Friday, June 29, 2007

Arise, Sir Salman!

Priyamvada Gopal has an insightful perspective on Sir Salman.

Is America a shining example of a multi-party political system and accountable government? Rushdie's list of 'what matters' pays pious lip service to 'a more equitable distribution of resources' while stressing 'kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches and cutting-edge fashion' priorities rather specifc to upper-class metropolitan glitterati. (Could cutting-edge fashion be connected to an inequitable distribution of the world's resources, one wonders?). The Muslim diaspora, Rushdie then opines, have values that are at odds 'with the Christian, Hindu, non-believing or Jewish cultures among which they live'.

Had Rushdie not compromised himself so severely, it would be easier for us to acknowledge the continuing relevance of some of what he says. He has rightly called for a fast-growing version of 'a self-exculpatory paranoid Islam' which blames 'outsiders' for all the ills of Muslim societies to be examined and resisted. He has also called for the 'restoration of religion to the sphere of the personal', a call he might have extended more widely and forcefully to the driving forces in American politics today. Trouble is, what he once undertook in the name of shared human values and goals, he now identifies largely with the West, using culture-specific, parochial terms like 'The Enlightenment' and 'Reformation' to call for change in non-Western contexts and cultures.

Rushdie and his allies in the West need to return to a more wide-ranging critical engagement with the present and with the cultures outside the West which shaped him as a young writer. Equally, so-called representatives of Islam who find only books and images--not poverty, intra-faith violence, shame killings and dictatorial regimes--a source of offense need to stop being such willing puppets for every provocateur, real or imagined, who comes their way. Until this happens, the only winner will be those who espouse the specious but self-fulfilling prophecy of the 'clash of civilisations'.

A Life

Fascinating story of my aunt Premalya's life from pre partition, to Independence in 1947, to her development as a sculptor.

Born in December, 1929, in a place called Abbottabad in the North West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan), I belonged to a well established old family and grew up amidst lots of love and laughter, with cousins, siblings, friends. From my earliest memories, though the family owned a lot of property, money, or the acquiring of it, was never considered a priority. Art, culture, current events were much more important.

Our maternal grandfather was a lawyer in Lahore (now also in Pakistan) and we had highly educated uncles, aunts and cousins. My eldest uncle qualified in Ceramics in 1928 and for years headed the largest pottery factory in Asia.

My paternal grandfather bought land, hills and forests, and built houses and hotels in many parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). He also started several schools for boys and girls and built Government House, the summer residence of the British governor. He sent two of his 5 sons to the UK, who came back as barristers. All the sons looked after his affairs and lived together as a huge joint family, in a house that later became a hotel. My father, the youngest, was inseperable from his horse, called Pali. This became my father’s pet-name as well and he is still remembered as Paliji in his erstwhile hometown area. But, by the time I was born, besides my father, only one barrister uncle was alive -- all the others had passed away.

Our lives centred around the girls’ school, one of the many founded by our grandfather, which our aunt, wife of our surviving uncle, ensured continued to provide quality education. We spent our summers in the beautiful hills where our parents were running a rambling hotel, usually for families of British officers and administrators escaping the heat of the plains. During the longer winter holidays we spent time at our ancestral village near Rawal Pindi, where considerable land was leased out to share crop farmers and the highlight, visits to our maternal grandfather in Lahore, where we got so much love and enjoyed the company and friendship of our cousins. Besides, there was the glamour of city life -- big shops, movies and rides in grandfather’s huge Chevrolet.

With so much travelling, I cannot imagine how all of us managed to finish school. But all my siblings got good educations. My father saw to that!

Our family was also politically involved with the freedom movement. We were great admirers of The Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and he was also very fond of us. When any of the national leaders came to the frontier and visited Abbottabad they would stay at my Uncle’s place. Gandhiji was once there for almost a month. Ghaffar Khan and Gandhiji made a deep impact on us in many ways. We wore handspun khadi cloth and joined processions demanding our freedom. Though I was still in my early teens I remember shouting QUIT INDIA with great gusto.

Around the time I was born, the winter of 1929-30 was a very historic and traumatic time. My father went all the way to Lahore with three of his young children aged 12, 10 and 5 to join the massive protests and efforts to defend the case against Bhagat Singh, Dutt and other martyrs who were being tried at the time. Also to attend the processions, one of which was led by young Nehru on a white horse, and meetings leading up to the momentous declaration on January 26th, 1930 that we would settle for nothing short of complete independence – `Puran Swaraj’.

Mind you, our parents had many British friends. My father was a rover scout and held camps for boy scouts. He also organised football matches. The finals were always a big event -- army bands, bagpipes and 5 gleaming trophies being presented by some senior British officer. My mother also had very sweet British lady friends who had spiritual interests in common with her. This, for me, was the greatness of the freedom movement. Inspite fighting non-violently for freedom there were such friendships.

At the time of Partition in 1947 I was at Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore, like my sisters and cousins before me. It was a Methodist Christian college and we loved singing hymns, the Bible being part of our studies.

When Partition was finally declared, we were on holiday in Srinagar, living in a house boat. It was difficult to realise that we might never go back to our home in Abbottabad. Despite a very uncertain future we rejoiced, celebrated and listened raptly to a small radio airing Nehru’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech which he addressed to the newly formed Parliament at midnight of August 15th, 1947.

Soon after, troubles started and we were evacuated from Srinagar to Delhi by air

with nothing but our personal belongings. We descended on a cousin and his family. The caring and love we received can never be forgotten. It was a lesson. We then moved to a small town called Dehra Dun and were supported by half of my elder brother’s salary. My youngest brother joined school and my sister and I started teaching, I for half a day. This way I was able to join the studio of a famous art teacher, Sudhir Khastagir to learn sculpture. Even as a child I was interested in art and the miracle is that, despite the great upheaval, losing everything, my parents, especially father, saw to it that after a year I went to Kala Bhawan, Shantiniketan as dreamt and planned years earlier. Some spirit he had.

The principal was Nandlal Bose, a legend in the art world, and the sculpture teacher was Ramkinker Baij, one of the best in the world. I had some of my happiest years there. We were surrounded by Santhal villages, dark polished brown, bare-chested men and women with just a strip of white cloth on them and flowers in their hair, singing and laughing and at home with nature. Shantiniketan -- the abode of peace. Besides art there were schools of classical music and dance, language studies for Chinese, French, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and a children’s school, where many of the classes, from Tagore’s times, were held under the trees. We sang songs written by Tagore for each season, celebrating the full moon nights, the different flowering trees, making us aware of the glory of nature around us. His dance dramas and plays were staged there. Famous visitors from all over the world, East and West, gave talks. The students were also from around the world. It was a rich life, that opened my mind to exciting creative experimentation.

