Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ashok Malhotra's New Book & Interview

Society member Ashok Malhotra has published a new e-book, Grandpa Chopra’s Stories for Life’s Nourishmenthttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif. His publisher has also posted an interview with Dr. Malhotra, in which he discusses Eastern and Western philosophies as well as yoga.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The “Propaganda Model of News” and the Critical Response to Anonymous

The Shakespeare biopic Anonymous has been subject to a surprisingly vehement campaign of ridicule for its depiction of what is called the Oxfordian Theory of Shakespeare authorship. Oxfordians hold that the true author of the plays and poems of “Shake-speare” was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, but that cultural proscription against noblemen writing for the theatre, as well as royally-enforced secrecy, ensured that de Vere would remain anonymous. Will Shaksper of Stratford was used as a “front” to disguise his authorship, and generations of myth-making and scholarly credulity that uncritically repeated the suppositions of earlier authors has cemented the ruse as seemingly unshakable historical truth.

Anonymous may be garnering praise for its meticulous CGI recreation of Elizabethan London, but few critics can bring themselves to laud it as a film. As Roger Stritmatter (recipient of the first PhD in Shakespeare/Oxford studies) noted on his blog, many film critics – the bulk of whom are surely not Shakespearean scholars themselves – apparently feel compelled to decry the film for its Oxfordian thesis, rather than limiting themselves to critiquing it as a film. Even those who do praise Anonymous as a movie nonetheless must affirm for their readers that they believe it to be hokum. Roger Ebert, for example, wrote, “this [is a] marvelous historical film, which I believe to be profoundly mistaken.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Different Ways to Meditate

Various traditions have offered unique ways to meditate. However, all of them have a common focus of directing one’s attention to a particular object, image or thought. Once an object is selected and attention is directed, your mind stays focused on it. The more you are able to keep the mind on the selected item and less you are distracted, better is your meditation. Through this directedness, you acquire the ability to control your mind. This meditative focusing helps minimize distractions and stress associated with the present-day living.

Practice: Before you begin to meditate, you should set up a daily and a weekly routine. Choose a particular time and a specific place to do meditation. A good mental attitude is also essential! You should tell yourself that you are going to spend meditation time exclusively for yourself without the distractions from the cell phone, telephone, radio, TV or visitors. A detached attitude is indispensable! You should empty your mind of all expectations whether positive or negative. To drive maximum benefit, it is suggested that you should practice meditation regularly and uninterruptedly for a long time

Some simple ways to meditate are described below. At the beginning, try each one for a couple of minutes. Select the one that is most suitable for your temperament. Once you have picked the right one, meditate with that on a regular basis.

Caution: These meditation exercises are suggestions only. When done correctly they might be useful in easing stress, helping in falling sleep, experiencing health and enjoying wellbeing.



1. Meditation on the Breath

Sit in an easy posture by crossing your legs. Keep your back, shoulders, neck and head straight up. Rest your hands on the knees. Close your eyes. Start breathing in and out. Pay full attention to your breathing in and out. Observe the flow. As you breathe in and out, you will find that it feels good. Stay in this position for two minutes, while observing the flow of breathing. After two minutes, resume your normal breathing.

2. Meditation on the Diaphragm

Sit in the easy posture. Put your left hand flat on your stomach below the rib cage. Breathe in slowly by first filling in the top, then the middle and finally the diaphragm or stomach. Feel the rise of your left hand as the stomach fills up. Once all the air is taken in, slowly start breathing out. Let your hand feel the slow collapsing of the stomach. Once again, start breathing in gently by filling in the three parts of the chest. When the stomach has reached its full capacity, start breathing out by letting your hand feel the collapsing of the stomach. Repeat this procedure for two minutes and then resume your normal breathing.

Meditation with a Mantra
While sitting in the easy posture, close your eyes. Become aware of breathing in the out. As you breathe in, think about the sound ‘so.’ As you breathe out, think about the sound ‘hum.’ If other ideas come through your mind, recognize them and then set them aside. Go back to breathing in ‘so’ and breathing out ‘hum.’ Keep your mind on ‘so’ ‘hum.’ Continue your meditation with ‘so’ ‘hum’ for two minutes. After you have completed this process, go back to your normal breathing.

4. Meditation on Sound and Silence

Sit in the easy posture. Keep your back, neck and head straight up. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out. Become aware of the sounds around you. Pay attention to the sounds followed by silence, followed by sounds, followed by silence and so on. Keep your mind on the rhythm of sound, silence, sound, silence and so on. After doing this for two minutes, go back to normal breathing.

When you are trying out these meditation exercises the first time, practice them for two minutes each. Choose the one that relaxes you the most and practice it for a week for a total of ten minutes at each sitting. You can also do these meditation exercises while you lie down on your back.

5. Systematic Relaxation

Lie down on your back. Relax your body on a mat or carpet or bed. Let your arms rest next to your body. Close your eyes by breathing in and out.

Become aware of your fingers. Squeeze them tightly by making fists. As you squeeze them, breathe out. After counting five, relax your fingers by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your eyes. Squeeze them tightly while breathing out. After counting five, relax your eyes by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your lips. Give a big grin while breathing out. After counting five, relax your lips by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your chin and press it against your chest, while breathing out. After counting five, relax your chin by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your shoulder blades. While you press them against the ground, breathe out. After counting five, relax your shoulders by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your lower back. While you press it against the ground, breathe out. After counting five, relax your lower back by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your hips. While you press them against the ground, breathe out. After counting five, relax your hips by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your legs. While you press them against the ground, breathe out. After counting five, relax your legs by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Become aware of your feet. Point them away from your body while you breathe out. After counting five, relax your feet by breathing in. Do this exercise twice!

Now observe your entire body. It is relaxed. Breathe in and out and enjoy the relaxed feeling.

