Weekend Edition

August 26th, 2016

Corporate madrassas

August 26th, 2016


IMAGE/The Next Web

how do you indoctrinate the most?
by keeping them within the confines of your institutions the most
(i.e., those whom you want to brainwash),
by teaching them the history/ideology/values you think is correct

this tactic is followed by religious institutions
whether it is Islamic madrassas, Hindu bal mandirs,
Accelerated Christian Education, or Jewish schools

politicians do the same but differently
they constantly bombard their supporters with
promises, and more promises
then lies, and more lies

giant multinational/transnational corporations are not behind
they follow the madrassa style
by holding their employees within the confines of their premises
and providing them free/unlimited breakfasts, lunches, dinners

people working at Google are called “Googlers”
they get free haircut, onsite doctors etc.
because Google wants Googlers to
“remain happy and healthy in all aspects of their lives”
it also offers daycare service called Kinderplex
where parents have to pay a high price

if a Googler dies
the spouse gets 50% of the pay for a decade
and children get some benefit too

Facebook has a plan for a housing community
near its Menlo Park campus
with a bicycle repair shop, pub, a doggy day care, and so on

many of the giant corporations are offering
more or less similar kind of perks

how will the people working in such an environment
be affected psychologically?
when people working at these corporations
are cutoff from the rest of the world
because they won’t be seeing different people at meal times
but their co-workers
they won’t meet different parents at day care centers
but the fellow workers and their spouses

no diversity, no plurality

what should we call the children raised at these day care centers?
“Googlets” ”

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com

Jinnah’s heirs (book review)

August 26th, 2016



“They put into the books they write what they find in the books they read,” the doyen of the Indian press, Frank Moraes, remarked of a certain breed of “scholars”. They abound in plenty in India as well as in Pakistan. Cover Point is not a work of scholarship; but it is far more enlightening than all such works, bar an exception or two. It contains the distilled essence of wisdom stored in the mind of a man of exemplary dedication to his country, Pakistan. Deeply involved in its diplomacy since he became its Ambassador to Ghana in 1965. Jamsheed Marker served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1971)and the United States, and as Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Successive Secretaries-General of U.N. valued his counsel. Cover point is a very sensitive place for any cricketer to be placed at. Marker was assigned to just such places after his fine innings at Accra. Born in Hyderabad (Deccan), he studied at Doon School in Dehradun. He won note for his cricket commentaries before he left the family business to serve his country.

This book contains his pen portraits of Pakistan’s leaders, from Liaquat Ali Khan to Pervez Musharraf; written in an engaging, literate style; with a choice uncommon quotation to end each chapter.

The author writes: “With the exemplary notable exception of M.A. Jinnah, and that of his successor Liaquat Ali Khan, power has been acquired through usurpation in one form or another, whether by outright military intervention, palace intrigues and coups, or manipulated electoral processes. Of further concern is the fact that, at the moment of usurpation of power, there has been a general public acceptance of the action, particularly in its immediate aftermath. The fact that this acceptance has been short-lived, and has evaporated soon after the event, is also a part of the political tragedy of Pakistan. In this connection, I recall the cynical observation of a friend, who is as patriotic as he is intelligent, that we are a nation of sheep led by wolves.” What splendid diplomats did Pakistan produce? But the best of them can prove of little help if they happen to be ambitious “wolves”. Historians tend to overlook the legacy of Pakistan’s “Super Wolf”.

Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951. They were far smaller men who followed him. Every military coup (1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999) was welcomed by the people. Before long, disenchantment set in and the people prayed for their speedy and peaceful departure. All the usurpers left the country in a state much worse than it was when they forcibly grasped the reins of power. In each case, it was the squabbling unscrupulous politicians who all but invited the Generals.

Jamsheed Marker’s portrait of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan is in refreshing contrast to most writings on the man. A kind of cottage industry flourished to denigrate this noble man in hagiographic writings on Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Nor should one neglect Liaquat Ali Khan’s devoted wife, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat, a woman of great charm and dignity. Their residence in New Delhi, Gul-e-Ra’ana, on Hardinge Road (now Tilak Marg) is now the residence of Pakistan’s High Commissioner.

