Amit Singh lost. Blame Ron Paul?

Yes, the rumors are true (thanks former SM Guest Blogger Nayagan). Amit Singh, who I first wrote about here and who Vinod later interviewed here, has lost his bid for a congressional seat in Virginia to his primary opponent. The Reason Magazine blog provides a play-by-play of the “dirty tricks” that were used against him by fellow Republican Mark Ellmore:

We knew pretty early in the night at Amit Singh’s victory party that the candidate would lose. The first hint was nebulous: It was that Singh’s opponent Mark Ellmore, a social conservative who’d been running for two years, had blanketed the district with signs, and that there were areas (especially in Fairfax County, which contained almost half the precincts) with no Singh presence whatsoever. “They needed more visibility,” said Aaron Biterman, who’d voted for Singh then volunteered for Vern McKinley. “We needed more damn signs!” said Singh, tongue planted in cheek…

So, Singh was blunt early in the night when I asked how he felt about the vote. “That mailer with the fake quote killed us,” he said. The mailer in question was an 11th hour hit job that quoted scattered sources, including the blog of Mark Blacknell, to paint Singh as an anti-troop false Republican who refused to vote for John McCain. Singh referred to the current mission in Iraq as “operation baby-sit,” so Ellmore claimed he “insults our military professionals.” Singh was about as disappointed as half the GOP when McCain lucked into the nomination, so he was, obviously, a libertarian who would destroy the party. A picture of Singh and Ron Paul completed the attack. [Link]

When Ellmore was later confronted about using scare tactics like generating fake quotes to smear Singh so close to the day of the vote, he came up with perhaps the greatest excuse I have ever heard uttered by a politician:

Amit Singh had actually seen Ellmore at the polls and chastised him for the smear; Ellmore put the onus on his 17-year old campaign manager and said he’d apologize after the election. [Link]

It didn’t help Amit that the turnout for the primary was pathetic:

“Turnout is, I don’t want to say anemic, but turnout is very, very, very, very light,” said Rokey Suleman, Fairfax County’s general registrar, who predicted that turnout was unlikely to exceed 5 percent by the time polls close at 7 p.m…

In Fairfax City, general registrar Jeremiah Vangen reported just 605 ballots cast by 2 p.m. out of more than 14,000 registered voters. Polls close at 7 p.m. [Link]

Amit ended his campaign by stating he wasn’t sure if he was going to run again in two years and that he was unlikely to accept the Vice Presidential spot on the ticket should McCain make an offer.

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Save the Cow, Broil the Intern?

As a shameless carnivore, I’m not a likely PETA supporter. The campaigns are needlessly provocative, silly, and substance-free. This is of course, my opinion only, and a lackluster one at that. Let those kooky morally righteous beautiful people have their fun, cavorting naked in advertisements. My shoulders barely cared enough to shrug.

But this incident is really so vile, I’m speechless:

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Ashley Byrne, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign coordinator with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), talks with Memphis police officers during a recent demonstration outside City Hall that coincided with World Vegetarian Week. When officers inquired about the well-being of intern Shawn Herbold (bottom) and volunteer Thomas Olsen, a sweat-soaked Herbold replied that she was in pain and feeling nauseated from the heat after being wrapped in cellophane for 30 minutes, and also asked how much longer she needed to stay there. Byrne let her know it wouldn’t be much longer and left her under the hot afternoon sun for 30 minutes more while debating with the officers. link

Yeah, this holier-than-thou hag wrapped two kids in plastic and left then in the blazing sun for over an hour. To demonstrate (against? for? can you tell?) World Vegetarian Week. And by the way? The East Coast is experiencing a heat wave of unbearable magnitude right now. I can only image what PETA would say if someone wrapped cute kittens and puppies in plastic and let ‘em bake in 100 degree heat. Hypocrite, much?

Larger version of this image (warning: close up is disturbing) and more on PETA’s activities in India, after the jump. Continue reading

Fasting for Bhopal

A few months ago I wrote about Indra Sinha’s Booker-nominated novel Animal’s People, a fictionalized take on the 1984 Bhopal Union Carbide gas disaster.

