Friday, July 29, 2011


This is too good to have only 1,646 views. From Canadian comics Ali Rizvi Badshah and Frank Agyemang.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From around the interwebs... Asian parenting, education and achievement

Three interesting articles I've chanced across this week...

How to raise a global kid
Taking Tiger Mom tactics to radical new heights, these parents are packing up the family for a total Far East Immersion.

Happy Rogers, age 8, stands among her classmates in the schoolyard at dismissal time, immune, it seems, to the cacophonous din. Her parents and baby sister are waiting outside, but still she lingers, engrossed in conversation. A poised and precocious blonde, Hilton Augusta Parker Rogers, nicknamed Happy, would be at home in the schoolyard of any affluent American suburb or big-city private school. But here, at the elite, bilingual Nanyang Primary School in Singapore, Happy is in the minority, her Dakota Fanning hair shimmering in a sea of darker heads. This is what her parents have traveled halfway around the world for. While her American peers are feasting on the idiocies fed to them by junk TV and summer movies, Happy is navigating her friendships and doing her homework entirely in Mandarin.

Asians Underrepresented in Senior Ranks, Study Says

Despite relatively high salaries and an outsized share of Ivy League degrees, Asian-Americans are underrepresented in executive suites, according to a study released Monday.

 One-quarter of Asian respondents said they face workplace discrimination, while only 4% of Caucasians believe Asians are treated unfairly on the job. According to the report, Asian-American workers are also more likely than other minority workers to work less or consider quitting because of bias."In Asia, there's a saying that the loudest duck gets shot; in America it's: the squeaky wheel gets the grease," said Ms. Hyun. "These things are totally different and at odds with each other."

Ironically, the relative success of Asian workers may be exacerbating the problem. To date, few companies have had career development programs for Asian employees, because they are seen as a "model minority," according to the report.

Ripa Rashid, a coauthor of the report, said that the survey reveals something that she hears often from workers and managers: Asian-American employees are culturally uncomfortable with the type of swagger and self-promotion that often spells success in U.S. firms.

The study also showed that Asian employees may be less comfortable sharing their personal lives with coworkers and less likely to enlist more senior coworkers as mentors or sponsors.

"They just put their heads down and work and believe that's all it takes to get to the top," Ms. Rashid said.

Tiger Mothers or Elephant Mothers? by Peter Singer
Tiger mothering might seem to be a useful counterbalance to such permissiveness, but both extremes leave something out. Chua’s focus is unrelentingly on solitary activities in the home, with no encouragement of group activities, or of concern for others, either in school or in the wider community. Thus, she appears to view school plays as a waste of time that could be better spent studying or practicing music.

But to take part in a school play is to contribute to a community good. If talented children stay away, the quality of the production will suffer, to the detriment of the others who take part (and of the audience that will watch it). And all children whose parents bar them from such activities miss the opportunity to develop social skills that are just as important and rewarding – and just as demanding to master – as those that monopolize Chua’s attention.

We should aim for our children to be good people, and to live ethical lives that manifest concern for others as well as for themselves. This approach to child-rearing is not unrelated to happiness: there is abundant evidence that those who are generous and kind are more content with their lives than those who are not. But it is also an important goal in its own right.

See also:

Summation of Wesley Yang's "Paper Tigers"

Asian kids, Jewish education

On hardass Asian parents

So I finally read "Tiger Mother"

Sunday, July 24, 2011

RIP Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)

British singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home from causes yet unknown. She was 27.

Winehouse's dysfunctional personal life and troubles with substance abuse were legendary and had become something of a running pop-cultural joke. But that aside, let's focus on her music. She only released two albums, but each made a significant impact. Frank (2003) was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, while Back to Black (2006) was a multi-platinum-selling number 1 hit around the world. The two albums when taken together show the breadth of Winehouse's singing and songwriting ability. Frank is a jazz album with soul and hip-hop inflections, while Back to Black is strongly influenced by 60s girl-group soul.

Winehouse deserves a lot of credit for re-introducing retro-soul to the mainstream; it was a style bubbling around in the early 00s waiting for a larger audience, until Back to Black put the genre back in the top 10. The key was Winehouse's use of Mark Ronson and Salam Remi as producers, and NYC's fabulous Dap Kings as her backing band. It is fair to say that the huge success of two other British female singers, Adele and Duffy, owes a lot to Winehouse's breakthrough with Rehab.

