Friday, August 31, 2007

Battery electric vehicles

On August 31, 1955 in Chicago there was the demonstration of the first automobile with solar batteries designed by William Cobb (1917-1990)... The use of BEVs (battery electric vehicle) in the U.S. has grown by 39.1% in the period of 1992-2004 and is continuing to grow. There are several designs of automobiles replacing the traditional models. Some are pure electric that use rechargeable batteries, others are hybrid that are a combination of batteries and internal combustion engines... It is only regrettable that governments did not concentrate on the efforts to replace the traditional model sooner... The history behind these BEVs reveals that they were quite feasible sooner.

The Princess...

On August 31, 1997 Princess Diana was a victim of quite a mysterious auto accident in Paris. The heart of this extraordinary woman was to stop...
Diana Frances Spencer was born into a British aristocracy on July 1, 1961 at Park House, Sandringham in Norfolk, England. Her life was to receive a different light when she married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981. While this marriage was to give her access to many paths to forge her career, it also limited her potential. Fearful not to endanger her children's careers, she had to limit herself to charitable work, and not to venture into politics. Like Mother Teresa she was to become the humanist of her times, the woman that brought love, kindness and comfort to the sick, the poor, the forgotten and stigmatized. Her campaign against land mines, her endless support for the AIDS victims, and unlimited dedication to humanitarian relief were to reserve a permanent place for her in the hearts of people all across the globe... She could best be described as the 'pearl of the 20th century.'

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lowell and Gilded Age America

Josephine Shaw Lowell (1843-1905) was one of the most remarkable women figures in the late nineteenth century, much better known as the Gilded Age in American history. Born into a wealthy New England family, she dedicated her life to eradicating poverty. A Progressive Reform leader, she established the New York Consumers' League in 1890, which strove to improve the wages and working conditions of women workers in New York City. Founder of many charitable organizations, she said, "If the working people had all they ought to have, we should not have the paupers and criminals. It is better to save them before they go under, than to spend your life fishing them out afterward." The Gilded Age certainly reminded of the Dickens' England-- unregulated and exorbitant wealth side by side with complete and irremediable poverty... For more on the biography of this remarkable woman see the scholarly work of Professor Joan Waugh at UCLA (here).

Keynes and Globalization

Adam Smith (1723-1790), the mastermind behind the so-called Invisible Hand, wrote:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual value of society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.

Smith was wise in pointing to the inner needs of a human being and the vitality of creation of incentives. Unfortunately, as we know, the invisible hand did not do what Smith portrayed and greed in human society blocked the spillover effect of which he spoke about. The Great Depression in the beginning of the 20th century was largely a result of the failure of the Invisible Hand.

Therefore, the theories of John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)(above) came as a revelation and a saviour. In contrast with Smith, Keynes propagated interventionist policies by government that would control and regulate the free markets. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was very much under the influence of Keynes when devised the plan to take the country out of the Depression. Of course, as usually crude capitalism is synonymous with free markets and state intervention is always attacked as socialism... Moreover, nationalization of industries as one of the measures of the state to regulate the capricious markets and big business is assailed as anti-democratic. Putin's economic policies in Russia have been coined precisely that, while he is very much like Roosevelt in economic affairs...

Today it is virtually unassailable that domestic markets must be regulated. But the problem is how in this globalized world we can also learn to regulate international markets, so that international accumulation of wealth can be distributed evenly among nations... Since no nation has the incentive to do that (just like the individual businessman, only seeking his self-gain), this is the task of international organizations. But just like governments purporting to regulate markets and lobbied by big business, international organizations cannot be perfect and are often lobbied by stronger nation-states...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Geneva Conventions and Humanitarian Law...

While the concerns of humanitarian law are more limited than those of human rights law, they are nonetheless very important, since they impose rules of wars and aspire to limit barbarity in times of war. The centerpiece of humanitarian law is perhaps the series of Geneva Conventions that regulate various aspects of conducting wars. The first Geneva Convention in 1864 dealt exclusively with care for wounded soldiers. Later it was expanded and revised. In 1949 four Conventions were adopted:
1st-- on wounded soldiers on the battlefield
2nd-- wounded and shipwrecked at sea
3rd-- prisoners of war
4th-- civilians under enemy control

Furthermore, in 1977 2 Additional Protocols were added.
For our purposes, it is useful to read the provisions of the 3rd Convention carefully:

Art 13. Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

Notably, Part III deals with the rules of captivity and internment of prisoners of war.

One of the most important issues in the US law recently was whether this treaty is self-executing or not. The crux of the matter is whether the enemy combatants in Guantanamo could avail themselves of the Geneva Convention without a legislation by Congress authorizing it. This of course has been a major issue in the US since the beginning of time. It always struggled in delineating the hieararchy of laws-- treaties with foreign nations or the US Constitution... The priority is given to the US Constitution and therefore, every time the US ratified treaties, it made several and well-known reservations (thereby limiting the scope of a treaty for its purposes)... This itself is a result of the distrust of international law in the US and unwillingness to enforce it in its affairs... But as we have seen, this unwillingness has made the US pay a heavy price in the world when it comes to the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and the series of violations of the Geneva Conventions...

Weapons of mass destruction...

