Friday, June 29, 2007

A revolt in the making in Iran?

These are very interesting times to watch developments in Iran. First there was the surprise move by the government to ration petrol. Then came the spontaneous rights, sparked by people who were angry that a) petrol was being rationed in a country which has one of the largest oil and gas reserves and b) they were not given adequate notice before the order came into effect. Now there are reports that the government has banned all "negative" reports on petrol.

Iran, even though it has large oil reserves, has very little capacity to refine it. It has to depend on otehr countries to refine its crude, importing about 40 per cent on its consumption.

During the unrest, when at least one petrol pump was torched, some of the most explicit anti-Ahmadinejad slogans were heard. Is a revolt in the making?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

ATM for giants?

Photographs from

Monday, June 25, 2007

Who is an askhole?

Someone who asks many stupid, pointless, obnoxious questions. More definitions here.

Is America's campaign to promote democracy in Iran counterproductive?

In a fascinating article in NYT, Negar Azimi shows how American plans to usher in democratic change have failed to achieve the desired results. Besides highlighting the fact that four Iranian-Americans are now under arrest on charges of supporting a "velvet revolution" in Iran, she gets some real incisive quotes. Like this one from Lee Hamilton, a former congressman who today serves as the president and director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, where Haleh Esfandiari - one of the four detainees - worked:

“The activities of the democracy fund should be an open book. What is important is the clear articulation of American foreign policy. Is it one of regime change or behavior change? We have to be crystal clear — that is an enormous difference.”

And goes on to add:

But this is precisely the distinction the Bush administration has continually failed to make. Ambiguity as to what the United States really wants from Iran seems to be built into the system. While the goals of the democracy fund may seem mild and the U.S. recently participated in rare talks with Iran, American aircraft carriers patrol the Persian Gulf, and five Iranian officials continue to be held incommunicado by U.S. forces in Iraq... The most painful paradox in all of this may be that neither Tajbakhsh nor Esfandiari received American democracy funds and, in fact, were critical of the American effort’s potential costs. Whether their arrests are a reflection of an internal battle between pro-engagement elements of the Khatami and Rafsanjani variety and those who are increasingly insular (notably Ahmadinejad) remains unclear. What is clearer, perhaps, is that the very public nature of the U.S. funds gave the Iranian government the perfect opportunity to send an unsubtle signal to the world about the potential cost of engagement.

She has also some comments from an Iranian who was invited to one conference organised by the fund for democratic change in Iran:

Emadeddin Baghi, who at that time was running a center for the defense of prisoners’ rights in Tehran, sent members of his family — including his wife and daughter — to Dubai. “I was under the impression that this was a U.N.-sponsored event and that it would work on basic human rights reporting and documentation,” he told me. “When the participants arrived, there was no trace of the U.N. And they had more in mind than reporting and documenting. We were lied to.”

Upon arrival, he said, participants were kept sequestered in small groups, housed in separate hotels across Dubai. Over three sets of sessions, they were not only given some basic human rights and health training but also a session on successful popular revolts in places like Serbia, conducted by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a Washington-based group. At least two members of Otpor — the Serbian youth movement instrumental in ousting Slobodan Milosevic — were present. Portions of “A Force More Powerful,” a three-hour documentary series featuring civil-resistance movements overcoming authoritarian rule around the world, was also screened.

Further sessions included a lesson on how to use Hushmail (an encrypted e-mail account) and a secure open-source software called Martus designed to store information about human rights abuses. With the press of a single button, you can upload information to a server and erase any trace of the file from your computer. Each participant was given the software to take back to Tehran. One participant recently told me: “We were certain that we would have trouble once we went back to Tehran. This was like a James Bond camp for revolutionaries."

Nawazish Ali on Pervez Musharraf

(Photo from The New York Times)

The immensely popular Pakistani drag chatshow host Ali Saleem - who plays Nawazish Ali - has finally bid adieu after being forced off screen. In a country known for its orthodox beliefs, Saleem, who is open about his bisexuality, broke all norms. Famous politicians and stars would be more than willing to be interview by him, playing a flirtatious middle-aged widow. I just saw some extracts of one of his shows on YouTube... Nothing dramatic that caught my attention. But what caught my attention was his comment on Musharraf in a radio interview - He described him as a "handsome man" who “I would like better if he took of his uniform”! Who could put it better than Nawazish?

Friday, June 22, 2007

India too joins the let's-bash-Rushdie bandwagon

Kashmir Shuts Down Against Rushdie

Most shops, offices and schools were closed Friday in India's Muslim-majority Kashmir region to protest Britain awarding a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie, who has been accused of insulting Islam.

