Author Archive: Zoevinly

Zoevinly is a poverty lawyer practicing in the bible belt.

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Chinks III

| May 17, 2011 | Reply
Chinks III

Since writing Chinks II, I’ve felt uneasy about calling the Vietnamese workers in that nail salon ‘racists’. It’s true that they pigeonholed an African-American patron as a lazy welfare recipient who was unwilling to get a job. They seemed to take pleasure in voicing all the hurtful stereotypes that could be applied to a total stranger. I found their behavior cruel, terrifying and ironic.

The barb at the heart of Chinks II was minority on minority hate. Yet I described their hate speech as “tittering… nonsensical verbal massaging.” Even if the taunting was meant to be indecipherable, wasn’t I being a bigot myself by writing about it this way?

I can’t think of more alternatives to the pronoun “them.” That’s probably because I don’t know much about the Vietnamese women who taunted a black woman that day. (Here again, I resort to the roughest of rough sketches: “that black lady”). I don’t know their names. I don’t know where they live, although it’s probably not far from my own neighborhood. They are caricatures precisely because I have so few details with which to draw my group character sketch. And what would my cartoon self-portrait look like?

Qipao1

On the day of Chinks II, I was the most socially normative minority in the room. Being light-skinned, speaking with an American accent, growing up in a solidly middle-class household and earning a professional degree all help me to appear more “white” and inviolable. Who knows? It could have been my blessed-in-every-way-second-generation-Chinese-American presence that precipitated the verbal attack that I describe so vehemently. It’s not that I think I am the center of every story; though this story – all the Chinks stories – are about me and my perception of race. Chinks II simply exemplifies the pervasive, insidious, contagious nature of bigotry. This is a barb that hasn’t stopped pricking.

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Racist Reflex or ?

| April 14, 2011 | 3 Replies
Racist Reflex or ?

A 21 year-old man was released without charges after being arrested near the Delmar Loop MetroLink in St. Louis on Saturday. The police officer who arrested the 21-year-old experienced a minor head injury. The St. Louis Dispatch and KMOV report that the officer was breaking up a fight that allegedly drew a crowd of between 50 and 100 people, including many teenagers.

In response to the “incident” and complaints that teens who are “not from University City,” are “wandering,” “roaming” and “brushing up against customers,” along the Delmar Loop, a Tuesday meeting was called between Delmar Loop business owners, representatives from Mayor Slay’s office, University City officials and representatives of Washington University. (Washington University’s Office of General Counsel denied any involvement in this meeting).

Several proposals emerged from the meeting. These include “lowering the city’s curfew to 6 p.m.,” rounding up teenagers to “let them sit in a paddy wagon for three hours,” adding a police substation to process them and “closing the Loop’s MetroLink station early on Fridays and Saturdays.” To curb the influx of “unruly” young adults, the University City manager promised “active enforcement of all ordinances.”

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The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

| February 1, 2011 | Reply
The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

The last really good history I read was “Hellhound On His Trail, ” which follows James Earl Ray’s path from his childhood in Alton, Illinois through a violent intersection with the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and continues to follow Ray’s trajectory with his quizzical recantations of his “life’s purpose.” With the same cool hand, Sides sketches the strengths and inadequacies of Dr. King’s inner circle and paints larger atmospheric strokes with newspaper headlines on the increasing violence in response to desegregation and the influence of war in Vietnam on national sentiment about federal involvement in heretofore state affairs.

By themselves, vignettes about Ray’s lackluster career as a petty criminal, his stunted attempts at artistic grandeur and addiction to prostitutes would simply depress the reader. Here, the intentional failures and manipulations of Hoover’s FBI and first-hand accounts of Ray’s behavior appear like birds descending on a tragic town, flickering across the broader canvas creating momentum and dread. Awful as the true subject of this thriller may be, I found myself disappointed to reach the end.

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Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

| July 19, 2010 | 4 Replies
Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

According to a recent article by Chris Serres at the Minnesota Star Tribune, courts still order debtors to go to jail when they can’t afford to pay a judgment.

Not only are the national media largely unaware of this phenomenon, but The New Yorker published an article last April that characterizes debtors’ prisons as a pre-20th Century institution, and describes the America as a refuge for debtors.

As many as two out of every three Europeans who came to the American colonies were debtors on arrival. Some colonies were, basically, debtors’ asylums. By the seventeen-sixties, sympathy for debtors had attached itself to the patriot cause.

Jill Lepore of The New Yorker goes on to describe how American treatment of debt has evolved to allow bankruptcy and why this is a good thing.

Debtors’ prison was abolished, and bankruptcy law was liberalized, because Americans came to see that most people who fall into debt are victims of the business cycle, and not of fate or divine retribution.

Even Wikipedia describes debtors’ prisons as a thing of the past, or at least an unconstitutional one, according to this 2009 New York Times editorial, “The New Debtors’ Prisons.”

20th Century Debtors’ Prison

Times have changed. To be sure, most Americans who are deep in credit card debt do not have bench warrants issued for their arrest. However, in Illinois, Indiana and other states, a person who’s gotten a judgment entered against them can miss a court date and find themselves being hounded by the police.

