Saturday, May 31, 2008

On May 31

1594, a great Italian Renaissance painter Tintoretto died. As an apprentice to Titian (see on this blog), Tintoretto had a similar style of portraying women as robust, with 'meat' and a bit overweight by today's standards... Rubens (1577-1640) also had the same style... It is very interesting how over time the image of women has changed. Now the goal is to be skinny, athletic, muscular, with no excess fat... But do we need to become slaves to such (mis)conceptions?.. Women especially become so insecure and completely enslaved by such misperceptions? Does beauty need to be confined to one singular image? I really hope not...

Above is 'Susanna and Elders' by Tintoretto.
Below is Rubens' 'Three Graces'.

1961, South Africa became an independent republic.

Friday, May 30, 2008

On May 30

1431, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc in French) was burned at the stake at the age of nineteen. The legend of Joan of Arc is similar to the story of Grace O'Malley and Zoya Kosmodemianskaya (see on this blog under Labels).

France was at war against England from 1330 to about 1430, which came to be known as the Hundred Years War. By 1429 the English had basically conquered much of France and occupied Paris. The French did not have the leadership to fight back, while Henry V of England was in fact claiming the French throne. Joan was able to get through all the hoops, was given troops to command and the rank of captain. Her troops under her leadership had an unexpected victory over the English at the Battle of Orleans. Then she assisted with the coronation of Charles VII.

In 1430 the allies of England, Burgundians, captured Joan while she was defending Compiegne and she was then surrendered to the English. The English of course took the opportunity to turn her over to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen to be tried for withcraft and heresy, and for wearing male clothing (how offensive!). She was executed shortly after...

1778, Voltaire, one of the greatest philosophers/writers of all times (and my favorite) died. He said, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On May 29

1990, Boris N. Yeltsin was elected President of Russia. While during his rule Russians got the taste of basic democracy and freedom, the country suffered an absolute disaster in all spheres of life-- economic, social, cultural, political. See my previous post. Rise of extreme nationalism, free rule of organized crime/mafia, economic dilapidation, severe poverty, educational dumping, etc. His was not leadership, but mere presence. Other, very dangerous people were ruling behind the scenes. It was during Yeltsin's rule that my family moved to the US (1996), giving up on any hope of recovery and security... Anarchy ruled for the entire period until Putin took over...

Russians then decided, they would rather have ORDER with less democracy, than ANARCHY with freedoms... That is why, Putin who brought that long-awaited order became so popular and so loved by Russians... While of course many of the problems associated with Yeltsin's rule have become systematic and not conducive to simple solutions, Putin's intelligent and very thoughtful leadership ameliorated the severity of the effects...

Could there be a third alternative for Russia-- both order and democracy (any style)? Maybe in the future! Freedom is a cherished human need and Russians are not devoid of that... It is ingrained in their very culture, based on a country extending over a vast territory... Certain amount of wildness and rebellion characteristic of gypsies is in the deep psyche of Russia... So, perhaps it is a philosophical question, how much of freedom is enough not to turn into anarchy and disorder?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On May 28

1961, Amnesty International was officially formed. On the same day in 1981, Peter Benenson, the founder, celebrated the 20th anniversary of his creation by relighting the original candle, which he first lit in 1961. The idea of the organization was born in 1960, when Benenson, a British lawyer, was reading a newspaper story about two Portuguese students sentenced to 7 years for raising a toast to freedom in a Lisbon restaurant. Benenson was outraged enough to launch a campaign called “Appeal for Amnesty 1961" in the London Observer. He wrote a powerful article entitled “Forgotten Prisoners,” where he said,

“Open your newspaper—any day of the week—and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured, or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his Government. The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”

His article inspired a great response. Within a year, groups of supporters had formed throughout the world, all of them writing letters in support of the students. By the end of 1961, the organization Amnesty International was formed.
Today AI has more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On May 26

1993, President Clinton named his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to chair the Task Force on National Health Care Reform. In her speech on this day, she condemned "the proponents of the status quo" who opposed a government-subsidized health care for all. She also condemned the "price gouging, cost shifting, and unconscionable profiteering" practices by doctors. "Too many people have made too much money," she said about the health care field. In tune with this, Bill Clinton addressed Congress in September of 1993, urging "to fix a health care system that is badly broken... giving every American health security-- health care that is always there."

