Saturday, June 15, 2019

Clive Irving - America's Chernobyl

Indeed, climate change can be seen like a slow motion version of Chernobyl on a far larger scale - a runaway failure of control over forces of enormous energy with the entire planet at risk. In responding to it the White House has come to resemble a kind of bastard combination of deregulated capitalism and Soviet-style perversion of language, an American version of the politburo.

HBO’s Chernobyl is terrifying and engrossing drama but its creator, Craig Mazin, also intended it to be a modern parable. He says he was motivated partly to present it as a riposte to the global war on truth. Actually, it can be seen as more than that. It serves as a salutary warning of the global war on scientific truth. The villain of the story is not a single character but the collective Soviet system of governance. George Orwell nailed the essence of this style of totalitarianism when he wrote, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

In Mazin’s narrative there are two kinds of casualties. As the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant unspools, some of the lead players are radiated into a mass of pustules. But the first casualty on screen is truth – delivered in the opening scene when the saint and martyr of the story, Valery Legasov, played with perfect pitch by Jared Harris, utters the thematic message: “What is the cost of lies? Can we no longer recognize the truth at all?”

Later in Moscow the assembled apparatchiks, seated before their leader Mikhail Gorbachev, do their best to swat away Legasov’s warning that if they don’t get their act together fast a vast swath of Central Europe will be rendered uninhabitable for 100 years. Gorbachev, viewed by history as the decisive mortician of the Soviet Union, is portrayed here as surprisingly irresolute. You sense that he might well be asking, like Henry II, “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

I found some of these scenes riskily close to Armando Iannucci’s masterful parody The Death of Stalin where the politburo reaches levels of self-abasement worthy of Mitch McConnell. But Mazin is deadly serious in setting up Legasov as a whistleblower who will eventually be crushed and rendered into a nonperson as the system closes ranks. And that’s where Chernobyl - not as drama but as parable - misleads and misfires. It lulls us into the false comfort of believing that only a system as decayed as Russia’s could so ruthlessly treat scientific truth as a disobliging heresy, even when millions of lives could be at risk by suppressing it.

To see it that way in Trump’s America would be the ultimate hypocrisy. The Trump administration is engaged in an attack on scientific truth every bit as brazen as anything in the history of the Soviet Union as it sweeps aside all warnings about the consequences of climate change. Indeed, climate change can be seen like a slow motion version of Chernobyl on a far larger scale - a runaway failure of control over forces of enormous energy with the entire planet at risk. In responding to it the White House has come to resemble a kind of bastard combination of deregulated capitalism and Soviet-style perversion of language, an American version of the politburo... read more:

Friday, June 14, 2019

Climate change: We must transform our lives and values to save this burning planet. By Susanna Rustin

The climate crisis differs from a war because it does not have an end – or not in the same way. And while there is an enemy, in the hugely powerful fossil fuel industry and the politicians who are its backers, this is a much harder foe to identify than a foreign power. As for the Green New Deal, there is a risk that it can be made to sound too much like a leftwing utopia.

The case for action to tackle the climate emergency, on a scale far beyond anything that has yet been attempted, is increasingly widely understood. Almost three decades after the first UN climate treaty was agreed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and despite the commitments thrashed out among nation states at every summit since, global carbon emissions last year rose to a record 37.1bn tonnes. In October, UN scientists warned that within 12 years a target of 1.5C of global heating would be out of reach. Above this level, temperature increases are predicted to cause colossal disruption: 10 million more people displaced as a consequence of higher sea levels; greatly increased risk of fires, drought and extreme weather of all kinds; shrinkage of plant and insect habitats with massive effects on agriculture as well as nature; the extinction of coral.

Thankfully, and due to efforts by activists as well as scientists, in some parts of the world the climate emergency is finally receiving some of the attention it deserves. Last month’s elections to the European parliament saw Greens win nearly 10% of the seats. For a week in Britain at the end of April, when four sites in London were occupied by Extinction Rebellion activists, and the Swedish school striker Greta Thunberg met party leaders in Westminster, the story dominated the national news. This was a stunning achievement by campaigners, and appears to have had an effect. 

An opinion poll last week showed the environment overtaking every other issue apart from Brexit and health among voters’ priorities.... The Green New Deal embraced by leftwing US Democrats and elsewhere is the best chance we have. Economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote recently that we should think of the response to climate change as a “third world war”. It is helpful to have a historical analogy on which to draw, when thinking about the transformation that is needed if we are to avoid a descent into chaos and dystopia. To be paralysed by panic would be a disaster. But there are also big differences between the situation human civilisation faces now, and any we have ever faced before.

Khaled Ahmed: Cricket and religion have combined to impose disturbing piety in Pakistan

The case of leg-break bowler and test player S F Rehman is serious. He is now Maulana Sheikh Fazlur Rahman Al Azhari following the Wahhabi path of Islam - this after an MA degree and a PhD in Islamiat, and going to Cairo to embrace the “hard Islam” of Wahhabism, which rejects the 'imitative' jurisprudence of Pakistani Islam. He defended the killer of Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, saying that the act represented a reaction against 'liberalism' that aims 'to destroy all faiths'

Does cricket lead to religious piety? Or is religious piety so deeply ingrained in certain players that they go “pious”, which in Pakistan means growing a flowing beard, shaving off the moustache and putting a cap on? In Pakistan it is not a “phase” that you outgrow - it is a permanent transformation. And, it seems to pay off. In India, former cricketer Gautam Gambhir has embraced Hindutva but it is not the same thing. In Pakistan, you can even become the prime minister.

