Dec 28, 2007

We Eat Our Own.

"When a leader speaks,
that leader dies." - Living Color, Cult of Personality

I don't know a lot about South Asia, even if I write about things related to the diaspora regularly on here. I know less about Pakistan than I do India, and realize that as the news of Benazir Bhutto's death washes over the world, people with no business commenting on it will do so anyway. Still, I feel like her killing raised two quick thoughts for me:

1) It reminded me, again, of how complex global politics are, and how people can be easily mislead to think that one person, or one family, can serve either as the savior for the nation or the key architect(s) of its damning. The Bhutto family's destiny is linked with Pakistan's, in some way, but it just seems crazy the way that the Western media is playing her role and her importance out.

2) It also made me think more about how hard it is for leaders in South Asian nations to really push for change (whatever kind) without risking their lives. The history over the past 60 years has not been a pretty one, particularly in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It's no wonder that people: a) are less willing to step forward and challenge business as usual, and b) have a hard time remaining hopeful and not cynical about change and leadership. While there's still fervent support of political parties (at least in India), the view from afar may be askew. I used to think that the BJP had massive support from the people - and Modi's reelection may testify to that - but it may be just the idea of belonging to something rather than real faith in actual change.

Maybe people aren't really that supportive of any particular candidate or perspective. And maybe it's that cynicism that we confront with people in the diaspora, here in the U.S. and elsewhere, who don't have the faith in change that some of us still offer as an alternative to going along with the same old ways - whether that's regarding civil rights or anything else.

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Dec 21, 2007

A World Without Art.

I have spent the last two and a half years stuck in the timesuck that is law school, and while I see the tunnel's end, it isn't really lit up yet. I'm thankful to be back in school, but a quick accounting of what I've lost along the way makes it a less than fully rosy picture.

But what affects me more, and in a far deeper way, is how I have lost my connection to the arts. This has happened over a longer period time, maybe about 4-5 years, spanning from the dog days of the last full-time gig that I held down. In my first life after school, I spent a lot of time checking out performances, readings, and even some visual stuff. It's easy to overlook things in NY, even though it's all over the place, but I was fortunate enough to be in a setting where I had access and I was around artists.

Cut to more social service and policy work, and I didn't have as much exposure, but still took advantage when I could. There's something rejuvenating and pure about art, and engaging with people who want to talk about the (per)mutations of human experience, thought, culture, and political galaxies that intertwine with good work. To feel inspired, to feel challenged, to experience something that is, in most cases, ephemeral... momentary... unique in that moment. That's probably why I love performance. Though live music can fill that gap, but it's still a different experience than other performance, especially good theater and performance art.

I've dug deep into music as a refuge, but it is not a satisfactory replacement, no matter how much I love it. At least not recorded music. I've not been able to read much fiction for a long time, and I still feel that reading is too isolating - it doesn't feel like I'm experiencing something with people the same you feel with performance. The journey is generally inward, and I don't feel satiated or inspired by inwardness.

So I feel empty, in some critical, crucial way. There is a vibrant, creative, urgent world right outside of my viewpoint, and I have not dipped into it for any sustained time in years. And honestly, lawyers, law students, policy wonks - they are too literal, too limited, too linear. Their language is tightly wound around single meanings and objectives - their time too guarded by objectives (worthwhile or otherwise). Spontaneity is a "waste of time" rather than a tapping of the real lifestream that is meant to replenish our weariness with passion for the struggles and stories that make liberation more than just an academic exercise.

No press release nor policy brief ever moved me. No legal argument ever fundamentally changed my view of the world and my place in it. No conversation with a lawyer has ever really kept me guessing about which turn or angle it will take next, careening from random association to crystal clarity and connecting dots I didn't even know existed. I don't begrudge any lawyers this, because it's not their role, but I miss what I have lost.

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Dec 19, 2007

Proud to be from New Jersey

Though I moved to NY in my early adolescence, I'm still NJ-born. And while it's always hip to say you're from NY (though much of the state is not NYC - it's more like a weird cross of the midWest and the South), people remain down on NJ. Well, without the long thought process on my own reevaluation of the way I've approached it myself.

I'm just writing to say that today, in light of the Governor's ending capital punishment in the state, I am proud to be of New Jerseyian descent, as it were.

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Dec 16, 2007

Sikh Org Battle Royale: Pt II

I knew I shouldn't give up on superlatives from another Sikh group. Just when I was looking at handing the prize for most "accomplishments" (or at least the most times I've seen "only Sikh organization" on one page) to the Sikh Coalition, watch out! Here comes SALDEF. My inbox was graced with a press release/solicitation:

SALDEF: The Sikh American Voice in Congress
(wait, they have a seat now? or is that an advisory position?)

1) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress to protect Sikh American families from hate crimes.

2) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress to ensure that Sikhs are not forced to check their religion at the door of their workplace.

3) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress to ensure our children attend school free from harassment and bullying.

4) SALDEF is the only Sikh American organization working with Congress on the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

Okay - so I don't know a lot about Washington, but how, exactly, does one "work with Congress," and how does one claim to be the only group to do so? Does that mean that all the other groups never call the Representatives or Senators of states that house their office, initiatives, or constituencies? This series of claims seems pretty hard to understand - and it's basically all about the same work. I mean, all you have to do is be a part of a task force called together by some staffers on the Hill, and then you're working with Congress! Well, I mean, that's what I would think.

Boy, I can't wait to see what United Sikhs and SCORE come up with.

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Dec 15, 2007

The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!

You know, it's amazing how even the underground has its levels of hype and overhype. Not to say that Radiohead is "underground" by any means, but their decision to put up the new album, "in Rainbows," as a digital download for which listeners could pay what they want has been heralded as a move that will change the face of the music industry. Meanwhile, a remarkable collaboration that went further than radiohead (with big names of its own, but maybe not names that stack up against the unlikely combination of stadium-filling grandeur and art rock that is the radiohead phenomenon) hasn't gotten much play. Well, maybe real music heads know about it, but I sure didn't.

It's a collaboration by Saul Williams, poet, MC, and voice, and trent reznor. Yeah, that trent reznor. Called "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!", an obvious tip of the hat to Bowie's Stardust album, it was made available in two formats online in November 2007: a $5 version that comes in either 192Kbps DRM-free MP3 or FLAC (lossless), or, completely free, which comes in the 192Kbps DRM-free version. Both come with a beautiful, 33 page PDF of lyrics and intricate artwork that's worth the $5 alone. I still have to listen to most of it, but it's an edgy piece of work - Reznor's production shines, unhampered by his usual attempts to rewrite his angst from his first 2 albums in new and interesting ways. Williams is a powerful MC, and he even pulls in a cover of U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday for good measure.

I strongly recommend this album to anyone looking for something new and interesting, and in the interest of supporting artists who aren't afraid to take on the record companies and distribute their own music at a far more reasonable price than what you get for packaging at a big box store. And this album, unlike the Radiohead album, will not be available on CD after the fact (which folks didn't know when the rh album hit the net).

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Dec 3, 2007

Queensryche Cover Album: Two Devils Horns Waaaaay Down

I had to write something about this. The 'Ryche are not my favorite prog-metal/hard rock band out there. Not as presumptuous and prevalent as the reviled/revered Dream Theater, not nearly as underground as all those prog metal bands none of us have ever heard of, I kind of likened them to a mainstream power metal band, without a lot of power. Still, when Geoff Tate brought it, he really could sing (without excessive shrieking). 

I liked a good number of tracks from the original Operation: Mindcrime album, and I thought "Best I Can," "Empire," and even "Silent Lucidity" were really great off the follow-up. Never cared enough to check out the louder previous material, and just checked out afterwards, not even caring enough to see if Mindcrime II was worth the 18 year wait. Album sequels don't generally do it for me anyway - I'm prone to think the wait should be as short as the gap between Use Your Illusion I and II. Though Metallica's Load and Reload underscore the reason we should just skip sequels altogether.

Anyway, after all that, I found out about this covers album Queensryche released last month and thought "wow - I'd be interested in hearing how they approach some of these tracks." "Synchronicity II," "Red Rain," and a cover from Jesus Christ Superstar? Bring it on. Well, even if the album was not particularly ill-conceived, the execution is excruciating. I'm not sure if it was the streaming quality on Free Napster, though I haven't had this complaint with them before, but the mix sounded god awful. And Tate's lackluster delivery was painful - he's lost his voice completely. It's shameful that he's still trying to sing, actually. He should hang up the mic and get a desk job. Seriously, it was *awful* - his moaning at the beginning of "Synchronicity II" sounds like he has no monitors to guide him -- he's off time, off tune, and shouldn't sing this way in his shower.   What happened to his voice?

It was a terrible waste, and honestly, the worst disappointment was Queensryche's attempt at "Heaven on Their Minds." Andrew Lloyd Webber generally annoys me, but his work on Superstar was pretty rocking. And you can almost feel that if Queensryche were in top form, from their "golden" period, they would have made this one shine. But it's just terrible and I couldn't listen through it. I almost put on that Def Leppard cover album of 70s glam (from Napster, okay - I don't own that crap) just to cleanse my listening palate after subjecting it to pieces of this record. I don't know what the reviewers were listening to, but it sure couldn't be what I heard.

