Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From around the interwebs...

Things I've been reading this week in order to pretend to be interesting...

PC brigade kills debate on burqa ban
(by Sushi Das in The Age.)
"The burqa ban debate is not about robbing people of their identity or wanting to crush Islam. And it is not just about facilitating communication. It's more than that.

In a society in which we celebrate human rights, promote free institutions and respect representative government, no matter how imperfect those efforts might be, we are entitled to feel proud of our enlightened ways. Preserving and enforcing full rights and benefits to women is a significant achievement of modern society.
Debating the burqa is about creating a space that is beyond the control of extremists. We should not be cowed by those who seek to polarise this debate. We should feel free to declare, full-throated, that the burqa is an abomination."

New dissent in Japan is loudly anti-foreign
(from the New York Times)
While these groups remain a small if noisy fringe element here, they have won growing attention as an alarming side effect of Japan’s long economic and political decline. Most of their members appear to be young men, many of whom hold the low-paying part-time or contract jobs that have proliferated in Japan in recent years.

Though some here compare these groups to neo-Nazis, sociologists say that they are different because they lack an aggressive ideology of racial supremacy, and have so far been careful to draw the line at violence. There have been no reports of injuries, or violence beyond pushing and shouting. Rather, the Net right’s main purpose seems to be venting frustration, both about Japan’s diminished stature and in their own personal economic difficulties.
“These are men who feel disenfranchised in their own society,” said Kensuke Suzuki, a sociology professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. “They are looking for someone to blame, and foreigners are the most obvious target.”

Glenn Beck vs Christ the Liberator
(by Reverend James Martin at The Huffington Post)

"Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn't see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed." ...

It's not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It's the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor. And that's disturbing."

China traffic jam could last weeks
(from the Wall Street Journal)
And I thought the jams in Jakarta and Bangkok were hellish. This one is 60 miles long and may last a whole month.
"China's roads suffer from extra wear and tear from illegally overloaded trucks, especially along key coal routes. Coal supplies move from Mongolia through the outskirts of the capital on their way to factories. There are few rail lines to handle the extra load. Though the current massive gridlock is unusual, thousands of trucks line up along the main thoroughfares into Beijing even on the best days."
Black and Jewish, and seeing no contradiction
(from the New York Times)
"Nobody keeps track of how many black Orthodox Jews are in New York or across the nation, and surely it is a tiny fraction of both populations. Indeed, even the number of black Jews over all is elusive, though a 2005 book about Jewish diversity, “In Every Tongue,” cited studies suggesting that some 435,000 American Jews, or 7 percent, were black, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian.

“Everyone agrees that the numbers have grown, and they should be noticed,” said Jonathan D. Sarna of Brandeis University, a pre-eminent historian of American Jewry. “Once, there was a sense that ‘so-and-so looked Jewish.’ Today, because of conversion and intermarriage and patrilineal descent, that’s less and less true. The average synagogue looks more like America."

The individual and social risks of cousin marriage
at Gene Expression 
"Setting religion aside, there are also social reasons why this practice is common. As I noted above sex segregation means that you may not know women outside of your family well, and in some societies where veiling is practiced it may be that you do not see many women you are not related to (even if veiling occurs at puberty, you may have seen your cousin at a younger age)."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cee-Lo's "F*** You" gets the Napoleon Dynamite treatment

The song F*** You by Cee-Lo (of Gnarls Barkley and Goodie Mob fame) is rapidly becoming a internet sensation; partly because people just love songs that unashamedly feature lots of cursing, but mostly because its such a fabulous song. Like any good viral smash, it has spawned a number of re-jigs and mash-ups of the music with different images, such as re-imagined movie scenes. This is my pick of the bunch - my favourite song of the moment mixed with a scene from one of my favourite movies. Watch for a few times when the lyrics and dance moves really match well together.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Julia Gillard as PM says something good about Australian politics

Now don't get it twisted; this is not going to be an article praising Julia Gillard or saying she should remain Prime Minister. To be honest I am not particularly impressed with her as an individual politician, and while I'd probably prefer her to Tony Abbott, neither of them inspire much more than ambivalence from me.

No, what has struck me about Julia Gillard is that she embodies certain characteristics that in many other countries, would be an insurmountable barrier to her achieving the top job. The fact that these do not really matter in Australia, is a sign that something is right with the way we view our politicians.

1. She's a woman.
Many countries have never had a female leader, and some would consider it unthinkable. That said, we are hardly blazing new trails here. Liberia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, New Zealand and the UK are only a few of the other countries that have previously voted in a female to the highest office. We didn't actually vote Gillard in, but she's there nonetheless.

2. She is unmarried and lives in a de facto relationship.
Or "living in sin" as some still call it. Obviously this will rankle with some conservative religious types, but they probably wouldn't vote for her party anyway. The majority of Australia appears to not care.

3. She is childless.
When Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan branded Gillard unfit to lead the nation because she was "deliberately barren", the resounding response seemed to be that Heffernan was a bit of a d!ckhead. Which was the correct response, and it is heartening that even though his statement was made at all, it was a lone voice in the wilderness.

4. She is an atheist.
Is this not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it surely is of marginal importance to how she does her job as PM, and Australians recognise that. Interestingly, Tony Abbott's conservative Catholic beliefs are of greater concern than Gillard's complete lack of faith. She is our first atheist PM, the final step towards Godlessness on the path blazed by Bob Hawke, who was agnostic. Compare this with the US Presidential campaigns in which candidates must make a big show of their religious beliefs, and Barack Obama is under constant scrutiny for having a religious background that differs slightly from the norm.

5. She has a socialist-leaning background.
In the US, branding a politician as a socialist is worse than calling them a pedophile. Gillard, on the other hand, was once a member of a group called Socialist Forum. This barely matters to Australians, because firstly she's obviously not a socialist any longer (if she ever was), and secondly, we know what socialism actually means. It's not actually that scary. Compare this to Barack Obama, who is not actually a socialist, yet is viewed by many Americans as if he is the love-child of Stalin and Mao.

