Saturday, May 29, 2010

You're damned if you do...

Can immigrants ever truly be accepted by all the people of their new country?

Obviously, if a particular group is seen to cause trouble, this might be a barrier to acceptance. So logically, an ethnic group of high achievers who cause little trouble would be accepted easily, right?

Well, you'd think so. But it doesn't necessarily work out that way.

When people from an immigrant group are seen to commit crimes or do something to bring negative attention to themselves, you can hear the usual chorus of criticism.

"They aren't assimilating."
"They don't add any value to this country."
"They are uncivilised and incompatible with our national values."
"They will form ghettos."

Ok, fine. So what about when a migrant group makes a success of itself?

Take for example, the Chinese and Indian communities of Australia. There are almost 700,000 Australians who claim Chinese ancestry, and around 250,000 with Indian ancestry. Now obviously each community is diverse and contains all kinds of people from all walks of life, but both communities would have to be regarded as highly successful immigrant groups, by most measures.

While many Australians would view the stereotypical Indian job as a taxi driver or service station attendant, Indians are strongly over-represented in high-status fields such as medicine. They are much more likely than the rest of the population to have a degree, and to be working in a profession. Likewise, the success of Chinese-Australians in education is well-recognised. Check out last year's top year 12 scores in Victorian schools for specialist mathematics or chemistry, to take two obvious examples, and you'll notice the domination of Chinese surnames.

In both cultures, the strong emphasis on educational achievement, hard work, and the status gained by attaining a "good job", lead to success in many fields; witness the disproportionate success of ethnic Chinese in South East Asia compared to the indigenous populations. In Australia, both communities have a relatively low crime rate as well, when compared to that of the population at large.

This is not to say that the Chinese or Indian way is better than any other way - educational and economic successes are hardly the only measure of anyone's worth to their country. But by many of the criteria that is regularly used to attack some migrant groups (such as those from Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific), Chinese and Indians are therefore the ideal citizens.
So you might deduce then, that the same people who might criticise some communities for struggling to achieve, would heartily welcome migrants like the Indians and Chinese, who are prime examples of what is possible for those willing to go for it.

But no.

For "successful" migrants, the negativity is still there; except this time the complaints are different. This time, they are taking jobs and opportunities away from "real" Australians.

I've often heard the muttered accusation that Asian-Australian school students "cheat" by having tutoring outside school hours, or by eschewing sports or partying in order to study hard. Of course, this approach is not restricted to Asian students; any student wishing to get top marks needs to do this to some extent. It just so happens that Asian students make up a disproportionate amount of those top students. In any case, if this leads them to get the best marks and get accepted into the best courses and jobs, then so be it. Regardless of race, if I'm being treated by a doctor, or having my share portfolio managed by someone, I want it to be a person who is proven to be diligent and hardworking, rather than the one who was a good footy player in high school or who was the life of the party at age 16.

Check this post at the Herald-Sun for an example of how Asian students are viewed as a threat. It concerns one of Melbourne's best-performing schools, with a predominantly Asian student population (many of whose families have moved into the area in order to send their child to a good school). Many of the commenters see this as a threat. One describes it as a kind of genocide of white Aussies, under the guise of multiculturalism. Another wonders, "Where are all the Australian-looking kids?"

I wrote recently about a new selective high school in Mebourne, which accepts only students who pass an entrance exam. It is dominated by Chinese, Indian and Sri Lankan students - which indicates that their families are clearly putting a high priority on education. But over at the Oz Conservative blog, you can witness the paranoia that this signifies a grave threat to WASPS. Some suggest it means Asians need to be kicked out of the country.

So there you go, immigrants and children of immigrants; you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. You are either sponging off "our" country or stealing "our" jobs. If you don't sufficiently assimilate and perform by some arbitrary measure, you are a threat, a bludger, a dead weight. If you succeed, you are also a threat.

I'm not writing this some kind of love letter to Australia's Indian and Chinese communities. And neither am I an "open borders" kind of guy who thinks we should automatically let everyone in who wishes to come here. I'm just trying to point out that whatever basis people claim for not wanting "foreigners" in the country, it very often comes down to one simple reason: they don't like foreigners.

Friday, May 28, 2010

From around the interwebs...

Some random stuff to make you think about stuff...

Moonshine or the kids?
Writing from the Congo, NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof illuminates an uncomfortable truth about poverty around the world. In far too many cases, some of the world's poorest people spend far more of their incomes on alcohol, tobacco and other frivolities, than they do educating their kids. And the culprit is usually the man of the house. Give women control of the finances, and outcomes begin to look very different. There's a follow-up post on his blog, here.

The Basiometer: "stale" bules
A quirky article at Indonesia Matters.
"In short, Basiness [staleness] is that kind of icky feeling you get when you meet a Bule [white person] and you know and they know they've been in Indonesia too long."

Charities fear rise in acid attacks avenging slights on family honour
Acid attacks are on the rise in Britain. While this ghastly form of violence is usually associated with South Asian and Middle-Eastern cultures, it also takes place with some frequency in South East Asia, East Africa and the Caribbean. It is almost always associated with some kind of gender-based conflict or resentment.

Hollywood whitewash? 'Airbender' and 'Prince of Persia' anger fans with ethnic casting
You may have already heard about how upcoming film The Last Airbender has royally pissed off Asian-Americans with its casting of mostly Caucasian lead actors in a film clearly set in an Asian-inspired fantasy world. But consider also Prince of Persia, starring the decidely un-Persian-looking Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton in the lead role. Fortunately for us, director Jerry Bruckheimer is around to grant us a revisionist history lesson: “Persians were very light skinned,” he said. “The Turks kind of changed everything. But back in the 6th century, a lot of them were blond and blue-eyed.”
I can't say I was around then, but that sounds suspiciously like some BS to me.

Above: Two, um... "Persians"

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Forget the police... the ninjas are here to clean up the streets

Have we found the answer to all our law and order problems?

He looked like an easy target: a medical student sitting alone on a late-night train. The three men sidled up to the German student and told him to hand over his wallet. When he refused, they followed him off the train, trailing him as he walked past the hotel and pizza joint on Bringelly Road, Kingswood, in the city's west. When the student, who has asked not to be identified, turned down a dimly lit alley his pursuers thought their moment had come. It had, but not in quite the way they expected.