In the case of Imran Khan, it is all explained in his book Pakistan: A Personal History (2011), where he recalls the “early signs” of being “chosen”. He writes: “Pir Gi from Sahiwal said I would be very famous and make my mother a household name.” But the man who stood by him as his spiritual mentor was Mian Bashir, who shocked him by naming the Quranic verse his mother used to read to baby Imran. Bashir also predicted that Allah had turned the tables in Khan’s favour in the Allan Lamb-Ian Botham libel suit whose reparations would have pauperised Khan.

Till the 1992 World Cup, no one prostrated before Allah Almighty after getting a rival player out or scoring a century. Today, it is an unspoken rule. The selector, former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, is today heavily bearded. He was the one who “changed” during his captaincy and “persuaded” the entire team to “embrace Islam”. In the book, White on Green (2016), Richard Heller and Peter Osborne note the “piety” trend gaining ground after preachers like Dr Israr of Lahore called cricket a lascivious anti-Islam entertainment with Khan rubbing the cricket ball “sinfully” in the “groin area”.

Before Khan, another captain, Fazal Mahmood, had suddenly become Islamic after retirement from the police department, writing a book, Urge to Faith (1970), indicating that something indeed happens to famous sportsmen forced to stay away from normal life during their careers. Before Khan, there was the former captain Saeed Ahmad who first “played around”, marrying and divorcing a “society girl”, before growing a beard and joining tableeghi jamaat that has transformed many other cricketers since: Ahmad himself often barged into dressing rooms and treated the team to sermons of piety... read more:

More articles by Khaled Ahmed

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Indian villages lie empty as drought forces thousands to flee

In the city of Beed, clean drinking water has run out and households do not have enough water to wash clothes, clean dishes or flush the toilet. Hospitals are filling up with people suffering from dehydration – and gastrointestinal disease from drinking contaminated water. Residents who can afford it pay private water tankers the equivalent of £3 for 1,000 litres of water. Many end up in hospital – even cows refuse to drink the muddy and salty liquid that has been dredged from the bottom of exhausted dams and lakes. 'Over the last one-and-half months, there has been a 50% rise in the number of patients suffering from diarrhoea, gastritis etc,' said Sandeep Deshmukh, a doctor at the Beed Civil hospital.

About 20,000 villages in Maharashtra are grappling with a severe drinking water crisis, with no water left in 35 major dams. In 1,000 smaller dams, water levels are below 8%. The rivers that feed the dams have been transformed into barren, cracked earth.

Hundreds of Indian villages have been evacuated as a historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water. The country has seen extremely high temperatures in recent weeks. On Monday the capital, Delhi, saw its highest ever June temperature of 48C. In Rajasthan, the city of Churu recently experienced highs of 50.8C, making it the hottest place on the planet.

Further south, less than 250 miles from the country’s commercial capital, Mumbai, village after village lies deserted. Estimates suggest up to 90% of the area’s population has fled, leaving the sick and elderly to fend for themselves in the face of a water crisis that shows no sign of abating.
The village of Hatkarwadi, about 20 miles from Beed in Maharashtra state, is almost completely deserted. Wells and handpumps have run dry in the 45C heatwave. The drought, which officials say is worse than the 1972 famine that affected 25 million people across the state, began early in December. By the end of May, Hatkarwadi had been deserted with only 10-15 families remaining out of a population of more than 2,000.

With 80% of districts in neighbouring Karnataka and 72% in Maharashtra hit by drought and crop failure, the 8 million farmers in these two states are struggling to survive. More than 6,000 tankers supply water to villages and hamlets in Maharashtra daily, as conflict brews between the two states over common water resources. The acute water shortage has devastated villagers’ agriculture-based livelihood. Crops have withered and died, leaving livestock starving and with little to drink. Major crops, including maize, soya, cotton, sweet lime, pulses and groundnuts – drivers of the local economy – have suffered...
read more:

George Monbiot: Toxic personalities thrive in toxic environments.

If success within the system requires psychopathic traits, there is something wrong with the system.

A few years ago, the psychologist Michelle Roya Rad listed the characteristicsof good leadership. Among them were fairness and objectivity; a desire to serve society rather than just yourself; a lack of interest in fame and attention; and resistance to the temptation to hide the truth or make impossible promises. Conversely, a paper in the Journal of Public Management and Social Policy has listed the characteristics of leaders with psychopathic, narcissistic or Machiavellian personalities. These include: a tendency to manipulate others; a preparedness to lie and deceive to achieve your ends; a lack of remorse and sensitivity; and a desire for admiration, attention, prestige and status. Which of these lists, do you think, best describes the people vying to lead the Conservative party?

In politics, almost everywhere we see what looks like the externalisation of psychic wounds or deficits. Sigmund Freud claimed that “groups take on the personality of the leader”. I think it would be more accurate to say that the private tragedies of powerful people become the public tragedies of those they dominate. For some people, it is easier to command a nation, to send thousands to their deaths in unnecessary wars, to separate children from their families and inflict terrible suffering, than to process their own trauma and pain. What we appear to see in national politics around the world is a playing out in public of deep private distress.

This could be a particularly potent force in British politics. The psychotherapist Nick Duffell has written of “wounded leaders”, who were separated from their families in early childhood when they were sent to boarding school. They develop a “survival personality”, learning to cut off their feelings and project a false self, characterised by a public display of competence and self-reliance. Beneath this persona is a profound insecurity, which might generate an insatiable need for power, prestige and attention. The result is a system that “consistently turns out people who appear much more competent than they actually are”.

The problem is not confined to these shores. Donald Trump occupies the most powerful seat on Earth, yet still he appears to seethe with envy and resentment. “If President Obama made the deals that I have made,” he claimed this week, “the corrupt media would be hailing them as incredible … With me, despite our record-setting economy and all that I have done, no credit!” No amount of wealth or power seems able to satisfy his need for affirmation and assurance... read more:

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ben Steverman - The Wealth Detective Who Finds the Hidden Money of the Super Rich

The minimum amount Zucman calculated the wealthy stash in offshore accounts: $7.6 trillion
The tools Zucman has identified to date challenge a series of assumptions, fiercely held by many economists and policymakers, about how the world works: That unfettered globalization is a win-win proposition. That low taxes stimulate growth. That billionaires, and the superprofitable companies they found, are proof capitalism works. For Zucman, the evidence suggests otherwise. And without taking action, he argues, we risk an economic and political backlash far more destabilizing than the financial crisis that sparked his work.

