Skateboards. Girls. Madrid


Longboard Girls Crew from Juan Rayos on Vimeo.

Al-Jazeera: Class of 1990 Kuwait


Documentary did a documentary piece on a group of reunited classmates at an international school in Kuwait and the war that would both divide and forever unite them. Very interesting.

NYTimes Lambasts Kuwait on Treatment of Domestic Maids


In a groundbreaking article (and slideshow), newspaper powerhouse The New York Times, wrote a piece published yesterday on the labor situation in Kuwait, focusing on abuse of domestic female servents. The article also mentions that the US 2010 Department of State report put Kuwait, along with 12 other countries in low ranking for failing to do enough to prevent human trafficking. Furthermore, the article mentions the increased pressure that maids face during Ramadan, when they are expected to work longer hours.

The fact that the New York Times has taken on this topic is a big achievement for advocacy groups on human rights of domestic servents in Kuwait. Rarely does such an international journal touch on the subject with specific reference to Kuwait, and, as an indicator, the last time the NYT did have past coverage on this issue was in 1993.

Coverage on maid abuse, once relegated to the crime and law sections of local newspapers, is beginning to make headlines-not only in national newspapers in the Gulf, but abroad apparently as well. International outcry on the running over by car of a tortured Filipina maid by a Kuwaiti couple has flagged attention in the media. Here is a selection of the article by Kareem Farim, but you may access the full text here.

KUWAIT — With nowhere else to go, dozens of Nepalese maids who fled from their employers now sleep on the floor in the lobby of their embassy here, next to the visitors’ chairs.

In the Philippines Embassy, more than 200 women are packed in a sweltering room, where they sleep on their luggage and pass the time singing along to Filipino crooners on television. So many runaways are sheltering in the Indonesian Embassy that some have left a packed basement and taken over a prayer room.

And in the coming weeks, when Ramadan starts, the number of maids seeking protection is expected to grow, perhaps by the hundreds, straining the capacity of the improvised shelters, embassy officials say. With Kuwaiti families staying up into the early hours of the morning, some maids say they cook more, work longer hours and sleep less.

Rosflor Armada, who is staying in the Philippines Embassy, said that last year during Ramadan, she cooked all day for the evening meal and was allowed to sleep only about two hours a night.

“They said, ‘You will work. You will work.’ ” She said that she left after her employers demanded that she wash the windows at 3 a.m.

The existence of the shelters reflects a hard reality here: With few legal protections against employers who choose not to pay servants, who push them too hard, or who abuse them, sometimes there is nothing left to do but run. The laws that do exist tend to err on the side of protecting employers, who often pay more than $2,000 upfront to hire the maids from the agencies that bring the women here.

Gaza Kids Best Week Ever: Youtube Viral Chart


The past week or so has been a great week for Gaza's kids. They beat their own Guinness record for the most amount of kites flown simultaneously, they set another record for the most amount of basketballs dribbled simultaneously and they also met MATT. Matt is one of youtube's earliest celebrity globe trotters. He basically became known for a compilation video he did of himself dancing in different locations around the world. UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), which places a huge amount of its work emphasis on the youth of Gaza, has coordinated all these activites. You can see a video of the kites, basketballs and Matt's cameo.

Human Rights Watch Video on Domestic Workers


Please take the time to watch this video on the alarming situation of female domestic migrant workers around the world. Although it is meant to give a global perspective on the situation, and although abuses occur in all countries, rich and poor alike, much of the quick video highlights on abuse in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. I can't post it directly to this blog, but I suggest you take a look. Here is the description from the HRW website:

Millions of women and girls around the world turn to domestic work in order to provide for themselves and their families. Instead of guaranteeing their ability to work with dignity and free of violence, governments have systematically denied them key labor protections extended to other workers. Domestic workers, often making extraordinary sacrifices to support their families, are among the most exploited and abused workers in the world.

Flamenco and Kathak


I went to my first flamenco show since I arrived in Spain, called "Algo más que flamenco", playing at El Teatro Arlequín. The spectacle is meant to showcase the different regional dances of Spain, focusing on flamenco primarily but also giving us glimpses of the Zarzuela, Muñeira, Aurresku, etc.

While watching the dancers I couldn´t help be reminded to Indian Kathak dance. Some of the turns, hand movements and the use of feet for rythym are so strikingly similiar. Actually, flamenco has Indian origins as the gypsies, or Rom people, are said to have originated from what is now Rajasthan. Of course, then flamenco received a melting pot of influences from all the different cultures that inhabited Spain. Speaking of which, today Madrid´s summer event series "verano en la calle" had a group called Musafir, gitanos de Rajasthan that played in the park. Sad I missed it. Here you have some clips of Flamenco and Kathak. I love the last video in particular.



A Tale of Two Abuses This Week in the State of Kuwait


I am including links to two articles from the Kuwait Times this week on different incidences of abuse against domestic workers in Kuwait. In other news, a proposal to Parliament to pay vulnerable domestic workers, whose salaries are often denied, directly into their bank accounts. This would serve as a positive step to further regulate wages and ensure compliance with salary payments. Let us hope it passes, enforcement is another issue.

Man murders 'missing' wife in salon, July 18, 2010 by Hanan Al Saadoun

KUWAIT: An Egyptian man killed his Filipina wife in a salon in Jabriya yesterday, after she allegedly did not return home for the past four days. The killer came to the women's salon where the victim worked and killed her by stabbing her in the heart. He then ran away, leaving his shoe behind. Police are hunting for the killer.

Separately, detectives apprehended the torturers and killers of a Filipina whose body was found near farm buildings in Kabd - a Kuwaiti husband and wife who employed her as a domestic worker. The wife admitted during questioning that she tortured the woman daily with her husband's full knowledge and agreement. When the woman fell unconscious after yet more abuse, the couple panicked and, rather than taking her to hospital, they took her to Kabd, threw her out of their car and ran over her before fleeing the scene.

