Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reminds me of the film Children of Men

The blithe trust in the benign power of the state is astonishing - and in Fortress Britain, it is plainly undeserved

Jenni Russell
Wednesday November 21, 2007
The Guardian

It is the cheerful acquiescence of the vast majority that shocks me. A government that so admires liberty now proposes to restrict it still further. In future, we won't be able to leave the country without answering 53 questions on everything from our travel plans and companions' itineraries to our frequent-flyer information and history of no-shows. One item on the government's list is headed: "Anything else the travel agent finds of interest". Another has the catch-all category: "Any other biographical information". Anyone seen as potentially suspicious could be refused permission to board trains or planes, without right of appeal.

This is only one element of the plans that have been dubbed "Fortress Britain": 250 principal railway stations are to introduce airline-style security; cinemas, shopping centres and other public places are to be protected by concrete bollards and fortified barriers; no new underground car parks are to be built; and dropping passengers off outside shopping centres is to be banned. Meanwhile the government is attempting to double the maximum period of detention without charge to 56 days.

Whether this prospect fills you with quiet relief or utter horror is a reflection of your deepest assumptions about the trustworthiness of the state and its agents, your faith in the smooth workings of systems, and your level of anxiety about terrorist attacks. Ultimately it is about what you fear most - the random destructiveness of terrorism, or the accumulation of unprecedented power and information in the hands of an increasingly controlling state.

In the country at large, the response to these questions does not divide along party lines. In conversations over the last few days, velvet-jacketed Conservatives, radical retired teachers and sleek-suited New Labour bosses have all been indifferent to the possible pitfalls. They all, independently, voiced the new mantra: "I've got nothing to hide, so I've nothing to fear." This is so far from my own instinctive repulsion that it has made me think about what might possibly change their minds.

The people who support these changes are on the whole indifferent to the argument that these plans are an insane overreaction, a waste of public money, and the equivalent of building a dam with porous bricks. It is in vain to point out that you can scan passengers at King's Cross all you like, but that a bomber will still be free to blow himself up in a Cambridge market, on a Highlands bus, or at Fortnum's while having tea. These people are not susceptible to the argument that, with a million possible targets in Britain, the ostentatious protection of a few does nothing to make us generally safer. Nor do they mind that the immediate consequence of travel questionnaires is likely to be the disruption of thousands of innocent plans, caught out by human or systemic error, while terrorists have the foresight to plan around them.

What unites this group is a real faith in the power of the state to protect them from evil. They do not mind handing over power and information in return for greater safety. They believe strongly that the state will always deal fairly with them, that they themselves will not be objects of suspicion, and that official errors will be speedily addressed. It is this blithe trust in the state's judgments that worries me most. Three recent events have been small pointers of just how the state can behave when it finds individuals a threat.

Last week it emerged that, days before the De Menezes shooting in 2005, a diabetic man who had gone into a coma on a bus in Leeds was Tasered by armed police, as a suspected terrorist, when he didn't respond to their challenges. He woke to find himself manacled in a police van. Yet Tasers were intended to subdue violent offenders, not stun sick men. In our new state of terror, the rules are apparently changing.

Last April, six peaceful protesters (including a GP) against the widening of the M1 were arrested before they arrived at the motorway. They had never done anything more remarkable than hang banners from motorway bridges. They were held for 14 hours; their houses were broken into although the police had their keys; and they had computers, diaries, bicycles and notebooks seized. They were bailed on condition they had no contact with one another, although two are partners, and two share a house. Seven months on they have neither been charged nor had their possessions returned. Yet peaceful civil protest is supposed to be permissible in Britain.

Perhaps most alarming is the evidence of the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the De Menezes shooting. Leave aside the fact that an innocent man was shot. Look at what the eight police officers did when they realised a mistake had been made. After advice from lawyers, the eight composed their statements together. All eight claimed that before shooting, there had been several warning shouts of "Armed police". Remarkably, not one of the 17 witnesses in the tube carriage heard any such thing. Does this fact give you confidence in the veracity of the police, or other agents of the state, should your evidence ever be in conflict with theirs?

