Dec 30, 2008

Hope Begins with a Free Palestine

It has been a grim week, with news of the bombings and massacres in Gaza filtering in through the virtual blackout in American media. My friends who care about this issue are heart-broken and torn: does living any kind of life in the United States, regardless of "politics" or "heart" make us complicit in this morally repulsive, violent oppression and massacre of a people already without a home?

Read More......

Dec 28, 2008

Fair Housing: Do Asian Americans Matter At All?

I have been tracking down and getting up to speed on some civil rights issues, fair housing being one of them. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity recently released a pretty extensive report looking at Fair Housing in the new millennium. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed in the late 60s as one in a group of landmark laws that ensured the rights of those most likely to be discriminated against in a range of issues.

The FHA targeted landlords and others with the power of allowing or denying the right of people to rent or buy housing, outlining the criteria that may not be considered in deciding whether someone could rent or buy from you. The FHA itself outlines race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, disability, and age, among other things.

State and local acts have added to this, now including sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, source of income (for example, housing vouchers), and a number of other criteria that cannot be used to discriminate against people seeking housing. However, the report painted a fairly grim picture about where things are at with enforcement and gives a road map about where things could go with the inevitable reorganization expected when the new administration comes to DC.

There are some good recommendations there, however, looking at this report was quite sobering: there's only one mention of Asian Americans, and it's basically as a obligatory mention of all communities of color (it's also the only time that Native communities are mentioned). While there are some pieces about the impact of poor fair housing enforcement on immigrants, it is clear that they are talking about Latinos, and the priorities focus on issues central to Latino communities. While I don't question that these problems in equitable access to housing must be addressed, I'm very worried about the lack of concern or mention of Asian American/immigrant communities.

Hell - even Clint Eastwood's new movie (Gran Turino), which I haven't seen, seems to marginally deal with issues of Asian immigrants and housing better than this report. Clint Fucking Eastwood. So where is the outrage, or the addendum from the Asian American community? Where are the pieces that talk about the specific hurdles faced by many of these communities, which are pretty well documented by Fair Housing testers around the nation that actually include Asian Americans in their work?

I haven't seen anything at all, and I'm still waiting. I guess it begs the question of who should be looking at these issues? It's a civil rights issue, but I haven't seen the Asian American Justice Center, or really any of its three affiliates (LA, San Fran, and Chicago, though the Asian Law Caucus has done housing work in the Bay Area for a long time) deal with this issue at all. AALDEF seems to have just hired a housing attorney in NYC, so there's not much there either.

And that brings us to the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD). They were formed by a group of local Asian CDCs around the nation who thought we needed a national organization to push for policy change in the National Capital and support local efforts around the nation. But if we all agree that affordable housing falls generally into the "community development" universe, do tenants' rights?

Because aren't many CDCs housing developers? And doesn't that make them. in effect. landlords? And isn't that kind of in conflict with tenants' rights? So then where do they fit in when it comes to fair housing work? And isn't it just a little odd that there's no group out there that really claims fair housing advocacy to be part of what they do on behalf of Asian American communities, when there are documented studies that show that landlords in places as diverse and "accepting" as NYC and the Bay Area are screening potential renters by their accents, last names, and purported/assumed religious background, with Arab Americans, Muslims, and some other South Asians getting the short end of the stick most often.

Family status (and the relation between members of a "family") are touchstones for the Latino community, and this is very true for Asian immigrants too. They're basically saying not just that 10 people in a 2 bedroom is unacceptable, which is hard to argue with, but that even if there are only 3 or 4 people in that apartment, they have to have a very specific relationship, and grandma's gotta go. That's problematic for extended family connections that many Asian immigrants recognize, and allow for all kinds of crazy landlord shenanigans.

But the heart of this post, and my inquiry, is still: who out there gives a shit about Asian Americans and fair housing? And who is raising those issues in the public sphere? And why aren't we holding the groups who say they give a shit about our civil and housing rights accountable?

Read More......

Film: Frost/Nixon (2008)

Rounding out my holiday movie watching spree, I got to see Frost/Nixon as the result of a weird series of negotiations between three of us trying to manage dinner, our disinterest in going out to where the indie theater was playing a few different films we want to see, and the resistance of at least one in our party to seeing that Brad Pitt movie, The Wrestler (which I will still go see when I get a chance), Valkyrie (the Tom Cruise vehicle), and probably some animated movie about dogs or rodents (there's always at least one playing at all times, right?).

It was a pleasant surprise. The film was put together well, and who would have thought that Ron Howard could pull together such a compelling piece of cinema. Basic premise: it focuses on the first thorough interview that Nixon granted after his ignominious descent from the highest office of the land. The person who landed it: a pop/celebrity talk show host from London who saw this as a golden opportunity, and got a few lessons in real journalism along the way.

I thought the screenplay was sharp, the supporting characters were compelling enough to move the story along, but we didn't get too much unnecessary background on them, and the pacing was excellent. The leads, recapping their roles in the play upon which the screenplay was based (Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, and Michael Sheen as David Frost) were crisp and memorable, the dialogue sharp, and everything else smooth enough to not be distracting. If you like good political drama, check this one out. Highly recommended.

Unfortunately, we ruined the feeling and depth of this film by going to another right afterwards (see Seven Pounds (of crap) review below).

Read More......

Film: Seven Pounds (2008)

Caught this as a one of those spontaneous double-features last night. Man, spare yourself and don't watch this movie. Will Smith was awful - I don't know if I've seen a worse film of his, and I may have to see Pursuit of Happyness or some other not-well-rated film just to cleanse myself of this one.

I thought Rosario Dawson was the best part of the film: she was more believable than anything else, and I actually liked her character - she didn't overact, and I felt her vulnerability (details are unimportant in this one - trust me), but that just didn't rescue the film for me. I mean, think of her as the pearl sitting atop a bass drum-sized tub of 4-month old, slightly greening gazpacho that has not been chilled.

The plot wanders, the mind loses track of what is going on, and you just want it all to end. I can be a sucker for believable melodrama, and even the occasional romance, but man, please don't do this to me. Do yourself a favor: find another film with a believable, vulnerable role for a supporting actress, and just watch that instead of this one.

Read More......

Dec 27, 2008

History is a Weapon

I don't know if you've found any great resources online for alternative history, particularly to forward to folks who are looking for something more than the basic drivel they feed us in school, but I just did.

This site actually has a lot of content, including almost all of Howard Zinn's Peoples' History of the United States. Pretty awesome. Click around. There's a lot there, and even though it doesn't have much/anything about immigrant communities, there's the foundation for a social movements class in there somewhere.

Read More......

Dec 26, 2008


I'm very excited. As part of the end of year gift-giving, I received, from the love of my life, the full graphic novel. I'm quite excited to sit down and read through it. Actually, I have a lot of books to read at this point. I've tried to stop buying and start reading. More to come.

Read More......

Dec 25, 2008

Film: Milk (2008)

I was a little skeptical about a mainstream Hollywood movie about Harvey Milk, even though I have a lot of respect for Sean Penn's choices. After seeing the film a few days ago, I'm happy to say that my hesitation, though well-founded, was not justified in the end. Sean Penn really does throw himself into the role, and just in terms of great acting, it's a performance to watch.

But more importantly, I think the film gives you a real flavor for a particular character in American politics and social movements, not as a perfect or unmatchable soul, but as a full person. I liked that a lot - doing some sort of movement work for longer than a minute, there were a lot of moments when we thought "hey, we know people or situations that are similar or that this reminds us of." I checked out the documentary about his life and assassination a while ago. Rent that for a historical perspective when you get a chance.

Geo/Pro Brown from Blue Scholars said it best in his review here: "What makes Milk so much more than just another historical bio-pic or a generic plea for humanity is an awareness - by filmmaker, writer and actor - that the personal is political. That leaders are created by movements and not the other way around, as most other movies suggest." Here, you get a sense of the people around Milk too, that colorful cast of characters who are committed to more than just their own self-aggrandizement, or even just the cult of personality around that central figure.

Amen to that, and as far as mainstream movies go, this one is worth seeing before it gets kicked out of the theaters by the usual drivel that comes around during the holidays and beyond. Though I have to say, it's because of the holidays that I am actually catching up on some films finally. Look forward to a little writing about "Slumdog Millionaire" next, and have a peaceful week, ya'll. 2009 is rising!

Read More......

Dec 16, 2008

Critical Perspectives on the Mumbai Attacks

I haven't been able to keep up with news in India after the horrific Mumbai attacks during Thanksgiving weekend, but the whole thing has been a real roller-coaster of emotions for so many people. The inevitable saber-rattling about Pakistan has caused a lot of concern for many of us: the elite in this country, as well as the lobbies of power and influence in India could easily push for a new war, and the fragile peace and progress arising from overtures by the new political leadership in Pakistan would be swept off the table yet again, with the region and perhaps the world at risk this time.

