This American Life

I currently have 220 unplayed podcast episodes in my iTunes.  Even though I’ve subscribed to a bunch of them, there’s only one podcast that I listen to every week, without fail: This American Life.

LOVE IT.

There are just so many awesome stories, and they’re all so different.  Listening to each new episode is the highlight of my week.

And I just got spam from the host Ira Glass, on whom I totally have a voice crush, asking for donations because the radio station that produces it is struggling to cope with the GFC.  Actually, I already donated at the start of the year, which is how they got my email, and the asking was actually whether I would pitch in again.

So I will, because I’m a sucker for donating things, and also cause I’m not a cheapskate.

I have an exam to study for, which is why I’m online again, hah hah, but I just wanted to suggest to people to listen to TAL and, if you like it as much as I do, please think about donating 10 bucks or something to them.

the wounds of the tear-drop nation [Sri Lanka]

I have never known a world without Sri Lanka tearing itself apart in civil war.  I was born in Colombo in 1984 to a Sinhalese family, but I was raised on values that sought nothing but peace between the warring parties.

My father often tells me the story of how he went to the house of his Tamil friend to to collect toys they had to leave behind when they fled (they eventually settled in Canada, and I visited them when I was on exchange in Toronto).   My younger brother’s BFF is a Tamil Sri Lankan he met at his Perth kindergarten after we migrated here (we call the two of them Romeo and Juliet).  The little girl I sponsor through World Vision is Tamil, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know that the actions of the Sri Lankan government has never been perfect (I personally believe they were behind the killing of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga earlier this year), but the news that the Tamil Tigers, the terrorist organisation said to have pioneered the tactic of suicide bombing and had for months kept thousands of the people it claims to be fighting for trapped has human shields, have been defeated by the Sri Lankan military is heartening.

However, some of the events surrounding the escalation and (I hope) end of this war leave me more worried for the future.

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the end of the war.  Given the decades of conflict, this is understandable. There has been so much pain; so much loss.  The alleged sectarian violence in Sydney over the weekend is a strong warning that tensions left behind by this decades-old conflict are still hot.

But a lot of the opinions are not helping.

Of particular noteworthiness are the condescending (and hypocritical) opinions from the spokespeople of developed countries who, even a few months ago, acted as if they didn’t know Sri Lanka existed.

The civil war has raged for three decades. The estimates of the casualties are unfathomable to me. But aside from Norway in the early Naughties, most countries have barely batted an eyelid over the (then) ongoing conflict.

Then when things got more newsworthy over the last few months, every next post-colonial hack semed to have something to say.

ABC News reported that British Foreign Minister David Milliband wants greater scrutiny placed on Sri Lanka’s military and its conduct of the war:

“The position of the UK is always that serious and credible reports of war crimes should be investigated,” he said. “Serious and credible allegations have been made against both sides, and they should indeed by investigated.”

And so they should be. But will “serious and credible reports of war crimes” made against the Coalition of the Willing in the War On Terror/Iraq be investigated?

In short: Un-effing-likely.

I’m not saying that this is a Little Red Hen situation — that no one’s bothered to help before, so shut up and put up.  But misinformed drivel that merely repeats age-old and debunked propaganda does nothing more than inflame the ignorance and hurt that has kept this conflict burning for longer than I have been alive.

There is a lot to be done from this point onwards to heal the wounds this conflict has caused Sri Lanka.   But I know there’s so much partisan hurt among so many (particularly diaspora) that I worry the hate won’t go away as quickly as the end of the war came.

But for now, I suppose, I guess I should be happy the war is over.

And so this is Xmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Xmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight
— John Lennon

The one about loving weekends [work]

Wow, I sure need to brush of some cobwebs around here.

What up, team?

My first two months of work at The Firm had simply zoomed by. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

I’m in the Litigation team, and we’ve been run off our feet with insolvency matters.  I’ve even been given smaller, less complicated matters to open and run myself because there just aren’t enough warm bodies around to deal with all the work!