One of my all-time favourite dance-and-get-wild tracks is Winehouse's guest appearance on Mark Ronson's Versions album. Valerie is a cover of the Zutons' 2006 hit, which is very different but also awesome in its own right.

But while Winehouse's best-known work was similarly brash and brassy, her slower, tender moments were often even better. Love is a Losing Game, off her second album, is just amazing in it's timeless beauty.

Frank to me is an uneven album stylistically, and Winehouse herself said she was only 80% happy with it. But it has some wonderful songs, particularly this one, Help Yourself. The song title is sadly ironic.

Japanese TV weirdness of the week: Split-walking

Why not?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The benefits of an Anglo name

A SUDANESE man who has applied unsuccessfully for more than 1000 jobs has resorted to using a fake Anglo name on his resume in a desperate attempt to get work.
Former refugee Agnok Lueth, 23, who fled war-torn Sudan for Melbourne in 2004, created the resume alias "Daniel McClean" because he believed Australian employers were unwilling to give him a fair go under his real name.
Mr Lueth sent out hundreds of resumes for jobs he was qualified for, but only received callbacks on applications with the fake names.
Of the six applications with the fake name, he got five callbacks.
The Swinburne University biomedicine and commerce double degree student can speak three languages, has a favourable work history and volunteered for three years for an Australian aid organisation.
Despite meeting the job criteria for positions as a waiter, shop assistant, call centre worker and bank teller, Mr Lueth told mX he felt overlooked by employers.
"I did a test to see if it was an experience problem or something more," he said.
"I sent six resumes with my qualifications but used a different name, and I was surprised at how quickly I heard back from five of the companies for interview requests."
(Read more...)

Perhaps there is more to this story, but taken at face value it is troubling yet not surprising. Recent studies in Australia, the US and Canada showed that having an Anglo-sounding name is a massive advantage in the job hunt. You can read about that in my previous post here.
New migrants are usually going to have some obstacles in a job interview, simply due to challenges of communication and culture which may result in a slight disadvantage compared to locally-raised folks. But from the looks of things, even getting a job interview is challenge enough.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A nice turn of phrase from Chinese Arsenal fans

North London football side Arsenal are touring China this week, and played a 1-1 draw with Hangzhou Greentown. A backdrop to the match is the long-running transfer saga in which superclub Barcelona are trying to sign Arsenal's star playmaker and captain Cesc Fabregas, yet are going about it in a devious fashion. They keep offering far less money than he is worth, while constantly making overtures to him in the media aimed at unsettling Cesc and having him force the issue with his club.
So I couldn't help but laugh at this banner created by some of Arsenal's Chinese fans, which sums up the thoughts of Arsenal fans everywhere with some slightly odd English which makes just that much cooler.
Courtesy of Arseblog.

Ugly Americans on social media, again

This week, Japan defeated the US in the Women's Football World Cup on penalties after a thrilling comeback. You can watch the highlights here.

Anyway, certain US soccer fans were not particularly happy about this result. And since social media sites exist for seemingly no other purpose than to help douchebags express their every douchey thought to the world, these fans happily demonstrated that uniquely American trait of assuming the US has a God-given entitlement to do whatever it wants and be better than everyone at everything ever.

Remember, this is over a game of soccer.

These were taken from Buzzfeed, where there are plenty more.

See also here and here.

The problem with "Angry Boys"

Chris Lilley's comedy Summer Heights High was one of the great recent successes of Australian television, dominating the ratings in 2007 and introducing a number of terms into the popular lexicon ("ranga" being the most obvious). Australia has not had a stellar record for producing sitcoms, but SHH was one of our best; smart, edgy and hilarious. Lilley, who created the series and played the 3 main roles, was widely lauded as a comic genius.

Angry Boys is Lilley's much-awaited comeback, but its initially high ratings have plummeted. While some viewers and critics still love it, the general consensus is that it's just not funny. SHH had 3 brilliantly-drawn characters that could have carried an entire series on their own; the 6 characters Lilley plays in Angry Boys are barely interesting enough to carry an episode. His mockumentary-style has always walked a fine line; like The Office, which is the modern benchmark for this kind of comedy, Lilley's characters are often quite unpleasant and prone to inappropriate and cringeworthy moments. Yet in his first two series (SHH and We Can Be Heroes), the writing was clever enough to balance those aspects, and the characters had enough depth to make them interesting. Angry Boys amps up the foul language and "edginess", but forgets that SHH was popular primarily because it was funny.

But the series has drawn criticism for other reasons, too: it has been described as homophobic and racist.

