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.

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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!

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Aug 29, 2008

Jessica Yu's Ping Pong Playa

Okay, just listened to a report on Asia Pacific Forum (if you are reading this, you should be listening to the weekly show from the prog/rad collective in New York) about Jessica Yu's new film, Ping Pong Playa. I definitely want to see this film - seems like an insider's send up of a lot of the cliches in Asian American activism and community dynamics. Here's the synopsis from the Asia Pacific Forum piece:

Christopher "C-Dub" Wang, a suburban Chinese American kid, aspires to make it in pro basketball. He spends his days talking trash and overreacting to perceived slights against Asian Americans. But when misfortune strikes his family, C-dub must overcome living at home, working a dead-end job and living in the shadow of his older brother, a physician and ping pong champion, to run his Mom's ping pong classes and defend the family's athletic dynasty. We’ll be joined in the studio by director JESSICA YU and by JIMMY TSAI, who created the character of C-Dub and played him in the film. Ping Pong Playa is the first narrative feature for Yu, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker.
Catch the film as it debuts in NYC, LA, and the Bay Area next week!

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Aug 28, 2008

Heavy Metal Monk: Fratello Metallo

This is a real monk from Italy who was so taken by heavy metal that he decided to create a band and sing without pushing his faith on people too hard. The dude says he was inspired by Metallica but he could sure teach those losers a thing or two.

There are a range of really interesting metal books and films coming out. Heavy Metal in Baghdad made the circuits in film festivals last year. There's a new film that I'm very anxious to see, called Global Metal, by the excellent director (metalhead who is also an anthropologist) of "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey." The film tag "7 Countries, 3 Continents, 1 Tribe" captures a lot of the allure for me, actually. I'm looking forward to seeing that one and will report back once I track it down.

Meanwhile, get a good trappist beer and rock out to Fratello Metallo. Man, these monks are cool.

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Aug 27, 2008

Tropic Thunder: Appropriation Revisited

Tropic Thunder's much reported take on blackface (and Ben Stiller's dismal record in movies) kept us from seeing the film until this past weekend. We were hoping to see Wall-E, but in yet another cruel twist of this bar summer, it wasn't playing anywhere near us. So Tropic Thunder was the best thing that fit into our schedule. I had read enough to know that Robert Downey, Jr.'s take on blackface would either make me want to leave the theater, or get me to think about what it means and where we are now that a film not made by people of color can actually address some of the interesting aspects of representation and appropriation that we find ourselves confronting nowadays. I'm happy to report that it was more of the latter than I expected.

Without ruining too much, the whole film is a satire on the industry, and Downey plays a five-time Oscar winning Australian actor who is such a method actor that he decides to undergo a medical procedure to "look black." Downey plays his role to perfection - making fun of extreme method actors (Day-Lewis, anyone?), cultural appropriation, and the seeming paradox of actors with huge egos and overwhelming insecurity. There was also a black actor on the team calling him out each step of the way ("there's only one role for a black man in this film, and you get it!").

Stiller surprised me: I was expecting nothing but slapstick and bathroom humor (they make fun of some of that as well). I know there are criticisms of the film regarding its approach towards the mentally disabled, but I have a feeling that some of that was also tongue-in-cheek (saying to the viewer, we're so clever about race that we have multiple levels about that, but Hollywood doesn't get everything). Maybe that's giving them too much credit, but some of the "retard" comments were so over the top that I feel like they knew what they were doing.

But this also makes me think about representation and appropriation, particularly in light of some of the weird Mickey Rooney denial of the racism inherent in his much reviled Asian caricature in the otherwise classic Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Is there a space where this kind of caricature is acceptable? And does it matter who is doing it and for what reason? The film features Asian actors playing members of an Asian drug ring, and it begs the question: we get pissed off when white people play our people, even in "sympathetic" roles, but then our people play our people in crazy terrorist/trafficker/bad driver/whatever roles, and we're okay with it? Because an Asian/POC actor has to live and "Hollywood's fucked up - you have to play the game so you can get to where you don't have to play the game"? I'm not feeling that. But I guess I'm not an actor, either.


Anyway - if you want to see two octogenarian actors/movie people talk about this film (it's not perfect because they get caught up in the whole "PC" discussion) check this review out. But it's kind of funny to hear them talk to each other and about this film. Woah - just watched their review of the Dark Knight. Not cool.

