Current events


New Girl Talk album, Feed the Animals, allegedly coming tomorrow or Thursday. Sweaty dance party ahoy! Pitchfork has a great interview with Gregg Gillis on the release, digital distribution, and fair use/sampling. 

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

On Oct. 27, 1984, a headline on Page 14A in The Plain Dealer read: “Disgusted judge gives repeat offender 30 years for rape.”

The story followed standard newspaper protocol: In it, the victim was anonymous.

In this version, the victim has a name. I am Joanna Connors, and I am telling the story I kept private for 23 years. I’m doing it for all of the others who have survived sexual assault in silence, ashamed and afraid to tell their stories

Such an interesting story and compelling presentation — and a testament to the continuing power of the stodgy old “mainstream media.”

The Indian Express reports that the Indian Railways will pilot voice and data connectivity in trains between Ahmedabad and Mumbai; liveblogging about the difficulty of managing one’s bodily functions on a squat toilet with a malfunctioning lock soon to follow.

I kid, but it isn’t funny: women in India face significant challenges, and too often, it seems, issues like gender parity fall by the wayside as the country focuses on its spectacular economic growth, etc.

It’s probably just lip service, but it is heartening to hear the country’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, thrusting the issue into the public eye. In a speech Monday, Singh said, “We are an ancient civilisation and we call ourselves a modern nation. And yet, we live with the ignominy of an adverse gender balance due to social discrimination against women built into our societal structures. … Our record in female literacy is far from satisfactory as the last Census recorded only 54% female literacy in the country. The last Census again showed a declining child sex ratio. This is a national shame and we must face this challenge squarely here and now. It indicates that growing economic prosperity and education levels have not led to a corresponding mitigation of the problem.”

For a good primer on the social status of women in India, I’d suggest the Bridge “India Gender Profile” (PDF). The Wikipedia page on women in India, though of debatable quality, also surfaces a number of issues and provides a bit of historical context.

Highly recommended: “Working Life (High and Low),” by Steven Greenhouse, adapted from Greenhouse’s book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, which weighs the challenges workers face across the country. This article excoriates Fed Ex’s ill treatment of a woman who was fired when she requested a leave of absence to battle cancer for the third time; it lauds Patagonia and employers like it that offer employees flex time and attractive health-care and other benefits.

Unintentionally laughable: “Bear Stearns’s New Hires Become Job Seekers,” by Louise Story. Poor unemployed MBAs; use that $50,000 signing bonus, which you get to keep though you won’t actually perform any work, to keep you warm. An excerpt:

They polished résumés; they sweated interviews; they landed dream jobs. But now a small group of college and business school students are discovering that their careers at Bear Stearns ended before they began. JPMorgan Chase, which bought the beleaguered investment bank last month, rescinded many of their job offers.

Yashoda Khandkar, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is among 250 Bear hires who now find themselves unemployed in one of the worst financial job markets in years.

“The worst part about the entire situation is that it’s a really hard market for us to look for other jobs,” Ms. Khandkar said. “We probably can’t get as good of jobs as we would have had.”

Ivy Leaguers like Ms. Khandkar have more options than most, of course. And for now few of them have mortgages, unlike millions of Americans who are struggling just to pay the bills.

But instead of starting new jobs at Bear, these students are now hunting for work along with a growing number of bankers and brokers.

God, imagine if they actually had to suffer injustices like … oh, not having money to put food on the table, or needing to apply the welfare … or going to a state school!

(Image: Informal close-up photo of Blanche Stuart Scott circa 1960; Scott was a pioneer aviatrix of the 1910s and was the only woman taught to fly by Glenn Curtiss. She was also the first U.S. woman to fly solo. Photographer unknown; released on Flickr by the Smithsonian Institution.)

The Smithsonian just released 6,288 images that appear to be in the public domain; they’re now available on Flickr. And they’re pretty damn cool — there are images grouped in categories ranging from Muybridge cyanotypes to uniforms, mining to structures, and a whole lot more.

Gosh, these Internets: There’s really something to ’em. In addition to the dizzying array of historoporn, a letter from public.resource.org outlines three goals related to making the images available:

  1. The unwieldy archive of low-resolution images on the Smithsonian site makes it hard for people to ascertain the public domain status of the vast majority of these images. By placing the database on sites such as Flickr and in convenient-to-examine PDF and tarball formats, we hope that the Internet commnunity is able to form a better judgement.
  2. Some images are clearly in the public domain and of immense public importance. For these images, our nonprofit organization is attempting to systematically purchase these images and place them on the net for use without restriction.
  3. We would like to see the Smithsonian adopt a policy for on-line distribution that is much more closely aligned to their mission, focusing on vastly increasing the store of public domain materials available on the Internet.