And what is it with bad covers from the soundtrack of JC Superstar, anyway? Sinead turned in a very poor performance of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" on her latest, Theology. And now this awful recording. Webber would be rolling over in his grave, if he were dead.  Yeah, so just don't bother with this one.  It's not that it's mellow -- it just sucks.

and what's with the cover of the album? Hey 'Ryche: Sacred Reich called, they want their gas-masked motif back.

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Nov 29, 2007

How to Bury a Racist (Dinosaur?)

If you're like me, you probably thought that the grand funeral procession by the NAACP this summer to finally bury the "N Word" (and perhaps any shred of relevance that the organization had left), didn't do much to remove the word and its impact on race consciousness in the U.S.

Well, not too long after, those pesky diggers, the paleontologists, had more new about the remains of a previously unknown species of dinosaur that had been unearthed about 5 years earlier, and inadvertently also dug up centuries of shame and hatred, all in one fell swoop. What am I talking about? Well - check it out yourself: people, we give you the grand re-introduction of the Nigersaurus, so named because of where it was found.


I'll be damned if this doesn't feel like a pre-packaged Chris Rock bit naughtily tucked away in the science news. Are scientists really that clueless? Even without beating up on the scientists, it's interesting how the racists seem to take every opportunity they can to share their views through the internet. There has definitely been an upswing in the blatant racist acts on campuses and communities throughout the U.S., and it's hard not to think that the isolated crazies are feeling more and more emboldened by the actions and statements of elected officials, the white supremacy groups, and even the nutty religious institutions that are buying up air time and spewing out invectives.

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Nov 28, 2007

Supporting Sikh Civil Rights Groups: The New Faith-Based Giving?

Between the Sikh Coalition, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), UNITED SIKHS, and I'm sure other, local groups who are planning to hire lawyers too, I think the Sikh community may have more staffed groups that claim to represent their civil rights than any other American community of similar size.   I don't begrudge the community that it needs this support, especially given what's gone down since Sept. 11, but the one-up-manship of the groups is bordering on ridiculous when you get emails from them all in succession, proclaiming that they are the "first", the "largest" or the most important and urging us all to pay attention.  Let's look at mission statements first:

1) SALDEF. Founded in 1996, SALDEF is the largest and oldest Sikh American civil rights and educational organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the civil rights of Sikh Americans through legal aid, advocacy and educational outreach. SALDEF's mission is to create a fostering environment in the United States for future generations of Sikh Americans.

2) The Sikh Coalition. The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works towards the realization of civil and human rights for all people. The Coalition serves as a resource on Sikhs and Sikh concerns for governments, organizations and individuals.

3) United Sikhs. UNITED SIKHS is an international non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian relief, human development and advocacy organization, aimed at empowering those in need, especially disadvantaged and minority communities across the world.

Then, some choice statements that they've made about themselves in recent press releases, which almost speak for themselves:

1) "With a full-time staff of five, the Sikh Coalition is now the most staffed Sikh organization in the history of the United States." Sikh Coalition press release, November 20, 2007.

2) "The Sikh Coalition is the only Sikh organization that employs attorneys full-time. The Coalition currently has three attorneys on staff." [website]

3)"The Sikh Coalition is the first Sikh organization to qualify for and receive an Americorps VISTA volunteer from the federal government." [website]

4) "The Sikh Coalition successfully encouraged the first Sikhs to successfully run for political office in New York City on a non-partisan basis." (hmmm -- this is kind of a risky statement to put out there) [website]

Wow - can't actually find equivalent proclamations from the other groups on their websites, though I know I've seen stuff. As a passing thought, I wonder how much of this is a gendered thing - given that all of the groups are led and predominantly directed by men, unlike most other South Asian groups. Then again, there's similar tension between other groups, so I may just be reaching.

Anyway, beyond the way that there seems to be at least a little shoving going on between these groups, it's interesting to see how many resources are going into this work. More than most ethnic or racial minority-based organizations, there seems to be support from the community for civil rights advocacy for Sikhs. A lot of the funding for these groups comes from donors - which is pretty impressive. But I know I would get confused to see that there are a bunch of groups claiming the same kind of work.

I often speak about how our communities actually have a deep history of philanthropic giving (unlike what the mainstream conventional wisdom about tight-fisted Asians may say), but it's usually within the family or to faith-based organizations. Are all of these groups still enjoying donations from the community because -- at least in this community -- civil rights groups are the new temples/faith-based institutions for specific groups who feel beleaguered by hate/bias/misunderstanding? It's hard to tell from the outside - because I can't think if there any other examples of faith-based identities that give in this way, save for Jewish communities with the ADL and other civil rights orgs that recognized the need for Jewish communities to defend themselves.

While the Indian/Jewish analogies have been getting a lot of play in the media (and this is problematic for a lot of reasons - from the model immigrant stories in the U.S. to the meta narrative about the nuclear power leanings of India and the BJP's desire to create an axis against Islamic States between the U.S., Israel, and India (they want the military aid and to finally be recognized as a world power -- i.e. take us seriously, damn it) -- it's interesting to look at the civil rights/community institutions model of the first successful Jewish communities in the U.S. and whether any of our communities here are modeling that now.

I think an argument can be made that Sikhs are sorta there or getting there. And it's really interesting to see that some of the mission statements claim an interest to represent/help many different groups, beyond just Sikhs. Again, I don't think it's necessarily bad to have "competition" between non-profits, in the interest that the best model eventually wins out, but it can be duplicative, confusing, and unproductive if there is a bigger strategy in mind for any of these groups.

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How I Learned that Working for ICE/USCIS is Noble.

I have a classmate in my immigration class who works for ICE/USCIS (the new and "improved" pieces that make up what was once the INS after the massive administrative re-org that created the Department of Homeland Security). The person added useful insight and tips to supplement our very cool professor's practical information about procedural and strategic considerations for various visa classes.

Anyway, for the very last class, the professor finally gave her the ground to talk about what she did and I guess let us know of opportunities at USCIS/ICE. It was some of the most annoying 10 minutes I've spent in school this year. She started with her major disclaimer that she was a fierce advocate for refugee and other populations after graduate school, but she was looking for a job and ended up getting into the President's Management Internship program and eventually worked as an Asylum officer. While I had and still have friends who are asylum officers and tell me that it's important to have good people on the inside, this woman's myopia about how much of an uphill battle it would be to actually impact change was still quite surprising. She spoke in terms of "we" when talking about the Feds needing more lawyers, and seemed to fully take on the standard line that it's more important to be on the inside and that there are really fierce advocates behind the Federal curtain that go beyond the people advocating on the outside with other groups.

The best part was when she was talking about getting something with the DOJ and not acknowledging what a meltdown it's going through right now. It's amazing how people can be so co-opted by the message that by working for the Federal government, you are doing good for society without questioning what the Feds are actually doing. It's standard bureau-speak, but how do you convince someone who doesn't want to hear you?

And there are people like this all over the place - people of color, bright minds who actually have the right intentions in their hearts, but are either looking for "job security", some kind of respect from family who don't get what advocacy is, or maybe just something bigger (and better organized) than the typical nonprofit. I can't question people going into these things as much as I can question how they lose that critical edge - the ability to step back and say, "wait - is this what I think it is?"

It's not so much that they have to dissent every moment while they are working, because they won't be in that job for very long at that rate, but do you really have to become a cheerleader?

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Nov 27, 2007

I've been listening to a lot of Danzig lately. And trying to get through a lot of work, as usual. I'm ready to get through school and out to the other side. Too many fools out there, spewing out their opinion and getting in the way of good people trying to do good work. This site remains relatively quiet as I try to figure out if I'm one of those fools. But damn, Glenn Danzig knows how to make the pain feel good.

I'm w(e)ary of the world and the spirals we fall into. I entered school after a long period of stagnation, went through a gradual reconstruction, and now feel myself slipping down the other side of the hill. It's even possible, at times, to imagine just focusing on our own lives and letting the world take care of itself (dismissing any notion that insignificant individuals have any place in dreaming that change can happen).

Perhaps it's the advent of winter, though I miss the snow again and may need it to cover, hide, and dismiss this year like another exhausted memory. Whatever it is, I'm tired of politics, race or otherwise. And I'm tired of television, pop culture, and the whole act of commenting. If only we could all have more silence.

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Oct 28, 2007

Why Bobby Jindal is not a "sell-out"

It's been more than a week since Bobby J got elected. Trying to get over it, really I am. But there's a lot to write about, when you take a look at what the headlines have focused on. I wanted to just do a little media/response analysis here, with the umbrella statement that I am most interested in trying to get the word out about Bobby Jindal, because I'm really feeling that people are kinda not feeling the depth of his controversial views and stances.

Anyway, beyond that, there are two very different and yet oddly parallel narratives forming around the Jindal ascendancy (wow - this could be the new series to take over where Bourne left off... the Jindal Fallacy, the Jindal Necromancy, whatever...). I just want to touch on them here.

1) Jindal as "not Indian enough" by first generation desis and Indians in India. I've been seeing a surprising number of stories that actually talk about how there's a muted response in some sections of the global Indian community about Jindal, because he's "not Indian enough." Some of this has directly addressed his conversion to Catholicism (taking on that Hindutva insinuation that you're only Indian if you're Hindu), his name change, the fact that he doesn't visit India enough or has kept his ties to the Indian community private. I may not agree with the man on much, but I see this thread of questioning his "Indianness" very distracting and wrong-minded. His faith, his name, and how he chooses to talk about these things are his business (unless they start to interfere in his governing). But it's troubling - it's the "race sell-out" angle, and while I can understand papers in India covering it this way, the local press has also picked up on it. And it's distracting from his actual ideological stances.

