Africa

One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo

We're surrounded by people whose basic philosophy seems to be "I've got something, at least, and I'm going to protect it at any cost! Keep away!" They remind me of lines by Aldous Huxley from Ape and Essence:

The leech's kiss,
The squid's embrace,
The prurient ape's defiling touch:
And do I like the human race?
No, not much.
THIS MEANS YOU. KEEP OUT!

Dress it up in whatever religious piety you want, it still seems a rather squalid view of life.

"One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo"

Jane Albritton, series editor and guiding force behind the "Peace Corps @ 50" series, tells me that the publisher is about to send the proofs of One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo off to the printer--which means that it should be in stores in March.  As usual, there are further changes I would like, but that's only a sign that I have become more and more passionate about the book as time has passed and want it as perfect as I can make it.  Jane also tells me that pre-orders from bookstores are strong, another reason for making it as good as I can.

There are seventy-six essays in the book, all of them first-rate.  They cover the Peace Corps experience in Africa from its earliest days.  What pleases me most is that they don't seem like a jumbled collection of different thoughts, but something closer to a continuous narrative.  Though I had to work hard to pare things down to the point where I could fit all the stories I wanted into the volume but two (which are both long and rather too complex to withstand the type of cutting that would have been necessary--and which will both appear on the website, I hope, as will stories that have come in since we closed the volume and as will additional stories by many of the writers represented), I think the book is actually better as a result.  There is no single volume, at least not one I have seen, that encapsulates as much of the Peace Corps experience in Africa as this one does.

 

World News Sunday

Gains outweigh setbacks in a landmark year for gay rights
Repeal of the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy may be the movement's biggest victory yet, activists say.
By Robin Abcarian and Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times
December 19, 2010

Today the military, tomorrow the marriage altar?

In an era when gay Americans have seen stunning progress and many setbacks in the quest for equality under the law, many believe 2010 will go down in history as a watershed that will lead inexorably to more legal rights.

Saturday's vote in the Senate to allow the repeal of the federal law banning gays from openly serving in the military is "one of the greatest, if not the greatest, victory in the history of the movement for gay and lesbian equality," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a UC Santa Barbara think tank that studies the issue of gays in the military.

The evolution of the perfect American Christmas tree
We want flawless trees, where once, those from the woods were just fine
By Wynne Parry
Lynne Aldrich, who owns a farm along with her husband Lee in North Central Iowa, got a call one holiday season from a upset woman. Apparently, her husband had shown up at the Aldrich Tree Farm to pick out a Christmas tree alone. Mistake. His wife described the tree he had chosen as the ugliest one she had ever seen. Lynne Aldrich told the woman to bring the tree back and pick out a new one.
So, the couple returned and headed out into the 28-acre farm, leaving the tree leaned up against the barn. Within 10 minutes another family had driven up and claimed it. Then the complaining woman returned with a tree that, from Aldrich's perspective, was ugly, so ugly in fact that the couple hadn't even tagged it for sale.

World News Sunday

WikiLeaks' advocates are wreaking 'hacktivism'

By Ian Shapira and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers

In England, a 26-year-old advertising agency employee caters to multinational clients but on the side has been communicating with a secretive band of strangers devoted to supporting WikiLeaks.
Halfway around the world, a 24-year-old in Montana has used a publicly available - and, according to security experts, suddenly popular software program called Low Orbit Ion Cannon with the goal of shutting down Web sites of WikiLeaks' perceived enemies.

Syria's underground poetry scene
Local poet Luqman Derki's weekly poetry night held in a hotel basement attracts hundreds of locals seeking to present and hear original poetry.
By Tom Howard, Correspondent
It is Monday night in the basement bar of the Fardoss Tower Hotel in Damascus and a packed audience is getting restless. Local poet, journalist, and playwright Luqman Derki takes to the podium. Silencing the crowd with a glare, he begins to recite an ode to love and loss.

Welcome to Beit al-Qasid (house of the poet), Mr. Derki’s weekly poetry night. What began informally in 2006 is now a phenomenon attracting hundreds.
“The main idea was to take poetry out of its typical setting,” says Derki. “Poetry evenings can be so boring, so I decided create something free and exciting.”

