Satire, Done the Right Way

The Onion, on the India-Pakistan stand-off (thanks, Astonhope):

The joke is as much on the way Cable news channels report on “breaking events” — as if the world were about to end every time there is a traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike — as it is on the actual endless stalemate between India and Pakistan.

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Gas Consumption: California vs. China, India

According to Wired (via Manish), recent stats show that gas and diesel usage as transportattion fuel in the state of California was 20 billions gallons in 2006, an increase of more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. 20 billion gallons a year is more than the usage of the entire nations of China or India:

Given all the news coverage about the rise of the Chinese economy, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world’s most populous country is hogging all the world’s resources, while the developed nations are fighting for scraps.

But, at least with transportation fuel, you’d be wrong. California alone uses more gasoline than any country in the world (except the US as a whole, of course). That means California’s 20 billion gallon gasoline and diesel habit is greater than China’s! (Or Russia’s. Or India’s. Or Brazil’s. Or Germany’s.) (link)

It’s a remarkable statistic. The first question that jumps out is, of course, why do Californians need to drive so much? The number comes from a recent report issued by California itself (PDF here), and the report mentions some of the key reasons for the jump in consumption: more population, more cars, low fuel prices (until recently), lack of public transportation, lack of fuel alternatives, the absence of effective CAFE standards, and consumers’ preference for large, gas-guzzling vehicles. I would also add that California is a warm state, which means people like to gun the A.C., many areas have high speed limits, and most towns are designed so that you can’t really walk anywhere.

The second issue raised by the statistic is a familiar one — developing nations are sometimes blamed for challenging the comfortable life-style of the United States (for instance, see this post), when in fact the U.S. needs to start by looking in the mirror.

Which leads me to a related complaint. Environmentally-minded Americans have traditionally been particularly anxious about “overpopulation” in the third world (some of my students have said things like this to me, and not long ago I had an unpleasant conversation with a colleague along the lines of “India == Overpopulation”). Population growth is indeed a serious concern in big countries like India and China, but the number one culprit from the perspective of environmental degradation has for decades been the industrialized world. Arguably, the greatest immediate danger to the global environment is not overpopulation, but careless overconsumption. Continue reading

The Roof and the Root


There were two reasons that I was in Africa. The first one was that the mountain is there. I contend that every good journey involves a mountain high enough that it keeps a piece of you with it after you think you’ve gotten off. On top of the mountain is a doomed glacier of storied beauty that I needed to see before it melted into just a “once upon a time” memory described in a book or by an old man. The second reason I had long desired to come here was that my mother was born in East Africa (Uganda) and I wanted to feel a trace of what she once knew. Being under this sky, on this land, the pidgin that is Swahili ringing in my ears, I sought to better understand some part of her that ended when she was a teenager, a part that remained an unearthed root of my life.


The South Asian quarter (Uhindini) of Dar es Salaam is where you want to be if you have only one night in one of East Africa’s largest cities and you blog for a South Asian themed website whose readers expect you to work around the clock. It is also where the food is the best mix of Indian, Chinese, and East African. The gem dealer from Sri Lanka recognizes us as fellow guests of the dingy hotel. Your first night in a country should always be spent at a dingy hotel, otherwise you won’t learn how things in that country really work (such as how much cab fares to locations in the city should really cost). He tips us off to the fact that the best money exchange can be found next to the mosque at the end of that street. A good restaurant (I have the mutton) is directly next door to the hotel. The 34-year-old sits down with us at dinner and explains that if we want to find nice girls (why aren’t we married yet?) all we have to do is provide them with a little jewelry and some spending money. He swears that those two things will keep them satisfied and they won’t ever talk of divorce. I decide to keep my “blood diamond speech” under wraps just this once, even though Africa is the most appropriate place for it.

The Muslim friend I’m with tells me to stick with him for protection in this part of town. Five minutes later and three blocks north we pass the Pramukh Swami BAPS mandir, services just ending. “Your on my turf now,” I tell him.

