Saturday, April 30, 2011

Don't be a kiki

(Hat tip: Yuey)

What should be a source of mild amusement becomes a gigantic facepalm due to one person's ridiculous oversensitivity and an over-zealous bureacracy's strange need to indulge a busybody. From The Daily Telegraph:

A NSW woman says she is being relentlessly pursued by state road authorities because her personalized number plate means "vagina" in another language, news.com.au reported Wednesday.
The Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) says the number plate bearing the name - "Kiki" - is the same word used for vagina in the Filipino language, Tagalog, and wanted them removed.
Kristen Perry, a lawyer from Newcastle, said she was informed of her "offensive" nickname after first receiving her personalized plates five years ago as a gift from her husband, the Newcastle Herald reports.
"At first I thought it was a joke, but then I realized it was actually quite serious and that my number plates would be taken off me if I didn't respond appropriately," Perry told ABC.
"Quite frankly it's a bit of a funny thing, but at the same time quite a bit scary that we've got people that can just report a number plate that seems quite inoffensive to 99 percent of us out there, but one percent have an issue with it."
The RTA has said it received a complaint from a Tagalog speaker who found the number plate offensive. The Tagalog people is an ethnic group in the Philippines, making up 28.1 per cent of the Filipino population.
Perry said that Kiki has been her nickname since childhood. ''I rang my father last night and said, 'Do you know you have been calling me vagina all my life?'''
This afternoon the RTA relented.
"The RTA has a responsibility to investigate complaints about personalised plate content, but we recognise that in doing this we must take a common sense approach,’’ a spokeswoman said today. "We recognise in this case a common sense approach was not adopted and Ms Perry will retain the content of her plates."
I really, really hate this sort of fuss-making over nothing.

Now, I'm no spokesman for the Filipino-Australian community (I'm not Filipino for a start), but I'm going to take it upon myself to speak for them here. Do you know how many people of Filipino origin there are in Australia? Something like 160,000. But how many of those would actually be offended by seeing "KIKI" on a license plate, and would think it such an important matter that they would lodge a complaint about it?

A handful at most. The vast, vast majority would probably just chuckle to themselves about it.

Think about it - just say you were in, say, Iran and saw the personalised license plate of someone with the unfortunate name of Mr C**t. Would you ring up the Iranian traffic authority and complain? No, you'd laugh, and take a picture to show your friends back home.

In fact, years ago, I was watching TV with my girlfriend of the time, who was Filipino, and she started laughing at a cat food ad that featured a cat named "Pookie", which also sounds like puki, another Tagalog word for vagina. (It strikes me that Filipinos have a lot of words for vagina.) She certainly didn't ring the TV station to complain, and I'm sure no one else did either.

But all it takes is one busybody to spur the RTA into action. Thank goodness common sense prevailed. Although with the number of people dying from crashes on our roads, I'm rather concerned that anyone at the RTA has the time and resources to moonlight as the Tagalog manners police as well.

But aside from being a waste of everyone's time and a poor reflection upon the sole Tagalog-speaker who was so terminally lame as to lodge the complaint, there's another reason why we need to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen.

This sort of story inevitably gets into the papers, and witness the responses it engenders:
Jim diGris of Dungog Posted at 6:01 PM April 20, 2011
1 person complains and causes a stink. This country has gone mad with political correctness and pandering to minorities
Comment 2 of 21

MB of Cairns Posted at 7:24 PM April 20, 2011
Another case of the minority trying to dictate to the generally silent and sensible majority. So relieved Kiki took the mindless bureaucrats to task over this.
Comment 7 of 21

TCK Posted at 8:05 PM April 20, 2011
It might surprise them but this isn't the Philipines, it's Australia and Kiki is not offensive here. how many other cultures, nations etc are we expected to cowtow to? The old story, if you don't like something about Australia or Aussies...GO HOME, don't expect us to change to suit you.
Comment 10 of 21

RichardC Posted at 8:31 PM April 20, 2011
The RTA is staffed by arrogant fools. This is Australia, we speak English and KIKI is not an offensive word in Australia. In fact my daughter, whose name is Kristianne was called KIKI when she was small because that's how her brother pronounced it. If some foreigner doesn't like life in Australia then they are welcome to go somewhere else. SOON!
Comment 11 of 21
And so on. You'll notice how the complaint of a single easily-offended Filipino-Australian has suddenly become "Another case of the minority trying to dictate to the generally silent and sensible majority."  One person = a whole section of society? And the reality is that the above comments reflect a pretty widespread view. Their perception is that the ethnic lobby and the politically correct brigade are out to interfere in the most mundane aspects of the average Australian's life over some petty bullshit.

The above commenters seem fairly douchey, and while I don't really care what they think, all that is achieved by stupid cases like this is that more regular folk begin to acquire those sorts of attitudes. It's unfortunate, but when a member of an ethnic minority does something objectionable, it ends up reflecting on all ethnic minorities, in the minds of a lot of people. That's not right, but it's reality, and it just feeds prejudices. And one day, when we have serious, real problems to raise a fuss about, we might be taken less seriously since we are perceived as a bunch of whingers.

Other examples:
Banks no longer giving piggy banks to kids for fear of offending Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims wouldn't be offended at all by piggy banks (it's not a real pig, therefore it's not unclean), but it just fuels the perception of Muslims not wanting to integrate and wanting to take away the freedoms of the majority.
The Korean-American woman who attempted to sue Miley Cyrus for $4 billion, after the teen starlet was photographed making the "chinky-eye" gesture at a party. Now, a lot of people were offended by that photo, and fair enough too, but to sue Cyrus for any amount of money, let alone $4 billion, is so ridiculous that it's beyond ridiculous. And it just encourages ignorant people to think that Asians are just too sensitive.

So by all means, fight for your rights, people. But when it comes to the insignificant stuff, just get a life and move on. You're making us all look bad.

And to the companies and government departments that indulge this nonsense - you're part of the problem. Grow some balls.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

More "tiger mothering"

Olivia Munn on The Daily Show recaps her own upbringing under a hardass Asian mother.

Finally picked up a copy of Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", so I'll let you know what I think soon. Of course, I'm already reading-but-not-really-reading a few other books simultaneously, so I'm not sure when I'll get that done.


See also:

On hardass Asian parents and More on Amy Chua

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Muslim publics divided: Encounters with anti-pluralism in a democratic Indonesia"

This is an excellent podcast courtesy of the University of Melbourne, about the tug of war between progressive secularists and radical fundamentalists in Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world.