The men tripped the 27-year-old student, kicking him as he lay on the ground and grabbing his mobile phone and iPod. What the assailants did not realise was that they were standing outside Ninja Senshi Ryu - western Sydney's ninja warrior school. They also failed to notice a ninja, Nathan Smith, standing in the shadows outside the dojo. Mr Smith immediately alerted his sensei, or teacher.

Kaylan Soto, a sensei with 30 years' Ninjutsu training, and three of his students raced out of the dojo towards the startled attackers. All five crusaders were clad in the ninja's traditional, all black uniform.

''We would have been just a silhouette,'' one of the ninjas, Steve Ashley, said. ''It was probably the worst place in Sydney where they could have taken him.''

Mr Soto said it took the three assailants a few moments to realise what was going on. When they did, they shot off. ''You should have seen their faces when they saw us in ninja gear coming towards them,'' he said.
The ninjas gave chase, but the men escaped. Police yesterday said they had made arrests in relation to the attack. The medical student, who has been in Sydney for eight weeks on an exchange program, was left shaken but suffered only minor injuries.

As for the ninjas, they were back in training last night.

Nice work chaps. I must say I like the idea of a posse of ninjas saving the day and keeping the streets clean from thieving scum. Although I'm a bit disappointed that the muggers were somehow able to escape a beatdown; how fitting it would have been if the ninjas got all medieval Japan on their asses. Yet they escaped! I mean sure, if I saw a bunch of ninjas coming at me, I'd sprint like mad too. But come on you guys - you're ninjas. How are you gonna let some street hoodlums escape your clutches? Where are the throwing stars and poison darts?

But I guess they just don't make ninjas like they used to. I mean, judging from these photos I found on the Senshi Ryu website, these guys are just as fond of cooking up some BBQ as they are of handing out an ass-kicking.

I guess the modern-day shadow warrior needs a good work-life balance just like everyone else. Never saw anything like this in those old Kurosawa movies though.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Guess who's Asian? Part 7

Some folks spotted around the tube who you may not know were a bit Asian...

Singer/songwriter/producer Bruno Mars currently has the #1 pop hit in the US with Nothin' on You, his collaboration with rapper B.O.B. His real name is Peter Hernandez, and he was born in Hawaii to a Puerto Rican father and Filipino mother.

I can't say I've ever spent a great amount of time thinking about crooner Engelbert Humperdink; his music is probably more for my parents' generation. But if I did, I would have assumed he was German or something. Well apparently not; he named himself after a famous German opera composer. He was actually born Arnold George Dorsey in Madras (Chennai). His father was a British soldier stationed there. While Wikipedia tells me Humperdink is purely British in ethnicity, other sources describe his mother as being Anglo-Indian. (My friend Ruth de Souza, who is from Goa, claims his mother was Goan.) And as someone who has an eye for Indians (though primarily the female ones), I figure he has some Indian-ness about him, judging by his pictures.

I first spotted the quite lovely-looking Lourdes Benedicto on Dawson's Creek, when she played a temporary love interest of Pacey. Which of course begs the question: How the hell did Pacey get to be such a babe-magnet? It also begs the question of what the hell I was doing watching Dawson's Creek... but I digress.  The New York-born Benedicto is of Filipino and Dominican descent. You can also catch her right now in V, in which she is carrying Morris Chestnut's alien baby. Now that kid would be an interesting mix -  a blend of Filipino, Dominican, black and alien.

I have to say - and I say this with a record of unblemished heterosexuality - Will Demps is smokin' hot. Born to an African-American father and Korean mother, Demps had a 6 year career in the NFL as a Safety. Currently listed as a free agent, he seems to spend most of his time posing. And I don't blame him.

One of the interesting things about mixed-race actors is that due to their sometimes ambiguous features, they often end up playing characters of a diverse range of ethnicities. Thus in The OC, Navi Rawat character was named Theresa Diaz; in Castle her character was called Rachel Waters; while in Numb3rs, she plays a mathematician named Anita Ramanujan. (Her acting CV also reveals a role as "Ethnic Woman" in another movie.) Californian-born Rawat's father is Indian and her mother German.

If you've ever watched the best TV drama ever made, by which I mean The Wire, you would have noticed Sonja Sohn as no-nonsense lesbian detective Shakima Greggs. I first encountered Sohn in the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film Slam, which she starred in and co-wrote, based on her experiences in the slam poetry scene. Sohn is the child of an African-American father and Korean mother.

More like this - "Guess who's Asian?" part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6.

Guess the Ethnicity, part 1 and 2.

Yes, Eurasians are hot. Just ask science.

Interracial dating in the USA

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Much ado about burqas

One of the problems with much of the discourse about Islam in the Western World is that it is too often dominated by the extremes. Never mind the Islamic extremists - we know all about them - what I'm referring to are those with a racist and Islamophobic agenda.

This doesn't mean that anyone who argues against aspects of Muslim faith or what Muslims do is racist or Islamophobic, by any means. But unfortunately many are; which means that reasoned debate is often drowned out by ignorant ranting. There are undoubtedly some aspects of Islamic culture in the West that need debating and are worthy of criticism; however this needs to be done in a thoughtful and reasoned manner, rather than the "send them all back" mentality or "they are all terrorists" mentality that so often comes to the fore.

A prime example of this is the debate about the burqa and its place in Western societies. With both Belgium and France moving to ban the costume (which covers a woman's entire body and face), this is a hot topic right now. Here in Australia, shadow parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi raised some hackles recently by suggesting we ban it as well.

Among those opposed to the burqa are a strange collection of people. They include some moderate Muslims, feminists, average Joes, as well as rabid xenophobes. The obvious presence of the latter often means that opposition to the burqa is often dismissed as a manifestation of racism and Islamophobia. Which it sometimes is, but often is certainly not.

