Adonis Diaries

Archive for September 2013

« On passe sa vie à se battre, haletant, désespéré. On se croit vainqueur, mais toutes les humiliations, tous les échecs, toutes les déceptions, les désastres, tout cela reste en vous, attend, et, un jour, remonte et vous étouffe, comme si la faiblesse de l’enfant veillait au cœur de l’homme, prête à le vaincre, prête à l’abattre. »</p><br /><br />
<p>Irène Némirovsky – La proie
You spend life struggling, battling, breathless, despairing…
You believe to be the victor…
All the humiliations, failures, deceptions, disasters… are bottled up in you
In waiting,
And one day they surge upward and suffocate you
As if the weakness of the child was hiding in the heart of man
Ready to pounce on man,
Ready to vanquish him,
And ready to murder him
Note: I transformed this translated piece of Irène Némirovsky’s prose in “La proie” in a poem structure

New “Cycling Vision for London”? Cycling no longer that safe

Yesterday, Sept 23, 2013, a niece of mine, graduating and who moved to a new house a month ago, had a biking accident. She had been biking for 6 years in London and never expected that the hazard of experiencing a biking accident will touch her.

Is it a coincidence?

Last night I watched a movie where a girl (Winona Rider?) died as she was biking back home. She was biking safely and using all the safety regulation…

I had the instinct of sending my niece a message suggesting that taking the bus is a safer mode of transport in London, even if it takes a little more time to arrive at work.

Due to lack of connection I failed to send the message. I doubt that my niece would have considered my suggestion after cycling for 6 years in London without an accident. Should we exclude falling off the bike or skidding occurrences as not within the category of hazardous accidents?

She is now researching why and how this could have happened to her…

She posted on FB: “Spent a horrible day today in the ambulance and A&E after a bicycle accident. I’m home now and feeling much better with no serious injuries luckily. I don’t know though how long it will be before I am able to brave cycling in London again. After having cycled for 6 years in this city, today I understood that no matter how safe I ride, and how safely I am equipped on a bike, cycling in London can never be safe unless the cycling infrastructure changes…”

Coincidentally, I watched today a documentary on Copenhagen biking infrastructure: The over 200,000 bikers who go to work every day have their special lines and traffic lights.  Traffic lights for cars are regulated according to the biking priority: Bikers’ Green light goes on 5 seconds prior to the cars light.

Bikers don’t have to slow down on the main junctions or when reaching new suburbs.

Over 400,000 bikes are recycled every year, and the city government provide 500,000 new bike for every stolen or damaged bike. Bicycles are used for practical transport and not as a luxury property.  All kinds of individual businesses are done using bikes, from eating to drinking to selling.

You see a parent biking and carrying two kids and a dog on a special basket in the front of the bike. Not many bikers use helmets in this safe city for bikers.

Less than 25% of Denmark citizens own a car…

This post is one of her research findings.

Boris Johnson announced  a month ago a new “Cycling Vision for London”:  £93m to be spent per year on cycling infrastructure

The plan was widely heralded as a break in the conventional attitude from both Transport for London and Boris as regards the importance of cycling within London’s overall transport mix.

There was a noticeable change in vernacular to reflect the seriousness with which a bicycle is now being considered as a serious mode of transportation, and not merely a sport or leisure activity.

To this end, the Daily Telegraph’s former London correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, was appointed as Boris’ cycling “czar” – tasked with working with the boroughs to enact the Mayor’s vision.

While the proposals are not necessarily in-line with the international “best-practice” evident in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, they are nonetheless a serious, and arguably long-overdue step in the right direction.

In principle, it means a complete abolition of the kind of half-hearted, ineffective cycle design that has been emblematic of Britain’s approach to cycle provision – which should, fingers crossed, eliminate the blue paint, gutter-lane “add-on” provision which anyone on two wheels is sure to tell you is as good as useless when riding a bike.

The meat of the proposals involves a network of “quietways” across the city, a joined-up bike grid around central London, an east-west “Crossrail” for bikes, and a series of mini-Holland projects in up to 4 London boroughs (preferably outer).

While these are all impressive commitments, perhaps the most fundamental, and little emphasized, aim from improved cycle provision was the need to make London a more efficient city for everyone – regardless of what mode of transportation they use. This is, in essence, the goal of creating a cycle-friendly city, which Boris neatly summarizes in the foreword to his vision document:

“Helping cycling will not just help cyclists. It will create better places for everyone. It means less traffic, more trees, more places to sit and eat a sandwich. It means new life, new vitality and lower crime on underused streets. It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking space and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights.” 

The emphasis on an improvement in the civility of urban life that the bicycle can help achieve is not a point made often enough in the public sphere. And of course, no mention has been made of the potential for cycling to help alleviate the ever-looming obesity crisis (with the potential to save the NHS approximately £17bn over 20 years), as well as London’s pollution problems (said to be the worst in Europe, contributing to 4,300 premature deaths every year).

Why does this matter to Lewisham (a London suburb)?

Like many London boroughs, Lewisham suffers heavily from congestion – for readers of alternativeSE4, this is most prominent in areas such as the A2 – which stretches down to New Cross Gate, and then to the Old Kent Road and into central London – Lewisham town centre and Ladywell town centre. TFL analysis has shown that at least 50% of car trips (possibly more) involve distances of 2 miles or less – an eminently cycleable distance, particularly if it involves a trip to work, the school run, or to pick up a few bits and pieces from the shops.

Clearly, there is enormous potential to use cycling as a means of freeing up road space for the more essential journeys – bus trips, vans/lorries transporting goods and those who are perhaps travelling distances that are not well-catered for by public transport options.

