Newtonian physics… described a universe in which everything happened precisely according to  law, a compact, tightly organized universe in which the whole future depends strictly upon the whole past. Such a picture can never be either fully justified or fully rejected experimentally and belongs in large measure to a conception of the world which is supplementary to experiment but in some ways more universal than anything that can be experimentally verified. We can never test by our imperfect experiments whether one set of physical laws or another can be verified down to the last decimal.

– Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society

Masked Faces by Shurooq Amin, Kuwait

Shurooq Amin is a Kuwaiti artistpoet, and professor at Kuwait University. In two recent art exhibitions, “It’s a Man’s World” and “Society Girls,” Amin has explored themes of gender, identity, duality, religion, and hypocrisy in Middle Eastern and Arab societies.  Her colorful mixed-media tableaux depict Kuwaitis in trendy clothes lounging, smoking hookah, and playing cards, their faces all eerily erased.

Common scene.

Huma Abedin forgives, again.

To credit of feminism, increasing number of women are not subjecting themselves to the misbehaviors of their significant other. Huma Abedin forgiving her husband yet again for his lewd behavior is a step backwards in this progress.

In a diverse country like the US, you are always looking for a figure to relate to. When I first heard about her few years ago, she was a bit of a breath of fresh air – she was a young Mulism South Asian American engaged in American politics. For a Muslim South Asian American woman like myself also studying public affairs, it was hard to not be impressed. In a response to the scandal second time around, she wrote, “Quite simply, I love my husband, I love my city, and I believe in what he wants to do for the people of New York.” The thing is, it is not that simple, and labeling this entire episode as simple is also just offensive to women.

Why should we have to forgive? Why does she feel the pressure to forgive and stand by the side of a supposed life partner till death do them apart who has little to no respect for the embarrassing position that he has permanently placed on his family? Why do the wives of prominent political figures have to play that role of standing on the side as he apologizes and she too apologizes and keeps smiling on few weeks later and show that life has moved on?

I am not thrilled to see Abedin be supportive of her husband Anthony Weiner after reports of his sexting came about (again). It is the same story that led him to resign from Congress in 2011 when in his speech he had promised that this would never, ever happen again. The first time around, Huma said she wanted to forgive for the sake of their child. I am baffled with public figures that seem to be oblivious to Google and Twitter and how easy it will be for that child to learn about the world.

Flash forward to the current mayoral race in NYC and here we are, again, this time with another graphic photo of him appearing online. Likewise, the woman with whom he had these sexting episodes did not take too much time to go ahead and talk about it with the media, with a bit of a smirk. Basic Google search reveals the texts which themselves shows how disrespectful he is himself towards women.

Going back to Abedin, let us also not blame this on her “Muslimness” or her upbringing in Saudi Arabia. Suggesting such a thing, like Maureen Dowd’s Sunday New York Times column is absurd and also offensive. Finding an angle to pick on Islam might seem pretty easy but let us not get to such a low level during this phase of American politics.

Getting back to the point– what we see is that Weiner is, well, human, making human mistakes that we normal people deal with from time to time. However, he is a political figure burdened which certain responsibilities to the public that he knowingly accepted. He chose this path so I have little sympathy for a man who knows his world and yet makes a mistake of makings his acts so public on the internet- a mistake your basic average American can avoid. In addition, the entitlement that he seems to feel for his position masked him to the risks of exposure- afterall, he is powerful so he should be able to get away with anything, right? It certainly seems so since he is not losing his wife and people seemed to completely disregard the power of making public promises to behave and its implications two years later. He even sounded bored when he addressed the press after the exposure this week.

An email from Dhaka

I cannot help but ask the question, which has been hanging in the air or the spaces, which I have traveled in these past few years. When does a place really belong to you? If the idea of a home is so fluid, then why do we constantly seek it out and need to build a space for it. Time away from the familiar always gives opportunities for thought, and perhaps lot of chances for thinking things over.


Prabhat Gautam,


This is an excerpt from an email he sent from Nepal, where he is visiting his family after spending the summer in Dhaka, Bangladesh

BART Strike, not cute at all.

The Bay Area Council, a public policy organization that advocates for business in the nine-county region, estimated the economic cost of the strike at $73 million each day in lost worker productivity

Currently, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)— which is the nation’s fifth largest, used by more than 400,000 riders daily — and their workers are on a strike because their unions could not come to an agreement with management on a salary and other regulations. BART workers are demanding better safety measures and increased salary: 23% over four to five years. They have not had a raise in five years. Currently, the average salary ranges from $63,000 to over $70,000 per year for BART workers. Interesting note: it has been surprisingly hard to get an exact figure on salaries, or demands, or what the unions involved is actually saying, which in itself is deterring. This is the first strike since 1997.

