Archive for ::Interesting

Mukhtaran Mai Weds…breaking all taboos

It was nice to see a follow up and update on Mukhtaran Mai’s life in this NYT article on March 17, 2009.  I just recently wrote about her in the Nicolas Kristof post here.

mukhtarwedding

So it seems that she has married a younger police constable (she is his second wife) after he has been pursuing her hand in marriage for the past few years.  Her will and resolve as a strong woman, rooted in her belief that she will lead her life on her own terms continues to resonate as she takes this new step in her life.  Read on….

There are several news stories on her:

Here’s the full report from the New York Times:

Rape Victims’ Advocate Marries

By SALMAN MASOOD
Published: March 17, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Mukhtar Mai, the resilient Pakistani who was
gang raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council but became a
symbol of hope for voiceless and oppressed women, has married.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Mukhtar, 37, said her new
husband is a police constable who was assigned to guard her in the
wake of the attack and who has been asking for her hand for several
years. She is his second wife.
She said the constable, Nasir Abbas Gabol, 30, and she married Sunday
in a simple ceremony in her dusty farming village, Meerwala, in the
southern part of Punjab Province.
“He says he madly fell in love with me,” Ms. Mukhtar said with a big
laugh when asked what finally persuaded her to say yes.
Pakistani rape victims often commit suicide, but Ms. Mukhtar, who is
also know as Mukhtaran Bibi, instead successfully challenged her
attackers in court, winning international renown for her bravery. She
runs several schools, an ambulance service and a women’s aid group in
her village and has written an autobiography. By marrying, she has
defeated another stigma against rape victims in conservative Pakistani
society.
The village council ordered her rape as a punishment for actions
attributed to her younger brother. He was accused of having illicit
relations with a woman from a rival clan, but later investigations
revealed that the boy had himself been molested by three of those
clan’s tribesmen, and the accusation against him had been a cover-up.
Mr. Gabol was one of a group of police officers deployed to protect
her after she was threatened by the rapists’ relatives to try to stop
her from pressing charges.
Mr. Gabol had a hard time persuading Ms. Mukhtar to marry. He had been
calling her off and on since 2003 but formally proposed a year and a
half ago, she said. “But I told my parents I don’t want to get
married.”
Finally, four months ago, he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping
pills. “The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents
met my parents but I still refused,” Ms. Mukhtar said.
Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila.
Ms. Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, joined
forces to try to talk Ms. Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the
status of second wife. In Pakistan, which follows Islamic law, a man
can legally have up to four wives.
It was her concern about Ms. Shumaila, Ms. Mukhtar said, that moved
her to relent.
“I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by
another woman,” Ms. Mukhtar said. “She is a good woman.”
In the end, Ms. Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to
transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree
to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.
Asked if she had plans to leave her village to live with her husband
in his village, Ms. Mukhtar said no. “I have seen pain and happiness
in Meerwala. I cannot think of leaving this place.”
Her husband, she said, “can come here whenever he wants and finds it
convenient.”

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Hope… for the future? (yikes)

This is a funny little nugget. 

If the McCain team can’t do their basic ‘Google’ homework, how can they say they have properly vetted and investigated the viability of their VP selection? 

From Daily Kos:

Green Screen Mystery Solved

Fri Sep 05, 2008 at 09:15:38 AM PDT

A lot of RNCC viewers were perplexed last night when McCain appeared from the light of the Obama logo, strolled to the podium, and began his lackluster speech before an enormous green screen.  We’d seen that lime green screen before and thought McGrinch had learned his lesson — it was not a good look for McCain and was widely panned by pundits and the public alike.  So, why would he choose that hideous background for the biggest speech of his very long political career?

It turns out the green screen was only part of the story.  The close-up at the podium made it appear to be a giant green screen, but the arena audience was treated to a much different image. Hat tip to Talking Points Memo for the image:

Aaahhhhhh….much different.  McCain standing in front of a grand building, not a green screen. And what building could possibly deserve such a prominent role as the main backdrop of McCain’s nomination speech? According to TPM readers, it is Walter Reed.  As in Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, California.  