Unsurprisingly, Lewisham has a very low percentage of its population that travel by bicycle.

According to 2011 census data, just 4.1% of residents cycle to work, compared with 15.4% in Hackney and 10.1% in Islington.

Even our neighbouring borough of Southwark has a much higher cycling rate, at 7.7%.

Interestingly, Lewisham’s figure is lower than that of outer London boroughs such as Richmond and Kingston, which have rates of 6.7% and 4.4%, respectively. Wandsworth too, has a cycling rate of 7.9%, which shows that geographical distance from the centre of London, which would seem to be the obvious indicator for the differing rates, is not necessarily the driver behind such figures.

Percentage of people who travel to work by bicycle (2011, by London borough). Image c/o: cyclistsinthecity

More likely, is the subjective attitude to the safety of cycling in an environment that caters almost solely to the needs of the motor car and not to those on two wheels.

It is a fact that driving in London has been getting progressively safer for a period of many years, while cycling has been getting progressively more dangerous.

Again the 2011 census data bears this out.

KSI casualties (killed or seriously injured) for car occupants in Lewisham have been falling consistently for the last six years, and are at their lowest point for six years. Cycling KSIs in Lewisham, on the other hand, have been rising steadily since 2008, and over the 2010-11 period, shot up to reach the highest point in six years.

KSI figures for car occupants in Lewisham (from 2011 Census data)

KSIs for bike users (2011 Census data)

It is not hard to see why this might be the case. Main roads and junctions have little to no cycle provision – with Deptford Broadway a case in point. This is a junction that has 7 motor vehicle lanes in the east-west direction, but no cycle lanes. Understandably therefore, bicycles here are not a particularly common sight.

Similar problems are evident in Lewisham roundabout, with several lanes of approaches in every direction, but still no cycle lane provision. Again, understandably, however much people might want to cycle, it is unsurprising that the majority will choose to drive.

Add to this mix a reluctance on the part of Lewisham council to commit to ensuring that all of its lorries are fitted with safety equipment (falling behind 8 London boroughs that have fully signed up to the London Cycling Campaign “safer lorries” pledge), and a refusal to commit to 20 mph speed limits on borough roads (covered by alternativeSE4 here), and it becomes apparent that building up cycling levels is going to be a real uphill battle.

What else can be done?

An interesting trend across several parts of London is pavement widening. Brockley Cross has received this treatment, and in the near future, Ladywell town centre will also have its pavement widened.

Ostensibly, this kind of intervention is a positive one – granting more freedom for pedestrians, brightening the streetscape and with narrower vehicle lanes forcing lower speeds. However, it is often also touted as pro-cyclist intervention, when in actual fact it makes conditions worse.

A good example of this is Ladywell, shown below. The image of the chap happily riding along on his bike here is simply not going to play out in reality. On a high street with such a heavy volume of traffic, anyone on a bike within such a narrow carriageway is going to obstruct vehicles, which is only going to increase tension and conflict between motorists and bike users. It may even lead to more dangerous road behaviour, thereby increasing the unpleasantness of the cycling experience.

Ladywell carriageway improvement.

The extended pavement will civilise a heavily congested street, but why couldn’t the extended paving have been a separated cycle lane?

The Ladywell designs also include provision of a “shared path” for cyclists and pedestrians, which runs across the corner of Algernon Road (a PDF drawing of the plan can be seen here). Much like the narrow carriageway in the image above, converting a pavement for the use of two different groups is only going to ramp up animosity and conflict, inevitably provoking more resentment among pedestrians towards those on bicycles.

Brockley Cross has also received similar pavement widening treatment – again, to the benefit of pedestrians and a more amenable high street environment, but with no positive knock-on effect for cycling.

Given that it has been proven that cycle-friendly streets actually help improve prospects for local business (businesses on 8th & 9th Avenues in New York are said to have seen a 50% increase in sales receipts after protected bike lanes were installed), there is certainly an economic case, as well as a health, noise and general environmental one, to be made to fit space for bicycles within the streets of SE4 and its surrounding environs (although admittedly, Brockley Rd is not 8th/9th Ave, but the principle is sound).

An arguably easier, short-term and funding-lite approach would be for Lewisham to facilitate cycling by enabling “filtered permeability” (ie, allowing two-way cycling on one-way streets for motor cars), selective street closures and conversion of car parking spaces to bicycle parking.

These kinds of interventions have been incorporated to great effect in Camden, Islington and the City of London, and more importantly, cost very little to implement and cause very little disruption. The cyclist blogger “CyclistsintheCity” has covered this, along with accompanying images, in this well-written post.

Boris’ cycling vision for London is bold, but most of the potential change in Lewisham is out of his hands, primarily due to the fact that TFL control just 5% of London’s roads. Clearly, Andrew Gilligan is going to have to work hard to get all London boroughs on-side with the Mayor’s proposals.  But in order to see real progress, Lewisham Council is going to have to start taking cycling seriously, and recognize that while not everyone will ever be prepared to take to two wheels, joined-up thinking on provision is going to have enormous long-term economic benefits, from rejuvenating many of the boroughs tired high streets to transforming urban space and improving health.

The latter is an issue sure to come into focus with the emergence of the Public Health Outcomes Framework, released early last year, which has set a comprehensive set of health targets and devolved responsibility for achieving those targets to local boroughs.

A quick glance at Lewisham’s statistics shows obesity rates for 4-5 year-old and 10-11 yr olds that is far higher than the average across England (and some of the highest in London).

A far greater challenge lies in improving conditions to allow children to cycle to school, but for now, Lewisham could do worse than take a leaf out of Hackney’s book.


