Abortion – The Difficult Debate

During the run up to last November’s elections, I was astonished that many conservative women would openly support Donald Trump despite his reputation as a serial adulterer and his openly hostile attitude towards the female sex. Then I saw an interview with one of these supporters who said, very clearly, “He’s an ass but I vote for whoever the Republican Party nominates because of ‘Abortion’.”

I’m sure there were many such women who may not have been as overt about their political affiliations but nevertheless held their noses and voted for Trump because of this single issue. And I get it. If you think abortion is equivalent to killing a child, you cannot, in good conscience, vote against it.

This is the uphill task many Democrats face as they try to win hearts and minds of conservative women within their community. Women vote, and women care, but this single issue has been a wall that we have not been able to breach. The irony is that many Democrats have similar feelings towards abortion. So why are we not able to bridge this divide?

Here I propose a script that we can use to talk to our conservative women friends about abortion. Essentially, they are my feelings towards the subject and if you share some of my thinking, feel free to modify it to suit your own experiences. Let’s reach out across party lines in an effective way so we can get widespread support for causes and organizations that support women’s health and well-being.

(I’ve tried very hard to be respectful to the beliefs of people who oppose abortion but if you feel the language is condescending or patronizing in any way, please point it out and I will fix it.)

My 2 cents:

Abortion is horrible. Anyone who has had one, or even a miscarriage, knows what I am talking about. We women are biologically primed to celebrate and anticipate motherhood, so when a woman decides to have an abortion, it is a gut-wrenching choice. It is also, probably, a last resort.

When there were a couple of times in my life when I was scared by the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, I had to consider my options. And I recall that my gorge rose at the thought that I might have to have to terminate my pregnancy. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this. I know I have a choice, but I just can’t.” When it became clear that I was not pregnant, I almost collapsed in relief. I’ve talked to some close friends about this and they have shared that they felt the same way when this happened to them.

Now my daughter is in high school. She is the smartest and most responsible person I know, but I have to be realistic about the fact that a teen pregnancy is, biologically speaking, possible. I’ve gone through the scenarios in my head. And I know, choice or not, if she happens to get pregnant, I’m going to encourage her to keep the baby.

So, feeling the way I do, why do I still support a woman’s right to choose?

It’s precisely because I know that abortion is horrible and a last resort that I believe that decisions about pregnancies should be left to women. We don’t take this decision lightly. If we are looking for an abortion, there is a good reason for it. Even if the reason appears casual on the surface, like a teen getting knocked up and then shrugging her shoulders about it, it is probably because she was never educated about taking precautions, never given the “talk”, or doesn’t have a frank and open relationship with her parents that she can talk about these matters openly.

And the data available to us on this subject is pretty clear that when teen girls are given sex education, counseling, and access to contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies go way down. Here is a chart about abortion rates over time. You can see clearly that having the right to choose as granted by Roe v. Wade has not made abortions more popular.

abortion-rates

There has been a move among conservative states to shut down clinics that provide such services. And there has been an all-out effort to close Planned Parenthood branches and gut federal funding for the organization.

At first glance, it appears that such efforts bring down abortions in states that enact strict anti-abortion laws. But data also shows that the abortions just migrate to the nearest state that offers the services. For instance,

An influx of women from out of state also was cited as a reason for Louisiana’s increase. Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, said abortions for nonresidents jumped by more than 1,200 between 2010 and 2012, and suggested new restrictions in Mississippi and Texas were a factor.

From the same article,

The biggest decrease in abortion, percentage-wise, was in Hawaii, where abortions fell from 3,064 in 2010 to 2,147 in 2014. Laurie Temple Field, government relations director for Planned Parenthood in Hawaii, said more women were getting access to health insurance and affordable contraception. She also credited the state’s policies on sex education in public schools, which includes information to help teens avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Five of the six states with the biggest declines — Hawaii at 30 percent, New Mexico at 24 percent, Nevada and Rhode Island at 22 percent, Connecticut at 21 percent — have passed no recent laws to restrict access.

So the data suggests that abortion is a matter of desperation, and that women looking to terminate will travel miles to find a provider and, if that is not possible, will resort to back-room procedures incredibly dangerous to their health.