Anyway, international affairs are something I have very limited contact with, so rather than write on, I'll point you to a few things to read if you want more in-depth analysis about Mumbai:

1) Arundhati Roy's "The Monster in the Mirror," a long and thoughtful piece in the Guardian (U.K.), is one that I just read and recommend.

2) SAMAR Magazine Issue #32 focuses on critical analyses of the Mumbai attacks.

Read More......

Dec 15, 2008

Let It Rest!

I'm so goddamn tired of hearing about - and being asked about - Sonal Shah. The drama, from all sides, is unnecessary and pointless: though I do believe there is still a need for true resolution. I didn't know much about her before her meteoric rise, I think she's either been given bad counsel or hasn't listened to good ideas about how to address the concern that she is tied to the Hindutva right, and honestly, she's coming across as kind of  arrogant, even if there's nothing true in the statements against her.

I'm not interested in going after individuals in our community, but I do think that we must all be held accountable for inconsistencies in our past, and examples of poor judgment that may reflect on whatever position we're vying for in the future. I've said before that I'm naturally skeptical of people of color who are so ambitious in politics, because I think the community becomes their way of showing that they have a base, even if they don't really care for what that community thinks or is going through.

The growing number of South Asians in American politics is a natural phenomenon: there is a large segment of our 2nd generation that is well-educated, as the children of the "professional" immigrants who were allowed to come here after '65. But the real question is, what true cohesion is there between our different communities, and should I be made to feel guilty when I don't jump behind some of the jokers who are standing themselves up to claim that they represent more than their own self-interest?

Are these folks, particularly those who are really just opportunists looking to rise as fast as they can on the backs of others through "brown skin, white-collar affirmative action," worth our time and effort? And honestly, are they just looking for the rubber stamp of the "community" rather than a real engagement to win our support? Isn't that the old politics of race: "we're the same race/ethnicity so you should support me, no questions asked"?  I guess that's kind of the Obama method, at least from the perspective of folks truly working for racial justice.

With this whole Sonal Shah thing - I think that even if we give her the benefit of all doubt and say that there's nothing shady with her past associations and affiliations, she has shown remarkably poor judgment with how she dealt with the initial questions in 2004 and how she's acted, both publicly and privately about this issue when it came up over the last few weeks. I truly don't know what to believe, and honestly, the vast majority of disinterested people (who don't have their career weighing on what happens with this flare up, or one of various axes to grind) just don't care.

Maybe I should post up my own advice to her, given that it seems like she's getting really awful counsel at this point, and you know, I should just want to help an ailing sister out. Because I can't imagine that if this thing got picked up by anymore mainstream media, the Dems would let it carry on for much longer, and her nascent political career would fade into a footnote, long before the root issues underlying this storm were ever really addressed in mainstream Desi America.

Those root issues include the very troubling infiltration of hard-right, political Hinduism into middle-class Indian America. The Hindu camps for school children, the programs that send kids over to India for unclear reasons, and the rhetoric that comes from groups ranging from USINPAC to the Hindu American Foundation should be enough to make us all worry a bit. We have enough homegrown extremism (militia, anyone?) in the U.S., thank you very much.

Read More......

Dec 14, 2008

Bruce Lee and New Paradigms for Community Work

I haven't been writing much lately, but I've been thinking a lot and using dead trees to capture some of the thoughts. The problem with blog posting, at least for me, is that I tend to be more of a perfectionist (couldn't guess, oh intrepid reader?) and I edit, edit, edit before I post. That's not the case on paper: I don't mind scrawling it out like freeverse and taking it from there.

My thinking lately has been about this work, particularly as I enter community-based work in a much more meaningful way than I've ever done, but with a law degree instead of just good intentions. And there are a lot of lawyers out there, doing all kinds of things: many of them good, some of them not. So I'm trying to see what kind of a "community lawyer" I want to be - in hopes that I don't fall into the ego/"anyone can be an organizer!" mentality that I see folks fall into. I don't think you're automatically disqualified from being an organizer if you have a law degree, but you gotta ask yourself, "why am I doing this, and can someone be more effective?"

Anyway - I'm also looking for new models of thinking about community-based work, strategy, and forms that break the molds and patterns that I've seen repeated again and again. Interestingly, my quest to figure out some things is leading me into unexpected directions. I think I'll be picking up at least one collection of Bruce Lee's writings about Jeet Kune Do, the martial art technique that he developed that broke dramatically from the rigid forms that came before, while integrating many techniques. His "way of the intercepting fist" also involved a lot of thinking about broken rhythm as a way of keeping yourself from falling into patterns and losing the freshness and innovation that comes from constantly challenging yourself to think outside of the box.

I'm hoping that his writing about the philosophy behind his radical break from much of martial arts training may illuminate new paths for me in my work. If people use Sun Tzu's Art of War for their corporate biz'ness, why can't we use non-canonical sources to guide us to reinvent in the new year, and with the new Administration? I'm just saying.

Read More......

Dec 12, 2008

So Long 2008

As this year comes to an ignominious end (at least to me), I'm looking forward to 2009 for a few reasons. First, I'm going to actually resolve to move forward with some of my ideas for self-development, particularly in exploring the relationship between how I try to engage in community work and how I live my personal life. I have been reflecting on the external stuff a lot in the last couple of months, writing about it more in journals than up here (obviously).

I think some of the lessons, or experiments at least, that I have gained or started at work may be useful personally, too. So I'm trying to figure out a reading list and some basic habits to put me in the right place with that side of things. Any suggestions would be welcome: I'm looking to read Bruce Lee's collected work on Jeet Kune Do and fluid styles, actually. I don't have the physical ability to make much of his theory on that level, but I think that some of the basic theories of Jeet Kune Do can be applied to other aspects of our lives: take from everything, work with broken rhythm, and don't get stuck in an orthodoxy. Learn, distill, absorb, integrate, and keep changing.

On the work end, I think I'm getting the hang of some things, but the work of things to learn is wide before me, and that's okay. More importantly, I have to remember that I'm in a setting with more people than just me as it was for much of school. I have to remember that I can't fly off the handle without possibly bringing repercussions to other people, and perhaps the very work itself. I haven't fully gone off the cliff yet, but that prospect seems to loom somewhat ominously above me sometimes. Goal: turn the conflict into transformative change. But it's so hard.

Read More......

Dec 2, 2008

Innumeracy and Privilege

There are a lot of people in the United States who are not comfortable or may have absolutely no luck or skills with math at all. There's a great book I read a while ago called (simply enough), Innumeracy, which lays out why the author thinks that the inability to understand numbers may be a more widespread issue than even illiteracy in the United States, and its long-reaching affects. While I'm not going to pretend that this is anything I know about, I have a few thoughts about innumeracy.

First, I think there's general consensus that the American education system has been in decline for a long time. Clearly, education is like health care, politicians, and any number of other things in the U.S.; if you have money, you can buy the best. But it's if you don't when things get difficult. So sure, there's a clear nexus between quality of education, poverty, and innumeracy. But I feel like there's also something beyond that that may also be going on.

Second, I think the cliched phenomenon of law students and lawyers who don't know anything about math underscore a totally different set of issues. These are clearly people who, for the most part, have had the privilege of going to elite or at least average schools, where issues affecting public schools that serve the very poor are likely less at issue. So what happened if the resources available to feel comfortable and even excel in simple mathematical skills?

I think there's inherent privilege built into this brand of innumeracy. It's a choice not to get up to snuff in math, because it's okay if some people let some subjects slide. It's a privilege because the numbers are abstract - they aren't connected to the very real arithmetic of poverty, the algebra of making ends meet, or the geometries of small and dangerous spaces in which other kids have to study. I think you can learn math in the classroom, but you can also learn it as you're trying to stretch that dollar into a lot more. If you're thinking that you have to manage your money in order to meet your expenses, pay the rent, feed your kids, and try to pay down your debt, you can't afford to say "I don't get the numbers."

This isn't to glorify the poor, or what they have to go through, or to somehow suggest that the poor are better at math because they have to be (and so then the reasoning would be, why deal with improving the public schools at all?). I'm just thinking that it makes no sense to me, and kind of offends me when people who have no deep-rooted mental/emotional block to math (or no chunk of the brain that deals with math gone missing) just dismiss having to learn it because numbers are more a hobby or something to scoff at than essential tools to survival. Basic arithmetic skills form the bedrock of responsibility by providing context (value) and analysis(logic).

It makes me wonder why people who don't have wealth are immediately thought of as being somehow inferior to those with means, when often, without the tools to understand the value of what they have at their disposal. I see this play out in so many ways, and while of course I can't make big assumptions about what this all means, it just gets on my nerves.

Read More......