Home for the summer holidays, I discovered that my father had slowly given up all hope and finally realised that he would never go back to his home. He lost interest in living and became ill, bedridden and, at the age of 52, with his whole family around him, he died. It was the end of a chapter.

I went back to Shantiniketan for one term to wrap things up and then joined my family, who had moved back to Delhi. I got admitted to the Delhi College of Art and within two years happy things happened. My eldest sister had twins after eight years of marriage. I got married to a young diplomat, distant kin, and we left for our first posting to Central Africa. My middle sister met and married a wonderful army officer and little brother topped his exams, graduated and landed a good job in the corporate world.

I was 23, very enthusiastic to serve our country, the world, to bring freedom to Africa from colonial rule, ready to love everybody. It was difficult at first. We were the only non-white diplomats but we soon made a place for ourselves. We were young, handsome and sincere. Our home became the centre for people of all colours to meet. African leaders, journalists, white and black, visiting authors writing on Africa, real and doubtful liberals, Christian and technical missionaries and diplomats. My best friends were Ellen and David, European refugees from World War II. David was a sculptor. In their home for the first time we met many other interesting Europeans, who talked of art and music, not just politics.

We were posted to many different countries with very different cultures and customs. Central Africa, oppressed, restless and on the edge of the great leap into the abyss -- Freedom. Whatever, whichever way the path led. Holland, at that time very formal and correct, still suffering from the after-effects of the 2nd World War. Full of intellectual life. Tinbergen, Khalastine, so many brilliant people who were accessible and very friendly. The great art, the museums, Fran Hals, Rembrandts, the impressionists. The land of Van Gogh. But art there was not part of the daily life of the people as it was in Thailand, our next posting. Such delicacy and fineness in the people. They lived art.

Our life touched some of the most wonderful people in every country. We were in New York, Nepal, West Asia and Caracas. Maybe because of our very open and unrigid upbringing, though I always dressed in traditional indian clothes, mostly the sari, I never thought of different people as different. I was always at home with them and never felt odd, or thought them strange. There was always a cord, a communion with so many everywhere and I would laughingly say, “we must have been brothers in our previous birth”.

While abroad we met not only artists from different countries, we cherished the friendship of some of India’s greatest artists, who would sit and talk or draw and paint right before our eyes.

My work, like me, is Indian, but perhaps all the influence of the world that I absorbed are also inherent. But then that is being a true Indian.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Lives of Others

Anthony Lane reviews this brilliant movie in the New Yorker.

If there is any justice, this year’s Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to “The Lives of Others,” a movie about a world in which there is no justice. It marks the début of the German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, of whom we have every right to be jealous. First, he is a stripling of thirty-three. Second, his name makes him sound like a lover with a duelling scar on his cheekbone in a nineteenth-century novel. And third, being German, he has an overwhelming subject: the postwar sundering of his country. For us, the idea of freedom, however heartfelt, is doomed to abstraction, waved by politicians as if they were shaking a flag. To Germans, even those of Donnersmarck’s generation, freedom is all too concrete, defined by its brute opposite: the gray slabs raised in Berlin to keep free souls at bay.

It is a tribute to the richness of the film that one cannot say for sure who the hero is. The most prominent figure is Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), yet if you passed him on the street you wouldn’t give him a second glance, or even a first. He would spot you, however, and file you away in a drawer at the back of his mind. Wiesler, based in East Berlin, is a captain in the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, better known as the Stasi—the state security service, which, by the mid-nineteen-eighties, employed more than ninety thousand personnel. In addition, a modest hundred and seventy thousand East Germans became unofficial employees, called upon to snoop and snitch for the honor—or, in practical terms, the survival—of the state. “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” Jesus said. The German Democratic Republic offered its own version: watch thy neighbor, then pick up thy phone.

The movie begins, fittingly, in 1984. The Stasi machine still fulfills its Orwellian function, training its sights on anyone who might be construed as seditious. All the more surprising, then, that Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) should have escaped censure. He is a playwright. He is handsome, affable, and draped in a corduroy suit that must have been made in the West; his live-in girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), is also his leading lady, and supporters of compulsory egalitarianism would consider her beauty an insult. Yet the fact remains that Dreyman is a pet talent of the state—“the only non-subversive writer we have,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), Wiesler’s cheery superior. As for Sieland, she is, in the words of a government minister, Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), “the loveliest pearl of the G.D.R.” He should know, the swine.

One evening, Wiesler attends the première of a Dreyman play. What is it that alerts him? The curtain call, brimming with a warmth that he, as a Stasi operative, will never feel? The kiss that Christa-Maria exchanges with Dreyman? Or, most wounding of all, their happiness? Whatever the reason, Wiesler decides that Dreyman, precisely because he has neither said nor written anything suspicious, must be a suspect. Kafka would recognize the logic: a man too good to be true cannot be trusted. Wiesler confides his doubts to Grubitz, who passes them on to Hempf; the upshot is that Wiesler is deputed to spy on Dreyman and Sieland—to enter their lives, like a virus, and lay waste to their innocence until it decays into guilt.

He and his team infest the apartment where Dreyman lives. As they emerge from a van, pick locks, and start to seed the rooms with bugs, the musical score—by Gabriel Yared, best known for “The English Patient”—keeps urgent step with their task. This is the director’s riskiest move; he expects us to deplore the demolition of human rights, yet he knows that, as filmgoers, we cannot help thrilling to the steeliness of Wiesler’s method. (The van is like the one from the TV series “Mission: Impossible.”) Anyone can condemn the Stasi’s record, and we stoutly deny that we would have caved in to its threats; only movies, or the most supple fiction, can whisper in our ears and urge us to wonder whether we, too, might have fallen prey. The most terrifying moment in “The Lives of Others”—and the terror, again, is fringed with awe—comes as Wiesler, having finished rigging Dreyman’s place, crosses to the apartment opposite, knocks on the door, and says to the woman who answers, “One word of this and Masha loses her place at the university.” The captain has done his homework.