On August 29, 1949 there were successful experiments of the first Soviet atomic bomb in Semipalatinsk. This bomb was 2500 times more powerful than the one in Hiroshima. After the US showcase in Japan, Stalin urgently created a special committee for development of the bomb directed by Beria. The committee included reknowned scientists Voznesensky, Ioffe, Kapitsa, Kurchatov and Khariton. Once the Soviet Union officially had its bomb, the Cold War was set in motion and deterrence propped up by the relative nuclear parity of the two powers was in place for several decades... If the Soviets had not procured the bomb, the Cold War would probably not have happened. But of course, not one can reverse the historical time machine...
Today the nuclear club is comprised of US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea... Israel is an undeclared state possessing a sizeable arsenal. Iraq was wrongfully suspected. Iran is aspiring strongly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Dream...

On September 22, 1862 in the heat of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (here):

That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

The freedom granted by the victory of the Union remained nominal when segregation and discrimination took the place of the servitude... It was only a hundred years later when Dr. King came to awaken the American conscience to enforce the true meaning of freedom... On August 28, 1963 he proclaimed the second 'Emancipation Proclamation'-- 'I have a Dream' speech, thereby denouncing any efforts to preserve the status quo and barricade the Civil Rights movement energized by him and his followers...
Today it is crucial to examine whether America has preserved the image that these noble men worked hard to create...

God's Warriors

Watching CNN's "God's Warriors" by Christiane Amanpour, I was thinking that while we focused on eradicating Islamic fundamentalism and extremism, we developed our own breed of Christian fundamentalists. Of course, they were in existence long before but now they have received a different color because more people have started supporting them. Under the name of God, these people propagate the politics of hatred and exclusion, nothing more. Quoting from the Bible, they distort it by condemning all others who do not share their moral values. Warning of Armageddon, they preach a return to God, while they already sound like demons. Incidentally, they also instigate people against all those who are not Christian or Jewish. This is fascism, cloaked by religion. Using the name of Christ they have become just like Islamic terrorists who have committed their atrocious acts in the name of Allah. We have seen how the American politics, shaped by Christian fundamentalism and evangelism, has brought this country to a crisis. Now it is really time to sit down and think, think hard, how we can disentangle this mess and minimize the damage that has sprang from the 'God's warriors.' It is freedom of speech and they cannot be stopped from speaking, with a few exceptions. But how we can enlighten folks listening to them, so that they are capable of discerning these messages with an informed mind-- that is the challenge for our intellectuals... The challenge is also to infuse some degree of moderation into the minds of people... Our modern times have revealed that fanatical pursuit of any cause is just unacceptable...

Monday, August 27, 2007

North Korea and NPT

The U.S. and North Korea plan to meet in Geneva on September 1-2 to resume discussions on implementation of the multilateral agreement signed among North and South Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and US (here). In the spirit of these multilateral negotiations, in July North Korea closed its Yongbyon reactor in exchange for 50,000 tons of fuel oil.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has been in force since March 5, 1970, and was ratified by 189 states. North Korea ratified it on December 12, 1985, but gave notice of withdrawal on January 10, 2003. Its withdrawal was effective as of April 10, 2003. Korea was the first country to withdraw from it...


UNICEF Darfur Nutrition Summary (May-June 2007) has reported (here):

Six localised nutrition surveys were conducted during the reporting period, two in North Darfur, three in South Darfur and one in West Darfur. Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates exceeded the emergency threshold of 15 per cent in all six. Rates of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) ranged from 1.4 per cent to 2.8 per cent. In three of the surveys (North and West), GAM rates are higher than those found during the same period in 2006. In the three surveys in South Darfur there was no comparable information from the same period in 2006. While an increase in GAM rates is in line with seasonal trends, the underlying causes are being investigated at state level in order to identify responses. Mortality rates in two surveys (Otash Camp and Kass in South Darfur) were above alert levels for both under-5 and crude mortality. The primary identified causes of death were reported as diarrhoea (watery
and bloody), and ARI. This indicates that concerted action is required to strengthen efforts in prevention and control of diarrhoea. The rate of GAM for children 6-29 versus 30-59 months continues to be elevated, indicating that
sustained efforts are required to address sub optimal infant and young chid care practices.

UNICEF also reported that as of June 2006 it had a total of just over $2.81 million in donor resources against the Darfur target of $89 million. That picture has not changed in 2007. Thus, its projects are funded only by 3 percent...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (Roberts) was born on October 13, 1925 in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, England. Brought up as a devout Methodist, she studied chemistry at the Somerville College, Oxford in 1944 (which incidentally made her understand the issues of global warming as a prime minister). Her rise in the political arena was accompanied with a few failures. At the 1950 and 51 elections she fought the safe Labour seat of Dartford and at the time was the youngest ever female Conservative candidate for office.

As a Conservative MP, she was one of the few to support Leo Abse's Bill to decriminalise male homosexuality and voted for David Steel's Bill to legalise abortion. In the run up to the General Election in 1979, Conservatives went on to win a 44-seat majority in the House of Commons and Thatcher became the UK's first female Prime Minister (while also the first female to lead a major political party in the UK). She famously said: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope."

