The People’s Republic of Minnesota (an evolving manifesto)

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The State of Minnesota must devolve vertically and horizontally, and exist solely to provide all Minnesota residents regardless of employment history, criminal record, or federal government identification, with the following:

  1. Universal healthcare;
  2. Universal childcare;
  3. Universal basic income; and
  4. Universal housing;

Alongside a complete dismantling and abolishing of the police state (including the police industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, and the border enforcement industrial complex), as well as a dismantling and abolishing of the bloated and bureaucratic nanny state, in order to fund the above four primary needs of all Minnesota residents;

Further evolving towards The People’s Republic of Minnesota.

When I die, I don’t want my body to be buried or burnt…

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I want it donated to science – to be dissected, picked apart, and analysed by geeks and nerds who don’t get squeamish.

If there’s money to be made from my body being ground up and dissolved into a myriad solvents for microscopic viewing, I want my loved ones to get a cut of that cheese.

Whatever information and knowledge that is gained, once published through peer review, must be made free for anyone to read and use in their intellectual pursuits.

Yama is my homeboy.

Capitalists need subsistence consumers – which is why the time for a universal basic income has arrived…

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Here’s the thing, I’m not going to make some progressive, hippie dippie argument for a universal basic income. I’m arguing that it’s time has come whether we like it or not, and that we can make it a good thing for us and our planet.

I don’t pretend to know what’s going on in the minds of the elites of the world – you know, the real bourgie-ass bourgeoisie – but my guess is that a chunk of them already realize that it is in their interests to start considering vast swathes of the working class and working poor as pure consumers, mostly of the subsistence kind rather than the hoarding kind, but consumers nonetheless.

Considering the new changes with unprecedented increases in those applying for unemployment insurance and the environment doing better than ever with capitalism slowing down, I daresay many rational power heads are seriously considering different forms of universal basic income.

I think that there is a calculation going on, among business and state actors alike, that seeks to keep circulation, and thereby the economy, going even if it means a reduction in the overall “size” of economies. This might seem counterintuitive to the unfettered profit game – but we must remember that if they do this, they’re not doing so because they’re altruistic but because they’re playing the long game and see the writing of economic collapse on the wall due to environmental destruction.

That’s where something like universal basic income comes in. I suggest that this current moment is ripe for making this a political reality. From the proletarianization of the consumer, our system is starting to go full cycle and consumerize the proletarian. As far as the capitalists go, this scheme is cold and heartless, mind you. It has little to do with wealth redistribution or economic justice, but rather keeping consumers alive and consuming.

However it has the potential to transform our communities.

Just like social security and universal healthcare systems the world over helps keep the overall wellbeing of society at a higher baseline, so too can systems of basic income. And from there can grow a lot of nurturing communities carrying far lesser stresses in the long term (there’s a reason social democratic societies consistently score high on happiness indices).

But our culture has to change from viewing universal basic income as a handout to viewing it as an economic condition. This is why I started this piece with the rationale of the capitalist – to keep the consumer alive and law-abiding so they can keep consuming. If we view it that way, as nothing more than a symptom of late capitalism, then we can use it to change the way our communities conduct social interactions, having more time for our families and friends, building organic communitarian societies.

Ultimately a universal basic income is nothing more than what capitalists and powerful state actors deem is the bare minimum to keep us as law-abiding consumers. We should advocate for it, take it, and keep advocating for more of it – all while fighting the culture war against capitalism by building nurturing, sustainable communities with it.

I’d rather lead a strong life than a long life…

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I say this with great care and circumspection. I understand that this statement – at a time of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is a loaded one, what with healthcare systems in supposed First World countries having to play Sophie’s Choice on a daily basis.

Which is why I wish to accord due diligence to a statement as intense as one that directly chooses strength over longevity as a life choice.

I think that, whether or not one lives a rich, interesting, adventure-filled life – that of course has traumas, pains, and struggles – generally comes down to living in the present and letting go of the illusion of control (this is not some smarmy attempt at new agey wisdom on my part, but rather a harkening back to some very old-agey wisdom that pretty much every cultural canon of though/philosophy/religion/grandmotherly-wisdom etc. ultimately comes to in the end).

And I believe strength over longevity, i.e. choosing to live a strong life over a long life is the path forward for us as a species. At the very least it is the path forward for me.

(I’m already 40…which means that I’m a record setting, trailblazing, ultra-senior citizen for a cro magnon man.)

And the reason I choose strength over longevity is because it’s actually the only choice available. You can’t choose to live long no matter how much you might want to believe you can. If you live long, you just happen to have beaten the evolutionary and geographic odds this life cycle around. But eventually we are all going back to the earth, and once you go there the concept of time elongates a bit for speciated beings like us.

