[AUDIO] OTR radio drama “August Heat” of Suspense, from 1945, quoting Khalil Gibran’s ‘On Death’

On Death – Khalil Gibran


Then Almitra spoke, saying, “We would ask now of Death.”
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
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CLICK TO HEAR

First  Broadcast: May 31, 1945

SUSPENSE

Suspense‘s “August Heat” was based on the 1910 short story by British author W.F. Harvey (1885-1937). The original text is available in Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror, which is available online through Google Books. “August Heat” was adapted for radio by Mel Dinelli and produced/directed byWilliam Spier. Ronald Colman starred. Also appearing was Dennis Hoey.
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The British North America Act [BNA Act] –It created the country of Canada–Why is it still in London, England?

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The PODCAST:

http://medias-balado.radio-canada.ca/diffusion/2010/balado/rci/thelink-20100705-1516.mp3

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The British North America Act is one of Canada’s most important historical documents: it’s the basis for the country’s constitution, but, it’s kept an ocean away in Britain. We take a closer look at the BNA Act, its significance to this country and how a group of prominent Canadians is now campaigning to bring it to Canada.

“BringBackTheAct.ca is national, grassroots movement launched by a group of Canadians from all walks of life. Our intent is to gather thousands of names to petition Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the British government to allow the original Canadian Constitution (The documents of the BNA Act) to be entrusted to the Canadian Government to be displayed for all Canadians to see. This will be the last step we take to finally “repatriate” our Constitution.”

The campaign is the brainchild of Lori Abittan, President and CEO of Multimedia Nova Corporation. Her 52-week history series The Canadian Experience(http://www.cdnexperience.ca) now running in over 70 multicultural publications, was the inspiration to launch BringBackTheAct.ca to invite all Canadians to help gain access to the basic documents which are the foundation of our nationhood.

Over 70 newspapers and websites serving the many communities of Canada have embracedThe Canadian Experience. Their support of this initiative speaks to a joint desire to provide every Canadian with information relevant to our shared democracy and the history of Canada. We believe that central to democracy is access to information. The initiative to patriate The BNA Act is an extension of this earlier project and arises out of a further desire to unite Canadians under our flag. Canada is our home. The fact that The Canadian Experience has been embraced so enthusiastically by the widest audience in the country reaffirms a shared passion for Canada that must be nurtured promoted and encouraged. We are proud to call Canada our home. Let’s not be shy about it.

BringBackTheAct.ca is an affiliated project of The Canadian Experience which was developed and made available to a select network of multilingual publications by Multimedia Nova Corporation, Canada’s diversity publisher/printer-of-choice and a communications company operating in the areas of publishing, multicultural marketing, diversity recruitment, new media, printing and distribution, and Canadian civic literacy and outreach.”


  • Precedence exists for the transfer of original documents constituting Acts of British Parliament used to establish a former British Colony into a self-governing entity to the former colony in recognition of ongoing co-operation and friendship between sovereign nations.LINK: Documenting a Democracy: National Archives of Australia
  • Australia’s independence was secured with the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act introduced in British Parliament in 1900. In 1988, the original of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act from the Public Records Office in London was lent to Australia and the Australian government requested permission to keep the copy in 1990. The British Parliament agreed by passing the Australian Constitution (Public Record Copy) Act 1990.

Why Bring Back the Act?

Have you seen the Canadian Constitution?

Would you like to see it?

Well you can’t.

Our founding document, the British North America Act, 1867 (also known as the Constitution Act, 1867), isn’t on exhibit. In fact, it’s stored behind closed doors in London, England. As planning begins to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our constitution in 2017 and the creation of the modern Canadian Confederation, it’s time to finish the patriation of our original constitution. It’s time to place the BNA Act on public exhibit in Ottawa at the heart of an engaging public presentation on how we govern ourselves.

Experts remind us that there are many documents which together define our constitution, but at the very heart of these, legally, historically and symbolically, is the British North America Act. It embodies the vision of John A. Macdonald, George-Etienne Cartier and all the Fathers of Confederation. The original of that law, like those for all British legislation, is well preserved by the British government, but as Canada moves towards its 150th birthday party it’s time to bring home to the country that it created.

The first constitutional homecoming

On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II of Canada, came to Parliament Hill and signed the formal Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982 ending centuries of constitutional arrangements developed overseas. As she signed it began to rain. Several drops blurred the careful handwriting of the text and provide a reminder that the Canadian climate respects no authority. The rain drops add a distinctive Canadian character. That Proclamation was on exhibit in the Hall of Honour in the Parliament Building during the summer of 2000, marking the Millennium. It is normally securely preserved in the vaults of Library and Archives Canada in its state of the art preservation centre in Gatineau. The older key documents, including the BNA Act are in England. All are well preserved but are far from public view.

A home of its own

The BNA Act should provide the centre piece of a major national exhibition focused on our constitution. Just bringing it to Canada to lock it in a vault is pointless. The Supreme Court has referred to our constitution as a living tree. It’s not a fossil, frozen in time but evolves in response to the changing needs of society. The BNA Act is the very trunk of that tree. It must become a living presence in our national life, permanently available to every Canadian. Ideally, it should be here in 2014, arriving in Charlottetown to mark the 150th anniversary of the conferences held there and in Quebec City which led to Confederation. Then it can travel to all parts of the country, carefully exhibited, to stimulate discussion about our Confederation, its past and future. And then to Ottawa on July 1, 2017 to be placed on permanent exhibit for all to see.

Why any of this matters?

The BNA Act illuminates all of our constitutional inheritance. The other acts together with maps showing our changing borders, and the treaties with aboriginal peoples can be included as a powerful and engaging exhibition and learning environment. The focus must be on citizenship and our governing institutions: the role of the Crown as represented by the Governor General, of Parliament, Cabinet and the Supreme Court. Our institutions cannot be separated from the individuals whose vision and energy created them and continue to shape them. We can add in the personalities who made this history.

We have a compelling story to tell but it must be rooted in authenticity. We need the foundation of original documents to reflect the importance of our constitution. In the process we can encourage our young people to understand that the constitution is truly a living tree on which they can build and thrive as Canadians.

Lists of Canadian symbols always mention the maple leaf, the flag, the heraldic arms, the beaver, some assorted tartans and the Great Seal. Yet, there is no mention of a constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Our constitution is complex. Unlike that of our neighbours to the south, it isn’t even a single document. It’s comprised of Acts of both the Canadian and British Parliaments, centuries of unwritten precedents and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, there are over 30 documents, 10 amendments since 1982, and countless unwritten rules that are the Canadian Constitution.

For example, The Quebec Act, 1774, recognized the special conditions in the newly acquired colony enabling Catholics to hold public office and recognizing French civil law alongside British criminal law. These provisions were unique in their day and in them one can see the tentative beginnings of a new society able to live with and respect cultural differences.

“Responsible government” refers to the binding tradition in our unwritten constitution by which the Crown only acts on the advice of an executive council responsible to an elected assembly. It was implemented first in Nova Scotia (1848) and then in the United Canadas (today’s Ontario and Quebec). In the latter case, the Governor General of the day, the Earl of Elgin, upheld this new principle at considerable risk to his personal safety. A mob in the then capital, Montreal, angered by legislation to compensate those who suffered losses in the Rebellion of 1837-38, stoned Lord Elgin’s carriage as he left the meeting of the executive council. He had accepted the advice of his executive and approved this extremely controversial act. The mob burned the Parliament Buildings in Montreal on April 25, 1849. But Elgin and his executive decided not to call out the militia and no lives were lost. The constitutional precedent was established in the most trying circumstances. Canada showed it could manage dissent without calling on military force.

There are other key documents, each with its own story and lively characters, necessary to understand the constitution we have inherited. These include the edict issued by French King Louis XIV in March 1663 that established the Sovereign Council of New France, then embracing a large portion of North America; the British Royal Charter that seven years later granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company the full powers of government over much of northern and western Canada; the Treaty of Paris in 1783, that gave international recognition to the United States following their revolution, establishing the eastern section of our common border; and the treaties signed by the Government with our First Nations that define the relationship between aboriginal peoples and Canadian society.

Oh yes, our constitutional development has indeed been complex.