Wait, what?  Did they mean to have an image of Walter Reed Medical Center? Ouch. If only they were a little better at “the google”, they might have recognized their mistake. Here is the Walter Reed Medical Center:

ABC News says the McCain camp isn’t commenting. If they meant for the image to be Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, I’m sure we’d all love to hear why that fine school was selected for such an honor.

Between the lack of vetting on Sarah Palin and the botched presentation this decade week to the American people, the McCain camp would be well-advised to “do the google” a little more often. Let’s hope they have plenty of time to explore the world wide web in November and beyond.

Update:  TPM has been in contact with the school.

TPM’s Kate Klonick just got off the phone with an official at the school who confirmed this. “We didn’t know anything about it until it showed up last night,” Cathy McLaughlin, the school’s office technician, told Klonick. She confirmed that multiple media outlets have been calling and that a statement would be forthcoming from the school.

There was nothing particular in that stretch of McCain’s speech that would explain why this particular image was used.

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World Food Crisis, Rising Prices, Rationing in the US?

The impact of the world food shortages and price crisis are slowly beginning to hit home here in the US it seems.  After consistent reporting in the NYT Editorials (and here) news features in other papers, recent periodical features like the one in TIME Magazine and in the past few days, actual reporting of this crisis on local US news channels, seems to be bringing the reality closer to home.  Just today it was reported that the large warehouse, bulk shopping stores: Sam’s Club and Costco have put limits by rationing the number of bags of rice (imported) each customer can purchase.  Just last week where I usually bought ‘Buy one 10lb. bag of Basmati Rice, Get One Free’, no longer was giving the 2nd bag away for free.  Ouch. 

Ears of wheat growing in a field

Photograph: Steve Satushek/Getty Images

I never think of rice or grain shortage as a reality anyone in the US would ever have to face.  Food doesn’t run out or get rationed here.  We’ve had our fuel shortages of course, but nothing like this.  Many of us are noticing how much more food is costing these days.  Just do a survey of your weekly grocery bill and observe. At least a 10-20% increase in certain food purchases.  Add the near $4/gallon of gas price to that and even the upper middle class is feeling the pinch.

What is happening around the world is far more brutal.  Hundreds of millions are going to bed hungry.  And millions are unable to afford to buy the scarce staples of rice or wheat priced beyond their means.  Riots and killings are widespread in countries which never had to deal with severe food shortages and exponential price increases.  In many countries like Vietnam, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Haiti, food accounts for half if not more of a family’s income spending. The lack of purchasing power coupled with food shortage related price hikes is wreaking havoc in dozens of countries around the world currently.

Why this crisis?  There are many reasons and also some very sound arguments for this question.  The high cost of oil is fueling higher production costs for farmers in grain exporting countries to produce their crops, thus raising the price of the commodities.  Due to droughts in large exporting countries like Austrailia, they have had a wheat shortage which has hiked up prices and reduced their wheat exports.  Another promoter of the current shortages and pricing crisis of wheat, rice and other staple commodities is the fact that subsidies have been given to farmers who convert their crops into biofuels like ethanol made from corn and other grains, outplacing land for grain and rice crops. 

Here is another good analysis of the current food crisis and the reasons why the world is in such a vulnerable state.

 

Tomorrow I think I may need to go and buy a couple of bags of rice…

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Managing Risk via Blogging? TSA’s Evolution of Security Blog Launched

We all travel – some are traveling now.  Others just got off a plane.  And then there are many who are up right now, packing their carry on luggage, wondering what viscous items to place in the 3 oz containers and how many ziplock bags to pack up!

Well, the new Transportation Authority Association is now officially ‘blogging‘ about the ups and downs of being the checker and checked, the NYT reported on this news item today.