Personally, I am opposed to the burqa; I see it as inherently oppressive of women (even if some do choose to wear it), and the total covering of the face implies a kind of exclusion which is anathema to Australian culture. I don't see a problem in identifying certain values as crucial to a nation's identity, and saying that the wearing of a burqa is not compatible with them. That said, banning it would be problematic in practical terms. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and a ban may actually lead to further oppression of those women whose husbands force them to wear it; it may well mean they are unable to leave the home.

Of course, many argue, quite validly, that another key aspect of Australian values is that people can do and wear whatever they want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Which is fair enough; however I would also argue that the burqa sends a message about the treatment of women which IS actually harmful and unacceptable.

In any case, I don't see my opposition to the burqa as being grounded in racism or Islamophobia, and neither are many of the reasonable arguments against it I have read by Muslim women and feminists. To be against the burqa does not mean being against Islam or Muslims. Muslims are welcome in Australia, but like any other group, it is also reasonable to expect that SOME cultural or religious practices be left behind in order to comply with local laws and social norms.

However, that doesn't mean that the debate about the burqa isn't being stunk up by a bunch of moronic racist types though.

ABC's Media Watch last week highlighted a quite disgraceful segment on Melbourne radio station 3AW. The presenters debated the burqa issue, but one of them, John-Michael Howson, unleashed plenty of vile anti-Muslim prejudice. He then allowed callers to sound off not just about the burqa, but about Muslims in general. An invited guest on the program was Sherene Hassan, Vice-President of the Islamic Council of Victoria (who wears hijab but not a burqa). Yet Howson kept her on hold and refused to allow her to offer her point of view. Hassan would later say "In my 40 years as a Muslim woman, I have never felt so oppressed."

She was given a chance to speak on a later program on the station by host Derryn Hinch. Hinch slammed his colleague and friend Howson for his behaviour - you can read and listen to that here. Earlier, Hinch had also offered his own balanced take on the burqa issue here.

Blogger Jeff Sparrow at Overland offers another observation on how bigotry too easily takes over discourse about the burqa and similar issues. He reflects on the howling from some conservatives about Lebanese-American Rima Fakih being awarded the crown of Miss USA, based on some vague connections Fakih's family has to Hezbollah.

This outbreak of craziness is trivial in itself, except that it illustrates the ongoing pathologisation of Islamophobia... If Muslims cover themselves entirely, they affront Western values. If they assimilate sufficiently to dance in strip clubs, they’re hiding their real agenda. Muslims’ politics can be determined from their relatives, with Islam now a biological rather than religious category; Muslims are clannish conspirators, who behind the scenes secretly control everything, pulling the strings to shape beauty contests and scientific awards alike.

I'm know some of you reading this will disagree with my opposition to the burqa. And that's cool; feel free to argue with me about it. I don't think it's a simple black-and-white issue and I'm open to some persuasion. But my point is that we need to be able to do so in a logical and respectful way, and not simply recycling the same old unthinking hatreds.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nike's very cool new World Cup ad

If you are not a fan of the round ball game, forgive me if I start to get a bit hysterical about the upcoming World Cup. This blog is gonna get a dose of football fever in the next month or so. So get on board or ignore.

While I don't normally think that ads for multinational megacorporations need any extra publicity, I have to say this new Nike ad is pretty damn cool. It toys with the idea of how history is made by those brief moments of brilliance on the big stage.

The players featured here are Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Wayne Rooney (England), Franck Ribery (France), Kaka and Ronaldinho (Brazil) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). Unfortunately the ad's makers didn't reckon with Ronaldinho being shockingly left out of the Brazil squad.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Of geeks and gangsters: the "model minority"

Two stories made the news this week about young Asian people in Melbourne. The contrast between the two is interesting.

From the Herald Sun:


STUDENTS from non-Anglo Saxon backgrounds have snapped up most places at Melbourne's newest public selective school - and aspiration is the key. Children from Indian, Sri Lankan and Chinese families dominate classes at Nossal High in Berwick, which has just opened with 200 year 9 students.

Principal Roger Page said more than 80 per cent of the students were from non-Anglo Saxon backgrounds. "And that's because of the level of aspiration," he told the Herald Sun. "Some of the Sri Lankan, the Indian, the Asian communities are highly aspirational."

Mr Page said he'd been amazed to receive phone calls about enrolments from Sri Lankan families in Dandenong before building of the school had even begun.

"I said, 'We haven't even announced it yet. How do you know?' They said, 'Well, word has gone around the community. We're interested. We're really keen."'

Mr Page said it was possible that a smaller proportion of Anglo Saxon families had applied to enrol at selective schools, and that immigrant parents were more prepared to move or travel to enrol their children in such schools.

Students from Asian backgrounds often put in many hours of study, including Saturday morning language classes, Mr Page said.

The school was named after eminent scientist Sir Gustav Nossal, himself a migrant. Sir Gustav said the immigrant experience was behind such a striving for success.

"There's no doubt that back against the wall, kicked out of your own country, faced with this new environment, you try harder," he said. "Often the parents who come to a country as adults are sacrificing themselves for their kids to get a good education and so forth."

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Brian Burgess said society had to encourage all families to value education. Nossal High, located on the Monash University site at Berwick, is part of a $20 million State Government plan to build selective schools.

It wouldn't be surprising to anyone who knows Asian people. In many Asian cultures (particularly from North East Asia and South Asia) as mentioned above), a good education is the highest priority for young people. Thus people from these cultures are disproportionally represented among academic achievers; and thus at selective schools (for which you need to sit an exam to get in), Asians dominate. Thus, being more likely to be educated and earning a good income, Chinese and Indians are often considered "model minorities".

Then there is the other perception of Asian youth, also in the Herald Sun:

Editorial: ASIAN GANGS
POLICE fears of an Asian gang war, as revealed by the Herald Sun, call for an urgent response in the interests of public safety. A secret intelligence report, warning of "a significant incident" in Melbourne, shows the level of police concern following a spate of gang-related violence.
The report makes a number of recommendations, which not only demonstrate the need for a rapid response, but confirm that police have recognised they must involve schools in dealing with an alarming community issue. Schools are where gang members are often recruited, and where efforts can be most effective in stopping the spread of violence.

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland must re-establish an Asian squad, which was disbanded under the administration of former chief commissioner Christine Nixon. This can now be seen as a mistake that has frustrated police and robbed them of valuable intelligence on gang activities.