Here’s my question to you. Isn’t it far better to not have unwanted pregnancies at all instead of having to make the difficult choice of keeping the baby or not? I am pro-choice, but in a perfect world, I would also like to see no abortions at all. I just happen to believe that the way to do this is to have more counselling services, more education, and easier access for contraception for women. And if after all these services have been provided there is still the rare pregnancy that is unwanted, yes, I believe in a woman’s right to make choices about her body, because bringing an unwanted and unloved child into this world is pretty cruel to the child and the mother. And in cases of rape or incest, I’m sure you can understand why the pregnancy may be emotionally devastating.

So let’s work together to reduce the need for abortions. Organizations like Planned Parenthood whose principal work is in counseling and health services with a very small part of their funding going towards abortions need your support too. What you are supporting is free or cheap health care, contraception, and services that help teens and young women make better choices. When it comes down to it, all of us women, no matter our party affiliation, want the same thing for our society and our children. We have much more in common than you think.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – Soggy, Miserable, Romance

The best thing that could have happened to Karan Johar’s latest movie, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was the controversy surrounding Fawad Khan, the Pakistani actor who makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in this bloated 2 hour 35 minute-long weep fest. Even among Johar loyalists like me who were enthralled by the escapist glossiness of Riverdale romance Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and manipulative melodrama Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, the bloom was wearing off, thanks to clunkers like My Name is Khan and Student of the Year. Without the hype surrounding the movie and a trailer featuring the glorious title song, I wonder how many of us would have dragged ourselves to this throwback of a movie, featuring foreign locations and playback singing, features that have become passé even in formula-driven Bollywood.

Johar sets this tale of unrequited love in his usual upper crust milieu, where transportation is by private jet and the credit cards are bottomless, but it has always been his forte to focus on the emotional anxieties of the rich and famous. If that lends his movies a sheen of inauthenticity, that is usually overcome by the clever lines, the crisp editing, and the attractiveness and chemistry of his lead actors.

In ADHM, though, his charm runs out, and what we are left with is a pastiche of countless movies of the 90s and 00s, including Johar’s own, which have fermented in his gut a tad too long before being regurgitated into a stinky mess that reeks of desperation. Every line of dialogue is either from another movie, or sounds like it should be. Plenty of old classic songs are replayed constantly, as are tunes from old KJ movies. Even the scenes are repurposed. A scene of the actors cavorting in a Swiss-like mountain meadow is obviously a Yash Chopra homage, but feels dreadfully like the director has run out of ideas, especially since the actors begin the scene in Paris.

Even the actors inhabit multiple personalities from their previous movies. Ranbir Kapoor, who is surely a better actor than on display here, senses the fakery of the premise and decides to recycle responsibly. He is Ved from Tamasha for the first half hour or so, before seguing into Barfi and then Janardhan/Jordan from Rockstar. Anushka Sharma looks like Zaara from Veer Zaara and acts like Taani from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Since the two are not even supposed to be in love with each other, even the Shahrukh/Kajol kind of chemistry cannot be relied on to prop up the movie, though the Khan gamely makes a Botoxed-cameo to help out his friend,

Aishwarya Rai, Ranbir’s other love interest, seems to be in this movie to triumphantly prove to her detractors that she is back in shape and drop-dead gorgeous again, so take that, you haters. Every scene is an audition for a future perfume commercial or a jewelry line, with popping lip color and artfully waved hair framing those luscious features. It’s possible she has a no-kissing clause in her movie contracts because her love-making scenes with Ranbir are positively anemic, which are such a disservice to the story, given that their relationship is supposed to be one of sensuous physicality.

The one redeeming factor of KJ’s movies has always been the pleasant sense of satiation one gets from consuming buttered popcorn but, sad to say, it’s time to admit that the butter has gone rancid and the popcorn is soggy. Mainstream Bollywood has been coming out with very interesting movies lately, like Pink, and Badlapur, and Kahaani, where the emphasis is rightly on strong narratives, indigenous themes, and meaty roles. The era of Karan Johar’s fantasies may have finally passed, it seems. I think I’ll miss it, but I’m glad it’s done.

Why This Is Creepy

A (male) friend asked me on Facebook why I found the following video creepy.

I didn’t want to brush off his sincere question with a glib or facile answer, so I decided to write this post to clarify my thoughts not just for him but for me too.

Let me start by acknowledging that I am nearing the half-century mark of life. I have grey hair, cellulite, an extra 10 pounds and, if I could, I would live my life in sweatpants and tees. (Basically, I’ve given up!). If you were to meet me on the street, you may not even notice me; I look so harmless, sexless, and inconsequential, the antithesis of a sexual predator’s target.

