Friday, January 30, 2009

The Beauty in the Snow


Photos of snow crystals taken with a photomicroscope.
What an awesome beauty hiding in such tiny crystals!

Photo Courtesy:
Layout: Joachim Romeo D'Costa

The beauty of snow depends on the eyes of the beholder. Some see it as a white sheet covering plants, trees, rooftops, lawns, roads and fields. A few see it creating a surreal atmosphere where a sense of the otherworldly pervades. Some see it as an accessory to their frolicking and sporty spirit. Of course, there are others, who see it as a nuisance that makes them gloomy and keeps them home-bound.

We see snowflakes dropping on the ground, but few of us know that in these flakes there are tiny snow crystals that have a marvelous microscopic world of their own. Scientists have come up with cameras that can see these beautifully shaped crystals and take photos of them generating our admiration and marvel.

How do you like the shapes and beauty of the snow crystals? Bookmark and Share

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Canada Awash with the Whites

The aftermath of the snowstorm of January 19, 2009 in Toronto
Photos © Jerome D'Costa
Layout: Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Snow, snow and snow -- everywhere! Yes, Canada is now blanketed with a thick layer of the whites. In addition, Canadians are braving a bone-jarring cold weather.

Currently, the temperature is: Vancouver 5C, Yellowknife -27C, Iqaluit -25C, Calgary 7C, Regina -8C, Toronto -5C, Montreal -11C and Halifax -6C. It is dangerous to go out of houses without appropriate cold weather clothing.

After the dumping of tons of snow, these places have a surreal look -- a kind of dreamlandy appearance. A few years ago, an immigrant from Bangladesh who never witnessed a snowfall in his life, described it thus: "We imagine heaven to be a place where everything is brightly white and pure. After the snowfall I find Toronto to be like that!"

Another view of the streets, sidewalks, lawns and houses -- all covered
with about 35 centimetres (13.78 inches) of snow (January 19, 2009)

Photo © Jerome D'Costa

Snowy Weather Terms

Those who live outside the snowy weather zones, will find it helpful to go through the goodies below:

Blizzard: A winter snow storm with strong winds, very cold temperature, low visibility, and lasting three to six hours.

Cold Spell: A period of cold weather.

Flurry: A sudden light snow fall of a short duration, having a very little accumulation.

Freezing Ice Storm: A snow storm in which snow only freezes on roads.

Freezing Rain: Rain, due to temperature below the freezing point of water, that freezes and forms a layer of ice on the ground or any other object.

Frost: A layer of tiny water crystals, resulting from frozen water vapour.

Ice Storm: A snow storm where widespread icing of plants, trees and infrastructures takes place.

Icicle: A tapering and pointed hanging piece of ice, formed after dripping water is frozen.

Sleet: Rain drops that freezes before reaching the ground and fall as ice pellets.

Snowfall: The depth of the layer of the newly-fallen snow.

Snow Flurry: Same as Flurry.

Snowpack: The accumulated snow --both new and old -- that covers a given area.

Snow Shower: A brief falling of snow at varying intensities.

Snow Squall: A brief, sudden and violent snowstorm.

Snow Storm: A winter storm having a large amount of snowfall.

Wind Chill: The cooling effect of wind and air, when applied to the loss of body heat from exposed skin.

Winter Storm: A storm with heavy snowfall, freezing rain, or sleet. Bookmark and Share

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chinese New Year: This is the 'Year of the Ox'


The Canada Post commemorates the Chinese Year of the Ox
with a new stamp

Tomorrow, January 26, marks the first day of the Chinese New Year of 4707. This is the Year of the Ox. Those, born in the Year of the Ox, are believed to acquire the personality (leadership, stability, friendliness, inspiration and confidence) of this animal.

The Chinese all over the world celebrate their new year with elaborate rituals and festivities, starting on the first day of the first month and culminating on the 15th day with the impressive lantern festival.

Origin of the Year

There is a legend that Lord Buddha (563 - 483 BC) had called animals to come to him on the Chinese new year. None but 12 animals came. He then named a year after each of these animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, boar or pig). This 12-year cycle repeats in the Chinese calendar.

Rat is the symbol of imagination, charm and generosity.
Ox is the symbol of leadership, inspiration, confidence, stability and friendliness.
Tiger is sensitive, emotional and loving.
Rabbit is articulate, talented and ambitious.
Dragon is full of vitality and enthusiasm, but demanding on others.
Snake has wisdom, charm, romance and deep thought.
Horse is hardworking, independent and adventuresome.
Goat is elegant and artistic but complaining type.
Monkey is intelligent, of magnetic personality, and well-liked.
Rooster is shrewd, outspoken and decisive in decision making.
Dog is the symbol of honesty, loyalty, and fault-finding.
Boar (Pig) is sincere, intelligent, tolerant and naive.


