Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New obsession

I had forgotten the variety of Youtube until Thao Worra posted up some tasty slam poetry morsels (originally misspelled "morosels") that immedately had my fingers racing across the keyboard, searching for more Asian American slam poetry vids. Btw, I have seen Bao Phi do much, much better - think that having to play to 4 walls makes him look jerky and throws off his rhythm. (Note to Bao Phi and promoters: get a better video of him up on youtube and quick, cos that one doesn't do the guy any justice.) I think that Bao Phi is one of the best APIA slam poets out there - able to turn the corner from casually funny to astoundingly deep within a sentence. His words hit the heart and reverberate inside, thrumming in the cathedral of our bodies.

What a bonanza of delicious slam poetry - happy holidays to me!

First I found Kelly Tsai, a Chicago based poet, with Little Red Books. I remember all of those books vividly! They really espoused some central Confucianisms - teacher, resprespect theect authority. Hello teacher! Stand up. Bow. Sit down.

She gets at some central truths of why I have never really felt comfortable when some of my hipper than thou, more revolutionary than thou white colleagues discuss which brand of sectarian leftism is the most correct. The Nationalists fled China for Taiwan because the Communists were killing people. I have yet to find a way to reconcile communism as a theory with my family history. I also have yet to find a way to make it right to the indigenous Taiwanese who were there when the Nationalists came and killed them.

She asks, hauntingly:
"Is it as easy to scream "revolution now!" if you knew you'd have to give up some of your shit? Is Mao as much of a genius when he tells your bourgeioisie urban intellectual ass needs to stop reading some books and go into the field and work? Did Mao experiment on your family to create a better world? Did you know that communism is not theoretical for everyone?"

2) Next up, Denizen Kane, who I believe played Lollapalooza this past summer. Another original Chicagoan, he used to spit words and now considers himself more of a musician. This poem, possibly called "Lost and Found" that was shown on Def Poetry Jam was done in a Jamaican accent and his rhymes are flowing.

Conclusion: In looking for vids by Ishle Park (arguably the Queen of As Am slam, named the Poet Laureate of Queens) and Beau Sia, I only came across an embarrassingly small selection - we need to get more vids out there, get the word out there. Plus, I would love to see more of my peeps representing in the online series of tubezzz (thank you former Senator Ted Stevens, and goodnight!)

Monday, December 18, 2006

S. R. Siddarth is Salon.com's Person of the Year

Hat tip to angryasianman. So much cooler than TIME magazine's declaration that "You" are person of the year. It's a nice recap of everything that went down when and after SR Sidarth, a college senior at University of Virginia, shot video footage of former (love that word!) Virginian Senator George Felix Allen doing a routine campaign stop. The existence of the video was leaked to the Washington Post and then available on Youtube for everyone to watch Allen's scornful countenance deriding a mere student. It spurred regular citizens to become activists and agents for change. It spurred Asian Americans to step up and create change.

The conclusion is beautiful and tells the hopeful lesson of the Macaca moment:

"But the same voters may also have recognized Sidarth, born and raised in northern Virginia, a straight-A student at a state college and a member of the local Hindu temple, as their neighbor. Allen was just a California transplant with dip and cowboy boots who had glommed on to the ancient racial quirks of his adopted home. Sidarth was the kid next door. He, not Allen, was the real Virginian. He was proof that every hour his native commonwealth drifts further from the orbit of the GOP's solid South and toward a day when Allen's act will be a tacky antique. Allen was the past, Sidarth is the wired, diverse future -- of Virginia, the political process and the country."

I think that SR Sidarth's story is my favorite individual story from the political campaigns of 2006 (not counting Dems taking back the House and Senate) because of how one person was able to spur such a dramatic change. I hail you, my Macaca-ini-Chief! More thoughts later - my fingers are numb from typing and the cold.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Border Fence built by undocumented immigrants

In what seems like a complete oxymoron, the Californian company contracted to build a fence between the US and Mexico, ostensibly to prevent the crossing over of undocumented immigrants between San Diego and Tiajuana -- was forced to pay a $5 million dollar fine for using undocumented labor.

