Friday, December 31, 2004

Satellite Pictures of Tsunami Effects

Courtesy TM (of :

I am still looking for pictures that might show the waves moving--I guess what I mean is satellite pictures from further away, so to speak; not such close-ups. Anyone?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Caring Across Communities

Stories trickle in. From Tamil Nadu in India:

Tsunami Roundup from South Asian Journalists Association (in the US)

Tsunami: Comments from Singapore

Here are some comments from Hasan Jafri, a journalist colleague from my days as a youth magazine editor in Pakistan. Hasan now works in Singapore for a major news agency. Yesterday, he wrote:

Lisa and I just gave some money to the Red Cross while I have also signed up with a local NGO called Mercy Relief to go to Sri Lanka if needed. This is a major crisis, but luckily we didn't feel a thing here in singapore. In fact, I got to know about it when a friend from London called to check if I was ok - I laughed at him, telling him he caught me on the tennis court!

Only when I got back to the apartment and checked the wires did I realize how bad it was.

And today he adds:

I live on an island the size of a pea in a pod yet didn't feel a thing when the earthquake struck. It was less than a thousand kilometers away from Singapore and we are all safe yet hundreds of thousands are dead or devastated far far beyond. Are we lucky here or what?

Singapore is often seen as a country full of people who think of themselves first then others, yet there is a long queue outside the Red Cross office every day. Maybe its the festive holiday season or that companies dished out good bonuses, whatever it is money is pouring in. Maybe, just maybe, it is the strength of the human spirit - irrespective of cast, creed, color or faith - that is now at play. Whatever it is, it is heartening.

At my condo where many upper and middle class Singaporeans and expats live the community hall is full of things - clothes, medicine, food - that people here are planning to send via Buddhist charity.

The YMCA already has two dozen volunteers lined up, others have signed up with other NGOs and charity groups. I have not seen such hope in the face of adversity as I see now in Asia - not even the Bali terrorist attack on October 12, 2002 touched us the same way. Only 911 did the same.

While everyone I know is safe, I feel the pain because I am so familiar with some of the places: Thailand is like a second home to me, Lisa and I go there often. Phuket is where I drank myself silly with two dear friends from Pakistan who were there for me in a time of personal crisis in 1999. We were also honored guests at the Kuta beach annual 'lady boys' pagent that year. It was plastic tits galore, but it was important to them. I still have a photo of us in a frame I bought there.

A year ago we were in Phuket again - this time for a friends wedding. We were in a merry mood. A few if us smoked a bit too much and under a full moon decided to take a swim in the emerald green Andaman sea - in our birthday outfits. The three of us - an American, a Saki and a Brit - soon realized we were not alone when a bunch of dogs began barking at us! We scrambled to find out clothes and then under the influence of the water and the smoke made our way back to the Banyan tree resort in what seemed like an eternally long and heady walk.

Langkawi is where Lisa and I went on a lovely romantic holiday that bonded us together. Penang, also in Malaysia, is where we went after working for three days nonstop when terrorist fell the Twin Towers and we needed peace and solitude.

Sri Lanka, a country that I have fallen in love with, is where Lisa and I went for our honeymoon. Our next trip there would have been to a lovely resort in Gale - a small town that no longer exists. Maybe I should checkout the web site again - just to remember how stunning the Indian ocean was before it turned into hell.

While I have not been to Aceh in Indonesia I know it well because of an insurgency that has shown the brutality of the Indonesian army and the resilience of its very conservative Muslim inhabitants who for five decades have fought for independence from Jakarta. Now, ironically, all are removing corpses side by side. The earthquake and the water didn't discriminate between a patriot and a rebel - it destroyed both with impunity.

Also in Sri Lanka one sees the horrors of war - landmines laid during the brutal civil war are now dislodged by the raging waters making rescue and recovery difficult. I first began to hate landmines when I saw innocent children maimed by them in Afghanistan - now I hate them even more. Three countries that I have ties with - Pakistan, America and Singapore - oppose banning the use of landmines. I wonder when and at what cost we will learn!

If there is one common image that remains with me of all the places we have been to that are now devastated, it is the smiles on the faces of the people there. The massage ladies and the ladyboys in Phuket, the driver in Colombo who kept smiling when I was furious he was late to pick us up and when the aircon broke down. The smiles. May they return soon.

