Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Old Year, New Year

I was unhappy in January.
I cried myself to sleep in February.
I was desperate in March.
I was numb in April, May and June.
I was desperate for diversion in July and August.
Then I was numb again in September and October.
I took a step back towards the world in November.
I relearned how to hope in December.

I don't know how your year was.
Regardless, I hope for the next one will be (even) better.

Maybe we can leave the shitty bits behind and take the good bits with us.

Maybe :)

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Stay Married For The Children

I got this one via Alas, A Blog.

So, "Children do better with parents together"? Well, duh.
Of course, children from happy and stable homes have a better chance of doing well than those from destructive, emotionally unstable backgrounds.

But that isn't what this billboard is about. Instead, it's about those awful, irresponsible parents who do terminal damage to their children's lives by getting divorced. Shame on them, etc, bla bla.

Except...Years ago (I can't remember when, exactly, but I was maybe seven years old, or younger) I found my mother crying in the bathroom. That alone was shocking enough for me at the time, because my mother never, ever cried. But then she looked at me and asked the Question: "What would you say if I told you that Mum and Dad were going to get a divorce?"

Divorce, as I understood it at the time, meant that my Dad would go away and I was never going to see him again. So, not surprisingly, I started to cry, and my mother didn't bring it up again.

My parents stayed together until I was almost sixteen years old. And you know what?
I spent at least the last five years of that time wishing they were divorced.
I'm pretty sure I would have "done better" without listening to the late-night fights in the kitchen, without the glacial silence and complete lack of closeness between my parents, without cleaning up my father's vomit after he had passed out drunk on the sofa.

But most of all, I would have done better without the crushing guilt of knowing that my mother went through that hell for years because I started to cry in the bathroom that day.

I don't think it's so much about whether a child grows up with parents who are married to each other. Rather, it's about the role models a child is given. It's about teaching by example, how to respect and love yourself and others, that good relationships mean that both sides' needs are met, and a million other things...That's what good parents should try to do for their children.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Movies A-Z

I got this one from kalafudra (no surprise there), and she in turn got it from Shefaly.

So, I'll try to write form one film I liked for each letter of the English alphabet.
NB: These are not necessarily my favourite films, because the ranking for those changes roughly 60 times per hour, but they are films I liked. I will try to avoid spoilers (but I fail at this...just ask kalafudra). I'll also try to avoid listing the same director twice.

I don't know if this counts, but the first one that came to mind was "Angels in America".
But if I have to restrict myself to theatrical releases, I'd go with "Atonement" - not only because the library scene is probably one of the best love scenes I've ever seen, but also because the moment when the guys come over that hill at Dunkirk was punch-in-the-gut brilliance. (As a side note: Damn you, Ian McEwan! Damn you!)

"Big Fish", because I had to include one film by Tim Burton, and this one is my absolute favourite. It's about giants and witches, and catching uncatchable fish, but most of all it's about fathers and sons, and about the importance of stories.

"Cidade de Deus"...A film that draws you in from the very beginning, and doesn't let you go, even if you want to distance yourself - and some of the scenes from the boys' childhood really made me want to.

"Death to Smoochy" - One of the most underrated films I've ever come across. Everything, from the cast to the script, is genius. And I dare anyone not to love a film that contains the insult "Illegitimate Teletubbie!".

"E.T." - This one is the first non-Disney film I remember watching. I'm still in love with it. Besides, the theme sparked my passion for movie scores.

"Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" - I saw the first teaser trailer for this one while I was in France for the first time. I didn't stay long enough to see it there, so I had to wait and hope for about a year for the film to come to Austria. And it delivered. I don't know which is my favourite part - Amélie's campaign of revenge against the grocer Colignon, or the intrepid garden gnome.

"The Great Dictator" - I like Chaplin, but I couldn't have chosen among the Tramp films, so I picked something else. And no, I'm not just being pretentious. I genuinely love this film. The dance-scene with the globe is sublime, and his speech at the end makes me cry every time I see it. Knowing what happened after the film was made makes it all the more poignant.

"Her Majesty, Mrs Brown" (this is the UK title, which is where I saw it, and it starts with H, so I'm going with it. Bite me, Imdb!) - I love this one, because it's slow and quiet and utterly believable. Judy Dench is great in everything she does (except for a certain Vin Diesel craptastrophe that shall not be named), but this was the first time I saw Billy Connolly and didn't hate him.

