Monday, January 30, 2012

People who like being offended get offended

Late night comedian Jay Leno has been targeted in a new lawsuit after comparing the holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, to Mitt Romney's vacation home.
The remark during a skit on the 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' when the TV host introduces 'a behind the scenes look at all the presidential candidates' homes was condemned by India. But religious organiser Dr Randeep Dhillon, from California, has gone a step further, claiming Leno libelled the Sikh religion with his offence.
According to court documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday obtained by TheWrap, Mr Dhillon, who does business as Bol Punjabi All Regions Community Organization, claims Leno 'hurt the sentiments of all Sikh people in addition to those of the plaintiff' with the joke.
He also claims the remark 'clearly exposes plaintiff, other Sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because it falsely portrays the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by a non-Sikh'.
Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told reporters: 'It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple.'
Mr Ravi said the Indian embassy would take up the matter with the US state department, the Press Trust of India reported.
He said: 'The Golden Temple is the Sikh community's most sacred place... The American government should also look at this kind of thing.
'Freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others... This is not acceptable to us and we take a very strong objection for such a display.'
In response the members of the US Sikh community have now launched an online petition, called 'Stop defaming Sikhs and using derogatory remarks against the Sikh shrines.' Over 3,700 people have added their names to support the cause. The petition says Leno has been guilty of derogatory comments about Sikhs before and that 'Jay Leno's racist comments need to be stopped right here'.
Simran Kaur, a petition signatory wrote: 'Jay Leno must apologise and promise not to make any direct or oblique references to Sikhs or their places of worship.'[Daily Mail]
Hopefully, the petitioners will achieve their apparent objective to ensure that no one in the world ever talks about Sikhism at all, in order to make sure that no Sikh is ever offended. Either that, or we just stop telling jokes from now on. It's too risky.

But seriously... Leno's joke, which was mildly amusing and would have probably been forgotten 10 seconds later by most viewers, was not about Sikhs at all. It was about Romney and his outrageous wealth. The fact that it involved an image of the Golden Temple is immaterial, because virtually no one watching the show would know what the building was. I'd wager less than 5% of the watching public would see that image and think, "Oh, that's the Sikh temple in Amritsar."

So if virtually no one knew it was a Sikh temple, then how is it exposing Sikhs to ridicule or contempt? The irony of Randeep Dhillon's claims is obviously lost on him, because the only thing bringing ridicule and contempt on Sikhs is this lawsuit and diplomatic action, which simply says to the world that Sikhs have no sense of humour and are unnecessarily sensitive.

I should point out that I don't think the majority of Sikhs would really take offense to the Leno bit. But within any population there are those who don't have any meaning in their life unless they can get outraged about some perceived injustice, and who then take it upon themselves to make the rest of their community look bad.

You sometimes hear Christians complain that activists, artists and humorists are quick to attack or poke fun at Christianity, while not having the guts to apply the same treatment to other religions (particularly Islam). And that's a fair point, but the fact that this happens is actually a compliment to Christianity. When someone mocks Jesus or the clergy, no one gets murdered in retaliation, and no one tries to sue for the hurt feelings of Christians worldwide. Most Christians just shrug their shoulders and forget about it, and well they should. It's a grown-up response.

Some things in life are genuinely offensive. But just because you are offended by something, doesn't necessarily mean you are right to be offended. When everything is offensive, then nothing is offensive; the labelling of Leno's joke as "racist" does little but devalues the meaning of the word. Outrage at insignificant things means that folks will stop listening to you next time you complain about something legitimately offensive.

Most of the time, flying into a rage at every perceived insult just makes you look like a dick.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On looking racially ambiguous (@ Peril Magazine)

Check my latest post over at Peril, which is about the variety of things people have said to me based on my hard-to-define ethnicity.

Me: “Can I get some of the queso fresco, please?”

South American woman in deli: “¿Cuánto quieres?”

Me: “Er… sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.”

South American woman in deli: “Oh, sorry! (To workmate) “Se parece a un chico Cubano!” (He looks like a Cuban boy!”

Full post here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

From around the interwebs...

Here are some cool things I read recently. I present them here so that you too may read them, and thereby become smarter and more interesting, and thus make more money and have better sex.
No need to thank me.

The one-shot society: Exams in Korea
In The Economist
Korea’s well-educated, hard-working population has powered its economic miracle. The country has risen from barefoot to broadband since 1960, and last year, despite the global slowdown, its economy grew by 6.2%. In the age of the knowledge economy, education is economic destiny. So the system has had far-reaching and beneficial consequences.

