Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quiz Time! (European names)

Ok, here's a bit of a test for you.

So you know how Paolo is the Portuguese version of Paul, Antonio is the Italian version of Anthony, and Juan is the Spanish version of John?
Well, there's a lot more where that came from. Below are some names from all over Europe and surrounding areas. All are local versions of male given names that are common in English.

Your task: to identify their common English variant. Some of them are quite easy, some a little harder, but all are guessable if you put your mind to it. It might be helpful to bear in mind the way sounds can change from region to region; for instance, a /p/ sound in one language might easily be replaced by a /f/ or /b/ in another language.

1. João (Portuguese)

2. Guillaume (French)

3. Bostjan (Slovene)

4. Thiago (Brazilian Portugese)

5. Hagop (Armenian)

6. Hristo (Bulgarian)

7. Djibril (Arabic)

8. Dawit (Amharic)

9. Sikander (Persian/Hindi/Urdu)

10. Duarte (Portuguese/Spanish)

11. Jerzy (Polish)

12. Carlito (Spanish)

13. Boutros (Arabic)

14. Klaas (Dutch)

15. Shmuley (Hebrew)

16. Giuseppe (Italian)

Bear in mind that each of the above is not necessarily the only variant of that name, in the same way that Rick, Richard and Dick are all variants of the same name in English.

I shall post the answers in the comments section (below).


You may also like:

Guess the ethnicity - Spot the Eurasian!

How Muslim names evolve around the world

Hong Kong names

The most awesome Thai names

Li Na

Chinese tennis player Li Na made history this week as the first player from an Asian country to make it to a Grand Slam final. (And no, Michael Chang doesn't count, he's American.) The 28-year-old from Wuhan dominated the early stages of the game against Kim Clijsters, but her opponent's big-match experience was too much in the end as the Belgian took out the championship in 3 sets.

Li won plenty of local fans, not just for her powerful game and fighting qualities (she returned from match-point down to beat world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-final) but her quirky sense of humour, on display in post-match interviews. Asked by a reporter why she seemed more expressive and outgoing than the other Chinese players on the tour, Li replied, "My English is better." Fair enough.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More on Amy Chua

The Asian blogosphere is still buzzing about Yale law professor and author Amy Chua following her controversial article in the Wall Street Journal which appeared to boast of the superiority of Chinese parenting. My previous blog post about it is here.

She appeared last night on The Colbert Report to discuss her book, as well as the way its intent has been misinterpreted. (The WSJ article consisted of excerpts of her book Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, stitched together by the paper's editors without context, seemingly in order to generate controversy.)
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(As an aside, Chua is also a great advertisement for Asian genes. She's 49 years old!)

I've recently been having an occasionally heated discussion over at another blog about Chua. Now I haven't read her book (although I'll be seeking it out), and have no personal interest in defending her, but I've been less than impressed by a rush by some people across the Asian-American blogosphere to label her a bitch, a sellout or a fraud. Again, I don't know her so it's possible she could be all of those things. But I would prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt, since those accusations seem to be based on spurious reasoning. And I tend to believe that people don't always fit neatly into the categories that others wish to define for them.

For example, much of the criticism of Chua and her parenting style appears to be based on how the WSJ article has presented her, rather than the more nuanced content of the book, which is apparently a memoir of a journey into and then away from the uber-strict Chinese parenting style which the WSJ article seems to celebrate.
Here are a couple of other complaints that have come up:

"Chua talks about Chinese parenting, yet she's not even Chinese - she's Filipino."
"Chua talks about Chinese parenting, yet she married a white Jewish guy. Her kids are being raised Jewish. So clearly she's not really very Chinese at all."

Firstly, she is born in the US, to ethnic Chinese parents who were from the Philippines. To say that she is not culturally Chinese is akin to saying that only people born in China are culturally Chinese.

To the second point; is culture carried by genes? Because personally I fail to see how the ethnicity of her husband impacts on Chua's own ethno-cultural identity. Raising her kids Jewish was apparently a deal made with her husband - the trade-off was that they would become fluent in Chinese. And remember that Jewishness is a religious identity as well as a cultural identity; if Chua herself is not overtly religious, which seems likely, then it makes sense to raise her daughters according to the religious tradition of her partner.

We all make judgments about others, let's not deny it. But it's important to make those judgements based on reality, rather than erroneous interpretations, lazy assumptions and stereotypes.

Whitney has really let herself go

Does there exist a country whose television has the capacity to beat Japan in the oddness stakes?

Based on this evidence, it's The Philippines for the win.

If you are looking for answers, I'm afraid I'm all out.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guns, courts and white supremacy

Okay this story raises a few interesting issues. Keep in mind that this is Australia, not the US.

Jew hater Darryl Potts given okay for gun
by Joe Hildebrand in The Daily Telegraph
A MAN declared a white supremacist by police and ruled a possible risk to public safety by a psychiatrist has been granted the right to possess a handgun.
Darryl Potts, who believes there is a Jewish conspiracy to destroy other races, had his AB firearms and probationary pistol licences revoked by police after he expressed "white supremacy views" to officers during an incident involving domestic violence. But, in a landmark case, the Administrative Decisions Tribunal has ruled that, even though Mr Potts might hold extreme and offensive views, that does not mean he is mentally impaired and he is legally entitled to a firearm licence (read the Tribunal's ruling in full).
The decision was at odds with the opinion of police, the Firearms Registry and a psychiatrist's clinical assessment that Mr Potts had the potential "to put public safety at risk".
Mr Potts, an elevator technician at Federal Parliament, pursued the case because he believed having a revoked firearm licence could affect his security clearance to work in government buildings.
He said he wanted to take a stand against the trend of removing people's firearms.
Both during the case and in extensive interviews with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Potts made a series of bizarre claims about Jewish people.
He told the tribunal he did not believe six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
"I say the six million is a load of hogwash," he said.
After having his licences reinstated, he said he believed Jews were plotting to dilute other races by encouraging mixed-race children and he had unwittingly played into their hands by having children with his Korean-born wife - from whom he has separated.
"If I had've known this information I would not have participated in mixed-race marriage," he said.
He also said Jewish spies, posing as "Israeli art peddlers" were visiting his house because he was "a person of interest" to them.
After the 2009 domestic dispute at his estranged wife's house, the Firearms Registry referred Mr Potts to a psychiatrist on the basis that he "has expressed white supremacy [sic] ... views that have raised concerns regarding his mental health".
After Mr Potts stated, "I am a very angry man", the psychiatrist diagnosed him as having a personality disorder.
ADT member Peter Molony rejected the psychiatrist's opinion and ruled, "Mr Potts is an intelligent, manipulative and calculating man".
"The fact that he holds political and religious views and opinions that are offensive is not, in my opinion, sufficient to find that the public interest requires that he no longer hold a firearms licence," Mr Molony found.
"To do so would be to embark on a slippery slope ... to totalitarianism."
So, at what point does someone cease to remain eligible to own a gun?

