Friday 25 January 2008

not about shopping...

25 January 2008

Now I didn’t lead you astray on Stardust or Amazing Grace did I? Here is another for you – The Hunting Party. Yes, yes, we all are aware that I adore Richard Gere, more for his real-life work than his films, but all said he still looks pretty good in a towel ladies. Terrence Howard (of Crash) is the co-star, and is amazing. This is a film that brings to light the evil (no other word applies here) deals that OUR political leaders make with war criminals worldwide, in this specific case, Serbia.

I mean really, think about it, Radovan Karadzic was indicted in 1995 (that’s THIRTEEN YEARS). In that time he has published two books, a play, and recently a book of poetry!!!

In an orgy of savage violence Radovan Karadzic's forces slaughtered tens of thousands of Muslims in the Bosnian war. He called it ethnic cleansing. After being indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague he went into hiding and, "despite a massive international manhunt, has evaded capture for the past 12 years". Oh yes?

He has been a fugitive from a supposedly rigorous search effort by the intelligence services and soldiers of the West. Karadzic - with his military counterpart, General Ratko Mladic - were indicted and are wanted for genocide and a bloody litany of war crimes against innocent civilians during the tempest of mass murder, massacre, mass rape, concentration camps and 'ethnic cleansing' (a term Karadzic himself devised) they unleashed against the Bosnian Muslims and Croats in 1992. A tempest that continued for three years until the Srebrenica* massacre of 8,000 men and boys over five days in 1995.

*Human Rights Watch recorded the testimony of one eyewitness to the gendercidal massacres at Nova Kasaba. The Serbs, he said,

picked out Muslims whom they either knew about or knew, interrogated them and made them dig pits. ...During our first day, the Cetniks [Serbs] killed approximately 500 people [men]. They would just line them up and shoot them into the pits. The approximately one hundred guys whom they interrogated and who had dug the mass graves then had to fill them in. At the end of the day, they were ordered to dig a pit for themselves and line up in front of it. ... [T]hey were shot into the mass grave. ... At dawn, ... [a] bulldozer arrived and dug up a pit ..., and buried about 400 men alive. The men were encircled by Cetniks: whoever tried to escape was shot." (Quoted in Mark Danner, "The Killing Fields of Bosnia", New York Review of Books, September 24 1998.)

A great many of the men who had sought to flee through the hills to Tuzla were doomed as well. The Bosnian Serb commander, Gen. Radivoj Krstic, in a radio transmission intercepted by western eavesdroppers, told his forces: "You must kill everyone. We don't need anyone alive."

In 2006: "The chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor told the Security Council on Wednesday that no one is actively searching for its most wanted suspect, former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic."

What?! How hard can we be looking? Supposedly the U.N. forces, the Americans (with limitless resources if one goes by how much they have thrown away on the war in Iraq), and “all Western clandestine forces” are looking for him. Really? I did some research and now, even I know where he is! He pays visits to his publisher for crickey sake!

The word on “the street” is that a deal was done – he would step down from power and the “powers that be” would let him be. Let’s review those statistics of raped, mutilated, displaced and murdered victims of his shall we? Do you think he is not still spreading his poisonous rhetoric to disciples and the next generation? Mercy me!

I will tell you this, what a film or words cannot convey about the killing fields of any conflict is the upclose horror, the smell of violent death, and the waste. See the movie do.

Now, in an opinion that I am sure is to be at odds with those that count for such – I didn’t care for Atonement by Ian McEwan or the film with Keira Knightley (albeit, yes! I loved the green dress). This comes no doubt from my own prejudice – I hate waste – not in that oh that’s unfortunate manner but in a visceral, passionate way. I’ve seen too much of it. Waste of precious time when people don’t say what they mean, or what they need to because of fear or pride, and then waste years that could have been spent with love. You really have to decide how much you want to be right you know? Waste of food, when there is so much hunger in the world. Waste of space when we really don’t need that much do we? I try not to use more of the world’s resources than I need, though of course I do because my standards of survival are western and way above necessary. I’m not saying that’s wrong or bad, don’t get me wrong; I’m saying it’s a personal decision, but it bothers me when I have seen the waste of life and the potential of those lives from real die-the-next-day-from-hunger-poverty, illness, and murder.

The reason it bothers me, is because it is a lie! There is no shortage of food, or water, or space on this planet! The fact that we have hunger, and people dying for lack of simple vaccine or shelter is worse than atrocious to me. There is no excuse for Dafur and the child soldiers in Africa. We are all responsible. I believe that. It is our world, we are here, we have education, access, and power. We are responsible.

So back to the book and movie. Not to say I thought the book awful, not by any means – lovely use of language, but what for meaning? For me, I saw no hope in this story. I’m very big on hope. And it didn’t work for me (trying not to give away anything here) that she changed the story to make it nice, it was a lie.

Oh my, I really have to post a lighter subject matter soon. Everyone adjourn over to Dulwichmum for fun fare, my favourite fluff and affectation site. I mean that in the best way possible.


Wednesday 23 January 2008

are we inside or outside the box? or - are we the box?

This is outrageous to me and I don't apologize for saying it. It is one of the most demonstrable cultural practices where the only purpose is to suppress women.

I do agree with this view:
Nonetheless, as Western awareness of female genital cutting has grown, anthropologists, policy makers and health officials have warned against blindly judging those who practice it, saying that progress is best made by working with local leaders and opinion-makers to gradually shift the public discussion of female circumcision from what it’s believed to bestow upon a girl toward what it takes away. “These mothers believe they are doing something good for their children,” Guarenti, a native of Italy, told me. “For our culture that is not easily understandable. To judge them harshly is to isolate them. You cannot make change that way.”