Note: You can combine this exercise with the next posture of total relaxation

6. Posture of Total Relaxation (Dead Man’s Posture)

Lie down on your back. Relax your body on a mat or carpet or bed. Let your arms rest next to your body. Close your eyes by breathing in and out.

Now become aware of your toes. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed. Now become aware of your feet. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed. Now become aware of your ankles. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed. Now become aware of your lower legs. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed.

Now become aware of your knees. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed. Now become aware of your thighs. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed. Now become aware of your hips. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed.

Now become aware of your lower back. Tell yourself that there is no tension. It is fully relaxed. Now become aware of your upper back. Tell yourself that there is no tension. It is fully relaxed. Now become aware of your abdomen. Tell yourself that there is no tension. It is fully relaxed. Now become aware of your chest. Tell yourself that there is no tension. It is fully relaxed.

Now become aware of your shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed.

Now become aware of your neck and chin. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed.

Now become aware of your lips and cheeks. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed.

Now become aware of your eyes and forehead. Tell yourself that there is no tension. They are fully relaxed.

Now become aware of your entire body. Tell yourself that there is no tension. It is fully relaxed.

Now tell yourself that you are looking at your body from a distance. Your body is light. Your body is weightless. Your body is floating. Your body has no tension. It is fully relaxed.

Note: Enjoy this relaxation for two minutes and combine it with the next meditation through visualization.

7. Meditation through Visualization

Lie down on your back. Relax your body on a mat or carpet or bed. Let your arms rest next to your body. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out.

Imagine yourself lying on the top of a hill on soft green grass.

You are looking down into the valley lined by trees with green leaves.

The sun is shining. The sky is blue.

The rays of the sun are coming towards you.

The rays of the sun are entering your heart.

Your heart is re-energized. Your blood is re-energized.

This re-energized blood is rushing to all parts of your body, restoring to you sound health.

Tell yourself that you are at peace with yourself and at peace with the universe.

Enjoy this relaxed and peaceful state for five minutes or more!


Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra

Distinguished Teaching Professor

SUNY at Oneonta, New York

Friday, August 19, 2011

Popular Versions of Yoga in the West

Originated in India, Yoga has been with us for the past 2500 years. During its historical journey, though it was predominantly influential among the various brands of Hinduism, it became a quintessential part of the Buddhist and Jain meditation. Its contemplative practice was also adopted by the Chinese Taoists and Japanese Zen. Recently, the West too has opened its doors enthusiastically by making Yoga as a way of life.

There are more than 15 million Americans that practice some form of yoga and meditation. This staggering number has taken the esoteric spiritual discipline from the caves of the Himalayas and brought it to the door steps of every American. At present, yoga has become fashionable among the diverse strata of society ranging from the rich and famous to the ordinary person in the street. With the increase of its popularity, more people go after its faddish aspects and less for its serious study.

There are multiple ways that Yoga has been perceived in America and the West. All of them can be put under four general headings. I call the first type as the Hollywood Yoga. It was initially popularized by the Hollywood celebrities, who were looking for beautiful bodies and sound physical health. They were interested in the practice of physical postures, which would make them look and feel good. Also called the Hatha Yoga, it is the most popular kind. I call the second variety as the Harvard Yoga because it constituted a group of researchers from various universities. They were interested in measuring the claims made by the practitioners that the regular practice of yoga and meditation brought about positive changes in their personality. This was the province of the psychologists, psychiatrists and medical researchers, who worked at the major university centers. A third kind, which I call the Cultic Yoga, was introduced by the religious leaders from the East. They proclaimed themselves to be living at a heightened state of consciousness that was achieved by them through their own efforts or the aid of their teachers. They openly declared themselves to be the carriers of this enlightenment and could easily pass it on to others who were ready to pay the bills for their spiritual services. Though the Cultic Yoga created a huge following, it also watered down this ancient discipline and made it very pedestrian. However, the fourth, which I call the Himalayan Yoga, is the authentic brand dating back to 500 B.C. Its ideas are found in the Yoga Sutras, a book compiled by an Indian sage Patanjali. This ancient book contains the philosophy, psychology, science, religion and the way of life of yoga. Though the Hollywood, Harvard and Cultic Yoga find their roots in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, they merely scratch the surface of this masterly developed philosophical and empirical system that promises a meaningfully balanced spiritual life through the perfection of the body, control of the emotions and mastery of the mind.

By Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No Future in a Service Economy!

The current dispute about jobs and the recession is useless. We need to define the diagnosis of the situation and choose a solution accordingly. We are in the service economy and such an economy is too weak to produce growth and the demand for jobs. In Kalamazoo County we have 450 restaurants. Do we need 50 more? To return to prosperity we need to reindustrialize America. If we won’t do it—there is no future for the Americans in their country.

Economic globalization does not work for most American citizens because we are no longer citizens, merely disposable workers. It works for global corporations, which are looking for growth and want to sell to the “bottom of the pyramid,” which contains 4 billion potential customers. However, these new potential customers do not have money, since their income is about $1,500 per year. To transform them into customers, global firms provide jobs for them. For example, Apple Corporation employs 18,000 workers in the U.S. and 1,000,000 workers abroad.

To reindustrialize the U.S. one must tax those who export jobs. These taxes should finance the safety net of those Americans, who lost jobs due to globalization. Why should rich people invest in jobs in the U.S. if there are not enough customers with steady income, who could create a demand for new supplies? Any stimulus package perhaps may create some sort of demand. However, it will trigger production only in China and other foreign countries, where we outsourced manufacturing.

Some repeated mantra states that we are not competitive for other countries. Of course, we cannot compete at the labor cost level with China, India, and others. In doing so, we need to go back to labor cost that we had in the 19th century. Another mantra says that we are not innovative enough, however according to the Innovation Index, we are ranked #1 (The Economist Pocket World in Figures 2011, p.62). Why do we commercialize our innovations, only to outsource their manufacture abroad? Innovation, when not practiced responsibly, leads to societal corrosion: when we innovated customer service by automation, (i.e. phone trees), It resulted in the death of that service and increased unemployment. We don’t need such “innovations.”