Nov 23, 2008

Music: Flobots

Looking for more progressive/radical music to fill your music player? Check out the Flobots album Fight with Tools. I only got to hear a few tracks from the live at that Scholars show on election night, but imagine a slightly looser, younger (!) Rage Against the Machine. Really good politics, and they were awesome on stage right after the election, stating that Obama's selection was a great symbolic victory, but it was time to make it mean something by pushing the issues we care about: healthcare for all, a fair and humanitarian immigration policy, the end of Guantanamo, and a host of other issues.

Read More......

Nov 22, 2008

I am So Sick of Reminding "Pan-Asian" Groups to Remember Desis

This is a rant. I have been working in Asian American spaces for more than 15 years. I have had issues with being tokenized, marginalized, the "only one of my kind" (i.e. desi) in some places, and being stuck in the constant educating role when I'm in a positive mood about the place and conflicted history of South Asians in Asian American movements. Usually I just take that as the lumps that come with being in this weird space. But sometimes things get to me.

In the beginning, there just weren't a lot of desi folks working in Asian American spaces. I've written about how many of the people I came up with or learned from cut their teeth in "pan-Asian" organizations on the East Coast, but I don't know if that's the same on the West Coast (but it's interesting that there aren't very many strong South Asian community groups on the West Coast). Then we created our own spaces, and there have always been weird conflicts around turf, resources, and inclusion. South Asians often feel like our own spaces are important because it's hard to reach our communities - and pan-ethnic/national/lingual/cultural coalitions even between different South Asian communities are a new concept to begin with.

But that doesn't mean that in the interest of certain coalitions, and particularly in the places where community issues and interests intersect, that we shouldn't work more collaboratively and learn from one another. There's no need (and the opportunity for this has kind of passed at this point) for "pan-Asian" groups to try to co-opt or subsume South Asian groups, but there are a lot of places where we could be working together. Trust me, I fault a lot of South Asians for not thinking about possible ways to reduce inefficiency and work strategically with allies in the "pan-Asian" context.

But I'm so sick of groups, particularly those on the West Coast, though we have our share on the East Coast and in DC, who take up the space as "pan-Asian" but never do anything significant with South Asian communities. They get the funding, they shape the pan-community's stories in the media and to the funders, and they shape the little space that all APAs get on any legislative or policy agendas. 

Most groups still don't have any South Asian staff in senior level positions, and few even in entry positions. They don't understand the complexities of the communities at all and are not culturally sensitive or understanding in any way (i.e. getting veggie food at many APA events is still a huge hardship, and no one understands various desi holidays). But because these groups are larger, they get first crack at the crumbs thrown down from funders, and they don't have to change their ways to better incorporate the desi communities issues. That leaves even less for South Asian groups, many of whom still feel betrayed by "pan-Asian" groups after September 11th, when they all looked the other way as our communities were targeted and became public enemy #1.

Motherfuckers, we are a full 25% of the community population and growth numbers that you use to get your funding. Stand up or get out of the way. Your relevance was always somewhat questionable, particularly on a national policy level, but now you're just pissing me off. And you know, the academy, the so-called API Progressive/Left Movement, and the Asian American media all perpetuate this. I read the AA Movement Zine online, and there are so few articles on the South Asian American left movement that it's not even worth mentioning it and I may just read SAMAR instead.

This whole thing was precipitated when I read this article in New America Media about possible APA cabinet/presidential appointments. The dude doesn't even mention one South Asian, and the only mention of the community at all is through a quote from Dale Minami. What the fuck? Can't this writer even ask a follow-up question like "who are you talking about?"

Arghhhhhhh. End of rant.

For now.

Read More......

Nov 14, 2008

New Modes of Organizing the Left

I went to a panel recently in DC in which different folks were asking critical questions about what the election results mean for the Left in the United States. I thought it was an interesting dialogue with new and respected voices from the Left - all of them people of color - responding to the question of what this could mean. There were some very different takes on what direction we should go in, or even what support of Barack Obama in the recent election means.

One of the folks spoke about how he supported the Green ticket, and it was now up to the people who supported Obama to make sure to hold him to the promises he made and change people believed he would bring. Another, longtime labor organizer Bill Fletcher, said that it was not practical to support a third party candidate in American democracy, where the system is one of the least democratic of any so-called democracy. He argued, instead, that there needed to be a massive Left project that brought together hundreds of thousands of people into a viable block that could and should move the Democrats leftward. He stated that "without a hard Left, the middle always collapses."

Fletcher's other point was that we had to drop some of our purist attitudes about the "Left." That to bring about some of the change that we actually want, we may have to work with people who we don't fully agree with. The Right did that well for Bush, with fiscal conservatives and social conservatives, who aren't very similar actually, but who came together to get their endgame to work. That's since kind of fallen apart because Bush ended up spending and expanding government more than the fiscal conservatives could stomach (witness the Ron Paul revolution).

Finally, Fletcher said that traditional organizations may not be the way to go. But he also said that a new political party may not be where to start either. He suggested 501(c)(4) organizations, which could get "politically engaged" were the way that people were starting to get organized, and used an example from Northern Virginia: Virginia New Majority, which was created by a (c)(3) organization to get out there and take a more aggressive electoral/political role.  It was very effective at registering working people of color and immigrants and getting them out to vote.

I would argue that (c)(4) organizations are still too limited. They get the federal tax exemption, but at the cost of having to report to the Feds a lot more than other organizations, and still being limited in their ability to really support candidates or ballot initiatives. I think the aggressive ground game for the Left is in political organizations - which include Federal, State, and other kinds of Political Action Committees (PACs), as well as the well-known but misunderstood 527 groups (which is actually a misnomer because the 527 group that people talk about: the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth kind of groups, are only one kind of 527 organization - all PACs are another). PACs are usually organized solely to channel money to candidates and campaigns. But there's a way to create a PAC in some jurisdictions that can be involved in electoral politics, particularly locally, in ways other than dumping money at someone. PACs can call whoever they want and support whatever or whoever they want: they don't have the detailed rules governing them that the IRS imposes on tax exempt organizations. You can go to town.

I would argue that for the immigrant Left, engagement of this kind can create longer-term empowerment for individuals involved than just bundling money, getting photo opportunities, and not really seeing the influence on politicians or their policies. PACs that don't focus solely on money but rather on messaging and influence by people power and issues that are important to working people and immigrants can be a game changer. And because the level of reporting and hoops to jump is not as crazy as 501(c) organizations, maybe more regular people of color and immigrants can take this on than the very white "non-profit Left" that's still talking about how we should put socialism on the table this January.

Yes, as a long aside, that was a comment at this event from an audience member, which made me laugh out loud - these folks need to retire, move to Sedona, stop gumming up the new movement with old retreads - I believe in socialist ideals, but I think we need new ways of talking about them, particularly with immigrants who fled brutal, deadly regimes run under the guise of "socialism" that have forever embittered them to anything remotely similar in name, if not function. Yet another example of white and American privilege in our bizarre, out of touch Left.

Read More......

Nov 12, 2008

The Abuse of APA Agencies by Mainstream Service Groups

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Mainstream service organization that's been around for a long time always gets a big chunk of money to work with a large subset of the population - such as children in the City or seniors in the County. Said organization does not have bilingual staff, usually at all, though there are now more Spanish-speaking white folks around, particularly in legal service organizations.

But regardless, they just don't have bilingual staff, and they use LanguageLine or that old AT&T service to call in people with the language ability (but who may not be local, or have any knowledge about the subject matter at all - a critical need in health and legal service provision, let alone mental health). But of course, their actual mandate is to serve all people, often regardless of immigration status, who fit into their slice of the population (women, seniors, children, whatever).

So what happens? Often, they only do one or two outreach events a year in the APA community, in particular. They use community organizations instead of other spaces like libraries because they have absolutely no way of reaching out themselves (and many traditional legal service organizations don't outreach much at all anyway). And here's the kicker: they don't have the bilingual staff and don't hire interpreters to effectively communicate with the community members. For some reason, that's not important enough for these people, and they just don't get it.

These organizations end up asking (i.e. telling) the community-based groups to do last-minute translations and interpretations. You know the groups - those that are hanging on with bare bones budgets, in spaces that are too small, staff that is underpaid, directors who are often first generation and sometimes not the best managers, but groups that the communities trust and that have been there for their community day in and day out.

This is totally unacceptable. Asian American community organizations should be supported to work directly in their own communities - it makes sense in larger cities to have larger, mainstream service organizations that can take care of common problems, and I feel strongly that they should work with all communities, but they have to step up and integrate language and cultural competence across the board - from their staffing to their processes and expectations of clients. Until that happens, it ever will, there is a critical need that organizations serving immigrants fulfill.

Some Asian American community organizations can work with individuals in a number of different languages, which is still better than the mainstream organizations, but the established groups actually have other resources for the smaller language communities (like Ilocano or Thai) that the mainstream groups cannot even begin to understand. But our groups are not interpreter agencies. And our value should not be limited to just filling in the gaps that the big groups don't want to accept are their responsibility too.

