Thursday, November 30, 2006

Oprah and burnout

I happened to hear Oprah today, and she was interviewing women in their 40's, who had through suffering reached a level of transformation. The first was Ellen Burstyn, followed by Sheryl Crow and then Dana Buchanan. Ellen, an actress, had faced poverty, and abusive relationships, patterns she kept repeating until she meditated and with the help of therapy changed her mindset. Sheryl Crow, a musician, was about to get married to Lance Armstrong (a cycling champion), but things did not work out, and they broke up and two weeks later, she realized she had breast cancer. She saw this as an opportunity to wake up. Dana Buchanan a fashion designer, had she thought a perfect life, until she had a daughter who was learning disabled. She kept up the facade of being a perfect career woman, perfect mother, perfect wife, until she suffered a panic attack, that made her feel that she was dying. This was her opportunity to find her true self.

All the women spoke about the roles that society imposed on them, and they had come to believe that, this was who they truly were. They had spent their childhood hating themselves, and giving all they had to the men in their lives. In their 40's things had changed, life happened, and they realized they had to take action to change their reactive patterns and learn to love and honor themselves. They had to empower themselves and realize, as Oprah said, she was more her true self than anytime before.

I also read the article on burnout in the New York Magazine This article was quite a contrast to the Oprah show, which emphasized self transformation, to working till you have no more to give and often can no longer function. Or maybe it was connected, maybe burn out was a cry for help, that life had to be changed to be able to live and function in this world. The author said that people like Bill Clinton do not suffer from burn out, because they love what they are doing.


People who are suffering from burnout tend to describe the sensation in metaphors of emptiness—they’re a dry teapot over a high flame, a drained battery that can no longer hold its charge.

Sometimes people in New York work, because I think they do not know what else to do with their time. The concept of hobbies or leisure to recharge does not exist. Bankers and Lawyers, work 60 hours a week, while their children are taken care of by nannies. I guess once you get into the rat race it is hard to get out, you need to pay the mortgage, the insurance, the kid's school fees, clothes, shoes...... But I wonder what sustains this constant busyness, I doubt its fantastically satisfying to be dealing with other people’s money or suing people. What about happiness, contentment and satisfaction.

big sugar: sweet, white and deadly

Here is a review of a documentary I saw on the role of Sugar through history. The living conditions of the slaves used to work the plantations in the 18th century Caribbean, and the Haitians used now in the big plantations seemed hauntingly similar. Sugar is heavily subsized in the U.S. and the whole junk food industry is composed of sugars.

Big Sugar explores the dark history and modern power of the world's reigning sugar cartels. Using dramatic reenactments, it reveals how sugar was at the heart of slavery in the West Indies in the 18th century, while showing how present-day consumers are slaves to a sugar-based diet. A lost chapter of Canadian history is discovered, illustrating how 18th century sugar lobbyists in England used blackmail and bribes to determine the fate of Canada.

Toronto writer Lisa Codrington visits Barbados to investigate her family's connection to the Codrington plantation, where the ruthless slave master was also a sexual predator. Meanwhile, writer Carl Hiaasen tackles present-day slave masters. He describes how American sugar magnates in Florida, like the Fanjul family, wield enormous political influence through donations reaching $450,000 to both the Republican Party and the Democrats.

A shantytown on the Central Romano plantation in the Dominican Republic. Going undercover, Big Sugar witnesses the appalling working conditions on plantations in the Dominican Republic, where Haitian cane cutters live like slaves. Workers who live on Central Romano, a Fanjul-owned plantation, go hungry while working 12-hour days to earn $2 (US). In a dramatic confrontation, Jose Pepe Fanjul is taken to task about his company’s unethical labour practices in the Dominican Republic.
The earliest protests against the sugar planters were spearheaded in 1785 by Thomas Clarkson, a Cambridge University student who mobilized the Quakers to end slavery in the British Empire. Clarkson and his pioneering human rights activists invented lobbying techniques that are commonplace today: political posters, logos, petitions and boycotts.

Big Sugar includes dramatizations to illustrate slavery in the 18th century. Juxtaposed against this historical backdrop is a tale of today’s battle against the obesity crisis and that crisis’ key suspect—sugar. Interviewing top nutritionists and food industry watchdogs, Big Sugar discovers the dangers of fructose and sugar-laden soft drinks. Vested interests collided at the 2004 Geneva Summit on obesity. A panel of the world’s top nutritionists was asked to determine a safe level of sugar in the human diet. Their report, "9-16", called for a diet restricted to 10% sugar. Angry sugar lobbyists and delegates from the Bush administration sprung to action in an astonishing power play.

Despite this setback, activists still challenge big sugar. The spirit of Thomas Clarkson lives on in heroes like Nicholas Dodds, a Grade 8 student who successfully campaigned to ban soft drinks from vending machines in Ontario elementary schools. Big Sugar captures the resolve of a generation unwilling to become modern-day slaves to a harmful diet full of sugar.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sanjay Dutt is not a terrorist



I am glad that the Bombay courts have acquitted Indian actor Sanjay Dutt of terrorism charges under T.A.D.A (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act 1987). This act was similar to the U.S.’s patriot act. T.A.D.A. was enforced for many years in India, often framing innocent Sikhs, Muslims, People from the North East and anyone challenging the India State.

Here is some background on the judgement and the actor in the outlook here and here

Sanjay Dutt gets a dream judgment — all charges dropped under TADA and convicted only under Indian Arms Act, for which he would face a maximum of three years in prison, out of which he has already served 16 months.

Judge P D Kode of the TADA court announced, "During my reasoning I have not found him (Sanjay Dutt) to be a terrorist," there was a collective sense of justice having been finally delivered.

The judge went on to say, "Considering matters in his confession and also taking into account certain admissions from other evidence, I accept the stand of Sanjay of acquiring and possessing weapons for self-defence."


Here is more information on the TADA act

Commonly known as TADA, the act was the first and only legislative effort by the Union government to define and counter terrorist activities. It was formulated in the back drop of growing terrorist violence in Punjab which had its violent effects in other parts of the country too, including capital New Delhi. The Act, which was criticised on various counts by human rights organisations and political parties was permitted to lapse in May 1995 though cases initiated while it was in force continue to hold legal validity.


I wonder if Sanjay Dutt, was a poor Muslim, would he still have been acquitted. The difference between the punishment Mohammad Afzal is getting and Sanjay Dutt not getting is interesting to observe.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Casino Royale and Babel



I saw Casino Royale on Thanksgiving, and did not like it much, but according to the people that I saw it with, it was a new Bond for a changed world. Here is a review that called it pure testosterone pleasure.


The verdict is in: the deliciously brooding Daniel Craig is an edgy and eclectic James Bond, deftly grabbing the reins from perennial uber-Bond Sean Connery.

No gimmicky nuclear warheads, extreme heli-skiing or Pierce Brosnan’s namby-pambies; this 007 is all business – hungry, raw and irrefutably willing to lay it down for queen and country.

This go around James is tackling the money man for the world’s most notorious terrorists. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is a criminal mastermind with an unquenchable thirst for hard currency. A series of explosive events lead Bond and the creepy Le Chiffre to face off in a high-rollers poker showdown at the luxurious Casino Royale in posh Montenegro.

Aiding Bond in his quest to vanquish evil is gorgeous Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a brainy beauty who will shape Bond’s heart and his future with calculated charm.

The action kicks off with a kinetic chase sequence during which Bond acrobatically pursues a mad suicide bomber through the industrialized construction of Madagascar to the Nambutu Embassy, leaping tall buildings in single bound and wielding his weapon with dexterous masculinity. From Africa to Lake Como, Prague to the Bahamas the beat is positively heart-pounding.

