Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sri Lanka imposes curfew after more than 150 killed in attacks

Authorities in Sri Lanka have launched a massive security operation and imposed a curfew after a wave of bombs in churches and hotels in Sri Lankakilledmore than 150 people and injured hundreds.
The eight blasts, some of which officials said were suicide bomb attacks, appeared timed to cause maximum casualties among worshippers attending Easter services.

In one church, St. Sebastian’s in Katuwapitiya, north of the capital, Colombo, more than 50 people had been killed, a police official said. Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles and splintered wood littering the floor and pools of blood in between wounded worshippers.

In total, three churches and four hotels were targeted. The other explosion was in a house in Colombo, authorities said... read more:

Srećko Horvat: ‘The current system is more violent than any revolution’

Up until the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, foreigners were not allowed to visit the beautiful Dalmatian island of Vis, then home to a major naval base. Two years ago it was the location for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, doubling as the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi.

One way of looking at the transformation from military redoubt to Hollywood idyll is as a triumph of freedom of movement over draconian restrictions. But that’s not how the Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat sees the resulting media attention, rising real estate prices and what he calls the “tourist occupation” of Vis, where he now lives. “Where once there was a sustainable local community,” he writes in his new book, Poetry from the Future, “there are weekending easyJet tourists; where fishermen’s boats once rode at anchor, now luxury yachts are moored.”

You probably haven’t heard of Horvat, though you will have heard of plenty of people who have. He’s friends with the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, with whom he set up the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25). He was a regular visitor to Julian Assange, before he was extracted from the Ecuadorian embassy. He’s also in close contact with Assange’s friend, the former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.

He is a staunch friend of Slavoj Žižek, the maverick Slovenian celebrity academic (they co-wrote a book in 2013 entitled What Does Europe Want?), as well as being on good terms with one of Žižek’s most vituperative critics, the renowned American academic Noam Chomsky. He also hangs out with the celebrated Mexican film-maker Alfonso Cuarón.

But at 36, Horvat is far from being some kind of right-on hanger-on. In fact he’s one of the busiest leftwing political activists in Europe. Aside from DiEM25, which campaigns to reform the EU into a “realm of shared prosperity, peace and solidarity”, and for whom he’s standing in the European elections, he is a founder of the Subversive festival, an annual jamboree in Zagreb of radical thought that has featured the likes of Oliver Stone and Antonio Negri, he set up the Philosophical theatre in the same city, whose contributors have included Adam Curtis, Vanessa Redgrave and Thomas Piketty. And he has been involved in everything from Occupy Wall Street to the World Social Forum and protests about the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit... read more:

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Stephen Marche - The 'debate of the century': what happened when Jordan Peterson debated Slavoj Žižek

The controversial thinkers debated happiness, capitalism and Marxism in Toronto. It was billed as a meeting of titans – and that it was not. But it did reveal one telling commonality. They needed enemies, needed combat, because in their solitudes, they had so little to offer. Both of these men know that they are explicitly throwbacks. They do not have an answer to the real problems that face us: the environment and the rise of China as a successful capitalist state without democracy. (China’s success makes a joke out of the whole premise of the debate: the old-fashioned distinction between communism and capitalism.) Neither can face the reality or the future. Therefore they retreat.

The event was billed as “the debate of the century”, “The Rumble in the Realm of the Mind”, and it did have the feel of a heavyweight boxing match: Jordan Peterson, local boy, against the slapdash Slovenian Slavoj Žižek, considering “Happiness: Capitalism vs Marxism” in Toronto. Peterson, in his opening remarks, noted that scalped tickets were selling at higher prices than the Maple Leafs playoff game happening on the other side of town. He couldn’t believe it. Who could? Peterson and Žižek represent a basic fact of intellectual life in the twenty-first century: we are defined by our enemies.

Peterson has risen to fame on the basis of his refusal to pay the usual fealties to political correctness. The size and scope of his fame registers more or less exactly the loathing for identity politics in the general populace, because it certainly isn’t on the quality of his books that his reputation resides. Žižek is also defined, and has been for years, by his contempt for postmodern theory and, by extension, the more academic dimensions of political correctness. Peterson’s opening remarks were disappointing even for his fans in the audience. They were a vague and not particularly informed (by his own admission) reading of The Communist Manifesto. His comments on one of the greatest feats of human rhetoric were full of expressions like “You have to give the devil his due” and “This is a weird one” and “Almost all ideas are wrong”.

I’ve been a professor, so I know what it’s like to wake up with a class scheduled and no lecture prepared. It felt like that. He wandered between the Paleolithic period and small business management, appearing to know as little about the former as the latter. Watching him, I was amazed that anyone had ever taken him seriously enough to hate him.

Ravish Kumar: Why the Modi Voter Has Fallen Silent

The BJP’s 2019 election drive has shaken off every association with the 2014 poll campaign. To put it baldly, 2019 is all about an excision of the memory of 2014. Seeing the party’s campaign posters, one gets an unerring feeling that the very mention of the last Lok Sabha campaign has it running scared.

