The soft sell

By: on 26 May 2006

All the "Mohammads, Patels, Shahs, or Rameshchandrans" (see vlc's post below) that graduated this week will want to know: What's the hottest skill in the IT sector these days? According to Fortune Magazine senior writer Annie Fisher, the market is growing for techies with "soft skills." She cites to the CEO of an IT staffing firm:

"Companies now want tech people who interact well with the rest of the organization - talking to customers, understanding where tech projects fit into the overall corporate strategy, and so on. The days when IT staffers and managers could just be technical wizards with bad people skills are over."

I want to juxtapose that forecast with this more-or-less popular image of the South Asian IT professional in the US. This is the caricature, of course, used rather obtusely for a Cisco Systems commercial this year. You know the one where the old white man exec comes down to the coolie and asks about network security and the coolie goes all toothy/Yess-Boss in explaining how network security works and the exec gets flustered about "technical jargon"? It's the kind of nonsense that passes these days--stereotypical and ignorant even of the IT sector's own self-concept, but still somehow marketable.

Besides the fact that I feel like vomiting everytime I see it, the commercial may suggest a murky reality about the reborn tech business: free market racism.

Here’s to the Class of 2006!

By: on 26 May 2006

Today I attended my older brother’s graduation commencement ceremony for his Master’s of Engineering degree from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Maybe I’m late on calling out this one and maybe my family and I shouldn’t have been shocked by this, but really it was kind of mind blowing: Just about every graduating advanced degree and doctor of philosophy candidate was of South Asian origin—I attempted to count out the brown names on the conferral of degree roster so I could provide accurate statistics and drive my point home even stronger, but it had a dizzying effect. And the few who weren’t Mohammad’s, Patel’s, Shah’s, or Rameshchandran’s were a mix of East Asians, Latinos, Arabs, and a few Russian immigrants. Following an agonizing couple of hours of the announcer mispronouncing Asian names (or slaughtering as my brother put it) the Castle Point lawns were overwhelmingly filled with shalwar kameez and sari-clad women, hijabis, sardars, nana’s and dadi’s, and little brown children running around for picture perfect photo-ops against the Manhattan skyline. So, when my brother’s wife turned to me and asked, “Do you think this diversity is making the founders of this school turn over in their graves right now?,” I really got started thinking.

With Google by my side, I started doing some digging. Many of you may be familiar with the humble yuppie-esque waterfront town of Hoboken, NJ: singer and actor Frank Sinatra was born here, the Oreo cookie originated right on Washington Street, Benny Tudino's is the proclaimed “home of the largest pizza slice,” and fictional Harold and Kumar of 2004’s Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle resided here. So, let’s talk about the history you don’t know.

Hoboken was originally an island, surrounded by the Hudson River on the east and a swamp at the foot of the New Jersey Palisades on the west. It was used seasonally as a campsite by the Lenni Lenape Native Americans until they fell victim to war, disease and forced migration brought by Europeans in the 17th century. The name Hoboken is derived from the original Lenape name for the area “Hobocan Hackingh” or “land of the tobacco pipe.” The Lenape made their pipes from the soapstone of Castle Point. The name Hoboken could also have been derived from the name of a town in Belgium: Hoboken, Antwerp. The city of Antwerp was a major harbor in the 17th century.

Saving Lives or Entrapment?

By: on 25 May 2006

A Pakistani immigrant was convicted Wednesday of charges he plotted to blow up one of Manhattan's busiest subway stations in retaliation for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.A federal jury in Brooklyn deliberated two days before convicting Shahawar Matin Siraj of conspiracy and other charges. He faces up to life in prison.

The defense had sought to portray Siraj, 23, as an impressionable simpleton who was lured into a phony plot by a paid informant eager to earn his keep. Prosecutors disputed that claim, arguing that even if it was not the defendant's idea to bomb a subway station, no law-abiding citizen would have gone along with it.

