Poison in the Name of Politics


For the past 29 days, if I wasn’t working late I would head over to my parents’ local mosque for the nightly taraweeh prayer. Held only during the month of Ramadan and performed after the last of five prescribed prayers, taraweeh takes worshipers through all the suras in the entire Quran from start to finish throughout the holy month. Unfortunately, Muslims in swing states do not have the freedom of praying freely this year.

On Friday, September 26, the end of a week in which thousands of copies of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West — the fear-mongering, anti-Muslim documentary being distributed by (sic) the millions in swing states via DVDs inserted in major newspapers and through the U.S. mail — were distributed by mail in Ohio, a “chemical irritant” was sprayed through a window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, where 300 people were gathered for a Ramadan prayer service. The room that the chemical was sprayed into was the room where babies and children were being kept while their mothers were engaged in prayers.[DailyKos]

This is a cause and effect story. The cause is their cause; promote fear and paranoia of Muslims by mass distribuion of this video (which I am intentionally not linking to).

This week, 28 million copies of a right-wing, terror propaganda DVD are being mailed and bundled in newspaper deliveries to voters in swing states. The 60-minute DVDs, titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, are landing on doorsteps in a campaign coinciding with the 7th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Funding is coming from a New York-based group called the Clarion Fund, a shadowy outfit whose financial backers are unclear…the DVDs were distributed last weekend in national editions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal within selected swing states. These included Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia.[HuffingtonPost]

The effect of the fear-mongering — and keep this in mind, as you hear what conservatives are bound to say regarding how this DVD is only meant to call out ‘radical’ Islamists and not ‘moderate’ Muslims — has been tragic for Americans here at home. The following is a quote about a woman who was at the mosque, praying.

“She told me that the gas was sprayed into the room where the babies and children were being kept while their mothers prayed together their Ramadan prayers. Panicked mothers ran for their babies, crying for their children so they could flee from the gas that was burning their eyes and throats and lungs. She grabbed her youngest in her arms and grabbed the hand of her other daughter, moving with the others to exit the building and the irritating substance there…The paramedic said the young one was in shock, and gave her oxygen to help her breathe.” [DailyKos]

And of course, to add another layer of absurdity to the story, Dayton Ohio Police decided that the event was NOT a hate crime. Continue reading

Greenspan: Desis Can Save Us

Abhi asks how “Does the credit crisis affect ‘us’” and what Desi’s could do so I thought I’d chime in. Personally, although I’m a pretty strident free trader, the more I learn, the more I believe some sort of bailout is ultimately necessary (and so I’m probably disappointed by the House’s failure to pass legislation – don’t know enough of the deets to say for sure).

The Solution to the Credit Crunch? More Desis.

How do I resolve the apparent contradiction? Well, the govt was a large part of why we’re in this mess and it must now reap what it sows. Uncle Sam both directly and indirectly helped push mortgages into new hands that couldn’t afford them (and thus piled on to a Wall Street orgy). Had this been an entirely Wall Street phenomena, perhaps the “housing bubble” would have looked like the prior “dotcom bubble” – painful, but not exactly disastrous. It truly takes the government, however, to ratchet things up to the next level.

Of course, it’s awful on almost all counts that taxpayers get stuck holding the bill. But as I often say here, most of life’s choices aren’t between good and bad (and a bailout is clearly bad) but rather, between bad and worse (an economy-wide credit crunch). It’s cheap & easy moral pontificating to iterate the umpteenth reason why the situation is Bad (or why some sort of Wall Street comeuppance is Good). What real adults have to do is accept the bad to avoid the worse.

This interview from Greenspan, circa August 2008 is quite plain & direct about the necessary outcome –

The collapse in home prices, of course, is a major threat to the stability of Fannie and Freddie. At the Fed, Mr. Greenspan warned for years that the two mortgage giants’ business model threatened the nation’s financial stability. He acknowledges that a government backstop for the shareholder-owned, government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, was unavoidable. Not only are they crucial to the ailing mortgage market now, but the Fed-financed takeover of investment bank Bear Stearns Cos. also made government backing of Fannie and Freddie debt “inevitable,” he said. “There’s no credible argument for bailing out Bear Stearns and not the GSEs.”