Domestic worker 'enslaved' in Kuwait for 13 years, July 15, 2010, Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: She only dreamt of buying a new home for her mother. However, it remained just that - a dream. Instead of earning a cozy job, good salary and savings she fell into the clutches of a cruel and merciless employer for over 13 years without pay. Fifty seven year old Kamalawathie Katawala has been working for her sponsor since 1997. (Kuwait Times had reported yesterday that she worked for 17 years. However, the Colombo government's records show a 13 year time period). She landed a job in Kuwait befo
re the Gulf War in 1990 - at first working for an Egyptian family. During the war, however, she ran away with her Egyptian sponsor to Jordan. At the peak of the war, she was told to go back with her family to Sri Lanka and wait there until the war is over. She did return to Sri Lanka, but the promise of Egyptian sponsor who would take her back to Kuwait, never materialized.

Struggling to accomplish her dream of buying a house, she embarked on another overseas challenge. She obtained a new visa for Kuwait job. This time, she ended up working for whom she calls 'merciless employers' in Jahra. Between stifled sobs, Kamala narrated her ordeal to the Kuwait Times through an interpreter as she could only communicate in Arabic and her native Sinhala language.

Three days after arriving from Sri Lanka, I almost gave up. They beat me; I sustained bruises, my head was also hit. They told me to continue working with them. I cried hard every day but nobody listened. I stopped crying and accepted my fate," Kamala narrated her story.

She asked for her salary, a month after her arrival, "They asked me why I needed money. For what? I told them because I was working to earn money. But they mocked me," she said. "From then on, the same story was repeated every month. I would ask for my salary but I would never get any. They said they have no money. I really believed that since they did not have any air-conditioning facilities installed at home. I would sleep on the floor at night. I would place wet towel on their beds for cooling. I did the same to the place where I would sleep," she said. These living conditions changed after a few years, she recalled.

After two years, I tried to escape. I went out, hid in the car with my bag. But when I tried to cross the street, they saw me run. They quickly grabbed me, beat me up again and locked me inside the room for one day. They warned me against trying to escape again. They said they would kill me. So from then on, I didn't even try to escape anymore," she sobbed.

She explained that she was forced to obey strict orders. "I also stopped asking for money because I was really afraid," she said. Kamala is not aware of the number of years that have elapsed since being 'employed' with her sponsor. She has lost count of days and months and remembers having tried to place an unsuccessful phone call to an acquaintance in her home town of Avissawela. Kamala is partially literate, she can count and read numbers.

A few months ago, a compatriot named Guita arrived at her sponsor's home to work as a domestic helper. She suffered under the same appalling conditions. Also, whenever Guita inquired about Kamala not being allowed to leave on vacation, the sponsor would lie, "They told Guita that I don't like to leave their home. They told her that I was sent to the airport many times but I would refuse to board a plane. But those are lies. I was never allowed to go to the airport; not even once," she told Kuwait Times. So when Guita planned to escape, I asked her not to leave me alone," she said.

They finally snatched a life-changing opportunity on June 26, "We walked out and hid between passing cars so as to avoid being caught by our sponsor. When we reached a co-operative society, Guita asked me to hide behind a bush. The plan was to hire a taxi that would take us to the embassy. I waited for long until I gave up and hired one on my own. I thought that our employer had caught her," she said.

But an hour later, Guita arrived at the Sri Lankan embassy, pleading with authorities to help Kamala. She was oblivious to the fact that Kamala was already there. Both were reunited at the embassy's premises. At the time of writing this, Kamala is still unaware of the fact that her mother whom she loved dearly had passed away almost a year ago. The information was relayed to Kuwait Times by a Sri Lankan embassy official who had contacted Kamala's family. She looks forward to returning to her family - to be with her mother, two brothers and two sisters. She acknowledged that her dream to build a home for her mother was never fulfilled. The Sri Lankan Ambassador to Kuwait Sarath Dissanayake has promised to resort to proper legal channels to resolve Kamala's issue.

World Cup Final Interpreted by Legomen


Madrid Wants Paul, according to The Guardian


Paul the octopus set for sensational transfer to Madrid aquarium

Spanish zoo prepared to meet 'any demands' to sign German cephalopod that predicted team's World Cup final victory

In what may prove to be the biggest transfer story this summer, negotiations have begun to bring Paul the psychic octopus to Madrid after he correctly predicted Spain's World Cup final victory.

Madrid's Zoo Aquarium says it is prepared to trump any other offer Germany's Oberhausen Sea Life Centre receives for Paul, certain that the world's most famous cephalopod will attract thousands of visitors.

At present no cash is on the table, and the zoo says it is trying to negotiate an exchange of animals.

Sounding more like the president of Real Madrid than a zookeeper, a spokesman said he was confident that Paul would be in Madrid within a few days. Madrid was prepared to offer Oberhausen "whatever they demand" to complete the deal — suggesting that this will be a cash-plus-animal transfer.

He added that Paul, named after a German children's book by Boy Lornsen, would be treated "with tender loving care" because of his national treasure status in Spain.

Paul correctly predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany's World Cup matches, as well as the final between Spain and Holland. This was an improvement on his record for the 2008 Eurocopa, in which he correctly predicted four out of six of Germany's games.

During the World Cup, Paul became a media phenomenon, with his final predictions screened live on television. He also became the world's third most popular Twitter trend during the competition, out-doing both Shakira and Cristiano Ronaldo with 141 hours of trending.

A Brazilian company has developed an iPhone app based on Paul's performance, allowing users to consult the octopus to help them make decisions. The Ask the Octopus app lets users ask 50-50 questions, to which a cartoon of Paul chooses an answer.

