Jul 31, 2008


I am finished with the damn exam. Almost killed me, but it's over. I will get back to some semblance of normal posting in a couple of weeks, but till then, I'll post WHATEVER I FEEL LIKE!

Maybe I'll even be able to read some fiction now, for the first time in a long time. The possibilities are endless. Off to Springsteen at Giant Stadium tonight!

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Jul 23, 2008

Comfort in the Home Stretch

I am a more than casual listener of music. But it gets in the way sometimes, especially when I'm trying to learn a bunch of legal concepts for this exam.

At long last, and not a moment too soon, I've finally found the right sound to carry me through: Filmi songs from the 40s - 60s, featuring Lata and any partnering male (at this point, I'm listening to her with Mukesh). I don't understand Hindi, but that's the charm: these songs immediately speak to me of home - I can almost smell my mom's cooking, and I can hear her singing along. I know the melodies like old lullabies that you've heard a thousand times before. But I don't get lost in the words - I just hum along.

There's something about the way that these songs are hardwired into many of us: our parents because of the way the songs linked them to memories of home and gave them a lifeline in their new, immigrant lives (I touched on this once before) and us because we grew up with the songs playing all the time.

I feel like I should make a cup of tea and have some dhokla or something. All I need now is the rain.

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Jul 12, 2008

Tom Dubois, Ralph Nader, and Barrack Obama

One of the things I loved the most about The Boondocks when it first came out was that Aaron McGruder was pretty raw about some characters that we see out there. He had a pretty sharp take on otherwise successful black characters, with prosecutor Tom Dubois being at the top of the pile. Straight-laced and uptight, Dubois (the irony of the name choice does not escape us, Aaron!) wasn't wholly clueless about the fact that he was black: he just didn't really know how to connect with either the more radical vision that Huey represented, or the popular culture side of things that Riley represented. He was the archetypical buppie. Actually, his white wife Sarah seemed a little more down than he (she worked for the NAACP, I think, and told him to chill out on more than one occasion).

Without going too far into a breakdown of the comic strip (and when I thought it was awesome vs. when I thought it started to stray), I thought that McGruder gave us a perfect model for some of the people we come across in progressive/radical work in communities of color generally. Well-meaning but often more than a bit clueless about issues of power, privilege, and the people. I feel like a lot of these folks are involved in partisan/"political" organizing in the name of our communities. Ever try to have a conversation with them about what it means to take certain money or certain kinds of stances (or not) on things outside of their comfort zone (i.e. see my posts on Palestine and Asian America)? Many of them take up spaces that could be held by real community members, or at least people who will try to bring their voices to the table. But they are the folks white people point to when they say "the black vote" or the "Hispanic vote," at least for the Dems.

So that brings me to Nader's bomb against Obama last month, which you have have missed if you were paying attention to news on North Korea, gun control, capital punishment, or whatever else. Basically, read this CNN report on Nader's comments that Obama is feeding off of white guilt, "talking" white, and ignoring the real plight of African American and other communities of color. He calls him out on brashly supporting AIPAC/Israel and moving so far from his initial position on Palestinian rights that he's no longer recognizable. When I first read his comments, it should come to no surprise that I thought "yeah!! This is what I've been thinking! Go go Ralph!"

Then I started to think about his comments and put them in the context of the last 8 years, communication strategy, and what could be going on here. I started to wonder - why is Nader going so hard against Obama? These criticisms are equally apt for both Obama and McCain, so why isn't he taking that angle?

And I started to think about how Nader is saying things that McCain can't say directly as a candidate. McCain can't presume to step in the black community's shoes and say anything on their behalf. He knows as much (in other words, he ain't no Bill Clinton). So Nader is levying some of the far left criticism against Obama, kind of hitting him on a flank that's otherwise sort of safe from the Republicans - they aren't going to raise any of the issues that I take with Obama - they are just going to keep pushing the Islamophobic, xenophobic buttons of their willing audiences.

But Nader has the ability to actually get both whites and blacks upset at Obama. And while I think that people need to wake up, I don't know what Nader's real game is, and it makes me wonder - he has a lot of other angles he can work on Obama that might even be more effective, but why be a runner for the GOP in this way? Who are his target, beyond Obama's people and the handful of radicals in the nation who are still tuned in and have a racial justice lens that would allow them to recognize what he's saying?

I'm just saying - to tie it back - what would Tom Dubois say or think about Nader's statements? Would he agree or would he wonder where Nader's coming from? Or would his post-Civil Rights context make him think, "well, it's racist to tell Obama to focus on the black community, and suggesting that the black candidate should be the standard-bearer for issues like mass incarceration, public assistance, and any of these other "black" issues is also racist."