While many are ranting and raving about their individual tussles, encounters and sheer frustration of the disparity of checks at airports across the country – the TSA is tackling the issues head on by rebutting but also trying to listen to the ‘complaints’ and try to make the process more seamless and consistent – Are they actually espousing the concept of customer service?  We’ll see….  I think we all have at least one good TSA security line story to recount! 

Enjoy their new blog!  Evolution of Security (http://www.tsa.gov/blog).

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Yes We Can!

Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am’s music video inspired by Barack Obama’s message of hope:  Yes We Can!

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Three Cups of Tea in Baltistan.

I had read Three Cups of Tea (by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin) a while ago and thought I must post an entry on this remarkable man and his promise to a people in a country far from his own.  I was happy to see that ATP (All Things Pakistan) just posted a book review on their blog as a Guest Post from Babar Bhatti.  You can read it here

Here are some thoughts of mine on this inspirational story…

A truly inspiring read, as is Mr. Mortenson. I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of his readings last March when his book came out. His manner of speaking and recounting his time spent in Pakistan evoked the true and deep bond he had developed with the people there. He returned several times to the Balti region and continued to build (to date I believe almost 60 schools have been built in Pakistan & Afghanistan through his Central Asia Institute). And he returned once again to help rebuild schools after the October 8, 2005 Earthquake shattered the uncountable schools lost that day. Imagine.

His unimaginable survival against so many natural odds and then his commitment to keeping his ‘promise’ to the people who saved him,and that he returned with hope and passion to build schools is remarkable. For me personally, I felt I got a window into a world which I probably would never get to know on such a personalized and detailed level as narrated by Mortenson, even through his American eyes.

One source of his inspiration I found truly moving…was when he had his ephiphany about being able to raise money to fulfil his promise to build schools in Baltistan. The students at his mother’s elementary school had spontaneously launched a “Pennies for Pakistan” drive, upon learning about other children far away in Pakistan, who sat outside in the cold weather without teachers to come to learn/school. The elementary school children couldn’t believe such a place could exist in the world…They collected two 40 gallon trash cans – 62,345 pennies:$623.45! In Mortenson’s words: “Children had taken the first step toward building the school. And they did it with something that’s basically worthless in our society- pennies. But overseas, pennies can move mountains.”

This led to the development of the Pennies for Peace program by his institute:  Pennies for Peace 

I urge anyone with children living in the US or outside Pakistan to take your children on a virtual visit. There are so many ways to spread positive values and impressions to so many who think otherwise, and what better way than to have our children pave the way for their generation to better understand each other and people around the world, AND to instill in them, civic values by helping those less fortunate…one penny at a time.

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Images of Iran Unbeknownst to most…

…Iran Peace Train – a la Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens).   Check out the photo essay below.

Are our lives really that ‘different’? 

 http://www.lucasgray.com/video/peacetrain.html

This site has some more beautiful images of Tehran.

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Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize

covernavedhi.gifSelfless.  Compassionate.  Love of humanity.  Unshakable principles.  There are few people in the world – or at least those we may have heard of – who can exemplify such characteristics in earnest.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife, Bilqis Edhi live and work in Pakistan, and have irrevocably changed the course of lives for hundreds of thousands of people in the close to 60 years of their selfless dedication to the poor, indigent, battered, women, children and families who have suffered unimaginable tragedies, accidents, natural disasters and abandonment. 

In a current campaign to nominate Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi for the Nobel Peace Prize, I hope that anyone reading this post who may never had heard of Edhi, learn about him, but also be moved to nominate him or find the proper protocol to do so.  At Adil’s Blog, “All Things Pakistan“, he is taking the initiative to formally submit a bonafide application for the nomination of Dr. Edhi for the Peace Prize.  If you have any personal stories or would like to share an inspiring story relating to his work, do place your comments below or preferably on All Things Pakistan’s entry on Nominating Abdul Sattar Edhi, so that it can be included in some way to support the nomination of Dr. Edhi. 