Closer to the hotel again, it sounds like some bar or disco is playing Bob Marley. Sweet. I wanted to check out a bar here anyways and this one apparently has good music blaring on a Saturday night. As we get closer to the source I see that the music I am hearing is in fact emanating from a large group of women sitting on a mosque floor. Yeah, it definitely wasn’t Buffalo Soldier I was hearing. It is probably not polite for me to keep staring like this either. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Comedians

Hari Kondabolu, who is kind of a friend of the Mutiny’s, is going to be on Comedy Central Friday night at 10pm eastern (“Live at Gotham”). Here is a snippet that I think is from the show:

Pretty clever, no? (It helps if you are a child of the 80s…)

Compare to Papa CJ, who was eliminated tonight from the NBC show Last Comic Standing, after a truly disastrous performance. I wouldn’t ruin your day with a link to that footage even if it were available, but here is Papa CJ doing somewhat similar material in London, albeit much more effectively:

In London he seems much more confident, though I have to admit I’m still not thrilled with his shtick. Is it just me, or is Papa CJ just not that funny?

That said, one does have to give him credit. It’s one thing to be a brown comic with a funny name, but a familiar American accent and a shared set of cultural reference points with one’s audience (i.e., Hari Kondabolu and Back to the Future above). Papa CJ, born and raised in Kolkata, has to work across a yawning cultural divide when he performs in the U.S. It makes comedy quite difficult (the “bollocks”/ “bullocks” joke, only marginally funny in England, would be suicidal in Los Angeles).

Ironically, due to the colonial legacy, England is probably a bit easier going for an Indian comedian. Continue reading

Posted in TV

A South Asian American Agenda?

Periodically, we’ve discussed whether there is any real solidarity amongst the different South Asian communities in North America. What do wealthy 2nd gen suburban doctors, for instance, really have in common politically with recent immigrants working as shopkeepers and taxi drivers in ethnic enclaves in the inner city? It’s a difficult question to answer, though that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to answer it.

A recent blog post by Dr. Anonymous at Pass the Roti drew my attention to an attempt to find a common agenda by a number of South Asian American Groups, including South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). The groups have come together to form the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations to release a position paper, which attempts to assemble a political agenda that will find broad support amongst various constituencies who can all be described as “South Asian American.” The groups that have endorsed the document are pretty diverse — including a number of South Asian women’s groups, gay rights groups like Trikone, and progressive youth groups like SAYA and DRUM. Interestingly, one finds three Sikh advocacy groups endorsing the agenda (SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, and United Sikhs), but not, as far as I can tell, any groups that are specifically oriented to advocacy for Hindus, Muslims, Jains, or Desi Christians. I’m curious about where that seeming imbalance comes from.

The full agenda (PDF) has nine categories, which Dr. Anonymous was kind enough to transcribe from PDF to HTML for us. I think most of us might agree with the first header (below) as a high priority in an election year, though I’ve been writing for Sepia Mutiny long enough to know that it’s almost never true that everyone agrees with anything:

Civic and Political Participation: Ensure full and equal participation for all in the civic and political process
• Promote naturalization and voting among South Asians
• Preserve voting rights of South Asians by eliminating voter intimidation and suppression
• Ensure limited English proficient citizens’ access to the right to vote
• Ensure that votes by all eligible voters count
• Eliminate xenophobic comments against South Asians and other communities of color in political discourse
• Increase political participation and civic engagement of South Asian community members

The only point here that seems questionable to me might be “Eliminate xenophobic comments against South Asians… in political discourse.” I’m not sure how that could ever be made to happen, so why put it on an agenda?

Some of the other headers might be more controversial/debatable for the readers of this blog, who, as we’ve seen, span the ideological spectrum — left, right, and center. For instance, the “economic justice” category might have some readers disagreeing: Continue reading

Ashwin Madia Outraising his Opponent in Minnesota

Abhi normally reports on this type of news, but since he’s been offline for the past few weeks (doing cool stuff! but I’ll let him talk about it, if he wants), I thought I would step in.