Craig is a glove fit for the iconic M16 agent, darker and more fallible than his predecessors as originally penned by Ian Fleming in 1953. Charismatic and resourceful, the pugilist-faced, sculpted-bodied Craig goes from swimwear to tuxedo to a bullet between the eyes with sultry versatility.

Craig’s chemistry with Green is intriguing, more playful than sexy. The real sparks fly between Craig and Judi Dench, who reprises her role as 007’s steely superior M. Their anxious exchanges are razor sharp, verbal foreplay at its most fluid. Dench is gifted with screenplay writer Paul Haggis’ plum lines, a clever volley of bloody cheek and high-minded rebukes.

Body count is high courtesy of Bond’s overdeveloped trigger finger and overextend ego; the sexual liaisons kept at a minimum in order to fully develop 007’s fundamental penchant for women as disposable pleasures rather than meaningful pursuits. In the film’s only serious misstep James and Vesper turn to a tenuous love affair that ends tragically and feels insincere and meticulously manufactured.

But Craig is so thoroughly badass, so sociopathically tenacious that his every move is box-office gold. “Casino” is pure testosterone pleasure.


The other movie we saw was Babel, which I thought was better than Casino Royale.
See reviews here and here.

It is in the same genre of Traffic and Crash, where a number of stories are interwoven. We move from Morocco, to San Diego and from Mexico to Japan. I felt the segments based in Morocco and the Mexico-U.S, border were strong and showed how quickly people are turned into terrorists and illegal aliens. The Japanese segment was strange and disjointed to the rest of the narrative. Babel left one thinking of how people are percieved, and who has power and who the powerless are.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

In the Land of the Taliban

The undefeated why the taliban have returned, by Elizabeth Rubin


Elizabeth Rubin has written a detailed analysis in the New York Times magazine on the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Her thesis is that Pakistan is responsible for the rebirth of the Taliban.

The reasons are

1. The Durand Line, the boundary drawn by the British in 1893 to separate the Pashtun tribes who were revolting against the British. Afghanistan has never recognized this arbitrary line. Pakistan wants it recognized in return for stability in Afghanistan.

2. Musharraf needs to appease the religious parties to extend his power. He bought them off, by giving them control of the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan and let them use the Taliban.

3. Pakistan wants Afghanistan to remain it’s client state, and not pursue as Karzai is doing, business dealings and security with India and the U.S

Living without fear

Living without fear

I went for a wonderful lecture at the Sivananda Center, titled Living without Fear. It was taught by Gauri Devi.

Changes cause fear. It is what we do, not what we say. Action has magic. The world is our challenge. Mediation leads to contentment and that spreads happiness and honesty.

Fear is a negativity that we need to counter with its opposite which is courage.
We need to use our breath in every situation, it helps to calm the nerves.
When we mediate we exercise concentration. This enables us to thin out thoughts, leading to one thought. The goal is to have less and less wandering thoughts.

Yoga is the place where there are no thoughts. It is a chance to let go of the ego. The ego is the identification of who we are. We need to go beyond the limitations of our life and reach the stage of Brahman or complete bliss.

When we are fearful we need to go back to the affirmation that we are more than the limiting experience of fear. And instead see the emotion as a natural flow of life, and cultivate courage.
Fear is illusionary, it is created by preconceived expectations. To challenge this emotion we need to understand its origin and causes.

Some of the causes are
1. Ignorance- when we separate from what we truly are, we feel isolated and a sense of separation. Happiness is the ability to reconnect with our own true nature.

2. Attachment- can come in many forms, some of which are attachment to the physical body and to identify with material objects. This leads to a fear that when our body ages and our money reduces, we are lesser human beings.

Methods to reduce fear
1. Breath
2. Practise Pradyapradana- This concept is based on positive thinking, where we recognize the mental quality of feeling fearful. But we do not identify with it, instead replace it with the quality of detachment. So we ignore the feelings associated with fear and move away from it as a thought wave. We practise awareness, recognition, ignoring and then replacing it by a positive quality like courage.

Mind is composed of Vritis and Samskaras. Vritis are thought waves and Samskaras are when Vritis became an action, or a habit. We have to realize we are not bound by either Vritis or Samskaras, its important to experience life and not deny ourselves experiences.

How to detach from the world?

This can be done by unconditional love. Love for the sake of loving.


3. Feelings of inferiority arise when one has a lack of self reliance or self confidence. As people we are always judging others as better or worst than us. But this range of judgement is all illusionary.

The only way to rid fear is self realization. When we realize that every challenge is an opportunity to grow divine. Difficulties on the path are opportunities to realize what all remains to be learnt. Challenges are disintegration of our perceived realities. Once we live through it, we are forced to shift ourselves and recognize our spiritual dimensions, which is truly our essence.


Types of Fear

Phobias
this is a heightened imaginary fear between now and the future. This is an irrational fear that is often not based on a frightening situation. It is derived from the Greek word for fear. It causes nervousness, stupid reactions, lack of right thinking and is a waste of energy. To reduce phobias we can develop a strong will power, and mediate on Atman.

Inferiority is the flip side of superiority
Arrogance is the flip of timidity.
All four emotions are based on a high sense of ego.

Questions to ask ourselves
how am I evolving as a person?
How will I bring up my child sensitively.


1. Encourage courage as a reality for your child. Try not to instill fears in children. Be fearless yourself and set an example for your child to follow.

2. Read stories like the Mahabharat where the characters have qualities like courage, truthfulness and purity.

3. Instill trust in them, so that they recognize the wholeness of the world.

4. Minds of children are elastic and malleable, read the Gita to them.

5. The destiny of children is in the hands of intelligent mothers.

Methods to eradicate fear

1. As you think so you became. Pradyapradana Bhavana use this technique to transform the power of thoughts.

2. Feel the presence of God. Feel the all pervading presence, cultivate awareness, solitude, internal experiences and devotion to God irradiates all fears.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Eqbal Ahmad Terrorism Theirs and Ours

Here is an article by Eqbal Ahmad, titled Terrorism their and ours.

Terrorism: Theirs and Ours
By Eqbal Ahmad
(A Presentation at the University of Colorado, Boulder, October 12, 1998)


In the 1930s and 1940s, the Jewish underground in Palestine was described as “TERRORIST.” Then new things happened.

By 1942, the Holocaust was occurring, and a certain liberal sympathy with the Jewish people had built up in the Western world. At that point, the terrorists of Palestine, who were Zionists, suddenly started to be described, by 1944-45, as “freedom fighters.” At least two Israeli Prime Ministers, including Menachem Begin, have actually, you can find in the books and posters with their pictures, saying “Terrorists, Reward This Much.” The highest reward I have noted so far was 100,000 British pounds on the head of Menachem Begin, the terrorist.

Then from 1969 to 1990 the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, occupied the center stage as the terrorist organization. Yasir Arafat has been described repeatedly by the great sage of American journalism, William Safire of the New York Times, as the “Chief of Terrorism.” That’s Yasir Arafat.

Now, on September 29, 1998, I was rather amused to notice a picture of Yasir Arafat to the right of President Bill Clinton. To his left is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan­yahu. Clinton is looking towards Arafat and Arafat is looking literally like a meek mouse. Just a few years earlier he used to appear with this very menacing look around him, with a gun appearing menacing from his belt. You remember those pictures, and you remember the next one.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan received a group of bearded men. These bearded men I was writing about in those days in The New Yorker, actually did. They were very ferocious-looking bearded men with turbans looking like they came from another century. President Reagan received them in the White House. After receiving them he spoke to the press. He pointed towards them, I’m sure some of you will recall that moment, and said, “These are the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers”. These were the Afghan Mujahiddin. They were at the time, guns in hand, battling the Evil Empire. They were the moral equivalent of our founding fathers!