In Animal’s People, several of the main characters embark on a hunger strike, including Zafar, the leading activist in the fictional town of Khaufpur. Now, a new development in Indra Sinha’s story, where his fiction is meeting his life: On June 10, Sinha began an indefinite hunger strikehunger strike.jpg (from his home in France) in solidarity with 9 other Bhopal activists in New Delhi, many of whom are victims of gas or water contamination. His action is part of a global fast to finally force the Indian government into action to bring US giant Dow Chemical to justice in India.

Two days after the Worldwide Hunger Strike Relay has begun, 60 people in India, the US, Europe and South America have already signed up online to participate. Of this number, nine have committed to indefinite fasts, including Indra Sinha.

In his piece “Why I’m Going on Hunger Strike for Bhopal” in The Guardian today, Sinha writes:

I have spent much of the last five years writing a novel in which victims of a chemical disaster caused by a rogue corporation are sold out by their own politicians, triggering a desperate hunger strike. Animal’s People is set in the fictional city of Khaufpur, but whatever success it has had, it owes to the inspiring courage and spirit of the Bhopalis, and the descriptions of the hunger strike were drawn directly from the experiences of my friends. … On their small stretch of pavement in Delhi, now battered by monsoon rain, nine [people] have sat down to begin an indefinite fast for justice. Among them are my old friend Sathyu and, grown up into a fine young man … How can I not join them? How can we all not support them?

More on the strike and how to get involved, below the fold, as well as a look at Dow Chemical’s ironic “Human Element” ad campaign. Continue reading

Shivaji: Beyond the Legend (and some surprises)

The following post was inspired by the news last week that the government of Maharashtra is planning to build a huge statue of Shivaji off the coast of Bombay (that’s right, I said Bombay), on the scale of the American statue of liberty. The statue will be built off-shore, on an artificial island constructed especially for the purpose.

I’m not actually opposed to the idea of the statue — as far as I’m concerned, it’s all part of the great, entertaining tamasha of modern Bombay — though obviously I think there could be some other figures from Indian culture and history who might also be worth considering (how about a 300 foot bust of a glowering Amitabh Bachchan, for instance?). But reading the news did make me curious to know some things about the historical Shivaji that go beyond the hagiographical myths and legends one sees on Wikipedia, so I went to the library and looked at a book I had been meaning to look at for a couple of years, James Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (Oxford, 2003).

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In 2004, James Laine became a target of the Hindu right after the publication of his book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, but as is often the case the people burning down libraries, and destroying priceless works of India’s cultural heritage, clearly did not read the book. If one actually reads Laine’s work, one finds that Laine is quite careful not to frontally challenge the myth of Chatrapati Shivaji, the 17th century Maratha warrior. Indeed, there is much there that actually supports the pride that many Maharasthrians feel about Shivaji.

The conclusions Laine comes to after surveying the evidence on Shivaji were surprising to me. Though I obviously came to the book looking for objectivity as an antidote to the bloated mythology loudly propagated by the Shiv Sena, I presumed that “objectivity” and “secularism” would be more or less synonymous. The reality may be somewhat more complex in Shivaji’s case. Though he’s clearly not quite what his partisans believe he was, Shivaji’s story remains inspiring and heroic even after some scholarly scrutiny. And though he was more secular than many Hindu chauvinists will admit, Shivaji certainly did pointedly assert his identity as a Hindu and promote symbolic elements of Hindu religion and culture against the increasingly intolerant imposition of Islam during the Mughal empire under Aurangzeb and the final years of the Bijapur Sultanate (see Adil Shah). Continue reading

Phone-banking with an accent

A cute story, written up in the San Francisco weekly “Beyond Chron,” got sent my way today by my cousin. The story features my aunt (SM commenter “Yo Dad’s” sister). Here is how the story, written by a Barack Obama precinct captain, begins:

Barack Obama is no longer the icon of this presidential election. He has been quietly replaced by a widowed Indian immigrant mother from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania … at least for me. This is how that happened…

A couple of weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, one of Mrs. Trivedi’s doctor sons (the one in D.C.) wanted to travel back home to help with the election. She decided to help too. And one day, about a week before the election she walked into the office without me noticing.