Somehow I don't think this is what Tom Tancredo-types had in mind when they voted to build a border fence. LAist say: "The Golden State Fence Company will not only pay a major fine, but two of its executives will have to serve jail time for the hirings.

The company's attorney stated that this all goes to show that the country needs to adopt a robust guest-worker program."

This simply encapsulates the longstanding attitude of US companies towards undocumented labor: do our dirty work, and then go away.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I read this article in New York Magazine a while ago on the science of burnout with a good amount of self-recognition and empathy. The opening is about a researcher whose focus has been on burned out teachers, who after 13 years of research, cannot find the heart to continue that topic. Meta, no? I was going to post on it immediately, but work swamped me and it's probably for the better that I waited to post since it's given me more time to reflect on the past year since I started blogging.

I was very abashedly burned out. Did not want to accept it. Began blogging so that my frustrations had a way of escaping my own hehad before it went supernova. The writing was therapeutic at times, the blog like a friend or confessional in my long sojourns from home. In my line, we not only try to make people stronger, we like to believe that we are superhuman as well. That was what I kept telling myself as I couldn't breathe, could barely eat. Those were very dark days but I revived, slumped, and came back again. Actually, up until a few days ago, I thought I had recovered sooner than I really had. But there's a reason why it's called the healing process. This article captures so much of my experience:

Because many of these people were idealists, and because they worked with the hardest-luck cases, they were highly susceptible to disillusionment. Those who burned out were not only physically and mentally exhausted; they were cynical, detached, convinced their efforts were worthless. They held themselves in contempt. Worse, they held their clients in contempt. They began to loathe the same people they originally sought to help. . . Today, in New York City, everyone knows that the ones “screaming and cursing these motherfuckers for calling me with their goddamned problems” are as likely to be hedge-fund managers as any species of do-gooders.

Worked overly long hours because I was lonely? Check. Finally realized that no matter how much of myself I threw into work, it would never love me back? Double check. I never got to the stage of loathing the people that I was trying to help, but I certainly didn't think I was worth much at the time. And yet, I had somehow wound up in my field because of burnout. "How strange would it be if people were trying to cure their burnout today by leaping to the helping professions, the same professions that led people to study burnout in the first place?" Indeed. In looking to regain control, I had shifted my energies. In shifting my energies, I found a job that somehow fed my worst perfectionist, overworking tendencies wth my desire to help the underdog.

Researchers have found that there are six main causes of burnout:

In 1981, Maslach, now vice-provost at the University of California, Berkeley, famously co-developed a detailed survey, known as the Maslach Burnout Inventory, to measure the syndrome. Her theory is that any one of the following six problems can fry us to a crisp: working too much; working in an unjust environment; working with little social support; working with little agency or control; working in the service of values we loathe; working for insufficient reward (whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback).

Check. Check (an irony when working in the social justice movement.) Check (more ironies abound.) Check - see struggle to breathe. Five doesn't hold - I don't sell out my values. Check - old supervisor was unable to say nice things.

I had five out of the six causes, which increasingly made me believe that it wasn't necessarily worthwhile to crusade for that specific cause at the cost of sanity and health. Thus I burned out, just like the matchstick picture, I was frazzled and dwindling. I even lost a lot of self respect, which to this day I still kick myself over. (If you can imagine that, it's one hell of a roundabout kick.)

And Farber often calls burnout “the gap between expectation and reward,” which may have the most relevance to New Yorkers. This has always been a city of inflated expectations. People with more modest aims for themselves seem less prone to disillusionment.

Another aspect of Maslach's research found that younger people tend to burn out quickere than old, contrary to expectations. Or perhaps because it is a game of expectations, and I had really high expectations, I fit the model. It makes sense that younger people are more idealistic. "Older workers, as it turns out, have more perspective and more experience; it’s the young idealists who go flying into a profession, plumped full of high hopes, and run full-speed into a wall."

Here I cannot help but think of the tragicly bold figure of Icarus. Icarus who flew too high too fast, melting his fragile wings under the sun's harsh stare.

