Thursday, August 19, 2010

B&N For Sale, Muslims & Ground Zero, Muslims in Burma, Immigrat. Ct. Faults, Dominicans vs. Haitians, Ballet to Havana, Fidel & Bilderberg, So. Sudan

Don’t like to say, “I told you so,” but I saw it coming, both the decline of hard-copy publishing and of chain bookstores, as the recession relentlessly moved forward and folks became more attached to their electronic gadgets and less inclined to dedicate a whole room to an at-home library. That’s one reason that I decided in mid-2008 to go with Amazon and skip the agents and traditional publishers. And, indeed, now SmartMoney columnist James B. Stewart in the Wall St. Journal, comments on why the venerable chain Barnes & Noble is up for sale: The simple explanation for Barnes & Noble's decline is the Internet, which spawned, e-readers and digital books.

Amen, I say, to the end of an era when holding, smelling, and hoarding print books, displaying them alphabetically or by topic on fancy book shelves was in vogue. I still like to hold a physical book in my hands, but, it’s true, if you’ve read a book once or even twice, it usually ends up sitting around gathering dust. In this fast-moving world, we’re always moving on—new topics, new gadgets—although I like to believe my own Peace Corps book is still timely with something to say to a variety of audiences, not just to those interested in Peace Corps service.

As for the Muslim prayer room contemplated to open near Ground Zero, my first instinct is to say, let it be. How does it harm the memorial site, especially since it is reported that the Islamic Center housing it is operated by moderate Muslims and could even be a protection for the area and lead to more interfaith cooperation? It has even been suggested that the label “Ground Zero Mosque” is an intentionally inflammatory misnomer, since it would be neither a full-fledged mosque nor at Ground Zero, but, rather, a couple of blocks away, amid porn shops, nightclubs, drugstores, and neighborhood food stores. Those associated with the center had nothing to do with Ground Zero, after all. However, since opposition has been elevated to such a cause célèbre and political footfall, with a majority of Americans polled now being against its establishment at that location, maybe it’s time to think of situating it somewhere else. How far from Ground Zero is far enough? Another mosque is already located some four blocks away from Ground Zero. Moving the proposed Islamic center would be yielding to mindless scapegoating, but otherwise, it might be subject to terrorist attacks by those opposing its location there. Should it be moved out of fear, which might only serve to inflame and support the idea that it is somehow a true danger? Or should it stay put and install Draconian security measures? Will the whole thing blow over if does locate there and people find that no harm is done? We shall see how this polarizing issue plays out in this increasingly polarized nation and world. But now, it seems, the Islamic center’s funding is in doubt (perhaps in part because of the controversy), so that may seal its fate more than any political wrangling.

At the meeting of a group concerned with improving human rights in Burma, I learned for the first time that the Muslim minority in that country is even more persecuted than Burmese citizens as whole. They are not permitted to have more than two children, are restricted geographically, and are subject to arbitrary arrests and confiscations. More mainstream Buddhist Burmese are encouraged to move into traditionally Muslim areas to dilute the population (as the Chinese do among Tibetans and Uighurs). And when the Burmese Muslims flee to neighboring Bangladesh, they are repatriated across the border back to Burma (Myanmar). I was invited to the meeting because our local Amnesty group for about 15 years had a Burmese prisoner (not Muslim), U Win Htein, an associate of Aun San Syu Ki. Finally, he was freed in July.

Every time I’m riding a metro train above ground, I note vast swatches of giant graffiti painted on the cement side walls that the train passes through, on roofs of warehouses, and on sides of storage buildings, often in areas enclosed by high electrified fences and razor wire, so how did the painters get through? Many designs are clever, boastful, even artistic, though probably not appreciated by the buildings’ owners. Still, these murals and brightly-colored “tags” offer some relief to the eye from the monotony of the industrial vistas going by.

At an international interpreters’ conference held in the UK July 26-30, 2010, Erik Camayd-Freixas, PhD, gave a presentation citing examples of abuses by federal authorities in immigration court appearances. Some interpreters sided with him; others considered it a breach of interpreter ethics to air such concerns in public. It’s true that we court interpreters swear not to reveal what goes on in the courtroom, although I believe it is all part of the public record. I hinted in my Honduras book that I had witnessed errors in a minority, but troubling, number of cases when I was an interpreter for immigration court. But since we interpreters had sworn beforehand not to reveal anything that went on in court, I didn't know what to do about that. I was not as brave as the interpreter mentioned--I just quit immigration court.

While we are on the topic of interpretation, it’s recommended that the interpreter sit behind the interpretee (?) so that eye contact can be made between the parties conversing. Often the situation does not allow that, as the room is too small or chairs are set up side-by-side, so that the client usually looks at and addresses me ("what did she just ask me?"), while the doctor, judge, or social worker is looking at and speaking directly to the person. It's a bit confusing. It was even more confusing in a case I mentioned before of a sign language interpreter and myself doing a relay between a social worker, a hearing mother who spoke only Spanish, and her teenage hearing impaired daughter who communicated in American (English) sign language.

