Sunday, June 17, 2018

Richard Wolff - Capitalist employers are economic dictators

Few businesses show the skewed dynamics between employer and employees as clearly as Amazon. Its CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, with his wealth estimated at around $130 billion. He admits the near impossibility of spending these riches and commits $1 billion a year of his “Amazon winnings” to fund a personal project of space travel. Back on Earth, Amazon’s 560,000 employees earn a median salary of $28,000, its warehouse workers face strict efficiency targets that lead some to relieve themselves in trash cans, and hundreds of Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania-based workers are on food stamps.

To understand why the relationship between employer and employee is so severely screwed, we have to look to capitalism. Capitalist businesses are starkly undemocratic. Employers are economic dictators. They wield enormous power and control that is unaccountable to the social majority around them: their employees and the communities in which they live. Employees’ labor produces profits, which belong 100 percent to the employers. Yet workers are excluded from decisions about how to use those profits. Instead, they depend on wages (set and controlled by the employer) as compensation for the work they produce. 

Employers’ decisions shape major aspects of employees’ lives, both at work and away from it. The employer alone decides which commodities to produce, what production technology to use (with what side effects), where to locate the workplace, as well as what to do with the profits. Celebrations of employers’ risks, used to justify their profits, rarely even recognize that workers, too, take risks in their dependence on employers (but without getting profits for doing so).

The skills employees develop, the personal connections they make, the seniority they accumulate, the home they invest in, their personal connections (in neighborhoods, schools, churches, etc.) ― always risk being lost or diminished by decisions exclusively in employers’ hands. Above all is the decision to end a worker’s job. While an employee deciding to leave a business will likely make little or no impact on an employer; employers’ decisions to, for example, relocate production overseas, or sell or close a business, carry huge risks for employees.

This undemocratic organization of production increasingly concentrates income and wealth, as well as economic power, in a tiny percentage of the population. Those concentrations dominate politics as well. Fundraising for political campaigns and policies tends to rely on those with the most resources to offer. Wealth translates into political influence. The result is a system of decisions that protect and strengthen capitalism…. read more:
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/capitalism-worker-cooperatives_us_5b1e6fdee4b09d7a3d752068

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mukul Kesavan - Killing conversation The death of Shujaat Bukhari

The deaths of Shujaat Bukhari and Gauri Lankesh have different local histories and a few all-India similarities. Lankesh and Bukhari were both journalists who had worked for what passes as the national English press before committing themselves to publications principally aimed at readerships in their states. After a career working for The Times of India and later Sunday, Lankesh took over her father's magazine, Lankesh Patrike, and then went on to edit the Gauri Lankesh Patrike, while Bukhari moved from being a correspondent with The Hindu to founding Rising Kashmir, an English newspaper based in Srinagar.

It isn't clear who Gauri Lankesh's killers were. Recent newspaper reports suggest that the police have closed in on a suspect affiliated to a vigilante organization notorious for communal goonery, the Sri Ram Sene, but there has been no trial or conclusive verdict. Similarly, no one has taken responsibility for Bukhari's assassination, though online suspicion ranges from jihadi separatists to the deep state. They were both shot by murderers on motorcycles, seemingly the preferred modus operandi for Indian assassins looking to silence dissenting journalists, intellectuals and rationalists. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, Malleshappa Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh are now joined in their violent deaths by Shujaat Bukhari.

These killings show that the journalists most at risk in India are those who report from a ground zero that is also their home. Bukhari, like Lankesh, was a journalist who had gone out into the world and then chosen to return, to produce a Kashmiri newspaper that wasn't a partisan mouthpiece, one that produced news about Kashmir which couldn't be dismissed either as jihadi press releases or inspired leaks from a sarkari stool pigeon. This didn't mean that he was a neutral; it would have taken inhuman detachment for a Kashmiri Muslim from the Valley to be even-handed about the violence visited upon his people by the State. What it did mean was that he was committed to keep the news flowing, to keep dialogue going, to supporting any process that would mitigate the violence that had engulfed the place he called home.

To stand up for his principles as a journalist in a conflict zone took courage of an order that few of us possess. To continue to do this despite having a young family, despite having been kidnapped before, living under armed guard, suspected of being a traitor both by fanatical militants and the increasingly communalized agencies of the State, was everyday heroism of an order that we're either too cynical or too embarrassed to acknowledge. For the social media choruses of the security State and think tank hawks, Bukhari was a 'soft-separatist' or a 'quasi-Islamist'. These hyphenated terms belong to a class of conspiratorial neologisms coined to demonize positions that right-wing Hindu supremacists dislike. 'Pseudo-secularist' is the most famous of these. In the same way as Bukhari was classified as a soft-separatist, Gauri Lankesh was tagged as an 'urban-Naxal' in the unhinged echo-chambers of the Hindu Right, hours after she was murdered.


In an article he wrote for the BBC in July 2016, immediately after the killing of Burhan Wani, Bukhari bore witness to the dangers of being an independent journalist in Kashmir... read more:
https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/killing-conversation-238189


Dan Sabbagh - British government ordered to open Amritsar massacre files

A tribunal has ordered that secret Downing Street files relating to Anglo-Indian relations at the time of the 1984 massacre at the Golden Temple of Amritsar must be made public.Campaigners say the Margaret Thatcher-era documents could reveal further information about the UK’s military role in the deaths of hundreds and possibly thousands at Sikhism’s holiest site following a violent assault by the Indian army in June 1984. 

The information tribunal said this week there was “a high public interest” in disclosure – partly in response to the “strength of feeling of the Sikh community in the UK and beyond” – and set aside objections from the Foreign Office, which said declassification could adversely affect the UK’s relations with India. The decision, which followed an appeal brought by journalist Phil Miller, is the latest step in a lengthy disclosure battle that began in 2014 after it emerged that an SAS officer had been dispatched in February 1984 with the approval of Thatcher to advise on Indian army plans to remove dissident Sikhs occupying the temple. 

Delhi gurdwaras to hail Indira Gandhi 's killers as martyrs? Why complain when Mahatma Gandhi's killers are lionised?