(for link, click here)

Racism at Pool in Lebanon: Caught on Tape


Activists of the Anti-Racism Movement in Lebanon took this video. ARM is a campaign initiated by IndyACT aiming at exposing, shaming and blaming all wrongs perpetrated against Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) in Lebanon.

Pulpo Paul


Being in Madrid has been exhilarating these past days, to say the least. The one thing that has been the most enjoyable has been seeing the hysteria of veneration for Paul "The Oracle" Octopus, known in Spain as "Pulpo Paul". Cow is to India what Octopus is to Spain now.

The Guardian: "World Cup 2010: Spain's success puts nationalists in the shade"


For full article, click here:

They call it "the red effect". It has spread down Spanish streets on the torsos of hundreds of thousands of fans wearing the shirt of the national soccer team, La Roja or "The Red", and threatens to over-run even the most obdurately separatist corners of the country. On nights when the team notches up another World Cup victory it turns into a musical chant: "I am Spanish! Spanish! Spanish!" they shout joyfully. "I am Spanish! Spanish! Spanish!"

Spaniards cannot recall an outpouring of national pride similar to that provoked by the country's first-ever appearance in the World Cup final today. "Not since the Spanish civil war have there been so many flags in the streets," El País newspaper reported as Madrid prepared for an all-night party if La Roja beat Holland in South Africa this evening.

Indeed, Spain's red and gold flag still reminds some people of the civil war of the 1930s, more particularly, of the 36-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco, leader of the pro-fascist Nationalists, that followed it. Few countries in Europe, except Germany, have such an instinctive mistrust of patriotism.

Such an outpouring of national pride also raises challenging questions about Spain's vision of itself. This is a "nation of nations" according to some, who see Catalonia and the Basque country as unrecognised nations which, like Scotland, deserve their own football teams. Spain oppresses other nations, according to separatists, including to the Basque terror group Eta – which exacts its revenge in blood. The country's constitutional court disagrees. "Our constitution recognises no nation but Spain," it affirmed on Friday in a stern rebuke to Catalans who hoped a new autonomy statute might formally allow them to be known as a nation within Spain.

Maggots on a Plane!!


Every now and then, a golden nugget of a freak article somehow manages to get published by BBC News. Scouting these news of the weird is like finding the toy in the cereal box for me. Behold one of the examples of beautiful journalism from last week.

Maggots falling from an overhead luggage locker have forced a US Airways flight to return to the gate at Atlanta airport.

"Bugs just began to fall out of the overhead compartment" causing panic on board, passenger Desiree Harrell was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

All the passengers were then asked to get off so crews could clean the plane.

The airline said a container of spoiled meat brought on by a passenger caused the delay of the flight to Charlotte.

Donna Adamo, a passenger on board flight 1537, said she first noticed a couple of flies when she got to her seat on Monday but did not pay much attention to that.

As the plane was taxiing, she said she heard a passenger behind her causing a commotion and refusing to take her seat.

"Then I heard the word 'maggot' and that kind of got everybody creeped out," Ms Adamo told AP.

Passengers were asked to get off because of a "minor emergency"

"All of a sudden, I felt somebody flick the back of my hair and on the front of me came a maggot, which I flicked off me.

But she said she "felt like they were crawling all over me because it only takes one maggot to upset your world".

"And as they're telling us to stay calm and seated, I see a maggot looking back at me and I'm thinking, 'These are anaerobic, flesh-eating larvae that the flight attendants don't have to sit with.'"

Ms Adamo said the pilot then announced that he had to return to the gate because of a "minor emergency on board".

The plane was cleaned and then continued on to Charlotte.

However, the unnamed passenger who brought the spoiled meat in a carry-on bag was put on another flight, US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said.

It was not immediately clear how the passenger managed to take the meat on board.

Mystery Kuwaiti Disco Dancer


Who is this woman with an afinity for musical instruments? What is she singing about? Any leads?

Capitalism: A love story


I just finished watching Michael Moore's latest documentary and his commentary on the 2008 Financial Crisis. What Moore does best, in my opinion is not in his deep fact research or his witty megaphone antics outside headquarters, but rather, in the way he is able to narrate a story and string together biographies or normal, average, American families just trying to get by. He is able to adapt himself and weave his life story in order to get more "street cred".

In Capitalism: A love story his starting point begins in his hometown (perhaps his greatest muse) of Flint, Michigan, a city greatly affected by foreclosures and decaying industry, as his father, an assembly worker at General Motors for thirty years, has been witness to in his town. Some of the points of the movie are both heartbreaking and inspiring. One of the most difficult moments to watch in the movie, and a phenomenon I had been completely unaware of before, was the practice of companies taking out life insurance policies for their employees, without alerting neither their workers nor their short, profiting from their employees' deaths.

The strength of community "people power", an electric current that seemed to build up in the time period between the Financial Crisis in late 2008 and the swearing into office of Obama in 2009 included some wonderful moments. A more detailed understanding of the Chicago sit-in, as a result of a company laying off workers, with three days notice and without giving them due pay, was just one of the examples gaining wind in the country. People at the bottom of had always been told what to do, taking power in their own hands when they began to get fed up with how much they were being pushed around for the benefit of corporations.

A neighborhood taking back a house on the street to give to a displaced family after it had been claimed by a bank after going into forclosure were also equally inspiring. Suddenly it seemed many people in the country were questioning what was wrong and right and they structure of the system that could create unjust rules. People were choosing civil disobedience and a new wave of activism in communities was being born. It is all very powerful.

Moore also questions the attachments often made between Capitalism as being fundamentally American, therefore wholesome and even holy. His main argument is that capitalism as a system has actually proven to be at odds with our democratic political system.

I could go on forever, but PLEASE watch this video. In I believe his last state of the union, my favorite president, FDR, opted for a radio speech rather than one in person on a podium due to his ailing health (he would die later in the year). Nonetheless, he invited press to his home to make it a point that they filmed a very special announcement that he had to make. Somehow, this monumental footage was lost until Moore began doing research for his film.

