A Clockwork Blue: What’s It Going To Be Then, Eh?
Singing in the rain — songs about Asia, America, and everything in between…

May
05

Mike Gravel, with his crotchety avuncular charm, captured the imagination of the American public in the first Democratic presidential debate that took place on April 26th. He was considered a sideshow, yet when the American public saw his courageous, honest performance, they let the political powers-that-be know that this man rightfully needs and deserves a forum. And due to an amazing outpouring of support from the blogosphere, the former senator has finally been invited to the
New Hampshire Democratic presidential debate as well. The mainstream media could no longer justify its efforts to censor this man. Folks, this is true democracy in action—a la Gravel. But the sad truth is that the mainstream media stacks the deck against any candidates who are not already entrenched in the incestuous cesspool that is the American plutocratic power structure. Let us examine why the media wanted to exclude this distinguished American from the debates in the first place.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on all things political, but I consider myself a reasonably well-informed person with an inquisitive mind. But I had never heard of this guy before the debate! No major news network or publication had given this guy anything approaching significant coverage, in spite of the fact that Gravel was the first Democrat to formally declare his candidacy on April 17, 2006. So I decided to do a little bit of research on my own. I figured that at best, he had been a marginal politician from a bygone era who was making a quixotic quest to amuse himself in his golden years. Unfortunately, the only part I may have been right about is the part about his quest being quixotic. But in terms of experience, accomplishments, positions, and integrity, I was totally wrong.   

In 1970, Gravel, as a first-term US senator from Alaska, led the opposition movement to stop underground nuclear testing by the
U.S. government in the National Wildlife refuge at Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The opponents of the testing formed a protest movement calling itself the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee.” And this movement eventually became what is now known as Greenpeace.  That qualifies him as a true green environmentalist in my book. Eat your hearts out, Gore and Kerry.

Then in 1971, Gravel played a key role in the release of “United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense” or what is more familiarly known as the Pentagon Papers. Most of the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the New York Times, but not all. But Senator Gravel once again came to the rescue of the American people, adding some 4,100 missing pages. So finally, the complete Pentagon Papers, called the “Gravel Edition”, edited and annotated by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, were published by the Beacon Press. As we all know, this event was a triumph of the American democratic process, exposing the lies of the Johnson administration and preventing the Nixon administration from expanding the immoral war.

We see the current crop of leading Democratic presidential candidates carefully gauging the public opinion and saying whatever their pollsters tell them would win them most votes. The ones who voted for the
Iraq war say they wouldn’t have done so if they knew what they know now. Uh huh. Sure. And then the ones who either voted against the war or expressed opposition to it smugly try to take credit, while dancing around the issue of how and when they would actually stop this war. What did the Gravel do in a similar situation? Our stalwart hero staged a one-man filibuster, resorting to every parliamentary procedure in the book, and eventually got the Nixon administration to agree to let the military draft expire in 1973. Mr. Gravel went to
Washington, all right. And he pointedly reminded his fellow Democrats during the first debate that they too could have filibustered to prevent Bush from waging this bloody war in
Iraq.

In addition to all of this, John Gravel is a true man of the people. The leading Democratic candidates are falling all over themselves to metamorphose themselves into just regular folks.  Yes, we know that John Edwards is the progeny of a poor Southern family and that his father worked at a mill his whole life. He rarely fails to remind us of that. Yet he writes off a $400 haircut as a campaign expense-that’s what an American making minimum wage takes home in a two-week pay period. And Hilary should really spare us the faux black preacher affectations whenever she finds herself before a predominantly African-American audience. It really is disingenuous and Americans will eventually find it insulting. Many people in the black community have lovingly referred to her husband as the proverbial first black president. Well, in spite of all his warts, Bill Clinton is a preternaturally gifted man when it comes to making emotional connections with people. Hilary on the other hand… Well, remember how ridiculous and ultimately patronizing Al Gore sounded during the 2000 campaign when he tried to sound “black” before predominantly African-American audiences? Well, she sounds worse. She has to stop. And whatever she does, she and Bill better not reenact an open-mouthed kiss a la Tipper and Al at the convention. The stench from the collective regurgitation of the American people will permeate the entire nation worse than the mysterious toxic smell that enveloped the
New York City area.
On the other hand, Gravel actually worked as a New York City cab driver! That is true common man pedigree.