The Chinese inside China call their new year the 'Lunar New Year', but expatriate Chinese call it the 'Chinese New Year.' The Chinese all over the world observe their new year with fanfare and festivities. They take a long holiday during these 15-day celebrations.

Passing of red envelopes, mostly with money inside as gifts, from older persons to younger ones; exchanging gifts; decorating homes, shops and offices with plants, flowers, icons and ornaments; attending fairs and fireworks; wearing mostly red-coloured costumes; and enjoying colourful and diverse food and candy items are part of the celebrations.

The new year rituals include a thorough cleaning of houses-stores-offices, best personal appearance, dragon dance, shooting off of firecrackers, and debt payments so that the new year starts with a clean heart, clean environment, and joyful spirit.

We wish all in the Chinese communities a Happy New Year! Bookmark and Share

Saturday, January 24, 2009

'The Priests': A New & Hot Trio Musical Group


The Priests trio: Father Eugene O'Hagan, Father Martin O'Hagan and Father Delargy
Photo Credit: Catholic News Agency

The Priests -- a musical group comprising three Northern Ireland Roman Catholic priests -- has already got its debut album a place in the Guinness World Records by being the "fastest-selling UK debut for a classical act."

The album, produced in last November by Sony BMG Music Entertainment, is now one of the hottest albums in the world.

Early in 2008, the trio -- comprising Father Eugene O'Hagan (48), his brother Father Martin O'Hagan (45) and their school friend Father Delargy (44) -- had signed a recording contract of one million British pounds (nearly US $ 2 million) with the musci giant Sony BMG.

Their album has parts of the Latin Mass, traditional hymns like Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus, and a selection of opera classics.

The priests continue to perform their regular priestly duties in their parishes in the Diocese of Down and Connor in addition to their new singing and limited promotional tours.

They can be heard both at The Priests website and the YouTube. Bookmark and Share

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Vatican Goes YouTube!

The Vatican, on January 23, 2009, has officially launched a video channel on the YouTube which will show video news clips on Pope Benedict XVI's activities and important Vatican events in Italian, English, Spanish and German, reports the Catholic News Service (CNS). The Pope's message for the 43rd World Communication Day has been broadcast through the YouTube.

The Vatican Television Centre and Vatican Radio had been preparing and sharing short video clips on the Vatican Radio website. Now they will share these on the YouTube in partnership with the Internet giant, Google, the owner of the YouTube.

The YouTube, which has over 70 million monthly viewers, will be a strong vehicle for the Vatican and Pope to project their news and views to the world that is eager to know about God. Google Managing Director Henrique de Castro said that more people search on Google for "God" than for many famous world figures and celebrities.

Vatican's YouTube Channel

The short video clips of the Pope or significant Vatican events will be available at The CNS reports that viewers will be able to leave comments, distribute the videos by e-mailing or messaging the links, and share the videos with friends on various social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, as well as submit the Vatican video links to news aggregator sites like Digg.

World Communication Day Message of the Pope

In his long World Communication Day message, Pope Benedict XVI called upon the youth, the users of new technologies of the digital age, to use their computers, Facebook and YouTube accounts, and blogs for sharing the joy of their faith in Christ with their peers, reports CNS. The theme of the Communication Day was: "New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialog and Friendship."

The Pope also said that people must "avoid the sharing of words and images that are degrading of human beings, that promote hatred and intolerance, that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or that exploit the weak and vulnerable."

"When we find ourselves drawn toward other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God's call -- a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion," the Pope mentioned.

This year's World Communication Day will be officially observed in the Catholic Church on May 31. Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Adieu, Mr. George W. Bush!

The derailment of the US economy under the leadership of President George W. Bush

Cartoon © Ujjal Peter D'Costa

US President George W. Bush's eight-year presidency is over. The newly-elected President Barack Obama is already sitting on the saddle and has started his four-year leadership and administrative journey since yesterday among unprecedented fanfare and public adulation. President Bush came to power facing controversy over improper voting and left his power amidst more controversies over his failed policies and mismanaged actions.

President Bush had received worldwide support over his global war on terror after the September 11, 2001 destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. Then one by one he began to take decisions and actions that failed miserably.

His most irresponsible decision was the unplanned and baseless war on Iraq. That very action was the beginning of his undoing. His empire then began to fall with domino effect. His government's amateurish handling of the Hurrcane Katrina destruction and lack of proper oversight of the financial institutions leading to massive crisis will remain as a blot on his administration. All these made the Americans gradually withdraw their support from him and ultimately attracted them to Barack Obama's promise of change and appropriate action plan for the futue.