2) Jindal as "sell-out" by second generation desis. I've also heard from a number of second generation desis who actually know that Jindal's record is problematic, that he is a "sell-out." I have a problem with this characterization too. To me, a "sell-out" is someone who's strayed from the path of being community-conscious, in pursuit of money, power, or some other status. But that could be any one of us, at any given time in our lives. While I guess you can make that generalization about Bobby J, it masks the much more sinister and important ideological extremism of Bobby J, and again, sets up the question of who is an "authentic" South Asian American. For example, to call Justice Clarence Thomas a sell-out may not be inaccurate, but it sets up the same linear race-based analysis that you get from the people jubilating for his (or Jindal's) rise. That's not deep enough. And it comes off as judgmental without the power of the deeper analysis.

Much more to come. And to think, the dude hasn't even started yet...

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Oct 25, 2007

The Desi "Left"

Dear DotBS readers - thanks for your patience as it's taken me a while to get back into the swing of things. I can't promise that I'll be posting regularly here on in, but this Bobby J bullshit has me angry on a lot of fronts. I wrote briefly about the desi right/"ethnic pride" contingent last post, but I'm also really pissed off at the so-called desi left. I've read some chatter that seems to think that the way to go for community organizations in reacting to the Bobby J election is to just reject his election outright and make out a laundry list of issues with him. While I think that's appropriate for individuals (but where the fuck were you at when the bastard was running?!), I don't know if it's the best use of organizations that can reach the movable middle. I can't believe that yet again, we're back to this issue, which I touched upon here more than a year ago.

A lot of these people on the so-called left tend to be unaffiliated (or loosely affiliated with the white left or a loose band of disgruntled and disaffected desi radicals) and fairly green in strategic work to build broader movement than their four vegan friends talking Marx while not listening to M.I.A. on their new iPods. There's a conversation unfolding on ASATA (Alliance of South Asians Taking Action) list serv in the Bay Area, where people are conflating all of the responses out there with the idiotic release by APIA VOTE and some of the other crazies I mentioned above. A few individuals, who have likely never actually run an organization, and probably don't even know how to build consensus with people that display any variation in their political beliefs, wouldn't know how to reach out to people who look at the Jindal election as just another example of achievement if it people were reaching out with open arms.

Ever curious why this small group of people is surly, unhappy, and usually spending more time complaining about how folks are not left enough than building bridges and building movement? I don't know about you, but I doubt that Rinku Sen, Vijay Prashad, Bhairavi Desai, and a bunch of the other folks they look up to and idolize are wasting time trying to out-left everyone else in the community. And I'm sure there's more strategic value in having groups that actually have some ability to reach that movable middle put out statements that actually urge them to think a little and do some research so that they come to agree with us. But no - the so-called desi left (or should I say, self-proclaimed) remains a fringe, disorganized clique that isn't connected to movement building in any substantive way.

Yo, brothers and sisters, READ CAREFULLY. Think about strategy - preaching to the converted will not build our movement. If you're so concerned about the community's right-leaning tendencies, especially given the conservative tendencies of people who rapidly accumulate wealth, then think about how we can reach and educate those people - or do you just think it's not worth it? Do you just think that you're better than "those people" because your politics are so bulletproof? That's BULLSHIT.

At the same time, I don't see this kind of reaction to desi left's patron saint, Vijay Prashad's muted statement in the NY Times:

“The fact that he’s of Indian ancestry is a subject of jubilation,” said Vijay Prashad, professor of South Asian history at Trinity College in Hartford, speaking of the way Mr. Jindal has been portrayed in the Indian-American press. “But there’s a very shallow appreciation of who he really is. Once you scratch the surface, it’s really unpleasant.” NY Times, October 22, 2007, A Son of Immigrants Rises in a Southern State, [link for now].
Why is it that people feel inclined to shoot down our own groups as "not progressive enough" when they aren't willing or able to provide any compelling alternative that will actually appeal to more than 3 people? Don't they see that they are just doing the same thing that these groups get hit by from the far right? What difference do they bring - and what legitimacy do they have? I'm so sick of armchair liberals. They're not interested in real change, just trying to justify why they are taking up space.

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Oct 24, 2007

Bobby J, Pt II

Okay - so my initial post on Bobby J was a little snarky. To be honest, it's unnecessary. The man is so far out of the political mainstream, so anti-the common man, so deeply entrenched in the farthest right bank, that all we have to do is look at his policies and statements and say "what?!"

But today's anger is with the response from the community. As usual, there's a lot of congratulations, and "historics" being thrown around. While the uncle set will get me pissed off, it's the people who should know better that are really getting me pissed off. Here's one example: APIA Vote. A non-profit, non-partisan group committed to increasing civic participation for Asian American and Pacific Islander populations (i.e. voting). That's good enough. But for some reason, these groups equate "non-partisan" (at least on its face) as meaning that they should put out a statement congratulating electeds no matter how crazy or anti-community interests they are.

Here's their statement. It's ridiculous.

So how does that make you feel? Of course, I don't get it. And I wish people would email and ask them what they're thinking to congratulate this guy? Oh, and while you're at it, check out the statements from USINPAC (and you know how much I love those desi PACs) and NFIA (National Federation of Indian American Associations - the largest umbrella you never heard of).

Contact these people and tell them what you think:

APIA Vote:
USINPAC:; 202-628-3451

I did - I wrote a letter to NFIA yesterday and emailed it to them, and I'll be sending a letter to USINPAC today. I'll post it up, along with any (unlikely) dialogue that comes from it.  Interestingly, I can't find either's statement on their websites, so I'll paste the NFIA's statement below (remember, they are the folks who sent a note out in their disappointment that Modi was denied a Visa in 2006).

The National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), the largest umbrella organization comprising of more than 200 different groups representing more than 2.5 million Americans of Indian origin takes great pride in the victory of Bobby Jindal in the elections last night for the Governor of Louisiana. Jindal will be the first person of Indian descent to become the Governor of a US State and, at age 36, will be the youngest Governor in the nation. NFIA sent last night it's heartfelt Congratulations to Jindal for this splendid success in the electoral process. Jindal won the contest by more than 54% of the votes cast and thus avoiding any run off election.

The NFIA and Jindal have had close and cordial relations for the past many years The NFIA held a reception at its Board meeting in New Orleans in 2003 under the presidency of Niraj Baxi. The organization has since then supported the candidacy of Jindal in every election. Four years ago, he ran for the office of Governor and lost by 2% votes. He then contested for the US Congress in 2004 and became only the second person of Indian origin to sit in the House of Representatives. In 1956, Dalip Singh Saund, an Indian born person, was elected to the House from California. Both Saund and Jindal have roots in the State of Punjab, India.


Reflecting the views of all officers of the NFIA a spokesman of the organization summed up in this way, "it is agreat moment in the history of America when some one who looks like us becomes the Governor of Louisiana. We should all be dancing in the streets to display our pride."

Rajen Anand, Chair, NFIA Foundation
Radha Krishnan, President NFIA

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Oct 23, 2007

Here's the Story, of a Boy Named Bobby...

I haven't even read the millions of posts and comments on the Jindal victory in Louisiana. I'm just thinking a few quick things:

1) I'm not proud of him or his election. He represents most of what I fight against, and I don't think putting a hard right ideology in a brown skin makes the ideology shine any brighter. This is a perfect example of the failure of solely race-based identity and organizing to take the most important things into account, like politics, values alignment, and sharing anything more than a vague concept of "we come from the same place." So what - technically, I come from the same place as all the crazy KKK nuts all over this country. Does that make me get excited, and see them as my "brethren in the great happy family that is America"? No freakin' way.

2) This is not envy: it's just calling out people who equate "first" with some kind of breakthrough. Who cares if the first brown person to be elected as a state executive has completely different politics, at least he's brown? Fuck no. That's not the way I'm going to just let people who "look like me" get a free pass when I'm critical of everyone else. He's got to answer the same questions, and because he calls the immigrant card when he feels like it, he's going to have to answer some more difficult questions, like why does he seem to have minute policy variation from most every far right politician in the nation: what is he trying to prove? And can Indians, specifically, who are so proud of their scientific acumen, really take a guy who's pushing "intelligent design" as a legitimate field of science for schools, all that seriously? Well, they filled his war chest with $11 million (though I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of that money came from the RNC/Christian Right. It would be really interesting to see where his money came from, actually. who is Bobby J accountable to?).

3) NOLA is in deep shit. This guy is not going to be very community-minded when it comes to Gulf Coast recovery. I'm scared to think of what's going to happen before something slows him down.

4) Being an executive is a lot harder than the other jobs he's had. Not to say the man isn't capable (of suitable corruption), but I don't know if he fully appreciates what he's going to have on his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to everything, including the intense scrutiny he is likely to be under from all sides of the political and racial spectrum. Being an Indian American governor of a state where they know what you are may be different from a place like the Deep South. We'll have to see.

5) Ultra-tools USINPAC decided to put out a press release to support Bobby J. Choice quote:
The U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) has proudly supported the political career of the Governor-elect, and we are excited about what Mr. Jindal looks to achieve in the near future. USINPAC and the 2.5 million strong Indian-Americans nationwide celebrate this historic event along with the people of the state of Louisiana.
6) As usual, vapid and unoriginal "cultural" commentators are trying to take some pride in this election. I'm not going to post a link here. Y'all know what fools I'm talking about. Hell, as usual, I didn't even read that BS.