In August 1998, another American President ordered missile strikes from the American navy based in the Indian Ocean to kill Osama Bin Laden and his men in the camps in Afghanistan. I do not wish to embarrass you with the reminder that Mr. Bin Laden, whom fifteen American missiles were fired to hit in Afghanistan, was only a few years ago the moral equivalent of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson! He got angry over the fact that he has been demoted from ‘Moral Equivalent’ of your ‘Founding Fathers’. So he is taking out his anger in different ways. I’ll come back to that subject more seriously in a moment.

You see, why I have recalled all these stories is to point out to you that the matter of terrorism is rather complicated. Terrorists change. The terrorist of yesterday is the hero of today, and the hero of yesterday becomes the terrorist of today. This is a serious matter of the constantly changing world of images in which we have to keep our heads straight to know what is terrorism and what is not. But more importantly, to know what causes it, and how to stop it.

The next point about our terrorism is that posture of inconsistency necessarily evades definition. If you are not going to be consistent, you’re not going to define. I have examined at least twenty official documents on terrorism. Not one defines the word. All of them explain it, express it emotively, polemically, to arouse our emotions rather than exercise our intelligence. I give you only one example, which is representative. October 25, 1984. George Shultz, then Secretary of State of the U.S., is speaking at the New York Park Avenue Synagogue. It’s a long speech on terrorism. In the State Department Bulletin of seven single-spaced pages, there is not a single definition of terrorism. What we get is the following:

Definition number one: “Terrorism is a modern barbarism that we call terrorism.”

Definition number two is even more brilliant: “Terrorism is a form of political violence.” Aren’t you surprised? It is a form of political violence, says George Shultz, Secretary of State of the U.S.

Number three: “Terrorism is a threat to Western civilization.”

Number four: “Terrorism is a menace to Western moral values.”

Did you notice, does it tell you anything other than arouse your emotions? This is typical. They don’t define terrorism because definitions involve a commitment to analysis, comprehension and adherence to some norms of consistency. That’s the second characteristic of the official literature on terrorism.

The third characteristic is that the absence of definition does not prevent officials from being globalistic. We may not define terrorism, but it is a menace to the moral values of Western civilization. It is a menace also to mankind. It’s a menace to good order. Therefore, you must stamp it out worldwide. Our reach has to be global. You need a global reach to kill it. Anti-terrorist policies therefore have to be global. Same speech of George Shultz: “There is no question about our ability to use force where and when it is needed to counter terrorism.” There is no geographical limit. On a single day the missiles hit Afghanistan and Sudan. Those two countries are 2,300 miles apart, and they were hit by missiles belonging to a country roughly 8,000 miles away. Reach is global.

A fourth characteristic: claims of power are not only globalist they are also omniscient. We know where they are; therefore we know where to hit. We have the means to know. We have the instruments of knowledge. We are omniscient. Shultz: “We know the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters, and as we look around, we have no trouble telling one from the other.”

Only Osama Bin Laden doesn’t know that he was an ally one day and an enemy another. That’s very confusing for Osama Bin Laden. I’ll come back to his story towards the end. It’s a real story.

Five. The official approach eschews causation. You don’t look at causes of anybody becoming terrorist. Cause? What cause? They ask us to be looking, to be sympathetic to these people.

Another example. The New York Times, December 18, 1985, reported that the foreign minister of Yugoslavia, you remember the days when there was a Yugoslavia, requested the Secretary of State of the U.S. to consider the causes of Palestinian terrorism. The Secretary of State, George Shultz, and I am quoting from the New York Times, “went a bit red in the face. He pounded the table and told the visiting foreign minister, there is no connection with any cause. Period.” Why look for causes?

Number six. The moral revulsion that we must feel against terrorism is selective. We are to feel the terror of those groups, which are officially disapproved. We are to applaud the terror of those groups of whom officials do approve. Hence, President Reagan, “I am a contra.” He actually said that. We know the contras of Nicaragua were anything, by any definition, but terrorists. The media, to move away from the officials, heed the dominant view of terrorism.

The dominant approach also excludes from consideration, more importantly to me, the terror of friendly governments. To that question I will return because it excused among others the terror of Pinochet (who killed one of my closest friends) and Orlando Letelier; and it excused the terror of Zia ul-Haq, who killed many of my friends in Pakistan. All I want to tell you is that according to my ignorant calculations, the ratio of people killed by the state terror of Zia ul-Haq, Pino­chet, Argentinian, Brazilian, Indonesian type, versus the killing of the PLO and other terrorist types is literally, conservatively, one to one hundred thousand. That’s the ratio.

History unfortunately recognizes and accords visibility to power and not to weakness. Therefore, visibility has been accorded historically to dominant groups. In our time, the time that began with this day, Columbus Day.

The time that begins with Columbus Day is a time of extraordinary unrecorded holocausts. Great civilizations have been wiped out. The Mayas, the Incas, the Aztecs, the American Indians, the Canadian Indians were all wiped out. Their voices have not been heard, even to this day fully. Now they are beginning to be heard, but not fully. They are heard, yes, but only when the dominant power suffers, only when resistance has a semblance of costing, of exacting a price. When a Custer is killed or when a Gordon is besieged. That’s when you know that they were Indians fighting, Arabs fighting and dying.

My last point of this section – U.S. policy in the Cold War period has sponsored terrorist regimes one after another. Somoza, Batista, all kinds of tyrants have been America’s friends. You know that. There was a reason for that. I or you are not guilty. Nicaragua, contra. Afghanistan, mujahiddin. El Salvador, etc.

Now the second side. You’ve suffered enough. So suffer more.

There ain’t much good on the other side either. You shouldn’t imagine that I have come to praise the other side. But keep the balance in mind. Keep the imbalance in mind and first ask ourselves, What is terrorism?

Our first job should be to define the damn thing, name it, give it a description of some kind, other than “moral equivalent of founding fathers” or “a moral outrage to Western civilization”. I will stay with you with Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: “Terror is an intense, overpowering fear.” He uses terrorizing, terrorism, “the use of terrorizing methods of governing or resisting a government.” This simple definition has one great virtue, that of fairness. It’s fair. It focuses on the use of coercive violence, violence that is used illegally, extra-constitutionally, to coerce. And this definition is correct because it treats terror for what it is, whether the government or private people commit it.

Have you noticed something? Motivation is left out of it. We’re not talking about whether the cause is just or unjust. We’re talking about consensus, consent, absence of consent, legality, absence of legality, constitutionality, absence of constitutionality. Why do we keep motives out? Because motives differ. Motives differ and make no difference.

I have identified in my work five types of terrorism.

First, state terrorism. Second, religious terrorism; terrorism inspired by religion, Catholics killing Protestants, Sunnis killing Shiites, Shiites killing Sunnis, God, religion, sacred terror, you can call it if you wish. State, church. Crime. Mafia. All kinds of crimes commit terror. There is pathology. You’re pathological. You’re sick. You want the attention of the whole world. You’ve got to kill a president. You will. You terrorize. You hold up a bus. Fifth, there is political terror of the private group; be they Indian, Vietnamese, Algerian, Palestinian, Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigade. Political terror of the private group. Oppositional terror.

Keep these five in mind. Keep in mind one more thing. Sometimes these five can converge on each other. You start with protest terror. You go crazy. You become pathological. You continue. They converge. State terror can take the form of private terror. For example, we’re all familiar with the death squads in Latin America or in Pakistan. Government has employed private people to kill its opponents. It’s not quite official. It’s privatized. Convergence. Or the political terrorist who goes crazy and becomes pathological. Or the criminal who joins politics. In Afghanistan, in Central America, the CIA employed in its covert operations drug pushers. Drugs and guns often go together. Smuggling of all things often go together.

