Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Coming Kenya Election Triggers Memories Of 2007 Violence, Worry Over What's Next

Walton Mulroy, 17, stands left, and Fanuel McCarthy, 16, are both 11th grade students at the International School of Kenya in Nairobi. The school is closed next week because of concerns that violence could break out after the national election on Monday.
By Kai Lawson-McDowall
Junior Reporter
NAIROBI, Kenya –  “The 2007 Kenyan Elections was by all definitions a scandalous abuse of power, matched only by the ethnic hatred, an appalling disregard for humanity and a product of the deep corruption in an already dysfunctional government.” – Dr. Bruce Lawson-McDowall, PhD, British Department for International Development
Assuming you have read the first sentence – and yes, it’s my dad who said it – I’m certain you will have retained a general understanding of the violence and its repercussions in the Kenyan elections next week.  But something I am also aware of is that this is only a general understanding, a mere familiarity with such events.
Many may lack a detailed knowledge of the true audacity and reason for this horror. There are many possibilities and outcomes for the new elections in Kenya. Yet the March 4 vote is already tainted and strained by Kenya’s former violence and tension six years ago.
In order for you to understand, I think it’s important that international readers comprehend the corruption perpetrated by the leaders and figureheads who fomented this violence.
In 2007, Mwai Kibaki won the presidential elections. Kibaki had already been president since 2003, and in his initial selection, was considered a major decisive force in Kenyan Democracy.
As president, Kibaki was seen as a fresh chapter after Daniel Arap Moi’s prolonged, dictator-like grasp on political power in Kenya for 24 years.
Kibaki claimed his intentions on Jan. 26, 2007, forming an alliance of various political parties who wanted his re-election.
Kibaki’s party become known as the Party of National Unity.  But Kibaki faced major opposition and challenge against his political rival, Ralia Odinga, who had formed the political party known as the ODM, or the Orange Democratic.
Odinga had also maintained a high level in the government as chief of Roads, Public Works and Housing from 2003 to 2005.
Despite the long, elaborate political careers and history behind Kibaki and Odinga, most of the Kenyan public only cared about the ethnicity, or the tribal/ religious beliefs, of the two politicians.
Almost every Kenyan sustains, for example, Maasai, Luo or Kikuyu tribal ties. Obviously a candidate’s ethnicity must have some relation to why an individual would elect them, and the reason is simple – shared beliefs and enforcement of such ideas, and mainly, selective perks and special treatment.
That means if you are a Kikuyu, you shall receive higher standards and perks due to your shared ethnicity and faith, and those of a different ethnicity shall receive less benefits assuming their tribal leader is not elected. Although corrupt, this tribal preference was another incentive for power and a reason for the corrupt actions and events that occurred during the violence in 2007.
Now that the ethnic vein of Kenya was throbbing and the pre-prepared violence was organized, all that was needed was a definite win.
Although highly complex and almost unexplainable, it is believed that Kibaki had rigged the polling and used indirect force in order to win the 2007 elections, taking 4.58 million votes, beating Odinga’s 4.35 million.
Kibaki won by a suspiciously large percentage of the vote as opposed to the general average margin of victory.
Although extremely controversial, Kibaki was quick to swear himself in, and despite his obvious electoral fraud, talked loosely and truthfully about the “reconciliation” and “rebirth” of Kenya. Soon after Kibaki’s rushed and secretive swearing in, many ethnic groups felt cheated and angered by such actions, which in turn, lead to the epic violence of the 2007 elections.
Obviously, the elections would not have been so horrific and notorious if not for the immense wave of violence that followed, which left 1,300 dead and 600,000 displaced. 
Besides the serious effect on the Kenyan population, it also struck a major vein in the already tense and hostile relationships between the ethnic groups of Kenya. Although at first the violence seemed an unorganized rabble, the reality was far from the initial appearance. It turned out that the three waves of concentrated violence was organized specifically to relieve and exploit this ethnic hatred.
The first wave included spontaneous destruction and looting by youths, generally young men, in the slums of Nairobi and against specific ethnic groups and people of certain beliefs, such as Kikuyu and supporters of the Party of National Unity.
Second was the violence prior (in part) to the actual elections organized by tribal leaders and local figureheads, aimed mainly at Kibaki and his questionable victory.
The third wave involved retaliation by government supporters and Kikuyu militias that targeted migrant workers around the country believed to support the governmental opposition.
The police also instigated the violence, due to rampant corruption in the Kenyan police, and did not attempt to prevent violence. Some cops used brutal, over-excessive force to stop protestors.
Obviously, this violence has repercussions, as well as a serious effect on the Kenyan economy. But the question still remains, “How will it affect in 2013?”
The simple answer is potential. Now that this violence has been created, and was effective and deadly enough for the high government officials to seize power and wealth, why shouldn’t they attempt something of similar magnitude again?
As well as this potential, there is also an ethical vendetta to be settled. The various ethnic groups of Kenya and their broken, violent relationship was a driving force behind the electoral violence. The feeling still festers at the center of their deeply entrenched, yet secretive hate. There is a desperate desire for victory, privilege and power, all useful benefits to the already-impoverished Kenyan majority.
As tense and unknown as the possibility of electoral violence in 2013 is, however, I’m fairly certain that whoever is reading this article is safe behind the high concrete walls, surrounded by security guards, topped with a small panic button in your house to call in your entourage to escort you to safety. 
Basically, whoever has the opportunity to read this is more or less impervious to electoral violence in Kenya.
We live in our own sheltered community, high up upon the social ladder of Kenya, sitting by itself, untouched by the disasters of election.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Kenyan population, they do not share the same luxuries that we do, cramped into small huts dense in the middle of a volatile slum, relying only on their luck and apparel to save them in the worst-case scenario.
Worst of all for these people is the uncertainty. The two major parties, Odinga’s of Cord (Luo) or Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee (Kikuyu) are for all intents and purposes, tied.
For we do not know who will win, or if Kenya shall collapse into violence.
This electoral tension is also elevated by the precarious politics of the 2007 violence.
As the internationally-aware community knows, Kenya’s two major presidential candidates have been called to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity. That creates the decisive question, “What if the presidential victor is actually convicted?”
This one question is an unwelcomed complication for the already-tight presidential race, and raises an imperative question for the future of political and democratic Kenya.

