The smile in the photograph Is no reflection of what lies In the dark hollow of the tunnels Behind cement squares in rows, Each, one-by-one in size Marked by dates, picture and name Of a tiny flash A dot of life in the universe
Ashes in urns Ancestors as concepts In treasure vaults Wrapped in rituals Recycling memory year after year
For the snow to melt And the river to flow
Bones crackling In sacred pyre,
The funeral In The World of Suzie Wong Consumed the baby, and then, lapped up -the letter of introduction- “To whom-so-ever it may concern”,
Flames are messengers Carrying the known To the unknown
I have been sitting on this link for more than a week although the story caught my eye on the same day that it came out.
The current and future problems of the beleaguered nation of Afghanistan may go well beyond war, the Taliban, Al Qaida, US occupation, poverty and heroin trafficking. The land locked nation of rough and rugged terrain is apparently the repository of vast mineral wealth, including large quantities of lithium, an essential component of many electronic gadgets. But like an uninformed (and unstable) nouveau riche individual, a poor, backward, politically fractious, war torn country may find its sudden wealth to be a burdensome and even a lethal liability. Prosperity is as much about managing one's assets as it is about owning them. The savvy rich get richer when blessed with goodies and the poor often become bewildered, murderous and vulnerable when in possession of sudden new riches.
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.
While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.
“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”
The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.
“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.
Or will it? Can Afghanistan manage its resources to benefit its citizens? Or will "outside help" be needed to school its leaders in wealth management and investment in its future? Will those benefactors even be interested in Afghanistan's prosperity and progress? Or is it in the interest of hungry consumer nations that the wealth be controlled by a few pliable lackeys while the general population remains ignorant, uninformed, miserable and act as a source of cheap labor to mine the minerals for a low price? Will Afghanistan become like Africa and Asia under European colonial rule? The "partners" it finds may be more interested in its gleaming natural wares than its welfare. This time around the "crooked" partners may not be just the obvious ones from the west, with their colonial pasts, craftiness and imperialistic designs. Fast developing and rapacious neighbors in the east, like China and India (especially, China) will be salivating too.
The NYT article is not correct in stating that Afghanistan's buried treasures have been discovered for the first time by the US. It appears that prior "visitors" to the region were aware of them too and found it a daunting task to harvest the minerals efficiently and profitably.
The lawless culture of poverty and its attendant perils are not a geographic phenomenon. Affluent countries have their share of the beaten and the abused, and their underprivileged are just as pathetic. But there are advocates and safety nets in politically advanced cultures, however inadequate, to raise awareness. Murder, mayhem, fraud and theft are punished by the law when brought to the attention of society. A country like Afghanistan (or the Republic of Congo) won't know where to begin protecting its resources and its citizens from gross abuse and exploitation from outsiders as well as its own leaders.
Coming from India, the erstwhile "Jewel" in the British Raj's crown, it always sends shivers down my spine when vast natural resources of any kind are discovered in a poor, underdeveloped, politically fragmented nation. If the extent of the mineral wealth is indeed as rich and extensive as the NYT article suggests, get ready for "Blood Lithium" in your BlackBerry.
There's a large industrial park close to my home, filled with large buildings and tasteful landscaping. All were empty last year; all are filled this year. They have been leased by companies seeking to drill for natural gas in the remnants of countryside and rolling hills, now crowded out by McMansion subdevelopments and strip malls.
A large building sits near the wetlands nearby. Once host to a mental health facility, it has now been sold for a pittance to another developer, who hopes to remake it into mixed commercial and light industrial use. It abuts some of the most prolific wildlife in the area, all living in and around man-made wetlands created to provide sanctuary for wildlife displaced by highway building. The local mental health advocates now want to allow the natural gas companies to move in, drill for gas and turn over a portion of their profits to mental health. Meeting after local meeting has these advocates pitted against the environmental activists. It's a tug of war whose result is yet to be determined.
It has been a slow awakening to the wealth of natural gas that is to be found in the Marcellus shale formation. After the coal ran out ( and this area is quite completely 'undermined' in the most literal sense.), nobody thought that there was anything worthwhile to extract, till new techniques such as fracturing or 'fracking' the shale to release the gas were developed. The downside is that millions of gallons of water are needed for the purpose, and mixed with toxic chemicals that form part of the 'fracking fluid', lots of elaborate mitigation and water purification methods are needed to render the waterways safe for use in drinking water supplies.
