Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tasty bites

Minutes after Uruguay striker Luis Suarez appeared to bite Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup football match, the social media went on a “vampire mode” relishing every bit of the controversy.
“Once bitten, never shy,” “He wanted a taste of Italian pizza,” “Saurez found the match very appetising,” and “If you can’t beat them, eat them,” were among various comments on Facebook.
Former boxer Evander Holyfield, who himself was once bitten on the ear by Mike Tyson at a heavyweight championship fight,  tweeted, “I guess any part of the body is up for eating.”
Biting other people is wrong, of course, but personally, I envy people with strong teeth. Attempts to strengthen my own by consuming more milk, oranges and strawberries did not help me much.
As if to add insult to injury, many of my friends would use their shining teeth to open bottles, crush raw sugarcane or break strong nuts.
Tempted to do so, I once tried breaking a walnut with my teeth only to land on a dentist’s chair the next day as a patient.
My friend’s best advice to those who have the urge to bite is: “Bite your tongue.”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

‘Pssst!...!’ Yes we know!

My friend’s eyes beamed as he tried to reveal a secret in hush-hush tones.  “If it is a secret, do not tell me. I cannot keep my own secrets,” I cautioned him.
“I trust you. Listen. I have got a better job offer,” he broke the suspense.
“Congrats. But please do not reveal the details,” I stopped him.
For three days I managed to keep the secret with myself. “Shhh..” was the keyword.
For a garrulous person like me, it was a Herculean task.
On the fourth day, sipping tea at the canteen, a group of my friends raised the subject on their own.
Everyone not only knew about what I thought was a Himalayan secret, but they had extra and latest details.
It was then that I realised, a secret is something one tells everybody to tell nobody.
Talking of secrets reminds me of a childhood incident.
My neighbour’s wayward son had a habit of stealing money. So one day, the father hid the money in a huge box, gave the key to his wife and said, “Keep the key in a secret place.”
Next day, the key was intact, but the box with the money had disappeared, along with the son.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Recent Editorials

(Here are some of my recent editorials in The Gulf Today – posted for my records)

Quantum leap in refugee
numbers wipes out solace

The immense cost of not ending wars or preventing conflicts is showing through petrifying figures: More than 50 million people were forcibly uprooted worldwide at the end of last year, the highest level since after World War Two, as people fled crises from Syria to South Sudan.
What is even more worrying is that half of them are children, many caught up in conflicts or persecution that world powers have been unable to prevent or end.
In August, the one millionth Syrian refugee child was registered; only a few weeks later, UN officials announced that the number of Syrian refugees had passed two million.
Desperate refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa have drowned after taking rickety boats in North Africa to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe, mainly via Italy.
Italy has a mission, known as Mare Nostrum or "Our Sea," which has rescued about 50,000 migrants already this year. Italy will ask the European Union next week to take over responsibility for rescuing migrants, a task that is costing its navy 9 million euros ($12.25 million) a month.
There are growing number of unaccompanied minors on all routes - in the Mediterranean routes, Caribbean, through Mexico to the US, on the Afghan route into Iran, Turkey and Europe. “We see them everywhere,” as UN officials put it.
It is a matter of pride for the citizens and residents that the UAE stands out as the most generous country. As per Ministry of International Cooperation and Development (MICAD) data, UAE's assistance for the refugees worldwide, between 2009 and mid-2014, has amounted to Dhs2.60 billion and benefited 71 countries.
The breakdown of MICAD's figures shows that UAE provided more than Dhs502.3 million in assistance for Syrian refugees at home and in neighbouring countries (2012 till June 2014), Dhs646.7 million for refugees in Pakistan in the past five year, Dhs312.8 million for Yemen, Dhs219,6 million to Libya, Dhs145 million to Afghanistan, and Dhs107.4 million to Somalia.
MICAD's report also notes that UAE, at a donor’s conference in Kuwait in January 2013, pledged $300 million of which more than Dhs281 million has already been disbursed.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres hit the nail on the head when he stated: “Peace is today dangerously in deficit. Humanitarians can help as a palliative, but political solutions are vitally needed. Without this, the alarming levels of conflict and the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures will continue.”

UAE generosity
knows no borders

The launching of a vaccination campaign against polio in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas in Pakistan by the UAE Project to Assist Pakistan (UAE-PAP) is one among the several humanitarian initiatives launched by the UAE in different countries.
The UAE has translated development and humanitarian aid into a foreign policy instrument. The philosophy behind this is two-fold: first, it is dictated by an Islamic belief that helping those in need is a primary duty; and second, that part of the country’s wealth from oil and gas should be devoted to assisting less fortunate countries and individuals.
The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, expressed this clearly when he declared: “We believe that the benefit of the fortune granted to us by God should spread to cover our brothers and friends.”
The UAE is now the largest donor offering $5.2 billion aid, making it the number one humanitarian capital worldwide.
The launch of the UAE vaccination campaign came as per the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to provide humanitarian and development assistance to the friendly people of Pakistan. It is a humanitarian initiative aimed at vaccinating 3.643 million Pakistani children against polio over a period of three months, i.e. June, August and September, 2014.
It is not just Pakistan. The UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA) recently sent its 12th humanitarian aid convoy carrying 40 tonnes of dates to Syrian refugees in Jordan.
So far, the UAE humanitarian mission has sent 3,600 tonnes of relief aid on 185 trucks to camps on the Jordan-Syria border. The agency’s convoys are part of UAE’s ongoing humanitarian operation aimed at helping tens of thousands of Syrians who were displaced by escalating violence in their country.
Recently, Sultan Abu Al-Einein, former advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, hailed the UAE for providing continuous humanitarian aid for underprivileged Palestinians.
According to Human Appeal International UAE (HAI), the HAI provided $8 million in humanitarian and development aid for poor Palestinians in 2013 in coordination with Palestinian agencies.
Nothing sums up the UAE’s longstanding culture of giving and charity better than the words of UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum:  ''We are living in a state of humanity and we are keen on delivering aid and relief to whomsoever is in need of them.''