One of the marvels of Ulrich Mühe’s performance—in its seething stillness, its quality not just of self-denial but of self-haunting—is that he never distills Wiesler into a creature purely of his times. You can imagine him, with his close-cropped hair, as a young Lutheran in the wildfire of the early Reformation, or as a lost soul finding a new cause in the Berlin of 1933. See him crouched in a loft above Dreyman’s home with a typewriter, a tape deck, and headphones clamped to his skull. Watch the nothingness on his face as he taps out his report on the couple’s actions: “Presumably have intercourse.” How long can you listen to love being made? Especially when your only love comes from a hooker who marches in, performs, then leaves before you have even refastened your pants? Slowly, the tables turn. Wiesler steals Dreyman’s copy of Brecht and takes it home to read; he starts to omit details in his official account; and, for some fathomless reason—guilt, curiosity, longing—he lets the lives of others run their course.

Downstairs, Dreyman finds his own passivity, his tactical playing of the system, beginning to crack. A blacklisted friend hangs himself, and Dreyman feels obliged to write about the terrible suicide rate in the G.D.R. This means smuggling in an untraceable typewriter—more lethal than a gun, in the land of a controlled press—and smuggling out the copy. Dreyman wants not to involve Sieland in this crime, but she is already sunk in sin. Hempf, the government minister, made overtures, and she responded, hoping that it might safeguard her career; there is an unforgettable smear of boredom, repulsion, and self-loathing on her face as she sits in the back of his limousine, after dark, and lets his fumbling trotters do their worst. Wiesler comes to know of this arrangement, and the knowledge both curdles his respect for the Party and grants him a furtive power. We are reminded of “The Conversation,” which kept Gene Hackman, king of the listening device, locked in a Wiesler-like solitude. Dazzling though Coppola’s film was, it was at some level a fantasy, dreaming of dark conspiracies with which to spice our lives. That is a luxury von Donnersmarck cannot afford, and the paranoia shown within his movie is not a nightmare. It’s government policy.

The result is like a clash of puppeteers. Dreyman controls his characters in the theatre, but his strings are pulled by the state. His girlfriend, wanting to be mistress of her fate, is just a mistress, and not for long. (“I never want to see her on a German stage again,” Hempf says, after she summons the courage to spurn him.) Wiesler toys with the destinies of his suspects, but he is finally snarled in his own plans and dispatched to a cellar for the rest of his career, there to steam open the mail of ordinary citizens: the hard labor of a Stasi drone. Above them is von Donnersmarck, shifting his fretful players around the city—his horribly convincing re-creation of a repressive world, ranging from the meagreness of Wiesler’s lonely dinner (a tube of something red, squeezed onto a bowl of something white) to the unchanging nylon gray of his clothes. “The Lives of Others” was shot in color, but you would barely guess as much, since the landscape has long since shrivelled to black-and-white. I am still shuddering at the scene in the Stasi lunchroom, where Lieutenant Colonel Grubitz overhears a young recruit telling an Erich Honecker joke. (Honecker was then leading the G.D.R.) He demands the punch line, laughs heartily, then asks the joker for his name and rank. The recruit blenches, but, after a pause, Grubitz laughs again—he was just kidding. Years later, we see the same recruit sitting behind Wiesler in the cellar. There was no kidding.

It is a shock to find the action lasting until 1993. As the events of 1984 hastened to a climax, with treachery being punished on a damp street, I was already reaching for my coat. So why press onward? Why drag us into the debris of the broken G.D.R.—into the opening of the Stasi files, and the queasy afterlife of politicians and playwrights alike? Against all odds, though, the best is yet to come: an ending of overwhelming simplicity and force, in which the hopes of the film—as opposed to its fears, which have shivered throughout—come gently to rest. What happens is that a character says, “Es ist für mich”—“It’s for me.” When you see the film, as you must, you will understand why the phrase is like a blessing. To have something bestowed on “me”—not on a tool of the state, not on a scapegoat or a sneak, but on me—is a sign that individual liberties have risen from the dead. You might think that “The Lives of Others” is aimed solely at modern Germans—at all the Wieslers, the Dreymans, and the weeping Christa-Marias. A movie this strong, however, is never parochial, nor is it period drama. Es ist für uns. It’s for us.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I.Q.'s and birth order

NYT had an article on a Norwegian study on I.Q's and birth order. Most first born children were quite excited about their higher I.Q.'s compared to their siblings. Above is a link to NYT readers questions on the study. I have never been strong on the view of I.Q.'s as being determinats of intelligence.

1.June 24th,
1:00 am What about differences between the second and third or fourth child? Does this three-point gap also apply to the subsequent children?

— Posted by V. Nhan
2.June 24th,
2:00 am One of the most interesting features of the new Norwegian study is that birth-order differences in I.Q. become smaller with increasing birth rank. The difference between a firstborn and a second-born in a family of two children is about 2.3 I.Q. points. The difference between a firstborn and a second-born in a family of three children is 2.1 I.Q. points. By contrast, the difference between a second-born and a third-born in the same family is only 1.1 I.Q. points. In a family of four children, the I.Q. difference between siblings is reduced to only 1 I.Q. point per birth rank, and the difference between the third-born and the last sibling drops to only 0.2 I.Q. points. In general, then, the largest birth-order differences are observed between firstborn siblings and second-born siblings in small families. Children with successively higher birth ranks suffer relatively smaller deficits in I.Q. because of their birth orders.

These intriguing results might be explained by niche partitioning within the family, although this is not the only possible explanation. In two-child families, the firstborn and the second-born may be partitioning their roles into that of the mature and studious achiever and that of the less mature, perhaps more athletic, younger sibling who pursues other types of interests in order to be different (a process called “deidentification”). As other siblings are added to the family system, they appear to position themselves somewhere between these two extremes. Hence the overall difference in I.Q. in a family of five children, between the eldest and the youngest offspring (a total of about 2.7 points), is not much greater than the difference we observe between a firstborn and a second-born in a family of two children (2.3 points).

Theories about the dilution of family resources might also explain why birth order makes less of a difference with higher birth ranks. As more children are added to the family, the relative disparity decreases between the intellectually rich environment of a firstborn, with exclusive access to parental attention before the arrival of other siblings, and the intellectual environment of a family that includes many offspring competing for parental attention.