Revised “Declaration of Women’s Rights”

Joan Smith, in her “The Public Woman” book, ended with a “Declaration of the rights of women”.

This declaration was drawn from the experiences and activism of many women who fought for the rights of women since the American and French Revolutions such as:

1.  The French Olympe de Gouges:  Born Marie Gouze, she produced her own version of the French declaration of human rights in Sept.1791, which had excluded women from the document on the ground that women are not considered citizens. She wrote:

Woman has the rights to mount the scaffold. She should have the rights to equally mount the rostrum, provided that these manifestations do not trouble public order as established by law…”

She was sent to the guillotine on Nov. 3, 1793 because she challenged the “barbarous prejudice” against unmarried women with children…” and for denouncing publicly the increasing savagery of the revolution…

2. The English Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the rights of woman”, promoted woman’s right to education, and lambasted the marriage institution as “legalized prostitution”

3. The Suffragist movement

4. Simone de Beauvoir of “The Second Sex”…

I added clauses in parenthesis to the original 12 clauses, which Western culture takes for granted:

1. Women are born free and equal to men

2. Women and girls have the same rights of bodily integrity as men and boys

3. Women have a right to safe contraception and abortion

4. Girls are entitled to same level of education as boys

5. No one, male or female, should be married under the age of 16

6. Both genders have an unconditional right to use and enjoy public spaces

7.  Women have the right to exercise, take part in sport and observe it on the same terms as men

8. Children should not be required to adopt religious forms of dress

9. The law should not dictate how adults dress

10. Women have a right to equal working conditions and pay as men

11. The law should require full transparency in pay schedule and the equal pay right be enforced by the government

12. Women should enjoy the same property and inheritance right as men

13. Sexual abuse is as abhorrent as racism

14. Separation of State and Church is essential to protect secular equality between genders

15. The State has a moral obligation to ensure that women and girls are free to enjoy their rights and to guarantee them when denied…

16. (Women have the same right as men to vote and to run for public offices)

17. (Women must acquire full citizenship as men).

For example, women in Lebanon cannot pass citizenship to their non-Lebanese husband or to their children. Unless the husband is from a western developed State or pretty rich. In such cases, women won’t give a hoot about her Lebanese passport… Read: Lebanese women cry out

18. Equal opportunities to higher level jobs (regardless of the biased qualification criteria drawn by men)

19. Women right to drive car, train, airplane…

20. Women rights to mount a bike, a horse, a man (her preferred intercourse technique…)

21. (Unmarried woman with children should enjoy the same rights as unmarried men…)

22. Children should remain the joint custody for both parents at any age of the children, and never separate them to give preference to any party of the family, if the conditions do not involve criminal activities or addictions

23. Mortgage evaluation to purchase properties should not discriminate against single working women, on the assumption that they will eventually get pregnant and stop working full time. And the State should guarantee the enforcement of this law.

24. Women and adult girls should have the right to travel without the written consent from husband, father, or elder brother…

25. Women and adult girls should have the right to have a personal bank account without the written consent from husband, father, or elder brother…

Do add as many clauses as your particular society discriminates against women. Do not assume that any clause implicitly cover your particular case.

Note 1: French women got Full citizenship in 1944

Note 2: English women snatched the right to vote by 1914

Note 3: US women got the right to vote around 1912

Preaches a message of forgiveness: Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun

Robert Fisk published in The Independent this Sept.23, 2013

“I had five sons, now I have four”: Syria’s senior cleric pardons the rebels who killed his son

The Grand Mufti of Syria preaches a message of forgiveness

I met those men who assassinated my son Sania.  And they told me they didn’t even know whom they were killing.”

Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, sits in a straight-backed chair, his immaculate white turban atop a narrow, intelligent and very troubled face.

His son Sania was a second-grade student at Aleppo University when he was shot dead getting into his car.

“I went to see the two men in the court and they said they’d just been given the number of the car’s registration plate, that they didn’t know whom they had killed until they went home and watched the news on television.”

I ask for his reaction to the men’s confession, and the Grand Mufti puts his hands over his eyes and weeps.

“He was only 21, my youngest son. It was October  10 last year. I am trying to forget that he is dead. In fact, I feel as if Sania is still living. On that day, he was to be betrothed to his future wife. She was a student of medicine, he was in the politics and economics department. ‘Sania’ in Arabic means ‘the highest point’.

The two men said that 15 in all were involved in planning my son’s death. They said they were told he was a very important man. I said to them: ‘I forgive you’.  And I asked the judge to forgive them. But he said they were guilty of 10 times as many crimes and must be judged.”

Sheikh Hassoun holds up a finger. “That same day I received an SMS message. It said: ‘We are not in need of your forgiveness.’

Then I heard on one of the news channels that the gang’s leader had said he would ‘judge the Mufti first. Then let him forgive us.’ So I sent a message: ‘I have never killed any man and I don’t intend to kill any man but I regard myself as a bridge of reconciliation. A Mufti must be a father to all. So what do you want to kill me for?’

“All the men involved were Syrians, from the countryside of Aleppo. They said they received their command from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that they were each paid 50,000 Syrian pounds  (£350). This shows that my son’s killing was not out of doctrine or belief. The two killers were 18 or 19 only.”

So each man was paid the equivalent of £350; Sania Hassoun’s life was worth a total of just £700. “I had five sons,” the Mufti says. “Now I have four.”

Sheikh Hassoun is, you might say, government-approved – he prayed beside Bashar al-Assad in a Damascus mosque after a bomb warning – and his family, let alone he himself, was an obvious target for Syria’s rebels. But his courage and his message of reconciliation cannot be faulted. In whatever new Syria arises from the rubble, Sheikh Hussein should be there even if his President has gone.