But, even now, if I am walking alone in the daytime or night, and I encounter a man either walking towards me or behind me, my fingers curl into fists. I become hyper-aware, listening for footsteps that may be speeding up, or looking for signs that the hands approaching me could be raised in a way that is threatening to me. I scan the environment for safe spaces I can run to, or an ally across the street. I don’t even realize that I am holding my breath for the entire duration of the encounter, and I will usually let it out with a whoosh when the moment has passed. And the funny thing is that the guy doesn’t even have to be bigger than me or obviously menacing in any way.

I’ve been doing this forever.

The first time I was groped (as far as I can remember) was when I was fifteen. I was returning home from school via a shortcut through some fields (I lived in a suburb of Mumbai in India). The guy ran up from behind me, grabbed my breasts, and ran ahead. It happened in the space of 5 seconds or less. I was shell-shocked, though I kept plodding toward home. I never told my parents, not even when it happened again a few months later. Why? Maybe I was ashamed. Most victims of sexual assault feel that way, however unfair and stupid it may seem. Perhaps it is ingrained in the culture somehow that the woman must have brought it on herself.

It took a couple of more incidents before the shame gave way to rage, and I started preparing for the next one with the hyper-awareness that I mentioned before. The next time it happened, it was a guy on a bicycle. I was with a friend, who remembers the incident better than I do. When the guy on the bike put his hand on me I hit his back with all the force I could muster, cursing him loudly. I vowed I would never, ever again, be a victim.

I sincerely hope not every woman has had an experience like mine, but I know for a fact that many have had worse, and nearly every woman has experienced some kind of physical dominance from a man at some point in her life. The easiest, most primitive way to exhibit dominance is to get really, really close. Maybe it is my heightened sensitivity to such experiences, but I get very nervous, even though I know that in most cases I can defend myself just fine. It’s just that I don’t want to be in that position. I would rather avoid conflict, because even though I may physically win that particular encounter, there is really no win for me in the long run. An extreme example of what I mean is in the new Hindi movie Pink, where defending herself gets a girl into all sorts of trouble, both physical and legal.

More importantly, when a man gets very close, looms, invades your space, as Trump does in that video, he is sending the subliminal message “I am the boss of you. I have power over you. I can do you harm.” And women, even the most emancipated, fearless, and empowered of our ilk, know that in a very basic, biological sense, that message is true.

When I experienced that gut reaction to Trump’s behavior last night, I went on social media to see if my feelings were unusual or if other women were creeped out too. Turns out it was not just women who noticed. Nigel Farage, the architect of the misguided Brexit campaign in Britain, now an advisor on Trump’s campaign, said this:

“He looked like a big gorilla prowling the set. He is that big alpha male — that’s who he is, that’s who he is,” Farage said. “We all have comparisons to animals or whatever it may be, but that’s how he seems to me. The leader of the pack, that’s what he’s like.”

Even an idiot like Farage could read the body language on display last night.

Jane Goodall, the primate expert, told The Atlantic magazine, “In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals…”

That’s what happened last night. Trump may have also openly called Clinton a liar, threatened to imprison her and, in general, projected a ton of bile and hatred on to her verbally, but the volume really didn’t need to be on to understand what he was saying. You just had to look at him over the course of the 90-minute debate. His message was loud and clear. 

 

What it Means to be an American Citizen

Recently an ESL student of mine became a spanking new U.S. citizen. I’ve been teaching her English for about a year and a half, but the last six months were spent cramming for the citizenship exam, which has not only reading and writing tests but also big chunks of American history. To better help her remember the material she was memorizing, I often used Google Translate to explain complex concepts that the Founding Fathers had immortalized in the U.S. Constitution over 200 years ago. The very first paragraph is quite a mouthful –

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The entire paragraph is actually just one sentence, but it contains within that single sentence such a multitude of ideas that it took us a while to unpack them all and truly understand the purpose of the drafters. As we proceeded through the reading of American history, I felt such a sense of pride for this country I now call home.

Eight years ago, I had taken the same citizenship test, and I recall how my voice wobbled when I pledged allegiance to this country over my motherland India, where I had spent the first four decades of my life. What had kept me going through the solemn ceremony was the certainty that the values of this country I had now adopted were aligned with my personal belief system. Casting my first presidential vote for Barack Obama, who embodied those values and referred to them often, only made my pride in this country deepen.