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 94 individuals and 19 organizations since 1901.  There are many well known and respected international and movement leaders among the praiseworthy individuals and numerous humanitarian and UN agencies have been bestowed the honor of being recognized by the Nobel Foundation.  I respect all winners like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, International Commitee of the Red Cross , UNICEF et al. – and their lifelong work and the work of the organizations to no end.  It is however, the lesser known, the obscure, who work on their cause or life’s calling with such dedication and passion in some lesser known corner of the world, which I find to be the more intriguing and inspiring Nobel Peace Prize contenders.  People like Rigoberta Menchu (1992, Guatemala. Campaigner for indigenous human rights), Wangari Maathai (2004, Kenya. For her contribution to sustainable development and democracy), and last year’s laureate, Muhammad Yunus & Grameen Bank (2006, Bangladesh. For their efforts to create eco/social benefits though microcredit) (my previous post here) have done so much without prior large scale international recognition.  This is one way we learn what goes on in parts of the world that don’t make the daily news headlines.  It seems in more recent years, the winners have been ‘hidden finds’ and not the usual heads of states or international leaders.  This trend has its merits, as it relies on people to nominate individuals/entities which are doing so much good, but the rest of the world may not know of it.  Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, Mrs. Bilqis Edhi and their foundation are definitely one of those hidden finds which the Nobel Foundation must consider and not ignore.

There are plenty of sources (some listed above, as well as this very well researched article written in the issue of Saudi Aramco World in 2004-same link as photo above, as well as this comprehensive recent article relating to his nomination in Hong Kong’s The Standard – Weekendfrom December 16, 2006) whereby you can read about his life’s work, his philosophy and remarkable achievements in bringing comfort to people is desperate needs.  During the worst ever natural disaster in Pakistan, the October 8, 2006 earthquake in Northern Pakistan, Edhi had a fleet of 300 ambulances at work and later committed to build 10,000 one room tin apartments for those who lost everything in the quake.

As in many developing countries where the social, health and emergency services are dependant on marginally funded government budgets, Edhi has filled this gaping hole.  What is remarkable is that one person has made this difference.   With an annual budget of close to $35 million (according to the recent HK Standard article and $10 million in 2004, per Saudi Aramco’s article), makes the Edhi Foundation one of the largest welfare charities in the world.  His principles refuse him to accept contributions and donations made by governments (international or domestic) (from Saudi Aramco World):

In the 1980’s, when Pakistan’s then-President Zia ul-Haq sent him a check for 500,000 rupees (then more than $30,000), Edhi sent it back. Last year [2003], the Italian government offered him a million-dollar donation. He refused. “Governments set conditions that I cannot accept,” he says, declining to give any details.

His foundation survives on the private contributions from Pakistanis living in Pakistan and abroad.   In a nation where people are doubly reluctant and wary to donate their monies to just ‘any’ charity organzation, Edhi’s foundation is not among them.  There is an unbelievable amount of trust, which is why people will donate to his organization.  They see his ambulances at work and in action.  They know that Edhi’s volunteers are usually the first at site at an accident or other catastrophe.  They see results, and it is as simple as that.   The Edhi Foundation also holds the record for having the largest volunteer ambulance fleet/service in the world (over 700).  There are over 300 Edhi centers which work around the clock and provide an unbelieveable variety of desperately needed social, medical and educational services not available to most of the country’s poorer population. 

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Hope and the power of one…Soccer, Refugees, America

After a long absence from my blog, I thought I’d usher in the new year with a story about hope and how one person has impacted the lives of so many…

Upon reading this article in the NYT this weekend, I was deeply moved and inspired by the dedication of female coach, Luma Mufleh, to her team of re’fugees’ resettled in Clarkston, Georgia.  I was also troubled, but not entirely shocked, by the xenophobic reception of the longtime residents of Clarkston, and their associated fears arisen by the large influx of ‘foreigners’ (but legal asylees) to their once quiet all-American town.  Luma Mufleh (fellow alumna!) and her achievements, her voluteerism and selfless commitment to her team comprised of young children who have suffered unimaginable hardships in their short lives is something to look up to.  