And he speaks with remarkable frankness.

When I tell him that I fear the mukhabarat  (intelligence service in Syria) contaminates all it touches, including the institutions of government, he does not hesitate for a moment before replying.

“I suffered from the mukhabarat. I was taken from my post as a preacher from 1972 until 2000. I was taken from my position as Friday speaker in the Aleppo mosque and from lecturing on four occasions. The intelligence services all over the world are the same: they never look after the interest of the human being – they only look after their own institution. Sometimes the intelligence service can be against the president himself.”

And he asks whether it is not also true that the American intelligence services do not also spy on Americans and all of Europe, a difficult question – it must be said – to deny. “Let us put aside the Prophet Mohamed, Jesus and Moses – all the rest of the world are controlled by intelligence services.”

Unlike most Syrians, the Mufti looks forward rather than back. He prays for a Geneva 2 conference. “I am the Mufti of all Syrians – Sunni Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze – of all the diversity of sects we had before the war. There is no choice other than reconciliation; it is the only way back. But to offer reconciliation, we must eliminate the ‘external hand’ first.

“And if the neighbouring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon don’t try to make this same reconciliation, they will burn – the fire of crisis will flow to them, especially Turkey. For all Syrians, we are open for them to come back. The problem is those who came from outside Syria – especially from Iraq and Turkey – who came without visas over smugglers’ trails either to meet death or to overthrow the authorities here.”

A tougher Mufti emerges now. His sons’ killers, it transpires, are not the only prisoners of the regime that he has met. “I saw men after they were arrested,” he says. “Some were in tears. They said they thought they were on their way to fight in Palestine, not to fight in Syria.”

There are times – when Sheikh Hassoun speaks of an “external hand”, “elimination” and “criminal gangs” – when one hears His Master’s Voice. And on the question of sarin gas, he takes the government’s side of the story. He quotes Bashar al-Assad as saying he would never use gas against Syrians – that if he had used it, the war would not have gone on for two and a half years.

The first major use of gas came in March at Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, near the Mufti’s residence, when at least 26 civilians suffocated to death. This is his version of what happened.

“Some of the farm labourers reported to me that all the terrorists in the area had suddenly left – the night before the attack – and had evacuated all their people. So the civilians were happy – they were civilians and many were the wives and children of soldiers – and so they went back at last to their homes. Then came the chemical missile attack. I said at that time, in March, that this event is just an experiment, that gas will be used again in other places.”

This, of course, is not a story the Americans want to hear.

Five months ago, the Mufti was invited to speak at George Mason and George Washington Universities in the United States and he travelled to Jordan for his visa. He says he was asked to go to the US embassy in Amman where he was interrogated by a woman diplomat from behind a glass screen.

“I was so insulted that I decided not to go and I left for Damascus the next morning.” A wise move. Sheikh Hassoun says that, the same day, one of his sons, who was in Amman, received a call from the embassy denying him a visa. “To be a secular Mufti,” the sheikh adds, “is dangerous.”

And it is true that the Mufti is a most secular man – he was even once an Assembly MP for Aleppo. “I am ready to go anywhere in the world to say that war is not a sacred deed,” he says. “And those who have fought under the name of Jesus, Mohamed or Moses are lying. Prophets come to give life, not death.

There is a history of building churches and mosques, but let us build human beings. Let us cease the language of killing. Had we paid all the funds of war to make peace, paradise would exist now. This is the message of my Syria.”

A dangerous man indeed.

Washington Post’s new Jerusalem correspondent married to pro-Israel propagandist. Isn’t this appointment a Conflict of Interest?

Ruth Eglash, the Washington Post’s recently hired Jerusalem correspondent, has what could be a serious conflict of interest – her husband’s political and business ties to the Israeli government and its overseas propaganda apparatus…

The Washington Post’s conflict of interest policy states:

This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible. We have adopted stringent policies on these issues, conscious that they may be more restrictive than is customary in the world of private business.

Relatives cannot fairly be made subject to Post rules, but it should be recognized that their employment or their involvement in causes can at least appear to compromise our integrity. The business and professional ties of traditional family members or other members of your household must be disclosed to department heads.

Ali Abunimah submitted in The Electronic Intifada on Sept. 18, 2013.

The newspaper refuses to say if Eglash disclosed her husband’s activities to her bosses as company policy demands.

Ruth own reporting and activities indicate that Eglash has difficulties providing fair and dispassionate coverage regarding Palestinians.

Eglash, who joined the Washington Post in April, was previously deputy managing editor of the far right-wing Jerusalem Post.

Ruth Eglash at the 2010 United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Rio Forum (Flickr)

Close ties to Israeli government, army and anti-Palestinian propaganda

The husband Michael Eglash is president of the marketing firm Upstart Ideas.

Michael Eglash, who hails from Milwaukee, has been deeply involved in efforts to promote Israel and Israeli government policy for years and this is now his main business.

His firm lists among its past and present clients and close partners numerous Israeli government and Israeli-government backed entities including the the Ministry of Tourism, Taglit-Birthright Israel and the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

The JNF is deeply involved in the ongoing forced removals of Palestinian Bedouins from their ancestral lands in the Naqab (Negev) region.

Eglash’s company provides “marketing analysis, strategic recommendations and full service implementation of marketing campaign and recruitment strategy for a range of Israel programs,” according to its website.

Upstart Ideas says that it “helped to establish the wildly successful ‘Hasbara Fellowships’ organization and … worked extensively with JNF’s Caravan for Democracy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Jewish Agency for Israel and Hillel.”