Bulfinch's Mythhology tells the story of Daedalus and his son thusly:
"They passed Samos and Delos on the left and Lebynthos on the right, when the boy, exulting in his career, began to leave the guidance of his companion and soar upward as if to reach heaven. The nearness of the blazing sun softened the wax which held the feathers together, and they came off. He fluttered with his arms, but no feathers remained to hold the air. While his mouth uttered cries to his father it was submerged in the blue waters of the sea, which was thenceforth called by his name."

The sensation of inefficiency, of flying faster and harder towards an unfeeling ball of fire that you seek to capture. You have perfect control over your trajectory. The fear of falling. The inability to look down. Sun burning eyes. You have no control. Stop.

Our bodies send out distress signals. Our bodies, ourselves. Our friends tell each other and you to stop. You continue, berating yourself, knowing and not doing. You fall into that hated trap. You are a gerbil, running an unwinnable race. Stop. You aren't helping anyone, much less yourself. Stop. Stop. Stop. Full stop. The fullest stop is when your body gives out on you even though your mind is trying to batter on.

And so one chapter had closed. A whole other universe awaited. Icarus was reborn.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Presidential sweeps

In the who cares category, Dennis Kucinich has thrown his hat in the ring. I respect the man for wantinig to joint to advance the anti-Iraq war argument, and to push the conversation further to the left, but he knows that he won't win the race.

This follows former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's announcement last month, and the obligatory press coverage.

Someone wake me up when we have an exciting candidate a la Dean. (I wish Feingold hadn't quit before he started, although I am sure he made the decision after lengthy internal consultation and deliberation.)

On the Republican side, soon to be ex-Gov. of Massachusetts Mitt Romney's not-so-old defense of gay marriage in his adopted state may come back to bite him hard with the religious right, which is desperately seeking someone not named John McCain. Or is flirting with him while pretending to stay chaste. Or something like that.

Like TV sweeps, more news on these and other presidential developments in January (i.e., Obama makes his decision, which sets the playing field.)

Pick yer battles

This isn't going to be a popular opinion, and it won't make me any friends, but here goes:

Rosie O'Donnell used a grade school taunt on the daytime TV show, The View. She said some puerile things that were stupid filler, and she should apologize. It was insensitive and not particularly funny, either. If anything I am more offended by her spokesperson's unapologetic statement that we need to learn what's funny.

That said, O'Donnell's idiotic remarks aren't worth the time and energy when our brothers and sisters are getting shot at on the streets of New York, Detroit and in Iraq.

Not worth it when our fathers and sons are getting disappeared off of our own streets, deported to unfamiliar lands under the USA Patriot Act.

Not worth it when women are being brought here from Asia as indentured slaves to serve as maids, sex toys, and (yes, the sex trafficking industry is still unfortunately alive and well.)

Rosie's not exactly a huge celebrity (and I think she jumped the shark a while back), although she does have access to maybe 1 million bored housewives across America who watch the show. If anything, they might think less of Danny Devito, who was the intended butt of Rosie's ill-attempted humor. But I don't think that this is going to drastically change how any of them think of Chinese Americans or Chinese either, for better or worse. And in an industry where your stock goes up if your name is on everyone's lips (unless you're Kramer and you've used the forbidden word), the debate is only fanning the flames of Rosie's revival.

So we should focus our collective energies on other more important matters and not lose sight of the fact that there's approximately 1 million undocumented Asian Americans who are in jeopardy of being deported and live in the shadows, working hard and paying taxes and into the Social Security lockbox, but unable to receive a higher education in the vast majority of states. I don't think they give a damn about Rosie O'Donnell. And the 18% of Asian American Pacific Islanders like myself who lack health coverage? (Stats from Families USA - nnumbers which are higher than the national average of 15% and the 10% of white Americans who lack coverage.) We don't give a damn either - we're too busy worrying that our kid's cough doesn't turn into a flu or something worse so that we don't have to take them to see the doctor, althhough we will pay (and pay dearly!) if we have to, because we worry that the one time we don't get it checked out, it'll grow into something far worse.

