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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Will Return

Baithak will return December 4, 2008.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Pentagon Represents Astounding Excess in Spending and Firepower: Can Obama Take it on?

Even saddled with a two-front, budget-busting war and a collapsing economy, President Barack Obama may be able to accomplish a lot. With a friendly Congress and a relieved world, he could make short work of some of the most egregious overreaches of the Bush White House -- from Guantanamo to those Presidential signing statements. For all the rolling up of sleeves and "everything is going to change" exuberance, however, taking on the Pentagon, with its mega-budget and its mega-power, may be the hardest task he faces.

Anjum Niaz: Made to order media

He's a doctor by career but a journalist by profession. How convenient is that! Yet, the maverick who rose to dizzying heights just in a span of eight short years is left licking his wounds. Marey Mutabik fallen hero, Dr Shahid Masood has finally admitted to Iftikhar Ahmad of Jawab Deyh that the might of the state (read establishment) is stronger than all his VVIP contacts put together. He is said to have damning proof on matters most sensitive (too hot to write here), still he's been shown the door at the PTV. The surgeon-turned-media darling got chummy with Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Pervez Musharraf; chatted up retired and serving generals for kiss-and-tell stories; interviewed anyone he so chose to grill and eventually landed as the czar of Pakistan Television, despite not wanting to take the job but took it at the insistence of Asif Ali Zardari!

Opinion slinger Doc Masood got cagey and constrained when goaded by Iftikhar Ahmad to name the people hounding him. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of namelessness and anonymity. If maverick Masood is running like a scared chicken, God help the rest of his tribe. Anyone wanting to do a sizzler must set it aside to cool and wait for power horses to disintegrate before making it public. We live in hypocritical times – can't mention the ethnic party that arm-twists the media from time to time; can't openly write the reasons why the so-called 'Friends of Pakistan' are unwilling to give us money; can't demand from our leaders as to how much money they have stashed away abroad; and most importantly where did that money come from?

Obama's one-trick wizards By Spengler

Without leverage, the clever folk around Barack Obama are fleas without a dog. None of them invented anything, introduced an important new product, opened a new market, or did anything that reached into the lives of ordinary people. They wore expensive cufflinks, read balance sheets, exercised regularly, sat on philanthropic boards, and assumed that their flea's ride on the Reagan dog would last forever.

All they knew was leverage, and now that the world is de-levering, they are trying to put leverage back into the system. One almost can hear Mortimer Duke, Don Ameche's charcter in Trading Places, shouting, "Now, you listen to me! I want trading reopened right now. Get those brokers back in here! Turn those machines back on!"

Of course, nothing excludes the possibility that Obama's team will come up with something constructive. But there is no reason to expect a drastic change from the crisis response of the same sort of people (starting with Treasury Secretary Paulson) in the Bush administration. They will bail out incompetent, failing firms and drop money from helicopters and call it a stimulus package. And it will turn out no better than it did for the humiliated Republicans.

Can George W. Bush 'Self-Pardon' Himself? By Stephen M Brown,

Charlotte Dennett promised that, if she won her race for attorney general of Vermont in the recent election, she would prosecute George W. Bush for the murder of 4,000 American soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians after he left office.

Unfortunately, Dennett did not become Vermont's attorney general. But it is possible (perhaps very possible) that one or more of our other 49 state attorneys general will take up that case after Jan. 20. Hopefully, that AG will appoint -- as Dennett promised to do --famed criminal attorney Vincent Bugliosi (author of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder) as special prosecutor.

However, there will be no prosecution or trial of George Bush -- or Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld, or Condoleezza Rice, or any of the others who deliberately deceived America into a war that should never have been waged -- if Bush decides to pardon not only his accomplices in crime but also himself.

We know that a president can pardon anyone, for any reason, and for any federal crime (except in cases of impeachment), not only after a conviction has been handed down in trial, but before any trial has even taken place, indeed before any charges have even been filed -- as Gerald Ford infamously pardoned Richard Nixon for Watergate; as George H. W. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger, Elliott Abrams and various CIA officials accused and/or convicted in connection with the Iran-Contra affair; as Bill Clinton pardoned his brother, Roger, for drug trafficking and financier Marc Rich for tax evasion (after Rich's wife made a significant donation to the Clinton Presidential Library); and as current President George W. Bush more recently commuted "Scooter" Libby's prison term.....

Robert Gates Is Pandering to Obama to Keep His Pentagon Gig By Ray McGovern,

In Washington political circles, there's also little concern about the 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since President George W. Bush started the "surge" early in 2007. The Americans killed during the "surge" represent roughly one-quarter of the total war dead whose numbers passed the 4,200 mark last week.

Nor is there much Washington commentary about what Bush's grotesque expenditure in blood and treasure will mean in the long term, even as the Iraqis put the finishing touches on a security pact that sets a firm deadline for a complete U.S. military withdrawal by the end of 2011, wording that may be Arabic for "thanks, but no thanks."

And most Americans do not know from reading the reports from their Fawning Corporate Media that the "surge" was such a "success" that the United States now has about 8,000 more troops in Iraq than were there before the "surge" rose and fell.

The real "success" of the Iraq "surge" is proving to be that it will let President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney leave office on Jan. 20, 2009, without having to admit that they were responsible for a strategic disaster. They can lay the blame for failure on their successors.

Gates a Winner?

Gates stands to be another beneficiary of the Iraq "surge."...

Taliban not talking peace Mullah Mohammad Hasan Rahmani By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Amid continuing reports of a renewed initiative to hold peace talks with the Taliban over Afghanistan, and confusion over the Taliban's position, the Taliban leadership decided to outline its stance, and chose Mullah Mohammad Hasan Rahmani to speak with Asia Times Online.

Rahmani, about 50, is a member of the Taliban's shura (council) and a close adviser to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, with whom he is in daily contact; so much so that in Taliban circles he is considered Mullah Omar's shadow. During Taliban rule (1996-2001), Rahmani was governor of Kandahar province, the Taliban's spiritual heartland.

The interview took place at a location at which both North Atlantic INTERVIEW
Taliban not talking peace
Mullah Mohammad Hasan Rahmani
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Amid continuing reports of a renewed initiative to hold peace talks with the Taliban over Afghanistan, and confusion over the Taliban's position, the Taliban leadership decided to outline its stance, and chose Mullah Mohammad Hasan Rahmani to speak with Asia Times Online.

Rahmani, about 50, is a member of the Taliban's shura (council) and a close adviser to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, with whom he is in daily contact; so much so that in Taliban circles he is considered Mullah Omar's shadow. During Taliban rule (1996-2001), Rahmani was governor of Kandahar province, the Taliban's spiritual heartland.

The interview took place at a location at which both North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Pakistan security troops operate in their hunt for the Taliban.

Asia Times Online: Please introduce yourself. How were you introduced to the Taliban movement? How did you became governor of Kandahar province? What is your relation with the Taliban movement at present?

Mullah Mohammad Hasan Rahmani: My name is Hasan Rahmani. I am a former governor of Kandahar province. I was involved with the Taliban movement from its beginning. It was an Islamic movement, and I had been involved in jihad, so I joined it. Later, when some areas were conquered by the Taliban, I was appointed as governor of Kandahar, and till the last I remained in this position......

Policy in Wonderland —Ejaz Haider

In Policy in Wonderland —Ejaz Haider does not mention two relevant issues and instead leans on Alice in Wonderland.

* The Co Chairperson of the Hand Written Will's mental duress (as attested to be his lawyers)


* the propensity of the wily un-convicted Con's shoot from the hip Mouth.

He is a walking disaster, a third rate street con who has been parachuted into the Presidency by MaiBaap because the other third rate pol was deemed too fundo.

Everyone is trying to out con the other. Luckily for them the Faujis are chasing their tails in the Frontier. Whay will happen to these bumbling cons when the Faujis turn their attention to them is anybody's guess.