Of the five types of terror, the focus is on only one, the least important in terms of cost to human lives and human property [Political Terror of those who want to be heard]. The highest cost is state terror. The second highest cost is religious terror, although in the twentieth century religious terror has, relatively speaking, declined. If you are looking historically, massive costs. The next highest cost is crime. Next highest, pathology. A Rand Corporation study by Brian Jenkins, for a ten-year period up to 1988, showed 50% of terror was committed without any political cause at all. No politics. Simply crime and pathology.

So the focus is on only one, the political terrorist, the PLO, the Bin Laden, whoever you want to take. Why do they do it? What makes the terrorist tick?

I would like to knock them out quickly to you. First, the need to be heard. Imagine, we are dealing with a minority group, the political, private terrorist. First, the need to be heard. Normally, and there are exceptions, there is an effort to be heard, to get your grievances heard by people. They’re not hearing it. A minority acts. The majority applauds.

The Palestinians, for example, the superterrorists of our time, were dispossessed in 1948. From 1948 to 1968 they went to every court in the world. They knocked at every door in the world. They were told that they became dispossessed because some radio told them to go away - an Arab radio, which was a lie. Nobody was listening to the truth. Finally, they invented a new form of terror, literally their invention: the airplane hijacking. Between 1968 and 1975 they pulled the world up by its ears. They dragged us out and said, Listen, Listen. We listened. We still haven’t done them justice, but at least we all know. Even the Israelis acknowledge. Remember Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, saying in 1970, ‘There are no Palestinians.’ They do not exist. They damn well exist now. We are cheating them at Oslo. At least there are some people to cheat now. We can’t just push them out. The need to be heard is essential. One motivation there.

Mix of anger and helplessness produces an urge to strike out. You are angry. You are feeling helpless. You want retribution. You want to wreak retributive justice. The experience of violence by a stronger party has historically turned victims into terrorists. Battered children are known to become abusive parents and violent adults. You know that. That’s what happens to peoples and nations. When they are battered, they hit back. State terror very often breeds collective terror.

Do you recall the fact that the Jews were never terrorists? By and large Jews were not known to commit terror except during and after the Holocaust. Most studies show that the majority of members of the worst terrorist groups in Israel or in Palestine, the Stern and the Irgun gangs, were people who were immigrants from the most anti-Semitic countries of Eastern Europe and Germany. Similarly, the young Shiites of Lebanon or the Palestinians from the refugee camps are battered people. They become very violent. The ghettos are violent internally. They become violent externally when there is a clear, identifiable external target, an enemy where you can say, ‘Yes, this one did it to me’. Then they can strike back.

Example is a bad thing. Example spreads. There was a highly publicized Beirut hijacking of the TWA plane. After that hijacking, there were hijacking attempts at nine different American airports. Pathological groups or individuals modeling on the others. Even more serious are examples set by governments. When governments engage in terror, they set very large examples. When they engage in supporting terror, they engage in other sets of examples.

Absence of revolutionary ideology is central to victim terrorism. Revolutionaries do not commit unthinking terror. Those of you who are familiar with revolutionary theory know the debates, the disputes, the quarrels, the fights within revolutionary groups of Europe, the fight between anarchists and Marxists, for example. But the Marxists have always argued that revolutionary terror, if ever engaged in, must be sociologically and psychologically selective. Don’t hijack a plane. Don’t hold hostages. Don’t kill children, for God’s sake. Have you recalled also that the great revolutions, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Algerian, the Cuban, never engaged in hijacking type of terrorism? They did engage in terrorism, but it was highly selective, highly sociological, still deplorable, but there was an organized, highly limited, selective character to it. So absence of revolutionary ideology that begins more or less in the post-World War II period has been central to this phenomenon.

My final question is - These conditions have existed for a long time. But why then this flurry of private political terrorism? Why now so much of it and so visible? The answer is modern technology. You have a cause. You can communicate it through radio and television. They will all come swarming if you have taken an aircraft and are holding 150 Americans hostage. They will all hear your cause. You have a modern weapon through which you can shoot a mile away. They can’t reach you. And you have the modern means of communicating. When you put together the cause, the instrument of coercion and the instrument of communication, politics is made. A new kind of politics becomes possible.

To this challenge rulers from one country after another have been responding with traditional methods. The traditional method of shooting it out, whether it’s missiles or some other means. The Israelis are very proud of it. The Americans are very proud of it. The French became very proud of it. Now the Pakistanis are very proud of it. The Pakistanis say, ‘Our commandos are the best.’ Frankly, it won’t work. A central problem of our time, political minds, rooted in the past, and modern times, producing new realities. Therefore in conclusion, what is my recommendation to America?

Quickly. First, avoid extremes of double standards. If you’re going to practice double standards, you will be paid with double standards. Don’t use it. Don’t condone Israeli terror, Pakistani terror, Nicaraguan terror, El Salvadoran terror, on the one hand, and then complain about Afghan terror or Palestinian terror. It doesn’t work. Try to be even-handed. A superpower cannot promote terror in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It won’t work in this shrunken world.

Do not condone the terror of your allies. Condemn them. Fight them. Punish them. Please eschew, avoid covert operations and low-intensity warfare. These are breeding grounds of terror and drugs. Violence and drugs are bred there. The structure of covert operations, I’ve made a film about it, which has been very popular in Europe, called Dealing with the Demon. I have shown that wherever covert operations have been, there has been the central drug problem. That has been also the center of the drug trade. Because the structure of covert operations, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Central America, is very hospitable to drug trade. Avoid it. Give it up. It doesn’t help.

Please focus on causes and help ameliorate causes. Try to look at causes and solve problems. Do not concentrate on military solutions. Do not seek military solutions. Terrorism is a political problem. Seek political solutions. Diplomacy works.

Take the example of the last attack on Bin Laden. You don’t know what you’re attacking. They say they know, but they don’t know. They were trying to kill Qadaffi. They killed his four-year-old daughter. The poor baby hadn’t done anything. Qadaffi is still alive. They tried to kill Saddam Hussein. They killed Laila Bin Attar, a prominent artist, an innocent woman. They tried to kill Bin Laden and his men. Not one but twenty-five other people died. They tried to destroy a chemical factory in Sudan. Now they are admitting that they destroyed an innocent factory, one-half of the production of medicine in Sudan has been destroyed, not a chemical factory. You don’t know. You think you know.

Four of your missiles fell in Pakistan. One was slightly damaged. Two were totally damaged. One was totally intact. For ten years the American government has kept an embargo on Pakistan because Pakistan is trying, stupidly, to build nuclear weapons and missiles. So we have a technology embargo on my country. One of the missiles was intact. What do you think a Pakistani official told the Washington Post? He said it was a gift from Allah. We wanted U.S. technology. Now we have got the technology, and our scientists are examining this missile very carefully. It fell into the wrong hands. So don’t do that. Look for political solutions. Do not look for military solutions. They cause more problems than they solve.

Please help reinforce, strengthen the framework of international law. There was a criminal court in Rome. Why didn’t they go to it first to get their warrant against Bin Laden, if they have some evidence? Get a warrant, then go after him. Internationally. Enforce the U.N. Enforce the International Court of Justice, this unilateralism makes us look very stupid and them relatively smaller.

