Better Local Governance: Electing vs. Assigning

Much of the US was a structural shock to my system. When I first heard that such key offices as Commissioner of Police and district attorney was elected rather then appointed from a national, rotating pool, for example, I was aghast.
Popular punditry often conflates democracy with the mechanism of elections, but elections today are the epitome of a rigged game, favouring only those with the connections, funds, and social identities most accommodative of popular prejudice. Consider the USA, for instance. A country predicted to soon become – amongst much media headlining – not predominantly white, has not had two black senators serving simultaneously in their version of the parliament. Politics by colour of class might seem regressive on the surface, but the continuing structural violence against groups incapable of sponsoring enough elected members to the House is for all to see.
In the wake of the police brutality at Jadavpur University, though, I have had to reconsidered my deeply rooted colonial stance. On the one hand, it seems generally sensible to select and train officer-level police personnel (that is, those who bear arms and make the decisions) at a national academy, than to accept any average eighteen-year old who hasn’t ever left his home town, and present him with the privileges of uniform.

On the other hand, however, there are such civil positions as deans and chancellors and registrars of universities. These fine women and men used to be elected to office from a group of their peers, and in many places perhaps still are. This ensured two things:

  1. The person entering office has spent enough time within her new domain of authority to be familiar with its workings and its idiosyncrasies
  2. And s/he has earned the respect and confidence of his/her peers to be elected to be the the boss of them.
The two combined is likely to encourage a situation of greater campus democracy, instead of the detached show of might we’ve witnessed. An administrator with an organic connect can help avoid a great deal of avoidable trouble to students, faculty, university productivity, and the public image of the political party at the helm of state-assisted units.
Of course, to be fair, there are several possibilities of exceptions I am not exploring here, and in the general scheme of revolution and resistance this might seem a little dull. But with the #hokkolorob movement intensifying without a clear goal except protesting to tyranny, tedious matters such as this is worth considering.

Book Quotes: Push by Sapphire

After ages, I have discovered a cache of e-books that were stashed for a suitably rainy day in one corner of an old storage drive, and promptly forgotten. My memory can always be counted upon to keep me from my little treats.

Anyway, Push, by Sapphire, is the first of the lot my finger landed on, and right now I am a sleep-deprived, red-eyed, shaken-and-stirred person who cannot let go of Precious Jones till the last word about and by her has been read. I’m going to keep this post open and record bits of the book that grab me especially hard, so I can have them at hand to read back later. Although it isn’t the entirety of Precious’ troubles, this book drives home the fact that ‘body image issues’ is not just code for ‘I hate that I am not thin’. It is rage against the hierarchy of genetic attributes, self-hatred for involuntary pleasure, and a desire for dissociation from one’s embodied life experience.

p. 13:
It’s something about being a nigger ain’t color.

p. 35:
The tesses paint a picture of me wif no brain. The tesses paint a picture of me an’ my muver—my whole family, we more than dumb, we invisible. One time I seen us on TV. It was a show of spooky shit… And the peoples, well some of them was peoples and some of them was vampire peoples. So it’s five of ‘em sitting on the couch; and one of ‘em git up and take a picture. When picture develop (it’s instamatic) only one person on the couch. The other peoples did not exist. They vampires. They eats, drinks, wear clothes, talks, fucks, and stuff but when you git right down to it they don’t exist.

I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, I watch TV, do what my muver say. But I can see when the picture come back I don’t exist. I know who they say I am—vampire sucking the system’s blood. Ugly black grease to be wipe away, punish, kilt, changed, finded a job for.

I talk loud but still I don’t exist.

p. 35:
Sometimes I wish I was not alive. But I don’t know how to die. Ain’ no plug to pull out.

p. 78:
ABCDEFGHUKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.
Thas the alphabet. Twenty-six letters in all. Them letters make up words. Them words everything.

p. 130:
My clit swell up I think Daddy. Daddy sick me, disgust me, but still he sex me up. I nawshus in my stomach but hot tight in my twat and I think I want it back.

