Democratic Primary 101

Hopefully it’s not too late for anyone reading this – even if Feb 5 (super ‘duper’ Tuesday) has come and gone, there is still time to vote your mind in the remaining primary voting states.

Been talking to many friends – most of my female ones, at least – and they seem to be on the fence whether to vote for a first potential woman leader of the free world or the first person of color?  A seemingly tough decision, but for some and personally for myself – it has nothing to do with either of these monumental moments at history’s doorstep (though I have to say, it does make it more exciting).

Obama for President 2.25My choice, is for Mr. Barack Obama – because I feel he will make a better leader based on his values (if you have read about his life – he has humble beginnings, a personal and living understanding of the world we live in, in addition to his early life struggles – he understands first hand, where the majority of America and potentially the world is coming from), his solid stance & clarity on policy and his ability to take leadership actions.  Most importantly, he has the gift of being able to inspire hope, provide a turning point amidst apathy towards politics and the current leadership’s stand on almost any issue.  Obama has character and a deep sense of humanity which he so effortlessly displays.  He has rallied young voters and has raised funds rivaling Hillary Clinton’s – despite lacking all the pomp and celebrity his oponents have been banking on.  The single most defining character statement for me, at least, was his clarity of judgement with his opposition of the Iraq war from day one – and not pandering to what was the popular thing to do as Hilary Clinton and so many others did – and now find themselves having to wriggle out and reinvent their reasons for their ‘for war’ vote.  In our world today, it is ever more important to mend the bridges which have been burned over the past 7+ years in international relations.  Having a keen understanding and sensitivity to the world beyond our borders will only make America stonger inside and out. 

My 7 year old daughter was asking me about the candidates (after constantly reading all the campaign signs posted around town) and also piping up when mom and dad were discussing dad’s volunteering this weekend to help her school-friend’s mother (the neighborhood precinct captain for Obama’s campaign) canvass our immediate neighborhood to garner support (and a nod for a vote!) for Barack Obama.  When telling her why her dad and I were supporting Obama, I found it a little difficult – as a graduate of a woman’s college & a mother talking to her young daughter – not standing up for a candidate who could potentially be the first women U.S. president…but then thought again to tell her why I felt Obama was the better one to be a leader of America.  (I told her in her mom’s native country, Pakistan, there already had been a women leader – a prime minister – several years ago, so that absolved some of my feminist guilt!). 

So back to why Obama?  I found an interesting piece comparing the democratic candidates (an ‘Election Guide’)  in the New York Times – ironically on the big policy issues, the positions on Health Care, Abortion, Climate Change, and Immigration were resoundlingly similar.  The big differences again were: 1) on his strong stance against going to war in Iraq from the onset and a comprehensive plan to withdraw from Iraq; 2) insistence upon  engaging in direct diplomacy with open communications with all world leaders to ensure America gets it right in foreign policy issues; 3) while both candidates are for repealing the Bush Tax cuts for households over $250,000, Hillary Clinton wants to ‘jumpstart’ the economy with a $70 Billion stimulous package, Barack Obama proposes a plan for tax relief (cut $80 Billion in taxes) for the middle and working classes and the elderly who make less than $50,000.  It boils down to the nitty gritty, of course, but I feel it is very important to believe in someone who sincerely believes in bringing about the changes and having the intellectual and practical ability to take a well thought out stand.  Just think for a moment, if Clinton wins the primary….and subsequently the role of president, we would have had the Bush and Clinton dynasty running America for 24 years (potentially even 28 years!) – Is this good for America?

While the road to becoming the nominee for the Democratic party is still up for grabs, polls (!) are showing a closing of the gap between Obama and Clinton – especially in the key states of California, New Jersey and Arizona as of February 4th.  Hot off the press (2/4/08): nationally, the USA Today/ Gallup Poll is showing a fierce dead heat competition: 45% (Clinton) to 44% (Obama).  So, there is time in case you are still undecided and have yet to cast your vote.  Interestingly,  while I was writing, I received a ‘taped’ phone message from actress Scarlett Johansson, urging me to cast my vote tomorrow if I am still wavering!  I have come across people who say, “Well, there isn’t a candidate who is worth voting for – I ask them candidly if they have actually spent the time to even read or learn about the policy positions each candidate has (I’ll admit, I’ve been brushing up on this more recently since the race tightened) –  or are they going with their gut?  I urge you to use the upper domain of your body and cast your decision accordingly. Please go and be counted and heard.  It is really empowering and gives you a legitimate license to either applaud or criticize what goes on in your country – without becoming one of those Monday morning quater-backers…

Note: As many know, it is the amount of Delegates the candidates pick up by state vs. winning by more votes.  For the Democratic Primary, it is not winner takes all…(more details below from the NYT):

Super Tuesday: Democratic Preview

As the candidates head into Super Tuesday, one of the main factors is how delegates are awarded in each state. There are hundreds of places for candidates to pick up delegates, since in many states delegates are awarded based not on the statewide vote, but rather on the result in each Congressional district. For the Democrats, delegates are won in proportion to a candidate’s percentage of the vote, making it difficult for Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama to pull very far ahead.   Republican preview »
— Amanda Cox, Farhana Hossain and Ford Fessenden   

Oh, and if you’re registered as an Independant or Non-Partisan in California, you are able to cast a vote for your Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.  Just remember to ask for a ballot for the Democratic Primary when you check in to vote! 

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Excerpt from Obama’s speech given in Springfield, Illinois (February 10, 2007) – announcing his decision to run for President of the United States.  I remember listening to his words and feeling moved and a sense of hopefulness for this nation…

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A Past No More?

Yes, it has been a while since I posted an entry, again.  

Having recently returned from a trip to Pakistan to visit family after three years, I suppose I feel the urge to document it.  The political, social and economic scene changes every time I visit – and this time more than it ever has in my lifetime, at least.  One does not have to look far – local dailies, international news media, web logs – all include fresh daily news items tainted with ‘Pakistan’ in their headlines.  It is needless to say that the nation is under seige, from both internal and external powers that be.  Hope is distant and intangible for the time being.

The family trip to Pakistan included visits to grandparents in both Islamabad, the capital city, and to the historic city of Lahore.  I was pleasantly surprized that my young children found some excitment and interest in the places we took them to (other than requisite family ‘meet and greets’ over tea and dinner events). 

In Islamabad, they enthusiastically enjoyed visiting Faisal Masjid with their grandmother (Shah Faisal Mosque – world’s largest mosque, which also houses the world’s largest cantelever roof), running in their socks on the grand marbled floor expanse around the main prayer hall.  They were ‘wow’ed by the largess of the structure and took time to take in the serenity of the interior prayer hall – (well, in all honesty, that lasted only a few minutes before the little one decided he wanted to run into the center of the carpeted prayer area!).  They also visited newly renovated “Lok Virsa”, a premier museum of ethnology and cultural heritage which chronicles the history of the various eras of the Indus Valley civilizations, and Badshahi Masjid, Lahoremodern day Pakistani ethnic geography.  While the children were still a bit young to fully appreciate the value of such a museum, they did enjoy the life-size dioramas of village scenes from the Punjab, Northern Karakorum Mountains as well as relics from the ancient civilizations of Harrapa and Mohenjodaro. 