Marker writes: “In his profound and absolute love for Pakistan, he had abandoned vast agricultural lands in Karnal and many urban properties elsewhere in India. Above all, he gifted to the Government of Pakistan his splendid New Delhi residence, Gul-e-Ra’ana, on Hardinge Road, for use as Pakistan’s High Commission in India. It may be mentioned here that, before leaving for Pakistan, Mr. Jinnah sold his equally splendid bungalow on 10, Aurangzeb Road to Ramkrishna Dalmia, the Marwari multimillionaire. Born and bred in the luxury of ancestral nobility, Liaquat died a virtual pauper.” Jinnah sold it for a mere Rs.3 lakh. In the days as Governor General of Pakistan, much of his time was expended on buying and selling real estate. He had little time for Kashmir’s leaders in his last weeks in New Delhi, but lots for his share broker in Bombay (sadly, Mumbai, now). Jinnah befriended Ramkrishna Dalmia and sold him the Delhi house for a lesser amount than the market price.

Marker records: “I vividly recall that Pakistan’s press and radio were filled with news about Hyderabad, whereas comparatively less was being said about Kashmir; even though the Maharaja of Kashmir was displaying his obduracy, unrest in the State was already rampant. Moreover, disquiet on its border had already provoked military skirmishes. In the event, the Hyderabad issue was efficiently settled by Indian ‘police action’, and the State was duly dissolved and merged into Andhra Pradesh. But the issue of Kashmir still continues to burn. My recollection of the time was that Hyderabad occupied so much more of the newspaper headlines than Kashmir that it has left me with the haunting thought that we were, somehow, blindsided by Hyderabad over Kashmir.”

He is being polite. It was the Quaid-e-Azam who was besotted with Hyderabad and neglected Kashmir. In March 1947, when Partition was imminent, this man who counted his pennies invested nearly Rs.2 lakh in two mills in Hyderabad. On November 1, 1947, Mountbatten presented Jinnah with a proposal in writing for a plebiscite in Junagadh, Kashmir and Hyderabad. Jinnah insisted that Hyderabad be excluded. By then, Indian troops were in Kashmir and the raiders were in retreat. Had he accepted it, Kashmir would have opted for Pakistan in a plebiscite and Hyderabad spared the “police action”. Jinnah would have negotiated the details as a state guest in the Governor General’s House in New Delhi and visited the refugee camps too. The subcontinent would have averted the cold war which seizes it still. Indeed, in his talks with the Hyderabad delegation, Jinnah urged them to fight; if need be without petrol or arms. This deeply religious man cited to them the example of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom at Karbala.

On his frequent visits to Bombay in the early years [after Partition], on business or to meet family, the author notes “an increasing number of automobiles with Karachi licence plates—an indication of the freedom of movement and absence of restriction that prevailed at the time”. That would have continued but for the cold war.

Frontline for more

What happened when a Muslim student went to Cambridge in 1816

August 26th, 2016


A drawing of Mirza Salih in later life PHOTO/Nile Green

Two hundred years ago, there arrived in London the first group of Muslims ever to study in Europe. Dispatched by the Crown Prince of Iran, their mission was to survey the new sciences emerging from the industrial revolution.

As the six young Muslims settled into their London lodgings in the last months of 1815, they were filled with excitement at the new kind of society they saw around them. Crowds of men and women gathered nightly at the ‘spectacle-houses’, as they called the city’s theatres. London was buzzing with the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo a few months earlier, and the new sciences – or ulum-i jadid – that the students had been sent to discover seemed to be displayed everywhere, not least in the new steamboats that carried passengers along the Thames.

As the weeks turned into months, the six strangers began to realise the scale of their task. They had no recognisable qualifications, and no contacts among the then-small groves of academe: they didn’t even know the English language. At the time, there was no Persian-to-English dictionary to help them.

Hoping to learn English, and the Latin that they mistakenly took to still be Europe’s main language of science, the would-be students enlisted a clergyman by the name of Reverend John Bisset. An Oxford graduate, Bisset told them about England’s two ancient seats of learning. When two of the students were subsequently taken on by the mathematician and polymath Olinthus Gregory, further links were forged with the universities, since Gregory had spent several years as a successful bookseller in Cambridge. A plan was hatched to introduce at least one of the students, Mirza Salih, to a professor who might be amenable to helping a foreigner study informally at one of the Cambridge colleges.

This was long before Catholics were allowed to study at Britain’s universities, so the arrival in Cambridge of an Iranian Muslim (one who would go on to found the first newspaper in Iran) caused sensation and consternation.

