Über Desi

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Indian government enters new era of censorship

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This leaked memo contains a directive from the Department of Telecommunications of the Government of India to all ISPs in India explicitly directing them to block various YouTube links, Twitter handles and other web pages.
Per Economic Times reports,

Through four (1, 2, 3, 4) directives to Internet Service Providers between 18 August and 21 August, the department of telecom has blocked numerous web pages on concerns that communal tensions were being fanned in the wake of the unrest following violence in the border districts of Assam. After protests in Mumbai on August 18 turned violent, the government had said that hate content was being spread through the Internet by groups in Pakistan.

This Orwellian move by the Indian government comes in the wake of recent incidents in Assam and the rampant rumors surrounding those incidents which triggered a mass exodus of migrants from the North East from various Indian cities.

Just to highlight how ridiculous and politically tinged this move is, one of the banned accounts is a parody Twitter account of the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Wisconsin Sikh Temple shootings

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News first started trickling in, mostly via Twitter, around noon East Coast time about a shooting incident in a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, WI. My first reaction, unfortunately tempered from years such attacks directed at Sikhs, was that this was one of those post 9/11 incidents, where the perpetrator attacks Sikhs thinking they belong to the Taliban or Mujahideen. Based on current report, this may very well turn out to be the case.

Initial reports were of multiple gunmen taking hostages at the temple. But when the dust settled, it turned out to be a lone gunman, Wade Michael Page, ex-Army and alleged skinhead. The first responding cops exchanged fire with the gunman; one was hurt and the other killed the gunman, but not before Page killed 6 others on the temple premises. These cops, “prevented a tragic situation from becoming even worse”. Satwant Kaleka, the temple’s president succumbed to injuries he sustained while trying to restrain the attacker, perhaps saving more lives.

Now on to the (American) media coverage of the situation, CNN had some decent updates about the situation itself but the reporters and anchors showed an appalling lack of knowledge about Sikhs, the worlds 5th largest religious group. For some reason, the CNN reporters and anchors were strangely defensive, almost hostile, to the victims’ and their families’ suggestions that this could be one of those typical post 9/11 hate incidents directed towards Sikhs. Additionally, CNN anchors and reporters, played thought police, insisting that this incident should not be classified as a terrorist incident (the FBI later classified it as domestic terrorism) and CNN anchors also were quite emphatic that this was not the time for debate on issues like gun control and hate crimes (the two major issues that most likely led up to this carnage). Having said that among cable news outlets, CNN was the one with the most coverage of the incident.

Fox News, when they were not discussing topics like “Liberal Media attacks against Mitt Romney”, had intermittent coverage of the incident. Even with lesser coverage, Fox still managed to commit a faux pas as one the reporters asked a member of the Sikh temple if there had been any “anti-Semitic acts in the past against the Sikh community”. MSNBC, the other media outlet, was busy covering the Olympics and had breaking updates now and then, but largely failed in it’s mission as a “news channel”.

The other troubling fact on the media coverage was the fact they kept mentioning that this was “misdirected hate” aka “hate directed towards Muslims but incorrectly targeting Sikhs” which leads one to believe that targeting Muslims would be “normal”, which speaks to the sad state of affairs in this country.

As of this posting, Wade Michael Page has been identified as ex-Army, 1992-98, (Toma)Hawk Missile repairman, and “psychological operations specialist”. Reports are also starting to flow in that he legally owned the guns he used in this massacre and was the leader of a neo-Nazi band called End Apathy.

Largely, the media coverage and outrage among Americans has been miniscule compared to the ones we witnessed after the movie shooting incidents in Colorado. Call me jaded by post 9/11 America but none of this comes as a shock.

For updates, please follow our Twitter account http://twitter.com/uberdesi

Who hauuun Williams?

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The media and now infrequently haunted blogosphere seems to be ablaze with news on Juan Williams firing from NPR for his remarks on Muslims. [NPR]

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.
NPR said in a statement that it gave Mr. Williams notice of his termination on Wednesday night.
The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday.
He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

**** time off for #facepalm moment ****

My question to the decision makers at NPR is how did they hire Juan Williams in the first place or why was he not terminated (for ignorance/stupidity) after confusing Indian-Americans with Native-Americans (which we tweeted about here). [WSJ Blog]

Nikki Haley ran far ahead of all other contenders for South Carolina’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, though the official returns give her 48.9%, just shy of a majority, which sets up a runoff against Rep. Gresham Barrett, who got 21.8%. Haley is a woman. She is 38. She is Indian-American, which by some lights makes her nonwhite (although South Asians are “Caucasian” in the traditional racial taxonomy.) We witnessed an amusing moment on Fox News Channel last night when Juan Williams observed that Haley would be “the first native American governor.” It was left to host Bret Baier to explain the difference between Indian-Americans and American Indians, and also to point out that Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal (also a 38-year-old Republican, albeit a man–hey nobody’s perfect) is in fact the first Indian-American governor.

