“The World Stopped but Not the War” by Anil Shrivastava “Musafir”

He was in the ICU for a few weeks, then both his lungs and heart became very weak. His oxygen level became critical despite the breathing devices he was on. Ultimately and sadly, he was gone. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to him. It is that strange disease. It was Covid-19. It was my first encounter with the pandemic hitting so close to home. I had lost my younger brother.

It was the fifth of February, winter morning when I received the call from India that my younger brother had passed away.

For more than the last 2 years, I haven’t traveled anywhere. This time both my family and my brother’s family passionately pleaded with me not to go to India as they didn’t want to lose the last surviving member of my generation.

This pandemic has made millions of us feel stuck in our boundaries, suffocating, and alone. Nobody can make a move. Practically every country has been shutting its doors, discouraging visitors from other states. Some airlines closed their shutters; others reduced flights or imposed harsh restrictions. If you wriggle through and arrive in another country, you run a gauntlet of tests and end up quarantined for weeks. Others I know have been in the same position as me, restrained to their homes.

I am shocked that in our preoccupation with personal concerns and private fears, we overlook the most stunning aspect of the present pandemic. This pandemic is an international blight, striking every country including the most isolated island and archipelago, and yet the response is pathetically limited and insular. At the level of doctors and nurses, there was some minimal sharing of information, but there was virtually none of the swift and full sharing of experiences that could have saved many more lives.

There were at least thirty separate initiatives for developing a vaccine in as many countries, involving talented groups of researchers, but scant cooperation could have eliminated false leads quickened promising approaches, and saved precious time. Companies in different lands competed fiercely to develop a marketable product fast, for a sizable profit bonanza but never considered joining hands to help dying men and women.

When I hear of the individual frustrations, I begin to realize, despite the vast opportunities today for international communication and awareness, how utterly provincial we have remained, how little we can transcend our pettiest concerns, and how scantly we have learned to get together as a race to wage a clearly-needed international crusade.

Ironically, the pandemic stopped the world but not its wars. Countries like the USA, Russia, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria continue fighting directly or indirectly with each other instead of saving each other from COID. Hobbes rightly said, “The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”

Fuss about Abortion

I am not against abortion in certain situations in the early stage of pregnancy such as rape, incest, endangerment of the mother’s life, extremely deformed fetus, and starvation. However, it shouldn’t be performed at a later stage (I am not a biologist so I don’t know what that later stage ought to be). All I know is that having sex for pleasure and then aborting the fetus for convenience is inhuman. If a person murders a pregnant woman, he is charged with taking two lives. Why so?

Killing a fetus at a later stage doesn’t have to do anything with women’s rights. “My body, my choice” is a hollow slogan. After all, no one has the right to mutate one’s body or commit suicide except in the case of mercy killing due to immense suffering resulting from a terminal illness. Then why destroy an embryo?

There is no way to seriously deny that abortion is a form of killing. A fetus after it gets life is part of a single continuous process that later goes through infancy and childhood to middle age and beyond. When a group of explorers used to get lost in the past and reached a stage of starvation, they killed the weakest member in the group and eat them. An embryo is also weak and helpless like the weak member of the expedition. So, how is it moral to kill the former just for convenience?

The position that unborn human beings aren’t human persons can really tend to a slippery slope from abortion to infanticide. Unfortunately, our society is polarized between pro-life and pro-choice based on the labels they wear such as liberals and conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. They believe more in the manifesto of their group than common sense and reasoning. In fact, abortion should be a medical decision, not a political one.

“The Road Not Taken” by Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’

I live in a wooded area. The nearest shopping plaza is about five miles away from my home. I go to my gym every afternoon around 2 O’clock which is past the nearest shopping plaza. The only road leading to the gym goes through woods and picturesque houses. If you take that road during the afternoon, you’ll crisscross through rays filtered through the leaves of tall maple and oak trees. Midway to the gym, you’ll pass through a quaint cider mill on the left. You may stop there for freshly picked apples, cider and warm donuts.  

It’s right there where I see this woman walking straight and fast going towards the plaza every day like a clockwork. I’ve been spotting her for the last 22 years at that marker during summer, winter, snow, blizzard, rain or what may come. She dresses according to the weather but always dons a reflective jacket and an oversize school bag. No one else walks through that road since it’s a state highway. Some days I have seen her making a return journey during the evening.