Although other ethnic groups are also causing concern in a rising culture of violence, it is Asian gangs that have been responsible for some of the worst incidents. Five gangs have been identified by police as being responsible for much of the violence, often at Asian "theme" nights, where gang members often clash.

Police are worried about the increasing use of weapons such as baseball bats and knives in gang warfare, sometimes in public parks and gardens.
The Herald Sun is concerned that innocent bystanders may be caught up in fights between gangs, and calls on Premier John Brumby to give Victoria Police the fullest possible support in dealing with a dangerous surge in street crime.

Now I'm in no position to say whether the Asian gang problem in Melbourne is really as serious as this newspaper is making out. I have however written here in the past about a common tendency to throw the word "gang" around whenever a group of "ethnics" are involved in something, whether or not they are actually a gang, in the true sense of the word. (You can read an article about this here.)

Note that the Asians mentioned in the first story are not necessarily the same variety as in the second story (who are more likely to be Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese background).

In any case, the newspaper has shown two different sides of the Asian-Australian community, good and bad. Which one do you think their readership will take more note of?

Well, the article about high-achieving Asian students did not receive any reader's comments, although it's hard to say how much that is an indicator of reader interest. But you could also say that despite the article being a great example of the immigrant success story, readers could also see it in a negative light; in other words, ethnics taking away places from "real" Australians.

By contrast, check this article about the gang problem, also from the Herald Sun this week, and witness the kind of comments left there:

A of Rushworth Posted at 3:06 AM May 20, 2010
Which idiot thought up multi-culturalism? Australia keeps on importing trouble which is then handed on to the next generations. What a pity that we no longer have 'head-in-the-sand' theorist Christine Nixon, to hide the actual Asian crime statistics.
Comment 1 of 42

Paula of Brisbane Posted at 6:30 AM May 20, 2010
Pauline Hanson you were so right.
Comment 15 of 42

R Posted at 6:41 AM May 20, 2010
Multiculturalism, you gotta love it - not.
Comment 19 of 42

Davo of Melbourne Posted at 7:13 AM May 20, 2010
I bet if they had Caucasian nights at nightclubs they would be banned because they are racist. So why are Asian nights allowed?
Comment 26 of 42

Lily of Melbourne Posted at 7:29 AM May 20, 2010
Send them all back from where they came from. This is NOT an Australian way of life. We DON'T want this here.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Comment 32 of 42

Now, given that Asians have been a significant presence in Australia since the 1970s (and much earlier in smaller numbers), there is a very good chance that many if not most members of Asian gangs are born in Australia. In which case, how do you send them back where they came from? And how many generations do Asians have to be here before they are recognised as Australian?

See also:

Define "race-based attack"

"Send them all back"... even if they are Australian

Working with refugee kids

The Muslim-ness of Obama's family, and what it has to do with his presidency

If Obama is some secret Muslim Manchurian candidate intending to help Islamize the world, clearly no one told one group of Muslim militants in Indonesia who, it was revealed this week, planned to assassinate him during his visit to the country.

Clearly they did not share the views of the 1 in 10 Americans who apparently believe their leader is a Muslim.

He's not. But it's worth asking - if he was one, would it make him a bad president? I think it's clear that if he admitted to being a Muslim, he wouldn't have gained the presidency. Many would still have voted for him, but enough people would have been scared off by the thought. It's enough that he is black; black AND Muslim would have been a bridge too far. But whether you like or dislike Obama, what he stands for and the decisions he has made, would he have done anything differently if he were a Muslim? While Obama is religious (Christian) he seems not to be especially zealous in his faith, or at least can separate doctrine from secular realities. So were he a Muslim, most likely his religiosity would be of a similar degree. Thus it would be unlikely that a theoretically Muslim Barack Obama would be any different a president than the real, Christian one.

Then there are those who, while not exactly thinking Obama is a Muslim, see his family background (which contains some Muslims) as being proof enough that he cannot really be trusted to be a good American.

This is from an article by conservative blogger David Goldman last month on what he sees as the Obama administration's reluctance to get tough on Muslim states:

I’ve been screaming about this for more than two years: Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

If that was just one idiot ranting on a blog, it wouldn't matter; unfortunately, Goldman's viewpoint is a common one amongst the anti-Obama brigade.

So how many f***ed up things can a seemingly intelligent person squeeze into one sentence?

Firstly, I'm not sure what Obama's mother's sex life has to do with his ability to be President; or more specifically his approach to the War on Terror. Secondly, Goldman reduces her (Ann Dunham's) two marriages to "going to bed with". Now I'm no expert, but I'm figuring that there was a little more to those relationships than just sex.

Thirdly - "Muslim Third World men"!?!? If a white American falls in love with a brown person from a country that is not as awesome as the US, then clearly there is something wrong with her. Why would she hook up with not one but TWO dark foreign people, when she had so many superior white men to choose from at home? It must be white liberal guilt, because there could be no other reason for it; it's not as if brown people could be attractive or anything.

The highlighting of the Muslim-ness of Obama's father and stepfather is telling, not just because of it's irrelevance, but because it shows how little many white folks on the Right actually know about the world outside their borders. Barack Obama Senior was nominally a Muslim - he had no choice in the matter since he was born to a Muslim father - but was in no way devout, and was generally acknowledged to have adopted an atheist outlook as a young man.

Lolo Soetoro, Obama Junior's Indonesian stepfather, was from all descriptions typically Javanese in his approach to religion. It is true that Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world, and the Javanese (it's largest ethnic group) are almost all Muslims. But Islam as generally practiced in Java is a world away from Middle Eastern Islam; it has many features of pre-Islamic traditions (Hindu, Buddhist and animist) and a huge percentage do not actively follow Muslim daily practices. Soetoro was also described as something of a drinker, who only sometimes went to the mosque; not the picture of a devout Muslim.

To the wingnut who can only see things in a simple way, Obama is a Muslim because his father and stepfather were Muslim, and he spent part of his childhood in a predominantly Muslim country. Of course, he spent vastly more of his life in a predominantly Christian country - the US. And while in Indonesia, he spent 3 years at a Catholic school and 1 year at a public school. So if you ever hear anyone claim that the young Obama went to a madrassa (fundamentalist Islamic boarding school), you'll know instantly that they don't know sh*t.