David Cameron, then prime minister, immediately ordered an inquiry by the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who examined government files and concluded that UK involvement was limited to the visit by the SAS officer. However, the official files were not made public as part of the Heywood review and there have since been legal attempts to force their disclosure.Bhai Amrik Singh, the chair of the Sikh Federation in the UK, said the judgment “confirms the Heywood review was limited and will add to the evidence we have already presented to prove it was a whitewash”. Singh called on Theresa May to consider holding a public inquiry. He said the prime minister “should not listen to those paranoid about our relations with India”.

KP Ramanunni - ‘Hindus have to come out and say: not in our religion’s name’

Some weeks ago, this year’s Sahitya Akademi winner and Malayalam novelist KP Ramanunni said he intended to atone for the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in a temple in Kathua, Jammu. This, he said, was his response as a Hindu and a believer. He said he was following the Gandhian tradition of personal atonement for a public evil. He said he would do a shayana pradakshinam (circumambulation of the sanctum sanctorum by rolling on the ground) along with others at the Sreekrishna Temple in Kadalayi, Kannur. In an appeal, he stated the reasons for his penance:

“The Hindus have a responsibility to show an example of resistance from their own platform of faith against the forces of evil. Because, the fundamental dharma of Hinduism is to pray for the well-being of all the world and stand with truth,” he wrote. He found support from the Kerala Samskrita Sanghom, an organisation of Left-leaning Sanskrit lovers, and a section of intellectuals, including poet and scholar K Satchidanandan. 

But when Ramanunni and two others, including a Hindu monk, declared that they would undertake the penance on June 7, many Hindutva bodies opposed the decision. On the designated day, the writer, accompanied by a large posse of police, activists and believers against and in support of the act, undertook the penance by following all the rituals and traditions of the temple.

Ramanunni’s act of atonement has raised a slew of questions. The Hindu right saw it as an anti-BJP political protest. Some felt it was a vacuous spectacle. A few felt secular politics ought not to enter temple spaces or engage with rituals, since that would lead to a validation of Hindu right-wing politics. Even the claim of the circumambulation being a Gandhian act of atonement has been questioned: Can such a singular, individualistic act revive the Gandhian political tradition in a state where the tradition has been marginalised? How different is it from the instrumentalist use of religion by politicians? There are no easy or simple answers to these questions.

For the 63-year-old Kozhikode based writer, this was one way to engage with other Hindus and believers. It was very much in line with the religious syncretism that underlines his fiction, from the much-celebrated Sufi Paranja Katha (A Tale Told By a Sufi, 1995) to his last work, Deivathinte Pustakam (The Book of God, 2017). A recent paper by the Left thinker, B Rajeevan, Sarva Dharma Samabhavana, which called for reclaiming religion from bigots by combining the thoughts of Gandhi, Ambedkar, Sree Narayana Guru and Marx and positing its subaltern self against communalism, inspired him. In this interview, Ramanunni speaks about his attempt to wrest back religious thought from hate. Excerpts:

What made you undertake the act of penance at the Kannur temple?
Every religion, I believe, is getting more and more radicalised and places of worship are increasingly turning into centres of crime. How does one address this issue? I don’t think a purely rationalist approach that excludes religious thought can provide any solution. There are democratic spaces and revolutionary strands within the religious sphere that could help resist communalism. I see Mahatma Gandhi as a practitioner of this sort of a politics. He called himself a sanatani Hindu and revolutionised Hinduism. The fraternal feelings he espoused for Muslims were part of his revolutionary understanding of religion. It was also a carefully thought-out moral and political strategy. The idea was to repair the communal divide the British had created in India. But this strand of political activism ended with him, there was no continuity. It also allowed Hinduism to become reactionary and communal. We need to revive the Hinduism of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Sree Narayana Guru, Gandhiji and so on.

Many Muslim groups openly declare that what organisations like the Islamic State preach and do is not Islam. Hindus, too, have to come out and say what is being done today in the name of Hinduism is not Hinduism.. read more:


Unassuming Australian nun takes on Rodrigo Duterte

Sister Patricia Fox, who has been threatened with deportation for crossing the Philippine president, vows she won’t go quietly

On Monday, Sister Patricia Fox is likely not to be at home. Normally, she spends the morning sitting in the walled front yard of the modest home in Quezon City, north-east of Manila, that she shares with six of her fellow nuns. Mornings, she says, are “lazy” time. She drinks tea, takes calls from friends and colleagues and prepares for an afternoon of voluntary work.

But on Monday, if her legal appeals fail, officers of the Philippines Government are expected to arrive, take her away and forcibly deport her – or worse. Jails in the Philippines are tough places.
The stick-thin 71-year-old nun doesn’t plan to let it happen. “I will go to ground,” she says. “I won’t tell you more, but I won’t be sitting around talking to journalists. They should not deport me when I have an appeal underway. And it won’t happen if I can help it.” Sister Fox has been living and working in the Philippines for more than 28 years without receiving a word of publicity. Now, she has sprung to international attention as the Australian nun who has riled a president.

In person, it is hard to imagine anyone less threatening. She needs her glasses to read, admits to scattiness and a forgetfulness when it comes to names. She used to be a school teacher, but claims she was “hopeless” – too soft and no discipline. She says she isn’t scared, though she has lost weight due to stress. Under it all, though, she is determined – and brave. In a turn of events that she admits to finding completely bemusing, her personal story has overshadowed the facts she was trying to bring to international attention when she managed to annoy the president.

For the first time in this interview, Fox revealed that hers is not the only case of deportation. Five other foreign nationals who worked with her have been targeted. One is in detention, two others have had their passports withdrawn, and two have left the country, one deported and one voluntarily. In all these cases, it has been judged for various reasons that publicity will not help. Fox will not reveal their identities... read more:

Friday, June 15, 2018

Prem Shankar Jha - If Modi Assassination Plot Letter Is Fake, Indian Democracy Is in for Dangerous Time

A two decade-long history of using false allegations, faked evidence, videos and news to manipulate public sentiment proves that the BJP will stop at nothing to ensure its return to power.

