This Scandal Just Went Hollywood

We don’t want privacy – we want a good story.

Edward SnowdenI’m not sure what to make of the revelation that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans for years, secretly monitoring our phone calls and internet activity in ways that certainly push the boundaries of what is legal and just.

I had already assumed that the NSA (and who knows what other agency) was violating our privacy. So the leak provided by Edward Snowden merely confirmed reasonable suspicions that I and many Americans have held since…well always, but certainly since September 11, 2001.

The public tumult following the NSA leaks is different than the controversies surrounding Obama’s other scandals. Ben Gazi seems like a case of incompetence being stretched to one of treachery. The IRS targeting conservative organizations was inappropriate but a drop in the bucket compared to the number of right-leaning organizations that received little scrutiny. The Justice Department seizing phone records of the Associated Press is a dispute in policy rather than a scandal – if the actions seem despicable, blame the law that allows the Government to take such actions.

Although none of the three scandals mentioned above should be excused, upon closer inspection, they fail to get my blood boiling. It feels like the Government acting dumb – just as it always has. This week could have featured another tired news cycle of a Government agency overstepping its boundaries in a flood of partisan talking points had it not been for one key element that changed everything – Edward Snowden.

One man. A face. That’s all it takes to turn this whole mess into a story of good versus evil. We knew all along that the Government was the bad guy, but what we were missing until now, was a hero, and we have found him. Is he a hero? I have no clue, and most folks won’t care because we want the narrative more than the substance of character or policy. For goodness sake, his name sounds like that of a character from Game of Thrones – the next Lord of Winterfell, Ed(w)ard Snowden!

We don’t want our privacy – we want an individual (preferably a white male so as to fit the Hollywood narrative) to stand up to the system and fight. If we really wanted our privacy, we wouldn’t be signing it away every single day to Facebook, Google and all types of companies collecting our personal data. Edward Snowden represents the answer to all our collective longings. He’s a nerd who took a stand. He has libertarian tendencies (donated to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign) which gives him automatic anti-establishment cred. He’s tough (enlisted in the Army in 2003 to join the Special Forces) and not ugly, which is not insignificant. And of course, his main concern now is the pain he may be causing for his family, many of whom work for the US Government. I expect that the screenplays are already being written.

The place he chose to go makes the story only more interesting. Hong Kong is, for all intents and purposes, a democratic system within a larger authoritarian one. The semi-state already has an extradition treaty with the US, but none of that matters if China, which has the final say on all foreign relations with Hong Kong, decides to step in. Snowden’s decision to flee east sets up a potential clash of superpowers that would never have been possible had he fled to anywhere else in the world.

Had the same news about the NSA’s PRISM project came from a boring committee of journalists at a big newspaper, I guarantee that the story would not have made as big a splash as it did. We are much more concerned with the fate of this troublemaker than the laws and policies he hopes to change.

Map of American Craft Brewing

New Yorker Beer MapEarlier this year I wrote about the history of beer in the US. In it I argued that the current boom in craft/micro brewing is merely a return to the original beer culture that existed for the greater part of America’s history.

The New Yorker just put out an interesting map showing the rise of craft breweries of which there are now more than 2,300 in the US. The most surprising finding is that the areas experiencing the biggest growth are in the South and Southwest – outside of the traditional craft brew centers in the New England and the Pacific Coast. Also interesting is that craft brews represent 30% of total beer sales at Costco (hardly a place reputed for craft anything).

Lost in Indian English

You may speak English, but probably not Indian English.

My name is Cyriac and I am balding. For the past few months, I have been getting every haircut with my upcoming wedding in mind. I usually shave my head, but the lady and I agreed that I still have just enough hair to justify growing it back for the big day. We were hoping that years from now, we could sit down with the kids and look at pictures of daddy when he had hair.

Earlier today I went down to my local barber. He sits on the side of the road and shows up every day, even when it’s 46 degrees C (115 F) outside. He’s a nice fellow that speaks broken English comparable to my broken Hindi and we get along well.

Months ago, when asked what it is that I do, I had no clue how to say communications consultant in Hindi so I told him I do writing on the computer. Upon my next visit, he called over his friends from the chai stall a few meters away to meet his engineer friend. I protested that I wasn’t an engineer to which he replied “but you said you work with computers”. OK I said, submitting. My mother would have been proud – at least someone thinks her son is an engineer.

I had decided this morning that it was finally time to get rid of the six weeks of scruff I had on my face. I sat down, held my face with both hands and said the only words that mattered – “shave clean”. He ran his fingers through my hair and asked if wanted anything done up top. I said no and that I didn’t have enough time. “No tension. Twenty minutes only. Finishing only”. Once again I submitted, figuring that it wouldn’t take too long if all he was going to do was do the finishing touches on my hair – a basic cleanup I figured.

