Friday, January 28, 2005

Saiko Sounds

As long as I am harassing people to responsibly spend money on music, you ought to peep Saiko Sounds, a Psy/Goa shop run out of Hong Kong. When I whine that major companies aren't treating people, especially people of color right, this is what I have in mind. They have a quinlingual staff, offer cheap shipping almost anywhere and work their asses off to import tiny label Psy/Goa and some tech house. They have made arrangements so that they can retail most of the albums from Japan for 1/3 to 1/2 the price that they cost in Japan. I just ordered a bunch of new Tsuyoshi and Mitsumoto stuff from there. Plus, since most of the artists own their own labels, you aren't giving all your money to racist, rich record corporations. There I said it, I'm going to be waiting in my house for RIAA execs to come snuff me in my sleep. Peace.

Immortal Technique

The belief that folks are either good or bad has gotten more and more following these days. It's practically the mantra of the current regime we have in this country. Quasi-liberals are no better, they draw strict lines in the sand of good and evil and manage to always include themselves and almost no one else in the "good" circle.

Immortal Technique is a fine example of someone who can't be boxed this easily. He often comes across as misogynist and homophobic, but he's also one of the few hip-hop lyricists who when on, can reduce me to tears. One minute he'll be spitting some cliched anti-gay or objectification lyric and the next he'll burn some words of wisdom on to me that will guide me for the rest of my life. Even when I am disgusted with him, I acknowledge his artistic talent and his rare capacity to lead others (whether he wants to or not).

Unfortuntately, revolutions are often thwarted by divisions between those who have a shared interest in the revolution. As Boots says in "Me and Jesus the Pimp...",
I don't think that it's gonna end til we make revolution
But who gonna make the shit if we worship prostitution?
Ain't no women finna die for the same old conclusion
Put they life on the line so some other pimp could use 'em

But that doesn't change how much Immortal Tech's lyrics affect me. One of his best pieces has yet to make it from his mixtapes to a released album--it's truly more moving to hear than read, so email me if you want the original:

Caught in a Hustle
by Immortal Technique
[Verse 1]
They say the odds against me, are crooked and impossible
Like I was born with a hole in my heart is an obstacle
I left to die by the doctors, in the childrens hospital
But I never lose hope, success is psychological
The world is volatile and the street is my education
Shaping the nation, like the blueprint of a mason
While Shawshank record deals get you raped on occasion
So I'm Focused on my Economic Situation
I'm Like the little kids on T.V That dig through the trash
I hustle regardless of the way you talk shit and laugh
A lot of niggaz drop science but they don't know the math
Because their mind is Narrower than the righteous path
It's funny how on the block niggaz will kill you for cash
But never raise the gun and cry out "Freedom at last."

The cold war is over but the world is still gettin colder
Atlas walking through the projects with the hood on my shoulders
I would like to raise my children to grow to be soldiers
But then the general, would decide when their life would be over
So I work hard until my personality split
Like the black panthers, into the bloods and the crips
They said I would never be shit, but now I sit and reminice
Like Yeshua, Ben Yousef flippin through Genesis
Ignorance is venemous, and it murders the soul
Like a virus running rampant, but out of control

So if I should ever fall and get caught in a hustle
Let them know that I died while I fought in a struggle
From the hoodrats to the rich kids lost in a bubble
Spray Painting on the streets and at the subway tunnels
Write it down and remember that we never gave in
The Mind of a child is where the revolution begins
So if the solution has never been to look in yourself
How is it that you expect to find it anywhere else

[Verse 2]
Immortal Technique in the streets, back on the hustle
cause three strikes will get you life for stuffin cracks in a duffle
Upstate behind steel gates intact in the scuffle
Razor blades stuck on the side of pencils, hacked to your muscle
But the emptiness is what bleeds you to death when it cuts you
And its the lawyers, not the inmates scheming to fuck you
Trying to fight the system from inside, eventually corrupts you
But thats what you get when you put a corporation above you
And it's the people that love you that seem to hurt you the most
Sometimes when they die you find yourself cursing their ghost
But you make success, nobody delivers your fate
Sometimes you give and you take
Since Prehistoric Vertibrates, crawled out of the lakes
And thats the truth about life
Or to do it to ghetto and your car, rims, and your ice
Because even though we survived through the struggle that made us
We still look at ourselves through the eyes of people that hate us
But I'm going to make it regardless of the trumped up charges
And semi-automatic barrages, that empty the cartridge
Post-Tramatically scar kids that try to be brave
Because niggaz backstab each other just to try to get paid
Turn cannibal like knights during the crusades
Afraid of responsibility; Addicted to greed
Beating their girls purposefully losing a seed
As if we were bound to the destiny we used to recieve