The BJP has stuck new posters over those of five years ago – new issues are being marketed and the forced taglines are glaringly obvious. The analogy that comes to mind is of a schoolboy who fails his exams and comes home saying that many students have failed, because their answer sheets had not been properly evaluated. Similarly, in Modi’s case, his residual political success comes from the fact that opposition politicians and their parties too have nothing to show except failure.

There is one more thing – at home the schoolboy might dress up his failure by saying that other students have also failed, but in the neighbourhood he tells everyone that he has cleared his exams. Of course, he is careful not to show his report card to anybody. This is the story of more than 50% of the students in the Indian education system – and this is the story of Narendra Modi as well.

It is astonishing that the BJPs campaign posters have no mention whatsoever of the slogans of 2014; one wonders where they have vanished. Moreover, in the previous Lok Sabha election, people took it upon themselves to promote the party’s campaign, make the slogans their own. This time around, if not for playing politics over the army or the anti-satellite weapon programme led by the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Indian Space Research Organisation, Modi would not have had a single issue to put up on his election poster.

As the man who has ostensibly hounded terrorism out, he stares out from the posters with a stern gaze. In Hajipur, on the way to the Digha Bridge, one comes across a poster lauding him for the successful anti-satellite missile test. The image that springs to mind is of a student who comes home and shows his mother not his bare exercise book but the full notebook of a classmate.

In 2014, Modi sold the people a dream. In 2019, he is hawking his failure... read more:

Friday, April 19, 2019

MAXIMILLIAN ALVAREZ: The End of the End of History

What does it mean to live in a world in which history has rusted under the monstrous weight of the permanent now? It is no coincidence that the Trump-led right has harnessed this history-resistant style of politics to launch an all-out assault on history as we know it. From Trump’s never-ending lies and attacks on the media to the GOP’s ramped-up war on academia, from white supremacist rallies defending Confederate monuments to conservative pundits discounting the role of slavery in the Civil War, there is, indeed, a war going on over the terrain of remembrance..

Among the prizes at stake in the endless war of politics is history itself. The battle for power is always a battle to determine who gets remembered, how they will be recalled, where and in what forms their memories will be preserved. In this battle, there is no room for neutral parties: every history and counter-history must fight and scrap and claw and spread and lodge itself in the world, lest it be forgotten or forcibly erased. All history, in this sense, is the history of empire - a bid for control of that greatest expanse of territory, the past.

All history is the history of empire - a bid for control of that greatest expanse of territory, the past. 
The greatest act of empire, of course, is to declare the whole messy, brutal process finished, to climb to the top of the trash heap and trumpet one’s reign as the culmination of all history. The greatest act of history, on the other hand, is to reveal such declarations to be always premature. Seneca’s Pax Romana announced a history stilled by the glorious rise of Augustus, the “sun that never set” shone on the image of time frozen at the height of the British Empire—and the world spun madly on. 

Nearly thirty years ago, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously called the ball game once more. In a 1989 essay, which he expanded into the 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama prophesied that the fall of communism signaled “the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” 

Of course, the “end of history” didn’t mean the end of military conflicts, social upheavals, or economic booms and busts. It did mean, however, that all boats were ultimately heading to the same shore; with no more serious contenders on the world stage, all things were trending toward a global order in which the marriage of market capitalism and liberal democracy would enjoy eternal dominance. Thus, in Fukuyama’s view, the endless roil of intra- and international conflicts that have continually punctured our world during the past three decades has nothing to do with any world-historical battle between competing social orders. Rather, it merely represents the thrashing of those parts of the world that are still mired “in history” as they are compelled down the inevitable path to joining the “posthistorical” world. 

There is a quasi-religious overtone to all of this - everything in the past has been moving toward a telos, a predestined end... read more:

see also

Articles on ideology in East Europe

Thursday, April 18, 2019

GEOFFREY WILDANGER: The Book on Marx That Arendt Never Finished

Hannah Arendt’s unfinished book on Marx offers a timely philosophical dialogue for our era of economic precarity.

The Modern Challenge to Tradition: Hannah Arendt: edited by Barbara Hahn and James McFarland, with Ingo Kieslich and Ingeborg Nordmann. Reviewed by GEOFFREY WILDANGER

In this era of economic precarity and resurgent authoritarianism, it is unsurprising that both Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt occupy a central place in many readers’ minds—and a lingering one on their nightstands. Sales of Capital boomed following the 2008 financial crisis, and Donald Trump offers good reason to read The Origins of Totalitarianism. It is fitting, then, that the new Critical Edition of Arendt’s complete works begins with this, a volume of fragments from an unfinished book originally planned to be called Karl Marx and the Tradition of Political Thought. Sales of Capital boomed following the 2008 financial crisis, and Donald Trump offers good reason to read The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Seyla Benhabib: The Personal Is Not the Political. Arendt maintained that good politics was about the public interest and about the commitment to create a vibrant public life. Good politics should not invade the fragile domain of human attachments and friendships, nor should it force individuals to make public the shadowy and obscure recesses of the human heart

