Saturday, December 31, 2005

Kenyan Prisoners Turn Saints


Tens of thousands of prisoners in Kenya plan to skip their meal on Sunday to raise money for fellow Kenyans affected by food shortages.

Prisoners in jails across the country are hoping that by diverting funds for their meal to the charity Food Aid, it will help the starving.

Some 2.4 million people are threatened by severe drought across Kenya.

Inmates were moved by television images of malnourished children and thought it was a "small gesture", said officials.

'Brothers'

"We were very surprised when the prisoners came up with the decision and we thought at first it was a joke. But it is quite a good gesture," said John Isaac Odongo, the commandant of Kenya's prison staff training college.

"Prisons have changed and we can afford to give our brothers some of our food rations without getting affected," said Simon Ole Sakrop, a death row inmate.

Up to 50,000 prisoners signed up to take part, in an action co-ordinated by the Kenyan Red Cross Society.

TFood shortages caused by poor rains, are estimated to have claimed the lives of around 30 people, although there are no official figures.

Neighbouring Ethiopia and Somalia also face desperate shortages of food.

Mr Odongo said that officials had yet to determine how much money would be saved in the country's 93 prisons, but the sum would be handed over to humanitarian groups.

The drought has prompted a recent appeal from President Mwai Kibaki for $100m in help.
On 24 December he announced that his government would hand out about $40m.


The Meteorological Department has said the drought could last until March, when the rainy season is due.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Year's List


I read this article in The Times and thought it might spur you to make your own list. Come on!

THE YEAR'S END is a time for reflection, for an accounting, a reckoning. It is a time for measuring our achievements against our hopes and expectations, as well as those of others. It's a time for hope and a time for resolve.

But above all it is a time for lists. Best lists. Worst lists. Up lists. Down lists. In lists. Out lists. Lists of new year's resolutions. Lists of lists.

The list, in its purest form, offers a simple, cardinal assessment of the year past. Properly executed, it can capture the Zeitgeist. The list can become an instant document of social history, an insight into the transient values and mores of modern times. But most important of all, the list is an opportunity for unimaginative columnists to fill valuable space in a newspaper when there's no real news happening.

So here's mine. It's fairly unusual, I think, if not unique. But what matters is that it's mine. It's a list of words that entered popular discourse in 2005.

Katrina

When some bored meteorologist picked the name of his cousin's girlfriend's mother as the moniker for the eleventh tropical storm of the Caribbean season this summer he had no idea what he had wrought. The word would come to denote not just a storm, a natural disaster, but a human tragedy, a political event and more, much more. It became a signifier of ineptitude, gross mismanagement, arrogance on an Olympian scale. For the rest of the world, it became a synonym for everything that was wrong with America, from its callous, disdainful President to its irresponsible ignorance of global warming to its racially and economically divided rotten heart.

It would be, in some of the more flowery journalism, a caesura, a dividing line in the Bush presidency; even, perhaps, in American history itself, a time when America beat its breast at the evils of its own society and embraced wonderful European-style socialism. In Europe, of course, natural disasters never happen.

Well, maybe not. But I should say that, in what must rank as one of the cruellest and least expected pieces of verbal collateral damage of all time, the choice and circumstances it captured rendered it impossible for anyone, ever again, to play a song by the 1980s band Katrina and the Waves. School discos will never be the same.

Rendition

Talking of rendering, this one must rank as euphemism of the year. According to the dictionary it means making someone or something over to someone else. But in 2005 it became notorious as the term used by the US to describe what it does when it hands over suspected terrorist suspects and other enemies to third countries that are rather less scrupulous about human rights than we are.

The term used was in fact extraordinary rendition, which sounds even better, almost sacramental. "He was given extraordinary rendition last night" conjures up an image of a dying man being blessed by a priest with chrism and oil of catechumens. In fact it means he was strapped into a cargo plane and was heading for a long and animated conversation with some of the more imaginative members of the Saudi secret police.

Intelligent design

This too sounds harmless, the kind of phrase you might use to describe Sven Goran Eriksson's enterprising use of the back four in the World Cup qualifiers. But it too became a sobriquet that connoted America's general backwardness and awfulness in 2005.

It is the pseudoscientific theory that says nature is so complex that it couldn't simply have evolved but must be the work of some superior mind or being (that's where it parts company with Eriksson, by the way). Its proponents, mostly evangelical Christians, wanted it to be taught in state schools alongside the more conventional scientific theory of evolution.

It swept America briefly in 2005, as school districts in the darker parts of the interior rejected Darwinism and embraced the light. But it won't last. 2005 was probably the high point of ID. Americans are, despite the caricatures, perfectly intelligent.

Non! Nee!

The words resoundingly uttered by the voters of France and the Netherlands in response to the question from the European Union: "Do you want more of us, in your face, for ever and ever?"

The word, in any language, had struggled for centuries to break free from its negative connotations, but thanks to the referendums this year it became an expression of liberty, the rallying cry of peoples yearning to breathe free from bureaucratic oppression. Of course, we know better now. Thanks to my new European Commission-English Dictionary, I now understand that the words actually mean "Yes! A thousand times yes!"

Sensitivity chip

Jennifer Aniston uttered this neologism when describing her former husband, Brad Pitt, from whom she split this year. The marriage had been impossible, she said, because he didn't have one. What she meant was that he was thoughtless and selfish, unsolicitous of her feelings, uncaring, brusque and self-absorbed. What she meant by this, I think, was that he was a man.

iPod

All right, I know this isn't 2005-specific but it qualifies for this list because it became so universal this year. And furthermore, in 2005 it became so much more than a brand name for an electronic device. Sociologists will talk for ever now of the iPod generation, solipsistic, introverted, used to demanding and getting their own, customised version of everything. Combine this with a society made up of people whose sensitivity chips have been removed and you are headed for serious trouble.

But finally, a more uplifting note:

Santo Subito

When I first saw these words on banners held aloft by mourners at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, I was puzzled. "Who the hell was St Subito?" I wondered. The patron saint of table football? A religious icon you prayed to when you were in a real hurry?

It turned out of course that it meant "St Immediately", meaning the late, great Pope should be canonised expeditiously, without having to go through the usual time-consuming procedures. I suspect they'll be granted their wish. Subito.


Gerard Baker

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sore Throat and God


Does a sore throat prove God is nonexistent? I do believe in God, but liked this comic column and its dream. Charlie Brooker is a columnist in the Guardian, each time supposing about something, thus looking at our daily concerns differently. The article is rated, so if you are yet to become an adult, please wait till you become 18.



If you're looking for proof that God doesn't exist, don't bother investigating the big stuff, like earthquakes or famines or the tsunami. Start small. Right now I've got a sore throat and as far as I'm concerned that's evidence enough.

The constant awareness is the worst part. Usually I walk around blissfully ignorant of my throat. I never think: "Ooh, aren't I lucky to have a throat?" or anything like that. But right now I'm obsessed with it. It's like the early days of a love affair, when the other person is all you can think about, except here the "other person" is played by my own throat, and there's no sex involved because that would be impossible and probably just make it even more sore.