If there’s a silver lining here, perhaps it’s that taxpayers & voters will have been taught a bitter lesson about what danger lurks the next time a politician tries to promise some new class of positive, economic rights

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Posted in Uncategorized

“Sikh Stand-up Comic” in Newsweek

narinder singh gotham.jpg
After my post last week on Hari Kondabolu’s “Manoj,” it seems fitting to discuss an actual stand-up comic who walks the delicate line between what we might call “self-deprecating good fun” and outright self-hatred, Narinder Singh (thanks, Colleen). Narinder Singh has three YouTube videos up: here, here, and here (as “Sikh Stand-up Comic”). I don’t love the videos — seems like he’s trying too hard — though admittedly the sound quality on them makes it hard to understand what he’s saying at times.

But Narinder’s “My Turn” essay in this week’s Newsweek is much more to my taste. The key section for me was this:

“A lot of people ask me why I wear a turban,” goes one of my jokes. “I tell them it’s because it contracepts my vices. But you know what, turbans are great contraceptives . . . I haven’t had sex in five years!”

I became more ambitious. I now wanted to show the entire audience that Indians, Muslims or brown people in general were affable and moderate. Because I received my first couple of threats from Sikhs, I had to convince myself that my fellow Sikhs were in fact also moderate. But it felt strangely exciting reading the verbal barbs posted on my first YouTube clip: I was having an impact.

I e-mailed some of the overzealous Sikhs and told them that I was making fun of prejudice against those who wear turbans, not the turban itself, which seemed even more sacred now. After 9/11, many Sikhs had cut their hair and stopped wearing turbans. The menacing looks and discrimination were too much. Our visible identity in numbers was dwindling in both America and India. Bollywood films had reduced Sikhs to fools and caricatures. In America we were being taken too seriously; in India, not enough. It sometimes made me feel compelled to conform and fit in, too. (link)

Seeing Narinder Singh say this makes me appreciate his approach to comedy more, in spirit if not in the actual performances I’ve seen. For one thing, though the reasons were different I too received my share of hate mail around the time I was first blogging at SM, (including an outright threat, from a fellow Sikh). I sympathize partly because I think the temptation is strong to “make an impact” and get attention with edgy statements — every writer, blogger, or comedian just starting out knows this — even if it offends some people and loses you some friends.

Still, I’m not sure he’s quite there yet in his actual comedy routine. What do people think?

To end on a positive note, Narinder Singh’s final quip might well be the funniest line he’s written:

Still, I completely understood my fellow Sikhs’ sensitivity and their fear of being marginalized further. I really didn’t mind the death threats and the heckling, as long as I continued not having sex.

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Does the credit crisis affect “us?”

Late last week we received our usual dose of hate mail. It read as follows:

Question: Why aren’t you guys covering this emerging economic crisis?. Each time I eagerly come on this site to check out the latest blog, I get disappointed to see it’s about fluff…

This is a huge enough story that I know you can find some ways of relating it to the Indian or Indian-American diaspora.

Even hate-mailers need love from time to time so I thought I would oblige with a bit of an omnibus economic meltdown post that was shaded with a tinge of brown. First up, wanna-be gangsta Sudhir Venkatesh wonders, “with Wall Street tanking, who will think of the prostitutes?”

There are some people who might just benefit from the current turmoil in the financial markets. One probably won’t surprise: lawyers. The other might: sex workers…

I came across these women when I began studying New York’s sex industry at the end of the 1990s. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in an effort to clean up Manhattan’s neighborhoods, forced sex off the streets of Times Square and other Midtown neighborhoods. In the process, his administration created a new economic sector. I’ve been following the lives of more than 300 sex workers–in New York and Chicago, in high and low ends of the income spectrum since 1999…

One thing I’ve learned is that economic downturns can be boom times for high-end sex workers. Sex workers of the past waited on street corners, outside bars, and around parks, and their transactions were fleeting and usually for a few dollars. Today’s high-end sex workers see themselves as therapists, part of a vast metropolitan wellness industry that includes private chefs and yoga teachers. Many have regular clients who visit them several times per month, paying them not only for sex but also for comfort and affirmation.