It is incidents like these that should make us worry about the complacent transfer of greater power to state authority. If the British state seems benign to most of us, this is because it has been surrounded by legal and cultural constraints. What is changing now is the legitimisation of suspicion as the basis for official action against us. It will increasingly be seen as our responsibility not to arouse the state's suspicions, rather than its business to prove our guilt. Do we really want to live our lives this way?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

should i go back?

"A particular fragrance on a hillside, a stolen glance in a restaurant, a body brush in a crowded street, a particular posture by a passenger in an elevator, a flash of memory during daily conversations, the sound of familiar words in one's native tongue heard from an adjoining car at a red traffic light - each of these sensory reports activates private memories and intensifies the feeling of displacement, a feeling that one may have suppressed in order to get on with life. However, just as frequently and powerfully, these very reports may serve the opposite function of restoration and emplacement - by reestablishing connections."

An Accented Cinema : Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking by Hamid Naficy, pg 28.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


claire stop looking at me like that

From The Times
January 30, 2006
How to be nang *
* If you have to ask, you aren't
Michele Kirsch
They scare the other passengers — meek, tired and irritated — and use a secret language punctuated with words such as “sket” and “nang” and “buff” and “bredren”, which mean whore, cool, good-looking and mate, in that order. I look at them longingly, because I know they are cool, they are the real “It” girls and I want to be 15 again, and beautiful and shouty and mixed-race, like the prettiest ones are, except I can’t because I am a middle-aged white Hausfrau, well past it and, more importantly, past “It” — the art of being effortlessly cool. I can’t get it or be it, but I can still hunt for it.

At Islington Green School, a mixed comprehensive in North London, I am in a room of 15 and 16-year-olds who are going to tell me what cool is and what cool is not. I am subscribing to the trickle-up theory of cool, which is that cool starts from the street and works its way up to the focus groups and marketing men and big brands.

I have brought along a copy of the NME, an enormously inappropriate and past-it ice-breaker, as it turns out. Nobody in this room knows who any of the people on the cover are, because they are not hip-hop and R&B stars, who are the cool ones, but “rock freaks” who are not cool at all. Somebody immediately zooms in on Billy Joe from Green Day. “He’s wearing make-up, that’s not cool — it’s gay.” Pete Doherty is dismissed as a “waste man” and the rest are dismissed as “Don’t know ’im. If I don’t know him, he can’t be cool.”

The first thing they tell me is that cool is not a cool word any more, that they all say “nang”, but even that is kind of old, and it is better to say “shabby”, “gunny”, “grimy”. And when things are not cool they say “That’s cold” or “I’m in despair”, and when people are not cool they call them waste girls or waste boys. If they feel they have been disrespected they don’t say “dissed” any more but say that they have been “boyed”, as in looked down upon and called “boy”. But not the girls. To slag them off you call them, as one girl reels off with great relish, “Oh, a sket, a waste girl, an apple, a what-up girl, a tramp, a ho.”

Nahid, 16, says: “I am cool and I am a grade A student. I am a shepherd, not the sheep. Big up Bengalis . . .” Smoking is “sooo not cool”. They all say this, but Nahid the most poetically: “If you want to be cool you have to live, and if you smoke you will be dead, and that is not cool, to be dead.”

Mobile phones are cool, says one boy, only if you have lots of girls’ numbers on them.

Surprisingly, the consensus is that the right gear, the right trainers, clothes, etc, is not as important as grown-ups think. “People don’t care about that no more,” says Rahel. “Cool is something that is unique, being different.” She thinks the coolest job would be to be a lawyer, not for the big money but “because you get to defend people who need help”. Other cool jobs are being a footballer, being your own boss and, this from the coolest-looking dude in the shop, “selling medicine”.

Nobody thinks black is cooler than white (“That’s racism, man, innit.”) but they do say it sounds dumb when black people use white slang or white people use black slang. The latter I know. But what is white slang? “Oh, all that EastEnders stuff like safe, sweet and mate. It sounds stupid.”

