Saturday, 18 October 2014

Kashmir, self-determination, and human rights

Presentation as part of a panel on
"Kashmiris: A Forgotten People"
(Cornell University, 2 October 2014)

Who am I to talk about Kashmir?

I'm an activist for peace and justice, and a travel journalist. I think that part of the ethical responsibility of travellers is to speak up about what we see, not just go home and forget about the places we've visited – especially when we visit places with few foreign observers other than tourists. Tourists play an increasingly important role as citizen human rights observers.

The focus of my human rights activism is the USA, although that's not today's topic. And I don't claim to be a historian or an expert on current events in Kashmir.

What I can offer is a perspective on Kashmir in terms of contemporary norms of human rights, democracy, and self-determination, rather than explanations of contemporary polices rooted in what I think is irrelevant ancient history.

The big picture, about which we'll hear more from some of tonight's other speakers, is that since 1989, India has maintained a military occupation of the Kashmir Valley by more than half a million soldiers, police, paramilitaries, and other armed "security" forces brought in from outside Kashmir.

This occupation has had all the typical attributes of any military occupation, in unusually intense and prolonged form. For most of the last 25 years, the Kashmir Valley has been under various flavors of de facto or de jure martial law, with soldiers everywhere, army camps next to every village, checkpoints on every city block, curfews, house to house searches, legalized arrest and detention without trial, and official suspension of many of the norms of democratic governance and civil liberties.

Since the departure of the principal non-Muslim population group, the Hindu Pandits, in the 1990s, essentially all of the remaining population in the Kashmir Valley -- other than the occupation forces -- has been Muslim. That has allowed the Indian forces to define the entire valley as a free-fire zone in which the Kashmiri Muslim population is considered and treated as the enemy: presumed to be either "militants" or their sympathizers, and fair game for summary killing. Military and paramilitary forces have effectively complete impunity for any actions against civilians, which have come to include systematic torture of detainees, rape of civilian women, collective reprisals (against families, neighborhoods, and villages), shooting to death of children who throw stones at soldiers, and attacks targeting medical personnel, human rights activists, and journalists.

To put the death toll in perspective, this month the Kashmir Valley has suffered from its worst natural disaster in a century: a 100-year flood that has killed perhaps 500 people. But on average, several times this many Kashmiris have been killed by Indian "security" forces in Kashmir every year for the last 25 years -- a total of at least 50,000 out of a population of around 7 million people in the valley.

What has not happened, throughout this time, and still isn't happening, is any plebiscite, referendum or negotiations on self-determination for Kashmiris or any change in Kashmir's status.

Fundamentally, as I see it,

  1. What is going on in Kashmir is best understood as a Kashmiri nationalist struggle for self-determination (despite efforts to frame it as a dispute about history, as a dispute about "terrorism", as a dispute between secularism and religious fundamentalism, as a dispute between Hindus and Muslims, as a dispute between India and Pakistan, and so forth); and
  2. Self-determination is a human rights issue.

Self-determination is itself one of the most widely recognized and fundamental human rights. "The principle of … self-determination of peoples" is recognized in Article 1 of the U.N. Charter. Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which the USA, India, and Pakistan are all parties) provides that, "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status.... The States Parties to the present Covenant... shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations."

There are "liberals" and "reformers" within India, and some foreign human rights activists, who want to separate self-determination from (other) human rights. But that's not possible.You can't have a velvet-gloved occupation. Maintaining power by force, over popular opposition, requires brute, and brutal, use of force -- regardless of whether that opposition is itself violent, nonviolent, or a mix of both. Some say that self-determination is a "political question" on which human rights activists should remain "neutral". But that denies the status of self-determination as itself a human right. The (other) human rights issues in Kashmir cannot be resolved without addressing the human rights issue of self-determination.

The central demand of Kashmiri nationalist movement is "Azaadi", often translated as "Freedom". But what exactly does that mean? While some outsiders profess confusion, Kashmiris themselves have been remarkably precise, consistent, and coherent: Their central unifying demand for decades has been for a plebiscite on the status of Kashmir, as was promised by the government of India (including in repeated statements by its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru), by the government of Pakistan, and by resolution of the U.N. Security Council supported by India, Pakistan, and all of the Permanent Members including the USA.

Neither "azaadi" nor self-determination necessarily means independence for Kashmir. To demand the right to decide is not to presume what that decision would be, only that the decision should be made (1) by Kashmiris themselves and (2) at the ballot box through electoral means. To put it another way, the question is not how Kashmiris should vote, but whether they should have the right to vote on this specific question.

If the central Kashmiri demand is for the holding of an election, what are the circumstances in which human rights, including the right to self-determination, require that such an election be held?

Continue reading "Kashmir, self-determination, and human rights"
Link | Posted by Edward, 18 October 2014, 07:55 ( 7:55 AM) | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 17 October 2014

"Travelers, say bon voyage to privacy"

I talked at length with Watchdog investigative reporter Dave Lieber for his column in today's Dallas Morning News: Travelers, say bon voyage to privacy.