Australia is in many ways an apathetic nation compared to many others. And sometimes that's a good thing, if it means we don't really give a sh!t about things that don't matter.

The Daily Show - Dr Laura and the N-Word

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Hurt Talker
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Thursday, August 26, 2010

This man looks suspiciously brown

If you haven't seen this yet, it's a fascinating study in human ignorance and mob mentality.

The scene is New York City, at the site close to "Ground Zero" where a mob is demonstrating against the proposed building of Islamic community centre.

A well-built black man walks through the crowd, wearing a white skullcap. Because he's so obviously a Muslim, the crowd start chanting "No mosque here!" at him. One man in a construction worker's helmet gets up in his face, seemingly keen to provoke a fight. Someone yells out, "Mohammed is a pig!" Another calls the man a coward as he walks away.

Oh, but wait... no, he's not a Muslim. His name is Kenny, he's a union carpenter who works at Ground Zero. The "Muslim skullcap" is not Muslim at all, actually it has the brand name "Under Armor" written on it. Would a white carpenter wearing a skullcap be accosted in such a way? The answer is easy enough.

Kenny keeps his cool, although he does sum up the exchange quite succinctly when he says, "Y'all dumb motherf***ers don't even know my opinion on sh*t."

I'm reminded of the Cronulla Riots that took place in Sydney in 2005. A mob of amped-up drunken hooligans, ostensibly there to protest against the recent bad behaviour of Lebanese louts at the beach, decided to chase a man of Italian origin (who fortunately made it to the safety of police protection before he was caught), and attacked a car containing two other suspiciously swarthy men, who turned out to be international students from Bangladesh.

Regarding the "Ground Zero Mosque" (it's actually a community centre with a swimming pool, gym and a whole bunch of other things including a mosque), I guess you could make a reasonable case that it shouldn't be built there out of sensitivity to residents, even though they are perfectly within their legal rights to build the thing.  But once prejudice takes over, it's like firing a machine gun into a crowd in order to hit one person. The justified hatred of Islamic terrorists becomes unjustified hatred of Muslims in general, and even spills over into abuse of people who just look like they might be Muslim.

As an example of how this plays out, check this ad opposing its construction for an example of how there is no distinction made between Muslims in general, and Muslim terrorists. The key word that pops up again and again in this ad is "THEY".

Seinfeld - The Anti-Dentite

Monday, August 23, 2010

Now 1 in 5 Americans believe Obama is a Muslim

If you ever wonder why prejudice is such a rampant phenomenon, I can give you two reasons right off the bat. Firstly, it's because it's easier to make someone who is different the focus of all our negativities rather than focus on ourselves, or admit that the world is more complicated than we'd like to admit. And secondly, it's because prejudice seems immune to all manner of logic and common sense, and endures even when facts to the counter are clear for all to see.

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance. But even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).

When asked how they learned about Obama’s religion in an open-ended question, 60% of those who say Obama is a Muslim cite the media. Among specific media sources, television (at 16%) is mentioned most frequently. About one-in-ten (11%) of those who say Obama is a Muslim say they learned of this through Obama’s own words and behavior.

Beliefs about Obama’s religion are closely linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Obama’s religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.
(Original article here.)

Ok so let's say that the 1 in 5 figure is reasonably accurate. If we extrapolate that across the US population (subtracting young children from the equation), that's about 50 million people. That's hardly a bunch of loony extremists that don't matter. 50 million! That's about the population of England.

Even crazier is that around half of all Americans don't seem to know what religion Obama is.

Now, remember that Obama has repeatedly and publicly stated he is a Christian. He attended church for around 20 years with his family. These, obviously, are not things that Muslims tend to do.

If he was indeed a Muslim, surely someone from his high school, college or working years would have picked up on it. He has written two books about his life, yet not mentioned anything about being a Muslim. Upon swearing the oath of office, he used the Holy Bible.

So what evidence is there of his supposed Muslim-ness? Well... he has an Arabic middle name (Hussein). Of course, most Americans have Jewish names (David, Paul, John, etc), but that doesn't make them Jewish.

His father was a Muslim... but then, Barack barely knew his father, who left when his son was still very young. His stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was Muslim... but one who rarely attended prayers, and Obama only lived with him from when he was 6 until when he was 12. Obama spent those 6 years in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, where he went to school ... except Indonesia is no more a Muslim country than the USA can be said to be a Christian country, and the school Obama went to was a Catholic school.

What other "proof" is there of Obama's Muslim faith? Well, he supported the right of those guys to build the mosque near Ground Zero, right?

Well, technically he was just upholding the US Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of religion. Had he violated the constitution on this matter, would that make him a better President or a worse one?

Ok how about this: in an interview with the New York Times, he once described the Muslim call to prayer at sunset as "one of the prettiest sounds on Earth". AND he can recall the words!

So the assumption here is that surely no Christian could objectively hear someone mellifluously singing in Arabic and think it was beautiful, could they? So basically, Obama is being judged for having the wrong taste in music. Him being able to recall the words to something he probably heard over a loudspeaker every day for 6 years as a child, is not so unusual. Unless of course if you are the kind of person who cannot fathom the idea of someone knowing a few words of another language and knowing a little about another religion that is not your own... which actually describes a lot of Americans.

Ok, what about the fact that Obama has held celebrations for Muslims at the White House for Ramadan? Oh wait, George W Bush did that too...

Or what about when he said this:
"Islam is a faith that brings comfort to people. It inspires them to lead lives based on honesty, and justice, and compassion."

Oh no wait, that wasn't Obama, that was George W Bush as well, on October 11, 2002.

George W Bush is one of the men dressed in Arabic robes in this picture. Remember him, the one with ties to the Saudi royal family? Maybe he's a Muslim too - there's certainly enough evidence to prove it, should you wish to believe that. Of course, no one is suggest this, because Bush's skin is not brown (brown skin is another tell-tale sign of being suspiciously Islamic).

