Star Wars Artist Visits Bob’s Bullpen in Alpena

first_imgAddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to FacebookFacebookShare to TwitterTwitterShare to MoreAddThisALPENA, Mich. — Bob’s Bullpen in downtown Alpena hosted a legendary artist on Wednesday, the man responsible for the design of the Death Star and more in Star Wars. Colin Cantwell is responsible for having designed many space vehicles in the classic first Star Wars film, released back in 1977, also including the Millennium Falcon, X–wing, and Y–wing.Cantwell’s partner, Sierra Dall, was there to help with the event and described just how much he helped influence these designs. “He said to George Lucas, what if we had a trench around the Death Star? And we had these dramatic fight scenes with everyone diving coming back out again and everything, so that’s how the Death Star got it’s trench and how the fight scenes evolved,” she said.Star Wars fans showed up to Bob’s Bullpen, asking for autographs on their memorabilia. From pictures to toys to drones, fans were able to get them signed by the Star Wars artist.Star Wars fan John Haske attended and was excited to meet the man that designed many of the iconic space ships in the film. “It’s interesting to meet someone who was a concept drawer and came up with these so many years ago, with so much unique ships that we know so well today,” he said.Cantwell has been touring the country doing events like this, and has been covering the Midwest since August 10. Dall says the attention that Cantwell receives during these events is really special for him. “Aeronautical engineers come to him and have said that we’ve got into our career because of this. And several people have traveled hundreds of miles to come to his event. So it’s been really rewarding and Colin didn’t know that his work was that much appreciated.”AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to FacebookFacebookShare to TwitterTwitterShare to MoreAddThis Tags: alpena, Bob’s Bullpen, Colin Cantwell, Star WarsContinue ReadingPrevious New law requires students to repeat third grade if they do not meet reading benchmarksNext Word on the Street: What’s one thing everyone should experience at least once in their lifelast_img read more

Epigenetics Leads the Genetics News

first_imgMore and more studies are revealing systems that regulate DNA.  Here are some recent samples.Stress response:  PhysOrg headlined, “Study finds stress triggers widespread epigenetic changes that aid in disease resistance reported.”  A study by the Salk Institute made it clear that epigenetics involves a code: “The scientists found that exposure to a pathogenic bacteria caused widespread changes in a plant’s epigenetic code, an extra layer of biochemical instructions in DNA that help control gene expression. The epigenetic changes were linked to the activity of genes responsible for coordinating a plant’s response to stress, suggesting that the epigenome may help organisms develop resistance to pathogens and other environmental stressors.”A primer on PLoS Biology, similarly, emphasized the role of chromatin in stress response (Smith & Workman, “Chromatin: Key Responders to Stress,” PLoS Biology, July 31, 2012).Developmental switches in lampreys:  Science Daily reported on a study that shows that lampreys have a way of sequestering genes after their use in development to prevent re-expression.  “In effect, by undergoing programmed genome rearrangement and gene loss during embryogenesis, the sea lamprey “seals” the genes away in the small germline compartment so they cannot be misexpressed and thereby create untoward problems (such as development of cancer, for example).”  This mechanism differs from epigenetic switching in mammals.  “The strategy removes the possibility that the genes will be expressed in deleterious ways,” the article stated.  “Humans, on the other hand, must contain these genes through other ‘epigenetic’ mechanisms that are not fool-proof.”  The authors probably did not intend to convey the notion that evolution is going downhill.Caste system:  Epigenetics may be responsible for converting ants that have the same genetic code into workers and queens – the castes in an ant colony.  “The first ant methylomes uncover the relationship between DNA methylation and caste differentiation,” PhysOrg reported.  Methylation is one epigenetic mechanism whereby genes are tagged for repression by the addition of a methyl tag.Mobile protection:  Science reported on August 3 (Vol. 337 no. 6094 pp. 529-530, DOI: 10.1126/science.1227095) that exposure to trasnposons (foreign mobile elements in DNA) triggers a response by “Piwi” proteins and piRNAs to mount an “enhanced response” to “actively repress transposons to safeguard the genetic information.”  