Lahore of course had it’s own ‘living’ history – not that which is bottled up in showcase glasses in a museum.  They enjoyed a memorable trip with their cousin to the older side of Lahore by the walled city and Lahore Fort. The sheer awe they displayed upon entering the Badshahi Masjid is evoked in the attached photograph above.  Again, the tremendous expanse and majesty of the monument was enough to inspire reckless abandon as witnessed through a child.  We moved next to the Lahore Fort (Shahi Qila), citadel of the city of Lahore.  It’s actual ‘build date’ is not very clear (sometime before 1025 A.D. sources say), but the hands of many Mughal rulers have touched it, including Auranzeb, Shah Jahan (of Sheesh Mahal and Diwan-e-Khas fame here) and Jehangir and Akbar as well – during the greater part of the 1600s.  The children most enjoyed the Diwan-e-Aam Jharoka (or Royal Balcony) – where my husband told them that the emperors used to hold court and speak to the people from the elevated marble pulpit.  Each one of them re-enacted the role of the emperor, pretending to make some pivotal proclamation!  The best part (for me at least) was when I saw the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) under repair with scaffolding and tall gates barricading entry to the visitors.  A sign near it read, “Under Renovation and Restoration, managed and funded in collaboration with UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee”.   Does this mean there is some hope that my children may someday be able to share with their children, a piece of this history from my birth country’s heritage? 


In a country where there is an absence of Rule of Law, where lawlessness and unchecked violence is rampant, where the poor person earning barely $16/month cannot afford a kilo of wheat if available, where electricity is shut off daily, (execpt in the VIP sectors) for hours on end, and where the rich get richer, driving their BMWs and Benzs, is there any reason why national heritage preservation will be considered a priority?  There are much more pressing issues facing the country at this juncture in time, as its future hangs tenuously.  Sadly, it is only in my dreams for now, that I may envision the survival of Pakistan’s historical heritage and national treasures.  

The article below details similar thoughts on the sad state of preservation of such glorious treasures. 

(Story Source:  The Guardian, January 11, 2008)

Here in the city of Kim, Pakistan’s magnificent history is being left to rot

Musharraf has allowed one of the wonders of Asia to disintegrate; and a country that neglects its past endangers its future

Simon Jenkins in Lahore
Friday January 11, 2008
The Guardian

Poor Lahore. Yesterday this jewelled city of the Raj was hit by a suicide bomber aimed at lawyers protesting at President Pervez Musharraf’s imprisonment of his top judiciary. As body parts scattered the tree-lined Mall, Kipling’s “city of dreadful night” became the city of dreadful day. Nor could the outrage have happened in a more symbolic spot. Just up the road from the bombed Victorian high court stands “Kim’s gun”, the great 18th-century Zam-Zammah cannon, pointing towards the scene.
While the historic cities of Pakistan’s great rival, India, soar up the league table of celebrity, nothing better displays Pakistan’s current misery than the state of Lahore, joint capital of many an Indian empire and of British Punjab. Splendid Victorian palaces still line the boulevards of the Mall: the high court, the governor’s house, the general post office, the government college and Lahore’s museum, Kim’s “Wonder House”. Even the art college built by Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, survives, with students squatting under giant fans in its corbelled hall.
The style of these and other buildings is the “Anglo-Saracenic” (or Mughal-Gothic) with which the engineer/architects of the Raj paid their respects to a local culture over which they intended to rule for ever. Bursting with imperial confidence, the buildings are the glory of Punjab and the most remarkable group of 19th-century public buildings anywhere, complementing Lutyens’s Edwardian Rajpath at the eastern end of the Grand Trunk Road in what today is India.
A mile away across this now sprawling 8 million-strong metropolis heaves and sweats Lahore’s walled city, old and unchanged. Here, on a wet January night, one can easily imagine the fleet young Kim darting through the mud and huddles of humanity, over the rooftops on some mystery “woman’s errand”. At its heart lies Lahore fort, its gates, gardens, mosques and decorative finishes the finest Mughal monument after the Taj Mahal. Crowded outside its walls are scruffy courtyard houses (havelis), markets, food stalls, brothels and alleys of unimaginable dirt and decrepitude. Buried within are shrines, mosques and derelict palaces. Only a few structures have been restored by enthusiasts, such as the exotic Cuckoo’s Den restaurant by the fort.
In no other world city have I seen so much magnificence so neglected. Pakistan’s ancient sites, those of the Indus civilisation and Taxila and Moenjodaro, are well guarded. Limited preservation is being done on Lahore fort and Shah Jahan’s exquisite Shalimar Garden in the suburbs. But saving Lahore itself has become a desperate struggle conducted by a few lone warriors, such as the Karachi architect Yasmin Lari, and Lahore’s Kamil Mumtaz.
Yesterday’s blast at the high court followed persistent attempts by the government to demolish the building, despite its handsome moulded brick walls and terracotta, marble and teak inside. The authorities also tried to demolish old Tollington market on the Mall. Looking like an East Anglian railway station, it was saved by public outcry and is now a thriving art centre.
Such carelessness is not for want of help. The World Bank offered $10m to restore the old city, which the authorities used to pay for drains. A so-called Sustainable Development Walled City project has hired offices and bureaucrats, but seems to have lost the will to conserve anything. Nobody is trying to stop a hotel company from buying up a street of havelis and demolishing them – houses that in Marrakech would be worth millions and might one day be so in Lahore. There is no protection for these structures, and if there were a well-placed bribe would negate it.
Even a modest project initiated by Lari to restore the royal route through the walled city from the Delhi Gate to the fort has ground to a halt, from a mix of corruption and inertia. The gate itself was demolished by the British in the 19th century but rebuilt, probably at Curzon’s instigation, in the 20th. Through the murk of the royal route can be seen Mughal arches, lattice-work panels and classical porticos. All Pakistan’s history is here, but disintegrating beneath encroaching shanties, cobwebs of wires and piles of rubbish. Meanwhile the dictatorship is spending $1bn on a new army headquarters in Islamabad.
Islamabad, five hours north of Lahore, offers a glaring contrast. This is Pakistan’s own Chandigarh, Canberra or Brasilia, a new city built from scratch in the 1960s and with all the mind-numbing tedium that only 20th-century planning could inflict on humanity. Everything there before – natural or manmade – was simply bulldozed. A grid was imposed on the wide Potohar plateau. Each square was given a letter and number and allocated to commercial, retail or residential use, Soviet-style.
Embarrassed at the resulting soullessness, the city authorities are now seeking to recapture some of the character they destroyed, as are the planners of Britain’s not dissimilar Milton Keynes. Anything surviving from the past, a village, a historic landmark, even a tree, is seized on to lend character to a settlement that lacks any sense of place.
The result has been the virtual demolition and rebuilding of a 16th-century village, Saidpur, on a hillside overlooking the city. A Hindu shrine has been stripped bare and made into a museum. “Illegal residents” have been cleared and their belongings dumped on the road, to make way for an ersatz tourism village of restaurants and boutiques: anything to suggest that Islamabad has a history. Elsewhere on the city outskirts, an old British station has been restored as a museum. At the pleading of a local artist, Fauzia Minallah, surviving banyans have been left standing, in one case in the middle of a motorway. These magnificent trees, she points out, constitute the nearest Islamabad has to “a national heritage”.
Pakistan used to pride itself on its cities being cleaner and more modern than India’s. This is no longer so. While Islamabad seeks to create a past for itself, Lahore’s past is collapsing around it. Hovering over its ancient walls is a sense of utter neglect, so much so that some 400 buildings have been scheduled for demolition as dangerous.
The reason is rule by distant dictator. Some dictators take pride in their past, eager to make their mark on the nation’s narrative. This was true of the Shah of Persia and even of Saddam Hussein. It is sad that present-day Pakistan, once a prized province of India’s Mauryan, Mughal and British empires, should not only have cut itself off from that narrative but find itself at the mercy of an insecure and philistine soldier, for 10 years the puppet of London and Washington.
Though eager to be admired abroad, Musharraf has allowed one of the great cities of Asia to decline into squalor. For centuries the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi through Punjab carried the history of the subcontinent streaming beneath the walls of Lahore. But while India is at least fighting to rescue what remains of its past, Lahore is left to languish.

