And Then In India …. Enforced Sobriety?

Monday-no-wineArticle 47 of the Constitution of India states, “….  the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”. The laws which regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol vary significantly from state to state, with only four states implementing full prohibition.  Each state changes from time to time … flip-flopping from full prohibition to modified prohibition to no prohibition at all.  Now, I see you scratching your heads and wondering why Filosofa cares about the state of prohibition in India, but bear with me here …

In spite of legal restrictions, alcohol consumption in India has risen more than 55% over a period of 20 years, and drunk drivers are said to account for as much as 70% of India’s road deaths each year.  So, the government of India decided to make a change.  An Indian supreme court judgment delivered in December and enforced since 1 April has banned the sale of alcohol within 500 metres (about one-third of a mile) of India’s state and national highways. The original Supreme Court ruling in December appeared to apply only to shops. But on March 31, just hours before the ban was due to take effect, the court said restaurants and bars would also have to comply.

Never let it be said that the people of India are not resourceful!

India-1

The maze built outside the Aishwarya Restrobar in Kerala state extends the distance between its entrance and the nearest highway. In Rajasthan, hundreds of miles of formerly state highways have been reclassified as urban roads. Administrators have ordered the same in Mahrashtra, West Bengal and several other states and territories. Roads in Gurgaon, a hub for technology companies, malls and high-rises south of Delhi, have reportedly been barricaded, increasing the “motorable distance” between a major expressway and some pubs and hotels in the city. All efforts to skirt the court’s order are a showcase of what Indians call “jugaad”, their famous ingenuity in the face of legal or physical barriers.

India-road-closed

Now obviously these measures to skirt the new law are doomed to failure if the government is serious about upholding the new law, but business owners and states are claiming that the timing of such changes is purely coincidental.

Shiv Lahari Sharma, an engineer with the Rajasthan government, told the Times of India that the mass reclassification of roads in his state in April was a coincidence. “Our mandate is to construct and maintain roads,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the SC ruling on liquor shops.”

India-peopleIn Gurgaon’s Cyber Hub business park, 34 bars and pubs are awaiting a ruling on whether they can remain open. The entrance to the park was shifted in early April from one side, perilously close to the highway, to another more than 2km away. But this, too, was simply good timing, said Mukesh Yadav, a manager at the site. “It’s not to get around the ban,” he said. Instead the entrance was moved to comply with an underpass that happened to open the day the liquor ban came into effect.

Those who have been less innovative, however, are suffering under the new law. A manager for India’s most acclaimed restaurant, Delhi’s Indian Accent, said daily revenue had fallen by 100,000 rupees (about $1,550).  The restaurant even had to stop serving is chocolate rum ball! Customers have cancelled bookings made months in advance. A spokeswoman for the restaurant said it was appealing to authorities to find another way of measuring the distance.

“Just in [rough] terms we are looking at close to about $10 billion worth of annual revenue loss in front of our eyes right now,” said Rahul Singh, honorary secretary of the National Restaurant Association of India. “We’re talking about hotels and restaurants and clubs and golf clubs and even armed forces [clubs]. We serve beer. Yes, we have food and snacks, but people come to have beer and then they have food with it. Beer first, food later.”

Meanwhile, the Times of India reports that on Saturday night the prohibition and excise department’s enforcement wing conducted surprise raids and booked 58 cases against 30 commercial establishments.

It is anybody’s guess how seriously this law will be enforced.  And the reason for this post?  I just wanted to have some fun and write about something other than the gloomy state of affairs in U.S. politics.  🙂

Visit to a dying and ignorant planet

A fellow-blogger I recently discovered, GC, writing as Your Nibbled News, frequently makes some very astute observations. His post today is about our Earth vs Trump, and is well worth the read. The post needs no further introduction, as it speaks for itself. Thank you, GC, for this post and for permission to re-blog!

Your Nibbled News - 2017 YNN

Save the earth

“Facts which at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which has hidden them and stand forth in naked and simple beauty.”   —   Galileo Galilei

T H E   D I S H A R M O N Y  O F   I G N O R A N C E 

Galileo Galilei was an Italian polymath: astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician. He played a major role in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.

Donald J. Trump is the 45th  president of the United States: a billionaire, bully , egotist, tycoon who with a simple signature on a piece of White House foolscap has disavowed scientific evidence and caused the world to slip back into the dark ages where the world is once again flat and a  company’s profit sheet healthy and viable.

