Life Imitates Farce

The military junta in Thailand arrested some youths for doing the “Hunger Games” salute outside a Bangkok theater during the film’s premiere.

The salute, which in the movies is a daring act of silent rebellion, began to appear here in the weeks after the May 22 coup. The authorities warned that anyone raising it in public could be subject to arrest.

A woman is arrested while doing the Hunger Games salute
Natchacha Kongudom, told reporters, “The three-finger sign is a sign to show that I am calling for my basic right to live my life.” Rungroj Yongrit/European Pressphoto Agency. Used without permission.

Talk about paranoia. The above image sort of looks like a group of friends going to see Mockingjay. But actually, the 3 women surrounding the protester are undercover cops. Who, apparently, were staking out the neighborhood cineplex.

The film was pulled from the theater. The kids were soon released from custody, but not before undergoing the kind of treatment which, in my day, my father often said I was in “serious” need:

Army officials later confirmed that the students were held for several hours for “attitude adjustment” and then released.


“The president should be ashamed it’s happening on his watch. Eric Holder should be ashamed… This governor should be ashamed… Every adult in this country should be ashamed that African-American children are being terrorized in the United States of America, [which] claims to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

-Pastor Michael McBride, of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, California, speaking in Ferguson, MO to I couldn’t agree more. The scene below is not one that belongs in America, or anywhere.

police dressed as soldiers, with automatic rifles, body armor and gas masks, aim their weapons at a black man
Ferguson, MO. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, used without permission

Rent Strike in Sunset Park

Housing is a Human Right
Tenants are withholding rent, demanding that electrical problems in the building be resolved, and the trash get picked up

I heard about this from an Occupy email asking people to show solidarity by coming to a 6pm daily “vigil”. It sounded like a great reason to hop on the bike and ride down 5th Avenue about 30 blocks to Sunset Park.

I arrived to find a half-dozen Latino tenants, nearly all of advanced middle age, standing out on the sidewalk. It was a bit awkward as I asked, “Is this the rent strike?” I looked well out of place, rolling up in a mint-green lady beach cruiser, a gleaming white, brand new helmet atop my head. But I persisted, and a young lady who I learned later was not a tenant, but a fellow supporter, confirmed that I had found the right place. She was kind enough to fill me in on some of the back story while the other ladies conversed in Spanish. A man resembling a steam locomotive stood nearby, wielding a large plumber’s wrench with unknown intent.

The building loses electricity all the time, according to the tenants. They might have outages 30 times a day. They have a fuse box in the basement that is overheated and exposed. Apparently the super’s solution to this crackling, sparking fuse box was to point a fan at it. The landlord, Orazio Petito, is on the public advocate’s Worst Landlords list. In response, many of the tenants have stopped paying rent – some for a few months, some for over a year.

CBS Local reported on the story:

Notice the last line of the report: “The tenants say they’re going to save up their withheld rent money, and make the repairs themselves if they have to.”

That reminded me of a line Chomsky often repeats about sit-down strikes really putting fear into the owning class: “That’s just one step away from workers running the factory themselves.” As in, why do these people need a slumlord like Petito when they can just band together and administer the building themselves?

The best story I’ve found on it is by Laura Gottesdiener in the Indypendent. Read the whole thing to hear the story of these amazing women, but here’s a choice bit about the value of these actions:

The campaign’s bold words and actions have inspired community members not only to stand up for their rights as tenants, but also to reconsider social and political marginalization itself. About 80 percent of the neighborhood’s residents live below the poverty line, and the majority speak either Spanish or Mandarin as a first language. But in a society where immigrant women who speak little English are often bullied, intimidated or ignored, these women are loud, assertive and highly public about their right to live with dignity. And they are teaching others to push back as well.

Mayor of Hoboken Arrested

Peter Cammarano arrested

Oops! Just 23 days into his term, 31-year-old Peter Cammarano was arrested by the FBI as part of a long investigation into money-laundering and corruption in New Jersey and New York. Apparently, when he wasn’t posing with his wife and toddler daughter for campaign posters, Cammarano was meeting with a Hudson County official and a real estate developer, picking up envelopes stuffed with cash – five grand at a time, five times. The meetings took place at the Malibu Diner on 14th St, which is hands-down the worst diner I’ve ever been too, and I love diners. The place is a disgrace to the culinary traditions of New Jersey, and hopefully this bit of free press is not going to increase their business…

…but I digress. Continue reading Mayor of Hoboken Arrested

The New President

Obama on the cover of Southern Dailymebeli
Obama on the cover of Southern Daily

Back on Election Night, Xianyi and I ventured out to Times Square, and then to Rockefeller Center. The latter was pretty crowded, so we ditched out. But then five minutes later we got a call from China asking us what Rockefeller Center was like: Nate’s mom had spied us on TV and called him in Shanghai. Pretty funny. There had been all sorts of decked out preparation for the election in the public squares that night, so I figured when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of These United States, they’d have a similar effort for the occasion. As it turns out, not quite.