Ashwin Madia, a Democrat running for Congress in Minnesota’s 3rd district, has had good luck with fundraising recently, raising nearly $700,000 in the second quarter, while his opponent, Erik Paulson, only raised $600,000. Paulson still has more money on hand than Madia, but this is an open seat — albeit one that has been held by Repubicans for 47 years — and Madia has a good chance of winning. I gather the anti-Republican feeling is especially strong in Minnesota in particular this year.

Abhi did a terrific interview with Ashwin Madia a few months ago here. At the time I remember reading it, and thinking, “wow, this guy is way too young to have a serious shot!” (Madia is only 30 years old.) But then Madia went on to win in the Democratic Primary against Terri Bonoff this past April, surprising many in the Democratic party. He is a serious candidate; it’s time to sit up and take notice — and maybe reach for the Mastercard to contribute a little something something, if one is so inclined.

Thus far, I don’t think Madia’s ethnic background, his name, or his religion are factors in the election; in that sense, his campaign, and the rhetoric around it, seems very different from Bobby Jindal’s. Madia is also an Iraq War veteran (who wants to end the Iraq war “responsibly”), so no one can doubt whether he is a “real American.” (You can read more about Madia’s stands on various issues here)

Are you starting to get excited yet? Continue reading

Desi Spotting in Brazil

When I travel to a new country, my eyes are always peeled for a desi sighting. My recent trip to Brazil was no different. This is the second BRIC nation I’ve visited (with Russia and China left to go) and having heard about Indian Oil Corp., Hindustan Petroleum, and Bharat Petroleum joint venture earlier this year to start ethanol production in Brazil, I thought I might spot other signs of investment. At the very least, I figured I would come across a Sindhi shopowner (the joke goes that even if you travel to the moon, you will meet a member of the diasporadic community of Indian traders, of which my family is a part).

But, there weren’t any Sindhis or Indians to speak of in Brazil. At least, we didn’t see any. (Well, there was one uncle type we ran into near the Ipanema farmer’s market, but he turned out to be a Mallu from New York, visiting his Brazilian wife’s family!) IMG_4556.JPG

We’d heard about Nataraj, the only Indian-run restaurant in Rio. It’s in Leblon, Rio’s most trendy residential neighborhood, and I figured we’d find a desi there. “It’s no good,” our New York uncle friend told us while he helped us shop for figs and sitaphal. “Don’t bother going.”

So we didn’t. (Now that I’m home, however, some scoping did yield a little write-up about Indian restaurants in South America here which pointed out that the restaurant is run by a family whose matriarch used to work for the British High Commission in Rio. “She had been doing special event catering for the embassy as a side interest and then one fine day she decided to open a restaurant – I’m glad she did. It takes courage to make a caipirinha with an indian twist.”

Dang. Missed opportunity for a good Sepia post. Next time I go to Rio, I’ll have to make it a point to go here.

So, Brazil is home to a multitude of skin colors, so it’s easy to mistake Brazilians for Indians and Indians for Brazilians, so much so that many times, people mistook me and my husband for Brazilians and spoke to us in Portugese. There were, however, a few exceptions.

In Salvador de Bahia, the northern city which was the first capital of Brazil, from 1549 to 1763, a photojournalist came up to us during the 2nd of July Independence Day celebrations. “Are you Indian?” he asked. “Yes,” we answered. “Can I take a picture of you? First time I’m seeing Indians in Salvador,” he said.

Wow. I felt like an intrepid explorer, though I was quite certain I couldn’t be the first Indian in Salvador.

I was proven right. Later that day, in Salvador, we were at Rafael Cine Foto in Pelhorino, trying to get our camera repaired–and ahem, negotiating for a better price–when the shopkeeper (whose English was limited) asked us, laughing, “Are you Indian?” (I guess we carry our reputation as bargain makers around with us, wherever we go!) Later, my mother mentioned that her once-in-a-while Brazilian cleaning lady told her that there are lots of Indians who own shops at the malls in Salvador. I guess I should have gone to the mall!