Having extreme anti-Semitic views clearly indicates that someone is, for want of a better term, a f*ckwit. However, strictly speaking, being a f*ckwit is not illegal. Does possession of such views clearly mark someone out as being dangerous? From a purely objective point of view, that's questionable, although you'd have to guess that an angry man with rabidly anti-Semitic views is probably more dangerous than an angry man without such views. The fact that in talking to police about an incident which apparently has nothing to do with Jews, Potts cannot stop himself blurting out bizarre Zionist conspiracy theories, indicates that his mental state is highly questionable.

The suggestion of domestic violence in this case does not appear to be quite concrete enough for the court to conclude that he is a threat. But put together, the possible violent and controlling tendencies combined with paranoid racist conspiracy theories might seem to be enough to disqualify Potts from gun ownership. But it seems that legal decisions don't work that way.

I for one am no supporter of gun rights. I don't believe that anyone has an inalienable right to bear arms, unless they need it for a specifically defined purpose (ie. police, soldiers, farmers). I am eternally grateful that Australia never went down the American route of enshrining gun rights in the constitution. It means that firearm-related deaths are kept to a minimum. Sure, criminals can get them if they really want, but they are still more difficult to obtain. But the other crucial aspect of reducing guns in the community is to keep them out of reach of people who are not yet criminals, but psychologically may be dangerous given the right circumstances.

I noted with interest that Jared Lee Loughner (whose shooting spree in Arizona recently killed 6 and injured 14 including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) was known to police due to arrests for vandalism and possession of drug paraphenalia. In addition, his mental stability was of concern to his former educators, who perceived him as potentially dangerous and capable of a school shooting, and he had several run-ins with campus police.
Despite all that, Loughner had little trouble purchasing a Glock pistol, and later its ammunition.

This is not to suggest that Darryl Potts is about to go on a shooting spree. But given his extreme views combined with anger at the world and possible violent and controlling tendencies, it's not far-fetched to say that he is a prime candidate for some kind of violent incident.

If we are going to accept that the law allows for the average person to possess a firearm, shouldn't we at least be ensuring that only the sane and well-adjusted members of society can keep them? Link the records of those who have guns and gun licenses to police records; any criminal conviction leads to an immediate suspension and possible cancellation of the license, accompanied by a seizure of the weapons.

This may sound like Big Brother to some, but I'm less afraid of Big Brother than I am a gun-toting madman.

Even if the policies I mentioned were in place, Darryl Potts might still keep his weapons. Inevitably some slip through the net, but it would nonetheless minimise the risks considerably.

Individual rights are important, obviously. But one of the most important of those is the right not to be shot at by murderous angry loners.

Here's a sample of some of the angry rantings Potts left at an anti-fascist anarchist blog.

Nazi-spotting with FOX News

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

If I had a hammer...

I've evolved into a budding aficionado of Korean cinema in recent years, but for some strange reason I had never got around to watching Park Chan-Wook's epic and disturbing Oldboy. Thankfully, this situation is no more. It ain't for everyone though.

Undoubtedly, a highlight of the film is this visceral fight scene which casts an everyday carpentry tool in a new light. There is so much to like about this scene, and it has plenty of little nuances that reveal themselves on subsequent viewings. I love the ebb and flow of the brawl, how the tide turns and then turns again. The gang are so much more than fodder to be beaten up. Park reveals them for what they are, low-level thugs who aren't used to a proper fight and are unsure of how to tackle such an unorthodox opponent. Unlike the highly stylised cliches of most fight scenes, it is as ugly, raw and brutal as it should be. The musical backdrop is unusual for such a sequence, but it works perfectly.

One of the greatest fight scenes ever committed to film? Without a doubt, for my money. But judge for yourself.  Word is that this scene was shot all in 1 take, but took 3 days and 17 attempts to get it right.

That's Choi Min-sik playing Oh Dae-su, the damaged man out for revenge on those who imprisoned him for no apparent reason.

Of course, once someone creates something truly great, everyone wants to rip it off. Steven Spielberg was planning a remake of Oldboy featuring Will Smith, but fortunately the project was called off due to threats of legal action over the rights (Oldboy is originally based on a Japanese manga of the same name).

However, one rip-off that did get made is Zinda (meaning "Alive"), a Bollywood take on the movie, directed by Sanjay Gupta and starring Sanjay Dutt in the lead role. I haven't seen it and don't plan to (I learned my lesson from suffering through Kaante, the dire Indian remake of Reservoir Dogs). Below is the corresponding fight scene from Zinda. Superficially, it's the same scene, but it's the little touches that spell the difference between the original masterful moment of cinema and this hollow imitation.

As an example; the original Oldboy scene is set in a narrow corridor, which means that logically the gang can only attack Oh Dae-Su one or two at a time. By contrast, in Zinda, it's quite a broad room; why would the gang all hang back and basically line up for their turn? Makes no sense. Fail.

See also:

Movie review: A Dirty Carnival (Biyeolhan Geori)

Movie review: Mother

Infernal Affairs vs The Departed

Listmania: My favourite movies of the 00s

Pulp Fiction in Italian, Turkish, German, Spanish and French

Monday, January 24, 2011

"The Average Asian Aging Process"

This has been getting linked around the place a bit. It comes from this blog, by an illustrator who appears to be of Japanese background.


My mum's the one second from right, btw.

Lionel Messi, FIFA World Player of the Year. But does he deserve it?

I haven't blogged about football since the World Cup ended, but it's an itch I just have to scratch.

Lionel Messi was recently crowned FIFA World Player of the Year, for the second year in a row. And the decision was complete rubbish.

Not because Messi is not brilliant. In fact, anyone with a brain can tell you that he is easily the best player in the world right now (with Cristiano Ronaldo not too far behind). He may yet prove to be the best ever.

So why is it rubbish? Because FIFA's award was never about being the best player in the world.

Think about it - it'd be a boring and slightly pointless award. Maradona would have won it virtually every year of his playing career, as would Pele before him. And Messi will probably win it every year for the next 10 years. Yawn.