In the meantime, as someone living in Berkeley and having to cross a large body of water to get to work in the city, this is highly inconvenient. It is a nuance for the hundreds of thousands who take the BART, and for others whose commute via buses, ferries, and cars are interrupted. Yesterday, I took the AC Transit bus, which filled up quickly in Berkeley and no stops were made thereafter because it was packed (the conductor was not happy being flicked off by people on the stops). Today, I took the Casual Carpool route, in which you basically go to designated areas to wait for a car to pull up and take you to work. Yes, I relied on a random person to take me downtown, as did hundreds of desperate workers, interns, etc. around East Bay who are thinking more about getting to work than how they will eventually return.

In looking for articles that shed some light into the strikes from the perspective of BART workers, it is clear that unions are not getting much sympathy. Allison Kilkenny for The Nation wrote that media was being unfair in depicting unions as greedy. Comments from readers begged to differ. One “Honorius” wrote: “You’re not going to convince any of us that 63,000 is a bad salary.  Besides, BART workers can earn overtime and get other benefits.  Some of them pull in 150+k per year and they don’t even drive the trains!  All of the trains are computer driven, the BART operators just sit there and make money…

In response to an LA Times article, one reader wrote: “Fire all of them, just like Reagan did to the air traffic controllers. Plenty of HS grads looking for work that pays $150K per year to do a job that pays minimum wage in the real world….

The inconvenience faced by the general public makes it difficult to garner any support for BART strikers, especially when numbers are hard to figure out. When you do get numbers like the following, it is not very easy to be a commuter trying to go to work and feel bad for other workers on strike:

They’re already the top-paid transit system employees in the region and among the best in the nation. They have free pensions, health care coverage for the entire family for just $92 a month and the same sweet medical insurance deal when they retire after just five years on the job.


They work only 37½ hours a week. They can call in sick during the workweek and then volunteer for overtime shifts on their days off. The rules exacerbate out-of-control overtime that in 2012 added an average 19 percent to base pay for station agents and 33 percent for train operators.

The Negotiations class that I took at Cornell in the fall basically told be that there are a lot of bad negotiations going around in general. It gets especially difficult when you are discussing the public sector and unions are involved. This difficulty has historically been the case in the United States, in which union involvement always garners sticky situations. Strikes are the last thing that any involved parties should want; here, it is clear that the strike is not helping the BART unions at all in terms of public image.

Given how difficult it has been for people to make alternative arrangements and that ridership on BART is expected to grow exponentially in the next decade, even as an outsider, I have to comment that a major upgrading needs to be done on this city’s public transportation.

Going back to sketching

When I was in middle school, a friend of my parents gave me a sketchbook for a birthday I can’t remember. That sketchbook is in my house back in Arizona somewhere. The pages are full of pencil sketches that shows a time when I didn’t think too much about anything. There was school, homework, some free time, sleep, on repeat. The pages are mainly lots of fashion sketches, to doodles and swirls and hennah designs to magazine cutouts of things that amused me. College happened and work happened and it’s been a while, to say the least. I went onto photography to posting about other artists that I found inspirational and kept thinking about how I should/will eventually go back to doing some of my own.

There was a stint in Bangladesh when out of desperation (and in an attempt to get my mental sanity back) I just took a CNG and went to New Market one day and bought bunch of canvas and oil paint.  I didn’t even bother bargaining and asserting my look-at-me-try-to-be-native-ness. I transformed one of the patios in my parents’ empty flat in Shymoli and painted away not thinking much. I eventually had to discard that patio because again, life happened- getting ready for grad school, going to social events, wrapping up my time. I just left my supplies there and have no idea how much dust has gathered around my paintings. (There was one painting, oil on canvas, of a deconstructed American flag, with just one diagonal white stripe. I painted this to spite my then-someone who was annoyed at me for missing home so much. It happens.)

I don’t know what it is about San Francisco that made me look up art supplies and make the walk today to Flax in SoMa. I was feeling the same kind of unnecessary loneliness/desperation I did in Dhaka over a year ago, but also the need to get back to something that used to make me happy. When I entered the store, I was reminded back not of Arizona but Japan, when I was, for some reason, obsessed with stationary supplies and gel pens.

The high ceiling warehouse-esque art supply store was full of all types of paper and pen and amazing craft supplies. Everything smelled clean and new, waiting to be used. I left the place with just one, simply 5×8 black bound sketchbook.

