Posted: August 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Paying for Propaganda

Posted: December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

This post looks at  how hate and bigotry are freely paid for and spread by groups that are otherwise sheltered by free-speech protections and seemingly-benign names (case in point, the “American Freedom Defense Initiative – AFDI).

In July this year, the AFDI paid for these ads that were posted all over the public transit in San Francisco:







Despite numerous local protests, San Francisco’s MUNI (public transit) approved these ads on its trains and buses – although, funnily enough, they have a policy against political ads. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that in July, a federal judge had ruled in favor of the AFDI, giving it a free ride to promote its hateful agenda.

In any case, the ads continued to spread their intended messages of racism – until a group of local artists took the matter into their own hands and set about town modifying each ad (click to enlarge):














There is little more that I love than intelligent, informed and compassionate collective action!

The Problem of Plenty

Posted: November 5, 2010 in Latest Rants

Why we can’t seem to stop buying crap we don’t need.

You know that euphoria that rolls around every payday: that of knowing that the bank account has been replenished and you can finally buy that shirt (or shoes, or bag, or camera, or etc) you have been eyeing for weeks? Happens to me more often than I’d like to admit. I joke with friends that I usually end up spending my paycheck even before I earn it – perpetually keeping a mental tab of what I must aspire to owning next. This seemingly harmless habit is one hundreds, if not thousands, of us have – and it is certainly not a healthy one.

Recently I began to question the gratification that comes with shopping. It is an awesome feeling, I must admit, browsing the isles of a super-hip fashion store, with shiny marble floors, edgy music, waif-like sales people and rows and rows of clothes that promise to change your life. I also have very near and dear friends who live to shop: and will usually frown upon any sentence that has both “shopping” and either “Walmart, Payless, Target or even Sears” in it. For them, it is nothing but the best. Okay – for me too.

But then when we think about this gratification, it is usually momentary. For me, the celebration stops the second I leave the store. I now own this particular item. It is mine. Whoopeeeeeeee… Um, not! For me, it is about this feeling of ownership – once it is mine, I don’t want it that much anymore. Clothes, on a side note, usually don’t look all that great once separated from their beautiful neighbors on the racks anyway – the second I get home, I pull out the receipt and read up on the return policy. For most people – the hassle of taking it back usually means that it will lie in the back of the closet once it has served its purpose (that date, that event, that meeting, that party) forever.

So why do we buy? The impulse purchases and the need for instant gratification is a big one – and highly symptomatic of living in a society of plenty: we are surrounded with beautiful things – why wouldn’t we want to own them? There is also shopping as a way to pass time and to fill in the gaps that a lifestyle without a strong communal way of life brings. Think about it: for teenagers today, the best thing to do with their hang of friends is to parade around malls. When I was a teen, an afternoon at the swimming pool followed by a bag of chips and a bottle of Coke was the stuff dreams were made of. We don’t sit around the table twice a day with our families, nor do we have neighbors visiting or friends calling 3-4 times a day. Believe it or not, that leaves a void as we most definitely are social animals. A void that consumerism fills.

Then there is also the coercion we experience by media and other social messengers around us. We see Drew Barrymore clutching a cup of Starbucks: suddenly the measley coffee maker at home doesn’t seem as hip. We see a Kardashian sister waltzing out of a store with more shopping bags than she has thoughts in a day: suddenly the image of carrying glossy bags full of goodies is in. We open magazines, drive down a road lined with billboards, turn on the tv, turn on the radio, speak to our loved ones: messages luring us to buy are EVERYWHERE. How many of us have been coyly told by that beloved about what s/he wants this Christmas already???

My personal love affair with shopping roots from a rather deprived childhood (okay not deprived in an Oprah kind of way where I’ll claim to play with dolls made of corn cobs and toothpicks, but rather, fiscally controlled). I had those parents with a tight purse who believed that kids must be raised in a thrifty environment where they will learn the value of money, the hard work it takes to earn it, and to save lots of it when they grow up. I have news for my parents: it doesn’t work that way! It only leaves you with a life-long craving to buy, buy, buy – own, own, own. Now I wish that I had learned about the importance of saving another way during my youth.

Luckily, however, I am at a point in my life where – finally- saving is starting to become more fun than spending. I reached this point by repeatedly running out of money before the month was out and being stuck with piles of junk that I eventually had to donate, sell or throw away every time I moved. Slowly, I have become very detached from my belongings. Now, about the fun in saving… Think about it this way: remember that euphoria of pay day? Where you know the account is re-charged and you can buy whatever you want? Now prolong that feeling to days, weeks, months and then years. It only grows as you save more. Believe me – that feeling of security and of the knowledge that you have the ability to buy, anyday, anything you want – is priceless. Just like the only secret to losing weight is eating less and moving more – the ONLY secret to riches is saving, saving, saving (and eventually, investing wisely).

