Sunday, November 28, 2004
A man called Gunasekhara and a troubled island
Read today about the possibility of strife and turmoil beginning anew in the beautiful island of Sri Lanka after a relatively calm period of two years during which negotiations for an agreement about the Tamil Tigers' demand for self government went on under Norwegian mediators.
Leader of the Tamil Tigers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, has issued an ominous warning that he has reached the "limits of patience".
A BBC report mentioned that 60,000 people have died during the conflict between the Tamils and Sri Lankans. What is certain is that the outlook for civilians, Tamils and Sri Lankans, is grim. They can again expect to be innocent victims, caught in suicide bombings and harsh retaliatory measures.
It is a situation that has parallels in various corners of the world---people who look alike, dress alike, in some countries even speak the same language---are killing each other in senseless hatred.
The cycle of violence was just beginning to raise its head in 1984 when I spent a few days in Colombo,the capital of Sri Lanka. As the aircraft descended and began its approach to Bandaranaika Airport all I could see were coconut palms, miles and miles of them. Colombo was refreshingly different after Karachi,Pakistan, which was my previous stop. I found it full of charms. Names of streets and neat bungalows with gardens in front were reminders that the island was under British rule from 1796 to 1948 when it became a Dominion. Small, compared to Bombay and Madras, it was much cleaner than them. The downtown buildings looked well maintained. The promenade along the waterfront far more attractive than Marine Drive in Bombay. Restaurants served good meals. As in Thailand, coconut (in various forms) figures prominently in the cuisine of Sri Lanka. Fresh seafood was plentiful.
Today when I think of my brief sojourn in that beautiful island it is Gunasekhara, the young Sri Lankan assigned to be my liaision with the venerable agency house (once British but then under local management) that I went to negotiate a contract with for husbanding ships of my employers in California, who comes to mind.
Gunasekhara and I spent many hours talking about the business of shipping, taking meals together, and drinking beer after work. We used to spend the evenings at the somewhat decrepit Taprobane Hotel. It was then that Gunasekhara voiced his concern about the dark clouds of violence looming in the horizon. He felt that there could not be a peaceful settlement. The Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka would not agree to a separate homeland for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of the island. He was apprehensive about what would happen. For him, there was a personal issue involved; he was in love with a woman from an orthodox Tamil family. A Capulets and Montagues situation.
After I returned to California we exchanged some messages by telex (that was long before the advent of the Internet) about business. Gunasekhara was right. The escalation of attacks and counterattacks in Sri Lanka was receiving attention of the world press. Tamil Tigers had become more active and so were government forces in trying to quash them. Once, during a telephone call to Colombo, I asked Gunasekhara about his personal situation. He remained quiet for a while and then said "not good".
Events forced me to move on to another job. I lost track of Gunasekhara. I hope that he and his love survived.
"Anil's Ghost", a novel by the Canadian author Michael Ondaatje touches a part...a small part of the atrocities that have taken place during the two decades of conflict between the Tamils and Sri Lankans. Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka.
"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Tomorrow I am going to celebrate my 35th Thanksgiving in America. The weather forecast does not promise a sunny day but it should stay dry.
I am going to spend it at a friend's house in Palo Alto as I have done for the last eleven years. It is a holiday that I have come to love. It gives people an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family members, and it generates a feeling of warmth of the spirit. The abundance of good food and wine are certainly part of it but the day means much more than that.
We usually gather on the deck in the backyard and spend a couple of hours in pleasantries before going in for dinner around 3:00 PM. A long, lazy dinner is followed by a walk to the park nearby. Then back for coffee and pies---always two kinds---pumpkin and pecan. Later,in the evening when I return home replete with food and drinks, there is energy only to curl up with a book until drowsiness hits and it is time to turn off the light.
A lot has been written about celebration of Thanksgiving. My favorite is the column by Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle that is published with slight variations each year on Thanksgiving Day. I highly recommend it. The column can be read in tomorrow's Chronicle. It can also be accessed on line at:
Now about roast turkey. I am one of those who enjoy turkey sandwiches with leftover meat more than turkey at dinner. However, I cannot imagine Thanksgiving without a big, juicy bird. It is tradition. I build my sandwich with white bread (not the mushy Wonder Bread though). Challah, lightly toasted is excellent. Spread a little mayo, slather with Dijon mustard (Maille is good). Aah, blissful. One can always have stuffing on the side; I don't need it.
And the day after ? While hordes of shoppers lay siege at the doors of their favorite stores, and the cash registers hum (good for the economy), I shall go for a long run at peace with the world and with myself.
In a few weeks the Chanterelles would begin to emerge. I and AC will go foraging for them in the foothills. He has a much better eye and feel for finding them. It is fun moving between groves of oak trees, searching for a glimpse of the orangey-yellow
caps often covered by fallen leaves.
