Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The world's ten worst cars revealed

The Austin Allegro has been described by most Brits as the world's 'worst car ever'

According to a survey conducted by iMotormag, nearly one in four Brits picked the Allegro as the worst car, even though production of it ended 25 years ago.

The world's ten worst cars are as follows:

1.Austin Allegro

2.Morris Ital

3.Talbot Sunbeam

4.Austin Princess

5.Hillman Imp

6.Rover 200

7.Triumph Acclaim

8.Rover 800

9.Morris 1800

10. Triumph TR7

How To Catch A Liar

Another incredible news

Thu, Apr 3 09:15 AM

Of all stinging invectives, being called a liar is near the top. Fact is, though, if bona fide lie detectors existed, we'd all be guilty as charged.

According to an oft-cited 1996 University of Virginia study led by psychologist Bella DePaulo, lying is part of the human condition. Over the course of one week, DePaulo and her colleagues asked 147 participants, aged 18 to 71, to record in a diary all of their social interactions and all of the lies they told during them. On average, each person lied just over 10 times, and only seven participants claimed to have been completely honest.

Five Ways To Sniff Out A Liar

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The truth, according to social psychologist Leonard Saxe, director of the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, is that the right pressures or incentives will cause anybody to lie.

To be fair, most of the time we're just trying to be nice. (When your girlfriend asks if she looks good in her new dress, most guys--if they know what's good for them--say yes.) Indeed, according to DePaulo's study, such "false-positive" fibs are delivered 10 to 20 times more often than spurious denials of culpability.

Thankfully, too: "We lie less frequently to our significant others because we're more invested in those relationships," says Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communications at Cornell University.

For all the Elliot Spitzers, Jeffrey Skillings and Bill Clintons in the world, studies show that men and women lie with equal frequency. One difference, according to a 2002 University of Massachusetts study conducted by psychologist Robert Feldman: Women are more likely to lie to make other people feel good, while men tend to lie to make themselves look better.

How to catch liars in the act? Traditional polygraph tests, around in some form or fashion since the early 1900s, use sensors to detect fluctuations in blood pressure, pulse, respiration and sweat in response to probing questions. Two problems with polygraphs: First, they only work about 80% of the time, according to the American Polygraph Association. Second, it's not like we are going to carry all that hardware to a business meeting or a bar.

While there is no surefire on-the-spot way to sniff out dissemblers, there are some helpful clues and tactics for uncovering untruths.

Skilled liars don't break a sweat, but the rest of us get a little fidgety. Four possible giveaways: shifty eyes, higher vocal pitch, perspiration and heavier breathing. Of course, not everyone who doesn't meet your gaze is a liar.

"Certain behavioral traits, like averting eye contact, could be cultural and not indicative of a liar," says Joseph Buckley, president of John E. Reid & Associates, which has provided interview and interrogation training to more than 500,000 law enforcement agents to date. The company is also the creator of the Reid Technique, a nine-step interrogation process employed by many U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Another clue: imprecise pronouns. To psychologically distance themselves from a lie, people often pepper their tales with second- and third-person pronouns like "you," "we" and "they," says Hancock.

Liars are also more likely to ask that questions be repeated and begin responses with phrases like, "to tell you the truth," and "to be perfectly honest," says Reid.

When telling the truth, people often make hand gestures to the rhythm of their speech. Hands emphasize points or phrases--a natural and compelling technique when they actually believe the points they're making. The less certain will keep gesticulations in check, says Hancock.

Something about the phone seems to bring out the liar in us. In one week-long study of 30 college students, Hancock observed that the phone was the weapon of choice, enabling 37% of all the lies, versus 27% during face-to-face exchanges, 21% using Instant Messaging and just 14% via email. Little surprise, perhaps: Most phone calls don't leave a record behind.

Will we ever come clean? Not likely. The subjects in DePaulo's study confessed that they would tell 75% of the lies again if given the opportunity. Chances are, they'd get away with it.

In Pictures: Five Ways To Sniff Out A Liar

More girls take to engineering studies

This is what I read on Yahoo today. Nice isn't it. It means we are getting developed.

