Realm Of Randomness

July 24, 2007

A 2$ lesson on Pan-handlers

Filed under: Opinion,Racism,Rant — Randomizer @ 12:46 am

For most of the non-US readers of this blog, the term ‘Pan-handler’ must seem odd. Well, that’s understandable, because this is the United States – where Strip clubs are Gentlemen’s clubs, illegal immigrants are undocumented aliens, toilets are restrooms, and beggars are – ‘Pan handlers’, because they pan-handle, or hand you a ‘pan’ to collect money.


I’ve been approached by Pan-handlers pretty rarely, compared to India, and of course, these guys are much much better off than their Indian counterparts in terms of lifestyle, clothing and options … however they are that much harder to ignore.

Incident #1

I was approached by a pretty healthy looking, 20- something African-american male in Houston Downtown once, last year. He got right to the point, saying ‘Hey, could I please have a dollar?’ . Being the first time I was ever solicited by an ‘American beggar’, I was slightly confused and did what I usually do in India – just ignored him and walked into a store. The fellow followed me into the store, and I tried to ignore him again. Finally the guy goes,

‘Hey, don’t act like I don’t exist, man’

I was pretty shaken by that, but I immediately told him I don’t have any money and he left me alone. I thought to myself, This ain’t India. Learn the new rules.

Incident #2

Two weeks ago, I was walking towards my lab and a healthy looking, 30-something white male in very decent clothes approaches me and says ‘My car ran out of gas, and I lost my wallet … I haven’t been able to get any help from the police… could you please spare me some money for gas?’ .

Being very inexperienced with the ways of the American poor, I really didn’t know whether to believe him and be a ‘good samaritan’ or move on. More so, most of the American poor I’ve seen so far haven’t been Caucasian. Once again, I had a classic Racism vs Statistics mini-debate going on in my head about this guy’s credibility based on my personal observation that being White significantly reduced the probability that he was poor/homeless…. and if he spoke so well, had all the manners, and didn’t have the society’s prejudice stacked against him, why the hell doesn’t he have a job ?

Luckily for me though, I didn’t have any cash on me, so moving on was fairly easy. He thanked me and went away…

Incident #3

Just last weekend, as me and a friend were walking to our car in Houston at about 11.30pm in the night, we heard a familiar ‘Excuse me sir! Excuse me… could I please have a minute?’ request from a short, decently dressed, African American man. Seemingly polite, he went on to say,

‘I just need some help. I’m not a homeless guy… I just need some help’

I was urged to move on, but I felt bad about walking away. Besides, just because he’s colored doesn’t mean he’s homeless… Stop being racist, I thought. So I stopped and engaged. He goes , ‘I live in ___ part of Houston, and I’m just trying to get home. If I use the MetroRail I’ll get a 75$ fine without a ticket, could you please spare me 2$ to buy a ticket home ? God bless you sir! ‘
This time though, I knew I had loose change in my wallet… and even though I knew he was a panhandler who successfully engaged me in a conversation, I was a little afraid of pissing him off and hated the thought of him harassing us by following us around at this time of night. I had an ‘Oh well, what the heck’ moment and handed him his 2$. We felt bad for a while afterward that he successfully got our money, but decided that our lesson on Panhandlers costed us 2$ and it better have taught us something.

So here are the results of my little research, after going through many articles on the internet. Note that this is NOT about the poor are who are really in need – like the crippled/the old/the abandoned – this is about those bums who Choose to panhandle as a living because it is lucrative , and not because they are forced to :

  • ‘Need money for gas’ , ‘Need money to get home’, ‘Got a dollar?’ are very standard pick-up lines. Apparently, all the incidents above were standard panhandling incidents…with not even a trace of genuineness
  • NEVER engage. If he/she isn’t in your way, act like you didn’t see them. Avoid eye contact at all costs. KEEP walking!
  • If confronted, have a standard reply, ‘Sorry can’t help you’ , ‘Sorry don’t have any money’ and Move on.
  • Do NOT take out your wallet. They are just looking to see if you have cash.. and if you do, this encounter could end up as a full-fledged mugging. Though in incident #3 I thought I was appeasing him by giving him what he wanted, things could have turned out much, much worse
  • American panhandlers are extremely smooth talkers, and often extremely creative. They earn money out of guilt-tripping generous people, and it often pays more than minimum wage…. Doing no work and getting paid more than flipping burgers? Sounds like a great career to most of them
  • They take advantage of our lack of being able to say NO to speak to someone. Maybe it is just my observation but I somehow feel that us desis have a very hard time saying No to Americans. How many of my Hindu friends got caught up in religious decisions with Mormons, Baptists and what not ! There’s a Mormon bible lying at home from one such incident where my roommate found it too hard to refuse. Though it seems rude, SAY NO. Walk away !