p. 135:
Ms Rain say write our fantasy of ourselves. How we would be if life was perfect. I tell you one thing right now, I would be light skinned, thereby treated right and loved by boyz. Light even more important than being skinny; you see them light-skinned girls that’s big an’ fat, they got boyfriends. Boyz overlook a lot to be wif a white girl or yellow girl, especially if it’s a boy that’s dark skin wif big lips or nose, he will go APE over yellow girl. So that’s my first fantasy, is get light.
Then I get hair. Swing job, you know like I do with my extensions, but this time it be my own hair, permanently.
Then, this part is hard to say, because so much of my heart is love for Abdul. But I be a girl or woman—yeah girl, ’cause I would still be a girl now if I hadn’t had no kids. I would be a virgin like Michael Jackson, like Madonna. I would be a different Precious Jones. My bress not be big, my bra be little ‘n pink like fashion girl. My body be like Whitney. I would be thighs not big etc etc.
I would be tight pussy girl no stretch marks and torn pussy from babies’s head bust me open.
That HURT. Hours hours push push push! Then he out, beautiful. Jus’ a beautiful baby. But I’m not.

Food My Lovers Taught Me to Love, Part I

You know how advice columnists always say, “If he’s trying to change you, put on your lace-up flats and run!”?

Now usually, I’d be completely on their side. If ‘love’ for someone is predicated on wistful goodbyes to everything else, then the time to cut the cords is NOW!.

However, ‘change’ could be a good thing. It might mean ‘positive affect’. It could be a broadening of horizons. It can certainly be personal growth, and in some cases it might mean ‘intensifies’. For instance, you might be a clock-watcher dating another punctual type. If you two move in together, you’ll probably enable each other till you’re both obnoxious human clocks, being forever on time and tut-tutting at the rest.

Don’t go down that route unless you fancy punches to the nose.

Now me, I’ve had some pretty colourful relationships. And being Bengali, a large chunk of them have revolved around food. My first relation propre was with an Anglo-American gent. In my initial American months, mealtimes were a despondent chore. I cooked simple curries twice a week and hated eating them, because cheap supermarket vegetables in America taste like soggy newsprint, and I knew no other way to make them more edible. I also hated cheese, dismissed bacon, ill-trusted sausages, and looked with suspicion upon roasting and baking.

Then, as my supply of home-ground spices was finally running out, I met him.

He was tall, blue-eyed, Boston-blond, and just as impoverished as I was. But he knew his way around American shops and kitchen. He introduced me to high-protein breakfasts, salads-from-scrap, crispy bacon, sausages with mustard, fluffy pancakes cooked in lard, homemade pasta sauces and deli-end sandwiches. We could rarely afford the good stuff, but he also taught me to love cheese – the nutty gouda, the sharp cheddar, the rich goat, the creamy brie.

When I look back at my time with him, I almost can’t believe how comprehensively he changed my palate, yanking at the edges of my considerable stubbornness till I gave in, and fell in love with it all.

My range in the kitchen expanded dramatically, too. Till the Transatlantic Sojourn, I was a dab hand at Bengali things, but everything beyond that was a vague, foggy mass.

Union Stars and Stripes helped me bake my first cake, and taught me how to make a lovely four-ingredient salad dressing. When November rolled around, we bought a turkey, made our own stuffing, prepped and roasted the bird, and made a lip-smacking gravy with the pan-droppings. You’d think mashed potatoes are easy, but before I met this kitchen-dreamboat, I had no idea alusheddho with salt, butter, milk and pepper – instead of, you know, mustard oil and green chilies – could be so divine.

By the time our relationship had unravelled beyond repair, I had begun keeping roasted garlic and pine-nuts in my kitchen for comfort meals, homemade peach preserves and cantaloupes for snacks, broccoli and pork chops-on-sale for quick pick-me-up dinners. If ever a man succeeded in endearing boiled broccoli to a woman, it was this man. Of course, he also drove me to the best chowder and bisques in town, but as a Boston man, I’d think that was more his civic duty than an act of love.

The best thing he taught me to make and love, however, was damn near a miracle, for it involved almost every single thing I once hated: bacon, hard-fried eggs, cheese. What he put together with these things, though, was just fabulously wonderful. I’ll call it the baked egg, because ‘baked’ is effectively what the eggs become.

