Monday, December 28, 2009

ignored by Western press? one-year anniversary of Israeli assault on Gaza


self-censorship? no headlines in the New York Times... not on Yahoo News ...pretty much ignored by any major Western press that I've seen... why is this only major news on Arabic, Chinese and alternative Western news organizations? it is a major story here in the Middle East and gets a lot of time on Al Jazeera



Al Jazeera English - GAZA: ONE YEAR ON

Gaza marks Israel attack anniversary CCTV-International

Palestinian Journalist Remembers Israel's Assault on Gaza

Gaza Freedom March Planned for One-Year Anniversary of Israeli Assault

gulfnews : Convoy stuck at border on anniversary of Gaza war
(story below)

Egypt has thus far not allowed the group to pass saying it was a “sensitive situation” but currently diplomatic efforts between Egypt and Turkey are trying to arrange a solution.

  • By Layelle Saad, GCC/Middle East Editor
  • Published: 15:17 December 27, 2009

  • The convoy, jointly organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK, left London on December 6.

Dubai: An international delegation known as the Gaza Freedom March remains stuck in Jordan’s Aqaba sea port, with tons of humanitarian aid to be delivered to the people of Gaza. Gulf News spoke with members of one the UK delegation via telephone to get an idea of what they group was facing.

“We all have a shared sense of nervous anxiety,” Alexandra Lorty Phillips, team leader of UK’s Alpha team said. “We didn’t think we wouldn’t be allowed to take the ferry, we have have been here since Wednesday and have critical aid to deliver, some medications will surely expire in the sun,” she explained.

Egypt has thus far not allowed the group to pass saying it was a “sensitive situation” but currently diplomatic efforts between Egypt and Turkey are trying to arrange a solution.

“Our convoy is determined to break the siege and take in urgently needed supplies. Spirits are high in our camp in Aqaba, and we are going nowhere except to Gaza,” British MP George Galloway said.

“Allahu Akbar” chanting could be heard over the telephone as Philips told Gulf News the team was assembling in front of the Egyptian consulate to start a hunger strike.

Members of the 400 strong delegation hail from many European countries as well as some people from Malaysia. They are carring $250,000 worth of aid, including bandages, chairs, walkers, everyday medicines, antibiotics.

“We also have baby milk, childrens play educational material for a Gaza orphanages,” Phillips explained.

The convoy, jointly organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK, left London on December 6. It has enjoyed safe passage through Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan on its way to Gaza.

The delegates, ranging from high-profile figures such as author Noam Chomsky, British MP George Galloway, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and Nobel Prize winner Mairead Maguire to diplomats, doctors, lawyers, students, interfaith groups that include rabbis, priests and imams, and others, are attempting to break the siege on Gaza by demanding the borders be opened a year after the War on Gaza left 1,400 dead.

Iqbal Warsi, a grandmother living in the UK, has never been to Gaza, but when she saw the events that unfolded last year, she said her heart went out to the victims.

“I saw how Israel would bomb the sewage plants and it would mix with the tap water, as a grandmother I imagined my own grandchildren playing in such filth,” she explained.

“I realized it was EU money going to repair all these facilities and Israel would just destroy everything we built,” Warsi said.

Meanwhile in Gaza, sirens went off in the morning to commemorate the dropping of the first Israeli bombs on Gaza.

Several demonstrations were to be held during the day and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was to speak in the evening. Hamas is planning on staging events for 22 days-the length of the war.

“The goal of these events is that this war and its massacres, which had no precedent, should remain before the eyes of the world,” said Ihab al-Ghussein, a spokesman for the Hamas interior ministry.

"brutal action" by security forces in Iran...

Reports: Iran steps up crackdown on opposition

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer


TEHRAN, Iran – Opposition activists said Iranian security forces rounded up at least seven prominent activists on Monday, stepping up a crackdown on the country's pro-reform movement a day after eight people, including the nephew of the chief opposition leader, were killed in anti-government protests.

The bloodshed, some of the heaviest in months, drew an especially harsh condemnation from one opposition leader, who compared the government to the brutal regime that was ousted by the Islamic Revolution three decades ago.

Monday's developments were sure to deepen antagonism between the government and the reform movement, which has repeatedly shown resilience in the face of repeated crackdowns since June's disputed presidential election.

Mahdi Karroubi, an opposition leader who ran in the June election, posted a statement on an opposition Web site asking how the government could spill the blood of its people on the Shiite sacred day of Ashoura. He said even the former government of the hated shah respected the holy day.

"What has really happened that (caused the ruling system) spilled the blood of people on the day of Ashoura and gets a group of savage individuals confronting people?" he told the Rah-e-Sabz Web site. The shah, who was overthrown in 1979, was widely hated, and comparing a rival to the shah is a serious, though common, insult in Iranian politics.

The government crackdown has attracted a growing chorus of international criticism. On Monday, Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, condemned the "brutal action" by security forces.

"I am calling on those responsible in Tehran to do everything in order to avoid a further escalation of the situation and to end the violence," he said. "The international community will watch and not look away."

Sunday's violence erupted when security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the center of Tehran. Opposition Web sites and witnesses said five people were killed, but Iran's state-run Press TV, quoting the Supreme National Security Council, said the death toll was eight. It gave no further details.

The dead included a nephew of chief opposition leader Mir Mousavi, according to Mousavi's Web site, Kaleme.ir. Police denied using firearms.

Opposition Web sites and activists said security forces raided a series of opposition offices on Monday, making at least seven arrests.

The Parlemannews site said three of Moussavi's top aides were rounded up, including his top adviser, Ali Riza Beheshti.

Security forces also stormed a foundation run by reformist former President Mohammad Khatami and arrested two people, a foundation official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of police reprisal. The Baran Foundation works to promote dialogue between civilizations.

