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August 28, 2006

Macaca Fracas Revisited

What a difference a month makes! In mid July, polls showed Senator Allen leading his opponent, Jim Webb, by 11 points. After the Senator's macaca moment, Zogby finds Allen trailing. Admittedly, he's only behind one percentage point, well within the margin of error. But such a severe loss of momentum is liable to go down in history, as Zogby puts it, as one "colossal political crackup."

To gauge the national impact of this brouhaha, look no further than CafePress where the number of entrepreneurs hawking macaca themed products are up to about 235, nearly double from a week ago. Yes, you too can own a rectangle magnet, bumper sticker, t-shirts, mousepads, and, um, thongs with one or more of the following designs:

Update: For an absolutely great rejoinder, check out RamR's diary, Sen Allen, Welcome To America. Bravo!

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- August 28, 2006 8:43 PM // Diaspora , Fashion , Politics

August 23, 2006

US Military And Outsourcing

It's no secret the US Military is having trouble attracting new recruits. Amidst reports of rising recruiting violations, involuntary recalls of soldiers who have already served, there are the consequences of the maximum enlistment age being raised from 35 to 42:

Russell Dilling, 42, of San Antonio, and his 19-year-old son, Robert, had tears in their eyes as they hugged afterward. The younger Dilling graduated from basic training.

Russell Dilling is scheduled to finish Oct. 6 and is hoping his knees hold out. He wants to become a small arms repairman.

There is, however, one section of the population that's enrolling in record numbers:

...Emilio Gonzales, the director of the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, writes in today's San Diego Union-Tribune that record numbers of Hispanics are enlisting in the armed forces to gain citizenship. More than 40,000 "immigrants" serve in the armed forces today, doing the "job" in which others Americans seem uninterested.

Given that hispanics constitute a huge percentage of the illegal population in the USA, it's not surprising many would jump at the chance to become citizens. But guess who accounts for the largest percentage increase in the last five years? Sepia Mutiny has the scoop:

Mexico was the leading source country for unauthorized immigration with nearly 6.0 million residents in the United States in 2005. El Salvador, Guatemala, India, and China were the next leading source countries, accounting for a combined total of nearly 1.4 million unauthorized immigrants. Among the 10 leading source countries, the annual average increase in the unauthorized population from 2000 to 2005 was greatest among Mexican immigrants (260,000). However, the greatest percentage increase in the unauthorized immigrant population from 2000 to 2005 occurred among immigrants from India (133 percent) and Brazil (70 percent).

Given that there is still overwhelming interest in India to come to the USA, why not take advantage? Kevin Ryan, a US Military Brigadier General, has already done the math, so we don't have to. His proposal:

If the US Army placed one recruiting station in the capital of India, an English-speaking democracy of more than a billion people, we would have available a pool of enlistment-age adults equivalent to the entire population of the United States - more than 300 million men and women. Or, if we don't want to pay for a recruiting station in New Delhi, we could mail recruiting brochures to some of the 1 million foreign students who actually make it to America's colleges and institutes on temporary visas each year. Perhaps they would like to have their school debts paid along with guaranteed work.

Incredible. Magorn over at Daily Kos speculates what this might mean for Army Call Centers:

"Lima Charlie! this is Delta FOxtrot! we are under Heavy fire and need immediate Assistance"

"Hello my name is ...Frank...and I can help you with that, now what exactly seems to be the problem?"

"we are taking heavy fire from hostiles. I count at least three firing positons, they have small arms and RPGS"

"Okay. Have you tried Killing the Enemy?"

"We're pinned down, we can't get a clear shot, we need fire support immediately"

"okay . Are you Sure your Weapon is loaded? I'm going to give you the steps to ensure their are bullets in your gun. Ready?

  1. Remove the magazine from the chamber
  2. Count how many bullets are in the magazine-they are the long cylindrical objects
  3. If the magazine is empty replace with a fully loaded one.

Can you do that for me and tell me what happens?"

"&^%&$#@%%$!"