Of course his own planetary provincial…

View original post 144 more words

And Now It Is France’s Turn …

This Sunday, the people of France will head to the polls to elect a new president.  I have been following the election, though not as closely as I might have liked, given all the other issues that occupy my mind and time these days.  Though there are eleven candidates in the running, it seems clear that the results of the first round will come down to four: Marine LePen, François Fillon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Emmanuel Macron.

French elections-2

Now, caught up as we are in our own Trumpian-drama here in the U.S., some might ask why the French election matters to us.  The simple answer is that this election may be the deciding factor in whether the EU survives the remainder of this decade. Whether you like the concept of globalization or not, it is a fact of life, it is here to stay, and the peoples of this earth are connected … what happens in France affects the U.S., and vice versa. So let us take just a few minutes to examine the election and the candidates, and what the results might mean, not only for France, but for the world. France is the world’s sixth-largest economy, is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and is a nuclear-armed power. It is also one of the U.S.’ oldest and most reliable allies. So yes, what happens in Sunday’s election matters to the U.S.

With eleven candidates in the running, it is highly unlikely that any will earn a majority of more than 50%, which means the top two candidates will be in a runoff election on 07 May.  Let us take a quick look at the two who are expected to score the highest:

LePen

  • Marine LePen – is rather a female version of Donald Trump, anti-immigration and promising to ‘make the country safer’ and also ‘more French’. She is a far-right conservative who inherited the leadership of the National Front Party from its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is known for his anti-Semitic views. For many, she is the candidate of pessimism, the choice of “unhappy France”, focusing on long-term high unemployment rates and the problems associated with immigration and the refugee crisis. A terrorist attack in Paris that killed one police officer on Thursday may also bolster Le Pen on Sunday, and one has to wonder if … well, I leave it at that.

Le Pen’s platform includes promises of radical, jarring change that starts with   rewriting the constitution; enforcing the principle of ‘national preference’ for French citizens in hiring as well as the dispensing of housing and benefits; reinstating the franc as the national currency rather than the euro, pulling out of NATO’s integrated command structure; and slashing immigration to one-tenth of its current annual level. In addition, she proposes to hold a ‘Brexit-like’ vote to remove France from the European Union (EU).

Yet while Le Pen has many ideas for the future of France, she has few plans for how to implement them.  If she does win the final vote, some say France should prepare for an administration defined by “constant crisis,” paralysis, and brutal economic blowback. Sound familiar?

Macron

  • Emmanuel Macron – is an independent centrist and the founder of the progressive En Marche! (On the Move!) party. He has been dubbed by some the “French Obama”, due to his charismatic style. Although Macron appears to be slightly leading the pack, his roles as an official in the Hollande government and as an investment banker have led to attacks that he is an elite globalist, deeply entrenched within the status quo. He is viewed as a centrist who wouldn’t radically alter the status quo.

Macron’s platform includes exiting the coal industry and focusing on renewable energy sources, job training, a reduction in the unemployment rate, reductions in corporate income tax rates, flexibility of labour laws, education reform and federal spending cuts.

Though Sunday’s results are largely anticipated to end in a runoff between LePen and Macron, it is worth a brief glance at the other two leading contenders who are not far behind in the polls:

Fillon

  • François Fillon – represents the  center-right Republican Party. Although Fillon led early polls, his popularity sunk amid corruption allegations. He refused to withdraw his candidacy despite calls from figures in his own party demanding he move aside. Fillon, seeing the potency of LePen’s platform among frustrated French voters, has taken an increasingly firm stance on the threat of importing terrorism — a move that could steal votes from Le Pen.

Melenchon

  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon – is the radical far-left creator of the France Unbowed movement. Often compared to former progressive presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Mélenchon fights for economic socialism, higher taxes on rich French, and an increased scope for government programs.

Around the globe, the ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ movement is gaining momentum.  Its two wins thus far have been Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  Both Austria and the Netherlands have rejected populist candidates Norbert Hofer and Geert Wilders.  How France will vote remains to be seen, but the main fear is that if LePen wins the election, the changes will lead to chaos, not only for France, but for the European continent and the U.S. as well.  We have seen the chaos created by both Brexit and Trump, and my hope is that the French will look at the UK and US and decide to reject the far-right, sticking with a more moderate candidate.

On Thursday, France suffered a terrorist attack whereby one police officer was killed and two others wounded.  Daesh quickly claimed responsibility.  It is interesting timing, coming just three days before the election, and leads to a few questions, since LePen is, similar to Trump last year and Wilders earlier this year, advocating a ban of Muslims and strong anti-terrorist measures, and an attack so close to election day may enable fear to influence the votes of some.  I will leave the questions to your imaginations.  The Guardian published an editorial titled The Guardian view on the French presidency: hope not hate, calling for voters to keep a cool head, not letting Thursday’s attack influence their vote.

