Monday, January 30, 2006

Ferguson's eulogy

Craig Ferguson's [from The Late Late Show on CBS] eulogy to his father Robert Ferguson was so moving. I wish I had a transcript to share but here's a link to the video of his heartfelt opening segment - please watch.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Modern Tocqueville

Charlie Rose interviewed Bernard-Henri Levy regarding the new book American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville; a look at American society much like the way Alexis de Tocqueville did so back in 1831-32. Tocqueville traveled with Gustave de Beaumont; the official purpose for the trip was to ‘study the US prison system and report back to France’ but the unofficial purpose was to ‘observe America’. Their travels resulted in Tocqueville writing the much-famed volume Democracy in America, which was first published in 1935.

Levy was in the media back in 2003 when he wrote the book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? I like the way Levy thinks and writes about events and thus decided to take notes during this interview. The following quotes are my quick notes as Levy spoke with Charlie Rose. Please excuse any errors.

In response to what the state of democracy in America, Levy said that although he found a “school of conformity, a pattern of consensus” individuality had not disappeared, that “civil societies [were] winning [and are the] real democracies.” People are talking, there is a “battle on values, on political issues, and that people are concerned beyond self-needs.” With all this though, “the left had her golden age in the 60s & the 70s but today they are frozen.” There are still many “new issues - like poverty, fight against poverty, that the task of the state should be to protect its citizens against poverty. [And] what about the death penalty? And creationism?”

It was interesting to note that Levy considers himself “a European of French origin” much as Charlie Rose is an “American of Carolinian origin.” Levy continued with “America for me is one of the proofs for the possibility of [a new] Europe, [with] all sorts of people, with different roots, different ethnicities, and at the end of the day they are all American. America should be a model for Europe, instead it is an anti-model.” In traveling around the nation, Levy met with 100s of people; he met people who were comfortable with their myriad identities. For example, with the Arab population of Dearborn, MI, they said to Levy, “Firstly, we are Americans and we would like to succeed like the Americans. [We believe in] assimilation while keeping [our] own roots.” Levy compared this situation to that in France and the recent riots.

There is also much to worry about the “the fate and destination of Jews in France, [about the] anti-Semitism in France.” There are two reasons for such anti-Semitic movement in France, firstly the “radical Islamists in France that feed the beast and [secondly] also homegrown traditional anti-Semitic [views] from writers and intellectuals from the right and the left.” America in its long tradition of a melting pot offers another means to reconcile identities; “the dialectic between being an American and another identity is more subtle and more fine. [There is a] way of telling somebody that you have to be an American and [at the same time] remain what you were; [it] is a good pattern.”

Find out more about Levy's book at the New York review of his book.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

NYC's affordable housing dilemma

Tonight’s WNET New Voices program addressed an increasingly important issue in NYC, that of affordable housing. But what does affordable housing really mean when there are so many different levels of income and needs of people in the city, affordability for a middle income couple with children who earn a little more than $100,000 a year is very different from affordability for a single mother earning $45,000 a year.

The show focused on The Aspen, a luxury rental in Harlem that is a mixed-income building. With financial incentives from City Hall, developers who buy the land for a nominal amount ($1 I believe) agree to divide the building 50-30-20, which means 50% of the apartments are available at open market rate, 30% for middle income earners and 20% for low income earners. This is an interesting concept and in the case of The Aspen, not only does the new luxury building gentrify the area, raise the police presence etc but also since everyone in the building enjoys the same amenities, there is a sense of democracy.

Naturally, getting a spot in a building such as The Aspen is difficult. For the 108 units, almost 5000 people applied for assignment via lottery. The lottery, credit checks and affordability of the exact apartment assigned are daunting obstacles to get through. Those that do are indeed lucky, as they are likely to have a 2-bedroom apartment for less than $2000, in Manhattan too!

Mayor Bloomberg has okayed a plan to create 165,000 affordable housing units over the next seven years.

Housing sites to visit for more information:
Housing First
New York City Housing Authority
Division of Housing and Community Renewal

Friday, January 27, 2006

Surprise! It's a Hammas victory!

From my friend PD:

"As for Hammas in 'Palestine', and even in Bangladesh, or in the Future perhaps in Egypt, or possibly Saudi Arabia, there is definitely a wave going through the Islamic countries. Let's see what happens, I realize that these religious parties are usually repressive towards women & men, & religious minorities.

"By the way, DollyWood, in Dacca according to this radio program I heard makes a lot of Steamy Sex filled films. Apparently, only working class men go, and they sometimes even have porn not related to the film thrown in the middle of the movie, to satisfy their customers, otherwise there maybe riots.