But of all these, what evidence do we have in Canada? The raindrop-marked royal proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982 and similar formal proclamations of the new Canadian flag (1965) and the National Anthem (1980) are carefully kept in Library and Archives Canada’s modern preservation centre. But for our constitutional development prior to 1982, Canada holds only facsimile reproductions of original legislation in the United Kingdom. These are careful reproductions, inscribed by hand on parchment, presented to Canada by the British Government in 1982. Beautifully done but not the real thing for a self-respecting nation.

Canada needs its constitution. There are many parts to this. These and the human stories around them can be assembled in a compelling public exhibit. But at its heart must be the British North America Act. This is the closest we have to an historic constitution, setting out as clearly as they could, the vision and hopes of the Fathers of Confederation. It evolves and shifts as each generation wrestles with its circumstances but it is on this document that we Canadians have built our country.

Each generation also needs to understand this story, complex as it may be, in order to continue to develop our constitution and our society. It’s time to complete the patriation of our constitution by placing the British North America Act on public display in Ottawa.

Let’s make this a national project for our 150th birthday in 2017.

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“I’m profoundly patriotic, even though I’m an immigrant to Canada…”–Lori Abittan

WHAT?!?

I would submit that immigrants are the MOST patriotic, as firstly, they CHOSE to be Canadian, and secondly, the sheer novelty of their new identity would make them far more interested in all things Canadiana–which of course would include history.

I have never met anyone  more ‘Canadian’ than my father who immigrated here in 1965.  He is more politically, historically and culturally aware than most who were born here.

Being born any ‘Nationality’ allows one the luxury of laziness and taking much for granted.  Waving a flag and honking your horn once a year does not a patriot make.  It is a relationship with and an understanding of the history that made your country what it is today.  The decisions and paths that were taken that wove a journey that results in where we all are today.  Without this understanding and respect, you may as well just be cheering for the local curling club, hockey team or high school football squad.

–rudhro

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Sign the Petition:

http://bringbacktheact.ca/

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Sex with strangers and other tales from Sook-Yin Lee

Globe and Mail 

Sook-Yin Lee: Her movie found its roots in her adolescence, when she found a community of fellow artists.

Guy Dixon

Tuesday, Jun. 22, 2010

There’s a secret to understanding Sook-Yin Lee.

She actually cares what other people think of her. A lot.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who saw her masturbate in the film Shortbus. Or appear naked in the short film she directed and starred in for Toronto Stories. Or those who listen to her unconventional CBC Radio show Definitely Not the Opera. Or follow her presence on the highly uncommercial fringe of indie rock. Her new film Year of the Carnivore, however, is the first feature film she’s directed, and that makes it personal.

The film was inspired by Lee’s teenage years in and around Vancouver’s Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods, when she was a socially awkward young woman trying to impress a young guitarist by becoming more sexually experienced. “There are people who are going to embrace this movie, and there are people who are going to deride this film. And it profoundly affects me!” Lee says, sitting on the grass outside the CBC building in Toronto on a warm afternoon.

“It profoundly affects me,” she repeats, “and I wish it did not. I wish I could just go, ‘That is just their interpretation,’ and not feel hemmed in by any definition stated by anyone else. And also let [my own definition] of myself move. Do you know what I mean?”

Some artists pretend they don’t care about labels attached to their public personae, or about turning themselves into a brand. Lee cringes at the idea.

“It sucks to be Ronald McDonald! I’d hate to be, like, this walking brand, ‘Hey, I’m Sook-Yin Lee!,” she says, holding up her arms like a marionette and shouting in a mock-obnoxious voice.

Lee began fighting limitations and being pigeonholed at 15, when she left home and the confines of suburban life in North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley.

“It was a very exciting time. I broke out of a very, in some ways, traditional family. I hung out at the mall. I watched a lot of television. And suddenly in the middle of my parents’ really messy break-up, I jettisoned out and found freedom,” she recalls. “And it was so exciting. It coincided with my discovery of punk rock and existential writing. The only punk guy in my entire suburb: We became friends, and he introduced me to all these great bands and stuff.

“Then I found myself an orphan with a lot of freedom. I was a very socially awkward teenager, unable to speak verbally and very shy. I found myself always expressing myself through painting and art. These were very meaningful and cathartic expressions for me. And suddenly I found myself in the company of a number of other artists.”

It’s that period which was the genesis for her film Year of the Carnivore. When preparing the actors for their roles in Shortbus, director John Cameron Mitchell asked the cast to make personal videos about love. Lee wanted to explore the story she told in her video about her cluelessness back then about love and her body – which she tried to address by having sex with strangers in a number of befuddled ways.

Lee embellished the script with many fictional details, often for comedic effect, but the essence of the young woman’s confusion resembles what Lee went through. “I think with [the film’s lead character], it was more like looking at a relationship with a fella, and being in a quandary about what it is to be a woman. I still feel that. I don’t quite comfortably fit into what seems like the culturally prescribed gender roles. And sometimes when I’m faced by a majority of people who fit [in] better, I feel, like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”

She’s currently working on other scripts about relationships and identity. “I am challenging this notion of what makes me,” she says. “This attempt to define self seems so slippery.”

[AUDIO] Robert Moses vs Jane Jacobs

http://www.againstthegrain.org/files/atg/AtG_2010.04.12_Moses_vs_Jacobs.mp3

It was a struggle that shaped not only New York City’s urban landscape but that of cities around the country. On one side was the father of urban renewal, Robert Moses, and on the other, urban critic Jane Jacobs. Roberta Brandes Gratz discusses what Moses did — and tried to do — to New York, as well as Jacobs’ efforts to stymy him, and the long term ramifications of their conflicting visions for the city itself.

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Howard Husock’s book review in an issue of City Journal discusses Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City, by Anthony Flint, and Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Glenna Lang and Marjory Wunsch.

Jane Jacobs was the great self-taught urban philosopher and activist who wrote the Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she took the lessons she learned from Greenwich Village to expound upon the value of organic urban life, where planning and government have  a limited but instrumental role.  This stood in direct contrast to the most powerful man in New York, the unelected Robert Moses, who built many of New York City’s highways and housing projects.

Husock makes many notable points, including this one:

But good cases can make bad law, and the successful defense of Washington Square Park and the West Village can lead too easily to the conclusion that neighborhood preservation, by whatever means necessary, is always correct—and that opponents of development, by definition, occupy the moral high ground. Thanks partly to their efforts, New York City has not opened a new subway line since 1942, has no easy transit link to its airports, and enforces a system of legally dictated rents that allow affluent tenants to stay forever in cheap apartments and insulate themselves from neighborhood change. Some would even extend such rent controls to commercial properties, thus interrupting the cycle of decline and rebirth that marks dynamic cities.

Neither Moses nor Jacobs had a perfect philosophy.  Any transportation advocate recognizes the need for eminent domain at some minimal level and that good transit can help organic growth.  Think about how commercial and residential centers grow around particular subway stops or how other areas decay when city planners choose to move a bus line or close a light rail stop.  In this day and age there is no such thing as truly organic transit.  The days of paving over old walking and cow paths are over and transit now is a matter of government and the community working to make transit systems and routes that work with and for the community.

Moreover, Moses and Jacobs stand as historic examples of the long-lasting effects of making (or not making decisions in planning).  Moses radically changed the city and Jacobs prevented some of his other attempts and set the tone to make sure that other Moses-like projects would never occur.  In this day and age of 24-hour media we forget that our policy decisions have a longer lasting effect than the day or week they are put into place.  A policy decision, especially one as large as where or whether to build a highway or subway can have ramifications for decades if not centuries.

As we finally begin to give transportation infrastructure its due in the 21st century, we are best served to remember that any decision on transit–whether it is high speed rail, improving our highways, investing in more subways, efficient cars or something else we are bound to imagine–those decisions do not solve only current problems.  Those decisions will have ramifications today and for centuries to come.  Transportation grants should not be handed out for efficiecy’s sake or for mere stimulus effect, but to establish and preserve productive, creative, economically thriving centers of American life.

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Big Snub as Robert Moses Gets a Second Look

2007_01_moses.jpg

The NY Times’ Robin Pogrebin is reporting that the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery will unveil a three-parter over the next month on the master builder. Columbia University architectural historian Hilary Ballon says that Moses’ achievements have been overlooked.

