Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Flesh of Your Flesh

Elizabeth Kolbert

Americans love animals. Forty-six million families in the United States own at least one dog, and thirty-eight million keep cats. Thirteen million maintain freshwater aquariums in which swim a total of more than a hundred and seventy million fish. Collectively, these creatures cost Americans some forty billion dollars annually. (Seventeen billion goes to food and another twelve billion to veterinary bills.) In a survey released this past August, more than half of all dog, cat, and bird owners reported having bought presents for their animals during the previous twelve months, often for no special occasion, just out of love. A majority of owners report that one of the reasons they enjoy keeping pets is that they consider them part of the family.

Americans also love to eat animals. This year, they will cook roughly twenty-seven billion pounds of beef, sliced from some thirty-five million cows. Additionally, they will consume roughly twenty-three billion pounds of pork, or the bodies of more than a hundred and fifteen million pigs, and thirty-eight billion pounds of poultry, some nine billion birds. Most of these creatures have been raised under conditions that are, as Americans know—or, at least, by this point have no excuse not to know—barbaric. Broiler chickens typically spend their lives in windowless sheds, packed in with upward of thirty thousand other birds and generations of accumulated waste. The ammonia fumes thrown off by their rotting excrement lead to breast blisters, leg sores, and respiratory disease. Bred to produce the maximum amount of meat in the minimum amount of time, they often become so top-heavy that they can’t support their own weight.

For pigs, conditions are little better. Shortly after birth, piglets have their tails chopped off; this discourages the bored and frustrated animals from gnawing one another’s rumps. Male piglets also have their testicles removed.

How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner? This inconsistency is the subject of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” (Little, Brown; $25.99).

Foer was just nine years old when the problem of being an “eating animal” first presented itself. One evening, his parents left him and his older brother with a babysitter and a platter of chicken. The babysitter declined to join the boys for dinner.

“You know that chicken is chicken, right?” she pointed out. Foer’s older brother sniggered. Where had their parents found this moron? But Foer was shaken. That chicken was a chicken! Why had he never thought of this before? He put down his fork. Within a few years, however, he went back to eating chickens and other animals. During high school and college, he converted to vegetarianism several more times. Finally, when he was about to become a father, Foer felt compelled to think about the issue more deeply, and, at the same time, to write about it.

Foer ends up telling several stories, though all have the same horrific ending. One is about shit. Animals, he explains, produce a lot of it. Crowded into “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs, they can produce entire cities’ worth. (The pigs processed by a single company, Smithfield Foods, generate as much excrement as all of the human residents of the states of California and Texas combined.) Unlike cities, though, CAFOs have no waste-treatment systems. The shit simply gets dumped in holding ponds. Imagine, Foer writes, if “every man, woman, and child in every city and town in all of California and all of Texas crapped and pissed in a huge open-air pit for a day. Now imagine that they don’t do this for just a day, but all year round, in perpetuity.” Not surprisingly, the shit in the ponds tends to migrate to nearby streams and rivers, causing algae blooms that kill fish. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some thirty-five thousand miles of American waterways have been contaminated by animal excrement.

Some of the animals that suffer most from the factory-farm system aren’t the ones that end up on the table. Most dairy cows spend their lives in sheds, where they are milked two or three times a day by machine. Many develop chronic udder infections. Laying chickens are kept in cages, jammed in so tightly that they don’t have room to spread their wings. To prevent them from cannibalizing one another, their beaks are trimmed with a hot blade.

[Condensed by Mahendra Meghani from The New Yorker weekly: Nov. 8, 2009]

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

The Audacity of Hope

Barack Obama


IT’S BEEN ALMOST ten years since I first ran for political office. I was thirty-five at the time, four years out of law school, recently married, and generally impatient with life. A seat in the Illinois legislature had opened up. I entered the race and proceeded to do what every first-time candidate does: I talked to anyone who would listen. If two guys were standing on a corner, I would cross the street to hand them campaign literature. And everywhere I went, I’d get some version of the same question:

“You seem like a nice enough guy. Why do you want to go into something dirty and nasty like politics?”

I was familiar with the question.. It signaled a cynicism not simply with politics but with the very notion of a public life, a cynicism that had been nourished by a generation of broken promises. In response, I would usually smile and nod and say that I understood the skepticism, but that there always had been another tradition to politics, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart.

It was a pretty convincing speech, I thought. And enough of the people appreciated my earnestness and youthful swagger that I made it to the Illinois legislature.