Then the experts and commentators wil rue about this democratic fumble for another decade.

We never learn....

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Truth-teller for Our Times

Nick Turse led off what we came to call our "fallen legion" project with a list of 42 such names, ranging from the well-known Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki (who retired after suggesting to Congress that it would take "several hundred thousand troops" to occupy Iraq) and Richard Clarke (who quit, appalled by how the administration was dealing with terror and terrorism) to the moderately well known Ann Wright, John Brown, and John Brady Kiesling (three diplomats who resigned to protest the coming invasion of Iraq) to the little known Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin (who resigned under pressure, possibly so that various Bush papers could be kept under wraps). By the time Turse had written his second fallen legion piece that November, and then the third and last in February 2006, that list of names had topped 200 with no end in sight.

Today, to its eternal shame, the Bush administration has left not just its own projects, but the nation it ruled, in ruins. No wall could fit its particular "accomplishments." Turse, who recently wrote for the Nation magazine "A My Lai a Month," a striking exposé of a U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Vietnam that slaughtered thousands of civilians, returns in the last moments of this dishonored administration with a fitting capstone piece for the honorably fallen in Washington. Think of it as the last of the "fallen legion," a memory piece -- lest we forget. Tom.....

Doha museum stakes cultural claim

A few years ago, prices in London auction houses went through the roof - not for the classic modern or contemporary art, but for works from the Islamic world.

Fabulous jewels, manuscripts and ceramics were fetching 10 times their estimate and more, and it soon emerged this was thanks to the al-Thani family, rulers of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich Gulf state.

They had tempted the veteran architect I M Pei - the man behind the glass pyramid at the Louvre - to design one last statement building, a spectacular museum on a purpose-built island in Doha, which would house only the best Islamic art.

Then they went shopping for their collection.

And this weekend the museum opens, a dramatic pile of white limestone shapes inspired by Islamic architecture and full of 800 of the finest examples of Islamic art.

Planispheric Astrolabe, Iran or Oraq, 985AD at the Qatar Islamic Art Museum
Many of these things, as well as being objects of beauty have functional usage, but then hidden beyond that is the sense of transcendence
Navid Akhtar
Designer and writer

Not long ago, the idea of culture being a reason to visit the Gulf would have made other Arabs laugh. No longer.

The Syrian cultural historian Rana Kabbani sees a political element to the museum, putting Doha on the cultural map.

"I think all the rulers in the Gulf see what they really lack is culture on a grand scale, as a kind of imperial identity. It's a political-cultural lack. They have the means, and they're going for it."

The hope is that - like hosting a Grand Prix or buying a football club - a fabulous collection of art will bring prestige, attract tourists and create a brand.

That's why along the coast, two museums are planned for Abu Dhabi - branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim.

Leading US Peace Advocates Arrive in Iran, Under Ahmadinejad's Invitation By Linda Milazzo,

In an effort to establish peaceful diplomacy with the government and people of Iran, and to model for the new Obama administration the power of cooperative good will, three highly regarded American peace makers have ventured to Iran. Codepink cofounders, Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, along with former Army Colonel and decorated Foreign Service Diplomat Ann Wright, are visiting Iran on visas personally granted them by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad provided the visas after receiving a personal request from Codepink: Women For Peace at a September 24th meeting in New York City where Ahmadinejad had gone to speak to the United Nations. While in New York, Ahmadinejad met with approximately 60 representatives from American peace and social justice organizations, where, over the course of two hours, he took unfiltered questions from the groups. The question from Codepink, which travels extensively on missions of peace, addressed why the organization's founders were repeatedly denied visas to Iran. Ahmadinejad offered to remedy the situation. He followed through on Monday when visas to Iran were issued to Benjamin, Evans and Wright. Within 48 hours, these intrepid citizen diplomats were packed and on their way.

The Pakistan Test -Nicholas D Kristof

I’ve been coming to Pakistan for 26 years, ever since I hid on the tops of buses to sneak into tribal areas as a backpacking university student, and I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.

“There is real fear about the future,” notes Ahmed Rashid, whose excellent new book on Pakistan and Afghanistan is appropriately titled “Descent Into Chaos.”

The United States has squandered more than $10 billion on Pakistan since 9/11, and Pakistani intelligence agencies seem to have rerouted some of that to Taliban extremists. American forces periodically strike militants in the tribal areas, but people from those areas overwhelmingly tell me that these strikes just antagonize tribal leaders and make them more supportive of the Taliban....

Haroon Siddiqui: Peaceful revolution beginning across Muslim-Jewish divide

There's no sign of an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Tensions from that conflict continue to spill over into Canada. Yet peace is breaking out on many Arab-Israeli – and, more broadly, Muslim-Jewish – fronts in Toronto.

You wouldn't know so following the media. They have developed an alliance of lazy convenience with extremists, to whom they give disproportionate airtime and ink. The case of the Somali mosque in Toronto is only the latest example.

Let's start in Israel.

Yes, the U.S.-initiated peace effort is stalled, with Ehud Olmert on the way out and his successor Tzipi Livni awaiting an election. The rockets from Gaza continue to land in Israel, and Israel's collective punishment of Gazans continues. So do the arguments: No rockets, no collective punishment. No overall peace, no end to resistance.

Still, there has been a sea change. There's broad acceptance of a two-state solution. Israelis differ only on the details and on how best to break the political logjam.....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Where is the Cancelled Cheque?

The recent junket to SoodiAmerica by Co Chairman of the Hand Written will, El Presidente, with 200 cohorts was reportedly paid for by the Exalted One himself.

Where is the cancelled cheque?

Other than First Vice Honcho and his Info Honcho's statement, can anyone show me the proof?

Please feel free to pass this to respected Hosts, Journalists, Analysts and Commentators in the media.

Rauf Klasra also asks this question in Urdu in Daily Jang Nov 19

Open Gaza to media coverage By Haaretz Editorial

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was among those who lent their voices to the international protest against Israel's tightening siege on the Gaza Strip. This past weekend, the heads of the world's most important media organizations joined the group, protesting in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert against the closure of the Strip to international journalists.

"We are gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media, [which contradicts] the spirit of Israel's long-standing commitment to a free press," said the letter, which bears the signatures of the chiefs of international news agencies, the presidents of important television networks and the executive editor of The New York Times.

To serve their function sufficiently, representatives of the Israeli and international press must be in Gaza, just like in any other conflict region around the world. There is no way to cover the events in the Strip without free access to it. Journalists and those who dispatch them can and must take responsibility for their well-being, exactly as they do in every other war zone and conflict area in the world. Journalism is at times a dangerous profession, but no less dangerous is the darkening of a section of a country or a country itself, and preventing free press coverage there. The Israel Press Council, journalist associations, editors, writers, and like them, media consumers in Israel do not have to reconcile with the curbing of a free press. They must raise their voices in protest.

Meditation May Protect Your Brain By Michael Haederle,

For thousands of years, Buddhist meditators have claimed that the simple act of sitting down and following their breath while letting go of intrusive thoughts can free one from the entanglements of neurotic suffering.

Now, scientists are using cutting-edge scanning technology to watch the meditating mind at work. They are finding that regular meditation has a measurable effect on a variety of brain structures related to attention -- an example of what is known as neuroplasticity, where the brain physically changes in response to an intentional exercise.

A team of Emory University scientists reported in early September that experienced Zen meditators were much better than control subjects at dropping extraneous thoughts and returning to the breath. The study, "'Thinking about Not-Thinking:' Neural Correlates of Conceptual Processing During Zen Meditation," published by the online research journal PLoS ONE, found that "meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation."

Obama Tilts to Center, Inviting a Clash of Ideas David Sanger

President-elect Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic support of the left wing of his party, fueled by his vehement opposition to the decision to invade Iraq and by one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury — suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

The choices are as revealing of the new president as they are of his appointees — and suggest that, from its first days, an Obama White House will brim with big personalities and far more spirited debate than occurred among the largely like-minded advisers who populated President Bush’s first term.