In that vein I think we in the West cannot allow this to take place in our countries. It is the law of the land and should be enforced. If immigrants or citizens do not wish to abide by those laws, I think they should leave. This is a basic right - not to be altered physically, or abused as a child when you have no control. If women believe they want this procedure, then do it when you are old enough to make your own decision. But the greater challenge is to take away the idea of being socially unacceptable if you do not have the procedure done. In this vein we who are not Muslim can help I think - by education and the art of gentle persuasion. We should write about it, blog about it, and talk about it. If you are a woman it is your concern, if you are a husband, a father, or a brother - it is your concern. The world is a small place now and we are responsible for each other. Now more than ever, the well being of ourselves and our families depends on the well being of our neighbors.

This leads me to another train of thought - How much of what we do is because it is 'the right thing to do'? How much of that is conditioning? The mothers who take their daughters for genital mutilation are doing it so they will be accepted, so they can have a good marriage and a good life; not out of some tendency toward child abuse. They in turn would think us cruel for leaving our children in a day care situation, or with a nanny - anyone who is not family. How can we determine ethics outside of cultural conditioning?

I am NOT saying we can't condemn the acts of another culture as cruel because it is their 'norm', but I am saying it calls for a deeper understanding of motives. I don't believe you can change the mind of an individual or a culture by violence or force - we cannot enforce democracy or compassion. It's been tried, the Crusades anyone? And failed - Iraq comes to mind. We can see how to make those changes by observing our own cultures in last few decades. I can remember when wife beating, drunk driving, child abuse, and smoking were all pretty much "too bad but that's life". By making these issues unacceptable socially as well as legally, and bringing them to the harsh light of facts and scrutiny of the public, they are now taboo.

What makes us ethical? Fear? Goodness? Lack of imagination? Hope for a better future or afterlife? These are questions that drove Kant and Nietzsche cuckoo (I mean really, have you read Critique of Pure Reason or Beyond Good and Evil?) The Dzogchen tackled the subject in a non-sectarian manner of the Tibetan Buddhist, along with Socrates and Aristotle who were looking at these issues when the world was small.

I’m not at all sure there is a definitive answer, or that the point is to find a neat and tidy solution in a package where one size fits all, but rather that the answer is in the questions and that we continue the search, continue to question ourselves. Tricky business eh?

Soon I shall write of shopping! Ciao.

Monday 21 January 2008

articles of concern

"Matthew knew he shouldn't be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven," Detective Laura Andersen said, "but he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself."

In the end, one gang member lay dead, bleeding on the pavement. The other was wounded. And Sepi fled, "breaking contact" with the enemy, as he described it. With his rifle raised, he crept home, loaded 180 rounds of ammunition into his car and drove until police lights flashed behind him.

"Who did I take fire from?" he asked. The diminutive young man said he had been ambushed and then instinctively "engaged the targets."

He shook. He also cried.

"I felt very bad for him," Andersen said

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced charges for murder, manslaughter or homicide for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

To compile and analyze its list, The Times conducted a search of local news reports, examined police, court and military records and interviewed the defendants, their lawyers and families, the victims' families, and military and law enforcement officials.

This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.

The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, from 184 to 349 cases, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the homicide rate in America has been, on average, lower.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse - and criminality. On a less scientific level, such links have long been known.

"The connection between war and crime is unfortunately very ancient," said Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston and the author of two books that examine combat trauma through the lens of classical texts.

The army has recently developed a course called "Battlemind Training," intended to help soldiers make the psychological transition back into civilian society. "In combat, the enemy is the target," the course material says. "Back home, there are no enemies."

This can be a difficult lesson to learn. Many soldiers and marines find themselves at war with their spouses, their children, their fellow service members, the world at large and ultimately themselves when they come home.

"Based on my experience, most of these veterans feel just terrible that they've caused this senseless harm," Shay said. "Most veterans don't want to hurt other people."

The above excerpts are from an article concerning soldiers returning from Iraq and committing homicide or being involved in other violence. I, like many I'm sure, was concerned when I saw this. However as we all know, all writing - books, newspapers, all press - has a bias; all of us do, which is why we must read with care, looking further than the words. We must take note of who wrote the piece, when, and in what political and cultural environment. I have no doubt, and a great deal of concern, that some of this is true and needs our attention.

However - there is another side. I am fortunate to have as a friend, a young man (and yes ladies, he is hunky just like the ads, only better) who is a Marine Special Forces officer. The following is an article he sent me. A response to the article above. I think we need them both to have an informed point of view. I must say on a personal level, I do not agree with the Post anti-Times rant; which is why I read the Times. I fear I have seen too much violence in my life not to know for certain that violence begats violence - it becomes the easy solution. And I know from experience as well, that combat does affect our soldiers, each of them in different ways for sure, depending on the person they were going in. I know for certain, that being against the continued war in Iraq and being concerned about the soldiers when they return home is NOT BEING UNPATRIOTIC - quite the opposite. It is the DUTY of a citizen in a republic or a parliamentary democracy to question war and to see to the well being of our armed forces.

Also, contrary to the Post's ranting - the above article is from the International Herald Tribune, also printed in the New York Times.
New York Post
January 15, 2008
Smearing Soldiers
The Gray Lady's Killer-GI Lie
By Ralph Peters
THE New York Times is trashing our troops again. With no new "atrocities" to report from Iraq for many a month, the limping Gray Lady turned to the home front. Front and center, above the fold, on the front page of Sunday's Times, the week's feature story sought to convince Americans that combat experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan are turning troops into murderers when they come home.

Heart-wringing tales of madness and murder not only made the front page, but filled two entire centerfold pages and spilled onto a fourth.

The Times did get one basic fact right: Returning vets committed or are charged with 121 murders in the United States since our current wars began.