Whatever one's thoughts about Islam, one thing must always remembered: Muslims are not a monolith. All Muslims are not the same, and being a Muslim does not mean someone is dangerous. And being related to Muslims certainly does not mean someone is dangerous either.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The problem of when Western cooking shows go "Eastern"

I'm someone who loves his cooking, and loves his cooking shows. Be it The Naked Chef, Masterchef or Iron Chef, I watch my fair share. But despite whatever enjoyment this may give, in most culinary series there is a recurring theme that bugs the hell out of me.
It happens whenever a Western-trained chef attempts to cook food that is outside the Western European culinary canon. Simply put, 9 times out of 10 they demonstrate their ignorance about non-Western food.

Sometimes this is in the studio kitchen, and other times it is when the cooking show combines food and travel. In the latter case, inevitably, the celebrity chef goes to some exotic locale, eats some delicious food, meets the person who made it and then... makes his OWN version of the dish, which is almost always inauthentic in some way. Despite having a local expert available, the star of the show feels the need to flex their own cooking muscles, rather than allow someone else show the actual way of making it. Even some cooking shows that are amongst my personal favourites do this - The Hairy Bikers Cookbook and Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey are ones that spring to mind.

Now, most viewers will be unaware of the inauthenticity, but if you happen to be knowledgeable about whatever cuisine is being represented, you will find yourself cursing out your TV screen.

Here's the three most common ways they piss me off....


Ok, envision this. A TV chef visits China, and tries an intriguing-sounding dish from a street vendor, then raves on about how delicious and incredible it is. Ok, great so far. So, let's watch the vendor make it, and perhaps the presenter can give a commentary while it is being made. No. Instead, the star of the show wants to remind you that he is the star, and thus makes it himself. Or at least makes "his own interpretation" of the dish he just ate. Why? Why, if something is so delicious, do you want to mess around with it and think you can improve on it? If you can't figure out exactly how to make it, or don't know what exact ingredients to use, why not get someone else to do it?
You need to be able to walk before you can crawl, as they say. Likewise, before you start "interpreting" and "modernising" traditional dishes, you need to understand the basic rules of that cuisine. Which leads me to...


Whether or not Westerners really think Asians all look alike, most certainly seem to think Asian cuisines are all alike. They demonstrate this by using "Asian" ingredients from one cuisine in other cuisines where they would not normally exist. Below are some typical ingredients from specific cuisines that TV chefs tend to see as just "Asian":
Coriander leaves (cilantro) - common throughout South and Southeast Asia as far north as China. Does not normally feature in Korean, Japanese or Indonesian cuisine, but TV chefs often don't seem to know this. They throw it into recipes purporting to be from those countries, because it just seems Asian.
Sweet soya sauce (kecap manis) - this is really only used in Indonesia and Malaysia, yet in TV chef land it finds its way into allegedly Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese food as well.
Sweet chili sauce - I'm sorry, but any TV chef who uses this is most likely a hack.
Curry powder - if you ever see a TV chef put this in anything, be immediately suspicious. Curry powder as we generally know it is a creation of the British, and most definitely does not go into beef rendang or any kind of Thai curry. Most Indians don't even use the stuff.

As an example check out Ian "Huey" Hewitson's recipe for "Oriental Pork Kebabs with Miso Corn". He combines Japanese, Chinese and Indonesian ingredients to make something "Oriental". Now, I have no problem with the idea of fusion cuisine, if you want to argue that is what he is doing. My problem is that this happens almost every time a TV chef makes something Asian. And given the way that Asians are so frequently seen as all the same, this sticks in my craw. Particularly when the same chefs will be sticklers for what does and doesn't constitute proper French or Italian cuisine.


I remember once on the Australian cooking show Fresh, it's presenters Jason Roberts and Lyndey Milan announced they were going to make a Vietnamese-style chicken noodle soup, or pho. Anyone familiar with these dish (probably Vietnam's most famous dish) knows that it is pronounced a little like the English word fur. The hosts went about pronouncing it as poe. A small quibble, you may think, but surely if you are going to present something on nationwide TV, you would have even a vague idea of its pronunciation - it's not as if it's an obscure dish. Needless to say, whatever they made was certainly not pho, at least in the way a Vietnamese person would understand it.

Kecap manis (see above) is another term that routinely is mispronounced badly. The English word ketchup is derived from the Malay kecap, and they are pronounced roughly the same. Manis (meaning sweet) is pronounced mah-niss. So kek-cap manners, then is really wrong.

Am I being too fussy? I don't think so. I'm not going into anyone's home kitchen and telling them they are wrong for putting coriander leaves in a Balinese dish, or mispronouncing pho. What I'm annoyed about is people who are paid big bucks to be on TV allegedly because they are experts in their field. If they are going to carry on about how amazing the food is in Asia or anywhere else, they should at least treat that cuisine with a little respect and be knowledgeable.

Fortunately not all cooking shows do this. If you want a much better and authentic example of how to present ethnic food, try Food Safari. It showcases a number of cuisines, all without leaving Australia, by going into the kitchens of chefs and home cooks from each ethnic background, and having them do the cooking. Thus, no need to satisfy the ego of a celebrity chef, and the viewer actually sees how to properly make each dish. It's a novel idea.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cool player names to watch out for at World Cup 2010

The preliminary squads for the World Cup came out this week, and looking over the list of players for each team, I couldn’t help but smile at some of the names on offer.

There are some vaguely naughty ones for those of us who have the minds of 13-year-olds...

Waldo Ponce (Chile)
Rod Fanni (France)
Gaetan Bong (Cameroon)
Eric Choupo-Mating (Cameroon)
Hans-Jorg Butt (Germany)

And as always there are those African players whose parents named them after various adjectives they found appealing…

Brown Ideye (Nigeria)
Innocent Mdledle (South Africa)
Surprise Moriri (South Africa)

As always, there are those names that just seem really cool to try rolling off your tongue…

Faouzi Chaouchi (Algeria)
Lounes Gaouaoui (Algeria)
Ayodele Adeleye (Nigeria)
Ikechukwu Uche (Nigeria)
Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa)

But my favourite, for reasons I can't quite explain, is...