The longest continously serving Prime Minister of the UK since Lord Liverpool, she held that post until 1990. Her political and economic philosophy emphasized reduced state intervention, free markets and entrepreneuralism. Privatisation was synonymous with "Thatcherism." For a while, UK was economically prosperous under her leadership, but there were certain problems associated with her antipathy towards trade unions, support for laissez faire economy, unwillingness to promote European integration. Also her support for the death penalty and hard line on the Irish political prisoners were going to alienate the liberal wing in England. Moreover, her party was becoming more and more divisive which contributed to her resignation and the rise of the Labour party.

While she could not be favored by all domestically, as a world leader she was very compassionate. There was a huge earthquake in Armenia in 1988, when my native town Leninakan (now Gyumri) was completely destroyed. There were virtually no buildings left standing. I, a 10 year old then, remember vividly how she personally visited this small city and directed building of an English school and a library named after George Gordon Byron. Even before my family moved to Russia, it was in this library where I got my books to learn English and it was where I learned to read Byron, Shakespeare, Hemingway and Faulkner in the original. I am personally grateful to Margaret Thatcher. I still remember how her non-tinted limousine was circling in the streets of our destroyed city and how she was stopping to waive to people, comforting them with her warmth and empathy.

An ideological supporter of Ronald Reagan in international politics, she played a decisive role in the efforts to end the Cold War. She was the first Western leader to respond warmly to Gorbachev and said about him "a man we can do business with" after a meeting in 1984. Political commentators give most credit for the end of the Cold War to Reagan and Gorbachev. But Margaret Thatcher, a true English lady, with remarkable charisma must also be given serious credit for the determination of Gorbachev to pursue democracy in Russia. Her influence on Gorbachev is well-known. While Winston Churchill, a man, promulgated the "Iron Curtain" officially announcing the beginning of the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher, a woman, brought that curtain down with her charming smile...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Declaration of Independence

On August 23, 1990 the Soviet republic of Armenia proclaimed its Declaration of Independence (here). On September 23, 1991 it offically became independent after 99 percent of the voters voted for it. This marked a landmark because for the first time voting meant something and actually reflected the will of the people. While this movement was a natural consequence of the disintegration of the USSR and was nothing like the independence movements in Yugoslavia or India, it still meant much for the Armenian people. Historically, always subjugated and oppressed by others, this was the time when it could assert its political identity.

However, the years after the independence proved not easy. A country with few natural resources and no energy supplies, it found itself without electricity or gas for almost a decade. Homes were dark and cold, the lines for bread (bread that reminded of the famine during World War II-- not eatable) were long. The inability to provide for rudimentary needs of life soon resulted in the mass exodus of Armenians-- to Russia, Europe and further to the US. The war in the neighboring Georgia, absolute lack of any relations with Turkey and Russia's 'shock therapy' were going to affect the Armenian economy the most. To add to the troubles, the war in Nagorno Karabakh with Azerbaijan. If it had not been for the war, the fate of Armenians in that area would have been the same as that of the Armenians in Turkey in 1915, only this time in the hands of Azerbaijan. In those conditions and with the help of the Russian military, Armenians were able to protect their brethren in Karabakh. Of course, this war did result in the rise of nationalism in Armenia-- inevitable.

Therefore, the independence was a bitter drink. Of course, no one can say with certainty whether remaining a part of Russia would have changed anything or even would have been feasible, given the geography and location of Armenia. I personally always thought that Armenia should always be a part of Russia, to survive against the encroachments of Turkey and Azerbaijan and to be part of a larger community. It should be noted that while Armenia is independent, it still has very strong ties with Russia...

Armenia that always had the highest standard of living in the former USSR by all accounts, plummeted to the lowest. It has suffered from a corrupt government (instituted after the war in Nagorno Karabakh), which erased all the political opposition in the country and has suspended all the individual liberties. Now it is completely dependent on the Diaspora abroad and is not any different from a Third World country, except for its very high level of education and spiritual and cultural proximity to European ideals. By its history and culture, it is very similar to Greece.
Its location has defined the fate: always insecure and fearful, it is truly a phenomenon that it has survived, by preserving language, religion and even political consciousness...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

CEDAW and women

On July 17, 1980 at the Copenhagen Conference 64 states signed the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.) It was preceded by a formal Declaration which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 7, 1967. This Convention grew out of the Commission on the Status of Women that was in place upon creation of the International Bill of Human Rights. Iran to this day is not a party to the Convention. Others who are, pay only a lip-service to it, and the oppression of women in many parts of the world is still a reality. While the women's rights activists have played a major role in improving the enforcement of human rights for women, much work is still required... Women, however, are not silent any more in stark contrast with the near past. When the French government banned the Islamic headscarf in public schools, women marched in the streets chanting, "Headscarf is our choice!" When a girl was raped by tribal leaders in a small Pakistani village, she was not ashamed to come out, speak out and draw the attention of the human rights activists (which resulted in punitive measures for the rapists). So, women are expressing themselves. But it remains to be seen whether governments and state parties to international conventions will make serious efforts to enforce the treaties they have signed on to.

Women symbolize nurturing force, beauty and kindness that could save the world from all its calamities... Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) envisioned that in their paintings.

Globalization: a panacea?

