Thursday, September 6, 2007

plastic morals

i'm utterly scandalized by the series of Mattel recalls.

now, they are doing it voluntarily. is it because they care about children's health? nope. it's because they are afraid of the liability--the lawsuits & backlash that will be generated from the scandal mongering publicity.

it's quite easy to point the finger at China for shoddy manufacturing standards. and yes, it is shady on China's part and it's also the case that the US loves to scapegoat China for economic ills since the 1700s. however let's look a little deeper. Mattel is recalling voluntary while the government remains curiously silent (let's contrast this govt response to the E. Coli breakout in processed spinach or other contagious diseases like mad cow, hoof & mouth, drug-resistant TB...). we could also ask how could our government allow this to happen?

after all 85% of the world's toys are made in China and not one of the European and other industrialized countries are issuing recalls. huh? why the disparity? weo, our government does not have strict regulations on importing toxins in manufactured products because of the powerful chemical industry lobby. The European Union, Korea, Taiwan, among others have evidence-based (from American scientists btw) strict bans on lead, endocrine-disrupters (phthlates), carcinogens and other toxins in children's toys. the US ignores the same evidence (or are bribed by the chemical industry to ignore) and allows toxins in all plastic products. the same Chinese manufacturer which is producing a toxin-free toy for export to Europe is also manufacturing the identical toxin-laden toy for US export.

now it's easy to compartmentalize this as an issue of children's health or of pet health as the case may be, but it's a human health issue, an ecological issue. these phthlates, carcinogens, toxic chemicals are present in most (if not all) plastics and many common consumer products, mattresses & furniture, cleaning products, cosmetics/nail polish, etc. it's almost completely unregulated--except of course what little consumer products the US manufactures for export, since most of that is regulated by other countries' standards to exclude toxic chemicals. in fact the European Union dumps all the toxic toys (and other consumer products) they don't allow in their countries to the US market. ironic right?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

where's the silent majority?

hmm... i was watching Sai-Gon TV earlier today and saw that there was yet another anti-comm!e protest in OC. this time outside the office of OC vinamese periodical VietWeekly. Vinamese newspapers are rarely controversial given the high rate of mortality for Vinamese American journalists--Chauncey Bailey's assasinat!on is not an uncommon occurrence in Viettown; it's an occupational hazard of journalism in our community--so, this is noteworthy and commonplace all at the same time.

i don't have anything substantial to blog. as yet. (mom is reminding me not to sit in front of computer too long since i did work from home on my vacation all pm so... it's almost time for second dinner. hủ tiếu|pork & seafood glass noodle soup. mmm. i pity those whose only experience of vinamese noodle soup is phở. so let's do a san jose trip & revive our eat-around-the-world monthly dates.)

here are the articles:

A History of Violence: A brief history of anti-comm!e attacks
Red scare in Lil Sai-Gon
Waiting with red-baited breath

this is the kind of black-and-white manichean binary as Fanon outs it, that we still have yet to evolve from and that keeps locked in a cycle of violence on a global scale. it's all to easy to deny your opposition/opponent/adversary/competitor their humanity and cast them as the (plug in a derogatory fearmongering -ist adjective of choice: commie, capitalist, socialst, racist, separatist etc.) enemy and to employ the same dirty tactics as you accuse the other side of engaging in.

is freedom of speech really only an ideological tool of the Nation-State that only upper-/middle-class white americans purport to enjoy?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

asian women & men

while diggin through some of my archives, i came across this angry letter i wrote to Nhà magazine. While they refused to respond or even publish it, i shared it on the VietNam Womens Forum listserv and it was later published in VietWeekly in OC in spring 2004. i had just quit grad school as you could see in my vocabulary, i mean uh, discourse.

Dear Nhà,

Your magazine ( fills a small and valuable niche for bilingual and monolingual Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in the US and as such represents an important effort in the oeuvre of Vietnamese periodicals along with Viet Home and the now defunct Viet Now/V magazine. Your magazine represents the Vietnamese diaspora community in the US and as such has a tremendous responsibility to its readership and the community at large. Therefore as a concerned Vietnamese woman, I wanted to write in about the article "Breadsticks vs. Baguette: Does size matter?" (Sept/Oct 2003) which compares Asian penises to breadsticks and to the penises of white, Latino and Black men and to comment how offensive, degrading and dehumanizing it was to our community, and to all Asian men and women. I realize that this letter is rather overdue, but better late than never. And given larger social trends with regards to Asian masculinity, better now. Make no mistake, I am not puritanical; I believe that we should develop healthy attitudes towards our sexuality as individuals, as a community and as a society, and celebrate the range of its expressions and orientations. However this article did not take that route by any means.