President Bush vs. President Obama: A Bird's-Eye View

Now let's see these two persons and how they relate to each other:

President Bush: A native of the State of Texas
President Obama: A native of the State of Hawaii

President Bush: A Republican
President Obama: A Democrat

President Bush: A White
President Obama: A Biracial (half-black and half-white)

President Bush: Aged 55 years at the time of his first inauguration as the President (January 20, 2001)
President Obama: Aged 48 years at his inauguration on January 20, 2009

President Bush: Inherited a surplus budget and strong economy from previous administration of President Clinton
President Obama: Inherited a deficit budget and the weakest economy

President Bush: From affluent family background
President Obama: From middle-class family background

President Bush: Reactive personality
President Obama: Sensitive personality

President Bush: From an integrated family
President Obama: From a broken family (absent father, single mother)

President Bush: Secretive and inward looking
President Obama: Open and outgoing

President Bush: Media averse
President Obama: Media friendly

President Bush: Inarticulate speaker
President Obama: Eloquent speaker

President Bush: Anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, anti-embryonic stem-cell research
President Obama: Pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage, pro-embryonic stem-cell research

President Bush: Pro-engagement, pro-war
President Obama: Pro-dialogue, pro-negotiation

President Bush: Pessimistic attitude
President Obama: Positive attitude

President Bush: A non-author
President Obama: An author of two autobiographical books

President Bush: Old style politics, encompassing the middle-aged to elderly persons
President Obama: New style politics, encompassing the young, middle-aged and elderly persons Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama Sworn In As The 44th US President


President Barack Obama takes office amidst political,
economic, social and moral challenges

Graphic Design © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Barack Hussein Obama, after taking an oath of office today in Washington, D.C., became the 44th President of the United States. He is the first African-American to be the President in the 233-year existence of this country. This event marks a new chapter in the US history.

Martin Luther King's Dream Greatly Realized

With Obama's installation as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the world's most powerful country, the dream of the black civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King expressed before a large gathering of civil rights leaders and supporters in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, came to a great realization. In his speech, titled "I Have a Dream", he had mentioned, "...I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal'....I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Obama's Mantra of "Change" and "Yes, I Can" Reverberated in His Speech

Addressing several hundred thousand people gathered in the National Mall and nearby streets and lanes on this cold winter day, President Barack Obama called for change, hope and renewal of American spirit. He said: "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the reciminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."

He expressed his determination to face the challenges: "The challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America, they will be met." He also said: "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."

His Call for Responsibility

He called upon the Americans to take up responsibility to bring about a change. He said: " What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world....This is the price and promise of citizenship."

He extended America's friendship to all nations of the world, but cautioned the persistent rogue nations and terrorists of his determination for defeating them.

Washington, D.C., is having several inauguration celebrations. The new President and his family from today will be living in the White House that was once constructed with hard labour of black slaves.

The New President's Name

Some people are averse to the non-western name of the new President. Some still think that he is a Muslim or occult Muslim. Barack Hussein Obama is common in other languages. 'Barack' comes from Arabic 'barak', meaning 'blessing'; 'Hussein' is also from Arabic 'hasan', meaning 'good' or 'handsome'; and 'Obama', meaning 'curved' or 'slightly bent', comes from Dholuo (also called Luo) language of the Luo tribesmen -- more than three million -- in Kenya and Tanzania. Arabic names are not necessarily Muslim names. Long before the advent of Islam in Saudi Arabia in the 7th century AD, most of these names were being used by Arabic-speaking Christians and other religionists, and, even now they do so, because names are mainly language-based, not religion-based.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama: A Biographical Timeline -- 2

The post-election media revelry at the victory of Barack Obama

Layout: Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Barack Obama receives the news of the vehicle-accident death of his 46-year old estranged father in Kenya.

1983: After receiving his B.A. degree in Political Science with specialization in International Relations from the Columbia University, he works at the Business International Corporation and later at the New York Public Interest Research Group.

1985: He takes up a job with the Developing Communities Project, a church-based project in Chicago as a community organizer. In three years, he carried out projects on school reform, hazardous waste cleanup, and helped set up a job training centre, college preparatory tutoring programme, and tenants' rights organization.

1988: Twenty-six -year old Barack Obama goes on a three-week trip to Europe and one-week visit to his late father's relatives in Kenya. This trip helps him understand the situation of his father and the challenges that he faced in Kenya.

He starts his graduate study at the Harvard Law School in Boston.

1989: He meets Michelle Robinson, who later became his wife, in Chicago while doing an internship at a law firm. At the university, he becomes the editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

1990: Obama is elected the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

1991: Obama graduates from Harvard University with a Juris Doctor magna cum laude.

1992: In Chicago, he gets a job with the law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Gallard as a junior lawyer.

Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson marry on October 10 of this year.

He also starts teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. In addition, he becomes the director of Illinois Project Vote, promoting registration of minority voters, mainly in the African-American community.

1995: Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father, is published and it receives good reviews.

On November 7 of this year, Obama's mother Ann Dunham dies of ovarian cancer.

1996: Barack Obama runs for and wins the Illinois State Senate seat as the Democratic Party candidate. As the Democrats were a minority in the Senate, his initiatives could not get passed there.

