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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

“Indian Women Find New Peace in Rail Commute”

Jim Yardley

September 15 , 2009 — The New York Times

Men peered into the Ladies Special train as it sat idle on the platform in Palwal. | Chiara Goia for The New York Times

Men peered into the Ladies Special train as it sat idle on the platform in Palwal. | Chiara Goia for The New York Times

PALWAL, India — As the morning commuter train rattled down the track, Chinu Sharma, an office worker, enjoyed the absence of men. Some of them pinch and grope women on trains, or shout insults and catcalls, she said. Her friend Vandana Rohile agreed and widened her eyes in mock imitation.

“Sometimes they just stare at you,” said Ms. Rohile, 27.

Up and down the jostling train, women repeated the same theme: As millions of women have poured into the Indian work force over the last decade, they have met with different obstacles in a tradition-bound, patriarchal culture, but few are more annoying than the basic task of getting to work.

The problems of taunting and harassment, known as eve teasing, are so persistent that in recent months the government has decided to simply remove men altogether. In a pilot program, eight new commuter trains exclusively for female passengers have been introduced in India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.

The trains are known as Ladies Specials, and on one recent round trip in which a male reporter got permission to board, the women commuting between the industrial town of Palwal and New Delhi were very pleased.

“It’s so …

article continued here.

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I know it’s a little late to post this article, but it’s a good one:

 

“A Life of Algebra and Adventure: Geoffrey Langlands has dedicated 20 years to education in Pakistan”

Declan Walsh

August 10, 2009 — The Guardian

Major Geoffrey Langlands outside the school he founded in the Hindu Kush mountains. Photograph: Declan Walsh

Major Geoffrey Langlands outside the school he founded in the Hindu Kush mountains. Photograph: Declan Walsh

Much has occurred, and much has changed, since Geoffrey Langlands, a young maths teacher-turned-army commando, landed on the shores of British India on a troop carrier in 1944. Since then the intrepid Englishman has lived a life of algebra and adventure. He has scraped through several wars, been kidnapped in Waziristan, educated world-famous cricketers, and taken tea with princesses, several prime ministers and a ruthless dictator.

Some things, however, never change. Every morning the retired major, who turns 92 in a few months, rises at dawn in his cottage in Chitral, in the upper reaches of the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan‘s North West Frontier province. He puts on a blazer, tie and polished shoes. Then he sits down to breakfast served by his loyal servant, Sufi. It is always the same: porridge (“Quaker Oats, of course”), a poached egg (the poacher bought from Selfridges) and two cups of Lipton tea. He leafs through a newspaper, which has arrived via the valley’s irregular plane service and is a few days old. Then it is out of the door, through the gate and up a winding hill to the school he founded and to which he has dedicated the last 20 …

article continued here.

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Here’s a good update on the struggles of the Slumdog Millionaire kid actors in Indian — scenes “that seemed straight out of the gritty film,” as the journalist wrote. I also like the antithesis of hope pitted against desapir in the following quote:

” ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ brought to light an equally true reality: the hardscrabble lives of many slum children of an India brimming with optimisim and eagerness to be the world’s next superpower.”

 

Boston Sunday Globe — August 23, 2009

“For Child Actors, Life After ‘Slumdog’ Full of Promise, Poverty”

by Emily Wax (Washington Post)

MUMBAI – Never again would Azhar Mohammed Ismaill, 11, sleep in the overcrowded warren of shanties and festering lean-tos known as Garib Nagar, literally “city of the poor.’’ Azhar, one of the child stars of the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire,’’ recently moved with his family to a new home in Mumbai: a modest two-room apartment on the ground floor of a high-rise called Harmony.

The apartment was a gift from “Slumdog’’ director Danny Boyle, whose film grossed $300 million. On the rooftop of his new building, Azhar, 11, danced as he watched jetliners take off from the airport. He recognized the emotion as similar to what his character, Salim, must have felt as he looked out over the Mumbai skyline and said: “India is the center of the world now, brother. I am at the center of the center.’’