Well, here it is, and it is amazing that the conversation and urgency FDR sees for having a second bill of rights to focus on economic rights as a realization of stability, security and happiness has taken so long to come back into dialogue. It saddens me to think that not so much progress has been made since this video was filmed by FDR. This 2nd bill would have made so that many of the problems people in America faced following the crisis, homelessness, joblessness, lack of healthcare, etc, could have been seen as denied rights.

Which one do you believe?


BP has a way with words. Check out one of its new youtube press releases, followed by a turtle rescue team member who claims BP is burning the animals alive.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

"Burka Ban" Approved by Spain Senate


Spain's senate has narrowly passed the "burka ban" in public spaces, a topic that has united party lines. While, no, I am not in favor of the burka, I do find the fact that this is occupying such an exhaustive amount of public time ridiculous. Like I said before, there are a whole host of more substantive public policy agenda items that would be a better use of time to work towards female empowerment of migrant Muslim women.

Some of the text from the act that was approved reads as follows, taken from an article today in El País:

"El Senado insta al Gobierno a realizar las reformas legales y reglamentarias necesarias para prohibir el uso, en espacios públicos o acontecimientos públicos que no tengan una finalidad estrictamente religiosa, de vestimentas o accesorios en el atuendo que provoquen que el rostro quede completamente cubierto y dificulten así la identificación y la comunicación visual, al suponer esa práctica una discriminación contraria a la dignidad de las personas y lesionar la igualad real y efectiva de los hombres y las mujeres".

Rough translation: the Senate asks the government to make the legal reforms necessary to outlaw the use in public spaces that do not have a religious purpose, of clothing and accessories that cover the face completely or make it difficult to be identified or impede visual communication, assuming that this practice is a discrimination contrary to the dignity of people and to the fulfillment of true and effect equality between men and women.

Interestingly, I had found an earlier article in the Sunday edition of El País by Ferran Balsells entitled "El problema no es el burka", where the the reporter interviewed several people in Tarragona, Reus, El Vendrell, smaller cities of Cataluña. One of the stories caught my eye. The reporter interviewed a social worker in Reus named Sergi who has been giving Spanish classes to muslim women in the area for ten years now and who said that the the isolation of these women who use the burka doesn´t get solved by throwing out the cloth, so to speak.

He notes that teaching in the class is quite difficult, that there are some women who have been living in the region for 11 years and are still unable to recognize their names to fill out a document form. He says that the problem is that they do not know how to read even in their own language-a cultural, more than a religious problem. In class, they identify themselves by the silhouette of animals that have been assigned to them at the beginning of the course. He asks "what use will it be that these women come without the burka? What will it serve?"

Sergi asks a very interesting point...what is the end goal of the banning of the burka? It should be a starting point to address a great many challenges that migrant Muslim women face coming to Spain, many of whom come from North Africa. To give you some figures from the CIA World Fact Book, the female literacy rates are as follows: Morocco 40% (2004 est.), Algeria 60%, (2002 est.), Tunisia (65%), Libya (72%), Egypt (60%). The average gap in the difference between male literacy and female literacy rates in these five countries is more than a 20% gap. Among low-income women, this rate must be even higher. What are our priorities?

Guardian Article on Pillaged Kuwaiti Treasures from Iraq War


The Guardian put out an article describing the many important pieces of artwork and historic treasures that were scavenged during the Gulf War. The first part of Martin Chulov's article is below:

In a spacious but frugal office in Kuwait, a glossy catalogue lists the dozens of reasons why Kuwait and Iraq are still at daggers drawn after all these years.

Sheikha Hussa Salem al-Sabah thumbs through the pages of the booklet, pointing out the most egregious cases – page upon page of priceless treasures looted by Saddam Hussein's invading army 20 years ago and still missing: a dazzling 234-carat emerald the size of a paperweight; a slightly smaller gem inscribed with exquisite Arabic calligraphy; Mughal-era ruby beads.

"The Iraqis still don't understand the damage they did to us, not just financially, but for our souls," says the daughter-in-law of Kuwait's emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, who maintains the dynasty's heirlooms. "It was emotionally wrenching and still is."

Though many of the priceless treasures have been returned to the collection in the bitter decades since, up to 57 remain missing – perhaps lost for ever. At the National Museum across town, they report that the whereabouts of another 487 treasures remain unknown.

Many of the pieces, Kuwaitis believe, now form the core of private collections in post-Saddam Iraq and around the Arab world. To the victims of the 1990 invasion they remain the central reason of a failure to close the unfinished business of the first Gulf war – just as the second one is beginning to wind down.

In the seven years since Saddam was ousted, Iraq has been obliged to settle United Nations-prescribed debts of $43bn (£29bn), and compensations to private families totalling several hundred million dollars more, before being welcomed as a fully-fledged member of the so-called community of nations.

It is a burden that has proven difficult to bear for a brittle state still ravaged by war and chaos and deeply resentful of the fact that Kuwait was not invaded in the name of the current regime in Iraq.

To Iraq's wealthy southern neighbour though, neither 20 years nor the time after Saddam has diminished the desire to reclaim what was lost.

With a higher per capita income than most other Gulf petro-states, Kuwaitis remain sensitive to the claim that their residual hostility is all about getting even richer. "This is about principle," says Sheikha Hussa. "It remains a huge dilemma for us. The people here have a say in everything we do and the parliament does also. This is part of Kuwait's rights and we will continue to press them."

Locals vs. Tourists!


A very interesting study by Eric Fisher (link to the flickr album here) maps out visually an aggregation of snapshots to locations where tourists take pictures and where locals take pictures. Tourist "zones" come out as red hotspots whereas locals are transcribed in blue. There are several cities in the collection to take a look at, both in Europe, US and around the world.