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The founder, Herman Flax moved out west during the Great Depression from New Jersey and opened this magical place in downtown SF in 1938. His brother became involved and Sam Flax opened the now art-supply chain.

The New York Times said it best:

From their glass-counter fiefs, Flax’s staff oversees a Willie Wonka factory of paper, ink and innovation. The large paper room of custom-made steel flat files holds about 9,000 varieties, ranging from pressed sheets with “floral inclusions” … to a Japanese silk-screened printed paper, or washi, at more than $20 a sheet.

I love this city.

I will post some sketches soon.

Flax Art and Design, 1699 Market Street, San Francisco; (415) 552-2355

Repost: ‘The Mindy Project’s’ Rishi And The Call For More PoCs In Charge

I found this piece written by Crystal Xia, found on The Aerogram.

Mindy Kaling’s show, “The Mindy Project,” wrapped up its first season last Tuesday. In its first year, the show picked up critical attention and found an audience. More importantly, the show found confidence and its voice, and it developed characters and relationships true to Kaling’s signature comedic style. While the majority of the main cast is white, the show cast Utkarsh Ambudkar to play Rishi, Mindy’s little brother, for a couple of episodes in the first season.

Rishi is a hilarious, complex, and multifaceted character, a strong role for an Indian American male. He can be considered “The Mindy Project’s” take on the emerging stereotype of an Indian American “faux-gangster” male. Although he is studying science at Stanford University, Rishi is more interested in moving to New York City and becoming a rapper. Interestingly enough, Rishi isn’t just a “typical American kid trying to make it in a creative field,” a trap that many writers who want to normalize the minority experience fall into. He’s actually cool. Instead of being another corny wannabe, Rishi is a great rapper who can command a room, be it a break room full of Mindy’s coworkers or a “Battle of the Rappers.”

“The Mindy Project” does a great job of making Rishi more than his ethnicity without ignoring it. Jokes about Indian Americans have punch lines that make mainstream society and its misunderstanding of minorities the butt of the joke, not the minority Indian Americans. For example, Rishi manages to convince Mindy’s building manager to let him into Mindy’s apartment because “a well-spoken Indian can get into anywhere he wants.” This is a play on the idea that Asian Americans are stereotypical “model minorities.”

Contrast Rishi with previous attempts to portray this new stereotype like Ambudkar’s role in “Pitch Perfect” or the Kevin G character in “Mean Girls” and it’s easy to see that Kaling’s Rishi represents the most responsible, complex, and accurate approach to depicting an Indian American male. Previous iterations of the stereotype reduced these characters to bit parts that functioned as cheap, tired, and one-dimensional comic relief. “Mean Girls’” Kevin G was sex crazy, yet inept and nerdy. “Pitch Perfect’s” Donald was better, but mostly just shows up to rap and play sidekick to Adam DeVine’s Bumper. One can argue that both “Pitch Perfect” and “Mean Girls” are just lighthearted fun, but their minority characters end up serving the journeys of their white, main character counterparts. Furthermore, “The Mindy Project” clearly demonstrates that it’s possible to be fair to minorities without sacrificing the laughs.

“The Mindy Project” highlights the need for giving minorities the opportunity to create art for a broader audience. When minorities are placed in leadership roles, more multi-faceted minorities of all types emerge on-screen as well. As a black woman,Shonda Rhimes successfully made the “Grey’s Anatomy” cast diverse without sacrificing quality. When minorities create media, they pay more attention to giving nuanced portrayals of people of color. Though the episode “Mindy’s Brother” was written by Chris McKenna, a white male, Mindy Kaling’s presence and influence is obvious. With an Indian American woman in charge and in the lead role, it becomes much more difficult to reduce her character and the role of her brother to stereotypes.This is especially important in the realm of television sitcoms and comedy. Tired and overplayed racial stereotype jokes have been a constant presence for too long with “Mean Girls” and “Pitch Perfect” only minor examples in a long lineage.

Sitcoms have a long history of portraying Indians, Indian Americans, and Asian Americans as background characters that are used to further the experience of the mostly white main characters. Anyone remember “Outsourced“? Kaling has stated that she does not think of her work in political terms and that talented writers can write for anyone. However, it’s hard to look at characters like Rishi and deny that the backgrounds of writers shape their scripts.Recently, it was announced that Xosha Roquemore, a black actress, will be joining the cast in the second season as a series regular. The news demonstrates a commitment by the show to have a truly diverse cast. While her role in the first season was limited, “The Mindy Project’s” track record is a reassurance to viewers that Roquemore’s Tamara will be further developed and treated with a certain level of respect.As this primetime television season wraps up and pilot season hits its stride, television networks have already started announcing series renewals and new series pickups. “The Mindy Project” has already been picked up for a second season.