The issues facing the candidates in France’s election are far more complex than I can cover here, and the candidates far more in depth, but I have tried to summarize briefly.  The election will certainly be worth watching, even for those who have no vested interest, but rather an indirect one.

Happy Earth Day – 2017

Tomorrow is Earth Day, an annual event created to celebrate the planet’s environment and raise public awareness about pollution. The day, marked on April 22, is observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects.

earth-3Started as a grassroots movement, Earth Day created public support for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contributed to the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act and several other environmental laws.

A bit of history:

The first Earth Day was in 1970. Then-Senator Gaylord Nelson, after seeing the damage done by a 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, was inspired to organize a national “teach-in” that focused on educating the public about the environment.

Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a politically active recent graduate of Stanford University, as national coordinator, and persuaded U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey of California to be co-chairman. With a staff of 85, they were able to rally 20 million people across the United States on April 20, 1970. Universities held protests, and people gathered in public areas to talk about the environment and find ways to defend the planet.

“Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values,” according to a History of Earth Day.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being the founder of Earth Day. This is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States.

Earth Day continued to grow over the years. In 1990, it went global, and 200 million people in 141 countries participated in the event. Which brings us to tomorrow, when more than 1 billion people are expected to participate in Earth Day 2017.

This year, in light of the recent cutbacks in the EPA, legislation and ‘executive orders’ signed by Donald Trump to reverse protections to our environment, the scientific community is planning marches all around the nation on Earth Day.  The Science March in Washington, D.C., is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the Mall, and satellite marches have been planned in more than 400 cities on six continents.

science

Rush Holt, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), says that this is not simply a reaction to President Trump’s election, but that scientists have been worried for years that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.”

Although a number of scientists, including Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, will be speaking at the Washington event, no politicians have been invited to speak.  Caroline Weinberg, a public health researcher and co-organizer of the march, explains, “Science is nonpartisan. That’s the reason that we respect it, because it aims to reduce bias. That’s why we have the scientific method. We felt very strongly that having politicians involved would skew that in some way.”

Although Trump’s recent policies may not be the sole reason for the Science March, there can be no doubt that they are a factor.  During his campaign, Trump stated that, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Then, once in office, he appointed Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. This is a man who, as Oklahoma attorney general, had sued the agency many times and who, during an interview in March, said he did not believe that human activity is a primary driver of the observed climate change — a statement at odds with scientific research. Trump has also stated his belief that there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism – a theory that has long since been disproven by the scientific community.

Some might ask just what good a march will do in terms of protecting the environment.  The mission statement of the March begins, “There are certain things that we accept as facts … The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution”. The purpose is public awareness and education.  Under the Trump regime, scientists’ voices have been muted, in some cases stifled.

Staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services have been ordered not to send out news releases, create new blog entries or update official website content. They also must seek agreement from senior officials before speaking to the media and in some instances Congress. The National Parks Service was temporarily banned from tweeting.

According to meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus, “It’s broader than about limiting communication. Scientists are seeing this as a full scale attack on truth itself and the principle that government should take scientific information onboard and incorporate it into policies and so act for society as a whole.”

Perhaps Elizabeth Hadly, professor of biology, geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University, said it best:

“If we cannot discuss facts openly – in public, in academia, in business, in government – how can we have meaningful dialogues so essential to serving people’s needs? How can democracy, based on public discussions and trust in our societal truths, survive? And so we will march.”

When a house becomes broken down and unsafe, we can move to another house. But when our planet becomes broken and unsafe, we have no other planet to move to.  When we can no longer breathe the air, drink the water, or grow food on the land, we perish.

Happy Earth Day!

earth-4

They Did Not Know Where A $13 Billion Ship Was????

On the 9th of April, it was reported that the US navy had deployed a strike group towards the western Pacific Ocean, to provide a presence near the Korean peninsula. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said China agreed with the Trump administration that “action has to be taken” regarding North Korea. “President Xi clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken,” Tillerson said.

“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson strike group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the western Pacific,” said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman at US Pacific Command.