Firstly, the author, “The Wayward Wench,” chose to use questionable and prurient methodology by one, speculating from self-professed ignorance of the topic and two, using uncited anthropometric genital measurements which have long been debunked in scientific and anthropological circles as being eugenicist—that would be the same racist biological ideology the Nazis used to rationalize their genocide of Jews. (For critiques of anthropometry and eugenicism, refer to essays by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould).

More importantly in terms of content, the author degrades Asian male sexuality by unfavorably comparing their penises to food products and men of other races. The author clearly recognized that this was derogatory as she “refrained from comparing [her non-Asian husband's penis] to a food product”. One would expect that it should be self-explanatory and blatant how disrespectful this article is, however given that it is not so apparent and that we are supposed to find humor in hurtful dehumanization, I shall also give a parallel example of why this is an offensive, degrading and plain wrong. Were Nhà to publish an article comparing Asian women’s genitals to African American or Latina or white women’s genitals and likening their respective vulvas to food products and considering whose genitalia are “better” for sexual pleasure, the outcry would have been immediate; it would have been absolutely unacceptable and easily recognized as being dehumanizing, racist, sexist and misogynist. Shamefully, there is a larger societal double standard operating that an article emasculating Asian male sexuality in the same way would not be held to the same standard, and speaks to an emerging norm where it is acceptable to degrade Asian men where one would not degrade Asian women.

Historically speaking, the racist mainstream American representation of Asians has always been a pernicious tangle of stereotypical racialized and sexualized images—from the cruel bewitching oriental dragon lady, the sexually-available (to white men) geisha to the misogynist Asian pimp and desexualized bucktoothed cross-eyed Asian male coolie. Whereas in the past, Asian communities resented and resisted this racist imagery, in this post-Amy Tan age of representation those self-same images have become to a certain extent acceptable, recuperated, glorified, and even celebrated and commercialized; the dragon lady is no longer a racist & sexist image but becomes a model of the liberated Asian woman (for instance, Lucy Liu’s character in Ally McBeal or the recent NAATA homage to Anna May Wong). What was once malingering representation is now shiny consumer products on the racks of Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch. In the tradition of Long Duck Dong from “Sixteen Candles,” the William Hung minstrel show is but the latest re-enactment of the desexualized oriental coolie for the public’s mocking entertainment . And in the oeuvre of Asian American women’s literature, it has become the norm for Asian women writers to enact emasculating images that degrade, desexualize, demonize and dehumanize Asian men. While I am critical of sexism, I do not believe the solution is to degrade men. This does injustice to my beloved Vietnamese grandfathers, fathers, brothers, significant other, nephews, and yes to my future daughters & sons. This doesn't promote us as women and gets us nowhere as a community.

How have our Asian communities (or granted, the middle-class, college-educated, second-plus generation sectors of the Asian communities) come to internalize these racialized and (de)sexualized images as acceptable representations of Asian people?

It behooves us as a community to recognize the larger racialization/stereotyping of Asian men as well as that of Asian women. I would expect a magazine that represents the lifestyle, culture and identity of Vietnamese Americans to have sensitivity to the racialization and sexualization of Asian women and men and to promote positive models of Asian femininity and masculinity (and everything in between).

4 may, 2004

Friday, June 29, 2007

lesons from the french

i read the news daily. sometimes depending on my daily workplan, my deadlines and my desire to procrastinate, i skim up to seven newspapers. granted, it's mostly articles about eclectic things that interest me in the world like the destruction of culture & the extended family resulting from the Nation-State and its impact on elephants (though, could a quote from Fanon have hurt you? seems to me he discussed this in his clinical study "Colonial War and Mental Disorders" in Wretched of the Earth 1963. does anyone even read anymore?)

and then i see headlines like this Christian Science Monitor article that rile me: "How to fight insurgents? Lessons from the French" about the pentagonia using the Battle of Algiers as offering counter-insurgency lessons for the US occupation of Iraq. though the author gently implies that the french lessons from Algeria is the imperative of political support both in the occupier & occupied countries, this misses the larger lesson in history of occupation & occupied people's will-to-power. you cannot talk about french counterinsurgency tactics in isolation from the revolutionary independence struggle in Algeria and in France's other occupied territory Việt Nam.