From the Times:

Living in New York, one is aware there has been no evident successor or successors to Moses,” she said. “There aren’t master builders. Who is looking after the city? How do we build for the future?” All around New York State, she suggests, people tend to take for granted the parks, playgrounds and housing Moses built, now generally binding forces in those areas, even if the old-style New York neighborhood was of no interest to Moses himself. And were it not for Moses’ public infrastructure and his resolve to carve out more space, she argues, New York might not have been able to recover from the blight and flight of the 1970s and ’80s and become the economic magnet it is today.

The definitive account of Moses, of course, is Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, a 700,000-word, 1,286-page tome on the man who redefined 20th century New York. Caro tracks Moses’ tenure as parks commissioner and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority chairman, concluding that Moses not only destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes in the Bronx, Upper West Side, Sunset Park and Long Island in the name of new highways and “slum clearance,” but also rebuilt parks and playgrounds for “the rich and the comfortable.”

The three exhibitions tackle different aspects of Moses’ reign, according to the Times. “Robert Moses and the Modern City: Remaking the Metropolis” at the Museum of the City of New York is an overview of the roads (Henry Hudson Parkway and Cross Bronx Expressway, among others), buildings and monuments (Lincoln Center and the UN) and parks (the expansion of Riverside Park, East River Park and Central Park) created by Moses. “Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Road to Recreation” at the Queens Museum of Art (housed in a building that Moses conceived for the 1939 World’s Fair) looks at the 416 miles of road and 658 playgrounds he expanded in the 1930s. And “Robert Moses and the Modern City: Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution” at Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery examines Moses’ urban renewal-gone-amok phase of the 1950s.

All three seek to supplement – and, yes, modify – Caro’s story, given Caro’s focus on Moses’ destructive and diabolical side. Caro’s view was so unwelcome that he even was left out of the exhibitions until a sponsor of the Columbia show called and asked Caro to speak.

This is what Caro told the Times:

When I am writing a book, I try always to give all sides a chance to express their viewpoint. I guess they didn’t want my viewpoint expressed, and not inviting me is certainly an effective means of accomplishing that.

That snub has set off a strange smackdown between Caro and Columbia historian Kenneth T. Jackson, the editor of the amazing Encyclopedia of New York City and Crabgrass Frontiers: The Suburbanization of the United States. Jackson, who, bizarrely, told the NY Observer that he wished his name – instead of Caro’s – were on Caro’s book, wrote four pages in the exhibition’s 336-page catalog, taking an alternate approach to Caro’s. Caro’s book exaggerates Moses’ influence on American life and his role as an “evil genius,” Jackson told the Observer’s Matthew Schuerman, adding that the city’s renaissance since 1974, the year the book was written, would not have been possible without Moses. “Had he not lived … Gotham would have lacked the wherewithal to adjust to the demands of the modern world,” said Jackson.

Even Caro’s editor, Robert Gottlieb, who read those four pages, weighed in on the dust-up:

I got this impression that Mr. Jackson, even if he didn’t have a direct animus toward Caro, was suffering from some kind of Moses envy, as if he wanted to own Moses himself.

In addition to Ballon and Caro, the Times has interviews with Jackson, Hertog (the sponsor who called to invite Caro), the executive director of the Queens Art Museum Tom Finkelpearl, Northwestern University African-American history professor Martha Biondi (who addresses Moses’ racism) and deputy mayor Daniel Doctoroff.

The Observer has a detailed account of the Caro-Jackson feud featuring an in-one-corner analysis of the dueling writer-thinkers. Aside from Jackson and Gottlieb, it also features interviews with Ballon and Caro.

Both are good reads.

[AUDIO] Women Research Chairs – The Canadian Government announces the 19 successful candidates for the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program. The program was designed to woo high-powered scientists from all over the world. While the results are being hailed as an intellectual coup for Canada, some wonder why no women were selected for the jobs.

Earlier this week, the Federal Government announced the 19 successful candidates for the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program. The program was designed to woo high-powered scientists from all over the world. While the results are being hailed as an intellectual coup for Canada, some wonder why no women were selected for the jobs.

http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/current_20100520_32666.mp3

The Star Logo

Feds grant big dollars to all-male research group

May 19, 2010

Susan Delacourt

{{GA_Article.Images.Alttext$}} Nineteen men and no women were selected to be Canada Excellence Research Chairs, receiving a total of up to $10-million in federal money over the next seven years.

OTTAWA – Not one woman was among the recipients this week when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government handed out big dollars for big thinkers.

Of the 19 people who were selected to be the first of the “prestigious” Canada Excellence Research Chairs, receiving up to $10-million in total in federal money over the next seven years, all were men.

Some women scholars are outraged, and even Industry Minister Tony Clement is concerned by the total shutout of female researchers.

It comes when the Conservative government is already under criticism for how it is handling women’s issues – the new ban on support for abortions in overseas aid, cuts to women’s advocacy groups and the winding-down of the long-gun registry.

“I felt kicked in the stomach,” says Wendy Robbins, co-ordinator of women’s studies at the University of New Brunswick and one of a group of academics who mounted a successful human-rights challenge to the gender imbalance in a previous, federal research-chair program.

Robbins says that she’s in discussions now to see whether a new human-rights complaint may be necessary. The exclusion of women researchers was reportedly a hot topic on Tuesday in an on-line discussion group that Robbins runs, featuring 1,600-plus subscribers among women academics and advocates.

On this issue, though, the Conservative minister in charge is sympathetic.

“It really stands out, and I said: ‘where are the women?’” Clement said on Tuesday, a day after the research chairs, billed as the “world’s most renowned,” were announced with much fanfare in Ottawa.

Clement told the Star that the conspicuous lack of women prompted him to launch a small investigation of his own a few weeks ago, to see whether the system was biased against female researchers.

Anita Neville, the Liberals’ status-of-women critic, says the situation is the result of the Conservative government closing its eyes to any discussion of women’s issues.

“You’ve had no advocate for women in this government,” Neville said. Though she praises Clement for noticing, Neville said “it’s just not good enough” to promise it won’t happen again.

Suzanne Fortier, head of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) was one of the people asked by Clement to look into the selection process and she argues that the problem mainly boils down to too few women in the pool of applicants.

Women aren’t heavily represented at senior levels in the fields of research where the federal government was looking for research chairs, Fortier said. The four main areas include: environmental sciences and technologies; natural resources and energy; health and life sciences and information and communication.

This isn’t to say that women aren’t in those fields, Fortier hastens to say – it’s just that they’ve only started to enter them in great numbers in Canada and elsewhere in recent years and it will take a while for them to reach the senior levels sought to fill the Canadian Excellence Research Chairs (CERCs).

“I know that they are there, they are coming, and in 10 years, watch out,” Fortier said.

Other problems revolved around finding women candidates flexible enough to make the career and family moves required to fill the research-chair positions, as well as the intense competition out there to attract the small number of senior women in the science and technical research realms.

Robbins says that these are old arguments and she’s heard them all before.

Back in 2003, Robbins and seven other women academics – helped by the legal advice from the Canadian Association of University Teachers – launched a formal gender-discrimination complaint against the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program, set up in 2000 by the previous Liberal government. The complaint was lodged with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

It was settled three years later with a negotiated agreement that called for future targets in recruitment and appointment of under-represented groups. But that agreement doesn’t apply to this new program, and Robbins fears that the Conservative government has set up this different system of research chairs to do an “end run” around that old dispute and argue that “excellence” has trumped equity.

“If this were just an isolated thing, it would be one thing. But this is systemic,” Robbins says. “We all know what the Harper government stands for in terms of women’s issues, and taking the word ‘equality’ out and the notion that feminism is dead and women’s issues have been solved – it’s not the case.”

Clement said he’s obviously not pleased about the shutout of women and is hoping it doesn’t happen again. “I just want you to know, it leaped out at me. It leaped out at everybody, we talked about it and we have to figure out what happened here.”

National Post
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Excellence, not ‘equity’

National Post

Here we go again: Another day, another trumped-up controversy about Stephen Harper’s supposedly retrograde agenda.