Update: To me, Rosie O'Donnell saying stupid stuff is about as important as the race of TomKat's possibly alien baby. Perhaps I am underestimating her power on the blogosphere and America in general since I never really paid her much attention in the first place. Also, full disclosure, I too get and got pissed about all sorts of things that I now consider insignificant in comparison, including Abercrombie & Fitch's racist shirts (though I still don't shop there.) Surely there are more weighty matters for Asian Americans to work on and consider.

And now I need to get back to working, eating, reading and sleeping (based upon relative frequency of action.) Ciao!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lame duck Congress preserves Japanese American internment camps

I know I made fun of the dredges of this GOP-run lame duck Congress, but I have to be happy that they at least passed legislation preserving the internment camps so that people have a chance to see and experience America's history. They decided to pass this bill as opposed to one on oil drilling (thank goodness!)

"Preserving these internment sites is a solemn task we all bear," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., who was born in the Potson camp in Arizona in 1944. "Those who come after us will have a physical reminder of what they will never allow to happen again."

The camps housed more than 120,000 Japanese-American U.S. citizens and residents under an executive order signed by President Roosevelt in 1942. At the time there were fears that Japanese-Americans were loyal to Japan, and Roosevelt's order prohibited such people from living on the West Coast.

The bill was passed with bipartisan support:
The understanding of this period in our history is essential. It has to do with fundamental rights even of native-born citizens in time of war," said House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif.

Another co-sponsor was Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., the only current member of Congress other than Matsui to spend time as a child in one of the camps. Former Transportation Secretary and Rep.
Norman Mineta and Matsui's late husband Robert, a former congressman, also lived in the camps.

The original sponsor was Republican Bill Thomas of California, which is a smart move when introducing legislation - always find someone in the majority party to champion your bill.

Let's hope this is something Bush signs, although apparently the National Park Service is unwilling to support it. It was Bush's political hero Ronald Reagan who allowed for (meager) reparations and a formal apology in 1988, so hopefully this is something the Shrub is willing to do, although I have serious doubts about his leadership abilities.

Lastly, I apologize for any weird formatting issues in this post and the previous - my blogger toolbar is crippled and I hope it heals soon.

Next Dem target for primary challenge

I know that lots of lefties were very happy that Ned Lamont challenged and then won the Democratic primary against Joe Lieberman, and that kos has proposed havinig more intra-party challengers. I nominate another Joe - Joe Biden for the next primary challenge (it's sorta like American's Next Top Model, but for greying, balding white male political egoists.)

He has a propensity for saying plenty of stupid stuff on camera like his "You can't avoid Indians accents in Dunkin Donuts" bit to an Indian American admirer (caught on youtube.)

Now he touts his racist credentials to a Southern audience:

Delaware, he noted, was a “slave state that fought beside the North. That’s only because we couldn’t figure out how to get to the South. There were a couple of states in the way.”

So the man wants to make a run for president in 2008. Coincidentally, his Senate seat is up in 2008. Let's see if we can't make him lose both. As Wonkette says, "even his very own Macaca moment was lame." Well, okay - we won't have to lift a finger to watch him lose the presidential primaries. But we'll have fun laughing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

First Muslim American Congressman wants to be sworn in on a Koran; wingnuts explode

So newly elected Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), the nation's first Muslim Congressman who I have blogged about before, wants to carry a Koran as he is sworn into office, not a Bible. To certain wingnuts, this makes him everything from Satan to ... the AntiChrist. Because as everyone well knows, the Bible is the holy book of this country and we all live and die and burn in hell by it.

Except that even the historian of the Senate says that no one places their hand on any book in order to be sworn in - it's not a necessary condition:

During official swearing-in ceremonies, elected members don't place their hands on any books. It's up to individual members, however, if they want to carry sacred texts.

"Some members carry a Bible. You don't actually put your hand on a Bible. I can't see how anyone would object to carrying a Quran," Senate historian Don Ritchie said.

David Kuo, Dubya's former top aide and deputy director of Faith Based Initiatives (and apparent hapa) and author of Tempting Faith, an expose on how little respect the Bushies have for their conservative Christian base, also says no in an excellent Colbert-worthy smackdown:

So, a Muslim is coming to the United States House of Representatives and he wants to be sworn into office with his hand on a Koran and not on a Holy Bible. Some conservatives have decided this may well be the end of American civilization. One columnist writes, "He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization." Some people's election loss grief counseling isn't going well.

