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Saturday, December 29, 2007


The Seasons: December 2007

The Rains Came and Chanterelles Emerged

Walks through the forests always give me pleasure. The four seasons have their own distinct characteristics, the trees and the landscape go through changes that make them interesting. The woods smell different. Looking down on the valley from up high on Skyline one cannot but feel good about living here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The organization that deserves our praise for protecting lands from developers is Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District. Without it the hills would be full of pink, pseudo-Mediterranean palaces.


The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's purpose is to purchase, permanently protect, and restore lands forming a regional open space greenbelt, preserve unspoiled wilderness, wildlife habitat, watershed, viewshed, and fragile ecosystems, and provide opportunities for low-intensity recreation and environmental education.

For foragers of wild mushrooms the late fall and winter months can be rewarding. Last year I came across the first chanterelles in mid-November. This year, there was hardly any rain in November; the ground remained dry and hard. Chanterelles were not to be found. Then in December the rains came; rain followed by sunny days. Christmas Day was unusually bright and clear. JHL and I enjoyed our traditional walk in the afternoon.

© Musafir

© Musafir

A few days back Arani Sinha and I went walking in the woods and found chanterelles -- enough to share with friends. The conditions are ideal and there will be more for us to gather in the next two months. We treat the grounds with respect; we don't sell.
Ancient Music

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.
-- Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

Friday, December 28, 2007


The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Expediency of Politicians

Is the assassination of Benazir Bhutto going to be another cash cow for the GOP ?

G.W. Bush and the neocons grabbed the tragedy of 9/11 and sold the nation a bill of goods. Think of the price we have paid....and will continue to pay for letting them run amuck. Our politicians did not have a hand in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto but they lost no time in trying to capitalize on it. Every GOP presidential contender is trying to convince voters that he is the best qualified to protect us from evil terrorists.

Are the voters going to fall for their spiels ? We are 11 months away from the election. The caucuses are about to begin. The shrillness will escalate; misleading advertisements and dirty tricks (a hallmark of Republicans) will emerge. A numbness will set in among voters trying to decide who is fit to lead our country.

Protecting America from terrorists is just one part of the big picture. Before allowing the gas bags to succeed in cowing us into unquestioning acceptance of their claims pause to consider how they exploited our vulnerability after 9/11.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Pakistan - End of Benazir Bhutto

The headlines screamed "Benazir Bhutto assassinated". Yes, they shocked us but didn't surprise us. In Pakistan (Pure Land) such atrocities are almost expected to happen.

The BBC's initial report states that she was killed after speaking at a political rally in Rawalpindi, and that as many as 15 others also died. Benazir Bhutto, who had served twice before as prime minister of Pakistan before being ousted in 1996, was fully aware of the risks she took in returning to her native land to have a role in Pakistani politics. Did she have time to think about it before she died? If she did she would have perhaps said mekhtub, "It was written".

In our world today what happens in other countries affect us. The instability in Pakistan is cause for serious concern. As an example of just one facet of the situation, the financial markets reacted negatively and oil prices went up.

Benazir Bhutto - Key events in her life. The Guardian UK

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Christmas 2007

Child with a Dove
©Pablo Picasso, 1901, War and Peace Series

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Films, Old and New


"Pride & Prejudice" Revisited

After watching a few new releases full of violent, gory scenes it was a pleasure to sit back and enjoy Pride & Prejudice on DVD....the 1995 BBC miniseries with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Darcy. Ms Austen's famed novel portrayed the lives and customs of upper class British landowners. Of course, some intrigues and backstabbing took place among them but not to a degree to cast a lasting shadow over the romance that developed between Lizzie Bennett and the smoldering Fitzwilliam Darcy. They followed manners and codes in social interactions that are no longer observed.

Witty dialogue, great rural scenes of England, costumes of 19th century, and excellent acting by all major characters.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." -- Jane Austen, Pride & prejudice (First published January 1813)

It was a different world.

The Kite Runner * Afghanistan * Pakistan

I found Khaled Hosseini's second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns more impressive than the acclaimed Kite Runner, recently released on screen. After a good beginning, The Kite Runner -- novel and the film both -- left me disappointed. The end seemed to be too easy, unreal.

Never visited Afghanistan but I spent some days in Karachi during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan when the city was full of Afghan refugees living in pitiful conditions. General Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq was the president after acquiring power in 1977 in a coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto....the late father of Benazir Bhutto. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged after a rigged trial.

