Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Muslim Women in Europe, Great Series on NPR

I just started listening on line to a series of stories that have been running on NPR, a look Islam in Europe through the eyes of European Muslim Women.

From Germany comes the story of a German Lawyer of Turkish Decent, Seyran Ates, who has chilling stories to tell:

In 2005, Seyran Ates was named Germany's woman of the year for her work in defense of Muslim women in immigrant communities.

While defending Muslim women for the last two decades, she's been insulted and threatened by her clients' husbands and relatives. She was always able to brush it off, until last year.

As she was about to enter a Berlin courtroom with a client filing for divorce, the husband assaulted the two women. The man called the lawyer a whore, shouting, "What ideas have you put in my wife's head?" Ates says.

None of the many onlookers offered to help the women.

Ates says that brazen incident in public, at a time when she sees increasing Islamization in Europe, convinced her she had to shut down her practice. As a single mother, she says, her life and that of her young daughter have priority.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom...
there has been a visible increase in women's use of the face-covering niqab over the past year. Many women here have discarded the long colorful scarves typical of their South Asian cultures and now shroud themselves in black.

Unapproachable and faceless, they shop at the outdoor stalls. Many non-Muslims see the total cover-up as a sign of growing separation. Many Muslim women say it's a political statement, a sign of their new-found identity.

At the same time, there are those who

[do] not single out the 2005 London terrorist attacks as an act of extremism.

"I mean, look at 7/7, how many people died in 7/7? You look at the amount of rape and gun killings, gun crime, twice as much, three times as more people they're being killed," she says. "These are all extremes; to me any violence is extreme."

The series is left listening to and pondering.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Steve and Kate's Christmas Visit: Dunnottar, Part 2

After making our detour to see the war memorial, we returned to the path leading to Dunnottar. I hadn't meant to wear my Inverness raincoat, and felt just a little bit too much like some kind of Scottish Groupie, but it was the only raincoat I'd brought, and, as always, I was impressed the design of the garment- and I kind of wish I could get away with wearing more often. (Bobbi thought my thermal head band made the look particularly fetching.)

Kate remarked that it was just not possible to take a bad picture as the sun rose over the cliffs and the ruins of the castle-
so we began to compete for the best "BBC shot" (Kate's term)- this is standard shot of a narrator standing in the kind of impossibly verdant craggy landscape that only public television can provide to Americans. I think Steve and Kate probably won this round. Meanwhile, Bobbi found a passage under the castle, and of course, our little spelunker had to go and check it out. By the time we got down there, Bobbi had passed under the foot of the mountain and come out on the other side...but I did get a pretty good shot of her standing in the mouth of the cave.
Emerging from the other side, we were also treated to some great "attacker" angle views of the castle- looking up at the battlements from the slope, it was quite easy to see why this fortress had withstood the assaults of Danish Vikings, Medieval Knights, and the Armies of Cromwell's English Republic during the English Civil war. I would not have wanted the job of scaling cliffs and walls, only to find a stronghold of angry Scots waiting at the top.
For the price of four pounds each, about eight bucks, we were able to spend as much time as we liked crawling around the ruins of this great keep. We took, of course, a ton of pictures. It was hard not to romanticize about the vanished occupants of the buildings, but at the same time- being there on a cold winter's day, it was sobering to think of what conditions might have been like here, surrounded by cold stone by the blustering sea. For the common people employed here, in particular, it must have been little better than living in a cave. We spent hours crawling around the castle- each of us going our own way, and exploring our own nooks and crawl spaces...happy when we met up with each other,exchanging observations and sharing what we'd seen, separating again to follow our own paths. Really, hard to find better vacation companions.

After about 3 hours, we finally posed for the obligatory group picture and then set out down the hill again...headed for the Ship's Inn- for a pint of stout, a plate of Steak and Guinness pie, and some of the best damn sticky toffee pudding the world has ever known.

Life is good.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Steve and Kate's Christmas Visit: Dunnottar, Part 1

Steve and Kate ( of Gourmet Knitting Disaster) and Bobbi and I have been waiting for their visit to the United Kingdom for almost a year- ever since we knew that Bobbi would be sent to London this year.

The visit has come and gone. We had a great time, but it's always a bit of a let down when something you've been waiting for a long time finally comes to pass. First it's imminent, then it's happing, and then, all too soon, it's over. Their trip was like that.

After they arrived, we boarded a train at King's Cross and began a day long trek to the Highlands of Scotland. With his family connection to Clan Keith, Steve had a hankering to see Castle Dunnottar. This magnificent ruined fortress played a role in William Wallace's revolt and withstood a siege by Republican forces in the English Civil War. The Castle was bombarded, but the Hounours of Scotland, that is to say, the crown jewels, were smuggled away from English hands.

The train trip was, in itself, a really amazing journey. Using his new Christmas camera, Steve experimented shooting photos of the English country side as we zipped through. (In fact, many of the photos in this post are his.) As we reached the north, the railway ran right along the shore line, leading to some really impressive views.

We spent the night at a wonderful little bed and breakfast, Beachgate House, in the seaside village of Stonehaven.

The grand thing about visiting Scotland just after Christmas is that, because it is so far north, getting up with the sun is not a difficult thing to do. It doesn't rise until after 8:00 am, even Bobbi and I can manage that. And so, just as the sun crested over the North Sea, we were already breakfasted and heading up the beach.
Gosh- it felt good. (And all before 10am!)

