Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's Official: Jesus was Black. Or was it Korean?

I hope you had a nice Christmas holiday and didn't have any strange old men trying to sneak into your house to offer presents to your children.

Given the time of year, it seems like as good a time as any to ponder the ethnicity of my homie Jesus Christ.

I was having a chat with a African fellow not so long ago, mostly about food and stuff, when he launched into an impassioned spiel about the whitewashing of history; in particular, how black people were responsible for the pyramids, and how Jesus Christ was a black man. According to this friend of mine, our minds have been brainwashed and we've been fed a Eurocentric version of history which erases black African contributions to civilisation. Which is true to an extent.

Now, let me start by saying a few things. Firstly, I'm quite open to the concept of a black Jesus. I think it would be pretty cool if the Messiah was a soul brutha. And secondly, the traditional image of Jesus as depicted by the church, frequently with blue eyes and blonde hair, is almost certainly not would he would have looked like. "Whitewashing of history" is no joke.

There is understandable resentment on the part of some black Americans, as well as some coloured people all over the world, regarding the image of a blue-eyed and blonde-haired Jesus. To them this image represents the white-is-best conditioning faced by peoples colonised by Western powers.

And wouldn't it just be a great mind-f*** to all the racist white Christian conservatives out there (who pretty much run the US and therefore the world) if their Lord and Saviour was a negro?

But really, was Jesus black? Hmm.

Type "black jesus" into google and you'll find a whole lot of material dealing with this, as well as claims that black Africans were developing civilisation while white folks were crawling around on all fours in caves. Some will tell you that Roman Emperor Septimius Severus was black, since he was born in Libya. Rapper KRS-One not only claimed Jesus was black but at one point seemed to think the (black) ancient Egyptians invented the motorcar. By the same token you can also find white supremacists who claim Jesus was clearly of Nordic stock. As were the ancient Egyptians apparently.

The evidence all this stuff is based on is pretty flimsy. A common Biblical passage used to support the black Jesus hypothesis is Revelations 1:14, describing a vision of the messiah by John the Divine: "... his head holy and his hairs were white like wool..."
It's amazing the extent to which people will be selective with information in order to support their argument. White and black supremacists interpret this same passage quite differently. White supremacists read the passage as saying Jesus's head was white, therefore he is a pale-skinned Nordic type; black supremacists see Africanness in his supposedly wooly hair. Personally I think anyone who puts that much importance on this stuff has too much time on their hands, but hey, that's just me.

If we look at the population of the Middle East today, there are certainly some people displaying clear African heritage, but the vast majority would certainly not be called "black". But you wouldn't necessarily call them "white" either, although some could certainly pass as such. You might refer to them as "Caucasian", but terms like that are woefully inadequate to describe a population, given the diversity that exists within it.

Obviously Jesus was a Jew - so he would look like a Jew, right? Well, yes, but the Jews of 2000 years ago would not have looked exactly like the Jews of today (and even today, they are a diverse people). Around 80% of Jews in the world today are Ashkenazim, descended from the Jews who settled long ago in Germany and spread throughout Eastern Europe from the 11th century onwards. While Ashkenazi Jews remained genetically distinct from their Gentile neighbours in Europe, there is nonetheless some genetic input from Northern Europeans. Thus the majority of Jews today are more European-looking than their ancestors around the time of Christ would have been.

Given the current divisions in the world in which many see a conflict between Christianity and Islamic terrorism, it is perhaps ironic that the historical Jesus probably looked very much like an Arab. If Jesus came back today and walked anonymously around some redneck Christian town, he'd probably get called "terrorist", "sand nigger" or "camel jockey". Indeed, this representation (left) of Jesus from the Coptic Church of Ethiopia (one of the first nations outside the Levant to adopt Christianity) may well be very close to the mark.

There are even some kooky Koreans out there (not many, mind you, but some) trying to claim JC as a Korean. I'm not sure if there is any evidence for this apart from a few paintings of Him created by a Korean, in Korean artistic style, which some take as "proof". Flimsy.

Clearly a particular representation of a holy figure is important to many people. For example, could Christianity have spread so rapidly across Europe if its figurehead was depicted as black, brown or yellow? Unlikely. Likewise, were it not for the largely subjugated nature of the nonwhite world during colonial times when Christianity was spreading, it is unlikely that so many nonwhites would have so readily accepted the image of a white Jesus.

But like those claims that black Nubians built the pyramids (possible, but unlikely), or that white Tocharians from Central Asia introduced rice cultivation to the Chinese (extremely unlikely, but some white supremacists believe it), speculation of the race of Jesus ignores a simple truth. If Jesus was indeed white, does that mean white people are intrinsically better? Would a black Jesus mean that black people are more holy than any other? No. Certainly His representation has an important psychological effect, but a true Christian should undoubtedly follow Jesus no matter whether he is black, white, yellow or whatever.

So it doesn't matter. But for the record, he was light brown. Let us not forget that Christianity is a Middle-Eastern religion, no less than Islam is. So all you Christians, you worship a guy who was basically an Arab. I can deal with that - can you?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Listmania: My favourite movies of the 00s

So given that it's fast approaching the end of a decade, everyone's doing those "Best of the Decade" lists. Why should I be any different?

A word, though: This is not a definitive list. I don't have the time to watch every movie ever released, so obviously there are going to be some omissions here. These are merely movies that I have seen and thought were fabulous. I welcome your input, but don't read this and send me a comment saying "Jeez, what a dickhead, how come No Country for Old Men isn't in there?" because I haven't got around to seeing it, all right?. Damn, get off my back already.

I've sort of put them in order, but not really. That's how alternative I am. And yes, I clearly have a thing for cinema from the non-English speaking world.

City of God (2002) - Exhilarating Brazilian gangster movie that easily rates up there with The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas and Scarface. Directors Fernando Mireilles and Katia Lund employ a unique cinematographical style to weave a tale over 3 decades about the rise of gang culture in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro.

Memento (2000) - Christopher Nolan's psychological thriller, about a man with anterograde amnesia trying to piece together the threads of his life, takes a daring concept - telling the story in reverse - and pulls it off with incredible results. An intricately plotted movie which demands the viewer's full attention, with an absolute killer climax.

Infernal Affairs (2001) - I have no idea why so many people creamed themselves over The Departed, yet criminally ignored the film it was copied from. Because The Departed is not fit to lick the boots of Infernal Affairs. Tony Leung gives a magnificent portrayal of a cop deep undercover in a triad gang, in a cat and mouse game with Andy Lau as the gang's mole in the police force. My review here.

Pan's Labyrinth  (2006) - Visually amazing, Guillermo Del Toro's dark fairy tale of a young girl using her imagination to escape her grim reality reads like a nightmarish rendering of Narnia for grown-ups.

Dirty Pretty Things (2002) - Bleak, moving suspense set in the unseen world of Britain's illegal immigrant workforce. Chiwetel Ejiofor's career-making performance as a haunted Nigerian doctor-turned-taxi driver can only be described as "soulful".


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) - While it is significant in exposing the fantastical high-wire tricks of the wuxia genre to the Western world, Ang Lee's masterpiece stands out in its own right as a love story, and for its performances from its stellar cast from all over the Chinese speaking world.

The Host (2006) - Bong Joon-Ho's revitalised take on the monster movie, in which a mutant aquatic beast terrorises the riverbanks of Seoul, stands out for its offbeat but effective juxtaposition of horror, comedy and
drama elements.