So from a work-experience perspective, this economic crisis has been amazing 😛

We’ve had a salary freeze, like most of the other firms in town, but since I’ve only had 2 paychecks (we get paid monthly) that reeeeeally doesn’t bother me.

I haven’t been blogging because the last thing I want to do when I get home from 10 hours at the office is turn on my laptop, and the weekends have also been computer-free zones.

But I’ve tried to Twitter as much as I can so follow me!  It’s totally mainstream now, so I don’t know how long it’ll last… stay tuned while you can 😛

xoxo

The one about a dumb mayor and possibly a dumber journo

There was a story on news.com.au today about how Moonee Valley Mayor Paul Giuliano sent an email “which targeted Muslims and asked readers who agreed with its anti-Islamic sentiment to pass the email on” to 850 people in his entire address book.

What the News Ltd story failed to mention was that the racist/bigoted chain email is a hoax that originated in the US. There’s also a UK version. The line that mentions something along the lines of “our national motto is In God We Trust” kinda totally gives it away to anyone who’s not a completely insular redneck… I do wonder whether the author of the news story got the whole email and/or bothered to google the email.

I sent this through as a “tip” to boss@crikey.com so I hope that generates more what-a-moron reactions than just posting it up here.

A film review in sepia vision [Slumdog Millionaire]

As an immigrant from the Subcontinent (I was born in Sri Lanka but am now an Australian citizen), I think a little part of me has always wished I was Indian rather than Sri Lankan.  The former always seemed so much more glamorous and full of culture.  Eight of my Top-10 books are Indian (or India-centric) and Bollywood movies have always captured my heart.

Then when Bend It Like Beckham, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake brought The Subcontinent and the migrant experience into the mainstream, I was more than excited.

While lots of the little girls I grew up with could (if they wanted) dream of being a movie star, I never grew up with pretty, brown girls to idolise or could put posters of cute, chocolate boys on Dolly posters up in my room (I had Mulder and Scully; my white boyfriend is probably grateful of this).

But, since those all the aforementioned developments in Hollywood, I know that my children can (if they want to) dream of playing doctors on ER or House, and that’s very comforting.

And now, with Slumdog Millionaire getting Best Picture at the Golden Globes and being up for a bunch of Academy Awards in a couple of weeks, my little brown babies might even be able to dream about getting all dressed up and going to the Oscars(™)!! YAY!!

Because if Obama’s election win means just one thing, it’s that stereotype breakers don’t just break stereotypes — they smash them for all who will come hereafter!  Or maybe not.

Anyway. I very much hope that film wins lots of Oscars, too.  I saw it just after Christmas and I LOVED IT.  It is exciting, poignant, funny, and has a love story in it even though some scenes will break your heart and make your stomach turn — can I call it a tragic romantic action-thriller comedy?

Aside from it being a great movie, I was really impressed by the way it brought the dark side of India (the child slave/sex/beggar trade, poverty and development, race and religious violence, gender relations, corruption and human rights, etc) out into the bright lights of Hollywood.

But reading some of the post-Globes write ups, I could not agree more with this post from Cinemablend.com:

It’s one of the year’s best reviewed films and the reviewers who have praised it justify their love of the film by calling it “upbeat and colorful“, “inspiring“, “a feel good” movie, a “delightful spectacle“, “a rousing celebration of life, love, and hope“, a “fairytale“, and my favorite “joyous“. That’s just a tiny sampling of the intense hyperbole being thrown at the film. You’d think this was Hoosiers with saris. But I’d like to throw another word into the mix. Here it is: Exploitation. …

The movie being described by these critics is not the film that I saw several weeks ago in a darkened movie theater. Instead what I saw was a cynical collection of third-world clichés sold with pretty colors and an uplifting soundtrack.

Almost the exact same adjectives can be found in the Daily Telegraph‘s review.