"Iris" - Have I mentioned that Judy Dench is great in everything she does? The same goes for Jim Broadbent (who is from Lincoln and therefore entitled to special love from me). The film isn't as brutal with the physical truths of Alzheimer's as it could be, but the way in which they focus on the way her mind gradually slips away is more than enough to swallow.

"Jeux d'enfants" - Before her turn as Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard was Sophie in this unconventional romantic story. I loved the way the protagonists' relationship progresses through their escalating dares. Besides, that little boy (Thibault Verhaeghe) was absolutely adorable.

"Kung Fu" - A martial arts comedy with elements of musicals and heavy influences from anime (and it's not about football, either) - what's not to love?

"El Laberinto del Fauno" - Because it is breathtaking, even though I basically have to leave the room whenever the Captain enters the frame (I watched that bottle scene once, I don't need to see it again. Ever.) It captures the spirit of Grimm's fairy tales in combining terror with awe, when most films take the easy way out and choose one of the two. Also, that melody haunts me for days whenever I hear it.

"The Matrix" - I remember coming across this one in a movie journal just before it opened. They devoted less than half a page to it, as opposed to four or even eight pages for the big blockbusters. Kalafudra and I went to see it only because I had a crush on Keanu Reeves and she indulged me. The rest is history.
Spoon Boy: Do not try to like the sequels. That's impossible. Instead...only realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon Boy: There are no sequels.

"The Notebook" - I have yet to find a better schmaltzy film to cry to. I love it, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

"Once" - The great music, the wonderful story, the beauty of Dublin, and the bittersweetness of it all coming together...this film is a gem.

There is no way I can make my mind up on this one...
"Penelope" - Another one of those criminally underrated treasures, probably my favourite film of this year (and there has been some stiff competition, I assure you). Everything about this fairytale is beautiful, from the message all the way to the shutters in Penelope's room. Speaking of there any way I could get that room? Please??? Also, I would like to take this moment to present James McAvoy with a Special Award for Achievements in Screen Kissing, which I shall give him the moment my knees become solid again.
"Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl" - It's based on a ride in Disneyworld. It's got Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley creating a charismatic vacuum between them. It shouldn't have worked, but it did. And I love it.

"The Queen" - Helen Mirren is another one of those actresses who are always great. But in this film, she outdid herself. It is not so much a biopic as a brief glimpse into an important period of a life, and it's done with more care and respect than I would have thought was possible.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark" - Where would this list be without Indy? In the hands of all-powerful Nazis, that's where. Ha!

"Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi" - This is my favourite Miyazaki film, not only because it's the most engaging coming-of-age fairy tale I've ever come across, or because it is filled to the brim with magical creatures. It also takes true genius to make a film with witches, demons, curses, gods, and a dragon...and ground it all in one stunningly beautiful, completely serene train journey.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" - I saw the new one when it came out a few years ago, and it was alright, I guess, but nothing to write home about. But last summer I got up one night because I couldn't sleep, and the original version was on TV. Steve McQueen really sells the thrill-seeking billionaire, and the chemistry between him and Faye Dunaway was sizzling so much it kept me glued to my seat until 4am. That chess scene is one of the hottest sex-scenes-without-actual-sex ever.

"The Usual Suspects" - As gangster films from 1994 go, "L.A. Confidential" usually gets most of the credit. I never understood that. I enjoy what kalafudra describes as "mind-fuckery". And that ending, when Kevin Spacey leaves and the police officers turn around is one of my all time favourite scenes. (Is that a spoiler? I hope not...If yes, then I'm really, really sorry.)

"Volver" - For several reasons: Firstly, I didn't like "V for Vendetta" at all. Secondly, I haven't seen "Velvet Goldmine", yet. Thirdly, it was the only other film with V I could think of off the top of my head (because copying kalafudra two letters in a row wasn't an option, either). Fourthly, this film was not bad at all :)

"WALL-E" - Oh, where shall I start? Everything about this film, from that zoom in, with the tune from "Hello, Dolly" to the crash-course-in-art-history credit roll, the film was engaging, heartwarming, cute, romantic, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Way to set the bar sky-high, Pixar.

"X2" - Oh damn...I've done it. But I'm afraid it's Bryan Singer again or nothing. The first film was good, but the second one didn't have to bother with all that lengthy exposition and introduced a villain who more than held his own against the combined thespian superpowers of Stewart and McKellen (et al). Besides, we get to see more of the school. I love that school. Why didn't I go to that school? I could have been their affirmative action homo sapiens, or something...