On Tuesday, the Toronto Star breathlessly informed its readers that “not one woman” could be found among a new batch of academic grant recipients.

“Of the 19 people who were selected to be the first of the ‘prestigious’ Canada Excellence Research Chairs, receiving up to $10-million in total in federal money over the next seven years, all were men,” reported the Star. “‘I felt kicked in the stomach,’ says Wendy Robbins, co-ordinator of women’s studies at the University of New Brunswick and one of a group of academics who mounted a successful human-rights challenge to the gender imbalance in a previous, federal research-chair program … Robbins says that she’s in discussions now to see whether a new human-rights complaint may be necessary.”

Ah yes — kicked in the stomach. Where does the Star find all these women, gays and visible minorities who supposedly spend day and night enduring endless blows in the midsection from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives?

It’s a wonder half the country isn’t writhing around on the pavement, gasping for breath.

But here’s a question for Ms. Robbins, and the Toronto Star reporter who went running to her for a reaction quote: How many men teach women’s studies? Has an effort been made to recruit male academics to balance the faculty in women’s studies departments? Or are there just too few qualified men who apply? What about other traditionally “female-dominated” fields of study, like nursing? Have women launched “human rights complaints” to get men into those areas? If not, why not? Shouldn’t gender equity be the priority in the hiring practices of every department?

The answer to this last question, of course, is no, it shouldn’t be. This is especially true at the highest level of academia, which is the stratum being targeted by the Canada Excellence Research Chairs, a program that aims to lure world-class academic talent to Canada in environmental sciences and technologies; natural resources and energy; health and related life sciences and technologies; and information and communications technologies. Excellence, not political correctness, should be the deciding factor when apportioning taxpayer money in this way.

According to Suzanne Fortier, head of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the reason for the lack of female appointees is a paucity of female applicants. Women aren’t heavily represented at senior levels in the fields of research involved.

If Ms. Robbins and her colleagues want to encourage equity, then encourage qualified women to apply for positions. But if those women don’t exist, or don’t want to apply, you can’t invent them or force them to do so. And you shouldn’t appoint less qualified women simply because they are female. Not only would such a move be a waste of taxpayer dollars, it would also stigmatize those female scientists who do happen to operate at the elite levels of scientific research as if they were affirmative-action cases.

As for the charge of gender bias against Mr. Harper’s government, it is bunk. This government desperately wants to appoint women to all sorts of places. To take but one example of many: From 2006-2008, a member of this editorial board served on the Judicial Appointments Committee for the Tax Court of Canada. The committee was told at the start of its mandate that the government wanted to appoint more women to the bench. But the body faced the same issue as the Research Council: Fewer women than men applied; most were not qualified; and, as a result, the majority of the recommendations ended up being men.

What was the government’s reaction? The committee was asked to re-examine a number of female applicants who’d initially been rejected, to make sure it hadn’t missed something that would entitle them to a recommendation. These applications were rejected again — because they simply weren’t up to par. Eventually, other women did make the grade, and were appointed to the court, but they got there based on their ability, not their gender.

Which is as it should be. Whether in a science lab, or in a courtroom, Canada’s elite talent should be picked on the basis of merit, not identity politics.

© 2010 The National Post Company. All rights reserved.

Go to The Globe and Mail

Why women were shut out of Canada’s science-star search

Industry Minister Tony Clement and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon hold a news conference in Ottawa on May 18, 2010.

Industry Minister Tony Clement and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon hold a news conference in Ottawa on May 18, 2010.

Elizabeth Church

Toronto —  Thursday, May. 20, 2010

Government-appointed panel of female academics identify factors that led to all-male recruitment

It’s an image the federal government didn’t want you to see: 19 top-notch researchers recruited in an international talent search and not a woman among them.

In the weeks leading up to the announcement of Canada’s success in attracting academic stars, the event was shifted from Ottawa to campuses across the country in part to improve the optics, say individuals familiar with the planning.

Industry Minister Tony Clement also asked three leading female academics on friendly terms with the government to probe what happened. Their report, obtained by The Globe and Mail, finds no deliberate attempt to shut out women, but concludes the tight deadlines for the competition, the areas picked for research and a competition where candidates on the short list had only a 50 per cent chance of winning probably all worked against female candidates.

“ We didn’t know we had a problem. It just never occurred to us that it would be 19 men and zero women. ”— Industry Minister Tony Clement

“It was a combination of factors,” Mr. Clement said in an interview. “We didn’t know we had a problem. It just never occurred to us that it would be 19 men and zero women. I’ve got to say it was a total shock to me.”

In fact, the numbers were worse. Not only were there no women in the final 19 researchers selected as the first Canada Excellence Research Chairs, there were none in the short list of 36 proposals either.

The federal government has already faced a successful human-rights challenge over the lack of women awarded grants under its Canada Research Chair program. Women’s representation at the highest levels of research is a hot topic in Canada, and on campuses around the world, especially as their numbers increase at lower levels. How to improve women’s showing in future competitions for these new elite grants without sacrificing merit was the job given to the report’s authors. They delivered their advice at the end of April.

“We want to do it right,” Mr. Clement said. “I realized there was an issue. We went to some people who we could trust to look at the issue. They came up with sensible recommendations. We can implement those sensible recommendations.”

The authors – University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, head of the Council of Canadian Academies, and granting council head Suzanne Fortier – suggest five actions to improve female participation. These include introducing a “rising stars” category, as well as one as for “established leaders,” a move that would change the aim of a program billed as a magnet for top talent.

“You are still looking at excellence, it is just at a different stage of their career,” Mr. Clement said, conceding that this would in some respects parallel the existing Canada Research Chair program.

The $200-million federal recruitment drive offered $10-million over seven years to up to 20 researchers, and was directed at specific areas that fit the government’s innovation agenda. Those areas, and the specialties favoured such as work to help the auto industry, were geared to disciplines dominated by men, the study finds. It recommends an “open” category be considered.

The academic “old boys club,” also was a factor. With limited time to find and court top researchers, universities resorted to “informal processes” to find candidates, the study finds. “These informal outreach processes may have involved senior researchers identifying potential nominees from among their international peers,” it says.

Senior women also may be more reluctant than their male colleagues to move for personal reasons or to enter a competition where the odds of success were 2 to 1, the report says, citing U.S. studies.

At the University of Manitoba, vice-president of research Digvir Jayas says that’s exactly what they experienced. They did approach a highly qualified female candidate for their chair, but she withdrew her name for personal reasons, he said.

Putting fewer candidates on the short list and increasing the search time could encourage female participation, the study finds.

The low number of female senior researchers requires further study, the report says, suggesting the Council of Canadian Academies be given that task.

“Let’s make sure we can do things within the boundaries of merit that will give a possibility of finding meritorious women in the future,’ Mr. Clement said. 

[AUDIO] Robert Fisk on Pakistan’s current Geopolitical Situation

Yesterday, the United States military fired three missiles into a house in northwest Pakistan and killed five people it alleges were Taliban insurgents. So far this year, the U.S. has used un-manned drones to fire – a reported 30 missiles – at targets inside Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan.

Add to that the increased number of suicide bombings in several Pakistani cities, as well long-running internal conflicts that seem to be restricting the Pakistani government’s ability to secure the country and there’s a growing sense that civilians are getting caught in the middle of a power struggle over which they have little control.

Robert Fisk has been covering the situation in Pakistan. And he says that its troubles have a great deal to do with the politics of the countries that surround it. Robert Fisk is a correspondent with the British newspaper, The Independent. He was in Toronto this morning.

Robert Fisk after being beaten and pelted with stones by Afghan refugeees, after his vehicle broke down near the Afghan/Pakistan, while he drove from Jalalabad to Quetta in 2001.

Belfast Telegraph

Robert Fisk: Pakistan is in pieces

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

American drones overhead, Taliban troops on the offensive, and the horrifying rise of child kidnapping – Pakistan is in pieces, writes Robert Fisk, in a devastating portrait of a country thwarted by violence and corruption

Pakistan ambushes you. The midday heat is also beginning to ambush all who live in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province. Canyons of fumes grey out the vast ramparts of the Bala Hisar fort.

