Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Turkish Headscarf controversy

For those interested in the controversy, the Turkish Daily News has a FAQ about the issue.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This Chair ...

Speaking of funny, Armando Iannucci perfectly explains some of the difficulty I have with Obama. The chair speech in particular is hilarious.

So why does Obama, billed by everyone as a cross between Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, but without the terrible looks of either, just leave me puzzled? Maybe it's because his is a rhetoric that soars and takes flight, but alights nowhere. It declares that together we can do anything, but doesn't mention any of the things we can do. It's a perpetual tickle in the nose that never turns into a sneeze. Trying to make sense of what he's saying is like trying to wrap mist.

But, rhythmically, it's quite alluring. It can make anything, even, for example, a simple chair, seem magnificent. Why vote for someone who says: 'See that chair. You can sit on it' when you can have someone like Obama say: 'This chair can take your weight. This chair can hold your buttocks, 15 inches in the air. This chair, this wooden chair, can support the ass of the white man or the crack of the black man, take the downward pressure of a Jewish girl's behind or the butt of a Buddhist adolescent, it can provide comfort for Muslim buns or Mormon backsides, the withered rump of an unemployed man in Nevada struggling to get his kids through high school and needful of a place to sit and think, the plump can of a single mum in Florida desperately struggling to make ends meet but who can no longer face standing, this chair, made from wood felled from the tallest redwood in Chicago, this chair, if only we believed in it, could sustain America's huddled arse.'

Friday, January 25, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Here is Bill Moyers talking about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson. Watch it and be proud of being human. Watch it and be ashamed of being human.

And here is King's speech (thanks to Michael D. at Balloon Juice). It still sends shivers up my spine. I think it always will.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wheat shortages

The effect of wheat shortages in Pakistan (see below) is now having an effect in Afghanistan. This from Dawn.

Afghanistan closed its border with Pakistan on Tuesday, stopping all kind of traffic and movement of people.
The Afghan border authorities suddenly closed the Friendship Gate at Chaman and deployed extra army personnel.
They said the border would remain closed for an indefinite period.
Afghan border commander at Spin Buldak Abdul Raziq Panjsheri said various cities and towns in southern Afghanistan were facing an acute shortage of flour after wheat and flour supply from Pakistan was stopped.
He said the situation would worsen if the ban was not lifted
“Border with Pakistan at Chaman would remain closed till the decision to ban the supply of wheat and flour is withdrawn,” he said.

This closure is having an immediate effect in blocking supplies to NATO forces. The effects can become a whole lot worse. The shortage of bread will drive a lot of people to the Taliban. Hopefully, the responsible US and NATO authorities are aware of the possible consequences - though one wonders if anyone is responsible anymore.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Warning signs

Much more than the assassination of Benazir Bhutto or the threats from presidential candidates this news should (and probably will) really scare those ruling Pakistan:

There have been queues outside Pakistani shops in towns around the country, and flour prices have shot up.

Wheat flour is a staple foodstuff in Pakistan, where rotis or unleavened bread are eaten with almost every meal.

Last week Afghanistan appealed for foreign help to combat a wheat shortage while Bangladesh recently warned it faced a crisis over rice supplies.
Inflation had been taking a bite out of people's earnings in 2006 but had eased in the first quarters of 2007 which seemed to have brought the government some breathing space, however inflation in basic necessities has sharply increased in the last quarter. FromThe Nation:
The official statistics showed that the Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI) for the income group of Rs 3000 per month [the lowest income group] soared by 15.72 per cent on January 3 as compared to the corresponding period of the last financial year.
This is not sustainable. While the crisis seems to be due to a drought in Australia the people will blame the Musharraf government which is already struggling with the effect of higher fuel prices and a downturn in Foreign Direct Investment.

The State Bank of Pakistan has issued a decidedly somber forecast for 2008. Looks like turbulent times ahead.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

All Hail Jon Schwarz

"The [Schwarz] Iron Law of Institutions (SILI) is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution."

The leadership transfer at the Pakistan Peoples Party is a potent example of the Iron Law of Institutions. The PPP is arguably the most popular political party in the country. There are some problems - like the stench of corruption which attached to the Chairman-for-life Benazir Bhutto. But this was outweighed by the fact that there was some genuine affection for her and it could be argued that it was not she but her husband Asif Zardari that was the truly corrupt one. Because she had been out of the country there is actually some second level leadership that has developed in the party. One member of the PPP in particular, Aitzaz Ahsan, though supposedly not without warts of his own, has been doing a creditable job providing leadership. He was front and center in the one popular movement that has occurred in Pakistan in recent years - the fight to reinstate the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court after he had been removed by Musharraf. He is a c0-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and has been active in the support of the rights of women in Pakistan - he was the lawyer for Mukhtar Mai. Making him head of the party would have substantially boosted both the credibility and the popularity of the PPP. But it would have decreased the power of the party "leaders" within the PPP. So following the Schwarz Iron Law of Institutions the PPP went with Asif Zardari, a despised figure in Pakistan. To retain the Bhutto name they changed his sons name and named him heir. By doing so they made a mockery of any talk of democracy coming from the PPP and substantially reduced its popularity. SILI rules.