1998: Malia Ann, the first daughter of the Obamas, is born. Barack is also elected to the Illinois Senate for the second time.

1999: Barack Obama runs for the US Congress seat, but loses to his rival, who was an experienced politician. He resumes his work as the Illinois State Senator and succeeds to get 20 pieces of legislation passed in next several years.

2001: Natasha (also called Sasha), the second daughter of the Obamas, is born.

2002: Barack Obama is elected again to the Illinois State Senate.

2004: In November, Barack Obama, at the age of 43, wins the US Senate seat from Illinois .

2006: Obama's second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, is published.

2007: On February 10, Obama announces his candidacy for the President of the US in 2008 presidential election.

2008: In June, Barack Obama becomes the nominee of the Democratic Party for the incoming presidential election. On November 4, he defeats the Republican Party candidate John McCain and is elected the 44th President of the US.

2009: On January 20, President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., the first African-American, is to be officially inaugurated in a ceremony unprecedented in the history of the United States. Millions of people are expected to descend on Washington, DC, to witness this historic event.

P.S. The irony is that President-elect Barack Obama's campaign fodder was the failed policies and actions of the incumbent President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The Chicago Sun Times, through interviews with family members and genealogists, and a study of archives and records, and facts in Obama's book, Dreams from My Father, found that through his white mother's side, Barack Obama is related to Dick Cheney. They are ninth cousins once removed having the common ancestor, Mareen Duvall, a 17th century Huguenot who moved to the US from France.

Barack Obama is also related to the present President George W. Bush. They are 11th cousins, having the same 17th century ancestors, Samuel and Sarah Soole Hinckley, in Massachusetts.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Barack Obama: A Biographical Timeline -- 1

(Clockwise from top): Little Barack Obama with mother Ann Dunham; Barack Obama with his dad Barack Hussein Obama, Sr.; Barack Obama with his maternal grandfather Stanlely Dunham and grandmother Madelyn Dunham; Cigarette-smoking Barack at the Occidental College in Los Angeles; and graduating Barack Obama at the Harvard Law School
Layout & Design: Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Photos: Courtesy (Top two) -- MSNBC, (middle) --, (bottom left) -- TIME, and (bottom right) --
The New York Times

c.1895: Onyango Obama -- father of Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., and grandfather of US President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. -- was born in Kenya, a British colony. He was a Roman Catholic and belonged to the Luo tribe. When he joined the British colonial forces, he among others, were sent on duties to Europe, India and Zanzibar Island in the Indian Ocean. When in Zanzibar, he converted to Islam and renamed himself Hussein Onyango Obama. He had three wives. He died in 1979.

1936: Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., was born at Kanyadhian Village in Rachuonyo District, Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria. He was intelligent and a serious student.

1959: Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., of Kenya is the first African student to attend the University of Hawaii, Honolulu. This student starts to study Math and Economics on an American scholarship. He leaves behind his Kenyan wife and baby son. Although he was born into a Muslim family, he was an theist before coming to the United States.

1961: On February 2, twenty-five-year old Barack Obama, Sr., marries 18-year old and three-month pregnant Ann Dunham, a white American student from Kansas. He had met her a few months earlier in a Russian-language class. Ann Dunham was not aware of the existence of his wife and son in Africa. At that time the inter-racial marriage being a rare phenomenon, their marriage was quite a daring act. On August 4, 1961, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., the President-elect, is born in Honolulu. After completing one semester, Ann Dunham drops out of the classes.

1963: The senior Obama wins another scholarship for graduate study at the Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts. When he goes to Boston, his wife and son Barack stay behind in Honolulu. At this time the husband-wife relationship sours. Ann Dunham restarts her studies while Obama, Jr., is taken care of by his maternal grandparents.

1964: After divorcing Obama, Sr., Ann Dunham starts dating an Indonesian Muslim university student, Lolo Soetoro.

1965: After completing his studies at the Harvard, Obama, Sr., returns to Kenya with another American wife, Ruth Nidesand.

1967: Ann Dunham and Lolo Soetoro marry and settle in Jakarta, Indonesia, with 6-year old Obama, Jr., who faces first-hand mass poverty, beggary, irregular electricity and numerous chid deaths from sickness. He starts to attend a Catholic school, called St. Francis of Assissi Primary School. His mother joins American Embassy school as an English teacher.

1969: With Soetoro's new job with an American oil company, the family moves to a better neighbourhood and young Obama joins Besuki Public School.

1970: Maya Soetoro, Obama's half-sister is born in Jakarta. Ann Dunham feels homesick and her marriage also begins to falter.

1971: Ten-year old Barack Obama is sent to his grandparents in Hawaii, where he secures a scholarship to Punahou School, a prestigious institution in the State. Students begin to call Obama 'the black kid from Indonesia'.