This is why most of our organizations should move from just direct service provision to both advocacy within service circles for full and equal community access, and organizing within our communities so that they can create their own solutions and raise their voices against business as usual in the nonprofit-industrial complex.

Read More......

Nov 11, 2008

A Note on Veterans' Day

It's not enough to just get the day off to rest and do whatever we want. These holidays, rare as they are (particularly when you compare with the Indian calendar loaded with many holidays for its many peoples), should be a time when we think about what it is that we're celebrating. I don't know the history of Veterans' Day, but I know that in a time when constant, unending war seems commonplace for the American, we're still largely untouched by what our government is waging. Our perpetual state of war is different from that of the nations on the receiving end, or places like Palestine or Sri Lanka.

But where that toll is visible is in the faces, the stories, and the lost innocence and lives of soldiers who have given up everything in the belief that they were fulfilling a patriotic duty. Not all soldiers are perfect, but most of them are quite young, and regardless of their rationale or that of the nation to send them in harm's way and off to fight, it's hard not to get choked up when you think about what they and their families have given up. I am a pacifist: I don't believe there is any "good" war. I suppose there are times when one can argue that war is necessary, but it seems to me that it's always been a small group of people in control that either cause the harm that must be dealt with, or who send off the troops to do the dealing.

If we dealt with those people directly, millions of innocent people - the soldiers included - would not have to die or lose faith in human motives and judgment. It's a large price to pay. Even in movement work, many times we use the lexicon, the metaphor, the iconography of war: I am guilty of the same thing, and many of the radical groups I listen to or read use "soldier" and "battle", perhaps to reclaim the terms.

But I don't believe in war - real, imagined, or otherwise. I want to build, and I want to use words that come from places of strength, love, and peace. So as we remember veterans today and in the years to come, perhaps we can also take some time to challenge this culture of war - from the words and images we use to describe our work, to the way in which we imagine movement work as a whole.

Read More......

Film: No Direction Home (2005)

Finally got around to watching Scorsese's long doc on Dylan that revolved around his emergence as a folk artist and then the incredible Newport Folk Festival moment in 1965 when he pulled out an electric blues band, played only 15 minutes as the headliner to massive booing, and never looked back.

I don't really know Dylan's music that well beyond the big singles, but I've heard a lot about how brilliant and encyclopedic his knowledge of old American musical styles and traditions. I think I read that in the assessment of one of his latest series of albums (which folks have said are a remarkable run on their own). Watching this film is an introduction in some ways, but Scorsese does not focus on the chronological assessment of Dylan's ever-changing, ever-expanding musical persona, nor of his recorded output. I think it wisely looks at him from different angles and perspectives, including those of Joan Baez, whose heart he obviously broke, Allen Ginsburg in interviews that were late in his remaining life but quite riveting and dynamic, band members and producers, and other fellow artists like Pete Seeger and Peter Yarrow.

All I can say about the collective impact of the more than 3.5 hours of this documentary (took up two picks on my netflix rotation) is that it really made me think about bucking expectations, staying true to what you have inside, and trusting your voice. Baez has a really telling segment where she described what it was like to be active and political (and linked to him) once he'd moved on from topical songs and traditional folk, when she performed at protests and sit-ins and people asked for Bob: she had to say "he's not coming. He's probably never shown up, you poor fools."

It was so interesting to hear her talk about it - particularly because she's still doing that circuit more than 40 years later. It made me wonder about political art, actually, which I value so much in the Asian American context. Dylan's path gives us the rare opportunity to look at both forks in the road for artists (particularly with Baez or Seeger as a foil)... and activists, actually. He wrote some of the finest songs of his generation that captured the mood, inspired other great work (Sam Cooke wrote "A Change Gonna Come" after hearing "Blowin' in the Wind" and wondering why it was a white man who wrote it), and are still sung today. He then just had to move on.

Should we take note of this - not just in a creative context, but in movement work too? Sometimes I come across folks who haven't reinvented themselves and are still using the same rally chants and tactics (like street protests and petitions) as they've been using for decades. It seems like sometimes folks get so locked in, even when they're not that good at something, that they don't evolve or they stay the same to meet the expectations put onto them by followers or admirers. I wonder if that's true in a lot of contexts, actually, including civil rights leaders who still seem locked into a vision of America from the 50s and 60s, one that is not as diverse nor as complex as that which we work in now. These outdated models, and the people who continue to push them, may stall the evolution of movements for progress. And those are people who were actually once effective.

As a related aside (jumping back to the artist/activists thread) maybe the Two Tongues crew closed shop at the right time. They remain powerful (one of their tracks just came up on my Shuffle last night and the passion rocked my consciousness all over again), and they continued to evolve as individuals. It's a good lesson to keep in mind, and the film definitely hits that point for me. Strongly recommended for music fans and fans who consider the balance of consciousness and the creative process.

Read More......

Nov 9, 2008

Hip Hop is Gentrified

I went out dancing for the first time in a long time, and we ended up at a spot that was pretty popular and overwhelmingly white. In a city that's got a good amount of color in it, it's easy to end up the only color in the room, which is a little odd. More odd is that other people of color in the room are often other Asians. That model minority thing isn't always wrong, particularly in the young middle class / gentrifying force in America's cities.

But I was in a good mood, with mine and some friends, and I wasn't looking to start any trouble or have a mood. The DJ was playing all the big hip hop singles of round about the late eighties, but it was really odd to see these white kids sing along with every word. First, most of them were in diapers when these songs dropped, second were these all really that big as singles to cross over that long ago, and third: I was embarrassed that while I can name the songs and sing individual lines, these folks were singing the whole damn joints. I did think it was funny that when the D threw out "Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy (I would have loved any number of other songs), I was the only one shouting out lines. Maybe I got caught up in the hope of the week to think they'd spin Dead Prez next.

So what does this any of this mean? I have conversations with conscious friends about authenticity all the time. The question of who "owns" hip hop is out there, and there's the comment on who buys hip hop, of course. But then there's this other question - if the kids know the songs so well not because they were trying to appropriate the culture but because they just heard and knew the songs from years of growing up and going to parties, is that something to hate on them about? I don't really know. It was just awkward for me - I had a great time, but I guess just like so many other situations, I was far more self-conscious about how I sang the songs and what the dynamics of being brown and singing songs about black experience (mindless party songs are different of course) than most of the white folks around me.

Was I over-thinking it all? I decided not to give a shit and just lay back and enjoy the night, which I did. But it seemed kind of ironic that I ordered Son of Nun's new CD earlier that day, and was considering putting out a little more for a shirt with the slogan that I borrowed for the title of this post. The universe tells us in funny ways, enit? We just have to keep listening.

Tune out the radio
throw out the tv

Read More......

The Dawn of a New Age of Disappointments

Went to a benefit dinner tonight for a group in the area, and their keynote speaker was, as I think much of the free and not-so-free world are still, running a high Obama fever. I don't begrudge him or the rest of them that. I mean, like I said, I was in the streets (or at least the bars) celebrating the victory too.

But I guess Tuesday already feels like a long time ago. And even though I'm not watching the news or following the twitter-like monitoring of P.E. Obama's (not Public Enemy, but Prez-Elect(ed) of course) every move, I feel like I've been disappointed a lot already.

I know - people will say "well, you people on the left are never satisfied. First Bush was terrible, now you get your liberal man, and you're just going to tear him apart for not being a freegan or something." Well, yeah, we can get a little critical and have issues with just celebrating once in a while. But I think I know how to celebrate real victories, and I'm not getting anything out of writing these things - not money, and no, not kicks. I want so much to believe in the hope hype.

But really, all I've been getting since Tuesday night is O-Bummers. I mean, we get built up to think change is coming, but first the Rahm Emanuel pick, which is bad news for Palestine, and bad news for a lot of other reasons as well. Now I feel like we're facing the prospect that while the vetting process for the transition team and appointees will likely knock out anyone who has even a touch of pro-Palestine leanings, possible ties to Hindu fundamentalists who say and do all kinds of things to Christians, Muslims, Dalits, and other "undesirables" in India are perfectly fine.

I hope this string of O-Bummers ends soon.  It hasn't even been a week, and I was on such a high with the rest of the country, but I feel like it could be a long and painful hangover.

Read More......

Nov 6, 2008

The First Signals of Business as Usual for Palestine/Israel

I wrote earlier this year about Obama's statement at AIPAC, staking out territory far right of most moderate Israelis and certainly most Palestinians in his staunch lovefest with the racist, hostile government of Israel. Well, his choice of Rahm Emanuel for Chief of Staff seals the deal: the new Administration will not step away from the failed policies of the Bush and Clinton regimes in Palestine/Israel. It will continue them.