The homophobia accusation is fairly unfounded, to my mind. Yes, the word "fag" is thrown around seemingly hundreds of time during the series, but since Lilley is trying to capture the world of the uncouth teenage boy, it's hard to avoid such a term. And while there is plenty of homophobic language, it would be a stretch to describe the series itself as being at all homophobic.

The racial aspect is a bit more troubling.

I have real problems with the two non-white characters being played by Lilley: S.Mouse and Jen Okazaki. It's not the first time Lilley has played ethnic characters, with SHH featuring Tongan school bully Jonah Takalua and WCBH featuring Chinese scientist and aspiring actor Ricky Wong. I thought Jonah was a brilliant character; having worked with many Polynesian kids in the school system I've seen plenty of kids like Jonah and it really worked for me, particularly as Lilley nailed the accent and mannerisms required for such a character. Ricky Wong was not quite as interesting a character, but worked for the most part. Both were quite easy stereotypes - Asian nerd and Pacific Islander dumb tough guy - but Lilley was able to pull off the performances, primarily because they were funny, but also because he got the nuances correct, mostly.

By contrast, his performances as S.Mouse and Jen Okazaki just seem lazy. In a recent interview with Voyeur magazine, Lilley says:
"I never sat down with a Japanese lady and studied her hand movements or anything... the performance side of it and the language is much more instinctive."
And perhaps therein lies the problem. Maybe Lilley has been around enough young Pacific Islander and Asian kids to sufficiently absorb their mannerisms and accents, so that he can "instinctively" conjure the Ricky and Jonah characters. But in playing an African-American rapper and a Japanese mother, he is in unfamiliar territory and it shows.
Jen Okazaki only seems Japanese if you've never met a Japanese person. Lilley summons up the same generic Asian accent that was passable for Ricky Wong but is just wrong here. The assumption that Chinese and Japanese people speak exactly the same is kinda ignorant.

S.Mouse is even worse. Adopting blackface is a risky move, and is bound to draw displeasure from some people. I personally would be okay with it if Lilley put the effort in to creating a decent character. But he can't do a convincing black American accent, so settles for an unconvincing white American accent instead. Lilley seems to think impersonating a black American is as simple as saying "motherfucka" and "nigga" a lot.

The Vine magazine ran a story last week in which they showed some American hip-hoppers the segments involving S.Mouse, the black American rapper played by Lilley. Their comments were less than complimentary.

Given that the "Aussie" characters in Angry Boys are quite well-rounded and are depicted with enough pathos that they almost seem like real people, it seems strange that Lilley's two ethnic characters are so ridiculous and lazily drawn. And one obvious question for me is: why does S*Mouse have to be black? Lilley clearly can't pull off a black American character, but a white American rapper, or even a white Australian rapper, would be more within his capabilities. And given that S.Mouse is a stereotypical "fake rapper", a rich kid trying to act like he's from the streets, a white S.Mouse would actually work well for such a theme.

Is Angry Boys a racist program? I wouldn't say that, but I would say that when it comes to the issue of race, it is a dumb program. Interestingly, the series (like SHH before it) probably shows non-white faces more than any other series on Australian TV. But while there are many of us who are crying out for more representation in the media, Angry Boys doesn't portray minorities in a particularly enlightened manner. Sure, most of its characters are somewhat unpleasant, but there's just something that makes me uneasy about the way non-white characters are portrayed here.
The inmates at the juvenile facility where Gran works are virtually all Aboriginal, African or Pacific Islander, and the one who receives the most attention is an Aboriginal boy whose crime was masturbating a dog. Then there's S.Mouse, of course, whereas Lilley admits that with Jen Okazaki he aimed to create "the meanest, most awful character I've ever done." The obsession with her son Tim's sexuality - and the implication that pretending that he is gay is a lucrative marketing strategy in Japan - is uncomfortable when you consider the emasculated way Asian males are portrayed over and over again in the West.
But for all that, Lilley would still get away with it if Angry Boys was only funny. But he has clearly mistaken "edgy" for "funny", and this pursuit of edginess informs his clumsy portrayals of non-white people.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Some Engrish from Shanghai

My friend Raffi Koshayan travels to Asia a lot and has a good eye for spotting odd translations into English. These are from his favourite Manchurian restaurant in Shanghai.

With some of these, you can probably work out what they intended to mean. With others, it's a complete mystery... so if any of you out there read Chinese, you might be able to explain to the rest of us what the hell they actually are intending to say.

I also invite you to contribute your own captions for each.














Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bersih 2.0: the Malaysian government shows its true colours

Malaysia again has reminded us that one of Southeast Asia's most advanced nations is still mired in authoritarian government mentality.

This weekend, the Bersih (clean) movement gathered in central Kuala Lumpur to call for electoral reforms, with as many as 50,000 ordinary Malaysians taking part. The response from the police was swift, turning hoses and then tear gas on the protesters.

I implore you to watch the video below; it's 12 minutes long but captures the drama of the events unfolding, and captures the raw reality of how the Malaysian police operate, at the behest of the ruling party UMNO.

It has been widely reported that the man seen around the 9-minute mark, convulsing on the ground while handcuffed as police stand around indifferently, is Baharuddin Ahmad, who passed away shortly after. However Bersih's website seems to indicate that this is mistaken identity.

Here are some accounts of the events. First, the Wall Street Journal:
Based on the evidence of this weekend's rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysians aspire for a more competitive political system than what they have. Also based on this weekend's evidence, Prime Minister Najib Razak isn't prepared to give it to them.
An estimated 20,000 or more people peacefully gathered in Kuala Lumpur Saturday to call for free and fair elections. Their complaints included vote-rigging and gerrymandering of constituencies to the ruling party's benefit. Bersih 2.0, as the rally was called, was the biggest event of its kind in four years. The original Bersih (the word means "clean" in Malay) called for electoral reforms in 2007.
As with the original rally, this one was met not by understanding from the government but by police deploying tear gas and water cannons. More than 1,600 attendees were detained and released late Sunday. One demonstrator died from a heart attack.
The crackdown was little surprise given the government's actions before the rally. Over the past two weeks, the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) tried its best to intimidate the organizers. More than 200 activists and opposition members were detained, some on charges of "waging war" against Malaysia's constitutional monarch. The police arrested those wearing T-shirts affiliated with Bersih. The army publicly conducted crowd-control exercises.
The situation was on the boil until the king intervened, asking both sides to settle differences. Mr. Najib offered a stadium to host the rally but then backed off. Last Thursday, he appeared with a group of martial artists who vowed to "wage war" against Bersih, saying: "If there are evil enemies who want to attack the country from within, you, my brothers, will rise to fight them." His scare tactics backfired as thousands of protesters, further angered, arrived from across the country.
Saturday's rally has united and energized the political opposition. So the government is now downplaying the entire event and even blaming Bersih for creating chaos. The police claim only 6,000 protesters showed up. Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein complimented police efforts to keep control despite "being challenged and provoked." He said the protesters sought "to be arrested in order to portray the government as cruel."
If the government is going to respond like this—intimidation followed by denial—a Bersih 3.0 could eventually materialize, though organizers have ruled it out anytime soon. Underlying this weekend's events is growing public impatience with UMNO as Malaysians find rising inflation, coupled with slow reforms, eating into their standard of living. Saturday's turnout is a sign that Malaysians also understand the link between true democracy and good government.
On Sunday, Mr. Najib called on the "silent majority" of Malaysians, who he claims opposed Bersih, to speak up. If he continues to create an environment of fear and repression, he may find this silent majority speaking up soon, but against him.

Now, this from Bernama, the state-run newspaper which is little more than a mouthpiece for the government:
The rally organised by 62 non governmental organizations, including the Bar Council, who are claiming themselves to be a civilized society and demanding reforms for a clean and just election, was nothing more than a ploy by the opposition.
Because, based on the two slogans adopted by the opposition parties - 'reformasi' (reformation) and 'Allahhu Akbar' (Allah the Almighty) - lauded by the demonstrators during the rally, it was clearly evident that the demonstrators were their supporters and the presence of the opposition leaders is further testimony.
Are they oblivious of what happened today? -- traffic congestion due to police inspection (police roadblocks), business premises forced to close, disruption in daily activities in the city, loses amounting to millions, social functions like weddings disrupted.
The illegal rally also saw hundreds of demonstrators who failed to heed warnings from the police being detained, including opposition leaders.
What happened today prompted Information Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim to refer the illegal assembly as an attempt to tarnish the image of the government led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Dr Rais was reported as saying that the opposition were alarmed by Najib's numerous successes achieved through the implementation of the 1Malaysia concept and economic transformation.
Their claims for reform and a clean and just election in reality does not make sense because the reality is that the opposition had won five states and 82 of the 222 Parliamentary seats whilst Barisan Nasional (BN) lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament during the March 2008 general election. (Full article)
The best part is where the article claims that yelling "reform" or "Allahu Akbar" is a sign of being an opposition supporter. Not to mention the inherent implication that being an opposition supporter is akin to being a traitor.