The company also claims that “Our marketing strategies have turned small Israel-based educational tour organizers into the biggest players with the Taglit-Birthright Israel market.”

Taglit-Birthright, partly funded by the Israeli government, gives free trips to young North American Jews, to bolster their support for Israel and encourage them to move there.

Eglash was also co-founder of the advocacy group Upstart Activist, which appears to be an earlier incarnation of the work he now does through Upstart Ideas.

According to its website:

Upstart Activist’s speakers have delivered hundreds of lectures, workshops, and seminars on over 50 North American campuses and in communities since 2001. Upstart Activist speakers have been sponsored by Caravan for Democracy, Hillel groups, AIPAC chapters, Hasbara Fellowships, Hadassah groups, synagogues and Jewish Federations.

The speakers in Upstart Activist’s roster include members of the Israeli army, among them representatives of its propaganda wing, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

Ruth Eglash herself has been on speaking gigs sponsored by her husband’s clients or partners although there’s no indication that the appearances were brokered by him.

She is listed as a member of the speakers bureau of the Jewish National Fund.

Last year, she spoke in Milwaukee at an event sponsored by the Milwaukee chapter of Hadassah, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Center of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation – a member of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Several of these sponsors are members of theIsrael Action Network,” a multi-million dollar initiative set up specifically to counter the growing movement for Palestinian rights.

The Jewish Federations of North America, chief sponsor of the Israel Action Network, is also listed as one of Upstart Ideas’ clients.

Washington Post conflict of interest policy

There is no doubt whatsoever that Michael Eglash has been personally committed to promoting the cause of Israel for all of his adult life, and has helped establish and works closely with official entities dedicated to that cause.

There is also no doubt that the commercial interests of Eglash’s marketing firm, and therefore his livelihood, depend on favorable portrayals of Israel and negative portrayals of Palestinian rights advocates, especially for such clients as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Tourism or Taglit-Birthright.

Washington Post’s response

I wrote to Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl to ask two questions:

1. did Ruth Eglash disclose her husband’s professional and business activities; and

2. did the newspaper believe that these activities could at least appear to compromise the newspaper’s integrity?

Jehl did not respond to either question, but sent the following statement by email, copied to the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth and deputy foreign editor Griffe Witte:

The Post is committed to its stringent policy on avoiding conflict of interest, which cover the entire newspaper, including foreign bureaus and among the contract employees who work for the foreign staff.

Ruth Eglash’s apparent biases

This response is less than satisfactory, especially given the indications from Ruth Eglash’s own work and activities.

On 4 March, soon before joining the Washington Post, Ruth Eglash appeared on a panel titled “Telling Israel’s Story,” alongside Jewish Agency social media director Avi Mayer and Israeli army spokesperson Avital Leibovitch.

The panel was chaired by Aryeh Green, a former advisor to the Israeli government, but the panel included no one known to be critical of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians who could provide a balancing viewpoint.

Criticisms of Zionism are “sick”

Last year Ruth Eglash wrote an outraged Huffington Post column condemning a YouTube video called “Shit Zionists Say” – part of a spate of such spoofs with such titles as “Shit Girls Say,” “Shit Arab Girls Say,” and “Shit Gay Guys Say.”

The lighthearted video featured numerous persons associated with the Palestine solidarity movement, including Rae Abileah, Dalit Baum, Anna Baltzer, Abraham Greenhouse, Jesse Bacon, Sherry Wolf, Max Blumenthal and myself.

Eglash refused to include a link to the video, claiming:

Shit Zionists Say, (does not deserve a link) is a clip made by a group calling itself “Existence is Resistance.” Disturbingly, they have turned a creative and entertaining genre into a very unfunny and failed attempt to make an extreme political point about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Their video does not feature one single Zionist, but a stream of anti-Zionist individuals expounding deep hatred in sick and very unconstructive way [sic].

While the video is highly offensive, it also does nothing to promote the very real and serious need for Israelis to recognize the rights of Palestinian people as human beings and the need for everyone in the region to work towards peace.

Anyone watching the video would see that it is a spoof of arguments and statements that Palestinians and Palestine solidarity activists hear from Zionists on a daily basis, although often expressed in violent, Islamophobic and racist terms that were absent from the spoof.

Eglash’s intolerance of even this sort of mild satire of Zionism, and her characterization of people engaged in solidarity work in such sweeping terms — imputing to them “deep hatred” and “sick” language — suggests she is incapable of dispassionate reporting.

Biases in The Washington Post

Biases are also clearly visible in The Washington Post.

In a recent article on Israel’s efforts to impose its curriculum on children in occupied East Jerusalem, Eglash and her colleague William Booth wrote:

Israel has declared Jerusalem its undivided capital. Yet East Jerusalem is sought by the Palestine Liberation Organization as the capital of a future state. There are about 360,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. A large but unknown number consider themselves Palestinian residents of “Occupied East Jerusalem,” others choose the term “permanent residents,” and a small but growing number are seeking Israeli citizenship.

This euphemistic passage fails to point out that eastern Jerusalem is considered occupied territory under international law, and Israel’s annexation is universally considered illegal.

No country in the world, not even the United States, recognizes Israel’s claims to Jerusalem.

Yet Eglash places “Occupied East Jerusalem” in quotation marks, demoting these incontrovertible facts to the mere opinion of an “unknown number” of Palestinians.

It is not Palestinians who deem themselves “permanent residents.” Rather it is the Israeli occupation that treats Palestinian Jerusalemites as if they were immigrants in their own city, often using this as a pretext to withdraw or deny their residency cards, effectively expelling them from their native city.