And here I was enjoying my well-earned holiday and looking forward to moving to our own home next month. My worries - whether I should buy the Audi or the Alfa Romeo, whether I should take a year off from work and head back to graduate school, whether I should go watch Australia kick our ass in cricket in Perth or Sydney - all seem so trivial.

An earthquake and a wall of water in the middle of my tennis game brought me back to earth. Providence again reminded me how blessed and lucky I am!


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Thoughts on Tsunami Relief

The major local mosque in Silicon Valley (the Muslim Community Association of the SF Bay, or MCA) held a Namaaz-e-Janaaza (funeral prayers) last night for the dead of the devastation in Asia. There is a Muslim tradition of saying ghayaybaana or "in absentia" prayers that are exactly like the prayer one would say just prior to burial. Hopefully, this will help the community empathize with the affected and encourage further charity.

What I would like is to encourage people give across countries, communities and, most importantly, faiths. My proposal is to find charities that strongly identify with a community you would not normally interact with—or worse—and give, as Faraz said in that earlier post, till it hurts. We need to see and show the humanity and the good in each other.

However, I can't say enough that please don't give with your eyes closed. My preference would be for organizations and channels that, even if they have a strong sectarian or ideological character on the back-end, that do not have ideological strings at, as they say here in The States, the business end of things. In fact, organizations that have an ideological, communal, or even governmental background but who give with truly no strings deserve praise and support. I say this from being a volunteer for one of the efforts after the earthquake in Gujarat a few years ago and then later finding out that a lot of that money went only to communal organizations that were picky in who they gave aid to, and otherwise left a bad taste in the mouth. ('Nuff said; this is not a time to go into details on that.) But then, no one said being good was easy. Let's do the hard work it takes to really make a difference.

PS: In the US, I have heard both the Red Cross and a few others say that the best thing to give here is money; organizations like the Red Cross can use that most efficiently and flexibly. Remember, most of the blood given to the Red Cross after 9/11 did not do too much good. But that's not absolute; let's listen to the experts and help them in the ways they really need.

Apologies for being more dispersed (than usual) in my thoughts on this topic.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Asian Quake/Tsunami Relief

The e-mail below is rom a friend.

By way of comment and disclaimer: Hidaya is driven by religious people and is something that has formed around people that go to the MCA (local mosque) a lot and work through like-minded organizations, they are not officially a religious organization or, to my knowledge, picky about who they help.

And what I like about Hidaya is that it has really done what all of us dream about in the NGO world or the corporate world--started work with the "home country" and community of the founders and now has expanded
operations to other South Asian countries.

----------forwarded mail
From: "Faraz Hoodbhoy"
Subject: Asia Quake and Tidal Disaster Relief Fund
Date: 12/28/2004 11:39:38 AM

Hi and Happy Holidays to you and yours!

In this time of holiday cheer, it’s possible that we sometimes overlook opportunities where we can help make the world a better place. As you’re aware, the recent natural disaster in Asia has been characterized as the single worst humanitarian disaster of our lifetime. But there is much that we can do to help, and I’d like to ask for your support in helping provide relief to the people affected by the Asia quake and the ensuing tidal disaster.

I'm currently helping out at a California non-profit organization called Hidaya ( for fund raising for the victims of the Asia Quake and Tidal Disaster. We're collecting to send a contingent of doctors and medical personnel and supplies from Pakistan, the US, and other areas to affected areas in Sri Lanka (initially) where the death toll is greater than 12,000 and the devastation is more than half of that nation's economy.

These people need our help and Hidaya is working with organizations that are on the ground in Sri Lanka conducting daily operations, e.g. now the organization we are working with, Muslimaat, is a women's organization that is helping collect the 5,000+ bodies that are still scattered around the city and provide burial services before the bodies rot and start to become disease centers.

Hidaya is similarly working with organizations in Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh.

What I ask from you is to please contribute generously (i.e. truly give till it hurts) to the fund that Hidaya is collecting for augmenting relief efforts. Hidaya accepts credit card payments online at and of course, all donations are tax deductible.

This is truly the worst human disaster we have ever seen -- please help in whatever way you can, financially, as well as time if you can.

BTW, Hidaya is just one group that is doing good work and I can personally vouch for the fact that money sent to it is going to where it is most needed. But if you prefer, please help out in anyway you can to any similar organization. An interesting fact I learned at Hidaya yesterday is that with just $20,000 they were able to provide a meal for 180,000 people in Bangladesh last year. Truly, every dollar you can spare can make a HUGE difference.