"Exile, Statelessness, and Migration" by Seyla Benhabib - Book Launch and Discussion

Born in Hanover in 1906, Arendt grew up primarily in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) in Eastern Prussia. Her parents were assimilated Jews of the upper middle class and dedicated activists in the Social Democratic Party. She studied philosophy at the University of Marburg under Martin Heidegger, with whom she had an infamous affair, and went on to receive a doctorate under Karl Jaspers at the University of Heidelberg in 1929. Although intensifying anti-Semitism in Germany and the surging influence of the Nazi party made pursuit of an academic post nearly impossible, Arendt received funding to write a habilitation thesis under Heidegger’s supervision. (German professors are traditionally required to write this second doctoral dissertation in order to receive a permanent post.)

Her experience of anti-Semitism drove her to explicit political commitments, and she began to work with Zionist organizations conducting research on the dire state of Germany's Jews. This work made her an enemy of the Nazis, forcing her into exile in 1933 in France. In 1940, she fled to the United States, where she remained for the rest of her life, maintaining a prominent career as a public intellectual and political philosopher.

The first volume of the Critical Edition presents significant new material, previously available only to those willing to sift through manuscripts and typescripts in the Library of Congress. Presenting texts (in both German and English) written between 1951 and 1954, it is a formidable task of intellectual historical reconstruction. It fills in two lacunae in Arendt’s work: the intellectual labor connecting The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) with later books such as The Human Condition (1958), and the development of Arendt’s thought across the 1950s through a series of fragmented engagements with the writings of Marx and through polemics with American and German peers. It is hard to imagine a timelier dialogue. Some of Arendt’s ideas on Marx are incorporated into volumes published during her lifetime, including The Human Condition, and others have since appeared in posthumous volumes edited by Jerome Kohn. What makes this volume unique and rich is that it not only includes previously unpublished texts, but also, by documenting the process of revision, tracks, in detail, her evolving response to Marx’s thought... read more:

Tim Adams - How our capacity for wonder was challenged by the black hole image

It says something about our historical moment – or about the intrinsic limits of our capacity for wonder – that the image of this physical reality is so effortlessly normalised. We probably do less stargazing, as a species, than at any previous moment in human history, but the old reflex to anthropomorphise the universe, to insist on ourselves in the centre of it, persists...As TS Eliot observed in his meditation on Einstein’s space-time continuum in Burnt Norton, “humankind cannot bear too much reality”. The science proves the black hole is way beyond most of our understanding, but the evidence now in front of our eyes reminds us that the simplest principle of the universe remains the hardest for us to grasp: it’s not about us.

A few years ago, during a period of insomnia, I briefly got into the habit of contributing to the online project Galaxy Zoo. I would log on to a website that presented, one after another, singular images of tens of thousands of galaxies observed by the Hubble telescope, each billions of light years away. There were so many of these images that cosmologists had opened them up to thousands of amateur volunteers to help narrow down the field of those galaxies that warranted closer study.

Peering at my dimmed computer screen in the early hours, at catherine wheels of stars that perhaps no human eye had ever seen, I ticked the relevant boxes that would assist in classifying them – “elliptical or spiral?”; “smooth or fuzzy?” – and then paused for a while over the open-ended final question: “Is there anything odd in this image?” (An inquiry that always seemed to beg the reply: “You mean, beyond the fact that it is a rotating mass of incalculable solar systems that likely expired untold millions of years ago?”)... read more:

Priyanka Sacheti - 'A pen can change the world': the duo behind the 'world's largest public library'

There are thousands of street food carts in New Delhi. But only one has the opening lines of Riyazat Ullah Khan’s poem Wazoodiyat on the side:

Where can the pauper keep his pain of existence?
He has no container but a heart.

The sticker bearing the couplet is from a campaign called StickLit, which seeks to make literature more accessible by placing quotes in public spaces. Nidhin Kundathil and Manoj Pandey had the idea for the project while contemplating the advertisements, posters and billboards that are consumed almost subliminally on Indian streets. “We thought of turning this [visual] experience on its head to create a completely new and refreshing alternative for passersby – [one] which was not just selling something, for a change,” says Pandey, 32, a freelance writer in Darjeeling.

The idea subsequently evolved: they would make what they call the world’s largest library – “the largest repository of good literature in public spaces: a library that’s free for all”. So they hit the streets, putting up free-format stickers, posters and wall murals. “Doing anything on the street is tricky as there are multiple factors to consider, like police or permissions,” Pandey says. “It’s ironic how we have to run away for trying to do some good for society.” After starting in Bengaluru and Delhi in 2017, the project has spread all over India, with volunteers in various cities taking it up. The stickers are available from the StickLit website and the founders encourage people to download them and use them freely.... read more:


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Ahed Tamimi - After my imprisonment, my little brother has been jailed in Israel. Who will speak up for Palestinian kids like us?