Dirty Carnival (2006) - A fresh take on the gangster genre, and more proof of the current vitality of Korea's film industry. My review here.

Offside (2006) - Iranian maverick Jafar Panahi's funny but stinging critique of his country's treatment of females, revolving around a group of women trying to sneak into a stadium to watch a World Cup soccer qualifier.

Ong Bak (2003) - Yes, it's from the genre of "look what I can do" martial arts films with lots of action and little plot, but its the best example of that genre in ages. Visceral, fresh and exciting, and made Tony Jaa seem like the next great Asian action star. Unfortunately the rubbish films he made afterwards made this one seem like a fluke.

The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) - The premise seems like fodder for an 80s teen boob-fest, but behind the ribald banter is a comedy with real heart. The best example of what Judd Apatow does best - making films about the complicated passage of boys to men.

Lagaan (2001) - It's a Bollywood movie, for all that entails (almost 4 hours long with lots of dancing) and it's about cricket. Doesn't sound terribly exciting, but Lagaan is an enormously entertaining example of the genre, depicting a humble village taking on the might of the British Raj in a game of cricket to determine their fate.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sitar grooves: US3 - "You can't hold me down"

How many rap tracks feature not one but 2 sitar solos? Although US3 were never a straight-ahead rap group by any means, with a major acid jazz bent to them. Since I'm a sucker for funky sitars, I absolutely love this, from way back in 2001. But even without the Indian-ness, its a phat track, easily their best since their debut single Cantaloop.

In case you care about such things, the horn parts are from the old jazz standard "Jive Samba." Below is Cannonball Adderley's version of it.

So for all the folks who deride hip-hop's art of sampling as uncreative theft, ask yourself this - who would have envisioned that Cannonball's  recording would sound awesome with a slammin' breakbeat underneath it, and a rapper and a sitar solo on top of it? Or, who for that matter, creates rap music and decides "it's great, but it just doesn't sound Indian enough - let's get some sitars!"
To take something old and imagine it in a new and interesting context - surely a worthy artistic expression.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Don't f*** with monkeys. They will f*** you up.

Planet of the Apes had it right. The simians are rising up against their human masters. In Hubei in China, street performer Lo Wung had taught his troupe of monkeys some taekwondo moves for his act. But if you are gonna do that, you better make sure you stay on their good side, or like Anakin did to Obi Wan, they will turn on you eventually. They fight dirty too - these are some badass monkeys. I'm sure Lo Wung was pissed off that all the spectators just thought it was part of the performance.
Story here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mr Wasabi: a crunchy, spicy and racist snack for the whole family

One of the blogs I've really been feeling recently is Sociological Images. Came across this interesting article about someone discovering the below product, Mr Wasabi snacks, and the exchange that followed with the manufacturer when she complained about the racial stereotyping used in the packaging.

A big deal over nothing? Well, I can accept some of the cliched stereotypes of Japaneseness used here (the whole samurai get up, for example), but the ultra-slanty eyes and buck teeth? That's too far. Particularly the buck teeth. I mean seriously, how many buck-toothed Asians do you meet these days?

Miss Indonesia in sex cult rumours

I don't want anyone to think I'm writing a gossip column here, so let me say from the outset that this story is probably mostly bollocks. But here it is anyway, from the Malaysian website Daily Chili:
A fresh storm is brewing around controversial Miss Indonesia 2009 Kerenina Sunny Halim. The 23-year-old beauty has admitted that she is a member of The Family International, a “non-governmental-organisation” for which she did humanitarian work in Aceh after the Asian tsunami in 2004. Kerenina, whose American mother and Indonesian father were members, was born into the organisation. The Family International is the modern day spawn of The Children of God – and admits as much on its website. The name was changed in the 1980s after negative publicity forced it “underground”. Founded in California in 1968 by David Brandt Berg, The Children of God was a counter-culture evangelical group with a foundation of biblical fundamentalism – and bonking. Berg, who was also addressed as “Moses”, “Chairman Mo” or “Dad”, preached free love to his followers, to the extent that females were encouraged to go into the world and engage in “flirty-fishing” of men: essentially to use sex to proselytise, according to the Mail and Guardian Online.
First and foremost, there just aren't enough journalistic articles these days that use the term "bonking."

Reckon that article will actually increase the attraction of The Family International? Because reading the whole article through my "guy" lenses, the stuff about brainwashing and alleged pedophilia of the cult leader was less important than the words "bonking", "free love" and "Miss Indonesia". Which naturally leads to conclusions like:

"Hmm... join up, then hopefully bonk Miss Indonesia... seems like the kind of religious movement I could really get behind..."

Of course, I don't really want to be in a cult, what with all that brainwashing and all ... Are cults still giving out free Nike shoes and Kool Aid these days? I wonder if they have a 30-day-trial or something...? A lot can be accomplished in that time... having my ass kicked by Mrs Eurasian Sensation. Oh well, there goes that idea.

My earlier post about Karenina here:
Miss Indonesia 2009... who barely speaks Indonesian

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Random comic genius: Arj Barker on Australian swearing

Any real Aussie knows how true this is, for better or for worse.

Poor visual quality on this video, but you'll get over it. Language warning, obviously.

If you want proof, check these out:

Trent from Punchy

Bogans are funny

Saturday, December 19, 2009

He's not racist, he just wanted to kill blacks

Ok, is it just me, or did the definition of racism change recently? Because Victoria's law enforcement bodies appear to have their own definition of racism that is different to what everyone else thinks it is. I mean, there was this case of an Indian man and his wife being bashed with a chair and iron bar while being racially abused, that the police decided was not racist. That was one thing, but this next one takes the cake.

The Herald Sun reports that Clinton Rintoull, 24, was earlier today jailed for the murder of Sudanese 19-year-old Liep Gony, which took place in Noble Park in September 2007. Rintoull received 16 years, while his co-accused Dylan Sabatino will serve 6 years for manslaughter.

Gony's death was a significant one as it led to former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews announcing he would cut back the intake of African refugees, since they weren't settling well enough in Australia. This was after two white guys had beaten an African to death - which perhaps shows that white people aren't settling well enough in Australia. I wrote about Andrews' statement here.

I have no problem with the sentences handed down, which are probably fair in the scheme of things. In that respect, presiding Justice Elizabeth Curtain got the important bit right. What almost made me spit out my dinner, however, was her statement that she didn't think the attack was racially motivated. Instead, she said he was driven by a sense of anger and frustration and a belief that violence involving a group of youths congregating at the Noble Park railway station was out of control.

Now sure, I'm sure he was motivated by those factors. But not racist? You be the judge - this is what Rintoull did leading up to the attack:

On 23 September 2007, Rintoull was involved in an altercation with a group of Sudanese youths at Noble Park train station, after which he called the police, claiming he had nearly been stabbed. Three days later, drunk and stoned, he sprayed graffitti on the wall of his share house which read "F*** the niggas".

He then found a pole and told a neighbour: "These blacks are turning the town into the Bronx. I am looking to take my town back. I'm going to kill the blacks."

He and Sabatino then came across Gony, who was drunk and walking by himself. Gony was no saint, and was known to the police as a troublemaker, but it seems he was targeted by Rintoull and Sabatino for no other reason than being a young Sudanese man. He was set upon in an unprovoked attack by the two men, who struck him 15 to 20 times with metal poles, cracking his skull. They left him and returned home and washed the blood off their poles. Rintoull told Sabatino's girlfriend at this point, "I bashed a nigger and I think he's dead." Gony was discovered by a passing motorist and taken to hospital where he later died.