Had the Times' "journalists" and editors bothered to put those figures in context - which they carefully avoided doing - they would've found that the murder rate that leaves them so aghast means that our vets are five times less likely to commit a murder than their demographic peers.

The Times' public editor, Clark Hoyt, should crunch the numbers. I'm even willing to spot the Times a few percentage points (either way). But the hard statistics from the Justice Department tell a far different tale from the Times' anti-military propaganda.

A very conservative estimate of how many different service members have passed through Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait since 2003 is 350,000 (and no, that's not double-counting those with repeated tours of duty).

Now consider the Justice Department's numbers for murders committed by all Americans aged 18 to 34 - the key group for our men and women in uniform. To match the homicide rate of their peers, our troops would've had to come home and commit about 150 murders a year, for a total of 700 to 750 murders between 2003 and the end of 2007.

In other words, the Times unwittingly makes the case that military service reduces the likelihood of a young man or woman committing a murder by 80 percent.

Yes, the young Americans who join our military are (by self- selection) superior by far to the average stay-at-home. Still, these numbers are pretty impressive, when you consider that we're speaking of men and women trained in the tools of war, who've endured the acute stresses of fighting insurgencies and who are physically robust (rather unlike the stick-limbed weanies the Times prefers).

All in all, the Times' own data proves my long-time contention that we have the best behaved and most ethical military in history.

Now, since the folks at the Times are terribly busy and awfully important, let's make it easy for them to do the research themselves (you can do it, too - in five minutes).

Just Google "USA Murder Statistics." The top site to appear will be the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Click on it, then go to "Demographic Trends." Click on "Age." For hard numbers on the key demographics, click on the colored graphs.

Run the numbers yourself, based upon the demographic percentages of murders per every 100,000 people. Then look at the actual murder counts.

Know what else you'll learn? In 2005 alone, 8,718 young Americans from the same age group were murdered in this country. That's well over twice as many as the number of troops killed in all our foreign missions since 2001. Maybe military service not only prevents you from committing crimes, but also keeps you alive?

Want more numbers? In the District of Columbia, our nation's capital, the murder rate for the 18-34 group was about 14 times higher than the rate of murders allegedly committed by returning vets.

And that actually understates the District's problem, since many DC-related murders spill across into Prince George's County (another Democratic Party stronghold).

In DC, an 18-34 population half the size of the total number of troops who've served in our wars overseas committed the lion's share of 992 murders between 2003 and 2007 - the years mourned by the Times as proving that our veterans are psychotic killers.

Aren't editors supposed to ask tough questions on feature stories? Are the Times' editors so determined to undermine the public's support for our troops that they'll violate the most-basic rules of journalism, such as putting numbers in context?

Answer that one for yourself.
Of course, all of this is part of the disgraceful left-wing campaign to pretend sympathy with soldiers - the Times column gushes crocodile tears - while portraying our troops as clichéd maniacs from the Oliver Stone fantasies that got lefties so self-righteously excited 20 years ago (See? We were right to dodge the draft . . .).

And it's not going to stop. Given the stakes in an election year, the duplicity will only intensify.
For an upcoming treat, we'll get the film "Stop-Loss," starring, as always, young punks who never served in uniform as soldiers. This left-wing diatribe argues that truly courageous troops would refuse to return to Iraq - at a time when soldiers and Marines continue to re-enlist at record rates, expecting to plunge back into the fight.

Those on the left will never accept that the finest young Americans are those who risk their lives defending freedom. Sen. John Kerry summed up the views of the left perfectly when he disparaged our troops as too stupid to do anything but sling hamburgers.

And The New York Times will never forgive our men and women in uniform for their infuriating successes in Iraq.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Wars of Blood and Faith."

It is up to all of us to read the data and form an opinion, take a stand, and express our view. These men and women are part of the generation that will form our history to come. If we send them to fight for us, I think we owe it to them to see them out of the combat and back into their lives.


Sunday 20 January 2008

just a low key presidential tour - not!

your tax dollars at work on democracy and the problem of world hunger? I think not...
Read here oh do.

Friday 18 January 2008

the random meme

Rob Clack has tagged me to do this meme:
Here are the rules: Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog. Share seven random and/or weird facts about yourself. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a notification on their blog.

1) I have a volatile temper but a verrrry long fuse. The sure way to see me explode and resort to violent language and perhaps physical intervention are any kind of child abuse, and racial, cultural, or religious prejudice in action.

2) I am a dental white knuckler. I am terrified of the dentist. I go, but I am afraid. After seeing “Marathon Man” it took me a year to have my teeth cleaned, when I normally go every four months! This may…. may I say, have something to do with my control issues (which I, of course, do not regard as “issues”).

3) I adore a huge comfy bed. I can conduct my life for days at a time from my bed – I can read there, eat there, write there, watch movies there, and spin tales there.

4) I love to read crime novels about serial killers. And yes I do worry a teeny bit about what that says about me.

5) I have the collector gene, but I only like to collect objects I can use. I used to collect teacups, but since going back on the move I now collect fans. When I was wee I collected rocks. I figured they were useful in case someone stormed the castle I could position myself over the gate and stone the invaders.

6) I love opera but I always get angry at the stupidity of Othello, and I always cry when Violetta dies.

7) According to my child I have a “rescue complex”. As I look over my life so far, I must say I think she may have something there. And it has landed me in some sticky situations as I have found not everyone wishes to be "rescued".

I am going to use Rob’s method and make my tags by going from jmb’s favorite bloggers list to the next, and the next…
gunt doc (who does not have a blog list! so back to jmb)
cathy's place
the view from here
just this side of normal
Betty Western

I must say the random clicking was fun.


Thursday 17 January 2008

Wednesday 16 January 2008

feeling freaky today?