Georgie Welcome (Honduras)

Looking forward to it!

Grace Barbé

One unique Australian artist I'm digging at the moment is Perth-based singer and guitarist, Grace Barbé. Barbé was born Seychelles (a tiny nation in the Indian Ocean just north of Madagascar), migrating to Australia in 1997, and her music reflects her cultural roots. Seychellois culture is a blend of African, French, English, Indian and Chinese influences. Barbé and her band play music that combines Afrobeat, reggae, and the traditional folk music of the islands.

My favourite track, Fatige, is a Fela Kuti-esque afro-funk track with some island influence creeping in, sung in the Kreol language of Seychelles.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How to use the media to incite racial hatred

(Hat tip to regular reader Peter)

There are plenty of ranting voices out there in the wilds of the internet who will spew crazed theories and racial epithets, but that's not the subject of today's post.

This is about someone blogging under the banner of a major news organisation, who claims to dislike racism, yet seems quite happy to stir it up incessantly.

This is about how journalists can pursue a racist agenda even in an article that purports to be about something entirely unrelated.

The journalist I refer to is Andrew Bolt, arguably Australia's best-known conservative commentator and who claims to have the most popular political blog in the country (at the Herald-Sun website).

I've written a few things here in the past about Bolt's approach to racial issues. It would be no surprise to anyone familiar with the man's work that he is very fond of Northern European cultures and scathing towards non-white immigration, particularly regarding Africans and Muslims. One of the issues he (and the Herald-Sun in general) repeatedly focuses on is ethnic crime. To this end, crime committed by Anglo or other white people is merely crime; if the perpetrator happens to be non-white, then it's "ethnic crime" and their ethnicity is highlighted as being significant. Given that the Herald-Sun's readership tends to lean to the Right, and is generally worried about the erosion of values and standards in our country (as every generation is), their exists a prevailing idea that the alleged decline of our society must be because of all those immigrants.

Thus you see posts where Bolt infers that Obama is planning a race war against white people, insinuates that a violent thug could not have been white despite a police report saying so, or that the people responsible for attacking Indian students in Melbourne were all non-white.

So what about a story that might seem to contradict this dominant narrative?

Take the recent rioting in Oakleigh that resulted in a Bob Jane T-Mart store being trashed. Look at any footage of the incident and you'll observe a sea of faces that were overwhelmingly Caucasian (whether Anglo, European, or Middle Eastern). I wrote on this blog that had it been Asian or black faces, then focus would be on immigration and ethnic crime; so since the faces were white, I wondered, would race get a mention at all?

Well, yes and no. Bolt shows some photos of the white rioters in a March 21 post called Spot the Feral. And then, to reinforce a point about disrespect for police, shows 3 Youtube clips of young people creating a ruckus and having run-ins with police officers. It's a little unclear what entirely is going on in these videos, but the aggressive young people in at least 2 of them are African (probably Sudanese).

So a post about aggression, specifically caused by people who happen to be mostly white, is now highlighting the aggression caused by young African men. Of course, you might argue that that is merely coincidental, and maybe it is.

But Bolt is so fond of this footage of aggressive Africans that he shows it again on April 24. This time in a post entitled Teenagers attack police, yet again. The post refers to an out-of-control party in the Victorian country town of Sale, at which police called to the scene were assaulted. Now the ethnicity of the offending teenagers is not mentioned, but anyone who has been to Sale can tell you that Sudanese people are hardly a common sight in Sale - the populace is mostly white with a small Aboriginal population. Yet the footage of Sudanese is dragged out to illustrate it.

Two posts about aggressors who are most likely white or predominantly white. Yet that is a distraction from one of the dominant themes of the Andrew Bolt Blog, so for the sake of a clear narrative, visuals of violent black folks are provided to the reader. We wouldn't want anyone to get confused and think that anyone other than dirty foreigners commit violent acts now, would we?

Fast forward to April 29, and Bolt posts about his upcoming radio show and how he will be discussing what he sees as the problem with female police officers. This seems to be as good an opportunity as any to... show the same footage again? Yes, the Youtube clips of aggressive Sudanese youths, which he has shown twice already in recent weeks, get yet another airing. Of course, the blog post in question doesn't have anything to do with Sudanese, but neither did the other two.

Now of course you can argue, as I'm sure Andrew Bolt would, that there is no significance in the fact that the video footage, which seems to perfectly illustrate his points on a number of issues, features African immigrants. It could have been people of any race.

But of course, if you are familiar with the amount of column inches Bolt has devoted to attacking African immigration, and if you are familiar with the Herald-Sun's sneaky ways of whipping up xenophobic controversy, then you would suspect that Bolt has an agenda here. It's as if, no matter what the issue, Bolt finds a way to remind us that Africans are indeed the enemy.

The cleverness about this is that he has conveyed that idea in three blog posts that are not about Africans and do not even mention Africans.

So do his readers take the bait and embrace the subconscious programming? Commenter Brian sure does (at the third post):

At the risk of being called racist I noticed the prevalence of African and Middle Eastern people involved in those video clips.  So it would seem we have imported troublemakers by the bucket load with out open immigration scheme . As if we haven’t got enough home grown trouble makers already
brian of melbourne (Reply)
Thu 29 Apr 10 (06:02pm)

Well done Brian, you successfully joined the dots that Andrew laid out for you.

Repeat something often enough, and eventually people will believe it to be true.

More like this:

Why you shouldn't believe everything you see on TV

"Send them all back"... even if they are Australian?

What's with all the resentful white people reading the Herald-Sun?

"The subject was described as having dark skin..."

Asian-fearing Herald-Sun readers of the week

Let's all blame the victim

Russell Peters in Australia

Comedian Russell Peters is Down Under right now; he hits Melbourne this Friday May 14th, playing the Rod Laver Arena. The 39 year-old Canadian of Anglo-Indian extraction is arguably the world's premier exponent of ethnic humour. Virtually all his jokes are based on ethnic stereotypes, a variety of comedy that is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Yet despite the potential for offensiveness, Peters manages to pull it off due to his obvious affection for whatever culture he is poking fun at. And it helps that there is some intelligence to his observations; not just the same old "Asians can't drive" and "black men have big willies" gags... although they're certainly in there as well.