Q&A

The question here is that I mentioned that I would go somewhat into the story of Bin Laden, the Saudi in Afghanistan and didn’t do so, could I go into some detail? The point about Bin Laden would be roughly the same as the point between Sheikh Abdul Rahman, who was accused and convicted of encouraging the blowing up of the World Trade Center in New York City. The New Yorker did a long story on him. It’s the same as that of Aimal Kansi, the Pakistani Baluch who was also convicted of the murder of two CIA agents. Let me see if I can be very short on this. Jihad, which has been translated a thousand times as “holy war,” is not quite just that. Jihad is an Arabic word that means, “to struggle.” It could be struggle by violence or struggle by non-violent means. There are two forms, the small jihad and the big jihad. The small jihad involves violence. The big jihad involves the struggles with self. Those are the concepts. The reason I mention it is that in Islamic history, jihad as an international violent phenomenon had disappeared in the last four hundred years, for all practical purposes. It was revived suddenly with American help in the 1980s. When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator of Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan, saw an opportunity and launched a jihad there against godless communism. The U.S. saw a God-sent opportunity to mobilize one billion Muslims against what Reagan called the Evil Empire. Money started pouring in. CIA agents starting going all over the Muslim world recruiting people to fight in the great jihad. Bin Laden was one of the early prize recruits. He was not only an Arab. He was also a Saudi. He was not only a Saudi. He was also a multimillionaire, willing to put his own money into the matter. Bin Laden went around recruiting people for the jihad against communism.

I first met him in 1986. He was recommended to me by an American official of whom I do not know whether he was or was not an agent. I was talking to him and said, ‘Who are the Arabs here who would be very interesting?’ By here I meant in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said, ‘You must meet Osama.’ I went to see Osama. There he was, rich, bringing in recruits from Algeria, from Sudan, from Egypt, just like Sheikh Abdul Rahman. This fellow was an ally. He remained an ally. He turns at a particular moment. In 1990 the U.S. goes into Saudi Arabia with forces. Saudi Arabia is the holy place of Muslims, Mecca and Medina. There had never been foreign troops there. In 1990, during the Gulf War, they went in, in the name of helping Saudi Arabia defeat Saddam Hussein. Osama Bin Laden remained quiet. Saddam was defeated, but the American troops stayed on in the land of the kaba (the sacred site of Islam in Mecca), foreign troops. He wrote letter after letter saying, Why are you here? Get out! You came to help but you have stayed on. Finally he started a jihad against the other occupiers. His mission is to get American troops out of Saudi Arabia. His earlier mission was to get Russian troops out of Afghanistan. See what I was saying earlier about covert operations?

A second point to be made about him is these are tribal people, people who are really tribal. Being a millionaire doesn’t matter. Their code of ethics is tribal. The tribal code of ethics consists of two words: loyalty and revenge. You are my friend. You keep your word. I am loyal to you. You break your word, I go on my path of revenge. For him, America has broken its word. The loyal friend has betrayed. The one to whom you swore blood loyalty has betrayed you. They’re going to go for you. They’re going to do a lot more.

These are the chickens of the Afghanistan war coming home to roost. This is why I said to stop covert operations. There is a price attached to those that the American people cannot calculate and Kissinger type of people do not know, don’t have the history to know.


Eqbal Ahmad, Professor Emeritus of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, also served as a managing editor of the quarterly Race and Class. A prolific writer, his articles and essays have been published in The Nation, Dawn (Pakistan), among several other journals throughout the world. He died in 1999.
Courtesy: University of Colorado

Monday, November 20, 2006

Internet Pharmacy and the Bansal Family

Fascinating story about online pill dealers. I guess the coverage is going to continue for a week. We have two chapters already. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Londonstani

I tried reading Londonstani by Gautam Malkani. But I just could not get into it.
It starts off violently with a gora being bashed by Hardjit, the violent gang leader. The dialogue is unreadable and their seems to be no depth to any of the characters.

Here is a review by Kamila Shamshie in the Guardian.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Chiquita gives birth

Chiquita gives birth

Chiquita was my beautiful black Labrador, she and Raziya were Badshah and Bijli’s last litter. My parents had got Badshah and Biji soon after their marriage, and we grew up with both of them and their numerous puppies. They were both black labs and were gentle, loving and caring to me and my brother and lots of our cousins.

When I was eleven and sleeping in my bedroom, I felt a warm feeling seeping into my mattress. Chiquita had decided to break her water on my bed. I saw Chiquita moving around uncomfortably and whelping with pain. I looked at my feet, and nearby lying in an amniotic sac was a puppy. I carefully picked up the puppy and took it to it's birthing center, which was in the bathroom, in a box with hay and blankets to keep Chiquita and her puppies warm. Soon Chiquita popped out five more puppies, and was licking the membrane and the puppies. This membrane must be ruptured so that the puppy can breathe. Her puppies were adorable, tiny, helpless, jet black, with their eyes closed and soft downy black hair. They could crawl and make moaning sounds soon after birth. They mostly drank milk or slept.

I gave her some milk and water and tried to go back to sleep. But what was happening in front of my eyes was so fascinating that it was hard to sleep. So I went to the bathroom and sat with her while she licked her babies and soon with their eyes closed they were breathing and looking for her breasts. Some of the tenacious ones found her breasts easily. The weaker ones were searching and not being able to locate them, so I picked them up and pushed their mouth to her breasts. They took some time to latch on. But soon most of her breasts were occupied with six puppies vigorously suckling milk that was flowing out of her.

My immediate family was ok to be around Chiquita and her babies. But the moment a person she did not know, came into the room, she began to growl and let them know they were not welcome.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fast Food Nation the movie



Fast Food Nation, the book by Eric Schlosser was great and now the movie by Richard Linklater is brilliant. The director has been able to translate a book with a lot of facts and figures into a movie that is engaging and shocking.

The movie focuses on the meat packing industry and the fast food industry. The focus is on the work that people are often forced to do, for instance illegal workers from Mexico and poor whites working at Mickey’s franchise. The movie moves around a lot of stories. Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), an executive at Mickey’s is sent to Cody, Colorado to verify information that Mickey’s burgers contain shit. Ashley Johnson as Amber, the high school student who after working at Mickey’s realizes that she needs to leave Mickey’s and Cody to fulfil her ambitions. Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), newly arrived immigrants from Mexico are trying to fulfill the basic American dream of earning money and having a good life. The stories of the exploitation at the plant are very well documented, women have to sleep with the supervisor to get a better position on the meat packing chain. All the characters in the movie are well developed, and their struggles and contradictions are brought out well.

My thanksgiving dinner is going to be meat free.

Here is a review from the New York Times

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Annie Leibovitz at the Brooklyn Museum


Annie Leibovitz’s photos feature in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. The work encompasses her personal and professional photographs. For me the personal photographs of her mother, her father’s death and her partner Susan Sontag’s deterioration due to cancer were very powerful. Her celebrity portraits include Johnny Cash, Nicole Kidman, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Patti Smith and William Burroughs. Her image of a pregnant Demi Moore’s belly with her and her husband Bruce Willis, masculine hands over her belly was inspiring.

Even though the NYT panned her exhibit, I found her family portraits, some of her celebrity images and her photographs of Jordan very strong and moving.

water

Cars doing a head stand

Tree over house

Bent out of shape fan

Remains of a Bed

After the Flood Photographs by Robert Polidori

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has devastating photo exhibit of the destruction that Hurricane Katarina caused to buildings in New Orleans.

Robert Polidori (Canadian, b. 1951), one of the world's premier architectural photographers, has recorded the disasters of our time as well as the failures of contemporary society. Amid the scenes of destruction and chaos in New Orleans, as in his past projects in Havana, Versailles, and Chernobyl, Polidori finds a formal beauty that radiates stillness and compassion and invites contemplation. The wrecked rooms, collapsed houses, and ravaged neighborhoods on view in "After the Flood" become metaphors for human fragility. Using a large-format camera, natural light, and unusually long exposures, Polidori records the destruction with a mastery of color, light, shadow, and texture that brings to life discarded mementos and mud-caked belongings. In each image, the artist seems to have captured the very air of New Orleans, weighted heavily with mold, humidity, and history.

The photographs are strong, yet with no human element in them, they suffer a huge emptiness. The emptiness of the sorrow of a person’s face and body that have lost everything.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Anatomy of a Tiger India High and Low By P.Sainath

A critical article by P.Sainath, on India's development, starting with inequalities in education to labor and rural suicides.