The immediate response triggers another response by small RNAs to preserve the memory of the invasion for future generations, a kind of inheritance of acquired characteristics.  The complexity of this epigenetic response is coming to light, along with possible new functions for “junk DNA”:Once piRNAs have managed the immediate threat of a foreign element, 22G-RNAs establish an epigenetic memory that mediates transgenerational repression. Although initiated by piRNAs, permanent silencing soon becomes independent of the Piwi pathway and is stable for generations. Consistent with an impact on transcription, the repressed target region becomes packaged with silent histone (heterochromatic) marks. Genetic screens and candidate approaches identify nuclear WAGOs, chromodomain protein, and putative histone methyltransferases, among others, as key components of the machinery required to maintain this repression over generations. The studies by Bagijn et al. and others provide a global view on how foreign elements are silenced—from the initial trigger by piRNAs, to a heritable state via 22G-RNAs. Like worm piRNAs, some mammalian Piwi proteins are invested with millions of uniquely mapping piRNAs, but with no known function. It can be envisaged that with relaxed engagement rules, these might also participate in genome surveillance.Stem cell stemness:  Epigenetics may also play a role in keeping stem cells from differentiating until the time is right.  “In a finding that could be important to the use of all kinds of stem cells in treating disease, scientists have discovered the crucial role of a protein called Mof in preserving the ‘stem-ness’ of stem cells, and priming them to become specialized cells in mice,” PhysOrg wrote of a study at University of Michigan.  “It plays a key role in the “epigenetics” of stem cells — that is, helping stem cells read and use their DNA.”Genome stability:  A new open-access paper in PNAS suggests that epigenetic processes contribute to stabilize the genome (Birchler and Veitia, “Gene balance hypothesis: Connecting issues of dosage sensitivity across biological disciplines,” PNAS, Aug 20, 2012, 3/pnas.1207726109).  Specialists may wish to explore the implications for evolution of the “Gene Balance Hypothesis” by Birchler and Veitia.  For example, “with a greater number of protein–protein interactions involved with macromolecular complexes, there are increasing negative fitness consequences of single gene duplication, which manifests as a stoichiometric imbalance.”Another code?  PhysOrg reported (without much detail) about an “exceptional breakthrough” by an interdisciplinary team that rivals the discovery of the base-pairing genetic code of Watson and Crick: a code that determines the recognition of RNA transcripts of DNA.  It involves pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) proteins.  “The new paper in PLOS Genetics describes for the first time how PPR proteins recognise their RNA targets via an easy-to-understand code,” the article claimed, without describing the code itself.  “This mechanism mimics the simplicity and predictability of the pairing between DNA strands described by Watson and Crick 60 years ago, but at a protein/RNA interface.”  Because of the lack of detail in this article, the claims may require further analysis; nevertheless, the word “code” clearly dominated the story.For more on the increasing awareness of the importance of epigenetics, see our July 4, 2012 entry, “Epigenetics: the 21st Century Scientific Revolution.”We recommend again the popular-level introduction to the subject, The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA by Woodward & Gills.It’s interesting that few of these articles mentioned evolution.  No wonder; the discovery of regulatory codes above the already-challenging genetic code would scare any Darwinist needing to account for them.  Darwin was known to have stomach aches most of his life.  One can imagine how sick he would be to hear about the genetic code.  It would be downright cruel to then tell him about epigenetic codes.  Codes are not conducive to a healthy GI tract for those committed to unguided, materialist theories. 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GALLERY: Ateneo Blue Eaglets savor UAAP Jrs basketball crown