On a Spanish-language blog hosted by Amnesty International, a number of Dominicans have complained about illegal Haitian migrants and their desire to ship them all back to Haiti, along with their children. The DR does not recognize birthright citizenship, subjecting that country to international condemnation. Of course, the DR is a poor country that has experienced an increased influx of Haitians since the earthquake. I commented in Spanish on that blog that the arguments used against the Haitians were the same ones being used against Hispanics in the US, including against Dominicans.

Apparently, the Obama administration is opening up more cultural exchanges with Cuba, something I have always advocated. Now apparently the American Ballet Theater is planning a big run in Havana, bringing costumes, sets, and dancers, promising to be a major event. I predict that American artists of all stripes going to Havana will come into increasing vogue. More on Cuba below.

Excerpt from AP Report, on Fidel Castro, 8-18-10

Castro — who had an inside seat to the Cold War — has long expressed suspicions of back-room plots. He has raised questions about whether the Sept. 11 attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government to stoke military budgets and, more recently suggested that Washington was behind the March sinking of a South Korean ship blamed on North Korea.

Estulin's own website suggests that the 9/11 attacks were likely caused by small nuclear devices, and that the CIA and drug traffickers were behind the 1988 downing of a jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that was blamed on Libya.
The Bilderberg conspiracy theory has been popular on both extremes of the ideological spectrum, even if they disagree on just what the group wants to do. Leftists accuse the group of promoting capitalist domination, while some right-wing websites argue that the Bilderberg club has imposed Barack Obama on the United States to advance socialism.

Some of Estulin's work builds on reports by Big Jim Tucker, a researcher on the Bilderberg Group who publishes on right-wing websites.

"It's great Hollywood material ... 15 people sitting in a room sitting in a room determining the fate of mankind," said Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank in New York.

"As someone who doesn't come out of the Oliver Stone school of conspiracy, I have a hard time believing it," London added.

A call to a Virginia number for the American Friends of Bilderberg rang unanswered Wednesday and the group's website lists no contact numbers.

Castro, who underwent emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 and stepped down as president in February 2008, has suddenly begun popping up everywhere recently, addressing Cuba's parliament on the threat of a nuclear war, meeting with island ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry, writing a book and even attending the dolphin show at the Havana aquarium.

Excerpt below from another AP Report, on South Sudan, 8-18-10, where I was in 2006, as my readers know. This sounds like an imaginative, but cockeyed idea, that will never get off the ground, given southern Sudan’s more pressing needs and the uncertainty that Khartoum will even allow the south to secede if the vote goes that way in next year’s referendum, as it certainly will if it is free and fair. However, floating the concept has put southern Sudan back in the news.

The $10 billion concept [to create cities in animal shapes] will take decades to carry out, officials concede, though it may never escape the planning stages. The southern government's own 2010 budget was only $1.9 billion, and the U.N. says more than 90 percent of Southern Sudan's population lives on less than $1 a day.The plans have evoked bemused smiles — or outright laughter — in Juba, a town that until two years ago barely had any paved roads.

"It doesn't seem like the (Government of Southern Sudan) should be using its resources or staff time when the people of Southern Sudan lack basic services like health care and water," Nora Petty, an aid worker in Juba with the Malaria Consortium.

Government officials concede that a lot of money is needed to finance the project, which includes a plan to transform two state capitals into the shapes of a giraffe and a pineapple.

Juba — the capital of Southern Sudan — is to be reshaped into a compact rhino with two pointy horns. The new area will be called "Rhino City."

Officials said the plan would bring order to the city's chaotic layout.
"Juba is made up of slums," said Jemma Kumba, the minister of housing and physical planning.

Detailed architectural drawings of Rhino City show that Central Equatoria's police headquarters would be situated at the rhino's mouth, an amusement park at the ear, an industrial area along the back and residential housing throughout the four legs.
"It's very innovative. That's our thinking. It's unique. It's the Ministry of Housing thinking you have to be unique to attract the people," said Daniel Wani, undersecretary of Southern Sudan's Ministry of Housing and Physical Planning.
If the animal-shaped towns come to be, they will join other famously shaped cities around the world. Dubai created several palm-shaped residential islands off its coast. In Argentina, planners shaped the town of Ciudad Evita into the form of Eva Peron, an actress and wife of former President Juan Peron who was known as Evita.

Of course, per capita income in the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is located, is around $42,000 a year. In Sudan, it's just $2,300.

And unlike well-developed Dubai, Southern Sudan still lacks basic infrastructure such as roads to connect its state capitals. Outside the southern capital Juba, structures aside from mud huts are rare, and in Juba, services such as electricity and sewage are a luxury.

The Minister of Roads and Transport, Anthony Makana, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he needed up to $6 billion to pave 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of roads in the south.

Makana said the project would connect all of the southern state capitals, but he noted that funding is a concern, given that the government has not finished paying the contractors who built 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) of red clay and gravel roads since 2005, when the landmark peace accord between the north and south was signed.

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