I read somewhere that the richest 1/5 of the world’s population consume about 70% of its resources in finished products. Does this mean that the remaining 4/5 are miserable because they cannot own all the fancy stuff we have? Hardly! Growing up in Africa, I saw a lot of poverty around me – but I also saw some of the happiest people I have ever encountered. Even the people I come across in North America: with their fancy cars, houses, clothes and restaurant dinners are barely that happy. That happiness comes from being around people you love, a strong community with a killer sense of humor and an acknowledgement that life is short: it is therefore not about buying it all – but rather, living it all. Living each moment to the fullest – making it one heck of a life.

So the next time you reach for that credit card to buy your 40th scarf, pause and ask yourself: Do I really need this crap?

The “Revised” Story of Cinderella

Posted: November 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

Once upon a time there was a smart girl called Cinderella and she had two step sisters who were very unkind who made her do all the hard work. She had to sweep the floors, do all the dishes, while they dressed up in fine clothes and went to lots of parties. They especially disliked Cinderella because she was smart, loved to read and got better grades in class than they did. They spent all their time dressing up, chasing boys and going to pointless parties, you see.

One day a special invitation arrived at Cinderella’s house. It was from the royal palace. The king’s only son was a truly handsome prince was going to have a grand ball. Three girls were invited to come. Cinderella decided she would not go to the ball as she had homework to do. But the step sisters, ho ho ho, they were excited! They couldn’t talk about anything else.

When the day of the ball came, they made such a fuss. Poor Cinderella had to rush about upstairs and downstairs.  She fixed their hair in fancy waves and curls. She helped them put on their expensive new dresses – Cinderella had saved her money so that she could buy her dream home someday soon. As soon as they had gone, Cinderella sat down by the fire and she said. “Oh I do wish I could own a palace myself – then I would throw a ball and invite all the handsome princes from all around the world to attend!”.

The next moment, standing beside her was a lovely old lady with a silver wand in here hand. “Cinderella, she said ” I am your fairy godmother and you shall have your wish. But first you must go into the garden and pick a golden pumpkin, then bring me six mice from the mousetraps, a whiskered rat from the rat trap, and six lizards. You’ll find the lizards behind the watering can”.

So Cinderella fetched a golden pumpkin, six grey mice, a whiskered rate, six lizards. The fairy godmother touched them with her wand and the pumpkin became a great big building – a factory with large chimneys, the mice became six grey limousines, the rat became a personal assistant with the most enormous moustache, and the lizards became six business advisors and investment specialists, then the fairy godmother touched Cinderella with the wand and her old dress became the most stunning business suit sparkling with jewels while on her feet were the most elegant pair of heels ever seen. She had become the CEO of a succesful business empire that produced girls toys!

At the ball, Cinderella’s step sisters were having a miserable time: one complained of a headache, while the other kept on complaining that her cell phone did not have a reception. These old palaces could really be stuck in time sometimes! The prince, in the meantime, had danced with every beautiful girl that was present. Yet he looked around the ballroom and wondered aloud, “Is there no one here who is beautiful and smart?” He left the party early with a pair of glass slippers he had had made to gift to the girl that he would feel most drawn to that evening.

The following week, the prince saw a picture of Cinderella on cover of the city’s newspaper. She looked beautiful in a pale blue gown that she had worn to a benefit thrown in her honor. “Toy Company CEO is a Mix of Beauty and Brains!” screamed the headline. The article celebrated Cinderella as a new cultural icon with both style and business savvy. Impressed, the prince asked his ministers to arrange a meeting with her.

Despite numerous calls, the prince’s people did not hear back from Cinderella or her people. He decided to take matters into his own hand and show up at her office in the most presitigious part of the city. After all, he was the prince – he could see who he wanted when he wanted. Driving up to the massive business complex – he suddenly realized that he had perhaps underestimated this girl. He spent an hour going through security and then was told briskly by a snotty male secretary that since he did not have an appointment, Cinderella could not see him. The prince was shocked at both the rudeness of the assistant and his bizzare moustache!

Distraught, he began to walk around the building. This had never happened to him before – he always got any girl he wanted – the silly ones usually threw themselves at his feet! This one was definitely special. He knew that she was aware of his visit – but was refreshingly different in that she didn’t seem eager at all to meet him.