Now, I can perfectly understand if people think Obama is not a good President, for whatever reason. That is the nature of politics, some people will not like you or what you stand for. But to believe he is a Muslim is something else entirely.

Essentially, to really believe Obama is a Muslim entails having to believe in a number of other assumptions.

You have to assume that he constantly lies about his religion. He is so good at lying about it that no one has ever actually seen him doing anything Muslim-y. He has even managed to keep his Islamic faith from his wife Michelle and his daughters. Or you could choose to assume that they are all Muslims too, or they are in on the whole conspiracy.

You have to assume that Obama managed to keep this secret from all his friends from childhood, college, work and politics. Because none of those people seems to have thought he was a Muslim.

You have to assume that even as a young teenager, Obama kept this secret from his white mother and grandparents, who he lived with in Hawaii. Because his mother separated from Lolo Soetoro around this time, there was no one who might possibly give him further Islamic instruction; yet somehow, he managed to retain this faith while keeping it secret from everyone around him.

You have to assume that Obama's baptism as a Christian, his 20 years attending church, and his raising of his daughters as Christians, are all part of an elaborate ruse.

You have to assume that to even be related to Muslims, or associate with them (Obama had some Pakistani friends in college) is a sure sign that you are a bit Muslim-y. Because if you are a good Christian you wouldn't associate with such people. (You'd probably drop bombs on them instead.)

In short, to believe Obama is actually a Muslim, you need to believe that not only is he a fiendishly evil Machiavellian character who is a compulsive liar, but also that he actually IS a "Manchurian Candidate" who has been hiding his "true" faith for years and years in order to ascend the ladder of power and turn the US into a Muslim nation. Or something like that.

You need to have an over-enthusiasm for espionage novels.

Essentially, you need to be a f***ing sh*thead with absolutely no sense of perspective. You need to be deranged enough to think that YOU, who have never met Obama, probably never even been outside the US or actually met a Muslim, YOU have been smart enough to see Obama's Islamic faith and agenda for what it really is. Whereas the thousands of people who have actually met the man and spent time around him are somehow too stupid to notice.

See also:

The Muslim-ness of Obama's family, and what it has to do with his presidency

More "Obama's not American" nonsense

Obama bows again. Conservatives are angry. Sensible people couldn't care less.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hung parliament and other double-entendres

So Australia voted in the Federal Election. If you're reading this from elsewhere and are not familiar with the events leading up to it, this quirky Taiwanese animation will sum it all up for you in under 2 minutes. I'm not sure how Taiwanese computer geeks are able to succinctly analyse everything so much better than any Australian news service.

Anyway, so we had the election and the result was... um, no, there wasn't one. We are now in the unfamiliar position of having a hung parliament, meaning that neither major party had enough votes to govern on their own and now must negotiate with independents and the Greens.

So how is this parliament hung? Is it related to donkey voters, or dissatisfaction with standing members? Given Rudd's hard dictatorial approach to government, was it right to give him the sack? Or was it the overall swing to the right, and the major parties' hard-headed approach to people coming here illegally, that has led to this state of electoral dysfunction? Did Julia Gillard really blow it?

Okay, so now that the bad sexual puns are out of the way (count 'em up, people), let me say that while a hung parliament is an extraordinary result, it is the result of a very ordinary election campaign. Somehow within the space of a year, Labor managed not only to destroy their record popularity, but to make Liberal leader Tony Abbott seem like a viable candidate to be PM. That is quite a feat.

But really, the fact that neither party could muster the votes to govern in their own right reflects the fact that neither could make the electorate care either way. Part of the rise of the Greens in this election is because at least the Greens appear to believe in something.

And so I voted Green. Not that it mattered really; my electorate has so many rich people in it that the conservatives could run a chimp as a candidate and still win. I may as well have voted for the Sex Party.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How language tells the history of Malaysia and Indonesia

You can tell a lot about the history of a people by the studying its language. For example, from where its speakers' ancestors originated, and which other cultures it came into contact with.

English, for example,reflects the various conquerors of the British Isles; the Germanic base language of the Angles and Saxons (which superceded the native Celtic languages), with some Latin from the Romans and a few Norse words from the Viking invaders, and then the Norman conquerors who brought a huge litany of French terms into English. Finally, the age of colonialism saw the English become conquerors themselves, and their contact with the cultures of India, the Middle East, Malaysia and the New World saw many new concepts and words enter the English lexicon.

Another study in how language reflects history is in the Indonesian archipelago. Because of its location and in-demand natural resources (predominantly spices), the region has been visited by various other nationalities over its history, seeking a slice of these treasures. These traders and conquerors have left their mark on the culture and language of the people there.

Malay and Indonesian are together spoken by around 200 million people in South East Asia. While usually listed as separate languages, they are mutually intelligible and only marginally more different than say, US English and British English. To the majority of its speakers, it is a second language, a lingua franca that binds the many ethnic groups of Indonesia together. Indonesian is based on the variant of Malay that was used as a trade language throughout the archipelago, and was adopted as the national language following independence. To the language's Austronesian base is added words from a variety of other languages, primarily Arabic, Dutch, English, Javanese, Portuguese, Chinese and several from the Indian subcontinent.

Malay/Indonesian is a member of the Austronesian language family, which also includes the languages of the Pacific Islands, Madagascar, the Philippines and the indigenous languages of Taiwan. While Taiwan is generally held to be the homeland of the Austronesian speakers, an ultimate origin in Southern China is usually postulated. A comparison of Austronesian languages backs up archaeological evidence about the agricultural life of these people; across their range, the words for items like rice, yam, coconut, chicken, egg and pig tend to be similar, indicating that these were important features of early Austronesian life.