In another move, former Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi and human rights activist Emad Baghi were arrested, according to the Rah-e-Sabz Web site. Yazdi, who served as foreign minister after the 1979 Islamic revolution, is now leader of the banned but tolerated Freedom Movement of Iran.

The arrests could not be independently confirmed.

Some accounts of the violence Sunday in Tehran were vivid and detailed, but they could not be independently confirmed because of government restrictions on media coverage. Police said dozens of officers were injured and more than 300 protesters were arrested.

The street chaos coincided with commemorations of Ashoura, fueling protesters' defiance with its message of sacrifice and dignity in the face of coercion. The observance commemorates the 7th-century death in battle of one of Shiite Islam's most beloved saints.

Still, many demonstrators had not anticipated such harsh tactics by the authorities, despite police warnings of tougher action against any protests on the sacred day.

The clashes marked the bloodiest confrontation since the height of unrest in the weeks after June's election. The opposition says Ahmadinejad won the election through massive vote fraud and that Mousavi was the true winner.

The Dec. 20 death of the 87-year-old Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a sharp critic of Iran's leaders, has given a new push to opposition protests. Opposition leaders have used holidays and other symbolic days in recent months to stage anti-government rallies.

Iran is under pressure both from its domestic opposition within the country and from the United States and its European allies, which are pushing Iran to suspend key parts of its nuclear program.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer, speaking in Hawaii Sunday, where U.S. President Barack Obama is vacationing, denounced Tehran's "unjust suppression of civilians."

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, expressed concern about the "increased repression" in Iran.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

tomorrow will see protests and violence across Iran

...with the Shiite Muslim mourning ceremony of Ashoura tomorrow and the mourning of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a sharp critic of Iran's leaders, it is going to be a day of huge protests and likely violence...

...a friend told me that all cell phones are already being blocked, internet service has been severely restricted, and foreign media have been strictly prohibited from covering the street protests....

Iran's Green movement prepared for street protest against hardline regime mullahs

Iranian forces clash with demonstrators ahead of key mourning rituals

Iranian opposition website reports Tehran violence

Iran anti-regime clashes erupt on Shiite holy day

Opposition Supporters, Police Clash in Iran

Iran Increasingly a 'Police State'

Iran's Regime On The Ropes

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Islamic New Year

bloggers being monitored and threatened?

MP asks Interior Minstry about Threats against Bloggers (Article)

AlـMulla asks Interior Ministry about threats against bloggers
Al Watan Daily
7 December 2009
KUWAIT: MP Saleh AlـMulla announced in a press release to Al Watan that he received information that State Security is closely monitoring blogs and threatening bloggers who share opinions online, a severe violation of freedom of speech and articles contained in the Constitution (30, 35, 36, 37, 39). He went on to ask the Ministry of Interior if bloggers are actually being monitored by State Security and what legal bases (basis) allow them to do so. He also questioned if State Security had directly threatened bloggers in order to force them to stop posting opinions online. Furthermore, AlـMulla asked the minister whether State Security keeps files on some bloggers or people who publish their opinions in daily publications or online, whether the Ministry of Communication was contacted by the Ministry of Interior to assist them in the monitoring process, and whether there was a ministerial or Cabinet decision to monitor blogs.ـ

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mirage in the Desert


(Pictured above: the tallest man-made structure in the world, the Burj Dubai, towers over the city & half-built artificial islands make up The World, whose construction has been put on hold.)

From the moment that I heard of the boom taking place in Dubai, I had a feeling something was up. This feeling was only confirmed when I visited twice last year (see: Tower of Babel..., Brave New World..., old Dubai..., skiing in the desert??? ). While of course it was, and still is (I went again this summer, see: New talents from Kuwait ), an exciting and dynamic, visually and culturally rich, futuristic city, does it make any sense, in this age of environmental concern, to attempt to create a mega-city in the middle of a desert? Really, how many people are going to want to live, and/or can sustainably live, in the middle of a desert?

Dubai Mega-Tower `Last Hurrah' To Age Of Excess


A Financial Mirage in the Desert

Debt Crisis Tests Dubai's Ruler

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The (Ottoman) Empire Strikes Back

What a shame that so much is lost with a Euro-centric or Western biased point of view. I'm obviously a 'somewhat' educated individual. I studied hard in school. I was a good student, but for the life of me, I can not remember almost anything being taught -from kindergarten to graduating one of the top students in my high school, to college to graduate school- about The Ottoman Empire (or about much of the rest of the world - besides Western Europe and the USA). I was in complete awe traveling in Turkey last winter (see: Christmas at the Aya Sophia..., Troy..., Ephesus..., Hierapolis-Pamukkale...).

For those that do not know: The Ottoman Empire lasted more than 600 years (1299-1923), spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, and was at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. With Constantinople (Istanbul) as its capital city, and vast control of lands around the eastern Mediterranean during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent (ruled 1520 to 1566), the Ottoman Empire was, in many respects, an Islamic successor to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

Interesting article in the today about a rekindling of interest, pride and nostalgia in Turkey for their Ottoman past:

Frustrated With West, Turks Revel in Empire Lost
Published: December 4, 2009

ISTANBUL — More than eight decades ago, Ertugrul Osman, an heir to the Ottoman throne, was unceremoniously thrown out of Turkey with his family. He lived to be 97, spending most of his years in a modest Manhattan apartment above a bakery.
Johan Spanner for The New York Times

The traditional costumes of a band in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul invoked Janissaries, elite Ottoman-era soldiers.

Johan Spanner for The International Herald Tribune

Cenan Sarc, 97, the descendant of an Ottoman pasha, was 10 years old at the time of the Empire’s collapse in 1922.

Mustafa Ozer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Thousands mourned Ertugrul Osman, an heir to the Ottoman throne, in Istanbul.

But in September, at his funeral in the garden of the majestic Sultanahmet Mosque here, thousands of mourners paid their respects, including government officials and celebrities. Some even kissed the hands of surviving dynasty members, who appeared shocked at the adulation.

