You may not wage the war, but…

You may not wage the war.
But… let’s not forget,
this world itself
is a battleground.
Each one fights
… for space,
… to find his place,
… or leave her trace.
In this world,
the attacker swings
from the right …
or will hurl at you
from the left;
or hit you
from the rear …
or swing a blow,
straight at
your face.
Over time,
Life teaches you,
my friend, to
be cautious.
Be prepared…
There’s little choice…
get trampled upon…
or, hold your ground.
What’s your choice?

~ Pictowrit

Who are you? A Sobbing Sucker, or a Stoic Writer?

In either case, you’re the one losing out. If you’re crying out aloud because you’re being exploited, thereby letting the world hear about those who exploit you, you’re soon out of work. If you silently suffer the hurt, but keep writing for those who’ll suck you dry for pennies, you’re helping them make money with your talents, while you get squeezed out of your apartment! Yeah, when will you ever make enough moolah – yeah, yeah that’s $$$$ (not the ‘mullah’ you reach out to when ‘Allah’ refuses to listen to your woes). Now, in case you’re wondering, and just to get the record straight –  I’m neither an Allah worshipper, nor am I a fanatic mullah-follower… even when I’m in dire straits. For that matter, I don’t lean towards any priests, pundits nor power-healers for health or holistic support. This is just a statement of fact – neither right, nor wrong.

So… why this rant? Well, here’s why… because all is not well. Here I am, away from WordPress, Facebook, Twitter or any social networking site, but busy seeking positions (a.k.a. job search) in Social Media Marketing, Content Writing, Web Content Writer, Marketing Coordinator, so on, so forth… yes, from entry level positions to mid-level to senior; from on-site real jobs, to remotely-employed sort of positions.

For every job, the requirements are getting not just stringent, but downright ridiculous, and for obscenely low $. Here’s an example of one that takes the cake… and I’m not sure if this is the last one I’ve seen on this elusive job market scene. Those with jobs are unlikely to read this post; those seeking jobs may — every now and again — peek to read this post that speaks about the plight of those in a similar situation as theirs. Terrible sentence construct… yes, I’m aware. Do I care?

Here’s what I received in my mailbox yesterday in response to an application for ‘freelance copywriter’. I received  a PDF file that is nine-pages long. It details the company background referring to its partnership with the Who’s Who in residential and commercial real estate, nationwide (and even internationally). It also raves about its business association with premier luxury car brands. Furthermore, there’s an element of latent pride in that their articles have featured on trade publications, or leading vertical search engines. A list of types of work one can expect to write about is also enumerated. All good thus far. In fact, even the list of expectations (from potential copywriters) seems reasonable on the face of it… well-researched, grammatically accurate, error-free writing… fair enough.

But now, when it comes to money, or the credit for your writing, expect to be paid peanuts — around $15 for a 500 words article, and this includes one round of revisions at least! As for the credit, you aren’t allowed to even feature an article written by you in your personal portfolio — sorry, the nature of ghostwriting. Then again, zero credit for your article when it is published. Somebody else takes credit for your hard work. Oh yeah, the company will be kind enough to put in a good word for you, should you ever make a request for a reference.

I’m very curious – are all these A-rated auto makers, and A-rated realtors so cheap, that they will even suck the copywriters dry? Or are creative service providers headed by greedy (and lazy) chieftains, who, under the guise of creative genius just out to scam both, their clients, as well as those who write for them? Which of these is true?  In case you thought, my post ends here, I’m sorry.

There’s another attachment – a three-page document a.k.a. a sample of writing. Based on the style of this article, the potential copywriter/ghostwriter is required to write and submit a new article (500 words) for a given topic. This will demonstrate writing style, command over language, research skills, timely delivery etc. Of course, plagiarism is disallowed (No self-respecting writer would stoop low in any case).

If this was not enough, another article is required. In 500 words again, write from a selection of topic options. One glance will indicate that it is research intensive. No, for neither of these articles will the applicant be paid.

In my mind, these are like shell companies reeking of scams. I searched for a legit website for the company. There was none to be found across the web. It is important to remember… we are writers, not suckers. I believe in my ability. I won’t succumb to crappy scams like these. I’d rather spend time writing this post for myself. Cheers.

P.S.: To write a decent, well-researched article (500 words)… to proof-read, revise, submit and provide at least one revision to the client will take at least 3-5 solid hours of work. That’s more than half a day’s work. If you write even 10 articles over a 5-day week, that’s plenty. People claim that writers submit 100 articles… can anyone believe this?