Plunging economies
could prove deadly

A revelation, based on a study, by the British Journal of Psychiatry that recession led to 10,000 suicides in Europe and the United States should act as an eye-opener for the rest of the world on how wrong economic policies could cost lives.
The study conducted by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analysed data from 24 European Union countries, the US and Canada.
It study showed that suicide rate had declined in Europe till 2007. But, in 2009, there was a sudden 6.5 per cent increase, a level that sustained until 2011. The suicide rate was also declining in Canada, but there was an increase when the recession hit in 2008, leading to 240 more suicides.
The number of people ending lives was already on a high in the US, but the rate “accelerated” with the economic crisis, leading to 4,750 additional deaths.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has cautioned that in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, more than 70 per cent of the world population is without proper social protections.
In the European Union, cuts in social protection have contributed to increases in poverty which now affect 123 million people or 24 per cent of the population, many of whom are children, women, older persons and persons with disabilities, according to the ILO.
Farmer suicides in India are another glaring example of faulty economic planning playing with lives of people. In 2012, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported 13,754 farmer suicides. The farmers suicide rate in India has been in 1.4 to 1.8 per 100,000 range over a 10 year period through 2005.
India is an agrarian country with around 60 per cent of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. Farmer suicides account for 11.2 per cent of all suicides in India.
Many experts insist that structural changes in the macro-economic policy of the Indian government that favoured privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation are the root cause of farmer suicides.
Governments should keep in mind that economic issues impact the lives of citizens directly. If countries like Thailand and South Africa could achieve universal health coverage in just a few years, why cannot other countries do so? If there is a political will, there surely could be a way.
There is indeed a dire need for most governments to scale up investment in child and family benefits, pensions and other public expenditures.

Afghan voters
deserve a pat

Millions of voters in Afghanistan who chose to cast their ballots defying threats of violence at the second round of presidential elections deserve kudos for their courage and commitment to shape the future of their country.
The presidential election marks the first-ever transfer of power from one elected leader to another in Afghan history. Though scores of people were killed in poll-related violence, there were far fewer incidents than had been feared.
The election pits Abdullah Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance leader who served for a period as foreign minister under Karzai, against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister.
The two candidates came top of an eight-man field in the April first-round election, triggering the run-off as neither reached the 50 per cent threshold needed for outright victory. Abdullah secured 45 per cent of the vote in April with Ghani on 31.6 per cent.
Whoever wins will take over as most foreign troops withdraw, leaving behind a potent insurgency and a growing economic crisis.
Counting the ballot will take weeks. The preliminary result is due on July 2 and a final result on July 22. However, international concerns are already focused on the risk of a disputed outcome as the two candidates have started trading fraud allegations.
To allow the democratic process to take its course, it would be prudent for both the candidates to leave the resolution of disputes and complaints between them to the election management bodies.
President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from a third term in office, is due to step down after ruling since 2001. He has fulfilled his pledge not to interfere in the election, though he is tipped to retain influence after handing over power.
Karzai’s relationship with the US soured badly, and the next president is likely to reset relations by signing a long-delayed pact for some US troops to remain on a training and counter-terrorism mission after this year.
Last month, President Barack Obama said that if the pact is signed, 9,800 of the 32,000-strong US deployment would stay in 2015.
A credible election and a smooth handover of power would be a major achievement for Afghanistan's backers after 13 years of costly military and civilian assistance.
The priorities for the incoming president will be to stabilise the faltering economy and a fresh attempt to bring peace after decades of war. If the economy turns vibrant, insurgency would automatically subside.