He tilted my head down and I felt two scrapes across the top of my head. I leaned forward and touched up top to feel the smooth baldness of my scalp. I looked at him with concern and asked “what is finishing?” “Everything gone. All clean” he said. And then I understood why he said it would only take twenty minutes. At that point I had no choice but to finish my finishing.

So a warning to all those visiting India – if a man with a blade asks you if you want finishing, say no, unless you wish to lose all your hair.bald mrcyriac

The question now remains, can I grow enough hair in the next 47 days…

Marriage Equality: About Damn Time

The Court may go this way or that, but finally, the country seems to be on the right path. 

As many of you may have noticed this week, Facebook was flooded by a wave of digitized Rothkoesque profile pictures in support of marriage equality as two pivotal cases make their way through the Supreme Court, challenging the governments’ ban (California – Prop 8) and non-recognition (federal – DOMA) of same sex marriages.

The hater inside of me initially thought about the silliness of reducing a civil rights issue to a social media profile image. What difference would it make? I doubt I was alone in dismissing the value of the trend. In spite of my own cynicism, I changed my profile and was hit with a feeling I had not felt since November 2008 – another instance in which I scoffed at (yet publicly supported) a national campaign that was unforeseeable just a few years earlier.

SC Supreme Court Facebook

Nearly five years later, Continue reading “Marriage Equality: About Damn Time”

Of Course Satan Was Black

Arguing about whether Jesus was white or not is so passé. These days, Satan’s race is all the rage. 

white Jesus

I’ve grown accustomed to seeing Jesus being portrayed as a white man. It’s still wrong, but it no longer bothers me that a man born in Palestine is almost always depicted as a northern European. I draw the line, however, when the History Channel goes out of its way to juxtapose a white Jesus with a dark Satan in its new miniseries “The Bible“. Oh yeah, and dark Satan looks a lot like President Obama.

black Satan

The folks over at the History Channel issued the following statement:

“HISTORY channel has the highest respect for President Obama. The series was produced with an international and diverse cast of respected actors. It’s unfortunate that anyone made this false connection”

False connection. Right. Even if he didn’t resemble President Obama, I find the use of a dark-skinned man as Satan in an otherwise almost entirely white cast shameful. The resemblance with Obama is just the dingleberry on top.

 

Hollywood’s White Savior Complex

“it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them…Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.”

This from an article by Kate Masur in the NY Times. I’m not entirely sure the movie was devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery. It was called “Lincoln” after all, not “Emancipation”.

I have a difficult time saying that any particular film is a “white savior” film. No single film should bear the burden of collective problem in the industry. The white savior complex is meaningful only when seen as a pattern.

White saviors can be found in many places but thrive in the following environments:

  • inner city schools
  • American courtrooms
  • anywhere in Africa
  • sporting grounds
  • battlefields

By themselves, these movies do not portend any significant ideas on the depiction of race in movies. Seen together, the pattern is undeniable.

The settings may change but invariably, Hollywood is in love with stories of white people going out of their way to save the “others”. You will notice that many of the themes repeat over the years.

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You would be correct in noticing that several of these movies are based on historical events. Is it the film maker’s fault that it was a white lawyer who defended the captured slaves in Amistad? That a white man was actually the head of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as depicted in Glory? While these may be based on actual events, it’s no coincidence that Hollywood chooses to make such heroic movies, only if the savior is white.

There are of course some who go out of their way to insert white saviors and deserve ridicule. Continue reading “Hollywood’s White Savior Complex”

So God Made a (White) Farmer

Relax white people – we should respect farmers, but no need to steal thunder from marginalized and underappreciated Latinos.

First thing’s first – hats off to the Richards Group and Chrysler for putting together a gem of an ad. It is masterfully crafted and manages to be simultaneously understated and in your face. And Paul Harvey’s words really are remarkable. Unfortunately, the ad is a warped distortion of the country we currently live in.

There are 35 photographs used in the commercial. Twenty one of them have people in them, of which 16 have some visual indication suggesting race/ethnicity (the rest are either zoomed out or show pictures of hands only). Of the 16, there is one black guy, and anywhere between one and three with Latinos. Now normally, a commercial with a bunch of white people doesn’t bother me. In many ways, white is still the “normal” and it’s not surprising that companies want to take the safest route in terms of marketing. But I draw the line at farming. Nearly 80% of farmers in the US are of Hispanic/Latino heritage. When it comes to crop workers, the figure is 83%. It’s like making a commercial about basketball in America and showing only white players.

If this commercial was your introduction to farming in America, you’d get the impression that most of it is carried out by white people. Continue reading “So God Made a (White) Farmer”