But the names racing through the ether in Washington about the choices to follow also suggest that Mr. Obama continues to place a premium on deep experience. He is widely reported to be considering asking Mr. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, to stay on for a year; and he is thinking about Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander and Marine Corps commandant, for national security adviser, and placing Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary whom Mr. Obama considered putting back in his old post, inside the White House as a senior economic adviser.

Kabul 30 years ago, and Kabul today. Have we learned nothing? Robert Fisk:

Almost 29 years ago, the Afghan "mujahedin" began a campaign to end the mixed schooling of boys and girls in the remote mountain passes, legislation pushed through by successive communist governments. Schools were burned down. Outside Jalalabad, I found a headmaster and his headmistress wife burned to death. Today, the Afghan Taliban are campaigning to end the mixed schooling of boys and girls – indeed the very education of young women – across the great deserts of Kandahar and Helmand. Schools have been burned down. Teachers have been executed.

As the Soviets began to suffer more and more casualties, their officers boasted of the increasing prowess of the Afghan National Army, the ANA. Infiltrated though they were by the "mujahedin", Moscow gave them newer tanks and helped to train new battalions to take on the guerrillas outside the capital.

Fast forward to now. As the Americans and British suffer ever greater casualties, their officers boast of the increasing prowess of the ANA. Infiltrated though they are by the Taliban, America and other Nato states are providing them with newer equipment and training new battalions to take on the guerrillas outside the capital. Back in January of 1980, I could take a bus from Kabul to Kandahar. Seven years later, the broken highway was haunted by "mujahedin" fighters and bandits and the only safe way to travel to Kandahar was by air.

PROFILE Sheema Kermani: Rebel With A Cause By Khursheed Hyder

A classical dancer, teacher, drama artiste and rights activist, Sheema Kermani believes we can change society through cultural activities

“Why don’t people like me?” wonders Sheema Kermani. Then she answers her own question, “I think I’m too blunt, I don’t beat about the bush which unfortunately doesn’t go down too well with people.” Kirmani feels that people aren’t comfortable with an unconventional person. “I decided to make a different life for myself and people don’t like someone who takes a deviant road,” she adds.

Born into a well-off family, she decided she didn’t want to marry a rich husband who could provide her with material luxuries. “These things don’t make me happy. I’m happy when I’m doing creative work; it gives me the energy to go on,” she elaborates.

A classical dancer, teacher, drama artist and women’s rights activist, Kermani had a severe bout of osteoporosis some years back and the doctors advised her to stop dancing. Today she is as agile on her feet as she was 15 years ago through sheer willpower and a strict exercise regimen...

Media Hoaxing and Social Research Seminar, CNRS, Paris

For the past several years a profusion of media hoaxes have spread in France and all over the World. Until recently, very little academic research had been conducted on the subject and no one had really portrayed a global perspective. In December 2006, a very elaborate hoax perpetrated by a public TV channel in Belgium brought the process to light and generated much interest among media and social researchers. Techniques developed by media hoaxers have become so highly sophisticated that this unconventional practice has become a fertile field for social research and a path to understanding the complex relationship between the media and their audiences. Dating back to the 18th century, having evolved along with the first mass media publications, hoaxes were considered worthless and vulgar jokes with malicious or humorous intent. During the last decades, the humor persists as one dimension of hoaxes. However, it appears that more and more people have become aware of the hoax as a new dimension of social criticism, which includes political protest and, of course, media subversion.

We will take the opportunity of Joey Skaggs’ visit to Europe – on the occasion of his participation in a conference hosted in Karlsruhe (Germany) by the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie – to explore and analyze the protest movement against mass-media known as «culture jamming» which has developed during the last 40 years in the United States of America. With his lifetime work on the cutting edge of art and activism, Joey Skaggs is a pioneer of this cultural movement and is still active today.

RIGHTS-PAKISTAN: Helpless Against Honour Killings By Zofeen Ebrahim

By appointing as cabinet ministers two politicians known for their anti-women views, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has stirred up a storm of protests from rights activists and prominent personalities who believed that an elected government would help their country emerge from feudalism.

A "slap" in the face of "decency" is how rights activists in Pakistan have described the elevation of Senator Israrullah Zehri, who made headlines recently when he supported in parliament the barbaric custom of honour killing as being "part of our custom" and declared that he would defend it.

The other politician to be given a ministry, this month, was Mir Hazir Khan Bijarani. In 2006, he was ordered to be arrested by a five-member Supreme Court bench for participating in a jirga (tribal council which is both judge and the jury and banned since 2004) that encouraged the practice of vani (in which minor girls are married off to end blood feuds). ...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Germany's Green Obama breaks barriers - Rami Khouri

A remarkable thing just happened in one of the leading Western democracies: A man of colour was elected to a major leadership position in a society that had often discriminated against his people. I am not speaking about Barack Obama -- I am speaking about the selection of a Turkish immigrant's son as co-leader of Germany's Green Party.

Cem Ozdemir, 42, was elected Saturday, capping a career in the German and European parliaments that started in 1994. In terms of breaking colour and ethnic barriers, this equals or even tops the election of America's first black president, because the nature of European society is so much less pluralistic and culturally, racially and ethnically less egalitarian than U.S. society.

Full integration in Europe, and the political triumph of men and women of colour, will be a much more difficult achievement than it has been in the U.S. because the nature of the societies and the place of minorities in them are very different from one another.

From the start, the American system held out the promise of racial and ethnic equality and opportunity. It was only a matter of time that we would see a black American president, because that land was forged politically in a spirit of equality - regardless of the fact that equality at first was only for land- and slave-owning white males. Blacks have now assumed almost every other major position in America.

Donald Finkel, 79, Poet of Free-Ranging Styles, Is Dead

Donald Finkel, a noted American poet whose work teemed with curious juxtapositions, which in their unorthodoxy helped illuminate the function of poetry itself, died on Nov. 15 at his home in St. Louis. He was 79.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son, Tom, said.

At his death, Mr. Finkel was poet in residence emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis, where he had taught from 1960 to 1991. His work appeared in The New Yorker and other publications.

His books were published almost exclusively by Atheneum. Among his 14 volumes of poetry are “Simeon” (1964), “A Joyful Noise” (1966), “The Garbage Wars” (1970) and “What Manner of Beast” (1981). In 2003, Mid-List Press published Mr. Finkel’s collection “Not So the Chairs: Selected and New Poems.”

Mr. Finkel’s work could be mordantly comic and was often of epic length; a single poem could fill an entire volume. There was little high-flown abstraction in his poetry, and little lofty diction. Writing in colloquial free verse and butting normally disparate subjects against each other, he deliberately blurred the boundaries between the animate and inanimate, the mythic and the mundane, the sacred and the profane.

The title poem of “Not So the Chairs” opens this way:

The tables slept on their feet

like horses

could wait there

forever if commanded

no matter what men set on them

a strong back was all it took

and a little patience

the beds never got up at all

pampered in linens

sprawling in perfumed chambers

while on their breasts the gentry

shrieked and sweated

muffling from time to time a sigh

in a diffident pillow

Robert Fisk: Once more fear stalks the streets of Kandahar

There is a little girl in the Meir Wais hospital with livid scars and dead skin across her face, an obscene map of brown and pink tissue. Then there is another girl, a beautiful child, Khorea Horay, grimacing in pain, her leg amputated, her life destroyed after her foot was torn to pieces. In another ward, two girls lie on their backs, a tent above their limbs. One has lost an arm, another – a 16-year-old – a leg.

The black turbans are everywhere. So are the blue burkhas which we Westerners confidently – stupidly – believed would vanish from Afghan society. But the Taliban insist they were not responsible for throwing acid in the face of the little girl in the second-floor ward at Meir Wais hospital. You know what she is thinking. You know what her parents are thinking. Who will marry this girl now, with her patchwork face of pain? Four men on a motorcycle threw acid at her and 13 of her friends on their way to school. Four were brought here, two dispatched immediately to the eye department. The Taliban deny any involvement. But they would, wouldn't they?