You can’t choose to live long, unless you consider a very, very different definition of life. For now, let’s stick to the current cultural human definition of living, which roughly equates to a 80 year lifespan, give or take a few. Within that cultural concept of life, I argue that it’s stupid to try and live a long life. It’s much wiser to try and lead a strong life.

What do I mean by that?

Now, certainly there are measures that give oneself a statistically high possibility of living a 80-100 year old life, which would be considered a long, long life by our current cultural standards and definitions. Measures like reducing stress, exercising, eating healthy and tasty, taking time for the self and loved ones, enjoying life – all measures that should be practiced daily. But one can’t actually choose to live a long life, not unless you’re already an 80 year old geezer (in which case, congratulations! you’ve lived a really long life – for a human – live it up for the rest of your days, no ageism here…) No matter what, you can’t control all the forces around you that might give you an untimely death. Frankly everyone thinks their death is untimely regardless of how long they live, so it seems like no one is capable of having a “timely death” (something which I think will be my life goal here on out).

Semi-jokes apart, a healthy sense of mortality is what I mean when I say I choose to lead a strong life. This is something that comes easy to many people – i.e. leading a strong life by having an innately healthy sense of mortality. Many are able to do this without having to resort to daily masturbatory morbidity or nurturing nihilism (which in my case often takes the form of various addictions as well that I try to burn through with labor, exercise, and writing).

But leading a strong life doesn’t come easy for those of us with more active demons and monsters as lifelong travelling mates.

We must embrace the strength our glorious finitude. Sometimes we do so with great health and healing. Other times it might just be the healing. Still others might just be enjoying the fuck out of life.

Really it boils down to these few words…

I will live the way I live and I will die the way I die.

Boston, Baseball and the 2004 “World” Series

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If I may, I’d like to recapture my first true immigrant encounter with America’s national pastime.

This was in Boston. In 2004.

(Safe to say your average Boston sports fan knows this year well.)

The World Series fascinated me when I first started living in America and it was in Boston that I really understood just what a big deal it was. Having grown up on am American pop culture diet, I knew the World Series was the ultimate baseball prize, the one all baseball players coveted, won by playing in a final of a grueling yearlong tournament. But I was still unsure of the scale of the tournament. Indeed, when I first heard about it as a child, I wondered if maybe it was baseball’s equivalent of the FIFA World Cup.

Thwarting my shameful ignorance, I learnt that the World Series was in fact played between two American cities. (I now know that one of my adopted home-towns up north – the very Canadian city of Toronto – plays in the MLB too, but I’ve never actually seen them win, so I doubt that the World Series is going to have Canadian representation any time soon.)

Now, I am not one to nitpick.

Scratch that, I’m actually very nitpicky.

So I feel compelled to point out that when one names a tournament The World Series often with emphasis on World, there ought to be an obligation to the lay public that it be little more than a domestic club tournament. And merely thinking of it as a global tournament because of the high quality of players, or arguing that baseball is played at the highest level in America, is simply not enough. In England, the club football league (as in soccer, not the oblong object thrown around by armor-plated ‘roid-monsters) is not called the World Cup. It’s called the English Premier League, because that is precisely what it is. There is a separate World Cup for teams representing countries and not clubs. The national table tennis championship in China is not called the World Championship. It’s called the Chinese Table Tennis Super League, because that is again precisely what it is. There is a separate World Championship for players representing their countries rather than clubs.

In India, almost everyone plays cricket. A lot of cricket. Indians play a whole load of other sports too, but they all pale in comparison to cricket. In fact India is the most dominant country in terms of revenue, influence, and clout in the world of cricket. The dominance is so vast that due to India and the larger South Asian subcontinent, cricket is the second most watched team sport in the world. Bet you didn’t think that was true did you? Look it up, I’m not kidding you. The reason I bring this to your attention is not some asinine attempt at sporting nationalism, something I consider to be crude and trite (not to mention the fact that India is monumentally pathetic at most other sports), but rather to point out that India is, I daresay, even more to cricket than the US is to baseball. In 2008 the Indian cricket board decided to organize an annual, multi-billion dollar club championship along the lines of the English Premier League, the NFL, and the NBA. Yet, the club championship in India does not have a moniker serving itself up as an international tournament, no matter how fervently Indian cricket officials might want it to. Mired as they might be in corruption and delusion, it just wouldn’t fool anyone. The tournament is called the Indian Premier League, again because that’s what it is, a domestic tournament in a country with the highest pedigree players in that sport, played between city-based clubs, who have the money to bring in high quality foreign players onto their roster.

I can actually understand, albeit only notionally, if the Super Bowl was called the World Bowl or something (which, granted, sounds stupid when it rolls of the tongue), considering the US and the world are pretty much the same in the sport. The NFL could lay claim with some degree of legitimacy to being a world championship since no one else on earth plays American Football.