1972: Ann Dunham leaves his husband Soetoro in Jakarta and retuns to Honolulu with 2-year old Maya and joins 11-year old Obama. She also starts her master's degree study in anthropology at the University of Hawaii.

In the same year, Barack Obama, Sr., on a short visit to Honolulu, meets with Ann Dunham and Obama, Jr., who found this visit confusing and as a disruption to his ongoing life. This is the last time that he meets his own father, who ultimately died in a motor accident in Kenya in 1982.

1975: In the school, Obama joins the basketball team and becomes the class leader. He still feels confused about his fitting in in the school, and as a result, he tries to drink beer, smoke marijuana and take cocaine as a means of showing his toughness.

1979: Barack Obama starts his sophomore studies at the Occidental College in Los Angeles. Although he has some black friends, still he does not feel quite at home with them. At the end of the year, he transfers to Columbia University in New York. He becomes serious with this studies and completes reading a good number of books on race and social injustice.

1980: Ann Dunham divorces her second husband Lolo Soetoro.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why Canadians Like Barack Obama

Cartoon (Toronto: 2009) © Ujjal Peter D'Costa

President-elect Barack Obama has only four more days for being inaugurated the 44th President of the United States. He won 52.9% of votes in the country-wide election of November 4, 2008. His popularity was not limited within the US borders but overflowed into Canada and many other countries of the world.

The US is the immediate big brother neighbour of Canada. Moreover, the Canadian economy is closely interlinked with that of the US. Naturally Canadians are interested in US politics and presidential election campaigns.

From the beginning, Canadians had been eagerly watching the campaign news. Initially they knew little about Barack Obama and took him to be a neophyte in contrast to stalwarts like Hillary Clinton, John McCain and others.

As they started to listen to Obama, see his congenial gestures and postures, and come to know of his priorities and plans, most of them began to get attracted to him. Gradually groups like Canadians for Obama grew up whose members even volunteered in different ways with the Obama campaign.

Obaman Magnetism in Canada

The main factors that influenced Canadian likings (some came from my interviews of common people and others from official polling agencies) are as follows:

  • Obama is a democrat, and a greater number of Canadians favour democrats and liberals.
  • He is young, sprightly, and full of enthusiasm and verve.
  • He is intelligent, eloquent and knowledgeable on topics he speaks on.
  • Being a biracial, he could encompass both the whites and non-whites.
  • He is positive in attitude and exudes hope for others.
  • He comes from a humble background with which most Canadians find a commonality.
  • He is calm and forgiving in face of bitter criticism, opposition and even racial slurs.
  • He strives for unity among resenting opponents.
  • His healthcare plan includes the common men and women.
  • He is a caring husband and a loving father to his daughters.
  • He wants to bring about a long-term change in the US and its policy abroad, including quick termination of the Iraq war and renewed fight against terrorism.
  • He wants to create an integrated environmental energy policy.
In mid-May, 2008, a Canadian Press - Harris Decima poll had found that, if Canadians were to vote, 56% of them would vote for Barack Obama and 15% for John McCain.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Education-Hungry Afghan Girls Facing Disfigurement, Still Undaunted

After the defeat of the fundamentalist Taliban government in Afghanistan in December, 2001, a fresh air of freedom began to blow with the installation of western-backed Karzai government. Once again Afghan women began to freely move about and girls flocked to schools, newly built with foreign assistance. In the mean time, the strictly-Shariah-believing Talibans began to assert themselves through guerrilla warfare and reoccupation of certain parts of the country.

Acid Attack: An Attempt to Deter Girls from Attending Schools

The Talibans, when in power, banned women from working outside their homes, forced women and girls into wearing burqahs, and stopped girls from attending schools, except the madrasahs. Now they are using sulphuric or hydrochrolic acid to disfigure school-going girls and frighten others from joining schools.

Shamsia Husseini, 17, was disfigured with acid two months ago. Now she is attending school again with increased determination. Other courageous girls are following her, too.

Acid Throwing: A 'Personal Terrorism'

According to The New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, acid throwing is a 'personal terrorism' that takes place person to person. This practice is evident from Afghanistan through Cambodia. He mentions of a case of a Pakistani woman, Naeema Azar, whose just divorced and avenging husband disfigured her with acid. She is determined to seek justice against him. Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Poem of the Month (January, 2009): CANADA, O CANADA

Canada, O Canada

By Jerome D'Costa

Canada, O Canada, you're the land of peace and happiness,
Where the West meets the East, the North the South,
Where reign the freedom and dynamic spirit,
An unparalleled land having unity in diversity.

Two oceans lovingly embrace thee in their bosoms,
The Great Lakes and numerous rivers sustain thee,
Like the maple, birch, cedar, spruce, and pine,
The cod, halibut, salmon, and trout make thee unique.

Your population weaves a tapestry of many colours,
Red, white, black, yellow and brown,
Coming as refugees, immigrants, and fortune seekers,
Creating a rich fusion of ideas, cultures, languages, and arts.