Six years later, when I decided to run for the United States Senate, I wasn’t so sure of myself. The years had taken their toll. Some of it was just a function of my getting older, I suppose, for if you are paying attention, each successive year will make you more intimately acquainted with all of your flaws—the blind spots, the recurring habits of thought that will almost certainly worsen with time. In me, one of those flaws had proven to be a chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right there in front of me.

It was as a consequence of that restlessness that I decided to challenge a sitting Democratic incumbent for his congressional seat in the 2000 election cycle. It was an ill-considered race, and I lost badly—the sort of drubbing that awakens you to the fact that life is not obliged to work out as you’d planned.

The pleasures of politics— the adrenaline of debate, the warmth of shaking hands and plunging into a crowd—began to pale against the meaner tasks of the job: the begging for money, the long drives home after the banquet had run two hours longer than scheduled, the clipped phone conversations with a wife who had stuck by me so far but was pretty fed up with raising our children alone and was beginning to question my priorities. I began to harbor doubts about the path I had chosen.

At some point, though, I arrived at acceptance—of my limits, and, in a way, my mortality. I came to appreciate how the earth rotated around the sun and the seasons came and went without any particular exertions on my part.

And it was this acceptance, I think, that allowed me to come up with idea of running for the United States Senate. My wife─perhaps more out of pity than conviction—agreed to this one last race, though she also suggested that given the orderly life she preferred for our family, I shouldn’t necessarily count on her vote.

I threw myself into the race with an energy and joy that I’d thought I had lost. I hired four staffers, all of them smart, and suitably cheap. We found a small office, printed letterhead, installed phone lines and several computers. Four or five hours a day, I called major Democratic donors and tried to get my calls returned. I held press conferences to which nobody came.

Mostly, though, I just traveled, often driving alone, first from ward to ward in Chicago, then from county to county and town to town, eventually up and down the state, past miles and miles of cornfields and train tracks. Without the machinery of the state’s Democratic Party organization, without any real mailing list, I had to rely on friends to open their houses, or to arrange for my visit to their church, union hall, or Rotary Club. Sometimes, after several hours of driving, I would find just two or three people waiting for me around a kitchen table. I would have to assure the hosts that the turnout was fine and compliment them on the refreshments they’d prepared.

But whether I was meeting with two people or fifty, whether I was in one of the stately homes, a walk-up apartment, or a farmhouse, whether people were friendly, indifferent, or occasionally hostile, I tried my best to keep my mouth shut and hear what they had to say. I listened to people talk about their jobs, their businesses, the local school; their dogs, their back pain, and the things they remembered from childhood. Some had well-developed theories to explain the loss of manufacturing jobs or the high cost of health care. But most of them were too busy with work or their kids to pay much attention to politics, and they spoke instead of what they saw before them: a plant closed, a promotion, a high heating bill, a parent in a nursing home, a child’s first step.

What struck me was just how modest people’s hopes were, and how much of what they believed seemed to hold constant across race, region, religion, and class. Most of them thought that anybody willing to work should be able to find a job that paid a living wage. They believed that every child should have a genuinely good education and that those same children should be able to go to college even if their parents weren’t rich. They wanted to be safe, from criminals and from terrorists; they wanted clean air, clean water, and time with their kids. And when they got old, they wanted to be able to retire with some dignity and respect.

That was about it. It wasn’t much. And although they understood that how they did in life depended mostly on their own efforts—although they didn’t expect government to solve all their problems, and certainly didn’t like seeing their tax dollars wasted—they figured that government should help.

And by the time I was back on the road on my way to my next stop, I knew once again just why I’d gone into politics.

I felt like working harder than I’d ever worked in my life.

My encounters with voters reminded me that at the core of the American experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together. These values and ideals find expression not just in the marble slabs of monuments or in the recitation of history books. They remain alive in the hearts and minds of most Americans—and can inspire us to pride, duty, and sacrifice.

I recognize the risks of talking this way. In an era of globalization and dizzying technological change, and cutthroat politics, we don’t seem to possess the tools to work together to bring those ideals about. Most of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits. We know how high-flying words can be deployed in the service of cynical aims, and how the noblest sentiments can be subverted in the name of power, expedience, greed, or intolerance. In such a climate, any assertion of shared ideals or common values might seem hopelessly na├»ve.

However we have no choice. The vast majority of Americans are weary of the dead zone that politics has become, in which narrow interests vie for advantage. We feel in our gut the lack of honesty, rigor, and common sense in our policy debates. We sense that the nation’s most significant challenges are being ignored. We need a new kind of politics.