"When people ask me about health care reform, I tell that that I am disappointed we were not able to make more progress." "Now I am from the school of smaller steps, but I believe we must continue to make progress," she said.

Making universal health care her priority in the ongoing Presidential race, Hillary Clinton lost many votes of Americans antipathetic to any sign or trace of socialism... Barack Obama made a very smart decision not to espouse the same passion and run a more 'mild' working-class platform...

"Health care is a fundamental right." These words by Hillary Clinton will echo in the ears of many Americans for decades ahead, until there is the courage to enforce this right... Hillary Clinton, while probably losing this race, has really won.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

On May 25

1986, approximately 5 million Americans held hands for 15 minutes across America for the cause of helping the homeless. The path stretched for more than 4,000 miles from New York City to Long Beach, California. This hand-holding came to be known as 'Hands Across America.'

Have you ever imagined what it feels like to be homeless? Last night I had a dream that I had to sleep in the street out there in the cold... I woke up in consternation. Walking down the streets in Los Angeles, you will see many used-to-be decent people now homeless... I do not have the exact statistics but last time I was clerking at the LA City Attorney's Office in 2005, the number was appalling and was growing... We spend a lot of money on the police to go out and harass people, by issuing really frivolous citations, such as loitering or under the influence in public... I get to defend many people in those 'criminal' prosecutions. Strikingly we criminalize every human act... Of course, the same homeless people are issued citations by the cities and are ordered to pay fines! Can you believe it? Out of despair they turn into drug addicts and alcoholics. We could spend the same money on getting people off the streets and treating them!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Meeting of influential prime-ministers

Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy. It is the butter to the bread of politics. The two sister states, Russia and Ukraine, are scheduling a crucial meeting between the two prime-ministers, Vladimyr Putin and Yulia Timoshenko. This is in the background of very complicated and tense relations between Russia and Ukraine... What is to be expected? Well, analysts are seeking not simple diplomatic overtures, but real political solutions from these levered and highly shrewd politicians. And of course, there must be commitment on both sides to effectuate the policies stated at meetings in a friendly atmosphere...

(On a different note, it is really nice to see a woman politician in a dress and with a fancy hairstyle, having had the courage not to limit herself to the trivial suit worn by both sexes... Unfortunatley, there is this pressure on women politicians and lawyers to look like men and almost lose touch of femininity... Whenever Hillary Clinton displayed her female charm, she was attacked and laughed at...)

For more here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On May 22

1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his 'Great Society'. He stated, "The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life." Similar to FDR's New Deal, the Great Society was focused on restoring the economic equilibrium and moral renewal in the society. Influenced and prompted very much so by Dr. King, President Johnson signed off under the most important Civil Rights laws. He also proposed Medicare for the elderly, education assistance for the students, a higher minimum wage, poverty alleviation grants, higher unemployment benefits, housing for the homeless, improved education for the Native Americans, pensions for the retired, tax rebates for small business, and subsidies for farmers... The list goes on... I believe we need someone like FDR or LBJ right now... Time cannot wait any longer. Will Mr. Obama, the probable Democratic nominee, deliver???

1992 Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia joined the United Nations.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fundamental rights

Many would agree with me that extreme poverty is a violation of human rights. More specifically, it is in violation of socio-economic rights. But I do not like using the word 'socio-economic' in lieu of 'human' because I think the first sounds more trivial than the latter... No matter how we understand these labels, rights to food, shelter, basic livelihood are fundamental, inalienable and unquestionable... The only problem is how to find the avenue of enforcing them in the world of greed, corruption, selfishness and unequal distribution of wealth... Hence the strong need for workable international law mechanisms... Poverty, as well as a host of other problems, is something that needs global, truly international attention, struggle and solution...

See the publication by David Bilchitz on 'Poverty and Fundamental Rights' here.