Barack Obama wants to send 7,000 more American troops to this disaster zone. Does he have the slightest idea what is going on in Afghanistan? For if he did, he would send 7,000 doctors.

Robert Fisk: Making movies the Afghan way

Drive north of Kabul for an hour, turn left into a grey desert and head east for fifteen minutes, the sand shawling up the side of the windows until an armed man in the uniform of the Iranian police stops you before a forbidding compound of watchtowers, mud walls and razor wire. For a brief moment, that willing suspension of disbelief - I can see the inmates sitting on the sand beyond the iron gate – I forget that this is an Afghan movie set, and that Daoud Wahab, the producer of 'The White Rock' is sitting in front of me. "Looks real, huh?" he asks over his shoulder. It does.

For incredibly, as Afghanistan sinks back into the anarchy which became its natural state these past 29 years, Afghan film-makers are producing movies of international quality, turning out pictures which prove – even amid war – that a country's tragedy can be imaginatively recreated for its people. Safaid Sang – Dari (Persian) for White Rock – was an Afghan refugee detention camp inside Iran whose Iranian guards helped to massacre more than 630 of their prisoners in 1998 after inmates protested at their treatment. The atrocity – largely unknown in the West – ended after two Iranian helicopters strafed the Afghans with machine guns. Quite a story. Quite a movie....

The Aga Khan: faith and action - Adrienne Clarkson

My interest in His Highness the Aga Khan, and in his vision, dates back to 1957. Then, as a young university student, I read about Prince Karim, who had suddenly inherited his grandfather's mantle as the imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismailis. His grandfather had been a remarkable figure of worldwide renown. The young prince was still a student at Harvard, and I remember thinking, "How does he feel about inheriting this enormous responsibility as the leader of the Ismailis at the age of 20?"

In the early 1970s, I was well aware of the Ismailis who were fleeing East Africa and of our reception of thousands of them here in Canada. I was always grateful that our country, under the leadership of Pierre Trudeau, welcomed these people, who had found themselves in an extremely difficult and dangerous situation in the countries that they had called home.

When I became governor-general of Canada in 1999, I met a number of Ismailis in prominent positions in Ottawa and Toronto, and later in many other cities across Canada. But it was not until 2002 that I met His Highness, during one of his visits to Ottawa. Immediately, I was deeply impressed by this soft-spoken man who had given nearly five decades of his life to bettering society in very practical and meaningful ways. His contributions to education, health and cultural revitalization through architecture and town planning in the developing world were without equal. I was very happy to meet him several more times throughout my years in Ottawa and to participate in the Foundation Ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in June, 2005.....

The Aga Khan is not just a spiritual leader. As imam, he is responsible both for leading the interpretation of the faith and for helping to improve quality of life for all in the wider communities where Ismailis live. This dual obligation is often, I think, quite difficult to appreciate from the Christian viewpoint of the role that church leaders are expected to perform. In Islam, the worlds of faith and action, of ethical premise and society, are treated together. The Aga Khan sees his responsibilities as encompassing a strong commitment to the well-being and dignity of all human beings, regardless of faith, origin or gender.

The intersection of faith and society has led to initiatives that, over the past 50 years, have made a profound difference in the developing world. The Aga Khan Development Network has improved the lives of some of the world's poorest, most deprived and most diverse populations.

What would Benazir do? —Rafia Zakaria

What would Benazir Bhutto have done if she were alive today? At least with regard to women, it seems it’s a question that has never been asked by the very administration elected in her name.


For the women of Pakistan, however, the death of Benazir Bhutto has meant a crude and ruthless relegation to a forgotten recess of politics. While the new PPP government may well have been elected based on the legacy of an incredible woman, it has done scant little to honour it. Ministers have been appointed and recommendations duly rejected without the slightest concern for the forgotten and ignored constituency of Pakistani citizens. Honour killings, acid attacks and sexual assaults on women have increased rapidly and been summarily ignored by a government that was elected because of the woman who once led them.

One most recent example is the burgeoning controversy over recommendations made by the Council of Islamic Ideology to reform Pakistan’s inegalitarian divorce laws to bring them in accordance with Islamic principles. According to the Council’s report presented this past weekend to President Zardari, current law needs to be changed to require the registration of the first pronouncement of talaq (divorce) with following pronouncements only to be given effect if the former requirement is met.

The Council also recommends that women also be given the right to divorce by adding a clause to the nikahnama that would allow them to petition courts for divorce. The resultant divorce would automatically take effect within 90 days if the husband fails to oblige. In addition, the Council recommended, a man entering into marriage would be required to declare all his assets and financial liabilities as well as previous marriages.

What would Benazir do? —Rafia Zakaria

Glenn Beck Wonders Why He's Resented as a Bigot By Steve Rendall,

Glenn Beck has been telling a personal story illustrating what he says is a particularly intense level of hatred on the left.

According to the newly signed Fox News host, he was verbally assaulted by a truck driver while standing in line at a Wendy's restaurant at a truck stop. Writing on his blog, Beck says the truck driver called him a "racist bigot," blaming the talk show host and conservatives "for everything." Wrote Beck, "The hatred was palpable." As his security detail stood between him and his assailant, Beck says the truck driver ended his rant by threatening to run him over.

It was ugly stuff, and Beck was shocked by the level of hate: "I wanted to say, I think you have me mistaken for someone else, but I knew he knew who I was and he just hated me for who I was…. Wow. Is this who we've become? Is this who we've become?"

Concluding his appeal to civility, Beck explained that he wouldn't treat his enemies the way the truck driver treated him: "I could stand in line with Michael Moore and I wouldn't say that to him. I would say some things to Michael Moore, but it wouldn't be that. Is this who we've become? I believe there is a cauldron of hatred on both sides, but the left is quite frightening."

Beck might not say such things to Moore in person, but he has expressed a desire to murder Moore to his nationally syndicated radio audience (Glenn Beck Program, 5/18/05):

I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out--is this wrong?

The government must come clean on the war - by Rahimullah Yusufzai

Pakistani authorities, or officials of the foreign ministry to be precise, have been arguing in unusually forceful manner in recent days that the US wasn’t authorized by international law or the terms of engagement between Islamabad and Washington to launch such strikes in Pakistani territory. By the way, shouldn’t our democratically-elected government take its people into confidence about those terms of engagement? It is all the more important in view of the widely held belief, partly fuelled by apparently Pentagon-leaked reports in sections of the American press and by accusations frequently made by opposition politicians in Pakistan, that President Asif Al Zardari and the ruling PPP have agreed to an arrangement with the US under which the Pakistani government would simply protest the American missile strikes in Pakistani territory without taking any steps to stop the incursions. Despite denials by government functionaries, many Pakistanis continue to believe that the US has been allowed to carry out cross-border missile strikes in Pakistan. The low credibility of the present Pakistani rulers, particularly President Zardari, is reinforcing this impression. Doubts are also raised when some government functionaries such as ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, make statements to the effect that the ruling PPP leadership was sincerely cooperating with the US and producing results in the "war on terror" unlike President General Pervez Musharraf’s largely rhetorical and self-serving support to the Americans. After all, PPP leaders have been arguing that they could do a better job in tackling extremists compared to President Musharraf.

Faith in India's army shaken by blasts By Sudha Ramachandran

Investigations into recent bomb blasts in India have led to the arrest of several Hindus and for the first time ever, a serving officer of the Indian army. The arrests have triggered heated debate on whether the arrests indicate the existence of "Hindu terrorism". More worryingly, the probes point to the possibility of the hitherto secular and apolitical Indian army being infected by the communal virus.