I can continue to rail on this choice and what it seems has been a systematic staking out of the far right, far zionist positions, but I'll just link to today's Democracy Now report on some of this so you can read it directly. It will be critical for people to raise up their protest and resistance immediately, and not allow the idealogues who exist on either side of the corporate duopoly's "aisle" to dig in and spell the real end of any hope for peace in the region, or for the Palestinian people.

ALI ABUNIMAH: But I think the important thing here is not just the appointment of Emanuel, but the greater context here, which is that from the days we knew Barack Obama as a small-time politician in Illinois, I won’t tell you, and I’ve never said that he was incredibly progressive on Israel-Palestine, but he was certainly more open-minded than he is now. And what he’s done systematically throughout the campaign is to distance himself or to throw under the bus, as the term goes, any adviser or friend who was suspected of having pro-Palestinian sympathies. In other words, he has succumbed to the McCarthyite and racist campaigns that says if you associate with even very moderate Columbia University professors, for example, or take their advice, that that’s the biggest crime.

So the signal he’s sending here is that that is not going to change, that people who could give him more balanced, more objective, more realistic advice that could change the course from the disastrous Palestine-Israel policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations, that that’s not going to happen. And that should be very, very worrying, because a lot of progressive people, a lot of people in the Middle East, a lot of leaders, have pinned hopes on Obama being quite different on this issue, and I just don’t see any evidence so far that that’s going to be the case. And it worries me that people will stay silent, rather than putting on the table now and loudly the demands for a more balanced, more objective, more fair policy that could bring peace for Palestinians and Israelis.

Read More......

Organizing in the New Era

Yesterday, I wrote about the positivity, if even for just a day, that people exuded after the end of this long long campaign. I've been thinking about what organizing and resistance work may look like after the glow fades. I had written, in a bit that I cut out while editing, that perhaps that positivity is the most important first step that we can hope for, particularly in organizing work that starts with "yes we can" and moves to "let's get started" in the next breath. Does this victory and the jubilation afterward mean that finally, people think we can build again instead of just playing defense?

This victory came after a long campaign, but it still feels quick to me, in terms of making sure that the different elements of the "Obama Coalition" actually have some similar grasp of what his election means to people, if not systemic change. That coalition includes people from much further left than I'd expected would get involved in a major campaign like this one, all the way to young kids and old Democratic political hands who know and have tended over business as usual.

The real test will be whether the left has built up a strong enough skin to not back down from fights with the Dems because they aren't just going to change things without real pressure. And whether people will stand their ground and fight, not just bend over backwards to let the new powers that be, who are not altogether different from the old powers that be in their quest to keep and accumulate power, just do whatever it is that they want to do.

It's time to think about organizing for more than just defense, but also for breaking the weird commitment to political parties and moving to personal and community commitment to issues. I think the younger generation, who have shown little loyalty to brands, media outlets, modes of communication, and pretty much all of the old benchmarks are not really feeling the party identification. That confuses the older pollsters, old guard of leaders, and pretty much everyone else. I think that may provide an opening for people to talk more about issues and engage folks from different communities and age groups about solutions rather than just broad statements of who is "good" and who is "bad."

Of course, what this country needs are more than 2 political parties, but even with them, we need to build from the ground up. The government has to work for the people again (or finally, I suppose). And the people have to get organized beyond GOTV efforts. Everyone's saying the same thing: the proof will be in what happens next.

Read More......

Nov 5, 2008

A New Day

So he won it after all. I was in DC the night everything was declared, at a Blue Scholar show in fact, and first off, it was amazing to be with the Scholars when the declaration was made. But after that, it was so inspirational to see how the majority of Ethiopian and other African folks in the city were just jubilant about his election. People were dancing in the streets, ya'll. I never thought I'd see the day in the U.S.

This is the first day, so while I voted my conscience and have much to share about what that means, I'll keep other thoughts until later. For now, I think we should just take a collective deep, and tired, first breath. It is indeed as if the pallor of the last 8 years (or 16 or 40 depending on what marker you use to designate "when things were hopeful or better" if that's objectively possible when talking about American politics) has finally lifted.

People had a bit of spring in their step, really. Morning in America, and it was a new day. Maybe for one day, maybe for a brief stretch beyond that, this victory gives a little seldom-found relief to black men throughout this country. Plagued by negative images, stereotypes, and most every deck stacked against them, I will not make the audacious claim that this election is a game-changer in any way. But self-worth does not arise solely from what we have inside ourselves, and it's got to be hard to carry all that heaviness if you're conscious of it. While nothing has changed physically yet, I definitely felt optimism in people's hearts today, and just taking it at face value, more people of color, and in particular men of color, were smiling.

Not to mention the lines in front of the little corner stores that sell 2,000+ magazines and papers from around the world. Everyone wanted the papers that had cover stories. Everyone wants to keep that souvenir, that I was there, that memento that says "it's not just a dream anymore!" It's morning in America, and with this dawn came the promise, at least, of a new brighter day, if not in what actually happens, then at least in people's perception of what is possible.

But just to keep this real, here's a little perspective. There's much work still to do.

Read More......

Nov 3, 2008

Election Eve

We stand at a crossroads, America. A crossroads that has been hyped up a lot more than it may actually represent. I think the crossroads is not between a splintered America and a post-race America, or even one that has a more sophisticated take on its own complex racialized heritage and history.

I think more than anything, a peaceful change of power with a large part of the eligible electorate actually participating that just results in more snide comments and bitterness rather than bloodshed, would mark the movement of America from the democracy that is more concerned about defending its "freedom" by bombing others to one that celebrates the exercise of that basic tenet of true liberty: the ability of a nation to say "enough is enough"... even if the subtitle would be "and now for something not entirely different."

So here we are, America. It could be that today is the last day of an old era. Not just that of Bushs and Clintons in the White House, but also of the undercurrent of national discourse that recognizes that there has always been and still remains great inequality in this nation. I don't know whether the whole post-race and post-affirmative action angle will come in quickly or later as the conservatives in both parties regroup and rethink their attack on the poor, the dark, and the newcomers, but it will come.

The backlash towards whatever is left will definitely come. The brunt of anger and distrust will not fall upon the new leader, surrounded as he can be by the best that our money can train. The battleground, bloody or cold and calculated, will be in many states and towns across this nation. The targets will be simple, unchanged folks who hadn't suddenly felt like they won a lottery just because someone who looks like them but has had all kinds of access through education and opportunity was just elected president.

That's the funny thing: privilege seems to be okay if you don't realize you have it no matter how much you benefit from it. But if people in power even suspect that someone else will get some shade under that parasol of privilege, it's over: they will do what they can to stomp that out early. That ground game will be demoralizing if it happens, but mainly to those of us in the know, I think, because we won't write it off as just a coincidence or random events.

We'll connect those dots.

So this is a crossroads America. And it isn't. We'll travel together down the next road that you choose, but if it's another dead end or dive off a deep end, you're on your own this time.

Read More......

Oct 30, 2008

Ever Have One of Those Weeks?

Sorry dear faithful reader(s?) of DotBS. I've been sidetracked and crazy busy. Busier than I thought. Busier than makes it possible to get in all the writing I'm hoping to do for work, let alone getting up on here to ponder a bit. But you know what happens when a person like me doesn't have a venue like this to vent a little steam? I go a little crazy, for one, but then I also kind of let things go against people I don't even really know.

It's just that even as I want to walk the path of righteousness rather than self-righteousness - to stay focused on building and not tearing down (too much) - I slip up. I have to ask forgiveness sometimes of folks whose opinions aren't that important to me at the end of the day. It's like this: it takes a long time to build personal capital up with people who you don't politically align with right away, even if they are blood (or in my case, extended family). But once you do, you can still blow the load of it if you just pull a McCain and throw a tantrum.

I did just that on email today, in reaction to a racist/anti-Muslim Obama smear email that an uncle of mine, of whom I've written in the past, forwarded out to our family list serv. Rather than just say "that was stupid" to myself and my trusted partner and/or sister I decided to engage via email. Needless to say, it didn't become a flame war between me and my 75 year old uncle, or all his kids who have kids of their own who are approaching college. But it could have been, and I didn't see through the red enough to be tactical.

I'm usually okay in this regard - strategy is something I've tried to learn and teach myself, particularly in the last few years. And especially with the kind of work I want to do - tempers don't build things. And anger is okay, but we have to use it constructively, with a greater purpose in mind. And against true injustice. So I kind of messed up. I think need to write more often. Rage on these pages is better than rage on the internets. Better luck on Friday.

Be safe, have a good weekend, and no matter who you vote for: don't vote for McCain/Palin.

Read More......

Oct 16, 2008

Things I Wish I Heard in Debate #3

Last night was kind of funny. McCain held it together reasonably well in the first two debates, but I really felt like we were watching the man get unhinged on TV. It was kind of freaky, really.