Epcot and Disneyworld in Orlando is also part of the collection, curiously. It is not a surprise that Rio de Janeiro's hotspots tend to be concentrated littorally, rather than in the mountain areas that are where many of the favelas are located. I was curious to see if the famous Rocinha favela might be in red, since it is where most of the "slum tours" are run, but it isn't labelled on the map. Rome and Las Vegas are apparently completely overrun by tourists, with hardly any blue sections, while less popular destinations such as Milwaukee only have isolated red dots. I would have liked to see some cities from Africa or South Asia represented.



CaixaForum Madrid: Comercio Justo. Un producto, una historia


CaixaForum Madrid will be hosting an exhibition on free trade entitled "Comercio Justo. un producto, una historia" until August 28th. It will be accompanied by some interesting film screenings of related documentaries. Each starts at 7 pm. I am accompanying each with a link to its trailer. You can read the official press release, in Spanish, here.

22 de junio, China blue

29 de junio, En el mundo a cada rato

6 de julio, La pesadilla de Darwin

13 de julio, Oro negro

El comercio justo:
El comercio justo beneficia tanto a productores como a consumidores. A los pequeños productores de zonas empobrecidas, les ofrece la posibilidad de vivir dignamente de su trabajo. A los consumidores, les proporciona productos de calidad y la garantía del respeto a los derechos de los trabajadores y al medio ambiente. Comercio justo significa:

- Salarios y condiciones de trabajo dignos.
- Igualdad entre hombres y mujeres.
- Ausencia de explotación infantil.
- Respeto al medio ambiente y apuesta por la producción ecológica.
- Beneficios destinados a mejoras sociales de las comunidades locales.

El comercio justo apoya a miles de familias campesinas de los países en desarrollo, a la vez que da a conocer al público de los países ricos la realidad, muchas veces desigual, del comercio internacional.

Poem for the Airplane Window Gazers


I have been trying to discover some of the blogs on The Guardian, one of my favorite newspapers. They have a ¨Books Blog¨ apparently runs a ¨poem of the week¨segment. Today´s choice is wonderful for those of us who try to get inspired inside air cabins trying to juxtapose the serene beautiful outside the window (gazing at the landmasses below, the seldem top-down views of cloud formations) with the banal (plastic-wrapped silverware and bathroom queues). Cheers.

"Descent" by Frances Williams

The wing can hold the curve of the earth
Tucked like a pillow under its hard arm.

Australia is passing me her endless
Biscuit prairie, patch scrub trimming off

To curly beach. Peninsulas are sharp
As holly. And then a rash of salt lakes,

A strange pox, turquoise then urine.
At such altitudes, reassurance arrives

In the small white intimacy of plastic
Meals. My cheese cracker is bigger

Than Kangaroo Island. I measure the gap
Between hand and mouth as Melbourne

Fades to Adelaide. Between safety and
Danger, a continent surrenders its widest

Plan. Its dust is the colour of strong char.
Lower, and roads criss cross in grids, run

Straight and true, hold too fast to purpose,
Are thin experiments in meaning. Out through

The bushy tail of history, my travels blow
Sky high. Wherever you go, you're only

Ever you, my mother warned me. But
There again, perhaps she had an interest

In the retardation of the coming new.
The chord at my tail frays in wispy spray,

Slowly dissolves in the long white sun
Which laces the window with its ice.

At Perth the runway beckons as the future
Swiftly rises from the past. Local time

Greets me with a roar, my head held tight
In the playful bite of the world as carnivore.

2010 Global Peace Index


The 2010 Global Peace Index by Vision of Humanity is out, which surveyed 149 countries according to 23 indicators: perceived criminality in society, security officers and police, number of homicides, jailed population, access to weapons, level of organized conflict, violent demonstrations, level of violent crime, political instability, respect for human rights, weapons imports, potential for terrorist acts, deaths from conflict (internal), military expenditure, armed services personnel, UN peacekeeping funding, number of heavy weapons, weapons exports, military capability/sophistication, number of displaced people, neighboring country relations, number of conflicts fought, deaths from conflicts (external).

Seems that these indicators might provide for a bit of conflation between countries that often serve and provide resources as external peacekeepers and those that suffer from internal conflict, however it is an important study and an excellent resource. Some of the findings include the following:

Top ten countries (respectively): New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, Austria, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Luxemburg, Finland, Sweden,

Bottom ten countries (respectively): Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Israel (Palestine not mentioned), Russia, Georgia, Chad, DRC

Top five risers: Ethiopia, Mauritania, Hungary, Lebanon, Haiti (which I assume is pre-earthquake)

Top 5 fallers: Cyprus, Russia, Philippines, Georgia, and Syria

The most peaceful countries had characteristics of:

• Well functioning government
• Sound business environment
• Respectful of human rights and tolerance
• Good relations with neighbouring states
• High levels of freedom of information
• Acceptance of others
• High participation rates in primary and secondary
• Low levels of corruption
• Equitable sharing of resources.

Overall, the World has decreased in its peace (although the United States has increased from 2007 to 2010), with 62% of the countries surveyed worsening in their GPI score. The only regions to increase on average were the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

From the GCC, Qatar ranks highest at 15/149, followed by Oman at 23rd place and Kuwait at 39th spot. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Saudi Arabia ranks lowest at 107th place, not far from its neighbor Yemen at 129th. The only GCC countries to increase in their GPI since 2007 were Kuwait and Qatar.

Ever-increasingly xenophobic and evermore in economic crisis Europe, particularly many of the "Alliance of Civilizations" countries did not fair so much better in its improvements. Spain dropped from 21st place in 2007 to 25th in 2010, Italy from 33rd to 40th, Switzerland from 14th to 18th, Greece from 44th to 62nd, Turkey from 92nd to 126th (putting it in red), Germany from 12th to 16, although the United Kingdom (49 to 34) and France both improved (34 to 32). The Balkan countries also saw an increase in GPI.