That’s the topic of this book: how we might begin the process of changing our politics and our civic life. This isn’t to say that I know exactly how to do it. I don’t.

What I offer is: some thoughts on the ways that our current political discourse unnecessarily divides us, and my own best assessment of the ways we can ground our politics in the notion of a common good.

I suspect that some readers may find my presentation of these issues to be insufficiently balanced. To this accusation, I stand guilty. I am angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and insist that government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all. I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody’s religious beliefs on nonbelievers. Furthermore, I can’t help but view the American experience through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful of how generations of people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the ways that race and class continue to shape our lives.

I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.

Undoubtedly, some of these views will get me in trouble. I am bound to disappoint some. Which perhaps indicates a second theme to this book—namely, how anybody in public office can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.

[Extracted by Mahendra Meghani from the book The Audacity of Hope]

The Greatness of Lincoln


George McGovern


The Greatness of Lincoln

What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, our army and our navy... our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands everywhere.

─ Abraham Lincoln, speech in Illinois, September 1858

Two hundred years ago Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin in the Kentucky wilderness. From crude, disadvantaged beginnings he somehow recognized significant capabilities within himself and nurtured a determination to succeed. He rose improbably becoming a clerk, businessman, lawyer, legislator, statesman, and national political figure. From the heights of presidential power and privilege he led the country through its most terrible trial of civil war. In his resolve he maintained that no state or sectional interest could break apart a Union formed in perpetuity. In his genius he transformed the bloody struggle into a second American Revolution, a "new birth of freedom" that would finally allow fulfillment of the national promise of equality for all Americans, regardless of color. In life he was respected and ridiculed, beloved and hated; in death he was martyred. Lincoln is revered as our greatest president, but he is certainly more than that. He is an unparalleled national treasure, a legend that best represents the democratic ideal. Every generation looks to Lincoln for strength, inspiration, and wisdom. We want to know everything abouthim, and we wish we could be more like him. Why do we admire him so?

Abraham Lincoln was a self-made man who rose above the circumstances of his birth. The son of antislavery Baptists, reared in the backwoods of Kentucky and Indiana, he led an unpretentious and obscure early life. He knew no privilege or advantage, and was taught no life lessons except the necessity of unrelenting work. His formal education totaled just one year, but from that brief experience in the schoolroom he learned that knowledge, no matter how acquired, would be the key to improving his station in life. He never stopped reading, absorbing, analyzing, and through dogged determination he grew in wisdom and stature. Perhaps he was inspired by his mother's, and then his stepmother's, gentle insistence that he could improve himself through reading, learning, and mental activity.

He learned from all of his failures—and there were many. Dissatisfied with farm life, he left his father's home for good at age twenty-one, settling in New Salem, Illinois, a tiny village that was, like him, rough, undeveloped, and facing an uncertain future. He purchased an interest in two small general stores, but chose unreliable men for partners who left him with a staggering debt that took him years to pay. At various times he worked as a field hand, postal clerk, blacksmith, and surveyor, positions that at best brought temporary satisfaction but left him feeling unfulfilled. In 1832 he lost the first political contest he entered, for the Illinois state legislature.

But Lincoln would not resign himself to failure and loss; instead he learned from each experience and carried on. People, he found, liked him despite his rough exterior—or perhaps because of it. They laughed at his jokes and liked to be around him. He inspired trust. He paid his debts. He ran again for the state legislature in 1834 and was elected, and then reelected four more times. He threw himself into the study of law, spending nearly every waking moment reading and analyzing the rules of pleading and practice, and became an attorney in 1836. He earned a reputation for honesty and sincerity, and he parlayed his standing in legal circles and his political connections into election to Congress in 1846. In 1842 he married the vivacious Mary Todd, perhaps the most enchanting young lady in Illinois, who would fuel his driving ambition.

During most of his life Lincoln suffered from recurring bouts of emotional depression. Perhaps the best account of his depression is by the historian Joshua Wolf Shenk, who wrote of Lincoln:

"He told jokes and stories at odd times—he needed the laughs, he said, for his survival. He often wept in public and recited maudlin poetry. As a young man he talked of suicide, and as he grew older, he said he saw the world as hard and grim, full of misery, made that way by fates."

Lincoln's obvious sadness drew his associates and many citizens to him. His sad countenance, reflecting his internal depression, doubtless touched the hearts of many voters who came to love and admire the tall, lean, sad-faced man from Illinois.