I asked one of the Russian students in San Diego, "Why is Russia not joining the WTO?" He looked at me and said, "What will Russia get out of it?" I did not have a quick response to that but it made me think... Many ask similar questions that have as its source the dissatisfaction with 'internationalization' and globalization. In the 90s the rate of globalization was very speedy and disorganized. It left many countries and cultures marginalized, because its blessings were not shared with by many. Joseph Stiglitz captured the picture excellently in his famous "Globalization and its Discontents." Today, however, many have realized that globalization is not a choice but a reality. But why is it that people view globalization and one of its by-products-- growth and development of international organizations with such illusory expectations. Nobody promised that 'internationalization' would be panacea for all our troubles. Joining international organizations like the WTO entails not only benefits, but first of all obligations that often are difficult to carry out. For India it meant a fundamental restructuring of its manufacturing of generic drugs, due to the TRIPS agreement (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights). Just like a citizen of the civil society has obligations before the law and the society, a member of the international community also has heightened obligations before the world. So then what are the benefits? Going back to the question posed to me by the Russian student, the benefits are not quantifiable or ascertainable because 'internationalization' involves a process to direct domestic resources for the benefit not only of one's country but also at least not to the detriment of other countries. Perhaps, one can argue that only international cooperation can alleviate the problems in the world, etc. But once again globalization was never supposed to be a curing medicine to our wounds and of course, like every medicine it has its side effects... People should not view international organizations or the law for that matter from the perspective of a utilitarian, especially when the human rights law is concerned... Therefore, the question should not be 'what I would get out of it?' but 'how I can meet my obligations and be a team player with the international community.' Read Professor Anupam Chander's "Globalization and Distrust" for a compelling analysis of these issues.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Solar power and thermonuclear energy

Scientists in Russia are pressed to develop the idea of "Tokamak" to harness the solar power. (here) The idea was first flirted with by Andrei Sakharov in the 1950s when working on creation of the hydrogen bomb. Today when the humankind is confronted with the energy crisis, it has become paramount to learn more the about process of the thermonuclear synthesis. Many accounts suggest that scientists in China and Iran are already succesful in this area. However, there is no record that any country has been able to really light up the solar star. The project ITER in Europe is developing an international thermonuclear reactor, experiments for which will not begin until 2015. Russia is among the countries and is planning to build its solar station by 2030. The plan is also to develop hydrogen as the ideal form of energy with no emissions. Concerted efforts of the international community, however, are required in speeding up these plans, because global warming is not slowing down...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Self-Determination, Secession and Nationalism

Article 1 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the General Assembly on December 16, 1966 states:
All peoples have the right of self-determination...

Subsection 3 adds:
The States Parties to the present Covenant shall promote the realization of the right to self-determination and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the UN.

Article 4 (1) furthermore states:
In times of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed...
derogation from Article 1 is allowed.
(click here)

The right to self-determination is recognized in conformity with the Charter of the UN. Let us look at the Charter (here)

Article 2(4):
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity, or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN.

Article 1 (2) where the purposes are stated:
To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.

In short, the right to self-determination is recognized with a caveat-- that its enforcement is in conformity with the Charter of the UN. Use of force and aggression against the territorial integiry of a UN member is prohibited. Looking back at history, almost every movement for self-determination and secession was accompanied with use of force fueled by nationalism, religious fervor or ethnic antagonism. Therefore, it is also well-known that throughout its existence the UN also sought to promote the status quo and in fact had a difficulty of recognizing secessionist newly-formed states. The case of Somalia is vivid. The break-up of that country into pieces has not even been updated on the map.
It makes me think, if we encourage the right of self-determination of peoples, which leads to use of force most of the time, aren't we also then encouraging use of force. Chechnya and the Western criticism of the way Russia has been handling it is an example. While it is indubitable that Russia has crossed many boundaries of human rights in that area, Chechen extremists and nationalists were not devoid of fault. They sought secession not by peaceful means but by use of force that invited cyclical reaction from Russia. While the right to self-determination is an important political right, in the real world it has become a source of much devastation. It is enough to examine the case of Yugoslavia.
It is also true, that the basis for the right of self-determination is freedom and independence of a nation. How could India not fight for its independence from the British? How could the US not do the same? Often, the oppression of the minority ethnic group by the majority is the precursor of the secessionist movement. But non-violent resistance stressed by Gandhi is the aspiration. This is the dilemma for the gatekeepers of international security: how to recognize the right to self-determination of peoples and not encourage use of force. Moreover, if we acknowledge the dangerous effects of nationalism for peace in the world, we must also acknowledge that often calls for self-determination veil precisely that-- nationalism.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Balance of Powers and SCO

The summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan of the SCO on August 16, 2007 has been noted with much attention in the world. Washington is quite alarmed with prospects of the SCO turning into a military block to counter the NATO. The invitees to the summit, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan expressed their concerns with the 'war on terror' and the Missile Defense Shield plans of the US. The Bishkek declaration stressed certain points that directly reflect on the dissatisfaction with the US unilateral politics (here):

Modern challenges and threats can be effectively counteracted through concerted efforts of the international community on the basis of agreed principles and in the framework of multilateral mechanisms. Unilateral action cannot resolve the existing problems...
Cooperation in counteracting new challenges and threats must be conducted in a consistent manner, without resorting to double standards, in strict observance of norms of the international law...
The SCO member states advocate creation of a security structure on the basis of generally accepted norms of the international law that will:
- reflect the balance of interests of all subjects of international relations...
The SCO member states are determined to interact closely on tackling the issues of the UN reform. The reform of the pan global organisation, first and foremost its Security Council, must gain as much wider consensus of its members....