Let's be vigilant against colourism and regionalism,
That can spoil thy unity and inner beauty,
Let's all breathe the same fresh air, enjoy the same sunshine,
Under the large banner of the red maple leaf.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Two Books on the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

(L-R:) The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk
and Bangladesher Khudra Jatishattar Sangskriti --
two books on the ethnic groups of Bangladesh
I came across two profusely illustrated books that speak of the situation of the small ethnic groups of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. These groups, in face of dominant and encroaching Bangali (Bengalee) community, are struggling for their land, economic development, culture, and language.

The book on the left, The Chittagong Hill Tracts: Life and Nature at Risk, edited by Philip Gain, deals with life, administration, state hegemony, women's survival and resistance, and, finally, culture, identity, and development. Raja Devasish Roy, Amena Mohsin, Meghna Guhathakurta, Prashanta Tripura and Philip Gain are authors of chapters.

The book on the right, Bangladesher Khudra Jatishattar Sangskriti (Culture of Small Ethnic Communities of Bangladesh), in Bengali, is edited by Philip Gain and Partha Shankar Shaha, speaks of ethnic groups' culture, cultural rights, linguistic challenges, political struggles, and attempts for cultural links and unity between these groups and the majority Bengalee population.

Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) is the publisher of these books.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Amit Chakma Named Canadian University President


Amit Chakma, 49, a member of the Chakma ethnic group of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, has been named the 10th President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Ontario at London, Canada. He will take over his new responsibility on July 1, 2009, reports the Western News, weekly newspaper of the University of Western Ontario.

He is the present Vice-President and Provost at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, besides being a professor of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Studies. In 1998, he was named "Canada's Top 40 Under 40."

Our auvinondon (congratulations) to Mr. Amit Chakma!

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Photo Meditation of the Month (January, 2009): PEBBLES


Pebbles on the Rainbow Haven Beach, 
Nova Scotia, Canada 
Photo (August 15, 2007) © Jerome D'Costa

God's creative force is at work. What once were stones and boulders, turn into pebbles in the next.

Years of sun, wind and water turn mountain stones into boulders that hurtle down mountain sides. They crash against each other. They wade a lot of water and endure hard grinding and thrashing bearing immense pressure of water. On their way down the rivers and rivulets, neither can they view the sky, nor the direct sun, nor the lush greeney around them.

Ultimately, one day, they evolve into smooth and attractive pebbles. Pebbles that symbolize bonding, perseverance, unity, and beauty in togetherness.

Our life also undergoes a sea change like the pebbles. In the beginning, we are rough, we are clumsy, we are awkward. Constant pressure of relationship, pressure of study and pressure of work change us gradually. Trials and tribulations, pessimism and negativity, sufferings and frustrations sharpen our life, bring discipline in our life and beautify our life. We then become mature and complete men and women.

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Toronto: Some Jews Protest Israeli Incursion in Gaza

In protest to the Israeli invasion of Gaza Strip, eight Jewish Canadian women staged a protest sit-in inside the Israeli consulate on Bloor Street in Toronto yesterday. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested and handcuffed the women and took them away from the consulate and released them later, reports The Toronto Star.

Outside the consulate there were a larger group of protesters among whom were Israeli peace activists, filmmakers, and students. University professor, journalist and political activist Judy Rebick was one of the eight women sit-inners. " We call on all Jews to speak out against this massacre and demand that Israel stop the bombing, pull out of Gaza and make a just peace with the Palestinians," she said. She also mentioned that Jewish Canadian women were outraged and they wanted to distance their religion from Israel's actions.

"There are many Jews here in Canada, in the United States, in Europe, in Israel who are ashamed, who do not want this massacre to take place in our time," Rebick said. Among the protesters outside the consulate was filmmaker Cathy Gulkin, who said: "There are Jews that do not follow the Israeli line and are sickened by what is happening in Gaza." Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Catholic Church All Along Expressed Concern Over Gaza Situation

_Cartoon © Ujjal Peter D'Costa

In the thick of Israeli bombardment in Gaza, Pope Benedict XVI deplored the escalation of violence in Gaza where more than 400 were dead at the time. During the Sunday (January 4) noon blessing at the Vatican, the pope called for a serious dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians as the only way out of the "perverse logic of conflict and violence," reports CNS. He called for a restoration of truce in Gaza and invited the international community in helping both sides out of the "blind alley."

The pope also added: "Today, in all the churches of the Holy Land, church leaders are calling on worshippers to pray for the end to the conflict in the Gaza Strip and for justice and peace for their land. I join in their prayers and invite you to do the same."

Mentality of Conflict

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the latest escalation of violence was a provocation by both sides, and showed that both Hamas and Israel were caught up in mentality of conflict. CNS quotes him: "Hamas is a prisoner of a logic of
hatred, Israel of a logic of trusting in force as the best response to hatred. They need to keep looking for a different way out, even if it seems impossible."