Although he served but a single term in Congress—he took the unpopular stand of opposing the war with Mexico—he reentered the political arena in 1858, challenging the feisty Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate. He lost the election but won the admiration of many who heard him speak passionately about the country and its future, and he most assuredly caught the attention of national political leaders. A few months later, he was elected president of a country that seemed bent on destroying itself.

As a self-made man, Lincoln had a higher view that was not constricted to his personal success. His American Dream was that all men and women should have equal opportunity to improve their lot. He believed that each American had the right to eat the bread for which he or she toiled. Government's role, he said, was to "elevate the conditions of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life."

Lincoln ran for president in 1860 on a platform that called for slavery's limitation. His victory on that platform was sufficient to prompt the Southern states to start seceding, one by one, as soon as Lincoln was elected. In the ensuing political crisis over secession, Lincoln made it clear that he had neither the power nor the desire to abolish slavery in the seceding states, and that he would happily allow slavery to continue there if it meant saving the Union. But he made it equally clear that he would not agree to any compromise that saved the Union if it meant forcing him to abandon his pledge to restrict slavery's expansion.

Lincoln firmly believed that the idea of a people's democracy was civilization's greatest experiment, and if the Union were not perpetual—if dissatisfied states could leave whenever they chose—the idea of such a democracy would be reduced to an absurdity.

Lincoln's remarkable quality of tolerance has been a constant source of admiration for generations of Americans. His compassion touched every area of his life. He loved children and could not bear to discipline his sons. He often represented clients in court without charge because he sympathized with their situation. In an age of rampant hostility against foreigners, Lincoln welcomed foreigners and encouraged their participation in political and civic institutions. And he was convinced that the best way to deal with political adversaries was to apply a friendly touch, for, he believed, a man's judgment and opinions could best be reached through his heart.

Lincoln knew that slavery was wrong, and when he first saw slaves in chains on a Mississippi riverboat trip he decided he would fight the practice if and when he got the chance. He did not believe that African Americans and whites ought to live as social equals, but he was unwavering in his belief that they had the same rights to live, to prosper, and to improve their lot.

He sympathized with soldiers who fought for a noble cause. He complained when his wife spent money on frivolous things for the White House when young men had no shoes to wear into battle. He loved meeting soldiers, particularly those who had been held prisoner or had endured extreme hardship, and he could often be seen sitting under the shade trees on the White House lawn, talking with the men he admired so much. He pardoned, reprieved, or extended great leniency to hundreds of soldiers who were derelict in their duties, because he believed in giving a man a second chance. Lincoln regularly visited Washington's hospitals, and these visits with wounded soldiers lifted his spirits as much as it did theirs. His favorite unit was the Invalid Corps, made up of men whose wounds rendered them unfit for more battle ser vice (and who already qualified for a pension) but who volunteered for security duty. And he spent more than a quarter of his presidency in residence at the Soldiers' Home in Washington, surrounding himself with disabled veterans.

Lincoln sought to embrace the suffering of others. He mourned those men who lost their lives, and as the death tolls reached unimaginable umbers, his grief became nearly unbearable. He wrote achingly beautiful letters to the mothers of fallen soldiers, with words that could only come from the heart. And he made certain that "the world would not forget" the ultimate sacrifice made by American troops. Amazingly, Lincoln felt no anger toward those Southerners who took up arms against their country; as misguided as they were, he was determined to "let 'em up easy" when the war ended.

Perhaps Lincoln's most questionable judgment during the Civil War was his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. This important plank in the American code of justice gave a person seized and imprisoned the opportunity for a prompt court hearing to determine if he was being held lawfully and whether or not he should be released. It may seem strange that Lincoln, ordinarily dedicated to the preservation of civil rights, should have suspended, even in war time, an important building block in the house of freedom. It is ironic that while waging a war at least in part to extend the reach of liberty, he was willing to reduce liberty in setting aside the writ of habeas corpus. And Lincoln further clouded his stature as a champion of the Bill of Rights when he ordered some newspapers critical of his policies to be closed down.

We admire Lincoln's amazing capacity to live and work with a strong sense of discipline. When asked what made for a successful lawyer, he replied, "work, work, work is the main thing."

He carried this work ethic to the White House. He rose as early as 6:00 or 6:30 each morning and stayed up late, cramming as much work into the day as he could. He ate little and afforded himself few pleasures or moments of relaxation.

Lincoln believed that cold reason and logic could overcome any deficiency and would see him through any problem. He believed that his self-discipline could set an example for the country. He grew into his job as president steadily, day by day, overcoming countless frustrations and obstacles and becoming a great leader.

