Papal pull

The new pope of the Catholic empire has put the rebel alliance of Assisi and its dialogue with Hindus and Buddhists in check:

Peace, love and tolerance: you disgust me

In a decree published Nov. 19, the pope placed the Franciscans in Assisi under the… control of a new local bishop… The edict overturned autonomy granted in 1969 by Pope Paul VI that in effect made the Franciscans ambassadors to peace movements and to outside cultural and religious groups… So far, [Pope Benedict's] reign has been an exercise in the tightening of practice to match church doctrine as he sees it… [Link]

Rise, Lord Ratzinger. What bugs the new pope about those hippie-dippy Franciscan friars: respectful, tolerant interfaith exchange. Why, those reasonable bastards.

In the view of critics, few places within the church challenged Catholic certainties more flamboyantly than Assisi. In particular, interfaith meetings held in the hilltop town appeared to them to be a kind of food court of dangerous relativist thinking.

… Benedict was settling scores with the Franciscans over a “carnival-like” interfaith meeting they hosted in 1986. Voodoo priests, American Indian dancers and African animists took part… The Franciscans went beyond agreed-upon rules by allowing pagan worship practices to take place on church property, and Benedict “never forgave the Franciscan community for the excesses…” [Link]

Voodoo, Native Americans and animists are fine, but what really gets the good pope’s robes in a twist are Hindus and Buddhists:

St. Francis basilica at Assisi

“… during [the previous pope's] voyage to India, he had given speeches of unprecedented openness toward that country’s religions, and at Bombay had even let a priestess of the god Shiva anoint his forehead with a sacred Hindu symbol…”

Some of the city’s churches were allotted for the prayers of Buddhists, Hindus, and African animists, as if these buildings were neutral containers, void of any indelible Christian value. The Buddhists set up a shrine of Buddha on the altar of the local Church of Saint Peter. The absence from Assisi of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [the new pope]… was not improperly interpreted as… self-distancing… [Link]

Hinduism, he said, offers ‘false hope’; it guarantees ‘purification’ based on a ‘morally cruel’ concept of reincarnation resembling ‘a continuous circle of hell’…… [Link]

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Ain’t no junk in her trunk

M.I.A. says in an Urb magazine interview that she took a lot of flak for licensing ‘Galang’ for a Honda Civic ad:

Ahh, fake hipster outrage keeps me warm at night. Our own Sajit (Gandhi, not Ghandi) defends the TV spot in the story. The title’s a little familiar, too:

Read the whole thing.

Update: Another mag cover (thanks, Amardeep). Spin, spin, spin.

Related posts: Ga-ching-a-ching-a-ching, Lolita Was a Man Eatah

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Coming down is the hardest thing

Vijaypat Singhania, the 67-year-old Richard Branson of India, set a new hot air balloon altitude record in Bombay on Saturday at 69,000 feet:

Indian Vijaypat Singhania has claimed a new world record for the highest flight in a hot air balloon, after a voyage lasting several hours. The 67-year-old textile tycoon soared past 21,000 metres (69,000 feet) but fell just short of his original target. He travelled in a pressurised cabin attached to a balloon as high as a 22-storey building… [Link]

The temperature outside the balloon was expected to fall as low as minus 93 C and oxygen was negligible. Before taking off, Singhania stressed the importance of the pressurized cabin, saying that if he was exposed to such temperatures his “blood would boil.” [Link]

This is at a height no living being had been and is nearly two-and-half times the height of Mount Everest. [Link]

At least 17 aviators have attempted to beat the existing high altitude balloon record… “The aviation industry shudders at adventure flights. I chose India because it is my home and I feel [it] needs to be on the world aviation map… This flight is both dangerous and demanding…”

Most hot air balloons are powered by propane gas, but propane burners have never been tested at this altitude. [Link]

Singhania is a men’s suiting entrepreneur — I guarantee it:

Before taking off Mr Singhania, who chairs Indian textile giant Raymond Group, told the BBC that flying was in his blood. [Link]

Like SpaceShipOne’s record shot, he ran into difficulties:

The unexpectedly strong winds lifted off his balloon from its moorings prematurely, even before he was fully ready. Whereas the balloon should have taken off vertically, the gust dragged him westwards towards the sea at a dangerously low altitude. At this juncture a rescue helicopter set off in pursuit and chief co-coordinator Andy Elson radioed to Vijaypat that he should ditch the balloon into the sea. [Link]

