,Malaysia, Nicaragua,adultery

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Hope ?

Peace, Elusive Peace

In a few days a new year will begin. Our world is full of turmoil. Wars raging; death raining from the sky on innocent civilians who are pawns in power plays of major nations. Collapse of the scams concocted by Wall Street and blessed by government watch dogs have affected countries far beyond the shores of the United States. Not easy to be hopeful about the future. But hope for a peaceful world we must.

There Is Always Hope

Slaughter in Gaza

The mighty Israeli military force has been let loose against the people of Gaza. The slaughter of civilians is reminiscent of what took place in Lebanon in the fall of 2006. The attacks are being justified as retaliation against rockets launched by the Hamas.

One should ask w
hat made Hamas use rockets. Did the Israeli embargo on food and essentials, including fuel and medicines, have anything to do with it? Is the scale of retaliation justified ?

The United States, of course, is supportive of Israel. That is not going to change. In America's eyes Israel can do no wrong. For Condoleezza Rice, a fitting end for her term in the Bush Administration. Her hand was behind the scene when Israel continued to bomb Lebanon during cease fire negotiations, and she no doubt gave the green light to the Israelis to turn Gaza into rubble. Hamas came to power in 2006 after a democratic election. The Bush Administration didn't expect Hamas to win, and it never gave sympathetic hearing to the legitimate grievances of the Palestinians. It would be naive to expect the departure of Ms Rice to make much, if any, difference in US position about the Middle East, especially in not promoting a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Rains....and Chanterelles

The Good Earth

On the drive up toward the hills on December 27th, Arild and I wondered if we were going to find chanterelles. Were the rains of the past week enough to make them emerge or they needed more time. There had been years when chanterelles were abundant in November and then, as in 2007, none were to be found before late December. Whether I come home with chanterelles or not, walks through the damp forests are very enjoyable and rewarding. And it was a special pleasure to be with Arild. A friend for almost 40 years, it was AC who initiated me into trout fishing, backpacking in the Eastern Sierras, and foraging for chanterelles. After suffering a stroke in 2006, he stayed away from walking in the hills last winter.

The chanterelles were not plentiful but we did find some. Most of them were buried under leaves. It is Arild who has a keen eye for detecting the tell-tale bumps.

The first Chanterelle 2008 Season
© Musafir

Another good specimen
© Musafir

AC, Happy forager
© Musafir

Rainy morning I
© Musafir

Rainy morning II
© Musafir

Rainy morning III
© Musafir
The winds that blow--
Ask them, which leaf of the tree
Will be next to go !

--Soseki (translated by Harold Henderson)

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The Murky World of War Against Terror

The Enemy Within

A Most Wanted Man, John LeCarré's latest novel, left me depressed. The sense of foreboding about the end began when I was halfway through the book.


When the definitive history of the “war on terror “ is written, the complicity of European countries in America’s more extreme enterprises will be one of the sadder chapters. Illegal detention, “extraordinary rendition”, torture and perhaps even murder will headline the charges brought against nations that, until the Twin Towers fell, would have sworn they knew better.

The fact that major powers led by the United States took part in extraordinary rendition and torture is no longer secret. Yet, the full details are not known; probably will never be known except to those who were involved in planning and execution. LeCarré's fictional work delves into the background of the cruel, amoral characters -- the true believers -- who take part in horrendous acts to make the world safe from terrorists. Or that is what they say. In his book, LeCarré masterfully spun together plots and counter plots that could leave some readers with a sense of revulsion about the spooks and their world.

"We have met the enemy and he is us."


Friday, December 26, 2008


The Bush Doctrine and Viagra

CIA's Weapon Against Terror

The Bush administration has a policy of not allowing US aid funds being used by recipient nations for sex education and birth control -- for condoms. It was implemented to appease members of the so called Christian Right who are among Bush's core supporters. Yet, the CIA is doling out Viagra to Afghani men to win their support in the war. Taliban or not, the Afghanis are reported to be eagerly cooperating in providing information in exchange for the blue pills. Good news for Pfizer but what about the women of Afghanistan who have to deal with demands for sex, whether they want it or not, from chemically charged husbands? For the good Christians, condoms are sinful but Viagra is not. Perhaps they think of it as a gift from god. Talk about hypocrisy !

Excerpts from the Washington Post:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

In their efforts to win over notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains, the officials say, the agency's operatives have used a variety of personal services. These include pocketknives and tools, medicine or surgeries for ailing family members, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions, travel visas, and, occasionally, pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos, the officials said.