Traditionally the people of Indonesia and the Malay peninsula were animist, but in many areas this changed due to influence from the Indian subcontinent. Indian traders brought Hinduism and Buddhism, along with their trade goods. Significantly, even though there are virtually no Buddhists left in Indonesia aside from the ethnic Chinese, the largest Buddhist monument in the world is located in Java, a holdover from the pre-Islamic era.
Malays have had another layer of Indian influence due to the more recent migrations of Indians (mostly Tamil) to the peninsula. In Indonesia, the Indian influence is harder to pinpoint; yet the huge number of loanwords from Sanskrit for many basic objects and concepts indicates that the influence was fundamental. It was probably the first significant contact Indonesians had with a major civilization from the outside world.
Below are just a small sample of some of the Malay/Indonesian words of Sanskrit origin:

topi = hat
agama = religion
warna = colour
raja = king
guru = teacher
jaya = victorious
kaca = glass
madu = honey
maha = great
suami = husband (Sanskrit svamee = lord)
nama = name
putra/putri = prince/princess
singa = lion
dwi = two
kudah = horse
roti = bread

Some words also come from Tamil, such as kapal (boat) and apam (a kind of rice flour cake); given that Tamils were heavily involved in trade in the region, many of the above Sanskrit words may have been adopted into Indonesian via Tamil (since Tamil had already adopted many words from Sanskrit).

Malay does not naturally contain the sounds sh or v; so in the case of most Indian loan words they have been converted to s or w. So the Hindu God Shiva becomes Siwa in Indonesian. Interestingly, in the case of Arabic words containing the sh sound, Indonesian/Malay has tried to be more faithful to the original pronunciation, and represents it as sy (see below).

A number of common Indonesian names are a legacy of this early Indian influence. Examples are Dewi (Sanskrit devi = goddess/angel), Budi (buddhi = wise) and names from mythology such as Indra and Garuda.

(As an interesting aside: because Sanskrit is an Indo-European language and therefore related to English, some of these words show a recognisable relationship to their English meanings. For instance, devi is related to the English words "divine" and "diva", while raja is derived from the same root as words like regal, and the Latin rex. The similarity between nama and the English "name" is obvious, as is the link between dwi and "two" or related words like "duo".)

The other early traders active in South East Asia were the Chinese. The words they left behind suggest that their cultural impact was nowhere near as great as the Arabs or Indians, but they had an enormous influence on one aspect of Malay life: the food. The loan-words that Malay adopted were predominantly from the Hokkien dialect, such as:

mee/mi = noodles
tahu = bean curd (from dou fu)
kecap = soya sauce
tauge = bean sprouts
cap cai = stir fry
siomay = dumpling
teh = tea

The rise of Islamic civilisation brought with it traders from the Middle East and Persia. Gradually, most of Indonesia adopted Islam, and many words from those cultures entered the Indonesian language. Their origin is often easily identifiable. For example:

dunia = world
akhir = end
pasar = market (from bazaar)
abdi = servant
maaf = sorry, apologise
daftar = list
musim = season (the English word monsoon is also derived from this word)
wajib = obligation, duty
adil = just, righteous
syukur = pray
selamat = safe, peaceful (from salaam)

The days Monday to Friday are derived from Arabic. And of course there are numerous religious terms that are identifiably Arabic as well (haram, halal, jilbab, Allah, masjid, etc).

The sounds represented by the letters z or f, or the letter combinations kh or sy, did not naturally exist in Malay and are almost always Arabic in origin. Many Indonesians (like Filipinos) have difficulty pronouncing the sound f, so it often is converted to p; thus the Arabic word fikr (to think) becomes pikir in Indonesian.

Before the Dutch, English and Spanish became the dominant powers in island SE Asia, the Portuguese were heavily involved in the spice trade in the region, and their presence is still felt in places like Melaka in Malaysia, and East Timor. They leave a legacy of loan-words in Malay and Indonesian, such as:

keju = cheese (from queijo)
mentega = butter/margarine (from manteiga)
bola = ball
pesta = party (from festa)
gratis = free
terigu = wheat (from trigo)
bendera = flag (from bandeira)
meja = table (from mesa)
garpu = fork (from garfo)
kereta = car (from carretta, related to the English term chariot)
nanas = pineapple (from ananas)
sekolah = school (from escola)
Interestingly, Indonesian kept the Arabic-derived terms for the days Monday to Friday, but took the Portugese word for Sunday, Domingo (ie. the Lord's Day), which becomes Minggu in Indonesian (which also means "week). The word Sabtu, or Saturday, is derived ultimately from the term sabbath, but it seems unclear whether it is derived from Arabic, or the Portuguese Sabado.

To find out where Malay and Indonesian start to differ from each other, we must understand their colonial histories. While Malaysia became English territory, Indonesia became known as the Netherlands East Indies. Prior to colonialisation, neither region had been culturally unified, merely a collection of kingdoms, sultanates and tribal territories. The following words exist in Indonesian courtesy of their former Dutch masters:

kulkas = refrigerator (from koelkast, meaning "cool case")
telat = late (from te laat)
buncis = green beans (from boentjes)
kol = cauliflower
kantor = office

For some concepts, Malays kept their original Malay terms, while Indonesians adopted new ones from the Dutch. For example, "office" in Malay is pejabat, but Indonesians use kantor (from the Dutch kantoor). The Malays call their uncles and aunts Pakcik and Makcik, but Indonesians use the Dutch terms Oom and Tante.

Many modern Western concepts were introduced into Indonesia by the Dutch, and the words reflect that; yet in Malaysia, the same concepts reflect the English who introduced them. Here are some examples:

MEANING                          MALAY               INDONESIAN                
August                                 Ogos                    Agustus
migration                              migresyen           migrasi (from Dutch migratie)
action                                   eksyen                 aksi
police                                   polis                    polisi (from Dutch politie)
apple                                   epal                     apel
bag                                      beg                      tas
ice                                        ais                        es

Indonesians also used the old Dutch system of spelling; however after independence there was a rejection of all things colonial, and a desire to bring the written language closer to Malay, which used a more English-influenced way of spelling. So names like Djakarta and Soekarno became Jakarta and Sukarno, and boentjis (green beans) and sajoer (vegetable) became buncis and sayur.
The Japanese occupation of Indonesia was brief, but left behind two notable words: ebi (dried shrimp), and toko (shop). Toko replaced the word kedai, which is still used in Malay.