Attack on Muslims in
Lanka disgraceful act

The attack on Muslims in Sri Lanka by extremist Buddhists is a matter of serious concern for the international community.
Armed mobs broke into the houses of Muslims and burned them after stealing jewellery and money. Dozens of shops were gutted, motorbikes and bicycles piled up and set on fire. Mosques were defaced. At least three innocent Muslims were killed and several injured.
The stories in four mosques in Alutgama —Theru mosque, Dharul Huda, Adikari Road Mosque and Walpiti mosque — were all about attacks and looting. Residents talked of homes, fortunes and businesses lost and expressed anguish at the lack of government intervention that could have stopped the rioters before they killed and injured several people.
It is highly troubling to note that police just stood by and refused to intervene in the violence. The riots were visibly too organised to have been a random one.
The incidents have also mirrored events in Myanmar, where there has been a surge of attacks by majority Buddhists against Muslims.
The dreadful action by the extremists has drawn worldwide condemnation highlighting the gravity of the situation. The United States, European Union, rights group Amnesty International and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation have all voiced concern over the plight of the innocent victims.
Muslims make up about 10 per cent of the 20 million population. Sri Lanka is still deeply scarred by its quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009 between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and ethnic Tamil rebels, who were largely Hindu. Buddhist-Muslim violence had been relatively rare.
The Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force, which is known for its hatred of the country's Muslim minority, led the mob. Sadly, the group has been gaining followers and is believed to even enjoy state support.
It may be recalled that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's powerful defence secretary and the president's brother, once made a public appearance supporting the group's cause.
Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, the leader of Bodu Bala Sena, claimed that the Buddhists were angry over an alleged attack on the driver of a Buddhist monk. The statement merely smacks of divisive tactic.
President Mahindra Rajapaksa has promised an investigation into the violence, but he needs to do more than that. Those behind the killings should be brought to justice. The government should protect religious minorities and their places of worship. There is a need for all sides should to exercise restraint and expedite the reconciliation process.

Israel should be held
accountable for crimes

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is absolutely right. Israel is using the disappearance of three teenagers a week ago as a pretext to impose tough punishment against Palestinians and besiege them in violation of international humanitarian law.
Israeli harassment continues in varied ways. The military raids have spread from house-to-house searches in Hebron, the area where the three teens went missing, to incursions across the West Bank.
Despite the fact that the three settlers were present in an area under the full Israeli control at the time of their disappearance, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to hold innocent Palestinians responsible for the incident. Since the latest operation began, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested.
Unfortunately, it is the ordinary families that bear the brunt of the ruthless actions. Israeli troops barged into the home of a Palestinian family in Taffuh village even when four children were sleeping as schools have closed for summer holidays. The soldiers kicked on the doors and told the family to get out.
In another village, over the past six days, troops have turned properties upside down. After ordering a family out of their home, the soldiers began using the house as an operating base. Other families have had the opposite problem, being forced to stay in just one room inside their own homes as soldiers took over the rest of the house.
The scope of the searches and the tight lockdown imposed on the Hebron area has made life very difficult for the local population
Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, has also sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General highlighting the critical situation of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons and on Israel's colonial settlement campaign and measures against the Palestinian people.
Mansour mentioned about military raids, mass arrests and detention, illegal settlements expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes, including those belonging to bedouin communities, extrajudicial executions and incessant provocations by against Palestinian people and their holy places.
If the current situation is allowed to continue, frustration of ordinary Palestinians at Israeli restrictions in the West Bank will surely mount as the holy fasting month of Ramadan is due to begin by month-end.
Israelis continue to carry out grave violations of international law. Washington and the international community cannot afford to remain silent. The United Nations should act to stop the aggression and hold Israel accountable for its crimes.

Blurred image
of paparazzi

Tabloid newspapers cherish the idea of kindling controversies. They make or mar celebrities. There has been no conclusive verdict as yet on the red line for paparazzi when it comes to privacy of celebs.
The latest controversy has been stoked by German tabloid “Bild” which has published a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge, in which she is seen exposing her bare bottom. The image was taken by a photographer during the recent Royal tour of Australia.
The Duke and Duchess were visiting the Blue Mountains near Sydney when a blast of wind from a nearby helicopter blew up her Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress and accidentally flashed her backside.
The newspaper published the revealing photograph alongside two other pictures of reality TV stars Kim and Kloe Kardashian, who were snapped in similarly compromising positions recently. The translated caption read: “Khloe, Kim and Kate — backsides which have moved us these past few days.
Incidentally, an Australian newspaper has become the second publication to run images of the Duchess of Cambridge’s bare bottom in its pages.
The controversy comes less than two years after the Britain’s royal household began legal proceedings against French magazine “Closer” for running topless photographs of the Duchess, taken as the couple holidayed at a chateau in the Provence region.
Noted actor and mother, Kristen Bell, is not the one amused by the role of paparazzi. Taken in by the plight of Suri Cruise, who has been chased by cameras practically from birth, with no choice in the matter, because her parents are Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Bell has launched a campaign against unruly media people.
To curtail media demand for paparazzi images of celebrity kids, she’s using the plight of 8-year-old Suri as an example. Launched in January, Bell’s No Kids Policy gained almost instant traction by hitting the entertainment media where it hurts: celebrity access, which translates into viewers, readers and profits.
Bell got a bunch of stars, from Jennifer Aniston to Jennifer Lawrence, who agreed to decline interviews with TV and text outlets that use paparazzi photos or video of children that were taken without their parents’ consent.
Some states and countries restrict paparazzi activities by passing laws and not allowing them to take photographs in specific events. While celebrity privacy and journalistic rights battle will continue forever, self-restraint and regular debates will go a long way in protecting both sides, morally and legally.