I had just one zinger I thought Obama could have hit him with. Early in the debate, they went back and forth on the income tax issue (long live Joe the Plumber!), and McCain tried to turn Obama into Robin Hood with mass redistribution of the wealth (note to John: people like Robin Hood). There was a moment when McCain said "in such tough economic times, why would you want to raise taxes on anyone?" Obama wisely let that go, though he addressed it as a matter of fairness, hitting the bullet points for fair tax policy.

But then they started talking about corporate taxes, and McCain pulled a stat out of his ass about Ireland when he claimed that corporate taxes in the U.S. being the second highest in the world. It was remarkable that in an election that is still ostensibly to be decided by real, natural people, not the corporations who have dumped millions of dollars in each of their campaigns, that McCain, in his last guaranteed free prime time TV placement before he concedes on the evening of 11/4, decides to take up the cause of the "little guy": Exxon Mobil and all the rest of those bastards. I wonder how that played across the nation.

Obama basically let it go, but it was the perfect opportunity to nail McCain on this: the reason our corporate taxes are higher (on paper) than most other nations is because we have low personal income taxes. Does McCain prefer lower corporate taxes, which would shift the burden of paying for everything that the government does more directly to the people like Joe Plumber? Sounds kind of socialist, John. Maybe I should reconsider your candidacy.

Read More......

Oct 15, 2008

Remembering Gujarat

It's a funny thing: get a job doing work you want to do, and suddenly all that spare time you thought you'd have after the years of grueling/non-relevant law school doesn't really materialize. I have a lot of things I want to do in my spare time, but the train ride home at night is barely enough to write a quick note to self about the day, or jot down an idea in my other notebook that I'm keeping to store brainstorms, or read even a short article in the New Yorker, which I can love to hate, but still enjoy digging into deep stories that are disappearing quickly across the landscape of American journalism.

So today, on the ride home, I decided to open up a collection of Arundhati Roy essays called the Algebra of Infinite Justice that my partner brought back from a trip to India (that shit which would cost $15 here was Rs. 225: i.e. about 5 dollars. I now believe the best deal to be had from India is books, believe it or not). The book collects some of her best essays, including "For the Common Good," her brilliant essay about the Narmada Dam Project (before the dam-builders won).

As expected, I didn't get through a lot, but I read the better part of two pieces: the title piece, which was an amazing piece she wrote right after 9/11, presciently calling Osama Bin Laden the "dark doppelganger" of Bush. You have to read this piece to fully appreciate her mastery of language -- and the truth.

The second piece was written after the 2002 communal massacre in Gujarat, which she and many others have called pogroms orchestrated and enabled by the BJP-led government. On the shaky grounds of retribution for a train burning in Godra earlier that week that resulted in the death of more than 50 Hindu "pilgrims" that was attributed to Muslim activists (the truth came out later - the train was not lit up by Muslim anything, and the people on the train, though they did not deserve death, were enroute back from a Masjid destruction tour), Hindus in the state of Gujarat killed more than 2000 Muslims, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and forced over 100,000 people into refugee camps in their own home state.

The detailed horrors of what happened are unspeakable, but Roy outlines some of it to start her essay (titled "Democracy"). Reading even these slivers that profile what happened shocked me to remember and realize what I did not really know. Gujarat in 2002, and Indian communal violence in general, are talking points of the South Asian left. But how much do those of us living comfortably in the United States really know of what happened? How do you reconcile "pride" in your heritage with this history?

And for me - as a non-Hindu, but someone who can easily pass because my people have strayed and are confused - how do I have an honest dialogue about these things with Gujarati Muslims? I feel like I haven't even started that process - and I want to do something about that, because this memory cannot fade, and it's not good enough to just namecheck it once in a while.

Read More......

Oct 7, 2008

Things I Would Have Liked to Hear in Debate #2

"You know who voted for that? SENATOR OBAMA" (the dude has a name, you imp).

"The American military should be used as a peacekeeping force, but we should realize that we don't have a monopoly on the meaning of 'freedom' and that more often than not, the United States has intervened and fucked things up in nations where peoples' movements were rising."

"You know what? I hate what the Rove machine is doing. I won't be dragged in the mud with the rest of them. Election be damned."

Okay - enough of my comments. If you haven't read this long-ass article about the real McCain, which was the cover story of this week's Rolling Stone, well my friends, you should. We just need more of these out there. Rolling Stone is best when it lets good writers research and publish what they find. This is a winner.

Read More......

Oct 2, 2008

What I Wish We Heard at the Debate

"Governor Palin, I know Mel Gibson. Mel Gibson is a friend of mine (though his take on Catholicism is a little severe). Based on my favorite Gibson movie, John McCain is no maverick."

"I support a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. Let me talk about the Palestinian people instead of just focusing on one of the states, and let me talk about their democratically elected government instead of how I advised against allowing the West Bank to enjoy the same freedoms we're bombing Iraq to have."

"I'm such a Washington outsider, maybe I should just stay that way."

"War is a bad thing. We should stop talking about it as if it's something to plan for, something to anticipate and enjoy. We should be trying to build a world where war isn't necessary."

(Rosa Clemente's opening statement, answers, and closing statement).

Read More......

Sep 30, 2008

The Long Road Into Darkness

I've been so focused on the new job that I haven't had time to stick my head up and take a look around. Financial markets crashing, the investment pundits have fires to put out in their own houses but they are still stoking the flames throughout the rest of the market (witness Apple's major drop yesterday despite being a company with *no debt* and I think $20B in reserves. I guess the argument could be that they are sort of unAmerikan with no debt.

Don't really have anything deep to say here today, but as I continue to get pushed around to vote for Obama in November, I'm starting to lose sight of where the nation goes after the election. I'm glad that I'm focusing my efforts locally - my head starts to hurt with how screwed up things are, and how no matter how good the new president is, there's a lot to be undone from 8 years of Bush II, 8 years of Clinton, and everything that came before. I may believe in miracles, but this is gonna take a sturdy pair of thigh-high shit-wading boots and one mo'f'ing huge broom.

Have a good Tuesday, ya'll. More regular posting to come, when I get that work/life/sleep balance down.

Read More......

Sep 23, 2008

Third World Rising: Paraguay

Not much in this new world order gives me that much hope. Even as I struggle with the decision of whether to vote a mainstream candidate for President for the first time in 12 years, I'm not overcome with "hope" for American democracy. But there's something incredible afoot in South America. The latest turn left comes from Paraguay, where former liberation theologist Fernando Lugo was elected on a platform of land reform and peasants' rights.

So much of South America is moving in this direction, it can't be seen as a fluke anymore. With Asia split between isolated dictatorships and Americanesque capitalist states, and Africa dealing with extreme poverty, violence and corruption, and the preventable spread of disease, South America may be the only truly successful manifestation of the Nonaligned movement of the 40s and 50s. The nations and people of the South are moving on their own, and it seems like even the main early players (Castro, Hugo Chavez) aren't as influential as indigenous folks stepping up to take leadership.

Read More......

Sep 17, 2008

When the Wall (Street) Came Down

So the morning shows today, in the wake of yet more "bad" news about the financial companies going under (and Federal takeover of AIG), in addition to the expected comments on Wall Street greed, there was an interesting focus on "Main Street greed." Basically, after name-checking some of the splurging CEOs, they said "hey, it spread to all of us, with our moderate salaries, we were still buying $4 Starbucks, houses we couldn't afford on our salaries because of downpayment-free mortgages, etc etc.

It didn't sit well with me right away and here are the key reasons:

1) CEO greed and my neighbor's "greed" are one thing, but what about corporate greed? In my opinion, the culture of organizational greed far exceeds the impact of individual people grabbing for what they can get. Not only does it push people internally to strive for larger and larger margins, but the voice of common sense (i.e. "WTF are we doing?!") is silenced in the process. There is no room for alternative visions of community wealth or the common good when everyone is pushing for more, and dissent will cut you off from your ambition of rising to the top.

2) You're telling me that the person with the $30,000 salary who buys the $400K house is the reason that the economy is teetering now? Give me a fucking break. Blaming the individuals on the bottom of the economic food chain for the madness at the top is a lie. "Food chains" are an apt analogy: the companies managing the deals and looking the other way from their own economic forecasts were feeding off the dreams of the little guys. Zero-down mortgages have created some of these issues, but keeping people financially illiterate: give them the dream/end goal, but not the roadmap or tools to get there in a way that makes sense for their economic situation, is fraudulent. While the corporations trade in bundled, broken dreams packaged as mortgages in default, the rest of us could either keep sleeping or wake up.

3) Which brings me to my final point this morning: this should be a time to look at systems, more than just individual "greed." Reducing this to a "sin" analysis instead of another damning lesson about free market capitalism misses the point. When I hear people say "we've been here before, and we'll be here again" it makes me want to scream. This is not an inevitable thing, people: we could get some security if we weren't all driving 100 mph towards a cliff all the time. And who's setting that pace? Who's created this culture of greed?

Read More......