So reads the introduction to an AP story on Shahawar Matin Siraj. He is now on a path to spend years in prison (if he survives), and his prime years of adulthood--possibly his entire life--are ruined, though no one has alleged, to my knowledge, that he has actually committed any violent acts. As a result, I think it's important to look carefully at the process that led to this result. Here it is, according to the article cited above:

Authorities said Siraj had no affiliation with known terrorist organizations. Instead, he caught the attention of the informant, Osama Eldawoody, and an undercover police officer with his anti-American rants at an Islamic bookstore where he worked. Eldawoody, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Egypt, and the Bangladesh-born undercover officer both testified for the government. Elwoody had been assigned by the New York Police Department to identify and monitor Islamic extremists in the city's Muslim neighborhoods following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks....

Testifying in his own defense last week, Siraj said he never had a violent thought before he fell under the spell of the 50-year-old Eldawoody. He said the older man became a mentor and instructed him that there was a fatwa, or religious edict, permitting the killing of U.S. soldiers and law enforcement agents. Eldawoody had himself talked about "blowing up the buildings and blowing up the Wall Street places," the defendant said. He admitted taking steps to attack the subway station, but only after the informant inflamed him by showing him photos of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

If what Siraj is saying is true, what happened is that an angry young man was used by an older police informant, who instigated a proposed bomb plot through emotional manipulation, ideological grounding, and other means. According to a Newsday Daily News article, just days before the planned event, he said that he needed to "ask my mom's permission."

Attention All South Asian Women!!

By: on 24 May 2006

Whether you identify as a bisexual, gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, or questioning woman, and whether you are settled in or have close cultural ties with Bangladesh, Fiji, Nepal, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, or any of the places mentioned here (and probably more), South Asian Sisters wants to hear from you! Since 2003, each year we have held an annual production called Yoni Ki Baat ("Talks of the Vagina" in Sanskrit) with a fresh new script, and this year we need YOU to help write it! You do not strictly have to write about your yoni or about cultural issues (or their intersection); anything ykbyou want to say about your body, gender, or sexuality is fair game. Our shows have always ended up being a good mix of disturbing, infuriating, sexy, hilarious, raw, and heartbreaking. You can read up on some YKB background in these articles from Sapna Magazine and SAMAR.

Not only have South Asian Sisters produced the show in Berkeley, San Francisco, Davis, and Stanford, California, but women from several universities have also adapted our script for local productions at Rutgers, UC Santa Barbara, and U Michigan. So if you submit a piece and we are able to accept it, chances are your voice will be heard far and wide. Ideally, this will become a nationwide Desi campus movement as an empowering alternative to that repressed sleazefest known as SASA. ;(

But don't let your potentially vast audience intimidate you! You do not have to be a professional writer to submit a piece; the whole point is to validate your experience and put it out there for others to identify with, perhaps, and moreover to absorb. You are free to submit your piece anonymously for any reason, but be assured that most of the people who submitted have not been professional writers, nor the performers professional actors (you don't have to perform your own piece, btw; we have a form that we'll send you so it will all make sense -- and if you don't want to write but do want to perform, be on the lookout for announcements about that as well!).

The official call for submissions follows (or you can get it here):

That Makes 12 Of Us

By: on 24 May 2006

Have some post-Communist "simple table" wine with your roti. Our cousins do:

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Monkeys and apes in Budapest's Zoo drink their way through 55 litres of red wine each year, albeit in small quantities each day, to help boost their red blood cells, the zoo said Monday. Budapest Zoo spokesman Zoltan Hanga said it was the 11 anthropoid apes who drank most of the wine in 2005. "Obviously, they do not have it all at once and get drunk, but they get it in small amounts mixed in their tea," Hanga said. "And it's not Eger Bulls Blood or some expensive wine that they are getting but simple table wine, as it's mainly good for their blood cells." Bulls Blood from the town of Eger in northeast Hungary, became one of eastern Europe's best-known wines under communism.

Lakireddy v. Kaavya: Who's the Veritable Brown Villain?

By: on 23 May 2006

lakireddy bali reddyI just typed "Lakireddy Bali Reddy" into Technorati, and it returned a scant twelve posts, several of which are completely unrelated to the case I will discuss shortly.

Then just for the hell of it, I typed in "Kaavya Viswanathan," and got back three thousand, two hundred and twenty-three posts. And keep in mind many people wouldn't have spelled her name correctly.

