Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. - George Bernard Shaw

Ingrid Newkirk

Ingrid Newkirk Interview

Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and president of PETA, is one of the most recognizable faces in the animal rights movement. Through her publications and PETA's work, countless animals have been saved and aided to a growing public uneasiness surrounding animal exploitation.

Rashard Mendenhall on bin Laden and 9/11

Posted by Bharat on May 4th, 2011

There’s a conversation on ESPN. The focus is more so on athletes and free speech and social media.

Tibetan Elections

Posted by JBMills on March 31st, 2011

On March 9, 2011, just one day before the 52nd anniversary of the Lhasa Uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, announced his retirement as leader of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile.

The Dalai Lama’s retirement marks the first step toward separating church and state and creating a non-theistic structure as the people of Tibet take steps toward mediating Tibetan-Chinese relations. Despite leaving his role as political leader, though, the Dalai Lama plans to retain his title as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan People. Since his announcement, there have been steps taken to elect a new leader of the exiled government. There are currently three candidates for the position.

Lobsang Sangay, a graduate of Harvard Law and a prominent Tibetan Scholar, is currently leading in preliminary elections. Sangay, the youngest of the three candidates, is seen as the more moderate candidate, with a platform focusing on mediation between China and Tibet. In 1992, at the age of 24, Sangay became the youngest executive member of the Tibetan Youth Congress, and his diplomatic relationship with China is stronger than the other candidates, giving lectures on conflict resolution between Indo-Tibetan exiles and political leaders in China.

Tenzin Tethong, a Tibetan Studies professor at Stanford University, is a former personal representative to the Dalai Lama himself and, upon arrival to the United States from India, served as a coordinator to structuring the current Tibetan encampments throughout both the U.S. and Canada. His work has been seen as the major reason for success of Tibetan exiles in North America and has many of his votes coming from American immigrant groups.

Tashi Wangdi is the current representative for the Dalai Lama. He remains in India and is the closest to the day-to-day affairs of the Tibetan legislative system. Though lacking in pedigree, Wangdi benefits from his close ties to the current government.

After spending part of this past fall in Tibet and discussing this with a close Tibetan friend of mine who is currently living in exile, I was informed about the opinions of the Tibetan people. Sangay, who is looking more and more likely to become the next leader of Tibet, is often credited for his academic merit but has the least experience in actual government relations. Is this what Tibet needs? A young mind like Sangay to revitalize the people? Or do they need a more practical and experienced leader like Tenzin Tethong or Tashi Wangdi? The next several months will be very telling as to what the future holds for the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Cohen on “rescuing conservatism”

Posted by Bharat on February 13th, 2011

Here’s a lecture by the late Marxist theorist Jerry Cohen on “rescuing conservatism: a defence of existing value.” (Note this isn’t a rescue of a “Conservative” point of view.)

Art Threat

Posted by Bharat on February 11th, 2011

Art Threat is a blog which may be of interest to some readers. Their about us: “Art Threat is a leading media outlet devoted solely to political art and cultural policy. We write about art that seeks to interpret, influence, or reflect upon society. We discuss policy as it pertains to culture. And we showcase artists whose work inspires social change. Whether your passion is video or visual art, design or drama, music or literary musings, we’ve got you covered with a blanket of information and eye candy.”

Fish Curry

Posted by JBMills on February 11th, 2011

Those who watched this past Sunday’s Superbowl may have noticed a general lack in originality when it came to the advertisements. As a child, I recall exciting and stimulating commercials featuring Michael Jordan and Larry bird shooting off of Chicago skyscrapers, beer drinking frogs, and a large linebacker tackling office employees.

But for what this year’s Superbowl lacked in quality, they made up for with controversy. Groupon.com, which is a web-based coupon directory service, launched their new advertising campaign. Their first ad, featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. and his take on whale watching was stunning and somewhat controversial.

This ad was followed by another ad, featuring Academy-Award winning child actor Timothy Hutton as a diner at a Chicago-based Himalayan restaurant. What made the ad controversial was not Hutton’s lack of relevance, though it is slightly disgusting, but rather the commercial’s obvious exploitation of the human rights issues facing the Tibetan people.

As someone who spent the fall living in Tibet, I was very turned off the first time I saw this. It bothered me not just because it tore apart a country striving to exceed beyond its current state, but poked fun at perhaps one of the most publicized cultural wars of my lifetime. They chose obvious important religious and cultural locations to display in the ad (Lhasa, Mt. Everest. etc) with the hopes of getting a rise out of the viewers.

The question is were these commercials done with the intent of being controversial? Was the purpose to stun with the intent of advocating social awareness? Or was this controversy part of a grand scheme to attract attention under the guise that any press is good press?

Aside from being a socially insensitive graveyard for B-list actors, Groupon.com has done a great job of making themselves relevant in the online rat race for attention.

The Living Buddha - An Introduction

Posted by JBMills on January 20th, 2011

Growing up, I was surrounded by Buddhists. My parents were heavily involved in the local Peace Pagoda, one of the only two fully chartered Japanese temples of its kind in the United States. My father, a chef, would cook large and decadent meals for the monks and their supporters while my mother assisted in the organization and planning of many of their events. As a child in this environment, I was often exposed to things that most people my age could only have imagined. My parents chauffeured around Thich Nhat Hanh and other prestigious Buddhist figures in our minivan and I even brought nuns and monks into school for show and tell.

The town I grew up in, Amherst, Massachusetts, was well known for its involvement with the Free Tibet Movement. Renowned Indo-Tibetan professor Robert Thurman taught at Amherst College, my high school, Northfield Mount Hermon, and invited various Buddhist laureates to serve as visiting speakers. Even Richard Gere, Mr. Tibet himself, went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The town’s interest in Tibetan and Buddhist themed issues eventually led to the community serving as a safe ground for exiles and refugees escaping China’s proliferation of Tibet. The Dalai Lama himself would come on occasional visits to captivate the community.

