Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What does the Dalai Lama and the Bald Mary Have in Common?

It's official. I took a test, and I can even buy a certificate verifying my stay at the Left/Libertarian quadrant. Take the test here. It's a geeky version of those magazine personality tests that tell you if you are most like a goat or a horse. Go on...find out if you are a fascist.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Oh Good, now we are safe...

Yesterday, the US Justice Department indicted Jose Padilla with "conspiracy to 'murder, maim, and kidnap' people overseas". He was additionally charged with aiding foreign terrorist activities abroad by providing material and logistical support. There's plenty written about him elsewhere, so I won't go into a whole lot of detail. There was also an excellent piece done on This American Life a few years ago (just do a search on their website for Padilla). Very briefly, Jose Padilla is an American citizen who was arrested three years ago in Chicago, for what Ashcroft declared was conspiracy to commit terrorism. The only hitch was that they never charged him with anything, and kept him in a Navy Brig for three years throughout which they huffed and puffed about providing him a lawyer, and a day in court. Why? Well, according to the US government, it is because he is an "enemy combatant"--a person with no basic civil rights or access to due process. He is an enemy combatant. Fine. Of course, again...he wasn't arrested in the mountains of Afghanistan, combating American soldiers. He was arrested at O'Hare.

Over the past three years, every time I have read about Padilla it has been buried in page 20--a short byline crunched in amongst the larger tales of Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, all of these stories where the US Justice Department has taken incredulous liberties to trample on our constitutional rights, have been shadowed by Iraq. There's the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was arrested by immigrant officials at the US-Canada border and shipped off to Syria where he was tortured for a number of months. There's Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a US citizen who was being detained and tortured in Saudi Arabia. He was indicted recently with evidence from the Saudi government. There's the very different, yet equally apalling story of Hemant Lakani who was arrested on terrorism charges that was based entirely on an involved and convulated sting operation that never connected him to any terrorist groups. (It's an interesting, complicated story that I encourage you to look up if you don't know it already). While each of these cases are very different, they share the collective disregard for civil liberties prevalent in the Patroit Act and our new policy for fighting terrorism.

On the one hand, I do emphatize. 9/11 has fundamentally changed how we understand potential terrorists. I understand that we can no longer afford to wait until terrorist acts are committed. Surely, no one is disputing that we have to be vigilant and efficient with our nation's security. But let's not congratulate Ashcroft, Gonzales and the US Justice Department just yet. It is nothing to be proud of when our government picks and chooses which laws to apply and to whom, and when it invents terms like "enemy combatant" to side-step international human rights laws. Padilla's case sets a precedent. It tells us that the Bush administration can choose to pluck any one of us, from anywhere, hold us in a cell for years and never tell us why. This war on terrrorism is not a new concept. Nations have always fought to protect its citizens from terrorists and violence. And history has also shown us plentifully that you cannot disregard an individual's civil rights and hope to nuture justice for all simultaneously.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Things You Learn When You are Without Car

  • Waiting for the Bus in the cold will make you colder than walking briskly home--Yes, even if it is a longer walk than wait.
  • Bus Schedules are a vast metro joke, put there to mock us earth-loving pedestrians.
  • Waiting for the Bus is like watching water boil--it is best not to count the minutes ticking by. Here are some ways to ensure that it will arrive:
    • Jump inside CVS to get a snack bar
    • Decide to take a cab home, 'cuz you are beginning to scowl openly at everyone
    • You have decided to walk home, and you are half way there.
  • Bill Clinton's My Life (audiobook that you downloaded from somewhere in the dregs of the internet) is infinitely less boring and even soothing when listened to on a long walk home

Additions from Andy!