However, something that we can be certain of is that, if violence explodes uncontrollably over Kenya, we shall be at home with a gourmet beverage, in our pajamas, lazily browsing our computers, as we watch the horrible violence on our flat screen television at home, safe from the brutality, prejudice and more brutality to come.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Genius Or Lunacy? A Memorable 'Master'

By Noah Kidron-Style
Senior Reporter
LONDON – Looking down the list of nominees for Academy Awards, I was struck yet again by the incomprehensible absence of Paul Thomas Anderson, and his sensational epic The Master, from tonight’s proceeding.
Perhaps it was damaged in the often-conservative eyes of the Academy by Anderson’s unwillingness to tell you what to think about central characters Freddy Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Certainty as the credits rolled, it was possible to hear half of the audience muttering that it was the worst film they had ever seen, while the other half elegized that it may well have been the best.
For my part, I was divided. Was it genius or lunacy?
The Master follows veteran Freddy Quell as he tries to cope after the end of the Second World War. Quell is an alcoholic sociopath, unable to hold down a job and surely on the path to self-destruction until he finds Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic cult leader who claims to know the truth about the human condition.
Having been taken under Dodd’s wing, Quell becomes a loyal disciple of the cause. He is quick to attack anyone who expressed doubt, and is vicious towards non-believers. 
With his intense sexual frustration, an absent father and a previous relationship with an aunt, Quell is a veritable petri dish for Freudian analysis. His relationship with Dodd can also be expressed in Freudian terms – Dodd the ego, Quell the id, and Dodd’s wife Peggy, played by Amy Adams, the super-ego.