Indonesia has long been lauded as an example of a kinder, gentler form of Islam, and one of the more successful recent examples of democracy in not just the Muslim world, but in Asia as well. Yet so many of the headlines to come out of Indonesia are of religious-based violence and terrorism. Which is the real Indonesian Islam? Perhaps this will enlighten you somewhat.

Supaidaman!

No, I don't know wtf either. Just enjoy.






Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Comparing people to monkeys

Indonesians used to have a joke about their former President, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie (left). It goes something like this:
An American, a Briton and an Indonesian are arguing about their countries advances in medical technology.
The Brit says "We had a woman who lost her arm in a train wreck, yet our surgeons were able to graft onto her a prosthetic arm that worked so well that she can still do her job as a doctor."
The American says, "Yeah? Well, we took a man with severe heart problems and transplanted a pig's heart into his body. He's still alive and is able to run marathons."
The Indonesian scoffs. "That's nothing. We had a man whose head was cut off and crushed, but our doctors were able to graft the head of a monkey onto his body. He is now the President of Indonesia."
Fast forward to 2011, and you may have caught the story last week of Marilyn Davenport, the Orange County Republican party official who sent around an email depicting Barack Obama as a monkey.


Now, predictably, in her excuse-making response to claims of racism, Davenport offered up that old chestnut that people seem to think is the universal get-out-of-jail card for racist behaviour - "I have black friends". Of course you do, dear. Or you did once, anyway.

It's a trope that has been wheeled out numerous times: Obama the monkey president. Now, my memory is not perfect, but I don't recall Clinton or Bush Snr or Reagan being regularly likened to monkeys.

George W Bush was caricatured as a monkey quite a bit though. And conservatives love to point that out, as a rejoinder to claims that portraying Barack or Michelle Obama as simians is racist. How can it be racist, when Dubya was portrayed as a monkey all the time?

Well, here's how. Bush was likened to a monkey because he was almost universally regarded as an buffoon with low intelligence. (I for one don't think Bush was quite as dumb as he was made out to be, but he certainly gave plenty of ammunition to those who would see him that way.)

Now, why is Obama being likened to a monkey? Even his staunchest opponents don't seem to think he is stupid or buffoonish. They prefer out-of-touch, elitist, sinister, communist or a secret Muslim. None of which are really associated with being apelike.

He is, however, black. And some people of questionable intellect seem to associate blackness with being some kind of lower primate. Ask the hooligans in Spain and Eastern Europe who bring bananas to football matches with no other purpose other than to throw them at black players. When Nigerian international Peter Odemwingie left his club Lokomotiv Moscow to play in the English league, a section of the home crowd unveiled a huge sign basically saying "good riddance", accompanied by a picture of a huge banana. White players don't get this treatment.


But here's the thing. Some people do actually resemble monkeys or apes. Some of them are black. Do black people really look more like monkeys than any other racial group? Only if you look through a racist lens. You could just as easily argue that Europeans, being the most hirsute of all peoples, are the most monkey-like, but you never hear anyone bring that up.

Returning to the joke about B.J. Habibie above, that's a joke made by Indonesian people about another Indonesian. There is no racial subtext. And anyone who's actually observed Habibie in action would probably agree that with his facial features, small stature and quirky mannerisms, he does remind one of a monkey.

So if a person actually does look like one of our simian cousins, in theory it shouldn't be a bad thing to make a joke about that. But the ugly legacy of racism means that likening people of African origin to monkeys is likely to induce too much angst from various quarters, whether you think that individual person resembles a monkey or not.

There are plenty of white foks who look like they'd be at home in the treetops. For example:


English singer Mick Hucknall,
of the band Simply Red


Belarusian footballer Alexander Hleb

Actor Robin Williams

Welsh footballer Gareth Bale

Former New Kids on the Block singer Danny Wood


And the cool thing for me is that I can say these guys look a bit like primates and no one is really going to get offended because (a) they are white, and (b) they are undeniably some primate-lookin' dudes.


Former NBA star Patrick Ewing.
But if someone was likening, say, former NY Knicks centre Patrick Ewing to a gorilla, would that be racist? 


Some would say yes. So let me make it clear, I'm not saying Patrick Ewing (great player, btw) looks at all like a gorilla. If you think he does, you might be racist.
But Barack Obama? C'mon. Dude doesn't really like any variety of primate. Even his much caricatured big ears aren't really that big.

White British football fans comment all the time on how Gareth Bale looks like the chimp Cornelius from Planet of the Apes. Indonesians have little problem joking about how much their former President resembles this gibbon. But are you gonna find any African-Americans who find the Obama-monkey reference amusing? I doubt it. They know they history behind that shit.

People who cry that there's nothing racist about portraying a black president as a monkey either don't know the history behind it, or are being disingenuous. Because no matter what you think about the president's politics... if you look at or think about Barack Obama and you somehow connect him to being monkey-like, that says that there is something racist and messed up in your brain.

If Patrick Ewing was president, however...

DISCLAIMER: If anyone decides that comparing anyone to a monkey as I have done in this post is racist, let me hereby declare that some of my best friends are white. And black. And Asian. Oh, and monkeys. I think that covers all the bases.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Let's play "Spot the Sample"! (Nel Cimitero di Tucson)

It's Spot the Sample time again folks.

Below is a clip from the 1968 spaghetti western Preparati la Bara!, with Terrence Hill playing the mysterious gunfighter Django.
At the 1:44 mark, listen for the eerie music in the background. The same song was sampled not so long ago for a pretty fantastic track that became a huge worldwide hit. See if you can pick it; shouldn't be all that hard.


The song, if you are curious, is called Nel Cimitero di Tuscon, by the Reverberi brothers, Gian Franco and Gian Piero.

Know the song that sampled it? I'll leave the answer in the comments section.

Incidentally, if you watched til the end, did you notice how Django's machine gun fire somehow hits all the bad guys but not any of their horses? Now THAT, my friends, is quality gun-slinging.


See also:

Spot the sample: Celeste Legaspi

Spot the sample: Lata Mangeshkar, "Tere Here Beech Mein"

Spot the sample: Jackie Mittoo, "Free Soul"

Hip-hop's Ethiopian flirtations

The world's most average name

Here's a thought experiment.

Meet Muhammad Chen. He is the world's most average person.

