Monday, June 27, 2011

‘Mind your language’

Innocent people can be forgiven, but the ignorant are a pain.
My dad was arguing with a government clerk who was delaying a file. The clerk was not well versed in English language, but kept arguing.
Exasperated, my dad grumbled, “I have to tolerate your delay. After all, beggars can’t be choosers.”
The guy turned furious and shouted back, “Are you calling me a beggar? Mind your language. I am not a beggar. You are.”
Innocent people are like Mulla Nasruddin.
Mulla Nasruddin was standing by the roadside watching a funeral pass by, when a stranger asked, “Who’s the guy dead?”
“I am also wondering. Must be the one inside the coffin.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Toilet aunty'

Children can be a major source of embarrassment at times.
A teacher was talking to her colleague when a little girl approached her with much hesitation.
“Ma’am, yesterday you appeared in my dream,” she said.
“Wonderful,” replied the thrilled teacher.
“Yes. I saw you selling vegetables.”
Hearing this, the other teacher giggled.
“You also appeared in my dream ma’am,” the innocent kid told that teacher. “You were selling fruits.”
A child from the same school was at the airport along with her parents, when she saw a familiar face, decently dressed and flaunting a gold jewel.
“Toilet aunty, toilet aunty,” yelled the girl lovingly, much to the discomfiture of everyone. The woman, a worker at the school, was going on vacation.
My friend was talking to three female visitors at home who had dropped in to discuss a project when his little the son rushed in.
“Dad, so you are having fun with your girl friends!” he asked and ran back to play, even before anyone could react.
(NB: All these are true incidents)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fall not to flattery

Never mix with someone who says something, but thinks opposite, goes a saying.
I was chatting with a person when he resorted to malicious gossip against a common friend. The person he was talking about appeared at the door. The guy instantly changed his tune and said: “I was all praise for you just now.” He had the audacity to ask me, “Did I not?” I ran to the rest room looking for a way to escape telling a lie.
There is a similar story: A man, hoping to get expensive gifts, showered praise on a king for 10 days. “No one can match your kind heart,” he went on. On the 10th day, he was given a flower and told to leave.
He looked shocked, but laughed instantly. Asked for the reason, he replied, “I would have wasted another 20 days praising this stupid king. Also, whatever I said about him was a lie. So it is OK I go
without gifts.”
Hank Ketcham rightly said: Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it, don't swallow it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A punch to ego

I had recently mentioned in Facebook: “I am in conflict with myself. I want myself to win.”
What’s the difference between “I” and “myself,” questioned a colleague.
Here goes a story: A charity organization was distributing food at a camp for refugees. A young man stood in queue for hours in scorching heat and was about to collect his piece of bread when he noticed a very old woman pushing him from behind, almost fainting. The young man collected his bread, thrust it in the hands of the old woman, and moved off quietly.
This is “myself,” where one loses his self for others.
The young man later settled down well. His food outlet was a success. He left the eatery under a friend’s care and went on a long cruise journey. He got caught in a storm, lost possessions and somehow managed to reach his restaurant, in tattered dress. “Sorry, shut for the day,” declared a cleaner boy. “Go, get a soup,” the owner ordered. The boy stood quiet. “Do you know whom are talking to? I am the owner,” he said. The boy laughed and said, “You too look like a cleaner.”
The man gave the worker a tight slap and a kick. His face was red with fury.
This is “I” in action. A big ego bruised by the innocent cleaner’s  verbal punch.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Not cool as cucumber

I never expected the E Coli virus to create war at home.
“Get vegetables while returning home,” ordered my wife on phone and I promptly obeyed like all meek husbands.
The moment my wife saw cucumbers among the vegetables, she yelled: “Why did you buy these? Don’t you read newspapers about cucumbers and E Coli?”
“The UAE is safe. Don’t worry,” I consoled her, but it was late.
She had dumped the entire one kilo pocket into the dustbin.
Her eyes then fell on beans.
“Don’t look at them. They are harmless,” I tried to hide them.
 “OMG. Beans and lettuce. We are in for trouble,” she continued.
“But we are veggies. Are we going without dinner?” I asked and suggested: “OK. Forget home food. Let’s go have pizza.”
“Heyyy,” shouted my daughter in joy, but stopped in a second: “Let’s not touch the cucumber or salad there. Who wants to dine out just to get killed by a cucumber?”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

‘Youth aspirations triggered Arab Spring’

I interviewed the Dean of American University of Sharjah on American policies in the Middle East for our newspaper The Gulf Today. Hope you enjoy reading this:
Mr Mark Rush-photo by Kamal Kassim
The Arab uprisings have been driven by economic forces and generational changes promoted by technology, according to Dr Mark Rush, Dean, College of Arts and Science, American University of Sharjah.
The uprisings began with technologically-savvy young people who are facing economic uncertainty, argues the dean in an exclusive interview to The Gulf Today.
Dr Rush was a member of the Department of Politics at Washington and Lee University. He taught courses on American Government, Comparative Government, Constitutional Law, Election Law and Democracy. He will be teaching on American Politics and Government in the fall.
Excerpts: The Mideast is witnessing unprecedented changes. Do you see a direct US strategic role in these developments?
 The US has an interest in Middle East developments. Ensuring the security of the region’s oil supply has been a stated American interest. The US is committed to promoting democracy. Yet, I think it is not accurate to say that US policies have played a strategic role in the Arab Spring. After 1989, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the nature of world politics is much more complicated. The world is multipolar. The US plays a key role in world affairs. But its influence has waned with the end of the Cold War and the rise of China, India, Brazil, the EU, etc.
While Washington has a keen interest in the Middle East and North Africa, so do London, Beijing, Moscow and Brussels. US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrates its strategic interests. But, European military forces have played a significant role in the Libyan crisis. China and the US have invested heavily in the region. It is clear that the entire world has an interest in the region’s affairs.

