Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Muslims — India’s new ‘untouchables’

December 2, 2008
The condition of the country’s Muslims has deteriorated, and the world has overlooked the nation’s problems.
By Asra Q. Nomani
The Los Angeles Times
December 1, 2008

The news of the attacks in Mumbai eerily took me back to a quiet morning two years ago when I sat in Room 721 of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, reading the morning newspaper, fearing just the kind of violence that has now exploded in the city of my birth. The headlines recounted how the socioeconomic condition of the people of my ancestry, Muslims in India, had fallen below that of the Hindu caste traditionally called “untouchables,” according to a government report.

“Muslims are India’s new untouchables,” I said sadly to my mother, in the room with me. “India is going to explode if it doesn’t take care of them.” Now, indeed, alas it has. And shattered in the process is the myth of India’s thriving secular democracy.

Read the rest:
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/comm
entary/la-oe-nomani1-2008dec01,0,4752.story

Advertisements

American Media and Culture Go Global; Even As America’s Image Sours

December 1, 2008

Shortly after the attacks on 9/11, a delegation of high-level media executives, including the heads of every major studio, met several times with White House officials, including at least once with President Bush’s former top strategist, Karl Rove, to discuss ways that the entertainment industry could play a part in improving the image of the United States overseas.

By Tim Arango
The New York Times
.
One of the central ideas was using “soft power” by spreading American television and movies to foreign audiences, especially in the Muslim world, to help sway public opinion.

There were few tangible results from the meetings — lesser ways of supporting the war on terrorism like public service announcements and packages of free DVDs sent to American soldiers.

But since then, the media companies have gotten what they wanted, even if the White House has not. In the last eight years, American pop culture, already popular, has boomed around the globe while opinions of America itself have soured.

The television program “CSI” is now more popular in France than in the United States. Hollywood movies routinely sell far more tickets overseas than at home. A Russian remake of the TV show “Married With Children” has been so popular that Sony, the producer of the show, has hired back the original writers to produce new scripts for Russia. Even in the Muslim world, American pop culture has spread.

But so far, cultural popularity has not translated into new friends. The latest data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, released in June, shows that the image of the United States remained negative in the 24 countries in which Pew conducted surveys (although in 10 of those the favorability rating of the United States edged up slightly).

Joseph S. Nye Jr., the Harvard professor who coined the phrase “soft power” in 1989 to refer to the ways beyond military muscle that America influences the world, said that “what’s interesting about the last eight years is that polls show a decline in American attractiveness.”

He added: “But then you ask the follow-up questions and you see that American culture remains attractive, that American values remain attractive. Which is the opposite of what the president has said — that they hate us for who we are and what we believe in.”

Jeffrey Schlesinger, the head of international television at Warner Brothers, had a simpler explanation for the popularity of American entertainment.

“Batman is Batman, regardless….

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/business/media/01soft.html?_r=1&hp

U.S. Military Adjusts Toward Confidence in Obama

November 30, 2008

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went unarmed into his first meeting with the new commander in chief — no aides, no PowerPoint presentation, no briefing books. Summoned nine days ago to President-elect Barack Obama‘s Chicago transition office, Mullen showed up with just a pad, a pen and a desire to take the measure of his incoming boss. 

 

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page A01

Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen speaks with The Associated ... 
Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen speaks with The Associated Press during an interview at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

There was little talk of exiting Iraq or beefing up the U.S. force in Afghanistan; the one-on-one, 45-minute conversation ranged from the personal to the philosophical. Mullen came away with what he wanted: a view of the next president as a non-ideological pragmatist who was willing to both listen and lead. After the meeting, the chairman “felt very good, very positive,” according to Mullen spokesman Capt. John Kirby.

As Obama prepares to announce his national security team tomorrow, he faces a military that has long mistrusted Democrats and is particularly wary of a young, intellectual leader with no experience in uniform, who once called Iraq a “dumb” war. Military leaders have all heard his pledge to withdraw most combat forces from Iraq within 16 months — sooner than commanders on the ground have recommended — and his implied criticism of the Afghanistan war effort during the Bush administration.

But so far, Obama appears to be going out of his way to reassure them that he will do nothing rash and will seek their advice, even while making clear that he may not always take it. He has demonstrated an ability to speak the lingo, talk about “mission plans” and “tasking,” and to differentiate between strategy and tactics, a distinction Republican nominee John McCain accused him of misunderstanding during the campaign.

Obama has been careful to separate his criticism of Bush policy from his praise of the military’s valor and performance, while Michelle Obama‘s public expressions of concern for military families have gone over well. But most important, according to several senior officers and civilian Pentagon officials who would speak about their incoming leader only on the condition of anonymity, is the expectation of renewed respect for the chain of command and greater realism about U.S. military goals and capabilities, which many found lacking during the Bush years.