"Ying Xiong" - This film completely blew me away. I had seen other films by Zhang Yimou. I had seen other Chinese martial arts films. But I was not prepared for what would happen when those two came together. The story is good, of course, and the acting is great (yes, even Ziyi Zhang...although it pains me to say that), but it's the look of it that truly sets it apart. And everything he did right with this one, Yimou proceeded to exaggerate and overdo with the film that followed...Pity.

"Zatôichi" - This isn't one of my favourite films, to be absolutely honest. It's too exhausting for my taste, but I will admit that it is a very good film, and well worth watching. It reminded me of a magnificent opera, making up for the lack of singing with the sheer quantity of missing limbs. It's also the only film with Z I have seen that seems worth mentioning (but there's a couple of them yet on my unofficial "To Watch-List").

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Global Gag Rule

via Shakesville:

The Global Gag Rule has to go. Now.

A couple years ago I spent a week compiling a briefing paper about how the Gag Rule is a violation of Human Rights (not to mention state sovereignty).
This video makes the case a lot better than I ever did:

You can sign the petition here.

And in case you needed another argument on how repealing the Gag Rule and thus giving more people access to contraceptives would be an excellent idea, how about this? The idea that Coca Cola douches aren't a useful contraceptive shouldn't be news to anybody. In fact, a study on the matter was awarded the 2008 IgNobel Prize in chemistry. And yet...

...soft drink douches are apparently still used to prevent pregnancy in resource-poor settings.

The study goes on to mention that not only do Coke douches not prevent pregnancies, they may even be harmful to a woman's health. Lovely.
Now, if only there was a way to tell people this, to talk about methods of family planning that actually work, to provide them with contraceptives...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Twilight OST

So, I've been feeling a bit left out by the "Twilight"-mania.
Some people love it, some people hate it.
I strongly suspect that I'd be with the "hate it"-crowd, but I can't really tell, since I haven't read the books, and I won't get a chance to see the movie until January.

But I did manage to get my hands on the official soundtrack.
I even listened to it, because there's some stuff I like on it, and because I wanted to find out whether cramming Debussy and Paramore on one album was inspired or insane.

As of the first few bars of the "Drinking Song" from La Traviata, I've made up my mind: insane.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Rom-Coms - They're Bad For You...

Rom-coms have been blamed by relationship experts at Heriot Watt University for promoting unrealistic expectations when it comes to love.

They found fans of films such as Runaway Bride and Notting Hill often fail to communicate with their partner.

Many held the view if someone is meant to be with you, then they should know what you want without you telling them.
Oh dear.

Students watching the romantic film were later found to be more likely to believe in fate and destiny. A further study found that fans of romantic comedies had a stronger belief in predestined love.
Oh dear.

So, the stereotypes are true. I will be unable to have a relationship with a person, because in my heart, I will always be holding out for Mr Right (TM) who calls me "Princess" and who had me at hello. Damn.

But shouldn't there be some mention of gender in this?
Could there be a difference between male and female participants?
Could it be, say, that more women than men love rom-coms?
Could it be that girls are fed stories about The Man For You pretty much from birth? You know the guy...he's the one worth waiting for, the prince who will always rescue you, the one who will be your husband, the one who will be right for you in every way, the one for the happily ever after without any trials or tribulations or arguments about who forgot to buy the milk.
Could there (and I'm going out on a massive limb on this one) be a correlation?

Also, if rom-coms are the only genre to promote unrealistic ideas about relationships, or anything else, for that matter, I will eat my (one and only, much beloved) hat.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Reviews and Other Disasters

I've been thinking about this discussion thread for several hours now, because it's interesting and because it beats the hell out of preparing basic grammar exercised for the poor souls whom I shall have at my mercy tomorrow.

The question was the following:
Which movie, generally regarded as an otherwise good film, has one or more messages that bug you so much that it's hard to enjoy the movie for its good points?
And while I was thinking about films and about the excellent points the other commenters were making, "Love and Other Disasters" popped into my head.
Frankly, I liked that film. It was just the adorable piece of fluff I needed for my Saturday afternoon. (And I don't think I ever liked Brittany Murphy better than I did in this one.)

Sure, they used every single cliché in the book, but I didn't care. The film wasn't so much a rom-com as a satire about rom-coms. And even if it had been all that shallow...
I like all those clichés, sometimes. I didn't watch "Con Air" for the intellectual stimulation, either.

Anyway, my biggest criticism of "Love and Other Disasters" was probably the fact that Jacks was always at least half naked when she was in her flat.
So what if you're Brittany Murphy and have worked hard to get that body, that is not an excuse. So what if your flatmate is gay, that is not an excuse.
No, not even reading a cookbook called "The Naked Chef" is an excuse.
You are not in some 3rd rate anime, so put some clothes on, dammit!