The letter allegedly recovered from the house of Rona Wilson, the Delhi-based public relations secretary of the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), which details a meeting in which Maoist leaders ‘decided to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’, needs to be treated with the utmost of scepticism. This is not only because of its suspicious convenience, for the discovery has come at a time when the BJP has lost a string of elections and by-elections to an increasingly unified, secular opposition. It is also because the letter contains virtually irrefutable evidence of having been doctored.

Holes in the narrative: Written by someone who signs off as ‘R’, it falls into two completely separate sections with not a single connecting word, reference or idea.  The first section – one single long paragraph – is a “nuts and bolts” discussion of tactics between “comrades”, where every word suggests that it is a part of a continuing conversation over day-to-day issues facing the party leader-ship. It contains numerous references to past meetings and decisions, to the need to provide relief to Maoist prisoners languishing in jails in Delhi, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh and to the legal strategy to be employed in their defence. It derides a key Maoist leader “Prashant’ and accuses him of foisting an “egoist agenda” upon the party that has ‘harmed its larger interests”.

It gives details of a programme formulated to defend the wheelchair-bound and 90% disabled professor of English from Delhi University, G.N. Saibaba, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a sessions court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, in March 2017 and to mobilise public opinion in his defence. At the end of this paragraph, the letter switches registers and refers to a meeting that discussed the need to raise Rs 8 crore to be exchanged for the next batch of M4 rifles and 400,000 rounds of ammunition, at “the APT crossover”. 


This stark jump continues in the second section, which is a grand, airy, declaration of strategic aims that is not only devoid of tactical detail, but is filled with inaccuracies. It begins by saying that “defeating Hindu fascism has been our core agenda and a major concern for the party”. This is factually and textually wrong. The aim of the Maoists has always been “to overthrow the government of India through people’s war”. Its opponent is not specifically Hindu fascism, but any “bourgeois” government that oppresses the poor.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rs 1.44 lakh crore: That’s the record bad loan write-off by banks in 2017-18. Who is the BJP/RSS government working for?

WEIGHED DOWN by huge losses and non-performing assets (NPAs), banks have written off a record Rs 1,44,093 crore of bad loans in the financial year ending March 2018 — up 61.8 per cent from Rs 89,048 crore in the previous year. The total loan write-off by private and state-owned banks in the last 10 years since 2009 has touched a whopping Rs 4,80,093 crore as on March 31, 2018 – 83.4 per cent of this amount, or Rs 400,584 crore, was from public sector banks, according to figures compiled by rating agency ICRA for The Indian Express. Of the write-off for 2017-18, Rs 1,20,165 crore loans were written off by public sector banks.


Banks normally resort to write-offs in the case of loans which are in the doubtful recovery category. “It is technical in nature. It’s a book adjustment. When a bad loan is written off, it goes out of the books of the bank. The bank will also get tax benefits. However, the bank will continue the recovery measures even after the loan is written off,” said Pradeep Ramnath, former chairman and MD of Corporation Bank. The last financial year was also the worst for the sector as banks were forced to stop evergreening of bad loans and go for NPA recognition amid huge losses to their government securities portfolio following the rise in bond yields… read more:
https://indianexpress.com/article/business/banking-and-finance/rs-1-44-lakh-crore-thats-the-record-bad-loan-write-off-by-banks-in-2017-18-bad-debt-npas-5218043/

India has 53,000 manual scavengers spread across 12 states; a four-fold rise from the last official count (data from 121 out of over 600 districts)

AN INTER-MINISTERIAL task force has counted up to 53,236 people involved in manual scavenging in India, a four-fold rise from the 13,000-odd such workers accounted for in official records until 2017. While the numbers are an improvement from before, when a majority of states denied the existence of the practice, it is still a gross underestimate as it includes data from only 121 of the more than 600 districts in the country. 

More importantly, it does not include those involved in cleaning sewers and septic tanks, and data from the Railways, which is the largest employer of manual scavengers. Of the 53,000 identified so far through the national survey, only a total of 6,650 have been confirmed officially by states in keeping with the tendency to under-report the prevalence of this practice.


The task force is expected to submit its final tally on the National Survey of Manual Scavengers by the end of this month.The survey was to be undertaken in 170 districts of 18 states where the maximum number of “insanitary latrines” were demolished and converted into “sanitary latrines”. However, according to official records, only 121 districts in 12 states have been covered — Bihar, J&K, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Telangana and West Bengal are yet to participate in the survey.
“Of the 12 states that cooperated with us for the survey, there was reluctance when it came to verifying the numbers identified by us,” a task force member said.


The maximum number of manual scavengers — 28,796 — have been registered in UP. States such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, which had earlier reported zero or about 100, have now upped their count. Moreover, much of urban India has not been included. This is because while data on insanitary to sanitary toilet conversion has been made available for rural areas, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, which is in charge of Swachh Bharat (Urban), has informed the Social Justice Ministry that such “data for is not maintained separately.”
https://indianexpress.com/article/india/53000-manual-scavengers-in-12-states-four-fold-rise-from-last-official-count-5218032/

Chris Hedges - The Coming Collapse // Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Trump’s disruptions may have more significance than who he is

It is impossible for any doomed population to grasp how fragile the decayed financial, social and political system is on the eve of implosion.

The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience, like that demonstrated by teachers around the country this year. If we do not stand up we will enter a new dark age.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Trump’s disruptions may have more significance than who he is
Trump’s disruptions signify three mutually reinforcing trends. First, he has signalled “end of the west” as a coherent ideological and geo-political entity by disrupting the G-7. Second, he is making it clear that America does not want to sustain Pax Americana. It is not willing to pay the price for it in terms of troops or financial commitments. Third, he is... rolling back post-Cold War globalisation. In any other context, these three trends would have warranted more reflection. The starkness with which he pursues them has also exposed the contradictions of dominant liberal approaches to international order...