Thanks to these bums, the line between a genuine case and an outright beggar has become fuzzy. Thanks to these bums, the people who really need help are going to be faced with colder, less generous pedestrians like the one I’m becoming. And for all us Desis, learn the new rules. No more beggars in rags , No more extreme poverty. A new game is being played and it starts with an ‘Excuse me, could I please have a minute?’. I hope that my 2$ lesson gives you a head start !


July 18, 2007

Lending a SIM card while brown[ updated ]

Filed under: Controversial,Current events,Opinion,Racism,Rant — Randomizer @ 2:32 pm


Mohammed Haneef, an Indian doctor from Australia, is in his 2nd week of interrogation. Today he moves into solitary confinement for 23 hours a day . The highlights of the case so far:

  • He once lived with the people involved in the UK Terrorist attacks
  • One of the attackers, Kafeel Ahmed, is related to him.
  • Haneef had credit on his SIM card in the UK, so he gave it to his cousin Kafeel
  • Haneef is accused of ‘Reckless support of a terrorist group’, for the SIM card
  • He is accused of witholding information about the attack, though he claims he knew nothing about it
  • The courts cleared him and gave him bail, but the governement cancelled his visa anyway

Here is an opinion article by a right-winger in the Australian news who claims everything was done by the law. I was happy to read the comments though, there seemed to an even number of left and right wingers in the discussion. Here is his wife’s side of the story. And (don’t you love the internet?) , here is a pdf file on the grounds for canceling Haneef’s visa.

If in 20 odd days of interrogation, they have been unable to connect him to the crime in any way, chances are that he’s just an unlucky relative of a radicalized islamist. Canceling his visa before his guilt was substantiated is to succumb to Xenophobia and the Austrailian right-wingers ought to be ashamed of themselves.

See also:

Flying while brown
Photographing while brown
Filming while brown
Shopkeeping while brown

[Update: Its over ! The charges have finally been dropped. He was in custody for 23 days ]

July 12, 2007

Racial Profiling: Statistics vs Prejudice [Updated]

Filed under: Controversial,Opinion,Racism,Rant — Randomizer @ 2:44 pm

I had a post on stereotyping last year, which I subsequently withdrew since I wasn’t so sure anymore of how I felt towards it. I have lately been at a loss explaining exactly what my stand is, on Racial profiling, and I thought I’d give the discussion a fresh start. A CNN article today ran a familiar story, one that we have all heard before, of a plane that was diverted due to a ‘suspicious’ passenger. I didn’t have to search much to get exactly what I was looking for:

Shortly after landing, Loynes said, security officials boarded the plane and left with a man of “Middle Eastern descent.”

Apparently, he had crossed the security check on an employee bus, and authorities were not so sure if he was an employee or not. Now, I have every reason to suspect that this wasn’t the only reason the plane was diverted. Flying while brown is no cake walk these days, thanks to events that happened 6 years ago.

Now, there are two sides to this coin. One argument is based on the relevance of statistics, if any, and one based on pure xenophobia. My question is, over the last 5 years, if 95% of ‘terrorists’ have been of Middle-Eastern descent, i.e. Brown men aged 18-28, is it wrong to use this knowledge as one of your ‘attributes’, or must one ignore this fact every time ? Obviously, it is wrong if it is your only attribute for suspicion, but what if it is just one of your attributes ?

American suspicion of the brown man has definitely reached xenophobic levels, and it is terrible, personally speaking. But what if we were working for a security agency – Is it completely outrageous to suspect a chinese lady less than a brown man ?

Another interesting question, about our most recent ‘Indian terrorist’ – Kafeel Ahmed – who unsuccessfully tried to blow up his vehicle in the Glasgow airport. I am obviously enraged that this guy has bismirched the name of Bangalore, and our peaceful country of India. But if it wasn’t for stereotyping, I wouldn’t have to be ! So this leads to another question – should I be angrier about him bludgeoning the name of our country, or the people who will eventually associate me with him ?

And if not for using this fact about a Bangalorean terrorist for racial profiling, how exactly are security agencies supposed to handle this fact ? Surely it must count for something …or shouldn’t it ? At what point should it count, and who decides that ? If there are a hundred more Bangalorean terrorists, of course it’s a massive issue .. twenty more .. yes .. two more .. hmmm maybe…. if none more, i don’t think it should count at all. So is there some magic number here ? Some invisible threshold that I’m missing ?

At what point do statistics of racial/national involvement count ? Is it really that immoral ?

The line seems to be extremely thin…. and my opinion is unclear. Help me out here !

[ Update : Sharath has added on to this discussion as well ]

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