"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people -- whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra," said one longtime agency operative and veteran of several Afghanistan tours. Like other field officers interviewed for this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity when describing tactics and operations that are largely classified.

Animated cartoon by Ann Telnaes, Washington Post

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Christmas Eve 2008


The Economy * Winter Rains * Water Temple * Wild Mushrooms

Washington Post

The number of people filing for unemployment hit a 26-year high last week, as the deepening recession forced more employers to cut jobs.

While, for the unemployed -- and those in fear of being jobless -- these are unhappy days, perhaps some good will come out of this. It might take a year or two but the economic recovery will take place; unemployment numbers will start to go down. Are we then going to see a repeat of the unhealthy spending pattern? Let's hope that a sense of balance will prevail. As to changes in the way Wall Street operates, not likely to happen.

The Rains

Late, but the much-needed rains have arrived. Still to make up for the dry period. The level remains below the norm but weather forecasts are promising.

Haven't come across any chanterelles yet but on my walks through the woods I see that a lot of wild mushrooms are beginning to emerge. Last year, too, chanterelles were late because of the dry weather.

Sunrise from my window on a cloudy morning
© Musafir

Golden Waxy Cap - Not edible

Pulgas Water Temple

From Wikipedia

"The Pulgas Water Temple is a stone structure in Woodside, California, USA, designed by architect William Merchant. It was erected by the San Francisco Water Department as a monument to the 1934 completion of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct and is located at the aqueduct's terminus. In 1938, the original water temple was replaced with the current design.

"The water temple is made up of a number of fluted columns arranged in a circle, upon which a large stone masonry ring with the words "I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people " [from Isaiah 43:20] are inscribed. There is a large tree-lined reflecting pool to the east."

Pulgas Water Temple
© Musafir

Reflecting Pool
© Musafir

Deer grazing near Pulgas Water Temple
© Musafir

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Winter Solstice 2008

A Winter of Discontent

Shortest day of the year.

Four days before Christmas, if reports are right then this year the almost ritualistic pre-Christmas shopping splurge is not taking place....and is not going to take place. The sub-prime mortgage scam did us in not only in the United States but also in Europe and the rest of the world. Some countries have suffered less than others but no country remains unscathed. Just as bailouts and other emergency measures were pumping money into the sick economy we got hit by reports about the enormity of Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme. A confederacy of crooks -- the executives of Wall Street giants; the friendly watchdog agencies that looked the other way and let the crooks run unchecked; and the venal politicians who enacted laws to assist the crooks.

With the unemployment roll growing and uncertainty about the length of the economic depression, the era of irrational exuberance is over for the time being. Consumers have gone to the bunkers. And who can blame them; it is truly a winter of anxiety, a winter of discontent.

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

--Wm. Shakespeare in Richard the Third

But the human spirit remains indomitable. This phase,too, will pass.

Univ. of Montana

In the winter the days are short and the Sun in low in the sky. The graphic above shows the Sun's path through the sky on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. This is the day when the Sun is the lowest in the southern sky.

During the short winter days the Sun does not rise exactly in the east, but instead rises just south of east and it sets south of west.

Each day after the winter solstice, which occurs on December 21st, the Sun's path becomes a little higher in the southern sky. The Sun also begins to rise closer to the east and set closer to the west until we reach the day when it rises exactly east and sets exactly west. This day is called the equinox. In the spring we have the Spring Equinox about March 21st. There is also a Fall Equinox on September 21st.
--Univ. of Montana


The Barbaric Side of Islam

Followers of Mohammed in Somalia

Somalia has recently gained notoriety because of its pirates. News about radical Islamists in Somalia makes one weep and wonder who are the inhabitants of Somalia, human beings or some other species that crawled out from pre-historic caves. That,however, might be unfair on those who dwelled in caves. For all we know they might have had higher values. The Islamists in Somalia are the lowest of the low.

The BBC reported:

Flogging, watched by large crowds, is a common occurrence.

But real barbarism begins when no one can any longer judge or know that what he does is barbaric.”
--Ryszard Kapuscinski


Saturday, December 20, 2008


Credit Card Sharks Facing New Rules

The Powerful Industry Has Lost Its Clout

The ubiquitous plastic cards have become a part of our lives. Most of us would find it hard to do without them. The credit card issuing companies deserve to profit from the transactions. Yes, but not to rob us as they do with the astronomical interest rates, fees, and penalties.

