Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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The Patience Stone: “Sang-E Saboor”
by Atiq Rahimi


“For far too long, Afghan women have been faceless and voiceless. Until now. With The Patience Stone, Atiq Rahimi gives face and voice to one unforgettable woman–and, one could argue, offers her as a proxy for the grievances of millions…it is a rich read, part allegory, part a tale of retribution, part an exploration of honor, love, sex, marriage, war. It is without doubt an important and courageous book.” from the introduction by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

In Persian folklore, Syngue Sabour is the name of a magical black stone, a patience stone, which absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. It is believed that the day it explodes, after having received too much hardship and pain, will be the day of the Apocalypse. But here, the Syngue Sabour is not a stone but rather a man lying brain-dead with a bullet lodged in his neck. His wife is with him, sitting by his side. But she resents him for having sacrificed her to the war, for never being able to resist the call to arms, for wanting to be a hero, and in the end, after all was said and done, for being incapacitated in a small skirmish. Yet she cares, and she speaks to him. She even talks to him more and more, opening up her deepest desires, pains, and secrets. While in the streets rival factions clash and soldiers are looting and killing around her, she speaks of her life, never knowing if her husband really hears. And it is an extraordinary confession, without restraint, about sex and love and her anger against a man who never understood her, who mistreated her, who never showed her any respect or kindness. Her admission releases the weight of oppression of marital, social, and religious norms, and she leads her story up to the great secret that is unthinkable in a country such as Afghanistan. Winner of the Prix Goncourt, The Patience Stone captures with great courage and spare, poetic, prose the reality of everyday life for an intelligent woman under the oppressive weight of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

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MontrealProtestsTruncheon law

Under a draconian law passed by the Quebec government on Friday, their very meeting could be considered a criminal act. Law 78 – unprecedented in recent Canadian history – is the latest, most desperate manoeuvre of a provincial government that is afraid it has lost control over a conflict that began as a student strike against tuition hikes but has since spread into a protest movement with wide-ranging social and environmental demands.Labelled a “truncheon law” by its critics, it imposes severe restrictions on the right to protest. Any group of 50 or more protesters must submit plans to police eight hours ahead of time; they can be denied the right to proceed. Picket lines at universities and colleges are forbidden, and illegal protests are punishable by fines from $5,000 to $125,000 for individuals and unions – as well as by the seizure of union dues and the dissolution of their associations.In other words, the government has decided to smash the student movement by force.The government quickly launched a public relations offensive to defend itself. Full-page ads in local newspapers ran with the headline: “For the sake of democracy and citizenship.” Quebec’s minister of public security, Robert Dutil, prattled about the many countries that

via Quebec's 'truncheon law' rebounds as student strike spreads | Martin Lukacs | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.

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maybe there’s hope yet…

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Windows of the World

Over 60% of the curtain wall system, representing nearly 7900 panels, have been installed to date on the World Trade Center. Picture by @WTCProgress

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Sergei Magnitsky’s Torture and Murder

via Sergei Magnitsky’s Torture and Murder in Pre-Trial Detention « Stop the Untouchables. Justice for Sergei Magnitsky..

After a 37-year old lawyer Sergei Magnitsky testified against Russian Interior Ministry officers for their role in embezzling $230 million from the state, he was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention by those same officers he accused of crimes. In an attempt to force Magnitsky to withdraw his testimony, these officers intentionally tortured and ultimately murdered him.

Sergei Magnitsky

Sergei left his own detailed hand-written account of the pressure and suffering he experienced at the hands of his captors. His complaints about his treatment read like a modern-day Gulag Archipelago. The persecution of Sergei Magnitsky by state officials he accused by means of torture and murder is documented in independent findings by Russian and international human rights organizations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the US Department of State, the US Government Helsinki Commission, and many others.


 It seems ironic to me, that these days in America, we are very concerned about appearing politically correct,and we are highly critical of any perceived misdeeds of the US government.   We will defend the rights of accused terrorists, and demand that they not be mistreated while they are locked up in Guantanamo. And we will rail against corporate wrongdoing and declare capitalism itself “evil”.

On the heels of a scandal like Enron, in which false accounting practices formed an inflated value and unsuspecting employees who’d invested their 401k plans in that company lost everything, we feel that the corruption inherent in our capitalist system has been proven. The self-enhancing accounting practices condoned by auditor Arthur Anderson were in effect determined to be fraudulent, and tantamount to theft, and after prosecution, that firm was dismantled.  And CEO Kenneth Lay, who said he knew nothing and bore no responsibility for the loss of the retirement funds, while his own lifestyle was luxurious, suffered a heart attack and died a year after prosecution concluded.