A year ago I was in an Israeli prison, denied my basic rights and stripped of my childhood. The crime that led to eight months of incarceration was not mine, but that of Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine. As with so many child prisoners who are subjected to the horrors of Israeli military detention, one of the toughest daily struggles was being separated from my family. Last week, my family was torn apart once again: this time, Israeli forces came and took away my 15-year-old brother Mohammed.

This is the price we pay for Israel’s occupation. Every mother and father is forced to live in fear of their children being the next target. Palestinians in the West Bank are subjected to military law, which is used as a tool to repress, silence, and prevent our resistance to occupation. We do not have equal rights to the Israeli settlers who live on stolen land in our neighbourhoods. This prevents us from living normal lives and threatens our existence, but it is protected by Israel's legal system. Across the West Bank exists a framework of dual legal systems: Jewish settlers are afforded rights under Israeli civilian law, while we Palestinians have ours taken away by military law – two very different processes and outcomes implemented on grounds of ethnicity. Experts say this meets the definition of apartheid, and children are not immune from this suffering.

There are currently more than 200 Palestinian children, including my brother, in Israeli jails. Each year, Israel arrests and prosecutes around 700 children, some as young as 12. They are usually accused of throwing stones. After being separated from their families, exposed to physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, a number of children are coerced into signing confessions put in front of them by Israeli interrogators – often in a language they do not understand. Very few children are granted access to a lawyer or allowed a family member present during interrogation. With 99 per cent of court cases against Palestinians resulting in conviction, signing a confession and making a plea bargain is often presented as the fastest way of being released and reunited with family. 
read more:

Caste Struggle and Colonialism dropped from NCERT school textbooks

NCERT had drawn widespread criticism in March for its decision to delete a chapter on the Channar Revolt, the 19th-century agitation by lower-caste Nadar women in the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore from the Class 9 history textbook in Kerala. The Channar Revolt, or the upper cloth movement, which took place between 1813 and 1859, saw Nadar women defying diktats imposed by the upper castes that lower caste men and women must not clothe their upper bodies.

In the guise of lessening the student’s burden, caste struggles, farm labour and colonialism were dropped from students textbooks in the second textbook review by the current government. In the latest textbook review, the NCERT has removed three chapters from ‘India and the Contemporary World – II’ history textbook of class 10 beginning this academic year. Since the current government came to power, this is the second textbook revision on the basis of the curriculum rationalisation exercise undertaken by the HRD Minister Prakash Javedkar as reported by the Indian Express. News of this happening had been circulating since March.

The report further says that the book is now 72 pages thinner with three fewer chapters. The deleted chapters are- ‘The Nationalist Movement in Indo-China’ which spoke about the rising nationalism in the Indo-China region, its basis for colonialism and the women’s role in the anti-imperialist movement in Vietnam. The second chapter, titled ‘Work Life and Leisure’, talks about the cities of London and Bombay; their growth and its environmental challenges, rising joblessness, increasing makeshift shelters among other things. The last chapter ‘Novels, Society and History’ explains how novels influenced the modern ways of thinking in the West and in India.

Dominic Rushe - ‘People are finally talking about class’: Astra Taylor on US democracy, socialism and revolution

Astra Taylor hasn’t always been interested in democracy. “There was this vagueness about the word that just seemed to be not just corruptible but almost inherently corrupt,” says the writer, film-maker and activist. “I was attracted to words like liberation, emancipation, equality, revolution, socialism. Any other word would get my pulse going more than democracy.” For her, democracy was a word imperial America used to sell free markets and push its agenda.

Yet Taylor, a lifelong activist, says that she also always felt there was “a contradiction” inherent in democracy that puzzled her. For all the cynicism the word attracted, she could see there was power in an idea meant to strengthen the people, a power that she explores in her new documentary, What Is Democracy?, and her upcoming book, Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone.

In the US, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 sundered the body politic, while that same year, the Brexit referendum split the UK. Trump has used his office to undermine the media, the legal system, the electoral process itself and anyone who questions his will – all while praising dictators and suggesting the US may one day have “a president for life”.

Russia has shown how foreign powers can use technology to hack democracy, the economic success of China’s one-party capitalism has demonstrated a different model, and the seemingly unstoppable rise of the 1% has laid bare how big money skews the system. The D word really started to grip Taylor while she was writing her previous book, The People’s Platform, a critique of Silicon Valley’s self-interested “utopianism”, published in 2014. “I wanted to look at what a ‘democratic internet’ would look like,” she says. “Not an empty, Silicon Valley-type democracy, but a real one.”..
read more:

Critically endangered kākāpō – the world's fattest parrot – has record breeding season

The world’s fattest species of parrot has had a record-breaking breeding season in New Zealand, with scientists saying the fortunes of the critically-endangered bird are finally turning around.

There are only 147 adult kākāpō alive today, although a few hundred years ago they were one of New Zealand’s most common birds, before being hunted to the brink of extinction, killed by introduced pests, and losing their forest homes to farming. The nocturnal, flightless parrot is one of New Zealanders favourite birds, and is known for its charismatic nature and owl-like face.

