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


Published: November 27, 2009


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 Fran├žois 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:

For further inquiries or information please contact
Michael Goedhuis (+1 212 535 6954 /,
Thea Buen (+1 212 535 6954 /,
or Jennifer Bailey (+44 (0) 207 823 1395 /

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 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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

...another Iranian exhibition!

"a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money"

Op-Ed Columnist

Virtuous Bankers? Really!?!

Published: November 11, 2009


Maureen Dowd

The Great Vampire Squid has gotten religion.

In an interview with The Sunday Times of London, the cocky chief of Goldman Sachs said he understands that a lot of people are “mad and bent out of shape” at blood-sucking banks.

“I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer,” Lloyd Blankfein, the C.E.O., told the reporter John Arlidge.

But the little people who are boiling simply don’t understand. And Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, who unforgettably labeled Goldman “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” doesn’t understand.

Banks, Blankfein explained, are really serving the greater good.

“We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital,” he said. “Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle. We have a social purpose.”

When Arlidge asked whether it’s possible to make too much money, whether Goldman will ignore the people howling at the moon with rage and go on raking it in, getting richer than God, Blankfein grinned impishly and said he was “doing God’s work.”

Whether he knows it, he’s referring back to The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism — except, of course, the Calvinists would have been outraged by the banks’ vicious — not virtuous — cycle of greed and concupiscence.

Blankfein’s trickle-down catechism isn’t working. Now we have two economies. We have recovering banks while we have 10-plus percent unemployment and 17.5 percent underemployment. The gross thing about the Wall Street of the last decade is how much its success was not shared with society.

Goldmine Sachs, as it’s known, is out for Goldmine Sachs.

As many Americans continue to struggle, Goldman, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, banks that took government bailout money after throwing the entire world into crisis, have said they will dish out $30 billion in bonuses — up 60 percent from last year.

The saying used to be, whatever happens, the lawyers win. Now, it’s whatever happens, the bankers win.

Under pressure from regulators, who were trying to ensure that long-term performance was rewarded, the banks agreed to award more in stock, deferring cash payments.

But as The Times reported this week, the Goldman executives who got stock options instead of bonuses last year, at market lows, got a windfall — so it had nothing to do with bank employees’ performance.

“The company gave its general counsel, for example, 104,868 stock options and 14,117 shares in December, when the bank’s stock was around $78,” Louise Story wrote for The Times. “Now the bank’s shares have more than doubled in value, making that stock and option award worth nearly $12 million.”

As one former Goldman banker told Arlidge, the culture there is “completely money-obsessed. ... There’s always room — need — for more. If you are not getting a bigger house or a bigger boat, you’re falling behind. It’s an addiction.”

It’s an addiction that Washington has done little to quell. President Obama has not been strong on the issue, and Timothy Geithner coddles the wanton bankers whenever they freak out that they might not be able to put in their new pools next summer.

The bankers try to dismiss calls for regulation as populist ravings, but the insane inequity of it cannot be dismissed.

No sooner had the Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd announced his plan to overhaul financial regulation Tuesday than compensation experts declared it toothless.

The banks and their lobbyists wheedled concession after concession out of Washington and knocked down proposed inhibition after inhibition. Now the banks are laughing all the way to the bank.

“Saturday Night Live” was tougher on Goldman Sachs than the government, giving the firm flak about commandeering 200 doses of the swine flu vaccine — the same amount as Lenox Hill Hospital got — while so many at-risk Americans wait.

“Can you not read how mad people are at you?” demanded Amy Poehler. “When most people saw the headline ‘Goldman Sachs Gets Swine Flu Vaccine’ they were superhappy until they saw the word ‘vaccine.’ ”

Seth Meyers chimed in: “Also, Centers for Disease Control, you sent the vaccine to Wall Street before schools and hospitals? Really!?! Were you worried the swine flu might spread to the Hamptons and St. Barts? These are the least contagious people in the world. They don’t even touch their own car-door handles.”

And as far as doing God’s work, I think the bankers who took government money and then gave out obscene bonuses are the same self-interested sorts Jesus threw out of the temple.

original article here: Maureen Dowd: Virtuous Bankers? Really!?!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sultan Gallery Opening

Exhibition opening reception tomorrow night at Sultan Gallery for “Peace from Beirut”, an exhibition by Jean Marc Nahas.

This exhibition focuses on a world in which recollections of past horrors persist along with ones in which the same kind and warmhearted men and women are eager to lead harmonious lives.

Attached is the invitation of the same. Hoping to see you there !!!