The Keynes economy does not work in the current American situation. Also, the Friedman economy does not work today. This is 21st century, which needs own new economic theory. Unfortunately, our economists and politicians are not innovative and good for these new conditions. Needless to say, these conditions have created quite a mess. One cannot expect that our leaders and their advisors can both be the arsonist and the fireman. We need to stop counting on those that have created the current problem to possess solutions. Perhaps our own Arab Spring will help start the solution process? Perhaps, sooner than one can expect?

Prof. Andrew Targowski
Director of the Center for Sustainable Business Practices
WMU Haworth College of Business

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Service to humanity should be goal of all religions

While attending a conference in Philadelphia, I asked a Nobel Laureate scientist about the difference between the scientific and religious approaches to truth.

He replied, "Science is concerned with discovering the laws of the physical universe, whereas religion is committed to discovering the laws of the spiritual world. Scientists conduct experiments to ascertain the laws of the external world; similarly, the religionists experiment to grasp the laws of the inner world. As different sciences contribute to providing a partial glimpse into the mystery of the material universe, so are the various religions contributing towards partial insights into the inscrutability of the spiritual world. Even when scientists idealize Newton, Einstein or Hawking, they still regard them as providing only limited perspectives on the physical universe. Moreover, all scientific discoveries are put to the empirical tests and when falsified, scientists will modify them without killing their opponents."

He continued: "However, there is a big difference between science and religion in terms of their attitude towards the discovered wisdom. Scientists admit their discoveries to be scratching the surface of the vastness of the physical universe, whereas the proponents of the monotheistic religions pronounce in no uncertain terms that they have discovered the truth. Since this truth is described in their unique scriptures, religionists declare their technique to be the only way to achieve a spiritually meaningful life. The monotheistic religions are so convinced with the truth of their wisdom that they fight tooth and nail to convert others. This pronounced exclusiveness of religions has been the basis of innumerable conflicts throughout the history of humanity."

My dialogue with the Nobel Laureate led me to reflect on the question of "How to circumvent these religious conflicts?" One possibility was to think of a "One-World Spiritual Quest or Universal Spirituality," where one could delineate the quintessence of all religions representing the best aspirations of humankind. Here the emphasis would be on the universal laws of the spirit revealed by the diverse religions, where inclusiveness, not exclusivity, would be emphasized. Moreover, each of the present religions would then be looked upon as offering only one of the paths leading to the realization of this universal spirituality.

How do we reveal the common laws of the spirit as discovered by the diverse religious traditions? What are these laws and where can we find them?

Similar to the experiments of the scientists, who discovered the physical laws and put them in the books of science, we would find the spiritual laws in the lives as lived by the founders of religions and in the books of their traditions.

The lives of the founders of diverse religions reveal that they have had a direct vision of reality. In this awe-inspiring moment, they realized the power and complexity of the cosmic-spiritual being and their unique connection with and dependence on it. Since it was a one-to-one bond with this immeasurable force, the spiritual experimenters contemplated ways to repeat this splendid relationship with their source. Through their personal lives, they discovered certain laws as pathways to reaching this bondship.

When we contemplate on the lives of various religious founders, we find that each one discovered at least one important principle relating to the spirit. The Buddha came up with compassion and love for others; Mahavira of Jainism with the sanctity of life and attitude of reverence towards all creatures; Guru Nanak of Sikhism with experiencing the meaning of life through service of others; Jesus of Christianity with compassion-in-action by taking upon oneself the sufferings of others; Mohammad of Islam with the idea of universal brotherhood by asserting that all of us are siblings in whose veins the same blood flows; and Krishna of Hinduism with the path of selfless service as the goal of life.

Gandhi, who studied the lives of the founders of religions, adopted these spiritual principles in his political and social reform movements. In his personal and social life, Gandhi abridged all these spiritual principles into two components. People come to religion to seek salvation, which is possible through enlightenment and the knowledge of god.

As a social reformer, when Gandhi was asked "How can one become enlightened?," his answer was "By serving everyone." And how can one know god? His answer was "By feeding everyone." This, according to Gandhi, was the core message of all the various religions: salvation to be found by following the two spiritual principles of "feeding everyone" and "serving everyone." In his personal life, Gandhi adopted the spiritual motto of "finding oneself, by losing oneself in the service of others," which for him was the authentic way to experience the all-encompassing-spiritual-consciousness.

I believe the 21st century needs to move from particular religious consciousness towards an all-encompassing spiritual-consciousness by making selfless service to humanity the goal of each religion. In the development of this kind of humanitarian consciousness lies the hope of a new one-world-spiritual-peaceful-order in the future.

Ashok Kumar Malhotra is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the State University College at Oneonta.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 ISCSC Conference

Here are some thoughts on the goings-on at Tulane last week:

BEST WAY TO COME THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH: Tulane U., for allowing us to use the Business School.

BEST LAST-MINUTE FIX: Moving the reception to the Holy Name of Jesus Parish Center (Many thanks again to the Rev. Donald Hawkins, S.J.).

GREATEST IDEA THAT TURNED OUT TO BE JUST (BARELY) ACCEPTABLE: Sun Ray Grill.

WORST PROBLEM THAT TURNED OUT TO BE A PLUS: Eating in the Food Court, because of the variety.

BEST RECOVERY WITH GRACE AND PATIENCE: Andrew Targowski, who had to wait until Saturday morning to give an abbreviated presidential address.

HEALTHIEST CONFERENCE PARTICIPANT: TIE! Lynn Rhodes, who looks every bit the American Western outdoorswoman, and Pedro Geiger (on general principles).

CLOSEST CALL: Lois Holcomb; thank God she did not hurt herself when she fell after the banquet.