The show of reverence for the man who might have been sultan, historians said, was a seminal moment in the rehabilitation of the Ottoman Empire, long demonized by some in the modern, secular Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. During Ataturk’s rule, the empire was remembered mainly for its decadence and its humiliating defeat and partition by the Allies in World War I.

Mr. Osman’s send-off was just the latest manifestation of what sociologists call “Ottomania,” a harking back to an era marked by conquest and cultural splendor during which sultans ruled an empire stretching from the Balkans to the Indian Ocean and claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world.

The longing for those glory years — by religious Muslims and secularists alike — partly reflects Turks’ frustration with a European Union that seems ill disposed to accept them as members. And in a country where the tension between religion and secularism is never far from the surface, members of the new governing class of religious Muslims have seized upon nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire as a way to challenge the pro-Western elite that emerged during Ataturk’s rule, and to help forge a national identity of Turkey as an aspiring regional leader.

“Turks are attracted to the heroism and the glory of the Ottoman period because it belongs to them,” said the director of Topkapi Palace, Ilber Ortayli, who, as the keeper of the sumptuous residence where Ottoman sultans lived for 400 years, is also a zealous unofficial gatekeeper of the Ottoman legacy. “The sultans hold a place in the popular consciousness like Douglas MacArthur or General Patton have for Americans.”

The current vogue of all things Ottoman, from the proliferation of historical docudramas to the popularity of porcelain ashtrays adorned with harem women, is sometimes manifesting itself in ways that would surely have made a real sultan blanch.

During Ramadan, Burger King offered a special sultan menu featuring dishes popular in the Ottoman years. In the television commercial promoting the meal, a turbaned Janissary — a member of an elite group of Ottoman soldiers — exhorts viewers not to “leave any burgers standing.”

Ottomania has also infected the nation’s youth; 20-somethings at hip dance clubs here wear T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Terrible Turks” — the latter turning the taunt Europeans once used against their Ottoman invaders into a defiant symbol of self-affirmation.

Kerim Sarc, 42, the owner of Ottoman Empire T-Shirts and the scion of an illustrious Ottoman family, believes that the newfound fondness for a mighty empire that lasted more than 600 years and once reached the gates of Vienna is linked to the long struggle for membership in the European Union. The bloc has imposed tough conditions on Turkey, including asking it to compromise in its longstanding dispute over Cyprus.

“We Turks are tired of being treated in Europe like poor, backward peasants,” he said.

The Ottoman renaissance is equally prevalent in the nation’s highest political circles, where the Muslim-inspired Justice and Development Party government has been aggressively courting former Ottoman colonies, including Iraq and Syria, in at least a partial reorientation of foreign policy toward the east that Turkish analysts have labeled as “Neo-Ottoman.”

That shift has alarmed officials in Europe and Washington, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to reassure President Obama when he meets him at the White House on Monday that Turkey has not abandoned its Western course.

It is a sign of the Ottoman Empire’s new hold on the popular imagination that in January when Mr. Erdogan publicly rebuked the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, over the war in Gaza, at a debate at Davos, Switzerland, he was greeted enthusiastically by his supporters back in Turkey with the chant, “Our fatih is back!” The allusion was to Fatih — or conqueror — Sultan Mehmet II, the towering sultan who at age 21 conquered Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453.

Colleagues said Mr. Erdogan proudly displays an original decree in his office by Sultan Mehmet II granting autonomy to religious minorities within the empire.

“The Ottoman Empire conquered two-thirds of the world but did not force anyone to change their language or religion at a time when minorities elsewhere were being oppressed,” said Egeman Bagis, the minister for European Union affairs. “Turks can be proud of that legacy.”

Pelin Batu, co-host of a popular television history program, argued that the glorification of the Ottoman era by a government with roots in political Islam reflected a revolt against the secular cultural revolution undertaken by Ataturk, who outlawed the wearing of Islamic head scarves in state institutions and abolished the Ottoman-era caliphate.

“Ottomania is a form of Islamic empowerment for a new Muslim religious bourgeoisie who are reacting against Ataturk’s attempt to relegate religion and Islam to the sidelines,” she said.

In a society struggling with its identity, not everyone welcomes the phenomenon.

Some critics accuse its proponents of glossing over the empire’s decline and of glorifying an anachronistic system that, at the very least, was mired in corruption and infighting in its later years. The massacre of Ottoman Armenians between 1915 and 1918 stands as a particular dark spot in the history of the empire.

“The religious Muslims now in power are trying to feed the Turkish people an Ottoman poison,” said Sada Kural, 45, a housewife and staunch supporter of Ataturk’s vision. “The Ottoman era wasn’t a good period; we were the sick man of Europe, rights were suppressed and women only got the vote after Ataturk came to power.”

While some bemoan what they consider the crude commercialization of a nation’s history, others, like Cenan Sarc, 97, who was 10 years old at the time of the empire’s collapse in 1922 and is the descendant of an Ottoman pasha, cautioned against idealizing an era of dictatorship.

Mrs. Sarc recalled her idyllic childhood in a mansion on the Bosporus, a poetic time, she said, when fathers ruled, mothers stayed at home and Islam held sway. But, she insisted, “we can never go back to that time.” Ertugrul Osman, the Ottoman heir, had himself accepted obscurity. When he visited Turkey in 1992, for the first time in 53 years, and went to see the 285-room Dolmabahce Palace, which had been his grandfather’s home, he insisted on joining a public tour group.

Asked frequently if he dreamed about restoring the empire, he always emphatically answered no. “Democracy,” he said, “works well in Turkey.”