From the Indus to the Himalayas, Pakistan should be the object of every traveller’s desire. Today it is awash with pessimists ready to declare its 60-year-old creation doomed and its further Balkanisation, begun with Bangladesh in 1972, inevitable. I am not sure, but any country that neglects its past loses touch with its present and endangers its future. In Pakistan the bulldozer is doing as much to hasten that danger as any suicide bomber.

A few more personal snaps on the go…will these treasures (Tollington Market and Kim’s Gun)  still be standing in the years to come?

   Zam Zamaah


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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’?

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 


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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Slate’s Green Challenge

Online Magazine, Slate is having a ‘Green Challenge’ (in collaboration with, to ask readers to go on an eight-week, ‘carbon-free’ diet.   While it is already in it’s 3rd week, you can still join the challenge which will end by December 11…Go to the Slate article and take the initial quiz to determine your current carbon output.  With human carbon dioxide emissions at 6 tons per person (22 tons per person in America!), how can you not consider?  Global warming, fossil fuel emissions, deforestation all contribute to the carbon output.  There are a lot of things  one individual can do (take buses, turn off unnecessary electrical equipment, use cold water in the washing machine, keep thermostat on 68 degrees, line dry, do full load dishwashing runs…etc.) on a daily basis to make their contribution to mother earth and her future survival.

For the next eight weeks, Slate, in collaboration with eco-Web site treehugger, invites you to consider your own individual contribution to global warming—and challenges you to go on a carbon diet. The goal is to reduce the amount of CO2 that you put into the atmosphere by 20 percent. If you’re a carbon glutton who doesn’t bother to turn off the lights when you leave the house, you may find this diet pretty painless. (And just think of the fringe benefits—lower heating bills, poorer oil barons.) But even if you’re already a svelte recycler or a carpooler, there’s a lot more you can do.

Based on the individual carbon output quiz I took, my family emits almost 4 cars worth of carbon emisions annually.  Yikes.  Here are my results:


Your annual carbon emissions are 36,489 lbs. That’s equivalent to the emissions from 3.58 passenger cars.  Average carbon emissions per year, per person:
United States: 44,312
Qatar: 17,064
France: 13,668
India: 2,645
Kenya: 440

OK, now you know your current carbon load. You’re ready to begin the Slate Green Challenge.  

To read the entire article in Slate, click, here. 

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A Dose of American Culture.

Just read this most ‘laugh out loud’ piece at the NYT – about the obsession with food; activities and overplanning, and losing sight of what is really important in the lives of these kids.  Perhaps many will relate.  Others may feel they too are guilty, but how does one extricate from this?  And then they will be those who just shake their heads in vain.   It is just another example of how much American parents are caught up in catering to their childen’s whims and what they think is the ‘done’ thing because everyone else is doing it. 

Was chatting with some friends on this topic recently and we all reflected similarly…Has life become over complicated?  In another life, another time (or not!), our behavior would have been mocked, and today people strive to emulate.  Gone are the days when kids would just walk out the front door, play in the streets (heaven forbid they do that now in this ‘who knows who will come by in car and swipe your kid off the street, etc…) and eat from meal to meal, vs. needing a snack in between, or just even have a simple birthday party without it becoming a 3 ring circus event!  But many of us are inextricably part of this rat race – and are guilty for fueling the fire so to speak.  Many of our children’s lives are super structured with afterschool classes, weekend meets, activities, music lessons, enrichment programs…when we see our friends children involved this way, we too feel, “Hey, they’re like me, shouldn’t my child be participating?”  And while the kids themselves may enjoy it, is it not up to the parents (at least during the younger years) to make some of those decisions?  Going to school and perhaps doing one special activity or club involvment a week seemed to suffice when I was growing up in an uber competitive New England  town north of NYC…And with all the work, I remember still being ‘stressed’….can’t imagine what our kids will go through in the coming years if we continue at this pace. Simplicity and simple pleasures seem a distant memory…Incidently, am reading another same topic book, “Madness of Modern Families” by 2 UK authors….it is a more in depth humorous account of the crazed ‘parenting’ frenzy of the 21st century. 

Anyway, thought this article was hilarious, all things aside.  Best lines: “Cupcakes the size of softballs” and “use the small foods as calming pellets? .”  Enjoy!

Op-Ed Contributor – New York Times

Will Play for Food

Published: October 27, 2006

Ridgewood, N.J.

Cartoon above by:Chip Wass


ENOUGH with the organized snacks.

When did this start anyway? I’m at my 7-year-old’s soccer game. The game ends and this week’s designated “snack parent” produces a ginormous variety pack of over-processed chips and an equally gargantuan crate-cum-cooler. Our children swarm like something out of the climactic scene in “The Day of the Locust.”

Do our kids need yet another bag of Doritos and a juice box with enough sugar to coat a Honda Odyssey? Can’t they just finish playing and have some water?

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Grameen Bank Microcredit -> Grassroot Development = Nobel Peace Prize 2006

Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (first time a financial institution awarded the Peace Prize) in Bangladesh have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006.  This is a monumental acknowledgement that working from the roots up does and has made a difference in lives of so many in the impoverished parts of the world.  In the world of economic and social development of the so called, ‘third world countries’ or less pejoratively, developing nations of the world, the best or even only way many view that progress and poverty alleviation will occur is through grassroots development and locally inspired movements where the people themselves are involved in their own plight and hence success.  Often, the imposition (a segment of the study of anthropology namely, development anthropology, rests on this tenet) of a top down or ‘their’ view of what development or progress should be, comes from the outside – a remote international agency, or even urban government agencies, which are disconnected from the indigenous culture or societal norms of the region or people they claim to be helping.  

With Yunus and the Grameen Bank, providing small loans (microcredit) without collateral to the most impoverished on terms which were relevant to the people of those villages, made the initiative sustainable and a success.   Almost 97% of the loan recepients are women, which has positive development implications.  They used the funds to purchase egg-laying hens, cows or materials which they could sell for a return.  For many, their lives have turned around, as they are now able to sustain their small enterprizes.  Without the threat of predatory lending institutions, Grameen’s track record has been equally astonishing, with very high payback rates—over 98 percent. More than half of Grameen borrowers in Bangladesh (close to 50 million) have risen out of acute poverty thanks to their loan, as measured by such standards as having all children of school age in school, all household members eating three meals a day, a sanitary toilet, a rainproof house, clean drinking water and the ability to repay a 300 taka (Bangladeshi currency)-a-week (8 USD) loan.  Read the rest of this entry »

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UNICEF Photo Essay- Child’s view: My life after the earthquake

There are rays of hope amongst the continued despair in much of Pakistan’s earthquake affected areas.  While children bear the worst brunt of these horrific disasters, they somehow are the most resilent, strong and hopeful.  In a photo project initiated by Unicef, affected children were given photography training and then the opportunity to photograph through their own eyes, their experiences and needs of the aftermath.  The following photo essay was produced.  The images are pure, honest and human.  They still ask, as there is still so much need.  But, they are also moving forward.