MOST PROLIFIC READER AND REVIEWER OF BOOKS SINCE WRITING WAS INVENTED (which she informed us was during the period of Homo Erectus): Laina “Queen Bee” Farhat-Holzman.

BEST MONARCHIST: Thomas Palfrey.

BEST PUERTO RICAN-TURNED-CANADIAN ARISTOCRAT: Ricardo Duchesne.

BEST BOYAR: Vlad Alalykin-Izekov.

BEST FACE PUT ON A BAD SITUATION: Rev. Walter Baer on church-state issues in China.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY THAT WAS NOT CONTROVERSIAL AT ALL: Mariana Tepfenhart and the European right-wingers.

MOST INTERESTING (SENTIMENTAL) METHOD OF TRAVEL: Railroad: George von der Muhll rode the City of New Orleans into the City of New Orleans, as he had when he was a child. Appropriately, the darned thing broke down in the middle of the day in the Mississippi heat, about two hours outside of New Orleans.

I AM JUST NOT THAT SMART: Walter Benesch on “Thinking about Unthinkability”; I hope I looked like I understood at least a little.

MOST CONGENIAL PARTICIPANT: This one is easy. Prof. Hermenegilde Rwantabagu, who traveled for two days to make it to the conference, always had a pleasant look on his face, was soft-spoken and polite, and never complained about a thing. He is someone to emulate. TWO RUNNERS-UP: Isaac Tseggai and Hisanori Kato.

AND FINALLY,
LONGEST STAY IN THE BIG EASY: the Diaz-Stevens-Arroyo’s, who are still here having a great time.
(NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH BEST TIME HAD IN THE FRENCH QUARTER, A/K/A “WHERE WAS ASHOK DURING THE MORNING SESSIONS?”).

THANKS TO BILL McGAUGHEY AND MICHAEL ANDREGG FOR ALL THEIR HELP.

AND TO ALL THE REST WHO ATTENDED AND/OR PARTICIPATED IN THE 2011 ISCSC CONFERENCE:

THANK YOU ALL FOR A GREAT CONFERENCE, AND SEE YOU NEXT YEAR IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

Relieved,
Reed (and Christine)

Friday, April 15, 2011

How Do We Deal With “Sticks and Stones?”

In our present day culture, we have been taught (usually at mother's knee) that “sticks and stones may break your bones but names can never harm you.” Annoying as it is to have people call you names, it does not warrant punching them in the face. But this is not so elsewhere, not did it used to be so in our own civilization's past. What we are talking about here is “the honor culture.”

Until the middle of the 19th century, gentlemen fought duels of honor. That by seriously wounding or killing an opponent who had either said something unpleasant about you or dishonored you (by seducing your wife), you were obliged to engage in a duel. That went out of style here-although one notorious duel was fought in our own history-that of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton died and Burr became an outlaw.

The Sicilian mafia, a holdover from a medieval past, has always been an honor society that punished disloyalty, above all sins, with death. A disloyal wife, along with disloyal colleagues, were so dispatched.

In today's world, the only “honor cultures” left are in the Muslim world. A man's honor, they tell us, rests in the women he “possesses,” wives, daughters, concubines, and even mothers. Should any of these women step out of line in their sexual behavior (even though falsely accused of this-or even as the victim of a male in the household), the men's honor is lost until the woman is murdered. In Muslim-majority countries, for the most part, the murderer of a woman for such purpose is lightly punished by the courts, if at all.

We only care about this when such an honor culture moves among us, such as the case of the outraged Muslim radio executive who decapitated his wife because she “dishonored him” by wanting a divorce, or the Texas taxi driver who murdered his college girl daughters whose “American ways” besmirched his “honor.” Europe has also been so awash in “honor killings” that they are finally starting to address.

So, how does the Muslim world feel about “sticks and stones?” We have seen the Afghan response to the stupid actions of an American pastor in Florida who held the Koran on trial, found it wanting, and “executed” it by burning it. A very stupid act, we would all agree, but one defended by our freedom of speech-even when obnoxious. He also said Islam is not a religion of peace, which outraged “peaceful” Muslims in Afghanistan. They proved him right. The Afghans considered this insult to their honor sufficient to go on a rampage of murder, slaughtering any UN officials they could find. To them, a book burning warrants human deaths.

One might also wonder how the honor of Pakistani fanatics was redeemed by blowing up a shrine of another Muslim sect, Sufis, and killing and wounding 50 people. Does worshipping Islam in a slightly different way demand a death sentence? Evidently so.

Israel, a modern state, regards sticks and stones in a different way. After enormous provocation by Hamas in Gaza hurling hundreds of rockets at them (sticks and stones), they went in the winter of 2008-9 to clean out the rocket factories and their perpetrators. Then the UN sent in a respected investigator, South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who urged both sides to investigate, but severely condemned Israel for deliberately targeting civilians. This report was devastating to Israel's reputation. Name calling can harm you.

After a new investigation, Goldstone acknowledged his report was mistaken. The Israelis had no government policy to target civilians. Hamas, however, not only plants their weapons among crowded civilian homes, but is happy to abuse civilians-theirs and Israel's. Goldstone has now condemned them for refusing to conduct the investigation he requested.

When it comes to “sticks and stones” and name calling that hurts, we must consider the source. Honor cultures do not think as we do, but we dishonor our own culture when we fear “offending” them.

By Laina Farhat-Holzman

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of How Do You Know That? Contact her at Lfarhat102@a

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Appeal for Donations Towards the Ninash Foundation's Global Education Project in India

The Ninash Foundation’s six Indo-International schools are dedicated to educating more than 1100 underprivileged (female and minority) children of India. The schools have been making a genuine economic and cultural impact on the three villages where they are located. They have become the hubs of educational and social change; a model for the rest of rural India. All this exciting progress has been made possible by the generous donations of individuals and organizations from all over the world. To continue this access to education and a future to these forgotten children of humanity, we need to raise $60,000 each year to provide the salaries and other recurring expenses of the six schools. The Ninash Foundation has laid down its goal for the year 2011 to raise $250,000 to set up a trust fund. Please join the Ninash team and be a partner in promoting literacy among the underprivileged. Your gift to education is like the giving tree, which will keep giving for the generations to come. Send your donations to the Ninash Foundation, 17 Center Street, Oneonta, New York, 13820, USA or visit our website and donate through PayPal.