Fast-forward to 2016 and I am looking on in horror as a minimum of 40% of the American populace seems to be in thrall to a racist, egomaniacal demagogue who has shattered all norms of civility, political correctness, and even lawful behavior, yet continues to have stable support among a plurality of Americans. Donald Trump once famously said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” His continued viability as a Presidential candidate seems to bear that out.

So what does this say about us as a country? About our claim of moral leadership? About our standing as the leader of the free world?

When I became a U.S. citizen I believed that America stood for certain values, and that core ethic justified its preeminence in its world. Yes, we made and continue to make mistakes in our self-governance and in our dealings with the world, but I’ve always hoped that we have a certain moral core that we return to to self-correct, to acknowledge our mistakes, to make reparations. What bolsters this belief is that I live in a society whose values lean increasingly towards acceptance of diversity, towards tolerance, towards punishing wrongdoers and rewarding virtue. Sometimes this belief gets shaken, as when I hear of black Americans unfairly targeted by police, or bank executives getting away scot-free after legally looting their stakeholders. But there has always been a sense that if we can mobilize, protest, and take action, these mistakes can be fixed.

But when a throwback like Donald Trump comes this close to power, I really have to question my fellow Americans and their loyalties. Have we really forgotten what we are and are meant to be as Americans? Do we need a reminder of what our values are? Well then, here’s a list, in no particular order –

  • We believe in a voice for everybody, regardless of their economic, social, or racial status.
  • We accept and welcome diversity
  • We believe in abiding by the law and none of is exempt from doing so
  • We pay our fair share of taxes and insurance to live in a stable, prosperous society
  • We care for our fellow citizens and our global brothers and sisters
  • We care for the environment and the ecology we are leaving to our children
  • We engage in respectful dialogue
  • We believe in equal opportunity
  • We are saddened by others’ suffering and seek to help where we can

And most important of all, America is a nation of “We” and not a country filled with “I’s,” each looking out for himself. This is enshrined in our constitution, whose first three words should give us a hint to the culture the framers were creating for the new country.

Donald Trump, you, your campaign, and your supporters need to take a closer look at what it trumpmeans to be a patriotic American. Take a minute for self-examination and think about whether the values I listed above are actually better held by immigrants like myself and my student, who honor them by our actions every single day or by rage-filled xenophobes like you who seem to have strayed far, far away from the ideals of this country.

Maybe each one of you should take the citizenship test too…it might teach you a few things you seem to have forgotten as you celebrate hate, denigrate the “other” and make a virtue of gaming the system. Then you might understand what it truly means to be an American.

Propositions on the California Ballot in November 2016

I’ve been an American citizen and diligent voter since 2008. Mulling over the propositions on the ballot in every election is a task I usually look forward to, but this year both the number of initiatives on the ballot and the sneaky provisions in many of them left me tired and not a little confused at the end of the process.

Here are my recommendations and if some leave you scratching your head, take a moment to check out my reasoning further down.

Proposition Intent Recommendation

 

Proposition 51 Allow Public School Bonds Vote NO
Proposition 52 No Diverting of Hospital Fee Vote YES
Proposition 53 Voter Approval for Revenue Bonds Vote NO
Proposition 54 Public Display of Legislative Bills Vote YES
Proposition 55 Income Tax Increase extension Vote YES
Proposition 56 Tobacco Tax Increase Vote YES
Proposition 57 Parole for Non-Violent Criminals Vote YES
Proposition 58 Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education Vote YES
Proposition 59 Overturn of Citizens United Act Advisory Vote YES
Proposition 60 Condoms in Pornographic Films Vote NO
Proposition 61 Drug Price Standards Initiative Vote NO
Proposition 62 Repeal of the Death Penalty Vote YES
Proposition 63 Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases and Large-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban Vote YES
Proposition 64 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Vote YES
Proposition 65 Revenue from Disposable Bag Sales to Wildlife Conservation Vote NO
Proposition 66 Death Penalty Procedures Initiative Vote NO
Proposition 67 Ratify Ban on Plastic Bags Vote YES

Proposition 51 – California Public School Facility Bonds Initiative: Voting Yes gives the state the authority to issue $9 billion in bonds that would mainly fund school infrastructure. The cost per annum to the state is estimated to be $500 million.
While there is no denying that California schools have infrastructure needs, a big problem with this bond is that it does not allocate funds on a need basis but on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that savvier school districts could easily divert bond money towards their own use instead of the money going to needy districts. The push for this proposition has come from realtors and while it has the support of both school boards and California PTA, it is opposed by Governor Jerry Brown, who thinks it is a give-away to developers, who had a big hand in writing this proposition.
VOTE NO.