The don who was selected to host Salih was a certain Samuel Lee of Queens’ College. Lee appears to have been an odd candidate for supporter of the young taliban, as the students were called in Persian. A committed Evangelical, Lee was devoted to the cause of converting the world’s Muslims to Christianity. Along with other colleagues at Queens’, including the influential Venn family, he also had close ties to the Church Missionary Society. Founded in 1799, the Society was fast becoming the centre of the Cambridge missionary movement.

Yet it was precisely this agenda that made the young Muslim so attractive to Lee. The point was not so much that Salih’s conversion might bring one more soul to Christian salvation. Rather, it was that as an educated Persian-speaker, Salih might help the professor in his great task of translating the Bible into Persian, a language that was at the time also used across India, as well as what is today Iran. Lee jumped at the opportunity. And so it was that Salih was invited to Cambridge.

As his Persian diary reveals, Salih came to like the professor enormously. For though posterity would commemorate Lee as the distinguished Oxbridge Orientalist who rose to the grand status of Regius Professor of Hebrew, his upbringing was far humbler. Lee had been raised in a small Shropshire village in a family of carpenters and, in his teens, was apprenticed to a woodworker himself. On a research trip from California, I visited Lee’s home village of Longnor. It is still a remote place today, reached by single-lane tracks hidden in the hedgerows. At the local church, I was delighted to find the initials of his carpenter great-grandfather, Richard Lee, carved into the pews he had made for his fellow villagers.

Aeon for more

Progress can kill

August 25th, 2016


Forcing “development” or “progress” on tribal people does not make them happier or healthier. In fact, the effects are disastrous. The most important factor by far for tribal peoples’ well-being is whether their land rights are respected.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. When tribal people have land they have freedom to make their own choices about how they live.

Survival for more

Team refugee and the normalization of mass displacement

August 25th, 2016


It was after midnight when the small refugee Olympic team strode into the stadium in Rio, the very last before host country Brazil’s huge contingent danced in to the samba-driven opening ceremonies. Ten amazing athletes, originally from four separate countries but sharing their status as unable to return home, marching under the Olympic flag.

It was an extraordinary sight — moving and powerful far beyond the cheering for the national teams.

Some of them — the young Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini in particular — had become familiar to many, her story told and retold in the run up to the games. It was an amazing story indeed. She and her sister, both top swimmers in their native Syria, had been forced by the brutality of the civil war to flee. Like so many hundreds of thousands before and after them, they managed to find places on an overcrowded rubber dinghy for the last leg from the Turkish coast to safety in Greece.

But also like so many before them, they found the boat overcrowded, taking on water, and in danger of sinking altogether. Mardini and her sister, along with the one other person on board who knew how to swim, jumped overboard and swam the three and a half hours alongside the boat, lightening the load just enough that the boat — and its exhausted accompanying swimmers — made it to safety, landing on the rocky coast of Lesbos.

The others — five runners from South Sudan and one from Ethiopia, another Syrian swimmer, and two judo competitors from the Democratic Republic of Congo — had powerful and inspiring stories of their own. All of them had faced the loss of home, family separations, and despair. Their athletic prowess, strong enough to bring them to international stature despite all they had lost, and despite the grinding poverty in which many of them grew up, brought them to Rio.

It’s all been a moving and powerful exemplar of what the Olympics are supposed to represent, but rarely achieve: the celebration of individual athleticism, beyond national borders.

And yet, what does it say about our world of wars today that massive refugee flows — and the conflicts that cause them — have become so normalized that war refugees now constitute the equivalent of a nation?

Refugee Nation

That’s no exaggeration.

There are 65 million forcibly displaced people desperately seeking safety around the world — the highest number since World War II. That’s about equal to the population of France, Thailand, or the United Kingdom, and greater than Italy, Spain, or South Africa. Together they give what might be called the Refugee Nation the 23rd largest population in the world.

Toward Freedom for more

At 25, the world wide web is still a long way from reality

August 25th, 2016


Tim Berners-Lee speaks during a conference in May 2011 PHOTO/Luis Tjido/EPA

today, Tim Berners-Lee unleashed the World Wide Web, publishing the first public webpage. Well, maybe. The exact date is controversial. But now is as good a time as any to check in on the state of the web, which did more than any other technology to take the Internet mainstream. From its humble, and uncertain beginnings it became a platform for just about everything we do online, from email and instant messaging to voice chat and video.

The question is whether it ever fulfilled its promise.

