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.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Terror politics and Batman

Oh, those parents complaining that the new Batman is too creepy and disturbing for their kids to watch? They're so right.

This isn't about censorship, this is about how wigged out I am right now!!!! Yeah, I'm one of the lucky few who got to watch Batman on opening weekend. Of course I could only get a nighttime showing. I was all ready to hit the hay after the show but the movie has just left me shuddering and crying for mommy.

Heath Ledger does a bone-chilling job as the Joker, and the movie is really uncomfortable. Not just the violence, just the unrelenting darkness of it - the lack of hope. Damn, they have to put warnings on these things - "Do not watch in the middle of a recession."

I'm sure Christopher Nolan, the director, meant it as a parable of our times - a mirror of society. When I saw Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face (excellent excellent casting in this movie by the way - Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Maggie Gyllenhaal as the female lead) I thought of Eliot Spitzer. I'm sure I'm not the only one. And no, it's not analogous - murder and prostitution. But I thought of how high the angels climb and fall and how all politicians are the same.

It was uncomfortable because it left us with no hope, no happy Hollywood ending. Everything was trashed and burned. The one or two bright lights at the end were minor in comparison to all the willful mayhem that had occurred. But strangely, if ever a movie were to serve as cautionary tale of where our country could go, damn this is one for our age.

This movie is all about terror and terrorism, and how far powerful figures go to construct an illusion of good versus evil. How far can one man or many be pushed to save themselves and their loved ones? The movie even addresses that the Joker is playing, toying with our fears and that we cannot give into a terrorist's demands. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that the Joker effectively preys on fears by creating rampant instability and discusses how plans legalize and legitimize deaths. You could swap out the word plans here for laws. It can also be considered an investigation of natural law and justice versus civil law and vigilantism. Batman is a hero but also a villain, a complex Hell's Angel who is content with sullying his reputation to protect the city.

This movie is so dense, there's so much to unpack and the only way to do that is by rewatching except that my brain and guts are still in hiding. Compare this to the other movie I saw this weekend, Hellboy II, which was utter crap and so surface that I nearly walked out of the theatre. Except that I'm a cheap bastard. With wanton destruction that doesn't have meaning and no character development. What ever doubts I have about Zack Snyder, I'm glad Guillermo del Toro isn't doing the Watchmen movie after seeing this junkpile. Unlike Ironman, which struck a great balance between being over the top and smart alecky with some political notes thrown in, Hellboy was empty calories.

So Christopher Nolan, I salute you. You took the ugly and made it not glamorous but somehow more real, infusing it into our ids and unconscious corners of our brains. You left several men puddles of whimpering fear and you managed to question whether might makes right, the age old quest since the days of Arthur. You did it with pretty good cinematography and using the lie of makeup and the art of shadow, you've revealed the truth. Our nation's underside is base and depraved and if we don't watch it we're going like Nero.

Now if only I could sleep without fear!!!!


Friday, July 18, 2008

Yellow Sticky Notes

Spotlight on Jeff Chiba Stearns' animated short "Yellow Sticky Notes" which I just saw on youtube. It's a simple yet refined personal history told through to do lists and art but it blends in 9/11 and the subsequent wars as well as some political commentary on global warming and hurricanes/ tsunamis. Short, eloquent and sweet, it was a joy to watch. Thanks for adding a bright note to my day, youtube and Jeff!

PS: Jeff happens to a hapa and mixed race advocate of Japanese Canadian descent.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I am surprised that anyone is reading my blog nowadays but the fact remains. For awhile, I was really addicted to the high of seeing the readership spikes, and it was going up at an alarming level. But now I am back to writing for myself, plain and simple.

Return to the simple. This is what I need. A reduction, not unlike in cooking, of all my wasted time and thoughts and energies.

some perspective

On the New Yorker cover, which I do think is stupid and in terrible taste. Ambinder (who I read precisely because he both is part of the media decision-making circle and yet has some perspective for a DC insider) says:

Fake Crisis v. Real Crisis

14 Jul 2008 03:11 pm

So the New Yorker is headquartered in Conde Nast's Times Square palace. A few blocks away are the sturdy skycrapers housing Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. And other banks that are going bust.

The financial system continues to unravel, rapidly for itself but slowly for our news cycle, which I guess confuses everybody.

And we're in a tizzy over a magazine cover?

I think this is spot on analysis. As usual. I guess I read Ambinder because for a political journalist, he seems more willing than most to draw aside the curtains and to talk about how the sausage of media-constructed stories are made:

Outrage is often phony; major campaigns contrive their outrage precisely for effect. (When I ask about these contrivances, I am told that they are "part of the game.") But outrage is often phony even if it seems real. Phony outrage is outrage for the sake of feeling outraged; it's a comfortable outrage, an outrage that serves to reinforce feelings of solidarity and get rid of feelings of dissonance. Outrage is a covering emotion, like its close cousin, self-righteousness. We love to be offended. We love to feel affronted.