What about the argument that defendants may owe the money they are being sued for, and should have gone to court? Perhaps the threat of jail is the only way to make them appear in court.

Reporters from The New York Times and The Federal Trade Commission have found that the collection industry is in dire need of repair, and cited numerous, ubiquitous problems. Some of these problems are startling. To wit:

[More . . . ]

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Snoring: The Upshot

| September 14, 2009 | 3 Replies
Snoring: The Upshot

Google “snoring” and you’ll get a flood of how-to advice on how not to, and a lot of reasons to stop. Not surprisingly, the majority of links recalled were advertisements for devices, medications, surgical maneuvers, and their purveyors. In today’s pharm-centered universe, the vibration caused by air traveling through our airways has been pathologized and vilified as the destroyer of otherwise sound relationships.

Not only is it bad for your love life. Snoring is deadly!

According to snoring alarmists, snorers who have the audacity to continue sleeping noisily can look forward to myriad cardiovascular disorders including heart attacks, atherosclerosis, and stroke, marital and erectile dysfunction (chicken-or-the-egg?), drowsiness, lack of focus and…Zzzzzzzzz.

Admittedly, I’m no doctor, but let me suggest that there are some positive effects of snoring (besides the possibility that it keeps you healthy by means of temporary asphyxiation). It’s a much cheaper and more effective method of subjecting those around you to intense jealousy (“Please, please, make him stop so I can lose consciousness ASAP”) than, say, buying a pair of Jimmy Choos. Then again, I don’t usually begrudge those masochists the pain of walking around…

But I digress. If you would rather not invest in a medical solution, you could try banishing the banshee by learning a new instrument. You guessed it: the Didgideroo!

Ah, it’s time for bed. Maybe the lumbering Saint Bernard downstairs will give it a rest so I can, too.

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Sticker that acts like a credit card

| April 13, 2009 | 2 Replies
Sticker that acts like a credit card

An RFID Microchip, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You can now obtain a sticker that acts as a credit card. That’s right, you read me correctly: you can stick it to your cell phone, wallet, shoe, coffee mug, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Actually, I’ve exaggerated a bit. You can stick the sticker almost everywhere, but the technology is not so new. In fact, the credit-card-sticker has been in use in Japan and Malaysia for some time now. The sticker contains a chip that uses Radio-frequency identification (RFID) to emit a signal. That signal, like the magnetic strip on your average credit card, contains information that allows you to “charge” a purchase.

Sound familiar? You may be using RFID already, in the MobilePass wand that you use at the gas station. The Chicago Transit Authority has been utilizing RFID for years, and the New York Transit Authority is preparing to start a trial. In fact, your very own United States passport may contain RFID technology. So why am I such a scaredy-cat?

I received a replacement credit card today because my account number “may have been illegally obtained as a result of a merchant database compromise and could be at risk for unauthorized use.” I was not informed of the time, place, manner of the “compromise” and if the identity of the “compromisers” or their methods are known, I remain ignorant of them. I’m leery of the credit-card-sticker because where there’s a will, there is a way.

Just Say No! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

History suggests that RFIDs can be remotely read and stolen, cloned, infected, or otherwise used for unintended purposes. Now, Visa is preparing to launch a product that allows you to use your phone as a credit card (and not just in Malaysia). This means that if you’re using the technology and you lose your phone, you may be losing your expensive toy, contacts, pictures, applications, etc. stored on that expensive toy, and control over the use of one or several of your credit card accounts.

Sure, there are ways to encrypt this information, but with every safeguard comes a more determined hacker. I’m going to stick to the inconvenient plastic card because the “authorities” are used to tracking its thieves and (I would not discount this factor) it’s probably less sexy to steal!

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Chinks II: Food Stamps

| April 1, 2009 | Reply
Chinks II: Food Stamps

Which reminds me: I was getting a pedicure. I know, so decadent (for a poverty lawyer, teehee), but I was, in this Vietnamese joint, tiny like a hallway lined with big massage chairs. A dangerously overweight, black woman walked in. No, she lumbered in with her handbag at her side, looking tired of lumbering. Titters from the nail-doers. Manicurists, I guess. They’d noticed her too: first the weight, then the skin color. Or perhaps I’m projecting. In any case, they beckoned her to a chair, malignant smiles aglow like jack-o-lanterns, and she quietly succumbed to the growing twitters, over-generous, nonsensical verbal massaging, and I cringed. I cringed visibly. I said nothing.

They asked her if she exercised often. They asked if she had a job. For many years, she said. Yes. “Food stamps? Are you on food stamps?” they asked. No, she said quietly. She was not receiving food stamps, and had never, in her life, benefited from food stamps. By now, she’d noticed me staring. I was. I was staring at her – and with her- at us in these ridiculous chairs, prisoners of racists. I could tell the woman picking at my toenails to give it a rest, put my shoes on, pay the bill, tell them all off and leave. Or I could sit there quietly and smile sympathetically at this dangerously overweight black woman who knew, I hoped, that I knew that I was a coward. She smiled at me.