7) Is it just me, or does Bobby J really look like Alfred E. Newman?

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Oct 20, 2007

I am conscious of the passing of time, and yet it doesn't seem to bother me as much as it once did.  Lot of time's past, lot of things are the same.  Getting mighty frustrated with the desi American arts scene right now.  Maybe because the underground artists are so underground that I don't know about that at all?  It's possible - there's this whole groundswell of Fil-Am emcees who've been storming the studio for a while now, perhaps the same is true for the other brown cats?  Hard to tell though.  Maybe it's just me.  Or maybe our peeps are getting too far from the roots that they need to tap into.

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Sep 28, 2007

Bruce on the Today Show

Bruce Springsteen has a new album coming out next week. He's given one song away for free already, and I'd be surprised if he didn't do other interesting promotions with the album. But what's even more amazing is that he played for a NYC crowd for the Today Show this morning, a typical venue for commercial acts, but not heavyweights like Bruce. We wondered what he was thinking - was he selling out too much in his old age?

He started the set with "The Promised Land" - an old song with oodles more depth than you can imagine a twenty-something mustering nowadays. And then he talked for a little while, making what seemed to be small talk with Matt Lauer and company. He said that the feel he was going for with the album was a throwback in musical style to the great pop singles of the 50s and 60s - he name checked California and Pet Sounds in particular. But then he said that the album was also about subverting the music with lyrics that come at the audience on topics they weren't expecting - more current things about what's happening now.

And then, before he intro'd a song, when he had his own mic, he proceeded to say (I'm paraphrasing here): "This album is about things we love about America - you know, cheeseburgers, french fries, the Yankees beating the Red Sox, the Bill of Rights..." Wait a minute, say what?! Yeah, he said the Bill of Rights. And the crowd didn't cheer as much for that as they did for cheeseburgers, but he didn't seem to skip a beat.

He said then, "in the past six years, we've had illegal wiretaps, suspension of habeas corpus, the abandonment of the great city of New Orleans, and thousands of our young men and women dying in this war." It was unreal. He basically listed out a whole set of reasons why this administration and the status quo have to go. The crowd didn't get it, but he wasn't talking only to his die-hard fans in the audience or watching at home. He was talking to the largest audience he'll ever get to speak to directly. I don't know what the viewership of the Today show is, but if people kept it on and didn't just say "oh this guy" and switch the channel, maybe some of them said "hell yeah!" and will get involved or plug into his message. There was a reason for this move, and I'm incredibly impressed that he used his cache as a rockstar to get a microphone in a way most politicians wouldn't.

Magic drops on Tuesday, and we're seeing him for two nights on the tour. We couldn't be happier. Unless you have more tickets to share.

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Hello Hiro!

Okay - so I'm finally getting around to watching Heroes, Season 1 (yeah, that's where I've been) and halfway through the season, there are a few things I'm feeling:

1) Masi Oka is awesome. I don't know if he's won anything yet for his role, but he's one of the best "heroes" on this format of show that I've ever rooted for. I want to meet the guy, both in character and out. Kudos to him for breathing life into a dynamic set of characteristics.

2) What the hell is up with all the desi weirdness? They have the names wrong, the father isn't even being played by a South Asian actor (what, you can't put an older South Asian man on TV, but sanjay gupta and the growing team of young men is somehow okay?), and the scenes that are supposed to be in Madras are *wacky*. I mean, there are a lot of non-South Asians in whatever "unsafe" neighborhood they're in to meet the dream boy. I can't even get into the things that are all wrong, but it's very distracting from the show itself. Not to mention the voice-overs from "Mohinder Suresh."

If I have to watch another "drama" with a voice-over narrator, I'm going to kick something. I mean, is it really necessary to give us this much exposition at the beginning and end of the hour? Do you really think that the viewing audience is that stupid? Are you really "tying it all together" for us? Has America become so stupid and ADD that we need someone to walk us through a plot that's less straight forward than the most basic reality TV show?

I guess for this, I have to give props to LOST. They may be infuriating, but the shows are damn good, and I'm still confused as hell after 2 seasons, and I wouldn't actually mind watching the series again a few times. Heroes is fun, but it's more of a distraction right now. And I still have the feeling that this story has been told before, or at least, we've gone through the genesis storyline through Unbreakable

M. Night got slammed for that film - I wonder what he thinks of this whole Heroes phenomenon. It was really his idea.  What's next, Many Ladies in the Gym Pool?

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Sep 19, 2007

Immigration Voice (Pt. 0.5)

I have a lot to say about this issue, but no time to write about it until at least a couple of weeks from now.  For now, I just wanted to ask the leadership at "Immigration Voice" (i.e. We Only Care About Ourselves) - for all your bluster about "we're skilled immigrants and we're more important than those unskilled others"... did you ever stop to think where all the flowers for the garlands you've sent to the Department of Homeland Security's various immigration offices, and all the roses you carried with you on your "rally" yesterday, actually came from? 

Did you stop to think for a second that your sending those flowers sends messages of sheer privilege, cluelessness, and irony all in one swift blow?  The rhetoric about "illegals" is overblown and not helping you to find allies anywhere - but it's funny how clueless you really are about the other messages you're sending. To equate yourself with so-called Gandhian protest is also ridiculous - your vitriol and animosity towards undocumented migrants who don't have your education is clearly a kind of violence.  You may want to check your anger at the door before you get more lofty ideas about your "peaceful protest." You may want to fire your media consultant, too.

Not to mention that the flowers you'd sent in that little misguided action of yours didn't even make it to the offices  you were somehow hoping they'd affect, but rather went to soldiers who've returned from the neverending wars in the Middle East?  Way to send a message of support to the troops.  Maybe you should have gone the extra step, joined some of the anti-war stuff happening in Washington this week, and actually did something that mattered with your advocacy for a change.

Although I have to say - the "it's all about me and let the rest go to the dogs" attitude is perhaps the most American trait you could espouse.  So good job getting that message out there clearly.

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Sep 5, 2007

Iron M.I.A.den

Okay, so things have been a bit silent here for a spell, enit? I haven't had a chance to breath, and don't anticipate one until after this month has nearly been spent. That said, life remains good, I'm flying a bit, and enjoying the new workload. Working to find that rhythm.

Speaking of, I got the new M.I.A. in the mail today, haven't listened to it, but was immediately dumbstruck by the girl's choice of font on the back of the CD case. I mean, this summer, I was surprised to see a little icon that she or someone else came up with that basically took up the whole metallica logo and played with it a bit. I'll post it up here if I can later.

It was a bit of a trip, but I was shocked to see her turn it around and use the Maiden font in her track listing on Kala. I don't know what she's pulling here, but someone has a metal hat on, and it's driving me crazy! It's like little hints that she's dropping around for folks to pick up - I guess it would be more likely in the U.K. where the lines between the genres (or at least what's acceptable as top 40 music) are not so clearly defined by the record companies as they are in the good ol' US. But if anyone's heard that she's a metal head, that would be really interesting. Actually, come to think of it, I think I read something in which she was talking about Sabbath (may have been a back-o-Rolling Stone, "what are you listening to" kind of section).

So I shouldn't be so surprised. but it's cool when the hybridity of music tastes actually includes a bit of my own crazy multi-hued, mega-decibel faves.

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Aug 19, 2007

She Tends a Child Who Looks Like Her Employer

Picking up on a theme from last week...

They say that society is now equitable and that people of color have access to everything because overt racism is dead. But we live in a nation where generations of white kids see women of color as their caretakers, their companions, and ultimately, direct reports to their parents. Perhaps the key difference from slavery is that instead of just black slaves who primarily spoke english, the caretakers come from all over the world and speak many native languages.

You'd hope that this could open the minds of the children when they grow up, or even in their increasingly diverse school environments, to be more likely to embrace the polycultural spaces of urban america, but who knows. Lessons in power seem to come very early for kids - it seems like it takes a lot of work to deprogram them from assigning roles and value to their parents. I can't imagine that it's different for their caretakers, and I doubt many parents are saying "don't think of her status as below yours."

Modern day, yuppie aristocracy. Without many of the paternalistic tendencies of past generations, where hand-in-hand with slaves/servants not having the right to self-determination or freedom, some of their "masters" felt some responsibility for their well-being, in a weird, twisted way. I don't know if that's true now - labor has become even more disposable with the willing and desperate thousands needing to take jobs that take them away from their own kids, to tend to the privileged. Inequality can be measured in the benefits "professional" white women get from using the labor of women of color to facilitate their career advancement.

Clearly it's not just women, but if there is a sisterhood argument to be made over race, it still has to overcome the formidable barrier of class.

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Kill Your Television

I visited with the one friend who has always been like an older brother to me tonight. I think I've outgrown much of his advice, though I think he still likes to give it, and I don't protest too much. And we've traveled quite a few miles together.

But it's always a bit weird to meet up with friends whose lives aren't really moving that much from where they were a while ago. This friend is different from others that I have who really seem stuck - his life has changed a great deal - but the conversations still seem sort of the same.

I don't know - it's just weird for me to communicate with folks who don't really seem as interested in what's happening in my life, though he does ask about some elements of it. Is it because they're afraid to open up weird moments in the conversation (like something coming up about politics or that sort of things like it did with the uncles and aunties)? Whatever it is, it makes me have to drop in stuff about my own life all guerilla and shit, which is just not the democracy-in-dialogue I'm hoping for.