Sun, Jul 27 12:58 PM

New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) More girls are taking to engineering studies these days. The enrolment of girls in technical institutes in the country has gone up from 22 percent in 2002 to 125 percent this year, with most preferring system engineering and information and communication, says a survey by an industry body.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India (Assocham), which conducted the survey, said the emergence of the knowledge economy has motivated more girls to acquire engineering skills.

The survey was carried out under the Social Development Foundation on 'Rising Trend of Women towards the Technical Education' and covered over 20 engineering schools, including the National Institutes of Technology (NITs).

'Their views were sought and it was discovered that females' participation in acquiring engineering skills since 2002 onwards was more towards system engineering followed by information and communication, environmental and electrical engineering,' the survey says.

However, aerospace and material engineering are not preferred by women in India.

Releasing the survey report, Assocham president Sajjan Jindal said: 'System engineering seems to be extremely popular in young females as their intake in this branch by various engineering institutions has gone up to over 40 percent while it was less than 18 percent six years ago.'

According to Jindal, women have been bettering their male counterparts in system engineering.

'The important motive to pursue engineering among the men as well women are the career opportunities and hopes for good salaries and job security that the profession offers,' says the survey.

The survey said 90 percent of women engineers are motivated by their academic performance and 71 percent for career as well as good salary prospects that influence them to opt for engineering.

However, in case of men, 79 percent of them opt for engineering by their academic performance as well as challenges that the work brings in.

The survey said 97 percent of male engineers and 92 percent of female engineers are employed, almost all of them as engineers. However, the unemployment rate among females is found to be 3 percent due to their inability to pursue careers in engineering after their marriage.

The survey points out that 71 percent of male engineers take active part in corporate management but hardly 29 percent of women get involved in management activities.

'Females have lesser involvement in management because of the time factor and also that the management has faith in their male counterparts for their consistent longer hours of work,' said the survey.

The survey says 55 percent of men and 26 percent of female engineers feel they are equally treated in their organization. The perception of disparity was particularly evident among certain professions, particularly architecture and manufacturing, which contain largely business-related disciplines.

The survey also says that most of the women engineers consult their parents, especially father, in order to pursue a career in engineering. The impact of parents on women is stronger than on men (86 percent of women compared to 24 percent men).

Saturday, July 5, 2008

How to curse someone to HELL

Hotline to Hell - Jigoku Shoujo.

"Should someone submit the name of someone against whom they have a grudge, the Jigoku Shōjo (Hell Girl) will offer them a straw doll with a red string wound about its neck. If the string is pulled, she will ferry the target of the revenge straightaway to Hell, however the client agrees to a pact where those who request her intervention will also be sent to hell at the end of their natural lives."

Use extreme caution. You have been warned.
Do not curse someone to hell as then you will also go to hell at the end of your life


Main Characters

Here are the main characters I would like to warn you about. Please be careful

Ai Enma (閻魔 あい Enma Ai)
Voiced by: Mamiko Noto (Japanese), Brina Palencia (English)
The primary protagonist of the series. With long, flowing hair and red eyes, she is a spiritual entity with a tragic past, who lives in a world of eternal twilight with her grandmother, and is the one who receives and delivers vengeance on her clients' behalf. She normally wears a black seifuku, or sailor uniform (which is usually worn during winter months), but always wears a kimono with floral designs when delivering the vengeance of a client. Ai started her career as the Hell Girl by her own act of vengeance on the villagers who sentenced her to a sacrificial death. Her eyes turned red arguably at the point where Sentaro (her childhood soulmate who gave in under the villagers' pressure to bury her alive) gave the first shovel of soil onto her face. She broke out of her grave after a while, and took revenge on the entire village with her wrath, burning it to the ground. Her task of fulfilling other people's vengeance and ferrying people to Hell is her punishment, a task which she has performed for the better part of 400 years. Although this task is presented as atonement, it is unknown whether she will ever be freed of it. Since she has done this for so long, she initially seemed to have become emotionless, numbed, as is shown by her expressionless face. Wanyūdō noted she still had feelings, though, although she did not express them strongly, and it was later revealed that Ai had been ordered to close her heart by the Spider. The experiences she has with the Shibatas reawakened her discontent with her terrible fate and later apparently reawakened other emotions, or at least Ai's ability to express them. When enraged, Ai demonstrates the ability to hurl great blasts of energy, as well as the power to create elaborate illusions and the ability to teleport.