Gabriel Zucman started his first real job the Monday after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Fresh from the Paris School of Economics, where he’d studied with a professor named Thomas Piketty, Zucman had lined up an internship at Exane, the French brokerage firm. He joined a team writing commentary for clients and was given a task that felt absurd: Explain the shattering of the global economy. “Nobody knew what was going on,” he recalls.

At that moment, Zucman was also pondering whether to pursue a doctorate. He was already skeptical of mainstream economics. Now the dismal science looked more than ever like a batch of elaborate theories that had no relevance outside academia. But one day, as the crisis rolled on, he encountered data showing billions of dollars moving into and out of big economies and smaller ones such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He’d never seen studies of these flows before. “Surely if I spend enough time I can understand what the story behind it is,” he remembers thinking. “We economists can be a little bit useful.”

A decade later, Zucman, 32, is an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley and the world’s foremost expert on where the wealthy hide their money. His doctoral thesis, advised by Piketty, exposed trillions of dollars’ worth of tax evasion by the global rich. For his most influential work, he teamed up with his Berkeley colleague Emmanuel Saez, a fellow Frenchman and Piketty collaborator. Their 2016 paper, “Wealth Inequality in the United States Since 1913,” distilled a century of data to answer one of modern capitalism’s murkiest mysteries: How rich are the rich in the world’s wealthiest nation? The answer - far richer than previously imagined - thrust the pair deep into the American debate over inequality. Zucman and Saez’s latest estimates show that the top 0.1% of taxpayers—about 170,000 families in a country of 330 million people—control 20% of American wealth, the highest share since 1929. The top 1% control 39% of U.S. wealth, and the bottom 90% have only 26%. The bottom half of Americans combined have a negative net worth.... read more:

More posts on contemporary capitalism
Robert Reich: Wall Street loves socialism for bankers – but not for ordinary people

Monday, June 10, 2019


NB: I was sent this by a friend who saw it on Facebook. I post it without permission of the author as I am sure he will not mind. It is meant for us all to read. It is one of the most beautiful stories I have read in many years. My warm regards to you General sahib; and may God bless you. DS

Last November, I was driving from Dehradun from Chandigarh - a fascinating four-hour journey, with the added attraction of visiting Paonta Sahib Gurdwara. I had to break on the way to give myself and my car some rest. And what better than entering the abode of the Guru. Besides the soothing kirtan, it is the langar that one savours, seated on the floor among a multitude of people from all walks of life. Some partake of all meals as they have no means to satiate their hunger.

Breaking bread with them gives an indescribable spiritual high, and to experience this, one doesn’t have to belong to any one religion. I, too, enjoyed the langar and came out to get on with my journey.
I stopped to buy some knick-knacks from a kiosk outside the gurdwara. Just then, I spotted a family of Gujjars (Muslims nomads who rear cattle in semi mountains and sell milk), in an intent discussion in front of a tea vendor. The family comprised an elderly couple, two middle-aged couples and four children. Three women were partially veiled. They seemed poor as the eldest gentleman (probably the father) counted coins and some crumpled notes.

Undoubtedly, the issue was how much they could afford to buy. They asked for three cups of tea and four samosas (popular Indian snack). Gathering courage, I asked him, “Kya aap sab khana khayenge?” (would you all like to have food!!) They looked at one another with a mix of surprise, apprehension and a hurt self-respect. There was silence. Sometimes, silence can be loud. The innocent eyes of the kids were filled with hope. "Hum kha ke aaaye hain (We have eaten already)," he responded. There was an instant retort: "Kahan khayaa hai subeh se kuch bhi, Abba? (We have not eaten anything since morning, papa)." Hearing that, a dull ache in my chest caught me by surprise.

C. Douglas Lummis - The Smallest Army Imaginable: Gandhi's Constitutional Proposal for India and Japan's Peace Constitution

In 1931, on his way to the London Round Table Conference, Mahatma Gandhi was asked by a Reuters correspondent what his program was.  He responded by writing out a brief, vivid sketch of “the India of my dreams”.  Such an India, he said, would be free, would belong to all its people, would have no high and low classes, no discrimination against women, no intoxicants and, “the smallest army imaginable.”

The last phrase presents a puzzle:  What is the smallest military imaginable?  But the fact that it presents a puzzle is also puzzling.  For what is so unimaginable about no military at all?  The question is not rhetorical, for most people do find the no-military option unimaginable.  It is easy enough to pray for peace, to petition and demonstrate for peace, or to imagine oneself as a perfectly pacifist non-killer.  It is harder to imagine a state with no military. One of the few places where this option is clearly and forcefully stated is in Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.  People who first hear about this article often respond by insisting that the words can’t mean what they say.  It is, after all, an axiom of politics that states have militaries.  This axiom is presumed to hold despite the fact that there exist today 13 countries with no military forces and no military alliances. 

“Zero” is easy enough to imagine; what is it that makes it so hard for us to imagine “zero military”?  Perhaps one reason is that the things the military is trained to do, and does, are so awful that it is essential to us to believe that they are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, and that to allow any hint of a doubt about that to enter our consciousness is unsettling.  Moreover, if you start talking about the possibility of zero military you are treated as one who has stepped out of the realm of reality.  You risk being called a crank, a dreamer, a peacenik, a wimp or (God help us!) a “Gandhian.”