  • The city is actuallu dirtier than you originally thought (why is there so much garbage?)
  • There are too many strange smells unaccounted for
  • You can actually survive inhaling exhaust day in and day out.
  • Wind chill factor is NO laughing matter
  • A comfortable pair of walking shoes are your best friend.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Moon was a small, hard pellet tonight

I walk the earth wobbling between believing the world is miraculously benevolent and that it is really seething with evil sadists and rapists out to steal my identity. I really prefer not to be told of crimes that happen in my neighborhood, and I really don't want to know of any killers who might be loose in the east coast. Walking home alone last night, I came across this homeless dude bent over double his newspaper-stuffed shopping cart in the middle of the street. He was old, and seemed to be in pain. But I skirted around him, and walked on. About a block later, I looked back and he was on the sidewalk, lying on his side with his feet sticking straight out. The part of me that believes the world is a kind place was ashamed. So I walked back, peered at him a little, and asked him if he was alright. He snapped at me. "yeah, i lost my balance." I asked him if I could do anything, call someone or something to which he mumbled,"no, no..there's no number. I just lost my balance." He seemed to want me to help him up, but my brain flashed back to all the stories I hear of strangers asking for help only to end up doing unspeakable things to hapless, foolish victims. I had a clear vision of him throwing cyanide at me (which I know won't kill me). So I walked away, wondering if I should call the Hypothermia number (which by the way is 1-800-535-7252). It was a warm night, but I figured they might be able to give me additional information on any other options I might have. I didn't want to call anyone else who might end up harrassing the guy.

A friend told me the following crazy metro story tonight. Apparently some girl got jumped by these two other females during rush hour inside the subway train car. The two thieves attacked her, and stole her ipod. In a city with almost daily stabbings, theft and congressional proceedings, somebody getting separated from their ipod is not a tragedy. However, what made it tragic was the apparent silence and inaction from all the other passengers in the train. I would like to believe that I would have tripped the thieves, grabbed the ipod bruce lee-style and ran away so I could return it to the girl later.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Your Moon's Prettier

It's a gorgeous night in DC, and by the time I left work, it was dark with a fat moon hiding behind smoky-gray fall clouds.

Tonight I am convinced that the moon is prettier on the other side of the globe.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Jesus Loves You!

I have been going to a lot of evangelical, Christian stuff lately. Well, two actually. One was a town hall meeting by a local public radio host, Kojo Nnambdi...and another was a book reading by Jim Wallis, a political Christian author and activist. In both cases, the discussion centered around the hidden masses of Christian lefties in the world (to an overwhelmingly secular audience). The speakers wanted to stress (among other things) that Christians occupy every node on the political spectrum, and that the conservative right do not have the monopoly on Jesus. I was surprised by how much I liked the Evangelist speakers as opposed to the secularists, who seemed irritatingly academic. The Evangelists, on the other hand, were passionate and articulate about social justice and activism, and most endearingly, placed gay marriage and abortion rights squarely at the bottom of a long list of problems that needs immediate attention. They reminded us that churches have often been at the forefront of fighting poverty, not to mention their galvanzing effect during the civil rights movement. My personal thoughts on Christianity swing wildly between acceptance, and even pride to deep-seated irritation and apathy and everything in between. However, one thing that I am certain of is the unhealthy and distasteful co-mingling of politics and religion in this country. Or more precisely, uniting Christianity with a few, politically motivated issues that have been allowed to take over the national discourse. I resent the fact that gay marriage and a women's right to choose has grown to the gross proportions that it has. But even beyond the pettiness of these discussions when there is a war going on, when there is poverty, disease and deep inequities in the world...even beyond that, I resent that these few, cherry-picked topics have become the basis for "Christian" values. I resent that a handful of people have been allowed to hijack our most basic human values like family, marriage, love and life--hijack these ideas, label them and market them out to us. Telling us that these are "Christian conservative values" and giving them very specific meanings and political weight that we never agreed to.

