Emil Guillermo: For many Asian Americans, Vincent Chin's death was an awakening
June 19, 2016 11:55 AM

With Orlando still fresh in the national consciousness, is there anyone who doesn't know what constitutes a hate crime?

And yet, when it comes to Asian Americans, America has not always been sure. 

That is one of the main lessons of the classic case of Vincent Chin, when the legal system stumbled badly. Chin's fatal beating, which took place in a Detroit suburb June 19, 1982, was at first thought to be a hate crime, then not. Then a hate crime again, and then on appeal, not. 

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That public display of non-justice ultimately caused a generation of Asian Americans to rise up for their civil rights. 

Not that there wasn't historical reason piled up on historical reason for Asian Americans to know their tenuous place on the rights continuum. A discriminatory pattern from the Chinese Exclusion, to the Gentleman's Agreement, the Filipino exclusion of 1934's Tydings-McDuffie Act, to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, was well established. There was more than enough for Asian Americans to stay vigilant.

But the 1980s was the decade after the triumph of civil rights in the '60s. Add to that the lifting of immigration limits in 1965, and Asian Americans were generally feeling good about their lives in American society. Everyone was feeling good after the disco '70s. In the early '80s, Asian Americans were in a kind of lull.

Vincent Chin was our awakening.

And to this day. there has never been any ambivalence that Chin's death was a hate crime.

Except for the perp, Ronald Ebens.

Four years ago, I interviewed Ebens exclusively on the phone about the night he beat Chin. He insisted to me that it wasn't about hate. 

Here's an excerpt from that original column

"It should never have happened," said Ebens. "[And] it had nothing to do with the auto industry or Asians or anything else. Never did, never will. I could have cared less about that. That's the biggest fallacy of the whole thing."

That night at the club, after some harsh words were exchanged, Ebens said Chin stood up and came around to the other side of the stage. "He sucker-punched me and knocked me off my chair. That's how it started. I didn't even know he was coming," Ebens said.

Chin's friends testified that Ebens made racial remarks, mistaking Chin to be Japanese. And then when Chin got into a shoving match, Ebens threw a chair at him but struck Nitz instead.

But Ebens' version that there was no racial animosity or epithets is actually supported by testimony from Chin's friend, Jimmy Choi, who apologized to Ebens for Chin's behavior that included Chin throwing a chair and injuring Nitz.

What about the baseball bat and how Ebens and Nitz followed Chin to a nearby McDonald's?

Ebens said when all parties were asked to leave the strip club, they were out in the street. It's undisputed that Chin egged Ebens to fight on.

"The first thing he said to me is 'You want to fight some more?'" Ebens recalled. "Five against two is not good odds," said Ebens, who declined to fight.

Then later, when Chin and his friends left, Ebens' stepson went to get a baseball bat from his car.(Ironically, it was a Jackie Robinson model).  Ebens said he took it away from Nitz because he didn't want anyone taking it from him and using it on them.

But then Ebens said his anger got the best of him and he drove with Nitz to find Chin, finally spotting him at the nearby McDonald's.

"That's how it went down," Ebens said. "If he hadn't sucker punched me in the bar...nothing would have ever happened. They forced the issue. And from there after the anger built up, that's where things went to hell."

Ebens calls it "the gospel truth."

But he says he's cautious speaking now because he doesn't want to be seen as shifting the blame. "I'm as much to blame," he sadly admitted. "I should've been smart enough to just call it a day. After they started to disperse, [it was time to] get in the car and go home."

At the McDonald's where the blow that led to Chin's death actually occurred, Ebens' memory is more selective. To this day, he even wonders about hitting Chin with the bat. "I went over that a hundred, maybe 1,000 times in my mind the last 30 years. It doesn't make sense of any kind that I would swing a bat at his head when my stepson is right behind him. That makes no sense at all."

And then he quickly added, almost wistfully, "I don't know what happened."

Another time in the interview, he admitted his memory may be deficient. "That was really a traumatic thing, " he told me about his testimony. "I hardly remember even being on the stand."

He 
admitted that everyone had too much to drink that night. But he's not claiming innocence.

"No," Ebens said. "I took my shot in court. I pleaded guilty to what I did, regardless of how it occurred or whatever. A kid died, OK. And I feel bad about it. I still do."

Ebens told me he has Asian friends where he lives, though he didn't indicate if he shares his past with them. When he thinks about Chin, he said no images come to mind.

"It just makes me sick to my stomach, that's all," he said, thinking about all the lives that were wrecked, both Chin's and his own.