“When you a see a carrier group steaming into an area like that [it] is clearly a huge deterrence.” – White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, 11 April 2017

“We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on Earth.  And I will say this: he is doing the wrong thing.” – Donald Trump, 12 April 2017

In light of all this, the world held its collective breath, understanding that two madmen, each with very short emotional fuses and the capability of starting Armageddon, were playing a very high-stakes game of chicken.

map-1But guess what?  There was no “armada” headed to the Korean peninsula.  The USS Carl Vinson was not even pointed in the direction of North Korea.  There was not so much as a tiny sailboat aimed at the Korean peninsula.  The USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying flotilla were, in fact, sailing south to take part in a preplanned training exercise with the Australian navy!

The question arises:  Did the entire Trump administration perpetuate this lie in order to threaten North Korean President Kim Jong-un and make the world sit up and take notice?  Or did they truly have no clue where the naval flotilla was?  Either way … this is the most blatant example yet of the mass incompetence and chaos in the White House!

Allegedly, now that the Carl Vinson and its strike force are finished training with the Australian navy, they are heading to the Korean peninsula, though it will be next month before they reach their destination.  I have no idea if this is true, given the propensity of Trump & Co. to lie, and the entire fleet may well be in dry-dock for all I know.  However, Sean Spicer, asked to clarify why he lied, fell back on newspeak:

“The statement that was put out was that the Carl Vinson group was headed to the Korean peninsula. It is headed to the Korean peninsula.”  Newspeak.

spicer-air-quotes

Defense Secretary James Mattis also refused to say that he had wrongly contributed to the narrative that an American flotilla was racing toward the Korean peninsula:

mattis“In our effort to always be open about what we’re doing, we said that we were going to change the Vinson’s upcoming schedule. We’re doing exactly what we said, and that is, we’re shifting her. Instead of continuing in one direction, as she pulled out of Singapore, she’s going to continue part of her cruise down in that region, but she was on her way up to Korea.”  Doublespeak.

Joel Wit, a co-founder of the 38 North programme of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the confusion was “very perplexing”. “If you are going to threaten the North Koreans, you better make sure your threat is credible. If you threaten them and your threat is not credible, it’s only going to undermine whatever your policy toward them is.”  Makes sense, but I think we can all agree that there is no policy … policy has been replaced with spur-of-the-moment tweets and off-the-cuff rants.

It is clear that what we mostly believed to begin with is true.  We can never believe anything we are told by this administration.  This lie was beyond ‘alternative fact’ … is was a bald-faced lie whose only possible purpose was to threaten and bully Kim Jong-un and deceive the American public.  I, for one, am incensed.

Games like this are NOT how we keep America safer, NOT how to make America ‘great again’, but instead are how we endanger every life, not only here, but around the globe.  Donald Trump and his minions must be removed from office as quickly as possible … there is no other choice if we wish to preserve the human race.

Good People Doing Good Things – Dr. Sanduk Ruit & Dr. Geoffrey Tabin

Every Wednesday morning, I write about good people who are giving of themselves, their time, their money, or whatever resources they have to help others.  Some weeks I write about millionaire philanthropists, or foundations, other weeks, average, everyday people like you and me who are doing small things that make big differences in the lives of others.  Today I would like to introduce you to a pair of doctors, Dr. Sanduk Ruit, a Nepalese eye surgeon, and Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, an American eye surgeon and world-renowned mountain climber.

Together, these two eye surgeons have restored sight to more than 150,000 patients in 24 countries. Doctors they’ve trained have restored sight to 4 million more. They are on a mission to completely eradicate preventable and curable blindness in the developing world, and they have made a great start.

In 1995, Drs. Ruit and Tabin founded the Himalayan Cataract Project, which began as a small outpatient clinic in Kathmandu. It has since spread throughout the Himalayas and across Sub-Saharan Africa, providing education and training for local eye-care professionals, and has overseen around 500,000 low-cost, high-quality cataract surgeries.

Dr. Ruit was responsible for developing a simplified technique for cataract surgery that costs only $25 and has nearly a 100% success rate.  His method is now even taught in U.S. medical schools, though in the U.S. you will not find cataract surgery for $25.

In 2015, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times visited Dr. Ruit in Hatauda, in southern Nepal, and observed the process.  The patient was a 50-year-old woman, Thuli Maya Thing, who, blinded by cataracts for several years has been unable to work.  “I can’t fetch firewood or water. I can’t cook food. I fall down many times. I’ve been burned by the fire. I will be able to see my children and husband again — that’s what I look forward to most.”  The process to remove Thuli’s cataracts and replace them with new lenses took about five minutes per eye. When the bandages came off the next day, her vision tested at 20/20!