Now from someone on the ground. This comes from a friend of mine, JJ, who was in the midst of the demonstration when the police fired tear gas into a hospital compound after protesters had sought refuge in there. I should add that JJ is far from being a rabble-rousing activist; he is a pretty conservative dude who works as a market analyst. He's the kind of ordinary Malaysian who made up the Bersih crowd, regular folk who have had enough of being governed by crooks and gangsters.
1. I've never seen Malaysia more united in a singular cause. All the races came together to march even in the pouring rain. Really amazing stuff. I've never felt more patriotic and proud to be Malaysian.

2. The demonstration was peaceful, respectful, organized and clean. No smashed windows, burning cars, looting, vandalism etc etc which the government portentously warned may happen. If anyone was violent, it was the police - launching teargas canisters without warning, directly at opposition leaders instead of in the air.

3. The crowd was massive. Not the 6,000 the IGP so naively and defensively claimed. Come on, if they arrested around 1,500 people (another stat from the cops), does that mean they brought in a quarter of the rally's members? What rubbish. What I could see when we congregated at the crossroads of Jalan Yap Kwan Seng and Jalan Ampang (between Public Bank HQ and KLCC) was the entire length (as far as the eye could see anyway) of Jalan Ampang crammed with people. And this doesn't include the other group which gathered at Petaling Street after the police fired water cannons in the Pudu intersection - effectively cutting the crowd into 2. I was forced into the Pudu crowd and my brother into the Petaling Street one.

4. I'm not entirely sure what time the Tung Shin hospital incident occurred. But i remember it started about 45mins to an hour after the rain started. We got word that the FRU were advancing down Jln Pudu towards Jln Bukit Bintang. Because we didn't want to clash with the UMNO Youth Patriots there, we took a perpendicular road along Jln Pudu which led up to an abandoned piece of land. At the end of this area was a small steep incline leading up to Tung Shin Hospital which was separated from us by a wire fence. To avoid being cornered by the police, the demonstrators started climbing up the cliff and lifted up the bottom of the wire fence to let everyone into the hospital compound.
Most of us managed to get into the hospital and took shelter from the rain under the awnings round the back. Some of us went to the carpark overlooking Jalan Pudu to see what was going on. We saw FRU members marching up the street. They proceeded to fire at least 4 tear gas canisters into the hospital compound. One landed about 10 feet from me. To escape the gas, we all entered the back entrance of the hospital building. The crowd should be commended for being civilized, quiet and respectful throughout our temporary huddle in the lobby.
It was unfortunate that the hospital staff refused entry to some demonstrators pleading to be allowed in from the front entrance. However I heard that after I left some 10 minutes later, they relented. I was only in Tung Shin for half an hour before escaping through the back fence in case the FRU decided to storm the hospital.
I'll leave the last words for Malaysia's super-oily Prime Minister, Najib Razak:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Birth of a Nation

On July 9th, South Sudan officially became the world's 193rd sovereign nation.
It is an understandably joyous occasion for a region that has rebelled against the oppressive government of Sudan, and endured a bloody civil war in which an estimated 2 million people have been killed and 4 million displaced.
There is some cause for optimism for the long-term future of South Sudan as it is rich in oil, and has agricultural land that has led some to predict it will become the breadbasket of East Africa.
But for the time being, the new nation remains mired in dire conditions, after decades of neglect by their former rulers. Illiteracy is around 85%, and 90% of its 8 million citizens live on less than US$1 a day. North Sudan still claims some oil-rich territory along the border, which remains a cause of dispute. Infrastructure is woefully underdeveloped. And the country is home to 200 different ethnic groups who will have to learn to get along in this new political environment.
But long-awaited stability in South Sudan will hopefully mean greater stability in the nations that border it, and an easing of the massive refugee crisis caused by the war.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Translating Australian comedy to the US

Wilfred has proved a surprise hit in the States, premiering to an audience of 3.8 million viewers last week. The show, about the friendship between suicidal loser Ryan (Elijah Wood) and a dog named Wilfred (played by Jason Gann in a dog suit) garnered the highest premiere rating ever for a program on the FX network.
It's surprising for a number of reasons; there is a dark streak to Wilfred that would seem to sit uncomfortably with American audiences' tastes in humour, while the show's whole premise is too left-field for many viewers to quite grasp. And even in its original format in Australia (where it ran for two seasons in 2007 and 2010, winning three AFI Awards in the process) it was hardly what you could call a smash hit. I think I'm the only person I know who watched it regularly, and most people barely seem to have heard of it.