After waiting in the marble lobby for about an hour wondering what to do next, he looked up to a swirl of blue chiffon and the most beautiful blue eyes looking at him. “You’re still here I see.” said Cinderella, “Quite persistent… I like that. How may I help you?” The prince could not move. He was captivated by her presence. She carried herself with a majesty he had never before encountered. He knew she was well read and ambitious, but the extent to which this was projected in her demeanor was astounding. He finally stammered, “I read about you recently and was wondering if you might join me for coffee sometime?”

She chuckled, “That can be arranged, yeah.” This delighted the prince, who asked if he could present her with the glass slippers he had made for his future spouse. “What’s the big hurry, prince? We are both quite young yet to rush into commitment… let’s date first and see if we are compatible. After all, I am a busy woman and need to be certain that you will not only support my ambitions, but complement them with those of your own.” The prince knew that this was the girl for him at that very moment.

The prince and Cinderella dated for several months after that and were talked about fondly by people far and wide. One day, Cinderella asked him to marry her under a starry sky during a vacation to the magical land of Egypt. The prince happily accepted to spend the rest of his life with this charming, intelligent and ambitious young woman. A huge celebration welcomed the new couple back home with a grand carnival, feasting and parties… and they lived happily ever after in Cinderella’s beautiful new palace.

Benazir Bhutto, to me, personifies the balanced rhetoric politicians and human rights activists preach of when they talk about open and fair dialogue beween Islam and other Abrahamic religions. She had a way of not only looking inwardly at the socio-political conditions in her native Pakistan, but also the ability to intelligently juxtapose them on a global scale to come up with some of the most brilliant (and unbiased) insights I have encountered.

As a scholar and political leader, Bhutto ventured in a direction that most of her contemporaries would not even dream of: that of criticizing the all-powerful religious establishment. The following is an excerpt from Bhutto’s book, “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West”. One can only imagine how much bravery and gumption it must have taken a female Muslim politician to write these words.

On the post – 9/11 Muslim backlash against Western society:

“One billion Muslims around the world seemed united in their outrage at the war in Iraq, damning the deaths of Muslims caused by U.S. military intervention without U.N. approval. But there has been little if any similar outrage against the sectarian civil war, which has led to far more casualties. Obviously (and embarrasingly), Muslim leaders, masses, and even intellectuals are quite comfortable criticizing outsiders for the harm inflicted on fellow Muslims, but there is deadly silence when they are confronted with Muslim-on-Muslim violence. That kind of criticism is not so politically convenient and certainly not politically correct. Even regarding Darfur, where there is an actual genocide being committed against a Muslim population, there has been a remarkable absence of protests, few objections, and no massive coverage on Arab or South Asian television.

We are all familiar with the data that pour forth from Western survey research centers and show an increasing contempt for and hostility to the West, and particularly the United States, in Muslim communities from Turkey to Pakistan. The war in Iraq is cited as a reason. The situation in Palestine is given as another reason. So-called decadent Western values are often part of the explanation. It is so much easier to blame others for our problems than to accept responsibility ourselves.

The colonial experience has obviously had a major impact on the Muslim psyche. Colonialism, resource exploitation, and political suppression have affected Muslim’s attitudes toward the West and toward themselves. No one doubts that the record of the West in majority Islamic nations is not a pretty one. But what outsiders did in the past does not exclusively account for the quality of Muslim life today. There are a rush and an ease to condemn foreigners and colonizers, but there is an equally weighty unwillingness within the Muslim world to look inward and to identify where we may be going wrong ourselves.

It is uncomfortable but nevertheless essential to true intellectual dialogue to point out that national pride in the Muslim world is rarely derived from economic productivity, technical innovation, or intellectual creativity. Those factors seem to have been part of the Persian, Mughal, and Ottoman past but not the Muslim present. Now we see Muslim pride always characterized in the negative, derived from the notions of “destroying the enemy” and “making the nation invulnerable to Western assault.” Such toxic rhetoric sets the stage for the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West every bit as much as do Western military or political policies. It also serves as an opiate that keeps Muslims angry against external enemies and allows them to pay little attention to the internal causes of intellectual and economic decline. Reality and intellectual honesty demand that we look at both sides of the coin.” (2007; 7)

The Dillema of Difference

Posted: November 2, 2010 in Latest Rants

To be or not to be – that is the question. Part of mainstream culture that is.

When it comes to the identity of a minority group going head-on against the broader, dominant majority group – who wins? Should a marginalized sub-group or sub-culture, in other words, aim towards retaining and affirming the characteristics that make it distinct from broader society – or should full integration (and thereby, a more uniform social status for all) be the ultimate goal?