Ok, so a quick summary: a man who because of his past bad experiences with one group of Africans, writes racist anti-African graffitti and tells his neighbour of his desire to kill Africans, then kills a man in an unprovoked attack simply for being African.

And this is not racist?

The judge's reasoning for this - that Rintoull had several days earlier made sandwiches for a homeless Sudanese man who was living in a nearby derelict property.

Ok, and this proves what? That Rintoull is not a monster but also has capacity for kindness? Fine; few people are totally evil and I'm sure Rintoull had a nice side as well. But if he could be nice to some black people, does that mean clearly he is not racist? Umm...

There are a number of different definitions of racism, depending on who you ask. But I get the impression that many people, including Justice Elizabeth Curtain, think that being racist means being a member of the white supremacist movement or something. Clearly, Rintoull was no Grand Wizard of the KKK, but clearly he had some racist tendencies.

As do we all, to varying degrees. Too many people perpetuate a racist/not racist dichotomy, which I think is unhelpful. We need to understand that in all of us lie various prejudices, which we can choose to ignore, or nurture, or act upon. His run-in with a group of Sudanese youths did not make Clinton Rintoull racist; it only provided him with an opportunity to nurture his racist thoughts, which he then acted upon.

In the context of the verdict, this matters not; whatever the motivation, Rintoull and Sabatino killed someone and have been punished for it. But for victims like Liep Gony, racism is a big deal indeed, and something we ignore at our peril.

Friday, December 18, 2009

How white America's existential crisis is fuelling hatred of Obama

I want to draw your attention to an excellent piece I read over at the Broadsnark blog. It is perhaps the best article I have found attempting to explain the hysterical level of opposition to Barack Obama's presidency from largely white conservative segments of the US population. (Obviously, right-wingers are always going to oppose a Democrat, but Obama has many carrying on as if the world is about to end, in contrast with many progressives who claim he hasn't really done anything, good or bad.) Its writer Mel refrains from any simplistic accusations of racism, and instead takes a more nuanced look at how a coloured, urbane president is a challenge to the mythology that fuels much of America's identity.
Here is an excerpt from Mel's article - you can read the whole thing here.

There is a certain segment of the American population that really believes in the American foundational myths. They identify with them. They believe that America was built by a handful of white, Christian, men with exceptional morals. Their America is the country that showed the world democracy, saved the Jews in World War II, and tore down the Berlin wall.

These people have always fought changes to their mythology. They have always resented those of us who pushed to complicate those myths with the realities of slavery, Native American genocide, imperial war in the Philippines, invasions of Latin American countries, and secret arms deals.


When Americans vote for a president, they want to see that heroic version of themselves looking back at them. They want to see that free cowboy of the mythology. No matter how poor or exploited white people were, they could always take subconscious comfort in the fact that, when they looked at the highest power in the land, they saw an idealized version of themselves.

And then came Barack Obama.


It’s a powerful thing to be able to identify with the people who are your leaders, to feel like they are one of you. It’s a feeling that many people in the United States felt for the first time when Barack Obama was elected. It’s equally powerful when your elected leaders are clearly not like you, when the fact that they do not represent you is glaringly obvious.

I had my whole life to get used to the idea that the government was never made to really represent my interests. Many of these angry people are the very white, Christian, men that this country was supposedly built by and for. And this is the first time the myth of America has been unmasked for them.

Undoubtedly, there are some bigots out there who are just angry that they have a black president. Clearly, even for those who don’t feel motivated by personal bigotry, there is a healthy dose of racism underlying the fact that it took a black president for them to realize that their government is as dysfunctional as it is. But I doubt the people we are talking about have an understanding of the difference between bigotry and racism.

And I don’t believe it is just blackness that makes Barack Obama different and symbolic. It is also his intellectual cosmopolitanism. He is a symbol of the privilege that is replacing whiteness – the educated professional/managerial class. And there is a significant amount of animosity directed towards those people who justify their privilege by virtue of their intellect.

And so these people who have lost their foundational myths are out in the streets. They are using all the synonyms for “bad” that our pathetic school system and media have taught them – communist, fascist, totalitarian, socialist, nazi. All the words are interchangeable. They all mean not American. They all mean not them.

Here's why I think this article really hits home: The things that are different about Obama are also the same things that make him appealing to so many people, particularly around the world. His educated and cosmopolitan nature appeals to elites. His coolness (by politican's standards, anyway) appeals to young voters. His multicultural identity and upbringing has strong appeal for nonwhites, who feel like finally they can have a president who understands them. His work as a community organiser can hold sway with poorer voters. But while almost everyone can find a bit of themselves in Obama if they look, they can also find something to fear if they look. Foreign-ness. Elitism. Blackness. Alleged Muslim-ness. Alleged socialism.

To some he is a personification of their dreams and aspirations. To others he is the boogie-man, all their darkest fears rolled into one.

Some of my own takes on this phenomenon here, here, here, here and here.

West Indians now more Indian than ever

The West Indies cricket team has been touring Australia for several weeks now. I don't really follow cricket much any more, but one thing about the series caught my attention. The Caribbean side is stacked with players of Indian descent.

Six players who have played in the current test series are of Indian background - Shivnarine Chanderpaul (pictured left), Ramnaresh Sarwan (pictured below), Dinesh Ramdin, Ravi Rampaul, Adrian Barath and Narsingh Deonarine.

Indians are not a new phenomenon in Caribbean cricket - their number includes such past greats as Rohan Kanhai, Sonny Ramadhin and Alvin Kallicharan. But never before has their presence been so prominent, in a team that for so long has been completely dominated by players of African origin. Indeed, earlier this decade, three consecutive captains of the squad were Indian - Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Daren Ganga, who is no longer in the squad.

Indians have been a presence in the islands since the 1830s, when slavery was abolished and the British needed to find a new source for cheap labour. The largest communities are in Guyana (from where Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Deonarine hail) and Trinidad and Tobago (home to Ganga, Rampaul, Ramdin and Barath).

These are not especially good times for the side that utterly dominated world cricket in the 70s and 80s (the glory days of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and others) - the West Indies are ranked 8th out of the 10 test-playing nations, ahead of only such cricketing backwaters as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. A number of reasons have been cited for its decline. Poor administration and internal infighting have played a role, perhaps understandable in a side combining players from 10 different countries. The board has failed to keep up with the increasing professionalized landscape of world cricket, and the region itself has faced a general economic decline.

But the side's cricketing woes have also been attributed to the increasing pull of soccer and basketball on the talented young black athletes that would have once naturally gravitated to cricket. Perhaps it is this factor that has allowed the rise of Indo-Caribbeans in the sport, as their love of the game has not wavered. While a cynic could argue that the presence of Indians in the team may be a reason for the West Indies' deteriorating performances, in fact the team's best-performing players in recent years have been Indian. Chanderpaul is arguably the best West Indian player of the decade, with Sarwan not far behind, and wicketkeeper Ramdin is touted as a future captain.