"Sir there is no reason to use abusive language, I will terminate this call if it continues"

Imagine the shenanigans at boot camp:

"Speak up boy - are you a steer or a queer?"

"Sar?"

"You heard me! Are you a steer or a queer?"

"I'm Perumselva Pandiyan, Saar, Voracle expert."

And so on. Anyway, this proposal could well be a trial balloon, given the author's background. If so, let's see if it gains any traction. I doubt the Indian government would be willing to lose potential jawans so easily. It might end up as an fast-track-to-immigration reform kind of a thing.

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- August 23, 2006 4:16 PM // Politics

August 21, 2006

Super Vision

Image courtesy SF Chronicle

Too much technology, not enough story. That about sums up my feelings about "Super Vision," the latest production from acclaimed New York theater outfit Builders Association that played last weekend at the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts. But, the show is well worth a visit simply for the sets and visuals which constitute a seamless blend of computer graphics, virtual backdrops and actors, live video teleconferencing and compositing and a pulsating soundtrack.

The Total Information Awareness Program is an infamous initiative of the Bush/Cheney government which purports to gather and correlate every single possible electronic and surveillance data point on every citizen. "Super Vision" envisions a world where this program is reality, not merely an eye in the sky scheme of the current administration. Moreover, the organization that undertakes this huge data mining task in "Super Vision" is a private concern, again a nod to our current world where corporations routinely collect and share huge amounts of information on citizens.

"Super Vision" starts off with a bang. In an opening monologue, a company spokesperson walks onstage to provide a little spiel. She calls out some members in the audience for that night by name, then lists their residential zipcodes and the preferred activities of the "average" resident in that area. It is a chilling reminder of the datasphere that encircles, observes, and records our minutest actions. The subsequent action jumps back and forth between three storylines: a couple in Seattle, an Ugandan Muslim of Indian origin attempting to pass through various passport checkpoints in the US, and a NYC based Sri Lankan woman teleconferencing with her grandmother in Columbo.

Unfortunately, none of the tales are particularly engaging. The sound, hypnotic at first, interferes noticeably with the words from the Seattle couple, making it difficult to follow their actions. Consequently, their climactic moment falls flat. The interrogation techniques used at the passport checkpoints hit really close to home but becomes repetitive after a while. The back and forth between the woman in NYC and her grandmother works best, yet, does not have a resolution either. None of the tales overlap or appear connected, making it difficult to understand the overall themes being presented, apart from the obvious Orwellian implications.

However, none of this should take away from the sensory experience offered up by "Super Vision." The set within a set concept, the use of rear and front projection screens, often simultaneously, the richness of the images floating across, the effective use of virtual actors - all of this add up to an engrossing evening. This is a group to watch. Hopefully, they'll have a killer storyline to go with the visuals next time.

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- August 21, 2006 6:34 PM // Review , Theater

August 15, 2006

The Macaca Fracas

On this, India's Independence Day, it's worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on our heritage and spare a minute for those folks who toiled so we could enjoy swaraj (freedom). This applies for the diaspora too. Where would we be in the USA without the Civil Rights movement, for example? However, as Thomas Jefferson said, "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance" and, as we keep getting told, there are those who envy us our freedom. In this particular case though, said enviers are right here in the USA and in positions of power. Case in point: Virginia Senator George Allen (R). The Washington Post has the details:

Democrat James Webb's Senate campaign accused Sen. George Allen (R) of making demeaning comments Friday to a 20-year-old Webb volunteer of Indian descent.

S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of Virginia, had been trailing Allen with a video camera to document his travels and speeches for the Webb campaign. During a campaign speech Friday in Breaks, Virginia, near the Kentucky border, Allen singled out Sidarth and called him a word that sounded like "Macaca."

"This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great. We're going to places all over Virginia, and he's having it on film and its great to have you here and you show it to your opponent because he's never been there and probably will never come."

After telling the crowd that Webb was raising money in California with a "bunch of Hollywood movie moguls," Allen again referenced Sidarth, who was born and raised in Fairfax County.