But even as Indians are heatedly debating whether "Hindu terrorism" exists, another worrying issue has been thrown up by the investigations. Three men arrested in connection with the Malegaon blasts are from the armed forces. They include one serving officer, Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit, and two retired officers, Major Ramesh Upadhyay and Colonel Shailesh Raikar.

Thirty-eight-year-old Purohit has the dubious distinction of being the first serving officer of the Indian army to be arrested in connection with a terrorist attack. He has been described as the "mastermind" of the Malegaon blasts. He allegedly procured the explosives (he is said to have provided RDX from the army depot) and funding for the blasts, provided training and co-ordinated the blasts. He is said to have arranged for fake military ID cards providing access for Abhinav Bharat activists to army bases. Purohit is said to have worked several stints in military intelligence. His role in several other terrorist attacks over the past few years, including the February 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express or Friendship Train linking Delhi with Lahore in Pakistan, is now under the scanner.

MICHAEL JACKSON has become a Muslim — and changed his name to MIKAEEL.

The skint superstar, 50, donned Islamic garb to pledge allegiance to the Koran in a ceremony at a pal’s mansion in Los Angeles, The Sun can reveal.

Jacko sat on the floor wearing a tiny hat after an Imam was summoned to officiate — days before the singer is due to appear at London’s High Court where he is being sued by an Arab sheik.

The source said: “They began talking to him about their beliefs, and how they thought they had become better people after they converted. Michael soon began warming to the idea.

“An Imam was summoned from the mosque and Michael went through the shahada, which is the Muslim declaration of belief.” Mikaeel is the name of one of Allah’s angels.

“Jacko rejected an alternative name, Mustafa — meaning “the chosen one”.

Brit singer Yousef Islam, 60 — who was called Cat Stevens until he famously converted — turned up to help Jacko celebrate.

‘The book started out as a prank’

Mohammed Hanif is the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, a novel about the death of Pakistani president, General Zia, in a plane crash. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008, the critically acclaimed and popular work is part detective novel, part conspiracy theory, part journalistic inquiry, and part satire. Hilarious and shot through with a finely controlled pathos, the novel is a telling comment on political power, the world of contemporary Pakistan, and the absurdities that are the stuff of history itself.

A graduate of the Pakistan Air Force Academy, Hanif is also a playwright, filmmaker, and journalist. The head of BBC UK’s Urdu service, he is currently based in Karachi. In this interview with Rohit Chopra, he talks about the curious and varied inspirations for the novel, having to overcome his journalistic training in writing the book, and his scepticism about the category of ‘South Asian’ writing.


How was this book born? Could you tell us something about its genesis?

I wanted to write a book, a novel, for a very long time but didn’t really have any idea where to start and where to end. As a journalist I had tried to investigate General Zia’s plane crash and found it quite amazing that I didn’t find any verifiable facts but came across a number of theories. It just seemed that everyone had a motive. I was quite fascinated by that notion. What if everyone was trying to kill him? And then came the next logical thought, what if I was trying to kill him? So basically the book started out as a prank. When I started the actual writing, I wanted it to be in a thriller mode, a humorous take on the John Le Carre-type novels that I used to love as a young man. It was only when I had finished the novel and it went out to the publishers—and I didn’t really know much about genre—that I found out that I had written what people in the business insist on calling a ‘literary novel.’....

The unsung Prof Salam by Farhatullah Babar

Until 1979 scientists believed that there were four fundamental forces that drove every thing in the universe. Salam’s work proved that two of these four forces were actually one and the same. The number of fundamental forces was thus reduced to three. Salam believed that actually one single force drove the universe and that some day someone will be able to prove that the three remaining fundamental forces were one and the same.

When asked as to what he thought was the inspiration behind the great idea, which had earned him the Nobel Prize, Salam said, "Whenever faced with two competing theories for the same set of observation I have always found that the theory which was more aesthetically satisfying is also the correct one". He said he drew inspiration from this verse of the Quran, which says,

"Thou will see not in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection,

Return thy gaze; Do you see thou any fissure?

Then return thy gaze again, and again,

And thy gaze comes back to thee dazzled and weary".

Towards the end, Salam was afflicted with a rare disease of the nerves that gradually took its toll. Finally he was unable to talk even as he fully understood what was being said to him.

May his soul rest in eternal peace!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Conrad Black pursues clemency from Bush as way out

Conrad Black is pinning his hopes on clemency from U.S. President George W. Bush as a last-ditch effort to get out of jail early, and he wants his former publishing company to foot the legal bill.

Lawyers for the deposed press baron, who is serving a 61/2-year prison sentence in Florida for fraud and obstruction of justice, recently submitted legal bills to Sun-Times Media Group, Inc., some of which referred to work done in pursuit of a clemency plea, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The sources said the company is balking at shouldering the payments, even though it has been forced by the courts to pay $117-million (U.S.) on the defence of Lord Black and other former company officials.

“We try to draw the line at outrageous things, and this is sort of one of them,” said one person close to the company, once a sprawling Chicago-based newspaper empire known as Hollinger International Inc.

In Stunning Ruling, D.C. Judge Orders Release of Five Gitmo Prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights.

Following Judge Richard J. Leon’s decision today in U.S. District Court ordering the release of five of the six Boumediene habeas defendants, Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director Vincent Warren released the following statement:

This decision illustrates once again that the arbitrary detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has been and continues to be unlawful.

Even in a courtroom that was largely closed to the public and the press, and with the detainees allowed only limited access to the proceedings by telephone, the court could find no reason to hold these men. This decision makes it clear once again that even with presumptions in its favor, the government cannot muster the barest evidence in support of its arbitrary detentions. For seven years, the Bush administration sought to avoid the courts because it had no evidence and sought instead to create a lawless prison.

Competition for Imran Khan

Central leader of Tehrik-e-Istiqlal, Air Marshal (retd) Muhammad Asghar Khan while announcing to take active part in country's politics, Thursday asked the government to forcefully retaliate the repeated US attacks inside Pakistani soil. "It becomes responsibility of the government to shoot the drones bombing inside Pakistani territory", the former air chief told media briefing at his residence in which he also announced to take active part in country's politics owing to the current critical situation. He said that Pakistan is a sovereign and independent country and the government should not act like a colony of the United States. "It is unjustifiable for the rulers to run affairs of the government like a colonial state of the US", he added. The Air Force was established for defence of the country and it should be used for stopping such incursions over the country's territorial sovereignty. "Prestige and dignity of the country should be given top priority", he added.

Why We Shouldn't Bail Out GM By Nicholas von Hoffman,

They have been steadily losing money for a generation. Their predicament has nothing to do with today's credit crunch or the stock market crash. It has to do with their being incorrigible foul-ups.

Their record for money-losing is beyond comprehension. David Yermack, professor of finance at New York University's Stern School of Business, has calculated how much capital the car companies have destroyed over the last few decades.

He writes, "General Motors and Ford...between them...destroyed $110 billion in capital between 1980 and 1990.... GM has invested $310 billion in its business between 1998 and 2007. The total depreciation of GM's physical plant during this period was $128 billion, meaning that a net $182 billion of society's capital has been pumped into GM over the past decade -- a waste of about $1.5 billion per month of national savings. The story at Ford has not been as adverse but is still disheartening, as Ford has invested $155 billion and consumed $8 billion net of depreciation since 1998. As a society, we have very little to show for this $465 billion."

This Is Change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama's White House By Jeremy Scahill,

"What happened to all this talk about change?" a member of the Clinton foreign policy team recently asked the Washington Post. "This isn't lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time."

Under Clinton, Yugoslavia was bombed and dismantled as part of what Noam Chomsky described as the "New Military Humanism." Sudan and Afghanistan were attacked, Haiti was destabilized and "free trade" deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade radically escalated the spread of corporate-dominated globalization that hurt U.S. workers and devastated developing countries. Clinton accelerated the militarization of the so-called War on Drugs in Central and Latin America and supported privatization of U.S. military operations, giving lucrative contracts to Halliburton and other war contractors. Meanwhile, U.S. weapons sales to countries like Turkey and Indonesia aided genocidal campaigns against the Kurds and the East Timorese.