So is the US version actually any good?

Well, yes, although I still think the Australian version is better. Despite it's deliberate edginess, in many ways the US version pans out like a typical odd-couple bromance; Wilfred may be coarse and seedy, but he "completes" Ryan and pushes him out of his comfort zone to be a better person (although its not quite as cheesy as that sounds). The original Australian Wilfred had a far more sinister character; aside from his undying loyalty to his owner Sarah, he was manipulative, cruel and entirely self-centred. The American producers obviously found this too dark and have tried to make it a bit more like the film I Love You, Man, with Wilfred as the Owen Wilson character.

That said, it's nice to see some better production values (the Australian version was as unglamorous as you can get), and nice to see that the concept originally birthed by Gann and Adam Zwar has found the appreciative audience it deserves. Keeping Gann as the titular character makes a huge difference; it is one of those cases where the lead actor is the show. As an example, while Steve Carrell does a creditable job in the US version of The Office, he is barely a patch on the toure de force that is Ricky Gervais in the original.

The relative success of Wilfred sits in marked contrast to the last Australian comedy that was adapted for US screens.

Kath and Kim was a huge hit in Australia. Not what would be termed sophisticated humour, but what it did, it did well. The US version was utter garbage and was thankfully put out of its misery after 1 season. Aside from it being completely unfunny, the problem was that the producers seemed to completely miss the point of what made it work.

The key theme of Kath and Kim - the contrast between one's real and imagined class - is emphasised by the Australian series' low production values, and a cast whose lack of physical attractiveness is played up by "bogan" accents, and deliberately bad hair and fashion. Yet the US version has a good-looking cast and a glossy set, and the social class aspect is downplayed. The original Kim character is dumpy and style-deficient yet is convinced of her own hotness (emphasised by co-creator Gina Riley being considerably older than the character). But Selma Blair as the American Kim actually is hot.

Kath & Kim Episode 10 - News by JumpinJollyHolly

It's hard to imagine a translation of Kath and Kim to the US ever being truly successful, but it's harder still to imagine how they could ever get it quite this bad.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Peaceful Indonesians

Reader Fred Rice pointed me to this clip seen at Japan Probe the other week.

"A Japanese TV show found an international survey that ranked countries where people were least likely to become angry. Indonesia was ranked #1. To test this claim, they sent comedian Udo Suzuki to Bali, where he acted like a jerk and tried to provoke the anger of Indonesian people.
Just to test his anger-inducing abilities, he first tried sneaking up behind a white woman and popping a balloon next to her head. Sure enough, she got visibly angry and left the area.
He then targeted Indonesians. First, he did a couple surprise balloon pops. Next, he randomly poured water on somebody. He cut in line at a grocery store. Then he put super spicy hot sauce into an ice desert.
One guy seemed very uncomfortable after eating the hot sauce, but nobody became visibly pissed off. Nobody yelled at him. Nobody stormed away in anger. Suzuki’s antics provoked no rage.
According to post-prank interviews, Indonesian parents teach their children not to get angry over small matters and not to fight with other people. A lot of Indonesian people don’t think it would be worth getting worked up over a little prank."

try to make them angry by cicacocadou3

Now obviously that show is pretty staged and proves little or nothing. And obviously I'm biased being part-Indonesian myself, but as far as I'm concerned, the study is pretty accurate. It may be a huge and culturally diverse country, but as a general rule, Indonesians are a very easy-going people. Of all the countries I've been to around Asia, only the Thai people seem to match Indonesians in the polite and friendly stakes.

Or alternatively, you could take a completely different view.

This is of course the same country which has suffered several internal terrorist attacks in the last decade. It's the same country in which up to 1 million people were murdered in anti-communist pogroms during the civil unrest of 1965-66, with the killing often carried out by civilians. It's the same country guilty of bloody repressions in West Papua, Aceh and its former province East Timor. It's the same country that in the last 15 years has witnessed sectarian conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Sulawesi and Ambon, mass beheadings of Madurese transmigrants by Dayak tribesmen in Kalimantan, and mass gang-rapes of ethnic Chinese women and looting of Chinese shops in the 1998 unrest. Indonesia is frequently lauded for practising a moderate, secular and tolerant form of Islam; yet Muslim militancy has been on the rise in various forms with groups like the Islamic Defenders Front, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the terrorist Jemaah Islamiyah. It is notable that one of the few words to have entered the English language from Indonesian/Malay is amok, meaning to suddenly snap and start attacking people indiscriminantly. It's a very Indonesian phenomenon.