(Except Canada of course. Because Canada seems to do everything America does, except in slightly more unassuming and modest ways. For gridiron football, the Canadian equivalent is the remarkably proletarian Canadian Football League, with most CFL players working other jobs to make ends meet.)

And there’s no shortage of sports like that with potential “world” championships that could be organized by creative entrepreneurs in their respective countries – the Buzkashi World Cup held every four years in Afghanistan; the World Oil Wrestling Grand Prix held annually in Turkey; the International Haggis Hurling Championships held biannually in Scotland; or the Naked Rugby World Cup held biweekly in New Zealand. (Please note, any of these could well be a thing. I haven’t done my research. And if they’re not a thing, then they should be a thing, and if any of them do ever end up becoming a thing – you’re welcome, future sports fans.)

But with baseball? Isn’t it played in, like, pretty much every Central and South American country? And Japan? And Australia or something? The World Series between two US clubs is a bit of a stretch in my humble opinion.

Nevertheless, it was something I would experience with much joy.

I was just starting to find my feet in Boston when there was a buzz around town that “it could be Boston’s year.” Being a sports buff, I was intrigued. When I started following the games, the American League Championship Series, that I discovered was seven games played between the top two teams of that league, was taking place. To the non-American reader, you might think this to be the national championships of baseball, but you might be surprised to learn (as I was) that there is also the National League Championship Series. I learnt that these two championships are essentially two halves of Major League Baseball. The winners of these two championships then compete in the World Series. (Again, do you see the contradictions here? Whatever…)

Now, I don’t know what it takes to be considered a part of any city you live in. I didn’t know what it was that made me a Bostonian for instance. I do know this – in American cities, you can artificially assimilate, albeit temporarily, by claiming allegiance to the local sports team. And if that sports team happens to have a dream run to championship glory, even better. Come to think of it, the success of the sports team might be pretty crucial here. I doubt immigrants have been able to artificially assimilate by latching on to losing sports teams. Indeed, the trauma of sporting failure might just translate to even more xenophobia.

This artificial assimilation happened to me purely by providence rather than design. I essentially stumbled upon what was quite possibly the most sports-orgasm-inducing, shrieking-with-drunken-merrymaking, oh-I’m-so-proud-of-my-team-that-I-think-I’m-going-to-cry-and-french-kiss-my-pet moment in Boston’s history. And I owe it all to the Boston Red Sox, which is one of the more self-descriptive monikers for a team anywhere in the world.

I started watching from the fourth game onwards of the American League Championship Series. It was the year 2004. The Red Sox fan will know what is about to come. The Red Sox fan will understand the magnitude of this moment. The Red Sox fan probably masturbates to reruns of this game. The Red Sox fan remembers 2004 with a warmth and fuzziness that even their marriage or the birth of their first child wouldn’t hold a candle to. The Red Sox fan can tell you exactly where they were for this game.

The Sox (cos, you know, that’s what you called them I learnt) had lost their first three games to the dreaded New York Yankees. And that third game, they didn’t just lose, they were hammered 19-8. I saw the score line in the Metro while riding the subway to work the next morning and wondered what kinds of skewed match-ups in other sports could have resulted in such a mauling. USA vs. India in basketball? Rafael Nadal vs. my dad in tennis? Three raging bulls vs. me dressed ever-so-flamboyantly as a matador? I remember reading articles in the Boston Globe lamenting the state of affairs with the Sox, how demoralizing it was, how they would need to go through another year without a World Series title (the last one coming in 19 bloody 18 – I mean 1918 was a time when typhoid could well have been considered the national pastime).

The writing was on the wall. Nay, it wasn’t just on the wall; it had been sand-blasted into it with ruthless efficiency. The Fat Lady was jiggling her adipose-laden jowls, clearing her magnificently taught vocal chords, setting her Viking helmet in place with pudgy fingers, and was all but ready to burst out in song. Only the heartiest of souls would have denied it. The Sox were going to lose ignominiously in the league championships, while the Yankees would go on to yet another World Series and probably win that as well. Yankees fans were probably already figuring out ways to fake illnesses and kill off ageing relatives to play hooky from work so they could see their irritatingly great franchise in action for the ultimate prize in baseball.

And it almost came to that in the fourth game. I was watching the game in my apartment in Jamaica Plains, primarily because I had nothing better to do. The Yankees were leading the Sox 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Sox were down to their final three outs. I told myself that I didn’t really care what happened, but sporting tension has a way of drawing you in. I decided to support the Sox in my head, just to make the game more interesting for me.

And boy did it get interesting.

There is a name in baseball that I will always remember. In fact, when I think of baseball, his is the first name that pops into my head. I don’t believe he was ever a big star. In fact, he was probably one of those players in baseball spending very little time under the limelight hogged by major stars. His name is Dave Roberts, and he gave me my most exciting moment in American sports-viewing.