So, who or what is behind the Arab Spring?
 The Arab Spring has as much to do with the generational changes promoted by technology, social media as it does with any foreign nation’s intervention in the region. There is certainly US interest in this — the concern about democracy. But I presume it is a good thing. To be specific about Arab Spring, there are no reports of direct foreign intervention — at least in terms of giving rise to the protest movements. Social media helped it happen by enabling young jobless people in Tunis speaking to young unemployed people in Damascus, who could speak to similar ones in Cairo. What you are seeing is a generational desire for more popular input into the governmental process. Governments are struggling to deal with the economic crisis. Unemployment in the region is high. Egypt’s unemployed population is as big as the entire population of Libya. The uprisings did not begin with retired people or the clergy. It is about simmering local aspirations and hope that change of government will solve the economic problems.

Do you think the movements are fizzling out?
Democracy is a process. The establishment of democracies takes time. If one looks at the history of democracy in the US since the 240-odd years, it has suffered civil war, economic recession and religious violence. After its revolution, the US created one form of government. Ten years later it had to re-do it all. Sixty years later, there was civil war and 100 years later the civil rights era brought forth resolution to lingering racial problems. The process of democratisation has not necessarily been peaceful.

The US has persistently stated that uninterrupted access to oil is of vital national interest. Are the developments in the region a fallout of such a line of thinking?
 Oil security concerns everyone. The interest of the US in this region reflects that of every other country that has depended upon or continues to depend upon oil. The US, China and the European Union all depend on oil to drive their economies. But, the concentration and vast quantity of oil in the region has amplified that interest. The developments in the region can be connected to the world’s — not just the US’ — interest in the area. Western intervention, especially in drawing somewhat artificial political boundaries and then withdrawing in the second half of the twentieth century, has certainly laid the foundations for contemporary unrest. The Middle East is a patchwork of religions, ethnicities, nationalities and so forth. The national borders crisscross them. But, the world’s interest in oil, and the extent to which it has been associated with the economic boom and busts in the region, has served as a catalyst for the recent unrest.

Is it all about oil?
On one hand, the world is interested in maintaining uninterrupted access to oil, and on the other, the entire world is looking at alternative energy sources. This is intriguing. If the rest of the world manages to decrease its dependence on oil — ostensibly to render their economies more green and sustainable — it will have a great impact on this region. Imagine if the Chinese were to go green enough to dampen their demand for oil. The cost of oil would plummet and this would have an incredible impact on the region’s economy. If the world goes green it is a great economic threat to any petroleum-based economy.

What precautions can the oil economies take?
The best way out is diversification. Dubai’s economy is quite diversified and offers a good example.

The US has pledged to establish an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Israel has rejected the call. If similar aspirations in East Timor and South Sudan could be easily met, why not Palestine?
No, it did not happen in these regions as easily as you have described. There was an awful lot of violence in these places. The process of partitioning old states and building new ones can be fraught with conflict and violence. When I think of difficult changes, I think of the events in India and Pakistan after the British withdrew. Kosovo and the Balkan states were born of violence as well.

A factor that worries Americans is the financial cost of the Afghanistan war, expected to be $113 billion this year. Has Obama been able to convince people that the fate of countries in the Middle East and elsewhere is worth the money? 
 Americans are increasingly aware of the cost of Afghan war. Every soldier killed, every plane downed demonstrates the cost of the military presence. All that money could be used for domestic purposes. The US strategic dominance of the region is undermined by the way China is increasingly the big market for oil exporters. If China becomes the region’s big investor, will not the geopolitics between the two superpowers become complex!
The US and China are certain to compete. The impact of the US role here will diminish to the extent that other nations or regions (China, India, the EU) gain more influence. There is much at stake that promotes cooperation between the US and China. Their economies are linked. If either one fails the other will suffer. Chinese economic growth has been driven in no small part by the capacity of the American economy to buy Chinese goods. One can expect relations between the two countries to be complex. But, wise leaders in both will promote cooperation.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Doubt your abilities? Remember Caesar

"Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are," Malcolm Forbes said.
I have a friend who is hugely talented, but has remained at a rock-bottom post for two decades in the newspaper industry. If only he had asserted himself, he would have reached the top. 
We may be dubbed Narcissist, but I think life makes no sense if we do not have strong self-esteem.
Julius Caesar was captured by pirates. They negotiated with his friends and relatives for a big sum. An incensed Caesar told them: “You fools. Don’t quote such a measly sum for a person of my status. Double the price.” They did.
While waiting for the money for several days, he joined in their games and exercises, as if he was their leader and not prisoner. He also wrote poems, but repeatedly told them that once freed, he would raise an army, return and kill each of them.
He kept his word.