Anyway, I tried to figure out why this movie, of all things, should spark in my memory while I read the above thread. Was there a message in there I didn't like? (Apart from the gratuitous nudity that was so ridiculously overdone they couldn't have been serious about it.)
So I googled some reviews and stumbled over a review from Variety.

Needless to say, they didn't like it. They didn't like the clichés. They didn't get the fact that it was quite a clever satire.
Yes..."Love and Other Disasters" is the "Starship Troopers" of rom-coms. There, I've said it. Mock me at your leisure.

But the worst part of the review, by far, was this (emphasis mine):

Keshishian's script is sloppy in both setting up and sustaining the sexual identity confusion that fuels the comic engine. This hinges on tasty Argentine photographer's assistant Paolo (Santiago Cabrera), whom Jacks mistakenly thinks is gay, despite such giveaways as his disdain for the fashion world and passion for gritty photo-reportage.
Thank you so much for that illuminating piece of wisdom, Variety.
Congratulations - in a disdainful review about the over-use of cliché, that sentence is zen-like perfection.

I still haven't figured out why I came to think about "Love and Other Disasters" in the first place. But I have a strong need to not read any more of that stuff, so I'm going to be very OOC and just drop it.

Brace Yourself YouTube...

...Here I Come!!!

Bliss, thy name is Unlimited Wireless Broadband.

Oh, how I missed thee.
Let us never be parted again.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Trivial Thursday

(Actors Edition)

Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, was allergic to carrots. He was lucky that Bugs is a toon.

William B Davis, better known as Cigarette Smoking Man, was a non-smoker, so he had to smoke herbal cigarettes all the time while filming The X-Files - those things are vile.

Alexis Bledel, who played coffee-addict Rory Gilmore, can't stand coffee - so her cups were filled with coke.

A Cynicism Antidote

This is just what I needed today.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Trivial Thursday

I love trivia.
The more trivial, the better. The more useless, the better.

And since I can rarely keep anything to myself, I'm going to try and spread my love of useless and random knowledge by making Trivial Thursdays a regular feature.

So, buckle your seatbelts, here we go:

Contrary to popular belief, the Queen doesn't own every swan in Britain.
But she owns a small number of mute swans on the Thames. Apparently, swans were a delicacy in the 12th century, so the king made sure some of those yummy feasts-to-be were his personal property. Since then, those swans are actually counted every year, most probably to check whether anybody was dumb/suicidal enough to poach Thames swans (!!!) for food.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Yay !!!

Today, representatives of 107 countries got together in Oslo to sign a

...a legally binding international instrument that prohibits the use and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and secure adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and clearance of contaminated areas.

Interestingly, Austrian state television didn't think this story was worth their notice.
I disagree, and I've been doing my personal happydance after spotting the report on Al Jazeera.

Unsurprisingly, the US, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India have not signed this treaty.
The US, apparently "shares the concerns" ... but signing treaties, let alone binding ones, is un-American, or something. I suppose it interferes with their trying to be a "shining beacon of moral example". (Yes, I personally mangled this Obama quote. What can I say...I'm feeling even more cynical than normal.)

Also, there are "legitimate military uses" for cluster bombs...
...such as ruining entire crops or at least making it impossible for farmers to harvest what little might be left.
...or looking just like an interesting toy, so that children are more likely to pick it up:

Here are some more resources on this topic by people who are a lot more knowledgable than I am.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Shopping for Frustration

I love to shop.

I love to look around for that perfect gift for somebody.
I love to come out of a shop with a bag full of DVDs I hadn't even known I wanted.
I love spending hours on end in a bookshop and browsing until the stack of books I want to buy becomes too heavy for me to carry.

And yet, shopping for clothes makes me want to cry and scream after about five minutes.
There is nothing that will destroy my morale and my will to live quite so quickly as a clothes shop.

You wonder why? Me too.
The last time I checked, my anatomy was "normal". One head, two arms conveniently linked to the body at the shoulders, one torso, two legs ending in two feet, which point the right way (as far as I can tell). My joints bend in the directions they should, I have no tail, no wings, nor any other appendages not normally associated with Homo sapiens.
Granted, my body is closer to Rubens' idea of beauty than to Karl Lagerfeld's...but still.