I was then startled by a quiet voice.

“Hello, I’m Mrs. Trivedi and I’m here to help you.” (Seriously, that’s what she said.)

I smiled, introduced myself, and then showed her how to use the phone and she went at it. She completed several dozen calls and dutifully checked the appropriate boxes on the tracking sheets and then went home. [Link]

My first ever job (just before high school) was as a telemarketer. Despite the fact that the cause I was telemarketing for was a good one, the rejection was constant and demoralizing. At the end of each day I felt worthless. My boss just said, “stick to the script, it’s proven to work.” No, not in all cases. My aunt had it much worse as she read the Obama script:

She was back the next day, but the campaign had changed to a longer “persuasion” script, and by the time Mrs. Trivedi got through it, a whole lot of people had already hung up.

“It’s my accent,” she said.

It seemed that way to me too, and it bothered me. I knew the reaction of the people she was calling. While it wasn’t really racism, it just seemed a little too much like it. [Link]

So how did things turn out? Well, the script was flipped. This time, instead of summarizing, I am going to ask you all to click on the story and read what happened for yourselves.

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Happy Birthday, Piyush

Today, June 10th, is Governor Jindal of Luisiana’s 37th birthday. We’re squeaking in just before the witching hour, but I just noticed it on The Page and wanted to acknowledge the Youngest Governor’s Ever’s special day.

Louisiana’s leader spends part of his 37th birthday on Fox News, promoting McCain’s economic plan and the Bayou State’s turnaround. Seeks to bat away VP questions, but declines to give a “Shermanesque” response like Strickland, saying it would be “presumptuous” to reject a job he hasn’t been offered. link

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We’ve discussed Bobby Jindal at length on this blog, and I know each mutineer has wildly varying yet equally complicated thoughts on the man. For now, I’d like to highlight the issue of his name:

Jindal was born in Baton Rouge, the first child of Indian immigrants. Bobby is a self-ascribed nickname. Jindal says he adopted it when he was 4 years old and a fan of the puckish youngest boy on “The Brady Bunch” TV show. His legal name remains Piyush, but even his family, he said, calls him Bobby. link

The above quote is from a great article in The Times Picayune, “Name game can have racial tinge”. Right now, much is made of the right-wing attack machine’s use of Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, to alienate those blue-collar, hard-working Americans from this dark-skinned “other”. But what of the fact that Dems are using Bobby’s Indian name in referring to him? Is it equally innocuous/vile? I can’t say I support the Governor, so would it be disparaging of me to use his birth name? Who knows what truly lies within the heart of a man…but can we, who share some background with him, speculate? I’ve just got questions right now, and hope to try to answer them in another post, some other time. But until then, please check out the article and let us know what you think. Continue reading

We are not models…here is data

A report issued yesterday by NYU and the College Board attempts to lay out a case for why we should remove “model” from in front of “minority” with respect to AAPI students. The New York Times covers the report:

The report, by New York University, the College Board and a commission of mostly Asian-American educators and community leaders, largely avoids the debates over both affirmative action and the heavy representation of Asian-Americans at the most selective colleges.

But it pokes holes in stereotypes about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, including the perception that they cluster in science, technology, engineering and math. And it points out that the term “Asian-American” is extraordinarily broad, embracing members of many ethnic groups. [Link]

I’m a census data geek so I had already flipped through a Powerpoint presentation of some of the study results before the Times write-up. I should admit that even before looking at the data I was slightly biased in that I thought it would be skewed in favor of the results that the “mostly Asian-American educators and community leaders” wanted to see. These types of studies usually seem to be. I agree that it is demeaning and not nuanced enough to label Asian Americans as model minorities, but I am also against making weak arguments to prove the contrary. Besides, if we weren’t “model minorities,” then why would Hollywood always portray us so? Here is Robert Teraishi’s presentation.