Because the Javanese are the most numerous ethnic group in Indonesia, they have had a dominant influence over the development of the Indonesian language. Words from Javanese have become part of Indonesian, but not Malay. One example is the word nggak, meaning "no", or bisa, meaning "can" or "able to" (bisa in Malay means "venom" instead).
Another example are the various terms for "I" or "me". Both Malay and Indonesian use saya, but Indonesians also throw in the Javanese aku, and the Jakarta-slang gue (which is ultimately Chinese in origin).
Other influences on Indonesian have come from Sundanese, as well as from the variants of Malay spoken around the archipelago.

Studying both Malay and Indonesia today, we see a few new influences. While Malay has long been influenced by English, Indonesia has only recently been taking on more and more English words, which reflects the dominance of English as a global lingua franca. When previously Western concepts would enter Indonesia via the Dutch language, English has filled the post-colonial void.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, it is likely that the country's Chinese and Indian populations will have an effect on the Malay language. Young Malays frequently speak what is termed Bahasa Rojak, meaning a mixed-up language, which combines various words of English, Chinese and Tamil with Malay. Some words like mamak (Tamil for "maternal uncle") have become fixtures in Malay, and it would not be surprising for certain common terms to move from Bahasa Rojak into standard Malay vocabulary. A good example is the Chinese term ta pao (meaning "to take away food"), which has become as ubiquitous as the proper Malay term bungkus.

The increasing encroachment of English in both countries is a concern for some. In Indonesia, some fear English is threatening to become the new language of the wealthy classes. In Malaysia, the Malay language is tied into the ethnic Malays' struggle to hold on to their social and political dominance, and there exists great debate over the role of the language in schools, films and television, in a country where the ethnic minorities mostly speak English. It does seem almost certain that the continued influence of English will form the next chapter in the history of both Malay and Indonesian.

See also:

English words of Indian origin

How Muslim names evolve across the world

Pilaf, paella and pulao - how a rice dish conquered the world

So who really invented noodles? China or Italy?

It's official: Jesus was black. Or was it Korean?

3 things Indonesia can teach Malaysia

Indonesian contributions to world culture

Is chai latte only a drink for wankers?

A message from Mr T

This is gold. But it's also testament to one of the drawbacks of being tough and scary - that no one's got the balls to take you aside and tell you when something you're doing might be a bit crap.

Still, I'd definitely treat my mother right if I knew that Mr T was watching.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A bit about Asian men and white women

Ok, so there's a post up at the moment on a blog (Ask Bossy) attached to one of Australia's major newspapers, and it's entitled, "Why don't Anglo women like Asian men?"

You can read it here; some of the comments are particularly interesting, especially if you find ignorance interesting.

While there are certainly white women out there who favour Asian men, and many who will consider anyone regardless of race, the overall trend is that AM/WW couples are rare, far rarer than WM/AW.

Most people date within their race; that's obvious and understandable. You go with what you know. And particularly if you are white in a white-majority country, because there are simply far more white people to choose from. But even in areas where there are plenty of Asian guys available, white women seem not go for them to any great degree.

As you might understand, there is some definite resentment from Asian males about this phenomenon. I confess that I have noticed this sentiment in myself, despite being a product of the very kind of relationship (WM/AW) that spurs this ill feeling. The resentment stems from several factors. One is the sense of unfairness that white guys are cherry-picking women from the Asian dating pool, but the same interest is not being shown to the Asian man, with the implication that Asian men are somewhere near the bottom of the hierarchy of desirableness. Secondly, it is the traditional and sexist consternation about outsiders taking "our women". Thirdly, it is the feeling that this is another manifestation of the racism suffered by Asian men, related to the unflattering perceptions of them propagated by popular culture. This goes along with the suspicion that Asian women are brainwashed into falling for a Western standard of attractiveness. As well, I think many Asian men subconsciously associate this with a kind of Western imperialism; a sort of "dating colonialism" if you will, a modern extension of the European powers invading Asian countries and appropriating their riches.

Pictured above: Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng
Below: Lolo Soetoro and Ann Dunham. Dunham's son Barack Obama is on the right of the picture.

So why are there comparatively so few AM/WW couples?

Let me say first up that this isn't a totally one-way street. Asian guys are not really breaking down doors en masse to date white women. Asian men tend to prefer Asian women, as you would expect. And given the high importance placed on family approval, many Asian men feel pressured to date, and certainly marry, only within their ethnicity. However, there is certainly a degree of interest there. Especially when you factor in that the greatest number of available women in a Western country are white, and how popular culture prioritises white women's beauty above all others. I think it is fair to say that there is somewhat more interest from Asian men towards white women than there is vice versa.

A point is frequently made that Asian men are generally less likely to approach white women. I believe this to be true. And while you could ascribe this to a lack of interest in white women and/or a lack of confidence among Asian men, I think both of those factors are entwined with the negative stereotypes about Asian men. The perceptions of the Asian male as being less masculine and less well-endowed mean that even when those are untrue, an Asian man might be more reluctant to approach a non-Asian woman, because he assumes that those beliefs are being held about him.  In the game of attraction, it doesn't really matter if Asians really are less manly; if a significant segment of women think they are, then that is a significant enough obstacle.

And like it or not, that is a very real perception. So many of the female commenters on Ask Bossy echo the same lines - "nothing against them, I just don't find Asian males attractive - they seem less masculine to me."

What is that based on?

We all have particular ideas about what defines masculine and feminine. Some of these are biologically programmed, but some are also culturally specific and thus a result of our socialisation. An example would be how African cultures prefer fuller-figured women than today's Western societies; paleontologists also suggest that prehistoric Europeans, based on some of their works of art, also prioritised fuller figures. So to simply categorise certain characteristics are simply either masculine or feminine is problematic, since each culture has its own variation on these themes.