"...violence, hatred and mistrust are themselves forms of poverty..."

Earlier on New Year's Day, which is also the World Day of Peace in the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict warned that "violence, hatred and mistrust are themselves forms of poverty -- perhaps the greatest -- that must be fought. The deep desire to live in peace...rises in the hearts of the great majority of the Israeli and Palenstinian peoples, once more placed in danger by the massive violence that has broken out in the Gaza Strip in response to other violence."

Caritas Internationalis' Call for End of Violence

Caritas International, the confederation of 162 national Catholic charities, on January 1 called for end of violence. It said that the loss of civilian lives has been deplorable. It also said: "The international community must use all its influence to ensure existing peace accords and resolutions are upheld."

Bishops Call on US to Help in Gaza

Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, chairman of the US Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace on January 1 called for a high-level US representative to be sent to help negotiate peace between Israel and Hamas. He sent this appeal in a letter to Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, reports Zenit News.

He also wrote: "The rocket attacks on Israel must be stopped, and Israel's military attacks on Gaza halted....We ask you to urge the president to send a high-level personal representative to the region immediately to help negotiate a ceasefire and make provision for humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza."

"A ceasefire and humanitarian relief are indispensable intitial steps on the road to a two-state solution -- a secure Israel living in peace with a viable Palestinian state -- with justice and peace for both peoples," he added.

Irish Catholic and Anglican Archbishops' Appeal

On December 30, Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, and Anglican Archbishop Alan Harper, in a statement expressed their "distress and deepening concern for all innocent victims." They called upon both Israel and Hamas to disengage and cease all hostilities. They also mentioned: "We also call upon the international community and particularly the United States and European Union to bring maximum influence to bear to end all violence immediately and to create conditions that will lead to a just peace for Palenstinians and Israelis alike."

Latest Situation

According to the CNN, a three-hour Israeli-Hamas truce, intended for humanitarian aid into Gaza, collapsed immediately after it began on January 6. More than 100 trapped foreigners -- mostly Americans, Swedes and Canadians -- could not be evacuated.

Since the campaign began in Gaza on December 27, more than 600 Palestinians have been killed and 3,000 wounded. Among the wounded, one-third are women and children. Bookmark and Share

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Suggested To-Do's For New Bangladesh Government

The landslide victory of the Grand Alliance, headed by Sheikh Hasina of Awami League, is the accepted truth now. Congratulatory messages are pouring in from various countries. The USA already congratulated Bangladesh over the successful completion of the election.

Canada also sent congratulations to the people of Bangladesh. "We offer our best wishes to the people of Bangladesh, who in this election exercised the fundamental democratic right to choose who will govern their country and represent them on the world stage. We believe that full citizen participation is key to ensuring a credible election. The election marks a crucial moment in Bangladesh's history and an opportunity to set the country on a path toward sustainable democracy," wrote Lawrence Cannon, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs . "Canada will continue to assist the Government of Bangladesh in its efforts to build democratic and effective governing institutions," wrote Beverley J. Oda, Canadian Minister of International Cooperation.

"...absolute power corrupts absolutely"

The two-thirds majority seats in the Jatiyo Sangsad (national parliament) gives a tremendous power and pride to the Bangladeshi elected parliament members, who can now do and undo things easily. British historian and moralist Lord Acton (1834 - 1902) said: "Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The new MPs need to be cautious about it and strive hard to carry on the burdensome responsibility vested upon them. The overwhelming mandate received from the electorate, makes them more answerable to the public. This unique opportunity should not be wasted to really do good for the country.