Obama has already charted out several hawkish stances. Among them:

-- His plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan;

-- An Iraq plan that could turn into a downsized and rebranded occupation that keeps U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future;

-- His labeling of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization;"

-- His pledge to use unilateral force inside of Pakistan to defend U.S. interests;

-- His position, presented before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that Jerusalem "must remain undivided" -- a remark that infuriated Palestinian officials and which he later attempted to reframe;

-- His plan to continue the War on Drugs, a backdoor U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Central and Latin America;

-- His refusal to "rule out" using Blackwater and other armed private forces in U.S. war zones, despite previously introducing legislation to regulate these companies and bring them under U.S. law.

Obama did not arrive at these positions in a vacuum. They were carefully crafted in consultation with his foreign policy team. While the verdict is still out on a few people, many members of his inner foreign policy circle -- including some who have received or are bound to receive Cabinet posts -- supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Some promoted the myth that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. A few have worked with the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, whose radical agenda was adopted by the Bush/Cheney administration. And most have proven track records of supporting or implementing militaristic, offensive U.S. foreign policy. "After a masterful campaign, Barack Obama seems headed toward some fateful mistakes as he assembles his administration by heeding the advice of Washington's Democratic insider community, a collective group that represents little 'change you can believe in,'" notes veteran journalist Robert Parry, the former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter who broke many of the stories in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

How To Read the Quran - A new translation captures the confusion. By Reza Aslan

Reading the Quran can be a baffling experience. Unlike the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the Quran is not a collection of books recounting the mythical history of a community of faith. It is not, like the Gospels, a pseudo-biographical sketch of a particular prophet in a particular time. It does not narrate the life of Mohammed, nor does it chronicle the rise of Islam (indeed, Mohammed is barely mentioned in it). Though the Quran is divided into 114 chapters (called suras), these are arranged neither thematically nor chronologically but rather from longest to shortest, the lone exception being the first and most important chapter, al-Fatiha, or "The Opening." The chapters are given evocative titles like "The Cow" or "The Feast," but these have almost nothing to do with the content that follows. The Quran itself states that its verses have multiple meanings, some of which are unfathomable to human beings and known only to God. And yet, in both style and content, the Quran is unique among scriptures.

The latest entry into this cornucopia of Quran translations comes from eminent professor of Islamic history Tarif Khalidi, who is currently at the American University of Beirut. Written in what Khalidi calls "measured modern English," his is an eloquent and eminently readable translation, but one that does not stray too far from other conventional English versions of the Quran. (Khalidi, like the majority of his male predecessors, renders the word adribuhunna as "beat them.") However, Khalidi's Quran is unique in that it is divided not into individual verses, as is the case with all other Qurans, no matter their language, but rather into clusters of three, four, or five verses at a time. In other words, he bundles the individual verses into lengthy paragraphs that are rendered in both prose and poetry. This may perturb those trying to pinpoint a particular verse (Khalidi does provide occasional verse markers on the margins of each page to let readers know where they are in the text), but the overall effect is that Khalidi's Quran probably reads much closer to the way the first Muslims originally experienced the Quran.

The US strikes deeper in Pakistan By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Wednesday's missile attack by an unmanned United States Predator drone on the Pakistani village of Jani Khel marks a significant development in the battle against militants.

On the one hand, it is the first such attack to take place outside of the semi-autonomous tribal areas, that is, in territory directly ruled by Islamabad. Previous US strikes have focused on North Waziristan and South Waziristan, where at least 20 missile attacks and a cross-border commando raid have killed scores of people since September.

But on the other hand, the strike also signifies that there is now a genuine alliance between the Pakistani military and US forces against the common foe of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Previously, under former president General Pervez Musharraf, this relationship was blurred by pockets of latent sympathy on the side of the Pakistanis for the militants.....What matters is that the Pakistanis had passed on to the Americans information of al-Qaeda's shura (council) in Jani Khel.

Pakistan had known of the shura since it was set up over a year ago, but as it was not in a tribal area and therefore directly under the writ of the Pakistani government, this intelligence was never shared.

Three Pessimistic Takes on the Present

In today's Dawn there are two rather pessimistic speculations on the present and the future.

The first one is by Ayesha Siddiqua who in A regime-less change write:

Once the GHQ is back on its feet it might not take a lot of time to convince even an Obama-led administration that the military will deliver better than any other stakeholder.... The two problems are that this system will ultimately weaken the state and be a source of its undoing, and that the civilian leadership never learns. Images of domestic popularity, a sense of invincibility and continued American support are three mirages that often lead to disaster. This time round the clock seems to have begun to tick again. All that remains to be seen is the exact timing of the next change.
And in Crystal-ball gazing Cyril Almeida writes:

For Sharif, who just 12 months ago was an untrustworthy, peripheral figure close to the Saudis, the stars will align. A PML-N government supported by the Islamists will be a credible interlocutor in the Saudi-mediated talks...Sharif can be a better salesman of America’s military demands. On India, a vital part of Obama’s regional solution, Sharif has already said all the right things, including calling for visa-free travel between the two countries, and kept quiet about the bad stuff (the peaceful mass uprising in Indian-administered Kashmir and the rise of Hindu militancy in India proper). Threatened too will be democracy itself. If Sharif ploughs ahead and dislodges the government there is absolutely no reason to believe he will be any better at governance. For now the army has stayed away from politics. But if the two largest mainstream political options fail in quick succession yet again? Worse, rather than Round Five for the military, the next time it may be something else. What that something else is — your guess is as good as mine.
And the third view is by Ayaz Amir who writes in his Daily News Column Burning anger, smouldering silence today:

The army, lest we forget, is a willing accomplice of these developments. Indeed, under its new command, it has brought to this task a new zest. Musharraf never carried out such sustained operations as in Bajaur. He did not use F-16s in FATA. He carried out American orders but only up to a point. That is why our American friends had begun to nurse grievances against him. Up to a point Musharraf knew how to play the Americans. The new combo we have, Zardari and Kayani, is not playing the Americans. They are playing the Pakistani people by leading a loud chorus about sovereignty when in fact Pakistani sovereignty, or what remains of it, lies fatally compromised because of Pakistan's servitude to American interests. There is no winning this war. The Americans eventually will get out.

But the sorry thing is that where there should be an anti-war movement there is none. Ordinary Pakistanis feel dismayed but there is no one to give voice to their discontent. Parliament is not the tribune it should be. A counter-voice is thus missing. So, this is turning out to be a land of the speechless, a land in pain but because of some conspiracy of the stars or of history (I can think of no other explanation) unable to give voice to its misgivings. The resulting void is being filled by the cult of the suicide bomber. Has Pakistan nothing better to offer?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Texas Grand Jury Indicts VP Cheney VP, Former Attorney General Indicted On Organized Crime Charges By The Associated Press

A South Texas grand jury has indicted Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on state charges related to the alleged abuse of prisoners in Willacy County's federal detention centers.

The indictment, which had not yet been signed by the presiding judge, was one of seven released Tuesday in a county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles in recent years. Another of the indictments named a state senator on charges of profiting from his position.Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra himself had been under indictment for more than a year and half before a judge dismissed the indictments last month. This flurry of charges came in the twilight of Guerra's tenure, which ends this year after nearly two decades in office. He lost convincingly in a Democratic primary in March.

Cheney's indictment on a charge of engaging in an organized criminal activity criticizes the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies. Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on Tuesday, saying that the vice president had not yet received a copy of the indictment.

On Top of Humanitarian Disaster, A News Blackout By Cherrie Heywood

Israel has imposed a virtual news blackout on the Gaza Strip. For the last ten days no foreign journalists have been able to enter the besieged territory to report on the escalating humanitarian crisis caused by Israel's complete closure of Gaza's borders for the last two weeks.