Twenty-two years ago, she was a charming young lady in her twenties. Now, she appears a little ragged and pale. I wonder whether she prefers to walk or has no money to buy a car. Does she have a husband or a boyfriend? How come I always see her alone with determined steps? Where does she go every day? Does she work in a grocery store or is she a tutor? How come her routine has not changed ever since? That makes me wonder every time about her intended mission.

I have not seen anyone offering her a ride or walking with her. I always have this curiosity to stop and talk to her but I don’t want to bother her or look like a stalker.  No one else does. It is unthinkable that I should walk out and accost her and start asking invidious questions. She is striking above all because I don’t know what she is about. I have no idea. Not even the shadow of a hypothesis.

 And what is that bag about? What does it contain? Snacks and water? The unusually hefty dimension of her bag makes that unlikely. Spare clothes or uniforms? Could it then be the instruments for an uncommon trade? Photography does not need more than a tripod and a few extra lenses. A surveyor has more streamlined folding gadgets. A cosmetologist carries a large assortment of stuff but in a more compact container. Even an arborist carries smaller implements that fit into a reasonable bag. But, fancy apart, I cannot think of a good reason for that oversize bag. 

So, there I stay, in my car full of curiosity, watching the stranger fade away in my rear-view mirror walking the road with an oversize bag, mystified as ever by the woman’s mission and her genuine identity. I realize, after many years, that I will never know the answer. No, I will never have my curiosity satisfied and know why she walks this way. 

Then, suddenly, the significance of the whole business dawns on me. There are many questions to which we will never find the answer. There are many, many mysteries in the world to which we will never know the solution. But we should know that mysteries will abide, to excite and entrance us. To challenge us to make the best use, if not our grey cells, at least our imagination on the winding road of life. That is what our life is all about. 

“What’s the Fuss about Disney vs. Florida?” By Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’

Disney CEO Chapek
Gandhi

There is a political war going on between Disney and the government of Florida. In a democracy, a government represents the people of the land whereas business is about providing products and services. The point where it becomes tricky is when business intersects with politics. That’s what the crux of the problem is with Disney vs. Florida.

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade, was signed into law at the end of March 2022 by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. The bill is dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents, albeit the law has nothing to do with LGBTQ rights or lifestyles. it’s basically about protecting parental rights so that parents get to decide what their children learn about sexuality and gender and when. Yet opponents believe the way the law is written is too vague and is intended to further oppress LGBTQ people and topics.

After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, the Walt Disney Company condemned the legislation and vowed to help have it repealed. Disney’s chairman, Robert Alan Chapek stated the following:

“Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the company said in a statement. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

Following Disney’s public stand against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to dissolve Walt Disney World’s private government that provides municipal-like services for its 27,000 acres in the Sunshine State. At the bill signing ceremony DeSantis said to Disney:

“You’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re gonna marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state. We view that as a provocation, and we’re going to fight back against that.”

Corporations have tried to influence government policy forever and it is growing with time. Their tactics include:

1. Providing campaign funding through political action committees (PACs).

2. Partnering with think tanks to shape policy agendas.

3. Hiring public relations, legal, and lobbying firms to develop and strengthen relationships with policymakers.

4. Securing public and political posts to support corporate interests from within the governance.

The critics of Disney’s social statement argue that Disney’s Board of Directors’ role is to manage company policy in the best interest of shareholders and customers. It is a business for profit, not a political action entity. Unfortunately, Disney has entered into a fringe woke policy that has pitted itself against state law, many customers, and shareholders. It’s a lose-lose situation for Disney.

The supporters of Disney state otherwise. According to them, Disney has a right to speak and support or not support legislation without government consequences. Their customers have a right to react with their dollars.

I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s statement on a corporation’s social responsibility. He said, “companies should act as trusteeships, valuing social responsibility alongside profits.”

Gandhi’s concept of trusteeship helped in the socio-economic growth of India. These trusts also worked to enhance social reforms like rural development, women empowerment, and education. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide Whether Disney’s fight against Florida meets the corporations’ social responsibility concept envisioned by Gandhi or not.