When thinking about this game, I have to look up articles on it to remember what others did and their names, but I never have to do anything to remember what Dave Roberts did. That guy could run!

This batter called Kevin Millar (had to look it up) was walked off by the Yankees pitcher (don’t really care who) and the iconic Dave Roberts was called in as a pinch runner for Millar. This was the moment.

Now, I didn’t know shit about baseball. It was the first game I had ever watched with real interest. I was figuring out the rules on the fly as I watched it. But I had played enough competitive sports, to know this was a make-or-break moment. Why the hell did they bring in this apparent non-star nobody to replace a full-fledged batter at a time when the Sox absolutely had to score to stay in the freaking championship? Roberts was to soon allay any doubts I had. After getting checked three times by the Yankees pitcher (still don’t care what his name is), Roberts stole a brilliant second when the pitch was ultimately thrown to the new batter, Bill Mueller (again, had to look it up). Scurrying like an Olympic sprinter whose muscular glutes were very recently lit on fire, Roberts got the Fenway Park faithful roaring with what I imagine was the faintest of hopes residing in their long-suffering hearts.

And he didn’t disappoint. The Yankees pitcher (fuck him) was hit for a single by Mueller, and Roberts ran home, tying the game and forcing an extra inning.

That moment changed everything and it went into extra innings. At the bottom of the twelfth, this gargantuan Dominican, David Ortiz, hit a monstrous two-run homer to send the series into Game Five. Damn the wall and the supposed writing on it. Go home Fat Lady. The Sox were going to keep on fighting thanks to Dave “Glutes on Fire” Roberts.

That moment also did something else for me. I decided to support the Sox from then on because it added a touch of excitement to watching the rest of the championship. I bought a Red Sox hat and wore it in a show of city-pride. As I got into it, I soon realized that the biggest stars of the Sox were not from Boston. In fact, three of their biggest stars weren’t even from the States. I’d already mentioned this mound of muscle, David “Big Pappi” Ortiz, and it turned out there were two other magnificent Dominicans – batter extraordinaire Manny Ramirez and princely pitcher Pedro Martinez. It made me actually feel ok about this shameless show of city-pride I was subconsciously putting on for the sake of blending in. It was almost like supporting a baseball team from the local Pan-American cultural attaché of the UN.

So the Red Sox hat stayed on almost permanently for the rest of the baseball season.

What a transformation it did for my own quality of life too. Talk about artificial assimilation. People looked at me and nodded, smiled, gave a little fist bump. Folks would cheerily shout a “Yeah…Go Sox!” or unwaveringly declare a “Keepin’ the faith bro!” It was nice. It was such a welcome change from the customary look of anger, curiosity, uneasiness, or some combination thereof that I had grown accustomed to. I realized then that one of the best ways one could artificially assimilate into any American city was to visibly showcase your support for the local team by wearing a hat or jersey. It needed to be noticeable though, not something hidden like an ass-tattoo, but a prominent part of one’s attire. It didn’t matter whether you cared about the team or even enjoyed the damn sport. Immigrants suffering from assimilation anxiety – take note of this survival strategy. It works like magic. Better than any amount of hard work or claims to human rights.

Make no mistake however – I got into it.

Sure, blending in and feeling like I could be a part of the city played a huge role. But it was also infectious. It must have been the athlete in me; perhaps an attempt at recreating the times my dad and I would watch cricket in India and lose ourselves in the game. I had an innate love for sporting endeavors that was nurtured in me from a very young age. The idea of supporting a team, however parochial and contrived, added to the excitement of sport.

And the Sox didn’t disappoint. They went on what can only be described as a fairy tale run. They won the next three games against the Yankees; the final one in the evil lair of Yankee Stadium itself. They became the first team in MLB history to win a seven-game series after losing their first three games. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted such an underdog, come-from-behind story if it tried. (While the Yankees are the richest MLB team, the Sox happen to languish all the way down in second place.)

But there was still the small matter of, ahem, The World Series.

The Sox were to meet the team from St. Louis, the Cardinals, with mascots in the form of mean-spirited little birds, frowns, gnashing teeth and all.

It was almost anti-climactic.

Boston never once looked like losing. It was probably one of the most one-sided World Series in MLB history. They beat the Cardinals 4-0 and ended up winning it for the first time in eighty-six years, apparently also smashing a curse of sorts which released the floodgates of cheap beer and riot police.

Talk about artificial assimilation again. I had been warned by my workmates to leave early during Game Four, which Boston were expected to win rather easily – I mean, c’mon, hadn’t anyone heard of kismet? But I didn’t heed their warning. I followed the game via live-streaming in my office and then, when Boston was looking like winning for sure, left to take the subway home. There was a little voice inside my head that told me to be a part of the city when the Sox won.