In the playground afterwards, they talk sweetly about their husbands and wives. “Where has my husband got to?” They explain it is just messing around, they pretend to be married to each other. “Like boyfriend and girlfriend?” I ask, reasonably. They look horrified. “Eww. No! No!” It is blazingly clear to all, and to me, that I just don’t get it.

A few weeks later I am in a coffee shop with 13-year-old Hazel Lee, a girl I have known since she was a toddler, who has effortlessly morphed into a walking emblem of street cool.

“Mayfair are the best cigarettes because they are like the best property on the Monopoly board,” she says through a mouthful of croissant. “But they are also £2.07 compared to B&H which are £2.35.” She adds hastily that she does not smoke herself, but “most cool people do”.

Clothes are important, she says, with her crowd. “You can’t wear trainers that aren’t Nike or adidas or Academic. If you wear trainers with no name they are called space forces. And if you have like an old cheap mobile phone, it’s called a brick.” But all that stuff takes money. How do you get the money? “You just do, or if you don’t, it’s OK if you make a joke about it, that you can’t afford something.”

The best music is called Bashment, “which is like house and ragga. Rock’n’roll is not good, it’s for the posh kids. Rock people are like the goofy people in your class who you can ask for help to do your work,” she asserts.

Can you do well in school without looking like a geek? “If you are going to do well or do the work you have to have an excuse, like to say, ‘If they (the school) call my mum, she’ll beat me.’ It’s OK if you say that.”

Most drugs are not cool, crack is for waste boys, but weed is OK. Cool parents are ones who let you stay out till 3am and go to raves, so in that respect her own mum is not cool, and people who try to be cool but just aren’t are called beggars. The coolest job would be, “to be an It Girl. Like Paris Hilton. Paris Hilton is cool because she’s got one of those little dogs to carry and when the dog got too big she got rid of it to get a smaller one.” Not Kate Moss? “Most people I know don’t know about Kate Moss. She is, like, a Paris Hilton wannabe.”

Twelve-year-old Jackson Caines is old-fashioned cool; he is completely different from just about every other kid I know, but affable, as opposed to arrogant, with it. He goes to a fee-paying school, is off-the-scale clever, and musically gifted. He went on Junior Mastermind as a Beatles expert. He goes to White Stripes gigs with his dad. He is easy and unguarded around adults.

He says that defending what he thinks is cool, which is not what lots of other people his age think is cool, “is the story of my life! In my primary school, everyone said the Beatles were crap, and I said why do they hold six world records? They were the biggest band ever. Their music is amazing and they have inspired millions of people. Music has got to have some intelligence. It can’t just be a beat and a bassline and someone rapping over it. I like people who take the time to write proper songs.”

You could see how that sort of thing wouldn’t go down too well in the playground, but Jackson toughed it out. He likes the White Stripes because “they are taking old blues, which is a bit forgotten, and bringing it to life in a more modern way that people can relate to. It’s a cool idea and a good way to go about music.”

He thinks it is important to distinguish between cool people and cool stuff. “A cool person has a nice personality. The cool people are always popular, but cool things are original and new and interesting. But the cooler kids are more into what the majority of people think is cool at the time.”

Smoking is not only not cool but “everybody knows that now, even the cool kids know it is stupid. Some kids joke about taking drugs but deep inside I think they joke because they would never do it really.” Drinking is different. “Many kids look forward to turning 18 so they can drink.” It gladdens my heart that they even pretend they are going to wait that long.

Do you need lots of money to be cool, to buy cool stuff? “You are teased if you are considered poor, but nobody is really poor in my school. The popular kids are usually rich and their families have new cars and they have the latest mobile phones, but I don’t think that is so important. It is really more about attitude and personality.”

But Jackson admits that looks are important too. “The popular boys in my school, they all have girlfriends. I think if an ugly kid tried to join the cool kids, the girlfriends would say, ‘Who is this loser ugly kid and why is he trying to hang out with us?’ ” He thinks his parents have cool taste in music and films. He says he likes what they like and knows this is unusual. “I like film noir, Double Indemnity, The Third Man, Hitchcock. I am not into too fast and too furious. I really like Casablanca, special edition.”

