Saturday, June 27, 2009

La idiosincrasia Mexicana

He aquí una lista de algunas curiosidades sobre México que he ido anotando en un pequeño cuaderno en los últimos meses. Hay muchas más, pero éstas son las que tengo en la lista:

En México...
... el voltaje es de 110 watios, no de 220.
... el horario de los hipermercados va de 7 de la mañana a 23 horas, y algunos abren las 24 horas.
... hay cadenas de tiendas que abren 24 horas.
... no hay señales de STOP, sino de ALTO.
... el precio de una entrada de cine es de unos 45 pesos (3 USD), y el día del espectador es de 27 pesos (1.70 USD); además, no hay pase de madrugada.
... En las puertas no dice "tire", sino "jale".
... el formato del papel es carta, más ancho y menos alto que el A-4.
... no hay almohadas largas para las camas de matrimonio.
... llaman "fresas" a lo que en Venezuela llaman "sifrinos".
... también llaman vidrios a las ventanillas de los coches.
... se dan un la mano para saludarse, no dos besos como en Venezuela.
... llaman "cacahuates" a lo que en Venezuelan llaman "mani".
... llaman "gordita" a lo que en Venezuela llaman "arepa".
... llaman "puto" a lo que en Venezuela llaman "marico".
... llaman "calzones/canelos" a lo que en Venezuela llaman "calzoncillos".
... la multinacional Taco Bell quebro en Mexico.
... las regaderas (duchas) no tienen manguera.
... el día patrio es el 15 de septiembre, día de la Independencia.
... la tesis se hace antes de terminar la carrera.
... hay un día del padre, la madre, el abuelo, la abuela, y el niño.
... Mexico es para los Mexicanos pero tienen complejo de Malinchismo.
... Son muy nacionalistas pero llaman a España la madre Patria.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mideast, Islamic World React To Obama's Cairo Speech

RFE/RL) -- Initial reactions from the Middle East and the broader Islamic world to U.S. President Barack Obama's "new beginning" speech at Cairo University were generally but not universally positive, ranging from a broad welcome by government officials and moderate clerics to outright rejection by some Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Nabil Abud Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, welcomed Obama's speech as "a good start and an important step toward a new American policy" in the Middle East.

He said Obama's call for Israel to stop settlement expansion and for the establishment of a Palestinian state, as well as Obama's references to the suffering of Palestinians, send a "clear message to Israel that a just peace is built on the foundations of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."

At Tel Aviv University, the head of the Hartog School of Government, Yossi Shain, suggested that Obama's speech struck a balance on the need to understand both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives in the Mideast conflict.

Shain said it was essential that Obama told the Arab world about the suffering of the Jews and the history of anti-Semitism, as well as Israel's right to exist. From the Israeli point of view, Shain said, it is essential for Arabs to understand Obama's statement that the United States has an unbreakable bond with Israel -- as well as Obama's call for Hamas and Arabs to end their hatred and senseless violence toward Israelis.

Likewise, Shain said, it was essential for Obama to tell Israel that it must abide by the rule of law and stop the expansion and construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Shain said it also was essential for Israelis to recognize the suffering of Palestinians.

Wait And See

In Lebanon, Hezbollah party lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah described Obama's remarks as "moral or political sermons" that are not needed in the Islamic world. Fadlallah said what the Muslim world really needs is "a fundamental change in American policy beginning from a halt to complete support for Israeli aggression on the region, especially on the Lebanese and Palestinians, to an American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan."

Muhammad Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, described Obama's speech as "a public-relations address more than anything else." Habib also said Obama displayed an "unjust perspective" toward the Palestinian issue, "one that does not differ from former President [George W.] Bush and the neoconservatives' perspective."

The Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers were more equivocal.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum cautiously welcomed Obama's speech but called for his words to be followed by action.

Barhum said Obama's address "must be judged not on its form, but by the policies that Obama will apply on the ground to respect the freedom of people and their democratic choices and the right of the Palestinian people to its land."

he head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, says he thinks Obama's speech was a "declaration of good will" that will help win hearts in the Muslim world. But Ihsanoglu says Muslim countries will be closely watching to see how Washington follows up on the speech.

The deputy mufti in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, Valiulla Yakupov, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that Obama's clear emphasis on a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis, "if implemented...would substantially pacify the overall situation between America and Muslims [and] that would help resolve civilizational problems as well."

Turning Point?

Mustafa Efendi Ceric, the grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the U.S. president's speech went beyond his expectations.

Ceric said he thought Obama made compelling points about Islam that many Muslims would rather not hear. But he said Muslims should see Obama's message as a historic opportunity to avoid a "clash of civilizations" that ends as a conflict between the West and Islam.

"I particularly like the fact that this time Obama managed to balance the [U.S.] approach to Israel. He did tell the Jewish people that America would do anything to avoid a Holocaust and that denying the Holocaust is a crime equal to the Holocaust -- he highlighted that, so that all Muslims in the world could clearly understand it," Ceric said. "But at the same time he sent a sharp message to Israel that they have to change their attitude toward Palestinians and they have to stop the practice of building new settlements on the Occupied Territories."

A man in a Cairo coffee shop reacts as he listens to Obama's speech.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Obama's position on Middle East peace was "very appropriate." Gul welcomed the messages and assurances that Obama gave, saying "the U.S. president showed that he is a constructive leader with whom Muslim countries can engage in partnership for peace and stability."

In Iraq, government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh called the speech "historic and important," saying it is "a new start" and a positive direction for the new administration in Washington.

But Hazim al-Nuami, an analyst at Baghdad University, said Obama gave nothing new to Iraqis -- only a promise to respect the rights of minorities and work with consensus. "In all ways, Nuaimi said, "[Obama] tries to remove himself from all that happened in Iraq."

Abdullah Attai, a professor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and an expert on Afghanistan, called Obama's speech a historic turning point.

Attai told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Obama's remarks hit such a resonant note with Muslims around the world that it marks the beginning of the isolation of Al-Qaeda.

Watching South Asian

However, a resident in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand told Radio Free Afghanistan that there is a great contrast between the words he heard from Obama and the military activity he sees in Afghanistan.

As Obama spoke in Cairo, his envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was seeking more aid for displaced Pakistanis.
"Right now I am in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand, and the airplanes are flying above us as they bomb us -- so I must ask how Obama's sweet talk and strategy will benefit us. It will only benefit us if he can extinguish this fire [of violence]," the man, Bawari, said. "In my opinion, he should take what he is now is spending on the war in Afghanistan, which harms the people of Afghanistan, his soldiers and people [and] he should spend it all on [pursuing] peace."

A Radio Free Afghanistan listener in Afghanistan's southern Zabul Province posted a highly critical reaction in Pashto to the station's website forum.

Identifying himself as Faroz, the listener wrote: "Obama's speech is like giving someone poison in honey. One hand throws bombs on people and the other hand wants to be friendly with us. Bush was better than him. [Bush] had one face -- and that was the face of an enemy. [Obama] is worse because he appears as a friend and enemy at the same time. He kills us, and he wants friendship both. Muslims should not have any hope. Americans will never be Muslims friends."

But Hikmet Karzai, director of the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, rejected such criticism. He said most Afghans realize that Obama presents their country with another chance to rise above years of conflict. "They know President Obama has made Afghanistan a top policy," he said. "As a whole, [Afghan] people will be optimistic. Hearing the speech only reaffirms the fact that Obama knows what to do in Afghanistan and in the region."

From Iran, too, there was criticism of U.S. president -- most notably, in an address given by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, just before Obama made his speech. Khamenei said the United States is detested across the Middle East and that the new U.S. government is trying to transform that negative image. Khamenei said such a transformation "will not be achieved by talking, speeches and slogans."

But text messages received by Radio Farda from within Iran suggest otherwise -- with overwhelmingly positive reactions from listeners, many of whom did not want their full names used out of fear of retribution from Iranian officials.

One listener in Tehran sent Radio Farda a text message saying: "Obama is a great man. A new era has begun and he will manage to lead it properly. Very good!"

Other listeners in Tehran told RFE/RL and Radio Farda that Obama did not leave any opportunities open for the Iranian government to blame the United States for Iran's own domestic problems.

A listener in Iran's southeastern province of Baluchistan, who identified himself as R.U. Barzan, sent a text message to Radio Farda saying: "This is a positive step -- although it is a small step -- toward improved relations with the Islamic world. I hope the leaders of the Islamic countries will accept this invitation from Obama."

A leading Islamic cleric in Tajikistan, former mufti and current legislator Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda, challenged the lofty language of Obama's speech and said "one of the examples of the Obama administration's real attitude to the Muslim world is Pakistan's U.S.-backed operations against Islamists in Swat Valley," where Islamabad has recently launched major military operations to retake swaths of territory from Taliban-linked extremists.

Turajonzoda said "the U.S. might gain a real respect in the Muslim world if it proved that the Muslims are of the same importance for Washington as Israel."

Abdyshukur Narmatov, rector of Kyrgyzstan's Islamic University in Bishkek, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he was intrigued by the differences between Obama's language and the speeches made by former U.S. President George W. Bush.

"Obama never used the word 'terrorism' in his speech -- not when he touched upon the issues related to Iraq or to Afghanistan. It is also worth mentioning that regarding the Islamic world and issues on globalization, [Obama] has the notion that it is important to avoid confrontation and to be helpful to each other -- wishing goodness and success to each other in relations between different civilizations and cultures."

Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, a Baku Shi'ite imam who is also an outspoken activist on religious freedom, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service that he saw promise in Obama's remarks.

"There are words, big gestures, theories," Ibrahimoglu said. "I hope there will be more than words and all these [remarks] will be put into practice, but it is very important that Obama wants to change. Whether it will work or not is another story."

Written in Prague by Ron Synovitz, and Andy Heil with contributions from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Azerbaijani Service, Balkan Service, Kyrgyz Service, Radio Farda, Tajik Service, Tatar-Bashkir Service, and Mazyar Mokfi. With additional wire service reporting

SCO Summit: 'Beast Of The East' Appears To Have Lost Its Teeth

Any time the leaders of Russia and China meet, it's generally an event that merits global attention. Add in four presidents from the strategically important region of Central Asia -- as well as the potential guest attendance of leaders from Iran, India, and Pakistan -- and it's little wonder that many view the get-together with curiosity and apprehension.

Most of these same leaders have been gathering, in varying combinations, for the past decade, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The SCO has sought to promote itself as a "rising beast in the East" and an Asian counter to NATO.

But for all the experience under its belt, the SCO -- which formally gathers Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan -- is looking less formidable than usual.

The group's latest summit began on June 15 in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, with a formal dinner ahead of more substantive talks the following day.

Manas Debate

One of the most contentious issues on the agenda -- and SCO agendas are typically dominated by Moscow and Beijing -- is the Manas Air Base on the territory of member Kyrgyzstan.

U.S. forces have been using the base since late 2001 to support operations in nearby Afghanistan. But the United States has begun to wind down its operations there after being ordered by Bishkek to vacate the base.

Many see the Kyrgyz decision as the result of pressure from Moscow and possibly Beijing.

Both China and Russia backed a move by Uzbekistan four years ago to hasten the departure of U.S. forces based there for Afghan support operations.

Russia's pledge of more than $1 billion in aid to Kyrgyzstan earlier this year appeared to sway the country's president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, into ordering the Manas closure.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a regular guest at SCO summits, although his country is not a formal member.

In Yekaterinburg, Karzai was expected to repeat his call for Kyrgyzstan to reconsider its decision to close Manas, which he says is vital to restoring stability to the country.

Bakiev appeared to acknowledge Karzai's concern in comments last week, ahead of both the SCO meeting and a June 14 gathering of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which groups Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

"The situation in Pakistan is very grave; the situation in Afghanistan is [also] serious," Bakiev said. "In Pakistan, for instance, the number of refugees has climbed to 2 million. If the conflict against the Taliban deepens further in Afghanistan, which direction will people head in? God help us, they will move toward Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and beyond."

He urged fellow SCO, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Commonwealth of Independent States members to "discuss these issues during our forthcoming meetings."

Seeking Stability?

Bakiev was due to meet with Karzai on the sidelines of the Yekaterinburg summit. Ahead of the meeting, he put forward his own proposal for Afghanistan.

"We initiated a proposal. This is my proposal -- that Kyrgyzstan has to [host] such negotiations, in order to preserve peace in Afghanistan," Bakiev said. "We need to come to different kinds of talks" involving different elements of Afghan society, he added.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also planned to meet individually on the sidelines with Karzai, as well as with Pakistani President Ali Zardari, before moving on to three-way talks.

Kremlin officials have already said Medvedev wants to discuss expanding U.S.-NATO routes into Afghanistan, which could calm any apprehensions about closing Manas.

But while Medvedev spends time offering assurances to the Afghan and Pakistani leaders, he may be overlooking China's moves in Central Asia.

Chinese President Hu Jintao held individual one-on-one meetings with the leaders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan on June 15.

The Central Asian states increasingly appear to have more in common with China than they do with Russia, despite moves by Moscow during the past half-decade to shore up its position in the region.

The global economic crisis -- which will also be a topic in Yekaterinburg -- has hit Russia hard.

China, by contrast, has proven far more adept at combatting financial problems, and for the short term, at least, has proven a more reliable partner for Central Asian countries anxious for trade. China is still investing heavily in energy and mining projects in Central Asia.

Not All Rosy

The brief Russian-Georgian war last year has created the biggest fissure in SCO relations to date.

While the members gave lukewarm support to Russia's efforts to stabilize the Caucasus region, Moscow's subsequent call for recognition of Georgia's enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent political entities were not heeded by any SCO members.

China, still dealing with its own independence movements in Xinjiang and Tibet, is wary of any moves that appear to reward separatism. Some of the Central Asian states with large minority groups seeking greater autonomy sympathize with Beijing.

There is also a sense that the SCO is losing some of its momentum. Two years ago, the SCO summit was preceded by a massive joint military exercise on Chinese and Russian territories.

The exercises were top news around the world, as many contemplated a future alliance between countries with a combined population of 1.5 billion people, stretching across the Eurasian landmass and armed with modern weaponry, including nuclear weapons.

The SCO still holds joint military exercises, but on a much smaller scale and with much less publicity. China's participation in such events has decreased significantly.

Similarly, past SCO talk of greater economic cooperation has waned, with members now using the organization as a vehicle for bilateral, rather than multilateral, deals.

The group's main focus is largely reduced to cultural events. This year the SCO summit was being accompanied by a fashion show, a children's art exhibit, and -- in the lead-up to the gathering -- a tennis tournament.

However, this SCO summit is still providing a useful forum for observer nations India, Iran, Pakistan, and Mongolia to meet with each other and with the full SCO members.

One of the most publicized events of this summit is a possible face-to-face meeting between the Indian and Pakistani leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

Iran's Mahmud Ahmadinejad may also participate in the gathering, although he has already postponed his arrival due to mounting post-election unrest in his country.

With hundreds of thousands of protesters reportedly turning out in support of Ahmadinejad's main rival, reformist candidate Mir Hossein Musavi, many are waiting to see whether the Iranian leader may be forced to remain home.

The SCO continues to attract the interest of other countries. The Yekaterinburg summit is due to consider granting observer status to two new countries -- Belarus and Sri Lanka.

Ahmadinejad's 'Jewish Family'

Author: -- Golnaz Esfandiari

Mehdi Khazali, the son of the conservative Ayatollah Khazali, has written on his personal website that he recently learned that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots.

Khazali notes that Ahmadinejad changed his family name from Saburjian, and says that the origins of the Saburjian family in the town of Aradan should be investigated.

Ahmadinejad's relatives had told Britain's "The Guardian" following his election that the family had changed its name for "a mixture of religious and economic reasons."

"The name change provides an insight into the devoutly Islamic working-class roots of Mr. Ahmadinejad's brand of populist politics," journalist Robert Tait wrote in "The Guardian." "The name Saborjhian derives from thread painter -- sabor in Farsi -- a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan Province, where Aradan is situated. Ahmad, by contrast, is a name also used for the Prophet Muhammad and means virtuous; nejad means race in Farsi, so Ahmadinejad can mean Muhammad's race or virtuous race.”

Ahmadinejad, of course, is known for his frequent slurs and threats against the Jewish state of Israel. The claim about his background should be seen in the context of a growing rift among the president's political allies, the so-called principlists, in the run-up to the June presidential election.

India's Jews

Author: Gary Weiss 08.13.07, 6:00 AM ET

There's no question that India's secularism is under strain. Militant Hinduism remains as much a potent force as extremist Islam. The ongoing bloodletting in Kashmir is an open sore, and the periodic spasms of communal violence in Gujarat, combined with memories of the Mumbai bombings of 2006, have led to undeniable tensions. Just have a chat sometime with a Kashmiri Pandit--a Hindu displaced from that war-torn region--and you will know what I mean.

Yet this country of 1 billion largely impoverished people, home of the second-largest Muslim population in the world, still manages to maintain a sturdy system of democracy based on respect for religious and ethnic diversity. In the U.S., diversity is a politically correct slogan. In India it is a historical fact. Much as we in the West may resent it, India has a lot to teach us when it comes to religious tolerance.

To my mind, the best example of that can be found in the remarkable story of a tiny minority--India's Jewish community. India may be the only country in the world that has been free of anti-Semitic prejudice throughout its history. As the Jewish genealogical journal Avotaynu recently observed in an article on one Indian Jewish group, "The Bene Israel flourished for 2,400 years in a tolerant land that has never known anti-Semitism, and were successful in all aspects of the socio-economic and cultural life of the people of the region."

That's really a bit astonishing, if not ridiculous, when you think about it. Compare that with any Western nation, be it France or Russia or even the U.S., where discrimination against Jews in housing was a fact of life as recently as the 1950s. But in "backward" India, from the beginning, the Jewish communities have not only been free of discrimination but have dominated the commercial life of every place where they have settled--something that has fed traditional European anti-Semitism.

Why has India remained free of this scourge? Various reasons have been advanced for that--such as, the Hindu religion does not seek to convert those from other faiths. What we do know is that anti-Semitism seems alien to the Indian character. And if you don't believe me, I suggest you take a trip to a southern Indian town called Kochi, in the state of Kerala. There you can find the physical evidence of this glaring historical anomaly.

Kochi, formerly called Cochin, is a former European settlement with a large Christian population and a seafaring heritage. It is a town of enormous charm that reminds some visitors of the Caribbean more than India. On a shabby lane in Kochi you can find a complex of four 439-year-old buildings--the Paradesi Synagogue.