Everyone is so outraged, outraged, outraged all the time that we're defining outrage down. If our outrage meter hits 10 at every conceivable sleight or remark, then when something really outrageous happens -- something truly morally despicable or cowardly takes place -- we're numb. Outrage moves votes and changes opinion. But if everything's outrageous, then nothing is.

And that's outrageous.
Astute and apt.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rebuilding; or Sink/Swim

Our country desperately needs to go through a time of healing and rebuilding. The Bush presidency has left some very deep wounds which would take time or a magician to heal.

And Barack Obama is no magician. He even tells us this with his flaws and foibles. He is, after all, only human, as I must remind my eager and naive friends. He is not only human, he is a politician, and he has to win. As any good community organizer knows, you must always hold the elected officials accountable - even when they are your friends, even when they come out of community organizing.

I also want to say something about my own rebuilding process. I have not been blogging recently because I have been trying to process things in the personal arena:

How do you know when you have it all?
How do you know to be happy with what you have?
How do you maintain and grow?

Losing friends is always hard - it feels like a breakup of some sort. Good friends understand that you need time and distance to heal as well. I went through a do I call? When do I call? Does making the first move mean that I am at fault?

And what I am slowly coming to realize is that yes, I am more at fault and I need to take responsibility for that. Perhaps it was never a tenable situation because even when we were younger I never felt like we were equals. But we were. It has to do with how people perceive us - the light and the dark. The tall and the short. The loud and the reflective.

I had to grow, and so did she. Part of why it's hard is because I don't even know if she ever felt like it was unequal. (No, that's not fair.) I know she has learned from me and I from her, and that part of my lack of confidence in myself and my words actually dates back to 3 years ago when I lost respect for myself. I could cry and say that I am damaged goods because of that, irreparable. I could feign courage (and that would be a start because I am in a very defensive position and have been retreating) but I think I owe myself the honesty of saying I don't know. To somewhere somewhere where it won't hurt a loved one.

I don't know if I have the strength to change. To keep on fighting. And this is not even about -- rather, is not just about expectations. My expectations for myself, other people's expectations that I be the passionate leader and trail blazer.

It is about acknowledging that yes, things have happened in that past. Childhood memories and patterns are imprinted upon us like whisper weave gauze, filming how we see the world. Underneath, we are totally visible to the world, lace brides of extinction.

And yet the dreamy blur that we see through, always coated, always there. I have been taught since childhood to maintain face. To follow instruction.

Then I untethered myself to chart a new course. I subverted the model and walked my own path, a rarer path than most. Do I say this with some small amount of rebel's pride? Yes, because I have walked it and made it work for me. It's like putting on some spike-heeled shoes and finding out midway through that they are actually the most comfortable pair of Docs. That contrarian's knowledge was my battleship plating on some if not most days.

But now I find myself unmoored.

At all previous points, I have found safe harbors in unknown waters. Full of drive and curiosity, I have created safe havens, lit by the fire of escaping someone else's preconceived or pre-defined destinies. Now I feel as though my engine's sputtered. And I know I am merely drifting.

It is too easy to dissemble and pretend that I haven't lost my moorings. That everything is okay. I do, and I can, passably. But I am not a good enough actor and so sometimes I am too brutally honest. People prefer the solace of little white lies.

I've become adrift precisely because I can. Because I have that privilege. It's weird and disturbing and I don't want to think about what that means. I've grown up fighting for people without much and now I can simply coast. And my tremendous guilt is what's allowing me to run along on the back of the wind. But winds change, and I don't wanna be stuck in the middle of the ocean, miles from nowhere and short on supplies.

I need to go back to being resourceful.

To take this empty space and to figure out how to reinvent myself. To focus if nothing else on what I like, what I excel at, and where the twain meet. To figure out who I am and why I have come this far. I cannot be a good person, friend, activist, lover without doing some of this hard work. No one else is going to do it for me. The self-induced emotional flagellation has to stop. The growing has to start.

And I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I am afraid to rebuild. My battleship's a shambles and taking on water. My immigrant parents would be ashamed that I can't fucking decide if I want to sink or swim.

Typical - I am half-heartedly dog paddling.


Friday, July 11, 2008

McCain's appeal to Latinos

Senator McCain put out a new video today highlighting the accomplishments and patriotism and faith (damn, how's that for a grand slam?) of Latino immigrants.

Curiously, toward the end, it cuts away to a shot of Tom Tancredo. Marc Ambinder thinks that this is an example of dog whistle politics signaling to Latino voters that he is willing to challenge his party's orthodoxy and extreme bigotry. I'd agree.

It's a pretty effective ad that ties together Vietnam vets with Iraq and Afghanistan vets who are not even green card holders. The final quote:

"So let's, from time to time, remember that these are God's children. They must come into our country legally but they have enriched our culture and our nation as every generation of immigrants before them."