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Chrismahanukwanzakah sucks

I am a total Scrooge when it comes to the holidays. Halloween is the last great day of the year in my opinion. After that I just hold on until Martin Luther King Day. It’s the usual rant of course. I hate that the holidays are all about consumerism. I could use a new digital camera because mine broke last week, but that is the extent to which I will participate in these holidays. Virgin Mobile is trying to sell some cell phones during the holiday crunch. In fact, they have decided that they will create a brand new holiday called Chrismahanukwanzakah that will maybe appeal to…well I don’t know, agnostics maybe? There is no holiday for agnostics after all. Their ad campaign includes a cast of characters that can only be described as freaks. This includes a Hindu Santa Claus, and a pair of Hasidic Jews that sing about a dreidel made out of meat that they will eat and poop out. If you see the commercial on TV you will see that the Hindu Santa Claus plays to stereotype. The clip on the website is even lamer. Here are the lyrics:

Silent Chrismahanukwanzakah night
Holy Chrismahanukwanzakah night
Chrismahanukwanzakah is come
Chrismahanukwanzakah is bright
My new phone vibrate and tickle me
Holy guacamole it play .mp3
Can I have some chutney please
Can I have some chutney please

You know, cause a Hindu Santa Claus would be a chutney eater. Ba humbug.

Update: See last year’s ad campaign.

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A long way from Lake Como

Syriana is a new film about the oil industry, Middle East politics and Beltway meddling, by Stephen Gaghan and Steven Soderbergh, the guys behind Traffic. It’s also the first major movie I’ve seen which deals with the shabby treatment of desi workers in the Middle East.

The trailer is cut like an action thriller, but it’s actually a thought-provoking, 2Å“ hour-long film on the moral ambiguity of America’s oil dependency. The thrust of the story, based on a nonfiction book called See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism, is that the U.S. uses the CIA to set up pliant dictators in oil-producing countries instead of those who might promote democracy. A Texan oil CEO utters this similarly realpolitik line (paraphrased): ‘The Chinese economy isn’t growing as fast as it could because they can’t get enough oil. And I’m damn proud of that.’

The movie opens with a shot of desi oil workers struggling to get onto a crammed Tata bus. Later in the movie, a shady oil company merger triggers layoffs. A Sikh foreman gets on a megaphone to Pakistani workers, telling them they’ve been fired, they must surrender their badges, and unless they find another job soon they have to report to immigration within two weeks and be deported.

Casting sees desis’ brown skin as closer to the popular conception of a terrorist than light-skinned ArabsThe Urdu-speaking Pakistanis are portrayed as naïve young villagers who just want to make a better life for themselves. Two of the young men become radicalized after racist Arab security guards beat them. They end up in a madrassa limned in sympathy, in stark contrast to the unwelcoming society around them. A striking-looking Arab evangelist preys on their insecurities and inevitably turns them into C4 fodder.

If you think that’s a spoiler, you haven’t been paying attention to desi roles in the movies these days I’m noticing an odd trend at the movies. Like The War Within, they pick Pakistanis rather than Arabs to portray suicidal terrorists. It doesn’t at all fit with recent history as most Pakistan-based suicide attackers have focused on India. They don’t seem as attached to pan-Arabism as, well, Arabs, and 2nd gen idiots in London notwithstanding, they’ve got nowhere near the presence of Arabs in global terrorism. It seems more and more like casting sees desis’ brown skin as closer to the popular conception of a terrorist than light-skinned Arabs. On the other hand, perhaps this casting was driven by simple plot imperative.

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In 1998, Nidha Mubdi, a student at St. John’s University in New York, discovered during a routine checkup that she had leukemia. After much searching through SAMAR, a donor named Himesh Kapadia stepped forward:

The bone marrow donation saved her life, but Mubdi’s kidneys began failing because of chemotherapy, and she’s been on dialysis for the last five years. But earlier this month, Derek Ivery, a friend from Queens College, gave her one of his kidneys, a much more serious operation:

Mubdi’s family members were tested to see if they could donate a kidney, but no one came up as a match. [Link]

Ivery, of Queens, decided to step forward after Mubdi put out a call for a donor on the Internet. They had met when when they were student advisers at Queens College… Mubdi’s grateful father, Shelley Mubdi, a Bangladeshi immigrant who is president of Medina Masjid, a Manhattan mosque, called Ivery, a “courageous man…”

Ivery, 26, and Mubdi, 25, were resting comfortably at New York Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital last night after the nine-hour operation. [Link]

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Speak No Evil


Muslims in Fatehpura burned an effigy of Sania Mirza on Tuesday. Miss Mirza’s transgression? Her publicly stated views on S-E-X. (Thanks, Raj!)