Well, sort of. According to this post over at Abagond's blog, the world's most average person is a 28 year-old male who lives in Shenzhen in China and is a Roman Catholic. His name is a combination of the world's most common surname (Chen) and the world's most common given name (Muhammad).

So why don't you ever meet anyone named Muhammad Chen?

You don't have to be a genius to figure out that despite those being the most common given and surnames in the world, the combination of them is not common at all. Why? Because Muhammad is a name associated with the Muslim world, Chen is a name associated with Han Chinese, and those are two worlds that don't have a great deal of overlap. So the world's most average name is actually a very uncommon one.

Actually I know for a fact that there are a few Muhammad Chens out there somewhere, but my guess is that almost none of them actually live in China. Here’s why:

Muslims do exist in China - there are estimated to be around 20 million of them and perhaps many more according to some estimates. The main Muslim groups in China are the Hui (Chinese Muslims), and various Central Asian people (including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Salar and Dongxiang) from Western China.
Many of the Central Asians tend to have Muslim/Turkic names (including Muhammad, I assume), but because they are not Han Chinese, it is unlikely that they would have a surname like Chen. (An example is the Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer.) By contrast some of these groups, such as the Salar and Dongxiang, have Mongol or Chinese names.

The Hui, who make up around half of all Muslims in China, often claim ancestry dating back to the Arab and Persian traders who arrived in China during Mongol rule. But even though they are officially considered an ethnic minority, the Hui are effectively Han Chinese in virtually all aspects save religion. They look like Han Chinese, speak Chinese, and have Chinese names. The Arabic names of their ancestors have become Chinese over time – so Muhammad might become Ma, or Mu.

So even among the 20-million-plus Muslims in China, you would be hard-pressed to find a Muhammad Chen. The Chinese and Arabic naming traditions are not so conducive to merger; although if there exists a Hong Kong pop singer named Khalil Fong, then anything is possible.

So where to find a Muhammad Chen?

Out of curiosity I ran a Facebook search on Muhammad Chen, and all the results I could find with an identifiable nationality were from Indonesia. This makes sense. Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, has around 10 million ethnic Chinese. Of those, only a minority are Muslim, and while some of them have fully adopted Arabic or Indonesian names, some may have adopted a Muslim name yet kept their surname. Alternatively, the Muhammad Chens could be the product of a mixed Chinese and pribumi (native Indonesian) marriage. Similar result for spelling variations of Muhammad (Mohammad, Muhamad, etc), and I even tried Muhammad Chan for the hell of it. Most seemed to be Indonesian.

So there you have it. I dunno if that interested you, but it did me. Maybe I need to find better hobbies.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Ava Vidal

If you're in Melbourne, highly-rated British comedienne Ava Vidal is in town for the next couple of days, performing at Chapel Off Chapel. I like what I've seen of her so far.



I've caught a few comics at the festival so far. The undoubted highlight was Hannibal Buress, while Tom Segura and Marina Franklin were good for a few laughs. Less interesting was Matt Braunger (you fly all the way from the US and those are your best jokes, Matt, seriously?), while Moshe Kasher gave a kickass 10-minute set at one gig and a flat and disappointing 25-minute set at another gig. Weird.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

1960s Racist Jell-O commercial

Seen this on the tubes? I dunno whether to slap my forehead at the ridiculous racism of this 1960s ad, or just see it as a quaint reminder of how times have changed.

I can't choose between black lasbelly or glape, personally.

Oh, and Chinese have their own spoons, thankyou very much, Mr Great Western Inventor.

Thoughts, anyone?

From around the interwebs...

Links and stuff to ponder. I do not necessarily endorse the content, just present it for your perusal.


Coast bandit given "wok for"
[Apologies for the cringeworthy title]
...As the robber attempted to steal the till, pocket-sized Mr Chung came up from behind with a wok full of scorching chicken chow mein and his ladle. He poured the contents of the wok on to the bandit's back. The armed man, now in agony, struggled from behind the counter as Mr Chung continued to wallop him with the wok, the force causing him to drop the knife. It was quickly picked up by Mrs Chung who, with her husband, chased the man down Universal Drive.


Cultural Differences Are Evident Deep in the Brain of Caucasian and Asian People (at ScienceDaily)
...For decades, psychologists believed that it's natural for humans to see behaviors and automatically link them to personality. "For example, when you see somebody giving a seat to an old man in a train, you might jump to the conclusion that that person is very nice and kind," says Shinobu Kitayama, of the University of Michigan. He co wrote the new study with Jinkyung Na. "But the behavior may be motivated by some other things. For example, maybe his boss at work may be in that same train, or there might be very strong social norms" that led to the younger man giving up his seat



Last two speakers of dying language refuse to speak to each other
...Manuel Segovia and Isidro Velazquezto live less than a kilometre apart in Ayapa village in southern Mexico but according to the Daily Mail, they don't get on. Those close to the men aren't sure what the conflict is about. They're the last two speakers of this remote language but they refuse to discuss how best to preserve their dying language.



Loco loco over Poco-Poco in Malaysia (At Unspun)
...Islamic clerics in a Malaysian state want Muslims to avoid a popular dance they claim has Christian influences. The “poco-poco” is a line dance that is common at social events in Muslim-majority Malaysia. It is widely thought to have originated in Indonesia. Islamic scholars in Malaysia’s Perak state say they believe the “poco-poco” is traditionally a Christian dance and that its steps make the sign of the cross.


5 Chinese drinking habits explained (at CNN Go)
...If you thought shotgunning a beer in under five seconds back in uni was the pinnacle of drinking prowess, you’ve probably never been properly ganbei’d. China’s version of “down the hatch” is a bit like the power hour, involving repeated and prolonged shooting of small amounts of alcohol -- red wine if you’re lucky, baijiu if you’re not.
Though observed in all social circles, ganbei is particularly prominent in China’s formal banquet culture, where business suits and government officials rub elbows, talk business and get completely sloshed.


Why blacks take birtherism more personally (by David A. Love at The Root)
...This is an attempt to strip a visibly black man of his American-ness. To call President Obama an "Arab" or a "Kenyan" or a "Muslim" is merely to highlight the foreignness with which black Americans are still regarded by some segments of the population. This is a slap in the face to the descendants of slaves who have suffered through years of pent-up anxiety and sensitivity because the greater society has failed to accept them.