It was the holy month of Ramadan. The waiter at the restaurant in Karachi Hilton refused to serve me lunch until I produced my passport to prove that I was not a Muslim. No wonder. It was during President Zia's rule that the atrocious Hudood Ordinance (Shari'a law) was introduced in Pakistan. Are the Pakistani Muslims who supported such laws any better than the Taliban in Afghanistan ? In 2006, General Musharraf, the current president, pushed for and succeeded in revising/replacing the Hudood by the Women's Protection Bill.

No Country for Old Men

Lot of violence. Somewhat like a modern western film. Worth watching though. Great acting by Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem.

American Gangster

Based on real-life characters, the film failed to leave a mark. Three weeks after watching the movie all I remember is that Denzel Washington and Russell Crow acted in it.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007


On the Road to 2008: God and the GOP


WWJD ? And The Ginger Man

As the presidential election campaigns heat up, the contenders are showing their flexibility and readiness to to be all things to all people. They want to win our hearts and minds and they stand ready to do anything, say anything.

Where the GOP candidates are concerned, God is an important card in their play book. Makes sense. George Bush's victories were to a large degree based on support from conservative Christian voters. The Christian right voters have lost some power but far from being a spent force. Looking at the stable of contenders one wonders -- would Jesus endorse any of them.

Enough about politicians. J.P. Donleavy's ribald classic The Ginger Man is a good one to take your mind off from the bloviating hypocrites.

"Mary Maloney's beautiful arse
Is a sweet apple of sin
Give me Mary's beautiful arse
And a full bottle of gin."
--The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


The Seasons: Autumn Rains

November was unusually dry, and in the first-half of December there were only a few showers. Now, three days before winter solstice, the rains have arrived. It is a wet morning in the San Francisco Bay area, and a lot more rain expected in the next few days. Temp. in the low 50's F (13 deg. C). According to the extended forecast, Christmas Day could be dry....cloudy but dry. A wet Christmas would prevent us from the traditional hike in the afternoon that JHL and I enjoy.

We can forget the dire warnings about droughts in the summer months. Skiers are happy. Abundant snow packs in the sierras mean they can enjoy their holiday trips. Hardy lots, the skiers are not daunted by road and weather conditions.

Good news also for us foragers who walk through the woods looking for wild mushrooms. Perhaps it is not too late for the chanterelles to emerge.

The rains we get here, however, are a far cry from rains in some other parts of the world.

Rainy afternoon, Sunnyvale, California

© Musafir, Canon Powershot S3

Monsoon rain and Rickshaw Puller, Kolkata, India

Posted by Picasa
Photo credit: www.liberaassociazioneilpopolo.it/

Picture of a very wet day in Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Picture of Rainy Day - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com
Rainy Day © Ian Britton

Not even a hat--
And cold rain falling on me?
Tut-tut! Think of that!
--Basho (translated by Harold Henderson)

Come, come thou bleak December wind,
And blow the dry leaves from the tree!
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834, Fragment 3

Sunday, December 16, 2007


South to North

Odds and Ends

After residing for 13 years in the heart of Silicon Valley I'll soon pull up stakes and head for San Mateo, 25 miles to the north.

Such decisions are not easy to make and I went through the usual pros and cons. But whether I made the right decision will only become known after the move. Right now I feel positive. The area is scenic; quiet; and the hilly terrain will be challenging when I go out for runs. Temperature there is a few degrees cooler than in the South Bay; foggy mornings are frequent.

When I was thinking about the forthcoming move, the title of a book -- To the North -- that I read years ago came to my mind. Believe it was by Robert Graves and the locale was France. However, I am not sure that I got the title right because a search through the Internet drew a blank. The book could, of course, be out of print but still there would be a record of it. It does not appear among the author's works. Strange. I e-mailed a bookstore in Cambridge, UK, that deals with publications old and new, especially by British writers.

That brings me to a vexing issue. The search engines are absolutely amazing when you think of the information that they make available . A few strokes of the keyboard are all that is needed. But the results provide much more than what one is looking for. For instance, "To the North" on google did not bring up the book by Robert Graves (perhaps it does not exist....my memory played me false) but displayed hundreds of items with the word "north" in them. The search brought up "To the North" by Elizabeth Bowen but did not stop there -- listed below are just a few of the items that google threw up at me:

Bird to the North
Musings on public space from a Project for Public Spaces staff member.
northbird.blogspot.com/ - 45k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Welcome to the North Pole!
NorthPole.net recent announcements · Santa's Christmas Greeting · Mrs. Claus' Message · Rudolph's Message · Glitter the Elf's Update ...
northpole.net/ - 5k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Welcome to The-North-Pole
Email Santa, Christmas Carols, Christmas, christmas recepies, christmas around the world.
www.the-north-pole.com/ - 16k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Santa Claus and Christmas at the Northpole
Enjoy Christmas with Santa Claus at the North pole, an award-winning Christmas web site. Send a letter to Santa Clause or a Christmas card to a friend.
www.northpole.com/ - 12k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