Despite my lack of desi human spottings, there was no dearth of Indian influence–mostly of the exotic India variety–to be found in Brazil. [A brief photo essay follows below the fold.] Continue reading

Riddikulus! (updated)

Last night, the interwebs were all abuzz with news of the most recent New Yorker cover. Generally, left-wing bloggers appear pretty outraged:

There’s no other ulterior motive to publish cartoons like this right? …This is disgusting. Might be worth canceling a subscription or two. [Daily Kos]

… so singularly out of touch … It may not be unusual for Upper East-Side liberals that a half-black man with an African father and Hussein for a middle name … might ascend to the presidency, but to some Americans IT IS EVERYTHING. [TPM]

While I was alarmed at first, the image grew on me as satire. It’s a veritable Where’s Waldo compendium of right-wing fears about the Obama candidacy:

  • Michelle Obama as old American black nationalism allied with …
  • Barack Obama as the purported American who is still loyal to his immigrant roots
  • The alliance between them represented by the “terrorist fist-jab
  • Washington’s replacement by Osama Bin Laden in the painting over the mantel (OMG OBL Booga Booga!)
  • Patriotism discarded, as shown by the flag in the fireplace

As I see it, the cartoon intends to show just how absurd people’s fears are: fears of foreigners as fifth columnists, fears that men who wear turbans (even if once, for a foreign photo-op) must be Muslims, and therefore unpatriotic. The cartoon makes these images concrete and then laughs at them, like a riddikulus spell against a boggart.

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Some Like It (Ridiculously) Hot

As long as I’ve been on here, I’ve blogged about food. And I love hotttttt food. I always thought Amma’s cooking was spicy enough. Apparently not!

A restaurant in London is out to set the record for the world’s hottest curry. Naga_Jolokia_Peppers.jpg

The Bollywood Burner contains the hottest chili pepper in the world: the Naga. From the story:

[It's] a lamb-based dish with a fierce kick.

The curry is so hot that diners are asked to sign a disclaimer confirming they are aware of the risks involved before daring to eat it.

The Bollywood Burner is being submitted to Guinness World Records for verification of its status as the planet’s hottest curry.

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Closure for Dr. Sneha Philip, 9/11 Victim

After a long court battle, the family of Dr. Sneha Philip is feeling some closure. The New York medical examiner’s office has finally concluded that she must have died in the twin towers, and restored her name to the list of official victims of the terror attacks (thanks, Art Vandalay).

Her name had been removed from the list in 2006, after a judge found that there was no conclusive evidence she had been in the towers on 9/11. She did not work there, but she and her husband did live a block away. She’s seen on a video camera, buying shoes at Century21, on the evening of September 10. The problem is, she did not come home that evening. When investigators began looking into her activities more closely, they discovered that this wasn’t entirely unusual — Sneha Philip often went out to bars, and sometimes spent the night at the homes of “strangers unknown to her husband.” The judge in 2006 seemed to think that as a result there wasn’t enough evidence that she was in the area — and that it’s speculation to say that she voluntarily went into the towers after the planes hit to try and help people.

The most detailed study of Ron Liberman and Sneha Philip’s story, along with evidence for and against the idea that she died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, is here, in a long article in New York magazine. I would strongly recommend reading it.

I hesitated posting on this a little, because I’m not really into gossip about people’s private miseries — Sneha Philip and Ron Philip’s Liberman’s lifestyle, and the nature of their marriage, isn’t really our concern. And the fact that Sneha Philip seems to have had some alcohol issues doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have tried to use her skills and knowledge to help people on the morning of September 11.

Two tidbits worth keeping in mind: the 9/11 victim’s fund is closed, which means there’s no financial benefit to Ron Philip or Sneha’s parents in Albany. Secondly, there’s at least one other case of someone for whom there’s no proof he was in the towers on 9/11 being included on the list — Juan Lafuente called his mother on September 8, telling her that he was starting a job three blocks from the WTC, and was never heard from again. There is no forensic or direct evidence he was there, but his name has remained on the list. Continue reading