Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran’s War on Women: What is going on in Iran?

by Tom Kando

Simple: The male regime is waging war on women. My friend Abram de Swaan, Head of the Sociology department at the University of Amsterdam, has made it clear (See his 'De Botsing der Beschavingen en de Strijd der Geslachten'- The clash of civilizations and the battle of the sexes) that much of the conflict emanating from the Muslim world today is basically a male reaction against the world-wide modernization of women.

For the past few decades, we have grown accustomed to news about terrorism, about Muslim criticism of the West, and Western criticism of Muslims. There has been violence - 9/11, at least two wars raging for seven years already. There has been talk of a “clash of civilizations” (see Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Oder). Let’s leave aside the question as to what proportion of the Muslim population consists of anti-Western zealots, and accept the politically correct cliche that most Muslims do not want to be terrorists, but want the same sorts of wholesome things as everyone else, namely a reasonably comfortable and happy life on earth.

So then, what do we make of such theocratic movements as Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Taliban in Afghanistan, or the violent repression of freedom in Iran by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Spiritual Leader?

When the Taliban takes over a district, one of the first things it outlaws is schooling for women. In the streets of Teheran recently, the protesters and the victims of the paramilitary Basij forces were more often women than men. Once in a while we read about the “honor killing” of a woman by some father, brother or husband in Pakistan, or in a Muslim suburb of Paris.

But historically, Muslims have no monopoly on the repression of women. Yes, today, the epicenter of that repression seems to be located in that culture - although widespread female genital mutilation in Africa makes life for women there equally unenviable.
The West had its turn before. We had our witch burnings, in Europe and in America. At one time, we too, used this great formula which combines religion and the repression of women.
In Ancient Rome, honor killings were cool, as long as they were perpetrated by the patriarch.

Now don’t misunderstand me - I am not one of those lame-brains trying to relativize everything, and to argue that we are just as bad, because we did these things hundreds of years ago ourselves. Obviously what matters is the evil that is perpetrated today.

Why, then, do some men, Muslim men as well other men, hate women? Because women are getting jobs. Women are earning money. Women are getting an education. Women are gaining power. Women are catching up with men. Women are becoming more equal. It is becoming more difficult for men to feel superior to women.

We, in the West, got used to it. Elsewhere, they have yet to do so. Today, hatred of women and the war on women occur primarily in countries such as Iran. That is the meaning of the current turmoil in that country and the repression of freedom at the hands of men like Supreme Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and their Basij thugs.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Is there a Difference between Legal and Illegal Immigrants?

By Tom Kando

A while back, the Sacramento Bee published a letter by Brian Donohue “Think your Ancestors Came Here Legally?” The letter basically condones current illegal immigration by reminding us that many of Americans’ ancestors also came illegally.
As a legal immigrant, let me rebut this:
True, until the 20th century, immigration was less restricted. However, Donohue’s use of history is arbitrary and self-serving: At least since World War II, i.e. over the past three generations, the distinction between legal and illegal immigration has been very real, as it should be.

I speak from personal experience. I am one of those “less desirable” Eastern European immigrants. Born in Hungary, I waited five years for the right to move to America and to obtain a green card, and another five years for my citizenship.

I know many people who come to America on temporary visitors’ or workers’ visas - for example Fulbright students and professors - and who must then leave the country once their visas have expired. And they do, even though many would love to stay.

Today, millions of visitors to America obey the law. To say that this is silly and that lawlessness is okay, because there was so much of it in the past, is like arguing that since we had slavery until 1865, we shouldn’t worry about it too much now.

Plus, there is a strong ecological and demographic argument against unfettered immigration: America is filling up fast. Sure, the country could continue to receive the world’s huddled masses, but at what cost to its environment?