How I lost faith in multiculturalism (by Greg Sheridan in The Australian)
...It may be that by 2030 we will start to have a much more European-style, polarised society as a result.
Coming to these sombre conclusions marks a crisis of faith for me. All my life I have been, intellectually and as a matter of personal experience, strongly supportive of a big and completely racially non-discriminatory immigration program. This grew out of my convictions, my world view, and also my personal experience.
Mark Latham once remarked that the journalists and commentators who most vigorously support big immigration in Sydney live in the eastern suburbs, the inner city or the north shore. They don't live in the western suburbs where life is much more hard scrabble.


Racism? Or political correctness gone mad? (by Craig Platt in the Sydney Morning Herald)
...So are we too sensitive here in Australia? Jokes on race are probably the last remaining taboo in Australian comedy – it's a free-for-all on pretty much any other transgressive topic you can name (paedophile and incest gags are a dime-a-dozen these days). The exception is when you are a member of that race – you are allowed to ridicule your own people (something Reginald D Hunter compare to minorities 'dancing for the white folks' in his show this year).


The Conversation: Is France right to "ban the burqa"? (in The Guardian)
...Salma Yaqoob, leader of the Respect party, is opposed, while commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown believes the French may be doing the right thing.

Fun with Google Translate

Woah, thanks to the awesome power of the interwebs I am totally fluent in Hindi now.

Block-select and right click to find Google Translate. And yes, I was bored.


मेरी गेंदों खुजली कर रहे हैं. मैं बेघर साथ यौन संबंध रखने रोक देना चाहिए.


मैं इसे नफरत है जब आपको लगता है कि कोई आस पास है, तो आप एक पादना बाहर जाने, लेकिन तब कोई कहीं से प्रकट होता है और सही आप के बगल में खड़ा है.


अगर एक लड़की तुम्हें पूछता है कि आप कॉफी के लिए में आना चाहते हैं, यह मतलब है कि वे यौन संबंध चाहते हैं, है ना? मैंने सुना है कि यह करता है. तो क्यों गया था मैं स्टारबक्स के बाहर निकाल दिया?

आज मैं एक नर्सरी के पास गया और बगीचे के लिए गाय खाद खरीदा है, लेकिन यह बकवास था.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More Birther nonsense

Obama is an American. Get used to it.

Hot brown news journalists on SBS

I posted recently on the difficulties that non-white models are said to face in the Australian market, after an agency told an Indian-Australian model, successful overseas, that she'd struggle to find work in Perth due to her ethnicity.

So where does that leave all our young good-looking go-getters who happen to have somewhat swarthier complexions?

They could always try out as a journalist on SBS TV. Australia's multicultural broadcaster has clearly taken it upon itself to overcompensate for the lack of ethnic diversity on the mainstream channels' news departments. You would hard-pressed to claim that their selection of faces represents the Australian population. But I ain't complaining. Particularly since the network has been gradually upping the good-lookingness of its on-camera team in recent years.

Of course, SBS has by far and away the best coverage of global news of any free-to-air network in Australia. But this post is not about news, so much as it is a celebration of this oasis of brown hotness in Australia's broadcasting desert.

Janice Peterson (newsreader)

Peta-Jane Madam (reporter & newsreader) 
Auskar Surbakti (reporter)
Yalda Hakim (host, Dateline)
Kathy Novak (reporter)
Anton Enus (newsreader)

Leroy Ah Ben (reporter)
Former newsreader Indira Naidoo, one of the first Indians in a prominent Australian TV role.

See also:

The lack of Asians on Australian TV, and why it matters

Friday, April 15, 2011

Is it Islamophobic to ban the burqa?

The French government led by Nicolas Sarkozy has banned the wearing of the burqa and niqab, resulting in protests in Paris and London.

It’s an issue that makes for some strange bedfellows. Left-wing feminists can find themselves agreeing with right-wing xenophobes in wanting it banned. Left-wing civil libertarians find themselves in agreement with right-wing Islamic hardliners in supporting women’s right to wear it.

A common stance you’ll hear is that the current climate of opposition to the burqa and niqab, which has led to debate in the UK and Australia too, is a reflection of a growing feeling of Islamophobia. Is this correct, or is it possible to separate opposition to the burqa from anti-Islamic prejudice?

Let’s establish one thing from the start. Yes, there’s a lot of Islamophobia around. And yes, the French government’s moves to ban the burqa are almost certainly part of a broader agenda that is at least somewhat informed by racism and xenophobia. Thus, many Muslims see the attack on the burqa and niqab as an attack on Muslims in general, and understandably take an “us vs them” position.

It’s also important to note, however, that not every misgiving expressed about the cultural impact of Islam on our society deserves the label of “Islamophobia”. And the fact that a ban on the burqa is supported by some fairly unsavoury xenophobic elements does not mean that it is therefore xenophobic to oppose the burqa. (Hitler was into vegetarianism, but that doesn’t make vegetarians nazis.)

There are plenty of reasons to oppose and indeed ban the burqa, which have absolutely nothing to do with hate and fear of Muslims. It is possible to separate a people from a practice. As an example, FGM (female genital mutilation) is an ancient (and most would argue, barbaric) practice that is prevalent in the Horn of Africa; it has been estimated that around 74% of Ethiopian women (Christian and Muslim alike) have experienced some version of “female circumcision”, usually carried out on children by older women. Now, I quite like Ethiopians and have no problem whatsoever with them immigrating to my country, Australia. But does that mean I think FGM should ever be tolerated in Australia? Hell no.

I don’t particular like the idea of women feeling obligated to wear a hijab (headscarf), but I don’t object if they choose to wear it, and would support their right to do so. Hijab doesn’t really impede a woman in any meaningful way, and allows her to interact with society just like anyone else. But it is not really possible to experience the full range of social interactions that most of us take for granted while wearing a full-body covering. Covering the face is an enormous obstacle to communication with others, and makes it extremely difficult to identify an individual.

It’s also important to note that while wearing the burqa and niqab is something practiced by some Muslims, it is not mandated or even encouraged by Islamic teachings. It is a cultural practice (the burqa is Afghan in origin and the niqab is from the Arabian peninsula). Islam states that women should dress and behave modestly, which may or may not involve wearing a headscarf, but it says nothing about covering one’s face.

Before lumping the anti-burqa crowd together with the Islamophobes, it’s worth reflecting that many Muslim nations have taken a firm stance against the garment. Turkey, Tunisia and Malaysia, for example, have all introduced laws banning or restricting its use. Now, I’m not holding up any of those countries as any kind of benchmark for civil liberties, but they demonstrate that one can oppose the burqa and not be anti-Islam. (Indeed, the majority of French Muslims apparently support the ban.) The aforementioned countries have had no problem declaring that “we are Islamic, but face-covering is not an accepted part of our culture.”