The Overture to the North Koreans - New York Times
The Overture to the North Koreans. E-Mail · Print; Save. Article Tools Sponsored By. Published: December 14, 2007. To the Editor:. Skip to next paragraph ...
www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/opinion/l14korea.html - Similar pages - Note this

North American Union to Replace the USA? - HUMAN EVENTS
President Bush intends to abrogate US sovereignty to the North American Union, a new economic and political entity which the President is quietly forming, ...
www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=14965 - 41k - Cached - Similar pages - Note this

Hucksters, Christmas, and the North Koreans! Give me a break. Perhaps Lorem Ipsum Books of Cambridge,UK, would come up with what I was looking for. Or I'll have to forget about "To the North" by Robert Graves.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


South of the Border - Right to Die Gains Approval in Mexico City

Death With Dignity

Who would have thought that lawmakers in Mexico City of all places -- with a predominant Catholic population -- would unanimously approve "a measure to allow terminally ill patients to refuse treatment".

To their credit, they did. Not only that, the BBC reported on December 5th:
  • The left-wing congress in Mexico City has recently passed a series of laws which are considered liberal in Latin America, such as legalising abortion in the first months of pregnancy and allowing gay marriages.
One can imagine the consternation among Catholics and fundamentalist Christians here in the United States. Too close to home for them not to feel threatened. Invade Mexico? They would like to.

Mexico City lawmakers have approved a measure to allow terminally ill patients to refuse treatment.

The local assembly voted unanimously in favour of the bill enabling patients living in the city to suspend treatment if it only prolongs life.

Family members of terminally ill people who are paralysed but can express themselves can also sign the order if two witnesses are present.

The bill still has to be signed into law by Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

It could still be the subject of a legal challenge in this conservative Catholic country.

However, Hugo Valdemar, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico, told El Universal newspaper that the Catholic Church had no issues with the measure, which only applies to Mexico City.

But Mr Valdemar added that the Church was concerned that the bill could be a first step towards legalising euthanasia, which he said would be unacceptable.

Liberal laws

The measure allows "death without unnecessary suffering when death is inevitable" said assembly member Victor Hugo Cirigo.

It states that under no circumstances could drugs be supplied which could cause the death of a patient.

Patients wishing to forgo treatment would have to sign a release before a public notary indicating their desire to stop treatment.

Immediate family members would make the decision for minors and mentally impaired patients.

Health workers could declare themselves conscientious objectors and opt out of treating patients who decide not to lengthen their lives.

The bill also allows patients to specify if they want to donate organs.

The left-wing congress in Mexico City has recently passed a series of laws which are considered liberal in Latin America, such as legalising abortion in the first months of pregnancy and allowing gay marriages.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/12/05 12:39:17 GMT

A bouquet for the enlightened lawmakers of Mexico City.


Friday, December 07, 2007


Teenage Pregnancies and the "Abstinence" Guy

Family Planning Program of G.W. Bush

Recent reports about increase in teenage pregnancy rate in America revives the question of "why" and what went wrong.

NY Times (AP)
December 6, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) In a troubling reversal, the nation's teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years, surprising government health officials and reviving the bitter debate about abstinence-only sex education.

The birth rate had been dropping since its peak in 1991, although the decline had slowed in recent years. On Wednesday, government statisticians said it rose 3 percent from 2005 to 2006.

The reason for the increase is not clear, and federal health officials said it might be a one-year statistical blip, not the beginning of a new upward trend.

However, some experts said they have been expecting a jump. They blamed it on increased federal funding for abstinence-only health education that doesn't teach teens how to use condoms and other contraception.

Even before the spike, U.S. teen pregnancy rate was highest among developed nations. But other countries deal with the issue in a pragmatic way without being influenced by religious groups that oppose education about safe sex and contraception.