Quite artfully said and an appeal to Christian values as well as the politics of the Church. With more and more churches now joining the sanctuary movement, and with bishops playing key roles in the immigrant rights movement, a clever way to appeal to two constituencies. The words and imagery stir even this cold jaded heart. Is this a sign that with Steve Schmidt ascendant that the McCain ship is somewhat righting itself, or just that Ken Mehlman's brand of outreach to traditional Democratic bases (Mehlman was notable for apologizing in 2005 to the NAACP convention for use of racial politics) is on the upswing. I would give more credence to the latter, and this thought also lends additional weight to Ambinder's hypothesis that it's Melhman's proteges, not Rove's who are now controlling the McCain campaign.

Rove was not known for the "you attract more flies with honey than vinegar" approach - if anything he delighted, as Mark Penn still does, in dissecting and chopping off pieces and fingers and toes of the American people - segmenting into infinity. An ad like this that deliberately calls out to the Latino community is something that Mehlman would have done, if nothing else to minimize the percentage of Latinos who vote Democratic.

And it's a smart move - it's too late to go after African American voters but not too late to wedge Latinos, although that window of opportunity is fast closing as immigrant communities come to find out more about Obama and welcome him increasingly.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pump and dump: CocoRosie and Tha Pumpsta

Full disclosure: I was going to start out writing a post about CocoRosie given their slobbering review in the NYT Mag. I was all set to hate it, and I wound up liking it especially songs like "By Your Side" that reminded me of a mix of Bjork, Ani DiFranco and Cocteau Twins. Then I listened to "Jesus Loves Me" featuring the lines:

Jesus loves me
But not my wife
Not my nigger friends
Or their nigger lives
But jesus loves me
That's for sure

Do I get the irony in that? Yes. Do I get the Christian imagery in said irony? Yes, but I can't really get behind it. Nigerian Boy says it better about a different song of theirs, "Armageddon":
I get irony, I get reverse psychology, I even get shock for shock sake, but I don't get this; and what sucks is I enjoy them otherwise, and now I can't listen, I just can't. I'm not even trying to be poetic with this entry, I tried trust me to understand this song, but it always hit me the wrong way, as a person of color it's pretty hard to find any value in those lyrics, it leaves me cold and lost and alone, particularly because of the song's musical setting.
And now that I have all that off my chest, I finally figured out who Bianca Casady sounds like - it had been bugging me for a while. Yes, it might be shocking to folks that Bianca Casady's voice might grate. But, SHE SOUNDS LIKE ADAM SANDLER!!!!!

- - - - - - - -

I just had a collective brain shudder reading about and subsequently listening to the so-called music of "Tha Pumpsta", a 25 year old kid originally from Atlanta who now runs dances in Williamsburg (where else?) Brooklyn marketed under the name "Kill Whitie!"

It's all in the name of ironic hipster fun, though you hear? And even though the parties are promoted on flyers featured headless big-bootied black women, saying things like "free admission to anyone with a bucket of chicken," well, I had to go check out this guy's music and website. And it is all terribly bad.

Really bad music - just noise signaling nothing. If you don't believe me, check out the video on his site. It features him grinding an African American woman and closes with him gnawing and gobbling fried chicken in a very disturbing gut-churning fashion that matches the lyrics. And yes, I went to his myspace page. I listened to 3 songs, which was as much as I could bear. I listened to Sallie Mae out of interest, thinking that it might at least be an ironic yuppie take on foreclosures but "Sallie Mae, I don't wanna play . . . . You can't play you can't play you can't play, you can't walk away" is technically accurate and yet a third grader's understanding.

Basically, his schtick reminds me of these guys who started up a "humor magazine" that later crashed and burned because they tried to write satirical pieces about race. These were white boys who were mega wealthy and rather poor writers. As with everything, it's in the execution. If they had been really great writers, they might have gotten less flak.

(If you're waiting for the connection here between CocoRosie and Kill Whitie, Bianca enjoys going to Kill Whitie parties and was interviewed by the Washington Post:

Bianca Casady, a multiply-pierced woman with a scalp divided between long dark hair and a buzz cut, grabs her female friend by the hips and shakes her like a blender. She steps outside, catches some fresh air and talks about the party.

"It's about being nasty, people come to grind on each other," said Casady, 23. "It's like friends being sexual with each other."

Casady was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., but quickly notes her worldliness by listing the cities where she has lived along the trail to Brooklyn. A regular Kill Whitie partygoer, she tried the conventional (that is, non-hipster) hip-hop clubs but found the men "really hard-core." In this vastly whiter scene, Casady said that "it's a safe environment to be freaky."

Brainwashed has the takedown at CocoRacist, You're so Worldly, How's Mom's Audi?)