Here here!

Resist! … by knitting? Indeed: Yarnbombing, it’s totally hip. Or something. And if you’ve got a great idea for “handcrafted textile street art” (see example above), you could even get published. Woot. Knitta Please has lots of great ideas to get you started.

Incidentally, I find these sorts of cultural interventions much more interesting than the increasingly obnoxious national conversation on feminism vis-a-vis Hillary. Am I dragging down the cause because I prefer the power of reimagining an activity traditionally associated with female isolation in the domestic sphere to campaigning for a candidate merely because we share the same type of genitals? Is my resistance too passive, and thus, in the most pejorative sense of the term, too feminine?

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The miracle baby that was saved after falling through an Indian train’s toilet was just the tip of the iceberg: Now there’s another miracle baby in India, a child born with two faces and four eyes. IBNLive reports that some are now worshiping the girl as a god.

I sometimes verge toward holding our fucking idiot president responsible for the fact that two of my brothers have risked their lives in the Middle East numerous times, but I try to stay rational about it. But….this? Despicable. Unforgivable:

HuffPo: Bush “Envious” of Soldiers Serving “Romantic” Mission in Afghanistan.

This is not bull-fighting in Spain. This is men and women, putting their lives on the line, often not really believing in the mission, but doing it anyway, because they feel a sense of responsibility. This is our youth — often, our underprivileged youth — fighting and dying because they were told to fight, because they were told our idea of ourselves depended on them being there for us. It is fodder for tragic novels, for reflection, for analysis. But it is not romantic.

And if you are really envious, go there. Fight. Subsist on MREs. Point a gun at someone who does not speak your language and may hate you not because you’re American, per se, but because you’re in his country and have leapfrogged diplomacy for conflict. Put your life on the line. Then come back and do it all over again, because you feel you owe it to us, or because you have no better options, or because you feel adrift. But don’t patronize us with your fucking delusions of grandeur, your sepia-toned imaginings of a conflict you wrought and yet seem not to fully grasp.

(HuffPo blurb from Reuters article.)

Fascinating op-ed from the Times today: “Really dangerous liaisons,” by Tracy Quan, a former sex worker.

The Times of India reports, “[a] survivor-against-all-odds baby, the 1.4 kg girl … had a delivery through her mother’s womb into the toilet bowl of a running train and then right onto the tracks.” Nearly unintelligible prose notwithstanding, holy moley. That’s way more riveting than Georgia the subway cat.

A piece by Salman Rushdie, “The Shelter of the World,” ran in last week’s New Yorker, and while I didn’t find the story (a tale of Emperor Akbar and maybe-real, maybe-imaginary wife Jodha) as gripping as I have some of his work, one passage jumped out at me:

“The court was also full of foreigners, pomaded exotics, weather-beaten merchants, narrow-faced priests from the West, boasting in ugly, undesirable tongues about the majesty of their lands, their gods, their kings. When the Emperor showed her the pictures of their mountains and valleys they’d brought with them, she thought of the Himalayas and of Kashmir and laughed at the foreigners’ paltry approximations of natural beauty, their vaals and aalps, half-words to describe half-things. Their kings were savages, and they had nailed their god to a tree. What did she want with people as ridiculous as that?

They came in search of—what, exactly? Nothing of use. If they had possessed any wisdom, the inutility of their journeying would have been obvious to them. Travel was pointless. It removed you from the place in which you had a meaning, and to which you gave meaning in return by dedicating your life to it, and spirited you away into fairlylands where you were, and looked, frankly absurd.

Not sure whether it’s happenstance or by calculation, but Rushdie’s not the only person who’s got something to say about the erstwhile emperor. Jodhaa Akbar, a Bollywood flick billed as “a sixteenth-century love story about a marriage of alliance that gave birth to true love between a great Mughal emperor, Akbar, and a Rajput princess, Jodhaa,” debuted on February 15 and has been in the news ever since, not least because its historical accuracy has been called into question. The Times gave it a fairly good review, but people in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Sonepat, and Ambala will have to wait for pirated VCDs of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Cecil B. DeMille-esque grasp of cinematic grandeur.

The Times of India offers a fairly good precis of recent controversies related to Bollywood releases; the Hindustan Times also chimes in with analysis of the phenomenon.