first_imgThe Ateneo Blue Eaglets defeated the NU Bullpups on Friday to cap off their stellar, almost-flawless season with the UAAP Juniors basketball title.Here are photos from Game 3.ADVERTISEMENT Families in US enclave in north Mexico hold sad Thanksgiving FEATURED STORIESSPORTSWATCH: Drones light up sky in final leg of SEA Games torch runSPORTSLillard, Anthony lead Blazers over ThunderSPORTSMalditas save PH from shutout Chief Justice Peralta on upcoming UAAP game: UP has no match against UST PLAY LIST 01:00Chief Justice Peralta on upcoming UAAP game: UP has no match against UST00:50Trending Articles00:50Trending Articles01:29Police teams find crossbows, bows in HK university01:35Panelo suggests discounted SEA Games tickets for students02:49Robredo: True leaders perform well despite having ‘uninspiring’ boss02:42PH underwater hockey team aims to make waves in SEA Games01:44Philippines marks anniversary of massacre with calls for justice01:19Fire erupts in Barangay Tatalon in Quezon City LOOK: Iya Villania meets ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ cast in Mexico ‘Happiest’ Kai Sotto dedicates Finals MVP award to teammates Pussycat Dolls set for reunion tour after 10-year hiatus View comments Typhoon Kammuri accelerates, gains strength en route to PH Read Nextcenter_img Google honors food scientist, banana ketchup inventor and war hero Maria Orosa Don’t miss out on the latest news and information. Brace for potentially devastating typhoon approaching PH – NDRRMC John Lloyd Cruz a dashing guest at Vhong Navarro’s wedding LATEST STORIES Kai Sotto puts up a shot during the UAAP Juniors Basketball Finals Game 3 between Ateneo and NU. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netSJ Belangel leads Ateneo during the UAAP Juniors Basketball Finals Game 3 between Ateneo and NU. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netSJ Belangel leads Ateneo during the UAAP Juniors Basketball Finals Game 3 between Ateneo and NU. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netTerrence Fortea and Geoff Chiu battle it out down low. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netWinderich Cayoca tries to get one past Dave Ildefonso. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netTerrence Fortea slices to the basket during the UAAP Juniors Basketball Finals Game 3 between Ateneo and NU. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/ Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netAteneo Blue Eaglets clinch the UAAP juniors basketball championship. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netMatthew Escalona and SJ Belangel overcome with emotions after winning the UAAP championship. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netAteneo Blue Eaglets celebrate their new championship. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netSJ Belangel celebrates Ateneo’s new title. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netGeoff Chiu and Dave Ildefonso hug it out. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netCoach Joe Silva after steering Ateneo to the UAAP juniors basketball championship. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netMatthew Escalona, Dave Ildefonso, Jason Credo and SJ Belangel celebrate. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netMatthew Manalang and SJ Belangel hug it out after a hard-fought finals battle. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netAteneo Blue Eaglets are the UAAP Season 80 champions. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netKai Sotto named Finals MVP. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/INQUIRER.netAteneo Blue Eaglets. Photo by Tristan Tamayo/ MOST READ AFP official booed out of forumlast_img read more

Sony TV, Ten Sports pose serious challenges to ESPN-Star

first_imgFor the past five years, the ESPN-Star Sports combine has been the veritable colossus of sports television in India. With the occasional exception of Doordarshan (DD) Sports, it has not had a real challenger. Now it may have two.On April 6, Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the man who runs the Sharjah,For the past five years, the ESPN-Star Sports combine has been the veritable colossus of sports television in India. With the occasional exception of Doordarshan (DD) Sports, it has not had a real challenger. Now it may have two.On April 6, Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the man who runs the Sharjah cricket circus, launches Ten Sports, his very own sports channel. That aside, Sony Entertainment Television has upstaged ESPN-Star for rights to the 2003 and 2007 cricket World Cups and the next three ICC knock-out trophies (2002-6). While Sony only confirms “advanced negotiations”, sources indicate the deal is through.In July 2000, the International Cricket Council (ICC) sold global rights for the World Cups and knock-out trophies to Global Cricket Corporation (GCC) for $550 million (Rs 2,640 crore). GCC is a consortium primarily comprising News Corp-media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s flagship-and World Sports Group, a UK-based marketing firm.THREE CAN PLAY A GAMERupert Murdoch, STARBesieged Behemoth: With ESPN has men’s tennis, basketball, Formula 1.But if it loses five-nation CSI cricket deal, it’s on the ropes.Kunal Dasgupta, SONYGreat Gambler: Betting on cricket and possibly pay per view.Could show next World Cup on Set Max, AXN, even launch new channels.A.R. Bukhatir, TEN SPORTSDesert Dare: Cricket from Sharjah and Morocco.Has TV deals with Manchester United, WWF, women’s tennis, European golf tour.Since ESPN-Star is a south Asia-specific 50-50 partnership between Murdoch and media giant Disney, the World Cup rights were expected to flow to it.Not satisfied with the initial offer made by ESPN-Star-reportedly $120 million (Rs 576 crore)-GCC called in bids in November.advertisementSony, led by CEO Kunal Dasgupta, offered an astronomical $375 million (Rs 1,800 crore)- $265 million for the satellite rights and $110 million for the terrestrial ones.While ESPN-Star upgraded its offer, it is understood it was nowhere near Sony’s.There are murmurs that Disney-ESPN’s parent and an American entity with no great cricket focus-was not keen to make “unrealistic investments”.That ESPN-Star has reportedly lost $21 million (Rs 101 crore) in the past half-decade may have made it cautious. For News Corp, it was a tough call. The decision to sign with Sony, industry insiders say, was eventually made by Ian Frykberg, director of WSG and a long-serving Murdoch employee.Internally ESPN-Star estimates Sony may actually lose money-“as much as $100 million”-from the mega-deal it has agreed to. On his part, a Sony confidant sees cricket as a “hot property” that may pay for itself not just in terms of “advertising returns” but “perhaps in a pay-per-view format or as part of a direct-to-home system”.Ten Sports, owned by Bukhatir’s Taj Group, poses a more immediate challenge to ESPN-Star. Says Peter Hutton, who’s leaving TWI to join Ten Sports as head of programming, “If you look at other markets worldwide, Manchester United TV or the New York Yankees channel show you how sports bodies with key broadcast rights are looking to set up their own channels. You can see Ten Sports as an extension of this philosophy.”The channel will show cricket from Sharjah-a controversial venue India currently avoids-and Morocco where Bukhatir’s company has built a stadium in Tangiers. In August, the first Tangiers tournament will feature South Africa, Australia and Pakistan.DDholds the rights for cricket played in India till 2004. So ESPN-Star’s trump card has been bringing world cricket to Indian bedrooms. In 1998, it tied up with Octagon-CSI – which holds rights for cricket played in Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, South Africa and, now, England – for a fiveyear contract worth $50 million. This agreement runs out at different times in different countries.The first series of the new contract is Australia in Zimbabwe, April 2002. Currently, Ten Sports and ESPN-Star are locked in a contest to partner CSI for the next five years. If the Murdochdriven network loses, life could get thorny. At ESPN-Star, it’s time for the slog overs.last_img read more

Northern Alliance plays pivotal role in US plans to overthrow the Taliban

first_imgWAR LEGACY: Northern Alliance tanks sport portraits of Masood at a parade near Khwaja BahawudinThe sun rises over Khwaja Bahawudin like a ghostly white apparition. A thick blanket of dust cloaks this desert town in northern Afghanistan throughout the day. The town is the military headquarters of the United Islamic,WAR LEGACY: Northern Alliance tanks sport portraits of Masood at a parade near Khwaja BahawudinThe sun rises over Khwaja Bahawudin like a ghostly white apparition. A thick blanket of dust cloaks this desert town in northern Afghanistan throughout the day. The town is the military headquarters of the United Islamic and National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, better known as the Northern Alliance, an unwieldy array of resistance forces.In the days after the US bombardment of Afghanistan, the alliance’s army has emerged as the key to American plans to overwhelm the Taliban on the ground.MANY WARS, SAME RESULTS: The ruins of an office of a UN agency hit by US missiles in KabulLiving conditions in the town, however, make you wonder whether its forces are as formidable as its leaders claim they are. It is like journeying back in time. The roads are dirt tracks, meant only for mules. Houses are basically mud fortifications of Indus Valley vintage. There is no electricity, no tap water and no sewerage system.Anyone wanting to do a period film of ancient Afghanistan could do so without any additional props. Since the war began, trucks carrying AK-47-toting soldiers head to the battlefront every day. Many are trooping in as well. Refugees fleeing nearby war zones pour into the town and are huddled into makeshift cloth tents. Khwaja Bahawudin is on the verge of collapse.Worshippers at a mosque which was bombed during the Soviet invasionYet from the muddy ramparts of this town, the 15,000-strong resistance forces are waging a surprisingly tough fightback against one of the most brutal and obstinate regimes in the world having an army of 50,000 