Monday, May 29, 2006

FILM: Water

Deepa Mehta's Water is a lushly visual and emotionally moving film. I was utterly transported to another time and place, and completely engaged in the story of people enmeshed in a cultural tradition I was not familiar with. The story is set in northern India in the late 1930's, in the Hindu holy city of Benares on the Ganges river. In the Hindu tradition, widows are among the lowest caste of society, practically ostracized and treated like lepers. The film follows the lives of a group of widows who live together in a cloister, withdrawn from the city most of the time, and with their heads shaved in ritual shame. The story unfolds through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl, Chuyia, who doesn't understand that she was married off to an old man who died just after the wedding, nor why her father leaves her at this cloister. As the girl gets to know the various other widows in the cloister, and slowly finds her place in her new life, she also makes her own unforgettable impression on life in the cloister. There are several great characters among the widows, including the fat bossy and manipulative Madhumati, the gentle old "Auntie", the devout Shakuntula, and the beautiful young Kalyani. As the movie progresses and the characters develop, we hear an occasional mention of Gandhi, who is fomenting independence from the British and societal changes, but he is a far-remote figure to these lives. In the meantime, the precocious and spirited Chuyia, along with a romantic and idealistic Brahmin named Narayan, set out to make their own changes. The story will tug at your heartstrings as well as spur your sense of injustice, but it is not manipulative. By spinning a story with well-developed characters, Mehta's film is truly engaging. And the visual imagery, from the boats and bathers in the pervasive river, to the countless candlelights, is breathtaking. A week later and images and thoughts from this film still linger in my mind.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Christian Examples and the Religion of Peace

This statement from Talgat Tadzhuddin, Russia's chief Muslim religious leader, concerning a planned Moscow gay pride parade, seems a bit hard to square with a "religion of peace":
"Under no circumstances should something like this [parade] be permitted. And if they come out into the streets anyway, they should only be beaten up. Any normal person would do that — Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike."
I'd like to think that this thug isn't entitled to speak for Christians (nor even for all Muslims), but with "Christian" examples like Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria advocating violence and the criminalization of even speaking favorably of homosexuality, it seems that Christians and Muslims both have some leaders who are thugs.

House of Hypocrisy

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner announced he would hold hearings next week on serious constitutional questions. Concern for the Constitution being trampled have united Republican and Democratic leadership in the House, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Mniority Leader Nancy Pelosi making a rare joint statement. "We need to protect our Constitution," [Hastert] said. "It's important that the people's records are protected."

Is it warrantless wiretapping that has the House so exercised? Or broad data-mining of domestic phone records? Nope. It's not the phone records of citizens that Hastert is concerned about, nor is it the administration's disregard for the Fourth Amendment's requirement for warrants where the Constitution-trampling is seen. So what, then, has caused such bipartisan bristling? That most heinous offense is the FBI's search of the Congressional offices of Rep. William Jefferson, a search performed with a warrant issued for probable cause. (The Congressman's offices were searched pursuant to a bribery investigation, after the FBI obtained videotape of the Congressman receiving $100,000 in cash, and found most of that cash hidden in a freezer in Jefferson's residence.)

This shameless invocation of the Constitution by the House leadership of both parties is disgusting. And in the wake of the Congressional blind eye turned to recent real Constitutional questions, Capitol Hill reeks with the stench of hypocrisy. If this is the kind of "protection" for our Constitution provided by our own Congress, the republic is in trouble.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May Day

At my staid old aerospace employer, there was no discernable impact from the big boycotts that were supposed to take place today, but I have to say that the impact on my commute was phenomenal. At 6:30pm, the shank of weekday rush hour, the freeways were less crowded than they normally are at 10:30pm. I got home in 25 minutes, where a more typical evening drive is 50 minutes. Obviously, a significant number of people here in Los Angeles were participating in the marches and/or boycotts.

I hope that Congress pulls itself together and passes some decent immigration reform. The Senate got close, although a good bipartisan attempt may have fallen apart due to partisan mistrust. I think everyone agrees that immigration should occur in a controlled fashion, so we know who is coming in and who is here. But some people just don't seem to get that we need to make legal immigration possible at levels that meet the real demand. Immigrants desperately want to come here, and we desperately need them to come. For the immigrants, the level of desperation is such that many currently take amazing risks and incur amazing costs to cross into our country illegally, sometimes paying "coyotes" many thousands of dollars to get them across, and sometimes dying in the desert in the attempt. With the depth and breadth of immigrant desperation to come here, we could no more seal off our borders than we could build a leak-proof roof that covered the entire nation. For our part, we need immigrants to come not only for labor (in agriculture, construction, and food service, to name a few industries highly dependent on low-cost immigrant labor), but for plain demographics. We need replacement population, which we natives are not sufficiently providing by reproduction, and the population that is here is living longer, and on average, getting older. We need the immigrant labor not only to help prop up Social Security (not that it can be saved, and not that it will ever get fixed), but to be here to take care of us when we're all in nursing homes. (Finding a native-born nurse in a nursing home is about as easy as finding a straight male hair stylist.)

I do share the concern that immigrants are properly assimilated. It's dangerous to leave immigrants alienated, as we can see from Europe's example. It is important for all of us that immigrants see themselves as Americans, and are accepted as Americans. Our country was founded on a set of ideals, rather than a particular people, so it is possible in this country more than any other for new immigrants to be grafted into American society. But the graft will only take hold if based on understanding and acceptance of common American ideals. Only if we bring immigrants "out of the shadows" can we make sure that they are appropriately educated.

Perhaps creative new ways can be developed to channel immigrants legally and more effectively into society. Here's one idea: if immigrants are willing to pay $10,000 to coyotes to take them on a risky illegal border crossing, surely they would prefer it if they could put that some money up as a bond to the US Government to obtain legal entry on an initially temporary basis, but renewable, and with a path to permanent citizenship if certain goals are met (e.g., learning English, taking Civics classes). The bond is forfeit if they get into criminal trouble, but perhaps part of it is refundable to them upon attaining citizenship. (Part goes to support the costs of the immigration system.)

In any event, I believe the future for all of us depends on making immigration possible and practical.