One might counter that it is natural not to imagine zero military, because what constrains our imagination is the force of reality itself.  The idea is simply irrational and unrealistic, and not worth thinking about.  But I am convinced that just the opposite is true:  this failure of our imagination prevents us from seeing reality; it conceals from us the truth of our situation.  It is only when we accept Gandhi’s implicit challenge and carry his “smallest military imaginable” to its extreme conclusion that we can begin truly to think about what the military means in our lives.

The Peace Constitution of Japan
Japan’s post-war Constitution does carry the challenge to its extreme conclusion; its Article 9 imagines the military altogether out of existence. Article 9.  Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as any other war potential, will never be maintained.  The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. Taken by itself, Article 9 is a fascinating, bold, lucidly written statement of a new principle of international politics, and a new concept of “the state” itself.  Note that this is not an “appeal” for peace, such appeals being a dime a dozen. .. read more:

2 Men In Plain Clothes Took Him: Wife Of Journalist Arrested By UP Cops // Journalists Arrest Sounds Death Knell For Free Speech Under BJP 2.0

It was a phone call from a friend that woke up Delhi-based journalist Prashant Kanojia and his wife on Saturday morning. The friend told him that some men were looking out for Prashant Kanojia by his name. Some time later in the noon, Mr Kanojia was taken away for questioning by two men in plain clothes, his wife Jagisha Arora told NDTV. "I don't have much clarity myself. It all happened in five minutes or so. Prashant had gone downstairs. When he came back, he said he has to change his clothes as he has to go with the two men," Ms Arora said.

A freelance journalist, Mr Kanojia was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police after he was picked up from his home in Delhi's West Vinod Nagar on Saturday for a tweet that had "objectionable comments" on Yogi Adityanath. The 26-year-old journalist was arrested after a complaint by a sub-inspector in Lucknow's Hazratganj Police Station on Friday night, alleging he tried to "malign" the Chief Minister's image. Mr Kanojia had shared a video on Twitter and Facebook where a woman is seen speaking to reporters of various media organisations outside Yogi Adityanath's office, claiming that she had sent him a marriage proposal. He is currently lodged in Lucknow Jail... read more:

Journalists Arrest Sounds Death Knell For Free Speech Under BJP 2.0
A Live Law report points out that the sections invoked by the UP police ― criminal defamation under Section 500 of the India Penal Code (IPC), damaging a computer system under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act ― do not apply either on procedural or substantive grounds. 

Veteran journalist Sharat Pradhan said, “This is very scary. This is total intolerance. They want complete obedience and anyone who dissents is unacceptable to them. They want to crush whatever is left of the independent media.” Pradhan, who has reported out of Lucknow for over three decades, said journalists, who continue writing and speaking against the present dispensation in UP, are at risk.  When asked to compare the Adityanath’s treatment of journalists as compared to the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party-led governments in UP, Pradhan said that the two regional parties were “feudal” and contemptuous of the press, but the crucial difference was that no one in the past 30 years has been as powerful as the BJP. 

In 2003, Pradhan moved the Supreme Court, seeking the removal of Akhand Pratap Singh, a corrupt IAS officer, who served as the chief secretary to Mulayam Singh Yadav. He recalls bureaucrats in the past dispensations haranguing journalists for criticising their political masters, and politicians expressing their displeasure over certain stories, but threats to life and liberty were still the exception rather than the norm. In the 2019 Press Freedom Index, put out by Reporters Without Borders, India ranked 140 out of 180 countries, dropping two positions since 2018... read more:

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Vast protest in Hong Kong against extradition law

The bill creates a system for case-by-case fugitive transfers between semi-autonomous Hong Kong and regions with which it does not already have agreements, including mainland ChinaCritics say the proposed law would legitimise abduction in the city, and subject political opponents and activists to China’s widely criticised judicial system. They fear a pro-Beijing Hong Kong government would not resist requests of a political nature

Anti-Beijing anger has been fuelled by the jailing in April of organisers of 2014 pro-democracy protests and the reduced presence of pro-democracy legislators, after six were removed from parliament in 2016 and 2017 for protesting against Beijing during their oath-taking.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in a vast protest against a proposed extradition law that critics say will allow mainland China to pursue its political opponents in the city, which has traditionally been a safe haven from the Communist party.

A sea of people, many wearing white, filled main roads stretching for almost two miles from Victoria Park in the east of Hong Kong island to the legislative council complex. Thousands more struggled to get onto packed public transport from outer Hong Kong and Kowloon on the mainland.

Police closed metro stations and funnelled people through narrow thoroughfares, prompting accusations that they were deliberately attempting to reduce the scale of the protest. Anger grew and the crowd shouted for them to free up more space, as the march came to a dead stop for large sections, in stifling heat. Further down the road crowds jeered at a pro-China broadcast on a large outdoor screen... read more:

Sudan’s generals launch renewed crackdown to defeat general strike

The military regime in Sudan has launched a new wave of arrests and violent intimidation in an effort to undermine opposition plans for a widespread campaign of civil disobedience. Pro-reform groups warned of a “frenzied campaign launched by the military junta to arrest political activists and revolutionaries” ahead of a general strike that started on Sunday. Professionals, including bankers, doctors, air traffic control staff, pilots, electrical engineers and economists, have been targeted by intelligence services in what the Sudanese Professionals Association, one of the main opposition groups, said was an “obvious attempt” to break the strike. 

“In the face of these repressive developments, we call upon the workers in the private and public sectors to strictly adhere to the [campaign] of civil disobedience and the general strike. These peaceful means are a way to cherish the blood of the martyrs [and] protect the lives of colleagues,” the group said in a statement.

More than 120 people died and hundreds were injured when paramilitaries attacked a protest camp in the centre of Khartoum on Monday. Activists say that the total number of people detained by security services in recent days is unclear, but is “probably in the hundreds”.

