Hope... is when lawyers march !

I have always been very fond of marching lawyers.

There is this one lawyer, who regularly went marching with a walking stick.  Good things happened as a result.

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Dear President Obama

I am excerpting portions of a letter written by Imran Khan, who is a politician in Pakistan.

The entire letter can be found at the forbes link , and at only 2 other places: here and here

For some background, Imran Khan was a very popular cricketer in the 1970s, and 1980s... he was also a playboy who was fond of his women right here on terra-firma (as opposed to the radicals who look forward to them on heaven).  He remains popular in Pakistan, but has been unable to translate that popularity into an political movement.  This is a pity because he appears to be a democrat (he opposed Gen. Musharraf) and relatively honest (he also opposed the two sets of corrupt/weak democrats that preceded Gen. Musharraf)

He is a also Pushtun.  

I think his words need to be listened to!

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Schools reopen in Swat

Peace does have some dividends.  

All boys, and some girls schools reopened in the Swat valley in Pakistan yesterday.  I am highlighting this because there had been (and probably still is) widespread fears that girls would be prevented from going to school as a result of the recent peace deal between the local "Taliban" outfit and the Pakistani government.  In reality, the peace deal has made it possible for a large number of boys and girls to go back to school.

The situation is far from ideal, obviously.  With respect to girls schools, only private schools, and government run primary schools (upto the 4th grade) are open.  And the girls must come with a "Purdah" (although, oddly enough, I have seen some pictures of girls going to school without the Purdah in place).

The situation is far from ideal, but it represents an improvement over the situation that existed before the peace deal.

The peace deal is quite fragile, with extreme mistrust between the militants and the Pakistani armed forces.  Obviously, small incidents can unravel deals struck under these circumstances. But,

If the political administration now acts sensibly and promptly, Fazlullah's marauding men will no longer be able to raid music shops, harass women or burn down schools.

We need to keep hope alive !!

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Pakistan ~ a state of denial !

My conversations with louisprandtl have forced me to try and organize my own thoughts on Pakistan.  The current state of affairs in Pakistan can best be described by stating that Pakistan is not a religious state, or a democratic state... it is, quite simply, a state of denial.  It is a state that simultaneously denies it's glorious history (and it does have a most glorious past), and it's less than glorious recent past.

In my previous diary , I presented the obvious contradiction between the secular words of an overtly secular lawyer, and his deed (that of separating people on the basis of religion).  In this diary, I will simultaneously try to grasp the problem, and to offer a solution (yes I know, I shall fail in this task in spectacular fashion)

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Save the trees!

I am a resident of Pasadena, CA.  We are home to Caltech., and we also lay claim to NASA-JPL (in reality, we are home to the JPL parking lot...JPL itself is in another town).  We have a lot of environmentalists in this town; we all know at least one person in JPL who knows the climate model.  Most of us are shit scared of what is about to hit us, and are doing what we can to assuage our own personal guilt (I ride bikes and have solar panels!!)

Thus, I was surprised when I received the following e-mail from a friend of mine

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The Genesis

I have enjoyed a robust exchange with louisprandtl on the issue of the imposition of Sharia law in the Swat valley.  Louis' latest diary attempts to trace the origin of the problem ~ he talks about Badshah Khan (one of my favorite characters in history).  But there are several other elements.

There are several pathways one can take, when tracing back the current problems in Pakistan to their origin.  The exact "Genesis" of the problem is a little difficult to pinpoint ~ much like it is hard to pinpoint a location where a river originates.  But one convenient genesis point, for me, is the speech given by Pakistan's founder ... a brilliant lawyer named Jinnah, who was overtly secular (he was married to a non-Muslim, he was fond of whiskey and scotch).

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A progressive science experiment

I would like to use this space to bring to your attention the worlds first, and finest, progressive science experiment.

(well, it is the first and finest to my knowledge anyways...)

Prof. Harry Gray of Caltech is on a quest to develop a cheap source of hydrogen by splitting water using earth abundant materials.

That was a complicated sentence!

Basically, the background is that we know how to split water into it's constituents...hydrogen and oxygen...using sunlight.  However, the process either uses catalysts (a catalyst is something that speeds up a reaction) that work in outer space (where deep-UV radiation is present; the efficiencies on terra firma are close to 0), or catalysts that are in protein form (the chlorophyl in plants, for instance) that degrade rapidly, or catalysts that are made up of very expensive materials (materials that are not "earth abundant").  Prof. Gray would like to split water using commonly found materials...like iron oxide, and titania (found in paint) etc.

The implications should be obvious: if he succeeds, he would instantly solve all of our current energy problems, and immediately give us the opportunity to create new problems that we can fight over!!

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The Sharia deal in Swat- Zameeni haqeeqat

Zameeni haqeeat alag hain. Swat ke log to aman aane se bahut khush hai!

"The ground realties are different. The people of Swat valley are very happy to have peace!" So says Rahimullah Yousufzai, the Peshawar based editor of The News (a leading Pakistani daily).  That is Zameenia Haqeeqat (the ground reality)

There are quite a few misconceptions about the deal reportedly struck between the Pakistani government, and the "Taliban".  Let us consider them

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The Sharia law in SWAT, and it's implications

There have been many diaries (such as this one by Tarheel74, and this one by kosnomore ), and various other articles, on the imposition of the "Sharia law" in the SWAT valley in Pakistan.  Most commentators are of the opinion that is is an unmitigated tragedy, and a complete surrender to the Taliban.

I am here to argue otherwise.

First, I would like to present some background information (you may call this the section where I attempt to interpret history to suit the conclusions I am about to make).  I will not bore you with the prehistoric history of SWAT (an excellent summary can be found here [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swat(Pakistan) _ apologies, html tag did not work].  However, it is important to note that Sharia law used to be in place in the SWAT valley, as recently as 1969

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The age of reason... Part 1, the Kushans

There is an excellent diary by Canadian Girl on the girls of Afghanistan who were recently attacked by the Taliban, while they were on the way to school.

This diary is noteworthy (I liked it, and so I recommended it), but it also became somewhat controversial in the comments.  In the comments, it was argued that any criticism of human rights violation in the Muslim world is akin to furthering Zionist propaganda.

While reading the comments, I had a feeling that I was reading not the comments themselves, but a deeper underlying problem.  And that underlying problem is that the Muslim world is today seen as (correctly, in my opinion) being somewhat antiquated, with nary a trace of modernity in their thinking.  This impression is then extrapolated to (incorrectly, in my opinion) that the Muslim world is incapable of modern thinking, and that they (the Muslim world) will consequently always be a mess.

We all know that Islam has had a great history, and that it ushered in modern thinking.  Where did all that go ?  Why did all that transcend into the modern day mess that we now have.

I would like to visit that question by visiting the age of reason.  In our history, there have been many examples of civilizations that have been so far advanced that they would put the most "modern" society of our present era to shame.  And yet these civilizations have declined, and been replaced by barbarism.  The transition from modernity to barbarism, and back to modernity offers clues to the predicament faced by the modern Muslim world.

And so, today, I would like to visit a pre-Islamic society founded on lands inhabited by Muslims today.  The land is Central Asia...the mountainous region where the Hindu Kush mountains and the Himalayas converge.  The empire was built around a dynasty of Kings called the Kushans. You may recognize it as modern day Afghanistan, along with other "Stans" (Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan).  Their capital was Bagram (in Afghanistan, where the US now has an Air Force base), Taxila (sometimes known as Purushpura, which is modern day Peshawar) and Mathura (in India).

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