The Bishkek declaration speaks of UN reform, specifically the Security Council, propagates creation of a security system to counteract terrorism and promote vital interests of the parties, and rejects unilateralism. While Washington can understandably be concerned with some of this, this is perhaps creation of the balance of powers missing in the international arena since the end of the Cold War. The balance of powers can stabilize the world without going back to the era of the Cold War... The Defense shield plans of the US could in fact result in much destabilization because it would undercut deterrence. On the other hand, if the extremist Islamic states such as Iran, obtain nuclear weapons, it is quite possible that deterrence would not work, because the prerequisite to deterrence is nuclear weapons in the hands of 'rational actors'. Well, these types of summits show how much work needs to be done by the US to regain and strengthen its leadership-- only at this time, as a team member with the rest... Unfortunately, the ambitions of the SCO members may go too far ahead blocking the US from any efforts to play as a 'team member.'

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"When in doubt, shout it out!"

John J Cleary, a criminal defense attorney, who is now teaching at the MSU (Moscow State University), one of my mentors, likes to say, "When in doubt, shout it out!" There is no fairness, many say. I think, there is fairness if you choose to fight for it and if you only choose to search for it. Yes, it entails sacrifice and yes, it is often a risk you take. But when Mother Teresa (1910-1997) ventured forth on her voyage of a missionary, she did sacrifice much... And when Gandhi was fasting against violence and ethnic strife, he was risking his very life... And when Martin Luther King Jr. was shouting out his Dream, he was taking the same very risk... While most of us could not ever be like those people, each of us could take our own share of the risk and could offer our own little sacrifice for justice and fairness. Just look at the sea of endless human suffering engulfing the world... The children-- little creatures-- tortured by hunger and disease in Africa... The wars of the Middle East that have displaced thousands and thousands of people, seeking refuge in the desert of nowhere... The population growth of China and India, Tsunamis that do not end, earthquakes that destroy what has just been built and of course, the states that resort to military means to communicate with one another, the big business that cheaply eats up human labor with impunity... Action begins only after recognition of a fact... Mother Teresa wrote, "[I] felt it very deeply that while I should be snug in my bed... down the road there were those who have no cover." People who do not and cannot recognize these facts, will never find the courage to act... And action is needed now!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Marina Tsvetaeva

"Poetry is born out of indignation," said Juvenal (Roman poet, 1-2nd CE). This can be said about the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva, who used to say, "I don't believe in poetry that flows. If it bursts-- yes!" Marina Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow, Russia, on September 26, 1892, in an intelligent and highly educated family. Marina started writing poems at the age of 6, and not only in Russian, but also in French and German.

Her first collection was published at the age of 18. Very unique in her style and mature in consciousness, she wrote profusely and very passionately. The October Revolution of 1917 could not be accepted well by her, because of her 'intelligentsia' background and the bloody deeds of the Bolsheviks. So in this period she lived exclusively for the world of literature, remaning uninterested in politics and spending her days in miserable poverty. But she challenged all the norms in poetry by her new style. Her poems were like sparks from a rocket or pieces of rock thrown out of a burning volcano. She was an angry poet.

Her husband, Sergei Efron was an officer of the White Guard, which was wiped out and its remnants ejected out of Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917. She, therefore, could not see him until 1922. Meanwhile, she had a very passionate lesbian affair with the poet Sofia Parnok, which had a huge influence on her writings. Later she could not forgive herself for that but always deeply loved this woman.

She was able to reunite with Efron in 1922 when she was allowed to travel abroad. Her emigrant life in Berlin, Prague and Paris was filled with torture and in complete poverty. She could not accept the intellectual void of the emigrants and the fact of separation from the homeland. Only as an immigrant she became politically aware and started accepting the core values of the Soviet Union. She was in touch with Vladimyr Mayakovsky-- the Revolutionary poet and was greatly inspired by his work. However, her poetry was not published even by the most liberal emigrant publishers (who were anti-Soviet) and Tsvetaeva basically was in complete seclusion and loneliness. At this time she got involved in other extramarrital affairs with men, one of whom was the poet Boris Pasternak. These relationships seemed to give her inspiration and hope in her troubled days.

She wrote in bitterness, "My reader is in Russia where my poems do not even reach." But she also never lost faith in her talent, "Time will come for my poems, like valuable wine." In this state of mind, she witnessed Hitler's rise and invasion into Checkoslovakia. That was the last straw for her poetic soul. In her writings she condemned the Nazis and encouraged the Check people to be strong and fight.

Finally in 1939 she was given Soviet citizenship and was able to return to Russia, only to face Stalinist oppression and Nazi invasion. In those days, anyone from abroad and from 'intelligentsia' was viewed with irrational suspicion by Stalin's thugs. Her husband was shot in 1941. When she asked for a job from the Center of Writers (subsidized by the government), she was refused any help. Living in complete poverty and hunger, she was evacuated to a small town Yelabuga to escape the Nazi invasion. There Marina Tsvetaeva is said to have committed suicide on August 31, 1941. The cause of her death was classified until the Khruschev's thaw of the 60s. To this day it is not clear whether it was a real suicide or a set-up by Stalin's chinovnicks.