You begin by lightly greasing a thick-bottomed saucepan, and layering it with deli-ends or bacon. You flip the meat after a minute of browning, and layer the cooked side with cheese, onions and chopped chilies. Then, you break whole eggs over it, two eggs per person. The final garnish is salt and pepper, and maybe a little parsley and sage. You give the eggs a minute to cook on medium flame, then cover the pan, and simmer. In about three minutes, you have soft, creamy baked eggs, on a bed of melted spicy cheese and crispy bacon or meat. This, you eat with hot buttered toast (though I must say Americans are rather stingy with their toast. ‘A stack of toast’ is not a transatlantic phenomenon).

It’s been a few years since the Anglo-Am and I have broken up, but the strange foreign things he taught me to love has changed the way I cook and eat almost completely. Tucked away beyond north Calcutta, I missed the cheese and meats for months, as my tongue readjusted to dal-bhaat and curried veg at every meal. It’s true we had rather fierce arguments about food and cooking, and there are favourites of his that I wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole (banana-split, yuck!), but a man who imparts the secrets of crisp pork fat has, in my opinion, transcended the judgement of schmucks who used to turn away from bacon.

Brax Landing Restaurant, Harwich MA

[This review is from July 2010]
Yelp rating: ONE STAR
I’m not sure why this place has a queue a mile long, apart from maybe the absolutely lovely view.

Granted, this place has excellent clam chowder and good lobster bisque; unfortunately, the buck stops there. I’ve had THE most bland main courses here, made with barely mediocre seafood… and it’s on the damned Cape, for god’s sake! If Boston and Cambridge can serve better food in terms of freshness, a psuedo-fancy more-expensive-that-it’s-worth ‘landing’ in Harwich can at least aim for better raw material.

Speaking of more-expensive-than-it’s-worth, this place ran up a bill of $70 for a cup of clam chowder, a bowl of lobster bisque, one baked fish served with french fries of EXACTLY the same texture and taste as McDonald’s fries (in fact, the party of six at the next table observed precisely this loudly right after I whispered it to my friend), and one fish n’ chips, all fish dishes made with cod. I thought only thrift store versions of seafood places made fish n’ chips with cod, but anyway.

This exact meal costs us less than $35 in the Harvard/Central/Inman area, and to take just a random example, S&S serves haddock instead of insipid slabs of cod in both dishes, with exponentially better french fries, the option of mashed or baked potatoes if we want it, AND a large bowl of salad. Brax doesn’t offer mashed potatoes, by the way. Not at all. What sort of a stupid place does not offer mashed potatoes, something a five year old can make?

To sum up my experience at Brax: disappointment, annoyance, and a much deeper hollow in my pocket than a meal twice as good as this wouldn’t deserve. Disgusting profiteering.

P.S: A note to fellow-yelpers. My friend picked this place because of “great Yelp reviews”. After I returned home, I logged into Yelp to check these reviews, and saw that most five or four star reviews had things like this to say: “food was decent enough”, “server was nice and attentive”, “wonderful view”. And so on.

Certainly it was my friend’s fault for not reading these empty, vapid reviews and go by just their ratings, but please try not to adorn a restaurant with four stars because a young, easy-on-the-eye server smiled at you. And especially reconsider your rating if a $18.99 seafood main course at a seaside place called a ‘landing’ was only “decent enough”. Jesus, people, don’t you have to work for your money?

Punjabi Dhaba, Cambridge MA

[This review is from May 2010]

Yelp rating: TWO STARS

All right, fair’s fair – this place does have those elusive ‘comfort food’ dishes not served in any other local South-Asian place I know of. Anda bhurji, the green chillies plus diced red onion omelette… yum! On the other hand, I can make these things very easily at home. The other good stuff – parathas, chhole-bature, masala dosa – I could also make at home, but for one person it’s simply not worth the effort. And Punjabi Dhaba makes them quite well, too.

So why the two stars? Well… have you ever eaten *in* this place? Have you ever peeked into the washroom upstairs? Eek. And double eek. I’ve seldom been so disgusted. And yes, I’ve eaten at plenty of “authentic” highway-side dhabas in my life, and most of them are far cleaner than this. Given that this place is in the US, I couldn’t believe they were allowed to maintain such revolting levels of hygiene – honestly, for their own sake, someone needs to report them! Sure, we’ll do without aloo paratha and dahi chaat for a couple of weeks, but then… pristine new dhaba!