Life is good.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Bigotry in America - Abrogation of Thomas Jefferson's Principles
(The American Century Dictionary)
There are disturbing trends in today's America that point to a rise in bigotry. Our Constitution, which clearly stated the need for separation of church and state, is facing amendments to weaken that charter.
Article VI, Sec.3 of the Constitution reads:
"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several State Legislatures,and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by the oath of affirmation, to support the Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
The First Amendment, ratified December 15, 1791, is quite unambiguous about this. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
It was our third president, Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809),who further defined "separation between Church and State". In 1802, in a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Jefferson wrote: "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof', thus building a wall of separation between Church and State'."
The late Gustavus Myers' "History of Bigotry in The United States" was a seminal work. Published in 1943 (a year after his death), the book is out of print. If Mr. Myers were alive he would have found a plethora of new material; enough for a completely revised edition. He would have probably added:
HATRED FOR PRO-CHOICE SUPPORTERS
HATRED FOR HOMOSEXUALS
HATRED FOR MUSLIMS
HATRED FOR MEN WEARING TURBANS
HATRED FOR WOMEN WEARING VEILS
HATRED FOR IMMIGRANTS OF COLOR
HATRED FOR THOSE AGAINST WAR
Whither America ?
Mon Nov 22,1:02 PM ET Top Stories - Reuters
FBI Reports 14 murders among 7,489 hate crimes
Washington (Reuters) - Nearly 7,500 hate crimes,including 14 murders based on sexual orientation,race or ethnicity,were reported in the United States last year, the FBI (news - web sites) said on Monday.
"Bigotry is the sacred disease."
---Heraclitus (544-483 BC)
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Capt. Charles G. O'Connor ( Calcutta, India, 1959-Hoboken,NJ, 2004)
Every week The New Yorker Magazine arrives in my mail box as it has since 1978. Despite the changes in management in recent years, The New Yorker continues to contain a wealth of well-written articles, short stories and poems. The cartoons remain classy. The stable of writers like James Thurber,S.J. Perelman, Ludwig Bemelman, and the drawings of Hirschfield are gone. They could make one laugh out loud. But it is still a darn good magazine.
The other day, while leafing through a recent issue of the magazine I thought of Charlie O'Connor. It was he who started a gift subscription for me back in 1978 and keeps renewing it every year.
But Charlie did more than that. He was a mentor. A great deal of what I learned about cargo ships and the world of ocean transportation was from working under him and asking questions that he patiently answered. Charlie was born in Brooklyn,NY, and went to sea at an early age. He became a Master Mariner the hard way, by working his way up the ladder and passing the stringent U.S. Coast Guard examinations.
Charlie had a taste for spicy food. There were days when he would send out for kathi rolls (kababs rolled in parathas) from Nizam, and we would feast on them at lunch.
I left India in 1969 and began a career in the steamship industry in San Francisco.
Charlie's last trip to California was in 1994. Age related problems stopped him from traveling. At 87, and with a bad knee, he can no longer do much walking.
On the morning when I left to return to California, Charlie stood at the door of his apartment while I waited down the corridor for the elevator. We waved as I entered the elevator. We both knew that we would not see each other again.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Margaret Hassan, "A Beacon of Light" snuffed out
Extremists in Iraq killed Margaret Hassan who tirelessly served for three decades to lessen the plight of refugees in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Nothing justified the killing. It was an atrocious act by violent people, and they are to be found not only in Iraq.
"Toward the accomplishment of an aim, which in wantonness of atrocity would seem to partake of the insane, he will direct a cool judgement, sagacious and sound. These men are madmen, and of the most dangerous sort."
----Herman Melville (1819 - 1891), Billy Budd, Sailor
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Bach on a Tuesday morning
Foggy morning. Listened to Bach's Organ Works performed by Helmuth Rilling. It was the December 1974 recording made at the Gedachtniskirche, Stuttgart.
The album includes:
Toccata and Fugue BWV565
Prelude and Fugue BWV544
Fantasie and Fugue BWV542
Bach's choral music creates a sense of joy,sadness, and peace. Rilling is a virtuoso of the large pipe organs and the majestic sound they produce.
On a whim I tried to learn details of the organ played by Rilling. No luck but I found that here in the SF Peninsula the Stanford Memorial Church is one of the few churches that has three different pipe organs, including the Katherine Potter-Brinegar Organ built by Paul Fritts in 1995 during restoration of the building following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
I have listened many times to the recording of Helmuth Rilling's performance. I went only once to a performance of the Katherine Potter-Brinegar organ at the Memorial Church. Cannot recall either the organist or the composers of the music!