Out of My Mind: “Books in A Nutshell” by Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’

(INSPIRED BY DAVE BARRY’S BOOK, “BAD HABITS”}

I was sitting next to a boring person at a wedding reception last week. I decided to read a book to avoid any conversation with a boring person. Yes, I always carry a book with me to marriage receptions to ward off such situations. The boring person interrupted me by asking what was I reading.

Me: This is the latest James Bond novel, “With A Mind To Kill.”

Boring person: “But I thought Ian Fleming died in 1964. How can he write James Bond novels now?”

Me: “ Ian Fleming may be dead but James Bond never died.”

I started thinking why do I read James Bond novels? It’s the same story in all James Bond books. A villain tries to create trouble. James Bond kills him. In the process, he makes love to many beautiful women.

I read two books every three months out of necessity. I write book reviews for The Think Club Quarterly because no one else wants to write a book review for me. Most of the books I read are more boring than the boring person sitting next to me. The problem is that books have too many pages. The writers unnecessarily make their books too long.

This has been the story of my life. When I was young, my father made me read boring classics. The whole classic could be summarized in a few words. Here are some examples.

War And Peace: Everyone is sad. It snows.

Moby Dick: Man vs. whale. Whale wins.

Crime And Punishment: Murderer feels bad. Confesses. Goes to jail. Feels better.

The Sun Also Rises: The lost generation gets drunk. They’re still lost.

Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff rises in his adopted family and then is reduced to the status of a servant. The young woman he loves decides to marry another.

If the writers got right to the point, the world would be a much happier place. People could pursue other hobbies such as reading real-life stories and gossiping on social media. Finally, I decided to put down my book and talk to the boring person instead.

“The Business of America Is Business”

by Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’

“The chief business of the American people is business,” said Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth U.S. President in 1925. He further added, “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing, and prospering in the world. I am of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.”

In the year 2021, the United States exported 138 billion dollars worth of arms, a sharp decline compared to 2020 when the U.S. exported arms worth 178 billion dollars. Thanks to the war in Ukraine, the U.S. export in 2022 will top that of 2020. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the stocks of Halliburton (hal), General Dynamics (gd), Lockheed Martin (lmt) and Northrop Grumman (noc) have been gaining 3 to 5% every day.

U.S. arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have long been justified by the belief that they provide substantial numbers of jobs to American citizens—a line that was famously repeated, and exaggerated, by former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Do we really care about the suffering of the Ukrainian citizens? We didn’t care about the Iraqis and the Afghanis either. We invaded Iraq and killed its president due to the wrong information provided by our intelligence. All we said was “Oops.”

184,382 Iraqis were killed for our small mistake. 80,000 Afghani lives were lost in a war deemed meaningless. In the process, we sold hundreds of billions of arms to Israel, the Middle East countries, and Asia.

Talking of Ukraine, the U.S. riled up Putin, the mad man. All the U.S. had to do was assure that Ukraine won’t be a part of NATO. Admitting more countries into NATO equates to more arms sales. Now, the Balkan states are asking for more and more arms from the U.S. Another business opportunity!

Historically, the United States has sold weapons to almost any nation that wanted to buy them and it still does so indiscriminately. According to a Sludge review of financial disclosures, 51 members of Congress and their spouses own between $2.3 and $5.8 million worth of stocks in companies that are among the top 30 defense contractors in the world. In the Senate, nearly one-third of the members of the Defense Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee own stocks in top defense contractors. After all, more than 70% of Lockheed Martin’s $51 billion in 2018 revenue came from sales to the U.S. government. Companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon sell their products almost exclusively to the government through appropriations approved by Congress.

The defense sector is one of the most powerful political influencers. Individuals and political action committees associated with the defense sector contribute lavishly to political candidates and committees during the campaign cycle. When I worked for General Dynamics, our VP asked us to contribute to GD’s political action committee (of course, it was mandatory). He said, “We give to both the parties (Democrats and Republicans).”

So, who cares about the Ukrainian people? Not us.

Perspective: “The Other Side” by Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’

NATO Countries around Ukraine

What is happening in Ukraine is inhumane and brutal. Russia must be condemned for an incursion into a free country. But we shouldn’t forget that the Western countries and the USA are equally to be blamed for the Ukrainian tragedy.