Who hauuun Williams is now full time with Faux News. We wait with bated breath for Who hauuun Williams to confuse Nikki Haley’r origins, for Muslim instead of Sikh.

Peepli Live – A few thoughts

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Lal Bahadur.  Source: Peeplilivethefilm.com

This is not intended to be a review.

*spoiler alert* Some points give away the story line of the movie.

Peepli Live is a slap fest. It’s a slap across the face, for today’s politicians, the government, it’s babus, their yojanas, and above all, the MEDIA and us, it’s viewers.

Live television has long crossed the boundaries of absurdity. An year ago, the CM of Andhra Pradesh (YS Rajashekar Reddy) passed away in a chopper crash, and the media created a mass hysteria among people and portrayed several hundred ‘shock deaths’ – death of many average souls, who died of shock when they heard the news. For a major part of the week, including the night of the disappearance of the chopper, the news channels went wild, especially the one owned by the CM’s son (and apparently the heir to the CM post in the next few years), broadcast images of people weeping inconsolably for a CM they most probably never saw in flesh and blood ever in their life. His popularity exaggerated and magnified a million fold, and gaining maximum political mileage out of a personal tragedy.

That is a tiny example of our mis-information age, and Peepli Live makes a satire of it. Farmer deaths is something we hear about everyday, (right after cricket, dynasty politics, Pakistan, world, Chinese made gadgets and 10 tips to improve our sex lives). The characters in the movie are in abject poverty, and their cuss words may make you laugh, or cringe, but they are pretty unfiltered.

In the first few minutes you hear a pair of newsreaders relaying the news about Shilpa Shetty, denying the rumor of an affair with Prince William. You thought that was exaggeration? Over an hour into the movie, a TV presenter is shown examining the poop of a person they are unable to get hold of, for a millionth interview.

Budhia, a simpleton who is talked into giving a statement about committing suicide, as he is about to lose his ancestral piece of land, is now on the run because the media had made a circus out of his life, and his tiny little home in an unknown rural town of Peepli. His half hearted suicide talk has become a national sensation, and everybody in an official position in the country, and the media, have a vested interest in his death.

The stress of this turn of events has given him a diarrhea, but the media won’t allow him to attend his ablutions in peace. If this doesn’t tell you something, then good. The real world media has done its job well. We have been desensitized, the level at which we can be shocked is so high up, that nothing trivial like suicides because of poverty, bother us anymore. We couldn’t do much about it anyway.

While the suspense of Budhia’s life or death is gripping the nation, Mahato is out digging a ditch to make money by selling the soil, and ironically, his weak body gives away and he dies in the very ditch he is digging. Nobody give’s a sh*t because they are busy analyzing Budhia’s sh*t.

The outcome of Budhia’s life doesn’t really matter anymore, there’s a wonderful 3 min scene about what ‘yojanas’ can help him. There’s one for widows, disabled and the destitute. But the only one Budhia qualifies for is either ‘Lal Bahadur’(a hand pump) or the 1 lakh compensation that his wife gets if he dies.
Again, a wonderful satire on how our national leaders have been idolized under different schemes (mostly for political purposes). There’s wonderful characterization of IAS level/Block development officers, who say nothing but, ‘yes sir’ to the minister. The educated secretary of Agriculture, who won’t do anything except wait for a court order, and the high rung politicians, for who, everything is just a political game. To get into power, and remain in power. Absolutely no other objective.

Peepli live is uncomfortably funny, has no songs, has exceptionally talented actors, is produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, and is a very simple and straight story that was born out of frustration with things that are wrong in India today including the media, which has long lost its original purpose of information, and fast moved into the world of entertainment. LIVE entertainment. And Peepli Live is a wonderful window that captures this in less than 2 hrs.

Joel Stein’s Edison article: Sarcasm or Racism?