In the second season, Ai becomes more expressive and shows more emotions, being more willing to interact with others and with her "clients". In fact, in one scene, she puts up a "V for Victory" sign in front of her target as a way of mockery and torture before sending him to hell; in another, she is seen reading from a fashion magazine while her compatriots watch over their client; and she even showed concern towards a mother who willingly ended her life so that her daughter doesn't have to send her to hell. Also, her emotions and memories are once again released by the suffering of Takuma Kurebayashi, similar to her own situation in the past. This leads Ai to defy her 'employer', who is the Lord of Hell, causing her to be restored to human life - and killed shortly thereafter, when saving Takuma from his tormentors. After Ai's self-sacrifice, her body dissolves into sakura petals and drifts into the sky.

Wanyūdō (輪入道)
Voiced by: Takayuki Sugo (Japanese), R. Bruce Elliott (English)
Wanyūdō is the first of Ai's three companions. He generally appears as an old man whose eyes remain mostly shut, wearing a traditional yukata with a long-sleeved haori, and a red scarf around his neck. When necessary, he takes the form of the black straw doll, by wrapping his scarf tigh around his neck, that Ai hands to her clients in the series. He also frequently takes the form of an Ai's coach with burning wheels when she goes to the human world to claim a soul. Ai has stated that before he performed this task for her, she used to walk to and from her sunset world. The coach bears the same black flame-crest that appears on the chest of those people who contract with the Hell Girl. Despite appearing quite mild-mannered, frail and weak with age at most times, Wanyūdō possesses considerable skills in martial arts and is capable of hurling fireballs and performing feats of inhuman strength. Wanyūdō's name is derived from the yōkai of the same name and means "A wheel entering the road". In episode 12 of Futakomori, it is revealed that he was the wheel of a princess' entourage carriage, which fell off a cliff. The coach caught fire and all aboard were killed. As a result, he became a yōkai terrorizing people in the form of a flaming wheel with his own enlarged, infuriated face as a hubcap, until he met Ai and she invited him to join her as her first companion. Wanyūdō revealed to Ai his ability to shapeshift.
Ren Ichimoku (一目 連 Ichimoku Ren)
Voiced by: Masaya Matsukaze (Japanese), Todd Haberkorn (English)
Ren is Ai's second companion, and usually takes the form of a young man. He can manifest a single large eye that can be directed anywhere, allowing him to see the inside of a building through projecting the eye on the walls and ceilings. The large eye can also be used as a weapon through projecting intense flashes of light. When so required, Ren becomes the blue straw doll by kissing a pendant he wears around his neck. Ren's name means "one glance company". He is sometimes referred to as "Moku" or "Ishimoto Ren". It is later revealed that Ren is a tsukumogami (artifact spirit), a type of spirit that originates from an artifact which has gained sentience after a long period of existence. In Ren's case, he was once a katana, forced to be aware and watch whatever was done with him. He was given his current form(s) by Ai, who collected him after he was abandoned on a large rock. Ai thinks that he is looking for something and asks him to accompany her. He agrees saying that the rock he was abandoned in was getting pretty boring. Since that time, Ren has apparently grown quite fond of his human form, displaying considerable vanity from time to time. Ai claims she invited him to join her because there is something that Ren is looking for, a fact perhaps manifested in Ren's occasional puzzlement and inability to understand the things humans do. Alternatively, some of Ren's comments indicate that what he was looking for was companionship, something to fill the emptiness of his existence as a sword used for endless killing. Ren has apparently developed feelings for his colleagues, seeing them as family.
Hone Onna (骨女 Bone Woman)
Voiced by: Takako Honda (Japanese), Jennifer Seman (English)