Just in case the whole mystery of life question has become too easy for you, consider The Boltzmann brain problem. These theories state the possibility of you as a disembodied brain floating in space, “a momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space where your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.” And you thought The Matrix was scary!

An article in the New York Times today explores the cosmologists and the theories this has spawned; because nothing is as easy as 2 + 2, you know – not in a universe of negative numbers and parallel universes, dark matter, and the possibility of the death of space time. Questions such as why can’t you unscramble an egg? Why does time only run forward? Why can’t you remember if the Yankees will be in the World Series this year?

It’s one more reason to doubt our smug little theories that we are the center of the universe. Remember Copernicus? And thinking that our existence is endless – through some god form or reincarnation. The possibility of an asteroid slamming into the earth and wiping us out is very real science, look here. The possibility of that happening in 2036 is documented; and for you Stargate fans the rock is named Apophis! The cosmologists in an attempt to spoil everyone’s fun have also named the date for the end of the universe. Good to have something to look forward to eh? May as well let those flood insurance policies go and use the money for a holographic projector.

Of course with the data staring us in the face (metaphorically, as we may have no face..) that we have a limited existence there is also the very real possibility that we simply need better instruments.

“…the cosmologists say the brain problem serves as a valuable reality check as they contemplate the far, far future and zillions of bubble universes popping off from one another in an ever-increasing rush through eternity. What, for example is a “typical” observer in such a setup? If some atoms in another universe stick together briefly to look, talk and think exactly like you, is it really you?

“It is part of a much bigger set of questions about how to think about probabilities in an infinite universe in which everything that can occur, does occur, infinitely many times,” said Leonard Susskind of Stanford, a co-author of a paper in 2002 that helped set off the debate. Or as Andrei Linde, another Stanford theorist given to colorful language, loosely characterized the possibility of a replica of your own brain forming out in space sometime, “How do you compute the probability to be reincarnated to the probability of being born?”

The gist is that it is much more likely, scientifically speaking, for something strange to happen than something ordered and logical. Interesting eh? This due to the law of entropy and the fact that energy, like water, takes the easiest course.

“In an interview Dr. Linde described these brains as a form of reincarnation. Over the course of eternity, he said, anything is possible. After some Big Bang in the far future, he said, “it’s possible that you yourself will re-emerge. Eventually you will appear with your table and your computer.”

Another possibility is that dark matter will decay in time for the universe to stop its expansion and “fade to black”. What Dr Page calls “the most humanely possible execution”, as everything would cease to exist as the laws of physics are universally changed. This would eliminate the Boltzmann brain problem, as there would be no fluctuating matter to form the floating brains… Cheery eh? Rather like picking your poison.

Of course there is always (always!) another view – that the number of new bubble universes being hatched at any moment is always growing and we can’t see, measure, or even intuit what is going on in those universes as we can’t see or even know for certain they exist. so we could still, or in the future, or the past - exist there.

“If you are reincarnated, why do you care about where you are reincarnated?” he asked. “It sounds crazy because here we are touching issues we are not supposed to be touching in ordinary science. Can we be reincarnated?”

“People are not prepared for this discussion,” Dr. Linde said.”

And there I leave it to ponder… Now am I pondering in Morocco or somewhere out beyond the Milky Way? Are you reading this or I have sent it to a parallel universe where some bi-brained being that resides in a mud of silicon and nitrous is shaking his/her/its head at my naiveté?


Monday 14 January 2008

spirulina smoothie anyone?

What produces most of the planet’s oxygen?

They release oxygen as a waste product of photosynthesis. Their net oxygen output is higher than that produced by all the trees and other land-based plants put together.

Ancient algae are also the main constituent of oil and gas. Blue-green algae or cyanobacteria (from Greek kyanos – “dark green-blue”) it is earth’s earliest known life form, with fossils that date back 3.6 billion years.

While some algae are included with the plants in the Eukaryote domain (eu, “true, and karyon, “nut”, referring to their cell’s having true nuclei, which bacteria don’t), the cyanobacteria are now firmly in the Bacteria kingdom with their own phylum.

One form of cyanobacteria, spirulina, yields twenty times more protein per acre than soya beans. It consists of 70 percent protein (compared with beef’s 22 percent), 5 percent fat, no cholesterol, and an impressive array of vitamins and minerals. Hence the increasing popularity of the spirulina smoothie.

It also boosts the immune system, particularly the production of protein interferons, the body’s front-line defense against viruses and tumour cells.

The nutritional and health benefits of spirulina were recognized centuries ago by the Aztecs, sub-Saharan Africans, and flamingos.

Its significance for the future may be that algae can be grown on land that isn’t fertile, using (and recycling) brackish water. It’s a crop that doesn’t cause soil erosion, requires no fertilizers or pesticides, and refreshes the atmosphere more than anything else that grows.

Sunday 13 January 2008

the list

Blogpower best posts of 2007. Have a read.

Saturday 12 January 2008

a real loss

Sir Edmund died yesterday. In addition to being known for his exploits he was loved in Napal for all the work he did for the local schools, especially those in the lower range of Chomolungma. His son lives in New Zealand and teaches mountain climbing, as well as a love for the enviroment.

Sir Edmund Hillary, 88, first on Everest
By Robert D. Mcfadden The New York Times
Friday, January 11, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, the lanky New Zealand mountaineer and explorer who with Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide, won worldwide acclaim in 1953 by becoming the first to scale the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak, died Friday in Auckland, New Zealand. He was 88.

His death was announced by Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand.

In the annals of great heroic exploits, the conquest of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund and Norgay ranks with the first trek to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen in 1911 and the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight by Charles A. Lindbergh in 1927.