For both current shows and possible new shows, it is absolutely imperative that television executives not only pay attention to ratings and the strength of ideas but also look to the people in charge. The new slate of freshmen series looks somewhat promising; ABC Family, for example, has green lit “The Fosters,” which is being produced by Jennifer Lopez and tells the story of a bi-racial lesbian couple. Minorities need visibility on screen, but they also need autonomy behind the camera. Only with more minorities in charge of writing rooms can minorities really achieve true visibility — flaws, strengths, and all.


20 somethings. After Watching Frances Ha

I watched Frances Ha yesterday in Berkeley, in one of those hipster cinemas with incredibly nice black reclining seats, which is fitting for a very hipster indie film (done in black and white with all the hipster clothing and glasses and artsy things, of course). As my close people know, I have issues with hipsterism and the irony of no irony. This is not about hipsters however, but more about how I really liked this movie. So much so that I am writing about it (and I never, ever review movies) and I want to watch it again (and I never, ever watch things by myself). Actually, this is not a movie review. Googling “Frances Ha” will show enough links to that (for example, here is one in the Washington Post and more here and here). 


Frances Ha is basically like watching three episodes of Girls back to back. 20-something year old struggling women in the city with a degree they can’t sell and with sexual escapades made totally normal. They have witty lines that are not actually witty but things that we say all the time and the movie/series show us how silly/sad/funny/real “it all is”. They note the spiked nature of these liberal arts too-smart too-naive too-iwanttobedifferent types who have real problems: no money and too much pride to ask the parents, ignoring privileged backgrounds, and trying really hard to be Something.

Frances is a dancer with no apartment in New York who is totally lovable and totally awkward, but not disillusioned (I was squirming during the dinner scene because I just felt so bad for her). She has her quirks and is completely unaware of how she comes off to the normal public, with her franticness, her stresses about making rent, her complete, platonic and real love for her best friend. She reminded me of how much I hate it when someone tells me to not be loud, especially by men.

The dirty secret is that secretly none of this bothers her as much as she thinks it should, and her perpetual discomfort has more to do with the embarrassment of not being as shamelessly ambitious as her peers. Like all of Baumbach’s protagonists, Frances is stuck in a post adolescent twilight, reluctant to move onward and upward, but unlike those other sourpusses, she isn’t bitter; she just is, and when she finally gives herself permission to be weird, and happy and free, then inspiration flows like champagne, just as bubbly as she is.

I was/am/can be frantic and hyper. I have calmed down a lot from before, mainly as a result of being told to do so. At a time when I am supposed to feel more and more like I should be myself, and be a liberated woman owning her agency, in the last few years I have had to “tame” myself to be more proper. It is only with some of my college friends that to this day, I feel the most comfortable making noises, saying inappropriate things, and being, loud. I don’t wish I was like Frances, with her free-spirited, completely unconscious behavior (thus making her “undatable” as repeated in the movie). You wish that you didn’t feel the need to not be like her. I do not believe that women can actually, in reality, be so free-spirited. This is why we watch these shows and movies, to be reminded and only reminded. Entertainment.

Frances Ha also notes the love story of friendships, and the painful feeling of when you lose friends, when that feels like a part of yourself is lost. We undermine the pain of losing friends, since the separation is not a clear cut breakup but just happens. It is simply put, heartbreaking, because you are still connected as a result of not talking about it, and you will do anything to keep that connection, still. You admit that it is a terrible situation but you do not get bogged down on it, and you figure it out..or rather, let this new thing be normal. This might also be one of the meanings of growing up. I would not know. Oddly endearing.


Now, I want a leather jacket and I want to take a whimsical trip to Paris with my new credit card being fully aware that it will put me in debt.

Memorial Day ’13: Noted

Just a few articles for those who are not celebrating the mark of summer/ outdoors BBQ/ being patriotic might browse through today, in honor of Memorial Day (articles are meant to incite reaction, only):

Honoring Muslim American Veterans on Memorial Day, By Craig Considine, Ph.D. candidate, Trinity College Dublin, Huffington Post

Under George Washington, several Muslim Americans served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Bampett Muhammad, for example, fought for the “Virginia Line” between 1775 and 1783. History also denotes a man named Yusuf Ben Ali, referred to by his slave name Joseph Benhaley. Ben Ali was descended from North African Arabs and served as an aide to General Thomas Sumter in South Carolina.