“FREE WILL”
Probably the most common reason for opposing a ban on the burqa/niqab is freedom; in a liberal democracy, we do not have the right to dictate what others wish to wear, even if we personally find it distasteful. This is obviously an essential point to consider. I agree that it is highly problematic to have government-mandated “style police”. Likewise, the wearing of a particular costume is a “victimless crime”, in that if a woman chooses to don it, then she is clearly not being harmed by it, and nor is anyone else.

But this ignores that The State already dictates what we can wear in public. Try walking naked or semi-naked in the jungles of New Guinea and you wouldn’t be doing anything out of the ordinary; yet try it in a public place in a major Western city and see how long it takes before the police arrest you. Likewise, in some rural traditional societies one can openly display a machete or gun on one’s person, yet this would be a crime in a great many cities worldwide.

You could also argue that polygamy between consenting adults is also a victimless crime. Likewise for incest between consenting adults. Yet most countries have strict regulations forbidding these practices. Child marriage? Accepted in some countries, outlawed in most.

There are no outraged cries of Islamophobia from Muslims and civil libertarians that polygamy is outlawed in most Western countries. Because as in all the above cases, the laws reflect that certain practices are simply not compatible with the culture of a nation.

So is it really a woman’s free will to wear a full-body covering? Or is it being forced upon them by men? In Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, it is certainly not a free choice, at least in the majority of cases. What about in the West? That’s a trickier proposition. Some women clearly exercise an apparently free choice to wear these garments. I say "apparently", because I freedom of choice is questionable here. Burqa and niqab symbolise the belief that there is something inherently sordid and temptful about a woman's face, and that it is somehow unsafe for anyone to see it aside from her husband and relatives. It is unquestionably a symbol of male oppression of women, and a woman who chooses to wear it is unwittingly complicit in her own emotional abuse. Think of it as a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Some who wear the garment believe that it is a way of better pleasing Allah, but I'll believe that when Muslim men start pleasing Allah by wearing it as well.

And I have absolutely no doubt that the more women choose to cover their faces, it will lead to more women being coerced to wear them. This already happens with the hijab. In countries where hijab is common but completely optional, there is still frequently a judgement that accompanies those women who choose not to wear it; this kind of social pressure leads to more unwilling wearers of hijab, and I do not doubt that the same thing would happen with the niqab or burqa.

One of the better arguments against banning the burqa is that those women who wear it will be isolated; they will be unable to venture out of their homes, as they can only go outside if they are covered. (This usually comes with the assumption that this isolation is being enforced by their husbands, which says it all really.) I do realise this is a reality and will happen in some cases. However, such a perspective is admitting defeat. I firmly believe that a woman who is unable to wear a burqa and unable to leave the house will soon decide that integrating with wider society is not such a bad thing after all. Even an oppressive husband will most likely come to the same decision due to the sheer impractically of keeping his wife at home all the time.

Rather than looking at wanting to ban the burqa as Islamophobic, look at it this way; the presence of such garments actually increases Islamophobia. Given that the garment and what it represents is abhorrent to most non-Muslims, it is likely to provide fuel for those negative sentiments in the community towards Muslims. In a time when the presence of Muslims in the West is under increasing scrutiny, most Muslims wish to show the wider community that they can fit in, and that despite some differences, “we are just regular people like you”.

Why tolerate something that says exactly the opposite? The niqab and burqa symbolise rejection of the wider social norms, rejection of the possibility of normal social interaction with the vast majority, rejection of the cultural values that people in Western countries hold dear. Women clad in these garments are a walking advertisement for those who believe that there is something so starkly different and backward about Muslims that they cannot fit into Western society. It is very much in the interest of Muslims that these costumes and their accompanying cultural mindset are confined to history.

Epic Asian Baller

Anything you can do, there's some guy in Asia who can not only do it better, but has elevated it to a level of Zen that is attainable only to a select few nerdy obsessives. This guy must own all the stuffed toys in China.



 I wonder if this is what happens when you have a "Tiger Mom" encouraging you to succeed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The origin of fish sauce

Fish sauce is a well-known condiment in the cuisines of Vietnam, where it is known as nuoc mam, and Thailand, where it is called nam pla. It also turns up as a key flavouring in the Philippines (patis), Burma (ngan bya), Northern Malaysia (budu), Cambodia (teuk trei) Korea (jeotgal), and Japan (ishiru and shottsuru). Laos also has a chunkier variation called padaek. Fish sauce plays a vital role (particularly in SE Asia) in adding an umami (savoury) element to the flavour of food. It was once a common ingredient in China as well; indeed, there is a theory that the English word ketchup is ultimately derived from a Chinese term, ke-chiap, referring to a kind of fish sauce.

But while it is such a quintessentially Asian ingredient, you might be surprised that the Romans were using fish sauce far earlier. Not exactly the same thing, mind, but something eerily similar. Garum (and a similar product called liquamen) was a flavouring liquid made from fish innards and salt, left to ferment in vats. In fact it was originally an invention of either the Greeks or the Carthaginians, and it entered the Roman culinary pantheon when Rome conquered and/or traded with those regions.

Around 2000 years ago there was a thriving garum industry from the Iberian Peninsula to the Black Sea. But with decline of the Roman Empire also saw a decline in the use and production of garum, until it became virtually unknown in its former range. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Italian food knows that fish sauce is hardly a typical ingredient in La Cucina Italia. It did not totally die out, however, as several monasteries preserved the knowledge and continued making a kind of fish sauce, today known as colatura de alici, from Amalfi in the region of Campagnia. Colatura de alici is made from anchovies, as are most varieties of Asian fish sauce. Garum, however, utilised a wide variety of seasonally available fish, although anchovies were indeed a common component.

There appears to be no historical mention of fish sauce being used in Asia before the Early Middle Ages in Europe, which oddly enough is around the same time its use was dwindling in the remnants of the Roman Empire.

Laura Kelley of The Silk Road Gourmet contends in a recent interesting blog post that fish sauce passed from Europe to Asia along trade routes. This is quite certainly possible, as many other items passed back and forth between East and West long before Marco Polo's time. Remember that at one time Rome controlled land as far east as what is now Turkey - situated at one end of the Silk Road that led all the way to Chang'an in China. Wealthy Romans' diet revolved very heavily around spices, which meant that the likes of cinnamon (from Sri Lanka) and Nutmeg (from Indonesia) were highly prized commodities (often acquired through middle-men such as the Arabs. Silk, obviously, was traded and exchanged as gifts between China and Rome. So clearly there was some opportunity for a product such as garum to pass from the shores of the Black Sea to the South China Sea.