No, the award is about being the standout player of the year, not the best. They have to be close to the best, sure, but it's more about impact and achievement.

Fabio Cannavaro won it in 2006. Did anyone really think he was the best player in the world then? Of course not. But he did happen to be the defensive linchpin of the Italian side that won the World Cup, and of the Juventus side that were Italian champions. So it's hard to argue he didn't deserve it.

What did Messi achieve this past year, aside from being a freakishly talented player who is the best in the world?

Well, he was the star player of the Barcelona team that won the Spanish league. But then again, the two others short-listed for the award, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, were also on that team. What's more, those two achieved more than Messi. They were key parts of the Spanish World Cup winning side, in a tournament where Messi did not actually score, and his talent-laden Argentinian side were knocked out in the quarter finals.

So does that mean Xavi and Iniesta have greater claims to the award than Messi? Arguably. Xavi, especially. His special skill is in making those around him better, which paradoxically means he is not as appreciated in the way that a twinkle-toed goal-scorer like Messi is. And one could convincingly argue that pass-master Xavi is more crucial to Barcelona than Messi. After all, would Messi still score all those goals without Xavi serving them up on a plate to him?

Of course, by that logic, one could argue that Xavi is made to look even better by Messi and Iniesta. Or Iniesta by Messi and Xavi. How do you pick an individual out of a team like Barca?

I wouldn't have picked any of them to be honest. Because the player who deserves it most actually came a lowly 4th - Wesley Sneijder.

Is Inter Milan's Dutch playmaker as good as Messi? No. He's probably not as good as Xavi either. But again, we are talking about achievements here.

Sneijder was the creative fulcrum of the Inter side that won basically everything in the 2009-10 season. They beat Barca and then Bayern Munich to win the Champions League, as well as the Italian Scudetto and several other cups. If that wasn't enough, he was the clear standout in a somewhat unsatisfying Dutch team who were beaten by Spain in the World Cup final. He scored 5 goals in the tournament and assisted most of the side's other goals. Somehow he was passed over as Player of the Tournament by Diego Forlan. It is notable that the Dutch team were not nearly as talented as Spain, and were dragged to the final only by the efforts of Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Likewise, you'd be hard-pressed to describe Inter as equals of Barca in the talent stakes; yet they beat them, with Sneijder the midfield maestro at the heart of it all.

So recognition where it's due. Messi will probably get even better, meaning that he may have a lock on the award for the foreseeable future. Sneijder is unlikely to ever have as good a year as he did last year. If he cannot place any higher than 4th in this award, in a year in which he won achieved more than Messi in teams with less talent, then the FIFA award has lost it's way. Maybe they should create a "Best Player in the World" award instead.

Beautiful people are smarter, too, apparently

So some scientists got together and did a study that appears to show a strong correlation between high IQ and good looks. Apparently,

"the research found handsome men scored 13.6 points above the average IQ score of 100. And beautiful women were 11.4 points above the norm, according to the London School of Economics.

The joint British and US study also suggests any kids good lookers have with their partners will inherit their intelligence genes.
Lead researcher Satoshi Kanazawa said: "In the samples, physical attractiveness is significantly positively associated with general intelligence, both with and without controls for social class, body size and health. The association between physical attractiveness and general intelligence is also stronger among men than among women."
More than 52,000 people in the UK and the States were measured on academic progress and intelligence as well as being scored on their appearance." (Source)
Perhaps I smell a rat. Scientists (ie. smart people, but not stereotypically sexy people) doing a study that concludes that smart people are good looking? How convenient for them.

Of course, this goes against the convential wisdom that beautiful people are vacuous bimbos and himbos, and brainy people are poorly dressed weirdos with bad acne and coke-bottle glasses.

It's like the accepted truth that you can either have a mate with looks, or personality, but not both. You know how when you ask someone about a girl, "Is she hot?" and they reply, "She's got a really nice personality"... then you know she must be ugly.
Then again, they say Marilyn Monroe had an IQ of 168. (Stephen Hawking's is supposedly just over 200.)
Here is Kanazawa's theory of why beauty and brains might go together:
"If more intelligent men are more likely to attain higher status, and if men of higher status are more likely to marry beautiful women, then, given intelligence and attractiveness are heritable, there should be a positive correlation between intelligence and physical attractiveness in the children."

That at least offers hope to all you nerd-boys out there being mercilessly picked on in high school. One day your tormentors will be jealous of the hot babe you've got on your arm. Don't tell them that though, they'll just pick on you more.
The final word goes to a commentator at the Sun article, who opines in classic British style:
"Absolute rubbish! Oxford University is full of mingers who are unbelievably smart!"
To be honest, I like any sentence containing the word "mingers".

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Open letter to my flatmate


I know that being a overseas student, your English is not the best. So I just want to clarify if there has been some linguistic or cultural misunderstanding between you and I around the definition of "flatmate".

Webster's Dictionary defines flatmate as "someone who shares an apartment with a person." It is seemingly different to what you think it is, which is closer to the definition of servant, or "one who labors or exerts himself for the benefit of another, his master or employer", with the master/employer in this case being yourself. Confusing I know. But that money that you belatedly pay me every month is rent. It's a different thing entirely from the monthly salary that you would pay to a butler. As you are aware, I already have a job, so being someone's butler is not convenient for me in terms of my schedule, as well as incommensurate with my academic qualifications.

The upshot of this is that in our financial arrangement (in which you pay me money in exchange for having a place to live), there is an expectation that you actually have to clean up after yourself. This is a fairly broad concept, but it includes such activities as washing dishes that you have used, and wiping up any drinks you spill on the table. It also includes not leaving pubic hairs and nail clippings all over the bathroom, or little spots of urine on the toilet floor. People who visit my house are a bit precious with those sorts of things, and for some reason don't really enjoy seeing them.

On top of that, it is generally considered good form to do housework once in a while in order to maintain general cleanliness. Now I know you may be confused about what housework is, since you've apparently never actually done it, but this should clarify things for you. You know when you've seen me pushing around that loud machine which sucks things off the carpet? That's called vaccuming, and it's a form of housework, like when I scrub the mould out of the bathroom. Contrary to what you might think, I don't actually do those things because they are hugely enjoyable to me.

Of course, I understand you're busy. Playing computer games for a whole day is a demanding pastime, and someone's gotta do it; it's not like the games are going to play themselves.