The presence of these Muslim Americans in several of Washington’s most defining moments suggests that Washington cared little for the religious makeup of his army and cared more for their devotion to freedom and independence.

Americans and Their Military, Drifting Apart, By Karl W. Eikenberry and David M. Kennedy, New York Times

…these developments present a disturbingly novel spectacle: a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension. Technology and popular culture have intersected to perverse effect. While Vietnam brought home the wrenching realities of war via television, today’s wars make extensive use of computers and robots, giving some civilians the decidedly false impression that the grind and horror of combat are things of the past.

Military muscling: With the civil war long over, the armed forces are busy with beauty salons,” The Economist

The army’s grip is spreading across Sri Lankan society. Activists talk of a general effort to promote military culture among the young, especially among the ethnic Sinhalese majority… Skeptics say all this kind of stuff should be curbed. In the north and east, where the Tamil minority bore the brunt of war, the presence of military men breeds worry. No good reason exists for them to breed crocodiles, run school seminars, conduct whale-watching tours, or operate nurseries. The government retorts that it is better to use servicemen and -women for development than demob them. Their cheap labour, it argues, saved the country 1.5 billion rupees ($12m) last year.


Graffiti in Egypt / Women on Wall


Graffiti culture is an urban, male-dominant sphere. Most popular graffiti work has been associated with New York City, where from the 1970s, youth-dominant “hip-hop graffiti” emerged as a means of “ghetto expression” of urban culture (and urban decay). Graffiti continues to be a means of “doing art” with explicit knowledge of its legal precautions, a.k.a. it’s now allowed. That is probably what makes graffiti a popular form of expression– you are not supposed to spray paint public and private properties with images that denounces social norms, or things we are uncomfortable about.

It is not wonder that some of the best graffiti art work has been associated with revolutions (e.g. Berlin Wall).

With the uprisings that continue to take place in North Africa and the Middle East, the graffiti scene has been of particular interest to me because 1) they are quite beautiful and 2) a lof of them are being taken up by young women. I first observed the work online more from an artistic point of view; I have always been fascinated by female artists from the Arab region because inevitably, politics and their ownership of their bodies are always tried to it. Here, it is without saying that the graffiti work by Egypt’s young female artists are, is, and will be political.

Mostly, what draws my attention to Cairo and Alexandria is the fact that these are young women expressing their work in a male dominant sphere, challenging the notion of femininity and what it means to be a woman in society, at large.

Graffiti has always been a male dominant area. New York City’s subway stations carry some of the best work, most, if not all, completed by young men. It is without saying that even in America, men are the artists who get to carry the spray pain and dictate what goes on those abandoned walls. It is not a East-West, North-South thing.


Egypt, like many of its neighbors, is a region where female expression has been indirectly silenced. Of course, women have been a big part of the revolution. Their voices continue to matter and they are not being directly silenced (as they are in the Gulf regions, for example). In an area that has historically and repeatedly limited the development of female expression, combined with a very strong patriarchal culture embedded along all social lines, the work of anonymous female Egyptian artists in Cairo’s walls are invaluable.

It’s public. It’s contemporary. It’s words/things we still don’t like to throw around. It’s maybe even a way for Egyptian women to take agency of their bodies and their place in heated politics. It’s political.

Please check out Women on Wall, an artistic campaign and collaboration  that took place in Luxor, Mansoura, Cairo and Alexandria to use graffiti art to express the female agency and empowerment. (

It is obvious that I have been a bit MIA in terms of updating this blog and allowing myself to address pertinent issues of our recent times (which there have been many). I do not want to make excuses but here it goes: graduate school. I have just completed my first semester at Cornell and it has been a ride, emotionally and physically. First of all let me say that I love(d) it. I loved being back in academic, forcing myself to understand complicated texts, analyze briefs, meet deadlines, and create presentations. I loved taking on new subjects (accounting? corporate law?) and at the end, doing well in the courses. I liked seeing the rewards of my hard work that only academia does in a certain way that nothing else can. Graduate school has been the best decision for me at this time.

Being at Cornell after spending a good chunk of time abroad has also given me a new kind of culture shock that I did not face in Arizona over the summer. It is hard to explain and put a finger on it, but I hope to soon, one day. I also had to struggle with some life changes over the past four months that required a lot of energy and personal evaluation– a kind I have never had before and one I am still struggling with. You know how people say that you “grow” in new situations? I hope that whatever I am going through, is indeed, growth.

Some of the obvious ambiguity aside, I hope that I can continue to contribute my thoughts here and use it as a venue to express myself.