The proposed new rules are intended to regulate some of the abusive practices. The rules make one thing clear. The credit card industry and its lobbyists in Washington DC no longer have the legislators in their pockets. It took time. At long last our elected representatives in Congress realized that the wind had shifted. To survive, they could not go on blatantly serving special interest groups as they did in the past. The industry stopped fighting the consumer friendly rules when it faced the fact that it was no longer "business as usual." The major credit card companies still continue to bait gullible consumers by mailing pre-printed checks with monthly statements.

End of "K" Street as we knew it? Far from it. But a step in the right direction.

Washington Post

When the federal government approves new rules banning "unfair and deceptive" practices today by credit card companies, it will hand a victory to consumer groups who have long complained of lax oversight of the $970 billion industry.Even with all its lobbying power, the credit card industry was not able to beat back the most sweeping overhaul in decades. Financial companies and trade groups argue that regulators are overreacting to problems in ways that will limit the availability of credit to customers.

Today's move by Federal Reserve, the Office of Thrift Supervision and the National Credit Union Administration is the first of what could be many attempts to further regulate the industry, as several members of Congress plan to codify the Fed's regulations next year and perhaps pass even more stringent rules. It also represents a significant shift in the thinking of the regulatory agencies, which still are run by Republican appointees. Analysts note that regulators have stepped back from an emphasis on educating customers about what they should do, primarily through disclosures, in favor of telling companies and customers what they can and cannot do."

It just shows how the world has changed," said Brian Gardner, who follows financial regulation issues for the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

"Eighteen months ago the Fed was focused on disclosure and transparency, and now they're coming out with a prescriptive, rules-based guidance. It's a whole different world."


Thursday, December 18, 2008


Obama Courts Evangelicals


What next ?

News reports about the president elect's choice of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration raise questions about what will come next. Rick Warren is not only an evangelical pastor he is a big kahuna among evangelical pastors. Obama's move was in the fashion of the old master Karl Rove.

Politically it will pay dividends. The Republicans must be scratching their heads. In one fell swoop Obama disarmed many of the Christian Right who bitterly fought his candidacy. Looking forward, one can think of diminished chances for the Palinites who were dreaming of 2012.

Is Barack Obama a closet Born Again Christian? He has shown that he is capable, of being "All things to all men". How is he going to evolve about Roe v. Wade? Are wars going to be launched because of divine guidance ? Time will tell. The signals, however, are alarming.


Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Seasons: Fall 2008


Walks through Woods * Haikus

The winter solstice begins eight days from now, on the morning of December 21. Here in the San Francisco Bay area we are in a cold snap. Weather forecast is for showers the next four days. There were signs that it rained last night. The morning is sunny; the sky is blue. So far the rainfall is just about 50% of the normal level. Long way to go before we catch up. If we don't, then the chances of severe drought and all related problems become very alarming.

Walks through the forests are very enjoyable though. Haven't come across chanterelles but found some oyster mushrooms. When I think back, in 2007, too, the rains came late and the first chanterelles emerged in December; it was not a very bountiful season.

Oyster Mushrooms
© David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified

Looking down at Horse Shoe Lake
© Musafir

Horse Shoe Lake at Skyline Ridge
© Musafir

Ring-necked Ducks on Horse Shoe Lake
© Musafir

Picnic table above Horse Shoe Lake
© Musafir

We had couscous cooked with shallots and golden raisins; chicken/fennell sausage; stir-fried sweet potatoes with sage and garlic-flavored brown butter (a Mark Bittman recipe); a North Coast zinfandel; comice pear, and coffee.

Autumn Haiku

Crisp falling leaves crunch
deliciously as joggers
pound asphalt bike trail

--Carol Nation
Source: Crisp Autumn Haiku

And from a poem by Coleridge:

Come, come thou bleak December wind,
And blow the dry leaves from the tree!

-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834, Fragment 3


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Assisted Suicide - Britain's Sky TV Takes a Bold Step

Documentary Film "Right to Die" to be televised

The news that Sky TV is going to show a documentary titled "Right to Die" is perhaps a sign of changes taking place in the hearts and minds of people in Britain. The program is scheduled for broadcast at 9:00 PM (it is 4:10 PM in London as I write this). The documentary depicts 59 year old, retired professor Craig Ewert's final moments at a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. His wife was at his side.