The companies are already complaining about the regulations, suggesting that the millions of dollars they will spend on regulatory requirements and taxes would be better spent on creating 10,000 new jobs. But it would be a short-sighted choice. Luckily both the DEP and concerned citizens are taking a closer look, in the aftermath of the recent blowout at a Marcellus shale natural gas well in West Virginia. What had happened not too long ago at Hickory PA, could now come to this part of the county.
"The industry noise began with a "blowout" on June 3 at a Marcellus
Shale well outside Penfield in rural Clearfield County. That well,
adjacent to the Moshannon State Forest, spewed natural gas and drilling
wastewater contaminated with toxic chemicals into the air for 16 hours.
On Monday, drillers hit a pocket of methane in an inactive deep mine,
causing an explosion and fire that flared 50-feet high for four days,
destroyed a drilling rig and burned all seven workers on the well pad,
located in a farm field near Moundsville in West Virginia's northern
"We're horrified by the possibilities of that happening here," Ms.
Borowiec said about Marcellus Shale wells planned for a pad 1,500 feet
from homes in Upper Burrell. "The more research we do the more horrific
it is, and I don't think a lot of people know what's going on."
The Pennsylvania and West Virginia accidents at gas wells tapping
into the mile-deep, gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation have alerted some
for the first time to risks that accompany what some have termed a
gas-drilling gold rush, and heightened serious safety and environmental
concerns for others.
I hope the FDA stops this drug approval process in its tracks. The birth control pill was something women needed. This one they don't. Making up a malady where one does not exist, is the game the pharmaceutical companies like to play. But will the FDA go along? Will women?
Ever since Viagra met blockbuster success in 1998, the drug industry has sought a similar pill for women.
Now, a German drug giant says it has stumbled upon such a pill and is trying to persuade the Food and Drug Administration that its drug can help restore a depressed female sex drive. The effort has set off a debate over what constitutes a normal range of sexual desire among women, with critics saying the company is trying to turn a low libido into a medical pathology. ...
There is no dispute that some women have a depressed level of sexual desire that causes them anguish. Boehringer cites a condition — hypoactive sexual desire disorder — that is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a reference book for psychiatrists and insurers.
But many experts say that unlike sexual dysfunction in men — which has an obvious physical component — sexual problems in women are much harder to diagnose. And among doctors and researchers, there is serious medical debate over whether female sexual problems are treatable with drugs. Some doctors advocate psychotherapy or counseling, while others have prescribed hormonal drugs approved for other uses.
There is also debate over how widespread hypoactive sexual desire disorder actually is among women. The medical literature, including articles in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, indicate numbers above 10 percent, but such studies have been financed by drug companies.
Critics say Boehringer’s market campaign exaggerates the prevalence of the condition and could create anxiety among women, making them think they have a condition that requires medical treatment.
“This is really a classic case of disease branding,” said Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s medical school who researches drug marketing and has studied the campaign. “The messages are aimed at medicalizing normal conditions, and also preying on the insecurity of both the clinician and the patient.”
President Obama's "BP Speech"from the Oval Office on Tuesday night disappointed on several levels. To put it mildly, Obama spoke without focus, conviction or determination. In a vapid speech full of generalities about making BP pay, changes in our energy habits and the strength of Americans to deal with adversities, we heard very little that was new. We did not hear of concrete plans to clean up the mess in the Gulf of Mexico or any legislative steps that the administration plans to take to ensure that similar disasters will be prevented in the future. The president spent unnecessary moments of an already brief address in telling us that Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is a Nobel Laureate, Admiral Thad Allen of the US Coast Guards has forty years of experience, the Secretary of Navy is a "son of the Gulf" and that five and a half million feet of boom have been laid out to contain the spread of oil. He also assured us that he has " established a National Commission to understand the causes of this disaster and offer recommendations on what additional safety and environmental standards we need to put in place."
Most irritating for me was this pablum at the end of Obama's speech:
It is a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the Gulf right now.
Each year, at the beginning of shrimping season, the region's fishermen take part in a tradition that was brought to America long ago by fishing immigrants from Europe. It's called "The Blessing of the Fleet," and today it's a celebration where clergy from different religions gather to say a prayer for the safety and success of the men and women who will soon head out to sea some for weeks at a time.
The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced.
And still, they came and they prayed. For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, "The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always," a blessing that's granted "even in the midst of the storm."
The fishermen pray for protection against storms at sea. I hope our lawyerly president is not confusing corporate malfeasance with natural calamities. And if he is, he ought to know that prayers don't always protect against the Act of God.