Our host treated us to a very robust breakfast of porridge, eggs, bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, toast, jam, coffee, juice and black pudding after which, we set out for the castle- just two miles up the coast.

Nothing really prepared me for Scotland's beauty- as Steve remarked, he had never really known what it meant to have one's breath taken away until he found he could not breath after saying: "wow", "wow", "wow", "wow" over and over.

The hike to the Castle runs along the high cliffs overlooking the rocky shores, and a little winter mud makes it interesting and slippery enough up there to feel as if you really are doing something slightly brave. Despite the fact that we were in the depths of winter, the grass was still quite green, and the hill sides were populated by rabbits.

About halfway to the Castle, we passed the town's memorial to the dead of the Great War. This amazing structure sits on the top of a rise overlooking the sea, and is visitable for quite some distance in every direction. It's setting and design evokes a vision of the mythical kingdoms of old. I am sure that this was done both as to effort to lend glory to the horrifying struggle and, perhaps, an effort to consign the recent pain to the realm of the past...how could they suspect, when they erected the memorial, that they would have to live through such a conflagration AGAIN in just a generation?

Perhaps it's just overly sentimental, but I found the experience of visiting Scotland to be an odd combination of the familiar and the exotic....the high areas reminded me of New England, the Cliffs over looking the North Sea were like nothing I'd ever seen before. But the odd thing is, it feels a little like home.

Next post: we reach the castle, and Alex continues to fall back upon hackneyed phrases and cliches in attempt to capture an amazing experience.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Down the Memory Hole- No Comprehensive Email Archive in Place at the White House.

Cross posted at Green Mountain Daily

In Orwell's 1984, inconvenient truths contained in historical documents were consigned to "The Memory Hole"; quite simply, an incinerator, which destroyed all traces of documentary evidence contradicting the Government's current version of the Truth.

Of course, Orwell did not foresee that, in the digital age, very little in the way of "hard copies" would exist, making the task of alteration or disposal even easier.

According to an article in The Washington Post (
"White House Has No Comprehensive E-Mail Archive:System Used by Clinton Was Scrapped" by Elizabeth Williamson and Dan Eggan):

For years, the Bush administration has relied on an inadequate archiving system for storing the millions of e-mails sent through White House servers, despite court orders and statutes requiring the preservation of such records...

As a result, several years' worth of electronic communication may have been lost, potentially including e-mails documenting administration actions in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Henry Waxman's House Oversight Committee is planning to hold hearings on this matter, currently scheduled for February 15. Let us hope that this committee, of which Vermont's own Peter Welch is a member, makes plenty of copies of what they find.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Something Neat- from Parasite Gal

Okay, Dear Reader, I don't expect you to take a stab at "Parasite Gal's" Case of the Week...this is for those with some seriously big scientific sheepskins-

But what I do think is interesting is the way she has been able to take a household digital camera into to work and give us a view down the microscope...something that, in the not too distant past would have been the exclusive province of a public television documentary.

Check it out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Return of Russia?

The British are having quite the little spat with the Russians at the moment. The latter are insisting that the British Council, a cultural department of the British Embassy, be closed. The British maintain that they are well within their rights to keep this department up and running.

The souring relations between the United Kingdom and Vladimir Putin's Russia come as a result of the 2006 poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko in England. Russia has refused to extradite the man the British suspect of the murder.

Meanwhile, in a year of Al Gore and J.K.Rowling, Time Magazine chose Putin as it's "Person of the Year", in part, they say, because:

At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power.

The Washington Post has published an interesting rebutal. Fred Hiatt, in a piece entitled "The Myth of the Strongman" maintains that:
[Time Magazine has bought]into the central myths that Putin has fostered, that the Bush administration consistently has promoted and that increasingly are accepted as historical truth.

Where Time says that, "if Russia succeeds as a nation-state in the family of nations, it will owe much of that success to one man, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin"; Hiatt points out that under Putin's leadership Russia has not only abandoned the Democratic reforms that were taking root in Eastern Europe at the beginning of this decade, but also that Russia has actually fallen dramatically in the ranks of economic growth.

What a strutting Russia will mean in the days to come is unclear, but Time Magazine did get one thing right in their explanation of their choice:
[A]fter the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia receded from the American consciousness as we became mired in our own polarized politics...That view was always naive. Russia is central to our world—and the new world that is being born. It is the largest country on earth; it shares a 2,600-mile (4,200 km) border with China; it has a significant and restive Islamic population; it has the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and a lethal nuclear arsenal; it is the world's second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia; and it is an indispensable player in whatever happens in the Middle East.

We ignore developments in this nation at our peril.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What do you do with Bad Video Footage?

My friend Steve, on a recent visit to London, looked at some of the video footage my camera takes (15 second long silent movies) and suggested that I should convert it to black and white in the style of an old newsreel.

Not a bad suggestion. Of course, the resulting film is only of passing interest to friends and family, but what the heck...I don't have anything to say about politics right now anyway.

Winter Time in Holland Park

Winter in London is nothing like winter at home. There is no snow...only variations on the theme of gray. Still, there is beauty here if you are paying attention. Yesterday, Bobbi and I took a walk to Holland Park. In the park, we stopped by the Kyoto Gardens to watch the fish and I shot some movies on the digital camera.

When I put them together, Bobbi summed up the plot as follows: "Ahhhhhh. She comes. She looks. She walks away. Hmmmmmmmm."

But hey? What do you want from a guy with a camera that only shoots 15 second silent movies?