Remembrance (2011): My Take

Last evening, I watched this foreign film, “Remembrance”.

It is the story about a Jewish woman, Hannah Silberstein, who struggles to break free from the dark memories of her past life in the Auschwitz concentration camp during Poland’s SS occupation.

Young Hannah falls in love with an inmate, Tomasz Limanowski. Together, after they escape from the camp, he returns home, introducing Hannah – his fiancée – to his mother. Instead of warmth and joy, they face Mrs. Limanowski’s wrath. Circumstances compel Tomasz to leave his too-ill-to-travel fiancée in maternal care — for just a couple of days. 30 years later, Hannah catches a glimpse of him on TV. Truly, was this the same Tomasz who had rescued her? Where did he go? Did his mother reconcile? Now, what?

Remembrance2011Film2

An interesting story set in the mid-’70s, the film’s narrative moves back and forth spatially and temporally, transposing audiences from Brooklyn, NY, to a tiny village in Eastern Europe. Paced perfectly, you will savor the romance and anticipation, while feeling the pain of separation when two people are in love, the circumstances notwithstanding.

The older Hannah – played by Dagmar Manzel – plays a fine role of an anguished woman battling her demons during her 30 year old marriage to an affluent businessman. Based on the true story of Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish social worker born in the early 1920s, and Cyla Cybulska, a young Polish-Jewish woman, the only one to have survived after her family was murdered. Played poignantly by Alice Dwyer, you will see glimpses of defiance and determination even during her stricken youth. Mateusz Damięcki and Lech Mackiewicz, as the young rebel Limanowski, and as the older Tomash, respectively, both portray the character deftly, and with just the right portions of passion and aggression.

Remembrance2011Film

Director Anna Justice has delivered a fine film, with the entire cast in tune with the story. In 105 minutes of the film’s duration she has unfolded the characters at a pace that holds your attention, while developing every one of them – short, or tall – as a strong presence – whether brief, or long. Hannah’s husband, their adult daughter, Tomasz’s brother and his wife, Janusz – a family friend… every character is memorable.

This German film was released in late 2011, so NetFlix aficionados are fortunate to be able to watch it now… before they pull it off from their drama and foreign film categories. Original title: “Die verlorene Zeit”.

This Blog is worth… how many $$$$?

Ever done a search for your own blog? I did… just yesterday. I tried, in vain, to find the log in button on this page, so later I Googled for wordpress login along with user name. What do you know? There was a site that stated what this blog is worth. I was aghast! Not by the $$$$ number displayed, but by the idea that some random no-name company is using some vague algorithm (algorithm being a rather fancy term for something basic we learned in middle school – “the step by step procedure to calculate e.g. to solve an equation, etc.”) to determine the value of my thoughts and the written words.

Now, can anyone explain to me – step by step – why anyone should attempt to calculate the worth of my personal diary – my web log? What business is it of anyone but myself, as to what the value of what I jot down here is. Do I go out to estimate the value of some random house on this planet? I don’t need to unless I’m in the buyer-seller market for real estate, and interested in buying or gauging the worth of my own house. Or am I out searching for information on what the true worth of that company is – the one that’s trying to put a $$$ value on my blog?

This is the problem… why can’t folks just mind their own business? Have I assigned anyone the task of estimating this blog’s worth? No, I have not., and I can bet that most of us have not done so. One can understand that companies, corporations, non-profits, others who receive funding from others to run their business (apart from their own monies in the venture) need to estimate the goodwill, or brand value to put it on their annual reports as their asset/s. Just in case they wish to liquidate them, or have intentions of selling their business, or perhaps need more financing to expand or manage their current business. I have none of these intentions!

When businesses attempt to gauge the value of someone’s assets, when they have not been assigned to do so, it should be deemed as encroaching on someone’s privacy. I have my own reasons to write, blog, fill the space here – whether it’s trite, useful, serious, helpful, nonsense, humorous…  is not anybody’s concern, but my own… as long as I’m not encroaching on anyone else, or anyone’s privacy. How many visitors this blog has, how many likes, how many followers, how many…,  how many…, how many…! How many times and for how long will we be subjected to this marketing madness or social media mania of gauging popularity? Does everything have to be converted to indices, measurement and minutae for even further dissection? So companies, please stop your nonsense of determining “What is your personal blog worth”!