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Chinks I

| April 1, 2009 | Reply
Chinks I

I got called a Chink today. The last time I remember being called a Chink, I was an 8 year-old in a fading blue one-piece swimsuit at the Boys ‘n Girls Club in Mt. Kisco, NY. In the shallow end. I don’t remember what I did to raise the hackles of Bully, a short blond chubby boy whose name’s been redacted by my neurons. All I remember is that I was dazed and confused when I first heard the word. I looked into his eyes and saw derision – I knew not of what or why – and a lonely, boiling soup of mysterious inadequacy rose in my belly.

I wasn’t angry at Bully. I just didn’t understand why he was angry with me. In an effort to understand what had just happened, I told my swimming instructor what he’d called me. I knew it was bad. Perhaps her intervention would reveal what it meant. Denise (sister to Dennis, also a swimming instructor – thank you, neurons) told me to ignore him or said something equally dismissive. I swam back into line on my back (this I remember too), trying to align my body with the rafters through puddly tears and swallowing gobs of phlegm. Maybe I felt anger then. Maybe I briefly flipped onto my stomach to catch my breath and hold in the soup that had turned into boiling bitterness. I remember it now. I can feel the same, helpless, indignant outrage or I can hold it at bay. That’s why I didn’t tell Jin that we’d been called Chinks today, in the bible-belt, by a convertible-driving Catholic School boy: me in my skirt suit with briefcase in tow (saving the poor) and she, a new J.D. with intolerance only for American fast food. I choose to feel nothing.

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SLSO, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

| March 8, 2009 | Reply
SLSO, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Normally, a nosebleed seat is not the pick of the prince, but since tonight’s performance is an audio-visual one, it’s prime! I can see the tendons in each dancer’s calves; the sweat flying off their faces (visceral, if nothing else); but best of all, I can observe pre- and post-entrance dancer behavior in my sliver of a view into the wings. The verdict? Gasping for breath, these dancers still stand erect even after they’ve slid offstage.

One of Mozart’s last symphonies is Symphony No. 40 in G minor – and tonight, the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company performs Marguerite Donlon’s Strokes Through the Tail to Symphony No. 40′s rippling anticipation.

There goes Robertson with his knees again. Bouncing with the beat, crouching low to pull the oboe in like a thick, heavy rope, his hair isn’t flouncing as much as usual. It’s been cut. In a brief pause, we see that the orchestra is as cool as a cat, though it’s sounding jittery with the suspense of unresolved harmony.

Suddenly, the lights dim, and you guessed it! Physicality as the instrument arrives with the second movement. In deference to Mozart’s wired lyricism, Principal Female plays a wind-up doll, fleety-flighting in unpredictable directions with each musical shove. Then, hooray! Guys without shirts on! These young ‘uns are wearing tailcoats, but their breasts are bright white in the stage light.

Synchronous scampering ensues. These could be members of a boy band. Individuals all – the super-young innocent, the mustachioed Borat character, and a slavic-looking baldy with a long scar next to his left eye – nevertheless chained in imitation, they showboat their long legs and make nearly identical half-turns, one after the other, like fancy dominoes.

Principal Female and her boy wonders prod each other with the crown of their heads or chest-bump like blind zygotes to transfer electricity. Tailcoats vibrate with each dancer’s buzzy shudder and periodically, a head-nudge causes one to crinkle her fingers as if she’s received a shock. No wonder David Robertson wasn’t wearing a tailcoat tonight. These Tailcoats conduct kinetic energy among themselves and direct each other’s movements like a bevy of conductors.

The leader-follower imitation mime-time carries over into garb. Briefly, Principal Female solos in white chiffon and tulle. Then the boys are back – but without their jackets! Donning delicate white skirts, they perform the lotus gait behind Principal Female in a long line like ducklings … until we notice that the (mustachioed) little swan hasn’t arrived yet. Swinging torsos – elephants turning their heads: where is mustache? Ah, here he is! Men’s legs in white light – I quite enjoy them in transparent chiffon!

Principal Female returns to the stage wearing blinding-bright pride, black boxer briefs and a tailcoat of her own. (The lacy chiffon top remains.) Tightly-bound, consequential, sequential movements conduct kinetic speed betwixt each person as they pass it on – pass it on – with a biological yearning to bond and release with and from one another.

Time and again, Innocent Boy falls behind, missing a wardrobe adjustment or curling into comfy nap time in the background as the show carries on without him. Then, to reward his audacity, Innocent Boy gets a mini solo as he runs after the others in slow motion or fancies himself autonomous. Mustachioed Joe is even gladder than Principal Gal to return to the stage himself – the first to be back this time, in black boxer briefs and his original tailcoat. No more downy feather-skirt for him.

The audience has been chuckling and giggling for some time now. We’ve bonded with the dancers. Maybe it was the yearning-bonding-slacking-off-then-falling-in-again that drew in our empathy; that and the shocking virtuosity of these athletes who skate across our vision as if on ice.

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