We ascribe certain physical qualities as being masculine - height, a strong build, and a hairy body. Likewise, certain personality traits are considered masculine - loudness, dominance and control, toughness and so on.

One thing to consider is that a white woman might judge Asian men not simply on how he measures up to these stereotypes, but importantly, how a white woman might measure up to these stereotypes if she is partnered with an Asian man. It is quite likely that in any potential AM/WW pairing, the white woman will be as tall or taller than the Asian man, and possibly have more body hair. This may make some white women feel less feminine in comparison, and this might be a disincentive to date an Asian man.

One factor that doesn't get mentioned much is age, or more correctly, one's apparent age. It is generally accepted that all things being equal, people of Asian background tend to look younger than Caucasians of the same age. Height and the amount of facial hair also play a part in this perception. Now while a more youthful appearance is generally seen as a good thing, for males looking for a mate it can be a hindrance. The general trend is for women to seek a man of the same age or older; many women are less interested in a younger man, or at least one who seems younger. A man who looks younger might be seen to be less authoritative and powerful, which are attributes closely tied to masculine appeal.

Personality-wise, Asian men do not tend to display quite the same kind of machismo that is more prevalent in some Western cultures. Of course, Asian men are no less chauvinistic or egocentric than other types of men; but they do not always express them in the same ways. (An example is that while Asian societies are often quite violent in their own way, you are far more likely to be beaten up for no reason by drunk young men in Australia than anywhere in Asia.) The dominant stereotype of the young Asian male is someone who wears glasses and studies really hard at school; this does not fit the Western preconception of young manhood.

A few people commenting at Ask Bossy bring up that old stereotype, penis size. Now since many of those are women, I'm a little surprised; I didn't realise many women were superficial enough to disregard a guy based on how big they assume his penis might be. While I'm obviously not a woman and therefore don't know, overall I don't think it's a large part (tee hee) of what motivates women when choosing a mate. I've asked plenty of girls out in my lifetime, and not once has anyone said, "Maybe, let me inspect your penis first and I'll think about it." Which personally, I'm quite glad about.

Of course, many of the commenters who raise the small penis stereotype appear to be white men. Now it has long been my theory that white men are the primary cultivators of this stereotype, as a way to make themselves feel superior. Personally I find it odd that otherwise heterosexual men would spend so much time contemplating the Asian penis, so I figure that it is ultimately tied into some deep-seated subconscious machismo-and-racism combo.

(As to whether the stereotype is true - well, I'm not an expert in phalluses other than my own, but I'm pretty sure they come in all shapes and sizes. In every racial group, there will be some big, some small, and many average. There's probably some truth in the stereotype overall - given that Asians tend to be physically smaller in stature anyway -  but if so the average difference is unlikely to be greater than an inch, really.)

I've avoided talking about black people in this discussion so far, especially as in the Australian context, they are not all that numerous. But in the popular imagination, people of African descent occupy a particular role when it comes to ideas of masculinity and femininity. Africans are often seen as somehow more masculine, due to perceptions such as the black athlete, and of the stereotypically large African penis. With Asian men occupying the opposite end of this spectrum of stereotypes, white men occupy their usual position - the middle, as "the norm".

I've heard this referred to around the place as the "Three Bears Effect". As in the story of Goldilocks, who tasted three bowls of porridge, one too hot, one too cold, but one that was "just right". So when we factor other racial stereotypes into the equation, we have a complete picture of how these stereotypes seem set up to benefit white males. Black males are manly but dumb and uncivilised; Asians are smart but are not manly; while white males are "just right".

Whether you agree with this idea or not, it is important to recognise that in the West our entire way of thinking conditions us to see the white male as "the norm", around which everyone else is measured.

Thus under this way of thinking, an Asian male's comparative lack of body hair might be seen as a sign of femininity. Through an Asian mindset, in which an Asian body is the norm, white men might be considered too hairy.

So, is it racist for white women to find Asian men less attractive?

No. Well, not really. Sort of.

Attraction is not something you choose. We all have our own individual preferences for certain types of people, be it based on height, colour, gender, sense of humour. So you can't just decide you are going to be attracted to someone if you are not inclined to find them attractive.

I personally have been attracted to people of every racial category that I have met; however, I instinctively find myself paying the most attention to women of East Asian or South Asian background. It was not always this way; as a teenager, growing up in a more Anglo-centric environment, I had very little interest in Asian girls and found white girls much more attractive. But my perception of what is normal, and what is attractive, shifted as I moved from high school to university and into a circle of largely non-white friends.

But how does it get to be that we are attracted to certain types and not others?

It has a lot to do with how we are conditioned. Whatever culture or society you grow up in has its own social conditioning which encourages you to see certain characteristics as being more attractive than others. In a country like Australia, we are conditioned to regard thin Nordic (fair haired, light eye colour) women as the epitome of beauty. This is changing gradually of course, but that unconscious perception is deeply embedded in our consciousness.

Which is one reason why so many Asians, and non-white people in general, decry the way they are portrayed in the media, because it is the media that helps perpetuate these ideals. If we saw more leading male Asian actors on our TV screens, there would be a shift in this perception, to some degree at least. Contrast that with the number of attractive Asian women on TV; they are probably still underrepresented, but not to the same degree as Asian men.

At the end of the day, whatever the overall trend, it doesn't have to impact on individual encounters. Whatever your race, you need to assess someone for who they are, not what race they are. Asian brothers, if a white woman dismisses your approach because she has some twisted perception that you are less manly, then don't worry; you don't need her anyway. There are plenty of women out there, white and otherwise, who will appreciate you for who you are.

See also:

Jen Kwok: "Date an Asian (or at least f**k one)"

The Asian penis in popular culture

Race and Dating: "What is it with you and Indian chicks?"