There were reports of sporadic violence on Sunday morning as shops, banks, offices and businesses shut on the first day of the civil disobedience. Two deaths were reported in the Khartoum district of Bahri after a shooting. In the neighbouring city of Omdurman, roads are blocked by makeshift barricades. Though security forced appeared to have been withdrawn from some of the streets, tensions remained among fears of further attacks... read more:

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Tehran closes 547 restaurants for breaking 'Islamic principles’

NB: For these theocrats, the central 'Islamic principle' is that people should not enjoy life. DS
Iranian police have shut down 547 restaurants and cafes in Tehran for not observing “Islamic principles”, the capital’s police chief said Saturday. “The owners of restaurants and cafes in which Islamic principles were not observed were confronted, and during this operation 547 businesses were closed and 11 offenders arrested,” Hossein Rahimi said in statement on the policeforce website. Fars news agency said the operation was carried out over the past 10 days.

The infractions included “unconventional advertising in cyberspace, playing illegal music and debauchery”, Fars reported. “Observing Islamic principles is ... one of the police’s main missions and responsibilities,” the police chief said. The head of Tehran’s guidance court, which deals with “cultural crimes and social and moral corruption”, called on Tehran citizens to report cases of “immoral behaviour” by texting a designated phone number.

“People would like to report those breaking the norms but they don’t know how ... We decided to accelerate dealing with instances of public immoral acts,” Mohammad Mehdi Hajmohammadi told the judiciary’s Mizan Online. Citizens can report instances of those removing their “hijab in cars”, “hosting mixed dance parties” or posting “immoral content on Instagram”, he said. Under the Islamic dress code of Iran, where alcohol is banned, women can only show their face, hands and feet in public, and they are supposed to wear modest colours.

In 2012, the government ordered cafes to install security cameras in order to monitor the behaviour of customers. Some owners chose to close their doors instead. “As much as it pains us and as much as we will miss our friends and all of you who stood by our side in the past four years, we take comfort in knowing that we at least didn’t let Big Brother’s glass eyes scan and record our every step, minute and memory from dawn till dusk,” wrote the owners of the popular Cafe Prague in a Facebook post at the time.... read more:

see also

Kenan Malik - Fake news will thrive as long we are happy to see only what we want to see

Two stories last week illustrate how we often see what we expect, or want, to see. The first is the tragic story of Dutch teenager Noa Pothoven. Sexually assaulted and raped as a young girl, Pothoven’s pain led to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anorexia. So consumed was she by her mental distress that in 2017 she contacted an “end of life” clinic to request euthanasia. It refused, because of her age. For a time, she was in hospital so she could be fed intravenously, having become dangerously underweight. Earlier this year, however, she decided that she wanted no further treatment and refused all food and fluids. Her parents and doctors agreed not to force-feed her. 

Last Sunday, she died at home, aged 17. It’s a heartbreaking and unsettling story. What it wasn’t was an account of a teenager being “legally euthanised” by the state. But that was how much of the world’s press reported it. It became a shocking tale, not just of the tragedy of Pothoven’s life but also of the immorality of the state in helping a vulnerable teenager to end it. Only through the efforts of journalists such as Naomi O’Leary, correspondent with Politico Europe, who took the trouble of reading the original Dutch reports of the case, did the truth emerge.

The misreporting can be seen as another instance of “fake news”. Certainly, there was shoddy journalism in the failure to check sources or even to read the Dutch press. But the wider context of the distortions is important, too. There is a fraught debate in many countries about euthanasia and assisted suicide. The tragedy of Pothoven’s life and death revealed, for many, the ugly reality of such policies. “Euthanasia and assisted suicide are a defeat for all,” tweeted the pope on Wednesday. Many journalists and readers may have refrained from asking deeper questions about the initial account because the misreporting allowed them to see what they wanted to see. 

Much of what we call fake news may be like this – the result not of a desire to lie, but to reduce complex problems to simple truths.... 

Harriet Sherwood - Getting back to nature: how forest bathing can make us feel better

Every day, apart from when it’s raining heavily, Dr Qing Li heads to a leafy park near the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo where he works. It’s not just a pleasant place to eat his lunch; he believes the time spent under the trees’ canopy is a critical factor in the fight against diseases, of the mind and body. Once a month Li spends three days in forests near Tokyo, using all five senses to connect with the environment and clear his mind. 

This practice of shinrin-yoku – literally, forest bath – has the power to counter illnesses including cancer, strokes, gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety and stress, he says. It boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and aids sleep. And soon it could be prescribed by British doctors. Last week the Woodland Trust suggested forest bathing – which doesn’t, despite its name, involve getting in water – should be among a range of non-medical therapies and activities recommended by GPs’ surgeries to boost patients’ boost wellbeing. “Social prescribing”, a growing movement in the NHS, can include volunteering, gardening, sports activities, cookery and befriending.

Forest bathing is an opportunity for people to take time out, slow down and connect with nature. We think it could be part of the mix of activities for social prescription,” Stuart Dainton of the Woodland Trust told the Observer. “Evidence about its benefits is building.”.. read more:

Nivedita Menon: The “massive mandate” of 2019 and the Role of the Election Commission

This is the elephant in the room, is it not? Was this “massive mandate” of the Lok Sabha elections 2019, the result of a free and fair election? Should we continue to discuss this outcome – the scale of the BJP victory, the numbers of seats, the margins by which seats were won – through political analysis alone? Rather, has not political analysis of the election become inevitably deeply influenced by these margins and these numbers of seats, by the scale of the sweep?  In other words, the analysis is of necessity post facto, assuming that these seats have actually been won fairly, and therefore represent the views of the electorate.

