Mailbag – 03/04/2009

Compiled by Latoya Peterson

Reader Amy sends over this distressing news story about an immigration official abusing their position.  Steve Ellis presided over Ji Hye Kim’s refugee hearing, then dropped by her job on two occasions post trial, ultimately asking her out for coffee.  Kim’s boyfriend (now husband) Brad Tripp thought something was amiss, and asked Kim to record the meeting while he recorded video from a van parked near the coffee shop:

Several minutes later, Tripp saw Ellis and Kim walk away from the restaurant and noticed Ellis kiss Kim on the cheek.

Kim phoned shortly after.

“I asked her if she was okay,” Tripp testified. “She was very stressed and tense and she didn’t want to talk about it.”

That night he synchronized the audio and video on the tapes.

The tape, played in court, shows Ellis telling Kim he wants to be her friend, and that he was having second thoughts about rejecting her refugee claim. “I’m not going to fall in love with you, don’t worry about that,” Ellis tells her in the video.

Our friends at Copyranter just sent over this vintage National Guard ad:

This piece over at the Guernica blog is rubbing me the wrong way.

As we worry about the recent uptick in terrorism threatening the United States, it’s worth spending a moment on a connection not often discussed, between open societies and their art.

It’s often said that Islam never had a Reformation—this is meant to explain why the Islamic world still has not reached a level where substantial numbers of clerics and laypeople can have peaceful dialogues within the faith and with outsiders about important religious questions. By extension, it explains why Islam has problems with democracy and the rule of law.

But it may be just as important that Islam didn’t go through a period when its visual arts were in ferment, in the way that European visual art was in the second half of the 19th century and to the present day. In shorthand, Islam didn’t have Impressionism. [...]

But without artistic rebellion, I suspect, the Islamic world could not make the leap to perspectivism, intellectual distance, irony, and the other sometimes-annoying traits of current Western culture that have inoculated most of us against fundamentalist terrorism. People who can imagine that a urinal, or “Piss Christ,” is a work of art may be responsible for a lot of posturing and lefty whining—but no suicide bombings.

I know we have some folks that are art scholars in the house – can someone head over there, read the full argument, and report back. Feels like a very familiar argument cloaked in art terms, but since I am unfamiliar with the details Marlowe references, I cannot be sure.

Reader Amy sent in a package of articles from 2009, all documenting the struggles of blacks in Russia.  Reuters reports “A new racism survey carried out in Moscow has revealed that almost two thirds of Black Africans living in the city have been violently attacked.” Mixed race Russians describe being in a space without a history of racism, but with a long history of homogeneity.  There is the story of professor Lily Golden, who emphatically claims she “belongs to all races.” Amy also sent in the story of political candidate Joachim Crima:

Crima – who has adopted the Russian name Vasily Ivanovich – is running for a district seat on the Municipal Council in the southern Volgograd region where he grows and sells fruits and vegetables, mostly watermelons. A black person has never held office in Russia and very few have ever run. [...]

“I want to make the lives of people who I consider my compatriots better. I am ready to work from morning until evening to resolve their problems,” he told Russian news service Ria Novisti. “In other words, I am ready to toil like a Negro.”

The cringe-inducing phrase is an all-too-common expression in Russia that Crima has adopted as his campaign slogan to convey his work ethic to potential constituents.

“If you call yourself a Negro it means you don’t care if other people call you that,” Crima told ABC News, explaining that he doesn’t find the term offensive. “Racism is everywhere, in some places more than others. It will disappear sooner or later.”

RW sent over a video update from South Philadelphia High – this time, the focus is on black and Asian American students who are bridging cultural divides through breakdancing.