troops.The alliance, in a rare show of congruity, is confronting the Taliban in an arc of fronts. It seems to be part of the overall strategy: even as US fighters pound the main cities, the Taliban would have to stretch its forces to guard their flanks.advertisementBefore the war began, the alliance forces held barely 10 per cent of the northern territory. While its army excelled in mountain warfare, it was no match for the Taliban’s military superiority on the vast plains of Afghanistan. With over 500 tanks and 30 fighter jets, the Taliban had ensured that key cities like Kandahar, Kabul, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif were impregnable. Till last week, that is.War DiaryDay 1Operation Enduring Freedom unfolds on the night of October 7-Kabul plunges into darkness. Some 50 Tomahawk missiles are dropped on Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kunduz by about 40 aircraft of the US and UK.Day 2The attack screams into its second night on October 8. Electricity supply in Kabul is immediately cut off by the Taliban. Four bombs are reportedly dropped on Kabul, of which one hits the airport. The northern cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz are also bombed. This time, a smaller fleet of about 15 bombers are used; 15 missiles hit targets. Day 3October 9 sees the first daylight raids. The house of Taliban supremo Mullah Omar is hit. 20 aircraft pound military bases and oil installations in Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. Four civilians working with UN killed.Day 4On the night of October 10, a mix of land-based bombers and carrier-based strike aircraft are used in what is the most punishing strike yet. At least five bombs land in the very heart of Kabul. US fighter jets also drop three bombs near Kandahar airport. The Taliban claims heavy civilian casualties in the attack.Day 5The campaign goes into its fifth day with the US unleashing 5,000-pound laser-guided bombs (GBU-28s) targeting Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad. The Taliban’s air defence is destroyed.In the first week of the war, the US sought to cripple the Taliban’s military capability. Using its most modern weapons, including cruise missiles, Stealth bombers and submarine-launched warheads, it destroyed Taliban fighter jets, tank regiments, artillery battalions, airports and city fortifications.The US hoped that the severe bombardment would demoralise the regime headed by the one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar and trigger its collapse. The alliance forces would be used for the mop-up operations on the ground.That way the US and its allies could minimise the loss of their own personnel, apart from claiming rather facetiously that their forces had not invaded Afghan soil. But it was not going to be as easy as the world hoped it would be.The alliance had been forged together by Ahmed Shah Masood. Using an intricate network of informers, Masood was able to frustrate the Taliban army for years with his strategic retreats, encirclements and ambushes. Masood’s death on September 11, left a gaping void in the alliance. But it managed to move quickly to establish a collegiate style of leadership and even pushed back an attempt by the Taliban to gain fresh territory around Khwaja Bahawudin.advertisementMohammed Fahim Khan, Masood’s trusted lieutenant, succeeded him as defence minister. Khan, however, lacks Masood’s charisma and does not appear to harbour political ambitions. In some ways it may help when the spoils of the war have to be distributed among the power brokers that will control a new set-up in Afghanistan.Of more immediate importance is the fact that the alliance is now flush with military supplies. Hours before the US strike, Attiqula Baryalai, Fahim’s key deputy, drove to an incongruous outpost in Dasht-e-Kala, about 30 km from Khwaja Bahawudin. There the lean and muscular Baryalai met key commanders to decide on distribution of the ammunition.On slips of paper, he scribbled the figures for each sector: 1,800 AK-47s, 1,000 PK-type machine guns and over 500 rocket-propelled grenade launchers. In 10 minutes, he had distributed close to 10,000 guns to the regiments guarding the northern sector.It looked as if the Russians and Iranians had stepped up the supplies. That included an entire regiment of T-55 tanks and armoured personnel carriers, which lay sheltered behind a bend in the Amu river close to the barge we had used to cross the border.It was noon when we reached the regiment and the sun was mercilessly hot. Yet General Abdul Muneer, the strapping regiment commander from Panjshir Valley, was willing to demonstrate how eager his men were to do battle. He ordered them to get into half-a-dozen tanks and show off their prowess.The tank engines roared to life and they moved swiftly across the banks of the river