I found very revealing a story by two Reuters journalists who covered rural North India extensively.  Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav ruminate on how they could have gone so wrong in assessing the mood of the electorate. Although they say they never thought Modi would lose this election, it looked certain that he would return with a reduced majority. There was nothing  they heard and observed on the ground that suggested the actual outcome. They conclude that next time they will travel even more, push their respondents harder, “be more aware of our limitations.”

Many seasoned journalists have the same sense of shock. But what if they were not wrong after all?
The day before results were announced, BJP told opposition parties to“accept defeat with grace”, after exit polls predicted a BJP sweep. Exit poll predictions were treated as the results themselves. Did the BJP leadership know something we don’t? After Phase 6 of the elections, Amit Shah declared that after traveling across the country and gauging the mood, he was confident the party would cross the 300 mark.  And so it did, by 3 seats. One did wonder at this mood that he gauged so accurately, given empty seats at rallies for Adityanath, Modi, and Shah in GujaratUP
BiharChandigarhKarimganj, Guwahati. I list only a few.

Not to mention what preceded these elections –  massive farmers’ agitations across the country, militant university campuses, country-wide demonstrations against lynch culture… But Amit Shah knew almost to the number the seats his party would get. Even the RSS, with its massive ground-level networks, had no idea of what was to come, as was evident from Ram Madhav’s statement as late as May 7, saying the BJP will need allies to form government. (Or this could be characteristic Sanghi doublespeak, who knows.) Let us begin this story then, with the infamous exit polls.

The dubious role of exit polls: The chances were very high that BJP would have emerged as the single largest party, and formed government with its allies in an NDA formation.  Many serious political analysts expected this as a best case scenario both from the point of view of BJP, as well as its opponents... read more:

see also
A whiff of evil
Minister Who Got The Loudest Cheers Has A Murky Past
Samjhauta Express blast case verdict: ‘Who will answer for death of my five children?’
Peace as a punctuation mark in eternal war
A Brief History of the Sampradayikta Virodhi Andolan (SVA)

Friday, June 7, 2019

India's trash mountains

Ravidas in New Delhi is a slum like no other. Its alleys are spotless, its drains regularly washed down with water and its houses painted in bright crayon colors and decorated with plants. There are no fetid open sewers brimming with human waste. Piles of trash do not line every alley. The residents of this proud community run a tight, environmentally conscious ship. "Everyone is working together to keep it clean because this is where they live," said Kishwar Jahan, 60, the self-appointed leader of this 350-person slum in the east of the Indian capital. "If you walk further down from our house it is dirty because people are not responsible enough," she said.

Ravidas' residents know that India has a trash problem and are trying to do their part to fix it. 
India consumed an estimated 15.5 million tons of plastic in 2016-17, according to PlastIndia Foundation,  an organization of major associations and institutions connected with plastic. That number is predicted to increase to 20 million tons by 2019-20.

While one of Jahan's four sons gives a goat a soapy bath nearby, a man walks past carrying a basket of plastic and other household waste. The plastic will be removed from the community, but residents 
have few good options for where it ends up.There is no processing of waste in most Indian cities, according to the Central Pollution Board, and in some cases, trash is simply burned in open dump yards on the main highway.Most likely, what is collected in Ravidas will end up on one of the huge landfills around New Delhi, where non-biodegradable materials mix with recyclable plastics -- a mounting symbol of India's trash turmoil... read more:

Dr. Ram Puniyani threatened

Civil Society strongly condemns the criminal intimidation and threats made to noted scholar and ant-communalism activist Dr. Ram Puniyani and demand speedy and thorough investigation into the crime

On 6th June 2019, Dr. Ram Puniyani received a phone call at 8.30 p.m., when the caller who refused to identify himself, started using abusive and filthy language towards him and said that he should stop his activities and leave or else…. He was told that he has time of 15 days to leave or suffer consequences of his failure. Five minutes later, he received another phone call from a different number where in an aggressive tone a male caller asked to give the phone to Doctor, and when Dr. Puniyani replied in the negative, the caller cut the phone off.

Even earlier, on 9th March 2019, three unidentified persons came to Dr. Puniyani’s residence on the pretext of making enquiries for his passport application. However, Dr. Puniyani had not even applied for any passport application. The visitors made general enquiries about his family and his past affiliation with IIT Mumbai and left. Dr. Puniyani filed a criminal complaint with Powai Police Station on this. However, the police failed to take any real action to investigate into the complaint or identify the visitors, although the CCTV footage and other details had been provided to the police.

On 7th June 2019, Dr. Puniyani has filed a criminal complaint in the matter of the threatening phone calls received by him with the Powai police station. Dr. Puniyani has provided details of the phone numbers as recorded in the caller ID of his residence phone. Dr. Puniyani has also met the Joint Commissioner, Law and Order, Mr. Vinoy K Choubey, on 7th June 2019, along with a delegation consisting of other civil society activists to report this serious incident of intimidation and demand speedy investigation into the crime and ensure safety of Dr. Puniyani. The Joint Commissioner has assured the delegation that the incident will be investigated seriously and measures taken to ensure Dr. Puniyani’s safety and has instructed the Deputy Commissioner of Police, MIDC, Dr. Sangramsingh Nishandar to look into the complaint.

These repeated threats pose great risk and danger to Dr. Puniyani, who has been a strong secular voice and crusader for communal harmony. This is nothing but an attempt to silence his voice and curb his emphatic efforts towards spreading the message of peace and harmony. Already we have witnessed grave attacks on and assassinations of rationalists and secular thinkers, including Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Prof. Govind Pansare, Prof. Kalburgi and journalist Gauri Lankesh, amongst others. Several writers, journalists, RTI activists, artists, lawyers etc. have been under attack by right wing forces. In light of these recent attacks, it is important that the police authorities and state administration takes serious note of and prompt action in this case, and take all measures to ensure safety of Dr. Puniyani and his family.