— Posted by Dr. Frank Sulloway
3.June 24th,
2:01 am Why do some psychologists make such a fuss over a few I.Q. points? In this instance, I think we’re talking about a little more adult attention producing a slightly higher level of verbal and mathematical ability, which might help in school. A pinch of creativity dwarfs that in importance.

— Posted by P. Dorell
4.June 24th,
4:00 am As I noted in the Science Perspective that accompanies publication of the new study by Petter Kristensen and Tor Bjerkedal, the 2.3 I.Q. points that differentiate the average Norwegian firstborn from the average Norwegian second-born in a two-child family is equivalent to the firstborn having a 13 percent greater chance of getting into a better college. This difference is also equivalent to the firstborn having 1.3 times the odds of getting into a better college, compared with the second-born.

It is also worth noting that 2.3 extra I.Q. points (the advantage enjoyed by a firstborn over an immediately younger sibling) is approximately equivalent to scoring an extra 15 points on each SAT test, or a combined 45 points on the three current tests, which have a mean combined score of about 1,500 points. The cutoffs for acceptance to the best colleges, based on SAT scores, often hinge on where one stands within a range of just 40 to 50 points on the three tests combined.

Seen in this perspective, these documented differences in I.Q. by birth order are hardly negligible. However, as I said in a recent interview published in Nature, if I had the choice of having 2.3 extra I.Q. points or having the “enlarged curiosity” that Charles Darwin’s uncle, Josiah Wedgwood, recognized in his nephew on the eve of Mr. Darwin’s departure on the Beagle to circumnavigate the globe, I would unhesitatingly choose the latter.

So, yes, I.Q. is hardly everything, and much that makes people successful in life has to do with how people use their intelligence rather than with their intelligence per se. In addition, there is considerable evidence suggesting that siblings born later use their intelligence differently from the way firstborns use theirs. Indeed, later-born siblings would appear to have 2.3 extra points of one difficult-to-measure intellectual skill, associated with unconventional thinking, that firstborns sometimes lack.

— Posted by Dr. Frank Sulloway
5.June 24th,
5:37 am The problem I have with this study is that it was done in a very homogeneous population. Should not this hypothesis first be tested in other populations before drawing any firm conclusions?

— Posted by P Penko
6.June 24th,
6:55 am This reader raises a very interesting point. Yes, the Norwegian population is probably more homogeneous than, say, the American population. However, one must keep in mind that many well-designed studies of birth order and intelligence — studies that have controlled at minimum for differences in family size and socioeconomic status — have been conducted in America, the Netherlands, France and Israel, among other countries. These studies have consistently shown that firstborn siblings have higher I.Q. scores than second-born siblings, that second-born siblings have higher I.Q. scores than third-born siblings, and so forth.

This newest study from Norway uses a marvelous within-family study design, in which brothers were all compared with other brothers from the same families. It obtains essentially the same results that were found in another large Norwegian sample of individuals who grew up in different families. In short, the results strongly suggest that the findings from previous between-family studies were actually giving us an accurate portrait of birth-order differences in intelligence, as long as these previous studies adequately controlled for differences in family size and socioeconomic status. So we do have reasonably convincing data, from many different countries, that confirm the relationship between birth order and intelligence.

— Posted by Dr. Frank Sulloway
7.June 24th,
7:00 am Is age of the parents a factor?

— Posted by R. Doherty
8.June 24th,
8:00 am Studies have shown the mother’s age at the birth of her first offspring to be a significant predictor of the child’s I.Q. More educated mothers and mothers with higher I.Q. scores tend to have smaller families, and these mothers also tend to bear their first children at later ages than other mothers. As shown in the Norwegian study, differences in I.Q. between firstborns and second-borns were largest among the most highly educated mothers. Hence we would expect birth-order differences in I.Q. to be larger among mothers who have their first child at a later age, since such mothers are likely to be more educated than other mothers.

— Posted by Dr. Frank Sulloway

Benefits of Yoga

The Headstand- strength, peace, concentration, clarity, memory, brings spiritual understanding and vision.

The Shoulderstand- rejuvenate, balance, invigorating effect on the nervous system, physical inversion reflects on the mind. Ability to see clearly old mental patterns and let go.

The Plough- opening and strengthening of the spine, letting go of contractivness, deep surrender of negative patterns of the mind.

The Bridge- Strength and balance, "bridge between higher and lower parts of the body energetically speaking.

The Fish- Removal of tension from the shoulders, removal of worry and depression, opening of the spirit.

The Forward Bends- Stimulant of the sympathetic system, but at the same time makes the mind introspective, helps letting go, good for depression and negative states of mind, self acceptance.

The Inclined Plane- Strength and opening, vigor.

The Cobra- Strength in the back and kidneys, daring spirit, courage and spiritual awakening.

The Locust- Strength, strong back, enduring mind, support.

The Bow- Emotional strength, hopefulness.

Ardha-Matsyendrasana- Induces meditative state, peacefulness, purification.

Mayurasana or Kakasana- Stability, balance, processing of toxins.

Pada-Hastasana- Highly invigorating, enthusiasm with steadiness.

Trikonasana- Control over emotions, balancing, rejuvinative.

Shavasana- Transcendence

Rushdie Knighthood

Sadanand Dhume writes on the aftermath of the Rushdie Knighthood.

Sadanand Dhume, an Asia Society Fellow and a long-time contributor to Far Eastern Economic Review, WSJ and other publications, reacts to the angry response by some Muslims to the recent knighthood for Salman Rushdie.

...her majesty's conferral is a welcome example of something that has grown exceedingly rare: British backbone. After years of kowtowing to every fundamentalist demand imaginable -- from accommodating
the burqa in schools and colleges to re-orienting prison toilets to face
away from Mecca -- the British seem to be saying enough is enough. Nobody
expects Mr. Rushdie to be awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the Collar of the
Nile or Iran's Islamic Republic Medal, but in Britain, as elsewhere in the
civilized world, great novelists are honored for their work. A pinched view
of the human condition or poorly imagined characters may harm your
prospects. Blasphemy does not.

Read the entire essay below and post your thoughts in the comments section.

The Wall Street Journal
June 23, 2007; Page A10

Sir Salman Rushdie
Mr. Dhume is a fellow at the Asia Society in Washington, D.C. "My Friend the
Fanatic," his book about the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia, will be
published next year.

Another Friday in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi -- and as if on cue, the
hoarse, bearded and pyromaniacal pour out of the mosques into the streets
armed with Union Jacks and effigies of Queen Elizabeth II, Tony Blair and
the newly knighted Sir Salman Rushdie.