In other words, it looks like an extremely violent and aggressive place. So which is the real Indonesia?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"Pub sorry for evicting patron with turban"

A Brisbane hotel that evicted a patron for wearing a turban is trying to find him so it can apologise. Spirit Hotels, which is a Coles subsidiary, has confirmed to AAP one of its staff members at the Royal English Hotel at Nundah in Brisbane's north on Sunday asked a man to remove his turban under its "no headwear" policy. After the Sikh man refused, he was evicted.
A spokesman for Spirit Hotels said the decision to ask him to remove his turban was an oversight. "Our hotels have a policy where patrons may be asked to remove headwear to help the venue manage security for staff and patrons," the spokesman said. "However, in this particular incident, the patron should not have been asked to remove his turban, and we are attempting to contact the patron to apologise. Hotel staff are being educated again on correct application of the policy."
Queensland Hotels Association chief executive Justin O'Connor said hotels had the right to set dress standards and refuse entry or service to anyone who did not comply with their code or breached laws on the responsible service of alcohol.
"As long as it's not in breach of the anti-discrimination act then they can set a dress code," Mr O'Connor told AAP.
 (Full story)
Nice that this seems to working itself out, but it's odd that this sort of thing is still happening. In a fairly multicultural city like Brisbane, has no one told the staff at the Royal English Hotel that a turban is not just another hat? You'd have to question why the matter is of such importance that it warranted such a drastic step as evicting the man. Was he somehow wielding the turban as a deadly weapon? Was the headgear such a crime against sartorial aesthetics that it was hurting the other patrons? Common sense would say no. You could certainly make reasonable arguments against certain religious paraphenalia, such as the burqa, niqab or the kirpan (Sikh ceremonial dagger). But wearing a turban or yarmulke would not seem to count as a security or safety risk to anyone.

Although as many of the comments attached to this news site indicate, common sense is not all that common.
"he dont deserve an apology this is australia respect out rules and adopt our coulture dont come here and make your own rules"

 "HERE is the answer - BANANAS!! Monkeys love 'em! Just lay some on the ground leading right into the sea and hopefully they will follow and drown!!"

"fit in or piss off. Sick of muslims and other funny hat wearers, if your god is so great kill yourselves and go be with him"
But putting aside the rights of the discriminated Sikh man for a second, let's not forget another minority group whose rights are being trampled upon: the security and door staff and pubs and bars. Is political correctness and multiculturalism trampling on their inalienable right to be assholes to anyone who dares to try enter their venue without being sufficiently cool?
On second thought, I'm sure they'll be okay. As long as they are properly trained to not make an issue of turbans, they can still fall back on usual repertoire: "Sorry, members only tonight," or the classic "Not with those shoes, mate."

Monday, July 4, 2011

The racial politics of imitating someone's accent

FOX News reported - or concocted - a controversy last week when it accused Jon Stewart of racism for imitating Herman Cain, a black Republican presidential candidate.

Now I'm obviously a fan of Stewart and The Daily Show, so perhaps I'm biased here. But it's hard to see the racism in the segment about Cain. As Stewart points out, he routinely imitates the accents of all kinds of people, and it never previously caused an uproar at FOX. The issue smacks of right-wing resentment that liberals so frequently play the race card, so the Right don't want to miss their chance to play it too.

FOX contributor Bernie Goldberg has this to say.

Let's say a white guy goes on television, puts on an exaggerated "Amos 'n Andy" "black voice" and proceeds to make fun of a black man whose politics the white guy doesn't like. Actually, let's say he goes beyond merely making fun of the black man. Let's say he tries to make the black man sound downright stupid. Does that make the white guy a racist?
The correct answer is ... it depends.
If the white guy is Rush Limbaugh and the black man is Barack Obama, then of course the white guy is a racist - according to liberals.
But if the white guy is Jon Stewart and the black man is Herman Cain, the conservative businessman seeking the Republican nomination for president, well, then, that's another story.
The other night Jon Stewart went on his show, and while he didn't put on blackface makeup and start tap dancing he did put on a "black voice" and proceeded to mock Mr. Cain in a way that would never be tolerated if a conservative had done it.
Yet liberals didn't scream "racist" the way they do when they see a tea party rally or when a conservative so much as looks askance at Barack Obama. Instead, they laughed. They thought it was a regular riot that a genius like Jon Stewart made that conservative black guy sound like a dumb character in a minstrel show.
But why isn't Jon Stewart a bigot, when Limbaugh and Hannity and O'Reilly would be tagged as racists if they had done the very same thing? That's easy. Because Jon Stewart is a liberal and liberals aren't racists. Only conservatives are.