Can you have a posh accent and be cool? Here, a big sigh and then a vehement “It’s impossible.”

Nang, from those in the know . . .

1. Not Pete Doherty, who is a wasteman and can’t sing, but 50 Cent, who is the king of bling.

2. Not Australian soap operas, but EastEnders.

3. Not Harry Potter, because books aren’t cool, but you can read anything by Malorie Blackman in private and you might be told off (which is good) for reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s Gangsta Rap in school.

4. Not those rocker skater boy big black bags with diagonal straps but bags that say “Just Do It”, and, among certain sets, bags with Winnie the Pooh logos.

5. No Crazy Frog ring tone, but Grind With Me by Pretty Ricky.

6. Not clapping, when clapping is called for, but making gunny fingers and going “Braap, braap” which is the new “Pow Pow”.

7. Not Kate Moss, but Paris Hilton and her tiny dog.

8. Not rich, but not too poor to buy Academic sportswear, 50 Cent type bling, and Mayfair cigarettes.

9. Not McDonald’s, but Nando’s.

10. Not actually hating your mother, but pretending she beats you up.

Ning? Nang? Nong? As long as it makes Dad despair, that's cool

Ah, bless them. Our children, unlike policemen, are getting older every day. Only 15 or 16 and already they exhibit the traits that will serve them so well as adults: an obsession with how they are perceived, an already fully developed homophobia, a desperation to conform to the mores of their peers while simultaneously being somehow “different”.

Any adult who tries to get to the bottom of kids’ culture (or, worse, be a part of it) is missing the point: which is that we’re not supposed to. There are few more ridiculous sights than that of a 50-year-old grooving on the dancefloor to 50 Cent, Nelly or Wyclef Jean when he’d be happier with Barry Manilow.

Still etched on my brain after four decades is the 1960s Christmas afternoon when my father, slumped in his post-prandial armchair but determined to defy his age and indulge the young people, ordered: “Put Ross’s new LP on the record player.” I tried to talk him out of it but he was unmovable. Bob Dylan. The Times They Are A’Changin’. Side 1, Track 1. The Ballad of Hollis Brown — in which the protagonist, a starving South Dakota farmer in the Depression, shoots dead his five children, his wife and himself (early Bob at his finest, I always think).

My dad looked at my mother in despair, pointed to me and declared: “There’s something wrong with that boy.”

Result. Then, as now, to be despaired of by one’s parents was to leap instantly several rungs up the ladder of cool. Professor Sally Haslanger, of the department of linguistics and philosophy at MIT, says young people “want their coolness to shine through in their behaviour, dress etc, so that they will win approval by the in-group”. She adds: “There is no such property as ‘coolness’ . . . in fact, the application of the term ‘cool’ is determined wholly by the interests and concerns of the in-group.”

So in their craving for peer approval, teenagers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are not markedly different from those at Islington Green School in North London — except that cool, apparently, is no longer cool. So Nineties. The current term of approbation is nang. In the Eighties it was bad. In the Seventies, groovy. In the Sixties, swingin’. In the Fifties, hip — and, curiously, cool.

Plus ça change, innit?


Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Left behind by the FAFSA
By Jennifer Sussex on 11/13/07

"What are parents good for besides tuition?" a classmate of mine once asked rhetorically. Overcome with irony, I sat there trying not to think of the amount of tuition I now owe after several semesters at the University - without having my parents pay for everything - which is $28,202. That number hangs like a price over my head, as if on a wanted poster.

My classmate's comment, however, was hardly surprising considering that 75 percent of all University students come from the five wealthiest sectors of the state, according to a report released in September in conjunction with the unveiling of Descriptor Plus, a program the University began using to counteract declines in minority enrollment after the enactment of Proposal 2. Descriptor Plus works by separating areas of the state into separate clusters based on the average annual income and socioeconomic factors that make up these places.