As a general rule, I am not big on conspiracy theories. But if a man eminently qualified to run for the presidency also happens to be the first person to throw his hat into the ring, doesn’t the media in a democratic society have the obligation to inform the public? What is the duty of the American media? To tell us how much money Clinton and Obama have raised? The American public does not need to know how much money they have raised. We have a pretty good idea. We are not the proverbial retarded stepchild. What we do demand to know is that there are candidates with provocative ideas besides the ones who are already anointed by the media. And Gravel is no kook, as many in the media have tried to portray him. Gary Coleman, the former child star, and Mary Carey, a porn star, got more publicity when they ran for governor of California. Ugh. This kind of gross oversight on the part of the media does raise red flags and feeds into conspiracy theories. It makes thinking Americans wonder out loud if certain types of candidates are indeed purposefully marginalized by the media at large. Could it be that Gravel, much similar to the effectively shut-out intellects like Noam Chomsky, mentions uncomfortable subjects like the military-industrial-complex?  

Well, the whole situation of American politics in general is that it is a GAME. A charade. As John Stewart so astutely points out, it’s the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals. The media institutions are somewhat like the referees and the league officials. They are supposed to make sure that everyone plays fair and everyone gets to play. But when some other guys shows up on the court and want to play, to try to win for a change…the powers-that-be who benefit from the current game do not want to let those new guys play!

It is an indictment of American politics that a 76-year old man is the only true agent of change in the current crop of major party presidential candidates. While
America tries to force-feed its ideology down the throats of other supposedly less civilized peoples of the world, its own democracy has been compromised beyond recognition. We need a man who believes in protecting the environment, reducing America’s nuclear arsenal, supporting marriages for all people, providing universal health care, fighting terrorism not just on the battlefield but in the hearts and minds of our so-called enemies, restoring America’s good name around the world, and ending America’s ineffectual drug policy. Mike Gravel has delivered for the American people before, and we need this man more than ever.

http://www.gravel2008.us/

Apr
30

…Bobby Lee, the Korean-American comedian, best known for his MAD TV skits addressing Asian-American stereotypes. During an interview with UCLA’s Asia Institute, his mad comedic mind free-associates on the very issue of Asian stereotypes: “Asians are great at, you know, arithmetic. I used to snort crystal meth off my math book, that’s the only thing I did with it.”

I can relate as an Asian-American–a 1.5 generation immigrant at that!–who never opened his math book after the 8th grade. I’ll have more to say about Bobby Lee in general, but this quote was just pure genius!

You can watch the entire interview and read the related article here.

Apr
22

My dear Sanjaya, when I first heard about you, I was mildly annoyed because “Sanjaya” happens to be the narrator of one of my all-time favorite books, the Bhagavad Gita,  an esteemed literary work and a sacred Hindu text. For some reason, I had some difficulties reconciling the fact that the narrator of a text that has been crucial to my spiritual guidance shared the same name as an American Idol flunky. Then I learned that your father is an ethnic Indian, that your mother is an Italian-American, and that both happen to follow the Hindu religion. Then, I got ideas.

You should have fashioned a turban on that head of yours, which apparently can be used as a versatile prop. By doing so, not only could you have been a true trailblazer in Asian-American history, but a postmodern performance artist and a politico-cultural provocateur.  What I would not have given to watch the reactions on the faces of your pre-pubescent female fans as you would have broken into an over-the-top 7-11 Apu Indian-accented version of “I Want It That Way” by The Backstreet Boys. Not to mention the horrified expressions on the faces of the suburban soccer moms to whom American Idol is a religion. No, the average American Idol fan would not have been able to distinguish a Hindu from a Sikh from a Persian from A Shiite or a Sunni if their life depended on it… And that would have been the beauty. You would have blurred the oh-so-thin line between a terrorist and a teen idol. Rosie O’Donnell recently stated that terrorists are fathers and mothers too…. Well, let’s not forget that terrorists can be teen idols too. You would have given a softer, kinder image to the Islamic terrorist, prompting middle Americans to ponder the sophisticated questions as to whether American foreign policy of global hegemony just might fuel global–and especially Middle Eastern–resentment of America. 