Azhar’s real-life journey – and those of the other child stars in “Slumdog,’’ including his elfin costar Rubina Ali, 9 – has been a roller coaster of personal tragedy and red-carpet glamour. In many ways, they are experiencing at warp speed the masala of euphoria and turmoil that India’s vast poor feel as they emerge from the iron bonds of caste …

article continued here

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Here’s a neat article about Internet freedom, its ability to foster political activism, and the governments who try to hold it down. It reminds me of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother — how the protagonist uses the Internet as a tool to fight an Orwellian government which attempts to control the technology. In fact, the article even mentions the Tor software created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Doctorow’s main character used Tor in Little Brother, and Doctorow himself a former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).

 

NewScientist — August 21, 2009

“Worldwide Battle for Control of the Internet: As dissidents exploit social networking sites to organise protests and get their messag eout, governments are searching for ways to clamp down”

by Jim Giles

WHEN thousands of protestors took to the streets in Iran following this year’s disputed presidential election, Twitter messages sent by activists let the world know about the brutal policing that followed. A few months earlier, campaigners in Moldova used Facebook to organise protests against the country’s communist government, and elsewhere too the internet is playing an increasing role in political dissent.

Now governments are trying to regain control. By reinforcing their efforts to monitor activity online, they hope to deprive dissenters of information and the ability to communicate.

The latest evidence of these clampdowns comes in a report on the Middle East and north Africa by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaboration of researchers based in the UK and North America. Among the restrictions it reports are clampdowns on Facebook in Syria and the use of hidden cameras in Saudi Arabia’s internet cafes.

Most of these actions are aimed at stifling political debate. “Political filtering is the common denominator,” says Helmi Noman of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Boston, who compiled the report. “It’s the main target.”

Noman asked volunteers to check whether roughly 2000 sites covering a range of subjects, including gambling, political news and humour …

article continued here.

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In my previous post, I emphasized a funny quote from Cory Doctorow’s short story “The Right Book”: “No one could have predicted how well books and halal fried chicken went together.” So I think this is a good opportunity for me to talk about halal fried chicken — or halal in general, at least.

Curiously enough, last night hosted multiple coincidences. Not only did I discover that Cory Doctorow also wrote a story about the future of literature (as I’d done with “After the Age of Giant Sundials”), but his story mentioned — briefly, of course — halal. As it happens, I watched the reading of “The Right Book” just after hearing my dad deliver a speech about halal foods and socially conscious business.

He talked about a bunch of stuff — how he used “guerilla tactics” to start up a business from almost nothing, how to give back to the community, how to make sure your employees get paid right, how religious Sharia business rules stick so well with the socially conscious model. Most importantly, he talked about the halal/organic food business. There’s a strong demand for organic, quality halal food among American Muslims.

But the biggest idea is that even non-Muslims will go for halal. My dad assured his audience — the Muslim Business Alliance of Connecticut — that halal is a huge opportunity for anyone going into business, not just in financial terms but also in moral and spiritual terms. He and many others who are involved with halal business see that non-Muslims will jump for ethnic halal foods and will be attracted to the fact that halal regulations demand the humane treatment of animals.

This also opens the doors to interfaith work and eliminates Islamophobia. In other words, when people find plenty of halal food — good halal food —  in their grocery stores, then they connect it to Muslims. Opinions just might change. My dad is also helping start “Profits for Peace,” meant to establish relations between people of different religions.