Original article here: Frustrated With West, Turks Revel in Empire Lost

Sunday, November 29, 2009

rain storm in the desert!

woke up and jumped out of bed to a big 'squish'... the carpet by my bed was soaking wet (at first I worried that maybe I had slept walked and never made it to the bathroom!)... but then I also saw a big water puddle in my living room and soon realized that rain had slowly leaked in from the windows and balcony doors... unusually, it had rained all last night and had been getting colder and kind of rainy for the last few days... apparently windows and doors are not weather proofed in Kuwait, probably because it gets so little rain (yearly average rainfall is about 4.5 inches)...

it sucked and I spent all morning cleaning it up, but at least nothings seems to have been ruined..

Saturday, November 28, 2009

artist against the state...

Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

China’s Impolitic Artist, Still Waiting to Be Silenced

By MICHAEL WINES

Published: November 27, 2009

BEIJING

AI WEIWEI is perhaps China’s most famous living artist and its most vociferous domestic critic, titles of a sort this committed iconoclast disdains. Which is not a bad thing, considering that recently, he very nearly lost them both.

Mr. Ai was in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, preparing to testify at the trial of a fellow political activist. “By 3 a.m., we heard a very strong noise in the hallway, very brutal, much like a Hollywood movie — knocking on every door: ‘Open it up — we are the police!’ ” he said.

“They kicked open the door. I said, ‘How do I know you are the police?’ They said, ‘I’ll show you,’ and punched me here.” Mr. Ai pointed to the right side of his forehead. “It was a very solid punch.”

A month later, at an art exhibition in Munich, Mr. Ai went to a doctor with a pounding headache and was rushed into surgery to drain a pool of blood from his brain.

Mr. Ai nearly died. Three months later, he says, his memory still fails him. On the other hand, “I don’t have so many good memories anyway.”

That seems an exaggeration. At 52, Mr. Ai, a beefy, bearded man with an air of almost monastic composure, is an international figure in the art world, successful beyond what anyone might have predicted even a decade ago. He is a celebrated architect, a co-designer of Beijing’s landmark Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, an installation artist and a documentary filmmaker with a 100-member staff.

Artistically, he can do almost anything he wishes, like personally shipping 16 40-foot containers, including 9,000 custom-made children’s backpacks, from Beijing for his recent exhibition in Munich.

Yet clearly, all is not rosy in Mr. Ai’s world. In one of his early acclaimed works, a series of three photographs called “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” he dispassionately shatters a priceless ancient Chinese vase, striking a theme — destruction and recreation — that runs through much of his art.

Other works employ Ming and Qin period urns, furniture and architecture, assembled into haunting new creations, or painted over, Warhol-style, with the Coca-Cola logo, or speared by wooden beams. A series of photographs depicts global icons — the Forbidden City, the White House, the Eiffel Tower — interrupted by Mr. Ai’s hand, middle finger raised.

Then there are his politics, an in-your-face criticism of China’s leaders that, given Beijing’s limited tolerance for dissent, seems almost suicidal. Long before the Olympics, Mr. Ai disavowed his role in designing the Bird’s Nest, saying the government had transformed the Olympics into a patriotic celebration instead of using them to create a more open society.

In a 90-minute interview in his minimalist studio in north Beijing, Mr. Ai called the government unimaginative, prevaricating, suspicious of its own people and utterly focused on self-preservation.

“They don’t believe in liberty. They don’t believe in China before the Communists,” he said. “There is only one simple, clear task: to protect their control, to maintain their governing. Which is such a pity.”

All of this he has said many times before. China’s nationalists often accuse him of shilling for the West, and in fact, Mr. Ai ended his chat with a plea to President Obama to call for greater freedom in China, saying “we still need the moral support of the Western leaders” to press for more uncontrolled space in a still-closed society.

With or without help, Mr. Ai is pressing hard. His most provocative art, as well as his latest cause, concerns the question of why the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake killed thousands of children in their classrooms — and why the government has refused to give the public an official explanation.

After the quake, Mr. Ai used the Internet to assemble scores of volunteers who combed the disaster area, compiling a list of more than 5,000 dead children, organized by age and school, that now covers one wall of his studio. “The picture became clear. All of them belonged to about 20 schools, and those schools, the buildings collapsed to dust,” he said. “Why did those buildings collapse, and the ones next to it are standing?”

THE citizens’ inquiry has produced a detailed list of questions, sent to government agencies, which were supposed to be answered by this past Tuesday under law, but have yet to be addressed. In December it will yield a documentary film on the disaster.

In Munich, the inquiry produced Mr. Ai’s most arresting work of art to date: those 9,000 children’s backpacks, covering one exterior wall of the Haus der Kunst. Against a blue background, colored bags form the Chinese characters for the message, “She lived happily on this earth for seven years,” a quotation from a mother of one earthquake victim.

The Munich exhibit is titled “So Sorry,” a caustic comment on the government’s near-silence on the schools disaster.

Mr. Ai’s beating in August occurred as he was preparing to testify at the trial of Tan Zuoren, a Sichuan writer and activist who was trying to investigate the same issue. Mr. Tan was accused of inciting the subversion of state power. Mr. Ai was blocked from testifying at his trial, which has yet to produce a verdict. This week, though, another activist, Huang Qi, received a three-year sentence for encouraging parents to press their grievances.

A disquieting sense of foreboding accompanies these jousts with the all-powerful state.

Ai Weiwei’s father, Ai Qing, was both an artist and one of China’s most revered contemporary poets, who as a young man studied Baudelaire and Mayakovski in Paris. When he returned to Shanghai in 1932, the ruling Kuomintang party jailed and tortured him, calling him a leftist. It was right: in 1941, Ai Qing joined the Communist Party.

BUT 17 years later, in the infancy of Mao’s new People’s Republic, he ran afoul of the Communist Party for subtly criticizing its suppression of free speech. The party exiled him, first to Manchuria, then to remotest northwest China; Siberia, essentially.

Mr. Ai and his family lived in a hut dug into the ground. His job for the next 16 years was to clean out the village’s public toilets.

“He was 60 years old. He had never done physical work in his life and he had to start doing it,” his son said. “Every night, he comes home very, very dirty. But he says, ‘For 60 years, I don’t know who cleans my toilets. So now I do something for them.’