But we will not admit that there is some justice in our system of government, and that of the other options available in other countries, it is the overall fairness and reasonablity inherent in our legal system, which makes us the envy of countries like Mexico and the Balkans and their people are drawn to immigrate here.  Contrary to the politically correct notion that America is evil and imperialistic, it is because our system is relatively fair, legalistically structured, and less subject to corruption than other systems of government in practice, that people are drawn to our shores to experience our level of freedom.

To hear about the story of Sergei Magnitsky’s torture and murder, seems incredibly perverse to American ears. Our legal system has succeeded in impeaching presidents who have overstepped their bounds, as Nixon and Clinton did. We praised the reporters who discovered and reported Watergate.  And we praise the access to freedom of information which our country enjoys, and we defend to some extent the actions of radicals such as Julian Assange, who stretch the limits the concept of free speech and Wikileaks.

Sergei Magnitsky was merely a Russian attorney, working legitimately within their legal system, who merely because he blew the whistle on alleged wide-scale tax fraud sanctioned by public officials, suffered detention, torture, and ultimately death at the very hands of the people he was trained to serve. It would be similar, if Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr were imprisoned and tortured for his testimony and attempt to criticize the Clintons in the Whitewater Investigation. Or if Julian Assange were beaten and tortured while imprisoned for his revelations with Wikileaks. Or if Gerry Spence were imprisoned and tortured for bringing evidence that Kerr-McGee was responsible for exposing Karen Silkwood to dangerous levels of radiation at the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant in 1979…

We take our rights and our legal system for granted, so much so in America, that we don’t realize what goes on in other countries. We even deride our system for all its imperfections, and say it is evil and corrupt. But compared to what is allowed to happen and still happening today in countries like Russia, our system is a safe haven which should be protected. It may not be perfect, but it maintains a level of justice, that makes it by far, the best of the “evil” systems in the world…

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Vincere directed by Marco Bellochio 2010, is an Italian movie about a bit of Italian history: the struggle of Ida Dalser, lover of Benito Albino Mussolini, for public recognition for herself as his wife, and the paternity of her son, as parts of the life of Benito Mussolini and his place in history. It’s a passionate movie but a sad tale.

Ida Dalser encounters Mussolini early in his career, while he publishes the Popolo d’Italia newsletter and begins to define his aggressive political stance. Following him, and falling in love with him, she supports Benito financially as well as physically, and will eventually bear his son before discovering that Mussolini has been married with children, all this time unbeknownst to her. Although she and Mussolini become more distant as he rises to success and political power, she never loses her emotional connection to him despite the separation, and she struggles valiantly to obtain legal recognition of the paternity of her son.

It is her failure to let go of this issue, that becomes problematic for Mussolini. The fascist party he heads, does it’s best to silence her. Claiming her accusations are false, and labelling her insane, the police have her institutionalized in an asylum for the deranged, and she is stripped of custody of her son. Her treatment is not more tortuous than that suffered by many of the ex-wives of Henry the VIII. But it is the ease by which she is stripped of human rights–her identity and personal voice– and metaphorically imprisoned for mere political purposes, that is the true horror of her situation.

She makes many valiant attempts at escape, and survives over ten years institutionalized. But the treatment becomes more severe as she resists submission and refuses to deny the paternity claim. Ultimately, well into Mussolini’s dictatorship and pre-eminence, Ida and her son will die early deaths while institutionalized. Ida of brain hemorhage and her son will also die at the age of 27 of anti-convulsant drugs. Neither Ida’s claims of her legal marriage to Mussolini, nor the paternity claim, were ever proven. Yet her story lived on, in the tales of those who knew her, well after Mussolini was exocuted by the partisans he fought against, and Italy was freed from his tyranny.

While I watched this movie I was aware of several things. This was an Italian film, directed and produced, with actual historical footage interspersed. It almost had an air of propaganda about it, romanticizing the glory of violent and passionate political struggle. Yet this was not “Dr. Zhivago”. As an American, raised in a democratic culture with a relatively stable and structured judiciary and political system, I had a completely different perspective and expectations of political behavior. I couldn’t perceive any “romance” in the violent mobs’ rioting as portrayed in the movie. I didn’t see any glamour in the silhouettes of running citizens escaping smoke and gunfire. That would terrify me to see happen in America. And yet this was the glory and violence praised by the fascists, versus the alternative of “peace and quiet”. What is so glorious about violence and rioting? Immediate gratification with the illusion of political power and change, but all it seemed to result in, was the excuse for martial law. Martial law strips power from individual citizens, and laid the way for a dictator like Mussolini.