By the end of our conversation, Ebens still wasn't sure he wanted me to tell his story. "It will only alienate people," he said. "Why bother? I just want to be left alone and live my life."

At least, he's alive.

After the night of June 19, Chin battled for his life for four days, until he finally died of his injuries on June 23.

I've always thought these four days should be a special period of remembrance for all Asian Americans to consider what happened to Vincent Chin.

In some ways, it was fitting that this year, the beating day coincided with Father's Day. Many would consider Chin the father of modern Asian American activism. 

And as the anniversary falls on the heels of the Orlando shootings, the stark reminder is still there after all these years. 

It all could happen to any of us again.

For the four days when Chin was in a coma from June 19 to June 23, we should all pause and think of his case. And then we should move on refreshed, knowing that for Asian Americans, there's still much more to be done.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: Father's Day, Orlando, and Islamophobia
June 17, 2016 12:58 PM

Father's Day is this weekend, so I'm thinking about my dad, again.

After all these years, and despite my own dear children, I still defer to my late father.

It's still his day. 

And now suddenly, thanks to Orlando and Donald Trump, it really does feel like the late 1920s and 1930s again in America.

The politics of fear, played out by today's Islamophobia, is very similar to what I call the "Filipinophobia" that took place when my father arrived in California from the Philippines.

Filipinos weren't on a Jihad. Through Spanish colonialism, they were Catholic. But because of American colonialism, they were Nationals. American Nationals. Not citizens. Not slaves. Just not good enough. They were in a strange limbo, exploitable as labor but unwanted. And yet worthy of travel without green cards. 

They sought their fortune, though they would settle for opportunity. Instead, they took menial jobs no one wanted and consorted with the native women, who happened to be white.

It caused a virulent nativist reaction to their presence that resulted in violence, deaths, and a successful call for extreme limits on Filipino immigration.

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I tell the story about what my father encountered in a performance piece I've been preparing for a workshop next Friday, June 24, at the Filipino American National History Association's conference in New York. 

I will feature an excerpt of my "Amok" monologue, where I talk about my father's journey, how it impacted my own life, and how it's all connected to the recent violent shooting death of my cousin Stephen.

Check it out if you can.

The entire conference is interesting. Filipino American history isn't just a subset of Asian American history, but it's all a part of that hidden American history that few seem to know about.

My dad's story is part of my experimenting in the autobiographical monologue-style that I combined in my journalism when I was a host at NPR's "All Things Considered." 

Initially, I discovered the style while I was an arts reporter and critic for the NBC affiliate in San Francisco and interviewed the monologist, Spalding Gray.
 
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Gray was always a truthful and engaging storyteller, with occasional laughs. Just don't call him a standup comic. "Sit-down comic" if anything, he told me. Gray called himself a "poetic journalist" and made his name telling the real stories of his life. 

And then he jumped off the Staten Island Ferry and died.

I'm not going to jump off the Staten Island Ferry, but the story I tell is an emotional one, more interested in the blood that runs through history, rather than the footnotes.

We live in a storytelling culture, though sometimes we'd all rather be private than public. As a consequence, more often than not, stories aren't told. We stay quiet. I'm not.

I'm always surprised when I mention nuggets of Filipino American history like the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which changed the status of Filipinos from American nationals to just plain Filipino-and subject to deportation.

Essentially, it was the Filipino Exclusion Act, the final act of American Filipinophobia.
 
My father survived it. But just barely. 

Orlando and Islamophobia
The coincidence of so much death and hate of late is almost too much to bear. 

This I know: the pain never fades.

I still have enough problems with the violent gun death of my 27-year-old cousin in 2014, and then, there was the anniversary of my father's passing this week in 1978. All that, and now Orlando's 50 dead (we shouldn't really forget the shooter, no matter how despicable he may have acted). 

When even my distractions (the NBA Finals) disappoint, it seems like there's nowhere to turn.

In the case of the Pulse massacre, the deaths are so fresh with each news report, it's as if the blood never dries. It all just keeps flowing, as we search for a way to apply some relief.

One thing is clear. Our so-called political leaders are hardly able to come up with any real answers, certainly not in their opening responses.

Curbing guns should be the easy one. But it's not. I reported on my first AR-15 semi-automatic mass shooting in Texas in June of 1980. It was in a church. Five killed, ten injured, a big one for its time. 

Thirty-six years later, and a near 15-hour filibuster hardly seems that impressive, when I doubt it will result in meaningful legislation. 

So maybe we can come together to take on homophobia and Islamophobia?

Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump keeps fanning the flames of Islamophobia, invoking the politics of fear that Asian Americans know all too well. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Japanese American internment, fear has always been a failed American response. 