I realize how phony I sound - “I’m in, so now close the gates and keep the riffraff out.” But that’s irrelevant to my arguments.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Military Spending Continues to Grow

By Tom Kando
Read this and cry: According to the annual report of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute,(SIPRI), the world’s governments spent a combined total of $1.46 trillion on defense in 2008. Despite the worldwide recession, defense spending rose by 4% from 2007 in real dollars, and by 45% over the past 10 years.
Military spending declined briefly after the end of the Cold War. However, it underwent a gigantic increase after 9/11. Under President Bush, US military spending rose to the highest level since World War Two.

The US share of world military spending is 42%. The war on terror has also caused other countries to increase military spending.

Other rising regional superpowers are also contributing to the steady increase in world military spending. In 2008, China became, for the first time, the world’s second most powerful military power. Last year, China’s military budget rose by 15%, to $$46 billion. Over the past 19 years, China’s military budget has increased by more than 10% every single year.

The world economic recession has no impact on the amount of money countries devote to defense (NRC Handelsblad, June 10, 2009).

I suppose this calls for some comments. But what is there to say? Some will argue that the numbers prove America’s exceptional culpability (42% of the world total). Others will say that this is as it should be: There are terrorists and other bad guys out there, so we have no other choice than to defend ourselves and to be strong. Someone has to be the world’s cop, right?

Then there is the euphemistic fraudulence, unmasked long ago by George Orwell: Nowadays it’s always called “defense,” right? A century ago, governments were at least a bit more honest. It was called the Ministry of War, not the Ministry of Defense.

Calling aggression self-defense is old hat. Hitler was only the best-known practitioner of this, as when he justified the invasion of Poland by claiming that Poland was attacking Germany.
Orwell’s future governments went a step further, calling them Ministries of Peace. But we are already there. Countries nowadays engage in Police Actions, they dispatch Peace Keeping Forces, and they fire missiles called “Peace Keepers.” The killing of hundreds of women, babies and other non-combatants is called collateral damage.

And another thing: The countries which can afford it the least are the ones which spend the most on the military. Here are some rankings, from the World Fact Book:

Middle Eastern countries spend the highest percentage of their GDP on the military, namely between 9% and 11%
Israel is also high: 7%
Next are a host of African countries: 5% to 6.5%
China: 4.3%
The US and Russia: about 4%
France: 2.6%
Germany: 1.5%
Most other European countries: 0% (Iceland) to 1%
Japan: .8%
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GHOST SPEAKERS

By Madeleine Kando
One of the more disorienting experiences in my life was when I first heard my own recorded voice. I heard myself as someone else hears me. And it was a total shocker. After that, I was never too thrilled to be asked to speak in public. There is really nothing wrong with my voice, mind you. I express myself well, good choice of words and all that, but it’s the tone of my voice. Like the color and pattern of a dress. It just doesn’t work sometimes. Which brings me to the real subject of this essay…I am a radio junkie. Mostly because I am so bored driving to work. Since I teach dance for a living I have enough music in my ears to last me a lifetime and that leaves talk radio as the only other option. Believe it or not, in a country of over 300 million people, there are not too many options out there in that category. Yes, you guessed it: I listen to NPR. Every so often I give other talk radio stations a half-hearted try, but somehow I always revert back to my home station. I am a creature of habit I guess.

As all self-respecting groupies I could identify NPR voices in one second flat. I have my favorites of course, Tom Ashbrook for instance, but I won’t bore you with those details. I just want to say that, in my humble opinion, we should introduce some kind of entrance exam to decide which voices we allow on talk radio. I mean, us poor listeners have to fill in the rest of the persona whose voice we are subjected to. We can be forgiving when we see a gorgeous blond on tv speak with a squeaky little voice but there are no visuals on radio, my friend. Only the damned voice! So it better be a good one.