When seen from this light, the film appears to be a Freudian analysis of scientology, the religion (or cult) for which psychoanalysis is the enemy.
Not that it is necessary to watch The Master as a philosophy lecture. With an incredible cast, including three brilliant lead performances, of which the relatively unheralded Adams stole the show (although she will doubtless lose out to the crowd-pleasing Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress), The Master is affecting and shocking throughout.
Studio photo

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
The cinematography, also bizarrely not nominated (I am beginning to sound like a broken record), is spectacular, a homage to the classic Hitchcock style but with an immersive depth of light and color. It is truly beautiful film.
Anderson promised a film about Scientology, but as ever, delivered much, much more. It probes at the culture of American supremacy, never taking a moral stance, and leaves us wondering whether Quell was better off before he met Dodd or if he was saved by the charismatic charlatan. 
In the final scene, Quell abandons Dodd for an anonymous hookup with a British girl at a bar. In brutally graphic detail Anderson tells us the truth at the heart of any film inspired by Freud – it’s all about sex.
The Master is not for everyone, but for fans of Anderson, it is an unmissable work. The Academy’s snub is not surprising – their fear of controversy and complexity is increasingly worrying – but The Master will be remembered notwithstanding. 

A Tidal Wave Of Emotion In 'The Impossible'

By Roohani Deshpande
NEW DELHI, India – The Impossible, a movie about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, is not a typical disaster film. 
Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona focusses on the plight of a single family hit by the tsunami to create a simple, beautiful and unforgettable film which is a must-watch for everyone.
Starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, who play Henry and Maria respectively, this movie is about a Spanish family, the Belons, who faced the 2004 tsunami and survived to tell their incredible story.
The couple and their children are on vacation at a hotel. It's Christmas Eve and the family is enjoying themselves at a holiday resort, totally unprepared for the unexpected disaster that would change their lives forever.
 Before they know it, a set of huge tidal waves descend and disrupt everything around them. Trees, buildings and people begin to disappear beneath the massive wave. Bodies and trees are floating in the water. Most people on the ground stand no chance of survival as the relentless waves destroy everything in their path.
Henry and his two youngest children are separated from Maria and her eldest son, as they are swept away far from the resort. As they fight for their lives, they have no clue if the other half of the kin is still alive. They go through deep grief and pain, but never let go of hope and the will to survive. The fear, despair, confusion and horror that each person experiences is portrayed beautifully.
The director does a great job convincing us the disaster is real, almost as if it is happening to us. It is hard not to cringe.
Viewers, even if mentally prepared for what is about to happen, will be hit hard by the overwhelming devastation and magnitude of the event. Only a person with a heart of steel could watch this film without being terrified and shedding at least a few tears.
Based on a true story, this is a short but powerful film about human endurance, resilience and determination to survive against all odds. It is primarily a film about love for family. It reminds us that when all else is lost, it is love that keeps hope alive in us. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