A few months ago, Ira Glass did an interesting, this-American-Life-esque show on Christianity. He interviewed a Christian leader whose name I can't remember (he was not one of the famous yokels on television though), who discusses the persecution that many Christians feel they suffer. I have heard this before, and it boggles my mind. As Ira quite correctly points out: Christians have X'mas and Sundays off as a major, national holiday. Every president we have ever had has been openly and freely Christian. Christians rank gazillionth in the hate crime hit list. All other religions have all been merely names we evoke in the name of political correctness, without any serious steps towards equal representation. At the very least, not nearly to the extent that Christianity has been made the very fabric of our society and our cultural base. There is nothing wrong with this, actually. Aside from the ridiculous controversy surrounding creationism and prayer in schools, there is nothing wrong with accepting the influence that Christianity has had on our world--it's in fact, unavoidable. (there's a fascinating discussion on secularism in Amartya Sen's Argumentative Indian that's worth taking a peek at). What I do have a problem with is this notion of oppression that many (not all) Christians share. In trying to understand this, it occurs to me that I do have an instinctive distrust of Christian movements in the US (and I am not alone in this). And it's precisely because Christianity has too often been evoked in the name of taking away rights (be it gay marriage, or abortion), a strong rhetoric of exclusion (they vs. us), and most recently, anti-science politics. But the fact is, this is a false association. Jim Wallis made an interesting point during his talk. Christianity has never been an apolitical religion. He said, "Christianity is personal, but never private." I am certainly not advocating for non-participation in political and social dialogue, and "keeping religion out of it". What I am saying is, let's not reduce Christianity to a political tool used to rally support for a couple of right wing issues. We have allowed them to define Christianity for us, instead of figuring it out for ourselves.

In the name of celebrating diversity of political thought among Christians, and because it's funny and made me laugh…here's a Sunday proclamation...

Thursday, November 10, 2005


It's really easy to be labeled crazy in the city. It's as if everyone assumes everyone else is deranged in some way that isn't immediately obvious, so it's best to "be cautious". During rush hour, this guy in the metro today raised both his hands high up in the air; one folded in a peace sign, the other showing off his metro fare card. He didn't shout, wasn't dressed shabbily or strangely, didn't push anyone. People glanced over, decided he was a dangerous lunatic and hurried along to catch their trains (except for tourists who stared and had nervous twitching problems). I love those peculiar souls who walk that fine line between quirky and loony. The other day at work, I was getting my usual hot chocolate in the office kitchen, when this woman I barely know rushed in out of breath and whispered loudly, "Is there any food left?". I smiled uncertainly and said, "umm..no?" She laughed hard. HA HA! Like I should be doing stand-up and not standing there getting my morning beveridge. On the bus, on the way home, a man getting off burst out happily and loudly to the driver, "Good day, my dear man!" in this cheery, old-English way.

It startled everyone.

It's as if someone clapped their hands in front of the collective faces of the jaded, DC crowd of lawyers, staffers, and students and said, "Wake up! Pay Attention!" Last year, this old metrorail conductor sang to us when we got to our stop and nobody cared. He crooned, "You have arrived at Pentagon City, and if no one has said to you today that they love you. Hear hear, listen to me...I love you."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I went to Philly this past weekend, and that means almost 5 hours of net total bus-sitting experiences! On Friday afternoon, I got to the bus station marked by a group of luggaged people looking confused and lost. I was just in time to be yelled at by the bus lady to take my seat. I hurried to the back stepping past the grunge crowd, the preppy white kids, the militants in fatigues and the weird bald guy. I was looking forward to disappearing into my book for the next two and half hours, but instead I find a big, red schoolbag rudely squeezed in front of my window seat. Now the metro has drummed into my brain that an unattended bag was in fact, a bomb and that if I don't report it I will die. But despite this, I hesitated. I didn't wanna be that one paranoid, Indian girl. But my desire to live through my bus trip was stronger. So reluctantly, I tapped the bus lady on her arm and told her about the bag. She followed me back only to bark, "yeah, it's okay" and rush up to the driver again. "But I don't want it on the bus," I protested meekly to her back. I was ignored by all present. I tried to act all indignant about the situation, but couldn't pull it off. I slinked back to my seat, and tried to position myself away from the bomb/bag.