“Open and serious debate versus ideological certitude will be a great relief to the military leaders,” said retired Maj. Gen. William L. Nash of the Council on Foreign Relations. Senior officers are aware that few in their ranks voiced misgivings over the Iraq war, but they counter that they were not encouraged to do so by the Bush White House or the Pentagon under Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/11/29
/AR2008112901912.html?hpid=topnews

Vietnam facing water shortage

November 27, 2008

VietNamNet Bridge – According to the Danish Embassy in Vietnam, around 60% of Vietnamese people depend on underground water resources. Due to overexploitation, the underground water level is decreasing and threatening the stability of water resources.

 

An overview research of water conducted by the Vietnamese government and international donors recently shows that water may be the major factor that hinders Vietnam’s further social and economic development.

 

This issue has impacts on around 8.5 million Vietnamese urban people and 21 million rural residents who don’t have access to safe water yet. For those who have safe water, the current standards of water supply service are low compared to the international level.

 

During the dry season, many big rivers face abnormally low water levels and the threat of water shortage will rise in the future.

 

Water quality is downgrading quickly because Vietnam’s geographical position is at the bottom of river systems and pollution from other countries pollutes the river systems in Vietnam.

 

According to the overview, Vietnam is one of countries that are vulnerable to natural calamities, especially water-associated catastrophes. The matter becomes more serious as around 50% of Vietnam’s population lives on the coast. Meanwhile, over 80% of the population directly confronts impacts of natural calamities.

 

Vietnam is also among the most vulnerable to climate change.

 

(Source: Dan Tri)

A man paddles a boat on a flooded paddy field in My Hung commune, ...
A man paddles a boat on a flooded paddy field in My Hung commune, 25 km (16 miles) outside Hanoi November 12, 2008. Hanoi reported 22 deaths from one of the worst inundations in more than three decades, officials said.REUTERS/Kham (VIETNAM)

Hollywood out of step with American morals

November 17, 2008

A majority of Americans say Hollywood doesn’t share their moral values, according to a poll commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights anti-Semitism.

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed said that religious values in America are “under attack,” and 59% agreed that “the people who run the TV networks and the major movie studios do not share the religious and moral values of most Americans.”

By Gregg Kilday, Reuters

Tourists pause on a walkway at a shopping mall which offers ...
Tourists pause on a walkway at a shopping mall which offers a view of the famed Hollywood sign at the hills in California March 14, 2008.(Fred Prouser/Reuters)

The poll, titled “American Attitudes on Religion, Moral Values and Hollywood,” was conducted by the Marttila Communications Group, which surveyed 1,000 adults nationwide. It was released Friday at the ADL’s annual meeting in Los Angeles.

“These findings point to the challenges that we face in dealing with issues of religion in society,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. “The belief that religion is under attack underlies the drive to incorporate more religion into American public life. Disturbingly, 43% of Americans believe there is an organized campaign by Hollywood and the national media to weaken the influence of religious values in this country.”

Among the survey’s findings:

— 61% of respondents agree that “religious values are under attack in this country,” while 36% disagree with that statement.

— 43% said that Hollywood and the national media are waging an organized campaign to “weaken the influence of religious values in this country.”


But maybe not EVERY American city….

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20081117/us_nm/us_
poll;_ylt=AmvJz752.auDPw4x7kNNWEes0NUE

How Old is Too Old? You Make Your Case and You Stay Or Go….

November 15, 2008

College football coach Steve Spurrier said today on the ESPN pre-game show that he would stop coaching before he was in his 70s.  He said he could never be a “figurehead” football coach like Joe Paterno at Penn State or Bobby Bowden at Florida State who both “let their assistant coaches do everything.”

Spurrier in March 2007
Spurrier, head coach of the University of South Carolina football team.

I was taken aback by what, to me, seemed an insult from Spurrier to the older men.  But I am not a rabid football fan any longer and somewhat detached from the sports news.

Apparently Bowden and Paterno have taken a lot of heat and grief for their age, longevity and fading football glory.

Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post wrote on September 26, “Bowden should have been escorted out the door a few years ago surrounded by garnet-and-gold pomp and circumstance for all the glory he has brought the Seminoles. Instead, he’s wandering in the wilderness in his 33rd season at Florida State after warm-up acts at Samford and West Virginia.”

Joe Paterno has suffered similar attacks.

I say if the coach is breathing, enjoys his work and can convince a school that he is important to have in their program then that is between the coach and the school.  Oldster John McCain couldn’t convince voters to elect him but apparently Paterno and Bowden have made their cases successfully so far.

It should be all about performace and never about age.

But we do seem to live in an American culture that dismisses older people quickly; and often too quickly.  My Asian relatives and friends respect, hold close and love their elders much better and longer than many Americans and would never think of sending Mom or dad to a nursing home.  My 90 year old Grandmother makes the food, shops, does laundry and has a bunch of household jobs she would never surrender.