That’s probably not all Jean did for her clients. But, as I reported in Slate a few months ago, about 40 percent of high-end sex transactions do not involve a sexual service. It’s not difficult to imagine that a man’s need for positive reinforcement is amplified when a pink slip lands on his desk.[Link]

And speaking of pink slips landing on desks, along with doctors, lawyers, and engineers, the hottest desi profession in the U.S. right now is what I like to generically term: “finance guy/girl.” Many of these finance guys/girls can’t really describe to you what it is they do without using the words “hedge, asset, or capital,” and by that time you are already half asleep. In truth, they may not even know what they really do (but the little bastards make three times my salary with one third the education ). In all seriousness though, I think a disproportionate number of our community in the “white collar end” of this turmoil is an example of how the current credit crisis will affect South Asian Americans (but please stay away from the prostitutes!). What about the blue collar South Asian American?

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Aasif Is Brown Like Us

Shruti’s facebook status earlier this week said that she was “certain that Aasif Mandvi is a regular reader of Sepia Mutiny and Ultrabrown.” I asked her what she meant, and she referred me to the following:

I know he never says that he got his references from the Mutiny, but I’m pretty sure we blogged about ‘What Brown Can Do For You’ and we definitely blogged the dancing little man video. And come on, you have to type in ‘brown’ before you can comment on the sites! He MUST have been talking bout us. The Mutiny has ‘brown’ literally trademarked!

I got the privilege of meeting Asif earlier this year (at a brown conference) and I know he’s a visitor to this site, so Shruti may just be right … How bout it, Aasif? Give the Mutiny a shout out on the Daily Show next time! Continue reading

Energy Ignorance is Bliss

Eek. Watching this video of South Asian youth getting interviewed on energy issues made me have bad flashbacks to the days when I would try to register South Asian youth to vote in front of desi parties. Tough crowd, those desi youngsters.

Seriously? Let me break it down. Global warming is bad (and not a myth). Thus, hybrid vehicles are good. Clean energy like wind and solar are good. Saving energy is good. Drilling for more oil (especially domestic) is bad. Suing polar bears to drill for oil is bad. Driving a gas guzzling hummer is tacky (and bad.) Paying high prices at the pump is bad. Bhangra as a source of alternative energy is so not good.

Get educated on the energy crisis, kids. Register to vote. Then vote for the candidate, whether Obama or McCain, whose stance on energy is most like your own.

Desi States of America is a weekly Tuesday night show that is screened on Pan Desi available on your cable channel of Colours TV nightly at 9pm. Desi States of America has a stream of shows uploaded on youtube, and to me it seems like the show is a desi version of a college version of a less funny version of the Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. Not bad, just not great. I get that the clip above was trying to be ironic – like when Jay Leno hits the streets to ask every day Americans questions. But there’s something so pathetically gut wrenching when a guy is asked to name alternative energy sources and he responds, RED BULL. Continue reading

Why I Didn’t Like “The White Tiger”

After reading Jabberwock’s positive review of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger some time ago, I was all set to pick it up. Jabberwock, after all, is the quintessential cosmopolitan Delhi-ite, so how can you go wrong?

Adiga also beat out both Salman Rushdie and the amazing Michelle de Kretser to make it to the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize. Again, that should bode well, irrespective of whether Adiga actually wins the prize. (I have heard that he is currently considered one of the favorites.)