Of course, there are many who, for religious or other reasons, vehemently oppose such a choice being available to those who are terminally ill, do not wish to remain clinically alive when life becomes meaningless and voluntarily, in sane mind, make the decision to seek assistance in dying. The documentary is not going to convert them.


  • A documentary that appears to show the moment when a man dies after going through with an assisted suicide was strongly criticised yesterday by anti-euthanasia campaigners and a television watchdog.
  • The film, which is being screened on the Sky Real Lives channel tonight, seems to show the moment when 59-year-old Craig Ewert, who had motor neurone disease, died. It is believed this would be the first time the instant of the a person's death in an assisted suicide has been shown on British television.
  • Both the documentary maker, Oscar winner John Zaritsky, and Sky insisted that the film, Right to Die? - which is being shown at 9pm - is an important contribution to a vital debate.
  • Ewert, a retired university professor from Harrogate, Yorkshire, travelled to Dignitas, the organisation in Zurich that helps people to die, because he did not want to spend the rest of his days in a "living tomb".


Live with dignity, die with dignity

Monday, December 08, 2008


Bloody Hands - The Decider and his Groupie


The War based on Non-existent WMD * Torture and Extraordinary Rendition

With 42 days left for the Bush presidency, orchestrated efforts are underway to airbrush his image for posterity. The president has been giving interviews and talking about his achievements. He finally admitted that intelligence about Saddam Hussein's WMD was wrong. Duh. By this time the world knows that he is somewhat dim upstairs but took him a long time to figure it out. However, he claimed that the war achieved its end by doing good.

Now, Condoleezza Rice, the president's secretary of state is speaking out along the same line. The mushroom cloud conveniently forgotten. Later, Secretary Rice was involved in supporting Israel to carry out cluster bombing of Lebanon when cease fire agreement was imminent.

We have yet to hear from the Darth Vader-like vice president. Probably busy destroying records. But if and when he speaks we can rest assured that Vice President Cheney, too, will talk glowingly of achievements.

You wonder if these people ever think of the dead and injured. According to latest figures on web site of Iraq Coalition Casualty Count -- http://icasualties.org/oif/ 4209 American soldiers have lost their lives. The number of wounded is close to 31,000.

The picture is much worse for the hapless Iraqi civilians. Iraq Body Count is reporting number of dead between 89,600 -- 97,828. Some sources, among them British medical journal The Lancet reported significantly higher numbers. Note: Accessing articles in The Lancet will require registration.


"We do not torture"
--President Bush (White House Press Release Nov 7,2005)

"The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured.
--Secretary of State Rice (Press Release USINFO.STATE.GOV - Dec.5, 2005).

See video clips: Matt Lauer, MSNBC, interviewing the president on Sept.12, 2006. and Helen Thomas at White House Press Meeting April 24, 2008.

And so it goes.

Recommended reading: Naomi Klein's The True Purpose of Torture

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Call Him Flexible

Windfall Profits Tax * Withdrawal from Iraq

Remember Barack Obama's campaign speeches ? Now that the election is over and he is awaiting anointment, the president elect is not losing any time about backing off from some of his earlier positions.

Windfall Profits Tax on oil companies is gone with the wind -- died before it arrived. The eloquent one quietly dropped the hot potato, hoping that it would not make much of a ripple.

The Houston Chronicle Dec. 2, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama has quietly shelved a proposal to slap oil and natural gas companies with a new windfall profits tax.

An aide for the transition team acknowledged the policy shift Tuesday, after a small-business group discovered the proposal — touted throughout much of the campaign — had been dropped from the incoming administration’s Web site.

“President-elect Obama announced the policy during the campaign because oil prices were above $80 per barrel,” the aide said. “They are below that now and expected to stay below that.”


There were signs that Obama would not press for an early withdrawal from Iraq of which he talked during the campaign. Now, that key appointments in defense (Gates to continue) and State Department have been filled, we can forget the campaign rhetoric. Disappointing.

International Herald Tribune Dec.2, 2008

The uncertainties facing the incoming administration may have prompted Obama, in introducing his national security team Monday, to signal greater flexibility in his plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.

Obama reaffirmed that goal, but also emphasized his willingness to consider options put forth by the military.

"I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders," he said at a news conference in which he also named Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as his choice for secretary of state and said that he would keep Robert Gates as defense secretary.

No longer a candidate, Obama has been calibrating his troop-withdrawal statements to leave room to maneuver, as some senior military officers are wary of moving too quickly. Meanwhile, he wants to send more forces to Afghanistan.


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