Yet it also has huge costs. For a start, high school is hell. Two months before the day of his exams Kim Min-sung, a typical student, was monosyllabic and shy. All the joy seemed to have been squeezed out of him, to make room for facts. His classes lasted from 7am until 4pm, after which he headed straight for the library until midnight. He studied seven days a week. “You get used to it,” he mumbled.

The Butchers of Nigeria - How a corrupt nation bred Boko Haram, the Islamic sect terrorizing the country’s Christians.

Wole Soyinka at The Daily Beast
This horde has remained available to political opportunists and criminal leaders desperate to stave off the day of reckoning. Most are highly placed, highly disgruntled, and thus highly motivated individuals who, having lost out in the power stakes, resort to the manipulation of these products of warped fervor. Their aim is to bring society to its knees, to create a situation of total anarchy that will either break up the nation or bring back the military, which ruled Nigeria in a succession of coups between the mid-1960s and the late ’90s. Again and again they have declared their blunt manifesto—not merely to Islamize the nation but to bring it under a specific kind of fundamentalist strain. Rather than act in defense of Nigeria’s Constitution, past rulers have cosseted the aggressors for short-term political gains. However, those who have tweaked the religious chord are discovering that they have conjured up a Frankenstein.

Why the Chinese save
Sheldon Garon at Foreign Policy Magazine
To be sure, many East and Southeast Asian societies appear culturally disposed toward thrift. But I question the timelessness and uniqueness of so-called Asian values regarding saving and consumption. As heretical as it may sound, the widespread “urge to save” in Asian economies has less to do with their shared “Asianness,” and may be more related to their common adoption of savings promotion practices from other countries.

Pornistan - A brief history of sex
Iqbal Latif at The Iranian
Which is the No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? i.e. The Pornistan of the world! Google found that of the top 10 countries - searching for sex-related sites - six were Muslim, with Pakistan on the top i.e. The other Muslim countries are Egypt at number 2, Iran at 4, Morocco at 5, Saudi Arabia at 7 and Turkey at 8. Non-Muslim states are Vietnam at 3, India at 6, Philippines at 9 and Poland at 10. Google lifts the veil now and most of the hardcore puritan nations come out unclothed!! Sexual frustrations lead to choked sex sites on Google within most of the Islamic crescent! Even though homosexuality is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom ranks No. 2 for searches for "gay sex," behind the Philippines.

5 things you can learn about India from their action movies
Every shot in Enthiran watches like a blind editor came in and chopped the first and last third off of the scene, regardless of consequence. The movie switches locations before you realized the conversation ended, and new characters pop in for lines, even though you had no idea they were in the room in the first place, or else they leave the scene entirely and the film doesn't bother to show you. The end result is the implication that this entire society has mastered the art of teleportation, but mostly just use it to nag each other across a span of continents.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Every Chinese New Year I'm shufflin'

Some might see this as disrespectful to tradition, but I think it's just harmless fun. I wouldn't want this to replace the traditional CNY lion dance (or is it a tiger dance?) of course, but they've done the traditional thing and are just adding something different and entertaining at the end.

And I understand if some of you never want to hear Party Rock Anthem every again. But it's worth watching if only for the bit at 1 min 43 seconds.

This seems to have been shot in Malaysia by the way, I think in Bukit Bintang although I could well be wrong.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Things I read in 2011 (@ Peril Magazine)

I have another post up as part of my regular blogging gig at Peril Magazine. It's entitled 5 Asian-related things I read in 2011 that you should too. A brief review of 3 books and a couple of online articles. Check it here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

RIP Jimmy Castor (1947 - 2012)

Jimmy Castor, legendary funk and latin boogaloo musician, passed away January 16th aged 64.
Castor is far from a household name but the singer, saxophonist and percussionist had a career spanning 3 decades and encompassing a wide variety of genres.

His best known track is probably It's Just Begun from 1972 (as The Jimmy Castor Bunch), which was never a hit at the time but later became a favourite of breakdancers who love its timbale breakdown and sheer kinetic energy. I still remember the first time I heard the song's distinctive saxophone hook; I was at a house party and I had to immediately seek out whoever owned the CD to find out what the hell was this cracking groove I was listening to.

That was the title track from his second album, yet Castor's musical career started way back in 1957 as a 10 year-old. He replaced Frankie Lymon in The Teenagers and cut the fun doo-wop track I Promise. Soon after he took up the saxophone, and found a home in New York's boogaloo scene, which brought together elements of American R&B with Cuban son and mambo. One of Castor's best-known hits - Hey Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You - comes from this era, and was a minor chart hit in 1966.

