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Archive for June 1st, 2014

 

What Pope Francis Was Doing in His Twenties

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What Pope Francis Was Doing in His Twenties. Image Credit: AP

It’s a story of revolution, tango, missing lungs, sock factories and nightclubs.

It begins with an unrequited love for a pretty girl and soccer dreams dashed by flat feet.

So goes the biography of Pope Francis — previously, Jorge Mario Bergoglio — the native Argentine, TIME‘s 2013 person of the year and rockstar pontiff who never ceases to make headlines with his humility and love for the destitute.

Like his current frugality, his early years were characteristically unassuming.

According to biographer Luis Rosales, Francis was born to working-class parents in 1936.

His father, an Italian immigrant, expected his son to work from an early age. While studying to become a chemical technician in high school, Francis worked as a janitor and accountant at a local sock factory.

He went on to become a chemist, and even briefly served as a nightclub bouncer.

Image Credit: AP

A true Argentine, he openly professes his lifelong love for tango and soccer, activities complicated by his flat feet. He also played basketball growing up. Physical activity, however, would become more difficult as a young man, when he lost part of his right lung — not the entire thing, as some accounts have suggested — due to an infection.

His tale is not without romance.

As a 12 year old, he wrote a love note to a girl, complete with a drawing, with the caption: “This is the house I’m going to buy you when we get married.” The girl’s father beat her for fraternizing with a boy, cutting the budding affair short.

Francis’ alleged, prophetic last words to the girl were: “If I don’t marry you, I’m going to become a priest.”

The pope has also confessed to having a girlfriend as a teenager who was part of his tango-loving group of friends, and to having become “dazzled” by a woman while in seminary.

All in all, the young Bergoglio was everything you would expect from a pious, humble Argentine growing up in the ’40s and ’50s.

But there was a characteristic of the aspiring priest that was unique, something that would go on to profoundly shape his papacy: He was fascinated by politics.

Bergoglio grew up during a watershed period for Argentina.

He was just a young boy in 1945, when hundreds of thousands of workers famously descended on Buenos Aires’ main square, la Plaza de Mayo, to demand that Juan Domingo Perón — the populist who would become the country’s most consequential president — be released from prison.

Like the childhood memories of the terrorist attacks on September 2001 marking the beginning of millennials’ grappling with the role of the United States in the world, Bergoglio came of age during an intense period of class consciousness and political upheaval in Argentina. According to Rosales, Bergoglio strongly identified with the struggle to extend protections to society’s lower classes under Perón.

Image Credit: AP.

Working in the chemistry lab, a young Bergoglio became close with an avowed communist, who sparked his interest in Marxist writing. He read communist publications growing up, he says, and loved “every article,” which guided his “political formation.”

“But I was never a communist,” Francis says. It was because of his “political preoccupations” that he delayed attending seminary school for a full four years after deciding he wanted to become a priest, though he claims his political beliefs never went beyond the “intellectual plane.” His career, however, tells another story.

While serving the Church in Argentina, Bergoglio developed a reputation as a savvy political operator. He clashed with the administration of the current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and her husband who served before, over issues like marriage equality and socioeconomic inequality.

As the leader of the Jesuits, he was a powerful player during the period of the military dictatorship and had to walk a fine line. Though allegations have surfaced that he didn’t adequately protect some of the priests that reported to him, the accusations haven’t stuck.

Image Credit: AP

But it has been during his papacy that Francis’ political genius has truly shown.

On issue after issue, from homosexuality to priest celibacy to inequality, he has projected a kinder, more modern Catholic Church without changing a single piece of doctrine.

For someone who said he wouldn’t use the Internet until he turned 75, he has been a skilled communicator in the digital age. His photo ops — whether kissing a disfigured man, washing the feet of AIDS victims, calling for peace in the Middle East or zipping around in a Ford Focus — instantly go viral, projecting a vision of humility to millions of people.

If this pope thing doesn’t work out, our friend Francis could have a promising career as a political consultant.

 

You may sell your soul for money: As long as you are not a retard

 

And you ask me why I say Arabs are retards…
BTW those are the same people the rest of the world sold their soul to for money…