But it always has been the first response to America's "others."

It has never worked short-term or long-term.

This week, we saw Trump baiting President Obama with the "Islamic Radicalism" argument. The best we could hope for was the president angrily exposing Trump, which he did.

I'm just surprised that even smart people can sometimes be fooled by the GOP leader's tough guy rhetoric, which is simply a veiled effort to legitimize xenophobia.

So what is the best answer? Invite your Muslim friends over for shwarma and beer? High in calories, but it couldn't hurt.

They aren't the enemy. 

Last year, I interviewed Parvez Sharma, the director of a much heralded documentary, "A Sinner in Mecca." It depicts Sharma, a gay Muslim American who lives in New York, making his spiritual journey to Mecca, despite Islam's stance against homosexuality. In particular, the film exposed Saudi Arabia's rigid Wahhabi ideology. 

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I called Sharma this week to ask him about Orlando. He said he was horrified by the news, but put off by the platitudes of liberals and Muslim pundits, whom he called apologists for Islam.

"As I fast this month of Ramadan, I am ready to have the courage to say this," Sharma told me. "As far as I am concerned, and I say this as a devout Muslim, I will never say 'Islam is a religion of peace.' That's reductive and specious. We as Muslims need to start looking inwards so we can have the strength to challenge this kind of violence that lives amongst us."

He seems to be saying that the religion may have violence. But people don't have to resort to violence. They can choose peace and work toward that. 

Sharma says he isn't looking for a theological way out of explaining or "apologizing" for Islam.
He is, however, keying in on individuals. And being on alert.

"We need to call out Islamophobes, but we need to call out our own," Sharma said. "Muslims have been living with non-Muslims peacefully throughout the world for over 14 centuries. So that's not even a question. It's what we've always done."

But it becomes a problem when non-Muslims use the religion to justify stereotyping people in the name of fear. 

Just remember Sharma. 

It also pays to remember the history of our fathers before we give in to the generalized fear of Trump's "seen-one-seen-them-all-till-further-notice" approach. 

Asian Americans know what it's like to be on the wrong end of that equation, when nativists use fear in their desire to make America white again. To stand united against that is what makes America great again.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies



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Emil Guillermo: Orlando massacre another wakeup call for all Americans to unite against homophobia, Islamophobia, and gun violence
June 12, 2016 8:15 PM

On the occurrence of the worst mass shooting and act of domestic terror in U.S. history, this is the kind of diversity we don't like to talk about.

The perp is one of us.

The alleged shooter is 29-year-old Omar Siddiqui Mateen, born in New York to Afghani immigrants. Mateen's an American of South Asian descent, and by the selfies he posted online, he looks like a normal millennial. With his family, Mateen relocated to Florida where he worked as a private security guard. 

But early Sunday morning, Mateen was anything but normal. Reports say after he unloaded his AR-15 automatic rifle into a crowd at an Orlando gay bar, Mateen called 911 and pledged his support to ISIS.  

Despite being on the FBI's radar for years for having contact with suspicious ISIS members, communicating with ISIS is no crime in a free country--not until you act on behalf of ISIS.

This weekend, Mateen, apparently, chose his suicidal path.

But it leaves us as an American society to deal with this scary reality.
 
The terrorists are doing a better job at recruiting a handful of South Asian Americans to do nefarious deeds than mainstream institutions are doing in assuring us all that we are indeed part of one great America. 

Just look at the message of the great wall-builder Donald Trump. The GOP presidential candidate wants a ban on Muslims. And when he sees a federal judge with an Hispanic name, it's just assumed he's Mexican, a foreigner, disloyal, and definitely not an American, despite the judge being born in Indiana. 

Add to all that the increasing inequality in the U.S., a vanishing middle class, and a growing sense that there are more "have nots" than "haves." Is it any wonder that images of the Orlando crime scene looked like it could have been a bombing anywhere in what we used to call condescendingly the "Third World"? 

That's where we are in America these days when the "war" is here at home.

So, yes we must mourn and offer our condolences to families of the victims of this horrendous crime. 

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But we must also come to terms with what's at stake in this tragedy--and how only by standing together do we have a chance to continue to be a great and free country.

It was a basic theme in statements from leaders in the greater Asian American community.

"Today was a terrible reminder that the fight against homophobia and discrimination is not over," said Congressman Mike Honda, CA-17, representative of the Silicon Valley. "I echo President Obama's words, 'Attacks on all Americans whether it's over race, gender culture, religion or sexual orientation is an attack on all of us.'"

