Monday, September 19, 2011

First days in Birmingham

Aren't there some days when you wake up and just feel like this? A bit pretentious of me but it is an apt description -

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed's edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;

Preludes by T.S. Eliot Available online at:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kind Hearts and Coronets and Manhattan

Movie Poster of "Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949) Dir. Robert Hammer

I have just finished watching the film and I will preface this reactionary fan review with an excerpt of Phillip Kemp's article on Ealing Studios. They may have been the most famous film studios in England for a number of years but I feel that younger generations (such as mine) might be unaware of the type of films they made and why they were famous. I think an understanding of this context is important if we are to appreciate where this film originated from and why it was considered to be quite controversial at the time.

The excerpt reads:
"Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is an Ealing comedy in name only. True, it’s undeniably a comedy and was made by (though largely not at) Ealing. But in virtually every other respect, it deviates startlingly from the commonly accepted stereotype. Ealing comedies, it’s widely agreed, are cozy, even complacent; Kind Hearts and Coronets is callous and amoral. The humor of Ealing comedy is essentially good-natured and folksy; Kind Hearts and Coronets is cool, ironic, and witty. Sex in Ealing comedies is mostly avoided or, if inevitable, treated with embarrassed jocularity; several scenes in Kind Hearts and Coronets carry a potent erotic charge. In Ealing comedies, the criminals—even the lovable ones, like Alec Guinness in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)—eventually pay for their crimes; the hero of Kind Hearts and Coronets is a calculating serial killer who, in the final reel, stands a good chance of getting away scot-free... 
...The prevailing mode of filmmaking at Ealing—still, half a century after its demise, the most famous of all British film studios—was largely the creation of production head Michael Balcon, who ran it as a benevolent autocracy. The son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Balcon was fervently patriotic, left-liberal in politics, and prudish in sexual matters. When, in 1955, Ealing was sold to the BBC, Balcon had a plaque placed on the studio wall that read: “Here, during a quarter of a century, many films were made projecting Britain and the British character.” What he most likely had in mind was Ealing’s bent for realism, much influenced by the number of senior Ealing personnel—Alberto Cavalcanti, Harry Watt, Charles Crichton, indeed Hamer himself—who had joined the studio from the British documentary movement. But more than that, the kind of film that Balcon always preferred, and that he held to be typically British, was essentially conciliatory, with a plot that moved toward final-reel consensus, for the good of the community—an outcome reflected in such mainstream Ealing movies as the drama The Blue Lamp (1949) and the comedy Passport to Pimlico (1949).  [Phillip Kemp, Kind Hearts and Coronets: Ealing's Shadow Side, available online at: <>]
So, Kind Hearts and Coronets, was a unique film even within its own genre. As one commentator on IMDB put it, it is "A wonderful, heart warming film about multiple murder." I suppose what most people will enjoy about the film is the cutting irony and understated wit of the dialogue as well as the superb acting. The irony in the plot is all-pervasive. There are some obvious examples of this like the steadfast refusal of Sibella, Louis' childhood sweetheart, to marry him at the beginning of the movie because of his lack of wealth and position, then coming to him at the end of the movie and trying to blackmail him into marrying her so that she should could leave bankruptcy and partake in his newly acquired dukedom. Another example is when Louis accompanies his uncle Ethelred on a hunting expedition and says: "I went out shooting with Ethelred or rather to watch Ethelred shooting. My principles will not allow me to take a direct part in blood sports." The (dark) humor lying in the fact that he was out to murder Ethelred! There are the more oblique examples as well which only seem obvious after watching the movie repeatedly (as many reviewers on IMDB have seem to have done!) or going through it slowly on DVD, appreciating every moment (as I did!). One such instance is that "Lady Agatha is a crusader for womens' rights but it's her own equality with me as an heir to the Dukedom of Chalfond that marks her for elimination. Her willings ness to martyr hrself in one cause (womens' suffrage and freeborn equality) gives Louis the opportunity to kill her for its exact opposite (patriarchy and inherited rights)" [Thank you, Picador 66 from Maine, The Supreme Example of Dramatic Irony, 24 September 2006:

Along with this brilliant irony, is attached extremely witty dialogue and exceptional comic delivery. There are too many to name but I especially enjoyed the conversations that preceded and succeeded the murder of the D'Ascoiyne who was interested in amateur photography, since Louis was also enamored with his wife, as well as the dialogue that occurred in D'Ascoiyne manor. On taking a tour of the Castle, for the first time, as an ordinary, paying member of the public, he comments: "It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms" When he tours the Castle again, with the last remaining survivor of the D'Ascoiyne family, Louis as the narrator remarks that "I've never been in a building that had been so lavishly equipped with the instruments of violent death." But none of the dialogue would have been as funny, if they were not delivered in the straight-faced, stiff-upper-lipped style adopted by Dennis Price (now considered to be a stereotypical characteristic of British comedy) or if the eight victims were not depicted as unassumingly by Alec Guinness. A few words have to be also reserved for the two leading actresses of the film: one depicts a kind of smoldering sensuality and coyness that was rare in films of that era and the other portrays a stately elegance and grace. It is easy to see why Louis says: "For while I never admired Edith as much as when I was with Sibella, I never longed for Sibella as much as I did when I was with Edith."

