Thursday, February 08, 2007


Well, the elections are over, and the message has been heard and received: America is mad as heck and isn't going to take it anymore. People have proposed all kinds of theories to explain the run-the-table victory of the Democratic Party--suggesting that the Dems ran harder, were more organized, did a better job of mobilizing their base, or simply, in the wise words of Jon Stewart, "followed the time-tested strategy of backing slowly out of the room as your brother gets yelled at for burning down the garage."

The reality is that this election was a return to, well, reality--voters on the left, in the middle, and even a significant portion of the right collectively stood up to demand accountability, competence, and an end to rampant corruption and hypocrisy. Arguing about whether it was a "partisan victory" or not is besides the point: Politicans of all stripes now have a mandate to get their houses in order and America's agenda back on track, double-time, because the newly empowered electorate has a short fuse--and the era of the invincible incumbent is over. I think that going forward, voters will have no problem repeatedly tossing pols out on their cushy cushions if they don't deliver.

And now, a quick hat-tip to the new rookie Asian Americans in the national legislature. A number of readers pointed out that I mistakenly forgot that there was, in fact, one sitting Asian American woman in Congress as of last year--that would be Doris Matsui, who was tapped to finish her husband Robert Matsui's term after his untimely passing; she was re-elected handily to the seat this week, and is being joined by Mazie Hirano of Hawaii--so now there are two.

Unfortunately, Tammy Duckworth couldn't overcome her district's tough electoral profile to make it three--but here's hoping this is just the beginning of Major Duckworth's political career. A nice piece in which she puts her narrow loss in perspective appeared in the Chicago Trib--check it out here: "Duckworth keeps it in perspective"

But meanwhile, Senator Jim Webb--with active support of Asian Americans in his district and out--squeaked past incumbent George Allen in one of the most critical and controversial races of the electoral cycle. Filmmaker Eric Byler (Americanese, Charlotte Sometimes) was a dynamo on the Virginia scene, organizing, shooting pro bono commercials and mini-docs, and rallying his peers in entertainment and media to join him. His blog sums up the exhausted exhilaration he felt at the hairsbreadth victory.

I've written a lot about heroes recently, mostly of the capes 'n' cowls variety. It's nice to see proof that you don't need x-ray vision or adamantium bones to change the world. Kudos to Eric, and to all the other Asian Americans who made a difference in this election--one in which our community showed a glimpse of its superheroic secret identity, as this L.A. Times piece aptly recounts: "Asian American voters flex muscles"

And now, back to heroes of the super-powered variety. I've been dying to write about Heroes--NBC's incredible new series about ordinary humans who've discovered that they possess awesome paranormal abilities, as well as, perhaps, a destiny to use them to save our species from destruction. Unfortunately, I hadn't had the right peg to hang a piece on, until recently, when a weird harmonic convergence occurred: Two friends shared with me the fact that they'd recently bought DNA ancestry tests--the kind offered by sites like and as the fabulous and talented Jodi Long kicked off her one-woman show at East West Players, Surfing DNA (running through November 19--so if you're in L.A. or L.A.-bound, check it out!).

Thus, the topic of this week's column--America's resurgent chemical romance with the double helix known as deoxyribonucleic acid.

ASIAN POP: Get Your Genes On
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, November 9, 2006

These days, DNA is the hippest double helix on the pop culture landscape. Jeff Yang explores the brave new world of chromosome chic.

The teeny-tiny cocktail twist that divides man from beast, boy from girl, Yao Ming from Vern Troyer has been on the pop culture radar for years—playing key supporting roles in big-budget blockbusters like X-Men and its sequels and forensic crime procedurals like Cold Case and the many-headed hydra known as CSI.

But it's the arrival of Heroes that has really highlighted DNA's status as the rock star of the biochemical world. I honestly believe we're seeing the early wavefront of a DNA explosion, as the molecule of life moves deeper into the social and consumer mainstream: People no longer glaze over when the term is introduced into conversation, and the arrival of ultracheap DNA testing--the lab cost of an assay has dropped below $50, making "retail" testing at a hundred bucks a pop a reality--may prove to be a turning point.

Will couples start asking for DNA tests before marriage? Will employers or sports team owners start utilizing them to assess candidates? Will the manifold privacy issues related to DNA testing be trumped by the intriguing possibilities it offers for health, science, and identity? I think the questions not only need to be asked, they're going to start being answered--and in the very near future.


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