Lincoln was an extremely intelligent man. Despite his lack of education he was seldom, if ever, intimidated—not in a courtroom, not in a political debate, not as regards any issue he faced as president. He was supremely confident in his ability to analyze and solve any dilemma.

He was a common man who rose to uncommon heights. He had a genuine rapport with the people who elected him, and he was truly appreciative of their friendship and support. He remained true to his own convictions. He focused on his duty to serve his country as president, through turbulent times. He met the responsibility as he met every other challenge in his life: with clear purpose, patience, and compassion.

Lincoln remembered his roots. His real home, he knew, was back on the prairies of Illinois. His heart was there; he was happiest there; had he lived, he would have returned there.

Lincoln became a new kind of American hero who, in his words, stirred the "better angels" of the American people and instilled in them a passion for universal freedom. He was eulogized as one "elevated from the people, without affluence, without position, either social or political, with nothing to commend him but his own heart and sagacious mind." In his greatness he remained one of us. He still is.

[Condensed by Mahendra Meghani form the book Abraham Lincoln]

American Radical

American Radical

After a career that saw him rise to national prominence not only on television and radio, but as a correspondent for the Nation and a columnist for PM -- the legendary New York tabloid that refused advertisements and revolutionized American newspapers – I.F. Stone slowly vanishes. Although he is the author of four books, each one more successful than the last, when he writes another, on the Korean War, no publisher in America will touch it. He is effectively blacklisted as a reporter. For some time he lives in a kind of internal exile. He decides to launch his own newspaper. I. F. Stone’s Weekly that gives him a platform from which he can rally his fellow heretics, attack their persecutors, and encourage resistance. For readers who want a radical perspective on current events free from sectarian distortion, the Weekly has no competition. Throughout the long nightmare of the American inquisition, whenever citizens stand up to claim their rights, I. F. Stone is there. Somehow he survives.

And slowly his audience returns – a new generation of readers looking uncomfortably at the world they are to inherit. It is this generation that plucks I. F. Stone from the dustbin of history and places him, once again, on the front ranks of American activism. The Weekly – after ten years of struggle – has barely 20,000 subscribers before the incident in 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin that gives rise to the large-scale involvement of U.S. forces in Vietnam. The figure has risen in 1969 above 70,000.

Fearless opponent of McCarthy and radical pamphleteer, scourge of official liars, Stone becomes an amateur classicist out to solve one of the great mysteries of Western civilization : how it came about that the ancient Athenians, inventors of democracy and originators of the humanist ideal of free speech, put a man to death merely for speaking his mind. Published as the author turns eighty, The Trial of Socrates is an international best-seller.

In January 2008 on the CBS Evening News Katie Courie asked John Edwards, then running for the Democratic nomination as President of the United States, to name the one book, other than the Bible, he would consider “essential to have along” as President. Edwards chose The Trial of Socrates because, he said, of the way Stone treats “the challenges that are faced by men about character, about integrity and about belief systems.”

Stone remained a real reporter all his life. For him that meant a deeply ingrained skepticism about the claims of power – as in his famous quip that “every government is run by liars.” Yet his skepticism never degenerated into cynicism. Stone’s deepest roots were in his native ground : Tom Paine’s appeal to revolutionary common sense, the unyielding dignity of Frederick Douglass, and above all Thomas Jefferson’s view of a free press as the keystone of American liberty.

Stone was not only a great reporter. He was always an irritant to those in power – for his ability to publicize the most inconvenient truths, for his dissatisfaction with a society that forces its children to go to war in order to pay for college and that allows the earth to be spoiled and the sick to go without medicine so corporations can continue to pile up treasures without let or hindrance.

I. F. Stone was a troublemaker all his life. From his youth as a soapbox orator for the Socialist Party to his dying words in support of the students who risked death on Tiananmen Square by demonstrating against the Chinese government, he always relished a good fight. The list of his causes is itself a fair index of the rise and fall of American radicalism : equality for African Americans, government assistance for the poor, economic justice for farm laborers and factory workers, opposition to fascism (whether the jack-booted European variety or the “chrom-plated” American fascism), support for colonial independence and opposition to an American empire, workers’ rights, universal health care, the abolition of nuclear weapons, and most of all, the right to dissent.

In the tempest of the 1950s, harassed by the State Department, followed by the FBI, blacklisted by the mainstream media, and ridiculed by many liberals, Stone refused to trim his sails. But when the storm passed, his geniality made it easy to overlook the man who, long before the sit-ins and freedom rides, regularly chided American blacks not for their restiveness but for their patience, the man who described the war in Vietnam as “genocide”.