Last time Peters toured Australia, I knew of a couple of Malaysian Indians who flew down to Melbourne just to watch him. Not saying he's worth such an extreme level of devotion, but it shows that he's got a serious following.

Below is one of his best-known routines:

More here, here and here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

From around the interwebs...

Links and things for this week...

David Oldfield suspended from radio for wanting asylum seekers "fried"
David Oldfield, co-founder of the One Nation Party and now broadcaster for Sydney's Radio 2UE, has been suspended for a pretty foul remark about refugees. Speaking on air about refugees escaping a detention centre because the electric fence was turned off, he suggested it be turned back on so they could be "fried" if they tried it again. He later used the term "barbecued". I'm just surprised that someone saw fit to give this guy a radio gig in the first place, given his role in founding the party that brought racism back to the forefront of Australian politics. On second thoughts, I'm not all that surprised.

Racism claimed as a factor in the Farah Jama rape case
Farah Jama spent 15 months in jail for rape, found guilty based entirely on a DNA sample later found to be contaminated. Without that sample, the case against him seems extremely flimsy, and lawyer Kimani Boden has claimed that Jama's Somali background may have been a factor in the guilty finding. I have written about this previously, although I'd wager Islamophobia was more likely the prejudice involved (I've previously written about that here.)

Malaysian police under the microscope after shooting of teen
Malaysia has witnessed an uproar over the police opening fire on 15 year-old Aminulrasyid Amzah, who fled from police while illegally driving underage. At the above link, Pak Bui points out that this is no isolated incident in a country with a justice system that is hardly transparent. Or, if you want to witness the mentality that allows this to happen, read this article justifying the police's actions. An "expert" clinical psychologist claims "the public had overlooked the most important issue, which was that of a minor driving a car without a driving licence." So, not that the police can just shoot people for whatever reason then.

"Plot to eat blacks is uncovered"
Funny stuff from my favourite satirical website, The People's News. Apparently The Man has been fattening up black folks so white folks can eat them in times of hardship.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

More Awesome Thai Ads (Ladyboy edition)

Ok, these ads are not exactly what you might term "transgender-friendly" by Western leftist standards. But men dressed as women have been a source of humour for eons; the Thais certainly think so.


Schwarzfahrer is a 1993 short film from Germany, directed by Pepe Danquhart, that won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject. The title is based on a term with a dual meaning: "Schwarzfahrer" translates as "fare-dodger", but can also mean "black rider". The 12 minute film revolves around a black man (Paul Outlaw) who faces a racist tirade from a elderly German woman (Senta Moira) on a tram.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The white-out of Billy Sing

Billy Sing (1886 - 1943) was a heroic figure in a conflict that is synonymous with battlefield heroism in Australia. At Gallipolli in WW1, he was Australia's deadliest sniper with 201 confirmed kills and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Sing was also of Chinese background - born to an English mother and a father from Shanghai. That is a detail that is conveniently being forgotten by Geoff Davis, director of the new mini-series The Legend of Billy Sing. Rather than look for a Eurasian actor, Davis decided that his son Josh Davis (pictured left, middle) was the best character for the role. What a coincidence that the most outstanding candidate happened to be the director's son.

Now, given that Billy Sing was only half Chinese, I guess it would be vaguely within the realms of possibility for him to be played by a white actor. But what about his father, who was fully Chinese? Well, Davis elected to have him played by a white actor as well - veteran Tony Bonner (pictured left, bottom).

The reason?

Davis said the problem in casting Sing as a Chinese-Australian arose when he couldn't find a 60-year-old Chinese actor to play his father.

Really? There are no middle-aged Chinese actors anywhere in Australia? One has to wonder how extensively Davis looked - perhaps he couldn't think of any that he knew of, so concluded that there were none.

Given that the Asian population of Australia is approaching 2 million, one would think finding such an actor could be accomplished with little more than some googling and a few calls to casting companies. Problem solved. Indeed, a number of Chinese actors who would seemingly fit the bill have spoken of their disappointment today in The Australian.

Finding a male Eurasian actor wouldn't be too hard either - I don't think it would matter if he wasn't actually Chinese, but he should at least look the part - particularly as there have been at least 3 on recent mainstream Australian TV that I can think of. James Stewart, recently seen on Packed to the Rafters, would fit the bill (I believe he is half Chinese); as would Bobby Morley, popular Home and Away heart-throb, who is part Filipino. Adam Saunders, formerly of Home and Away and Blue Water High, also appears to be part Asian. In addition, there are no doubt some other lesser known Eurasian actors out there. Josh Davis, who got the role, is hardly well-known anyway, so it's not like he was picked for his star power.

So really, it's seemingly less about the paucity of Asian-Australian actors than it is about nepotism on the part of Geoff Davis. Is that his right, as director? Should he not be able to cast whoever he wants? As he says:

"A lot of people are sitting at the back of this bus attacking the driver. A lot of people feel they own the story of Billy Sing. But they've probably got more resources than me -- if they want to tell that story, then tell it.

"Whatever his genetic background, his culture was Australian."

Hmmm. Maybe Davis is one of these fellows who "doesn't see race", and so figures that since we are all Australian, it doesn't matter so much about the ethnic specifics. Which, if that were true (and I don't think it is), could be admirable in a sense. But here's the thing that Davis doesn't seem to get. Asian-Australians are not perceived as being truly Australian in the way that Geoff and Josh Davis are. Despite people of Asian background (like the Sings) having been here since the 1800s, we are still seen as somewhat less than true blue Aussies. The Asian-Australian contribution to history is often forgotten. Billy Sing was born in an era where Chinese were generally despised by much of the wider population, and racism was rife. Yet he still served Australia with distinction and became a hero to a nation which officially did not welcome anyone of his ethnicity. That irony is part of the appeal of the Billy Sing story.

Think about the message it would send to both Asian-Australians and non-Asian-Australians, that one of the great heroes of the war that helped define our national identity, was part Chinese.