It's the same pattern every time. I walk into the first shop with a clear idea of what I want and what it should look like, full of naive hope that *this time* will be different.
Five minutes later, my hands are full with stuff I like (just like in a bookshop).
Then follows the dreaded ritual of Trying It On.
In small, enclosed spaces with far too much light and far too many mirrors for self-delusion.
At this point, my mood takes a nose-dive into the deepest depths of self-loathing, because the clothes don't fit.
After the fourth item, I become convinced that nothing will fit. Not today. Not ever.
That the search is hopeless and therefore not worth continuing. But I know that I still need those clothes, because going naked and/or freezing is not an option. At that point, I want to either scream in frustration and trash the entire shop, or curl up in a corner and cry...or both.
I'm not kidding - clothes shopping regularly brings me to tears.

By far the worst is the sacred quest for Trousers That Fit (TM).
Finding the Holy Grail seems easy by comparison.

There are billions of trousers out there, and a portion of those are (nominally) my size.
Of those, some are basically imposters, which aren't really my size at all, but have been labelled as such purely to increase the feeling that there is something wrong with me.

Others are, in all obvious respects, more or less my size, but there is a wrongness about them that makes them look weird on me or at least uncomfortable for me. Some even look good right up until the moment when I first sit down and get back up again.
Those are Ill-Fitting Trousers, some of which live in my closet by necessity, because I'm not much of a skirt-person, and even less of a going-naked-person.
Jeans are the worst. I like jeans, but somehow they always make me look as if I had a penis because they bulge in all the wrong places. For the record, I don't have a penis and I don't want one. And no Freudian jeans-conspiracy will convince me otherwise.

I actually can't remember if I ever owned Trousers That Fit (TM).
If I did, it must have been at least 10 years ago.
But I still haven't given up hope that somewhere out there, they do exist.
I have a clear idea of what I want and what it should look like, and I'm absolutely sure that next time, everything will be different.

On the way back?

I don't know...maybe?

Most of the time it doesn't feel that way at all.

But sometimes I look at the fact that I'm reading (and occasionally even writing) again, or I go home from the couple of hours of almost-work I'm doing most days, and I get the feeling that I might be on the right track.

Anyway, I'll try and post here again - just to prove to myself that I can.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


I'm sorry this blog has slipped into a coma almost before it even started.

Bla bla bla ... cycloid depression ... doctor-talk ... yadda ... mumbo-jumbo ...

Bonus question: Is "cycloid" a real word? (and if it is, should it be?)

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

In Other News...

  • First and foremost - Happy Birthday Philip Roth!

  • Arthur C. Clarke died at the age of 90 in his home in Sri Lanka.

  • Another great man, Philip Jones Griffiths, has passed away on Tuesday.

  • The BBC tells me that Shin-Bet has launched a blog. Isn't that a little absurd? Counterintuitive? Reading just the headline, I thought that this would contain either somewhat factual accounts...

    "Today, we spent 18 hours sitting in an unmarked car at an undisclosed location, waiting for our subject to make an appearance. Nothing happened. Between us, we had 12 cups of coffee and 8 sandwiches. Nothing continued to happen."

    ...or some intern's opportunity for Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu-esque wish fulfillment...

    "My backup was delayed, so I was forced to single-handedly clear out the Hamas command centre/Hizbollah stronghold, using nothing but my trusty Uzis. After I had run out of ammunition, I had to rely solely on my superior Krav Maga skills to neutralize the six men who were still on their feet. Just another day at the office, I always say."

    ...but it turns out the whole thing is just a boring ol' recruitment drive. I'm so disappointed.

Happy Anniversary?

Today is the fifth anniversary of the War in Iraq.
Or, as The Dick put it, "the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the campaign that liberated the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein's tyranny."

I will not go into what I think of this war. That is for any other day. But I received an IRC
newsletter today, and it contained a set statistics that cannot be highlighted enough.

The Iraqi refugee crisis is one of enormous scale, and today it is the fastest growing refugee emergency in the world. The statistics are alarming:

  • 60,000 — Iraqi refugees fleeing their homes every month, mostly because they have been threatened with death, torture, or kidnapping
  • 4,400,000 — displaced Iraqis
  • 220,000 — displaced Iraqi children who have stopped going to school
  • 12,000 — United States goal for the number resettled Iraqi refugees to enter the country in FY 2008
  • 1,432 — Iraqi refugees actually resettled in the United States in 2008 so far.

Okay...let's break that down then, shall we?

60,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes every month.
These are people who found themselves threatened for such heinous crimes as 'trying to make a living', or 'trying to do their job'. Examples of this include people who worked for the Americans (in any capacity, but I would assume translators get the worst of it), journalists, and even male gynaecologists.