Muslim leaders said that their religion and holy book ‘Quran’ do not permit her to make such statment.[linky]

The article linked above provided no clue to the naughty view that burned poor Sania. Some googling turned up this:

She was quoted as saying that whether before or after marriage, the most important matter was that sex was safe. [linku]

Whoa, nellie. I knew SM (great initials on her, by the way) had plenty of balls, I just thought they were for tennis. Of course, there’s more to the story; Miss Thing had to recant.

In a statement issued in Hyderabad, Mirza said pre-marital sex could not be justified.
She said she was upset that her image had been maligned by misquotes and that such a non-issue had become a controversy.

We already know about the creepy effigy destruction. Check out how the tennis star’s detractors voiced their displeasure:

Some activists burned Mirza’s effigy and shouted “Sania Mirza down down”.

I’m not touching that last one. ;) Continue reading

55Friday: “This Woman’s Work” edition

Happy holidays, sweet readers. Today is Black Friday and that’s actually a flawless description of the moment I’m typing in now. I’m feeling rather overwhelmed by the dark…mostly because I’m staying with my little sister and she’s sleeping, so I can’t turn on any lights. ;) I’m also supposed to be vewy, vewy quiet, so she can hunt wabbits in her dweams, but she’ll have to tolerate the clickety-clacketing, since I have pirated wifi and as long as I have the mighty iBook and a connection, the 55 will go on. :)

I spent my day in transit; six hours of flying through three airports (with a two-hour layover) and one misplaced, gate-checked, carry-on bag later, I was back in the state where I once played as a toddler. I arrived in mukluks, the memory of last night/the season’s first gorgeous snow fall in DC dominating my thoughts like a new crush. Still swoony for Frosty, I stopped cold once I left the artificial climate of the airport and saw…a giant cactus. In 70 degree balminess. What an amazing country this is, from one end to the other.

My ultra-vegetarian family never did celebrate Thanksgiving (“such a typically American approach…to be grateful ONCE a year”), so I didn’t mind traveling today, but I looked at my fellow passengers on each PACKED leg of the journey and wondered about them. Surely they were trying to get home to a TurDuckEn or something brined or deep-fried. Maybe it even tasted familiar.

What did you eat? Did you create your own holiday with the family you chose vs the one you were born to, or did you go home? Did anyone gobble an all “brown” feast, with nary a cranberry in sight? Where YOU responsible for all that cooking?

Thanksgiving is for family but it’s usually staged by women. My Uncle in Maryland was a rare gent who cooked with Auntie, side-by-side; she handled the Amreekan fare while he made a most excellent sambar, to go with the Mallu portion of the menu. I remember adoring him for that. Most of my friends, no matter their ethnicity, had just their mothers stressing out over creation.

Women are the keepers of traditions, the path to religion and the source of life itself, which is why the following statistic (Thanks, Kenyandesi) left me queasy:

One in six women worldwide suffers domestic violence — some battered during pregnancy — yet many remain silent about the assaults, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

No, I’m not surprised that women are such targets, or that the pain is so widespread…but to put such an accessible number on it–again, “one in six”– is like a bracing slap in the midst of all this fuzzy, post-prandial contentment.


Each week I throw out themes because you seem to enjoy them, but I try to emphasize that no one minds what you write your nanofiction about, so long as you just write. So go ahead, write anything, and then leave your contribution (or link) to our beloved weekly project in the comments below. Continue reading

The Desi News Network

There’s an old saying that on Christmas day, the only biz going are Chinese restaurants packed with Jewish patrons. When the other 80-90% of the country is distracted by holidays, superbowls, and the like, some interesting, if otherwise overlooked, ethnic combos rise above the fold.

I’m a news / TV junkie and usually keep the feed on in the background when I’m working from home. The last 30 min may have been a milestone for desi’s on TV news.

Today’s CNN Situation Room was anchored by the dapper Ali Velshi standing in for Wolf Blitzer who was undoubtedly enjoying time at home with his family. Relative to CNN’s usual fare, Sit Room is a more “raw” up to the minute format featuring a heavier mix of live reports on the big stories.

So, instead of the same Iraq update loop that gets run on Headline News, for ex., the update goes straight to the on-the-scene reporter – in this case, Raman Aneesh – posing with mic in hand in front of a row of Hummers. And, for an update from the international desk, he turned to Zain Verjee.

20 minutes of namebrand news, an unbroken string of Desi reporting talent. Pretty cool.

A quick check on Fox News revealed anchor John Gibson interviewing Fox’s Baghdad reporter, Ms. Reena Ninan.

Now, at least when I did the quick check, MSNBC chose to deal with reporters on vacation by doing something different – they ran a documentary on the life and times of Michael Jackson

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Posted in TV