© UNICEF/ HQ06-1234/Zubair
Zubair, 8, a participant in the ‘Eye See II’ project for earthquake-affected children in Pakistan, photographs himself in Haji Abad village, located in the Mansehra District of North West Frontier Province.

The exhibition of photos from the project opened [October 5, 2006] at UNICEF’s New York headquarters and in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Twenty-one children from areas that were hard-hit by the earthquake attended the Islamabad event. 

Excerpts follow below and the full story, here on the “Eye See II” photo project. 

Equipped with their powerful new tool, the young quake survivors captured images of their changed lives one year after the disaster.

At the Muzaffarabad Government Girls School, the pupils were proud of their contribution.

“Through our pictures, we want to show the world what it’s really like here in Kashmir right now,” said one 13-year-old student. “By taking pictures,” added her classmate, “we can tell people about all our problems, and we have a lot of problems right now.”

You can view the actual Photo Essay, here.   Here is a photo essay on the training workshops

With this post, I complete rememberance for now, on the one year anniversary of that ill-fated day in Pakistan.

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Documentary Film: Rebuilding @ 73°E

Came across this blog today on the 1st anniversary of the deadly earthquake in Pakistan.   It is a wonderful documentary produced by Nasir Aziz, from Seattle, WA after the October 8, 2005 Earthquake in Pakistan.  It is the story of how a group of concerned Americans and Pakistanis living abroad made a world of difference in the lives of close to 700 families in a village left in ruins. 

It is moving, inspiring and selfless.  It reminds us again, how one person or a group of individuals committed to a cause, can radically change the lives of so many other human beings in such a profound way.  

You can view the 26 minute film here or on a larger screen on Google VDO, here

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One year on…Pakistan Earthquake struck on October 8, 2005

How irreversibly the lives of millions changed on this morning one year ago in the Northern Areas of Pakistan (and parts of India) after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake hit the livlihoods of those living in these most heavenly mountain ranges and valleys.  According to UNICEF, over 16,000 children died in schools on that fateful day, as they were crushed by the faultily constructed roofs of their 2, 3, 4 storey cement school buildings. (Estimates say, in total, almost 35,000 children died). The death toll total was over 80,000 (in Pakistan, and about 1,500 in India) and close to 200,000 succumbed to their injuries (according to ReliefWeb/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)).  About 11,000 children were left orphaned.  Several thousands more lost their limbs or the ability to walk or move again.  Close to 3.5 million became homeless and without proper shelter.  Government estimates say some 600,000 houses, 6,298 schools and 796 health facilities were demolished, about 6,440 km of roads damaged and 50-70 per cent of water supply, sanitation, telecom and power infrastructure made non-operational.  Then winter came and the suffering and urgency to help the second round of victims continued.  With the passing of time, spring came and snows melted.  Some roads were made passable again.  Some were lucky to move to ‘temporary’ tin roof shelters vs. the damp, frigid tents where millions slept each night, barely making it through the relentless snows.  Many dead were finally given a proper burial in the earth, in exchange for the concrete graves they had been left in during the winter months, before heavy machinery could remove all the boulders and bricks from over them. 

The world gave again – well, as much as their pockets allowed them to, after a year of giving had ensued, beginning first with the Tsunami of December 26, 2004, and later with Hurricane Katrina.  And Pakistani’s in Pakistan and abroad gave – in kind, in currency and in humanity by either volunteering, providing medical assistance, moving supplies to the hard hit areas or building temorary shelters.  It was an unprecedented response to the tragedy. There were fund raisers, volunteer organizations, international vigils, media campaigns, letters to wealthy corporations, & emails to NATO and US government officials to appeal for more aid, helicopters, media attention.  Still, now, in retrospect, it did not seem to be enough.  Yesterday’s stories of heroism, activism and humanity, now a year later, seem to be filled with stories of neglect, unfulfilled promises and despair.  People were still without basic dry/winterized shelters, food and proper medical facilities months after the earthquake.  A year later, an estimated 1.8 million people are still displaced and not yet permanently rehabilitated.  

There were over 2ooo aftershocks since the earthquake struck, and the harsh winter was followed by monsoons.  While the traumatized survived aftershocks, flu, pneumonia and worse, the monsoons wreaked even more havoc.   Massive landslides and torrential floods swept away whole sides of mountains – those villages or homes which may have survived the destruction from the earthquake now were permanently gone after the monsoons – thanks to the timber mafia which have systematically deforested much of the spectacular Kaghan Valley mountains.

According to various estimates, there are at least 35,000 to 40,000 people still living in tents/camps, and who will face another uncertain, cold and unprotected harsh winter.  While organizations like Refugees International, and various UN entities continue their work alongside many local NGOs like Sungi, Rural Support Programmes, etc. are still working towards aiding the displaced victims of the October 2005 earthquake, much of the international donations have yet to be realized and the government entity (ERRA) has yet to fully deliver to the people. 

The ruined city of Balakot is still under rubble for the most part, as the city has been virutally left untouched by any reconstruction efforts, as it is felt that it’s precarious location on a dangerous fault line could possibly be the site of yet another powerful quake years from now.  The government wants to move the city to another location 20km south, to a town called Bakryal.  Estimates say that not even 1 in every 2 inhabitants of Balakot survived the earthquake, as it was situated at the epicenter.   People here are still living in tents and gearing up for another fierce winter, as their city has not been rehabilitated.  The frustration is rampant (from The News):

However, the earthquake victims, by and large, are deeply frustrated at the slow pace of work by government departments and by their indifference towards the plight of the common man.

“We are being told time and again that houses made of fibre glass will be imported from Saudi Arabia but we don’t know when the promise will be translated into a reality,” said Mohammad Khalid Khan, a teacher at a tent school in Balakot.

“Most of the children have come out of trauma but now the question is how to survive against the odds, especially when the winter is fast approaching,” he said. “The relief phase was good but the reconstruction phase is moving at a snail’s pace,” he said.

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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.


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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Urdu, Expats and Angst. Are your children Bilingual?

This post also appears in part on All Things Pakistan:’.

If like myself, you are parents of children growing up ‘abroad’ (outside of countries where Urdu is spoken as a major language), then we probably share a common angst if our children do not or cannot speak our native language.  Having grown up outside of Pakistan my entire life, save numerous long summers during early schooling years and then later, almost bi-annual winters during college and thereafter, I am able to converse and understand spoken Urdu.  It is thanks to my parents, who spoke Urdu throughout my young formative years, daisyeggurdubk.jpgand our visits to the motherland, that I am able today, to appreciate more of my rich culture because I have the ability to communicate and comprehend Urdu.  My wish and hope is that my children too, are able to have this wonderful gift and opportunity.  In the world we now live in, especially for our American/foreign born children, the need for them to have a strong sense of belonging and a positive self-identity in the western societies they live in, is paramount in my opinion.

As a parent of two young children now (ages 5 and 2), my husband & I constantly struggle with the fact that our children are not speaking Urdu.  We think they understand the language in some minimal capacity, but not nearly enough to elicit proper comprehension or more far flung verbal communication.  We (or rather I!) think they are in reality absorbing more than we give them credit for, but the reality is that it is not a two way road (yet).  I am a sincere optimist in this regard.  It really boils down to whether or not we as parents make the exherted and consistent effort to actually SPEAK to each other in Urdu, and therefore with our children.  It has been noted that even in households where parents speak Urdu, the children living abroad either stop speaking their native language soon after entering preschool, KG, etc. or never felt comfortable speaking it at all.  So, if your children don’t speak Urdu either because you as a parent are not using it as the first language of communication in the household, or even if you are, and your children still either cannot or refuse to, I still feel that there is good in continuing to speak.

