Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Immigration Reform Bill: Give us your rich, educated and white

Without a doubt, the immigration reform bill being debated in the senate right now is the ugliest, most racist piece of legislation that has passed since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Introduced by one Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. from Wisconsin, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 has already passed the House with an over 90% republican support. Even though, Bush himself opposes such sweeping, irrational legislation, it speaks volumes about his lack of leadership and inability to gain any bipartisan support except for the most mundane and ultimately inconsequential bills (read Dubai port scandal).

Over 500,000 activists rallied in California over the weekend, protesting a bill that if passed, would do several completely horrible things. Among other things, it’s a bill that effectively turns illegal immigration into an aggravated felony that carries with it mandatory prison time. It criminalizes employers with the same sentencing imposed on smugglers. And furthermore, it supports building a wall (a bigger wall—one already exists) on the US-Mexico border (utterly ignoring that all the 9/11 terrorists crossed over from Canada). It hysterically claims that being a rapist or murderer is akin to being a poor, low-wage, illegal immigrant.

One of the biggest, most glaring problems with immigration reform is its unnatural coupling with anti-terrorism enforcement. We see this with the bureaucratic nightmare of conflating the Immigration Naturalization Services (INS) and the Department of Homeland Security. I know I am being naïve, and that the reality is that too many Americans see combating terrorism as an immigration problem. After all, terrorists are immigrants, and the threat comes from the outside. Of course, it also blithely ignores the fact that the overwhelmingly vast majority of immigrants (both legal and illegal) do not commit crimes.

The fact is that fighting terrorism and implementing immigration reform, while related, are enormously different issues. And they require completely different policies for meaningful, comprehensive change. They are joined in our culture and particularly politics, by some of the flimsiest, most reactionary and thoughtless arguments ever used. And yet, especially after 9/11, it becomes harder and harder to see the difference, that was so easy to do 10 years ago.

Also, I hate Bill Frist. More everyday. Unlike Bush, he never makes me laugh and is a joyless troll-man.

The bill is going through the congressional strainer right now, with new provisions, and amendments added seemingly every day.

Check out this very cool site for more information: Gov Track

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Death can be stressful

Funny (sorta) stuff from the US Army. Warning to all incompetent, unlucky bastards (check out the last line in parantheses).

For the complete chapter, go here.

(2) The Army knows that airborne and air assault training are not just intended to teach the skills needed to arrive on a battlefield after jumping from a low-flying aircraft or repelling from a helicopter. Their greater value comes from requiring soldiers to confront and master their extremely strong, instinctive fear of heights under circumstances which are deliberately stressful at the time. During training, this fear builds self-confidence and a sense of special identity on completion. (In fact, the training itself is not exceedingly dangerous, statistically speaking. However, the possibility of death does exist if you are extremely unlucky or fail to do the task correctly. This can contribute to additional stress.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Blank Noise Gets Noisier

This past week, I've been compulsively taking time out of my lunch break and commenting on a post about the Blank Noise Project --the blog-a-thon on street harassment that I posted on a couple of weeks ago here. Before being called an incoherent village witch doctor, I was thoroughly enjoying the debate and it got me thinking about a bunch of stuff that I'll indulge in here. Below is a synopsis of the comment train between me and F (note: I truncated the discussion for manageability sake, but there's a bunch of other viewpoints in there as well and F addresses all of them.) For the "original" source/post, go here.

Sony said...Of course it's possible for women to be victims of street harrassment, and not have a strong opinion about it. Not only is it possible, but it's completely okay. It is simply one way (out of 100s) to survive and cope with (at the very least) the threat of sexual violence...more

F said...I'm not saying that all women necessarily have to blog about this, or that it would make them feel better if they did. I'm saying that a) I find it surprising and depressing that 80% of women would feel happier staying quiet about something that outrages them, even when such silence means abandoning and isolating their fellow sufferers who have had the courage to speak out...more

Sony said...What I was trying to communicate is that women don't have to participate in some blog to show their strength, they do it everyday in countless other ways. And I am not attacking men, but why aren't we questioning their nonparticipation? In fact, if we are going to see some change, we need to change some perp. attitudes (most of them men), not female...more

F said...I completely agree that male apathy is a serious problem. I just don't see how that makes female apathy any less troubling. The fact that male attitudes need to be changed doesn't mean that female attitudes don't need to be changed also - so bringing in male attitudes is just obfuscating the point and trying to shift the responsibility...more

Sony said...The fact that the overwhelming majority of BNP were women somehow translated into silence for you is truly interesting. This 80% that you are flinging around is problematic by your own admittance. The assumption that half of the Indian blogger world are women and that most of them had to have come across the project--are shaky at best...I disagree that men are apathetic because women have been reticent about this. In my experience (and I'm certainly not alone), male attitude can be summed up by this post. If we are playing the numbers game, he got over 50 comments, that's more men who commented than blogged for BNP...more