“That’s something I learned from him. He became very powerful in terms of his thinking. He made the toilet so clean, he would see it as a work of art — like a museum, like MoMA.”

The family returned to Beijing in 1976, with the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1985, the elder Mr. Ai, now rehabilitated, would receive a literary award from President François Mitterrand of France. His son, on the other hand, could hardly wait to flee China.

Young Ai Weiwei studied at the Beijing Film Academy but in 1981 left for the United States. In New York, Mr. Ai said, he was in the city’s art scene, not of it. He held temporary jobs and moved 10 times, throwing out his canvases each time for lack of storage room.

When his father fell ill in 1993, he agonized over returning to his homeland, which harbored such painful memories. But after 1989, and the silencing of protesters at Tiananmen Square, he had decided that “the world became different.” And so he returned to China in 1993, reckoning that one day he might face something like his father’s fate.

Lately, there are indeed signs that the government is reaching its limit. His blogs on Chinese Web sites, about issues political and otherwise, have been shut down. Someone has installed two video cameras outside his studio. The police are said to be scrutinizing his finances, an ominous development in a state where other political critics have been prosecuted for what appear to be concocted fiscal misdeeds.

“He has never done anything illegal,” said his lawyer and friend, Liu Xiaoyuan. “But if he continues on his current path, getting involved in some very high-profile cases, I will get worried. Some government departments are already very annoyed about him.”

Mr. Ai says he is ready for whatever comes. “I came to art because I wanted to escape the other regulations of the society. The whole society is so political,” he said. “But the irony is that my art becomes more and more political.”

Li Bibo contributed research.

Original article here: China’s Impolitic Artist, Still Waiting to Be Silenced

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Yazd: A Thread of Light Through the Bazaar


Sultan Gallery's new exhibition “Yazd: A Thread of Light Through the Bazaar”, opens Tuesday, December 1, 7-9pm. It is an exhibition by Kuwaiti artist Nadia Al-Foudery of photos of the ancient Iranian city of Yazd, once the heart of Zoroastrianism culture.

Happy Eid and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beyond China: the 'Beautiful Island'


Lo Ch’ing’s diptych: Cities of Myriad Lights

With all the talk about mainland China (the People's Republic of China) recently, Ilha Formosa ('beautiful island' as the Portuguese named it) or Taiwan (the Republic of China) is often forgotten as an alternative model for Chinese society. Taiwan's economic boom began decades before Mao's China, something completely ignored by mainland Chinese who typically hold 'communism' and particularly Mao Zedong as the main catalysts for the strength and economic power of China today. In stark contrast with mainland China, Taiwan's economic boom was also followed by dramatic political and environmental changes. While it might have been a bumpy ride and no country is free of any sin, Taiwan today is a democracy (I lived in Taiwan during the first free and open elections in Chinese history of a mayor, a president, and later the first election of a president from an opposition party). Taiwan's citizens enjoy access to media from all around the globe and from many competing and critical voices, unlike the Great Firewall and almost complete control of all media by China's totalitarian regime. Religion in Taiwan is strong and its citizens enjoy Religious Freedom and other civil liberties. It is a bastion of traditional Chinese culture as well as its own uniquely hybrid cultures. In terms of Taiwan's environmental improvements, especially in the last few years, it is light years ahead of their "communist" neighbor. While its art scene has received less notice than China's, it also has its share of great movie directors (Ang Lee, Tsai Ming-liang, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien) and visual artists.

I am lucky enough to be able to call two of the artists
mentioned in the article below friends - Lo Ch'ing, one of my former professors and one of the most well known Taiwanese poets and painters, and Yu Peng, an old friend who I greatly admire. On a magical evening on my last trip to Taiwan in 2008, my students and another professor and I were able to visit Yu Peng's classical Chinese style garden/home/art studio near the National Palace Museum. We sat around on Chinese style tatami mats with Yu Peng behind a large tea table, shared cups of Pu-erh tea, fine wines, and a Taiwanese delicacy, botargo or taiwan: fish eggs, while listening to Guqin music surrounded by Yu Peng's artworks and his collection of Chinese antiques... ahh, it was as if a dream...).

Michael Goedhuis presents

Beyond China: The New Ink Painting from Taiwan,

30 October - 27 November
Opening Reception Friday, 30 October 2009
6 – 8 PM at Carlton Hobbs, 16 Bloomfield Terrace, London

LONDON – Michael Goedhuis invites you to the opening reception of an ambitious group exhibition entitled Beyond China: The New Ink Painting from Taiwan on Friday, 30th October 2009, as part of the preeminent annual constellation of Asian cultural events – Asian Art in London.

'Beyond China' is an ambitious exhibition of ten contemporary artists from Taiwan, all of whom represent the best of the New Ink Painting—the contemporary expression of the classical brush and ink style developed over the centuries. This exhibition highlights some of the most significant work being done by the most distinguished practitioners of the New Ink Painting beyond the Chinese mainland.

The works of these artists range from the neo-classical to the avant-garde and from those who have long been internationally established (Liu Kuo-sung, Tong Yangtze, Yuan Jai, Lo Ch'ing, Yu Peng, Ho Huai
-shuo) to the emerging younger generation of brilliant exponants (Fay Ku, Pan Hsin-hua, Yao Jui-Chung, and Chun-yi Lee). Each with their own distinct style, these artists represent different trends in the development of contemporary Chinese ink painting.

Ink painting, as expressed in calligraphy and monumental landscape painting, is the foundation stone of Chinese culture. While this tradition was interrupted in Mainland China because of the Cultural Revolution, Taiwan has benefited from an unbroken link with China's cultural past.

In the past three decades, Taiwan has experienced enormous technological and economic development, which has in turn prompted its artists to search for ways to convert their culture's traditional aesthetic into work that is relevant to the contemporary world. While all of these artists have benefited from a rigorous foundation in the brush and ink tradition, they have evolved in different adventurous ways to express the reality of modern Asia with a new pictorial language.