You have ghost writers so why not have ghost speakers? I cannot tell you how many times I had to turn off the radio in the middle of an extremely fascinating discussion because the voice of the commentator was so annoying. The newscaster who has a chronic cold announcing that‘Doo beoble died yesderday id a gar accidend’. That really takes away from the severity of the announcement, don’t you think?
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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire, Belatedly


Tom and Anita Kando

The movie is admittedly excellent, and real. What gets us, though, is the nearly unanimous use by reviewers and commentators of happy words like "uplifting" and "exhilarating" to describe this movie. Instead, we would use words such as "scary" and "nightmarish."
The conditions depicted in this film are like Dante's inferno. The poverty and squalor of vast tracts of Mumbai, a typical Indian mega-city. Shanty cardboard towns as far as the eye can see. What we are shown is the Armageddon to which the world may be coming, due to over-population and a globalized growth economy. People living on giant waste disposal dumps the size of mid-size American towns, like scavenging vultures. Human anthills. The horror of garbage-infested streams in which people bathe, a child escaping through feces. The terror of murderous tribal strife, in which people torch each other to death. Child kidnappers who burn out their victims' eyes to make them more effective beggars. Then the grotesque contrast with billion-dollar luxury skyscrapers inhabited by millionaire gangsters. This is uplifting? Yes, the movie deserves its Oscar. But uplifting? No. Frightening and horrific, yes.
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Friday, June 5, 2009

Jury Duty


Tom Kando

I just completed a three-week tour of jury duty. It was a criminal case. A serious violent felony. I am not going to tell you about the case. Neither am I going to pontificate about crime, laws, justice and injustice, even though I could, since I have taught criminology at the University for several decades, and I also worked at the California State prison in Vacaville. I just want to make a few comments about our judicial system, and how I experienced it as a citizen-juror and as an observer:
The Courthouse is bustling with hundreds, maybe thousands, of citizen-jurors, lawyers, cops, clerks, judges and criminals.The amount of resources our society devotes to justice and law enforcement is staggering. I estimate the case on which I served cost up to half a million dollars. The salaries, the fees of lawyers, judges, expert witnesses, the facilities, the transportation, the feeding and housing of defendants. Hundreds of prospective jurors spend day after day milling around in the courthouse, waiting to be called for jury duty, but most of the time being dismissed by the end of the day, sent back home, after having missed days on the job.
The utter lack of productivity! After being empaneled, jurors still spend more time waiting and breaking for coffee than in the courtroom, listening to and dealing with their case.

This is no one's fault. The most striking aspect is the impressive civility and intelligence of nearly everyone. Hardly anyone is irritable or impolite. From judges to attorneys to citizen-jurors, people are friendly and well-spoken. When witnesses, cops, victims and others take the stand, their mastery of the English language is excellent. When you chat with another juror over coffee, the conversation is intelligent and the words are well chosen.
The one slightly negative "vibration" is a perhaps slightly exaggerated deference shown all around, a shyness which may betray fear. Of course, upon entering the courthouse, you are bombarded with security procedures, armed personnel giving out polite but firm orders, signs with dozens of rules. Once a case gets under way, the judge admonishes the jurors and the audience about do's and don't's - upon penalty of severe fines and incarceration.

This is not a place of jest - at least not too much of it. But that's just the point: To some degree, joking is okay! The place does definitely not remind one of Stalinist Russia. There is room for some levity. People do smile and laugh, at times.
In other words, it is not fear which one feels floating around, but respect. Citizens respecting each other, civilians respecting cops and judges, and judges and cops respecting civilians. There are strict protocols as to who may talk to whom and about what, but common-sense goes a long way towards eliminating this as a serious problem. For the rest, you see people interacting, chatting, indeed having a relatively good time with each other, while waiting in hallways and anti-chambers, eating doughnuts, and then back to work in courtrooms, where business is conducted extremely professionally, diligently and without acrimony.

What I saw was a civilized and well-intentioned society working hard at maintaining the rule of law. Everyone does his best, and everyone understands what is going on, and knows how to do things right. The system may be cumbersome and inefficient, but the people in it, at all levels, are the salt of the earth.
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