Oh, and another matter: your room. I don't know if you've noticed, but it has acquired a distinct fragrance which it didn't previously have when either of my previous flatmates were staying there. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the smell is, but my closest approximation is that it smells like a homeless person. Now, I have nothing against the homeless. They are generally good people, and I appreciate that the reason they sometimes smell a bit is because they don't have much access to clean running water, not to mention shampoo, soap and exfoliating scrub. But here's the thing: you have a home. If you have a home, and yet your room still smells like a homeless person, I can only come to one of two conclusions. Either (A) you have filthy personal habits, or (B) you are secretly co-habiting with a homeless person without my knowledge.

I'm leaning towards (A) at the moment. But if it's (B), well I appreciate the charitable sentiment, but you need to let me know so I can add his name to the rental agreement.

Compare and contrast my room. Now I'm well aware that my bed is covered in clothes and there is various junk on my floor. But here's a difference: it doesn't stink. If it does start to get a bit whiffy, I open the windows, blow a fan, light some incense, and surprisingly enough, the smell goes away. I do this because of my personal belief that a residence's value is reduced, rather than improved, by having a repugnant odour. I'm surprised they didn't teach you that in the Bachelor of Property and Real Estate that you are currently studying. If you want an empirical indication of how much your room smells, try this: I can be on the other side of the house, and I can tell when you've opened your bedroom door. Not by sound, but by having the misfortune to inhale the odour that lurks within.

Speaking of smells, when using the toilet, there are a few things it would be good for you to know. Firstly, while you may like the smell of your own faeces, it's unlikely that most other people would share that opinion. I don't mind my own, but I don't assume that you want to smell mine. And for the record, I don't wish to smell yours. So to deal with this issue, centuries of scholarly wisdom have shown us two simple ways to limit the smell of said faeces after you are finished defecating and wiping. Firstly, close the lid. Yes, there is actually a lid on the toilet - you know that thing that you lift up before you go? Yeah that. By closing it, it actually reduces the amount of fecal odour emanating from the toilet bowl. I'm not exactly sure how the science works - I'm no physicist - but just take my word for it. Secondly, closing the door as you leave the toilet also helps, for much the same reasons.

Since my bedroom door is less than 3 paces from the toilet door, I would find it beneficial if you adopted these strategies. I'd settle for even one of them. Even just once would be a start.

In addition, regarding the concoction of frozen seafood, tom yum paste, fish sauce and vinegar that you eat almost every day... I'm sure it tastes great, but you may also be aware that it emits a rather strong smell. Now, I'm sure that the smell of a Saigon fishmarket is quite normal when you go to, say, a Saigon fishmarket. Unfortunately, when I come home and go into my bedroom, it's not the sort of smell I prefer to have inundated my clothing and bedsheets. For example, you know those incense sticks I sometimes burn to mask the homeless-guy odour seeping from your bedroom? I have rose, lemongrass and neem varieties, yet not a Saigon fishmarket variety, which is not a popular brand. So when cooking, pressing the button that says "Fan" above the stove is a good strategy to employ in this instance; it's the button I'm referring to every other day when I ask you "Can you please turn on the fan?" Another good strategy is opening certain doors and windows (the outer ones) and closing some others (the inner ones).

Finally, I do like having guests over sometimes, and I understand that when you moved in I said that it was no problem for you to have friends drop by and hang out here. However, I didn't mean that you should regularly go out for the whole day and leave the back door wide open. Or for that matter, open the front door and leave the key hanging there for several hours. Because while I am mostly in favour of helping the needy, I don't necessarily wish to donate my computer and flat-screen TV to heroin addicts.

If there's any part of this letter that you didn't understand, you are welcome to take it up with me for further clarification.


your flatmate.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Comebacks to stereotypical and racist comments (Part 2 - South Asian version)

Ever had someone make a racially insensitive remark to you, but you couldn't think of a comeback to put them in their place?

I did a post on this a while back, dedicated to responding to some of the comments that East Asian people might hear. (It's here.) This one is for my South Asian brothers and sisters.

"You people smell like curry."
Comeback: "That's because we eat curry. You smell like shit. What's your excuse?"

"What's with the red dot on your forehead?"
Comeback: "That's my third eye. It enables me to detect douchebags. Funnily enough, it's buzzing right now."

(In mocking Apu-esque Indian accent): "Thank you, come again."
Comeback: "Funny, your mama said the same thing to me last night."
I'm aware that these comebacks aren't particularly intellectually sophisticated. But neither is the kind of person who is going to racially abuse you, so they're a good fit. But make sure you have your running shoes on, just in case.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Puttu is a classic South Indian dish served primarily for breakfast. Simple and easy to prepare, it consists of some kind of flour (usually rice) moistened and combined with grated coconut, then cooked in a cylindrical steamer. The result is a crumbly, slightly spongy cake the size and shape of a soft drink can.

It is eaten in a number of ways. It can appear in a savoury context - in Kerala, for example, a typical accompaniment is kadala (chickpea) curry. Perhaps more often it features sweet accompaniments, especially banana, another South Indian staple.

The puttu pictured below was sampled in Malaysia, for breakfast at Susi's Banana Leaf Corner in Petaling Jaya. This particular one was made with atta (Indian whole-wheat flour), hence the brown colour.

On the side are a banana, a small cup of milk, and a mound of gula melaka (palm sugar). I'm guessing in India, jaggery (unrefined sugar, from palm, cane or both) might be used instead.
After pouring on the milk and peeling the banana, the all-important step is to get your hands dirty and mash it all up. You could use cutlery I guess, but what would be the point?
It's a simple but tasty combination, and the sort of honest home-style dish that invokes a sense of nostalgia amongst many Indians and Sri Lankans. Puttu on its own doesn't have a great deal of taste (and thus needs its accompaniments) but much of its appeal lies in its delightfully chewy texture.

Aside from the cuisines of Sri Lanka (where it is known as pittu) and South India, puttu has also ingratiated itself into the Malay and Indonesian culinary traditions. The Malay putu piring is disc-shaped rather than cylindrical, and contains a filling of palm sugar. (EatingAsia has a nice post on these.) The Indonesian kue putu also has the palm sugar filling, but retains the cylindrical shape. These are frequently green in colour, from the extract of the pandan leaf.

The shape of puttu suggests that originally it probably would have been steamed inside a hollow stem of bamboo; many peoples through tropical Asia still steam rice and other foods this way. Tamils and Malayalis have been trading in the Indonesian archipelago for over 2000 years, so it's hard to say whether this recipe is an ancient addition to the cuisine of that region, or arrived more recently with large-scale Tamil settlement of Malaysia under the British.