My company was telling people they could gather in the conference room to watch the swearing in and the speech on television, but I wanted to share it all with Xianyi, who has been kind of getting into the whole democracy thing since she’s been here (she’s come at a pretty good time: we arrived in America in August 2007; the Presidential race was just starting to dominate the news). So I told her to come into the city at 11:30 and I ditched out like I was going to lunch.

We met up right by the police station in Times Square, and soon found a little real estate on the island in front of the ABC studios. There was a crowd, but it wasn’t crowded; about fifteen minutes later it was busier, but still nothing like we were seeing on TV on the Mall – literally a sea people. It was stirring to see those spaces so full, when I’ve seen them so many times empty and peaceful and ordinary. Seeing the National Mall really as the front yard of the country, and everybody out there, was invigorating.

Unfortunately, we were only seeing it, not hearing it. There was no sound. Whereas in November, ABC had piped its audio feed into Times Square to accompany the broadcast, on Inauguration Day all was silent. And it was quite strange. We were watching Diane Feinstein speak, but not hearing; we were watching Aretha sing, but not hearing! That was it. After 15 minutes of wondering when they were going to turn it on, seeing Aretha sing in silence made me snap. “Let’s get out of here, now,” I said, and Xianyi and I wormed our way through the baffled crowd.

But now what? We had to find a bar fast – there was the little “Brooklyn Diner” (great name – in Times Square?) so we ducked in. “Two?” asked the maitre’d – and my reply was “Yes – actually if we could just get a view of the TV at the bar…” and he shrugged us off. His demeanor was flaccid. There were already 30 people at the small bar, but almost every table was empty. Well, shove off – we came to see the President. To his credit, his attitude changed after several more groups did the same thing we did. His face changed, as if to say, well, it’s only 20 minutes every four years, and this one is pretty special…

Having secured our spot behind the occupied stools at the bar, I tried to get an order in edgewise – the barback was overwhelmed for the moment and ignoring everyone. So I gave up. We watched the botched swearing-in. And then the speech. In the middle of it, Xianyi went and ordered us two glasses of wine, and we toasted Obama. People cheered at several moments. The speech was not memorable, but it struck very professional, serious tones – I thought it was a good speech. I was happy to see Obama taking over, taking power, assuming the mantle. I felt sorry – but not that sorry – to see Bush taken away, removed. Change is good, and this country does it better than anybody.

After it was over – the speech, that is, not the ceremony (the bar cleared out during the poetry reading, just like the National Mall) – we went to Sichuan Gourmet for lunch. It’s the best Sichuan place in the city, according to Xianyi, who ought to know. When lunch was through, I had to go back to work, and she went home to enjoy the rest of her last day of Winter Break. Sascha happened to call me at that exact moment, to go over the ceremony, share in the joy and whatnot, and I regaled him with some of the TV I’d watched the night before. Because I’m a huge dork, I actually tape Meet the Press every week, and I was catching up. The guests assembled were talking about the economic stimulus bill before Congress, which they often referred to as “the package.” As in, “The question is not the size of Obama’s package, but the degree to which it will stimulate the economy.” Or, “Barack Obama’s package is built to grow.” I mean, really – what were they thinking? Good Lord, they make it too easy sometimes.

Later that night, I came home, Xianyi was watching the parade on TV. Obama’s daughters looked bored at the sight of yet another marching band. Xianyi decided she wasn’t up for cooking, and so we settled on taking a walk through Hoboken and choosing a restaurant at random. We thought about Thai food, and went to a place up the street that happens to be closed on Tuesdays – no luck. So we walked on, in the cold, dry air. People were shuffling to and fro; the night was clear. “Bangkok!” Xianyi said, and led me toward a garish neon light heralding a differnt Thai place. We walked in.

I’m not sure why, but every restaurant in Hoboken has a television in it. Whether it’s full every night or empty, there is at least one TV blaring away in every single eatery on Washington St. Bangkok City is no exception. We sat down, the only customers, and tried to ignore the informercials the owner was immersed in. I thought we had gone for takeout, but I guess Xianyi had other ideas. I tried to talk to her, but between the TV and being the only customers in the place, it was awkward. I cursed the TV, and cursed Hoboken, for having such an infantile restaurant industry. I thought of Jarrett, with his sophisticated ideas of food and the dining experience, and I thought of how he would laugh at Hoboken’s terrible restaurants. But then the news came on.

There was Obama, again, giving the same lines I had heard live at lunchtime. We both watched again, engrossed again. Some other people started coming into the place, filling out its empty corners and breathing life into the room. Everyone watched Obama; no one spoke. I thought to myself, this is the day that the first black president was sworn into the White House. Wow, what a trip. I tried to let that sink in for the rest of the meal.