So if I should ever fall and get caught in a hustle
Let them know that I died while I fought in a struggle
From the hoodrats to the rich kids lost in a bubble
Spray Painting on the streets and at the subway tunnels
Write it down and remember that we never gave in
The Mind of a child is where the revolution begins
So if the solution has never been to look in yourself
How is it that you expect to find it anywhere else

I used to wonder(I used to wonder) about people who didn't believe in themselves
But Then I saw the way that they portrayed us to everyone else
That cursed us, then only see the worst in ourselves
blind to the fact the whole time we were hurting ourselves

I used to wonder(I used to wonder) about people who didn't believe in themselves
But Then I saw the way that they portrayed us to everyone else
That cursed us, then only see the worst in ourselves
blind to the fact the whole time we were hurting ourselves

I used to wonder {*echo*}

If you like his stuff, he's refused to go big company--he has a similar story to many filmmakers who have tried to sell their scripts to the major studios--they told him he was gifted, but they wouldn't sell him unless he "wrote about less political subjects". So buy it direct from his little indie label: Viper Records. In the message with the order, tell them I sent you...

The money from Viper goes toward fighting for the good side in the "War on Drugs" and advocating for prison reform. More about that here.

Check him out. I recommend "You Never Know" featuring Jean Grae, "The Point of No Return", "Revolutionary" and most of all, "Poverty of Philosophy".

Delgado Speaks Out!

Speaking of baseball players as respected human beings, I have to give props to Carlos "Skinny" Delgado. (That' s "skinny" twice if you count the nickname.)
He had been the subject of much controversy because he chose to sit for God Bless America during games last year, possibly costing him millions in dollar since it was his walk year (time to negotiate for a new contract). He had said that he would stop the practice if strictly forbidden by his new team. He ended up signing with the Florida Marlins and has publically stated that he will continue his sitting:
His explanation is particularly thoughtful:
"The reason why I didn't stand for `God Bless America' was because I didn't like the way they tied `God Bless America' and 9-11 to the war in Iraq in baseball.

"I say God bless America, God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico and all countries until there is peace in the world."

Here's another article on Delgado:
HYDE: Delgado exercises his rights and his mind

All of which has nothing to do with how Delgado will be perceived as a Marlin, but everything with how he perceives himself.

"I have passion for baseball and passion for other things, too," he said. "I want to win in baseball. That's what drives me, that's why I came here to the Marlins. But I can have other thoughts than just what to expect on a 2-0 pitch."

I like the article, but it did get me thinking about how long his welcome will last...I mean he's popular now because he is the new big signing--you don't watch your team throw tens of millions of dollars at someone and say, "He' s going to totally suck!" (Unless your team signs Russ Ortiz.) But this media and society in general have very stormy relationships with professional athletes and other entertainers of color, probably at least in part to the fact that they are some of the only people of color with a high-profile in the society. They like their Sammy Sosa when they flash the Sambo smile and do as expected, but the second they stop following orders, they are quickly vilified.

Look at the Williams sisters. Their sisterly love, their amazing exertions, sharp wits, calculated responses and talents that go far beyond tennis only fuel their detractors distaste for them. They "look like men" and their clothes are "laugable" (two comments from last week's discussion on ESPN Radio); yet how many athletes can design such beautiful piece of art to wear? How many will put their families before their profession?

Anyway, I wish Delgado luck. More than that I look up to him as a role model to respect and learn from. I hope that at least a few others do as well--not doing so will hurt them more than it hurts him.