Hone Onna is Ai's third companion, and she often takes the form of a woman in a kimono with its obi tied in front--the trademark of an oiran (In the second season, her obi is tied at the back). She dislikes being called "old lady". She becomes the red straw doll when necessary by tossing her red obi jime, or cord, over her shoulder. Hone Onna and Ren investigate the people who make a contract and the ones they have a grudge against. She usually infiltrates human society in casual clothing to investigate cases, on these occasions she tends to use the pseudonym "Sone Anna". On certain occasions, she uses throwing knives as weapons; Onna is apparently extremely skilled with these weapons. Her knives seem to carry some mystic charge, since they can be used to quickly dispatch supernatural enemies. Hone Onna also seems to have some skill as a contortionist, which allows her to squeeze into very small places. The name Hone Onna comes from the legendary creature of the same name, literally meaning "bone woman", which reflects her ability to expose the bones in her body to scare the victims of the revenge Ai delivers. In episode 8 of Futakomori she jokingly reveals that she is 200 years old. A flashback scene revealed that she was a prostitute originally named Tsuyu. She was betrayed by a man whom she had fallen in love with, who sold her to a brothel to be able to pay off his own debts. Tsuyu was betrayed again when she attempted to arrange the escape of a fellow prostitute named Kion with a man who had come to truly love Tsuyu. Tsuyu and the man were stabbed by a samurai in front of Kion, and that same samurai cast Tsuyu into a river afterwards. Spirits rising from human bones thrown into the river before merged with her, transforming Tsuyu into the yōkai Hone Onna, in which form she later met Ai.
Ai's Grandmother (あいの祖母 Ai no Sobo)
Voiced by: Eriko Matsushima (Japanese), Juli Erickson (English)
Never actually seen in the series, other than as a shadowy silhouette behind a paper screen, she is always spinning thread in her room, and occasionally talks to Ai and gives her advice. A single human eyewitness who has observed Ai's grandmother ran in terror, implying her appearance may be other than human.
The Spider (人面蜘蛛 Jinmen Gumo)
Voiced by: Hidekatsu Shibata (Japanese), John Swasey (English)
An oddly-coloured spider with three eyes upon its abdomen, which appears in the sunset world where Ai and her assistants reside between assignments. It speaks with the voice of a man and is apparently Ai's superior, having been the one to pronounce sentence on her after she killed the people of her village. It claims to be holding the souls of Ai's loved ones - namely her parents - hostage; if Ai does not do the task she has been given, they would wander in darkness for eternity. The spider at one time demonstrates an ability to pilot the ferryboat to Hell and tries to restrain Ai, having decided to take her to Hell after her feelings of rage reawakened and she violently attacked the Shibatas. Ai turned out to be too strong for it to hold her without her consent. The spider is neither liked nor trusted by Ai's assistants, with whom it in turn does not speak. In the last episode of the second season, Wanyūdō identifies the spider as the Lord of Hell. It seems likely that the Spider deliberately exposed Ai to a situation reminiscent of her own death in order to test whether she would obey its will or act on the impulses of her human heart.
It is ironic that Ai's name actually translates as: Ai (love) and Enma (the Judge of the Underworld).
Kikuri (きくり)
Voiced by: Kanako Sakai
An enigmatic little girl introduced in season two, episode 4 and then starts to reappear in season two. Little is known about her except the fact she is not an ordinary human as she can wander freely between the mortal plane and Ai's house in the sunset world, sometimes interfering with her and her companions' job. Her appearance is often accompanied by a lullaby-like background music. In stark contrast to Ai, Kikuri has completely blue/purple eyes (including most of the sclera) and her personality is far more childish (yet much livelier as she has the tendency to pull pranks) than Ai's. She has stated that she likes Ai, but her actions and use of powers seem to serve causing the greatest amount of suffering and fear possible. It is as yet unknown whether this is due to true malice or not. Occasionally, she seems to take delight in acts of low-level destruction, such as chopping off flowers or destroying anything that Ai cares for. She has shown incredible skills with her loincloth, using to catch or hit objects. Despite the fact she appears to wreak havoc on her, she takes orders from Ai and Ai alone (in one episode, she shows this while going to touch Ai's grandmother's spinning wheels despite the woman's protests). In the last episode of the second season, it is revealed that Kikuri is in fact a host for the will of the Spider, which can take over her body as it pleases. As such, it becomes questionable how many of her malicious acts were of her own will and which were instigated by her master. After Ai's death and the release of her beloved ones, Kikuri, riding on the boat, says, "It's over...that was Ai's answer...Well done." As she says those words, she pokes a cherry the color of Ai's eyes in her former childish way. At the end of the series, it is also hinted that Kikuri became the next Hell Girl.