that some pentagonian thought that french tactics in Algeria hermetically sealed from historical context could be a blueprint for Iraq, tells me this fool's favorite french movie about Việt Nam is that revisionist colonial belle epoque white man's burden mission civilatrice sentimental la-vie-en-rose drivel, Indochine, written-by-the-losers French film about this beneviolent creole rubber plantation owner (uuubiquitously French Catherine Deneuve) who inherits (ludicrous) an ingrate Vinamese princess (Linh Dan Pham) who not only steals her adoptive mother's boytoy French mercenary soldier lover (preposterous) but also dares to join the liberation movement to overthrow the French colonizers. along the way, homegirl gives up her eurasian baby to said adoptive mother to raise in France where he assimilates and rejects his Vinamese mother in favor of Deneuve after the Geneva Accords (incredulous). heavy on the histerical revision, pathos and metaphor. magnaminous French Mother rejected by the recalcitrant Vinamese Daughter. savais?|get it? like its calorie-free fiction-History loaded with corn syrup, hydrogenated fat, and chock full of preservatives and rose-tinted carcinogenic dyes. unlike most french arthouse movies though, there is no incest (unless you consider the sharing of the boytoy incestuous, in which case, then it does like all other french films involve some measure of incest).

it's pathetic when people get their history from movies. fictionalized history supplants what actually happened with romantic half-truths and out right lies, what i like to call Fictory (or Colbert would call truthiness) in the vein of Forrest Gump. about the only thing the movie got right was the Marie Antoinette gilded bubble of privileged ignorance and excess decadence of the French occupiers with their opium and congaie|mistresses, dehumanization of Vinamese, the callous murders by the French and the just rage for overthrowing French colonizer butchers.

(and while i'm on this tip, by the way, the Nguyễn dynasty sold us out to the French in the first place in addition to invading and conquering Laos, Kampuchea, and Champa. Gia Long was a ignominous traitor who turned to French missionary Pigneau de Behaine after the peasants got done being slaves, revolted in Tây Sơn and overthrew the decadent corrupt exploitative complacent dynasty. as we all know what colonizers bring to civilize the heathen savages, just flip the Cross and you get the Sword. missionaries & religious righteousness have historically been the pretext for military invasion and genocide in the name of the lord from the crusades on. now like any literate/literary person worth her salt, i've read the bible several times and i can't seem to find the commandment, parable, psalm, beatitude etc where god or jesus-the-prince-of-peace says "thou shalt kill in my name. blessed are the christians for they will dominate the earth. god hath given free will except for savages and heathens who art particularly dispensable when interfering with the machinations of capitalism. convert or die. peace." so, predictably, the imperial republic of France (liberté-egalité-fraternité!) invaded in 1858 to protect the catholics, persecute the buddhists, enlighten the savages with democracy, set up occupation shop for a couple hundred years, oh and turn a tidy profit in the process. religious righteousness & democracy are such convenient ideologies to rationalize invasion, domination, oppression, and exploitation. So all you Huế-imperial-superiority people can suck my little pinky toe. as my mama says lưỡi không xương|mealy mouthed fantacists. the last 150 years of Western violence in VN is your royal contribution to Vinamese history. thanks.)