4,400,000 displaced Iraqis.
The number is actually pretty hard to estimate, but it's probably in the ballpark. The figure includes internally displaced Iraqis as well as the refugees who fled to neighbouring countries. Estimates for the total number of refugees speak of 1-2 million, who fled in two major waves - during the period of sanctions against Iraq and after the bombing of the Askari Mosque in Samarra in Feb 2006.

220,000 displaced Iraqi children who have stopped going to school.
They stopped because it's too dangerous for them to leave the house, or, if they are refugees, because their parents can't afford to send them to school. There is probably also a number of them who can't go to school because they are too traumatised.

12,000 - United States goal for the number of resettled Iraqi refugees in FY 2008
To put this in perspective: The official target for FY 2007 was to resettle 7,000 Iraqis...they managed to resettle 1,608. On the upside, in the first four months of this new fiscal year, they have already managed to resettle 1,432 Iraqis. Will they do better than last year? Sure. Will they reach their target? Not likely. To be fair, State Dept and Dept of Homeland Security have conceded that they may not make it. On the other hand...131,000 Vietnamese were successfully resettled between May and December 1975 alone (over 900,000 in total), and more than 150,000 Bosnian refugees were accepted during the Bosnia conflict.

Some more anything-but-fun facts about Iraqi refugees:

Of all the surrounding countries, only Lebanon permits Iraqi refugees to work. Elsewhere, particularly in Jordan and Syria, the refugees are forced to live in desperate poverty, hidden from the authorities, and oftentimes without legal status. In order to receive help from the UNHCR, they have to come out of hiding and get registered, which is difficult and can lead to imprisonment or deportation, while chances for successful resettlement are relatively small.

In other cases, refugees come together in refugee camps, which means that they can be registered and receive support from the aid organisation administering the camp. For Iraqi refugees, there are no camps, with the people instead spattered across urban areas (e.g. Eastern Amman). This makes it difficult for aid organisations to reach them, let alone provide any sort of systematic, ongoing support structures.

Their situation also means that they are exposed to hostility from the host population. Eastern Amman is a poor area, and the people there blame Iraqis for their poverty. Jordan has been generous in accommodating large numbers of refugees before, and it has caused the country a number of difficulties. It is not surprising that Jordanians should be wary of more of the same happening. Also, let's not forget that, thanks to Saddam Hussein, Iraqis are probably not the most popular to begin with.

The host countries' ambivalence towards the refugees also makes it difficult for aid agencies trying to help, as anybody who wants to support the Iraqis is met with mistrust.

As for repatriation (which has been widely reported on by the media), according to UNHCR only two families have returned from Syria, and few have returned from Jordan. Most refugees seem to find the idea inconceivable (and who can blame them?), and many of those who try turn back almost immediately when they find their homes occupied by others or their neighbourhoods unsafe.

So...on this anniversary, I wish Iraq and its people FEW UNHAPPY RETURNS.
May the nightmare end soon.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Big News

(comes from small typos)

According to the Comment page of the Times Online,

Hair can reveal regions where you drank water and can determine whether murder victims lived prior to death.

The wonders of science never cease to amaze me.
I wonder how long it will take them to fix this. (I'm enjoying this too much right now to alert them myself...)

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Lost Tribe

All week, Al Jazeera has been running special coverage on the Hmong tribe of Laos. (Just when I thought I couldn't possibly love them more...) The features are on them if you can.

Before the 1960s, the Hmong were recruited and armed by the CIA to fight a civil war against the Communist Pathet Lao. When the war was lost and the country became Lao PDR, the CIA dropped them.
Many Hmong emigrated (about a third of those to the United States), some are living in abject poverty in Thailand. But some remained and found that their war simply would not end. Targeted for retribution by the victorious government, they had no choice but to remain in the jungle.
Let me repeat that...this is not some stubborn rebel militia, this is an entire tribe, including their children and their elderly, who spend their lives on the run from one jungle camp to the next, without food, without shelter, without healthcare. The weapons they received during their war are just about the only thing they own, and there seems to be no hope for reintegration in their immediate future.

(...) I walked among starving children, their tiny frames scarred by mortar shrapnel. Young men, toting rifles and with dull-eyed infants strapped to their backs, ripped open their shirts to show me their wounds. An old man grabbed my hand and guided it over the contours of shrapnel buried in his gut. A teenage girl, no more than 15, whimpered at my feet, pawed at my legs and cried, "They've killed my husband. They've killed my mother, my father, my brother �" (...)