Mass hysteria, the making of a mountain out of a molehill? Or a microcosm of a deep sense of unrest about (historical and contemporary) identity in India? I can’t say that I have any answers, or even insight. But Bollywood — and artistic expression, disciplined studies or street-level outpourings — does, however, seem like an important vehicle for understanding the subcontinent; I certainly find it, and the way people in the middle class interact with it, more enlightening than figures from the World Bank about the economy’s growth.

Additional links:
Bollywood literacy for the 1990s and today, a Berkeley course coordinated by Leena Kamat and Katherine Good
Hindi cinema: making meaning of a popular culture
Desi critics
Queering Bollywood
Bollywood as India’s cultural ambassador
Bollywood for the skeptical
Upperstall: a better view of Indian cinema
Bollywood fashion police
BollySpace 2.0
Beth loves Bollywood

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79 years of posters for Best Picture winners. Fabulous repository of images, from 1927-28’s Wings to 2006’s The Departed. Tuning in tonight?

Bonus: Link to a blog that presents a graphic of posters for this year’s best picture nominees: Juno, Atonement, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Michael Clayton.

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Foreign Policy posted an absolutely chilling audio clip, courtesy E. Benjamin Skinner, author of A World Enslaved, of a pimp selling a girl to a man in Bucharest for a used car.

I know there are arguments for legalizing prostitution, and perhaps adequate legislation could better address the problem of sex slavery better than a shadowy journalist type, a rogue armed with little more than a tape recorder, but … this is just it. The depths. Despair. Humanity dark as night.

1. “Actor Mammootty slaps fan,” Times of India, pointing to the below YouTube video as evidence of the arrogance of the Malayalam film star:

(OK, video won’t embed, so follow this link. And enjoy the rocking music.)

2. “MLAs see ‘vaastu dosh’ in MP Assembly,” The Indian Express — following the death of a local minister, legislators in the state of Madhya Pradesh are calling for vaastu experts to study the building and address any anomalies (vaastu shastra, for those of you not in the know, is vaguely reminiscent of feng shui in that it is an ancient science for determining the appropriate layout of towns and buildings — another contested space in the battle between tradition and modernity, “backward” and developed)

3. “After 14 years, dead railway employee’s kin yet to get compensation,” Times of India — ah, bureaucracy, isn’t it grand?

4. “Bird flu may kill badminton grand prix,” Times of India — I know I shouldn’t joke about the bird flu, but really, the first two grafs of this story struck me as absolutely absurd:

The bird flu outbreak may now cost India its first grand prix badminton tournament. In a formal letter sent to the Badminton Association of India this week, the International Badminton Federation (IBF) has threatened to cancel the India Open, thanks to the acute shortage of shuttlecocks in the country.Bird flu outbreaks in China had made India ban import of all premium goose feathers of Chinese origin to manufacture shuttlecocks.

5. “Lalu shifts three over bad food,” Times of India — again, the lead says it all:

Upset with a slew of events during his hectic visit to Karnataka on Monday, railway minister Lalu Prasad transferred two senior officials after giving them a dressing down.  The two officials … were punished because the minister was not satisfied with the food served on a special train from Tumkur to Bangalore.

Instead of wallowing in my current funk, I decided to take myself out on the town yesterday. The plan? Hit a few museums, eat some good food, and catch a bit of independent film.

Though it was abominably crowded because it was closing weekend, I saw Kara Walker’s exhibit at the Whitney. Fabulous. The large-scale silhouettes wrapped snaked around outsize walls; intimate watercolors, sketches accompanied by meditations on race, class, and gender captured on 3×5″ notecards, eloquently framed. By the time you read this, it’s likely finito, but if the exhibit travels elsewhere, I couldn’t recommend it more.

After, I wandered through Central Park (see picture, above), down Museum Mile, and took a quick tour of the Neue Galerie, where Gustav Klimt’s works are being exhibited. Gorgeous, but again, quite crowded, so I ducked into the gallery’s Cafe Sabarsky to clear my head over espresso (err, Grosser Brauner). It’s spendy, but between the heady Viennese brew and my slice of Klimttorte (chocolate ganache and several layers of dense hazelnut pastry), it’s well worth the premium.

 

Refreshed, I decided to head to the Lower East Side, having heard that there were some interesting events in Chinatown tied to the Lunar New Year. On February 9, a parade is on in Flushing (which is arguably New York’s more authentic center of all things Chinese/Korean/Asian).