There you have Exhibit A for India's tradition of secularism and day-to-day tolerance of religious diversity: the fact that this synagogue exists at all.

Kochi's Jews trace their descent back to 700 B.C., and lived in harmony with their Muslim and Hindu neighbors until--well, I guess I’ll have to backtrack a bit on my claim that there was never anti-Semitism in India. There was quite a bit in the 16th century.

Kochi's Jews were indeed persecuted--not by Indians but by the Portuguese, following in the glorious traditions of the Inquisition. With the help of the Hindu maharaja and the Dutch, Kochi's Jewish community rebuilt its synagogue, burned by the Portuguese, in its current location near his maharajah's palace. It has remained there, unmolested, ever since.

The Jews of Kochi are largely gone now, mostly emigrated to Israel, but it remains a very Jewish landmark in a very non-Jewish country. The synagogue, at least when I last visited it, had none of the heavy security that is common in large New York City synagogues. A short distance away is a Jewish cemetery, and again the distinction is in what you don't see--there's none of the overturned headstones and vandalism that have been sadly common in Jewish cemeteries in the U.S. Yes, even in Brooklyn.

It's pretty much the same story elsewhere in India. Separate Jewish communities were established over the years in Mumbai, where the Bene Israel arrived over 2,000 years ago, and in Kolkata, where a more recent community of Middle Eastern "Baghdadi" Jews became established. In the northeast of India is the Bnai Menashe, who trace their origins to the Israelite tribe of Menasseh.

The Indian Jewish community has never been very large, with the Bene Israel numbering just 35,000 at its peak in the 1950s. Yet Indian Jews have achieved distinction far beyond their numbers. A great many chose to make a career in the military under the Raj (British rule that ended with independence 60 years ago this week)--a phenomenon that, believe me, is certainly foreign to the Eastern European Jewish experience.

Indeed, the most well-known Indian Jew is an eminent soldier: Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacob, who commanded Indian forces in the invasion of East Pakistan in 1971. Other Indian Jews achieved distinction in Bollywood, such as the pioneering actress Sulochana, queen of the Indian silent movies. It would probably surprise most Seinfeld fans to learn that Brian George, who played the sad-sack Pakistani restaurant owner Babu Bhatt, is an Israeli of Indian descent.

To be sure, the small size of the Jewish community has meant that the Jews of India never rose to become a political force. As a community it has never exerted any influence on Indian politics, and certainly not on the rabidly anti-Israel foreign policy that has marked much of India's modern history. In other countries, the absence of Jewish communal influence--or even the absence of Jews--has not prevented rulers from using Jews as scapegoats. Poland of the late 1960s, the era of "anti-Semitism without Jews," is a good example.

All this has a way of mystifying Indians. I've always had difficulty with Indians when we've discussed anti-Semitism. They don't understand it, and to tell you the truth, I've had difficulty explaining it myself.

Indians are sometimes accused of being condescending toward Westerners, and of being excessively preachy in their attitude toward other nations. That accusation is sometimes correct. But when it comes to India's treatment of one of its smallest and most vulnerable minorities, there is ample reason to be both condescending--and proud.

Gary Weiss has covered business for more than 20 years as an investigative reporter and author. His latest book is Wall Street Vs. America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments. He blogs regularly at

Sold on a Stereotype

In China, a genre of self-help books purports to tell the secrets of making money 'the Jewish way.'

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 7, 2007; D01

SHANGHAI -- Showcased in bookstores between biographies of Andrew Carnegie and the newest treatise by China's president are stacks of works built on a stereotype.

One promises "The Eight Most Valuable Business Secrets of the Jewish."

Another title teases readers with "The Legend of Jewish Wealth." A third provides a look at "Jewish People and Business: The Bible of How to Live Their Lives."

In the United States, where making broad generalizations about races, cultures or religions has become unacceptable in most circles, the titles of some of these books might make people cringe. Throughout history and around the world, even outwardly innocuous and broadly accepted characterizations of Jews have sometimes formed the basis for eventual campaigns of violent anti-Semitism.

In Shanghai, which prides itself on having provided a safe haven for Jewish refugees fleeing Europe since the 1930s, some members of the city's small Jewish community are uneasy about the books' message.

These Jewish success books are "very dangerous," said Audrie Ohana, 30, who works at her family's import-export company and attended China's prestigious Fudan University. "What they say -- it's not true. In our community, it's not everybody that succeeds. We're like everyone else. Some are rich, but there are others that are very, very poor."

Nonetheless, in China, a country where glossy pictures of new billionaires have become as common as images of Mao Zedong, aspiring Chinese entrepreneurs are obsessed with getting their hands on anything they think can help them get an edge on the competition.

In the past few years, sales of "success" books have skyrocketed, publishers say, and now make up nearly a third of the works published in China, and perhaps no type of success book has been as well marketed or well received as those that purport to unveil the secrets of Jewish entrepreneurs. Many of these tomes sell upward of 30,000 copies a year and are thought of in the same inspirational way as many Americans view the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series.

Among this booming genre's most popular books is William Hampton's "Jewish Entrepreneurial Experience and Business Wisdom." It comes packaged in a red-and-gold cover, and a banner along the top brags that it was a "gold list" bestseller in the United States. Among Hampton's credentials, according to his biography: "Business Week editor," part of the "pioneer batch of Harvard DBAs," "professor in business strategy and philosophy" with "many years of experience in Jewish studies."

More on that set of claims in a moment.

China is the fastest-growing book market in the world, with 130,000 new titles published in 2005. Sales that year reached $8.3 billion, a 50 percent jump from 2003, according to China National Publications Import and Export's data research arm.

The business success books provide idealized notions of what Chinese people should strive to become and serve as templates for teaching people who have been working at communist, state-owned enterprises for a generation how to transform themselves as capitalists.

Several of the books, despite their covers, focus on basic business acumen that has little to do with religion or culture. But others focus on explaining how Judaism has ostensibly helped Jewish people's success, even quoting extensively from the Talmud.

Practically every book features one or more case studies of the success of the Lehman brothers, the Rothschilds and other Jewish "titans of industry and captains of finance," as one author put it.

Some works incorrectly refer to J.P. Morgan (an influential Episcopalian leader) and John D. Rockefeller (a devout Baptist) as Jewish businessmen.

Yin Ri Shuai, a 29-year-old from Henan province, west of Shanghai, who is opening a cosmetics franchise, has purchased and read two such success books. Recently, he was back at the Shanghai City of Books, flipping through some recent titles.

"I feel they are interesting not only because they teach about business but because they teach about family and education and other values," Yin said.

Most Chinese people have never met a Jew -- they number fewer than 10,000 in a country of 1.3 billion people. But several of the most successful businessmen in the nation's financial capital, Shanghai, have been Jewish. The Sassoon brothers, for instance, were real-estate moguls of British descent from Baghdad who constructed the landmark Peace Hotel.

Today, one of the deans of the Jewish community in Shanghai is Ohana's father, Maurice, 57, who has lived in China for more than 10 years.

Maurice Ohana has mixed feelings about the Jewish business books. On the one hand, he believes that the books' assertions that many Jewish people value punctuality and never go back on their promises are "absolutely correct."

But the books' tendency to mix religious scripture with business lessons makes him uncomfortable. "I know very well the Talmud," he said. "They don't talk about business."

Positive stereotypes about Jews and their supposed business prowess have given the Jewish community iconic status in the eyes of the Chinese public.

The cover of January's Shanghai and Hong Kong Economy magazine wonders, "Where does Jewish people's wisdom come from?"

Jewish entrepreneurs say they are bombarded with invitations to give seminars on how to make money "the Jewish way."

Last year, a Jewish businessman's family was featured on a popular TV show. As the husband and wife gave viewers an introduction to the Jewish faith, the cameramen went around filming the family in action as they performed mundane household tasks. Reporters asked them what they ate.

Zhou Guojian, deputy dean of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said people in China may be so fascinated by Jews because they feel both cultures share a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

In his opinion, though, there is one big difference. Many Chinese businessmen have "Chinese restaurant syndrome," Zhou said. "They are content with small-scale enterprises; they are happy just to make a living. But Jewish people want to be the best and make a huge company."

Wang Zhen, a researcher at the Center for Jewish Studies, also says he recognizes that the stereotypes can be considered anti-Semitic but thinks it's important that "even if people in China have the wrong impressions of Jewish people, the Chinese are very kind to them."

One puzzling phenomenon about the Jewish business books is that it's often unclear who wrote them. More than 50 titles are sold in China's bookstores, chain stores and other outlets.

He Xiong Fe, a visiting professor in Nankai University's literature department, estimates that more than half of the books are fakes, written by people who are not familiar with Judaism or Jewish history and who have made up their qualifications.

"There are only a few books that have value," said He, who has lectured on such topics as "Why are Jewish people so smart?" and "The mystery of the Jews."

When asked for contact information for William Hampton, author of "Jewish Entrepreneurial Experience and Business Wisdom," a representative for the book's publisher, Harbin Press, said the company obtained the manuscript from a translator and had never met the author. Several days later, the publisher said she had trouble reaching the translator so she could not provide more details about the origin of the book.

A search of international ISBNs -- the 10-digit codes that identify books published in the United States and other countries -- pulled up no hits for books by a William Hampton with a title similar to "Jewish Entrepreneurial Experience and Business Wisdom."