The strike was called by the Islamic rebel group Jamiat-ul-Mujahedeen, one of several groups protesting predominantly Hindu India's rule in the divided Himalayan state.

In Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, many shops, buisnesses and schools heeded the strike call. But some parts of downtown remained open for business, and traffic was steady on the roads.

While no violence has been reported so far, police and security forces were on alert to thwart any widespread protests.

In Pakistan, supporters from the nation's radical Islamic groups were set to hold protests later Friday over Rushdie's knighthood.

Although protesters have burned effigies of Rushdie and Queen Elizabeth II since this week when Britain announced the award for his novel "The Satanic Verses," the latest protests come a day after a Pakistani cleric bestowed a title on Osama bin Laden in reaction to knighthood for Rushdie.

Pakistan is a close ally of the United States and Britain in the war on terror, but it has condemned the granting of award for Rushdie, accusing of insulting Islam by writing a blasphemous novel.

Indian Kashmir's largest rebel group, Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, and several political parties and religious groups have called for mass protests after Friday prayers later in the day, and urged their followers to burn effigies of Rushdie.

"Awarding knighthood on Rushdie amounts to a blatant anti-Muslim bias, and Muslims all over the world condemn the move," said Junaid-ul-Islam, a spokesman of the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, in a telephone call to Current News Service, a local news agency.

Mufti Mohammad Bashir-ud-din, head of Kashmir's Islamic court, said in a statement that Rushdie was "liable to be killed for rendering the gravest injury to the sentiments of the Muslims across the world."

Bashir-ud-din is a government-appointed religious head and has the authority to issue legal opinions and decrees on interpretations of Islamic law.

In 1989, Iran's then-spiritual leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa or religious edict ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie for his book, "The Satanic Verses."

The threat forced Rushdie, who lives in Britain, into hiding for a decade.

Britain has defended its decision to honor Rushdie, one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century. His 13 books have won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize for "Midnight's Children" in 1981.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India, but claimed in its entirety by both. More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in the conflict.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rushdie? Here we come!

Given any remote chance, the predictable Rushdie bashers will rear their heads. Soon after it was known that Rushdie had become Sir Salman, a storm of protest emanated from Iran and Pakistan.

Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a press conference: "Giving a medal to someone who is among the most detested figures in the Islamic community is... a blatant example of the anti-Islamism of senior British officials. The measure that has taken place for paying tribute to this apostate and detested figure will definitely put British statesmen and officials at odds with Islamic societies, the emotions and sentiments of which have again been provoked."

Then came Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz-ul-Haq who told the parliament that the move insulted Islam and that it may lead to terrorism.

Thankfully, I haven't read of any protest in India to Rushdie’s knighthood. Not yet. But then my heart sinks each time I remind myself that India was the first country to ban The Satanic Verses.

I believe censoring often creates more problem than what it resolves. Look at the scare associated with Mozart's opera, "Idomeneo", that featured the severed head of Mohamamed, amongst other sacred figures. The Berlin Opera self-censored the production, refusing to go ahead with the controversial piece in September last year. Reams were written about freedom of expresson, volumes spoke about respecting the belief of others. But finally the opera went ahead without any incident in December! Perhaps we would have been better off without that unwarranted ban.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Want a drink? Whatever!

(Pictures from

Tired of being undecided? Don't know what to choose from the rack of drinks at your nearby store? Why don't you then try Anything and Whatever. An ingenious Singaporean businessman came up with ths brilliant idea to serve customers drinks that have no markings on the can to reveal their flavour. The only way to find out what you have is to taste it! That brings in some surprise and fun in your otherwise mundane shopping, at least till all the flavours are known. What is known, however, is that Anything features carbonated drinks and Whatever includes non-carbonated ones. The idea came from the businessman's friends who, when asked by him what they wanted to drink, would reply: "Anything! Whatever!" Their ad campaign is also pretty cool!

Friday, June 15, 2007

A slightly pregant man?

Expectant fathers can suffer from pregnancy symptoms, UK research shows. Morning sickness, cramps, back pain and swollen stomachs were all reported by men whose partners were pregnant. Researchers at St George's University, London, who carried out the study of 282 Dads-to-be said the phenomenon was known as "Couvade syndrome". More… Possibly you would want to see A Slightly Pregnant Man, featuring cinema legends Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. It a film that, for a change, takes a serious look at “pregnant” man rather that make a slapstick out of it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mossadegh and I went to the same school!

I just found out, thanks to Wikipedia, that Mohammed Mosaddegh and I went to the same school in Paris - l'Institut d'etudes politiques (Sciences Po, in short). Even though he passed out in 1914 and I in 2006, I consider myself privileged to have walked through the same corridors and probably shared the same classrooms as the Iranian nationalist. It's both a pity and irony that he, the only truly democratically elected leader Iran ever had, should have been ousted in a coup planned and executed by the CIA in 1953.

