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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.


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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...

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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.

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