Marina's poetry reflected the horrible times she lived in and her inability to accept that reality. She loved her country and accepted the core ideology of the Soviet Union, but could not accept the excesses, the oppression of the regime and absolute absence of individual liberties. Also because of her bisexuality, she constantly felt guilty and self-stigmatized. The society with its norms and materialism poisoned her life. "Breaking on your knees of granite, I am reborn with every wave!"

Her poetry is also about a paradox, a mystery that she took up to resolve in her life and invited readers to resolve with her. She was a poet of symbolism. "What is reading but solving, interpreting, extrapolating the mysterious and remaining outside of the paper the depth of words. Reading is first of all a coauthorship."
Marina will remain one of the brightest stars in the dark and tempestuous horizon of Russian history.
(All translations here are by Zoya)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


It seems, the reverberations from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 are still strong... Click here. The extremist Hutus (Interahamwe) who carried out the genocide resulting in deaths of almost a million of Tutsis, have taken shelter in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The Rwandan government, understandably concerned with such a group of people gaining strength across the border, has put pressure on the DR Congo to allow them to wipe out these 'rebels.' Well, 'wiping out' will result in more violence and less hopes for reconciliation. But not dealing with these military groups will further destabilize the area and invite more extremism and terrorism. It would seem, the UN peacekeeping operations should be enhanced precisely in this type of a place. The Rwandan genocide was one of the worst modern massacres and its causes are still live and flourishing in the region... The world focus on the Middle East and Iraq has left this region pretty much unattended...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Napoleon Bonaparte

On August 15, 1769 Napoleon Bonaparte was born (1769-1821). The legendary figure of the Romanticism and the carrier of the French Revolution, he dreamed of a United Europe under the leadership of France. A true cosmopolitan, Napoleon was too ambitious and too impatient for a natural development of history. The end justified the means to him and the use of force was a necessary by-product of realizing his dreams-- too far-fetched often. Yet, he was also a nationalistic figure, since he sought to subjugate all of Europe under the leadership of the French empire. Like Alexander the Great and Ceasar, Napoleon will remain a controversial figure. The dream to conquer the world historically always ended in a disaster... Pax Romana ended in the collapse of the Roman Empire and the attempts of expansionism brought the demise of the Soviet Union... Some people argue the unipolarism of today's world is a birth of Pax Americana... Hopefully, we have learned the lessons of history...

White House Withdraws Hoagland Nomination...

The White House has wisely withdrawn the nomination of Dick Hoagland as US ambassador to Armenia. Click here. It was to be done, because the denier of the Armenian Genocide could not conceivably be welcome in Armenia as a representative of the US. But this followed only after the efforts of the ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA). It is really ironic that the debate about whether there was an Armenian genocide is still continuing in the US politics. The political interests of the US in the Middle East and the desire not to alienate Turkey as a satellite are paramount in this debate. However, recognition of a historical reality, especially of such a magnitude as a genocide, is a moral duty of every nation, regarldess of the political expediency... Without this, the history will repeat itself and peace will turn into a dream...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Double Jeopardy and the Rule Against Multiple Prosecutions

Your client is charged with petty theft and commercial burglary. In the course of preparing for the case, you find out that the charges are a result of a series of acts committed by him in two neighboring counties. You also find out that the same charges were brought against him by both counties and he already pleaded guilty in one of the counties. The question you are confronted with is this: if he pleads guilty in the second county, would there be any issues related to double jeopardy or prohibition against multiple prosecution. After all, the charges were brought in both counties as a result of a series of interrelated acts committed by him culminating in the so-called 'offense.' If there is any substance to the rules against double jeopardy and multiple prosecution, it seems fairness requires dismissal of the case in the second county. But the law is not very clear on this issue. While Kellett v. Superior Court (1966) 63 Cal2d 822, bars multiple prosecutions, it does not require that offenses committed at different times and at different places be prosecuted in a single proceeding. People v. Carpenter (1999) 21 Cal4th 1016. Looking at the federal double jeopardy jurisprudence, the answer to the question is even less clear. See Brown v. Ohio, 432 U.S. 169. For example, when a defendant is accused of the crime of joyriding, can the defendant be punished for each separate period of joyriding involving the same automobile? If the defendant joyrides for a total of 5 days, can separate punishments be imposed for each day? For each hour? For each minute? It all largely depends on the "unit of prosecution" that is identified in the statute (implicitly or explicitly). Basically, the courts will have to determine what the legislature intended when it defined the scope of the crime. If the legislature intended each day of joyriding to be treated as a separate crime, then there is no double jeopardy bar to imposing separate punishments for each day. What if the legislative intent is not clear? Then the defendant's case will depend on the judge and the common practice in the given court, or county. It would seem, the double jeopardy prohibition as a constitutional right were to be given more expansive and clear interpretation. Moreover, common sense sometimes suggests the basic answer to the basic question when the law does not offer a clear response.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

On June 15, 2001 the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was created out of the Shanghai Five in existence since 1996-1997. Originally composed of Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, it was joined by Uzbekistan at the 2001 Summit. The Shanghai Convention was signed and SCO became one of the most prominent regional organizations in the world. First focused on border issues and military security, after the 9/11 it directed its efforts on combatting terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. It was at this time when Putin was offering Russia's help to the US in the 'war on terror.' The organization has developed to include on its agenda also trade and economic matters, since China has been the center of the growing Asian economy. For obvious reasons, Russia and the four Central Asian independent republics want to develop strong economic ties with China. Yet, many politicians in the West have viewed the creation of the SCO with alarm. The SCO resembled an exclusive club of only a few chosen. Plus, it could in the future challenge the US domination in the world and its leadership in the war on terror. This is from the skeptics. But any regional attempts at securing peace and cooperation must be greeted with positive energy. After all, international cooperation begins from a regional one.