Lieber hits the nail on the head by calling out how few travellers realize that the U.S. government is keeping a permanent file of complete mirror copies of their reservations:

Did you know that when you buy an airline ticket and make other travel reservations, the government keeps a record of the details?

If airlines don’t comply, they can’t fly in the U.S., explains Ed Hasbrouck, a privacy expert with the Identity Project who has studied the records for years and is considered the nation’s top expert.

Before each trip, the system creates a travel score for you.... Before an airline can issue you a boarding pass, the system must approve your passage, Hasbrouck explains....

The idea behind extensive use of PNRs [Passenger Name Records], he says, is not necessarily to watch known suspects but to find new ones.

Want to appeal? "It’s a secret administrative process based on the score you don’t know, based on files you haven’t seen," Hasbrouck says....

Hasbrouck says: "You can’t keep files on everybody in case you want some dirt on them. That’s what J. Edgar Hoover did. We’ve been through this before in this country. Think of all the ways those files targeted innocent people and were misused. People’s lives were destroyed on the basis of unfounded allegations.

"Do we want to go back to that?"

For those whose curiosity has been piqued, here are links to more about this issue:

My FAQ, What's in a Passenger Name Record (PNR)?, includes links to examples of PNR data, templates to request your travel history and PNR files from DHS, and information about my lawsuit against DHS to try to find out what files it had about me and how it had used and "shared" them.

Requirements for airlines to send passenger data to the government, and receive individualized (per-passenger, per-flight) permission from the government before issuing a boarding pass, are contained in two separate sets of DHS regulations: Secure Flight for domestic flights and the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) for international flights. (More about the APIS regulations.)

The system of "pre-crime" profiling and assigning scores to all air travelers was discussed in recent government audit reports and at a Congressional hearing last month, and in a front-page story in the New York Times, in which I was quoted, last year.

There's a good overview of the government's travel surveillance and control process in a talk I gave that was broadcast on C-SPAN last year. The slides from that talk include diagrams of the system and examples of PNR data and other government files about myself and travellers.

Link | Posted by Edward, 17 October 2014, 00:12 (12:12 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Peak Travel: Envisioning a post-air-travel age

One of the more disruptive consequences of peak oil is likely to be peak air travel.

What does peak air travel mean? Why is it likely? Why haven't you already heard more about it? And what business and investment opportunities does this coming disruption create?

I've been writing about the unsustainability of air travel for more than 20 years, and I'm pleased that this year it's on the SXSW Eco conference agenda.

But let me make one thing perfectly clear from the start: I am not here to tell you that you shouldn't fly.

Some people do make that argument, and it's a legitimate question, but that's not what I'm saying.

I came to Austin by plane, and I think very few people who can afford to fly will choose to fly significantly less for reasons of ethics or sustainability.

People like me who travel by air should pay more than we do: our decision-making is distorted by the fact that air travel is artificially cheap. Air transport is, and always has been, more heavily subsidized than almost any other mode of transport, in many non-obvious ways. I would support much higher taxes on my own air travel, and the elimination of the current subsidies.

But flying is too attractive for voluntary reductions to have much effect. If we want people to fly less, we're going to have to persuade them through their pocketbook by making flying more expensive.

My point today is that -- ethics aside -- peak oil is likely to make air travel much more expensive, both in absolute terms and relative to the cost of surface transportation.

Air transport is different from surface transport in two key respects: (1) Airplanes can't be connected to the grid, and (2) keeping them up in the air requires a fuel with an energy density that batteries or other alternatives can't provide, and aren't likely to be able to provide. For air travel as we know it, there is no substitute for liquid fuel – as the aviation industry itself freely admits.

Fuel is already a higher percentage of the cost of air transport than of the cost of most modes of surface transport, making airline ticket prices more sensitive to fuel costs than surface transit prices.

Fracking seems to have postponed peak oil for a few years. But when peak oil's day of reckoning arrives, some of its earliest and most severe impacts on end-user prices are likely to be on air travel.

Obviously, the aviation industry doesn't want to talk about its impending contraction, since that would not only scare off investors but could cause governments to cut back their current aviation subsidies.

In addition, higher costs for air travel are as much of a threat to the so-called "ecotourism" industry as to the aviation industry. Definitions of "ecotourism" have excluded transportation to and from the destination, so that a resort or a tour can be certified as "green" even if all the guests are flying in from thousands of miles away, and even if air travel is the largest component of the carbon footprint of the tour or visit. Many "ecotourism" businesses and destinations are almost entirely dependent on airborne guests. That creates pressure on those who support fair trade, community development, and wildlife and ecosystem conservation funded by "ecotourism" to also support continued cheap air travel. As a result, many of those who are regarded as ecotourism experts and spokespeople have been part of the conspiracy of silence with the aviation industry about the environmental impact of airborne tourism.

What's harder to understand is why private investors have drunk the propaganda Kool-aid that airlines and aircraft manufacturers have cooked up about a future of "sustainable" infinite growth in air travel.

We heard some of this in yesterday's keynote here at SXSW Eco 2014, in which the top Boeing executive for "sustainability" showed us, not a graph of air traffic leveling off at some sustainable level, but a growth curve accelerating upward off the chart into the future at an increasing rate of growth.