By 1953, nearly a century after British surveyors had established that the Himalayan peak on the Nepal-Tibet border was the highest point on earth, many climbers considered the mountain all but unconquerable. The summit was 5 Â∏ vertical miles above sea level (up where today's jets fly): an otherworldly place of yawning crevasses and 100-mile-an-hour winds, of perpetual cold and air so thin that the human brain and lungs do not function properly in it.

Numerous Everest expeditions had failed, and dozens of experienced mountaineers, including many Sherpas, the Nepalese people famed as climbers, had been killed ╉ buried in avalanches or lost and frozen in sudden storms that roared over the dizzying escarpments. One who vanished, in 1924, was George Leigh Mallory, known for snapping when asked why climb Everest, "Because it is there!" His body was found in the ice 75 years later, in 1999, about 2,000 feet below the summit.

Sir Edmund and Norgay were part of a Royal Geographical Society-Alpine Club expedition led by Colonel Henry Cecil John Hunt ╉ a siege group that included a dozen climbers, 35 Sherpa guides and 350 porters carrying 18 tons of food and equipment. Their route was the treacherous South Tor, facing Nepal.

After a series of climbs by coordinated teams to establish ever-higher camps on the icy slopes and perilous rock ledges, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans were the first team to attempt the summit, but gave up at 28,720 feet ╉ 315 feet from the top ╉ beaten back by exhaustion, a storm that shrouded them in ice and oxygen-tank failures.

Sir Edmund, then 33, and Norgay, 39, made the next assault. They first established a bivouac at 27,900 feet on a rock ledge six feet wide and canted at a 30-degree angle. There, holding their tent against a howling gale as the temperatures plunged to 30 degrees below zero, they spent the night.

At 6:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953, cheered by clearing skies, they began the final attack. Carrying enough oxygen for seven hours and counting on picking up two partly filled tanks left by Evans and Bourdillon, they moved out. Roped together, cutting toe-holds with their ice axes, first one man leading and then the other, they inched up a steep, knife-edged ridge southeast of the summit.

Halfway up, Sir Edmund recalled in "High Adventure" (1955, Oxford University Press), they discovered soft snow under them. "Immediately I realized we were on dangerous ground," he said. "Suddenly, with a dull breaking noise, an area of crust all around me about six feet in diameter broke off." He slid backward 20 or 30 feet before regaining a hold. "It was a nasty shock," he said. "I could look down 10,000 feet between my legs."

Farther up, they encountered what was later named the Hillary Step ╉ a sheer face of rock and ice 40 feet high that Sir Edmund called "the most formidable obstacle on the ridge." But they found a vertical crack and managed to climb it by bracing feet against one side and backs against the other. The last few yards to the summit were relatively easy.

"As I chipped steps, I wondered how long we could keep it up," Sir Edmund said. "Then I realized that the ridge, instead of rising ahead, now dropped sharply away. I looked upward to see a narrow ridge running up to a sharp point. A few more whacks of the ice ax and we stood on the summit."

The vast panorama of the Himalayas lay before them: fleecy clouds and the pastel shades of Tibet to the north, and in all directions sweeping ranks of jagged mountains, cloud-filled valleys, great natural amphitheaters of snow and rock, and the glittering Kangshung Glacier 10,000 feet below.

There was a modest celebration. "We shook hands and then, casting Anglo-Saxon formalities aside, we thumped each other on the back until forced to stop from lack of breath," Sir Edmund remembered. They took photographs and left a crucifix for Hunt, the expedition leader. Norgay, a Buddhist, buried biscuits and chocolate as an offering to the gods of Everest. Then they ate a mint cake, strapped on their oxygen tanks and began the climb down.

Four days later, the news was flashed around the world as a coronation gift of sorts to Queen Elizabeth II, who was crowned in Westminster Abbey on June 2. "We tuned into the BBC for a description of the queen's coronation, and to our great excitement heard the announcement that Everest had been climbed," Sir Edmund recalled in his autobiography, "Nothing Venture, Nothing Win" (1975, Hodder & Stoughton). The queen promptly made Edmund Hillary a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, while Norgay received the George Medal of Britain and other honors.

Worldwide heroes overnight, they were greeted by huge crowds in India and London. A controversy over whether Sir Edmund or Norgay had been first to stand on the summit threatened briefly to mar the celebrations, but Hunt declared, "They reached it together, as a team." It was not until 1999, in his book "View from the Summit" (Doubleday), that Sir Edmund broke his silence about which of the two men had reached the peak first. He wrote that it was he, not Norgay.

"We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope," he wrote. "I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next moment I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction." He added, "Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked round in wonder."

Sir Edmund continued his life of adventure, climbing mountains and once crossing the Antarctic, lecturing and making public appearances, and serving as New Zealand's high commissioner, or ambassador, to India, Bangladesh and Nepal from 1985 to 1988.

Like Sir Edmund, Norgay, whose name was sometimes rendered Norkay, never again tried to climb Everest. He died in 1986.

In more than five decades since the first successful assault on what climbers call the top of the world, more than 3,000 people, including Sir Edmund's son, Peter, and Norgay's son, Jamling, have reached the summit of Everest, while more than 200 have died in the attempt, 8 of them in a 1996 expedition that was savaged by a blizzard.

Today, Everest expeditions are almost commonplace. On a single day in 2003, 118 people were reported to have made it. Some veteran climbers have criticized the "commercialism" and "circus atmosphere" surrounding Everest climbing. Sir Edmund added his voice to the lament in 2003 as crowds gathered for the 50th anniversary celebrations in Katmandu, Nepal.

Tough, rawboned, 6 feet 5 inches tall, with a long leathery and wrinkled face, Sir Edmund was an intelligent but unsophisticated man with tigerish confidence on a mountain but little taste for formal social doings. For many years after the Everest climb, he continued to list his occupation as beekeeper ╉ his father's pursuit ╉ and he preferred to be known as Ed.