Honda quoted President Obama who gave a statement earlier in the day on what one media organization said was the 15th shooting he's had to comment on during his two terms. 

But for Honda, the Orlando massacre hit even closer to home. His congressional district includes Fremont, the city with the largest Afghani community in the U.S.

"It has been reported that the shooter was a Muslim American," Honda continued. "We must remember that this individual does not speak for all Muslim Americans, and his violence is being loudly condemned by Muslim American groups across our country. We cannot allow fear to blind us with hate."

"This month we celebrate the holy month of Ramadan and LGBTQ Pride Month - celebrations centered around compassion and community. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim, gay, lesbian, transgender and queer brothers and sisters; and all Americans affected by this heinous act of violence."

At a Washington, DC news conference, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was even more direct about what to call Orlando.

"This is a hate crime, plain and simple," said Nihad Awad, CAIR national executive director. "We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. It violates our principles as Americans and as Muslims. Let me be clear, we have no tolerance for extremism of any kind."

Awad called religious freedom a cornerstone of the community's beliefs as Muslims and Americans. He said unity was the answer to the violence in Orlando.

"Today we must stand united," Awad said. "For many years, members of the LGBTQIA community have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community against any acts of hate crimes, Islamophobia, marginalization, and discrimination."

"Today we stand with them shoulder to shoulder. The liberation of the American Muslim community is profoundly linked to the liberation of other minority groups, blacks, Latinos, gay Jewish, trans and any other community that has faced discrimination and oppression in this country. We cannot fight injustice against some groups and not against others. Homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia are interconnected systems of oppression, and we cannot dismantle one without dismantling the others."

Awad then had a specific message to Muslim Americans: "Now is the time to speak out and make clear that we will not give in to hate. And we will not give in to fear."

And then he had a specific message to ISIS and its supporters.

"How would you stand before God and answer to your crimes against innocent people, thousands of innocent people, Muslims, Christians and other minorities. You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. You are an aberration, an outlaw," Awad said. He added that the "1.7 billion people are united" in rejecting ISIS's extremism, their interpretation of Islam, and their acts of senseless violence."

Awad finished with one more message to public figures like the Donald Trumps of the world.
"And to those politicians who may try to exploit this tragedy," Awad said, "we ask them to respect the victims and their families. This is not the time to score points. This is not the time to spawn fear. This is the time for unity and faith."

Here's an amen to all that, with one addendum.

The best way to deal with hate is to fill the world with love.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: Muhammad Ali spoke out for all people of color, even Asian Americans
June 4, 2016 5:14 PM

I was still a small boy when I first heard Muhammad Ali's infamous declaration that all the world heard. And remembered.

It was the bellow of self-esteem that came deep from within Ali. 

It struck me deep in the heart.


He was the greatest?

I took him at his word. There was no question.

In February 1964, there was no Civil Rights Act officially enacted until later that summer.

I didn't think I needed one of those.

I never thought I couldn't be anything I wanted to be.

But that's because I hadn't heard my first of many "no's" in my life.

And so I needed to hear the first affirmative. My resounding yes.

And it came from Ali.

I was a kid in San Francisco, who grew up in all the city's finest ghettos and had best friends in 1st grade that included African Americans and Chinese Americans (we had the best kickball team in the school yard). 

I had come to love boxing and revere boxers as many Filipinos do. I remember watching the fights on black and white TV. Emile Griffith was a favorite. We shared initials.

But it was the Filipino boxers my father talked about. There was Speedy Dado, Diosdado Posadas, who was the same age as my dad. He was one of the few Filipino champion anything, Bantamweight champ in 1931 in California.

And then there was Ceferino Garcia, who fought for the middleweight crown in Madison Square Garden in 1939 and held the title for seven months. 

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Garcia was known for the bolo punch, a combination hook and uppercut that sliced opponents like a Filipino knife. He later became better known for being the driver and bodyguard for Mae West.

That made him infamous.

So boxers had cred with my family.

But no boxer, no athlete period, ever did what Muhammad Ali did.

He stood up and fought for us all. 

My father loved the San Francisco Giants and Willie Mays. 

But outside of Jackie Robinson, no one's fight in baseball or any team sport took on a personal and political dimension like a boxer of the stature of Muhammad Ali.

He was literally fighting for all of us.

No matter where you were in the continuum of the white racists' hit parade, from Blacks, Latinos, to the Chinese (excluded 1882), Japanese (excluded by the so-called "Gentleman's Agreement of 1907"), and Filipinos (excluded in 1934 by the Tydings-McDuffie Act), one man stood up for all of us.

That's why Muhammad Ali is so important. 