"Lets give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," said Allen, who then began talking about the "war on terror."

Here's the video as captured by Sidarth:



Bear in mind, this is a standing Senator of the United States! Initially, the Allen campaign tried to pass off the remarks as a reference to Sidarth's hairstyle. Not so fast. It's an ethnic slur specifically aimed at North Africans. And Allen's mother is of European and Tunisian descent, so he certainly couldn't claim ignorance of its implications.

So, why did Allen do this? Jeffrey Feldman over at Daily Kos comes to this conclusion:

In a few words: George Allen used a white power word in his stump speech. And he did it on purpose.

Why he did it is a question I cannot answer. There cannot be more than a handful of people in Virginia who could have understood this term. Perhaps there were some in the audience? That is hard to say. Perhaps he has used the word 'macaca' before in similar situations that have not been caugh on tape? Also hard to say. Perhaps 'macaca' is a word that he uses normally in his private life, but that he typically does not incude in his stump speeches? Difficult to answer that question.

Whatever the case may be, journalists, voters and elected officialsin Virginia have ample reason to ask George Allen an extended series of questions about this incident.

It is fair to say that if a sitting U.S. Senator is identified as using a word identified as part of a broader white power vocabulary--that is cause for serious alarm.

Today, the Allen campaign issued a classic non-apology apology:

"In singling out the Webb campaign's cameraman, I was trying to make the point that Jim Webb had never been to that part of Virginia – and I encouraged him to bring the tape back to Jim and welcome him to the real world of Virginia and America, outside the Beltway, where he has rarely visited. I also made up a nickname for the cameraman, which was in no way intended to be racially derogatory. Any insinuations to the contrary are completely false.

"Yesterday, I apologized to anyone who may have offended by the misinterpretation of my remarks. That was certainly not my intent ...

"I never want to embarrass or demean anyone and I apologize if my comments offended this young man. Even though he has signed onto my opponent's campaign, I look forward to seeing him on the trail ahead.

Translation: If anyone in the media misunderstood why I made up a racist nickname for the cameraman, it's your fault. And if you were offended, it's your problem too.

Thanks a lot, Senator. I think you just stepped into a huge pile of caca there. I wonder what Republican stalwarts like Dinesh D'Souza, Ramesh Ponnuru or Bobby Jindal have to say about this one.

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- August 15, 2006 8:53 PM // Diaspora , Politics

August 13, 2006

Summer Cleaning

Sometimes snaps are better than endless bloviating. So, here goes. First, summer cleaning:


Next, is the summer party. Jesse, our DJ friend, getting ready to rock the same backyard:

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- August 13, 2006 11:55 AM // Bay Area

August 9, 2006

Desi-esque: A Playlist

Arguably, the music of the subcontinent has been far more influential than its cinematic output. Courtesy WebJay, this playlist puts together a sampling of artists and tracks outside South Asia, both from diaspora artists and others, who have been influenced by its riddims. Just hit play in the embedded player and enjoy. Don't forget to make sure the latest version of Flash is installed.

We open with that chestnut from Nusrat, "Mustt Mustt", as remixed by Massive Attack. A must for all world-music best-of lists everywhere. "Nadia" by Nitin Sawhney is one of the best tracks from his album, Beyond Skin, a great blend of yearning vocals and drum and bass. The next couple of tracks are filched from
Feed Me Good Tunes excellent Asian Underground sampler playlist, so mad props to them. Here's their take:

Ananda Shankar & State of Bengal's 'Betelnutters' is a great up-beat track set to a sweet sitar, it's hard to ignore the groove that these guys set.

Not enough can be said about Asian Dub Foundation, my buddy Rob introduced me to these guys and I've been loving them ever since. At times their political undertone can undermine the actual music [I do not intend to discount their message however]. 'Rebel Warrior' is one of their finer tracks - it gives you something to move to as well as a theme for airborne fist thrusting.

Death in Vegas, are not true members of the Asian Underground by any ethnic means, but their track 'I Spy' fits our mood today quite well, with the welcome addition of an organ to the sitar and an almost saddening beat.