"I am sure that there are Islamist groups in Bangladesh who'd like to burn down such cinemas, and throw acid in the faces of the actresses. Off course as with all acts of "Great Cowardice", they pick on women first. Since our family spent about Six years in Pakistan in the late 70's, we witnessed our fair share of Corruption & Islamisation go hand in hand. Of-course Pakistan's military is the final stopgap, so hopefully Pakistan will not become like Iran. Most of the military leadership in Iran was killed by Khomeini in the early years of the revolution, so they missed their chance at a military dictatorship. Anyhow, the Clergy in Iran has always been very strong, at least since the 18th century.

"The Sunnis in Pakistan love to kill Shiites because as you well know all the Hindus & most of the Sikhs left a long time ago. The Sad thing is that when the Shiites come out to protest against the massacres, their slogans are always anti-American, anti-Israel, Anti-India, because if they dared to say anything against the Majority Sunnis in Pakistan they would be butchered en-masse.

"What I truly love about the politics in the wider region, is that the Secularists who are very corrupt, brutal and of course heavily tilted towards the US, because they receive large paychecks, so called foreign aid from Uncle Sam keep on using what happened in Iran as the boogie man to legitimize their intolerable behavior. A good example of this Mubarak in Egypt, he is truly a dictator and he sees himself as a bulwark against Iran in the region. You will note that within the Mid-East there is a general rule that has been true for the past 5 years at least. Any country whose government is Pro-American, has a population that is anti-American, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, and vice versa, being Iran, to a degree Syria. The Iraqi invasion made a huge of mess of things obviously.

"Of course, each country, and each region has its own particular dynamics. The 'Subcontinent' as the Brits call it operates under different circumstances. But I am so glad that India is doing well. By the way, I don't know if you heard that the United States would withdraw cooperation and Technology developing India's Civilian Nuclear Program, If India does not vote against Iran in the United Nations. How do you feel about that, The World's Most Power full "Democracy" Blackmailing the World's Most Populous democracy?

"The point is that Hammas had to win, if they do a decent job governing, then they deserve to have a say in the future of Palestine, if they don't and they become corrupt like Yasser Arafat’s Fatah circle, then Hammas should be voted out. I am shocked that people in the west are shocked by Hammas wining the elections. It seemed so obvious to me. The last thing we need is for the U.S. or Israel to meddle even more. Of course, the U.S. did help Fatah, and Iran funded Hammas. Again no surprise there. You'll note that it is Part of Iran's Foreign policy in the region to back Islamist Parties or regimes, even be they Sunni, and not too virulently anti-Shiite. What we don't need is what happened in Algeria in the early 90's now that would be disaster.

"By the way how do like Manmohan Singh? Is he popular? I also wanted to congratulate the people of Gujarat for doing such a great job rebuilding after the 2001 earthquake. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the Iranian Bam Earthquake of 2003 or the recent one in Pakistan. Very simply because of their respective governments. I really wish that Human life mattered more, and accountability… which is why Hammas was voted into power."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sharon's position(s)

The most recent New Yorker magazine - January 26 & 30, 2006 has an article about Ariel Sharon by Ari Shavit – what kind of man & leader is Sharon? [The article is not online yet, although here is an interview with Ari Shavit about the author's meetings with Sharon.]

Shavit met Sharon several times from 1999 till mid-2005 and through these interviews/ breakfast meetings, Sharon is fascinating in the way he considers himself an intuitive leader making decisions based on facts and not a ‘thinking/ man of letters’ kind of leader. I think this strategy for leadership led Sharon to make decisions about Israeli-Palestinian relations that over time seem to contradict. In April 2001, Sharon believed in the importance of having Jewish settlements in Gaza, that they “had strategic meaning for Israel.” When asked about the possibility of evacuating isolated settlements like Netzarim, Sharon responded “No. Absolutely not. […] No. Not at any price. […] Why is it necessary to evacuate Netzarim? What for? … Netzarim has strategic importance. It was built as part of a concept that a barrier has to be create between Khan Yunis and Gaza City, and that we should have access to the coast. Therefore Netzarim is of enormous importance to security. It is essential.” (55) But then, Shavit continues, in February 2004, “Sharon acted on his commitment to make “painful concessions,” and described his disengagement plan. […] By the end of the summer, there was no Netzarim, no Kfar Darom.” (56)