I read this article when it first came out. There were pictures, some of which I still cannot get out of my head. This story is partly responsible for my choosing my field of work (peace & development), because I ended up with a ball of white hot rage inside my gut. That rage is still there, and it's fuelled almost every single day, but now I can at least channel it into something constructive.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

The mothers of missing children...

...are going through a kind of hell I cannot even begin to imagine.

Which is why I was so speechless (and then so angry) when I read this, this, this and this today, followed by one of the articles the others were talking about, in the Daily Mail.

I already knew that some missing children receive more media attention than others. Al Jazeera Int did a short feature contrasting media coverage of Madeleine McCann and several other (non-white, non-British, non-Middle class) missing children only a few days after Maddy went missing (I remember this because it was probably their 2nd week on the air, and that was the moment when I became a truly committed fangirl).

Back then, I tried to rationalize this knowledge (studying PR will do that to you) - those media outlets were catering to their target audiences, who, in turn, are more likely to respond to a human interest story if they feel that it affects them (or their own group) intimately.
Yeah, I know...that didn't exactly satisfy me either.

However, as if it weren't vile enough to be make victims of crime almost invisible based on sales projections, some journalists seem to have taken it upon themselves to go one step further.
Apparently, it is not enough to spend days (or months) in complete anguish because you don't know where your child is. No, it is also important that the media tell you exactly how wrongly you are handling the situation, how you are a miserable failure as a mother (and as a person, obviously), and how everything is really your fault.

So, Kate McCann was attacked for being too thin?
I suppose not knowing where your daughter is and what happened to her will diminish a person's appetite. Had she gone to some of those renowned Spanish restaurants she would have been attacked for being callous and then, presumably, for being too fat.
Resorting to this kind of attack is not just cruel, it's also pathetic enough to be completely ridiculous. But I suppose there was little else to criticize her for, what with her being middle class and married to the father of her child, and all...

...unlike Karen Matthews and Fiona MacKeown.

I can't even articulate how disgusting this is.

Random Rant

I just spent my entire morning proofreading a 16-page report in what was probably supposed to be English (I'm honestly not sure at this point)...It might have broken my brain. It definitely broke my morale.

So I did what I usually do...comfort-surfing (about films).

Here's what I found: The 10 Moviegoing Commandments

No 1 - "Thou shalt not have stupid trendy hair that sticketh up and obscureth my view" - is particularly important. I am not a tall person. In fact, I'm so short that the seats in front of me come up to my chin in certain cinemas (which I try to avoid because of their vertically discriminatory furniture). People who make it worse by sporting hair that would put Sonic the Hedgehog zu shame are not my friends.
Sometime soon, I will implement my plans of liberally decorating that hair with some colourful additions...chewing gum comes to mind. Or I could sacrificially impale gummibears. The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Anschluss (2)

It's good to know that amid the finger-pointing and compulsive denials of the past few days, people still remember the one thing that matters:

[Note: The title says "Night of Silence - in memory of the many victims". Heldenplatz is where Hitler was welcomed by the crowds in 1938.]

Tonight, exactly 70 days after the Austrian capitulation, students and survivors will light 80.000 white candles on Heldenplatz - one for every Austrian victim of the Nazis.
The names of all victims will be displayed on four large video screens. You can find pictures here and here.

"A Letter to the Stars" is another wonderful project, set to culminate in a memorial on May 5th.

Humble apology

Just when I thought I could take the time and give this blog something like a shape (and a blogroll, and a header, and ...) my bosses turned around and buried me in work.

And then I got a new cause to be outraged about.

And I can't say no, ever, so I'll probably be doing some unpaid research for a Conflict Assessment. (The fact that this will be really interesting has nothing to do with it, of course.)

Well, sleep is for those without caffeine.

I promise I'll get round to this...soon...maybe this weekend.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Austrian Politics - Daytime Soap Edition

Politicians in Austria have recently been living dangerously.
First, the mayor of a small Alpine village was poisoned. With a cyanide-filled praline. (It came with a greeting card...isn't that charming?) The man survived, but he still needs to remain in an artificial coma.
Then, last week, politicians in a different province received envelopes that were somehow spiked with acid.
And yesterday, the office of a DA (in yet another province) was firebombed. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

I notice a disturbing trend of life imitating mediocre to bad crime fiction... poisoned praline...that indicates that:
  • the person who did this has been watching too much television
  • they must be thinking in very convoluted terms...There must be half a million more convenient ways to commit murder in that village, and yet they go out and somehow procure cyanide for their evil plot
  • that perp is cheap
    One praline?! How can you hate a person enough to want to kill them, but not enough to fork over a whole box of chocolates?
Common sense would suggest that all of these crimes were personal rather than politically motivated. There's not much to get this worked up about in regional & local politics.
However, and this is the part that becomes disconcerting for an average citizen like me, these stories marked the first time in months that I could bring myself to care about a news item involving a politician.