Harvard Business School has no record of a William Hampton in the first class of its doctorate of business administration program. Officials at Business Week magazine said there was a former employee with that name. William Hampton publishes an automobile newsletter.

Reached at his home near Detroit, Hampton said he was a former bureau chief and auto writer for the magazine, working there from 1977 to 1984, but had never served as an editor.

Moreover, he said he had no idea where the book came from. "I can confidently tell you that this is not something that I did," he said. "This would not be a topic I would be knowledgeable about in any way. It would be helpful to be Jewish, for one thing."

Staff researcher Ai Ghee Ong contributed to this report.

Strategy over tactics....!

Successful wars are won by developing a long-range plan to outwit the competition and executing the tactics in accordance with this plan.

Successful wars waged by nations all involved long-range strategic plans. This fact is supported by the two worldwide conflicts conducted during this century and by the United States' involvement in Southeast Asia.

WORlD WAR I n the spring of 1918, the Germans and Allies were locked in a stalemate of trench warfare. Each side had begun the war with a strategy that advances in technology had made obsolete. The introduction of machine guns, poisonous gas, aerial combat, trucks, and tanks each initially wreaked havoc on the opposing forces. However, as the opposing side developed counterpart technologies, these innovations cancelled each other out. The war was brought back to the same static level practiced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Germans appeared to be winning after a series of tactical maneuvers, pushing the Allies back 38 miles in four days. However, the Germans lacked a strategic plan following their tactical success. The U.S. and the Allies developed the strategy of elastic defense and a series of rapid blows at different points, each broken off as soon as the initial impetus waned. Knowing they were unable to deliver a knockout punch, the Allies kept up a strategy of continuous jabbing until the German defenses waned and their will to continue the war was broken.


Barely a generation later, strategy was again called upon to bring a worldwide conflict to an end. Far from a series of unrelated campaigns and tactical engagements, World War II embodied an unprecedented coordination of efforts and resources among the Allied Forces. In a highly orchestrated endeavor, the collective strengths of several nations were directed at the Axis powers.

A significant aspect of this effort was the strategic decision to target not only the Axis' military, but also its civilian and industrial base. Around-the-clock bombing of the German homeland by the U.S. Army Air Corps and the British Royal Air Force demonstrated the capabilities of such strategic planning.

The vast American industrial complex, through both the direct support of Americans in combat and the Lend-Lease Program, facilitated the combined effort. Only through these closely coordinated efforts were the ability and will of the enemy broken and the war ended.


The Vietnam War was not waged at the strategic level supported by tactics. The U.S., like the French colonialists, was not able to develop a coherent strategy in response to unconventional warfare. A superior military force could not overcome one with a sound strategic goal.

The U.S. employed historically successful tactics, such as mining of harbors, bombing of industrial targets, and search-and-destroy missions. However, it failed to develop a coordinated plan to couple psychological warfare, destroying the enemy's will, with the military tactics.

The American military could not exact a decisive strategic victory and subsequently withdrew, leaving deep wounds on both sides that would not heal for more than 15 years.


The U.S. Army's approach to warfare distinguishes three levels of war: strategic, operational, and tactical. These levels re resent a spectrum of activities and planning from the broadest considerations of national policy to the individual actions in pursuit of a specific objective on the battlefield. Each of these has a counterpart in the marketing concept.

Strategic Level

The strategic level of warfare, in the military, is concerned with goals and objectives. It represents the broad-based policies and principles for which these forces are used. Smaller units may be tasked to accomplish specific undertakings or conduct campaigns in support of a strategic mission. They are rarely employed, however, to plan and conduct a strategic operation.

In business, the theory of the firm dictates that a company have an overall mission. It has a set group of aims it seeks to accomplish: maximizing its profits, satisfying shareholder constituents, and perhaps fulfilling a social purpose (particularly true of nonprofits). The smaller units are the individual departments-marketing, finance, accounting-that carry out the overall objective.

Both business and the military are holistic enterprises: the sum is greater than the parts. A marketing or finance unit cannot make strategy for the firm, because it does not have an overall view of the battlefield. Only at the level of the CEO or military general is the entire universe of decision-making options in clear view.

A marketing unit can be charged with making a product strategy for a line or item, but this must be fitted into an overall plan. Only the top brass can chart the future direction of the firm. Those leading the troops must decide:

Is this a business in which we we want to continue? Are we in the right industry or do we need to reposition ourselves? Marketers or line officers can reposition a product. Chief executive officers play the more pivotal role of repositioning the firm.

AT&T once thought of itself solely as "The Phone Company." In the 1940s, it operated under its Holy Writ-to install a black box in every home. By the 1950s that goal was accomplished, and AT&T diversified its product line by offering telephones in all shapes, colors, and sizes. This was affectionately called "The Pink Princess Policy," after the model in every affluent teenage girl's bedroom.

y the 1970s, the market for telephones in all shapes and sizes was approaching saturation, and AT&T began researching other applications for its technology. With computer networking, modems, and the development of the "electronic cottage," AT&T developed a new view of itself as more than The Phone Company. It redefined itself as a major player in the information industry. AT&T reformulated its corporate mission as the dissemination of information from one destination (port) to the next. it began to view itself in a new peer group of competitors, ranging from IBM in the computer industry to Dow jones in the financial information industry. Often, AT&T sought out joint ventures that would effect a marriage of information technology and hard data.

To participate more fully in unregulated industries and to satisfy the terms of the ruling in a justice Department antitrust suit, AT&T decided to decentralize into component operating units. The "Baby Bell" companies would provide local telephone service; AT&T Communications would provide long-distance lines; and the central AT&T unit would move ahead into the computer, fax, and "high-tech" industries. This strategy could only be designed from the top down by AT&T's executive officers, the generals of industry. Product managers could suggest Victorian phones and Kermit the Frog models, but they did not have the overall perspective to take AT&T from "The Phone Company" to a multipurpose telecommunications provider.

Tactical Level

The tactical level of warfare represents the detailed destruction of enemy forces. It involves the employment of small units in engagements and battles to achieve specific objectives. Tactics deal with "close-in" combat and are subject to rapid change as the battle evolves. Ries and Trout, in their book, identify four types of warfare: offense, defense, flanking, and guerrilla. We maintain that these are actually tactics, in terms of the military definition.

Tactics will vary with a firm's position in the industry. The market leader invariably plays defense in its tactics. It wants to hold on to its share and protect the turf from intruders. IBM's goal is to remain the leading computer manufacturer. it carries out its business on a day-to-day level in a manner that will maintain its already established advantage.

Second-line firms invariably play offense. They try to attack the number one competitor in its weak spot. No. 2 Avis, in addition to its "We Try Harder," had an advertising campaign showing that customers didn't have to wait in huge lines on Friday afternoons to get their cars. Avis was attacking No. 1 Hertz in a vulnerable spot: waiting lines. It was not repositioning the firm.

Third-line firms resort to flanking maneuvers. They do not come out with new products to directly attack the leaders. Rather, they create market niches where the corporate landscape is barren. Third-line firms, to be successful, have to become experts in market segmentation. They need to identify customer segments where the leading companies are not providing adequate service and exploit that advantage.

Flanking is different from direct offense and defense because it expands the established playing field. Digital Equipment Corporation flanked IBM with its "minicomputer" rather than attack the powerful giant head-on. it created a new territory, rather than attack IBM on its home turf, where IBM had the power of numbers and market leadership in its favor. By creating a small computer that customers put into a new product category, rather than trying to invent a better mainframe, Digital used superior military tactics to become a success story in the industry. Creating the "minicomputer" was a marketing tactic. Digital was looking for new market niches to occupy. It was not trying to redefine the nature of the company, as was AT&T.

In guerrilla warfare, weak competitors with nothing to lose will attack a stronger competitor through a series of surprise moves. The most salient characteristic of guerrilla warfare is that it is unpredictable. It is quick and sudden and often intuitively based on spur-of-the-moment ideas. It is not mapped out in the staff rooms of generals or in the corporate boardrooms.

Guerrilla warfare relies solely on unconventional tactics. Weak competitors, with nothing to lose, will often resort to guerrilla tactics. Guerrillas cannot overcome the leaders by sheer force. Nor do they have the manpower in back rooms to crunch the numbers and have products in development for ten years. They must fight lean and mean.

Guerrillas don't make up organization charts, send executives to Harvard Business School, and take power lunches. They need all the troops on the field. Unencumbered by big bureaucracies, however, they have the advantage of flexibility. As the market shifts, they can shift quickly with it and beat the competition through the element of speed.

Examples of good guerrilla warfare come from the smaller software companies. They often get close to the customer in a specific industry and are able to produce applications geared to that industry much faster than the IBMs of the world. Telerate, in the brokerage information field, got close to the customer, gave leader Dow Jones a tough run for its money supplying brokers with stock quotes, and eventually was bought out by a frightened Dow jones regretting the guerrilla competition.

The U.S. was fighting against guerrilla tactics from the Viet Cong in the jungles of Vietnam. Had it been possible to fight the war at the strategic level using past military experience as data and applying classical principles of war, the history would have been different. But the Communist Vietnamese knew they could not defeat the U.S. through offense, defense, or flanking tactics, so they undertook a guerrilla war. The Vietnam War was a series of battles that resulted in a stalemate. By surviving against the world's preeminent military power, the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese benefactors achieved victory.

