Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Temper Trap at the AFL Grand Final

Not sure how many people tuned in to watch Sydney beat Hawthorn in the AFL Grand Final this year, but my guess is it's somewhere between "heaps" and "a shitload", in addition to the 99,000 who were at the ground. And apart from those who got up to go pee, millions were watching an Indonesian-Australian guy killing it centre stage as the half time entertainment. Yes, that's Dougy Mandagi, lead singer of Melbourne band The Temper Trap, originally born in Manado on the island of Sulawesi. So forgive my momentary ethnic jingoism as I proclaim my pride that one of my peoples is tearing it up at the biggest event of the Australian sporting and television calendar.

The first song (new single Trembling Hands) is pretty good, the second (Drum Song) is a bit meh, and the third is the money shot - Sweet Disposition, the track that everybody loves. It starts at about the 5:30 mark if you are impatient.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stuff my students say

The scene: Year 7 Indonesian class, full of 13 year-old girls.

Female Student #1: "Excuse me, how do I say in Indonesian: 'My mother is 40 years old'?"
Female Student #2: "Is she 40? Your mum's a MILF!"
Me: "Er... that's really not appropriate."
Female Student #2: (mouth agape in shock) "How do you know what that word means?"
Me: "Because I'm a grown man. I'm a bit concerned that YOU know what it means."

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to sound Swedish

Courtesy of The Two Ronnies. Dunno if any of you are old enough to remember them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A right and wrong way to comment on extremism

The demonstration-cum-riot of several hundred angry Muslims in Sydney has been one of the most discussed issues in Australia in the last couple of days. You can read my take on it here.

The rally has been condemned by Australia's mainstream Muslim organisations, who are generally smart enough to recognise that such behaviour perpetuates the very stereotypes they are trying to fight against.

But one paper was brave enough to report on what it saw as the most heinous behaviour of the day - that of the police. That paper is Green Left Weekly, which I used to read back when I was an Arts student, until I developed what grown-ups like to call perspective.
The completely non-ironic title kicks it off in a fabulous way:

 Eyewitness account of police riot against peaceful Muslim protest in Australia
... I think that if the police had left the protesters alone they would have marched, chanted and prayed in peace... The police would be unlikely to have used this level of force against most other protests of 300 to 400 people. But Muslim protesters get different treatment. Muslims have been scapegoated and criminalised by state and federal governments and the mainstream media. Muslim communities are the target of intense racism and have been made fair game in this country. Now the protesters, not the police, are being blamed by politicians and the media of the 1% and even more fear and hate is being whipped up against the Muslim population. We should condemn the police who brutally provoked these protesters and squandered thousands of dollars in a massive show of police repression in the heart of Sydney.

Now I consider myself to be on the left side of the political spectrum, and thus it irks me to share my ideological patch with the sort of people who write these articles. To subscribe to their way of thinking, you need to believe that every bad situation is somehow caused by the State or the 1%, and never believe that members of a minority group could be in the wrong. It's ironic that a publication like Green Left Weekly, which rightly is a strong supporter of freedom of expression, women's rights and gay rights, is so happy to throw its lot in with a mob whose ideology is far more repressive and totalitarian than anything the 1% can dream up... just because that mob is part of a minority group.

This is not to say, of course, that the police definitely didn't use excessive force or tactics that were uncalled for. That may well have happened. But it's somewhat laughable for GLW to claim that "the police would be unlikely to have used this level of force against most other protests of 300 to 400 people", when every other story in every edition of GLW seems to be about how brutal and oppressive the cops are towards demonstrators.

A far better take on the situation was expressed in The Age by the Egyptian-Australian academic and broadcaster Waleed Aly, who again shows why he is probably the best spokesperson Australia's Muslim community has.