チクショー!Lost in Translation

The Daily Southtown, one of the regional Chicago papers poublished this article today:

Daily Southtown: Arvia: Hero 'Hito? It's lost in translation

Why the fuck does every single article about a Japanese have to make a "Lost in Translation" reference? There were no Japanese people in that movie! Then they follow the headline with a bunch of stereotyped references to Godzilla and Sushi, and probably some Chinese or Korean cultural references that the "journalist" has confused.

It's not the stereotyped jokes that bother me, it's the fact that it is apparent that most people have no ability to identify with or even think about people outside their cultural boundaries as human.

The city loves Chicago's other Japanese player, "Shingo", but this is a shallow love accompanied with obligatory gong-sounds every time he takes the mound. I'm sure Iguchi will be a hit too if he performs as expected (Iguchi forcast here), but I expect him to receive the same jingoistic support--a fun mascot, but no human respect.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The English site: A labor of love, popular for the wrong reasons

Friends and acquaintances ask me about the Engrish site more than any other site regarding Japan. The acquaintances usually phrase it along the lines of “You lived in Japan? Have you seen that Engrish site?” The friends put it more like, “What do you think of this site?” or “Goddamn that Engrish site! What the fuck is wrong with white people? “

The latter approach might shock some of those reading this, so I’d be happy to explain. First of all, it is important to point out that the website states that “The webmaster has taken great pains not to point out the faults of others or have a discriminatory tone - just to have fun with the results.” I believe this entirely. The webmaster is someone who has lived, studied and worked in Japan for a very long time and I believe has nothing but the best motives for the project.

The site should also be valued in that it provides a substantial archive of a particularly interesting phenomenon in Japan (and to a lesser degree elsewhere in Asia)—the widespread use of English on products, in media and various other places in societies where daily discourse is in some other language.

My main concern is that in its lack of understanding of the complexities behind the uses of English within Japan, the site goes a long way in supporting racism and strict definitions of “competent English”. Whether this is intentional or unintentional does not justify its effects.

The tone of the site with its “funny Engrish” and infantile comments and its justifications that the point is merely “to have fun with the Engrish phenomenon” reflect another phenomenon: stereotyping of Asians in media and comedy acts. After a dozen times of seeing a comic caricature of a slanty-eyed, slurring chinaman, audience laughter can only be explained through the stereotypical mocking of a race of people, not the idiosyncratic nature of the portrayal. In the same way, after twenty or thirty times of the same “R/L switch” or simple misspelling, it seems unlikely that the humor is simply fun and is more likely mean-spirited.

Furthermore, the website’s FAQ blames the failure to “get it right” on the lack of native English speakers as if native status were some type of shield to deflect spelling and communication errors. Having to read through fax after fax of native English teachers’ spelling, grammar and communication mistakes while in Japan, I can assure you that this isn’t the case. Of course, this cuts both ways as the webmaster is also said to be “fluent” but “is by no means a ‘native’ speaker”. Once again, I applaud the webmaster for trying their very best to be non-discriminatory, but the false assumption that language ability is related to “nativeness” is damaging.

The saddest part is that people on both sides of the equation are hurt by the lack of empathy on the site. In my experiences with non-native English use, I’ve found that many speakers and writers not only develop their own personal style (like many native speakers do), but their style is utterly unique and as a result has a poetic-like quality. How long it takes, or whether it develops at all varies from person to person. I have taught a young woman whose letter writing came out in the form of beautiful, grammatically incorrect poetry after only two months of study and the help of an Japanese-to-English dictionary, while many other students had a great deal of trouble leaving the set constructions laid out by their texts and teachers.

Unfortunately, the ability of the most poetic students is often overlooked or even crushed by teachers and observers who will not tolerate “incorrect” English and “correct” it or mock it. Sadly, if Robert Frost or Shakespeare had had yellow faces, I imagine these legalists would quickly have writen off or destroyed their works. In this way, these offenders not only attack others unjustly, but also deprive themselves of the wisdom found in others’ “incorrect language”.

The Engrish site addresses this by pointing out that the majority of the language on the site is composed by companies, not individuals and is not meant to be correct and “not an attempt to communicate”. This is probably true on a corporate-level, although not always in the way that the readers and creators of the Engrish site might imagine.