Such skewed reporting ought to be deeply worrying to anyone who wishes to turn to the Washington Post as a reliable source on the situation in Palestine.

Women cry foul: 112 people get citizenship and none for them?

BEIRUT: Women’s rights advocates cried foul Friday after a local newspaper published a copy of a presidential decree granting Lebanese citizenship to 112 foreigners.

The individuals named in the decree hail from France, Italy, Australia, Germany, Holland, Canada, the United States, Jordan and several other countries. The decree sparked outrage, particularly from Lebanese women barred by law from passing their citizenship to their foreign spouses and children.

Meris Lutz published in The Daily Star this Sept. 21, 2013 “Women cry foul after 112 people get citizenship”

The Daily Star
Activists carry banners during a rally as they call for the right of the Lebanese woman to pass her nationality to her husband and children in front of the Grand Serail in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 3, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Activists carry banners during a rally as they call for the right of the Lebanese woman to pass her nationality to her husband and children in front of the Grand Serail in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, April 3, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Decree 10214 was issued in March and first came to light several months ago in a report by Al-Jadeed television, but the text itself never surfaced and could not be found in the Official Gazette.

Observers believe that it was not published because of a legal interpretation that holds publishing it isn’t obligatory, because it involved a limited number of people, implying it was not of public concern.

Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, speaking to LBCD, confirmed the decree’s existence and said there were individuals who deserved to receive Lebanese citizenship.

Some of the naturalized Lebanese appeared to be members of the clergy or Jordanian royalty, and local press reports indicate others were relatives of high-ranking Lebanese officials.

The Individual Initiative for Human Rights called the decision a “scandal” and a “humiliation” for Lebanese women.

The Collective for Research and Training on Development (CRTDA), which has been actively pushing for women’s full citizenship rights with the Arab Women’s Right to Nationality campaign, called the decree and lack of transparency surrounding it “shameful.”

This decree clearly reveals Lebanese officials’ disregard for Lebanese women and their rights, as well as the falseness of their claims to uphold a state based on citizenship, rights and the law,” a statement issued by the group read. “It’s particularly shocking that officials took a step such as this at a time when the country and its citizens are in free fall, while the current political class is unable to provide even minimum security and acceptable living conditions for the sons and daughters of this country.”

Lina Abou Habib, an organizer of the CRTDA campaign, slammed President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati for signing off on the decree, adding that she had lost any faith she had left in the Lebanese state.

“Do the prime minister and the president have any idea about the humiliation of these families on a daily basis?” she said. “They can’t work, go to public school, access health care … Do they have any idea, because they decide to go and give the Lebanese nationality as a gift to wealthy people? I am outraged, absolutely outraged.”

Abou Habib was similarly unimpressed with the excuses offered by some legal experts for not publishing the decree in the Gazette, adding that if not for the leaks to the press, no one would have known.

A decree issued in 1994 that granted citizenship to about 80,000 foreigners was published.

“They can easily hide behind legal technicalities and maybe it is a legal justification, but nevertheless it’s really a coincidence that it also suits the purpose of hiding something that actually is wrong, is morally wrong,” she said. “They have no justification other than saying ‘we can do it.’”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 21, 2013, on page 2.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

The most ancient and intrepid mariners: The Chaldean of the Near East

The Chaldeans are the people who inhabited the Near East region of current Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.

Their civilization is traced for 6,000 years as people who first settled in City-States and roamed the rivers and seas.

They are mostly known as establishing several empires in Iraq such as Ur, Akkad, and Babylon… and establishing trade outposts (turned City-States) along the coast of the Arabic/Persia Gulf, Persia, India, and the Far East.

The Delta of Basra, where the mighty two rivers of Tigres and Euphrates meet, was their starting adventure in trading with neighboring countries

Several renowned archeologists confirm that the Chaldean mariners reached America (North and South) from two main directions.

1. The first route was along the Pacific Polynesian Islands and New Zealand all the way to Peru… (Prof. A.H. Keane)

2. The second route was through the Bering Strait at a point between Alaska and Kamchatka Peninsulas (Archeologist Hume Bolden)

The descendents of the Chaldeans on the western sea shores are the Phoenicians, extending their streak of City-States from Acre, Tyr, Sidon, Byblos,  Tripoli, Arwad, Ugarit, Izmir… all the way along the Turkish sea-shore and on to the Black Sea.

The Phoenicians were the master of all the Mediterranean Sea for 12 centuries and built 70 trading outposts or cities along the shores and traded in the Black Sea.

1, In Tripoli they had Sabratha and Lepis Magna

2. In Tunisia: Utica (Old city), Carthage (Kart Hadasht or New City), and Hadrumete

3. In Algeria: Rachgoun, Circa, Hippone

4. In Morocco: Lixus, and Mogador

5. In Spain: Cadiz (tin mine city) Cerrodel del Villar, Toscano, Charreras, Malaga and Adra

6. In France: Massalia (Marseille)

7. In Sardegna: Tharros, Sulcis and Nora

8. In Sicily: Motye

9. In Crete: Tarsus and Tekke

10. Cyprus

11. Malta…

The French President Georges Bidault delivered this keynote address to the UNESCO General Assembly”

“The Phoenicians have set the example and given a valuable lesson on how to go beyond the Mediterranean Sea basin… Thanks to them, the sea has ceased to be the abyss and was rendered a roadway…

Thanks to the Phoenicians, inquiry, discovery, industry, and progress have become accessible and feasible…”

Short description of the maritime periplus of the mariners Hanno (around Africa), Ophir, Himilco (Amber of the Baltic), and Necho (Cape of Good Hope)… will be posted in a follow-up article.