Here's some fun life-under-the-french trivia for you:*
  • Rubber plantations were nicknamed nơi tàn sát|slaughterhouses because of their enslavement trickery of luring folks in with promises of wages and then starving, brutalizing , torturing and killing them in the process of extracting latex for Michelin among others. the Michelin man is morbidly bloated with depraved profit cannibalistically drained from the masticated marrow and blood of innocents. the only way to escape the rubber plantations was DEATH. or as it turns out, REBELLION--or what in today's doublethink parlance is dubbed "terror!sm" or "!nsurgency".
  • In the plantations, pregnant women--who had been raped & impregnated by the french overseers and owners--were ordered to dig a hole in the ground for their bellies before they were beaten for asking to use the bathroom. torture tactics borrowed from american slaveowners. in a sick parallel irony to today's article, the au courant news article in France at that time would have read "Comment pacifiions des coolies? Les leçons des américains|How to pacify coolies? Lessons from the Americans"
  • There was an excrutiating French tax on salt and alcohol to fatten the colonial coffers further. now you may dismiss this as no particular hardship after all, don't we pay an extra five cent "tax" on every bottle or aluminum can we buy (and recently plastic bags). so in the spirit of the Food Stamps Challenge take the seven day Colonizer Salt Challenge: go do some manual labor. alot of it. from dawn to dusk. then make your meal from thin rice gruel and jungle weeds and don't use any salt. not a drop of nước mắm to be had, nor soy sauce. not even the condensated saltine sweat from your own brow. then you'll understand what kind of suffering this is and why there are folksongs about the hardship of the salt tax. and on the upside, you'll lose some weight though you might have a heart attack in the process. there's a reason why gatorade is made with salt yo. salt is the foundation of civilization.
  • now the alcohol tax was different. it was a gavage alcohol quota. each village was obligated to purchase alcohol and consume it or be punished with conscription in the coolie corps (those railroads & french colonial architecture got built somehow) or menfolk forced into the colonizer army or face imprisonment (aka the School of the Revolution). i guess the french were hoping to create a society of pacified alcoholics rather than belligerent drunks. lucky for vinamese people, our beer is weaker than Utahian beer. but our rượu đá|rice wine will burn a hole through your liver. in Eastern medicine, the liver is the seat of anger, so if your liver is looking like pâté de foie gras your concern is more likely to be your bequest than rebellion.
  • Untold numbers of Vietnamese die under the beneviolent colonist regime (they didnt bother to count how many savages & heathens they threw in the mass graves). 2 million died of famine under the beneviolent Japanese (so much for "Asia for the Asians"). 1 million wounded, ½ million died resisting the beneviolent French back for seconds. over 2 million died under the beneviolent Americans, the number of wounded is still rolling exponentially as leftover landmines and agent orange continue to deploy three decades later. 25,000 died fighting the Khmer Rouge. 10,000 died resisting the 1979 Chinese invasion. not to mention how many perished in the re-education camps and as refugees. 5 wars in the space of 130 years. the price of liberation and independence. (though it begins to make sense why civil society would unravel...)
Revising history doesn't change that Việt Nam, Algeria, and all the other feral natives invaded, conquered, occupied and colonized by France got tired of being it's socio-political experiment under the doublethink banner of liberté-egalité-fraternité while being slaves to fund France's corpulent prosperity. we freed ourselves of the white man's burden and yes it was by any means necessary. Điện Biên Phú suckas. twas the shot heard round the colonized world. with all its la sale guerre|dirty war counterinsurgency tactics (or in today's doublethink "bringing Freedom & Democracy to other people"), its Sûreté|Secret Police, its army of African & Southeast Asian colonized peoples and its army of professional euro legionnaire mercenaries, France lost. badly.

France lost in Việt Nam. France lost in Algeria. major military and moral/political losses. and so then, it gave up the Empire lest it hemorrhage to its own death. people under occupation and domination will never give up the struggle for liberation and independence no matter what the counter-!nsurgency tactics. that's the real lesson from France. the Western world would do well to remember that lest they be condemned to repeat it...

*oooh, Book Learning about the French in VN. don't just take my word for it.
  • Before the Revolution: Vietnamese Peasants under the French by Nguyen Vinh Long
  • Red Earth: A Vietnamese Memoir of Life on a Colonial Rubber Plantation by Tran Bu Binh

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

mapping genocide

Google earth is now mapping the genocide in's the Wired article

and here's the Darfur mapping website

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

vinamese booklist

i was asked recently to assemble a list of VN books for a young brother incarcerated and hungry for knowledge. so this is the partially annotated list i generated with the help of tuyen and loan who *actually* read the books during grad school. i am in awe of their big brains.