During the Southern Hemisphere summer of 1957-58 a British Commonwealth team that included Sir Edmund crossed the Antarctic on an overland route that traversed the South Pole. No one had reached the South Pole since Amundsen in 1911, and no one had ever crossed Antarctica.

The expedition, using tractors, was led by Sir Vivian Fuchs, but Sir Edmund and a party of New Zealanders made the dash over the pole. There was debate afterward about credit, but a book by Sir Edmund and Sir Vivian belittled the differences.

In 1960, Sir Edmund led a highly publicized but unsuccessful search for the Abominable Snowman. And in 1985, accompanied by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, Sir Edmund flew a twin-engine ski plane over the Arctic and landed at the North Pole. He thus became the first to stand at both poles and on the summit of Everest.

Sir Edmund wrote or was a co-author of 13 books, including "No Latitude for Error" (1961, Hodder & Stoughton), about the Antarctic experience. He also formed a foundation, the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust, which raised millions and built schools, clinics, airfields and other facilities for the Sherpa villages in Nepal. For many years, Sir Edmund was president of New Zealand's Peace Corps and an important voice in his country's conservation efforts.

Edmund Percival Hillary was born July 20, 1919, in Tuakau, near Auckland, the son of Percival Augustus Hillary and Gertrude Clark Hillary. His father was a commercial beekeeper, and Edmund and a younger brother, Rexford, worked on the family farm.

Edmund began climbing as a youth while attending public schools in Auckland. He went to Auckland University and served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator during World War II.

After the war he took climbing instruction from leading alpinists, began to specialize in ice-climbing techniques, climbed in the Swiss Alps and got to know British mountaineers with Himalayan experience. He began climbing peaks of more than 20,000 feet in Nepal. As his reputation grew, Hunt chose him as a member of the 1953 expedition that conquered Everest.

Four months after Everest, Sir Edmund married Louise Mary Rose, the daughter of a mountain climber. They had three children, Peter, Sarah and Belinda. In 1975, Lady Louise and Belinda were killed when their small plane crashed on takeoff from Katmandu Airport.

In 1979, Sir Edmund was to have been commentator on an Air New Zealand sightseeing flight over the Antarctic but had to withdraw because of a schedule conflict. His friend and fellow mountaineer Peter Mulgrew took his place. The plane crashed on Mount Erebus, a volcano on Ross Island in McMurdo Sound, and all 257 aboard were killed. Sir Edmund married June Mulgrew, his friend's widow, in 1989. Besides Lady June, Sir Edmund is survived by his daughter, Sarah, his son, Peter, and six grandchildren.

A footnote to the lore of Everest was added in 1999. Using global positioning system equipment, an expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society and others revised the elevation of the summit upward by 7 feet, to 29,035 from 29,028.

Standing atop that pinnacle in 1953 was an experience Sir Hillary would recollect many times in lectures and quiet conversations.

"The whole world around us lay spread out like a giant relief map," he told one interviewer. "I am a lucky man. I have had a dream and it has come true, and that is not a thing that happens often to men."

Friday 11 January 2008

award for week's best giggle

I have a tag from rob clack to complete but I'm going to wait until Monday since I'm short on internet time.

I want to share you with the biggest laugh I've had all week. This is the comment that Omega Mum left on my post concerning the origins of life and where we go after this shot...

"The alternative is to be a giant panda. They lead an almost completely solitary existence, bound by no rules, amble through their bean-shoot rich countryside, meet each other rarely and then only to mate but then, and get this, often loathe each other on sight and never get it together. And we wonder why they're endangered. Anyway, my plan is to come back as one, as long as it has keyboard skills."

Thursday 10 January 2008

I get two, actually three...

Moroccans will celebrate the Islamic New Year (1429 anno hegirae) Thursday, January 10, a communiqué of the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs announced on Wednesday.

The Islamic New Year begins with the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. This day is celebrated to pay homage to Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) emigration from Makkah to Madinah. Since the Islamic lunar calendar, introduced in 634 A.D., is 11-12 days shorter than the solar calendar, the date of the holiday changes each year.

Tibetan New Year is the most important festival in Tibet and falls on 7 February this year in the Gregorian calendar. It is an occasion when Tibetan families reunite and expect that the coming year will be a better one. Known as Losar, the festival starts from the first to the third day of the first Tibetan month. Preparations for the festive event are manifested by special offerings to family shrine deities, painted doors with religious symbols, and other painstaking jobs done to prepare for the event. Tibetans eat Guthuk (barley crumb food with filling) on New Year's Eve with their families. Eating Guthuk is fun since the barley crumbs are stuffed with a different filling to fool someone in the family. The Festival of Banishing Evil Sprits is observed after dinner. Signs that the New Year is approaching are when one sees lit torches, and people running and yelling to get rid of evil spirits from their houses. Before dawn on New Year's Day, housewives get their first buckets of water for their homes and prepare breakfast. After breakfast, people dress up to go to monasteries and offer their prayers. People visit their neighborhoods and exchange their Tashi Delek blessings in the first two days. Feast is the theme during the occasion. On the third day, old prayer flags are replaced with new ones. The festivites in Mcleod Ganj, India are the same. His Holiness usually gives a special audience and conducts services in the Temple. It's a hoot!

I'm going to need more Cristal champagne!

Tuesday 8 January 2008

...just thinking

Thinking about it, we begin life as the most helpless of creatures, so of course we look to some outside source for protection and guidance. We do what we are told not because it is right or just, but because we fear punishment or withdrawal of affection. As we grow most of us go along with whatever spiritual/religious beliefs we are reared with or rebel against them totally, then as teenagers we pull away looking for our own path. We then have society telling us what the rules are that we must follow and the consequences of noncompliance. I don’t think the majority of people stray too far from the beliefs of their origins, or if they do, they return to what’s comfortable. There are those of course who do embark on a spiritual journey that last from the moment you begin until the end of life because it is not possible to know the answer. Is it?