“Headquarters Frontier Force” is written on the ancient gateway. I notice the old British cannon on the heights – and the spanking new anti-aircraft gun beside it, barrels deflected to point at us, at all who enter this vast metropolis of pain. There are troops at every intersection, bullets draped in belts over their shoulders, machine guns on tripods erected behind piles of sandbags, the sights of AK-47s brushing impersonally across rickshaws, and rubbish trucks and buses with men clinging to the sides. There are beards that reach to the waist. The soldiers have beards, too, sometimes just as long.

I am sitting in a modest downstairs apartment in the old British cantonment. A young Peshawar journalist sits beside me, talking in a subdued but angry way, as if someone is listening to us, about the pilotless American aircraft which now slaughter by the score – or the four score – along the Afghanistan border. “I was in Damadola when the drones came. They killed more than 80 teenagers – all students – and, yes they were learning the Koran, and the madrasah, the Islamic school, was run by a Taliban commander. But 80! Many of them came from Bajaur, which would be attacked later. Their parents came afterwards, all their mothers were there, but the bodies were in pieces. There were so many children, some as young as 12. We didn’t know how to fit them together.”

The reporter – no name, of course, because he still has to work in Peshawar – was in part of the Bajaur tribal area, to cover negotiations between the government and the Taliban. “The drones stayed around for about half an hour, watching,” he says. “Then two Pakistani helicopter gunships came over. Later, the government said the helicopters did the attack. But it was the drones.”

An Islamabad garden now, light with bright oak trees and big birds that bark at us from the branches, beneath which sit two humanitarian workers, both Europeans who have spent weeks in the Swat valley during and after the Pakistani army’s offensive against the Taliban. “There were dozens – perhaps hundreds – executed by the army. They were revenge killings by the soldiers, no doubt about it. A number of people we had reported to us as arrested – they were later found dead. What does that mean? The Americans and the Brits were aware of this, of course they were, and they intervened with the government. But what does this say about the army? In one village, two bodies lay in the street for two days – it was a way of showing the local people what would happen to them if they supported the Taliban. What does this say about the army? Can they control Pakistan like this?”

Some 70 per cent of the Pakistani army come from Punjab, and 80 per cent of retired army officers come from Punjab. In a few days, Punjab will pay for this.

But lest the Taliban appear in freedom-fighter mode, here is a different account of the Swat valley by one of Pakistan’s most eloquent journalists, Owais Tohid, reporting from the city of Mingora. Read, as they say, and inwardly digest. “Splotches of red blood still stain Ziarat Gul’s memory: his sister was gunned down by the Taliban and her body placed at the chowk [square] where I stand… A year ago, Gul’s sister, Shabana, was shot three times by the bearded and turbaned men.” Shabana was a singing and dancing girl, of whom there are many in the tribal areas; they perform at weddings, while the men play harmoniums and the stringed rabab.

Back to Owais Tohid. “Her body was then strewn with currency notes, CDs of her performances, and her photographs. Pooled in blood, nobody was allowed to her body until the next day. Gul, his father and two cousins were the only ones to offer funeral prayers and bury her the next morning…” Shabana’s friend Shehnaz, a famous dancing girl, was a witness to the murder: “I switched off the light and peeped through a hole; I could see the door was broken. Shabana sat on the floor and Taliban carrying Kalashnikovs and rocket-launchers stood around her. Some carried swords. I heard Shabana beg them to spare her life. She was pleading, ‘Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ But then one of the Taliban said, ‘We warned you … we even offered you our mujahid to marry, but you continued to dance…’ Shabana continued pleading…” Shehnaz heard the gunshots.

I wonder if all these tales are true. Alas, they are. Not far from Peshawar last month, a dancing troupe was returning from a party in Hindko Damaan, when armed men surrounded their vehicle at 3am. Afsana, one of the girls, had her two sisters, Salma and Sana, alongside her in the car, and her stepfather, Azizur Rahman. Her brother, in a following car, argued with the gunmen, who were demanding money. So they shot Afsana dead. She had just divorced, and danced to earn money for her family. Three other girls have been murdered outside Peshawar in the past fortnight.

But the drones dominate the tribal lands. They killed 14 men in just one night last month, at Datta Khel in north Waziristan. The drones come in flocks, and five of them settled over the village, firing a missile each at a pick-up truck, splitting it in two and dismembering six men aboard. When local residents as well as Taliban arrived to help the wounded, the drones attacked again, killing all eight of them. The drones usually return to shoot at the rescuers. It’s a policy started by the Israeli air force over Beirut during the 1982 siege: bomb now, come back 12 minutes later for a second shot. Now Waziristan villagers wait up to half an hour – listening to the shrieks and howls of the dying – before they try to help the wounded.

The drones – Predators and Reapers, or “Shadows”, as the Americans call them when they follow US troops into battle – have acquired mythical proportions in the minds of Pakistanis, a form of spaceship colonialism, imperialism from the sky, caught with literary brilliance by A H Khayal in the daily newspaper The Nation, when he asked where the drones come from: “The masses are piteously ignorant. They just don’t know that the drones are not material creatures. Actually, they are spiritual beings. They don’t need earthly runways for taking off… They live in outer space, beyond the international boundaries of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“When they feel hungry, they swoop down and kill innocent Afghani women and children. They eat the corpses and fly back to their spacial residences for a siesta. When they again feel hungry, they again swoop down and kill another lot of innocent women and children. Having devoured the dead bodies, they fly back to their bedrooms in space. It has been going on and on like this for years.”

Indeed it has. But where do the drones come from? When President Hamid Karzai flew into Islamabad last month, the entire Pakistani cabinet turned up to welcome this fraudulently elected satrap of the United States. Many are the Pakistanis who found this a natural circumstance. Was not their own President, Asif Ali Zardari, another of Washington’s corrupt satraps, his minions heading to Washington only two weeks later to plead for a vast increase in the $7.8bn (£5.1bn) of aid which Congress voted Pakistan last year? “There was a time when America did not trust you,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Gilani, lectured the upper house of his federal parliament. “You were their ally, but they did not trust you. Now they are trusting you and holding a strategic dialogue.”

It was enough to make the average Pakistani squirm. After Hillary Clinton arrived last November to berate the students of Pakistan on their anti-Americanism – and to hint that their government must surely know the location of al-Qa’ida’s top men in the tribal lands – the Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, set off to Washington last week with his chain-smoking army commander, General Ashfaq Kayani, with the biggest begging bowl in Pakistani history. President Barack Obama wants an exit strategy in Afghanistan and realises – at last – that only Pakistan can provide this. But he also wants to support India as a bulwark against China, and the Pakistanis know that Delhi’s agents are trying to control Afghanistan.

But what struck Pakistanis about Karzai’s visit was not his cloying remarks about the fraternal love of the Afghan and Pakistani people – “India is our close friend but Pakistan is like a twin brother,” he piously observed – but his astonishing statement that the devastating missile attacks against Pakistan by pilotless US drone aircraft were not being launched from inside Afghanistan.

“We are not responsible for these attacks,” he said. “They are being carried out by a powerful sovereign country, namely the United States, which is also a close ally of Pakistan. They [the drones] don’t fly from our territory but in our airspace, and it is beyond our capacity to stop them.” Karzai looked subdued, apologetic, meekly sympathising with Gilani over the growing number of civilian casualties.

Karzai was (for once) telling the truth. The drones launched from the Kandahar airbase are attacking the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban inside the international frontier. The drones attacking Pakistan come from – Pakistan.

In fact, the Americans launch them from a Pakistan Air Force base at Terbile, 50 miles west of Islamabad. US officers were also interested in using the Peshawar airfield – the same runways employed by the old U-2 spy planes, from which Gary Powers took off over the Soviet Union during the Cold War – and the Taliban spent weeks trying to discover the headquarters from which the Americans were directing the drones. They eventually decided that the US drone control centre was on the highest floor of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

They were wrong. US officers did stay at the Marriott, but they were not air force personnel. This, however, was the reason the Marriott was attacked by a suicide bomber in 2007, and then again with a truckload of explosives on 20 September 2008 – not because President Zardari had just given his first speech to parliament a few hundred metres away, but because the Taliban were trying to destroy the “brain” behind the drones. At least 54 civilians were killed – most of them Pakistanis – and 266 wounded. The drone attacks continued, more than ever after Barack Obama became US President.