World News Sunday

Fed workers told: Stay away from those leaked cables
Directive notes the content 'remains classified'; Columbia U. also warns future diplomats
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
NEW YORK — With tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables still to be disclosed by WikiLeaks, the Obama administration has warned federal government employees, and even some future diplomats, that they must refrain from downloading or even linking to any.
"Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors," the Office of Management and Budget said in a notice sent out Friday.
The New York Times, which first reported the directive, was told by a White House official that it does not advise agencies to block WikiLeaks or other websites on government computer systems. Nor does it bar federal employees from reading news stories about the leaks.

Giant panda breeding breakthrough in China
A critical breakthrough has been made in efforts to save the giant panda, one that could kick-start attempts to reintroduce the animals to the wild.
By Ella Davies
Earth News reporter

Conservationists say they have perfected the difficult task of reproducing pandas, having reached their target of successfully raising 300 of the bears in captivity.
The breakthrough, mainly by scientists at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Centre, China, should lead to the first panda being reintroduced into the wild within 15 years.
The revelation comes after documentary makers were given unprecedented access to the research centre to film captive breeding activity over two years.

USA

Mounting State Debts Stoke Fears of a Looming Crisis

By MICHAEL COOPER and MARY WILLIAMS WALSH
Published: December 4, 2010

The State of Illinois is still paying off billions in bills that it got from schools and social service providers last year. Arizona recently stopped paying for certain organ transplants for people in its Medicaid program. States are releasing prisoners early, more to cut expenses than to reward good behavior. And in Newark, the city laid off 13 percent of its police officers last week.
While next year could be even worse, there are bigger, longer-term risks, financial analysts say. Their fear is that even when the economy recovers, the shortfalls will not disappear, because many state and local governments have so much debt — several trillion dollars’ worth, with much of it off the books and largely hidden from view — that it could overwhelm them in the next few years.

World News Sunday

N. Korea preps missiles amid U.S. war games
Pyongyang warns of 'merciless' assault if further provoked as joint naval drills begin
msnbc.com news services
YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea — The sound of new artillery fire from North Korea just hours after the U.S. and South Korea launched a round of war games in Korean waters sent residents and journalists on a front-line island scrambling for cover Sunday.
None of the rounds landed on Yeonpyeong Island, military officials said, but South Korea's Defense Ministry later ordered journalists off the island.

Don't let us down: UN climate change talks in Cancun
As world leaders meet in Mexico, people in poor countries fear little will be done
By Jonathan Owen and Matt Chorley Sunday, 28 November 2010
As government ministers from more than 190 countries gather today in the Mexican city of Cancun for the start of talks aimed at minimising the impact of climate change, the need for a deal could scarcely be more pressing. The stakes are high, the expectations are low.

There is scant sign of the dramatic cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases needed to stop global warming exceeding 2C and devastating vast areas of the planet..

World News Sunday

North Koreans Unveil Vast New Plant for Nuclear Use

By DAVID E. SANGER
Published: November 20, 2010

WASHINGTON — North Korea showed a visiting American nuclear scientist earlier this month a vast new facility it secretly and rapidly built to enrich uranium, confronting the Obama administration with the prospect that the country is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or build a far more powerful type of atomic bomb.

World News Sunday

Burma's Suu Kyi tells followers not to give up hope
Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged thousands of her supporters not to give up hope, a day after her release from house arrest.
The BBC 14 November 2010
"There is no reason to lose heart," she told a crowd outside the headquarters of her NLD party in Rangoon.

Ms Suu Kyi was released by the military when her sentence ended on Saturday.

World leaders and human rights groups have welcomed her release. She has spent 15 of the last 21 years either under house arrest or in prison.

On Sunday, Ms Suu Kyi's car was surrounded by a large crowd of supporters as it approached the NLD's headquarters.

People chanted "We love Suu", amid thunderous applause.

Shooting star show's brilliant history
Leonid meteor storm has made deep and terrifying impression on Americans
By Joe Rao
The Leonid meteor shower is back this month and poised to hit its peak next week. But there's a long history associated with the annual skywatching event.
It all began on the night of Nov. 12, 1833, when the Western Hemisphere unexpectedly came under attack by a firestorm of shooting stars that were reportedly silent, but overwhelming filled the sky.
During this historic display, which was seen under clear skies across the eastern United States, an estimated 240,000 meteors were observed.