A lot of times people — including myself — tend to complain about the serious issues we might see around us, but we never talk about the solutions because either it’s too hard to think about solving problems or we don’t even think about thinking about solving problems. Sometimes I try to excuse myself by saying that if I write about a problem, then other people are the ones who should figure out how to do the mending. But that’s not the case. As a writer, if you reveal an unsettling conflict, then you better think about how to fix it up. In my post “Why Cory Doctorow is ‘The Man'” I mentioned the elimination of the mental divide between East and West via “a wrinkle in time” — the web. Halal business is just as valid a method — it reaches out not only to Muslims, but to everyone else as well. Food, as a representation of culture, is a great way to unify people of different races, ethnicities, religions, and nationalities.

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I think my brief grumbling in my post about Doctorow’s Little Brother not getting the Hugo needs a bit of beef, so to speak, so I’ll do some explaining. A little bit, at least. I don’t mean to prove that he should or should not have won the Hugo — but I do intend to discuss why he is “just the Man.”

While Little Brother might seem corny when you read the descriptions — and, while even the narrative kind of fumbles over the cliche a few times through the story — it’s just that … well — it’s hard to describe. There’s this feeling that I get sometimes, when I just can’t stop reading something because it’s so good. I don’t read like a writer or a literary critic or anything of the sort; I’m simply absorbed in the novel (or short story) to the point where I don’t think about letters or words or paragraphs or pages or chapters or parts.

It just is.

For me, that’s what it was like with Little Brother.

And it tells more about a writer when his readers (yes, I know that I’m just one unreliable single sample, but what can I do?) stop thinking about the book as a book, and start thinking about it in some other kind of way, if you get what I’m saying. This might be related to the writer’s ability in creating a fast-paced story, but I know that’s not the only thing that gives me that feeling. I’ve felt it before, multiple times — with Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity. You’ll notice that all of those — including Little Brother — are in the blog’s list of favorite sf/f/h stories. Even Doctorow’s Locus Award-winning novelette, “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” (which is also on the favorite list), kept me flying across the pages when I first read it in John J. Adams‘ superb post-apocalyptic anthology, Wastelands.

Little Brother also hit home for me — on a lot of points. I tend to be a bit paranoid myself, and the main character’s insights on a host of math, science, and security issues were just great. And, of course, there were some awesome lines and plenty of laughs to go around.

By the way, my high school has put up a bunch of cameras to prevent a rise in theft. It’s a just cause, I guess — they’re not going to spy on us like Big Brother or anything — but it does seem to echo the school cameras prevalent in Little Brother.

Although I don’t read every single one, I find Cory Doctorow’s Guardian columns extremely interesting as well. In “When I’m dead, how will my loved ones break my password?” Doctorow writes about how he dealt with his data, passwords, and so on in his will. In “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google” he wrote that the act of categorization, while it may seem otherwise, can actually turn out biased at times. This reminds me now of something that Edward Said mentions throughout his book Orientalism: that bias is, in essence, inescapable because people always have, at the least, subconcious ties to some class, race, ideology, etc. Even scholarly academics can never be truly separated from opinion.

I wrote a near future short story sophomore year for my English class, and based it on the idea of the changing mediums of reading, and how that would impact literature. I looked back at “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” and used that as a sort of inspiration for the style I would use in my short story — “After the Age of Giant Sundials.” You can read it in the previous post.

Doctorow is also pretty big on Creative Commons and such, and I love the way his ideas often use the Internet as a tool to achieve freedom and democracy.

In Edward Said’s Introduction to Orientalism, Said mentioned the harmful results of emerging technology and media (i.e. more, faster, and flashier “what bleeds leads” coverage, the bearded Muslim guy is always the bad guy, etc). At the same time, I think that same technology is a method for positive change. Later in his book, Said talked about the idea of “imaginative geography” and how the West has almost involuntarily drawn a philosophical, mental, political, social, and — most of all — moral divide between East and West due in part to the physical distances.

To me, technology, communication, and the Internet can let people create a “wrinkle in time” kind of thing — eliminating the blockage created by those physical separations. That thought gave me an inspirational boost for this blog. And Doctorow, obviously, remains an influence as well.

So, yes. Cory Doctorow is just the man.

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