Hajime Shibata (柴田 一 Shibata Hajime)
Voiced by: Yuji Ueda (Japanese), John Burgmeier (English)
A former journalist who now earns money by blackmailing celebrities with evidence of their scandals. He began to investigate rumors about the Hell Correspondence website merely out of interest, but becomes more heavily involved once he realizes that it is more than just a rumor and people are actually being dragged into Hell. Furthermore, his daughter Tsugumi seems to have a mysterious connection with Enma Ai that allows her to see anything significant that Ai sees. He is briefly mentioned in the second season as Ai's biographer.
Tsugumi Shibata (柴田 つぐみ Shibata Tsugumi
Voiced by: Nana Mizuki (Japanese), Luci Christian (English)
Hajime's daughter who often refers to him as "Hajime-chan". She sees Ai one day and has had a mysterious connection with her ever since. At first, she reports everything she sees through Ai to Hajime, but as the series progresses, she becomes more reluctant to do so as she begins to disagree with her father on whether they should try to stop Ai or not. She is briefly shown in the second season as a source of information for an investigator. At the same time, it seems that she has a similar relationship with Kikuri, which is revealed in the 24th episode of the second season.
Ayumi Shibata (柴田 あゆみ Shibata Ayumi)
Voiced by: Hitomi Nabatame (Japanese), Colleen Clinkenbeard (English)
Hajime's late wife. Hajime devoted more time to his work than to his family, but with the intent to make his wife happy through earning large amounts of money to improve their lifestyle. In her loneliness, Ayumi had an affair with a politician that Hajime happened to be spying on. Because of that incident, he cast her out of the house and forbade her from ever seeing Tsugumi. A few moments later, Ayumi dies in a car accident. Tsugumi keeps her mother's earrings as a memento. Hajime still loves Ayumi very much, and regrets not forgiving her because he believes she would not have died if he had. On the other hand, Ai tried using her death to tempt Tsugumi to send her own father to Hell.
Takuma Kurebayashi (紅林 拓真 Kurebayashi Takuma)
Voiced by: Ayumi Fujimura
Takuma is a quiet boy who lives in Lovely Hills. He is misunderstood and often bullied by his fellow townsfolk who believe he's the "Devil's Child", much like Ai was in her village. When he first made his appearance, his mother was killed by a friend of his father, who was also seriously injured in the incident. As the murderer was about to kill Takuma, he was sent to hell; but at this moment the police arrive, and the townsfolk end up thinking that Takuma is the murderer. It is unclear if he possesses as much spiritual powers as Ai, but he does have the ability of foresight and he has been observed by Ai for some time throughout the story. In the end, Ai saves him from the townsfolk, but ends up getting killed herself. At the end of the show it is revealed that his father has recovered almost completely and that his friend, Hotaru Meshiai, will soon wake up from her cold induced coma, as Takuma hopes.
See next post where I will tell you the website and how to curse people to hell -- if you promise me not to use it yourself.

Jigoku Shoujo- Girl From Hell

This is about an anime I saw recently. I want more people to know about it. Please read it. This is my solemn request

Hell Girl (, Jigoku Shōjo?), also known as Jigoku Shoujo: Girl from Hell in Animax Asia's English-language television broadcasts is an anime series, produced by Aniplex and Studio Deen. It premiered across Japan on numerous television stations, including Animax, Tokyo MX, MBS and others, between October 4, 2005 and April 4, 2006. Following the success of the first season, the series was followed soon after into a second, Jigoku Shōjo Futakomori Jigoku Shōjo Futakomori?), which premiered October 7, 2006 across Japan on Animax. A live-action television series adaptation started airing in Japan on Nippon Television from November 4, 2006.A third season of the anime, further continuing the series, was first announced on the mobile version of the series' official website Jigoku Tsūshin. The official title of the third season was announced to be Jigoku Shōjo Mitsuganae (Jigoku Shōjo Mitsuganae?).