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Aug 26, 2008

Kucinich Speech at DNC today

The new call to wake up America. I'm glad Dennis got the stage. Probably one of the more impassioned speeches on that platform. But don't type "wake up america" into Google: you'll get a lot of right-wing dribble.

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What is Meat? (Pt. 1)

With the early onslaught of Halloween preparations, a holiday that's never been the same for me since I found out that many of my favorite candies have shredded beetles and other unsavories in them, I thought this as good a time as any to post my consideration of the more-complicated-than-I-thought-it-was question: "what is meat?"

I have been surprised by the different ways that people in the Northeast (my only frame of reference) consider the various subgroups of "food" and justify the exclusion of each from their personal definition of "meat." I don't know if this is true in other parts of the U.S. or if even this is another one of those uniquely American propositions. But it just knocks me out that this is as debated (or at least contested) as it is. Pescatarian, Vegan, Non-Red-Meatatarian... the variations have promulgated in a way not unlike the many permutations of American Christianity.

I actually think it's not so complicated for people who aren't in the United States. Or maybe that's a massive generalization that isn't large enough - perhaps it is more the whole Western, Christian world that doesn't quite get the difference between a carrot, a crab, a carp, and a canary. Whatever it is, there are a number of observations and impacts on people who are trying to stick to one or more of these diets, and more importantly, the assumptions that come from people who just don't get the difference. It also has ramifications for movement work in communities that have heterogeneous and specific diets.

I know it's been a source of frustration for the older desi generation (well, my Mom is the sample for me here) when someone asks if they eat seafood or poultry right after they've said "I don't eat meat." Because to them, "meat" is anything that used to be an animal. And "animal" means anything that's not a plant, fungi, monote, or phytoplankton. For many of them, even eggs are included in that definition, but milk and dairy are not "meat" because they are not directly "animals" but rather animal products, I guess. For some reason, this is really hard to understand for a lot of people - I don't know if it's the penetration of the concept of "vegan" into the American psyche or sheer, complete ignorance. The number of questions about whether "x" or "y" are acceptable under old school immigrant definitions of "vegetarian" is sometimes frustrating. It used to be basic questions like "where do you get your protein?" and "that's weird!" but now that the concept of vegetarianism has permeated mainstream American life more, the questions have actually multiplied and become more specific.

Anyway, I believe that the regular exclusion of fish (and even poultry) in the Western conception of "meat" strongly normalizes carnivorism. Anthropomorphism is also a fairly common way of describing diet: "I won't eat anything with a face" translates to me that some of the Disney animated shows with cute talking animals must be having some lasting effect, at least on the subliminal level, and maybe some of the kids who watch the films over and over again will grow up wondering why Bambi equals venison, and Thumper makes a good stew. But then, why is Sebastian the crab is less sympathetic and more likely to find himself taking his final dip in a giant hot tub that is really a hot pot? Let's not even get to the fact that people get all freaked out by insects and spiders, but are more than happy to crunch into other, larger, many-legged arthropods like lobsters, shrimp, and crabs. I just don't get the logic: eat a damn spider already. And that's not because I'm an Indian, and we eat that kind of stuff regularly.

I also think that the inability of some people to fully understand that fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and the various other exceptions to the meat rule seem, at least to me, to signify one of two things: 1) "I don't care about science, I'm proud that I don't know what an animal is, and you should go screw yourself," or 2) "It's too hard to include all of these things, and as long as I'm not taking a bite out of a live whale's trachea or something, you should leave me alone to my drumstick. At least I don't go hunting these things (off season)."

Ah. Yes you do. You may not lay the trap, throw the net, or reel in the line, but you are hunting them as you maneuver between the CostCo, the Super WalMart, and the other discount food retailers (the nutritional-industrial complex?) to get your best price. You're driving this crazy market for faster, cheaper, and more "consistent" tastes in meat products. Your attenuated tolerance for variation and regional nuances in food and food preparation have lead to the mass production of these food products. For shame! Your burger just had to taste the same as what you just had in Chicago after your week away from home. I may have philosophical and faith reasons for rejecting a carnivore's diet generally, but I can accept eating for the sake of sustenance and survival, and in a way that doesn't turn fellow species into a commodity. But that's not what the modern method of meat and food production is about.