Wed-Thuli

Thuli Maya Thing

In the United States, cataract surgery is typically performed with complex machines and costs upward of $5,000.  When asked in a 2013 interview with Prospero of The Economist why the surgery the same procedure could not be replicated in the U.S., he answered …

“In America we do not have a health-care system, we have a crisis-intervention system where everyone demands and expects the best possible outcome and looks for someone to blame if things are not perfect. We have so much wasted time, so many middle men, redundancies, third-party payers, legal issues.”

All of the Himalayan Cataract Project’s facilities strive to be completely financially self-sustaining through a unique cost-recovery program in which the wealthy patients subsidize the poor patients. One third of the patients pay the full $100 for a complete work-up, modern cataract surgery, and all post-operative care. Twenty percent of the patients pay a smaller amount based on what they are able to pay. The remaining third of the patients receive the cataract surgical care entirely free. With this model, the facilities are able to cover all costs.

Additionally, the doctors have created a system whereby everyone works up to their potential and no one does anything a person with less training can do. This maximizes the most expensive element, which is the time of the doctors and nurses. They have also been able to bring down the material costs through local manufacturing and elimination of waste. Imagine if these methods were used in the industrialized world … we would not need the ongoing healthcare debate we are perpetually undergoing in the U.S.!

wed-second-sunsJournalist David Oliver Relin shadowed the doctors for nearly two years, an effort that culminated in the book Second Suns, published in June 2013, about the heroic accomplishments of the two doctors.  Sadly, the author committed suicide in November 2012 due to controversies over another book he wrote, Three Cups of Tea.  I have not read Second Suns, but took a quick glance at the sample on my Kindle, and it seems well worth the read.

I had a good chuckle over a story related by Dr. Tabin:

“One story I enjoyed learning from the book was that Dr Ruit had tried to get rid of me by sending me to work in Biratnagar, Nepal, during the monsoon. At the time I thought I was needed there but in fact it was because he found my enthusiasm annoying. He was sure that the 40-degree heat with 99% humidity and lots of biting insects, plus the difficult state of the hospital, would send me scurrying back to America.”

In developing nations, suffering from blindness affects not only the blind person but also members of his/her family. Where there are few paved roads and where terrain is rugged and mountainous, a blind person has incredible difficulty moving around and depends on a caretaker. There are no social services available to the blind, and individuals who are blind cannot contribute to family income. A blind person, unable to care for themselves in such a harsh environment requires the help of a family member, which essentially takes two people out of being able to contribute to family income, or community life. With sight restored, many patients would be able to return to work and to traditional roles in their families and societies.  Drs. Ruit and Tabin have dedicated their lives to restoring sight to blind people in some of the most isolated, impoverished reaches of developing countries in the Himalaya and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Last Sunday, 16 April, the two doctors were featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes and it is well worth checking out!

I have tremendous admiration and respect for these two men, and they are certainly prime examples of good people who are doing good things for others.  I have included a few links below … I think you would especially enjoy the article written two years ago by Nicholas Kristof which includes a short video.  Hats off to Dr. Sanduk Ruit and Dr. Geoffrey Tabin!

wed-two-docs

Nicholas Kristoff Article

Interview with The Economist

Himalayan Cataract Project

On the Fifth Day …

Yesterday I came across this poem, On the Fifth Day, by Jane Hirshfield.  The poem speaks simply and eloquently for itself and needs neither introduction nor explanation from me.

 

On the fifth day

the scientists who studied the rivers

were forbidden to speak

or to study the rivers.

 

The scientists who studied the air

were told not to speak of the air,

and the ones who worked for the farmers

were silenced,

and the ones who worked for the bees.

 

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,

began posting facts.

 

The facts were told not to speak

and were taken away.

The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

 

Now it was only the rivers

that spoke of the rivers,

and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

 

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees

continued to move toward their fruit.

 

The silence spoke loudly of silence,

and the rivers kept speaking,

of rivers, of boulders and air.

 

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,

the untested rivers kept speaking.

 

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,

code writers, machinists, accountants,

lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

 

They spoke, the fifth day,

of silence.

 

Jane Hirshfield is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent collection is “The Beauty.” She will read this poem from the stage at the March for Science on April 22.

Dark Cloud Over Turkey

The people of Turkey decided yesterday, 16 April, that they no longer wished to live in a democracy, and they voted to place more power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  Or did they? There is some dispute, since apparently the voting verification process of stamping ballots was skipped by officials on some 60% of ballots.  In some countries, this would be enough to make the voting null and void, and a new vote would be scheduled.  But Turkish officials have announced that they will accept the unstamped ballots as valid unless voter fraud can be proven.