And it happened on the subway ride home. Somewhere along the way, a large, cheery black man who was following the last minutes of the game on his handheld radio got up in the middle of the ride and announced with much fanfare, “Ladies and Gentlemen! It is my privilege to let you all know that the Boston Red Sox have just won the World Series!”

The entire subway coach erupted. People jumped and shouted for joy, hugging each other. I could see older men with tears in their eyes.

The same chap who announced the joyous moment, clutched me in a tight hug, and screamed, “Show me some love brother! Show me some love!”

He was hugging me! The man was taking me in his arms out of pure communal sporting joy. For a brief moment, I didn’t have the label of the immigrant and didn’t have to play the role. For a brief moment, I was as Bostonian as he was.

I was to partake in the celebration on the streets too, in ways that caught me by surprise. As I walked home from the subway stop that night, I drank in the bucolic atmosphere. Every street corner and every bar had people partying inside and out with unmitigated joy. As I got closer to my apartment, four large, young white men pulled me into their drunken revelry. But this time there was no hostility or anger, instead they thanked me profusely, slurs and all, for the contributions of my people.

I was thrilled that someone from India had contributed to this historic victory.

“Really?” I asked in joy, as they twirled me around in a circle. “Who?”

“You know!” shouted one, drunkenly waving a rather large foam finger. “Manny, Pedro, and “Big Pappi” bro!!! They’re the bomb!”

Not wishing to spoil this moment of reflected glory I had just received, I went with it.

I pumped my fist in the air, and nodded happily.

“Viva La Raza!” I shouted.

“Hell yeah, hombre!” one screamed back in inebriated delight.

Ok, please don’t judge me. I was thrilled that they confused me for a Latino. Being from India, I was always jealous of the oomph that came with the stereotypes of my Latino brothers, something that the stereotype of a software engineer, doctor, or convenience store owner could never emulate. The Indian male stereotypes in America just didn’t have the kind of sexiness that the Latino male stereotypes did. The Guevaresque revolutionary, the macho soccer player, the sultry acoustic guitarist and now, the kick-ass baseball player. I was happy to bask in reflected glory with my brown skin, which I conveniently rationalized as connecting me with my Latino brethren.

After a couple of sweaty bear hugs, I left with a soft glow on my face. The Red Sox had given me the briefest of moments where I could consider myself a part of the city in a rather enjoyable way. It was done via a combination of parochial sports nationalism, commercialized notions of city-identity, and the utilization of team paraphernalia as a temporary tool to prevent marginalization. But it was nice to be a part of popular merrymaking and made for a cool experience.

Along the fringes of the non-profit industrial complex…

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My first full-time job in the States was right after grad school, way back in May 2004. It moved my ass from Baltimore to Boston, the first steps to an ongoing, increasingly cynical, career along the fringes of the non-profit industrial complex.

It was with a gender justice organization in Boston called the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, Atask for short. I was hired to be their outreach coordinator.

I was the only dude in the organization. More often than not, my gender made me stand out in richly complimentary ways that I didn’t deserve in the slightest. On multiple occasions, in workshops and presentations that I conducted, I would be complimented on being a man working in an organization whose mandate was to prevent gender-based violence.

I was also given a get-out-of-jail-free card for my own complicity in the structures of patriarchy and misogyny, doing precious little to counter it. Rather, I wallowed in them. It fed my ego no end.

Regardless of any retroactive wokeness, one thing became crystal clear to me for the rest of my life – I worked best when I was around a crowd where men were in a minority. I felt more at ease working with women than I did with men. Probably the reason why I’ve continued to navigate a career along the fringes of the non-profit industrial complex, because for all its internalization of capitalist work culture, at lease in the non-profit sector there are more women than men. The constant one-upmanship that male-dominated groups often degenerated into was something I could do without. It further made me think about how the paltry few male friends I had in my life were those who avoided that kind of macho idiocy.

All in all, it was a good job and for the three years that I did it, I certainly gained a ton of experience and learnt a lot. I was probably alienated as fuck as a newcomer to Boston, but I genuinely liked my job, and equally importantly, liked telling others about my job.

This didn’t mean I avoided some very sobering experiences.

I soon learnt about a certain norm in many non-profit organizations that sought to work on issues within a racialized community. Namely, the utilization of every horrible community stereotype to garner funding from larger foundations. In other words, getting well-off white folk to think they were the saviors of that community. This internalized racism seeped into every workshop, presentation, outreach event, poster, brochure, and fundraising event meant for the broader public.

Now, there certainly were more progressive organizations who didn’t do this, even actively fought it. But Atask was not one of them, at least not while I was there. It was one of the really unpleasant parts of the work, and we worked on issues of gender-based violence for crying out loud.

I saw posters of exoticized, weak Asian women in submissive postures, head down in defeat with captions that read:

“Her husband abused her, her culture entrapped her. She needs your help.”