In 1957 Helmuth Rilling became music director at the Gedächtniskirche in Stuttgart, a position he still holds today. He is also a co-founder of the Oregon Bach Festival.
"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Monday, November 15, 2004
Falluja, Mosul, Ramadi, Baquba, Samarra, Baghdad, and so on
The human cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom
Death toll for U.S. soldiers nearing 1200. The number of wounded reported to be many times that figure. For some the wounds would mean living with pain and disability for the rest of their lives.
A military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, is where injured American soldiers are being taken for treatment. Heard a soldier say during a CNN broadcast from Landstuhl that some of the insurgents fighting against them were as young as 14-15.
Why are 14 year old Iraqis fighting against the U.S.?
Why do they hate the presence of American soldiers ?
Could it be possible that they are fighting because we destroyed their homes and killed their family members who were ordinary civilians? The civilian death toll is said to exceed 100,000!
Why did we go there ?
What is our objective ?
Eventually,do we really want a "free" Iraq or Iraq under a puppet regime to ensure continued supply of oil and strengthen U.S. hegemony in the region ?
Those who wish to learn more about what is going on and how the Iraqis feel, following blogs (posted from Baghdad by two students) would provide some answers:
Collateral damage (a cold and cruel phrase)
A report dated 11/14/04 by Tini Tran of The Associated Press reads:
"........Marines continuing to search door-to-door, blowing the gates off houses with explosives. A bit of bright color stood out on one of the city's ubiquitous gray, rubble-ridden streets---a pink dress on the body of a small child crumpled next to the curb."
The BBC reported body of a white woman being found wrapped in a blanket. Two women were known to be held as hostages by terrorists: Margaret Hassan, chief of CARE International in Iraq, and Teresa Borcz Khalifa, a Polish born journalist. The body cannot be identified without forensic tests.
Another report on 11/13/04 from BBC reads: "Aid agencies are increasingly concerned about Iraqi civilians trapped in the besieged rebel city of Falluja.
"There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable."
"Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take
Till he knows that too many people have died."
Friday, November 12, 2004
The Northern Lights and Fall Colors - Nature's Phenomena
It revived memories of a trip north a few years ago when I went there to attend a wedding. A bright, young, vivacious Bengali woman married a bright, somewhat quiet, young man whose parents hailed from Croatia. After the ceremonies (in the local Catholic church, followed by Hindu rites with all the formalities and pagentry) and the dinner, the guests were cutting loose on the dance floor when someone announced that the Northern Lights were out. We rushed out for a look. For me it was the first time. We stood out in the cold to wonder at the show in the sky put up by mother nature.
An aside: the bride's hands were decorated with mehendi too!
The Fall colors in the San Francisco Peninsula have been much more vivid than in the past. The right attributes---temperature, rains, sun---clicked together to produce an unusual display. In my neighborhood we don't have too many maple trees. They can be found along the Foothill Expressway in Los Altos. Selby Lane, further north in Atherton, has some pretty Maple Trees. One has to travel to higher altitudes to find aspens, but the gingko and pistache trees are in their glory. The leaves of the gingko trees on my street have turned from yellow to gold, almost like aspen! The hues of the pistache leaves run the gamut from bright yellow and red to umber. Not going to last much longer but now the colors and the leaves are sights to admire. We are lucky.
"Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars... and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers - for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are."
Monday, November 08, 2004
Elfriede Jelinek's Complex World
Among her works is "Bambiland" (2003), a play described as a denouncement of America's war against Iraq.
Caught up in the pre-election blizzard of news, following the items about the presidential candidates and their positions took a lot of time. Elfriede Jelinek retired to a corner in the back of my mind. Then I happened to come across a video of the film "The Piano Teacher" (French, with sub-titles) by Michael Haneke. Watching Isabelle Huppert in the role of Erika Kohut, a sexually repressed, neurotic woman in her 30's,sharing an apartment with her domineering mother,on the verge of a precipice was a hard to forget experience. A fascinating film. I was revolted by some of the scenes, watching Erika in sado-masochistic rituals as she descended to the point of no return, yet, Huppert, by her superb acting, made me feel compassionate for Erika.
After November 3rd, when I thought about books to read, Ms. Jelinek surfaced. My world had suffered a blow. Majority of Americans showed their preference for a reactionary president and his policies. Thought it was time to take a break from politics and enter the pitiless world created by Elfriede Jelinek. First on my list: Die Klavierspielerin (1983)---The Piano Teacher, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, is said to be a partly autobiographical novel. Might not feel the same way about the book as I did about the film but think that Jelinek is worth exploring.