I write these words near the end of a decade during which our country was again covered in darkness. Dissent has again been equated with treason, while domestic prosperity has been laid waste to finance a president’s imperial arrogance. In such times, Stone’s life and writings can again serve as a beacon to rally the republic.

And when the tide turns, Stone’s various flourishings will remind us to seize the day, to face our tasks undaunted, and to focus less on the minor differences that may divide us and more on what we can accomplish together.

This is a book about a man who lived through extraordinary times. Our times. Taken together his writings amount to as vivid a record of those times as we are likely to get.

It was Lenin who observed that however much great revolutionaries may be persecuted and slandered during their lifetimes, once safely in the grave “attempts are made to turn them into harmless icons.”

All four major television networks made Stone’s death an item on the evening news broadcast; his death was front-page news in the New York Times (which called him an “iconoclast of journalism”), the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times (“the conscience of investigative journalism”), and dozens of small newspapers. The day after Stone died, Peter Jennings, anchorman of ABC’s World News Tonight, the top-rated news program in the country, ended his broadcast with a tribute to the man he called “a journalists’ journalist”. Quoting from Izzy’s credo in Who’s Who – “To write the truth, to defend the weak against the strong, to fight for justice....” – Jennings told his audience,

“For many people, it’s a rich experience to read or reread Stone’s views on America’s place in the world.”

D. D. Guttenplan

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New York Times Clippings

Dear Friends,

Ever since 1948, when I came to Columbia to study journalism, I have been a great admirer of the new York Times. Over the last sixty years I must have returned to USA ten times, and each visit gives me the joy of renewing my love with NYT. Generally I come here with mission to bring something from India to the Indians here and also for the Americans. In return I try to send back to friends in India clippings of news and articles from NYT that have impressed me. Here is a list of some of these, and I would urge friends to spare a little time to download from the internet whatever they can. I shall only add that NYT has been for me a continuing school for studies in world affairs and I wish an abridged Indian edition of the newspaper could be published.

Mahendra Meghani

What I would like to share with friends form The New York Times:

Aug. 17:

On can you visit, Obama Child Shows

Health Care's Generation Gap

Aug 19:

Greyhound's buses to roll in London Waiting at Heathrow

Aug 20:

Don Hewitt, brought newsmagazine style Life Lessons? Taking some weight off

Aug 29:

Postal Service is Bulligh

Look to the rainbow (Bob Herbert)

For best results, Take the sting out

Yes, I'm pregnant

Aug 30:

What's next, Sidewalk tolls?

A world always close to family

Aug 31:

Invisible Immigrants

Hints of pluralism begin to appear

Sep 1:

That's why it's called the international date line,

A Chicago production,

Sleep may be nature's time management tool for magazines,

The down days continue


Ike's other warning

How can we get kids to ear right?

Sergei Mikhalkov, Russian anthem's lyricist

Giving back stature stolen

Beleagured bookseller

French bookstore to close

Sep 4:

Kennedy's rough waters

Sep 10:

For OPEC, current oil price is right

One million fill classes

Remembering Walter Cronkite

Russian Schools to teach 'The Gulag'

Making the case for leadership

Big food vs. big insurance

Sep 12:

South Korea's new export

Sep 13:

Why can't she walk to school?

In her 50s, looking for love

Sep 14:

Norman Borlaug, Plant scientist

After safe exit

Trust in news media falls

Sep 15:

High-five Nation (David Brooks)

Google site lets readers flip through news

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dear Friends

November 4, 2009

Dear Friends,

My US visa, expiring today, has been extended now. So I hope to spend about two more months in America. Due to a cold I caught in IL, I had to cancel the visit to FL in October. The host there, Shailesh Patel of Port Orange, is kindly arranging a new program, so I hope to spend the last week of November in FL.

At 86 I am afraid I am unfit to spend winter in NJ. So I should like to spend December in the southern states form GA to TX if some families there would wish to arrange hour-long readings from and display of 'The Gandhi Story'. If you think any of your friends might be interested in inviting me, could you kindly put me in touch with them. Thank you.

My niece in NJ, Dr. Bharati Mullick, is going to Ahmedabad by Air- India. I too have a return ticket to Ahmedabad by the same airline. So I propose to go back to India under her care. If all goes well, I might return to USA in May 2010 for another 6-month visit.