It seems to me that, just as the mainstream culture-munchers simply Do. Not. Get. the ironic package that is M.I.A., the daughter-of-a-terrorist rapper who was recently listed on Esquire magazine’s “most influential” list, the serious issues at the core of Slumdog have been completely overlooked by the goras seeing this movie through rose-coloured glasses.

Yes, there are bright colours and upbeat music (by the by, I picked up on at least 2 M.I.A. tracks), but, you guys, this movie is dark.  This movie presents a horrible underbelly of India (I cannot say how accurate it really is; that is just the representation I saw).  This movie is not a Disney animation (circa 1930-1990?), as the reviews might suggest.

Regardless of whether the book, or its source, Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, was supposed to be a lighthearted-romp through Mumbai’s slums, I wonder whether any such project is possible without looking at the world from which the text emerged.

And while aspects of the film may be “third-world clichés”, I would be inclined to believe most of it is fair in the sense it’s a fictional, dramatized depiction of what really happens in the so-called “developing-world”.  I can’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve seen some horrible stuff during my trips back to “the motherland”.  You don’t just make this stuff up.

And from those who do live in India, the response is the same: less-than-impressed. While the film is yet to be released there, Mondy Thapar of the Hindustan Times has one question before India’s elite become angered over the depiction of “stereotypes” in the film:

Is someone making a mountain out of a molehill about poverty in this country? … The question is a fair one, except for the fact that slums and poor people for a fictional depiction aren’t concocted out of thin air.

Thapar’s other question is whether Slumdog is just another example of “the West’s voyeuristic obsession with joy amid poverty, vitality among the super-poor”?

If all this critical and commerical success opens “The West’s” mind to the realities of Slumdog‘s world and propels a call to action, that would be one thing.  But from the looks of it, movie-goers and reviewers are happy to leave sorting out that mess to some kind fairy godmother and her magic wand.

The one about running away from your comfort zone [stand up comedy]

So late last year I heard a promo on Triple J calling for entrants for the Raw Comedy heats — a comedy talent search that’s part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for people who’ve never done stand up before but are ego-maniacal enough to give it a go because they have a self-delusional idea that they’re funny.

Or at least that’s what the voices in my head must have told me it was for, because in an unfortunate fit of senility, I signed up.

When I told some guys I worked with last year that I’d signed up for the heats, one of them, who has actually done some stand up himself, pretty much fell on the floor laughing.

Hrm, I wonder, is my signing up itself enough hilarity to get me through to the next round?

Un-effing-likely.

When I got the confirmation of my heat schedule I was feeling a little more sane (sub-text: shit scared) and considered pulling out.

But, since that’s only for Catholics (OOOH! BOOM TISH!) — ahem, since my current module in therapy is about not woossing out of things that make me uncomfortable, I decided this is a great chance for me to get up in front of people I’ve never met before (Hi, AbstractG!) and feel the fear and try not to piss my pants (oh, gods, what the fck am I going to wear??? Shit, should I book a hair appointment??)

The poster for Raw Comedy features a headless chook running around, so I don’t have too many expectations on myself, and I’m currently in a state of utter terror yet zen-like coolness about it. I’ve always been a bit of an oxymoron, I guess.

So, if anyone is free, come to the Comedy Lounge @ the Charles Hotel tonight and laugh with me (please, with, not at, thanks) as I make a fool out of myself, all in the name of personal development (but I promise my routine will not be anything like Jeff Hewitt‘s most recent show, about depression — you actually have to be good, AND brave, to pull shit like that off)

The one about guest posting [self-promotion]

My super-plan for being super-fabulous involves using blogging as a platform which showcases my awesomeness.  In theory, people will read my blog and be like, “Wow, this girl is SO AWESOME, I am going to pay her to do whatever she wants” (eg writing for cool publications, hosting The Oscars™, etc).

Obviously this is a Tortoise-paced project because I’m going to start being A Baby Lawyer (as, a young lawyer, not a lawyer that lawyers for.about infants) in just a couple of weeks, so you don’t need look out for me at The Oscars ’til like, 2027.