There are a lot of theories and much evidence that while children may not speak their native language, if they are around it and hear it being spoken, their young minds may be absorbing more than you think.  Language acquisition begins from birth onwards.  Many linguistic experts agree for the most part that the years from birth to before puberty is when the brain is able to absorb the most language, as well as the proper accent and more ‘native-like’ fluency and pronounciation.  This is considered the ‘critical’ or the milder term, ‘optimal’ period for first and second language acquisition.

Psycholinguists and cognitive scientists have debated this ‘critical period hypothesis’ quite enthusiastically (from: “Cognitive Scientists on Bilingual Education”, UPI, Steve Sailer – October 27, 2000):

MIT linguist Noam Chomsky is famous for demonstrating that children are born with an innate ability to learn words and grammar. He suggests caution on the subject but pointed out, “There is no dispute about the fact that pre-puberty (in fact, much earlier), children have unusual facility in acquiring new languages.”

Chomsky’s younger MIT colleague, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, [now at Harvard] author of the bestsellers “The Language Instinct” and “How the Mind Works,” states, “When it comes to learning a second language, the younger the better. In a large study of Chinese immigrants who entered the U.S. at different ages, those who arrived after puberty showed the worst English language skills. Still, this finding of ‘younger is better’ extended to far younger ages. People who began to learn English at six ended up on average more proficient than those who began at seven, and so on.” As an illustration, Pinker points to the famously thick German accent of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who arrived in America at age fourteen. In contrast, his younger brother developed a standard American accent.

Pinker’s arch-rival, Terrence W. Deacon, a biological anthropologist at Boston University and author of “The Symbolic Species,” replies, “I have to agree with Steve Pinker[on this one particular issue]that learning a language early in life can be an advantage for developing language fluency and sophistication.”

I know from personal experience, that languages in which I was immersed or was spoken to during the ‘critical period’ years, are still with me, and seem to possess the ability to speak with minimal non-native accent.  I lived in Thailand until age 14 and also learned French in elementary school (as well as being exposed to French in Laos-French IndoChina- during ages 5-9).  Almost 2 decades later I can still converse to some coherent degree in those languages.  I learned Spanish in my mid-twenties, and many (!) years later, I can barely remember 5-10 basic sentences!  There is something to be said about exposing children at the youngest of ages to more than one language.  The method and order may vary.  On a separate note, I find it quite perplexing, given the evidence, that most [public] schools in the United States only begin to offer foreign language study after adolescence, in middle school or more popularly in High School!  No wonder many who take these courses end up not really becoming fluent or compentent lifelong speakers (I personally know far too many people who are in this boat).

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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.

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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Khaled sings ‘Aicha’ (!)

Like this song just heard recently….

VDO Courtesy:


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New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh Uncovers Washington’s Interests In Middle East War

From The New Yorker, investigative journalist, Seymour M. Hersh on Lebanon, Hezbullah, Israel, Condi, Rummy, Cheney (where IS he?) and more….piecing it all together.  Article in it’s entirety from the August 21, 2006 issue of The New Yorker follows. 

As many know, Mr. Hersh was the journalist who broke (amonst many others) the My Lai massacre story in Vietnam and the more recent Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. In this article he traces how the attack on Lebanon had been planned months ago, along with several high level discussions which took place between US and Israeli officials, on the various scenarios which may lie ahead.   




In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush Administration seemed strangely passive. “It’s a moment of clarification,” President George W. Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, on July 16th. “It’s now become clear why we don’t have peace in the Middle East.” He described the relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the “root causes of instability,” and subsequently said that it was up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days later, despite calls from several governments for the United States to take the lead in negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire should be put off until “the conditions are conducive.”

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke to emphasized that the country’s immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush Administration wanted. Shabtai Shavit, a national-security adviser to the Knesset who headed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence service, from 1989 to 1996, told me, “We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America’s requirements, that’s just part of a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and trained in the most advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was just a matter of time. We had to address it.”

Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound threat—a terrorist organization, operating on their border, with a military arsenal that, with help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended, in 2000. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that Israel is a “legal state.” Israeli intelligence estimated at the outset of the air war that Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a range of about two hundred kilometres, could reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day after the kidnappings.) It also has more than twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”

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What about Gaza?

Photo essay from the online publication of Slate:

A Photographer in Gaza: How to take pictures of a war.

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Call for Ceasefire – Amnesty International Vigil: Monday August 7

                                    Ceasefire - Lebanon/Israel

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Historical Context – Understanding the ‘Why’ in the ME Crises

In a personal, yet historically documented opinion column submitted by Karma Nabulsi (Professor of Politics and International Relations at Oxford) to the Guardian, puts the roots and future consequences of the almost 60 year war which has displaced and killed too many in the Middle East over that piece of land…

The refugees’ fury will be felt for generations to come

Israel is seeking to cast itself as the victim even as it expels the people of Lebanon and Gaza from their homes

Karma Nabulsi
Wednesday August 2, 2006
The Guardian

People walk the dusty, broken roads in scorching summer heat, taking shelter in the basements of empty buildings. In Gaza and Lebanon, in the refugee camps of Khan Younis, Rafah and Jabaliya, in Tyre and Beirut, in Nabatiyeh and Sidon, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children seek refuge. As they flee, they risk the indiscriminate wrath of an enemy driven by an existential mania that can not be assuaged, only stopped. Ambulances are struck, humanitarian relief convoys are struck, UN observers are struck. Warning leaflets are dropped from the sky urging people to abandon their homes, just as they were in 1996, 1982, 1978, 1967 and 1948. The ultimately impossible decision in Gaza and Lebanon today is: where does a refugee go?

In Beirut in July 1982, after surviving a bomb that destroyed a seven-floor apartment block next door to me, burying alive more than 40 people taking refuge in its cellar, some of us began to sleep on the roof; there is no refuge from this terror, there is only resistance. Fifteen of the 37 children killed in Qana on Sunday were disabled; their families could take them no further north, according to the Lebanese MP Bahia Hariri.

From June to August 1982, Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon dropped “smart bombs” on children’s hospitals in Shatila camp, Gaza hospital, Acre hospital and 11 of the country’s orphanages, killing dozens of disabled children. They had nowhere else to shelter. The roofs had been painted with huge white crosses visible from the sky.

That war did not give Israel the security it claims to seek, and nor will this one. In 1948 Palestinians fled after hearing news of the massacres in villages by Haganah forces and receiving leaflets dropped from the sky telling them to run for their lives. This week their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are being killed with impunity in the refugee camps of Gaza, where they are trapped. Last Friday alone more than 30 Palestinians were killed, with no international condemnation and barely a mention in the press. In Qana they were also trapped. “We couldn’t get out of our neighbourhood because there are only two roads leading out and the Israelis bombed them both several days ago,” said Mohammad Shalhoub, a disabled 41-year-old survivor.

The US and Britain are claiming that no ceasefire is possible until there is an international force that will implement United Nations resolution 1559. Yet the Lebanese prime minister issued a seven-point plan in Rome last week, consistent with international law and agreed by all elected parties in Lebanon (including Hizbullah), that had as its first requirement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. It is implementation of the dozens of UN resolutions that Israel has flouted for more than 50 years with protection from the US – and now from Britain – that will stop this conflict.