I'm somewhat sceptical of this though. I have little doubt that it was the Mediterranean that gave rise to the first fish sauce. However, I'm inclined to think that it was invented independently in two places, either in China or a neighbouring nation.

I have a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, by the time fish sauce is proven to be in use in Asia, its use around the Mediterranean seems to have already declined substantially. Would an increasingly marginalised product really have made it to Asia and spread so comprehensively throughout the region? It's certainly possible; we have no way of knowing exactly when fish sauce was first used in Asia, and during the era when it was the principal flavouring ingredient of the Roman Empire, it would make sense to send it eastwards as a trade or gift item. But for this to happen, it would have presumably arrived in Northern China, spread to Korea and Southeast Asia within the next 1000 years, but then faded from use in China itself. I'm just not sure if all that is more believable than an independent East Asian origin.

But primarily, it occurs to me that not only are many of the cuisines around Asia are heavily based around seafood, but fish sauce is only one of a number of seafood-based condiments employed in Asia to add that umami taste.

Sri Lanka has its indispensable "Maldive fish", dried fish (usually tuna) pounded into tiny splinters which is then added to all kinds of dishes. Similarly, the cuisine of Japan makes extensive use of dried bonito flakes, which go into the dashi (stock) which flavours virtually every Japanese dish with a hint of liquid. Malay cuisine is well-known for its extensive use of pungent shrimp paste, or blachan; this product is also commonly used in Thailand and Laos (where it is known as kapi), the Philippines (bagoong), Burma (ngapi), and Indonesia (terasi). One of the most distinctive flavours of Cambodian cookery is the fermented mudfish paste known as prahok. Tiny dried anchovies (ikan bilis) are an extremely common flavouring ingredient in Indonesian and Malay cooking as well.

So given the ubiquity of these seafood products as flavouring agents, I think it's only natural that fish sauce would have arisen independently somewhere in East Asia. Fish sauce is a logical way to use the abundant small fish that are caught in regions that rely heavily on fishing. And it's not so unusual for almost identical culinary ideas to arise in different regions with no relationship to each other. The chickpea flour pancake of southern France and Italy (socca or farinata) is uncannily like the pudla of Gujarat in India, yet no country in between those two regions seems to make use of this idea. Returning to seafood-based condiments, West Africa has its own as well, with cooks in places like Senegal and Ghana using powdered shrimps and marine molluscs to impart savoury flavours to their dishes.

I'm not sure if the truth will ever be known on this. In any case, it's somewhat amusing to reflect that the diets of a Roman Senator and a farmer in Vietnam would have shared an ingredient that both would consider indispensable.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Only one of these is a joke

As much as I love hip-hop, it's a genre that is ripe for sending up. What with hip-hop artists' love of posing and posturing, and the genre's obsession with the macho and materialistic. And white people getting into hip-hop culture is always good fodder for satirising (given that the genre itself stems from a quintessentially African-American aesthetic of cool). Examples include numerous songs from Saturday Night Live, most notably Dick in a Box and I Just Had Sex.

But because so many artists in the genre take themselves so seriously even when being frankly ridiculous, it's sometimes hard to know whether they are playing it straight or being knowingly silly. In addition, satirical performers can sometimes be so good at their work that a lot of viewers won't get that it is a joke.

With that in mind, check out these two clips. Musical merits aside, both artists seem not only extremely lame but serious about what they are doing, at least on the surface. Yet one of them is tongue in cheek and the other is apparently deadly serious. It probably won't be too hard for you to guess which is which, but have a look.

The first one is Young Con Anthem by The Young Cons.


The second is Go Grab My Belt by Slick Mahony.


Did you pick it?

Upon first viewing The Young Cons' work, my reaction was that it was an SNL-style joke clip, based on a fairly hilarious comedic concept: a couple of lame white guys in suits rapping about their conservative values and trying to make it cool to be a Republican. I mean, c'mon... from the moment that guy said "Yo, one time..." you thought it was a joke, right?
But it soon became clear that this is not comedy; these actually are a couple of lame white guys in suits rapping about their conservative values and trying to make it cool to be a Republican.

I'm not a conservative. But if I was, The Young Cons would make me seriously reconsider my outlook on life. Let's all just accept that the Left has a lock on all the coolest musicians and actors. Right-wingers rarely pull off coolness very well, it's like a suit that just doesn't really fit. And Republican rappers? Nah. As Ice Cube declared in his 1991 track A Bird in the Hand, "Blacks are too f*ckin' broke to be Republican."

Slick Mahony, on the other hand, is a joke, although as joke tunes go, it's a totally mad one. His dance moves are to die for. He's one of the crew from Turquoise Jeep Records, responsible for one of my favourite songs from last year, Cavities by Flynt Flossy with Pretty Raheem and Whatchamacallit. All their songs are tongue-in-cheek, but just real enough to cause a little confusion among those urban music fans who aren't so good with irony.

To my mind, if you are the kind of artist who inspires people to ask, "Is this for real, or a joke?" it's kinda lame to actually be for real.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Even cavemen aren't immune from sexual stereotyping

Seen this story doing the rounds?

First known 'gay' caveman
Scientists say that they have uncovered the first known gay caveman 5000 years after his death. Archeologists have uncovered the grave of a man they believed to have died between 2900 and 2500 B.C. and was seemingly buried in a way that suggests he was homosexual.
The skeleton of the man, found during an excavation in the Czech Republic, was found on his left side with his head facing west, buried with household jugs and no weapons.
An oval-shaped jug was also found near the feet of the skeleton.
During that period, men were traditionally buried with weapons, hammers and flint knives, and their bodies were placed on their right side with the head facing east.
Women were interred with their bodies on the left, head facing west, and buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as domestic jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.
Scientists are certain that the body placement was not a mistake, as customs were very strict on burial and funerals at the time.
"From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake," said lead researcher Kamila Remisova Vesinova.
"Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transvestite. What we see here does not add up to traditional Corded Ware cultural norms."
There had been previous skeletons discovered where a female warrior had been buried like a man, and Siberian shamans, or witch doctors, had been buried in a similar way to the "gay" caveman, another member of the archaeological team, Katerina Semradova, said.
"This later discovery was neither of those. We believe this is one of the earliest cases of what could be described as a transvestite or third-gender grave in the Czech Republic."