Because the population is so small every kākāpō has a name – including Ruth, Hoki, Suzanne and Zephyr – and is subject to one of the most intensive management programmes of any species in the world. Infertility and in-breeding have been long-term issues for the birds’ reproductive efforts.
But this year 76 kākāpō chicks have hatched and 60 are expected to make it to adulthood, the result of heavy seeding in the New Zealand bush that has produced an abundance of the bird’s favourite food: fruit from the Rimu tree, a southern species of conifer.

Forty-nine out of 50 breeding females laid eggs this year. The last record-breaking breeding season was in 2016, when 37 chicks fledged... read more:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

India witnesses one of the highest female infanticide incidents in the world: study

India has one of the highest female foeticide incidents in the world. The female child population in the age group of 0-6 years declined from 78.83 million in 2001 to 75.84 million in 2011. During the period 1991-2011, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) declined from 945 to 914. Apart from Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT Act) to address the issue of sex-selective abortion, India also enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in 1971 to regulate access to safe abortions. The MTP Act of 1971, amended in 2002, allows abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy in cases where “the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health”.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has acknowledged that illegal abortions still outnumber legal abortions and thousands of women die every year due to complications resulting from unsafe abortions. According to the Population Research Institute, at least 12,771,043 sex-selective abortions had taken place in India between 2000 and 2014. It takes the daily average of sex-selective abortion to 2,332. The under-reporting under the MTP Act has also been a problem

In a first ever global study on female infanticide by Asian Centre for Human Rights, a Delhi-based NGO dedicated to protection of human rights, it has been revealed that preference of son over daughter is a major reason for female infanticide in many countries around the world. Dowry system in South Asia, which makes daughters “an unaffordable economic burden”, also contributes to female infanticide. 

Titled “Female Infanticide Worldwide: The case for action by the UN Human Rights Council”, the report makes a continent-wise analysis of infanticide patterns. It sets the tone by stating that 117 million girls demographically go “missing” due to sex-selective abortions, as claimed by the United Nations Population Fund.

Prevailing laws: Apart from the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care of 1994, Beijing also has the Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China of 2002 that prohibits sex identification of foetus and sex-selective abortions. In India, the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) prohibits sex-selection or disclosure of the sex of the foetus. It also prohibits sale of “any ultrasound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of foetus” to persons, laboratories and clinics not registered under the Act.

Notre Dame through the ages – in pictures

From a 15th-century coronation of an English king, to the liberation of Paris in 1944 and this year’s yellow vest protests, the 850-year old cathedral has stood witness to the sweep of history. For many Parisians, Notre Dame is the very heart of their city. Thousands of them looked on on Monday night as a fire ravaged the Gothic monument.. see photos and images:

Sunday, April 14, 2019

'Stop Parties From Using Armed Forces For Political Gain': Over 150 Veterans Write To President

NB: We owe thanks to these retired officers for maintaining the dignity and secular values of the Indian Armed Forces. The Armed Forces are not the political mascots of the Sangh Parivar, and it is time the shameless misbehaviour of the RSS and its front organisations - of which the BJP is one - is called out. Hopefully the President and the Election Commission India will take note. Sad to say the previous President did not cover himself with glory. DS

In an unprecedented move, over 150 veterans of India’s armed forces wrote to the President on the eve of the first phase of the Lok Sabha election urging him to stop parties from politicising the military and its symbols. The letter, which was almost marked to the Chief Election Commission, was signed by three former Army chiefs (General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, General Shankar Roychowdhury, General Deepak Kapoor), four former Navy chiefs (Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, Admiral Arun Prakash, Admiral Suresh Mehta) and former Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal NC Suri.

In the letter, the veterans call out the “unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes.” They refer to UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s speech in which he called the armed forces “Modi ji ki Sena” and say that the Election Commission’s order “do not appear to have resulted in any substantive change of behaviour and practice on the ground.” The letter reprimands party workers “seen wearing military uniforms” and the display of “posters and images with pictures of soldiers and especially of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman”.

The veterans say political parties and candidates seem to be acting in total disregard of model code of conduct in place during elections. “We fear that such incidents may only increase as polling day draws near,” the letter says. They urge President Ram Nath Kovind to take steps to “urgently direct all political parties” to stop using “the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel” for political purposes or agendas.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Magnus Fiskesjö: China's Thousandfold Guantánamos

With China's assault on scores of leading academics and intellectuals, business as usual is no longer possible. The recent mass arrests of scores of leading academics and intellectuals in western China is one of many indications that the Chinese regime's current campaign against the native Uighur, Kazakh and other peoples is already a genocide. It is now clearly engaged in "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such," as defined in the 1948 international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The Uighur Human Rights Project recently counted 386 targeted academics, artists and other prominent intellectuals as having been arrested by the regime. They probably are all, if still alive, in the concentration camps in the Xinjiang region, built there since 2017. The Chinese regime is clearly carrying out such mass arrests of famous figures, alongside hundreds of thousands of "ordinary people," to destroy the dignity and very identity of these indigenous peoples. To achieve this goal, the regime goes after the most admired artists, writers, academics, poets, clerics, athletes and so on. 