So the other thing I'm realizing is how much some people in my generation watch TV. We don't have cable - not because we're fundamentally opposed to it or anything, but because shelling out the dough isn't fun right now, and we've gone without for many years at this point so we're not going through withdrawal. But when so much of a conversation with a friend you haven't seen for a while is derived from quotes, plot summaries, and assorted punchlines from tv shows, it makes you wonder. Television has truly replaced religion as the opiate, and I don't know how to react when this is what has replaced real conversation. I missed the show, because I wanted to, so stop giving me the play-by-play! But I did interject with a smashing Boondocks reference.

Funny thing is, both this friend and another dear friend who seems somewhat desensitized to the world, gave me DVD sets of television programs as a gift recently. I'm actually touched to received gifts and at least the first one was so on the money that it's scary, but I'm surprised that they're thinking DVDs instead of music. Then again, with all the time I spend in front of my computer, maybe I have that glazed over look that is mistaken to be from the TV.

ironic thing is, I gave him a mix today with Forbidden's Hyponotized By the Rhythm. I wonder if the irony will strike him the same way. Excerpts below:

Channels changing, nothing changing
Re-deranging, warping reality
Turn it off, it will turn you on
It's the drug of our time
Living Dying
So on goes the picture denying

We watch hypnotized
Addicted to lies
What we see is electric disguise
I am hypnotized
Addicted to lies
What we see is electric disguise
We're all hypnotized

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Aug 18, 2007

Ego and Those Difficult Conversations.

There's something about a certain kind of gathering of uncles and aunties in which I can't keep my mouth shut anymore. Regardless of the deep and lasting friendships they've had with my parents, regardless of how they have been the support when I've been far or further away, I just can't help myself from almost visceral reactions when they say things I find offensive - which in these circles have ended up being anti-Muslim nowadays, vs. anti-black in the past. I think with their kids growing up and going through public high schools in their small urban areas (vs. the artificial (and white) suburbia of comfortable houses that many of my cousins occupy in New Jersey), the parents have at least had to curb the biases they learned through their white colleagues and American mainstream culture because many of their kids reject some/all of them.1 But they haven't been able to do that with the biases they brought with them from (and are perpetuated by contact still in) India.

So this atmosphere prompts me to launch into a diatribe of my own, vaguely throwing in a number of related but not logically necessary issues I feel like bringing up, with an audience of fairly patient older folks (for a time). Sparing y'all the details, I think it falls somewhere between a rant and a rail, with bits and pieces of what could become a cohesive manifesto, but if I have to be objective, my argument technique sometimes resembles that of a desperate person in a sinking ship trying everything he can to reduce the water in the ship, throw items overboard that he believes may make the difference, and wholly, haphazardly, being unable to take coherent, clear, unemotional steps (i.e. make points). Somehow, I was able to bring in factoids (and emotional stretches of the truth) about everything from Mountbatten's hasty departure and creation of Partition, to philanthropy in well-off Indian communities that doesn't address issues in our community at all, the Ghadar Party, the American genocide of native peoples, the many secret wars in central/south america, the massacre of sikhs in India, the use of "American" to describe only white people, the way that we're expendable to white people until they decide to hate us, questioning loyalties to nation-states, the tired use of the "forced conversions when Muslims came to India hundreds of years ago" as justification for widespread animosity/hatred towards all Muslims now (this is going to be another post on a possible short logic argument I just worked out).... the list goes on and on. What the hell was I thinking.

The combination of ego and some knowledge is a really dangerous thing, and I can see how easy it is to walk into the trap of being a self-righteous, belligerent liberal (or conservative) who just figuratively bludgeons people into submission (or, really just not caring or wanting to engage again). I think that rather than truly value the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to share knowledge or what you've seen with someone (in a more collaborative, integrative way), in these situations, it just becomes a contest to see how many zingers or "points" I can make. But that's useless in the big picture, and if I can't master the desire to shock over substance and dialogue, my ambition to be a constructive contributor and collaborator rather than just another close-minded egoist, is doomed. I sometimes get into these situations with my own friends, but it's usually with a very particular group, and for whatever reason, something triggered the deluge tonight. Discipline, beyond just thinking about these things, is a critically important tool.

Really, the whole point of having this kind of dialogue is so that you actually can get somewhere. When you bring in everything else, it just confuses things too much to get something useful out of the dialogue. If every conversation we have is just to further convince ourselves that we're right and the world is filled with dumbasses who don't get it or care, starting with the person we're talking to, well, that's pointless. But the conversation has to more of an exchange. It's just so hard to do without losing your cool.

[1] As a tangent, these kids are different from the kids growing up in enclave-like suburbia (like Long Island, where 2nd Gen Gujarati Americans grow up with only Indian friends, in their own little slice of 'burbladesh that takes the worst of both their parents' communalism and mainstream Long Island's neuroses about so many things). The different slices of 2nd Gen Desi America are far too complicated for me to deal with right now, but I know that the generations are incredibly different, even if they are only 5 - 7 years apart.

Regardless, I think a lot has to be said about how close these ties become between Indian immigrant adults who are bound by their shared experiences here. For my mom and some of her friends, you'd think they knew each other from childhood. For adults to create such strong friendships long after they'd gone through the typical places where we make our friends (neighborhood friends while growing up, school friends, etc) is remarkable. While I've met some people over the past years who have become quite close - you just naturally don't get that attached to new people, that quickly. And especially after marriage and kids - the ability of these families to come together and to forge such close friendships is really remarkable. I mean, I feel closer to these uncles and aunties than some of my own relatives. I guess that may be why I just feel free to shoot off my opinions?

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Aug 15, 2007

The Subversive Game Show: Drew Carey's Power of 10

Okay - so I was just flipping the channels to pass some time while I ate dinner tonight, and I saw this game show that Drew Carey is now hosting called Power of 10. I thought it was the same stupid show that you always see - harmless questions that an idiot could answer. But then I watched, and not only was it more interesting questions about where the American public surveyed stood on questions like "Should a girl be able to try out for the high school football team" (which Carey introduced with a brief factoid about Title XI). Anyway, so the woman was from Alabama, and one of the questions was "How Many Americans think the United States is the Best Country in the World." In what really seemed to me to be light jabbing about the South, but then turned into his bold assertion about how things with the war and everything else made people unhappy about the country was pure genius.

He made a number of comments when one of the participants said he was from New Orleans, Carey launched into a few wise snaps about FEMA, the government owing people, and at one point, saying he hoped the contestant would walk away a winner because he wanted anyone from New Orleans to walk away with dough. "Heck even if you can get what the government owes you, that would be a good thing." Few of the audience laughed, but the contestant got it and so did I.

The first question to the contestant was about immigrants - Carey started with "you're from New Orleans, and you know that there are a lot of immigrants there, rebuilding. This question is about what percentage of Americans polled think that an immigrant has to speak fluent English before they can become a citizen." In his little comments to the contestant, Carey said there were a lot of people in the US who were sick of immigrants "even though they are helping to rebuild New Orleans." It was pretty clear where Carey sat on this issue, and he even kind of made the contestant uncomfortable because he was just speaking the truth. I loved it. His awkwardness reminded me of myself in many social settings when I'm not surrounded by people open for a little healthy debate.

As long as the ratings remain high, I think he's going to have this innovative way of educating the American public about things like civil rights and making political commentary in a way that goes right past the hallowed (and cleanly separated) halls of the bloggiemart. With all the talk about how much influence blogs will have on elections and all things political, people only tune into blogs that echo their own beliefs or interests. Network TV is still a far more powerful tool. And by focusing on things a little less erudite than the Jeopardy topics, Carey's show may be making a deft play at something that only some animated shows have been able to get away with: bold political commentary in the middle of "entertainment" drivel. I'm impressed.

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Aug 10, 2007

APIA Blog Network

I was asleep for a while, but I've awoken again.  Sorry for the snoozing.  And also really sorry that I didn't put up way earlier that the good peeps at the APIA Blog Network have listed and are rolling my posts into their fine aggregation of APIA bloggers around the net.  I guess this should be a good way for me to remember why I started this thing to begin with, and to keep my love and struggles with community first and at the forefront.

So just a shout to those guys to keep it up.  And as always, thanks to y'all for reading.

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Brighter than a Thousand Suns

Listening to Maiden's "Brighter than a Thousand Suns," a gripping song about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Yesterday was the 62nd anniversary of a wholly gratuitous, unnecessary, and damning act of genocide by the American government against the people of Nagasaki and Japan. While Hiroshima is the "bomb" that more people speak of, and its dropping has been damned since the news of its horror spread, it is the dropping of the second bomb, three days later, that provides the most telling evidence that this was no mere military tactic that they would have initiated against any enemy.

There was enough time for the military to report back what the devastation and impact on more than 100,000 civilians who were killed instantaneously on August 6th in Hiroshima, to give Truman and the powers in the military to think about what the impact of a second bomb would be on the people of Japan and on the world itself. Also, it was not enough time for the people of Japan to raise their voices above the din of Japan's dying war machine to the world community, to notify and show what had happened in Hiroshima. At a time before instant communication, no one really knew what was happening out there, the horror of it all, beyond the madmen pulling the strings for the American and Japanese military.