When I lived in Japan, I talked to a package designer who said that their company’s research had shown that English-speaking foreigners in Japan were far more likely to buy items with imperfect English because the products made them feel superior to Japanese because they could recognize the mistakes. Since such English for many of the reasons mentioned on the site will not scare away most non-English reading consumers, this company saw that it was a free way to increase sales in a small, but dependable urban market. Many white foreigners will comment on how “The Japanese worship us! They want to be white!” based on stereotypes they've called from their conversations in English with some Japanese people, but the same Japanese people will sometimes make nationalistic or racist comments in Japanese or when the foreigners are not present. Similarly, many Japanese companies seem thrilled to use foreigners’ own national or racial superiority complexes to sell them goods.

On the other hand, many designers of “incorrect” or “funny” English products are individuals who are very interested in communicating themselves artistically through language. In my closet, I have half a dozen pieces from “intheattic”, an underground clothing line that is popular in Tokyo, but also sold elsewhere throughout the country. In the graffiti paint style, one of the shirts proclaims, “he turned a deaf ear to the people’s heartrending cries for more freedim”. Half a dozen times people have said, “Where did you get that ‘Engrish’ shirt?” Another shirt has a tri-layer print of a family of dogs with the words, “The Father of Our Country” written below in simple script--a clever poke at national origin myths. Checking the fashion section, there are the occasionally stumpers (e.g. the “I heart BM” t-shirt) but generally, it’s pretty clear what the designer was trying to communicate even though the commenter doesn’t or chooses to not understand.

I think it’s also important to have perspective—the big difference between the clothing sold in Japan and in the U.S. is that most people in Japan are less willing to drop a wad of money to have a scarlet A&F tattooed on their chest to show how lame they are.

I understand that it is not always possible, but in not crediting the artist or designer of most of the works on the site, the site solidifies its non-empathetic, “laughing at, not laughing with” stance. Like in the film “Lost in Translation”, Japanese people are a faceless background for foreigners in Japan to derive bewilderment and amusement out of, not human beings to be related to on an empathetic, artistic level.

Without this empathy, the Engrish site and its subculture contribute to the problems of representation. Most American media commentaries on Japan (and many other foreign countries) tend to focus on how different and weird those “crazy” Japanese are and this site contributes to that. We get 100 stories on pornographic manga and none on “How to cook Chinese Food” manga. We hear about “underwear vending machines” (which I’ve never seen anywhere) but not that there are half-a-dozen vending machines per block in the city so that you never go thirsty.

Is there a place for Engrish? Of course, I admire the work, thought and intentions put into the site. But should it be the first site that comes to mind when people think of Japan (and other Asian countries featured on the site)? Should it be the URL that is spread around like the common cold with more damaging symptoms in how it affects Asian Americans? I’m not going to take part in that. If you are interested, I’m sure you can find the URL easily. In the meantime, go check out the site for the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum:

Recycled content storehouse

The title of the site is giving me a little bit of a complex. I chose the name because I was trying to make it functional rather than include some inside joke or something that might put people off, but now I'm feeling self-conscious that there's like 10 words on here and the big ol' name.

So I'm going to, true to the name, throw up some random pieces that are not as current. If you are one of the illustrious few that have already seen a piece before, pat yourself on the back since you are awfully cool, and feel free to comment. They won't all be evergreen, but I'll write a piece on why I think that's important too.

Anyway, I've got no idea who is reading, so drop me a line at xianb8 at yahoo if you get a chance. I'm writing for enjoyment these days, so feel free to ask me to write a position on an issue or ask overally <--------------First typing error I've caught!!!! person questions..."What's your shoe size?" "Is your hair two colors because you're half?" "What's your boggle?" etc.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Taking Responsibility for Getting Stung

When I was in pre-school, kindergarten and first grade, I attended a Montessori School in Raleigh, NC. It was on the outskirts of the city, so we had a beautiful plot of land that had woods, meadows and streams to play in. Sometimes we would play "Capture the Flag" or hide in the woods, but mostly we would just hike around the diverse landscape.