Now on the way from Philly to DC, it was dark, so for entertainment I had to rely on my music. All I need in life is books and music. But I digress. I was also entertained by these two couples--startlingly good-looking, Hispanic people--who all got drunk and accused each other of being "fake" and "disrespectful" in rapid-fire Spanish sprinkled with English. There was Carlos and Lisa (couple #1), and then there was Moses and Girl#2 (couple 2). Moses was the one who stood up, piss drunk, pointed at us and said, "i'm not trying to put on a show. But this bitch needs to shut up and stop being fake". Girl #2 would intermittently laugh hysterically at Moses (who glowered at her) or sob heavily leaning on Carlos and asking him to help her. When the bus neared home, Moses turned to me and asked if we were in DC. I nodded my head and said, "yeah we are" to which he thanked me gravely. I wanted to add something more helpful like, "we will soon be in Chinatown" but didn't since it sounded stupid in my head. As I got off the bus, I noticed how many stares they were getting from everyone and I realized that they were embarrassed. I felt kinda bad for them, I am not exactly sure why.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Make Love, not War

Something good happened this year in the world of war. The Human Security Report 2005 has found that there are fewer deaths from war and fewer conflicts in the world than ever before. (Read the original report here). The end of the cold war and colonialism has eradicated the main drivers of armed conflict. And despite (or more accurately because of it)...fancier, more deadly weaponry, a lesser number of deaths can be attributed to them. According to the report, there are two kinds of wars that are fought around the globe--both of which lower overall causalties. 1). Wars that are are typically led by relatively small, ill-trained and poorly equipped armies that target civilians. While these tend to be more brutal, they also kill less people than larger more conventional wars. 2). Wars where a super power like the US attacks another country--these wars tend to be fast, and therefore also less deadly.

The report is worth reading. There has been very little press on it, especially in the US. In a lot of ways, it is a very de-politicized (if such a thing exists) accounting of the conflicts around the globe--a less noisy look at wars. For example, it counts India as one of the top five countries with the most "conflict years". Within this framework, Iraq falls dead last since conflict there has only been present for 4 years over the past decade.**[see note below] It is interesting to put in context, the Iraq and Israeli-Palestine conflicts that dominates so much of world news. Of course, the report's biggest strength, is also its strongest weakness. It misses the central, tragic point that governance in many post-colonial countries is woefully unstable even after 50 years of colonial absence. Also it seems to me, that negotiating world peace has fallen in the hands of disparate rebel groups and terrorists who now monopolize global conflicts. It's reminds me of that song lyric, "the grass is greener on the other side of this genocide" (I dont remember the artist). Call me a cynic. By the way, I felt like listing all the wars/conflicts (in alphabetical order) that are erupting around the world. So see below for this morbid list.

**this is one of many ways that data is presented in the report

Afghan War
Al-Aqsa Intifada (Israeli-Palestinian Conflict)
Algerian Civil War—(1992-Present)
Basque Separatist Conflict—(1958-Present)
Burma/ Myanmar Civil War—(1948-Present)
Burundi Civil War (1994-present)
Colombian Civil War—(1964-Present)
Congo: Second Congolese War(1998-Present)
Chechnya, Russia: Second Chechen War
Iraq-Coalition Conflict (1992-2003)
Israeli –Syrian Border Clashes
Ivory Coast Civil War—(Sept. 19, 2002-Present)
Kashmir Conflict 1991-Present
Liberian Civil War
Nepal Civil War—(Feb. 13, 1996- Present)
Northern Ireland Conflict—(1969-Present)
Philippines Conflicts
Rwandan Civil War—(1994-Present)
Sri Lankan Civil War—(1983-Present)
Sudanese Civil War—(1983-Present)
Ugandan Civil War
War on Terrorism—Officially beginning Oct. 7, 2001