Monday, June 25, 2012

From around the interwebs...

Interesting linky things.

Love the Beans, Hate the Beaner
Those Know-Nothing politicians, judges and voters who pass law after law trying to stop Mexicans from asserting themselves in this country are like King Canute commanding the tide to stop: The game is already over. We beat you with our Mexican food long ago, and we're going to beat you on SB 1070 as well. Although the dinner table might seem an unlikely battleground, you've got to know your history, kids. Food is one of the first things a conquering group demonizes when trying to repress a smaller group.

Are you a racist? Take our 10-step test
A) ``The sky is blue.’’ Not racist
B) ``The sky is lovely and blue.’’ Borderline racist C) ``The sky is lovely and blue like the eyes of my Aryan brothers.’’ Racist

Euro 2012: The banality of racism
In the Germany-Portugal match, paper balls were thrown down on Nani as he went to take a free kick. This was difficult for UEFA to say never happened as we all saw it. So, as a result, the German FA was fined £8000 for failing to control their fans. In that same match UEFA also fined Portugal £4000, for failure to appear for the second half in a timely manner. Just so that we are clear: Mario Balotelli, a real human being, was subjected to monkey chants and Spain get no fine, but if people throw paper on the pitch it’s an £8000 fine and being late for kickoff is a £4000 fine. Which make sense, unlike the abuse of Balotelli, the latter two infractions were seen widely and harmed the profitability of the tournament, they were punished swiftly.

Prometheus in 5 minutes or less
Any of you unfortunate enough to have sat through Prometheus will find this hilarious.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gang attacks on taxi drivers in Melbourne's West.

Will this incident threaten to re-ignite tensions between Australia and India again, after the "curry-bashing" attacks of a few years ago?

A cab driver was racially abused as he was viciously beaten by a gang of thugs who ambushed and robbed five taxis in separate incidents in Melbourne's west overnight. Up to six men wearing balaclavas and armed with baseball bats pulled up in two stolen cars and attacked the drivers at Sunshine, Brooklyn and Laverton North between midnight and 1:00am this morning. One victim suffered serious head injuries. The owner of the taxi the man was driving says the driver was taunted as he was beaten with baseball bats. "They hit very badly you know, abusing him, you know, saying you're Indian, go back to your country," owner Sunny Singh told Fairfax radio.

Welcome to Melbourne's "Wild" West. Interestingly, despite the "go back to your country" taunts, it appears that the suspects are a gang of Pacific Islanders. I guess violent thugs are not known for their sense of irony.

When attacks on Indians in Australia dominated the headlines a few years ago, one of the big debates was whether they were racially motivated or merely opportunistic. In truth, the diverse nature of the attacks meant that it was difficult to generalise. But this case shows an example of an attack in which racism plays a part yet was probably not the motivation. The gang appears clearly to have robbery as its primary motive, and was probably not committing robbery out of any racial motive. The taunts are part of the attack but probably not the reason for it - they are just the sort of thing that spews out of the mouth of a stupid thug as he beats someone up.

That said, it is possible that the driver got such a heavy beating due to his race. You wonder why the attackers were so brutal, when they could have just taken his money and left. Would they have been quite as violent to a taxi driver who was white? African? East Asian? Pacific Islander? Probably... I'm not seriously advancing this theory, but nonetheless I think it's something worth pondering when we consider what exactly constitutes racially-motivated crime.

See also:

Addressing the myths and misconceptions about anti-Indian violence in Australia (from 2010)

"Curry-bashing" on the rise in Melbourne - Indian students targeted (from 2009)

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Dumb, drunk and racist"

Journalist and blogger Joe Hildebrand has a new series starting this week exploring the different sides of race relations in Australia - on one hand a highly successful example of multicultural immigration, yet also one frequently perceived, both here and overseas, as a sort of redneck wonderland.

I'm looking forward to it. As a frequent reader of Hildebrand's stuff, I like that he's not beholden to the dogmas of either Left or Right, and will be able to present the issue in a way that won't just go for easy answers.

It starts at 9:30pm on Wednesday June 20 on ABC2.