It's hard to imagine any other industry putting forward that kind of projection at a conference like this, or expecting to get away with calling it "sustainable". But this is exactly the sort of taken-for-granted exceptionalism that has characterized aviation, and government policy towards aviation, from its earliest years. The Chicago Convention international treaty has been interpreted as exempting fuel for international airline flights from taxes. The USA is vigorously opposing inclusion of airlines in the European Union emissions trading scheme. And there are no global controls or caps or taxes on aviation emissions.

The aviation industry has succeeded in separating aviation from the rest of the discussion of climate change at the United Nations, and has gotten global policy on aircraft emissions moved to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a sector-specific revolving-door UN agency largely if not entirely captured by aviation industry interests. Any action on climate change by ICAO has been indefinitely postponed, despite vigorous but little-reported protests from the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, the one environmental group (and virtually the only civil society organization of any sort) with an observer seat at ICAO.

As we heard in yesterday's keynote here at SXSW Eco 2014, the aviation industry's claim is that sometime, years or more likely decades in the future, airlines and aircraft manufacturers hope to replace fossil fuel with biofuels. "We hope to find a way to clean up our own act, someday," aviation industry spokespeople say, "So in the meantime we should continue to be exempt from the climate change and fossil fuel conservation regimes you are putting in place for all other industries."

But how realistic is the prospect for "sustainable" biofuels, on which the aviation industry has staked its hopes?

With enough resource inputs, organic chemistry can turn almost any feedstock into any other organic compound. But to meet the needs of aviation, sustainably, biofuels must be:

  1. A high energy density drop-in liquid replacement for kerosene;
  2. Produced in quantities many times those of current jet fuel extraction and refining (to support air traffic many times present volumes, as the industry projects, driven largely by growth in air travel and air cargo transport in China and other developing countries);
  3. At prices comparable to current kerosene prices;
  4. Without contributing more to climate change – through energy inputs and the production and refining process – than it saves compared to fossil fuel;
  5. Without diverting land, water, or human labor from food production (i.e. burning food for jet fuel); and
  6. Available at full scale soon, before we run out of oil or pass the climate change tipping point.

That's a tall order. It might turn out to be possible, but I don't think it's likely.

I'm not sure how many people in the aviation industry really believe it's likely that biofuels will meet all these challenges. Perhaps the best public indication of what industry insiders really think is contained in their reports to those to whom they are accountable: their stockholders. I know of no airline or aircraft manufacturer that bases its financial projections on biofuel rather than fossil fuel costs. Either they think that biofuel prices will somehow magically end up exactly equal to fossil fuel prices, or – more likely – they have no real expectation that biofuels will constitute any meaningful fraction of the fuel used by airliners in any financially foreseeable future.

Would I bet on aviation biofuels myself? At most, it's the sort of highly speculative investment on which I would risk a small portion of the capital I could afford to lose, if I were a venture capitalist who could afford to invest in many such high-risk ventures in the hope that the one winner that pays out, pays out big enough to cover the losses on the majority of losers.

But by planning for continued cheap air transport, unsuspecting investors and business people in seemingly unrelated industries that depend on air travel have staked their fortunes, often without realizing it, on a risky bet on future production of large quantities of cheap, sustainable biofuels for aviation – when the more conservative strategy would be to plan and prepare for the greater likelihood that air travel will, in fact, get much more expensive.

If peak oil is coming, and it's likely to bring a dramatic increase in the cost of air travel, what does this imply?

Continue reading "Peak Travel: Envisioning a post-air-travel age"
Link | Posted by Edward, 9 October 2014, 21:42 ( 9:42 PM) | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Is Google monopolizing flight and airfare search?

Not yet. But as the Washington Post quotes me today:

“I don’t think that [Google] Fare Search has had much impact on consumers,” says Edward Hasbrouck, a critic of the ITA purchase. But he thinks that we’re not out of the woods yet. After the Justice Department’s consent decree expires in October 2016, Google will be able to do what it pleases with ITA, and that makes people like Hasbrouck nervous. “The real danger is of Google dominance of personalized pricing,” he says. “Imagine Google being able to incorporate everything it knows about you from your use of all Google services into decisions about what price to put on each airline ticket. Airlines or services with less info on which to base such price personalization would have a hard time competing with Google.”

Follow the links above for more on the background to my comments.

Link | Posted by Edward, 2 October 2014, 23:31 (11:31 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Amazing Race 25, Episode 1

New York, NY (USA) - St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (USA)

["Hey mister customs man, there's a flea in my passport!"]

I got a new personal radio tracking beacon this month. I'll be carrying it with me, wherever I go, whenever I leave the USA for the next ten years.

Almost ten years ago, the USA began issuing passports that contain radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, each of which broadcasts a globally unique personal identification number that anyone, not just government agencies, can receive and use to track the passport. (I like the connotations of the French word for an RFID or similar electronic micro-chip, "puce", which translates literally as, "flea".)

You can tell if your passport has an RFID chip by whether it has the international standard e-passport logo on the cover.