More wandering ensued; then, feet wearied, I dropped into Bar Veloce for a tipple and a small bite. Excellent panini and red wine by the glass. Afterward, with a bit of time to kill, I decided to sample the appetizers at Madras Cafe. My judgment may have been clouded by the Kingfisher I knocked back, but the samosa chat was excellently spicy, and the idlis at least passable — a fitting end to a long, indulgent day.

I’ve seen some strange graffiti lately at my normal subway stop (V train represent!). It’s fairly juvenile, but it’s also somewhat disturbing, in what it may or may not expose about this community’s feelings about race, etc.

Above, a display ad for Sundance, with tagging in bold black hand that reads “Al Qaeda = a group of Muslims fooled into providing Bush, & those he works for, with an excuse to carry on the Prs [?].” Below, an ad for Bravo’s The Millionaire Matchmaker, tagged with “Uhm … let’s see … (1) Black guy, one-black girl … uhm … tough-one. Blacks together … (2) girls gay … everybody happy !!”

Interpretations? Juvenilia, or indication of some greater unrest?

About 10,000 tea stalls in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, are closed in protest of spiraling fuel costs — an interesting story in the context of global energy costs, etc.

The story I’ve linked to is quite short; I’ve only found mentions of the strike in The Hindu and IndiaInteracts.com, and the reporting is woefully insufficient. Are the stall owners being reactionary? Have long-time subsidies given way to what the government and/or regulators perceive as more “fair” pricing? How does this (or can this) contrast with the reaction of, say, Americans to higher gas prices?

Discuss.

 

An interesting review of Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became an Illness over at Spiked; an excerpt:

[T]he range of ‘healthy behaviour’ is being increasingly narrowed. ‘Our quirks and eccentricities – the normal emotional range of adolescence and adulthood – have become problems we fear and expect drugs to fix’, Lane writes. ‘We are no longer citizens justifiably concerned about our world, who sometimes need to be alone. Our affiliations are chronic anxiety, personality or mood disorders; our solitude is a marker for mild psychosis; our dissent, a symptom of Oppositional Defiant Disorder; our worries, chemical imbalance that drugs must cure.’

Also worth checking out is Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder.

The culturally specific treatment of mental illness (which in the U.S. seems to have manifested itself in the dogged belief that merely popping a pill can cure any ailment) is particularly stark if you’ve spent any time overseas. Combine that with the absolutely ridiculous prices of prescriptions (for example, in the U.S. — if I were not covered by insurance — I would pay about $400 a month for two prescriptions I’ve been taking for several years; in India, I could buy their generic equivalents for less than $5 a month), and it’s difficult not to be skeptical about the way in which we sketch the lines circumscribing normal and abnormal (albeit “treatable”) behavior.

(And, a postscript with a bonus link to an intriguing essay by Eric G. Wilson, “In Praise of Melancholy.” In addition to touching on some of the issues surfaced above, Wilson writes:

I for one am afraid that American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am concerned that to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful of our society’s efforts to expunge melancholia. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

Well, well said.)

The Times has a brief today about a man in Queens who has been charged with a hate crime. I suppose the racists are never known for having a nuanced grasp of the world, but it’s always dimly amusing to see yet more evidence of their ignorance.

 David C. Wood was charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after he shouted “Arab, go back to your country!” at 63-year-old Chadha Bajeet, a Sikh, and punched him in the face. Bajeet, who presumably ties a turban (as many Sikhs do), suffered a broken nose and jaw.

Violence against Sikhs in the U.S. isn’t new; particularly after 9/11, the visual cue provided by the turban has made the religion’s predominantly Indian adherents a rather easy target. From Congressman John Cooksey’s reactionary comment urging racial profiling after the terror attacks (“If I see someone (who) comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over”) to the Sikh Coalition’s exhaustive listing of hate crimes and bias incidents against Sikhs since then, discrimination is blatant and well-documented. But I still find it confounding: Really? You’re so threatened by this Other that you have to break a 63-year-old’s jaw? What did he ever do to you?

The subject gets me all het up, I suppose, is that my husband is Sikh; even though he doesn’t tie a turban, he has long hair and a beard, which means we are inevitably pulled aside at the airport for grilling and patting down. The worst that’s happened is a TSA official asking the hubby why he looked so fidgety; hubz remained calm and explained, “It’s the first time I’ll be visiting my in-laws at their family home.” But when you hear about random attacks in a neighborhood less than five miles from your own humble apartment, it’s easy to get a little paranoid.

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