I usually keep an eye on any interesting exhibitions that come to town. But I very nearly missed the fabulous Alice Neel - Painted Truths that was showing at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts since March. Fortunately someone on Facebook brought it to my attention a few days ago. Even then I was hard pressed to find time since I was busy getting ready for a trip last week. I got back home on the 12th. The exhibition closed at 7pm on Sunday, the 13th of June. I managed to get to the MFAH yesterday at 6 and was able to catch the show in the last hour of the last day. The extensive retrospective was spectacular indeed. Unfortunately there was no time for a second round past the paintings.
From the MFAH write up on Alice Neel:
One of the great American painters of the 20th century, Alice Neel (1900-1984) is best known for her psychologically acute portraits. Intimate, casual, direct and personal, satirical at times, they chronicle the social and economic diversity of mid-20th-century American life.
Having consciously set out to chronicle the zeitgeist of her time, Neel painted friends and family, as well as the celebrated artists and writers of her day, such as Andy Warhol, Frank O´Hara, and Meyer Shapiro.
Alice Neel: Painted Truths both traces the evolution of Neel´s style and examines themes that she revisited throughout her career, including her social and political commitment, her stylistic evolution, and her reversal of the typical artist/model gender roles, maternity, and old age.
Alice Neel is most famous for the people she drew and is therefore often classified as a portrait artist. The advent of photography made portrait painting a redundant art, in some people's opinion. But an artist like Neel can shift the conversation about portraiture to a startling level of insight and creativity - no skillful photography could have made her work redundant. Her work was the result of a detached yet incisive eye - a commentary on the emotional inner life of her subject, yet unerringly correct in capturing their physical likeness. (see # 3 below - Neel's depiction of Andy Warhol) She also showed a wicked touch in assessing some of her sitters. A pair of portraits of a woman named Ellie Poindexter shows one flattering image meant for the consumption of the subject and another representing what Neel "really" thought of Poindexter. I cannot find the former anywhere on the web but you can see the "honest" version (# 4 in the line up) among the images below.
For a description of Alice Neel's turbulent life see here and for a large sampling of her work, see the gallery here. Am I correct in getting the distinct impression that the artist was kinder to her male subjects than she was to the women she painted?
Remember Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal chiding the federal gov't for monitoring volcanoes and intruding in the lives of citizens under the pretext of helping them? Among the many boring things he said, here are a couple:
The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and enterprising spirit of our citizens.....
While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a "magnetic levitation" line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called "volcano monitoring." Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.
Well that was in 2009, four years after Katrina and one year before petroleum giant BP's mismanagement unleashed an oily, toxic underwater volcano close to the Louisiana shore. Now, with a coastal catastrophe at hand, Jindal said this:
We have been frustrated with the disjointed effort to date that has too often meant too little, too late to stop the oil from hitting our coast,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindalsaid during a Monday news conference at Port Fourchon with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
“BP is the responsible party, but we need the federal government to make sure they are held accountable and that they are indeed responsible. Our way of life depends on it,” Jindal said.
Nothing like a disaster to make the resolute "get government out of our lives" types to come down from their libertarian high horse. (If only all Tea Partiers were as honest as this man :-)
At the outset, let me confess that for the most part, I enjoy Facebook. To me it is like a huge interactive, chatty blog where one can find out what others are reading, thinking or doing, depending on what they care to divulge. I am under no illusion that it is about any "real" exercise in friendship which is more complicated than the cyberworld is able to handle. But that to me is par for the course for most activities on the web. The advantage of web based contacts and transactions is that you can initiate and end them at your own convenience, at a time of your choosing, wearing your pajamas if you wish. Real life interactions need time, preparation and they usually entail a little more physical and social effort when you engage in them. Also, as far as I am concerned, one world doesn't necessarily make the other irrelevant or unattractive.
I am not particularly paranoid about "privacy" issues on the web, especially those involving blogs and social net works. I shop, check my credit card and bank balances online. I use Gmail and know that Google reads my e-mail (easy to tell from the ads that appear depending on what and with whom I am communicating). I also write a blog where I freely express my opinion on a wide range of subjects and I often correspond with people I have never met and probably never will. Unlike my transactions with the bank or an internet merchant, I can actually control how much information (photos, home and email address, telephone number and other personal details) I make public on a blog or Facebook. There is always the risk that someone else may share information that we don't necessarily wish to share. We have little or no control over that just as we don't over real life wagging tongues and careless friends in our school, workplace or neighborhood. I find it just a bit odd that there is so much concern and uproar about privacy by social networkers who willingly sign up and share personal data that they don't have to. Facebook knows only what they allow it to know.