And then to top it all off, your performance would have had the ultimately satisfying effect of shutting up even that Simon Cowell, who will soon be declaring that he is not only five times more important than Bruce Springsteen, but that he is also 2.33 times more important than the Beatles based on album sales. Unbridled capitalism is a beautiful thing, indeed. And to think that all of this could have been possible  because you sneaked your way into the popular American psyche with your sexy boyish looks that made those of us old enough reminisce about the artistic tour-de-force that was Menudo. By the way, I hear that they are going to revive Menudo. I suggest you learn some Spanish.

Sanjaya, as you ad-libbed through your inspired, final performance of “Let’s Give ‘em Something to Talk About,” I could not help thinking to myself that you could have given so much more for America to think about. But, I realize that I am asking too much. All things considered, I do thank you, Sanjaya. After all, you did make tone-deaf Americans of all colors, creeds, races, and religions feel better about those ill-advised, late-night, alcohol-soaked karaoke stylings. Perhaps, you are worthy of being named after the narrator of one of the greatest literary and spiritual epics after all.

Apr
22

 First of all, let me preface this post by saying that its intent is to critique the American media’s handling of the Virginia Tech killer’s identity. And as you will see, I am highly critical of the job the media has done and continues to do. However, my expression of this discontent is not to be mistaken as an attempt to formulate some kind of apology for the killer’s heinous crimes. These are two separate issues. Seung-hui Cho is the one,  regardless as to whether he may have been mentally ill or cruelly ostracized by his peers, responsible for his unforgivable crimes. And by the way, yes, the murderer’s name is Seung-Hui Cho, and not Cho Seung-hui as most of the American media has referred to him. And you will see as you read on that there is a compelling reason as to why I make this seemingly trivial distinction.

In the immediate hours following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the killer was identified as a Chinese national in the US on a student visa. This was mostly due to a report by a certain Michael Sneed of the Chicago Sun-Times. Sneed actually provided a fairly detailed profile of this non-existent Chinaman–he was a 25-year-old Chinese national who arrived in the U.S. in San Francisco last year on a student visa issued in Shanghai.  Detailed, indeed. Unfortunately, all the details read like some early 20th-century dime novel describing some evil yellow Chinaman from Shanghai who enters the U.S. via San Francisco and wreaks havoc upon middle America. It is as if this “journalist” conjured up the most easily attributable stereotypes in her (Sneed is female) zeal to flesh out this Missing Chink. And this so-called information was relayed to the American public by Bill O’Reilly, along with Fox News at large and various other network affiliates.  James Fallows, the esteemed American journalist based in China, chronicles this journalistic atrocity and the near-panic it caused in China.  And I watched with horror as Bill O’Reilly reported this on his show, smugly insinuating that it was an inevitable result of letting those evil immigrants into our fine pristine country. Sigh.

 An Asian-American, even after having committed what may be the most infamous individual crime in the history of this country, cannot escape the confines of the two-dimensional, cardboard, stereotypical  portrayals assigned to Asian-Americans with a knee-jerk reaction by middle America.  We Asian-Americans are alternately the “model minority” and the “evil minority.” Devious  and calculating. Effete, yet capable of wreaking more evil than say the big Negro or the pesky wetback. We are certainly, without any doubt, the “two-dimensional minority.” It is apparently too much for us to ask that we be portrayed as the multi-dimensional human beings that we are. But, just like any other ethnic group, Asian-Americans are capable of doing out-of-the-ordinary things–whether they be academic, athletic, or criminal.  The New York Press, when it coined the term “yellow journalism” more than a century ago to describe the shoddy practices borne of the feud between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, could never have imagined that the term would have so much poignant relevance in the year 2007.

This Asian-American kid who ended up turning into a cold-blooded inhuman killer must have gotten the old, “Ching chong, go back to China” taunt countless times in his youth.  Most of us Asian-Americans at one time or another have had to endure similar taunts, having been mistaken for another Asian nationality, sitting there silently, dumbfounded and alienated, not knowing how to respond. How do you respond in such Kafkaesque situations? When someone from the group in power lashes out at you, however mistaken they may be in their charges.  How do you respond when someone is filled with so much racial hatred that they do not even bother with such “minor” details as to what your actual ethnicity might be? Do you respond that you are such and such nationality, and that your particular nationality is different from the one for which the assailant has so much hatred?  As if such “nuanced” explanations will make any difference? I am an ethnic Korean, and I have had the double pleasure of being mistaken for at least two other nationalities–Chinese and Japanese. At various times, I’ve been told by schoolmates to go back to China,  and by WW II veterans to remember Pearl Harbor and what it feels like to surrender. What I am saying is that even after death,  Cho could not escape the old Chinaman slur. Is this just a mere journalistic slip on the part of one irresponsible individual? Or is it something ingrained into the collective American psyche?