I'm also extremely conscious of just how often I must nonchalantly swallow saliva in an average day without even realising, because suddenly it hurts like hell each time it happens. Every few minutes it feels like I'm trying to squeeze a splintered cupboard door down my neck - yet I can't stop doing it. It's humiliating.

Even sleep brings no respite: I wake spluttering in the middle of the night, feeling like a cat's just clawed through my gullet, trailing furballs in its wake. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

In summary: a mere sore throat is proof enough that there is no God - or that if there is, he doesn't give a toss about human suffering. In which case why bother worshipping him? That's like fellating someone who intermittently stubs fags out on your head for no good reason. And we all know how unsatisfying that can be.

Still, perhaps I'm wrong and perhaps there is a God. Perhaps he's reading this right now, on the toilet in heaven. In which case, perhaps he'd like to do something to prove his existence. Once he's washed his hands.

Yes, perhaps Mister so-called "God" could create a highly infectious disease that was both non-fatal and fun. And by "fun", I mean something that generates symptoms that feel nice instead of nasty. How about an illness that induces the sensation of sliding into a warm bath? Or the satisfaction of having just finished a really good novel. Or one that spends an entire week gently but firmly bringing you to a thundering orgasmic finale.

Wouldn't it be great? You'd jump for joy at the first symptom. If a doctor gravely ushered you into his office and said you were infected, you'd end up kissing him. If the virus was transmitted via saliva, he'd kiss you back (and if it was sexually transmitted, he'd lock the door, take his phone off the hook, and bang you round the room like a dirty little doctor-loving bitch. Ain't that right? Say it, ho: say you love doctors. Mmmm. This be some prime medicinal lovin', right here. I be taking your temperature real good. Uh. Uhhh! Uhhhhhhh!).

Yes, that's how great the world of sickness and disease could be. But it isn't, because God's being an arsehole about it. If you're the sort of person who prays every night, ask him to stop dicking around, yeah?

I mean I'd do it myself, but my throat's too sore.



Charlie Brooker, Guardian

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Quotes on Christmas


"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year."
Charles Dickens


"Christmas began in the heart of God. It is complete only when it reaches the heart of man."
Anonymous

"Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day."
Helen Rice

"One of the nice things about Christmas is that you can make people forget the past with a present."
Anonymous

"Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."
Calvin Coolidge

"When Christmas bells are swinging above the fields of snow, we hear sweet voices ringing from lands of long ago, and etched on vacant places are half-forgotten faces of friends we used to cherish, and loves we used to know."
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Streetcar Named Disobedience


Grumpy, rude and stubborn: this is a character sketch of Iranian capital's public bus drivers. They have always been so, at least from a passenger's seat. On Dec 25, 2005, many added another upsetting adjective to their identity kit: disobedient.

Most people ignored the drivers' threat to go on a strike. These sullen workers would never keep their buses snoring for an extra minute, people and officials thought. Drivers are supposedly boss just inside their bus and humble citizens outside.

Tehran bus driver have traditionally handpicked one easy target for unleashing daily frustration: a lame-duck passenger. As a rule of thumb, no sane commuter disputes navigational skills of the captain nor begs for early landing. To brazenly challenge him, one should have a thick skin and slick tongue to parry the flying insults in the packed bus.

Now by making good on their threat to stop working on a date not marked as Christmas Day in the Islamic Republic, the madcap captains have widened their target choice. Also they inconveniently yet boldly wrote a piece of history: the very first strike during the President Ahmadinejad's tenure.

His fellow conservatives have denied the bus drivers claims that their wages are doggedly kept unchanged for three years in a country whose official inflation rate is over 15 percent. It seems the arrest on Thursday of a handful of strike leaders has merely emboldened the drivers and other workers in the state-run bus company.

Their strike, for sure, would remain an isolated incident, but with deep echoes. It would stitch up a chain of sporadic acts of civil disobedience by Iranian disgruntled teachers, nurses and workers.

"Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's original virtue," Oscar Wilde says in The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891). "It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion."

The Irish author believes rebellious activists, like striking bus drivers, can bulldoze a road towards democracy.

"Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them," he says. "That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilization."

Nowadays labeling someone an agitator connotes a rather anarchistic tone, but the Iranian bus drivers are unlikely to mind. It commands more respect for grumpy heroes.

Christmas Bells


I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’
I said; ‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Longfellow Henry Wadsworth

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mullahs versus the Bloggers


THE MUSIC OF Eric Clapton was banned in Iran this week. Broadcasters were ordered to cease playing “decadent” western songs and stick to “fine Iranian music”. Not content with denying the Holocaust, Israel’s right to exist, and advertising hoardings featuring David Beckham, Iran’s hardline President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has now denied his people the chance to listen to Layla — cruel and unusual punishment indeed.

But if Iran, under the repressive rule of the ultraconservatives, is silencing the sound of Western pop, in another area of its culture, a wild cacophony of voices has erupted. The blogosphere is exploding. In Iran there are now more than 100,000 active blogs or weblogs, individual online diaries covering every conceivable subject, from pets to politics. Farsi is the 28th most spoken language in the world, but it now ties with French as the second most used language in the blogosphere. This is the place Iranians call “Weblogistan”: a land of noisy and irreverent free speech.

The collision between these two sides of Iran — hardline versus online — represents the latest, and most important, battle over freedom of speech. The outcome will dictate not only the shape of Iran, but also the future of the internet as a political tool, heralding a new species of protest that is entirely irrepressible.

The growth in Iranian blogging is part of a worldwide surge. In 1999, there were some 50 bloggers on the web; in January there were about 5.4 million; today, according to the blog search engine Technorati, there are more than 23 million.

There are reasons why Iran should be especially fertile ground for blogging. More than 90 per cent of the country is literate, and 70 per cent of the country’s citizens are under 30. Computer ownership is relatively high and internet cafés abound. The first Iranian blog was born in November 2001, when Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian journalist, posted instructions on how to build a simple weblog in under ten minutes. As Nasrin Alavi (a pseudonym) demonstrates in her new book, We Are Iran: the Persian Blogs, these diary sites cover the gamut: angry, sad, humorous and brave. Like all blogs they can also be self-indulgent, inaccurate, inarticulate and boring. Internet usage is growing faster in Iran than anywhere in the Muslim Middle East, and there are now more blogs in Farsi than in German, Italian, Spanish, Russian or Chinese. Apparently, since the rise of the blogs, graffiti have almost entirely vanished from the walls of Tehran’s public toilets.

With almost all Iran’s reformist newspapers closed down and many editors imprisoned, blogs offer an opportunity for dissent, discussion and dissemination of ideas that is not available in any other forum. There is wistful yearning in many Iranian blogs, and a persistent vein of anger: “I keep a weblog so that I can breath in this suffocating air,” writes one blogger. “I write so as not be lost in despair.” Blogs by Muslim women are particularly moving in their bitter portrayal of life behind the veil.