How to drive in China

My friend Joey Zhou is a Chinese-Australian who has spent the last few months living back in the motherland. He figures he's been there long enough to compile a top 20 tips on how to drive a car in China:

  1. Speed limit? What speed limit? 
  2. Indicators are NOT a standard feature on cars. 
  3. There is no such thing as a one way street. 
  4. Talking on the mobile phone while driving is compulsory. 
  5. Traffic lights are only suggestions. 
  6. Electricity is expensive, so street lights are only turned on in some areas. 
  7. If you are driving 60kmph on the freeway, yep, go ahead and hog the overtaking lane. 
  8. Roundabouts are for drivers with real balls! 
  9. If you want to turn left, please do it from the right-most lane. 
  10. Use of high beam is mandatory - even during the day! 
  11. A part of your car should ALWAYS be outside of the parking space, so no one parks next to you. 
  12. The footpath is just another lane on the street, so please don't slow down. 
  13. While reversing, please keep your eyes to the front only. 
  14. Leave a gap in the traffic jam is a big No-No! 
  15. A driveway is just another awesome parking spot! 
  16. Truck drivers won't notice your car unless its under their wheels.
  17. Bicycles and motorbikes should always travel in opposite directions, so you don't them from behind. 
  18. Pedestrians are there to test your car's brake system and horn. 
  19. Hold your child on your lap in the front seat, to be used as a secondary airbag. 
  20. Swearing and cursing while driving is therapeutic. Don't hold it all in, you're gonna explode one day! So just let it out...

China's overall poor standard of driving and high rate of fatalities is well-known. It's easy to quip that it's just an "Asian drivers" problem writ large, it has a lot more to do with history. Simply put, cars are a relatively recent addition to Chinese life, as before its economic boom only the very wealthiest people were able to drive one. Then within the space of a few years, the car arrived and the roads were filled with new drivers.

Most people in Western countries with long histories of car ownership have developed not just a system of rules governing driving, but an unofficial culture of driving. While most of us have probably had at least a few paid lessons behind the wheel, so much of what we learn about driving comes from our parents, both consciously (advice) and unconsciously (observing). Most Chinese drivers however do not have that opportunity to learn from their parents, who might also be learning for the first time. Instead they learn from instructors who themselves may have little idea of what makes a good driver. And that's not even mentioning that learner drivers don't even have to have any experience driving on an actual road to be given their license - they need only drive round a practice course. It's the sort of thing that might take a generation or two to properly improve.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Things Asians are freakily good at, #214: Scrabble

Here's something you probably never thought or cared about: There are World Scrabble Championships. And national championships. And youth championships, and so on. Just like any other ... er, sport. And given that Scrabble is an English-language game, you would probably expect it to be dominated by nations where the English and their descendants live - the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand.
And traditionally you would be right. Except in recent years, people from Asian countries are making serious pushes for the crown. And actually winning. Here are the winners of the world championships since the late 90s:

Doesn't convince you of anything? (Other that Asians seem to do better in Asia?) Take a look at last year's placings at the World Youth Scrabble Championships:
Count 'em: that's two Sri Lankans, two Thais, a Singaporean and a Filipino in the top ten. And yes, it was won by an Australian, but an Australian named Anand Bharadwaj. It's not just 2011 either; you can look at the last few years of the youth tournament and it's pretty much a story of unremitting Asian dominance. In fairness, most of the tournaments take place in Malaysia for some reason, so maybe that dissuades some northern hemisphere Scrabble aficionados from travelling. But 2006 took place in Australia, and even though it was won by an Australian, 8 out of the top 10 were from Asian countries that year.

It's not that surprising really. If you've seen the way kids of South Asian origin completely dominate  the American national spelling bee championships, or the way that East Asian's seem to dominate any academic pursuit they apply themselves to, it stands to reason that some of them are going to take to Scrabble with a passion.

The other country that pops up in these lists which you might not have expected: Nigeria.

What is really surprising though is how Thailand has come to be one of the pre-eminent nations in world Scrabble. All the other countries on these lists have English as at least one of the official languages. Thailand does not. Thais do take to learning English with aplomb though, probably due to the huge tourist presence there, and apparently the popularity of Scrabble in Thailand comes from its usefulness as a tool for learning English.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Stadiums of Hate"

Finally managed to track down the BBC Panorama doco Stadiums of Hate, which looks at what football fans might have to expect when travelling to Poland and Ukraine these next few weeks for the European Championships.

(The original video I posted got deleted, so I suggest seeking it out. Try here. If not, it may be up on the net somewhere, it's worth watching.)