So what of the strategic importance of those settlements? And what about the many Israeli’s displaced because of changing winds and Sharon’s ‘windsurfing’ type of leadership? Shavit writes, “Thirty-eight years of Israeli occupation of Gaza came to an end with televised scenes of Israeli soldiers dragging Israeli settlers from their homes and synagogues, and of bulldozers leveling Israeli buildings. And it was Sharon – the man who himself was know as “the bulldozer” for both his desire to build new outposts and his brutal means – who had done it.” (56) The effect of Sharon’s changing decisions about Israeli settlements is evidenced in a letter from a woman from Netzarim who writes. “I want to ask you whether you are able to look me straight in the eye and tell me to leave my home, the same home where my son grew up until the age of eighteen, and give it as a gift to the murdered of my son?” (60) Sharon reconciles his decisions and the effects they have had on Israeli settlers by responding, “She [the mother] is right in her arguments, but she doesn’t bear the responsibility for the Jewish people on her shoulders. This responsibility is incumbent on me.” (60)

There’s much much more about Sharon and I encourage anyone interested in world affairs to seek out this article and read it. For me, Shavit’s profile of Sharon was not about Israeli-Palestinian politics and land rights necessarily; instead, the article highlighted the process of politicking itself. There is no foresight in decision-making, no real thinking about repercussions to decisions. This point is distressing particularly when I read how Sharon in his early career, did not believe in peace agreements, did not believe that Israel had to compromise to bring about some resolution. It is ironic then to know that in April 2003 Sharon said “Well, I have made up my mind to make a real effort to arrive at a real agreement. I’m seventy-five. I have no political ambitions beyond the position I now hold. And I see it as an aim and a goal to bring this people security and peace. Therefore I shall make very great efforts. I think that this is something that I need to leave behind me: to try to reach an agreement.” (56) When questioned about ‘dividing the land between Israelis and Palestinians’, Sharon said, “I believe this is what will happen. It is necessary to see things in a very realistic way: in the end, there will be a Palestinian state… I don’t think that we need to rule over another people and run its life. I don’t think that we have the strength for that.” (56) What? It is sad to see such a realization so late in his life…

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Film: Les Invasions barbares

The award-winning film Les Invasions barbares [The Barbarian Invasions], released in 2003, is about everything (life, sex and friendships) but invading medieval or gothic barbarians. Although this movie is a sequel to Denys Arcand's 1986 film Le Declin de l'empire americain [The Decline of the American Empire], the film stands on its own and can be appreciated as such too. I liked this film because even though the basic theme of the film is familiar (the reconciliation of a dying father with his estranged son) the story weaves in and out of the lives of the various characters and thus the viewer is exposed to a myriad ideas, opinions, and perspectives. While the film openly critiques the state of modern Canadian medical system - its the bureaucracy, corruption, and the state of labor unions, it isn't just about that. There is a sense that the way things are now are a reflection of decisions made by leaders of the past, based on what they thought was best for their people and nation. And so the criticism is tempered with the acknowledgement of human frailty. The film also includes other aspects of modern life - gay marriage, older man with younger woman, drug addicted daughter with helpless mother, capitalist attitudes vs. socialism, and the specific situation of Quebec and Montreal.

Here's an inteview with filmmaker Denys Arcand; his moniker is 'Jesus of Montreal'...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Whale in the Thames

Unique but sad news story from BBC news about an adolescent whale seemingly lost in the River Thames. Authorities hoped that the whale would swim back towards the sea since they feared it would get beached in the shallow river water at London, where the Thames at low tide is now more than 2 meters (6 feet) deep! Whales when beached suffer from heat exhaustion, sun burn and the inability of their bodies to support their weight. Unfortunately the whale died during the rescue mission; it was already bruised in several parts and was most likely disoriented when it swam upriver in the Thames.

Walking along the river in NJ, I sometimes dream of seeing a dolphin or whale. Sea water in the Hudson goes up quite a way upriver so the animal wouldn't suffer from fresh water. After reading this most current story about the whale lost and dead in the Thames, I guess I need to give up on my fantastical dream of seeing one of those giant and mesmerizing creatures in the Hudson; they are better off in the depths of the ocean.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fighting Terrorism the French Way?

Reading the article by Marc Perelman 'How the French Fight Terror' - about the 'French Way' of fighting terrorism - provides a serious cause for concern. The French, unarguably, have been the recipeints of far more terrorists attacks (sponsored by foreign states) than the US or the UK. Further more, attacks on French soil began back in the 1950s by the Algerians, then in the 1970s by the Palestinians. However, does the French 'headstart' in having to deal with terrorism translate to a better way to counter terrorism? I did not know this prior to reading this article but it is commonplace in France (and maybe Europe too) to be stopped by the police without any obvious cause, for an ID check. Even though the idea of a national ID card in the US is utterly anathemas, we have to seriously question whether such a drastic measure will indeed be a positive step to counter terrorism.