F said...I'm not questioning that women per se have done a lot to attack sexual harassment. I'm questioning your claim that women who don't talk about it have done a lot to attack sexual harassment. My point is that talking about it is the only way to attack the problem. So if you're not doing that, then you're not doing anything for it. I'm sure there are plenty of women out there who are doing tons of good work to attack sexual harassment. I'm suggesting that those are precisely the women who are blogging about it as well...more

Sony said...To me BNP, rallies, vigils and all such activities--are much more a celebration of our solidarity for victims of sexual violence than it is about raising awareness. You mentioned this in your post, there is no one unaware of this issue. Who doesn't know that sexual harrassment is something women face? It's a complicated problem, and I don't believe the solution is placing more responsibility on women. I don't believe that talking/blogging is necessarily the answer. Sometimes it's not...more

F said...So my next question is - if it didn't change your argument on whether I was right in my earlier post, why bring it up then? That's a classic example of starting a second argument that has no connection with the first one. It's like saying: "I won't go out with you because you're not rich enough." "If I were rich enough, would you go out with me?" "No." And you wonder why I call it a red herring...more

And then it ended…

It’s funny to be on the side of valuing silence, instead of shouting your story at the top of some proverbial mountain. I feel the need to clarify that I am not against BNP—I’m only against this idea that if women do not participate, it must mean they have abandoned their sisters in shame and guilt. If women aren’t talking about it then it must mean they aren’t doing anything about it. It’s as insidious as some do-gooders sweeping into a poor community somewhere and getting frustrated that some seem to be just going about their business, instead of talking about their poverty. (Side-note: As I state above, I am highly skeptical that 80% of female Indian bloggers came across BNP, and decided to not post. His numbers are fiction. )

When feminists/activists talk about male accountability, it is usually met with eye-rolling impatience. Well yes, that’s a given, isn’t it? Sexual violence would certainly cease to exist if men who commit these crimes would stop. But what gets lost in the discussion, is that male participation is not an ancillary, “wouldn’t it be nice” dream. It’s instead an integral part of fighting sexual violence and gender inequality. It is easy to point to all the mistakes women make, and all the ways in which we have failed. Less often do I come across well-deserved recognition of what we have already achieved.

As an aside (and probably another post another time), it continues to surprise me that proudly calling oneself a feminist is sometimes akin to calling yourself racist or sexist. There’s this sense of “we are for women’s rights, but let’s not go that far, we don’t hate men.” It’s a little weird. Are there packs of feminists roaming the country engaged in unsavory behavior? Feminism is one of those strange constructs in our culture that no one seems willing to embrace, despite the fact that we might agree with everything it stands for. Almost never do I hear feminism criticized for its own terms. As Aliz Kates Shulman aptly put it in her essay, "The Taint": "Because, let's face it, feminism --initially perceived as daring, sexy, rebellious, gutsy, new--is now suspected in certain circles of being tainted, like food that's been around too long: even if it's still all right, better not take a chance on it.."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Presidential Talk #3

"I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily, or, you know, different color than white can self govern"
-- Jan 30, 2004
(Speaking with Canadian PM, Paul Martin)

"I think they're defeated and that's why they continue
to fight. " --May 23, 2005 (referring to Iraqi Insurgency)

"Laura recognized somebody by name. I am too."
-- April 21, 2004 (National Race for the Cure Reception)

"I think the world is, uh, you know, beginning to see a different impression of America"
--March 8th, 2005 (refering to America's Tsunami Relief Efforts)

Brahmin and Catholic Rules for eating Meat

There's a story that my mom likes to tell that I love to hear.

"Long long ago, there was a Brahmin boy lost deep in the forest. He wandered around for days, and eventually arrived under a Peepal tree, hungry and scared. It was in this condition that he saw a small dog crouched under the tree. He pulled a branch from the tree, beat the animal to death, roasted it using the nearby banyan tree and ate it. Eventually he found his way back to his family, and told his story to his father--the head Brahmin priest. It was in this way that the priest sanctioned the rules for eating meat. "You are allowed meat : a). If you have wandered the forest for 10 days b). are under a peepal tree; c). you are eating a dog; d) using a peepal branch to kill it; e) roasted it in a fire built from banyan branches. "

There are several reasons why I am very fond of this fable. It points to the all too human origins of even our most sacred laws. It underlines my long held belief that our rules are made by the powerful for the powerful. It teaches us the skills necessary for survival when wandering lost in the forest. A delicious recipe for roasting dog. Lessons that I believe the Christian right in America could use some education in.