Davis is not merely directing his own story; he is telling a whitened version of history. He is erasing the Asian-ness of an Australian hero, and reinforce the dominant view that this country is built on the back of the heroism of men who were purely white.
So now Billy Sing will be introduced to the viewing public as a white man. You've got to wonder why they are even persisting with the surname Sing. Why do these white characters have a Chinese name? Maybe they should just call it The Legend of Billy Smith and be done with it.

Yuey at Asians Down Under has covered this issue in great depth, so it's worth checking it out over at his blog. Also see my earlier post entitled The lack of Asians on Australian TV and why it matters.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spot the Sample: Celeste Legaspi

Ok, this should be easy for you pop-culture spotters. Somebody sampled a chunk from the start of this song, and turned it into one of THE great hip-hop tracks of the last decade. What is the song and who is the artist? (Extra points if you can name the producer.) I'll leave the answer in the comments section.

The singer of Magtaksil Man Ikaw (Bolero Medley), Celeste Legaspi, is a Filipina singer and actress who was mostly active in the 1970s and 80s. She once starred in a movie opposite Joseph Estrada, who was later to become President of the Philippines (although not one that most Pinoys would remember fondly).

More sample-spotting:

Jackie Mittoo's "Free Soul"

Lata Mangeshkar's "Tere Mere Beech Mein"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

News from China: "Anal Eel Insertion Kills Man"

I am never, ever getting severely drunk again. You just can't trust anyone these days...

(Warning: This is seriously gross.)

A man has died after an eel that was inserted into his rectum gnawed away at his bowels, causing agonising injuries which were eventually fatal.
The 59-year-old man, a chef, was reportedly taken to a Sichuan hospital complaining of abdominal pain, dehydration and a great deal of anal bleeding. He was soon diagnosed as being in a severe state of shock.
Doctors were mystified as to the cause, and obtained permission from his family to undertake an exploratory laparotomy. Cutting open his innards, they discovered a 50cm long Asian swamp eel lodged in his rectum.
Though dead, the eel had apparently already wrought havoc on his innards, biting its way through his intestines prior to dying. Internal bleeding and infection rapidly set in.
He was reported to have eaten a lot of eel the previous day, but otherwise doctors had no idea how the creature had got there. His condition quickly worsened.
He lingered for 10 days in intensive care but eventually succumbed to the injuries and sepsis.
The likely cause was eventually established – he had apparently been drinking with friends, and had passed out. His friends had decided it would be amusing to insert a live eel into his anus whilst he was comatose.
Police have reportedly begun an investigation.
(via Sankaku)

Fortunately I don't tend to go out drinking anywhere where there are live eels.

Better tell Dave Chappelle it's not just white people...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pauline Hanson won't sell her house to Muslims

Former One Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson got her mug in the news again this week. She is moving to England to settle down and is selling her house. Of course, she has no intention of selling to anyone who is not sufficiently Aussie:

This is of course illegal - we have anti-discrimination laws that prohibit this. And she has since taken her house off the market due to the backlash she received for her comments.

I can fully accept her not wanting to sell to a foreign investor (it's the sort of thing that is driving house prices through the roof in this country). Although of course I'd be interested to see if she'd have any objection to a Briton buying the house.

And refusing to sell her house to Muslims? I wonder if she's ever met any Muslims. Of course, there are certainly some Muslims in this country who aren't compatible with our culture. And there are others who are the very embodiment of everything we want in our citizenry.

Hanson has an interesting way of categorising minority groups in Australia. She says she accepts Australians of Asian background. She just doesn't want any more of our kind coming here. Muslims however, are apparently incapable of ever being worthy of even her grudging semi-acceptance.

Personally, as religions go, I'm no great fan of Islam. But by the same token, people are more than just their religion. Some of my favourite people are Muslims - including good friends, past girlfriends and much of my family. And the Muslim community comprises a diverse spectrum of religiosity from the devout, to those many secular people who have only a vague attachment to the religion they were born into. (My mother, one of the most warm and generous people I've ever known, falls into this category.)

For people like Pauline Hanson, Muslims are not individuals with their own individual ideas, personalities and contributions to make. They are all the same, just an amorphous mass of brown bearded scary foreign-ness, and they are coming to get you.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mulatu Astatke, the father of Ethio-Jazz

This weekend I'll get a chance to catch one of my musical heroes, Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu Astatke. The 66-year-old bandleader and vibraphonist is a true innovator and maverick. His focus on instrumentals is unusual; Ethiopian folk music places primary focus on singing, and there was virtually no tradition of orchestral music outside the State theatre, military and police bands. He was also widely respected as the first Ethiopian to study music abroad, intending originally to study engineering in London but being drawn to music instead, a pursuit that also took him to New York and Boston.

His path of musical awakening has interesting parallels with the father of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti. Kuti was sent to London (and later New York) around the same time to study medicine, but turned to music instead, and fused Ghanaian highlife and the music of his native Nigeria with jazz and the propulsive hard funk of James Brown. Mulatu also picked up on the funk, but with more emphasis on jazz and Latin. His music fuses those elements with traditional Ethiopian-inspired melodies, using a five-tone scale system. The effect is beguiling and evocative. Many Western artists have been influenced by Mulatu's unique take on the groove; hip-hop artists have sampled his recordings and productions (I posted about that here), while hip New Yorkers the Menahan Street Band are virtually a Mulatu cover act. Jim Jarmusch made Mulatu's music the soundtrack to his film Broken Flowers.

Of course, it's better to let the music speak for itself:

Tezetaye antchi lidj ("Baby, my unforgettable remembrance") from 1974.

Ene alantchi alnorem ("I can't live without you") also 1974.

More recently, Mulatu toured and recorded an album with British psych-jazz-funk band The Heliophonics. Below is their live rendition of his 1969 track Yekermo sew.

If you are in Melbourne, you can catch Mulatu performing live at Federation Square at 3pm today (Saturday May 1st). It's free. He's backed by The Black Jesus Experience, some local guys who are obviously big fans. He's playing at The Forum on Sunday the 2nd and Monday the 3rd, and is giving a Masterclass at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Monday afternoon.