For the full view of the country map, click here

World Cup-Themed Abayas


Some Saudi designers have taken to creating abayas that reflect the flags of the participating countries in the 2010 World Cup. This move, of course, has been met with contraversary, as the colorful abayas are considered inappropriate for the norms of the society. Nonetheless, I believe the issue underscores an important note.

The motive for buying these abayas is to support a team, and there are several female fans of football, and in general, overall sports in Saudi Arabia, a country that makes it very difficult for girls to participate in sports. I am including the original source for this post, coming from entitled "Abayas that mirror World Cup frenzy" by Diana Al-Jassem.

Speaking of the notion of religion, girls and sports, I am also including a youtube video for a movie trailer that I had meant to talk about earlier. It is about a group of young girls in Iran who dress up as boys in order to watch the World Cup qualifying match. The movie has been banned in Iran. FIFA had not made it easier this year by banning the Iranian girls soccer team from playing in August's inaugural Youth Olympics due to the issue of the headscarf. In May, to the happiness of the girls, who would otherwise not be allowed to play due to their country government's stance, were allowed to wear the hijaab as part of their uniform.

Kuwait, as I have written about earlier, also has been having debates on whether girls should participate in sports. Sports not only helps with instilling good a physical fitness regimen, but it also teaches youth about being team players, discipline and working towards a goal. What is wrong with that?

MTV True Life | Resist the Power! Saudi Arabia


Click on the link below to watch the lives of several youth in Jeddah. The people followed include a young woman out to make multicolored abayas, a young lad in love with a girl he met on the internet who he is desperate to meet, a group of heavy metal rockers who can't get a gig in Saudi Arabia because they are deemed "satanic" by the religious authorities and (my favorite), a young man who is Political Science graduate and wants to help women get a voice in the local council.

True Life | Resist the Power! Saudi Arabia: "Meet four young people fighting for freedom and rebelling against their government."

Superman of Malegaon: It takes a village to make a superhero


I just got back from Sala Triangulo in Lavapies, a small theatre that is one of the venues for the Imagine India Festival. I went to see Superman of Malegaon by Faiza Ahmed Khan, a documentary about a small village some hundred-something kilometers outside of Mumbai. You would think this would be a normal, textile-industry dominated town, or gaanv, but, like all small villages, there are town personalities and legends at every doorstep. While this sleepy town may be close to the heart of Bollywood, it couldn't be further away from the escapist dreams the industry produces. Malegaon reminds us of another time, a lost Gandhi-era village.

One man is determined to put Malegaon on the map. His dream: cinematographer. His weapon: a camcorder. His crew: the village. His mission: to make a Superman movie that boldly goes where none have gone before...into Malegaon. Although recognizing that he is essentially "copying" Superman, he makes sure to let the viewer realize that Superman itself has been retold time and time again, and that in essence, all movies are the same plot...the hero, the villain, the heroine sandwhich. What he says is that his goal is to make an "indianization" or more aptly put, a "malegaonization" of Superman to put it into local context. One of his team of crew labels the movie "a technical comedy parody", whatever that means.

Supermalegaon, as I will christen this unlikely superhero, is no man of steel. A skinny man of matchstick limbs, meek eyes and a great Shahrukh Khan haircut, his body mass index falls terribly short of matching up to the Superman we've come to imagine in pop culture. His anatomy alone is a large part of the comedic relief. However, there is something so beautiful in the sacrifices the actor makes to meet the village director's demands and his level of motivation. He floats on an inflatable tube in a river full of cows, he gets flung by a truck into a trench of gutter water at the side of the road (blegh!), he endures hours of lying on a plank in front of a homemade green screen...all without complaining and yes, all in a ridiculous Superman costume. He's even willing to take leave from work to do this movie.

In the end, what you start to realize as the viewer is that the crew, the actors and extras, the audience, and even the main red-cloaked protagonist himself, these are all the village. The village will be the spectator, it is the character and it is the creator of the movie...made for the people by the people in a most literal fashion. All along the way, like a bee jumping from flower to flower, the documentary grazes over different important themes being debated in India: the role of women in the house and in work, religious tolerance (Supermalegaon "loves Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, he loves them all"), and economic livelihoods of India's lower-middle income class.

However, one of the greatest feats that perhaps is the essence of movie is how innovation and motivation coincide at the crossroads of Malegaon. Krypton is substituted for a grazing area in the wilderness, an infloatable tube becomes a space capsule, a cell phone out of a child-toy imitation, junkyard finds are collected to make use of for props on the set. What is more, is how the film production team is able to create a feature using what looks to be Windows 98, a small camera (that gets dropped several times) and use replicate special effects on a low budget. If anyone has seen Be Kind, Rewind by Michel Gondry you will know what "sweded" means. Thats the closest thing that I can think of to describe this ingenuity.

There were three moving points in the movie for me. At one part in the film, light is shed (no pun intended) on the several electricity cuts that the villagers must face on a regular basis, affecting their livelihoods as these spells basically shut down businesses. During this time, a poem by one of the villagers is read. I wish I could get a copy of these words because they were truly moving, the voice of the village. During the recitation of this poetry, imagery was shown of a fire in the absence of electric light, and you could almost imagine the words flickering out with the cinders upon being said.

Another poignant moment came at the beginning when the film director of the movie (not to be confused with the documentary), took out all the old posters he had collected during his time as a cinema house owner. An odd mix, from Rambo, to Sholay to Charlie Chaplin, to Jason and the Argonauts, but beautifully hand-painted in the style that has made Bollywood posters world-famous and appreciated as its own genre of art. His whole life seemed to be defined by memories of watching these movies, and similar to how someone whould show us a photo album, these seemed to be his life moments best captured.