I was thinking of this story, when I heard about the Archbishop granting dispensations for eating meat--specifically cornbeef--on St. Patrick's Day this year due to its un-desirable arrival on a Lent friday. Eating meat for St. Patrick trumps not eating meat for Jesus for many.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone: Book Review

Translations are treacherous. They're like a foreign film where you watch a character gesture emphatically, red in the face and shrieking, while the subtitles coldly state, “Why?” Something has been lost in the shuffle, buried under the exotic. Reading Ignazio Silone's Bread and Wine was to hear its narration muffled and distanced by the English language.

Set in the 1930s under Mussolini's rule, the story begins gently enough in a quiet, Italian countryside. With an elderly priest and his aged sister waiting for visitors to come celebrate his birthday. The nervous anxiety of the sister, while she worries that no one will come mingles uncomfortably with the priest’s forced optimism that some one will. Eventually three gentlemen join them. And we find out more about why the priest has lost favor in the community—his unwillingness to separate the church from the current politics of the country. The scene effectively sets the stage for the coming debates on communism and social responsibilty that will be wrestled with for the rest of the book.

The novel quickly leaves the priest behind to follow one of his students, Pietro Spina, as he steals his way back into Italy as a socialist comrade. Reluctantly his schoolmate (a doctor), decides to help him lie low for a few months in a tiny, rural and impoverished village where Spina is disguised as a priest—Don Paolo. During his time in hiding, he learns more about the terrifying hopelessness and resignation of the villagers. It is there that he begins to question the utility of the opposing Communist party, and eventually severs his ties when he discovers the party's support for Italy's war in Ethiopia.

Despite the strong political undercurrent, Pietro Spina’s story remains removed from the crisis in the country. This is largely because Pietro himself, is such a privileged character who is not ever seriously affected by the poverty around him, or burdened by familial obligations like the others. Even the romantic connections he forms, soon dissipates, and is forgotten.

Despite its dogged campaign against conformity, and popular thought of all kind, nothing endears me to this book. Prevailing throughout is a thinly disguised contempt for the rural villagers, and their perceived ignorance, passivity and apathy. The women are mostly smothering, feminine creatures plagued with hysteria (the very last scene and character being an important and interesting exception). Like Ayn Rand's Fountain Head, it tackles themes of individual thought, socialism and captilism and its effect on the "simple, working man". However, unlike Rand's infamous work, Bread and Wine argues with a more succinct logic, and somewhat less irritatingly allegorical narrative that group-think breeds ignorance and a blind following. George Orwell's 1984 does this best of all, but that's another book review for another post.

Originally penned in Italian, Bread and Wine was published in multiple languages throughout Europe in the mid-1930s. Not surprisingly, the book was vilified and banned by Mussolini’s government, making it dangerous to possess, much less read. In this way, within this context, the ideas celebrated in the book are shocking and revolutionary. It takes no sides. It denounces capitalism, while betraying sympathy and respect for land-owners and bankers. It embraces communism, while sneering at its conformity and eventually dismissing its legitimacy.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hello!!!! Can You Hear Me??

It’s everywhere all around us, all the time. Those people on the metro with the telltale, glowing white wires poking out their ears. Or that group furiously thumbing their blackberries. Or those countless invitations to join friendster, or myspace. You just got invited to be a friend.

It is hard to believe that there was once a time when email was just a rumor that I dismissed on first hear. Today, it is nearly impossible to untangle ourselves from the outgrowth of technology that has revolutionized how we communicate. I could talk about how technology breeds isolation, and how, despite it all, people connect less with each other, not more. More than ever before, we are living inside our own little worlds, instead of the one we all share. We've given up our realities for a virtual peephole with a wide-angle lens.

But that is a post for another day when I am feeling less optimistic. This blog is about what I find thrilling about the tools the tech world has given us to play with. It is nothing less than unexpected, unpredictable and utterly exhilirating.

Blogging is just one example of how one simple idea (sticking your thoughts on a public webpage) has become the foundation to launch an amazing array of innovations. [Sidenote: Here’s a a very nice post on why bloggers blog]

Take this site, for instance, called Holla Back New York City. It asks you to use your picture phones to click photos of street harassers which then gets plastered on the internet, along with a short description. Some little creep somewhere is perhaps thinking, “Why’d she take my picture? Is she going to the cops?” He’s unsure, and perhaps a little bit unsettled. It’s hard for me to not feel a little joy at that.

Here’s another. A story about a grieving mother who stumbled upon iMixes – music playlists compiled by iTunes users. She started compiling lists with search words such as "bereavement" and "death of a child" into the iMix search tool, which are then shared with other users. Recently, iTunes users rated her lists among the best of the more than 300,000 lists available.