The Iranian State has done its utmost to smother the nascent Iranian blogosphere. In 2003 the Government began to take direct action against bloggers — more than 20 have been arrested, on charges ranging from “morality violations” to insulting leaders of the Islamic Republic. One blogger was sentenced to 14 years in prison for “spying and aiding foreign counter-revolutionaries”; in October, Omid Sheikhan was sentenced to a year’s jail and 124 lashes for a weblog featuring satirical political cartoons.

The regime has also reportedly brought in powerful software programs to filter the net and block access to provocative blogs. But the Government remains profoundly alarmed by a tool it cannot control. Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of the Iranian judiciary, recently described the internet as a “Trojan Horse carrying enemy soldiers in its belly”. Many of Iran’s religious leaders recall how an earlier revolution was fuelled by new technology, when cassette tapes and videotapes of sermons by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were smuggled into the country, undermining the Shah and hastening his downfall.

Decentralised, informal and versatile, blogs offer a potential for secrecy, anonymity and evasion unthinkable in a hierarchical, paper-based information system. A blogger may be arrested, but once his words are out there and replicable, they are effectively immortal and invulnerable. The bloggers have proved so wily and hard to censor that the Government has even considered removing Iran from the internet entirely, by creating a national intranet that would seal off Iranians from the contaminating freedom of the world wide web.

If the Iranian Government succeeds in crushing the blogs, other intolerant regimes will take heart; but if the Iranian blogosphere continues to expand, nascent networks of free thought will follow elsewhere. Already US policymakers are exploring ways of nurturing home-grown Arabic language blogs in the Middle East to spread democratic ideals and increase pressure for change.

It is less the political content of the blogs that terrifies Iran’s Government than the mere existence of this space outside its control, where Iranians are free to say whatever they wish to one another. Here in Weblogistan they can tell jokes, flirt, mock their leaders and share music files, unencumbered by mullahs’ fiats or state decrees.

For a reader from the West, the blogs offer a vision of Iran, far from the chanting crowds, hidden women and ranting mullahs of popular imagery. As much as President Ahmadinejad may seek to turn back the clock and battle “Westoxification”, at the blog level this is a modern country. “My blog is a blank page,” writes one young Iranian blogger. “Sometimes I stretch out on this page in the nude . . . now and again I hide behind it. Occasionally I dance on it.” That may not sound like a call to arms, but in a country where the music is dying it may be the harbinger of revolution.


Ben Macintyre, The Times

Friday, December 23, 2005

Media-Shy Khatami Becomes Blogger


It's always dangerous to trust a politician, even when he is no longer in the office, since his murky intentions are less predictable than a haphazard dance of oceanic fish.

Iran's ex-president Mohammad Khatami is no exception. In his latest attempt to cast his media-shy image away, he has accepted his fans' invitation to join the booming bonanza of Iranian blogoshphere, affectionately termed Weblogistan.

But what are his motives, and agenda?

The introvert and overcautious former president sheds no light in his maiden post in khatamionline.com. "The yearning and struggle for truth and the longing and battle for freedom make up the blueprint of human beings," pens Mr. Khatami, who won two landslide victories in 1997 and 2001 on promises of promoting political and social liberties.

His consequent power struggle with inflexible conservatives, though, proved that, much to his voters' chagrin, he is merely a man of charisma, hardly a shrewd media-savvy leader.

Instead of harnessing enormous popular support, Mr. Khatami sullenly witnessed how hardliners dictated their dominance with a massive shut down of reformist newspapers and blogs.

The latter medium turned out to be more resilient, partly because it is less labor-intensive and more cost-efficient. There are other reasons, of course.

"Decentralized, informal and versatile, blogs offer a potential for secrecy, anonymity and evasion unthinkable in a hierarchical, paper-based information system." says Ben Macintyre, in a column in the British newspaper, The Times. "A blogger may be arrested, but once his words are out there and replicable, they are effectively immortal and invulnerable.”

Have the same lures tempted Mr. Khatami to outrank his former deputy Mohammad Ali Abtahi as the most high-profile blogger in Iran's blogoshphere? Would the sartorially-conscious cleric adopt a blunt tone in his fancifully titled blog, The Man with the Chocolate Robe? Or would he keep spitting out veiled criticism at diehard conservatives?

Most viewers of his newborn blog, for now, are thrilled that Mr. Khatami has joined their outcast community of 'cacophony of voices," to quote Ben Macintyre of The Times.

Some reactions to his soft-core opening post are quite blunt, however. "Mr. Khatami, I beg you to put aside this diction. Believe me, here you'd better be a blogger than a former president, otherwise your blog would reek of nasty old days, which would just lead to worse days," warns a blogger nicknamed Maryam Mirza.

Others are too frustrated to warmly greet the new net citizen. "In the real world, you failed to promote the cause of your desperate people and the poor youth," writes Sadaf. "In the virtual world, you could hopefully appreciate how regretful Iranian people are for misplacing their trust in your promises."

Having risked the big gamble of joining the growing voice of bloggers, Mr. Khatami has hinted he is willing to alter his tone. If so, the former president would be welcome to act as a conductor for the cacophonous bloggers, orchestrating their rumbling into an ear-piercing choir of freedom fighters.

Crooning with the old lullaby monotone would further alienate him. His advisors have, undoubtedly, warned him the waters of this ocean of blogs are highly shark-infested.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

'American Military Might is a Myth'



This is a fine article, which I don't necessarily agree with. Excerpts:

A year can be a short time in politics. Surprisingly short, if you compare the stories dominating the media and party conversations this week with those of a year ago.

Then, as now, gallows humor about the frightening incompetence of the Bush Administration, especially in Iraq, was fashionable.

With poetic justice, the biggest loser of 2005 has turned out to be the previous year's most undeserving winner—Mr. Bush. Largely because of the sheer incompetence of the US occupation of the Iraq, confirmed by the even greater incompetence displayed after Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Bush's incomprehensible popularity and mysterious power over American voters have vanished in a puff of smoke, like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

The rapid decay of the Bush presidency can have broad significance, for it could inspire a profound reassessment of America's global hegemony and its role in the world. After 9/11, and especially after easy invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, America has been widely believed to dominate the world because of its unchallengeable military power. But this year's events in Iraq and Washington have shown this assessment to be simply wrong.

America's military power, at least in the hands of Mr. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, has turned out to be, as in Vietnam, a paper tiger. Yet America is more globally dominant than ever before. The explanation of this paradox lies in America's economic performance, which has been as spectacularly successful and as skillfully managed this year as the military operations have bungled. The US has again had the fastest-growing advanced economy in the world. And this 20-year winning streak is bound to continue as long as Europe entrusts its economic management to institutions even more incompetent than the Pentagon under Mr. Rumsfeld.

In other words, the saying that "the business of America is business" has never been more true. More than ever before, it is the success of the US economy, and the associated strength of its higher education system, rather than anything to do with armed might, that assures America's cultural dominance, even in such pathologically introverted societies as Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.

America owes its global hegemony to the "soft power" that European politicians boast about but are unable to harness, mainly because of Europe's incompetent economic management. Meanwhile, the "hard" military power beloved of braggart neoconservatives turns out to be largely an illusion—and one that America cannot sustain on its own. This paradox is, to me, the most interesting lesson of 2005.