The changes called for in the referendum would transform Turkey’s government from a democracy, though that term has been questionable for nearly a year now, to a near-autocracy.  To recap, as I wrote last month, the referendum would enable Erdoğan to make all government appointments, take back the leadership of the ruling party, and stay in power until 2029, pending presidential and general elections in 2019, with a maximum of two five-year terms. The proposed amendments would entirely abolish the Office of the Prime Minister.  One that threw up red flags for me is Article 84: The powers of Parliament to scrutinize ministers and hold the government to account are abolished.  And Article 98: The obligation of ministers to answer questions orally in Parliament is abolished.

The accountability of Erdoğan and his top echelons of government is now gone.  Erdoğan wasted no time asserting his new authority, announcing plans to immediately take steps toward re-instating the death penalty.

Since the failed coup in July, which many believe was at least partly orchestrated by Erdoğan himself, freedom of the press has become largely non-existent in Turkey, with some 230 journalists and media staff currently in prison.  Additionally, 41,000 people have been arrested, more than 100,000 people dismissed or suspended from government jobs while hundreds of media outlets, associations, businesses have been shut down since Erdoğan declared a “state of emergency” almost immediately after the coup attempt.

Though the referendum abolishes the office of Prime Minister, Prime Minister Yıldırım delivered a victory speech, saying, “Our nation has made its decision and said yes to the presidential system. The ballot box result showed we will not bow to traitors and terrorists. Turkey has won; our nation has won.” This puzzles me. The man’s position was just abolished, yet he is praising the decision.

The vote was “won” by a narrow margin, 51.37%, at the end of a bitter and divisive campaign.  The official results will not be final for over a week, and the opposition party claims that many votes were not counted, and they plan to contest as many as one-third of the ones that were counted.

Turkey, once eager to become a part of the European Union (EU) has long been straying away from the democratic freedoms that would have given them eligibility, but if Erdoğan successfully re-instates the death penalty, it will end any chance of Turkey joining the EU.  Since July, it has not seemed to matter to Erdoğan, and I suspect he gave up the notion long ago, using it only as a bone of contention for the past year.

This referendum can only be seen as a loss of freedom for the Turkish people, but what is puzzling to me is that so many people willingly bought into it.  I think there is a good chance that the actual ‘yes’ votes were less than a majority of 51.4% and that there was, in fact, some vote tampering.  Even so, there were obviously many supporters of the referendum, as evidenced by the celebrations held last night, and comments from citizens. “This is our opportunity to take back control of our country,” said self-employed Bayram Seker, 42, after voting “Yes” in Istanbul.

It will remain to be seen if challenges to the vote are successful, but my guess is they will not be.

I have drawn parallels many times in the past year between the situation in Turkey and that in the U.S.  I do so again today.  On the surface, Erdoğan and Trump would seem to have nothing in common.  Erdoğan is well-educated, well-spoken and intellectual, whereas Trump is the antithesis of all those things.  However, both have a love of power and will do whatever it takes to acquire ever more of it.  Both are threatened by a free press and will use whatever means at their disposal to squelch it. Both have extremely short fuses when opposed.  Neither are willing to put the welfare of their citizenry before their own personal lust for power. Both have shown, in their blatant disregard for the people of their nations, that they believe ‘the end justifies the means’.  And both have severely divided their nations without regard for what that may mean for the future.

As I write this, my heart aches for the people of Turkey, some of whom have yet to understand what the consequences of their decisions will be.  And my heart aches, also, for the people of the U.S., for the same reason.

Easter Traditions Here and There

Easter is just around the corner … tomorrow, in fact … and in honour of the holiday, I am recycling my post from last Easter, interspersed with some new additions.  Different countries and cultures celebrate the holiday with a variety of traditions, and I find it fascinating to look at how others’ traditions vary from our own.  First, however, a brief bit about that highly controversial Easter candy, Peeps!

PeepEaster is almost upon us, and that means what?  You got it!  Chocolate Bunnies!  Chocolate Eggs!  And Peeps.  I will eat an occasional Peep, but I far prefer the ears of a chocolate bunny.  That said, I don’t hate Peeps and they are rather cute.  There is a joke circulating on social media that goes something like this: “What is the best way to eat a Peep?  Throw it in the trash.”  That seems a bit sad to me, though I have certainly tossed enough of them in the trash after they sat around until they were hard enough to knock a cat unconscious.  Anyway … check out this gallery of Peeps!  Cute and imaginative! Peeps Gallery

And if you really cannot figure out what to do with all those Peeps the kiddos found in their Easter baskets, why not try this recipe:  Peeps-Infused Vodka

Peeps-vodka


Today I am thinking that I’m glad I do not live in either the Czech Republic or Greece, though the Greek island of Corfu might be okay.  I will explain why in a minute.  People celebrate holidays in different ways around the globe, and I find it interesting to learn about the different traditions, foods and celebrations in other countries.  Having lived my entire life in the U.S. and only rarely traveled abroad, I am woefully ignorant of the customs of other nations.  So, I was excited this morning to find an article in my daily Newsweek digest titled “10 Bunny-Free Easter Traditions From Around The World”.