Right when you are weary of everyone spouting the same old shtick. No one wants to beat the drum off rhythm these days. Right then, you discover entire communities that are forming new rules and asking us to re-examine all of our old ones. Excellent.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Cookie Dream

This morning, still dreaming--I had a powerful desire to bake cookies.

In my dreams, I am searching high and low for a good recipe in our archives of Cooking Light. I am asking all my roommates (who I imagine to be fabulous bakers) how to bake cookies. Desperate lunacy in my voice. Walnuts and Chocolate chips !! I am screaming. I picture the dough rising as the chocolate slowly melt and bubble into the batter and the walnuts turn tender, yet crispy. I tell myself that I can take the cookies to lunch with me.

I imagine their bumpy, serrated sweetness.

I come fully awake, and the desire to bake cookies flees. Quickly. "Why the hell would I bake cookies?, " I mutter out loud.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

We Speak Feminism Here

Posted as part of Blank Noise: Blog-a-thon.

I wanted to do my part (even though it’s past deadline). Throw a penny into the fountain. Add my rain to the ocean. That sort of thing.

In college, I used to be part of this wonderful organization called RVAP that shaped how I thought about sexual violence, street harassment, gender, feminism, women, men, sisterhood, girl power, the color-pink. It’s there that I earned the edge to my feminism.

I have all these warm memories of sitting outside on the Pentacrest lawn in the fading, evening light, folding T-shirts from the year’s clothesline project, laughing and joking with other cool women, feeling that wonderful, smiling calm after laughing too hard. We had lots of support in those days in our campus for our rallies and vigils. Not all of it welcome.

I remember this one particular police officer who would always waddle over, stop by our table and make a point of saying something obnoxious (so begins my deep distrust and dislike of cops). I remember one year, he said, “I understand what you ladies are trying to do here. About not blaming the victim and all. But what I want to say is that there are two people involved in rape cases, not just one.” I tended to avoid him.

For a city almost completely devoid of violent crimes*, Iowa City has more than its share of street harassment. Lots of drunken frat boys. Plenty of assholes. One of my last years in Iowa, one night I went by this space in downtown Iowa city where you can always catch a game of chess. Something I love doing. I had been going there for years, and knew most of the players.

One night I played against this dude who I had never seen before, which wasn’t particularly unusual. He won. As I had done a thousand times before, I thanked him for the game and said I enjoyed playing him. He grabbed his dick, grinned and said, “I bet you did.” I grimaced, got up and left, feeling angry and afraid. Feeling angry so I don’t feel afraid. I didn’t go back the rest of the summer.

There's plenty I want to say about how I want men to stand up for women more. I want women to forgive each other more; bitch less. I don't care what she was wearing. I don't care how drunk she was. I hope I am not saying anything new, anything radical. Haven't these become cliches yet? Isn't it time to shout it's not okay? I sure hope so.

*(During my time there, I remember a couple of murders; suicides; guy who everyone thought was drunk, but was really bleeding from a head wound because someone stole his beer; high-profile rapes from important athletes)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs: Book Review

Running with Scissors would, I think, lend itself nicely to being filmed.

Written in short, episodic spurts, Burroughs describes each chapter in his harrowing childhood mostly with a sitcom-esque hilarity. It's filled with the sort of witty, absurd fiction writing that could easily be converted into a screenplay, and that can be really fun to read. (Turns out I wasn't the only one who thought so. They made a movie out of it.)

Apparently a true story, Burroughs' memoir begins by detailing the tumultous relationship between the protagonist (Burroughs) and his mentally unstable mother. His father and brother make brief cameo appearances, before disappearing almost completely.

Much of the novel is set off when the Augusten's mother gives him away at the age of 11 to her dysfunctional psychiatrist who lives in a big, Victorian house with his equally dysfunctional family. A modern-day Addams family. Much of it quite funny, but a lot of it equally creepy.

In fact, the more you read the less funny the book becomes. A book less concerned with fleshing out its characters or plotline, than with laughing and making fun of a history littered with child abuse, sexual violence, and neglect. It's an uncomfortable compromise.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Presidential Speak #2

The man. The smirk.

Second installment of Presi-talk.

"We increased expenses, particularly in two areas--the military."
--March 25, 2004 (Nashua, NH)

"If we'd been having this discussion a couple of years ago and I'd a stood up in front of you and said the Iraqi people would be voting, you'd look at me like some of you still look at me - with a kind of blank expression." --Jan. 26, 2005 (White House Press Corps)

"Some are here to see the 80 year old dude...launch forth from a perfectly safe aerospace vehicle" -- June 12th, 2004 (George Bush Sr.'s Birthday party)