These proud icons are all being sent to lawless brainwashing camps. There, according to numerous eyewitness testimonies, they are forced to denounce themselves, their very professional and personal dignity, and bow to prefabricated verdicts of being "two-faced" secret radicals -- even though they are long-established, decent, proud leaders of their people. The detainees are all there on the say-so of the Communist bosses, who are in some cases even filling the camps by quotas.

Perhaps the most famous Uighur singer and troubadour of all, Sanubar Tursun, was to have performed at an international music festival in France in February. Her cancellation was announced from the stage -- she "disappeared" last December. The reason can be nothing other than the great respect for her among her own people. She's also internationally famous and has performed alongside her Chinese colleague the pipa artist Wu Man. But as with the others dragged off, most likely to the camps, we do not know where she is or what she would be accused of.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

First ever black hole image released. By Pallab Ghosh

Astronomers have taken the first ever image of a black hole, which is located in a distant galaxy.
It measures 40 billion km across - three million times the size of the Earth - and has been described by scientists as "a monster". The black hole is 500 million trillion km away and was photographed by a network of eight telescopes across the world. Details have been published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters. It was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight linked telescopes. Prof Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, who proposed the experiment, told BBC News that the black hole was found in a galaxy called M87.

"What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System," he said. "It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe."
Black hole
The image shows an intensely bright "ring of fire", as Prof Falcke describes it, surrounding a perfectly circular dark hole. The bright halo is caused by superheated gas falling into the hole. The light is brighter than all the billions of other stars in the galaxy combined - which is why it can be seen at such distance from Earth. The edge of the dark circle at the centre is the point at which the gas enters the black hole, which is an object that has such a large gravitational pull, not even light can escape. The image matches what theoretical physicists and indeed, Hollywood directors, imagined black holes would look like, according to Dr Ziri Younsi, of University College London - who is part of the EHT collaboration.

Hannah Devlin: New species of ancient human discovered in Philippines cave

Homo luzonensis fossils found in Luzon island cave, dating back up to 67,000 years
A new species of ancient human, thought to have been under 4ft tall and adapted to climbing trees, has been discovered in the Philippines, providing a twist in the story of human evolution.

The specimen, named Homo luzonensis, was excavated from Callao cave on Luzon island in the northern Philippines and has been dated to 50,000-67,000 years ago – when our own ancestors and the Neanderthals were spreading across Europe and into Asia.

Florent Détroit, of the Natural History Museum in Paris and the paper’s first author, said the discovery provided the latest challenge to the fairly straightforward prevalent narrative of human evolution. It was once thought that no humans left Africa until about 1.5 million years ago, when a large-bodied ancient human called Homo erectus set off on a dispersal that ultimately allowed it to occupy territory spanning Africa and Spain, China and Indonesia.

Then, according to the traditional narrative, after a few hundred-thousand years of not much happening, our own ancestors dispersed from Africa about 50,000 years ago. “We now know that it was a much more complex evolutionary history, with several distinct species contemporaneous with Homo sapiens, interbreeding events, extinctions,” said Détroit. “Homo luzonensis is one of those species and we will [increasingly see] that a few thousand years back in time, Homo sapiens was definitely not alone on Earth.”... read more:

World's 'oldest figurative painting' discovered in Borneo cave

Bharat Bhushan: Polls on, but Modi still seeking a grand theme

As voters in 20 states prepare to cast their ballots for 91 Lok Sabha seats in the first of seven phases of the general election on April 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desperation is evident. In this make or break election, he is virtually begging for votes in the name of the Balakot airstrike and the Pulwama martyrs. It is as if the Indian Air Force fighter pilots and the Central Reserve Police Force martyrs were contesting the election on his behalf.

Appealing to an estimated 15 million first-time voters, he said in Aurangabad: “When you earn your first salary usually you don’t keep it for yourself. You want to dedicate it to your mother or sister. Similarly, you can dedicate your vote for the Balakot airstrike, for the Pulwama attack victims… Will you dedicate your vote to the brave men who conducted the Balakot strikes, to the CRPF men who lost their lives in the Pulwama attack?” Prime Minister Modi’s attempt to leverage the death and bravery of the security forces is nothing short of scandalous.