And there is a lot of literature that claims that Japan was weakened and close to surrender at the time of the dropping of the bombs. I'm not going to get into the argument, but clearly, the point can and should be made that if the U.S. was trying to "make a point" to the Russians at the time, was it really necessary to drop a second bomb? Wasn't it overkill? Were the estimated 40,000 - 70,000 civilians killed in Nagasaki collateral damage that the U.S. was willing to take on, for the sake of putting an exclamation point at the end of Hiroshima?

And of course, I can't even fathom the decision to begin with. The way that the American government has been able to perpetrate this kind of wholesale genocide unchecked by the world community... to the point where people don't think about the human cost of these bombs, in both lives and innocence. To the point where the American people, a scant 30 years later, were able to openly, viciously, "Japan bash" because the nation's economy was on the rise and car imports were threatening the Detroit metal machines. Don't you think the bombs were enough bashing for more than a generation?

Combine utter ignorance and no sense of history, and you get the traditional American bravado about how the world should always love us. No clue about what horror people had at the atrocities, once they were able to digest what had happened. It took three days to effectively kill more than 200,000 people. When you put that scale to just a year, the U.S. numbers could outpace anything that Hitler's SS could have done in its prime.

Anyway, to read more about how the decision was made to drop the bombs from original documents, check out this link.

And think peace.

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Aug 9, 2007

What's in a Label?

I've been stuck in my own headspace for a while - haven't craned my neck outside of my cave long enough to take a look and see what else is going on, or has been going on.  I think while I want to get away from just focusing on the humdrum of ordinary life, I also don't want to go too negative on groups in the community (unless they're being stupid). After all, there's plenty of work to do, people are generally well-meaning, and the thing about blogging is, it's easy to write something scathing without doing adequate "real reporting." In other words, really interviewing people, getting more sides to the story than my own casual view (askance?) in their general direction, yadda yadda.

That doesn't mean I don't have opinions, or that they aren't valid, but it's also true that it just takes a few forwards and suddenly one person's opinion (with the added benefit of relative anonymity) becomes an unnecessary fire that a group has to put out. What's the point in all of this? Is it really the role of opinion vigilantes to take up the bandwidth with their marginal viewpoints and take away from people who are actually doing the work? Ultimately: not important enough. I recognize that I'd much rather be doing work than criticizing others. So... with all of that (a little bit of a reflection on where I may be going with my own orientation to community - school has taken me out of the mix long enough to remind me how much I want to be back in it - and that I don't want to cut down, I want to build up, as I think I've been repeating ad naseum lately).

Anyway - I've been thinking about what it means to be "progressive" in the Asian American community. Do I really want to use the word "progressive" to define my politics? What does that mean? Is it beyond "liberal," which in itself is getting pushed to the margins of where American political life (or at least what's on display) wants to be?

Want to mark a Democrat? Call them a liberal and laugh as they try madly to dash off the label like it was a mad hornet. But "liberal" doesn't seem appropriate for me. What's the next step from there? Is it "progressive"? Is there something beyond these terms that isn't quite at "radical" - not because I don't want to be there, but because I think it may be presumptive to put it out there that I consider myself closer to radical than "liberal"? Or is "radical" where I am, and "revolutionary" is where I'm headed? Who knows. But in this land of pre-pre-election chatter, I wonder what the political landscape of left-o-center Asian America looks like, at least on the net.

Let's take a look...

South Asians for (insert candidate here). Still working/worked by the system. Middle of the aisle all the way. Not that it's particularly wrong. It's just not my thing. I mean, let's not all be tools now. But I covered this already.

APAs for Progress. This group seems like it's got some good ideas - I really like the 25th anniversary of Vincent Chin idea. But they're also playing the whole "participation = voting/election power" thing. I don't really agree with that as the angle - focusing on legal constructs of citizenship cuts out more than 60% of our community which is non-citizen. Following that up with "we should naturalize them all!" is also not helpful, given that a lot of people have their own reasons for not naturalizing, and really, should our rights flow from legal status with the nation-state, or status as individuals or members of groups within the nation? Citizenship can be taken from you just as easily as it's given, but your personhood is yours. So, I have issues with this focus. And isn't this just some other side of the 80-20 coin? I mean, you say progressive, I say liberal, the other guy says "whoever will listen to us" - what's the difference?

I'm not going to go into the other groups right now, because I'm shooting for shorter pieces that people can actually read. But this question of what constitutes "radical", "progressive", "liberal", and "revolutionary" was around for me for a while. I'm come to just toss the labels, as many people claim to do, because they aren't that helpful, especially when so many people have different thoughts about what they mean anyway. But I get sick to tears of people buying into electoral politics as the saving grace for our communities and the work that should be prioritized. It seems like such a top-down, privileged way of looking at what's important and what people care about.

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Aug 7, 2007

Racial Incongruity, Women and Children

Okay, so I've noticed the following assumptions I have about women, children, and "racial incongruity":

1) Woman of color with white child. Domestic worker/nanny situation. Major class difference between the woman and her charge.

2) White woman and child of color. Adoption situation. Doesn't matter what the white woman looks like, or where we are, but I've become programmed to think that she's the kid's adoptive mother.

3) Latina woman with Asian children. This is a newer phenomenon, but I honestly think I assume that the kids are adopted by a white third party, and then they've "contracted out" for the care of the kid.

Here's where some of these things come from. First, it's damn hard to adopt a white baby, so I just don't assume that's what's happening when I see the first situation. It's also, clearly, the way that the work of women of color has been commodicized to this extreme level that we just assume that the woman must be taking care of the kids.

For the second and third situations, it seems like I just assume that people of color abuse hire other people of color for this specific role. Co-ethnics, usually, from back home. We have a way of being the most cruel to people who theorists think we can relate to the most easily. Yeah right. The key reason why organizing on the basis of race/ethnicity alone seems much more difficult than based on system/oppression that the people are facing.

But it's interesting, because even with the Latina taking care of Asian kids, I just assume that the desi couple with money will hire a desi nanny, because they can get the "bonus" of language training, cultural competency, and hell, let's just make her cook for us too. Perhaps adding to the leisure of their own parents (not that I advocate for grandparents to have to take on the role of caretaker because that definitely can be a form of elder abuse). It's kind of crazy, the way that people think it's totally cool to add so much to the load for

But what I started with on this post is just the assumptions that filter the different things I see, especially in affluent neighborhoods. Part of me gets annoyed at my jumps to conclusions, and another part is just like, yo, that's fucked up.

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Aug 4, 2007

Indo-American Leadership...

Had an interesting dialogue about the role of lawyers, even progressive/radical ones, in creating true social change over at Pass the Roti on the Left Hand Side.  It's nice to be in a space where we can have a civil dialogue about different points of view, instead of backing away when the other people scream "how dare you counter us!", banning you from the fray altogether...


But for the title of this post... have you taken a look at this thing, the "Indian American Leadership Initiative"?  Seems like a perfectly predictable group, hardly masking its connection and connection to the Democratic Party.  Their "democratic dialogue" looks like a hoot of a good time.  A bunch of men, self-promoting like crazy, and blending in with all the other PACs.  

And then, there's the "DNC Indo-American Leadership Council."  And of course, from the past, though they are still keeping the site fairly updated, the Indian American Center for Political Awareness. which funny enough, used to be the India Abroad Center, and now is run by News-Times India.   Oh, and there's USINPAC and I'm sure a few others that I've forgotten.

I can't help but feel incredibly confused by all these groups.  What the hell do any of them do, anyway?  I thought I was generally annoyed by too many local/social service groups, but this is much worse.  Sorta the neverending funnel of dollars that go into Dem coffers.  Will we/they ever learn?

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Jul 29, 2007

Been sort of silent on the brown side for a while.  I don't know why I thought summer would provide a little calmer and easier time to write, but it ain't the case.  Still, no complaints as I've spent less time in front of the computer and more time living a little.  Back to the damn grind soon enough.  I think I've been a little too focused on trying to write long, thoughtful pieces though (review last few months and hear the wind blow, my friends).  So I may end that wish, knowing that I don't have enough time to do it.  

There's a lot of stuff happening: in my life, mostly good.  In this country, mostly bad.  But there are some rays of hope in the otherwise gloomy landscape.  I just can't believe we still have about 15 months to go until this stupid election.  Somewhere along the line, we'll lose Gravel, my fave Dem to watch during the many "debates" we've already suffered through.  Then what?  I can relish Dodd getting red in the face as he tries to outdo people who are better funded (Hilabama) or just plain cooler (DK from OH)?  Ugh.  I think I'll pay more attention to baseball instead.  At least there, we all know that things are getting ridiculous (although I completely didn't know that Bonds was at 754 HR already and the Mets were on top of their division).

Uh.  And Gonzales bullied Ashcroft?  Damn.  I would have been scared of Ashcroft, even in that bed.  Afraid he'd get up and start singing or something.  Can't promise more to come, but let's see.

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Jul 27, 2007

Postal blues.

I've been noticing some crazy changes at the local post offices. Not only have the rates changed quite dramatically (always look *beyond* that 2cent hike), but they've totally stripped other services. I usually have the stamps I need, or at least know what I have to do to get my mail to the right rate, but I can't do it without a scale. So I have to stand in an ever-emulating-molasses line just to make sure I have enough postage on something when I'm carrying the additional ounce stamp on me. When I said "you know, you should really have a scale out like other post offices" I was told that there were "severe cut-backs" and that was a fringe item. Okaaaaay. So you'd rather have more people taking up "real postal workers" time with something so inane as "I want to make sure this is the right postage" than just putting out a damn scale?