Won’t that be nice?

The Best Our Service Industry Has to Offer?

This is my review of the Best Buy at Park Drive, Boston, where I had the most amusing (in retrospect) corporate shopping experience. This was posted as a review on Yelp, where I rated the shop ONE STAR.

*****

What an absolute bloody waste of space.

If you must shop at a Best Buy and are averse to ordering online, drive a little and go to the one in Kendall Square (I haven’t been to the one down Newbury St., so can’t vouch for it).

Usually, I always do my research online and call ahead for a store pick-up, because who has the time these days to actually *shop* around in a store, especially at a place that charges you for parking more than 10 minutes? But sometimes not all questions are answered by online research, and isn’t that what shop assistants are for? Apparently not.

Today, I called ahead to make sure they kept a monitor of a specific make aside for me to pick up in thirty minutes. It took me 22 minutes on the phone to do that, of which 2 minutes were spent talking to a human voice, and the remaining 20 to a recorded message.

When I showed up at the store, it took three people – including the cashier – about fifteen minutes to locate the box, which turned out to have been kept right under the cashier’s computer-desk.

While the search for my monitor was on, I stepped into the computer section to check out netbooks, which against my better judgement I’m considering buying. I had a question, but there was no one around to ask it to. After lounging about for nearly ten minutes, I see a chap wearing a name-tag. He, however, says he knows nothing about computers and goes to get another chap in a name-tag.

On being approached by his colleague, the second fellow loudly demands, “What the hell is HER problem, man?” When the first fellow shrugs and points at me, Name Tag 2 saunters over, still talking into his bluetooth phonepiece. Talking and chewing gum, he waves his hand in front of my face, as if to ask what my ‘problem’ is.

“Is there an alternative way to reinstall the OS on this one, since it doesn’t come with a disc drive and I don’t want an external one?” I ask, pointing at an Asus netbook. I was trying to see if the store provided an XP equivalent of Windows 7 USB installer.

The dude stares blankly at my face. Then, he says, “Yeah, I TOLD you I’ll be over for dinner, I’ll just be late, okay? We have like ten thousand people just walking in and we have to deal with them, all right? I have a fucking job here!” Then he looks at me and says, “Sorry, what did you say?” Before I can open my mouth he says, presumably to the person on the phone, “Not you. I’m talking to someone here at work, okay? Just give me a minute here!”

At which point I grit my teeth and ask if he would mind being with just one conversation at a time, preferably mine. He says, “I’m fine with both conversations at the same time. If you have a problem with that, get someone else”. And walks off.

What an unprofessional little bitch. And the store is teeming with them. One word: avoid. Unless of course you want to delude yourself into thinking, like Yelper Zack B. on this thread, that Best Buy is the electronic equivalent of Family Dollar Store, and that somehow, a customer who is guilty of actually taking opportunities retail outlets are throwing at him/her deserves to be treated like rubbish for this grave sin. “Goodness, buying at a sale? I fart in your general direction!”

Obviously, if we don’t respect ourselves, sloppy out-of-high school shop assistants aren’t going to bother.

Flav’s Red Skiff, Rockport MA

[This review is from July 2010]

The quaint little skiff, with matching tiny tables inside.

There are two words for all the little seasidy restaurants that dot the New Englad shoreline: unjustifiably expensive. Red Skiff messes up my pretty opening line, however, since it’s dirt cheap, but if they charged more, it would have been entirely justifiable.

RedSkiffFishnChips

The delicious Red Skiff fish ‘n chips.

This place has turned me into a BIG fan of the old clam chowder, which I only tolerated before (given that my only experience with chowder was in random cafes in the Somerville area). About six bucks buys you a yummy, creamy bowl of delicious chowder. Nine buys you the freshest haddock you’ve tasted in a while, baked or fried and served with potatoes. It’s the best fish and chowder lunch I’ve had in a while, and it was made extra sweet by the knowledge that I was paying less than half of my fellow tourists lunching in the fancier places :-)

By the way, this place only serves lunch. If you’re going to eat late, get takeout and leave it in your car. It will still be better than going to some of the other places (except maybe Ray Moore’s lobster shack).

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