How did that happen? I'm a bona fide political junkie, getting excited about policy issues everywhere, from the US Presidential race to reforms of the Nepalese constitution. And yet, whenever I hear an item about politics of the country where I was born, where I grew up, and where I'll be living for the foreseeable future, I automatically tune out.
I can't help thinking that it might not be all my fault...

Monday, 10 March 2008


70 years ago, Austria ceased to exist, becoming one more "Gau" in the Third Reich.
That much people can agree on, which really shouldn't be too much to ask.
But from then on, things get tricky.

While the BBC goes with their habitual program of "the convenient myth of victimization" (evil Austrians, still unrepentant, anti-semitic Nazis, the lot of them...bla, bla, bla), Otto Habsburg (and who better to speak with authority on Austria than a person who is the result of centuries of breeding for exactly that purpose) applauds Chancellor Dollfuß (who was a ruthless fascist) and tells his adoring audience that no country in Europe has more claim to being a victim than Austria.

Discussions on this have been going on since the Seventies, and are still far from over.
While I am by no means an expert, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the truth is probably somewhere in between those extremes. What I know is that Austria in 1938 was barely a country at all. The people were traumatized by the repercussions of WWI, impoverished, and pretty much adrift in new realities they had been ill prepared for. They did not think of themselves as Austrians - and why would they do so, when they had been told for centuries that they were Germans (which happens to be true), and therefore the ruling elite of the multi-ethnic empire (which happens to be b***sh**). The country was split three ways between fascists, Nazis and Socialists, held together only by sheer authoritarian force and heavily armed partisan militias.
They looked to Germany and saw her flourish. Who wouldn't have been envious? Simple solutions to all their problems were dangled before them. Who wouldn't have been tempted?
There are accounts of Hitler's arrival in Vienna, talking about how his troops distributed free meat to the people, many of whom hadn't been able to afford that in years.

My point is that Austria was a victim. A victim of historical circumstance, a victim of her precarious situation, a victim of the attractions of the Nazi regime.
But also a victim of her own ideological flaws and opportunism, which meant that many Austrians were practically falling over themselves in their enthusiastic support for the Fuehrer. Which, in turn, makes Austria a perpetrator, guilty of some of the most horrific crimes ever committed by and against mankind.
These two positions are by no means mutually exclusive. The fact that a serial killer was previously a victim of abuse might help us understand the person's actions a little better, but it does by no means absolve them of guilt.
I'm allergic to dichotomies at the best of times, but even more so when it comes to hugely complex issues with such ramifications. Austria was victim and perpetrator. Some were only victims, others only perpetrators...but the vast majority of people were probably on the broad spectrum in between.

Speaking as someone from my generation, I think we deserve more than a whitewash, and more than an unreflected, self-flagellating guilt-trip. We deserve an honest discussion, and personally, I'm still waiting for that to happen.

Sunday, 9 March 2008


Today, I found something that I wrote a couple of years ago, inspired by a note on one of the lecture programs at my university.
It struck a cord with me, since I've been doing a lot of thinking about "-isms", lately.

"This lecture will explore the 'chairness' of chairs"

The audience gasped in anticipation of what the venerable professor had to say. What were his findings? What did it take to be a chair? Were some chairs more chair than other chairs? And, most importantly, would they be chair enough?
The scholar prolonged his dramatic pause by letting his gaze wander through the auditorium, slowly, as if silently analyzing who amongst them were fit to be chairs.
Some of the listeners shifted audibly, their own fears and insecurities once again in the forefront of their minds. Had they not known all along that it did matter? That it was important to have four legs instead of just three, and a decent back, and armrests? And now, in only a few moments, the professor was going to make their insufficiency official. They just knew it - there was very little hope it could ever be different - you needed armrests, after all, to be a decent chair.

First Post

Welcome to Puzzled Peaces!

I walk through life in various states between wonder and shock, and also, most often than not, puzzlement.

So, this blog will mostly be about what's on my chaotic mind.
Occasionally, I'll offer up my unsolicited opinions (which might not be fully thought through), or I might post some things I feel I should pass on.

I figured that this whole thing will probably develop a direction and a character eventually - and I'll be just as surprised as anybody else when that happens.