Descriptor Plus revealed a startling lack of representation of all low-income students. For example, there is one cluster that yields an annual family income of $42,000, but this cluster is only representative of 3 percent of the student body. Although this cluster is vastly underrepresented on campus, those that do make it to the University are more likely to receive adequate financial aid packages because of their parents' low incomes.

But there is a lesser-known group of students who are marginalized on campus. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, used by most universities to determine a student's eligibility for loans and grants, fails students whose parents' incomes fall slightly over the arbitrary levels it sets. Essentially, if a student's parents make a certain amount of money, then the parents are supposed to contribute a set level of funding as the "Expected Family Contribution," and the amount of aid the student receives is reduced accordingly.

The FAFSA scale creates problems when families that only make slightly more than a particular benchmark and are expected to come up with considerably more money. The arbitrary nature of the FAFSA designations could make a huge distinction between a household income of $49,000 and $51,000, but the ability of one family to contribute more for tuition than the other is marginal at best. The FAFSA must include various income-based distinctions, but these distinctions must become broader in order to minimize this problem.

Another problem is that the FAFSA does not adequately take into account individual circumstances that may contribute to making a student's parents unable to pay their expected family contribution. Because the FAFSA only takes into account parents' annual income for one year, it cannot see financial issues that may have come up just prior to that period.

For example, my father was a single parent and then remarried shortly before I started college, changing the annual income of my household on the FAFSA. My financial situation was then evaluated on the basis of the present, not taking into account the complexities of the immediate past - that a single parent of many years may not have been able to save up enough money to pay meet FAFSA's EFC requirement for a two-parent income.

The FAFSA also completely fails to address students who are not supported by their parents and are forced to account for their EFC single-handedly through private loans that accumulate interest even while they are still in school. The FAFSA application must allow students to explain their individual financial circumstances so that those can be taken into account during the evaluation.

The point of the FAFSA is to gauge the financial need of students to make a college education more accessible, but instead the application can sometimes subtly hinder students' ability to attend college without accumulating massive amounts of debt. The problem may begin at the federal level, but it can be dealt with by the University itself. The University has a tradition of providing adequate financial aid to ensure that lower-income students don't find this institution out of their reach. It must now take the shortcomings of the FAFSA into account and make similar contributions to students who the FAFSA leaves at a disadvantage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

blind to their own privilege

Invisibility of Privilege:
when upper castes don't recognize caste or lower caste folks
but lower caste folks know right away what their caste is

this is the same as when middle/upper-class folks can't tell who the working class are
but the working class know who they are

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Kill your ego

A fairly recent incident made me think of this, and I am also writing a paper that talks about Gandhi and his use of non-violence - he was also a man of humility. Not to mention that, our great Prophet, peace be upon him, was the most humble person ever. Pride? Arrogance? It is extremely hard to not feel these things, but they really are harmful and detrimental to our character. And so I have a motto - kill your ego. Because really, anything good that we do, doesn't come from us but comes from God. To Him we owe everything. So kill your damn ego.

Funnily enough, here's the first thing that came up when I googled 'kill your ego':
"Hypocrisy, pride, self-conceit, wrath, arrogance and ignorance belong, O Partha, to him who is born to the heritage of the demons.” ~ The Gita, XVI. 4

Here's a book I read this past summer that's written by a cool Muslim in New York, Haroon Moghul - very nice and smart guy to talk to, mA. His book, "The Order of Light", is also about killing your ego - although it addresses the theme very dramatically and literally:
"The problem with the modern age, the Order proclaims, is that Man has made himself an idol, and to repent this sin, Man must commit suicide in order to free his soul."

The book is really interesting, I recommend it.

Khudai Khidmatgar

From wikipedia:

Khudai Khidmatgar (Pashto: خدای خدمتگار) literally translates as the servants of God. It represented a non-violent freedom struggle against the British Empire by the Pashtuns (also known as Pathans, Pakhtuns or Afghans) of the North West Frontier Province. The movement was led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known locally as Bacha Khan or Badshah Khan.