The capture of a soldier from an occupying army in Gaza, and of two soldiers on the Lebanese border by local resistance, in an attempt to force the release of thousands of illegally detained Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, should have been dealt with by Israel in the framework of the laws of war and with a proportional response. Instead, by launching this massive attack, Israel has destroyed the social and economic infrastructure of a sovereign nation, Lebanon, just as it is destroying the infrastructure of a democratically elected administration in occupied Palestine.

It is producing generations of refugees who will also resist. Power stations, bridges, key manufacturing and food factories in Lebanon are ruined, the entire industrial estate of Gaza pulverised. The ancient city centre of Nablus has been demolished. Whole villages in south Lebanon and sections of refugee camps in Gaza have been obliterated. These too are war crimes. If Britain will not stop Israel, nor condemn it, then under the Geneva conventions it is complicit in those crimes.

Before seeking the implementation of UN resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hizbullah, Britain must seek with more sincerity the implementation of UN security council resolutions 242 and 338, which demand the immediate withdrawal of Israel from lands illegally occupied in the 1967 war, including the Golan Heights, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. There is hardly a statesman or citizen in the world today who cannot see that it will take outside intervention to stop Israel inflicting this terror. Calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and working towards the implementation of all UN resolutions addressing this conflict, will restore to the international community – and Britain in particular – the legitimacy it has squandered by allowing months of war crimes to go by, witnessed but uncondemned and unconstrained.

Israel has failed to understand that it cannot expel a people and call itself the victim; that it cannot conquer its neighbours and treat any and all resistance to that conquest as terrorism; that it cannot arm itself as a regional superpower and annihilate the institutional fabric of two peoples without incurring the fury of their children in the years that follow.

· Karma Nabulsi teaches politics and international relations at Oxford University. She is the author of Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance and the Law

And the children are paying again.  Haunting.  Here is another report in again, the Guardian.

Children flee the village of Aitaroun in South Lebanon. Photograph: Sean Smith/Guardian

Children flee the village of Aitaroun in South Lebanon. Photograph: Sean Smith/Guardian

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Majority Looses?

How do we teach our children the meaning of ‘democracy’?

A telling visual from UK’s The Independent on the standoff in the Middle East.

Independent Graphic

Also posted in the 3 Quarks Daily filter blog

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The State of Pakistani Women

In recent weeks I have come across a blog which has really captivated my attention, as well as over 17,000+ other ‘bloggers’ since it’s first post on June 12, 2006.  The blog is managed by Adil Najam, called: All Things Pakistan (ATP), where his posts range from reports on the national past time of cricket, to politics, society-at-large, music, food, culture, and all the good, bad, beautiful and ugly, which makes up all things ‘Pakistani’. It is amazing how his idea has transformed into a lively platform for diverse and open discussion on a wide range of topics by Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis coming from all walks of life.  Thank you, Mr. Najam.

tarazoo.gifOn a recent post entitled: ATP Poll: Pakistan’s Image and Women’s Rights, I found some of the questions he asked to be a step in the right direction as far as making his blog more inclusive of a large segment of Pakistan’s society (women), whose plight is often not part of everyday discussion or discourse.  The main gist of the poll asked: “[W]hat can be done to improve Pakistan’s International image in terms of women’s rights?”.  What was even more interesting were several insightful comments left by visitors of his blog.  While I agreed with what many were saying with regard to how the image of women in Pakistan needs to be ‘improved’ and that certain reforms need to be made, I felt the poll did not adequately represent the larger segment of Pakistan’s female population who are in essence the most oppressed and underrepresented: the urban poor and rural, tribal women. More importantly, perhaps we need to be more concerned with can and should be done to help the plight of women and others who are neglected in our society, as opposed to being worried about how the West or outside world perceives us.

Here is my rather lengthy ‘comment’ which I posted to ATP:

The fundamental human rights of women and how they are perceived and treated in a predominately patriarchal society are at the core of the question on ‘how to improve’ the image and more so the condition (as you, Adil, even felt was the better question to ask) of women’s rights and how they may be perceived globally. Apologies in advance if I seem to stray from the essence of your poll, but I feel I must express in greater detail! Harping on the image issue is not the reason why women’s rights should be improved.  Improving the ‘image’, however defined, will not make the inadequate & unrealized rights of women in Pakistan disappear.  Mountains have to be moved.

The Image Issue

The question I ask, is what is the image that we want to portray of Pakistan and the status and plight of those women?  And again, from which segment of society, are these women who’s image needs to be promoted?  Do we want to promote how the educated class of women (so many of us now educated in the UK and US) are working side by side with their male counterparts in high profile banking, marketing, and industry professions with much greater access today?  Of course, no doubt, it is a good way to publicize to the world at large that Pakistan is able to churn out female prime ministers, internationally acclaimed women artists, female fighter pilots, fashion designers, cardiologists, business leaders, and entrepreneurs – and that the Pakistani middle and upper classes are more westernized and progressive now.  But I feel the question of image also should more broadly include the underrepresented, urban poor and rural, feudal communities, where this wave of modernity and gender equality has yet to hit!  Would it be safe to say that there are, in essence, 2 worlds, 2 Pakistans?  The image of women repressed by patriarchy, conducting their daily lives under the so called ‘veil’ and oppression, whilst being victimized by unjust Islamic rules, is probably the one we should be more concerned about.  That is not to say that sexism is rampant amongst the professional class, as the Dawn Ad illustrated.  But is that not the case in even European and other western societies?  Women at work are subject to that day in and out in varying degrees and subtleties.  The plight of women like Mukhtar Mai or female child brides for that matter, is what we really need to focus on, as far as ‘improving their condition’ is concerned –.  It took a NY Times journalist to bring Mukhtar Mai to the International media arena, forcing the government and President to have to deal with this ‘national shame’ by confiscating Mukhtar Mai’s passport & putting her on a ‘no exit list’, so that she would not leave the country to further ‘tarnish’ Pakistan’s image internationally.  (I am not sure if such eye-opening news reports would either contribute to or take away from items: 1, 3 & 4 listed in your Poll Question!) If this kind of press is given in the international arena, then perhaps it may put governments to shame and finally force them to act?   

Anyway, here are a few mountains… 


Agreeably, like many who have thus far commented, education, that is, equal access and delivery of that education to girls, is a must.  Sadly, we are not even close to that target, let alone overall literacy.  Educating girls, will educate the next generation and in turn will teach the sons of those women how to respect women and show how important their mother’s education, vocation and worth is in their families.  So you ask, what ought to be done?  Well, for those of us who are privileged and are able to afford it: donate generously to NGO’s which support the education of children, especially young girls.  Since governments (and not just Pakistan’s’, but many of the world’s underdeveloped governments) are unable to provide this basic ‘right’ and public service, it falls on the abled citizens and expatriates of Pakistan to fill this gaping void, by outsourcing this job to the private organizations who can deliver tangible results with a higher rate of return.  

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An Unlikely Rescue?

Since I am guilty of not having posted in many moons, I figured a visual would serve as the best transition…

Caught this photo on National Geographic’s website. 

From National Geographic:

Photographed Friday in the northern Indian city of Lucknow (India map), a mouse perches on a frog in waist-deep (for a frog, anyway) floodwaters—a small sign of the early arrival of annual summer monsoon rains.