In recent years, the web has lost some of its mojo. It hasn’t quite lived up the lofty ideals laid down by Berners-Lee and so many of his disciples. Facebook makes 84 percent of its money from its mobile app—not the web. Tinder, Snapchat, and many other newer apps aren’t even available on the web.

Wired for more

“Visit Cuba, before it changes!”

August 24th, 2016


As relations with Cuba move toward normalization, the transformation of “people-to-people” travel into an element of U.S.-Cuba policy revives old racialized representations of the island and its people.

Over the course of 55 years, the United States has pursued change in Cuba with implacable tenacity and almost single-minded resolve: one armed invasion, scores of assassination plots, years of covert operations, and decades of punitive economic sanctions.  An embargo—“harsher than on any other countries in the world,” as Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson acknowledged in 2015—was designed with malice of forethought: to inflict adversity upon the Cuban people and deepen Cuban discontent through economic privation, in the hope that hardship would bestir the island’s people to rise up and, in one fell swoop, precipitate the overthrow of the Castro government.

Starting in 2014, the Obama administration introduced a new lucidity to U.S. policy—one informed with a more nuanced appreciation of the perils attending political change obtained through economic collapse. The United States’ 55-year-old policy had not worked, the President affirmed outright on December 17, 2014:  “In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.”

In principle, Obama’s words represented a remarkable paradigm shift. However, in practice, the President’s actions have thus far been less a change of ends than a change in means. That is to say, a reset of U.S. strategies for change: if not change of regime, in the short run, then change in the regime, in the long run. For 55 years, the United States had insisted upon political change in Cuba as the precondition to normal diplomatic relations. Under the Obama administration, that policy has been turned on its head, establishing that normal diplomatic relations are the condition to obtain political change. “Through engagement,” President Obama explained, “we have a better chance of bringing out change than we would have otherwise.” He elaborated on this when speaking with CNN’s Candy Crowley later in December 2014: “If we engage,” Obama said, “we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at a time when there’s going to be some generational change in that country… I think we should seize it, and I intend to do so.”

The new policy of “engagement” contemplates political change induced from within, not imposed from without, and is a strategy intended to “empower” the Cuban people themselves to act as agents of change.  According to Assistant Secretary Jacobson, “We would hope to bring about change in the regime. And simultaneously, we would hope to empower the Cuban people to be able to make that change.”

People-to-People’s Subversive Intent

Few “change-in-the-regime” strategies have attracted as much policy interest and public attention as the expansion of “people-to-people” travel initiatives. Originally conceived during the 1990s, the idea of people-to-people was informed with subversive intent, as the United States was persuaded that an expanded U.S. presence in Cuba would serve to diffuse American values among the Cuban people, and thereupon to hasten political change. As Fidel Castro warned in 1995, “They seek to penetrate us… weakening us… and destabilizing the country.”

In 2007, then Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) called American travelers the U.S.’s “most potent weapon.” (In October 2000, Dodd maintained that “There is no better way… to communicate America’s values…than by unleashing the average American men and women to demonstrate, by daily living, what our great country stands for, and the contrasts between what we stand for and what exists in Cuba today.”) Americans “will take new ideas, new values and real change for Cuba,” predicted Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) in January 2015. “We’ll see a dramatic change in Cuba if there is more travel.” Indeed, American travel to Cuba has today assumed something of a strategic imperative.  As Vicki Huddleston, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, affirmed in her 2010 book Learning to Salsa: New Steps in U.S.-Cuba Relations (co-authored with Cuban-American diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual), “People-to-people contacts… are a fundamental tool serving a new strategic perspective: change in Cuba must come from within.”

In recent years, the Obama administration has revived people-to-people initiatives and acted quickly to expand authorized travel Cuba. Throughout 2015, the Treasury Department implemented new measures to facilitate licensed travel to Cuba. In early 2016, a U.S.-Cuba civil aviation agreement authorized as many as 110 daily flights between the United States and Cuba, potentially increasing the 4,000 charter flights annually to as many as 45,000 scheduled flights, a “key element” within the President’s broader policy of normalizing relations. U.S. travelers were thus enlisted as agents of change, whose very authorizations to travel to Cuba were granted in function of U.S. policy.

North American Congress on North America for more

Is Theresa May trying to replicate Merkel’s approach to China?

August 24th, 2016


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and British Prime Minister Theresa May

While British Prime Minister Theresa May probably may like to take a leaf out of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s book, she is no stateswoman like her counterpart nor is Britain comparable to Germany in geopolitical terms. As Merkel effectively engages China and Sino-German trade turnover grows, Beijing sees Germany as the locomotive that pulls the EU economic and political trains. On the other hand, post-Brexit Britain, faced with a choice between America and China, may finally opt for the tested relationship with Washington.