Castor's light-hearted approach to music continued into the 70s, as he became known for what could be termed novelty hits. His biggest hit, Troglodyte, features no singing, only Castor telling a story about a funky caveman trying to get some action over a stomping groove, and also features the sampled-to-death introductory line, "What we gonna do right here is go back...wayyy back... back into time."
A character introduced in that song later became the basis for The Jimmy Castor Bunch's other major hit, The Bertha Butt Boogie. Again, its lyrics are incredibly silly, but the groove is absolutely unstoppable.

With other song titles like King Kong and Hey Leroy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is Your Father, you get a sense that Castor had a fairly light-hearted approach to his job.

More obituaries: Gil Scott-Heron, Guru, Manute Bol, Amy Winehouse.

Shock as man notices that 7-11 stores are run by Indians

A ONE Nation candidate has courted controversy, complaining that Indians own most convenience stores.
One Nation Queensland state director Ian Nelson made the comments shortly after he announced that he would run for the key seat of Ashgrove.
"Ninety-five per cent of those 7-11 stores are now run by Indian families," he told the Nine Network yesterday.
"Now what's happened to the Australians that man those, that have those leases?
"Now they've gone, they're out."
Asked whether he was worried about being labelled racist, Mr Nelson replied, "How is that being a racist?"
Labor member for Ashgrove Kate Jones wasted no time taking to Twitter to ask Liberal National Party leader Campbell Newman whether he was still considering a preference deal with the One Nation party.
A few points:

* Yes, a huge proportion of convenience stores are staffed by people of Indian, or at least South Asian, descent. Thank you Captain Obvious.

* Are these people really "Indians" or are they "Indian-Australians"?

* Is there any suggestion that there is something wrong with that? Do Indians do something to illegally or improperly corner the market? Or are they simply doing a job that a lot of "Australians" aren't so keen to do?

* People from India are often more willing to work longer hours, or at later hours, than many others. Take them out of the equation, and there'd be a smaller pool of people willing to do these jobs, meaning fewer convenience stores open when you need them... which is not very convenient.

* I'll repeat a point I've made in earlier posts. You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Immigrants who end up on welfare are derided as freeloaders. Immigrants who work hard and succeed are derided as "taking our jobs". Solution = don't be an immigrant, because you just can't win with some people.

Related posts:
"Send them all back!" even if they are Australian
When is an American not an American?
Asians taking over Melbourne's phone book

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My favourite thing in the world, this week - "Pizza Boomerang"

I don't know quite what this is, but I do know that it may just be the best thing in the entire universe.

Suffice to say that I wasn't quite expecting what happens at the 1 minute 45 mark.

Internet, I want to hug you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Those smelly foreigners with their curries and things...

Got a post up over at Brown Pundits, about Teresa Gambaro's "migrants should learn to queue up and wear deodorant" comments. Check it.

What your garden gets up to while you're away

So I was away overseas for 3 weeks, in the middle of what I'm told was a weird summer that featured both a heatwave and a hailstorm. My housemate watered and tended my garden a little in that time, but not enough to stop it from getting a bit out of control. But being left more or less on its own leads to a few unusual occurrences that I wouldn't have seen had I been looking after it in that time.
This bamboo was fairly uniform when I left, but then this single spike shot up dramatically.
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world.

This is actually chicory, a somewhat bitter leafy green that I use to make Greek horta. Having constantly picked at its leaves, I'd never witnessed its beautiful blue flowers.

This is a chrysanthemum, but a variety that I have been growing for its leaves,
rather than its flowers. The leaves are common in Chinese cuisine, known as tong ho.
It may look impressive, but size is not everything.
This sort of thing needs to be harvested
when about half this size, as the flavour suffers
 with increased growth.

This is actually dill. It likes to be watered regularly for leaf production.
Without that, this is the result.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls

Created by video blogger Chescaleigh (aka Franchesca Ramsey), this clip has swiftly become a viral sensation. Apparently she posted it, went to work, and by the time she had come home it had already amassed a million hits. Of course, it has stirred up some controversy too - the obligatory "if a white girl made the same thing about black girls, it'd be called racist" and so on. Which misses the point of why someone would make a video like this in the first place. It's also worth pointing out that this is a parody of another recently popular viral video, Shit Girls Say".

I like it not just because it's funny, but also because Ramsey has a rather unnerving resemblance to my own partner (hair aside).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 in recap: My top posts for the year

The beginning of 2012 gives me the chance to shamelessly promote the stuff I wrote in 2011 which you should read, if you haven't already.