India High and Low By P. SAINATH

Your child will be served "food from many traditions including Indian, Continental, Mexican and Chinese. Meals are carefully planned by expert dieticians and only premium quality mineral water, juice and organically cultivated fruit, vegetables and eggs are served." That's from the website of one of New Delhi's fancier schools.

And who could resist the offer? Here's a school that will turn your kid into a global citizen who can dine with the best of them. Not into some clod who can't tell a pasta from pav bhaji.

Note the reassuring insertion of `organic' for those possessed of a social conscience. The jargon, at least, is from the right menu. Though I wonder if the dieticians are based at those Delhi five-star hotels that have actually catered meals for this kind of school for a while. The options are a bit more limited though, for the millions of Indian children who simply do not go to school at all. Or for those who do and still fail to get a decent mid-day meal. Quite a few grown ups would, however, gladly go back to school for the menus on offer in some of the capital's tonier institutions

Then there's the famous Mumbai school now in the news for creating a VVIP enclosure for the richest of parents at its annual celebrations. Given that the school is already an enclave of the privileged, this means cordoning off the super elite from the merely wealthy. (Is this brand segmentation?). How flush you are with funds will decide your place in the parental pecking order at the big school event.

For many children, there's no place to go at all. We have more children out of school and more people who cannot write or read than any other nation. There are more places of religious worship in India than schools. That is: 2.4 million places of worship to 2.1 million schools, colleges and all kinds of hospitals together. That's what an analysis of census household data by Dr. S.L. Rao threw up a while ago.

The school scene captures a larger truth. For the top five per cent of the population, the benchmarks are Europe, the United States, Japan, Australia. For the bottom 40 per cent, the benchmarks can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearer home, Sri Lanka has done much better than us in schooling its children. Yet, as Jean Dreze writes: "many development experts in India would be surprised and interested to learn that private schools have been banned in Sri Lanka since the 1960s."

The crass inequality on display in our schools runs across all spheres of India's brave new world.

India now ranks 8th in the world in the number of billionaires. But it clocks in at 127th in human development. Our 27 billionaires, Forbes assures us, are the second richest in the planet. Their combined net worth is bettered only by those of the U.S. As for Japan, Australia, Europe, et al, our dads are richer than their dads.

It's a fine snapshot of an engineered inequality. It is worth knowing, too, that the other new entrant to the top ten hits of the billionaires list is Russia. An economy where more and more luxury cars sell each year, even as infant mortality and other indicators have worsened. The country saw lower birth rates and higher death rates in the 1990s. As more than one report points out, a boy born in Russia today is unlikely to cross the age of 60.

It's nice to know our billionaires are doing so well. And that our CEOs are earning more than they ever did. But an ILO report, "Labour & Social Trends in Asia and the Pacific 2006," suggests that others may not be having it so good. It says labor productivity in India shot up 84 per cent between 1990 and 2002. But real wages in manufacturing fell 22 per cent in the same period. It sees this as "an indication of deterioration in the incomes and livelihoods of workers. Despite the increasing efficiency of their labour."

Sure, we have this crouching tiger economy. But life expectancy here is less than it is in Bolivia, Honduras or Tajikistan. Things are booming. But per capita GDP, as the UNDP's Human Development Report shows us, ranks below that of Nicaragua, Indonesia or Guatemala. Our growth rate is the envy of many. But the rate of decline of child deaths actually slowed down in the 1990s. "India alone," points out the HDR, "accounts for 2.5 million child deaths" each year. Many of which need never occur if we put in just a modest effort to end them.

We're moving fast towards new landmarks. We could soon have 100,000 dollar millionaires. And India may have emerged the 15th biggest donor to the World Food Program last year. But since the time we began that journey we also added more newly hungry people than the rest of the world put together. It even saw a period when hunger rose in India and fell in Ethiopia. That's what UN FAO data show us. We also exported grain to Europe at prices we denied our own hungry people. And we subsidizrfed that grain - which went to feed cattle on that continent.

Farm incomes have collapsed. And poor rural families, as Dr. Utsa Patnaik has pointed out, are consuming 100 kg of grain less annually than they did just a few years ago. Meanwhile, National Sample Survey data tell us that the number of farm households in debt has nearly doubled in the years of the `reforms.' The government of India admits to a figure of more than 112,000 farm suicides in the past decade. Mostly driven by debt. In some districts, such suicides have almost doubled every year in the past five.

There's pride in the press over the rise of `medical tourism.' But more than a fifth of our own people no longer seek health care of any kind. They just can't afford it. We're proud of being the `fourth largest' cyber nation in the world. Never mind that the numbers this claim is based on are suspect. Never mind, too, that we'd tend to be the `fourth largest' anything in the world. Or that if we did have 50 million users, it would still not be something to email home about. The message, though, is clear: India Shining is back with bells on. What's crucial is that there is no attempt to address this inequality. We strive only to enhance it. In the framework we now have, almost each and every policy deepens the divide. Even the few good measures tend to be drowned in this.

Meanwhile, those urging us to adopt the `Chinese model' are not keeping up with events in that nation. China is not so gung ho any more about the `Shanghai' model. The country is also waking up to huge income gaps and social tensions. Large swathes of rural China have done pretty badly. Inequality is now a key issue. The Wall Street Journal found that courts in China had received 3.97 million petitions and complaints in 2003. Many of these linked to such tensions. The next year, the government issued a "Decree No. 1" aimed at tackling the rural-urban income gap. A year later, this had not worked.

By October last year, the Chinese were seeking to limit the damage. Interest-free farm loans were just one step. Free education for large numbers of rural students was another. There was an effort to bring back health care for sections of rural people who had lost it. Farmers will get more subsidies.

This year, China plans new laws that curb sweatshops. If brought in, these laws would also give labor unions powers they did not have before in foreign companies. Even before they are passed, foreign corporations are squealing in protest. This move of the Chinese is also driven by concerns of growing unrest and rising tensions. Whether all these measures work or not - for the divide is truly huge - there is at least a sense of something having gone wrong.

Here, we proceed with righteous cause. The inequality we so strongly pursue breeds its own mindset. It's the one we now entrench in our elite schools. The students of some of which are ferried back and forth in air-conditioned buses. Shangri La and sub-Saharan Africa (or worse) in one nation. Until the bills start coming in.

P. Sainath is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu (where this piece initially ran) and the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. He can be reached at: psainath@vsnl.com.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Megacity Lagos Nigeria


George Packer has written an insightful article on The Mega City decoding the chaos of Lagos, in the current issue of the New Yorker.

Lagos is the sixth largest city in the world, with the fastest growing population.
Lagos airport has a fearsome reputation, with its official shakedowns and swarming touts. Once you make it to the city you are surrounded by armed robbers, con men, corrupt policeman and homicidal bus drivers.

In this city only .4% of the inhabitants have a toilet connected to a sewer system.
Muslim Hausas from the North coexist in the slums with Christian Yorubas from the South. Armed gangs represent the interests of both groups.
Informal transactions make up at least 60% of economic activity, crowds of boys as young as eight hawk everything from cell phones to fire extinguishers.
Writers like Robert Neuwirth have popularized the idea of an urban slum dwellers as heroic builders of the cities of tomorrow and Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth catalog, refers to slums as a global city of interconnected entrepreneurs. The author, George Packer argues that the vibrancy of the squatters of Lagos is the furious activity of people who live in a globalized economy and have no safety net and virtually no hope of moving upward.
Around a billion people- almost half of the developing worlds urban population live in slums. The United Nations human settlements program, in a 2003 report titled the challenge of the slums declared, "the urban poor are trapped in an informal and illegal world- in slums that are not reflected on maps, where waste is not collected, where taxes are not paid, and where public services are not provided. Officially they do not "exist".

Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect and urban theorist, who has traveled to Lagos, has described it as "protean organism that creatively defies constrictive Western ideas of urban order. What is now fascinating is how with some level of self-organization, there is a strange combination of extreme underdevelopment and development".

The author realistically finds Lagos fascinating only if one is able to leave it. Self organization is collective adaptation to extreme hardship.

There is no capital to start business in Lagos, the people blame the corrupt government. Oil-export revenue exceeded fifty billion dollars in 2005. In 1993 a bloodless coup overthrew civilian rule in Nigeria, and for the next sixteen years a series of miliary dictators from Northern Nigeria treated Lagos, the country’s center of democratic activism, as a source of personal enrichment.
Unlike other cites like Bombay, most of Lagos is a slum, which suffer from misuse.
In the mid-eighties the dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria had to submit to austerity measures prescribed by the world bank and IMF, in order to reduce the thirty million dollar debt. The structural adjustments lead to closing of inefficient state run enterprises, and selling them to private enterprises. The effect of these polices lead to concentration of wealth in a few hands, leaving the majority of people very poor.

Nigeria has a massive growth in population with a stagnant or shrinking economy. Theorists like Koolhaas can look at a burning garbage heap and describe it as an urban phenomenon, but that will not help improve the lives of Lagos’s garbage pickers and street vendors. They will either revolt against their conditions, or the military will be able to silence their voices and we will not even know that they existed in the first place.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

plunging in

  Posted by Picasa

natures beauty

  Posted by Picasa

gold and greens

  Posted by Picasa

the earth dressed in golds, reds and rusts

  Posted by Picasa

oranges, rusts

  Posted by Picasa

rose red

  Posted by Picasa

sunshine

  Posted by Picasa

leaf floating in water

  Posted by Picasa

leafless bare trees

  Posted by Picasa

white bark

  Posted by Picasa

roots and leaves

  Posted by Picasa

weaping willows

  Posted by Picasa

oranges and golds

  Posted by Picasa

fall foliage in reds

  Posted by Picasa

red bush

  Posted by Picasa

fall

  Posted by Picasa

fall in new york

 

Spring and Fall are my favourite seasons...so here are some images of fall on a beautiful sunny day. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

illegal immigrants poem

The Independent reports this.

A horrible poem that was written by councillor Ellenor Bland, who stood as a Tory candidate for Swansea East in the last election. Her husband David, apparently forwarded this disgusting poem, which found its home on a neo-nazi site, as well as Boris Johnson's website. Boris Johnson, is the conservative party's higher education spokesman.

I cross ocean poor and broke
Take bus, see employment folk.
Nice man treat me good in there.
Say I need to see welfare.
Welfare say, "You come no more, we send cash right to your door."
Welfare cheques - they make you wealthy! NHS - it keep you healthy!
By and by, I got plenty money.
Thanks to you, British dummy!
Write to friends in motherland.
Tell them "come fast as you can".
They come in turbans and Ford trucks.
I buy big house with welfare bucks!
They come here, we live together.
More welfare cheques, it gets better!
Fourteen families, they moving in, but neighbour's patience wearing thin.
Finally, white guy moves away.
Now I buy his house, then I say,
"Find more aliens for house to rent."
And in the yard I put a tent.
Everything is very good, and soon we own the neighbourhood.
We have hobby, it's called breeding. Welfare pay for baby feeding.
Kids need dentist? Wife need pills? We get free! We got no bills!
Britain crazy! They pay all year, to keep welfare running here.
We think UK darn good place.
Too darn good for the white man race!
If they no like us, they can scram.
Got lots of room in Pakistan!

A Great Day for Iraq

Article by Robert Fisk, in the Outlook, on the verdict against Saddam Hussein, A great day for Iraq.

So America's one-time ally has been sentenced to death for war crimes he committed when he was Washington's best friend in the Arab world. America knew all about his atrocities and even supplied the gas - along with the British, of course - yet there we were yesterday declaring it to be, in the White House's words, another "great day for Iraq". That's what Tony Blair announced when Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti was pulled from his hole in the ground on 13 December 2003. And now we're going to string him up, and it's another great day.

Of course, it couldn't happen to a better man. Nor a worse. It couldn't be a more just verdict - nor a more hypocritical one. It's difficult to think of a more suitable monster for the gallows, preferably dispatched by his executioner, the equally monstrous hangman of Abu Ghraib prison, Abu Widad, who would strike his victims on the head with an axe if they dared to condemn the leader of the Iraqi Socialist Baath Party before he hanged them. But Abu Widad was himself hanged at Abu Ghraib in 1985 after accepting a bribe to put a reprieved prisoner to death instead of the condemned man. But we can't mention Abu Ghraib these days because we have followed Saddam's trail of shame into the very same institution. And so by hanging this awful man, we hope - don't we? - to look better than him, to remind Iraqis that life is better now than it was under Saddam.

Only so ghastly is the hell-disaster that we have inflicted upon Iraq that we cannot even say that. Life is now worse. Or rather, death is now visited upon even more Iraqis than Saddam was able to inflict on his Shias and Kurds and - yes, in Fallujah of all places - his Sunnis, too. So we cannot even claim moral superiority. For if Saddam's immorality and wickedness are to be the yardstick against which all our iniquities are judged, what does that say about us? We only sexually abused prisoners and killed a few of them and murdered some suspects and carried out a few rapes and illegally invaded a country which cost Iraq a mere 600,000 lives ("more or less", as George Bush Jnr said when he claimed the figure to be only 30,000). Saddam was much worse. We can't be put on trial. We can't be hanged.

"Allahu Akbar," the awful man shouted - God is greater. No surprise there. He it was who insisted these words should be inscribed upon the Iraqi flag, the same flag which now hangs over the palace of the government that has condemned him after a trial at which the former Iraqi mass murderer was formally forbidden from describing his relationship with Donald Rumsfeld, now George Bush's Secretary of Defence. Remember that handshake? Nor, of course, was he permitted to talk about the support he received from George Bush Snr, the current US President's father. Little wonder, then, that Iraqi officials claimed last week the Americans had been urging them to sentence Saddam before the mid- term US elections.

Anyone who said the verdict was designed to help the Republicans, Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, blurted out yesterday, must be "smoking rope". Well, Tony, that rather depends on what kind of rope it might be. Snow, after all, claimed yesterday that the Saddam verdict - not the trial itself, please note - was "scrupulous and fair". The judges will publish "everything they used to come to their verdict."

No doubt. Because here are a few of the things that Saddam was not allowed to comment upon: sales of chemicals to his Nazi-style regime so blatant - so appalling - that he has been sentenced to hang on a localised massacre of Shias rather than the wholesale gassing of Kurds over which George W Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara were so exercised when they decided to depose Saddam in 2003 - or was it in 2002? Or 2001? Some of Saddam's pesticides came from Germany (of course).


But on 25 May 1994, the US Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs produced a report entitled "United States Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use exports to Iraq and their possible impact on the Health Consequences (sic) of the Persian Gulf War".

This was the 1991 war which prompted our liberation of Kuwait, and the report informed Congress about US government-approved shipments of biological agents sent by American companies to Iraq from 1985 or earlier. These included Bacillus anthracis, which produces anthrax; Clostridium botulinum; Histoplasma capsulatum; Brucella melitensis; Clostridium perfringens and Escherichia coli. The same report stated that the US provided Saddam with "dual use" licensed materials which assisted in the development of chemical, biological and missile-system programmes, including chemical warfare agent production facility plant and technical drawings (provided as pesticide production facility plans).