Who stole the show for me? None other than the villager that plays Lex Luther...definately the highlight of the movie. The way the documentary filmmaker captured the actress who plays the heroine in the movie, dressed in a Barbie pink salwar kameez and relishing in her role as " the movie actress diva" was also unintentionally hilarious. If the movie sirens are like this from a nearby neighboring village, one can only imagine how they must be off-set in Bollywoodland. Also, not to be missed is the closing credit music remix sequence, a hit that had me thumping my toe. Makes me want to see the final movie result, although at the end of the documentary, clips of the actual film are shown. One of my favorite movies from now on for sure. Below you can find the brief trailer and a program from Al Jazeera about the film that shows one of my favorite shooting moments, the green screen!

Mugabe Sends North Korea "Noah's Ark" as Gift, Conservationists Aghast


Poor animals, pawns by one megalomaniac dictator to stroke another dictator's ego with an absurdly extravagant gift. Unfortunately many of the animals on-board are endangered species or susceptible to being harmed by the grueling flight and quarantine that would accompany it...not to mention whether the caretakers in North Korea will actually know how to properly care for the animals indigenous to Africa. This article, from The Guardian by David Smith, gives more a more detailed account of the problems that arise from such a half-baked idea.

Conservationists protest as Robert Mugabe sends 'ark' of animals to North Korea

Zimbabwean president sending giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and other wild animals taken from a national park to zoo in communist state, conservation groups say

Two by two, they were caught and lined up as an extravagant gift from one despotic regime to another.

According to conservationists, the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, will send a modern-day ark – containing pairs of giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and other wild animals taken from a national park – to a zoo in North Korea.

The experts warned that not every creature would survive the journey to be greeted by Mugabe's ally Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.

There are particular fears that a pair of 18-month-old elephants could die during the long airlift.

Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said elephant experts did not believe the calves would survive the journey separated from their mothers.

Rodrigues, whose task force is an alliance of conservation groups, said all the animals were captured on Mugabe's orders to be given to North Korea. He cited witnesses and officials in the western Hwange National Park. Witnesses reported seeing capture and spotting teams, government vehicles towing cages, and armed men at key watering holes with radios to call in the capture teams.

The animals were being kept in quarantine in holding pens at Umtshibi camp in the park, he said.

Rodrigues added that officials opposed to the captures had leaked details to conservationists.

They reported that some areas of the 5,500 square mile park, the biggest in Zimbabwe, were being closed to tourists and photographic safari groups.

"We fear a pair of endangered rhino in Hwange will also be included," he told the Associated Press.

He said conservation groups were trying to find out from civil aviation authorities when the airlift would begin, and were lobbying for support from international animal welfare groups to stop it.

Zoo conditions in North Korea, which is isolated by most world nations, did not meet international standards, he said. Two rhinos, a male called Zimbo and a female called Zimba, given to Kim by Mugabe in the 80s, died only a few months after their relocation.

At the same time, other rhinos given to Belgrade zoo in the former Yugoslavia died after contracting footrot in damp and snowy winter conditions.

Rodrigues said: "This new exercise has to be stopped. People under orders to do it are too scared to speak out."

North Korea has a long association with Mugabe, and trained a Zimbabwe army brigade responsible for the massacre of at least 20,000 people in the 80s.

Last month Zimbabwe announced that the North Korean football team was bound for a training camp in the country ahead of the World Cup in neighbouring South Africa. Opposition groups pledged to demonstrate against their presence.

Conservation efforts in Zimbabwe have suffered major setbacks in recent years as the country's economy has gone into meltdown. Reports say rhino poaching, driven by Chinese black market demand for the animals' horns, has soared.

Zimbabwe's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority did not respond to requests for comment.

Fox News Gets Served on Religion and State


I admire this guest for not letting the Fox News reporter depict him as a monster. He would not be pidgeon-holed and, rather, eloquently defended how religious rights are better protected with a secular state. He also called out the reporter on his mix-up of some basic facts.

Unveiling Moderation


I have been curiously following op-ed articles from Kuwaiti and Spanish newspaper journals to get a greater understanding of the debate on the wearing of the veil in Europe. My time abroad in the Middle East has led me to believe more in "live and let live" than to strict credence of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" but render to Ceasar...

Nonetheless, what is quite apparent to me is that the debate has been extremely narrow, and each side seems to be ratcheting up their narrow-mindedness. European male, pale and stale political members seem to have a superficial obsession with the appearance of Muslim women immigrants...fixated on clothing rather than amplifying the political debate on how immigrant women can be offered better public services for employment, education and opportunities for intergenerational mobility of their children.

Secondly, the lack of presence of Muslim women in the debate itself, be it in consultation in these political dialogues or through interviews in the media and press, has been starkly absent.

The pre-ocupation with the millimeter-thick veil as the centerpoint of the entire debate on women's rights in the Muslim-migrant community symbolically demonstrates that although the lake might be wide, its actually quite shallow.

Lastly, lets not forget that this grabbing of the hijaab issue is a calculated move on the behalf of the wider anti-immigrant xenophobic agenda of many conservative parties in Europe. On the other hand, the aforementioned parties' opponents (often male, pale and stale themselves, but on the liberal end) often approach the topic naively, clouded by feelings of colonial guilt and an overall identity crisis on the dimensions of how to reconcile women's rights with the right to freedom of religion.

However, when 26-year old Mamel Marmouri became the first woman in Italy to be fined for wearing a burqa in public, my sympathies were truly tested-as soon as her husband opened his mouth. Her golden nugget of a sppouse, Ben Salah Braim, 36, was quoted as saying:

"I just don't know where we are going to get 500 euros to pay the fine. We thought as she was going to the mosque she was OK to wear the burka. We knew about the law and I know that (the law) is not against my religion but now Amel will have to stay indoors. I can't have other men looking at her. If the law says she can't wear one then she will have to stay inside night and day. There is nothing I can do".

