In the aftermath of the Mumbai bombings, will the police there exhibit the same lack of self- and professional- restraint?

And they call me abnormally paranoid. I'm relatively safe, but I'm worried for all the other folks out there.

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Now here's a quote.

I must say, I love it when corporate Amerika decides to defend its questionable business model by citing a principle of civil rights, "democracy" or some other convenient Amerikan Democracy™? slogan. If anything underlines the mockery of democracy in the American culture, it is the corporate commodification of the tag lines of equality to justify their neverending quest for the almighty bottom line. Anyway, this was Hooters' eloquent restatement and affirmation of all of the hard work of the women's movement in the United States:

"To Hooters, the women's rights movement is important because it guarantees women have the right to choose their own careers, be it a Supreme Court Justice or Hooters Girl." [source]
Well there you have it folks. Two centuries of struggle and the true equity we have for women is that becoming a Supreme Court Justice is now regarded on the same level as becoming a Hooters Girl. Well, maybe that's not too far from the truth at this point, but nevertheless, you gotta love it.

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Returning Home.

"Time has a way of taking time,
Loneliness is not only felt by fools..."
- Megadeth, In My Darkest Hour

I've spent this summer working in a wonderful immigrant rights organization, where I've learned more because it was outside of my comfort zone. But it's the first time in a long time that I haven't been in an Asian American space, and I miss that familiarity that I felt there. I miss being around my people, generally. This year has been a bit of a step backwards in that regard, and I guess it's about time to plug back into some community that feels like my own. In one way, after burning out (from boredom and disgust more than just plain old exhaustion) at my last job, I think I needed to take a bit of a step back to assess the situation. Though I'm still hoping to extend past my core comfort in Asian American spaces, there are limitations.

Understanding even some of the nuances between different ethnic groups and regional identities within the Asian American diaspora, or even some of the paths and histories of migration, give context to the conundrum that you may be facing at the moment. The history, and the rich culture of resistance, perseverance, and optimism colors your interactions, even if they only provide a backstory to the community member(s) current issues. In the Latino community, I realize that I know very little about the paths of migrations for some of the groups - I don't recognize many of the cultural nuances between groups, and don't know of conflicts or misgivings between groups. In African immigrant groups, it's even harder, because of how little I know about Africa through my formal training or personal studies. In American indigenous communities, while I feel passionate about the issues I know about, I feel quite the outsider, and don't want to fetishize populations that have gone through that phase of American flash interest in the past.

In coalition-based work (which most polyethnic work strives to achieve at some point), this level of detail is very helpful to smooth out obvious challenges and emphasize shared goals and "we're here now, leave that baggage at the door." I'm still happy that I've challenged myself, but I think that this year may be a return to those aspects of my first communities that really fueled my passion for racial justice and movement work to begin with. Hopefully, I'll be writing more about it as well.

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Jul 16, 2006

It's Hard to Cool Down in the City.

Ever have one of those days when you wish you could just slam someone's head into a wall? I'm not having one right now, I'm just sayin'.

As the heat escalates and we continue to bake on the East Coast, I wonder if the already questionable tolerance we have for one another will be pushed to and beyond the brink. Is this when everyone starts going crazy, and the layers of artificial socialization that we cake onto each other with mass media, etiquette lessons, and the general"way to behave like a responsible adult" peel off like so many old glosses of cheap paint?

Dunno, but I'm staying the hell away from people this month. And it's a shame too, because there's so much good stuff happening in summer. But who wants to become the proverbial egg on the sidewalk, anyway? Bring me fall, winter, anything but this oppressive heat. *sigh* I may actually have to go to one of these awful films that they are feeding us, just to escape from the weather for a while. It's all a conspiracy, I tell you. A C-O-N-spiracy.

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Diaspora Woe.

Just read this really interesting piece by Pilipino cultural/historical critic E. San Juan about the centennial celebration of Filipinos in the United States. There are many parallels between the Filipino and South Asian diasporas, with professional waves of nurses and doctors who were familiar with English by virtue of colonial pasts entering the U.S. and making it home. Domestic workers and other labor from the Philippines and various nations of South Asia are still the favored import in the Middle East, and American call centers are popping up in the Philippines just as they did in India.

The intro:

What signifies this Centennial? Could it be the rebirth of the Filipino as multicultural citizen of a borderless world, as zealous hawkers of the nomadic, multivocal, heterogeneous Pinoy contend? Certainly it is not the resurrection of the "Flip" or the "little brown brother" as a refurbished Stephen Fetchit in a non-stop minstrelsy "Pilipino Cultural Night" of tinikling, kiyeme and Maganda dogeaters.
But there are also differences in the 2 communities in the United States - with histories of colonization and the residual patterns of migration (professional and otherwise) impacted by the specific relationship of the United States to their nations. The Philippines, after all, was "conceded" to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, with Puerto Rico, and Filipinos have had a remarkable relationship with the colonizing nation for more than a hundred years. Perhaps South Asians in the U.K. are a better analogue for pinoys in the U.S.?

Regardless, the piece is well worth checking out.

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Jul 4, 2006


Have to give props to my fave vlog, rocketboom. They keep it interesting - haven't been watching for 2 months, thanks to iTunes trouble, so as I picked up where I left off on the archives, I came across the June 6 segment. RB proved again with this segment that they are hip and in touch with a whole array of alternative culture/media - beyond the typical geek/hipster stuff that is so commonly available.

They started the segment with something about June 6th being the International Day of Slayer. The site is actually pretty funny - it tells folks to take the day off from work and just listen to Slayer, sans headphones. Those crazy Europeans (though I'm pretty sure this is a U.S. idea).

I didn't know about this phenomena - but I guess it makes sense in an odd way. Anyway, seeing any mention of metal in pop culture is a rarity, especially in a way that isn't wholly parody. So major props to them for keeping it, and me, interested.

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Jul 1, 2006

Things I'm trying to change about life, the universe, and nothing in particular:

*ordering the $4 blended fruit drink on the menu because it's still cheaper than the $5 boutique beer that is my default order, and it's better for me too.

*buying fresh fruit from the market regularly, disregarding the price of good organic produce when I can insomuch as realizing that it's still going to do me a world better than the frozen pizza I still gravitate towards.

*learning that the last urge to play roulette before leaving a casino at the moment when you've broken even at the blackjack table is purely from the smoke-filled environment that they've created, and we all need to tame that beast or else we're all going to end up making the casino-man just that much richer.

*remembering that potential means nothing if you can't utilize the tools and focus to put it to use somewhere. I'm talking about to-do lists and all that crap. Could-have-been means nothing when you didn't try hard enough.

*not everyone is *really* as big a music fan, nor really as interested in learning about the nuances of specific, idiosyncratic pieces of music.

*I still don't care what white liberals think.

Okay - this is a lame post. Ending the transmission here, but also thinking about how easy it is to get caught in the quagmire of discussion with people far more knowledgeable than me about the details concerning politics in South Asia. But I still try to interject. And I feel like I make a lucid point once in a while, amidst my own rhetoric. But I always lose them on "India is trying too hard to be America's puppy." Ah, whatever.

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