Figure by Robert T. Teranishi, N.Y.U.

Something about the above graph surprised me. It makes sense that Asian American groups (AAs only, not the PIs) with the shortest orange bars would be relatively better-off economically than those with longer orange bars. However, Chinese Americans seem to break that pattern. As a group they have a pretty long orange bar, indicating a substantial subset with poor English skills, and yet as a group they seem to have been pretty successful. I’m guessing the reason my perception is a bit skewed is that the absolute number of Chinese Americans is far greater than Indian or Filipino Americans. Maybe percentage-wise they haven’t been as successful as I assumed. Continue reading

Put Your Money Where Your Munh Is

Want to know if a celebrity is playing both sides of the fence? Whether that new guy you’re seeing is actually a Republican or just dresses like one? If your boss maxed out at that fundraiser or got comped? Whether your neighbor’s political involvement stops at that hideous lawn sign?

Hell, yes!

FundRace gives you the technology to do what politicians and journalists have been doing for years: find out where the money’s coming from, see who it’s going to, and solve the mystery of why that crazy ex-roommate of yours is now the Ambassador to Turks and Caicos.

Using public records filed with the FEC of all contributions greater than $200, FundRace calculates the who, where, and how much of hard/soft cash going to political parties/candidates/PACs. I’m all agog at the technological marvels that produce such transparency.

Nosing around a bit, I came up with:

Jhumpa Lahiri, Writer, gave $250 to the DNC
Kalpen Modi, Actor, gave $1,395 to Barack Obama
Atul Gawande, Surgeon, gave $250 to John Kerry
Aziz Ansari, Producer/Actor, gave $1,150 to Barack Obama
Vikram Pandit, (current CEO at Citigroup, then COO at Morgan Stanley), gave $2,000 to George W. Bush

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Rushdie @ Google

Last week I was in New York for just a few hours, accompanying some family members who had a chore at the Canadian Consulate. My three hour visit to the city happened to coincide with Salman Rushdie’s reading at the New York corporate office of Google, on 8th Ave, so I left my family members to fend for themselves for an hour, and hopped on the A/C/E. Since I’m close to someone who works in the office, I was able to enter the Googleplex for lunch (at their legendary cafeteria), and see the reading at this unusual venue.

First of all, the turnout was striking, considering that this is an office comprised mainly of software engineers and sales/marketing people working for an internet search/advertising giant. The auditorium within the office was full, with about 200 people — about what you might expect to see at a college or university with an English department. Quite a number of people had copies of Rushdie’s new novel with them. In short, Googlers read.

Second, the reading was being teleconferenced live with three other Google offices, which you could see on a screen projected behind Rushdie’s head. (By contrast, when we have readings where I teach, we have enough trouble just getting the microphones to work without brutal feedback…)

Third, in keeping with Google’s “do your thing” office environment, there was a bright red exercise ball just hanging out on the floor of the auditorium, about 10 feet from the podium. It was unclear to me whether it was there as a seating option, or simply as decoration (the bright red goes well with the Google office’s bright, “primary colors” palette).

Rushdie himself tailored his comments to his environment quite nicely, reinforcing my impression of Rushdie as a demi-God of public speaking engagements. Continue reading

Review: Preeta Samarasan’s “Evening is the Whole Day”

The situation for the Indian community in Malaysia has worsened in recent months, as many readers may be aware from earlier posts (see here and here, for starters). There were a series of major protests a few months ago, and as I understand it the situation remains tenuous (though I must admit I haven’t been following the political situation there closely). [UPDATE: The above is not exactly up to date, and in fact is inaccurate. See Preston's
comment below
.] Most people in the west know little about Malaysia, and indeed, even in India, it’s really by and large Tamil communities that have a strong historical connection to the country (see Wikipedia here); the Indian diaspora in Malaysia is, by and large, a Tamil diaspora. Given the recent tensions and our general interest in different South Asian diasporic experiences, a novel like Preeta Samarasan’s Evening is the Whole Day will likely be of interest to many readers. After the jump I have a review of the novel. Continue reading