Different tactics are used by companies in different situations. Tactics are no less important than strategy; they simply exist at a different level. Tactics are what effectuate strategy, not create strategy.

Operational Level

The operational level of warfare is the link that joins strategy and tactics. Successful strategems seek to attack the enemy's support areas and avoid battle. When planes bombed an area of Europe at night in World War II, they were working at the operational level. They were trying to save lives on the battlefield in direct combat.

The support departments of a corporation provide the behind-the-scenes artillery to foster a successful strategy and facilitate effective tactics. MIS departments operate to provide information quickly throughout the company. Librarians monitor the news and follow competitors' actions in the newspaper, getting this information to the top brass in a timely fashion.

Chief executive officers utilize this information from the back rooms to plan their strategy in the boardrooms. Statisticians do technical analysis and provide CEOs with numbers to mull over and translate into strategy. They do not come up with plans to reposition the firm or to attack a competitor head-on.

Still, like the bombers in World War 11, the operating levels of a company are a vital link in the success of the enterprise. Good corporations have well-organized, tightly run back offices linking strategy and tactics.


The three levels of war constitute a continuum of concepts. It is nearly impossible to draw a distinct line among them. The Figure depicts this relationship in the context of military force.

Understanding the subtle differences among the levels is essential to successful strategy formulation. The tactical level symbolizes the day-to-day conduct of combat at the lowest levels. The operational level involves the planning and execution of battles and campaigns of a sustained nature. It is a series of simultaneous sets of actions. Both levels feed into the attainment of strategic objectives that are both long-range and wide-reaching in scope.

The Role of the Leader

The military operates with a concept called the "Commander's intent." This concept implies a degree of decentralized control. The lower- and intermediate-level leaders are free to exercise discretion and initiative in support of the stated goals of the commander. In essence, the high-level commander defines the strategic goals of the force and the subordinates are charged with achieving that goal using any and all assets at their disposal.

Although defined at a strategic level, this concept permeates all levels of the American military, as evidenced by the historical resourcefulness and adaptability of American forces when faced with unfamiliar circumstances. While at times the focus of jokes from members of older, more traditional military forces, the encouragement of individual and lower-level initiative has become a hallmark of the American military.

The CEO of a company is the leader in formulating strategy. In the military, the most crucial yet intangible element of combat power is leadership. It provides inspiration and motivation.

The degree to which a leader contributes to the success of the organization is incalculable. History is replete, however, with examples of leaders-from Alexander the Great and Hannibal to Patton and Rommel-who have contributed the indefinable asset of leadership to their legions' success.

Industry is shaped by powerful giants like Chrysler's Iacocca who provide that critical element in a long-term strategy. As an effective leader, he was able to develop intelligent and flexible plans. This process is directly dependent on the ability to see, assess, and utilize every resource available, to include information, time and the environment.

The modern concept of warfare prescribes that each commander fully analyze the factors represented by the acronym METT-T (mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available). Only through the full use of all resources can the combat commander expect to be consistently successful. Excessive reliance on mechanistic techniques-the tactical or operational level-will inexorably lead to defeat.

Captain Sir B.H. Liddell Hart, this century's premier military theorist, taught that the significance of flexibility within the strategy cannot be discounted. "A plan, like a tree, must have branches-if it is to bear fruit," he wrote. "A plan with a single aim is apt to prove a barren pole."

Strategy, Tactics, and War with the Japanese

Japanese companies have a long-term view on management and profit. Managers often spend a lifetime with one company and make decisions to maximize profits over time. They act to build long-term advantage and profit over the long run, since evaluations put less pressure on quarterly performance.

Their U.S. counterparts, however, operate primarily at the day-to-day or tactical level. The corporate life of a manager is far shorter in the. U.S., and rewards are often based on near-term performance. Pressure in the U.S. is greater to show a profit this year by cutting expenses than to have products in R&D that will ultimately revolutionize or revitalize the industry.

The Japanese are well aware of this U.S. Achilles heel and use it to their advantage. If U.S. firms focused on long-term business strategy, not tactics, the U.S. would be in a far stronger position in global competition.

Lessons can be learned from successful U.S. military endeavors that were fought on strategy, not tactics. The modern corporation is organized along the lines of the organizational pyramid, borrowing from military science. The U.S. corporation must stick with the strategic perspective to remain on top and not fall prey to tactical warfare. This was the mistake in Vietnam in the 1970s and this could be the largest mistake of American business in the 1980s and 1990s.

The similarities between the military and the business world grow each day. Both involve competition between adversaries with various assets, motives, and goals. Enemy surveillance and competitive intelligence are de rigeur in both fields.

Despite the existence of classical techniques and data analysis, no situation is identical to events in the past. The successful leader leaves formulas behind and tailors a strategic plan to meet the challenges at hand. Both the immediate and long-term implications of any action must be understood. To survive, a myriad of factors must be synthesized into a comprehensive strategic plan.

The synthesis must include uncertainties such as the human perspective, time, luck, risk, and the environment, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of combatants. Equally important is the goodwill of third parties to combat.

The military recognizes this requirement by maintaining civil affairs commands, whose primary responsibility is to coordinate with host-nation governments and populations. Failure to win support from civilian populations has hurt many military efforts. The nuclear power industry, with its failure to win over the public mind, can attest to the applicability of military reality to business.

The military strategist who ignores a changing battlefield and changes in technology is doomed to failure. Business strategists must adopt the same frame of mind. They must be futurists, studying the conceptual map in light of changes in government and society. They must plan a strong strategy and not give a mandate to tacticians who lack the broad perspective.

It is important to separate strategy from tactics and recognize that, in the military and business world, strategy comes first. It is important to see the forest for the trees." If U.S. industry takes a strategic perspective, it will fare much better in the global wars ahead.

"Correct Strategy Selection Dictates Success," Marketing
News, Aug. 6, 1982, p. 10.
William Band, "Four Strategies for Attacking the Com
-petition," Sales and Marketing Management in
Canada, june 1985, pp. 2-13.
B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Frederick A.
Praeger, 1967).
Philip Kotler and Ravi Singh Achrol, "Marketing Warfare
in the 1980s," Journal of Business Strategy, Winter
1981, pp. 30-41.
Roger Ashley Leonard, ed., A Short Guide to
Clausewitz, On War (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons,
Al Ries and jack Trout, Marketing Warfare (New York:
Plume Publishers, 1986).
Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Harrisburg, Pa.: The Military
Service Publishing Company, 1949).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tamerlane (1336 - 1405) - The Last Great Nomad Power

Tamerlane, the name was derived from the Persian Timur-i lang, "Temur the Lame" by Europeans during the 16th century. His Turkic name is Timur, which means 'iron'. In his life time, he has conquered more than anyone else except for Alexander. His armies crossed Eurasia from Delhi to Moscow, from the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia to the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. From 1370 till his death 1405, Temur built a powerful empire and became the last of great nomadic leaders.

Character and Personality
There are abundant ancient sources written about Tamerlane. We have the primary source from Spanish Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, sent by King Henry III of Castile on a return embassy to Tamerlane. There is also a Persian biography of Tamerlane by Ali Sharaf ad-Din and the Arab biography by Ahmad ibn Arabshah; from Marlowe to Edgar Allan Poe, he continues to fascinate us as hero or viper.

Timur claimed direct descent from Jenghiz Khan through the house of Chagatai. He was born at Kesh (the Green city), about fifty miles south of Sarmarkand in 1336, a son of a lesser chief of the Barlas tribe. Sharaf ad-Din explained that he received arrow wounds in battle while stealing sheep in his twenties and left him lame in the right leg and with a stiff right arm for the rest of his life. But Tamerlane made light of these disabilities; by 1369 he had possessed himself of all the lands which had formed the heritage of Chagatai and, after being proclaimed sovereign at Balkh, made Samarkand his capital.

He was said to be tall strongly built and well proportioned, with a large head and broad forehead. His complexion was pale and ruddy, his beard long and his voice full and resonant. Arabshah describes him approaching seventy, a master politician and military strategist:

steadfast in mind and robust in body, brave and fearless, firm as rock. He did not care for jesting or lying; wit and trifling pleased him not; truth, even were it painful, delighted him.....He loved bold and valiant soldiers, by whose aid he opend the locks of terror, tore men to pieces like lions, and overturned mountains. He was fautless in strategy, constant in fortune, firm of purpose and truthful in business.

In 1941, the body of Tamerlane was permitted to be exhumed by a Russian scientist, M. M. Gerasimov. The scientist found Timur, after examining his skeleton, a Mongoloid man about 5 feet 8 inches. He also confirmed Tamerlane's lameness. In his book The Face Finder, Gerasimov explains how he was able to reconstruct exact likenesses of Timur from a careful consideration of his skull.

Different sources indicate that Timur is a man with extraordinary intelligence - not only intuitive, but intellectual. Even though he did not know how to read or write, he spoke two or three languages including Persian and Turkic and liked to be read history at mealtimes. He had aesthetic appreciation in buildings and garden. It has been said that he loved art so much that he could not help stealing it! The Byzantine palace gates of the Ottoman capital of Brusa were carried off to Samarkand, where they were much admired by Clavijo. Ibn Khaldun, who met him outside Damascus in 1401 worte:

"This king Timur is one of the greatest and mightiest kings...he is hightly intelligent and very perspicacious, addicted to debate and argument about what he knows and also about what he does not know!"