Proposition 52 – Voter Approval to Divert Hospital Fee Revenue Dedicated to Medi-Cal: In 2009, a new program was created such that California hospitals were required to pay a fee to help the state obtain matching federal Medicaid funds. This program has resulted in California hospitals receiving roughly $2 billion a year in additional federal money to Medi-Cal. However, the state government has diverted some of the funds from the hospital fee program to the general fund. This proposition makes it much more difficult to divert Medical funds to general funds and also extends the hospital fee indefinitely so the state can continue receiving matching funds from the federal government. It has the support of every major newspaper editorial. Though I am generally not in favor of pushing more decisions to the voters, this proposition keeps funds where they belong.
VOTE YES.

Proposition 53 – Voter Approval Requirement for Revenue Bonds above $2 Billion Initiative: This proposition requires statewide voter approval before any revenue bonds can be issued by the state if the bond amount exceeds $2 billion.
This proposition is a perfect example of pushing a decision best taken by a democratically elected legislature onto the voters. As it is we have way too many propositions on the ballot every Presidential year. Do we really want to get into the nitty-gritties of each and every big spending proposal that the government wishes to make? Voting yes on this proposition will seriously hamper the ability of the government to do its job. In fact, some language in this bill requires even local projects to be approved by a state-wide vote. Ridiculous!
VOTE NO.

Proposition 54 – Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote: Requires that every bill is published in print and online at least 72 hours before each house of the legislature can vote on it. Also allows any individual to record open legislative sessions.
Even though this proposition is funded by a single billionaire Republican, it seems to bring more transparency to government, always a better direction for democracy. It also prevents a tactic known as “Gut and Amend” which allows legislators to remove complete sections of a bill that has been approved and replace it with completely different language at the last minute.
VOTE YES.

Proposition 55Extension of the Proposition 30 Income Tax Increase Initiative: Proposition 55 would continue the tax rates instituted by Proposition 30 through 2030, instead of Prop 30 expiring in 2018. The tax increase impacts the 1.5 percent of Californians with a single income filing of at least $263,000 or a joint income filing of at least $526,000.
What can I say – I am a tax and spend liberal! And the deciding factor for me is that 89% of the funds go to K-12 schools and 1% to community colleges. And if you are making half a million dollars a year on a joint income, you can afford to give an extra 1-3%!
VOTE YES.

Proposition 56 – Tobacco Tax Increase: This proposition increases taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products by the equivalent of $2 per pack. It does not address the allocation of that money, which presumably will be the same as before, going to anti-smoking initiatives etc.
I don’t smoke and I believe smoking is bad, so I would have been in favor anyway, but the kicker is that this proposition puts a tax on e-cigarettes as well, and considering how vaping is getting more and more popular among new and young smokers, I am happy to support anything that discourages that practice.
VOTE YES.

Proposition 57 – Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative: A “yes” vote supports increasing parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and allowing judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. About 25,000 nonviolent state felons that could seek early release and parole under Proposition 57. Also, instead of prosecutors, judges would decide whether to try juveniles as young as 14 years old in adult court.
Given our knowledge about the development of the adolescent brain, I am completely in favor of leeway in sentencing guidelines for juveniles. Also, it makes sense to try other methods of rehabilitation for non-violent offenders than throw them in our already over-crowded prisons. However, the Mercury News opposes the proposition for being poorly written. My guess is that the proposition is deliberately worded loosely to give law-enforcement some discretion in who to release.
VOTE YES.

Proposition 58 – Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education Act: 20 years ago, Prop 227 mandated that English learners be taught in English-only immersion classes. Supposedly this was because bilingual education was not preparing immigrants, especially Hispanics, for the workforce as they were able to get by in their native language in school.
Fast forward to today and educational methods and practices have changed to using bilingual methods to impart instruction, even language. Proposition 58, therefore, wants to repeal Prop 227 to allow teachers and educators more flexibility in imparting instruction.
On the face of it, this makes sense to me and the proposition has the support of teachers state-wide.
VOTE YES.