Most episodes are self-contained short stories in which the series narrates the suffering of a different individual caused by one or more antagonists. A website known as 地獄通信 (Hell Correspondence or Hotline to Hell) may only be accessed at midnight by one who harbors a desire for revenge against their tormentor. Should someone submit the name of someone against whom they have a grudge, the Jigoku Shōjo (Hell Girl) will offer them a straw doll with a red string wound about its neck. If the string is pulled, she will ferry the target of the revenge straightaway to Hell, however the client agrees to a pact where those who request her intervention will also be sent to hell at the end of their natural lives.

During each story, the protagonists' dramas are explained in detail from the start of their grudges, through the escalation of their torment until it becomes unbearable and they resort to accessing the Hell Correspondence website. The contents of the site are only a text: "あなたの怨み、晴らします。" (あなたのうらみ、ばらします。) (Anata no urami, barashimasu.) (We will take revenge, on your behalf.)", a text box where the grudge's object must be written, and a "送信" (Send) button. Some time after the post, they are visited by Enma Ai, a young red-eyed girl wearing a traditional sailor school uniform (usually the dark version used only in winter months). She hands them a straw doll, which is actually one of her assistants, with a red string tied to its neck. In the first season, the doll is always black, because it is always the same assistant, but in the second season, the doll may also be red or dark blue, depending on which assistant it is. She then tells them that if they want their vengeance to be delivered, they must remove the string from the doll, and their enemies will be immediately taken to Hell. A black crest-shaped mark will appear on the protagonists' chests, which serves as a constant reminder that once their lives come to an end, they must give compensation for Ai's service by having their own souls also sent to Hell.

Ai is aided by her three assistants: Ichimoku Ren, a young man in casual clothes who takes the form of the blue straw doll; Hone-Onna, a woman wearing a kimono with the obi (sash) tied in front which signifies she is a prostitute and takes the form of the red straw doll; and Wanyūdō, an old man wearing a hat and, at times, a red scarf, who takes the form of the black straw doll. When not actively assisting Ai, the three remain in their straw doll forms. The trio help Ai investigate the true nature of their clients, and also present the victims with the sins they have been accused of before Ai appears to ferry them to hell.

In episode 8 of the first season, two recurring characters are introduced: A journalist named Shibata Hajime - a former scandal-hunter/blackmailer who turned to investigating the stories involving the Jigoku Shōjo; and his daughter Tsugumi. After an encounter with Enma Ai, Tsugumi starts to have visions of what Ai sees and thus the two become more and more involved in Ai's matters. Hajime doesn't agree with Ai's methods to deliver vengeance for her clients, and tries to stop those who contacted Jigoku Shōjo from using her service with Tsugumi's help.

In season two, the major plot line revolves around Takuma Kurebayashi, a boy who is blamed by his townsfolk for causing disappearances around the town, which was actually caused by the townsfolk who used Jigoku Tsūshin.

See the next post.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Iraqis fret about food prices as violence falls

Iraqi housewife Najat al-Azzawi once lived in constant fear of car bomb attacks when she went shopping. Now, when she goes to the market in Baghdad her biggest concern is soaring food prices.

With violence at a four-year low, many Iraqis are fixated on the same thing worrying people around the world -- inflation.

It shows how much has changed in Iraq in the past year.

Many still fear widespread bloodshed will return after Iraq nearly slid into all-out sectarian civil war in 2006 and 2007. Indeed, a car bomb killed 63 people in Baghdad last week. But violence is not the main thing on their minds anymore.

As she prepared a meal of chicken kebabs and boiled potatoes for her husband, daughter and grandson, Azzawi rattled off the impact rising food prices have had on her household budget.

Half a kilo of chicken last week cost 2,250 dinars (90 pence), she said. This week it was 2,750 dinars. A jar of jam used to be 1,250 dinars, now it is 1,500 dinars.