Steve Gutkin, the AP bureau chief in Jerusalem and head of Israel's Foreign Press Association, said that he personally "knows of no foreign journalist that has been allowed into Gaza in the last week." Gutkin said that "while Israel has barred foreign press from entering Gaza in the past, the length of the current ban makes it unprecedented." He added that he has received no "plausible or acceptable" explanation for the ban from the Israeli government.

AP has relied on reports from two of its journalists who were able to enter Gaza days before the closure began and are currently stuck there. A delegation of European Union parliamentarians was also prevented from entering Gaza to assess the situation on the ground and to hold talks with Hamas leaders. They subsequently broke the naval siege of Gaza by entering the coast's territorial waters from Cyprus by boat, defying the Israeli navy.

The List: Five Physics Lessons for Obama By Richard Muller

everyone expects the U.S. president to know the difference between Sunni and Shiite, or understand the causes of the financial meltdown. But in today’s high-tech world, many critical issues have more to do with electrons than economics. Here are five short physics lessons for President-elect Obama from the author of Physics for Future Presidents....

The Wizard of H2O By Bruce Falconer

Spend any time with Robert Bisson, and conversation will eventually turn to the tiny island of Tobago. Bisson loves the place, and with the enthusiasm of a travel agent raves of its friendly people, its pristine beaches, and its lush tropical rain forest. But the real source of his boosterism runs deeper, down to the bedrock that underlies the tourist haven. There, a few years ago, Bisson demonstrated a discovery that he claims has the potential to solve the looming global water crisis—which according to the UN could leave 2.7 billion people facing severe shortages by 2025—by bringing forth a steady flow of untapped freshwater from the geologic depths.

Such was the case with Tobago, a 120-square-mile sliver of land in the southern Caribbean. By the summer of 1999, a historic drought had nearly exhausted the island's supply of freshwater. Hotels ran dry, turning on their pipes only a few hours a day. A new, $100 million Hilton resort sat empty for about six months as its owners debated whether to install a desalination plant. That June, a European firm, commissioned by the island's government to survey groundwater reserves, reported that no significant sources existed. Instead, it recommended damming a local river to create a reservoir—a major infrastructure project that would have cost an estimated $60 million and taken up to eight years to complete. In desperation, the government turned to Bisson, whose Virginia-based EarthWater Technology International (now called EarthWater Global) drilled a series of wells deep into the underlying bedrock. Within a year, at a cost of less than $20 million, the wells were drawing 5 million gallons a day of previously undiscovered groundwater, with the possibility of upping the sustainable yield to a daily 50 million gallons—10 times what the dam had been expected to produce. Eight years on, the wells are still flowing at capacity.

Noise pollution By Dr Mohammad Ali Shaikh

The intensity of noise is measured in decibel units (dB). The human hearing range is from zero to 140 dB. While I was serving as head of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, we conducted a survey on noise pollution in Karachi. We found that the area surrounding the historic Merewether Tower was the noisiest place in the city with the noise level at 93.67 dB. Closely following the peak noise level were areas like Shershah (93.43 dB), Liaquatabad No. 10 (91.9 dB), Empress Market (90.17 dB) and Numaish Chowrangi at M.A. Jinnah Road (90.07 dB). To our surprise none of the 30 points selected for this survey showed noise levels of less than 80 dB.

In the case of vehicular traffic, the major sources of noise were fire-engine sirens, which generated a noise of 130 dB at source, ambulance sirens, generating a noise of 113 dB, and pressure horns installed in minibuses, trailers, oil tankers, etc. generating noise between 98-103 dB. In addition, about 60,000 two-stroke rickshaws with normal silencers generated around 85 dB each, while those without silencers went up to about 100 dB.

These are alarming results. The fact that the situation in the other cities of Pakistan is not very different from Karachi, as far as noise pollution is concerned, makes it a national issue. And at stake is the physical and mental health of our urban population.

Can This Ever Happen in Pakistan?

When this happens (if ever) then that would be the day Jamhooriyat would win and Aameriyat would lose permanently in Pakistan

Peru’s army commander-in-chief, Edwin Donayre, will appear on Nov. 25 before anti-corruption prosecutor Marlene Berrú, who is investigating his alleged responsibility for 80,000 gallons of gasoline that are unaccounted for.

5 Ways to Stop Trolls From Killing the Internet By David Wong

You might not be aware of this, but there are a lot of dickheads on the Internet.

Since this phenomenon seems to get worse with the size of the crowd, it is theorized that we will reach a critical mass; an Asshole Apocalypse, if you will. That's when casual Internet users--and the corporations who want their business--will step in.

There are ways to solve this crisis, but I'm telling you now, you won't like some of them.

But first, the problem...
Right away let me shut down everyone who's snorting derisively into their can of Mountain Dew and saying, "Trolls will be trolls!" You should know that there are billions of dollars at play here. The trolls are driving away business, and that simply won't be allowed to continue. I'm not saying I'm rooting for it--I'm saying that's the economic reality

Are wives and children of politicians fair game for opponents?

Dirty, mean and low Rana Sanaullah, the PMLN law minister in the Punjab, has stooped to conquer. He stood on the steps of the Punjab Assembly two days ago and brandished two pictures before the media. One showed a son of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer on a beach with two “girl” friends. The other showed Mr Taseer at a dinner table with family and friends at some private function, a bottle of Whisky on the table (which is “doctored” into the picture, according to PPP spokesmen). Mr Sanaullah has accused Mr Taseer of turning the Governor’s House into a “den of sin”. Earlier, anonymous e-mailers had sent pictures culled from Facebook albums to all and sundry showing the 16-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son of Mr Taseer with school friends at family and class get-togethers. One rag in Islamabad has actually printed these pictures.

This is a most despicable smear campaign against Mr Taseer and his family. It undermines everything that our family-oriented culture holds dear and sacred, the privacy and sanctity of its “chardevari”. It is remarkable that the conservative Muslim League- Nawaz should have trampled on its own turf. But it is not surprising. The Muslim League’s dirty tricks department is as old as the party itself. We recall how it smeared Benazir Bhutto and even Mrs Nusrat Bhutto in the 1988 elections by spraying the province with “computer-doctored” pictures of the two ladies in ostensibly “compromising” situations.

Are wives and children of politicians fair game for opponents?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

“Emily, who?” Symmetry and invariance —Munir Attaullah

Why does many a familiar argument I hear from our TV pundits remind me of Amalie (“Emily”) Noether?

“Emily, who?” I hear you mutter; followed, no doubt, by “And what the **** is he talking about?”

Even as I chuckle quietly at having bemused most of you (except, possibly, those who have a solid background of physics or mathematics), I wonder if I am being fair to readers by opting to write the sort of column I fear this one will likely turn out to be.

Upon further reflection (with apologies for a bit of naughty one-up-man-ship), I will box on. For, the sorts of connections I propose to make — convoluted and obtuse though they will seem to some — have always had a special kind of intellectual fascination for me. These columns may ultimately be intended for you, but if they were not also for me I would not bother writing them.

So let me start by first telling you a little about Emily Noether. This German lass was probably the finest female mathematician of all time. She did her path-breaking work in those heady years of the early twentieth century when Physics was being revolutionised by a host of brilliant men. And, she earned their unanimous and ungrudging respect for her contributions to their understanding of Nature at the most fundamental level.....

“Emily, who?” Symmetry and invariance —Munir Attaullah

Naomi Klein: The Borderline Illegal Deals Behind the $700 Billion Bailout By Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman: World leaders from nearly two dozen countries met in Washington over the weekend to discuss plans to increase regulation of international financial activity. They acknowledged that a failure of market oversight in countries like the United States had precipitated the financial crisis. Meanwhile, here at home, it's been a month into the Bush administration's more than $700 billion bank bailout. Last week, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson outlined a new bailout strategy intended to boost consumer borrowing and promote financing for companies that give out loans. President-elect Obama's transition team is reportedly working on improving the management of the bailout come January 20th. According to Naomi Klein's latest article in The Nation, "The more details emerge, the clearer it becomes that Washington's handling of the Wall Street bailout is not merely incompetent. It is borderline criminal." The article is called "In Praise of a Rocky Transition." ... "Criminal"? Explain.