That the Obama administration immediately condemned the film in the strongest terms doesn't register. Nor that the White House took the extraordinary (and ultimately unsuccessful) step of asking Google to pull the video. This is invisible to an audience of humiliated souls waiting desperately to be offended and conflate every grievance. Indeed, they need the offence. It gives them the chance to assert themselves so they can feel whole, righteous even. It's a shortcut to self-worth. 
The trouble is that in our digital world, there is always something to oblige. Anyone can Google their prejudices, and there is always enraging news to share with others. Entire online communities gather around the sharing of offensive material and subsequent communal venting. Soon you have a subculture: a sub-community whose very cohesion is based almost exclusively on shared grievance. Then you have an identity that has nothing to say about itself; an identity that holds an entirely impoverished position: that to be defiantly angry is to be. 
Frankly, Muslims should find that prospect nothing short of catastrophic. It renders Islamic identity entirely hollow. All pride, all opposition, no substance. ''Like the Incredible Hulk,'' observes Abdal Hakim Murad, a prominent British Islamic scholar, ''ineffectual until provoked.''

It's an extremely astute article and I'd encourage you to read the whole thing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Malaysian government reveals new high-powered gay-dar

Thank goodness Malaysians have such a vigilant government that protects them from the most grave perils of the world.

The Education Ministry had endorsed “guidelines” to help parents to identify gay and lesbian “symptoms” in their children so they can take early corrective measurements. The guidelines list four symptoms each of gays and lesbians: 
Symptoms of gays: 
Have a muscular body and like to show their body by wearing V-neck and sleeveless clothes; 
Prefer tight and light-coloured clothes; 
Attracted to men; 
and Like to bring big handbags, similar to those used by women, when hanging out.

Symptoms of lesbians: 
Attracted to women; 
Besides their female companions, they will distance themselves from other women; 
Like to hang out, have meals and sleep in the company of women; 
and Have no affection for men.

“Once the children have these symptoms, immediate attention should be given,” the guidelines warn. According to Sin Chew Daily, the guidelines published by Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and Putrajaya Consultative Council of Parents and Teachers Associations, and endorsed by the Education Ministry, were launched during a seminar in Penang yesterday. The seminar on “Parenting in addressing the issue of LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders)” was organised by Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and officiated by Deputy Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi. 
... Puad is quoted by Sinar Harian today as saying that the exposure of symptoms of gays and lesbians was the best approach to address the spread of such unhealthy phenomenon among students. “Youths are easily influenced by websites and blogs relating to LGBT groups. This can also spread among their friends. We are worried that this happens during schooling time,” Puad told some 1,500 teachers and parents. [Source] 
As you might expect, this has elicited some controversy, probably for the highly speculative findings that gays are attracted to men, and lesbians are attracted to women. Thank you Captain Obvious. Though undoubtedly the contention that lesbians are not affectionate towards men is quite revelatory as it flies sharply in the face of every adult movie I've ever watched.

Also I was interested to learn that lesbians don't like hanging out with women... apart from the ones they hang out with. And that being muscular and wearing tight clothing is a sure sign of being gay. Perhaps I should stop going to the gym now, as at some point I may reach the tipping point of physical development that results in me wearing light-coloured, tight clothing and carrying a big handbag.

Sweet corn roti, Chiang Mai

Bought this at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, being sold by a woman I presume was from southern Thailand.. It's like a Malaysian-style roti chanai but filled with sweet corn and a beaten egg, and then topped with sweetened condensed milk.

I'm not sure whether that combination of flavours really made sense, but it wasn't bad. I'd order it again.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Congratulations. You just ruined multiculturalism for the rest of us.

In case you can't read the sign in this photo: it's a small child holding up a sign that reads, "Behead all those who insult the prophet." This was seen at the anti-American protest in Sydney yesterday. [Source]

This picture, combined with footage of 300 morons converging on Sydney's CBD yesterday to rant about the film that disrespects the prophet Muhammad, might be the confirmation to me that we need to have a serious rethink about the direction of multiculturalism in this country.

I like being in a diverse multi-ethnic society where a variety of cultures are allowed to be expressed. But the multicultural ideal only works when the cultures it contains share the same basic values. While the majority of Australian Muslims have integrated well and become "Australian", there are certain minority elements, particularly in Sydney, that maintain views that are simply anathema to the values that are fundamental to the society we want to be in 2012. It would be slightly more understandable if these 300 protesters had just arrived in Australia from somewhere less genteel, and we could say that they have not yet got accustomed to the Australian way of life. But most of those men were either born here or grew up here. When people can grow up in Australia and yet grow to adulthood with a mentality that is unrecognisable as Australian, then perhaps there is something wrong with the way our society indulges these idiots.