"There goes my budget," added Azzawi, 58.

"But rising prices are better than the insecurity we had before. If I had to choose, I'd take the high prices."

In Baghdad, it is hard to have a conversation with anyone these days without the subject of food prices coming up.

"So security has improved, what's really hurting now are prices, which are getting worse," said supermarket owner Mohammed Jabbar as he packed hamburgers into his shop's freezer.

Spiralling food and energy costs pushed Iraq's annual inflation to 16 percent in April, the central bank said last week, up from a 17-year-low of 12 percent in December last year.

Rampant inflation is not new to Iraqis, who have lived through decades of war and U.N. sanctions.

Current levels compare favourably to the 66 percent annual inflation rate in January 2007, when raging violence disrupted fuel and food supplies, causing prices of goods to skyrocket.

In response, the central bank nearly doubled interest rates to 18 percent, eventually bringing inflation down. Now, rising global prices threaten those gains.

Poor harvests, low grain stocks and rising demand have sent global food prices to record highs. In the arid Gulf region, perennial water shortages have exacerbated these problems.

Although Iraq is more arable than some of its desert-covered neighbours, war and instability have left agricultural production in tatters. Most food is imported.

"We import the simplest things, even tomatoes and aubergines from Syria, Jordan, Iran and Turkey," said Batiaa al-Kubaisi, an economist and Director General of the Planning Ministry. "Costs go up there and consumers will pay higher prices here."


Ironically, the sanctions that hobbled Iraq's economy in the 1990s led to the creation of something officials say helps soften the blow of high global food prices: a rationing system.

Saddam Hussein introduced ration cards to cope with food shortages caused by sanctions imposed for his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Iraq's Trade Ministry says this system still feeds nearly two thirds of Iraq's estimated population of 27 million.

Ministry spokesman Mohammed Hanoon said every Iraqi family gets a card entitling them to food through 55,000 outlets.

"Iraq's food aid system is effective," Hanoon said.

"The food crises causing violence in other countries hasn't hit Iraqis. They get rations. Not everything, but the basics: flour, rice, sugar."

Recipients are grateful for the aid.

"It makes food more affordable. I don't have the added burden of buying sugar or cooking oil," said Azzawi.

Yet economists doubt whether food handouts such as these are sustainable in the long run. The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly warned countries against what it sees as wasting money on non-discretionary subsidies and handouts.

Kubaisi said food rations had cost the Iraqi government $4 billion (2 billion pounds) in 2007 and the Planning Ministry had requested double that figure this year to cope with rising global prices.

But he said huge receipts from exports of crude oil at record prices meant Iraq could afford to maintain the system.

"Even with prices increasing, the government has the ability to pay. Iraqis get the same quantity and quality as before."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An Introduction to Haiku

Haiku (hy-koo) is a traditional Japanese verse form, notable for its compression and suggestiveness. In three lines totaling seventeen syllables measuring 5-7-5, a great haiku presents, through imagery drawn from intensely careful observation, a web of associated ideas (renso) requiring an active mind on the part of the listener. The form emerged during the 16th century and was developed by the poet Basho (1644-1694) into a refined medium of Buddhist and Taoist symbolism. "Haiku," Basho was fond of saying, "is the heart of the Man'yoshu," the first imperial anthology, compiled in the eight century. "Haiku," many modern Japanese poets are fond of saying, "began and ended with Basho." Look beyond the hyperbole of either observation, and there is a powerful element of truth. Traditionally and ideally, a haiku presents a pair of contrasting images, one suggestive of time and place, the other a vivid but fleeting observation. Working together, they evoke mood and emotion. The poet does not comment on the connection but leaves the synthesis of the two images for the reader to perceive. A haiku by Basho, considered to have written the most perfect examples of the form, illustrates this duality:

Now the swinging bridge

Is quieted with creepers

Like our tendrilled life

When Basho writes:

How reluctantly

the bee emerges from deep

within the peony

is he merely presenting a pathetical fallacy, attributing human emotion to a bee, or is he entering into the authentic experience of "beeness" as deeply as possible? Perhaps both qualities are present. His detailed observation calls for something other than metaphor; it demands literal accuracy. Is the bee inside his mind or outside? The poem moves in part because of tension raised through the underlying question of duality the Zen resolves in silence. The bee, the peony, the poet, all one idea composed of many.