To treasure or to trash… Are you taken for granted? Do you have no self-respect?

If you think a bit about these two questions, you realize that they are co-related. Well, I’m guessing, nobody begins life thinking to oneself, “I have no self-respect”. However, it is possible to live one’s entire life without actually realizing, “I have no self respect!”. Then suddenly, one day, it hits you. Either, someone draws attention to this, or you arrive at the conclusion on your own.  What does it all mean? How does one ascertain whether or not one values oneself?

In some parts of the world, along the ‘growing up’ phase you learn through ‘good teachings’, ‘religious beliefs’, or by following ‘family traditions’, that the “good human being” is the one who makes supreme sacrifices, thereby pleasing others (even if it means hurting yourself, risking your own life, or giving your time indefinitely). In return for “being good” – and whether one explicitly states it or not, or is even consciously aware of this expectation – the person who makes the sacrifices begins to assume and believe that s/he will be loved immensely by all, due to their “good, caring and selfless” acts towards those individuals – the ‘takers’. But in that very thought/belief lies a supreme flaw (which nobody teaches you, nor draws attention to)! Just pause for a moment to dwell on this.

In life, where there’s “give”, there’s always “take”. This rule applies universally. Think of fundamental accounting principles (of Debit the receiver, Credit the giver), or recall classroom physics i.e. Newton’s Third Law of Motion (that every action has an equal but opposite reaction). The difference in real life though, is that complex human nature creates a tendency in people to usually take more than they wish to give. Hence, many will try to grab as much benefit as is possible for the least amount of giving as is possible. In extreme cases, if one can get as much for free as is possible, then oft times there’s even secret self-admiration for being so clever. In the same breath, such shrewd people may even consider those they grabbed from as total fools, idiots! As we often see, the very people for whom you did good, tend to call you a fool.

Now, speaking of human relationships, is it possible that you pride yourself as being the supreme ‘giver’? Think again. Is it even possible for you to be that supreme giver who has an endless amount of everything, including energy, to give, give, and give without expecting anything in return from those you give to? You’re only kidding yourself, because even for the richest, the most generous, or the biggest philanthropist in the world, endless amount of giving (in any form) is just not possible. Therefore, pause to remind yourself that “I am not a Supreme Being (God)”! Remind yourself that you are not endowed with an endless stream of everything, hence you have no luxury nor liberty to ‘sacrifice’ endlessly.  You are not the supreme giver! By this token, nobody can, or should be allowed to expect you to keep giving without having to give you in return!

But ask yourself, how did people you interact with get this absurd idea in the first place – the notion that you should give endlessly without return expectations? Either you put that idea in their head/s by continually giving, and without expressing your expectations in return; or, your actions lead them to believe that i.e. by always being available whenever they called out to you (for help, or for anything else). Therefore indirectly you yourself are responsible for allowing them to believe that you are available anytime, every time, and always… for anything, and that it is okay with you, even if you must bend backwards to make them happy, or give of your time. In some ways, it also implies that you will set aside all your other priorities (or that you have none) to make time for them. When others think – consciously, or subconsciously that “It is okay with you”, that point is the beginning of your downfall! You don’t want to lead anyone into believing this of you. Wisdom lies in the knowledge that nothing in life is for free… not from your kids, nor from your parents, nor from your best friend, spouse… from no one, hence you’re not expected to give anything for free, because you aren’t God (Don’t kid yourself about that last bit)! Your life is not free for all to take as and when it suits them. People don’t have time nor inclination to think for you, nor for your good. They are neither being selfish, nor are they callous. They are just being human – like all of us. Each of us – I, or you – has to place a price for anything we do for others, or for anything you give others… whether it’s your time, your effort, or your love. I’m not suggesting that you ‘buy love’. Those who receive from you – your time, energy, your effort, your love – should be made aware of this fact by you and by you only. Then they will value you, your time, your energy, your effort, your love.They will stop taking you for granted. They will respect you for who you are.

People ought to be made aware of the value of what they receive from you. Just as when you go to buy the best strawberries in the market, or the best jewel, or the best anything… there’s a price one must pay for the best. If the price is not stated upfront, you wouldn’t know how valuable the item is, or even how good the item is. Usually, the better anything, the higher its value, right? How do you measure the worth of anything? When you are told its value or when you see its price tag. If that is not revealed at the beginning of the transaction, the person receiving the item may even be holding the most expensive diamond without knowing its value, and may even throw it away thinking it’s just another piece of rock. Only when you know the price of something would you decide whether to treasure it, or to trash it.