We are women and we can do it!

In the famous movie "A League of Their Own" with Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell women prove that they can conquer baseball too. In the 20th century the women's emancipation movement gathered pace when women started entering fields traditionally reserved for men. In the 70s women could hardly be found in law schools. Now women comprise a majority in many law schools. Although only 32% of the California Bar is women (see recent Diversity Summit of the Los Angeles California Bar Association), it is still a remarkable progress. The billable hour psychodrama of the big firms is perhaps the biggest challenge for women becoming partners. But in other sections of the profession women have arisen in the hierarchy. More and more women become judges, administrators and supervising attorneys. While the glass ceiling for earnings is still lower for women, they have been able to replace men in virtually every field, while men could hardly ever replace women at home. They have done it and have managed to raise children and be good wives. This has happened not only in the West. In other parts of the world where oppression of women is still a painful reality, women have thrown out their submissive posture and have rebelled. They have demanded respect and independence. More and more Islamic women enter the dialogue on culture, religion and gender roles. For more on this see the amazing work of Professor Madhavi Sunder, a world-class scholar on women's rights. Go girl! We are women and we can do it!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Nationalism and Patriotism

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) said once, "Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of the mind." I would add, it is a dangerous disease. The rise of nationalism in the post-Communist world and the war on terror is fearful and perhaps, fatal. Patriotism and natural love of one's country have transformed into feelings of superiority and xenophobia. Indeed, it is a fine line separating patriotism from nationalism. It is a spectrum that changes its colors due to the rules of physics and chemistry-- often undetected by the human eye until it is too late. Patriotism is healthy and is necessary for human flourishing. John F. Kennedy's words calling people to do something for their country are the beginning-point of building a humane society. A person who does not love her country cannot cherish it and cannot contribute to it positively. People who drink the blood of their country without caring for it are parasites and vampires. But every human being must be cognizant of the fine line separating patriotism from nationalism and when they approach that line in the fray of the moment, should sober up and stop. Patriotism should not turn into a blind form of obsession over one's superiority or fear/distrust of others-- nationalism. That is the worst and most fatal mistake that humans can make because all other problems follow from that. Today the rise of nationalism has translated into virulent fundamentalism of all shapes and all forms and everywhere in the world. Discrimination of minorities-- racial, ethnic, national has become sharper even in Western liberal societies. And there is no end to the 'war on terror' because it is really shaped and inflamed by nationalism.

Pushkin and Tsarist Russia

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) is the father of Russian literature and the greatest Russian poet of all times. It is impossible to encapsulate in words his legacy. Indeed, he was and will remain the biggest icon of Russia. His character is legendary because of his endless struggle for liberty and political reform in Tsarist Russia. His participation in major political rebellions was well-known to the Tsar, who, fearful of the popularity of Pushkin, did not take up too serious measures. Still, Pushkin was sent away from the capital to the Caucasus and the Crimea and then to Northern Russia... After the Decembrist uprising in 1825, where Pushkin was a major participant, he could not write and publish without censorship. He had to resort to clever metaphors and folktales to express his views... Often he would burst out in flame and openly criticize the political atmosphere in Russia. The most painful to him was the oppression of the people and he dedicated most of his work to inspiring people to wake up and rebel. He was also critical of the customs and hypocrisy of the aristocracy in Russia. He was in seclusion most of his late years, suffering from angry jealousy over his infidel wife. His wife was to cost his life. Her alleged lover challenged Pushkin, who called him out to duel, where he was shot fatally. A miserable end to the life of the greatest man. He wrote:
"And I will be favored by the people for long,
Because I awakened kindness with my muse,
and in my cruel age fought for freedom,
and called for mercy for the fallen."
Alas, the English translation could never really give the flavor of his poetry. When people today study the history of Russia and wonder whether Russia could ever become really democratic, they should examine the work of Pushkin. When they argue that the Russian culture does not accept liberal ideals or principles of democracy, it is apparent that they do not really know the Russian culture.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Liberty Leading the People

This painting by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) was created in 1830. A woman leading the people... The age of Romanticism in Europe was at its height and Napoleon's quest for United Europe under the flag of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite created fire that could not be extinguished for a long time. It was indeed the age of Revolution that would change the whole face of Europe. The little boy in the painting is Gavroche of Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables. Hugo like Delacroix was able to capture the conflagration of his times, only in writing... This woman in the painting is really France leading the rest of the world... The ideals of the French Revolution needed some time to establish after its bloodiness and excesses settled down... After all, the age of Robespierre, Marat and Danton was not the most democratic... As far as Napoleon, he was too ambitious to settle for less and so soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Freedom and its Attainability