What came before? That is the ultimate question of cosmologist. What happened before the Big Bang? If there is a singular god, a supreme being controlling creation, where was She before? And if She is all knowing, all-powerful, and all goodness, what possible reason could there be to create an inferior form of life and then watch it suffer? Why create it on one planet like an experiment in a petri dish? Buddhists handle this question with dependant origination – there is no beginning, and there is no god – we are responsible for our own fate, and we have to keep doing it until we get it right.

How could a human understand the divine? Won’t that understanding always be filtered through the human brain, through our instinct for survival? Even when holy texts are revealed through divine revelation, that text is filtered through a human mind, then through translation and the current political prism. The interpretation of that text, as we have seen, depends on the man and his agenda.

If we concur with modern thought, then evolution moves from simple to complex. A human thought process is infinitely more complex than a star. We are all made from stars you know. The atoms that were dispersed throughout the universe after the Big Bang are contained within us. There is a line of thought that what we call god or dependant origination is the Universe becoming aware. The swirling mass of atoms becomes aware. But that still leaves us lonely doesn’t it? No great father figure, no justification for a patriarchal society and control. No hell, so we are responsible for our own morals and ethics. If there are levels of humans (evil, not-so-evil, good, better-than-good, exceptional) does that not by definition imply that there are levels of gods? If there is a learning curve for humanity would that not apply in a divine sense? Doesn’t that make more sense than an all powerful, all knowing being with nothing better to do than create one race of inferior beings and let them run?

I read in various text and publications that the majority doesn’t care if it’s real, their faith gives them comfort and a sense of protection from the callous arbitrary events of life on Earth. I can understand that. That’s what faith is, not asking for proof. But what if you are not one of the majority where do you find comfort then? What is your explanation for the presence of evil? How do you explain the presence of evil if God is goodness yet evil exist? What is the reason for your existence? Why live a moral or ethical life? To what end?

But can it be possible that the genius or compassion or sacrifice that we see in the lives of humans is only in existence for sixty or ninety years? Does that make sense? That the music of Mozart was here and then blinked out of existence forever? The genius of Hawkings? The compassion of King? Or is that just human hubris to think that anything we are capable of as individuals is worthy of survival in the universe?

I’m making no judgment, I’m just thinking…

Friday 4 January 2008

A neighborly visit

A neighborly visit

Returning from the Medina (bank and food) I met one of my neighbors from next door. We acknowledged greetings and she then went on to carry on a conversation with me that I did not understand but did acknowledge with smiles and nodding my head in agreement.

About an hour later, Ouiwa came to my door, asked if she could come in, and presented me with a gift! She had taken a frilly, silvery and gold garland and wrapped it around a piece of dark brown pottery and inside was a long string of colored wooden beads and a necklace of red and white linear beads that the lady on the corner sells to the tourists. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Now some of my neighbors have brought food to my door during Ramadan, but they just handed it in and beat a hasty retreat. I think most of them, even though they find it very odd, know that I am a loner.

I know from our time in Fez that Moroccan women are so good at nothing as much as they are at visiting. I do not speak the language but I am an adept at intuitive translation. Once when we had attended a wedding in Fez, one of the wedding party came to Q and told her what a nice long conversation we had – much to Q’s surprise. “How do you do that?” she asked.

“Years of practice my dear.” I can, it’s true, converse with almost anyone in any language, within certain common areas of course. The down side is that this method is exhausting as it requires paying rapt attention to body movements, posture, facial expressions, hand movement, and eye contact. We don’t notice how little we actually have to pay attention in our normal day-to-day conversations within our own environments. When I speak Spanish and the other languages that I have some small proficiency with I have to pay closer attention true, but nothing like when I have no idea what they are saying verbally.

I can tell you that my neighborhood is a widow. She lives with her brother and his wife, as well as her son and his family. Her son is the father of the neighborhood baby, the one who gives out the kisses. She is a grandmother and she has diabetes. She has some leaks in her house because of the rain as well, and thinks I should take my towels that I used to catch my own leaks up to the roof to dry. She thinks it is very good that Q has gone to America for school, but sad that I live in this whole house by myself – an alien concept in Morocco I assure you. She thinks I must be lonely.

And I can tell you I am exhausted now. She caught me in the midst of writing a report for a friend of mine and I had to compartmentalize the thought process I had been pursuing in order to give my full attention to the conversation. I think she caught my drift when I explained that I needed to get back to work and that I am leaving shortly on another trip.

It was a very brief visit by Moroccan standards but for me – the hermit who likes her socialization planned and away from home – it was longer. I am not one who enjoys chit chat. I like an agenda and purpose.

What a kind gesture it was and one I appreciate. Just another day in the Kasbah Oudayas that reinforces the fact that kindness and neighborly consideration exist worldwide, and aren’t we glad?


Thursday 3 January 2008

wind in the kasbah...

As Q said to me one day, “When it comes to writing, some days one good sentence is all you can ask for.” Today may well be one of those days..

That old saying, “blew into town” was certainly true for me today. The wind was blowing billy ‘ups all over the city. The palm trees were bowing toward the palace in submission and the whitecaps were dashing the rocks on the beach like a March day in Wick! The rain and wind have almost closed down the Medina, as I made a run out to the bank and picked up some dates and bread I saw a few hardy souls with open hannouts but most were covering with plastic or taking in the verandas.

*here's an interesting note - I googled for the home site for Wick, and it won't let me in because it's too busy? Who's headed for the North Sea this time of year?