I set off by starting to explain this concept in a very different way. However, I hope those who will read this piece to its end here, will dwell on this simple analogy. Often, a lifetime goes by without realizing or respecting one’s own self-worth. But when you do realize it, value yourself for what you have been endowed with, for what you have achieved. Nobody else can know your value and what you’re worth, except you yourself.  When you know what you’re worth, just watch, even others will begin to see your worth. Be proud of who you are. Others will be proud to be associated with you. Introspection, self-discovery are the first steps to discovering the beauty around us. When you have fun discovering the diamond that you are, others will stop throwing rocks at you. 🙂

 

 

Downtime rejuvenates the working body… and mind.

Mind you, if anyone caused pangs of guilt in your head, ’cause you took a short nap in the middle of a work day, erase those negative feelings, pronto!

Downtime is not a waste of time… repeat these words in your head, until you feel free of guilt… not because I’m suggesting that you feel so, but because you will truly feel liberated from that nagging feeling that somehow made you feel you’d committed some major crime.

Mid-afternoon can take its toll on you, in more ways than one. Perhaps it’s the hottest part of the day. May be you’ve had a series of meetings all morning, and concentration during those meetings was imperative – – even if you were not the speaker (in fact, more reason to have been concentrating on those ‘need to increase productivity’ speeches from your boss, and his/her boss) – – because your annual bonus depends on what they said this morning! It is also possible that what you’d planned and hoped for as a productive sales call turned out to be a ‘hit by a bolt of lightning’ nightmare… your junior had just botched up, and you spent precious time troubleshooting, mollifying the irate customer or prospect. One could put this down as an occupational hazard… but remember, although the blow was hard to handle, and you somehow succeeded to salvage that business, the entire process and effort took an immense toll on you – not quite quantifiable.

At every juncture, each one of us is making decisions… numerous decisions… some impact us in small, trivial ways (but they all add up, nevertheless); others, have a bearing on our lives. It’s e.g. the difference between keeping – or losing – your job; or, whether or not your kid will be able to go on a camping vacation with buddies in the spring… your bonus would pay for that eagerly-awaited vacation and the much-deserved new pair of boots you will buy for the child, to not simply show off, but to bring some comfort to those little feet. Isn’t that what you’re wearing out your soles for (without having to sell your soul for the extra bucks)?

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Decisions such as these take their toll on us as working individuals. Your short nap will not break your company’s bottom-line, but without the twenty minutes’ shut-eye, you may, at some point, reach your breaking point! Think of it as a mini vacation from work… from having to look at a gazillion emails, a respite from the incessant stream of phone calls, but most important, it’s a few minutes off, from having to ‘make a decision’. Your productivity is bound to improve and you’ll more than make up for the ‘lost’ twenty odd minutes, ‘slacking off’. Try it out.

Reams of research by psychologists, scientists, and even global businesses have arrived at one common conclusion that we, as human beings, in today’s mad pace of work, technology, and media impact, are inundated by information overload that takes a toll on us. With the numerous points of decision making imposed upon us each day, it is not unreasonable that our body and mind require rest and rejuvenation at a mid point during our waking hours… separate from the deep sleep we normally go into, for 6-8 hours each day of our life. A quick internet search within scholarly articles for query phrase (keyword search) “mid-afternoon nap productivity” generated numerous results… the pix here is a screenshot of page 1 of the SERPs.

A recent article in The New York Times also evoked numerous thought-provoking reader responses.

Speech for Peace: President Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize

For my records:

Following is the transcript of President Obama’s speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Wednesday 9th December 2009, as released by the White House:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations — that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.) In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who’ve received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women — some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries — including Norway — in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I’m responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict — filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

Now these questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease — the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of “just war” was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations — total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it’s hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations — an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this prize — America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

And yet, a decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states — all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today’s wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly inreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.” A gradual evolution of human institutions.

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations — strong and weak alike — must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait — a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America — in fact, no nation — can insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our actions appear arbitrary and undercut the legitimacy of future interventions, no matter how justified.