'Silver Linings' Is A Journey Of Self-Healing

By Jenny Neufeld
Junior Reporter
MOUNT VERNON, New York, U.S.A. – Who would have thought that the ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ and the winning tribute of The Hunger Games could mold together, with the work of director David O. Russell, in an intense, yet heartwarming, and surprisingly nail-biting, adaption of Matthew Quick’s novel, Silver Linings Playbook?
I sure didn’t.
As I walked into the theater I sat down in my seat expecting your typical “rom-com,” with the sappy love-story, but a chick flick was far from what I got.
Silver Linings Playbook follows the journey of confused and estranged Pat Solitano Jr., played by Bradley Cooper, named last year by People as the sexiest man alive. Recently released from a committed period in a mental facility, Pat must begin his new life away from everything he once knew: his wife, his job and seemingly stable mentality.
Stuck on the idea that reuniting with his estranged wife, Nikki, is the “silver lining” in a dark cloud, Pat constantly refers to the idea “excelsior: ever upward” to solve his problems. With the help of an unexpected friend, Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence, Pat, along with his family, comes to terms with his condition and learns from the conflicts and experiences that life throws at him.
For a movie filmed in a mere 33 days, everything – the plotline, the casting, even the raw cinematography – was brilliantly executed, with few flaws.
Although Russell’s plotline is different from Quick’s novel, the ideas and themes portrayed in the film are just as powerful and raw as that of the original book.
The timeline of Silver Linings Playbook is set during the second half of the NFL football season of 2008, a crucial time for the Solitanos, who are major fans of the Philadelphia Eagles.
With Mom and Pop, Dolores and Patrizio Solitano, played by Jackie Weaver and Robert Deniro, the feeling from watching Pat’s family was reminiscent of Sunday afternoons spent with the family, eyes glued to the television, fingers crossed for a favorite team, and family issues repressed to the back of the freezer.
But Silver Linings Playbook struck me on a much deeper level, starting with Russell’s excellent choice in casting.
Commonly, in Hollywood, mentally unstable characters are often casted to those actors who fit the stereotypical look of someone “crazy” who belongs in the mental institution, or are in need of an exorcism of some sort.
In contrast to this Hollywood stereotype, casting Cooper – someone who commonly takes on the role as the reckless womanizer in a film – brought insight and truth to the fact that the most normal looking people deal with inner issues and battles on a day-to-day basis. Casting Cooper broke the wall between reality and the stereotype that Hollywood often puts on people with mental disorders.
As for the character Tiffany Maxwell, many women, from Blake Lively, to Angelina Jolie, even Zooey Deschanel, were considered for the role. But Lawrence brought something different to her role. Her impeccably raw, yet comical personality molded well with what Russell hoped Maxwell would become.
Rather than a romantic, heartbroken “damsel in distress,” Lawrence – who played the heroic Katniss Everdeen in the 2012 hit The Hunger Games – brought an intense, strong hearted, walled in, aspect to Tiffany Maxwell’s character. I do not believe anyone could have fit the role better than Lawrence her self.
Secondly, as I watched the film, I began to see the message Russell portrayed in every character. Although the story mainly follows Pat Jr.’s own diagnosis and path to a stable state of mind, I saw each character with their own problem or instability, from OCD, to depression, to anger management, to a simple lack of self confidence. Both Quick and Russell’s simple detail to the characters portrays the message that in life, every person has inner battles that they repress or fight on a day-to-day basis.
While initially, it may not look like an Academy Award nominee, and was not set as “Oscar bait” from the start of production, Silver Linings Playbook is an impeccable journey of self-healing. Although it sounds like a typical romantic comedy, with love interests and drama joining at the hip, all in all, it teaches a message, for both young and old, that you should find the silver linings in life.
Silver Linings Playbook deserves the same recognition as Oscar baits Les Miserables and Lincoln.
Those up for the Academy Award for ‘Best Picture’ should watch out. Silver Linings Playbook is a winner. 
Remember: find a silver lining in every dark cloud. Excelsior, my friend, excelsior.