By Ashok Malhotra

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Obama's Arab Spring

President Obama is the world leader whose words in Cairo in 2009 have shaped the emergence of the Arab Spring of 2011. This is an achievement every bit as important to world peace as the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

In Cairo, our President uttered these prophetic words:

"I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from people; the freedom to live as you choose."

The leadership on the world stage by President Obama merited him the Nobel Peace Prize. His appeal to freedom contrasts mightily with the policies of the discredited Bush-Cheney rule. They launched an unnecessary war upon an Arab dictatorship with the resulting deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers, the wounding of tens of thousands more and the plague of uncountable deaths and suffering upon millions of Muslims. The ranks of terrorists swelled around the globe with Arab hatred of the United States.

Now, without firing a shot or risking the life of single U.S. soldier, Obama's America has witnessed the fall of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and now likely in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

Writing in the NY Times Roger Cohen reminds readers of the indigenous nature of the Arab Spring and the power of the idea of freedom.

"This is an uprising of Arabs, by Arabs, for Arabs. It started with a tiff over a fruit cart in a small Tunisian town to which no American policymaker has ever paid a minute of attention. Much of its historic importance lies precisely in its indigenous nature, now a wellspring of Arab pride. "

He concludes:

"Obamaism is taking form. Its themes are nonviolence, youth-driven social media as engines of change and limiters of autocratic brutality, and the universality of those rights listed in Cairo. I am feeling more hopeful about the world than at any time since 2001."

This Arab Spring of 2011 is proof that it matters who is President of the United States and that freedom begins with hope.

By Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo

Monday, February 28, 2011

Iran Is Closer To Imploding

Although Iran is an Islamic dictatorship that controls its news, certain things are leaking out. The revolts in the Arab world are making them very nervous.

• Disloyal Opposition. The opposition leaders during the disputed 2009 presidential election did not mean to undo the Islamic Revolution. The millions who voted for the opposition just wanted a better and less pious president. However, after the government set goons on the peaceful demonstrators in the streets, the world witnessed a major gulf between the opposition and the power elites. The opposition was beginning to look like a revolution against the “Islamic” part of the Islamic Revolution, and was brutally put down by the government.

Now, Tehran’s chief prosecutor has announced that no opposition leader may leave the country—and they may all be put on trial for criminal sedition. The majority of opposition figures and people arrested in the streets have been charged with being “mohareb,” or fighting against God.” Was the god they were fighting against Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollah?

• Islamic or Military Dictatorship? For quite a while, President Ahmadinejad was the fair-haired boy of the clerics—especially Supreme Ayatolla Khamenei, who declared the election results before anyone had even counted votes. But there are cracks in this relationship. There are credible rumors that the Ayatollah is an opium addict whose addiction has dimmed his mind; and there are even more credible rumors that Ahmadinejad has used state money to maintain a thuggish military force devoted to him. We could well see an openly fascist dictatorship emerging and it is difficult to know how much “Islamic” will be left in this revolutionary government.

• The Nuclear Project. The government has been putting out the word that all nuclear physicists from around the world are welcome to work in Iran. How would such hired guns know that they will not be targeted for assassination as quite a few others have been? And how do they know that they will not be held hostage if the government needs to find someone to blame for equipment failures? Russian technicians have already fled the country for that reason; the centrifuges do not work right. And somebody has let loose a complex computer virus against their nuclear program.

• No More Bread and Circuses. The Iranian government (mostly under Ahmadinejad’s initiative) has been buying off the poor with subsidies. Bread, gasoline, and heating fuels have been kept inexpensive through government largess. Now, as sanctions and mismanagement bite their budgets, they are cutting those subsidies. Fuel price increases affect everyone—none of whom may raise their own prices, which are state-controlled. Truck and taxi drivers and bread sellers are on strike. As people protest, the government sends out their paramilitary goons to beat up merchants who are “overcharging.” An Iranian winter with insufficient heating and cooking fuel and unaffordable (and badly refined) gasoline brought down the late Shah’s government 30 years ago. Does history repeat?

• Islamic Scholarship. The government is shutting down university humanities departments because western literature, history, and sociology are “un-Islamic.” However, they are inviting computer hackers (Wikileaks) to help them spy on their people and solve their computer worm problem.

• Culture Wars. All TV cooking shows have been cancelled except for those that teach Iranian cooking. Iranians should not eat “foreign cuisine.” No more Iron Chefs, alas.

• Islamic Human Rights. Iran’s most famous prizewinning filmmaker, Jafar Panahi, in prison for six years for “insulting the Islamic Republic,” is barred from making movies for 20 years. Two young American men are still in prison for supposedly crossing the Iranian border while hiking. A rash of arrests of “spies for the Zionists” and some 80 supposedly “hardline Christians” frighten the already alarmed religious minorities.

• Execution Binge. So far this year, more than 80 people (mostly Kurds) have been executed by hanging after bouts of torture. Fourteen other Kurdish activists are on death row. Life in Iran seems increasingly desperate.

If the brave opposition out there in the streets can get the support of labor unions (particularly oil workers) and the merchants in the bazaar, they can take down this government.

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of How Do You Know That? Contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Price of “Stability"

The current fretting in the media over how the events in the Middle East will affect "prices at the pump" is remarkably obtuse. Or rather: it is extremely clever in keeping us obtuse, for it gets the relationship between these issues precisely wrong. It deliberately keeps the focus on our own comforts and inalienable "way of life", when, in fact, it is those very things that lie at root of the region's turmoil.