I endured scores and scores of white folk in educational workshops and outreach events asking questions reeking of dog whistle racism

I put up with carte-blanch assumptions that violence within a minority community was a cultural norm, while violence within white communities was a deviance from theirs.

Atask sometimes had no choice (apparently) but to promote this crap themselves, actively propagating racist stereotypes of the very communities they served, in order to garner funding.

One time, at one of our annual fundraisers, I loudly voiced my displeasure at some of the racist imagery being used and the fact that we had to cater to such ridiculous stereotypes in order to garner funding.

At this, a board member (who was Asian herself) remarked with a snarky huff, “You don’t seem to show a lot of love, Sri, for those who are paying your salary.”

 I was, like, dang…

I didn’t know I had to be grateful that our organization was forced to resort to racist stereotypes in order for me to get paid a fair wage for my work, you know, the princely salary of thirty-two grand a year.

What was I supposed to do?

Bow down every time I saw one of the self-anointed saviors and take three steps back?

Invoke thanks via silent, kneeling prayer as they pass?

Hail benevolent board member, full of green. Thank you so much for deigning to lend your time, dress in formal costume, and participate in this garish fundraiser. The plebian hors d’oeuvres alone must take a monumentally courageous effort for you to sample. The plaudits you receive and the badge of charity you may now claim on your CV as a savior of the weak and under-funded is but a paltry gesture of our appreciation for this majestic exercise in lending your well-moisturized hand to us lesser souls. We give thanks and reverence to thee, oh saintly, well coiffed one.

Felt like that at times.

Navigating the fringes of the non-profit industrial complex is nothing if not a crash course in class inequality.

Climbing the rungs as a privileged immigrant…

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May 2004.

Done.

Double course load, with a part-time job.

Gotten that all-coveted, elite graduate degree.

From Johns fucking Hopkins.

(And for anyone who thinks it’s John Hopkins…for crying out loud, those who actually went there aren’t crazy enough to add random consonants to the names of our oppressive, elitist alma maters.)

It should have felt good.

But I didn’t have much time to savor the moment

Because I now had to find a job to save money and stay in the country.

And I couldn’t just get any job. Nah. I had to get a job that…

*deep breath*

…would take on an international student who had just transferred from the F1 Student Visa to the F1 Optional Practical Training Student Visa – which was given for one year following the successful completion of the international student’s degree – and hope that I did so damn well in that position that they would willingly sponsor me to then transfer to the H1 Work Visa, so that I may work shackled to that H1 Work Visa for five years following which I could renew it one time for five more years and hope that somewhere along the line I did so damn scintillatingly well in the job (or kissed enough ass) that they would then sponsor my Green Card and keep me hired while the possibly-two-year application process went through its steps and my prayers towards garnering an interview with the Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS (which changed its name to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS, causing just a touch of confusion along the way), following which I might celebrate if I was successful in the interview, giving me that oh-so-coveted Green Card, which gave me the legal status to finally decide that if I wanted to maybe work in a job that my entire legal status as a human being didn’t depend on, I may actually fucking do so.

Best get searching far and wide if you want a shot at climbing that immigration ladder…

Standing with Kashmir – and the renewal of solidarity

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[This post is dedicated to S.A.R. Geelani (1969-2019), a martyr to the cause of human rights and justice. Shaheed Geelani Saab Amar Rahe.]

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{photo credit: Muzammil Sidheeqi http://paarapuram.blogspot.com/}

10/30/2019

Yesterday I was reminded with forceful clarity that as an Indian who stands in solidarity with Kashmiri Azadi, it is important to constantly evolve in one’s solidarity efforts. And for me that means digging deep into a multitude of nagging questions and uncomfortable reflections. For instance…

Why did it take me so long to stand in solidarity with the people of Kashmir and their right to freedom? So much longer than it should have really?

It’s only been a few years since I came out publicly in solidarity with Kashmiri Azadi, but I’ve been active with Palestine-solidarity work for much, much longer. It’s even more insidious considering Kashmir is way closer to the land of my birth and childhood – geographically, culturally, and politically – than Palestine ever could be.

No doubt the lingering insecurities and cowardice of majoritarian nationalism run deep.

Truth is, organizing in solidarity with Palestine was just easier to do, mostly cos I didn’t have to do some heavy lifting on deep-rooted nationalist baggage. Make no mistake, I am ever grateful for what I learnt and experienced doing Palestine-solidarity work, not to mention the fact that I met the love of my life through that activism. I will always be in solidarity with the liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian people. But like the Jewish or Israeli progressive who is progressive on everything except Palestine, I was the Indian progressive who is progressive on everything except Kashmir.

I talked the talk and said the right words to be the liberated thinker I thought I was (which I may very well be doing right now).

But deep down, the nationalism of my youth exerted and still exerts great subconscious leverage.