Proposition 59 – Overturn of Citizens United Act Advisory Question: As far as I can tell, this proposition doesn’t actually do anything but ask California’s elected officials to use their authority to propose and ratify an amendment to the Constitution overturning Citizens United. Despite being a rather toothless measure, voting yes signals your support for overturning Citizens United, the law that prevents any checks on corporate money in American politics.
VOTE YES.

Proposition 60 – Condoms in Pornographic Films Initiative: A “yes” vote would be a vote in favor of requiring the use of condoms and other protective measures during the filming of pornographic films, as well as requiring pornography producers to pay for certain health requirements and checkups.
At first this seems like a no-brainer, till you discover that not only do most major newspapers oppose it, it is a rare bill that is opposed by both the California Democratic AND California Republican parties! This is because this proposition opens the door to millions of frivolous lawsuits. A statement for the opposition says “Under Prop 60, California will become the first state in the nation to allow and incentivize ANY RESIDENT to sue a worker for how they do their job, creating the potential for a lawsuit bonanza that will fill up the courts and sidestep a government agency, costing California millions.” Check this link for more on the opposition. http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2016/8/17/suing-porn-stars-will-not-lead-less-hiv
The Proposition is also opposed by the only association of adult movie workers, the people who have the most to gain from such a health initiative, if it were legit.
VOTE NO.

Proposition 61 – Drug Price Standards Initiative: A “yes” vote would mean that state agencies would pay the same amount for prescription drugs as the VA. It does not regulate the price paid by individuals.
Again, at first glance this seems to be a clear choice. We all hate Big Pharma, especially in the light of the recent Epi-Pen price hikes. And this proposition is fervently opposed by pharma companies. However, the problem seems to be in implementation. By linking Medical drug prices with VA prices, the state runs the risk of having pharma companies raise prices on VA drugs to meet the letter of the law. Or some drugs would become unavailable. Or pharma companies could raise the prices on the drugs that are not supplied to the VA. The cartel nature of the pharmaceutical industry in this country leaves a bad taste in the mouth but a law that cannot be implemented and only hampers the negotiating ability of the state cannot be a good one.
VOTE NO.

Proposition 62 – Repeal of the Death Penalty Initiative: A “yes” vote supports repealing the death penalty and making life without the possibility of parole the maximum punishment for murder.
This one is a personal choice but I don’t believe in the philosophy of “a life for a life.”
VOTE YES.

Proposition 63 – Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases and Large-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban Initiative: A “yes” vote supports prohibiting the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring certain individuals to pass a background check in order to purchase ammunition.
The opposition to this common-sense bill is the usual “civil liberties violation” one, but most sane people approve of background checks and don’t feel the need to own large-capacity guns or ammo for personal safety.
VOTE YES.

Proposition 64 – California Marijuana Legalization Initiative: Legalizes recreational marijuana and hemp under state law and establishes certain sales and cultivation taxes.
Marijuana would now be legal (for adults), taxed, and licensed. Funds would be used to study marijuana, develop protocols for safe use, and disbursed to health centers and non-profits working in this space.
To decide how to vote on this proposition, it’s worth looking at the effects of legalizing marijuana in Colorado. The state’s top health official, Dr. Larry Wolk, says, “… since legalization no … troubling public health trends have cropped up yet.” Legalization has brought millions into state coffers. The police, who were worried about the increase in drug-related offences have mainly struggled with DUI issues.
Lawmakers in Colorado who held their breath after the law was passed in 2014 concede that the new law has not had any real negative impact in the state.
As for the DUI problem, Stanford students are already working on a “pot-alyzer!” The more this compound is legal and out in the open, the better we can study it, understand it and of course, use it!
VOTE YES.

Proposition 65 – Dedication of Revenue from Disposable Bag Sales to Wildlife Conservation: This is the first of 2 initiatives related to the ban of plastic grocery bags. A “yes” vote is a vote in favor of redirecting money collected from the sale of carry-out bags by grocery or other retail stores to a special fund administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board. Currently these funds go to the store themselves.
This is one sneaky bill, sponsored by a few out-of-state plastic bag companies. There are two very suspicious aspects to the bill. First is Section 6(a) of the bill, which says that if this measure win more votes than Proposition 67, which seeks to uphold the plastic bag ban law SB 270, then all the provisions of Prop 67 would become void, which could be interpreted as rescinding the bag ban by the courts. Potentially, the law SB 270 banning plastic bags could be reversed if Prop 65 wins.
Secondly, this measure would make grocery stores oppose banning plastic bags, if it meant a loss of the revenue from the sale of plastic bag alternatives. It would also make a 10-cent fine into a government tax, which people instinctively dislike. Also, it would not, in any way, reduce the actual use of plastic bags.
VOTE NO.