For images of works featured in this exhibition, please access our website: www.michaelgoedhuis.com.

For further inquiries or information please contact
Michael Goedhuis (+1 212 535 6954 / michael@goedhuiscontemporary.com),
Thea Buen (+1 212 535 6954 / thea@goedhuiscontemporary.com),
or Jennifer Bailey (+44 (0) 207 823 1395 / london@michaelgoedhuis.com).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Iraqi architect in Rome



Architecture Review

Modern Lines for the Eternal City

Published: November 11, 2009

ROME — What would Pope Urban VIII have made of Maxxi, the new museum of contemporary art designed by Zaha Hadid on the outskirts of this city’s historic quarter? My guess is that he would have been ecstatic.

Roland Halbe

The interior of Maxxi, the new contemporary art museum designed by Zaha Hadid, looking up from the lobby. More Photos »

This 17th-century pope, one of the most prominent cultural patrons in Roman history, understood that great cities are not frozen in time. He loved dreaming up lavish new projects over breakfast with his artistic soul mate, the Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. When Bernini needed bronze for the baldachin in St. Peter’s, the pope simply ordered it torn out of the Pantheon. Neither was afraid to make his mark on the city.

Since then the architectural scene here has become a lot duller. True, Mussolini commissioned some impressive civic works, most notably for the fascist EUR district. But for most of the last half-century Romans have been content to gaze languidly toward the past. The handful of ambitious new cultural buildings that have appeared, like Renzo Piano’s marvelous Parco della Musica, tend toward the dignified and respectable.

Maxxi, which opens to the public on Saturday for a two-day “architectural preview,” jolts this city back to the present like a thunderclap. Its sensual lines seem to draw the energy of the city right up into its belly, making everything around it look timid. The galleries (which will remain empty of art until the spring, when the museum is scheduled to hold its first exhibition) would probably have sent a shiver of joy up the old pope’s spine. Even Bernini, I suspect, would have appreciated their curves.

The completion of the museum is proof that this city is no longer allergic to the new and a rebuke to those who still see Rome as a catalog of architectural relics for scholars or tourists. It affirms the view that cities thrive when each generation attempts to rise to the challenges of the past while remaining true to contemporary values. That means that yes, we too — the living — have something to contribute.

The museum stands in a drowsy neighborhood of early-20th-century apartment buildings and former army barracks called Flaminio.

Set back from the street in the middle of a block and overlooking a gravel plaza, the building offers no big visual fireworks, and at first glance it looks surprisingly sedate. From the south, its smooth, almost silky, concrete forms are largely hidden behind an old factory building that has been transformed into a gallery for temporary exhibitions. From the north it is shielded by the long curved wall of the main galleries.

The energy builds as you walk toward it. The best route is along Via Luigi Poletti, which approaches the site at an angle from the northwest. As you get close, the road veers to the east, but you continue forward, following a path along the convex exterior of the building as it curves toward the plaza. The path narrows as it approaches the main entry, creating a sense of acceleration.

At the entrance, a concrete box that houses an upper-level gallery projects out above your head, its front tilted forward menacingly.

Ms. Hadid has used similar ideas before, most notably in a factory she designed for BMW on the outskirts of Leipzig, Germany. The idea is to weave her buildings into the network of streets and sidewalks that surround them — into the infrastructure that binds us together. But it is also a way of making architecture — which is about static objects — more dynamic by capturing the energy of bodies charging through space.

In Rome this strategy reaches a crescendo in the museum’s towering lobby. A bookstore, cafe and information counter are scattered informally around the hall; corridors snake off in different directions. A monumental black staircase climbs up through the space, one end disappearing into a narrow canyonlike crevice and hinting at more mysteries to come.

If a question remains about the building, it has to do with the galleries, which are arranged as a series of long intertwining bands, some 300 feet long, as if the ramps of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim had somehow come unraveled. The slight curves of the spaces lure you forward in anticipation of what’s around the next bend.

The sense of forward momentum is reinforced by the lighting system: a glass skylight that is broken up by long, knifelike metal fins that run the entire length of the room. The fins protect the artworks from direct sunlight while allowing those inside the galleries to see an occasional patch of sky. A second system just above, of steel grids, blocks out the harshest southern light. I was there on an overcast afternoon, and the light was lively and warm without being distracting.

What we don’t know, however, and won’t know for a while, is whether the galleries strike the right balance between the need to move crowds and the stillness required for contemplating art. Ms. Hadid has created a flexible system of hanging partitions that can be used to divide the spaces into smaller galleries; and as you climb to the top, one of the bands breaks into several discrete spaces on different levels.

At the moment, though, the flow of spaces seems a bit relentless. And until partitions are installed, art is hung and rehung, and curators begin to get a feel for the spaces that only comes after several years of organizing exhibitions in them, we won’t know for sure how well the galleries work. There are some, I expect, who will point to the decision to show off the museum while it is still empty — indeed, before its collection has even been put together — as yet more proof that contemporary architecture always overshadows the art it houses. More patient minds will wait to see for themselves.

Meanwhile, Rome’s faith in Ms. Hadid, and in the new world she represents, has been fully rewarded. For years she has been steadily building up a body of work that demonstrates she is about more than glamour — she is one of architecture’s most original and powerful voices — and Maxxi will only add to her legacy. A generation of Romans can now walk out their front doors knowing that the conversation with the past is not so one-sided.

If Pope Urban were alive today, I’m certain he and Ms. Hadid would be having breakfast right now, plotting the next move.

Original article here: Modern Lines for the Eternal City

So where’s the best place to spend $100 billion a year?



Op-Ed Columnist

America’s Defining Choice

Published: November 11, 2009

President Obama and Congress will soon make defining choices about health care and troops for Afghanistan.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

These two choices have something in common — each has a bill of around $100 billion per year. So one question is whether we’re better off spending that money blowing up things in Helmand Province or building up things in America.