One other peeve with all of this - the international rate for a letter par avion (there's no more post by ship, by the way, so you're stuck with this). Anyway, so it's $.90 for the first ounce, and $1.80 for the next ounce. Can you imagine? So I could spend $2.70 for a two ounce letter, or I could split it into two one-ounce pieces and send it for $1.80 total instead? What the hell are they thinking??

The postal service must go. Bring back the damn pony express. That shit was faster when they were competing anyway. At this point, sending a letter is getting to be a luxury. How odd is that?

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Jul 22, 2007

blogging behind a closed door.

A while ago, I started thinking about so-called net-anonymity.

On one hand, it's a good thing, giving you the option and ability to more "openly" explore facets of your writing or life, without the angst of who's reading and how can this be misconstrued. Ultimately, with a million blogs out there to read, you have to be secure that because your friends don't know it's you, someone out there will actually care to tune in. How the heck will they even find you? While I've taken the "journalling" angle a little too often lately, this site has felt like a good way to work out some of my demons, to get to a point where I can work on more original writing in a different space, which I've begun doing piece by piece (ha. pun.).

And I guess that's one of the down sides (to be brown on?) - the egoist in me still believes in ownership over words and ideas, and I'm still unwilling to release it without attribution.

More downsides... wholesale fabrication, lack of accountability, and the seedy temptation to use the written word for evil rather than your own egotistic ends are all pieces of that puzzle. Part of why I'm writing about community less and less here is because: a) what I want to contribute doesn't feel like blog material generally, b) I don't want to do it under a nome de plume, anyway. It's not the same to engage behind this wall, and c) it's really, really easy to start taking pot-shots at people and groups from behind this shade. That's a problem, especially if you really believe in openness of dialogue and building shit rather than tearing it down.

I still have a lot of thinking to do on this - but it may be that I still ask some of these questions about the national and local groups that make questionable moves, as I learn about them. If we can open up a critical dialogue in some way, so be it.

But it's just so hard to fight that temptation to point out the idiocy. I'll work on it.

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Jul 10, 2007

Virginia is Not for Haters!

Today, I got forwarded this info on a shirt that some folks in the DC area have out together in response to the craziness coming out of Virginia. Order one or more today - all proceeds are going to be donated to organizations and coalitions working for change and immigrant rights in the area.

This came as a reaction to the latest in a string of rabidly anti-immigrant proposals is a county-wide measure that the Prince Willams' County Board of Supervisors is considering, which would mandate local police enforcement of immigration laws. If you haven't been up on this issue, local police should enforce local laws. When they conflate their core mission with general law enforcement for federal issues, especially this one, what results can be broken down in a few major problem areas:

1) Immigrant Communities Will Distrust the Police even more. Once immigrant communities - whether documented or not - start seeing that the police are turning in their neighbors, they aren't going to tell the police about other crimes, or useful information needed to keep the peace. This is bad, especially when community policing seems to be at such a sharp decline and the widening gap leads to abuse and

2) Profiling and Selective Enforcement. You're trying to tell me that local police, who are totally untrained on this stuff, will be really good at identifying undocumented folks from within a crowd of many documented immigrants? Please. This proposal always stinks of rampant selective enforcement based on national origin, race, religion, and ethnicity. I mean, will all the Eastern Europeans who are undocumented get the same twice over that a Mexican or Chinese person who's a legal permanent resident will get?

Anyway, so get your shirt, make your statement, then call anyone you know in Virginia and tell them to call and give the anti-immigrant crowd hell.

Sidenote: Isn't it ironic that many Southerners who are involved in anti-immigrant groups are part of something called the Minutemen - alluding to a wholly Yankee endeavor? Whatever, though. The North was full of racism before and after the Civil War, so it's all good.

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Jul 4, 2007

Consumer Notes: Hindi Bindi Club?!

Had a chance, for the first time in a long time, to get some quick chores done at the local shopping center.  While I hate to admit it, there's a Target in that center, and I ended up stopping by. Two quick observations:

1) Has anyone else noticed how fancy, "hip," and competitive gum companies have gotten?  The sugarfree wars are on, and I just saw a new Wrigley "label" called Flare, which I picked up.  The package is a slick black, with red/flame highlights, and it's more intricate than most of the other gum packs I've seen (like Orbit, Stride, etc).  You go through the whole thing, and once you finally open it up, ends up that it's the old traditional sticks of gum, a la Juicy Fruit.  Damn.  And it's all sugarfree too.  It's just too obvious that they're soft-marketing this to smokers, to replicate the cool of a pack of cigarettes.  I was just confused.

2) More shocking, passing by the books, I came across a title that I had to double-take before seeing that I'd read it correctly the first time: The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan. The description harkens back to the "tradition of the Joy Luck Club." The website goes on to say:

For decades, they've gathered together, dressed in saris and sweater sets, to share recipes, arguments, and laughter. They are the Hindi-Bindi Club, a nickname given by their American daughters to the mothers who left India to start life anew. Daughters, now grown, and facing struggles of their own. 
Yeah, it's that bad.  

You'd think she'd have topped off this heinous sundae with a food-metaphor-cherry, but I guess the twin ugliness of a reference to a tired book from the Asian American canon and a trite sing-songy pairing in the title does the trick.  Of course, apparently, this thing is a "novel with recipes." Perfect - not only does it offer the uninitiated and mildly "curious-about-those-weird-immigrants" the ability to peer into this book (focused on the middle class experience, of course) and walk away thinking "I understand them now," but it also gives them recipes to explore the people and their culture through the food! It's Like Water for Chocolate without the troublesome and complicated magical realism (i.e. literary ambition). Pradhan probably doesn't have that particular issue in the packaging (in all senses of the word) of her story.

Haven't read it, but I expect the worst.  I can't believe Bantam is publishing this kind of crap.  No wonder the experimental writers, and most poets, are so bitter.  Hell, this thing was on the shelf, in a prominent place, in Target.  That's massive distribution.  

And though I haven't read it yet, it's likely crap.  Shoot me now.

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Jul 3, 2007

The Difference between NetSAP and NASABA

Before I took the law school path, I used to think that of all the second generation organizations out there in desi land, NetSAP was the worst of the bunch. With events that were thinly veiled meat markets, 3-minute conversations that died when you said the word "non-profit," and the infiltration of more suits at Basement Bhangra than a sale at Nordstroms, I guess I had just cause. And I definitely dreaded going to anything where "NetSAP people" would be.

In that vein, the current -- and seemingly perennial -- flurry of vocal disgust/opposition to NASABA in the days before their annual conference has quickly and permanently displaced NetSAP from its reviled position as the most privileged and clueless organization in the community.

However, with all due (lack of) respect, while some may want to just lump together organizations as two sides of the same socially unconscious coin (I'll call it NetSABA to save space), I have a special place I've reserved for the lawyer group. Still, I thought it would be instructive to highlight a few small points where they are clearly different. So humbly, I present to you:

Five Ways to Tell the Difference Between NetSAP and NASABA

5. Over time, NetSAP events have actually become less of a meat market.

4. NetSAP actually does community service as a group.

3. NetSAP's chapters don't think the national board has gone off the deep end.

2. NetSAP leadership seems to understand what it means to be a professional organization, and leaves the policy work to people who aren't blinded by personal agendas or biases.

1. NASABA has an elephant in its logo. (Realize that was for NASALSA, i.e. NASABA's Farm Team)

With NetSAP, it was a stereotype of the membership and the events/activities that drove some of the antagonism. There weren't really specific personalities or even particular issues with the leadership. But with NASABA - it's all about specific personalities and their ability to turn personal worldviews and career ambition (such as entry-level prosecutors and big firm people) into the full-on persona of the organization.

While their events leave little more than a bad taste in your mouth if you have any public interest leaning (not because there aren't people with strong public interest or pro bono commitments in the membership, but because the leadership seems clueless about any of it). Also, the leadership has taken a highly questionable aggressive pro-prosecutor/DEA stance on something like Operation Meth Merchant - a program that so clearly stinks of selective enforcement and racial profiling that even my Mom gets that it's wrong.

The leadership should poll the members and other South Asian attorneys to see how on point their cockeyed stance has been, and how it resonates with their own membership. Hell, they should add a question about whether they really matter at all. Meanwhile, until they do something about their madness, here's the petition telling them they don't represent them. Sign it, and pass it on.

And then keep focusing on work that actually matters.

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Jul 1, 2007

Red Doors: Thumbs Down.

Have been in a whirlwind of other activity lately, so haven't been able to be present here, but hell, it's summer and I'm not making excuses, just living life. Enjoyed Gravel in the Dem "Debate" at Howard. I really think he was awesome, because he made Kucinich look like a regular ol' liberal. So his little quixotic campaign is offering the most interesting element to the long and overwrought primary marathon. Gosh, I can't wait for this to be over. I can't imagine that I'll be out of school and working (hopefully) by the time election day finally rolls around. Unreal that we're still 16 months away.