Watching this film really reminded me how much I love 'British' humor, whether it is the dark kind as evidenced in "House of Cards", the tongue-in-cheek kind in "Yes, Minister" or the more light-hearted, slapstick kind in "Monty Python" or "Fawlty Towers". I'd really recommend this film to any fans of such shows. 


I have now also watched "Manhattan", directed by Woody Allen and my first observation would be that as far as romantic involvements go, Isaac, the lead character in Manhattan, is in the same predicament as Louis Mazzini. It is easy to imagine him saying: "For while I never admired Mary as much as when I was with Tracy, I never longed for Tracy as much as I did when I was with Mary." Yet, Isaac's romantic trials and tribulations, his professional highs and lows are not the aspects of the movie that capture the attention the most. Even the movie's self-mocking pretentiousness and pseudo-intellectual dialogue, though charming, are not what make the film memorable. What makes the film memorable, is the way Allen captures New York City; the nostalgia he invokes. You can tell he loves the city and when he and Diane Keaton sit at a bench by the Brooklyn Bridge watching the dawn break, anyone who has lived there for any amount of time, can't help but repeat after him: "Boy, this is really a great city, I don't care what anybody s-s- it's really a knock-out, you know?" 

A Scene from "Manhattan" (1979), Dir. Woody Allen 
Sometimes I wish I had the opportunity to get to know that city better. Maybe if I get lucky with Masters applications! 

Remembering 9/11, 10 years on

9/11 picture: the World Trade Center south tower collapsing
1.Thomas Nilsson, Getty Images
Usually, when you try to recall memories from long ago, they come back hazily and you have difficulty placing it in a specific location or at a certain time. But not this day. I used to live in New York City at the time and I was in Language Arts class that morning, when someone burst into the room and asked my teacher to turn on the radio. It was the first and last time that I heard a reporter sobbing during a broadcast. That evening, when my father had returned from the United Nations, we noticed an unfamiliar smell in our apartment. To my 11-year old nose, it smelled like burning rubber; a not uncommon smell in that part of Roosevelt Island. My parents told me that what I was smelling was burning flesh and asbestos. 

Many people all over the world remember where they were when the attacks took place, even if they are not American citizens or have not lost loved ones. Because on that day, when the planes went into the twin towers and the Pentagon, people knew nothing would ever be the same. My father says that there was a similar feeling when the Berlin Wall fell and when the Soviet Union collapsed. But now, even more than during those momentous occasions, it is possible to trace the repercussions of this calamitous event - from that site in Manhattan to the shattered shells of Kabul and Baghdad and the shattered lives of those caught in the crossfire of war. So, when looking back, let us not only recall and pay our respects to those who died on that dark day but also to the many innocent lives that were lost subsequently; in the many '9/11s'. 

In the future, let this day be commemorated through deep introspection rather than (mis)used to stir mass hysteria or paranoia. Let it not be an 'anti-4th of July', where nationalistic fervor is fanned to commemorate the taking away of independence and freedomAlong with being a day of mourning, let it be an opportunity for America to remember the values that it once strove to uphold and consider where it fell short in achieving these aims. 

Coincidentally, just recently, the hull of an 18th century ship has been discovered beneath the debris of the WTC. It is well known that the banks of the Hudson River were once much wider and that as Manhattan grew, the river was gradually filled up. What is not known, is the purpose of this ship. It could have been a river trading vessel or even transport for slaves - but what is pretty much certain, is that it was sunk deliberately. (See Photo 7) The symbolism resonates. 

Finally, let us also use this occasion to recollect the many acts of injustice and violence perpetrated on innocent people, communities and nations throughout history and reflect on Gandhi's famous epitaph: "Violence will prevail over violence, only when someone can prove to me that darkness can be dispelled by darkness."

Some memorable images from National Geographic, Global Post and Salon (the rights for these photos belong to the respective photographers, news agencies and websites):

9/11 picture: people running from the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11
3. Suzanne Plunkett, AP

9/11 picture: Marcy Borders covered in ash in New York
4. Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Images

9/11 picture: a New York City street after the attacks
5. Photograph by Jason Florio, Corbis

9/11 picture: firefighters helping an injured colleague
6. Photograph by Todd Maisel, NY Daily News via Getty Images

9/11 site picture: archaeologists measuring a piece of the ship's hull at the World Trade Center
7. Photograph by Mark Lennihan, AP

8. Ben Brody, GlobalPost
After being ordered to exit a station wagon carrying five men, passenger Abdul Hamid is detained by Afghan National Army and International Security Assistance Force soldiers
9. James Lee, Salon