Spicy Susi's Banana Leaf Corner, No.1A, Bangunan SKPPK, Jalan SS 9A/17, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

Rush Limbaugh mocks Chinese language

I'm sure those of you who are familiar with Rush Limbaugh's work will not need any more reasons to dislike him. But here you go anyway - an excerpt from his immensely popular radio show in which he makes fun of Chinese leader Hu Jintao... ok, no wait, he actually doesn't mock Hu Jintao at all. He mocks the Chinese language, and later (second clip) the Japanese one, claiming that he can't tell them apart. Of course, anyone who has ever listened to the two languages for more than one second would have no difficulty in telling them apart. But I guess since Asians look the same, their languages must be the same as well, right?

F***ing c***rag.

Burger King ads from the Gulf States

This trio of ads is actually quite cool. (As ads for fast-food mega-corporations go, anyway.) They are created by a Dubai-based ad agency and play on the misconceptions Americans have about Arabs. It's ironic that a commercial for such a quintessentially American product can be based around the theme of mocking American stupidity.

More funny Arabic ads here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

On hardass Asian parents

Causing a stir this week has been Amy Chua's piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled Why Chinese mothers are superior. A provocative title, to be sure, and the article itself is seems designed to engender a reaction. Chua is a law professor at Yale and a mother of two daughters, and has a new book out called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Here are some excerpts:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.


There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

The article elicited a whopping 6400 comments from web readers. Many agreed with much of it, but obviously a lot of folks weren't too happy with Chua for one reason or another.

Some commenters thought she sounded like a cruel and heartless mother. Others disliked the way she perpetuated the model minority stereotype, not to mention the cold-and-exacting-Asian-parent stereotype. Some found it racist against white Americans. Some found it racist against Asians. Some Asian readers lauded how their similar upbringing had brought them success in life, while other Asian readers complained of how it had damaged their self-confidence and brought them undue stress growing up.

Dominic Lawson in The Independent makes a good point:
... Chua is pressing her finger on a very sensitive point: could it be that much of the laissez-faire parenting of the modern West uses the idea of enlightened liberality to give an intellectual justification for what is actually a form of laziness?

While I'm guessing that this blogger at Resist Racism didn't like Chua's article quite so much.
So f*ck you, Amy Chua, for reinforcing that tired old model minority stereotype. For speaking for an entire group of people and ascribing your abusive parenting to your culture.

F*ck you for the abuse kids get because their parents don’t know any better.

F*ck you for the kids who are made to feel like idiots because they are not geniuses. Or musical prodigies. Or the kids who are told that our people don’t speak out, don’t protest, aren’t politically active, aren’t activists.
F*ck you for making us think our parents aren’t proud of us.
F*ck you for perpetuating racism. And f*ck the Wall Street Journal for promoting your majority view voice.

Upon reading the WSJ article, I wasn't quite so sure how to take it. If you take it as a serious opinion piece, Chua does certainly sound like a bit of an evil mother from hell. But I found the article quite amusing and wondered how seriously it was meant to be taken. Its self-congratulatory tone is so over-the-top that I thought Chua was only being partly serious - she's obviously smart enough to be aware of how such a piece would make her come across.

It turns out that Chua feels she was misrepresented. The WSJ piece was a selectively edited excerpt from her book, which is not a how-to manual, but a memoir.

In an interview with Jeff Yang of the San Francisco Chronicle, Chua says:
"I was very surprised. The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they'd put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn't even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end -- that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model."
This is a recurring problem of news coverage as a whole these days. It's very difficult for anyone in the public eye to say anything of nuance that is not 100% one thing or the other. That doesn't make good publicity. So news outlets edit quotes and articles to highlight the bits that are bound to engender the greatest reaction. And even when they don't, plenty of readers react only to the most incendiary bits and ignore the other sections that might balance it out. And we wonder why politicians, sports stars and other public figures seem to repeat the same old meaningless platitudes ad nauseum. Say something more interesting or complex, and it will be taken out of context and used as a stick to beat them with.

That said, despite Chua's misgivings about how she's been misrepresented, she'll surely be smiling at the publicity and resulting jump in book sales that the WSJ article has precipitated.


So is there a benefit to "Chinese-style parenting", the way Chua describes it?

Of course there is, and of course there are downsides too.

I'll extend this discussion to talk about "Asian parenting", because it's something that many other Asian kids will have grown up with; particularly Indians, Koreans and Japanese. There are a number of cultural reasons for the emphasis on discipline in education. Some of it has to do with the Confucian ideals that are deeply embedded in NE Asian society. Some of it has to do with the eager "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality of so many Asian cultures; although in this case it is more like keeping up with the Singhs or the Wongs.

Let me say from the start that I did not have such an upbringing. Mine was much more Western. Maybe because my father is an Aussie. Perhaps because my Asian side comes from Indonesia, a culture which does not have quite the same level of obsession with achievement-through-education as some other Asian cultures. Perhaps it's because both my parents are very liberal-minded. But at the same time, one is a medical doctor and the other has a PhD, so it was always expected that I would get a university degree. It's just that their approach, for better or for worse, was more hands-off. I guess they figured that I was smart enough to find my own way to where they wanted me to go. My social circle in high school was pretty white and not very Asian, but this reversed when I reached university.

The Good:
I haven't been schooled in Asia, but it strikes me that one of the most debilitating characteristics of Western education is the classroom culture in which being smart equates to social death. There's a hierarchy of cool in Western schools, and the brainy kids are most often down near the bottom of a ladder that tends to place athletes, hot babes, tough guys and class clowns at the top. So many kids learn to keep their heads down and stay under the radar at a time when their creativity and intellect should be encouraged to blossom.

Sure, this social order does change after graduation, with the the meat-heads discovering that their best days are behind them. But I nonetheless think that the culture that is formed at school doesn't just reflect society as a whole, it also shapes it. An environment which encourages achievement will naturally have lower levels of mindless thuggery.

While some studies suggest East Asians achieve more because they are genetically more intelligent on average, I'm not all that convinced by that. I'm not surprised that Asians do well on IQ tests and examinations though; it's reflective of upbringing that placed great emphasis on academic success. It also helps those kids who are not blessed with great natural brainpower; the emphasis on rote learning and diligence in study does allow some students to get the best out of what they have, often better than smarter students who didn't put the effort in.