The furthest extreme includes so called "white meat" in the list of acceptable and consumable flesh. And does anyone remember the posters in the NYC subway announcing "pork: the other white meat"?! Man, come on. You've got to be kidding me - pig is the meat forbidden even to the most meat eaters. I'm convinced that the campaign was some crazy Christian right thing to piss off the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and other assorted veggie heathens in one fell swoop. Ugh. I'll take those annoying peanut ads any day of the week.

I'll revisit this theme in at least one more post, to go through some thoughts on vegetarianism as a framework for social and political consciousness, and also for the challenges that remain for vegetarians in Asian American spaces.

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Aug 25, 2008

Blue Scholars are in Denver

DotBS revolutionary hip-hop faves, the Blue Scholars, are in Denver this week, performing at and checking out the anti-, agit-, and alterna-convention activities going on outside of the "main event." Check out this great post on Day One by Geo with images by Sabzi. Geo has sung about participating in the 1999 Seattle uprising, but also about how the last thing he wants to do is get arrested at these things, unlike many of the white radicals who agitate and wear their arrests as badges of honor. Geo alludes to this again in the post, where there were a handful of folks of color who just stood back and let the white folks do whatever they wanted to do to aggravate the police in riot gear.

"We all agree that while direct action is necessary in principle, its practice must be timely and tactical."

A lesson to live by.

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I'm Getting to Hate the Post Office

I have written earlier that I was enamored with the dying art of letter-writing and connecting through postal correspondence. I'm so over that now. As the price of sending letters continues to soar, and the range of possibilities for sending packages through the mail for anything less than exorbitant fees shrink, I'm thinking we need another option. Yeah, there are courier services, UPS, and FedEx, but those commercial venues are so focused on business clients that their offerings to poor schlubs like me are not very attractive. Also, there's a post office nearby, but not a UPS or FedEx depot (or whatever they call them).

That said, we need an alternative to the Post Office that is also fueled by public money. Before the establishment of the postal service's monopoly, there was competition with the pony express, and a variety of other alternatives. I know that the internet is supposed to play some kind of equalizing role, but if we want to send and get packages, if we want to reach out to loved ones in a personal way, the internet isn't doing it. So what do we do? I say we set up an alternative pathway, create nodes for the movement of letters and things, and bring it back to basics. There's something wrong when it costs me $8 to send a book that I'm selling for $3 via

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Aug 23, 2008

Proletariat Nonprofit Blues

As I prepare to enter the nonprofit world full-time again in the next couple of weeks, I'm reminded that nonprofit organizations have a tendency to undervalue and underpay their staff. At a former employer in the Asian American community, I had a starting salary of $20K out of college. It was my first gig, and I was thankful to have a job, but that's pennies in NYC, even back then. And I was told that there was nothing else they could squeeze out. Honestly, I find that hard to believe - adding even $500 as a "bonus" makes a big difference, at least in the valuation of your work.

Nonprofit staff work like crazy, get paid shit, and don't get the additional perks that firms and other places dish out. I remember what it was like. I tried, when I was in a position of management, to give those little perks to my staff (and the staff of other community nonprofits) when I could. Getting free tickets through board members and other friends of the organizations, trying to give certain unexpected times off or mid-day mixing it up (we had the whole staff go out to see a movie premiere in the middle of the day once).

Regardless, I've been in the field for a long time, and re-entering it now, I'm finding that salaries have not changed much since then. It's kind of sobering. This issue is much more pronounced for public interest lawyers (though I think organizers have it even worse). A new staff attorney at a non-profit in NYC may make something between $35K and $40K. The starting first year associate in an NYC firm will start, off the bat, with a cool $165K. The disparity is incredibly grim. And the American Bar Association isn't doing much to address it.

At least for social workers, the National Association of Social Workers has lobbied to create a base starting salary that groups have to meet to gain accreditation (I think). Something like that from the private bar would really help public interest lawyers out. But it's just not what is done. So as the cost of living continues to rise, we're forced to smile and say nothing (well, I guess we can say something, but there isn't much hope for change).