                 Frog & Mouse

If rodents and amphibians can help each other out in desperate times, how difficult is it for us homo sapiens to do likewise?

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What’s a Mother’s Worth? (part I)

A tough one to tackle.  Many have tried to quantify this ‘worth’ to no avail.  A mother gives you life. For most, she is a nuturer, a comforter, a healer.  She feeds you, keeps you clean, teaches you your manners, your ABCs.  She disciplines, she cuddles, she reads to you and drives you to school for over a decade.  A mother listens, a mother scolds (and screams, yes we do).  A mother’s eyes well up when she sees her young preschooler sing, “You Are My Sunshine” to her and the other fellow mothers on a ‘Moms’ day at school.  A mother does it all and feels it all – from dawn till…..well, dawn (at least in the early years!)  Even moms who spend a majority of their day outside the home at work do get this opportunity…  Yes, and for the dads out there, while many may be the ‘moms’ of your families, the majority of them don’t have this priviledge of sorts in the fulllest sense of its capacities.

While I had planned to post this on Mother’s Day, the job of being a mother has delayed my posting date.  The following were sent by fellow mom friends. I know you may have seen them fly in your inboxes in recent years, but somehow they still manage to stir you – and make you laugh.  Belated Mater’s Dia. girlwithflowers.jpg

Before I was a Mom

Before I was a Mom I never tripped over toys or forgot words to a lullaby.
I didn’t worry whether or not my plants were poisonous.
I never thought about immunizations.
Before I was a Mom – I had never been puked on.
Pooped on.
Chewed on.
Peed on.

I had complete control of my mind and my thoughts.
I slept all night.
Before I was a Mom I never held down a screaming child so doctors could do tests.
Or give shots.
I never looked into teary eyes and cried.
I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin.

I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.
Before I was a Mom I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down.
I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt.
I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much.
I never knew that I could love someone so much.
I never knew I would love being a Mom.

Before I was a Mom – I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body.
I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby.
I didn’t know that bond between a mother and her child.
I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important and happy.
Before I was a Mom – I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every 10 minutes to make sure all was okay.
I had never known the warmth, The joy, The love, The heartache, The wonderment or the satisfaction of being a Mom.
I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom.

And before I was a Grandma, I didn’t know that all those “Mom” feelings more than doubled when you see that little bundle being held by “your baby”…
On a funnier note, the following sent by another friend made me chuckle more than a few times:

Why God made Moms — BRILLIANT Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions!!   

Why did God make mothers?
   1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
   2. Mostly to clean the house.
   3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?
   1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
   2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring
   3. God made my Mom just the same like he made me. He Just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of?
   1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
   2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did God give you Your mother & not some other mom?
   1. We’re related
   2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.

What kind of little girl was your mom?
   1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
   2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
   3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?
   1. His last name.
   2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
   3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?
   1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.
   2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
   3. My grandma says that Mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.

Who’s the boss at your house?
   1. Mom doesn’t want to be boss, but she has to because dad’s such a goofball.
   2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
   3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What’s the difference between moms & dads?
   1. Moms work at work and work at home & dads just go to work at work.
   2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
   3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power ’cause that’s who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s.
   4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your mom do in her spare time?
   1. Mothers don’t do spare time.
   2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?
   1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
   2. Diet. You know, her hair. I’d diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your Mom, what would it be?
   1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I’d get rid of that.
   2. I’d make my Mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.
   3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.

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Do you know the ‘muffin top’?

Yes, the muffin top – yumm, you think: that delicious, flavorful topper, the pastry overflow, cascading down your warm, sweet, morning bun?  Well, of course, yumm….but guess again.   NB: and for you Seinfeld know-it-alls out there, it’s not about those muffin tops!


While playing catch up in a recent phone chat with a fellow mom-friend of mine, I came across an apt description of what many of us baby birthers (but not limited to) have come to live with: the Muffin Top.  Yes, the muffin top.  4notes.gif“Do you know the muffin top, the muffin top, the muffin top…he lives on top of your hips”.  Apparently the newest name given to that excess, bulging fat and floppy skin, oozing over from your trendy low rise, hip hugger pants is known to many as a ‘muffin top’!  Close your eyes, imagine…(or just lift up your shirt and look south). Yikes.

My funloving Australian friend had me in giggles when she described this nouveau body terminology – which I assume may be part of the daily jargon ‘Down Under’ – or it’s been around for a while and I just never knew that there was such an innocent a term for such a heinous a sight.  According to some bloggers out there, apparently the New York Daily News coined the term last summer muffintop.jpg(photo on left, courtesy of NYDN), for something many before us also referred to as the ‘spare tire’, afflicting both genders of society.  Sadly, we both admitted the horrid reality of this unsightly and vivid visual lurking beneath. 

But why are they so visible and noticeable now?  Is it a result of the new fashion trends, where pants and jeans are worn below the waist, coupled with body hugging mini T-shirts made of 2% cotton/98% spandex, which just refuse to stay down, rolling upwards and exposing the muffin top?  Would there even be a muffin top if we wore waisted clothing?  Or is it just accentuating a health concern which potentially afflicts many post-30, post-baby delivery women?  I know it has thrown me in an agonizing state off and on, until I finally felt I should try to get ‘fit’ again, time and effort permitting.  Motivating factor: primarily, to get rid of the ‘top’ and also to improve my long term cardiovascular health, which I’m sure was also going down-muffin, err, hill as I aged.

My first thought on trying to get rid of of that horrible visual, was to do ab work, sit ups, crunches, leg lifts, pilates – you name it.  All of that does help, naturally. But after starting a short one hour (better than nothing) weekly workout at a no frills, home grown, ‘Mom’s Gym’, as it is called, I learned from the instructors that while toning is key, the more important thing is to actually burn the fat away, and cardio workouts are the main ingredient for that. 

Apparently, according to the medical experts, women tend to have more fat bulges on their sides as that is where fat cells tend to mutate because of the estrogen levels in womens’ bodies.  According to the American Heart Association (AHA), elevated waist circumference equal to or greater than 35 inches is one of three components which characterize something called Metabolic Syndrome.  While men are more likely to have heart attacks, the risk for women increases with age – where more than 60% of total stroke deaths occur in women.  The AHA reports that:

Nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

The American Heart Association has identified several factors that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The more risk factors a woman has, the greater her risk of a heart attack or stroke. Some of these risk factors you can’t control, such as increasing age, family health history, and race and gender. But you can modify, treat or control most risk factors to lower your risk.

Some illuminating and grim statistics to think about:

From the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

Link to article: The Heart Truth About Heart Disease and Risk Factors

  • Heart disease is the # 1 killer of American women.
  • 1 in every 3 women dies of heart disease, 1 in 30 dies from breast cancer.
  • Nearly two-thirds of American women who die suddenly of a heart attack had no prior symptoms.
  • Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82% just by leading a healthy lifestyle.

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MoMA’s ‘Without Boundary’, Without Politics?…more commentary

I had posted earlier (previous entry) on this show's opening and some initial reactions.  The following offers the views of two of the participating artists and how they feel about the current exhibition and how it is not in the least making any political reference or comment on how religion and society have affected the artists and their artistic product.  It is uncustomary for an exhibited artist to publicly criticize or air apparent disappointment towards the art show they are part of, but so was the case for at least two of the show's artists.  The New York Observer published the following:

Without Boundary is the most important exhibit MoMA has launched in at least a decade, and it’s the first exhibition of contemporary art from the Islamic world in a major American museum since 9/11. The show features 14 artists from Islamic countries, an Indian born to Muslim parents, and two Americans (Mike Kelley and Bill Viola were added late in the show’s development). Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey and Pakistan are represented in the exhibition, though nearly all of the artists from those countries now primarily work in the West. The exhibition is a reminder of the difficulties that museums face when it comes to merging—or not—art and politics.