Anyway, I saw Red Doors by Georgia Lee recently - one of those films on the "must see someday" list that I finally got around to. I want to be supportive, but I have to give this one 2 of 5 stars. And one of those is because as an APA film it gets an automatic star. It just didn't do it for me at all. I found the storytelling to be too ambitious with not enough going on, if that makes any sense. I didn't believe in the family or in any of the individual characters, and it wasn't a small enough movie or plot for me to just sit in for the ride. So that was a problem, because I got to the point when I just didn't care about what was happening anymore. I know that it's not fair to compare a new artist with one who is established, but thinking about something from Wayne Wang like Dim Sum or Chan is Missing or Ang Lee's Wedding Banquet or Pushing Hands, and you really see masters at work. It's a totally different thing from what I was witnessing with this film. I felt like it was flat. And I really like Asian American films (do I have to sit here and talk about the merits of Shopping for Fangs, Disoriented, or even... well I won't go as far as American Desi because of Alaudin's role in it, but still... I'm pretty soft on these films). Even though I think that Mike Kang had promoted the film as one to see because it's a filmmaker that he knows, he's being too kind on this one. Watch Better Luck Tomorrow again, and even though you'll cringe at some of it, hell, the story still drew you in. Okay, I'm panning this film, but it was formulaic, and for a 2005 film, we should be beyond the formula. Eat a Bowl of Tea wasn't even formulaic, and we had stuff like Joy Luck already. Give us a sliver of life, but make it vibrant.

Georgia Lee's first short was included in the DVD package ("Educated"), and it was actually more interesting than the feature. It had some interesting concepts, angles, techniques (like I'm an expert). But the feature didn't do it for me, and I wish her well. The scenes with Julie, the middle sister, made me really want to see Saving Face, Alice Wu's clever, sweet, well-acted film that I just thought the world of. Better luck... next time.

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Jun 13, 2007

Thrash Retrospective.

I've been filling out my collection with some of the albums that I remember the most from my thrash days which I'd either sold or never upgraded from my tapes. While doing this, I've been thinking about thrash as a genre of metal, especially in relation to other genres. It hasn't fred quite as well, with most bands unable to present resilient shelf-lives, that are comparable to the more "classic" metal like Maiden or Priest. Also, the genre as a whole stagnated quickly, unlike more extreme metal genres like death and black, which seem to continue permuting to this day.

What was it about thrash? I won't go into a long exposition about the subject, leaving that direction in the capable hands of folks like Invisible Oranges (an outstanding music blog, by the way. Dude is well-informed, a good writer, and funny to boot). While there are plenty of classics in the genre, it didn't seem to extend a lot further than the die-hards, and the formula either got too tired too quickly, or people moved on.

Within thrash, everyone talks about the "big four" - Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. I started my journey with Metallica, as a lot of the not-quite-underground folks did. I really liked their first four albums, to varying degrees, and it fit the mood I was in when I found them. But looking back, there are only a few songs after Kill 'em All that remain classic to me. The majority of the non-Mustaine/Burton stuff just feels too long-winded, winding, and ultimately, boring. With only one guitarist who could pull off leads (which all ended up sounding the same), an obsession with Sabbath riffs that only becomes more apparent when you go to the source material, and the inability to turn truly clever or deep lyrics, Metallica has always been more of an emotional thing for people. The songs I love, I'll always love, but that list gets shorter over time. Don't believe me?

Try listening to one of the albums again if you're a fan. One of the "real" albums. It's okay. But did the songs *really* have to be that long? I used to love long tracks. I don't know what's happened to me, but maybe it's the obligatory 20-30 minute long track that most "progressive" metal bands put out nowadays that feel like they're trying so hard to wow me that the soul of the song got up and walked right out the door. Call it Dream Theater-itis. Only a few bands can really pull it off: with Fates Warning remaining at the top of the list because of the textures they bring to their songs, and Ray Alder's rich, full vocal delivery. I guess that means I should give Redemption another chance, even with the long long tracks. Oh, and Opeth. Opeth is amazing. Thanks burnedouteyes for the intro on that tip years ago.

Anyway, so on to Anthrax. The New Yorkers (what what!) in the crew, I'm surprised that they are considered one of the "big 4." I like that they didn't take themselves so seriously, most of the time. I like that they were such big Stephen King fans (to a fault, almost). I just found out that they covered 2 Police songs (and every cover they've done has been awesome). But I haven't really felt them enough to buy albums. I really like John Bush's vocals, where Belladonna got on my nerves, but I got tired of Anthrax somehow. Dan Spitz didn't do it for me either, with his pretty spastic leads.

Megadeth. Gotta either love or hate Dave and whoever he's roped in with him. I wasn't a big fan, following the Metallihype, but then someone kept feeding me the old stuff, and I realized why people liked Dave and his shit. First, he wrote some mean and aggressive music. Second, to a kingdom of misfits and outcasts, he was king - cast out of the band that would later rule the metal kingdom, put on a bus in NY to go home, cross-country, tail between his drunk, high legs. Okay, the metaphor crawled under something to die there, but you get the point. For those of us who have been bitter, upset, rejected, dejected, low and kicked on, and desirous of revenge, Dave was our patron saint. His snarl said it all, and his words helped. In retrospect, In My Darkest Hour is the real thrash dirge. Fade to Black, Sanitarium, and One just don't hold a match to it. If you're feeling angry and betrayed, there's nothing like it on repeat. Over. and Over. and Over.

But Dave has always teetered on the path of self-destruction, and listening to United Abominations, the new one, I don't think I like his politics, to boot. While I thought Rust in Peace was great, I'm more inclined to stick with the first two albums, which featured Chris Poland on lead and Dave's own good guitar work. Dave's been on a mission to prove that he's back for about 15 years, and it's not sticking. He can't hold onto a band for very long, making Megadeth an obvious one-man show with extras. His singing voice leaves a lot to be desired (while Hetfield has been nursing a not-as-hip version of Danzig's demonic Elvis for 2 decades, you kind of miss Dave's snarls from the first albums. His singing isn't anything to speak of (especially when it's supposed to be emotive). He has talking and samples of himself speaking on almost every album. I can't deal with it. Why not just go the books on tape route if you want to talk so much? And one-upping Metallica, who only have one that I know of, he's up to 2 sequels on his songs already, with more possible down the path. I'm sorry, Dave, but sequels to songs in thrash suggest that you're out of material. Power metal? Progressive? Fine. Expected, even. But thrash? Live hard, play fast, don't repeat.

And now we're at Slayer. Listening to a lot of Slayer again was what prompted this little trip down memory lane. I wasn't a big Slayer fan in the beginning of my metal days. "Too extreme" was what I thought. But again, a friend, who if I remember correctly, carved some Slayer lyrics into one of my trees one day, introduced me to them in a more substantial way. And when Seasons in the Abyss dropped, and I heard the first songs on the weekly metal show that I tuned into every Monday night on Vassar College radio, I was hooked. I actually don't even remember if I heard the entire Reign in Blood album until after Seasons came out. But no one in the big four brought it like Slayer did. Tom Araya's voice, when he was on, had a hypnotic quality to it. He got you thinking that he was inside your head, urging you forward, singing your words (sometimes). The production team that made it feel like he was whispering in your ear in Dead Skin Mask and a few other songs was brilliant. Slayer makes you feel like the rain is going to fall when you play it hard and loud. I wouldn't be surprised if I lost my hearing thanks to them. But why does Slayer even bother with guitar leads? They aren't melodic or interesting, sound like a kid had a seizure while picking up the instrument for the first time, and distract me from the punishing rhythm. Slayer's leads are just annoying (although the better paced stuff on Seasons really works). Song after song, King and Hanneman just go at it again and again. Must be nice to just show up and play whatever comes out, taping it, and going home. Not that I could do better. But with Lombardo behind the drums and Araya screaming bloody murder, why do you need lead breaks? The latest album, Christ Illusion generally doesn't bring much that's new to the scene, although a couple of songs just punish, but I don't like Araya's new vocal delivery - he doesn't have a lot of range, and now he really sounds like he's in a hardcore band. It's not my cup of tea. Either I can understand your singing and sing along, or you should scream the hell out of it. None of this in-between stuff.

I've always been a fan of the smaller bands below the holy quadruped, from Forbidden and Defiance, to Death Angel, Exodus (sometimes), Vio-lence, and a range of others. Testament wins the prize, though. They've grown over time, and Chuck Billy is the consummate thrash vocalist - mixing up the bluesy singing on rock numbers with thrashy yells that still show melodic control, to all out death growls in the later material. I don't know anyone else who can blend the way he can, and still sound aggressive, and yet solidly Testament. Eric Petersen is riff-master, and I think he got out some of his darker tendencies in Dragonlord, his black metal side project. James Murphy is an *awesome* lead guitarist, who I didn't really know much about because I wasn't a death metal junkie, but hearing his ability to take Skolnick's leads and make them sound *more* like Testament than the originals is amazing. I didn't know Low aside from a few songs, and I'm really feeling the album - it's quickly becoming my favorite.

With all this said, I don't know if I can still listen to thrash the way I used to. It's familiar, but it's somewhat boring now. Death metal is still not particularly attractive, but it's a lot moreso with all the different elements that groups have brought forward, from the elements of songs and structures from other musical traditions (Sepultura's Roots) to the jazz influences and interludes, to the extreme/beautiful dynamics of unique groups like Opeth. It's a little more dramatic than thrash - there's more texture there, and more to sink into. And the song structures vary a lot more than the typical thrash set.

But really, Slayer, lose the leads. Or get James Murphy to guest on your next album. And Dave, just stop trying to sing. It's getting embarrassing.

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