More broadly, I'm concerned that low salaries directly affect retention and internal development of leadership with the new generation of community workers. If you aren't making a lot, how long can you stay in the work, particularly with the pressures pushing against affordable housing and cost of living in city centers where most of these jobs remain?

Add to this what I've heard about the new generation (take it as you will, since it's from other older fogies like me): younger folks tend to be more impatient, and possess a sense of entitlement that gets in the way of taking their lumps or playing the game until the right opportunity arises... and I don't know what the leadership for Asian American nonprofits will look like in the future.

I certainly don't think it will come from people who were committed full-time to the "movement." Maybe that's not a bad thing - moving us away from that tendency towards the professionalization of movement work ("I need the MPP from Harvard to do community policy work"). Then again, it could mean that people who don't have the field experience or feel, could move in from the professional schools to take over (though these low wages may prohibit that from happening). What do you think?

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The Veep Announcement and the Family Tree

So they finally gave us the confirmation that it will be Biden. I'm sure more information about Biden will come out - the man likes to talk. But Biden's comments about Obama's background were kind of annoying: he focused on all the white relatives. Everything Obama's got is from his Mom from Kansas (VOTE FOR HIM THERE), his grandparents in Hawaii (VOTE FOR HIM THERE), including his racist grandma, and what, his white second cousins in... Michigan, Ohio, and Florida? It's kind of annoying. The man is half African: did nothing good come from that side of the family tree? I'm just saying.

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Aug 21, 2008


Finally watched Persepolis. Really enjoyed it. I haven't read anyone's take on it, but if you haven't seen it, do. It's touching and funny, and puts things like "revolution" and "liberation" into perspective without getting too heavy into rhetoric or doctrine. Hey, and a reference Iron Maiden even manages to pop up!

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Fitting into a New Workspace

I start working soon, and I'm looking forward to it. I have been thinking about the process of "fitting in" again. It's been a long time since I started in a new office, and I don't know what it's like to be new somewhere anymore. I have a tendency to share and/or speak my mind a lot, things that aren't necessarily bad, but can be read the wrong way by people unaccustomed to forthrightness that is not (at least I hope) tied to ego. I just like to be comfortable with folks, you know?

But there are conventions and expectations in a lot of places about how you should act as the new person in the space (even if you aren't that young yourself). The convention for interns is pretty straightforward: do what you're asked, and share your opinion only in those rare moments when people actually, really care to hear it. But as a staff person, your opinion and input are usually part of the job - I guess it's just knowing when is the right time, and when is enough. In real life, I have the benefit of a partner who guides me a bit in social settings (particularly with people who I don't know and who don't know me).

So as I walk into this new space, I have to remember that I don't know my co-workers yet, or the orientation of the office, so I should try not to offend anyone in the first month until I know what's what. And I guess I shouldn't get offended by things either.

I suppose that means I won't be speaking about the elections at lunch or after hours at all. Maybe that means I'll be posting a lot more. Who knows.

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Aug 20, 2008

"Nonpartisan" or Not?

I guess I'll have to focus on the Olympics and the Elections till November. Kind of annoying. I'll try to broaden that, but there's just so much to talk about.

Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, outlines the rules of formation and restrictions on activities by organizations to whom the Federal government allows both tax exemption and tax deductions for their individual donors. There are a lot of restrictions, far more than for other tax exempt organizations. One of the big restrictions is on political activity -- i.e. anything that looks partisan or even gets overly entangled with the political arena. Even policy advocacy, for specific pieces of legislation, is strictly regulated for (c)(3) organizations. This is pretty well understood, but especially in big election years, sometimes, people get a bit sloppy.

There are Executive Directors of community-based organizations who get a little too close to one candidate or another, and don't make it very clear that they are there solely on an individual capacity (which is allowed). A number of APA organization leaders are going to both the upcoming DNC and RNC national conventions. It seems to me that people really wanted to see Obama speak, and are willing to make the trek out to the RNC, where they'll nurse a few drinks, shake a few hands, and feel like they've done what they need to cover their bases.

I don't really accept that. I also think it's not cool for groups to do briefings to just 2 presidential campaigns, just because they are the ones that the media are so focused on. There are at least 5 active presidential campaigns going on, and at least 4 of them are with parties (I can't remember if Nader is with an independent "party" or just on his own). I really wonder if someone wanted to wreak havoc with some of these groups, whether they could raise a fuss with the I.R.S. Maybe the argument could be that if they show preference to 2 parties over all the others, it's still partisan. It's not good enough to just speak with Republicrats.