It is to be noted that the other branch of the Chaldeans were the Canaanites who settled inland and built the city-states of Askelon, Jerusalem, Damascus, Hama ,Mari, and Aleppo… along with many cities on the Euphrates and Al Assy Orontes Rivers.

As the Chaldean reached the Americas from the East (through the Pacific Ocean), the Phoenician landed in South and North America westward through the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of years before the European colonialists. Read part 2

Note 1:  One of the sources  “6,000 years of peaceful contributions to mankind” by Charles Corm

Note 2: Zenon or Zeno, founder of the Stoic philosophy

Is Brainstorming a Waste of Time? What other alternatives You Should consider Instead?

Debra Kaye published in Entrepreneur this August 13, 2013: “Why Brainstorming is a Waste of Time and What You Should Do Instead” (with slight editing, my style)

“And then Eli thought it would be a good idea to start rhyming words, Because no one was coming up with any good ideas using free association.”my friend Rochelle told me last night on the phone

Rochelle  wasn’t bringing me up to date on re-runs of The Office. She was actually describing a brainstorming session at her company.

The leader of the group was making his team of grown ups play rhyming games as a way of coming up with fresh insights for new product development.

“He told us we were all stuck and this exercise was going to stretch and relax our minds,” she added.

I can’t vouch for the science of making rhymes, but I can tell you Eli is probably wasting his time, and you might be too if you’re spending a lot of time in brainstorming sessions with your team.

The conventional wisdom that says you can institutionalize the new idea process via formal brainstorming sessions is simply wrong.

Part of what we know about the brain makes it clear why the best new ideas don’t emerge from these kinds of groups.

First, the brain doesn’t make optimal connections in a rigid atmosphere.

In a brainstorming session, there is too much pressure from the group and its leader.

Peer pressure and the need to please with “right answers” shackles participants and lessens their ability and desire to take risks with suggestions that might cause embarrassment. Psychologists have documented the predictability of free association.

We all have the power to develop thoughts into reality. There are techniques that keep your brains working with agility, enabling new connections and fresh insights into whatever we’re working on.

Here are a few activities that are more effective at generating ideas than brainstorming:

1. Do something mindless. 
Take a walk, organize your sock drawer, draw a hot bath and soak for a while, and be sure to listen to music you like.

You can free your mind by engaging in an activity that is unchallenging enough to allow your mind to “wander.” It’s during these not-so-aimless journeys that we often formulate exciting ideas or find answers to questions that have been bugging us.

Moderate background noise enhances creativity too, so play some favorite music.

According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research, “Moderate background noise induces distraction, which encourages individuals to think at a higher, abstract level, and consequently exhibit higher creativity.”

2. Do something hard.
Exercising your brain with challenging and interesting tasks makes it better at innovating.

Crossword puzzles and memory games may not do the trick if they aren’t difficult enough. New and challenging tasks stimulate the brain most and help to grow cognition.

Researchers at the University of Hamburg subjected 20 adults to a month of intense training in juggling, and found an increase in the gray matter, the part of the brain that processes complex ideas, as early as 7 days after the training began.

Learning a new language, challenging yourself to make a dress from a Vogue couture pattern when you’ve never sewn before, teaching yourself to play a musical instrument, studying for a difficult exam like the GMATs, or understanding and memorizing the Latin name of plants could be the gateway to your next brilliant epiphany.

3. Make time to meditate.
Innovation and new ideas are inside you, and meditation is one way to allow them to become apparent and connected.

Meditation increases your power of concentration and allows your mind to let ideas flow freely.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that people who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.

4. Sleep on it.
Recent research suggests that sleep is essential for our capacity to learn, remember and create.

Our ability to learn, think more innovatively and solve problems is actually enhanced after getting a good night’s sleep or even a very satisfying nap. German neuroscientist Ullrich Wagner did a study published in 2004, “Sleep Inspires Insight,” published in Nature, that found that deep sleep inspires insight and triggers new conceptual insights.

It makes sense. Who can really think about important issues or decisions when exhausted? Put away that work and go to bed!

5. Believe in your abilities.
In What the Best College Students Do author Dr. Ken Bain writes that the idea that intelligence is static, either you’re born smart or you aren’t, is simply not true.

Creative, successful people have something in common he discovered: they all believed that intelligence is expandable.

People who believe they can “grow” their brainpower demonstrated more curiosity and open-mindedness and took more professional and intellectual risks, and as a result became very successful adults.

Several studies have shown that when people learn they can become smarter and that their brains can become “stronger,” it actually happens, even if they do nothing else than read an article about the subject.

Those of us who believe we can improve our cognitive abilities have less of a tendency to give up when we are faced with difficult problems, like coming up with ideas.

I told my friend that next time Eli schedules a brainstorming meeting, she should call in sick on that day instead, and sleep in, then take a walk, listen to music, practice her Italian lessons, mediate and most of all, believe in her capacity and innate intelligence to solve big problems.

You should too.

Note: Debra Kaye is a brand and culture strategist and partner at Lucule, a New York-based innovation consulting firm. She is author of the book, Red Thread Thinking (McGraw-Hill,

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Scale on the “abuse of migrant workers” in FIFA selection of World Cup sites?

Should FIFA start a revised procedure for the selection of World Cup locations?

Like, how the government will go about finishing the project and the cost in abuse of workers, humiliations and deprivation of the citizens during the preparation phase… And what the citizens benefit from all the investment and headaches they are subjected to for years?

