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.