We should celebrate diverse cultures. No doubt. But somewhere along the line, some people have taken that to mean that it's okay to think like a barbarian.

I have no axe to grind with the majority of Australian Muslims who are by and large pretty good folks. I am the child of a Muslim, in fact. I have numerous friends who are of Muslim background, and I can say unreservedly that Australia is a better place for their presence.

But we need to do something to ensure we don't add to the minority of Muslims who are just f*cking idiots. There are plenty of non-Muslims in Australia who are also f*cking idiots of course, but for all their faults, they generally don't advocate murdering people who insult their religion.

You know what Christians in Australia do when someone insults Jesus? Pretty much nothing. Sometimes they might write a stern letter to a newspaper. When people can insult Muhammad as frequently as they insult Jesus, and nothing happens aside from an increased volume of letters to the editor, that's when I'll feel affirmed that everything is okay with multiculturalism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blacks overwhelming vote for Obama; are they racist?

A new NBC/WSJ poll has determined that 94% of African-Americans support Barack Obama, compared to 0% who support Mitt Romney.

Romney is white, and blacks don't like him. Obama is black, and blacks like him. Do the math - blacks are racist, and finally we have the proof.

You can hear this sort of claim from some on the Right all the time, but is it true?

Simply, no. I mean, black Americans are probably about as racist as any other kind of American, but their support for Obama isn't proof of anything much. More important than Obama's race is that he is a Democrat, and blacks overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. Below is from CNN's analysis of the 2004 election in which the incumbent George W Bush defeated Democratic challenger John Kerry.

Blacks voted overwhelmingly for Kerry too, and he's white. They probably would have voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton had she defeated Obama leading up to the 2008 election. As a matter of fact, blacks have voted overwhelmingly for white candidates in every election until 2008. Which is mighty tolerant of them.

Of course, Obama does have a higher level of black support than most previous white Democratic candidates, but it's a matter of degree. Republicans have trouble admitting it, but the reason blacks don't vote for them is because they are the de facto white people's party. The Republicans suck so bad at seeming racially enlightened that they make the Dems look like saints, which they're not.

A more interesting question would be: would blacks vote overwhelmingly for a black Republican candidate?

Well it hasn't happened yet since until Obama neither party had nominated a black candidate for President. Some have tried, yet the campaigns of Alan Keyes and Herman Cain stirred little enthusiasm amongst the black community. Had either of them somehow won the Republican nomination, we could perhaps expect a slight increase in the black vote for Republicans, but little more. Primarily because neither of them was ever a strong candidate.

Hypothetically, Colin Powell would have been an interesting choice. He was often talked about as a nominee, and in 1995 held a press conference to announce he did not intend to run. Against a white Democratic candidate, Powell would potentially have snared a sizable chunk of the black vote. Against Gore in 2000 he could have even got a majority. But Powell is a moderate. Compare him to Mitt Romney. The current Republican nominee seems to epitomise one of his party's central philosophies; that the rich and powerful are that way because they deserve it, and the downtrodden are that way because they just don't work hard enough. Don't expect that to sit well with a community who know full well that life is not a level playing field.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Idiot Watch: The dumbest public statements of the week

This first instalment of Idiot Watch carries the alternative title: "How NOT to apportion blame 101." 

#5: Australian Christian Lobby spokesman Jim Wallace received a chorus of disapproval with his insightful way of analysing health statistics to fit his anti-gay marriage agenda. "I think we're going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community's own statistics for its health - which it presents when it wants more money for health - are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years," he told the audience. "The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn't smoke."
Call me crazy, but I think one of the best ways to reduce the rate of homosexuals taking drugs and committing suicide is to stop constantly telling them they are sinful perverts who are defying God and destroying civilisation as we know it. But that's just my opinion.