With the European football association, Uefa, reaching the unavoidable conclusion that you cannot play competitive sport in the 50C heat of a Qatari summer, the way is clear for the international football association Fifa, to break with precedent and make a decision that does not seem corrupt or senseless or both.

Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country

In hosting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Fifa is choosing to ignore the abuse of migrant workers.

Nick Cohen published in the Observer this Sept. 21, 2013 :

How many more must die for Qatar’s World Cup?

All being well, the 2022 tournament will be held in the winter. Just one niggling question remains: how many lives will be lost so that the Fifa World Cup™ can live up to its boast that it is the most successful festival of sport on the planet?

“More workers will die building World Cup infrastructure than players will take to the field,” predicts Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

Even if the teams in Qatar use all their substitutes, she is likely to be right.

Qatar, Cohen

Fans take their seats before 2009’s Brazil v England friendly in Doha, Qatar. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Qatar’s absolute monarchy, run by the fabulously rich and extraordinarily secretive Al Thani clan, no more keeps health and safety statistics than it allows free elections.

The Trade Union Confederation has had to count the corpses the hard way.

It found that 83 Indians have died so far this year.

The Gulf statelet was also the graveyard for 119 Nepalese construction workers.

With 202 migrants from other countries dying over the same 9 months, Ms Burrow is able to say with confidence there is at least one death for every day of the year.

The body count can only rise now that Qatar has announced that it will take on 500,000 more migrants, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, to build the stadiums, hotels and roads for 2022.

Not all the fatalities are on construction sites.

The combination of back-breaking work, nonexistent legal protections, intense heat and labour camps without air conditioning allows death to come in many guises.

To give you a taste of its variety, the friends of Chirari Mahato went online to describe how he would work from 6 am to 7 pm. He would return to a hot, non ventilated room he shared with 12 others.

Because Chirari Mahato died in his sleep, rather than on site, his employers would not accept that they had worked him to death.

There are millions of workers like him around the Gulf. When we gawp at the wealth that allows the Qatari royals to buy the Olympic Village and Chelsea Barracks, we miss their plight, and the strangeness of the oil rich states, too.

How to characterize them?

“Absolute monarchy” does not begin to capture a society such as Qatar, where migrants make up 99% of the private sector workforce.

Apartheid South Africa is a useful point of reference. The 225,000 Qatari citizens can form trade unions and strike. The roughly 1.8 million migrants cannot. Sparta also comes to mind. But instead of a warrior elite living off the labour of helots, we have plutocrats and sybarites sustained by faceless armies of disposable migrants.

The official justification for oppression is, as so often, religious.

Migrants and employers are bound by the kafala system – taken from Islamic law on the adoption of children. “Kafala” derives from “to feed”. Nourishment is the last thing the system provides, however.

The system delivers captive labour instead. Migrant workers cannot change jobs without their sponsoring employers’ consent. As Human Rights Watch says “if workers walk out, the employers – the adoptive parents – can say they have absconded and the authorities will arrest them”.

In order to leave Qatar, migrants must obtain an exit visa from their sponsor. This stipulation means that they can be held hostage if they threaten to sue over a breach of contract. Wouldn’t it make a bracing change if the religious leaders we hear condemning free speech as blasphemy so often could find the time to damn this exploitation?

It is not just poor construction workers who suffer.

One might expect that Fifa would have been concerned about the fate of foreign footballers working under kafala contracts. Abdeslam Ouaddou, who once played for Fulham, has warned players not to go near Qatar.

Speaking from experience – Abdeslam Ouaddou played for Qatar SC in the Qatari domestic league – he said that if a player is injured or his form drops, the club can break his contract. If the player goes to lawyers, the club (as “sponsor”) can refuse to let him leave the country until he drops his case.

Ouaddou got out of Qatar after much tortuous negotiation. But French player Zahir Belounis, a former captain of the team Al-Jaish, is trapped in the country with his family and hasn’t been paid for two years. When he went to the international press, he was threatened with defamation proceedings.

After promising the International Trade Union Confederation that it would ensure human rights were respected in Qatar, Fifa tells me that it is “promoting a dialogue” to ensure dignified working conditions. Sharan Burrow’s colleagues say all they hear is PR flam.

It is not just Qatar in 2022.

The corruption and waste around the 2014 World Cup has provoked riots in Brazil.

As for 2018, Putin’s Duma has already restricted the rights of workers preparing the stadiums for the World Cup.

Fifa strikes me as a decadent organisation in the political rather than literary meaning of the word. It is an institution whose behaviour contradicts all of its professed purposes.

If Fifa cared about football, it would not even have thought of staging a tournament in the Qatari summer.

If it cared about footballers, it would take up the case of Belounis.

And if it respected human life, it would say that the kafala system could not govern World Cup contracts.

I don’t know how much longer sports journalists can ignore the abuse Fifa tolerates.

The World Cup is overturning all the cliches. People say that “football is a matter of life or death”, said Bill Shankly. “It’s more important than that.” Shankly was joking. Qatar and Fifa appear to mean it.

Sport is “war minus the shooting“, said Orwell. There may not be any actual shooting in Qatar but workers will die nonetheless.

The quote that ought to haunt all who love football is CLR James‘s paraphrase of Kipling:

What do they know of cricket that only cricket know?” James was writing about how sport was bound up in the Caribbean with colonialism, race and class.

Anyone writing about the World Cup must also acknowledge that the beautiful game is now bound up with racial privilege, exploitation and the deaths of men, who should not be forgotten so readily.

Note: World Cup procedures are carbon copy of the wishes of extreme liberal capitalism that love to thrive in political systems such as practiced in Qatar, Saudi Arabia…




September 2013

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