Proposition 66 – Death Penalty Procedures Initiative: In the guise of changing procedures relating to death penalty convictions, what this proposition essentially does is nullify the repeal of the death penalty under Prop 62 if it gets more votes.
VOTE NO.

Proposition 67 – Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum: A “yes” vote is a vote in favor of upholding or ratifying the contested legislation banning plastic bags that was enacted by the California State Legislature under the name Senate Bill 270.
This proposition essentially ratifies SB 270 that bans the use of plastic bags statewide. But the reason this proposition, also brought by plastic bag manufacturers, is on the ballot is to confuse voters into picking Prop 65 over Prop 67, because of the end use of the carry-out bag revenues. Then the provisions of Prop 65 would be used to overturn SB 270. Don’t get fooled. Vote Yes on 67 and No on 65.
VOTE YES.

A Journey to Bring Peace Through Music

pruthvi śāntir antarikshagam śāntir dhyau śāntir diśa śāntih
diśa śāntir avāntaradiśā śāntir agniśāntir vāyur śāntihi

(May there be peace on the earth, the skies, space, in all directions and in the elements)

With this invocation, 150 voices joyfully soar in the oratorio Shanti, a Journey of Peace, singing of a connected world where there may be many ways to reach the source, but there is no concept of the “other” and we are all united in a state of oneness.

This ambitious choral work, augmented by dance and multimedia, is the creation of Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran, (fondly called Kanniks) and makes its premiere in the Bay Area on April 30, 2016. A blend of Indian and Western voices, Shanti is composed in a unique style developed by Kanniks, a blend of Indian and Western choirs with support from instruments and dance performances.

“My work is strictly based on harmonizing Indian ragas,” explains Kanniks. He is very particular about maintaining the structure and purity of the Indian ragas while writing polyphony for them. Kanniks uses the foundation of Indian classical music, particularly Hindustani classical music, to create a new sound that combines Indian and Western voices. “We have our way of singing with a little bit of ornamentation and voice texture,” he notes. “Our voices are trained to sing a certain way. When you combine our voices with the traditional Western soprano, alto, tenor, and bass sounds, that’s when you get goosebumps!”

Kanniks, who is trained in Carnatic music, gave his first vocal performance at the age of 13. A graduate of IIT Madras, he arrived in the US in 1984 to pursue a Masters in Materials Engineering and later an MBA in Information Systems. He began attending Western classical concerts out of curiosity and was spellbound by the music as well as the discipline of the performers. He taught himself Western music theory and MIDI and began experimenting with his new sound.

“Western composers have tried to incorporate some elements of Indian classical music,” he says. “But the music still has a Western approach, with just a feel of the raga – or an Indian sound in places. My compositions are written from an Indo-centric perspective.”

To his surprise and delight, he has been able to integrate many more elements into his creations than he thought possible to begin with. “When you talk about Western music you are talking about a range of frequencies that are available through various instruments. I visualize a length of an alaap (the improvised section of a raga) then support it with voice layers which harmonize without hurting the raga. On top of that I add layers of strings, woodwinds and even percussion like timpani and brass. They are all playing different things but the unified effect is what gives you chills.” The orchestra and Western voices he uses to enhance the ragas are not standalone pieces; they provide support and depth.

Kanniks created his first piece Basant (Spring) in 1994 in Cincinnati, where he lives and works as a consultant in the field of data warehousing and analytics. Basant was performed with a group of young, amateur Indian singers and accompanied by a Cincinnati church choir and local orchestra.

“Working with Western musicians was quite a learning experience,” he recalls. For one, the musicians could not abide the constant drone of the tanpura, an instrument used by Indian musicians to keep the pitch. Taken aback initially, Kanniks came around to their point of view. “I figured the Goddess Saraswati would not be offended if we switched it off,” he laughs.

He also realized that he could not rely on any improvisation on their part. “The entire score has to be written down and fixed,” he says. “It is comforting to have Indian musicians who can just wing it based on your instructions, but with Western musicians you have the satisfaction of knowing that the sound will be exactly the same each time and delivered perfectly.”