Having protested Danish cartoons and popish detours into Byzantine history
to the point of exhaustion, the proverbial Muslim street is once again
seething. Pakistan's minister of religious affairs said Mr. Rushdie's award
justified suicide bombings, while a group of traders in Islamabad banded
together to place a $140,000 bounty on his head. Fathi Sorour, the speaker
of Egypt's parliament, declared that, "Honoring someone who has offended the
Muslim religion is a bigger error than the publication of caricatures
attacking Prophet Muhammad." Malaysian protesters besieged the British high
commission (embassy) in Kuala Lumpur chanting, "Destroy Britain" and "Crush
Salman Rushdie." With the irony perhaps lost in translation, Iran, whose
president thinks nothing of threatening to wipe Israel off the map,
condemned the award and called it a clear sign of (that mysterious new
ailment) "Islamophobia."

For many of us, however, her majesty's conferral is a welcome example of
something that has grown exceedingly rare: British backbone. After years of
kowtowing to every fundamentalist demand imaginable -- from accommodating
the burqa in schools and colleges to re-orienting prison toilets to face
away from Mecca -- the British seem to be saying enough is enough. Nobody
expects Mr. Rushdie to be awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the Collar of the
Nile or Iran's Islamic Republic Medal, but in Britain, as elsewhere in the
civilized world, great novelists are honored for their work. A pinched view
of the human condition or poorly imagined characters may harm your
prospects. Blasphemy does not.

In the larger struggle against Islamism -- the ideology that demands that
every aspect of human life be ordered by the seventh-century Arabian
precepts enshrined in Shariah law -- the Rushdie affair carries totemic
significance. In 1989 the late Ayatollah Khomeini declared a price on Mr.
Rushdie's head for the crime of apostasy, after reading about his mockery of
the prophet Mohammed in "The Satanic Verses." At the time, few could have
predicted that this was merely the first act of a drama that's still

Eighteen years after the ayatollah's fatwa, since lifted, but thanks to
freelance fanaticism, never quite extinguished, the Bombay-born Mr. Rushdie
has managed to lead a full life. He has turned out eight novels and essay
collections, married twice (most recently the model and actress Padma
Lakshmi), mentored a generation of young Indians writing in English, and
spoken out against obscurantism and religious bigotry of every stripe. He
has also witnessed -- mirrored in his own predicament -- the consequences of
a Europe too paralyzed by deathwish multiculturalism and moral relativism to
recognize the danger it faces. It has become a continent where an Islamist
stabs a film director in broad daylight in Amsterdam, where bombs go off in
Madrid commuter trains and London buses, where writers, directors and
cartoonists suddenly find themselves bound by sensitivities imported not
merely from alien lands but from another age altogether.

No Western country has done more to accommodate Islamists than Britain, and
none better shows the folly of this course. Successive governments feted
organizations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Public
Affairs Committee, and welcomed as refugees a stable of jihadist clerics,
including the Syrian-born Omar Bakri Muhammad and the hook-handed Abu Hamza
al-Masri. Rather than moderate Muslim passions, this climate of
permissiveness gave us Richard Reid the shoe bomber, Daniel Pearl's
murderer, Omar Saeed Sheikh, the quartet behind the 2005 London bombings and
the plotters who ensured that we must now worry about carrying moisturizing
lotion and baby formula each time we board an airplane. A recent poll by
Policy Exchange, a London think tank, shows that 28% of British Muslims
would rather live under Shariah than under British law.

But at last it looks like the pendulum has begun to swing the other way. Mr.
Rushdie's elevation signals an intention to draw a line between respecting
Islam and allowing a small minority of Islamists to impose their hairtrigger
hysteria on secular Muslims and non-Muslims. It highlights two of the core
values of Western civilization conspicuously absent in most of the Muslim
world: freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry. It squarely rejects the
notion that the fossilized norms of Mecca and Mashhad hold sway over
Manchester and Middlesex, and beyond them, over Malmo and Minneapolis. Above
all, it honors a brave man who has come to symbolize our turbulent times. A
little old-fashioned British spine has never been more welcome.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A mighty heart

Rolling stone reviews this movie. I think Michael Winterbottom does a great job of capturing the tension in the movie, without exploiting the situation. Angelina Jolie represents the magnanimous spirit of Mariane Pearl very well.

Brangelina inspired a paparazzi frenzy by decorating the red carpet at May’s Cannes Film Festival - he as one of the Ocean’s Thirteen gang, she as the star of A Mighty Heart, a devastating real-life drama that his company, Plan B, co-produced. Both stars made a pile squandering their talents on 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But A Mighty Heart reveals and rewards their deeper ambitions. Jolie plays journalist Mariane Pearl, the widow of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), who was kidnapped and murdered by jihadists in 2002.
Based on Mariane’s memoir, the film is given a raw and riveting docudrama treatment by the superb British director Michael Winterbottom, whose films - from Welcome to Sarajevo to 24 Hour Party People - are notable for their total absence of Hollywood bullshit. A Mighty Heart is no exception. From the moment Daniel and the pregnant Mariane arrive in Karachi, Pakistan - he wants to investigate the connection between shoe bomber Richard Reid and militant Islamic groups - Winterbottom exerts a grip that won’t let go.

Having arranged a meeting with the elusive Sheikh Gilani, Daniel is warned by Randall Bennett (Will Patton) of the U.S. consulate and the captain (Irrfan Khan) of Pakistan’s counterterrorism unit to stick to public places. Daniel calls a taxi to take him to an agreed-upon restaurant and is never heard from again. The film focuses on Mariane’s five-week search to find her husband, who is alternately accused of working for the CIA and Mossad. Headquartered in the home of Daniel’s colleague Asra (the excellent Archie Panjabi), Mariane begins an agonizing quest that only ends with the release of a video, “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl,” shown on TV at the time but wisely withheld by Winterbottom.

The film’s strict avoidance of exploitation and sensationalism only adds to the film’s emotional impact. In just a few scenes, Futterman - the acclaimed screenwriter of Capote - digs deeply into Daniel as a journalist and a man. But the film belongs to Jolie. She won an Oscar for 1999’s Girl, Interrupted, but this is by far her best performance, strong and true in every detail from Mariane’s accent (her roots are Dutch and Afro-Cuban) to the strength she shows under fire. Her total immersion in the role keeps the film from getting lost in the rush of details. Even after Daniel’s death and subsequent beheading, Mariane holds Daniel’s spirit close. Jolie sees to it that the humane and haunting A Mighty Heart honors that spirit.