When I began to make more and more Asian friends post-high school, I discovered that compared to most of my white friends, the Asians on the whole had much less experience with drugs and alcohol, and had become sexually active somewhat later. This obviously doesn't hold true for everyone, but I think that's reflective of a broader pattern. Partly it's because migrants tend to have more traditional (and therefore conservative) values than Western parents, who are more likely to have lived through the sexual revolution and counter culture days. But it's also because Asian parents tend to be far more restrictive of their child's extracurricular activities, so often there just isn't the opportunity for some of these things to happen. And personally I think if we could delay teens from drinking, toking and screwing until they were at least 18, our world would be a better place.

The Bad:
Asian parenting is more likely to lead to what you might call "stereotypical high achievement". But does it create well-rounded individuals?

When kids turn out to be doctors, dentists, corporate accountants and entrepreneurs, that's great. But that's not everyone's destiny. Pushing kids towards stereotypical career paths isn't necessarily a recipe for happiness. I once told the (Indian) mother of a former girlfriend that I was studying community development (which, years later, has led to me helping countless people and having immense career satisfaction). Her scowling response: "There's no money in that."

Sporting and athletic ability is one area which often takes a back seat to academics in Asian culture. Certainly, many would say that Western countries place too high an emphasis on sport. But nonetheless it still is extremely valuable in terms of social engagement, hand-eye-coordination and physical fitness.

A common criticism I hear of Asian international students who attend Australian universities is that for all their diligence and willingness to study, they struggle to think creatively. Education in Asia is heavy on rote learning, yet does less to equip students to think outside the box. I wonder if this is a consequence of Asia's many authoritarian systems of government... or perhaps part of the cause?

And then there is stress. For all the Asian kids who turn out just as their hard-coaching parents had hoped, how many buckle under the pressure to achieve? How many rebel by turning to the sorts of behaviours their conservative parents try to keep them away from? It is surely no coincidence that the suicide rate amongst Asian American women aged 15-24 is the highest of any ethnic category in the US.

So surely there is a middle ground to straddle somehow. Westerners could learn much from the Asian mentality of aspiration; there is more than a hint of truth in the idea of the "model minority". But I'm sure many survivors of Asian parenting would agree that it's also important for parents to know when to chill the f*ck out.

Louis CK - White people problems
Uncensored - Louis C.K. - White People Problems
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Friday, January 14, 2011

The assumption of sugar, or not

I once heard Sheena Iyengar relate an anecdote about her difficulties ordering green tea with sugar in Japan. The waiter and manager refused to bring it to her, because drinking green tea with sugar is just not done in Japan, and they felt it their duty to protect her from making such a baffling and unseemly consumer choice.

It's a choice however that most in the West take for granted. Growing up in Australia in the days before expresso machines were everywhere, serving and ordering tea or coffee was pretty simple. You ask someone if they want milk or sugar (or serve the drink black with the milk and sugar on the side). Those were the only variations. Today it has become a somewhat more complex affair (you might find someone asking for a decaf soy milk flat white, for example), but one standard assumption still remains. Sugar is served on the side, not in the drink. Or if it is, your host will have first asked you whether you want sugar and how much.

But it's important to remember that this assumption is not shared all over the world.

I was in Malaysia recently, and as I am prone to do, I had eaten too many delicious Malaysian sweets that day. So I hankered for something cleansing and slightly bitter to counter my sugared-out feeling. Sitting down at a cafe, I ordered teh O, which is what they call black tea in Malaysia. To my surprise, it was full of sugar - the standard way of serving it. I was informed that for sugar-free tea I had to order teh O kosong (kosong meaning "zero" or "empty"). In the traditional Malaysian coffee shop, rarely is there sugar on the table - it is already in your drink unless you state otherwise.
The same places also served Chinese tea, but by contrast, it is always served without sugar. Which is quite right, too; I've never known anyone to drink Chinese tea with sugar and this seems like a very wrong thing to do, somehow. Although truth be told I'm sure it would actually be quite nice.
Chinese tea and black tea are not all that different, really. Which is why it was odd that the default assumption was that one should never be served sweet and the other should always be served sweet.

So what happens if you just order "tea" in Malaysia (teh)?

Most likely you'll get black tea with milk and sugar. Although when I say "milk and sugar" I mean sweetened condensed milk, or a combination of evaporated milk and sugar. Which to be honest, is a whole lot nicer than milk with tea and sugar the English way. (The one pictured here was from PappaRich in Bangsar.)

Then there's teh tarik and teh halia and teh ais and so on, but that's a whole 'nother story.

When I was younger I travelled with my parents to various places in Indonesia, and visited family friends at their houses. Almost without fail, the hosts would serve us tall glasses of hot tea of the fragrant local variety. At the bottom of the glass was a substantial quantity of sugar - perhaps 3 teaspoons worth, or more, I couldn't really tell. A teaspoon was either left in the glass or available nearby.
I would stir the tea and drink it down as was polite - it's pleasant but very sweet, as you'd imagine; and soon enough we would depart to visit another household, who would serve the exact same drink. Now if you visit 4 or 5 people in a day, and then do it all again the next day, pretty soon you're consuming a whole lot more sugar than you need to. By the time we left Indonesia, my teenage acne was a little out of control, and while the humid weather may have had something to do with it, I blamed the sweet tea.
I complained to my mother about how the amount of sugar Indonesians put in their tea was ruining my complexion, and by extension, my adolescent self-esteem.
Her response: "So why did you stir the sugar into it then?"
Good question. I just assumed that was what you did. The sugar was in the glass for a reason, right? And if sugar is just sitting at the bottom of a tea-filled glass, it's just asking to be stirred, no?
But the proper way was obviously to stir "to taste". If you want it really sweet, stir all the sugar in; if you just want it a little sweet, stir just a little.

Likewise, my first time ordering coffee at a Malaysian-Chinese coffee shop resulted in a thick bitter brew with no apparent milk or sugar... until I got to the bottom of the cup, and discovered a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk waiting for me. Where I come from, it would be almost unthinkable for a cafe to serve coffee or tea with 2 sugars already added, and it puzzled me that this was such a common practice in Malaysia.

Yet, it's just about knowing the rules, and everyone in Malaysia knows them. I'm sure a lot of Malaysians would tell me, "If you didn't want sugar in it, why didn't you order it without sugar?" Which, objectively, is not an illogical question.