An Ethiopian friend said when he gets older he’ll return to Ethiopia where the older men are respected and not rejected…..

Afghanistan at the crossroads: Drought, food crisis drive Afghans out of villages

November 10, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan, November 10 (UNHCR) – Severe drought and food shortages have caused thousands of people to leave their villages in Afghanistan’s north and west to find work and aid. Many more are expected to move in desperation as winter approaches.

Provinces such as Badghis, Faryab, Jawzjan, Ghor, Saripul, Balkh and Samangan have been hard hit by a harsh winter earlier this year, followed by a debilitating drought and poor harvest. The production of wheat – an Afghan staple – is reportedly down by 36 percent compared to last year, while the Ministry of Agriculture has said the country is facing a deficit of 2 million tonnes of mixed food items over the next six months.

Soaring global food prices have exacerbated the problem of food insecurity. A UN appeal in July reported that the prices of wheat and wheat flour have gone up by 200 percent countrywide over the past year. The worst affected people are the small farmers, landless people, nomads and casual labourers.

“There’s no rain this year,” complains Qadir, 25, who left his village in Balkh three months ago to find work in Kabul. “Back home, I own a plot of rain-fed land and grew wheat on it. It’s small but was enough to feed my family – until the drought. I just left the land. It’s useless.”

Saifullah, 30, chips in, “The drought has affected hundreds of families in Samangan. We cultivated seeds but couldn’t get a harvest or recoup our money. We’re all leaving.”

Momin, 18, is from Charken village in Balkh province, where he supports a family of six people. “My whole neighbourhood is affected. In the past, we could work on our farms. But now, people are going to Mazar-e-Sharif or Kabul to find jobs,” he says.

The three men have joined hundreds of others at Charahi Sarai Shomali, a busy roundabout in northern Kabul located beside a bus station that plies the route between Kabul and the northern provinces. They come here early every morning and wait for potential employers to pick them up for daily-wage labour, mostly on construction sites. They make US$3-US$4 a day and work three to four days a week on average.

To save up for their families, it’s not unusual for more than 10 of these migrant workers to share one room in Kabul. The living is rough, but at least they have some income and a roof over their heads – unlike the thousands of others who have been displaced by the drought and shortage of food and water.

The numbers of the drought-displaced vary. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that more than 6,500 Afghans have left their homes in the north and west as a result of the drought this year. The International Committee of the Red Cross believes some 280,000 people are suffering from its effects, and that thousands of families could leave their homes in search of food and work as winter looms.

In the last six months, UNHCR has reported the displacement of more than 2,700 families (approximately 19,000 people), mostly from or within Badghis, Balkh, Saripul and Samangan provinces. Some have gone to district centres like Mazar-e-Sharif, to nearby provinces like Herat, or to neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan. All were forced to move because of food insecurity, drought or poverty.

Some families leaving Keshendeh district in Balkh dismantled their houses, indicating they had no intention to return. Those who remain said that without food and water assistance, 70 percent of the population – or some 500 families – could leave the area. UNHCR is working with other UN agencies and the government to start bringing water tankers as soon as possible.

“Meeting humanitarian needs in areas of origin is the best way to prevent food and drought-related displacement,” said Ewen Macleod, the UN refugee agency’s acting representative in Afghanistan. “This means pre-positioning aid before snow and the cold weather cut off access to some of these areas.”

Returnees have been affected too, including 183 families who returned from Pakistan to Saripul last year and recently left again for Quetta in south-western Pakistan. In the central Afghan provinces of Logar and Ghazni, food insecurity meant that returnees were too busy trying to support themselves to complete construction on their UNHCR-funded shelters. The agency worked with the World Food Programme to provide food to 700 families so that they could focus on finishing their homes before the onset of winter.

The largest recent displacement took place in Balkh, where 1,400 families left their homes in Alborz in late May and set up a makeshift camp beside a river in Sholgara district. After weeks of talks between the community, government and UN agencies, the families were transported back to their villages in mid-July, where they received food rations.

As security deteriorates in parts of the country, the UN has appealed for humanitarian access to allow aid workers to distribute food to needy communities ahead of winter. A recent report by British think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, warned that a looming famine in Afghanistan could pose a greater threat to international efforts to rebuild the country than the conflict there.

Desperation defies definition. Whether driven by hunger, thirst or poverty, thousands of Afghans are moving in an effort to survive. Asked if he plans to return home to Balkh soon, Momin the young job seeker in Kabul sighs, “If you have money, you miss your family. If you have no money, you can’t afford to miss them. You need to do something to help them.”

His friend Abdul Qadir, also from Balkh, adds simply, “If things get worse in Afghanistan, I’ll have to go to Pakistan again.”