Outrightly ingenious and hilarious!

An Italian senator called for an ambulance just so that he could beat the clogged traffic and make it in time for a shoot at a TV studio. Now that he has been forced to resign, his parting shot praised the "speed and efficiency" of the ambulance crew! He came up with something even better: "I used an old journalist's trick to get here."

Monday, June 11, 2007

"The hottest upload in web history that doesn't include a naked famous person"

Watch a herd of cape buffaloes as they rescue a calf from a herd of lions and also thrash their appetite out of them! According to this site: "The 8-min., 23-sec. clip is a three-act play of attack, counterattack and rescue shot three summers ago in Kruger National Park in South Africa and posted only this May. Since then, it has been viewed more than 3.8 million times—200,000 times in a single day this week—drawn more than 6,000 comments and been bookmarked as a fan favorite more than 20,000 times."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Boycotting Israeli universities... Is it just?

I have been meaning to write a post on the move by certain in the British academia to go ahead with an "intellectual boycott of Israel". Supporters of the move say that "Israeli academic freedom comes at the cost of the denial of the most basic of academic freedoms of Palestinian students." Even if there are many Palestinians who benefit from Israel's education system, I am sure there are even more who daily have to face denial of education "by invasions, closures, checkpoints, curfews, and shootings and arrests of teachers, lecturers and students".

The University of Haifa has been earlier urged to "uphold academic freedom, and in particular cease its victimisation of academic staff and students who seek to research and discuss the history of the founding of the state of Israel". On the other hand, Bar-Ilan has been criticised for supporting a college in "an illegal settlement" in the West Bank.

But is this a right way to react, especially universities? If you want to condemn them, for sure do. Do it in the strongest of terms. Make your disgust and anguish known. But please do not get entangled in a ceaseless cycle of rabid retorts - much like the politics in Middle East. This boycott move, unfortunately, does more harm than good to the cause of ending the problem the British professors are seeking to redress. Mr Alan Dershowitz, a prominent lawyer and Harvard law professor, has already threatened to "devastate and bankrupt" those he believes are acting against Israeli universities. The ptich keeps getting more and more shrill. As Erica Elini at Foreign Policy puts it, "Liberal or conservative, mainstream or extremist, universities should never be the target of a boycott. They're supposed to be the greenhouse of new and revolutionary ideas, not political footballs."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Some number crunching...

China's 1.3 billion people eat more than 92 billion pounds of pork a year.

Source: NYT

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Censoring blogs in Iran... and in India

Want to start a blog in Iran? Then you'll have to register it with the government - which has recently begun to require that all bloggers register at, a site established by the ministry of culture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government... More. Worse, according to an Open Net Initiative report, India has made it to the list of the countries that use state-mandated net filtering. For company, we have countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Morocco and Saudi Arabia! Can we still call ourselves free?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How good is the 2012 Olympics logo?

London has just revealed the 2012 logo. It fails to impress me. They couldn't have chosen a more hideous and jarring colour combination. Besides, what's London or British about it? What's your take? If unhappy sign the petition to change the logo. The one from Athens gets my vote. As for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games logo, very old-world, plain insipid and grossly uninspiring. Sigh!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Meeting the world's heaviest man

By Duncan Kennedy BBC News, Mexico City

To really appreciate Manuel Uribe's size, you have to do a bit of lateral thinking. Picture in your mind an ordinary adult male. Then another.

And another. And another. And another. And another.

And, finally, one more. Seven fully grown men in all, standing in a line. Now, add up their weight. Only then would you be getting close to Manuel Uribe. The raw statistics are breathtaking.

At his peak, he weighed 560kg, or 1234lb, or 88st. That's half a ton. Small Japanese cars come in lighter... More here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The truth behind Entebbe

Entebbe airport
It is cited as the world's most daring and efficiently executed hostage rescue mission. It is Israel's pride. But all that could be hogwash as a new document from the British National Archives contains a claim that Israel was itself behind the Entebbe hijacking! "An unnamed contact told a British diplomat in Paris that the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Beit, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) collaborated to seize the plane… The operation was designed to torpedo the PLO's standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans." More here.

Who's the pacifist? Who's the belligerent?

The index takes note of internal factors—crime rates, prison population, trust between citizens—and external ones, like relations with neighbours, arms sales, foreign troop deployments. Norway's top place reflects its calm domestic atmosphere and good relations with nearby states. In the case of Israel (119th), high military spending, a huge army and unresolved local conflicts are deemed to outweigh its low level of ordinary crime. Canada comes eighth; its American neighbour a dismal 96th, strangely just above Iran.