Indeed, the prominence of South Asians in cricket has increased worldwide, not just in the Caribbean. England has already had an Asian captain in Nasser Hussain, as well as prominent players such as Mark Ramprakash and Monty Panesar, while Hashim Amla is establishing himself as a regular in the South African side. New Zealand has already had a player of Indian origin in all-rounder Deepak Patel. With growing numbers of desis playing youth and club cricket here, will we see Australians of South Asian descent donning the baggy green cap soon? In truth, we have already had two of them. Victorian batsman Dav Whatmore, who had a brief test career in 1979, was born in Sri Lanka and is of Burgher (Eurasian) ancestry. Michael Bevan, rated as one of the greatest one-day cricketers of all time, also has Burgher ancestry.

With India playing an increased role in the game with the inception of the Indian Premier League, and more and more desis representing their various nations, we may be seeing the new brown face of world cricket.

One for the future: 19-year-old Adrian Barath scored a century against Australia in his debut test.

Like this? You may like:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Finnish bhangra. This is weird.

I'm not sure what to think about this. Shava are a group from Finland who play bhangra, the dance music originating from the Punjab region in India. The casual listener might think this song, called Päälliköt on Voittamattomii, is no different to other bhangra tracks, like Panjabi MC's Mundian To Bach Ke, which it liberally rips off. Except there's a big difference - instead of an Indian guy singing in Punjabi, its a white dude singing in Finnish. It's a bit of a mindf**k for me watching this - it sounds almost like the real thing.

If there's another thing it reminds me of, it is the white Canadian dancehall artist Snow, who rapped/sang in thick Jamaican patois. Remember his big hit song Informer back in the day? This is just as incongruous. But I wonder: is it really any stranger than the idea of Brazilian band playing hardcore metal (ie. Sepultura) for instance, or a Japanese hip-hop artist (ie. DJ Krush)? Or for that matter, a bunch of white British guys playing rhythm & blues (ie. The Rolling Stones).

But it's also kinda cool that some dudes in Finland found their calling in music from Punjab. And translating the distinctive vocal style of bhangra to the Finnish language is crazy but it somehow works. I'm trying to imagine trying to sing that way in English right now.

So whaddaya reckon? Is this yet another example of the white man keeping the brown man down by appropriating and diluting his cultural expressions? Or is it a heartfelt tribute to the power of music to transcend boundaries of creed and colour? Is this 4 minutes and 14 seconds of sheer wackness? Or is it off the hizzle?

(Hat tip: Sociological Images)

Also check these related posts:

Nigerian dudes sing Bollywood

Mainstream hip-hop's Bollywood flirtations

Tajik Jimmy. This guy is freakin' amazing.

From Bollywood to black America and back - the evolution of a sample

Some Tamil rap for yo' ass - Yogi B and Natchatra

Let's play Spot the Sample: Lata Mangeshkar - "Tere Here Beech Mein"
Daichi, amazing Japanese beatbox kid

Black chicks singing in Mandarin - why not? This is cool.

Lloyd Popp - awesome Indonesian talk-box guy

Artistic interpretations of the Super Mario Brothers Theme

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Glenn Beck disses poor people, Indians and India. What a c**k.

Ever hear people talk about the stereotypical "ugly American" and wonder who they were referring to? Well here he is, ladies and gentlemen. Watch this rant from Fox News' ideologue Glenn Beck and tell me you don't feel like punching the guy in his smarmy fat entitled face.

Remember, this is the same Glenn Beck who claimed Barack Obama was a racist. Takes one to know one, I guess.

Why would anyone want to go abroad and pay $12,500 for hip replacement surgery in India when they could pay $40,000 at home in the US? Hmmm, I can't imagine why... perhaps they don't make $23 million a year like Beck does. His total ambivalence to the plight of the less well-off is staggering even from a right-winger.

(See, if you are a US citizen who gets severely sick and can't afford a life-saving operation, you have two choices. You can go overseas and get a cheaper one. Or you can die.)

But if that weren't enough, then he had to go diss an entire country. Beck better hope he never has to go to India for any reason, because there are plenty of folks who would tear him a new one over there.

Comparing the Ganges River to a disease? That's a site of holy significance in Hinduism. I know Beck couldn't care less about what brown people believe in, but that sh*t just ain't cool, man.

Oh, and there are an estimated 35,000 doctors in the US who are of Indian descent, many of whom are immigrants who have studied at Indian universities. I wonder how they feel about their expertise and education being compared to a $4 fake Gucci knockoff.

Is it just me, or is Beck trying to model himself as the right-wing Jon Stewart? Except, Stewart actually comes across as a nice guy who has some compassion for the little guy. Oh, and Stewart is also funny.


The lack of Asians on Australian TV, and why it matters

The ABC1 program Hungry Beast recently ran this short segment about the representation of Asian people on TV in Australia. Comedian Lawrence Leung makes a brief appearance. You can watch it at the show's website here (it's about 8 minutes in) if you wish.

Mind you, the segment doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know. Television here has always been a pretty white domain, even though at least 10% of the Australian population is identifiably non-white.
Things are changing of course, gradually. Popular soaps such as Neighbours and Home and Away have made token attempts to introduce Asian characters, but generally they have been poorly conceived and unconvincing. (Of course one could argue that everything about Neighbours and Home and Away is poorly conceived and unconvincing, but that's a whole 'nother conversation.) Popular kids show Hi-5 has always had one Asian member, as have The Wiggles. Weekly show Video Hits is hosted by the Ghanaian-Chinese Faustina "Fuzzy" Agolley. Popular comedy-drama Packed to the Rafters has included a couple of attractive Eurasians as recurring supporting characters. And talent shows such as Australian Idol have brought unprecented numbers of contestants of Pacific Islander, Asian and African background on to our screens - and the shows have been massive ratings winners.

And of course, there is SBS, which has long been the ethnic ghetto of Australian TV, an oasis of colour and exotic-sounding names amid the Anglo-ness of the mainstream channels. SBS has given us shows like Pizza (revolving around Lebanese and Italian characters), East West 101 (the award-winning drama about an Arabic cop in Sydney), or quiz show ADBC (with Eurasian host Sam Pang). Or take SBS World News, which has in the past introduced us to Indira Naidoo, George Donikian, Mary Kostakidis and Lee Lin Chin. The current team includes Neena Mairatha (Singaporean-Indian), Rena Sarumpaet (Indonesian), and Anton Enus and Janice Pietersen (both of coloured South African ancestry). You could even accuse SBS of trying too hard to overcompensate for the traditional lack of diversity elsewhere, but it has been necessary nonetheless. The problem is, the masses just don't watch SBS. The ABC has done fairly well in the diversity stakes - Lawrence Leung's Choose Your Own Adventure is arguably the first time an Asian-Australian has had their own show, aside from on SBS of course. But ABC is no ratings giant either.

Of course, part of the reason for the traditional lack of ethnic faces on mainstream TV is the shortage of talent; there is a smaller talent pool to draw from, and in some ethnic communities young people are dissuaded from entering the entertainment industry in favour of more reliable and traditionally-approved careers. But by the same token, those who are in the industry find it hard to break out of niche roles. And networks are probably apprehensive about whether a non-white face in a major role will be a deterrent to viewers.

Pictured below: some of the very few Asian faces on mainstream Australian TV. Hi-5's Fely Irvine, The Wiggles' Jeff Fatt, and Packed to the Rafters' James Stewart.

If we are all Australians, why do we need to worry about the ethnicity of people are on television? Should we not just relate to the person as an Australian, rather than a white, black, brown or yellow Australian?

Ideally, it needn't matter. But lest we forget, television and other media do not just reflect society - they also shape it. There are few bigger external influences on how a young person comes to see the world than what they see on TV.