The more I learned about the technical capabilities of the "e-passport" system, the more I came to see it as a threat to personal safety, security, and privacy. E-passports are intended to be used by governments, and can also be used by businesses or criminals, for surveillance, tracking, and the construction of ID-linked movement and event logs. E-passports make it possible to build bombs triggered by the proximity of passports of a specified nationality or nationalities -- or of a specific target person or persons. (Targets of domestic violence, have I gotten your attention?) And "skimming" or interception of communications with "legitimate" e-passport readers -- by the person behind you in line at the check-in counter or kiosk at the airport, for example -- facilitates touchless digitally-perfect remote passport cloning by identity thieves.

Like many of my readers and other savvy travellers, I tried to delay getting a chipped passport as long as possible: I renewed my passport in early 2005, the last year before the State Department began issuing RFID-chipped passports to ordinary citizens.

It turned out to be more difficult than the State Department had expected to embed an RFID transceiver chip and attached antenna into the cover of a passport and get them to work reliably enough for the ten-year validity period of a standard passport.

To protect the RFID chip and antenna, the State Department eventually decided to embed them in a thicker passport-book cover, and print the photo and other personal information on a separate inside page of the passport book. This violates the ICAO standards that the State Department had falsely claimed "required" adding RFID chips to passports in the first place. ICAO standards don't require RFID chips in passports at all, but do specify that, if a passport has an RFID chip, the chip should be embedded in the same sheet that has the personal information printed on it, to reduce the risk of separation and tampering.

The transition to RFID-chipped passports went more slowly than had originally been planned. Some unchipped 10-year USA passports were issued as late as 2007. But so far as I can tell, no unchipped standard 10-year USA passports have been issued since then.

To cover the additional cost of adding RFID chips to passports, the State Department dramatically increased the fees for passport issuance and other passport-related services.

And far more USA citizens need passports than a decade ago, as a result of other changes to State Department and DHS regulations and practices that now require passports for all crossings of USA borders, even for land travel by USA citizens to and from Mexico and Canada.

Over the next couple of years, the last of the unchipped USA passports will be expiring. People like me who've put it off as long as possible will be forced to decide whether we are willing to carry government-issued radio tracking devices whenever and wherever we travel outside the USA.

In practice, frequent international travellers like me will have to decide six months or more before our passports expire, over the next year or so. Many countries won't admit visitors unless their passports are valid for at least six months after their intended departure from the country. This rule is intended to reduce the risk to the destination country that your passport will expire while you are in their country, you won't be able to obtain a new passport, and they will be unable to deport you because you have become stateless, and as a result they will be forced to allow you to stay, perhaps indefinitely, as an unwanted and undocumented immigrant.

Airlines sometimes won't allow you to board an international flight if your passport expires in less than six months, regardless of the actual requirements of the country to which you are travelling.

A passport that is about to expire is thus of limited usefulness, and renewing a USA passport by mail takes an unpredictable amount of time from a couple of weeks to several months. As a rule of thumb, therefore, you should start thinking about renewing your passport as soon as it has less than a year of validity remaining.

Sending your passport in for renewal by mail is risky if you might need to travel abroad in less than about six months. You might get your passport back in days if you pay for both expedited processing and round-trip Express Mail shipping. But even if you pay for expedited service, it might take weeks or months.

If you can, the best way to get or renew a USA passport is to go to one of the State Department's dedicated passport issuance offices. There used to be only a handful of these, but in response to the need generated by the passport requirement for crossing the Mexican and Canadian borders, many more have opened. You have to pay the "expedited processing" fee to apply for a passport at one of these offices, but you save the cost of round-trip Express Mail, you find out immediately if your application is approved or if you are going to be asked to fill out the long form in addition to the standard short application form. If you apply in person, and have evidence of imminent departure, you can pick up your new passport at the same office later the same day if necessary.

You need to make an appointment by phone in advance, but you can usually get an appointment at most of the passport offices within a few days. With an appointment, you can expect to be in and out in less than hour, unless there's a problem with your application. You'll be given a receipt and a time to pick up your new passport, most often a day or two later unless you are leaving sooner. You have to apply in person, and if you are applying for passports for several family members, they all need to show up for the initial appointment. But you can sign the receipt to authorize someone else to pick up your new pasport for you.

I was headed to Cancún, Mexico, for the TBEX travel bloggers' conference earlier this this month, and my old passport had slightly less than six months of validity remaining. I called the passport office appointment phone line on Wednesday evening, got an appointment at the San Francisco passport office for Thursday morning, and picked up my new, RFID-chipped passport at noon Friday. It could have been quicker than that if necessary.

If you can't get an appointment at a passport office before your planned departure, don't despair. Go to a passport office anyway, as early as possible, with a copy of your airline ticket or e-ticket confirmation. Be prepared to spend all day waiting if you don't have an appointment. In practice, applicants without appointments but with evidence of imminent departure are usually accommodated as space permits, although you wouldn't know that from anything the State Department says publicly. It's possible to get a same-day passport even without an appointment.

Do yourself a favor and check the box at the top of the application form to request a new passport with extra visa pages, which currently means 52 pages for visas and entry and exit stamps rather than the standard 28. One trip around the world can fill up a standard passport book. As a rule of thumb, you'll need a full page for each visa, plus half a page per country for quarter-page entry and exit stamps. There's no extra charge for the extra-thick passport book, if you request it when you apply.