Thanks to her blend of foreign policy realism and idealism, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is commonly credited with being the Western leader best equipped to deal with Chinese leaders.

Some in Europe think Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May is drawing inspiration from its German counterpart in revising her predecessor David Cameron’s “gung-ho” approach to China; and if this is not the new British Iron Lady’s true intention, a current spat between London and Beijing proves she should exactly rush across the Channel to learn from the Frau Kanzler how to effectively engage Beijing.

May’s recent decision to postpone the $23.5 billion Hinkley Point C nuclear power station project, in which the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Company (CGN) has one-third stake, apparently introduces a new paradigm, with Britain’s interest in attracting Chinese foreign investment that now must be compatible with national security.

In a similar case, Australia upheld on August 19 that it would block the $7.7 billion sale of Ausgrid energy grid to Beijing’s State Grid and Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure – Canberra explained quite differently its position, bluntly advancing national security motivations.

Many see behind London’s turnaround – which has triggered harsh criticism from Beijing – the United States’ hand. It is worth noting that the US government recently accused CGN of attempting to steal its nuclear technology and secrets.

Washington was disappointed with the British government in March 2015, when Britain was the first European Union country to join the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China’s alternative to the multilateral institutions that the US shaped in the wake of the Second World War.

The engine of Europe

The problem for May is that she is (still) not a stateswoman like Merkel and, above all, today’s Britain is not comparable to Germany in geopolitical terms.

Apart from the personal ability of Merkel, one of the most respected world leaders, in general Berlin has now a greater relevance than London, something that will matter in the future Sino-British dialogue, not least should Beijing decide to re-calibrate its diplomatic and economic strategy toward London in response to the latest events.

Germany is China’s largest trading partner in Europe, as Britain ranks third. In 2015, the Sino-German trade turnover totalled $78 billion, against $62.3 billion between London and Beijing.

Asia Times Online for more

Dear us and dear Bernie

August 24th, 2016


CARTOON/John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune/The Denver Post

Left commentary berates mainstream media for serving up ‘too much Trump.” Fair enough, but left writers also flood us with endlessly repetitive Trump coverage.

Left commentary claims that at election time an endless stream of writers overemphasize the ephemeral and ignore the serious. True, but left writers also continually repeat what people already know while offering few usable lessons for the future.

Left commentary worries that Sanders will ratify the idea that politics is only about candidates and leave nothing lasting in place. Also fair, but left writers not only worry about this prospect, we contribute to it when we fixate on one person’s possible choices and ignore our own responsibility for achieving more.

Left commentary bemoans distraction. Sensible, but the complaint becomes ironic when left writers continually repeat that elections don’t matter while not addressing what does matter, the longer term.

How will left writers, periodicals, activists, and organizations explain ignoring – or even just watching, sniping at, and then dismissing, but never actively engaging with and trying to contribute to – a serious attempt to leave real organization in place, an organization called, no less, “Our Revolution”?

It is wonderful that all kinds of people are engaged in all kinds of worthy projects and struggles, but beyond that the election revealed potentials for connection and for overarching organization to empower all such endeavors. So even as we all continue doing what we have been doing, shouldn’t we also try to actualize those potentials?

The Sanders Campaign is sponsoring what looks to be roughly two thousand house parties on August 24 to hear Sanders, and perhaps others, describe “Our Revolution.” 2,000 gatherings means perhaps 20,000 people, and maybe more, who are already deeply interested in becoming part of a new organization. Just think how many more there are out there.

To host or attend such an event is good. However, to reach the full potential of current possibilities, participants will need to do a lot more than merely hear and then implement other people’s organizational and programmatic conceptions.

Shouldn’t those who speak, write, and organize for long-term fundamental change try to critically support and contribute to “Our Revolution” becoming the best it can be, even as we also continue with our own on-going efforts?

Shouldn’t we try to make “Our Revolution” happen rather than saying it won’t happen?

Shouldn’t we try to make “Our Revolution” better, rather than rejecting taking responsibility for what it becomes?

Won’t our handwringing about election fever and our worry about Sanders lacking long-term wisdom be rendered hypocritical if we only write about election fever while offering no new long-term wisdom – even if we are admirably hard at work on other worthy projects?

Z Net for more