Now, surprisingly I actually think there's a lot of truth in what Goldberg says regarding the liberal-Left being way too quick on the trigger to cry racism. It is an annoying tendency of the Left which is often counter-productive in a "boy who cried wolf" kind of way. When someone somewhere is ready to accuse someone of racism over something that is only racist at a real stretch, then it allows the Right to decry political correctness yet again. Then when someone does actually say something racist, the Right find it easier to rebuff criticism by claiming to be victims of PC hegemony.

But Goldberg displays another classic trait of the American Right, which is to be completely ignorant of context when deciding what's racist or not. When he claims "Jon Stewart made that conservative black guy sound like a dumb character in a minstrel show"... did Stewart really do that? Did Stewart really put on "an exaggerated Amos 'n Andy 'black voice'", or did he imitate the way Cain speaks reasonably accurately? Does Herman Cain speak with an exaggerated Amos 'n Andy "black voice"? Where he says "Let's say he tries to make the black man sound downright stupid"... could it not be that Stewart tries to make politicians sound downright stupid every night on his show, and this one just happened to be black. So while Goldberg's broader point is a fair one, he has chosen a dumb example for his example of "liberals making racist comments".

Goldberg is not really saying that Stewart is racist, only that conservatives should cry racism about it in the way that liberals cry racism when Rush Limbaugh and his ilk make comments disrespectful of blacks and other minorities. Of course, in a racism-crying competition, conservatives would be blown out of the water, and it's not just because liberals are so much better and more practised at it. Primarily it's because most black people probably wouldn't find Stewart's dig at Cain to be racist; yet they'd more likely take greater umbrage at the comments of right-wingers like Limbaugh, Malkin and Hannity. Because Limbaugh, Malkin and Hannity are, if not racists, at least doing a good job of sounding racist from time to time. So if conservatives want to make out that they are less racist than liberals, surely the first step would be to, you know, stop conservatives from saying racist things.

Here's another conservative, James Hirsen, commenting on "liberal racial hypocrisy" who shows that knack for missing the point of jokes, not once but twice.
After showing the footage, the Comedy Central star displayed a billboard that read: “Herman Cain 2012 — I Don’t Like to Read.”
The racist threads woven into this comedic sketch are that the black man has difficulty reading and lacks intelligence. Neither Jesse Jackson nor Al Sharpton saw fit to call a press conference.
See, no. The "I Don't Like to Read" thing comes straight from Cain's statements of not wanting to read long bills. It's nothing to do with the idea that black people lack intelligence - that exists only in the mind of some viewing who would already think that. The implication of what Hirsen is saying is that no one can ever mock anything an individual black person says as being stupid without it being a de facto attack on the intelligence of black people as a whole. To be fair, had a right-winger made a similar comment, I'm sure liberals would probably use the same faulty logic to accuse him of racism too. Hirsen continues:
Bill Maher also used Cain as comedy fodder for the “New Rules” segment of his HBO show. While giving mock advice to GOP candidate Newt Gingrich, Maher said, “Let me put your unpopularity in context for you — you're a Republican and you're polling behind a black guy.”
The not-so-coded racism in Maher’s skit is that Republicans are hated, but if the Republican individual is also black, he or she deserves even more scorn because of his or her skin color.
.. and again, totally misses the joke. What Maher seems to be implying is that Republican voters don't like black people, and thus for Gingrich to be less popular than a black candidate (Cain) with Republicans must be a grave indictment.

So, to one of the main issues of this whole business: Is it racist to imitate the accent of someone of a different nationality or ethnicity?

My answer: Hell no. Or at least, not necessarily. Depends how you do it.

I tend to think that if you can pull off the accent of a particular person or ethnicity properly, it's probably OK. If instead you resort to a dumb, uber-stereotypical accent, then you're starting to tread on more dangerous ground. Stewart gets away with his "Amos 'n Andy" "black voice" because Herman Cain actually sounds like that. On the other hand, when you hear people mocking accents in the most stupid and disrespectful ways - like Rush Limbaugh has done in the past - it's much more likely to be racist.

It's all about context, but unfortunately context is one of those things that a lot of stupid people don't really understand.