In 2014, he had mesmerised voters with a promise of delivering inclusive growth, corruption-free governance, employment for youth, and the prospect of doubling the income of farmers. Five years later, people have realised that the trailer was better than the film. Prime Minister Modi could not deliver on any of his economic promises. Instead, his maverick policies such a demonetisation destroyed jobs and small businesses. Markets turned chaotic with the hastily-introduced Goods and Services Tax, which was so badly framed that it had to be modified a record 376 times within 10 months of its inception... read more:

Le Jardin de Lorixa: The Story of a Forgotten Herbal. Talk by Prof. Kapil Raj Friday April 12, 2019

The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art and Ardha Matra Collective are happy to invite you to:
Le Jardin de Lorixa: The Story of a Forgotten Herbal
A talk by Prof. Kapil Raj, moderated by Samuel Berthet
6:30 pm | Friday, 12 April 2019 | FICA Reading Room

 at FICA Reading Room
F-213/E-2, 2nd Floor,
Old Mehrauli-Badarpur Road,
Lado Sarai, New Delhi 110030
Location pin

Prof. Kapil Raj will present a botanical treaty composed in Odisha and Bengal between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century.

For the European nations that were engaged in the conquest of the world in the early modern era, making inventories of local flora was held in priority. Voluminous herbals were prepared by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English.

A French surgeon based in Orissa and then in Chandernagore at the turn of the 18th Century also spent more than three decades, and a personal fortune, to complete a similar project, resulting in a 14-volume folio herbal, 12 volumes of which contain 725 double-folio gouache-and-aquarelle paintings of 722 plant species. However, his work was ignored by Parisian savants. Why?

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Censorship (and organised crime) thrive in Modi's India. Demonetisation Scam Unravelled, media houses impose blackout

Kapil Sibal's press conference today was apparently blanked out by major TV channels. It seems NDTV began showing it and immediately took it off air. Some reports may be seen hereThe original sting videos, in which the first claims to be a collaboration by journalists fed up of their organisations' refusal to criticise the government, are lengthy and show the entire scam in a series of parts. 

Kapil Sibal of the Congress today showed a video, claiming it was an expose on currency exchange conducted by the BJP government after demonetisation. The Congress have also alleged that the Election Commission is not taking any action against the ruling BJP despite the many cases of poll code violation reported against them. Sibal has directly attacked BJP Chief mentioning that the exchange was conducted by a special team drawn from officials from all departments and it was headed by none other than Amit Shah himself. Under it, currency from various ministers and business houses were brought in planes to Hindon Air Base from where it was taken to the Reserve Bank – at a charge of 35 to 40 per cent. Mr Sibal referred at the series of investigations and raids that have been taking place over the last weeks and quoted:

“The biggest scam in India’s history is demonetisation… It is sad that our agencies will investigate the opposition, but not those in power.” He also claimed that despite the existence of many such sting videos, no agency was ready to undertake any investigation on the ruling government. Sibal did not even exclude alleging the Election Commission for turning a blind eye. “We have given them (the Election Commission) so many complaints. They are not acting and we don’t have the time to go to court since there is hardly any time.”

While calling Demonetisation the biggest scam in India, Sibal has released a video via his press conference, where he has named a RAW official, Rahul Shrirang Ratharekar whose Field Assistant – Cabinet Secretary ID card is visible in the video. Others named and shown in the video who are allegedly a part of the currency exchange scam are Sanjay Channe, Indusind Bank Manager from Mumbai Fort Branch, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and others.

UK government accused of 'putting profit before lives' in case aimed at stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia

The government has been accused of “putting profit before people’s lives” ahead of the start of a High Court case aimed at stopping the UK from exporting arms to Saudi Arabia. The case is being brought by the group Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which claims there is “overwhelming evidence” that British-made jets and bombs are being used by Saudi-led forces to violate international humanitarian law in Yemen.

CAAT says more than 10,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition began fighting Houthi rebels in 2015, and UK-made weapons have helped create “a humanitarian catastrophe”.
CAAT is being backed by other groups being represented at the hearing, including Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Amnesty International, whose strategic litigation director Lucy Claridge said outside court: “It is time for the UK Government to stop putting profit before people's lives.

“By selling billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, ministers are signing a death warrant for the people of Yemen. "Across Europe, several countries have stopped selling arms to Saudi Arabia because they know it goes against their legal obligations and have seen the devastation they are causing.” CAAT is seeking to overturn a 2017 High Court ruling in which it was denied a judicial review of the weapons exports.  CAAT had argued the government was breaching its own export licensing rules, which prevent sales when there is “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”.

Posts on Khashoggi murder

But the 2017 judges said the issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen “was the subject of intense, genuine concern and debate” by government officials who had better access to information than NGOs. Secret evidence played a significant part in the 2017 case and the court delivered a closed judgment as well as a public ruling. In their public ruling, the judges acknowledged that in one February 2016 email, senior civil servant Edward Bell said he had briefed Sajid Javid, then the minister in charge of trade, to the effect that: “My gut tells me we should suspend [the arms sales]. This would be prudent and cautious given the acknowledged gaps in knowledge about Saudi operations.”.. read more:

see also

Rod Austin: Mongolian herders who took on a corporate behemoth

Displaced from their land by multinational mining companies, nomadic herders defied the odds to preserve their heritage for future generations. 