The total bill in Afghanistan has been running around $1 million per year per soldier deployed there. That doesn’t include the long-term costs that will be incurred in coming decades — such as disability benefits, or up to $5 million to provide round-the-clock nursing care indefinitely for a single soldier who suffers brain injuries.

So if President Obama dispatches another 30,000 or 40,000 troops, on top of the 68,000 already there, that would bring the total annual bill for our military presence there to perhaps $100 billion — or more. And we haven’t even come to the human costs.

As for health care reforms, the 10-year cost suggests an average of $80 billion to $110 billion per year, depending on what the final bill looks like.

Granted, the health care costs will continue indefinitely, while the United States cannot sustain 100,000 troops in Afghanistan for many years. On the other hand, the health care legislation pays for itself, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while the deployment in Afghanistan is unfinanced and will raise our budget deficits and undermine our long-term economic security.

So doesn’t it seem odd to hear hawks say that health reform is fiscally irresponsible, while in the next breath they cheer a larger deployment of troops in Afghanistan?

Meanwhile, lack of health insurance kills about 45,000 Americans a year, according to a Harvard study released in September. So which is the greater danger to our homeland security, the Taliban or our dysfunctional insurance system?

Who are these Americans who die for lack of insurance? Dr. Linda Harris, an ob-gyn in Oregon tells of Sue, a 31-year-old patient of hers. Sue was a single mom who worked hard — sometimes two jobs at once — to ensure that her beloved daughter would enjoy a better life.

Sue’s jobs never provided health insurance, and Sue felt she couldn’t afford to splurge on herself to get gynecological checkups. For more than a dozen years, she never had a Pap smear, although one is recommended annually. Even when Sue began bleeding and suffering abdominal pain, she was reluctant to see a doctor because she didn’t know how she would pay the bills.

Finally, Sue sought help from a hospital emergency room, and then from the low-cost public clinic where Dr. Harris works. Dr. Harris found that Sue had advanced cervical cancer. Three months later, she died. Her daughter was 13.

“I get teary whenever I think about her,” Dr. Harris said. “It was so needless.”

Cervical cancer has a long preinvasive stage that can be detected with Pap smears, and then effectively treated with relatively minor procedures, Dr. Harris said.

“People talk about waiting lines in Canada,” Dr. Harris added. “I say, well, at least they have a line to wait in.”

Based on the numbers from the Harvard study, a person like Sue dies as a consequence of lack of health care coverage every 12 minutes in America. As many people die every three weeks from lack of health insurance as were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

Health coverage is becoming steadily more precarious as companies try to cut costs and insurance companies boost profits by denying claims and canceling coverage of people who get sick. I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore., where we sometimes had greased pig contests. I’m not sure which is harder: getting a good grip on a greased hog or wrestling with an insurance company trying to avoid paying a claim it should.

Joe Lieberman, a pivotal vote in the Senate, says he recognizes that there are problems and would like reform, but he denounces “another government health insurance entitlement, the government going into the health insurance business.” Look out — it sounds as if Mr. Lieberman is planning to ax Medicare.

The health reform legislation in Congress is imperfect, of course. It won’t do enough to hold down costs; it may restrict access even to private insurance coverage for abortion services; it won’t do enough to address public health or unhealthy lifestyles.

Likewise, troop deployment plans in Afghanistan are imperfect. Some experts think more troops will help. Others think they will foster a nationalist backlash and feed the insurgency (that’s my view).

So where’s the best place to spend $100 billion a year? Is it on patrols in Helmand? Or is it to refurbish our health care system so that people like Sue don’t die unnecessarily every 12 minutes?

Original article: America’s Defining Choice

"...oil company was participating in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution.."


American Adviser to Kurds Stands to Reap Oil Profits

Published: November 11, 2009

OSLO — Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.

Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News

Peter W. Galbraith

Azad Lashkari/Reuters

A worker at the Tawke field in Iraq's Kurdistan region, where oil was struck in 2005. The Kurds are claiming control of their oil.

Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.

In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.

Mr. Galbraith, widely viewed in Washington as a smart and bold foreign policy expert, has always described himself as an unpaid adviser to the Kurds, although he has spoken in general terms about having business interests in Kurdistan, as the north of Iraq is known.

So it came as a shock to many last month when a group of Norwegian investigative journalists at the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv began publishing documents linking Mr. Galbraith to a specific Norwegian oil company with major contracts in Iraq.

Interviews by The New York Times with more than a dozen current and former government and business officials in Norway, France, Iraq, the United States and elsewhere, along with legal records and other documents, reveal in considerable detail that he received rights to an enormous stake in at least one of Kurdistan’s oil fields in the spring of 2004.

As it turns out, Mr. Galbraith received the rights after he helped negotiate a potentially lucrative contract that allowed the Norwegian oil company DNO to drill for oil in the promising Dohuk region of Kurdistan, the interviews and documents show.

He says his actions were proper because he was at the time a private citizen deeply involved in Kurdish causes, both in business and policy.

When drillers struck oil in a rich new field called Tawke in December 2005, no one but a handful of government and business officials and members of Mr. Galbraith’s inner circle knew that the constitutional provisions he had pushed through only months earlier could enrich him so handsomely.

As the scope of Mr. Galbraith’s financial interests in Kurdistan become clear, they have the potential to inflame some of Iraqis’ deepest fears, including conspiracy theories that the true reason for the American invasion of their country was to take its oil. It may not help that outside Kurdistan, Mr. Galbraith’s influential view that Iraq should be broken up along ethnic lines is considered offensive to many Iraqis’ nationalism. Mr. Biden and Mr. Kerry, who have been influenced by Mr. Galbraith’s thinking but do not advocate such a partitioning of the country, were not aware of Mr. Galbraith’s oil dealings in Iraq, aides to both politicians say.