We, as members of civil society, are extremely disturbed and strongly condemn these serious threats to Dr. Ram Puniyani on 6th June 2019 and demand a speedy and thorough investigation into the crime and safety of Dr. Puniyani.  

Endorsed by
All India Secular Forum
Bharat Bachao Andolan
Centre for Justice and Peace
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
Indian Christian Women’s Movement - Mumbai
Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy
Forum Against Oppression of Women
Free Speech Collective
People’s Union for Civil Liberties

Members of Delegation to meet Joint Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, Mumbai : Feroze Mithiborewala, Irfan Engineer, Sujata Gothoskar, Sandhya Gokhale, Geeta Seshu, Lara Jesani, Dr. Smita Puniyani and Dr. Ram Puniyani

see also

“We Refugees” – an essay by Hannah Arendt (1943)

“The comity of European peoples went to pieces when, and because, it allowed its weakest member to be excluded and persecuted.” A message that projects a long arm into the present and can be read in the current global context that sees indifference and outright hostility to refugees, a political and social attitude that can only come at the price of exacerbating tensions and rupturing the moral fabric of the perpetrators of such indifference and hostility. 

“We Refugees”
In the first place, we don’t like to be called “refugees.” We ourselves call each other “newcomers” or “immigrants.” Our newspapers are papers for “Americans of German language”; and, as far as I know, there is not and never was any club founded by Hitler-persecuted people whose name indicated that its members were refugees.

A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term “refugee” has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by Refugee Committees.

Before this war broke out we were even more sensitive about being called refugees. We did our best to prove to other people that we were just ordinary immigrants. We declared that we had departed of our own free will to countries of our choice, and we denied that our situation had anything to do with “so-called Jewish problems.” Yes, we were “immigrants” or “newcomers” who had left our country because, one fine day, it no longer suited us to stay, or for purely economic reasons. We wanted to rebuild our lives, that was all. In order to rebuild one’s life one has to be strong and an optimist. So we are very optimistic.

Our optimism, indeed, is admirable, even if we say so ourselves. The story of our struggle has finally become known. We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives.

Nevertheless, as soon as we were saved—and most of us had to be saved several times—we started our new lives and tried to follow as closely as possible all the good advice our saviors passed on to us. We were told to forget; and we forgot quicker than anybody ever could imagine... read more:

see also

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rare photos reveal the chronology of D-Day

Operation Overlord was launched 75 years ago on June 6, 1944. Commonly known as D-Day -- a military term for the first day of a combat operation -- it was the largest seaborne invasion in history and it kick-started the Battle of Normandy, which successfully opened a second, Western front in Nazi-occupied Europe.

American, British and Canadian forces landed simultaneously on five beachheads in northern France, with the support of more than 13,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships. Aware that the Normandy campaign would be a crucial step in the war, the Allies prepared to document it extensively through film and still photography. "Everything for the year before was a buildup to that, in terms of resources, manpower and planning, so the Allies knew it was going to be a huge deal ... or a deal breaker," Anthony Richards, head of documents and sound at the Imperial War Museum (IWM), said in a phone interview. "With that in mind, it was really important for them to document it photographically and on film, as a historical event but also for propaganda reasons."

Richards' latest book, "D-Day and Normandy: A Visual History," contains unpublished and rarely seen photographs of the beach landings, many of which were taken by professional photographers embedded in specific units. "They were very much on the front line with the troops going in. They were capturing the action as it was happening. They would have been under fire, so they were obviously very brave individuals who weren't holding back," Richards said... read more:

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Avijit Pathak - Education in the liberal arts and humanities are important in themselves

In these “pragmatic” times, it is not easy to plead for liberal education. Yet, as a teacher, I want the new generation who have just cleared the board examinations and are willing to enter the domain of higher learning, to realise that education is not merely “skill learning” or a means to inculcate the market-driven technocratic rationality. Education is also about deep awareness of culture and politics, art and history, and literature and philosophy. In fact, a society that discourages its young minds to reflect on the interplay of the “self” and the “world”, and restricts their horizon in the name of job-oriented technical education, begins to decay. Such a society eventually prepares the ground for a potentially one-dimensional/consumerist culture that negates critical thinking and emancipatory quest.

Before I put forward my arguments for liberal education, I need to raise three concerns. First, as the economic doctrine of neo-liberalism has become triumphant, a mix of “positivistic objectivity”, scientism and technocratic rationality seems to have become the dominant ideology of education. Knowledge becomes instrumental and technical; “professionalism” demands dissociation of “skills” from the politico-ethical; and moral questions and the contents of the curriculum are required to be evaluated in terms of measurable “outcomes”. No wonder, such a discourse refuses to see much meaning in, say, a serious enquiry into T S Eliot’s The Hollow Men, or a reflection on “soul force” as articulated by M K Gandhi in his Hind Swaraj, or a Freudian interpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Monalisa. Neither the techno-managers nor the market find any value in these “subjective”/“non-productive” pursuits. When they do speak of literature or sociology, they kill its spirit, and reduce it into a set of modules with concrete “outcomes” — measured in terms of “life skills”, “communication skills” and “personality development” skills. It is like destroying the soul of education through the fancy management discourse.

Second, school education continues to reproduce this hierarchy in knowledge traditions. Whereas science or commerce is projected as “high status” knowledge, not much cognitive prestige is attached to humanities and liberal arts. In a way, this is like demotivating young minds and discouraging them from taking an active interest in history, literature, philosophy and political studies. Possibly, the standardised “ambition” that schools and anxiety-ridden parents cultivate among the teenagers makes it difficult for them to accept that it is possible to imagine yet another world beyond the “secure” career options in medical science, engineering and commerce. Certainly, it is not the sign of a healthy society if what is popularly known as PCM (physics-chemistry-mathematics), or IIT JEE, becomes the national obsession, and all youngsters flock to a town like Kota in Rajasthan, known for the notorious chain of coaching centres selling the dreams of “success”, and simultaneously causing mental agony, psychic disorder and chronic fear of failure.