As an example, let me give you my personal perspective. I grew up around mostly white friends at school, and in a time when Australian television was a wayyy whiter place than it is now. Largely because of the influence of the people around me, I listened to hard rock, a genre of music dominated by Anglo-ish types and fetishizing busty blonde women.

Teenage years are tough, full of self-doubt and feelings of unattractiveness. Teenagers unconsciously look for role models who are cool and in the public eye. But in the media, I saw no one who looked like me. Yes, I am half-white, but I was different enough. All the people I saw on television and the media who epitomised coolness and attractiveness had hair that was usually straight and light-coloured, and thin pointy noses. I had a mop of curly dark hair, fat lips and broad nostrils. I was a bit funny-looking, as many teenagers are before growing into their adult bodies; but I thought there was something hideous about me.

It seems ridiculous now, but I used to pinch my nostrils in the hope that in the long run, it would make my nose thinner like a proper white person. While most of my love interests since then have been South or Southeast Asian, back in high school I wouldn't even look at a girl who wasn't white. My ultimate love goal was to marry a blonde girl, so then our kids would look really white and wouldn't have my freaky features.

Much has been said about teenage girls' self-esteem gets affected by the relentless promotion of overly skinny women in the media. But while fat girls might aspire to be skinny and eventually attain that goal, a brown person cannot ever be white.

In my case, it was adulthood and black music that saved me - through black rock, then soul, hip-hop and reggae, I realised that you could be non-white and still be proud and desirable. But television back then certainly didn't help that realisation.

Which is why young people - black, brown, yellow, white and everything in between - need to see some positive reflections of themselves in the media. And they need to see positive reflections of others as well. When Asians are only presented in a limited range of secondary and stereotypical roles - Triad member, nerd, shopkeeper, prostitute - what message does that send to the rest of society?

Things have changed a bit now, but in some ways they are not so different. Even today, with the exception of SBS, most of the nonwhite faces on Australian TV are women. Attractive women at that, although some degree of attractiveness is usually a prerequisite for a TV career. A few examples - Marcia Hines, Faustina Agolley, Kathleen De Leon and Nuala Hafner. It's hard to think of many recently prominent coloured male faces on mainstream TV - indigenous stars Ernie Dingo and Aaron Pedersen, and Samoan-New Zealander Jay Laga'ai'a are among a very small sample. Asian males are almost invisible on mainstream TV. What does that say about our society's attitude towards Asian men, and what message does that send?

Asian-Americans frequently complain about their under-representation on US TV, but there are plenty of examples of how the yanks do diversity a helluva lot better than we do. As well as plenty of black and Hispanic faces on TV, there is a gradual increase in Asians in significant roles. While Asian women have long been more prominent (think news anchor Connie Chung, right-wing ideologue Michelle Malkin, actresses like Sandra Oh, Ming-Na and Parminder Nagra), more and more Asian males are finally getting substantive roles. Think Kal Penn in House, Daniel Henney in Three Rivers, B D Wong in Law and Order and Oz, Naveen Andrews and Daniel Dae Kim in Lost, Masi Oka, James Kyson Lee and Sendhil Ramamurthy in Heroes, C S Lee in Dexter, and John Cho in Flash Forward.

TV in the UK is also streets ahead of Australia in this department. Think of the black and South Asian characters in shows such as The Bill, This Life, Spooks, and somewhat ridiculously, even Merlin.

Obviously, there is a bigger talent pool to draw from in both the UK and the US. And the Asian community in the US is longer-established, meaning there are proportionally far more Asians there than in Australia for whom English is a first language, which would surely be a factor in opportunities for success in the entertainment industry. But nonetheless, we must do better.

Also check out Yuey's post on this same topic over at the Asians Down Under blog.

UPDATE (7 May 2010): For a prime example of the marginalisation of Asian-Australians on TV, check out my other post The White-out of Billy Sing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Ugandan Love Sponge

My friend Jean came across this label on a sponge while shopping in Uganda. I think it's great that sponge manufacturers are taking it upon themselves to dispense advice for Ugandan couples to spice up their love lives.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stabbings and bashings of Indians in Melbourne continue unabated

There seems no stop to the number of attacks on men of South Asian descent in Melbourne. The phenomenon has faded from the headlines since midyear, but the violence continues nonetheless.

Early yesterday an Indian taxi driver was stabbed in the chest while sitting in his parked vehicle in West Brunswick, by an unknown assailant. The man is in a serious condition, and police are investigating whether it was in relation to a road rage incident. Story here.

A separate incident occurred 2:15am on Sunday, when a taxi driver picked up three men from Fitzroy, who wished to go to Ivanhoe. The men became aggressive, demanding he drive through a set of red lights; when he refused they punched him, damaged the taxi and fled. The driver has not been identified as Indian but the picture (above) seems to indicate a South Asian background. Story here.

Another young Indian man was hospitalised for 5 days after a savage attack in Footscray. (His ethnicity has not been widely reported, but a Herald-Sun article referred to him as being Indian.) He was approached by two armed youths, in the middle of the afternoon, who demanded money. When he produced only the 20 cents he had in his hand, he was stabbed 14 times the upper body, neck, arms and face. One of the attackers, a 15-year-old from St Albans, has been apprehended. The other is still at large, described as 185cm tall, skinny, Caucasian with brown hair.

These attacks come after a recent attack in late November on an Indian couple in Bundoora, apparently by neighbours, which was accompanied by a torrent of racial abuse. I posted on that here.

In early November an Indian student was attacked in Ballarat; Sai Ratan Tiwari was walking with a friend when they were accosted by two locals. They asked the Indians where they were going, and when Tiwari replied that they were just going home, the Australians punched him, saying "In this place there is no home for you." Full story here.

How much these attacks were racist in nature is unclear, and varies. The latter two described here seem almost certainly racially motivated. The stabbing in Footscray and the attacks on the taxi drivers are not necessarily racist. You could easily argue that rather than being specifically targeted, Indians are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, since the are highly represented in jobs (like taxi driving) which put them at risk of attack. However I think it is fair to say that being Indian seems to put them more at risk. Simply being different, and in the case of taxi drivers having poorer English than a locally-born driver, makes them an easier target.

There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the level of service from taxi drivers in Melbourne, for which many people are keen to blame Indians. (This is not entirely without foundation - a substantial number of drivers are very recent arrivals who lack knowledge about the city's roads and certain driving conventions.) But this also means that when a taxi driver is attacked, you can hear people justifying it on the grounds that "well, the taxi driver was probably rude or tried to rip him off". Which is a load of crap - I get poor service at Chinese restaurants all the time, but I don't stab the waiting staff.

The above incidents do fly in the face of claims that those responsible for this violence are mostly "ethnics" themselves; a point of view favoured by right-wing commentators like Andrew Bolt. While some of the attacks on Indians have certainly come from people of African, Middle-Eastern, Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds, white people have been well represented also - more or less proportional to their overall numbers in the community. Folks on the right have an agenda to deny that racism exists in Australia; or when it does exist, its mostly just "those ethnics" who are responsible anyway. In other words, people who, despite having grown up and been educated here, are somehow not really Australian.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Racist douchebag Herald-Sun reader of the week

"Mary of Epping", step up and claim your prize. I officially declare you a heartless bitch and a f***ing tool to the max.

Mary's comment (below) relates to the Herald Sun's article about Somali-born Farah Jama, wrongfully convicted on extremely dubious rape charges. Jama was released this week after 16 months in prison after the prosecution admitted a serious miscarriage of justice, and is likely to receive a substantial compensation payout.