See also:

The guide to ordering food in Malaysia
"Egg tea" in Indonesia
Is chai latte only a drink for wankers?
Green tea is intent on world domination
Filipino iced tea and other hard drugs

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The thorny question of Muslim youth and rape

British former Home Secretary Jack Straw courted controversy this week when he commented on a case of a gang of young men, primarily of Pakistani background, who sexually assaulted a number of white British girls in Derby. He said:
"Pakistanis, let's be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders' wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders.

"But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men... who target vulnerable young white girls.
"We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way."
Mr Straw added: "These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically," he said.
"So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care... who they think are easy meat.

The convicted men were ringleaders Mohammed Liaqat and Abid Saddique (pictured below), as well as Graham Blackham, Mohammad Rehman, Faisal Mehmood, Akshay Kumar, Naweed Liaqat and Farooq Ahmed. They groomed vulnerable teenage girls with drugs and alcohol, then sexually assaulted them. There were 27 victims in all.

Straw's statement predictably met with a flurry of criticism from some quarters, yet also agreement from others. What do you think? Do the South Asian and/or Muslim communities have a problem with rape, particularly towards white women? Is it a racist statement to make? Or is it a serious issue that the cultural Left are too scared to touch?

It's important not to be simplistic here. I have quite a few views on this, not only as the child of a Muslim Asian migrant but also as someone who has worked with many clients who have offended against women, and heard the full spectrum of young men's views about sex and relationships.

You could note that in Cornwall, another gang was very recently convicted of preying on mostly white girls as well. The details were very similar... yet these guys were white. Clearly the primary problem here is of gang culture, and possibly young male culture, rather than Pakistani culture.

However... as an Australian, the case sounds all too familiar. It is chillingly similar to two gang rape cases that shocked Sydney in the early part of the last decade. One was a group of 4 Pakistani brothers ("The K Brothers") and one Nepali who sexually assaulted as many as 18 teenage girls. Another was the 14 young men of Lebanese background  led by Bilal Skaf (pictured below) who gang-raped teenage girls at train stations. In the Skaf case, all the girls were "Aussie" (ie. white), and this was specifically mentioned as justification for their treatment. I'm unsure of the ethnicity of the girls in the K brothers case, but there is clear implication that they were not Pakistani.

Why white girls? In the Skaf case, there was clear racism at play. The gang members told one victim "You deserve it because you are Australian." Another was called an "Aussie pig", asked her if "Leb cock tasted better than Aussie cock" and explained to her that she would now be raped "Leb-style". In the case of the Asian gang recently convicted in Derby, there is some evidence of racial abuse. It should be pointed out that while the gang may well have had a prejudiced view of white girls that led to targeting them, I would guess it is largely due to opportunity and availability. White teenage girls, I would assume, are on the whole less conservative than Asian teenage girls and thus more vulnerable to grooming with drugs and alcohol. And with Asian girls there would be a greater chance of retribution from vengeful relatives.

Of course, it is important not to conflate the actions of a twisted few with an entire religion or culture. All three gangs I've discussed here are predominantly made up of Muslims; but are they actually Muslims in anything other than name only? Certainly they came out of a Muslim culture, yet when a sex offender is white, is his religion or ethnicity ever deemed relevant? It's probably safe to say they weren't devout religious people. It must be said that nowhere in Islam does it condone rape, and indeed the Islamic punishment for rape is severe. And I'm quite certain that the incidence of rape in Pakistan is nowhere near as high as that in places like the UK and US.

Yet... culture can give mixed messages. For example: Western male culture, in the main, abhors rape and views rapists as scum. But simultaneously, it promulgates the very attitudes that perpetuate a culture in which rape can thrive. For example, the idea that a promiscuous woman is a slut and thus less worthy of respect; the idea that a man's ability to "score" is reflective of his manhood; the idea that a man should be dominant when it comes to sex and relationships. These attitudes are not taught explicitly, yet most men unconsciously absorb them to some extent.

Those same values are present in all societies, to various degrees. It is worth noting that one of the victims of the K brothers claimed the police didn't take her seriously because she had been drunk, and had implied she was a slut. In South Asia and the Middle East, arguably the most sexually conservative regions in the world, the disdain for promiscuous women is taken to the highest degree, and links in with the so-called "honour killings" that sometimes happen there. (Note: while honour killings do correlate strongly with Islamic cultures, they are absent from much of the Islamic world, such as West Africa and SE Asia. They also occur among Indian Sikhs and Hindus.) 

When a man commits a sexual crime, he normally has certain beliefs about himself, the world, and the victim. Foremost among these is that the victim somehow deserves it, and that the perpetrator has some kind of entitlement to do so.

Religious conservatives love to blame the permissiveness and so-called immorality of modern Western culture for the incidence of rape. And while they may have a point, conservative morality can also fuel this kind of behaviour. It is a worldview that sees a sexually free woman as a slut, a whore, and thus someone of degraded morals and worthy of scorn. Such a person is often seen as "deserving" of what fate befalls her. You can see it discussions of rape and in rape trials, when the revealing nature of a victim's clothing is called into question, or likewise their sexual history.

It is generally accepted that Western society is more sexually free than most others; at least to the extent of being more open about it. Australia has a female PM living in a de facto relationship and no one bats an eyelid. Celebrities sexual exploits are popular tabloid fodder, and magazines dispense sexual advice to male and female alike. You could say that there is plenty of pre-marital sex happening in various non-Western societies, but the difference is that there still remains an "official" cultural stance that such behaviour is frowned upon.

When migrants come to the West, they are almost always more conservative than the mainstream society around them. This often changes, of course. But among many, particularly the more conservative older generation, there remains a prejudice about the young Westerners, particularly Western women. The more emphasis a culture places on chaste behaviour for its young women, the more it tends to view those who step outside these boundaries with distaste.
This is not a universal view among migrants by any means, but it is nonetheless a common phenomenon in virtually every ethnic group. Stick to "our" girls, because "their" girls are a bit, well, slutty.

This sort of attitude can be found to some degree amongst any migrant group, be they Korean, Kenyan or Kazakh. But it must be said that Islamic cultures take it a step further. Islam, with its rigid disapproval of premarital sex, places great emphasis on the tempting nature of women. Thus the need for hijab, covering up women to prevent men harassing them and being led into temptation. Now this might work in a sense, but it also has the effect of giving some men a very juvenile mindset when it comes to temptation. By primarily giving women the responsibility for not encouraging sin, it is easy for men to abdicate their own responsibilities. The idea that male sexuality is so powerful that men themselves cannot control it is common in many cultures, including in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it has achieved greatest currency in the Islamic world.