But I haven’t been able to shake the sense that The White Tiger, despite its topicality and its readability, is somehow fundamentally fake. I almost hesitate to bother saying it, because it’s quite common for Indian authors to be accused of composing narratives about India’s poor primarily for non-poor, non-Indian readers. It’s a ubiquitous complaint — almost a critical cliché — which doesn’t make it any less true. Let me give you a passage that I think illustrates my problem with Adiga’s novel quite directly. It’s from near the beginning of the novel, as Adiga is introducing his narrator and protagonist to us: Continue reading

“Indian It Up” With “Manoj”

Hari Kondabolu’s video Manoj is up in its entirety** on YouTube. It’s about 11 minutes long, and well worth a look:

I mentioned the short film and posted a few lines of the script a few months ago. It’s well done — my favorite bits include the “South Asian Studies” major, and the comedy club owner who wants Manoj to “Indian it up” with the curry and cows.

Having short films like this available might be especially good for young Desi comics starting out, as they try to figure out how to tread the line between intelligent ethnic comedy and self-hatred. That said, I think the film also shows that there really is a gray area there; aren’t many people (including many Indian Americans) still quite prepared to find a comedian like “Manoj” funny? (Paul’s comment in the earlier thread on this also illustrates how the path to the right kind of “Desi material” is not an easy one.) Another issue raised here (and I know everyone is tired of it) is the ABD/DBD divide, specifically the different relationships to Indian accents. I imagine some readers might watch this and think, “well, isn’t Hari himself actually using a fake version of the Indian accent here for comedic effect?”

(For those in the Washington DC area, Manoj will be screened publicly as part of the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival this Friday night at 7pm. Another obviously Desi short is Maya Anand’s Anjali, which screens on Sunday.)

** Hari emails me to say that the YouTube version is itself slightly edited. The real full version of the film (15 minutes) is at Vimeo, here. Continue reading

Venkat. Akash. Fight!

Hey Mutineers – Apologies again for the long absence… Biz travel hell has had me on the road pretty much continuously for the past few weeks. However, I did want to post a quick shoutout about an upcoming program you may wanna set your Tivo’s for. This week’s Discovery Channel Fight Quest will be paying a visit to Kerala –

Discovery Channel / Fight Quest

Fri 9/26 10PM / Sat 9/27 2AM San Francisco

“India” Jimmy and Doug travel to Kerala, India to study one of the most ancient and dangerous martial arts in the world, Kalarippayattu.

Fight Quest is a clone of an earlier program on the rival History Channel called Human Weapon and both follow a very similar formula

You Will Now Face the Wrath of 8000 Years of Mallu-Brand Whoop Ass

A blend of cultural immersion and good old-fashioned smackdown, the series follows seasoned mixed martial arts fighter Jimmy Smith and 25-year-old rookie Doug Anderson as they travel the globe, adding fight styles from Kali to kickboxing to their repertoire.

In each episode, Jimmy and Doug will explore a new location identified with a style of fighting, such as kung fu in Dengfeng, China, and boxing in Mexico City, Mexico. There, after first immersing themselves in the sounds, smells and tastes of the local scene, the two guys will separate to train with local masters of that method — sometimes an ancient art of combat, and other times a modern form of butt-kicking. After several days of intense instruction, Jimmy and Doug will each face off against a local in a no-holds-barred test of skill.

What a great little Tivo present to welcome me back home to SF next week

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Posted in TV

If he is Insisting on Hug, Slap his Leering Mug

…well, that’s what my Father would have said, had he been around to witness the smarmy perviness (thanks for submitting this to the news tab, KXB!):

For those who (like me) can’t see wideo at work, here’s what went down:

Sarah Palin and the foreign leaders she has met with in New York have said very little to reporters over the last two days, but the press happened to be in the room on Wednesday for one eyebrow-raising exchange, as the new president of Pakistan lavished praise on Palin’s looks. [CNN]

But first, his wing-woman conveniently buttered her up:

On entering a room filled with several Pakistani officials this afternoon, Palin was immediately greeted by Sherry Rehman, the country’s Information Minister.
“And how does one keep looking that good when one is that busy?,” Rehman asked, drawing friendly laughter from the room when she complimented Palin.
“Oh, thank you,” Palin said. [CNN]

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