Over to you Mary:

Mary of Epping Posted at 10:02 AM Today
I'm sick and tired of refugees sponging off the system! I'm sure theres no compensation where Mr Jama comes from so why the bloody hell should we pay? Stop the rot!
Comment 40 of 58

Mary, I'm embarassed to be of the same species as you.

My take on the Jama case, and its possible taint of racism and Islamophobia, is here.


UPDATE (10 December): Mary is at it again! Perhaps I read too much Herald Sun, but there was another comment from Mary of Epping, this time relating to an article about a taxi driver who was stabbed in the chest. Here's what she had to say on the matter:

Mary of Epping Posted at 10:05 AM December 09, 2009
If taxi drivers concentrated on picking up their pensioner customers ON TIME then they wouldnt be in this mess. Instead they would rather pick up these GenY animals with their fancy slacks and big cash... and unfortunately this is what happens. Tougher jail time for hooligans is long overdue. Stop the rot!
Comment 22 of 64

Full of compassion as usual.

The strange ways people find my blog (Part 2)

Ah, the wonders of the internet. Below are a selection of the odd phrases people have typed into search engines, which have for some reason led them to this blog. Part one is here.

So a tip for all you bloggers out there: if you want to attract weirdos to your site, just do a couple of posts involving the word penis. If you blog it they will come.

Some of these are gross or just wrong, and some I just don't have any words for:

"black people have tremendous dicks but i don't believe it"

"naked video of Sudanese men"

"ugly currymuncher"

"shit puling dicks"

"non-girthy asian cock"

"nude rafting by chinese and black"

"australian radio where you had sex"

"sexy fortnight in south indian"

"how to masturbate successfully"

"asian sexy ass"

"graphics tamil heros penis blogged spot"

"video eurasian short hair blow job"

"Zimbio/vary dark armpit acterss indian girl"

"asian penis food" - food for the penis? Or food made out of Asian penises?

"plants used to make penis big"

"asian penis vs. white penis" - Like Ali vs Foreman, only more penisy.

"andrew bolt masturbation competition" - I always thought Bolt's columns were a bit of a wank, but I didn't realise he had a competition named after him.

"Eurasian penis size" - you wouldn't believe how many people are searching for this. So people, you really want to know about this, huh? Well, let me break it down for you, its quite simple. Imagine a white man's penis, and imagine an Asian man's penis. (Don't imagine them touching, unless that's what you're into.) Whatever sizes you think they might be, calculate the average and there you have it. It ain't rocket science. Apart from the donkey-esque exceptions such as yours truly, most Eurasians are gonna fall anywhere in the average range of their parent races.

"fusion of african,australian, latin american,middle east dish" - crikey, you're being a bit demanding aren't you? But I wonder what such a dish would look like - barbecued antelope marinated in vegemite and jalapeno chilie sauce and wrapped in pita bread? That doesn't sound too bad really.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Was Islamophobia a factor in the wrongful conviction of Farah Jama?

From the Herald-Sun over a year ago:


"A rapist who claimed he was praying by his critically-ill father's bedside when his victim was attacked has been jailed."

That heading and sub-heading are designed to engender a reaction: What a bastard, to invoke his dying father in his deceitful alibi to cover his nefarious deeds.

But what if it later turns out that the "rapist" is in fact innocent? And if his alibi was in fact true?

Today a young man named Farah Jama walked free from jail after being acquitted of a rape for which he had already served 16 months of a 6 year sentence. The Victorian Court of Appeal found that the DNA sample (which seems to have been the only evidence used to convict Jama) was possibly contaminated and could not be considered proof beyond reasonable doubt of guilt. Prosecutors went to the Court this morning to have the conviction overturned after they admitted a “substantial miscarriage of justice” had occurred in his case - they were not even sure if a crime had been committed.

What interests me about this case is people's perceptions. How the alibis given by Jama that would prove his innocence were used as evidence of his deceitfulness and lack of remorse. And how that finding of guilty was used to justify racial and religious prejudices - Jama is a Muslim and of African background (Somali, to be exact.)

Now, I'm not saying Jama is definitely innocent. There are many cases of rape perpetrators going free because insufficient evidence, and it is quite possible that he actually did do it. But having now been found not guilty, we must presume his innocence. And looking at the details of the case, it was shaky to begin with.

From everything I have read about the case in the media, the facts appear to be as follows: In 2006, a woman in her 40s was found lapsing in and out of consciousness in the bathroom at an over-28s nightspot in Doncaster (in Melbourne's north-east). There seemed to be evidence of sexual activity, but she had no recollection of what had taken place.

DNA was collected at the scene, which eventually led the police to Farah Jama. Jama claimed he had never been to the nightclub, and on the night in question he was at home with his seriously ill father, reading the Qur'an by his bedside. His story never changed, and his family supported his alibi, and testified in court. No one had seen him at the club. Nonetheless, according to the police's DNA evidence, he was there, and had raped the woman.

Of course, as described in The Australian, complications have since come to light:

The only evidence police had was the DNA sample of Mr Jama, which was coincidently taken 24 hours before the alleged crime after he was investigated over another unrelated matter but not charged. Prosecutors told the court this morning that it had since been discovered that the same forensic medical officer who took the first DNA sample of Mr Jama had coincidently taken the DNA sample from the 40-year-old rape complainant 24 hours later. They said it had emerged that the officer had not adhered to strict procedure when taking the sample and therefore they could not “exclude the possibility” of contamination.

But at the time, the DNA evidence was taken as gospel. So despite his alibi, backed by his family, and despite the strangeness of a 19-year-old student being placed at a club night restricted to over-28s, he was found guilty. The judge in the original case said that the alibi provided by the family was "very unsatisfactory" and he was "guarded about Jama's chances of rehabilitation despite his youth because he had shown no remorse".

Of course, if the DNA evidence was wrong and he was innocent, it stands to reason that he would show no remorse, right?

It is unclear why the judge and jury found the evidence given by his family to be unsatisfactory. And I wonder, had it been a white Australian family, whether it would have been received any differently. Because without the DNA evidence, there does not seem to be anything to suggest he was even there, let alone committing a rape. So given that all the other evidence should perhaps have exonerated him at the initial trial, how much did Jama's background - African and a Muslim - play into any prejudices the jury may have had in determining his guilt?

There are two stereotypes at play here. One is of Muslim deceitfulness - the perception that Muslims are shifty and not to be trusted. Was this why the jury had so little regard for the testimony of the Jama family's regarding Farah's whereabouts? Also, the idea of a young man spending most of the night praying and reading the Qur'an (instead of going to a nightclub) seems like bullsh*t to the irreligious mindset of many Australians; yet for a Muslim this would not be seen as strange.

The second stereotype is the perception that young Muslim men have a higher tendency to commit rape. This is particularly fuelled by news of the shocking rapes that were perpetrated by a Lebanese gang in Sydney a few years ago, as well as a number of incidents. Are Muslims more likely to commit rape than non-Muslims? I have no idea, but from my experience of working with young men, I have certainly come across a lot of young men of Middle Eastern and African background with worrying attitudes towards women. These views certainly do not mean they are going to rape anybody (and they are certainly found amongst other ethnicities as well), but misogynistic views do make rape more likely.