The Democratic Party, which helped build our system of inverted totalitarianism, is once again held up by many on the left as the savior. Yet the party steadfastly refuses to address the social inequality that led to the election of Trump and the insurgency by Bernie Sanders. It is deaf, dumb and blind to the very real economic suffering that plagues over half the country. It will not fight to pay workers a living wage. It will not defy the pharmaceutical and insurance industries to provide Medicare for all. It will not curb the voracious appetite of the military that is disemboweling the country and promoting the prosecution of futile and costly foreign wars. It will not restore our lost civil liberties, including the right to privacy, freedom from government surveillance, and due process. It will not get corporate and dark money out of politics. It will not demilitarize our police and reform a prison system that has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners although the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population. It plays to the margins, especially in election seasons, refusing to address substantive political and social problems and instead focusing on narrow cultural issues like gay rights, abortion and gun control in our peculiar species of anti-politics.

Israel is about to destroy this Palestinian village. Will Britain step in? By David Zonsheine

Israel is intent on destroying the homes of the 173 Palestinians who live in the small shepherding 
community of Khan al-Ahmar, along with the school that serves 150 children from the area. Last month, Israel’s high court of justice removed the last obstacle to this barbaric act of demolishing an entire community in order to forcibly transfer its residents and take over their land. Israel has announced that the land from which these Palestinians will be evicted will serve to expand the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim.

The story of Khan al-Ahmar exemplifies Israel’s policy of expelling dozens of Palestinian communities from areas it plans to formally annex. To keep international criticism to a minimum, Israel usually tries to evict residents slowly by creating unbearable living conditions that force them to leave their homes, allegedly of their own free will. To that end, the authorities refuse to connect these communities to running water and power grids, do not authorise construction of homes or other structures and restrict their pastureland.


Now, emboldened by Donald Trump’s overt disdain for human rights – or basic human decency for that matter – and bolstered by the Israeli idea that the European Union is too weak to act decisively, the authorities have stepped up their efforts and issued demolition orders for all the structures in Khan al-Ahmar. Justice Noam Sohlberg, who wrote the ruling that rejected the petition against the execution of these orders, noted the “undisputed” premise that “construction in the Khan al-Ahmar compound, both the school and the dwellings, is unlawful”. He went on to argue that the court should not interfere in the state’s “law enforcement” actions… read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/14/israel-destroy-palestinian-village-khan-al-ahmar

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Tim Whitmarsh - Black Achilles

The Greeks didn’t have modern ideas of race. Did they see themselves as white, black – or as something else altogether?
Few issues provoke such controversy as the skin-colour of the ancient Greeks. Last year in an article published in Forbes, the Classics scholar Sarah Bond at the University of Iowa caused a storm by pointing out that many of the Greek statues that seem white to us now were in antiquity painted in colour. This is an uncontroversial position, and demonstrably correct, but Bond received a shower of online abuse for daring to suggest that the reason why some like to think of their Greek statues as marble-white might just have something to do with their politics. This year, it was the turn of BBC’s new television series Troy: Fall of a City (2018-) to attract ire, which cast black actors in the roles of Achilles, Patroclus, Zeus, Aeneas and others (as if using anglophone northern European actors were any less anachronistic). 

The idea of the Greeks as paragons of whiteness is deeply rooted in Western society. As Donna Zuckerberg shows in her book Not All Dead White Men (2018), this agenda has been promoted with gusto by sections of the alt-Right who see themselves as heirs to (a supposed) European warrior masculinity. Racism is emotional, not rational; I don’t want to dignify online armies of anonymous trolls by responding in detail to their assertions. My aim in this essay, rather, is to consider how the Greeks themselves viewed differences in skin colour. The differences are instructive – and, indeed, clearly point up the oddity of the modern, western obsession with classification by pigmentation.

Homer’s Iliad (a ‘poem about Ilion, or Troy’) and Odyssey (a ‘poem about Odysseus’) are the earliest surviving literary texts composed in Greek. For most other Greek literature, we have a more or less secure understanding of who the author was, but ‘Homer’ is still a mystery to us, as he was to most ancient Greeks: there is still no agreement whether his poems are the works of a single author or a collective tradition. 
The poems are rooted in ancient stories transmitted orally, but the decisive moment in stabilising them in their current form was the period from the 8th to the 7th centuries BCE. The siege of Troy, the central event in the mythical cycle to which the Homeric poems belong, might or might not be based on a real event that took place in the earlier Bronze Age, in the 13th or 12th century BCE. Historically speaking, the poems are an amalgam of different temporal layers: some elements are drawn from the contemporary world of the 8th century BCE, some are genuine memories of Bronze Age times, and some (like Achilles’ phrase ‘immortal glory’) are rooted in seriously ancient Indo-European poetics. There is a healthy dollop of fantasy too, as all Greeks recognised: no one ever believed, for example, that Achilles’ horses really could talk.... read more:


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bangladeshi communist writer Shahzahan Bachchu gunned down

The murder of Shahzahan Bachchu, a publisher, writer, and activist known for his support of secularism, is proof that free expression remains under grave threat in Bangladesh, PEN America said in a statement today. Bachchu, a writer and outspoken proponent of secular principles, owned the Bishaka Prakashani publishing house, which specialized in publishing poetry, and was a former district general secretary of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, was shot to death by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycles as he sat in a tea-shop in his home village Kakaldi in Munshiganj district 
on Monday evening. He died instantly, according to news reports

Although no group has claimed responsibility, police officials from the counter-terrorism department are investigating the murder as a possible targeted attack by Islamist extremists. Bachchu had previously received threats from extremist groups due to his outspoken support for secularism.

“The shocking news today of Shahzahan Bachchu’s murder is a grim reminder that the severe threat to individuals who express dissident views in Bangladesh remains unacceptably high,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We urge authorities to do everything in their power to investigate the killing and bring those responsible to justice, and for the government to state unequivocally that such attacks will not be tolerated. Impunity in such cases only encourages further assaults on free expression.”


Since 2013, religious extremists in Bangladesh have killed more than a dozen secular, atheistic, or non-Muslim writers, bloggers, and activists; in most cases, the government has been slow to respond or even condemn the attacks. In addition, the draconian Information and Communication Technology Act has served only to legitimize these assaults by criminalizing the very speech for which these writers face persecution from extremists. 