For those without access to the NYT, here is the complete (and very lengthy) article:

Hostility and Hope on the Soccer Field 

By WARREN ST. JOHN

Published: January 21, 2007

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Members of the Fugees soccer team in Clarkston, Ga.

CLARKSTON, Ga., Jan. 20 — Early last summer the mayor of this small town east of Atlanta issued a decree: no more soccer in the town park.

“There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor,” Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper. “Those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

In Clarkston, soccer means something different than in most places. As many as half the residents are refugees from war-torn countries around the world. Placed by resettlement agencies in a once mostly white town, they receive 90 days of assistance from the government and then are left to fend for themselves. Soccer is their game.

But to many longtime residents, soccer is a sign of unwanted change, as unfamiliar and threatening as the hijabs worn by the Muslim women in town. It’s not football. It’s not baseball. The fields weren’t made for it. Mayor Swaney even has a name for the sort of folks who play the game: the soccer people.

Caught in the middle is a boys soccer program called the Fugees — short for refugees, though most opponents guess the name refers to the hip-hop band.

The Fugees are indeed all refugees, from the most troubled corners — Afghanistan, Bosnia, Burundi, Congo, Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan. Some have endured unimaginable hardship to get here: squalor in refugee camps, separation from siblings and parents. One saw his father killed in their home.

The Fugees, 9 to 17 years old, play on three teams divided by age. Their story is about children with miserable pasts trying to make good with strangers in a very different and sometimes hostile place. But as a season with the youngest of the three teams revealed, it is also a story about the challenges facing resettled refugees in this country. More than 900,000 have been admitted to the United States since 1993, and their presence seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others.

The Fugees’ coach exemplifies the best. A woman volunteering in a league where all the other coaches are men, some of them paid former professionals from Europe, she spends as much time helping her players’ families make new lives here as coaching soccer.

At the other extreme are some town residents, opposing players and even the parents of those players, at their worst hurling racial epithets and making it clear they resent the mostly African team. In a region where passions run high on the subject of illegal immigration, many are unaware or unconcerned that, as refugees, the Fugees are here legally.

“There are no gray areas with the Fugees,” said the coach, Luma Mufleh. “They trigger people’s reactions on class, on race. They speak with accents and don’t seem American. A lot of people get shaken up by that.”

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Photography: Beauty, to each their own.

I remember the day my father & I made my first ‘pinhole‘ camera from a National Geographic Magazine’s special ‘cut out’ insert.  From doing a quick Google Search, I discovered it was the August 1977 issue of National Geographic World (now NG Kids).  (*interesting to note that a Muslim scientist named Ibn Haitham (965-104- CE) invented the first pinhole camera or “camara obscura”). There is no lens involved and the trick is to make the hole just small enough to let enough light through the aperture to produce a clear enough image, and adjusting the shutter exposure time by lifting the hand held flap accordingly.  aa-laos.jpgWe probably created some interesting photos, but unfortunately memory does not serve me well now, as to what we actually photographed!  What I do remember is how neat I thought it was that such a simple box could take pictures and photograph inanimate objects.  I knew I wanted to learn more.  No cheap disposible cameras back then – no digitals either, of course.  My father took photos with much enthusiasm, and with the birth of my sister and myself, the photos were most often portraits of the family. (This one of my sister & I was taken in Vientiane, Laos, c. 1978 ).

My father almost always had a camera in hand.  Pentax was his brand and he also had numerous lenses and filters.  I found it fascinating.  I think I in earnest began taking photographs with my first camera (handed downinstamatickodakcamera.jpg from my father), the Kodak Instamatic Cube Flash camera.  You can find them on Ebay and they are now considered ‘vintage’ (I didn’t realize how old that made me feel, until I saw it in print!).   It was the best ‘point and shoot’ of the 70s, and took some lovely day and night-time snaps.  I remember how he always told me to look at my subject and be able to create a ‘depth of vision’ with the camera by adjusting the f/stop and shutter speeds. 