#4: In Arizona, Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Hatch was quick to spot the greatest moral wrong committed in the case where police officer Robb Evans drank 8 beers, drove to a concert, flashed his badge to get in for free and then walked up behind a woman and put his hand up her skirt.
“If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you,” Hatch told the victim. “When you blame others, you give up your power to change,” Hatch said that her mother used to say.
Hatch is a Republican. I don't mention that for any particular reason.

#3: Gina Rinehart (pictured), Australian mining magnate and the world's richest woman, deigned to offer some sage advice for us Poors. "If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself -- spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working." And presumably more time inheriting $30 million from Dad, as Gina herself did. She also said that governments could make Australians wealthier by lowering taxes on the rich, and lowering minimum wage, comparing us lazy spoilt Australians with African workers who were willing to work for $2 a day. Meanwhile, dear Gina makes around $600 per second, which is still not enough thanks to all those damned socialists in government. She has also been involved in bitter legal disputes with all of her children and her stepmother to gain control of the money, which may go some way to explaining the "spend less time socialising" comment. It's easy to avoid socialising when everyone thoroughly dislikes you. For example, I would like the 1% a lot more if they stopped trying to cut my wages while telling me how lazy I am.

 #2: Clint Eastwood in his now-infamous speech at the Republican National Convention, in which he lectured an empty chair (apparently inhabited by an invisible Barack Obama) about why the man who became President in 2008 was apparently wrong to take America to war in Afghanistan in 2001.

 #1: Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who said that the best way to stop Shiite Muslims in Indonesia from suffering violent persecution from the Sunni majority is... for them to convert to Sunni Islam.
(In other news, black people who are worried about racial discrimination can triumph over it simply by becoming white.)
Of course, those with a particularly cynical view of human nature or Islam might suggest he's right. But you know, if you are the Religious Affairs Minister, you might first try suggesting that Sunnis just stop f*cking attacking the Shiites to begin with.

Asians impersonating Christopher Walken

Some of these are lame and weird, but the fact that this video exists at all is why the internet is the best thing ever invented.
The first dude is pretty cool.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

More on our friend the comedian who's not racist but tells racist jokes

If you saw the viral clip of comedian Brett Eidman getting punched in the face by an Asian guy after too many dumb racist "jokes", you might find this to be an interesting follow-up. Eidman has a clip up in which he apologises for offending people and talks about his reasoning for doing the character. It seems sincere enough I guess.

But there are some interesting issues that emerge for me here.

Firstly, one of the questions the interviewer asks him is a common one in these kinds of situations, and it seems to me to be something of a straw man. At around the 2:25 minute mark, Lisa Ann asks Eidman to address allegations that he is "a racist".

His response: "Sure... I'm not a racist, I just wanna clear that up, I'm not a racist."

Er, thanks for clearing that up, Brett.

Seriously, how does that clear up anything? Did anyone, upon hearing her ask that question, seriously think his response would be along the lines of "Well as a matter of fact, I am a racist, and I hate Asians and blacks and all the coloured peoples of this earth"? No one, aside from members of explicitly racist organisations like the Klan, is going to answer that question in any way other than the negative. So it tells us precisely nothing about anything.

What is "a racist", anyway? Let's consider these three different accusations that can be levelled at somebody:
(1) "What you said was racist."
(2) "You are racist."
(3) "You are a racist."
(1) refers explicitly to the behaviour. And as long as one can agree on what racism sounds like (which is a whole 'nother issue entirely, of course), perhaps (1) is something we can actually demonstrably prove. And honestly, most or all of us have said something racist at one time or another.

(2) implies that the person has thoughts and feelings that are racist, and that it presumably impacts on the way they behave. How many people does this apply to? Again, I would argue that just about everyone is racist; even if only just a little bit. What separates the "good" people from the "bad" people here is whether they allow that racism to affect the way they live their lives, and treat people poorly due to their prejudices.

(3) takes (2) and turns it into an essential feature of the person accused. Saying that someone is "a racist" seems to imply that racism is a key feature of how that person thinks, feels and acts.

As I mentioned, virtually no one will admit to being racist, or "a racist". That's because we tend to define people as being in one of two categories, racist and not racist, and if you are the former, you are a horrible person.