Though the government has increased efforts to curb fundamentalist violence, it has done so while concurrently expanded criminal prosecution of blasphemous speech, with dozens of cases filed in the past several years. PEN America has previously condemned the brutal killings of Bangladeshi writers, professors, and activists such as Xulhaz MannanAvijit Roy, and Rezaul Karim Siddique, among others, and continues to work on cases of other writers driven into exile by these threats.
https://pen.org/press-release/murder-of-secular-publisher-and-writer-shahzahan-bachchu-an-attack-on-free-expression-in-bangladesh/

Giant African baobab trees die suddenly after thousands of years

Some of Africa’s oldest and biggest baobab trees have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, according to researchers. The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and in some cases as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated. “We report that nine of the 13 oldest … individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years,” they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing “an event of an unprecedented magnitude”. 

“It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said the study’s co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania. Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs. While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular”. Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, “to support or refute this supposition”.

Between 2005 and 2017, the researchers probed and dated “practically all known very large and potentially old” African baobabs – more than 60 individuals in all. Collating data on girth, height, wood volume and age, they noted the “unexpected and intriguing fact” that most of the very oldest and biggest trees died during the study period. All were in southern Africa – Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.

The baobab is the biggest and longest-living flowering tree, according to the research team. It is found naturally in Africa’s savannah region and outside the continent in tropical areas to which it was introduced. It is a strange-looking plant, with branches resembling gnarled roots reaching for the sky, giving it an upside-down look. The iconic tree can live to be 3,000 years old, according to the website of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a natural baobab habitat.

The tree serves as a massive store of water, and bears fruit that feeds animals and humans. Its leaves are boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines, while the bark is pounded and woven into rope, baskets, cloth and waterproof hats... read more:



Monday, June 11, 2018

They saw their schoolmates shot dead - and they sing of love. Parkland Shooting Survivors at Tony Awards

At this year’s Tony Awards, students from the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School drama department in Parkland, Florida, survivors of the school’s Valentine’s Day massacre, performed the emotional Rent classic “Seasons of Love,” to remember their slain classmates and also celebrate their strength, resilience, and hope for the future.


How do you measure that year? In hate, in injustice, in bullets, shitty men, and darkness. But also, as those students proved, in compassion, grace, in education, fortitude, and so much love... Listen:
https://www.thedailybeast.com/tony-awards-parkland-shooting-survivors-deliver-emotional-performance-of-seasons-of-love?ref=home

Matthew d'Ancona - The ‘bad boys of Brexit’ have some big questions to answer

under our noses, a well-developed network of far-right and nationalist forces seems to have arisen, apparently digitally mobilised and funded by Russian state actors; the law regulating elections, campaigns and referendums is woefully out of date (passed 4 years before Facebook was launched); Moscow is laughing at the rest of the world as Trump pleads its case at the G7; the far-right swoons over Vladimir Putin; and Jeremy Corbyn misses no opportunity to give the Russian president the benefit of the doubt over the use of nerve agents on British soil..

NB: Worth considering: Putin, lifelong communist and KGB man, is now a Russian nationalist and promoter of racism and fascism. What remains is the KGB - under a new name. How smoothly ideological reflexes change! The West was led by the US-UK bloc for decades and interfered all over the world, both via subterfuge and direct military action. Greece, Chile, Congo, Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Iraq etc.. an endless list. Now the boot is on the other foot and we are waxing eloquent and indignant about Russian interference. A dose of honest reflection is needed. DS

As Verbal Kint says in The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” And, as we have fresh reason to reflect this weekend, it appears that certain key Brexiteers may have played a similar trick. The popular view of them as a bunch of cheeky chaps is being challenged: their actions increasingly regarded as fitting the agenda of a global network of the populist right that stretches from Moscow to the Trump White House via the surging nationalist parties of continental Europe.

Stories in the Observer and Sunday Times about key figures in the Leave.EU campaign and their connection to Russian diplomats and businessmen are scoops of degree rather than kind. We have known for two years that Arron Banks, the pro-Brexit tycoon, and his closest henchman, Andy Wigmore, visited the Russian embassy in November 2015, just as we have long been aware of the links between Leave.EU and the Trump campaign.


What has now been revealed is the sheer scale of these contacts – including a lunch between Banks, Nigel Farage and Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador, just three days after the Leave.EU team had been granted an audience with president-elect Trump in November 2016. It appears that there were multiple meetings between Banks, Wigmore and senior Russian officials between 2015 and 2017. It also appears that the ambassador offered to help Banks broker a deal involving six goldmines in Siberia. This does not seem, in other words, to be routine schmoozing or glad-handing. It has the whiff of a nexus, suggesting a purpose, or multiple purposes… read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/10/bad-boys-brexit-questions-answer-arron-banks

Bharat Bhushan - ‘Half-Maoists’: When less is more

We are witnessing the creation of a new public enemy - the ‘Urban Naxalite’. The term describes not only over-ground Maoist sympathisers, of which there are bound to be some, but  also encompasses a larger amorphous population of those who sympathise with the condition of India’s most marginalised – Dalits and Adivasis. Arun Jaitley, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s wordsmith, has ingeniously designated them ‘Half Maoists’ a la Chetan Bhagat.

The etymology of the term can be traced to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had described Aam Adami Party chief Arvind Kejriwal as an anarchist who may as well join the Naxalites, while campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections in 2015. By July 2016, Manoj Tiwari, elevated to party chief in the national capital, had begun calling Arvind Kejriwal an ‘Urban Naxalite’. With the recent indictment of Dalit activists and lawyers by the Pune police, the term has moved beyond the BJP’s political lexicon. It has been appropriated by law enforcement agencies in the discourse of public security. The question is: Will this strategy of displacement deflect attention away from the government’s policy failure towards the poor?