Known to be a chess player, he had invented a more elaborate form of the game, now called Tamerlane Chess, with twice the number of pieces on a board of a hundred and ten squares.

The question of Timur's religion beliefs has been a matter of controversy ever since he began his great conquests. His veneration of the house of the Prophet, the spurious genealogy on his tombstone taking his descent back to Ali, and the presense of Shiites in his army led some observers and scholars to call him a Shiite. However his official religious counselor was the Hanafite scholar Abd alJabbar Khwarazmi. Timur's religious practices with their admixture of Turco-Mongolian shamanistic elements belonged to the Sufi tradition. Timur avowed himself the disciple of Sayyid Baraka, the holy man of the commercial city of Tirmidh. He also constructed one of his finest buildings at the tomb of Ahmad Yaassawi, who was doing most to spread Folk Islam among the nomads.

In religion as in other aspects of his life Timur was above all an opportunist; his religion served frequently to further his aims, but almost never to curcumscribe his actions. It was in the justification of his rule and his conquests that Timur found Islam most useful.

Empire and War Machine
The same as Jenghiz Khan, Timur rose from a nomad ruler; however unlike Jenghiz Khan, he was the first one based his strength on the exploitation of settled populations and inherited a system of rule which could encompass both settled and nomad populations. Those who saw Timur's army described it as a huge conglomeration of different peoples - nomad and settled, Muslims and Christians, Turks, Tajiks, Arabs, Georgians and Indians. Timur's conquests were extraordinary not only for their extent and their success, but also for their ferocity and massacres. The war machine was composed of 'tumen', military units of a 10,000 in the conquered territories. It consisted of his family, loyal tribes particularly the Barlas and Jalayir tribes, recruited soldiers from nomadic population from as far as the Moghuls, Golden Horde and Anatolia, and finally Persian- speaking sedentarists.

Timur and his army were never at rest and neither age nor increasing infirmity could halt his growing ambitions. In 1391 Timur's army fought and won in the great battle of Kanduzcha on June 18. Following his campaign in India, he acquired an elephant corps and took them back to Samarkand for building mosques and tombs. He led the attack and victory on the Ottoman army in the battle of Ankara on July 28 1402.

With great interest in trade, Timur had a grand plan to reactivate the Silk Road, the central land route, and make it the monopoly link between Europe and China. Monopolization was to be achieved by war: primarily, against the Golden Horde, the master of principal rival, the northern land route; secondarily, against the states of western Persia and the Moghuls to the east in order to place the Silk Road under unified control politically; and finally agaist India, Egypt and China.

Early in his career, he took the title or epithet 'Sahib Qiran' symbolized by three circlets forming a triangle. (See coin on the right with three rings forming Timur's symbol) It was an astrological term which meants 'Lord of the Fortunate Conjuncture'. It expressed his sense not just of balancing or juggling ruler, nomads and sedentarists, as his predecessors had done, but of integrating them into a dynamic institutional system.

China and Death
The first Ming ruler, the Hung-wu emperor (1368-1398), sent embassies to former Yuan (a part of Mongol kingdom) tributaries asking that the Ming be recongnized as the new overlords. One of these reached Samarkand in 1395 and was promptly imprisoned by Tamerlane who was already planning his campaign to control the Silk Road, restore the Yuan, equal Jenghiz Khan and surpass Alexander. The second Ming ruler, Yung-lo emperor (1402-1424), anticipated an invasion from Tamerlane and sent another embassy to Samarkand. He too was imprisoned. In 1405, Yung-lo emperor launched the first of his great naval expeditions to the west under the eunuch Cheng Ho. The primary purpose of these missions was to end China's isolation in the face of an attack from Tamerlane.

Without taking the advice of his generals to remain in Samarkand until the spring, Timur and his army planned to advance northwards without delays, encamp at various points near the river Jaxartes and wait for the first sign of spring to strike towards China. They left Samarkand early in January on a day chosen by the astrologers as auspicious. Thus Tamerlane led an enormous army and departed on his last and most fantastic campaign to conquer China when he was close to seventy years old. He was too weak to walk and had to be carried in a litter. Toward the end of January, they reached Utrar. There Timur's health had suffered from the severity of the journey and he was seriously ill, On 17 or 18 February 1405, Tamerlane died. His body was carried back and buried at the Gur-i-Mir, Samarkand

Even though Tamerlane never successfully invaded Ming China, but this threat to do so had a profound impact there.

El 7 de Septiembre ...

Fue un 15 de Junio, lo recuerdo tambien porque marco un hito en mi vida,
y este fue el primer 15 de junio que por la rabia, el sentimiento, y la
depresion no te llame a felicitarte. Diras que de qeu te felicito, que
ahora ya esta de mas, pero sin embargo para mi es una fecha muy especial

Gracias !... y si aveces no se si besarte en la cara o en los labios..
Creo qeu la cancion refleja mucho como me siento porque el sentimiento
no ha muerto, pero lo trato de madurar y de aceptar como la desicion tuya....

Parece mentira
que después de tanto tiempo, rotos nuestros lazos
sigamos manteniendo la ilusión en nuestro aniversario.
La misma mesita que nos ha visto amarrar
las manos por debajo,
cuida que el rincón de siempre
permanezca reservado.

Y aunque la historia se acabó
hay algo vivo en este amor
que aunque empeñados en soplar
hay llamas que ni con el mar.

Las flores de Mayo, poco a poco cederán
a las patas de gallo
y nos buscaremos con los ojos por si queda algo.

El 7 de Septiembre
es nuestro aniversario
y no sabremos si besarnos
en la cara o en los labios.

Antibiotics losing effectiveness

A public health crisis – that's what the Infectious Diseases Society of America is calling the losing battle against deadly bacteria. The bugs are increasingly resistant to our best drugs. Antibiotics are losing their punch, largely from over use. In fact, these days hospital-acquired infections kill more people each year than HIV/AIDS. And we're running out of choices; the last time the FDA approved a new antibiotic was back in 2003.

The vast majority of antibiotics aren't used on people - they're fed to farm animals to make them grow faster – or keep them healthy under stressful conditions. Last year farm animals in North Carolina alone consumed more antibiotics than were prescribed for all the people in the United States.

Representative Louise Slaughter says that's got to stop. The New York Democrat has introduced a bill in Congress to limit the use of antibiotics on the farm. It's called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. "Living on Earth's" Bruce Gellerman speaks with Congresswoman Slaughter about the bill.

Slaughter: "We need this act because seventy percent of all the antibiotics produced in the United States go for animal feed and making bacteria resistant. So when human beings need it, they're not really very effective. We're finding that people who go to the hospital, seventy percent* of them will get some kind of a bacterial infection that is resistant and the estimate is that the hospital costs and the health care costs are between four and five billion dollars annually."

(*LOE FACT CHECK: According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) at the Department of Health & Human Services, five percent of people who check in to a hospital in a year contract a bacterial infections; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states "more than 70 percent of the bacteria that cause hospital-associated infections are resistant to at least one of the drugs most commonly used to treat them.")

According to Slaughter, antibiotics are given to healthy animals, "... not to treat illness because we certainly want that done, but healthy animals as a preventative measure and to cover up some pretty awful conditions, living conditions and unsanitary conditions."

Certain microbes are getting stronger and more resistant to antibiotics Slaughter says, "...the best example of that is Staphylococcus aureus which causes MRSA now. But when I was a microbiology student in Kentucky, Staphylococcus aureus was as common as dirt, literally and was not anything anybody worried about because of the antibiotic being able to take it out almost immediately. But about ten, twelve years ago, we noticed that a thing called staph infection, which happened often to people who'd undergone surgery. And a lot of hospitals had to tear down their enter surgical wing and rebuild it because of the staph infection within the walls and within that unit. That should have scared us half to death. But it didn't. And now we're to the point where there's MRSA, which is the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which killed 18,000 people last year."

Slaughter's bill calls for limiting the use of antibiotics in animals: "My bill would require the manufacturer of the antibiotic to say that if they were using it on animals, it would not create resistance that would hurt treating of human beings, and, basically, what it says is you have to only use this to treat sick animals."

As for how her bill is going over with the farm industry: "Well, let me tell you that this is the fourth term that this bill has been introduced, not been able to pass it. We have high hopes for it this year. But I should tell you also that in 1980, a bill was introduced that would have prevented this. Had we passed it then in 1980, look how far ahead we would have been."

Europe and South Korea have regulations in place, and California is considering a bill. Slaughter has hope: "A new president. New agencies. The FDA always to me was the gold standard of health as a microbiologist and a masters in public health, but no longer. And it's not the fault of the scientists there, 'cause I've had scientists look right at me and tell me that they can't talk about what's really true."

Many chicken companies in the United States have started giving up voluntarily the use of antibiotics: "Yes, I think a lot of people have – mostly because people have, as I said a while ago – this is an entirely new population of thought than we had even four years ago of people who are much more aware. Because of the deaths and the peanut butter scare and the other things – meat recalls – and all the things that they've seen, I think they understand that their food supply's not safe. And that's one of the least things that they could have always been able to expect from us. And it is our job here to make sure that they are safe. So I think this bill will pass much easier and quicker now. Senator Kennedy will be carrying it in the Senate. We never predict the Senate's actions, but I believe it will pass the House handily."