Sep 16, 2008

Film: The Prestige (2007)

Like so many films during law school, I slept on this one. Not through it, mind you. On it. I think this came out at just around the same time that The Illusionist came out. Isn't it funny how things like that happen? You get multiple movies about talking ants, sharks, what have you, all in the same year. Well, those are animated, these are not. Anyway, caught afore-mentioned Ed Norton flick on video first. I think it's better that way. If I saw this one first, I may have stopped watching the Norton film after the first 15 minutes because it didn't have the same level of attention-grabbing.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, of Memento and the great new generation of Batman features fame, and starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in great roles as rival magicians at the turn of the century, I have to say: this one was fun to watch. Where else will you see two superheroes go head on without possessing actual powers? Or is it that simple? The film isn't perfect, but there's enough mystery and period sets to keep things interesting. I definitely enjoyed it, but with plot holes and various jumps and skips, I'd have to give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. Still, there are some really interesting questions that the film makes you think about, particularly the way science and magic were perceived at that time (and maybe even still), and the line between performance and reality. It's a good ride.

Read More......

Sep 14, 2008

New job is kind of kicking my ass, but in a good way. I'm learning each day and feel like I have the space to grow. I'll find some time to write up some thoughts soon, so thanks for checking in once in a while. I have to say - being where I am, I feel like I can be positive about community-based work again. It's funny: law school is supposed to kill that spirit and kill your creativity. I was feeling that for a while, but I was lucky: found some community while putting in my three years, and found some faith in myself in the process.

As I've mentioned before, I may have to find another space to write more directly about my work, but starting out as someone who's waiting to see if he's licensed to practice law, it's less about confidential client information and more about this being a small community and all. But I'm definitely starting to think about how things connect - and it's nice to not just be someone sitting in cyberspace idly hypothesizing about things. Real talk, real walk is possible.

Anyway, time to catch some shut-eye before another full week. Keep the faith, ya'll. More to come.

Read More......

Sep 11, 2008

Seven Years Have Passed.

Seven years have passed.

The elementary school near where I live broadcasts its morning announcements to the streets via a speaker or two on the outside. Today, they took a moment of silence for 30 seconds and I wonder "Is this what it was like in the decade immediately following Pearl Harbor or the Triangle Shirt Factory tragedy?" Do kids who only read or hear about recent tragedies through newly edited textbooks feel anything, or are they all just going through the motions like we tend to do in so many other circumstances?

Seven years have passed.

And what was once too immediate and present to speak about with anyone, has now become almost too distant and faded. I had a hard time dealing with what other people were feeling and experiencing, and hadn't really addressed or come to terms with my own feelings, and now I wonder if the time has passed. Is it time now to "move on"?

Seven years have passed.

I got a message yesterday from an old friend from whom I've grown a bit distant because of time and place. But we had worked together in communities affected by the aftermath for more than 2 years. And his mind returned to that place and time, even if he just said that he was checking in. Something remains.

It's odd to think about time before a date was reduced to a soundbite and the same video clips played over and over. I'm just as tired as anyone else, but the memories trigger something, and I'm forgetting what that innocence was. And I start to feel conflicted sometimes, because I have a better idea than many of what real loss in the wake of that loss was like, but it wasn't my own or even that of people who I knew personally. And seven years have passed.

Read More......

Sep 8, 2008

More Unsolicited Advice for the Dems

Not much to write about, so I'll give the Dems some new ideas to pound their opponents:

1) Obama should start talking more about how Americans should be able to retire at 65, like they used to. I'm pretty sure that people are working longer, because they have to, and it's a way to talk to seniors, talk about the direction of the economy, and suggest that McCain should be able to sit on a beach and get some color on him rather than apply for a new job. I mean, we keep hearing about his service to the country: doesn't he deserve a break already?

2) The Dems should stop running from the "they want to make government bigger and they want government to choose your doctor, your school, etc." They can win this debate: government exists to fill in the holes, build and maintain society, and make sure that while all the greedy little capitalists are scheming to squirrel away more dollars, those who are less fortunate do not get eaten up in the process. It does not exist merely for its own sake, nor just to wage war.

And what's more, the Dems should flip the "family values" thing: we want to make sure that everyone has healthcare. We believe there are some minimum requirements that should be in place in a country as great as America. But they want government to tell you who you can love, what you can do with your own body, what faith you should follow, and even who will be allowed to see you in the hospital, provided you can afford one in their wholly privatized system. We don't need the government to tell us our values: we can do that part for ourselves.

These suggestions aren't even controversial, but I think at least the second one may strike a chord with the libertarians and energize people who want government to butt out. If the Dems want to win this thing, they have to move to new ideological ground and elevate this debate from where it's been in the past.

Read More......

Sep 4, 2008

What is Meat? (Pt. 3: The Beer Conundrum)

This is the last installment of this set (read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't) but I think I'll likely revisit the topic, particularly regarding Asian American spaces and vegetarianism.

While writing the previous posts, I discovered a very troubling fact from a search related to a non-alcoholic drink (Jamaican Irish Moss) I had recently. Apparently, some beer companies use isinglass in the filtration of their product. Isinglass is basically extracted from fish swimbladders, so therefore, pretty non-vegetarian. Check out the details on the substance here.

While getting more and more worried about what I've been drinking, I found these lists of beers that are vegetarian (with emails from the companies to back it up). Here's another list of acceptable vegetarian beers.

Note that Guiness is NOT on this list and therefore not a vegetarian beer. *sigh*  I guess this means that I should have hard alcohol if I'm going to drink. Man, Jains had it right not to allow alcohol in the diet. But who the hell knew that you can't have beer without eating fish/etc parts?!?!

This is almost as disturbing as the ground-up insects in some of my favorite candy.

It kind of begs the question about what it is that some people won't eat. I guess some large part of this is the big corporation deciding what corners to cut and what preservatives and other substances will get the desired effect, without really stopping to think whether their consumers want to consume these pieces of animals, insects, and fish. Does it matter? For people like me, the answer is "definitely yes," but what for others? Aside from the grossout factor, is this as disturbing to non-vegetarians as it is to me?

Whatever the case, in post #1 I was crying out against the "pork: the other white meat" campaign in NYC subways. Maybe this revelation about non-veg beers could lead to a new slogan: "beer, the meat with hops."

Read More......

Sep 3, 2008

Liveblogging the RNC

Rudy must be a vampire. He doesn't age. I wish the ground would open up and take him back home.


Woah, though. He said "nada" a few times to move the RNC masses: I don't know how the English only lobby feel about that. And he should stop emphasizing how frail and injured McCain is. Not doing wonders


I really hate Rudy: mofo had the crowd laughing at community organizers. Wish we could stick our collective, community empowered boot up his ass.


Man. These speeches are so long. Thank God Rudy is gone. 30 years of him was enough, and he still managed to both mention 9/11 and say Dems were afraid to do so.


The chants of "USA! USA!" used to get on my nerves. Now I keep thinking "Ali bombaye!" Go figure.


"I guess being a small town mayor is kind of like being a community organizer, except you actually have responsibilities." Um, yeah.


If I were the Dems, I would get child advocacy groups - from the adoption advocates to the folks working on behalf of the developmentally disabled - to start making a lot of noise about how both Repugnicans are using their kids as political props.


Read More......

Sep 2, 2008

Film: Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)

Batman: Gotham Knight is an animated feature-length that went straight to DVD this year. It is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it is comprised of 6 short tales, each similar but shorter than individual episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. Second, I don't think that any of the segments are drawn by the same artists, and much of it is in anime style (think, The Animatrix concept, although I didn't see that film). A big plus, however, is that some of the vocal talents from the Animated Series reprise their roles in this film (most importantly, Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman). Finally, similar to the Animatrix, Gotham Knight is meant to take place between Batman Begins and this summer's smash hit Dark Knight

To take it back, I loved the Batman: Animated Series cartoon. It took me a while to get into it, because it was different from the other stuff that was out there (and I think I was in high school or something when it came out). I remember first watching and thinking "this is it? why is there so little music? It's just him talking, and then there's some action, then more talking." I finally gave it another chance, and realized what was going on.

The creators wanted to bring Batman back to his roots from the comic books - Frank Miller's reinvention of the character as a much more complex, dark figure in the DC Universe.Batman was much more aloof, harder to connect to the sunny optimism (and red, white, and blue Americanism) of Superman. He had a dark back story that led to the character that we know. He lived in the shadows, did not have supernatural or extraterrestrial origins to make him special: he was a bad mofo with a lot of money and personal discipline (most of the time).

Because of this, Batman was more human this way, and tapped into something deeper with real readers. Additionally, his realm, Gotham is a dark, sinister version of NYC, where retro, modern, and futuristic forms and technology clash and combine in interesting (but almost always gothic) landscapes. I think Nolan's Batman Begins and Dark Knight also went back to the source material, which is why the fans of the comic have been so taken by them, and the films worked in shadows and shades of black and gray.