Two major problems in the way of the re-election of the Modi government are – the alienation of Dalits and the plummeting popularity of Prime Minister Modi. Somebody has to carry the can for policy failures. Blaming the old enemy, the “beef-eating” minority communities, will not work. A new one will have to be found. The government was unable to predict the huge participation in the Dalit agitations from Bhima-Koregaon on Januray 1 to the Bharat Bandh called on April 2. It could not identify those responsible. The intelligence agencies have attributed the April 2 Bharat Bandh to ‘Urban Naxalites’, organised apparently through word-of-mouth and WhatsApp groups. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Delhi Police Archive on RSS activity in October-December 1947

The documents contained in the link below are a replica of Delhi Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) files on RSS activity and plans October-December 1947. They are part of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library archive; and listed as (click for access):

D P Records 5th Instalment Home-47 File 138

Among other places, the files have been cited by Ramchandra Guha in an article in Outlook magazine in 2005; an article on Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in Catchnews by Bharat Bhushan in 2016; and in an article on M.S. Golwalkar's ideology by Hartosh Singh Bal in Caravan in 2017. I have referred to it in a post on the Supreme Court's admission of a libel case in 2016. These articles may be useful for readers interested in the significance of the archive.

[ As a matter of caution, we should keep in mind the doctoring of Mahatma Gandhi's Collected Works under the first NDA government (1998): Brazen attempt to 'revise' Gandhi's Collected Works. Hundreds of deletions and changes were noticed by scholars in India and around the world, who viewed them as an insult to scholarship, and demanded an end to attempts to play with historical documents. Read the history of the controversy. Tridip Suhrud wrote a detailed analysis of this shameless behaviour in EPW in November 2004. It was only after the defeat of the NDA that the fraudulently 'revised' edition was withdrawn, in 2005. Another example of the manipulation of records was the manner in which the case file in the 2007 terror case involving Swami Aseemanand 
(which also involved top leaders of the RSS) went 'missing', causing the dismissal of the case and the (attempted) retirement of the judge.]

The following extract from a CID source report dated 27 Dec 1947 may be of interest. It covers a secret meeting of RSS members in Delhi on December 8, 1947, addressed by 'Guruji' Golwalkar; who is quoted as saying: "The Sangh will not rest until it had finished Pakistan. If anyone stood in our way we will have to finish him too, whether it was Nehru government or any other government. The Sangh could not be won over. They should carry on their work. Referring to Muslims he said that no power on earth could keep them in Hindusthan. They shall have to quit this country. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to keep the Muslims in India so that the Congress (may) profit by their votes at the time of election. But, by that time, not a single muslim will be left in India. 

If they were made to stay here, the responsibility would be Government’s, and the Hindu community would not be responsible. Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course also."

Six weeks after this meeting, there took place the January 20 Gandhi murder attempt.

And ten days after that, Gandhiji was dead.
Bharat Bhushan - Did Pranab make a Faustian bargain?
The emperor's masks

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Javed Iqbal - Gadchiroli Ground Zero: The Adivasi Struggle Against Displacement

Gadchiroli (Maharashtra): Over 76 trucks and heavy moving vehicles from the Surjagad mining site or Thakurdev, the holy mountain for the Madia Gond adivasis, have been burnt in Gadchiroli in the past few months. Two adivasi women, who accused the special anti-Naxal force of rape, have been ‘kidnapped’, and many village elders and anti-mining activists have been arrested.

In the middle of that, two anti-mining adivasi activists recently won the zilla parishad (ZP) elections. Sainu Gotta, a political leader who was previously a ZP member between 1992-1997, and Lalsu Nogoti, an Indian Law Society’s Law College (ILS) alumni lawyer and activist, won from Gattapad and Bamragad respectively. Along with them is Mahesh Raut, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) alumni, who has been actively working with the adivasis of Gadchiroli since 2011. “I didn’t come here to work with the people,” he said. “People were working from the beginning itself, I just joined them, learned from them and started working with them.”

Raut is also a central convener and committee member of the Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) in Jharkhand, which, along with the Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, was recently accused of working as a front organisation for the CPI (Maoist) by the central government. “We ran for the zilla parishad elections here in Gadchiroli and won. And people now say the Maoists have entered the zilla parishad,” Mahesh laughs. “I want to ask, if the Maoists entered electoral politics, then isn’t their entire ideology of the past 50 years finished?”

The Wire met Mahesh and Lalsu in Gadchiroli on the day they had been campaigning to directly provide tenders to the adivasis for tendu patta collection, instead of working through middlemen. “We’re actually all gram sabha activists, that is our main work.” One hot afternoon in Hemalkasa village in Bhamragad block, they had invited contractors to openly and transparently apply for a tender in a public meeting with members of numerous gram sabhas. In three meetings so far, none of the contractors agreed to the minimum fixed price for the adivasis and their respective sabhas. “Looks like the time is up for them to put their tenders,” announced Lalsu at the public meeting. “We should remind them again that we are the masters of our forests.” All of them had vastly different journeys but are at the forefront of the latest development versus mining quandary the state and the people find themselves in.

To begin with, what exactly happened outside the lawyer’s office at Nagpur where two adivasi women, who alleged rape against the security forces, and activists, who tried to bring them to court, were arrested by the police?

Mahesh: On January 20, near Etapalli there was an incident near Gattapad. Two women from Naitala village of Chattisgarh were visiting their families in Maharashtra. Later, their family had approached our movement, and spoken to Sheela Gotta, who was an ex-sarpanch and now is a sabha samiti sadasya, and they told her that their girls are missing. Later, they went inquiring and they found out that at Gottagutta, the police had brought them in the morning and taken them to Gattapad police station. When the families approached the police they said that they had to make some inquiries and the women were with them. When they were released, they went to a nearby village where a lot of people gathered around them and that was when the women told Sheela that the C60 (Maharashtra’s special anti-Naxal force) had misbehaved with them. They had been physically assaulted and abused. This is what the women themselves had shared with us... read more:


Pakistan: Remembering Charanjit Singh. By Khaled Ahmed

On May 22, a prominent Sikh of Peshawar was shot dead in his shop. Charanjit Singh represented his community as a member of Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh, and was loyal to Pakistan. He was not the first Sikh to be killed in Peshawar. A Sikh doctor, minister of minorities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was killed in 2016 by the Taliban — it had killed 10 Sikhs in 2013-14 as well.