Tale of Two Brains

Right-brained people are supposed to be artistic and spontaneous, while left-brainers are literal and analytical; in other words, Captain Kirk and Spock. This ubiquitous bit of pop science wisdom came out of Nobel Prize-winning neurology, and it spawned the bestseller "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain."

But does the story of the two brains stand up? "Studio 360's" Dave Johns tries to find out.

In the 1960s, surgeons developed a radical new way to treat patients with severe epilepsy -- they would cut the corpus callosum, a thick cable of nerves that connects the left and right halves of the brain. These so-called split-brain patients made fascinating research subjects.

Joe Hellegy is a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California: "In a normal person, the information can be quickly processed and spread to both sides; but in the split-brain patients that sharing of information is greatly impaired, and might even be eliminated. And so for the first time you could look at the competence of each hemisphere in isolation."

It wasn't long before a Caltech neuroscientist named Roger Sperry figured out a way to do just that. His experiments took advantage of the fact that the right side of the brain controlled the left side of the body, and vice versa. Some of the differences Sperry saw was dramatic.

Hellegy: "So you flashed a word to the left hemisphere, the person could tell you what it is; you flashed the word to the right hemisphere, they'll tell you quite correctly they didn't see anything. The right hemisphere has almost no ability to actually produce overt speech."

But the research also showed that the right side was actually better than the left at visual and spatial tasks. Sperry won a Nobel Prize for his work.

In the late 70s, a woman named Betty Edwards wrote a book called "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." It drew heavily on Sperry's research. Edwards taught drawing classes too, and they're still run today by her son, Brian Bomeisler.

Bomeisler: "It turns out ... from Roger Sperry himself, that the left hemisphere is competitive and likes to stay on task. The left hemisphere ... doesn't want you to draw at all, it doesn't want to lose control like that. So it will find multiple ways of tricking you out of it -- it will say something like, 'well I've got to clean up the house' or 'I've got to mow the lawn' or something like that. But the right hemisphere is sort of nudging the left hemisphere, saying 'come on, let's have some fun, let’s do a drawing.'"

"Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" became a best seller, and helped popularize the notion that the right brain is the source of human creativity. Editorialists began to declare that tomorrow's problems required creative, right-brained solutions. Advocates accused the educational system of catering to the left brain, and called for more art in public schools.

Roger Sperry himself complained that society discriminated against the non-verbal right hemisphere. Suddenly, two blobs of brain matter had become a kind of neurological odd couple, crammed together in their cranial apartment.

So how do you draw on the right side of the brain? Many of the techniques are meant to get around the left brain's tendency to draw objects in a preconceived way. So instead of say drawing an easel, Beaumont has his students draw the negative spaces surrounding the easel, which the left brain doesn't recognize.

Joe Hellegy says imaging studies actually suggest the hemispheres work together on visual perception. The right side pays closer attention to overall patterns, while the left focuses more on detail. But he says Bomeisler's techniques are helpful: "We come equipped to analyze things, to categorize things, to verbalize things, and I do believe that techniques which force us out of that are likely to be helpful in teaching people to be more attentive to shadings and lines that are actually there."

There's good evidence that forcing yourself to think in new ways is a powerful educational technique. It can literally change the brain's wiring, according to David Sulzer, a Columbia neuroscientist: "Essentially anything you learn -- learning how to play the piano, or learning how to throw a ball, or using a tool, especially if they're a little difficult at first -- are forcing you, and engaging you, and essentially making new synaptic pathways."

According to Sulzer, having success at a new skill, such as drawing, produces a spike in the neurotransmitter dopamine, and that pleasure surge reinforces the neuro pathways involved. That's how the brain remembers what it learns.

Alice Flaherty is a neurologist at Harvard Medical School. She studies creative drive, and its flip side, writers block. She says creative drive is mediated by a relationship between the brain's temporal and frontal lobes. In other words, the front and back of the brain are just as important as the right and left: "What the right-brain, left-brain model is relatively good at is predicting what parts of the brain are involved in what particular domains of creativity -- whether it's art and music or literature -- they're not so good at talking about creative drive, for example, and it turns out drive is way more important than talent. In fact, there's some fair amount of evidence that over an IQ of about 115, increasing your IQ doesn't really help your creativity, there's like a threshold. What's really important is drive."

Election protests and Iran's clerics

If Iran's election was rigged, was it part of a power play by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to destabilize the country and oust the country's ruling clerics? That’s one theory being discussed as protestors take to the streets of Tehran in support of opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

"Here and Now" spoke to Babak Rahimi, a professor at UC-San Diego. He fled Iran in the 1980s after his father was assassinated, but returned this year to study the electoral process.

Rahimi says Mousavi is positioning his campaign as a movement that goes beyond the election: "He sees this as a kind of social movement that will eventually make Iran more democratic and ultimately less authortarian."

There is a major split within the conservative establishment of the Islamic Republic according to Rahimi: "The so-called old guard -- the first revolution generation that even people like Mousavi were a part of; and the kind-of mid-age revolutionists, like Ahmadinejad who perceive the old guard as kind of corrupt and outdated."

The revolution generation Rahimi refers to is the post-1979 Revolution, which overthrew a Western-backed regime. The split is between the hard line conservatives and those, like Mousavi, who are looking for reform.

Rahimi explains the kind of democracy the reformists are after: "The people I've been talking to, especially the pro-Mousavi, they do want that religion would play some form of role in this envisioned democracy for Iran ... it's a ... religous democracy that is not tyrannical, it's not authoritarian ... sure the clerics could be in the public sphere, sure religion could be part of the public way in which people interact with one another, you would even have political parties that can be highly Islamic.

"But there shouldn't be one dominant Islamic ideology that should tell people how to act, how to think, how to behave. There's an interesting clash of interpretation over how, first of all to be Islamic; and second of all, how to establish a government that is fundalmentally accountable and does not necessarily exclude religion ..."

Rahimi believes there is a coup in progress to oust the clerics: "There's a way of trying to marginalize the conservative clerics that originally were in power in the 80s. Now when I say clerics here, I'm talking about clerics who see themselves to be the head of the state to a certain extent. Now Ahmadinejad also wants religion to be the source, the foundation of the state; however he sees himelf as a non-cleric, as a poplulist figure, to be a central figure in this Islamic republic ... and right now we are seeing a major conflict between the so-called populist Islamists, like Ahmadinejad -- the young guard -- against the older guards who very much see the clerics to be completely dominating the entire political process in Iran."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Si se callese todo este ruido ...

Una estrenduosa jauria se empeña en hacer callar las preguntas, los matices, el ruido de los ojala.

Si se callase el ruido oirias la lluvia caer limpiando la ciudad de espectros te oiria hablar en mis sueños. Si se callase el ruido quiza podriamos hablar y sanar nuestras heridas, quizas entenderias que nos queda la esperanza....

Hablame de tus abrazos, de nuestro amor imperfecto y que tu voz acalle este estruendo...!

Cooking With Herbs

It was an offer I couldn't refuse: Cook a fundraising luncheon for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, highlighting fresh herbs — the kind of cooking I like — for a good cause. It didn't stop there. Kathy Mihalczo, who owns Erin's Meadow Herb Farm in Oak Ridge, Tenn., would pay for all the food. All I had to do was feature her herbs.

I've been teaching classes on herb cookery at the herb farm for three years, and it's my favorite teaching venue. Mihalczo installed a kitchen in a greenhouse, and in the spring and fall, the kitchen is filled with natural light and open to air thick with the scent of fresh herbs — the piney notes of rosemary, the sweet bitterness of basil and the licoricelike odor of tarragon. That the location is an excuse to play around with the best and freshest herbs in the Knoxville area is just an added bonus.

Food Lover's Companion defines herbs as "the fragrant leaves of any of various annual or perennial plants that grow in temperate zones and do not have woody stems." The most popular herbs in American cooking are of Mediterranean origin — rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil, for example. In the Mediterranean region, they can be found growing wild on the hillsides.

Cilantro and lemon grass are herbs native to Southeast Asia. In Africa, the leaves of the baobab tree are used to thicken stews. The banana plant is classified as an herb, and so is marijuana. ("Herb" has been a slang term for marijuana.)

There also are exceptions to the nonwoody stem rule. Bay leaves come from a tree, and if you've grown rosemary, you know that it's actually a shrub. Lavender leaves and blossoms are regarded as herbs. Other herbs provide spices in the form of roots or seeds, such as dill seed and cilantro seed (also known as coriander). Generally, though, herbs are leaves. Seeds, dried roots, dried fruit (think chili peppers), flowers and bark are considered spices.

My mother often cooked with herbs, but I learned to use them myself by making a dish, smelling it, and then going through my jars of dried herbs looking for complementary smells. I'd add a bit of the herb, give it a few minutes to release its flavor, then taste the dish. There are certainly classic combinations such as tomatoes and basil, lamb and mint, or pork and sage. If I'd stuck with the standards, however, I wouldn't have discovered the affinity peaches have for rosemary, or that a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper boosts the appleness of an apple pie.

For a while, I was gung-ho on always using fresh herbs. And if I have them, I still use them first, but there have been times when I didn't have the location or sunlight to grow herbs — even in pots — and had to buy them all. That's an expensive proposition at $2 a package. However, I have found that if the herbs are being cooked for more than three or four minutes, most of that wonderful fresh flavor cooks off and you can get the same results from dried herbs. So these days, I use fresh herbs when they'll stand out, and otherwise use dried. The exceptions are a few herbs that don't retain much flavor at all when dried, such as chives or parsley.