Remember the Cuban blockade by the USA against Russian arms shipment in 1962? The US risked nuclear war to prevent missiles installed 90 miles off its shores. Back to the present day, Russia is similarly upset about NATO schemes along their border. Russia is upset as it is not allowed to have a buffer zone around its borders. Would the US stand idly by while Russians covertly backed a coup in Canada or Mexico, as the US did in Ukraine in 2014, and then acquiesce to a Russian military buildup along its frontier?

The United States has been expanding NATO against Russian terrain since 1991 and has been getting the better of the great game lately. If Russia calls a halt to NATO recruitment in and around Ukraine, the West cries foul. In this grim geopolitical game, Ukraine itself is almost beside the point and is suffering severely from the economic and psychological effects of an unnecessarily hair-trigger environment. Before invading Ukrain, Russia asked for assurance that Ukraine will not be made a part of NATO. The United States denied the Russian request.

In March 1991, for example, British Prime Minister John Major told Moscow that he did not foresee “circumstances now or in the future where East/Central European countries would become members of NATO”. The discourse emanating out of the Kremlin is that Russia trusted these and other verbal assurances, but NATO’s eastward expansion violated the spirit of the treaty on German reunification signed in 1990.

“It is easy to imagine how the West would have reacted if the positions had been reversed. The Russians were entitled to take seriously the repeated high-level assurances they were given.” President Putin is playing the betrayal theme to perfection, and, unfortunately, may survive the economic sanctions with the help of economically powerful China.

Commentary: “What Does Math Mean?” by Anil Shrivastava ‘Musafir’

I very often hear educated people say, “Math was always my worst subject,” or “I can’t even balance my checkbook.” We proudly flaunt our innumeracy which, in my opinion, is illiteracy. Is it not an irony that, at the same time, we feel embarrassed when we are confused between words such as “imply” and “infer” or “continually” and “continuously?

We are so innumerate that if someone said that there was a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday and a 50 percent chance for Sunday, therefore, there was a 100 percent chance of rain on the weekend, we may not question that person’s prediction. If you don’t believe me, try this in your next gathering and see how many blank looks you get.

Part of the reason for this perverse pride in mathematical ignorance is that its consequences are not usually as obvious as are those of other weaknesses. Most of us ignore that because of general ignorance when it comes to basic math.

In our educational system math is presented as a chore. The teachers simply go through the rigor of mathematical formulae making it fearsome. Only those who excel in tests are considered intelligent. Conversely, math classes should teach why math is important other than being a requirement for completing one’s degree. Students are often made to perceive mathematics as boring, overly abstract, uncreative, and extremely difficult to understand. This is why many of them develop math phobias as adults. However, the idea of having or not having a math brain is completely untrue. Everyone is capable of understanding mathematics at a high level. Even I did later in my life

In my opinion, the math curriculum should emphasize and demonstrate how it can enhance the critical ability to learn and think logically in any field of endeavor. Math helps us distinguish fact from opinion and cause from correlation. Quantitative thinking helps us in processing the information that is thrown at us. In other words, math makes us think critically and independently.

Let me present a simple mathematical problem here. If you are given an option to take a pension of $4,500 a month at your retirement age of 62 or take a one-time lump sum payment of $600,000 considering the average life span of 78.9 years for a U.S. male, which one will you choose? This is a real-life problem. Basic math (not higher math) can help one find the correct solution.

We always hear the phrase, “The survey says.” We need to understand the bias factor which can be a response bias, observer bias, or expectation bias. We also hear about the mean income and median income of the U.S. population. What’s the difference between the two? Statistics 101 can make us understand and question the information given to us.

We scream at one another at town hall meetings and call those who disagree with us traitorous and un-American. And yet there’s nothing inherently divisive about health insurance. It’s just expected value: the probability of you getting sick multiplied by the cost to treat you. Knowledge of basic math can come to our rescue right there.

I’ll again emphasize reform in how math is taught in schools and universities. Students need to be taught giving them real-life examples such as different types of mortgages and how to decide which one will best suit one’s circumstances. Students must also develop an understanding of concepts; they must understand in simple terms how an algebraic equation will help them in real life. Students in middle schools often participate in derby car races. They can be taught the relationship between various factors such as the weight of the car, incline (slope), and speed using basic algebra and trigonometry. This will attract students’ attention and create interest in math.