And this becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries, and other friends and allies, demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they’ve shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular, but I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That’s why NATO continues to be indispensable. That’s why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That’s why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali — we honor them not as makers of war, but of wagers — but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant — the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. (Applause.) And we honor — we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken at some length to the question that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me now turn to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior — for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure — and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I’m working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia’s nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma — there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy — but there must be consequences when those things fail. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point — the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet too often, these words are ignored. For some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation’s development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists — a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America’s interests — nor the world’s — are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements — these movements of hope and history — they have us on their side.

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach — condemnation without discussion — can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable — and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There’s no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights — it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can’t aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that’s why helping farmers feed their own people — or nations educate their children and care for the sick — is not mere charity. It’s also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement — all of which will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and environmental activists who call for swift and forceful action — it’s military leaders in my own country and others who understand our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more — and that’s the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there’s something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we’re all basically seeking the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities — their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we’re moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint — no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it’s incompatible with the very purpose of faith — for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. For we are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best of intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what’s best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present condition makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

Let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. (Applause.)

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he’s outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school — because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child’s dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that’s the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you very much. (Applause)

Accepting Peace Prize, Obama Offers ‘Hard Truth’

Readers’ Comments

For those with abusive partners, walking away could possibly be an option… but for those with abusive parents?

What is the solution for their salvation!

Margaret comments, as does Karen of St Paul, MN, MW of MA and hundreds of others who respond to the provocative question, “What if you want to split from your parents” in the Mind Column of Science Times… “When Parents Are Too Toxic to Tolerate” by Dr. Richard A. Friedman.

A few years back, as a volunteer copy-editor, I was assigned a project that entailed editing copy for an annual report (marketing tool for fund-raising) to be produced for an organization that attempts to combat  domestic violence; that supports survivors and women who wish to escape from abusive partners.

It was at this time, the thought had occurred to me… there are numerous organizations, and innumerable researchers, studying domestic violence that seems to be rampant! But, are there any real organizations that will truly support children (and adults) who suffer for a lifetime, both, while living with their very own parents while they’re growing up, or even later! These folks are victims (or survivors) of angry, frustrated, or ill parents; parents with unfulfilled dreams, parents who attempt to fulfill dreams through their kids; parents who re-live their own abuse-filled childhoods by inflicting emotional and/or physical pain on their children with full knowledge (or unwittingly). Who can such survivors turn to for support?

Does introspection help to see the light? Or then, does cognizance, that indeed this is a case of abusive parent/s… forgive and/or forget for one’s own sanity? Easily said, eh? This would be outside the charter of Human Rights Commission for them to intervene… and yet, this issue affects millions across borders, class, creed or race… it’s hard to divorce your parents… but for your own survival, would you? Should you? Or would you worry about the world saying, “How could you”!

“As Indian Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists”… a comment

Yesterday, a friend wished to post a comment on the much-discussed article that made the headlines in The New York Times. Some readers thought the article was newsworthy, others expressed their furore over the skewed perspective, and yet others posted counter-comments. The following is one which was written, but was not published, since all comments were being screened by the newspaper.

March 13, 2009 2:33 pm
In response to Editor’s selected comment # 167:

Editor's Pick of Interesting Comments
Editor's Pick of Interesting Comments

“Glad to hear your husband visited India. However, am amazed at the one-sided observations: Of the four months he spent there, he saw “people simply cut wires to hook into the electrical grid… “: Did he pay a visit to the electricity Bill Payment Centers (especially in the major metros), where there are long-winding queues of men and women, who do take time off from their work, or from lunch-hour to go pay their bills?
Daily power outages do not prevail in all parts of the country.

A woman who “stands up for herself” would be killed; yes, while Indira Gandhi stood up, she was “killed”, no doubt… but that has been not just her fate, but the fate of many leaders (in India and even in our part of the world and elsewhere)… incidentally, Indira Gandhi was India’s Prime Minister (stood up not just for herself) for several terms… of course she had ups and downs, but that’s history. (I am not particularly her fan.) The point is there are several strong women in the history of India – both, on the political front, as well as in every household in the country. The current President of India is Mrs Pratibha Patil, a woman – educated and an accomplished sportswoman.
Despite the high incidence of the infamous female infanticides, if women were so easily killed (as your husband may have observed), India would not have such a high population (over a billion) and the ratio of women to men is certainly not low at 930 women:1000 men. It is not as “simple as that” to kill women in India… incidentally, a woman, who (almost) could not read nor write, was even leading one of the largest states i.e. Bihar, as their Chief Minister
(circumstances notwithstanding) – and a totally male-chauvinistic state at that.