By Vivian Tan
in Kabul, Afghanistan

Religion Now Appears to be Dominating Life in Pakistan

November 9, 2008

Returning to Karachi after many years abroad, Mohammed Hanif reflects on how religion now appears to be dominating life in the country.

BBC

Twelve years ago, just before I left Pakistan to work for the BBC in London, an old friend from school tried to recruit me into a militant anti-Shia organisation.

After dropping out from high school, Zulfikar Ahmad had started a motorcycle garage in my native city in central Punjab, and joined one of the sectarian organisations that were flourishing in the area.

Above: Badshai Mosque, Lahore.  By: Geert Vanden Wijngaert 

We had a heated discussion over his politics and I reminded him of a number of common friends who were Shias and were as good or bad Muslims as any of our other classmates.

Visibly unconvinced, Zulfikar gave up on me and wished me luck for my life in London.

His attempt at converting me was one of the many signs of religious intolerance creeping into our lives.

Read the rest:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_
correspondent/7715343.stm

Offensive Remark End Career of Japan’s Top Air Force Officer; China, others Express Relief

November 3, 2008

Japan’s Air Force Chief is gone following written comments that outraged China, Korea, and many others…

(CNN) — A state-run Chinese newspaper expressed relief Monday that senior Japanese officials had dismissed the country’s air force chief after he denied Japan’s aggression before and during World War II.

General Toshio Tamogami

General Toshio Tamogami
Gen. Toshio Tamogami lost his job as chief of staff for Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, the Ministry of Defense said, after saying in an essay that “it is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation.”

Japanese troops invaded China in 1937 and were widely accused of gross human rights abuses, including raping tens of thousands of girls and women and killing several hundred thousand others in what has come to be called “The Rape of Nanking.” Imperial Japan also invaded several other Asian nations, leading to the death and misery for an untold number.

Two former Japanese prime ministers have apologized for Japanese aggression before and during World War II. Yet China has long accused of elements within Japan of trying to whitewash the Japanese atrocities committed before and during World War II.

“The denial of the aggression history by Toshio Tamogami comes in as an element of disharmony,” the state-run China Daily said a commentary Monday. “Yet, as long as the Japanese government has a right attitude to this question, the smooth development of ties between the two neighbors will not be derailed by such discordant notes.”

Read the rest:
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/03/
japan.war.role/index.html?section=cnn_latest

*************************

China Applauds Dismissal Of Japan’s Air Boss

Associated Press

An official Chinese newspaper has applauded the dismissal of Japan’s air force chief over an essay he wrote that claimed Japan had not been an “aggressor” in World War II.

China remains highly sensitive over depictions of Japan’s brutal wartime occupation, and there were concerns that the essay by Toshio Tamogami, who was fired on Friday, would negatively impact ties between the two countries.

On Monday, however, the government’s English-language China Daily called the essay “an element of disharmony” and said Beijing felt “relieved” over Toshio’s removal.

“Yet as long as the Japanese government has a right attitude to this question, the smooth development of ties between the two neighbors will not be derailed,” the paper said in an unsigned editorial.

On Saturday, China’s Foreign Ministry issued only a mild comment on the controversy, saying it had noted the Japanese government’s action.

In the essay, Tamogami said it was “certainly a false accusation” to say Japan was “an aggressor nation” during World War II, and defended life under Japanese occupation as “very moderate.” Tamogami also claimed that Japan was tricked into attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, by then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

China-Japan relations were thrown into a tailspin earlier this decade over former Japanese Prime Minister Jinichiro Koizumi‘s visits to a shrine honoring war dead, including convicted war criminals, as well as Chinese accusations that Japan was playing down its wartime culpability.

However, ties have improved markedly in the two years since Koizumi’s successor, Shinzo Abe, visited China, allowing the sides to weather potential storms such as the Tamogami essay.

Thai Brewery’s Stock Listing Seen as Affront to Buddhism

October 30, 2008

 

By Tim Johnston
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 30, 2008; Page A19

BANGKOK, Oct. 29 — Thai Beverages, the brewer of Thailand’s best-selling Chang Beer, has found itself straddling the uncomfortable point where markets and morals collide.

ThaiBev is trying to get a listing on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) — its second attempt in three years — but as happened the first time around, it is running into heavy opposition from campaigners who argue that such a listing would encourage alcohol consumption.

Opponents of the listing handed a letter of protest to the Finance Ministry on Wednesday, and about 100 demonstrators held a rally outside the stock exchange Monday, some of them carrying signs of opposition.

Demonstrators say that if the company is listed, it would be in the interest of shareholders to encourage alcohol consumption, something that goes against the Buddhist principles of many Thai people.

But the volume of protest against the listing is substantially quieter than in 2005, when ThaiBev last attempted to get into the exchange. Mass protests forced it to withdraw its application, although subsequently it listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/
2008/10/29/AR2008102904408.html