I am trying to find some organizing-type software for my manuscripts. As I have more than one going at a time, and I want to submit some articles as well, I need some cyber folders and a cyber cabinet to keep them in. The time it takes to find a program is not so much, but figuring them out! I have been playing with Curio all morning. I like the different goodies, but I can’t find them after! I filled out one of the projects with notes for my conversations and then – poof! Gone! I spent an hour trying to find the bloody thing. I am now trying Tinderbox. I have read about one other with cyber note-cards that I may try later. I need to settle on one so that I’m not retrieving pages from all over before the trial runs disappear! ‘Vat a day!

What about the mess in Pakistan eh? Did you read that the government is calling in Scotland Yard? Let’s hope they don’t get anyone of the unfortunate caliber of the Inspectors of Sherlock Holmes fame. On the other hand could the waters get anymore murky?

My Africa is on fire again – Kenya. Are there enough tears to shed for this continent?

On a cheery note I’m all snug and warm now with a fresh pot of tea and I’m off to the land of cyber shopping and playing with cyber toys…. If I’m not out in a few days, send someone in after me will you?


Wednesday 2 January 2008

a few photographs

Here's a look at the neighborhood sidewalks freshly whitewashed before the holiday; and the market meat department.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

the calendar begins anew...2008

I wish a year full of adventure and discovery for all my lovely readers.

Even though I don’t believe that time is linear, I think the calendar new year affords the opportunity to reevaluate. I do believe that regret and guilt can not only make your life unhappy, but actually shorten it. If we live every day with a sense of the possible, I think we can ‘repair’ the yesterdays. Regret nothing, for even if it was a ‘bad’ decision, it brought you to where you are today. We learn something from each turn in the road don’t we, and how can we regret that? If you are not where you want to be today, start toward your goal – there is always enough time because it is the journey where we learn, not the destination. Anything is possible because if you change your mind, you change matter – that is a scientific truth. What you think is what you are.

I think we cannot possibly conceive of what the Universe truly has to offer, not only in the physical sense but the spiritual. It is not only more advanced machines we need to measure the components of space, but more developed minds to comprehend the truth of the Universe. I have never understood the tendency of established religions to narrow the perceptions of their believers to what they dictate as dogma. Why would you do that? Oh all right I do know why – power. But why would we settle for that? If we continue to search for what is true, for what we are capable of, for what we can understand, for what we can sense and perceive – doesn’t that make us as individuals more knowing?

It seems to me that people are at different levels of understanding the Universe – by education, culture, upbringing, physical restraints, or fear. I think there is room for all levels of understanding, but only if there is compassion and tolerance. I think we can see in the world today what intolerance, rigidity, and fear have brought us – war and the violence of terrorism, poverty, hunger, and children dying from diseases that can be controlled with a simple vaccine. I think in this new year it is time to take power away from those few, controlled by fear and the hunger for power, and those who want a wider worldview to take power. I see no reason why this can’t be so. Aren’t there more of us than there are of them? But do we want a more tolerate and peaceful world more than they want money and power? That appears to be a question that needs an answer.

Those are my thoughts at the beginning of 2008. As always I hold that I could be wrong. If proven so, I am willing to revise my views.

Now back to Eid Al-Adha. On Friday, the second day of the holiday, I took a walk through the medina. It was quite a singular experience. As I entered the medina I saw several young boys building a fire with apparently whatever they could gather – pieces of wood from orange crates, scattered pieces of charcoal, and wood from broken walls. Stretched over the fire was what appeared to be chicken wire, you know that thin wire in an egg crate pattern. I thought, they must be cold, but they would do better to build the fire in a lee. Walking further in I began to see a fire about every twenty to thirty paces and the purpose became clear. They were roasting the sheep heads! From the feasting of the day before I can only imagine. Young boys were sitting to the sides of the fire with hammers and knives removing (with a great deal of enthusiasm and glee) the horns from the heads of the sheep and goats. All of the fires were catch as catch can, made from whatever was handy that would burn; and the means by which the heads were held over the fire varied from chicken wire to old rolling carts. One group outside a bank of apartments had a real outdoor bar-b-que set-up with walls around their fire and a metal grill formed from an old bedstead. The people from inside were bringing out the sheep’s heads to the young entrepreneurs who had an assembly line working to roast the heads, put them on a piece of wood that was then returned to the owners. I watched this little scenario for a while before turning into the depths of the medina. I have read that the face meat is very tender and the eyeballs are considered a delicacy. The brains are eaten with fresh bread.

As I walked further into the almost deserted medina, which I expected it being a holiday, I noted what I did not expect – there were NO WOMEN except for me. NO CHILDREN, NO TODDLERS of any sort. The fires were all tended by young boys and teenagers. The men were gathered outside the doorways of the closed shops. And nowhere did I see another female. It was creepy and I began to feel a bit edgy, like I didn’t “get the memo”. By the time I was truly nervous I was all the way through the medina and the only way home was back through. I actually considered a taxi but there were none to be found at the usual station by the market. I walked on to the New City where again groups of men were gathered at the occasional café that was open and serving tea. Finally I did see ONE woman – a westerner having tea with a western young man – tourists. I decided I best hoof it back home. I can assure you I made my best time ever through the shortest route through the medina to the Oudayas! Let me say that not one chap gave me a threatening look nor in any manner made me frightened, it was simply the situation and memories of Afghanistan long ago.

I ventured back out on Sunday and all that was left of the celebration was to be found looking down – there were fresh blood trails everywhere I walked.

A few shops were opened and I stopped for some Clementines. I spotted some peaches while there and discovered the fallout from a drought year – the peaches were 130dhs/kg! Yikes, but they were yummy.

Ciao lovely readers.