In the Czech Republic, Easter is celebrated on Monday and one of the traditions is for men to whip women!  Now, to my male readers … don’t get any ideas!  “On Easter Monday in the Czech Republic, men playfully spank women with whips made of willow and decorated with ribbons. According to legend, the whipping is supposed to improve fertility, health and beauty because the willow is the first tree to bloom in spring.”  Most of the Czech Easter traditions relate to spring and the beginning of new life.  Here in the U.S., most of us toss some food colouring and vinegar in boiling water and dip a few dozen hard-boiled eggs in the coloured water. But in the Czech Republic, they create beautiful, hand painted eggs.  Czech eggs

They have some other fun traditions throughout Easter week, starting with “Ugly Wednesday”.  Czech it out for yourself here.

Greece has a multitude of traditions, as it is comprised of more than 200 inhabited islands (6,000 altogether), but the one that caught my eye was this: “In Corfu, people throw pots, pans and other kitchenware out of their windows on the morning of Holy Saturday. Some say the custom can be traced back to the Venetians, who used to get rid of any old items on New Year’s Day.”  I think of this as a win-win … either they get new cookware (preferably Cuisinart), or they get to say “sorry … I couldn’t cook tonight, so make yourself a sandwich.”  If they do this for a few nights, then they probably get the Cuisinart soon anyway!  However, another that I was not so enamored of was this: “It’s customary to eat a stew of lamb’s stomach after Easter Sunday Mass. The dish, also known as patsas or tripe soup, is seasoned with red wine vinegar and garlic or thickened with avgolemono (egg-lemon sauce).”  Maybe I will just keep my old pots ‘n pans after all.

Bulgarians really know how to have fun on Easter … they have a huge egg fight, or “choukane s yaitsa”.  “Opponents smash their eggs into each other with the egg left unbroken proclaimed the winner or borak. The winning egg is kept until next Easter and is a sign of good luck.”  Now, the egg fight sounds like fun … though I’m not sure if the eggs are raw or hard-boiled — seems like raw eggs would be more entertaining and less painful.  But keeping the egg until next Easter?  I am not so sure about that part.  Ever smell an egg that was just a few weeks past being edible? Not a fun olfactory experience.  Bulgarians also have a unique superstition. “It is believed if one hears a cuckoo midway during Lent, spring is coming. Likewise, if one has money in his pocket at the sound of the cuckoo, he will be rich in the coming year, but if one has no money or is hungry, then that will likely be how the rest of the year will play out.”  I do not think we have cuckoo birds where I live, but I have some friends who might fit nicely into this category.

“In Hungary and Poland, it is tradition for men to throw water over young women’s heads, and then ask for a kiss. In Poland, the custom can be traced back to the baptism of Prince Miezsko on Easter Monday in 966 AD, bringing Catholicism to the country.”  What is it with men picking on women as an Easter tradition???  Does anybody see a misogynistic trend here?  And frankly, if you dump water on my head, the likelihood of getting a kiss from me is pretty much nil.

A bit of Easter trivia:

  • Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring
  • Easter eggs are considered a symbol of new life and rebirth
  • Eggs contain almost every nutrient essential to humans
  • The Easter Bunny was originally the Easter Hare.  He functioned somewhat like an Easter Santa Claus, evaluating children’s behaviour and rewarding good children with coloured eggs.
  • Originally children built nests for the Easter Hare to leave the eggs inside.
  • The tradition of coloured eggs originated in the Ukraine and the decorated eggs were believed to protect homes from evil spirits.
  • $14.6 billion is spent on Easter items annually
  • $2.1 billion is spent on Easter candy, making Easter second only to Halloween for candy sales
  • 120 million pounds of Easter candy is consumed annually
  • 16 billion jelly beans are manufactured annually, and if laid end-to-end, would circle the globe nearly three times!  That is a heck of a lot of jelly beans!
  • 76% of people eat the ears off the chocolate bunnies first (I am in the majority here)
  • Swiss tradition holds that a cuckoo, not a bunny, delivers the eggs (what is it with Easter and cuckoos?)