If you are as hungry as I am to study Public International Law visit Oxford University Press here. You will find superb publications on all subjects of interest there...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On May 20

1932, Amelia Earhart (1897-1939) took off from Newfoundland to begin the world's first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean by a female pilot, landing in Ireland the next day. Born in Kansas, USA, Amelia was a distinguished pilot, author of best-sellers and a women's rights advocate. She developed friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. The two flew together, which prompted the First Lady to get a student permit. The two shared many interests and passions... In 1937 during her last flight around the globe she disappeared most mysteriously... Her fate is remarkably similar to that of Yuri Gagarin. A quote from her says it well, "The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do." I would add, you decide to act only because of strong faith in yourself. Unless you have got that faith, you never find the strength to act.

1999, in Canada the Supreme Court strikes down a heterosexual definition of 'spouse' as unconstitutional.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Moments, seconds carried away by the whirl of eternity, turning into decades and centuries, hanging above your head like a Damoclean sword... Your existence is suspended in air... Your life is only a thin thread among myriads of other colorful threads, making up a patchwork of humanity, only to change its color and wane with Time... The clock is ticking, the sand is running out, only to make up the desert of nonentity...

Moments are chipped away by the mysterious sculptor piece by piece, stone by stone...

Seventeen moments of spring

This painting was created by Wassily (Vasiliy) Kandinsky (1866-1944)

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Slowly but surely our legal system is moving and progressing towards recognizing and validating gay marriage. California Supreme Court has just ruled on the subject, lifting the ban on gay marriages. It is a very well-written and reasoned opinion. See here and here. Of course, there is a countertrend developing to pass an initiative to erect hurdles. A large part of our society, some influenced by faith and religion, others simply by traditional concepts, is resisting the move towards recognizing gay marriages... I remember Bill Clinton's comments with regard to the treatment of victims of AIDS at a symposium, "People discriminate and develop prejudice because of fear and insecurity." Well said. I am just wondering, if homophobia is also a result of such fears and insecurities in people...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Children with disabilities

UNICEF has welcomed the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Disabilities Convention was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 December 2006, and was opened for signature and ratification on 30 March 2007. So far, 128 countries have signed and 25 countries have ratified the Convention. See here for more.
Article 7 specifically focuses on the rights of children with disabilities.

“The inclusion of children with disabilities is not a charitable act but a matter of rights. Empowering and enabling children makes them less vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation,” said UNICEF Director or Programmes, Nicholas Alipui.

Given the deplorable situation of children in many hot spots of Africa and many other places around the world, this Convention is an additional measure more narrowly focused on children with disabilities... Some of these disabilities are inborn, others developed in life, through hunger and disease... Can't we treat the cause of these disabilities?!

(photo credit here)

Monday, May 5, 2008


The Orange Revolution in Ukraine is turning into a catastrophe for this country. The triangle, similar to the one here in the United States (Obama-Clinton-McCain), between Uschenko, Yanukovich, Timoshenko is being solidified... People are becoming obsessed over their favorite leader and incapable of listening to the others... No sense is restored and the Ukrainians are victims of the political nightmare... How did they come down to this? Well, the Yugoslavian case is pretty instructive. Once the unifying force of Communism disappeared, all the separationist, nationalistic tendencies came to surface... Especially when Ukraine became an important country for the United States' interests in the region, all of a sudden it found itself sandwiched between the world-wide wind currents-- hot and cold and from opposite sides, from Russia, Europe and the United States.

Ukraine is a sovereign nation and should determine its destiny on its own... At the same time, what if that sovereign nation is split into different ideologies and groups? Can there be a unified country when it is in reality split like that? Moreover, the Orange Revolution and Uschenko's ideology was very nationalistic and anti-Russian in its roots, which brought forth Russia's antagonism and the old generation's resentment. Uschenko's constituents were the newer generation, while Yanukovich's-- the older... So, it is a generational fight, among other things... At the same time, Russia should realize that these former republics are no longer satellites of Moscow and can have their own say with regard to their political ideologies... So, Russia's anger with Ukraine (as well as Georgia) is misplaced...

The orange is turning into a dark brown?..

For the latest see here