Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How the politics has changed...

I was reading a piece contrasting Barack Obama's presidential bid to that of Jesse Jackson's in 80's, and this line kind of stuck out. However, since Florida's Democratic primary counts for nought, I started concentrating a bit on the local races, the ones for Gainesville city commission and all that. This would be my first time voting in Unites States, after expressing my opinion in different Indian polls a few times. Obviously the Democratic no show dilutes it significantly, but looking at those local races and trying to decide, I realized how the decision making process for me has changed from Indian elections.

Back in India, there were mostly no decisions to be made. Either we opposed a political party vehemently, or supported it wholeheartedly, and that rarely had very little to do with that party's stance on issues. That carried over from campus polls to the parliamentary polls, with everything in between. Most of the times, we did not even need to know who the candidates were, we just looked at his party affiliation and voted. I plead guilty of the same offence, that's how I voted for candidates mostly, without knowing who they are or what are their qualifications. Only once, in college poll, I realized I cant stand the guys who were opposing the party I oppose, so left the ballot blank. But other than that one aberration., it was never a decision. And I know its true for most people back there.

To my surprise, I realized, here I am looking at each candidates stand on issues that affect me. Let me give a real example - for a city commission seat, for which I am going to vote this Tuesday, there are three candidates. One is an ex-business owner, tauting her long involvement and experience with the city and her goals are to be selective about giving tax break to developers, improving the the bus system, decrease neighborhood tensions between long-term homeowners and student renters. The second one is a professor of economics and government in a local college, and his main aim is to invite emerging businesses, such as biotechnology and clean energy research firms in the city, and is counting on the support of the student population. The last candidate is also a successful local entrepreneur, and have pretty much the same goals, attracting high paying jobs to the city, promoting social programs for the needy, like vocational training and affordable housing, and being careful in giving tax breaks to companies.

Funny thing is I do not even know who who comes from which party- although I am sure it wont be too difficult to find out. Rather I chose to focus on the agenda. All of them have sensible platforms - but I was tempted to go with the third guy, probably because of his social programs for the needy bit, since homelessness is becoming a growing problem here, and as we all know, that breeds crime. But I saw he proclaims that his vision is to would turn the city into the next "Orlando, Jacksonville or Tampa", which are the nearby big cities. That immediately turned me off. Why? I like Gainesville to be this little big campus town, not a frantic big city where campus is just a part of it. So that reduced my options, and I decided I would go for the professor, partly because I am biased towards those in academia, and partly because I don't trust entrepreneurs. That is probably not the most objective selection, but at least I decided based on who they are and what they want. That's a big change by itself.

(With input from Alligator, the campus newspaper.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Before writing my next post, let me take this opportunity to thank everyone who took time to read my last post.

Thanks to those friends and strangers who thought my "dissenting" viewpoint made sense and supported that wholeheartedly. I am glad that I spoke for all of us, who think that blind or passionate activism does not bring about solution to every problem. The odds of me getting shot in Gainesville, FL is no way correlated to some other Indian getting shot in Durham, NC.

Thanks to those who did not quite agree with my calling the petition futile, but were ready to have a sensible dialogue. We should always agree to disagree without casting aspersions on the other person, which is unfortunately too prevalent.

And finally thanks to the abusive gentleman who is threatening me with dire consequences for my "insensitivity", without showing his face. You are too insecure to come out in the open, or lack the courage to put your across point or the lack of it publicly. Is that all you can do? I pity you. I really do. Get a life!

Monday, January 21, 2008

It does not make sense...

Incredibly sad? Yes
Immensely disturbing? Definitely.
Something "we" need to do? No.

That would be my summary reaction to the murder of this Indian graduate student at Duke and the subsequent rants and ramblings. Reactions have varied from unfair generalization (Indians are being targeted), to a more paranoid version of that (There is an organized effort to kill Indians) and to absolute paranoia (I don't feel safe anymore in my apartment). While the killing of two other Indian graduate students in Baton Rouge, Louisiana roughly a month back contributed to this paranoia, a little sanity check would convince us otherwise.

Crime happens. A Senegalese graduate student of University of Chicago was shot dead in November. Now should we conclude that someone is after international graduate students? A University of Georgia graduate student is missing for two weeks and is suspected to be dead. Now is it a conspiracy against graduate students at large? I see them as unrelated local crimes. They were just at a wrong place at a wrong time. A burglary gone wrong. A gun abuse by a drunk or a drug addict. All of us living here know that all parts of any city are not created equal - there are elements who you would not want as your neighbor, to put it mildly. However, international graduate students often end up living dangerously close to those areas, sometimes because its close to school or most of the times its just plain cheaper. Sometimes the security is reassuring, like my friend in Baltimore has automatic security alarm installed, sometimes its not, as apparently this guy from Duke was a victim before, from the stories we hear.

The reactions have been predictable. The shock and grief are inevitable, and I know some folks who knew this guy personally. While sadness is genuine, we have to understand there is not much we can do. Of course we should be alert while walking back alone late at night, but who is not? It means nothing to the deceased to fill up his Orkut scrapbook with our messages and it certainly a total wastage of time and energy to draft futile online petitions. It is a local law enforcement issue, unless proved otherwise, and not a threat to any community in general. A foreign government has no say gun control issues of this country, however insane they may seem to be from outside. All Indian government can do, and I am sure would be doing with or without a petition is to push for a fast investigation. Another pet peeve is, it has not given enough media coverage here. True enough, on Saturday, it was not in the headlines, but it happened late on Friday and Saturday was a big day in politics, with a couple of states having presidential caucuses and primaries, so no wonder it was not headline news. Since then, I have seen reasonable coverage of it and no signs of a cover up, as alleged by some.

The killing does not make sense. So does not the reactions of most Indians around me.