The war, however, is now directed at the Pakistani army – although the authorities try to portray the Taliban’s targets as purely civilian. The assault on the police torture centre in Lahore on 8 March was merely a warning. Nine policemen were among the 18 dead at a building known for its night-time torture sessions – local inhabitants had complained many times about screams from the basement, not because of the abuse taking place there but because it made their homes a target for bombers. They were right. The worst suicide bombing of the year had already occurred at a volleyball field in Lakki Marwat, when the killer murdered 105 people – many of them policemen and Frontier Corps personnel. On 4 February, another suicide bomber – after a long surveillance operation by the Pakistani Taliban – struck a military convoy in the Koto area of the Lower Dir district. He killed three schoolgirls, a Frontier Corps policeman – and three US soldiers. Since 11 September 2001, more than 5,700 men and women have been killed in insurgent attacks in Pakistan. This is revenge for the army’s offensives in Swat and Waziristan.

The double suicide attack on two army vehicles in Lahore, the Punjabi capital, on 12 March was thus merely the most brazen assault on the Pakistani military. Both killers destroyed themselves next to two army trucks – killing 14 soldiers – in the garrison city, shaming the security authorities and provoking the local chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, to plead shamefully with the Taliban to spare his capital in future. Attack another city, was the implication. Sixty-one men and women were killed – most of them, of course, civilians – and hundreds wounded. Within 24 hours, another suicide bomber attacked an army checkpoint in the North West Frontier Province at Saidu Sharif, killing 14 people, most of them soldiers and policemen.

Even the military were surprised by the determination of the Pakistani Taliban to assault them. Four days after the attack in Lahore, the police found 1,500 kilos of explosives and two suicide vests in Iqbal Town in the Punjabi capital, along with Russian-made hand grenades and rifle ammunition. The next day, they discovered another 3,000 kilos of explosives in the same area. Amir Mir, the most accurate of Pakistani journalists amid the chaos of what is in fact a war, has calculated that 321 Pakistanis have been killed and more than 500 wounded in 15 suicide bombings across Pakistan in the first 70 days of 2010. This is up from ‘only’ 11 suicide bombings in the same period last year.

The Institute for Peace Studies in Pakistan has been recording every act of violence in the country since the 2001 attack on America, and concludes that just in 2009 12,632 men and women – civilians, soldiers, Taliban militants, even victims of inter- tribal battles – were killed. Of the dead, 3,021 were killed by insurgents, 6,329 in Pakistan army operations, 1,163 in army-Taliban battles, 700 in border violence, and 1,419 in other violence, including drone missiles.

The scorecard for death over the past four years – I’m afraid that death in Pakistan is today much like a tally – is truly awful. In 2005, a mere 216 Pakistanis were reported killed. In 2006, 907 Pakistanis died; in 2007, 3,448; in 2008, 7,997. By 2009, the total number of victims in just five years came to more than 25,000. When I twice visited Lahore, it felt like a city under martial law, thronged with troops and checkpoints, its bridges and ancient British ministries and schools laced with soldiers in steel helmets.

In just two weeks in March – far from Lahore – lawlessness reached epic proportions. On 14 March, four men were killed in the Khyber tribal area. In Quetta on 17 March, a retired policeman, a member of a “sectarian organisation”, and two construction workers were shot dead or blown up. A day later, 10 men of the Mehsud tribe – quite possibly militants – were killed in a five-missile US drone attack. In a suburb of Peshawar on the same day, three Frontier Force soldiers and two policemen were shot dead. In Karachi that day, two political leaders, their lawyer and a taxi driver were shot. Within 24 hours, a prominent Quetta lawyer was kidnapped. By the end of the same week, the Pakistani Taliban publicly announced that it intended to murder the Pakistani Interior Minister, Rehman Malik. And there would be more attacks across the country, the Taliban said, in revenge for the American drone attacks. “Just wait for our reaction,” the Taliban’s spokesman, Azam Tariq, said.

The Pakistani military responded in the time-honoured way. The Taliban’s attacks were “a clear sign of frustration and desperation” on the part of the militants. The director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, declared from the safety of Washington that the drone assaults – and other attacks, unspecified – were “the most aggressive operation that the CIA has been involved in in our history. The CIA’s offensive in the Pakistan tribal region had driven Osama bin Laden and his colleagues into hiding – where they have presumably been since 2001 – leaving al-Qa’ida “rudderless and incapable of planning sophisticated operations”.

Pakistan surely deserves better than this nonsense. Embedded with the Pakistani military, writers such as Michael O’Hanlon in The New York Times remind their readers that America’s $17bn in aid since 2001 comes to only half Pakistan’s costs in the “war on terror”, a battle to which the Pakistani army is now fully committed (or so he believes). This, however, does not explain the scores of soldiers who have surrendered to the insurgents over the past 12 months, nor the weird double-game being played by the Pakistani security services, who captured senior members of the Afghan Taliban only to find themselves condemned by Hamid Karzai’s corrupt government for breaking up the secret communications between the Afghan government and its enemies. The US was “extremely gratified” by Pakistan’s arrests, President Obama’s envoy, Richard Holbrooke, says. In other words, the Americans would control contacts with the Afghan Taliban – not their local ruler, Hamid Karzai.

And all the while, the ‘security’ experts who dominate the American press have been sowing their suspicions through the dumbed-down intelligence world of the West. For while we bomb the tribal regions with our drones, we are told to fear the imminent theft of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Terrorists, we are told in a West Point journal, may take the country’s atomic arms for use against us – note how this threat never seems to apply to our trusted ally, India – and mythical accounts are told of three separate attacks by “terrorists” (unnamed, of course) on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in the last three years. In the past we were told that Muslim “nationalists” might hijack Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Now the danger is supposed to come from “Islamists”. In fact, the real danger is much closer to home.

Seventy per cent of NATO’s ammunition, vehicles and food in Afghanistan still transits through Pakistan, along with 40 per cent of its fuel. The Taliban’s attacks on these convoys – both the Pakistani and Afghan versions of the movement (for they are not the same) – have over the past two years netted some incredible dividends, which NATO has not seen fit to disclose. Gunmen have managed to steal three separate – disassembled but complete – military helicopters and a clutch of American Humvee armoured vehicles, one of which was used by the Pakistani Taliban’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. At least 62 Humvees were burned out in just one raid near Peshawar in 2008.

And all this, you have to remember, takes place against the profound corruption of Pakistani society, from the shoe-shine boy to the president, Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, whose own venality is so legendary that only rarely does it cause discussion. Only once in the last month has it been mentioned – when Zardari, addressing a conference on Sufism and peace, announced that he was not afraid of death, that he represented “nothing more than a speck in the universe” and would donate his body organs on his death. Within hours, five people – including my taxi driver, a hotel waiter, the owner of an Islamabad bookshop, a Pakistani humanitarian worker and a lawyer – made precisely the same comment to me: “Zardari will donate his body organs to the people – but not his dollars!”

Thank God, I suppose, for the Pakistani press, as brave, as disillusioned and as tough as any media folk in the West. The ‘oil mafia’ which siphoned off billions of rupees during Musharraf’s rule, the four cabinet ministers living in government houses but claiming rent (shades of Westminster’s very own), the massive financial irregularities in the Punjab education department, all have been exposed in Pakistan’s newspapers. “The government,” reported The News International on 11 March, “has removed yet another officer of impeccable integrity, the chief Commissioner, Islamabad, Shahid Mehmood, within 90 days of his posting, after he allegedly refused to accommodate the ‘wishes’ of certain political masters.” Now that’s what I call reporting. The luckless Mehmood, it turned out, had rashly frozen a land deal which involved a certain Asif Ali Zardari, the President of Pakistan.

Pakistanis – in other words, most of the 150 million men and women who live in penury in this nuclear state – simply no longer believe in the authorities who claim to govern them. When an increase in bus fares brought hundreds – and then thousands – of young people onto the streets of Islamabad’s suburbs last month, the police opened live fire on the demonstrators. Western embassy personnel were confined to their bunkers – US diplomats are not even allowed to go grocery shopping at the best of times – and Zardari’s government then announced that the protesters had been “imported”, brought into the capital from “surrounding areas”.