I had mixed feelings about the film, only because it made me nostalgic for the old series, which I would record on VHS whenever I could (time to dig out that tape... and buy a VCR?) but it's definitely worth seeing for the fans. I don't think I could rank it better than Mask of the Phantasm, which I actually saw in the theater. You know, this just made me realize that I never saw Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero, which is actually ranked higher than Mask of the Phantasm on Rotten Tomatoes...

Read More......

Sep 1, 2008

Three Cheers for the U.S. State Dept: Modi Denied Visa

Well, this is what happens when the government actually does what it's supposed to do. Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the butcher of Gujarat, whose anti-Muslim (and anti-Christian, which I'm sure is most relevant here) positions and actions are legion, was denied his visa request by the U.S. State Dept. Modi was going to come to the U.S. to speak at the World Gujarati Conference, to be held this weekend in NJ. 

Here's a link to the letter confirming their position on his "severe violations of religious freedom." Again, the reasoning is connected to the Religious Conversion legislation in Gujarat that required people to register with the state before they could convert their religion, which was largely seen by the media/West as a strong anti-Christian move.

I think the legislation was a hindutva move to address a history of conversion or perceived forced conversion in India (Hindus in India sometimes "Muslims in India used to be Hindu and were forceably converted en masse" instead of recognizing that people convert, it's part of human history). I wish the letter and the State Dept.'s stance reflected the genocide that Modi oversaw in Gujarat in 2002, when more than 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered and more than 50,000 displaced from their homes while the military and police stood idly by (or helped out). But we take what we can get, I suppose.

Flash forward to tons of hate mail to the government (this is what they choose to get upset about) and angry letters to the Indian American media by capitalist Gujaratis who don't care about hindutva (though they benefit from it) but see Modi as the chief architect of the economic boom that the area has witnessed in the last 5-10 years.

Read More......

Aug 31, 2008

Film Recommendation: Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Finally got to see this film (bless you, Netflix!), and I highly recommend it, particularly to metalheads of color and those against this (or any other) senseless war. The film tracks "the only Iraqi metal band" through it's struggles to just play the music that they love in their home country as it blows up around them. The insight of some of the members about what life in Iraq was like before Sadam, just after the overthrow, and in the years afterwards (portions of the film were shot in 2006 and 2007), is something else. And getting a video look at life both in Iraq during the war, and in the refugee communities in Syria where the band finally reunites is kind of mind-blowing.

One of the most amazing things is that the band had been together since 2002, but until their "reunion" show in Syria, they'd only played 6 times together. Their rehearsal spot in Baghdad was blown up by a rocket. They had nothing left, and yet they still push ahead to try to make music. It's phenomenal and really sad and triumphant all at once. Even if you're not a fan of the genre, you have to see this film. It's just very moving to see these young guys who have seen so much yet keep on pushing. And again, like that monk from Italy, they say that Metallica is an influence, but they kick Metallica's ass all over the place: their playing really rips.

On top of all of this, the film was co-directed by a South Asian Canadian: Suroosh Alvi - he has a welcome perspective that made me much less suspicious of it from the get-go (seeing the film-makers wearing kevlar vests just so they could make the trip out to Baghdad from the airport to meet the band in 2006 was pretty striking). They had to travel in an armored SUV and hire 2 gunmen and a fixer/translator.

You know, when I was talking about the film with a friend over breakfast yesterday, I realized that beyond the music element, the story personalizes the very real heartbreak playing itself out over and over again for people who have been forced to leave their homes as refugees, seeking asylum in places that are not as war-torn or dangerous. But it also reminds me that the story never ends with their entry into the accepting country: asylum seekers do not have it easy, and the band's travails and sharp observations of life in Syria (and to a lesser extent, Turkey) was quite telling. On the flip side, the way that the global metal community, upon watching the film and hearing that the guys had to sell all their gear to eat, came together, and raised money to get them more gear. Regardless of what people think about this subculture, there is a community here, and reading that just reminded me of that fact.

Anyway, not your average documentary about metal. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Read More......

Aug 30, 2008

What is Meat? (Pt. 2)

Continuing where I left off in post 1, I'm just talking more about vegetarianism here. Not in an effort to convert you, just thinking about it, particularly in an Asian American and "socially conscious" (whatever that means) context.

You know, I still can't take the cruel sad joke that's played on me every time I go to an event where the planners "didn't anticipate" that there would be more than a few vegetarians. I have a friend who gets visibly upset because she wants the offering to contain proteins, not solely starches. Heck, I'm happy if I can get black beans instead of refried, and white rice instead of Mexican, just because I'm careful about whether there are meat by/products used in the production of my food, beyond just big meaty chunks. You'd think that it's not that fringe anymore, but somehow, even if mainstream NYC has caught up, large segments of the Asian American "activist" community are still clueless.

As I said, it's not that I'm trying to convince anyone, because I tend to like the steak-eaters who don't push their diet on me more than the militant tofu-pushers, but I do see vegetarianism to represent many facets of social and personal consciousness:

First, and perhaps most obviously, I do think of it as a moral stance regarding animal welfare. The idea that the act of killing is for sustenance is a brutal and overstated worldview, especially when people have shown in Buddhism and Jainism that it is not necessary to kill to live. But beyond that - the way that animals are treated in massive industrial farms is simply beyond the pale. Upton Sinclair's seminal book, The Jungle, shone a light on the conditions of meatpacking for the humans involved, and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation did a similar job regarding the animals and the systems created to turn fellow life forms into just another (by)product of/for human consumption and waste.

Second, I could argue a health stance regarding my personal health (i.e. heart, blood, etc), and that of global public health for communities and populations around the world. Meat production has shown, especially in recent times, how susceptible it can be to widespread infection. And to think of how many people could be fed on the grains that are given to factory livestock just to "create" one pound of "good" meat. Farm-fresh meat, which is free of growth and other hormones, and allows the animals to live without eating pieces of their brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom, is ever more rare to find. The health consequences are off the chart. Do you really want to be eating that stuff?

Third, I could take an environmental/ecological stance with mega-farms and industrial commodification and genetic manipulation of species as destroying ecosystems and playing god where we shouldn't be. Why aren't those driven by "faith" more angry about this? We're meddling in God's designs: shouldn't there be a line here, as easy to draw as all the lines they draw about morality and abortion? In addition, the level of waste connected to the meat production industry is again, phenomenal. Animals are treated like fodder for the human shovel-headed kill machine, and even as their habitats are cleared and decimated to house our people, their lives have become meaningless and wholly subsumed into serving our "needs." There are also studies that directly link massive meat production to climate change.

Fourth, I could take an intellectual stance regarding the necessity of violence for self-sustenance. Have we not evolved from the "instinctual" enough to think before we destroy? Granted, we always like to think that we're at the top of the food chain, but it's sickening, really. To argue that there is some kind of perverse justification for the wholesale destruction and harvesting of other species in the framework of simple hunter/gatherers is reprehensible to me. The extreme species bias that humans have is reflected in the racial bias that I write about the most on this blog. Maybe man's newfound ability to reason pushed him to separate himself from the rest of the beasts and animals that surrounded him. The separation quickly became the grounds to decide that we are better than the animals, that a higher force put animals in front of us as our sustenance and for no other reason.

This attitude breeds the callous relationship most people have with animals - from the insects and small invertebrates that they carelessly kill, to the beautiful animals that they hunt for "sport." When we place our own interests, even entertainment and recreational, over life, we have lost something and we have become a risk to the rest of the world. There is little that shows that we are at the "top" of the evolutionary chain: it is just that our particular adaptations of reasoning, which led to technology, have allowed us to overcome natural challenges like disease and predators, and allowed our populations to flourish and edge out the natural order in ecosystems around the globe. But we were very wrong to allow this success to go to our heads in a kind of species chauvinism that recasts other species as grist for the mill of human progress. The reckoning, for Earth's own survival, will not be pretty.

Finally, as a matter of faith, vegetarianism and the respect for other life is an important consideration for me. I don't smash bugs or run over animals with my car on purpose. I try to let insects and spiders escape most of the time through an open window rather than just kill them. The Jain philosophy of my ancestors has rejected killing: it has decided that humans and our path on this earth must preserve and respect life. I don't agree with all of the tenets of Jainism, and there are always contradictions inherent in the interaction of these world views (especially those that are millennia old) with modern times, but the fundamental equalizing of the value of life across life beings is very striking. Is it an evolution for humans not to kill? Is our ability to reason our escape from what others believe is the inevitable "circle of life" that makes animals that are striving to survive killers for food, for territory, or for self-defense? I don't know. But it is remarkable for people to actively stop killing, or at least eating the spoils of others' killing.

I'll close here, though there's one (very unfortunate) thing that I found out in the process of writing this piece that will have to come out in part 3. Stay tuned, and whatever you do, don't forget the gravy!

Read More......