Is it just me or does this sound like rubbish?
Now let me say from the start, I have no problem with cavemen being gay. What two or more consenting adult cavepersons do in the privacy of their own cave is no business of mine.

But to label a skeleton gay, on the basis that he associates more with household jugs than weapons... well, that doesn't work for me. Ok, so our prehistoric friend might have preferred working in the kitchen to fighting off cave bears with axes and flint knives. So what? If you don't prefer cooking and serving drinks to fighting for your life against wild beasts, there is something wrong with you.

So it assumes that gay cavemen weren't into rugged manly stuff like weapons, and that straight cavemen weren't into anything domestic. I thought scientists were beyond such unimaginative stereotyping. Next they'll be claiming, "This skeleton possesses an unusually limp wrist and appeared to be heavily involved in the Neolithic fashion industry."

This reminds me of the time at university when a female classmate was convinced I was gay because I enjoyed cooking, was vegetarian, and carried a small tube of moisturiser in my bag. Ok, maybe that does sound a bit gay, but whatever the case, I'm not. Sometimes, people are just individuals and don't fit neatly into narrow gender role stereotypes. Maybe the caveman buried with household jugs was a rabidly heterosexual ladies-man who just, well, had a thing for household jugs. And how do we know that one of the uber-manly cavemen buried with axes and knives wasn't also mad for cock?

Incidentally, they are not even cavemen, technically. By 2900 BC, Europeans most certainly had farms and houses and maybe even closets.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Asian eyelid surgery in Australia

From ABCTV's show Hungry Beast this week.


A little bit of me died inside at the 2 minute 18 second mark when Heidi Liow, who no one could ever accuse of being ugly, says "I want to be beautiful" in the sort of way that you'd expect from someone who had been born with facial disfigurement.
Another part of me died when she speaks about people racially bullying her, and then says, "It makes me feel like there's something wrong with me."

No, child. When someone bullies you, there's something wrong with them. Never forget that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The geography of knob size

You may have caught this map going round the interwebs recently. (You can get a better look here, and it's based on data from here.) Having done a couple of posts in the last couple of years about race and penises, how could I ignore this? It's not an obsession of mine, I swear.

Anyway, at this point I'll just say straight up that if you are somehow reading this from the Democratic Republic of Congo, take a moment's break from dodging bullets in order to bask in some national pride, since your country is apparently a world leader in big-dickedness. DR Congo is the only country in the survey in which the average length tops 7 inches. It's also particularly impressive because the average age of Congolese surveyed was apparently only 16.3 years, meaning that some of the subjects are still growing! Heavens. Congratulations Congolese, you should celebrate. Just don't celebrate too wildly, you might take someone's eye out with that thing.  On the other hand, if you happen to be from South Korea... well, you may wish to stop reading this now. You don't come out of this with a whole lotta glory, I'm afraid. In fact, Asians in general are not overly flattered by this study, as you can see in the map.

Of course, I don't really put a whole lot of stock in these things, partly because as someone who is part-Asian, it does suit me to say "I don't believe in these things." But also because I'm not sure how you accurately take measurements of guys' erections. I mean, if some scientist dude orders me to muster one up and approaches me with a ruler, I'm not sure whether I'm going to be able to perform to the best of my ability. And some of the measurements come from self-reporting, which is some cause for scepticism. Self-reporting surely adds on at least another inch, I figure. For instance, Lebanon (self-reported) is listed as having an average length almost 3 cm longer than neighbouring Turkey, where the members were actually measured.
Notably, some of the biggest results come from countries in which the subjects self-reported. Including DR Congo! So are Congolese guys really the biggest in the world, or just the biggest liars?

That average age of 16.3 for the Congo puzzled me as well. So how many people under 16 were part of this survey? Because, well, they are considered children, and it's a brave man who visits a country as horrifically violent as the Congo and then goes around asking kids how big their penises are. I'm sure they lost many a good researcher that way.

If you know a little bit about human evolution, you'll know that it makes sense that Africans might have longer penises. Africans in general have longer limbs in proportion to their bodies than populations from other parts of the world; it's an adaptation to hot climates. Whereas East Asians, having evolved in a cold climate, generally have shorter limbs. So if that applies to limbs, it probably wouldn't be surprising  if it applied to genitalia as well.

Does having a big penis confer an evolutionary advantage? Probably not really, unless there is some advantage in being able to shag your partner while standing slightly further away from them than the next guy. Or if you live on the dangerous African savannah and need a weapon to club a lion to death with. Does it improve your chances of landing a mate? Not really. The nature of human sexual courtship means that by the time your ladyfriend is staring down the barrel of your member and in a position to analyse it, you're likely to be getting some action (and thus potentially passing on your genes) anyway.

Weirdly, coming second on the list after the DR Congo is Ecuador. Ecuador? Wow. For all the jokes and stereotypes I've heard over the years about black fellas and their trouser snakes, I've never heard anyone joke about being "hung like an Ecuadorian". What's more, unlike the Congolese, the Ecuadorian samples were actually measured by researchers, rather than being self-reported.
Maybe they used sexier research assistants for the Ecuadorian fieldwork, and the local fellas responded accordingly?
But it's not just Ecuadorians, but their neighbours too. Colombians, Peruvians, Bolivians and Venezuelans are all packing a fair whallop, all more than any European country. Maybe it's all that coca they chew.

As for Asian dudes, well... not to worry, I guess. Maybe next time don't turn the aircon all the way to extra-cold when some researcher is trying to measure your penis. And as so many women have expressed to me in the past with thinly disguised pity, it's not the size that matters, it's what you do with it. So some of y'all might need to start learning some tricks.

More seriously, this sort of thing is not good PR for Asian men in general, but personally I don't think it's cause for major concern. Most of us don't normally spend our days looking at other men's penises, so there's little point in worrying about how you compare with something else you're unlikely to ever actually see. Most women don't really care, anyway. For sexual satisfaction, skill is by far the most important attribute, followed by girth, with length just not a high priority.

Anyway, Asians are clearly doing something right. Over 1 billion people in both India and China shows that even if these studies are true, it's no impediment to getting one's swerve on.
Above: A cock from the Congo. Very impressive.

See also:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Happy now, Pastor Terry?