Just 10 years ago, the district of Khanbogd, in southern Mongolia’s Omnogovi province, was a barely known region of eastern Asia. That changed with the discovery of gold and copper deposits below the seemingly endless Gobi desert, home to a community of herdsmen who had worked hard to make a living from this barren land. So when their government forged an agreement that threatened to deprive them of the land they had owned for generations, they fought back for their way of life, taking the mining giant Rio Tinto and others to court in order to safeguard their heritage.

“We hope the fight of the eight of us can serve as an example all over Mongolia, and for others who have the same problem with mining,” said Battsengel Lkhamdoorov, leader of Gobi Soil, the collective that took the mine owners to court. The four-year fight resulted in a landmark victory, a tripartite settlement that allows for an equal, mutually sustainable coexistence between mine owners, the town of Khanbogd and herders.

Mongolia, one of the least densely populated countries on Earth, has only 1.9 people per sq km. Once ruled by warlord Genghis Khan, its population consists mainly of herders living in traditional “gers” – circular white, yurt-like structures, that infrequently dot the desert landscape, surrounded by sheep, goats, camels and horses.

The construction of the Oyu Tolgoi – meaning Turquoise Hill – gold and copper mine (pictured below) was led by Rio Tinto Group, Ivanhoe Mines and the Mongolian government. Construction began in 2011, displacing the herdsmen, who claim they were reduced to collecting waste from the mine just to make a living. They soon decided they had to fight back... read more:

Monday, April 8, 2019

The knights of Bushido : a history of Japanese war crimes during World War II (1958, repub 2002)

The knights of Bushido : a history of Japanese war crimes during World War II
(click the title for an archived PDF)
By Baron Edward Frederick Langley Russell, 1895-1981

The war crimes trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo meted out the Allies’ official justice; Lord Russell of Liverpool’s sensational bestselling books on Germany’s and Japan’s war crimes decided the public’s opinion. The Knights of Bushido, Russell’s account of Japanese brutality in the Pacific in World War II, carefully compiles evidence given at the trials themselves. Russell describes how the noble founding principles of the Empire of Japan were perverted by the military into a systematic campaign of torture, murder, starvation, rape, and destruction. Notorious incidents like the Nanking Massacre and the Bataan Death March emerge as merely part of a pattern.

The knights of Bushido
The scourge of the swastika: A short history of Nazi war crimes (1954)

With a new introduction for this edition, The Knights of Bushido details the horrors perpetrated by a military caught up in an ideological fervour. Often expecting death, the Japanese flouted the Geneva Convention (which they refused to ratify). They murdered aircrews, bayoneted prisoners, carried out arbitrary decapitations, and practised medical vivisection. Undoubtedly formidable soldiers, the Japanese were terrible conquerors. Their conduct in the Pacific is a harrowing example of the doctrine of mutual destruction carried to the extreme, and begs the question of what is acceptable -and unacceptable - in total war.

Amanda Ruggeri: Skara Brae, first settled 5,000 years ago, is the best-preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe // Ian Sample: Archaeologists discover 'exceptional' site at Lake Titicaca

Orkney’s number of Stone Age sites implies that the remote Scottish islands once may have been at the centre of it all. But why? An exciting new discovery could hold the clues.
When the owners of Brodgar Farm ploughed up a large notched stone in their field in 2003, they knew it was no normal rock. Someone had altered it. And given the farm’s location, it wouldn’t have been surprising if that someone had lived a very, very long time ago. Even so, no one had any idea of the discovery that lay ahead. “I don’t think anyone could have predicted what we found,” said head archaeologist Nick Card. “It’s rewriting aspects of prehistory.”

Brodgar Farm – now best known for the site found on its property, called the Ness of Brodgar – is on the Mainland island of the Orkney archipelago, about 30 miles off Scotland’s northern coast. The site sits on a finger-like peninsula between the lochs of Harray and Stenness – and at the centre of an archaeological gold mine. On a hill half a mile northwest is the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle erected around the same time as Stonehenge, some 4,500 years ago. A third of a mile in the other direction are the Stones of Stenness, erected two centuries before that.

Within a mile and a half, you’ll also find the Barnhouse Settlement, the remnants of a village inhabited 5,100 years ago; Maeshowe, the most spectacular chambered tomb of its kind in northwest Europe, built around 3,000 BC and forgotten until Vikings broke in in 1153, leaving runes in their wake; and more than a dozen other prehistoric burial mounds, as well as standing stones and slabs. (Before the 2003 discovery, Brodgar Farm already had two ancient standing stones in the front garden). Skara Brae, the best-preserved prehistoric village in all of northern Europe, lies just another five miles away... read more:

Archaeologists discover 'exceptional' site at Lake Titicaca
An ancient ceremonial site described as exceptional has been discovered in the Andes by marine archaeologists, who recovered ritual offerings and the remains of slaughtered animals from a reef in the middle of Lake Titicaca. The remarkable haul points to a history of highly charged ceremonies in which the elite of the region’s Tiwanaku state boated out to the reef and sacrificed young llamas, seemingly decorated for death, and made offerings of gold and exquisite stone miniatures to a ray-faced deity, as incense billowed from pottery pumas.