Because the Toms we know in the world know how to say things are racist, but most of the time, it's not a structural lens that they are using: Tom's drunk deeply from the pitcher of "American kinda multicultural society" Kool Aid. Generalizations about race and what candidates of color are supposed to focus on are the most offensive to him, because in the end, Tom Dubois does not want to be identified with those issues.

If Obama's candidacy can be "reduced" to a discussion of the issues that most directly affect the poor and disenfranchised black community, well, that means that Tom should be thinking about those issues too. And frankly, he'd rather live his buppie life, play basketball once in a while with other folks like him, and call it a day. So I'm asking, what are Nader's statements doing to these folks - the educated, successful, 30- and 40-something middle class people of color who are so excited about Obama's candidacy (and not asking questions because of it)? I say he's getting them to circle the wagons to protect Obama - because though he will bring change, they're hoping that it's more of a change of who can seen and identified as successful in the U.S. In essence, creating a slightly improved status quo, that they will be right in the middle of (no radical challenge to the social order here!). And Nader's comments strike at the heart of that premise - they aren't going to hear any of it.

Makes me feel like he's just trying to play to the media, and who knows, maybe it's the only way he can get CNN coverage now. But because he is largely unrestricted by the traditional barriers to honest and thought-provoking speech that other politicians accept, he has a lot of ways to go with this stuff. I'm not particularly happy with the angle he chose. He done confused Tom.

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Jul 11, 2008

Springsteen Speech at Induction into New Jersey Hall of Fame

I just came across this. The man has a gift. And it makes me more proud of being born in New Jersey than before. Can't really claim it, or my Newark credibility even, but this is just wonderful. Can't wait to see him live again the night after this damn exam is over.

Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame on May 4. Here's a transcript of his speech:

When I first got the letter I was to be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame I was a little suspicious. New Jersey Hall of Fame? Does New York have a hall of fame? Does Connecticut have a hall of fame? I mean, maybe they don't think they need one.

But then I ran through the list of names: Albert Einstein, Bruce Springsteen... my mother's going to like that. She's here tonight. It's her birthday and it's the only time she's going to hear those two names mentioned in the same sentence, so I'm going to enjoy it.

When I was recording my first album, the record company spent a lot of money taking pictures of me in New York City. But...something didn't feel quite right. So I was walking down the boardwalk one day, stopped at a souvenir stand and bought a postcard that said "Greetings from Asbury Park." I remember thinking, "yeah, that's me."

With the exception of a few half years in California, my family and I have raised our kids here. We have a big Italian-Irish family. I found my own Jersey girl right here in Asbury Park. I've always found it deeply resonant holding the hands of my kids on the same streets where my mom held my hand, swimming in the same ocean and taking them to visit the same beaches I did as a child. It was also a place that really protected me. It's been very nurturing. I could take my kids down to Freehold, throw them up on my shoulders and walk along the street with thousands of other people on Kruise Night with everybody just going, "hey Bruce...." That was something that meant a lot to me, the ability to just go about my life. I really appreciated that.

You get a little older and when one of those crisp fall days come along in September and October, my friends and I slip into the cool water of the Atlantic Ocean. We take note that there are a few less of us as each year passes. But the thing about being in one place your whole life is that they're all still around you in the water. I look towards the shore and I see my two sons and my daughter pushing their way through the waves. And on the beach there's a whole batch of new little kids running away from the crashing surf like time itself.

That's what New Jersey is for me. It's a repository of my time on earth. My memory, the music I've made, my friendships, my life... it's all buried here in a box somewhere in the sand down along the Central Jersey coast. I can't imagine having it any other way.

So let me finish with a Garden State benediction. Rise up my fellow New Jerseyans, for we are all members of a confused but noble race. We, of the state that will never get any respect. We, who bear the coolness of the forever uncool. The chip on our shoulders of those with forever something to prove. And even with this wonderful Hall of Fame, we know that there's another bad Jersey joke coming just around the corner.

But fear not. This is not our curse. It is our blessing. For this is what imbues us with our fighting spirit. That we may salute the world forever with the Jersey state bird, and that the fumes from our great northern industrial area to the ocean breezes of Cape May fill us with the raw hunger, the naked ambition and the desire not just to do our best, but to stick it in your face. Theory of relativity anybody? How about some electric light with your day? Or maybe a spin to the moon and back? And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know, when the announcer says "and now in this corner, from New Jersey...." they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we're coming out swinging.

God Bless the Garden State.

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