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For the record I vote for the former, which may or may not reflect how my fellow Über Desi bloggers felt about this Time article, which seems to have divided bloggers of Indian origin (BIOs???) and Tweeple of Indian origin (TIOs???). [Time] (ht: Patrix on Twitter)

A blog in the WSJ screams “Indians Unamused by Time’s ‘Edison’”. Ummm, only partially true. Let’s not pull a Zed uncle, who at any given point in time could be offended by at least half a dozen non-events and claim that the opinions of some (self included) represent the entire community/ethnic group. Some of us were amused, others offended and the rest indifferent. Call it (lack of) reading comprehension on my behalf but this is my translation of Joel Stein’s article.

I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers.

My humble translation (mht): His (Stein’s) hometown of Edison, NJ, has experienced a population explosion of Indian people. For good measure, he throws in a couple of digs at Arizona’s immigration law and Indian call center tech support.

My town is totally unfamiliar to me. The Pizza Hut where my busboy friends stole pies for our drunken parties is now an Indian sweets shop with a completely inappropriate roof. The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas. The Italian restaurant that my friends stole cash from as waiters is now Moghul, one of the most famous Indian restaurants in the country. There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime.

mht: Crime appears to be down since those Indians moved their brown kundis to this town. Can our NJ readers please confirm if this statement is true or not?

I never knew how a bunch of people half a world away chose a random town in New Jersey to populate. Were they from some Indian state that got made fun of by all the other Indian states and didn’t want to give up that feeling? Are the malls in India that bad? Did we accidentally keep numbering our parkway exits all the way to Mumbai?

mht: Stein never knew how a bunch of people half a world away chose a random town in New Jersey to populate. Obviously, he needs to be educated on the desi fascination for the Statue of Liberty and Niagara falls and anything and everything in the neighborhood.

I called James W. Hughes, policy-school dean at Rutgers University, who explained that Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 immigration law raised immigration caps for non-European countries. LBJ apparently had some weird relationship with Asians in which he liked both inviting them over and going over to Asia to kill them.

After the law passed, when I was a kid, a few engineers and doctors from Gujarat moved to Edison because of its proximity to AT&T, good schools and reasonably priced, if slightly deteriorating, post–WW II housing. For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.

mht: First came the doctors, then the merchants and others that make up the desi support system. The “India is so damn poor” statement is one of the few times I feel he crosses the line.

Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians “dot heads.” One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to “go home to India.” In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if “dot heads” was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose.

mht: These immigrants had to put up with all sorts of racist asshole locals.

Unlike some of my friends in the 1980s, I liked a lot of things about the way my town changed: far better restaurants, friends dorky enough to play Dungeons & Dragons with me, restaurant owners who didn’t card us because all white people look old. But sometime after I left, the town became a maze of charmless Indian strip malls and housing developments. Whenever I go back, I feel what people in Arizona talk about: a sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy.

mht: While the quality of food has improved with the Indian invasion, Britain can testify to this, he points out the lack of variety when it comes to business establishments. I beg to differ with this observation. Desis shop at a variety of stores – strip malls, retail malls, outlet malls, Walmart, K-Mart.

To figure out why it bothered me so much, I talked to a friend of mine from high school, Jun Choi, who just finished a term as mayor of Edison. Choi said that part of what I don’t like about the new Edison is the reduction of wealth, which probably would have been worse without the arrival of so many Indians, many of whom, fittingly for a town called Edison, are inventors and engineers.

mht: The large number of highly skilled desis have actually ensured a higher per-capita income for the residents of Edison, even in tougher economic times.

Unlike previous waves of immigrants, who couldn’t fly home or Skype with relatives, Edison’s first Indian generation didn’t quickly assimilate (and give their kids Western names). But if you look at the current Facebook photos of students at my old high school, J.P. Stevens, which would be very creepy of you, you’ll see that, while the population seems at least half Indian, a lot of them look like the Italian Guidos I grew up with in the 1980s: gold chains, gelled hair, unbuttoned shirts. In fact, they are called Guindians. Their assimilation is so wonderfully American that if the Statue of Liberty could shed a tear, she would. Because of the amount of cologne they wear.

mht: The first generation of Indians refused to assimilate, which, if Stein did his homework on Indians would realize, is true for most places in the US and the world over. However, the second generation is more assimilated and well adjusted to the local customs and costumes. The “Guindians” comment evokes visions of a desi version of the MTV classic “Jersey Shore” with an all-desi cast. Hey, we can always hope.

In conclusion, the article dripping with sarcasm, is funny in bits and pieces and devoid of humor in other places. If Joel Stein were desi, his very much fine Indian name would be Anurag Mathur, whose literary masterpiece evokes similar divisive thoughts from BIOs and TIOs. Unforunately, Stein missed the release of the sarcasm font, which this article should’ve been written in, for the benefit of all.

What do you think?

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