“My immediate reaction was, how could anyone today discuss art made by contemporary Muslim artists and not speak about the role the subjects of religion and contemporary politics play in the artists’ minds?” Ms. Neshat said. “For some of us, our art is interconnected to the development of our personal lives, which have been controlled and defined by politics and governments. Some artists, including Marjane Satrapi and myself, are ‘exiled’ from our country because of the problematic and controversial nature of our work.”

Ms. Neshat is right: Many of the artists in the show have addressed the exilic condition and geopolitics in their art, but you wouldn’t know that from Without Boundary. There’s not a single reference in the show to the United States being at war in two Muslim countries, to its running intelligence operations in others, to its “war” against an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization, or to how the civil liberties of many Muslims have been affected by the governmental response to 9/11. Without Boundary often seems more a product of RISD than Ramallah.

The two artists, Shirin Neshat and Emily Jacir have spoken out:

That artists included in a show at the Museum of Modern Art would speak out against that show is highly unusual. MoMA is the most powerful art museum in the world, and the pressure from gallerists and collectors to not criticize the museum is intense. Outspokenness can hurt relationships that could lead to important sales or inclusion in exhibitions. For Ms. Neshat and Ms. Jacir to be willing to speak out is an indication of the complicated politics involved in this kind of show—and of how the show’s apolitical nature has frustrated its artists.

You can read the complete article in the New York Observer here.

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New Art Exhibition opens at MoMA – Islamic or Not?

Non-Western artists have made quite a breakthrough in recent history, as far as becoming a part of the mainstream art world.  Five years in the making, the Museum of Modern Art's exibition proves that the canvas has definitively become even more culturally diversified.  The following is MoMA's description of their current exhibit from their website.   A photo slide show essay follows from Slate magazine, offering some insightful criticism of this complex and intriguing exhibition.   

Shirin Nishat-HandWoman

Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking
February 26–May 22, 2006

Art on left by: Shirin Neshat (b. 1957 in Qazvin, Iran, lives and works in New York)

RC print and ink, 67 x 48" (170.2 x 121.9 cm). Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York. © Shirin Neshat. Photograph: Larry Barns. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York

The Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA-NYC) has a write up on the Exhibit which appears below:

An ever-increasing number of artists, such as Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, and Shahzia Sikander, have come from the Islamic world to live in Europe and the United States. Without Boundary brings together some of these major contemporary voices. The exhibition features the work of artists of diverse backgrounds—Algerian, Egyptian, Indian, Iranian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Pakistani, Palestinian, and Turkish—across a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, video, animation, photography, carpet and textile, and comic strips.

The exhibition seeks to emphasize diversity by questioning the use of artists’ origins as the sole determining factor in the consideration of their art. To examine the various ways in which these artists’ works diverge from popular expectations, the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue examine the visual treatment of texts and miniature painting on one hand, and issues of identity and faith or spirituality on the other. The intention is not to imply uniformity based on a collective identity but rather to highlight complex, idiosyncratic approaches. Works by Mike Kelley and Bill Viola, two American artists, are included to prevent simplistic conclusions based purely on origin. Other artists featured include Jananne Al-Ani, Ghada Amer, Kutlug Ataman, the Atlas Group/Walid Raad, Shirazeh Houshiary and Pip Horne, Emily Jacir, Y.Z. Kami, Rachid Koraïchi, Marjane Satrapi, Shirana Shahbazi, and Raqib Shaw.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with essays by Fereshteh Daftari and Homi Bhabha (Harvard), with a prose piece by novelist Orhan Pamuk.

Here is an excerpt from Slate Magazine:

The conception underlying the show is confused and self-contradictory. Yet most of the art itself—including [this image] (shown above) by photographer Shirin Neshat—is powerful, original, stunning. It might seem captious to criticize a curatorial framework that brings mind-opening work to a wider public. But unfortunately, the show's context will shape perceptions of the art within it. The show's curator, Fereshteh Daftari, describes the exhibition's premises like this: "We often think of artists in terms of their origins. … This is problematic with artists from the Islamic world, particularly in light of the intense attention currently devoted to Islam from the West." Daftari points out that the Islamic world in fact "stretches from Indonesia to the Atlantic coast of Africa," adding that "Without Boundary sets out to look at the work of a number of artists who come from the Islamic world but do not live there. Only active consideration of this kind will slow down the race toward simplistic conclusions and binary thinking." Let me try to explain why, for all the curator's doubtlessly good intentions, the show's muddled premise does a disservice to its art.  No doubt, as Daftari writes, there has never been a better time to use an art exhibition to prove the diversity of Islamic culture. The dichotomy of a "clash of civilizations" that shapes American foreign policy is inaccurate and crude. The hope would be that such a show might reveal the delicate spirituality of Islamic art and that this disclosure might soften the impression of militancy and fanaticism as the sole qualities of the Muslim world. Alas, "Without Boundary" lacks the thoughtful complexity that would illuminate such tangled issues.

The complete slide-show essay compiled by Slate on this Exhibition can be viewed in its entirety here: East Meets West: Why MoMA's new show doesn't help us understand Islam. (by Lee Siegel).

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


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?” 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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Gifts of Islam to our world…a little known history


1001 Inventions – Discover the Muslim Heritage in our World: 

Did you know that…

…the basic scale in music today comes from Arabic syllables do, re, mi, fa, sol, la and ti? The Arabic alphabet for these notes is Dal-Ra-Mim-Fa-Sad-Lam-Sin?

…Al-Biruni, the 14th century physicist was able to calculate the circumference of the Earth and its tilt 600 years before Galileo? 

…the first operation to remove cataracts was carried out as early as the 10th century Iraq. Muslims also established the first apothecary shops and dispensaries?

…Al-Khwarizmi, a Persian scientist and mathematician, is credited with inventing algebra as we know it today. He composed the oldest works on arithmetic and algebra. They were the principal source of mathematical knowledge.

A remarkable exhibition has recently opened at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (UK), charting 1000 years of Islamic innovations  and contributions to science, technology, art, including things we take for granted today in our daily lives.  Spanning the 6th to the 16th centuries and covering a geographic region from China to southern Spain, this project, tailored towards educators and school children shares a discovery of the Muslim heritage in our world. 

1001 Muslim Inventions

The Islamic civilization, according to the curators of this UK-wide travelling exhibition, has made an enormous but largely neglected contribution to the way we live in the west.  So many of the origins of Western discoveries came from the Muslim heritage.  It is heartening to know that there are individuals, groups and organizations which are unearthing the wonderful aspects of contributions to our world at large by Muslims centuries ago.  Many on this extensive list (top 20 are listed below or go to the site –, for in depth listing) are ones most of us probably never knew originated in the Islamic world.  Bridging the gaping abyss of misunderstanding, underappreciation and ignorance of such a rich history is truly and sorely needed in the tumultuous and fearful world we now live in.   

“When Europe was living in the dark ages, Islamic civilisation was blossoming, and the advances during this period are more relevant to the modern world than those of the Ancient Egyptians and Aztecs.” – Professor Mark Halstead, a lecturer in moral education at Plymouth University as quoted in the Guardian Unlimited, March 10, 2006.

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