Friday, June 22, 2007

words of wisdom

on the World Wide Web
chosen by Lama Surya Das

* * * * * * * * *

Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
Make all your friends feel there is something special in them.
Look at the sunny side of everything.
Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best.
Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
Give everyone a smile.
Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others.
Be too big for worry and too noble for anger.

~ Christian D. Larsen

old black and white photographs


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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Expecting too much from our children

Mad Momma has a wonderful article on parents that want overachieving children. What happened to just wanting your child to be happy and content??

I am beginning to sound like a stuck record but I am sick of these parents who want their kids to be over achievers. Or even achievers. If I had one wish for my children, it would be that they are happy people. Not necessarily successful people. In fact most people feel that parents, especially stay at home mothers live their dreams through their children and want them to achieve professional success. I don't. I don't care what they do. As long as they are happy.

I don't care if they end up as beach bums, as long as they are happy. There. I said it. I am sick of people our age, having heart attacks at 28 (yes, I know two men who had heart attacks at 28!) due to stress. Chefs, engineers, artists, doctors, designers, gay, bisexual... anything..everything that others have thrown at me as options when I have made this statement earlier. As long as they are happy and good people.

Why are we so obsessed with records and making and breaking them? Why are we so obsessed with having children who can multiply insane amounts mentally, recite shlokas backwards and use the computer at 18 months? Why must all babies be super babies and why must every thing be an opportunity to learn?

Don't get me wrong, I am alright with pointing out everyday things and going for nature walks... but nothing is good in extremes. I will not be the mother saying, "Good morning Brat. When the sun shines, it's morning. Now pick up your toothbrush and brush your teeth or you will get cavities. Now wear your blue pants and red shirt and sit in your green high chair and eat your yellow egg."

Take a chill pill. Our parents did not use every opportunity to teach us and I think most of us have turned out alright. This whole obsession with super babies and building super bright achievers is getting out of hand.

Keshav on his birthday


Monday, June 18, 2007

Palestine Fatah vs Hamas

Robert Fisk asks the question, How Will the Hypocritical West Deal with a Coup D'état by an Elected Government, in Palestine?

How troublesome the Muslims of the Middle East are. First, we demand that the Palestinians embrace democracy and then they elect the wrong party -- Hamas -- and then Hamas wins a mini-civil war and presides over the Gaza Strip. And we Westerners still want to negotiate with the discredited President, Mahmoud Abbas. Today "Palestine" -- and let's keep those quotation marks in place -- has two prime ministers. Welcome to the Middle East.

Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.

No one asked -- on our side -- which particular Israel Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds - and goes on building -- vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of "Palestine" still left to negotiate over ?

And so today, we are supposed to talk to our faithful policeman, Mr Abbas, the "moderate" (as the BBC, CNN and Fox News refer to him) Palestinian leader, a man who wrote a 600-page book about Oslo without once mentioning the word "occupation", who always referred to Israeli "redeployment" rather than "withdrawal", a "leader" we can trust because he wears a tie and goes to the White House and says all the right things. The Palestinians didn't vote for Hamas because they wanted an Islamic republic -- which is how Hamas's bloody victory will be represented - but because they were tired of the corruption of Mr Abbas's Fatah and the rotten nature of the
"Palestinian Authority".

I recall years ago being summoned to the home of a PA official whose walls had just been punctured by an Israeli tank shell. All true. But what struck me were the gold-plated taps in his bathroom. Those taps -- or variations of them -- were what cost Fatah its election. Palestinians wanted an end to corruption - the cancer of the Arab world -- and so they voted for Hamas and thus we, the all-wise, all-good West, decided to sanction them and starve them and bully them for exercising their free vote. Maybe we should offer "Palestine" EU membership if it would be gracious enough to vote for the right people?

All over the Middle East, it is the same. We support Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, even though he keeps warlords and drug barons in his government (and, by the way, we really are sorry about all those innocent Afghan civilians we are killing in our "war on terror" in the wastelands of Helmand province).

We love Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose torturers have not yet finished with the Muslim Brotherhood politicians recently arrested outside Cairo, whose presidency received the warm support of Mrs. -- yes Mrs. George W. Bush -- and whose succession will almost certainly pass to his son, Gamal.

Alternet on Consumer Celibacy

Wendee Holtcamp has an interesting article on her 30 days of consumer celibacy.

The original Compacters, who formed their group in early 2006, did not intend to start a movement. It was just 10 San Francisco friends trying to reduce their consumption by not buying new stuff for a year. The group's manifesto was simple: to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture. Named after the Pilgrims' revolutionary Mayflower Compact, the small idea led to a Yahoo Web site that has attracted more than 8,000 adherents and spawned some 50 groups in spots as far-flung as Hong Kong and Iceland.

What they don't say on the Compact Web site: Kicking consumerism may require its own 12-step program. So after my Hallmark relapse, I started again from square one. According to the guidelines, I must buy used, or borrow. No new stuff, with the exception of food, necessary medicines and health care items, and -- no joke -- underwear.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

carom game

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A Carom Board


We have not played carom for ages, now we can!
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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I just finished reading this very depressing book. Kite Runner dealt with fathers and sons, this book deals with mothers and daughters. Here is a summary from the NYT.

In the case of “Splendid Suns,” Mr. Hosseini quickly makes it clear that he intends to deal with the plight of women in Afghanistan, and in the opening pages the mother of one of the novel’s two heroines talks portentously about “our lot in life,” the lot of poor, uneducated “women like us” who have to endure the hardships of life, the slights of men, the disdain of society.

This heavy-handed opening quickly gives way to even more soap-opera-ish events: after her mother commits suicide, the teenage Mariam — the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man, who is ashamed of her existence — is quickly married off to a much older shoemaker named Rasheed, a piggy brute of a man who says it embarrasses him “to see a man who’s lost control of his wife.”

Rasheed forces Mariam to wear a burqa and treats her with ill-disguised contempt, subjecting her to scorn, ridicule, insults, even “walking past her like she was nothing but a house cat.” Mariam lives in fear of “his shifting moods, his volatile temperament, his insistence on steering even mundane exchanges down a confrontational path that, on occasion, he would resolve with punches, slaps, kicks, and sometimes try to make amends for with polluted apologies and sometimes not.”