Of course, a stereotype of what SOME young Muslim men may do is irrelevant as to what ONE young Muslim man - Farah Jama - may have done. But did this perception influence judge and jury? Perhaps, perhaps not. Had I been on the jury, in all honesty I can't say for sure that it wouldn't have influenced me.

Prejudices certainly informed some of the reactions around the extreme right-wing blogosphere to the sentencing last year. In case you didn't know, there are a host of blogs out there dedicated solely to pointing out what's wrong with non-whites. Here's a sample:

"Filthy Muslim vermin, raping a sick woman, what the hell is wrong with them?. Let the deportations start." - White nationalist Darrin Hodges at Australian Identity Forums.

"Muslim pig rapes woman in bathroom" - Winds of Babylon blog.

"Now you can pray and rape - simultaneously! Who says that Muslims didn't invent anything?" - Hodja's blog

"Google suggests that Farah Jama is an African name" - New South Wails blog (in an attempt to show an example of why we shouldn't let black people into this country.)

"HOO-RAH! Let's hope the next 4-6 years of this rapist life are spent being the rape-ee!" Commenter Jennyjen, on anti-Islamic blog Infidels are Cool.

So a crime that may never even have happened was used as evidence for the evils of Muslims and black people. The above comments are quite typical of the racist vultures that circle whenever someone who is not white is alleged to commit a crime in Australia. "Oh, the benefits of multiculturalism," they crow. Of course, in the numerous rape cases involving white Australian football players recently, you'll never hear those voices wondering if the rape happened because the footballers were white or Christian.

In any case, how much is religion (whether Christian, Muslim or whatever) relevant in a rape case, when those religions clearly forbid it? Someone who commits rape is obviously not particularly serious about following the rules of their faith.

Jama's acquittal will clearly force our justice system, and the media who report it, to ask some serious questions about the validity of placing so much faith in DNA evidence. But questions should also be asked about whether a trial's fairness can be compromised by anti-Muslim prejudice. Because let's be real - while the views listed on the blogs above are abhorrent, sadly they are not uncommon perceptions at all. You'll see them among the comments on the Herald-Sun website all the time (see here) - why not in the minds of a jury?

More like this:

Asian-fearing Herald-Sun readers of the week

Are Australians really racist towards Indians?

Your guide to the "F*** Off We're Full" Facebook group

When is an American not American?

Sam Newman in racist "monkey" trouble

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My encounter with dog meat in Eastern Indonesia

When people find out that I'm a vegetarian, the usual question to follow is some variant of "What's your reason?"

And while I could list any number of reasons (it's healthier, it's more environmentally friendly, I don't like eating something that used to have a face), there is a story I only sometimes tell which was a pretty significant nail in the coffin of my meat-eating ways. And here it is...

My parents own a house in Wanokaka, on the Indonesian island of Sumba. It's a long way from the smoggy urban jungle that is Jakarta, where my mother grew up. Sumba is in the South Eastern part of Indonesia, between Bali and Timor. It's long been underdeveloped, with electricity still a luxury in most parts of the island. The people are subsistence farmers, growing mostly rice, and raising livestock that is rarely actually eaten (it's primarily used for trade and dowry).

My Mum is not Sumbanese, but my folks did some work on the island a long time ago and built up relationships with some local villagers, who became like a second family. So my parents go back every year and help with the kids' schooling, giving monetary assistance for the needs of the village, and my Dad helps out with the medical needs of some of the locals. So they are well-thought of in the Wanokaka valley.

On one such trip I accompanied them. I was about 18 and had been to Sumba a number of times already in my childhood. And while it was and is a beautiful place with beautiful people, it had shown me from a young age the raw reality of life on a farm - that when you want to eat meat, something has to die.

It was for that reason that I wasn't too keen on the meat when in Sumba. Meat was hardly plentiful anyway, since the numerous buffalo and pigs were too valuable to kill if it wasn't a special occasion. So I was eating a lot of noodles, fried eggs, greens, the occasional bit of fish or chicken. And while pork was the favoured meat of the Wanokakans when available (they are Christian and animist), I wasn't such a big fan; my Mum, being a Javanese Muslim, had subconsciously inculcated me with a suspicion of swine flesh.

One day, my parents informed me that we had been invited to a feast at a neighbouring village. I was lazy and not that interested to go. But I was informed that non-attendance would be disrespectful on my part. "They are very keen to meet you," Dad said. "Besides, they have already killed a dog for us to eat. It would be rude not to accept after they have already done that."

I froze at this point. Dog? Yes, dog. The Sumbanese hold none of the food taboos that Indonesia's Muslim majority do. Both pig and dog are haram to the Muslim, for reasons of cleanliness, and probably also due to the dog's carnivorous nature. But in the Christian and animist regions of Indonesia, pig is much-loved, while dog, if not held in quite the same esteem, makes for a handy source of protein. Dogs are common on the island and not expensive to keep - they eat mostly scraps. And while they are valued as a kind of security alarm system (livestock theft being fairly common), they are certainly not doted on in the way that Westerners do with their dogs.

Sumbanese dogs are scruffy mongrels who are not especially endearing to a cat-person like me. Nonetheless, I do admire canines as a species, and the thought of eating one filled me with trepidation. But I didn't want to be rude by not attending, and besides, my folks weren't really giving me a choice.

"Ok I'll come," I told them, "but I don't know if I can handle dog meat."

We headed over to the neighbouring village and sat on the verandah of their traditional house. Being fairly lax in my Indonesian language skills, I didn't involve myself much in conversation. I was too busy thinking about the meal that was to come.

The Sumbanese raise buffalo, pigs, horses, dogs and chickens. While they can potentially eat all of these, it is not so common to do so. On a day-to-day basis, the diet is only rice, complemented by whatever vegetables they can grow, plus anything they might manage to catch from the wild, such as fish or the occasional bird. Eggs are common for those who can afford it. Their livestock is rarely eaten because it must be saved for more important purposes - to be exchanged between the families of a marrying couple, or to be sacrificed (and later eaten) at an event like a funeral or celebration. Or when honoured guests visit, which was where we came in.

Looking past the seated people, out front of another hut, I could see the carcass of the dog which was to be our meal. It wasn't a particularly cute-looking animal by any means, but I couldn't help but feel bad for it. All of a sudden Dad was there, standing over the dead beast and taking snapshots of it - part forensic photographer at a crime scene, part over-enthusiastic tourist. It struck me as somehow disrespectful to the poor creature.

Shortly, the food arrived: the ever-present rice, a little chili sambal, some leafy vegetable. And a bowl of greyish-looking chunks of meat. Shudder. My Dad took some of the meat, out of obligation. It was his first taste of canine, and he reported that it wasn't particularly great. I'm not sure if this was the meat itself, or how it was cooked, or dog meat in general. My Mum had a convenient excuse for not partaking; as a Muslim, she was not allowed to.

So then, to me. I couldn't use that excuse. As I looked at the bowl of cooked dog flesh in front of me, a certain image stuck in my mind. You know that sad, begging look that dogs give you? Puppy-dog eyes, it's often called. Well that image was all I could think of, and it was all too apparent that the chopped-up bits of meat before me had only an hour ago been a living, breathing animal. And as a dog, an animal capable of being friendly, cute and intelligent.

I couldn't bring myself to try any. And try as I might, I couldn't hold back the tears that were welling up in my eyes.

"What's wrong with your son?" one of the villagers asked my Mum.

"Well, in Australia, dogs are not eaten, and they are seen as pets, and people love them a lot. So he is a bit sad for the dog."