Some officials say that his financial ties could raise serious questions about the integrity of the constitutional negotiations themselves. “The idea that an oil company was participating in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution leaves me speechless,” said Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, a principal drafter of the law that governed Iraq after the United States ceded control to an Iraqi government on June 28, 2004.

In effect, he said, the company “has a representative in the room, drafting.”

DNO’s chief executive, Helge Eide, confirmed that Mr. Galbraith helped negotiate the Tawke deal and advised the company during 2005. But Mr. Eide said that Mr. Galbraith acted solely as a political adviser and that the company never discussed the Constitution negotiations with him. “We certainly never did give any input, language or suggestions on the Constitution,” Mr. Eide said.

When the findings based on interviews by The Times and other research were presented to Mr. Galbraith last weekend, he responded in writing to The Times, confirming that he did work as a mediator between DNO and the Kurdish government until the oil contract was signed in the spring of 2004, and saying that he maintained an “ongoing business relationship” with the company throughout the constitutional negotiations in 2005 and later.

Mr. Galbraith says he held no official position in the United States or Iraq during this entire period and acted purely as a private citizen. He maintains that his largely undeclared dual role was entirely proper. He says that he was simply advocating positions that the Kurds had documented before his relationship with DNO even began.

“What is true is that I undertook business activities that were entirely consistent with my long-held policy views,” Mr. Galbraith said in his response. “I believe my work with DNO (and other companies) helped create the Kurdistan oil industry which helps provide Kurdistan an economic base for the autonomy its people almost unanimously desire.”

“So, while I may have had interests, I see no conflict,” Mr. Galbraith said.

Kurdish officials said that they were informed of Mr. Galbraith’s work for DNO and that they still considered him a friend and advocate. Mr. Galbraith said that during his work on the Constitution negotiations, the Kurds “did not pay me and they knew I was being paid by DNO.”

Mr. Istrabadi, who was also the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations from 2004 to 2007, said the case was especially troubling given the influence of Mr. Galbraith’s policy views. In his writings — some of them on the Op-Ed page of The Times and in the New York Review of Books — he is generally identified as a former ambassador or with some other generic description that gives no insight into his business interests in the area.

Mr. Galbraith, for many years on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has a long relationship with the Kurds. In 1988, he documented Saddam Hussein’s systematic campaign against the Kurds, including the use of gas. He served as United States ambassador to Croatia between 1993 and 1998. In September, he was fired as the No. 2 official with the United Nations mission in Afghanistan after he accused the head of the mission of concealing allegations of electoral fraud.

Views of Mr. Galbraith’s business ties are harsh within the central Baghdad government, which has long maintained, in stark opposition to Mr. Galbraith’s interpretation of the Constitution, that all the oil contracts signed by the Kurdish government were illegal.

Referring to the Constitution negotiations, Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani, vice chairman of the oil and gas committee in the Iraqi Parliament, said that Mr. Galbraith’s “interference was not justified, illegal and not right, particularly because he is involved in a company where his financial interests have been merged with the political interest.”

Citing what he said were confidentiality agreements, Mr. Galbraith refused to give details of his financial arrangement with the company, and the precise nature of his compensation remains unknown. But several officials, including Mr. Galbraith’s business partner in the deal, the Norwegian businessman Endre Rosjo, said that in addition to whatever consulting fees the company paid, he and Mr. Galbraith were together granted rights to 10 percent of the large Tawke field and possibly others.

An internal DNO document dated Dec. 3, 2006, which was first obtained by Dagens Naeringsliv, indicates that a company called Porcupine, registered in Delaware under Mr. Galbraith’s name, still held the rights to the 5 percent stake at that time, while a company associated with Mr. Rosjo held the other 5 percent.

Mr. Eide, the DNO executive, said that as far as the company knew, Mr. Galbraith’s work was proper.

“To our knowledge, Mr. Galbraith in 2004 was working as a businessman with no political assignments,” Mr. Eide said. “Given our network model and limited experience and knowledge from the region at that time, our evaluation concluded that we should use Mr. Galbraith to advise DNO in the first stage of the project.”

As revelations began appearing in recent weeks, Mr. Galbraith at first issued qualified denials stating that he had never been party to any arrangement in Iraq technically referred to in the oil industry as a production-sharing contract. But industry insiders say that the rights could have been couched in different terms — not an ownership stake, but a conditional right or option to become part of such an agreement at a future date.

Estimating the value of any stake in the Kurdish fields is difficult given the political uncertainties. But Are Martin Berntzen, an oil analyst at Oslo’s First Securities brokerage, said the Tawke field alone has proven reserves of about 230 million barrels, a figure likely to increase as new wells are drilled.

“Given no political risk, a 5 percent stake should be worth at least $115 million,” he said, though he emphasized that he knew nothing about Mr. Galbraith’s arrangement.

A possible indication of Mr. Galbraith’s estimate of the deal’s worth may be discerned in a London arbitration case in which Porcupine and a Yemeni investor who now apparently holds Mr. Rosjo’s former share are seeking more than $525 million from DNO, according to a filing reported on the legal news Web site Law.com. Oil analysts in Norway played down the likelihood of a reward as large as the claim.

According to DNO, the claim represents up to 10 percent of the value of the regional production contract, which the Norwegian oil firm now shares with a Turkish energy company after Kurdish authorities reviewed the previous deal and barred “certain third-party interests” from participating further. At a shareholders meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Eide refused to name Mr. Galbraith as a claimant in the case. He acknowledged, however, that DNO lost a procedural ruling in the case last May, and he said a final decision on damages was expected in early 2010.

In his response, Mr. Galbraith would say only that “my contractual relationship was with DNO and is the subject of pending arbitration.”

Mohammed Hussein contributed reporting from Baghdad, and David E. Sanger from Washington.

Original article here: American Adviser to Kurds Stands to Reap Oil Profits