That includes Americans, Europeans, and Lebanese…

A snippet of an article about Dubai from the Independent:</p><br />
<p>There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats, there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang – but you are trained not to look. It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?<br /><br />
Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.<br /><br />
Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means "City of Gold". In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.<br /><br />
Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. "To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell," he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal's village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they'd pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.<br /><br />
As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied.<br /><br />
Sahinal was in a panic. His family back home – his son, daughter, wife and parents – were waiting for money, excited that their boy had finally made it. But he was going to have to work for more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here – and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.<br /><br />
He shows me his room. It is a tiny, poky, concrete cell with triple-decker bunk-beds, where he lives with 11 other men. All his belongings are piled onto his bunk: three shirts, a spare pair of trousers, and a cellphone. The room stinks, because the lavatories in the corner of the camp – holes in the ground – are backed up with excrement and clouds of black flies. There is no air conditioning or fans, so the heat is "unbearable. You cannot sleep. All you do is sweat and scratch all night." At the height of summer, people sleep on the floor, on the roof, anywhere where they can pray for a moment of breeze.<br /><br />
The water delivered to the camp in huge white containers isn't properly desalinated: it tastes of salt. "It makes us sick, but we have nothing else to drink," he says.<br /><br />
The work is "the worst in the world," he says. "You have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable ... This heat – it is like nothing else. You sweat so much you can't pee, not for days or weeks. It's like all the liquid comes out through your skin and you stink. You become dizzy and sick but you aren't allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon. You know if you drop anything or slip, you could die. If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer."<br /><br />
He is currently working on the 67th floor of a shiny new tower, where he builds upwards, into the sky, into the heat. He doesn't know its name. In his four years here, he has never seen the Dubai of tourist-fame, except as he constructs it floor-by-floor.<br /><br />
Is he angry? He is quiet for a long time. "Here, nobody shows their anger. You can't. You get put in jail for a long time, then deported." Last year, some workers went on strike after they were not given their wages for four months. The Dubai police surrounded their camps with razor-wire and water-cannons and blasted them out and back to work.<br /><br />
The "ringleaders" were imprisoned. I try a different question: does Sohinal regret coming? All the men look down, awkwardly. "How can we think about that? We are trapped. If we start to think about regrets..." He lets the sentence trail off. Eventually, another worker breaks the silence by adding: "I miss my country, my family and my land. We can grow food in Bangladesh. Here, nothing grows. Just oil and buildings."<br /><br />
Since the recession hit, they say, the electricity has been cut off in dozens of the camps, and the men have not been paid for months. Their companies have disappeared with their passports and their pay. "We have been robbed of everything. Even if somehow we get back to Bangladesh, the loan sharks will demand we repay our loans immediately, and when we can't, we'll be sent to prison."<br /><br />
This is all supposed to be illegal. Employers are meant to pay on time, never take your passport, give you breaks in the heat – but I met nobody who said it happens. Not one. These men are conned into coming and trapped into staying, with the complicity of the Dubai authorities.<br /><br />
Sahinal could well die out here. A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they're not reported. They're described as 'accidents'." Even then, their families aren't free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.<br /><br />
At night, in the dusk, I sit in the camp with Sohinal and his friends as they scrape together what they have left to buy a cheap bottle of spirits. They down it in one ferocious gulp. "It helps you to feel numb", Sohinal says through a stinging throat. In the distance, the glistening Dubai skyline he built stands, oblivious.

A snippet of an article about Dubai from the Independent:

There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other.

There are the expats, there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here.

They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang – but you are trained not to look.

It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?

Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away.

Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.

Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means “City of Gold“.

In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. “To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell,” he says.

Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal’s village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects.

It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well.

All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they’d pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised.

If you don’t like it, the company told him, go home. “But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket,” he said. “Well, then you’d better get to work,” they replied.

Sahinal was in a panic. His family back home – his son, daughter, wife and parents – were waiting for money, excited that their boy had finally made it. But he was going to have to work for more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here – and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.

He shows me his room. It is a tiny, poky, concrete cell with triple-decker bunk-beds, where he lives with 11 other men. All his belongings are piled onto his bunk: three shirts, a spare pair of trousers, and a cellphone. The room stinks, because the lavatories in the corner of the camp – holes in the ground – are backed up with excrement and clouds of black flies. There is no air conditioning or fans, so the heat is “unbearable. You cannot sleep.

All you do is sweat and scratch all night.” At the height of summer, people sleep on the floor, on the roof, anywhere where they can pray for a moment of breeze.

The water delivered to the camp in huge white containers isn’t properly desalinated: it tastes of salt. “It makes us sick, but we have nothing else to drink,” he says.

The work is “the worst in the world,” he says. “You have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable … This heat – it is like nothing else. You sweat so much you can’t pee, not for days or weeks. It’s like all the liquid comes out through your skin and you stink. You become dizzy and sick but you aren’t allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon.

You know if you drop anything or slip, you could die.

If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer.”
He is currently working on the 67th floor of a shiny new tower, where he builds upwards, into the sky, into the heat. He doesn’t know its name.

In his four years here, he has never seen the Dubai of tourist-fame, except as he constructs it floor-by-floor.
Is he angry? He is quiet for a long time. “Here, nobody shows their anger. You can’t. You get put in jail for a long time, then deported.”

Last year, some workers went on strike after they were not given their wages for four months. The Dubai police surrounded their camps with razor-wire and water-cannons and blasted them out and back to work.
The “ringleaders” were imprisoned.

I try a different question: does Sohinal regret coming? All the men look down, awkwardly. “How can we think about that? We are trapped. If we start to think about regrets…” He lets the sentence trail off. Eventually, another worker breaks the silence by adding: “I miss my country, my family and my land. We can grow food in Bangladesh. Here, nothing grows. Just oil and buildings.”