It used to be possible to have blank pages added to a USA passport for free. But it's harder to add pages to an RFID-chipped passport (the number of pages is coded into the chip, to make it harder to tamper with the passport), and having pages added to your passport now costs almost as much and takes just as much time and hassle as getting your passport renewed. "We see too many people who come in to get extra pages in their passports," the passport examiner who processed my renewal said. "They should have asked for the bigger book when they first applied."

The sooner you are leaving, the more quickly your new passport will be produced. It's a crime to lie to a any Federal employee, and a felony to lie on a passport application. But it's not a crime to change or cancel your international travel plans. The USA Department of Transportation requires airlines to allow you to cancel a ticket purchase and receive a full refund if you do so within 24 hours. So it's possible to buy a ticket today to leave the country tomorrow, show the passport office a bona fide purchase receipt and valid e-ticket confirmation, and cancel your purchase for a full refund as soon as you leave the passport office -- as long as you don't make any false statements on your application or to the passport office staff.

Most USA passport applicants still pay to have "professional" passport photos taken. At a typical price of US$10-15 for two passport photos, this is an unnecessary and excessive expense. You can take perfectly adequate photos with your digital camera or smartphone, and have them printed for pennies at a local drugstore or other photo processor. The State Department doesn't know or care if they were taken digitally, or by whom, as long as they are properly focused, framed, and cropped. The only difficulty is getting the portrait properly scaled, framed, and cropped.

I had my friend take some face-on digital photos of me against a plain white wall, picked one I liked, and used the free online tool from to scale, frame, and crop the image to satisfy passport requirements. generates a 4" × 6" image with 4 passport photos, and the other third of the sheet taken up with an ad for their service. There's no need to waste photo paper on their ads or use their overpriced printing service, though. I used the free irfanview image editor to cut and paste 2 of the passport images over the ad, giving me a 4" × 6" image with 6 passport photos. Then I sent them to Walgreens like any other digital photos, and picked them up at a local Walgreens store an hour later. Each sheet cost me 30 cents, or 5 cents per passport photo. You only need one photo for a USA passport application, but I always get extra prints for future visa applications -- especially when it's so cheap to do so.

The teams on The Amazing Race 25 didn't even need their U.S. passports for this first leg of the race. They went only as far as the U.S. Virgin Islands, a U.S. colony under the authority of the Office of Insular Areas of the Department of the Interior. Yes, these are discontiguous external island colonies, but in its Orwellian imperial majesty the USA calls its non-self-governing territories "insular" and "interior". Anyway, it's the first time a season of of The Amazing Race other than the Family Edition hasn't left the territories of the USA in its first episode, or that the racers haven't yet needed their passports.

The tourism industry in the USVI makes a virtue of necessity with respect to the islands' status as a U.S. colony. The fact about the USVI most prominently advertised to potential visitors is that no passport is required for U.S. citizens.

Tourism to the USVI has benefited from U.S. rules that now require U.S. citizens to have a passport for all international travel, even within the Americas where most Caribbean countries want U.S. tourists and their money enough to let them in without passports. The requirement for U.S. citizens to have passports to visit any Caribbean islands except the U.S. colonies of Puerto Rico and the USVI comes from the U.S. government, not other countries. And it leaves the USVI tourism industry little choice but to look to the U.S. as a source of visitors from outside the islands: Because the USVI is a U.S. colony, non-U.S. citizens need permission from the USA (visas or the electronic equivalent) to visit the USVI. That makes it much harder and more expensive for Europeans or Latin Americans to get permission to visit the USVI or Puerto Rico than any other Caribbean Islands. I've heard "never again" stories from Europeans about the hassles and humiliating fingerprinting and mug shots they had to go through, as ordinary tourists, to take their Caribbean vacation on a U.S.-governed island. Instead, most tourists to the Caribbean other than from the USA go to Cancún, Cuba, or other islands.

Link | Posted by Edward, 26 September 2014, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

"Kashmiris: A Forgotten People", Oct. 2nd at Cornell University

I'll be part of a discussion about Kashmir [calendar listing, event poster, Facebook event page] a week from today at Cornell University, initiated by the Islamic Alliance for Justice and co-sponsored by an unuusally wide range of Cornell academic departments and student and community organizations. I'll be joined by an other panelists including people much more knowledgeable than I am about current events on the ground in Kashmir and with important stories and perspectives to share. I hope to see some of you there!

Kashmiris: A Forgotten People

panel discussion followed by a Q&A session

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014, 5:30 - 7:00 p.m.
228 Malott Hall - Bache Auditorium
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

Kashmir -- a conflicted state between Pakistan and India -- has been the center of military and political battles since 1947. Beyond the politics and the national interests of the two countries, this panel discussion aims to go deeper into the black box and highlight the human experience of Kashmiris. Despite evidence of massive human rights abuses, the immense suffering of the civilian population has failed to receive due attention from political and activist circles as well as mainstream media. International organizations, including Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have documented numerous violations of fundamental rights, including mass killings, forced disappearances, political repression, torture and sexual abuse.