This question is more important today than it has ever been. Marginalized groups and their social movements for acknowledgement and acceptance stand at a point where the lack of universal consensus on this question is creating a divide between members of the groups. Take the gay rights movement for instance: should queer culture aim at adapting to the “norm” culture or should it retain characteristics that helps distinguish itself as a clearly alternative sub-culture?

In the gay community, there is a lively debate on incorporation. Gay rights organizations such as the prominent Human Rights Campaign (HRC) have forged a profitable existence for themselves using words such as “equality” and “tolerance.” Yet, if you ask a significant portion of the very community these groups represent, you realize that being “tolerated” and waiting around to be “equal” is the very last priority on their list. They don’t want to be like everyone else – they want to be able to live in a society where they can be themselves – without a pressure of changing to fit-in. (The survival and funding politics of these organizations and the corporate influence on the gay-identity movement -including national Pride celebrations – is a topic for another day.)

Equality, according to me, is a tricky term altogether. Gay rights activists must ask themselves: When did we start fighting to be just like everyone else – and stop celebrating the one predominant feature of our movement that set us apart to begin with: that of difference? When will we stop waiting around for the dominant group to validate our existence? When will we stop wagging our tails and quit waiting for them to throw us that bone?

To be fair, gay rights activists have, indeed, come up with intelligent and just-as-effective alternatives to the “equality” route of rights-acquisition. One such example that impresses me immensely is this: www.againstequality.org

When it comes to the dilemma of being different, maybe it isn’t such a dilemma after all. Maybe it is a privilege.

I have always maintained that I was born and am living in the wrong decade. The 60’s is where I really belong. The spirit of revolution was in the air and “Freedom” was the mantra of the masses. Indeed, the entire world from Africa to North America was experiencing the resurgence of love – following decades of war, destruction, subjugation and violence. In Lyndon Johnson’s United States, a critical debate was brewing: that of color and integration. No longer were segregationist norms considered acceptable: informed individuals were in a rush to bring in black folks to platforms they had never been permitted to before. What would be a better forum for doing this than on national television? On December 27 1964 the Supremes were chosen to do just that.

The “Ed Sullivan Show” was a cultural centerpiece in those days – the premier showcase for upcoming talent in the United States. Murmurs of this new girl band from Motown, The Supremes, being on television started making phones ring and hasty letters written in the media industry around the country. Colored girls on national television in a glamorous image was an unprecedented event.

Up to that point in history, the black population of the United States had witnessed themselves in some very narrow (and primarily subservient) roles on television. One does not need an active imagination to picture the apron-clad fat black mammy saying “Yes’M!” or the token black chauffeur grinning in the background. To be portrayed in a positive light with beauty and grace was unimaginable. Ed Sullivan, however, was a huge proponent of integration – and put up a thorough fight in bringing the Supremes to the platform they rightly deserved. Indeed, by this time, they had released three number-one hits that were widely received by music audiences around the country.

In the South, friends and families ran over to each others homes in their parts of town to share the news and excitedly awaited the evening “their girls” would appear on television. Racist folk vowed to boycott the show, the station and even television as a whole after that.

Motown spent a fortune prepping The Supremes for this occasion. They were sent to charm school, made-up, thousands were spent on glittering dresses, make-up, jewellery, wigs. In fact, it was also the first time that a colored person was seen on television wearing diamonds: real diamonds! The cultural impact can only be imagined. Motown’s investment paid off: The Supremes were a national sensation – they performed a total of fourteen times on the Ed Sullivan show between 1964 and 1969 – and opened the doors, once and for all, for fellow colored performers.

On the evening of their debut, among the thousands of black children watching The Supremes dazzle to the tune “Come See About Me,” were a 6 year old boy and a 10 year old girl who were so taken by the lithe lead singer (Diana Ross), that their sole mission in life was to become her someday. They emulated her to the highest degree – and one even ended up looking like her eventually. The boy was Michael Jackson and the girl Oprah Gail Winfrey.

I have always loved The Supremes and admire their work immensely: watching white dancers twisting around the only three black girls in the “Baby Love” video, for instance, struck a chord with me the very first time I watched it. There was, without doubt, something powerful about the moment and a music video was capturing that thrilling history! I was to learn later that even the studio applause that was to follow their on-air appearances shook black people to the core: they could not believe that white folk were actually applauding one of their own!

The following is a link to the “Come See About Me” video that changed the face of television forever. When you watch it, keep in mind that you are witnessing a critical moment in history. Picture the thousands cluttered around their neighbor’s television sets ushering in a new era of equality. Enjoy!

 Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wzk4YaED-8I&p=B77B9C4DD7924B6C&playnext=1&index=2