The tens thousands of people who are now streaming into the streets to take back their countries -- and in many instances paying with their lives -- are doing so because they could no longer tolerate a system we in the West called “stability.” This “stability” was not in fact a viable model for human societies but was instead a mutually reinforcing system of ostensibly secure energy underwritten by massive Pentagon expenditures and military bases, as well as international diplomacy guided by an extremely narrow and alienating conception of what constitutes Israel’s best interests.

In the name of this “stability" we have propped up and funded some of the worst dictators in the world, outfitted them with advanced weapons and allowed them to repress their peoples in corrupt political regimes we ourselves would never tolerate. This “stability” may have brought us cheap gas and a semblance of security for Israel, but both were the most tenuous of illusions.

For the millions of people suffering under our despots, however, our “stability” was all too real. With their hopes and aspirations crushed by stagnant and corrupt economies, with all hope of change shackled in prisons and torture chambers along with dissidents and enemies of this “stability”, is it any wonder that so many people in the Middle East viewed our cynical diplomacy with mistrust or outright antipathy?

Who could have thought this could go on forever? Most in the West were quite happy to believe it would, even though its bloody and medieval glory betrayed every vestige of our so-called Western values. Our chimerical comforts have been paid for in blood, but since this currency was in the form of peoples whose cultures we couldn't he bothered to understand, we were content to keep it running as long as we could afford to drive our cars to amply-stocked shelves at Wal-Mart.

But it was intolerable, this “stability.” It was immoral and unsustainable, made possible only by the soothing lies we told ourselves about our civilization and its motives, justifying our refusal to peer further at the ugly machinations that made it all possible.

Now, however, the curtain has torn. We stand, dumbfounded at our impotence, as people across the Arab world tear away the cruel edifice that we built. Still, we cling to the notion that it will subside, that we will somehow manage to return to “stability”, and that the “high prices at the pump” will be temporary.

It is a remarkable moment. More than the fall of Communism, which only fuelled our triumphalism, the upheaval in the Middle East will prove significant because it will force a reckoning in the West. We will need to face the reality that our “stability” was bought with tyranny, while our own freedoms were paper-thin, defined essentially in terms of our ability to shop, rather than any real ability to guide our own destinies.

Clearly, the people of the Middle East desire the same things we have always wanted for ourselves: a moderate, just and democratic society. If we are to hold true to our values and show them to be of any worth at all, we in the West should finally step out of the way and let them have it. If so, what may emerge from these events will hopefully be a new narrative, one that will replace the “clash of civilizations” with partnership.


By Michael Dudley

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oneonta Sister City Celebrates 10th Anniversary in India

The Ninash Foundation is a 501© (3) charity that has been promoting literacy among the underprivileged children by opening schools in India since 1996. In 2000, Oneonta (NY) Mayor Kim Muller in cooperation with the Ninash Foundation signed a declaration proclaiming Oneonta (USA) and Dundlod (India) as sister cities.

Marking the 10th year anniversary of the Oneonta-Dundlod sister cities project, Ashok Malhotra, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy and Linda Drake, Director of Center for Social Responsibility and Community at SUNY Oneonta, just returned from their exciting trip to India. Their group consisted of six Oneontans and two faculty members from Belmont University, Nashville. They visited the Ninash Foundation’s six Indo-International Schools in India: an elementary and a high school in each of the three remote villages of Dundlod (Rajasthan), Mahapura (Rajasthan) and Kuran (Gujarat), which were built with the help of the participants of the SUNY Oneonta “Learn and Serve” program.

The group visited the first Indo-International School in Dundlod, which started in 1996 with 50 underprivileged children, has now grown to 550 students. Combining the celebrations of the 15th Anniversary of the school and the10th Anniversary of the sister cities project, the children performed music, dances and plays to entertain the guests from India and the USA. The celebration was further augmented by the news that 10 students from the Dundlod Indo-International School had completed their studies and were going to the college of their choice.

The Ninash Foundation, through the generous donations of individuals and organizations globally and locally, provided funds to the Dundlod High School to construct two new class rooms and an office. To provide the children the richness of the Indian and Western cultural heritage, one of the class rooms will be named as the Jack Finestone Music Room and the other as Hari Chand Chopra Culture Room. These rooms will be used for classes to provide music, stories and other cultural enrichment programs.

One of the side highlights of the trip was the giving away of 50 dairy goats to the poorest of poor people of Dundlod by Linda. This “joy of giving” was made possible by the kind-heartedness of the children and teachers of the Riverside Elementary School, Oneonta, New York, who participated in the “Kiss the Goat Project” during December, 2010 to raise money for 27 goats. The remaining funds for 23 goats were generously donated by the members of the Oneonta colleges and local community. During the past 5 years, as part of the sister cities project, children and teachers from the Oneonta City Schools District and the members of the Oneonta community have donated 153 goats to provide dairy products to at least 600 members of the Dundlod community. An un-matched feat of compassion and generosity that is a part of the Oneonta-Dundlod sister cities project since 2000!

The group started the New Year’s Eve by celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Ninash’s building of the second Indo-International School in Kuran, Gujarat, an area which was completely devastated by an earthquake in 2001. The Ninash group was greeted by the members of the village government, local community, teachers and 280 students, who entertained by performing dances, music and short skits in four different languages. The entertainment provided by the Indian and Western musicians was followed by a delightful fire display.

On the New Year’s Day, the group inaugurated a mobile library funded by the Ninash Foundation. They also dedicated a garden with flowering bushes and a tree in memory of Dr. Douglas Shrader, SUNY Oneonta Distinguished Teaching Professor, who had selflessly given time to be a voice over for the Ninash’s video, which helped raise funds in half a dozen countries. Similar memorial gardens are planned in the other Indo-International schools during this year.