They nodded, no doubt feeling a bit bad, perhaps embarrassed that their hospitality might have been seen as a faux pas. This of course made me feel worse.

One of them had a bright idea. Not wishing to shirk their responsibilities to cater for their guests, he said, "No problem. Does he eat chicken?"

"Yes," I said, "but please, don't worry about it." It was dawning on me what was about to happen.

He seemed pleased by what he saw as a clearly affirmative answer, and sent one of the other men round the back. I was going to be served some chicken. And they certainly had no fridge in which they might have been saving some chicken fillets, and they weren't nipping up to the local shops to buy some. The only chicken meat in that village was still walking around.

Now I felt even worse. It was bad enough that people were eating dog around me. But now, another animal was going to meet its end, just for me. I wasn't even hungry.

The chicken, when it came, was nice enough. It had been cooked over the fire, and I ate a bit. It didn't make me feel any better. Although the irony of the situation - because of my aversion to an animal being killed, another animal was killed - allowed me to even see a funny side, despite being upset.

Now, I didn't become vegetarian then and there. It probably wasn't another 2 years before I gave up my meat-eating ways. By that stage, I was at university, surrounded by left-wing radicals, and had made 2 close friends who were vegan. But the seeds had been sown that day in Wanokaka, that is certain. Meat had suddenly acquired an ugly stain in my mind which previously I had been able to ignore.

Why, I had to ask myself, did I get so emotional about the killing and eating of a dog - whereas I had happily eaten steaks and burgers and chicken schnitzels time and time again without suffering any pangs of regret. Sure, dogs are cute and friendly and admirable beasts. But is a cow so different? Or a lamb, a chicken or a pig? A cow's personality may not resonate with a human being in the same way as a dog's or cat's, but does it not have feelings also?

I decided it was hypocritical of me to dread the killing of one kind of animal, yet celebrate the killing of another, by consuming its flesh. Add to that the environmental impacts of meat production, and the choice became increasingly clear to me.

I'm not saying that my way is better than anyone else's. I don't think that anyone is a worse person for eating meat; indeed, it is the norm of human existence. But for me, someone who abhors violence and adores animals, I need to be consistent in my principles. And meat-eating just doesn't fit comfortably amongst those principles.

See also:

Jakarta travel notes

Indonesia travel notes, March 2006

The Malaysian-Indian food experience

Bangkok, part 1

Bangkok, part 2

What dishes truly define Malaysian cuisine?

Making news this week...

From around the world, some interesting articles for ya...

Minarets are not an essential part of Islam
Progressive British imam Taj Hargey says that the Swiss referendum vote to ban minarets on mosques need not worry Swiss Muslims unduly. He says that minarets belong to Middle-Eastern culture rather than to the Islamic religion, and Muslims need to find expressions of their religion that are rooted in the culture of where they live rather than merely aping Arabic culture.

Rice a global warming culprit
Reports the effect that rice cultivation has had on the increase in global temperatures. (Yes Asians, its all your fault; due to your reckless rice-eating habits, we are all doomed.)

Obama is a Muslim who conspired against Charlie Brown and Snoopy
The mayor of Arlington, Tennessee claims that Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday night on the war in Afghanistan was deliberately timed to block the Christian message of the "Peanuts" television Christmas special, according to his Facebook page.
"Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose. Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will give you a 10 minute disertation (sic) about it....w...hen the answer should simply be 'yes'...."
What a douche.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One Nation and other whackiness in the Higgins by-election

Pictured: One Nation candidate Steve Raskovy and Sex Party candidate Fiona Patten

I voted in the Higgins by-election today, won by Liberal candidate Kelly O'Dwyer. Given that it has long been a safe Liberal Party stronghold, I never expected a different result, especially since the Labor Party has not bothered to field a candidate, and the Greens candidate doesn't even live in the State.

Of course, there are other candidates to choose from. There's Joseph Toscano, a medical doctor and spokesperson for the Anarchist Media Institute. I'm not sure how well an anarchist thinks he is going to do in a seat containing Melbourne's wealthiest postcodes, but props to him for trying I suppose.

There's also Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party, which seems to advocate rooting as a universal panacea for all society's ills. Patten was pulled over by police in South Yarra this morning because of complaints - she was driving around in the campaign vehicle with "SEX PARTY" emblazoned on the back. While some of her party members were up to some cheekiness this morning, sticking one of their stickers on the campaign vehicle of their Liberal candidate, which said: “Australian Sex Party: You come first.”

Perhaps we need more parties with the chutzpah of the Australian Sex Party, at least it'd make for more interesting erections, um, I mean elections.

And then of course there is the One Nation candidate, Steve Raskovy. The 72-year-old Raskovy is a former Hungarian refugee who has represented Australia in wrestling at the 1956 Olympics. From what little I know of Raskovy, he seems to be a fellow who has made a very valuable contribution to his adopted country. But since he is a One Nation candidate, he is by definition a bit of a fool. And his very position as an immigrant candidate for an anti-immigrant party reflects the contradictory thin line that One Nation are trying to walk, in this nation of immigrants.

Try this quote, on Raskovy's own campaign website. The emphasis is mine.

"One Nation state secretary Pat Loy said Mr Raskovy was endorsed because he was politically minded and had a lot of experience. 'He has a very strong [Hungarian] accent but is very much for Australia and at the moment he's helping a girl to get her citizenship.'"

Catch that? The implication being that someone with a strong accent would not normally be "very much for Australia".

One Nation's campaign platform is primarily about cutting immigration, particularly from Asia and Africa, and particularly refugees. Again from his website:

"One Nation will return all illegal immigrants. A genuine refugee does not travel half way around the world to find a place they know is a soft touch, but goes to the first country available. If illegal immigrants can come here without a passport and get permanent residency, what is the point of having a passport?"

Of course, Raskovy was once a refugee. And it's strangely typical of a substantial proportion of European post-WW2 refugees to Australia that once they got in, they want to bolt the door after them. Of course, this is based on the view that refugees in the old days were somehow of a better quality than those of today:

"Steve came originally from Hungary in 1956 and has joined One Nation because he knows the horrors of living under a totalitarian regime where only one way of thinking is tolerated people can be jailed for speaking their views. When Steve came here migrants blended into the community and didn’t try to impose their culture and values on the rest if the nation."

Indeed, Raskovy's own attitude towards today's refugees stems from his own refugee experiences, strangely enough. This is from a SMH article about his candidacy:

"On a ship to Australia he was shocked to discover that a large proportion of his fellow Hungarian-speaking passengers were not refugees from the failed revolution, but Hungarian-speaking Romanians.
'They weren't in fear of their lives at all. They had tricked immigration officials and were coming here for a better life. None of them were freedom fighters or even outspoken anti-communists.'"

So.. hang on... remember that earlier quote: "A genuine refugee does not travel half way around the world to find a place they know is a soft touch, but goes to the first country available"?

Now I'm no genius, but last time I checked a map, Hungary is not exactly close to Australia. In fact, it's halfway around the world! So it is probably safe to assume that Raskovy could have gone to plenty of other countries other than Australia. Perhaps he regarded Australia as a soft touch.

Oh, and just one other quote from the SMH article:

"He said that some relatives who had come to Australia with him soon packed up and left for Canada, because they did not believe Australia would be able to defend itself against Indonesia."

If like me, you are Indonesian and reading this: I don't know if you got the memo, but the invasion starts next week. Don't tell anyone.