The distinction between a "good" woman and an "impure" one is made even more clear by clothing and behaviour. A good woman is one who covers her body and behaves properly. One that goes out partying, wears make-up, reveals a bit too much skin, or is perceived to be promiscious - she is impure and immoral, and thus not deserving of the same respect as the "good woman".

Now, in conservative countries where women cover themselves up and behave conservatively, this might work; yet it is still easy for women to be disgraced for relatively innocuous things, such as being seen with a boy. Consider then, the culture clash when someone from these countries arrives in the West and sees women in crop-tops and miniskirts. Most adjust to the new social norms they are faced with, but some cannot shake the view they have grown up with, which divides women up according to their level of moral correctness. And the girls who show off all that skin and go out drinking at bars, in this worldview, do not gain much high regard.

It is widely acknowledged that one of the most shocking incidents of racist violence in Australia's recent history, the Cronulla Riots in late 2005, was a reaction to the behaviour of a group of Lebanese men who routinely harassed blonde women at the beach and frequently called them "Aussie sluts".

Bilal Skaf's father once said that if the girls had been wearing hijab, they wouldn't have been raped.

The excellent British-Pakistani journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, speaking about the current case in Derby, says in this article:

Most Asian men do not go around raping young white girls and women; many have happy and equal relationships with white partners. However, an alarming number of Asian individuals, families and communities do believe that white females have no morals, are free and available, deserving of no respect or protection.

Up in Bradford a few years back, I met Muslim pimps, some wearing mini Koran pendants on heavy, gold chains. "Not our girls," they reassured me, "just them white girls from the estates, cheap girls. They love it man, all the money they make! What else will they do with their lives? We're helping them make a career."
Much laughter, until I asked them what they would do if a white pimp groomed their daughters. They would kill the pimp and the girls too, they said. They would too.

The sort of young men of Muslim backgrounds who commit this sort of crime are certainly not acting out any religious or cultural imperative. Rather, they are cherry-picking whatever cultural influences serve their purposes in the worst way. The rebellious sociopathy of the gang lifestyle; the lure of easy sex and cheap titillation that abounds in Western countries. These things of course are totally at odds with the culture of Pakistan, Lebanon or any other traditional country. Yet by channelling that traditional perspective of female morality, and victimising only those they view as degraded and cheap, it becomes that much easier to justify.

So back to the original comment by Jack Straw. He seems to generalise about Pakistani men, but given the overall context of his statement, I think it's clear he doesn't wish to tar the whole British Pakistani community with the same brush. I actually think he's spot on, and the British Asian community, and certain migrant communities elsewhere in the world, do need to do some soul-searching on this matter. It's one of the nastier consequences of a sadly too-common tendency among some migrant groups: to live in the West, yet view Western culture with distaste. This sort of thinking surely has no bright future.

See also:

Knobhead of the week: Samir Abu Hamza

Was Islamophobia a factor in the wrongful conviction of Farah Jama?

Define "race-based attack"


Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010 in recap: My top posts for the year

Blatant plug time!
The year end gives me a chance to remind you of some of the posts I have spat out over the last year which you may have missed.

These are what I think are some of the best things I've written these year. Some of them are insightful, some are dumb but possibly mildly amusing, others are both. If you haven't read them, your life may well be significantly poorer as a result.
Asian drivers are safer. Seriously?
Are white people more racist than everyone else?
"Tim Tam from Vietnam" - or, how NOT to make jokes about Asians
Race and dating: "What is it with you and Indian chicks?"
A bit about Asian men and white women
HBD (Human Biodiversity) and "Race Realism"
The problem of when Western cooking shows go "Eastern"
Tofu containers - an essential storage item for every Asian?
So "Asian-Australian" means what, exactly?
"You are NOT Eurasian" - the weirdest email I've ever received

STUFF I WROTE FOR OTHER BLOGSI did a few guest posts this year. Check it:
Stuff Asian People Like: Spitting
Stuff Asian People Like: Cheesy Ballads
Stuff White People Do: Blame their accusers instead of themselves

Given that I spend a considerable amount of time in Indonesia and Malaysia, I do write a few things about those places. Occasionally I even know what I'm talking about.
The ugly politics of race in Malaysia
3 things Indonesia can teach Malaysia
The most awesome Thai names
Being vegetarian in Malaysia
Being vegetarian in Indonesia

This is the sort of thing that you can quote to people at parties, which will either make you seem really interesting, or a dreadful bore. I think it's interesting though, and that's what matters.
How Muslim names evolve across the world
How language tells the history of Malaysia and Indonesia
English words of Indian origin
The complicated history of the song "Sukiyaki"
Hip-hop's Ethiopian flirtations

Many of the people who read this blog have been drawn to it by my writings about Asian-Australian issues, and the ins and outs of race and racism in this country. Here are some of the better ones.
Addressing the myths and misconceptions about anti-Indian violence in Australia
How to use the media to incite racial hatred
Of geeks and gangsters: the "model minority"
You're damned if you do...
The white-out of Billy SingHow the media manufactures a racist "controversy"
"The suspect was described as having dark skin"
Victorian police accused of racism towards African youth
It couldn't have been a white person...? More on ethnic descriptors of criminals

Given that last year was the end of a decade, I put together a couple of lists of the films and songs I dug the most in that 10 years.
Listmania: Greatest tracks of the 00s
Listmania: My favourite movies of the 00s

Barack Obama has been something of a fascination for me, largely because the reaction to having a coloured fella as POTUS tells you a lot about how far we still have to come on race issues in general.
If Obama is a Muslim, maybe I am too...
Now 1 in 5 Americans believe Obama is a Muslim
More "Obama's not an American" nonsense
Obama bows again. Conservatives are outraged. Sensible people couldn't care less
The Muslim-ness of Obama's family, and what it has to do with his presidency

These are some videos by other people that made me LOL, ROFL or say "WTF?" this year, and I posted them because I want you to do the same.
Ninja say what?
Interview with Miss Universe China. Oh man, this is good.
Japanese precision walking
Let's Muscle!
Koreans, you too can curse like an American
"The Red House" ad - furniture that both black and white people can enjoy

If your primary interests are who's hot and who's not, these polls will interest you. The World Cup one got more hits than any other post this year.
Who are the hottest players at the World Cup?
Who is the hottest world leader - part 1 (males) and part 2 (females)