The life of the novel’s other heroine, Laila, who becomes Rasheed’s second wife, takes an even sharper trajectory toward ruin. Though she is the cherished daughter of an intellectual, who encourages her to pursue an education, Laila finds her life literally shattered when a rocket — lobbed by one of the warlord factions fighting for control of Kabul, after the Soviet Union’s departure — lands on her house and kills her parents.

Her beloved boyfriend, Tariq, has already left Kabul with his family — they have become refugees in Pakistan — and she suddenly finds that she is an orphan with no resources or friends. When she discovers that she is pregnant with Tariq’s child and learns that Tariq has supposedly died from injuries sustained in a rocket attack near the Pakistan border, she agrees to marry Rasheed, convinced that she and her baby will never survive alone on the streets of Kabul.

The novel was able to capture the brutality that women in Afghanistan face in their homes and outside on the streets. The abuse heaped on Mariam was never ending and painful to read. Laila whose life started off positively, also suffered from abuse and beatings by Rasheed. The scenes between Aziza, Laila and Mariam were touching and heart breaking.

Working With Anger by Thubten Chodron

Working with Anger, by Thubten Chodron
Just finished reading this insightful book on anger management. This Buddhist monk combines psychological knowledge with spiritual wisdom. I am going to outline notes from the appendix of her book on techniques on working with anger, they are quite self explanatory.

Training in patience
Mindfully observe our anger
Understand each other’s needs and concerns
Ask ourselves whether the other person is happy

Coping with criticismAcknowledge our mistakes
Learn from our critics
Deal with false criticism calmly
Communicate well
Leave the situation if necessary
Learn to evaluate ourselves
Allow others their opinions
Don’t see criticism where there is none
Counteract the critical, judgmental attitude

The blaming gameSee how we co-create situations
Look from a broader perspective
Handle illness wisely

When our buttons are pushedKnow what our buttons are
Close the internal courtroom
Let go of the “rules of the universe”
Discover the real issue

Acceptance and empowerment
Accept what is happening
Act or relax
Discover power
Have a compassionate heart
Accept that our control is limited

Meeting the enemyGive the pain to our self- centeredness
See how the enemy benefits us
Remember the potential goodness of the enemy
Repay hostility with kindness

Letting go of grudges and resentment
Avoid cultivating grudges
Understand why others harm us
Remember our commonality with others
Forgive others

When trust is betrayed
See the person as our supreme teacher
Inspect our unrealistic expectations
Rejoice in our postive past
Accept that change is universal
Recognize the nature of cyclic existence
Look at our situation from a wider perspective

The snake of enemy
See the disadvantages of enemy
Change our motivation to wishing others happiness
Don’t envy what doesn’t bring lasting happiness (or even what does)
Rejoice that others are better than we are
Rejoice in others’ good fortune and excellent qualities

Anger at ourselves
Have love and compassion for ourselves
Focus on the positive
Value our circumstances
Acknowledge our mistakes and laugh at ourselves
Accept ourselves as we are
Remember our Buddhist potential
Aspire to change
Purify negativities

Cultivating love and compassion
See the advantages of a kind heart
Mediate on the kindness of others
Mediate on love
Understand compassion
Mediate on compassion
Mediate on taking and giving
Practise visualization and chanting meditations
Practise love and compassion in our lives

Helping others subdue their anger
Listen to friends who are angry
Do not take sides
Let go when we cannot help
Teach children to work with their anger
Be a good example
Love children when they are angry

Wisdom that relaxes the mind
Try to find the “I” that is angry
Free ourselves from anger completely

Here is a link to her home page

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Is Open Marriage the Modern Couple's Answer to Infidelity?

Alternet has an interesting story on open marriages.

So, then, is open marriage the modern couple's answer to infidelity? Is it two people's attempt to reinvest in the idea of commitment, to define it on their own terms and to try to avoid divorce? Could it be viewed as an honest attempt to make marriage work? "I think that's what people tell themselves, but it raises a red flag for me," says Robboy. "It is incredibly common and incredibly destructive for couples to experiment with open marriage in response to problems or boredom in their sex life. This is not the time to experiment with open marriage. To experiment with open marriage, you have to be in an extremely healthy relationship."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sean River Rafting

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Diya, Saara, Saisha and Mira's head

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The Clash Within

Pankaj Mishra reviews The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future by Martha C. Nussbaum, in the New York Review of Books.

However, Nussbaum's strongly felt and stimulating book deepens rather than answers the question: How did India's democracy, commonly described as the biggest in the world, become so vulnerable to religious extremism?

Ideological fanaticism stemming from personal inadequacies, such as the one Nussbaum identifies in Arun Shourie, is certainly to blame. But as Nussbaum herself outlines in her chapter on Gujarat, religious violence in India today cannot be separated from the recent dramatic changes in the country's economy and politics. The individual defects of Indian politicians only partly explain the great and probably insuperable social and economic conflicts that give India's democracy its particular momentum and anarchic vitality.

Richard Nixon once said that those who think that India is governed badly should marvel at the fact that it is governed at all. In a similar vein, the Indian historian Ramachandra Guha asks in his forthcoming book India After Gandhi, "Why is there an India at all?"[5] For centuries India was not a nation in any conventional sense of the word. Not only did it not possess the shared language, culture, and national identity that have defined many nations; it had more social and cultural variety than even the continent of Europe. At the time of independence in 1950, much of its population was very poor and largely illiterate. India's multiple languages—the Indian constitution recognizes twenty-two—and religions, together with great inequalities of caste and class, ensured a wide potential for conflict.

Given this intractable complexity, democracy in India was an extraordinarily ambitious political experiment. By declaring India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, the makers of the Indian constitution seemed to take the idea of liberty, equality, and fraternity more seriously than even their European and American counterparts. African-Americans got voting rights only in 1870, almost a century after the framing of the American Constitution, and American women only in 1920. But all Indian adults, irrespective of their class, sex, and caste, enjoyed the right to vote from 1950, when India formally became a republic.


Khushwant Singh has written a very funny piece, in the Outlook, about his piles problem.

Well, I Nether!
Thoughts of a dignified, noble farewell quashed by an endoscopic bathos

Khushwant Singh

I crave the forgiveness of my readers for writing on a subject which is taboo in genteel circles. I also apologise in advance for using words which some people may find distasteful. I wouldn't be doing so if the end of my tale of woe was not so comic.