Yes, the draft fight was important. Yes, the name change from Cassius Clay was important.

But it was just the affirmation of a person of color as "the greatest."

Who was speaking for us, Speedy Dado? Ceferino Garcia? They were just memories.

But there was Ali, who stood fearlessly. And loudly.

Given the time, it was the message the world needed to hear.

We could stand up. Speak out. Have courage.  

It's what a Filipino kid from San Francisco in the '60s needed to believe.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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Emil Guillermo: Asian Americans back Bernie Sanders in new Field Poll in California, but don't jump to conclusions--yet
June 2, 2016 4:58 PM

Hillary Clinton changed her schedule and is back in California campaigning again. And it wasn't just to give that policy speech in San Diego. 

Her words were like scuds at the presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, of the now defunct Trump University.

Clinton could have given that speech anywhere.

But her presence was required in the Golden State to stave off that hard-charging Bernie Sanders.

Seems like June in California has become maple syrup time for the Vermont senator.

Californians, especially Asian Americans, seem to like the sweet taste.

In the nation's most Asian American state, the latest Field Poll is showing Clinton and Sanders virtually deadlocked, with Clinton at 45 percent, Sanders 43 percent. Undecideds were at 12 percent.

Where was Sanders' support? 

Among Asian Americans, apparently.

The Field Poll had Asian Americans backing Sanders by a whopping 47 percent to 34 percent over Clinton. 

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Thirteen points?

No wonder Hillary ditched Jersey to stump a bit more in California.

California's Asian Americans are considered to be among the most loyal Clintonites since Bill blew a saxophone in the White House. 

But somehow the Field Poll breakouts show an alarming demographic shift. 

Among Whites, at 56 percent of the electorate, Clinton has a slight 44-43 edge over Sanders, a virtual dead heat.

Latinos, at 26 percent of the electorate, also give Clinton a slightly wider edge, 46-42 percent.

But African Americans, at 9 percent of the electorate, give Clinton the widest margin 57-36 percent. 

Leave it to the Asian Americans to buck that trend.

It's a normal Asian American poll spread, with a high percentage of undecided voters, 19 percent.

But with Asian Americans 11 percent of the electorate, I didn't predict a Sanders dominance over Clinton by 47-34 percent. 

I recall last January when Filipino American philanthropist and activist Loida Lewis led a campaign bus tour of California to rally Asian Americans for Hillary in Southern California.

Back then, Sanders was nowhere in the polls and Hillary was already deemed "presumptive."

Now, despite most mainstream media sentiment that Clinton is still the "presumptive" nominee, Sanders is closing in with a vengeance.

And who likes him more than anyone else? Asian Americans.

The Field Poll is a reputable poll. I've known Mark DiCamillo, the pollster, for many years, and we've discussed the difficulty in polling Asian Americans accurately. 

You have to poll in-language. You have to oversample. Even in California.

I asked Mark about the big lead, and he put it in perspective.

"As was indicated in our poll report, the sample of Asian Americans included in our sample of California voters likely to participate in next week's Democratic Presidential primary election was small," DiCamillo said. "The total number of interviews that we completed among all likely voters in the Democratic primary was 571. Of these, 10% were Asian Americans, so results from the Asian American subsample would be subject to a sampling error of +/- 14 percentage points."

So there goes the 13 point Sanders lead? "While the poll indicates a 13-point lead for Sanders, because of the large sampling error ranges applicable to this subgroup, we really can't say with any degree of certainty who is ahead among the state's Asian American voters," DiCamillo said.

"So, I wouldn't lean too much on this one poll to draw conclusions.  Next week's exit poll of California voters will likely provide more definitive results since its sample size will be much larger."

It might make Clinton supporters feel a bit more relaxed.

But if anyone doubted Sanders' broad appeal, a diverse state like California is proving them all wrong. The Field Poll showed Sanders is still trending, with more enthusiastic support than Clinton has.

It almost begs for a side-by-side comparison. 

We used to call them debates. They used to have them in California. But not this year.

There were debates earlier in the campaign in Iowa and Wisconsin, where there aren't many Asian Americans, and no one talked about our issues. We were invisible and had to interpolate "Asian Americans" where we could.

But on our country's ethanol policy?

It doesn't make sense that in the state that would be the world's seventh largest economy, none of California's issues get raised when it matters. And the issues are pretty California-specific. 

Example: what's the federal policy on the drought? 

But there was Trump in California's aggie Central Valley last week declaring there was no drought in California.

My brown grass doesn't lie. 

The drought exists.

A presidential debate in California before the June 7th primary does not.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


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