I next took a photography class in High School where we had to use a manual SLR lens camera, shoot photos in black and white and develop the photos in the dark room using the smelly chemicals, enlargers and unique and stylistically challenging techniques for developing the photos.  I next inherited my father’s old Pentax manual, along with some wide angle lenses.  I fell in love with photography.  I think I took photos of thedonald.jpgEVERYTHING, trying to get unusual perspectives, close-ups and portraits, abstract and the real as well.  My favorite shoot during that class was going to my father’s office in Mid-town New York City, and take photos from the 13th floor of his office building, looking down at the pyramid glass rooftops of the adjacent buildings.  I also remember going to the Trump Towers (newly minted in the mid-80s) and finding the ‘Donald’ signing some new book of his in the lobby.  My first celebrity shot. 

After trotting off to college, I just snapped photos of long cherished carefee days and memories of faces I no longer see or even know where they are now.  But the photos captured it all, preserving moments in time, locked away in my memories somewhere.  Till this day, I am often derided for being the ‘Kodak’ lady and always clicking away.  I think I must have at least 5-8 ‘book’ boxes of developed photos along with their negatives!  I kept telling myself to separate the negatives from the photos, lest they all perish in a conflagration some day, God forbid!  I went through some nasty point and shoots, and became revolted by their lack of depth and dimension.  I had to move on.

After earning my own keep in the post college years, and before my marriage, I finally bought my first NEW camera.  I had to keep true to the family brand, and got a Pentax ZX-5, SLR (Manual/Auto).  The memories had piled up in print, ranging from college days to international travels, new friends, cities lived in, a wedding, honeymoon, family, Pakistan, and then eventually the children!  While the pace has slowed down, the photos are still collecting, and thankfully now, they just consume large amounts of HD space on my computer, vs. those heavy overstuffed boxes I now lug from one house move to another.  (And there have been at least 5 in the last 8 years).  Digital photography has revolutionized the way we photograph and preserve.  Online photo (public) sites now allow us to view ‘e-published’ photos of places and people we may have never known, unless we travelled there ourselves or owned many photography/travel books. 

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A day of Firsts: Iranian-born female space tourist blasts off into orbit

The first female tourist, first female Muslim and first Iranian went into orbit early Monday, from Baikonur, KHAZAKHSTAN.  Anousheh Ansari (age 40) is an Iranian-American telecom entrepreneur.  She hopes that her trip will inspire women and Iranians to pursue their dreams. 

While space tourists typically pay their way (as much as $20M!) to get a seat on space missions, it still takes courage to pursue this endeavor.  She has paved the way as far as ‘firsts’ go, and for that she deserves her day of fame.  Whether or not it is the best way to get a Muslim woman into space, is a matter for later debate! 

“By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish,” said Anousheh Ansari, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Inc.

On another note, there are reports that a Pakistani woman, Numera Aslam/Saleem will be the sent by NASA in a space mission sometime in July 2008, when commercial operations are supposed to begin.

Article from Reuters follows.  You can also view her Blog and her Official website.

From: REUTERS, September 18, 2006 

By Shamil Zhumatov

anousheh-ansari1.jpgBAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian Soyuz spacecraft blasted off on Monday carrying a woman set to notch up three space records: the first female tourist, first female Muslim, and first Iranian in orbit.

Anousheh Ansari, 40, an Iranian-American telecommunications entrepreneur, joined a Russian cosmonaut and U.S. astronaut in the cramped interior of Soyuz TMA-9 for a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soviet-designed spacecraft lifted off into a clear blue sky at 0409 GMT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“The flight is normal, the crew feel fine,” a flight controller at Mission Control near Moscow said.

Unlike American Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian Mikhail Tyurin, who are starting a six-month stint in space, Ansari will return to earth in 10 days with the outgoing U.S.-Russian crew.

Ansari, a U.S. citizen based in Dallas, Texas who left Iran in 1984, has said she wants to be an example to her compatriots.