Do's For the Elected Government
  • Please take a lesson from the recent US election. See how President-elect Barack Obama, in spite of all kinds of threats, slurs and aggressive opposition, is reaching out to the opponents and embracing them for increased cooperation and support.
  • Nip in the bud the internal and inter-party bickerings and maintain the alliance in the total interest of the country and general populace. Mutual give and take is important for the unity.
  • Put an all-out joint effort with the opposition parties to aggressively deal with the economic crunch in the country.
  • Take a decisive plan to attract local, foreign and expatriate Bangladeshi investments. If necessary, change the laws for giving them incentives and generous tax-breaks for the first few years. Investors should be able to gets things done with one ministry rather than running to dozens of ministries and government departments.
  • It has been proven that most of the Bangladeshis are intelligent, quick-to-learn, hard-working, creative and law-abiding citizens. If given a chance, they can accomplish a lot. Train and equip Bangladeshi labourers with proper knowledge for both local and foreign markets. Although the world economy is now on the downturn, things are expected to change for the better in a year or two. For export of our labourers, they need hands-on training and orientation in simple spoken, and if possible, in some written, English. In the world labour market, people from India, Egypt, the Philippines and the like have better advantage than the Bangladeshis over this matter. To compete with them, we need to take realistic decisions. Local, foreign and expatriate Bangladeshis can be invited to invest in this venture.
  • The war crimes issue needs to be resolved once for all.
  • Law-and-order situation, including terrorism issues, need to be dealt with on priority basis.
  • Religious extremism should have no place in Bangladesh where most of the people love the religious diversity and are tolerant of each other.
  • Rights and freedoms of minority religious and ethnic communities be protected at all costs.
  • There is an urgent need to work aggressively against corruption, paralysing general strikes, and compelling nepotism and favoritism, and work toward the greater benefit of the nation.
  • Let the tourism industry get a major boost. Appropriately train people, teach them English and manners for dealing with foreigners. Let the tourists be entertained with regular authentic Bengalee, aboriginal and other indigenous cultural shows. In addition, tourist-friendly infrastructures and amenities need to be established in different parts of the country. Bangladeshis will find this venture attractive if given the opportunity.
  • Bangladesh, being a densely-populated small country, needs to take a bold step regarding environmental issues. In the past, governments took commendable actions in reducing fumes in the cities from diesel-engined "baby taxis" and banning production and sale of plastic bags.
  • Found a museum of cultures where local artefacts, costumes, musical instruments, potteries, miniatures of local boats, houses, and the like can be displayed. Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Dinajpur and Rajshahi can have their own such museums.
  • Please make the Bangladesh embassies and High Commissions abroad more people-friendly. We read in newspapers sufferings of some expatriate Bangladeshis. We can learn from other countries' embassies that go out of their way to help their own citizens falling victim to foul play or other difficulties abroad. Embassies are mirrors of nations. They are the front people who can and should play a vital role in attracting more foreign tourists and investments into the country.
Let's take this opportunity for playing an important role in building a strong and prospersous Bangladesh. A Bangladesh that can be an example to be emulated. Bookmark and Share

Bangladesh Election: Sheikh Hasina, Allies Sworn In


Elected members of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League and its allied parties were sworn in as members of the Jatiyo Parishad (national parliament) on January 2, 2009. Mr. Jamiruddin Sarkar, the outgoing Speaker of the of the House, led the swearing-in ceremony. Sheikh Hasina with about 230 elected members of Awami League and about 50 others from allied parties took an oath of office as new MPs. As the leader of the majority party Sheikh Hasina will be sworn in on January 6 as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who reluctantly conceded her defeat, did not participate in the swearing-in ceremony today with elected members of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other allied parties without assigning any reason.

Election Results

In the December 29 election, 39 political parties contested for 300 parliamentary seats, of which the Grand Alliance got 262 seats (the Awami League 230 , the Jatiyo Party 27 and other parties 5) and the Four-Party Alliance secured 32 seats (the BNP 29, Jaamat-e-Islami Party 2 and other 1). Due to death of one candidate, election for that seat has been rescheduled for January 12. Begum Khaleda Zia complained of vote-rigging by the winning parties. Francesc Vendrell, chief of the UN panel on Bangladesh election, in a press conference mentioned that Bangladesh election was free and fair. The European Union team, India, the USA and other independent election observers echoed a similar sentiment.

Sheikh Hasina expressed her willingness to work with the opposition parties for strengthening democracy and achieving economic progress. She is even willing to give senior political positions to the opposition if they cooperate with her government.

Minority Voters Were At Ease

Mr. Vendrell expressed his satisfaction at the ease religious and ethnic minority voters felt throughout the country. He said that, unlike in the past, minority voters could cast their ballots without facing any intimidation.

Zillur Rahman Eyed As Next President

Both Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League said that former Awami League minister Zillur Rahman would be given the position of the country's President.

Renewed Call for War Crimes Trial

The Bangladesh Today reports that the Sector Commanders' Forum (SCF) at a post-election press conference at the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka demanded that the newly-elected government bring the war criminals to trial "for their offence of murder, rape, robbery, arson on properties during the libersation war in 1971."

Air Vice Marshall (retd.) A. K. Khandaker, chairman of the SCF, renewed the call upon the BNP to sever all its ties with the Jaamat-e-Islami that had actively cooperated with the West Pakistani army in the then East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) and help punish war criminals. He also urged the new government to revive the International War Crime (Tribunal) Act 1973 which was initiated by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (father of newly-elected MP and next Prime Minister-to-be Sheikh Hasina), form a commission or establish office of the chief prosecutor, revive Collaborator Act that was cancelled by a new government in 1975, send a formal request to the UN Secretary General requesting for trial of war criminals as done with Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda. The SCF leaders also called for the restoration of 1972 Constitution that had declared Bangladesh a non-communal state.

Air Vice Marshall Khandakar finally said, "The SCF will provide all information and documents required to punish war criminals during the trial." Bookmark and Share

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!


Graphic design (Toronto: December, 2008) © Jerome D'Costa


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