One summer, a friend and I were enjoying the sunlight and racing through the meadows of the school. I believe his name was Gabe. I don't remember too much about him even though he was one of my best friends at the time. But I remember this particular day because as we were running back to the school building, he decided to run along a stream bed and stepped in a yellow jacket nest. (Yellow jackets often nest underground.) He continued to run, while I, who was running a few yards behind him was swarmed and stung multiple times. When we got back to the building, my teacher applied some Aloe that she had growing in the classroom, but I remember thinking that it was unfair that my friend hadn't been stung when I hadn't been the one who stepped in the hive. Looking back later, I changed my position--he had made sure I got back to the classroom to get treated, so beyond the freak accident, he had done his best.

But what if he hadn't? What if every other week he stepped in a new nest and I was always the one left to deal with the consequences?

This is what I feel like when I look at the folks who are running the country. They step in the same pitfalls again-and-again as they privatize needed services, but they are never the ones who have to deal with the consequences--only the poor or the people who come after them do.

I find it highly ironic that to criticize the current administrations policies or wars is called "unpatriotic" these days. What about the belief that our shared government cannot provide basic human services as well as some company that is trying to make money off of us? What could be more "unpatriotic" than that?

When you look at an issue like public heating (the current campaign I'm working on) or health care or social security, the yellow jacket nest is not even a full analogy. A better analogy would be if my friend had somehow made a couple million dollars every time he stepped in a hive and was spending it while I was fighting off yellow jackets.

The point of this is not to vilify those who are making crazy money off of neglecting others. It's not even to vilify the politicians who are supposed to be representing us who keep selling us up the river. It's to point the finger at ourselves. It's time that we keep making the same mistake over and over again--trusting people who never really cared about us in the first place. It's time that we decided if we really care about ourselves, each other and our country in general. If not, by all means, stay the course. If we really care, we must prepare ourselves to fight.

What you can do:
Get informed on privitization and come to your own conclusions. Find politicians that support your position. Harrass those that don't. Organize those around you--help them make connections: it's easy to get cheap health care in public health care systems/privitized human rights means that some poor people are not treated as human, etc.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Tsunami Song

"New York's number one morning show's" comment on the Tsunami disaster:

"So now you're screwed, it's the Tsunami
you better run or kiss your ass away, go find your mommy
I just saw her float by, a tree went through her head
and now the children will be sold to child slavery..."

I had a completely thoughtful and coherent response until I made a tragic error--I figured before I commented, I should actually follow the link and listen to the clip in its entirety.

I really can't see straight at this point. I'm angry at the people who made the poorly produced, unoriginal clip. I'm angry at the station for running it. I'm angry at Sprint for sponsoring it. I'm angry at the DJs for their ridiculous commentary. I'm angry at those in the Asian American community who have jumped on this as an opportunity to express their hate against the African American community. I'm angry at the people who have failed to acknowledge the courage of Miss Info to try to speak up even as Miss Jones was going Bill O'Reilly on her ass.

I'm especially angry at those of ethnic privilege who without extreme empathetic effort on their own part, will never really understand what it feels like. It must be nice to be able to just look at negative events disapprovingly as individual events and not see the tight fabric of racism woven by institutions of this society. It's not necessarily their own faults, but sometimes it's hard to forgive.

I cannot listen to this clip without thinking about the FBI and "liberal" media's decision to encourage the racial profiling of Asian Americans as terrorists, or without thinking of Vincent lying in his grave or David in his cell. It's the same way I can't hear "Chinaman" without recognizing the origin of the slur--"To not have a Chinaman's chance!" referring to the likilihood of a Chinese migrant worker, treated like burnable fuel, surviving his work on the Transcontinental Railroad.

Because that's what this is about--the wanton disregard for human life. Do you truly believe that it's a coincedence that whenever it's deemed ok to disrespect a group's humanity, it happens to be non-whites, non-heterosexuals, non-males whose rights we are dismissing?

Why is it that everytime this happens, we stand by while people make careless statements like, "If they made fun of slavery in this way, it wouldn't fly!" Of course it would! It does everyday, and it's just as fucked up. What doesn't fly is if you do the same for "real Americans". They could drop a "colored bomb" on our whole damn country and most people would give a few crocodile tears, pat themselves on the back, and use us as an excuse to go overseas and kill more colored people. They'd probably spend a few bucks on our memorial and then spend the rest on trying to copy the bomb's technology.