“I think my flight has become a sort of ray of hope for young Iranians living in Iran, helping them to look forward to something positive, because everything they’ve been hearing is all so very depressing and talks of war and talks of bloodshed,” Ansari told Reuters last week.

FLAG

She has been told, however, to remove an Iranian flag from her spacesuit and, at the insistence of the Russian and U.S. governments, promise that there will be no political messages during her trip.

Looking relaxed and smiling at a pre-launch news conference at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday, Ansari said she would still pack another Iranian flag for her trip.

The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. President Bush has called the Islamic Republic part of an “axis of evil”.

Ansari has not said how much her ticket cost but previous space tourists have paid the Russian space programme about $20 million.

She had originally been scheduled to join a later Soyuz mission but took the place of Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto when Russian space officials said last month he was not able to fly for unspecified medical reasons.

Several hours before the Soyuz blast off, the U.S. space Shuttle Atlantis undocked from the ISS.

The Soyuz craft will dock with the space station early on Wednesday. Atlantis is scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a few hours later.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow)

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Maid in India turns into Best Selling Author – Her Difficult Life: Documented.

Baby Halder is being hailed as a best selling writer.  Her humble and cruel life story give us a window to a world we have never imagined or want to experience.  Her courage and determination are inspiring.

Article is from the August 07, 2006 edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

(Photograph) UNLIKELY AUTHOR: Baby Halder’s employer encouraged her to write after finding her looking at his book collection.
SCOTT BALDAUF

Indian housemaid pens Dickensian memoir of poverty

By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The hardships of Baby Halder – abandoned at 4, married off at 12, a mother herself by age 13 – could fill a book.

Small surprise then that Ms. Halder’s breathtaking memoir, “A Life Less Ordinary,” is causing a stir in the Indian publishing industry. Halder’s book offers a window into a world that shocks many Indians, one in which women, and particularly poor ill-educated women, remain second-class citizens.

Still in its first printing of 3,500 books after three months, admirable for a first-time author in India, Halder’s personal memories as a poor domestic worker aspiring to a better life seems to be selling best in bookstores that cater to foreigners in India. But the book’s buzz also has the potential to stir debate about the social responsibilities of India’s wealthy as the country moves toward greater individual opportunity and fewer collective obligations.

“The semifeudal contract that existed before between rich and poor, between master and servant, has broken down. And nothing has come to replace it,” says Nandu Ram, a sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and specialist in caste issues.

Many older prejudices have waned, as citizens of lower castes are taking greater part in the political process, and as more of those of humble background prove themselves in the today’s marketplace. But the waning of caste prejudice has not meant that more Indians are suddenly doing more for those less fortunate, says Mr. Ram. “There is a generation gap of our younger people who are becoming more and more self-centered, with not much consideration for the poor, for even the older members of their own family.”

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The Fearless Flyer…Trader Joe’s finds a home in NYC

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The uncontained excitement exhibited by New Yorkers on the opening of the City’s first Trader Joe’s (an eclectic California grocery chain) in Union Square on St. Patrick’s day was something to write about – or so certain publications and media outlets did.  NY Times reported on “A Tiki Room with Aisles“, and Slate posted the “Insider’s Guide to Trader Joe’s“.  The secret is out on Trader Joe’s, AKA, ‘TJ’s’ to those who have had a longer term relationship with him — that it is overflowing with aisles of ‘bourgeois products at proletarian prices’ and people love it. 

TJ's Photo

(Trader Joe’s opening in Union Square, New York City – photo: NYT)

fearless.gifJust visit TJ’s or pick up their “Fearless Flyer” to sample their goodies.  Their selection of fresh produce, organic foods and ‘2-buck Chuck’ (‘drinkable’ Charles Shaw wines sold very cheaply – I have seen older, well groomed men in well to do suburbs of Boston and Southern Connecticut walk out with a case or two on many an occasion!), frozen delectibles, gourmet coffees & teas, unusual and large array of authentic sounding foreign foods and ingredients would send anyone flying down their aisles.  For many in California, it was first known as Pronto Market in the 1950s:(exerpt from Slate’s “Insider’s Guide to Trader Joes”)

In the ’60s, founder Joe Coulombe renamed the stores after himself, introduced the endearingly goofy nautical theme and Hawaiian shirts for all employees, and started stocking more upscale foods and wines… In recent years, the company has expanded to more than 200 stores across the country, but it remains privately held.