Reports are that at least 12 UN employees have been killed after a UN compound in Mazar-e-Sharif was attacked by a mob of as many as 2000 people protesting (peacefully at first) against the burning of the Qur'an by Pastors Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp in Gainsville, Florida. While today another 8 people have died and at least 61 injured after young men rampaged through Kandahar.

Last year, when Jones announced he was going to burn the Muslim holy book, thousands took to the streets in Afghanistan to protest, and a NATO base was pelted with stones, while in Kashmir a Christian Church was burned and 15 people killed. And that was only when he SAID he was going to do it (he subsequently decided not to).

For some reason, Jones decided to go through with it last week. And predictably, now that the news has filtered through to some of the most unruly parts of the Islamic world, all hell has broken loose.

Of course, the real villains here are those nutjobs who decided to vent their anger at some obscure attention-seeker from Florida on UN staff who had absolutely nothing to do with him. Let's not forget that.

But we all know these people exist. And if you're smart you don't rile them up. It's a shame that it has to be this way, but we all need to be careful of what we say when fundamentalist fascists are around, because they'll kill somebody.

Of course, Jones' point all along was that Islam is a religion of violence, and the Afghani protestors have clearly done him a huge favour with the predictably violent manner of their rebuttal.

Now personally I think in a perfect world, anyone should be able to burn a Qur'an or any other religious text. But the reality is that freedom of speech has its limits; the classic example of shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre is not protected speech, and what Jones has done is basically the equivalent of this. If it is obvious that your free expression is going to lead to violent unrest (and it was obvious in this case), then you need to face criminal consequences. This incident has potentially far worse consequences than what we have seen today; it could potentially set back UN and US efforts in Afghanistan back a decade.

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Difference makers

Now and then you hear a nice story about how one inspiring person can make a huge difference on the world. Somali doctor Hawa Abdi is one such person, who got some much-deserved shine on ABC News this week.


And then there are those people who need to find better callings to base their lives around. Roy Den Hollander is one of those people. Stephen Colbert and his crew treat Roy with the ridicule he appears to deserve.


Roy has what some might refer to as "white people problems" (see here and here).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Are Asian-Australians moving towards voting Liberal?

Interesting story last week here on ABC News about the Asian vote leading up to the New South Wales election, in which the Labor Party was resoundingly defeated. There is a sense that Asian-Australian voters are no longer a lock for Labor, as the Coalition have belatedly realised that it is an important constituency which they ignore at their peril.

NSW state Liberal candidate Dai Le
Dai Le, the Vietnamese refugee turned Liberal Party candidate, needed a record 29% swing to win the heavily Asian working-class seat of Cabramatta and beat Labor incumbent Nick Lalich. She fell short with a swing 26%, but that in itself is a remarkable shift.

In the last Federal Election, the Liberal Party fielded a number of Asian candidates - Wayne Tseng, John Nguyen and Fazal Cader in the Victorian seats of Calwell, Chisholm and Hotham respectively, and Thomas Dang, Ken Nam and Jaymes Diaz in the NSW seats of Fowler, Watson and Greenway. (Labor had only one Federal candidate of Asian descent, Joy Banerji in the Melbourne seat of Menzies). All of them lost, mind you.

Of course, if it seems like the Liberals are a sudden champion of Asian-Australians in politics, it's worth noting that all those candidates were running in Labor strongholds, and despite a large nationwide swing against the Gillard government, none of them managed to wrest their seat from Labor. So I get the impression that the Liberals might see Asian-Australian candidates as possible wild-cards in working-class seats with large numbers of migrants (which the Libs don't expect to win anyway), yet won't risk them in the more marginal seats in which there are less Asian voters.

It was only in 2006 that Asian-Australians were touted as a significant asset for Labor, due in large part to Kevin Rudd's apparent affinity for China and his ability to convincingly recite a few phrases of Mandarin. Previous PM John Howard even lost his own seat of Bennelong in Sydney due in large part to the large numbers of Asian residents who plumped for Rudd. But with Rudd usurped by Julia Gillard, I wonder how much of that voting bloc dropped off.

It is worth noting that despite having long favoured Labor, Asian-Australians are not necessarily a natural fit for a Left-leaning party. (Yes I know, Labor haven't been Left-wing for years, but in the traditional dichotomous view of Australian politics they are the Left to the Liberal Party's Right.) The Liberals are the party of business, of the "haves", and of the social conservatives. Many Asians fit into these categories, or are moving more and more into them. Communities such as the Chinese and Indians are increasingly strongly represented in high-income professional spheres which lean more to Liberal. Interestingly, the other party that has fielded a significant number of Asian candidates has been Family First, which draws substantially from a large Chinese contingent in the Assembly of God movement.

So why have Asian-Australians traditionally been such staunch Labor supporters? Because despite the former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser being a key figure in Australia accepting Indo-Chinese boat people in the late 70s and early 80s, something went horribly wrong after that. John Howard, in his first stint as Liberal Opposition Leader, publicly called for a reduction in Asian immigration. This alienated much of the Asian electorate, and Labor, under pro-multicultural Bob Hawke and then Paul Keating, cemented their identity as the champions of migrant Australians. Years later Howard would retreat from that stance, but it shouldn't be ignored that Pauline "Australia is being swamped by Asians" Hanson started her political career as a Liberal candidate. And it was Howard's stealthy co-opting of her xenophobic attitude towards refugees that spelled the demise of Hanson and her One Nation Party; the Liberals somehow got away with labelling One Nation as extremists while standing for virtually the same things.

Today, I'm not sure if Asian voters recall that Howard didn't want them here in the first place. Maybe it no longer matters. Despite the Liberals' recent hardline stance towards asylum seekers, many Asian voters (even those who were former refugees themselves) seem to have little empathy for the recent waves of South Asian and Middle Eastern refugees. It's a classic "get in and shut the door behind you" mentality.

The Vietnamese community is an interesting example of a voting bloc that may be in transition. Compared to the Chinese, it is more strongly working-class, rooted in Labor strongholds like Cabramatta and the Melbourne suburbs of Springvale and Footscray. Howard's racism in the 80s certainly left an opportunity which Labor seized with both hands, and as a result the Vietnamese vote was virtually guaranteed for Labor. Yet as people who fled from a Communist regime, there are many Vietnamese-Australians who are naturally suspicious of Labor's occasionally left-leaning tendencies. And as a very aspirational community which is increasingly moving into the middle class, the Liberal Party is quickly making up lost ground.