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Danish philosopher, wrote in his famous "Either/Or," "For freedom, therefore, I am fighting... I am fighting for the future, for either/or. That is the treasure I desire to bequeath to those whom I love in the world; yea, if my little son were at this instant of an age when he could thoroughly understand me, and my last hour had come, I would say to him, 'I leave to thee no fortune, no title and dignities, but I know where there lies buried a treasure which suffices to make thee richer than the whole world, and this treasure belongs to thee... This treasure is deposited in thine own inner self: there is an either/or which makes a man greater than the angels."
These words of the existentialist equate freedom with choice. Ability to choose is freedom and freedom is the ability to choose... Self-realization of the individual is the prerequsite to the ability to choose and therefore, freedom. But self-realization comes only after knowledge of oneself. "Know thyself" is the old sage's advice... Therefore, freedom is unattainable without self-knowledge... The question then becomes, is freedom possible when most people by virtue of their surroundings, upbringing and other factors are simply not capable of learning who they are... Because of this, true freedom also becomes simply absurd and a figment of our imagination...

Ancient Armenia-- Nairi

An ancient land, Armenia and ancient people, Armenians with age-old history... The historical horizon of this nation is covered with enormous suffering in efforts to survive in the hands of Arabs, Persians, Turks. A Christian nation, it was bound to be constantly invaded by neighboring Muslim tribes. Perhaps, the only historical ally and protector was Russia, also a Christian nation. A nation, always creative in arts and sciences, but alas not in building weapons for self-defense, now its land is indistinguishable on the map. A huge mass land was forcefully and slowly taken away from Armenians and most notably by Turks who achieved their purposes in a 1915 carefully devised genocide, under the auspices of WWI. The first genocide of the 20th century, it was going to be followed by others. Partly because the world remained silent in the face of it and did not stop it. Ancient Armenia's name was Nairi. My name, Narine, as derivative of Nairi, carries with it the sounds of the dark past and into a hopeful future of a small nation...

Monday, August 6, 2007

On August 6...

--August 6, 1806 is the date of the final fall of the Roman Empire when Emperor Franz II rejected the crown.
-- On the same day in 1890 in New York there was the first electrocution ever administered on the killer William Kemmler.
-- In 1893 in Zurich there was the third Congress of II International.
-- In 1914 on this very day Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and WWI began.
-- In 1945 the first atomic bomb ever was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

European Union and the Death Penalty

Article 2 (2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union stipulates, "No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed." Subsection (1) furthermore states, "Everyone has the right to life."
Accordingly, the member states do not impose the death penalty. Russia, planning to integrate into the EU, has also abolished the death penalty. Despite this, the U.S. is not even planning to make steps in that direction. The two outdated theoretical justifications: retribution and deterrence, are not even brought up any more because they do not work in practice. The crime rate in the U.S. is not any lower than that of any EU country. But most people in America still want the death penalty... Interestingly, the conservatives are the strongest supporters despite their also very strong support for the right to life. They fight for the unborn fetus giving it a priority over the woman's choice for abortion, while ardently supporting death for the criminals.
Of course, the unborn child is not a criminal. But there is something strange about it. "Eye for an eye" concepts remind of the Middle Ages. Do we want to return to those times as a nation? That is the question.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Galina Starovoitova and Human Rights in Russia

Galina Starovoitova (1946-1998) was one of the bravest women politicians and human rights activists of our times. During the transitional and volatile post-Communist period she was one of the very few to voice concerns about human rights issues in Russian politics. Galina received her B.A. from Leningrad College of Military Engeneering in 1966 and her M.A. in social psychology from Leningrad University 1971. Her Ph.D. in social anthropology from the Institute of Ethnography, USSR Academy of Sciences (1980) explored ethnic groups in the modern Soviet city. She published extensively on anthropological theory and cross-cultural studies.

An early and outspoken critic of human rights abuses against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, Starovoitova won a seat in the USSR Supreme Soviet from Yerevan, Armenia. In 1990, she was elected from Leningrad to the Russian Supreme Soviet, where she served that body until it was disbanded in 1993.
Starovoitova also served as Russian president Boris Yeltsin's advisor on ethnic issues in 1991 and 1992, though she resigned because of differences over Kremlin policy in the Caucasus.
In 1993-1994, Starovoitova was a Jennings Randolph senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace where she completed Sovereignty After Empire: Self-Determination Movements in the Former Soviet Union. In 1994-1995 Galina was the Thomas J. Watson distinguished visiting professor at Brown University.
Elected to the Russian State Duma in 1995, Galina represented the 209th parliamentary district in northern St. Petersburg. In 1997, Galina published National Self-Determination : Approaches and Case Studies, a scholarly book on ethnic relations.
A fearless critic of Russia's policy in Chechnya, she used to say, "If in accordance with international standards we recognize the rights of nations to self-determination, we must recognize it also [within Russia]." Galina was shot to death around her apartment in St. Petersburg, in November of 1998. Her murder case is still unsolved. Perhaps, she was the very reincarnation of Zoya Kosmodemianskaya-- never afraid and always ready to fight.