So for all of you financial fiends, sorry, can’t buy their stock…yet.  Trader Joe’s, found in almost all California counties, is also a neighborhood grocer in the East Coast metropolitan suburbs of Westchester (NY), Fairfield (CT) and suburban Boston.  For people in need of gluten-free, soy based, dairy-free specialty diets, Trader Joe’s is a lifeline.  All products carrying the Trader Joe’s private label contain NO Genetically Modified or Engineered ingredients.  It is more economical than shopping at Whole Paycheck, err, Whole Foods (now seen widely in most suburbs and 3 NYC locations), but perhaps not as ‘upscale’ or bulging with variety or bulk.  It has a down home, family friendly feel – which the clerks exude with much natural-ness.  They have a ‘clanging of the bell system’: 1 ding could mean price check, 2 dings: product check and 3 dings – need more cashiers!  It is quaint.  And kids get free balloons – which is ALWAYS helpful for that hassled mother or father shopping with a fiesty toddler, screaming: “wannah ballooooh” as they fish out their plastic money card, hastilly swipe it through and sign their incomprehensible electronic John Hancock, again with screaming child in tow…and then, voila, the balloon!  Smiles…and a great dinner is on it’s merry way home.

Reading the write-ups on the accounts of the giddy New York TJ’s shoppers, provided it’s share of giggles:

(From New York Times – Mar-18-06)

And thus the day went, Manhattan impatience mixed with dried hibiscus flowers, a specialty sweet of Trader Joe’s. “It’s my favorite store in the world,” declared Barry Lapidus, 47, a freelance writer in Brooklyn. “I used to take a train and a bus for two and a half hours to the Trader Joe’s in Hartsdale” in Westchester County.

Why?

“Why?” he exclaimed. “They have the best minestrone soup and egg rolls. The egg rolls are better than you can get in a Chinese restaurant.”

Loni Sherman, a retired food-service manager who lives nearby in Peter Cooper Village, said her friends were planning a Trader Joe’s party, at which mass quantities of Trader Joe’s products would be consumed at will.

Steven Arvanites, 40, a Manhattan screenwriter, had never been to a Trader Joe’s. “This is like a designer Costco,” he said.

Never realized how crazed people could get about their produce. That they stood in line waiting for an hour before opening time, is a testament to the lengths people will go to in New York!

 

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Amazing Illusions…

Julian Beever

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Is this the real thing? Julian Beever poses with his chalk art

Is this the real thing? Julian Beever poses with his chalk art.

Julian Beever is a British chalk artist who makes 3D chalk drawings on pavement using a projection called anamorphism that creates the illusion, or Trompe-l’oeil (French for ‘deception of the eye’). His street paintings appear to defy the laws of perspective.

boat

Besides the 3D art, Julian paints murals and replicas of the works of masters. Also, he is often hired as a performance artist and to create murals for companies. Julian is into advertising and marketing, as well. He has worked in the U.K., Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Germany, the USA and Australia.

Since 2004 a chain letter containing his art (sometimes mixed with similar art by Kurt Wenner) has been circulating the Internet. Many people have speculated that his work is a result of digital photo editing. These images are actually authentic. 

The illusion of the Portable Computer

drawn on The Strand, London.

SonyVaio

Swimming-Pool at High Street.

Swimming

Here we see the Swimming-Pool, drawn in

Glasgow, Scotland, but viewed from the “wrong” side.

These drawings only work from one viewpoint

otherwise the image appears strangely distorted.

wrong pool

Another great one…

BatmanRobin

Visit Julian Beever’s work on this site for additional astounding visual illusions!  His official site is at times not working….

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