These statements make things difficult for those of us more moderate on the issue about whether or not a woman can wear a burka or veil. Lots of politicians in Arab countries are piggybacking on the minaret and burka debates to denounce Europe for personal gain.

Libyan leader Qaddafi declared a jihad against Switzerland, a country that has irked him ever since his son was arrested for abusing a maid. The op-ed articles I heard from many Gulf newspapers were ludicrous and only served to fit the baffoonish, belligerent stereotype that the conservative political movement on immigration in Europe would like to set as the norm. Notions of Islam conquering Europe like an unstoppable wave (the topic of one op-ed in Kuwait, seriously). And I strongly believe that many countries, such as Saudi Arabia and even Kuwait, need to seriously examine how they treat DIVERSITY OF RELIGION in their own borders before they go ranting on the rights of others abroad.

I don't identify with either movement. So where is the space for those of us who would like to examine the question with understanding, tolerance and moderation among these two caricatures on the spectrum of political discourse? I was happy to read yesterday in an op-ed article from Al-Watan Daily a stance that I viewed more balanced, coming from Dr. Shamlan Yousef AlـEissa. I am putting the link to it here, but copying it below as well.

At an opportune time when civilized nations are seeking to spread the concept of peace and peaceful coexistence with each other, we find some of our own MPs are indulging in projecting a negative image in their dealings with each other. The Ummah Tenets Party''s Secretary General MP Mohammed Hayef had earlier announced a move concerning the stance of the GCC, Arab and Islamic parliaments in initiating action against France. One of the initiatives called for not signing any agreements with France simply because that country went ahead with its ban on the veil. The honorable MP has forgotten an important issue which is that the French measures were taken and applied to enable French citizens to enjoy their religious freedom which the Arabs cannot even dream of guaranteeing in their own countries of origin.

MPs belonging to the political Islamic school of thought know very well that it is better for a man to be a Muslim living in Paris, London and Washington than to be a Christian living in Kuwait, Riyadh or Sudan. Kuwaiti MPs always seem to be the last of the lot where speaking about religious or personal freedoms is concerned. MP Khalid AlـSultan, slammed the French position over wearing veils, and considered it as a downright restriction of personal freedoms while his comrades in Parliament enacted a law in 1980 that bans granting the Kuwaiti citizenship for our fellow Christians. Isn''t such a law a stain on the face of Kuwaiti democracy?

French measures have been initiated for several national and security reasons, mainly involving religion in the daily lives of citizens. France is generally a secular nation which rejects any kind of religious insignia in its schools and official institutions, and this resolution is applied to one and all ـ not just Muslims. The decision was taken purely for security reasons that are in no way related to religion.

Islam in France and other Western countries including the United States spreads rapidly due to the migration of Muslims to these countries in huge numbers. If Muslims, at any given point of time, harbored this feeling that they would be persecuted and unable to practice their religion freely in those counties, why would they leave their countries of origin to live in those countries in the first place?

Frankly, the interference of MPs in the internal issues of France and defending wearing the niqab is not surprising to us at all. It is not surprising despite the fact that niqab has nothing to do with religion as it is a dress code that has spread among the Muslim communities in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula and has even moved further to some Arab countries. The Grand Sheikh of AlـAzhar has banned wearing the niqab in AlـAzhar universities while the Egyptian education minister banned it in universities after which Tunisia also followed suit. It is only natural then, that our representatives are required to take action against some of our own Arab countries before going a step further and boycotting France.

Curso de Verano en la Universidad Politecnica de Madrid sobre el Programa Habitat de la ONU


06 - Buenas prácticas para mejorar las condiciones de vida. Programa Hábitat de Naciones Unidas
Fecha: Del 05 al 06 de julio de 2010

Director/a: Justo García Navarro

Doctor Arquitecto - UPM; Vocal del Comité Hábitat Español

Secretario/a: Ana de Guzmán Báez

Arquitecto - UPM; Grupo de investigación sostenibilidad en la construcción y en la industrial

Para mayor informacion, aqui

BBC World: " 'Ugly Beirut' struggles to survive peace" by By Natalia Antelava


Having been to Beirut several times, several things jump out from the perspective of those of us who are interested in urban issues and liveable cities. First, no parks, no trees, not even weeds growing through the cracks of the pavement. Second, a whole lot of new construction that rather than aimed at preservation seems to be following the Dubai-model, especially along the waterfront. Third, lots of beautiful, decaying but decadent houses whose window shutters seem to fluttering their eyelashes at us begging for us to restore these buildings.

This article (click on this link for the full text or read below for the first lines that I have copied) by Natalia Antelava poignantly sums up the street-level experience of citizens who have seen their city transformed in the post-war era beyond recognition, and the concerned inner circle of urban activists who are trying to mainstream preservation and cities for the public good into the political discourse. The image I am including is of a destroyed egg-shape movie theater from Beirut's bygone urban eras that has always caught my attention. It lays fallow in a plot that is so close to the new glitzy downtown area around Place d'Etoiles, so close to Hariri's tomb, and surrounded by a bunch of construction area that seems perpetually incomplete.

"Beirut is an ugly city."

This statement would infuriate plenty of proud residents of the Lebanese capital, but veteran architect Assem Salaam stands by his words.

He points to the evidence: a jungle of grey concrete that towers over his garden, hiding what used to be a spectacular sea view.

Of course all cities change, but change does not have to be so aggressive and so inhuman
Assem Salaam

It is not the loss of the sea view that Mr Salam mourns.

And, he says, it is not the commonplace nostalgia for the old and familiar that drives his bitterness about an extraordinary pace of construction in his city.

"Of course all cities change, but change does not have to be so aggressive and so inhuman," he says.

"Take London, for example. It has changed immensely since I first visited in 1942, but I can still take the same bus route as I did then, or walk the same streets.

"Beirut, on the other hand, has changed beyond recognition," he says.