World News Sunday

Originally posted November 7, 2010 - 07:31, bumped for front page

Barack Obama's India trip set to seal £6bn worth of deals for US
Barack Obama's India trip all about business for US with 20 deals worth £6bn ready to be finalised
Jason Burke in Delhi
The Observer, Sunday 7 November 2010

President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived yesterday in the Indian commercial capital of Mumbai on the first leg of a 10-day four-nation tour of Asia to drum up business for American companies and to consolidate relations with key allies in the region.

The couple will also hope to find some relief from the domestic political fallout of the Democratic party's resounding defeat in midterm elections last week.

The president made his first statement of the trip, the longest he has taken in office, at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the targets attacked by Islamic militants in the city just under two years ago.

Chasing pirates: Inside Microsoft's war room
Tech giant's fight against theft has implications beyond the bottom line
New York Times
As the sun rose over the mountains circling Los Reyes, a town in the Mexican state of Michoacán, one morning in March 2009, a caravan of more than 300 heavily armed law enforcement agents set out on a raid. All but the lead vehicle turned off their headlights to evade lookouts, called “falcons,” who work for La Familia Michoacana, the brutal Mexican cartel that controls the drug trade. This time, the police weren’t hunting for a secret stash of drugs, guns or money. Instead, they looked to crack down on La Familia’s growing counterfeit software ring.

World News Sunday

Yemen, the new crucible of global terrorism
Al-Qa'ida has taken firm root in the poverty-stricken nation
By David Randall and Andrew Johnson Sunday, 31 October 2010
The axis of terror got bigger yesterday. After the presence of explosives in two packages bound for the US was confirmed – and a suspected 24 more discovered – their place of origin entered the big league as a crucible of deadly and disruptive terrorism. As Magnus Ranstorp, one of the world's leading experts on the issue, told The Independent on Sunday: "Yemen has become the new Afghanistan."

And, to go with this status, there comes to prominence one Yemeni who – in the eyes of America and some leading security specialists – is on a par with Osama bin Laden: Anwar al-Awlaki.

Scary Halloween? Don't count on it: on Dracula's trail in Romania
There are two Draculas – Bram Stoker's lawyer-nibbling Count, and the real one, Vlad III, the arch impaler. Grab your garlic and track them down in Bucharest and beyond this Halloween
Tanya Gold
The Guardian

How would you feel if a tourist came up to you and asked: "Was Elizabeth I really a flesh-eating dwarf? Like in the movie?" I ask because this is how Romanians feel about Dracula.

To explain why, let me introduce the two Draculas – the one the Romanians like, and one they don't. The one they don't like is Count Dracula, the vampire in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, who invited the lawyer Jonathan Harker to stay in his castle in Transylvania. This book can be read as a novel about a client attempting to eat his solicitor. Stoker's Dracula was the inspiration for a thousand bad movies and Sesame Street'sCount von Count.

World News Sunday

Robert Fisk: The shaming of America
Our writer delivers a searing dispatch after the WikiLeaks revelations that expose in detail the brutality of the war in Iraq - and the astonishing, disgraceful deceit of the US
Sunday, 24 October 2010
As usual, the Arabs knew. They knew all about the mass torture, the promiscuous shooting of civilians, the outrageous use of air power against family homes, the vicious American and British mercenaries, the cemeteries of the innocent dead. All of Iraq knew. Because they were the victims.

Only we could pretend we did not know. Only we in the West could counter every claim, every allegation against the Americans or British with some worthy general – the ghastly US military spokesman Mark Kimmitt and the awful chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, come to mind – to ring-fence us with lies.

Samara: the disappearing wooden city on the Volga
Samara is an architectural treasure trove of wooden, art nouveau and constructivist buildings. Like many Russian cities, it is threatened by brutal developers and corrupt local officials. But there are signs of a fightback…
Rowan Moore
The Observer, Sunday 24 October 2010

"Half of Samara knows you're here," says a leading fixer in the city's property business. He adds, with slightly theatrical menace, that unnamed people are keeping tabs on my movements, and during my stay a mysterious yoga teacher and ex-jailbird called Bizon – bearded, like a cut-price Rasputin – keeps appearing and disappearing. It's not so very scary, except that this is an area where property politics is a serious business. In 2004 the chief architect in the next-door city of Togliatti was murdered, for getting in the way of the wrong people.

