Category Archives: War

Still the Greatest! RIP Mohammed Ali (1942-2016)

“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman

In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.

I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.

What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*

“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali

When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.

* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.

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Vote Down Veterans Benefits – But Send Them Into Harms Way

The Senators, listed below, complained Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ veterans benefits bill was too expensive. And they were upset that Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented a vote on a GOP amendment cutting the bill and adding sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

No doubt these same, mostly old, rich, white men will be wanting to send U.S. ground forces (a slick, cosmetic way of saying our young gals & guys) back to Iraq as soon as yesterday to try and save the unsavable: the corrupt, intransigent regime of Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki, the country’s Prime Minister. Oh… and yes, he is also acting Interior Minister, acting Defense Minister, acting National Security Minister and the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa Party.

                     plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

– from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr,  24 November 1808 – 29 September 1890 and usually translated into English as, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Senators Who Voted Against Veteran's Benefits This Past February
Senators Who Voted Against Veteran’s Benefits This Past February

 

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Ride for Peace

Motorbiking Around the World

Jeffrey Polnaja stopping on his international Ride for Peace at Sipapu, New Mexico for the BMW annual Bavarian Mountain Rally
Jeffrey Polnaja stopping on his international Ride for Peace at Sipapu, New Mexico for the BMW annual Bavarian Mountain Rally

I rode my BMW R1200RT to the New Mexico annual BMW motorcycle rally last weekend and had the privilege of meeting Jeffrey Polnaja. Jeffrey, from Java, Indonesia, has been riding his GS BMW motorcycle around the world on a Ride for Peace. He is into his 78th country and 52nd riding month and has, he figures, around 24 months more to go to cover the rest of the western U.S., Central and South America, New Zealand and Australia. He has only taken a break once — when his bike was stolen (with all his possessions) in Amsterdam in a plaza in front of a police station. To replace it he had to buy another in Indonesia where the customs duty doubles the price of the bike to around US$45,000. He got a break and only had to pay $30,000. He also used the waiting time to write a book about the southern Asia, North Africa and Western Europe part of his journey. He hopes the book will one day be translated into English.

Since he began his journey Jeffrey has learned how to repair the elemental mechanics of the bike, learned how to use his small helmet and chest-mounted cameras as well as a large Nikon, gotten really good in making slide shows and movies with his laptop computer and, incredibly, learned how to speak passable English.

The impetus for this huge undertaking began when he and his family were watching the awful events of September 11, 2001 on Indonesian television. His young son asked him why someone, someone who was Muslim as Jeffrey and his family are, would do this terrible thing. After trying to explain to his son the nature of evil his son asked him why he did not do something to stop such evil. Like most of us, Jeffrey asked his son what could he, a simple small businessman in Bandung Province with no special skills, do? His son asked why he couldn’t ride around the world taking the message of Peace. Unlike most of us, Jeffrey decided to do just that. He sold his business (rubber parts for motorcycles) and in April 2006 began his international journey.

“I am just a rider, but I hope to see peace in the world. I hope (politicians) will make peace part of their policy.”

Jeffrey’s ready smile, gentle spirit and iron-tough will (he would add his belief in god) have kept him in the saddle though events that would stop many, maybe most, riders. I think just the official international border paperwork and petty theft would rob most of us of our sense that we can make a difference.

He has been shot at in South Asia and hit by a drunk driver in Baluchistan. The hit-and-run collision damaged his bike, destroyed his navigation system and cracked his right wrist (he has a great photo of buzzards flying overhead after this accident when he awoke the next morning lost in the roadless desert). He had to negotiate to be allowed to cross the Khyber Pass into war-torn Afghanistan and required armed escort for part of his ride there. He had motorcycle mounted, heavily armed, gendarmeries flank him across Algeria and was charged only $30 for a $3000 per night hotel room in Dubai. He was hit by a truck driver in Kazakhstan with crushing wounds to his left leg. The doctors said he would need a month in bed before putting weight on it. Jeffrey decided to try the healing meditations monks in Tibet had taught him. After eight days he thought his leg felt better and asked the doctors if he could go. They checked his leg and the fracture had healed — he was released to continue his ride.

Here’s hoping his ride has an impact on as many people, in as many places, as possible.

Ride Safe, Jeffrey.

 

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Pop-Up Ideas: BBC Radio 4 has a new series. 1st up: Malcolm Gladwell on listening in Vietnam

“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”

4 Episodes
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013

Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”

Program 1: New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)

In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”

This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.

Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.

The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):

Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.

Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.

Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.

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Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) Force-Fed Under Standard Guantánamo Bay Procedure

A Video of the Procedure

A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees at Guantánamo. In this four-minute film made by Human Rights organisation Reprieve and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiences the procedure. — The Guardian Newspaper

What are the alternatives for keeping the prisoners (100 hunger-strikers with 40 being force fed) alive? I do not know.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ruled that the court cannot make a ruling on whether the detainees can be force-fed by the military, adding “The President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

If you would like to read reporter Ben Ferguson’s eye-witness account of the making of the video, click here.

NOTE: This video is not for the faint of heart (nor, as you will see, was the procedure for Mos Def, a Muslim, born Dante Smith in Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Image Credit: Reprieve and Bafta



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Alpinists on Mt. Nanga Parbat Murdered

Ten dead at 15,000 foot camp in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.

 

Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.
Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.

Back in my younger days I was a mountain climber. I still have all the stuff: the insulated boots; parkas; big-wall hardware; ice axes, hammers and screws; tents; down bags; metal-edged telemark skis, etc. But, as my life became more sedentary, with most days spent in front of the computer or at my gallery, I got soft. Now I just read about climbing.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. I came of age, as they say, in a time when I could trek almost anywhere and get out of most any trouble by flashing that all-important U.S. passport. There were hardly any mountains off limits except the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and some of the Soviet peaks. Sometimes even these were available for the right money.

The days of unfettered access have long been gone and highlighting this was today’s Taliban attack on an international climbing camp on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second and the world’s ninth highest mountain. Locals call the mountain Diamir: “King of the Mountains”. It is located in Pakistan’s northwest Gilgit-Baltistan region and has resisted all attempts at a winter ascent. The area has had a lot of violence directed at the Shia minority but none toward foreigners as has occurred in more accessible regions. (The base camp, at a mountain elevation of 4200 feet, is roadless and difficult of access, requiring a two-day hike-in. The camp itself sits at 15,000 feet above sea level.)

“Spokesperson for the proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, talking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location claimed that the Janud-e-Hafsa faction of the [Taliban] had carried out the attack… dressed as Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit.” (The Muslim News, Middlesex, UK.) The reason given for the murders was to avenge recent U.S. drone attacks that killed the Taliban’s deputy leader on May 29.

The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp - The Muslim News, UK.
The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp – The Muslim News, UK.

One Chinese climber was wounded and escaped. The dead include an American of Chinese origin, the Pakistani guide, two Chinese, a Nepalese, two Slovakians, a Lithuanian and two Ukranians.

 

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