Anatolie Kaletsky

Published in The Times, Thursday Dec 22, 2005 The main title: The truely historic discovery of 2005: American military might is a myth

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Perspective


They passed like strangers,
without a word or gesture,
her off to the store,
him heading for the car.

Perhaps startled
or distracted,
or forgetting
that for a short while
they'd been in love forever.

Still, there's no guarantee
that it was them.
Maybe yes from a distance,
but not close up.

I watched them from the window
and those who observe from above
are often mistaken.

She vanished behind the glass door.
He got in behind the wheels
and took off.
As if nothing had happened,
if it had.

And I, sure for just a moment
that I'd seen it,
strive to convince you, O Readers,
that it was sad.



Poem by Wislawa Szymborska
(Translated, from the Polish, by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)
The New Yorker, Dec 26, 2005-Jan 2, 2006 issue.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Drink Fresh Snow

Today I read a fine article on how much we are estranged with nature. Excerpts:

We human beings have a remarkable capacity to shrug our shoulders in the face of the extraordinary. We usually ignore it to deal with our own lives, because we have "somewhere to get to".

We in the developed world live in a bubble society that fatally disjoins us from
nature , leaving us spiritually and emotionally impoverished and intellectually ill-equipped to gauge the global effects of our behavior. No other society in history has lived so cocooned from the routine vagaries of climate and weather.

Up to 93 percent of Westerners' lives are now lived indoors. Research suggests that 99 percent of Americans spend less than one day in a life time in conscious sensory contact with nature. Out of 1440 minutes in a day, Britons average just one minute in the countryside or seaside.

Living inside the bubble, seeing only reflections of ourselves, is it any wonder we lose sight of the world outside? How can we escape the bubble? Don't bank on
Katrina teaching a lesson.

We need to connect with nature before it connects, terminally, with us. Get a relationship with a tree. Make tea from wild nettles. Watch a pile of leaves when winter wind hits it. Drink fresh snow. And then translate the insights we gain back into the bubble world and its sleeping citizenry. Agitate, arouse, enthuse.

And above all, communicate one simple message. Having "somewhere to get to" just won't do any more.

David Nicholson-Lord, former environment editor in The Independent on Sunday. Published in Adbusters , Jan-Feb 2006 issue .

Monday, December 19, 2005

Me, Books and 2005


This year I was lucky enough to stumble on some tasty books. Lucky because I managed to wedge a few book-reading hours into my weekly timetable.

I favor non-fiction, partly because my job as a journalist grapples with harsh, head-banging realities. The problem gets worse when I have to jigsaw bits and pieces of the global non-fiction and retell them, with more or less graphic imageries, to grab audiences' attention.

It's a desperate struggle to be a reality-absorber 24/7. "All reality, and none fiction, makes life such a boring thing," Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali said.

Another Latin-flavored master, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has been my main supplier of fiction in 2005. TheColombian Nobel Prize winner used to be a reporter, too. He is, indeed, the only author to entice me into buying three titles of his works: Living to Tell the Tale , Love in the Time of Cholera , and One Hundred Years of Solitude .

In my homeland, Iran, books are dirt-cheap because they are, well, pirated. The Copyright law is less sacred, you know. In my adoptive country, Britain, books are exponentially pricey, even more expensive than in the States. A simple currency conversion reveals book-seller unashamedly rip buyers off here.

So what is my trick to read books cheaply? I frequent a very cozy branch of Borders in Oxford Street, central London. The poor joint acts as my library. I read Memories of My Melancholy Whores , a great uncharacteristically short novel by Marquez, in a few visits.

I do buy books, like tonight when I paid about $15 for a thin science book, The Last Word 2 . It raises and answers some appealing questions, such as: Why roosters crow in the morning? What generates the energy that makes thin, white supermarket bags so noisy? And, the chocolate chips in a biscuit do not appear to melt when cooked in the oven at 150 C, but melt when left in the sun. Why?

Links to sites that have short-listed top books of 2005:

Best Books Of The Year from San Francisco Chronicle (12/19)

Best Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror from St. Louis Post-Dispatch (12/18)

100 Noteworthy Books from Kansas City Star (12/18)

Raleigh Best Books from News & Observer (12/18)

10 Favorite Books from Entertainment Weekly -- Stephen King (12/18)

Books Of The Year from The Independent (12/18)

Favorite Books from Rocky Mountain News (12/15)
Best Books from Blogcritics (12/15)

The Year In Books from Slate.com (12/15)

25 Favorite Books from Village Voice (12/14)

25 Best from Kirkus Review (12/14)

Best Children's Books from Kirkus Review (12/14)

Top Fiction Books from Mercury News (12/13)

Seven Great Books You May Have Missed from Time (12/13)

Books Of The Year from Washingoton Post (Jonathan Yardley) (12/12)

Books Of The Year from The Economist (12/12)

Top 10 Literary Works from About.com (12/11)

Not The Best Of The Year from CNN.com (12/11)

Best Fiction from Daily Telegraph (12/11)

Top 10 Books from Seattle Times (12/10)

Book Of The Year Awards from Ottakar's (12/08)

10 Best Books from New York Times Books Review (12/04)

Favorite Nonfiction from L.A. Times (12/04)

Favorite Fiction from L.A. Times (12/04)

Best Nonfiction from Christian Science Monitor (12/03)

Best Fiction from Christian Science Monitor (12/03)

World Fantasy Awards from World Fantasy Convention (12/02)

15 Favorite Travel Books from Longitude Books (12/02)

Dagger Awards from Crime Writers' Association (12/02)

Ten Best Works Of Literature from About.com (11/28)

Favourite Books Of The Year from The Guardian (11/27)

100 Notable Books from New York Times (11/25)

Best Children's Books from Publishers Weekly (11/25)

Best Of 2005 -- Editor's Picks from Amazon.com (11/09)

Best Of 2005 -- Customer's Picks from Amazon.com (11/09)

Best Of 2005 from Metacritic (11/05)

Booker Prize from Man Booker Prize (11/05)

Books Of The Year from National Book Awards (11/05)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Top Global Media Stories for 2005


The coverage of the Death of John Paul II, the South Asian Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina were cited as the Top Global Media Stories for 2005 in terms of Immediate Impact. The rankings were based on the Global Language Monitor's PQ (Predictive-quantities) Index.

Over the course of the year, the Top Ten Global Media Stories were Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; The Iraq War and the ongoing story of the Iraqi people; and the controversy over Global Warming and Climate Change were named the top three stories, followed closely by the South Asian Tsunami; Asian/Bird Flu and the possibility of a global pandemic; and the continuing emergance of China on the world stage. The complete list is found below.

"The Global Media, both new and old, electronic and print, Internet and Blogosphere was nearly submerged in the flood of events in 2005," said Paul JJ Payack, President of the Global language Monitor. "We know that the news cycles are ever quickening because of the 24-hour news phenomenon as well as the new media and the Internet. However, this year it appeared that the news itself cascaded at ever increasing rates."