The reaction to the killing of Charanjit Singh has been intense grief. But the tendency to blame someone else, and not the internal disorder, remains. Readers sending in their reactions to newspapers mostly blamed “external enemies” while knowing that the “internal” enemy, the Taliban, had killed Charanjit. The community was also harassed in Kurram (tribal) Agency where the Taliban was also decimating Shias. All minorities in Pakistan are at risk. In 2013, suicide bombers blew up the All Saints Church in Peshawar, killing nearly 100 worshipers.


Pakistan can’t prevent such killings because it has allowed sovereignty to flee most of its territory. Its ideology causes certain elements to break loose from the law because they disagree over the manner in which Pakistan enforces religious law. Al Qaeda didn’t take long to make it public that Pakistan was not really Islamic. Among several edicts it avoided enforcing was the abolition of modern banking. The Taliban think Pakistan is a pagan country because it avoids implementing the sharia.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Maoist ideologue says ‘plot’ to assassinate PM concocted to prop up Modi’s image

NB: You may well be correct comrade Rao, but the fact is that there is a long history of Maoist violence, is there not? What is needed is a reconsideration of the entire Naxalite programme and outlook, and the disavowal of violence  - something I have argued for decades. In any case, is it not clear that it is the 'Sangh Parivar' that is campaigning to overthrow the constitution? All other extremist projects such as 'revolution' only help them in this design. They have the support of a large section of the establishment and can carry out their projects much more efficiently than the Maoists. The challenge is to protect democracy and the rule of law, which is the last defence of the oppressed. Please consider the arguments contained here. DS

Revolutionary writer and Maoist ideologue P Vara Vara Rao on Friday rubbished the Pune police’s claims that they have seized an incriminating letter that quotes him as being part of a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Pune police told a court on Thursday that they had seized a letter from the Delhi residence of Rona Wilson Jacob, one of the five people arrested on Wednesday for having alleged links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Besides discussing the possibility of a “Rajiv Gandhi-like incident” involving Modi, the letter also mentions a plan to purchase M-4 rifles and four lakh rounds of ammunition at a cost of Rs 8 crore.

The letter then goes on to cite Rao and Surendra Gadling, an advocate who was also arrested by the Pune police in Mumbai, as the Maoists’ guiding force in carrying out successful attacks. A mention was also made of Rao and Gadling allegedly arranging funds for the purpose.

Speaking to mediapersons in Hyderabad, Rao said he knew Gadling and Jacob but was not involved in any plot to kill Modi. “The people arrested by the Pune police had all been working for the downtrodden and the release of political prisoners. They are not involved in murder politics,” he added. Alleging that the plot was concocted by the Pune police to prop up Modi’s image, Rao said Maoists in the country do not have the practical ability to assassinate the Prime Minister. “In any case, I have absolutely nothing to do with the claims made in the letter. The police cannot do anything other than arrest me and foist false cases against me,” said Rao.
https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/maoist-ideologue-says-plot-to-assassinate-pm-concocted-to-prop-up-modi-s-image/story-uEJ0FBqUZ0KicJz9KS7uDJ.html

Naxalites should lay down their arms and challenge the ruling class to abide by the Constitution

Bharat Bhushan - Did Pranab make a Faustian bargain?

NB: The central aim of all communal organisations is the destruction of the very idea of the rule of law; the erasure of the distinction between legal and illegal violence. A glaring example of this is the appearance of Mohan Bhagwat side by side with DIG Vanzara, accused in the Ishrat Jehan murder case. (Here's another cutting; and here is some more information on this retired policeman). What is taking place in front of us is the creeping establishment of a totalitarian regime, what is known as an ideocracy, and what Hannah Arendt referred to as 'a secret society established in broad daylight'. 

We are so obsessed with political parties that we forget the crucial features of a liberal democracy: an independent judiciary, a free press and a reliable criminal justice system. These structures were ideals (barely realised) embedded in the Indian Constitution. Communal organisations have - openly and by stealth - attempted to erode these institutions and practices since the birth of the Indian Union. The danger was so grave that the national leadership (that included Sardar Patel) resolved, on November 16, 1947, that: The All India Congress Committee has noted with regret that there is a growing desire on the part of some organizations to build up private armies. Any such development is dangerous for the safety of the State and for the growth of corporate life in the nation. The State alone should have its defence forces or police or home guards. The activities of the Muslim National Guards, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Akali Volunteers and such other organizations represent an endeavour to bring into being private armies, (and) must be regarded as a menace to the hard-won freedom of the country.. (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol 97, p 480). Read more here.

In this matter, it is the ideology of communalism that is more significant than parties or groups. In 1984 took place the communal carnage in Delhi, followed by the sabotage of justice, and the shift of the BJP's vote to the Congress. This criminalisation of the Indian state has unfolded since 1947, when a communal movement led by the Muslim League acquired control over a vast segment of undivided India, resulting in the gradual emergence of an ideological state in Pakistan and the strengthening of fascist  tendencies in India. The development of Indian fascism has been a long-drawn out process. 

And now Mr Mukerjee has seen fit to lend his stature to a project, the core of which is untrammelled violence and intimidation. (Here is some information on the founder of the RSS, whom he described as a great son of Mother India). Once the chief custodian of our Constitution, he has, by choosing to certify the 'patriotic' credentials of the RSS, abetted their attempt to transform the Indian Union into an ideological dictatorship. He has not only sacrificed his own dignity, but thrown the frail structure of Indian justice into a cesspit. For reasons (perhaps of spite, but who can say?) of his own, he chose to stab - metaphorically speaking -  the Indian Constitution though the heart. May God have mercy on his soul. We will recover from this bleak scenario only if Indians can imbibe anew the values for which Mahatma Gandhi gave his life. DS

The RSS is the main beneficiary of the carefully choreographed event in Nagpur. It took the most iconic living Congressman and showed the hollowness of his secular ideals. The Hindutva ideologues have successfully demonstrated that even those coming from a self-confessed politics of secularism are only men of straw.