Interracial dating trends in the USA

The Chinese communist party performs "Beat It"

Awesome. Think they might be lip-synching though...

My favourite part - the shred-guitar solo at about 2 minutes 50 seconds. Next-level.

(Hat-tip: 8Asians)

The Daily Show reports on Islamophobia

A couple of interesting stories yesterday on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, about the paranoia about Islamic terrorism is impacting on ordinary Muslim Americans.

The first story is about the controversy about a mosque being built several blocks from the former World Trade Centre site.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

The second story concerns a Muslim woman denied the right to be foster parent because she would not allow pork products in her home.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Pork or Parents
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Tim Tam from Vietnam". Or, how NOT to make jokes about Asians.

Comedian Ben Price likes to describe himself as "Australia's Best Impersonator". He turns up on commercial radio here and there, impersonating famous people, but he also has an original character, Tim Tam from Vietnam. And if you are a moron, you can go pay money to watch him perform as this character. Oh damn, that was last month...

Now, if you've read this blog a bit, you'll know I am hardly opposed to racial comedy. Stereotypes can be funny. Indeed, some of my favourite comedians rely heavily on ethnic stereotyping - Dave Chappelle, Russell Peters and Jo Koy, to name but a few.

And to my Vietnamese brothers and sisters - while I got made love for y'all, you got to admit that your accent is just a little bit funny, and ripe for being made fun of.

So why do I think that "Tim Tam from Vietnam" is an utter steaming turd?

Well, first judge for yourself:

Better hold your sides together in case they split. Tim Tam's Facebook page has all the best jokes. For example:

"i just see Jim Cameron new movie about killing dogs in 3D is called Abattoir"

"We go to market on weekend, my son Ruba Phong ask ip he can have a big dog. I say no we have no room for a big dog, only little dog... our oven way too small."

"Dis my fav place to eat noodle. Also my uncle shop in Fooscray 2 minute poodles."

"I have sore neck for sic week, very sore. My fren tell me you should get Asian massage, I say no that is how I get sore nec. Ha very phunny!"

Have you finished laughing yet?

If you didn't find those jokes funny, maybe you don't grasp the incredibly sophisticated and subtle humour. See, Asian people have funny names. Asian people talk funny. Asian people eat dogs!

Tim Tam lives with his wife Yung Phat Cow and three children, Rubba Phong, Trashan Tresha and Sum Ting Wong. Of course, a name like "Sum Ting Wong" sounds Chinese rather than Vietnamese. And "Trashan Tresha"? Sounds Indian to me.

But what the hell, they are all Asian, and Asians are pretty much the same aren't they? So let's all laugh at them and their funny names and dog-eating ways. Oh, and see how in the photo he is doing some kind of martial arts pose? I hear that's another Asian thing.

Price does an interview in this suburban newspaper in which he lifts the veil on what makes him so incredibly funny and brilliant.

"Some people think that it is racist," Price said. "But racism is when you hate another culture, and I'm the opposite. I love multiculturalism. I think a good way to embrace multiculturalism is to involve them with comedy. And I send up everyone."

That's deep.

Now, I'm not saying Price hates another culture, but his comedy IS racist. Who is laughing at his material? Is it Vietnamese people? I doubt it. As you can see in the video, it is a mainstream white audience. They would not even know that his accent barely resembles Vietnamese at all (it is an amalgam of poorly imitated Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese), because they don't know a lot about Asians except for the uneducated stereotypes. I'm surprised Price doesn't do the whole act pulling his eyes back into slits and saying, "Me soo solly!" Although I haven't seen his whole act, so you never know.

Let's hope that on his poster where it says "Only 2 shows", it means forever.

So, am I saying that no non-Vietnamese person should imitate Vietnamese people for their comedy act? Hell no. You just have to do it right.

As a counter-example, observe US comedian Anjelah Johnson, formerly of MadTV and elsewhere. Johnson is of Mexican and Native American heritage, and while she frequently mines her own cultural heritage for humour, her best-known bit revolves around her visit to a Vietnamese nail salon. I don't think she actually mentions explicitly that the workers are Vietnamese, but the accent is a giveaway.
This has over 20 million hits on Youtube so far.

Is Johnson's act racist? You could argue that it is. Is it funny? Certainly it is leagues ahead of Tim Tam.

From the discussions I've seen around the web, there are plenty of Vietnamese people who think her act is offensive, and plenty who think it is hilarious.

I'm not going to discount the opinions of those who are offended by it, but personally, I laughed a lot. I give it a pass, and it's not just because she is damn cute.

She actually nails the Vietnamese accent pretty darn well. I wouldn't say it's perfect by any means, but she gets the nuances mostly correct, and doesn't stray into any other Asian accent. I'll admit it does present a hackneyed stereotype - the dodgy Asian shopworker who is out to subtly cheat you. But I don't see it as being particularly nasty or ignorant. I figure that someone who can impersonate the Vietnamese so well must also be down with the Vietnamese.

As opposed to this next clip - another Mexican-American comedian, Pablo Francisco - who appears to have never actually met an Asian in his life. In terms of ignorant stereotypes and "haha let's all laugh at them stoopid chinks" attitude, I would say it's even worse than Tim Tam.

Of course, not only is he guilty of racism, but he is guilty of not being funny. (The audience may disagree, but to hell with them.) Francisco should be wary next time he decides to take a walk through Chinatown in pursuit of material - he might get his ass kicked. Because all Asians know martial arts, dontcha know.

(Hat tip: Ed's Rant)

See also:

Racial humour - is it ever ok?

Eliot Chang - racist questions

Is Peter Chao racist? You be the judge

The burqa dance - what do you think?