Which is why I think transnational solidarity must always be renewed to stay honest and grounded.

Especially the often fickle and feckless solidarity that emerges from a member of a rogue oppressor nation to his occupied brothers and sisters facing the brute end of that nationalist oppression.

So, as an Indian – no matter how long it may take for this latent jingoism to whither away – I hope to keep saying till my dying breath…

Azadi now.

Azadi forever.

Free Kashmir.

The tragedy that begets the cage fighter…

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men violence patriarchy - bell hooks

The unified rules of mixed martial arts, or MMA, allow for fighters to continue striking a fighter who’s down on the ground in order to get a TKO victory. Indeed, having good “ground ‘n’ pound” skills is an absolute must for any MMA fighter hoping to make it to the big show.

Occasionally, referees get a little caught up during a fight-ending ground ‘n’ pound barrage and the grounded fighter takes a few more blows to the head than necessary for a fair fight ending. It happens in the craziness that is MMA. It’s part of the sport, as all fighters will publicly tell you.

Sometimes interviewers and journalists question fighters on their fight ethics and sense of fair play if they pound on an obviously unconscious opponent in an adrenalin-fueled rush.

This happened on February 19th 2017 at UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Browne, following the main event.

A few minutes after Derrick Lewis landed one more hammer fist than was probably necessary onto the unconscious, battered face of a supine Travis Browne, he was surreptitiously asked by the post-fight interviewer about that needless final strike.

A tired, sweaty Lewis, fresh from his TKO victory, surprised people by making no bones about the fact that he enjoyed that last punch, huffing, “He calls himself a man, but he likes to put his hands on women…forget him.”

He went on to state his hatred for wife beaters as he “saw that shit growing up.”

This made sense to the average UFC consumer. It was common knowledge that the man Lewis had just tenderized into oblivion, Travis Browne, had been accused by an ex-wife of domestic violence in 2015. The UFC had already established a long, ignoble history of shielding fighters with a history of domestic violence. Many commentators and consumers liked the retributive appeal of Lewis’ honesty regarding wife beaters and sympathized with his childhood experiences.

It was, however, the statement he made right at the end that made the interview go viral.

“Where Ronda Rousey’s fine ass at?” he deadpanned into the mike.

He was referring to the UFC pioneer and trailblazer for women’s combat sport, Ronda Rousey, who also happened to be dating Travis Browne at the time (much to the chagrin of many a feminist combat sport enthusiast who had once hailed her).

That interview and the surrounding bit players encapsulated a lot about the norms of masculinity embedded at the sport’s core, as manifested by the man they were interviewing and his off-the-cuff answers.

For Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis is many things.

He is arguably the most authentic fighter making waves in the UFC elite today; A 6’3” behemoth of a man, with a devil-may-care flair for words, caveman-brawling his way through the upper echelons of the heaviest weight class in the sport.

He is a popular social media figure without seemingly putting in any effort other than just being himself; His unapologetically racial and sexual humor pushing cultural boundaries much to the chagrin of many a white fanboy commentator who secretly wished they did the same.

But he is also someone with a keen awareness of violent manhood, both as a survivor of domestic violence and an unapologetic hater of men with a track record of the crime. Indeed, soon after the Travis Browne fight, Lewis said that for the exact same reasons he would like to also knock out Greg Hardy, a proven domestic abuser whom the UFC welcomed into its fold with open arms.

Lewis makes pains to point out that it’s not a white knight syndrome at play (“I ain’t looking to save no one”)  but rather a deep personal hatred stemming from the abuse he witnessed being inflicted upon his mother by his stepfather.

It is with that same authentic tone that he sees combat sports, in a refreshingly unique and self-aware way, as nothing more than an activity providing him a way out of financial hardship. A rarity among fighters who almost always claim higher purist goals of martial valor or legacy.

Displaying a completely different kind of authenticity is the intelligence-insulting, gleefully sexist, and unabashedly nationalist Dana White – head honcho of the UFC and ardent supporter of Donald Trump.

A former hustler and boxercise instructor, he got into the MMA game by convincing his rich buddies, the Fertita brothers in Vegas, to buy the UFC way back in 2001 during its Wild West days and install him as president. Fast forward nearly a couple of decades and Dana White is the most powerful man-child in the world of MMA today.

A perfect example of what he stands for needs a brief retelling of a sordid story – that of a former UFC fighter who went by the actual legal name of War Machine.

Picture the worst stereotype of a cage fighter, and you have a sense of Mr. Machine.

On August 8th 2014 War Machine assaulted his former girlfriend, Christy Mack, in an attack so vicious it left her with 18 broken bones, a broken nose, missing teeth, a fractured rib, and a ruptured lung. He went on the lam and was finally arrested on August 15th 2014. He was later tried and convicted on 29 felony counts, including kidnapping and sexual assault with a weapon, currently serving life in prison and blogging about how men are currently more persecuted than Jews were during the Holocaust or African-Americans were during Slavery.