The song does have one interesting reference--it mentions the fact that the tsunami hit Africa as well as Asia--a fact generally lost in the coverage of the disaster. Part of the disparity in coverage is natural because there was a lot less loss of life there than in the parts of Asia struck by the tsunami. But on two levels, this doesn't add up. First off, while it makes sense to distribute the funds according to the areas hardest hit, that doesn't explain the medias lack of inclusion of Africa. If the tsunami hit and killed there, there ought to be coverage of it. Secondly, I don't see why tsunami deaths are somehow worth more than non-tsunami disasters. We've turned a deaf ear to the heartrending cries of Africa again and again, but now since people are being killed by one big wave instead of massacres or famines, it's worthy of aid and coverage.

And that brings us full-circle--Miss Jones and all of the rest of us should be allowed freedom of expression, no matter how foul our expression, but we hold the responsibility for the results of that expression be they direct or indirect.

When we choose media sources that dehumanize groups of people over those that embrace them, we help create a world where ethnic minorities and "Other" groups are persecuted, tortured, killed and enslaved.

Do your part. Contact the sponsors of Hot 97's programming (see below) and moreover speak out and support those who do speak out like Miss Info did on the show.

Sprint/Sprint PCS
Media Contact:
James Fisher, 202-585-1947

Popeye's parent company:

Lisa Bartlett -

Jennifer Hawkins -

Reebok International Ltd.
PO Box 1060
Ronks, PA 17573

Corporate Headquarters:
Reebok International Ltd.
1895 J. W. Foster Boulevard
Canton, MA 02021
ask for David Pace (atty) or Paul Fireman (CEO)


Jackson Hewitt (ads on
Sheila Cort - Director, Communications
Jackson Hewitt Inc.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Better Reason for Bars

Over the last few years, as the neighborhood around North Chinatown (5100N) has gentrified, a conflict has developed between longtime storeowners and new condo owners.

A January 23, 2005 Tribune article describes this situation in more detail:

Argyle St. burglar bars divide old, new cultures

I was actually quite impressed with the article in the candid way it addresses the racial issues involved. A great deal of the mainstream media articles tend to focus on a colorless view that only encompasses the primary white perspective. The journalist (who happens to be Latino) interviews and quotes people on both sides of the equation although, perhaps due to language issues, he doesn't interview anyone who is strongly in support of retaining the bars.

One dynamic that was most disconcerting, but hardly surprising was the utter condescension and lack of respect the newer residents had for the long-time shop owners who have built the community from the ground up. In Uptown's poor economic times, it has been these shopkeepers who have retained faith and their investments in this area.

This is one of the more serious problems with gentrification--an utter lack of regard for existing communities and the work it takes to build communities. Sure, genetrification brings wealth and due to inequalities in policing and opportunity, tends to reduce crime. Of course, the minor side effect is that the vast majority of the people who made the community desirable in the first place are forced out of the community. Furthermore, if they stay, they are regarded with contempt by people who perceive themselves as superior because they dropped half-a-million on a condo instead of putting in time and effort to build a community for themselves.

I like locusts. Some of my best friends are locusts. But I don't want them living next door to me. Some may argue that this echoes housing discrimination, but anyone can see the difference between discriminating against someone based on cultural values and discrimination against someone because they are a disrespectful asshole who never does anything constructive.

Argyle Street Chinatown is beautiful the way it is. If the merchants who built it believe that they need bars or other "eyesores", that's their choice. If a brick is being thrown through a window or two (as mentioned in the article), then unless the new condo owners want to pick up the tab, I think it would be foolish for the storeowners to take down their bars.

Of course, there's the added issue of racial entitlement in this equation. Historically, there is a very strong reason for shop owners of Asian descent to fear damage to their stores. Racist targeting of minority businesses for vandalism and violence is an American legacy.The white property owners can't or won't put any empathy into understanding the shopkeepers' fear of damage to their stores, instead meeting the shopkeepers' fears with condescension, veiled racism and heavy handedness.

For me, this is the strongest reason to keep the bars--safety issue aside. If keeping the bars will drive out privileged, racist, white property owners and their sense of entitlement, that's the best neighborhood improvement strategy I can think of.
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