A Boy, A Boat And A Bengal Tiger

By Myah Guild
DUNSTABLE, Bedfordshire, England – The visual masterpiece that is Life of Pi hit our screens at the end of 2012 and has wowed audiences worldwide ever since.
Director Ang Lee’s adaptation of the 2001 novel by Yann Martel follows the story of Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel, the son of an Indian zookeeper as he battles to survive as a castaway, with only a Bengal tiger for company.
Instantly fascinating is the beauty and clarity of the picture as the story opens in Pondicherry, a French-inspired region of India. This theme continues throughout the story as spectacular scenes of huge diving whales and glowing fish appear in startlingly high definition.
Suraj Sharma’s performance as Pi Patel is captivating as he goes through almost every emotion conceivable while drifting endlessly in the Pacific Ocean.
The film explores the themes of God, faith, fate and the intriguing bond between humans and animals.
The audience undoubtedly questions how they, themselves, would survive in the same situation, a predicament that becomes increasingly dire as days roll by.
There are scenes of violence and extreme weather that reaffirm the ruthless aspect of nature.
However, the light-hearted and amusing moments provide relief from the story when the film moves from the flashback into the present day, when a demotivated writer (Rafe Spall) is regaled with a story that he was told would “make him believe in God.”
Despite the fact that the film’s other main character is an computer generated jungle cat, amusingly named ‘Richard Parker’ after his name was swapped with his hunter (and a nod to the association of the name with shipwrecks), his contribution to the story cannot go without mention. After all, it is the tiger who encourages the story to continue and the audience to keep watching.
A film that largely focuses on a boy, a boat and a Bengal tiger may sound a little bland, but Life of Pi, with its combination of a simple, emotional storyline and, frankly, stunning effects is a memorable and indelible experience.
It is surely in its rightful place alongside the other cinematic triumphs nominated for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

With Tet, Vietnam Says, 'Happy New Year!'

Phuong Phan /
Fireworks over Hanoi celebrated Tet 2013.
By Tuan Anh Nguyen
Junior Reporter
HANOI, Viet Nam – Seasonal transition has always seemed a matter of ambiguity. No one can tell spring’s exact arrival, but Tet is definitely knocking on the door when the first drizzle embraces the street.
To Vietnamese, the Lunar New Year, or Tet, is the most anticipated holiday of the year. Among Tet’s many days of celebration, the Lunar New Year’s Eve is the center of all attention and preparation.
In contrast to the Chinese tradition, it is advisable to clean the house in this sacred day. To cast away the accumulation of evil matters and old energy, unnecessary objects will be thrown away, dust  wiped and furniture rearranged.
Under the strong influence of China, red is the dominant tone of ornamentation for it denotes prosperity and good fortune. Its presence can hardly escape one’s notice:  red parallel sentences, pumpkin seeds dyed in red, lucky money contained in red envelopes, and so forth.
Phuong Phan /
A spotless living room on Lunar New Year's Eve welcomes the new year.
Signature decorations such as peach blossoms, apricot flowers and mandarin trees are usually employed to give the house a spring-like, warm and cozy atmosphere. As the old expression “in the pink” suggests, peach blossoms capture the hearts of Northern Vietnamese for their pinkish hue, which signifies safety and good health.
Phuong Phan /
Steamed sticky rice colored
by momordica
Phuong Phan /
Chung cake

The Southerners take great delight in the golden apricot flowers as an embodiment of boundless love and prosperity. The mandarin or kumquat  trees incorporate both renewing vitality in the budding leaves and good fortune in their light orange fruits. Additionally, daffodils, orchids and tulips have recently earned their place in Vietnamese living rooms during Lunar New Year.  
Along with the arrival of Tet, there’s a surge in demand for consumer goods. Supermarkets and open-air markets are constantly overcrowded with customers in a rush to shop for new clothes, gifts of gratitude and other necessities. In service of must-have traditional ingredients like sticky rice, some indigenous markets are open beyond nightfall in the period between the 25th and 30th  of lunar December.