Again, I'm not hating of the nonprofits, but if they only recognize candidates from the monied parties, they are perpetuating the 2-party bullshit that keeps us in this mess.

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Aug 15, 2008

Endless Campaign

I'm venting a little, but I feel like some of the people supporting Obama are the reason I'm not embracing his candidacy (oh, well that and the positions that I feel he's moving further and further right on). They're crazy. I actually fear getting into the conversation about third-party options with them. It's a legitimate threat to my ability to voice my damn opinion. So I keep my mouth shut in social gatherings. Which, if you know me, is a really hard thing to do.

I woke up to C-SPAN today, with a Hillary supporter calling in saying she's voting for McCain. "I heard him say he's been to all 57 states. I don't know where he's been, but the U.S. has 50 states. If he doesn't even know that, he shouldn't be president." WTF?! That's the reason to dismiss the candidate?! I guess even the party Dems aren't that faithful to the Dems when their candidate isn't the chosen one. But this is a bit nuts, isn't it? And I don't know the quote, but was he talking about Guam, Puerto Rico, D.C., and the range of other U.S. "assets" that don't rise to the status (or rights) of states? This may just be unnecessary details for the voter looking for a way out of saying "yo, he's black, are you kidding me?!"

I guess I'm more conflicted about this than anything else. I thought McCain didn't have a chance, but I'm reminded about how much racism there is in this country, and how threatened the middle-of-the-road white person feels (based on what, I have no idea, but maybe they are too stupid to read the signs: i.e. statistics of incarceration vs. education, AIDS and other other health indicators vs. prosperity, and all the other things out there that suggest the status quo isn't going to change anytime soon).

It's going to be a long few months.

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Aug 9, 2008

China and Neo-Nationalism

(Updated 8-21-08) So the opening ceremonies went off well for China, everyone rest assured: there wasn't any predicted terrible event. Well, not there, anyway. 1,500 died in Georgia, as Russia beat it down, but whatever, right? This is about the world coming together to play games. Okay, I like the Olympics, normally, but it's just another pageant, enit?

I have been thinking about the zealous nationalism that we came face-to-face with when China was under fire by pro-Tibet protesters. I was kind of bowled over by how strongly nationals at my school pushed back. It was kind of interesting - I have a strong pro-Tibetan independence mindset, but hearing cries of "you're sinophobic!" made me stop and think for a minute: was it true that people were using this moment as an opportunity to beat up on China and Chinese people?

Well, some time has passed from that moment of reflection, and we're getting more reports in the mainstream media about some of the things happening in China. It seems like the government and host committee has done a good job of keeping the big controversies out of view: Taiwan is playing nicely under the "Olympic" flag as Chinese Taipei, and the Tibetan protesters are present, but you have to look for them. Still, anti-Chinese sentiment makes its way into most of the team pictures from Spain (it's all over the Asian American blogs, so I didn't link here but rest assured: I think the Spanish basketball team are a bunch of fucking losers). The "foreignness" of Chinese culture, of course, makes its way into the morning talk shows and most of the commentary, but it's pretty vanilla compared to what it could be. However, there are accusations and insinuations aplenty about the audience, the athletes, you name it.

Makes you wonder if the U.S. ever really got over it's "anti-Communist" rhetoric (it hasn't). And on the other side, the hyper-nationalists are a real turn-off. I get turned off by them in the U.S., but the racial/ethnic pride element in China that I want to agree with as a member of the APA community is still off-putting. Because racial/ethnic chauvinism is problematic in most contexts, but when blended with nationalism, and in coordination (or at least not in opposition) of the central and controlling government, it is a little scary. 

It's not very hard to go from "We're proud" to "We're better." I've seen it with India forever - and especially recently. It's not that the third world project shouldn't claim its rightful place, breaking up the long-standing power monopolies of "Western" nations, but are they going to break up that system, or just replicate it?

Will it go from U.S. v. U.S.S.R. to India v. China? I think India probably has enough of an inferiority complex about the games in general without all this geopolitical stuff going on. When is the cricket world cup again?

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