 When Michael Richards goes on a verbal rampage filled with racial slurs against his hecklers, he is effectively banned from public life.  Grey’s Anatomy star Isaiah Washington had to go into rehab after using the “f” slur. Mel Gibson got several lifetimes of negative publicity after his anti-Semitic remarks. And most recently, Don Imus got fired for his “nappy-headed ho’s” comment. Should these public figures have been held accountable for their hate statements? Absolutely. But what bothers me so much is…where is the outrage when the target of the hate speech happens to be Asian-American? Shaquille O’neal did his endearing parody of the Chinese language a few years ago. He was not fined or disciplined by the NBA. In the big scheme of things, it’s really not that big of a deal, right? Considering that Shaq is just playing the role of the big dumb lovable jock, and not a professional pundit. But when just recently, Rosie O’Donnell, who has fashioned herself to be some sort of mainstream mouthpiece for the enlightened progressive left, did her lovely “ching chong” bit, comparing Danny DeVito’s drunken ramblings to the Chinese language, she too, faced no official discipline from her employers.   And finally, let me remind you of what happened when Alfonse D’Amato, at the time the U.S. Senator from New York, went on the Don Imus radio show and proceeded to mock Lance Ito, the judge presiding over the O.J.Simpson trial, by launching into a racist impersonation complete with a faux-Japanese accent. Lance Ito is an American born in this country who speaks with what could only be described as a perfect American accent.  Was there some outrage? Yes, a minor one. Was the senator or Imus publicly censured in any fashion? No. The double standards are glaring. Yellow peril, yellow journalism.

 And after they had gathered all the facts, the American media, by and large, chose to report the killer’s name as Cho Seung-hui, not as Seung-Hui Cho or Seung Cho as the man had always gone by in his daily life in the some 15 years he had been in the States since the age of 8.  What is the difference? Cho is the man’s family name. In Asia, the family name precedes a person’s “first” name.   However, virtually all Asians, upon entering the United States, use the Americanized name order. An example of this would be Kim Jong-il–the current leader of North Korea and Kim Dae-jung–the former president of South Korea and Nobel laureate, as opposed to the Korean-American actress Yunjin Kim and the Korean-American baseball player Byung-Hun Kim.  They all share the family name Kim–a prevalent family name in Korea–but the order in which the names are presented is an indication of whether someone is considered “American” or not. It boggles my mind as to why the media chose the exotic and foreign styling of his name. This may seem quite obscure to the average American, but it should not be to the average member of the American media.  According to this article in Slate.com, members of the American media found itself lost as to how to present the killer’s name. Well…that’s the price one pays for being so ethnocentric. Because anyone with a high school education–actually with a middle school education–in most other parts of the world would see names like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and immediately understand that “Tom” and “Brad” are the given names, and that “Cruise” and “Pitt” are the family names.  Yet, American journalists, with their advanced degrees and all, have not even educated themselves properly on naming patterns prevalent in a sizable part of the world. Of course, what is really pathetic is that even if American journalists do not have knowledge on such “international” matters, at the very least, they should have knowledge of domestic issues. Korean names should hardly be foreign to most members of the American media, as there are over a million legal ethnic Korean immigrants living in the United States. And millions of other ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese, and other Asians in America also follow the exact same conventions when it comes to the presentation of names. There are even several Korean-Americans who anchor the national news at the major networks. What in the world is their excuse? Is this ignorance or racism? I contend that it is both. Racism is often borne of ignorance–it is an unwillingness to take the time to learn about “others.”

 I write this with the full understanding that it will not be well-received in this time of national mourning.  Let me reiterate once again that I abhor what the killer has done. But after our period of collective grieving for the innocent and wronged lives of this tragedy, we must hold the American media accountable for the “yellow journalism” it has engaged in. Not just for this particular Cho incident, but for the collective portrayal it has painted of Asian-America.  Will Michael Sneed be fired? What about Bill O’Reilly? And as I am wrapping up this post, Fox News has just aired a promo of how it is going to ask the Korean-American community for insights into Cho’s mind.  I guess I missed it when they asked the African-American community for insights into the minds of the DC snipers John Malvo and John Muhammad. Yellow peril. Yellow journalism.

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