There can be no dialogue with ideological certitude. The Jews could not have had a dialogue with Adolf Hitler. The Americans could not have had a dialogue with Osama bin Laden. And the Syrians or the Iraqis can’t sit across the table and convince the Islamic State of the futility of its millennial dreams. A fascist mind functions with incredible clarity essentially because it is closed. Only those with delusions of grandeur think that they can talk fascism out of fascists. Was former President Pranab Mukherjee indulging in a dialogue of the deaf with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at the passing-out parade of its proselytisers or “pracharaks”, which the RSS, in military style, calls  its “officers’ training course”? That is certainly what RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat seemed to suggest in welcoming President Mukherjee with the observation: “The Sangh will remain the Sangh and Pranab Mukherjee will remain Pranab Mukherjee”

It was predestined, therefore, that there would be no conclusion about what constitutes Indian nationalism or the idea of India at Nagpur. The future of India will be decided by the people of India and not by two old men holding hands on stage. 

The unspeakable truth about slavery in Mauritania


For all the government’s denials, slavery persists in Mauritania. In a rare insight into the lives of the tens of thousands of people affected, photojournalist Seif Kousmate spent a month photographing and interviewing current and former slaves. While there, he was arrested and imprisoned by police, who confiscated his memory cards, phone and laptop

In 1981, Mauritania made slavery illegal, the last country in the world to do so. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people – mostly from the minority Haratine or Afro-Mauritanian groups – still live as bonded labourers, domestic servants or child brides. Local rights groups estimate that up to 20% of the population is enslaved, with one in two Haratinesforced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.

Slavery has a long history in this north African desert nation. For centuries, Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, resulting in a rigid caste system that still exists to this day, with darker-skinned inhabitants beholden to their lighter-skinned “masters”. Slave status is passed down from mother to child, and anti-slavery activists are regularly tortured and detained. Yet the government routinely denies that slavery exists in Mauritania, instead praising itself for eradicating the practice.

Members of Mauritania’s leading anti-slavery organisation, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), hope to oust the majority Arab-Berber government in national elections next year. The IRA leader, Biram Ould Abeid – a former slave who was imprisoned for years before coming second in 2014’s national elections – has vowed to remove President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who came to power in a 2008 coup and has since dismantled the Senate in what critics see as a bid to broaden his powers… read more and see photos:

Franco's cruel legacy: the film that wants to stop Spain forgetting. By Sam Jones

At the heart of the film is the contradiction summed up by one of the lawyers in the case, the late human rights specialist Carlos Slepoy: “When someone is murdered it is clear: the courts must prosecute the criminal. “Yet when we talk about genocide, or crimes against humanity, it’s not so clear. Instead, people start looking for arguments – ‘it was a long time ago’, ‘it’s better to forget’, ‘we must turn the page’.”

The Silence of Others, backed by Pedro Almodóvar, seeks to end amnesia over dictator’s victims
Chato Galante returns to the jail cell where he was imprisoned as a 24-year-old for opposing the Franco dictatorship. Photograph: Almudena Carracedo Chato Galante, who was stripped of his youth in the prison cells and torture rooms of Franco’s Spain, likes to joke that he is an “unrepentant optimist”. He has had to be.
María Martín sits by the road which covers the mass grave containing her mother’s remains
María Martín sits by the road which covers the mass grave containing her 
mother’s remains. Photograph: Almudena Carracedo
Almost half a century has passed since he was beaten and jailed for his efforts to fight the dictatorship, but he remains confident that justice will be done, that his torturers will answer publicly for their crimes and that his convictions will be overturned. Equally optimistic is Paqui Maqueda. Sooner or later, she says, Spain will find the courage to confront the Franco years and their insidious legacy. Perhaps then she will establish what happened to her elder brother, who is thought to have been one of the thousands of children secretly and systematically stolen from their mothers at birth to be placed with less “degenerate” families.

Galante and Maqueda’s stories feature in an award-winning documentary due to be shown at Sheffield Doc/Fest on Saturday that examines the enduring consequences of the amnesty law and the “pact of forgetting” that facilitated Spain’s return to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975.
The Silence of Others, directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, chronicles the fight for justice as well as the search for the stolen children and the 100,000 bodies still thought to lie in unmarked civil war graves. Pedro and Agustín Almodóvar are the film’s executive producers.
“Part of it was trying to understand how all of this is possible,” says Carracedo... read more:


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Organic matter found on Mars, Nasa reveals in major announcement


Nasa’s Curiosity rover has found organic matter preserved on Mars, in a discovery that could suggest it was once home to life. The molecules represent an intriguing suggestion that Mars has been far more alive than we ever knew. While the discovery does not shed light on whether Mars was once home to alien life, and whether it could still be, the findings could be the result of ancient life there. 

“The chances of being able to find signs of ancient life with future missions, if life ever was present, just went up,” said Curiosity’s project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.  Experts say that the findings should propel us to look for conclusive evidence of alien life living on the planet. 

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa headquarters in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.” The new announcement is actually the result of two new studies that reveal vast detail about how methane exists on the planet, as well as the unexpected organic molecules that are preserved in its soil.

Jyotsna Vijapurkar - Unimportance of the right answer

The attempt to find an answer is not only fun, but also the best part of learning. It develops thinking, concentration, resilience, and perhaps even tells you something about yourself. In other words, the path to the solution is equally, if not more important than, the solution itself. Remove this, and concentrate on the solution alone, and you deprive the learner of a rich opportunity to explore all manner of things.

Not only the student, but the teacher too loses something valuable in such practice: An opportunity to learn the workings of the student’s mind — whether it’s a beautiful solution to a problem, something the teacher or textbook writer hadn’t thought of, or the reason the student did not get the solution right away. The “mistakes” students make are wonderful windows through which you can look into the workings of their minds, particularly with young students who may not be able to articulate whether or not they understood something.


As teachers, once we get an idea of how or what the student is thinking, we can incorporate these insights into our teaching. And in doing so, keep our teaching practice from becoming a tedious one — teaching the same lessons over and over again, in the same manner, even difficult ones that only a few students can really understand... read more:
http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/unimportance-of-the-right-answer-indian-education-system-students-courses-5208667/