I still desperately need to get on to doing up my webiste front page and getting business cards.  But I’ve spent the last two weeks looking for a new place to rent and, yikes, it’s tough being a Lady of Leisure, you know.  There’s so much sleeping, DVDs, reading, yoga, etc to do, and yet so little time!

But, writing stuff is relatively easy for me so I’m going to work at building up my profile by writing guest posts for other blogs over the next few months and seeing if that will help introduce new readers to me.

I had a couple of shots at writing for a pretty popular blog (which I’ll leave nameless) but the owner, who was like “oh, cool, yeah I’ll totally use them”, never ended up posting my posts so I didn’t try again for a while.

Then, yesterday, Mike Meloni of Somebody Think Of The Children did a shout out on Twitter for a response to a horrible op-ed in The Australian about why we should trial the “Cleen Feed” internet filter.  I jumped at the chance, and instead of watching 2 episodes of The Wire as I normally would before heading to yoga I whipped up post for him!

Go check it out!

I’ve had encouraging feedback so I’m going to keep at it.  Hopefully I’ll hear back from from people with comments I want to include in my next article for New Matilda, too (here’s my first one) so I’ll keep building up my “portfolio” bit by bit.

Like Rachel Hunter used to say in those Pantene ads, I know it won’t happen overnight, but I’m sure that sooner or later, it will.

The one about reconciliation [indigenous affairs]

There are lots of serious things going on right now.  Like the economy crumbling and @TurnbullMalcolm threatening to take away my Rudd-given right to buy shoes and makeup with my $950 stimulus payment.

But I just wanted to take everyone back to that whole indigenous affairs thing — you know, the blackfellas you avoid at the train station because you don’t want to have to give them $2 if they ask for it.  I know, I know: when shoe-shopping is at stake, there’s less impetus to think about things like human rights and sad chapters in Australian history.  But the current crises doesn’t make these other ones less important.

I don’t know why I feel so strongly about this country’s reconciliation with its indigenous people.  I am not one, and I have barely known any (I grew up in the leafy Western Suburbs of Perth, how could I have known any??).  And I might be an immigrant, but there is no common factor here other than that I’m not white.

I suppose it makes me a bit of a patronising snob that all I’ve ever had to do with this area was through the academic or legal side — stuff about representation in literature and whether the whole “Stolen Generation” was genocide and stuff. Although my mum did work with the Aboriginal Medical Service for a while.  And when we were little my dad used to tell us he was Ernie Dingo’s brother (they do both kinda look alike. Like, you know, they’re both brown).

But I really think that people don’t think enough about what happened to indigenous Australians in the past and how that might affect the way things are these days.  Maybe it’s a remnant of the Howard/Windshuttle black-armband backlash.

As much as I hoped that last year’s Sorry would change everything, I guess I always knew it wouldn’t be that easy… I guess I thought there’d be more concrete stuff happening.

Last week, Professor Mick Dodson was awarded Australian of the Year for his work to “promote  justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians.”  I hope that honour is not another empty, shallow guesture, but I certainly agree that Professor Dodson deserves the accolade (the issue, I guess, is whether the accolate is worthy of Professor Dodson).

I honestly believe that that approach is the most important aspect of the whole debate.  Ignorance breeds hate and laziness and I reckon the only way to counter hate and allow empathy and compassion (the key to solving it all) to flourish is understanding.

The December 08 – Febuary 09 issue of The Monthly, my new favourite magazine, featured an utterly amazing essay by indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu entitled “Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow” that I beg all of you to read and pass on to others.  I can’t do justice in trying to summarise or explain it (or even copy-paste a few quotes) because it must be absorbed and appreciated in its entirety.  It’s long, but please take the time to read it.  And I’d love to hear how you felt when you finished it.

If you felt anything like I did when I’d finished the last paragraph of that epic piece of writing, there might be a crazy mix of emotions — shock, sadness, anger, helplessness, humor, joy, hope… or maybe I’m just weird for feeling so strongly about the issue?

Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow
by Galarrwuy Yunupingu, The Monthly #44.

The one about being a Brazen Careerist [Gen Y]

Months ago I found a great blog network for young professionals — Brazen Careerist.  I put off joining up until I sorted out my new blog here, but hurrah, I’ve finally signed up.

Brazen’s motto is “Define your career. Control your life” and it really epitomises a lot of the “Gen Y” trend about young people who use all the opportunities they’ve gotten to make their mark on the world .

My faves from the community are:

The “Gen Y” (or “iGen”, if you read The Worst West Australian and caught their stupid survey earlier this month) label is kinda controversial — discussions about stereotypes and West-centricity being key issues — and there might even be a suggestion that joining a blog network which will categorise you as being a “careerist” (and a “brazen” one at that) is a sure fire way to shoot yourself in the foot in front of employers and more-senior colleagues who’ll just look at you as another spoilt brat with a too-big a sense of entitlement and too-small a work ethic.

But let’s cut the stereotype stuff, ok?

As much as I hate to say this, I know stereotypes kinda come from somewhere.  And maybe little bits of the stereotypes are true of some people, and when they get bunched together, you get the general idea of a group.  But not everyone in the group is all of the stereotype. Ever. Unless they’re in a movie, or something.

I know a bunch of people who are intelligent, driven, energetic and want to be Prime Minister one day.  However, I also  know people who are incredibly happy to be stay at home mums or tradies. The fact I know more of the former rather than the latter sorts of people probably has a lot to do with where I grew up and what school I went to, not the year in which I was born.

This applies just as much to a group of people who are 20-25 as it does to people 40-45.  I think generational stereotyping is just silly.

But the label seems to have stuck, and if people are insisting on calling a trowel a spade, sometimes all you can do is be Roman.

So, let’s put on our togas and say that there are other traits of Gen Yers that are a lot more positive — like being passionate, socially & political engaged, educated and sensible, and having a strong desire to contribute back to society — and I think it’s really cool to be able to be part of a community that showcases these positive aspects and encourages others to take us seriously.

Brazen explains this philosophy really well:

The media often paints Generation Y in a negative light – citing high job turnover and impatience with paying dues as negative Gen Y traits. But we know better. We know that Generation Y does not want to job-hop every two years; we know that Generation Y will be the most productive generation in the history of the workforce, and we know that the single best way to connect with Generation Y is to meet them on their turf – online.

I reckon that by calling oneself a “brazen careerist” we’re actually taking the label into our own hands and moulding it into what we want it to be, rather than continuing to let others (particularly market researchers, who, honestly, have barely got a clue) control how everyone else sees us.

I’m really looking forward to contributing to the Brazen Careerist community and interacting with the great bunch of people who are part of it.

Another one about Sri Lanka: civil war, or genocide? [war]

So Sri Lanka’s been in this big civil war for longer than I’ve been alive.  It’s such a lovely place, but it’s been tormented for so long.

My mum’s gone to Sri Lanka for a my cousin’s wedding.  The last time she was there, there was an air raid on the air force base next to the airport.  My mother was actually on board a plane that was taxiing on the runway at the time.  The time before that, there was that tsunami thing.  Right now, the fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels has escalated to some of the worst combat I can remember.

Wow, she gets all the fun stuff, huh?

I was surprised hear that SL was the top breaking news story on news.com.au last night (although it was to do with a Australian UN worker who’s trapped in the war-zone, so I guess it’s not that surprising), because for so long the conflict there has been overshadowed by various other goings-on around the world.  There was an article about that trend on New Matilda late last year.

The UN and Red Cross have claimed that over 250,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone in the north and east of the island, but Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has told the BBC that those international organisations have got that wrong:

“I’m not saying they are lying but they are exaggerating,” he said.

He also ruled out any ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, saying it would give the Tigers a chance to reorganise.

“The purpose of this offensive is to eradicate them,” he said.