It's quite shocking, pathetic and bewildering really, seeing football fans whose countries were once attacked by the forces of Adolf Hitler mindlessly giving the Nazi salute. It also shows black players being taunted with monkey chants (an ever-present in other parts of Europe as well), and a group of Indian students being set upon at a game in Ukraine. After viewing the footage, former England captain Sol Campbell is shown advising non-white English fans not to travel to the tournament for safety reasons.

The program has been criticised for its sensationalism. A Jewish community leader in Krakow, Jonathan Ornstein, who is interviewed in the program, complained that the BBC omitted parts of his interview that presented a more balanced side to the story. It's true that the program shows nothing of the majority of non-violent, non-racist fans who go to football games in the two countries. But the fact that these shocking images exist at all is bad enough, and it's amazing to watch the way the behaviour of fascist "ultras" is tacitly accepted by stadium-goer and law enforcement alike.

But that kind of football hooliganism will not necessarily translate into violence against travelling fans of other countries. An important distinction needs to be made between the type of crowds that will attend Euro games - between nations from all over the continent - and those that attend local derbies in the Ukrainian and Polish national leagues. The far-right hooliganism exists within the national league context, and while there are certainly ties to neo-Nazis and other movements, they are much less likely to mobilise for games that are of no direct interest to them.

That said, I wouldn't be in a hurry to go there. It only takes one extremist, or one incident, to set things off. And both countries clearly have a rich supply of young dumb thugs with too much time on their hands.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

From around the interwebs...


Why do Asian-Americans have the worst long-term unemployment?
What makes the situation even odder is the more educated Asians are, the more they fall behind whites. Asians with just a high school diploma were more likely to be employed than whites; however, Asians with a bachelor's degree or higher more likely to be unemployed.

Tales of the Waria: Inside Indonesia's third gender community
I first learned about warias in 2005, when I saw a newspaper photograph of a gorgeous waria who had won a beauty contest in Jakarta. I knew about the “ladyboys” of Thailand, but I had no idea that transgender people could live so openly in Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Like many Americans I had this notion of Islam as being oppressive and particularly unforgiving toward sexual minorities. How could a community of warias possibly exist?

Urging You To Watch 'Stadiums Of Hate'
Rogers' experiences in Poland seemed to centre on anti-Semitic chanting, graffiti and general objectionable behaviour. Derby games in both Lodz and Krakow showed both sets of fans chanting anti-Jewish slogans at each other. As well as being vile and totally unacceptable, there was also a pathetic quality about the Polish stuff. It was clear that certain sections of support in lots of clubs hated Jews, and had apparently taken the word Jew to be a sort of all-purpose put-down or taunt, a bit like when a playground cottons on to the word 'gaylord' or 'retard'. "You're a, you're a're a Jewy Jew" etc. Which is not to say, of course, that these abusive words are not backed up by physical violence and intimidation on a daily basis, and nor should anyone with even one brain cell need reminding of their particular historical power in that part of Europe.

The 10 K-Pop groups most likely to break in America
YouTube's most-watched Korean pop music video, Girls' Generation's "Gee," has earned 74,000,000 American views alone, even though most mainstream U.S. music fans have never heard of it. The song and video – a calculated, colorful, choreographed affair that sees the nine-member girl group smiling and winking for the camera in flirty outfits as they change formations and soloists without a hitch – epitomize how Korean pop music (K-Pop for short) has been able to break language barriers and captivate a passionate U.S. audience.

The pleasures of hate mail
But there was a category of correspondence that truly merited the description of hate mail: that which could only be described as bigoted, chauvinist, even racist. One reader, in response to my suggestion in one column that moral enhancement through biomedical technology could be understood as an act of self-improvement, wrote: "Yes, so let’s start with Asians, yourself included, given that they are the most racist of all peoples on the planet. You know it's true. What is it with Asians and race?"

Why basketball is Muslims' favourite sport
For many Muslim Americans, college and professional basketball provides heroes they can take pride in, symbols of affirmation at a time when they face hostility from some Americans. And it serves as a way to develop fellowship with their fellow believers while reaching out to non-Muslims.
"Every Muslim community I go to, there's this obsession for basketball. Almost every mosque you go to, there's a basketball court outside," said Musab Abdali of Houston.