  • Gangster we are all looking for by Le thi Diem Thuy. fiction. refugee. plotless poignant vignettes kinda like House on Mango Street or Wild Bully Burgers
  • Before the Revolution: Vietnamese Peasants under the French by Nguyen Vinh Long b/c i hate the french and think all viet people should reconsider their francophilia. i never think of salt or tires the same way after reading this.
  • Watermark: Vietnamese American Prose & poetry edited by Monique Truong
  • Dream Shattered: Vietnamese gangs in America by Patrick Du Phuoc Long a counselor's social/cultural take on why kids join gangs
  • Even the women must fight: memories of war from north vietnam by Karen Turner
  • Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh (memoirs from a VC)
  • Novel Without A Name by ThuHuong Duong contemporary Vietnam writer, unromantic gritty look at war, got her censored
  • Diary of Dr. Dang Thuy Tram will be publish in English in 2007, the "Anne Frank" of Viet Nam, entire vietnamese text is here
out of print but really great anti-war writing from the 1970s. well worth it if you can find it.
  • We Promise One Another: Poems from an Asian War. 1971. comp. Jacqueline Chagnon & George Luce written by Vinamese folks from all sides during the war and translated into English by Chris Jenkins and chị Tuyết. her woodblock print on the dedication page is tattooed on my back.
  • Lotus in a Sea of Fire by Thich Nhat Hanh buddhist opposition to the war
  • Women and revolution in vietnam by Arlene Eisen
  • Women of vietnam by Arlene Eisen Bergman these two books are almost interchangeable.
  • Reflections from Captivity by Phan Bội Châu, Hồ Chí Minh, edited Tran Khanh Tuyet, Christopher Jenkins poetry from two famous anti-colonizer patriots
my disclaimer is that i havent read any of the below but they sound good:
  • From Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath edited by Philip Mahoney American & Vinamese i assume
  • Viet Nam: Borderless histories edited by Nhung Tuyet Tran prolly more academicky, non nation-state look at VN history, prolly inspired by the geo-body analysis of Thongchai Winichakul in Siam Mapped
  • Vietnam an illustrated history by Shelton Woods
  • Voices of Vietnamese Boat People oral historys
  • People's History of the Vietnam war by Jonathon Neale (Howard Zinn follower, member of ISO, typical white hippy Left take on VN war)
  • The Lotus Unleashed: The Buddhist Peace Movement in South Vietnam, 1964-1966 by Robert Topmiller looks at the nonaligned third force, buddhist self-immolation against VN war
  • Patriots: the Vietnam War remembered from all sides by Christian Appy
  • Radical origins of the Vietnamese revolution
  • Communist Road to Power in Vietnam
  • Four Hours in My Lai my lai massacre
  • Vietnamese women at war: fighting for Ho Chi Minh & the revolution by Sandra Taylor
  • A country, not a war: Vietnam impressions by Harold Turner, travel writing

Friday, March 9, 2007

recycled scribblings on Katrina

the nice thing about being self-published is that you can always plagiarize yourself with impunity.

December 2005

i mused on this as i flew homeward from volunteering in the Gulf Coast post-Hurricane Katrina.

i love flying at night. the clusters of lights like a galaxy, milky way, a whole universe twinkling in the inky black landscape. being with the community in New Orleans was so important to me, like coming home more so than even going to Viet Nam in some ways. that spiritual connection and well-being that i recognized as i was leaving nourishess my soul i hope for a very very long time to come. and like the constellations in the skies above, our kindred souls destinies--duyên chúng ta--are forever linked...

across the gulf (tentative title)

soaring through the infinite universe on silvery wings
Hằng Nga lim dim
reflecting on starlight galaxies of humanity below and
ancestors clustered in indigo heavens above.
true umbra depths where heaven and earth cleave
to bear divine witness to human oaths.
Trời Thẳm Đất Dày.
Trời Đất ơi.

luminescent di
myriad constellations...
what binds one to the other across the cosmos
what is written in the stars with gossamer and stardust
duyên hải duyên kiếp duyên nợ duyên cớ
immaterial webs of Destiny, Affinity, Imagination,
Desire, Intention, Definition, and Love.
the cosmic connection of Life in those moments.


here is something i wrote to Bao P. about the aftermath of Katrina just the other day.

how does one weigh human tragedy and measure one against the other? Katrina in NoLa was napalm and Katrina in Biloxi (and other parts of Mississippi) was nuclear. and as little as we hear about the vinamese in NoLa, we hear not even whispers about Biloxi and the rural areas.

es i genuinely sorrow for the viet community in Nola. the pulled-up-by-the-slipperstrap 3000sf suburban homes and once shiny status with suffering marked by floodlines and black mold. the trinity of fathers sheperding only their scattered flock (and one marmalade cat) for the third lifetime (1954, 1975, 2005) in the timeworn rituals of divine loving patriarchy and new mantles of social justice (for our people at least). and i can rejoice in how community survives again and again.

and i mourn for what remains in biloxi, the small cottages and thirdhand outfitted fleet of fisherfolk, obliterated. quan am in all her mercy could not shield them from the storm's wrath. the Sea delivered them to this country, and after 3 decades of providing sustenance, demanded its payment in human life. self-sufficient and meager lives give way to exploitative neon flashy casino jobs and cynicism. the temple crushed in the shadow of ancient pine. a grey monk, concussed and alone tends to all in need of help with ascetic laissez-faire. the monseigneur preaches god helps only those who help themselves and he for one is helping himself first above all. there is nothing there to mark the passage of time and suffering, there is only beached driftwood as far as the eye can see and the ants only rebuild far flashier casinos to take tithe from all. there, time stopped and life has not yet resumed. community scattered to the winds, up the mississippi river in search of low wage jobs without anchor nor oar.

katrina is the other face of the mother goddess, creation and destruction.