Phuong Phan /
Votive papers for the New Year's Eve worship.
Worshiping ceremonies
In almost every Vietnamese family home is an ancestral altar. The color, material and arrangement may vary from family to family but the altar’s meaning stays the same: a miniature for the world of the dead.
Phuong Phan /
The ancestral altar, along
with other offerings
It is compulsory to carry out two rituals during the last day of the lunar calendar: the Year-End worship and the Lunar New Year’s Eve worship. The Year-End worship, which serves to round up the happenings of the previous year, is practiced from the 23rd to the 30th of lunar December.
Taking place at the very beginning of the Lunar New Year, the Lunar New Year’s Eve worship bids farewell to the heavenly officer in charge of the family for the last year and welcomes the new one. Traditional offerings for the two rituals include a boiled rooster, spring rolls, steamed sticky rice, and votive papers.
All of these are put on a tray positioned on the foot of the altar. To commence the ritual, the worshipper would light the incense, recite his wishes before the tray of offerings and plug the incense into the bowl. After the incense has stopped burning, votive papers are removed for incineration.
Phuong Phan /
A tray of offerings for the Year-End worship
Tradition says the first person to set foot in the house since the conclusion of the Eve worship decides the fate of the house owner in the following year. Therefore, many Vietnamese refer to a horoscope to select a proper first-footer for their families.
Except for cable TV channels, major channels show the same program on Lunar New Year’s Eve. On this occasion only, a special comedy program called “The End-Of-Year Session” is shown. The show emulates an ancient myth, in which the Kitchen Gods would travel to the Sky Palace on carp and deliver reports to the Jade Emperor on the current situation of Vietnam.
“The End-Of-Year Session” is well-received annually not only for implicit jokes and social satires but also for its frank expression of the public’s opinions and wishes. Meticulous efforts are put into other musical performances in order to guarantee the best quality of entertainment.
As the evening advances towards midnight, major locations in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City are broadcast live. Citizens stream into the streets to fully savor the moment.
Like any country around the globe, the final seconds of the previous year drifts by as the crowd counts down in chorus.
Splendid fireworks streak, splutter and scatter  across the veil of the night at the close of the countdown. A pre-recorded speech by the nation’s president is then played on all channels, sending sincere and solemn wishes to all Vietnamese.
The Lunar New Year’s Eve has always been the centerpiece of Tet, when traditions are followed, family members are together, and good things are to come.

For more articles on Tet, see:

Kenyans Bracing For National Elections

U.S. State Department Map
By Walton Mulroy
Junior Reporter
NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki will be stepping down after the March 4 election, and the country is preparing for possible turmoil in the aftermath.
In an interview with Bernama-NNN-KBC, Kibaki said, “I am proud to lead such a wonderful country on its path to success, but it is time for me to retire.”
While mourning Kibaki’s departure, Kenyans are anticipating the elections with both nervousness and excitement.
Many fear a repeat of the violence that happened in 2007 and 2008, when more than 1,300 were killed and an estimated 600,000 displaced from their homes.
The International Criminal Court in the Hague has charged four Kenyans with crimes against humanity, including current Presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
The concern about violence has implications for many students. The International School of Kenya in Nairobi is one of the schools that will close for one week during the elections. 
“We are happy to be seeing a new president in March but hesitant to see what is to come of the post elections,” said Fanuel McCarthy, an 11th grade student at the school. “Thankfully, this was especially evident when we signed a peace deal that brought peace to the country after the post-election violence.”
During the election, violence spread through the streets of many small villages throughout Kenya and some parts of the capital, Nairobi.
“I hope it doesn’t happen. It would be a sad outcome,” said Amish Khan, a 10th grade student at the international school.
Courtesy Taxi driver and former businessman Patrick Njoroge Gichuki was a victim of this disaster. During the post-election violence, Gichuki lost his small general goods shop in a fire caused by supporters of presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
Gichuki’s story shows the unnecessary violence perpetrated by Kenyans. 
“We cannot afford another violent election this term due to other countries lack of respect for Kenya when this sort of anarchy happens,” Gichuki said.
During this time of struggle many international diplomats fled the country, to return to their home countries.
The International School of Kenya was closed down due to security risks, causing many complications with students preparing for SATs and International Baccalaureate exams.
This time, the school has an emergency plan to create a virtual learning community in the event students cannot return to campus after the March election break. Students will access assignments from an online resource called Moodle.
“Moodle will provide an accessible learning tool for students to keep on track with their classes. This is obviously contingent on having internet access if they have been evacuated by their parents' employer to another country or stay here in Kenya,” said English teacher Stacey Wilkins.