The Ninash group also visited the third Indo-International Culture School in Mahapura where they were greeted with leis and flowers by more than 270 enthusiastic children and teachers. Since the school is moving towards becoming a high school, it highlighted its accomplishments by showing its four newly built rooms to accommodate classes up to the 9th grade, new toilets and an eco-friendly garden. In addition, it displayed stained glass art done by the two newly hired art teachers in the John Koller and Mimi Forman Artisan Wing. As part of preserving the culture of India, children entertained the group by presenting poems, plays, dances and music on topics ranging from India’s linguistic diversity and global warming to education as a human right. The inside and outside of every classroom was decorated with paintings and art work, which was a joy to behold. Along with the Ninash group, a number of Indian and foreign guests were invited to enjoy the entertainment presented by the children.

Ninash’s six Indo-International schools are dedicated to educating more than 1100 underprivileged (female and minority) children of India. The schools have been making a genuine economic and cultural impact in the three villages where they are located. They have become the hubs of educational and social change; a model for the rest of rural India. All this exciting progress has been made possible by the generous donations of individuals and organizations from all over the world. To continue this access to education and a future to these forgotten children of humanity, we need to raise $60,000 each year to provide the salaries and other recurring expenses of the six schools.

The Ninash Foundation has laid down its goal for the year 2011 to raise $250,000 to set up a trust fund. Please join the Ninash team and be a partner in promoting literacy among the underprivileged. Your gift to education is like the giving tree, which will keep giving for the generations to come. For information on how to donate, please visit the Ninash Foundation website.

By Dr. Ashok Malhotra, Founder, The Ninash Foundation

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: The Prince of Wales' "Harmony"

Reviewed by Michael Dudley

In this lavishly produced, beautifully illustrated but somewhat self-edifying book, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales argues that most of our global crises -- from climate change to poverty to our soulless built environments -- are owed to our disconnection from Nature (which he capitalizes).

According to the prince, our civilization's woes can be traced to the ideological dominance of modernism and scientific rationalism. In promoting a thoroughly mechanistic view of humanity and the world and demystifying nature, these beliefs led us to consider all plants, animals and minerals as mere economic commodities.

To the modernist worldview, writes the prince, the only valid measures are economic ones; happiness, and interpersonal relationships -- to say nothing of our bonds with nature -- count for nothing.

The alternative worldview, he argues, is evident all around us: Artistic traditions, esthetic geometries, designs in nature and historic architecture all reveal the harmonic balance within nature that has been almost completely forgotten in the West (aboriginal cultures aside).

Despite its subtitle, Harmony actually sets out a very old way of looking at the world, one in which we are physically and spiritually seen as a part of the natural world.

To demonstrate such harmony in action, Prince Charles and his co-authors describe how people everywhere are working at the margins to restore this lost balance. Through a return to traditional agricultural practices, dramatic reductions in consumption, technological innovations, a resurgent civil society and holistic economic approaches, individuals and organizations are showing how ecological harmony can promote a high quality of life.

Not incidentally, many of these innovations are those undertaken by the prince himself. Between his Foundation for the Built Environment, the Foundation for Integrated Health, the Accounting for Sustainability project, the School of Traditional Arts, various sustainable agriculture efforts and his Start campaign to promote more sustainable consumer choices, Prince Charles has achieved results few elected officials can match.

However, this involvement has not been without controversy. The prince has routinely come under fire in the British media for using his extraordinary position in this way, potentially undermining the monarchy's constitutionally neutral role.

These attacks likely go a long way towards explaining the somewhat defensive tone found throughout the book, as well as the author's insistence on unnecessarily prefacing his (far from original) eco-sophic musings with variations on "It is my belief that ..." as if he alone were the only one arguing for a return to ecological balance.

Indeed, the main problem with Harmony is that, while the prince isn't immodest about his contributions, he can't resist inserting himself at every opportunity. Not only are there enough pictures of the prince for Harmony to serve as a royal photo album (did he really need to be on the cover? Or posing with a squirrel?), he also gives almost no due to the writings of other notable contemporary ecologists such as Joanna Macy, David Orr, Bill McKibben or Vandana Shiva, to name but a few.

Despite his valuable message and inspiring examples, perhaps Prince Charles should have taken a cue from McKibben, who noted in his 1993 book The Age of Missing Information, that a genuine contemplation of nature reveals the profound extent to which the world "isn't about you."

Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World
By the Prince of Wales, with Tony Juniper and Ian Kelly
HarperCollins, 330 pages, $33

New Book: The Uniqueness of Western Civilization

ISCSC member Ricardo Duchesne has released a new book, entitled "The Uniqueness of Western Civilization." According to the publisher,

"This extensively researched book argues that the development of a libertarian culture was an indispensable component of the rise of the West. The roots of the West's superior intellectual and artistic creativity should be traced back to the aristocratic warlike culture of Indo-European speakers. Among the many fascinating topics discussed are: the ascendancy of multicultural historians and the degradation of European history; China's ecological endowments and imperial windfalls; military revolutions in Europe 1300-1800; the science and chivalry of Henry the Navigator; Judaism and its contribution to Western rationalism; the cultural richness of Max Weber versus the intellectual poverty of Pomeranz, Wong, Goldstone, Goody, and A.G. Frank; change without progress in the East; Hegel's Phenomenology of the [Western] Spirit; Nietzsche and the education of the Homeric Greeks; Kojeve's master-slave dialectic and the Western state of nature; Christian virtues and German aristocratic expansionism."

The publisher also provides access to the table of contents.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Can “Power to the People” Get Egyptians Democracy?

Reporters standing amidst the throngs in Independence Square in Cairo seem to be carried away by the excitement of this demonstration of popular will. I do not share their enthusiasm; I fear human beings in mobs. Nice, ordinary people can be transformed by group-think (and a handful of manipulators) into deadly and destructive monsters. It takes only moments to go from a peaceful demonstration to organized burning, looting, and murder. But so far, this “revolution” has been remarkably peaceful.