World News Sunday

 

Key U.S. allies in Iraq said to be rejoining rebels

Many have quit Sunni Awakening or are covertly helping al-Qaida g roup

By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS and DURAID ADNAN

 

Members of United States-allied Awakening Councils have quit or been dismissed from their positions in significant numbers in recent months, prey to an intensive recruitment campaign by the Sunni insurgency, according to government officials, current and former members of the Awakening and insurgents.

Although there are no firm figures, security and political officials say hundreds of the well-disciplined fighters — many of whom have gained extensive knowledge about the American military — appear to have rejoined Al Qaeda in 

Mesopotamia. Beyond that, officials say that even many of the Awakening fighters still on the Iraqi government payroll, possibly thousands of them, covertly aid the insurgency.

World News Sunday

Breakthrough! Now for 33 very careful rescues
As they say all over Chile: ‘Fuerza mineros!’ - strength to the miners. Guy Adams reports from Camp Hope at San José mine
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Punching the air, as bells and car horns rang out over the San José mine, and grinning from ear to ear, Roxanna Gomez rose from the chair where she'd spent yet another nervous night waiting by the campfire and hugged her family in celebration of a moment they scarcely dared to believe had actually arrived.

Shortly after dawn, 66 days after a rockfall trapped her father, Mario, and 32 of his colleagues half a mile beneath the surface of a remote Chilean mine, a team of rescue workers rushed into the tent city they've been calling Camp Hope to announce that a drill had finally broken through to the cavern where the men are trapped.

Serb anti-gay protesters attack political party offices
Serbian police have clashed with protesters trying to disrupt a Gay Pride parade in the capital, Belgrade.
The BBC 10 October 2010 10 October 2010
Police used tear gas against the rioters, who threw petrol bombs and stones at armed officers and tried to break through a security cordon.

A garage attached to the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Party was briefly set on fire, and at least one shot was fired at the building.

Around 40 people were injured, including at least two police officers.

A number of people were arrested.

This was the first Gay Pride parade in Serbia since a march in 2001 was broken up in violent clashes provoked by far-right extremists.

The Warlord Imam
The Kremlin’s poster boy for moderate Islam may be radicalizing the region.
Newsweek
The video shows a gun barrel jutting from the rear window of a shiny black Lada sedan as it cruises slowly down Putin Prospect, a new boulevard of designer shops in the Chechen capital, Grozny. Spotting a pair of young women in long skirts but without head-scarves, the vehicle’s occupants open fire. The two pedestrians scream, but they don’t fall. A blot of red paintball ink is spreading across one young woman’s blouse. As the vehicle pulls away, the camera shows the two women dashing for safety into the nearest shop.

World News Sunday

Americans tread water in gulf between rich and poor
Faces of new census report reflect frustration and resignation
By JIM FITZGERALD, VICKI SMITH
MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. — A Wall Street adviser leaves early for work to avoid panhandlers at his suburban train station. In coal country, a suddenly homeless man watches from a bench as wealthy women shop for dresses. A down-and-out waitress sits glumly on her stoop across the street from a gleaming suburb. A freshly elected politician loses his day job.
They're the faces of a census report released this week showing that the gap between the richest and poorest Americans is wider than ever.

Jon Stewart, TV scourge of America's right, turns his satire against Barack Obama
Daily Show host spearheads liberal discontent with the president's failure to deliver radical change
Paul Harris in New York
The Observer, Sunday 3 October 2010

Jon Stewart, the famously smart host of the satirical Daily Show and habitual scourge of rightwing Americans, has embraced a remarkable new role as one of the fiercest critics of President Barack Obama and someone who is spearheading a wave of liberal discontent with the Democratic party.

The turnaround is a remarkable one for a man whose show soared to national and international fame during the George W Bush era, on the back of incessant ridicule of Republican policies and personalities.

World News Sunday

Barak says West Bank settlement deal has '50-50' chance
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has told the BBC there is a "50-50" chance of reaching a deal with Palestinians about Israel's settlement moratorium as a 10-month partial ban winds down.
The BBC 26 September 2010
Palestinians have said they could leave recently resumed peace talks if the construction freeze is not extended.

West Bank settlers are preparing to resume building if no deal is reached.