Featured Panelists:

Edward Hasbrouck is an award-winning travel journalist, author of the "Practical Nomad" series of travel how-to books, and longtime activist for peace, justice, and human rights in the US and around the world. Since visiting Kashmir in 1989, he has followed events in Kashmir, written about Kashmir in movement journals, and worked to raise awareness and understanding of Kashmir in the US. As an engaged observer from afar, Mr. Hasbrouck offers a holistic perspective that reframes the "the Kashmir question" in the context of contemporary geopolitical dynamics and activist concerns, both in the region and in the US.

Saiba Varma is a lecturing fellow at Duke University, having recently earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Cornell. She has written extensively on anthropological aspects of the conflict in Kashmir as it is experienced by Kashmiris. Her research focuses on the mental health costs of the conflict and the emergence of medical and humanitarian initiatives in the region.

Ahmad Rafiqi is a Kashmiri Ph.D. student in Mathematics at Cornell University. Mr. Rafiqi was born in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian-administered Kashmir, where he spent the first 18 years of his life. From a young age, he participated in protests and marches against the Indian administration. An advocate for Kashmiri self-determination, he offers an important indigenous perspective based on personal experience.

Arnav Sahu is a senior undergraduate student at Cornell University majoring in Economics. Mr. Sahu was born in New Delhi, the capital of India. Arnav has a keen interest in South-east Asian geo-politics and offers the Indian perspective on the issue.

Moderator: Durba Ghosh is an Associate Professor in the History Department at Cornell University. Her teaching and research interests focus on understanding the history of colonialism on the Indian subcontinent. Her current research focuses on popular and radical political movements in early and mid-twentieth century India as well as the role of political violence in popular historical narratives.

This event is FREE and open to the public.

Cosponsored by:

  • Islamic Alliance for Justice
  • History Department
  • Government Department
  • South Asia Council
  • Cornell Progressive
  • Cornell Asian Pacific Islander Student Union
  • Native American Students at Cornell
  • Amnesty International Group 73 Ithaca Chapter
  • Comparative Muslim Societies Program
  • Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies
Link | Posted by Edward, 25 September 2014, 06:25 ( 6:25 AM) | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

CPUC denies rehearing of decision on SmartMeter opt-out fees

During a closed session at its most recent meeting on 11 September 2014, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously to deny my application for rehearing of the CPUC's earlier summary decision to reject my protest of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s tariff of surcharges for gas and electric customers at any location where PG&E has been "unreasonably" denied access to install a "SmartMeter".

That's a mouthful! What does it mean?

It means that PG&E is trying to pull a fast one on California property owners. And it means that the corrupted and captured CPUC, a government agency which is supposed to regulate and exercise oversight over investor-owned, for-profit utilities like PG&E, is instead helping PG&E in its property-rights grab and shielding PG&E from judicial review.

Here's how:

Continue reading "CPUC denies rehearing of decision on SmartMeter opt-out fees"
Link | Posted by Edward, 23 September 2014, 12:42 (12:42 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 22 September 2014

Business and pleasure in Cancún at the TBEX travel bloggers' conference

[San Miguelito archeological site in the hotel zone, Cancún]

I was in Cancún last week for the TBEX conference of travel bloggers.

Blogging is a fairly solitary activity, and not everyone understands what it means to be a professional blogger or travel writer. I write about independent do-it-yourself travel, so I have no reason to go on on the escorted group "familiarization" tours and junkets which provide opportunities for travel writers who cover packaged and pre-arranged travel to meet and hang out with each other. "FAM" tours wouldn't tell me anything about what services are available for travellers who arrive without reservations, how much they cost, or how easy and/or cheap it is to find them without a guide. Only by doing it myself can I give meaningful advice to do-it-yourself travellers, whether backpackers or business travellers, who aren't in a group and don't have a guide.

So it was nice to have a rare chance at TBEX to talk to other people who share my peculiar profession: who know what it means, for example, to always be working when you are engaging in activities that for most people constitute "vacation", or often to find oneself spending one night in a hostel, the next night in a four or five-star hotel (because you've been given a discounted or maybe even free room), and the next night back in a hostel. Or to have people who are paid far more than you be jealous when they hear what you do to eke out a living.

Overall, I was pleased at the extent to which the organizers of TBEX allowed issues of ethics -- both the ethics of travel and the ethics of travel blogging -- to be raised at the conference. But I was at times disturbed, at times puzzled, by some of the discussion. I came home feeling that we had only scratched the surface of some of these questions, and that they deserve more time and emphasis at future TBEX events and throughout the travel blogosphere.

Aside from the issue of responsible and sustainable travel, this lengthy follow-up post is mostly directed to my fellow TBEX attendees and other travel writers, especially those who told me, "You should be a speaker at the next TBEX." It includes a lot of "inside baseball" about the business of travel blogging. If that's not of interest, you should probably skip the rest of this post.

But if you are a wondering, "What does ethical travel (and ethical travel writing) mean?", or "How does anyone hope to make a living as a professional travel blogger?", read on.