Yes, well I can well see why Saddam wasn't permitted to talk about this. John Reid, the British Home Secretary, said that Saddam's hanging "was a sovereign decision by a sovereign nation". Thank heavens he didn't mention the £200,000 worth of thiodiglycol, one of two components of mustard gas we exported to Baghdad in 1988, and another £50,000 worth of the same vile substances the following year.

We also sent thionyl chloride to Iraq in 1988 at a price of only £26,000. Yes, I know these could be used to make ballpoint ink and fabric dyes. But this was the same country - Britain - that would, eight years later, prohibit the sale of diphtheria vaccine to Iraqi children on the grounds that it could be used for - you guessed it - "weapons of mass destruction".

Now in theory, I know, the Kurds have a chance for their own trial of Saddam, to hang him high for the thousands of Kurds gassed at Halabja. This would certainly keep him alive beyond the 30-day death sentence review period. But would the Americans and British dare touch a trial in which we would have not only to describe how Saddam got his filthy gas but why the CIA - in the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi war crimes against Halabja - told US diplomats in the Middle East to claim that the gas used on the Kurds was dropped by the Iranians rather than the Iraqis (Saddam still being at the time our favourite ally rather than our favourite war criminal). Just as we in the West were silent when Saddam massacred 180,000 Kurds during the great ethnic cleansing of 1987 and 1988.

And - dare we go so deep into this betrayal of the Iraqis we loved so much that we invaded their country? - then we would have to convict Saddam of murdering countless thousands of Shia Muslims as well as Kurds after they staged an uprising against the Baathist regime at our specific request - thousands whom webetrayed by leaving them to fight off Saddam's brutal hordes on their own. "Rioting," is how Lord Blair's meretricious "dodgy dossier" described these atrocities in 2002 - because, of course, to call them an "uprising" (which they were) would invite us to ask ourselves who contrived to provoke this bloodbath. Answer: us.

I and my colleagues watched this tragedy. I travelled on the hospital trains that brought the Iranians back from the 1980-88 war front, their gas wounds bubbling in giant blisters on their arms and faces, giving birth to smaller blisters that wobbled on top of their wounds. The British and Americans didn't want to know. I talked to the victims of Halabja. The Americans didn't want to know. My Associated Press colleague Mohamed Salaam saw the Iranian dead lying gassed in their thousands on the battlefields east of Basra. The Americans and the British didn't care.

But now we are to give the Iraqi people bread and circuses, the final hanging of Saddam, twisting, twisting slowly in the wind.We have won. We have inflicted justice upon the man whose country we invaded and eviscerated and caused to break apart. No, there is no sympathy for this man. "President Saddam Hussein has no fear of being executed," Bouchra Khalil, a Lebanese lawyer on his team, said in Beirut a few days ago. "He will not come out of prison to count his days and years in exile in Qatar or any other place. He will come out of prison to go to the presidency or to his grave." It looks like the grave. Keitel went there. Ceausescu went there. Milosevic escaped sentence.

The odd thing is that Iraq is now swamped with mass murderers, guilty of rape and massacre and throat- slitting and torture in the years since our "liberation" of Iraq. Many of them work for the Iraqi government we are currently supporting, democratically elected, of course. And these war criminals, in some cases, are paid by us, through the ministries we set up under this democratic government. And they will not be tried. Or hanged. That is the extent of our cynicism. And our shame. Have ever justice and hypocrisy been so obscenely joined?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Shiloh Choir at Convent Baptist Church


I went to hear the senior choir of Shiloh Baptist church of Washington DC, at the Convent avenue Baptist Church last weekend. The church is in the heart of Harlem, on a 145th street and Convent Avenue.

It is a large stone building with beautiful stained glass windows, and a simple interior. The congregation was mostly older women and men, very few young people. The pastor was a woman, who felt the music and the spirit of the sacred place. The women wore big colorful hats, the men wore suits. The audience appreciated the music by standing up, clapping, praising God and often raising their hands to feel the power of the music.

The program started with We are Surrounded, followed by Psalm 150, the Majesty and Glory of Your Name, Sanctus and Glorious Everlasting. The second part was Tis' So sweet to trust in Jesus, Come, thou Fount of Every Blessing followed by Amazing Grace. After intermission we heard Old time religion, Since I met Jesus, At the Cross and Magnificant.

My favorite was the rendition of Amazing Grace by a young women, her voice was deep, strong and melodious. The organist was Evelyn Simpson-Curenton. After intermission the choir started swaying to the music, which made it so lyrical and rhythmic.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Anne Tyler Digging to America


I just finished reading a wonderful, luminous book by Anne Tyler, titled Digging to America. It is about two families, the Yazdans, an Iranian family and the Donaldsons, an American family. They meet at Baltimore airport, waiting for their adopted daughters from Korea to arrive.

Powell's summarizes it here.

Bitsy Donaldson impulsively invites the Yazdans to celebrate with an "arrival party," an event that is repeated every year as the two families become more deeply intertwined.
Even independent-minded Maryam is drawn in. But only up to a point. When she finds herself being courted by one of the Donaldson clan, a good-hearted man of her vintage, recently widowed and still recovering from his wife's death, suddenly all the values she cherishes — her traditions, her privacy, her otherness — are threatened. Somehow this big American takes up so much space that the orderly boundaries of her life feel invaded.


It was amazing how Anne Tyler was able to capture the lives of Iranians living in America, what it feels like to be foreign. She is also able to understand the complexities of being mainstream American and the contradictions that entails. The novel was about daily life, without too much happening, other than the adoptions, family celebrations, disease, death and loneliness.

Bookworld felt the seminal theme was belonging.

Her overarching theme in the book is belonging and fitting in, both in terms of nationality, ethnicity and on a purely personal level, fitting into a community of friends and family.

The pleasure of the book comes from watching realistic seeming characters navigate realistic seeming lives. The paternal grandmother on the Yazdan side, Maryam, a proud, quiet, seemingly aloof woman, and Bitsy Donaldson the more organic-than-thou adoptive mother who weaves her own dresses, are by far the strongest characters though all are well done and I felt that Tyler really loved these characters, despite or perhaps because of, their flaws and frailties.


CS monitors examines the political aspects of the novel.

Maryam is especially critical of Americans. Tyler notes incisively, "She had not been one of those Iranians who viewed America as the Promised Land. To her and her university friends, the US was the great disappointer," the nation that championed democracy yet backed the Shah.

Maryam finds Americans overwhelming in their energy and bluster. She is tired of being asked whether her family "had run into any unpleasantness during the Iranian hostage crisis" or after 9/11 (they had). Her resentment extends, rather unreasonably, to American interest in her culture: "Why should they [the Yazdans] have to put on these ethnic demonstrations? Let the Donaldsons go to the Smithsonian for that! she thought peevishly."

Although her son, Sami, was born in the US, he, too, spins riffs mocking Americans. Tyler softens the Yazdans' criticisms of Americans with the irony that they are also outsiders in their native Iranian culture. As Maryam comes to realize, "She had never felt at home in her own country or anywhere else."

The relationship between overbearing, but well-meaning, politically correct Bitsy Dickinson-Donaldson and glamorous but insecure Ziba yields a rich crop of Tyler's trademark sly social commentary. Bitsy has a knack for making Ziba feel bad, whether about feeding Susan lactose-laden milk or leaving her two days a week (with Maryam!) while she works. Unlike the Yazdans, the Donaldsons call their daughter by her given name, Jin-Ho, dress her in Korean clothes, and opt for public school.
Bitsy loves to create traditions, most notably the annual Arrival Day party, complete with a ritual screening of the video of the girls arriving at the airport. The families trade off hosting these extravaganzas, at which Maryam is thrown together with Bitsy's widowed, overly friendly father.


Women play a central role in this story, and the relationships they weave with each other and with them men in the novel are exquisitely detailed.

Reading Comprehension

Daniel Willingham