Many thanks to fellow blogger Thumbup at The Playground for the above fun facts!

The more we learn about our global neighbors, the less likely we are to have prejudices based on a lack of understanding, and learning fun things like how others celebrate holidays is a great way to start.  With 196 countries around the world, it is impossible for me to cover them all in a single post, but I hope this has whet your appetite to learn more. There are some great websites … This is one of the best I found.  So for now, I hope you have a fun Easter tomorrow and spend the day with people you love.

Easter bunny

A Most Concerning Situation …

The headline this afternoon reads:

U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on ISIS Caves in Afghanistan

And my first thoughts are:

  • Why? Has Donnie, having gotten a taste of the power of his office, simply decided to play war?
  • How many civilians did we kill this time?
  • How many people could have eaten for a week on what this cost?
  • What ramifications can we expect?
bomb.jpg

GBU-43/B MOAB … aka … Mother of All Bombs

The bomb was allegedly dropped on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan. According to New York Times writer Helene Cooper, “It was unclear whether any civilians were killed. The military insisted that it took every precaution to avoid such casualties. But the Pentagon has come under increasing criticism that as it has intensified the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the civilian death toll has risen sharply.”

Forgive my cynicism, but last week the U.S. released 59 Tomahawk missiles on an air base in Syria that did minimal damage, and the air base was operating again within hours.  Then on Tuesday, an airstrike by the American-led coalition killed 18 of our Syrian allies.  This was the third time in a month that American-led airstrikes have killed civilians and/or allies.  Is anybody looking where we are lobbing all these expensive weapons?  Is killing members of Daesh more important than all other lives?  And even earlier on in the Trump regime, there was Yemen …

In his first military operation, just over a week after taking office, Trump ordered an attack on Yemen which killed civilians, as well as one U.S. soldier.  President Obama’s aides had proposed this operation, but President Obama did not act, fearing the risk of costing innocent lives was too great. Trump, however, had no such compunctions.

So, we have a little boy in a man’s body in the White House who has discovered the toys in his new toy box and is using them, willy-nilly, to cause unrest around the world.  But perhaps the most dangerous situation lies in North Korea, where an unstable dictator, Kim Jong-un, may well be preparing to rise to the occasion of Trump’s poorly considered speech.

“North Korean state media warned on Tuesday of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression, as a U.S. Navy strike group steamed toward the western Pacific – a force U.S. President Donald Trump described as an “armada””.Reuters, 12 April 2017

FILE PHOTO - Sailors man the rails of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as it departs its home port in San Diego, California

USS Carl Vinson

Trump, trying to be either funny or mysterious, when questioned about his intent toward North Korea, said, “You never know, do you? You never know.” This is the answer I would expect from a five year old who was asked if he needed to go potty, not a 70+-year-old man who is the leader of a nation of 330 million people!

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with Trump by phone and urged a ‘peaceful resolution’ on Wednesday, as the aircraft carrier strike group steamed toward the Korean Peninsula.  Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, “We hope that the relevant parties do not adopt irresponsible actions. Under the current circumstances, this is very dangerous.”

Trump tweeted the following two tweets:

  • North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.

  • I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!

“What is clear from this posturing is that the White House is focused on North Korea, and likely attempting to deter North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from testing a weapon on April 15, the 105th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. What’s not clear is exactly what U.S. policy toward North Korea is right now. Deterrence is not going to work. Kim Jong Un is extremely likely to call the U.S. bluff. Then what?”Foreign Policy, 13 April 2017

A general view of an annual central report meeting in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang

One possibility that I have heard posited and argued in the last few hours is that Trump may have sent the “armada” as he calls it into the Korean Peninsula in hopes that Kim Jong-un will fire at the ships, thus giving Trump an excuse for further military action.  I certainly cannot deny that possibility, but hope it is not the case and that the more rational, intelligent minds of McMaster and Mattis are calling the shots.

I have said since long before the election that Donald Trump is nothing more than a large playground bully, and the past 83 days have borne this out.  However this aggression toward a nation with nuclear capacity AND a madman at the helm, is irresponsible, at best.

Everything I have read indicates that North Korea does not likely have the capability at this time of hitting a major U.S. city with a nuclear warhead, and that such capability remains a few years into the future.  While this is reassuring, what is not reassuring is the temperaments of the two leaders in question here, and the current tensions do not bode well for the future of, not only the U.S. and North Korea, but the entire human race. Somebody needs to take little Donnie’s toys away from him before he plunges the world into disaster.

Young boy playing with toy soldiers