Naomi Klein: Well, there's a few elements now that are being described as illegal that we're finding out. First of all, the equity deals that were negotiated with the largest banks and also some smaller banks, representing $250 billion worth of the bailout money, this is the deal to inject capital into the banks in exchange for equity. The idea was to address the so-called credit crunch to get banks lending again. The legislation that enabled this was quite explicit that it had to encourage lending. Barney Frank, who was one of the architects of that legislation, has said that it violates the act if the money is not going to that purpose and is instead going to bonuses, is instead going to dividends, going to salaries, going to mergers. He said that violates the acts, i.e. it's illegal. But what we know is that it's going precisely to those purposes. It is going to bonuses. It is going to shareholders. And it is not going to lending. The banks have been quite explicit about this. Citibank has talked about using the money to buy other banks.....

"Cure" for AIDS Stumbled Upon? By Todd Heywood,

Doctors in Berlin, Germany, are reporting that a 42-year-old American living in that city may have eliminated the virus from his body after a bone marrow transplant.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, the man was suffering from leukemia and AIDS, and while he continues to receive treatment for the leukemia, the virus has not reappeared in his blood in 600 days.

Traditionally, when a person on antiretroviral medication to treat HIV stops taking the pills, the virus bursts back with a flurry of activity. But this unidentified patient stopped taking the medication and has not had any evidence of the virus in his blood since.

The report explains that doctors believe this is due to the man's leukemia doctor's use of bone marrow from a donor who had genetic immunity to HIV infection.

What’s Left After Obama? All this talk of change may amount to little more than a fantasy. * Simon Critchley

I’d like to borrow an idea from the philosopher Alain Badiou. In his terms, a political event is what gives existence to a collectivity under the general norm of equality. Crucially, on this definition, politics does not consist in remaining within and buttressing the power of the state. On the contrary, it consists in taking a distance from the state. Now, such a distance does not exist, as the state, particularly the soft democratic state that merges with civil society, saturates more and more areas of social life. Distance, then, is something that has to be created. Moreover, it has to be created within what I call the interstices of the state. Politics, then, is the creation of interstitial distance through acts whereby collectives take shape. The question of scale is vital here. A collective can be something as vast and rhizomatic as the anti-globalization movement a few years back or as small as 5, 10 or 20 people deciding in concert on a program of action. The Paris Commune, lest we forget, began with an act of refusal by a handful of citizens.

Whatever is left of the left after Obama should be committed to the creation of local experiments with politics, the formation of collectivities that exist apart from and which can exert a pressure upon the state. True politics does not exhaust itself in the play of representation and spectacle characteristic of liberal democracy. It is about the emergence out of invisibility of collectivities in the interstices of the state and at the limits of capital. There was perhaps a moment on the evening of November 4th when the potential for such emergence threatened to happen. It might happen still.

US-PAKISTAN: Obama-Tied Think Tank Calls for "Dramatic" Shift By Jim Lobe*

A think tank closely tied to U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama is calling for a "dramatic strategic shift" in Washington's policy towards Pakistan, one designed to both strengthen civilian institutions and promote an effective counter-insurgency against al Qaeda and indigenous Islamist extremists in the tribal areas along the Afghan border who increasingly threaten the country's stability.

In a report released here Monday, the Centre for American Progress (CAP) is also urging Washington to pursue its goals in Pakistan as part of a broader multilateral effort and a regional strategy designed to address Islamabad's security concerns with Afghanistan and India.

"The United States needs to make a shift from a reactive, transactional, short-term approach that is narrowly focused on bilateral efforts," according to the 71-page report, "Partnership for Progress".

"Instead, a more proactive, long-term strategy should seek to advance stability and prosperity inside Pakistan through a multilateral, regional approach," it argued, adding that Pakistan "will pose one of the greatest foreign policy challenges for the incoming Obama administration."

The report, the product of a year-long study that included consultations with a U.S.-Pakistan Working Group consisting of 33 of Washington's top Pakistan specialists, is likely to be regarded as a bellwether for where the Obama administration will take U.S. policy.

Watch out, you parasites! - Ayesha Ijaz Khan

In Pakistan, on the other hand, not only is integrity and reputation irrelevant in determining who gets an important job. Even after Samar Minallah reveals on the best episode of "Capital Talk" yet that Mir Hazar Khan Bajarani is guilty of sang chutti, a criminal tradition involving the trade of underage girls as compensation, Sherry Rehman has the audacity to tell us that the PPP government will not compromise on women's rights! Is she in her right mind? How can she say that and then continue to support ministers who have flagrantly violated the rights of not just women but minor girls!

Kashif Abassi does a whole series on corruption where he pulls out the declaration of assets filed by well-known political figures prior to the election. To nobody's surprise, the declarations are a bunch of lies, grossly understating the respective worth of the politicians sitting before him on the show. But there is no hint of remorse, leave alone fear of accountability. In fact, Sheikh Rashid justifies himself by stating that at least he has revealed more than many others.

The Questionnaire by Barak Obama's TransitionTeam.

This is the Questionnaire by Barak Obama's TransitionTeam.

If this Questionnaire is to submitted to the nearly 60 strong Ministers in Gilani Government, and the Advisors, Speakers and others in high office, how many would muster and survive an examination of their replies by say a select team of seven or nine veteran journalists?

Michael Dorf comments on it here and says some of the questions are of dubious value.

By asking applicants for all possible sources of damaging or embarrassing information, the President-elect and the applicants can better anticipate what they will be up against. Yet that approach risks rewarding unfair attacks that might never even materialize. Given the choice between a bland appointee with few political liabilities and a bold, talented appointee with politically-salient liabilities that are ultimately unconnected to his or her ability to do the job, the incoming administration will be tempted to err on the safe side. At the same time, some highly-talented applicants will be intimidated by the questionnaire itself. The prospect of taking a pay cut to work in government is already a disincentive to many people who currently work in the private sector. By making real the additional prospect of public humiliation, and the possibility that a prestigious but relatively low-paying government position may not even materialize at the end of the process, the Obama transition team's questionnaire could scare off some of the best candidates.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yet Once More, a Laurel Not Bestowed -David Orr

While American fiction and theater can boast of at least a few Nobel winners (nine, to be precise), no American poet has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Not one, in more than 100 years.

There are two typical responses to this information. The first is to note that T. S. Eliot, Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz have a connection to the United States and did, in fact, win the Nobel. Yet while Eliot was born in St. Louis, his status as an American poet is debatable. He had been living in England for more than 30 years when he received the prize in 1948, and had been a British citizen for over 20 of them. It seems as reasonable to call him an English writer who was born in America as an American writer who lived in England. And while Brodsky and Milosz were both United States citizens when they became Nobel laureates, they were also both exiles from authoritarian regimes and were clearly being recognized for their work in and about their homelands, not their connection to their adopted country.

Which leads to a second reaction one might have to the absence of American poets from the Nobel list: Is it perhaps justified? After all, there are brilliant poets in many languages, and the Nobel can only be awarded to one person a year. The only problem is that the first half of the 20th century is widely considered a golden age of American poetry — a judgment supported not only by critics, but apparently by some Nobel laureates. In 1996, for example, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published a book called “Homage to Robert Frost” that consisted of an essay apiece by Brodsky (Nobel, 1982); the Irish poet Seamus Heaney (Nobel, 1995); and the West Indies poet Derek Walcott (Nobel, 1992). Frost himself, of course, never received the prize. Nor, for that matter, did Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore or William Carlos Williams, all of whom were alive when Nobels went to Ernest Hemingway (1954), William Faulkner (1949) and Pearl S. Buck (1938).