The PQ (Predictive-Quantities) Indicator is a proprietary algorithm that tracks words and phrases in the print and electronic media, on the Internet and throughout the blogosphere. The words and phrases are tracked in relation to their frequency, contextual usage and appearance in global media outlets.

The Top Media Stories for 2005 (Immediate Impact) follow:
1. Death of John Paul II
2. South Asian Tsunami
3. Hurricane Katrina and its Aftermath
4. Pakistani Earthquake

The Top Ten Global Media Stories for 2005 (Over the Course of the Year) follow:
1. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath
2. The Iraq War and the ongoing story of the Iraqi people
3. Global Warming and Climate Change
4. The South Asian Tsunami
5. Asian/Bird Flu
6. The continuing emergance of China on the world stage
7. Pakistani Earthquake
8. India as the 'back office' to the industrialized world
9. London Subway bombings
10. French Riots

The Top Word Lists for 2005

Refugee, Outside the Mainstream, and (Acts of) God were selected as leading the Top Word, Phrase and Name Lists of 2005 released earlier today by the Global Language Monitor in its annual worldwide survey. The Global Language Monitor (GLM) publishes Year 2005 lists regarding: The Top Words, Top Phrases, Top Names, Global Youth Speak, as well as the Top Word Spoken on the Planet.

"2005 was the year we saw a convergence of a number sometimes contradictory language trends: the major global media became more pervasive yet actually less persuasive; the language spoken by the youth of the world is converging at an ever increasing rate; and the Political Correctness movement become a truly global phenomenon," said Paul JJ Payack, President of The Global Language Monitor (GLM).

The year has been a vibrant one for language, rife with examples that have been nominated by the GLM’s Language Police, volunteer language observers from the world over.

The Top Ten Words of 2005:

1. Refugee: Though the word was considered politically incorrect in the US, 'refugees' were often considered the lucky ones in streaming away from a series of global catastrophes unmatched in recent memory.
2. Tsunami: From the Japanese tsu nami for 'harbor wave', few recognized the word before disaster struck on Christmas Day, 2004, but the word subsequently flooded with unprecedented (and sustained) media coverage.
3. Poppa/Papa/Pope: (Italian, Portuguese, English, many others). The death of beloved Pope John Paul II kept the words on the lips of the faithful around the world.
4. Chinglish: The new second language of China from the Chinglish formation: CHINese + EngLISH.
5. H5N1: A looming global pandemic that could dwarf the Boubonic Plague of the Middle Ages (and AIDS) boggles the comtemporary imagination.
6. Recaille: A quick trip around the Romance languages (French jargon, scum; Spanish, rabble or swine; Italian, worthless dregs) illustrates the full freight of the word used to describe youthful French rioters of North African and Muslim descent.
7. Katrina: Name will become synonymous with natural forces responsible for the total and utter descruction of a city.
8. Wiki: Internet buzzword (from the Hawai'ian wiki wiki for 'quick, quick') that describes collaboration software where anyone can contribute to the on-going effort.
9. SMS: Short Message Service. The world's youth sent over a trillion text messages in 2005. Currently being texted are full-length novels, news, private messages and everything in between.
10. Insurgent: Politically neutral term used to describe enemy combatants..

Last year the Top Ten Words words were incivility, Red States/Blue States, and Blogosphere.

The Top Ten Phrases of 2005:

1. Out of the Mainstream: Used to describe the ideology of any political opponent.
2. Bird Flu/Avian Flu: the H5N1 strain of Flu that resembles that of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic where 60 million died.

3. Politically Correct: Emerges as a worldwide phenomenon.

4. North/South Divide In the US it might be Red States and Blue States but globally the 'haves' and 'have nots' are divided by a geographical if not psychological boundary.

5. Purple Thumb: The badge of honor worn by Iraqi voters proving that they voted in their ground-breaking elections.

6. Climate Change: Or Global Warming. No matter what your political persuasion, the fact remains that New York City was under 5,000 feet of ice some 20,000 years ago.

7. String Theory: The idea that the universe is actually constructed of 11-dimensional, pulsating planes of existence.

8. The Golden Quatrilateral: India's new superhighway system that links the key cities of the Subcontinent.

9. Jumping the Couch. Apparently losing complete emotional control; made popular by the escapades of Tom Cruise on the Oprah television show.
10. Deferred success: The idea introduced in the UK that there is no such thing as failure, only deferred success.

Last year the Top Phrases were Red States/Blue States, Moral Values, and Two Americas.

The Top Ten Names of 2005:

1. (Acts of) God: The world watches helplessly as a superpower is humbled as one of its great cities is laid asunder (Hurricane Katrina).

2. Tsunami snuffs out nearly 300,000 lives, and an earthquake takes another 200,000 (Kashmir). A Higher Power, indeed.

3. Katrina: Greek (katharos) for 'pure'. Before the hurricane, the name was borne by two saints, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, and three of Henry VIII's wives.

4. John Paul II. The death of beloved Pope John Paul II kept his name on the lips of the faithful around the world.

5. Wen Jiabao: Premier of the People's Republic of China since March 2003; leading perhaps the largest economic transformation in history.

6. Saddham Hussein: Should re-read Karl Marx: the first time is history, the second is but farce.

7. Dubya: Every more 'weeble-like': Dubya wobbles but he won't fall down.

8. Oprah: Now a global phenomenon with an ever-expanding media (and charitable) empire.

9. Shakira: the Columbian songstress is captivating ever wider circles.

10. John Roberts: New Chief Justice of the American Supreme Court.

11. Mahmud Ahmadi-nejad: President of Iran since August 2005; he has recently suggest that the Jewish Homeland be moved to Europe.

Last year the Top Names were Dubya Rove (W. and Karl Rove), Mel (Gibson) (Michael) Moore, and Saddam Hussein.

The Top Ten Global YouthSpeak Words:

1. Crunk: A Southern variation of hip hop music; also meaning fun or amped.
2. Mang: Variation of man, as in "S'up, mang?"
3. A'ight: All Right, "That girl is nice, she's a'ight"
4. Mad: A lot; "She has mad money"
5. Props: Cheers, as in "He gets mad props!"
6. Bizznizzle: This term for" business" is part of the Snoop Dogg/Sean John-inspired lexicon, as in "None of your bizznizzle!'
7. Fully: In Australia an intensive. as in 'fully sick'.)
8. Fundoo: In India, Hindi for cool
9. Brill! From the UK, the shortened form of brilliant!
10. "s'up": Another in an apparently endless number of Whazzup? permutations.

Southern California YouthSpeak Bonus: Morphing any single syllable word into 3, 4 or even 5 syllables.

Last year the Top YouthSpeak terms were: Word, Peace (or Peace out), and Proper.

The Most Frequently Spoken Word on the Planet: O.K.

The Number of Words in the English Language: 961,958 (estimate 3:44 pm Pacific 11 Dec 2005)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

March of the Indomitable, 2

Three months, and a few blizzards, later, the female penguin lays a cherished egg. It's the most pleasant moment of the year for the couple.