Where does a foreigner – a real one, like me – go to understand this beautiful, ferociously angry, ripped-up, intelligent, hopelessly overcrowded, war-smitten country?

Raza Kazim admits only to being in his eighties, but he has a perfunctory, almost irritatingly child-like way of twining his thin fingers together while trying to define his love of country, his belief in the worth of Pakistan. His is speaking over the throb of the air-conditioners, as an unprecedented spring heat warms up the Lahore trees outside his home. He brings in two frozen cans of Murree beer and is vexed that I won’t join him. I can see why he led the first strike in his Indian school’s history.

“I benefited vastly from the Raj,” he says. “It wasn’t a love-hate relationship – it was a love-adversarial relationship. My heart went out to the ‘Quit India’ movement, and I was coming from the peasantry. It was a time when peasants could be flogged for two rupees. I had a belief in freedom and in 1946, I took a leap of faith and feeling.”

Some faith. Some feeling. Kazim is a kind of ‘guru’ – in the original meaning of the word, an elderly advisor/oracle for generations of Pakistani politicians – and his involvement in the Indian National Congress of British India, then in the Muslim League and later in the Pakistan People’s Party, have turned him into the Malcolm Muggeridge – or perhaps Tony Benn – of Pakistan. A lawyer and ex-Communist whose philanthropy has produced the Sanjan Nagar School Institute of Philosophy and Arts, and the inventor of a stringed musical instrument intended to preserve South Asian classical music as a modern art form, he has two qualifications for Pakistani sainthood: he was kidnapped by military intelligence in 1984, and has been jailed five times between 1950 and 1985. His other quality is historical; he still thinks the date is 1947 and he smiles when he realises that I agree with him.

“August 1947 was a kind of competition between Hindus and Muslims,” he recalls, the fingers beginning to twist around each other, the lamp-light reflecting his baldness as dusk brings out the big birds in the garden. “Who would give a better account of freedom? I never had a sense of India being divided. It was like the people were split into two teams. Who would score more runs off freedom?”

Freedom at midnight, I murmured. At what cost? “Yes, there was bloodshed in Bihar. There was bloodshed in Delhi, a lot of bloodshed in the Punjab – but that was action and reaction. Then it spread into the Deccan area. They (the new Indian state) took soldiers from the Punjab whose children had been murdered here and whose women had been abducted here, and sent them to the Deccan area where they bashed the heads of [Muslim] children against pillars. Yes, I know what happened in those trains.

“The political capital made out of these killings is another story – a bad story, but a different story. The events were capitalised. But bloodshed didn’t begin with Pakistan. The first genocide of Indian history took place in the Punjab in 3,000 BC – it was a conflict between feudal and pastoral

Kazim had it easy. “On 13 September, 1947, I came on a plane to Pakistan as guest of the Indian communications minister. I came with my gramophone records, books and poetry, and two sets of clothes.” It is a very post-colonial story. While the masses tore each other to pieces below, Kazim’s plane soared above the bloodbath to drop him as a witness to the mass looting of the new Pakistan’s most beautiful city, Lahore.

“People think of the properties taken from the Hindus and Sikhs, but the most important things were the jobs, the business, the vacancies, and grabbing those properties. The educated people looted and took things away in trucks – these were the people who were going to run the country. It became a sign of patriotism that you forged property papers to homes in India that you never had – this was thought to be a patriotic duty because the Indians had three times as many claims against us. The bureaucracy had been civil servants under the British system – they were middle-level bureaucrats in India, who had suddenly become senior bureaucrats in Pakistan.” Mohammad Jinnah, the founder of the state, who died in 1948 – Kazim went to his funeral – “had a weakness for flattery. He didn’t keep good company.”

I’ve heard this story before, albeit less eloquently told. Pakistan existed, but there was no sign of a developing society or the creation of a nation. “We have still not made a society,” Kazim says. “People have to take something out of their personal lives and invest it in our society.” There is a pause here, then Kazim’s voice rises. “WE ARE STILL IN 1947!” Pakistan obtained its freedom under the Indian Independence Act – but there is nothing called the Pakistan Independence Act.”

Another room now, in what Pakistani reporters still call a “posh” area of Islamabad. (When they bring themselves into their own stories, by the way, Pakistani journalists call themselves “scribes”, rather than our self-denigrating “hacks”). But the air conditioner is just as noisy. Now it is another lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, hero of the ‘Long March’ of spring 2009 which eventually secured the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry as Chief Justice after the abdication of America’s favourite dictator, the president-general Pervez Musharraf. Ahsan’s new book, The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan suggests that there were two culturally different regions of the land which the British called India, that there was a continuous social and political order in the Indus region – the bit that became Pakistan – that was quite different from that of the rest of India.

On Pakistani independence, the structure of state-Raj versus the citizen-native did not change. As Ahsan puts it bleakly, “the military officers who on 14 August, 1947, saluted the raising of the green standard with crescent and star had on the 13 August been saluting the Union Jack. They couldn’t change in a day. Somebody else had fought for independence. The ‘natives’ remained and continued to be denied democratic rights until 1970.”

Thus – and Kazim would not agree with this – Pakistanis loved their judges rather than their soldiers, and admired them with a fair degree of cynicism. Rightly so. In 1954, the Governor General dissolved parliament – an act unsustainable in law – but the judges upheld the dissolution. In 1958, the military commander dissolved the assembly, abrogating the constitution. And the country’s Supreme Court endorsed the imposition of martial law on the grounds that “a successful coup d’état is an internationally-recognised, legal method of changing a government.” Judges reversed this opinion in 1972, ruling that there was no place for a military regime in Pakistan – but it did so only after the military regime had fallen.

Now the army – guardian of the nation of Pakistan, and America’s second-best friend in the region (after the Indian army) – is under constant military attack, while obligingly allowing the totally corrupted (and corrupting) politicians to run the vehicle of state under the banner of ‘democracy’. Everyone knows that the Inter- Services Intelligence – their leaders appear to be interchangeable with the regular army – continue to succour and guard and lead the Afghan Taliban. They will do so as long as America ignores Pakistan’s conflict with India over Kashmir. American soldiers die because of Muslim anger at Washington’s support for Israel, as US Commander General David Petraeus suggested last month. But American soldiers also die because of Kashmir. Pakistanis – and here is something which truly unites all of them – believe that America supports India, and that Kashmir is thus ultimately lost to them. So why should they allow America – and Indian money and political influence – to control Afghanistan?

It’s sometimes difficult to find the line between aggression and fear in Pakistan. We in the West fear its nuclear weapons without even looking at a map of the country about which we obsess with such devotion.

Every major city – Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta – is close to the borders of India or Afghanistan. It is a both sump of poverty and a nuclear power, an intelligent nation – its people desire education with the same craving as the Palestinians – with a history that began and ended at the moment of partition, its datelines framed by military coups and imperial hand-outs and, now, by drone attacks and suicide bombers. The latter arrived with a peculiar shock in Pakistan. They started in Lebanon, moved to ‘Palestine’, then to Iraq and then to Afghanistan – and then to Pakistan. From the Mediterranean to the old Raj, this black-magic rite travelled with incredible speed. And now it has merged with the dirt and corruption and nuclear power of Pakistan.

I tried, in Pakistan, to define the sorrow which so constantly afflicts this country. The massive loss of life, the poverty, the corruption, the internal and external threats to its survival, the existentialism of Islam and the power of the army; perhaps Pakistan’s story can only be told in a novel. It requires, I suspect, a Tolstoy or a Dostoyevsky.

But perhaps it is Pakistan’s ability to do harm to itself that most struck me – symbolised, I fear, by the latest and most terrible affliction to strike it: child-kidnapping. Steal a little boy or a little girl, ask the parents for money, and kill the infant if they don’t pay. When Sahil Saeed, the British-Pakistani boy, was taken, the police and the British embassy helped to bring him home. But journalists covering the story found that the family home was sometimes overwhelmed with other parents, like those of six-year-old Mahnoor Fatima, who was stolen from his family in October of last year and never seen again. “This shows the difference between rich and poor,” Mahnoor’s mother said. “No one even came to my house to console me… Everything is done here for the rich and the British, but nothing for Pakistanis and the poor.”