You’re right about the tax evasions (even among the ‘elite’ and people in power), hence the advertising to “beg people to pay their taxes” comes as no surprise. Even Rabri Devi’s husband was chased by the Income Tax Officials a decade ago.
And here is the very same Rabri Devi… almost an illiterate, happily married (not forced into it at the age of 14) who is the mother to 7 daughters (no less) and 2 sons… who has the “wisdom” and “guts” to comment on the ‘historic’ budget.

You’re right in drawing attention to the hospitality of people towards your husband, despite their poverty. Tourists and visitors (especially the fair-skinned) often have a fan following of poor kids and street urchins, in cities (or at touristy attractions) smiling and laughing around them, begging and chasing them for just a pencil or pen, while their tummies are probably growling with hunger.

Well, the whole point is the government certainly can do much, instead of filling their own coffers. It’s not enough to throw your hands in despair and say, “where do we begin”… Education is not an “impossible luxury”. The government can provide incentives to those who are educated, to teach or provide a basic education to just one other poor soul. Instead of having to scavenge from garbage cans, those who do have homes, could have just one homeless child come around everyday for one small meal – provide two rotis or a bowl of rice with a vegetable (or soup). In fact, come over to learn your ABC’s (K, Kh, Gh), learn the basics of hygiene, and grab a sandwich, for good measure! It really isn’t too much… many families waste and throw away so much food after every meal, that they can well-afford to part with a sandwich a day! How do you think those garbage cans get filled with wasted food that putrefies in there… followed by epidemics of diseases. So, the bottom line… no, the government has to take a lead, and so should those who have been blessed with far more than they can enjoy in their own lifetime… as their “giving back to the community”. They spend loads of money building schools for the rich and elite (so with their IB diplomas they can apply to schools in the US or UK). Those families are charged steep fees (no different from private schools here). How about schools in rural areas with nominal fees – a buck a day – nothing fancy, just the basics at least? Yes, they’re probably hoarding that for their future generations. Well, the future will take care of itself, if the present is provided for… even partially. Please follow my comment #206. India is a land of paradoxes (clichéd). Your observations may be true, but there is certainly another side. Something must be done to resolve the poverty issues… soon! Thanks.”


Yet another “forward” titled, “This is shocking”!

Here I am, sipping on my first coffee of the day, opening my mail-box and voila… the most recent email attempts to unnerve me for the rest of the day. But guess what, I’m not shocked, because I’ve received this not once, but several times from different sources. The visual of a boy with his arm under a car, about to be amputated, does not evoke the response it was supposed to generate! Ostensibly, he stole a piece of bread, and this is the punishment meted out to him… in Iran! If at all this indeed is true, and not just a stunt, as may well be the case, the brutality of such incidents seems to be very deep-rooted… going as far back as 1900-1600 B.C.E. — the Old Babylon period of the Amorite Empire.

The Amorite rulers, who were believed to have “descended from the gods”, enacted “lex talionis”, or the law of equal or direct retribution. This law empowered them to rule over people’s lives. (Note that it is administered only by the state, or by those who are “above retribution” and are thus exempted from being victims of revenge.) Many of us learned a long time ago that in the Middle-Eastern world, it is this Code of Hammurabi — “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, an arm for an arm, a life for a life” — that puts the fear in people, which, in turn, prevents the common man in many of these nations from committing crimes. Punishments, in retaliation, match the nature of the infraction, or, figuratively speaking, you reap what you sow!

Is quid pro quo not too simplistic a view, I wonder, where it seems that none of the following are taken into account i.e. the context (one’s poverty), the intent (to quell one’s hunger), the reason (one may die without food), the action (stealing food), the perpetrator (a young child), the punishment (chopping off a limb), nor the exhortation (showing no mercy). In this context of theft, here’s another disturbing viewpoint.

Even so, in my mind, this does not vindicate the violence towards women; the brutality that Nicholas Kristof’s “acid column” brought to light. Unlike the case of the young boy, there is no ambiguity regarding this infliction of physical pain over women.

Although the code of the Amorites is a subject of discussion at Law Schools such as Yale and others across the nation (and the world), perhaps for my own understanding, I should borrow this book from the library. Here’s a page from it, which I saw online.

From the Code of Hammurabi, the mighty Ammorite!
From the Code of Hammurabi, the mighty Amorite!