Here are some ruminations on race, ethnicity, culture and religion:

Pursuing a Better, Smarter Kind of Immigrant?
What are the Actual Benefits of Ethnic Diversity?
Asians are "Rape-ish"
UCLA Library is Overrun by Hordes of Asians
Comebacks to Stereotypical and Racist Comments - South Asian Edition
Satoshi Kanazawa and Black Women
The Geography of Knob Size
The Racial Politics of Imitating Someone's Accent
Indian Film Stars versus Regular Indians

As usual, about a month of my year is spent in Southeast Asia. Here are some of the posts inspired by my journeys there and by the people I know there:

Bersih 2.0: The Malaysian Government Shows its True Colours
Random Thailand Thoughts
The Assumption of Sugar, or not
Mistakes Indonesians Make when Trying to Speak English

This year I also landed a blogging gig for Peril, an online Asian-Australian arts and culture magazine. Here are the posts I wrote, which are all featured on the Peril website:

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Karaoke
Your Normal Is Weird
The Lure of Black Music
Comparing Asian-Australians and Asian-Americans
Asian Food and Australia's Changing Palate
When White People Cook Asian Food

I've also been posting occasionally at Brown Pundits. You can check my posts (some of which I have also posted on my own blog) here.

Back to my own blog now, here are some more articles that touch primarily upon Asian-Australian issues.

The Bloke from the Anti-Asian Party and his Asian Wife
The Whiteness of the Australian Modelling Industry
Are Asian-Australians Moving Towards Voting Liberal?
Shock and Disbelief as Andrew Bolt is Revealed to be Racist
White Flight from Selective Schools

Making a big splash this year, and eliciting responses ranging from praise to outright hatred, was Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, or specifically the edited excerpt of it published in the Wall Street Journal. Here are some of my thoughts:
On Hardass Asian Parents
More on Amy Chua
So, I Finally Read "...Tiger Mother"

Some other random things:

Quiz Time! (European Names)
Quiz Time! (Asian Diasporas)
Great Black Cover Versions of White Songs, part 2
Viking Influence on the English Language
Eating Seasonally and Ethnically

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Having problems...

Having some blogging issues at the moment...

Bear with me while I try to sort it out, folks. Hopefully all will be well again very soon.

Finally, a solution to dawdling

Dunno why I didn't think of this. Japan, you've done it again.

In my life I have most needed one of these bells in the streets and subway platforms of Hong Kong, and in KLCC mall in Kuala Lumpur. Although having said that, in neither of those places are the people so unfailingly polite as the Japanese, so I'm not sure how effective it would be.
The other problem is that the average dawdling teenager probably has an iPod playing while they dawdle, which possibly neutralizes the bell.

Why this Kolaveri Di song so popular?

CNN recently declared Why this Kolaveri Di? (meaning something like "Why this murderous rage, girl?") this its song of the year. Haven't heard of it? It was released in mid-November as promotion for the upcoming Tamil movie 3, and quickly became a viral sensation around the desi internets. Sung by actor Dhanush in a drunken "Tanglish" (that's a hybrid of Tamil and English), the original clip has swiftly racked up over 32 million views on Youtube, while various other spinoff, remix and parody versions in various languages (Malay, Punjabi, Arabic) have garnered another 20-odd million views. It's won a Youtube Gold Award for the greatest number of hits within a certain time frame.

Here is the song itself:

In a sense the song playfully references the way contemporary Tamil speech has co-opted numerous English words, even though the precise meaning of some of them might require translation to the average English speaker. A "soup boy", for example, refers to a guy who has lost out in love.

My first encounter with the song was at a Punjabi Sikh wedding reception, as members of the groom's family performed a choreographed dance to it; anyone who's been to an Indian wedding knows that sort of thing is not unusual. My second encounter was after seeing the CNN report and needing to figure out "why the fuss?" My initial reaction: meh. It's ok.
I then proceeded to sing it to myself on repeat for the next 3 hours.

Is that the key, then? Is it merely the song's catchiness, pure and simple, that has allowed it to win fans across linguistic and cultural barriers? Or is it something more? Because there are many songs that are extremely catchy that never cross into any sort of public consciousness. After talking to some Tamil peeps, this is what I can deduce:

* Dhanush is a popular Tamil movie star.
* Dhanush's father-in-law is the superstar Rajnikanth, who is sort of like the Tamil version of Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Jesus rolled into one. Anything even vaguely associated with Rajnikanth automatically gets the Midas touch in South India. Rajnikanth's daughter Aishwarya is also in this clip and she's hot.
* Indian media was plugging this Youtube clip like crazy, so its status as a "viral" hit was somewhat engineered.
* Dhanush's singing drunkenly about getting drunk appeals to a lot of young folks (think Afroman's Because I got high as an example) and the theme (guy getting rejected by a mean girl) is easy to identify with.
* The fact that it's in English, or at least a sort of English, means that Indians who aren't Tamil can also relate to it easily enough.
* The large number of English-speaking Indians and Sri Lankans around the world can be amused by this Indianized variant on the language.

I dunno. Just enjoy.