Some people who say they are not racist are simply lying. Some are not lying, but are too emotionally unreflective to admit to themselves that they actually do have racist tendencies. Then there are another group, which I myself would probably fall into, who know they have some prejudiced attitudes, but see racism as an inherently bad thing and thus try to make sure they don't mistreat people based on prejudice. But if you fall into that category, how do you give that nuanced answer when someone asks you a dumb simplistic question like "Are you a racist?" Understandably, most people would just take the safe option and say "No."

So is Brett Eidman right when he says he's not "a racist"?

Probably. I mean, I don't think he hates Asian people, particularly. Maybe he has some racist views about Asians, although I doubt he actually means them any harm, and he probably has friends who are Asian, for whatever that is worth.

Yet undeniably, his behaviour was racist. I mean, his "Dom Fok" character is one of the stupidest, most insensitive racial stereotypes I have seen in a long time. For him to think it is acceptable is frankly, amazing. So in the unlikely event that I would ever conduct such an interview with Brett Eidman, I wouldn't waste breath asking him "Are you a racist?" 
I would ask: "What does it say about you and your views on Asian people, that you can continually perform as that character, and do it right in the face of two Asian people while hip-thrusting in an Asian girl's face, but yet be surprised when you get punched in the face for it? Would you do a similar thing to an African-American couple?"

So let's focus on the behaviour, first and foremost, rather than letting someone off the hook by asking whether or not they are racist, and acting as if it's some blinding insight when they predictably announce that they are not.


I got into a debate with some people online about whether or not George (the Asian guy in the video) should indeed have punched Eidman. First of all, I don't really blame George, and I might well have acted the same way myself. In fact I'm amazed that it didn't happen sooner. But my general stance is that I don't condone violence acts at all. Most of the time, when someone throws a punch, nothing major happens other than a few bruises and wounded egos. But other times, people get seriously injured or worse, and people get arrested. As it stands, perhaps this particular instance has had positive effects; we haven't heard that George has faced any criminal charges, and Eidman seems to have learned his lesson the hard way, but without more than some minor bumps and bruises. But it potentially could have been a lot worse, for either man. A conviction for assault can devastate one's career prospects, and people have gone to jail in the past for far less. Had it gone down that route, or if Eidman had suffered severe injuries or death, it would be less likely that George's actions would have been viewed as worthwhile.

While I don't blame George, I instead wish that it didn't have to reach the stage that it did. The bigger problem here is that Eidman has been doing this character for 20 years by his own estimation, and no one in that time has made it clear to him (preferably by non-violent means) that Dom Fok is some racist shit that should never have seen the light of day. As well as being a severe failure on his part as a comedian and a human being, I also wonder about all those audience members, friends and fellow comedians who saw that act and saw nothing wrong with it. If some of them had the balls to call him out on it over the last 20 years, it wouldn’t have got to the point where someone feels the need to hit him over it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

From around the interwebs...

 Golden Pig, Coffin Man and Noodles: When Asian tattoos don't turn out quite as planned
On a similar note, one young lady wished to have the word ‘Bitch’ carved into her skin, but the artist took some liberties with the language and instead inked the words ‘Cheap Whore.’

What Do Swedes Think of the Swedish Chef? 
They think he sounds Norwegian. Also, they’d like you to stop asking.

 Asian American youth culture is coming of age in 'the 626' 
San Gabriel Valley locals celebrate the 'fusion lifestyle' they're forging. It draws on U.S. hip-hop and Chinese dialects, includes Instagram and pho. Boba is a must.

What are some English phrases and terms commonly heard in India but rarely used elsewhere?
Soon, her mother will be looking for a suitable boy as she is of marriageable age. Unfortunately, her father expired recently. Her mother wants a foreign-returned or NRI bridegroom. Someone convent-educated from a status-family. Wheatish complexion highly desirable. 

The “Where Are You Really From” Power Dynamic 
“Where do you come from?” is a common question that some Anglo-Australians use to interrogate the identities of people of colour the moment that they meet them. I am a brown man and have experienced this sort of behavior all my life. This is what I have to put up with every single day and I find it very irritating. Do you realise that the question “where do you come from?” immediately sets in place a structure that excludes people, rejecting them with a form of passive racism?