When I came to America in may 2009 to promote Lokmilap's latest publication The Gandhi Story, I had made a suggestion that every Indian gift a copy of the book to at least one native American friend. During the six months thereafter I have traveled to about 10 U.S. States and Canada and given hour-long readings from the book before small groups generally in the homes of friends. As a result, nearly 1200 copies of the book have been sold. 5,000 copies of the book have been printed, and we still have to go a long way before they are all distributed.

For people who have not seen the book, I have extracted some thoughts of Gandhiji from the book to be spread out through the internet. I have a mailing list of several hundred contacts in USA and Canada to whom I am sending out these 35 thoughts. And I request these friends to forward the extracts by email to their contacts. In this way we could introduce the book to thousands of potential readers. Those who then feel interested can obtain copies of the book for their families and friends.

Would you kindly email this message and the following thoughts entirely to those on your mailing list? Thank you very much.

Mahendra Meghani


Some Thoughts From


It was a habit with me to forget what I did not like, and to carry out in practice whatever I liked. I had read in books about the benefits of long walks in the open air and, having liked the advice, I had formed a habit of taking walks. It was mainly this habit that kept me practically free from illness and gave me a fairly strong body.

(P. 2, 4, 16)


I had not any high regard for my ability. But I very jealously guarded my character. When I merited, or seemed to the teacher to merit, a rebuke, it was unbearable for me. (P.3)


Being born in the Vaishnava faith, I had often to go to the haveli [temple]. But I did not like its glitter and pomp. Also I heard rumors of immorality being practiced there, and lost all interest in it. What left a deep impression on me was the reading of the Ramayana before my father. The reader was a great devotee of Rama. I quite remember being enraptured by his reading. That laid the foundation of my deep devotion to the Ramayana. I regard the Ramayana as the greatest book in all devotional literature. (P.9)


My father would visit the haveli as also Shiva's and Rama's temples, and would take us youngsters there. He had, besides, Musalman and Parsi friends who would talk to him about their own faiths. I often had a chance to be present at these talks. These things combined to inculcate in me toleration for all faiths. (P. 10)

I kept account of every farthing I spent [in London], and my expenses were carefully calculated. That habit has stayed with me ever since and, as a result, though I have had to handle public funds amounting to lakhs [hundreds of thousands], I have succeeded in exercising strict economy in their disbursement and, instead of outstanding debts, have had invariably a surplus balance in respect of all the movements I have led. (P. 15)


I always felt tongue-tied. I hesitated when I had to face strange audiences and avoided making a speech whenever I could. I must say that my constitutional shyness has been no disadvantage whatever. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writing. (P.17)


I have met many a religious leader, and no one else has ever made on me the impression that Raychandbhai [Rajchandra] did. The thing that cast its spell over me was his wide knowledge of the scriptures, his spotless character, and his burning passion for self-realization. In my moments of spiritual crisis he was my refuge. In spite of this regard for him I could not enthrone him in my heart as my guru. The throne has remained vacant, and my search still continues. (P. 23)


Three moderns have left a deep impress on my life and captivated me: Raychandbhai by his living contact; Tolstoy by his book The Kingdom of God is Within You; and Ruskin by his Unto This Last. (P. 24)


It went against the grain with me to do a thing in secret that I would not do in public. (P. 25)


I very much liked the company of children, and the habit of playing and joking with them has stayed with me. I have ever since thought that I should make a good teacher of children. (P. 25)


Real suffering bravely borne melts even a heart of stone. And there lies the key to satyagraha. (P. 31)


I may have meant to say anything, but I must concede that my speech or writing was intended to convey the meaning ascribed to it by my hearer or reader in so far as he is concerned. We often break this golden rule in our lives. Hence arise many of our disputes. (P. 32)


There is no place on earth and no race which is not capable of producing the finest types of humanity, given suitable opportunities. (P. 36)


Hardly ever have I known anybody to cherish such loyalty as I did to the British Constitution. Not that I was unaware of the defects in British rule, but in those days I believed that British rule was on the whole beneficial to the ruled. The color prejudice that I saw in South Africa was, I thought, quite contrary to British tradition and only temporary. (P. 44)


I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven as- under. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice was occupied in bringing about compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby ─ not even money, certainly not my soul. (P. 48)


The heart's earnest and pure desire is always fulfilled. Service of the poor has been my heart's desire, and it has always thrown me amongst the poor and enabled me to identify myself with them. (P. 55)

Experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party. (P. 65)