It all started during my recent summer vacation in Kasauli. I woke up one night with a queasy feeling in my stomach. Half asleep, I tottered to the loo to rid myself of my sleep-breaker. When I got up from the lavatory seat to flush out the contents, I was shocked to see I had passed a lot of blood with my stool. "Shit!" I said to myself, suddenly wide awake. The rest of the night was wasted in contemplation of the end. I had had a reasonable innings, close to scoring a century, so no regrets on that score. Was I creating a self-image of heroism in the face of death? That vanished on the following day as more blood flowed out of my belly.

I asked my friend Dr Santosh Kutty of the Central Research Institute (CRI) to drop in for a drink in the evening. Over a glass of Scotch, he heard me out. When I finished, he asked me: "Have you been eating chukandar?" I admitted I'd had beetroot salad the day before.

"It could be that," he suggested. "It is the same colour as human blood. Or it could be nature's way of reducing high blood pressure—bleeding through the nose or arse. Or it could be a polyp, or piles, or...." He did not use the word but I understood he meant cancer. "Let me examine your rectum."

"You'll do no such thing," I rasped. "I'd rather die than show my rectum to anyone." He paused and continued, "It would be wise to have an endoscopy. It will clear all doubts. We don't have the facility in Kasauli. You can have it done at pgi in Chandigarh or in Delhi. The sooner the better."

I opted for Delhi to be with my family. And rang up my friend Nanak Kohli to send up his Mercedes Benz to take me down. I looked up my dictionary to find out exactly what polyp and endoscopy meant. One is a kind of sea urchin-like growth in the lower part of the intestine, the other an instrumental examination of one's innards. I spent the rest of the day drafting in my mind farewell letters to my near and dear ones. Nothing mawkish or sentimental, but in the tone of one who couldn't care less about his fate, something they could quote in my obituaries: he went like a man, with a smile on his face, etc, etc.

The next morning, my son Rahul and I drove back to Delhi. The first thing I did was to ask Dr I.P.S. Kalra, who lives in the neighbouring block, to come over. Dr Kalra is a devout believer in miracles performed by Waheguru. He has been our doctor for over half a century and has treated several members of my extended family in their last days on earth, until their journey to the electric crematorium. Since I am a lot older than him, he addresses me as Veerjee (elder brother). He took my blood pressure, it was higher than normal. He heard my bloody tale and straightaway fixed an appointment with Dr S.K. Jain, Delhi's leading endoscopist.

The next evening, accompanied by Kalra, Rahul and my daughter Mala, we presented ourselves at Dr Jain's swanky clinic in Hauz Khas Enclave. All white marble, spotlessly clean, and with the obligatory statuette of Lord Ganapati with garland of fresh marigold flowers around his neck sitting above the receptionist's desk. Since I was the first patient of the many he had to examine that evening, I was conducted immediately to his operating room.

I can tell you that endoscopy strips your self-esteem and any dignity you may have. I was ordered to take off my salwar-kameez, given an overall to wear, and ordered to lie down. Dr Jain took my BP and proceeded to insert an endoscope up my rectum.At times the pain was excruciating. It went on for an hour. When it was over, Dr Kalra ordered me, "Veerji, pudd maro—kill a fart, you'll feel easier." I refused to oblige and instead went to the lavatory to get rid of the wind the nervous tension had created inside me.

Dr Jain pronounced the verdict: "No polyp, no cancer, only internal piles which bleed because of high BP. It is nature's way of bringing it down." As a parting gift, he gave Mala a filmed version of all that had transpired—from my bottom being bared to the muck inside my belly. As if that was not enough, when asked about his father's health, Rahul told everyone, "Pop has piles." There is something romantic about cancer; polyp is like a plop sound produced by a frog leaping into a stagnant pool; but haemorrhoids have no romance attached to them; they are simply a miserable man's piles. Many well-wishers called to enquire how my endoscopy had gone and how I felt about the whole exercise. My reply was standard: "I feel buggered."

NYT criticizes Musharaff of Pakistan

If Gen. Pervez Musharraf were the democratic leader he indignantly insists he is, he would not be so busy threatening independent news outlets, arresting hundreds of opposition politicians and berating parliamentary leaders and ministers from his own party for insufficient loyalty to his arbitrary and widely unpopular policies.

But nobody takes General Musharraf’s democratic claims seriously anymore, except for the Bush administration, which has put itself in the embarrassing position of propping up the Muslim world’s most powerful military dictator as an essential ally in its half-baked campaign to promote democracy throughout the Muslim world. Washington needs to disentangle America, quickly, from the general’s damaging embrace.

The full article is here

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Paris Hilton and Iraqi Prisoners

Juan Cole
has an insightful comparison between the media attention on Paris Hilton and Iraqi Prisoners.

American cable news has been fixated on the jailing of socialite Paris Hilton for the past week, on grounds that she twice violated the probation sentence she earlier received for drunk driving. They interrupted coverage of world leaders at the G8. They briefly spliced in Gates's decision not to reappoint Peter Pace as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. A new frenzy broke out with every tiny twist . She was brave, she was weeping, she was mentally fragile. She was released, she was rejailed, she shouted it was unfair and cried, she was undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

Just for a little perspective, we could consider the news from Iraq on Saturday. Incoming mortar fire from guerrillas hit Bucca prison, killing 6 inmates and wounding 50.

The US military is holding 19000 Iraqis, 16000 of them at Bucca. Although most are guerrillas or their helpers, a lot of them were picked up because they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once arrested, an inmate often cannot clear himself for months or years. I don't think they have access to attorneys. No one cares if they are depressed. At Abu Ghraib earlier on, some inmates were systematically tortured. It is unlear if all such practices have ceased.

Some Iraqi women have been held in this way. Some were essentially hostages, taken to make them reveal where their husbands or fathers were or to guarantee their good behavior. Their reputations were shot, since Iraqis think Americans are sex fiends and wouldn't trust the virtue of a woman who had been in their custody. The unmarried among them are likely doomed to be spinsters.

American television never mentions that the US has 19000 Iraqis in jail, or that some have been women, or that some are innocent, or how they feel about being in prison.

So is Paris Hilton being given special treatment by our media? We all are, folks.

Middle School chronicles

Middle School is a dress rehersal for life