Following War Machine’s arrest, Dana White was asked about it and the horrendous brutality suffered by Christy Mack. His response in a nutshell?

“It’s horrible! Every time I have to see ‘Ex UFC Fighter’ when the stories are written…Ever heard of Viacom? That’s who he fights for. He fights for Viacom. Not the UFC.”

Hey, at least he was honest about what mattered to him.

Indeed, many say that what sets Dana White apart from most other fight promoters is his inability to utilize a filter. He speaks his mind, almost as if he’s pure id. He regularly throws fighters under the bus, contradicts himself, lies about his lies, and otherwise acts in ways generally reserved for spoiled middle schoolers. But he’s rich and powerful, so people pay attention to him.

After all, boys will be boys, and men will be men.

Dana White and Derrick Lewis, boss and employee, offer contrasting lenses into the cultural milieu of combat sports, and in doing so reveal a lot about themselves and the sport they participate in. White lays bare the toxic foundation of commercial combat sports by vehemently trying to deny its existence, whereas Lewis reveals the contradiction of cage fighting by being unabashedly broken.

Lewis is a popular fighter who speaks his mind because he would be bored otherwise, holding a very personal hatred for women beaters, and acknowledging that he fights because he needs a paycheck. In his uniqueness, he exposes the UFC for what it is at its core – a marriage between violent masculinity and vulgar commercial power – mirroring what is still valued the most in our society, nakedly enacted by White.

However, the cultural lenses that Lewis with his authenticity and White with his id provide go a bit beyond that.

Look deeper and one spots the underlying childhood trauma and neglect that is at the foundation of pretty much every serious combat sports practitioner and consumer out there. Childhood trauma that fuels the masculinity and finds succor in the commercialism. Childhood trauma that is always seeking resolution in glory or power. Childhood trauma that will never be accepted as anything other than an obstacle in the way of said glory or power.

Therein lies the rub that someone like Derrick Lewis inadvertently exposes when he stays true to himself on the mike.

Therein lies the rub that someone like Dana White inadvertently exposes when he tries to cover up his inadequacies with bombast.

It is at this internecine fissure that prize fighting reveals the vulnerabilities of its masculine cultural foundation. An activity that valorizes violent masculinity being performed by men and women who have likely been on the receiving end of violent masculinity at some point in their lives, and probably came to said activity because of it.

‘tis the tragedy that begets the cage fighter…

Training Diary, Week 1 – What is it about combat sports and athletic endeavors for me?

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Sunday.

Rest day.

After grunting my way through two-a-days for 6 days, I’m happy for a rest day. The body is sore, and the mind is figuring out how to get motivated to repeat the 12 workout-goal for the week ahead, starting with maybe some roadwork and shadow boxing Monday morning.

I’m trying to lead the life of a legitimate athlete right now. I’ve set myself some fairly difficult athletic goals to keep myself motivated because it’s hard as fuck and I don’t know why I’m trying to put my body through this. I work full time and have the most amazing family to care for. I could just exercise a little bit every day to stay fit and call it a day.

But there is something in me that I’m trying to find in the athletic grind. It’s a pain-filled journey that calls to me. A lactic-acid-flooded path I must navigate.

Right now, its boxing, which I hope to expand to other endeavors as well. I’ve had a love for combat sports as long as I can remember. I think there’s a rawness to the competition that makes it unique. Yeah, two white dudes can grunt for four hours tapping a ball back and forth across a net and call it competition, but everyone knows that the fear of getting legitimately hurt in a fist fight adds an edge to things in a way that just can’t be replicated in other athletic endeavors.

In all likelihood, my own inexplicable predilection for combat sports has something to do with toxic masculinity and getting the ever loving shit kicked out of me as a kid. In my current situation as an immigrant man of color married to a white woman and nurturing an inter-racial family in alt-right-influenced America, I guess it’s also a way of blowing off some steam.

The endorphins you get from the training sessions are pretty cool too.

So, I’ve decided to dive headlong into it for a bit.

The last time I lived like a part-time athlete was over two decades ago, when I was 15-16, training for the 400-800 like someone possessed. Two-a-day workouts. Competition. Dreams of Olympic stardom. The works.

Then I had to throw it all away to focus on my studies. I guess I’m happy I did so. A decent, fulfilling career in health and social services. A condo in Toronto. A house in Minneapolis. Both nice, progressive cities with diverse populations. Family fairly well set. Easy, fulfilling job now. Pretty sweet life with loved ones, friends, beer, and weed.

What more could a man ask for at the age of 38?

That’s where unrequited childhood dreams of athletic glory come in to keep one from going soft.

And week 1 was successfully, albeit painfully, completed.

Whoop dee fucking doo for soreness.