I know it can be fun to trash a young brown sister who almost became a remarkable overnight success, but are we really that much more schadenfreude than we are sincere? Because if our motivation in obsessing over "Kaavyagate" was really to put down the collective axe on bad brown behavior, I think the tale of Reddy and his heinous crimes of power and exploitation -- along the lines of gender, age, class, caste, and immigration status -- would have made the rounds in a big way starting about six years ago, such that his Defense would have absolutely no case in the hearing that occurred on Monday.

Super-size my harmony, please

By: on 21 May 2006

McDonald's has gone nationwide with its latest trendfitted menu addition: the Asian Salad. The posters have come like a wave over my daily radius here in The Nation's Capitol. Massive signs on my horizon tell me to "Seek flavor, find harmony." I look at the food-porn money shot of glazed chicken strips tangled in hypercolor mandarin oranges and and snow peas. Of course, almost immediately I feel the pangs.

"Letter To A Middle-Aged Theocrat"

By: on 20 May 2006

You may have heard that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran recently wrote a long (18 page!) letter to the President of the United States. A number of media sources have noted that this was the first official communication from an Iranian head of state to a U.S. head of state since the Revolution.
Here's how it begins:

For some time now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena - which are being constantly debated, specially in political forums and among university students. Many questions remain unanswered. These have prompted me to discuss some of the contradictions and questions, in the hopes that it might bring about an opportunity to redress them.

Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ (PBUH) [praise be upon his name], the great Messenger of God, feel obliged to respect human rights, present liberalism as a civilization model, announce one's opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs [weapons of mass destruction], make war on terror his slogan, and finally, work towards the establishment of a unified international community - a community which Christ and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern, but at the same time have countries attacked; the lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed and on the slight chance of the ... of a ... criminals in a village or city, or convoy, or for example the entire village, city or convoy, set ablaze. [source of text] [scanned pdf of translation]

Initial reaction in the U.S., was, well, not all that illuminating. The Wall Street Journal Ed. Board, in an editorial entitled "Crazy Mahmoud," said that "as a psychological comparison, the Unabomber's manifesto comes to mind." Fred Kaplan in Slate called it "a bizarre document" and "daffy," saying that "Condoleeza Rice is right to say that it fails to address any of the issues on the table." He also endorses the WSJ's Unabomber comparison (though he does call for a response).

The "village simple" question

By: on 19 May 2006

Flipping channels to start my day, I find Lisa Ray sitting pretty--really pretty, I mean completely mag, in a fuschia spring dress radiating into my sleepy cortex--on the set of some MTV morning show. Possibly "Video Wake Up," more possibly "The Big Ten." (Funny name for an MTV show: here's why.)

It's always a wake-up moment when someone you associate with a (vague) noble-political-artistic vision shows up next to a VJ on MTV.

The Honda Civic Si: Revolutionary Just like the Tamil Tigers

By: on 18 May 2006

For those of you who haven’t noticed, British Sri Lankan artist M.I.A. is becoming kind of a big deal—or at least she’s pervaded my world. In the last year she’s ended up all over NYC—Summerstage 2005 with DJ Rekha, flying in for “talks” with hot shot Brooklyn MC Jay-Z because he heard good things (which landed her on the cover of New York Magazine)—and even in my own humble Washington Square Park, I overheard some British tourists asking a rasta musician if he had heard of her, because “her music is just really cool.” But really, what’s not to like? She’s a bubble-gummy sweet brown girl with revolutionary attitude who can’t dance but remains forever sexy in her mismatched fluorescent-bright leggings and hoodies. And those beats—ragga, bhangra, whistles, calls to revolution, electronica and whatever else—blend together to create the best party-up tracks.

But this story gets so much more complex. Not too many New Yorkers can even locate Sri Lanka on a map or tell you anything about the country beyond some fuzzy backwash from tsunami news. And if we’re starting on such weak ground, what happens to our consciousness when the Sri Lankan Tamil-Sinhalese conflict gets glorified in a one-sided way through the voice of M.I.A. (and essentially used as a marketing tool by her A&R and image-shapers)? Check it,

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