The Egyptians have much to be unhappy about. They have plummeted from the most important and most civilized modernizing Arab Muslim state a century ago to a grossly overpopulated country that cannot keep up with its needs. They have seen their aspirations to lead the rest of the Arab world into the modern secular world fail. Nobody seems to have a roadmap to a thriving and more egalitarian Egypt. They have tried monarchy, dictatorship, sham democracy, and the only other roadmap not yet tried is that offered by the Muslim Brotherhood-an organization that believes that ultimately, Sharia Law, not democracy, is the answer for Egypt.

So what are we seeing in the streets? We see very angry (and mostly male) faces, and hear group chanting of slogans that someone must have started before being picked up by the crowds. We see shoes held high and ready to throw (an Arab custom that harkens back to hails of slippers hurled by women in bordellos to mock an inadequate customer. Remember the shoes hurled at President Bush by an Iraqi reporter some years back?) It is the utmost symbol of scorn for another-and the shoes are being aimed at President Mubarak, whose offer to step down after a next election was not enough for the crowds.

We hear cries of “freedom, we want freedom” but what does this mean? Do the protesters want freedom from their authoritarian government? How about from their authoritarian fathers? Are the men shouting for freedom ready to give it to their wives and daughters too? How far do they want that freedom to go?

If Mubarak steps down right now, who then has the power to hold a government together until the next election is held? And how is that election to be managed? Are there candidates ready to run, and is there time for them to campaign so that the voters know who they are?

A parliament must change the constitution so that there can be new election rules. But will the crowds trust the parliament that is already there? Which comes first-an election for president or an election for a new parliament?

What these Arab revolutions need to recognize is that demonstrations are not enough. They need caretakers to manage the government until desirable changes can be effected. Haste can be the enemy here.

While we worry about the uncertainty of revolutions sweeping the Arab world right now, we might consider what we can learn from history. In 1848, Europe was swept by revolutionary fervor, led by France and then spreading everywhere. Europe's establishment governments (monarchies) put them down (amidst bloodshed and imprisonment of radicals) and the next round of changes did not come for decades. But changes did come-and have continued to come since then in the developed world. It is a gradual and slow process.

Prosperity does not come when population explosion cannot be stabilized and women not admitted to equality in the society. Real freedom means opportunity for all to learn, to participate, and to encourage values that promote honesty, respect for law, and an end to nepotism and corruption.

The US is condemned by many for not rushing in to support this Arab revolution. We are criticized for wanting democracy, and then when an election is held in Gaza and Islamists win, we do not support it.

We are not obliged to support an election that has given one man, one vote, one time.


By Laina Farhat-Holzman

Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, writer, lecturer, and author of a new book: How Do You Know That? A Guide to Critical Thinking About Global Issues. Contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.comor www.globalthink.net.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Can National Cultures Really Change?

One of the best geo-political analysts and forecasters around is George Friedman, head of STRATFOR (Strategic Forecasts), whose services are used by people responsible for foreign policy making. His team travels, talks to important decision makers, and watches unfolding events from the perspective of history.

Does history really repeat itself? Friedman thinks it does. “The geopolitical is about the intersection of geography and politics. It assumes that the political life of humans is shaped by the place in which they live and that the political patterns are frequently recurring because of the persistence of nations and the permanence of geography.”

This is a view that differs greatly from that of optimists who believe that all people are essentially alike and their cultures are merely temporary ornaments. We Americans have generally believed this because in our own country, people who come from some of the most miserable backwaters in the world change and bloom when living here. That is the key, however: “living here.” These immigrants have been freed of their old geography and history.

Who could have predicted that the Irish fleeing the potato famine, a people so beaten down and damaged by their British colonial masters, could thive as they have in America? Or the half-starved Jews living in wretched village-ghettos in Russia could come to this country and within a generation become so outstanding in so many disciplines? Or Southern Italians and Sicilians, also coming from half-starved villages, came to this country and rose to the level of leadership of the Cuomo father and son or Leon Panetta? What changed for these people when they came to America was a new geography and history. Geography and history matter.

Friedman’s theory can be seen in Russia. The Russian Empire’s borders did not change under the USSR. The Soviets dominated the same colonies and maintained the same borders. Now that the Soviets are gone, has Russia changed? No, they are in the process of going back to their imperial boundaries—although this time using influence and intimidation rather than military force. Friedman explains: “The frontiers of Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union had reasons for being where they were…Russia would inevitably seek to return to its borders. There is no New World Order, only the old one replaying itself in infinitely varying detail, like a kaleidoscope.”

Imperial (oppressive) Russia is still alive. And there is nothing new about their timeless stifling of unpopular news. Despite their current pretense at having a free press, the lifespan of investigative journalists is abysmal. Two more were assassinated in the streets in November—adding to a long list of others mysteriously murdered.

Now it looks like other Cold War tricks are alive and well too. The Russians planted sleeper agents in the US—but a Russian intelligence officer (pseudonym Colonel Shcherbakov) tipped off the US. He is now in hiding from an assassination squad looking for him.

Young Russians who were so excited by the process of having a democratic modern state have been silenced. Their views have never been the majority and democracy is suffocating in the midst of the rebirth of old Russia. George Friedman is not surprised.

Iran is another example of a country with an eternal identity. The great Persian empires of antiquity (three of them between 600 BC to 600 AD) have never died. Persian geography, like Russian and Chinese, has given them lands wide open to barbarian invaders, and all three have had to learn how to preserve their identities, even under occupation—including occupation by Arab Muslims.

Iran’s national identity has been shaped and preserved by their national epic poem, The Book of Kings (Shahnameh), in which kings come and go, heroes come and go, but Iran is eternal. They had a national identity before anybody else thought there was such a thing. The current government is just one more all-too-familiar tyranny that people ignore as much as they can. They know that this one will go too, but Iran will remain. Identities do not change.

By Laina Farhat-Holzman