The writer, Dennis Prager, goes on to argue that this all comes down to "multicultural hubris." After all, "What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book."

So the Bible is America's holiest book? Was there a vote? Did Oprah decide? Was it Jefferson? And if so was it his version of the Bible? Does that mean it is true of every American citizen? Even Kevin Federline? And if it is true then America, with its indifference to the poor and lust for money and power, would be seriously backsliding and in need of spiritual counseling.

No, the BIble isn't Ameirca' holiest book. America doesn't have a holy book. It does have two holy documents, however. One is called the Constitution. The other is known as the Declaration of Independence. That's it. Book study finished.

Kuo seems to be a man who respects faith - all faiths. I respect that. Not trying to turn him into a saint, but who better to deliver the blow to the Christian right than someone who knows and understands? His HuffPost bio says that "Since coming to Washington in 1990, he has worked with lots of conservative leaders (everyone from Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Bill Bennett to John Ashcroft, Ralph Reed, and Senator Bob Dole). Surprisingly to some he is not known to carry either rabies or a "get out of Gitmo free" card." Can't beat a man with an irreverent sense of humor - he's going to be the Colbert or Kevin Phillips of the religion wars for progressives of faith. (Story hat tip Americablog.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Republican Congress burns out with a whimper

"There is a lot of battle fatigue among members, probably on both sides of the aisle," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), usually a reliable conservative firebrand. "Contrary to popular belief, members of Congress are human beings. They have a certain shelf life and a certain amount of energy to be drawn on. We're tired."

I am sorry, but voters don't get to take whole PAID months off just to gaze at the lint in their navels, and to complain about how they lost their jobs. Reading Jonathan Wesman's Washington Post article "Lame Duck Congress May Run Out the Clock" pissed me off incredibly.

Republican Congressmembers who denied Democratic allegations of a Republican "do-nothing" Congress are really only cementing that image, as Congress met for one week in October, and one week in December. Really, they are following quite nicely in the footsteps of their political daddy Dubya, who clearly enjoys clearing brush on his Crawford ranch. A LOT. To the tune of five weeks off, setting records for presidential vacation time. Ask Yahoo calculated that he spent as much as 27% of his time on vacation.

They claim that they can't get work done because they don't have nice posh office space:
Much of the problem is as prosaic as office space, GOP aides said. Lawmakers were forced to vacate their offices on Friday, and few of them want to hang around Washington with no place to sit. Retiring House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) got angry during a meeting of committee chairmen, demanding to know how he was supposed to complete work on the business tax extension bill without an office, according to one GOP aide present in the meeting.

Well, I know people who get work done without having any offices at all. Grad students who have to meet with students in dorm cafeterias or coffeeshops, construction workers who build the office space for corporate muckety-mucks, and teleworkers whose office space is any open air space with a wifi connection. God forbid that Congressman Thomas and his staff actually had to sit on a park bench Or meet in a Starbucks. Most likely, if they're smart, they'll just take over a corner of some expensive restaurant and eat courtesy of a defense contractor or two while reviewing legislation and constituent concerns that won't see the light of day.

That will mean this Congress will have spent the least time in session of any in at least half a century, according to Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, congressional historians and the authors of "The Broken Branch," a critical look at recent Congresses. In the time they have met, lawmakers have failed to approve a budget resolution or pass at least eight of the 11 annual spending bills.

On the other hand, given that so much of the legislation that the 109th Congress has introduced has made life and conditions significantly worse for regular people, the environment, immigrants (remember the Sensenbrenner bills that sparked massive nationwide protests?) perhaps it's better that they are sitting on the their asses, feeling sorry for themselves, or playing golf with lobbyist pals. I'm so sorry that Republican House members sound as though they are depressed, but the rest of the nation that actually, you know, goes to work -- we've been depressed for the twelve years that you've controlled Congress. So enjoy your long, long time off. We're hoping that a brief vacation turns into a permanent hiatus.