This type of community allowed me to develop a strong interest not just in Buddhist-themed issues, but also in studying different cultures in general. When I was 17, I had the chance to travel to the land of my ancestors, Ireland, as part of a high school independent program I created to study the religious conflict in Northern Ireland, which has plagued the island for centuries. While there I had a small video camera, which I used to document the experience. After returning home, my peers, particularly those in the Buddhist community were passionate about my work and pushed me to continue pursuing my newfound interest in filmmaking.

It became natural for me to continue this kind of work. At 19, I spent part of the summer living on the Choctaw American Indian Reservation in Mississippi. While there I produced a documentary about their economic growth and preservation of culture. While in college and graduate school I continued making movies, hoping all along to at some day do a film about the people I grew up surrounded by.

In and around Amherst there are many Tibetan themed gift shops. Some of them are quite exploitive, selling small trinkets and overpriced mementos produced in back alley sweatshops somewhere in Nepal, even including a store owned and operated by a white man who employs borderline Tibetan slave labor in the cultivation and promotion of his items.

That being said, there are some stores that actually serve a great purpose. One store, Glimpse of Tibet, is run by a close friend of my mother who was formerly a Tibetan nomad and now spends her time in exile between India and Northampton, Massachusetts. My mother’s friend knew of my interest in film and suggested I consider traveling to Tibet to do a film about a community of nomads she knew who were working to start a school for their children as a means of preserving their ancient traditions. The project interested me considering its close connection to the film I did on the Choctaw Reservation.

The one problem in doing this kind of work is that we often become too idealistic. There is a trap that many filmmakers get caught up in believing they can do what they choose without understanding the necessary steps and possible consequences. I soon learned that my trip to join the nomads in Tibet would be out of the question considering visa issues. I knew the likelihood of me, a young aspiring filmmaker, being allowing into Tibet were close to none. Despite this inability to travel there, it remained a dream of mine to produce a film over there. I knew that at some point in my life, I would have a chance to go.

More to come…

Environmental Refugees

Posted by Bharat on January 4th, 2010

The NY Times has a new piece on environmental refugees. (Here.) They write:

DHAKA, BANGLADESH — Mahe Noor left her village in southern Bangladesh after Cyclone Sidr flattened her family’s home and small market in 2007. Jobless and homeless, she and her husband, Nizam Hawladar, moved to this crowded megalopolis, hoping that they might soon return home.

Two years later, they are still here. Ms. Noor, 25, and Mr. Hawladar, 35, work long hours at low-paying jobs — she at a garment factory and he at a roadside tea stall. They are unable to save money after paying for food and rent on their dark shanty in Korail, one of the largest slums in Dhaka. And in their village, more people are leaving because of river erosion and dwindling job opportunities.

“We’re trapped,” Ms. Noor said.

Natural calamities have plagued humanity for generations. But with the prospect of worsening climate conditions over the next few decades, experts on migration say tens of millions more people in the developing world could be on the move because of disasters.

Rather than seeking a new life elsewhere in a mass international “climate migration,” as some analysts had once predicted, many of these migrants are now expected to move to nearby megacities in their own countries.

“Environmental refugees have lost everything,” said Rabab Fatima, the South Asia representative of the International Organization for Migration. “They don’t have the money to make a big move. They move to the next village, the next town and eventually to a city.”

Certainly food for thought in light of the Copenhagen climate summit.

Rachel Maddow’s Holiday Mixology

Posted by Bharat on December 11th, 2009

BYL favorite Rachel Maddow was on Jimmy Fallon’s show again earlier this week showing off her mixology skills. This time around, though, she brought around the old holiday twist.

And for good measure, here’s a clip of her talking about Sarah Palin’s book.

Copenhagen, climate change, and the (mis)treatment of protesters

Posted by Bharat on December 6th, 2009

Starting tomorrow, December 7, the United Nations will be holding a climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. But one of the most liberal cities in the world seemingly won’t be playing nice with protesters. The NY Times reports that the Danes are ready for anything. Among other things, they’ve:

…rushed through Parliament allowing stiffer fines and extended detentions for those deemed unruly, to public displays of newly acquired anti-riot and emergency equipment, leaders here say they are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. Meanwhile, a variety of protest and advocacy groups — some with obscure political lineage — have signaled in online postings and other public statements that they will not be cooperating.

Mr. Larsen said that about $122 million was being spent to secure the city and to fortify the Bella Center, a sprawling site southeast of central Copenhagen where more than 15,000 negotiators and onlookers will gather to forge the framework for an agreement to address climate change.

High steel fences atop concrete barricades surround the Bella Center, and vehicles can enter only through a couple of well-armed police checkpoints. The southern reaches of the Inderhavnen, or inner harbor, canal, which runs just west of the Bella Center, are embroidered with concertina wire to prevent access by water.
Could this end up looking like the 1997 WTO protests in Seattle (a city that, at least by American standards, is quite liberal)? I guess we’ll find out this week.

President Obama’s new bioethics commission

Posted by Bharat on December 2nd, 2009

Earlier this year, President Obama disbanded George W. Bush’s Bioethics Council. Headed first by Leon Kass, and later by Ed Pellegrino, the Bush Bioethics Council was right-leaning, heavily theologically influenced, and rife with controversy. Elizabeth Blackburn was fired from the council after disagreeing over the Council’s theological bent on issues such as stem cell research and abortion. President Obama just got the ball rolling on a new Council, appointing UPenn President and noted political theorist Amy Gutmann as chair and Emory University President James Wagner as vice chair. See GEN for more updates.