raising a cloud of dust. Most tanks carried a picture of Masood who is fast acquiring a Che Guevara-like stature in the region. I got inside one of the tanks with Muneer.Ammunition is packed tightly all over and there is barely enough space to stretch your legs. Muneer said determinedly, “The Talibs are terrorists. They have become slaves to foreign powers. They will soon be thrown out.” The way he pronounces the word “terrorists”, it sounds like tourists.TENT CITY: More than 15,000 refugee families, fleeing war, famine and Taliban terror, subsist on rations doled out by foreign aid agencies at camps on the banks of Amu riverA little later we are invited to lunch by General Abdul Wahid, who runs an army base workshop. His tent offers a magnificent view of the Amu. His deputy, Dadullah, joins us and is delighted to know we are from India.He lost a leg in a mine blast four years ago and spent six months in a Delhi hospital where an artificial leg was fitted. Wahid apologises for the simple lunch of pulao and dal. We tell him it’s the best meal we have had in days. “The dal is from India,” he says, “We won’t touch anything that is from Pakistan.”advertisementThe visceral hatred for Pakistanis and their interference in Afghan affairs is something that one encounters right across northern Afghanistan. There is much anger against Pakistan’s support to the Taliban and the deep involvement of the ISI in building and training its army.Even our translator Javed, who studied Urdu in Peshawar, is upset with their devious ways. Referring to the US move to bail out Pakistan’s economy he said, “All it takes is money for Pakistan to switch sides and dump Afghanistan.”The Northern Alliance forces have other concerns about Pakistan’s involvement. In an innocuous house in Dasht-e-Kala, we met General Rahimutallah Mohibullah. He is the commander of the 7,000-strong alliance forces that has been lined up to regain Talukhan from the Taliban.Dressed in army fatigues, the stocky Mohibullah explained, “The Talibs we can take on any time. But it is the former Pakistani officers and Osama bin Laden’s men that will make the fight a tough one.”TENSION IN AIR: News from the battlefront is eagerly followed on radio, the only sourceThere are nagging suspicions that the US has entered into a deal with Pakistan to deprive the Northern Alliance of a final victory by inducting defectors from the Taliban into a future government.Reports that the US may be on the verge of deploying ground forces from bases in Uzbekistan are viewed with alarm. The alliance plans to counter this by capturing as much territory in the north-particularly the cities of Kunduz, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif-so that it has an adequate bargaining clout for the future.Pakistan’s role will again be key to the stability of any future Afghanistan regime. Over the years, Pakistan has invested much of its resources in nurturing the Taliban and will now make every effort to have a say in the emerging dispensation.Islamabad has always been against the alliance saying it lacked the support of the Pashtoon community that accounts for 41 per cent of Afghanistan’s 16 million people.There is some truth to Pakistan’s criticism. Tajiks, who form 22 per cent of the population, dominate the alliance (Masood was a Tajik). The Uzbeks account for 6 per cent and are led by General Rashid Dostum who has made a comeback after years in exile.The Hazaras constitute another 5 per cent and have rejoined the alliance. Also back is Ismail Khan, the respected former governor of Herat province.Fearing that the lack of Pashtoon support may derail their efforts, the US and its allies have begun work on other solutions. Even before the war, moves were afoot to bring back former king Mohammad Zahir Shah, who is living in exile in Rome.The idea is to get the king, who is a Pashtoon, to convene a Loya Jirga or assembly of tribal and regional leaders to determine the fate of post-war Afghanistan.CROWN OF THORNS: General Fahim Khan is Masood’s successor, but lacks his charismaAfghanistan’s real tragedy is the enormity of suffering that the many wars have wrought. Even before the US strikes began, over a million people fled to Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. Meanwhile, three years of a devastating drought has all but destroyed Afghanistan’s agricultural production.In some perverse way, the Taliban has achieved its goal of taking Afghanistan to the medieval ages in its bid to establish a purist Islamic society. Most Afghans now live in Stone-Age conditions. The once-proud people are dependent on doles from aid agencies that are constantly harassed by the Taliban.In the town square at Khwaja Bahawudin, a crowd of refugees had gathered to collect the weekly ration of sugar being distributed by Acted, a French relief organisation.Among