In another poem, Basho finds

Delight, then sorrow,

aboard the cormorant

fishing boat

without having to describe for his audience the nooses tied around the throats of fishing birds to inhibit swallowing. He is initially delighted by their amazing skill and grace, then horrified that they cannot swallow what they catch, saddened by their captivity and exploitation, and perhaps even more deeply saddened by the fishing folk he never mentions. What remains unstated begs for a profound moral equation, although only the poet's compassion is clearly implied.

The best haiku reflect an undeniable Zen influence. It evolved from the earlier linked-verse form known as the renga and was used extensively by Zen Buddhist monks in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the next 200 years, the verse form achieved its greatest popularity and success. Elements of compassion, silence, and awareness of temporality often combine to reveal a sense of mystery. Just as often, haiku may bring a startling insight into the ordinary, as when Buson writes:

Nobly, the great priest

deposits his daily stool

in bleak winter fields

thereby reminding his audience that nobility has nothing whatever to do with palaces and embroided robes, but that true nobility is obtainable in every human endeavor.

Issa reminds the attentive listener:

A world of dew,

and within every dewdrop

a world of struggle

Haiku may be the most widely recognizable poetic form in the world. At play with the form, children quickly discover their own poetic imaginations; almost anyone can learn to make decently readable haiku in no time at all. Just as anyone can learn to write a quatrain or sonnet. The problem remains: to be great, a poem must rise on its own merit, and too much haiku is merely haiku. Haiku written in American English and attempting to borrow traditional Japanese literacy devices usually ends up smelling of the bric-a-brac shop, all fragmentary dust and mold or cheap glitter coating the ordinary, or worse, the merely cute or contrived. Great haiku cuts both ways, sometimes witty or sarcastic, sometimes making Zen like demands for that most extraordinary consciousness, no-mind or ordinary mind.

Haiku should be approached with a daily sort of reverence, as we might approach an encounter with a great spiritual teacher. It is easy to imitate; it is difficult to attain. The more deeply the reader enters into the authentic experience of the poem, the more the poem reveals. When Kikaku writes:

In the Emperor's bed,

the smell of burnt mosquitoes,

and erotic whispers

we must realize first that the burning of mosquitoes clears the air for erotic play; then we may wonder whether the "smell of burnt mosquitoes" might become a kind of erotic incense for the Emperor, a stimulant for his lust. Thus, lust, love and death are joined in primal experience. Is there a buried needle in this verse? Does Kikaku intend for us to think critically of a decadent emperor? And what does that reveal about ourselves? Revealing the relationship between these mundane activities shakes up our polite perceptions like a Zen slap in the face, a call to awaken to what actually is.

Haiku, sprung free from the opening lines of predominantly humorous "linked verse" (renga) created by multiple authors, began to articulate aesthetic qualities such as a sense of beautiful aloneness, sabishisa, and restrained elegance, furyu.

The precise and concise nature of haiku influenced the early 20th-century Anglo-American poetic movement known as imagism. The writing of haiku is still practiced by thousands of Japanese who annually publish outstanding examples in the many magazines devoted to the art. The great age of haiku spans only a little over a hundred years, and yet its poetry is a river that continues to flow. In our own age and language, wonderful haiku have been written by poets as diverse as Gary Snyder, Richard Wilbur, Lew Welch and Richard Wright, to name but a few. In addition to Basho, important haiku poets include Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa, and Masuoka Shiki. Basho is neither the beginning nor the end. Re-encountering these poems is like the leap of Basho's famous frog, a plunge into the sound of water, each brief poem expanding in ever-widening ripples.

Bibliography: Blyth, R. H., A History of Haiku, 2 vols. (1963-64); Higginson, W. J., The Haiku Handbook (1985; repr. 1992); Reichhold, J., A Dictionary of Haiku (1991); Hamill, Sam, The Sound of Water (1995).