Let’s not forget that Math has provided humanity with a scheme of structured reasoning causing us to evolve and learn how to reason more deeply than using natural language alone. In my opinion, both are equally important.

Humor: “Afghanistan – A Tourist Guide” by Musafir

So, what is on your bucket list? Airboat across an alligator-infested swamp? Hold a shark? Bungee jump off a cliff? Run with the bulls in Spain? Fly Aeroflot?

That’s fine by me – nothing wrong with having some goals to tick off before kicking the bucket but remember that they are too dangerous. Howbout vacationing in Afghanistan instead? It’s better than lying around on a beach. That’s for crocodiles unless you are one.

After years of lockdowns and quarantine due to Covid, many people are itching to travel. Afghanistan welcomes you with open arms. They need your dollars desperately. It’s time to be visiting Afghanistan as a tourist. You’ll find Afghanistan a truly rewarding country. It’s an addictive country to visit especially after tasting their abundant and inexpensive opium and heroin.

Visa Requirement

You must get an Afghani visa first before even thinking of traveling there. If you arrive there without a visa, you may never come back unless you decide to settle there. You should contact the Afghani embassy in the U.S. You’ll find them if you are lucky. Their contact information is as follows: Abdullah’s Pawn Shop near 2341 Wyoming Ave NW, Washington DC 20008. Phone: Disconnected. Email: poppy@afghanembassy.us

How to get there?
You can fly to the Afghani capital by Pakistan International Airlines or Turkish Airlines, the two most trusted countries in the world according to the JihadiRUs Encyclopedia. If you take any of those airlines, I’ll recommend that you buy a one-way ticket to Kabul since you never know when those airlines will stop flying or in case you decide to settle there. Who knows you may decide to get into the lucrative business of poppy processing? The on-way ticket can be had for less than $500 U.S.


Where to stay in Afghanistan?

Afghanis are very hospitable people. You can stay with them for as little as 5 dollars a day. One U.S. dollar is equal to 106 Afghanis. Afghanistan becomes more pristine and livable after dark as the power is turned off in the nighttime. The new Taliban government is trying to save power.
“If it’s night, why do you need the power?” Afghan security consultant Nasser Waziri said.

A word of caution, never even think of flirting with beautiful burqa-clad women. Remember, Afghani men usually have four sex-starved wives ranging from 13 years to 40 years of age. Don’t even think of taking pics of their burqa-covered face.
Things to do in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is full of activities and spectator’s games. There is never a dull moment there. If you enjoy the bloody caged wrestling at home, you’d love the brutal caning and stoning of infidels and blasphemers in open stadia full of cheering crowds.

Once in Afghanistan, you must visit and witness the extraction of opium and heroin from poppy plants. There’s a saying among opium and heroin processors that “poppies love beautiful places.” The Afghani countryside bears an eloquent view of thriving poppy plants. The poppy fields are surrounded by nature’s beautiful displays and perched on hillsides with sweeping views of hills and valleys.
There are numerous historic sites that a tourist must visit. Tour of the destruction of the Buddha monuments is spectacular. It depicts the deep-rooted self-pride of the Afghanis. No wonder, empires came and empires went but none could conquer Afghanistan.

Riding a donkey backward is the greatest pastime of Afghani men (women are not allowed to leave home). You’ll never be alone as the owner of the donkey will always come along with you. Afghanis don’t trust tourists with their women and donkeys. The added benefit is that you’ll always have the pleasure of the company of an Afghani escort. Many tourists prefer to tour the entire Afghanistan by riding a donkey. Many of them have never returned from the eternal state of ecstasy.

Omar Mine Museum: Wanna learn how to make and lay mines in your neighborhood? Well, Omar Mine Museum in Kabul is the holy grail of mines. The Omar Mine Museum displays 51 of the 53 types of landmines used in Afghanistan. Besides landmines, the museum also holds cluster bombs, rockets, unexploded ordnance, and airdrop bombs.

Still not convinced? That’s the Tall Poppy Syndrome that you suffering from – a cultural phenomenon in which people hold back, criticize, or sabotage those who are having a good time. Smile! This time you’re going to Afghanistan for spreading love not war.