After considerable experience with the many public institutions which I have managed, it has become my firm convection that it is not good to run public institutions on permanent funds. Institutions maintained on permanent funds are often found to ignore public opinion. The ideal is for public institutions to live from day to day. The subscriptions that an institution annually receives are a test of its popularity and the honesty of its management.(P. 72)


Experience taught me that without infinite patience it was impossible to get the people to do any work. It is the reformer who is anxious for reform and not society, from which he should expect nothing better than opposition and even persecution. Why may not society regard as retrogression what the reformer holds dear? (P. 77)


I have always been loath to hide the weak points of the community or to press for its rights without having purged it of its blemishes. Though I had made it my business to ventilate grievances and press for rights, I was no less insistent upon self-purification. I saw that I could not so easily count on the help of the community in getting it to do its own duty, as I could in claiming for its rights. (P. 77)


Service is no mushroom growth . It presuppose the will first, and then experience. (P. 81)


Critical as my mind was in observing things, there was enough charity in me and so I always thought that it might, after all, be impossible to do better in the circumstances, and that saved me from undervaluing any work. (P. 82)


No matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, just as one does for one's meals. Far from taking away from one's capacity for work, it adds to it. (P. 83)


I saw a stream of sheep going to be sacrificed to [godess] Kali. We were greeted by rivers of blood. I was exasperated and restless. I felt that the cruel custom must be stopped, but I also saw that the task was beyond my capacity. I must go through more self-purification and sacrifice before I can hope to save these lambs from this unholy sacrifice. It is my constant prayer that there may be born some great spirit fired with divine pity, who will deliver us form this heinous sin. (P. 84)


I went to Kashi Vishwanath temple. I was deeply pained by what I saw there. The swarming flies and the noise made by the shopkeepers and pilgrims were perfectly insufferable. If anyone doubts the infinite mercy of God, let him have a look at these sacred places. How much hypocrisy and irreligion does the Prince of Yogis suffer to be perpetrated in His holy name! (P. 85)


So long as it was under my control, Indian Opinion [weekly] was a mirror of part of my life. Week after week I poured out my soul in its columns. I can not recall a word in those articles set down without thought or deliberation.(P. 87)


The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole county sides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised form within. If this is correct, how many of the journals in the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice. (P. 88)


It is my faith, based on experience, that if one's heart is pure, calamity brings in its train men and measures to fight it. (P. 90)


It was borne in upon me that I should have more and more occasions for service, and that I should find myself unequal to my task if I were engaged in the propagation and rearing of children. After mature deliberation I took the vow [of celibacy] in 1906. But I had not the necessary strength. How was I to control my passions? It took me long to get free from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass through many ordeals before I could overcome it.
As I look back upon the twenty years of the vow, I am filled with pleasure and wonderment. If it was a matter of ever-increasing joy, let no one believe that it was an easy thing for me. Even [now] when I am past fifty-six years, I realize more and more that it is like walking on the sword's edge, and every moment I see the necessity for eternal vigilance. (P.98, 9)


Pledges should be taken on rare occasions. A man who takes a vow every now and then is sure to stumble. There is wisdom in taking serious steps with great caution and hesitation. But caution and hesitation have their limits. A man who takes a pledge must be prepared for the worst. If you have not the will or the ability to stand firm even when you are perfectly isolated, you must not take the pledge. (P. 105)


Money does bring us help, but my experience ranging over forty years has taught me that assistance thus purchased can never compare with purely voluntary service. (P. 107)


There is a law of nature that a thing can be retained by the same means by which it has been acquired. A thing acquired by violence can be retained by violence alone. (P. 170)


Before one can be fit for the practice of civil disobedience, one must have rendered a willing obedience to the laws. It is only when a person has thus obeyed the laws of society scrupulously does the right accrue to him of the civil disobedience of certain laws. (P. 207)


It is only when one sees one's own mistakes with a convex lens, and does just the reverse in the case of others, that one is able to arrive at a just relative estimate of the two. (P. 207)


To see the universal and all-pervading 'Spirit of Truth' face to face, one must be able to love the meanest of creations as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics. Identification with everything that lives is impossible without self-purification. To attain perfect purity one has to become absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action . I know that I have not in me yet that purity. That is why the world's praise fails to move me. (P. 211)


[Extracted by Mahendra Meghani form The Gandhi Story: In His Own Words: Condensed and compiled by Mahendra Meghani. P. 12+220+24 (photographs) = 256 : $10 [including overseas airmail postage]. Lokmilap Trust, Bhavnagar, India, 2009.

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