Formed out of the society for reformation of Pashtuns (Anjuman-e-Islah-e-Afghan), it initially targeted social reformation and launched campaigns against prostitution. Bacha Khan as its founder seemed to be influenced by the realisation that whenever British troops were faced with an armed uprising they eventually always overcame the rebellion. The same could not be said when using non violence against the troops.

The movement started prior to the Qissa Khwani bazaar massacre, when a demonstration of hundreds of non violent supporters were fired upon by British soldiers in Peshawar. Its low point and eventual dissipation was after Pakistan's independence in 1947 when the Muslim League Chief Minister Abdul Qayyum Khan banned the movement and launched a brutal crackdown on its members which culminated in the Babra Sharif massacre. At its peak the KK movement consisted of almost 100,000 members.

"The Khidmatgar movement was one of self-reform and introspection," says Mukulika Banerjee, author of The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition and Memory in the North West Frontier (School of American Research Press, 2000). "It involved two crucial elements: Islam and Pashtunwali (the Pashtun tribal code). Here nonviolence becomes an ideological system very compatible with Islam and Pakhtunwali, since these are reinterpreted."

Initially the movement focussed on social reform as a means of improving the status of Pashtuns against the British. Ghaffar Khan founded several reform movements prior to the formation of the Khudai Khidmatgar, the Anjumen-e Islah ul-Afghan in 1921, the farmers' organisation Anjuman-e Zamidaran in 1927 and the youth movement Pashtun Jirga in 1927. Trying to further spread awareness on Pashtun issues Abdul Ghaffar Khan founded the magazine Pakhtun in May 1928. Finally in November 1929, almost on the eve of the Qissa Khwani bazaar massacre the Khudai Khidmatgar were formed.

Under the influence of Abdul Ghaffar Khan the movement advocated non-violent protests and justified their actions through an Islamic context. Khan did not find Islam and non-violence as incompatible. Despite that the movement was intrinsically non-sectarian. In more than one occasion when Hindus and Sikhs were attacked in Peshawar, Khidmatgar members helped protect their lives and property.

“The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us ‘That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God's creatures.’ Belief in God is to love one's fellow men.” – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

“There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca.” – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Khan always considered trials and tribulations, which he underwent ceaselessly, as the means by which Almighty Allah meant to fashion his life for better things. Being a great humanist, he ardently believed that human nature was not so depraved as to hinder it from respecting goodness in others. It is easy to look down on others but to make an estimate of our failing is difficult. Allah's blessings according to Bacha khan are marked for those, who submit to Allah's will and serve Almighty Allah through selfless activities for the overall good of humanity at large irrespective of caste, colour, race or religions.The Oath of the Khudai Khidmatgar

Oath of the Khudai Khidmatgar:
I am a Servant of God, and as God needs no service, serving His creation is serving Him,
I promise to serve humanity in the name of God.
I promise to refrain from violence and from taking revenge.
I promise to forgive those who oppress me or treat me with cruelty.
I promise to refrain from taking part in feuds and quarrels and from creating enmity.
I promise to treat every Pasthun as my brother and friend.
I promise to refrain from antisocial customs and practices.
I promise to live a simple life, to practice virtue, and to refrain from evil.
I promise to practice good manners and good behavior and not to lead a life of idleness.
I promise to devote at least two hours a day to social work.
I put forth my name in honesty and truthfulness to become a true Servant of God.
I will sacrifice my wealth, life, and comfort for the liberty of my nation and people.
I will never be a party to factions, hatred, or jealousies with my people; and will side with the oppressed against the oppressor.
I will not become a member of any other rival organization, nor will I stand in an army.
I will faithfully obey all legitimate orders of all my officers all the time.
I will live in accordance with the principles of nonviolence.
I will serve all God's creatures alike; and my object shall be the attainment of the freedom of my country and my religion.
I will always see to it that I do what is right and good.
I will never desire any reward whatever for my service.
All my efforts shall be to please God, and not for any show or gain.