Lifting her white plume to reveal the little gem, the would-be mom bashfully gives a triumphant glance at the expectant dad, who admires the feat with a proud nod. They are joyfully speechless.

The joy is short-lived, though. The couples are starving. Their last meal was in the ocean three months ago. One third of their weight has gone.

In an exemplary show of courtesy and sacrifice, male Emperors volunteer to incubate the egg. I doubt any man would or could do it, given that he has to wade on his soles and keep the unborn kid on his feet to protect it from the frigid, at least for the next couple of months.

No nest can keep any egg warm enough when it is minus 15 degrees. No plant, besides, grows in that barren land of ice and wind and darkness. The penguins have to be resourceful. Their feet would double as an insulated floor and their lowered plume would act as a roof for half a year.

Before the female penguins dash back to the ocean, they have to transfer the egg from their own feet to those of their mates. It is one of the saddest moments of March of the Penguins.

Any misstep or clumsiness can turn the celebration into an early mourning. Couples face each other, just inches apart. They have ten seconds. The freeze is lurking to kidnap. The female opens her feet. The egg rolls toward the male. His feet secure it. His ruffled belly nails it down. The mom looks anxious. The dad gives the egg a jerk. It slips down. Quick! Another try!

Most have enough experience, but some are naïve or unlucky. Their penalty is cruelly unfair: one year of sorrow and jealousy.

(End of part 2)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Myth Buster Courts Controversy


Is the Nazi Holocaust a myth? To Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yes.

He is persistently turning the massacre of European Jews in World War II into a national interests issue for Iranians. This is the second time in less than a week that he strikes the same unsettling cord. Many world leaders have now scornfully branded Mr. Ahmadinejad a Holocaust denier, the most notorious label patented in our modern civilization.


I agree the Holocaust is a historical fact. I also agree with C. P. Scott, an ex-editor of the Guardian, saying: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred."

God is holy, but many of us readily question His existence, don't we? Jew lobbies, therefore, have made the massacre untouchably and irrationally sacred.

I just read that Mel Gibson, director of The Passion of The Christ, has decided to produce a TV serial on a Jewish girl's suffering during the Holocaust, simply because Mr. Gibson's dad, like Mr. Ahmadinejad, is a Holocaust denier or, more technically, an apologist.

Mr. Gibson Junior, a Catholic, is not alone. Hollywood rarely has the guts to portray a Jew as a crook, though films are supposed to be a faint representation of the real world. While people of other faiths have to shoulder the bad-guy role, Jews always star as wise and heroic protagonists. Simply inform Variety you intend to make a film on the tragedy of Jewry and your Oscar nod, even win, is set in stone.

Copy-cat

Amid Iranian president's quarrel over history, one harsh fact annoys me: his words are simple and powerful, his intentions vague, and the feedbacks harmful.


"They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets," he said. (Watch the film here)

There is no complex word or notion in this judgment. He is emulating his mentor Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, about whom Harvey Morris, a veteran Reuters journalist used to say:

"He doesn't waste his time on serious theological stuff we wouldn't understand; just goes to the point and gives us our bloody headlines."

So does Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has described his victory in the June presidential race the Third Revolution of the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Khomeini led the first uprising in 1979 and celebrated the second one after firebrand students loyal to him stormed the US embassy in Tehran a few months later.

Many believe Mr. Ahmadinejad's plain and familiar words, addressing many burning troubles of Iranian voters, provided a stark contrast to the stuffy and pompous diction of his rivals, thus helping him sweep to power. Some even claim if a wooden stick rivaled Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and chanted the same militant slogans, it would have won. Just God knows whether the stick or the current winner would have served Iranians better.

After his victory, the conservative president has repeatedly tried to cut a mystic figure, most famously when he alleged a "shield of light" engulfed him during his speech in the UN Assembly in September. His theocrat mentor was humble enough to keep his divine experiences personal.

The copycat boy, thus, is taking a long shot, not to become the next leader, but someone more revered. A pseudo-saint, or loftier, perhaps.


But why? I really have no idea; he might be able to quench his innate thirst for immortality, posthumously of course. Or perhaps he is pursuing a less philosophical quest, one for "domestic consumption." His supporters surely need mental fodder to forget their joyless lives and lost identities, but mark my words, this little fellow is more canny and ambitious than what his shabby clothes betray.

Stone-thrower

Mr. Ahmadinejad is, however, ignorant of the damaging impact of these anti-Holocaust remarks on his ambitions, the smallest of which is winning a second term in office.

The gathering condemnation of his latest speech inevitably emboldens Israelis to deliver on their promise to bomb Iranian nuclear plants. Getting nuclear technology is becoming an obsession for many Iranians, who feel it would give their national pride a steroid shot.

Any delays, as well as possible sanctions on the national soccer team to compete in the upcoming World Cup in the land of the Holocaust, would unleash Iranians' frustration at enduring three decades of the theocracy.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is also provoking non-Muslims to question founding tenents of Islam such as Shiite belief in Imam Mahdi, a promised messiah who has been awaiting God's permission "to reveal himself after 1200 years of living incognita and to promote peace and justice."

Mr. President, the next time you pick up a stone to throw at your enemies' houses, first check if your own is made of glass. If so, drop the stone and reach for an olive branch.

Monday, December 12, 2005

March of the Indomitable, 1

If human lovers had to choose an animal for reincarnation, I would rarely go for an Emperor penguin.

I must be nuts, you argue. Penguins are cute and cuddly, especially ever since Madagascar cajoled us to buy a Disney-stuffed one to befriend our teddy bears. That hilarious animation depicted penguins as adventurous creatures, tunneling out of a New York zoo and hijacking a ship to Antarctica.

Those "keep-waving-boys" never reached their ancestral land, instead decided to bask in that sun-kissed African paradise. Wise choice, believe me.

March of the Penguins, a just-screened-in-Uk documentary by French director Luc Jacquet, can reveal if they had reached Antarctica, what fate would have been awaiting the playful Emperors.

These species of penguins are one of the most daring, and foolish, lovers ever smooched on our planet.


Each March, their overpowering instinct propels them on a breeding pilgrim performed for millennia. They leap from cozy and lavish oceans and land, belly-first, on an icy continent, so extreme and inhospitable that no other animal ventures there.

They heave their well-fed plump bodies along with their small feet, for 110 km, to reach their mating mecca. Scientists still puzzle over how penguins' compass guides them to that feature-less bleak destination.

Upon arrival, they greet other caravans, shuffling and crawling in a long single file. A frenzied search for a fit mate starts at once. It's a race against time.

Females usually outnumber male Emperors in this lustful fair; thus the suppliers must be slick marketers and agile wrestlers. Coveted males are monogamous for just one year, after which couples kiss goodbye forever. That short breeding period is, however, hauntingly unforgettable.

They do it Doggie, by the way.


(End of Part 1)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Internet Redefining Politics


Online campaigning is transforming US politics and empowering individual voters dwarfed by the might of the print and broadcast media, the author of a major new Internet use survey said.

