Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ethnic Dance Festival

On Saturday we attended San Francisco’s 32nd Annual Ethnic Dance Festival. As always, it was a local happening worth being a part of, either onstage or in the audience.

The SF Chronicle says the Festival is “A spectacular reflection of the diversity in the Bay Area.” They’re right. Over four weekends in June 37 local dance companies perform. While each reflects its unique culture, the themes that they all share are enthusiasm, talent, colorful costumes and joy.

We were treated to 9 performances:

Japanese dancing and drumming

Spanish flamenco

Haitian singing, dancing and drumming

Indonesian folk dancing

Indian folk dances and singing

Tribal ritual dances from the Philippines

Turkish dancers celebrating a traditional wedding

Dances from the Peruvian Andes

Fifty Tahitian dancers and musicians celebrating life


Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Cynical State of Mind

Maintaining a cynical state of mind is so easy when I am greeted by the following stories in the first eight pages of today’s newspaper:

Same sex marriage should be banned.

The police murder an unarmed man.

The Gulf oil spill is bigger than ever.

Deadly floods kill dozens.

Genital cutting is widespread among Iraqi Kurds.

Big earthquake in Indonesia.

Warning: Don’t travel to Nepal. It’s dangerous.

The news from Afghanistan is worse every day.

More (useless) sanctions in place for Iran.

Drug violence in Mexico kills hundreds in the past five days.

Ethnic cleansing against Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan.

Gaza blockade still in place.

Indonesia anti-terror police shoot unarmed suspects.

Reporter slain by gunmen in Manila.

And I’m not even half way through the front section yet.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

World Cup Fever

My love affair with the World Cup began in 1978 when I was living in New York and heard that this thing called the World Cup was being played in Argentina and that 1 billion people would be watching the final game between Argentina and the Netherlands.

A billion people! This I gotta see. If one out of every four people on the planet were interested, so was I. I couldn’t watch it at home, but a few movie theaters would be showing the game live via satellite. I lived a short distance from one of the locales, the famous Brooklyn Paramount Theater, a huge classic rococo movie palace that opened in 1928. So I went.

The place was packed, mostly with Argentina supporters. And they were in a frenzy. I was sure that if Argentina didn’t win we were in for a riot. Fortunately for the sake of law and order and my well-being, they did win. And I had been introduced to the most popular game on earth.

My interest waned (there wasn’t any football worth watching in the U.S.) but revived again in 1994 when the World Cup was played in this country. In the years since I have become more and more passionate about the game. And now, fortunately, I can watch games from around the world at home.

Which is exactly what I’ll be doing starting Friday. All 64 games will be broadcast live this year from South Africa, ending with the final on July 11. What do I think will happen?

The U.S. should do well. I don’t think we’ll win, but we’ll make it past the group stage. I was happy with the final team chosen by Bob Bradley. Our defense is porous and that could be our downfall.

England, as usual, will underperform. Their defense is also weak, and they don’t have enough offense to compensate for it.

Many expect Brazil to win. I don’t think so. Italy will also disappoint. And so will Argentina, which may have the best players but is burdened with the worst coach. I don’t think any African or Asian team will be among the best.

Who will win? Either Spain or the Netherlands. And if I’m wrong? I’ll enjoy the tournament anyway.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Afghan Sinkhole

Read the lines and between the lines in a piece called “With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire,” by Dexter Filkins in today’s NY Times. Without even trying, this one story contains a litany of existential realities in Afghanistan that sadly demonstrates how deep a sinkhole it is.

Datelined Tirin Kot, it begins: “The most powerful man in this arid stretch of southern Afghanistan is not the provincial governor, nor the police chief, nor even the commander of the Afghan Army. It is Matiullah Khan, the head of a private army that earns millions of dollars guarding NATO supply convoys and fights Taliban insurgents alongside American Special Forces.”

To summarize what Filkins writes:

Matiullah is stronger than the government and independent of any government control.

He is one of several unofficial warlords who have supplanted ineffective regular Afghan forces.

These guys are undermining the very institutions Americans are seeking to build.

We need them, especially because we’re racing against a deadline set by Obama.

Matiullah is reported to be working with drug smugglers to facilitate the movement of opium and other illicit contraband. He is also rumored to be working with the Taliban.

The government isn’t strong enough to provide the security that is needed, so the Matiullah’s of Afghanistan are filling the void.

People fear we’ll leave behind an Afghan government too weak to do its job.

For securing the highway between Kandahar and Tirin Kot for NATO convoys Matiullah is earning $2.5 million a month. He charges $1,200 for one cargo truck.

Matiullah’s role has grown beyond business. His people gather intelligence and engage in fighting insurgents.

He supports 15,000 people, has built 70 mosques, endows scholarships and leads weekly meetings with tribal leaders.

There are at least 23 unregistered and unregulated private security companies in the area. They have a financial interest in prolonging the chaos.

Even though this is a dismal report I’m sure Filkins would have more to say if he were asked. There isn’t a chance in hell that we will accomplish our stated mission in Afghanistan, no matter how long we stay. In the end it’s up to the Afghans to figure out what kind of country they want to have – and maybe to acknowledge that they aren’t interested in any country at all.

Until then we’ll muddle long, in public putting the best face on what is a disaster, in private recognizing that we can’t control the outcome. The sooner we stop wasting lives and money the better. But don’t bet on it being sooner.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Easy to Criticize

I look around and see lots to criticize. Which I don’t mind doing except I ask myself – for what purpose? To add another voice to the cacophony of critical voices? To vent my spleen? To prove that I have something to say? None of this seems to add any light to the darkness of opinion that abounds. So for now I’ll just mention a few of the things about which I have lots to say but won’t bother:

Israel’s botched attempt to prevent boats reaching Gaza.

BP and the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

The millions being spent by Republican candidates in the California primary, especially Meg Whitman.

The bad call that unfairly deprived a deserving pitcher of a perfect game.

The repeated attempts by the White House to encourage/bribe/tempt potential candidates to drop out to clear the way for preferred people.

The unwillingness/inability of Obama to provide leadership people can relate to.

The war that cannot be won. Which one? Afghanistan of course.

That’s enough for now. I’ll save the rest for another day.