Ruth Marcus, in her article "Daughter Knows Best", about appointment of Susan Orr to oversee federal government's family planning program in the Post on October 24th:
  • President Bush requires abstinence-only programs to teach that "sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects." Jenna Bush describes how Ana, then 16, has sex for the first time with HIV-positive Berto: "She felt no fear, only love." She relates approvingly how a nurse told Ana at age 10 that "when she was older and ready to have sex that it was very important to always use condoms."
  • As Jenna Bush told Newsweek, "In Africa my dad's policies are pretty much in line with mine, but not domestically." ABC -- abstain, be faithful, use condoms -- is the message abroad, not at home.
  • Contrast Jenna Bush with the president's latest flawed choice for the post of acting deputy secretary for population affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services -- in other words, the official who oversees federal family planning programs and advises on reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy, including abstinence-only programs.
  • You may remember Bush's previous pick: Eric Keroack, who was medical director of a pregnancy-counseling (read: antiabortion) clinic that considered birth control "demeaning to women" and believed that making contraception available, "especially among adolescents, actually increases . . . out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion."
  • Keroack resigned after it was revealed that state Medicaid officials had taken action against his private medical practice in Massachusetts. Bush replaced him with Susan Orr, former senior director for marriage and family care at the conservative Family Research Council and an adjunct professor at Pat Robertson's Regent University. Orr seems to be Keroack Lite.
  • In 2001, when the Bush administration proposed lifting the requirement that health insurers of federal employees provide coverage for contraceptives, Orr cheered. "We're quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease," she said. "It's not a medical necessity that you have it." Tell that to girls like Ana.
  • The year before, Orr fought a D.C. Council bill requiring all employers to cover contraception -- with no exception for those, such as the Catholic Church, that have religious objections. I agree that a "conscience clause" should have been included, but Orr's opposition was disturbingly vitriolic. "The mask of choice is falling off," she said. "It's not about choice. It's not about health care. It's about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death."
  • The Family Research Council argues against funding the family planning program that Orr is slated to supervise. "We don't think there is an argument for taxpayer funding of contraception," the group's vice president for government affairs, Tom McClusky, told me.
  • The group has echoed that message in a prayer alert about the $283 million a year program that funds family planning clinics for low-income women. "Pray that Title X funding, which has increased even under Republican rule, will not be expanded," it urged. "May President Bush use the veto pen if necessary to make sure that the culture of death is restrained."
  • Asked if Orr agreed with those views, HHS spokesman Kevin Schweers replied in an e-mail: "Dr. Orr wouldn't have accepted the job . . . if she couldn't support the Administration's positions. This Administration has worked to ensure family planning grantees effectively provide safe and effective contraceptive products and services to clients in need." Hardly a ringing endorsement.
  • Almost 40 years ago, a member of Congress, urging the federal government to help lower-income women get access to birth control, made a point that seems lost on the Orrs of the world. "We need to take sensationalism out of this topic," he said. "If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter."
  • The lawmaker was George H.W. Bush -- and I suspect his granddaughter would understand, even if his son chooses not to.
The "abstinence" president ? Think of what he has done as the "compassionate conservative" president.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Iran - President Bush's Broken Dreams

Still babbling, but the president and Vice President Cheney know that their grand plans for another war -- against Iran -- are not going to take shape. Publication of the latest NIE laid it to rest. Now that their lies about Iraq has become public knowledge, Bush and Cheney will not be able to con the nation to allow them to launch preemptive strikes.
  • "Look, Iran was dangerous," Bush said. "Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
We heard that before. The president, however, has a habit of not remembering the past. One could imagine the disappointment of the neocons who support war but don't serve in them. A prime example is Vice President Cheney who took four (or five) deferments during Vietnam. Shameless and utterly unscrupulous.

In response to persistent questioning about the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a declassified summary of which was released yesterday, Bush emphasized the review's finding that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons program until 2003, when Tehran halted it under international scrutiny and pressure.

"Our 'neoconservatives' are neither new nor conservative, but old as Babylon and evil as Hell."
-- Edward Abbey (1927-1989)


Tuesday, December 04, 2007


"Redacted", a Film about Rape and Murder of Abeer Hamza

A 14 year old Iraqi girl named Abeer Hamza was raped and killed at Mahmudiya, Iraq, by soldiers of 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. To leave no witnesses, the perpetrators killed her parents and 5-year old sister. The brutal crime could not be covered up. Too many people were aware of the facts. Other soldiers came forward to testify. Four have been convicted. Steven D. Green, who was discharged from the army before the filing of charges, is awaiting trial in civilian court.

In retaliation, local Iraqis kidnapped two soldiers of the 502nd Regiment. They were tortured and killed.

"Redacted" by American film maker Brian De Palma is based on what took place at Mahmudiya on March 12, 2006.

David Denby's review of "Redacted"

Source: BBC News
Wikipedia Mahmudiyah Incident

Mahmudiya, South of Baghdad
The Evil That Man Does
The Neocons' War and A Girl Named Abeer Hamza
The 502nd Infantry Regiment and Abeer Hamza
Abeer Hamza


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