Third, the state of liberal education in an average college/university in India, I must admit, is pathetic. With demotivated students, teachers who do not have any passion, empty classrooms, routine examinations and the widespread circulation of “notes” and “guide books”, everything loses its meaning. History is a set of facts to be memorised, sociology is just common sense or a bit of jargon for describing the dynamics of family/marriage/caste/kinship, literature is time pass and political science is television news. Even though the state of science education is not very good, the trivialisation of liberal arts is truly shocking... read more:

Book review: Politics by Candlelight E.P. Thompson’s search for a new Popular Front


By Christos Efstathiou
Reviewed By Stefan Collini

Even in a world tightly trussed by neoliberal dogma and basted by surges of populist anti-elitism, the role of the left intellectual has lost none of its fascination. There remains a yearning to find figures who combine intellectual distinction with radical politics, and who can bring their ideas and theories, analyses and eloquence, to the service of progressive causes. Few figures in the second half of the 20th century fit the romantic version of this profile better than the British historian E.P. Thompson. In the United States, Thompson probably remains best known as the author of The Making of the English Working Class, an indisputable classic of modern historiography and the founding document of a whole school of radical social history in the 1960s and ’70s. But such historical work constituted only one strand of Thompson’s career. No less important were his roles as an activist, polemicist, and writer—though in practice his abundant, restless talents could never be neatly divided or pigeonholed in this way.

Thompson’s activities were constantly energized by a sense of political purpose. After an initial period as an active communist in the late 1940s and early ’50s, he became one of the animating presences of the early New Left, which emerged in Britain in response to the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and to mounting discontent with the Labour Party’s modest reformism. In the years to come, Thompson would also become one of the New Left’s most emphatic fraternal critics.

In the 1970s, partly spurred by a growing awareness of state surveillance, he put much of his energy into championing civil liberties; and in the 1980s, he metamorphosed into one of the best-known British campaigners against nuclear weapons. So prominent was Thompson in this last role that, as one commentator noted, “polls placed him high in the ranks of the most admired, trailing only the ‘first women’ of the nation: [Margaret] Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth, and the Queen Mother.”

Like his political work, Thompson’s writings were also diverse -sometimes in unexpected ways. After his early biography of William Morris, a figure whose example remained a lifelong source of inspiration, he wrote a late study of William Blake, another spirited dissident. Alongside his magnum opus on the origins of the English working class, he also wrote influential studies that examined the suppression of popular rights in the 18th century and the supersession of older notions of a “moral economy” by the unforgiving exactions of industrial capitalism. .. read more:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Thousands of Brits Protest Trump’s Visit Alongside 16-Foot Farting Presidential Robot

As always, the protesters in Britain clearly put a lot of effort into their preparations to mock Trump. The most eye-catching part of the parade was a huge robotic statue named the Trump Dump, which featured the gigantic president atop a golden toilet, with a smartphone in his agitating hand. It emitted farting noises and the catchphrase “no collusion.”

“I wanted to honor him by showing him in all his glory,” the monster’s creator, Don Lessem, explained to The Daily Beast, claiming it cost him $25,000 of his own cash. “It’s 16 feet, which is the size of his ego. We wanted to match that. It needs to be a little more orange I think, but we tried to do it as proportionally accurate as possible, so his penis is three millimeters.”

Lessem’s ultimate goal is to crowdfund an effort to bring the robot to Washington, D.C. for the July 4 celebrations, but he was proud to give it its “world debut” to coincide with the president’s trip to London. There were thousands of slightly less extravagant attempts to ridicule the president during his visit. On Monday, he dubiously claimed that he had been greeted by “tremendous crowds of well wishers” rather than protests and that there was “great love all around” on his first state visit.

On the contrary, the crowd couldn’t have displayed any more antipathy for him, even though there appeared to be smaller numbers than a huge protest against him last year. Signs showed various degrees of exasperation, ranging from the playful “Who invited this wally anyway?” to the frank “You’re a racist twat, mate,” to the laconic “Fuck this fucking fucker.”.. read more:

Monday, June 3, 2019

Arvind Kala: What is Hindutva?

Please look at the headline again. What is Hindutva? Indeed, what on earth is it? I'm a Hindu Brahmin, I come from the cradle of Hinduism, Uttarakhand, where the Holy Ganga is born, we spoke Hindi in my parents' family, I've lived in a Hindu North India all my life, and 90 % of my friends are Hindus. Yet I have no idea what Hindutva is. Nor does anybody else. Including the shrill Hindutva shouters who've come out of the woodwork.

How come we never heard this word Hindutva before Narendra Modi came to power? Now vast Hindu swathes numbering in tens of millions are congratulating themselves that they are Hindu. As if it's an achievement - being a Hindu. What I say is: You are a Hindu because your parents were Hindu

Your name would be Burunga Gomo if your parents were Ugandan. So what's the big deal?

For my foolish Hindu brothers luxuriating in their new-found Hinduness, here's a bit of sobering reality. If you ask an average American what a Hindu is, he'll say it's some herb you put in a salad.
This is how inconsequential we are. We don't exist for the developed world. Even though we are HUGE in number. We are 1.1 billion in this world of seven billion humans. Meaning every seventh person on this earth is a Hindu. So we should ask ourselves why we are such nobodys.

Instead of doing this, we Hindus are seized by an inexplicable Hindu resurgence which keeps saying Shabash to itself. It's a swelling self-pride with nowhere to go. Like a young couple dressed up for a fancy cocktail party except that nobody's invited them. I'm puzzled by this Hindu self-congratulation that has swept India. And I feel like saying: For Heaven's sake, stop it!