The online revolution could even allow a third-party candidate to break the two-party Republican/Democrat monopoly of US politics, said Jeffrey Cole, who penned the major University of Southern California (USC) study.

"The Internet will forever change the course and nature of American politics," Cole said.
"The Internet is no longer a marginal force in American politics -- it is quickly becoming the central force in empowering voters," Cole said.


Cole said at an advance briefing on the survey results for congressional staffers that 40 percent of Internet users now believe going online can give people more political power.

Internet campaigning was largely credited for the insurgent political campaign of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who rode a wave of online fundraising and lobbying ahead of the 2004 political nominating season.

Though Dean's surprising campaign eventually folded, as John Kerry surged to the Democratic nomination, his challenge is seen by many US political observers as a watershed for the Internet's role in US politics.

Cole suggested, in the briefing to staffers from both major parties in the US Capitol, that the rising role of the Internet may "see the first successful rise of a third party candidate for 150 years."

Study results also track the most popular uses of the internet : this year's study shows that email is the top task conducted online, followed by general surfing, reading news, shopping and seeking entertainment news.

Agene France-Presse

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Make Love and Peace


The choice between love and fear is made every moment in our hearts and minds.

That is where the peace process begins. Without peace within, peace in the world is an empty wish. Like love, peace is extended.

It cannot be brought from the world to the heart. It must be brought from each heart to another, and thus to all mankind.

--Paul Ferrini

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mahmoud the Menace

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad today repeated his recent call for erasing Israel from the map and thus sparked another international uproar.

Lots of people, me included, feel Israeli government commits unspeakable crimes against Palestinian civilians, now and then. We have every right to express our protest and mobilize a global movement to stop the oppression, all through peaceful means.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's irrational cow-boyish language, unluckily, undermines and smears such efforts. In the Wild West, villain cowboys bullied others only when they were confident of their brinkmanship and ammunition. (See A Cowboy's Guide to Life post in this blog.)

They would have shut up and galloped away when fearful of being outgunned. Unless drunk.

Israel has allegedly over 200 nuclear warheads and never overtly menaces its Arab neighbors. The covert stockpile acts as deterrence, a mental shield against possible attacks of former foes.

Iran officially has none. Suppose it has bought a couple of nukes from the booming black market in the former Soviet states.

Now imagine the ill-fated C-130 was carrying, instead of journalists, an A-bomb to wipe Israel out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Our Fine Hours

The fall of Saddam Hussein has been one of the few fine hours for us Iranians in the past three decades.

My colleagues and I were all glued to the TV in that April afternoon in 2003, when a US military vehicle, assisted by newly freed Iraqis, was tugging down the dictator's towering sculpture in Baghdad.

When a soldier draped the Stars and Stripes around the statue's face, I didn't wish it were an Iranian flag. The outcome was far more pleasant. We managed, for the first time, to imagine our evil tormentor faceless.

Saddam's capture inside a "fox hole" was even orgasmic to us. You surely remember when the doctor was fussily inspecting his unkempt hair for lice. That scene is, undoubtedly, engraved in our collective memory.

The ensuing outrage of Arab newspapers made us all more confident that our nightmare is over.

After two years, the ex-dictator is yet to face the death penalty he fully deserves and the war has become a bloody mess for the US-led coalition.

Tonight I was watching the pre-recorded acceptance speech of Nobel literature laureate, Harold Pinter.

"Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable," he said. (Read his complete speech here.)

Mr. Pinter might have a point about the big lie of war-mongers, those who had directly supported Saddam in his 8-year war against Iran, but in this particular case, I back the liars for punctuating our national misery with a couple of fine hours.

God Embraces Freedom of Speech


The newly perished Iranian journalists are going to work on a heavenly project designed to "grant more freedom to the dead and to urge the living to die sooner", God's press office confirmed today.

During the past two weeks, a popular poet, a graphics maestro, and over 60 journalists, photographers and cameramen have passed away in Iran, either in death-bed or in a tragic flight, making the Iranian calendar month of Azar the most heart-rending one for the country's cultural circles in recent history.

As if that were not enough, a veteran radio presenter was announced dead today.Gossip-mongers are already whispering that something big, really big, is happening up there. By "up there", they mean the Land of the Dead.

A God's press officer revealed it is true. The Almighty has "gracefully" decided to embrace some political openness to "pamper the dead".

The following is my short talk with a coarse-sounding male heavenly press officer (HPO), in its entirety, including the off-the-records:

HPO: God's Press Office. May I help you?

RezBiz: Hello, sir.

HPO: Hello, son.

RezBiz: I am inquiring about alleged drastic changes up there, in terms of culture and media. It seems you are aggressively recruiting new media staff. Have you launched a cultural revolution?

HPO: The Almighty has decreed us to initiate a grand pampering project on granting more freedom of speech to the dead and to urge the living to die sooner to enjoy the unrivalled liberty. We are going to allow them to have more access to new heavenly media such as blogs and forums. They can also use a top-notch search engine, named Gabriel.


RezBiz: So they wouldn't miss Google, but what are His motives? Has there been any revolt, or pressure, to gain more freedoms?

HPO: [devilishly chuckling] Who in the hell can mess with the Creator, son!? It is just out of His infinite grace. But I can tell you, off the record of course, there has been a slight uneasiness among the disconsolate guys here, claiming they used to have more freedom to question God's mysterious ways down on the Earth.

RezBiz: Do you confirm stories alleging some of the dead had been plotting to escape? There are reports of some even managing to leap out of their graves.

HPO: You are welcome to take a trip and check it by yourself. There is no way to stow away. Besides, people must be nuts to desire that disaster-plagued planet. That's why we invited the Iranian TV doc-makers and journalists to come here and help our marketing campaign team so that the living could get more assurances, beside those already promised in our Holy Books, that life is wonderful up here.

RezBiz: I thought God is powerful enough to kill every breathing creature at a stroke.

HPO: Watch your mouth! He is the most compassionate and merciful, thus prefers people to volunteer for their demise.


RezBiz: Do you have any sponsors for your campaign?

HPO: The whole wealth in the nature and the cosmos belongs to the Almighty Corporation and he accepts no sponsors or partners. Period.

RezBiz: When will the campaign kick off?

HPO: The newly recruited journalists will have one week of induction to marvel at different luxuries and sceneries of the Heaven. Then they are supposed to present a blueprint of their media campaign. The Committee of Idea-assessing Angels (CIA) would then evaluate its merits.

RezaBiz: What would happen if the draft is rejected?

HPO: New journalists would be hired and these will be dumped.

RezBiz: Great! Down to the Earth?

HPO: Don't try to make a fool of yourself.

RezBiz: Well, that's it. Can I ask you a favor?

HPO: By all glorified means.

Rezbiz: Can you arrange an exclusive interview for me with God, please?

HPO: Sure, just give me your train or flight number.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cats Shed Crocodile Tears in Mice Tragedy


Journalists and politicians are engaged in an endless cat-and-mouse pursuit. Their habtiat determines who incarnates which animal.