For the fundraising menu, I would use only Mihalczo's fresh herbs. Since it was a luncheon, the meal needed to be light. Yet I wanted to seduce my eaters, to persuade them to eat just one bite more than they might ordinarily, and still allow them to push the plate away, satiated but not overfilled. Herbs were perfect for this.

The menu began with cherry tomatoes stuffed with chevre and basil, and peppers stuffed with feta and dill as appetizers. Then I served a course of chilled asparagus and sorrel soup. For the entree, I made roast pork tenderloin dusted with dried sage and dressed with a rhubarb-sage compote. I also made pureed cauliflower garnished with fried sage leaves. The bread was rosemary-grape focaccia. For dessert, I offered my father's buttermilk-pineapple sherbet with mint.

With one exception, all of the dishes feature raw or just barely cooked fresh herbs and celebrate their fresh flavor. The exception is the focaccia, which cooks for 30 minutes. However, rosemary is a tremendously robust herb that can stand the heat. Besides, dried rosemary is like eating a collection of dull needles, so fresh rosemary was the best choice even then.

The morning before the luncheon, I drove out to the herb farm and returned with bags of fresh herbs that filled first my car and then my kitchen with wonderfully appetizing smells. The luncheon itself, with its cornucopia of fresh herbs from appetizer to dessert, was a complete success and brought in much-needed funds for the symphony. I hope it also had the effect of encouraging the guests to bring herbs into their kitchens.


Bell Peppers Stuffed With Feta And Dill

The great thing about these peppers is they're good hot, at room temperature or cold. They also make a bright, colorful display on a platter. I like them best with the feta, but I've also made them with chevre (goat cheese), and although I prefer dill, I've used other herbs such as thyme, basil and oregano.

Makes 48 appetizers

3 large bell peppers (assorted colors)

6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup minced red onion

3 tablespoons minced fresh dill

1 large egg beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Stem the peppers and cut into eighths, top to bottom. Remove pith and seeds. Cut eighths in half crosswise. Mix all remaining ingredients in a small bowl with a fork, crushing any large chunks of cheese.

Spoon about a tablespoon of the cheese mixture into each pepper segment and arrange on a baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack until cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.

Serve hot, warm, room temperature or cold.

Chilled Asparagus Soup With Sorrel

I adore asparagus. It's my favorite vegetable. For years, cutting off and discarding the woody ends offended me as a waste of perfectly good flavor. Then, in a flash of brilliance, I started freezing those ends until the end of the season and used them to make a broth for asparagus soup. They still get thrown away after the broth is made, but I capture all of their goodness and flavor. In this soup, the sorrel adds a nice tartness and the curry adds spice. (If you don't have a bunch of woody ends in the freezer, buy an extra pound of fresh asparagus and use the woody ends from all the asparagus you bought, and then include the extra fresh asparagus in the soup as well.)

Makes 6 servings

1-1/2 to 2 pounds asparagus woody ends

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered

4 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

2 medium leeks, white part only, chopped

1-1/2 to 2 pounds asparagus spears without woody ends, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 lemon, juiced

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Salt to taste

1/2 pound chopped sorrel

Put woody ends and onion quarters in a soup pot with chicken stock and bring to a vigorous simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Discard solids.

Melt butter over medium heat, add leeks and saute until translucent.

Return soup base to stove over medium heat, add leeks and bring to simmer. Add remaining asparagus and cook until just done, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add all remaining ingredients except sorrel. Allow to cool. Puree soup with sorrel in a blender or food processor, or with an immersion blender. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The red meat scare

The study, which is the largest of its kind, came out recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine. For 10 years researchers tracked 500,000 people, ages 50-71, documenting what they ate over the course of that decade. The results find that people who consumed the equivalent of one hamburger a day increased their chances of dying by 30 percent.

To fully understand the implications of this research, "The Takeaway" talks to Barry Popkin who wrote an editorial accompanying this study. He is a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where he heads the division of nutrition epidemiology.

Professor Popkin breaks down the numbers and the study: "Going from one steak a day or one Whopper a day, to once a week would reduce your risk of dying by 25 - 30 percent. To put that in real terms, that would mean about a million reduced deaths over that ten-year period for those just 50-70 ... where we have 25 million men.

"The risks are about the same in terms of reduction of women, but there were fewer female deaths during that period so the numbers aren't quite so startling.

"This is a very well-done study -- they controlled for your weight, they controlled for your fruit and vegetable intake, your drinking, your smoking, your supplement use -- this is the additional effect of just consuming red meat.

"This is the first study that had such careful data on such a large representative sample of people of retirement age -- members of AARP -- that we can say that it's a little bit more like the Rolls Royce of studies such as this done in the U.S.

"These results were backed up by a second set of analysis looking at the effects of processed meat -- and processed meats are hot dogs, sausages, pepperoni, cold cuts -- and that's even more startling. If you consume about an ounce a day of those ... processed meats -- that's essentially a hot dog a week -- you are going to increase your risk in a comparable manner of death. So going from eating some processed meat -- a hot dog a week to once a month or every two months -- will ... make the same kind of savings in your long-term health."

Major oil companies on trial

Oil companies Exxon Mobil, Chevron/Texaco and Shell face lawsuits alleging they engaged in environmental and human rights abuses, including wrongful deaths.

The world's biggest oil companies are facing allegations of crimes ranging from failing to clean up spills all the way to murder. On "Living on Earth," George Washington University’s International Law Professor Dinah Shelton walks host Steve Curwood through three landmark cases from Nigeria, Ecuador and Indonesia.

The Exxon Mobil case involves Indonesia. The Chevron/Texaco suit is in Ecuador. And the Shell case involves Nigeria. That case is about to go on trial in a New York federal court.

The relatives of author Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists allege Shell conspired with the Nigerian government to falsely accuse and execute Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues.

Professor Shelton: "Well, Shell is saying that they had no deal, that they were simply conducting their own activities, they were not responsible for what the government did and that they had asked the government to grant clemency to Saro-Wiwa. And the family says that they can prove that Shell's Nigerian subsidiary director met with Saro-Wiwa's brother and offered freedom in return to an end to the opposition to Shell's activities. So all of this is evidence that will have to be litigated in the trial."

The case is coming to New York because, "... Shell is in New York, and the very first United States Congress in 1789 passed a statute allowing aliens to come to the United States and sue defendants found here for violations of treaties to which the U.S. is a party or violations of international law more generally."

Chevron is being sued for 27 billion dollars for polluting the jungle in Ecuador -- Professor Sheltone explains: "... the case spent about fourteen years in U.S. courts with first Texaco and later Chevron arguing that it should be in the Ecuadorian courts and now they're trying to argue their way out of the Ecuadorian courts so. There doesn't seem to be a forum they really like.

" ... Originally when the case was filed in New York, the President of Ecuador came in and sought to have the case dismissed saying that this would be very harmful to Ecuadorian interests. The government has since changed. The government now is more concerned with environmental protection. One of the reasons why these cases often end up in U.S. courts is that the domestic courts in the foreign countries are not always strong institutions and the judges may follow the prevailing political opinion within the country."

Professor Shelton spent some time in Equador and has seen some of the polluted areas: "Well the pollution isn't always visible because it's primarily in the water system. But you do see as you go along areas where the oil company activities have occurred that there is a sheen on the water, the water looks like oil. It doesn't look like pure water. And this is an area, a rain forest, where there are inundations on a daily basis and yet, it is not enough to sweep away the oil."

In Indonesia, Exxon Mobile is being sued by some villagers in Ache for human rights violations allegedly committed by soldiers guarding a natural gas plant. The allegations in that case are, "... very similar in many ways to the Ken Saro-Wiwa case. That, in this instance, the company was directly hiring the military to protect their interests there with the result that there were what in other countries might be called ethnic cleansing, that there have been killings, there have been burnings of villages. It's very similar to the Nigerian case in respect of the type of violence and abuses that are alleged."

The cases signal a new focus for human rights violations: "Well, I think that it really is a break from traditional human rights law, which focused on strong, repressive governments. The whole paradigm of human rights violations was Hitler, and human rights law was designed to prevents types of massive human rights violations from occurring again through strong governments. In all three of the cases that you mentioned and many of the other corporate responsibility cases, there are very good laws in place in the states where these companies are acting, but those laws are not enforced, the institutions are weak, the policing is weak, there may be rampant corruption as there was in Nigeria under the Abacha government. And the consequence is that individuals are finding themselves victims of violations by a conspiracy, if you will, or a joint venture between governments and powerful multinational companies."

Professor Shelton recently testified in front of Congress about these cases, and explains why Congress should care about the abuses alleged in these cases: "... when companies are linked to abusive regimes, they're engaged in murder, they're engaged in destructions of property and whole entire cultures, it reflects back on the United States. So that's one reason. A second reason is because people whose rights are violated, who are no longer able to live in their own environment because it has been destroyed are going to move elsewhere. And we are going to see more and more environmental refugees as well as human rights refugees if this conduct continues. Thirdly, in the long run, the corporations are going to find themselves in enormous difficulty because the people turn to violence, and the corporations have seen hostages being taken, they've seen violence directed against them. So it's in their interest as well. Not to mention the fact that – it's the law."