Breathing toxic smoke, a local worker collects scrap metal inside the open-air burn pit at Forward Operating Base Sharana
10. James Lee, Salon
11. Mohandas Gandhi encourages the Indian community of South Africa
to participate in non-violent resistance (September 11, 1906)

Today in History: On September 11, 1973, President Salvador Allende of Chile was overthrown in a military coup d’etat. Allende had been elected in 1970 on a Marxist platform. He began nationalizing major industries in Chile, including banks and U.S. owned copper firms. He began land redistribution and major social programs. The economy in Chile struggled as inflation rose, but Allende’s popularity soared. The U.S. government spent $8 billion to fund right-wing candidates, but did not have much affect. The U.S. continued to back military opposition, with the CIA heavily funding the coup. On September 11, the military, led by General Augusto Pinochet, took over the nation. 40,000 leftists were rounded up and brought to the National Stadium where many were executed. 130,000 people would be rounded up over the next three years, many never being seen again. Pinochet would finally lose control of the country in 1988. It is said that during the rest of his reign, nearly 3,000 were killed and close to 28,000 were arrested, imprisoned and tortured.
12. The coup d' etat against Salvador Allende (September 11, 1973)


2. Ariel Dorfman, "Epitaph for Another September 11", available online: (August 30, 2011)

8. Global Post, Photograph taken by Ben Brody, "Soldiers take cover as Staff. Sgt. Jerry Pringle, a combat engineer, blows up a mud wall that is blocking their view of surrounding fields", GlobalPost, available online: (December 20, 2010) 

9. Salon, Photograph taken by James Lee, "Abdul Hamid is detained by Afghan National Army and International Security Assistance Force soldiers at a roadside checkpoint in Naray district, Kunar province, on Feb. 28, 2010", Salon, available online: (February 12, 2011) 

10. Salon, Photograph taken by James Lee, "Breathing toxic smoke, a local worker collects scrap metal inside the open-air burn pit at Forward Operating Base Sharana in eastern Afghanistan on May 4, 2010", Salon, available online: (February 12, 2011)

11. "The Other September 11 and how Satyagraha came into existence", Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, available online: (September 11, 2011)

12. "This day on September 11", War is Peace, available online: (September 11, 2011) 


Friday, September 9, 2011

Our Other Border: Monitoring the delimitation of our maritime boundary with Myanmar

Dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar)

While everyone has been pre-occupied with the India-Bangladesh talks, and particularly the water and transit issue, there have been significant developments regarding our border with our other neighbour.

At this very moment, oral submissions are being made at the International Tribunal for Law of the Sea in Hamburg for the delimitation of our maritime boundary with Myanmar. They commenced yesterday (8th September) in the presence of our Foreign Minister and her delegation:

Background: As some of you may remember, a couple of years ago, relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar suddenly became strained, as they - through a South Korean intermediary - began exploring for oil and gas reserves, around a disputed sea boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Even though tensions cooled after a while, the dispute remained unresolved, and both sides agreed to settle the matter amicably by taking it to the relatively newly constituted International Tribunal for Law of the Sea. Written proceedings commenced in 2009 but it is only now that we have reached the stage of oral submissions.

Essentially, Myanmar have claimed that they have a right to explore the disputed area because, based on the principle of equidistance used in international law, it falls with their jurisdiction. Bangladesh, on the other hand, claims that using the principle of equidistance in these particular circumstances will be inequitable as it deprives the country of a large swathe of sea territory and blocks access to the outer continental shelf, despite having hundreds of kilometers of coastline.

This case is a landmark event for us, not only because it will help consolidate our national borders and determine the extent of our oil and gas reserves but also because it will be Bangladesh's first case in front of an international court as a state party. (The War Crimes Tribunal is governed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court but is not an 'international court' and the ICJ case between Pakistan and India regarding our Liberation War did not involve us as a state party)

I really hope that we get a favorable outcome of this. My expectations have been heightened by the fact that we have lined up an AMAZING team of international lawyers. Paul S. Reichler and Lawrence H. Martin from Foley Hoag LLP (, Professor Dr. James Crawford( and Professor Alan Boyle ( are absolute legends in the fields of international law of the sea and international arbitration.

If you are interested in following what is happening at ITLOS, you can read the press releases on the ITLOS website or even watch the proceedings via webcam at the stated times: It is a unique opportunity to see the cogs of the international legal system turn and observe how the interests of YOUR country are defended. An archive of footage from previous sessions is also available on the website and I would particularly recommend watching the first session as it provides a detailed political, historical and legal background to the entire issue and includes a speech by Dr. Dipu Moni, our Foreign Minister.

Have any of you been following this issue? Do you any expectations regarding this issue, in specific, or our relations with Myanmar, in general? I'll post background articles and news of relevant developments in the coming days.