In democratic societies, where people are not only spectators but also umpires, politicians are, well, mice. Ask anyone grilled by the BBC's Jeremy Paxman. In oppressive socities, they morph into savage cats, stalking and clawing apart journalists.

The humanoid cats even misname these nosy media rodents as rats. A misnomer zoologically, they say, but not politically.

So when dozens of journalists are chopped and charred after their faulty plane clips and sets ablaze itself and a building in a housing complex south of the Iranian capital, Tehran, the outpour of condolences from feline politicians is intriguing.

Opportunity Poachers

Iranian politicians have made a dirty habit of it in recent years. They patiently hang around for predictably happy occasions to effuse with empathy. Simply remember their rotten congratulatory messages whenever the national soccer team snatch the golden ticket to the World Cup finals.

Disasters are more welcome. Why? Simple: Tragic and momentous. Quakes and plane crashes, now normalcy in Iran due to its frequency, lower our collective pain threshold. We are shell-shocked and defenseless and pathetic.

Add some high-caliber journalists to our cause for mourning and you surely launch a mouth-watering feast for patronizing politicians.

Let's turn the table on them, however.

God's Servants

As I am publishing this post, about 10 hours after the plane incident, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is yet to fax his condolences. He was also irresponsibly late after the Bam quake 2 years ago this month. Too busy with divine invocation?

Ultra-conservatives such as Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Shahroudi and President Ahmadinejad began their messages with devoting their "heart-felt" commiserations to Imam Mahdi, a living saint for the Shiite laity, and then to Ayatollah Khamenei.

As a self-styled populist president, Mr. Ahmadinejad has missed a great opportunity to help "God's Servants" by mulishly continuing his trip to Saudi Arabia instead of returning home promptly to personally manage the disaster. He decided to pass the buck to his grumpy executive deputy, whose clumsiness was highlighted by a Majlis no-confidence vote after being nominated for the Oil Ministry in August.

Former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami, meanwhile, daringly counted themselves not indebted to the leader, so made the public the exclusive receiving end of their woeful letters.

Mostafa Moein, a moderate hopeful who lost the June presidential polls simply for ignoring the underdogs, implicitly licked his wounds. He expressed particular condolences to the "noble inhabitants of south Tehran," where the fatal crash killed over 20 on the ground.

If Mr. Moein had fared better in polls in that impoverished high-turn-out area, analysts argue, he would have boosted his chances of winning on a lofty ticket of democracy and human rights. Is he planning for a political comeback?

His ex-rival Mohammad Ghalibaf also dropped any reference to the leader. He clearly still feels stabbed in the back by the supreme leader's Mafiosi henchmen, a pain not even alleviated with the self-defeating honor of being handpicked as the mayor of a metropolitan choked by smug.

Living Suspicion

Tragedies have a messianic power to unite a nation widely fragmented. Americans rallied round a besieged Jimmy Carter after the hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979. Iranian politicians-cum-cats are painfully slow to grasp the potential.

Take Ezatollah Zarghami, a former hostage taker, as an instance. As the head of state-run TV, he has lost over 30 media workers in one of the most fatal accidents for journalists. But in his condolences, he just singled out his own staff, as if other journalists deserved the fiery flight.

His message merely reflects the suspicion with which Iranian politicians have looked down upon independent journalists.

The cat-and-mouse game will sadly last, forever.

Monday, December 05, 2005

It's Doomsday, Babe!


"They broke his arms, his legs, and they shot at his feet. People who were arrested were taken to prison and most of them were killed there. The scene was frightening. Even women with babies were arrested. It was not Thursday. It was doomsday."

This is not a gruesome scene from a bloodcurdling novel on Armageddon, but what
Ahmed Hassan Mohammad told a five-judge court chairing the trial of Iraq's ex-dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Mohammad had witnessed how Iraqi security forces mauled and "minced" to death 148 men, women and toddlers after a botched assassination attempt on the former leader's life in 1982 in a Shiite village, north of Baghdad.

His sullen account of that gloomy day surely enraged Saddam in the dock. He furiously yelled a tempting headline: "I am not afraid of execution."

Does it really mean he is not a coward? Or is he?

Once I read a memorable quote from William Shakespeare, "Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant, though, die once."

Even if Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has pledged not to sign his ex-archenemy's death penalty, the dictator surely can feel determined hands clawing his shackles up from a dark and cold grave to pull him down.

The other day I was reading a book entitled Dropping a Pink Elephant by the former BBC presenter Bill McFarlan. The author argues a person who says, "I didn't have sexual relationship with that woman," can never, ever, convince people he is an innocent lamb, unfairly accused of sleazy misconduct and perjury as the leader of the world's sole superpower.

I also bet the disgruntled tyrant was cursing his former ruthless troops for not slitting the throat of this would-be witness, just like his ill-fated fellow villagers. It is, indeed, an intrinsic illusion of despots to assume that suffocating witnesses would bury the truth, leaving no chance for its resurrection.

These mighty rulers always underestimate peoples' inborn thirst to unearth and savor the truth. Their hollow belief that they can control even their endgame always leaves them disillusioned.

I am afraid those trying to put a "dirty dozen" ceiling on the charges against Saddam are just falling in the same fatal trap.

Their true motive for ignoring his other crimes against humanity, such as butchering Iranian people, is a hair-raising fear. They are afraid of being unmasked as ex-accomplices. After all, could a smart rank-and-file officer in the Ba'ath party jump so fast on the power bandwagon and stay put despite two self-initiated wars against it neighbors, all alone?

The defense team is expected to argue that Saddam executed a bunch of rebels and bandits bent on killing the leader of a sovereign country. The handiest counter-argument is: "Do sham referendums churn out genuinely representitive rulers?"

As the prosecutors try to refute the justification of Saddam's flamboyant lawyers, including former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, one question would keep my mind itching.

How can trampled people around the globe, especially in the tyrant-brimming Middle East, find a legitimate and sterile way to get ride of their necrophile leaders, scheduling their next meeting for the doomsday?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Cowboy's Guide to Life


* Most of the stuff people worry about ain't never gonna happen anyway.
* The best sermons are lived, not preached.
* Your fences need to be horse high, pig tight, and bull strong.
* If you're ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there with ya.
* Life ain't about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.
* It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.
* Keep skunks and politicians and lawyers at a distance.
* Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
* Words that soak into your ears are whispered ... not yelled.
* Meanness don't jest happen overnight.
* Forgive your enemies. It messes up their heads.
* Don't sell your mule to buy a plow.
* Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.
* It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.
* You cannot unsay a cruel word.
* Every path has a few puddles.
* When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.
* Don't judge folks by their relatives.
* Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
* Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.
* Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't botherin' you none.
* Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
* It's better to be a has-been than a never-was.
* The easiest way to eat crow is while it's still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swaller.
* If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.
* If it don't seem like it's worth the effort, it probably ain't.
* Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got.
* The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with looks at you in the mirror every mornin'.
* If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.
* Don't worry about bitin' off more 'n you can chew; your mouth is probably a whole lot bigger'n you think.
* Only cows know why they stampede.
* Always drink upstream from the herd.
* Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
* Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.
* Remember . Don't squat with your spurs on