Kid Koala & Dynamite D's 'Third World Lover' is a turntablists' gem, in fact the entire album [containing fused beats and well sewn samples from various Bollywood films] is a must-listen [so listen now!].

Topping it off with Talvin Singh's 'Traveller' wouldn't have been enough [because the album that it's on is quite easy to find] - so instead I opted for 'Kid Loco's Once Upon a Time in the Mid East mix' [taken from the elusive 'RemixSingh' album] which takes an already fantastic track and takes it to a different level

The next-to-last entry is the Mung Bean remix of Banco De Gaia's "Heliopolis." Toby Marks, who is Banco De Gaia for all intents and purposes, has been at the forefront of the electronica world beat movement and this track is a lovely reminder of his abilities. We close off with a version of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech cut up to tablas. We know of how MLK was influenced by Gandhi - this mix literally morphs that connection.

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- August 9, 2006 4:32 PM // Diaspora , Music

August 4, 2006

Screenwriting For Dummies

In his memoir, Hollywood Animal, screenwriter and Tinseltown bete noire Joe Eszterhas, writer of such films as Basic Instinct and Flashdance, shares an anecdote about the Golden Age of Hollywood:

Charles MacArthur was a celebrated playwright/screenwriter who believed that studio executives were some of the dumbest people he'd ever met and didn't know anything about writing. So he decided to prove it.

At the gas station one day, he started chatting with the young Englishman who was filling up his tank. The young man lamented that he was only making $40 a week and Charles MacArthur asked him if he wanted to make $1000 a week. The young man said, "Whoever I have to kill, I will happily do it."

Charles MacArthur bought him a new tweed suit and a curved-stem pipe. He took him in to the studio head and introduced him as "Kenneth Woolcott, the well-known English novelist who is against doing any movie writing because he insists there's no room for creative talent in the movies."

The studio boss did everything he could to persuade Kenneth Woolcott, the well-known English novelist, to be a screenwriter at his studio. He finally offered him $1000 a week. The gas station attendant grudgingly accepted the offer.

The studio was so pleased with Woolcott's work that they kept him under contract at $1000 a week for a whole year. After which Kenneth Woolcott went back to pumping gas.

Later on in the book, Joe Eszterhas confirms our suspicions about LA - yes, everyone there has a script in development of some kind. Consequently, though he lived outside LA and flew in for his meetings, he stopped taking cabs, mainly due to desperate drivers who staked out the lobbies of the hotels where he was staying, waiting for an opportunity to ambush him with their masterworks.

Their Mumbai counterparts, on the other hand, are still apparently too busy terrorizing their passengers and hapless pedestrians with their kamikaze tactics to worry about plot points and story arcs - whatever Bollywood dreams they have are still confined to starring in films, not writing one. But that may change soon. As DNAIndia reports, desi screenwriters, that long neglected arm of Bollywood, are finally getting more than chai and buttertoast for their services, sometimes as much as 25 lakh rupees (that's $50K) a script!

Industry observers point out that till recently, anybody could have scripted a Bollywood "formula" film with its trademark twists and turns. The concept of a script did not exist in the industry for the longest time. So, there was no real need for writers, says trade analyst Amod Mehra.

The script, however, is changing in Bollywood and the storyboard is moving in a new direction.

Though, scriptwriters are yet to get the recognition they deserve, they are suddenly sought after. And new voices are being heard all the time. As producers churn out films for different, even niche audiences, the opportunities for scriptwriters are increasing.

"A screenplay is now being viewed as the most important tool to make money," says Monga. This spells good news for writers who are paid better now-anything between Rs1 lakh to Rs25 lakhs, say industry sources, depending on the budget of the movie.

Time to reach into the desk drawer and dust off that screenplay, methinks. If there's no screenplay, why, a foreign hit DVD will do nicely for "inspiration." And invest in a tweed jacket and hookah.
PS - Thanks to Amar Parikh, as always, for the tip.

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- August 4, 2006 10:12 AM // Bollywood , Books , Film