Still, Facebook probably thinks that it has been afforded a sufficiently intimate peek into our personal lives to become an arbiter of our "friendships and relationships." But are the Facebookers themselves making it possible by letting the network dictate the terms? This hilarious article raises the question, "Who indeed is blurring the boundaries between real and virtual lives?"
THE British anthropologist and Oxford professor Robin Dunbar has posed a theory that the number of individuals with whom a stable interpersonal relationship can be maintained (read: friends) is limited by the size of the human brain, specifically the neocortex. “Dunbar’s number,” as this hypothesis has become known, is 150.
What would be an impressive, even exhaustive, number of friends in real life is bush league for Facebook’s high rollers, who have thousands. Other social networks use less-intimate terminology to portray contacts (LinkedIn has “connections,” Twitterhas “followers”), but Facebook famously co-opted the word “friend” and created a new verb.
Friending “sustains an illusion of closeness in a complex world of continuous partial attention,” said Roger Fransecky, a clinical psychologist and executive coach in New York (2,894 friends). “We get captured by Facebook’s algorithms. Every day 25 new people can march into your living room. I come from a failed Presbyterian youth, and there was a part of me that first thought it was impolite not to respond. Then I realized I couldn’t put them all in a living room — I needed an amphitheater.”
Facebook discourages adding strangers as friends, adding that only a tiny fraction of its 400 million users have reached the 5,000 threshold, at which point Facebook wags its digital finger and says: That’s enough. The company cites behind-the-scenes “back-end technology” as the reason for the cutoff, implying that the system will implode at the sight of a 5,001st friend.
“You hit this limit, and you have to commit Facebook murder, or perhaps ‘culling’ would be a better word,” said Sreenath Sreenivasan (5,000), dean of student affairs at the Columbia UniversityGraduate School of Journalism. His page bears the admonishment, “FB will not let me add any more friends,” and he periodically posts a message asking some on his list to “unfriend” him.
There is more. Do read and you will find out that it is not just teenagers and young adults who are nervous about their popularity as attested by the number of "friends" they have. This led me to analyze my own Facebook status. The number of my current "FB friends" is a little over the "Dunbar's Number" of 150. I went through the list and discovered the following facts.
1. About 55% of my FB friends are people I either know very well or have at least on one occasion, seen and spoken with in real life. They include several family members, old school friends, ex-students, current friends, friends of my kids, people who have done business with me and fellow bloggers I have met over the years.
2. I seem to actually "know" several virtual friends on a more personal level than I do some that I have encountered in real life.
3. There is no one on my FB list (except Katha Pollitt of the Nation magazine) with whom I have not had at least some contact either in the real or the virtual world. These may have been actual physical meetings, short or lengthy e-mail exchanges or at the very least, a conversation in the comments section of a blog. A very small number (friends of friends I was aware of) came on board without any prior direct contact with me, introduced by mutual friends.
4. As for Pollitt, the only "friend" with whom I don't have even the requisite six degrees of separation, I wanted to enlist as a fan, just as I did for Howard Dean and Doctors Without Borders. But failing to find a fan page, I sent her a "Friends" request which she graciously accepted. I guess Katha had not reached the magic "death" number of 5000 when I sent out my request.
5. Many flesh & blood friends in my own age group are NOT on Facebook. (They also don't read blogs.)
Going back to the issue of private and public, the internet is constantly made to look like the Big Brother, reminiscent of totalitarian states where government bureaucracy is opaque and private lives transparent. But is this analogy wholly correct? How much of coercion is really necessary for us to bare our thoughts and lives in public? After all, many in our midst voluntarily opt to live in glass houses.
[PS: A couple of examples of unintended irony:
As one commenter notes, Rochelle Gurstein's Glass House article is followed by the plea, "For more TNR, become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter."
Also, while in the process of composing this post, I was notified by Facebook about the activity , or rather the lack of it, on the FB page for Accidental Blogger! Included were also links and suggestions for ads on the page! That is indeed strange because although I provide a link to A.B. on my personal page, I have not created a Facebook page for it. How did that happen? A conspiracy between TypePad and Facebook, or did I inadvertently press a button? Sujatha, please investigate.]