As I watched “Vincere”, I began to wonder, who really were the winners? Obedience to blind passion, physical or political, may appeal to the most human of instincts. But ultimately, without the legal protection for civil rights and regard for individual integrity, “freedom” is meaningless. Even as our country is derided for all it’s blunders and imperfections, as Americans, we should appreciate we are people living in a country with some of the highest protections for human rights in the world.

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Not many Americans may have heard of it, but Kaubajama is one of the largest department stores in Talinn, Estonia. It could be compared to our own Macy’s. Or Nordstrom. Or Meir and Frank. Or Barney’s… The list goes on and on, because in America, we have a variety to choose from. To me, it’s fascinating to think that capitalism is still a relatively new idea in some European countries. And that for them, the concept of capitalism is still a vague notion compared to what they have experienced.

Having just learned about the existence of Kaubamaja, I myself was intrigued at how their department store promotes itself as modelled by western standards. Their progressive philosophy is described on their website, in terms that I thought were slightly ironic, coming from a country in the former communist block.

“Kaubamaja Values”

We value Creativity
There is always somebody with better ideas than we have. We help people give birth to ideas and realise them.
Every new solution that helps us better serve our customers is worth being considered.
Every member of our staff who is willing to seek and find new solutions deserves to be met with appreciation.
Every business partner who is willing to seek and find new solutions along with us is of interest to us.

We value Will
Only those who strive to be the best are truly good.
The willingness to serve our customers and help them fulfill their wishes is characteristic to every staff member of Kaubamaja.
The willingness to set and achive higher objectives is the issue that denotes our contribution to the development of Kaubamaja and society.
Being the best does not necessarily mean being number 1 in a competition, but may also mean being among the best.

We value Cooperation
Cooperation in customer relations is not merely an empty phase – it means a relationship in which customers will get the best offers and service and will keep coming back to us.
Cooperation is also the key word in work relations.
We do not want to win on the account of our people, but with them.
Cooperation in business relations means acting together for sake of common long-term goals that will benefit both parties.

We value Honesty
We communicate in an honest and open way. Honesty creates the basis for long-term relationships, saves emotions and time.
We act honestly towards our customers and partners by saying what we can offer them and what we expect of them in return.

Wow. “We value Creativity, Will, Cooperation, and Honesty”. What American company would list these as its core values? It’s unusual, if you break it down.

“Only those who strive to be the best are truly good.” Kind of strange actually, that you might label individuals ‘good’ or ‘bad’ like this.

“The willingness to set and achive higher objectives is the issue that denotes our contribution to the development of Kaubamaja and society.”

Interesting to extend a store’s values into it’s contributions to ‘society’…I wonder if Nordstroms thinks about this factor in its sales of mini-skirts and high heel shoes (although perhaps Nike does demonstrate such an ethic).

But I really like this one. “Honesty creates the basis for long-term relationships, saves emotions and time.”

If only more American companies valued a long-term relationship with their customers and less of the desire to make a quick buck by short-changing them. If only Enron had valued its employees and treated them with respect and honesty instead of kyping their retirement savings. If only capitalism behaved more ethically, citizens such as Michael Moore wouldn’t have such widespread popular support and the economy might be more robust. If only capitalism realized you don’t get ahead by short term profiting by cheating; selling inferior items, providing inferior service at least cost. I think people would be prouder to be Americans.

Instead, we can look to the idealism of a budding post-communist type capitalism to contrast with our jaded realism.

Kaubamaja has locations in Talinn and Tartu, Estonia.

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Who is Yury Shevchuk? I’ve never heard of him before. But then I’m in the U.S., and he’s back in the U.S.S.R….and we have nothing in common that I know of, except for a personal distrust of Putin’s politics. He is a rockstar, a Bono of sorts, who is using his fame to voice his opinion about the nasty aspects of the current administration.

Shevchuk said despite the fact that many musicians are co-opted by the regime, there is also a small revolution brewing below the decks. He compared the situation to the underground Soviet rock scene in the 1970s and 1980s: ‘I know there are thousands of wonderful musicians who sing songs about civil themes, who do not agree with what is happening in this country. There are a lot of wonderful young people who are playing in cellars. And all this is gaining some critical mass.’

And what of “pokazukha“? It’s a Russian word meaning “for show” or “counterfeit” or “simulated”. It’s something Shevchuk’s passion is not.

Will these nascent, scattered, and fractured roots of a social uprising reach critical mass and become a catalyst for real political change? Will they get crushed in a Kremlin crackdown? Or will it all fade away, leaving people discouraged and disgusted? Stay tuned.

–Based on an article by Brian Whitmore.

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