Warm regards,

--------------end forwarded mail

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

America as Microcosm

"There is no conflict we cannot understand by looking into our own history."
—Thomas P.M. Barnet, Senior Strategic Researcher at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and a former strategist in the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation. More at

Full presentation at rtsp://

Friday, December 17, 2004

A Euro-Turkey

The following discussion is thought-provoking:

One thought is that anti-secularists won't have Turkey to kick around too much longer—funny thing is, the changes Turkey has undergone and is undergoing complicate, not simplify, what the "Turkish model" means in that discussion...

Only in the Bay Area

Chauvinism for a place you live is common in a lot of places. Cities often have a pride of place best expressed in that timeless New York cliche, "Only in New York". And unique to San Francisco is the fact that a character like Emperor Norton would be an institution--and even more uniquely that their would be a serious move to name of the most important monuments after him:

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!!

Democracy Now! reports that "The Washington Post has revealed the CIA has been operating a top-secret detention center inside Guantanamo Bay base..." (See more at

Amazing how even the most alternative of alternative media in the West finds something like this news—most of the rest of world will be sitting there going "Duh!".


Everytime I have to fill out a form (for a mortgage, for a bank account, and so on) in the US, the (completely voluntary) section for "ethnicity" is frustrating. The one box that makes the most sense is "Asian". Whenever I tick it, I know it is an exercise in futility, since most of the establishment (all four estates—the press is probably one of the most clueless) thinks of that word as meaning what I—at least—consider the "Pac Rim". Here's an article that points to the utter stupidity of lumping South East Asians, Asians, and Japanese-Americans in one demographic?

Los Angeles Times
December 16, 2004,1,852219.story

Stark Contrasts Found Among Asian Americans
The group's average family income tops the overall U.S. figure. But while
Indians prosper, Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong struggle.

By Teresa Watanabe and Nancy Wride
Times Staff Writers

Indian Americans have surged forward as the most successful Asian minority in the United States, reporting top levels of income, education, professional job status and English-language ability, even though three-fourths were foreign-born, according to U.S. census data released Wednesday.

The striking success of Asian Americans who trace their heritage to India contrasted with data showing struggles among Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong immigrants. Those three groups reported continued significant poverty rates, low job skills and limited English-language ability since their flight from war and political turmoil.

....and so on

Monday, December 13, 2004

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Secularism and No Hindus in Pakistan; Muslims in India.

The Wikipedia (see the original post on the 'pedia) has an article on the Partition of India, and I have objected to the following text twice and removed it once myself, so I guessed the other people helping edit the article deserved an explanation:
''While Pakistan eventually chose to be an Islamic state, India continued to exist as secular state. Almost all the Hindus in the Pakistan were driven away from Pakistan, notably from Sindh. However there is still a sizeable Muslim minority in India. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan.''
This verbiage was at the end of the section on "Border definition". Here are my issues:
  • That information doesn't really belong at the end of that section.
  • The first sentence, while vaguely correct, is an over-simplification. "Continued to exist as a secular state"? There was a secular state in existence before independence? And India's secular credentials are not untroubled. And a case can be made that the secularism practised by [[Nehru]] was very different from how more recent Indian and western advocates of the concept understand it. Nehru famously said (liberally paraphrasing here) that the difference between Britain and India was that the former had an official religion but an irreligious populace, while in India, the state was a-religious while the populace was very religious. This is my POV, but IMHO, a serious case can be made that while [[Nehru]] looked at a secular state giving equal importance to all religions, modern secularists say the state should not give any importance to any religion, all the while in their heart of hearts wanting the state to be aggressively adverserial to all religious belief, if not to ban it outright.
  • The next two sentences are an even more profound over-simplification. The bloodbath happened on both sides. And the problem is that Indians keep pointing to riots (which happened not just against Hindus, but Sikhs, too) while Pakistanis point both to Hindus leaving voluntarily (as happened extensively in Sindh) and the riots against Muslims in Indian parts of the subcontinent.
  • The last sentence is true. In fact, unofficially I think India has the largest single Muslim population in the world. But again, their existence in that country is not untroubled.
IFaqeer|(Talk to me!) 21:02, Dec 8, 2004 (UTC)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

ID Cards—Why Not

Pakistan already has a system. India does not. And the discussion on whether or not a national ID card is a good idea or not keeps coming up in the UK and US. Here's an example of why having a citizen's identity invested and defined solely by one item is a bad idea:

And the more computerization and centralization are relied upon, the more chance I see for things like this happening.