Eating at Payon, South Jakarta

Indonesian food is a food of the village, the home, and the roadside stall; it is not a cuisine that always lends itself to fancy upmarket restaurants. There are few establishments I have found that succesfully balance the rugged, vibrant heart and soul associated with the cuisines of tropical Asia with the refined presentation that is usually expected of modern fine dining. Payon is one that achieves such a balance. "Modern" though is a concept open to interpretation, and this restaurant's approach invokes the past as a way into the future.
It seems slightly incongruous with its surrounds, an oasis of high Javanese tradition midst the hustle and bustle of the trendy Kemang area of South Jakarta. With a design modelled after the living compounds of the Javanese aristocracy, the attention to detail is amazing. It's open-plan garden setting does have a drawback though; mosquitos can sometimes be a problem, and it's best to come equipped for that.

The menus are a cute touch.

Payon's food is Javanese and Sundanese. The freshness and quality of the produce used stands out in comparison to what you often find in Indonesia, and the kitchen knows how to get the most out of its raw ingredients. One thing the chefs are hardly shy about is their use of chili, using freshly-pounded sambals that are often searingly hot. To a Western palate, this spiciness might come across as heavy-handed, but that is part of its authenticity. They will certainly give you an option as to how hot you want it, however.

Above: ikan bakar (grilled fish). Below: lencak payon. This is one of the more unusual dishes, and one of my favourites. It is an example of how poor-people's food can be elevated to something of magnificence. Its main ingredient is oncom, a mold-fermented soybean product derived from the leftover sediments from the manufacture of tofu. It is sauteed with spices and contrasts with the slightly bitter kick of lencak (which I think are pea eggplants). A fascinating dish that I've not seen elsewhere.

Below: sambal prawns. It is the little touches that impress me in presentation, such as the mortar made from volcanic stone it is presented atop.

Above: tempe penyet. Below: tahu penyet. Penyet means "smashed" or "flattened", and in this case the tempe (fermented soybean cake) and bean curd are fried, pressed and dressed with a sweat-inducing sambal.

Above: kacang panjang (long beans). Below: bayam (spinach). Both these dishes are simply stir-fried with garlic, shallots, chili and galangal, and display real respect at work for the integrity of the fresh ingredients.

One area which is something of a let-down is dessert, the selection of which is somewhat uninspiring in comparison to the main dishes. On the night in question, we were also informed that many of their vegetables had run out; despite the wide variety of dishes pictured above, there were at least 5 other things we asked for which they didn't have available. These included some of the very distinctive dishes like sambal petai, and stir-fried kecipir (four-angle bean).

By local standards, Payon is somewhat expensive for Indonesian food, but by Western standards it is still amazingly cheap.

My love affair with Indonesian food has been reignited.

Payon, Kemang Raya No. 17, Jakarta Selatan DKI Jakarta. PH 1: (021) 719-4826

See also:

Chinese donuts on a Yogya roadside - the best breakfast ever

Malaysian "carrot cake" - not quite what you'd expect

My encounter with dog meat in Eastern Indonesia

Terengganu cuisine

Penang's famous mung bean cookies

Lina's Popiah, SS3, Petaling Jaya

Ethiopian food at Cafe Lalibela

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Ninja say what?"

This is full of win, my ninjas. Okay, maybe they draw the joke out longer than they need to, but it definitely finishes on a high.

I'm interested to know what black folks think of this by the way. If you're out there, let me know.

Like this? You may like:

White people problems

Ginger Refuge (The Catherine Tate Show)
Chris Rock - "Crackers" - racist, funny, or both?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who is the world's hottest leader? (Part 2 - females)

Ok, so it was a while ago now that I ran a poll for the hottest male world leader (which as I speak remains a dead heat between the Prime Minister of Norway and the King of Bhutan). So of course it would be remiss of me, not to mention sexist, not to do the same for the hottest female world leaders.

Only problem is, they aren't exactly thick on the ground, the vast majority of world leaders being male. And a number of them, leadership abilities aside, simply aren't in contention to be called "hot". So I've had to be a bit creative with my selections here, picking someone who has just been voted out, and someone who is clearly the rightful leader of her country.

The poll is at the bottom of the post. If there is someone you think I have missed, please leave a comment!

Cristina Fernandez was the First Lady of Argentina before she was President; her husband Nestor Kirchner preceded her in the office. So in other words, she succeeded at what Hilary Clinton failed to do. The 57 year-old is Argentina's second female President and the first to be democratically elected.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI (Prime Minister-elect of Burma)
Ok, so technically the figurehead of Burma's opposition movement is not officially the leader of her country. But she has previously won the 1990 election with an overwhelming majority, and would undeniably win any election held today, if only Burma's military junta would allow her to. In any case, I couldn't hold a poll of attractive female world leaders and not include the elegant Aung San Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner who looks amazing for someone aged 65.

LAURA CHINCHILLA (President of Costa Rica)
The 51 year-old Chinchilla was elected on May 8 2010 as the first female leader of her Central American nation. There's a clip on Youtube entitled "Laura Chinchilla es muy sexy", so I won't argue. I like her hair.

YULIA TYMOSHENKO (Former Prime Minister of Ukraine)
Tymoshenko was booted from office earlier this year (4th of March, 2010 to be exact) but I'm including her in this list, because, well, she's just too hot to not be on it. I mean, how many other world leaders get photographed posing on motorbikes? She's 49.

MICHAELLE JEAN (Governor-General of Canada)
52 year-old Jean is a true immigrant success story; she arrived in Canada as a refugee from Haiti aged 11, became a journalist and broadcaster, before being appointed governor-general in 2005. Plus she's well hot.

DORIS LEUTHARD (President of Switzerland)
Switzerland has quite a record of female heads of state; Leuthard, elected in 2010, is the 6th in its history. Only tiny San Marino has had more, with 31.

JULIA GILLARD (Prime Minister of Australia)
Migrating from Wales as a child, the 48 year-old Gillard became Australia's first female PM after siezing the reigns of power from her colleague Kevin Rudd. She's highly likely to get voted out very shortly though. Australia also has a female Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, who is the official head of state.

So make your selection! You can vote for more than one person if you like, but not more than once for each.

See also:
Who are the hottest players at the World Cup?