them was 38-year-old Syed Kareem who fled with his wife and two children from nearby Khwaja Gar after the Taliban police repeatedly set fire to his house for not following their orders to pray five times a day. He lives in a tent on the banks of the Amu like 15,000 other families.Acted is the lone agency helping out refugees in the northern region and Cyril Dupree, its coordinator, says, “The real emergency is inside Afghanistan. And there is just not enough being done.” The economy lies in tatters.The Afghani, the official currency, fluctuates wildly. Moneychangers have to distribute notes in gunnysacks. A day before the war broke out the exchange rate was 80,000 Afghani to a dollar and now it hovers around 50,000 to a dollar.Prices are absurd with tomatoes and onions costing one lakh Afghanis a kg ($2). Vegetable sellers don’t have iron weights but use round stones to measure quantity. Petrol, mainly imported from Uzbekistan, is sold in tin drums with a 100 litres costing $200 (Rs 9,600).MARCH OF DESPERATION: The US bombardment sparked a fresh wave of exodus from Kabul (above) and other Taliban-controlled citiesThe progress of the war is followed keenly. At the Najibullah Hotel in Dasht-e-Kala, which serves the best kebabs in the region, every other person carries a transistor to listen to the latest from the front.Refugees are another source of news. At the centre of attention is 14-year-old Khaled who escaped from Kabul before the US bombardment began and undertook a traumatic 24-hour journey to return home. Khaled said the Taliban police were constantly picking on him for not growing a beard. They even arrested him and kept him in detention for a day.While the Taliban has shut down all girl schools, the ones that the boys go to are in no better shape. In Dasht-e-kala, for instance, constant bombing by Taliban forced the only school to shift its premises away from the town.There, next to an overflowing nullah, groups of boys learn under thatched huts. Abdul Mahmood says he hopes to become a doctor when he grows up. Headmaster Fakruddin is pessimistic. He says the drop-out rate is 80 per cent with most of the students joining the mujahideen.CHANGE OF GUARD: Alliance forces have consolidated their hold on Takhar provinceAs the war rages, the refugees in Kashlok camp No. 1, on the outskirts of Khwaja Bahawudin, wait in anticipation. Ghulam Rasool, a farmer, hopes that it will end soon so that he can return to his house in Talukhan.He recollected the trauma of escaping with his wife and three children after the Taliban captured his village. Like most Afghan women, his wife Gul Afrooz covers her face and refuses to speak. But whenever her husband misses a detail she prompts him. Rasool is in tears as he points to the torn clothes of his children Javed, 10, and Sharbana, 12. They have no shoes.By then it is evening. The sun is still an incandescent white globe on the horizon. In the ruins near the camp, the elders offer namaaz. Waiting patiently for her father to finish his prayers is five-year-old Mallika Abdul Rashid. She is clutching a schoolbook titled My Hero.What strikes me is the sparkle in her big brown eyes. I pray that it never dims.last_img read more

Pakistan’s Ahmed Shehzad attacks Tillakaratne Dilshan over religion

first_imgPCB has ordered an investigation in the religious comments made by Shehzad against DilshanReligious comments by Pakistan batsman Ahmed Shehzad to Sri Lanka player Tillakaratne Dilshan after their one-day international last Saturday are being investigated by the Pakistan Cricket Board.While the players were walking back to the dressing room in Dambulla, Sri Lanka, Shehzad was caught on camera telling Dilshan “if you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.”Dilshan’s reply was not audible, and Shehzad went on to say, “Then be ready for the fire.”Shehzad was summoned to PCB headquarters in Lahore on Wednesday and asked about his comments, board general manager media Agha Akbar said.”Ahmed has informed the PCB that it was his personal chat with Dilshan, and there was nothing more to it,” Akbar said.”What we understand is that no Sri Lanka Cricket official or our own manager lodged any complaint.”However, Akbar said the PCB was still investigating the matter.Dilshan was born to a Muslim father and a Buddhist mother and was known as Tuwan Mohamed Dilshan.He shed his Muslim name shortly after his international debut in 1999 and took up the name Tillakaratne Mudiyanselage Dilshan with an ethnic Sinhalese-Buddhist identity.His childhood coach Ranjan Paranavitana said even though Dilshan carried a Muslim name, he and his brothers and sisters followed their mother’s religion from their childhood.Dilshan scored an unbeaten 50 on Saturday and powered the home team to a seven-wicket victory in the ODI series decider.advertisementlast_img read more