He also quickly realized that unlike Indian performers, Western musicians were very disciplined when it came to rehearsals. “If I had a rehearsal from 9 am to 11:30 am, the musicians would troop in at 8:50, start tuning their instruments and be ready to begin at 9 sharp. At 11:30 they would just pack up and leave, even if we were in the middle of a piece.” Unused to this behavior, Kanniks put it down to rudeness before realizing that this was, in fact, professionalism!

How does he come up with the themes of his compositions? “I think that even with my very first piece, Basant, my effort was to find unity through ragas and conveying the message that together we are bigger than the sum of our parts, though I am better at articulating that message these days!”

His second piece, The Blue Jewel, conveyed how the environment is sacred to us all, no matter which culture we come from. Film slides played during the performance captured the wanton destruction of the earth by human beings, while ragas with diabolical or devil’s intervals, sung by the choir, suggested the discord the environmental destruction had brought about. The piece ended on a message of hope and a prayer that we could correct course and respect and restore the blue jewel of the Earth. “When you want to show something big, music alone is not enough,” says Kanniks, who uses multimedia in nearly all his performances.

One exception is his Ragas in Symphony, which recently had a sold-out performance in Dallas. “It does not have a story line like Shanti,” explains Kanniks. “It is just about the changing of the seasons. We start out by holding the sacred sound of cosmic energy – Om. It is from this energy that everything manifested. You and I and everything else are a manifestation of this un-manifest reality. When we sing the piece we get in touch with this reality.” Ragas in Symphony also debuted the Nightingale Overture, a composition by Kanniks that paid tribute to the work of M.S. Subbulakshmi, the acclaimed Carnatic vocalist.

Shanti, A Journey of Peace, is Kannik’s most ambitious work. The musical extravaganza features both Indian and Western vocalists, a Western orchestra, multimedia support, and several dance troupes that bring the music to life. This synthesis of Indian and Western music in choral form is a new genre by itself.

Here is an excerpt of a previous performance of Shanti

Indian classical music, despite its beauty and complexity, has no choral or, for that matter, no vertical elements to it. “Indian classical music is about individual self-expression,” Kanniks points out. “There is no word in North or South Indian music that signifies a concert, a coming together of musicians.” Indeed, the closest modern word for a musical performance in South India is “Kachcheri” which is derived from an Urdu and Hindi word meaning “court,” signifying the patronage of musicians in the king’s court. Kanniks’ creations, therefore, forge a new path for Indian music.

“Here’s what I would like to leave behind,” says Kanniks when discussing his legacy. “Maybe one day we can have 100 choirs in a 100 cities. Each choir has a leader who I mentor. I create hundreds of taranas(melodies) with these harmonies that are performed by these choirs. Eventually each choir becomes self-sufficient.”

“My dream is that when the city hall is celebrating Diwali, this choir is invited to perform. We become part of the musical landscape. And when a newcomer moves to a city and they want an opportunity to sing, they find this organization and join.”

“To begin with, I will be the source of the music and provide the template. In another 10 years people familiar with the music will start writing their own compositions.”

Kanniks’ dream is well on its way. He has founded and led community choirs in 10 cities in North America including Cincinnati OH, Bethlehem PA, Dallas TX and Washington DC. He has expanded his work to Europe (The Hague – Netherlands). Now he brings his opus Shanti to two venues in the Bay Area, supported by a devoted and enthusiastic set of Indian and Western musicians and performers.

To experience the magic of Shanti – A Journey of Peace for yourself, check out http://www.dcfshanti.org/performances/

Performances are at 5 pm and 9 pm on April 30, 2016 at Flint Center in Cupertino and at 7 pm on May 21, 2016 at the Interstake Auditorium in Oakland. There is a special 50% off promotion going on the 5PM show on the 30th of April. Please avail of this discount using the discount code ‘MAR’ at Ticketmaster, accessed through the link above.

(Full Disclosure: I am one of the singers in Shanti! My experience with the rehearsals has been enormously uplifting and I often find myself humming the tunes while going about my day’s work. There’s something to be said about having a head filled with music, isn’t it?)

Senior Centers – A home away from home?

Update: This post was originally published on September 2010. There’s been a lively interest in the comments all these years so I have reposted to the front page to keep it current.
By Geeta Padmanabhan
In a society where one of the first lessons a youngster learns is to respect and obey the elderly in the family, touch their feet as often as possible or at least when he/she takes leave and returns from a trip, where every young girl moving to her husband’s home is told to take care of the in-laws and treat her husband’s family as her own, the growing phenomenon of retirement centres must come as a bit of a surprise.