Continue reading "Business and pleasure in Cancún at the TBEX travel bloggers' conference"
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Friday, 12 September 2014

Responsible and sustainable travel

I'm in Cancún, Mexico, this week at the annual TBEX conference of travel bloggers. I've been interested in TBEX for several years as a venue at which to meet other other professional travel bloggers. But each of the previous times I've registered, other things have come up, and I've had to transfer my registration to another travel writer. That's been fairly easy, since in the past, TBEX has always sold out.

One reason I came to TBEX this year, in spite of it being in Cancún, was that the conference organizers have decided to make "responsible travel" -- something I've been thinking, talking, and writing about for at least twenty years -- a major theme of this gathering.

Most of the costs of TBEX are borne by sponsors who hope that the bloggers attending the conference will write about and promote the venue and their hotels, theme parks, tour companies, etc. Free or heavily subsidized junkets and press tours are offered to TBEX participants before and after the conference.

In Cancún, the sponsored events for TBEX participants were going to include swimming with captive dolphins.

Some prominent travel bloggers, including people who have attended and been speakers at TBEX in the past (although not, so far as I know, people who have previously been known for focusing on ethical issues in travel), protested that swimming with captive dolphins is irresponsible and should not be encouraged. Many dolphins are killed for each one that is successfully captured and "tamed".

A call for a boycott of TBEX and a petition to the TBEX organizers and sponsors were widely endorsed by other travel bloggers, including other past and potential TBEX speakers. The boycott and the ethics of the dolphin tours dominated discussion of TBEX and even got the attention of general news media.

The organizers and sponsors made no public comment on the effect of the call for a boycott, but it appears to have had a considerable effect. A month ago -- by which time many of the previous TBEX events have been sold out -- the sponsors and organizers faced the possibility of embarrassingly low attendance and difficulty in attracting suitable speakers.

In response, the "swim with the captive dolphins" excursions were removed from the official program of TBEX junkets. (They are still being offered, just not under official TBEX auspices. I talked to another TBEX attendee who was individually approached this week with an invitation for a free swim with dolphins.)

And in an effort to show the sincerity of their change of heart and demonstrate their commitment to responsible travel, the organizers added an opening keynote on responsible travel to the TBEX program. According to the announcement :

TBEX invited Dr. Honey to speak in order to discuss this issue and, more broadly, what is responsible travel and what should be the role of travel media in responsible travel. Not only will her address provide a platform for this important conversation, but it should be used as an opportunity to drive change for the future.

The changes probably came too late for many potential participants. TBEX hasn't sold out, and discounts were being offered even for last-minute registrants.

As I said in a comment in the TBEX blog, there’s a lot more to responsibility or sustainability in travel than how we treat animals. I hope we’ll have some discussion of the ethics of:

  1. The impact of air travel on global warming, and what that means both for travellers (including us, flying to Cancún) and for destinations (including Cancún) that depend largely or wholely on visitors arriving by air. I’ve written about this before, it will also be the topic of a talk I'm giving at the SXSW Eco sustainability conference in October.

  2. Conditions for workers in hotels, resorts, and perhaps especially on cruise ships (were workers are protected only by minimum wage and other labor laws, if any, of the country of the ship’s flag of convenience). Is there such a thing as “fair trade” tourism?

  3. The impact and ethics of all-inclusive travel packages, as targeted by the campaign by Tourism Concern, the UK's leading education and advocacy organization for ethical travel. I think this is actually not just a question of, “All-inclusive or not?”, but a continuum from all-inclusive to pre-booked but not entirely inclusive packages to independent pay-as-you-go travel. (The TBEX meetings are being held at the Moon Palace resort, which is perhaps most famous or infamous for having been the venue for the 2010 UN conference on climate change. It's the largest hotel in Latin America, the largest all-inclusive hotel in the world, and one of the most self-contained world-unto-itself venues even among the many all-inclusive resorts of the Cancún area. Discounted all-inclusive rates of US$200 per night were offered to TBEX attendees. I'm not staying there; I'm staying at one of the two Hostelling International hostels in downtown Cancún.)

I’m glad this issue is on the TBEX agenda, and look forward to today's discussion.

[Follow-up: Business and pleasure in Cancún at the TBEX travel bloggers' conference]

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A visit to Hazebrouck

["Hazebrouck en Flandre." Jersey ("maillot") of the Hazebrouck-based CCFVL cycling club.]

One of the unexpected high points of my summer bicycle trip from the Swiss Alps to the Scottish Highlands was a visit to the town of Hazebrouck in French Flanders, from which my family name is [most likely] derived.

If my name wasn't Hasbrouck, I would probably never have gone to Hazebrouck. But I'm glad I went to Hazebrouck, I had an interesting and enjoyable visit, and it would have been worthwhile even if my name weren't Hasbrouck.

There's a lesson in this.

It should be taken as axiomatic that it's impossible to publish an accurate list of "off the beaten path" destinations. Travel writers, by our writing (or more precisely, by disseminating what we write) change the places we write about. Putting a place on a published list of destinations necessarily puts it on the tourist track, even if it wasn't before. This is the travel analog of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Perhaps I should call it the Hasbrouck Uncertainty Principle of travel.