The Second Term of George W. Bush
Many of us seem to be in denial, offering arguments that Bush does not have a "mandate". Face it. He has, he has. Backed by a Congress with larger majorities in both houses, he will continue to move the nation to the right. His core support groups expect it of him, and he has proven beyond any doubt his tenacity to stick to his positions. Be prepared for social and environmental issues to suffer set backs on the domestic front. On foreign policy matters he might be forced to give some ground in an effort for rapprochement with Europe.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet
B-B-B-Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet"
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Post election ruminations in a Judeo-Christian Land
The message from voters could not be more clear. The majority did not give a hoot about real issues. They elected a hollow man to lead the nation for another four years. They remained blissfully oblivious of his lies and embraced him for his religious position. How could John Kerry, a Catholic, compete against that, especially when Catholic priests were exhorting their parishioners not to vote for any candidate who supports women's right to choose? And then there was fear of terrorism in the home land. Again, it was George Bush and his talk about god and America that resonated.
In my October 30th post I wrote that Bush would win on electoal college votes. He was ahead on popular votes too. Although I expected a Bush victory, in the back of my mind there was a glimmer of hope that it would not be so. Late afternoon reports based on exit polls indicated that Kerry was in the lead in most of the states. I, like many others, felt optimistic. That feeling was soon overshadowed as my copy of the electoral map began to be dominated by the color red. Thought of the Sikh leader Ranjit Singh's comments when he looked at a map of the world during the hey-day of Rule Britannia: "Saab laal ho jayega"---All would become red.
What do we do now ? Read about people who are talking about moving to Canada. I always thought highly of Canadians and today Canada looks even more attractive. But for most of us that is not a viable option. I am glad that I live in California, not in one of those "red" states. We are not going to roll over. The extremists are going to overplay their hand and there would be a backlash. Perhaps not in 2008 but it will happen. As people in progressive, vibrant societies move forward, Americans will wake up and question the direction taken by their regressive leaders.
In the meantime, the glass of red wine in the evening still tastes good. There are trails to run and hike on; books, films, music, and good food to enjoy. I am not going to let the hypocrite in the White House and his supporters influence my mood.
It was in Calcutta in the 1960's that I heard Pete Seeger sing "We shall overcome".
A good song. Yes,we shall overcome.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Election 2004, AM November 2nd-AM November 3rd
Too early to arrive at any conclusion but after being up most of the morning there were significant drops in both the Dow and Nasdaq before the stock markets closed. The reason? Reports on the Internet that Kerry was ahead in key swing states! Reuters News Agency reported just past 3:40 EST that exit polls pointed to strong support for Kerry in Ohio and Florida.
Good news indeed if the reports are true. In recent days we have been reading about the newly registered, first-time voters and the uncertainty about their positions. Apparently, the deluge of polls leading to November 2nd never really got a handle on this large block of voters. The pundits were flummoxed, or so it appears.
I'm refraining from thinking about a Kerry Victory, but this is what I wrote in my October 7th post: "Maybe, just maybe, the president is taking the gullibility of the voting public a bit too much for granted." We shall see.
4:40 PM Pacific Coast
Polls in some states have closed and many others are approaching the deadline. The numbers are encouraging. Unexpectedly so. How I would love to see the swaggering, smirking hypocrite from Texas and his mean, rapacious gang depart from Washington.
9:05 PM Eastern
Reports indicate Florida going to Bush.
Bad for Kerry. He must win Pennsylvania,Wisconsin and Ohio. The polls closed in Ohio hours ago but results have not yet been announced. Pennsylvania voters split between supporters of gun rights and "moral values" (Bush) and those concerned with the war in Iraq and health care (Kerry). Although New Hampshire means only 4 electoral college votes, they are important if Bush and Kerry end up closely splitting the rest of the total.
CNN's numbers based on exit polls show that more women voted for Kerry than for the president. This is contrary to recent polls which indicated strong support for Bush among women voters!
9:44 PM Eastern
NBC reported problems with counting of absentee ballots in Florida. Repeat of 2000? It must not be allowed to happen.
The talking heads are discussing Bush's support in the heartland. Former senator Bob Kerrey (Nebraska) commented about what the Democrats had to do to win in those states: Come out against abortion (women's right to choose). He said that the issue was too important for majority of Democrats to compromise on.
1:30 AM Eastern November 3, 2004
There is a saying "It is not over till the Fat Lady sings". Well, the Fat Lady has not sang yet but the announcement that Ohio has gone to Bush means that it is over.
Postscript November 3, 2004
Shortly after 11:00 AM Eastern, John Kerry called President Bush to concede. Final count of Electoral College votes: Bush 254 Kerry 252.
"The will of the mass of the people must prevail."
----Alcuin (735-804),in a letter to Charlemagne