Friday, May 25, 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi still under house arrest

Lest we forget, Aung San Suu Kyi, pro-democracy leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and is still under house arrest in Myanmar. The ruling military junta has just announced that her detention will be extended by yet another year. She has been under arrest 11 of the past 17 years, and more or less continuously since 30 May 2003. Regular calls for her release by past and present leaders of the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States have fallen on deaf ears. Needless to say, she is not the only victim of repression by Myanmar's anti-democratic government.
Given that calls for Suu Kyi's release have had no apparent effect for almost two decades, it is perhaps legitimate to question how much hope one should have that such efforts, on behalf of prisoners of conscience and others who have committed no recognizable crime, are worth the trouble. Do you feel silly signing one petition after another, sometimes several in a day? For a start, simply consider the fate of Suu Kyi if at least some significant part of the world's attention were not regularly focused on Myanmar. But, in addition, I think it's important to remember that every case is different. The kind of pressure that has so far been ineffectual in Myanmar could very well lead to the release of Haleh Esfandiari from Iran next month, or tomorrow. So yes, sign those petitions, write your representatives, and, where you feel especially engaged, give money.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Haleh Esfandiari still in Evin prison

I don't have a lot of time, but I have just enough to bring Haleh Esfandiari to the top again, and point out that Sepoy at Chapati Mystery has a brief post with links to news updates, including one to an on-line interview with Dr. Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash, and to a new related case, Kian Tajbaksh. I compiled some information in a post here a few days ago (see below), that included links to organizations sponsoring petitions urging her release. Please go to Chapati Mystery for leads to more current information.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shelling Schilling

Not that tonight's Yankee's 8-3 win over the Sox is any reason to start crowing (still 9.5 games behind, folks; still 3 games below 0.500), but it does at least make a case for cautious optimism. Let's hope we don't have to wait for mid-July, 14.5 games behind, to see the Yankees start to turn things around--because history is not bloody likely to repeat itself.

Nevertheless, the virtual hat's off to Derek Jeter on a career milestone. Bring on LA.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The sound of one hand clapping

Early this morning I woke up from a frighteningly realistic dream that some dog-sized mammal with very sharp teeth had climbed into bed with me and was about to munch off one of my nuts. I noted that it was 3:48 AM, and a few seconds later I realized an answer to the Zen koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" It is this blog. Since I lend a lot of credence to my first thoughts on awakening from a strange dream, I felt an immediate compulsion to get up and write this post. My next thought was, "Whatever" as I rolled over and went back to sleep.

This is a true story.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Free Haleh Esfandiari

Dr. Haleh Esfandiari is a respected Iranian American scholar and the Director of the Middle East Program the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. For the past 10 days, she has been held in Evin Prison in the northern part of Tehran, Iran. Her ordeal actually began at the end of 2006, when she was robbed at knifepoint by three men while on the way to the airport after visiting her 93 year old mother in Tehran. Her U.S. and Iranian passports were stolen along with her baggage, she was not allowed to leave Iran, and her application for new travel documents was turned down. Instead, she was held under house arrest and interrogated over a period of several weeks by authorities from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. On 8 May 2007, apparently after continual refusals to make false confessions of anti-government activities, Dr. Esfandiari, who is 67, was taken to Evin Prison, which is a notorious detention point for political prisoners dating back to the pre-revolutionary days of Reza Shah Pahlavi and SAVAK, the Shah's secret police. She has not been formally charged with any crime, although allegations of spying have appeared in the Iranian press; she has not been allowed visitors or any outside communication except two phone calls to her mother; and has so far been denied access to legal representation.