The only way to find places that are truly untouristed is to go to places that aren't recommended, and maybe aren't even mentioned, in any guidebook or bucket list.

What amazes me is how rarely even people who profess to ackowledge the truth of this axiom act on it.

I went to Hazebrouck because of its connection with my name. I had an excuse for a visit, and an explanation for why I was there. It was a reminder of the importance of taking advantage of these excuses, connections, and opportunties, no matter how tenuous.

But I didn't need this or any other excuse to visit Hazebrouck, or to visit other communities that are interesting precisely because of their "insignificance" to people in bigger and more self-important places. One of the particular benefits of bicycle travel, for example, is that it makes you not just pass through but spend time in places along the way that you may never have heard of before, and wouldn't have chosen as destinations for a separate trip.

There's no particular reason to visit Hazebrouck, and it isn't mentioned in most guidebooks. But that's true of most places. It's not the oldest, or the largest, or the most traditional town of the region, or the one that would-be visitors are likely to think of, or be directed to, as either most "typical" or the most "distinctive". But in reality, that makes it both more "authentically" its own place, and more representative of the vast majority of communities that aren't shaped by or for tourism.

Hazebrouck is located in present-day France, near the border with Belgium in an area that was a center of textile and later coal-mining industries. Hazebrouck's greatest period of growth was the 19th century, when it became a significant railway junction between France, Belgium, and the Channel ports at Calais and Dunkerque.

The most historically significant local events were during World War I, when Hazebrouck was a major supply center and evacuation route for casualties as the closest major railhead behind one of the most important sectors of the front lines of the Western allies. As many as several million allied soldiers passed through Hazebrouck during the war, some marching off trains and some carried back onto them shell-shocked, blinded from poison gas, or otherwise crippled. Unlike most of the towns in a broad arc around it, Hazebrouck was never occupied by the German forces, although one of the last German offensives of World War I was a failed attempt to cut off allied supplies by capturing the Hazebrouck railways. I've seen the name Hazebrouck in the lists of battlefields on British imperial war memorials from Edinburgh to Canberra.

But my Hasbrouck ancestors had left France centuries before any of this. They were Huguenots -- French Protestants -- who fled the religious pogroms instigated by the French royal family beginning with the the St. Bartholemew's Day massacre in 1592.

[Addendum: Robert Hasbrouck, president of the Hasbrouck Family Association, wrote to me after reading this article to point out that, "There is no proof that our American branch of the family had any link to the town, although, logically, it seems quite likely... I suspect our ancestors left (or were forced out) after converting to Protestantism.... The whole issue of our family name and ancestry is quite confusing, and the loss/destruction of records over the centuries has rendered it impossible to clarify."]

"Grants" of land in overseas colonies were especially attractive to refugees who had lost whatever ancestral land their families might have had in Europe. In the 1670s, after trying and failing to put down new roots in the Palatinate ("Pfalz") in what is now Germany, two Hasbrouck brothers including my seven-greats grandfather emigrated to the Dutch colony of the New Netherlands. They were among the first dozen European settlers of the town of New Paltz, on the Hudson River in what is now the state of New York. A generation later, in the 1750s, another presumably-related Huguenot named Haasbroek emigrated to a small town in the Dutch colonies in South Africa. There's a branch of the family in South Africa to this day, and my name was immediately recognized by many Afrikaaners when I was in South Africa a few years ago.

With 10,000 or more Hasbroucks and an active family genealogical and historical society in America, I expected that people in Hazebrouck would be bored at best, annoyed at worst, with Hasbrouck visitors from America. But nobody we talked to in Hazebrouck -- not the proprietor of the one hotel in the center of town, and not the staff of the tourist information office at city hall -- was even aware that there was a family in America named after the town. Nor had anyone we talked to in Hazebrouck ever before met anyone named Hasbrouck. For that matter, we didn't see any other obvious tourists while we were in Hazebrouck. The other guests at our hotel were all business travellers and tradesmen, and nobody else came into the large and prominent tourist information office while we were there.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. None of the members of my immediate family, all of whom have travelled in Europe, have ever bothered to go to Hazebrouck, not even to pass through and have their picture taken with the "Hazebrouck" signs on the railway platform or on the road into town before continuing their journey.

[Correction: After publishing this, I got a note from my sister to say that during a trip to continental Europe on one of her breaks from a year of college study abroad in England, "I did go through Hazebrouck on the train and looked out the window at the town."]

[Seal of the city of Hazebrouck: The Flemish lion holds the Hazebrouck hare ("haas").]

My Hasbrouck ancestors came from a place that today is in France (although less than 15 km or ten miles from the Belgian border), and their first community in America was initially Francophone. But my name is spelled in Dutch/Flemish fashion (not the French spelling of the name of the town), and the etymolgy of the names of both the town and the family, however they are spelled, are clearly Dutch/Flemish.

Ten generations later, should I say that my Hasbrouck ancestors came from France or from Flanders, or that my Hasbrouck ethnic "heritage" is French or Flemish or both? What does that mean? And how would either answer be understood or misunderstood by people who live in those places today?

Continue reading "A visit to Hazebrouck"
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