Since the recession hit, they say, the electricity has been cut off in dozens of the camps, and the men have not been paid for months. Their companies have disappeared with their passports and their pay. “We have been robbed of everything. Even if somehow we get back to Bangladesh, the loan sharks will demand we repay our loans immediately, and when we can’t, we’ll be sent to prison.”

This is all supposed to be illegal.

Employers are meant to pay on time, never take your passport, give you breaks in the heat – but I met nobody who said it happens. Not one. These men are conned into coming and trapped into staying, with the complicity of the Dubai authorities.
Sahinal could well die out here.

A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: “There’s a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they’re not reported. They’re described as ‘accidents’.”

Even then, their families aren’t free: they simply inherit the debts.

A Human Rights Watch study found there is a “cover-up of the true extent” of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone.

After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.
At night, in the dusk, I sit in the camp with Sohinal and his friends as they scrape together what they have left to buy a cheap bottle of spirits. They down it in one ferocious gulp.

“It helps you to feel numb”, Sohinal says through a stinging throat. In the distance, the glistening Dubai skyline he built stands, oblivious.

 

Its Mass Transit Plan Dead, Car-Obsessed Beirut Plans More Highways

In Lebanon, there is one car for every two people. Photo credit: objectivised via Flickr (More likely two cars for a single adult person)

Arranging a meeting in Beirut is a complicated affair. With few street addresses, directions are often given according to proximity to major landmarks, usually taking at least one or two phone calls as you close in the location.

Coordinating an exact time is also an art; depending on the day and time — or just dumb luck — the unpredictability of the city’s traffic could mean you arrive an hour late, an hour early, or sometimes, not at all.

There’s a very simple reason for all this gridlock: an insane number of cars.

For a developing country, Lebanon’s car-ownership rates are off the charts, with approximately one car for every two individuals, according to a Harvard University study.

Compare that to Turkey, where there’s one car for every seven people, or South Africa, where there’s one for every five.

All these cars spend hours jammed onto a single north-south artery that runs the length of the 200-kilometer Mediterranean strip connecting Beirut to the cities of Tripoli and Jounieh to the north, and Saida and Tyre in the south.

More than 250,000 make the commute into Beirut for work daily, (in a country of less than 4 million) adding stress to the already overstretched grid. The congestion, found the Harvard study, causes $2 billion per year in lost productivity.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Dr. Tammam Nakkash, a managing partner at TEAM International, an engineering and management consultancy, was one of the original architects of a proposal for a comprehensive Greater Beirut Transport Plan.

The proposal, originally drafted in 1994 amid a flurry of government initiatives to rebuild the city after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, hinged on a public transport scheme that included bus rapid transit lines and a revival of the city’s destroyed tramways. The plan was divided into short- and long-term phases, and addressed traffic management, corridor improvement and parking.

That plan is now collecting dust in the bowels of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation.

After a series of amendments and a promise from the World Bank for funding that was ultimately redirected, the project lost steam, eventually hobbling its way into parliament in 2011 and stalling at the cabinet level, where it effectively died.

There was a very myopic vision for public transport,” says Nakkash. “Buses are very easy to procure, but they didn’t think about the difficulties in having the right institutional frameworks — in terms of having private operators, but a public regulator thinking about safety, fair competition, service provision, etc.”

With little hope for a public transport overhaul anytime soon, smaller scale ideas are being floated.

One involves utilizing the country’s system of shared taxis, called “service” cars, which operate sort of like a cross between a bus and a cab, picking up customers according to the route others are already taking.

Passengers hail the taxis and tell the driver their destination; they are then accepted on the basis of whether the other passengers already on board are going that way.  (Mostly in Beirut and large cities such as Tripoli)

The system is widely used and without it life on Beirut’s streets would be worse than it already is.

Fees are set at a flat fare of 2,000 LL ($1.30) for one trip, making it affordable and democratic.  (Compare this fare for half a dollar 2 years ago)

The highly informal service is unregulated, with drivers neither registered as public transport providers and cars not subject to any safety standards or checks. Nakkash says the system could work as a “feeder” network to a broader public transport system if properly regulated.

“The great thing about this service is it increases vehicle occupancy,” he says, “but it follows fixed routes so passengers know where the trip starts and ends, and there should only be specific areas for passenger stops, which again needs enforcement.”

Another option, road widening and the construction of new highways, seems to be getting faster approval for development, but it’s not without controversy.

One new arterial, the Fouad Boutros Highway, already undergoing a feasibility study and set for approval this summer, will see a 13-kilometer, four-lane highway run through the northeastern Achrafiyeh area, and according to Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad, will alleviate traffic by opening up the northern entrance to the city and in the inner streets of the neighborhood.

Some 3,000 people have signed an online petition against the development, arguing that it will increase traffic and destroy some 30 local heritage buildings, cutting through some of the city’s rare green spaces and groves.

“It is a missing link in the network, it’s true, but that’s the only argument I have heard for the project,” said Nakkash. “But you don’t achieve anything by expanding highways except putting more people on them.”

Resilient Cities is made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.


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