Near Peshawar, a three-year old girl called Fariha was taken from a wedding party last month, her kidnappers demanding Sterling pounds 8,000 for her life. The parents couldn’t pay. So Fariha was killed and thrown into a canal. Her father, a worker at a brick-kiln, later came to the Peshawar Press Club with the body of his daughter to demand punishment for her killers. In Faisalabad two days later, another kidnapped child, seven-year-old Samina Ali, was found dead in a drain after her parents failed to pay a ransom for her. They complained that the police later demanded £120 for handing over her body. A kidnapped boy, a six-year-old identified only as Sharjeel, was also found dead in a drain a few hours earlier.

In the first two months of this year, 240 people – almost all of them children – have been kidnapped in Pakistan. Only 74 have been recovered alive. There – not in the suicide attacks and the venality of politicians– lies the worst statistic in Pakistan.

Written by Robert Fisk for The Independent

The Independent

Robert Fisk’s World: As things get worse in Pakistan, the optimism continues to soar

Civilians have paid the price in revenge attacks that usually target the army

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A few days ago, I was driving around Lahore, its population still shattered by the suicide bombers who blew themselves up next to two army trucks, killing 18 Pakistani soldiers and 48 civilians. The civilians, of course, were the usual “collateral damage” – the bad guys have even adopted our own obscene expression for unintended casualties – and they paid the price for Pakistan’s continuing war against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan on behalf of America’s “war on terror”. Indeed, the conflict here is primarily between the army and the Taliban. I couldn’t help noticing that the street where the bombs exploded is in the RA Barracks area of Lahore – and it took a time before I discovered that RA stands for Royal Artillery. Yes, our imperial ghosts continue to stalk this place while America’s more recent empire ensures that its people suffer as they did under the Raj. Will freedom at midnight never come?

Yet far more outrageous was Richard Holbrooke’s cocky, overconfident performance on CNN just three days later. Things are getting better on the “Af-Pak” scene, he told the world – how I hate these infantile expressions (“Af-Pak”, “strategic depth”, “spikes” and “surges”) and al-Qa’ida is “under great pressure after losing key members of its leadership”. Ten to 12 al-Qa’ida leaders had been “eliminated” over the past year – mostly in pilotless drone attacks on Pakistani territory, it should be added, which cost 667 lives in 2009 alone . Pakistan’s civilians have paid the price in revenge attacks that usually target the Pakistani army: 322 Pakistanis killed and more than 500 wounded in 15 suicide bombings in the first 70 days of this year. The Pakistani army now has two divisions in Swat and several more in south Waziristan and Mr Holbrooke would like to see them move into north Waziristan as well, although – he generously agrees – that will be up to the commander of the Pakistani army.

So that’s it, folks. Just like Bushy and Blair of Kut-al-Amara on Iraq, it’s the same old story. The worse things get, the greater the optimism. If it’s bad, it’s getting better. By last year, Pakistan’s dead since 2001 – from suicide bombers, Pakistani army operations, inter-tribal battles and Nato drone attacks – reached a total of 12,632 (with 12,815 wounded). Not bad, huh? And the overall political situation in Pakistan – where the Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif has just appealed to the Taliban to stop bombing Lahore on the grounds that residents hate the Americans (and ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf) just as much as they do – is “much better now”, according to Dickie Holbrooke. After all, the Pakistani military is no longer in Pakistan’s “complicated” politics. We shall see.

I can recall sitting on the lawn one evening this week with Imran Khan – among the most honest of Pakistan’s politicians (there aren’t many, I promise you) – as dusk fell over the Margalla mountains. And Imran was raging. “My God, these people in Waziristan, they are wonderful, beautiful people and what are we doing to them? The army fire their artillery 20km from their target, and they’re told they are shooting at 11 Taliban people and then they fire and the army announce that 11 Taliban have been killed. We are killing our own people. This has to stop.” But there’s not much point in thinking that Obama and his dotty secretary of state care a damn. They are lost.

Why, only a few months ago, la Clinton was bitching about Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to stop building settlements following Obama’s “reach-out” – another of those bloody phrases – to Muslims. She meant all settlements, she said. Illegal settlements, “legal” settlements, outposts, whatever the Israelis liked to call it. And when Netanyahu offered his ridiculous “freeze” on just West Bank Jewish colonies for a mere six months – not in Jerusalem, mark you – off la Clinton trotted to the Arab League to publicise this extraordinary and “unprecedented” offer by the land-grabbers of the Netanyahu government.

Now she is huffing and puffing again. Joe Biden turns up in the land to which the United States has donated almost £200bn over the past decade in the hope of getting the Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other again – and Netanyahu’s government announces another 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. Biden, of course, should have jumped back on his plane and flown back to America. Hasn’t the US, after all, registered 39 vetoes to protect its little Middle Eastern Prussia in the UN? No way. The timing of the statement – the timing, mark you – was “unhelpful”. Netanyahu said he didn’t know about the announcement in advance – which, if true, suggests we should all believe in Father Christmas and fairies at the bottom of the garden.

But what does la Clinton do? Not appreciating that Biden and she and Obama have been treated by the Israelis with the contempt they deserve, she rants on the phone to Netanyahu about the “affront” and the “insult” of the timing of the announcement. But this is preposterous.

The affront and the insult were not caused to la Clinton or Obama. So self-regarding is this wretched woman that she could not grasp that the real affront and insult were being endured by the Palestinians – who are again being driven from their homes and dispossessed so that Netanyahu’s Israeli colonists can move further into east Jerusalem. La Clinton should have asked Netanyahu how he could inflict such punishment on innocent Palestinians – but she thought that she and Obama were the victims.

My guess is that it’s only a matter of time before Obama’s pitiful envoy George Mitchell will be replaced by a tougher man – and who better than Dickie Holbrooke, the tough guy who knows how to handle “Af-Pak” and will know how to handle Netanyahu? Why, it’s not so long ago that he produced “peace” in Bosnia at Dayton, Ohio – one S Milosevic being an honoured guest – while telling a pleading delegation of Kosovo Muslims to get lost. Nothing should get in the way of peace in Bosnia. So the Kosovars departed to endure their own ethnic cleansing when Nato went to war with Serbia. You may remember that we were fighting this war to get the Kosovo Albanians back into their homes – even though most of them were in their homes when our USAF and RAF warriors started their bombing campaign against Serbia.

But who cares? Things are getting better in Pakistan. It’s only the Americans who are upset about Netanyahu. One thing at a time. That’s what Holbrooke told the Kosovo Muslims. Al-Qa’ida are on the run. And they expect us to believe all this guff.

Written by Robert Fisk for The Independent

Functional Designs that Change Lives – NPR

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June 17, 2007

The elegant, costly designs in Architectural Digest, or on the home-furnishing floors of Bloomingdale’s are created for people with disposable income – the top 10 percent of people in the world.

But an unusual exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City looks elsewhere for inspiration.

“Design for the Other 90%” features inventions created by social entrepreneurs that solve problems for those who lack adequate food, education, water and shelter.

The examples on display aren’t conventionally pretty. Many cost just a couple of dollars to produce. Yet they could be life-changing for millions of poor people, says curator Cynthia Smith.

Tomas Bertelse

For example, a simple ceramic pot nestled within a larger pot is a low-cost refrigeration system for fresh produce. Water poured into the sand around the smaller pot evaporates, taking the hot air with it.

And the LifeStraw, from a Danish firm, addresses a problem plaguing the world’s poor. It’s a personal mobile water-purification tool that turns any surface water into safe drinking water.

The LifeStraw has been effective against waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea. It is currently used in Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda.

Vestergaard Frandsen

Other inventions include prosthetic limbs that cost only $30, and charcoal made from sugarcane stalks that substitutes for wood and helps prevent deforestation.

The Big Boda Load-Carrying Bicycle, developed in Kenya by the design firm WorldBike, can carry eight crates of goods, three children or two adult passengers in places where bikes are the main mode of transportation. It has an extended wheel base and a lower center of gravity.

“They are saying to the bike world … you make these very fancy bikes. Suppose you put your energies into creating a bike that really had a big impact on people’s lives?” Smith says.

Ed Lucero