Hrm.  That seems kind mean, doesn’t it?

Well if it does, then this should make you worry:  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (who is the brother of Mahinda, Sri Lanka’s president; assassinated newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge claimed the president and the government are responsible for his death) is a US citizen who might be getting indicted for genocide and war crimes in the next couple of weeks.

Yeah. Now that’s Dodgy (with a capital D!).

In news via Twitter, constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein has been preparing a 1,000-page model indictment against G Rajapaksa and army commander Sarath Fonseka for allegedly violating Section 1091 of the United States Criminal Code:

The model indictment is scheduled for publication within two weeks and will be presented to the US Congress, the Department of Justice and the State Department.

The lawyer represents Tamils Against Genocide, a non-profit organization based in the United States, whose mission is to obtain US or international indictments against the two US citizens or green card holders currently serving in the government of Sri Lanka for alleged complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings, against Sri Lanka’s civilian Tamil population.

Now, Fein is clearly not just some schmuck.  He graduated from Harvard Law School with honours, clerked for a federal judge,  had a bunch of high profile government-law positions and has written for Slate about impeaching Cheney.  I think I like this guy.

The allegations about extrajudicial killings are nothing out of the blue for me.  I’ve heard a bunch of stories about people getting taken away in “white vans” and never returning (and this has happened to both Singhalese and Tamil people) and then there’s the whole war-on-journalism thing.  And Booker Prize-winning author Michael Ondaatje’s 2001 book Anil’s Ghost is the story of an ex-pat Sri Lankan forensic anthropologist who had been sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organised campaigns of murder on the island.  Things over there are seriously messed up.

But what is out of the blue, at least for me, is this allegation from an article about Fein’s indictment (from a site called TamilSydney via TamilNet, so I know it needs to be taken with a grain of salt):

Mr. Fein said that Sri Lanka was a unique nation whose history reveals an ongoing cultural genocide, adding, “the myths of the Mahavamsa say that Sri Lanka belongs to no one but the Sinhalese, and the text celebrates kings for slaughtering Tamils. Secondly, the teachings of Dharmapala, celebrate the purity of the Aryan race and establish the idea of racial supremacy. Because Dharmapala is as sacred to the Sinhalese as Jesus to the Christians, the Sinhalese believe and act with the notion of racial supremacy. This legacy is being continued by Sinhalese Buddhist monks and this legacy is used by Buddhists in classrooms in the South, as an instruction in genocide.”

Um, is this true, you guys? Because if it is, I am jumping on a plane right now to go an smack some people in the head.  What atrocious horrendousness, people? Atrocious. Horrendousness.

I am a Singalese Buddhist but my brother’s BFF is Tamil (how Romeo & Juliet) and, dude, I am not racist or biased just because of the family I was born into.  I want all people to be happy and get along and stuff.  The whole thing has upset me for some time. because it never seems like ending and the people in charge (of both sides) have been arrogant douche-bags (or, if they’ve been alright, have been shot or blown up).

So here’s my stance on this thing: I hate the Tamil Tigers, right — they’re terrorists, they pioneered suicide bombers, they make women and children fight.  But gods-damn, I hate bigotry of any description and war and violence at that, so if those government bastards did get involved in war crimes, I want them to rot. Slowly and painfully.

I don’t know if there’s a solution that doesn’t involve getting all of those bastards in jail first, and then getting decent people to take over and settle this.  But something more has to be done… just don’t know if, during all these economic troubles and Middle East mess and  climate change crises etc etc, if the world has the capacity to deal with this, too.

By the way, a group of Tamil students have started a hunger strike in Sydney’s St Martins Place in an attempt to get the Australian government to take action and they’ve posted YouTube vids of civilian casualties on their blog: http://fastuntoaction.wordpress.com/ (warning: there’s heartwrenching music and horrific images).

Update: The ABC has a news story on the footage, and in good journalistic form, it’s pointed out that the videos haven’t been verified and no one is sure when and where this was taped.