Since her imprisonment there have been numerous bipartisan calls for Dr. Esfandiari's release by U.S. officials and legislators, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Barbara Mikulski, Benjamin L. Cardin, and Condoleeza Rice. Most recently, Shirin Ebadi, Iranian human rights activist and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, offered her services as Dr. Esfandiari's attorney, but her request was refused by Iranian authorities. About a week ago, a web-based "Free Haleh" campaign was launched by the American Islamic Congress in conjunction with Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo, the Initiative for Inclusive Security in Washington, and the Kuwaiti Economic Society. The site hosts an on-line petition/letter writing campaign calling for her immediate release. Amnesty International has also established an on-line petition calling for release of Dr. Esfandiari and other women activists held in Iran. Another petition campaign has been launched by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). I urge anyone reading this to take the time to investigate her case through web-based or other media coverage ("Free Haleh" is a good place to start, as well as Wikipedia's Haleh Esfandiari entry, or just search the web with her name), and to sign one or more of the petitions calling for her release.

My thanks to Laila Lalami for providing my first alert about this case.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Confessions of a Typing Monkey

I was just looking over my blog output for the last year, and it's a meagre offering indeed. Eight posts in a year? This from a guy whose inner voice never shuts up even for a second? I could attribute part of this to being busy, but it also has a lot to do with my original intent to post only what I considered to be intelligent, coherent, reasonably well-thought out comments, or those that pointed in some way to an important issue, or at minimum displayed a few sub-atomic particles worth of wit or originality. I admit I've also avoided commenting on certain controversial issues and events because I don't want to insult certain people (my friends, for example, or possible future benefactors, or just people I respect, whose respect I would like to acquire or maintain) even unintentionally. Especially unintentionally.

Mistakes on top of mistakes! I've now awakened to the utter poverty of that approach, and have made a belated New Year's resolution. I resolve to send, at least on average, one post per day out into the ether of cyberspace--no matter how vapid, trivial, incoherent, patently self-referential, self-serving, self-destroying, unoriginal, or (my apologies in advance) insulting. In writing, as in love, one must allow oneself to be vulnerable. At least a little....

On the occasion of this new resolution, I've taken the giant step of adding a sub-title to this blog, the same as the title of this post. It refers, of course, to the hypothetical infinite army of typing monkeys who could, if given infinite time, reproduce the entire contents of the Western literary canon. Actually, this could be extended to all of the human canon, if keyboards with all the required characters were made available. And then why not of all beings in the universe capable of written language in the sense that we know it? Well, no matter how you frame the problem, I am just one monkey, and this blog is my single monkey hypothesis, so to speak.

I will still worry about whether it matters, but I won't let that stop me. It rains on the ocean, though there is plenty of water already there, and neither the rain nor the ocean cares. Did someone say that already?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day Post

One of my favorite opening scenes is from the movie "Blade Runner" (Ridley Scott, 1982). A "Blade Runner," Holden, is administering the "Voight-Kampff Test" to Leon, an escaped "replicant" (android). It's the Blade Runner's job to execute any replicant attempting to pass as human on Earth (or anywhere else). The test consists of a set of questions and scenarios designed to evoke an emotional response, which allow the Blade Runner, with the aid of some fancy gadgetry, to identify subjects who aren't human. Leon responds to a question about his female parent with the well-known (at least among fans of the movie) line: "Let me tell you about my mother." At which point he blows Holden clear into the next room with a couple of shots from a hand-held Howitzer.

Why do I bring this up? Do I mean to dishonor Mother's Day with such a reference? Well, no, not really. I only mean to suggest what the scene suggests (irrespective of the Blade Runner story line), which is that for some the subject of one's mother is not all about flowers and obligatory long distance phone calls. I assure you I loved and honor the memory of my mother, but she wasn't easy to talk to (no doubt she must have thought the same about me), and not all my memories of her are pleasant. Of course the day is also about the mothers of our children, and I will certainly call my ex-wife as soon as I'm done with this post to give her my best regards and chat about our daughter, our families, and mutual friends.

In honor of my mother, I append here a favorite picture of mine, from a series of mini portraits she had in her photo album that I call her "1941 Stylin" series. This was taken about 3 years before she married my father, and she appears to be having a good time on the occasion, whatever it was.

I personally have few clear memories of her in such a good mood, but this seems to me as good a way to remember her as any, and I think she would have liked this idea, too. Rest in peace, Mom.

Julia Helen Pactovis Levery (née Jolán Paktorovics, 1916-1998)